Friday, March 26, 2010

Jacket Juice

So thanks to the one whole US Dollar discount, I decided to take a risk and hit up Jamba Juice's new Five Fruit Frenzy smoothie. At the time of this writing, I am halfway finished with the Original (20 oz) smoothie.

"Five Fruit Frenzy" is an absolutely perfect name for this product. The initial taste is nearly overwhelming-- the loudest note here is "tart", but there is more than enough sweet to smooth the experience over for those that don't want to pucker up after every sip. There is so much going on that it could be a little confusing, and the sip is down the hatch before every element can be thoroughly enjoyed, inviting the user to try to brave the frenzy of flavor once again.

The textures of this smoothie are as varied as the flavors. Presumably by using whole fruit rather than juice, the Jamba engineers behind the FFF preserve more than just the flavor-- including strawberry seeds and sweetness-soaked, smashed bits of banana. Once again, there is plenty going on here, perhaps too much for the less adventurous type.

Personally, my go-to selection at Jamyba is the classic Banana Berry, since I like my smoothies like I like my women: predictable, easy to handle, and with consistent level of resistance. But for those of you that like the taste of flavors that bite back, the Five Fruit Frenzy is just like Fierce Feint Fierce-- absolutely stunning.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Push My Buttons

Although everyone seems to dismiss it as an archaic way to interface with a game, the act of pushing a button can really be explored to create satisfying play.

A digital (read: not analog) button has 2 states: on and off. Most every game only considers the act of toggling the button from its off state to its on state (referred to as the Positive Edge of input), but some (usually Japanese) games put a strong emphasis on the lifting of the button as well (the Negative Edge).

In Bayonetta in particular, every attack in the game is separated into two halves: an attack on the way out, and on the way in. These halves are assigned to the Positive Edge and Negative Edge respectively-- if a player so chooses, he can leave his attack "out" longer to deal extra damage, at the risk of spending more time vulnerable to a hit from behind. Through this mechanic, a single press of a digital button has an analog level of risk and reward associated with it, adjustable given the player's style and situation in-game.

The result is that each button press becomes two decisions the player is faced with: When should I press this button, and when shall I release it? Pushing a button is the simplest way to interface with a game, but it can packed full of context and tough decisions!

This solution creates a level of customization in every action the player takes, while maintaining the instant, fluid response granted from a one-dimensional input interface. The simultaneous pursuit of creativity and responsiveness has always been core to the Japanese genre of "Stylish Action Game", and is one of my favorite play mechanics in all video games.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Under Pressure

So it turns out that according to my latest reading, my blood pressure is once again riding the line between Prehypertension and Stage 1 Hypertension (the border is at 140/90). Dang.

I've been aware of this problem for some time-- starting from when my PE teacher had me take the reading 10 times in a row in disbelief, to the time I recognized the numbers on my grandmother's BP reading from her hospital bed during a diabetic emergency.

Two summers ago, I was able to get my numbers down to almost normal levels after my ridiculous regime of tennis, lifting, and HIIT-- a feat I'll probably never be able to achieve again. The only way to come close would be to remove as much sodium as possible from my diet, which is worth considering.

Turns out the UK classifies BP up to 140/90 as completely normal, whereas in the US, that's the line between prettycrap and megabad. Why is it then that the US is the one with the disgustingly disproportionate obesity issue and the long-running streak heart-related deaths year after year?
I'm not satisfied until every vein is forced up against my skin. Look how vascular I am, Brian. If there's one thing women love it's a vascular man. I've got veins. They carry my blood all over my bah-dy. That's how John Mayer would say it: "Bah-dy." I'm really into him now. You better be okay with it!
Stewie Griffin

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Love and Street Fighter

I hate the art of fighting, but I wanna be the king of fighters!
Dan Hibiki
Lots of people ask me why I play as Chun-Li.

I don't like getting too close to someone. I mean, I'm not bad in that situation; it's just so risky. But I hate being distanced also-- those who prefer that situation are frightening to me. I need to be in some vague middle ground to feel comfortable.

My timing and spacing are okay-- reactions are my weakest link. But to maintain my fragile middle range, I have to be able to step forward if they step back, and step back if they step forward. I have to be react faster than normal against aggression, and be able to seize my few opportunities as they come. But too often I'm simply holding onto my charge instead of pressing forward when the time is right.

The unfortunate fact is that I play with a constitution handicap. It doesn't take much before I'm down and out. Many matchups feel unfair. My attitude in reaction to this has become to simply throw myself at people, and either succeed quickly or fail quickly. I'm resigned to the fact that my tools don't necessarily match up to those of others.

This game, like many others, isn't balanced. Some have incredibly great and effective characteristics, while others just get screwed. At one point I felt like I was unstoppable, but those days are behind me now. There's always the promise of a better game-- so then why should I bother learning this one?

It's because of all this that I choose not to play in tournament. When anything real is on the line, I opt out. I'm afraid of what people might think of me when they see me in that situation, or maybe just ashamed of my own ability to talk the talk but not play real footsies. I'll definitely beat up on randoms in casuals out of boredom, but I'll never go for the prize, for fear of how I'll feel when I lose.

I don't hate the player. I don't hate the game. I hate the character. But I'm too proud to counter pick in real life.
Handsome fighters never lose battles.

Friday, March 19, 2010

He's a (New) Star

Those who actually succeed in life... They just happen to be born with the magic ticket called "talent." If you don't have it, you can either accept or deny that fact until you die. That's your only choice.
Tohru Adachi
I'm really lucky. I've been really lucky. At some point, I figured my residence on Easy Street was reward for my natural talent and hard work, but that has since been wholly proven false. The most important lesson I learned from art school was that I had no real talent-- which was fine, since the other lesson learned was that I had no real passion for it either. And hard work? I've never really known what that was.

I always thought that life would only ever got harder. One year ago I was prepared for working life to be ten times worse than student life, so I prepared furiously, making sacrifices in my own hopes and dreams as well as my relationships with others. Do I regret it? In some cases, definitely. But maybe that's why my life is so easy now.

I tried so hard to mitigate the trials and tribulations of adult life, and I succeeded in almost every way. But was it worth it? Is my reward for making my life boring a very easy and boring life?

Maybe I'm just not lucky enough.
Luck favors the prepared.
Louis Pasteur

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ace Combat 6

Jet fighters are basically designed to be awesome incarnate: fast, loud, destructive, and invincible to any other form of war machine.

In fact, the only problem with making games about jet planes is this: how does the game designer portray the godly power of these planes while still presenting a meaningful challenge to the player?

Ace Combat 6 dances that line admirably with its level design. While the player's jets are exaggerations of their real-life counterparts, the scenarios the game provides for them require the use of every bit of their physics-defying power.

Unlike Ace Combat 5, AC6 utilizes its fictional Emmerian Air Force in a somewhat believeable fashion-- as support for its ground forces. A large-scale attack in this game involves several concurrent operations, with groups of allies approaching their own objectives. The player is not tasked with winning the war by himself, but rather to assist the effort as a whole.

Unfortunately for the Emmerian military, these multi-operation missions are designed such that providing enough support for every operation to be successful is deliberately made to be impossible.

Though the player has the godly ability to easily destroy many targets from kilometers away, there will always be more allies praying for assistance than he can attend to. With great power comes even greater responsibility, indeed!

This level design philosophy forces the player to make decisions on who to support and who to leave on the wayside, i.e. to concede to his inability to win the war by himself. Creating this emotion inside the player is a triumph in level design-- while other flight action games communicate the worth of a multimillion dollar war machine through sheer destructive force, AC6 sends the same message by making the player understand that there are never enough of these machines to go around.