Friday, March 31, 2006

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad

Two weeks in a row without a Friday post. What's to come of me? I blame my wife. She's been traveling, and thus, my muse is gone. Yes, let's blame her.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Strike Up the Band

Welcome back Science Squaddies! We're almost done with our journey through the wild world of color. Bear with us, as we're almost done. I know, I know, what will you fill your time with when it's done? I'm sure you'll find something. Oh wait, more glorious science posts from your's truly! Huzzah!

Today we're talking about band theory and how it affects the colors of metals. Band theory explains a ton of things about metals, including electrical and thermal conductivity, but we won't be discussing that. We're strictly about the color, yo.

Imagine, if you will, 2 copper atoms just hanging about, doing their thing. As long as the atoms stay far enough apart from each other, the electrons of each atom occupy specific energy levels within the atom's orbital levels. When our two copper atoms get closer together, the two separate atoms become one 2-atom system, which, more importantly, means that we now have twice as many electrons that have to be arranged. In order to occupy all of these new electrons, the orbitals of each isolated atom have to split. Two atoms, mean twice as many orbitals. 5 atoms means 5x as many orbitals. Once you have enough atoms together to make up a solid, the number of orbital levels gets to be amazingly huge, which means that the energy difference between the levels is amazingly small. To quote Halliday and Resnick, "in this way, each level of the isolated atom becomes a band of levels in the solid". It is the movement of electrons between and within these bands that help define things like electrical conductivity and color.

Each metal has what is called the Fermi Level. At a temperature of absolute zero, the Fermi Level, which occurs mid-band by the way, is the highest occupied level in a metal. Above the Fermi Level, there are no electrons, below it, are all sorts of electrons. Because this level is mid-band, electrons can move above the Fermi Level when agitated. When an electron jumps from below this level, to above the level, you now have a negatively charged electron above the level and a postively charged hole below the level. These two particles, for lack of a better word, move in opposite directions and lo, we have an electric current.

When light strikes a metal, the electrons on the surface of the metal absorb the light as energy, become agitated and jump levels. By absorbing this light, alternating electric currents are generated on the metal's surface, by the method described above. These currents immediately cause the light to be re-emitted (remember that if an electron absorbs energy to jump a level, it must emit the same amount of energy to go back to its original level) and this causes the shiny surface you see on metals. The color of metal is a result of how efficient the light absorption is at all the energy levels. If all of a metal's energy levels absorb light with equal efficiency, the light will all be re-emitted and you get a silvery polish. Gold, for example, loses efficiency as the energy levels increase, causing an absorption of light at the blue end of the spectrum, hence the yellow color. Ditto for copper and its resulting orange color.

See, it's simple! And here you were all worried for nothing. Next week is the last topic on this discussion and is pretty damn big. I don't think I'll have to split it into 2 parts, but I'll wait and see. Try and contain your excitement.

WebExhibits - Causes of Color
Wikipedia - Band Structure
Wikipedia - Fermi Surface
Georgia Mineral Society, Inc - Color in Minerals - Doug Daniels
Fundamentals of Physics, 4th Edition - David Halliday, Robert Resnick, Jearl Walker, 1993, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Monday, March 27, 2006


First of all, I need to apologize to my wife. Since I purchased Oblivion for the 360 last week, it's all I talk about. She's so sick of me talking about it, that when I do, I need to preface the discussion with a guarantee that I won't talk about it any more on that particular day. I've also been bad about stopping play at the appointed time so that she and I can watch TV or do whatever. It's getting to the point where I need to set the clock in the basement to be 10 minutes ahead, so that I can stop playing on time.

I haven't been sucked into a game so completely in a really, really long time. Sure, I've played a lot of games where I look forward to playing them, or even think about them a little when not playing them, to work out a particularly engaging puzzle or situation, but this game has seeped into my soul. I think about it constantly. When I'm not thinking about it, I'm discussing it with folks online. When I'm not discussing it, I'm reading different tips about it. Basically, when I'm not playing it, I'm just looking forward to when I can play it again. It doesn't help that I haven't played a good RPG in a while. It also doesn't help that I have a limited amount of time to play each night (usually around an hour) and that my alotted time goes by in the blink of an eye. What I need is someone to pay me to play the game all day. Then I'd just be upset that I had to stop to interact with my loved ones. Curses! There's no winning!

It's just that the game is so damn good. I mean, it's a really impressive piece of gaming, both in design and implementation. There's so much to do, and there's no rush to do things, so you can just hang back and take care of whatever you want to. Granted, the lack of a rush does seem odd, as the basis of the story is that your world is facing some unspeakable evil that you are now instrumental in stopping. To be given such a responsibility and then, upon emerging from your first dungeon, get sidetracked by picking flowers seems odd. I'm not complaing, as I like picking flowers, and have even come up with my own version of V8 (tomato + potato + leek + carrot = a restore fatigue potion), but it does seem strange. If you're a real go-getting kind of person, you can save the world first, and then make juice drinks, but I'm just not that kind of person. My badass lizard dude needs to get down with his botanical self before he takes on saving the universe.

So far I've joined the Thieves Guild, have joined the Mages Guild and am trying to join some wacky Brotherhood that likes killing people in their sleep. Kind of like the tooth fairy, where they take lives instead of teeth and leave misery instead of quarters. They may leave misery and quarters, I don't know. I haven't read all of the brochures yet. In looking at my Gamer Card, it would appear that I also joined some sort of fighting Arena, which I only vaguely remember. I should probably look into that. I'd hate to be on the Homecoming committee or something and not know it. I refuse to make banners.

Based on my decision to surround myself with thieves and murders, you can tell that I'm going down a darker path than usual. The thievery isn't anything new, as traditionally, I strive to lighten the pockets of my neighbors, but killing people in their sleep is a recent development. I find that being evil provides me with a lot more leeway in how to get things done, which can lead to some interesting situations. For example, currently I'm under contract by this crazy dude who thinks that his neighbors are spying on him. He approached me, and not wanting to turn down an opportunity to fleece an obvious lunatic, I entered into his employ and spent some time watching his neighbors. The local militia also approached me about turning this guy in, in the event that he asked me to do anything nutty, but where's the fun in that? When I report back to the guy, I lie and tell him that his neighbors are, in fact spying on him, as it gets me paid, and it gets me more work. The problem is, is that now he wants me to go and kill one of these folks. I don't have a problem with killing people (in the game people, in the game) but I'm starting to get a little annoyed at being this guy's lackey. Plus, the last thing I need is for him to hire someone to come after me. I may just turn him in after all. Either that or I'll pick a fight, put him down and loot his corpse. I haven't decided yet. Had I been a good, upstanding member of society, I would have turned him in the minute he opened his mouth, which would have been a lot less interesting.

I should admit that I haven't been playing in a totally honest manner. There's an exploit in the game that can net you a substantial amount of cash, if you're content to spend 20 minutes furiously mashing a button. You also have to be OK with breaking into someone's house at night and killing them, so those roleplaying good characters need not apply. I'm not one to cheat in games, usually, except with FPS's, and then it's to hurry up and get the game over with so I can see how it ends, and not so that I can try and brag to my friends that I beat Doom 3. They don't care, and neither do I. Oh sure, if I get stuck in a quest, I'll go online and see what I'm supposed to do, but using such an exploit to obtain such riches is not something I've done before. The reason I did it is to buy my way out of my obsessive compulsive behavior. When I play these kinds of games, I will take everything that isn't nailed down, in an effort to hoard as much money as possible. Invariably, I end the game with more money than I could ever use, but the compulsion remains. This also has the effect of causing me to continually head back to town so that I can sell the 5 pairs of clogs I found in some random crate. By having a nice nest egg at home, I can ignore the 3 bolts of cloth at 1 gold piece each, or the green shirt that would fetch a hefty 3 bucks. Don't get me wrong, I still loot for weapons and armor, as that shit is money, and I still steal everything I can get my hands on, as that helps me in the Guild, but now when looting corpses, I can avoid taking every last piece of clothing and at least leave them with some dignity. Them and me. The nice thing about the game, is that the merchants won't sell you an uber weapon if you're not the right level to handle it, so even with tons of cash in the bank, you're still limited to pretty basic stuff until you get farther in the game, and by then you would have had enough money to buy it anyways.

I hope that this initial burst of frantic activity and love isn't just because the game is new, and won't turn into tedium which then causes me to never finish the game. I tend to think not, as the game gives you glimpses of what you can do if only you get better at making potions, or stick some more zombies with arrows. At the very least, I can see the game being one that if I do get bored, I can put it down and then pick it up 3 months later and have it feel like an entirely new game, due to all of the quests I haven't done. Whatever happens, I need to make sure I stop talking about the game, as if I don't, Linda is going to kill me, and then how would I play it?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Freaky Friday

Not much to talk about today. Sadly, my life is consumed with video games at the moment and I talk about it enough as it is. My wife's eyes glaze over when I enter the room because she's afraid I'm going to keep blathering on about my badass ninja thief lizard dude.

In the meantime, Keg told me that I'd get lots of interesting emails if I showed a picture of my ass. I'm all for exciting conversation, so here goes:

Damn. That's sexy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Chillin' like Chlorophyll'in

OK, so that is like the lamest title for a post ever, but I couldn't figure out a good title for a post about organic pigments. Should you have a better idea, let me know and I'll change the title.

Greetings Squaddies and welcome back. Before we continue our discussion on color, I'd like to give thanks to Andy for providing us with a wealth of topics to discuss after we're done talking about color. Everything from tattoos to humidity will be covered. We here at SuburbanJoe encourage that kind of curiosity and ask that you follow young Andrew's lead and ask the questions that keep you up at night. I'll even tackle personal questions, should you be so desperate for guidance that you want my advice.

Today we're going to discuss the impact of molecular bonds on color. This topic helps to explain the color of a whole bunch of organic compounds, and, as a result, lets you answer young Timmy when he asks why carrots are orange, leaves are green and indigo is, well, indigo. Personally, I think you should just tell Timmy to figure it out his own damn self, as that kid has serious motivational issues. Then again, if you want him living in your basement until he's 35, that's your business.

From our science classes in school, we know that leaves are green because of chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis. What we don't know is why chlorophyll is green, which is what we're going to talk about now. There are actually several forms of chlorophyll, that differ in the amount of Hydrogen and Oxygen present, but structurally, are very similar. They all have a magnesium ion at the center, surrounded by 4 nitrogen ions, which are then surrounded by a ring of various carbon-oxygen-hydrogen combinations. Chrolophyll a, b and d also have a side chain of hydrogen-oxygen combos that chlorophyll c1 and c2 do not have. It is this aforementioned ring of carbon-oxygen-hydrogen combinations that we're most interested in.

This ring is held together by an alternating series of single and double bonds. Conceptually, you can look at it like this: in one place, carbon is bonded to it's neighbor by 2 electrons, but in the next bond, carbon is bonded with 4 electrons. In actuality, the "extra" electrons aren't confined to a particular carbon to carbon bond but instead are donated to a molecular orbital that envelops the entire molecule. These electrons help provide the structure of the molecule. Also, because they are free to roam around, they are also free to absorb energy and be kicked up to a new orbital of higher energy. As we've seen in the past, the absorbed energy can be light in the visible spectrum, and this is exactly what happens in this case.

The amount of energy that can be absorbed depends on the number of alternating single/double bonds that are present. Green plants appear green, because the two chlorophyll compounds present, chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b, absorb different parts of the visible spectrum, due to their different structure. A absorbs more in the red part of the spectrum, b absorbs more in the blue part of the spectrum. Between the two of them, the only part of the spectrum that comes through is green, hence green leaves. As time goes on, and the leaves age, the cholorophyll begins to break down and change structure. This change in structure results in a change in color. Similarly, when you cook vegetables, the heat causes a change in structure, which then causes a change in color.

The reason behind chlorophyll's color can also be used to explain the color of various organic compounds like carotene (makes carrots orange) and indigo (makes blue jeans blue). Here's something you might find interesting, I know I did. When denim is dyed blue, using indigo, the indigo molecules don't bind to the fibers, but instead get stuck between the fibers. When these fibers are then agitated, as in the washing machine, the fibers rub together and out comes the indigo, hence the fading of blue jeans. See what I did there? I gave you a twofer. Now when Timmy asks why his jeans faded, you can answer that question too. You're welcome.

Next week we'll talk about why metals are the color they are. With all this excitement, I'm amazed you can make it through the week without exploding. Maybe you can't. If not, you have my condolences.

Kimball's Biology Pages - Chlorophylls and Carotenoids
Wikipedia - Chlorophyll
Wikipedia - Indigo Dye
David Daughenbaugh - Chemistry of Fading
WebExhibits - Pigment Through the Ages, Indigo
WebExhibits - Causes of Color

Monday, March 20, 2006


I am in a mood today. This mood can be described as grumpy or pissy depending on you level of tolerance for such feelings. For the record, my level is rather low, so in effect, I'm continually annoying myself. These days rarely balance themselves out with a deluge of good fortune in the later hours, so I think the best I can hope for is to continue to bear the brunt of life's annoyances until I go to bed, content that tomorrow is another day. At worst I'll be hit by a bus.

Today's post is going to be about some gaming things in general as my mood is making me shy away from coherency. I have another episode of Ghost Recon Theatre milling about in my brain, but I need to do some research first. I feel that my story, as it is currently plotted, is rife with inconsistencies. I am loathe to publish it in it's current form, lest I be accused of either lying, or poor researching, by the GRAW fans that would, no doubt, descend on this site like a hoard of locusts.

Before we start, though, allow me to recant a tale of my earlier errands. While at the bank today, I saw a poster soliciting donations, in the form of purchaseable, sneaker shaped pieces of paper, for the March of Dimes. The tag line was something like "Buy a sneaker and save some babies." The slogan itself wasn't interesting, so much as the implied alternative. As if you didn't purchase a sneaker, you were damning babies to certain doom. I also liked how the slogan made it seem so simple, like it was the easiest thing in the world to slap down a fiver, and BAM, just like that, babies the world over were saved. In my mind, I pictured myself buying a sneaker, and the bank teller would look over her shoulder and nod to a nurse who is holding a sickly infant. The nurse would then inject said infant with a subtance that would cause the child to quickly regain color and mobility, and it would bound out the door, to live life anew. In my mind, the substance was blue and glowing, signifying that it was of either extraterrerstrial or radioactive origin.

I think that they should post these signs next to the vending machines at work, so that you can feel guilty for buying snack cakes on multiple levels, both caloric and charitable. In that context, the unspoken slogan would be "Enjoy your twinkies you dirty baby hater." After the bank, I went to the grocery store, where they hawk Shamrocks for Jerry's Kids. The child in that poster seemed pretty happy. Perhaps she's accepted her fate of being afflicted with MS. Perhaps she just has a cold. At any rate, her smiling face said to me that even if I decided not to buy a Shamrock, perhaps because I was buying Ritz Bits crackers instead, it wasn't a big deal and I shouldn't feel bad about it. It's not like Jerry Lewis had a gun to her head as if to say, "Buy a shamrock or the kid gets it." For the record, I purchased neither Shamrocks nor Ritz Bits crackers, however now I'm regretting not purchasing the latter.

After spending a fair amount of time with the title, I'm content in stating that Burnout: Revenge provides the most amount of fun you can have on the 360. You can take this as a matter of opinion, but I'm rarely wrong in these areas, so put up yout token resistance so that you can feel better about yourself, and then just go out and buy it. My initial distaste for the Crash Junctions has been replaced with glee. Now that I am free from the shackles of the multipliers, I am reveling in destructive freedom. Last week, despite getting a gold medal in a Junction, I immediately did it again, because the post carnage flyby showed a gaggle of buses snickering at my inability to paint them in destructive finery. I remedied that with a quickness. They snicker in hell now.

It took me some time to realize that there was subtle in-game advertising, which means that the advertising is either doing its job extremely well, or not very well at all. I first noticed the advertising when I unlocked a Hardees burger van as a Crash Junction vehicle, then I saw Hardees billboards everywhere. I think it's funny that real life car manufacturers won't allow their cars to be used in a game that builds puzzles out of vehicular homicide, but Hardees is like "Sign us up!" Then again, after watching them unleash various Monster Thickburgers on us, I think it's clear that Hardees won't rest until we're all snuggled deep in our graves.

I think it's odd that whenever the notion of violent videogames is raised, the Burnout series never gets a mention. I'm assuming that it's because those incensed about the issue just pass Burnout off as a racing game. Either that, or they believe that the cars in the game are all piloted by faceless automotons, programmed to just drive around, all for our amusement. Here's something that's fun to do as you go through a Crash Junction. After your car smashes into a fuel tanker that subsequently explodes, imagine that the van next to it is filled with a vacationing family of 6. It's a hoot!

Oblivion drops tomorrow, which means that the anal retentive side of me will be in full swing as I try to complete every quest available. I have no idea what kind of person I'm going to be. Usually I try to be a thief with a heart of gold, but only because there's no option to be a hooker with a similarly gilded organ. I know that Andy is going to be an evil Battlemage. He likes being evil because he can do things in game that he can't do in real life. Well, that and his soul is as black as night. Kidding! I always try to be evil but then there's a quest where I'm supposed to kick a puppy and I just feel too bad to carry it out. I don't know all of the character types, so it's hard to make a determination quite yet, but I think I'm going to really try to be evil this time, or at least mildly dishonest, like I'd take a penny, but I'd never leave one in return.

With Oblivion coming out, that probably means the end of multiplayer Ghost Recon for some time. That's too bad because I was wracking up achievement points willy-nilly. Yes, some of them I rigged the game to get, but the one where I got 30 multiplayer kills in a match before getting killed was 100% earned. It's easy, from this achievement, to think that I'm some sort of bad-ass GRAW ninja or something, however there are a multitude of cooperative multiplayer modes that pit you and your crew against throngs of floppy-hatted banditos. Should your host set up one of these matches with infinite enemies, and you can take your M60, with it's hojillion rounds per second rate of fire, and lay down in the tall grass with it, you too can kill several dozen banditos before taking an errant round in the brainpan. That's not to say that I'm not a badass though, as many the time in Friday night's matches did I find myself on top of the leaderboards with my high number of dispatched banditos. Should you be of the mind to get the 100 headshots achievements, simply follow my previous advice and aim higher. After several matches, you too will appear to be a killing machine, hell bent on destruction. It won't be long before Hardees is seeking your services.

Finally, I was in Target this weekend, it being a staple of any Cackowski-Schnell weekend, and I saw a young lad with his DS attached to his ear, as if he was using it as a cellphone. My first instinct was to knock him to the ground and take the handheld, to see if he had managed to get a prerelease copy of Metroid Prime: Hunters, it making use of Voice over IP for in-game chatting. The only thing that stopped myself was my next thought which was that if I try to use the in-game chatting in such a capacity, I'm going to look like a fucking retard. By the time both thoughts passed, he was gone with his mother, no doubt to buy cargo shorts, floor cleaner and Pringles. Tomorrow I hope to have the game in my sweaty paws, which makes it much easier to live with my decision to not commit a very public form of child abuse. Had this been last month, that fucker would have been toast.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Little Friday Poetry

My dog has taken up what I consider an amoral relationship with the tarp under the deck, currently being used to cover our bales of pinestraw. I thought it was just a passing fad, but I found this little masterpiece scrawled on the back of the dog biscuit box. I think it may be turning into something more serious. An intervention may be in order. At any rate, I'm passing it along for your consumption.

An Ode To A Tarp by Henry T. Cockapoo

I love you my tarp
so blue and crinkly
I long to hit you
With my long stinky pinky

How I longed for you
As you sat on the straw
But you never saw me
or noticed me at all

Then you beckoned me
with a fluttering corner
And I stuck my thumb in your plum
like little Jack Horner

Why should I listen
when they call me inside?
When I can be enjoying
The Big Blue Tarp Ride?

They don't understand us
What we have together
With you under the deck
I can hump in all kinds of weather.

It's sad this age
does not understand
the love and commitment
between a tarp and a man.

Worry not about pregnancy
For there is no risk
Several years ago
That bastard had me fixed.

Just say the word
And we'll run away
We'll live out in the country
And hump in the hay.

Or straw, or alfalfa
corn, peas or tomatoes
or covered in dirt
as we roll twixt potatoes.

It pains me at night
When we're forced apart
But know that I carry
your love in my heart.

I weep at the window
As the wind blows through the willows.
Then I go upstairs.
And fuck all the pillows.

Whoa! I think it's best if we just stop there. Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Thank You John H. Van Vleck

Greetings Squaddies! Nice to see you again. I haven't mentioned it in some time, but I don't want you to think that I'm completely running the science show here. If you have a burning question, or some piece of the universe's grand puzzle is keeping you awake at night, simply leave it in the comments, or send me an email and we'll get working on it pronto. The email address is suburbanjoe - at - gmail - dot - com. I'm assuming you're smart enough to take that spam-unfriendly address and turn it into something useful on the intra-web. If not, well, I think we have our next post.

So, just who in the hell is John H. Van Vleck and why are we thanking him? Mr. Van Vleck was a Nobel Prize winning physicist who was primarily responsible for ligand field theory, an apect of which we're going to discuss today as we continue our journey through the various physical and chemical causes of color.

Before we can talk about ligand field theory, as it relates to color, that is, we have to talk about ligands. Our friends over at Wikipedia define a ligand as "an atom, ion or functional group that donates its electrons through a coordinate covalent bond to one or more central atoms or ions, usually metals." The important thing there is the donation of electrons. As you may remember from our previous discussion, when one is speaking of electrons, one is also speaking of energy levels, and we all know what happens when electrons start acting all crazy and messing around with their energy levels. That's right, color. Well, that and sweet, sweet, monkey lovin'.

Colored gemstones come about when an extremely hard mineral has a very small amount of impurity (usually around 1%) introduced into it. For example, lets look at corundum. Corundum, also known as Aluminum Oxide, is the second hardest substance known to you or I. When completely pure, corundum is colorless. Add some impurities, namely titanium and iron, and you get sapphires. Replace those impurities with chromium and you get a ruby. Chromium is also responsible for the green color of emeralds, however in the case of emeralds, the base mineral is Beryl, or Beryllium Aluminum Silicate. The difference in color, as a result of the difference in the reaction between chromium and corundum and between chromium and beryl, can be explained with ligand field theory. You had to know we'd get there eventually.

Corundum, by itself, is a somewhat messed up octahedron, with a chewy center of aluminum ions surrounded by oxygen ions. In this structure, all of the electrons are paired off, which means they're not free to jump energy levels, so no light is absorbed. Hence the colorless quality. Now, lets say that we replace 1% of those aluminum centers with chromium instead. Chromium by itself has 3 unpaired electrons, but they all occupy the same energy level, so again, no energy is absorbed and no color is produced. However, when chromium is introduced into the structure of corundum, the surrounding oxygen ions, our ligand field in this case, create such a tizzy that the normally staid energy level of the three unpaired chromium electrons is split into 2 different energy levels. The three unpaired chromium electrons are now free to jump between the 2 energy levels. And how do they do this? That's right, by absorbing light. The new split in energy levels is such that the chromium electrons can absorb both green and violet light. With these parts absorbed, that leaves the red part of the spectrum to shine through, hence a ruby's red color. When chromium interacts with beryl, the resulting energy level split is smaller, so the electrons can absorb the less energetic part of the spectrum, namely yellow-red and blue. As a result, the green light is allowed to come through, hence the emerald being the gem of choice for Leprechauns everywhere. Actually, that's not true. Everyone knows that the gem of choice for Leprechauns is the rare Purple Horseshoe.

It is important to note that while we're still dealing with electrons jumping energy levels, as with last week's post, the means of color generation as a result is different. In gas excitation, energy, usually electrical energy, causes the electrons to jump a state. They're not particularly happy about this, so when they come back down, they emit radiation in the visible spectrum. When speaking about gemstones, it is the light itself that is absorbed by the electron, which in turns allows for the jump in energy levels, a situation these electrons seem quite happy with. When the electrons absorb some of the light, the remaining parts of the spectrum is what then makes it to your eye. See, in one case, the electrons are emitting radiation in the visible spectrum (Neon signs) and in the other, the electrons are absorbing radiation in the visible spectrum (Emeralds). Emeralds and rubies aren't the only gems that get their color from the ligand field effect. Garnet, topaz, torquoise, tourmaline and many other gems that you've never heard of, but your significant other no doubt wants bestowed upon them as gifts, all get their color from the interaction between impurities and their base minerals.

It's all so fascinating I can barely stand it. Remember, when someone calls you dirty and impure, perhaps for your fascination with naked hamsters, remember that it is these impurities that allow your true colors to come shining through, like the dazzling ruby and the beautiful emerald. Except for you. You're just sick.

Next week: Molecular Orbits and You, Perfect Together

Extreme Science - Gemstones
WebExhibits - Causes of Color
Wikipedia - Ligand Field Theory
Wikipedia - Ligand - Ligand Field Theory
Encyclopædia Britannica Online - Ligand Field Theory
Encyclopædia Britannica Online - John H. Van Vleck

Monday, March 13, 2006

For the Want of Friendly Indicators...

This first part has nothing to do with gaming, but I thought it was funny. I bought a Kit Kat today, as it's my favorite candy bar, and the wrapped exclaimed "Now! Twice the Crisp!" There was also an asterisk pointing you to the disclaimer "as previous Kit Kat". I would think that disclaimer would be implied, as I wouldn't expect the Kit Kat people to be able to speak to the crispiness of non Kit Kat things like horses or your grandmother. I would love to see someone get into the label factory and mess up the disclaimer so that it said something like "as a dead wolverine" or "as your throbbing love muscle". I'd find that last one kind of hard to believe, because my love muscle is way crisp.

This Friday I spent a considerable amount of time playing Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Much fun was had by all, however the initial matches caused some confusion due to our host deciding to not turn on indicators that would allow you to know who to, and more importantly, who not to shoot. I have taken this experience and framed it in a compelling narrative. Our players are Sgt. Andrews, Private Davis and Private Jackson. All names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also, I have no idea what the rank structure is in the Army, or if the Ghost Recon people are even in the Army, or instead in some souped up offshoot of the Coast Guard.

The setting: a war torn land near you. Sgt. Andrews and Private Davis are awaiting the arrival of the rest of their squad as they begin carrying out their mission to neutralize the other team.

Davis: Sir, there's something wrong with my HUD sir!
Andrews: What is is Private?
Davis: My friendly indicators aren't working sir. I don't know who to shoot at.
Andrews: Your HUD is fine son. I turned the indicators off.
Davis: But sir, how will we know who to shoot, sir?
Andrews: They're wearing gray camo.
Davis: We're wearing gray camo, sir.
Andrews: Yes, but their camo is dark gray. Our's is light gray.
Davis: It's nighttime, sir.
Andrews: And?
Davis: And it's raining, sir.
Andrews: Then use your night vision son!
Davis: Then everyone will be white, sir.
Andrews: You'll figure it out.
Jackson: Private Jackson reporting for du--
Andrews: AAAHHHH!!! (BRRAAAPPPP!!!) Got you, you enemy son of a bitch!
Davis: That was Jackson, sir.
Andrews: Who's Jackson?
Davis: He's on our team, sir. Note the light gray camo.
Andrews: Huh.
Davis: *sigh* No matter, sir. Once he respawns he'll make his way over here.
Andrews: ...
Davis: Sir?
Andrews: ...
Davis: You turned off respawns, didn't you, sir?
Andrews: They're a crutch!
Davis: Permission to speak freely, sir?
Andrews: Are you going to say somehing bad?
Davis: Most likely, yes.
Andrews: Denied. Wait? What's that? They're here! Quick, get on the ground with me behind this rock!
Davis: Kill me now.
Andrews: (WHACK!)
Davis: Why are you hitting the wall with your head sir?
Andrews: (WHACK!) I'm (WHACK!) trying (WHACK!) to (WHACK!) peek (WHACK!) up (WHACK!) from (WHACK!) behind (WHACK!) cover. (WHACK!) Ow.
Davis: That's the single player game sir. This is multiplayer. In multiplayer, if you push up on the control stick when behind cover, you'll just -
Andrews: (WHACK!)
Davis: - hit your head, sir.
Andrews: Huh. Hey! What's that thing up there?
Davis: That's their drone, sir.
Andrews: What does it do?
Davis: It tells them that we're right here, not moving, and ripe for the taking, sir.
Andrews: Huh. Where's our drone?
Davis: You sent it out for pizza and they shot it down, sir.
Andrews: Right. 10 million dollars, and they can't program it to find a Papa John's. Damn those D.O.D. Poindexters!
Davis: Yes sir. Look, sir, they'll be right on top of us any moment now. We should think about moving out.
Andrews: Look! There's someone else from our squad! Sean! Hey, Sean! Hey, stop shooting at me, I'm on your team!
Davis: He isn't on our team, sir?
Andrews: Sure he is, Private! Look at his dark gray cam- (BLAM!)

Gripping stuff! Remember kids, if you want to be sure who to shoot, be sure to turn on friendly indicators. Don't worry about enemy indicators, because those are for pussies. Until next time, ready up and move out!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Book Review

No toddler tales today, however I'm working on a love story about a dog, a tarp, and an uncaring society that doesn't understand the depth of feelings between the two. Instead I thought I'd do a mini review of a book I just finished. Usually I don't review books here, but I thought that the folks who read this site might enjoy this one. That and I want something easy to post about. Laziness, thy name is Brandon.

The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi

I honestly don't know where I first heard about John Scalzi, but I've been reading his Whatever site for years now. John is an excellent writer and while I don't always agree with him, I always find him entertaining. 9 times out of 10, I do agree with him, which helps, but the other 1 time, it's worth reading anyways. His is an interesting tale of how writing online helped him with getting a book deal from Tor. It's not quite that simple, as he had several books published prior to getting his Sci-Fi work published with Tor, however writing online helped considerably. I'll leave it to you to go and learn about the particulars, as I'd only get them wrong anyways.

"The Ghost Brigades" (TGB) is the second in a loose trilogy of books, "Old Man's War" (OMW) being the first. I say "loose" as I think that anyone can jump into TGB without having read OMW and be able to understand 90% of what's going on. There is some character overlap, and the universe is the same, but don't be frightened off by jumping right in with TGB. Of course, John certianly wouldn't mind if you went back and purchased OMW as well, but that's between you and your wallet.

TGB is set in the future and Earth, having long run out of space, has started the process of colonizing other planets. Like all good colonial empires, they're not alone in the need for extra space, and have found that there are plenty of other alien races eyeing the various hunks of real estate scattered throughout the galaxy. To protect the colonists, the Colonial Defense Force has come up with an ingenious way of combining the experience and knowledge of older folks with the atheleticism and quick reflexes of the young. As folks on earth approach their golden years, they enlist in the CDF. At the time of paper signing, the CDF collect genetic material from the new recruits. After the papers are signed, the recruits go about their lives until they reach their 75th birthday. At that point, they're whisked away from Earth, never to return, and their consciousness is transplanted into a new, augmented body which has been grown from their previously collected genetic material. Their bodies have SmartBlood (TM) to help with clotting and resisting disease, various strength and speed upgrades and an integrated computer known as the BrainPal (TM). Recruits who die prior to reaching their 75th birthday have their genetic material used to create even more highly augmented Special Forces soldiers, known to the "realborn" as the Ghost Brigades.

TGB's premise is a pretty cool one. Charles Boutin is a traitor in the Colonial Defense Force's midst, who has allied himself with 3 alien races, all hell bent on destroying the CDF. In trying to hide his tracks, Boutin created a clone of himself and killed it off, thereby giving the illusion of his demise. Prior to killing off the clone, he created a copy of his consciousness, complete with memory and motivations for his traitorous acts, and this copy is discovered by the CDF. The CDF decide to create a Special Forces soldier from Boutin's genetic material, and "downloading" Boutin's consciousness to it, so that they can determine Boutin's plan and motivations for turning. Thus, Jared Dirac is born. While the transfer is a success, the memories aren't there at first so Jared goes about being a "normal" Special Forces soldier, that is until Boutin's memories and motivations begin to surface.

My biggest complaint with "Old Man's War" was that it was too explainy. The various scientific concepts that underlie Scalzi's take on the universe were often explained in characters' conversations with each other. This seemed very forced to me, and pulled me out of what was otherwise outstanding, and often times humorous, dialog. Thankfully, any explaining that needs to be done in "The Ghost Brigades" is done by your friend and mine, the omniscient narrator. This helps the flow of the book immensely, and I never felt that the explanations got in the way of the narrative.

If you want long, flowery descriptions of people and places, Scalzi is not your guy. The dialog is crisp and flows well. Action scenes are well written with a lot of punch and just the right amount of detail. Scalzi allows a lot to be left to the reader's imagination, which to me, shows a certain respect to the reader, as if he's saying "go ahead, make up whatever picture you want, it's all good". Too many times, I think that writers get hung up on describing everything to where it makes reading too damn tiring. Where detail is needed, it's provided, other than that, it's the story that fills the pages, not a bunch of extra adjectives.

Character development is handled well, with just the right amount for the supporting cast to do their jobs effectively but not bog the reader down with pages and pages of backstory. Main character are, of course, fleshed out much more than the supporting cast. I never found myself questioning the motivations of anyone in the book or saying "he would never do that".

My only gripe with the book, is that I wanted more of an ending. It's a short jump from the big reveal (which kicked ass) to the end, and I wanted more there. It's not that the ending was bad, it's more that the big reveal led to another big reveal which I would have liked to see more done with. It is a trilogy though, so I'm sure that the info was just groundwork for the sequel, however for my tastes, I would have liked a little more in this book. The pacing of the ending seemed at odds with the pacing with the rest of the book, like it was sped up for the end. As I said before, it's not an unsatisfying ending, and it certainly did it's job in making me want to read the next book, but I would have liked a little more development there. I know, bitch, bitch, bitch.

There also seems to be a strange preoccupation with sex, which I found odd. Other than the classic Sci-Fi books (Ender's Game, Foundation) and the New Jedi Order books, I don't read Sci-Fi, so maybe it's common and I just don't know about it. On the other hand, the Star Wars books are sexless to the point of lunacy. How Han Solo and Leia had three kids when they obviously never touch each other is beyond me. I guess I can't fault Scalzi too much, as if were presented with a being who was genetically engineered to live in space, it wouldn't take me too long to start wondering how they "do it".

The universe that Scalzi has set up is a really interesting one, and lends itself to a myriad of stories should he want to return to it after these initial three books. Personally, I'd love to see how he'd do an ultra-ultra Special Forces soldier, a la Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell games. That dude(tt) would be bad ass. They'd probably be able to shoot lasers from their genitals or something.

Bottom line is that this is a very enjoyable, well thought out, entertaining read. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to folks that are Sci-Fi junkies as well as people who like good stories, and are open minded to the Sci-Fi genre. The concepts discussed in the book leave things for you to think about after you've turned the last page, and the plotting and action makes you want to read more of the universe that Scalzi has created. Personally, I can't wait for the BrainPal. Tetris on that thing must be amazing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Color Me Excited

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back. Sorry for the delay, but I can assure you that you wouldn't have wanted me posting in the state I was in last week. I can tell you that my body did afford me to see a whole new array of colors as I went about evacuating all food from my person. Who knew that food could undergo such miraculous transformations? Thanks to all those who express concerned for my well being. Now that we're all back, let's continue on learning about color.

I'm So Excited, and I Just Can't Hide It
As we talked about last time, there are 15 causes of color, broken down into 5 classifications. This week we're going to talk about Vibrations and Excitations which includes:

  • Gas Excitations
  • Incandescence
  • Vibrations and rotations
Before we can talk about these things, though, we need to have a small talk about the basic atomic structure of things. As you may remember from your science classes, atoms are the smallest particle of a substance that still retains the substance's chemical properties. In other words, an Iron atom may be made up of smaller particles, but these particles, taken on their own, would in no way indicate Iron's ironic goodness. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons and neutrons, which account for most of the atom's mass, hang out in the "center" of the atom, in the nucleus. The electrons hang out in an electron cloud, surrounding the nucleus. When I was a kid, an atom was always depicted with the Bohr Model, as a dense cluster of spheres (the nucleus) with smaller spheres (electrons) orbiting the nucleus, as planets orbit the sun. Since then, the model has changed to the electron cloud model, which instead demonstrates the area around the nucleus as a "cloud" in which there is the highest probability of finding an electron.

Electrons live in specific energy levels, based on how far they are from the atom's nucleus. The more energy the electron has, the farther away from the nucleus the electron lives. Imagine a ladder, with each rung representing an energy level, and electrons spaced out on all of the rungs. If an electron on the bottom rung were to absorb some energy, it would move up a rung. However, electrons are quite fond of their "home" rung and will usually look to get back to it. In order to do this, the electron must release the energy it absorbed when it moved up a rung. Depending on the wavelength of this released energy it may be heat, or light in the visible spectrum. As usual, this is a gross oversimplification of the process and there is so much fantastic information on the nature of matter that I could post from here until doomsday and never touch it all. Such is the awesome nature of science!

Gas Excitations
Take a gas, say, oh, I don't know, neon. Put it in a glass tube, bend the tube so that it says "Budweiser" and then run a current through the gas in the tube, and what do you get? A nice orange color and a cool sign for your bachelor pad that will be the first thing to go once your significant other moves in with you.

This is a prime example of what we mentioned before. If you excite the electrons in the gas, in this case by introducing an electric current, they'll jump up an energy level, and then, when coming back down, they'll emit radiation in the visible spectrum. The color that's produced is dependent on the gas, and, for some gases, dependent upon the strength of the current. Neon is reddish orange, Helium is whitish, Argon is bluish and Krypton was destroyed with Kal-El's family. Kidding. It's actually somewhat gray. What is important to note, is that it's not as if energized neon "makes" the color red. It simply emits radiation with a specific wavelength. When this radiation strikes the receptors in your eyes, it is perceived as the color red. If evolution (or intelligent design if you choose to swing that way) had gone another route, red might be blue. How does that bend your noodle?

Gas excitations is also the reason behind the colors of the Northern Lights. Charged particles from the sun are directed along the Earth's magnetic fields to slam into gases in the atmosphere at the poles. This collision causes energy in the visible spectrum to be emitted and we see them as auroras.

Incandescence works in the same way as gas excitations, only instead of a noble gas that a current is passed through, we're passing a current through a conductor, but a conductor that allows for some resistance to the electron flow. A basic light bulb consists of a filament in a glass bulb that had the oxygen removed. Current flows through the filament, but is somewhat impeded, based on the material the filament is made of. This in turn excites the electrons, causing them to, say it with me, jump up an energy level. When they return, they emit radiation in the visible spectrum. The reason that oxygen is removed from the bulb, is that the filament gets quite hot in this case, and if the bulb were filled with oxygen, the filament would burst into flame before doing that which it was made to do.

Incandescence also describes why hot things glow reddish. All objects, including your bad self, absorb and emit radation. Most of this radiation is emitted in the non-visible spectrum, usually the infrared spectrum, also known as heat. This is why your couch is warm to the touch after a marathon American Idol watching session. Your body emits infrared radiation (heat) as you sit. It is absorbed by the couch, which then emits it once you leave. Similarly, if you were to turn on an electric burner, and hold your hand above it, your hand gets warm as it absorbs the infrared radiation released by the burner. As the burner gets hotter, and the electrons get more and more excited, the burner will begin to emit radiation in the visible spectrum, and it gets red. This is also why, for anyone who has ever placed their hand on a hot burner, the color red is considered a "hot " color. After all, in order for your burner to emit radiation in the visible spectrum, it first had to work on through the infrared spectrum, and that spectrum is a mite toasty.

Thermal imaging allows us to "see" objects based on the thermal radiation they emit, which is what will allow the SWAT team to nail your pasty ass should you decide to go all postal and hole up in your compound. It's also quite effective for intergalactic big game hunters.

Vibrations and Rotations
What color is water? Depends right? If you were to look at a glass of water, it'd be clear. Look at a river, and it's kind of a brownish-green. Look at an ocean in the Caribbean and it's pale blue. The fact is, is that water is blue, but not for the reasons you might think.

This is the part of the post that I have the least amount of understanding of, so please bear with me. Water molecules are composed of hydrogen and oxygen, all bonded together in nice springy molecules. As the isolated molecules come together in water, or in ice, the vibrations of these molecules are increased so that these vibrations can interact with light in the visible spectrum by way of absorbing the red portion of light. As a result, water appears to be a light shade of blue. So, why does a glass of water appear as clear, rather than blue? It's because there isn't enough water in the glass for this effect to take place. In order for light to be absorbed by water's vibrations, you need either large body, such as a lake or an ocean, or small body just extended along a long axis, as in a tube. When you see a blue ocean, part of the blue may be scattering as a result of particles in the water, some may be a reflection of the blue sky, depending on your angle of view, but some is the absorption of red light by the vibrations of water's molecules. You can see an example of blue water in a clear tube in this excellent article by the fine folks over at Dartmouth. It's a tough read, but very interesting if you take the time.

There we go. One fifth of the way done, and we've all survived thus far. Good science is any science you can walk away from, I always say. Next week we tackle the joy that is the Ligand Field Effect. Can you feel the excitement? It's palpable. I can so totally palp it.

Encyclopedia Britannica - Vibrations and Rotations
Why is Water Blue? - Charles L. Braun and Sergei N. Smirnov, Department of Chemistry Dartmouth College
Wikipedia - Gas discharge
Encyclopedia Britannica - Gas excitation
Wikipedia - Incandescence
SPi - Thermal Infrared Blackbody Thermography
Wikipedia - Blackbody

Monday, March 06, 2006

March Madness

This month is shaping up to be the most expensive month ever. After a near drought of 360 games since launch we have 3, count 'em, 3 titles dropping this month. They are: Burnout Revenge, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. Let us also not forget the appearance of the long awaited DS title, Metroid Prime: Hunters or Metroid Prime First Hunt or Metroid Prime Hunt 'Em All Up, or whatever the hell they're calling it these days. I am excited for all of these titles, for reasons I shall expand upon at length. Oh joyous day for you, that you get to read the first hand account of my breathy anticipation.

Burnout Revenge
As a rule, I'm not a big fan of racing games, because I tend to crash. A lot. I also can't handle the intricate dance between accelerating and braking, drifting and sliding, caramel and noughat needed to master racing titles. I like to mash the accelerator and only hit the brake when I need to powerslide around a corner. Enter Burnout. Not only does this method work well in Burnout, but part of the point of Burnout is to crash, and cause spectacular crashes. It is as if they watched me play Forza, took pity and decided to help a brother out. I can also race in the opposing lane of traffic, thereby giving me both an accelerator and a boost button to mash on at the same time. Occasionally as I'm driving in the opposing lane, I'll do a powerdrift around a corner and catch air at the same time, filling up my car's boost bar, and my own personal glee bar to bursting. I try to resist the urge to hump my console in these special moments.

The problem, and by problem I mean I'm a weak willed, consumerized whoredonkey, is that I already bought Burnout Revenge for the Xbox. I bought it back in November, back when I also bought X-Men Legends 2, Half-Life 2 and Far Cry: Instincts. I played X-Men and Far Cry and then my 360 came. I played some 360 games, played some Half-Life 2, played some more 360 games, and all the time, Burnout Revenge wept bitter tears of abandonment. As the calendar pages kept flying off, inching us closer and closer to March, I wanted to play Burnout less and less for fear of having to do the same races all over again on the 360. Why would this matter, you ask, if the game is so good? Every racing game, no matter how good, has races that are so brutal, so odious, that were the person who designed them sitting next to you when you ultimately completed the race, you would brain them with your controller. I did not want to come across one of these and then have to do it again. Your next question, and you would be wise to ask it, is why I just didn't play it on the Xbox and ignore it for the 360? Well, the online portion of the 360 version is better, and it has achievements, but mostly, the explosions are a lot prettier. Yes, that's right. I'm willing to pay 60 bucks, on top of the 50 I already paid to play a game I already had, just because the explosions are more explodey. I'm a sick man and I need help. I was glad to see that they removed the golf-swing meter thing for the Crash Junction levels, but personally, I think they need to go back to the Burnout: Takedown Crash Junction levels as they were brilliantly executed destructo-puzzles. Like if your Sudoko board exploded in your face when you completed it.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
Much like racing games, I usually don't play military games, as I don't do to well with the one shot, one kill mode of play. I need at least 4 or 5 shots before I figure out who's shooting me. Another 3 or 4 so I can bring my weapon around, and another 10 - 15 so that I aim, fire, and have any hope of bringing down my assailant. My understanding is that, on the battlefield, they don't usually extend you that level of courtesy. When I bought my 360, I played Call of Duty 2 and absolutely loved it, in part because even if you had just taken a few rounds in the old noggin, you could just take a nap under an overturned fruit cart and come out right as rain. I'm assuming this won't be the case in GRAW, but I'll be looking for fruit carts just in case.

I'm buying this game mostly because every single person I game with is buying it, even those without 360's, and I want a game that we can all dick around with on a Friday night, exploring maps, and having Andy lob grenades in unorthodox ways. It is also a damn pretty game with tons and tons of things happening on the screen at the same time, 90% of which I'll be ignoring as I try to figure out just how the hell someone is shooting me when I'm hidden under my fruit cart. I think it's kind of strange that when the Gulf War was happening, some people called it a video game kind of war, because most of the 'fighting' was conducted so remotely and now we have a video game title that is supposed to be a realistic depiction of future warfighting (if that's at all possible) and the realism looks like a video game. I know that doesn't make sense, but in my head I know exactly what I'm talking about. My garbage can tells me everything I need to know.

Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
It's been so long since I played a RPG, that I've completely forgotten how to cast a proper fireball. I think that the last RPG I played was X-Men Legends 2, but that was so watered down in it's RPG-ness that it hardly qualifies. The Elder Scrolls series can never be accused of being watered down in that respect as there are combinations of skills and traits that I'm sure the developers never even thought of. I played Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind on my PC, but between the pace of the game being slow, and the travel in the game being painfully slow, I never finished it. Plus, the skill progression model was kind of weird, and I tried to make my own, custom Jedi class, and well, lets just say I have no business making Jedi and leave it at that.

From what I've read, some of the pacing has been ramped up, as has foot travel, and you can get horses which should help things immensely. Any time you can procure livestock in a game, it's a time to celebrate. The game looks pretty damn good, however I'm sure you'll be able to fix a sandwich, or build a small shanty in the time it takes a level to load, but as long as I'm prepared for such things, I'll be OK. This time, I'll try to stick to more prepacked character classes, lest we repeat the mistakes of Morrowind and I end up with someone who can run fast and make potions, but can't swing a weapon any larger than a breadstick. The game boasts a length of 200 hours should you do all the side quests, and the glittering promise of downloadable content could conceivably extend the life of this title until the stars wink out and die. We'll see if it holds my interest that long as my attention span is somewhat on the short si-- ooh! Pretty sparkly things!

Metroid Prime: Hunters
My motivations for buying a DS were equal parts Nintendogs and equal parts Metroid Prime: Hunters which makes me equal parts nerd and equal parts 8 year old girl. The first time I played this game, or the demo version of it anyways, I was unconvinced of the ability to control an FPS with a touchscreen, and as a result, I had relegated the DS into the realm of the unpurchaseable. When I finally relented, for Nintendogs and Advance Wars DS, and I played the Metroid demo with the thumb-nubbin thingy, instead of the stylus, it all fell into place. The Metroid Prime: First Hunt demo was an interesting little game, but it's so far removed from what Hunters is going to be, that I think it was Nintendo's way of saying "Relax. It isn't going to be all puppy dogs and big headed animal people."

The game looks extremely well realized now and I, for one, can not wait. 6 playable bounty hunters other than Samus, a bunch of different multiplayer modes and a single player campaign? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! The only thing that I can do without is the voice chat option. The only way I can tolerate sharing this planet with other people is by reminding myself that I only need communicate with around 1 billionth of them on a daily basis. The anonyminity that the intra-web provides gives people license to act like smacktards, and I can't be having their foul magiks tainting my DS. He's just a little console, and I don't need him hearing such language. The lack of voice in Mario Kart online is what makes me able to race against the unwashed masses and not wish to hurl myself off of a building. I'm hoping I can just turn the voice chat option off.

The only problem is that I'm smack in the throes of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and I fear that switching to another DS game will kill my momentum and I won't finish the blasted thing, which is a shame, because it's a lot of fun. Oh willpower, do not leave me now, when I need thee the most!

Add to these game purchases, my intentions of purchasing "A History of Violence" and the first season of "Justice League" and we have an expensive month. Oblivion has been paid for since last summer, and I sold off all of my other Xbox and 360 games to pay for the new ones, but it still hurts me in ye olde wallet. Thankfully, other than Top Spin dropping in April, Microsoft has conspired to keep games off of the 360 release calendar for what appears to be the remainder of the year. Thanks Microsoft, you're the best!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Change of Plans

I decided to reschedule the surgery as I'm not comfortable being carved up on my best day, and I would hardly count any of the days since Sunday as one of my best. Thanks for those that wished me luck. I appreciate it, and rest assured, the threat of my reproducing will be halted in due time. As I'm not preparing to get cut on, and I don't have a whole bunch to do at the moment, I think I owe you several posts. Lets do gaming because it requires the least amount of effort. Ahh, it's good to be back.

If Beating Hobos Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right

Here's the sad truth. When I heard that Condemned: Criminal Origins was a game that pit you in hand to hand combat against deranged vagrants, I wanted in. I didn't care about the story. I didn't care about the forensic investigations you could undertake in the game. I just wanted to watch some junkie run in the room, rip a pipe off the wall, and then step up and get a face full of locker door. I don't know why this is. I have nothing against the homeless, or drug addicts for that matter, and I certainly wouldn't think to try and bash one over the head with a sledgehammer in real life, but for some reason, the concept in the game intrigued me.

I'm not going to spend too much time on the story, as it quickly becomes incomprehensible, and the ending doesn't do much to help, other than set up a sequel. You're an FBI agent who is investigating a serial killer who likes to kill his victims and place them in little window display type situations with mannequins. While investigating his latest crime, you give chase to the suspect, get the crap kicked out of you and watch as said suspect kills two cops with your gun. The cops now think you've killed two of their own so it's up to you, your wits, your last contact at the FBI's crime lab, and whatever blunt object you can get your hands on, to find out what's going on. Meanwhile all the homeless people and drug addicts have gone crazy and have taken to beating on each other with pipes. There are also a lot of dead birds. Oh, and you have visions. Don't worry, I didn't understand it either.

Condemned, despite the rather convoluted story, does one thing very well. That one thing is stick you in a very creepy environment and lead you by the nose into situations that make you crap your pants in fear. I say "lead you by the nose" because as large and impressive as the environments look, your path is a linear one. There is limited use for backtracking, except to return to a door that was previously unopenable, or for returning to pick up a weapon that had been found and then discarded. Usually, I'm not a big fan of forcing the player to go certain ways, but given all the weirdos running around this game, I was more than happy to be led down a particular path.

The developers did an excellent job of combining light, shadow and ambient sound effects to create a mood of dread and impending violence. As you travel through the various levels, you'll hear the far off coughing of someone you may or may not meet up with later on, or you'll see a hanging light start swinging as someone moves through the ceiling. The game doesn't rely on gimmicks like Doom 3's stupid flashlight (you can hold a flashlight and a weapon at the same time) or monster closets, so the feelings of fear are genuine.

The only gimmicky thing, in my opinion, is the way that guns and ammo are handled. Melee weapons abound, and provide a nice selection of hitty things, but firearms are a little harder to come by. This I understand, however what I don't get is why you can have a shotgun, then find another shotgun and not be able to reload with the ammo from the new weapon. I mean, this guy's an FBI agent, I think he'd be able to take the shells from one gun and place them in an another gun. I understand that this makes players make decisions as to whether they should try and backtrack to pick up the gun with one shell, once the current one is out of ammo, but seeing how I never saw enemies respawn, the decision becomes one of time, and not one of risk, so even that doesn't make sense. I also wasn't thrilled with only being able to carry one weapon at a time. Your agent carries an entire CSI crime lab in his backpack, including a DNA analyzer that's bigger than most firearms in the game, but there's no room in there for a revolver? Riiiiiight. I can understand not wanting the player to be able to tote firearms around all willy-nilly, but inconsistencies like this bug me.

Combat is handled pretty well. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of melee weapons to choose from. Some smaller, lighter things like the 2x4 don't do as much damage, but can be swung much more quickly. Heavier items like the sledgehammer and the fireaxe pack a punch, but if you miss, you'll be taking the Trolley to Trauma Town as your opponent smacks you repeatedly until you can swing again. The best weapons though, come from what I call the Picture class. This includes signs, desktops, locker drawers and large planks. Their class name comes from the fact that, when using these weapons, one of the animations for hitting your opponent has you bringing the weapon down on the top of your opponent's head, as if you were trying to break a picture over their melon, a la the Three Stooges. Classic. As the game progresses, you can find some interesting weapons like mannequin arms, paper cutter blades and flaming boards. Whoever had the job of designing all the melee weapons had a field day with this one. You also have a taser, which allows you to stun your opponent and either steal their weapon, or get a free hit, but those of you that rely on the taser throughout the entire game and don't develop your melee skills sufficiently will find themselves less than prepared for the ending. I speak from experience. You've been warned.

Health kits are all over the place, which is odd, given the environments you're in, but I guess deranged hobos need first aid too. This kind of inconsistency should also bug me, but after you've been mauled by 3 junkies with pipes, you see how much complaining you do about stumbling across some Tylenol.

The graphics are great, except for the character models used in the cutscenes. I'm not sure why there's a difference between the in-engine models for the cutscenes and the ones used in combat, but there seemed to be one to me, and not in a good way. Maybe it's because combat is very fast, in poorly lit corridors, so I'm not paying attention to the character models, and I am in the movies, but the models in the movies looked very short and squatty, and somewhat plastic-y to boot. The models in the game, on the other hand, are very well done, with a lot of variety which gets creepier and creepier as the game unfolds.

The game clocks in at around 10 - 12 hours, but would be longer if you found every dead bird and every metal piece in all of the levels. For me, this is the right length for a horror game. Despite enjoying it very much, I never finished Resident Evil 4, a fact that I'm sure will get my Geek card revoked. After having played it for 20 hours and knowing that I still had to battle back through the zombie village, fight 2 ogre thingies at once and go through the army base thing, I just couldn't take it any more. Plus, the President's daughter was just way too annoying. I like to think that Leon escaped to Amsterdam and spends his time blitzed out of his mind on hash brownies. Being scared while playing a game is an exhausting endeavor and after a while it gets to be too much. 10 hours may be a bit short to expect from a 60 buck game, but it's such a fun experience while you're playing it, it's worth the price. Besides, what else are you going to play on your 360? Oh snap.

As I mentioned before, the story doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, and there is a choice to make at the end that would give the appearance of alternate endings, but all it does is determine which achievement is unlocked. Some folks that I know were pissed at the ending, but I was OK with it. It may be because I was expecting something much worse, given how irritated they were. You're certainly not going to get any closure, but hopefully we'll get another game to help answer our questions. There are a fair number of achievements ranging from simply completing a chapter to using only melee weapons, to using every melee weapon, a daunting task, as some weapons will escape your notice if you're not careful. I managed to unlock the achievement for using every firearm for I am a scared little bitch who likes to hid behind his boomstick. If they had a Tasered And Ran achievement I would have unlocked that too.

If you like horror games, and you have a 360, your options are fairly limited. Granted, Perfect Dark Zero is a pretty scary piece of programming, but not for the same reasons, so Condemned is it. Despite the games niggling problems, you could do a hell of a lot worse than popping this one in the tray and spending the night introducing the riff raff to Mr. Pipey.