USBank’s online banking site has a really annoying little bug that has been there for as long as I’ve been using the site. Which is, like, years. Years and years.
Here is a video showing the problem: http://screencast.com/t/ZFsCTIY0
What happens is that if you have previously logged in to the site and then left the site but kept your browser open, when you try to log in again it tells you that your session has expired and that you must login again. Expiring the session is good security and makes lots of sense, but taking me to a page to tell me it happens is a bug.
If I am typing my username in and hitting login then I am interested in starting a new session. It doesn’t matter if my old session has timed out. I’m already trying to start a new one. What most websites do in this case is clear any state remaining from the old session and immediately just start a new one. Telling me about that process just wastes my time. No other website, including every financial one I can think of, does this.
It’s a bug. Please, please fix it.
Yesterday Courtney and I took the day off work so we could see The Hobbit at Cinerama. This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a movie release. The Hobbit is the book that got me into fantasy. I may have read other fantasy books before it, I don’t really remember, but none of them stuck. The Hobbit was perfect. I’ve read it some uncounted number of times since the first and I love it just as much, or more, every time.
So yesterday when I saw my perfect fantasy utterly ruined on the big screen I was pretty disappointed.
We decided to see the HFR 3D version of the film. HFR stands for High Frame Rate. It’s High Frame Rate because it was recorded and played back at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24. Even though the film was being released in 24 FPS alongside it’s high speed cousin, I wanted to see the HFR version because that’s the version Peter Jackson wanted us to see. I had fostered a great respect for him for his work on the Lord of the Rings films, which were incredible, and I figured that if he felt the HFR 3D version was the best version then that would be the one I would see.
It was apparent from the start that this was a poor choice. From the very beginning everything looked incredibly fake. Where Lord of the Rings made you believe that The Shire truly was a magical place tucked away in a corner of the world we can’t see, in The Hobbit it looked like a cheap set designed for a high school play. The costumes, instead of looking right at home, looked absurd and silly. Once the dwarves started showing up it took a turn for the worse. I felt like I was watching a live theater rendition of a Disney film about funny pirates.
The HFR 3D film experience made it seem as if I was sitting right there on set. At first that sounds perfect! It would be just like being there! But it is not perfect. It’s awful. Instead of suspending your disbelief for a few hours and believing you are in a world with Hobbits, Wizards, Dwarves, and Goblins you instead feel like you are watching a bunch of well funded kids role playing in the forest. It’s TOO real. There is nothing separating the reality that this does not actually exist from the fantasy of believing that it does.
I can go on and on about how badly the HFR ruined the experience for me, but other people have said it better. Here is a whole page of quotes about it and they are all right on the mark. http://www.vulture.com/2012/12/critics-on-the-hobbits-high-frame-rate.html
I am told by a friend who saw the 24 FPS version of it yesterday that it was great. There were none of the problems that I am talking about here. That brightens my spirits quite a bit. I think that if I see it again and really enjoy it I can easily forget about the bad version. So sometime soon I’ll do that, and I’ll hope for the best.
Until then, I’ll talk about the things I didn’t like about the actual film itself.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! EVEN IF YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!
There were four specific scenes that really bugged me in the film, and one overall theme.
In the book, Bilbo never makes a conscious decision to join the party. He wakes in the morning, relieved to find the dwarves have left (and not cleaned up) and he sets about his day, dismissing any ideas of an adventure. Gandalf arrives and basically pushes him out of the door telling him there’s no time to pack or to think about what is happening. Bilbo finds himself joining an adventure that he isn’t quite sure he wants to be on. This theme repeats throughout the book.
In the film, Bilbo wakes up in the morning and decides that, by golly, he’s going on an adventure! He signs the (absurd) contract and runs out the door shouting along the way that “I’m going on an adventure!”
By changing the way the story starts it changes the way the story proceeds and it changes Bilbo’s character altogether from a slightly bumbling person out of his element to a willing participant with heroism on his mind.
The next scene that really bugged me was with the trolls. We all know that the trolls are eventually turned to stone by being tricked by Gandalf into staying outside when the dawn arrives. In the film, Gandalf cracks a giant boulder in half, letting the sunlight come through. In the story Gandalf tricks and confuses the trolls by using their voices to get them to argue with one another. They argue and argue about how to cook the dwarves until finally the dawn arrives and they are turned into stone.
It may seem like a small change, but to me it represents a loss of innocence in the film. In the story, Gandalf is quiet and mysterious and prefers to get involved as little as possible. The film has him exploding boulders from the start and it seems very heavy handed.
Overall I thought the goblins and Gollum scenes were handled well. We didn’t get much backstory about Gollum and his ring, and it’s not really clear how upset he is that he’s lost it. It seems more like he’s upset that he’s lost a meal. The goblin city was a bit overwrought and there was a hell of a lot more running around and battling than needed, but overall it was good.
My problem comes with the scene afterwards, where Bilbo rejoins the party. In the original, the dwarves and Gandalf have just discovered that Bilbo did not escape with them and are upset at having lost their burglar and suddenly he appears among them. They are shocked that they could have gotten past them and then even further when they hear about his adventures. They begin to have a grudging, but solid respect for him and for his abilities.
This is truly the first part of the story when the party begins to believe that he may have some use and it does a huge amount for Bilbo’s confidence in himself. In the film, this scene is just thrown away and glossed over with no real explanation and the audience is just left to wonder how this transformation of character happens.
Finally, perhaps my biggest disappointment comes when the party is treed after being chased by the wargs. The film brings back Azog, the orc chief, in a down and out battle with Thorin that Bilbo eventually joins in an effort to save Thorin’s life. This scene just disgusted me. We suddenly have this hero of a Hobbit facing down the enemies of Middle Earth with his glowing sword. In the book the orcs set fires around the trees until the eagles come and rescue the party. There is no epic battle where Bilbo wins Thorin over with his bravery.
This last scene, and really all the scenes that I am complaining about here make up the theme that bothers me. The theme is that of Bilbo as a hero. It clashes utterly with my reading of the book and my memories of the story. In my mind, Bilbo spends the first half of the story lost, bewildered, scared, out of place and barely getting by. Only with the help of Gandalf, the dwarves and in some cases, extraordinary luck is he able to survive.
We fall in love with a character who truly seems like what he is. A very small person from a very small place thrust into a huge world and epic events. It’s through his small, but increasingly important discoveries about himself and the world around him that he eventually grows into the Hobbit of legend.
At the start, Bilbo is truly innocent. He has no knowledge of the world and events around him. The Hobbit is a story about the loss of innocence and the joy of finding confidence and power within yourself.
I feel like the new film has removed that incredible feeling of joy that we get with each new boost in Bilbo’s confidence and it is that journey of discovery that makes the book so magical.
The Zelda Project: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
December 9, 2012 3:49 pm [2 Comments]
I finished A Link to the Past way back on November 24th, but I have been too busy to write about it. Now I will!
A Link to the Past is the first Zelda game for the SNES. The upgrade in graphics is pretty evident as soon as it starts up and it just gets better and better. First released in the US in 1992, I would have been about 15 years old. At this point I had my very own TV and the SNES had taken up residence in my bedroom. The game I remember most from this time period was Street Fighter II, which I played constantly with my friends. In fact, I don’t actually remember playing A Link to the Past during this time at all. I know I did, because as soon as the game started up I recognized it and I remembered more and more as I played. It’s possible that this was one of the games I played duo with a friend.
In any case, A Link to the Past was, so far, the most enjoyable of the bunch. The graphics and sound are so good that they don’t look bad even by today’s standards so it’s easy to forget you are playing a 20 year old game. The gameplay is SO MUCH BETTER than The Adventure of Link. In fact, I might even say it’s a little too easy. Where The Adventure of Link was maddeningly difficult, A Link to the Past is really pretty hard to lose at. I died plenty of times, but deaths are quick and easy to recover from and if you are careful it’s easy to avoid through potions, fairies, lots of free hearts under pots, etc.
Another nice thing about this game is that while there is plenty of exploration and adventure, it’s very easy to get a hint as to what to do next. You can always go to a fortune teller to have your “destiny” read to let you know where you’ve left off. This is pretty handy when you aren’t taking extensive notes and might set the controller down for a few days or a week at a time.
All in all, I feel this may end up being my favorite game when this project is all said and done. I started Ocarina of Time the day after I finished this one and I am sad to say that so far I hate it. The controls are awful, the graphics look incredibly dated and I am constantly fighting with the camera. Ocarina of Time is supposed to be one of the best games ever made, so hopefully I’ll get past these issues and start to enjoy it.
That’s for another post though!
The Adventure of Link is the second of the two Zelda titles released for the NES and it’s fucking awful. It was released in North America in 1988, much to the dismay of people who liked good video games.
I mentioned in my last post a feeling of guilt over never having finished TAoL, but now I can finally put that to rest. After several weeks of work and what felt like a lifetime of misery, I will never have to play that abomination of a game again.
I don’t remember why I didn’t finish TAoL. I’ve been trying to. I think the core reason is probably that it was too damn hard but I think that may have been coupled with having rented it. I know I went through a period of my childhood where I rented games quite frequently, and then failed to return them for way too long, ending up paying as much in late fees as I would have to have bought the game. My financial acumen shined even in those days.
I always felt guilty for not finishing it because I feel like having finished the Zelda games is something I need in my pocket. I feel like these games were formative for me, but not being able to definitively say I’ve completed them all seems like cheating. That is a big part of the reason for this project, and finishing Zelda 2 was one of the major goals of this project.
Zelda 2, as I said is awful. It’s awful because it’s completely punishing and unforgiving. You get three lives and as many continues as you want. Chances to recharge your health bar are very few and far between and when your three lives are out you continue from the beginning of the game. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that this even happens in the dungeons. In Zelda 1, if you were in a dungeon when you died, when you continued you continued from the start of the dungeon. In Zelda 2, often times just getting to the dungeon is a life losing exercise. You might lose one or two lives getting there and then you have to fight all the way through the dungeon and kill the boss without losing the last of your lives or it’s all the way back to the beginning. It’s brutal.
Zelda 2 was also the first to introduce the overworld random attack system. I don’t know if it was the first game ever to do this, but it’s the same mechanic used in the early Final Fantasy games and other games like Pokemon. As you run around the overworld suddenly creatures will come running from three sides and they are very hard to avoid. If you don’t avoid them you go into a side scrolling battle scene and you have to fight your way back out.
Early on in the game, it behooves you to fight your way through Death Mountain and get the Hammer. You can actually go fairly far in the game before you get it, but the Hammer gives you shortcuts through the overworld. Without it you are forced to take the long way for everything past the first dungeon which means you end up losing more lives along the way. Getting the Hammer early on is the better of two very, very evil evils. Getting the Hammer caused me to throw a controller for the first time that I can remember. Part of my brain is still screaming about it.
Aside from that mess near the beginning, the majority of the rest of the game is just a grind. The graphics are awful, the controls are awful, the music is awful. You find as you go that no matter what you do you just can’t advance and that’s when it’s time to find a spot to fight and grind out a few levels to increase your powers. It doesn’t hurt to spend some time finding tactics for killing each type of enemy, too. For the longest time the red Ironknuckles were my nemesis, until I learned you can hit them every time by jumping towards them and swiping down with the sword.
Finally, when your boredom has reached it’s limit, you reach the final dungeon: The Great Palace. This hell hole is unique in that it is the only dungeon in the game where if you continue you start from the dungeon instead of the beginning of the game. Lucky, too, because while the dungeon itself actually isn’t that bad, getting to it is brutal. I died over and over until I finally decided to sit for a few hours grinding my skills up to max. Once I did, getting there was pretty straightforward although I usually died at least once getting there.
You’d think that I would have only had to get there once if I can continue from inside the dungeon, right? Nope! If you save and quit… back to the beginning.
Yesterday I finally had enough time to sit down and finish the Great Palace and I did it. It took me a few tries to learn the big flying head dude’s pattern and get him dead and then Shadow Link was easy, since he is stupid. Crouch on the left side and spam your sword. He’ll just run into it. I got the Triforce, saved Princess Zelda, got a picture, saved the game and then closed that thing down for all time.
So now we move on to A Link to the Past. Downloaded it, fired it up and it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention I really remember a lot about this one. So far it’s going great and it’s a very enjoyable play. That’s for another post though.
One thing I think I failed to mention in the first post is that I will be playing only the single player console Zeldas. I know there are half a dozen or more Gameboy ones, and there’s things like Four Swords. I won’t be playing those.
A few weeks ago I kind of randomly decided that I wanted to play all of the Zelda games from start to finish. I don’t remember exactly why. Some of it has to do with a feeling of guilt over never finishing Zelda 2. I don’t remember why I never finished, but I have some ideas. That’s getting ahead of myself though.
So a few weeks ago I decided to start playing. I had originally intended to buy one of those NES / Super NES combo systems and buy the games and start there. Then Courtney pointed out that I was being stupid. The Wii, which we have, has basically every Zelda game ever in it’s Virtual Console. I did a little reading to make sure that people felt that they were good and authentic feeling ports and then dug in.
The Legend of Zelda is the first Zelda game. It’s a NES game and was released in the US in the summer of 1987. I am pretty sure I got the game for Christmas that year, along with a badass GT Performer BMX bike. Baby blue with white mags! I was 10 that year. I think I got my NES for Christmas the year before along with Super Mario Brothers and, for some reason, Top Gun. I spent endless hours trying to land that stupid plane on the carrier deck.
I say “pretty sure” because I don’t actually remember. As part of this Zelda vision quest I decided to sit down and try to nail down some dates from my childhood. Harder than it seems! My parents have passed, I have very few pictures from that time and my memory just sucks. So I took what I had and started putting it all out on a timeline and those are the dates I came up with.
Anyway, back to Zelda. I fired it up and started playing. I was shocked at how much I had forgotten. I mean, I knew where to find the sword and that was about it. I racked my brain for the location of the first dungeon but it wouldn’t come to me. This was somewhat distressing! As a kid I had played Zelda competitively with other kids from around my town. I was one of two kids (that I knew of) that could play the game from start to finish with no Continues. And now, just… 25 short years later I couldn’t even remember how to get started.
I decided that I would try to play the game as I played it as a kid. I didn’t immediately run to the nearest walkthrough and list of cheats. Instead, I downloaded a copy of the original instruction manual. It’s funny how big those manuals were back then. There wasn’t enough space in the ROM on the cartridge to include a bunch of tutorials and text, so it all went into the manual. There’s a bunch of tips and tricks, a few little maps, hints at maps of the later dungeons (including that scary, misunderstood swastika!) and a tutorial on getting to the first dungeon!
That was enough to get things rolling. After I knocked out the dungeon I did some wandering and I had a revelation. I used to draw maps! I noticed as I ran around that I was finding entrances to other dungeons, so I started writing down approximately where they were, still avoiding using the web to look it up. I realized that as a kid we used to draw maps of the world and the dungeons on graph paper. It was the only way to keep it all straight.
I quickly had another revelation as I started working through more of the dungeons. My game playing reflexes were gone. I used to be *good* at this stuff but now I was slow. I felt like the signals were taking too long to get from my eyes to my fingers. I would see something starting to happen on the screen but I felt like I couldn’t respond to it fast enough. Happily, this has started to come back. Practice, I guess.
The final revelation I had, while playing that game, is that I missed having a partner. When I played these games as a kid I almost always played with a buddy. Even though these were single player games, we would take turns. When you died it passed on to the other player. In the mean time, the person not holding the controller could map, research (Nintendo Power!), keep an eye out for incoming enemies or provide vocal assistance and suggestions during tough fights. This was important. I was never the most skilled twitch player. I had other skills. Like being able to grind for 24 hours straight and not getting frustrated. The benefit of having a parter was that when you had been killed for the 50th time by 10 blue Darknuts in a room you could hand off the controller and for some reason your buddy would do it in one try. That’s how it worked.
All that withstanding, I did eventually finish the game. I played a few hours during the week after work and quite a bit over the course of two weekends. I won’t bother to give a rundown of the whole game. There’s walkthroughs for that. But I finished it, and it felt great. It stirred up a lot of lost memories and got me to the point where I needed to be. Ready to take on Zelda 2 and my childhood guilt. As I write this post, I am almost finished with The Adventure of Link, but that will have to wait for the next post.