Angry Robot

Building in games

This page describes how guilds can build cities in the massively multiplayer RPG Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. A couple points come to mind. One: it’s another example of increasing specialization in games, i.e. doing this requires a guild member who is “skilled in architecture”. Two: old people’s fear that games are dangerous to children gets increasingly laughable as time goes by. So your kid goes online, levels up his character in the architect skill, and collaborates with others to secure the resources necessary to build a city over a period of months?

He must have shot some hookers along the way.

New on DVD this week: Feb 28 2007

Tideland, some recut of Oliver Stone’s nightmarish Alexander, The State Within (BBC dramatic miniseries that sounds pretty good)

More Crackdown

This game is like a gangbanging Super Mario Bros. It’s more or less a platformer – substitute orbs for coins, and violent cliched thugs for the little turtles. That said, the explosive skill does come into play more as you move to the harder gangs, who like to hang in groups, often near exploding barrels. Strength can be useful, too, but much less so. Once you get to two stars, I think, you can kill a man with one kick, which is a nice shotgun replacement. But it’s less rewarding than the other skills since your only real melee move is the one Norris-style roundhouse kick. Jump kicks don’t really work, and you can’t uppercut people to cartoonish altitudes. Lifting cars looks good, but it takes too long to be a good option when you’re being attacked by more than one thug.

By the time you get to four stars in agility, you’re really wishing there was more to the game. It’s quite likely it was rushed out, maybe because of the Halo 3 beta. It’s a shame, because it could have been really incredible. As I mentioned there are no interiors at all, the missions are not varied or even really that hard. In fact the game encourages you to speed through them: since many of the thugs regenerate, there’s no point in trying to be a completist and taking them all out. You’re better off bouncing right into the boss room. You could probably beat the game in an hour if you were really blazin’. Also, while I love the general idea of these cranked-out magic superagents, the game is just crying out for some enemy agents of similar skill to challenge you. Beatin’ on multiple hapless goons gets stale. Let’s hope the sequel steals a lot more from GTA, and keeps the sweet co-op mode.


Right now it’s certainly an enjoyable game. It’s by David Jones, one of the originators of the GTA series, and it shares with its ancestor the free-roaming attitude, the urban setting, the combat system, and the combination driving-and-running gameplay. It diverges by setting the game in the future, and the game’s innovations stem from the setting rather gracefully. You are a Lundgrenesque supercop, and thus your abilities (agility, strength, firearms, driving, explosives) start at exaggerated levels and grow even more so as you develop them.

Ultimately the agility ability is the only one that matters, for sheer enjoyment anyway. As you level up it gets even more fun. The non-combat applications of ability are basically twofold: collecting agility orbs (which increase the ability) and rooftop races. And they are fun! You basically spy a potential position up a building, think “yeah I can hit that”, and give it a shot. It becomes a game of decoding landscape, looking for trick routes. The closest experience is probably Tony Hawk. As you upgrade your agility and your jump distance grows, you can reach orbs that were previously inaccessible. Which, in a feedback loop of kickass, leads to more agility and even better jumping.

Jump craziness leads to a pretty decent combat technique when you need it. You’re hard to hit while leaping, so you’re relatively safe. You can jump near an enemy, shotgun him for a one-shot kill, and jump back to rooftop safety before his pals can do any damage. Once you get the sniper, it makes sense to take out a bunch of them first and then bounce into the fray, but my tiger technique has served me well and is a lot more fun than just standing around firing a machine gun. There are plenty of better games for that.

And once the jump fever wears off, is there anything else worth doing in this game? The missions are all the same, so far – kill a gang henchman after wading through a sea of his thugs. There doesn’t seem to be any indoor play. There don’t appear to be side missions (unless you count races and orb collection). The other skills scale up too, and the videos of advanced driving and explosives do look fun, so I can see there being some fun-filled hours of running people over and blowing shit up. But I’d probably file this one in the “rental” category, as I don’t think its joys are worth $70 – if it weren’t for the Halo 3 Beta invite that comes with it, of course.

Apple TV

I can’t say I’m super-jazzed about this thing. I understand it’s the early stages and it’s primarily intended to give iTunes show-downloaders a way to watch their stories on their couch. But iTunes shows are standard def. And the Apple TV only works with “widescreen” televisions. Unless the thing is targeted at people who were tricked into buying EDTV sets a couple years back, that means HDTVs. And what do current HDTV owners tell you? That their gorgeous displays are great for what little HD content there is, but it sucks watching SD on them. Ouch for Apple TV!

Of course, in the future everything will be awesome, and I’m sure the Apple TV will follow suit. Once you can download HD content from iTunes these problems vanish. But no matter what, it’s unlike Apple to ship a shitty 1.0 product, so I can’t view this box as anything but a misstep.

Mac Mini Media Center

My preferred method of getting film & TV is bittorrent. (I’d actually prefer to buy content because I’d like some quality assurance, but that’s not possible in Canada right now.) The best app on the mac is by far xtorrent. You can search for and download a file right from the same app. It will negotiate directly with your router so that you don’t need to mess with ports. You can subscribe to feeds and even open a web browser right inside xtorrent – and any torrent file you click will begin downloading. So it’s dead simple to use, yet with most of the advanced features you might need – I especially appreciate folder watching & bandwidth throttling. Plus it’s beautiful. All in all it’s worth the $20.

I use front row for video and music playback. Once you add Perian, front row will play almost any file that bittorrent throws at it, and the remote is a great thing to have. Since the mini’s internal drive is small (and expensive to get a larger one from Apple), I hooked up an external FireWire drive. You can use the advanced preferences in iTunes to store music on the external. For videos, this is trickier. What I did was a) delete my default “Movies” folder within my user directory on the mini; b) create a “Movies” folder on the external drive and put all the movie files in there; c) use make symlink to make a symbolic link to the external Movies folder within my user folder.

One little side note: xtorrent can automatically move finished downloads based on filetype to specified folders. So (assuming the file isn’t compressed) I can set a bunch of videos to download, and then check next time I’m in front row if they’re watchable. Graceful!

I don’t even have a mouse or keyboard hooked up to the mini. I control it either with the remote, or via Chicken of the VNC from my laptop. Or from work, for that matter – don’t tell the IT department, but it’s handy to VNC in at lunchtime to set up downloads for that evening. Also, I set up an FTP server for sharing files with a few pals.

There are definitely cheaper ways of doing this, of course. Before it got stolen, I was using an old Powerbook G4. It worked pretty well, although he had become a cranky bastard and crashed a lot. Plus, although it tended to impress people, using my cellphone to control music & video (via Salling Clicker) was a little clunky. The whole mini thing is miles slicker, and more futureproofed since the mini plays HD files no problem, and doesn’t choke on fatter video codecs like the old guy used to.

Possible add-ons include:

Singularity: the Downside

Last week I linked to a boatload of singularity-related articles and I’m still processing them. Near the bottom of Kevin Kelly’s rebuttal of Kurzweil there is a very perceptive comment from Jochen Topf:

We have already moved past some of these points: Only a hundred or two hundred years ago people could learn a job and expect to do the same job for the rest of their life. This is not true any more. We have passed the live-your-whole-life-the-same-point. And if we think this through and believe in the every-accelerating development, it is only a question of time, till we have to change jobs daily to keep up with development. But we humans can’t do that, so something has to give, something has to happen. Maybe the acceleration will slow down, maybe superhuman machine intelligence can keep up with the development and we humans will live in a world, that looks to the superhumans like the third world looks to us today.

So yeah, being fired every few hours? That’s going to be sweet.

New on DVD this week: Feb 20 2007

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, Babel, The Prestige (Christopher Nolan), American Hardcore, the original theatrical versions of Star Wars IV – VI.

Not worth mentioning: Frampton Comes Alive 2.

Augmented Reality Bonus #1 and #2

Dude. I’m reading through this list of must-know terms for the coming robocalypse and I get to augmented reality and yeah: an adblocker for life. That’s niiiice. I’ll trade a truckload of Terminator machine-vision HUDs for one of those, please.

On a community I frequent there is a troll (natch), so someone wrote a greasemonkey script that will ignore any posts from that username. I’m thinking that one could be handy in meatspace, too. What, is annoying guy talking to me? I don’t see him anymore.

Passive-aggression for the 21st century.

New on DVD this week: February 13 2007

It’s always bothered me that the media pays so much attention to things when they are released in theatres, or when they are airing on TV, but so little when most people actually need it: when they come out on DVD, the format of princes – the top choice for the finicky, the lazy, and the morbidly obese. So as a public service (and as a means of reminding myself what to rent this week), I will provide a weekly summary of what’s coming out. This list is filtered through my own preference; this week I’m not bothering to mention the first season of Beauty and the Beast.

This week: The Departed, Marie Antoinette, Mutual Appreciation, re-release of Performance (Mick Jagger).

Xbox 360 First Impressions

First, the hardware sucks. The box itself doesn’t look great, it’s like Microsoft tried to bite a combination of the iPod and a pismo Powerbook. But more importantly, it’s extremely loud. Loud as in you may need to raise the volume on your stereo to compensate for the crazy fan racket. Luckily, most of the noise dies down if you’re not playing a game, but still. Definitely not something that Apple would do.

Secondly, the hardware is extremely unreliable. I don’t say this from first hand experience, but second hand: many of my friends’ 360s have broken down, some within the first week of purchase. Some twice. And these were not the first-gen versions, but recent buys. So this is one of those cases where the retailer’s scam extra warranty thing may be worth the money, if it means you don’t have to send the box out to Redmond or China or wherever to get fixed.

One positive hardware note: the controller is nice. I’m glad wireless controllers became the default this generation, as anything that reduces cable clutter by even a touch is a good thing. But besides that, the buttons and shape of the controller feel great, and the ability to turn the console on and off with the controller is a big plus.

Software. The 360 OS, if you will. It alarms me to say this, but it’s nice. The overall blade metaphor works well and looks clean. And the thing has a sort of rudimentary multitasking going on. For example, downloads continue in the background (something apparently the PS3 hasn’t figured out yet), and if you play some music, it will continue under the game you’re playing, replacing the game’s score. Now I know that this in theory is something offensive to developers, and it’s a point I would concede. David Lynch wouldn’t want people listening to Ashlee Simpson instead of his carefully chosen score during Lost Highway, and developers must feel the same. But in practice, it’s a godsend. No game composer scores 100 hours of music, yet this is easily the playtime of games like Oblivion, so without the ability to play something else, my poor leaping tiger-thief would have to listen to the same endless symphonic loops as he robs and steals. It definitely leads to some strange congruences (Autechre during Gears of War is notably alienating), but the external music can be stopped with a few clicks from within the game if the music is throwing you off it.

There are some creepy undertones to the Live side of things. The other day, a friend said to me, “I see you were playing Oblivion again last night.” Erm, yes. Cough. But as I understand it, there is a feature equivalent to “do not disturb”. I haven’t tried it yet, though, but will soon. Yet, most of the additions to the old xbox’s Live features are well thought out and kind of neat. I wouldn’t mind people knowing what games I like, and the games list basically does that. And the process of setting up a voice chat is very simple and appreciated. That said, there a lot of bugs still. My friends didn’t quit their voice chat before starting up a game of Gears, and as a result they could still communicate after one of them had been killed, which is definitely a no-no. When a pal and I joined them, also without having shut down a chat, we couldn’t talk to them at all in the setup screen.

Live Marketplace is an intriguing creature, and its “Microsoft Points”. Why did Microsoft think they needed to create a new currency? Sure, it’s micropayments and all, but surely they could have gone the iTunes route. It’s annoying to have to check a conversion chart whenever you want to see how much Master Chief gamercard pics cost, or some other dumb shit. And yes, the idea of having to spend money to gain cheat codes, tutorials, or other advantages is unsettling. Hopefully gamers will simply not buy these things, and they will go away. But besides that, some of the downloadable content, i.e. the free stuff, is kinda neat to have – especially game demos. That’s really handy for “try before you buy”, and it saves you a Blockbuster fee for games you’re not sure you’ll like. And I must say, although I believe that old school games should be free, I will shell out the $5 or whatever to play Joust now and then.

That’s it for now; I may report back with more.


It’s been a while, maybe a year and a half, since I banged out a TXP site. The new version is swee-eet. The whole site runs on basically one page template and one stylesheet, which is nice. (The horrors of updating an MT site and having to sift through hundreds of little templates…) I’m glad to see the TXP community hasn’t faded away at all – they’re still making bitchin’ plugins of all sorts. I’d love to install tons of them, but the name of the game for AngRob – must never call site that again – is simplicity. My last site had too much shit going down, hence the “spinoff” and “rebranding”. There’s this bizarre bit of blogger psychology where you get turned off by your own design if it gets stale, or maybe you never really liked it but were afraid to tweak it for fear of breaking it and having it display all janky in Internet Explorer. Anyway, I had a bit of that going down, so I decided to make a new site, but a nice, clean, simple one. I’m loving it so far, I must say. Hopefully I will not be the only one.

Rambling! That wasn’t really about Textpattern at all. So back on point: I am building this up from a very basic place, step-by-step, being careful all the while. Not sure yet how to approach archives, whether to use tags or categories, but we’ll get there.

First Post

Rockin’ that shit, doin’ it, really doin’ it. The old tweakin’ and massagin’ of HTML and CSS, aaah, nothing like it! Nothing like the smell of burning divs!

So, yeah, new site. Brand new baby robot. Still a lot of things to fix, and the logo will probably take some time, but we’ll be rockin’ soon enough.

So come knockin’.