Friday, February 28, 2003

Collision Detection talks about what makes a game a game. I have to disagree with his example of American football as a game with a few simple rules, though. The NCAA football rulebook is over 200 pages long. A better example of a sport with very simple rules is racketball.

What I think American football is a good example of is a game with very well-balanced rules (though they are complex). Because of the appropriateness of the penalties, and the right of the victimized team to refuse a penalty if they would be better off with the result of the play, there is almost never a situation where it is to your advantage to get caught breaking the rules.

Compare this with basketball, where "fouling to stop the clock" is an advantageous and expected tactic. To me, any game where you would want to get caught cheating, even occasionally, needs some major rule changes! My "fix" for basketball would be that the fouled team should always keep possession of the ball, even after shooting any free throws.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Coming soon: The Getaway Walking Tour 1. Creating a walking tour is harder than I thought, but it will be out soon.

Meanwhile, here are some cool satellite images of London.

The last 3 are from

Sunday, February 23, 2003

The Getaway scenic drive 1

The key to The Getaway's free roaming mode is to understand where you start out. You will begin on Great Marlborough St. facing East. This is on map grid F8 on the B&B London map, and in the Eyewitness London book it is map 12-F2. You can only control the camera while walking, not while driving, so the best way to appreciate the sights is to drive somewhere, then get out and walk to look around more carefully, moving the camera as needed.

OK, let's go. Take the first left you come to (Poland St.), then immediately take another left onto Oxford street. Now you are heading West.

At the stoplight, turn left onto Regent Street. Folllow Regent Street south until it bends left into Piccadilly Circus. Wind left, then right and you will see a statue of four horses on the right. Stop the car here and get out. This building is the Criterion Theatre. Also in front of this building is a tall statue. Use the look button to look up at it. This is a statue of Eros by Alfred Gilbert.

Get back in the car and take the right where the four horses are onto Haymarket St. At the bottom of the hill, turn right again onto Pall Mall. Keep going straight until you are forced to turn right. Take that right turn, and stay to the left side of the street because there is a jump there where you can catch some air!

After sailing over the jump, take a left at the intersection and soon you will see greenery on the left. This is Green Park, which Eyewitness London says was "a favorite site for duels during the 18th century." Slow down and look for the blue gate on the left. You can drive through this gate and drive around in the park. Once in the park, take a hard left onto a path and you'll get to a field full of chairs which you can send flying. From here you're on your own to joyride through the park (look for the statue).

An "invisible wall" prevents you from going into the subways when free roaming in The Getaway. I guess I had my hopes up after experiencing the subways in Grand Theft Auto.
SpaceImaging's latest freebie is a nice view of Bangkok, Thailand.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

I finally finished The Getaway tonight and unlocked the free roaming mode, so I can now just drive around and explore London, which in some ways is more interesting than playing the missions. You can drive in some strange places that don't figure into the game, like on paths through parks.
As D.C. Carter, the best way to kill the criminals with the least risk to yourself is to run them over with a car. You can do this on any mission that is at least partly outdoors. The mission in the garage is perfect for it. For some reason, when you're in the car you take a lot less damage from bullets, so keep switching cars and running down the bad guys. If they're indoors, try to lure them outside.
When you're playing as D.C. Carter in The Getaway, and you don't have your guns out, if you go up behind someone and press X you will subdue them and cuff them. The funny part is, you can do this to random passers-by on the street, and they will wind up cuffed and unconscious. Go up and try to arrest another cop this way, though, and it will have no effect.

If you do have your gun out when you do this, instead of cuffing the person, you will bop them on the head with the gun and knock them out. When attacking the gang members, this is better because it doesn't take as long.

It makes me laugh every time D.C. says "don't mess with the filth!" Maybe it's because this particular slang doesn't exist in American English. It's just funny somehow.
In case you're still not convinced to play The Getaway with the Eyewitness London book, here's an example of why it is better that way.

Without book: hey, what's that off to the right? It looks like a church or something. This game sure is detailed, too bad I don't know what I'm seeing.

With book: [Press pause, consult neighborhood street map and guide.] "All Hallows by the Tower. The first church on this site was Saxon. The arch in the southwest corner, which contains Roman tiles, dates from that period and so do some crosses now in the crypt. There is also a well-preserved Roman pavement in the crypt that at times is open to the public. Most of the interior has been altered by restoration, but a limewood font cover, carved by Grinling Gibbons in 1682, still survives. John Quincy Adams married in 1797 before he was US president. Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of 1666 from the church tower. Today there is a small museum, brass rubbing center, concerts and a book stall." -- p. 153.

They should really bundle this book with the game.

Friday, February 21, 2003

The Getaway mission 14 has you drive from Snow Hill (B&B London map E13) to St. Saviour's Dock (map H17). In the Eyewitness book, this is from map 14-F1 to 16-E4. On the way, you can pass by the Tower of London and cross the Tower Bridge.
There is a London map for The Getaway online here Sorry, that link seems to be broken now. Trust me, though, and also get a real London map and guidebook (see my other posts below). Being able to identify individual buildings and minor landmarks is a lot more fun. I read online that the American release of the game does not include a map, but the European one does. What sense does this make? Isn't it even more likely that Americans will be unfamiliar with London?

After really getting drawn into the virtual tourism aspect of the game, I'm starting to have this weird feeling of being "familiar" with getting around parts of London, even though I have never been there. Let me emphasize again that if you're just following the blinker on the back of the car to navigate, you are really missing out on some fun. Instead, when you pass by a building or landmark, try to figure out what it is, try to find it in the London guidebook. Read about the history, etc. It brings the game to life in a whole new way.
Should we store everything just in case? I am an info-packrat when it comes to storing notes and other data in my Palm. With memory sticks, it could be a long time -- years -- before I have to pare back any of my notes.
On The Getaway's first D.C. Carter mission (which is mission 13 I think), the starting point is at map grid E4 on the B&B London City Center Map, 11-B1 in Eyewitness Travel Guide London. It seems to be on either Brendon or Forset St. (hard to tell because not all the minor streets are in the game). The destination is the University Hospital (D8 in B&B, 5-A4 in Eyewitness). The big green dome on the left that you speed by is the Planetarium (assuming you follow the recommended route blocked off for you by the other cops).

Thursday, February 20, 2003

The London Map I'm using for The Getaway is Berndtson & Berndson's "London City Center Map". On this map, Jolson's house is on Upper Brook St. on map grid F6. The Serpentine gallery, hosting the China art exhibit in the game, is on map grid H3. The Snow Hill Police station is at E13. I'll post other locations as I find them. If you can't find this map, the back section of Eyewitness Travel Guide London also has detailed maps, but they are spread over many pages. On these maps, Serpentine Gallery: 11-A4, Jolson's house: 12-D2, Snowhill Police Station: 14-F1.
The world's best hold message.
Song of the day: Mandarin Martini by Dremana.
In The Getaway, just before you get on the ship, stand some distance away from the stairs that lead to the ship. Don't get close enough to Jasmin that she will board the ship. You will hear lots of gunfire. If you just stand there for a few minutes, most of the people on the deck of the ship shoot each other, and you can walk on and get their guns. This strategy is not much of an advantage since it takes time and only saves you a few gunfights, but it is amusing.

After getting on the ship and going below decks, be sure to shoot all the barrels -- the explosions open up the closed doorways.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Dave complains about docbook markup for key sequences. Actually, docbook can convey that the control key is pressed, just as he wants it to. He is right to complain about that example, though, because the example is wrong! The <keycap> tag is supposed to represent the text written on a key on the keyboard. So the "Control-H" example:

<keycombo action="simul">

Is wrong because the Control key has "Ctrl" written on it, not "C", and the "H" key has "H" written on it, not "h". The correct markup would be:

<keycombo action="simul">

If it's the idea of Control-H that is more important than what is written on the keys, then maybe <keysym> expresses that better than <keycap>.
Song of the day: Summerlong, by Emm Gryner.
In The Getaway, if Jasmin is in the car with you and you stop and get out, she will get out too and start shooting at everyone like a maniac. If you get back in the car, she will stay outside shooting until your character yells at her to get in. For some reason I find this hilarious.

As video games go, The Getway is a good script. The main character is a reluctant hero who seems weary, like a Raymond Chandler character. I just wish the game had a way to skip cinematics that you've already seen, because some of them are pretty long.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Monday, February 17, 2003

It turns out The Getaway really is a lot more fun with a London map and guidebook handy. The characters do mention street names in the dialogue, but since the game doesn't have street signs, a visual guidebook is essential to help identify landmarks. The game's environments are just amazing. The indescribable filth of the interiors of the Yardie crack house made me cringe.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

View almost any section of the California coastline, like this ferris wheel.
I got the London map and picked up a guidebook too. Then I realized how strange it is to buy a map and guidebook for a place that I'm only "visiting" in the virtual reality of a PS2 game.
The Getaway is sort of like Grand Theft Auto but set in England. The Getaway's violence is more gritty and disturbing and less cartoonish, though. As an American, the oddest thing about the game for me is how much mental effort it takes to drive on the other side of the road. I'm about to go buy a map of London just to make things easier, because the game has no map.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Space Imaging has some great free high-resolution satellite imagery.
I recently finished the PS2 game Deus Ex, and can't wait for the sequel. Deus Ex gave me a feeling I haven't really had since playing Zork (back when men were men and games were text-based), of doing something crazy and smart-alecky, and being just blown away that the game had a response for it!

One simple example was when I was told to meet a certain contact down by the docks to help me break in to an area. Well, I forgot to do that and got in on my own. Later, on the way back, I saw where the guy was and went up to him to see what he'd say. I figured he'd either say nothing, or give me the canned "I'll help you get in" speech that was now useless. Instead, he chewed me out for not showing up earlier! That really cracked me up.

After that, I often tried doing weird things, and usually the game had some kind of humorous response. It was great.

Beware, though, the game does not seem all that cool at first. For the first few hours of play, I thought it was just an extremely difficult Doom clone. That's not what it is at all. It is a very deep and detailed shooter/RPG/adventure game. Also, don't even think about playing it on any difficult level below "hard." If you do, you will miss out on what the game is all about.

In case you had started to think that modern day "piracy" was limited to trading copyrighted digital media files, Dangerous Waters provides terrifying stories of the real thing. Yes, piracy on the high seas is alive and well in the 21st century, and even the largest commercial vessels are at risk.
Did William Gibson stop writing SF and start writing about the present? One way of looking at it is that he is still writing about the same things, but the world has caught up with his imagination. At any rate, Pattern Recognition is an entertaining story but one grounded in the present reality of email, web pages, and digital video.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Paying for prepackaged flavored water ought to be as embarrassing as paying someone to come around and set the clock on our VCR. If we can create our own web pages and burn our own CDs, we should be able to create custom soft drinks.

Buy some key limes (10 cents each at my local grocery store), and a lime squeezer. A lime squeezer is a hand-operated metal gizmo that squeezes limes and filters out the seeds. (Resist the urge to buy a fancy electric citrus juicer or an internet-connected, GPS-enabled lime squeezer. Squeezing the lime by hand is an important part of the experience.)

Cut a lime in half and squeeze each half into a glass. Then fill the rest of the glass with regular or bubbly mineral water, and stir.

This really tastes great! After getting accustomed to this drink, I find that artificially flavored, corn-syrup-laden lemon/lime soft drinks taste terrible by comparison. And I look forward to the enjoyable little details of making one: slicing the lime, the satisfying "squoosh" of squeezing it, the scent of fresh citrus . . . like making tea, it is a fun little ritual.

"My friends and I, a tribe of the sons and daughters of the well-to-do, often used exaggerated and outre language to manufacture life-threatening pleasure. A swarm of affectionate, mutually dependent little fireflies, we devoured the wings of imagination and had little contact with reality. We were maggots feeding on the city's bones, but utterly sexy ones."

-- Wei Hui, "Shanghai Baby"