Best Games - Star Trek : 25th Anniversary and Star Trek : Judgement Rites
There is a theory floating around that the music you listen to during your mid to late teens will shape your musical taste for the rest of your life. Some pattern of rhythms and tones gets etched directly into the topography of your brain, and any new music that fits that imprint will be much more appealing. If that’s true, and if it applies to media other than music, I have a Star Trek shaped valley in my brain.
My uncle would record Star Trek onto VHS tapes, label, organize, and store them in an end table cabinet. Netflix for me in 1990 was a VCR and every episode of Star Trek that had ever aired. I have watched all of the original series, Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine several times over. Voyager and Enterprise to a lesser extent, but I still found things to enjoy in those shows.
Video Games have a tendency to lean on the action and combat aspects of any other fiction that they adapt. It makes sense really. The typical input method of video games is joystick and button, and pressing a button doesn’t exactly lend itself to expressing the moral and intellectual grist of your average episode of Star Trek. The tools the player usually has to affect a game world are blunt and destructive. Shooting, punching, kicking, smashing, stabbing, are all a mainstay of video games, and none of them are really a big apart of Star Trek.
To be fair, Star Trek has a lot of space battles and punching, but all of that violence happens when diplomacy ends and intelligence fails. There is always a cost for violence in Star Trek. Most of the video game adaptations of Star Trek focus on combat, and it never feels right. These Star Trek themed combat games don’t fit in my Star Trek shaped hole.
Star Trek : 25th Anniversary and Star Trek : Judgement Rites are point and click adventure games. They tell tightly scripted stories and offer up simple puzzles for you to solve. The puzzles are fairly simple by adventure game standards, but they are logical and depend on a fair bit of character interaction and dialog. The characters from the original series are well represented, and even voiced by most of the original actors, even if they do phone in the performances. The games are broken up into several bite sized adventures that all begin with a title card and a captain's log voiceover or some other similar lead in technique lifted directly from the show. The games are designed to feel like the show, which goes a long way, but that isn’t what really makes them resonate as Star Trek.
At every step, these adventure games emphasize the use of intelligence and diplomacy over the use of force. They are written so that the characters and their interactions are more important than the mysteries being solved. The themes for each episode are high concept sci fi tropes, and occasionally a bit thin, but they make a good backdrop for Spock and McCoy’s brotherly bickering. If you can manage it, peaceful and clever solutions to every adventure will garner more rewards, and more importantly, keep your crew safe and your red shirts alive.
Other than Sam and Max Hit the Road, I think that Star Trek : 25th Anniversary might be the only adventure game that I have ever finished without ever looking up a single hint. Maybe that is because the game was quite easy or short, but I think it just felt so much like Star Trek that I was compelled to keep playing just to see what the characters would say and do next.
My adolescence has probably hardwired me to enjoy Star Trek in the same way as I enjoy Soundgarden songs, but I think I can still say that these are a couple of the best games.
After a while away from it, I returned to development and programming this week. That inevitably lead to trying to figure out what the hell it was I was doing. I find that going back to old code is like trying to read the mind of a completely different person, and that person is an idiot.
Even with good comments and careful organization it usually takes a while to get back into my previous headspace. This time, like so many others, I went through the code and when I finally figured out how it all worked, I wondered what would ever have made me think that it was the best way to do things. This leads to a disassembly of the old procedures and routines, and a replacement with a much simpler, much more stable versions that accomplish the same thing. Of course the old version worked too, just not as well and less elegantly.
So there is the problem. I have heard time and time again never refactor code until it is feature complete. I can see the value in that. Why fix what isn’t broken. I’m not really a programmer, and I haven’t learned, or been taught, why a lot of best practices became best practices. There are probably some very good reasons why the notion of never refactoring is so pervasive.
I am a sculptor though, and I have found that if the skeleton of your work is weak, no amount of polish will ever correct those problems on the surface. If the structural forms of a model or drawing aren’t solid, it will never turn out as well as you would like.
I think that either programmers and artists just approach problems differently, or the idea of holding off on refactoring has been grossly overstated. As a sculptor or fabricator, I will likely to continue to work on creating a strong base, since it seems to be serving me well in the artistic field.
This is one of those posts where I sort of ramble about what I am thinking, and nothing of note ever gets resolved or accomplished. Due to that, I have removed some of the more rambly bits to keep this one a bit shorter. Have a good day.
I’ve been doing a lot of 3D modelling recently. Making 3D models with the intent of running those digital files through a 3D printer and turning them into physical objects. There is a slightly different mindset required for objects that are intended for the real world. Games and video allow you to get away with a lot of nastyness that reality just isn’t well suited for. Like gravity. Gravity is a thing that you have to deal with in the real world. Also, objects can’t usually pass clean through other objects without at least one of them becoming a broken object. You know, technical stuff.
Joking aside, 3D printers are incredible inventions that let you relatively quickly produce custom objects in your home, and more importantly, produce copies and iterations on that object. Sure, clay might predate humans by a fair bit, but if you sculpt something from clay, or wax, or butter, you will have to do exactly the same amount of work to make another one. With a 3D printer it will only take more time, not more work. So why isn’t everyone using a 3D printer? They sort of suck.
There are a lot of nerds out there touting the 3D printing revolution, fewer now that the bloom is off, but still more than I would expect. Here is the main problem, and the reason why the 3D printing revolution is a ways off yet. Nerds have fun differently.
I have worked at a few places operating CNC machines. Those are the type of machine that you always see on How It’s Made casually milling a car wheel out of a solid aluminum disk. They usually have to be enclosed in some sort of ballistic plastic chamber and they have a milk like coolant sprayed on them non stop. They look loud, fast, and dangerous, and they are, but operating them is also mind numbingly methodical, repetitive, and technical. All things that nerds love and everyone else cuts across the room to avoid. They are not what you would call user friendly.
3D printers operate almost exactly the same way as those CNC machines, instead of a high velocity cutting tool or welding tool attached to it, you have a high class hot glue gun. The glue gun portion melts some plastic line and squeezes it through a tiny hole. The plastic quickly cools down and hardens into whatever shape you had the moving around parts draw out. It does this one layer of plastic at a time until a 3 dimensional shape is a built. It is all at once, ridiculously simple and remarkably precise. The quality of the product of that process is either amazing, or terrible, depending entirely on your point of view. It is a great way to prototype and test, but you would never in a million years mistake a 3D printed part for a cheap mass produced object created in an industrial injection mold. They just look better than the 3D printed objects.
For a revolution to happen, 3D printing would have to be high quality, fast, and user friendly. It is none of those things. Machines are available now that inch us closer to the first two, but that last one, user friendly, that just isn’t possible. Attempting to create software that makes the end to end process of 3D modelling, setting the model up for print and running a motion program on the printer to create the object, would completely squander the promise of these machines. You can create new versions of objects, with tweaks and alterations, but all of that takes work. Work carried out in non-user friendly software using sometimes unintuitive workflows. It’s not impossible, it might not even be that hard, but it takes work. Specifically methodical, repetitive, and technical work. The sort of work that a lot of nerds, myself included, enjoy. Since we find these things fun, we wrongly assume that other people will find it fun too, and that leads to people saying dumb things, like 3D printing is a revolution in product design and manufacturing, and even dumber, everyone will have one in their home.
There you go. Unless you are one of the nerdy few who enjoy messing with stuff that will probably never really work right, don’t get a 3D printer. To all of you who actually read this far, welcome to this exclusive and sorta stupid club. Let print some junk.
Best Games - Puzzle Bobble / Bust a Move / Puzzle De Pon / etc.
The match three bubble shooters have gone by many names and many numerals, but “Balls” is of course the common shorthand adopted by most players. Accepting how pervasive and ever present the genre has become, it is conceivable that we will reach a day when all games will be, at least partly, Balls.
No one knows how long ago the bubble shooting genre began. Some say it started with the Romans, casting javelins at inflated animal bladders arranged in brightly colored groups of three. Some say that cave walls in northern spain clearly depict a collision of three circles, one having bounced off a wall using simple physics. There are even cosmologists that suggest that Bubble matching could be a model for the early universe, newly born particles being fired from a cannon manned by two cartoon dinosaur children. One thing is for certain, the shooting of bubbles and the matching of three similar types is as much a part of our present and future as it is our past. All hail Bub and Bob! Balls!
Bubble shooting games represent both types of children, transformed into bubble dragons or zodiac tarot card, so no matter who you are these games hold up a mirror to your life. Couple that with the moving tale of a bubble just trying to return to it’s family only to burst at the meeting. Balls invites reflection.
Bouncing things is fun. Puzzle de Pon is better than Puzzle Bobble. There I said it. Both are the best games.