Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Temporal Missions

My upstairs neighbour stopped stomping around like a giant toddler just before my alarm was set to go off this morning. He or she has remained quiet since. It's ironic one of the things I studied yesterday for the test I need to take to-day is the importance of getting between six and nine hours of sleep.

Most of the information in this health class so far has been like that--common knowledge health trivia, like the prevalence of heart disease in the U.S. and the fact that smoking has been linked to cancer. I've tried to read the book but it's like doing a colouring book or trying to amuse myself by putting different shaped blocks through the properly shaped holes on a plastic cube. I also did some reading and homework for my anthropology class even though there's no class on Friday. I'm not sure why--it's Valentine's Day but that couldn't possibly be a school holiday now, could it?

I spent the evening with video games, some Guild Wars 2 and Skyrim. I watched some footage from the Elder Scrolls Online beta which took place over the weekend--Tim has been playing it though I didn't have a chance to drop by his place and see it. From what he says and what I've seen it's looking pretty impressive. If only it wasn't going to be subscription based.

Mostly, though, yesterday I played TIE Fighter, a game which turns twenty this year. It's funny how difficult it is to get an old game working on a new computer--I had to install some patch that made the game stop needing a twenty year old version of DirectX to function. I seem to have gotten it working mostly fine now except I can't figure out how to get it to run in its proper resolution--it stretches to fit my widescreen monitor. It was made in a time when apparently no-one dreamt of the possibility of monitors getting more rectangular so it just automatically fills a screen. I can't seem to convince it to run in a window, either.

Even with the distortion on the 3D game, I still compulsively played the first two combat training missions. This was one of the great video game loves of my young life, TIE Fighter. The premise is that you're a pilot for the Galactic Empire in the period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi--you start with a regular unshielded fighter and you gain access to better ships as you advance through the ranks. There's such a wonderful immersion to it--the controls for the crafts are believably complex, requiring you to balance your power supply between lasers, engines, and shields (when you have them). If some faster craft is getting away from you, you can catch up to them by diverting power from your lasers though you may not have anything to shoot them with right away when you catch up to them. That's a simplified scenario of the kind of decision making that goes on in a mission--you also need to worry about craft you're protecting, the enemy deploys X-Wings to run interference while slow moving Y-Wings go on bombing runs. And there are more complex strategies than that.

The game got great reviews from most of the magazines at the time, PC Gamer naming it #1 game of all time through several annual lists. It's strange how the world of video games works, though. One could see a movie everyone loved in the 90s being enjoyable now but people don't tend to think of games that way--technology gives them a shelf life. But even though TIE Fighter's graphics are clunky by to-day's standards, the freedom of its gameplay remains extraordinary. There's none of the artificial handholding you see in a lot of modern games--everything you do or see within the game is something a TIE Fighter pilot would actually be able to do or see.

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