Saturday, November 19, 2016

Super Contra

[Boring alert]

Contra was a thing back in the day - probably one of the top five or so NES games you'd have to call "classic". It was said to be super easy to beat, but this was clearly bunk. You had to use the Konami Code to even have a shot, and even then it would take more practice than I had time for the few times I played it. It was a two-player game, so technically I was playing when the game was beaten, but the two-player-ness plus the cheat code to start with made me think it didn't count. So back in my college days when I was collecting classic games, I skipped this one.

There was one thing that gave Contra a special place in my heart, though: the music during the ending credits is this super triumphant, super catchy tune. (So much so that every Konami game I've beaten has disappointed me with its ending.) Some time later, I realized that Contra actually has several catchy tunes. So when I racked up some Bing Rewards points, I figured Contra would be a good thing to get on the Virtual Console.

Except for one thing: it's not on the Virtual Console. Its sequel, Super Contra is, as is Contra 3 for the Super Nintendo. After much debate I got Super Contra, It's pretty cool, with pretty much the same feel as the original. Except that it doesn't have any catchy tunes. I like the overhead levels better than the fake-3D levels in the original, though. (Most levels in both games are side-view.)

Since I was going to be cheating anyway, I made shameless use of the Virtual Console's save-state feature. (After an initial run with the regular cheat code, with which I got to the midboss of Area 3 before getting running out of continues.) I didn't cheat as much as I could have, though - I only saved at safe spots, and I never saved during a boss fight. It took me a lot of tries, but I beat it. And I was proud to figure out how to beat the Level 3 boss without getting hit. (Also the Area 4 one, but that's more obvious.) Yay! Anyway, once that was done, I played it again with just the regular cheat code and got to Area 6 before running out of continues. And finally, I played it saving only at the start of each level. I still lost a few lives without reverting, but maybe not more than I would have gained in the process. So eventually I suppose it would be possible to beat it without saving state. I guess. I still don't know how anybody puts in enough time to beat it without cheating though.

Yay for saving the world from aliens!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

List of Lies

In The Screwtape Letters, there's a discussion about how the ideal lie is that you should worship the devil, but now the strategy is to ignore spirituality altogether. In Sunday school today that sort of thing came up, and I figure there are several lies that the devil would like us believe, some blatantly wrong but some very dangerous even to active disciples of Christ.

On some level, it almost doesn't even matter which of these lies you choose to believe. They're certainly different in magnitude, and the earlier ones are certainly more likely to lead you to do really bad stuff. But all of them have the effect of keeping people from accepting the Atonement of Christ. So I think it's useful to ask myself which of these I tend toward.

Here's a list of the lies, in order of preference for the bad guys:

Lie #1: There is a god, and it's the devil.
 • Not very convincing for most - not really even logically valid. But the Cane types embrace it for some reason.
Lie #2: There is a god, and it's [some other person or idol that embodies evil principles].
 • This is almost as damaging as the first option and is a little easier to swallow.
Lie #3: There's a god, and it's you.
 • This one is much easier to convince people of. Once they've accepted it, all that bad parts of their carnal nature start to talk louder. Really, this is still almost as damaging as the first option.
Lie #4: There is no God.
 • This is actually almost the same as #3, although basically good people won't do as much damage with this.
Lie #5: God is real, but he's this distant being that doesn't really affect your life.
 • It's so easy to believe in a god who doesn't expect anything from you. Not very beneficial, though. This is a very common belief.
Lie #6: God is real, but he hasn't said anything lately
 • Arguably, this comes close to implying irrelevance in a world where new issues keep coming up.
Lie #7: God is real and speaks, but he doesn't know (or care) about you.
Lie #8: God is real and speaks and cares about you individually, but you can't make it - you're not good enough to qualify for his plan.
 • Insidiously, this bypasses what the plan actually is. A key tenet is that everybody is reachable, at any given place.
Lie #9: God is real. He has an important plan, and you can qualify for it. In fact, you already have. There's nothing more to do.
 • A lot of people jump to this. I guess it's actually compatible with lie #5.

The truth, of course, is that God has a plan for us that applies to us and will benefit us if we follow it. It is accessible, and God is eager to help us along the path every moment of every day. Following it and benefitting from it requires that we care about God's will and have the faith to keep trying to follow it. If we give up (due to a feeling of hopelessness or a misguided set of priorities), we're actively pushing God away. But he's always eager to invite us back.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Shovel Knight

I had some Bing Rewards points burning a hole in my pocket, so went out on a limb and got Shovel Knight. It's a tribute to old NES-style games, incorporating elements of a bunch of them, most notably Duck Tales, Mega Man, and Zelda 2. I was a little hesitant about the 8-bits(ish) graphics - I mean, I was happy about that in Mega Man 9 and 10, but that's because they were building off the nostalgia of the original Mega Man games. Shovel Knight is a new thing. But as I played the first level, I had to admit it was pretty delightful. The feel is familiar, but the game is quite original. And when I was done, I found myself humming the first level tune. I knew I had chosen correctly.

The virtues of Shovel Knight are extolled all over the place on the Internet, but here's what I liked about it:
  • It's challenging, but not unreasonable. There is no concept of extra lives - you can restart from the last checkpoint as many times as you want. (You do lose money when you lose a life, but you can get it back if you make it back to the spot where you perished.) The only catch is that if you do back out of a level, the game forgets everything that happened while you were there (good or bad).
  • In the few situations where I felt like a particular challenge was totally hopeless, the answer wasn't "keep trying" or even "look it up". It was to obtain and use a particular item. That is the correct answer.
  • There are three or four really good, catchy tunes. Too many games these days have "mood music" that contributes to the feel but doesn't really help make the game or the situation memorable.
  • There's some pretty amusing humor stuff going on
  • The hero is pretty likeable. He's blue like Mega Man, noble like Link, etc.
And not only that, but the game has a free downloadable "second quest" kind of thing called Plague of Shadows, where you play the game again as Plague Knight, one of the villains of the main game. The plot is kind of adorable - Plage Knight is trying to concoct the Ultimate Potion so his assistant Mona will like him. (At one point you can learn to dance. This doesn't affect the game at all, but if you try to do it near Mona, you just end up twiddling your fingers nervously. Poor Plague Knight.)

The gameplay is completely different - Plague Knight fights with bombs instead of a shovel, and the power-ups can be used to configure those bombs at any time. It turns out being easier I think, but it's still challenging - really it feels like a completely different game.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Super Mario 3D Land

I got Super Mario 3D Land for Father's Day. For context, the last Mario game I bought or owned was Super Mario 64. (I have played a couple in-between though.) It was a bit of an internal struggle between that and New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Not to be confused with Super Mario Bros. 2). NSMB2 seemed more classic-Mario-y, but 3D Land seemed to do a better job of justifying my purchase of a 3DS, plus a friend had told me that he liked 3D World better than New Super Mario Bros U (sequels to both games in consideration). In the end, I went with 3D Land since reviews said it was longer, and it seemed to be a direct sequel to Mario 3 and 64, whereas NSMB2 seems to be a sequel to the other "New" games.

I'm very happy with my choice. It's not go-explore-stuff-y like Mario 64, but it definitely has a Mario-y feel - the enemies, platforms, and obstacles all translate well to 3D. And while you can play the game in 2D mode, I found it to be very difficult; the 3D capability of the console is a huge benefit in this case. The game started out pretty easy, but by the castle in World 5 it had gotten quite challenging. I did beat all of the levels without using the P-wing or white leaf cheats. Replayability was nice too - I had heard that there were "Special World" levels, but I didn't realize that half the game takes place after you beat it. (That was also a chance to revisit some of the gimmicks that had only shown up in one or two levels so far, like the colored platforms that appear and disappear in time with the music.) And while those levels were very challenging, I didn't have to go farming for power-ups or extra lives until the last three levels. (At that point, I beat 1-3 several times in order to get a Super Leaf, which makes most challenges much more manageable.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Weird Products & Offers

More odd stuff I've run across:

Good thing my wife spotted this, because I hate it when my power failure runs out of power:

This one seems to have a way to moderate drainage by absorbing light!

And finally, for those of you who need style help and/or companionship:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Election 2016 :(

Curse curse curse curse curse.

Here's the deal: I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton; I'm in favor of supporting the constitution and not putting huge amounts of power in the hands of a few people (i.e. executive orders and court rulings that ignore Congress). Not to mention the whole abortion thing, etc. But somehow - I haven't fully figured out how yet - the person running against her is Donald Trump. Like just about everyone else, I thought it was a joke at first. And honestly I didn't know that much about the guy. But at this point it's pretty clear that he doesn't have the moral character to deserve a political office.

That creates an interesting dilemma. (Not for liberals, of course - I'm sure they're loving this.) You don't want to vote for Trump. But you don't want Clinton in power. It seems that most of the Republican leaders are deciding that they have to keep Clinton out of office at any cost, and so they are endorsing Trump, even while they condemn his racist, sexist, and otherwise disrespectful comments. No doubt they hope that they can sway him, to convince him that he needs to tone things down in order to attract a broader voting base. And obviously a lot of voters are behind this.

I can't do it. As much as I don't want Clinton to be president, I can't be a part of someone like Trump getting there either. And that's not to say he wouldn't do less damage - I honestly don't know what he'd do. I kind of doubt that he'd really attempt most of what he has suggested he would. But at this point, I'm not sure it even matters. Even if I agreed with Trump on every issue (which of course I don't), I still wouldn't vote for him, because again, I think that there's a bar you have to set on morality, and he doesn't meet it. In fact, it seems to me that the only value Trump has is that he wants to feel like a winner. If that's the case, then he'd do anything to feel like he's winning. Anything. At list Hillary Clinton is clearly self-centered and cares about her image. That's not respectable, but it's predictable.

So some will accuse me of helping Clinton win. And they are probably right - I am sure that lots of conservatives will feel the same as I do, while most liberals will happily pick Clinton over Trump. But you can't set your priorities such that you will keep a particular person out of office "at any cost". Those costs can become very high. It's too high this time. I'm not sure who I'll vote for, but I'm sure they won't win. But if Trump somehow manages to become president, and if he is as destructive as it seems he could be, I'll be able to say that I had no part in it.

But still, curse.

That bathroom law thing

It's embarrassing that we have to even talk about who should go into which bathroom, but apparently we do. There's a lot of that talk going around, and it seems to me that most of it misses the point. The problem with trying to redefine genders with respect to bathrooms is not with the folks who believe they're of a different gender than they are. (I don't like the term "transgender" because it implies that gender is a changeable thing, which is not true. Even aside from any religious doctrine, science tells us that much. And if you think about it, trying to argue otherwise just ends up propagating a bunch of harmful stereotypes about how men and women should think and feel. But that's a different topic.)

The problem is the other folks, who can very easily pass themselves off as transgender. Here's the thing. Nearly all perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment are male. (Biologically male.) And nearly all victims are female. Segregating bathrooms and locker rooms by biological gender separates the perpetrators from the victims in situations where abuse is likely to occur. By definition, that has to reduce the number of abuses. If a man can say he's a woman and go into the women's locker room, and if it's not PC (or even legal) for women to boot him out on sight, you have to assume that the dregs of society will do that.

People argue that said segregation shouldn't be required because there are already laws against that kind of abuse. But that misses the point - those laws only provide protection after abuse has already happened. With the "new way", women aren't allowed to protect themselves until they have already been abused. How is that acceptable to anyone?

Of course, proponents of the change point to the feelings of the transgender folks as the point of the new policies. Their feelings are certainly important, and it's certainly important to be respectful. However, the real cause of their discomfort is a lot deeper than which bathroom they are in; it is rooted in gender identity. To use what some might call an extreme example: Imagine that I were to sincerely consider myself a Native American. Let's say I tried to drop in on a ceremony of some tribe. They might look at me strangely. Depending on the situation, they might not even let me in. This would presumably make me feel uncomfortable. But the root cause of my discomfort would be my own incorrect sense of racial identity, not their reaction. I am not a Native American, and believing myself to be one would be guaranteed to cause discomfort. Anyone concerned with helping me feel better would begin by helping me understand the real meaning of the term and that it doesn't apply to me.

I realize that this sounds like it's begging the question, since the definition of gender is part of the issue. But it's really not. Because comfort aside, the issue of protection is very much connected with "gender at birth". And as I see it, as important as it is to respect the feelings of people with gender identity issues, protecting women and girls is far more important.