VLC hangs on OS X when playing anything

I had a strange issue with VLC on OS X: Whenever I tried to play anything, it would hang and needed to be force quit.

The culprit was that by default, it tries to remote control iTunes, basically stopping iTunes playback when VLC wants to play. However, my iTunes was unresponsive (currently moving my Library folder) and thus any attempt of VLC to communicate with iTunes would just lead to a hang.

The solution is to start VLC, go to Preferences and disable controlling of external players.

I forgot my Apple Watch, and it’s fine

This morning, I forgot to put on my Apple Watch. It’s the second day in a row that this happens. And I realized that it’s fine, I’m not missing out on anything. If I forget my phone, I’ll go back and get it, but for my watch it’s just not worth it.

When I bought it, I knew it was an experiment. I got the sport model, which is still $349, but I figured that I would get at least that much entertainment out of it. I had lost my FitBit a few weeks ago when the armband broke and figured that the watch would also serve as a replacement for that.

While it does track heart rate and steps, I found that for myself these values were rather meaningless. Steps are already counted by my iPhone, and heart rate isn’t that useful for my training regimen (I’m doing weight training, since running doesn’t help with muscle building and getting a good body). That’s not the fault of the watch of course, it’s a change in my habits, where Weight, Body Fat% and how much I can lift are the metrics I’m interested in, metrics which the watch can’t track by itself.

Apart from that, the Watch has been useful mostly to glance at incoming messages and serve as a calendar reminder, but actually interacting with them is still better done on the phone. Matt Gemmell wrote a good piece about how it helps him avoiding distractions, but it didn’t have the same effect for me.

I don’t regret buying the Watch, but if someone would offer me close to what I paid for it, I’d part with it immediately. I guess that smartwatches just lack a must-have feature to be really attractive, and with reports saying that sales dropped by 90% I don’t seem to be the only one that thinks something is missing.

Whatever it is that is missing, I’m pretty sure that I’ll go back to my previous wristwatch. That one also doesn’t need to be put on a charger every night.

configSource only works on sections, not sectionGroups

I have an app.config with some custom sectionGroups:

	<sectionGroup name="MyApp">
		<section name="foo" type="System.Configuration.NameValueSectionHandler, System, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089" />
		<add key="MySetting" value="14"></add>

I wanted to externalize that:
<MyApp configSource="myapp.config">

This yields an error:

System.Configuration.ConfigurationErrorsException: The attribute 'configSource' cannot be specified because its name starts with the reserved prefix 'config' or 'lock'.

Long story short: configSource only works on <section> elements, not on <sectionGroup>.

Self-driving cars, Uber, and the public transportation revolution

Everyone expects self-driving cars to be the next world-changing revolution, and it is easy to see why. Image recognition has made insane improvements in the last decade – Facebook’s face detection is sometimes uncanny in its ability to differentiate people from objects. Google Maps routing features have improved leaps and bounds since the first release, and with cellphone connectivity becoming more and more ubiquous, it’s feasible to monitor traffic in real time.

We have electric cars that aren’t complete crap anymore. Hybrids like the Prius have been pretty normal for years now, and both BMWs i3 and eventually Tesla’s Model 3 are fully electric cars set to break the price barrier, making them more than a gimmick for the hipster crowd.

These cars don’t have to be electric, but it will be an important factor in the actual revolution. I grew up in Europe, lived in Paris, France for a few years. I’ve seen what public transportation can do – buses, trains, subways – to reduce the need for a car. In the US, public transportation is mostly shit, except in some cities (never been to New York, but Los Angeles has somewhat functional public transport).

Self-driving cars will be the public transportation revolution that America needed, the biggest push since building the train system in the 1800s. Right now, car ownership is the norm for people in America. A lot of families own a car per adult family member. The belief is that those families will buy self-driving cars in the same manner, essentially keeping the car market as-is and just remove the need to personally drive.

I think that people aren’t going to buy as many cars in the long run. Self-driving cars are essentially like trains, except that their “tracks” are ubiquous. Companies like Uber (or maybe Lyft or maybe some new company that hasn’t been founded yet) will go after Amtrack and similar companies with the same force as they are going after the taxi business.

Why own your own car if you can just call one? Right now, even the cheap Uber option costs enough money to not be a serious primary means of transportation for most people. But imagine if Uber no longer has to pay the driver of the car. At that point, they basically pay for repairs, fuel, and insurance, plus their profit margin. Instead of being a company that subcontracts thousands of drivers, they would be a company that buys tens of thousands of self-driving cars.

This is where the fact that they are electric cars is important – apart from having charging stations all over the place, we should look at upgrading busy streets to help charging the cars. Solar Roadways is an early attempt at converting streets into huge solar panels, and if someone comes up with a way to charge a car from the street (metal contact plates in the tires?), the range of electric cars could increase a lot. And since it’s solar power, there is potential to really bring the prices down after the initial investment.

Of course, there is a lot of Utopia in this – Electric Self-Driving Cars, charged in part with free, unlimited energy through Solar Roadways, available for hire at a price that makes car ownership a status symbol instead of a neccessity.

Undoubtly, lobbying will be severe, from car makers in Detroit to unions of drivers that are facing unemployment, People will claim that owning a car is owning the freedom to go wherever, whenever, and that a gas guzzling V8 truck is patriotic.

But in the end, I see the end of car ownership for millions of people. The “freedom” argument won’t hold much once you can call a car to be with you in five minutes, at any time of the night. Self-Driving Cars don’t need to sleep, they don’t fear driving into shady areas and they won’t complain if you need a fifty mile ride at 3 a.m. Especially not if it will be significantly cheaper than owning one. We might even seen more carpooling since an intelligent routing system can just pick up a bunch of people on the way.

This will happen in my lifetime.

Being financially honest

A lot of us know that feeling: We work hard, we make a salary that should be plenty, but somehow the balance on our savings never get really high. Or you’re interested in buying a home and need to save up at least 3.5% for an FHA loan, plus the money you need to move and install a secret door.

I’ve never done any budgeting, and the amount of financial planning I did was mostly “Make sure the checking account has always enough balance for the next rent, and that the credit card never exceeds what I can pay back at the end of the month”. After all, finance is booooooring. For me, there was an extra difficulty as I’m an immigrant to the USA and just didn’t know much about money in this country. The 2008 crash didn’t help spark my interest either (my #1 priority: Make sure the money is FDIC insured).

Boy, if I could go back to when I first arrived here and I could only tell my past self one thing, then it’s to be a bit more financially honest and save money. Oh, and pick up a copy of Get a Financial Life, it’s an awesome, not dry overview of the stuff that matters. And for god’s sake, don’t wait four years to setup a 401(k).

For the past few months, I’ve been using You Need A Budget (YNAB) to get an overview about where my money goes. They have a Four-Rule-Methodology, which is useful if you need to control your spending and want to make a household budget, but I’ve been using it as a reporting tool to get a feel for it. The general idea is that you add your accounts (Checkings, Savings, Credit Cards, Loans, …) and assign each transaction a category of your choice.

This takes a few hours when you’re just starting out – most banks and credit cards should offer a Quicken (.qfx) or CSV Export, which you can mass-import into YNAB. You’ll be creating and tweaking categories (e.g., I have categories based on different hobbies) and assign all your transactions to it. I recommend starting small, with just the info from last month and then adding more and more to it if you want. The more data you have, the better reporting is, but the longer it takes to setup.

Once your transactions are in and categorized, you can report on it. This is where we’re getting serious because now you’re really seeing how much all these little $4.99 purchases add up to.

Clicking on a category allows you to dig in or see which transactions are part of this.

This is pretty eye-opening, but if you need some more motivation there is a handy Income v. Expense report. If you manage to have an entire year of transactions, this report can be pretty disturbing – it’s an honest, no-BS assessment of your financial discipline.

YNAB also supports Debt-Accounts, like Credit Cards or Loans, and a Net Worth graph.

I’m not going much into the Budgeting features of YNAB – it’s arguably the feature it advertises the most, but it’s also the thing that takes effort. If you don’t have anything right now, then just going in and using it for reporting will be a huge eye-opener already.

When it comes to money, it is important to be honest to yourself – it’s okay to spend thousands of dollars on your hobby, as long as you know that’s where the money goes and don’t end up at the end of the year looking at a zero-sum game and an emergency fund that is still empty.

OS X Screen Recording and Converting to GIFs with free tools

One of the unknown features of newer versions of QuickTime (at least on OS X) is the ability to record videos (Arguably, QuickTime Player is misleading as a name), either from a connected camera or from the screen. Click File > New Screen Recording to bring up the recorder. If you want, select “Show Mouse Clicks in Recording”.

After you’re done recording, you can do some trimming right in QuickTime as well – Edit > Trim.
Now you have a QuickTime file – great, but the point is to create an animated GIF from it. For that, we’ll use two free tools: ffmpeg and gifsicle. Since we’re on OS X, homebrew will do the heavy lifting for us.

brew install ffmpeg
brew install gifsicle

With both installed, we can now convert the video:
ffmpeg -i MyRecording.mov -r 10 -f gif - | gifsicle --optimize=3 --delay=3 > MyRecording.gif
Since I want to do this often, I’ve added a shell command to my .zshrc:

function movtogif {  if [[ $# = 0 ]]
    echo "USAGE: movtogif filename.mov"
    ffmpeg -i bash -r 10 -f gif - | gifsicle --optimize=3 --delay=3 > bash:r.gif 

For reference, the :r means to take the file path without extension. See the manpages of ffmpeg and gifsicle for more information about the parameters.

Thanks to Alex Dergachev for the original idea.

Using Joe’s Own Editor for writing

George R.R. Martin went on record saying he still uses Wordstar 4.0 on an old DOS Machine to write his epic 1000 page A Song of Ice and Fire novels. This seems to baffle some people – after all, the only people that don’t trust modern technology are people that don’t understand it. But often, we overlook that keyboard-driven interfaces are extremely productive once you’re over the initial learning curve. I’m still convinced that data entry jobs were at peak productivity when they were terminals talking to mainframes, and that web- or mobile-based software will never, ever reach the productivity levels of those.

Robert J. Sawyer wrote an essay about Wordstar, helpfully subtitled “A Writer’s Word Processor”. In there he goes into some detail why it is so beloved among it’s users:

But touch-typists find that using the WordStar Control-key commands is much more efficient, because they can be typed from the home row without hunting for special keys elsewhere on the keyboard.

To go to the end of the line, you press Control-Q and then D. This seems so much harder and arcane that just pressing the END key on your keyboard, but it can be done without moving your hands – you don’t have to take your mind off writing. There is another really important feature that I’ll go into details about: blocks.

WordStar, with its long-hand-page metaphor, says, hey, do whatever you want whenever you want to. This is a good spot to mark the beginning of a block? Fine. What would you like to do next? Deal with the block? Continue writing? Use the thesaurus?

After another half hour of writing, I can say, ah hah!, this is where I want to end that block. And two hours later I can say, and this is where that block should go.

Now, Wordstar 4.0 has a bunch of issues these days. One, it’s somewhat hard to actually (legally) get it. Then, you need a way to run it on a modern system, e.g., though DOSBox. After you got it running, you know have to figure out how to get your files in and out of your DOSBox. And if you do, you might find that your files show up as gibberish because Wordstar uses 7-Bit encoding for the chars and the 8th (msb) bit as a control char – there are ways around it, but in the end, Wordstar is just too much of a pain these days.

Which leads me to the subject of todays posting: What would a “modern” alternative to Wordstar look like? There are plenty of powerful word processors out there, and there are plenty of distraction-free writers out there. I used iA Writer for most of my writing, especially since it’s available on both iOS and Mac OS X. Then again, with my new Macbook I no longer carry my iPad around.

I eventually landed on one of the staples of *NIX systems: joe’s own editor, or joe. It’s that editor that seems to be mostly forgotten in a world divided between vim and emacs, but I found it to be an awesome writing tool. I use Version 4.0 (UTF-8), installed through homebrew (brew install joe) It’s cross platform and also works on Windows.

It has a Wordstar mode, enabled by invoking it as jstar. When you press Control-J, the help opens on top, showing the most important keyboard shortcuts.

Deleting the current line from where the cursor is? Control-Q Y. That’s quicker than Shift+END DEL because your hands don’t move (even better if you’re on a laptop or another keyboard that doesn’t have dedicated DEL/END keys).

I’ve mentioned Blocks above. What’s so special about them, isn’t it just Cut/Copy/Paste? Yes and no. For one, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can mark the beginning of a block (Control-K B), then keep on writing and then mark the end (Control-K K). Go where you want to move it – now or much later, the selection isn’t lost if you move around or keep writing – and move it there (Control-K V). Or make a copy (Control-K C) Or delete it (Control-K Y), or undo (Control-U). You can write the block to a separate file (Control-K W), which is great if you want to do some reworking without losing what you had before.

One interesting feature is to filter the block through a Unix Command (Control-K /). If you have a list of words, you can filter it through tr "[:lower:]" "[:upper:]" to make it all-caps for example (the tr manpage shows some more examples). If you know your sed, you can do some real powerful text processing, right in the middle of your file without really having to leave your text editor.



Overall, I think that joe is the editor of my choice for writing prose, because it combines distraction free writing with just enough editing capability to get the job done, all without having to think too much about the editor and moving my hands all over the keyboard to do stuff I have to do a lot. Toggling the help with Control-J allows me to quickly glance at a command while I’m still learning, but because the help isn’t modal I’m not losing focus from my text.

The new Macbook (2015)

My local Apple store happened to have a Space Gray Macbook in stock, so I picked it up. I think that a lot has been said already about the new Macbook, but here are some thoughts of mine. I primarily wanted a laptop that is as small and lightweight as possible, and the Macbook fits that. People called it an “iPad running OS X” and mean that in a negative way, but this was essentially what I’m looking for. And it fits that bill – it easily fits into the sleeve of my old Asus eeePC 1000HE and thus also in my little messenger bag. And yet, it runs OS X, which means that I can run iDraw, XCode, do .net Core 5 development (with Visual Studio Code) and a bunch of other development related things I simply cannot do with an iPad. It even runs Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, although of course, performance is limited.

It only has a single USB-C port – this is something you have to carefully think about if you’re interested in buying one, since that is also the charging port. I’ve looked at my stuff, and while I wish there was a second port, I can live very well with the single port. My iPhone tethers wireless, my D-SLR has an Eye-Fi Wireless Card, when I need a mouse or keyboard I use bluetooth, if I need to transfer data I use AirDrop or Dropbox and if I need to back up data, Time Capsule does that wirelessly. Around here, there are enough Apple TVs to allow me to share my screen wirelessly. There are exceptions of course, for example my NanoKORG Controllers required me to buy the $19 USB-C to USB adapter. I do think I’ll return that in favor of the $79 adapter that has USB, HDMI and a USB-C port that allows me to charge the Macbook and use a USB device.

I like the touchpad a lot. It basically fells the same as the old touchpads, and after changing some settings (Scroll direction, right click when tapping the bottom right etc.) I don’t see a difference compared to the previous touchpads. Which of course means that Apple is still the only laptop manufacturer in the entire industry that makes a good touchpad. The keyboard is interesting. There is almost no hub, and yet the keys feel positively clicky. It’s a full size keyboard, and while I only had a few hours to use it so far, I like it.

But as you can see, this is not your primary computer if you do anything that requires power. It lives in an ecosystem and it shines if you have a lot of other Apple products. I can code perfectly fine and do enough stuff with Logic or GarageBand, but if I want hardcore video/audio editing or running a Windows VM with the full Visual Studio, the Macbook isn’t the right system. In fact, the Macbook is inferior to the 11″ Macbook Air in almost every single category – the Air is cheaper, faster, has better connectivity, can drive a 4K monitor, and is the sane choice if you want to do pretty much anything. But the Air only comes in boring 2011-silver-design, cannot compete with the gorgeous screen on the Macbook, is significantly bigger and heavier and has a cooling fan. I still keep my Lenovo E440 as my Windows 7 portable.

To quote Hawkeye: None of this makes any sense.

But I like the Macbook.


Size comparison with the 10" iPad Air
Size comparison with the 10″ iPad Air

The Dig

One of the more strange LucasArts adventures, The Dig is essentially a science fiction movie with some interaction. Originally released in 1995 during the “CD-ROM Multimedia” craze, it features writing by Orson Scott Card and is based on an idea by Steven Spielberg. All ingredients for a great experience?

The interface is a radical departure from LucasArts’ previous verb interface, a trend that started with Sam & Max in 1993. There are no verbs, just a single “interact” action when clicking on stuff with the mouse. The inventory has to be opened by clicking on the little [i] box, and it contains an “examine” action. In a way, this foreshadowed the trend in the 2000’s of only having two actions, “Interact” and “Look”. I’ll talk about verb design in a later post, but in general, this works well for The Dig because the cinematic experience is first. Michael Land’s music helps with that as well – it’s a true movie soundtrack, very atmospheric and while not driven as much by melody as e.g., his work on Monkey Island, it is an awesome support for the game.

The Dig

Now, I keep talking about The Dig as a cinematic experience. But how is it as a game? Unfortunately, it suffers from a bunch of issues that make it not nearly as much of a classic as most other LucasArts games. First, the writing. As said, Orson Scott Card had a large part in it. Whether you like him as a person or not, there is no doubt that he is one of the best serious science fiction writers, and as a result, The Dig has really great writing. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of it. Characters often ramble on for way longer than welcome, leading to long periods of watching instead of playing. There is also no way to skip single sentences like in more modern games – you can skip whole conversations, but you can’t just skip the current sentence after you’ve done reading it. I’m pretty sure there is enough writing in there to make it a full blown movie, it’s just that often it gets in the way of the gameplay.

Speaking of the gameplay, The Dig is not an entry level adventure, its puzzle design is obscure and (ha!) very alien. One reason is the art style – it’s another radical departure from past LucasArts adventures which were comic-like. The Dig looks very realistic (for 1995), with some pre-rendered sequences. As a result, some things are somewhat hard to see or obscured by the background. You are also almost immediately thrown into a series of complex puzzles (for those who played it: The power generator puzzle felt way too hard for how early it was in the game. For those that haven’t played it: 5x purple, 2x yellow, 1x red, then 5x purple, 5x blue and 1x red) with very little guidance. In a way, this fits the setting well because after all, you are on an alien world and your characters don’t know anything either, but on the other hand it made it hard for me to hook me and make me want to keep playing.

Getting hooked is something LucasArts was really good at, mainly because of the world and the characters. In The Dig, neither is immediately interesting, but to be fair, I’m looking at this in 2015. The characters in the game are actually really well done, it’s just that they don’t start out very sympathetic and it takes a while to feel for them. Brink should’ve had more character development before a pivotal moment early in the game.

None of this is truly bad, but some of it really limits the appeal. It is more a like a science fiction movie that every once in a while remembers that it is actually supposed to be a game, and if you give it a chance it shines with some great (albeit not easily skippable) writing and (for the time) great voice acting. It deserves a lot of credit for showing how CD-ROM Multimedia can be done good and if anyone is planning an HD Remake of the game, adding skippable dialog lines, putting “Examine” on the right mouse button, and offering a slightly gentler difficulty slope would make it a true classic.

It’s sold on Steam and GOG for six bucks at the time of writing. It reminds me a lot of Rendezvous with Rama and even though I have my gripes with it as a game, it is a fantastic experience.

My 2014 in Video Games

2014 was a somewhat crazy year overall – if someone would’ve told me that Seth Rogen and James Franco would be involved in one of the biggest network security scandals, I would ask them if they overdosed on Swift on Security. Anyway, let’s talk about video games, because that stuff is fun and 2014 has been a fun year for me.

In March, Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 Billion. In late december, there are still no real games that actually work on it, but more DevKits, Samsungs Gear VR, Sony’s announcement of Project Morpheus and Googles Cardboard VR Kit. All this stuff is neat and my original Oculus Kickstarter Kit sure was impressive. But behind the hype and impressive technology, I’m still waiting for the actual games. Not just proofs of concept or fancy YouTube videos but real actual products. Because at the moment, I fear that VR’s second incarnation is facing the same fate as the Kinect. (If someone says Augmented Reality now, it’s important to remember that the Google Glass is dead in the water. I think that overall, wearables are too cumbersome but it will be interesting to see if Smart Watches can do something, despite their pathetic battery runtimes. I doubt it.)

Speaking of the Kinect: Dance Central was amazing, and I had high hopes for Fantasia: Music Evolved. I even made space in my living room. Fantasia has all the ingredients of a fun game, except for two things: The menu structure is weird and there is no real “Free Play” mode. This game is predestined to have some fun especially with children, but there is no way to just have fun without being stopped by the game. I guess that it’s more suited for teenagers and older. It’s a great game, I guess I just had the wrong expectation.

Early in the year, Might & Magic X: Legacy was released. I have blogged about the game before and even though it’s not Game-Of-The-Year-good, it was an enjoyable trip down the memory lane, back to Parts 5 and 6. It’s missing the giant story arc that made the first five games so memorable, but I got what I wanted out of it.

Many of my Kickstarters arrived – beginning with Redux: Dark Matters and Broken Age. Redux ironically isn’t as good as the original DUX 1.5, but I enjoyed the soundtrack (especially Stage 6 Alarming Area, The End). Broken Age made headlines because it was split in two, with Part 1 being released in January and Part 2 still pending. I haven’t played Part 1 yet because I want the adventure to be complete and play it as a whole. Despite the massive delays (There are lessons how going too far above the Kickstarter target is actually a bad thing as scope explodes), I’m hopeful that the game will be awesome – I’ve avoided reviews due to spoilers, but what I heard was positive.

In February, Broken Sword 5 followed, also split into two parts (Part 2 followed in April). I enjoyed it very much – it was classic Broken Sword again, with top notch voice acting and an engaging plot (I loved the Gnostics stuff). I wish that they would’ve extended the last location though, because I’d have loved to see more of the architecture and history.

Jane Jensen’s Moebius: Empire Rising was the next adventure and the first one I’m on the fence about. Mainly because it was too much forced in one direction and I felt I was as helpless as the main character (who’s kind of an asshole) and just had to go along with the plot (I called out the ability to say ‘no’ because Moebius just didn’t give me a convincing reason to go along with the plot at the beginning.

Next up in May, one of the games I absolutely loved this year: Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure. Yes, it is cheesy and technically unimpressive but a) It’s Tex Murphy and b) it’s a really enjoyable B-Movie. There was a bittersweet announcement that Aaron Connors was working on two more novels, the second which might be the basis of one last Tex Murphy game. I’d love them to remake the old games to have a more modern interface, but I guess the FMV just wouldn’t hold up? If you like detective pulp fiction, I recommend picking up the book as well.

Wasteland 2 came out in September, and proudly held up the old school flag. The game’s first act was significantly stronger than the second, where it lost a bit of its cohesiveness. I liked the turn based combat system and the dry, cynical humor in it. The mad monks were fun, and Damonta was a good finale to the first act. The second act had good set pieces – the Angel Oracle for example – but it just felt too loosely connected. Enjoyable nevertheless.

I’m still waiting for my Dreamcast version of Pier Solar HD but from what I’m seeing, reviews are good. It’s out on Steam, so that’s what I’ll play once I find enough time. Jagged Alliance: Flashback is another kickstarter-backed game that I didn’t have time to really play, although I immediately ran into a bug that made me lose the game – definitely an authentic Jagged Alliance game 🙂 It looks and plays good though.

Last but not least, Elite: Dangerous was released, with a lot of fanfare. The fanfare was mostly centered around the removal of offline-play. This is one of the caveat emptor lessons with Kickstarter: Just because you give money doesn’t mean you actually get exactly what’s promised. It sucks that the controversy takes away some of the hype of the game, but that fault lies in the creators. Overall though, 2014 has been a year where the fears of Kickstarter-backed games have been dispelled. There were many releases, and for the most part the games were good, or at least good enough to be worth the money.

Apart from Kickstarter, there have been a bunch of Indie and Semi-Indie games. Divinity: Original Sin was funded through Kickstarter, but I bought it regularly through steam. It’s a bit confusing at the beginning (Who are we and what are we doing?) but it’s one of the best isometric RPGs in recent years. Once it got going, I enjoyed the ride all the way to the end. It’s one of the best games of 2014, indie or not. A true indie game, Escape Goat 2 came out on PC and PS4 and is a really fun puzzle game. It reminds me a lot of early 8-Bit games like Solomon’s Key or Spherical, even though it’s very different. In any case, I recommend playing it.

Speaking of Goats: Goat Simulator is one of the most glorious games of the year, to the point of them adding a free MMO Simulator DLC. Words cannot do the game justice. One one side it’s like a fart joke that’s funny but going on too long, but on the other hand it never stops being funny. Whether you play it for 5 minutes or 5 hours, it’s hilarious just because you discover so many more ways to break things.

On the topic of glorious releases: Suikoden II was finally released on the playstation network, for PS3 and PS Vita. This is one of the best RPGs ever made, and we’ve been asking for years to get it on the PSOne classics store. It’s $9.99 and the only excuse for not buying it is if you only have a PS4, because for some stupid reason Sony doesn’t have PSOne Classics support on their flagship console. This might be a good time to look into a PS Vita, because not only do you get Suikoden I and II, a non-messed up version of Final Fantasy VII and all the mainline Persona games, including both parts of Persona 2. It also has the HD Remaster of Final Fantasy X and X-2 available for it.

Another console that had a great 2014 was the Wii U. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is everything we love about Donkey Kong Country, including the unforgiving difficulty level. Mario Kart 8 is worth the price of a Wii U alone. The character roster is a bit hit-and-miss, but the vehicles are fun, the track design is amazing and the DLC is actually worthwhile (Link including a motorcycle and the Dragon track are worth the price of the first DLC pack alone). I hear great things about Super Smash Bros., but I could never get into any of the Smash Bros. games, so I have nothing to say except that the Wii U has a big enough roster of great games – some exclusive – that makes it a worthwhile console.

There were also a number of AAA game releases. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 continued the story of the first part – a story that I absolutely loved. The game itself has some rough edges (e.g., stupid stealth sections) and I guess Castlevania purists despise the lack of exploration options, but what they’ve done with the Belmont heritage was really enjoyable. Note that Part 2 starts out with spoilers – playing it first kinda ruins the surprise at the end of the original Lords of Shadow.

Another sequel I had been looking forward to was Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was worth the wait, the game is amazing and a worthy entry in a series whose mainline games are all worthwhile. Extra Bonus points for not repeating the Mass Effect 3 ending SNAFU (which killed the series for me – I doubt I’ll buy the next Mass Effect game on release).

The last game I bought this year was Telltale’s Game of Thrones. It’s basically an interactive episode of the show with Quick-Time-Events disguising as a game attached to it, but that’s ok. It really is Game of Thrones, with all the intrigue and murder that makes the books and TV show so addicting. I’m always torn about Telltale: They know how to tell awesome stories (also see The Wolf Among Us, Back To The Future or The Walking Dead), but the episodic nature of their games often cause weak parts in the middle because they have to put in an ending to an episode that’s really just glue between the preceding and succeeding one.

Last but not least, a sad note: Ralph Henry Bear, possibly the first video game pioneer and father of the Magnavox Odyssey passed away in December. It’s interesting to see how far video games have come, and how far they still have to go.