Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ikaruga


I've said before that I'm a fan of space shooter games - like 2D-scrolling things where you're a starfighter (or sometimes a dragon) and you blast through an environment full of robot ships and monsters. The genre captures a lot of science-fiction-ness in a simple format. And often the music is great. These games are also super hard - usually a single hit will blow you up, unless you get some kind of shielding.

Ikaruga is an innovative twist on space shooter games. All the enemies and shots are either dark (black/red) or light (white/blue). Your ship can switch between these two polarities at will. Touching a shot of the opposite polarity will blow you up, but you can absorb shots of the same polarity, converting them to ammo for your homing lasers. Your shots do double damage to ships of the opposite polarity. That's pretty much it - super simple. It's also insanely hard, even though it's only five levels long.




The game had my interest ever since it came out on the GameCube like 15 years ago, but I just got it recently. It was rare at the start, and then it kept getting re-released on consoles I didn't have. Also I wasn't sure I wanted to invest the time it would surely take to really play the game. (It also has super weird character art, and this weird point system that incentivizes you to destroy enemies in groups of three of the same color, as if surviving wasn't hard enough.) But now it's on the Switch and super cheap.

I really like it. Conveniently, the Switch version has a bunch of previously-unlockable options available from the start, like playing individual chapters and infinite continues (which is basically invincibility). This is a good thing, because Ikaruga is actually in sub-genre of space shooters that I'm not generally a fan of - it involves a lot of dodging a relentless stream of shots, rather than destroying enemies before they can fill the screen with shots. But this one is exceptional because the shots are your friends, if you do it right.

My son and I blasted through the game with the infinite continues, and then I did it alone, but of course that is cheating. I used 13 continues if I counted right, but the largest number you can have short of infinite is 9. Eventually I beat it with just those 9, and then 6. So no cheating! (That's on Easy difficulty; maybe someday I'll do it on Normal.)

In the mean time, the music gets stuck in my head all the time, and the gorgeous lasers blasting through enemy metal is simply delightful. And even when it's insanely hard (like at first, or if you turn the difficulty up), there are these moments where you feel like you're in the "zone", switching colors quickly to skip through otherwise impossible energy fields. It is glorious. Here, check out these shots of the almost-final battles:


So many lasers! What's not to like?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Breath of the Wild


I didn't want to get a Switch. $300 is a lot for a game console. For a time, I managed to ignore the main reason why people bought one last year: Breath of the Wild. I love Zelda games, but I somehow managed to convince myself that maybe this one wasn't what I was looking for. After all, it doesn't have regular "levels", and there's all sorts of stuff you can do around cooking meals with various ingredients, and some of the "T" rating descriptors gave me second thoughts. But then they announced Metroid Prime 4 for next year - also a Switch game. I knew I was gonna need that. And if I'm going to end up with a Switch, why not get one early so I can play it over the Christmas break? So I broke down and got it.

My goodness, the game is good. That's not news; it won the Game of the Year award, and it's a Zelda game after all. I'm not even sure who the audience of this post is, since anybody who cares about the game has already played it, I'm sure. But aside from being awesome, the game is also very long and involved, and so I naturally have a lot of thoughts about it, so here they are.

[Spoiler alert]

Even though I knew what to expect, I was kind of amazed when Link walks up to a cliff ledge at the start and looks out over Hyrule, and I thought about how much space there is, and now much detail, and how I was going to be able to actually go out there and explore it all. The intro bit is nice, giving you a little slice of the game in a limited (but still quite varied) space, before throwing you out there to find your way. And when I did leave the intro area, I think I covered so much distance (in game terms) in the first hour or two of playing that I could have traversed the entire map of any other Zelda game.

In doing this, I avoided roads, preferring to "explore". And I'm sure I found some shrines earlier than I might have otherwise by doing this. But I also ended up missing a bunch of things that were supposed to be obvious, like Hestu and the hint that the best way to get money in the game is to blast open the ore deposits you see here and there. I kind of wish they had included that stuff in the actual tutorial bit instead of assuming that people would follow the roads to their given destinations.


There were a lot of times where I had a hunch that I was supposed to look in a certain area for something and couldn't find it. But the game is so expansive that even if you don't find what you're looking for, you will usually find something of value. And even when you're missing out on something, you're never really stuck. There's always something else you can do.


The game does have two main weaknesses: First, there's very little catch music - it's mostly mood stuff, like most modern games. And second, I missed the large "levels" (i.e. dungeons, temples, etc.) - meaning large themed puzzles chained together. This game has 120 "shrines", each of which contains one or more small puzzles (inside or as a requirement to access the shrine), and all but 4 of which are completely optional. I liked them, but most of them are pretty forgettable once you're done.

There was a lot of nice nostalgia in the game:
    • The Lost Woods starts with a bit where you have to move in a certain path or you'll be sent back to the start. The beginning of this path is taken from the original Lost Woods in Zelda 1.
    • The music that plays on Death Mountain is a slightly happier music than the final, Death Mountain music in Zelda 1
    • Hyrule Castle has one of the few catchy tunes. It's a medly of the main Zelda theme and either Gannondorf's theme or Zelda's theme, depending on whether you're indoors or out. This sort of symbolizes the Triforce being brought together as Link approaches Zelda, who is locked in combat with Ganon.
    • The map has all sorts of references to previous games. There are lots of towns, mountains, rivers, etc. named after towns or characters. I felt like the bridges and stuff on the eastern coastline was reminiscent of Zelda 1 too.
A lot of games that have really complex mechanics end up being "overdefined", in the sense that there's more to the game than you actually need. This game certainly fits this. There are some elements that you can dive into if you want, but I didn't. For instance, you can make a huge array of foods by combining different ingredients, but I stuck with a very simple combination of a "Hearty Radish" plus something else, which refills your hearts and gives you some temporary extra ones. And even those I didn't use much, relying instead on fairies (which automatically refill some hearts if you perish) and Mipha's Grace (which acts like that hearty radish meal automatically if you perish, but then takes 24 minutes to recharge).
There are also the horsies. I boarded one horse fairly early on, and stuck with it rather than looking for a better one (until after I had beaten the game, and then I did do some horsie quests). I also avoided a bunch of the games.

I beat the game the first time in like 75 hours. I finished the last of the shrines and beat the game again in after about 135 hours. That is a lot of glorious exploration!

Okay so there's more I could say, but this post has been sitting in draft form for months, so I'm just gonna hit send. Yay Zelda!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sonic the Hedgehog

In 1993 the Super Nintendo was a couple of years old, and I figured I'd get one eventually. But there was a brief period when I considered getting a Genesis instead. This was because of Sonic the Hedgehog. Something about the ads (specifically a bit from Star Light Zone) captured a sense of epicness, and because ridiculous idea of a blue jumping hedgehog was more compelling than his plumber counterpart. I rejected this notion because I realized that despite the fact that Mario isn't that interesting as a character, Nintendo would always be the home of games like The Legend of Zelda (and I probably assumed Mega Man as well). But my friend got a Genesis and Sonic, so I sort of got the best of both worlds.

I loved Sonic. The game has great music and a beautiful, colorful world. I love how Sonic balances casually on one foot of you stand on a ledge, and (in the second game at least) waves his arms frantically if you are just one pixel away from falling. And I'll just repeat that the music is wonderful.

Sonic has a bit of an advantage over Mario in that he can gain a hit point much more frequently than Mario can, although Sonic never gains a long-range attack. On the other hand, though, Sonic games tend to require faster reflex, or at least a good idea of what is coming up next, and I had never seen a map of a Sonic level. Also, getting extra lives is harder; while collecting 100 rings will give you an extra life just like coins in Mario, in Sonic you lose all your rings whenever you get hit, and you always start a level with zero rings. This is balanced by some handy cheat codes, with which I beat the last level. Of course, that's not super satisfying, but one time, with guidance, I was able to get very close to beating it for real. Very close. Like, to the last battle, with one life left. But even though I had beaten Dr. Robotnik before, I lost that time. I was devastated.

Years passed. I told myself it was fine, because the game has this ridiculous ending anyway, in which it says "Try again" if you didn't collect all of the Chaos Emeralds, which you have a limited number or chances to collect and which require a totally different skill set from the rest of the game. (And that skill set includes a lot of luck, as far as I can tell.) And besides, Sonic is Sega character, and I'm a Nintendo fan.

But Sonic has been re-released since then. My in-laws had such a re-release for the PlayStation, which allowed saving and reverting state without a cheat code, so when I beat Sonic 1 on that, I figured it was a legitimate win, even if not the most satisfying one. (I saved only at the start of levels; saving mid-stage is a cheat no matter how you view it.) And last December I got the first two games on the 3DS for like $3 each. These editions also included the stage select without having to enter a cheat code, so I figured I could claim I could finally finish Sonic 2 that way.

Skipping some details - Today I beat Sonic 1 without any cheating! I looked at maps to find where extra lives and dangerous spots were, which helped. I actually finished with like 23 extra lives. I only got one Chaos Emerald, but you can play it again to collect more (I think), so maybe someday I'll do it. (I actually beat Sonic 2 legitimately a week or so ago.)

I only ever played the first two Sonic games - the only ones my friend got. And I have since learned that the later games used a different music composer. But those two are glorious and classical, and I'm really happy to have finished them for real.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blaming the victim vs. protection

I recently wrote about those rhetorically dangerous situations where you have two relevant facts, and people focus on the wrong one for the current context. One of those has come up recently with respect to that "me too" thing on Facebook. It deals with an even heavier example than the one I gave in the original post.

On one hand, it is very important to avoid blaming the victim of abuse. It always floors me that anyone would suggest that someone who has been abused is somehow guilty or unclean, yet that's exactly the message that ends up getting sent sometimes. Sometimes it's framed as "you should have prevented it," but in any form, that message is wrong. It's deeply immoral. It's tantamount to colluding with the abuser, since it increases the damage done to an innocent person.

Another true principle is that it is good to avoid dangerous situations. If you don't avoid it, you're not guilty, but still, it's important to teach people to avoid bad situations if they can. If you get mugged in a dark alley while alone at night you're not guilty, but it's still a good idea not to walk down a dark alley alone at night. You don't leave your house unlocked just because it's not your moral responsibility to keep others out of your home.

The problem (well, a problem) is that people who call out that second thing frequently get accused of denying the first thing. That argument about not blaming the victim gets turned into a straw-man argument and thrown at yet another innocent person (ironically), as if any talk about prevention constitutes blame of the victim. That's very unfair, and very untrue. Both principles are important and need to be addressed. And taking an ally and making them look like the enemy so you can have someone to lash out at is counterproductive (and potentially immoral in itself).

So we shouldn't blame the victims. But teaching people to avoid danger is important too. And in doing both, we should be careful not to create enemies out of allies. There are enough bad guys out there as it is.

And one more thing

Speaking of blame: Apparently there are a lot of guys who feel threatened by that whole movement. They hear women saying they don't trust men, and they throw out that "not all men" hashtag and complain, as if they (the men) were somehow wronged by being grouped in with the abusers.

Here's the thing. While it is true that not all men are evil scum, that's not really a super relevant point to the discussion. It's certainly not helpful to a woman who has been the victim of abusive behavior, especially by many men. Women don't owe us their trust. We haven't been wronged if a woman doesn't trust us, even if we really are good people. And even if we are somehow damaged by that lack of trust, that damage is insignificant compared to the level of damage the woman in question has suffered. So if you're feeling threatened by a woman's distrust about men, or even overly-broad accusations against them, then help fix the problem instead of just trying to distance yourself from it.

How can we fix it? Well the obvious way is with your fist or another weapon if you witness an act of abuse. If it's verbal, you can speak up and hold the abuser accountable. At the very least, don't be a part of the problem. Which takes us back to my first point: Don't blame the victim. Stop complaining.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Coincidences

Every once in a while you'll hear someone tell a story that some would explain as a coincidence and then conclude saying "I don't believe in coincidences" or "There are no such things as coincidences." This could be regarding a conspiracy theory or a miraculous blessing. And don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that everything is a coincidence, or that there are no conspiracies, or that God doesn't intervene in people's lives. Of course there are, and of course He does. But denying the existence of coincidences is ridiculous.

The most obvious reason it's ridiculous is that it's so easy to refute. If I flip a coin three times, it might come up "tails" each time. COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT! If you don't think that's a coincidence, then you must believe that someone rigged the penny, or there is some sort of divine symbolism in the event. Please, please tell me that no one would interpret that event in that way. It could just as likely have been heads-tails-heads or tails-tails-heads. The result was a coincidence.

On a deeper level, I think the real claim that people are trying to make is that important things happen for important reasons. It's easier to believe that, I guess, and maybe it's comforting to believe that there's a specific purpose ]behind a significant event. And again, to be clear, sometimes there is a reason. But sometimes, ya know, there just isn't. The conspiracy side of things isn't as interesting to me, so let's look at the religious side.
Speculation alert: Please remember that I'm not trying to represent my church or anything here. This is how I view things, but I have occasionally been wrong.
Okay. So apparently Einstein had this quote saying that he didn't think that God plays dice with the universe. And Hawking has one saying that he does, and that he throws the dice where nobody can see how they landed. I happen to think that there's some truth in both points of view. Certainly God doesn't leave the success of his plan to chance. But I think he also designed the universe to happen with a certain random element - hence the need for the Fall of Adam and Eve. God wasn't going to create evil and disaster in the world, but he did provide a way for those things to exist so we can experience opposition and grow. This doesn't mess with the plan because God can take a bad situation and bring a good thing out of it. And of course he also provided a way for the results of all that bad stuff to be taken away after this life, through the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ. As in, nothing bad that happens here is permanent; after the resurrection, our happiness will only depend on who we are, not anything that happened to us.

The real question people have on this subject, though, is "Why did <this bad thing> happen to me?" The answer to that is rarely forthcoming. People try to answer it by saying "God wanted you to learn <this important lesson>" or "God wanted you to have the chance to demonstrate/develop <this virtue>". And maybe he did. But does that mean that he causes natural disasters and leads people into situations where they will become victims of abuse? I don't think so. I really don't. Rather, I happen to think that he allows things to happen naturally most of the time, and when bad things do happen, he steps in and makes something good come out of it, in the long run at least. (Or at least he will if we allow him to.)

I think that's an important distinction, because if you look at the bad things that happen in the world and believe that God did them, or even planned them, then you're going to lose faith in him pretty fast. And I don't mean not believing that he exists; I mean losing confidence that he really is the source of happiness and a moral compass. I've known a lot more people who are mad at God than don't believe in him. And I think that has to do with a misunderstanding of who he is and the role he plays in their life. (And as for why God allows bad things to happen instead of actively preventing them, I think it's important to know that we understood before coming to this life that bad things would happen, but that their effects would be limited to the century or so that we are here. We saw that as a good deal, or we wouldn't have agreed to come. Knowing that doesn't make bad situations less painful, but it does lend a bit of perspective and hope for the future, at least for me.)

Okay, I could go on and on, but this is probably out of context without more of the actual doctrine, which can be better found in other places (like here, for instance). My point, though, is that assuming specific intent behind everything that looks like a coincidence might actually lead you push away people (including God) who are actually on your side.

There are such things as coincidences.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The "split-message dichotomy"

There's this idea I've thought about from time to time that I wish there were a word for so that I could talk about it more concisely. For lack of a better term, I call it a "split-message dichotomy." The general idea is this: Sometimes there are two principles that are both true and relevant, and two audiences that need to understand them. But one principle is more useful to emphasize for one audience, and the other for the other audience. Emphasizing a principle for the opposite audience can cause them to overlook an important part of the truth and end up making bad decisions. You don't always have the luxury of tailoring your message to just the target group, which makes crafting your message tricky.

One example of this comes up a lot in church, when you're talking about a specific commandment, although you could easily broaden it to any piece of good advice if you want. To be very specific, let's use the commandment to stay away from recreational drugs. There are two important messages here:

  • Using drugs is very destructive. Don't do it. The consequences can hurt both you and others, and they may be permanent.
  • If you're already addicted, healing and repentance are possible. Don't give up.
And of course the two relevant groups are these:
  • People who haven't used drugs, but might be tempted to do so
  • People who already have
To someone who hasn't started using drugs, you want to emphasize strongly just how bad the effects of them are, and how some of those consequences may be permanent. If you dwell too much on the availability of help and repentance, you might unintentionally convey the message that people can just try stuff out now and fix whatever problems arise later.

On the other hand, if someone in the room is already addicted, focusing on how bad and irreversible the consequences are might just convince them to give up trying to change. For that person, the message of repentance and the availability of help is exactly what they need to hear.

So you can see the problem. I guess the only real solution is to make sure that you cover both aspects of the issue, and do your best to be aware of the specific needs of the people you're talking to so you can tailor the message as much as possible.

It's pretty common though. I guess it applies to any choice that people make with major consequences. All the chastity stuff comes to mind. But the situation can also come up when one of the audience groups isn't really facing a decision. To use a super heavy example, imagine that you're talking to someone who has lost someone to suicide. They might worry about the soul of that person, since taking an innocent life is a sin. You'd be inclined to explain to them that the person clearly had a heavy burden of depression and probably wasn't seeing things clearly, and that God will take that into account - in other words, the person probably wasn't as morally accountable as most people. But you would never want to send that message to someone suffering from depression or thoughts of self-harm, because "you can't help it" is probably one of the most destructive things you could possibly say.

Anyway, back to the start - I wish there were a word to describe this situation. Because it comes up a lot, and I don't think that most people think about it. We tend to focus on only one of the two groups, and that can be really dangerous for the group we're not thinking about. It's very important to give proper attention to all sides of the truth so that a little fragment of that truth doesn't blind people to the rest of it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The authority void

People are good at looking at other people and figuring out (right or wrong) what those people should do to fix their problems, or overcome their weaknesses, or just generally become better. We're not always that good at analyzing ourselves. That's not the end of the world, though, because we have other people around us whose opinions we trust, and who can give us that outside perspective.

Usually.

When we're little, we have various adults who we view as authorities on various topics. As we grow up, we might change whose opinions we think are the most reliable. These people could be parents, teachers, religious leaders, or friends. But I think that a lot of adults reach a point where they don't have anyone left who they would listen to if they suggested a change. This might happen because you feel so successful that you don't need anything, or because you've thought your life through so thoroughly that you can't imagine anyone else adding anything to it. Or maybe you just don't respect anyone enough - or trust anyone enough - to believe that their input could benefit you.

In any case, I think that this situation - where there's no one in your life who could convince you to change course. If you're in that position, and if (by some crazy chance) there's some decision you're making or habit you have that is preventing you from getting where you want (or need) to go, and if you haven't already figured out the solution, there's really no way you're going to get there!

I'm speaking in general terms, but this is a situation that drives me crazy when I see it in other people. Back to my first comment, I can see someone I know and care about proverbially heading for a cliff, and it's super obvious to me what they need to change. But I don't have enough of a relationship of trust to give that input. And I can see that nobody else does either. And so disaster happens.

Of course, I'm not in this situation, I hope. For one thing, I'm married to someone very wise. (I highly recommend this.) And I'm pretty sure I'd at least consider the advise of a bishop (for instance) who counseled me to change something. And then there's extended family. So hopefully I'm not driving anyone else crazy over this particular issue.

But the point is (PSA time): If you can't think of anyone whose advice you would listen to even if it seemed wrong at first, FIND SOMEONE! Because otherwise you are betting your happiness in life on your own ability to make perfect decisions, and you're gonna lose. And that's going to drive me crazy.

Thank you.