TWoC is an interesting book about the aggregated intelligence of a group of people versus the intelligence deployed by individuals. Mainly it looks at different sets of problems (cognition, coordination and cooperation) and how well the group intelligence measures up to individual intelligence. The book avoids most of the time mentioning the word emergent behavior, but that’s what it’s about, an emergent property. The avoidance of the word emergence is understandable, as the word has become just another popscience meme, but it would have cleared away some of the vagueness about what Surowiecki is actually meaning when he talks about group intelligence. But that aside, it’s truly a fascinating look at the way(s) how groups crunch data and what we can learn from that.
This was a positive surprise. After the last two books in the Rachel Morgan series showed the tendency of the main character going down the emo-route, this one was back to the what I liked about the first two books. Less emotional agonizing, more ass-kicking-attitude. The plot structure resembles the third book in the series. Instead of introducing new characters or concepts, its all about bringing plot lines from the earlier books to a close.
Al the demon is back and can walk under the sun. Various factions are after the werewolf artifact, the one that could shift the balance of power between the vampires and werewolves. The book provides a very satisfying conclusion to developments that have been part of the series since the second book. At the end some major characters have gone for good and I’m interested to see in which direction the next books will go, which means my interest in the series has been rekindled.
Unlike later spin-offs of the Mega Man series that diverged stronger from the NES gameplay of the original series, the X series was merely a reinvention of the same template for the SNES platform. Mostly that means it’s a very challenging platformer where you have to beat eight stages to open the way to the third-part final stage, like in the older parts of the series. Despite the adherence to the original template there were some slight changes. The bosses were fashioned after animals and some of them had much bigger size than Mega Man itself, which is untypical compared to the bosses in the older series. Also Mega Man X could collect upgrades to bolster his health and get new abilities.
The story itself starts with a small leap into the future and a new main villain, who like Dr. Wily in the old series will turn out to be behind all the other threats that occur in each of the sequels. The story isn’t really explained in-game, but apparently he’s a Maverick Hunter who after being damaged by Zero gets a little bit insane and wants to kill all humans. The old affliction that gets so many robots over the years.
Overall, being a big fan of the NES-series (my all-time favorite platformer series on that platform), I like that the SNES-incarnation has changed none of the good stuff while slowly adding some more elements that make the gameplay even better.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity argues something similar to what Gladwell’s book Outliers is trying to say: success is as much dependent on external factors as it is dependent on the individual. People who are good at something in seclusion, but don’t win over other people, aren’t those we think of as successful or creative. Both books, Gladwell’s about success and Csikszentmihalyi’s about creativity, say that only the interaction between the individual and the community allows success or creativity to be acknowledged and to happen. While creativity or success is often seen as something that applies to an individual, both books argue, that they are social phenomena that shouldn’t be regarded as something isolated.
Captive is basically a Dungeon Master clone with a futuristic setting. The game is fun for a short while, but plagued in the long run by a lack of variation when it comes to the gameplay. You’ll hop from world to world to find yourself (you remotely control four robots with whom you try to free yourself), going into futuristic dungeons full of monsters and other stuff. After some time everything begins to look the same. Sure, every so often you stumble over new monsters or get new equipment (instead of leveling up you buy better body parts for your robots). But these elements don’t change that this essentially a very long dungeon romp with some slight key puzzles and monster killing. It’s easy to get bored later on, though I played through to the end. And like so often with older games, the ending is very curt.
Outliers is a nice antidote to the common from rags to riches story, which makes you believe that people can go up in the world if they just work hard enough. Sure, work is an important ingredient, but what matters more are the start settings of you birth, Gladwell says. These could be condensed to place, time and cultural legacies. It’s a more complex version of the adage that rich people get richer and poor people don’t. Instead if you’re born to the right set of circumstances, you’ll get success. It’s funny how the hypothesis combines total randomness and determinism in one. You’ll have no influence on the starting conditions of your life (total randomness) and your success is pretty much determined by them from there on.
I pretty much overstated the way how Gladwell’s book pictures this concept, but I think it explains why some people love it and some hate it. If you feel like you’re not successful in life, Gladwell’s hypothesis give you a neat explanation (bad starting conditions), while people who think themselves successful to a certain extend will hate it, as the book says most of it comes out of the starting conditions of their life. Even hard work is merely the outcome of having the right parents or cultural legacy who cultured a hard work ethic. It’s not completely immutable, like in the case of the Korean pilots, but it certainly isn’t easy.
Beside the book itself reading all the criticisms about it on the web is nearly as interesting. If you take the book as something philosophical, you’ll get the interesting question of just what shapes success and some challenges to the notion of how the public still thinks about it. But like many other pop-science books in recent years it’s not very scientific. It’s an aggregation of anecdotal evidence and a neat sounding concept. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but there’s no way to know it’s right either (right not in the absolute, but in the way that scientific theories are rather solid and haven’t been disproved yet). Like the rags to the riches story is might be just another fancy narrative that sounds right, but isn’t.
Diablo is pretty much a roguelike with better graphics, albeit most modern roguelikes have much more variety when it comes to available races, classes, skills, monsters and other stuff. On the other hand Diablo made it easy for people who never before and probably after touched anything resembling an RPG. It appealed to the lowest common denominator, but in this case the lowest common denominator was a highly concentrated package of fun. Really, all you do is going down into dungeons, kills monsters, loot them, level up and repeat ad nauseam. Every fourth level or so the style of the dungeons changed, but the gameplay never really changed much.
This single player expansion from Sierra added two new dungeons, a new class and new stuff to loot. While not a necessity, it’s a nice addition to the original game and manages to be just as much fun. Of all the additions I really like the Hive dungeon, with its insect themed monster designs, which were quite cool.
The second Fallout is pretty much the same in many regards. It’s the same interface, the same gameplay mechanics, the same world (but shifted a bit to the north) and it had the same graphics and sounds. In many ways it feels like a massive add-on or extension instead of a really new game. But coming out of the first game craving more of the same, I was overjoyed to get it. If you liked the first one, it’s hard not the like the second one. It was bigger and had more content than the first and no time limit. Exploring it was as much fun as the first game. I think the plot of the first one was a bit more concise and compelling, but the second one had more interesting places to go. Subjectively speaking I prefer the first one, but the second is just as good.
Most people these days think of rabid fans when they talk about the first Fallout. Count me in among them. No because I’m very rabid, but because the game really is one of my absolute favorite cRPGs of all time, equal to Planescape Torment and the good Ultima’s and Wizardry’s. I still remember how I got the game. My father brought it home right before I had the final school exams. I had to decide whether to play the game exhaustively for a whole weekend or learn. You probably guess where I’m going. Thankfully I didn’t do too bad in the exams, but at that time I really didn’t care.
Fallout dominated my mind. It had an incredibly dense and captivating atmosphere with a setting that felt very fresh compared to the mass of fantasy cRPGs. The interface was perfect, the skills system was perfect, the battle system was perfect, the dialogue system was good (a perfect example for that was in Wizardry 8). All that still holds true. It’s one of the few games I can replay and replay without ever getting tired of it. I admit there’s a certain amount of nostalgia involved, but I know other older games that I loved years back but couldn’t go back into because of the dated interface. Not so with Fallout. In many ways it really is a perfect example of how a cRPG should be like. Some small areas could have been improved, sure, but overall it comes as close to perfection as is possible.
This is the kind of movie critics can get excited about. All-around good performance by most actors, an ambiguous plot (either a murder mystery where a marshall is driven insane or really an insane man gets the chance to play out his fantasy) that easily lends itself to different theories of what is really going on. A brooding, gloomy atmosphere that manages to disturb most easy-going visitors.
Personally, I wasn’t so crazy on the movie. The second interpretation came in really late, but it was made pretty clear that this was the one preferred, invalidating most of the plot development and mental investment in the other story that went on before. The movie was too much buildup that essentially went nowhere. And the ending was such a cop-out. Instead of playing with the whole ambiguous angle, the movie made it pretty clear that yeah, he was insane before and he was healed and he wanted some peace so he initiated the lobotomy with his actions. Such a cookie-cutter Hollywood moment. A more appropriate ending would have been seeing him getting dragged to his operation, still screaming that he was a Marshall.