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In which, Nintendo attempts to drain my wallet

November 25, 2014

I have a dirty confession to make: I bought Disney Infinity 2.0 a few weeks ago and haven’t played it once.

It might, in plain fact, be an amazing game, or it might be awful, but it honestly doesn’t matter, because the toys are really neat. They’re representations of the characters done in a style that eliminates excess lines but which looks really good, they generally have very active and expressive poses, and the entire line seems calculated to reach down into that part of the geek brain that says “I want that on my desk” and give it a good tug.

I will deduct some small amount of points from Disney for releasing a Maleficent based on the live-action movie rather than the classic version, but that is a minor quibble considering that the Tinkerbell they released at the same time is, as the kids say, TOTES ADORBS and DO WANT.

Do kids actually say that sort of thing?  My exposure to them is limited.

Skylanders, by contrast, are these ugly spikey things that I have no affections for, even though I have personal reasons to think very highly of the Toys for Bob folks and am glad for their commercial success.

Anyway, TWO successful lines of NFC-enabled collectible toys inevitably spawned a third, so now we have Amiibos taking up an end cap in the electronics section of my local megamarket, and this led inevitably to me standing in front of this end cap trying to decide if I needed to add any of them to my shelves full of maids and similar figurines.

Most of them are really well done.  The Kirby and Yoshi figurines in particular are fun, Pikachu is good, the Mario is as top-notch as you would expect, and the Fox McCloud looks fantastic except for the heartbreaking way it raises the faintest spectre of hope that there will one day be a Krystal Amiibo and we all know that we will never actually get one.

Wait, no, I DO have a single complaint about Mario.  He’s shown as chucking a fireball and the purist in me screams that he should be wearing his red and white outfit if he’s doing that.  I’ll forgive it though as long as they eventually put out a variant though knowing Nintendo it would be a Japanese Club Nintendo exclusive and we’d never actually see it in this country.

But I digress.

The store was out of Samus but there was a picture of the Amiibo on the display and I suspect that it should look quite good in reality.

…and then I got to Link and Peach, who both look, well… out of place next to the rest of the characters.  They’re more realistically-proportioned and maybe have a little too much detail for a toy at their scale, and just don’t fit in with the more cartoony figures.

Personally, if I was in charge of making multi-million-dollar design decisions for an internationally-famous videogame manufacturer, I’d have gone with a Soul Calibur II-styled Link, but I appear to not be and nobody wants that anyway, as I would immediately cancel all other projects in favor of putting out a new F-Zero (It’s been ten YEARS, guys!) and Starfox Adventures II, in which you would play as Fox for the first level and then spend the rest of the game playing as Krystal.

Anyway, short version: they’re 90% great-looking toys, there are a couple I think they could have done a better job on, and I somehow managed to avoid tossing any of them into my shopping basket.  If Nintendo starts digging into its back catalog of characters, though, these things have a TON of potential.  I don’t expect we’re going to see a Starfy anytime soon, but I can at least hope for a little plastic Fawful to call my own.

Heck yeah, Moon Pie

November 24, 2014

moonpie

Part of being an adult is realizing that I don’t NEED to eat the occasional banana Moon Pie.

Part of having very poor impulse control is eating the occasional banana Moon Pie anyway.

 

This was where it all started to go wrong

November 17, 2014

For the majority of my self-aware life, I’ve been able to divide cold cereal into four reasonably-consistent categories.

You have your “adult” cereals, which category name I confess conjures up images of very specific fetishes, but which I will here use to mean cereals that your parents might eat. Here we have your muesli, your Golden Grahams, your Grape Nuts.

Next, we have cereals for kids whose parents hate them. Cheerios, Wheaties, Kix, purgatory’s cereal aisle made real. Nothing that a massive amount of surreptitiously-applied sugar couldn’t fix, but the sort of thing that suggested that fun was discouraged. Seeing one of these in the cupboard at a sleepover said that you were in a loveless house and that a divorce was likely imminent.

That may be a bit harsh, but both of my childhood friends whose parents fed them Cheerios wound up children of divorcees. So, sample size two, 100% correlation.

Finally, two categories of cereal bought for children by parents who loved them: Inherently-sugared cereals, such as your Fruit Loops and Super Sugar Crisp and Trix, and cereals which had a boring base cereal but were saved by the inclusion of marshmallows or some other sugar delivery method.  Lucky Charms is probably the archetypical example of this category, but honestly most kids would probably eat cat litter if you packed it with enough rainbow-colored marshmallows.

To be ABSOLUTELY fair, pack a cool-enough toy into a box of cat litter and your average 8-year old will probably swear on their life that cat litter has ALWAYS been their favorite cereal and that they absolutely do not want it just for the toy and will definitely eat the entire box.

But, that aside, this was the Way of Breakfast Cereal, and it was Good.

Last weekend, I saw this abomination in the aisle at the local Fred Meyer, perhaps created by a well-meaning Cereal Engineer toiling away in the General Mills as an attempt to show even more love for children nationwide, but one which betrays a lack of understanding for the basic principles behind “Part” of your complete breakfast:

frootloops

By itself, it might be excusable as an anomaly, a curiosity, something that one might buy a box of on a lark and then consume in a single cartoon-fueled cereal binge, I’m not judging and let he who has not emptied a box of Fruity Pebbles by 9AM cast the first stone, but I fear that it might represent the beginning of a trend.

Such a trend, left unchecked, threatens the very balance of the cereal aisle and how it reflects parental affection.  What future monstrosities might it birth? Are you ready to explain to junior that he can NOT have a box of “cereal” consisting entirely of small, rather stale marshmallows?
This menace must be stopped.  I propose a march upon Battle Creek, Michigan.  Pitchforks and torches WILL be provided, though there will of course be a minimal deposit required.

Bastards have owed me a “Tony the Tiger” branded transistor radio since roughly 1982 anyway.  I didn’t eat all those boxes of Frosted Flakes for the flavor, dig?

Call of Mitchell: Advanced Mitchell: The Mitchelling

November 15, 2014

CODAW

So, as I mentioned a few days ago, I bought the latest Call of Duty game, or at least tried very hard to buy it in the face of a corporation determined to give it to me for free, and I’ve spent an hour or so a night playing through the single-player campaign, which is an appropriately over-the-top affair involving a deranged mastermind and his attempt to take over the world and your attempts to, well, stop him from taking over the world, starring Virtual Kevin Spacey, Not-Sean-Connery, Russian-Michelle-Rodriguez, Two Token Minorities Who Will Be Killed To Motivate You, and Mitchell.

You play as Mitchell.

I don’t normally remember the names of Call of Duty protagonists, but Not-Sean-Connery says your name SO DANG MUCH that it finally kind of sunk in.  He talks a LOT, actually, always shouting out about enemies at one o’clock or telling you to plant a charge and so on.  This is the sort of game that doesn’t need a strategy guide, because Not-Sean-Connery is always there to tell you what to do next.

Anyway, it was a pretty snappy action-movie story, with some elements ripped from today’s headlines and a super-weapon right out of a 1940s Heinlein novel, and a plot twist that is, well, telegraphed from about five minutes into the game but who cares.  Virtual Kevin Spacey is pretty cool, him and Virtual Jeff Bridges from Tron Legacy should work together on something.

Leaving the story aside, the real reason that I wanted to play this was the cool future tech, and it delivered that.  You get to ride around in Slightly Oversized Stompy Mechs, ride hoverbikes and jump over school buses in your exoskeleton, there are a couple of drone sequences, and there’s a hovertank sequence that may – just MAY – have finally replaced the tank sequence from Halo 3 as my Favorite Videogame Tank Sequence.  Seriously, the designers just tapped right into their inner twelve-year old boy and delivered almost everything that my inner twelve-year-old boy ever wanted.

The game does have one bit of cool future tech that I wasn’t too fond of, though, because it felt like something of a shortcut on the part of the designers.  You have these “Threat Grenades”, which, when thrown, helpfully put a red highlight on everything you would like to shoot and a blue highlight on people you shouldn’t shoot right now.  Likewise, many of the weapons you pick up have “Target Enhancer” sights, which again thoughtfully turn all of the bad guys into red silhouettes.  You can tell when you’ve shot a bad guy enough times because your sights are intelligent enough to realize the moment that he has shuffled off the mortal coil and the highlight goes away.

I played through on Normal, and I’m kind of curious whether the higher difficulty levels turn off this sort of assistance or whether they work in the more traditional method, where all of your opponents are crack shots and you are wearing personal body armor made from Kleenex(R) brand tissue-paper.

I understand there’s also online multi-player, which I should not try because I suspect that my inner twelve-year-old boy is no match for the ACTUAL twelve-year-old boys who I would likely be playing against.  That said, I’d dearly like to see any of them try their hand at Sinistar.  We’d see who was laughing then.

 

I’ve become one of THOSE guys.

November 12, 2014

Oh dear. I may be becoming part of The Problem, where I define The Problem as people who take videogames too seriously for their own good.

I was playing through a couple of songs in Project Diva f during my federally-mandated break period this morning, and I actually caught myself internally complaining that I was having to play the songs on Normal to unlock the hard difficulty levels.

Keep in mind that the draw of the Miku games should be the characters and the music and the neat music videos, and that playing on hard or higher means that you have to actively block out all the visual elements that aren’t note markers. It’s turning fun into Serious Business, something I’m philosophically opposed to.

So I am chastised. I mean, I’m still working towards unlocking the hard modes, but I’m going to try to have just a wee tetch more patience about the process.

About those TPS reports…

November 8, 2014

I don’t often talk about work, partially because honestly what I do is a little boring to most folks and partially because I work in technical support for an information security product, so I am under a ton of non-disclosure agreements.

I will simply say that there are a lot of places where I only pay cash.

We have fancy names for the various kinds of support agents we have, but if you break it down by the traditional model I’m a Tier 4 agent, which means that I generally only talk to two kinds of customers – customers who have paid a LOT for support, or customers who are really good at yelling and who have been escalated to me to fix.  My co-workers, thus, are usually either incredibly smart techs or have incredibly good people skills or, in very rare occasions, both.

For the record, I tend towards the people skills side of things, at least on the phone.

Now, actual security breaches are legitimately rare, so many of the support cases we take are from network administrators who are trying to integrate the product I work on into their network and really don’t know exactly what they’re doing but can dial a phone.

It is a little sad when you have to walk someone with an email signature proudly proclaiming them to be “Director of Information Technology, xyz Megacorp” through setting up a share quota policy on Server 2008R2.  It is mind-breakingly depressing when you have to talk the Director of Information Technology through opening up a command prompt and running ipconfig.

But I digress.

Despite the fact that a lot of what we do is basically network administration consulting, few of us have any formal certifications.  An important survival skill is being able to search Google quickly at the same time as making educated-sounding small talk designed to cover the fact that we have no idea what we’re talking about.  So, training is a frequent request because frankly we need to know enough to at least sound like we have a clue.

ANYWAY, to get back to the point I’ve been circling around.

A couple of months back, we all had to take an exam, all about how to use the case management system and how to document things and super basic troubleshooting philosophies, with lots of questions like “if customer x has y tier of support, how quickly do you have to respond to his emails?”

An examination on how to do paperwork, basically, nothing technical about it, just the sort of corporate busywork you knock out in 15 or 20 minutes and then forget about.

Today we got an email thanking all of us for taking the exam and complimenting us on the high passing rate.  It also explained that management had heard us asking for additional training, that the exam had been the start of a new training initiative in response to our requests, and that the results would be used as a baseline to determine where we needed extra training in the future.

So, I guess we’ll all be getting more training… on how to use the case management system.

Wishful Thinking

November 7, 2014

I think pretty much everyone has a “things I’d do if I had a time machine” list, and mine has all the usual suspects on it. Selfies with Jesus, maybe suggest to Lincoln that it’s a TERRIBLE night to go to the theater, catch Star Wars on opening weekend and pay Hitler a comfortable stipend to produce a multi-volume set of architecture paintings rather than go into politics.

The usual stuff.

Playing a localized version of a Project Diva game has made me add one MORE thing to my list, and that’s to go back to roughly 1994, find the Sony executives making decisions for the US PlayStation launch, and punch whoever had the bright idea to reverse the functions of O and X until they promise not to do it.

I think this is a perfectly reasonable reason to break the laws of physics.

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