Multi-player Shooters are a Different Beast

I’ve moved on from Call of Duty to Killzone Mercenary. Since CoD was my first FPS I pretty much thought it was great. While I still think it’s a great addition and it seems that sales are finally picking up since they drastically reduced the price, it definitely under delivers on the VITA’s promise. Killzone Mercenary definitely delivers as a solid FPS. I enjoyed the single player campaign a lot and was able to complete it at various levels from novice to veteran in a reasonable amount of time.

After running through the campaign several times I finally ventured into multi-player and all I can say is that playing against human players is a different beast. I’m pretty much dead meat and it seems that the most difficult of settings in the single campaign is poor preparation for the multi-player experience.

Suddenly, I was lost and slow while opponents take me out like a clay pigeon from every angle. My reaction is woefully slow and it feels like I’m moving in a freeze frame mode while the enemies are psychic. Now I know that in theory I need to work on my reflexes (to max out what’s left of any minor genetic potential), to know the maps (especially the nooks where people can camp or sneak up on you), and improve accuracy (even when I get the jump on someone, missing a headshot gets you killed).

I avoided playing multi-player after several disasterous forays in CoD. In retrospect, that was stupid because no matter how much you suck, you can only improve. Right now I play on team matches knowing full well that I give a significant competitive advantage to the opponent. I’m also playing some rhythim games (DJMAX on the vita) to improve accuracy and timing (which seems to help quite bit) and also playing more multi-player.

Despite the difficulties, it’s given new life to the game. Seeing how it’s missing the hostile mode (my favorite feature in CoD where enemies are spawned in infinite waves until you die—even though you can go on forever by camping), it’s turning out to be a blessing because I need to venture into multi-player to get that thrill. Killzone Mercenary just has better graphics and feels more like a proper shooter.

I just wish the PS VITA had more shooter games and proper franchise titles to choose from. One great thing about the PS4’s successful launch is that the PS VITA is getting attention as an accessory to the PS4 since it allows you to remotely play PS4 titles right on your VITA. It helps you avoid fighting for the TV and is just convenient because you can play games anywhere in the house. It’s made the VITA like the tablets (which are popular for web browsing around the house) of the gaming world.

In other news, any Playstation owner should definitely subscribe to PS Plus since you get free games every month for less than $5 per month. I’ve gotten Gravity Rush with this and have a bunch of games should I ever buy a PS3. While I enjoyed Gravity Rush, I would have never bought it for full price or a discount even though I enjoyed the unusual game play. I look forward to playing more games that I would otherwise not buy. Also, the ability to back up 1GB of game save data to the cloud lets you manage precious space on the VITA without connecting to a PC.

In addition to shooters I’m playing action games, racing games and some RPGs. I’m not sure gaming is doing anything significant to improve my abilities but I do notice some things.

  1. Mundane tasks like shopping are more fun when you think of it as a game.

  2. I’m more adept at navigating through crowds.

  3. I notice more subtle movements and am more aware of my environment without being more jumpy.

  4. I can remeber a random set of numbers longer (not sure where that came from).

  5. Faster at routine tasks and more likely to react quicker at critical moments.

Only time will tell if there are any spillovers into life and most of this might just be placebo but at the end of the day, I enjoy playing these games and that’s good enough. Despite all the negative press and bad reputation games have with parents, games are really beneficial for a wide demographic (in moderation and balance). For older adults games help to keep your reaction times sharp and fulfill competitive urges that are either overlooked or crushed in every day life (you just can’t take out your boss with a headshot and dance over his corpse).

In recent years lots of journalists and bloggers made a big deal about smartphones displacing console games. The amazing success of GTA V (reaching a billion dollars faster than the movie Avatar) and the successful launch of the PS4 (not to mention anticipation for Xbox One) is indication that gaming is far from dead. Although PS VITA sales may seem dissappointing despite great graphics and PS3-level power, you just can’t beat a dedicated game machine with physical controls when it comes to the gaming experience. I do think that handheld consoles must compete at some level with smartphones and tablets (who wants to carry yet another device). However, the casual games with touch controls on the handheld are completely different beasts (despite some titles making unbelievable amounts of money, like Candy Crush and Clash of the Clans).

Personally, I think smartphone games will eventually spark more interest in consoles (that’s certainly how I found myself meandering back to gaming after a very long hiatus). Console games are far from a dying art. Blockbuster game titles are becoming a cultural force in their own right (great storytelling combined with a player’s ability to interact with the environment is a very powerful experience that no movie can ever replicate, not to mention that game graphics are rapidly approaching Hollywood level fidelity). Also, the median age of games is now in the 30s. That means more disposable income and kids. The current generation of young parents most likely grew up on games and do not have the same hangups about games in letting their children play. It’s just that game developers and console manufacturers need to be aware of the bigger picture (social sharing, downloadable content, etc.) in creating a more compelling experience.

Lessons You Can Learn from Call of Duty and First Person Shooters

There’s a lot of life lessons in first person shooters like Call of Duty. I’ve been playing a lot in between tasks. It’s great for procrastination! I’m not even above average mind you, but coming late to the party there’s a lot of things I can appreciate. Even if the benefits of playing FPS games turns out to be bunk, it’s a great way to take a break. Maybe even too much.

There’s so much you can learn from this game that applies to life.


Try Not to Die

If you die, that’s it. You can’t go further. Your kill streak ends and the mission is not accomplished. You can take some hits but before you go further you need to recover by either hiding or neutralizing the immediate threat. When you get splattered your mobility is limited. Plus getting shot messes up your aim. You need to know which risks are worth taking and assess the trade off of making yourself vulnerable and making a good shot.


Dying Isn’t a Big Deal

So you die. Now what? Play it again! Just because you get shot up doesn’t mean you can never play again. Now in life dying is a big deal but how many things really matter that much in life? There are millions of people killing others or killing themselves for things that in the grand scheme of things aren’t that big of a deal. Lost a job? Broke up with someone that you thought was “the one”? Company went belly up? The list goes on. These are challenges and not life or death situations. There is a way to recover or at least continue to fight the fight. This time take a little something from your last fight and try not to die the same way.



When you’re playing a shooter, you’re faced with lots of choices. You need to choose wisely while getting shot at and/or trying to achieve a mission. You’ll frequently be in a situation where you ask yourself, “do I shoot this guy first or try to pick up the ammo?”, “three hostiles, one behind me, which do I shoot first?”, or “do I throw the last grenade to get out of this bind or try to plough through?”. You can die from making retarded choices like trying to pick up some ammo or not paying attention to someone creeping up behind you. These are all choices. Each choice will affect the next choices available.

You might find yourself shooting at a cluster of enemies while keeping an eye on the map to see hostiles coming at you while the clock is running. You need to figure it out quick!


Don’t Give Up

So you got cornered in a bad place and there’s a whole family of enemies coming at you like zombies and yes you’re running low on ammo. At some point you need to pick up one of their guns and do something if you manage to handle the first five. Now, it’s not a big deal to die in game. You just play it again. However, the whole point of the game is to give it your best. You need to take the game seriously for it to mean anything. “It’s just a game” is a great way to move on but don’t ever let that be an excuse to failure. Many times you’ll find yourself in a bind but manage to find a way out or maybe learn a lesson that will help you avoid getting in that situation to start with. When the situation gets overwhelming try to get out of it somehow. Embrace the adversity. If you fail, do it again but do your best to get out.


Stay Alert

Sometimes you’ll get through a really difficult patch relatively unscathed only to get shot up by some weak loner who was right in front of you. These lapses can come in hairy times or long stretches of waiting. You need to keep yourself alert and at least prepared to respond. Zoning out is rarely a good thing. The game will teach you how to maintain a flow.


Shoot First, Ask Later

If you see an enemy, shoot. If you see a funny shadow, shoot. If you hear something, shoot. There’s rarely a moment where it’s better idea to contemplate the situation. If you don’t know what to do at least run. You always need to be doing something. There’s no way to just sit still and not die.


Set the Tone, Stay in Charge

It sucks to be chased around and running all the time. It’s a lot better to manipulate the enemy and get them in the right position to blast away. As long as you’re the one reacting, eventually they’ll get to you. This is especially true in hostile/survival mode.


Know the Territory

The more you know about the map or sticking points in the mission, the better. Same goes for the guns and their quirks and advantages. Ditto for enemies and their movements. Find an angle that will give you an advantage, sometimes it’ll be a nook where you can take the heat off or a maze-like area you can run and lose your enemies. This knowledge will give you an edge.


Always Have Fun

At the end of the day, it’s about having fun. Shoot em’ up and laugh a little. Don’t get beat up if things don’t go your way. If you get a little bored switch it up. Put yourself in a bit of danger and try to maneuver your way out. Set tougher constraints on yourself and set goals. If all you get is stress then it’s time to quit and find something else. Sometimes I’ll get a chuckle from the dumbest bugs like an enemy running in mid air or their bodies half hidden by a dry wall.


I’m sure there are some others I missed but the fast pace of the game and the high pressure environment provide a great way to release stress while maybe learning a lesson or two about life.

Using Gmail/IMAP Backups for Super Fast Email

Anyone who uses email often enough at some point in life will eventually struggle with handling an ever growing collection of email. Email bankruptcy is a very real prospect. My email address is literally a blackhole where lots of messages go to die. Thanks to the “all you can eat buffet” approach to email storage pioneered by Gmail, I never worried once about managing the crazy collection of text. The best features of Gmail are massive storage, filters, search, and labels/folders all in the cloud.

However, ask yourself what happens to your email when things go bad? With Google Reader shutting down, it can’t hurt to have a backup plan. What’s more since your Gmail is tightly integrated with everything else Google owns, any service violation may put all your data at risk. Although unlikely, there are people who got their accounts shutdown due to mixups of one kind or another. Google’s customer support is notoriously slow not to mention the challenge of finding a channel to communicate with them.

The advantages of having a copy of your email on your hard drive not only gives you peace of mind but can also make you more productive when combined with old school email clients like Mutt or Alpine. Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, plows through her email with Pine.

Having your email offline allows you to take your email with you on your laptop without worrying about a connection. Read and respond on the train or in a cafe and when you get a connection it’ll all sync up. Another advantage is the search. You can combine it with local search engines to find the emails you need fast or create “smart lists” for email that meets a certain criteria to stay on top of things.

Handling your email in a no frills environment can really help you with staying focused. As we all know, using the web interface of anything can lead us to lots of distractions.

Getting Your IMAP Offline

The great thing about IMAP is that all your folders and messages reside on the server/cloud. This means that no matter what client you set up, everything will be sorted nice and neatly. However, with the typical setup, you need to have a persistent connection since messages are more or less a temporary cache.

So, to get around this, there are several solutions out there to get your email into a Maildir. With a Maildir, basically all the folders on the IMAP server become a folder on your disk and each message resides in its own text file with a unique filename and various flags indicating the state (unread, starred, etc.). The most popular of these is OfflineIMAP.  OfflineIMAP is written in Python and will pretty much run on any platform. There are other delivery agents as well. I’ve mostly used OfflineIMAP until now but it does have some issues. My biggest problem with OfflineIMAP is that near the tail end of syncing my email, it just becomes this monster of a process that eats an endless supply of RAM (I’m talking GBs and some CPU spikes). It would be dangerous to leave it running as I’d have to restart my mac due to having no RAM. It was just getting crazy.

Recently, I migrated to mbsync and I couldn’t be happier. It’s fast and efficient but consumes so little memory since it’s written in C and pretty sound in terms of design. Mbsync also offers a lot of granular controls so you can give certain folders higher priority and also perform particular operations like “pull new” messages. You can simply do “brew install isync” if you use homebrew on the mac or download the source here.

Once you get the program installed you need to configure it. I mostly followed the instructions here, the section on getting the security certificates and ignoring Gmail’s “All Mail” folder (which creates a lot of duplicates) was particularly helpful. This guide is really good for setting up channels so you can specify how you want to sync specific folders.

Channel gmail-inbox
Master :gmail-imap:INBOX
Slave :gmail-local:INBOX
Create Slave
Expunge Slave
Sync Pull
Channel gmail-sent
# we need the double quotes
Master ":gmail-imap:[Gmail]/Sent Mail"
Slave :gmail-local:sent-mail
Create Slave
Expunge Slave
Sync Pull

This can be done for any directory. Mbsync seems to go through all the folders in order so if there are particular folders you want to always have priority, setting up these channels will ensure that quick update is simply a command away.

mbsync important

You can setup a separate cron job since mbsync can have multiple processes accessing the same account. Incidentally with OfflineIMAP, the lock on an email account is global. This combined with excessive resource consumption and the fact that syncs never complete, meant I had to kill the process and start from the top (combined with the auto refresh, it was a bit of a nightmare).

Once you have the syncing setup (syncing will still take time depending on the size of your mailbox), all you need is a good software program to handle your email. You’ll be able to fly through the messages.

Personally, I use Emacs with mu/mu4e which is an awesome combination. Mu uses Xapian for fast and capable search capabilities which can be used like smart folders. There are several combinations out there for using Maildir and IMAP. Old school email clients might seem scary at first but once you get used to them, it’s fast and efficient.

Playing a Bit Too Much Call of Duty

So I’ve been playing CoD for the last couple of days, I think a week or so at least. Every time I get stuck on a level I just consult this guy’s videos. I’m getting mildly better at it, but still it’s just dismal. The levels or “operations” I have trouble on I basically get lucky more than anything.

The emotional reaction and adrenal rush to shooting and being shot has calmed down considerably. In addition I feel less pressure even during time constraints. I still get a kick out of it but it feels more subtle.

Other than that, I do feel more sensitive to moving objects when I’m out and about (pedestrians and cars). I’m not sure how this translates to anything else. One thing I like about games is the clear objectives and time constraints involved in the missions. There’s nothing like games to give you emotional incentives without financial or physical consequences when goals aren’t met. It’s all based on intrinsic motivation stemming from how much you care about getting better.

Hangover Part II

The funny thing about sequels is that they are rarely better than the original but generate more money. Hangover Part II is no exception but definitely worth watching. It’s hard to beat the original. Four guys wake up in Las Vegas after a bachelor’s party sans bachelor with the nastiest of hangovers and no recollection of the night before. All they have are hints of a truly wild night like a tiger in the bathroom and missing a tooth.

This time it’s Stu, the dentist, getting married in Thailand (where his beautiful fiance is from). Despite all the precautions they take, all of them wake up in a dirty hotel in Bangkok, miles away from the wedding, Stu has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face, Alan’s head is shaved, and the only trace of the bride’s brother is his severed finger, complete with Stanford ring.

Despite all the rotten reviews from critics and the strong preconception that this film just shouldn’t work, it manages to hit all the right notes. Surprisingly, even though the plot follows the familiar template of the original, it’s got enough twists of originality to establish the film on its own. The most important aspect is that chemistry of Stu, Alan, and Phil can carry this franchise indefinitely.

I think the only test that matters for comedy sequels is will you get more laughs than re-watching the original? To that this film lives up to the promise.

The Freedom Divide

We now live in a world of growing extremes, quite simply the haves and have nots. But what exactly is it that the haves have?