Musings: Calm Mornings

Thank god for calm mornings. The next 48 hours are going to be pretty intense; Jenny and I have to pick up a moving truck after work, load it, drive it to New Jersey, unload it, and return it tonight. Then we have to get up around 5:00 AM tomorrow to take a bus to NYC to apartment hunt all day, before catching a bus back to Baltimore. Exciting for sure, but taxing.

With that said, this morning was beautiful. Crisp, clear, and I was immediately bombarded with the sunrise when I walked into the lab.

A wonderful reminder that life exists outside of the lab, and thus, I shouldn't work too hard in the morning.

Add that to the quiet calm of the empty lab first thing in the morning and you’ve got yourself a nice cup of solace in a storm of exhaustion. Wish us luck this weekend!

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Musings: The Loss of Features (IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT)

As of this past Tuesday, the open beta for Battlefield 3 has been available to the masses for some hands-on time with the first major Battlefield release since 2005. The game itself doesn’t come out until October 25th, but the beta has the dual purpose of letting the developer sort out remaining issues with the game, while allowing diehard fans an early look at what they can expect. As I have frequently alluded to in the past, Battlefield 1942 is my favorite multiplayer game of all time and has only ever been rivaled by its sequel, Battlefield 2. Needless to say, I have been very pumped for everything concerning Battlefield 3.

Now that I have had some time to play the map that is available in beta many times, I can happily say that there are a lot of amazing things about the new game. For instance, it looks amazing, the gameplay has a much heavier, visceral feel than it’s elder cousin, Bad Company 2, and DICE has thankfully returned some game-changing features, such as jets and the ability to go prone.

With all of that said, some choices they’ve made just don’t make sense, like forcing players to load games through a web-browser, instead of in-game like every other game ever made. More importantly, and what I would like to discuss today, is the ways in which it has taken some steps back from previous games, and on a larger scale, how some of my other favorite series have similarly left features behind for no apparent reason.

First on my list for the Battlefield series is the downscaling of interactive vehicles. In Battlefield 1942, for example, you could essentially control everything. Landing craft? Sure thing, but you’ll have to manually lower it from the ship first. Aircraft carrier? Take it around the island to make it less susceptible to attack. Submarines? Of course, how the hell else will you take out that newly hidden aircraft carrier.

LET'S ROLL BABY.

In the more recent Battlefield titles, this type of total immersion has been stripped away. Although the battles are still large scale, the available vehicles consist mainly of some sort of jeep, two types of helicopter, a small boat, and a tank. If there is an aircraft carrier, you sure as hell won’t be driving it. As I will repeat many times, if it was possible to do in 2002, why would you suddenly stop doing it in 2005 or 2011? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Next on my list is the map situation. Although this may change from beta to full release, it looks like in BF3, there is no option to view a full game map while playing. By contrast, BF1942 not only had a nice full map, but also had a scalable mini-map that made planning your next move on the fly a cinch.

'Can you see everything? Yeah, me too. WE MUST DESTROY IT.'

Furthermore, BF2 had a really nice, semi-3D map that you could zoom in on during the game. Again, if you’ve done it all those times before, it’s not like it’s technically impossible. So why screw us all? WHY? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Speaking of BF2, the last full Battlefield installment implemented squads, squad leaders, and a team commander. In that game, squad members could spawn on a squad leader and the leader could also give commands to his squad. This has partially been implemented in BF3, with leaders still issuing commands, but squad members being able to spawn on any squad member, not just the leader. This much makes sense to me from a gameplay perspective, even if I sort of liked the old way better.

What I don’t understand is why DICE has gone with the Bad Company 2 way of things and capped squads at 4 members, whereas BF2 allowed 8 person squads. For those of us in clans, it is a sincere pain in the ass to join a server with 5 people and have to either leave one man alone or have two squads not at full strength. It never created any huge balance issues in BF2, so I don’t see what the big difference is here. Why would they do it? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Moving along in their quest to irritate me for no reason, BF3 also decided to leave out the team commander role that they had added into BF2. In that game, the commander was in charge of dropping supplies, calling artillery strikes, and directing the overarching movements of their team. I understand that the first two of those features are now covered by assault and recon players respectively. Still, for organized team play, it was an invaluable help to have a single person watching and orchestrating the greater strategy of their entire team. I know why they left it out of the console-friendly BC2, but why leave it out of the next real Battlefield game? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Lest you start to believe that I’m just easily irritated by changes to the Battlefield series, I’ve stocked some other examples of this phenomenon in other series that I enjoy. In Mass Effect for example, Bioware took a reasonably deep RPG mechanic that involved customizing armor and weapons, and replaced it with an incredibly dumbed down system with preset options. I’m pretty sure it was done to make the game more approachable to casual audiences or to remove clutter, but I honestly could not care less.

Thank god for these presets options. I HATE picking what I actually want.

Go ahead and make a “simple” option for the casual, but why screw over existing fans who enjoy the wonderful system you’ve already made? Why just throw that away? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Finally, the Elder Scrolls series really dropped the ball in this regard in the transition from Morrowind to Oblivion. Morrowind, another contender for my favorite game ever, was a huge, quarky, intimidating game. If you wondered into the wrong place, you’d get your ass clobbered instantly. There was no fast traveling, so you’d often stumble upon wonderful things while getting lost in your attempts to follow crappy street signs (hey, like Baltimore!). There were so many individual pieces of armor, classes of armor, and weapon types that you could deck out your character in a million different ways. You could go Moonwalker if you wanted and wear a single glove. You could mismatch your pauldrons. YOU HAD THE OPTION OF MEDIUM ARMOR, NOT JUST LIGHT AND HEAVY. YOU COULD USE SPEARS. AHHHHHHH. IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Just think, an entire class of armor wiped off the face of the Earth forever. Sounds like genocide to me.

It actually sort of makes sense for all of these games, but it drives me freaking crazy. As far as I can tell, once a studio has a big hit, they’re determined to make it bigger and better. Except “bigger” doesn’t mean keeping all the awesome features from before and adding to them. It means thinking up new mechanics and throwing out what they don’t see as absolutely necessary. Squad commander? Meh, not too many people will get pissed. Medium armor? Eh, split the difference, not too many people used it. In their determination to make a masterpiece that appeals to the masses, they try to streamline the experience, cutting many of the little things that diehard fans loved. The worst part is that I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As annoyed as I am about these lost features, I will still buy Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and Skyrim. Why? Because I love the overall experience enough to justify a purchase, even if I am far from 100% satisfied. For the studios, the sales numbers speak loudest, so if they added a ton of casual fans and the diehards still buy (which we always do), they’ll keep doing it. Unfortunately, with every unnecessary downgrade, I become more annoyed and less accepting. It’s an awful feeling too, somewhere between being ecstatic about a new release and the bitter disappointment of a million little losses. And you know what? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Musings: Aaaaaaand we’re back

(Funny story…I thought I posted this last Monday)

As expected, the building of my new computer got in the way of my blogging. System building is the type of treacherously satisfying process that consumes the mind with a fear of DOA components and unidentifiable errors. It’s also a process downright saturated with both excitement and trepidation. Nevertheless, I am happily blogging from my new system as we speak and it is absolutely spectacular. In the one day I’ve had to give it a spin with some games, it has performed astoundingly well. The only remaining issue is that my CPU has an unusually high idle temperature, even after removing and reapplying thermal paste. I’ll sort it out and see how it does under load later. Anyway, the more technical blog posts will follow later in the week. For now, it’s time to catch up.

As much as I expected to miss some blog posts while I put the system together, I certainly didn’t expect to feel so guilty about it. Over the weekend, I realized how long it had been since I posted anything and felt terrible. I felt like I was slipping away from blogging, allowing my blog to devolve into one of the thousands that seemed like good ideas for a few weeks but were ultimately left to decay. At work today, I saw the little “Site Stats” link for my blog in my history but felt too ashamed to check it. If anyone had been checking in since I stopped blogging, I didn’t want to know about it. After a hardy workout after work, I now feel like I’m ready to get back to business with this writing mumbo jumbo.

So what have I been doing since we last spoke, you are undoubtedly not asking. Let’s start with Labor Day weekend. This summer, for some unknown reason, has been the fastest of my life. I’ve only made it to the beach twice and in my brain, summer should just be kicking off. Unfortunately, the world continues its refusal to conform to my will, and September has come kicking through my face when I least expected it. Needless to say, Labor Day weekend became a symbol for summer’s last stand.

Leading up to the long weekend, I was trying to meticulously plan a weekend that would encompass everything that I could possibly want to do in the summer. Go to the beach, visit my grandparents, tour NJ, visit NYC, etc. Sadly, as good as I am at planning, doing everything was a logistical impossibility. Instead, the three best friends decided to tackle the latter two ideas with a road trip to NJ and a daytrip into Manhattan to check out the Harry Potter exhibition (on its last weekend in town) and stroll around the Big Apple.

After having a blast replacing my car battery on Saturday morning, I begrudgingly began the drive to NJ with the TBFs. After some fancy driving around Baltimore, which was overwhelmed by the Grand Prix, we made good time back to my home state. We quickly dropped our bags at my house and drove over to Double Trouble for a stroll. After all, a trip to Bayville isn’t complete without some DT time.

You may not be able to tell, but I'm thrilled to be home.

Afterwards, we headed back home for dinner. As usual, we consumed a delightful dinner (grilled onions, squash, and london broil) courtesy of my step father. Then, the three of us and my younger sister headed out to Seaside for a little boardwalk stroll. On the way, we stopped by Rich’s to get some ice cream (the canoli sundae was awesome but nearly killed me). After spending so many nights at the Seaside Heights boardwalk in high school, it’s definitely interesting going back as a bit more of an adult. As awful as it sounds, it’s nice to have a bit more age and maturity on your side; it makes looking down on the scum that much more justified.

After the boardwalk, we returned to my house and retired for the evening. The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed out for Hoboken around 7 AM. On the way, we grabbed bagels at Oh What A Bagel. Mmmmmm…Jersey Bagels.

Where was I? Oh yes, driving to Hoboken. We got to Hoboken around 9 AM, parked, and took the PATH train into Manhattan. We strolled around the Penn Station area for a while before heading to Discovery Times Square for the HP exhibition. I wish we had some pictures to show, but sadly, photography was prohibited. It was very cool to see so many costumes and props from the movies though. It taught me two things: I am much larger than the entire cast of the HP films and the props are detailed as hell.

After the exhibition, we began our eating tour of NYC. We grabbed some pizza by Penn Station and started walking towards a Chinese noodle place that one of my coworkers suggested. By the time we were nearly there (it was down by the Brooklyn bridge and I prefer walking everywhere whenever possible) we decided to take a detour to Pomme Frites instead. I was severely dehydrated by this point, so I pounded a bunch of water with my fried potatoes and we decided to call off the noodles.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN ALL THIS SODIUM IS JUST GOING TO INCREASE MY THIRST?!

After temporarily giving up on eating and checking out Noho and Soho, we swung by Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village for some cupcakes. Several pounds later and severely exhausted, we decided to forego the walk back to Penn Station and instead caught the PATH from the nearby Christopher Street Station.

'Nuff said

When we finally managed to liberate my car from the parking garage in Hoboken, we hopped on the Turnpike to head back to Rockville; however, we still had to make a final, obligatory NJ stop: a diner. For the sake of efficiency, we decided to not drive out of the way to my regular stomping grounds and instead hopped off the Turnpike to check out Marlton Diner. Two pork roll, egg, and cheese’s, a cream-chip beef on toast, and some coffee’s later, I was ready to never leave Jersey ever again. Sadly, I need to earn a living, so we drove back down and got to Rockville a little after 1 AM.

The next day I chilled in the morning and stopped by College Park to tailgate for the Miami game for a bit. Almost all of my old roommates, including the ones who live pretty far away now, were there, so it was a jolly time in spite of the rain. After that, last week was mainly devoted to building my computer and modding my headset (to be covered soon) and last weekend was spent straight chillin. I’m getting wordy, so goodnight!

Musings: Hurricane Waves

 

Well, apparently a storm is a-brewin’. It’s a good thing that the maintenance staff at my apartment LOVES to promise to come fix serious problems and then mysteriously don’t show up. Over 5 times. I could almost understand when it was just a fan problem and they used excuses like “Oh, an apartment had a serious leak that we had to go fix”. Do you know what I don’t understand? WHY I CALLED 4 TIMES ABOUT THE SERIOUS LEAK IN MY APARTMENT BEFORE A HURRICANE AND THEY DIDN’T MAKE IT A PRIORITY.

Anyway, I decided that I have no faith in them anymore, so I armed myself with some caulk and duct tape and (hopefully) fixed the problem myself. We’ll see when the serious rain hits later today. If nothing leaks and a tree doesn’t fall on my car, the whole thing could just be kind of fun. It immediately reminded me of one of my current favorite songs that just came out on BTMI’s new album called “Hurricane Waves”.

Last week, I finally made it out into Baltimore for a run. I’ve been putting it off for so long and I knew it would only take a single, solid run to break the funk. Sure enough, I did end up finding a nice 6-mile path through the city. I ran from Penn Station, down and around the inner harbor, over to Harbor East, and then back up. Allow me to say, if you like to run and want to get into amazing shape, live at the top of a hill. If you ever want to get home, you’ll have to go up it.

Besides that run on Wednesday, I made it to the gym Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Since the Yankees game was cancelled today, I’ll probably go again this morning. It finally came time for me to spring for a full membership, and commitment and money are painful things for me to invest in something, I know that if I should be spending on anything, it’s fitness. Being an adult sucks.

'BACK FOR MORE I SEE, ADULT LIFE!'

After work yesterday, I walked downtown to grab some emergency groceries. Some soup, some PB&J, some water, etc. I sincerely hope that you all have gas stoves, because then you’ll at least have a marginal chance of being able to cook when the power ends up going out. Also, have more foresight then me and grab a flashlight. I can’t find mine, so I’m just going to get a full charge on my cell phone and download a flashlight app. Candles are good too. Be safe and enjoy the show!

 

Musings: When I Grow Up, I’m Living Alone

Without a doubt, moving to Baltimore by myself will likely prove to be the biggest life change I’ve made in a while. Graduating college and getting a job were big deals, but that’s 2010 news. It’s 2011 in America and things have just gotten very different.

I’ve been up in B-more for almost a month at this point (which, may I add, means that maintenance hasn’t managed to get here to fix my lights in almost a month). At this point, I think I’ve had a fair amount of time to assess the pros and cons of being on my own.

Forgoing a roommate is a pretty big lifestyle change, if for no other reason than the fact that you’re unlikely to ever have one again that isn’t a spouse. Think about it. The only time people talk about getting a roommate again is when they lose their job and can’t afford their own place. For me, this was both an appealing and a daunting change.

For those who know me, I’m pretty much a textbook introvert. I like a heaping serving of solitude, I lose myself in thought constantly, and I’m quickly exhausted by trying to please everybody when I’m in a group setting. At the same time, I also really like having people to talk to and go adventure with and I enjoy having someone around to sit down with and play some video games for no apparent reason.

'NOT NOW MOM, WE'RE SOLVING WORLD HUNGER'

Thus far, I’ve felt pretty much the way I expected about the changes associated with living alone. It’s surreal and not always pleasant to come home and know that no one else will be showing up. Sitting around and doing nothing suddenly seems a lot more reclusive and a lot less like two people doing their own things. On the other hand, I never feel like I’m being a downer when I want to sit down and read a book for a few hours instead of going out. Going to the gym becomes more of a personal journey than a lonely escape.

Then there’s the other things that I didn’t expect. Living alone, for example, is both a spark and a detriment to spontaneity. I’m much more likely to just hop up and take a stroll around the city or make an impromptu bike ride downtown. Conversely, there’s no one to propose a sudden late evening bike ride across town to check out something that’s going on, no one to suggest a slightly unnecessary trip to a store, and no one to suggest a run on a day when you were feeling extremely unmotivated. It’s this type of thing that isn’t apparent on a day to day basis, but you slowly realize that you miss.

In Home Alone terms, I’d say I’m about 70% eating ice cream and watching the Grinch and 30% hoping my family comes home for Christmas. On most days, it’s nice to operate on my own schedule without inconveniencing anyone else. Still, there are lots of times when it would be nice to hear someone else’s key in the door and know that you’d be on the verge of sharing some experiences.

In the end, I guess it’s all just part of growing up. I suppose I had a bit of a precursor to this whole thing during college. My junior year was definitely my funnest year, living in a house with 6 close friends who were always up for congregating to complain and study, dressing up in cutoffs and headbands, and most of all, down for an impromptu game of Super Smash Bros. My senior year, when I had a roommate who was rarely around, was my most productive year academically and the year where I got my shit together for getting a job. In other words, it was a progression towards being a real adult. Of course, no matter how grown I become (hopefully not very), I’ll always miss being able to set booby traps for an unsuspecting roommate.

Musings: The Four Hour Barnes and Noble Trip

For the past 6 months of so, I’ve been rather preoccupied. Well, that may not be the whole truth…for the past 23.985 years I’ve been preoccupied; however, for the past 6 months I’ve been caught up on the issue of what I should do with my life.

After graduating from UMD last year, I had a several month grace period, during which I was happy to have a job. For a few months after that, I was content having a job that I pretty much liked. From then on, I’ve been completely snagged on the fact that while my job, and the academic science industry as a whole, are perfectly fine for now, I definitely want to move on from them.

This is one of those realizations that most people seem to have at some point in their life and it sucks. For me, I just feel that the stop sign came a few intersections earlier than it does for most people.

What's red and has the outline of a hand? The side of my face after these constant slaps of reality.

Ever since I came upon this realization, I rarely go 15 minutes without trying to figure out what I want to be doing with my life. But, I’m feeling a bit more optimistic, and this is why.

While lounging with no intention of buying anything in Barnes and Noble (see, at least the one I go to is still in business), as my generation often does, I decided to pick up some business books instead of my usual video game magazines. While sifting through endless stacks of dreadfully boring books, trying to find some that sounded even remotely helpful, I came across “The 4-Hour Workweek”.

I must admit, that I had no interest in the book whatsoever. I don’t pay much mind to “get rich quick” schemes or to the suggestion that I can make millions from working at home. I’m sure people have gotten rich quickly and all, but that only worsens my chances.

Despite my reservations, I decided to give it a quick skim. Suddenly, a quick skim turned into a few chapters. Then a few chapters turned into Jenny telling me we had to leave. I still don’t buy the suggestion that you can make too much money by doing very little work; however, the book is pretty great for two reason.

First, the author and I have strangely similar writing styles/senses of humor. This makes the book a legitimately enjoyable read, as opposed to the autobiographies of stodgy old billionaires that only stand to enrage me.

KEEP LAUGHING OLD MAN.

Second, the book is written in a way that directly speaks to my career discontent. Sure, he discusses lawyers who work 60 hour weeks and want to kill themselves, but he also speaks to those of us who are worried about trapping ourselves in comfortable lives. As he writes:

Most who avoid quitting their jobs entertain the thought that their course will improve with time or increases in income. This seems valid and is a tempting hallucination when a job is boring or uninspiring instead of pure hell. Pure hell forces action, but anything less can be endured with enough clever rationalization.

Well, damn. I guess he’s right. At this point in the read at least, he hasn’t miraculously told me how to make it and what I should be doing. What he has done, however, is given me some more constructive ways to think about what to do, with plenty of inspiring words and tales to keep me from sitting on my haunches and hiding behind my comfort. I suggest that you do the same!

Musings: IDK

I really would like to write something profound today. It’s a Friday…aren’t those the days when your mind is supposed to be raging with opportunity? Alas, mine is not. I’m feeling mighty unmotivated and can’t think of what to say.

I had really been hankering to discuss living alone, but I feel that if I were to write it now, it would be lackluster and uninspired. Also not a prime time for it, since I’ll be spending the weekend around people.

My boss comes back next week on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Thus marks the end of my unbridled freedom at work; no more leaving at 3:30 everyday just because I can. No more blogging at work. It’s unfortunate really…I do the same amount of work whether he’s here or not. When he’s here, I just need to pretend I’m doing work the whole time.

After work today, I’m going home to pack a bag and then heading downtown to catch the train to College Park. With the (now) rare access to a car and the suburbs, I hope to pick up a few of the last things that I need for my apartment. Not too much, mind you, because I am dangerously low on money at this point and won’t be paid until a week from Monday. On Saturday, the three best friends are going to take a trip to the beach to chill and eat crabs.

Although I generally dissaprove of non-Jersey beaches.

That’s about all that’s going on right now. No profound articles about life or things that I enjoy. No big adventures. I’ve got to call my apartment agency today to insist (AGAIN) that they come and fix my living room light/fan that they were supposed to fix a week ago. I’m not looking forward to that.

I suppose you could say that I'm not a FAN of having to make the call.

Good day.