HTTPS and categories

Meta-post time, as I’ve made a few site updates. Most notably, HTTPS works now. I wouldn’t say that Chrome 68 pushed me to finally do this, but hearing everyone talk about Chrome 68 was a good reminder that I was really running out of excuses. So, only this site as of right now, I’ll get around to fenipulator, the archive, and a couple of other projects that aren’t actually tied to my name shortly. My hosting provider, NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, has a little shell script in place that makes setting up with Let’s Encrypt an entirely effortless ordeal, with full ACME tools available if necessary. I still need to edit my .htaccess to force the matter.

A while back I also did some category overhauls. There are still quite a few categories that only contain a single post, but that seems likely to change in the future. I got rid of any categories where I didn’t really see myself adding more. I do have a tag taxonomy in place, which I need to start making better use of, for more detailed keywords. I planned to use this (plus categories, plus titles) for a sort of half-baked keyword search implementation, which I may still do at some point. I also ‘fixed’ the problem of categories showing up out of order by just making them all lowercase for the time being. It’s ludicrous to me that Hugo has no case-insensitive sorting.

What pros?

When my Mac Pro recently slipped into a coma, I began thinking about what my next primary computer will be. Until this past week, Apple hadn’t updated any Macs in quite a while1, and the direction they’ve taken the Mac line continues to puzzle me. It all started (in my mind) with ubiquitous glossy screens, and has worked its way down to touchbars and near-zero travel keyboards. Last week’s update to (some) Macbook Pros is welcome, but underwhelming. Six cores and DDR4 is great, but that’s only in the large model. Meanwhile, if I wanted to suffer through a 15″ machine, HP’s ZBook 15 has either hexacore Xeons or Cores, inbuilt color calibration, a trackpoint, a keyboard that I feel safe assuming is superior to the MBP’s, and a user-upgradable design.

I remain consistently confused by what professionals Apple is targeting. As a creative user, I’d whole-heartedly prefer the aforementioned HP. Most illustrators I know rely on Surfaces or other Windows machines with inbuilt digitizers. I know plenty of professional coders on MBPs (and Apple seems to push this stance hard), but I don’t know why23 – that funky keyboard and lack of trackpoint don’t make for a good typist’s machine. The audio world makes sense, Logic is still a big deal and plenty of audio hardware targets the platform. But honestly, when I see people like John Gruber saying the updated MBP’s “are indisputably aimed at genuine ‘pro’ users”, I’m a bit baffled, as I simply can’t think of many professional use-cases for their hardware decisions as of late. They’re still extremely impressive machines, but they increasingly feel like high-end consumer devices rather than professional ones.

  1. This MacRumors buying guide shows the timeline of updates rather well. ↩︎
  2. iOS development, perhaps? Apple’s developer tools are very good, and much like coding for the Mac on a Lisa back in the day, the only way to get iOS apps that aren’t horrifying (engine-dependent cross-platform games excluded, I suppose) is to do it on a Mac. ↩︎
  3. I would assume the UNIX compliance of macOS is also a large reason. And even out of the context of ‘what pros’, macOS is a huge draw. If Windows was a better (and native UNIX) OS (or if I could run Creative Cloud in Linux), I’d be a lot less confused about what my hypothetical next computer is. ↩︎

Another World

Is there a word for nostalgia, but bad? Kind of like how you can have a nightmare that is on one hand an objectively terrible experience, but on the other… fascinating, compelling even. When I was quite young, the household computer situation was a bit of a decentralized mess. I guess the Commodore 64 was the family computer, but it was essentially mine to learn 6510 ML and play Jumpman on. My sister had a Macintosh Quadra which I guess was largely for schoolwork, but it had a number of games on it that were positively unbelievable to my 8-bit trained eyes. Among these was the bane of my wee existence, Another World1.

I guess I’m about to give away a few spoilers, but they’re all from the first minute or so of punishment play. Another World begins with a cutscene where we learn that our protagonist is a physics professor named Lester who drives a Ferrari2. At this point, we realize we are dealing with a science fiction title. Lester starts doing some very professorly things on his computer, and then some lightning strikes his ARPANET wires or whatever and suddenly our protagonist is deep underwater! Some kind of sea monster grabs him, and… game over?! The cutscenes are rendered with the same beautifully polygonal rotoscoping as the rest of the game, so it’s entirely possible that you die several times watching this scene before grasping that you’re actually supposed to press buttons now.

This stressful memory came back hard upon recently purchasing a Switch and inexplicably making this year’s port of Another World my first purchase. Well, I guess it is explicable: ‘nostalgia, but bad.’ The frustrations of a game that will let you die if you simply do nothing within the first five seconds had not changed much from my childhood. This is a fundamental part of the experience; Another World is a game that wants you to die. It demands that you die. A lot. It’s a lovely game, and one that I’m sure a lot of folks remember (fondly or otherwise) from their Amigas and Macs, but I couldn’t help but think that this sort of trial-and-error experience really wouldn’t fly today if not for nostalgia3. Though I have to ask myself, how does this differ from, say, Limbo, another game that tricks you into death at every turn?

The next death in Another World is when little polygonal slug-looking things slip a claw into Lester’s leg, collapsing him. You have to kind of squish them just right, and it’s the first of many deadly puzzles that rely more on a very finicky sort of perfection rather than just a clever solution. Slightly further into the game, Lester faces a challenge that neatly sums up the whole problem: perfect positioning and perfect timing are required to dodge two screens worth of oddly-timed falling boulders. These moments are very reminiscent of the frustratingly exacting challenges in Dragon’s Lair, a point of inspiration for designer Éric Chahi4. I think this is where a modern take like Limbo feels less annoying in its murderous tendencies – you rarely die because you didn’t time something out to the nanosecond or position yourself on just the right pixel; you die because something crafty in the evil, evil environment outsmarted you.

This sort of thing seems to be a point of maturity for gaming in general. The aforementioned Jumpman was one of my favorite games back in the day, but it was painstakingly picky down to the pixel. Collision detection has eased up in modern times, and additional system resources give designers a lot more room to make challenges diverse and clever instead of simply difficult-by-any-means-necessary. Another World’s spiritual successor, Flashback5 definitely still had these moments, but by the time its 3D sequel, Fade to Black came out, things were much less picky.

I’m certain I beat both Flashback and Fade to Black, but I don’t think I ever had it in me to get through Another World. I guess this was part of why I jumped right on the Switch port. The game has won many battles, but I do intend to win the war. And the fact of the matter is, that for all my griping, it is still an incredibly enjoyable game. ‘Nostalgia, but bad’ certainly doesn’t mean that the game is bad, it means that the game forced all of my respective memories to be bad. The graphics have a unique quality about them6, and the sparse atmosphere feels very modern. The challenges are often interesting, even when they’re more technical than cerebral. It’s a game that I think is best experienced in short spurts, so as not to be consumed by the seemingly infinite tedium of frustrating deaths. It’s a product of its time, and must be treated as such. And while its demands certainly reveal its age, little else about it feels out of place on a portable console in 2018.

  1. Actually, it was Out of This World, the U.S. release title, but that really has little bearing on this story. ↩︎
  2. For some reason, Lester’s computer knows that he drives a Ferrari. And, like, really wants to make sure that you, the player, also know. It might be the most bizarre part of the game. ↩︎
  3. (But bad). ↩︎
  4. This whole session is worth watching. You can tell how much passion Chahi put into Another World, and the ways in which he made the visuals come together are very impressive (particularly if you have any retro hardware programming experience). ↩︎
  5. Flashback, too, has been ported to Switch. I’m sure I’m fated to own it as well. ↩︎
  6. Humorously, I had been thinking about Another World and Flashback within the past year as I played Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective on the DS. The art style is unique enough to me that my brain crawled back twenty-some years to that old Quadra. ↩︎

Part Time UFO

Somehow, I missed that HAL Laboratory (creators of the Kirby franchise) had broken into the mobile market earlier this year with the game Part Time UFO1. I tend to be oblivious to even these big mobile releases because I’m just generally not that into the mobile game scene2. Touch controls are limiting at best, and the market is saturated with free-to-play snares. If anybody is going to release a mobile gem, though, HAL is bound to, so I snatched this thing up as soon as I heard about it.

In Part Time UFO, you control a flying saucer (oddly reminiscent of UFO Kirby) with a claw-game-esque grabber attached to it. Every level has a bunch of objects, and a place to put them. Some of the objects are mandatory, others might net you extra points or help you meet a bonus goal. The primary goal is usually straightforward – put all of the important objects on the target, get five objects on the target, get the objects to fit a particular shape on the target, etc. Each stage additionally has three bonus goals. One is usually a timer, and the other two either involve stacking things perfectly, not dropping things, stacking more things than required, etc. The real trick comes from the fact that the target area is small, so you pretty much have to stack things. The physics of swinging something four times your size from a flaccid claw make this stacking less than simple.

The levels are adorably-themed, and the themes tend to influence the overall challenge. For instance, my least favorite are the ‘Lab’ levels, which require you to fit Tetris-like blocks into a precise shape – which feels like a bit much going on all at once. But this adds a nice bit of variety, I think there will be some themes that a given person really looks forward to unlocking more of, and some that are less captivating (though still enjoyable).

Points equate to money, and money can be used to buy new outfits for the UFO. Aside from being cute (and occasionally referential to other HAL properties – Kirby’s parasol comes to mind), these affect the control of the UFO in various ways. Certain challenges benefit more from some outfits than others, but generally it seems like you can pop one on that gives you a boost in control that makes you more comfortable, and just leave it. I made the mistake of buying a speedy outfit first, and became very quickly frustrated with the game.

Make no mistake, the game can be frustrating. But never to the point where it feels insurmountable or stops being fun. Part of it is probably just how charming and sweet the whole thing is. The challenges are goofy (stacking cheerleaders, balancing hamsters on a circus elephant, and of course placing cows onto a truck), and even when successfully completed, the end result is often uproarious. This is one thing I wish they had included – some kind of gallery feature of all your wacky stacks.

I haven’t completed the game yet, so I’m not sure how many levels there are. I definitely think it’s worth $43 – it’s just so joyful, well-polished, and fun – everything I expect from HAL. I do think the default controls – a fake analog stick and button type deal – are awful. That control scheme is bad enough for games in landscape orientation, but even with my tiny hands and Plus-sized phone, I could not figure out how to hold my phone so it would work. Fortunately there’s a one-handed control that’s a little bit awkward, but still streets ahead of the faux stick.

  1. Fighting the urge to write [sic] after every instance of the title. ↩︎
  2. I’m sure I’ve mentioned as much before, but I largely stick to ports of board games, point-and-click adventures, rogue-ish things (I hesitate to actually say roguelikes), and of course I’m still playing dress-up in Animal Crossing. ↩︎
  3. I’m glad they released a full, fixed-price game instead of doing some free-to-play nonsense. I’m also glad they priced it where they did. I personally think that Nintendo was justified in charging $10 for Super Mario Run, but that’s just not where the mobile market is, unfortunately. Hopefully HAL has hit the right balance here. ↩︎


I’m not writing this post in vim, which is really a rather odd concept for me. I’ve written quite a bit about vim in the past; it has been my most faithful writing companion for many years now. Part of the reason is its portability and POSIX inclusion – it (or its predecessor, vi) is likely already on a given system I’m using, and if it isn’t, I can get it there easily enough. But just as important is the fact that it’s a modal editor, where text manipulation is handled via its own grammar and not a collection of finger-twisting chords. There aren’t really many other modal editors out there, likely because of that first point – if you’re going to put the effort into learning such a thing, you may as well learn the one that’s on every system (and the one with thousands of user-created scripts, and the one where essentially any question imaginable is just a Google away…). So, I was a bit surprised when I learned about Kakoune, a modal editor that simply isn’t vim1.

Now, I’ve actually written a couple of recent posts in Kakoune so that I could get a decent feel for it, but I have no intention of leaving vim. I don’t know that I would recommend people learn it over vim, for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. Though if those things were inconsequential to a potential user, Kakoune has some very interesting design ideas that I think would be more approachable to a new user. Heck, it even has a Clippy:

~                                                          ╭──╮   ╭───┤nop├────╮
~                                                          │  │   │ do nothing │
~                                                          @  @  ╭╰────────────╯
~                                                          ││ ││ │
~                                                          ││ ││ ╯
~                                                          │╰─╯│
~                                                          ╰───╯
nop          unset-option                                                      █
:nop            content/post/2018-06/ 17:1 [+] prompt - client0@[2968]

Here are a few of my takeaways:

I guess there are far more negative points in that list than positives, but the truth is that the positives are really positive. Kakoune has done an incredible job of changing vim paradigms in ways that actually make a lot of sense. It’s a more modern, accessible, streamlined approach to modal editing. Streamlining even justifies several of my complaints – certainly the lack of a file browser, and probably the lack of splitting fall squarely under the Unix philosophy of Do One Thing and Do It Well. I’m going to continue to try to grok Kakoune a bit better, because even in my vim-centric world, I can envision situations where the more direct (yet still modal) interaction model of Kakoune would be incredibly beneficial to my efficiency.

  1. I know things like neovim exist. But they’re still ultimately based on vim (and/or vi, depending on how you want to look at it). Kakoune takes some cues from vim, but is absolutely its own thing. ↩︎