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I am not affiliated with the University of Waterloo

Evidently, if you Google “Super Memory Bros,” the first result is an article of the same name published in the journal of Memory and Cognition in 2008 by the University of Waterloo.

The article’s abstract is as follows:

When memory is contrasted for stimuli belonging to distinct stimulus classes, one of two patterns is observed: a mirror pattern, in which one stimulus gives rise to higher hits but lower false alarms (e.g., the frequency-based mirror effect) or a concordant pattern, in which one stimulus class gives rise both to higher hits and to higher false alarms (e.g., the pseudoword effect). On the basis of the dual-process account proposed by Joordens and Hockley (2000), we predict that mirror patterns occur when one stimulus class is more familiar and less distinctive than another, whereas concordant patterns occur when one stimulus class is more familiar than another. We tested these assumptions within a video game paradigm using novel stimuli that allow manipulations in terms of distinctiveness and familiarity (via similarity). When more distinctive, less familiar items are contrasted with less distinctive, more familiar items, a mirror pattern is observed. Systematically enhancing the familiarity of stimuli transforms the mirror pattern to a concordant pattern as predicted. Although our stimuli differ considerably from those used in examinations of the frequency-based mirror effect and the pseudoword effect, the implications of our findings with respect to those phenomena are also discussed.

Not only am I not affiliated in any way with the above article but a lot of those words make me sleepy.

I tried to access the journal through my university’s library database in the hopes of freeing myself from this ignorance but no such luck. I’m honestly curious about the research and have no idea how to go about accessing medical journals as a non-med student.

In the meantime, I will walk around with a stethoscope and hope something shakes out.

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Super Breaking Bad Turbo 2

I just watched the season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad. Although this is roughly 200 Internet years old by now, I can’t get sick of this College Humor video that reimagines the first two seasons as a 16-bit RPG.

And if fighting games are more your style, the Internet has got your back.

It’s only a matter of time before Breaking Bad is officially added to Stuff White People Like. As of writing this, it isn’t. I Googled that shit.

If you aren’t watching it, you probably should be. For me, it has taken over the mental space previously reserved for The Wire. This means I can stop being terrified of the city of Baltimore and spend more time worrying about Mexican drug cartels. Both are totally legitimate concerns for someone living in Chicago.

Between Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad, AMC has managed to cover the three basic TV food groups: rich white dudes, zombies and meth.

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Grimrock and Dungeon Crawlers

I’m thoroughly impressed with Legend of Grimrock. It is perfect throwback to first-person PC dungeon crawlers with enough innovation to keep it from feeling like a graphically superior tribute.

We’ve come a long way from Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up mostly with JRPGs on consoles so the amount of quality PC RPGs I missed out on is staggering. Every once in a while I get a bug to go back and find out what I missed but oftentimes the dated feel of the games usually interferes with the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, modest graphics are not a deal-breaking criteria for me. My love for the 8- and 16-bit eras of console gaming speaks to this. However, games have been innovating off their predecessors since their inception. There is a point where booting up Ultima 4 feels like you’re coercing dated software instead of playing a game. Naturally, this applies to console games as well.

Unless you played Ultima 4 when it was released. In which case, the above statement seems like blasphemy.

Compatibility issues between old games and newer version of windows were also a concern before Good Old Games launched in 2008. GoG.com sells DRM-free digital copies of old PC games that are compatible with modern versions of windows (and Wine for Linux users) and are generally pretty cheap to boot. For those digital hoarders out there, each game bought off GoG also comes with digital versions of all the shit that originally came in the box: illustrated manuals, maps, clue books, that sort of thing.

Tangents aside, Grimrock is perfect simply because it encapsulates the spirit of what I missed in early dungeon crawlers: party management, heavy exploration, an impending sense of doom, Myst­-like puzzles, and grid-based movement. In fact, Grimrock boasts an “Old School Mode” that removes the in-game map so players have to bust out the grid paper and do their own cartography. I opted to avoid this because my sense of direction is bad enough without trying to make sense of endless corridors that all look the same. You know who sucks at corn mazes? This guy.

I went with the default party setup (human fighter, Minotaur fighter, human rogue and human mage) but you’ll be happy to know lizardman is a selectable race if you make your party from scratch. All games are made better with lizardmen.

The in-game description of lizardmen explains humans don’t trust them because they are viewed as being “capricious and deceitful.” I wouldn’t trust them because they are Goddamn huge bipedal lizards.

I’m currently on the 4th level of 10 and so far my party has been killed for a variety of reasons. Here are some of my favorite causes of death so far:

  • Undead spearmen
  • Poison
  • Giant spiders
  • Sentient piles of ooze
  • Gravity
  • My own hubris
  • Tentacle monster
  • A walking fungus-covered stump that snuck up on us while sleeping and literally slapped everyone to death

Pro tip: Being outsmarted by a stump does not feel good.

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Summer Steam Sale

As of last Thursday, Valve began their assault on my wallet with the Steam Summer Sale. This would have been more timely if I mentioned this, say, Thursday, when it went live but I was too busy spending my money and starting games that will no doubt have to be added to my ever increasing backlog.

I’m normally a very frugal person. I usually don’t buy things I don’t genuinely need and sometimes I need to convince myself to buy things that I actually do. Like groceries. No one has ever mistaken me for a married man based on my items in the checkout line. You don’t need to look at my hand to know the guy with only peanut butter, bananas, bread, and a frozen chicken pot pie isn’t wearing a ring.

This isn’t an income issue; it’s some weird vestigial behavior from living meal to meal as an undergrad. I’ve attended gallery openings in River North for the sole purpose of acquiring free wine and cheese than I’d care to admit.

But with Steam’s annual summer sale (and holiday sale in December), all that shit gets thrown out of the window. Since Thursday, I’ve bought the following:

The amount of money I’ve saved per title is stupid. Most of these games were bought at a quarter of their normal cost. Whether or not I need them is another story.

EA’s Origin, Steam’s main competitor as a digital publishing platform for games, is currently offering similar promotional rates for many of their games. Although matching the competition shouldn’t really come as a shock, this is somewhat interesting considering that David DeMartini, the head of Origin, was quoted as saying that Steam sales, like the one currently underway, “cheapen intellectual property.”

I found that argument somewhat suspect. As you would expect, Valve released an official statement responding to the supposeded cheapening of IPs. Although Origin is offering to waive distribution fees for indie games for the first 90 days after release—this puts more money in the pockets of smaller game studios—I feel like Steam is generally a better service for exposing new IPs to potential customers. This is especially the case with Steam’s new Greenlight program which will put the community in charge of deciding what gets published.

In addition to daily deals off several titles and franchises, Valve is also offering flash deals that rotate every few hours that keep bargain-seeking gamers compulsively checking back like addicts.

The sale ends on July 22nd. God help us.

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Mega Man’s Original Box Art

The first  Mega Man game on the NES has my favorite box art for any video game. Instead of attempting to explain how weird/terrible it is, I’ll let you see for yourself:

Nothing about the above box art resembles the game, which looks like this:

When Capcom released Mega Man 9 and 10 as an 8-bit homage for various platforms in 2008 and 2010, they went for full nostalgia and embraced their original terrible box art that debuted the Mega Man franchise.

Recently, fans were upset that Mega Man did not appear as a playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Capcom addressed these concerns by making sure he was a playable character in Capcom vs. Tekken. Unfortuantely, it was this  Mega Man:

Needless to say, a lot of diehard Mega Man fans were not nearly as amused as I was.

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Good job, Internet.

http://samepicofdavecoulier.tumblr.com/

Seriously, good job.

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Copyright Alert System and Always-DRM: It sucks

I had every intention of writing about the newest Indie Royale bundle, but then I was linked to this article over at Raw Story that explains the system telecomm companies are rolling out on July 12th to battle piracy. From Raw Story:

The content industries calls this scheme a “graduated response” plan, which will see Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others spying on users’ Internet activities and watching for potential copyright infringement. Users who are “caught” infringing on a creator’s protected work can then be interrupted with a notice that piracy is forbidden by law and carries penalties of up to $150,000 per infringement, requiring the user to click through saying they understand the consequences before bandwidth is restored, and they could still be subject to copyright infringement lawsuits.

Participating ISPs have a range of options for dealing with customers who continue to pirate media, at that point: They can require that an alleged repeat offender undergo an educational course before their service is restored. They can utilize multiple warnings, restrict access to only certain major websites like Google, Facebook or a list of the top 200 sites going, reduce someone’s bandwidth to practically nothing and even share information on repeat offenders with competing ISPs, effectively creating a sort of Internet blacklist — although publicly, none of the network operators have agreed to “terminate” a customer’s service.

It is because of those reasons that the content industries believe this program achieves much more than what might have been possible in the realm of public policy, and the ISPs appear to agree. The voluntary scheme will be paid for mostly by the content industries, which will share some costs with the ISPs.

Although this paints a pretty apocalyptic picture—and don’t get me wrong, this is extremely significant in like, a totally not good way—the reality is slightly different.  Content holders will not have access to everything you do on the Internet. Instead, if they find your IP in a torrent cloud or by other P2P means, they will inform your ISP who then will issue a warning or take further action.

Although it should be alarming that Time Warner and other corporations share such a cozy relationship with ISP providers, this is not different than how things are now. If you or someone you know has ever received a warning from their ISP because they were torrenting, say, Tremors, the process described above might look pretty similar.

That’s because it is.  Instead, what makes this scary is that this is a push to systemize the way ISPs and content owners go after users who are allegedly downloading content illegally. Although the cost of this system is supposedly shared by content industries and ISPs, there’s nothing really stopping either from passing the cost along to the customer.

If they did make up the cost of this new system by squeezing more out of the customer, suddenly customers who have never used P2P software to download copyrighted material are being punished.

In gaming, we see this when companies use Always-On DRM (Digital Rights Management) in their games. Always-On DRM requires that players be connected to a company’s servers in order to the play the game.

For online games, this seems fine. Unfortunately, this is becoming prevalent even in single player games like the PC version of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 2. The rationale makes sense on paper: it keeps pirates from playing the game because even if they acquire the game files they need to connect to a server that authenticates their game.

But what happens when a legitimate, paying customer wants to play their single player game when Ubisoft’s servers are down? Well, tough shit.

In February, Ubisoft had to relocate their servers and during that time customers were unable to access the games they paid for. When I first read about this, I thought so what? MMOs have server maintenance all the time and players can’t play during that time.

Except these aren’t MMOs. These are single player games. With an MMO you are paying for a service. You get access to an online game with thousands of other players and, on top of that, the game is (presumably) updated and new content is added. This means that single player games with Always-On DRM exist in this weird space between product and service.

At launch, the game cost $60 but still required constant connection like an MMO. If your connection dropped out as you played or, perhaps, more importantly, you wanted to play it on a computer without access to the web, you were shit out of luck. It was simply the worst of both worlds.  And it goes without saying that Ubisoft was not regularly adding content to a single player game like Assassin’s Creed 2 because it was a port of a console game in the first place.

This is an unsettling trend in the way companies are choosing to battle piracy. The paying customer simply loses. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking Internet subscribers or people who pay for video games, legitimate customers are left holding the bag because of a battle they are probably not even privy to.

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