Game Review: “Burnout: Paradise”

As I mentioned in my most recent Weekly Update, I finally broke down and bought an Xbox 360. Since the games and the console were both ridiculously expensive, I was only able to buy two games. One of them was Burnout: Paradise.

The game is visually stunning. Compared to some of my previous racing game experiences, playing Burnout is like having undiagnosed myopia for ten years and then suddenly getting glasses. Everything is pretty and bright and shiny. But that’s not the reason I bought Burnout. I am and have always been a fanatic for racing games with an awesome damage model, and in that regard, Burnout is the game I’ve been looking for since I first played Rush on the Nintendo 64 back in the late ’90s. If you run into an obstacle with sufficient force, the game cuts to slow-motion and places the cameral optimally while you watch your car crumple and twist (dynamically! That’s right, the impact determines the damage, and no impact is the same as any other. Like I said, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time) and eventually crunch to a halt in a shower of wheels and metal fragments. And since every street is lined with pylons and buildings and populated by slow-driving idiots, you’ll experience a lot of these beautiful, cinematic crashes. At times, it does wear a little thin, but that doesn’t happen as often as you might think.

The game has a few different kinds of event you can participate in. There’s the standard race — which (and Yahtzee, curmudgeonly bastard though he is, got it completely right in his review) is rendered almost intolerable by having to plan your own route using your minimap — and then there are other events like Marked Man (escape from the cars that are trying to kill you) and Stunt (do a bunch of random tricks to build up points), and my personal favorite, Road Rage, which demands that you do what I’m best at: make other people crash before they crash you.

All in all, Burnout is a very amusing game, and good when you just want to be viscerally entertained. However, it has problems. For one thing, although the crash physics is incredible, the actual driving physics is clunky and feels unrealistic. And speaking of crashes, you have the cinematic ones so often that your little physics-inaccurate fender-benders are yawnworthy and annoying by comparison. And, speaking of annoying (I promise I won’t stick another “and speaking of” on the end of this one), the music is largely rubbish, and there’s a yappy, snide prick of a DJ called Atomica (who you have to imagine walks around wearing a pop-collared pink polo shirt) who only occasionally says anything even mildly useful.

Aside from that, though, Burnout is fairly awesome. If you’re not a complete simulation freak (or if you’re like me, and can turn off that part of your brain when needed) and can tolerate some inaccuracy and clumsiness, it’s a fun game, and the cinematics alone might be worth it (may I be struck down if I ever say that again).

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More Random Words

Yesterday, I wrote a post about generating completely random names/words from a character set. Well, out of boredom, I’ve refined my algorithm, and, somewhat to my surprise, it now produces names/words which are not only interestingly alien, but actually phonetically consistent:

SEMAREMA
SALISEMA
HUTEÉMA
MATEMO
REMOLIRENA
REÉNANARE
SAHUMAÉ
ÉSEMOTERE
TETETE
LILI
MALINASASA
SEHURELI
SEHULITE
NAÉSALIMO
HUÉHU
REMO
LILINARE
HUÉ
RELIHUSASE
TEHUMOHULI
REÉMO
LISAMOMAMA
TELIMOMA
SEMASASARE

What I did was to modify the original algorithm so that, rather than just sticking together random letters cushioned by a vowel every other letter, it creates a list of possible two-letter phonemes (in addition to an occasional sprinkling of extra characters), and builds the words from those phonemes. This is good in that it produces pseudo-consistency in the words I generate (it’s not real consistency like you find in language, since there are no rules (not yet, anyway) for how phonemes can and cannot fit together). The only downsides are that: 1) the generator now very rarely produces three-letter words, and 2) the generator never produces inanely amusing things like “FUKER” and “CUJO'” from the previous list.

If I ever optimize it to a degree with which I’m satisfied, I’ll be sure to post the Python source code.

P.S.: Sorry about the lack of real content lately. The holiday season’s made me sluggishly overfed and rather lazy.

Randomness is Fun!

I was fiddling around again in Python, and I decided to throw together a little random word generator. Trying to be as culturally diverse as possible, I was sure to include the apostrophe as a possible character, in addition to the ever-awesome alveolar click (written as “!”). I discovered that randomness can be rather amusing, as well as being useful for producing incredibly unfamiliar names. I conjecture that these would look odd to the speaker of pretty much any language on Earth, since the phonology is determined entirely at random.

Without further ado (or further clichés), I present you with one hundred completely random names. (Note: The algorithm I used ensures that there is a vowel at least every other letter, because I got tired of ending up with garbage like SPDQGXL)

DI
EINI
PIRIIARA!
UUTIQOYADIK
FAVIXAIE
QAAETU!OEAY
CIROW
AADAAUE
SOTUNORUV
SOHULIB
QITAQUKEE
HOHUROVOLAO
PO’OHATA
EUHE
TO
QIOO!IO
EOPAEIZUH
ZI
DILA’EHUX
GIZE!ETA
QU
VULUUE
FUXAIE
JACUX
RUYEWIM
ZOZOGEI
XI
LA
VABADOUO’
XI
LU
ZUCIZOLI
SUDUXI!IE
WOQAJOEILIG
FIZOI
WEUUW
OABOK
IUVIQEWOAA
!A!IWU’UL
!UVOSEROHI
DIGUO
EIZE
CUJO’
!ANE
RA
ZALUBOVAR
NIXEUAMEPER
CEN
RAHOMU
LUG
LAL
!AVA
LUVAZIGURI
JE
PINAFUPE
FUKER
QUCE’AOO
AELI
ZO
NI
‘EQIVOLEYUF
TIQ
LOWAMOGIME
LOGOV
TOSUMI
SUUIDUPEQOQ
IUBI!UNA
HOCI
UAG
MESOP
JEKOJELI!UA
OEEAX
JOGEUUWOI
UINERE!UP
MAYOZET
EOMUSUKOGIJ
KOLETEN
NABURIZ
BE
RAPIZOMIC
AIKA!OWER
JUSILIBE
ZII
AO
DICIB
FULIHEKUL
TEVAZO
JA
QI!EXOEAC
NACUVONAC
QIXA
YONE
MAJAWOBIP
YEAEYE
FUZEEEBEYE
HEXIZOS
SE
MOKA!EMUGEN
‘UCIH
IO

I also found that throwing in all the accented characters that I could find made some amusing pseudo-European names:

VIOECILOSOW
RU’IKABULI
SIEEWUV
POWÀXEÕ
FE’ARIÎEJE
JE
HOWEXA’Ø!A
FAQEQOXEYUI
RÊIAPABEH
FI’UVIÖIZ
YAGOKE
QAO
POLÔKO
ÉEBÆÊUXA
JOÑOBOTICUY
GE
YINA
ÑOVIROJIROR
FOWU’ACEG
LIPA


UEDE
CAÈAFOSOD
PUSEKOEUV

Portal Continued…

Well, by accident, I managed to finish Portal in a single day. Sure, I would have liked to go through it slowly and have a look at all the scenery, but when you get immersed in a puzzle like that, you become like a lab rat in a maze: the cheese doesn’t even matter anymore; all that matters is the goal.

Still, despite that, Portal turned out to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s definitely the best first-person-shooter-like game I’ve ever played. The environments were perfectly designed, the puzzles were challenging, but not brain-hurting, and it was incredibly, incredibly immersive. It was so immersive, in fact, that when I became trapped in a room filling with poisonous gas, I realized that my heart was actually hammering. (People who have played Portal will agree with me…for everybody else, that’s just a cruel teaser).

So, my previous conclusion stands: you should buy Portal. If you can’t buy it, or don’t want to, find someone who has (and no, you cannot come to my house. Don’t even try it. I keep vicious attack ostriches).

And one last note on Portal (this may be a semi-spoiler, so don’t read it if you want to keep all the mystery intact):

Read the rest of this entry »

Portal

This morning, I woke up at 8 A.M. Willingly. I didn’t have to get up that early. I could have chosen to sleep in. The fact that I didn’t must mean that today is a special day. And it is. Today, Portal was released.

I have been awaiting this game since last year. For those who don’t understand why, you can learn more about the game here.

It is, as I expected, Portal is one of the most original FPS-style games that I’ve ever seen. After all, what other first person shooter allows you to bend spacetime? And the way the designers incorporated this bendiness into the multitude of puzzles is absolutely brilliant. My waiting, it seems, was not in vain.

But perhaps even cooler than the ability to step through a wall and drop out of the ceiling is the psychological aspect of the game. I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that this game, more than any other game I’ve ever played, will mess with your head. You begin to get the distinct impression of being a lab rat. Add to that the confusion of popping through one portal and ending up somewhere you hadn’t intended, and it becomes a disorienting (but incredibly amusing) ride.

If you don’t own Portal, buy it. Unfortunately, you can’t buy it separately from the Orange Box (the game set that also contains Half Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2), but Portal alone is worth the US$49.95.

Given all the effusive gushing praise I just heaped on Portal, one might wonder why I have not slipped entirely into a disoriented, game-induced trance. Well, as much as I enjoy it, I’m not always very good at puzzles…so, before I started babbling to myself and pulling my hair out, I thought I’d give my weary brain a chance to rest and work out all the cramps I just caused it.

Many, many thanks to Valve and the other producers/distributors of Portal.

Nomic

Some months ago, I was flipping through a book on game design, and I ran across a link. That link led me to another link, which led to my discovery of the game of Nomic. Nomic is, by far, the most intriguing game I’ve ever come across. Developed in the 1980’s by Peter Suber, as part of an exploration of the ways governments can legislate themselves into corners, it has received, in my opinion, far less attention than it deserves. Here’s the gist of it.

The primary goal of Nomic is to change the rules. That’s right, the game is all about changing the game’s own rules. Readers familiar with my style and personality will see now why I was so drawn to the game. Play begins with an initial rule set. For example:

  1. All players must obey all rules at all times, in the current form in which they are written.
  2. A rule may be modified, added, or deleted in the following way: a player proposes the rule on their turn, and all other players vote on it. The rule will be enacted, changed, or removed if the proposal to do so receives a simple majority (51% or greater) of votes.
  3. Players perform actions in turn, moving from left to right around the play-circle. On each turn, a player rolls a die and receives the number of points shown.
  4. The winner is the first player to reach 100 points.

This initial rule set is intended to be quite boring, in order to encourage players to begin amending it immediately.  (Note: Peter Suber’s original incarnation included a division between two rulesets: the mutable and the immutable, the latter of which can be changed right away, and the former of which must be “transmuted” into a mutable rule first. This distinction seemed arbitrary and unnecessary to me, and so I took the liberty of doing away with it.)

As I searched the Internet for a good, active, on-line Nomic game, I discovered very quickly that almost no active games exist. As usual, it seems, I’ve stumbled upon something fascinating a couple of years too late. My attempts to start up a forum-based Nomic derivative failed completely.

Oh well. I just thought I’d get the word out about one of the coolest unknown games I’ve seen.