Golion Is Fucking Boss
I've been going to Anime Central for years but I haven't been buying anything or watching any anime, what with trying to conserve my money and free time.
But this year I was like, what the heck, there's a whole dealer's room full of Japanese cartoon videos, I bet I can find something fun to watch. Oh hello sketchy Media Blasters vendor booth, what's this you have here on the corner of your table of wares?
OH HELL YEAH!!
You're probably saying "What the hell is 'King of Beasts Golion'". But if you grew up in America in the 80s, I guarantee you know this cartoon. In fact, either you had the totally awesome toy or you were jealous of kids who had the totally awesome toy. You just probably know it under a different name:
That's right, "百獣王ゴライオン", literally "King of the hundred beasts, Golion" (because five lions = Go Lion, get it?) is the Japanese cartoon that became "Voltron: Defender of the Universe".
Much like Robotech, Voltron was a show made by taking two unrelated Japanese cartoons, editing them to hell to take out all the crazy violence, mashing them together to reach the desired syndication length, and papering over the whole thing with a brand-new plot and dialogue.
(Besides Beast King Golion, the other show that became Voltron was the little-remembered "Armored Fleet Dairugger XV", which became the little-remembered and generally inferior "vehicle Voltron" arc, where Voltron was made out of fifteen stupid vehicles instead of five awesome lions.)
But anyway. Started watching it last night, expecting it to be, you know, some dumb nostalgic fun.
I was in no way prepared for how TOTALLY FUCKING METAL this show is. It is a hundred times more hardcore than Voltron. Check out the following badass plot points which you were totally missing out on in the watered-down, "appropriate for children" American version.
1. In the prologue, GoLion is going on a merry rampage through the universe chopping shit up. He wasn't built by anyone or piloted by anyone, he's just a primordial, self-aware giant robot. He gets cocky and decides to take up arms against The Goddess of Space (宇宙の女神), who smacks him down for his hubris, Greek-mythology style! To teach him a lesson, she separates him into five parts and dumps him on a nearby planet.
2. There's no "Earth federation" or "galaxy alliance" or whatever those peacenik hippies were called in Voltron. Earth is destroyed in World War 3, which happens in the distant year 1999. We get to see a lovely montage of screaming women and babies dying in nuclear fire.
The five main characters are possibly the only survivors of Earth, and only because they happened to be out in space at the time. (Too bad all five of them are men - they're not going to be able to rebuild the human race. Bummer.)
3. The five main characters (how convenient that there are five of them, and that they already happen to wear colors matching the uniforms they're eventually going to get) are picked up by a slave ship from the Galra Empire which has a totally bitchin' giant demon skull on the prow.
4. They're taken back to the Slave Castle on the Galra homeworld in the Great Dark Nebula, where slaves from hundreds of planets are whipped mercilessly and forced to fight in a colloseum against giant purple monsters called "Deathblack Beastmen".
(Dude. If I ever start a trashy metal band, I'm totally going to call it the Deathblack Beastmen.) The citizens of Galra put on their poshest Sunday clothes and frilly collars to go down and watch the slave fights.
The losers are killed, butchered, made into stew, and fed to the Beastmen and the other slaves. The winners? Emperor Daibazaal's advisor, an alien sorceress, uses black magic to transform the winners into Beastmen themselves. How's that for damned if you do, damned if you don't?
5. Our heroes manage to escape by combining their skills (of course) to get out of their cell in the castle tower, and when the waiting "space vultures" swoop down to eat them, they jump up and grab on to the space vultures' legs and ride them to freedom "like hang-gliders".
They land on a fucking mountain of skulls of dead slaves, then steal a slave ship (which they somehow know how to operate) and fly away.
6. They're shot down and crash land on the planet Altea, a once-peaceful planet which somehow managed to exactly replicate renaissance Europe in its architecture and clothing styles, which was ruined by the attacks of the Galra Empire, leaving its surviving people to hide out in caves as refugees on their own planet. While wandering the deserts of Altea, the main characters all agree that their will to survive is so strong that they will do whatever it takes to stay alive. Which gives us the following unforgettable line:
So yeah. Nuclear war, slavery, torture, cannibalism, dismemberment, black magic, dudes getting stabbed and blown up, a giant mountain of skulls, a robot getting smacked down for challenging the gods, and a promise to kill and eat the deveil. And that's just the first episode. It's like, did Hieronymus Bosch write this cartoon?
They don't actually form Voltron, sorry I mean form GoLion, until the end of the fourth episode, because they have to do all sorts of fetch quests first (like getting the missing lion key back from the space nezumi.)
Dude, the space mice! You remember the space mice, right? Somehow, being able to form Voltron always hinged on the space mice in some contrived way in every episode. That's one of the main things I remember from watching Voltron when I was like 6 years old. In the Japanese version the mommy and daddy space mouse are named Platto and Chuchule and only the princess can speak their language.
There's this incredibly trippy, WTF-worthy flashback scene where the mice all put on little dresses and dance the can-can for the princess.
And seductively show off their little mouse underpants.
Dude. WTF. I did not need to see that. (My favorite part of this "big lipped alligator moment", as TVTropes would call it, is how the princess looks like she's totally into it the whole time.)
Backtracking a little bit here, the five pilots -- who by the way, are named Kogane, Shirogane, Kurogane, Seido, and Suzuishi, which mean Gold, Silver, Iron, Copper, and Tin -- how's that for a naming scheme? They find a giant castle on planet Altea inhabited by rejects from Rose of Versailles:
Who tell them all about the legend of Golion (they're like "What? You haven't heard of Golion? Noobs!") and give them pilot uniforms. I love how they just happened to have pilot uniforms lying around that were not only the right sizes, but matched the colors of what each character was wearing already.
Tin (Suzuishi Hiroshi) is the Green Lion pilot, the annoying little kid with the oversized glasses. You remember him, right? In the Japanese version the other characters constantly call him "Chibi", he claims to be descended from ninjas(!) and he is constantly taking out mooks twice his size by jump-kicking them in the face. He's actually kind of a badass in this version.
There's an utterly ridiculous sequence every time they get into the lions. First they go to the high-tech control room hidden inside the ruined castle...
They get in elevator tubes, grab onto handles and slide down into waiting rocket cars, which zoom out in different directions on some kind of underground highways...
and then get ejected up another set of elevator shafts into the cockpits of the lions, which are chillin' out in their respective biomes (forest, lake, desert, open magma pool, and the black lion is inside the statue in front of the castle).
It's like, how does a basically medieval planet build this whole underground rocket car delivery system? Why wasn't it destroyed when Galra attacked? If everything was still working, why did they wait around for five earthling pilots to show up? Why didn't they round up five Altea refugees and train them to pilot the lions? Come to think of it, how come the pilots from earth can operate the lions no problem without any training?
Orange dude (Seido, = Copper) looks a little confused about the whole thing too.
Everybody just remembers the part where they combine; they forget that the lions can kick a lot of ass individually, too. They breath fire and shoot lasers and missiles and shit, plus they're ridiculously huge and they can charge through, pounce on, claw, and bite enemies to death.
But by the end of episode 4, even all five lions together are not a match for what Emperor Daibazaal sends at them: a skyscaper-sized Deathblack Beastman which has giant drills for nipples.
It is launched through space from the Galra homeworld to the planet Altea in a giant space coffin with more bitchin' demon skulls on it.
I am not making this up. Drill. Nipples. Space. Coffin.
And that's when it's time to form Voltron Golion. And you already know how that part goes. He forms the blazing sword between his hands and then it's all over except for the chopping, screaming, and exploding.
And there you have it. Golion is totally fucking boss. All that and we're only through 4 episodes. 48 more to go! What kind of mayhem awaits?
Manga Studio: The Epic List of UI Failures
I've heard people defend Manga Studio as "power-user software", like "It's for experts, and it's super powerful, so of course it has a learning curve".
No. I know all about making tradeoffs between learnability for beginners and efficiency for experts. I know what software looks like when it takes the path of "hard to learn but very efficient and powerful once you learn it" (like, say, Emacs) , and this ain't it. The Manga Studio interface just gets stuff wrong. It's egregiously bad for no reason. Most of these usability problems would harm experts just as bad as they harm beginners.
Here's my ever-expanding list of UI mistakes and bugs in this wretched application, organized by sub-categories.
- Can't open a file that's not the right file type; you have to import it. Can't import a file if you don't have a page open. Why not just create a page for the user in this case?
- (Windows version only): That horible window-inside-of-window interface is back and ready to party like it's 1995!
- Every time you open the damn thing it makes a new blank document, and when you go to close it, it pops a dialog to say the blank document has been changed. No it hasn't, you liar.
- It asks me if I want to save every time I change pages. (THE ANSWER IS YES. DON'T ASK ME, JUST DO IT). Oh, maybe it's a good thing to not save changes, because you throw away my undo history whenever changing pages, which means I can't go back to a page and undo something. The right behavior would be to always keep undo history while continuously auto-saving.
- Many layer options, such as the color depth and raster/vectorness of the layer, can only be set when creating it. If you mess up, you have to delete the layer and do it again! (not actually true, I found how to change this).
- I've got layers called "Layer" and "Layer" automatically included underneath the bottom layer of my drawing and I don't know why.
- If you make a layer tones instaed of grayscale by mistake, there's no way to change it back afterwards. You'd have to redo it all. This is extra annoying since tone is the default, it's not displayed anywhere once you get past the 'create layer' dialog box, and it's never what I want.
- To make panels, you go into the general tab of the tool options window for the shape tool and click a tiny cryptic icon to turn on a special mode and then drag the rectangle tool to create a folder of layers. (Why are panels not a top-level tool of their own, given that this is called manga studio? And given that some of the top-level tools are much more specialized and useless?)
- The "panel ruler cutter tool" which exists to chop one panel into two panels along a straight line (cuz you do that all the time, right?) deserves a slot in the main tool pallete. (While the panel tool isn't even a tool, it's a suboption of Rectangle.)
- When you drag a corner of a panel, it moves JUST THAT CORNER, turning your panel into an ugly trapezoid. It doesn't resize while keeping it a rectangle like you would expect. I still don't know how to resize a panel while keeping it rectangular, which you would assume would be the default.
- When you have a panel selected, it's got a red border around it that looks just like the red border for resizing selections, so you think it's to resize the panel, but no. Dragging it does nothing to the original panel -- but sometimes randomly creates new tiny panels elsewhere on the page! I'm still not sure what it's for, but hey! Why not use the same visual to represent two completely different concepts! That's not confusing or anything.
- Giving me tones when I want gray. Making it impossible to eyedrop up a
tone (unless you turn on a checkbox in the eyedropper tool options window, and sometimes that even doesn't work. I still don't know why).
- Two different types of color picker in the same window, which disagree with each other. When you eyedropper a shade of grey, it changes the bottom scale but leaves the selection in the top color picker alone. When you click a shade of grey, it changes in the top color picker but not in the bottom scale. This means that the actual color is dependent on which interface you used last, and you can't tell by looking at the window what color you're going to get when you paint something.
- Sometimes the paint bucket turns into a "No" symbol and won't paint. Why's that? Oh, somehow my text layer got selected.
- There's a copy of my colorz layer called "Colors Copy" that I didn't create.
- To eyedrop a color, I have to know what layer the color is in and have that layer selected. Sometimes that still doesn't work; the eyedropper
can fail for a lot of reasons I still don't understand.
- Paint bucketing in a secondary layer with "browse all layers" turned on, i can very easily dump paint through all my lines without anything visible happening - I only find out later when it's to late to undo that I now have a duplicate of the lines layer in the color layer, so when I try to erase something in the lines layer it doesn't seem to erase and I think I'm going crazy.
- Not obeying my choice of font, because the "Use Style" checkbox is checked by default and it apparently means "Ignore whatever else I say". This is an amazing interface innovation: Having the obvious parts of the interface disabled by default until you dig through dialog boxes to find the magic check box that's overriding them.
- No way to search fonts or type the name of the font you want; you have to scroll through the menu one by one. Oh, but there are "up" and "down" buttons next to the font selection that let you blindly go through the alphabetical list one at a time. How would those ever be useful?
- When I try to change the font size of text that's already typed and selected (as opposed to setting the font size first and then typing), sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I can always resize text by dragging the border around it, but then I don't know how much I'm resizing it by and so I can't match it with the size of the other text. I really want to enter a point size.
- Also, when I type into the "text size" field to set the size, that field keeps focus (with the modal "text properties" dialog box still up) so now when I try to type my actual text nothing happens because it's trying to put the ltters into the text size field and it's rejecting them. You have to notice that the text size field has focus and then de-focus it by clicking other random parts of the dialog box. And no, if you dismiss the dialog box you go out of text edit mode.)
- Double clicking to select a word in a line of text selects the whole line and not just the word, unlike every other application in the world.
- Having a way to make thought clouds, but no way to make the "bubble trail" from the thought cloud to a character's head! I know this isn't used that much in Japanese comics but there are so many other obscure and useless options that I'm surprised this basic one isn't included. You have to draw each circle manually if you want the bubble trail.
- Yes, thank you for making my speech bubble transparent, randomly. Transparent speech bubbles that let the grey background show through are just so useful. Thanks for having no controls for me to change this and no clue to why it happened. (Sushu figured it out: the text layer I created got inserted under the color layer, for some reason, so the colors were being drawn (translucently) over the top of the text).
- The edit menu has both "copy" and "Copy to another applications" (sic). Aside from the grammar, why are these separate options? Why can't you make one copy command and have it work right no matter where I'm copying to?
- You're in a hidden mode whenever a properties dialog box is open. It looks like a floating modeless dialog box, but it prevents you from doing anything to your picture. Also you're in a hidden mode when you're importing a picture or editing text - you won't understand why nothing sems to work until you click "OK".
- The scroll bars stretch way out into a grey void outside your picture. What posible reason is there to scroll out there?
- I try to copy an image on one page to another page. I select it and make sure to have all the layers hilighted, then do a copy, and... whaat? now I got duplicate text layers on this page? Which are rotated relative to the visible ones? What did I do? I can't undo it! (Solution: close file and reopen without saving).
- When you try to draw and nothing happens, it could be because there's an
offscreen selection somewhere. Or it could be because you have the wrong layer selected. Or it could be any number of other reasons I haven't figured out. Anyway, I'm constantly having to stop and figure out why my drawing tools aren't drawing. It's a never-ending adventure with Manga Studio!
Things I DO like about manga studio (a much shorter list)
- Single key shortcuts for switching tools and increasing/decreasing pen size
- "coloring inside the lines": When you have a selection up, you draw only inside the selection. This is very powerful combined with the magic wand to select an area of color and the fact that you can select on one layer and then draw (still bound to selection) on another layer. You can also polyline select and invert selections. There's a bit of a learning curve to figuring out how to use all these tools together, but they are a powerful combination.
- Infinite levels of undo (unfortunately these go away as soon as you switch pages, bah)
- Being able to use multiple translucent layers, and vary the opacity of each layer individually, lets you get some powerful effects (like the rain streaks, the reflection outside the window, and the pool of light from the window all in my most recent comic)
- I like that I can set a panel boundary, then pull in an image from elsewhere into the panel, and it's clipped at the panel edge, but the rest of the image is still there, just hidden, so I can easily resize and position it until it's clipped the way I want. (And I can also pull out individual layers such as dialog balloons and put them above the panel layer so they spill out the edge).
- You can enter some text and then hit "generate dialog balloon". It creates an object that can be resized, and you can add straight or curved tails and reposition them wherever. It's got some weird quirks but the underlying idea is exactly how you want a dialog balloon to behave and is a lot better than any of the ways I tried to do them before.
Laptop buyer's remorse
A couple weeks ago I bought a
Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart tm2-1070us Notebook. This is a laptop with a touch-sensitive screen, that can swivel around and fold down over the keyboard to turn the laptop into a tablet.
I thought it would be a cool thing to help with drawing comics, since I could draw right on the screen. Also, I haven't bought myself a computer since 2002 (every computer I've used since then has been one lent to me by whoever I was working for at the time). I thought maybe it was time to have a computer of my own, to separate my work stuff from the rest of my life. Finally, I also wanted to get away from Mac, as Apple has been turning evil lately and I don't want to support them any more.
I started regretting the purchase almost immediately. I brought it back to Fry's (return policy: full refund minus 15% restocking fee within 14 days) less than a week later. Should really have done more research first.
Here's a list of what was wrong with this computer.
The hardware sucks
There's no optical drive. I didn't realize this until I got home. I guess I should have read the box more carefully or asked the salesman, but it didn't even cross my mind that you could sell a computer without a CD-ROM drive these days. So yeah, it needs an external CD-ROM drive to install software or play a music CD or anything.
Even with an external CD-ROM drive hooked up, I couldn't get it to boot from a CD. I went into the BIOS and made that drive first in the boot order, but it didn't seem to make any difference. This meant I couldn't install Ubuntu.
The trackpad is a nightmare. It's the kind where the bottom part of the trackpad is meant to double as the mouse buttons, but the whole surface is touch-sensitive and pressure sensitive. This means it's extremely easy to
click when you wanted to move, or move when you wanted to click. (The Macbook Pro gets this right: it has the button separate from the trackpad, so you push the button with your thumb while moving the pointer with your fingers. You can drag two fingers to scroll. It works great.)
On the HP, supposedly I can drag two fingers to scroll, but sometimes it works and other times it doesn't, and I can't figure out why. Sometimes when I drag with two fingers the mouse pointer stays put and turns into a four-directional arrow symbol. I don't understand what this means. Supposedly I can move two fingers apart or together to zoom in or out, but that is also extremely flaky, sometimes working and other times not.
But it's not just the advanced features that don't work. When I go to click on a close button, half the time I miss because the act of pressing down on the mouse button part of the pad moves the pointer off of the button, so I do something else instead. When I try to put an insertion point in text, the point randomly jumps around, sometimes selecting big chunks of the text. Sometimes it brings up the context menu as if I had right-clicked. Dragging a scroll bar is fraught with perils. If I try to hold the button down with my thumb and move the pointer with my index finger at the same time, that means I'm touching the pad in two places, which means unpredictable behavior. The pointer might randomly jump halfway across the screen, or it might not move at all.
I have no idea what to expect when I touch this track pad. All my habits are dangerous now. It's at the point where I'd rather pick up the stylus and poke the screen with it than use the track pad, even if I'm in laptop mode and just trying to click a link.
Actually drawing with the stylus on the screen is pretty good, but using it to click links or select from menus or otherwise interact with a standard GUI is very annoying because the part of the interface I'm looking at is covered up by my hand and the pen, and because the standard GUI rendered on a laptop screen has targets that are physically very small, and sometimes the stylus is registered as a couple pixels off from where I think it is due to my viewing angle. I miss targets a lot. But in tablet mode, that's the only way to click things. (It's still better, slightly, than using the trackpad.)
There's a toggle button on the right edge of the laptop between the power button and the SD card port, which turns the wireless connection on and off. I discovered this by accident, because this button is in the perfect place to be hit by accident when you with the thumb when you're just trying to hold the computer in tablet mode. And then the next time you go to load a web page it suddenly doesn't work, and you don't know why. Now that I've figured out this button, I have to carefully avoid hitting it, forever. Why does this button even exist? Why would you put an "accidentally turn off my wireless internet" button on the hardware? (There's actually TWO such buttons, since the f12 key ALSO does the same thing). The cases when you need to turn off wireless internet on a laptop are exceedingly rare, and can easily be handled through software controls.
The back of the screen and the area below the keyboard both have this stupid spirally abstract cloud pattern etched into them. It's not printed, it's not a sticker that you can peel off, it's actually permanently etched in, like with a laser or something. Who asked for this nonsense?
Probably due to the weight of the touch-screen hardware, the machine is very top-heavy when in laptop mode. It's hard to balance on my lap because it keeps wanting to fall over backward.
The software sucks
I remember when you'd buy a new computer and it would boot to a BIOS screen, waiting for you to configure the drives and install the operating system. It was a little more work to set up, but it gave you a pleasantly minimalistic setup at first. You started with the bare minimum and added things as you needed them.
These days you have to spend the first couple of days just de-gunking a computer from all the ad-ware and useless crap that's pre-loaded at the factory before you can use it. Bahhh. Everything is popping up dialog boxes at you, begging for your attention,trying to get you to buy Norton Antivirus or whatever other crap software paid Hewlett-Packard for advertising space. You configure your network settings once in the Windows wizard that pops up, and then as soon as that's gone a Hewlett-Packard wizard takes over and asks you the same questions all over again, except it's also trying to get you to buy stuff.
HP has started using this horribly inappropriate "Nightmare before Christmas" font on all their stuff, with the slogan "The computer is personal again!" Whatever, guys.
There's a button on the edge of the screen that rotates the screen orientation 90 degrees each time you press it, so that you can use the tablet in portrait mode or landscape mode. That's fine. But for a while, every time I touched this button, a program called "BumpTop" would take over my screen for no reason I could understand. It would launch into some kind of stupid tutorial and I would close it. By the fourth or so time that BumpTop came up and took over my screen, it said "You are now done with the tutorial". Which of course I wasn't, but it had apparently been advancing through the tutorial each time I closed it. I finally uninstalled BumpTop (actually Sushu uninstalled it for me to get me to stop bitching about it).
BumpTop is an amazingly useless piece of showing-off-ware. I wrotea separate rantabout BumpTop and why it's useless and fundamentally misguided.
Besides BumpTop, other useless software that showed up to beg for my attention included two wretched things called "HP Advisor" and "HP TouchSmart" which are installed and taking up space in the windows taskbar by default. Hp Advisor appears to be a combination of adware and redundant interface to things you can do through the Windows control panel. HP Touchsmart is an overblown and redundant full-screen touch interface for browsing multimedia files. Whatever. It also has a 'browser' button which launches IE full-screen, and - this is the weird part - Hulu, Netflix, and Twitter buttons. Those are websites; I don't need a special button to launch them, though I'm sure they paid HP nicely for the privilege. The weirdest one is Twitter; when I think of things that would benefit from a full-screen touch-enabled interface, Twitter isn't anywhere on the list. What possible purpose does this serve?
Windows 7 (which, amusingly, has an internal verison number of 6.1) appears to be, at least, no worse than Windows XP; it just sucks more memory and randomly changes parts of the interface around so you have to relearn everything for no real benefit. The hourglass is now a blue ring exactly like the ones the moai heads spit at you in Gradius. Every icon in Windows Explorer now gets a little check box when you select it, which is just confusing; it turns out that this is an alternate way to select multiple files at once, if you
don't want to shift-click, control-click, or drag a box around the files. That would have been a great innovation for, say, 1990, when the conventions of selecting icons were still being established, but it seems like a weird thing to start messing with now.
I do appreciate that Windows 7 didn't blue-screen-of-death on me five times in the first day like Vista did. That's a definite improvement.
I actually like the Windows 7 feature where you can drag a window to the top of the screen to full-screen it or to one side of the screen to half-screen it. The latter makes it easy to compare two windows side by side, which
is the only real use case for non-fullscreen windows anyway.
My plan was to wipe Windows 7 and install Ubuntu, but since I could never get the laptop to boot from a CD-ROM (see above), I couldn't do this.
Manga Studio really, really sucks
I'm splitting this part into a separate blog post because there are so many reasons that Manga Studio sucks.
Suffice to say here that the unreliable trackpad input, the clunkiness of Windows 7, and the horrible UI failure that is Manga Studio all combined to make an absolutely miserable, frustrating, hair-pulling out experience that had me doing more swearing and nerd-raging than drawing.
The only way to make it usable would have been to hook it up with an external CD-ROM drive and an external mouse (thus defeating the purpose of a tablet computer), wipe Windows 7 in favor of Ubuntu (providing I could figure out how to make Ubuntu compatible with the touchscreen and pressure-sensitive stylus input), and replace Manga Studio with some other software. But GIMP is equally horrible interface-wise and Photoshop doesn't run on Linux, so I don't even know what software that would be.
That's why I declared the whole thing a failed experiment and brought the laptop back to the store.
New comic posted: Monday
A friend from work offered me an invitation code to the beta test of Starcraft 2.
You may have noticed I haven't been blogging or posting any comics lately... now you know why. Because I MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS!!!
The beta version I have doesn't have any of the single-player campaign or story mode in it, or even a computer AI to play against. It can only be used to play online against other beta testers, to test out the stability of the game engine (I've had 2 crashes so far) and the game balance.
(If you have the beta too and want to play me, my screen name is "Jonomancer").
I don't think Starcraft 2 is a better game than Starcraft: Brood War. You can't improve on perfection, after all. It's just with different units, some minor UI improvements, and much higher system requirements. (3d graphics add absolutely nothing to the Starcraft experience, but all the advancements in hardware power since 1997 have to be soaked up somehow, don't you know. That's why Windows uses 2G of RAM now.) None of the changes are anywhere near as big as the changes from, say, Warcraft 2 to Warcraft 3. There's no heroes or new races. It's still minerals and vespene gas, still ground units, flying units, cloaked units and detectors. You can still get Zergling rushed, or lose your mineral harvesters to siege tanks that snuck onto the high ground behind your base.
In fact, it's practically the same game. Lucky for me that happens to be a game I love, so a simple change to the unit mix is enough to get me excited about it all over again.
As you know if you've ever tried to play any of Blizzard's RTS games online against random people, they are brutal. Random internet people devote a lot of time to their game of choice, they only care about winning, and they will destroy you.
I'm not very good yet; I'm "Bronze League" in Blizzard's new online matchmaking system, that attempts to put you against players of similar skill. It started me out with some "practice" matches that don't count, then gave me five "placement" matches; I won 3 out of 5 so it put me into the Silver League, where I immediately started losing really bad and dropped me to Bronze League. So it's clearly still got some issues, but at least it's better than the one in Warcraft 3.
I seem to have found my right level now, and I feel like I'm improving quickly. The built-in replay feature is very, very good. After I lose, I can go watch exactly what happened in fast-forward or slow-mo, including seeing everything my opponent did. So rather than being pure frustration, every loss is now an opportunity to watch and learn from your opponent's tricks.
I've learned the hard way about the cheesiest new ways to lose, like this here:
Terran attacks with an early Reaper, that can shoot my harvesters while continually jumping out of range of my Zealots... rar! Come back here, you!
(The way to beat this, by the way, is to build Stalkers before Zealots when playing against Terrans. Of course, good Terrans will expect that... so you have to scout their base with probes right away to see what they're up to.)
Some of the balance changes are very subtle. Expanding to new resource areas seems to be a lot less important than it was in Brood War. Every time I've gone for an early expansion I've lost badly to an opponent who just cranked out units. I've done much better since finding out that I can comfortably run like four gateways and a robotics facility continually off of a single base.
I feel like Protoss have a bit of an unfair advantage in the current version of the beta (patch 11). And I'm speaking as a Protoss player so this isn't just whining. I feel like I meet a lot more Protoss players than the other two races, and beating them is generally harder.
We Protoss can speed up our early game production with Chrono Boost (a new Nexus ability that tells another building to hurry up whatever it's doing). We've got the Sentry, an early game "spellcaster" that can throw down temporary indestructible force fields; a Sentry and a handful of cannons or Stalkers can hold a ramp against a vastly superior ground melee force.
(Heh heh heh... impenetrable defense!)
Our new ship type the Void Ray can come out relatively early game and pose a serious offensive threat (something Scouts were never any good at) or outright win the game if the opponent doesn't have anti-air defenses.
(Nooooo! My poor probes!)
The new Robotics Bay units the Immortal and the Colossus are both totally sick; the Immortal for killing heavily mechanized armies and the Colossus for killing swarm armies.
As if all that weren't enough, we can turn our Gateways into Warp Gates which allow created units to be placed anywhere in Pylon range. And we've got a Warp Prism that can shine Pylon light anywhere it can fly to. But you don't even need the Warp Prism; just sneak a Probe somewhere in back of the enemy's base and drop a Pylon there, and you can start building up for a massive sneak attack.
(Mwa ha ha... he'll never expect an attack from the back of his own base!)
Zerg and Terran get some new tricks of their own, but I don't feel like anything they get is a match for the strategic advantage of a Protoss player blocking their base off with force fields while warping their army straight to the enemy's backdoor.
The Zerg seem to have suffered really badly - they lost the Lurker, a unit of tremendous strategic value, and they lost both the Queen and Defiler while gaining only a mediocre new "spellcaster", the Infestor, to replace them. (There's a Queen in Starcraft 2 but it's a completely different unit - more of an upgrade to your base.) The new Nydus Worm (which can pop its head up anywhere you have vision, not just on creep, and channel ground units through) is pretty scary, but other than that they don't have much that's new and exciting.
I could be wrong; I haven't played Terran myself yet, and maybe the Gold League and Platinum League are dominated by expert Zerg players. But from what I've played so far I feel like Blizzard is showing a little bit of Protoss favoritism that they ought to reign in for the good of the game.
An Observation about Wikipedia
I have never yet seen Wikipedia be wrong on a subject where I had enough detailed knowledge to evaluate it. (Those subjects include: computer programming languages, progressive rock, manga, role-playing games, math, etc)
This isn't to say my experience "proves Wikipedia is accurate" or anything; it's just an anecdote, it doesn't prove anything. But based on my own experiences I have a fairly high level of trust for stuff I read there.
On the other hand, my friend Alexis has seen Wikipedia be wrong plenty of times, on subjects where she is very knowledgeable -- such as history and political science. Alexis said that just how wrong Wikipedia is on any of these topics varies day by day as different factions alternately assert their version on the top of the page.
Why the difference in our experiences? I would hazard a guess that the difference between Alexis's subjects and my subjects is that her subjects attract controversy and mine mostly don't. If you want to know whether some math is correct or what year an album was published in, those are objective facts and anyone who sees that the page is wrong wrong can evaluate for themselves and issue a correction. Nobody but vandals would be invested in maintaining wrong information.
But history and political science involve a lot of generalizations, theorizing about causes, and competing viewpoints. There's a lot more room for ambiguity. Some people have a vested interest in promoting a summary of the facts that makes their own side look good. Even if nobody has an axe to grind, there are still differences of opinion about social and economic theories, about what's important, about the "real" reason something happened, etc.
We should absolutely be skeptical of everything on Wikipedia, I agree. But I say we should be just as skeptical of anything said by any other self-proclaimed authoritative source. Never in human history have we had sources that were 100% reliable, especially about controversial topics. At least Wikipedia has revision history, sources, "", and "The neutrality of this article is disputed". All of which make evaluating the reliability of any statement a good deal more accessible than it is in sources that lack these things.
I mean, authority of sources has always been a social consensus thing, subject to constant challenges by contradicting information; Wikipedia just makes the social process visible.
Ultimately, the greatest value of Wikipedia may be in changing the way we think about knowledge - we should be considering sources and potential biases in everything we read, and Wikipedia teaches that lesson. If "the medium is the message", that's what the message of Wikipedia is to me.
Japan has a font for European calliagraphy too
Check this out: Remember my nemesis, the Curvy Triangle Font?
These are the exact opposite: a set of Japanese fonts meant to invoke "European-ness" by putting round curves and serifs everywhere. Kind of neat.
The Five Demons Of Procrastination
I procrastinate a lot. I want to procrastinate less.
Even when there's something I really want to do, like on weekends when I plan to get a comic page done, or write blog posts or hack on a programming project (cough Toybox cough) I often find myself mindlessly reading web pages for hours at a time. And I wonder, "Why the heck did I just waste my day reading stuff I don't care about?"
Various people have told me that a certain amount of down-time per week is inevitable, and I shouldn't begrudge myself the chance to rest my mind by doing something mindless. I don't think that theory's true, though. There are some days and weeks when I've procrastinated vastly more than other times, so there must be something at work besides just a need for mindless downtime. (Besides, shouldn't my mind be resting while I'm asleep?)
I used to think that procrastination was just a sign of weak will power and I needed to overcome it by pushing myself harder. But that theory's not helpful either; trying to push myself harder by mentally berating myself never works. It just makes me feel crummy, and when I feel crummy I procrastinate more.
But here's something that has actually helped: Breaking down and understanding the reason for the procrastination. I've realized that different bouts of procrastination happen for different reasons. And the key to defeating it is to recognize which kind of procrastination I'm falling prey to.
There are five kinds that I've figured out so far.
1. There's something else I really want to do which is distracting me. For example, maybe I really want to play Starcraft, so I'm thinking about it constantly until I can play it. Or replace "play Starcraft" with doing whatever I want to be doing instead of working.
So thinking about Starcraft is distracting me from working. But I'm telling myself that I can't actually play Starcraft because I have this work I need to get done instead. But I can't focus on the work. So my brain, able neither to work nor to play Starcraft, gets stuck. And when my brain gets stuck it tends to collapse into the lowest possible energy state - default to doing the most mindless thing possible. This usually means aimless websurfing while pretending to work. I tell myself that at least I'm not giving in to Starcraft... but I'm not doing anything useful, either.
Solution: Carve out a chunk of time to play Starcraft. Pick a start time and work until then, then play Starcraft (or whatever) even if my work isn't done.
Having a known stop time to my work session really helps me get work done because it makes the work feel limited, and gives me something to look forward to. If I say "I'm gonna play Starcraft after this is done" then my brain goes "Ugh, I'm going to be working all day, blah, it doesn't matter if I take it slow; let's go check our email again."
But if I set myself a stop time -- "I'm gonna work until 6 and then play Starcraft" -- then my brain goes "Cool, let's see how much I can get done by 6" and working becomes easy.
2. There's too many different things that I feel like I should be doing. I get overwhelmed choosing between them. I need to do X, but oh yeah before I can do X I need to do Y, but maybe it's more important to do Z first? My head starts spinning and I fall into the lowest energy state (aimless websurfing) to avoid making a decision.
Solution: First, realize what's happening. Then, list all the tasks out to make sure I'm not forgetting any and, more importantly, to offload them all from my brain so I can have a clear mind. Take a deep breath. Then tell myself it doesn't matter which one I do first as long as I do one; pick the one with the soonest due-date, or even pick one randomly if there's nothing else to go by.
Once I've picked a task, if I can pretend that's the only thing I need to do, then getting it done is usually pretty easy.
3. The task that I'm trying to do is not defined. I'm telling myself "I gotta X the Y, I gotta X the Y"... and I end up procrastinating not because I'm lacking willpower (though it often feels like I'm lacking willpower) but because I don't really know what X the Y means; it's actually something really vague, or something I don't know how to get started. If I examined the task clearly, I would realize this immediately, but my brain has a way of not examining the task clearly. Instead it's like "Oh you need to have more willpower" (not helpful) or it's like "Let's do some research by reading web pages about X or Y" and before I know it my brain has tricked me into aimless websurfing again.
A good example is if I'm trying to write something, but I haven't actually decided what I'm going to cover, who the target audience is, or what my goal is in writing the thing at all.
Solution: Break the problem down into really small steps. In the process of doing this I'll either produce a list of tasks which are individually so small and easy that it's actually fun to cross them off the list; OR I will discover that I didn't really understand the main task in the first place.
If it turns out I don't understand the task, then the solution is to find somebody to talk to about it; either go talk to the person I'm supposed to be doing the work for, or to someone who has done something similar, admit I'm stuck, and ask for advice and/or clarification. Often by doing this I will find out that my original understanding of the problem was all wrong and I've been banging my head against the wall for nothing; what I should do is often something totally different and much easier than I thought.
The longer I've been procrastinating about something the harder it is to admit I'm stuck and ask for help, but the worse the consequences get for not doing so. I've learned to recognize this situation early and ask for help as soon as I notice that I'm not making any progress.
4. I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. The actual task is something trivial, but I've mythologized it into something big and scary which is making me want to avoid doing it. In the meantime, I feel like this task is top priority so I'd better not do anything else until it's done!... which means I end up doing nothing (i.e. aimless websurfing).
This happens a lot to me with writing important letters or making important phone calls to people I don't know at all or who I barely know. I worry about saying just the right thing, and I often blow it way out of proportion in my mind until just sitting down and writing the thing seems totally terrifying.
Solution: One thing that seems to help is setting myself a time limit appropriate to how long the task should actually take, i.e. 5 or 10 minutes. After 5 or 10 mintues is up, I move on! Either it's done, or I have a better understanding of why the task is not actually simple. (Or I didn't do anything in those 10 minutes... which means I try again later. At least I'm not spending all day on it.)
For the letter writing thing, it also helps if I can write out just the facts first and then worry about the best way to phrase them. This is a lot like breaking down a complex problem into simpler tasks: Once I've broken down what I want to say, deciding how to say it is easy.
5. It's something that I truly don't want to do. In which case, why am I even trying to do it? Did I fool myself into thinking I wanted to do it, or did I agree to it because I thought somebody else wanted me to do it?
Solution: The trick here is to distinguish between stuff that's actually important and stuff that's pointless or meanial. Realistically, what are the consequences of not doing it? Can I just back out of doing it, apologize, and move on? Can I find somebody else to delegate it to?
If I decide to do it after all, then I can focus on the benefits of having it done, or at least look forward to the feeling of relief that I'll get when it's over.
So yeah. That's it. There's no one-size-fits-all solution for procrastination, and doing things that take a lot of work still requires doing a lot of work no matter how you slice it. But I feel like now (at the age of 30) I've finally got a handle on the tricks my brain plays on me to avoid working, and I have some idea how to defeat each one. (Wish I had figured this out back in college!)