Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Wonderful World of Wii

The Nintendo Wii, originally developed under the name Nintendo Revolution underwent a focus shift shortly before its debut being re-marketed to families instead of hardcore gamers. This move seems to have been a good one as you’ll find the Nintendo Wii present in many homes throughout the nation.

The Nintendo Wii Console
As its original name implies the Nintendo Wii abandoned the traditional buttons on a controller solution as the primary interface option for many of its games. Instead the Nintendo company spent years perfecting motion tracking software that allows the games to detect the location, speed, orientation, tilt, and rotation of your controller (Wii-mote) allowing users an, at the time unparalleled “point-and-click” interface. Many games took advantage of the new technology such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit to create a truly unique gaming experience for the whole family.

The most obvious advantage to the console’s interface design is that it actually requires movement on the part of the user. For games like Wii Fit this was actually exploited and built upon to help people be more active without needing to head to the gym or go for a run when it was threatening to rain. Additionally the interface allows for a more realistic interface for sword and gun combat with setups that included inserting the Wii-mote into a decorative plastic piece that helped the player really get into the game.

The feature of the Wii that originally sold me however was its ridiculous level of backwards compatibility. Not only can the Wii play Wii games, it can also play GameCube games, allowing me to finally get and play those sequels to Star Wars: Rouge Squadron that I had missed out on. Additionally Nintendo provided the option to download even older games onto the console and play them from there. Classics like Super Mario Land, Star Fox 64, and Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time could be installed and played for a modest expense with new titles being added each month. These titles weren’t just limited to Nintendo systems and included a number of great games from Sega platforms and older systems as well. To continue to add to this feature the Wii also included a section for independent developers to create and make available their own games making the titles available on the Wii virtually limitless.

You’d think all this would be enough, but as a special addition the Wii also includes channels that you can download through its on-board wireless connection or an Ethernet adapter to increase the systems utility, allowing you to create and share Mii’s (your avatars in the various games), vote on popular topics, read headline news, check the weather anywhere in the world, or even watch your favorite TV shows through Netflix or hulu plus.

Though the system came with a great concept that many took to heart, others (including many gamers of old) found the new system’s implementation a bit wonky at first with many titles struggling to get the coding for their games just right in order to make them work with the motion controls. Some games abandoned the idea altogether and stuck with a more traditional controller format (Super Smash Bros. Brawl for instance) offering players the option of several different controller formats, none of which took advantage of the motion sensors.

Wii-motes with heat-sensitive rubber sleeves
The nature of the motion sensing technology made traditional setup somewhat more daunting as a good deal of space was required to prevent people from accidently (or accidently-on-purpose) hitting objects or people around them. For many owners, this was a challenge as even a 42” television only affords four people so much room to spread out before the picture becomes distorted. However things were done to offset this (rubber covers on the controllers most notably) which interestingly opened up new customization options for the Wii system

Finally and most importantly for the hardcore gamers out there was the low graphics quality compared to the other systems of the same generation. I personally experienced the dissonance playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on both the Wii and the Xbox 360. I have to tell you the difference was stunning, not just in graphics quality, but actually in the different content of the two allegedly alike games. For those who consider themselves serious gamers, you’ll want to steer toward the other platforms which are more performance driven than innovation driven.

The Nintendo Wii was my first taste of the last generation of game systems and I have to say I was more impressed than I thought I would be. Despite its drawbacks the Wii did prove to be an entertaining and enjoyable play experience that not only provided a source of amusement for myself and my friends, but also broadened my horizons to include the possible interface options of the future. Needless to say, the Nintendo Wii has found its place in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Monday, April 29, 2013

LAN Parties; a Gathering of N3rds

One of the primary social gatherings for those participating in the nerd culture is the LAN (Local Area Network) party. There likely won’t be any dancing at this party (save for the occasional “in your face” dance), nor copious amounts of alcohol (gotta keep those reflexes sharp), but there is typically junk food, caffeine, and some serious pwning. If you’re interested in throwing a LAN party of your own or just want to know more about them keep reading through our basic guide to throwing a LAN party.

Choose a Platform
a LAN party
Where you stand politically (or physically for that matter) has nothing to do with it. But what you’ll be playing on does. Popular options include Xbox 360 and PC, both of which offer great gaming options over a LAN. Making this decision is vitally important as it lets your guests know what to bring with them. Unless you’re planning for a week long LAN party (and honestly who hasn’t at least considered it) stick to one platform so guests don’t have to pack up every electronic they own. Likewise, if you’re going with a console, make sure everyone will have a compatible screen to play on.

Create a Playlist
Though background tunes are always cool, the playlist I’m referring to is the list of games you’ll be playing at the party. There are a host of games that are great for LAN parties and you won’t be hard pressed to find some that everyone owns. If you’re having trouble StarCraft is always a popular option although its successor (StarCraft II) will require an internet connection (and let’s face it, if you’re having a LAN Party you’ll need it for updates anyway). At any rate choose a few different titles being sure not to include more than you’ll actually have time to play a few rounds of.

Invite Friends
Having determined what you want to play on and what games you’d like to play invite some people over for the party. Let them know what platform you’ll be on and what games to bring. If you’re short on finances you can also ask that each person bring some sort of food and drink as their “entrance fee” for the party. Most people will be perfectly happy to grab a couple bags of chips, chip in $5 for some pizza, or grab a couple 2 liters of soda to share. Still, if you’re guests are anything like me, expect to have at least half forget to bring something.

Prep the LAN
Now comes the technical stuff. To have a successful LAN party, you’ll need to set up a local area network at the location. There are a couple ways to do this; wired or wireless.

Obviously wired is going to be your most geographically limiting option as it’ll require you all to be physically present in the same room (unless you’ve got one of those cool houses where Ethernet cables were run through the whole house). However this limitation comes with the benefit of speed. Using the newest routers, a wired LAN can transfer information at a rate of about 1 Gb/sec (1 Giga bit per second). This connection speed is practically a necessity for games that have a high level of network activity. The other limiting factor is going to be the number of players. While it’s possible to set up a wired local area network for 16 people, it’s rarely comfortable and often limits the ability to vocally plan team strategy.

a couple different wireless routers
The shortcomings of a wired LAN can be overcome using a wireless router which will allow you to spread out quite a bit more giving you plenty of room for vocally

strategizing with team members (ideally located in the same room), provide for comfortable amounts of elbow room, and allowing many more connections than is practical for your typical wired LAN. These advantages have a fatal flaw however which is speed. The best wireless technology of the day, wireless N operates at just about a tenth of the speed that the latest wired solution would. This can be an issue when you’re playing those network intensive games, but shouldn’t be too big an issue for most titles.

Ultimately you’re router choice will depend on what games you’re playing and (more practically speaking) what you have available.

As a quick side note for game stability; make sure you have the person with the most powerful system (typically the host as they can use a desktop while everyone else brings laptops) launch the game as that system will be acting as the server for the rest and as such its processing speed needs to be high enough to keep up.

Get Everyone Connected
As people arrive get them set up on the LAN taking care of driver issues, security settings, and updates as you go. If at all possible have people update their games before they come over as some of those updates can take hours to download and install, wasting valuable game time.

Game On!
Once everyone’s set, launch the game and start fragging. Honestly unless you’re running the party for several nights (which sounds amazing, but who has the time?) you probably don’t need to concern yourself with sleeping arrangements as you’ll likely be playing through the night (though there are other schools of thought).

So if you like the idea of hosting a LAN party, start planning and invite all your nerdy friends (like me). After all, we could all use a good excuse to get out of our N3rd C0rn3r.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Minecraft: More than just Mineshafts

If you’re a fan of sandbox style games than you’ve likely already heard of Minecraft or maybe you’re even already one of its players. If you’re familiar with the game then you know that despite the title the game is far more than just digging a giant hole in the ground (though that can be part of it). This game allows its players to create a world belonging to them alone which they can share with others or keep to themselves. The most notable aspect of the game and something you’ll likely notice right away is that the world is composed entirely of large blocks. While the blocks are made of different materials, they’re still typically the same shape and size giving this game a unique feel.

Graphics and Sound
The Horizon
Minecraft isn’t well known for its amazing graphics as you can imagine would be the case for a world composed entirely of large blocks. This however isn’t so much a failing on the part of the games creator, but rather a stylistic choice that I believe plays well with the feel of the game.

SFX and music likewise aren’t major points for the game relying on a small number of sound files that are frequently repeated to provide the audio experience for the player. Time is instead spent on developing mechanics and expending the already impressive crafting system in order to continue building on the game’s strengths.

Minecraft is divided up into a number of key gameplay aspects that the developers have really fleshed out to provide the players with a multitude of options across two different modes of play. A player can choose to play in creative mode where they’re able to build to their heart’s content using unlimited resources and taking advantage of the lack of dangerous creatures. The other mode is called survival and as its name implies it’s a somewhat harsher (though not unreasonable) gameplay mode that gives you only the resources you can gather for yourself and has you fending off attacks from dangerous creatures that come out at night. To make things even more interesting there is also a hardcore mode for survival that increases the challenge level of the nightly monster raids.
The Mineshaft
1. Mining – As the name of the game implies mining does play a part in the game if you want it to. Players can create tools to help them dig deep into the surface of their world (shovels and picks) to secure the resources sequestered in the deep for use in all manner of projects. Over the course of my first three days playing I’ve created a network of tunnels below my hobbit hole style home branching out in all four directions from a central point (where my ladders to the levels above and below are). I began at sea level and so far I’ve got at least 10 levels and have yet to hit the bottom. There’s no telling how far down I’ll have to go, but I’m determined to mine my way down to lava so I can make obsidian (a very hard and difficult to destroy substance) for use as a more permanent anti-monster barrier.
2. Farming – Particularly important in survival mode is the farming aspect of the game. As you go through the game you’ll find seeds for different plants that can be planted grown and harvested for use in making food. This aspect of the game will use the hoe tool and any seeds you’ve acquired to create a place for you to grow your favorite crops. Methods of implementation are as varied as your imagination and many players have found methods of creating farms that will actually water themselves leaving the player free to reap the harvests, replant, and worry about other things. In addition animals exist in the game which can be penned in and used to provide additional resources to the player such as milk, wool, and eggs. Alternatively these animals can be used for more protein oriented applications. If you like your meat you’ll also want to do a bit of breeding using wheat on two like creatures in proximity to one another in order to create a baby version of the same creature which will eventually grow into a viable food source.
3. Logging – Absolutely a necessity in the world of Minecraft is the logging aspect which involves the use of the axe tool to chop down or rather, destroy block by block the trees that grow all over the landscape. The timber collected can be used to make tools, fences, chests, and a large number of other very helpful things for use in the game of Minecraft.
4. Fishing – Ready to relax and take a load off? Minecraft also offers a fishing system allowing you to catch fish to cook for food. While even less complex than World of Warcraft’s fishing system (which if you’ve not played the game is not that complex) it’s still a great way to get some extra provisions to get you through those long nights.
5. Combat – If you’re tired of huddling in your bunker scared to go out at night there is also a combat system in Minecraft allowing you to take it to those monsters troubling you each evening. Using the materials you gather you can create weapons such as swords, bows, and arrows as well as armor to protect you from the assaults of monsters that get too close. Be sure to keep food with you however as keeping yourself well fed is important for health regeneration.
6. Building – The primary focus of the game is on building whatever you can imagine. Using the different materials you gather as you explore the world you can create all manner of structures including castles, towers, bridges, roller-coasters, underground mazes, starships and anything else you can imagine.

Though my experience with the game has so far been relatively brief I have already begun to imagine the possibilities and eagerly look forward to making them a reality in my own Minecraft world and showing them off here in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stairway to Heaven, Why not an Elevator?

We all know that while rockets are great, the resources required to get them off the planet and into orbit are astronomical. Shuttle missions according to NASA cost about $450 million per launch for fuel and other resources. These costs are simply too high to continue to ignore, which is why alternatives are being considered.

conceptual animation for a space elevator 
Short of suddenly discovering antigravity technology only a few ideas exist for alternatives to the costly rocket launches currently thrusting us into space today. One of the most promising proposals for solving this problem is the construction of a space elevator also known as a space ladder, space bridge, and skyhook among other things. The premise is actually quite simple. A long cord or “tether” as it’s called would be attached to the Earth around the equator. This would then stretch into space past the point of geosynchronous orbit to a counterweight orbiting fast enough to keep it stationary over one location. The high speed of the orbiting counterweight beyond the appropriate height for orbit would typically launch it out into space, but this would be prevented because of the tether. The force of this moving away from the planet would stretch the tether taught between the earth and the counterweight, permitting an elevator to ride up and down along the cable using electricity and motors rather than massive quantities of fossil fuels to transport people and material into space.

Unfortunately, the extreme tension involved in successfully implementing a plan of this nature would snap cables made of the materials we currently have available for a project like this. Despite this setback, those seeking to continue our forays into space are still looking at ways to make such a structure possible including a cable made of either carbon nanotubes or boron nitride nanotubes. These materials provide higher tensile strengths and weigh less than conventional materials making them excellent candidates for use in projects such as this. This particular challenge wouldn’t be present on lower gravity bodies such as the moon, which could accomplish the same thing with currently available materials.

Meteoroid impacts are another potential problem facing the creation of a space elevator. Because the tether would extend outside of the Earth’s atmosphere it would be exposed in places to meteoroid impacts that could compromise the integrity of the tether and potential threaten the safety of any people or materials being transported at the time. To help prevent this, a design for an extremely thin “ribbon” was proposed for the tether, reducing the likelihood of meteoroid impacts against it and providing a good deal of surface area for an elevator to use simple rollers as its means of ascension.

Weather here on Earth is also a factor to be considered especially given that the plan requires the tether to be anchored to the equator. To help avoid the issues associated with high volumes of lightning and the destructive effects of hurricanes a location for the anchor’s construction has been proposed in the west pacific.

The Future
With more research and development being done every year we grow ever closer to successfully creating a functioning space elevator. Many designs are currently being researched which includes research being done by Google’s Google X Lab and the Obayashi Corporation based in Japan which claims to be able to successfully establish a space elevator in 2050. Who knows what’s possible within the next 37 years? One thing however is sure; the space elevator is a concept that has found a permanent home here in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Life-Blood that Fuels the Dreams of N3rds

Although coffee is the trendy drink of the current generation, I’m talking about Mountain Dew. Unless you’re deathly allergic to citrus (and maybe even once or twice then) if you’re a nerd, you’ve had a mountain dew at least once in your life. This typically green carbonated beverage has become the drink of choice for nerds throughout the country even at times being specifically marketed to gamer communities (gamer fuel promotions for W.o.W. and Halo come to mind). Don’t think this trend has gone unnoticed by the soda companies; Mountain Dew currently accounts for 80% of the citrus drink sales in the United States and has become a cultural icon for the nerd community.

Mountain Dew found its initial inception in 1940; the original formula being created by Barney and Ally Hartman. Originally only available in Marion, Virginia and Knoxville and Johnson City, Tennessee this drink didn’t find its wide spread distribution until the formula was purchased by Pepsi-Cola in 1964.

The original version of Mountain Dew (excluding a modification of the formula by Bill Bridgforth in 1958) remained the only available version for its first 40 years of existence. This long stretch of solitude finally came to an end in 1988 with the introduction of the diet version of the soda (my drink of choice) and the short lived Mountain Dew Red which was discontinued the very same year. This however kicked off a trend of flavor variation creation that saw renewed interest with the release of a cherry flavored version called Code Red and has continued producing variations to this day.

Mountain Dew is like the wine of the nerd world. With so many different variations, many of which are time limited or retailer specific the options are seemingly endless and I’m not ashamed to admit that I very much hope to one day have a whole rack filled with the different varieties to choose, from which I might select the appropriate flavor for every occasion. The different varieties of the soda include:

A Scene from the Chuck Norris Mountain Dew Commercial
Mountain Dew
Caffeine-Free Mountain Dew
Diet Mountain
Mountain Dew
Caffeine-Free Diet Mountain
Mountain Dew
Diet Mountain Dew
Mountain Dew Code Red
Diet Mountain Dew Code Red
Mountain Dew Live Wire
Mountain Dew Pitch Black
Mountain Dew Baja Blast
Mountain Dew Pitch Black II
Mountain Dew Game Fuel (Halo 3 Edition)
Mountain Dew Revolution
Mountain Dew Supernova
Mountain Dew Voltage
Mountain Dew Game Fuel (World of Warcraft “Horde Red” Edition
Mountain Dew Game Fuel (World of Warcraft “Alliance Blue” Edition
Mountain Dew Throwback
Mountain Dew Cherry Fusion
Mountain Dew Distortion
Mountain Dew Typhoon
Mountain Dew White Out
Diet Mountain Dew Flare
Diet Mountain Dew Crave
Diet Mountain Dew Supernova
Mountain Dew Game Fuel Cherry-Citrus (Call of Duty: MW3 Edition)
Mountain Dew Game Fuel Tropical (Call of Duty: MW3 Edition)
Mountain Dew Dark Berry
Mountain Dew Johnson City Gold
Mountain Dew Game Fuel Cherry Citrus (Halo 4 Edition)
Mountain Dew Kickstart Orange Citrus
Mountain Dew Kickstart Fruit Punch
While these are not all the varieties of mountain dew available in any form, it is the complete list of those that are considered sodas. For more complete information on each flavor you can check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Dew.
Popular Media
It’s a fact that Mountain Dew has had a huge impact on our culture, a point made all the more prevalent by its inclusion in a number of popular media sources including:

The song “D&D” by Stephen Lynch
The song “Diet Mountain Dew” by Lana Del Rey
The South Park episode “I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining”
The Simpsons episode “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”
The song “Gimme Dat” by KJ-52
The song “Code Monkey” by Jonathan Coulton
The movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
The film Idiocracy
Not to mention a number of minor appearances and references throughout other nerd media including the Big Bang Theory episode “The Vengeance Formulation,” among others.
Alternative Uses
While Mountain Dew is obviously best for drinking, there are some other fun ways to enjoy this product that might surprise you.
Glow-in-the-Dark Mountain Dew
      Glow Stick – That’s right. You can turn that last 1/4th of your original flavor Mountain dew into a glow stick by adding 1 teaspoon of baking soda and three caps of hydrogen peroxide. Once added just seal the cap and shake it up for a glow in the dark masterpiece. If you want to have even more fun with it, the bottle can be opened and used as a glow in the dark paint.
            Rodent Dissolver – Believe it or not, a study done by the people at Pepsi Cola in response to a lawsuit has confirmed that long term submersion in Mountain dew (over the course of years) will dissolve a rodent into a “jelly-like substance.” So if you’ve been trying to come up with a way to dispose of all those dead rats, this could be an option (though your plans for a mountain dew based fish tank environment might be out)
      Fuel Booster System – If you’re looking for a way to boost your cars fuel efficiency and significantly reduce pollution you can use Mountain Dew as a fuel additive in conjunction with the Geet system invented by Paul Pantone. If you’d like more information on the system or its inventor a simply web search will yield a number of results.
Mountain Dew is not only a delicious beverage, but a cultural staple for nerds nationwide. The drink has continued to evolve as has the community it targets and I believe wholeheartedly that the fates of both are at this point inexorably intertwined. Regardless of what flavors you favor and whatever you use your Dew for, let us know how you “do the Dew” and know that as a Mountain Dew drinker, you’ll always be welcome in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Console vs. PC

It’s a debate that has existed since the first consoles entered the gaming arena and continues raging on to this day. People are torn when it comes to gaming between their experiences on consoles and their experiences on a PC. Only God knows if it’s even possible to determine a true victor, but just in case, we’ll give it a try.

The current generation of consoles includes the Xbox 360, PS3, and the Wii though these certainly are not the only entries ever made into the console hall of fame. We all look back fondly on our times well wasted playing the NES, the 64, and for the quick enough among us the Dreamcast. Still to make a fair comparison it’s best to focus on the latest and greatest that’s being offered.

Interestingly the distinction between consoles and PCs has grown less and less with each passing generation to the point at which they will ultimately do most of the same things for you. This trend however has always been consoles becoming more like PCs rather than the other way around. Still consoles do have a few advantages that make them a contender to be reckoned with.
1. Cost – It’s a fair point to make that a console, even with the next generation’s $400+ price tags are much cheaper than the starting price of a high quality gaming PC making them more easily obtainable for those of us who find ourselves without thousands of extra dollars just lying around.
2. Simplicity – While there are some settings on a console that can take a little know how to get just right ultimately consoles prove to be more user friendly than their PC counterparts. Playing a game is as easy as putting it in and grabbing your controller. Occasionally you’ll have the odd update increasing the number of buttons to press before playing from 2 to a staggering 3, but it’s still considerably simpler than some update processes that go along with PC gaming. Similarly controls for consoles are streamlined making them extremely intuitive vs. a PC game. Searching for a particular action involves at most testing 12 buttons where as a PC game is going to have you desperately combing through the manual looking for a key map if you decided to skip the tutorial.
3. Mainstream Dibs – When it comes to getting the first crack at the latest mainstream games, console has it hands down. There are a number of titles that are console only and many more that only release the game to PC much later.

A gaming PC is a machine built with the specific intention to use it primarily for gaming. Still that doesn’t make these machines poor choices for other tasks, but rather they’re quite capable of handling almost any computing task. Still as we’re talking specifically about gaming we’ll set aside the versatility factor for purposes of our comparison.
1. Game Cost – While it’s true the machine itself will cost you more upfront the difference is made up in the price you pay for games. A title released new on both console and PC at the same time will typically cost up to $10 less than it will for the console version. Still that’s just the beginning. Wait a little while and the same game could be on sale through Steam or another online game vender for half the price. If you’re willing to wait even longer, that game will likely eventually come up on rotation for a ridiculously good price commonly costing only 10% of the original title while used copies of the console version are going for only $10 less than the new copies of the game at your local GameStop.
2. Longevity – It’s a simple fact that eventually things will break down, wear out, or become obsolete and need replacing. For a console, unless you get the extended service plan from Target (my 360’s still under warrantee) this fact is going to mean you have to fork up another several hundred dollars for a new one. At most you’re looking at 5 years of relevant life for your console before it’s time to get the next generation. For a PC that’s good to start and well cared for its initial components save for maybe the hard drives (which are pretty cheap) can easily last and remain competitive in the world of gaming for a decade or more. Even if you don’t have the money to replace old components with newer versions, you can still squeeze just a little extra performance out of your processors, memory, and graphics cards by overclocking them; something you can do with programs downloaded for free. It may wear them out faster, but with your PC getting ready to become a teenager, you’ll probably have saved up enough to replace the system with something twice as good.
3. Indie Dibs – While consoles may have the market cornered on the first crack at mainstream games, PCs get all the love when it comes to Indie games, and there’re a lot of them out there, many of which never even arrive on a console. Many of my all-time favorite games have been independent PC only games that have remained that way to this day. While Indie games can be hit or miss, I’ve found that given a careful look at the reviews you end up with a lot more hits and the misses, don’t hurt your wallet quite as badly.
4. Modding – While with some very sketchy tweaks it’s possible to do modding on consoles (the old Xbox mod chips come to mind), you run the risk of damaging your hardware in the process and are less a part of a community than a person who’s frequently accused of cheating in first person shooters. While mods can be even more hit and miss than indie games, there are some games that have literally been made into masterpieces and cult classics (so much as a game can be) through modding; Empire at War and Star Trek Armada II being notable examples.

While both platforms have their merits I must ultimately submit my vote for the PC as the ultimate victor. As the two become more and more similar it may soon be difficult to even make the distinction between a console and a PC. Regardless of which emerges triumphant I’ll find myself on the winning side as both have their place in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Deadly Dimir

If you’ve been keeping up with Magic: The Gathering than you’ve likely heard of Dimir, one of the 5 guilds represented in the latest Gatecrash set. Dimir is a guild that uses a combination of blue and black creatures and spells to mill their opponent into dust and gain some benefit from every card the opponent loses. Add to this the new cipher mechanic and you have a powerful guild ready to take on any who would dare oppose them.

Dimir Guildhall
The Dimir deck relies heavily on a few different interrelated strategies for successfully bringing down their opponents.
1. Mill – The key word in the Dimir playbook is mill. While not every card directly contributes to this, through the use of card combinations nearly every card in the collection is either useful for milling or derives some significant benefit from the milling. This strategy can be used to simply deprive a competitor of a deck thus ensuring victory without ever touching their life points or it can be a means to create massively powerful creatures that can eventually cut down even the most impressive defenses. The key card for this strategy is the Consuming Aberration which not only mills but also derives a benefit from the milling.
2. Graveyard Love – This is a strategy that works in conjunction with the milling and serves to power up creatures and other cards based on the number of creatures or cards in your opponent’s graveyard. There are actually two different approaches to this built into the strategy of Dimir. The first of course is the use of cards that benefit from the contents of the graveyard. These cards include the Consuming Aberration, Wight of Precinct Six, Jace’s Phantasm, and Death’s Approach all of which become very effective cards quite rapidly. The other branch of this strategy makes use of those cards which exile milled cards and allow the Dimir player to use them themselves. Cards like Bane Alley Broker, Lord of the Void, Nightveil Specter, and Voidwalk are good options for this strategy.
3. Cipher – A new mechanic introduced in the Gatecrash set specifically for the Dimir guild (though that’s not to say others can’t make use of it) is the cipher ability. This is included on sorcery cards and has the controller upon resolving the initial spell exile the card attached to a creature they control. From that point on whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player the creature’s controller has the option of casting the spell again without paying its mana cost. This strategy works very well in conjunction with cards that either are or can become unblockable like Deathcult Rogue, Dimir Keyrune, Incursion Specialist, and Way of the Thief. Using this approach can not only take a heavy toll on your opponent’s life points but will also generate cool extra effects for you like creature tokens, tapping target creatures, extra cards, or additional milling among others. When played correctly the cipher mechanic can be one of the most powerful mechanics in the Gatecrash set.

If you’re looking for a great guild to play in the current block, it’s hard to go wrong with Dimir. Though it relies heavily on the mill strategy which can be overcome with enough graveyard hate, the diversity of strategies offered through the cipher mechanic more than make up for this weakness making Dimir a formidable guild worthy of its place in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Comparison of Jedi and Sith Philosophy

In Star Wars the Jedi and the Sith are two powerful seemingly diametrically opposed groups of individuals striving against one another to achieve their own agendas. What may seem shocking to some is that there are some things that the two groups actually agree on; a fact that ironically forces their struggle against one another to continue throughout the eons.

The Jedi
The Jedi are the self-purported guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy in the Star Wars universe who are supposed to have the goals of better understanding the nature of the Force, following its will, and defending life no matter what shape it may take. They guide themselves by following what they call the Jedi Code. Though there are many versions of the Code, as it has required alteration, updating, and adjustment over time we’ll take a look at the most common version for the purposes of our comparison:
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master

There is no emotion, there is peace
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge
There is no passion, there is serenity
There is no chaos, there is harmony
There is no death, there is the Force

This code governs the life of each and every Jedi instructing them in broad terms as to what they should and shouldn’t do.

1. There is no emotion, there is peace – This tenant of the code teaches the release of emotion. Jedi were to be impartial and driven by sound judgment and wisdom rather than fleeting emotions. Instead a Jedi was to be at peace with others, the world, and themselves.
2. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge – Jedi believed that it was vital to overcome their own ignorance and that of others with the knowledge available to them. This likely stems from the conclusion that, most conflicts come from misunderstandings that can be avoided by learning more about one another and respecting those differences that make us unique. Knowledge is sought by the Jedi on all subjects in order to help conquer ignorance wherever and however it should arise.
3. There is no passion, there is serenity – Jedi espoused the concept of abandoning passion as a needless distraction in one’s life and instead embracing serenity in all situations. This would allow a Jedi to approach any situation without experiencing turmoil and to accept the direction of their masters, the council, and the Force without hesitation.
4. There is no chaos, there is harmony – The Jedi strove to bring balance to their lives as well as to the galaxy as a whole. Any unbalance was viewed as potentially leading to chaos and turmoil within an individual preventing them from reaching the harmony balance provided. From a place of harmony a Jedi could juggle their various roles and needs without becoming overwhelmed or falling prey to anxiety or depression.
5. There is no death, there is the Force – The final tenant of the code reinforces the idea that every Jedi needn’t fear death as it was an illusion. Upon passing a Jedi would become one with the Force continuing to exist and contribute in some way to the galaxy. This helped to allay fear in the face of death allowing Jedi to more easily remain emotionless, serene, and in harmony and thus often resulting in Jedi surviving and even triumphing where others could not.

The Sith
On the other end of the spectrum are the Sith. They are more interested in gaining personal power than in achieving enlightenment and use the Force as a tool to make their will a reality rather than being used for the purposes of the Force’s will. The Sith, being a breakaway of the Jedi created their own code to express their beliefs:

Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith
Peace is a lie, there is only passion
Through passion, I gain strength
Through strength, I gain power
Through power, I gain victory
Through victory, my chains are broken
The Force shall free me

This code was the basis of all those who would strive to become a Sith and clearly kicks off with a direct contradiction to the Jedi Code reinforcing the idea that the two are opposed.

1. Peace is a lie, there is only passion – This first line in the code informs its readers that the concept of peace is an invention of those too weak to accept that all that truly exists is passion. Passion drives the Sith forward, fueling their actions, motives, and desires. Passion is the core of the Sith philosophy.
2. Through passion, I gain strength – The Sith learned to use their passion to give them strength. The more they hated, the more the fires of passion burned within them and the stronger they seemed to become.
3. Through strength, I gain power – A Sith would use this strength to subjugate those weaker than him, making them subservient as he or she once were. The strength of each fallen enemy added to their own through both experience and reputation, or through enslavement.
4. Through power, I gain victory – Using their rising power a Sith seeks to and if powerful enough ultimately does conquer all that once imprisoned them. They first achieve victory over themselves, then victory over others, and some ultimately achieve victory over the Force itself.
5. Through victory, my chains are broken – The achieved victories destroy the bonds that keep the Sith from becoming all that they desire to be. Breaking these bonds is often the hardest task that a Sith will face.
6. The Force shall free me – For the Sith, freedom is the ultimate goal of their existence; Freedom from the laws that restrict others and make them less than what they could be, freedom from being a victim to anyone, and freedom from death itself. The Force, and the Sith’s use of it grants them this freedom that they crave.

The Obvious Similarity
Anakin and Padme's Wedding
The one thing that stands out as a common element between both the Jedi and the Sith is what neither is willing to talk about in their respective codes. It’s a well-established fact from various sources in the lore that both orders in one way or another fear love. Now that seems like a strange thing to fear, but they both have their reasons. Love is a wildcard in regard to both philosophies. Love can bring peace to an individual in knowing that no matter what they’re not alone, but can also dredge up the kind of emotions that can make one capable of anything. Love can be a catalyst for learning as you seek to be better for a person, or it can blind a person from what’s really happening and make them weak. Love can fuel the furnace of passion clouding ones judgment and causing a person to give their power to another. Love can bring chaos to one’s life as you struggle to understand another person or breed contentment leading to a cessation of one’s quest for victory. Love ultimately asks that you would die for another rather than let them perish so you can be free. Love is very, very dangerous.

And yet, in the real world, love is necessary for successful coexistence. Love drives me to sacrifice for others and them to do likewise for me. Love causes me to strive for more and not be satisfied with what little I can provide now. Love fills me with the desire to continually better myself for the benefit of those around me and love demands that I surrender my life in order to truly be free.

The Jedi and Sith are very different and yet very much alike. Though different in their reactions to it, the Jedi and Sith are driven apart by their mutual rejection of the concept of love. Though I doubt very much it will ever happen, only by embracing love will the two groups ever be successfully reunited. Still the hope for it continues to exist here in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Review of Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox

Though it is unfortunately too recent a game to be considered a classic, Knights of the Old Republic from BioWare is destined to become an example of what video games should be for future developers the world over.

Graphics and Sound
The Fall of Taris
While obviously somewhat lacking by today’s standards, for the time Knights of the Old Republic included a highly advanced graphics engine that took full advantage of the abilities of the Xbox game system. Characters were not only highly detailed, but equipment was as well. Changing your character’s equipment actually altered their appearance in the game and the cut scenes as well, which were animated in the same style as the game and took the present appearance of your character for use in the cut scene, contributing to continuity considerably. The environments were of course fairly expansive and just as richly detailed as the characters and equipment offering vistas such as the wastes of Tatooine or the oceans of Manaan. Though it was somewhat more limited space battles were also fairly detailed, though as you were only a gunner and not a pilot for those scenes, they were a little restrictive in regard to how much you could really do. There were of course those cut scenes that didn’t include your party in them (like the orbital bombardment of a planet) that are richly detailed beyond even the other cut scenes and make for impactful events throughout the story.

More impressively is that Knights of the Old Republic, rather than recycle the old tired music from the Star Wars films as had almost all the Star Wars games up to that point actually opted to have an entirely original soundtrack created for the game. This gave the game a far more rich and unique feel as each area brought on new music that you’d never heard and more importantly had yet to associate with any particular events in Star Wars lore, allowing you to leave old memories lay and forge completely new ones free of the taint of past experience. Naturally the sound quality was very impressive using HD audio files which a savvy gamer with too much time on their hands could use to make a soundtrack for the game from (yes I am talking about something I did, back when I had too much time on my hands).

The interface for Knights of the Old Republic follows the standard practices of the time. You have a button for selecting, one for interacting, a couple for special abilities, and of course your standard start menu inventory and character sheet system. For anyone who’s played an RPG game from that time the controls will seem fairly intuitive if at times a little cumbersome. Still even for those that had never played an RPG there were many good things to be said for Knights of the Old Republic and the interface was typically easy enough to pick up.

The most impressive innovation for the interface was the rich level of dialog options available to users. This was one of the first games to include such a massively branching conversation tree and this decision on the part of the developers actually created significant replay value for the game. Suddenly a player wasn’t limited to just being the good guy in the game, but instead you had the option to be very good, or very bad, or somewhere in between. Your responses to other characters could be kind, polite, insightful, straightforward, rude, demeaning, or sometimes even downright violent and what resulted from each conversational choice would be different than if you’d gone with other choices. I personally played through the game three times, one right after the other with a unique experience each time and I’m reasonably certain that I still haven’t seen all that the game has to offer.

Story (Warning Spoilers)
Despite how well done the rest of the game was, the real jewel to be found in Knights of the Old Republic is its story. You start off as one of three different classes, either a soldier, scoundrel, or scout traveling aboard a ship that’s carrying a Jedi to her destination. You wake up in your quarters with alarms blaring and the ship vibrating violently under foot as it’s attacked by outside forces. A single soldier rushes in to explain things and get you started before you rush off in an attempt to get to the bridge and find out what’s going on. The story sees you stranded on the planet Taris being hunted by sith troops and trying to survive the perils of the lower levels of the massive city. In your journey you discover that you’re capable of becoming a Jedi and eventually do, before setting off on a quest to track down the Sith Lord Darth Malak by following in the footsteps of him and his now defeated master Darth Revan

In the greatest plot twist of video game history, you discover that your character is actually Darth Revan who was captured by the Jedi having your memories altered so that you believed you were someone else. When that was first revealed I literally sat stunned for half an hour trying to come to grips with the shocking revelation. The whole first play through I had been good, helping everyone I could and following the light side. I can’t even begin to tell you how tempting it was to drop the heroism and embrace my dark destiny right then and there. However I finished the play through as I had started it and then immediately began a new one exploring the evil alignment options and having fun wreaking havoc on all who would dare cross the path of such a powerful Sith Lord as Darth Revan. It was this plot twist that really captured my attention and has given me cause to carefully follow the games coming out of BioWare ever since.

Though a bit older, Knights of the Old Republic is absolutely still worth playing. If you’ve never had the pleasure I strongly recommend heading down to your local game store and picking up a used copy to add as a permanent addition to your N3rd C0rn3r.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jump Starting Stellar Evolution

Those familiar with science fiction know that stars play a key role in the setting, lore, and sometimes even the plot of almost all science fiction. This makes them an object of fascination for those who dream of one day sailing through the heavens (like me). However current stellar evolution theory seems to possess a fatal flaw that prevents it from being viable, thus requiring a tweak to the theory.

Conventional Theory
As it stands at the moment the theory of stellar evolution follows a simple formula for the life cycle of a standard (main sequence) star.
1. Proto-Star Formation – The first stage in the stellar evolution process is the formation of the proto-star within a nebula. This process involves the gravitational collapse of gas and dust within the nebula, typically spread out over the area of about 100 light-years. This process can take a long time, but once it’s begun and the proto-star grows in size the pressures generated by the gas and dust begin to heat the star
The Sun (Sol)
2. Main Phase – Once the stars core reaches 10,000,000° Kelvin the stars gravitational pressure is high enough to start forcing small atoms to combine into larger atoms (a process called fusion). This occurs first with hydrogen atoms which are fused into deuterium in very early stages and then later into helium. Depending on the amount of hydrogen the star begins with the life of the star in this phase can extend from only a few million years to hundreds of billions of years. Counter to what seems the logical conclusion, the larger stars with more fuel (and thus more mass and pressure) actually burn more quickly and thus have shorter lives than do those that are smaller which burn more slowly. Our sun is expected to remain in its main phase for roughly 10 billion years.
3. Red Giant – A typical mass star at the end of its main phase will move into the red giant phase of its life where hydrogen fusion only occurs in a shell around the core of the star and the sudden collapse of material in the star’s core due to the stalling of hydrogen fusion creates enough pressure and heat to begin helium fusion combining helium atoms to form oxygen and carbon. Because of the extra energy being released from the fusion of these heavier elements the star expands and brightens as the outward force of the fusion attempts to reach equilibrium with the inward force of the star’s gravity. It is predicted that this will be the fate of our star at the end of its main phase.
4. White Dwarf – Upon using up all the fuel that the star is large enough to fuse it will collapse upon itself (though not enough to create a neutron star or black hole) creating an extremely dense solid mass called a white dwarf. These objects are no longer producing energy through fusion, but simply radiating their remaining heat out into space, eventually becoming black dwarfs upon having radiated all their remaining energy, assuming no intervention of additional mass occurs.

High Mass Stars
A high mass star tends to work a bit differently. As they have much higher temperatures and pressures these stars finish the main phase portion of their lives much faster and move to the giant phase very quickly (for a star). They typically will not become red giants as they’re burning too hot for the outer shell to cool enough for the color shift to the red spectrum. These stars have enough pressure to move on to oxygen and carbon fusion continuing to produce heavier and heavier elements until they reach iron. Once these stars start creating iron in their cores the fusion process will stall out and one of three results will occur depending upon the star’s mass.
1. White Dwarf – The smallest of the high mass stars will cast off its outer layers in a nova and become a white dwarf, ending its life much the same way as a lower mass star.
Simulated image of a supernova
2. Neutron Star – The next possibility for a larger star is that it will cast off its outer layers in a massive supernova explosion and its core will contract so much that the electrons and protons of the atoms composing the core will actually combine forming a large super dense object composed entirely of neutrons.
3. Black Hole – For the most massive stars their fate is that of the black hole. Like the less massive stars these will cast off their outer layers in a massive supernova explosion with the remnants collapsing down upon themselves with such force that they become compressed into a singular point called a singularity. The mass of these objects is so great that anything that gets too near, even light falls victim to the intense gravitational collapse.

The Glitch in the Theory
Over all, despite never having observed the ignition phenomenon of a newly forming star (due to long time spans involved in the proto-star phase and obscuring nebula clouds) the theory of stellar evolution is sound and verifiable in computer models. However, though I’m by no means an astrophysicist, it seems to me that the laws of thermodynamics contradict the beginnings of the stellar evolution process. As gravity pulls the gas and dust together the increase in pressure causes its temperature to rise, which thus forces it back apart. Because of this, it seems likely that some type of catalyst is necessary to kick off the proto-star formation process; a chunk of matter dense enough to pull in the gas and dust with enough force to overcome the expansive force that their coalescence would cause. Of course correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that these “star seeds” need to be added to the theory in order to make it function in reality as advertised.

While I feel it’s true the theory of stellar evolution could use a minor tweak, it seems like a solid working theory that deserves the acknowledgement and acceptance that it receives from the scientific community. I am pleased at the fact that it’s found its way into popular science fiction and as such, also has a place in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Review of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

As a nerd it’s difficult to escape the reach of Blizzard’s gaming empire and almost every nerd I know has either heard of or played one of their games at some point during their life. I of course am no exception and have had my fill of Diablo, StarCraft, and WarCraft and a number of their spin off titles. For me the most recent of these titles is StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty which builds upon the lore established in the original StarCraft game and its expansion to continue to expand the rich lore of the StarCraft universe.

Graphics & Sound
Tychus in his marine armor
I don’t imagine it’s of any surprise that the graphics and soundtrack quality for StarCraft II are infinitely better than the original StarCraft. While I’ll be the first to admit I miss some of the old building and ship profiles, there’s no denying that the new entry into this saga is much more visually appealing than the original.

The game has undergone a complete graphical overhaul incorporating the advancements in graphics processing technology since the release of the original into the new engine. Doing this has not only made the game more visually appealing, but also helps it remain relevant in our ever advancing technological society. While the graphics are much better than they once were, Blizzard has made sure that they’re still not so intense that only a super high-end machine can play the game. This helps those with less vast means (like myself) continue to participate in and enjoy the lore created by this incredibly successful game studio.

Of course there’s no denying that the sound quality for the game is much improved as well. Like the graphics Blizzard has wisely chosen to upgrade the SFX as well as the background score to take advantage of advances in audio technology. This has the net effect of more effectively immersing a player into the action by delivering high quality realistic (where appropriate) SFX as well as breathing new life into the old musical scores included with the original game.

Interface & Balance
Interface in StarCraft II
Those familiar with the old StarCraft game will likely note that the interface is laid out in much the same way that it once was and functions much as it once did though it, like the other graphics has undergone a face lift to bring it up to speed with current rendering technology. One major improvement that should be noted is the cap to unit selection has essentially been done away with, allowing you to select groups of units beyond the humble dozen of the previous games. Despite this new advantage, I still find myself hot-keying groups of twelve if for no other reason than to indulge in a little nostalgia.

Because of the games highly competitive nature balance was a huge point of concern for the Blizzard team during development and likely was the cause of the long development process that the game went through. The long wait was well worth it however as the three factions are all well balanced and can field units capable of countering each potential strategy making victory a result of skill rather than what faction you’re playing as. This is good news for the StarCraft tournament leagues as it makes competitions fair and challenging and thus more exciting as well.

Story (Warning Spoilers)
For those who’ve been keeping up with StarCraft through its initial inception you’re already aware that the story has taken many interesting twists and turns to get it to where it’s at during the Wings of Liberty campaign. As the game is but the first of three entries in the StarCraft II arena it includes only a single campaign focusing almost exclusively on the Terran faction being led by Jim Raynor from the original title. Raynor throughout the campaign leads a group of freedom fighters through the universe gathering allies and resources to defeat the corrupt leader of the Terran Dominion. Throughout the campaign Raynor is plagued by guilt over the events that led to the loss of Sara Kerrigan in the original StarCraft and the rise of the Queen of Blades in its expansion. This leads him to drink throughout most of the game.

While the story did continue the lore of the game and was effective in moving the plot forward, I felt that it was ultimately poorly executed and could have been improved with better writing. Game play of course was not the issue, as it’s understandable that you can only do so much with the story in an real-time strategy format, but the cut scenes and dialog that was exchanged between characters could have been much better written than it was. Ultimately I found that many of the characters lacked the depth necessary to compel me to care about them or what missions they could offer. Granted I still did the missions, wanting to unlock as much as I could throughout the campaign, but I didn’t feel moved to do them for any other reason than to progress through the game.

The story did include interesting elements in that things you gathered throughout the game could be used to enhance the units you already had making them more useful and making the desire to do all the missions that much stronger.

Overall it’s hard to argue with the results of Blizzards efforts, though I think I speak for all gamers when I say I wish they could find a faster method to achieve the same results. While I had my issues with character depth I thought the story was compelling enough by itself to make the single player experience worthwhile and of course if you’re a fan of multiplayer and competition between gamers than you’ll definitely want to check out StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty as you wait for a chance to get its expansions StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm and StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void all of which will have their place in my N3rd C0rn3r.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Avatar: The Last Great Nick Cartoon

Ok, so admittedly it’s been a couple years since I watched Nickelodeon so feel free to correct me if I’m missing out on something amazing, but up to the point I was watching their programming (which mind you was well after Avatar had ended) there just didn’t seem to be the same quality of shows available. I mean what ever happened to shows like Doug and Rugrats? These were great shows that make my childhood worth being nostalgic about. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older, but the shows just don’t have the same allure they once did. Avatar: The Last Airbender was, at least for me the last great show nick aired.

The Three Seasons of Avatar
A truly original show Avatar: The Last Air Bender follows Aang and his friends as they journey to different locations across the world to find bending masters to teach Aang the four elements so that he can stop a war that the fire nation had been waging for over 100 years.

The series touches on a number of different beliefs but focuses in most heavily upon Buddhism (as the Buddhist monks were the inspiration for the air benders) and also touches on the concept of reincarnation at least for the Avatar (a being able to bend or manipulate all four elements [air, earth, fire, and water]).

The world is divided into four different nations each built around a particular element; the Air Nomads who lived in four temples built high in the mountains, the Earth Nation which controlled the majority of the western continent (at least originally), the Fire Nation inhabiting the eastern continent, and the Water Tribes located primarily in the North and South poles.

While the Avatar is not the only person capable of bending the elements, he is the only one who can bend all four and not everyone is able to bend even one. This creates an interesting dynamic for the show as the benders are constantly targeted by their enemies and those who can’t bend any of the elements are typically disregarded as not a threat, a mistake that on several occasions proves to be the downfall of the antagonists.

Ultimately Aang must master the four elements within a certain period of time in order to stop the war before the Fire Nation achieves total victory.

While the animation is a little sketchy at first (ok you caught me, it’s a terrible pun. Let’s move on) it improves rapidly over the course of the first few episodes and remains at its peak throughout the rest of the series. Each of the nation’s populace is drawn to reflect a different people group giving the series a believable diversity often lacking in cartoons and anime.

A special note must be made for the superb detail the animators put into researching and drawing the motions associated with the different bending styles. A unique form of martial arts was chosen for each of the four elements and used as the basis of the associated bending motions that not only created a unique style for each of the nations but contributed to the rich culture built into each one.

As is appropriate for a series ending battle, the animation during the final few episodes was absolutely incredible (and on an unrelated note, so was the soundtrack selection for these scenes). You could almost feel the energy splashing off the clashes between the combatants and just barely hitting you through the television screen (or maybe I had the volume too high. Who’s to say?).

The Movie
Just look at his face, even he thought it was bad.
Airbender was possibly the worst movie I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies (my parents loved making me watch old [seriously old] B movies). It’s just a travesty what was done to the series through this movie. As the movie is the primary means through which most of our culture has experienced the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, many people won’t give it a chance because they think it’ll be just as bad as the movie. This is a shame as the series is incredible. I don’t know what Mr. Shyamalan thought he was trying to do, but I seriously doubt if he watched more than three episodes of the series before he made the movie. Here are my major complaints in brief:

1. The pronunciation of Aang’s name (seriously, we all know how to say it, and that wasn’t it)
2. Cultural choices for each nation (the Fire nation isn’t even remotely Indian and the Water Tribe are supposed to be Inuit)
3. Combination of Jet and Haru (just remove one if you need to cut screen time, don’t combine them)
4. Portrayal of bending (the element moves as your moving; the motion isn’t a combination for “unlocking” the move)

There’s more, but honestly it was just a bad movie and for certain directors it seems to have been a bit of a career ender. Now for those of you saying “it wasn’t as bad in 3D,” I understand your need to console yourself for having paid extra for such a terrible movie, but yeah, it was still just as bad no matter how many dimensions it was filmed in (though probability suggests that in at least one universe the movie was great, so there’s some hope there.)

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an amazing series well worth your time. I beg you if you’ve not seen it, to not judge the franchise by the sham of a movie created by someone who apparently could have cared less for the series, but rather make your decision based on what the series itself actually has to offer. Just give this wonderful animated world a chance to find its place (as it has in mine) in your N3rd C0rn3r.