A game that needs a remake: inFamous 2

Oh, the PS3. A problematic console from the start, with its strange Cell processor and its status somewhere between home entertainment system and games console. I suspect it only succeeded because of Sony’s muscle at the time, having emerged from the last console wars as a winner.

Screenshot of inFamous 2 courtesy of Hooked Gamers

But this isn’t about the PS3, or only insofar as inFamous 2 is one of the titles that really, really taxes the system, and is a PS3 exclusive. Here’s inFamous 2 in a few paragraphs, maybe enough of them stick for you that you’ll give this game a chance:

The synopsis is this: You’re a freak who gets electricity-based superpowers, but now you can’t drive a car anymore and water kills you. Make sense so far? But you gotta save the world from the The Beast that approaches the Floridaesque or New Orleansy coastal city of New Marais.

Writing, characters, story

There is excellent writing (for an action game) with solid characterization and great voice work. The lead character, Cole, is interesting because the voice actor (Eric Ladin) does this gruff-sexy-action-hero type of gravely monotone, but he puts just the right amount of emotional nuance into it to make it interesting. The lines he gets are often surprisingly human. These people talk just like people! The game won’t bore you with ages of exposition, each dialog is just the minimal amount of information to move the story forward, delivered in short well-written bursts.

Graphics and sound

You’ll find breathtaking environments. Think Zelda: Breath of the Wild invented the scenic third-person game? Think again. inFamous 2 has beautiful vistas by the truckload. Particularly the skyboxes are astonishing — depending on the mood they want to create, they either look like something from a comic book or something from an apocalyptic classical painting.

This is one of the large non-boss enemies you’ll face

Lighting is carefully chosen in general, with the whole scene bathed in a bluish twilight here or a dark orange sunset glow there. The architecture also deserves to be mentioned. It’s as if the developers had worked with an architect and a city planner to lay out the areas. Wood shacks and half-collapsed brick houses in Flood Town, colonial redbrick and a huge cathedral in the main part of town, an industrial wasteland full of gas tanks, train tracks and repair warehouses in the, err, industrial part. It all looks believable and organic.

Textures deserve to be mentioned as well, as I haven’t seen many PS3 games with such varied and careful texture work. Bricks and rocks have a palpable rough feel to them, colors in the main part of town are chosen carefully to be muted so that the many neon signs and lights pop out. Scenes with water feel glistening and wet.

Gameplay

This sequel has much more accessible gameplay than inFamous 1. That alone sets it apart enough for me. You unlock superpowers at just the right rate, and you feel like a badass as you climb through the cityscape or grind on a powerline. There aren’t any of those annoying tutorial levels like in inFamous 1, so in case you’re worrying about that, worry not.

You’ll be facing hundreds of normal, smaller enemies that each use different tactics, and usually the AI is good enough to make things interesting. You rarely feel totally overpowered, so you can rarely just stop thinking. Sometimes the AI gets stuck in corners, especially if you are very far away, but that’s fine. Most of your powers don’t have enough range to hit then anyway, and when you move closer the AI wakes from its daze and joins the fight again.

The few battles with extremely large enemies are all the better for it. Usually you fight enemies roughly your size or twice that. But there are occasions where you need to take on much larger beasts. Those truly shine because they are the exception. You’ll remember these enemies and fights precisely because you didn’t get inundated with sixty bosses already.

The only major criticism I could lob at the game is the framerate. It’s uneven, staring at the sky might get you around 60 fps, but actually playing in the streets hovers around 25 to 30, and battles can go down to the low 20s. They did a fantastic job adapting the controls so that you can win the fights anyway, even when the framerate tanks. But it’s just not beautiful anymore in the age of rock-solid 60 fps like the Nintendo Switch delivers for many games. This game needs a remake. Anyone listening? Screw The Last of Us, inFamous 2 is a fantastic action romp and it needs to be 1080p60 for fuck’s sake.

Festival of Blood: Electric Vampires

If you haven’t had enough of inFamous 2, there is a standalone side-game in the form of inFamous: Festival of Blood that uses the same locations but that lets you be an electrified vampire during a Mardi Gras-ish festival, hunting Bloody Mary, a vampire that terrorizes town. Yes, the cocktail was named after her in this universe, not the other way round.

The writing is once again spot-on, especially Bloody Mary’s diary segments. They’re delivered in her lofty English sing-song and written in the style of Gothic horror novels, always with a fun twist at the end.

You can mingle with townsfolk, but some of them might be hidden vampires you need to stake

Technically the game isn’t different from inFamous 2, but the colors are all changed (much more red) and the atmosphere in the street is very different with hundreds of festivalgoers wearing neon glow-in-the-dark bracelets.

Gameplay is changed from the base inFamous 2 by the addition of vampire powers (vampire sense lets you see into people and whether they are hidden vampires, bat flight turns you into a flock of bat, biting people and sucking their blood refills your bat flight energy, etc.).

The only criticism here is that environments are reused quite often, with one section of catacombs underneath the cathedral serving as location for at least three quests. But this is forgivable.

Final thoughts

Oh, the PS3. It’s getting old now. This is an advantage for you, in case no remake is coming. If you don’t have a PS3, you can get one now for 50 bucks of whatever currency, and inFamous 2 in a digital sale often dips below 10 and includes Festival of Blood. Physical, you might be able to score a used copy for 5.

Also, if you have a beefy PC, keep an eye out for RPCS3. This PS3 emulator has been making great strides, and you can rip games yourself quite easily. It doesn’t really run the inFamous games yet, though. Maybe if RPCS3 becomes optimized enough, we won’t need a remake anymore. A very, very fast PC can potentially play this game at a solid 30 or 60 fps, as there is no frame limiter in the engine.

Here’s a full playthrough with major spoilers if you want to see what the game is like:

Rating: Electric Wizard/10.

Something for the weekend: Week 47, 2017

These are some longer things I’ve read this week. I don’t guarantee that they’re new, just that I found them interesting:

  1. Android at 10 part one, part two. As Android turns ten, Google is moving away from Linux and towards their own Fuchsia kernel. What might the next ten years of Android look like?
  2. Super Mario Odyssey review by Digitiser2000’s Mr Biffo. It sums up pretty much what I think about the new mechanics, and also calls out Mario for being a sexist pig. Don’t take this as virtue signaling, but yes, Nintendo might need to work on this when the only game starring Princess Peach is basically a pre-menstrual mood swing simulator with a far too easy  jump’n’run wrapped around it. You know, for girls! Girls can’t play video games! lololol!
  3. Google tracks and sells your location even if you’ve disabled location services. The surprise is probably that anyone’s surprised. Now that the company was caught red-handed doing this, will they promise to stop? I don’t think so, since Silicon Valley believes in “self-regulation” — thus no regulation at all. That we may have to thank Oracle for revealing this doesn’t make it any less bizarre.
  4. Microsoft appears to have lost the source code for parts of Office. And this is the same company that some governments trust with their sensitive data. Why doesn’t Microsoft publish all their software under a FOSS license? It’s like Linus Torvalds is rumored to have said, “Backups are for wimps. Real men upload their data to an FTP site and have everyone else mirror it.”
  5. Ideas were not enough. Not the reformation alone brought religious freedom to western societies, but the fact that enforcing religious unity was becoming too expensive and politically cumbersome for the rulers.
  6. Stress can be good for you, but most toxic stress has measurable detrimental effects on your brain. The article explores the damage stress causes down to the physical level and gives some hints for post-stress recovery. Daily walks and meditation are mentioned. I’ve had episodes of stress and trauma leading to generalized anxiety (as the article also mentions) and I can say that meditation definitely can’t hurt.

I’d be delighted if some of that tickled your curiosity.

Play The Saboteur instead of Wolfenstein II

If you enjoy Nazi-stomping you’ve probably heard of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. They did have a pretty funny marketing campaign, after all. Now according to the reviews I’ve seen so far, it’s a mixed bag. It’s the Doom engine meets the previous Wolfenstein’s setting. Something we’ve more or less seen before, just with better graphics. Not that terribly exciting on a conceptual level, is it?

This section of Paris will turn from black, white and red to color once you get rid of the Nazis

But there’s one game about taking out Nazis that is unique and was overlooked when it came out in 2009: The Saboteur. I’ll leave it to you to find in-depth reviews, but here are some of the things you can do:

Continue reading “Play The Saboteur instead of Wolfenstein II”

Facebook should be regulated, it is incapable of regulating itself

Directly from a Facebook employee formerly in charge of fixing the privacy issues of its developer platform:

[Facebook is] a company that reaches most of the country every day and has the most detailed set of personal data ever assembled, but has no incentive to prevent abuse

Read more at the New York Times.

This is a new trick I’m trying with simple short links to articles. Let me know if it’s annoying or fun.

8 years ago, I predicted someone would offer rentals of films still in theaters

And now Hollywood is getting ready to do it. The year I picked is off by only one or two. But the rest of my prophecy didn’t turn out that well. I underestimated the pricing; they want about 120% of the ticket price instead of the modest 10% markup I was thinking of.

Then I was pretty naive about DRM. I thought streaming would make studios less keen to use it, but as Netflix has demonstrated, the content mafia pushed things so hard that Microsoft even anchors DRM right to the OS for 4K Netflix in Edge.

At least I was partially right about DRM-free older games, but gog.com had existed in 2008 already so maybe I copied the idea from there. I’d still like studios to offer DRM-free older films online.

Keep in mind this was written from a European perspective. We don’t have ad-supported streaming platforms like Hulu, we can’t subscribe to things like HBO and we don’t get the channels’ own streaming platforms like Adult Swim or IFC. But none of those existed then either. Time moves quickly, I hope my next predictions are better.

The Dhammapada exploration – part 26: The Holy Man

Holy people, in religions, have it easy sometimes. In some they need to really work just one day a week, they have obedient little children doing most of the heavy lifting for them during service, and if they misbehave (or behave very well) they get sent to another part of the world for free and can explore that culture.

But Buddhism isn’t a religion, it has no rich organization overseeing things and no strict hierarchies. People in Buddhism, whether holy or not, should be working all the time. “Holy man” is also a shitty translation. What the Buddhist texts mean is “brahman”, in its original sense as used in India.

A brahman, be it woman or man, is highly accomplished in inner purity and self-control. Truly better than most. This isn’t something that you can simply learn in a Catholic priest seminary and then hang on your wall in the form of a certificate of ordination. This is something you work on for years, decades, maybe all your life without even attaining it.

So let’s hear about these interesting qualities in this twenty-sixth and final chapter of the Dhammapada.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 26: The Holy Man”

Google shutting down XMPP interoperability is a sad sign of the age of communication silos

Google just shut down the last piece of Google Talk, killing XMPP. This means that people using standards-based open and interoperable chat systems can no longer talk to their friends who use Google’s proprietary and closed chat system, Hangouts. For example, people who use Pidgin on any of the thousands of free and open XMPP servers in the world cannot message Google users anymore.

Instead of working towards standardization, making sure that all chat systems from all vendors can talk to each other, each large company now has their own communications silo. Skype is not compatible with Hangouts is not compatible with Apple FaceTime is not compatible with WeChat is not compatible with WhatsApp. Even though all these systems perform mostly the same function, have roughly the same features and could be built using open, mutually compatible standards. Could even be built from the same source code.

But Google, Microsoft and Facebook make more money by preventing you from talking to your friends on other systems. They want to analyze both parts of a conversation, they want to control the sender and the receiver and read all the content. This is harder to do when you have a standardized, federated system, and even harder in the case of XMPP where users can employ message encryption with just a few clicks. Encryption that is not controlled by Microsoft or Facebook but by the users themselves.

What can you do against this?

  • Geting an XMPP JID would be the first step. You can register for an account on any public XMPP server (sometimes called Jabber servers, but Jabber is now a closed product by Cisco, adding insult to injury, while the XMPP standard remains open).
  • Then get an XMPP client, for example Pidgin for the desktop and Conversations for Android. Set up your account and log in. People can now invite you to their XMPP contacts and you can start chatting.
  • If you want message encryption, make sure to enable OTR. There are many tutorials on this, I’ll just link to a random one I found.

What if you don’t do this? Then we’ll end up in a world with more and more communication silos, where people find it harder and harder to talk to each other, and huge multinational companies with very bad privacy policies will control and record more and more of our communication. Because these closed platforms create inconvenience for anyone not inside those closed platforms, group pressure will then pull everyone towards such closed platforms, until a dangerous oligopoly emerges. This latest move by Google is one more step in this direction.

I’ll leave you with a link to a relevant XKCD comic. If you want to chat with me, as always, you can do so via XMPP. The JID is on the about page.

I’m also on IRC, #linux on IRCnet is a good place to look.

The Dhammapada exploration – part 25: The Monk

Monks, huh? Good-for-nothing social parasites, locked up in their monasteries, cooking bland veggie food and making worthless mandalas all day long. Yeah, if you look at it from the outside, sure. But a nun’s or monk’s qualities are mostly internal, they automatically accumulate some wisdom and compassion, unless they’re bad at their job, in which case they should probably quit and move back to the real world.

But monks and nuns are also foolish and deluded, just like everyone else. They simply have a more professional and focused way of dealing with it. You don’t become automatically enlightened just because you wear a black or saffron robe, my friend, and Buddhist suttas are full of stories of stupid or silly monks who just didn’t get it. Usually there is one other person in those stories who did get it, and sometimes they make fun of the unwise one. Other times the idiot him or herself realizes they’re being thick.

All this goes to show that the position of nun or monk is in no way special. Some Buddhist sects abhor hierarchy because it creates artificial superiority between beings where there is none. In the same vein, Buddhism has always been both for laypeople and for monastics. Both can ultimately achieve the same, and there are examples of laypeople who have achieved enlightenment, such as Layman Pang.

But now let’s see what the Dhammapada has to say about it.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 25: The Monk”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 24: Craving

Ah, those Buddhists! Crazy people with their asceticism! Always fighting against craving and wanting everyone to live austere boring lives, eh? You can hopefully tell that’s a stereotype, and like all of them, there’s a grain of truth here. But it’s not nearly as bad as you might think. Let’s read what the Dhammapada has to say on the topic of craving:

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 24: Craving”

Review the Reviewer: HexDSL

I know I’m late to this party and those of you who play their games on Linux surely already know this channel, but to me one bit is new: HexDSL has been doing hundreds of Linux gaming videos over the last two years. And that’s because he releases one Linux gaming video per day! That doesn’t mean the quality sucks, though.

I first encountered his channel when it was mostly about comics with a Linux game here and there, but nowadays it’s mostly about Linux games, which I can’t complain about. And what an array of games he’s covered! He looks at any genre, but he’s quick to tell you whether a review was sponsored and if he’d even normally buy or play this sort of game.

It also shows that he’s been playing long enough to know what to look for in a game and to spot the danger signs, always good if you’re on the fence about a title and need another solid opinion.

The level of polish in his videos has certainly increased a lot over the last few months as well, today he uses chroma keying/green screen, a proper microphone, a pop filter, I guess some encoder card — everything you could possibly ask for. Nothing to complain about in the quality department.

It may seem like he’s rambling sometimes, but I find I always get all the information I wanted about a title if I try to pay attention. And I think his voice work is entertaining, no monotone put-me-to-sleep stuff, so there’s no need for you to replace your ASMR videos with HexDSL.

He also covers bits of Linux hardware, games running through WINE and other stuff you’d figure a Linux gaming nerd might like to hear about. So it’s not all just games, but mostly, and the things that aren’t games are usually Linux-related in some way.

There doesn’t seem to be a channel trailer I could embed, so I’ll link you right to the main page. You can also support him on Patreon.