Sunday, September 26, 2021

The definition of "black"

Sometimes people get so technical in creating definitions that they end up defining or categorizing things in a way that flatly contradicts the colloquial definitions of those things. I think that's lame.

One example is the question of whether black is a color. Some people say that it's not because it's the "absence of color", or it's a "shade", which can be used to modify a "color". 

But, come on. "Color" is a way to describe what frequencies of light come from an object to our eyes, and which of the light receptors in our retinas react to those frequencies. We experience colors as contrasts to other colors - just try and describe how a color looks in any other way. In that sense, black is definitely a color. It's one of the ways our eyes perceive light bouncing off of things. If someone is wearing a black shirt, and you ask them what color it is, they don't go "Oh my gosh there IS no color!" They also don't try to figure out which primary or secondary color is being reflected the most and then say something like "I think it's a profoundly dark green." They say it's black. And even you developed some ultra-Vantablack shirt and there were no light coming off of it at all, zero is a valid value that something can have. But then again, there's never really zero light.

And that brings me to another point. Some people say that nothing is really black, because black means no light and everything reflects a little light (except a black hole I guess). But dude, that is NOT the definition of black. If it were, it would be totally useless. That's like saying nothing is cold because nothing has a temperature of absolute zero. There are plenty of things that we all look at and say are black. That's the definition of black. It's all relative. All colors are relative. There's no use defining a common word in such a way that it can't actually be applied to anything.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

One of my kids checked out Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians from the library. Brandon Sanderson has written some good stuff, so I figured I'd check it out. The book is hilarious. The plot is fine - it's one of those kids-gets-powers-and-has-to-save-the-world types of things. But what makes it great is the commentary that the narrator gives. It's a very self-aware book, written as a biography after the fact, and it openly mocks various tropes in literature. I don't know if I can even say that much about it here without spoiling the jokes, but I haven't laughed out loud at a book in a long time (well except for What If? by Randall Munroe), and I did that several times here.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Axiom Verge

Any Metroid fan will agree that there aren't enough Metroid-like games in the world. So whenever I hear about one, I want to want to play it. But there's often something that shuts me down, like an icky theme or a super melodramatic premise or tone. Axiom Verge is an indie game (like literally by one guy) that is super popular but does have a weird/dark plot. But a sequel came out and people have been raving, so I gave it another look. The plot isn't sadder than Ori, and the icky factor is actually less than the worst of Super Metroid (although in the latter game you can avoid the worst of it). So I went ahead and got it.

Exploring the world is delightful. The visual and musical tone are very reminiscent of Super Metroid and Zero Mission. The whole experience feels familiar - in the sense that it's weird and alien, but the creatures from Metroid would feel right at home there. The power-ups definitely have Metroid-esque analogs, but they are unique at the same time, and it's fun to be surprised with how they enable you to get past the game's various obstacles.

And just like in Super Metroid, you can get lost and stuck. I got super stuck at one point. It ended up being just a matter of having forgotten about one little spot, but as I explored everywhere, I kept finding optional power-ups. That's a sign of good design, in my opinion. And of course when I finally found the way forward... well then I got stuck again, but after that, it was super satisfying. Another time I wandered all over the world trying to find that next item that would let me progress, only to realize that I already had the ability I needed, but I had never thought to use it in a certain way. And believe it or not, realizing that was a good feeling.

I like the boss battles. They're not super complex, but the bosses look cool, and it's satisfying to figure out what to do. (It's usually much simpler than what I expect going in.)

There's a lot of variety in items to collect. I mentioned the abilities that would correspond to "suit upgrades" for Samus, which are the main source of innovation regarding how you get around the world. But there are also upgrades to health and attack power, that sometimes come in pieces you need to collect a bunch of to equal one upgrade. So there is always a reward for exploring. There are also a lot of different weapons. None of those is strictly required except for one you get early on, but there's a lot of variety in how they work, so you can pick what works for you (or what looks the coolest).

The plot is decent but super confusing. The ending - I don't know if it was trying to lead into a sequel or just to cement the feeling that you don't know what the heck is going on. And of course I could have done without the bits of profanity thrown in, and the icky white remains of the former population. (In Metroid, you're always exploring ruins, but you generally don't actually run into the former inhabitants.) I was also a bit thrown off by this item you can get that allows you to enter codes that supposedly alter reality. One of them is obvious, but it doesn't seem to do anything. In fact, even after finishing the game I have no idea what you're supposed to do with it, or what any of the other codes are.

But that aside, Axiom Verge is the most Metroid-like game this side of an actual Metroid game, and that includes Ori. It is glorious.