Thursday, July 31, 2008

On the Second.

One point about the wording of the Second Amendment that is often overlooked is the phrase "Free State." The usual assumption is that the Free State is the United States of America, in the modern Nation-State construction (a body of people with a common identity and the sovereign government that represents it). However, examination from the thoroughly jaundiced Anti-Federalist view does not bear that out. Any government will tend toward infrigement of natural rights, in the Anti-Federalist view; the only acceptable amount of government is the barest minimum to ensure the public good. Thus, by the Modern definition of State ("A political association with effective sovereignty over a geographical area", according to Wikipedia), a "free state" in the Anti-Fed view is simply a non sequitur.

Rather, what a "free State" must then mean is in modern parlance a free nation. A nation is a group of people with a common identity, which can (and do) exist without associated states. This fact is responsible for a significant chunk of global conflict; Kurdistan and Chechnya are the first ones that come to mind. The American Revolution would not have happened if this separate identity had not been created.

America has faced only one external enemy on its own soil - the British, in 1812. For obvious reasons, the need for a defensive standing army (as required in most of Europe) simply has not existed. An army needs an enemy to justify its existence, and the monumental resource drain it represents. With no external enemy, a standing army turns inwards, with historically predictable results. The Founders recognized this, which is why America had no peacetime standing army until after World War I. The Anti-Feds saw a standing army as an explicit threat to the freedom of the American Nation. Even then, the militia as a defensive body against external enemies is a secondary function.

The militia is the body of people capable of bearing arms, and thus synonymous with "The People." This was the prevailing definition at the time of the Constitutional Convention, and the one referenced by the Militia Act of 1903 (which created the National Guard). The National Guard, incidentally, is a federally controlled reserve military force. When deployed, the Guard functions as standard Army or Air Force units, answerable to the Federal command stucture (Joint Chiefs and the POTUS). To suggest that this is the same militia that requires the people to keep and bear arms is absurd, as it would convert the people's militia (when activated) into a tool of a government which, by nature, tends towards tyranny. This is recognized by the Posse Comitatus act of 1878.

This would lend credence to a States' rights reading, except that the States are a layer of government between the people and the federal government, as indicated by the Tenth Amendment. Furthermore, the States are still government, who exist to preserve the rights of the people (and provide for the public good). The State is a construct that exists because The People create it and allow it to exist; it is not The People.

The Second Amendment is thus the right of the people to organize against a government hostile to the people's natural rights. This right is any sort of free association up to overthrow, and the arms indicated are merely the tools that give the association teeth. If The People can keep and bear arms, it reaffirms that government exists by the good graces of its constituents. While self-defense is a natural right, defense of one's person from criminal actors is secondary in the context of the Second Amendment to defense of one's rights from a government. The former was recognized by English common law, and subsequently American law. (recognition of that right in certain jurisdictions is a bit spotty, but that's another rant.) The latter makes any restriction of the right to Keep and Bear Arms blatantly hypocritical, especially on the Federal level. These are the guys the second is supposed to reign in, and they're reigning in the second? One would assume an untoward vacuum in civics education at the Congressional level, or a wanton disregard for the Constitution. Neither possibility provides much reassurance.

Whatever percieved social benefits to firearms prohibition (at any level), the security of a free State - we, the American people - is an absolute requirement. The free State is threatened from without, but the threat from within is more insidious and potentially far more dangerous, and requires constant vigiliance...and the right tools.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On Addictive Gameplay.

The trick seems to be as follows:

1. Make the gameplay at least reasonably compelling.
2. Remove all hard stops and even softish stops from the game flow.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. does a really good job on both points, especially if you like to pick up side quests. When you're juggling seven missions (not including the main progression) and are bouncing around the game world, there's no definitive "I've had a breakthrough" moments, except finishing main progression quests. You're always seven different places in the "talk to dude - go somewhere - assassinate/exterminate/defend/collect - come back - talk to dude again and get rubles" process; it's never stopped.

And thus it's about as easy to put down as a suitcase full of crystal methamphetamine (the Central Valley experience). Good morning, paper delivery SUV!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Customers.

Ma'am, you cannot have a free 12 oz. Mango or Berry-Pomegranate freddo. As the e-mail printout you have proffered as proof clearly states (in the same typeface, color, and size), the free 12 oz. freddos were offerered today between the hours of 2 and 3 pm. At present, the time is 6:07. However, the e-mail is still good for a two-for-one on the medium size...yes, I understand you 'drove all the way over here' for this deal. (This fact does not entitle you to partake of a promotion that is four hours expired; it merely proves you are a dullard, the sort of penurious lummox that would spend four dollars in gas to redeem a promotion worth $2.50.) However, as the e-mail clearly states...the manager is not on duty at present, but I can refer you to my shift lead.

Ah, retail.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Random Musings.

I just realized, a mere 15 days after the fact, that the mistress of snark became the third person who found my musings sufficiently amusing as to warrant further discussion. I am so amazingly alert, I should become a nuclear power plant operator.

I also just realized why my hand feels the way my jaw does after chewing an entire pack of gum in one dose. Hogue rubber grip panels (the non finger-grooved variety) are clown shoes. It's no wonder everything, including double-stack .45s, felt so slim...also, you're supposed to be able to apply pressure to the mag release without flicking the gun 45 degrees to the left? Daaaamn.

On S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

For many of us hardcore Fallout fanboys (yes, I had the stink about me my 8th and 9th grade years...oh, the folly of adolescence), the future held great things. After the practiced mediocrity of Fallout:Tactics and the unforgivable (nay, unexplainable) cash-in of Fallout:Brotherhood of Steel, we stood vigil for the true Third Coming. In the interim, a new herald sent heart rates skyrocketing everywhere. An unknown studio in Kiev was pounding away on what looked like nothing less than Fallout, the FPS. This was S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost.

Four long, impatient years stood between my first glimpse of this perfect concept and my returning home from GameSpot on launch day. The cellophane survived about as long as it took me to walk back to the car. A ten-minute install later, and I was finally ready to enter Chernobyl.

The result was the most atmospheric game ever made, surpassing even the soul-searing dread of System Shock 2 for pure emotional impact. As a virtual museum of the Exclusion Zone, GSC Game World had triumphed.

As with all ambitious developments, the result was a bit...shallower than promised. A-Life turned about to be a bit sparse and predictable; there are doubtless more species growing in my microwave as I write this. The feral dogs showed a remarkable breadth of action...for a video-game NPC. Effective images? How about cresting a hill and seeing a very determined mutt tugging the remains of a newbie stalker to a bush so as to feast upon his flesh...unscripted, in real time. The ability for a dog to sense whether he is running in a sufficient pack to overcome an enemy was likewise remarkable. That was about the extent of the impressive scenes. The faction wars promised amounted to a pair of scripted mission ladders and a set-piece battle. Vehicles were excised, though the codebase remained intact (don your walking shoes, and expect to re-sole them a few times).

The gameflow could best be described as screwy. The AI was quite sharp, capable of flanking maneuvers, use of cover, and otherwise not presenting you with a standing, stationary target. The fun of overcoming such worthy foes was dampened by a bizarre damage system that rendered most weapons useless; the headshot bias was absurd (try 30 body shots for a kill vs. one headshot), meaning the only useful guns were accurate ones, and perfect aim on the part of the player was the only effective tactic. And the tech ladder for equipment...possibly five weapons out of thirty showed much utility.

Apparently, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game-data has proved eminently amendable. Thus, nearly a year after launch, a deluge of tweaks have surfaced, and the game's very hardcore fanbase has finally hammered the game into the form promised, in the form of the mega-mod "Oblivion Lost."

Nearly everything has been tweaked in some way...cut enemies restored, vehicles re-implemented, every weapon re-skinned (the Makarov is now blued with red grips...finally), new assets added, and string-tables tweaked.

And weapons actually do damage when you shoot people with them. Combat falls somewhere between CounterStrike and Rainbow Six in lethality. As it bloody well should have been to begin with. I want to sit on a rooftop with an AK74 on semi and actually hit a soldier standing 150 meters away. Is that too much to ask of a modern military rifle?

The flow is now much more RPG-ish, with health a difficult resource to replenish unless you find a quiet corner, throw down a sleeping bag, and sack out for a few. Did I mention the quiet corner? You will be woken up by the first creature that trips over your incautious ass, and they will have the drop on you. As a nice aside, the team has implemented clips of the in-game cinematics as 'dream sequences.' This is polish, folks.

Climate and the day/night cycle are much more pronounced. This isn't a 1950s-daytime-with-filters night, this is a pitch-black, can't-see-past-your-nose-without-a-flashlight night. Scared of the dark? I recommend against playing Oblivion Lost, or at least making sure your heart medication is filled and within reach of your computer.

The extreme lighting differences make HDR enhancements very noticeable; the interiors are very dark, as befitting abandoned buildings lacking for windows, and the exteriors are quite bright, at least with a blue sky.

Oblivion Lost also turned the 'blowout' phenomenon described in the setting materials into a non-scripted experience, rather than the one scripted (and underexploited) scene in Vanilla S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It needs to be experienced first-hand, but the only thing I could compare it to would be rolling nuclear explosions on the horizon mixed with the X-Files alien encounters. Utterly amazing.

It's a testament to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s fans that they believed in the promise of this game so much as to bring it to fruition on their own; and the payoff is sweet. Finally, I can play the game I've waited for these six years.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

On Fireworks.

Chucking smoldering clods of gunpowder into the sky with a mortar and having them explosively disperse incandescent shards of metal is lots more amusing when you're standing about 300 yards from the launch site, rather than a mile away, and thus the detonations are above you (where they are concussive and enveloping) instead of on the horizon (where they are a pretty particle-driven screensaver with a poorly-synchronized audio track).

Also, being a fireworks technician looks like fun. Wandering around mortar tubes stoked with what can only be black powder (judging from the gouts of white smoke issuing from them on ignition) must be a treat for the olfactory and auditory senses. There's that ballistics stuff to fiddle with, too - bomb of weight X propelled at angle Y from mortar tube of caliber Z and backed with A mass of powder. And safety concerns, but bollocks to that.

Happy Fourth of July.

Pyromania ends.

On dubbing.

When watching anime, one thing becomes dramatically apparent when a character opens their mouth: the English dubs, at least for the programs I've viewed (GITS:SAC, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun), are horrifically bad. If one is grasping for a What's up, Tiger Lily? appeal, this is beneficial. The sillier moments of Trigun actually gels fine with bad dubs. With a predominantly sober, mature series like Stand Alone Complex, it's about as welcome as a squib load blocking the barrel of a .44 magnum revolver.

Thusly, the procedure is as follows: watch opening credits (with Japanese theme song). Start settling into the theme and atmosphere. Panic and stab at the screen, trying to get back to the set-up menu.