<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples


Gaming Rant

Posted by Charles Chen

So the last few months, I've been on this crazy GBA gaming spree.  Even I myself find it weird that, with a PS2, GC, and a capable PC, I'm having the most fun playing some old school 2D sidescrollers and RPGs.  I'm currently making my way through Final Fantasy IV, which is still a great game in this day and age.

It's weird, in a sense, that in a medium (videogames) that allows for so much innovation and creativity, the industry continues to fall back on tried and true formulas, time and again (with a few exceptions here and there).

I came across two items this morning that kinda got me thinking about how seriously the rehashing has become.

The first was The Grand List of RPG Cliches.  It reveals how many of the RPG games today, while they certainly feature better graphics and some level of innovation in the battle systems, at the core, all contain the same recycled material.  To be honest, this was always in the back of my head.  Seeing it materialized in a list made it much more apparent, however. 

I was more disheartened when I came across a preview of RF Online (yet another Korean MMORPG).  Certainly, this game has some very nice art direction and slick graphics.  I downloaded the gameplay video expecting to be blown out of my seat (I don't know why).  But, to my dismay, I was underwhelmed and even disappointed by the gameplay.  Basically, it boils down to the same "stand-hack-slash-repeat" combat system that has been so disappointing in so many other games.

It's not that such a battle system can't work, one of my favorite games of all time, Vagrant Story, used just such a system.  But it was genius and quite unique at the time (and still is).  The issue with RF Online, Guild Wars, WoW, Lineage II, and just about every other MMORPG to date is that they keep recycling the same basic principles and the same basic gameplay.  Blah!  The least that these guys can do is to copy Vagrant Story and add another diemension to the gameplay.

You would think that someone, by now, would have created a MMO/RPG that would truly break the mold and go off in a totally new direction and address all of the issues that make no sense in "classic" RPGs.

Filed under: Gaming 3 Comments

Workshop : JavaScript Combobox

Posted by Charles Chen

The default set of HTML controls do not include functionality like that of the WinForms combobox. For UI designers, this is usually resolved by having both a text box and a dropdown select box and allowing users to use one or the other. However, the big drawback of this approach is that it takes up what could be valuable real estate space and it's not necessarily the most elegant solution to the problem.

This workshop goes through how we can utilize the power of unordered lists and CSS to create a custom, JavaScript combobox.

If you're interested, check out the workshop.

Leave comments, questions, and criticisms in the thread.

Filed under: Workshop No Comments

Asynchronous Callbacks with AJAX

Posted by Charles Chen

A blog post I came across should be of interest to anyone working with AJAX:

I've explained before why XmlHttpRequest should always be used asynchronously. In a nutshell, JavaScript is not multi-threaded, so the only way to keep your application and browser reasonably responsive is to use some kind of asynchronous pattern. This way, the multitasking is left to the hosting browser and the JavaScript developer can enjoy a relatively easier programming environment where he only needs to care about events and not about summoning threads and managing locks.

Add this small script to your page (preferably in the <head>
section) and all your XmlHttp requests will be done synchronously no
matter what the framework you're using is doing. This works with ASP.NET
2.0 callbacks in both IE and Firefox but breaks callbacks for Opera. I
suspect that it would also work with other Ajax frameworks such as Atlas.

Supposedly, this will work with any AJAX framework.  I've been running into just this issue with AJAX.Net.  Having used both  AJAX.Net and Atlas somewhat extensively, I'll have to give the edge to Atlas for pure ease of use.

Filed under: .Net, ASP.Net 2.0 No Comments

Ebert on Games as Art, Part 2

Posted by Charles Chen

Over the last few weeks, there has been quite some noise regarding the debate as to whether video games should be regarded as a form of "art".  Certainly, this is not a new debate, but it has been reinvigorated as the new generation of hardware and software allow the game designers to build ever more photo-realistic environments and bring us closer to an interactive movie.

At the center of the debate, today, is Roger Ebert, one of the most respected and recognized authorities on motion pictures.  I must have missed the original source of the current dialogue (I can track it to the third Q&A on this page), but the resulting comments from around the world/web is interesting nonetheless.  There are so many great replies and comments, that it's hard to really summarize, but there are a few choice perspectives that I feel I should highlight.

Like Tim Maly, I don't think that a comparison of film to video games is one that has any relevance.  As Tim states in a letter to Ebert,

The invention of photography sparked a crisis in the world of
painting: "Why should we paint if pictures can do it better?" But then
painters figured out that there were lots of other things that they
could do, that cameras can't.

Simon val Alphen adds,

Last year, I finally got around to reading Aristotle's Poetics and was
charmed to discover that large sections involve Ari discussing the
relative merits between the new-kid Tragedy versus the established form
of Epic Verse. He cites other critics who argue that Tragedy, featuring
vulgar elements such as singing and creating works of hugely less
scale, is a lesser form than the traditional Epic Verse. Aristotle
plays it cute, arguing what they've analyzed as weaknesses are in fact
strengths, allowing Tragedy to move people in ways Epic Verse simply

In general, I tend to agree with the opinion that games can't be compared to movies (nor should they be).  It's certainly not a crime to compare a gaming experience to a cinematic experience (read my review of MGS3 for PS2), as more developers start to create more story driven games, hire top notch voice acting talent, incorporate motion captured movement to create more fluid animation, and push the visual envelope that distinguishes the virtual world from the physical world.  But there will always be that element of interaction that seperates games from film.  This interaction, as Ebert and several correspondents point out, leads to an experience that is altogether incongruent to the principles of film.  However, as van Alphen suggests, video games offer an experience that simply cannot be delivered by film.

Of course, this is not to say that there are no similarities in the two mediums, but rather these similarities must be compared in different contexts and with regards to different factors.

There are many, many more great comments on Ebert's website that are worth reading through for offering well thought out responses to this dialogue which Ebert seems to have singlehandedly rekindled.  I, for one, am glad that Ebert has brought this discussion to a more mainstream outlet (as opposed to the geek-infested Internet forums and boards).



Posted by Charles Chen

Great thread with some funny jokes and what not about engineers.

Just a sampling:

There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things
mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he
happily retired.

Several years later the company contacted him
regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of
their multimillion dollar machines. They had tried everything and
everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail. In
desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many
of their problems in the past.

The engineer reluctantly took the
challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. Finally, at the
end of the day, he marked a small "x" in chalk on a particular
component of the machine and said, "This is where your problem is."

part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again. The company
received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They
demanded an itemized accounting of his charges.

The engineer responded briefly: One chalk mark $1; Knowing where to put it $49,999.

I also like this one:

To the optimist, the glass is half full. To the pessimist, the glass is half empty. To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Filed under: Miscellany No Comments

Flash = Teh Suck

Posted by Charles Chen

I can't be the only one that think's Flash based websites suck can I?

I've never understood the appeal of Flash as a framework for structuring content to be honest.  I can understand using it for a few animated portions like a headlines type of object, but as a method of structuring content, it's simply annoying.

The worst are the Flash based ads that popup in the middle of what you're actually trying to read.  And to make it even worse, they invariably have annoying sounds, too.  Grrr...I really want to slap some of these site designers sometimes.

Yeah, a lot of these sites look great and have neat-o effects, but WTF, it's a waste of my time wating for this crap to download and then it annoys the hell out of me.  Oh, and what if I want to link to a particular piece of content?  Out of luck.

So why I am I so annoyed?  I was on the Acura website looking at the TSX.  But it's annoying as hell.  Not even an HTML option?  When I click the "Launch Acura.com" text, it opens another window.  WTF?  Seriously, whoever designed this needs to be smacked for such stupidity.  Once the window opens up, you start to notice the huge amount of laaaag when moving your cursor across the links at the top.  Wow, I'm just moving my freaking mouse across the top bar.  And it's not like it's some awesome OMGWTFBBQ!!?1?! special effects...the background just turns red ::incredulous::.  Not only that, I peek at my CPU utilization: 100% (I have a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 + 1.2GB Fast DDR RAM (Corsair XMS (Yes, this is excessive usage of nested parens (Blame SNE)))).  Goodness gracious, it seems like they expect all their users to have dual core Opterons with 4GB of RAM and an Nvidia 7800GT to be able to view their site.

Once I get onto the TSX subsection, I get more the same; my CPU utilization is insanely high for some stupid ass leaf falling effects.  I just want to look at pictures of the car, damn it.  Stop torturing me!

Okay, I just needed to vent and get that off my chest.  Seriously, I don't understand the concept of using Flash to structure content.  It's just plain stupid to me...

Filed under: Rants No Comments