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The Tech Deck

‘FEZ’ takes players on perspective-altering journey

Title: FEZ
Genre: Puzzle/platformer
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Publisher: Polytron Corporation/Trapdoor
Release date (original): April 13, 2012

 


‚ÄčA little taste of the superb level design in 'FEZ.'

The resurgence of the platform genre can be attributed to the rise of the independent developer and the insatiable nostalgia of the modern gamer. 'FEZ,' from the somewhat schizophrenic mind of Phil Fish, plays on both of those themes to construct an experience that is as mind-bending as it is accessible, even if its physics hold it back from greatness.

You play as Gomez, a marshmallow-looking protagonist. Our only clues to his existence are his two-dimensional build and his penchant for the drums. Early in the proceedings, you're granted the titular “fez” by a nice old man who wants you to throw your entire world into a fit in order to save it. Once the fez is on your head, Gomez has the ability to shift the perspective, which the gamer accomplishes by hitting the trigger buttons of the controller. This causes the three-dimensional world to spin on its axis, revealing another two-dimensional plane that Gomez must then traverse in pursuit of yellow, phosphorescent cubes that will save the world from imploding on itself.

That's it. You now know what 'FEZ' is all about.

But, like Texas Hold 'Em, 'FEZ' will take you seconds to learn and much longer to master. Thankfully, trial and error is rewarded in the game, as falling off a ledge or a distance that Gomez can't stomach – death in most platformers – simply ends in you respawning within seconds at the point where you launched on your last, unsuccessful jump.

The level design in 'FEZ' is brilliant. You'll never find yourself in the same atmosphere for very long, and well-placed 'warp gates' that send you to hubs in the overworld keep things from devolving into monotonous back-tracking. In addition, 'FEZ' is chock-full of secrets and collectibles that beg experimentation, rather than simply looking up the solutions online.


Quoth the raven…

Where 'FEZ' falls short is in perhaps the most important of platforming features, and that is in tight gameplay. Gomez's momentum feels a tad off, and what he possesses in cuteness he lacks in responsiveness. Jumping takes a while to get used to, even to those who have wasted hours on Mario, Sonic and the like. 'FEZ' falls well short of the other great puzzle-platformer of the past generation, 'Splosion Man,' which features a protagonist that handles like an absolute dream.

Also lacking in 'FEZ' is any sort of story whatsoever. You'll complete the game and be treated to a trippy sequence that will cause your 'Matrix' sense to tingle, but alas, there's no all-important reveal to be had here (at least, not in your first playthrough). There's a new game plus option, which is laudable. But without a platinum trophy, I really have no desire to go through the game's seven hours again – even with the promise of puzzles that can only be solved the second time around.


Things get weird in the final act of 'FEZ.'

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

Tabs for the week

Welcome to the new feature I'm adding to the Tech Deck called “Dan Gayle's Tabs for the Week,” where I'll share the best of all the Firefox tabs I have open by the end of the week. A lot of the links shamelessly come from Hacker News, others come from Twitter/FB/Reddit, others come from Googling, and others just magically appear somehow. It's a sickness I have, which…

On to the links!

http://www.rtl-sdr.com/about-rtl-sdr/
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009U7WZCA/

Thanks to Mike Tigas, I think, this combination of software and hardware allows you to create a rad software defined radio that allows you to pick up everything transmitted through the air as radio waves: Police, air-traffic control, baby monitors, weather balloon data, International Space Station chatter, everything. It's actually kind of scary.

 

https://aralbalkan.com/2891/
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/10228760/fix-a-git-detached-head

I've been having all sorts of git issues this week. Detached heads, merge conflicts, working on the wrong branch, you name it. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's one of those things that no matter how many times you run into it, you still end up googling it. Especially if you've been a good git'r and haven't dealt with those issues in weeks/months.

 

http://carlgroner.me/Python/2011/11/09/An-Introduction-to-List-Comprehensions-in-Python.html
http://scottsievert.github.io/blog/2014/07/30/simple-python-parallelism/
http://www.rafekettler.com/magicmethods.html
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/101268/hidden-features-of-python

I love Python. There's always something to learn, some feature that makes it easy for you to condense your jillions of lines of code down to an elegant and pythonic handful. For instance, the list comprehension link there. I know how to use list comprehensions, but I forgot the order of nested loops. While it can get a bit obtuse, it can really simplify and speed up your code. All the links featured here are great resources to learn some useful Python.

 

https://github.com/c-w/Gutenberg

Oh my goodness, this is awesome. The Project Gutenberg hosts all the classic public domain texts, all the Shakespeare, all the Kafka, all the everything. This python package is an interface to the entire library for use in natural language processing with something like TextBlob, which is a fantastically simple NLP library. Or you can use it to simply download the text of cool old books. Your call.

 

http://www.homelessfonts.org/

They take the handwriting of homeless people, turn it into a font, sell the font, give the money to the homeless people. Such a cool and useful concept.

 

http://myrtlestreet.blogspot.com/2011/05/are-finnish-people-asian.html?showComment=1328561490244#c6707542099362105290

This is my favorite link in here. The topic is interesting, debating if Finnish people (like myself) are essentially Mongolians. But scroll down to the comments to Anonymous. The comment starts out simple, talking about the history of the Finns in the modern era and diving a little into the genetics of Finns.

But then…

But at end of last Ice Age Finns and many related Finnic tribes and Finno-Ugric tribes did not live up north near vicinity of area that became Finland. For in 11000 BC the north was covered by Gaciers. In fact in 11000 BC light-pigmented Finnic tribes lived in the northern part of Africa and The Near East.

In Egypt they built the Great Pyramid: It was a “Pyora mittaja” or stone pyramid sky wheel measurer with shafts that measured rate of rotation of 12 night star zodiac patterns—25,920 yrs for all to make one full revolution.

And Jesus was not a Jew. His mother tongue was a Finnic tongue like Finnish. And this is why so few words that Jesus spoke were ever written down by Romans and Greeks.

In fact Biblical Scholars have always wondered why only a few words that Jesus spoke were actually written down. The reason was because the Romans and the Greeks did not understand the mother tongue of Jesus—in which he and God spoke to the local natives; the indigenous people. To be understood by the original natives living in Egypt and the Near East it was necessary that God and Jesus spoke in a Finnic tongue(s).

Words cannot describe my confusion. I've seen some cray-cray religious thoughts, but this is most certainly the most interesting.


There you have it. The best of my tabs for the week. I have a bunch more having to do with Celery/Django Celery, but I'm seriously pissed off at that right now and I don't want to talk about it.

Fallon frags Bond in ‘Goldeneye’

Do you remember those long nights in grade/secondary/high school spent gripping a sweat-drenched Nintendo 64 controller, peppering your buddies with paintballs of death while screaming at their selection of 'Oddjob'?

If so, this video of Jimmy Fallon from 'The Tonight Show' schooling Pierce Brosnan, AKA Bond 5 (depending on what you consider James Bond silver screen canon), in the game bearing his likeness might be for you.

 


  

Fallon, an avid gamer, should get some extra points, I think, for slaying Bond using the lowly DD44 Dostovei. He picks up the RC-P90 but presumably wants the flashier handgun kill. Brosnan seems to think he's playing “Slappers Only” with “Licensed to Kill” on, as you hear him talking about the one-hit kill with the fist early in the video. I think the actor knows more about the game than he's letting on.

What's your favorite memory of 'Goldeneye,' widely proclaimed as one of the best first-person shooters ever to grace consoles?

Facebook messenger isn’t the devil for the reasons you think it is

Thanks to Fox News, there is mass hysteria about the Facebook Messenger app being the Worst Thing Ever™, which is silly. The ruckus is all about how the app asks for all sorts of permissions to use the camera on your phone or access your contacts and other assorted permissions.

Now, I'm not one to tell you that Facebook isn't evil. It is, for all sorts of anti-big-corporation, anti-privacy reasons you can Google on your own. It's just not evil in the way that the fear-mongers are espousing all over the internet. (Ironically, it appears that most of the fear mongering is happening on a certain social platform that… I mean come on people. Put your money where your mouth is.)

Here is what you need to know about the Facebook Messenger app:

1) The permissions it asks for are basic to the functionality of the app. Without granting those permissions, why did you even download it? If you want to share photos with your friends via messages, guess what, the app needs permission on an operating system level to even access those photos to begin with. Same with video, same with audio, same with all the other features. On iOS, if you don't grant those permissions (which are enabled on a per-function basis, unlike Android's all-or-nothing approach), your app is a brick.

2) The permissions it asks for are the same permissions that literally every other app on your phone requests. Need to edit a photo with Camera+? Need to grant it permissions. Want to send an email with the Gmail app to someone in your contacts list? Need to grant it permissions.

3) Facebook's terms of use and privacy are exactly the same across all their apps and across their entire platform. In fact, if you already were using the Facebook app for messaging prior to using Facebook Messenger, then you've already given up your firstborn child, your blood type and your life essence to El Diablo in exchange for looking at funny cat photos.

Speaking of funny cat pics:

4) No, Facebook isn't secretly using your camera to stalk you when you're not using your phone. The fear mongers hint at it, but they won't quite come out and say it. Because it's not true. Stop it.

Now, one thing I should note is that although I have issues with Facebook, I actually really like the Facebook Messenger app. It's fast, allows me to send audio messages (which was amazing when my girlfriend was in Ireland), and works like a charm. Facebook is of course processing everything we type, but they were doing that anyway, regardless of which app I was using.

War is pretty and conventional in ‘Battlefield 4’

Title: Battlefield 4
Genre: First-person shooter
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 29, 2013


Watch Kip play (miserably) a portion of 'Battlefield 4.' 

If the “Fallout” series teaches us that war never changes, the “Battlefield” series' message is “war is constantly changing, and we're going to make it look as pretty and chaotic as possible.”

Battlefield 4, the latest entry in the series, is no exception, especially on the Rolls Royce of the latest generation of consoles, the Playstation 4. This review would have come quicker if there weren't a host of game-breaking bugs that plagued both the single- and multiplayer modes on consoles. Most of those issues have been ironed out, finally, and I'm happy to say Battlefield 4 is a passable way to kill in high definition.

You'll be buying Battlefield 4 for the multiplayer, however. The single-player campaign shoots (no pun intended) to mimic the high cinematic production values and frenetic pace of EA's main competitor, the “Call of Duty” franchise. As it stands, the ridiculous plot is laughably short, even by modern first-person standards (you'll complete the game's six missions – that's right, 6 – within a span of 8 hours on normal difficulty).


It always helps to have a little superior firepower.

There's barely enough time to gain attachment to your squad, though DICE pulled out the stops and hired Michael Kenneth Williams of “The Wire” (Omar) and “Boardwalk Empire” (Chalky White) fame to lend his likeness and voice to Irish, who becomes a blithering crybaby early in the proceedings.

The conceit is standard for the genre; you're a highly trained Marine on a top-secret mission to prevent the Chinese, the Russians and basically every other gas-masked, cigarette-smoking baddie from seizing control of a Chinese civil war and plunging the entire world into chaos. It sounds much cooler than it is. Most of the time you'll be watching Irish and Hannah (a Chinese intelligence officer who the writers give a lot of secrets that are never revealed) curse at each other as various clingers-on get sent to their grisly deaths.

This would be excusable if the game didn't try to shoehorn drama by making you pick which of these characters will become a martyr in the game's final act. And I'm not spoiling anything for you by saying so that isn't already broadcast by the title's very public online trophy list.

Gunplay is satisfying. An impressive arsenal of weaponry looks, sounds and feels authentic, and you'll unlock even more interesting equipment as you push forward in the campaign. There's also a scoring system so you can compare your shooting-gallery abilities with your friends. The AI is passable, though on the easier difficulty settings they'll basically sit down and beg you to pump them full of lead.

The real reason to play any Battlefield game is the multiplayer, and 4 delivers in spades on Playstation 4. Though there are a dizzying amount of game modes, Conquest is where you'll want to spend most of your time. The developers through jets, tanks, seacraft and ATVs at you to span massive maps with 63 other players. That's right; 64 players can go at it online in a slugfest whose scope is positively dizzying. If close-quarters combat is more your style, there are deathmatches and skirmishes that bring that number (and associated vehicles) down to a more manageable number.


The occasional graphical glitch (like disappearing Irish) is to be expected in a game this pretty.

Battlefield 4 is a mismatch of a potential scope-busting console first-person shooter in its multiplayer and a single-player campaign that isn't quite ready to compete with the big boys in wartime storytelling. Still, those who can't get enough of aiming down their sights should give this one a try.

Verdict: 2.5 / 5 stars

Charlie Murder is a hell-raising good time

Title: Charlie Murder
Genre: Beat ‘em up
Platform reviewed on: Xbox 360
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: August 14, 2013

My education in the side-scrolling beat ‘em up began, as most children of the ‘90s, with the spritely “Final Fight” for Super Nintendo.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about playing as an elected official – Mike Haggar, the suspendered mayor of Metro City – beating the unholy snot out of street punks. Metro City is apparently a jurisdiction where due process and reactive policing got lost somewhere in the municipal codes.

The fun of Final Fight led to other classics of the genre. Two stick out in my mind: the brilliant “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time” and 1989’s “River City Ransom.”

Turtles in Time screen
If this doesn't give you the warm fuzzies, we have nothing more to talk about.

Ska Games’ “Charlie Murder” is a love song more to the second title, with this generation’s obligatory inclusion of role-playing progression and in-game economy. (As an aside, is there any title we shouldn’t expect to have some RPG elements in the future? We’re two titles away from Mario earning extra ‘jump’ stats for every Goomba he squashes.) But it’s as much fun, and tells as compelling a story, as Konami’s most-celebrated ode to the heroes in a half-shell.

You begin dead. To learn the mechanics of the game, you’re in the “Netherworld” fighting back an unending horde of zombies. The game’s visceral aesthetic and tight controls are on display immediately, immersing you in a rich overworld that draws obvious influences from Tim Burton, Don Hertzfeldt and Ska Studio’s previous brilliant button-masher, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai.

As it turns out, you (no matter which character you play as, each with their own distinctive style – I chose frontman Charlie, because chicks dig the lead singer) were killed by the bandmates of your nemesis, Paul, who was kicked out of Charlie Murder just before they hit it big. Now, he’s exacting revenge as “Lord Mortimer.”

The story is told through a series of Tarantino-like flashbacks, indicating just how things went so wrong between Charlie and Paul. They’re light-hearted, though darkly demented, affairs, which give ‘Charlie Murder’ the game a little more substance than the Final Fight/Double Dragon trope of a kidnapped girlfriend.


Even in video games, the craft beer craze is unavoidable.

  

Level design in ‘Charlie Murder’ is top notch, switching you on the fly from regular brawling, to puzzle-solving, to rhythm-based challenges, and back again. The in-game economy is fun, and combat is satisfying, offering you the perfect amount of variety that necessitates strategy, rather than simple mashing. The same is true of boss fights, which are mostly old-school encounters requiring you to memorize a pattern in order to survive. And, like most brawlers, ‘Charlie Murder’ is most fun with friends playing by your side.

violent scene of video game violence
Yes, there's a reason this game is rated Mature.

As an Xbox Live/Playstation Network title, it’s tough not to recommend ‘Charlie Murder.’ It’s cheap, lengthy compared to other titles in the genre (you’ll spend about eight hours completing Charlie’s story) and the soundtrack is unique. My complaints have to do with the game's polish, which is not unexpected given this is a title from an indie developer.

Sprinting (you’ll have to build momentum before you can get your character to run) makes traversing large gameplay areas a slog. It also makes the platforming portions of Charlie Murder downright unplayable, in some instances. Surely in a game where you're mashing X a sprint button could have been easily mapped to the d-pad or triggers.


You have to respect a game with atmosphere that bleeds into the loading screen.

A wonky save system will spit you out only at random waypoints in the game world after death. At best, it's an annoyance. At worst, you're stuck watching the same cut-scene over and over again. The ability to use some sort of old-school continue system, replicating plunking quarters into a machine, would make for a much smoother beat ‘em up experience.

This is all nitpicking, though. Go pick up Charlie Murder, a sixer and some friends. You won’t be disappointed.

Verdict: 4/5 stars

Why are we surprised by ‘Guardians’ success?

An unlikely hero, robbed of his parents and an identity, rises from obscurity to lead an intergalactic band of misfits to save the universe. Wise-cracking sidekicks, inspired by money, fame and revenge, join our reluctant hero against seemingly insurmountable odds. All of this occurs to an ass-kicking score and the perfect blend of action, comedy and adventure to make the science fiction tale behind it all immediately accessible to members of all demographics.

Should it surprise anyone that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ Marvel’s latest massively successful foray into the world of cinema, posted George Lucas-like numbers this weekend?

This is not to take away from the creative storytelling of James Gunn and his co-writers. But the prevailing wisdom entering last weekend’s record-breaking haul was that digging deep into Marvel’s stable of characters and pulling out a talking raccoon and tree amounted to a massive gamble by the studio that can seemingly do no wrong.

You can attribute the success of the film to brilliant marketing, the unbridled charisma of Hollywood’s latest “it” action/comedy actor in Chris Pratt (whose portrayal of Peter “Star Lord” Quill is already drawing comparisons to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo) or the name recognition of the greatest thing going in comic book movies right now. Understand, that’s tough for me to say as a DC Comics fanboy ever since I first picked up Alan Moore’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” in the early 1990s.

But really, why were we all so blown away by Guardians’ success? We’ve seen the template before. Throw some fresh paint on it, add in the deep Marvel cosmic mythos that has only been tapped at the most shallow level by ‘Guardians,’ and make sure your ensemble cast is rounded out by likeable character actors like Bradley Cooper, John C. Reilly and Glenn freakin’ Close, and is it any wonder this movie turned out to be the sleeper hit of the summer?

Dead story, single player in ‘Dead Island’

Title: 'Dead Island'
Platform reviewed on: Xbox 360
Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: September 6, 2011

It's a truism of post-apocalyptic zombie lore: Stay in a group, or your brain will be eaten.

That same can be said when playing Techland's action-adventure role playing game, Dead Island. Placing you in a first-person perspective against the shuffling (and sometimes sprinting) dead, you assume the role of one of four survivors on the fictional island getaway of Banoi. For some reason, you don't turn when you're bitten, meaning you have value to the other humans who don't have an insatiable desire for gray matter.

If you play alone, Dead Island will quickly become a frustrating slog through admittedly gorgeous vistas overrun with zombies. An arsenal of interesting weaponry will be at your disposal, a la another favorite of the console zombie gamer, Dead Rising. Indeed, there are many ways out there to pick up a controller and slaughter hordes of the undead. In such a crowded marketplace, a new title has to do something that sets it apart.

Unfortunately, 'Dead Island' does nothing that hasn't been done before, and much better, by other games in the genre.


Svetlana wants champagne. Because what would a post-apocalyptic RPG be without banal fetch quests?

If narrative is your thing, you'd be better off playing Telltale Games' brilliant 'Walking Dead' adaptation. 'Dead Island' tries to touch on the human cost of a zombie apocalypse, but its efforts fall flat when characters are introduced and discarded with just as quickly. You'll meet several groups of people worth saving throughout the 20+ hours you'll spend on Banoi. But the game rushes to a dissatisfying end that any gamer not a zombie to poor storytelling will see coming a mile away.


I'm going to assume this guy is my enemy, because he's pointing a gun at me. But honestly I lost interest in the plot 15 hours ago.

The weaponry in 'Dead Island' is diverse and satisfying, but doesn't do anything we haven't seen before. You can modify machetes, katanas and even brass knuckles at work benches scattered throughout the open world, as well as repair your arsenal that deteriorates with every successful, sloshy strike. You'll find one decent weapon as you level up (that's right, expect to earn XP for killing those brainless biting bastards) and stick with it, if you play anything like me, rendering the discovery of new weapons less exciting than it should be. As I said, Dead Rising's done this before, and to much greater comedic effect, so there's not much here you likely already haven't seen already.


If you don't keep that machete in good working order, it won't cut through brains like a hot knife through butter.

Enemy variation is another department in which 'Dead Island' woefully falls behind its competitors. Valve's brilliant 'Left 4 Dead' series, which remains the gold standard for zombie slaying in this humble gamer's opinion, forces you to switch your play style on the fly as tanks, witches and hunters swarm you mercilessly. 'Dead Island' attempts to borrow from this formula, throwing several classes at you. But the walkers vary only in their speed from the infected, who will sprint at you with a Wilhelm scream that will tingle your spine. Rams are the chargers of 'Dead Island,' straitjacketed monstrosities that bowl you over with their sprinting. Thugs will swing their arms wildly at you, meaning you should keep your distance when engaging.

But none of these enemy types ever really change how you approach a situation. The difficulty in 'Dead Island' comes not from the type of enemies thrown at you, but their aggressiveness. That's too bad, because the game shows flashes of brilliance in early portions when you're rolling up to abandoned gas stations swarming with baddies and you have to use your head to clear them out, with combustible gas cans, electrified fences and other environmental hazards. The final act of 'Dead Island' takes place in a maximum security prison on the island that takes away player choice and turns the game into a corridor shooter/brawler, much to its detriment.

Finally, playing alone is simply not fun in 'Dead Island.' This is a game meant to be played in co-op, which makes Microsoft's decision to release it for free as part of its 'Games with Gold' promotion frustrating. If you don't have friends who are still interested in this now three-year-old title, I can't recommend even a free playthrough. There is no offline co-op, either, so you'll have to find a friend online or with a LAN cable who wants to join your game.


These facial expressions pretty much sum up how much fun you'll have playing 'Dead Island' alone.

Though closer to a B-movie than a Romero classic, somehow 'Dead Island' earned enough of a following to warrant a true sequel coming to this generation of consoles. Let's hope they get that offline co-op thing shored up. Let's also hope the developers realize the need to make some noise in a genre filled with a horde-like number of competitors.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

The Riker Lean

I did not know that this was a thing, but apparently this is a thing. The Riker Lean.

Who watches the ‘Watch Dogs’? A Review

Title: 'Watch Dogs'
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: May 27, 2014

If there's anything I've learned from two generations of open-world games, it's that they must do one of two things well to be successful:

1) establish a likeable, relatable main character that causes you to engage with the story; and/or
2) give you the freedom to wreak havoc to your wildest dreams.

Option #1 allowed me to overlook the stodgy Grand Theft Auto IV, with its overly realistic physics and boat-like car driving mechanics. Option #2 endears me to the Saint's Row series, which in spite of its insipid plots and screw you-attitude to telling a believable story, actually allowed you to blow feces on people in its second installment.

Of course, the classics of the genre - Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto 5, Fallout 3, etc. - do both things well, focusing things for a narrative thrill ride yet also unleashing the player to his or her own devices in a satisfying way.

Despite offering neither of these things, Watch Dogs - heralded as the first exploration of the open-world genre to take advantage of next gen architecture - stands as a decent open-world title, but nowhere near the top echelon of its predecessors.

You play as Aiden Pearce, a skilled hacker whose niece fell prey to some nasty dudes who were pissed about a botched heist you pulled a few months prior to the game's setting. You're out for revenge, but the revenge story never takes - mostly because Aiden isn't remotely the most interesting character in a cadre of roguish types.

Pearce's sister and her son, Jackson, also are never fully fleshed out as believable characters. There's a Little Miss Sunshine-esque tinge to Jackson, who won't speak because of the trauma at seeing his kid sister die. He finally does speak to Aiden, in what is meant to be one of the game's many supposedly touching moments that just fall flat. The same goes for the love interest in the game, a goth-punk Englander named Clara, and another hacker you'll meet as the game goes along.

The villains aren't particularly memorable, either, though the game does allow you to take down one of them in a very unique way that takes advantage of the game's mind-numbingly simple hacking mechanic. There's one prevalent minigame that appears throughout the title for intruding certain systems, and it never reaches the level of real thought-provocation or (mercifully) annoyance.

The only character who really stands out as interesting is the mostly absent Jordi, another “fixer” who's in the game for the money, not the glory. He'll appear at times to offer comic relief, stealing the show in the process. He disappears for much of the game's final third, however, only to reappear in a scene that makes little sense, much to the game's detriment.

Aiden Pearce checks his pockets outside the proxy for the Chicago Tribune tower in 'Watch Dogs.'

You'll spend a lot of your time as Aiden Pearce looking forlornly at gray buildings.


On the second option for greatness, Watch Dogs again fails. Car chases are made less fun by the inability to fire from the vehicle, a developer choice obviously meant to force the player to use the hacking mechanic to manipulate the environment. However, when you consider GTA3, released 13 years ago, enabled the player to fire out windows, it seems odd Ubisoft didn't offer that option in Watch Dogs. It becomes increasingly annoying when your pursuers will have passengers who can fire, but you cannot.

Watch Dogs essentially funnels you from one sandbox stealth moment to the next, and it's here that the game sets itself apart from other open-world titles. Stealth in Watch Dogs works, and it's a blast to infiltrate certain areas while trying to remain unseen. The brilliant line-of-sight mechanic allows Aiden to take out groups of enemies using explosives in the environment and carried on enemies to take out thugs without even firing a bullet. The game shines when it combines these stealth mechanics with, say, unlocking a CtOS tower, the operating system that runs a living, breathing Chicago and opens up new activities on the mini-map.

Ubisoft deserves much praise for creating Chicago in the game with a high degree of fidelity to the real thing. It's actually thrilling to lead cops on a chase through Millenium Park, past the Bean and around the Willis Tower. Major props are also in order for the City Hotspots, which act just like social media in the real world. Check-in with your phone to learn real historical facts about the places you visit, with a wry sense of humor from the game's writers.

Gunplay is also satisfying, though once you unlock the upper tier of weapons and max out your focus meter (the obligatory bullet-time mechanic in Watch Dogs), gunfights become needlessly simple. That is, unless there's a poorly designed mission flaw that will cause enemies to spawn behind you unannounced in certain sections of the game, and without a logical reason. One rooftop fight, in particular, made no sense to this player and led to frustrating mission restarts late in the game.

You could certainly do worse than picking up Watch Dogs. There's a meaty amount of content here that is satisfying to play, if not up to snuff in terms of its highest quality peers. The story opens the door for the obligatory sequel, since the title's already made oogles of dollars. Let's hope Ubisoft looks to the things that made past entries in the genre great - while remaining true to what sets Watch Dogs apart - in the next installment.

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

The most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen

This is the most amazing Kickstarter project ever. No words are needed to describe the awesome.

For more details, and to sign up for the (ALREADY FUNDED!) Kickstarter, check out the Bunch O Balloons campaign page here.

A collection of the best drops ever

I'm a big fan of electronic music, so I thought I'd share with you this collection of the best drops ever. It is a very serious thing, these drops, and I am a very serious person.

If those drops are too mega for you, perhaps this remix of the lovely soft rock song Baker Street by DJ DETWEILER will be more to your liking:

 

NEO Scavenger: A brutally hard survival game for Steam

It's a brutal, turn-based Rogue-like game with no save points and no mercy.

I still haven't survived longer than a few hours before I die from a traumatic head wound or massive internal bleeding. Like some nightmare version of Groundhog's Day, I start over again every time, awakening from my cryogenic slumber into a post-apocalyptic world filled with nightmarish creatures and anarchy.

And I love it.

NEO Scavenger by Blue Bottle Games, available on Steam, is a post-apocalyptic survival game reminiscent of the early Fallout games. You wake up in nothing more than a hospital gown, a wrist strap with your name on it, a mysterious bronze necklace around your neck, and a fierce Dogman about to eat you.

After defeating the Dogman, you go outside the Cryo facility and walk around, scavenging whatever you can from the landscape. And then you die from hypothermia before you make it 10 squares away.

Game over.

This time, you find some clothing first. But now you're thirsty, and there's a spring right over there with plenty of water. And then you die from diarrhea.

Game over.

This time, you find some clothing first, find a tin can or a cooking pot to boil the water in, and you happily start scavenging for loot from the nearby abandoned homes. Ooh look, you found a rifle. No bullets though. Ah, who is this person approaching? Then you die from massive internal bleeding from being stabbed in the gut with a primitive wooden spear. (Don't worry, the game is largely text-based, so there are no graphic depictions of violence.)

Game over.

59 hours in, and I'm nowhere even close to surviving. I've only just recently made it to the point where I figured out what I used to do for a living before whatever cataclysmic event destroyed what is apparently the Detroit, MI area.

59 hours in, and I'm nowhere even close to putting the game down.

You can find NEO Scavenger on Steam or Blue Bottle Game's website

Vasoconstriction: Pitting man against woman since the Garden of Eden

If you haven't noticed, Summer is in full swing, and that means that the eternal struggle between the sexes over the A/C is also heating up. While not particularly a “tech” thing, I was curious if there was any science behind why women prefer the heat of a thousand blazing suns over the crisp, cool air graciously bestowed upon us by the marvelous air conditioning unit (arguably the most important technological invention since the discovery of electricity.)

Essentially, female people-types always feel colder than men people-types due to a biological process called vasoconstriction. When a persons skin feels cold, the body automatically diverts bloodflow from the outer extremities toward the vital organs.

Ostensibly, it's better to protect your liver than your pinkie fingers when the temperature drops to dangerous levels, but for some people (e.g., every woman on the planet who has ever driven in a car with me), vasoconstriction will begin to take effect upon even the faintest breezes.

Scientists say it's a hormone/reproductive health thing, biologically related to protecting fetuses from the cold. Estrogen regulates the blood vessels within the female body, so as the tides ebb and flow… So goes my air conditioning.

Maybe it is punishment upon mankind for all those centuries of forcing women to stand in front of a hot oven baking delicious, delicious cookies. In any case, it's not a mental thing, which renders my usual argument in favor of the blessed cool wind completely without merit. Thanks a lot, science.

All of that science leaves us with only two viable options, which may be chosen upon your discretion:

Option A) Wear a hoodie.

Option B) Allow me to ride a bear through a river while shirtless.

–-

Also note, vasoconstriction is also at play in E.D., which nothing in my email spam folder has ever indicated. Science.

Adobe releases Source Serif Pro to the public

Adobe just recently released three weights of their new Source Serif Pro to the public under the SIL Open Font License, and I couldn't be happier.

I am a self-avowed font nerd, and I'm super stoked to see that Adobe is continuing to add to their Source Pro family. Source Code Pro is the type that I use in my source code editors here in the newsroom and Source Sans Pro is the type that I use on my personal blog (that I also rarely update), so you could say I'm a big fan of the typeface.

It isn't flashy, but it certainly has the characteristics of some of the more venerable workhorse serifs of all time, including Charter, Utopia and the ever present Times New Roman. To my eye, it comes across as a cross-breed between Times and Charter (which was confirmed by the announcement on Adobe's Typekit blog.) The matching Italics are on the way, but I expect them to be excellent as well.

Source Serif Pro is free to download and distribute, and is available via their Github page here: http://adobe.github.io/source-serif-pro/

Embedding a Tweet

My name is Dan

I am teaching some journalism students some HTML/CSS at Eastern Washington University. Specifically, I'm embedding a tweet. Right here. Like below this. Can you see it? That's an embedded tweet.

Disqus users should reset passwords

Any commenters that log directly into our Disqus commenting system are advised to change their passwords due to a security vulnerability announced by Disqus.com.

http://engineering.disqus.com/2014/04/10/heartbleed.html

PLEASE NOTE: This applies ONLY to users who use their DISQUS account to comment, NOT users who comment using their spokesman.com login credentials, as illustrated below:

The Spokesman-Review takes the security of our users very seriously, so if in doubt PLEASE reset your passwords. For more information about the vulnerability, please check my last blog post about Heartbleed.

I repeat, if in doubt, change your passwords

If you have any issues or questions about this matter, please email us at webteam@spokesman.com or you can email me directly at dang@spokesman.com.

Heartbleed: OpenSSL Vulnerability that affects EVERYONE

Hey everyone, this is really important: Avoid the internet for a while and change all your passwords to everything. This is not a joke. They discovered a bug in OpenSSL, which powers like 2/3 of the internet. It's really, really really bad.

If you are using the same password for most sites you visit, it is urgent that you change at least your banking and email accounts and any other high risk/high security websites you may use.

They've already confirmed that Yahoo is/was vulnerable along with a huge chunk of websites on the internet. Most of the major websites have already updated their software, but if they were compromised prior to that your, data and passwords still need to be changed.

To see if your website or a website you use is vulnerable, run the url against this Heartbleed test: http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/

I'll keep you posted on the status of the Spokesman-Review's websites.

UPDATE:

I confirmed with our tech support team that none of the Spokesman-Review's websites (spokesman.com, nwprepsnow.com, etc) were vulnerable to this particular bug because we were using a different version of OpenSSL. If you have any questions regarding the security of any of our sites, please email webteam@spokeman.com and we'll be happy to chat.

For more information, check out some of the following links:

Technical details:

http://heartbleed.com/

http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2014/04/08/half-a-million-widely-trusted-websites-vulnerable-to-heartbleed-bug.html

http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/04/heartbleed-bug-exposes-passwords-web-site-encryption-keys/

News:

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26935905

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jameslyne/2014/04/08/heartbeat-heartbleed-bug-breaks-worldwide-internet-security-again-and-yahoo/

http://www.cnet.com/news/heartbleed-bug-undoes-web-encryption-reveals-user-passwords/

http://www.pcworld.com/article/2140920/heartbleed-bug-in-openssl-puts-encrypted-communications-at-risk.html

Updates from popular sites:

https://blog.heroku.com/archives/2014/4/8/openssl_heartbleed_security_update

http://blog.lastpass.com/2014/04/lastpass-and-heartbleed-bug.html

Darth Vader runs for President of Ukraine

Out of all the news coming out the the Ukraine, I bet this wasn't a story you were expecting. The Guardian is reporting that the Ukrainian Internet party (UIP) has put forth a new candidate for President.

Darth “I am your father” Vader, Sith Lord.

So cool.

Ukraine's Darth Vader bids to lead nation to the dark side

 

 

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About this blog

Technology stuff, Game reviews, poorly photoshopped images and offbeat humor from the geeks who run spokesman.com and spend too much time on Imgur/Reddit.

Send your nerd stuff to dang@spokesman.com and we might write about it. Or we might poorly photoshop it and mock it mercilessly, as all good nerds are wont.

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