Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My Half-Life 2 mini review

Ok, I just finished today. All in all, it’s a great game.

First thing I'll say is that they did a really good job on the engine. I ran it at 1024x768 with no AA or AF, at medium settings and it ran at 60FPS very consistently - during big battles the FPS didn't drop too much. (My computer specs are in my sig). At medium settings it nonetheless looked extremely good. The only bad part was the load times and some stuttering (as if loaded new textures in-game, I believe).

The game starts very slowly - you don't even get a gun until about 20 minutes into the game. That’s because you're being eased you into a surreal new world. Unlike other shooters in which you hit the ground running, HL2 starts at a crawl and then keeps building up until the crazy ending. The whole game plays like an episode of the X-files - it raises a lot of questions, and doesn't answer many of them. But I didn't mind - because the surreal atmosphere was perfect.

You start very much like in the last game - on a train. You don't know how you got there (one of the passengers even comments "I didn't see you get on the train"), or what you're doing. You get dropped off in City 17, a stark Orwellian-style place where an endless army of "public defenders" keep a close eye over the sullen citizens, big TV's hang everywhere broadcasting propaganda and little robots float around taking pictures of you. Although the game is very linear, it doesn't feel that way - you stumble through the game without any directions or goals, but you always find your way. Sometimes it isn't very obvious where you have to go, or what you have to do, but I only got stuck a couple of times, and eventually found my way without any help.

As I said the atmosphere is great. City 17 [I]feels[/I] repressive, the dark alleys of Ravenholm are creepy as hell, the airboat and buggy rides are exhilaratingly fast, the dark grunginess of Nova Prospective sets a dark, post-apocalyptic tone. The chaos of the penultimate chapters can only be compared to the Stalingrad levels of Call of Duty, and the final two chapters, well, lets just say those are probably the best in the game.

Most of the flaws of Half-Life 1 are fixed – there are far fewer jumping puzzles, and far fewer annoying dumb aliens. The only big annoyance to me is that the lack of variety in the weapons. The usual suspects are present – a pistol, an SMG, a shotgun, a rocket launcher. In fact, the weapons are suspiciously identical to the Half-Life 1 weapons. Sure, the look and sound cool – actually, the [i]really[/i] sound cool – but I got really bored of them by the end of the game. In particular I got board of the plasma gun. It looks and sounds cool, and it’s really effective, but after using it for hours on end it sort of lost its novelty.

There are two really cool new weapons, though: the gravity gun and the bugbait. The gravity gun is simple enough – right button pulls an object, left button pushes. Considering all the crap lying around, there is virtually no end to its uses. For example, you can throw big pieces of furniture at people. Or you can hold a radiator in front of you to keep snipers blowing your head off. Or you can build bridges. Just use your imagination. The bugbait is just as useful, although you only get to use it in one (extended) part of the game. Throw the bugbait somewhere, and ant lions will swarm the area. The results look a lot like “Starship Troopers”: endless swarms of bugs ripping apart a bunch of unfortunate marines.

Most of the combat involves fighting the human enemies in the game. They aren’t stupid; they jump out of the way of grenades, and take cover. But they tend to stand still out in the open a little more often than I’d like. This isn’t a real big problem – the battlefield is usually pretty well set up (sort of like in Call of Duty, where the soldiers were dumb, but where in the right places). Some of the best scenes are when you are attacking fortified positions – these are some of the few parts where you have to use tactics to win. Besides the human opponents, there are lots of headcrabs and zombies to blow away (and some new flavors of these), as well as the occasional gunship to shoot down with your rocket launcher (a lot harder than it sounds, since they can shoot down your missiles!). Remember those big three-legged monsters with guns that you saw in the trailers? You’ll have to take down more than one of those, and it isn’t easy.

There isn’t any multiplayer mode – it just comes with Counter-Strike: Source. I wrote a mini-review of it awhile back. It’s basically just a pretty version of CS.

All in all, HL2 is a really awesome game that you will not soon forget.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The US electoral system....

...why its so screwed up, and what I think we should do to fix it.

(Before you read this article, do yourself a favor and read about how the electoral college works: http://people.howstuffworks.com/electoral-college.htm)

Of course I'm hardly the foremost expert on the electoral system, but its pretty obvious that it's a screwed up system.

First and foremost (and least radical), I think that the states should divide up their electoral votes depending on the percentages that the candidates got, like they do in Nevada. In this way, the election is more democratic, and the votes of smaller states are still more valuable.

Continuing on this idea, I would multiply the electoral votes of every state by 100. Why? So that the votes can be more accurately distributed to each of the candidates.

By making those two small changes, the system is much, much improved. But I would even go further. I think the very voting system should be changed.

The current system works fine for a two-party system, but when there are three or more serious contenders, you really need a voting system that finds not what the largest interest group wants, but the candidate that everyone would be happy with. For example, lets say that there is a country with three candidates running: a conservative, a moderate, and a liberal. The demographics of the country are 35% conservatives, 34% liberals, and 31% moderates. In a conventional election, the conservative candidate would win – but you can hardly say that he's the best candidate. A third hate him, and a third don't like him. The truth is that none of the candidates are ideal. But the moderate would be the “least bad” candidate – a two thirds wouldn't like him, but they prefer him over the extremist candidate.

Under what type of voting system would the moderate win?

He would win in a system where everyone rates every candidate as either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”. Under this system, extremism is avoided, and third party candidates don't ever cause one of the other candidates to loose. Even apathetic or disgruntled voters can participate in this system – they can rate everyone “satisfactory” or rate everyone “unsatisfactory”. In the end, the true will of the people has been laid bare.