Monday, April 20, 2015


This is just a post where I vent frustration over the weird things my tablet does, and argue to no one why I don't want to sell it to buy a new one.

The overly-long video above shows what happens in Chrome 42 when I scroll down the comments in Ars Technica. In version 41 and earlier, I used to make it through several pages' or tabs' worth of comments (I like reading them; they're usually thought-provoking and often educational beyond the article) before any weirdness occurred.

Now? I can't get through half a page before it takes the entire system down.

EDIT: It seems that Chrome in general dislikes Ars. The tabs freeze on my netbook roughly halfway down the comments. At least I can kill those and keep going.

The rest of the video is me showing the boot time (granted, I have a lot of apps installed) and some system info. To be clear, it's an Acer Iconia Tab A200, which has a Tegra 2 SoC and 1GB of RAM. (Device enthusiasts may be raising eyebrows; I'll address that in a bit.) It originally shipped with Honeycomb (Android 3.0), but was officially upgraded to ICS (Android 4.0.3). I am running an unofficial OmniROM with Android 4.4.4 - the only known KitKat ROM available for the device.

This clip demonstrates a quirk that I assume is due to both the hardware and the driver (I had issues with it in ICS). With certain networks, the tablet will often refuse to connect whenever I come in range (or after rebooting), and the one at work gives me the most trouble (sometimes it will be connected as I put the tablet to sleep; when it wakes up, it refuses to reconnect). To connect, I must forget the network, toggle Wi-Fi off and back on, then establish a new connection to the router.

Regarding Chrome, I can only assume that it has something to do with implementing (more?) NEON instructions; a while back, when I updated Google Maps to version 9, it would crash on startup (and logcat made it clear that NEON was to blame; I now run an unofficial Maps 6). The Tegra 2 is one of the last non-NEON chips to be released, lacking an instruction set that current Android devices sport.

Between issues like the above, and the fact that the device is constantly sluggish while running today's apps (software bloat, anyone?), life with this tablet has been rife with frustration. I want to get a newer device - but I refuse to get rid of the A200.

Why? Well, it was a gift, for starters. Christmas present at the end of 2012. It's hard to argue with getting something for free; I could have no tablet at all.

Also, with a Bluetooth keyboard, it's pretty nifty to write on; it helps that my laptops' batteries are all toast, so my tablet is my sole utility for writing in, say, a waiting room. For added productivity, the device has a full-size USB port, letting me plug in a wired mouse/keyboard, gaming controller, or flash drive - without an adapter. (Heck, sometimes I charge my Clip Zip with it.) I doubt whatever replacement tablet I go with will have one (come to think of it, is there ANY tablet for sale with a full USB port that isn't a Surface?).

Also, the ten-inch screen is nice. It's not as vivid as current displays, but I like the extra breathing room it affords over the plethora of 7" tablets on the market (never mind my phone's 4" screen!). The only caveat is that the resolution sucks by 2015 standards; it's 1280 x 800 pixels. Still, it's good enough to read comics or show funny pictures to others in the room.

So yeah, it's often frustrating to use, but I'm keeping this thing until the battery goes under. Hopefully I'll find a good deal before then, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thoughts on Mewtwo

I was one of the many people who got to play as Mewtwo in Smash 4 on the 15th. Having only vague memories of trying him in Melee and sucking in the ensuing matches, I was cautiously hopeful that I'd find him more acessible this time around.

Suffice to say that I look forward to using him on my next Smash Tuesday. :)

I don't really remember enough about Melee Mewtwo to discuss the differences (and I am NOT going through the playtime needed to unlock him on my own save file), so I'll just go over some of his moves and what I liked. Hopefully this will tide over any folks who are waiting to purchase him on April 28th.

As one would expect, Mewtwo's all about psychic-based attacks and movement, but his standard attacks mix in physical strikes, focusing on his tail. On the ground, his neutral standard, a quick psychic "punch", does 4% of damage, while his side standard is a swipe of his tail, doing anywhere from 9% to 15%. Mewtwo varies his physical and psychic attacks a fair bit while in the air. Smash attacks are more psychic-based, and they hit pretty hard, with great launching power.

Mewtwo's specials include Teleport (up), Confusion (side), Disable (down), and Shadow Ball (neutral). Teleport is familiar to many Smash players who use the likes of, say, Palutena, but Mewtwo's executes quickly, and he floats for a second if his warp destination is in the air. It's handy for sudden changes of target or tactics. Confusion flips around the target a bit, but it's very short range. Disable will stun an opponent - the more damage, the longer it lasts - but it only works while making eye contact. It's perfect for setting up a battered opponent for a KO. Shadow Ball is a charge move that doesn't auto-fire when fully charged; at any point while charging, you can hit the shield button to store the charge and resume later.

He isn't without drawbacks, of course - Mewtwo has a light body and is quite easy to launch. He's a high-risk yet high-reward character, as a result, so make sure you're skilled with shielding and rolling!

I'm having a blast experimenting with Mewtwo, and although I can't defeat high-level CPUs yet, I don't think it will take long.

Additional thoughts:

I'm willing to bet that players can fight with/against Mewtwo online regardless of purchase status. The download for Mewtwo himself, according to the eShop, is 58 KB on the Wii U and 16 KB (two blocks) on the 3DS. That's impossibly small - and leads me to believe that Mewtwo's data is actually in the 1.0.6 update, ensuring that everyone playing online has Mewtwo's code on their system.

I wonder if Nintendo will use this method for future DLC (meaning game updates when new characters come out), or if it's just for Mewtwo. Unlike Mario Kart 8's DLC tracks, characters probably don't use much disk space, so it's not that unreasonable to push DLC data onto everyone's console. (The biggest caveat, in my opinion, is that each update could break replays, meaning that replays you made the day of Mewtwo's release could be unplayable in two months when Lucas comes out. But then again, that really should only happen when the game balance is tweaked ...)

Anyway, hope to see you fellow Mewtwo fans online!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Sonic CD (XBLA version): A Blast From The Past, Present, and Future

Sonic CD is one of those games that can’t be brought up without half the room going, “… Sonic what?” Released on the expensive, ill-fated Sega CD (a Genesis/Megadrive accessory that was plagued by horrible, FMV-based “games”), only the more dedicated fans will have heard of it, let alone beaten it, and it’s not an easy game to show to fans who are more accustomed to Sonic’s … modern achievements. But underneath its obscurity, Sonic CD is a real treasure, and Sega was smart enough to make sure that treasure feels as beautiful now as it was then, using Sonic fanChristian “Taxman” Whitehead’s “Retro Engine” for all the ports.
For starters, the game now runs at 60 frames per second in all situations, and features true widescreen support. Sprites can be smoothed out to make them seem better to bystanders, but I’m perfectly happy to play with their old, unfiltered selves (granted, I have an old CRT TV). The USA and Japanese soundtracks are included (defaults to JP); while the JP soundtrack is considered to be vastly superior by many, the USA one has its merits. (My two cents: play as Sonic with the one you like most, and then play, with the other soundtrack, as …) Tails shows up in this port as well, as an unlockable character, awarded by beating the game once as Sonic. He features his flying and swimming abilities from Sonic 3, and a few new sprites for situations he’s previously never been in (the Special Stages come to mind). Tails is great for leisurely exploring the levels to learn paths you may have been timid or too much in a hurry to go down as Sonic (that 10 minute limit can be haunting!). Finally, the game saves after each Zone (Act, as it’s called in later games), instead of only after you defeat a boss, and you get four save slots.
Sonic, of course, is where the action all is, and he’s a joy to control here. I found myself able to peel through stages like they were nothing in Time Attack mode, while able to elegantly explore the stages in the main game, scouring the land for time posts and rings. Sonic accelerates and stops smoothly (contrast: Sonic 4 Ep. 1), and you’re given the option of using the original Spindash (that is, the one in the original Sonic CD) or the Sonic 2-style spindash (the good one, in seemingly everyone’s opinion). Sometimes I really didn’t care if I was moving towards the goal or away; it was just funto move Sonic around, especially on the obstacle-course sections of the Zones.
Sonic CD’s Special Stages – accessed by finishing a Zone with at least 50 rings - have been perfectly preserved as well – maybe a little too well. The pseudo-3D design can be jarring for audiences that didn’t grow up in the Mode 7-esque days, and even old-school fans will have to adjust to the now incredibly-smooth framerate (60 FPS vs. 30 FPS in the original), as jumping timing is a little different. I found it fairly easy to get used to, and before I knew it I had three Time Stones. (Good luck, of course, on getting the other four!) The objective, for those wondering, is to run around the 3D stage and destroy multiple UFOs floating in the air by jumping into them – with a 99 second time limit that drops by ten seconds if you walk into water. Succeed, and you win a Time Stone.
Players of modern Sonic who are used to holding right and jumping from time to time won’t find much of that here. The stage designs are dense, packed with obstacles that ensure that Sonic will rarely reach top speed. There are multiple possible reasons, all benign. It becomes all that more joyous when you can move Sonic at top speed for those precious seconds. Time travel becomes a challenge as you struggle to maintain good speed to start the warp (and it becomes harder to do it by accident). Time trials are more challenging as you struggle to find a fast route (if you find it, you canblaze through most Zones). The slower pace lets you take in the scenery better. Maybe the level designers just got giddy about the extra storage space. Whatever the reason, Sonic CD’s levels can seem convoluted and intimidating at first, but with time they become elegant, beautiful paths that can be tackled without breaking a sweat.
The game does have a few nits, like the score tally at the end of each Zone occuring after the music has played (and feeling like an arbitrary delay if you happen to be playing your own music), but the game offers plenty of redeeming qualities that all the negatives can be brushed aside with ease. And to top it off, this thing is $5 (at least on Xbox Live Arcade). It’s practically an impulse buy. What more could you ask for from Sega, who, at long last, has given a formerly forgotten title its welcome return.
Gameplay: 4.5/5. The Sonic 2-style Spindash is a welcome improvement. Sonic is fun to control.
Visuals: 3.5/5. They didn’t remake the sprites, just added a smoothing filter. Special Stage looks dated as a result.
Sound: 4.5/5. Is it 18-year-old music? Yes. Is it lossless? I don’t know. Does it sound fresh and exciting? OH YES
Controls: 5/5. Back to basics. You could play this with an Atari VCS joystick. Again, Sonic moves great.
Difficulty: 4/5. I’m not really sure how hard this would be for a newcomer. I’ve technically played this game before (on the 1995 PC version), so I know the game fairly well.
Storyline: 2/5. This was back in a time when Sonic wasn’t about story, so just ignore this number and go play the darn game.
Overall: 5/5.
Sonic and all affiliated characters and elements are © Sega, Sonic Team. Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade are © Microsoft Corporation.
This review was originally published on Tumblr in December 2011. View the original post.
Sonic CD on Steam

Monday, April 13, 2015

Weirdness: Ping TARDIS

I had a time machine!

Review: Frogger 3D (1997)

    Frogger, as a game in general, hardly needs introduction to most gamers around today. Konami developed the arcade hit in the early 80s, and Sega (then its publisher) granted the rights to port it to various companies, including Parker Brothers and Sierra. Seemingly every video game and computing platform of the era soon received official ports, most notably the Atari home consoles. Unquestionably a hit, the game made a lasting impression throughout the decade, and was granted a sequel (ThreeeDeep!) for several home consoles in 1984. Time passed, and Frogger largely fell out of the public eye for the majority of the 90s, occasionally being granted a reference in assorted media, and even a brief animated series - until, suddenly, Frogger started showing up in a whole slew of video games in the early 2000s. Showing up on the then-current home consoles and the Game Boy Advance, Frogger underwent a huge revamp of sorts, seemingly out of nowhere, and rode into the millenium on various expansions, ports, and the like. But, in truth, the revival started a little before Y2K came about - with a 3D game, in 1997.
    Branded as Frogger: He's Back!, the 1997 Frogger was a 3D remake of the arcade game for the PlayStation and the PC, developed by SCE Cambridge and published by Hasbro Interactive. It was an instant success, selling nearly a million copies in the first four months. It didn't gather the warmest of critical reception, but the game made a decent fanbase for itself and is generally remembered fondly by its players.
    At least, at first.
    Frogger '97 starts off pretty well. It has a number of interesting levels (which are divided into nine Zones; more on that later), has a pretty catchy soundtrack, and gives Frogger three neat powerups that spice up the gameplay. The visuals, while a bit simplistic for their time, are colorful and kind of charming, and they get the job done. The controls respond pretty well (although the camera rotation takes some getting used to), and the level design at times incorporates a feel of exploration, keeping the experience from growing stale as you progress through the game and hunt for the baby frogs.
    But that's where some of the problems start to come in.
    What belies Frogger's cheery presentation and simple starting difficulty level is a brutal, merciless game. The level timer is the first component - although it gives reasonable time limits in the PC version, the PlayStation version's timer stalks the player like a crocodile eyeing his next helping of frog's legs. While the game does offer powerups that grant extra time, over half of the later levels give you naught but a few seconds' leeway to nab your next baby frog; a few even start you off with less than the barest minimum necessary to grab the farthest frog, forcing you to eat time flies every time you set out for the next baby.
    Similarly, the design of some of the levels tends to pile on the stress when it comes to racing against the clock. Frogger Goes Skiing is egregious in particular, thanks to its atypical sliding mechanic - the directional buttons merely steer and adjust Frogger’s speed. Touching any enemy, or any side of a jump ramp, kills the poor frog. Falling down a hole or off the side kills him. All the while, the timer is counting down, and the overhead light is constantly diminishing - a gimmick of the Zone in which the level resides - so swift completion is mandatory. Other levels rely on obstacles like mazes (Web Caverns and - in a sense - Lava Crush) or astoundingly tricky enemy patterns (Big Boulder Alley, for instance) to stall for time and kill the player from all sides. Without any mode for free play or exploration, it may take dozens of tries to learn any given level’s layout or patterns, swiftly leading to frustration. The only show of mercy that the game offers is that this kind of difficulty is almost exclusively saved for the later levels of the second half of Zones; while earlier levels are tricky, they are beatable with a little practice.
    One of the game’s gimmicks is that, in one level of each Zone, there’s a Golden Frog hidden somewhere. A few are out in the open, requiring minimal effort to locate and reach; while others are cleverly tucked away in spots one might have to go out of their way to search for - that is, if they weren’t already doing so to complete the level, thanks to some of the placements of the baby frogs. Thankfully, once a Golden Frog is found, it stays that way - even if the player Game Overs on the level. Each Golden Frog appears on the side of its Zone’s block on the level select screen; they also unlock new Zones, one per frog. Finding all nine of them grant the player a bonus ending when they clear the final level - but it boils down to a short, rather uninteresting video clip whose content is almost a non-sequitur. It's a task best suited to a player that enjoys the hunt, rather than the reward.
    But rest assured, it will be an interesting hunt. Frogger has a handful of new moves and power-ups to navigate the Zones: a powerful Croak to help locate the babies, Marco Polo style (it also triggers a burst of light in the cave levels); a long-reaching tongue, used to pick up items such as Auto-Hop and Time Flies; and a Superhop, used to leap over obstacles, climb the terrain, and maintain some hangtime when jumping off a moving platform. The Zones themselves come in a variety of settings to test these abilities - including the classic “retro” stages, a riverside highway, a beehive and some deep woods, a lava-coated factory (in which Frogger will sometimes wipe his brow), dank caves, the sky, a desert, grime-infested sewers, and a jungle.
Items are present, too, in the form of edibles - namely, fies. Most flies give points, but there are flies that add time to the timer; flies that extend the reach of Frogger’s tongue; flies that let him auto-hop at top speed; flies that increase his hopping speed; and flies that outright grant an extra life.
The game has a decent soundtrack, with two level themes for each Zone. the Retro Level themes have a timeless feel with a positive vibe; the Lily Islands themes are light and a bit jazzy; and Lava Crush’s theme is a punchy romp through the factory, to mention a few. The end credits feature a nice melody that combines tracks from all the Zones, and it feels particularly nostalgic.
    Overall, Frogger 3D is a nifty package, and it can keep dedicated gamers busy for several weeks as they clear the courses and aim for higher scores. It’s tricky, and requires a lot of practice to clear the later levels, but in my opinion the feeling when one finally beats a tough stage is worth it. If you can find a copy, give it a shot!
This review was originally fermenting as an article planned for Hardcore Gaming 101, but I decided to tweak it a bit and post it here.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review: Fire Emblem: Awakening

No matter how much I try to avoid it, my focus on new games keeps drifting back to old(er) favorites. Sometimes this means firing up a Virtual Console title or bringing my SNES out of a shoebox, but at other times it simply means dusting off a two-year-old cartridge case and popping the game in my 3DS. After a while, I decide it's been fun and put the game away to focus on the newest stuff (or, you know, real life), but some games get a good hold of me and I keep playing them for days or even weeks, simply because I enjoy them that much, even if it means putting off playing that shiny new game I bought the other day. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of those games.
For the uninitiated, Awakening is a tactical RPG, the thirteenth in the Fire Emblem franchise, and a savior for the nearly-cancelled series, selling over 400,000 copies in North America alone. It is widely regarded by players as the best 3DS game to reach the continent during 2013, a notion I've echoed to many friends. The game tells the story of Prince Chrom and his band of Shepards, a group of warriors who aim to protect the peace in their haildom of Ylisse; the game also explores the background of the player-created character (known as Robin or the Avatar by default), who is found by the Shepards, uninformed and amnesiac.
The game employs the usual grid-based Super Fancy Extreme Ultra Chess 9001 & Knuckles system, with assorted characters and classes, weapons and tomes, staves and skills, and anyone who's played Final Fantasy Tactics or a previous Fire Emblem will feel right at home; anyone who hasn't will be pleased to know that the tutorial is informative and unintimidating – which is good, because those unaccustomed to strategy will likely want to spend their brainpower experimenting and avoiding any casualties on their side, as fallen units in this game are lost forever. Intelligent Systems was generous enough to add a Casual Mode, which renders defeated units simply incapacitated for the battle instead of totally, irreversibly dead – but some will prefer to avoid this handicap, as it takes the sting out of a loss and drops something that is uniquely Fire Emblem. I can attest that the enemies in the game will jump right to picking off the weak units if they get the chance, and your party will become weak if you don't flex some strategic muscle and let them cower in a corner every battle. All of this adds weight to every decision, and watching how the enemy responds to your movements can be tension-filled and – if you survive – rewarding.
As in life, though, there's more to this game than meets the eye. The game's Support system allows each of the characters you encounter to form bonds by fighting side-by-side in combat, and at certain points, you can watch them interact – for a certain degree of “watch” - and eventually make them close friends or even marriage partners. The dialog in the Support scenes is nothing short of charming, adding depth to all of the characters and providing numerous heartwarming and hilarious moments. Even better, the Avatar can support with every character, giving him or her lots of marriage options and perhaps some wish-fulfillment to the player. All of this ties back to combat, as characters with strong bonds will take better care of each other on the battlefield, making the feature worthwhile even for players who somehow find the whole thing a bit sappy for their tastes (every cutscene and bout of dialog in the game can be skipped, incidentally).
The presentation can be a bit of a mixed bag, though, depending on one's tastes. The game features a healthy mix of polygons and obvious sprites, though the latter is limited mainly to characters on the maps and item icons in menus; almost everything else is polygonal. Sometimes this results in uniquely distracting effects, such as a rocking ship in one chapter which is overlaid by unmoving sprites on the battle grid; but for some this adds to the charm of the visuals, as Fire Emblem has long been presented with only sprites. On the other hand, the coloring of the environments leave a bit to be desired, as the landscapes quickly prove to be little more than shades of brown and green. Battle scenes, despite impressive character animations, soon start to blend into each other or feel a bit dull, especially when compared to the menus, which at least show lots of colorful character portraits and tomes to mix it up a bit.
The music is consistently wonderful. Often moderately-paced, battle themes run at a smooth tempo that's perfect for thinking about your next move, and it seamlessly ups in scale when combat begins. Cutscenes get some great tunes as well, and the entire soundtrack has a few recurring riffs – leitmotifs – to give it consistent themes. It makes it all the more enjoyable to actively listen to, even when not playing the game (and if you can't shell out for a set of CDs, worry not - the game lets you freely play its music in the Unit Gallery after you beat the game once).

When the game is done, it has a lot of extras to offer – there are several side-stories and plenty of paid downloadable chapters to check out if you end up bitten by the strategy bug. Even if strategy's not really your thing, it's worth downloading the demo or borrowing a copy to see if you might adapt. Failing that, however, as long as you own a 3DS, I can say without a shred of uncertainty that Fire Emblem: Awakening is worth your time.
This review originally appeared on Review A Great Game Day 2015. You can view it here.


Hello! If you're reading this, you've likely either followed my link, stumbled upon this by extremely-random chance (or were looking for , which is what I wanted; sadly, it was taken), or have scrolled to the very bottom of my posts. :)

For those who don't know me, I'm a computer nut of sorts, and a lover of video games. I grew up in the center of Georgia, where I still live, and scrape by with a pair of jobs (cleaning, and some light IT) at a local church.

My Tumblr blog has become bloated with reblogs, so I decided it was time to make something I can dedicate to stuff I've written. Most of what I write these days is game reviews, thoughts on technology (rarely), and little bits of fiction (which I mostly keep to myself, except for one Pokémon/Ace Attorney fan fic).

I'll likely copy-paste some things from Tumblr over the next while, then get to the newest stuff (of which there is little, at this writing). Hopefully, there will be something here for you to enjoy soon enough. :)