The obligatory Halo 2 partial review and thumbs up.
I learned my lesson with Fable, so I'll try desperately not to start a flame war of any sort here. Up front, I'm giving the game a definite thumbs up. If you are the kind of person that likes to flame, then leave now knowing that I've given your favorite thing my personal approval.
Let's start with the good. The campaign and story is pretty nice. The cinematic effect is definitely there, something I don't approve of in games most of the time. In this case the cinematics were rather short and they appear to have answered all of the questions from the first Halo, about what in the hell is actually going on in this universe. Don't expect a major story though, in all there is about 30 minutes of video (maybe someone will time that eventually). It appears in most cases that the actual game engine was used to produce cinematic sequences. I'm a huge advocate of this process, since it generally reduces the size of the game even if it doesn't allow for as much eye candy through complex, non real-time, shaders.
Playing from both sides of the story is another great feature even if the movement features are identical between the arbiter and the master chief. Of course you get to use all of the weapons no matter which side you are. A couple of the new weapons are even pretty nice and if you add dual wielding then you can really do some drastic damage. Getting used to the new weapons is a short process, but for the most part, just realize everything is going to take a good amount of shots in order to take down. Nearly every enemy has energy shields now, so making use of a good pairing of weapons is almost always required (for a good run-down of the weapons, head over to GameFAQs where someone has posted a huge review of all of the weapons, relative damage, recommended threat ranges, etc...)
Movement has been speed up a bit from a basic land speed metric. The jump has been increased as well. Most of the same movement considerations from the first Halo are in place and the game still has the same feel, while at the same time having an increased level of agility. I noticed that my look sensitivity 10 from Halo one has been dropped to 8, and the new 10 is fairly insane. I've managed to work my way back up to 10 and I have to say it is much closer to the look sensitivity in UT now. Thats definitely a good thing since I'm tired of getting punked in the back by a lamer while I'm trying to turn around. Now my more precise shooting abilities will take them out while they wing half their shots by my head.
We'll do 3 good paragraphs and 3 bad ;-) Not all of these are bad, just things I'm not all that happy with. While all of the new weapons are great they feel drastically underpowered most of the time. I think this was a balancing issue and I definitely agree that some weapons in Halo were far too powerful in multiplayer. Losing my pistol is hard though since that was definitely my primary weapon. I loved picking off people with that weapon. It is now a closer quarters weapon and a few weapons have stepped in to take it's place. They didn't add any more grenade types, something that would have been extremely nice. The usage of the flashlight has been minimized drastically and it now lasts indefinitely. I'm not sure why they kept it in, if for nothing more than to add a parity feature with the temporary invisibility you get as the arbiter.
I think the explanation of the story is great, but I'm not all that happy with the wrap-up. Halo in itself was an epic FPS which is something I'm not getting from Halo 2. Maybe this is the curse of the sequel. More importantly, most of Halo's intrigue after the initial month was driven by its multiplayer. I haven't gotten a good chance to play a few thousand hours of multiplayer yet, so I can't judge whether or not this game is equivalently interesting. The epic value may still be there, especially as the tournaments and ladders start to form. All in all, the basic campaign was a bit of a let-down for me.
Now for the flat-out bugs. The physics engine is better, but in many cases broken. There are cases where the environment is moving and in turn the movement drastically impairs your ability to aim and fire. I'm not sure if that was meant to be or a side effect of a real physics engine in play without the proper controls to ensure realism. In general though, only accelerating bodies would apply forces that might throw off your aim. All of the moving platforms in Halo 2 are massive enough and travel at constant speed, that the aim issues shouldn't come into play. Even more odd is that it only happened to me in one location. In general, I think many of the vehicles fall prey to some poor physics as well. Apparently getting run over by a ghost now just pushes you out of the way, many of the flying vehicles are cumbersome even with the new boost tricks.
One more good paragraph. I've written quite a bit on AI, and I have to say that the AI in this game is pretty good. The allied unit code works well most of the time, something you don't see in many games, even if they do shoot you in the back. I'm supposed to run in damnit, I'm the master chief, so quit shooting me in the back! The mission guys should get shot in a few instances where they provide challenges that are nearly impossible if you've lost most of your allied group. In some cases the allies just disappear or fail to follow you, something else that I think could dearly be fixed. The path-finding, beast aggro, cross side fighting, and tactics make up for everything wrong with the allies. I'm still thinking about what the best way would be to handle the battle between the brutes and elites where the two hunters come out. I played just that spot 8 times beating it different ways and trying to work out the appropriate weapons to minimize my ammo usage and leaving me with the least number of enemies to fight when the battle was over.
All in all the game is a graphical beauty, definitely a tribute to the amount of time it took in production (this is how a 4 year development process SHOULD end). I have some goodies to go along with it. I managed to produce a series of custom controls that mimic portions of the Halo 2 UI. I'll try and get them up on Project Distributor. I know that I made a Form, ListBox, and GroupBox, but I'm not sure if I finished any others. They don't allow much customization, so I'm adding the ability to change colors and simplifying the asset production code (I currently precompute the images used by the controls and need to change that over to dynamic creation at run-time based on properties). Give me a heads up if this type of control is interesting to you.
Enjoy your Halo 2 and feel free to invite me over to any gaming parties. Address and telephone number are in the resume link ;-)
How to rip and compress DVDs in Mac OS X
A couple of months ago, I got a Mac Mini* and immediately (of course) hooked it up to my TV so I could use it as a media center. (That’s probably a good topic for a separate post.)
Since then, I’ve ripped my DVD collection onto the Mac so any movie I own is only a few clicks away. Here’s how you can do the same thing:
1. Insert a DVD in your Mac’s DVD drive
These directions are optimized for feature films, not TV shows or other things you might find on a DVD. However, with a little creativity you should be able to adapt these instructions to serve your purposes.
2. Use MacTheRipper to do a “Main Feature Extraction” to your Mac
I use MacTheRipper first because it allows me to archive a raw VIDEO_TS folder that I can re-compress later if I want. For more detail about doing a simple DVD-to-disk rip, see the first half of Mark Pilgrim’s excellent how-to video.
Here’s what my MacTheRipper settings look like:
3. Use HandBrake to compress the movie
This part is critical because there aren’t many programs (including Front Row) that know what to do with a raw VIDEO_TS folder. But nearly any video player (again, including Front Row) can handle an MP4 file, so that is what we will convert this movie into.
In HandBrake, I use the XviD encoder with a target size of 1000MB (about 1GB). This produces a very watchable picture at a reasonable file-size.
Here’s what my Handbrake settings look like (click to enlarge):
Put the video file in your Movies folder, and enjoy!
You can obviously keep your movies wherever you want, but I keep mine in the Movies folder (under my home directory) so Front Row can access them.
Give it a try!
Feel free to try this yourself, and let me know if you have questions!
* * *
* The Mini was a gift from my generous Grandpa, who you may recognize from his occasional comments on this site.read more:
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Browser security versus virtual autism
You Searched for
I tend to ignore articles on security because I don't have a lot of respect for the security companies. As far as I can tell, most security stories are credulous regurgitations of these companies' misleading press releases. Their vested interest in FUD, their conflict of interests with their own customers, their alarmist and uninformative tendencies: all these things make it hard to take them seriously.
Just this last week there was one or other of this motley crew claiming 'Windows more secure than Linux'. The numbers were blatant nonsense, counting any Linux vulnerability once per distribution, for example, and I'm not interested in that non-story.
In amongst the usual stream of commercial effluent, I found myself reading a couple of interesting papers on phishing.
If you're anything like me (and I hope you're not) you receive several hundred spam messages a day. For my home account, one of the mod3 Solaris zone hosting
dudes set up a greylisting
system that pretty much squashed the problem. Work uses a commercial filtering system that doesn't work nearly as well, and doesn't even let me say 'drop anything in any non-European language', which would be a very
effective work-around for me. I'll admit to having been nervous about the greylisting idea ('but won't it delay genuine mail?'), but I've only been inconvenienced once so far, and that wasn't for long. I waste far much more time wading through the obvious spam at work every day
than I did on the one occasion I've had to wait for a web site to retry its confirmation mail.
Anyway, given the amount of spam that gets through at work, I see quite a lot of phishing attempts. Some would be worryingly convincing if I had any connection with the alleged institutions, many are fairly obviously bogus if you give them more than a second's glance, and some are laughably bad. That last class has always interested me the most. My assumption was always that such mails wouldn't fool anybody, leaving me wondering why the prospective phisher didn't try a bit harder?
Now I'm starting to wonder if the criminals aren't just being clever, expending no more effort than necessary to fool the foolable.
Reading Why Phishing Works
, I was shocked by the lack of acumen displayed by the experiment's subjects. The sample size was, I felt, small: only 22 people. I'm also not sure how representative of the general public university staff and students are. All the same...
Even if you don't care about security, if you're a programmer it's worth reading the paper just to see how far out of touch with technology many users are. In particular, they have no idea what's easy to fake and what's hard to fake.
That text and graphics inside the page are more trusted than text and graphics in the browser's own UI shows you just how much the disconnect between the user's model and system's model can cost.
It's also interesting to see how much of the browser people just ignore. I was thanked for adding a 'new' feature to Terminator the other week when all I'd done was add a tool tip to draw attention to a feature that had been there much longer. That was understandable because the feature was otherwise invisible and only enjoyed by people who had just assumed it would be there. This paper, though, suggests that browser features that you and I probably consider highly visible just aren't seen. Or they're seen and misunderstood, which is potentially worse when they're security features.
Not all of the problems identified in the paper are anything to do with technology, though. Except insofar as they suggest that people are bad at transferring real-world common sense to the 'virtual' world, or bad at realizing that they're the same
I wonder if the woman who 'will click on any type of link at work where she has virus protection and system administrators to fix the machine, but never at home' would agree to be beaten by said system administrators with baseball bats in the grounds of a local hospital. Presumably that would be fine, because the hospital can fix things up afterwards? So no harm done, right?
And there's the woman who types in her username and password to see if a site's genuine. Presumably she'd be happy to give me her life savings to see whether I can be trusted to return them?
I do hope those two are now starred out. But I know they aren't, and I know there are millions like them, sharing LANs (or even machines) with us.
I showed the paper to my girlfriend. She didn't know about https: versus http:, didn't know there was a padlock icon anywhere (and I'll admit that I had to look for it in Safari; I'll be switching to Firefox completely as soon as it has spelling checking), or what the padlock means, and definitely didn't know anything about certificates. It had never really occurred to me before that there were millions of people out there typing their financial details in to HTML forms without the vaguest idea of which end of the firestick the boom comes out.
We've accidentally created a whole race of virtual autists, devoid of their usual ability to infer trustworthiness.
If you think that's an over-statement, read the paper and look at the cues the participants were using. In ignorance of the high-tech stuff the browser was offering, they were falling back to tried-and-tested visual cues, despite the fact that it's trivial to copy any image, text, or video on-line.
The authors have a suggestion, if you're not too depressed to keep reading. The Battle Against Phishing: Dynamic Security Skins
describes a way of improving the browser's security indicators, but I didn't really get how it's supposed to address what seems to be the more fundamental problem: people just don't know what they're looking for. If Firefox's yellow location bar is as invisible as it appears to be, is that battle not already lost?read more:
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