April 4, 2010

Misc news

- April 17 is Record Store Day, a celebration of independent retailers. Check your state to see who's on board. I'll probably skip the live music at my local hangout, but they're going to have amazing deals all weekend.

It's strange that you have to go to non-chain record stores to find the great music of the pre-alternative/gangsta era. Most hypermarkets, such as Wal-Mart, don't carry anything good, and Barnes & Noble has only a slightly better selection, but their prices are too high. Even superstar chart-topping albums are absent. You want to find Like a Virgin, Bad, or Slippery When Wet? Then you probably need to visit an independent store. Who saw that coming?

- Arthur De Vany is interviewed on EconTalk about steroids, baseball, and evolutionary fitness. It's a shame they didn't get to talk about the movie business, but you can pick up his book Hollywood Economics (link in the Amazon box above) for that. I was surprised by how open-minded the interviewer Russ Roberts was toward the idea of low-carb eating and brief, intense exercise, given how hostile the entire culture is to eating animals while scarfing down grains, and given the religion of exercise where aerobic / cardio is pure while intensity and explosion is corrupting.

De Vany is right that burst-type exercise is more conducive to playfulness no matter where you find yourself. When I go dancing, I only use fast-twitch muscle movements -- jumps and leaps, whole-body thrusts, high kicks, squatting down and bursting back up, etc. If you do ballroom dancing, add dips and lifts as well. It's a hell of a lot more exhilarating than tediously swaying back and forth at low intensity forever.

- The release of Final Fantasy XIII has a bunch of geeks complaining that the game is too linear, meaning you don't have much choice in what to do or where to go next. Of course, just about all games in all video game genres have been incredibly linear since the mid-1990s when the shift to 3-D made games more like low-quality movies than high-quality games. The so-called sandbox games of recent times are completely open-ended and rule-free, like playing tennis with the net down. That drains all of the fun out of games because they are no longer about exploration in the sense of using trial and error to figure out your skill level and how challenging and dangerous the various areas are. Sandbox games are instead like going on a sightseeing tour through an environment that you'd never pay money to visit in real life.

Almost all of the classic games on Nintendo are non-linear in the sense of giving you a lot of choices at each stage in the game, while making some of them more challenging than others. The fun part of exploration here is using trial and error to learn how far you can go without running into trouble and having to backtrack to where you're better suited. And there still are some areas that are off-limits at the beginning of the game, which gives you a teaser for what to look forward to.

The first Legend of Zelda game is non-linear because you can visit 5 of the 9 dungeons right away, and another one once you acquire an item very early on. Now, only a few of those are beatable by the average player when the game starts -- but if you're good enough or just feel like taking a risk, you can certainly explore those harder dungeons right away. Most of the environment can be explored right away as well, although again some areas have stronger enemies. Still, they aren't completely inaccessible; you just have to be good or feel like taking a risk in order to play through them. It's not a sandbox game because you aren't wandering around with jackshit to do, and where just about everything is accessible and no area is punishingly more difficult than another.

Other Nintendo games that are so well remembered for being non-linear include Zelda 2, Metroid, Castlevania II, Blaster Master (I'd say), all of the original Mega Man games, and many others. The 16-bit and 32-bit era still had a good deal of these games, such as Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but the progression through the game was more focused and less up to the player's choice. Even Super Metroid and Secret of Mana don't allow you right from the start to explore the dangerous areas intended for the average player to be visited later. By the time the 3-D era arrives, games are designed much more like movies with an intended linear sequence, with only some freedom to "pause" the sequence and go screw around for awhile, but still being unable to visit the dangerous areas or accomplish the tougher objectives early on that are intended for later. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (and all other Castlevania games modeled on this one), Alundra, and the two Zelda games for the Nintendo 64 are all great fun to play, but are heavily linear in this sense.

Really the last great non-linear game I can think of is Kirby and the Amazing Mirror -- not surprisingly made for a 2-D handheld Nintendo system. The game is easy to find and not very expensive, so if you're looking for a fun non-linear game, screw Final Fantasy and check that one out. You can play it on the Game Boy Advance, the first two versions of the Nintendo DS (not the DSi or later versions), or even on your TV at home by buying a cheap Game Boy Player for your GameCube. And most of the classic games I mentioned above are available on the Wii's Virtual Console for probably $10 or less. Sounds better than $60 for a boring movie with uncanny valley visuals.


  1. you should give non-japanese rpg makers a chance. bioware and bethesda currently make pretty decent non-linear rpgs.

  2. I'm in the process of playing through the new Final Fantasy right now, and while the first 2/3 (? - a guess since I haven't finished yet) is extremely linear, it's pretty wide open once you get to Pulse; there are plenty of meaningless side-quests and you can go get your party waxed by large dinosaurs if you want. I don't understand what everyone's complaining about anyway - Final Fantasy made its name on plot and character development, not freedom, as the Audacious Epigone's reviews attest, and although I'm setting myself up for potential disappointment with the ending, it's already head and shoulders above the last one in that regard.

  3. Jokah,

    I've been dormant for about a year now on the gaming front, so I've not played 12 or 13 yet. Your point, though, is spot on. The only Final Fantasy game that has been truly non-linear up to this point is 10-2 (albeit they are almost all non-linear the last 10%-20% of the game; I'm referring to the beginning and middle stages), which pales in comparison to the original 10. If non-linearity is what you're seeking in a rpg experience, the Dragon Quest series is far more recommendable.


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