Monday, June 25, 2012

The 3DS XL: Are You Buying it?

The 3DS. Original on the left, XL on the right.

The guys at IGN have provided a really nice breakdown of the technical differences of the 3DS XL compared to the original, so I won't spend time describing that facet of the story.

Instead I'll try and address the question: is this redesign worth buying?

As an owner of the original 3DS, which I paid good money for last year, this is an important question to ask. Personally, I believe that this revision is not worth it if you have the original, unless you happen to be a major Nintendo fan or really want a larger screen to work with.

There are couple reasons why I believe this. First off, the original 3DS fits perfectly in my pockets, a key factor which I am not certain applies to the newer model.

While this may seem like superfluous reasoning at first glance, it actually makes perfect sense when thinking about it. I bought the 3DS because I wanted a device which would allow me to play high quality games on the go, no matter where I was.

Could I do that with the 3DS XL? Probably. Would it be as comfortable to lug it around? Probably not.

I may be in the minority on this, but I feel that the portability of the original is one of its major appeals. Especially when compared to its direct competitor, the PS Vita.

Would a larger screen be nice? Sure. But at 3.5 inches, the original 3DS's screen is equivalent to an Iphone's, which I think is sufficient for most people.

Another reason I have for liking the original compared to the revision is the color choices. This is probably due to my mild case of OCD, but I highly prefer my black 3DS compared to the childish looking blue and red XL options given to those of us living in the United States.

Beyond this, one of the major selling points of the XL is the fact that it provides slightly better battery performance.

That would be great, and is one of the reasons why I might have considered switching to it one day (though by that point Nintendo would have likely released another revision).

However, based on what they have said about the XL's battery lasting 3.5 - 6 hours, I really don't see the appeal. The original lasted 3 - 5 hours, which means that this revision doesn't provide a substantial upgrade.

Additionally, I have never played my 3DS for 3 hours at a time in the first place. I see this device more as something to play for 30 minutes to an hour here or there, perhaps on a car ride or while waiting for a dentist appointment.

This ties in to what I said about considering the 3DS to be a mobile device meant to be used on the go. Going by this definition, the small form factor and slightly lesser battery life aren't issues.

Furthermore, and this is entirely opinion, I prefer the coloring and design of the original. It looks sturdier (and probably is, I've dropped mine from 5 feet in the air numerous times without it gaining a single scratch) and more expensive, both of which I know are mostly subjective observations but still play a significant role for some in terms of deciding whether or not to buy this new iteration.

Overall, I would suggest not buying the 3DS XL if you have the original and aren't made of money. I really don't see the advantages unless you adamantly prefer the larger screen, and I suppose in truth there are many of you like that out there or else Nintendo would not have released this product in the first place.  In the end, the choice is yours, but I hope my analysis had helped.

Until next time!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Terrible Types of MMO Quests


It's sad to say, but there are some who envision these atop people's heads in real life.


If you are online a lot and happen to enjoy playing video games, chances are you have tried an MMO (or Massively Multiplayer Online game).

If so, then you are probably familiar with the atrocious excuses for "quests" that many MMO developers place in their games mostly as time sinks or because they are too lazy to come up with more interesting ways to entertain players.

To begin, let's say that you just made a shiny new character, and enter World of Warcraft for the first time. You do a few introductory things, and then are left to your own devices. Exploring the surrounding area a bit, you see a few NPC's walking about with golden exclamation marks over their heads.

Remembering from the tutorial that these helpful folks provide you with quests, you walk up to one (let's call him Farmer John), and begin to speak with him. Farmer John has some issues, it would seem. He has a ten minute long sob story prepared for you, which you, like a good little newbie, read in full.

It would seem Farmer John has a problem with rats in his pumpkin patch, and he asks you to kill six of them for the reward of thirty silver coins.

"Great!" you think. "This game is awesome!". You go down to Farmer John's pumpkin patch, kill the rats, get your reward, and do a little dance in honor of your accomplishment.

After finishing the starting zone though, and dealing with a billion more Farmer John's and their pumpkin patches, you begin to become a bit more jaded. Now you skip the quest giver's sob story and mechanically accept what they require for you, do the job, and return for the reward.

Fast forward a couple more levels and you are on absolute auto-pilot. You practiaclly aren't even playing the game anymore. You're just going through the motions while alt-tabbing into your web browser or watching TV. When you actually need to do the kill part of the quest, you just use your tried and true rotation of 1 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 4 to decimate your opposition.


What's that? You want me to kill some stuff? Ok. Just let me get Starcraft 2 running so I have something fun to play while I'm doing it.

See what I am getting at here? The kill quest is evidence of the inherent lack of creativity of most MMO developers. They are banking on the idea that the social aspects of their MMO will hide the fact that what you are really playing is a crappy version of a single player game (such as Skyrim).

Kill quests wouldn't even be so bad if there were an actual purpose to them. Dealing with Farmer John's rat infestation is really about as complicated of an exposition as you will get for most MMO kill quests, and that in itself is a disappointment. There is nothing akin to (*Skyrim spoiler alert*) assassinating the Emperor in Skyrim, which makes you feel like what you are doing has some actual importance in the game world.

For MMOs, kill quests aren't meant to add anything substantial to the game, they are just there to feed the player a spoonful of experience points and provide them with their next dose of upgraded armor to keep them blissfully unaware of the monotony of what they are really doing.

Moving on to a slightly different issue, what's worse than dealing with Farmer John's rat infestation? Having to hike back to his farm to harvest six pumpkins for him with the only reasoning being that he is too weak, lazy, busy, or scared to do it himself.

This type of quest in the MMO setting is especially annoying, because like the kill quest, they are rarely given much exposition and after a few of them you will be on auto-pilot the whole way through.

It seems though that I have begun to touch upon the actual issue with quests in MMOs, that being the fact that developers just don't seem to care that their work is entirely sub-par when compared to offline games.


The average MMO developer, pictured here on the job.

For example, I highly recommend the game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) as it provides one of the most cinematic and interactive video game experiences imaginable, despite the fact that it came out nearly a decade ago.


Its MMO counterpart, The Old Republic (2011), came out late last year, and compared to its offline predecessor, has a poorer storyline, less memorable companions, villains, and locations, and arguably a more dysfunctional combat system.

The moral of the story here? MMO developers need to realize that players don't find their mindless kill quests, fetch quests, and whatever the heck else it is they do to keep us on an endless treadmill enjoyable.

Until developers can get their heads out of the sand and start putting actual effort into their online games, MMO design will remain stagnant and people will continue to move away from their expensive pay to play models to instead find refuge in the ever-evolving market of offline games being released each year.

As you can probably tell, I've quit MMOs for the time being until they can significantly improve their combat and questing systems, and can package it all together in a presentation that matches what a single player game can offer.

Until that happens friends, I'll be playing Skyrim.





Thursday, June 21, 2012

3 Totally Not Terrible Ideas for the Next Xbox

Well it looks like the Miami Heat are going to win the NBA Finals (it appears that my predictions were way off...) and I have nothing better to do than to try and provide you guys with something decent to read. I know, I'm such a charitable person.

Anyways, I happen to be a fan of the Xbox, and with all hints pointing towards the 2013 release of its next iteration, I figured now would be a good time to crank my creativity meter to eleven and try to come up with some decent (read: slightly better than horrible) ideas for the functionality of this future console.

Hold on to your seat-belts people, 'cause here I go.

1. The Xbox Cha-Ching

For most people living today, Microsoft is synonymous with "money," or if you happen to be a fan of Apple, "greed". So why not reflect that in the name of the next Xbox, a machine which will be attempting to follow up one of the most successful consoles to date in the Xbox 360?

Money money money money! Money!!!

We can even get super creative with this and change the Xbox start-up jingle to a "cha-ching" sound. While we're at it, lets also update the Xbox logo to be a picture of Bill Gates with his eye balls replaced by money symbols (that may scare the kids off though -- and you always gotta think about your potential market)!

Additionally, we could change the Xbox Home Page to be a representation of Microsoft's annual earnings report. That way, we can all bask in the glory of the gaudy profit margins we helped to create! This would be a great idea right?

Ok, maybe not so much. Nonetheless, it's a start.

2. The Xbox Kinect Box


How could anyone not like this name, it even rhymes (I swear Xbox and box are technically different words)!

It'll look like this, only three times larger and with the camera lenses modified to look like The Illusive Man's eyes.

With Microsoft's focus on developing the Kinect for the 360, it's only natural for them to take the concept even further on their next generation machine. This version of the Xbox could ship as a giant Kinect peripheral; forget about the disc tray, controllers, heck, forget about the hardcore games. All you need is the Xbox Kinect Box and a digital copy of Dance Central 4! What could be better than that?

Don't answer that question...

3. The Xbox ATM


The gray really makes it stand out.
I've established that Microsoft is loaded with cash with my first naming suggestion, so why don't they share the wealth a little bit? In this version of the Xbox, the console is designed like a full fledged ATM, complete with the ability to deposit and withdraw money (it will accept checks too!)

The best part about this is that you will have the option to draw money not only from your own bank account, but from the gilded coffers of Microsoft themselves. Of course, they'd have to cap the amount you could withdraw per month, but think of the possibilities (such as helping to pay off my college loans)!

In effect, Microsoft would be luring customers in by offering to pay you to bring their console home!

The kicker? Xbox Live Gold will now cost approximately $199.99 a month, and Kinect will become a $499.99 add-on that is required to play 98.7% of games released on the console (forget better with Kinect, now it's only on Kinect).

In truth, Microsoft would be running a scam similar to printer companies, who practically throw their machines at you so that they can shove overpriced ink which costs a bajillion times less when purchased in the form of a pen down our throats (but I digress, this subject deserves its own article to cover in full...).

On a final note, I think I just found a loophole in my own suggestion. How about you just buy the Xbox ATM, withdraw money, never buy Kinect or Xbox Live, and proceed to live the high life? I'm a genius! Now, if I could just convince Microsoft to pull the trigger on this concept...






Support The Oatmeal!


Source: theoatmeal.com

So apparently the proprietor of theoatmeal.com, Matthew Inman, had a federal lawsuit filed against him by rival comedic website funnyjunk.com for "maliciously accusing FunnyJunk of criminal conduct."

The ridiculousness of this accusation lies in the fact that theoatmeal.com only made such statements because funnyjunk.com was using Mr. Inman's material without giving him any credit, and making a decent amount of profit as a result.

In simple terms, funnyjunk.com was using theoatmeal.com's material, and instead of amending this issue they decided to utilize the legal system to gain even more monetary benefits.

Consequently, funnyjunk.com has hired a (rather photogenic) lawyer who is requesting that Mr. Inman pays $20,000 in reparations for his supposed misdeeds.

I don't know about you, but this proves to me that the U.S. legal system is utterly useless in many respects. It's the only way to explain how the victim ended up being charged with a $20,000 fine for a crime he did not commit.

I can just picture the proprietors of funnyjunk.com rolling around in their gold plated Benjamins laughing at this entire situation. For them, this is another easy legal money maker, another website which they can take advantage of while skipping merrily all the way to the bank.

Unfortunately for them, their path of narcissistic, pompous, and morally corrupt greed ends here.

Mr. Inman has, in his unique fashion, added some positivity to this otherwise unfortunate sequence of events.

Instead of providing the proprietors of funnyjunk.com with a check for $20,000, theoatmeal.com has pledged to raise an equal amount of money for donation to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.

So you see, there is some hope and humanity left in the world after all. In many ways this case reflects a greater struggle occurring today, one where the morally bankrupt fight for power and control over those few good souls who actually try to make the world a better place.

And after reviewing everything I've said, I think it is obvious which sides in this case represent the former and the latter.

If you would like to contribute to theoatmeal's cause, you can find the link to donate at the bottom of the following page:

http://theoatmeal.com/blog/funnyjunk_letter

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Losing Weight the Cheater's Way

I know what you're thinking. There's thousands of articles like these out there! And indeed there are. However, I've gotten so many questions from friends and family about how I personally lost weight that I figure I must've done something right, and so I'd like to share my knowledge with the world.

In my case I went from a pudgy 180ish to a fit 155, and I did it pretty easily by doing the following:

1. Realize you are in this for the long haul.

Losing weight isn't a rapid process. You need to have enough willpower to maintain a mindset which will allow you to keep up your diet and exercise routine for months to come. If you cannot do this, or you know you have a history of giving up easily, get outside support (whether it be from family or a personal trainer).

2. Pick a group of unhealthy foods which you eat often and remove them from your diet.

For me, this happened to be burgers, fries, and soda. I haven't completely cut down on the first item, but I have been extremely successful in forgoing the latter two. In addition to these, I have removed desserts from my diet (which are entirely unnecessary and often times are key contributors to your weight gain).

I'd suggest starting small and working your way up. I began by removing soda from my diet, and once that became precedent, I removed desserts, and so on and so forth. You can try to remove everything at once but your willpower may not be strong enough to handle it.

Like a said, this can be a long process, but once you have figured out how to live without these items, losing weight becomes incredibly straightforward.

3. Buy protein bars.

Protein bars are healthy and surprisingly filling supplements which stave off hunger and cravings that otherwise may lead to a splurge at your local Mickey D's. I recommend Peanut Butter Zone Bars, but anything with a decent amount of protein in it should do.

I usually save these for the times in between meals when I am most susceptible to impulsive unhealthy eating/ snacking. These bars usually keep you satiated for 2-3 hours and are very effective in keeping you away from all of the fattening snacks which people often fall for while waiting for their next meal.

4. Eat slowly, and drink lots of water.

The one thing I notice with overweight people is that they tend to eat very quickly and move on to their next plate of food in the blink of an eye (I did this for many years). The key is to eat slowly and chew deliberately, all while taking sips (or gulps) of your water in between bites of food.

Eating slowly and drinking a copious amount of water during your meal gives your brain enough time to recognize that your stomach is full, before you decide to get up and make yourself another plate of food that you don't really need.

5. Get moving!

So you've prepared yourself mentally, removed unhealthy foods from your diet, bought protein bars, and have mastered the technique of properly eating your meals. What next you ask? It's time to exercise!

Most people become apprehensive at this thought and instantly start thinking about the horrors of joining a gym and facing the judgement of their peers. Don't worry, because you won't need to join a gym and you won't need to start any insane workout program like P90X either.

Just buy a pair of cheap (or expensive, if that's how you roll) walking/running shoes and go outside and start moving! Don't feel obligated to buy a gym membership, all you need is a sidewalk and a little bit of determination to start getting into the best shape of your life.

If you can set aside 30 minutes to an hour a day of walking, and can combine that with the dieting tips I've given above, you should be able to see very tangible results within two months.

Your results may vary, as I am a young male so as such I have a slight advantage when it comes to losing weight. Nevertheless, the techniques I've suggested are valuable for everyone and applying them to your daily routine should make you a healthier, happier, and slimmer person in the long run.

That's it for now. I hope I've helped somebody out there!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The 3 Emotional Stages of Creating a Blog Post

These past few months of blogging have made me realize that it is not an easy job, at least in terms of the emotional strain it has on your health (seriously, I've gained more gray hairs putting this site together than Obama has during his Presidency).

And that's A LOT of gray hair!

That is not to say that blogging does not have its emotional benefits as well, and I'll definitely address that.

Without further ado, here are the key emotional stages which occur while writing something for your blog:

1. Worry

This is the most prevalent emotion I've experienced in the times between blog posts. Usually I will feel excellent after writing a decent post such as this one, and that feeling will carry over for a surprisingly satisfying amount of time.

I typed "satisfying" into Google images and this is what came up...

However, once that moment passes and I haven't written something for a while (i.e. one day), then I begin to become a bit worried. I start to have doubts about my abilities to write, I have imagined difficulties coming up with new creative topics, and I start picturing all of my readers and fans (you know, the five of you) jumping ship while spitting upon my blog's corpse as you find some other oasis of online entertainment to spend your valuable internet browsing time.

Usually this worry presses so much against my mind that I am convinced to come up with something to write in order to make it go away.

So in essence, the "worry" stage isn't too much of an issue as it often serves as a catalyst towards the creation of new and awesome material for your blog. However, it is important to note that if you are thinking of blogging useful or interesting things, you will often be worrying about what to write and how exactly you will want to approach each post.

For some people, that may be too much anxiety to handle.

2. Doubt

"Finally!," you shout, "I've created the best blog post of all time!" "Everybody will think I am a genius for writing this!"

"I'm so awesome, I'm going to jump a hundred feet into the air to demonstrate my feeling of accomplishment! Wait a minute...what's all this glowing energy emitting from my abdomen? It...it burns! AHHHHH!"

Not so fast old sport! While the feeling of creating a substantial post is indeed invigorating (I will expand upon this soon) and you should definitely congratulate yourself for the effort, it's integral to the blogging experience that you are aware of the dastardly feeling that rears its ugly head within minutes of you sending your new creation out onto the internet on its maiden voyage: doubt. 

The "Doubt" stage is similar to "Worry", except for the fact that the former only begins after you have posted something while the latter happens before you do anything.

There are many things to doubt about your post, such as: did I write without grammatical errors? will people find what I have to say interesting? is what I wrote unique? will people actually come to my blog for this? could I have made the same point on an internet forum instead of a blog? what if there is a forum which addresses this issue better? etc etc and so on and so forth.

These are just a few samples of some of the thoughts which may run through your head after creating a post. Furthermore, oftentimes this problem is exacerbated when you begin to casually browse the internet.

Case in point, I've found that browsing the internet has become much less enjoyable after starting to blog seriously because it makes me second guess what I post when I come across either another great blog or a site that addresses an issue similar to mine. Is my content on par with theirs? Do I look like a joke compared to them? Why is my point of view worth anything more than theirs?

These are all valid questions and concerns, and the only way to get over all of this is to just keep telling yourself that you are awesome and that what you've posted is unique (preferably while NOT in a fetal position in some random corner of your place of residence). Additionally, it's important to try and vary your content as much as possible to keep your posts fresh and exciting (because everyone LOVES political commentary all day every day!).

Eventually you will write something that people enjoy and find worthwhile, just be aware that you WILL doubt yourself at least a couple of times before reaching that point of success.

3. Joy

You've gotten past your worries, you've conquered your doubt, and now all that's left is the fact that you've just added another great post to your blog and are one step closer to success.

This is the stage I mentioned in the "Worry" section, the one which lasts for a while and leaves you feeling on top of the world. During this stage you feel like you have all of the fans and attention in the world, and that just maybe your blog will become the next big thing if you just keep up with the good effort.

Furthermore, this stage is usually complimented by a period of increased traffic to your site, which makes you feel like a cool kid in high school (which I never experienced because I was super lame), and just might get you a couple cents in ad money (nobody said making a living off of blogging was easy)!

The best part of this stage though is that you feel like you've truly made a difference in the world. With your post, you've sent out a signal (however weak it may be) into the vastness of the world wide web, and maybe, just maybe, someone will see what you have to say and think it is significant or important. Considering how difficult it was to get your ideas and opinions out before the internet age, that's a pretty cool facet of blogging in and of itself.

Even if nobody reads your post (trust me I know the feeling), you've at least made something that will be immortalized on the internet for years to come. And who knows, perhaps someday, maybe years from today, somebody will come across what you thought to be a useless and unpopular post and think it is the best thing since canned bread.

This stuff is awesome! Stays fresh much longer than bread of the sliced variety!

I hope that I've convinced some people that, despite its emotional pitfalls, blogging is a genuinely enjoyable and intellectually stimulating experience that just MAY make you a famous celebrity one day.

Don't take my word on that last part though.






Faith in Humanity Restored?

I was going through StumbleUpon as usual trying to get in my morning's worth of interesting internet material when I came across this:




After reading that, do you feel as though you have a greater faith in humanity? I am not sure that I do, and I think I agree with the comments on the geekfill.com page which say that the situation described was much too idyllic to have actually occurred. 

Nevertheless, if this event actually did take place as described, then I suppose a bit of my faith has been restored.

Either way, it sure wouldn't hurt if more people were kind and respectful to each other.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The RMS Titanic...Reborn?

So last month, as many of you may have heard by now, an Australian Billionaire decided that he wanted to rebuild the Titanic (yes, that Titanic) by combining the aesthetics of the original with the amenities of the 21st century, and putting it all together with the help of a Chinese ship building company.


The original Titanic, built by Harland and Wolff for the While Star Line.


I don't know about you, but that last part doesn't give me much hope for this ship being "unsinkable". And if you didn't die due to the ship's poor construction, you would probably suffer a horrible terminal illness from the lead lining your bed frame and dining utensils. (Sorry China, but your track record made that jab inevitable.)

The fact that this billionaire is supposedly going through a Chinese company in order to escape regulations is another telling factor, one that should induce a good measure of skepticism for those who really do wish to see the Titanic rise from the ashes (I admit, I am one of these people).

Indeed, I could point out one possible regulatory issue he is going to have right off the bat. As you can see from the image above, Titanic's bow (the front portion of a ship) is at what is almost a ninety degree angle, and is constructed in such a way that it almost acts like a knife's edge cutting through the water.

That's great and all, except for the fact that this bow can actually freaking cut through things other than water with ease. In fact, Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, was famous for plowing through ships and splitting them in two, and this in large part had to do (not only with the ineptitude of the crew) with the design of the bow.


The Olympic. Note the lack of window covers on the top deck which distinguishes her from her ill-fated sister.


I have not researched this lately, but I am fairly certain that bow's similar to Titanic's or Olympic's have been banned by many countries (which is why you never see ships of this particular frontal design anymore).


The Queen Mary 2, one of the only modern day Ocean Liners. Note the curved bow.

Additionally, I feel almost as if today's general public would be disappointed at the size of the Titanic. At 882 feet from stem to stern, the original Titanic is still a lengthy ship even by today's standards. However, while ships have not gotten much more elongated in recent decades, they have grown taller.

Much, much taller. So much taller in fact that the tip of Titanic's smokestacks would just barely graze the bridge of the Queen Mary 2, referenced in the picture above. This isn't helped by the fact that James Cameron's famous (or infamous) movie made the Titanic appear bigger than it actually was to provide inaccurate awe inspiring imagery for movie-goers.

Essentially what I am trying to say is that if you aren't a history or ship buff like I am, you probably won't be fascinated by the Titanic 2's aesthetics or presence.

Besides, what you will be seeing (if this ship is ever made, and that is a gigantic if) won't really be anything more than a likely poorly constructed facsimile of the real thing.

In my opinion this Billionaire is only announcing this to create publicity for himself and whoever he has partnered with to "build" the Titanic 2. The fact that he is producing this through a Chinese company to get by regulations is shady to say the least, and I would not be surprised at all if in four years (the ship will supposedly make its maiden voyage in 2016) it is announced that this project has gone nowhere.

It is a shame really, as rebuilding the Titanic may be an interesting prospect for historical and educational purposes. However, this story feels to me too much like a publicity stunt meant to increase the wealth of an already overly rich business man looking to take advantage of potential investors through a multimillion dollar boondoggle.

Having said that, as a huge fan of Titanic's history, I would probably be one of the first people buying a ticket for the 21st century's iteration of this infamous ship if it is indeed completed in 2016.

Let's just hope nobody gets the bright idea to build the "Iceberg II" in the meantime...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What is a Von Neumann Probe?


Image from the Hubble Telescope.

Hey everybody, it's Thursday and I'm back with another update. Today I'd like to ramble a bit more about a subject that I talked about a few months ago - The Fermi Paradox. I discussed it there in general terms and brought up a number of subtopics, one being the Von Neumann Probe, which I will expand upon here.

In simple terms, a Von Neumann Probe is a type of theoretical robotic automaton that roams outer space seeking out resources in order to reproduce itself. Machines like these have been the subject of many science fiction stories, and they are often portrayed as violent and dangerous entities (see the Reapers from Mass Effect for reference).

The reason why they are often brought up alongside the Fermi Paradox is because the two are closely related. Assuming an intelligent alien species wanted to "colonize" the galaxy in the most efficient non-faster-than-light method, the best way to do so (again, by our limited understanding) would be to send out Von Neumann probes to slowly but steadily explore and extract resources from every inch of the galaxy.

Even at speeds far below that of light, these machines would be able to span the 100,000 light year diameter of The Milky Way in a few million years. Seeing as our universe is approximately 13 billion years old, you would assume some alien race would have done something like this by now. The fact that they have not may prove that we are alone in space (or at the very least, the only intelligent species).

There are several possible reasons to as to why we have not yet detected Von Neumann probes.

For one, there could be a form of "berserker" Von Neumann probe out there that eradicates any alien species with the technology sufficient to create probes of their own.

Why would they do this? Perhaps they wish to keep their monopoly on galactic resources, and don't wish to have any competition. And why don't they wipe out all life completely instead of waiting until they've reached a certain technological level? Perhaps it is cost efficient to do so, or maybe they gain some other benefit from doing so.

Either way, the berserker probe is an important concept to keep in mind when thinking about the possibilities of extra terrestrial life and the inherent dangers of space exploration.

With private companies like SpaceX making their first successful forays into space, it is only a matter of time before we gain the technology and ability to take on a greater role within the Milky Way. That may not be for a hundred years or even five hundred, but either way, as long as we do not kill ourselves off first humanity will eventually spread beyond the boundaries of Earth's atmosphere.

When that day comes, and we take our first steps into the endless stellar expanse, we'll have to hope and pray that the universe is not as dangerous a place as so many scientific theories make it out to be. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thunder vs. Heat

It's mid June and the NBA Finals are upon us once more. Similar to last years showdown with the Mavericks, Lebron James will once again be leading his Miami Heat against an opponent built around a seven foot superstar who can hit the three point shot with ease.

Unlike last year however, the team built around Kevin Durant is filled to the brim with players who would have easily been considered second best behind Dirk on the 2011 Mavericks Championship team.
Westbrook, Durant, and Harden

Players like Russel Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka define the Oklahoma City Thunder and make them one of the more deadly teams in recent NBA history.

Formed in part due to the economically friendly nature of the rookie contracts held by Ibaka and Harden, this Thunder squad has taken the West over by storm, dismantling the three former Western Conference Champions in the Mavs, Lakers, and Spurs.

The perimeter trio of Westbrook, Harden, and Durant is lethal and is impossible to guard in the final moments of the game, and the dynamic front court duo of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins provides excellent defense, crafty (albeit often illegal) screens, and bursts of offense when necessary.

Together, this starting lineup has overwhelmed the Western Conference and barreled into the NBA Finals. But do they have what it takes to defeat the Miami Heat?

Lebron, Wade, Bosh
Stitched together haphazardly in the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat led by Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh still seem to be looking for the proper group of role players to surround their trio of superstars.

Suffering from average Point Guard play and down right awful contributions from their Center position, the Heat have still managed to limp into the Finals despite several instances where it looked like they may be eliminated against the Pacers and the Celtics.

In my opinion, the Thunder are too much for the Heat to handle. Mario Chalmers, the Heat's Point Guard, does not have the slightest chance of slowing down the Thunder's Russell Westbrook. Dwyane Wade, who has been playing rather poorly lately by his standards will be challenged by the rising James Harden. Lebron James, considered by many to be the best player in the series, will have that title threatened by Kevin Durant.

The injured Chris Bosh will be going up against the monster that is Serge Ibaka, and the ill equipped Heat bench will be facing the monstrous production of the Thunder's second unit.

In my opinion this all points to a Thunder victory, though I still believe that this series will be a hard fought battle and I doubt that it is resolved in anything less than six games. However, I would still be very surprised if the Thunder did not open the 2012-2013 season with a ring ceremony.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mount and Blade Warband - Napoleonic Wars Review


If you are a PC gamer like me, then you have probably played what is known as an "RTS," or real time strategy game. In these, the player typically controls an army against a computer or human opponent. These games are amazing simply because they give the player a real sense of large scale warfare that is missing from most other genres, be it FPS, RPG, or others.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Most Rampant Misconceptions of Gamespot's "System Wars" Forum

Today, after what I realize has been an incredibly long break since my last post (life happened), I would like to address a topic that isn't really that existential but has nonetheless been gnawing away at my brain for quite some time.

This topic deals with a particular forum on the gaming website "Gamespot" called "System Wars," which pits fanboy gamers against each other in a heated online setting where they argue over the various benefits of "their" system ( be it the PS3, Xbox, Wii, PC, etc. ).

Logo of Gamespot.com, home of the infamous forum, "System Wars".
It seems innocent enough at first, but unsurprisingly these debates often devolve into troll fests where particular forum posters take up their system's mantle and defend it or promote it in the most infuriating ways imaginable.

Here, in list form, are several examples of ridiculous misconceptions that come out of these debates between fanboys...
  • "The Xbox 360 only sells well because people have to buy them twice or three times due to the Red Ring of Death!"
    • This is an example of a common excuse used by Playstation fans and PC gamers when trying to downplay the success of Microsoft's Xbox 360. In reality, Microsoft extended a multi year warranty to customers experiencing the infamous Red Ring of Death, and therefore most people did not have to re-buy their Xbox if it broke down. I am a prime example of this; I am currently on my third Xbox and it hasn't cost me a penny to get them replaced. However, in fairness, the fact that I've had to get it fixed so often may reveal other aspects about the nature of Microsoft's manufacturing prowess...
  • "PC gaming is expensive!"
    • This is another common assertion on the System Wars forums, mainly used by console gamers to promote their own systems over PCs. In reality, PC gaming is pretty inexpensive if you go about it the right way. For instance, building a PC using a site like newegg.com can cost anywhere from $200 to $500 if you are smart about it. Additionally, the end result nets you a computer much more powerful and capable than your typical console. Furthermore, desktop PCs are modular and can be upgraded over time, allowing you to easily keep up with new console releases and next generation games.
    • Not only can building a PC be cheap, but often times the games themselves are at least $10 cheaper than their console counterparts (also, Daily Deals with Steam rocks!).
  • "Console optimization makes the PC's better hardware irrelevant!"
    • Wrong again. Console optimization, in short, is the process of making a game specifically for one platform (say the PS3) and getting the most that you can out of that system. This often results in games that look much better than the hardware suggests when compared to an equivalent PC. Optimization occurs mainly because developers only have to code for one system and not for endless variables as must be done when making a game for a PC, and because consoles have incredibly lightweight operating systems which allows for more of the processing resources to be focused on gaming.
    • All that being said, this optimization doesn't actually account for much when comparing say the Xbox 360 (made in 2005) to a top of the line PC today. To make a game that looks even remotely close to the fidelity achieved on PCs, console developers must cut down the resolution of their games and cut corners in nearly every area that they can can. Additionally, consoles are usually played on large television screens, where it is harder to discern differences between higher and lower resolutions (as opposed to PC gaming, where people mainly play on 15 - 24" screens with incredibly high resolutions). 
  •  "PS3/Xbox is better than Xbox/PS3!"
    • There are people on the System Wars forum that base their entire existences around the defense of their particular console. I won't name names, but a quick perusal of this forum will quickly make it evident which users have an unhealthy attachment to their gaming system of choice. The bottom line is that you cannot truly go wrong with either system, so there is no point in arguing about it. They both output such similar graphics and offer so many of the same games that any argument between fanboys about the various benfits of these two machines often boils down to insanity. In truth, much of the argumentation occurring in System Wars (and there is a lot of it...) is based around subjects which have no reason to be fought over in the first place. Normally, I would suggest steering clear of a forum such as this, though in this case, sometimes the entertainment value is worth the price of admission (or more particularly the price of your sanity/soul).