This is just a test post to try out Open Live Writer on my blog. I used to use the old Live Writer a bit, and was glad to hear that it had recently been open sourced.
So why am I all of a sudden interested in blogging again? Well, I have a few articles that I’d like to write, relating to a little side project that I’ve been working on, and I really like the WYSIWYG and native-client feel of Live Writer versus the WordPress admin UI.
I was looking to back up some VHD containers that I use to store files in Windows, and needed to trim one of them down before it would fit under the OneDrive 10 GB upload limit. Since it was a dynamically expanding VHD, just removing files from the container wasn’t sufficient to reduce the actual size of the VHD file. Once I was done, I needed to unmount the drive, and then compact it using the diskpart utility. Here are the steps I followed:
Run the diskpart command from a command prompt.
Enter select vdisk file="path to VHD file".
Enter attach vdisk readonly.
Enter compact vdisk. This will compact the VHD file, and might take a little while.
Finally, enter detach vdisk and then exit. This will detach the VHD file and exit diskpart.
Once this is done, your VHD size should be reduced to the minimum necessary to store the files within!
I happen to be pretty hyped over the upcoming US release of Yakuza 5 — I’m a big fan of the series’ odd mix of ridiculous melodrama, wide variety of activities and minigames, and really satisfying combat. So naturally, after the localization was announced, I went around looking for videos of the game to watch. First off, I found this amazingly comprehensive and lovingly-assembled survey of the whole series — it’s not really related to the rest of this post, but if you’ve never seen these games it’s worth watching to get a glimpse of how unique they are, and what’s so appealing about them to me.
Then, I found some videos of some hacks that someone apparently made to the game, to allow the player to play as Haruka and another female character (Mai — no idea what her place in the story is). During the normal story arc, there is a chapter where you play as Haruka — however, her fights are rhythm games and dance battles, not the sort of bare-knuckle brawls for which the series is famous. This hack instead allows you to play as these characters during other chapters of the game, where you engage in tons and tons of fistfights. And, somewhat surprisingly, if you watch the videos, it looks pretty good!
So, putting on my ex-game developer hat, what do these videos tell us about the way the game is built, and why this was possible? And is adding a new playable character to the game as simple as these videos make it seem? Here are some of my observations and speculation on how this works, and its limitations.
The female and male characters must be animated using the same skeleton. Basically, because all of the combat animations that these characters are using are the same ones that the standard playable characters use, Haruka and Mai must be built and animated on the same basic skeletons as Kiryu, Saejima, Akiyama, and Shinada. This is a little surprising to me, but it goes a long way to explaining why the female characters in this series always seem to…uh, have a somewhat mannish feel to them. I’m guessing that, for the original PS2 games, that this was done to save memory, and then brought forward because it worked well enough and making unique skeletons would require duplicating an already-large animation set.
The smoke from the cigarette comes out of Haruka’s chest — or, more accurately, the origin (0, 0, 0) of the character. There’s a missing animation attachment point in Haruka’s metadata, and the game engine falls back to the origin. Interestingly, Mai seems to have this attachment point — the smoke appears in the correct place for her.
I believe there are also missing camera focus points — for example, at the end of this HEAT move, the camera seems to be focused on the origin point of Haruka, and her face is off camera. If I remember correctly, this move looks different when performed by one of the other player characters — the camera tracks the head and it’s in the frame.
They’re also missing a lot of animations. The easiest case to spot is that Haruka and Mai’s faces remain completely expressionless, and possibly unblinking, during fights — they don’t have any combat “barks” (voice + facial animation), and they don’t play any reaction or pain facial animations as they lay waste to their foes. While it kind of lends a comic tone to the video, this would definitely not be acceptable for an officially supported character. It just looks strange.
The game’s IK seems to work OK with these characters. I had kind of assumed that the engine supported IK, given that a lot of the close combat grabs in the game look pretty good. When Haruka grabs a thug by the hand, that’s a pretty strong signal to me that they’re doing some limited IK, because if they weren’t, you would probably see a gap in the throw animation as Haruka’s character is physically smaller than, say, Kiryu’s. Another example of this is Mai kicking the sign stuck on a thug’s head — it’s just too unlikely that it would look good without IK support.
Note that there are still some cases where it looks like they don’t normally use IK, and just rely on the animations fitting the sizes of the characters — Haruka lifting up a thug looks pretty bad, as her hand is nowhere near the thug’s chest.
Haruka and Mai’s hair is not built to be animated during combat. In the case of Mai, her hair basically doesn’t move at all. And Haruka’s hair physics object was clearly conditioned to look good during movement animations, but not tuned at all for anything that would look like combat, with its frequent flips, tumbles, falls, and dashes. It’s all over the place constantly.
Both characters seem to be using Akiyama’s move set. But I can’t tell if this is just a convenience, a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of the author, or that none of the others would work. I think it would be kind of funny to see them using Saejima’s brawling moves, though.
Surprisingly, there was no content protection on the game assets. Presumably the author of these videos was able to simply pull out the PS3 HDD, and modify the files directly on the hard drive to point a character definition to Haruka or Mai’s models. It’s a little surprising to me that these were left unprotected, but perhaps Japan has less societal anxiety about hot coffee than the US. Maybe I should have a look at the installed data, to see if I can verify any of my conjecture here.
In closing, I think these are really neat, fun videos to watch, and that it would be very cool if female characters in future Yakuza installments were able to fight and brawl. But there are enough rough edges and missing content in this hack, that it should be clear that making them fully playable is not just a matter of flipping a switch (or deciding to change the story) and suddenly having Haruka powerbombing fools alongside her uncle Kiryu. There’s a lot of missing content and additional polish that would need to go into making Haruka and Mai fully first-class fighting characters in the game.
I am sick and tired of receiving junk mail. It wastes my time, it wastes resources, and it generally has no redeeming value whatsoever. Even worse, I feel that for some classes of junk mail (stupid stuff like balance transfer checks, which I will never ever use), I need to take special care to shred it to avoid identity theft or scammery. So, I’m going to try to do everything I can to stop junk mail from being sent to me, and document everything that I’ve done in the hopes that it gives other people some ideas on how to stem the tide of garbage hitting their mailbox.
optoutprescreen.com, which is a site created by four major U.S. credit reporting companies to allow you to opt out of pre-screened credit card offers. You can opt out for a period of five years electronically — to opt out permanently, you need to mail in a signed form (which is a ridiculously weaselly requirement that is just trying to raise the pain threshold for truly opting out). Considering how much junk mail I get that consists of credit card offers, this seems like a great place to start. Note that unlike USPS mail forwarding, every individual in the household will need to opt out.
The government’s “do not call” registry, www.donotcall.gov. While this doesn’t actually address junk mail, it’s such a basic quality-of-life improvement that it’s worth including anyway.
I just thought I would share an amusing anecdote from my time at Netflix, related to wi-fi networking in our office. Because many devices that support Netflix have built-in wi-fi, we would test streaming with wi-fi connections to ensure that the experience was still satisfactory. Pretty standard stuff.
At one point, though, we ran into a mysterious problem with wi-fi networking on one of our supported device types. Thinking that perhaps there was an issue with the wi-fi adapter on the device, or the signal from the router, someone did a WLAN survey to see how many wi-fi networks were visible from our corner of the office.
It turns out that there were no fewer than 150 access points visible from there. Yes, 150 access points. That’s what happens when you have a huge number of people, working on a huge array of different devices, with different network configurations, and in different working environments.
Of course, this discovery led to more than a few jokes about sterilization, CIA mind control, and space madness.
(It turns out that the root cause of the problem didn’t have anything to do with wi-fi interference — it was actually a firmware bug on the device, which was triggered by a separate firmware update to the wireless access points in our building. Pretty crazy!)
Sandy and I recently decided to get our DNA analyzed through 23andme. The service genotypes DNA from your saliva, which you send to the lab after collecting it in their “spit kit.” After a few weeks, you get access to a set of results containing health and ancestry information for yourself. The presentation is through a fairly slick web app, with what seems to be pretty good documentation and bibliography for the claims that are made, and an easy-to-navigate interface.
The information available is kind of a mix between useful statistical data (risk factors for certain diseases, whether or not you are a carrier for certain diseases, etc.), and what I think of as “science-flavored astrology” (seeing which celebrities share your maternal or paternal haplogroups, or seeing the percentage of neanderthal DNA you possess).
There are a range of health risks for which their data suggests I am statistically at an elevated risk — similarly, there is another set of risks for which I am at decreased risk. These range from type 2 diabetes, to certain types of cancers, to Alzheimer’s. Some of the probabilities allow you to select a particular ethnicity (presumably selecting for a specific experiment or set of experiments whose results back the calculation), which is somewhat problematic or tough to interpret for someone like me from a mixed background. (23andme itself lets you report multiple ethnicities, but source data for certain health risks may only have involved cohorts of a single ethnicity.) Interestingly, the elevated risks for Sandy and I are mostly disjoint, which gives me hope that our daughter will inherit our advantageous traits while skipping our vulnerabilities.
You can also browse a set of “traits”, which are a set of tests on non-disease characteristics. For example, I am apparently 0.13-0.29 times less likely than the average European to develop male pattern baldness — fingers crossed! I also apparently have a genotype that frequently results in not being able to taste certain bitter flavors, which perhaps explains some of my tastes in food and drink.
There’s also an ancestry aspect to the service, which does a bit of analysis to show where your distant ancestors (500+ years ago) came from, and also provides a “relative finder” and family tree builder. You need to specifically allow the “relative finder” to find close relatives (or to be found as a close relative), apparently to reduce the likelihood of unpleasant surprises. This is interesting but I have no particularly close matches currently registered on the service — the closest are estimated as 3rd through 5th cousins.
The cost of the service is fairly modest — it’s now $99. On the one hand, it’s not at the level where I could call it “cheap” — however, given the breadth of information that is obtained from the test, I think nearly everyone would find something interesting or perhaps helpful from getting tested. To look at it in a very simplistic way, if you undertake any sort of successful lifestyle change (prompted by your genotype analysis results), and you wind up living just a few hours longer than you would have otherwise, it’s “worth it.” I also find the idea that this sort of information is now more readily available to the average person really fascinating — I guess I’m more focused on the potentially positive aspects of it, rather than potential privacy and/or insurability problems.
Since we are moving soon, I figured it would be nice to get rid of stuff we don’t need, or that we haven’t touched in years. I had heard about somewhere, so I decided now would be a good time to try it out. I pretty much cleaned out most of my book collection to have it scanned by this service. Fortunately, since we live nearby, I was able to just drive over there and drop the books off, instead of having to send the package to them. I did have to count pages in order to calculate the price — they charge $1 for every 100 pages or fraction thereof, and there are various add-on services like OCR which add to the cost. I did opt for OCR, so the output should be searchable, too.
In a couple of weeks, my stuff should be scanned and available for me to download and read. Hopefully this turns out well!
So I recently got done burning a huge chunk of time finishing Persona 4 GoldenPersona 4 Golden on the Vita (with the “true ending”). I never played Persona 4 when it was originally released, so I figured that it would be a good game to pick up for the Vita. Overall, it’s a stellar example of “better than the sum of its parts.” There’s a lot to like, but I can also level a lot of critiques at the game.
The story is fairly compelling. That is, for a game, it’s pretty good. It is full of well-worn character stereotypes, along with two bonus dungeons that really feel tacked on to this re-release, but the main story arc is satisfying enough. (Even if the resolution of the main story is telegraphed well in advance.) I guess the best way to describe it would be that it’s like a really, really long after school special.
There is a pretty solid set of interactions between the two parts of the game. The “high school time management” stuff has consequences for your equipment and powers in the dungeon crawling part of the game, and you’re motivated to do well in both parts of the game.
The translation and voice acting are really quite good. Humor and nuance are carried through into English, and given the amount of text in the game, this is no small feat. The dialogue fits the characters, and fits the mood of the game very well.
There is a ton of stuff to unlock and/or complete. You don’t need to do much of it to complete the game, but it’s enjoyable enough that you’ll be motivated to do a lot.
The dungeon crawling becomes incredibly tedious as the game goes on. The dungeons are nearly all just tile swaps of each other, with few gimmicks or notable differences between them except the level and type of monsters you fight. Boring…
The bestiary of enemies you fight is truly insane, and really feels like a huge disconnect from the story and theme. And, what’s worse is that nobody ever really comments on it! When a reanimated table is trying to kill you, you think somebody might find it at least a little funny. I realize that these enemies get carried over between games in the series, but it just seems completely out of whack. And none of the “themed” areas of the game have themed enemies, which seems like a missed opportunity.
The combat system gets quite boring after a while — there aren’t enough twists and sub-systems to sustain 50+ hours of gameplay. The combat basically boils down to: 1) determine elemental weaknesses, 2) spam elemental attacks of that type, 3) perform all-out-attacks, 4) rinse and repeat. It feels like they even removed a little bit of complexity from P3 since I don’t think any creatures in P4 are resilient to all-out-attacks. None of the boss fights really change things up, either — the only variation is that you might need to heal or remove ailments at some point. There are no cases where the standard battle rules are subverted, or you are forced to use unusual aspects of the battle system — there are only a couple of “trick” encounters, and you don’t even need to recognize the trick to prevail.
Along similar lines, there’s no real incentive or reason to mix up your party — the main character can fill in pretty much any missing powers via judicious use of Personas. I used Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko for basically the entire game, because they were the highest level characters I had.
There’s a decent amount of creepitude (Teddie is the #1 offender) and/or blatant fan-service, which just makes me roll my eyes. A lot of the movies in the game fit this description, actually.
The social link system of the game is broad, but very limited. There aren’t really any meaningful decisions to be made when advancing someone’s social link, and once you complete it, there’s no meaningful interactivity or payoff beyond the dungeon crawling benefits (persona unlocks, battle abilities, etc.). You can’t pick between character development trees, or unlock mutually exclusive abilities, or anything like that. There was some attempt in the re-release to give some flexibility as far as respec’ing yourself and your allies, but it’s not enough (and it takes too long to do so in-game — you have to burn up a chunk of time every time you want to either get the card for a power, or respec one of your allies’ powers).
You are also really incentivized to be a giant man-whore, in order to unlock all of the battle benefits for each party member. (There are, I think, two points in the game where man-whoring behavior is pointed out, but there are absolutely no consequences.) All of the benefits, like follow-up attacks, ability to withstand mortal wounds, ability to take fatal damage for the main character, and especially all of Rise’s party-wide boosts are ridiculously powerful, and it would be foolish not to unlock everything that you can.
There are some story bits that are just kind of dropped on the floor, and left unexplored. The presence of Junes in Inaba, the fate of certain characters, Dojima’s story arc, and some of the “school life” stuff is left unresolved or ignored in the last third of the game. This is kind of disappointing, because I feel that the plot or story could be even more engaging with just a bit more effort.
In spite of all of the negativity above, I really enjoyed playing the game. I just think that with some extra polish it could move from “pretty great niche JRPG” to “amazing game that could be recommended to any gamer.” I suppose there’s always next time.
I’m totally done with P4G now, though. The thought of “New Game+” after playing for dozens of hours already is pretty scary…
A few months ago I decided to update my desktop PC to Windows 8. I am somewhat ambivalent about the new Metro/Modern UI, but I figured that I would update anyway just to be on the latest and greatest.
Unfortunately, after I updated, I started experiencing a lot of bizarre blue-screen crashes. At the same time, sometimes my machine would refuse to get through the BIOS startup at all, which would seem to indicate an issue with hardware rather than with the OS. I suspected perhaps that it was an issue with the SSD I had installed a while back (a Crucial M4), because the BIOS startup code would hang on drive detection. I tried updating the firmware for it, but that didn’t seem to do anything. Finally, after a more serious bout of being unable to boot for an extended period of time, I got frustrated and started trying to isolate things further.
I turned off my external Blu-ray writer (an ASUS BW-12D1S-U), and then all of a sudden I was able to boot consistently. I thought that was very strange, and then got to thinking that maybe it was because I had plugged it into one of the front USB 2.0 ports on my case, and maybe that was drawing too much power. The reason I had plugged it in there was that a different USB 3.0 hub that I had bought (a SIIG JU-H60012-S1) had always been kind of flaky, and didn’t seem to work well with Windows 8 — I checked the Device Manager, and it was listed as “Superspeed USB Hub (Non Functional)”, which was kind of off-putting.
It turns out that there is a firmware update for that USB hub that gets it to work correctly with Windows 8 (I’m guessing that may be more of a “gets it to work correctly at all” update). Applying that update allowed the hub to work in Windows 8, and, in turn, allowed me to plug my Blu-ray writer into it (a separately-powered hub) rather than directly to my computer. And (crossing my fingers) that seems to have solved my stability problems so far.
My layman’s guesses as to why the problems initially seemed to be related to Windows 8:
There might be power-management changes in the USB drivers for Windows 8, that might be changing behavior slightly and triggering problems with my particular setup.
I might have switched where I plugged the drive in after I upgraded, not realizing that was what was causing the problem to begin with.
I didn’t use the hub that often before I updated to Windows 8, and didn’t realize that the hub itself could potentially be screwing with the rest of my system.
I’m just glad that everything seems to be working now, and I can soldier on a bit further with my system (which is almost 3 years old now!)…
I recently picked up a Nokia Lumia 920, which I like quite a bit. I just figured I should try out the WordPress app for Windows Phone 8 — I might post more often if I can punch in a quick post or two on my phone!