Monday, June 3, 2019

Mega Man 11

I love Mega Man games. But I specifically like Classic Mega Man games. Mega Man 8 is my least favorite (although the original is pretty weak too). 9 and 10 were super retro, and I love those more than 6 and 7. But when Mega Man 11 was announced, I was skeptical. The art style is modern, and there are voice clips that can get on your nerves (like in 8). Things do look better than 8 visually, but they didn't use the perfect 3D model of Mega Man from Smash Bros, and the cell-shaded look wasn't quite what I had hoped for. There was a free demo, and it was admittedly fun. (You can slow down time!) But the music, while sort of catchy, wasn't nearly as glorious as the tunes from 3 and 4 (and some from 2). None of this was exactly a deal-breaker, but it didn't feel worth the $30 purchase price. I didn't even get the game when it was on sale for 20% off around Christmas time, partly because I didn't want to encourage the developers to make another game just like it.

But a couple of weeks ago eBay sent me a $5 coupon for no apparent reason, and I figured buying Mega Man 11 used would be a good way to spend it - basically I got the game for half price. It was definitely worthwhile. All weird things aside, the game is fun, and it does feel like a Mega Man game. Way better than 8, for sure.

From the demo, my first impression was that the game is super hard. Even for a Mega Man game. on the "Normal" difficulty (how could I play it on a lower one?) I couldn't beat the single Robot Master that was available in the demo, although it didn't let you "buy" (with in-game bolts) energy tanks and the like. The real game was also really hard, and I didn't beat anybody until I had visited most of the levels. But once I had purchased a bunch of upgrades and a few energy tanks, I started cranking through things. The clock said like 5.5 hours when I beat it. Then on Superhero mode it took me another 3 or so.

I actually do like the look, in general. The enemies managed to look classic in spite of the 3D cell shading. The robot masters look good too. And there's actually a fair amount of replayability, because the power ups you can get in the item shop are so useful that it kind of makes me wonder how well I'd do without them. Same with the slowing down time thing. In theory, it should be possible to do the game in a more classic style, once you know what to expect.


Final thing: even though I don't find my self humming any of the stage music (which is actually probably my biggest complaint), the stage select tune does get stuck in my head. So points for that.



Sunday, June 2, 2019

Funeral traditions

People have all sorts of traditions around funerals. A lot of the time I don’t get them. I imagine that most of the time they’re constructive – by which I mean that they serve to help grieving people deal with their loss and move on. And I’m all for that. (I’ll also admit that I haven’t yet gone through much of this kind of loss, so there could be some perspective that I’m missing here.) But I worry that sometimes the traditions we follow can have the opposite effect: they can end up making people worry more than necessary, in particular about how their actions or lack thereof might affect the deceased. In particular, I think people end up doing more harm than good when they treat funeral services like they are meant for the dead rather than for the living.

A basic principle that I’m quite confident is that once you’re out of this life, your level of happiness only depends on your relationship with God, and not on anything that any other person has done or not done. (You could argue that temple ordinances are an exception to this, but even then I that the timing we experience here is different from what post-mortal people experience so let’s ignore that for the moment.)

This principle is really important. Obviously in this life our happiness is affected by all sorts of things outside our control, from both human and natural causes. The Atonement of Christ gets rid of all that and makes happiness available to everybody And the Resurrection is guaranteed to everyone. If you know (or even believe) this, it is a source of comfort, even though it doesn’t immediately take away the pain of losing someone. That pain is real, which is why it’s important for people to address it, cope with it, and find ways to move on.

I think that one of the ways that people deal with it is through traditions that make them feel like they can do something of value for their departed loved ones. It helps them feel less helpless, more connected. I suspect that’s why people spend quintuple-digit amounts on caskets, flowers, and grave sites. It’s why they keep bringing flowers to graves. If that works for them, great. The problem comes when it becomes difficult or impossible for people to go through these traditions. I fear that they may end up feeling unnecessarily guilty for not having done more – or even worse, that they often spend unnecessary resources to go through with the tradition even when there’s pretty much no benefit for anyone except those getting paid to provide them.

All of this leads me to have a set of views that some might see as jaded or even cheap, but the motivation really is to make sure that all of the traditions we follow are aimed at the grieving family – because the dead are just fine without these efforts. I’m not judging people that believe or choose differently. But here they are, for what they’re worth.

  • Burial (or whatever): I think all cultures bury or cremate the remains of people who have died. There’s a good and obvious reason for this: the human body is sacred, and the image of a friend or family member has emotional significance. Eventually that body will become part of the earth and be unrecognizable, but the process that takes it there is essentially a desecration of the human image. Seeing that would only be hurtful. We want it to take place out of sight. Now, people (perhaps naturally) add to that sentiment the idea that the dead person themself needs to have the body buried in a certain way. What if you can’t do that? What if the body is lost at sea or destroyed before the ceremony can be performed? If you think the ceremony constitutes some duty to the dead, you’re going to end up grieving even more – not just for the loss of that person in your life, but for some imagined suffering that the person will go through in the next life. That’s really bad! It’s much better if we just see burial (or cremation or whatever) as a necessary logistical step and move on, knowing that the person we have lost is just fine.
  • Graves: Visiting a grave site is a related concept. I get that it’s comforting for a lot of people, and that’s great. There are also a lot of people who can’t visit the grave site of their deceased family, maybe due to having moved away or something. I sure hope such people don’t feel distanced from their family because of that. Post-mortal spirits aren’t attached to their burial sites or even to their former bodies. They’re free from all that. If there’s an attachment to this world, then surely it’s to the living family members themselves.
I guess that covers it, actually. We can’t avoid the pain of losing people to death. But we can make sure that the traditions we follow don’t add to the burden of those who suffer loss and distract from the hope and peace that come from knowing that good people who move beyond this life are okay, and that we will be with them again.

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.