Gonna skip Windows 11

2021-11-01 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Not going to lie: Windows 11 is giving off some major Windows Vista vibes. But I've been working hard on not being one of these "it's different, so I hate it" guys. So I loaded up a copy of it in a VM and gave it a go.

I'll skip the details, but: holy shit. What a mess. Lots of little issues. The Start menu has been bombed back to the stone age. There's no organization. It's simplistic. Too simplistic.

Frankly, I'm not sure where Windows is headed, but as an OS it feels like all they do is constantly layer new things on top of legacy things and never get around to cleaning up the old stuff. And when they do update something, it's often missing functionality. (We see this behavior in stuff from Google, as well.)

I've described the whole sudden push to 11 as feeling like some higher-up guy at Microsoft got fired or quit, and his replacement is trying to make a name for himself, rushing a new product out the door that he can call his own.

I'm sure I could use Windows 11 and adapt to it... but I'm kind of tired of playing this game.

So I'll keep my Windows partition on Windows 10. It's good for a couple more years. Maybe Win11 will get it's act together by then. Maybe in 2025 I'll be able to organize my apps again instead of just lumping them into a list and being able to 'favorite' a couple things.

Meanwhile, I've decided to explore Linux again. A large part of what kept me away from full-timing Linux is that I'm a gamer. It's a large part of my world. And, well, if you play games: you run Windows.

But the Steam Deck kind of changed everything. I'd learned about all the amazing work Valve did with Proton, and a plan started to formulate.

So I grabbed a fresh 1TB SSD and took the plunge on Friday night.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

...it's Monday now. And other than some rough edges here and there, I'm missing... nothing? Or damned well close to it.

I installed Steam and enabled the Proton stuff. So far both Quake and Borderlands: Pre-Sequel all ran fluidly.

Quake is not the most convincing thing, I admit, considering there are native ports easily within reach, but the new update on Steam is only officially for Windows (maybe Mac?). But it ran without complaint.

I'll try some more later, but if the Steam Deck compatibility rate is to be believed, very little will NOT run.

Crazy.

Even just plain Wine is doing great -- Photoshop is working mostly without a hitch. There's a couple trivial UI things but it otherwise started up out of the box without any tweaks. Literally wine Photoshop.exe on my mounted Windows drive.

That leaves almost nothing to be desired. Though I did have to reboot to play Far Cry 6, but even that's just because it was running through the Ubisoft launcher -- maybe there's a way around it. And at this point, I believe it.

...

My prior attempts at running Linux as a daily driver have been met with frustration and sacrifice, but in 2021? I'm not feeling that anymore. I feel like the Linux desktop has finally arrived. For me, at least.


The Power of the Legion

2020-11-16 - Reading time: 11 minutes

legion6.jpg

As a long time fan of Watch Dogs 2, I observed the initial concept and trailer for Watch Dogs: Legion roll out with a feeling of trepidation.

They'd dropped the number '3' from the title, first off. Perhaps a trivial change, but for the paranoid, this was an ominous sign that things were changing.

And indeed they were.

Gone was a specific lead character. There was a big push towards the idea that you could "take control of anyone". And it seemed like there was an overall less 'realistic' feel: digital-cyber-anarchists in pig masks, skull masks. Lots of masks. And it looked like it took place in a less relatable, less contemporary world, instead set further into the dystopian future.

While I welcomed the change of venue to the UK, everything else I was seeing just wasn't clicking with me.

legion8.jpg

I felt like this would likely be where me and the Watch_Dogs™ franchise would part ways... I was all about WD2's wonderful alternate-yet-familiar world of late 2010s San Francisco, with it's terrific energy thanks to the rebel/ASCII pop art designs, and surprisingly compelling personalities. Not to mention it felt very relatable to today's world. Slightly more advanced than today, but not unrecognizably so. Just twenty minutes into the future, you could say. 😏

And it strongly looked as if Legion was poised to throw away most of what appealed to me. So I stopped following the news about it, and decided all the indicators suggested this wasn't going to be for me.

Then it launched...

legion0.jpg

Between the gameplay footage coming out, the absolutely brutal 2020 US election, and the frustrating additional delay of the much awaited Cyberpunk 2077 until mid-December, I found myself weak and incapable of holding onto the money in my virtual wallet.

So... how'd it go? Well, I just finished it last night. The "Ubisoft Connect" launcher informs me I've put in 49 hours so far. (For comparison, I've put a mere 60 hours into Watch Dogs 2. Or so it says. Feels like more.)

But did I like it?

Well, if the nearly 50 hours didn't suggest it, I'll spell it out: YES. Watch Dogs: Legion was definitely worth it.

legion3.jpg

The procedural/every-man rallied citizen gimmick that I was so skeptical about was actually a rather bold creative decision with a wonderful message about the power of the people. I don't really want to see it return in future entries, but it worked here way better than I'd have ever expected. I didn't notice similar voices. I'm sure the dupes were there but it was varied enough where it didn't stand out. The variation and people, backstories, and relationships (!) it generates is rather impressive. (Though sometimes procedural generation can get you into trouble. 😏)

legion9.jpg

But it also held it back the narrative back in some ways: everyone calls you "DedSec" -- a weak, but workable solution to recording lines without the near impossible task of referring to your procedurally generated name personally. Most of the time it sounded like it was referring to you as a representative of the group, but once or twice it just felt awkward. Not a game breaker, though. Not by a long shot. 

The cinematics felt like a bit of a downgrade from Watch Dogs 2. Possibly this was due to the procedural nature of your current player character. The nuance of performance previously infused into Marcus and his San Fran DedSec friends is reduced a bit here. Again, forgivable considering the technological circumstances. They're still generally quite good.

Even if the cinematics don't always measure up, don't even get me started on the absolute beauty and insane level of detail of London captured here. This might be the biggest advancement over WD2, and even that game still looks fantastic.

Quite often, especially with raytracing enabled, Watch Dogs: Legion is capable of looking almost photorealistic.

legion7.jpg

Another... well... I'm hesitant to call it a down side, as it's merely the side effect of the gimmick.

But I'm kind of bummed that MY Legion experience isn't everyone elses. It was just for me. Everyone playing this game is (with some exceptions) going to have a different vision of which DedSec member was there in the final act.

For instance, my main DedSec crew was composed of:

  • Wanda Baker: a 60+ assassin who's looking for one last great thrill before hanging up her guns,
  • Theresa Green: a tough as nails, mid-40s punk rock MILF hacker with mohawk,
  • and Saeed Rahmanzai: a dreadlocked AR-glasses clad young drone expert (who got less play as the team got better with drone control)

There were a dozen others on the team, but once things really got rolling, they were pretty much just not much more than background noise...

legion1.jpg

For me, Wanda, Theresa, and Saeed ARE the saviors of London.

Yet... they're not. They're just folks I recruited along the way, and I got attached to them. My imagination filled in the blanks and made them more interesting.

The game is structured in such a way that I can do that, and the story won't step on my imagination's toes.

legion5.jpg

One other major difference from Watch Dogs 2: there's a lot of streamlining of the gameplay present.

Many hacks from prior entries are gone. The character skill upgrades are greatly reduced. But you also get certain skills out of the box (like remote controlling vehicles, for example).

Where Watch Dogs 2 had a wealth of various, interesting upgrades, Legion's options are much more... shall we say, focused... to a handful of weapon, accessory, and drone hack upgrades. Many of the more interesting skills are locked behind specific recruit classes with unique abilities. This is likely why the skill tree was minimized. It gives more value to recruiting the individuals. All the really cool tricks went to them. The "beekeeper" comes to mind, with a cloud of robotic attack bees... the "living statue" guy... the hypnotic "magician"... and so on.

I never got around to checking them out, unfortunately. I locked in my core team pretty fast.

This will likely be something I'll be willing to explore on subsequent playthroughs. (There's a perma-death mode, too!)

legion4.jpg

As for the core skills shared by the team, once you realize the spider-bot lets you take down unaware people from a distance, safely, and with ease, it's really the only accessory you'll care about. It kind of makes the game too easy. Nobody is forcing you to use it, of course: most missions have multiple open ended ways to accomplish tasks.

But blimey, it feels silly to NOT use it.

Also important: the drone/turret hijack and betrayal hack skills. Get a drone specialist early on to get access to these quickly, but with enough points in your skills and everyone can do them. (Sorry, Saeed. Thanks for your service.)

legion2.jpg

Overall, Watch Dogs: Legion is a pretty damned cool experiment. Despite all odds, it largely succeeds in pulling off the trick of it's central gimmick while still delivering an engrossing (yet ultimately predictable -- spoiler!) story.

While it hasn't dethroned Watch Dogs 2 as my favorite in the series (it's going to take a LOT to do that, admittedly) it certainly holds it's own as a solid, enjoyable entry in the series.

4/5


Hacking Reality to Save the Princess

2020-09-13 - Reading time: 6 minutes

Came across this over on Hacker News this morning and left a brief thought on it over there (that I'm sure has been ripped to shreds by now). (EDIT: Not so much. But we did reach similar endpoints. Thanks, guys!)

Long story short, even shorter: player manipulates and aligns glitches to basically rewrite the code's stack to force the game ending sequence to execute. Goes from title screen to prince rescued in ~3 minutes.

From a hacker perspective, this kind of thing is -- 😘👌 -- excellent. Even if the player didn't consciously decide to manipulate the stack but happened to stumble onto a combination to make it work, it's still super cool to break it down, which is what this video does.



Originally this post was a reflection on the ethics of this kind of thing being considered a 'world record', and how I'd rather see them split this out into it's own category.

Instead of investigating first, I just vomited out all my thoughts and feelings without actually seeing how the world decided to handle this. I ran on an assumption. And it was wrong.

Because they DO break it out by category:

Here's how they break it down -- and they are NOT fucking around:

100%

Beat the game, entering and completing every stage and Hammer Bros. fight.

  • Time starts on pressing Start on the title screen.
  • Time ends on entering the door after defeating Bowser.

This category includes:

  • All action stages (numbered stages, fortresses, airships, plants, hands...)
  • All overworld Hammer Bros. (including their Boomerang, Fire and Sledge Bros. variations)

Important notes:

  • Do not forget the Fire Bros. behind the rock in world 2, the two plants in world 7 and the three hands in world 8!
  • If you accidentally transform some Hammer Bros. into a coinship, you must either beat the coinship or die on purpose during the coinship to transform it back into Hammer Bros. and then defeat them.
  • Mushroom houses, card games, roulette games and overworld pipes are allowed but not required.

Banned emulators: ZSNES (any version), SNES9x 1.4x

Any% Warpelss

Beat the game as quickly as possible without using any wrong warps or warp whistles. Warp whistles may be collected but not used.

Time starts on pressing Start on the title screen.
Time ends on entering the door after defeating Bowser.

Banned emulators: ZSNES (any version), SNES9x 1.4x

Any% (No Wrong Warp)

Beat the game as quickly as possible without using any wrong warps.

Time starts on pressing Start on the title screen.
Time ends on entering the door after defeating Bowser.

Banned emulators: ZSNES (any version), SNES9x 1.4x

Any%

Time starts on pressing Start on the title screen.


Time ends when Mario is visible in the princess' chamber. If the game crashes, the run is invalid.


Banned platforms: Virtual Console, NESClassic, BizHawk (QuickNES core)Note that BizHawk with the NESHawk core is allowed.

And these are just the Super Mario Bros. 3 specific rule sets. Other games have different rules.

For instance, Portal has "Out of Bounds" (any and all tricks allowed), "Inbounds" (camera and portals cannot leave the map), "Glitchless" (use none of the officially recognized glitches), and "Inbounds No SLA" (Save/Load Abuse).

Even something like bloody Cookie Clicker has a whole bunch of rule sets: "1 Million Cookies", "Neverclick" (bake 1 million cookies without clicking the cookie <= 15 times), "True Neverclick" (bake 1 million cookies without clicking the cookie at all), "Hardcore" (bake 1 billion cookies without upgrades), "40 Achievements" (guess), "1 Heavenly Chip" (🙏).

Finding this out was pretty amazing. Not only were my concerns alleviated, but I've actually found a brand new level of respect for the speedrunning. :)

And I was able to salvage a lengthy post, and turn it into something positive. Everyone wins!


Slack Injection Arcade: THING!!!

2018-08-21 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Played through the first episode of the Build-based classic Blood last night. It's not great but it has some charming moments. At the time, everyone was going for the one-off jokes and pop culture references after Duke 3D set the tone for these things, and Blood was no exception! ;)


Slack Injection Arcade: The Mimic Portal Escape Run!

2018-08-19 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Watch as I cheese the hell out of Prey: Mooncrash and turn back the hands of time by exploiting unexplained game save behavior!

https://www.twitch.tv/videos/299192958