Thursday, December 31, 2009

Parasite Eve VS Parasite Eve 2

Back in 1999, I was deeply engrossed in Parasite Eve, a rather awesome horror video game. After you complete the game, you can start over in "EX game" mode ("EX" for "extra" or "excruciating" or "exhausting" or whatever you want to call it), which unlocks the Chrysler Building, a 77-floor dungeon of tedium and terror. Completing the Chrysler Building earns you an alternate ending, plus bragging rights with your gamer friends.

I was up to about floor 40 or 50 of the Chrysler Building when my apartment complex burned down. I lost my PlayStation memory card. I liked Parasite Eve enough to buy a new copy, but I was so heartbroken at losing all of that hard work that I never tackled the Chrysler Building again.

Flash forward to 2009. My nephews are really into Pokémon, and they wanted to collect every Pokémon game ever made, yes, even the really old GameBoy Color ones. So for their birthday and Christmas presents, I hunted many a used game store, tracking down the five games they were missing. It was an extensive fetch quest, but not one I could imagine anyone else in my family tackling. Nerd that I am, I loved every minute of it.

During the course of Pokémon Quest, I came across a copy of Parasite Eve 2, which came out in 2000, but which I'd never actually played. Of course, I bought it. And played it obsessively for a month or so. After tiring of multiple runs through PE2, I decided it was time to revisit PE1. After all, it was the season of Christmas, and the game is set during Christmas 1997, so somehow it seemed appropriate. (Well, as appropriate as horror and monsters can be for the holidays.) I conquered the Chrysler Building yesterday, and finally saw that alternate ending. Yay! I feel that I have achieved closure.

But which game do I like better? I really cannot decide. Despite the same title and same lead character, they are really very different games, and both have strengths and weaknesses. Let's see which one wins . . .

ADVANTAGE: Parasite Eve (the first)

1) The monsters are much, much cooler looking in the first game. The creatures in PE2 consistently look stupid. I mean all of them. It was like the design team decided to go for the opposite of the PE1 aesthetic, which was an unfortunate choice.

2) Aya's costume in the first game is much better. She can be excused for fighting monsters in an evening gown during the first chapter, since she was at the opera when catastrophe struck. After that, her attire consisted of jeans, t-shirt, and a black leather jacket--not only practical, but also quite attractive on her. While she starts PE2 with a similar costume, as soon as she leaves for the desert, she dons a miniskirt and pink cowboy boots, and wears them for the rest of the game. Really? Who wears a miniskirt when hunting monsters? And there is simply no excuse for those boots. None.

3) The first game is much more generous with inventory space. You gain inventory space automatically as you level up, and if that's not enough, you can spend bonus points to add more. In PE2, your inventory space is fixed. So by the end of the game when you've got one of each class of weapon, and at least one type of ammo for each, and all of the special charms and helpful items, you've probably only got about two spaces left for restorative items. It makes the later parts of the game especially difficult, because you are essentially out of space all the time.

4) In the original Parasite Eve, if you follow the plot as it's laid out for you, you get to the ending without incident. You can easily see the optional areas, like the warehouse and the Chrysler Building, so you know that they exist if you choose to pursue them. In PE2, if you follow the plot as it's laid out, you get the bad ending. To get the good ending, you need to save Pierce--twice--even though the game gives you absolutely no hints that he's in any danger, nor even that he's followed you into the desert. And the steps you need to take to save him are completely counterintuitive. I would never, ever have figured it out if not for the walkthroughs on GameFAQs. Heck, I would never have even known he needed saving if I hadn't read it on GameFAQs. After I learned about Pierce, I literally started the game over because I'd already passed the point where I could save him. I was on disc 2 when I realized I needed to start over.

5) The camera angles and screen layouts of the first game are such that you can always see what you're fighting. In the second game, your enemies are often attacking you from off screen and you can't see where you're aiming your weapon. Getting into a position where you can actually see your enemies often takes so long that you've taken several hits in the meantime. This makes some battles very frustrating.

6) The puzzles in PE2 are really, really irritating. Some of them aren't too bad, but the one to get the safe combination is completely ridiculous. (Counting the toilets and mirrors in the hotel? Who thought that would be fun? Do they assume all gamers have OCD?) Thank goodness such pointless, frustrating timewasters are absent from the first game. The most difficult puzzle in PE1 involves pushing some machinery out of the way to expose a giant red button on the wall. Fortunately, there is a giant red arrow painted on the wall, pointing to the machine that needs to be pushed out of the way. There's never much standing between you and some good, old-fashioned monster killing.

ADVANTAGE: Parasite Eve 2

1) Parasite powers are much more versatile and easy to use. In PE1, you learn them in a set order as you level up. In PE2, you buy them with PE points, so you can decide whether you want to sink all of your points into pyro powers or healing or whatever you like. There are several useful and valuable attack powers, unlike PE1, where you have only two offensive powers, both of which use up all of your energy and leave you vulnerable to attack afterward. In PE2, Pyrokinesis is a powerful attack that uses very little energy, giving you a viable alternative to simply shooting everything. Plasma is another great power, giving you a nice little area-effect attack for when you're surrounded by bats or bugs. PE1 never had an area-effect attack (except for shotguns with the "burst" effect), but man, an area-effect parasite attack would have been handy for all those birds in Central Park.

2) Charms, which are completely useless inventory clutter in the first game, are so incredibly valuable in Parasite Eve 2 that you wouldn't dare put them into storage. No matter how tight inventory space is, the Ofuda and its ilk are worth having on you. Just remember to attach them to your armor.

3) You don't really level up in PE2. You get better weapons and armor, and your parasite powers grow stronger, but you yourself are not significantly tougher. That means, when you visit earlier areas that you'd previously cleared, but which are once again full of monsters, said monsters are still challenging. You never reach the point where you're too tough for the enemies, and so the game stays in balance.

4) PE2 has built-in maps. All turned around and not sure which rooms you've cleared? Hit a button and check the map. In PE1, I would have killed for that functionality, especially in convoluted places like Central Park, the sewers, and the Chrysler Building (especially with the Chrysler Building, where the floorplans change every single time you visit). The maps in PE2 not only show you which rooms you've visited, but they even show you which rooms have monsters for you to fight. Gotta love that.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

In PE1, you get to tune up your weapons and armor, giving you the opportunity to customize up the wazoo and build whatever you like. It's a lot of work, and very time consuming, but it can also be very rewarding. In PE2, the weapons are as they are, what you see is what you get. The only customization you can do is with one particular rifle, which can be fitted with any of five special attachments. If you like tricking out your gear, PE1 wins hands down. If you just want to pick up a weapon and shoot, then PE2 is the game for you.

Ammo is where PE2 customizes things. In PE1, ammo is ammo, with the exceptions of rockets and Maeda's special rounds. Otherwise, standard ammo works in all pistols, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, etc. In PE2, however, not only does each class of weapon have separate ammo, but also there are several different kinds of rounds for each class of weapon. This makes more sense and better mirrors real life. However, if you're carrying a pistol, a shotgun, a rifle, and a grenade launcher, you might have three types of pistol ammo, three types of shotgun shells, mercifully only one type of rifle round, and three types of grenades. Do you think you have any inventory slots left for healing items? But you don't want to leave any of those weapons behind, because different weapons work better for different types of monsters. I may be partial to the shotgun, but I wouldn't want to be down in the depths of the shelter without a rifle, either. And for certain boss fights, if you don't have a grenade launcher, you are quite simply screwed.


In PE1, Aya has no problem looting a pharmacy and a gun shop in Soho, yet in PE2, she's scrupulous about leaving cash by the register when she takes medicine from the derelict general store. And later on she bawls Kyle out for stealing drinks from the abandoned bar. When did she have this moral awakening?

In PE2, when Aya tells her boss that she encountered a NMC as big as an elephant, he says that there was nothing like that in New York. Um . . . forget about the T-Rex, did we? What about the centipede that was as big as a subway car? The colossal earthworms in Central Park? Or that giant walking blob of goo that was as tall as the Statue of Liberty? And some of those rats in the upper stories of the Chrysler Building were at least rhino sized. Face it, New York was full of really huge monsters. It wasn't all snakes and crows.

Plot issues

In PE1, it made sense for Aya to be fighting the mitochondrial mutants alone, since any other person who got anywhere near Eve either burst into flames or melted into slime. However, in PE2, the NMCs (Neo-Mitochondrial Creatures) do not cause this effect, and the FBI has a whole unit of ordinary humans devoted to fighting them. So why is Aya always alone, even though she repeatedly calls for backup? The only real reason is to facilitate solo gameplay. However, in this case, gameplay comes at the expense of plot. (To be fair, PE2 is not the only game with this problem. With Resident Evil 4, I always wondered why only one solitary Secret Service agent was sent to rescue the President's kidnapped daughter.)

In some ways, PE2 seems less like the sequel to PE1 and more like the unholy union of Resident Evil and Jurassic Park. (Oh yeah, as soon as Aya set foot in the Ark, the Jurassic Park theme song started playing in my head.) I even started calling it "Parasite Evil," first by accident, and later by intention.

When I saw the movie Parasite Eve, years after playing the first game, I thought that the plot seemed completely unrelated to the game. (Of course, it was based on the novel. Allegedly, so was the game, but much more loosely.) Upon replaying the first game, I've realized that the events in the movie (and thus the novel) are actually described in the first game, when Maeda talks about the incident in Japan. So it's nice to see they really are connected.

And if you watched Episodes I-III of Star Wars and thought George Lucas pulled that whole midichlorian thing out of his butt, might I point out the similarity between the words midichlorian and mitochondria. Mutant mitochondria give people amazing super powers? High midichlorian count determines who is strong with the Force? I think Lucas played Parasite Eve.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that Daniel (PE1) is secretly Superman. He and Maeda jump from a second-story window in the museum, yet show up mysteriously unharmed later that same evening. (This does not imply that Maeda has any special powers. Clearly, Daniel saved him.) Then later, Daniel leaps from a helicopter, bursts into flames, and then slams into the ocean. Either the fire or the impact should have been sufficient to kill any mortal. And the fact that he ignited proves that he was inside the radius of the enemy's power, where no one could possibly rescue him, except Aya, who was far too busy fighting the Ultimate Being at the time. So even if he survived the fall, he would still have been adrift in the ocean at night with no hope of rescue. And yet . . . when Aya finishes the final battle and returns to shore, there he is, standing on the pier waiting for her, whole and well. His clothes aren't even singed. The only conclusion is that Daniel is an invulnerable superhuman. Too bad he couldn't have given some of that amazing survival power to Pierce (PE2), who seemed to be made of tissue paper.


Well, I ended up with six points in Parasite Eve's favor, compared with only four in Parasite Eve 2's favor, with other factors being toss-ups. I think overall, Parasite Eve is the better game. But really, both games hold up remarkably well for their vintage, and both are grand fun to play.

Now I'm all hyped up for The 3rd Birthday (aka Parasite Eve 3), which is slated for release sometime in 2010. Looking forward to seeing more of Aya, no matter how ludicrous her adventures become.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snowed In

Still snowed in, of course. The roads that have been plowed are passable, if you can get to them. My alley has not been plowed, and car after car has gotten stuck. This morning, it took one of my neighbors over three and a half hours to dig out his car--back and forth, back and forth, shoveling around the wheels and laying down cardboard for traction.

Right now, there's another car abandoned in the alley, blocking the throughway. Yesterday, there was a different car abandoned at the other end of the alley for most of the afternoon. So even if a plow comes, they won't be able to get through.

The wheel ruts you see are from a huge 4x4 pickup, the only vehicle that has successfully made it through the alley. There's no point in digging out my car until the way is passable. Once I see cars similar to mine moving through without getting trapped, then I'll head out with my new shovel and unbury my car.

I've had to cancel out of Saturday and Sunday holiday gatherings (one of which had been rescheduled from Christmas Eve as it was). Fortunately, however, I'm on vacation, I have plenty of food, and my electricity and heat are operational. As being snowed in goes, the circumstances are nearly ideal for me. I can relax and enjoy my cats.

Hope you all are safe and warm, wherever you are.

Addendum, 6:00 pm: Not long after I posted the photos, a plow did come though the alley, just up to where the car was stuck. So I just got in from two hours of digging out my car. Now I at least have the option of going out tomorrow. Whew!

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

I'm snowed in. This was the view from the front door of my apartment complex, before I broke through the sea of white with my footprints. The streets had not been plowed, nor were there any tracks. Not even the folks with big SUVs are attempting to go anywhere.

Why go out at all? It's my habit to take out the trash every morning immediately after scooping the litterbox. Plus, I just wanted to experience the snow instead of looking at it from my window. And, since I'm planning on staying home today, I can enjoy the snow, knowing that I don't have to drive in it. I'll dig my car out tomorrow, or whenever the snow stops.

The sidewalk, which had been completely clear with foot-high banks of old snow on either side, had been totally filled in. It was impossible to tell where the old snow ended and the new drifts began. I only had a dozen or so steps to reach the dumpster. I pretty much slid down the stairs to the sidewalk, because I couldn't find any of the steps underneath the snowy slope. On the sidewalk, the snow was almost up to my knees.

As you can see in the picture, it's still coming down pretty thick. (Yes, those white specks in the darkness are snowflakes reflecting the camera's flash.) I bet my deep footprints will be filled in before long. I wonder how much we'll get by the time it's finished. It's rather amazing.

I don't mind staying home for Christmas. I'm not really alone, since I've got my cats, the phone, and the internet. Everyone, stay safe. Merry Christmas and Peace Be With You!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wood Duck

My dad requested a wood duck for Christmas. I normally sculpt with colored clay (a mix of Fimo, Promat, Sculpy, Granitex, and whatever else I have on hand), but I thought that with a wood duck, by the time I got all those intricate markings done, the duck would end up being rather lumpy and misshapen. So I tried something new. I sculpted the duck entirely out of white, and then colored it with Sharpie markers. I used black paint and a tiny brush to get into the crevices too deep for the thick nub of a Sharpie to reach. (The back of the neck and under the wingtips.) I would have just painted the duck outright, except I don't have the right colors on hand, and I wasn't about to go out.

It is rather difficult to blend Sharpie, but it can be done by going over the same spot with the two colors you want repeatedly, until there are so many layers that they stay slightly damp for a few seconds. Then you can kind of push them around a little.

I was afraid that error correction would be impossible with Sharpie, but then when I made an error, I got desperate. Yes, you can fix it with a knife, by scraping off the ink and a little of the underlying clay. The scratches roughen up the surface of the clay, though, so I only did this where I needed to restore a white area. I let my other errors stand.

His eyes are a little too big, but overall I'm pleased with how he came out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on Purchasing Magazines and Books

Issue by issue, Crossed Genres is disappearing. Disaster has not struck, but by contract, the publisher possesses the rights to the short stories for one calendar year, after which the rights revert to the authors. When my story "Stay" was published in Issue 12, Issue 1 was still available in the store, so I didn't quite realize the full ramifications of the contract. Issue 1 was removed from the Crossed Genres website and from all stores at the end of November. Issue 2 will be removed at the end of December, less than two weeks from now. In just ten months and a couple of weeks, Issue 12, with my story, will vanish from the world until I find some other avenue to get it republished.

The editors of the magazine were very good about publicizing the end of Issue 1 via their blog (and are now doing the same for Issue 2). Read it or buy it now, or lose your chance forever. So I bought a copy of Issue 1 in late November. Issue 1 is gone from the website and from all stores. You can't get it anymore. But I still have my print copy on my bookshelf. There is no way for any publisher or lawyer to revoke it. It is legally mine for as long as I choose to own it (barring theft, fire, or other unforeseen events, of course).

For my Christmas present to myself, I purchased Issues 2-13 in print. So when Issue 2 vanishes at the end of December, I won't have to worry about whether or not I've finished reading it. I have a print copy that will be mine forever. It will never expire. I won't have to worry about the rest of the issues disappearing month by month. I can read them at my leisure, even if they sit on my shelf for ten years before I get to them. (And I do have books that have been waiting ten or more years in my Garden of the Unread. I'm stockpiling for a snowy day, or retirement.)

This brings me to the idea of ownership versus access, a huge topic in the library world.

The University of Anywhere Library subscribes to Database ABC, which includes full-text access to 10,000 journals. It's great for the students who can do their research from home. The library serves them, even if they never once set foot inside the building.

The library's shelves are packed to bursting. There's no money for a building expansion, so something has to go, or they'll be forced to stack books on the floor. The librarians decide that since Database ABC has full-text access to 30 years of back issues, they can weed their print copies of any journals that are among the 10,000 included in the database. That frees up a lot of shelf space, and the students, preferring online access, haven't been using those paper copies anyway. For a while, everyone is happy.

But the library has budget cuts. The cost of serials goes up every year at a rate much, much higher than the rate of inflation, so even if the library has a static budget, that translates to real cuts in journal subscriptions. And Database ABC is expensive, and the price just went up another couple thousand dollars. After several years of static budgets alternating with cuts, the library has already cut everything nonessential, and they're now forced to take a long, hard, painful look at Database ABC, which is so very critical to the collection.

So the library drops their subscription to Database ABC and subscribes to a new service, Database GHI, which is significantly cheaper. Database GHI also has full-text access to 10,000 journals, but only 6,000 of those were included in Database ABC. So the library has gotten 4,000 new journals, but has lost 4,000 old ones. There is no access to back issues for the years they paid for. They're just gone.

Among those 4,000 lost are a couple hundred journals for which the library once had print subscriptions. If the library had kept their paper copies, they would still have access to the back issues, even though they canceled the subscription. But since the library tossed them to make space, they're just gone forever.

See the difference? You buy a print journal or book, and it's yours. You own it. You don't have to worry about licenses or contracts. You paid for the print copy, and you have the right to read it, loan it, give it away, sell it, or keep it until you die and designate its new owner in your will. That is ownership.

With electronic materials, what you're typically buying is access. You might have access for a set period of time, or you might have access for as long as you subscribe to the service. It all depends on the license agreement. You don't own anything. You can't loan it, give it away, sell it, or even keep it. If you cancel the service, your access vanishes.

And access is often proprietary. If you bought 100 books for your Amazon Kindle, and you want to switch over to a Barnes & Noble nook, do you think you can transfer those 100 books to your new device? If you're not sure, the answer is no. Will that change in the future? Maybe. Will it change in time for it to matter? Who knows?

Remember the brouhaha a while ago about George Orwell's works on the Amazon Kindle? There was a licensing issue, and Amazon deleted those editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm from the Kindles of everyone who had purchased them. The customers' money was refunded, but that wasn't the point.

If people had purchased print editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four, then no matter what licensing issue came up, neither Amazon nor the publisher would have had the right to go into people's homes and remove the physical books from the shelves.

There was a big outcry from the public, and Amazon basically said, "Sorry. Won't happen again." But there is really nothing to stop them from doing it again. There is actually nothing illegal about what they did. Since copyright law was involved, Amazon probably felt they not only had the right but also the obligation to delete those books from customers' Kindles.

And this is the main reason I prefer to buy print copies of things I want to keep.

Sometimes I'm fine with simple access. If I watch a video on YouTube, I don't necessarily want to own a DVD of it, and I wouldn't particularly care if the video were deleted the next day, never to be accessed by anyone again. Likewise when I read an article in the news or on someone's blog, I rarely have cause to refer back to it later. Access is enough, and if it goes away, I'm not troubled.

Generally, I don't care to own magazines. Crossed Genres is different because each issue is a collection of short stories, which in my mind are less ephemeral than most articles.

For books, when I borrow a book from a friend or a library, I return it when I'm done. I access it via a promise or a library card, but I don't own it. But if I really, really like the book, I'll go out and buy a copy to ensure that my access to it will never vanish when my friend moves away or when the library weeds it from their collection.

Some people say content is the only factor of importance, and the carrier (physical or electronic) is irrelevant. But I say that the carrier fundamentally transforms the way we relate to the content. I'm not saying one is superior to the other, but that they are different. You must think about this when you decide whether you want to own or simply access a particular book or magazine. Do you want to just read it once and be done with it, or do you want to ensure that you always have it whenever you want it? And if you want to loan it, you need to own it.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the ownership-versus-access question, but it's important to consider it as you make decisions about how you want your media, whether it be books, magazines, movies, or music.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Faster than a Speeding Bullet . . .

I bought a DVD of the old 1940s Superman cartoon, packaged in a cute metal lunchbox. (Cost me $5. The lunchbox itself is probably worth that.) I'm sure I saw these cartoons as a child, but I don't remember them. I watched the first two tonight. What a hoot!

The first thing that struck me is the difference in Superman's origin story. Yes, he's still the sole survivor of Krypton, which was apparently destroyed by massive earthquakes. However, the narration implied that everyone on Krypton was super, while the Superman canon I grew up with (the Christopher Reeve movies) had it that everyone on Krypton was normal while on Krypton, and they only developed the amazing powers on Earth due to the effects of our yellow sun. (Yeah, that doesn't really make much sense when you think about it. I suppose it's fine to imagine that everyone on Krypton was super. Like Buddy said in The Incredibles, "When everyone's super, no one will be.")

The biggest difference in his origin story, however, was that he grew up in an orphanage. No kindly Ma and Pa Kent to raise their special boy on a spacious farm. The Man of Steel was on his own from the get go.

The next thing that struck me was the character of Lois Lane. I figured, these were made in 1941-1942, so I expected Lois to be, you know, pre-feminist. Not so! She's gutsy, even if she has no self-preservation instinct. ("What is this 'danger' of which you speak? Pardon me, but I have to crawl inside the cargo hold of this giant, marauding robot.") In the first episode on the disc, when she wanted to go somewhere, she hopped into an airplane and flew herself. Yep, Lois was a pilot. Sure, she still got captured and needed Supes to save her, but so has every version of Lois Lane. Ever. I'm actually finding 1940s Lois more independent, more liberated, and generally more awesome than later versions. (So far, anyway. As I've said, I've only watched the first two episodes.)

Anyway, these are good, clean, leave-your-brain-at-the-door fun. I look forward to watching the rest of them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tool-Using Octopuses

This is so cool! I knew octopuses were highly intelligent, but I never guessed they used tools. Check out the video of octopuses toting around coconut shells and using them as houses. I especially like the one who pulls two coconut halves together to enclose itself in a sphere.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My Car is Buried

We got quite a bit of snow yesterday and last night. I love the wind-sculpted drifts.

I think the mix of frost and steam on the laundry room windows is awesome.

However, my car is buried, and I do not own a snow shovel. I'm actually not quite sure what to do.

Normally, I can just stomp down a walkway around my car, but the drifts are a little high for that this time. I considered using a bowl or kitchen pot to dig, but the alley hasn't been plowed yet anyway. Even if I dug out my parking stall, it would get buried again. And the car I saw trying to get through the alley was having quite a lot of trouble. My car would be high centered before I made it three yards. Plus, the temperature right now, with the sun shining bright, is only 5 degrees.

I think I will hitch a ride with one of my coworkers tomorrow morning, then borrow her snow shovel after work. Then I would be able dig my car out tomorrow evening. That sounds like the safest plan.