Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: Swing Copter | Flappy Bird’s Creator Is Still Having Fun at Our Expense

(Not surprisingly, Dong Nguyen's new offering is a frustratingly hard arcade game in the same vein as his massive hit Flappy Bird. But Nguyen is still having fun at our expense.)

Dong Nguyen is at it again, with a fresh new game called Swing Copter. It’s still 8-bit style, still obstacle-filled, but this time around the difficulty factor has been crazily upped, it’s almost impossible. (I got a high score of 1 and never bothered again.)

Swing Copter lets you navigate a bulging-eyed character with a propeller on his helmet, up through the sky, with steel bars and swinging hammers blocking your way. Even the sides of the screen are off-limits. What makes the game devilishly hard are the unwieldy controls and the unforgivingly screwed up physics. There is no such thing as narrowly missing the hammer, you will hit the hammer whether you like it or not.

Already, vile comments of frustrated players have cropped up at the Play Store. If frustration and high-blood pressure were the goal of the game’s creator, then hats off to you for a job well done.

* * *

The trouble with Swing Copter, Flappy Bird, and all the obligatory clones out there is NOT that they’re frustratingly difficult to master. The element of difficulty is a must—frustration tempts us to try again and again, and failure only fuels our desire to go at it one more time in the hopes of finally winning. (It’s the same principle at work in casinos.) And okay, there’s also bragging rights.

But no, the insane difficulty is not the problem. 


All the great games are propelled by a story: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Halo, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, Left for Dead, Resident Evil, and more recently Badland, Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery, Reaper, Plants vs Zombies, to name a few—all these have a compelling story to tell.  Other games let players create the story themselves: The Sims and Minecraft for instance.

Scene from Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery

Even Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, for all their mindless fun violence, have a story. The endless runner game Temple Run and Cut the Rope also have a loose plot line more or less. Or consider Another Case Solved, it could have been just another Candy Crush clone, but it deftly added an engaging detective story, and that made all the difference. 

The story is important; humans are innate story-tellers since the dawn of time—from the caveman and their cave wall paintings to the cat photos we post on our walls today. 

The story invites us gamers to dive head on to the various awesome universes provided for us. The characters have motivation, we relate to them and to their cause and goals, we fight their fights.

Okay, granted Swing Copter is a pure game, an arcade game where your only goal is to move your character from point A to B. Does that mean there’s no story to tell? Well that should have been a challenge to the developer.

All the serious and honest game creators want to share the story that they’ve carefully crafted in their games. They might put all sorts of obstacles along the way because life’s like that too, but at the end of the day they want us to win, to defeat the baddies, to save the Princess, to survive the odds, and experience the story along the way. These games were created for our enjoyment, and not at our expense.  

Clearly, Dong Nguyen doesn’t take his audience seriously.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Just Don't Get These Loom Bands

Someday, we're all gonna look back and think, WTH was I thinking wearing rubber bands as a bracelet?  

I mean, okay, I admit as a kid I had a rubber band phase too, but just for one day. I wore dozens of them loosely on my wrist, but I was always itching to take them off and the rubbery smell was just too overpowering.

At least the loom bands of today are generally odorless, and that's a step improvement.  But still, that's no excuse to weave them into a fugly vividly colored bracelet.  

Whenever I'm out and see people rocking their loom band bracelets, I find myself clenching my jaw, my hand curling into a fist.  That may be an exaggeration, but how else do you react when you see a full-grown man wearing a yellow-and-black combo? If you'll insist on wearing the damn things, you might as well choose something nice.

In some ways, this rubber band craze is a little saddening.  Unlike ordinary rubber bands, those loom bands aren't latex-based but made of silicone instead (that might explain the non-rubbery smell).  Anyway, silicone isn't very much renewable which makes loom bands not so sustainable

Imagine all that embedded energy, all that packaging, all that shipping and transportation, all that fuss for tiny rubber bands that'll just end up on your peoples' wrist.  And once we tire of them, we'll just throw them away where it'll end up in landfills, lakes and rivers, and pose harm to wildlife.

There are other reasons why this loom band craze has to go--they can be a health hazard too apparently.

Let me just add one more thing. There's nothing sexy at all about them.  


Macrame bracelets, on the other hand, now that's something I'd recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.  They're classic and old-school, with a dash of hippie, and they're for giving away to your friends.  They're called friendship bracelets after all.  Let's see the loom bands do that.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rubik Cube

Solving a Rubik's Cube has never been fun for me, but this genius contraption, the appropriately named Cubestormer 3, certainly takes the fun and mystery out of the world's favorite mind-boggling cube.

Prior to this, the world record for fastest time solving a Rubik's Cube is 5.27 seconds back in 2011, courtesy of a, well... robot too, the Cubestormer 2, developed by Mike Dobson.  This year, the Cubestormer 3, powered by a Samsung Galaxy S4, did it in an astounding 3.253 seconds last month.

By comparison, Mats Valk, the fastest human to solve the puzzle managed a respectable 5.55 seconds last March 2013.

Obviously, it took the creators a hell lot more time to rig and set up the machine and then pack everything up afterwards than for the machine to twist in perfect coordination.  Don't blink now, the video above is so fleeting you might miss it if you look elsewhere for even a second.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mario Inside Happy Meal Boxes, Atop Poles, Wreaking Havoc in Your House

I've never liked fast food, and have always munched on my fries with a combination of guilt and gusto. So when McDonald's Happy Meal comes out with its Mario-themed freebie toys this April, I'm suddenly all for heavily-processed greasy junk food. It's Super Mario for chrissake!

There's six to collect in the series, but I've got my eye on just two. Apparently, the bestseller is the Mario action figure all poised to hit the ? block. The guy at the counter of tells me it lets out a nice clinking sound, faithful to the game. I can understand the appeal of the mystery held by that levitating ? block. 

Unfortunately, McDonald's Philcoa was out of said Mario. So I take the other Mario figure, the one where he straddles the goal pole. Slide Mario down and the flag promptly goes up, and vice versa. It's a bit phallic, I know, but we'll pretend we're six years old and have no idea about its Freudian implications.  There's no accompanying triumphant sound like the Mario with the ? block, but this one actually looks good on my desk.

Anyway, because I'm a sucker for DIY, the Happy Meal box came perforated with cut-and-fold characters. I dutifully cut and folded and tucked the tabs inside as indicated, and now I have an anonymouse panda and penguin from an unknown cartoon. Beats me where they're from.

Back to Mario. Here's what generally happens when Mario lets himself loose in our world.  The short is called Mario is Destroying My House, by John Huffnagle.  Via Gizmodo.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Monument Valley Is Out!

Monument Valley is now out, at least for iOS.  M.C. Escher would be so proud now.  Of course, I can't wait till they port it to Android, and hoping they actually do it in a month's time.  Why the interval anyway?

I actually use a screenshot from Monument Valley as my phone and notebook's wallpaper, pleased with its beautifully black and white understatedness.  But I think I'll change it now to something with a bit of color just for kicks.  Just like this one, courtesy of Polygon. 

So, back to the game.  It's $3.99 for 10 sweet levels, somewhat fleeting but it never was meant to be a saga anyway.  The cone-hatted character you guide into the quirky, ever-shifting Escheresque world actually has a name, Ida, while those quietly sinister black crows serve as annoying impediments to your goal from point A to B.  Seriously, enough describing this--let's play already!

This Glen Baxter Is One Stoned Guy.

I've always been a huge fan of Gary Larson and his Far Side series, but stumbling upon Glen Baxter's The Impeding Gleam, I think I now have a new favorite guy. 
Never mind who begot whom, who copied whom, who inspired whom.  They're both aces in my book. 

Anyway, this Glen Baxter is one stoned guy, churning out this single-framed cartoons with the same wry, bizarre, and deadpan humor as Larson's Far Side comics, sometimes more inscrutably so.  Just like Larson, Baxter plays with his favorite subjects--cowboys, pirates, sailors, school kids in particular.  And the man's obsessed with wimples besides, instantly imbuing his simplistic drawings with a medieval, old-school effect.  

Yes, The Impending Gloom is absurd and weird, and absolutely has no redeeming social value.  All the better.  It defies explanation, and a lot of times has me scratching my head from time to time as I try to figure out the humor.  If The Far Side is absurd enough, The Impending Gloom is cruelly insane without batting an eye.

Just don't read it when you're depressed or suicidal.   

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I Love My AKG K311

One fine day in October last year, I went to the mall and bought something I didn’t need, as is the case whenever me and Edge have a spat. Spend some bucks here and there to forget whatever it is I’m pissed about.

I ended up with a pair of earbuds. Don’t worry, they’re not ridiculously priced, they’re not Beats, and actually they’re just a little under P1,000. I already have a pair, the default ones which came with my phone, but I’ve been reading about stuff like drivers and frequency response and soundstage, which the generic earbuds reportedly don’t have, so I figured I’ll get something new.

Previously I’ve been trying various overpriced Sony headphones, and to be honest I could detect only the slightest difference from my generic buds. The bass was good and a bit pronounced. Or maybe it’s just placebo effect—I’m simply hearing things because I’m aware of the price. Or I just don’t have keen enough ears. So there goes my claim to being an audiophile. But I do pride myself for a religiously tagged music collection, with lovely metadata from artist name to year to genre.

So anyway, the earbuds. It’s something from AKG, the AKG K311, which I got from the JBL store in SM North EDSA. At P799 it’s reasonably priced, though initially my main concern was, should I be getting something from a price range of P3,000-P5000 if I expect stellar sound quality, and just skip this reasonably priced buds? Actually, what sold me to the buds was the color—Artic Blue, which I realized moments after I took them out of the box, was just a fancy way of saying Baby Blue.

Either way, the AKG K311 sounded superb to my expectation. The bass had the right boom, not overpowering or exaggerated at all (I realized I’m really not big on bass), the treble was crisp, and the midrange was just perfect. While I don’t have an array of award-winning headphones to compare with, I’ll say this, I liked the way they sounded and that’s enough for me. Seriously, I’m not comfortable describing highs, mids, and lows, the way some people extol notes in wine or perfume. We should all just get on with listening to our music and our wines and perfume.

The other thing I liked about my AKG earbuds was the fact that they’re not in-ear. Say what you will about extra noise from the outside world leaking in, but I like my earbuds nestling just a bit in my outer ear.  I find that I don't have the same patience with IEMs; with them plugged deep inside my ears, I feel suffocated that I want to rip them out of my hears after just one song. 

Because the earbuds aren’t stuffed inside the ear, sound has a wider span, which means a better soundstage—rather than having those drums and guitar sound like they’re coming from inside my head, they sound like they’re just in the room with me. I just have to remember not to turn the volume up at its loudest, especially when I’m outside commuting. 

One of these days, I might find myself preferring the in-ear version after all, but for now it’s earbuds for me. The AKG K311 might be quite big for your taste, but they actually fit snugly in my ears and don’t easily fall off.

Five months later, because I couldn’t stand the Baby Blue buds anymore, I bought the Arctic Black version which is just a fancy way of saying Black. The black is understated, minimalist, and well, you can’t go wrong with black.

Crisp, balanced sound, Reasonable price, Lovely understated design, Not in-ear

Not-so nice:
Wasteful packaging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lego Keyboard FTW!

A working Lego keyboard.  It's quirky, it's fun, and thoroughly geeky every square inch.

For those times you need to type, and build, and type some more, and rebuild.  If it gets dusty and linty, simply lift it up and clean, and you're good to go.


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