Wednesday, April 30, 2008

They Don't Teach This at MIT

If you are a game designer, you owe it to yourself to read this blog. It is a journalistic recording of a "non-gamer"'s first time playing the original Half Life. I find it illuminating that one of our medium's pinnacle titles fails in many ways to communicate itself to players who haven't developed a subconscious appreciation of, or blindness to, common tropes. In defense of Valve's masterpiece, it could be said that the confusion that the player must feel when evacuating an underground research facility suddenly infested with alien creatures is in phase with Gordon Freeman's own disorientation. It could also be said that a majority of the human race would not think to look for conveniently placed air vents just large enough for a full grown man in a hazard suit to crawl through at every dead end.

I found myself in a big elevator, got the message that I was entering the "office complex" and entered that area. I found a medical pack on the ground, at least I thought it was this as my health went up a little bit. A laser type thing came down from the ceiling and immediately zapped me.

I stopped here because no matter how I tried to get around that laser I kept dying. Crouching and running, running fast, jumping ... nothing worked. So I stopped.

I'm not grasping the big picture of where exactly I'm going in this game but I hope I'm not backtracking. Wasn't the office complex where this all started? We'll see if I can figure my way around this next time and figure out where exactly I'm going.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rant: Speeding

I was driving back from McDonald's earlier today when it happened; someone else turned onto the road behind me, driving in the same direction as me, in the same lane. Okay, this is a pretty common and innocuous event, but I always feel a bit of angst in this situation. Angst over what, you ask? That this person will get in the other lane to pass me.

I know, I know, it's a pretty silly thing to get angsty about. It's just something I've been noticing lately, something that I've been consciously looking at, because I am a self-conscious guy. Whenever I see a vehicle take up a certain portion of my rear view mirror, I suddenly focus enough mental effort on said vehicle to bring it up into my conscious awareness. I play a game with them. The game is called, “Are you going to pass me?” What I do is I check my speedometer, and make sure I'm going precisely the speed limit. If these people get in the other lane and travel faster than me for an extended duration, then they are speeding and they lose the game. That they don't realize they are participating in this “game” is beside the point; it is just a rhetorical device anyway.

More people lose this game than win it. I play it on small streets where there is little other traffic to affect the outcome, not on large highways or interstates. I have even started upping my speed to five miles per hour over the limit in an attempt to lessen the temptation and possibly get more winners. As far as I can tell, this has had very little effect. In my utterly unprofessional, poorly defined, unrecorded samples of this “game”, it seems that people are about as likely to pass me when I am going five miles per hour over the speed limit as when I am going the speed limit. And this pisses me the fuck off.

I'm not sure why it does, it just does. Somehow, every time a vehicles passes me, it's like they are saying that their time is more valuable than my time. That increasing my own speed seems to have no effect on this bizarre conspiracy only worsens the emotional impact by implanting a sense of helplessness into my mind. This is utterly irrational on my part, it's more of a reflex emotion than a rational response. After all, it is up to me to decide how valuable my time is, and spend less time driving (by driving faster) if I feel it is worth the ticket and safety risk. That others have a slightly different evaluation function for their driving habits should not bother me, except that it somehow does, on a subconscious level that I can't seem to breach without sufficient effort (effort that my own evaluation functions have yet to justify).

A surprising development!

Of course, it did not take too long for me to realize a certain bias in this “experiment”, namely that for these people to pull up so close behind me in the first place they must already be going faster than me, so of course they are likely to want to pass me, finding my current speed insufficient. The people who wouldn't be likely to pass me (because they are going at or below my current speed limit) will never catch up with me to even begin playing the game. So unfortunately, I have developed a little game that is a bit inclined to attract the type of people who would lose it. Perfect for casinos, but a little unsatisfying for my causes.

To account for this, I began playing an advanced version of the game. I go the speed limit, and when I notice someone pulling up behind me I speed up somewhat gradually to about five miles per hour over the speed limit. Thus I have enticed a larger variety of drivers into this game while adjusting the difficulty in their favor. And still, still, still they fucking pass me, so very often. I began to wonder if they even realize that I am speeding up for them, or if they already got it into their head that they are going to pass me and have gone into autopilot, have reached the point of no return, unaware that I am going a little faster, perhaps even as fast as they were before they caught up with me. I wonder how much faster I have to go before the majority of drivers will notice what's going on and stop auto-drafting me. Might be worth experimenting with, except that I fear this level won't be reached without flirting with dangerous speeds.

There's a point to this?

Eh, I would be stretching things to say that there is. There really isn't a point to any of this, at least not a good point; that's why I labeled it a rant. But I am curious; if anyone reading this habitually speeds, may I ask why?

Why do you speed?
  • Is it because you feel the posted speed limit is actually lower than the logistical "safe" speed limit?
  • Is it because you feel that you are a better driver than the average person, and thus "deserve" to go a little faster than the average driver since your skills and reflexes will make up for the lost safety?
  • Is it because you live nearby and know these roads better than the average person, so driving a little faster is reasonable?
  • Is it because you notice that most other people speed? If so:
    • Do you speed because it feels "more dangerous" to go slower than everyone around you?
    • Do you speed because you are scared you will anger people behind you who want to go faster?
    • Do you speed because you want to anyway, and seeing others do it means you are less likely to be singled out and ticketed?
  • Is it to save time? Or because you often find yourself running late (somewhat related to saving time)?
  • Is it because you don't think you'll get caught?
  • Is it mostly just because you went this speed yesterday, and the day before, and it's just easier to keep doing it as long as it works?
Why do you not speed, or if you do speed, why do you draw the limit where you do?
  • Safety?
  • To avoid getting ticketed?
  • To avoid negative social reaction from your peers or those around you?
  • Moral objectivism (it's just the Right Thing To Do)?
  • Is it mostly just because you went this speed yesterday, and the day before, and it's just easier to keep doing it as long as it works?