Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Mark Has Been Made

My friend Davy, in today's musing regarding the new Mac mini, mentioned something that I somehow overlooked in today's announcement that the Mac mini will now be powered by Intel Core Solo or Core Duo processors (depending on configuration): Apple stripped out the shitty ATI Radeon that was in the prior model, replacing it with an even worse Intel GMA950 graphics processor.

The GMA950 sports 64 megabytes of RAM, which is shared with the onboard memory (in classic integrated-video fashion), which basically strips 64 megabytes from the paltry 512 megs that the mini ships with. Granted, most people who buy a mini would never know, and those who know better wouldn't buy a computer with less than a gigabyte of RAM anyway, but it's integrated video, which is shit. Davy, in his wisdom, points to the summary page of a review of the GMA950, which shows it in a graphical shootout with an Nvidia GeForce 6200 (the lowest-end 6xxx series Nvidia card you can find), and the review says the GMA950 is shit. I prefer the game-benchmark tests page (complete with nifty graphs), which upholds that theory, as we see that the GMA950 is virtually incapable of running anything more complicated than Microsoft Flight Simulator.

I side with Davy in saying, "How dare you, Apple? How dare you throw a Core Duo processor into a computer and yet make it even less capable of running World of Warcraft (one of the few good games available for the Mac) than my G4 iBook? This is to say that the current Mac mini shows that Apple is actively stifling game development for the platform.

Which brings me to a quote from Davy's closing paragraph, and I shall follow that up, as I see it as something of a challenge:
And it’s shit like this that will ensure that Macs will never be a truly viable gaming platform – Tom can explain why in much more detail about many more reasons –
Apple's move to the Intel processor was initially hailed by the technically uneducated as a step toward a golden age of development of games for the Macintosh; as though Blizzards and Bungies and Cyans would sprint out of the woodwork and would soon produce games for the Mac, whose reviews could only be described in words like splendorificous or stuponfucious, as words that could be found in any dictionary simply would not do the job of accurately detailing the awe these games inspired in the reviewers.

Then reality set in. Going from an IBM G5 chip to an Intel chip would not solve anything. The real reason why game development for the Macintosh will never reach the aforementioned golden age is because of one thing: The DirectX API. If you're coding a game for a Windows box, chances are you're using DirectX for something, even if you've eschewed Direct3D for OpenGL (which can be run on the Mac), you're probably still using DirectPlay for networking, and DirectInput for ... well, input.

Essentially, DirectX encapsulates all of the low-level stuff that you'd just as soon not do, such as teaching the computer how to render a polygon, run a sound file, parse input from the keyboard or mouse, and talk to the internet. It's all there in DirectX, which makes using it considerably more time- and cost-efficient, but makes portability next to impossible, because it's not available for the Mac. Essentially, you have to strip out all of the DirectX stuff, replace it with widgets of code on the Mac, crank everything through, debug, re-crank it, debug some more... and this step requires people who understand how to use Apple's Xcode (included with OS X), which is a happy little development environment, but it doesn't look anything like Microsoft's Visual Studio (costs you an arm, a leg, and choice of kidney).

Essentially, the only thing that is made easier by the move to an Intel processor is anything that's written in assembly code, which resembles English even less than Perl. In terms of efficiency, assembly code is as good as it gets, but it's completely processor-dependent, which means it's totally unportable. I think the last time anyone wrote an entire program in assembly code, it was probably for the Altair. The amount of assembly code that's done in virtually any program these days is probably in the area of fractions of a percent, if that, and that part would only get done at the end of the development cycle.

If that's not enough, Apple's market-share still doesn't represent a large enough base for a publisher to tack on another few coders to tackle the Mac side of things. Three guys out of college with good skills at programming a Mac would probably make a combined total of somewhere around $200,000 a year. When you consider the amount of time it takes to make a game (now measured in years, rather than months) and the number of boxes the publisher would have to sell to recoup just that cost, it's no surprise that very few companies do internal development for the Mac at all, leaving the work of doing Mac ports to companies like Aspyr and MacSoft (which is now owned by Microsoft, of all people).

Essentially, it's just assumed that anyone who's serious about computer games already owns a PC, or would buy one, given a killer-app. I see no reason why this should change in the next couple of years.

By the way, in Apple's favor, the GMA in the GMA950 moniker stands for Graphics Media Processor. Now, while it may blow ass as graphics go, it's decent enough for high-def throughput, which puts the Mac mini one step closer to being a DVR, or at least a general living-room media-hub.

AIM: therbmcc71

Monday, February 27, 2006

Who's Crying Now

For those of you not on the Bloodhoof server of World of Warcraft, there's something you might not be aware of: There is this guild on the server named Elf Slappers, and I have to tell you that they're all a bunch of total douchebags. Oh, it's true, it's true. A bunch of slack-jawed junksluts is what they are. So retarded are they that the vast majority of them have Paladins as player characters (Pallys being the most dimwitted of character classes), which goes to show you how very dedicated the Elf Slappers are to the Horde agenda, which is to say that they're not.

Have I ever been an Elf Slapper? No. Have I ever died at the hands of an Elf Slapper? Barring possibly their Alliance alts, no (as I'm loyal to the Horde, unlike you dumb sonsabitches). No, but I have heard the origin of the Elf Slappers from a wizened sage at Freewind Post, and I would share it with you, but I would have to rate this site adults-only, due to graphic depictions of a Night Elf being sodomized at the hands of the original three players who would eventually become the Elf Slappers.

Fact: They were going to be the Elf Spankers (since Ass-Bandits was already flagged and rejected by the server), but apparently a GM found out that this was only to further their agenda to rein in players who are into male-on-male action, which is one of the core requirements for being an Elf Slapper, and the reason I wouldn't be able to join. Of course, that hasn't stopped those butt pirates from trying to steal my booty, you know what I'm saying?

The Elf Slappers, in their recruiting messages, claim to be a guild that is interested in PvP, instance runs, high-level raids, et cetera. The usual stuff you hear during guild recruitment drives. However, this website has learned that it's not so much Player versus player that they enjoy as it is Player on player. Furthermore, the raids they enjoy basically involve getting the uninitiated into the depths of Molten Core, where they then strip the poor Troll or Tauren down to his skivvies and have their way with him in a manner that resembles the porno I watched last night where a woman had all of her orifices simultaneously filled by circus midgets. The difference being, though, that the woman in the porno apparently was enjoying herself, whereas the victim in this case suffers this fate while watching epic items get disenchanted before his very eyes.

But you know what the best part about the Elf Slappers is? They take what I write completely seriously, and they see these posts as personal assaults on their nonexistent heterosexuality, and then they leave interesting comments, laced with profanity and that sort of come hither dialogue that says they'd like to meet me after dark on the Ratchet docks for "a fishing expedition," which I take to mean they'd like to violate me in a manner that probably violates the Terms of Service, the End User License Agreement, as well as laws in twenty-six states, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

If you're on the Bloodhoof server and you're looking for a guild, look no further than the Elf Slappers, because they'll make you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself... namely that Tauren who refers to you as his bitch between events of having his way with you until you hit level 50.

Ah, the Elf Spankers... I love getting a rise out of those fuckers. They're such a bunch of fucking tools.

AIM: therbmcc71

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Electric Eye

So last night, my friend Scott and I had about a two-hour discussion regarding artificial intelligence (and very real stupidity) in today's videogames. He was of the opinion that the bots' dodging abilities in current 3D shooters was a good example of artificial intelligence, to which I said, "They're stupid." Essentially, it's a kill-or-be-killed issue, and a sense of self-preservation exists in probably most of the larger species of animal on this planet.

So then you look at Sims 2, which is a very good example of artificial-intelligence being used to adapt to external or random stimuli. The only problem is, they're still fucking stupid, and there are things they should be able to do that they just don't. I'm not sure if there was a conscious reason that the programmers made it so a Sim won't ever call a repairman when his television breaks, nor will he buy a new television and junk the old one, nor will the Sim try to find a job if he loses his for some reason. However, Sims interact with one another in very interesting ways, and that's really the sole saving grace of the game. For what they do, they're fairly good descriptions of A.I., but for what they don't, they are the poster-children of very real stupidity.

Scott and I got into this discussion over talking about Magic: The Gathering, which is a card game that people spend inordinately large amounts of money on, building decks of cards with which to play against other people's very expensive decks of cards. Apparently, every single-player version of this game has been absurdly easy for Scott to beat. That the game beat the hell out of me is no surprise, since I got beat by the Monkey A.I. in Chessmaster 9000.

Now, Scott is of the opinion that a proper A.I. engine for a Magic game would require so much in terms of computer resources that the system required to run it won't be invented for years. I don't think that's necessarily true, and then Scott said that you can't get a computer to think like a human, and I think you can, and all it really requires is a study of how the mind works in a given situation.

A little bit of an aside, here, for clarification: A lot of 3D shooters seem to feature security guards who will defend something at any cost, until such time as you mow them down with some sort of very large, very high-caliber weapon. Now, if I was a security guard and someone was trying to get at whatever it was that I was guarding, sure, I'd probably start shooting at the guy if everyone else did. But, around the point where the guy doing the invading had killed about two-thirds of my co-workers, I'd really consider leaving at that point. My life is more important than whatever this guy's trying to get at, and he's probably in god-mode, anyway. Again, artificial-intelligence always gives way to very real stupidity, as self-preservation only includes killing the invading force, not running away.

So, back to Magic. If you were to get a large enough number of players and isolate them from one another, such that all they see are one another's cards on the table, you could ask them for precisely what they are thinking when they look at any particular card or group of cards and have them explain why they are or are not doing anything in particular with those cards. Given enough of this data, a pretty good number of situations could be built and presented to the computer, which would then make use of the cards in its hand in a more human-like manner. Previous iterations of the single-player Magic A.I. would kick Channel back on itself and burn its own hit points, which is a stupid mistake that even I wouldn't make.

Essentially, the goal would be to create a game that has A.I. so good that it passes a Turing test, which basically has a person sit down with a computer screen and has a text-based conversation with two parties, one of which is human, one of which is a computer. If the guy at the computer screen can't tell which one was the human, the computer passes the Turing test. In other words, if an A.I. for a game like Magic could play like a human being, it would be a huge step forward for artificial-intelligence, given the complicated nature of the cards and game rules. Then it would be a matter of applying the same kind of methods to creating more lifelike A.I. for other games (particularly the Civilization series, whose A.I. I've always found to be totally retarded).

At this point, even for games like Black & White 2, the best A.I. in computer games is still about as smart and spontaneous as your goldfish, if that. I think that game developers should put pixel-pushing and polygons on the back-burner for a couple of years and work this out, because better A.I. has a far better chance of pushing games to be fundamentally better than increases in polygon counts, realistic physics, and soft-shadows.

But that's just my opinion. By the way, to update what I've gotten since the last post:
A Nintendo DS (silver), Meteos, Animal Crossing, Kirby's Canvas Curse. Now, Meteos is just enough to hold me over until Tetris DS is released, and Kirby is every bit as good it seems in this Penny Arcade cartoon. Animal Crossing is... well, it is what it is. It's just a glorified tamagotchi. And then today I bought Grey's Anatomy (which I think should be re-titled to Katherine Heigl's Anatomy, but that's just me) and Domino (which I think should be re-titled to Keira Knightley's Anatomy), which was the last movie I went to see in the theater.

Oh, and then there's the PC game Star Wars: Empire At War, which I'm still trying to decide whether I like or not. I seem to be the only person who was hoping for something along the lines of Rebellion, but it's not as smart as that, and the ground combat takes some real getting used to. Despite not knowing whether I like it or not, it has managed to get me back into playing Hearts of Iron II, which is a game so complicated that I play as Republican Spain and try to fight off Generalissimo Francisco Franco, rather than take any part in World War II. I think my next game will involve playing as Nationalist China, fighting a two-sided war with Japan and Communist China. It's just about the most complicated, fantastically difficult game I've ever had the complete and utter joy of playing.

AIM: therbmcc71

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Father's Gun

Dick Cheney's going to have to go hunting for a lawyer, following a hunting incident Saturday, in which the AP news story begins, "Vice President Dick Cheney has been given a warning citation for breaking Texas hunting law by failing to buy a $7 stamp allowing him to shoot upland game birds."

Now, if a news story starts out like that, you'd think that would be about the gist of it. And, really, it is, as it seems to gloss over the really juicy bits, such as (seriously, I'm not making this shit up):

The department found the accident was caused by a "hunter's judgment factor" when Cheney sprayed another hunter while aiming at flying birds.

The report said the victim, prominent Republican attorney Harry Whittington of Austin, was retrieving a downed bird and stepped out of the hunting line he was sharing with Cheney. "Another covey was flushed and Cheney swung on a bird and fired, striking Whittington in the face, neck and chest at approximately 30 yards," the report said.

The story... somehow... manages to go on as a piece about how Cheney apparently didn't have the appropriate $7 stamp to hunt upland quail or something. Liberal media, my ass. If we were still running things, this would be the only news story out there right now: "Ladies and gentlemen, we're breaking into your Olympic coverage to just let you all know that the vice-president fucking shot somebody."

Y'know, I gotta say this: I may not like the Bush administration, but goddamn, are they ever entertaining.

AIM: therbmcc71

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Diamonds and Rust

Earlier in the week, I picked up The Best of Judas Priest and Priest's new album, Angel of Retribution off of iTunes, almost immediately after watching an hour-long show on VH1 Classic featuring Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. I'm quite happy with both of the albums, but –as far as the song "Diamonds and Rust" goes– I still have to say that I like the Joan Baez version better than the Judas Priest version, with the notable exception of the unplugged version that Halford, Tipton, and Downing played on the show; probably because it was a very nice meld of Baez and Judas Priest. And it's always nice to see that Rob Halford can still wail.

Anyway, the first three seasons of X-Files were re-released last week in six-disc sets, presumably to replace the seven-disc sets of the first three seasons. I hear the extras are the same, and I was worried about the extras until I suddenly realized that I didn't need them to enjoy the first season, which I used to loathe. I'm watching about three or four episodes a day and will probably finish the first season tomorrow night, and then it's on to the second season, which includes the one guy who should have gotten a spin-off series, good ol' One-Arm Krycek! If you didn't watch the show, that makes no sense to you, but then again, this blog as a whole probably makes no sense to you, does it?

I did, however, cheat and watch one episode from Season Three, as it's easily my favorite X-Files episode of all time, and that's "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'." If you actually watched the series and don't know the episode that I'm talking about, it's the one that had Jesse Ventura playing a bleeping man in black, with a cameo at the end that still makes me laugh. Yes, the episode is deliberately funny.

My unfortunate and sudden addiction to X-Files, though, has really interfered with my comic book reading. I'm not terribly worried about this, since Tales of Wonder still doesn't have a concrete date on when Amazing Spider-Man will be released on DVD-ROM, and The Avengers has been pushed back to the end of April. Plenty of time to read the... about 700 issues I have remaining of the ones I got. While I still haven't figured out which came first, Super Skrull or Mimic, I have found out that Super Adaptoid may pre-date both of them (though definitely Mimic). And you thought comic villains were generic these days... Hey, at least we're not still getting shit like Plantman. No, seriously, there was a bad guy named Plantman.

AIM: therbmcc71

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

She's A Rebel

I'm just going to selectively quote and reorganize this Yahoo News story, because I find it absolutely fucking hysterical. Facts are not misrepresented in any way in this excerpt. You get only the funny parts:

Police removed Sheehan and Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Fla., from the visitors gallery Tuesday night. Sheehan was taken away in handcuffs before Bush's arrival at the Capitol and charged with a misdemeanor, while Young was not arrested.

Capitol Police did not explain why Sheehan was arrested and Young was not. However, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer was asking the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charge against Sheehan, according to Deputy House Sergeant of Arms Kerri Hanley.

Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, had been invited to the speech and given a ticket by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif.

Sheehan's T-shirt alluded to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: "2245 Dead. How many more?" Capitol Police charged her with a misdemeanor for violating the District of Columbia's code against unlawful or disruptive conduct on any part of the Capitol grounds, a law enforcement official said. She was released from custody and flew home Wednesday to Los Angeles.

Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said police warned Sheehan that displays such as her T-shirt were not allowed.

Sheehan said she had one arm out of her coat when an officer yelled, "Protester." She said she intended to file a First Amendment lawsuit over the episode.

These guys wouldn't have reacted that fast if she had a gun. Instead, they're the fucking fashion police, and it's entirely possible that there were fines for anyone who didn't put agree to cover up their peace symbols.

As it stands, I have found a secret White House blacklist of people who were not allowed to attend the State of the Union:
  • Milosevic, Slobodan
  • Manson, Charles
  • Manson, Marilyn
  • Cindy Sheehan
So you have one genocidal maniac, one homicidal maniac, one rock star who got blamed for every social ill of the late 90's... and Cindy Sheehan.

One of the primary messages of the State of the Union was for Americans to have confidence in their President... and apparently fuck the First Amendment, in addition to the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, which the White House is currently trying to have suspended. "However," stated one White House staffer, "we're still fully behind the Second Amendment, along with Amendments 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 27."

A representative from the Democratic Party stated that they haven't laughed this hard at anything since the Harriet Miers clusterfuck.

AIM: therbmcc71