Barbarian At The Gates–Barbarian C64 Game (Nostalgia Review)

So this is one of those games that I didn’t really play a whole lot growing up.  I got it based on the strength of reviews and screenshots from a Computer Magazine, but it was based on the Amiga version and back in the early days of computers, there could be a whole world of difference between one system’s game and another (not like today where most games produced by companies other than Sony or Microsoft have virtual parity with their counterparts),  Barbarian (Commodore 64/C64) was a game that was essentially a side-scroller.  As I recall, you moved right or left and tried to defeat enemies on the way to a specific objective.  I don’t really recall all that much about it–except that I remember being disappointed that the game didn’t have more depth to it.

Compare the Differences

This is the Commodore Amiga Version:

and this is the Commodore 64 version:

You’ll notice that the title of the C64 video is Bad Conversions.  This is very accurate as the game does not stay true to the original and was poorly executed.  I remember that this game was released not too long after the original Conan The Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and while the Amiga version recreated the experience of the movies as faithfully as possible at the time, the C64 version did not.  I can’t recall if this was a Christmas present or a Birthday present–like most children, I got my games as gifts as presents and I remember the potential of this game being so great (I was, of course, into He-Man, Conan, and even Red Sonja along with all things warrior related at the time).

This is why I now rely on Reviews rather than screenshots–I learned early that media, especially advertisements can be manipulative and that it is up to the buyer to beware.

Caveat Emptor!

 

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Iphone 7 Bricked

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An example of a completely black iPhone 7 screen (mine looks exactly the same as in this image, by the way), Image Source: YouTube

Well, this sucks.  I was going to write about my experience at the writing center working on my novel, but I’ll have to save it for another time (preview: it went well & was productive, but more in a later blog post).  No, unfortunately, I find that today’s topic is that I woke up this morning to find that my 3 month old iPhone 7 is bricked.  It will not turn on, it will not charge, it will not do anything.  It is essentially a paperweight.

Color me unhappy.  I no longer upgrade the iOS immediately anymore to keep from things like this from happening.  I knew iOS 11 was out, but now I wait until the little update badge appears on the Settings icon of the phone nowadays as that usually happens when there have been one or two bug fix updates applied to the iOS.  In this case it was three: iOS 11.0.3, before it popped up to upgrade last week.

I upgraded and IMMEDIATELY noticed a drop in battery life.  I used to be able to watch YouTube and Netflix periodically throughout the day and the battery would last a day and a half.  I could get through a full day and most of the night before it needed recharging.  After the update, it needed to be charged every 6-8 hours with the same usage model, sometimes dying in the middle of the night even though it started the night on an 75%-80% charge.  I figured that this would be fixed in a future update.

Yesterday, however, battery performance was particularly bad.  I had to charge multiple times during the day, so last night, before going to bed, I plugged in the USB adapter into the wall charger and plugged in the phone hoping for a full charge in the morning (the battery indicator was on 43% and was yellow when I went to bed).  When I awoke this morning, I didn’t remember hearing the alarm, so when I rolled out of bed, I checked the phone.  Dead as a doornail.

I thought, maybe the phone overheated.  Nope.  Maybe it needed to be turned on after shutting itself off.  Nope.  Maybe I just need to reset it. Nope.  On and on, solution after solution via Google and online forums.  Nope. Nope. And Nope.  So now as I type these words I have a black paperweight of glass and plastic staring at me, refusing to even acknowledge its own existence.

And now, I’m probably going to have to miss class to try to take it into a local AT&T store to discover what the problem is and that is not something that I really want (or should have) to do as a Graduate student.  At this level, school should come first.  I buy Apple products because of the “Just works” mantra.  If that’s no longer the case, then I need to start looking around for other products that will suit my needs more capably.

Not happy, Apple.  Not happy, AT&T.  Not happy at all. 😦

 

The Death of Single Player Games?

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EA shuts down Visceral Studios, Image Source: YouTube

So last week was a bad week for gaming in general and the single player game, in particular.  Two of the largest gaming companies, EA and Activision, both had stories hit the media that showed that they are not necessarily committed to the development of strong gaming experiences for their player base (especially players of single player games–like myself), but may be using the games a “vehicles” to increase their own war chests with anti-consumer practices.

To be brief, EA shuttered a well known & respected gaming development studio that was making a Star Wars single player game. They moved the game over to another division in order to (paraphrasing) open it up to better reflect their players’ wants in a game.  Activision, on the other hand, had a patent discovered by players, that could be used to match players together, not based on skill, but on the purchase of extra content and could match players with “premium” content with those who had not yet purchased the content in order to create an unfair skill gap between the players and incentivize the non-purchasing player to go out and buy the “premium” content to stay on a level playing field.

So why does this matter?  Players were incensed last week with these revelations and decried the death of the single player video game.  The problem is that this situation was made BY THE PLAYERS years ago.

“Knack is Kack”
I still remember this statement made by staff member of the Official UK Playstation Magazine on their podcast when the Playstation 4 was announced at Sony’s reveal way back in 2013.  Knack was a platform game that was developed to show off the potential of the hardware.  It was a good game, not great, but it was widely and roundly criticized in the media and online as being “old game design” and “antiquated.”  Now I personally liked it so much that I earned the Platinum Trophy for the game (do all of the in-game “requirements”) which shows how much I enjoyed it.  But if I had listened to the critics and the online community, I wouldn’t have given the game a second look as they considered it a waste of development time.  This attitude continued and now (in 2017) there are a dearth of good, triple A platforming games–their all either shooters or open world games.

The Order 1886
Here is another example of the market deselecting a type of game.  The Order 1886 was an alternate history game that full of promise and hype when it was announced.  However, that hype turned to bitterness and vitriol online when it was discovered that it was a short (5-8 hour) gaming experience and that there was no multiplayer involved when it was released in 2015.  What once was a darling of the press for its unique setting became an also-ran and a dog for its short campaign in regards to its price tag.  And based on the pricing models of games in 2016/2017 that are the same length (Ratchet and Clank remake and HellBlade) which are in the 29.99 price range instead of the 59.99 price range of The Order 1886, perhaps the price of The Order was too high, but the critical reception for both of those games (as well as the online reputation) is completely different that it was for The Order and that response to The Order was noticed by game development companies and (more importantly) game publishers.

Yes, last week was a bad week for gamers who like to play offline, single player games, but we have to remember that it is our choices as gamers that ultimately drive the market.  By being so dismissive to the single player experiences in 2013 and 2015, we gamers shouldn’t be surprised that publishers no longer want to fund or make these types of games in 2017.  Much like real life, if we say that we want diversity in our experiences, we actually have to show that we value that diversity.

Advertisers vs Creators vs YouTube

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YouTube Removing Ads from non-advertiser friendly videos Image Source: Search Engine Journal

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Screenshot of YouTube Monetization Image Source: 9to5google

This post probably won’t be as long as usual as I have meeting to attend in a couple of hours, however, I just wanted to get it out there since the topic (and the creators’ responses to it) mirrors my own frustration(s) this summer.

The topic is a simple one (& one that ultimately comes down to money), advertisers and Google seem to be in a war against the content creators that have helped YouTube grow and they have instituted a change in policy that is forcing many YouTubers to either change their content/format, seek alternate funding methods, or leave YouTube for another platform (like Twitch, or other streaming/video services) altogether.

Here is an example of one such YouTuber’s frustration: ACG
And here’s another: The Horror Show

Advertisers
Advertisers want viewers and they want their ads to appear in front of (and during) videos in order to sell their product or service.  They also want to control their message and how their message is displayed and on what content that it gets displayed upon.  In other words, they don’t want their message to be linked with an offensive site or offensive content.  Yet, the sprawling nature of YouTube doesn’t allow them to go in and hand-pick content, so they have (apparently) successfully and recently lobbied YouTube to create fairly restrictive algorithms so that their material appears on only the most family friendly content.  Again, this is because they want their messages to BOTH reach the widest audience possible (families) and not be associated with “objectionable” material, but they don’t want to spend an additional money to hire a person/a team of people to navigate YouTube to manually indicate whether their brand is being served or hurt by appearing on a particular video.

Creators
Creators are crying foul because of the draconian nature of the algorithms deployment.  Even if the content itself isn’t objectionable (such as review), the way it is presented (i.e., with a couple of swear words) is enough for YouTube’s algorithm to deny monetization to creators and their videos.  However, even in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a running gag about characters swearing and Captain America calling them out on it, and the gag is that they call him out on calling them out (if that makes any sense).  The reason why it’s funny is that in today’s world swearing is “allowed” (which I don’t personally agree with) and to call someone out on it marks you as old fashioned.  The Marvel movies are own by Disney Studios, a company known for its “wholesome” image, yet their most successful movies are in the PG-13 category these days.  It is unfair for advertisers to require their ads play on “G” rated content in a society where even the wholesome, family friendliest of companies content is in the PG-13 arena and they have a valid point.  Most creators already don’t make enough from YouTube to qualify even as a “hobby,” let alone a full time/part-time self-sustaining job and this change really hurts them.

Frustration with the system

If you watched the two videos, you can see the frustration of the creators.  They create content for a system and yet have an emotionless set of algorithms determine what can and cannot be monetized.  This is the exact same frustration that I felt this summer.  They work within the rules of the system, but the rules keep changing and they keep changing in a way that benefits others instead of the very creators who provide YouTube with the lifeblood of content that the site needs in order to survive. In many ways, this is much like AMC all over again as YouTube (and their owners, Google) have taken their eye of the ball and given into the greed that pushes away consumers to other platforms and then decry the fact that users/consumers no longer use their service and/or their profits are down.  Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil.”  I think that they (and other businesses) should adopt this as the first line of their mission statements, not the last.

Player Unknown Battlegrounds

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Two combatants with guns square off with one another. Image Source: Crave Online

I won’t get too carried away talking about games exclusively, but I will take a moment to highlight a game that has taken the “hardcore” gamer by storm.  You’d think it would be Zelda and/or the Nintendo Switch based on the amount of coverage that the media is giving both the game and the system (and while they are fun and/or unique), it is Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG–known affectionately as “Pub–Gee”) that currently has the hardcore gamers’ attention.  It is coming to the consoles, but right now it is only available for computers.

What is PUBG?  It is a game where approximately a hundred players are all dropped on an island and must fight it out in a huge Battle Royale until there is only 1 player/team remaining.  You can have up to 4 players on a team and while they just added a first person mode (as if you are looking out the characters eyes), the game normally features characters in the 3rd person mode (as if you watching the character on a movie screen).

The actual design of the game is actually pretty ingenious–I’ll have to give it to the designer.  The map is not quite an open world–it is a fairly large island “sandbox” that has trees, scrubland grass, and buildings.  There are a couple of named areas such as towns, but there are also smaller areas such as “The Barracks,” etc., and other deserted buildings.  Players drop onto the island without any weapons and must scavenge weapons and gear from the deserted buildings.  What is so brilliant about the game however, is the design mechanic of an “electrified shield” that slowly restricts the play area every 2 minutes or so, forcing the remaining players into an ever smaller playing environment until there is only 1 winner.

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A character parachutes into the map.  Image Source: Business Insider

I have seen “streams” pop up from more and more gamers as they play solo or with teams of friends/acquaintances in order to be number 1 and earn the game’s virtual prize of the catch-phrase “Winner, winner, Chicken-Dinner.”  While this game my not be a media darling like The Switch or the newest Zelda game, it is most definitely part of the gaming zeitgeist of 2017 and its design mechanics will surely be used (filtered) into other games in the future which is why I would have liked to have been able to talk about it during my Digital Rhetoric class.

Well, that’s all from me–I’m off to work on my project on Virtual Reality for the aforementioned Digital Rhetoric class–who knows, maybe eventually there will be a Battle Royal Virtual Reality simulator one of these days.

Let’s (not) talk about CBS All Access

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So one of the new TV shows that I was all set to talk about was the new Star Trek show that will be debuting in the Fall.  New Star Trek show, you say?  Wait, why haven’t I heard of this new show?  Because, instead of being rational and putting this show on CBS or a traditional streaming service such as Netflix or Hulu, CBS is going to leverage this show and only put it out in the US and Canada on its new fledgling streaming service, CBS All Access for $5.99 a month. 😦

That’s right, instead of going the traditional route and having commercials pay for the program, or a distributor (such as Hulu or Netflix) pick up the show and pay for it, they are going use it as the backbone leverage consumers to pay for yet another online streaming service in order to get access to their programs.  Not only do they want advertisers to pay them (for the programs on CBS), but they also want consumers to pay them as well.  Just like HBO Go, CBS executives see consumers as a pot of gold that they want “access” to, but unlike HBO Go, CBS isn’t a premium service.  The only way you can get HBO is to be a cable subscriber–HBO Go was designed for “cord cutters” like me who wanted just the content they want and nothing extra, which is something cable companies still in 2017 won’t let you do.  CBS has no legitimate reason to withhold content except profit, or in this case greed as they have a channel on “free” TV as one of the big 3 networks–ABC, NBC, CBS.

Why is it greedy, you might ask?  They’re a company and they are in business to make a profit, right?  Then I ask you, why, oh why, are they allowing Netflix to show the new Star Trek show a day after it premieres on CBS All Access all over the world EXCEPT in the US and Canada?  Two words, “online piracy.”  CBS knows full well that pirates all over the world are not going to stand for “locking down of content” in this way.  So this it their bet, give everyone else an opportunity to get it legitimately, but force consumers in the US and Canada not to have an option to get it anywhere but though our All Access service.  There is no reason why CBS could not have included the US and Canada in their negotiations with Netflix other than the desire to use the show to launch their own streaming service.  Netflix would love to be the premiere player in the streaming world as is in a two-way dogfight with Hulu and Amazon.com Prime streaming.  You know that a new Star Trek show on their network would be a feather in their cap (esp. since Amazon won the rights to the Grand Tour with the former hosts of Top Gear).

Much like the AMC foolishness with Spider-Man Homecoming, companies continue to shoot themselves in the foot through outlandish schemes to increase their revenue streams.  Here’s an idea (one that I’m ardently trying to follow myself as a writer): put out a high quality product that is so good that it gets people excited and talking about it and makes them want more in that universe and makes them look forward to the next project that you’re working on and the next after that and so on and so on and so on . . .

That (in my opinion) is a truly sustainable business model.

Commodore 64 Nostalgia

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Image Source: Oldcomputers.net

So we are going to be reading an essay on next week that deals with a line of code for the Commodore 64 and the way in which that code expresses itself as “art.”  I had a Commodore 64 as child and it was my very first computer.  I learned how to program in BASIC and I have very fond memories of the system.  I dug out some of my old manuals (both programming and gaming) and I’ve been having a blast reliving some of the nostalgia from a bygone era.

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C64 1541 Disk Drive Image Source: Wikipedia

Watch out–whatever you do, don’t use the “Scratch” command unless you really mean it!  As I recall, the Scratch command erased the data on your disk.  It also made a really, bloody awful noise in the process as if it was eating your disk.  As I also recall, the big beige box was also a pretty noisy beast under the best of circumstances, whirring and chunking and clunking away.

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C64 Tape Drive Image Source: YouTube

That’s right–cassette tapes could be used for more than music back in the day.  Most people didn’t realize that cassette tapes could also hold data (0s and 1s) that the computer could magnetize on to the tape and read it back.  The tape drive didn’t last long in the product cycle, however.  It was too bloody slow.  Loading in all but the simplest programs meant sometimes a four to five minute wait–heaven help you if it was a game you wanted to play–you could pretty much double that time frame in some instances.  We howl today if a game’s level take longer than 15-30 seconds to load.

Ah, memories.