Still going

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There’s something utterly fantastic about finishing up all your chores (‘adulting’…) on a Saturday and then going cycling on a Sunday. Today was just perfect to pick up cycling again after a short break, and I definitely felt the cycler’s high upon returning home. I’ve been keeping cycling on the exercise bike indoors. I was expecting myself to be weaker than I actually was today, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself actually overtaking some people on an uphill. Keeping in shape for the next trip. Still not sure when, but I’m already looking forward to it.

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Volcanific

What is it with volcanic islands? I just can’t help but end up on a volcanic island every once in a while. This one was particularly nice though. Tenerife was quite amazing.

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The Friend Situation

(after writing this post I realized it is somewhat of a followup to The Intern Effect.)

It’s been a long time since I started blogging. I’m no longer a green 20-year-old. Life has happened and is continuing to happen, but rather than levelling up all of my skills, some of them have begun to atrophy from lack of use. One such skill is that of being social. My life at this point is so comfortable that I can usually get away with only talking to the people I need to, eg. the colleagues in my team and my significant other and on occasion an old friend or two. Over the course of last week I’ve had the opportunity to engage in social interaction with a much larger group of people, who are all unknown yet amazingly interesting to talk to. It was an event that I won’t soon forget. Let’s call it the “going on a trip with people you think can be your friends but you don’t know them that well yet and then you end up being pleasantly surprised by everyone” kind of feeling. It’s the AK feeling all over again! How fitting that the company I would go to after AK ended up being part of something called AKQA. Life gets better if you just keep adding letters.

But hey, this blog wouldn’t be this blog if I couldn’t find something to bitch about, so here goes. There’s one thing in my current life that I am not very happy with, and the effect of which kind of got hammered home during last week’s events: I don’t have any super best friends. I mean, I’ve got close friends, and I’ve got one or two people who may take offence at my saying this, but I don’t really have any one or multiple people that I know I can and will be able to hang out with at any time now or in the future, and that’s entirely my own fault. Life has happened, and all my old friends (and myself!) now have their own situation that takes precedence over ‘hanging out with friends’. I don’t blame them of course; none of us live near each other any more so it’s not like we can see each other every week. As a result everyone spends more time with their significant other which leads to babies, which leads to even less time spent with close friends. That’s life. But that’s also choices.

That’s where I left it at in 2009 in The Intern Effect. What I feel I am lacking is something that, at the time, I attributed to Japan being Japan and interns being knowingly temporary, but it was really much simpler: I was younger. Greener. I still seek the same thing, but I am seeking it at a level further than I even thought about back then. Close personal connections. Connections that are hampered by those pesky little personal lives that everyone has. A perfect example of this: one of my friends changed cities recently and I promised to visit him, yet I still haven’t done so, even after I had read a blogpost from him complaining about the exact same feeling of friend disconnection. We’re all seeking a more fulfilling form of friendship, yet we’re all somehow not doing the things we need to to get it.

I dare not answer yet what could be the reason for this, or how to ‘solve’ it. Perhaps that’ll just automatically make sense when I’m older. But I think I’m old enough to see the problem clearly now, and to have some ideas of where to look for a solution.

Learning a new skill is easy in that you can quickly get up to a reasonable level, and then need an extra-ordinate amount of time after that to become an expert. It’s no different with friendships. True friendships require a lot of time and commitment, with no guarantee of payoff. Just like when learning chess or playing a game or training your body, you might plateau and be unable to get any better. I think that’s a little bit what is happening to me: I’ve built up the social skills and experience needed to easily make friends and quickly get up to a quite-satisfying level of friendship, but then I plateau. I need to improve (or recover) my social skills as well as just spend more time with people in general. I haven’t made it easy for myself by moving away from a lot of people who I could be closer to, but that’s something I can fix. Not easily, though. Getting better at something takes time, and I need to finally make a proper decision on what (or who) to spend that time on. Like I said in 2009, I want to make the world a better place. I am becoming more aware of my own personal limitations within that context. Perhaps many people taking many small steps is as effective as one person taking a giant leap. Just don’t jump off a cliff.

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Quality versus quantity

My soreness about No Man’s Sky has led me down an interesting path. I was (and still am) incredibly disappointed in the game because I wanted it to be the successor to Freelancer, which it really wasn’t. NMS wasn’t really much of anything. I wouldn’t even call it a space game, since there’s literally nothing to do in space, it’s just hopping from planet to planet. Anyway, my frustration with the game has led me to thinking about how I would build a proper space game, and I’ve been writing down a *lot* of ideas since my previous post. Then I learned more about Star Citizen and realized that it will have about 90% of all the ideas I’ve written down. I’m bloody amazed by that. Star Citizen is going to be epic.

The reason I think Star Citizen is going to be amazing is something I realized as I was preparing to build my own space game. After having written down all my ideas I realized that I am pretty much capable of implementing all of them. “All I need to do is pick a suitable 3d engine and learn how to use it. Easy peasy”. Of course, before I even got to that stage I realized that the basic setup I was envisioning would take me years to develop by myself, even if I quit my full-time job. But I can see quite clearly the reasoning that goes into building a space game: it would take me crazy amounts of time to do this all by myself, so that is a problem that needs to be solved.

Procedural generation is one of the ways to solve that. Even as a one-man team you’ll be able to generate crazy amounts of ‘content’. The problem with that is, as No Man’s Sky quite sadly demonstrated, that the content will become utterly boring and repetitive, no matter how good your algorithms are. One of the key features I wanted in my own space game is that there are factions and factions within factions, and standings between factions, and a galaxy whose factions keep changing. NMS has none of that: it’s just one bland galactic plane of a little bit of everything everywhere but not anything specific anywhere specific. Better procedural algorithms can fix this. They can add more structure, more variety, more realism. But in the end, once you ‘get’ the algorithm, the game is over for you. You will find nothing new.

Star Citizen does not have this issue, because the team of Star Citizen has lots and lots of money. They get to hire lots of people and they get to handcraft their content. Each of their star systems is meticulously designed; its history written and rewritten until it is perfect. There is a storyline, there is custom, unique content. It’s the exact opposite direction of No Man’s Sky. It’s quality versus quantity.

The quality-vs-quantity thing has always been an issue with games. I remember the Grand Prix series, of which 2 was brilliant, 3 kinda showed Crammond’s inability to keep up, and 4 came out in a time where the competition had larger teams and managed to release a much more polished product. A more recent example is Kunos and his netKar series, followed up by Assetto Corsa. netKar was a kickass sim in its day, but you could clearly see its limitations for having been built by one man. netKar Pro started out with the engine sounds synthesised rather than sampled, which is surely a faster way to do it, but nowhere near as immersive as having the actual engine sound as recorded, which is what they did for Assetto Corsa. The cars in Assetto Corsa are incredibly well made, with as much detail crammed in as they could. A manual process that could only be done by a larger team.

In retrospect, No Man’s Sky focused on all the wrong things. It focused on procedural generation as its main gimmick, which it should never be for any game. It should be used to assist in making the game more immersive, but if you take it away the game still needs to be a game. No Man’s Sky is just nothing without it. NMS also focused on being able to take off from a planet and flying into space. It’s a cool gimmick, but it was implemented poorly and, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about it. It’s the liveliness of space and each of the planets that immerses me. With no backstory it’s just not interesting.

I’m still kind of interested in building my own space game. I suspect that when Star Citizen comes out it’ll satisfy most of my space needs, but there’s still things that I’d like that Star Citizen doesn’t have, or do differently. The ship monetization in particular is a thing I definitely do not like about Star Citizen. Also, in SC the factions seem pretty unchanging and static. I wonder if there’ll be player actions that can influence the balance of the galaxy, other than predefined events by the developers. When it comes to the perfect space game we’re still not quite there yet.

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True

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I’ve got a great idea for a space game. I can make something a million times better than No Man’s Sky. It’ll take me forever, though.

 

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No Man’s Sky

I came very close to calling this post ‘Why I hate No Man’s Sky’, continuing the trend I set last time with the Interstellar post. But let’s not.

Freelancer is one of my absolute favorite games of all time. The free flying through space, the storyline, the super-detailed universe, I loved all of it. All I could wish for was that there was more. Once the storyline ended there wasn’t that much left to do, really, except for getting the best possible ships and visiting all the systems. I really, really hoped that No Man’s Sky would be the successor I was looking for. Sadly, it’s not. At least, not yet.

I’ve been playing NMS quite heavily since it came out. Maxed out the ship, maxed out the multitool upgrades, maxed out the exosuit. Exploring new planets is a pretty neat gimmick in the beginning, but it quickly turns into a resource-finding grind. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few real-life days on a beautiful planet full of different kinds of animals while focusing on getting better ships, mining and getting new technology. I genuinely felt sad about leaving it, knowing I’d be heading to the center of the universe and would never see that planet again.

..but that feeling quickly turns into utter numbness once you realize that every single fucking planet is the same. Sure, the color scheme changes and your near-to-death-ness slider depletes a bit quicker on some planets compared to others, but funcionally they’re the exact same. Animals are either ignorable or killable, buildings look the same everywhere and there’s only a very limited set of ‘gimmicks’ (crashed ships, learning words, discovering technology) to run through before you’re done. Mining resources could have been interesting, were it not that all the expensive resources cost roughly the same and all the cheap resources can be found everywhere, on every single planet, all the time, never more than a 2 minute walk away. It’s the same for all the fucking alien outposts on every single planet. NMS tries to establish a lore in the form of the sentinels, the ever-present space police, which supposedly protect the planets from change, colonization, etc. by the 3 major races. Yet somehow the 3 major races establish bases by the buttload, once again on every single planet, once again always within a 2 minute walk. That stuff needs some serious attention by the developers, cause it makes no sense, not from a realism point of view, not from a lore point of view and not from a common sense point of view.

During the game’s development we were promised a lot of things that did not make it into the final game, but that doesn’t matter that much to me as long as the game we end up with is fun to play, or at least has potential to be turned into something better by way of patches. I’m a bit dubious about NMS in this respect. The procedural universe is pretty awesome, but the devs seem to have spent a *lot* of time on just the procedural bits of it and completely forgot about the gameplay. NMS also seems to have been dumbed down severely (for PS4 users perhaps?). I absolutely hate the way the ships fly. You can’t crash into anything, you can’t fly at a specific altitude over a planet, it’s just a bloody elevator. Ground floor, sky floor, space floor. If you try to point your ship at something that might pose the slighttest risk of a crash, the game takes over for you and prevents it. So much for feeling free in your own ship. It doesn’t help either that all of the (beautiful procedurally-generated) ships handle exactly the same. Space pirate attacks are always exactly the same. Trading ships always warp in exactly the same and do exactly nothing (compare that to Freelancer where they were always moving from one place to the other and you could hail them and they’d tell you where they came from, what they were transporting and where they were going). So much of the game is just unfinished, unpolished or uninteresting. It frustrates me because it could have been so much more. Seriously, procedural generation is a great backdrop for a storyline, but the storyline is paper-thin. Where are the characters? Where are the factions? Freelancer was a million times better in that respect. But I bet it’s a lot easier to turn NMS into Freelancer than it is to turn Freelancer into NMS.

Three things can happen to No Man’s Sky in the future: 1. the devs are so stressed out from their (amazing!) effort to release a fantastically complex game that they call it quits and move on to the next adventure. I would absolutely not blame them for this. 2. The devs keep simplifying the game even more to appeal to the mass audience and keep adding features that no one wants. I’d say this is likely, but I would like to see 3. the devs, finally released from the stress of releasing a massively-hyped game, feel free again to focus on what they originally wanted the game to be. I bet this would require massive changes, and the longer they wait with this the more it will piss off the fanbase of the current game. But screw that. The game could be a lot better. I hope they take up the challenge.

 

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The Peak District

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“Do you get to the Peak District very often? Oh, what am I saying, of course you don’t.

 

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Why I hate Interstellar

I love sci-fi. I’ve been a long-time fan of all things Star Trek, I loved the Martian, I’ve read loads of sci-fi books like The Culture series, The Forever War, The Foundation series, and so on. I’m quite fond of hard sci-fi, so when I first heard that Christopher Nolan was working on a large scale science fiction movie that would try to stick to science I was very excited. In fact, Interstellar is one of the few movies I went to see in a theater. Sadly, my expectations were betrayed.

Perhaps it was because of the hype of it being a scientifically accurate movie, but I could not contain my disappointment. When I first saw it people in the theater were ooh-ing and ah-ing whenever something happened, and all I could think of, and came close to expressing vocally, was: “fucking bullshit”. Interstellar shits on science. Interstellar pretends to be interested in science, courts it, dates it, then realizes it’s not what it was after and brutally murders science and shits on its grave. That is how much I dislike this movie.

I think the problem for me is the initial premise. The movie goes out of its way in the beginning of the movie to show us humans: humans not at all different from us, because the events in the movie are supposed to have taken place shortly after present-day earth. The movie needs us to believe that these people are equivalent to modern-day humans. Then it proceeds to rub it in by giving Matthew McConaughey some clunky exposition dialogue to Murph about the scientific method, and how as a scientist you need to come up with a hypothesis, write down your findings and prove it. The movie clearly portrays the setting as ‘In this universe science is true, yo. You better believe it.’, and then goes on to violate exactly that premise. Sure, they got the little science-y details right, but that doesn’t do shit if your overarching plotline is inherently anti-science (and full of plot holes).

It’s been a while since the movie came out and I still hear people going on about how great it was. The movie still has a great rating on imdb too, so I was willing to concede that I might have been wrong about it. Today I watched it again. Nothing changed. Well, one thing. In the theater I didn’t want to be that guy who loudly shouts ‘BULLSHIT’ during the movie. At home I had no such misgivings.

The whole point of science and the scientific method is observing, coming up with a theory that fits the evidence. The movie uses this as a plot device, for science’s sake. If you’re going *that* far to insist on science then you can’t just do a heel-face turn at the end and be like ‘five dimensions and a predestination paradox make all of this okay’. Because it fucking doesn’t. That’s making a mockery of science. The danger of using ‘legit science’ as your movie backdrop is that you can’t make dumb plothole mistakes, like landing on a planet with massive waves without realising it had massive waves. There must be at least a minimum of dozens of scientists at NASA. Don’t tell me none of those people would’ve thought that a giant black hole would affect the tides. Or, even simpler, a pilot landing on the planet with waves of that close an interval would absolutely have noticed something on his approach. So, yay for scientific accuracy, nay for basic common sense. I guess you can’t have both in a movie because that would make things too boring for the viewers. But then I’d prefer leaving the science out rather than the common sense.

Now let me be clear: I have no problem with movies that make a mockery of science, or anything else, or with movies that don’t take science that seriously. I still enjoy Star Wars, I love Game of Thrones and I’m fine with whatever unrealistic laws of physics and reality are thrust upon me in whatever anime of the month I am watching. But the movie can’t violate its own rules. Interstellar establishes ‘science just as in real life’ as its own rules, and then in the end is like ‘Oh, by the way, this movie’s rules were actually science just as in real life plus five dimensions plus time travel plus the power of love. Fooled ya’. That is just not cool. It’s as if I was making a movie that portrays Christianity as true and then in the end was like ‘oh by the way, Christianity is only true because of science and God doesn’t exist. Fooled ya!’. Certainly anyone should be allowed to make a movie like that, but that doesn’t make it anything less of a dick move.

So there you go. I could not suspend my disbelief during this movie, and the reason for that is, ironically, because the movie tried to stick as close to reality as possible, and then failed miserably at that. I would’ve been much happier if they’d tried less hard at representing real-life science and focused more on the plot holes and fixing the common sense issues instead. I’ve experienced this a lot in Nolan movies. He likes to dazzle you and blind you with his pretty imagery and fantastic plotlines (don’t even get me started on Inception, although I liked Inception a lot better than Interstellar) so that sometimes you don’t even realise that you were fooled. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Interstellar was a classic Nolan bait-and-switch that I did not enjoy.

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