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Saturday
Dec132008

Holiday Gifts

A few people have asked me what gifts I think gamers might want. That's pretty hard to answer, but I'll try. First, gamers want Sirlin.net merchandise (also here) like T-shirts, mouse pads, or a Yomi tie.

Games

Once that's out of the way, pretty much everyone likes Xbox Live Arcade so a gift card with Microsoft points is a good bet (assuming they have an Xbox 360 to begin with). A gift card will let them buy amazing games like Street Fighter HD Remix, the masterpiece Rez HD, or that new Civilization game. I haven't tried it but I bet it's good.

If anyone is playing Street Fighter HD Remix with a pad, they'd do well to stop doing that and get a joystick. I used these Hori sticks throughout all of Street Fighter's development, and I used one to reach #1 on the ranked leaderboards. I hear some people complain that this stick isn't good enough, but apparently it is! I've also heard people complain that the buttons break, but I've never had a problem with any of my hori ex2 sticks, so maybe I'm just extremely luckly. You could always hold out for this higher quality real arcade pro hori stick, but it won't be a holiday gift anymore.

Everyone seems to like these shooting games, and this RPG. But don't forget about Wii games. For actual gamers, Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 4 are still as awesome as ever. I haven't played the new Lego Indiana Jones, but I loved the first Lego Star Wars and people tell me this one is even better. It can really bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers (hint, play with your girlfriend). And things like Wii Music and Endless Ocean will also get non-gamers involved. [Edit: Wii Music is probably best for kids, while something like Guitar Hero is probably better to rope in adults.] There's also Wii Fit of course, but it's really hard to get right now.

Or some cocaine would be another way to go. You can even give the addicts a 2-month dose.

Computer

As some general life advice, I recommend not using Microsoft Windows anymore. The most amazing material good that I have ever owned in my life is a Macbook Pro. It's a magical wonderland. No viruses exist for Mac, so there's no need to muck around with anti-virus software. The OS isn't DRM crazy like Vista, so it doesn't check all my hardware components 30 times per second to see if I have connected a device that might try copy DRM video. Above all else, it really does "just work" and have so many nuances of software design that are wonderful. It's also amusing that I can't even figure out how to network my two old PCs, yet my Mac can automatically see both of them and transfer files between them. So yeah, try out those new Macbook Pros that are even better than mine (get 4 GB of RAM so you can have 50 things open at once like me). They make them out of a single piece of carved aluminum these days, so even construction-wise they're pretty amazing. And you can run Windows on them too, in case you're developing a game with some bad person who keeps making a Windows-only version.

The 13" Macbook is even cheaper, and also worth every penny.

Books

Books can change the way people think. Last year, I gave Flow and Blink as gifts to several people. Blink is a little more entertaining, but Flow is a little more important. Flow describes an important psychological state that we feel when we are challenged and it's tied to the process of achieving mastery AND plays in to people's overal, general happiness, if you can believe that. Blink shows the tip of the iceberg of the idea that we make decisions by only consciously knowing about tips of icebergs, yet those decisions are often very good. These books are important enough that it scares me that these subjects aren't regularly taught in school.

Gladwell (author of Blink) also has a new book called Outliers that I haven't read yet. Gladwell takes in a lot of info from boring research journals and puts them together into an interesting package that anyone can understand. I like doing that to, and I'm annoyed that Gladwell has even done this on a subject that I was about to do that for. He even used the same boring research papers and me for his sources. I hate being beaten, but I bet Ouliers is good.

I have that whole long list of recommended books, but I'll tell you here that the Geography of Bliss is a real gem. On writing quality and wit alone, I have to recommend it, not to mention the very interesting subject matter. The author is perfect for his subject: he's a grumpy guy (perfect to write about other people's happiness) who's a journalist (a real writer). He took a break from covering the most unhappy places on Earth to visit the most happy places on Earth. They aren't what you'd expect, and they aren't happy for the reasons you'd expect them to be. The Geography of Bliss is a safe gift for pretty much anyone.

I don't know the first thing about this Arcade Mania book. It's about Japanese arcades and has a picture of Ryu on the cover. What I do know is that surprisingly many people who visit my site have bought this book.

Movies and TV About Not Following The Rules

It's interestng that games are, at their core, systems of rules and yet games produce communities of people who are highly skeptical of rules. That is why I suggest these stories that are about breaking rules.

House. (Season 1,2,3,4, or entire collection.) House's personality type is INTP, the same as mine. He and I are very similar, it's just that he's an exaggeration--a caricature--and an overly mean-spirited one at that. But consider what he does: look for the truth and do what's necessary to save his patient. The human body is complicated and figuring out what's wrong with something complicated is complicated. The same is true of diagnosing software. I even use the same phrase he uses he uses all the time: "This explains everything!" when looking for theories that might explain what's going on.

Why is it that during Street Fighter's development a certain combo worked when the frame stats said it couldn't? Why did the beta test rewind gameplay further back in time than should have been possible? Why did Sagat's sound effect for "tiger" not work on the 2p side, when every other sound effect in the game worked fine? How is it possible that when I made a change in Vega's file to make his Wall Dive not knock down--but did not check that file into version control--that a programmer who got the latest files HAD my change? Also, how is possible that on neither of our machines did the Wall Dive actually knock down? Were these two baffling problems related, or coincidence? (Note that all these problems were solved, so don't freak out over SF HD Remix.)

I think you get the idea. It's about finding the truth and fixing the patient, even if you have to break some eggs along the way. House is practically about game development.

V for Vendetta. V demonstrates that in a world where the goverment is so corrupt as to take people's rights away, that a terrorist is actually the good guy. Or least he's close enough to being a good guy that it makes you think about the nature of laws, and when is it ok to go outside them and when is it not. I thought it was the most overlooked film of the year it came out, and your anarchist gaming friends will probably still like it. (I bet Dr. House would, too.)

And if you don't mind spoilers, here is probably 2006's best scene (only for people's who's heart's aren't black and dead.) It's about when "different became dangerous."

Pan's Labyrinth. Fairy tales often try to scare kids into respecting (aka blindly following?) authority. Not Pan's Labyrinth. If I could sum it up in a sentence, I would say "It is wrong to do nothing while injustice is being done, especially if that injustice is cloaked in authority." The heroes of the story are those who fight against wrong, even when wrong has become the status quo and even when they have little chance of success. They do this regardless of (dire) consequences. Those who fall in line and let wrong continue die forgettable deaths. So there's a lesson for you, kids. Also, the film is visually amazing, creative, and beautiful.

Hellboy 2. What, Hellboy 2, really? Yes, really. I think it was the most visually stunning film of the year, for starters. Many of the monsters are similar in style to what we saw in Pan's Labyrinth, but the production values are even higher this time. That's not the point at all though. Hellboy 2 has similar themes to Pan's Labyrinth. In each, there's a shadowy other world of demons, just on the periphery of our world. In Hellboy 2, one of those demons believes that humanity has squandered its civilization. Closed-minded thinking, fear of beings who are different, reckless destruction of the environment, and petty wars. He's got us pegged on that, and his alien perspective helps us see how truly terrible we are.

That said, the opposite theme of mercy is also there. The Golden Army (Hellboy 2's subtitle) is a military force so powerful and unstoppable that even its creator felt it should not be used. Perhaps no one should have that kind of military force, if you know what I mean. And even though the demon who would judge humanity unworthy and who would unleash the Golden Army has some solid points, those who feel that is wrong cannot stand by and let what they perceive as injustice be done. Action is required, no matter the consequence.

The Dark Knight. How about at least one gift idea that appears on everyone else's list too? The Dark Knight has a lot going for it. The always-excellent Christian Bale remains always excellent. But we all know that it's Heath Ledger who, against all odds, knocked it way, way out of the park. If someone said to an actor, "Play a part that Jack Nicholson played, but somehow do a much better job than him," I'd think that would be a near-impossible challenge. But The Dark Knight's Joker is a memorable anarchist indeed. He's not like House or V or the heroes of Del Toro's films. He doesn't break the rules because doing so is necessary for some higher good. Instead, he breaks the rules because he thinks it's damn fun and we can't help but have fun along with him.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

--Sirlin

Reader Comments (49)

Please tell me you didn't get the 4 GB of ram as a BTO option. Macintosh or Other (both are PCs) is personal preference, but buying ram from apple is inexcusable. I can understand recommending a brand of product that you enjoy, but your suggestion completely glosses over the subject of buying gifts for gamers.

The best laptop for gamers would have to be the Vaio FW2. It features a video card comparable to the macbook pro, a much better CPU, up to 8(!) GB of ram, and none of the temperature control issues that arise whenever a powerbook is used for tasks that are actually demanding. It costs less, has a superior 16:9 aspect ratio and high-resolution screen, allows the user to order a matt screen(also superior for gaming), and is cheaper than a powerbook even when ordered with a blue ray reader and burner.

With all due respect, don't recommend a brand if you don't spend a lot of time comparing different products available. The new powerbook is terrible compared to other laptops in it's class. If you must have Leopard, then it is the best you can get.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVesu

Vesu, I don't know why you assume I don't know what I'm talking about with computers. I am aware of the competitor's offerings and I reject them. The Macbook Pro remains the best material good I've ever owned and I recommend it general as a life-improving device. Even *PC Magazine* gave the Macbook Pro "best Windows laptop of the year." I wouldn't want to subject someone to owning a Sony laptop with Windows-only, sorry.

Post your own gift ideas on your own site rather than criticizing mine, thanks.

December 13, 2008 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Linux FTW? You could even put it on a Mac and have all three major OSes!

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShadrin

"Vesu, I don't know why you assume I don't know what I'm talking about with computers."

I made this assumption because you recommended a powerbook for gamers.

"The Macbook Pro remains the best material good I've ever owned and I recommend it general as a life-improving device."

Good for you? Computers are tools, not canned nirvana. Please forgive me for being jaded. If a different computer allows you to perform a task more efficiently, then your life may be improved, but a Macbook pro is not necessarily the best computer for any task.

"Even *PC Magazine* gave the Macbook Pro "best Windows laptop of the year.""

This is a bit irrelevant. The headline is about gifts for gamers, and the Macbook pro is terrible for gaming. Enjoy your purchase, just don't expect it to cure cancer by possessing every kind of awesomeness. A Macbook pro cannot edit text for ten hours on a single battery charge, nor can it play Crysis, fit in your glovebox, prerender CGI movies, offer drivers for every OS in existence, and emulate other CPU architectures on a hardware level. No computer can do all of these things, that's why we use computers as tools for appropriate tasks. I would like to reiterate that you wrote an article for gamers, and expected them to avoid windows.

"Post your own gift ideas on your own site rather than criticizing mine, thanks."

I did. The Vaio FW2 is a very good laptop for medium-intensity gaming, probably the best out of all the computers I have tested personally. Unfortunately, it doesn't run final cut pro, so just remember to take issue with me if I bring it up when you write about gifts for movie editors.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVesu

Where int he article did Sirlin say the macbook is for gamers? lol

oh and the new macbook is damn good. My brother got two of them! One for djing at the clubs and one for personal use.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBeastofBurden

Not everyone who is reading this site has to be a PC gamer.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlhazard

One thing I do take issue with is the mockery of 'life-improving' tools.

People do dedicate a good portion of their lives to bringing better games to the public, time is something that we will never get back, if these tools help us to get more return on our time investment, i'd say they are life-improving.

What if developers worked in more efficient systems and not have to burn 80+ hours a week on every project? could they spend more time with their families? could they put more time into better games? Could companies make the next great game without insane budgets?

There is a lot more to gaming than CPU speed. Part of that world is productivity, organization and communication, I feel the article addressed some of those points.

Even so, just owning a MBP isn't going to be the answer, the answer will come when we focus on improving the entire process of gaming, concept, design, development, testing, deployment, updates, etc...instead of how to improve benchmarks for throwaway games.

I'm not really interested to see rebuttals on specs that we are told to care about, i'd rather see rebuttals on what hardware and software will help us make real progress in the gaming industry.

December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFMJaguar

Thanks for getting the shop set up, Sirlin, greatly appreciate it.

Also, I'm a big fan, and your articles judging games and their design are all excellent, even when the opinions are unconventional, but frankly, your list of movies that "break the rules" is absolutely terrible.

Dark Knight and Pan's Labyrinth are at least as good films, even if DK doesn't fit your focus at all, but "V for Vendetta" is a though-deprived, overrated mess that Alan Moore, its original creator, hates, and "Hellboy 2" was mental fast food for 12 year-olds.

Assuming that your audience has any semblance of maturity, intelligence, and prior experience with film, those recommendations are quite poor.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFinalSlayer

I can only speak for the Hori EX2 stick, but it's definitely the best cheapo stick I've ever bought. I was wary of the Japanese ball-style stick at first, but after practice it's definitely more precise than the American style. The convex buttons alone make piano inputs/mashing/slide inputs in Soul Calibur 4 a lot easier. Pretty damn durable for a cheapo stick, and damn compact, to boot. Fits on your lap comfortably with no unnecessary weight. Only downside is that it doesn't have a headset terminal, which is kind of annoying for Xbox Live.

And speaking as a guy who played on a pad for years...only to a very limited extent is pad vs. stick an issue of personal preference. I can only think of one fighting game skill that's objectively easier on a pad than it is on a stick, and that's instant air dashing (in games like Guilty Gear) and mashing out f, f / b, b dash inputs as fast as you can -- and obviously that's a stretch to justify how much harder everything else is on a pad.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBen Reed

Would you recommend that particular hori vs the SFIV madcat also coming out in Feb?

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVermifax

My verdict: the Hori EX2 is rubbish, at a too high price. Let's forget about that it's not made of Sanwa parts; that the rest zone for your hands is too small; that the stick is too light; and so on, and so forth; let's forget about that for a second and rather talk about longevity. The Hori EX2 is out-of-the-box a defective product. Reports of dozens of Virtua Fighter players on VFDC, and my own experiences can prove that this is just more than a verbose claim of mine. I bought two EX2; both broke down after a mere two weeks of normal playing. One of the buttons (to which I assigned "Punch") simply stopped working correctly. Similar or even worse reports can be read about in the VFDC.com Joystick forum section: http://virtuafighter.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/ubb/postlist/Board/62

And my early personal report over here: http://gohnotes.wordpress.com/2008/01/19/bad-at-inputting-difficult-moves-maybe-its-your-stick/

It's better to stick to high-quality sticks. Either a custom arcade stick (Arcade-in-a-Box), the new SFIV Tournament Sticks, or an HORI Real Arcade Pro.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeonard McCoy

Yo beast of burden, try reading the very first sentence

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCWheezy

Vesu, I can't believe you'd say Intel integrated video is comparable to Nvidia video. The VAIO is not ideal for gamers because of this reason. And you have overlooked the Vista OS: it drains too much power. If you don't know what you're talking about, you shouldn't be arguing here.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWARPIG

Thanks for sharing your tips (and especially Bliss) with us! I wonder what type of fiction books you'd recommend (if you had time to read them!). As for the Joker; I like to beieve he think he has figured out human nature (i.e. game theory logic, everybody chooses for themselves), but Batman interests him because Batman simply doesn't follow the same theory.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobert August de Meijer

I get that people have their own opinions, and that even people I like aren't always right. But I have to say, I don't go to www.vesu.com, nor do I go to www.finalslayer.com. I didn't even bother checking whether they exist, because I don't care. If you guys had asked Sirlin why he recommended a certain thing and engaged in some truth-seeking debate that gives me a better idea whether to agree or disagree with Sirlin's choices, that would have been informative. But if you're just going to criticize the guy's picks, you're really not worth anyone's time. I don't even remember what you said at this point, I just remember reading the replies and thinking "Why does this douche think I care what he thinks?"

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDP_E

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga is one of the better games out there and if someone doesn't have either of the other games I'd recommend that one as it has more content than any other Lego Franchise game. Also, hi fellow INTP.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAtticus

More on the Hori EX2:

It's probably the best cheapo stick out there and it's the only stick you'll be able to find in an American game store (at least, for xbox 360) so it has that going for it.

I've seen several hori EX2s and none have gone bad after months of use.

That being said, the parts aren't sanwa/seimitsu. Doubletapping is way harder, and the stick is less precise. If you roll your stick around the gates, the place where the diagonals hit is very small, you have to feel the corner of the stick to execute special moves and such. There are better sticks out there, but at the moment you -have- to make one yourself. Only the HRAP EX comes with sanwa parts out of the box, and good luck getting one for under 200 dollars USD.

Some people might have trouble with the stick at first since the diagonals are loose, but that depends largely on your stick discipline. I know people that have zero problems with it, and I know others that drop diagonals all the time. If you learn to do a half circle on a JP stick a certain way, it's hard to train your wrist to look for the diagonal during it and it takes, for lack of a better term, "muscle memory conditioning" to relearn the half circle motion. But honestly it's the same if you're going from pad to JP stick, or US stick to JP stick.

The bottom line for fighting gamers really is whether or not the stick will cost you matches due to faulty execution, and I think the fact is that most likely if you made an execution error on a hori ex2, it was your fault and not the stick's.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAuspice

By the way, there are in fact, viruses for Macs, just because they're rarer because fewer people use macs doesn't mean they don't exist.

Edited by Sirlin: As far as I know, your statement is factually incorrect, Anonymous. There are zero viruses on Mac the last time I researched this. Not 7, not 3, but zero.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Goodness, those are expensive, the 'cheap one' has substantially lower specs than a pc laptop that costs half as much

Edited by Sirlin: you missed the point entirely. Lives are not improved by specs, but by elegantly designed software and hardware that works together and lets you accomplish things. Having used both OS's for years, I can say it's worth every penny. Also, please stop posting anonymously on the internet, it's bad form.

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

This is funny: I recently bought some Anti-Virus-Software for my Mac, without there being any viruses! I've been had!

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSav
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