Sense of direction vs. field of view

Last saturday, I bought the Metroid Prime Triloogy for the Wii. I didn’t yet have the Wii Metroid and it’s impossible for me to use the GameCube to play the old games as the distance between my couch and the reciever is too large for the GameCube’s wired joypads. It has been a long while since I last played any of the 3D Metroids, and seeing the box in a store made me want to play them again.

So all in all, this felt like a good deal to me: Getting the third Prime plus the possibility to easily play the older two for the same price that they once asked for the third one alone.

Now I’m in the middle of the first game and I made a really interesting observation: My usually very good sense of direction seems to require a minimum sized field of view to get going: While playing on the GameCube, I was constantly busy looking at the map and felt unable to recognize even the simplest landmarks.

I spent the game in a constant state of feeling lost, not knowing where to go and forgetting how to go back to places where I have seen then unreachable powerups.

Now it might just be that I remember the world from my first playthrough, but this time, playing feels completely differently to me: I constantly know where to go and where I am. Even with rooms that are very similar to each other, I constantly know where I am and how to get from point a to point b.

When I want to re-visit a place, I just go there. No looking at the map. No backtracking.

This is how I usually navigate the real world, so after so many years of feeling lost in 3D games, I’m finally able to find my way in them as well.

Of course I’m asking myself what has changed and in the end it’s either the generally larger screen size of the wide-screen format of the Wii port or maybe the controls via the Wiimote that feel much more natural: The next step for me will be to try and find out which it is by connecting the Wii to a smaller (but still wide) screen.

But aside of all that, Metroid just got even better – not that I believed that to be possible.

Quality of video game consoles

First, there was The Red Ring Of Death, then we got the beep of death and now we got the Error 110213 of death.

What is it with modern game consoles?

Remember the NES? Plug in, turn on, play.

I know so many people who owned or still own a NES. Not one of them ever had a defective device.

Same goes for the SNES. Or any other console.

Is this obvious degrade in quality the price of ever increasing complexity? Is this the price of abstraction?

I wonder: What will ultimately be the end of ever increasing evolution in technical devices as we know them today: Is it physical limitations like the theory of relativity or is it the plain inability of our brains to comprehend the complexity of the devices we create?

The atmosphere in good games

I’m a big fan of the Metroid series.

It took me a long while to get used to it though. Back in the day, where there was just Metroid, I never got very far in it – and I’ve only seen the game running at a friends home.

Then came the emulators and I gave Super Metroid a shot, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t know what to do, where to go and how to progress – the whole thing didn’t make any sense to me.

Then came Metroid Fusion on the GBA which I actually bought.

And this was when I got it.

The concept is the same as it’s in Zelda: You walk as far as you can go with your current equipment, you get better equipment, opening new paths and then finally, you meet the last boss.

Of course there’s another element to a real Metroid game: Brilliant level design. The designers have thought of so many places where you can “cheat” and break the obvious sequence of events. Doing so varies in difficulty from quite difficult to pull off at first but easy later on till insanely hard to do.

Metroid Fusion is a bit off in this regard though – its sequence is quite linear and there’s only one relevant part in the game where you can skip some content and are rewarded with some extra movie sequence. Additionally, it’s hard as hell to pull of. Much, much harder than the linked video may make you think as it’s dependent on your reaction in tenths of seconds.

But now to the topic: Metroid Prime. And Prime Echoes.

When I started with Prime, I had the same problem as I had when I started with the 2D Metroids: I had no idea where to go, what to do or even finding out how to navigate the world.

This was partly caused by a bad projector with very, very bad contrast in dark areas of the picture – everything was more or less dark gray or black on that projector. Not much fun to play like that.

On the other hand, I played the game like I would play a 3D shooter, expecting the usual smaller levels, lots of shooting and shallow gameplay. Of course this is totally the wrong approach to a game like Metroid: Prime. For 10 minutes, force yourself to think you are playing Super Metroid. Immerse yourself into the world – you have to force yourself for these 10 minutes. And of course, get a better projector.

Then it clicked.

This was a real Metroid. It felt like one and it played like one.

But then something more happened. Something that’s the reason why I don’t play either Prime or Echoes any more. And the reason is the most impressive thing a game could ever accomplish: I stopped playing out of plain fear. Plain and simple fear.

Fear of the bosses. Fear of the lights turning off and these awful chozo ghosts spawning. Fear of small, cramped rooms. Fear of darkness. And in Echoes it was even worse: Fear of being alone in the dark. Fear of dying alone on the dark side of the planet. Fear of being eaten alive by the darkness surrounding Samus (and actually hurting her).

Notice though: This is not the usual fear of losing an extra life by missing a jump and landing in a hole. It’s not the fear of running out of life energy. That’s plain old style video game fears.

No. Metroid is real. The fear is real. You see, both games have an incredibly well balanced learning curve. You practically can’t die. It can take you longer to accomplish something when you aren’t that good/precise, but you don’t die. At least I never did.

The atmosphere created by the games is what make it seem real. There’s that encyclopedia with an entry for every creature – even plant life – you encounter. Then there are no visible borders between levels. Sure, you zone between different places, but all is connected. Progress isn’t something allowing you to leave zones behind you. Progress is fluent. You go there, come back, go there again… The world feels real.

Samus is all alone in that big world, while there are still artifacts reminding of that old civilization. And there are real dangers in that world.

And the music works very, very well too. Light tunes, sometimes menacing, always fitting.

The graphics art too helps completing the illusion of reality. It’s not very detailed (it’s a GC game after all), but it fits. It creates a believable world.

All those little parts come together to create something I’ve never before seen in any game I have played. It brings emotions to a new level. The fear I had when playing Prime and Echoes was real. Real fear of the darkness. Of loneliness. And of drowning in that crashed space pirate ship in Prime – I know there is no limit on how long you can be submerged, but still, it felt so incredibly real.

In the end, it was too much for me.

I couldn’t get myself around to boot up the game any more – out of fear of dark areas or enemies jumping at me.

So what to say? Both GC Metroids are what I’d like to call the perfect game as they awaken real emotions. Something I never felt then using any other entertainment medium. Watching a movie feels like watching a movie. Reading a book is always reading a book. Playing Half Life (with much better graphics but much less credible atmosphere) is like playing a game. Even playing WoW is obviously playing a game.

But playing Metroid is living the game. It’s living the world created by these talented designers.

Unfortunately, even though they have created the perfect game, I’m unable to play it. The perfection put into the design made me too afraid to actually play the game.

Now, after around two years, I finally realized that. And I’m just plain impressed.

Do you know the games I was writing about? Did you feel the same? Do you know other games making you feel like that?

podcast recommendation

I haven’t been much into podcasts till now: The ones I heard were boring, unprofessional or way too professional. Additionally, I didn’t have a nice framework set up to get them and to listen to them.

That’s because I don’t often sync my ipod. Most of the time, it’s not connected to a computer: About once every two months, I connect it to upload a new batch of audiobooks (I can’t fit my whole connection on the nano). So podcasting was – even if I had found one that I could interest myself in, an experience to have while behind the computer monitor.

Now two things have changed:

  1. I found the Linux Action Show. They guy doing that podcast are incredibly talented people. The entries sound very professionally made, while still not being on the obviously commercial side of things. They cover very, very interesting topics and they are everything but boring. Funny, entertaining and competent. Very good stuff.
  2. At least since the release of SlimServer 6.5, my Squeezebox is able to tune into RSS feeds with enclosures (or podcast for the less technical savy people – not that those would read this blog). Even better: The current server release brought a firmware which finally gives the Squeezebox the capability of natively playing ogg streams.

    Up until now, it could only play FLAC, PCM and MP3, requiring tools like sox to convert ogg streams on the fly. Unfortunately, that didn’t work as stable as I would have liked, but native OGG support helped a lot

So now, whenever a new episode of the podcast is released (once per week – and each episode is nearly two hours in length), I can use my Squeezebox to hear it via my home stereo.

Wow… I’m so looking forward to do that in front of a cozy fire in my fireplace once I can finally move into my new flat.

XmlTextReader, UTF-8, Memory Corruption

XmlTextReader on the .NET CF doesn’t support anything but UTF-8 which can be a good thing as it can be a bad thing.

Good thing because UTF-8 is a very flexible character encoding giving access to the whole Unicode character range while still being compact and easy to handle.

Bad thing because PopScan doesn’t do UTF-8. It was just never needed as its primary market is countries well within the range of ISO-8859-1. This means that the protocol between server and client so far was XML encoded in ISO-8859-1.

To be able to speak with the Windows Mobile application, the server had to convert the data to UTF-8.

And this is where a small bug occurred: Part of the data wasn’t properly encoded and was transmitted as ISO-8859-1.

The correct thing a XML-Parser should do about obviously incorrect data is to bail out, which also is what the .NET CF DOM parser did.

XmlTextReader did something else though: It threw an uncatchable IndexOutOfRange exception either in Read() or ReadString(). And sometimes it miraculously changed its internal state – jumping from element to element even when just using ReadString().

To make things even worse, the exception happened at a location not even close to where the invalid character was in the stream.

In short, from what I have seen (undocumented and uncatchable exceptions being thrown at random places), it feels like the specific invalid character that was parsed in my particular situation caused memory corruption somewhere inside the parser.

Try to imagine how frustrating it was to find and fix this bug – it felt like the old days of manual memory allocation combined with stack corruption. And all because of one single bad byte in a stream of thousands of bytes.

My new Flat – Location

As I’ve told before, I’m moving into my very own flat quite soonish.

I can’t show pictures of the interior just yet as the current owners have not moved out yet. What I can show you though is a picture of the surroundings:

The picture was ripped off the GIS Browser Zürich provides for us. I could have used (which had AJAX before google maps and also has a prettier zoom than its hyped counterpart, btw) and I could even have created a link, but that would kind of give away my address (and the images of the GIS browser have a much higher resolution).

But now to the flat itself:

The green stuff to the north of the building is forest. And there’s a nice creek flowing through it (in a more or less straight east -> west line). The forest also is quite big: It takes you about 2 hours to walk from the entrance on the west to the exit on the east.

Additionally, my parents live in the vicinity the forests top end, so it’ll be a very nice walk for me when I visit them and decide to go by foot or bike.

Forest, no streets… way off the city life?

Not at all: The place is located near Zürich and I reach my work place by train (Forchbahn even) in only just 9 minutes – or 20 if I decide to walk through the forest.

So I’m getting the best out of two worlds: Nature literarily just outside my front door (I’ll be getting myself a cat next year) and still closer to my work space than before. And about the same distance away from the central parts of Zürich as I’m right now.

Granted: Walking home right now is more or less walking in-plane when it will be uphill later on, but it will be in the middle of the forrest, aside a creek as oppsed to a walk through the city.

But that’s not all just yet.

It’s very nearby the place where I’ve grown up.

Despite moving away from there back in 1993, I never bonded as much to any other place. That old place still feels like home to me and I’m getting warm feelings whenever I’m passing by.

Now I’m moving to a place where I was playing when I was a kid – granted, we weren’t there every free minute as it was a bit off, but we visited that forest here and then – we even once played quite close to where the house is.

And only three years ago, I used dry-ice to make bottles of PET explode – right in the same forest – also quite near the place where I’ll be living.

All these features make this flat the truly amazing thing it is. Granted: Room for a nice home cinema, a large bathtub, a Squeezebox in every room, heck, 140m2 of room – all that is nice. But what really makes the flat special is its location.

November 1st, I’ll officially be its owner and then I’ll be able to post some pictures from the inside.

Correlation between and WoW

If you take a look at the archive (a feature I’ve actually only discovered just now), you’ll notice quite an interesting distribution of posts here on

2002 was where all started. November was still a bit slow, but in December I really got into blogging only to let it slip a bit during 2003.

2004, I began subscribing to tons of RSS feeds which provided me with a lot of inputs for my own articles. You’ll notice a significant increase of posts during the whole year.

Then, in 2005, my WoW-time began. My first WoW-related posting was from February 21st, 2005 and makes a reference to when I bought WoW, which would be – provided I’m calculating correctly – February 15th 2005.

Going back to the archive, you’ll immediately notice something happening to the post count: It’s steadily going down. From a good 9 entries in January (pre-WoW) down to one entry in October which is more or less when I got my first character to level 60. In November I was affected by my first fed-up-ness of WoW which lasted till January 2006 (post count coming up again – despite having christmas and all which was keeping me away from computers.

Then, in January, I was playing again, getting closer to 60 with my second character in February (just one posting).

March was WoW-less again due to my feeling of not having anything to do any more.

In mid-April, I began playing again and started my third character… (posts going down) – which I got 60 with at the end of May.

June was playing at 60 and before the end of the month, I began feeling fed-up with WoW. And burned out. I clearly felt to have wasted way too much of my life. And I felt like I was truly addicted to WoW. So I used the emergency break and stopped playing.

As you can see, I was back to 16 posts in July which also was due to my “Computers under my command”-series which was easy to do due to the topics being clear in advance.

August is interesting. Have a look at the month calendar and guess when I took my lv60 character out again!

More or less regular postings here until August 10th. Then nothing.

September is better again because I put my WoW to a deep-freeze again – especially after having seen what WoW does to my other hobbies. is a very nice indicator in that regard.

So I’m coming to all the same conclusion as Adam Betts who also stopped playing WoW due to noticing his real life being severely affected by WoW.

World of Warcraft is highly addictive and I know of no person who could say not being affected by this. Once you start to play, you play. Even worse: Even if you think that you got it behind you and that you can control it, it just takes over again.

So for me it’s clear what I have to do: I will stop playing. For real this time. No taking out my character again. No-more-playing. I won’t delete my characters as they are the result of a lot of work, but I will cancel my subscription.

I’m really grateful for the archive function of as it was a totally clear indicator of my addiction and it still is a perfect way to prevent me from going back as everyone will know I have due to the post count going down again.