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Experiment 626

by on Nov.29, 2012, under gaming, Geekery

avatarA couple of Christmases ago, my beloved brother bought us a Mindflex, knowing that I like that sort of thing.

For those who find clicking on links and watching videos too much tl;dr, the basic premise is that you wear a headband sensor that registers brain activity. If there’s a lot, power is increased to a fan, causing a foam ball to rise in the air (like balancing a ping pong ball on an air dryer — what do you mean you’ve never tried that?) and the player twiddles a knob to send the fan around the course. There are a variety of obstacles one can place around the course, with varying levels of ‘control’ needed to make it through them.

You’ll notice I put ‘control’ in scare quotes. The thing is, there is a reasonable amount of argument as to whether this thing genuinely reads brain activity or whether it offers the illusion of control. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of years, off and on, and I honestly couldn’t say. I know how powerful that illusion can be, and I don’t fall for the “lots of people think it’s real so it must be real” argument. If I did, I’d be scared of the giant sky pixie.

So we decided to do an experiment.

This is Stitch. Some of you will have met him.

Is sad

This is not the Stitch who ate all the pies, or travelling Stitch, or Warpig Stitch (don’t ask). This Stitch is relatively well behaved and not known for having high levels of brain activity. This is Emo Stitch (Sad Stitch Is Sad).

One of the games available on Original Mindflex is a time trial arrangement called, melodramatically, Danger Zone. This involves setting up an obstacle course and taking it in turns to try to get past all four lights within the time limit.

On this occasion, the players were:

Me (incidentally, MoC is seeking funding for Episode 5, so go and look at the cool stuff you could get for supporting them and lob a few quid their way): Minister of Chance is currently in need of funding. Go and donate.
Frood: Frood
Munky: Munky's game face
Emo Stitch: Stitch in a tinfoil hat

You will notice that Stitch is wearing a tinfoil hat. The Mindflex requires the player to have a crocodile clip attached to each earlobe and a small metal disc pressed against the forehead.

No, we’re not sure how that’s supposed to work, either. Hence the experiment.

Stitch needed the tinfoil hat for the various alleged electrodes to form a circuit and the game to accept him as a biological entity. Note that the game didn’t need any verifiable brainwave activity, merely a circuit. Plush gets in the way of circuit forming.

Our null hypothesis was that the Mindflex system was not designed to read genuine brainwave activity as the hardware supplied does not seem capable of measuring genuine brainwave activity; and that the apparent relationship between ball height and concentration was entirely a result of the illusion of control. Thus, to disprove the null hypothesis, our control Stitch would have to perform significantly worse than our human players, on the basis that he doesn’t have any brain activity.

Because he’s plush.

This was our experimental method.

We chose the Danger Zone game, as this would give us a quantitative measure of each player’s performance. A number of obstacles were used, including a maze cage with trap level and several hoop obstacles, to ensure a requirement for the player to vary the ball’s height (which, as explained earlier, is a measure of brainwave activity, APPARENTLY). I went first, then Frood, then Munky, then Stitch.

Experiment 626

The obvious flaw with this is that Stitch is plush and could not operate the twiddle knob by himself. Therefore I did it for him. Please also see notes below for future experimental proposals.

I completed 4 zones in 1 minute 49 seconds. Frood completed 4 zones in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Munky completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 48 seconds while Stitch completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Yes. That is correct. Stitch beat Munky.

Sad Sackmunky Are Sad

There are some obvious problems with the experimental protocol. Ideally, an experiment would involve at least three repetitions (it was late, we’d been drinking, it was time to go to bed). Also, another round needs to be added, in which a neutral observer operates the twiddle knob for all of the players, to remove that factor from the timing. It would also be worthwhile checking some of the other games, to see if Stitch is better or worse at any particular type of game compared to a human, to at least identify the possibility of an inherent bias in the system.

And maybe give Pooh a go, and see if he’s as good as Stitch.

I think what we can definitely say, however, is that how well you do at Danger Zone isn’t necessarily related to how much control you have over your brainwave activity. As a biofeedback training tool, it’s not much use.

I’m obviously not the only one to want to test this, either:

What I like best about that are the people getting really upset in the comments because they believe it REALLY DOES WORK UR JUST DOIN IT RONG.

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Sam reviews: Portal 2

by on May.02, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarWhile everyone else was rolling painted eggs down hills, chasing after Easter bunnies and stuffing themselves full of chocolate, my main concern about the penultimate weekend in April (other than the trip down to Lincolnshire for my mother-in-law’s birthday) was the release of Portal 2.

Portal 2 cover
In a gaming world where most of the action titles seem to be taking the “increased difficulty = more monsters and more shooting”, finding a title that is engrossing, has a good narrative and doesn’t rely on ultra-violence is quite difficult. I haven’t bought a new adult action game since Bioshock 2 — I’ve been buying things like Little Big Planet 2 and Rabbids titles instead. Compare Resistance: Fall of Man with its sequel, FEAR likewise — I haven’t gone near Dead Space 2 because the original took that to a frustrating extreme. There is only so much I can cope with button mashing through a fight only to run straight into another one with barely enough of a break to regain a couple of health bars.

Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air in a room stale with the scent of testosterone, cordite and spent shell casings.

It’s a puzzler, much like the first one. The first one, however, had us join Theseus after entering the Labyrinth then bug out as soon as the Minotaur was dead. In Portal 2 we get to see a bit more of Crete and the Kingdom of Minos.

Gameplay is similar to the first offering, although there is less reliance on laying portals in exactly the right place with impeccable timing and more on figuring out the correct sequence and making use of the portals to achieve the seemingly impossible. While I had a considerably frustrating time with the original, lacking the precise hand-eye co-ordination required to make accurate portals at high speed while flying through the air, I found Portal 2 to be just frustrating enough. I liked the logical progression of problem solving. Rather like doing a crossword, it’s necessary to gain an eye for it, to learn the rules and the patterns. There is a sense of accomplishment in gaining the mindset required to solve the puzzles. The achievement here isn’t being able to slaughter more and bigger and stronger rabid creatures: it’s being able to solve ever more complex puzzles that on first glance seem impossible until a solitary patch of white turns into the end of a thread that will lead you through to the exit.

There are nods to the original in the use of some of the same test chambers, run through the decay mill. If you are expecting the game to be as short as the original you are in for a shock at the point you think you have escaped into the outside world. The use of the derelict original facility to bring in a whole new set of puzzle types and give some background to the Aperture Science facility was enjoyable, seasoning the very dark storyline with welcome humour.

Another point for which Valve has my undying love is that our protagonist is a woman. But she just happens to be a woman. There is a point halfway through the game where GLaDOS says “She did all the work!” If you have been concentrating on the gameplay rather than laying out portals to get a look at your character, and know nothing of the game, this is the first time the sex of the character is clear. This isn’t Silent Hill, where being female inevitably leads to a plotline involving maternal instinct; or a reason for pneumatic busts à la Lara Croft; nor the ridiculous posturing of Bayonetta. Portal 2 passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, even when one of the women involved is a potato. (Spoilers!)

“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being dead. You know… after you murdered me? Okay look, we both said a lot of things that you are going to regret. But I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”

Chell

"And then you showed up. You dangerous, mute lunatic."

I couldn’t have been happier had a Big Daddy removed his helmet to reveal he was actually a Big Mummy.

We haven’t started on the co-operative level, and there are several achievements that I missed on my first run through, so there’s plenty of gameplay in it yet. If you fancy something a bit more cerebral than your standard first-person shooter, where difficulty isn’t measured in how many times you die in a sequence before you learn the spawn patterns and get your timing just right, I can thoroughly recommend this engaging and satisfying number from Valve.

I won’t spoil the ending, but yes, there is a song.

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What about LBP2, RB?

by on Feb.03, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarIs Little Big Planet 2 everything you expected? Have you been disappointed since getting your sticky, eager little paws on it? You have been terribly quiet about it and we thought maybe you were so heartbroken that you had consigned it to the oblivion of a mental oubliette, along with Highlander 2, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men 3: X-Men United and X-Men: the official game.

Can’t stop

Triple play

to talk.

Tongue wagging

Too busy

Little Big Planet

playing

I can has fuzzy pod

with

Little Big Planet

SACKPEOPLES!

The sackbots love me.

And sackbots! And grabinators! And robobuns! And caterpillars! And grappleguns!

It’s as awesome as an awesome thing
That has as a hobby
Being Made of Win
And Rocking like a Ninja
Who is also God and King!

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Sackpeeples FTW!

by on Jan.05, 2011, under gaming, Geekery

avatarI owe the world some game reviews, notably the recent Rabbids game, but I had to squee about Little Big Planet 2.

Unless you’ve never, ever, ever been here or met me or talked to me or had anything to do with me ever at all (in which case, hi!) you will know that I have an almost pathological obsession with Little Big Planet. So when Media Molecule released a demo for the forthcoming LBP2, I was all over it like a rash.

Frood and I have spent an inordinate amount of time playing it over the past couple of days. Yes. A demo. For the first time ever a game has me so enthralled that I’m going back to the demo over and over again because it’s so enormously, splendiferously fantastic that I can’t wait for the full release.

Robo-buns! Grapple Guns! The Tower of Whoop! THE BEST AND MOST AWSUM HATS EVAR!!!!

Dude, this is seriously going to rock so hard that it will be subject to tectonic drift.

Flabbit!

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ZOMG!!!

by on Nov.10, 2010, under gaming, Geekery

avatarTwo of my favourite things in the whole wide world.

Rabbids.

Bicycles.

And I’ve pre-ordered so it will ARRIVE ON MY BIRTHDAY!

JELLY. CAEK. RABBIDS. BICYCLES. SACKPEEPLES.

I can’t think of anything to make a birthday girl happier, unless it’s Stitch-related.

Stitch of Death

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Bottom lip a birdie could perch on

by on Oct.19, 2010, under gaming, Geekery

I just read this.

LBP2 is not going to be released until January.

Down arrow.

Down arrow.

Down arrow.

Sad Sackmunky Are Sad

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Weapon of Choice

by on Jun.05, 2010, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarThere are a couple of games that have stayed with me as I have progressed through the various ranks of consoles I have owned and enjoyed throughout my time as a gamer (and I’d betray my age if I told you my first console was Pong). Nothing from the old Atari 2600 has survived the various upgrades, although I first played R-Type on a ZX Spectrum, when a dodgy joystick meant the only way to progress was for us to play in pairs, with one gunner and one pilot. By gum Frood and I rocked that game.

As far as I know they are not planning on releasing a version for the PS3, which is very sad. But I’ve kept my PS2 so I can still play R-Type Final.

The other reason I kept the PS2 was so I could continue to play the other game that I’ve bought every time I’ve upgraded my console: WipEout. WipEout Fusion is, in my opinion, the best of the various WipEouts. Sadly it’s one of the few games that doesn’t port properly over to the PS3 — after a certain number of tracks are opened up the game starts crashing.

Of course I have WipEout HD, and there are some features that are great improvements. The screenshot facility is great, and I have gone into geeky paroxysms of obsession trying to get the perfect picture (and so far failing, but enjoying the process). The ability to import your own soundtrack is also fantastic, as previously we had a complicated setup involving a Sony stereo system with a games function that allowed us to connect the audio output of the PS2 to the stereo, where it would be mixed with whatever CD happened to be playing. Turn down the in-game music, turn up the sound effects, stick some Crystal Method on the multichanger and you’ve got yourself a thumping race soundtrack.

Sadly, however, the tracks don’t live up to expectations and I do miss the pitstops. I’ve spent most of my life living in shared households with friends and we had our own language and terminology, some of which was game based. “Jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with only one pit stop. “Double jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with no pit stops at all. In the current WipEout you regain ship energy by consuming weapons, and it takes some of the risk out of it: skipping a pit-stop commits you to flying your socks off to cross the line before you crash and burn. They’ve also got rid of the shortcuts, which is really sad. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon sending my ship down strange side-roads in an effort to find the shortest (and therefore fastest) route round a course.

Then again, the head to head mode in the current version is much better, and I like that you can select which tracks you want for a multi-race challenge against a friend. I haven’t tried the online version, so I can’t comment on that.

Still. I miss Mandrashee.

Perfection, of course, would be importing the tracks from WipEout Fusion into WipEout HD. Then we could get a picture of Munky falling off the moon.

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OMFG SQUEE!!!!eleventy!!

by on May.10, 2010, under gaming

avatarI haven’t been this excited since… since… Since the last time I was waiting for a new bike to show up!

Frood just said “If you write it, I’ll build it.”

Intelligent objects! Digital puppetry! Linked levels!

OMFG I’m so excited!

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The levellers – #lbp

by on Aug.08, 2009, under gaming, Geekery, Miscellany

Little Big Planet may look like a game for kiddies, but I can assure you that grown-ups play it too, and are just as fond of mucking about with their sackpeople. No, that is not a euphemism.

Frood (AKA Alibarbarella) and I have played the story levels all the way through and a great many of the community levels, and here’s my short guide for level-makers to creating enjoyable levels that will result in these two picky customers giving you five stars and a heart.

#1 – Single player vs. co-op
And all for one!
You might think that this shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. If your level doesn’t work very well when more than one sackperson is on the field, say so in the description. It doesn’t mean we won’t play it — we’ll switch off one of the controllers and one of us will watch the other one play. The levels that play themselves are good examples. If two of you embark on one of those, a helpful NPC reminds you to switch off one of the controllers.

If your level is designed to work for co-op that’s fantastic. We love co-op games. Levels we can play together are the levels that keep us coming back for more. LBP is, after all, also a social game. That said, if you need more than one player to complete your level, you should say so. If your level can be played by two or more but you’re better off approaching the obstacles one at a time, it’s helpful if you explain that, too.

Remember that co-op sackpeople don’t like being separated. If your obstacles cover a lot of space, make sure that all players can complete each one together, otherwise there will be much peeping and someone will end up piffing.

#2 Storytelling
The best levels have an economy such as would be found in a short story (I’ll talk more about telling stories with levels in a later post). There’s no point putting in a hellishly fiendish obstacle if the sackpeople can just go around it, and sticking a few points balls at the top isn’t incentive enough to waste valuable lives making the attempt unless you’re trying to ace the level.

Frankly, life’s too short.

We liked this oneA really neat sticker (especially one that becomes a switch trigger later) might induce me to tackle an obstacle that’s not vital to completing the level, but I don’t get a kick out of grabbing everything there is to grab. Not everyone does. If I reach the end and it says I’ve only managed to find 64% of the items, that doesn’t necessarily make me unhappy or want to play it again. A good story, with well thought-out obstacles — that makes me want to play it again.

Check out Innocent Cows… That’s a great level, and we’ve played it a few times. Note that it took two months of work and hand-drawn artwork. Good levels don’t come easily.

#3 Gremlins
If you haven’t heard of beta testing, then you’re doing it wrong.

Sackpeople are like hamsters, or octopuses. When you want them to go through a gap they’ll stubbornly refuse and hop to either side of it like it’s the fourth wall. When you don’t want them to go through a gap, they’ll be straight through there and nothing you can do will stop them. Then they’ll get stuck.

You need to use a glitch to get this costumeThey also break things. The players out there will take your level and turn it into so much useless junk, if you haven’t built it robustly. There’s very little worse in Little Big Planet land than getting halfway through a level and discovering you’ve broken it. A pretty typical flaw is when a level generates a vehicle as a one-off, it somehow gets broken or lost (sackpeople also let go when you least expect it) and then you can’t finish the level because the vehicle was necessary to get to the next area.

In addition, we don’t like it when we find ourselves behind the scenes, looking at the winches and pulleys, and can’t get out again.

In short, don’t give us a level we can break. That makes for sad, angry sackpeople.

#4 Number of lives
Sackperson acrobaticsThere’s something to be said for the infinite lives portals. A couple of community levels out there (I can’t look them up because Frood is hogging the machine for level building right now) are designed to be one trap after another. Relax, it tells you. You will die. It’s fine. You have infinite lives. Sit back and enjoy.

And we did.

Running out of lives halfway through a level and having to start again might be part of the fun for some — I own more than one version of R-Type, I get it, I really do — but personally I prefer not having to go all the way back and start again. If you’ve got a particularly tricky bit in your level, in which it’s necessary to get it right to within a hair’s breadth, or learn a complex pattern, consider using a double portal, at the very least. I don’t mind dying, but I don’t like getting frustrated. Gaming is supposed to be fun.Sad Sackmunky Are Sad

On the other hand, there are tags for “tricky” and “frustrating”, so if you like killing sackpeople go right ahead. It’s just that we’ll probably skip it.

#5 Descriptions
Use these wisely, young sackperson! You can get away with almost anything if you explain it up front. There will be players out there who will enjoy whatever fiendish tricks you have to offer, so make your description count! For every player who wants to bring three friends there’s another who likes having levels all to himself. For every player who likes infinite lives there are more who like the challenge of having to do a level over and over to get it right. The important thing is to give us levels that work and are fun to play. If a description covers the important facts then we can choose the ones we are more likely to find enjoyable and you are more likely to get hearted.

All together

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What he said

by on Apr.10, 2009, under games, gaming

I bought the game thinking it was going to be a 2-player co-op. Frood would get Spidey and I’d get Wolverine.

Fat chance.

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