So, I eventually broke down and came to the conclusion that I will never find anything of interest in a Goodwill store. I mean, aside from pee stained mattresses. They have more than enough of those to go around. That, and large frightening women in spandex. There are some things that you just can’t get out of your head once you see them. Ugh, and I thought the internet was warping me. Not that it hasn’t. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, nothing of interest in my pathetic backwards bedroom community town. So, I turned to the magical internet for help. As much as it hurt me to do so, I actually purchased something on eBay. It turns out I actually purchased something from eBay years ago that I forgot about. See, SCEA has their heads firmly implanted up their asses and decided that ‘muricans can’t handle games that aren’t eye busting 3Dstraveganzas with amazing all new content. They also apparently believe we’re terrified of potentially hearing or seeing languages that aren’t English. The upshot of this is that some games that actually have an English localization won’t be released in the US but will be released in places like the UK. So, I had to get an import version of Tales of Eternia off of eBay. And that’s the story of why I have an eBay account. So, after supplicating to the idiot web gods of eBay I was able to get my old account somewhat functional. Unfortunately, I also had to set up a PayPal account so I could jump through a number of stupid hoops to pay people. I swear, eBay is like the website that time forgot. That place still feels like it’s 2001 or something.

Anyways, what did I want to purchase on eBay? An Amiga! OK, you probably knew that since it was in the title. I’ve been interested in trying out an Amiga for awhile. My computer lineage tended to run through Apple machines for the most part. The only late 80s early 90s 68k machines I ever used were Macs, so I wanted to try out the other systems based on that processor architecture. As far as I know the only prominent systems, aside from the Mac, were the Amigas and the Atari STs. The Amiga being the more interesting option of the two. It always seemed interesting to me that the Amiga never made the transition that the Mac did when it jumped from System 8/9 to the modern OS X.

Naturally, being eBay I wasn’t allowed to just purchase the object of my desire outright. Oh lord no, I had to bid on it. eBay being what it is is also packed to the gills with people looking to rip you off hard. Every blasted item for sale is “L@@K RARE! VINTAGE SUPER AWESOME!” so you need to make sure you aren’t paying way more than you should for some trash someone got out of their attic. I suppose everyone else is fully aware of this by now, but I’m some sort of neo tech Luddite so it was still moderately new to me (I still use an old style flip cell phone and I don’t text! Oh noes!). Luckily I have a friend who, as far as I can tell, knows everything there is to know about Amigas (well, Commodore in general) so he was able to point out possible good deals and steer me away from the ludicrously bad options. He noticed an interesting Amiga 2000 system that appeared to have a number of internal cards and drives. The seller basically had no clue what was actually inside the machine and he said as much. The opening bid was a bit over $100 so I threw down about $360 as my max bid and waited. Apparently I wasn’t the only person interested in this thing because a ton of people all decided to show up at the last minute to try and jack the price up for me as much as possible. Luckily(?) I was richer, and possibly stupider, than the people I was bidding against because I won the thing for for $303.

So, the thing finally arrives and I’m already getting buyer’s remorse. I mean, I just shot a bit more than $300 on a computer that is probably around as powerful as the graphing calculator I used in school. In fact, I think it might technically be less powerful as I believe my TI-89 actually has a 68k processor running at a higher clock speed than the A2000. Oh well, no use crying of spilled milk and all that. First thing I did was hooked the thing up the my TV to check if it actually worked or not. Luckily I did not end up buying an enormous paperweight, as the system booted up just fine. Naturally, the A2000 isn’t going to work with the keyboards and mice I had on hand, so I had to buy some of those on eBay as well. The mouse hadn’t arrived yet, but the keyboard had.

Luckily, I discovered that you could use the keyboard like a mouse. An incredibly janky mouse, but it could get you around if you worked at it. The system was full of all sorts of strange cards. The only card that we’d been able to identify was the video toaster card on the side. Granted, it was listed in the auction description, but it’s not that hard to figure out since the card has “VIDEO TOASTER” written on the side. Side bit of trivia, the Video Toaster cards were made by a company called NewTek. NewTek also happens to make the Tricaster which, although I don’t use directly, I have some familiarity with because of my job. Eh, small world. So, my friend was able to explain how to use shell to query the hardware installed in the system. What we got back was a bit surprising.

Notice the CPU? A 68030 is not normal in an A2000. The system is supposed to only have a 68000 processor. In addition, the system showed significantly more memory than normal, 16MB specifically, plus extra chip memory (which seems to be something along the lines of VRAM). After a bit of looking around on the net we were able to figure out what was going on. It turns out that one of the unidentified cards was actually a processor upgrade card. Plus, it actually contained a 68040 and not the 68030 the system was reporting. The OS and installed ROMs were simply too old to identify the newer processor. The upgrade card alone was probably worth as much as the computer. In fact, thanks to all the cards I actually ended up with a smoking deal on this system. I must admit, I felt a bit better about the cost after that.

The system came with the old operating system installed, along with a lot of software I had absolutely no use for. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because most of the software required a dongle to use. See, this was cutting edge back when the system was still new. People paid actual money for this stuff. Nowadays companies like to require you to supplicate to their secret magic DRM servers before they let you use the software you purchased. Back in the old days the humiliating electronic hazing took the form of dongles. You plugged the dongle into some port on your machine, rendering it useless in the process, and then you could prove that you totally weren’t a filthy pirate. You know, because filthy pirates would never think of not playing fair and cracking the software so they wouldn’t need the dongle. But hey, it’s all water under the bridge now. Luckily I had the dongle for one program that was still installed. Here, check this majestic example of graphics editing and animation prowess!

Dear lord! It’s like the bastard love child of MacPaint and Windows Paint. It may actually be a powerful program. Probably is a powerful program actually, because I could barely figure out how to work with it. Actually took me a few minutes to figure out how to close it after I started it. Stumbled around for quite awhile until I figured out that the exit command was on some buffer sub screen. It wasn’t the only program like that. In fact, I got the impression that Amiga programmers tended to look at every other program on the system and think “I bet I can do that interface better… and different.”

So, about this time I realized that it would be awesome to make some changes to the system. Specifically, I wanted to update the installed Kickstart ROM so it would be possible to upgrade the installed operating system at some point. This is where things got a bit interesting. See, a normal A2000 wouldn’t be too bad to modify. There’s a drive tray you have to remove and then you can gain access to the area that contains the ROM chip. However, as I pointed out, this system has been upgraded so it was packed with stuff that was in the way. Since I’m a spectacular puss and I was afraid of breaking things (the system was already pretty rusty in places) I decided to try and get at the ROM without actually disconnecting anything. I pulled the upgrade card but left it plugged into all the drives (Did I mention that it was also a SCSI controller?).

From there I released the drive and power supply tray and had someone hold it up while I sat there taking pictures underneath.

That odd chip/card thing inserted in the socket is actually responsible for the additional chip memory I mentioned earlier. Apparently it included an updated version of the memory controller. That odd looking clip is to allow it to connect to address lines I believe. You can see the ROM I wanted to replace just below. You will also notice the delightful dust and filth. On the upside, I did not find dead rodents or a hive of insects, so good luck there I guess. Not shown is the built in clock memory battery. Amazingly, it was still in good condition and had not blown corrosive fluids everywhere. It still holds a charge after all these years. Replacement of the ROM went OK. You can see the fancy label on the new ROM in this picture.

With the ROM updated it was time to try fooling around with the software a bit. Since we’d identified the upgrade card I was able to find the support software installers for it. You see, the original owners (a school I believe) had only a stripped down OS with very few of the usual utilities. I wanted to get some updates on there, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it. You see, there’s a little problem with transferring software to Amigas. You’d probably think you could just stick a floppy in a PC and transfer files that way, but that won’t work. See, the Amiga had a special drive controller that was capable of using secret dark magic to store a little bit more data on each disk. Drive controllers on common PCs are unable to repeat the rites and rituals necessary to work with these disks (or they just can’t control their drive speed the same way) so they simply can not read  them no matter what you do in software. However, the Amiga has a way around this. Later versions of the OS include special drivers that allow the Amiga to read FAT formatted floppies made by other drives. This would be perfect for me, except for the fact that the original owners had deleted those drivers… oops. Luckily, I own a lot of antique crap… I mean, equipment. I got out my old SCSI Zip drive (remember those?) and plugged it into the Amiga. I then plugged my USB Zip drive into a PC and used an Amiga emulator to format the Zip disk so another Amiga could read it. This works because Zip drives just show up as regular drives to both systems. No special controller is involved, so non Amiga machines can successfully format the Zip drive using the Amiga format. This allowed me to transfer files back and forth between the Amiga and the outside world. Success!

You’ll notice that I still didn’t have a mouse for the machine (and that my carpet is still filthy). This actually lead to an amusing moment. Most of the time you can use the keyboard to simulate having a mouse. Despite that, there are some situations you absolutely need to have a mouse connected. One of those situations is when you are using the pre-boot options screen. It simply will not let you do anything if a mouse isn’t available. Of course, I needed to use this screen at some point. So, what did I do? I plugged a SMS controller into the mouse port (which is also a joystick port) and used it instead. You might be thinking that would be easy to do, it isn’t. The dpad does not work the way you would think. You see, the computer is actually looking for a series of pulses from the tracking wheels inside the mouse, not a constant signal indicating a direction to move. So, my friend informed me of the expected signals for the Amiga mouse and I had to sit there simulating them with a controller. It was actually like playing a fighting game. I had to sit there making little circles and quarter turns on the dpad and getting confusing and slow results on the screen. Hmmm… yeah, that’s about how I play fighting games, so I guess the metaphor is more accurate than I expected.

There was one final thing I had to deal with. You’ll notice in all those screen pictures that there was never color. This is because I was using the composite output and not the fancy RGB output. Composite out on the A2000 only produces grays and no colors. If you want color you need a RGB color monitor. Here’s where things get ugly, Amiga monitors are not cheap on eBay, Also, you can’t use a current VGA monitor. Computers from this era used a horizontal sync rate that is not supported by most modern monitors. Granted, there are some multi sync monitors out there that will work, but they command insane premiums, and I was unwilling to pay the asking price. So, I decided to improvise. I happened to have an old RGB Apple IIGS monitor. Luckily, almost every RGB monitor from this era was pretty much the same. All you needed to do was supply the monitor with the three color signals and the syncing signal, though god help you if the computer sends a composite sync and the monitor wants separate horizontal and vertical syncs. I got lucky because the monitor took composite sync and that’s what the Amiga provided. My luck wasn’t perfect since I still needed to buy a 23 pin dsub connector. I have no clue why they chose that connector type for video but it’s frustratingly uncommon and expensive. I hacked apart an existing 15 pin dsub cable for the Apple monitor and managed to put together an adapter.

Luckily it worked.

And there you have it. My new(old) Amiga 2000. Fancy color graphics and everything.

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Trying to get help on the web is a waste of time. Seriously, it’s just not going to work. You’ll be sitting there trying to compile some program and getting nowhere. Naturally, it uses some brutally obscure and intensely obtuse library written in some surreal variant of Lisp. Based on the barely coherent error messages coming from the configure script you’re fairly sure you don’t have that library, don’t have the right version of that library or you failed to make the appropriate blood sacrifice to the code gods today. The documentation will be full of useful information like “If the program doesn’t compile then something is wrong with your system.” Which is delightfully helpful. So the documentation (if it exists at all) is probably the wrong place to start. So what you really need to do is get that library by any means necessary. Does a binary exist for it? Sure it does, for RISC/os on MIPS. Oh, you’re not using that specific system and architecture? Too bad, looks like you need to compile it from source. Do you have a compiler for the weird language used to make the library? Actually, you do but it’s the wrong version. So you spend the rest of the day trying to figure out if you can get the compiler to behave like the version used to originally build the library. This never works and you instead end up running in circles for the rest of the day until you collapse in frustration and give up until tomorrow.

You begin work anew the next day, full of enthusiasm and excitement… which is crushed shortly after you re-enter the rage spiral involved with getting the library to compile. So you go out on the web to look for answers. Naturally, you search for things like “compiling bizarre-lib”, “error building bizarre-lib” or “why in the world would anyone use something as annoying as bizarre-lib”. First hit is going to be a link to a site with the word expert in the title. You know this is going to be a screaming waste of your time since it consists of garbage hidden behind some idiotic pay wall. So you go to the second hit, which is a forum discussion with a title that seems to imply it will tell you the mystic and holy incantations necessary to compile this stupid library. The thread reads like this:

GenericNewbie: Hey, I’m trying to compile bizarre-lib but I keep getting errors saying that the moon is out of phase. I’m pretty sure I’m compiling during a full moon so I should be OK. Any ideas?

SuperAwesomeHelpfulDude: Google it.

SomeOtherAwesomeHelpfulDude: <out of date or broken link to documentation for bizarre-lib>. Read this first before wasting our time.

GenericNewbie: I tried reading the documentation, but it was written in a language spoken only by the author of the library and the members of an insane doomsday cult. Could someone tell me what commands I need to run to compile this?

SomeOtherAwesomeHelpfulDude: ./configure; make

GenericNewbie: Ummm… that’s what I’m doing. I’m still getting the error. Is there anything else I should be doing?

SuperAwesomeHelpfulDude: OMG! Stop wasting our time with your homework. We’ve got more important things to do here. We really need to discuss whether the next version of Ubuntu should be code named Crusty Koala or Stinky Sloth.

Then the thread is followed up by spam bots and people having a flame war. So you move back to the search page and realize all the rest of the results lead back to that one forum discussion. At this point the rage boils over and you pass out. When you wake up you realize that you actually wrote a replacement for the library and uploaded it to the internet while you were out. You are the only person who understands it, it is undocumented and it is capable of causing people to develop a strange rash whenever it’s used. Naturally it’s already been integrated into a number of projects. The cycle begins anew! MWAH HAH HAH!

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It’s interesting, I used to look for the longest running games possible. I was willing to sit for many hundreds (and in a few cases thousands) of hours on a single game. I’ve moved away from that sort of thing recently. I’m finding I enjoy games that move fast and don’t waste my time on filler. Two nice examples of this were 3D Dot Game Heroes and Hexyz Force. I really enjoyed them both and probably the main reason for that was that they you could complete them fairly quickly if you wanted to. I ran through both in about 25 hours. Now, granted, that’s actually fairly long for a game but it’s way less than the hundreds of hours many games like them require. Even better, if you wanted you could get more time out of them if you were so inclined. 3DDGH was packed with all sorts of crazy sidequests and mini games and Hexyz Force let you play through a mirror image of the game using another character. This sort of stuff is great! I love that these games let me choose how invested I want to be in them. It’s nice to know that even though I won’t be able to see everything they have to offer I’ll at least get the gist of things without having to sacrifice huge chunks of time.

Another thing I’m liking is games that let you actually get things done in short bursts of time. Two nice examples of this for me have been Cladun and Rune Factory 3. Both are handheld games and they have structures that are very conducive to short bursts of play that can be extended as needed. I’ll often find myself waiting for one of my jobs to move up the queue for processing and that requires me to sit in a chair and stare at a listing for an indeterminate amount of time. I can play games during this time, but only games that I don’t need a lot of focus for. You just never know when you’re going to get your output back and start working again. Since Cladun loves having you speed run short levels I can always try for a better score on one of those. Rune Factory 3 has the whole day/night cycle going for it, so I know that even if I only get to play for a little while at least it feels like I was able to do something.

It’s nice to know that even though I’m kind of low on time there are still games I can play. Though I do hope to go for some longer running games in the future when I get all my side projects and work sorted out. I’ve still got Atelier Rorona waiting to be played and I’m really looking forward to Ar Tonelico 3 (Cross your fingers for no crashing bugs!).

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I actually managed to complete two games. It was something of a miracle, I’m fairly certain hell froze over, pigs flew and other cliches occurred. One of those two games happened to be Stalker: Call of Pripyat. My opinion of the game? Extremely good. I admit, after playing Clear Sky I was a bit nervous about this one. Clear Sky ended up kind of missing the point in terms of what made Stalker good. In trying to fix the first game’s problems it ended creating all new ones instead. Also, there are spoilers and such after this. Which actually probably isn’t a problem because I’m fairly certain I’m the only person who played this game or has any interest in it. C’est la vie.

So how did Call of Pripyat end up redeeming the series after Clear Sky? Let’s talk about what it retained. First off, equipment can still be repaired and upgraded. I absolutely loved this element. Having your hardware degrade with no way to repair it was immensely frustrating in the first game. I spent all my time constantly quick saving and quick loading just to avoid firing unnecessary bullets or taking hits to my expensive and difficult to replace armour. I’m fairly certain I ended up creating more saves than I did bullets fired. Plus, aside from the utilitarian elements, it was fun to have equipment that felt like your own. You weren’t just wearing some generic equipment, you were wearing your own special equipment that you customized for your own specific purposes. Always left me tense when some mutant tried to get my gun away from me. “That’s my rifle! Give it back or I will stab you! Don’t make me use this crap I’m hauling back to sell.”

Speaking of mutants, the inhabitants of the zone feel very different in Call of Pripyat. The first game had more of a quasi post apocalyptic horror feel. The surface contained disturbingly mutated animals coupled with small bands of humans either trying to survive off the zone or off of each other. The underground areas were a delightful post Soviet playground of horrific dark secrets. It all came together surprisingly well in the end. Clear Sky certainly tried to replicate the feel of the first game, but it never seemed to pull it off. The game focused too much on the humans with its faction system. Instead of feeling like a small weak individual in the middle of an unknowable and malevolent place that will feel no pity over your eventual demise it instead felt like I was playing some weird rendition of BF1942 mod in singleplayer. Call of Pripyat managed to come up with something I think I actually enjoyed more than the first game. Instead of constantly having blind dogs trying to gnaw your legs off they instead opted to make the zone significantly calmer. This works in the game’s favour when it comes to upping tension. The Stalker games are at their best when they are building up their scares. Once the monster actually shows up the player can start using their weapons against it. This is problematic since it places the player in control again. Once they have identified a threat they can start working to neutralize it. When the threat is obscured it lets your imagination run wild. It’s a simple and well understood idea and it always amazes me how often game designers get it wrong.

Reducing the number of ravening hordes of monsters also let me appreciate the environment far more than in the prior games. In Stalker I tended to spend most of my time working up the nerve to go underground or working on getting my loot back to base by dragging a dead body like a burlap sack full of guns (They don’t let you do that anymore… pity) through packs of bandits and mutant dogs. There were certainly some wonderful moments in the first game, like sitting on a cement retaining wall watching the gentle rays of the morning sun spread slowly across the ground while casually shooting zombies in the head with a special .50 caliber pistol. I never really got to experience that sort of thing in Clear Sky. I was too busy trying to avoid the irradiated death water (Seriously, what is it with games and dangerous water?) and listening to guys do exposition dumps in screamingly bad Russian (Ukrainian?) accents. Call of Pripyat gave you more chance to look around. Granted there were certainly places that were dangerous, “Duh… I wonder if this dark train tunnel might contain a monster of some kind?” but since I didn’t have to fight bandits every few minutes I got to spend much more time examining the world around me and letting my imagination build stories to explain the strange things I was seeing.

The more peaceful zone also extends to NPCs as well. Most humans are neutral towards you in Call of Pripyat. If you don’t do anything to piss them off they mostly stay that way. It makes the game feel much more focused on exploration than on combat, which I heartily approve of. Don’t get me wrong, I still got the chance to let the lead fly but I felt like my weapons were more survival tools and I wasn’t just there to shoot up everything that moved into my field of vision. Of course, I did wish for a bit more gunplay at times. I did miss some of the more intense firefights from the first Stalker. Since most humans aren’t really interested in you the fights can start to feel a bit odd since most mutants can’t shoot back and zombies pretty much can’t even hit you at point blank range. It picks up towards the end of the game when you start fighting the Monolith members, but by then you’re pretty much done with the game anyways.

One other interesting element is that of the story line. There’s a bit more focus on story related missions compared to the first Stalker. I can’t remember what nonsense I went through in Clear Sky so I’ll refrain from comparing to that game. In Call of Pripyat you’re a military Stalker trying to figure out what caused a group of helicopters to crash while traveling through the zone. This struck me as providing a safer and easier experience for new players coming into the game for the first time. In Stalker the game started off with “You have no idea who you are, you don’t know what you need to do and you don’t know how to actually do it. Here’s a pistol and a few rounds of ammo… have fun.” Call of Pripyat had the courtesy to at least give you an effective weapon at the start and some guidance on what to do. However, the ending is oddly unsatisfying in a strangely satisfying way. The game built up the helicopter crashes as some sort of mysterious thing. You spend all this time tromping around the zone researching what’s going on and it looks like it’s building up into some sort of wild situation with mind controlled fanatics that worship a meteor, that may or may not be a hallucination created by a super secret Soviet mind control project. At the last moment Strelok shows up and goes “No, the helicopters actually crashed because of military incompetence… LAWL!” Oh well, at least I got to use all my crazy awesome weapons and armor at once in a big old shootout as I assisted a group of surviving soldiers as they GOT TO THE CHOPPAS! The ending sequence was particularly cool. You got these nifty sepia toned stills that explained what happened after you left the zone. Simple, but effective.

So, in the end, really fun game. In fact, I managed to stop playing it for four months while I dealt with school and then came back to it and finished it. I’m fairly certain I’ve never managed to do that before. Certainly speaks well of the game. So, I’d recommend going and playing it. Of course, nobody will listen to me so I guess you can just imagine I recommended you go play Modern Warfare 2 or something.

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So, Valve gave Portal away for free. Seeing as I’ll do anything to increase my game backlog I went ahead and downloaded it. I must say, I don’t get all the Internet love this game gets. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just tedious. The levels where you boost by repeatedly falling through portals, while clever, leave me a bit queasy and disoriented. Not really my idea of a good time. The puzzles where you redirect the glowing orbs vary from the painfully obvious (Duh… glowing orange spot on wall and impact smudge… WHERE I PLACE PORTALS!?) to the obviously painful (The puzzles where I had to quickly shift two portals were made more complex than they needed to be due to my less than stellar twitch skills). And, as always, platforming. I hate 3D platforming to begin with but the game makes it all the weirder by screwing with up and down when you go through portals.

It’s not even that I hated the game. It had some really fun moments. Dealing with the turrets was immensely satisfying as it really offered me a lot of opportunities to play with portals. I especially liked dropping turrets onto other turrets by pushing them through holes in walls that came out on ceilings. In fact, whenever I saw turrets I knew I was going to start having a good time, well, until the next puzzle section came up anyways.

To top it all off the overall atmosphere has just a little too much sarcastic nerd snark for my tastes. I know, seriously, I’m just about the last person who should be saying that, but here we are. It goes from unsettlingly amusing to eye rolling obnoxious. Part of that problem could be my response to all the attention the game gets on the net. Anything can wear out its welcome after awhile. Though, the more I think about it the more I suspect it’s something else. The game makes it very clear that it’s trying to be sarcastic and witty from the start. Eventually it goes from being blatant about it to just laying it on with a trowel.

Oh well, I guess can’t like everything. At least people got a lot of enjoyment out of it. As for me, I’m glad I didn’t have to pay any money for it.

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So I have this pair of headphones. I rather like them but for whatever reason the ear cushions decided to self destruct after I’d owned them for less than a year. I just kind of put up with it for awhile but I decided to replace them recently. So I figured I should learn how to actually do that before the replacements arrived. There’s a video of the process here. So I watched it looks trivial. Notice the part where he mentions you have to stretch the cushions out? He’s not joking. You have to stretch these things out so hard it nearly leaves bruises on your fingers. I think the only proper term for this is epic stretching! I was afraid I was going to tear the poor things apart… not that the prior ear pads didn’t do that on their own. Either way, finally got it on and now my fingers are killing me. At least my headphones are nice and fixed now.

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After finishing my classes I didn’t really need to use my laptop as often. So, I figured it was time to update the OS. I was using openSUSE 11.1, but I wanted to get 11.2 on there. Finally got it updated and so far I’m rather liking it. It fixed some weirdness I was having with sound and it sure looks a lot nicer. Still, the installation reminded me of why average Joe computer user probably won’t be switching to Linux anytime soon.

Now openSUSE is fairly user friendly. It’s got the nice installer, the fancy GUI configuration tools, it comes with software ready to go. However, there are some rough patches despite all that. Now, when you update Mac OSX you just let it do its thing and the system comes back with a nice shiny new version number and not too much else changed. When you update a Windows machine it mostly works the same way, of course it doesn’t tend to go quite as smooth and your system will probably smell like cat pee or something. You’d expect Linux to also work the same way, but it never does. Every time I’ve tried to update a Linux system I’ve always ended up with a trashed install and had to just completely reinstall everything.

At least the installers have come a long way. I remember the first time I installed Linux with a friend. We’re sitting there trying to figure out why the installer has decided that our system has a 320×200 black and white screen running at something like 79.2132 Hz but at least we felt like we were a part of the future. Afterwards we HAXXORED TEH INTARNETS! Or we would have if we’d been able to configure the system to work with our modem.

Either way, it wasn’t that bad and the reinstall went smoothly after the botched update. But then I noticed that I had forgotten to choose a hostname during the install process. On a Mac you’d just go to System Preferences and set the name in the Sharing section. In Windows… I can’t remember what you do… probably sacrifice a chicken or something. Still, it mostly works in Windows. In Linux? You wish an animal sacrifice would get things done for you. Linux is, like, full bore virgin sacrifice if you want to accomplish this task.

I momentarily consider just reinstalling, but I’d really rather not wait another hour. On the other hand I’d prefer to not have my computer named by the business end of a hash function. I decide to ensmarten myself and figure out how to correctly set my hostname. First off, I follow instructions (Yeah, I know, bad idea.) and try using YaST to set my hostname. After making the changes I reboot and discover absolutely nothing has changed. The GUI has failed me, typical. So it’s off to to edit /etc/hosts by hand. Once again, the reboot results in no change to my hostname. In fact, the edits I made to /etc/hosts have all been reverted. I then discover that the hostname command can allow me to change my hostname, so I do so, reboot, and… nothing has changed.

After exhausting my meager stock of ideas I decide to allow the internet to dictate my actions. I see a fair number of people with my problem but nobody seems to be able to give a straight answer or give an answer that pertains to my version of openSUSE. I see one person mentioning an /etc/init.d/ file, but I can’t find a file with that name or anything even remotely similar to it. Eventually I see someone talking about a hostname file. So I type cat /etc/hostname but the system tells me there is no file with that name. Naturally, I forgot case sensitivity and later realized that the file is actually named HOSTNAME. For whatever reason it seems the system looks at that file and then sets everything else based on what you put in there. Why does it do this? I have no clue. I was pretty sure I was reading the documentation correctly and it certainly didn’t mention this file. Is there a random man page for some bizarre daemon that documents this behaviour? It’s not like I could just read the source because I had no clue what was even causing this to happen.

In the end I got things working the way I wanted them. Still, I can see why Linux isn’t taking over the consumer desktop. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s complex. That’s probably its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. At least I know I can take a Linux system and eventually make it do what I want it to do. It may take effort (in some cases that effort comes down to “write it yourself”) but you’ll get there eventually. It’s pretty much the main reason I keep using it (that’s the runner up to the most common reason of “trying to appear to be a 1337 H4><><oR d0oD!”). OS X has a similar basis but every time I do anything there it feels like the system is glowering at me with disapproving eyes. I make some change in a config file and it’s all “So, our default configuration wasn’t good enough for you. What? You think you know better than the professionals who set this up? Why don’t you just go back to making movies and buying apps for your expensive phone?” As for Windows, the less said about that the better. I’ve spent time in the registry, oh lord, I have done things in there I am not proud of. So, although Linux may beat me I keep going back to it for some reason.

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I started playing Armored Core: For Answer. Oh good lord, this game is hard. And not just having a bunch of enemies that all jump on you and pound you to death with their laser cannons… wait… that happens in this game too. But even harder is that the game is just plain complex and confusing. When the game starts you get to go through a tutorial. A tutorial that reminded me of being in lab classes again. They start off with the whole “Now bump your hand against the thumb stick and your mech moves around. Please try to avoid drooling on the controller… moron.” So you’re sitting there getting your goggles on and waiting for someone to actually tell you something important. Then, BAM! Tutorial goes all crazy on you. It’s going on about how you have one type of boost, and another stronger kind of boost, and a third type of boost that’s for moving in some different way, and you can use that other boost to fly, and if you hold these buttons while boosting you shoot out an orb of death, and that orb of death depletes your special armor which is different from your regular armor, but they aren’t saying why it’s different… and… and… *GASP*

So once you figure out how to stumble around in your mech, whoops, forgot they call them armored cores. Wait, sometimes they call them armored cores and sometimes they call them NEXTs instead. From what I can tell NEXTs are apparently different from the pussy little mechs that the lowly cannon fodder get to use. They call the red shirt robots NORMALs, or something else, I couldn’t be bothered to look in the manual. So, your head is full of crazy words, your goggles are snugly strapped to the wrong side of your head, and you’re still trying to figure out how to fire your weapons. Congratulations, you are now certified to pilot a giant death dealing weapon of war. I guess the certification was required because I’m 25 years old and not an angsty teenager who accidentally fell into the cockpit.

Once you’re done being confused by the tutorial you get to choose which faction will sponsor you. It seems that the future world in this game is like Bladerunner, but without all the neon, and rain, and you know, all about giant robots fighting instead of… electric sheep? And I’ve never actually watched Bladerunner so I have no clue on where to go from here. Anyways, you get to choose a soulless corporation to provide equipment to aid in your quest to beat the everloving crap out of other giant robots. Or not. You can also choose to be an independent mercenary. I chose to be independent because I’m just bursting with raw manliness. I knew I was meant to be a lone wolf, to single handedly fight the good fight, to stand up to the injustices in this world. I CAME HERE TO CLEAN UP THIS TOWN! The game told me that since I chose to be an independent merc my mech would suck, but at least it had a laser sword so I could feel vaguely cool about the whole situation. It also told me “good luck” which is never a good sign.

From there I went to the mission selection screen. First place I go from there is the configuration screen. It’s full of page after page of weapon selection slots that I can’t use because the game is stingy with parts, paint scheme customization abilities that I can’t use because I don’t want to use them, and tuning options that I can’t use because I don’t understand them. So I give up and go start a mission. There’s only one, so I boldly decide that it’s truly the right mission for me. Of course, the mission is easy because I’m a natural born mech pilot, plus the enemy units are all weak, stupid, and prone to standing on collapsible level geometry. I manage to stumble around and kill them all while only falling into the water about twenty or thirty times. Much like pre-procedure calibrations I was doing great.

After my first mission I decided to take the bold step of taking on a second mission instead of stumbling off to bed like normal people do at 3:00 AM. Do normal people go to bed at 3:00 AM? I don’t really know. I assume they don’t all burn their days off by pretending to be giant robot pilots… or writing blog posts about being giant robot pilots with strange and non sequiturish references to chemistry labs. Anyways, this is where things got ugly. I start this fight with some enemy robot that they refer to as the equivalent of a piece of construction machinery. I’m sitting there thinking “Yeah! You’ve got a dump truck and I’ve got this laser sword. I think we know who’s going to win this fight.” I’ve never seen a dump truck that happened to be able to fly and shoot missiles at me, but that’s what happened in that fight. I eventually won by being a total wuss and running away for most of the fight. I think there’s some sort of saying about those who run away live to do something at some other point in time. I think it’s a legal term for suing somebody after you fight them, I don’t really remember anymore. I won, that’s all that matters.

Then comes the procedure. I get into a real mission where I have to destroy the Death Star on legs. This mission lets you choose to bring along some additional mechs to help. The only problem is that it takes a percentage of your earnings if you accept the assistance. To demonstrate my macho toughness I declined the assistance. I start the mission and someone over the radio is telling me that my target is old, dilapidated, rusty, and still completely and totally capable of swatting me out of the sky. I’m all like, “Whatever, I was born to kill enormous mobile super fortresses.” Then the thing proceeds to shoot me with some sort of apocalypse death missile laser cannon machine gun thing and I die and get an F on my lab report (No, seriously, they give you letter grades in the game).

I figure I’ll need to start over and choose one of the better mechs. I hear you actually get to buy some weapons too. Still, kind of makes me pine for the days of MechWarrior 2. You know, where you could be all gungho crazy because the physics engine didn’t realize what you were doing made absolutely no sense and the mech configuration system thought that your legs were a great place to put your entire arsenal.

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What’s this?

Game box

Oh! It’s a PS3!

Game box

So, I broke down and got a second console. It seems that my current game backlog isn’t epic enough so I added a PS3 to the mix in order to allow myself to increase the number of games I’m not currently playing.

Haven’t had too much time to play with it. Some things I noticed compared to the 360. Network setup is significantly easier. No dragging cables all over the place. The connection doesn’t seem to die at random like it does when I use the 360. Also, no online tax to play games, so I might actually try a PS3 game online at some point. Really makes me wonder why everyone says the 360 is supposed to be the best system for playing games online. I still far prefer online games on the PC, but at least the PS3 doesn’t give me a slap in the face by charging me to play online games using peer to peer networking. Of course, they still try and get a home address out of you before they let you online. Sorry guys, I don’t hand out my address that easy. Have fun sending your junk mail to 123 Fake St.

I’m rather enamored by the general style of the system. It’s very slick looking. The front buttons are all illuminated by soft white lights. There are two lamps to indicate network and HD activity and those are surprisingly nice to have. When the system boots it sounds like an orchestra tuning up which feels a great deal more sedate and pleasant than the 360 startup. Also, I don’t have to create some idiotic looking avatar like I do on the 360. It’s easier to hear the system as well, mostly because I don’t have a 747 taxiing through my room while playing a game on the PS3 like I do when playing a game on the 360.

The controller is just as not good as the PS2 controller. They really need to move that left analog stick up. At least the dpad isn’t as spectacularly bad as the 360 one. The whole thing just doesn’t feel as comfortable. I think it’s the grips, they just don’t fit my hands very well. On the upside, the controller charges from a standard mini USB cable. So I can charge my controller while using my computer or playing on the system. Sure, you can use rechargeable AA batteries in a 360 controller but at least I don’t have to buy additional stuff just to recharge my PS3 controller. Of course, the USB cable they include is really short for some reason.

There are all sorts of various little tools you can use in the system. Pretty much all of them seem rather useless to me. I could listen to music, look at pictures, or watch videos. The problem is I don’t feel like copying that sort of stuff over to a game console. The system also allows you to stream content to the console in addition to local content playback. I could actually make use of that but, naturally, I don’t have any software that will stream to the PS3. My options are some horrific Microsoft garbage, some software that works but costs money, and free software with the standard combination of confusing interface with missing features. So, meh. There’s also the remote play option that lets you sort of control your PS3 from a PSP. The interesting thing here is that it works kind of like VNC, so you should theoretically be able to do anything on the PSP that you could on the PS3. You’ll note I said “theoretically” there. Naturally, remote play is almost completely useless since it doesn’t work with almost all PS3 games and you aren’t allowed to watch DVDs. So, that leaves pretty much just PS1 games over remote play. Once again, meh.

I guess the system is supposed to have better graphics than the 360 (If the hype is to be believed). Of course, I couldn’t really tell initially since the first game I put into the system was Disgaea 3. Yeah, I buy a fancy modern console and I play a sprite based strategy game on it. I’ve got issues or something.

So, in closing, PS3 seems awesome but I can’t confirm it until I have more time to play with it. Maybe some day I’ll get out of school and be allowed to have a life outside of memorizing useless information. And maybe pigs will fly. Until then, have a look at my filthy TV rack with additional PS3 goodness.

Game box

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Work and school conspire against me to make certain that I will not be allowed to do anything enjoyable. Despite that I continue to acquire games I have no time to play. I won’t go into all the games I have not been able to play yet, but I did want to comment on Atelier Annie.

I’ve been looking forward to this game for awhile. Atelier Iris got me back into console RPGs. I’d read about the other, earlier, games in the series. Apparently the Iris games were more focused on combat compared to the prior games. I’d really enjoyed the item creation (The shop oriented quests in Iris 1 and Vise’s side of the story in Iris 2) aspects and wanted to try one of the games that emphasized that angle, but since they were all PS1 games it didn’t look like that was going to happen. When I heard they would be bringing over Atelier Annie, and that it was going to be more inline with the earlier games, I was rather interested.

Game box

After getting the game in the mail, I couldn’t resist playing it a little bit. So far it looks promising. After playing Ar Tonelico 2 I was kind of nervous about the quality of the dialog in the game. So far (Which, admittedly, hasn’t been that long) it’s been better than I expected. Personality seems to come across well for the characters. I’m just hoping there aren’t any game crippling bugs later in the game like there were in Ar Tonelico 2. Not that I’ve got anything against AT2, great game less than stellar localization.

Anyways, so far I haven’t seen too much of the game mechanics. It’s got a time limit sort of thing going on. Doing alchemy, traveling, and harvesting materials all take time. You’ve got to complete assignments before deadlines to keep the story going it looks like. In addition to that you can take on side quests, which mostly consist of harvesting things or making things. You also have a shop and the missions you take on affect how popular the shop is. I’ve yet to fully understand what’s going on there.

So, despite the fact that I’ve barely gotten anywhere in the game, I’ve had a fairly good time with it so far. Looking forward to playing some more… you know, so I can simulate having deadlines in my games as well as having them in real life.

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