Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pretty screenshots

I've made my first post to an official Microsoft blog.  It's not likely to be interesting to anyone who reads this, but it does have a lot of pretty screenshots.  It's basically a tour of the main feature I built for SharePoint Designer 2010, so if you're interested in what I do for a living, maybe it's relevant after all.

SharePoint Designer’s new workflow editor: introduction



I've got another work post coming up this week, and really soon here I'm going to tell you an enthralling story about my shower remodel.  It'll have pictures too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dragon Age

I finished Dragon Age about a week ago.  It's a fun game, but after all the extreme hype, I was expecting something a little more.  It's basically the same game that I've played a dozen times.  I don't mean that I've played a dozen RPGs or even a dozen RPGs of the same style—I mean that basically every RPG written by BioWare plays almost exactly the same.  For the most part they feel like they could all be sequels.  Dragon Age plays basically the same as Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and a host of other extraordinarily similar games.  You talk to people, kill an occasional monster, talk to more people, talk to the people in your party, and then talk to more people.  If I didn't like story-driven games with a ridiculous amount of dialogue I'd be upset.

I thought I'd be getting something a little more with Dragon Age, but it's still a bit behind the times graphically, and while the story is well-written with not many exceptions, it's nothing really any better than their previous efforts.  I don't have any right to be upset with the game, and I'm not, but I still managed to be a little disappointed.

I think I liked Mass Effect (from the same group) better.  Mass Effect is in the same vein of talking-focused games as Dragon Age, though the combat makes it the most different than the rest, as it's an RPG-esque shooter instead of a more standard pause-and-give-commands RPG like the rest.  There is attention paid in certain crucial parts of both games (more than their predecessors) to make sure that it's a more cinematic experience, and that's done pretty well (I didn't even notice that Dragon Age switches seamlessly between prerendered cutscenes and in-game graphics until the very end).  I cared about the people in my party more in Dragon Age due to their very strong personalities, and in Mass Effect I cared more about my own character and the decisions I was making.  But Mass Effect was visually so much more appealing than Dragon Age that I can't even begin to explain it, given that Dragon Age came out a couple years later.  People look like people in Mass Effect, but for the most part in Dragon Age they're so far into Uncanny Valley that they've set up a castle there.  Both games suffer from bafflingly tedious and bland optional side quests in cookie-cutter identical locations, distracting from the very well-written and well-presented entrees.  Dragon Age did do an exceptional job of making early choices in the game integrate with the story later on, be they your choice of class and race (which chooses which of a half-dozen unique stories will start the game for you), or simply who you befriended and who you killed.  I can easily imagine playing through the game a second time would have a very different feel to it, and I'd run into a lot of interesting twists in the story I wouldn't be expecting simply due to playing a different style of character.  They're both great games, but for whatever reason, Mass Effect ultimately just made me feel happier.

I guess I'm just disappointed with BioWare because I already know they're capable of more.  And, from what I gather from reviews, Mass Effect 2 is that "more."  I am anxiously awaiting starting it very soon.

Horribly uncomfortable glasses

I don't get this whole 3D movie thing.  I saw Coraline in 3D and the 3D-related gimmicks were slightly amusing, but it was hard to watch.  I don't mean that in an "it sucked" way; it was a great film; it's just that seeing it in 3D was physically taxing.  It made my eyes sore and very tired, and for those few slightly amusing gimmicks it wasn't even close to worth it, even if the 3D version were the same cost as the 2D version (which it was not) and you didn't have to wear horribly uncomfortable glasses.

I saw Avatar this weekend, and despite my inclinations, I saw it in 3D, on the raving recommendations from friends.  My experiences were the same as with Coraline.  There were a few neat effects, like sparks and ash that seemed to float in front of the screen, but it just looked awful and blurry, as if I had my contacts in the wrong eyes, and I had to keep looking away for a few seconds every once in a while to "reset" my abused eyes.  I was even in a prime seat near the center of the theatre.  One movie in 3D like that in my lifetime was enough, I think.  I'd rather just see the 2D versions of things.  If either Avatar or Coraline weren't quite as interesting I'd have just left the theatre and asked for my money back.

I'm willing to believe that there are people with certain eye characteristics for whom the 3D effect just doesn't work properly—there are, after all, many people who can't see a "Magic Eye" (autostereogram) properly no matter how hard they try.  I don't taste artificial sweeteners the way that normal people do.  And the sound of that a CRT TV that's turned on but just displaying blue makes drives me mad but inaudible to most people.  Maybe some people just aren't meant to find the 3D effect enjoyable.