July 2009 Archives

San Diego Comic-Con '09


I spent all day Saturday in the San Diego Convention Center, attending Comic-Con with my brother. Once again, an amazing experience.

The first thing we did was make a bee line to the SAE/FSM booth, where I picked up a copy of the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 soundtrack. After that was done, we took a quick walk around the rest of the exhibit hall. This is a pretty damned big exhibit hall, spanning the entire bottom floor of the convention center. With all the people there to push through, it takes about 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

While walking around the hall I happened to find Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, with cover art done by friend Cyril Van Der Haegen. I mentioned this to the guy behind the counter, but he just feigned interest hoping I would buy it! Oh well.

After that I went looking for the Oni Press booth, where I bought my brother the first Scott Pilgrim book. He finished reading it before we left (he was not so interested in Ray Bradbury) so we went down to the floor again and he bought himself the next few books in the series. With any luck, I'll have got my brother hooked on graphic novels! I also went to the Top Shelf booth hoping to pick up a copy of Blankets but they were all out.

The first panel we attended was for Dune, with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. They were discussing their latest novel The Winds of Dune and commenting on the process of making a new book every year. I must admit, I have read many of the new Dune books and although they aren't Frank Herbert material, I have enjoyed most of them ( Sandworms of Dune being a notable exception for having a very shallow plot and invoking several dei ex machina).

BSG 4 Soundtrack

After that we headed back over to the SAE/FSM booth to get the CDs signed by Bear McCreary. We were first in line! At the same time, Bryan Lee O'Malley (author of Scott Pilgrim) was signing at the Oni Press booth—we went over there afterward but the line was so long that we didn't care to try for it. The Bioshock 2 booth was small—basically a small veiled closet with a gameplay trailer playing for 5-6 people at a time. But that trailer made the game out to look pretty awesome. You play the first big daddy, the only one with free will. You can take airlocks to go outside of Rapture into the ocean. You now make the choice to either harvest or adopt little sisters. Adopting them seems to store them inside your suit somewhere, it wasn't too clear on that. You can take them out to have them harvest adam from certain bodies. While harvesting, you need to guard them from hoards of splicers. Then comes something new—your little sister says "Uh oh, I don't think big sis wants me to play with you anymore", and in comes the big sister—these are very quick, super-agile enemies that possess telekinesis.

Iron Man

The second panel we attended was that of Ray Bradbury. He talked of his fascination of space exploration and walking on the moon for the first time. Perhaps most interestingly, he claimed to have total recall of his entire life. He said he was a 10 month baby, and developed hearing and sight within the womb. He claims his memories go back to being in the womb and after birth.

The final panel was for Human Target, the new TV series from Fox. In the show, our main hero (Christopher Chance) gets hired by rich people to solve any problems or threats against them. He is a very intelligent detective, impersonator, and all-around bodyguard. It stars Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, Jackie Earle Haley as Guerrero, and Chi McBride as Winston, with the score done by Bear McCreary. We got to screen the pilot before a short Q&A with the stars and producers.

Human Target has some pretty awesome action scenes, pretty similar to the Bourne series. It is some of the best action I've seen on TV for as long as I can remember. The acting is stellar, and the score sounds somewhere between Caprica and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The characters have a light quirkiness similar to Pushing Daisies. The show is being billed as a procedural with a light sprinkling of serial, which is pretty typical for Fox. They want to give you a new action movie every week. Unfortunately, the pilot had a lot of faults that I hope they steer clear of in the series.

Avatar mech

For one thing, the characters are too flawless. The main characters—all antiheroes it seems—always know exactly what to say, have a perfect plan, and immediately know exactly what to do to keep the plan on track (pun!) from any curveballs. Not once did it show an imperfection, and I had a hard time believing or relating to them because of it.

Another problem I saw was with Guerrero—he had no introduction, and just sort of imposed himself on the story. He is a computer hacker, but it never really showed that process. Most of his scenes were just quick cuts to him revealing some new information that he hacked off screen.

I had planned to meet some friends while I was there, but that was a pretty big failure all around. One didn't pick up his phone. Another didn't wake up until really late and my phone died in the middle of a conversation with him. The one guy I was able to meet I didn't do anything with because he spent the whole day playing D&D.

The BBC America booth featured a lot of Doctor Who trinkets and apparel, with lots of advertising for the new Torchwood mini-season Children of Earth(which is pretty good, by the way—go watch it!). There was an awesome life-sized Dalek on display.

We spent the two hour ride home listening to the Battlestar CD, and it didn't disappoint!

Windows 7 is RTMed

After a week of speculation, it's finally been confirmed. Today, 7600 was signed off as the final RTM build for Windows 7.

Feature-wise, Windows 7 is a compelling evolution. It fixes a lot of the issues people had with Vista and adds in a number of great user-, it-, and developer-focused features. Things like Direct2D and GDI improvements, User Mode Scheduling, improved NUMA support, improved concurrency, SSD support, and improved power management will all work together to provide higher performance compared to previous OSes. Libraries, greater multimedia support (such as AAC and AVC), mouse gestures, Media Center, and a completely redesigned taskbar provide a greater user experience. I think this is definitely the best Windows to date -- better than XP, and better than Vista.

Testing Windows 7 was a very frustrating experience. In contrast to previous betas where we got a regular stream of beta builds to test, in Windows 7 we got only two builds, Beta 1 and the RC. A lot of us experienced our bugs being set as not reproducible in internal builds, with no way to test if that were true. Worse yet, shortly after the RC came out many of us had a lot of bug reports disappear when Microsoft told us to not report any bugs that didn't cause the OS to bluescreen or fail installing—so there may well be a large number of unfixed cosmetic and usability issues in the RTM.

Instead, Microsoft created a much smaller team of special testers called Test Pilots who, along with TAP partners, would be the ones to get intrim builds and provide the majority of the useful feedback. I'm not sure who this team was made up of, but I would guess they are testers from past betas who chose to devote most of their waking hours to testing.

This triggered something I'd never expected to see—somewhat of a revolt among testers who felt that their feedback was doing nothing. Morale went down, bug reports stopped coming in, and a lot of heated discussion happened between testers. Even the die-hard testers realized something was wrong, some of them feeling the need to mark their discussions to differentiate them as a "proud" tester.

Some believe Steve Sinofsky (who replaced Jim Allchin as the head of the Windows division) is the reason for this total restructuring of the Windows beta, but as far as I know nothing of the sort has been confirmed. Either way, with Microsoft seemingly frustrated at our performance and our frustration at not being able to test properly, it feels like we were of little use this time around despite submitting a large amount of bugs. I would not be surprised if the tech beta gets scrapped entirely for Windows 8.

C++1x loses Concepts

Bjarne Stroustrup and Herb Sutter have both reported on the ISO C++ meeting in Frankfurt a week ago, in which the much-heralded feature "concepts" were removed from C++1x.

Concepts are a powerful feature aimed at improving overloading (basically, removing the extra work in using things like iterator categories) and moving type checking up the ladder so that more reasonable error messages can be produced when a developer passes in the wrong type (think a single error line instead of multiple pages of template crap). Apparently the feature was a lot less solid than most of us thought, with a huge amount of internal arguing within the committee on a lot of the fundamental features of it. It seems that while most agreed concepts were a good idea, nobody could agree on how to implement them.

I'm definitely disappointed by this, but I'm also glad they chose to remove concepts instead of further delaying the standard, or worse putting out a poorly designed one. Instead, it seems like there is hope for a smaller C++ update to come out in 4-5 years that adds a more well thought out concepts feature. There are plenty of other C++1x language features to be happy about for though, like variadic templates, rvalue references, and lambda functions!

You may notice I've been saying C++1x here instead of C++0x—that's because it's pretty obvious to everyone now that we won't be getting the next C++ standard in 2009, but more likely 2011 or 2012. Just in time for the end of the world!

Street Fighter IV rocks on PC

Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter IV came out a few days after I left to visit family and I've been chomping at the bit to play it ever since. I came back home yesterday, and it was the second thing I did after stepping off the plane (the first being grabbing some fish tacos at El Siete Mares).

Having played the arcade and 360 versions, I knew what to expect. You get a lot of your favorite old characters, including all the originals from Street Fighter II and introducing four new to this game. Gameplay is a lot like Street Fighter III, with a big focus on strategy and the ability to pull off devastating but finger-twisting combos. A new feature I really like is a challenge mode that teaches you the special moves and combos your character can do, which really helps when you're trying to learn how to use one of the new characters or just refreshing yourself on an old one.

The only part still missing is the World Tour mode of the home editions of Street Fighter Alpha 3. As you fought through the roster, the points you get would let you level up. This let you upgrade your character to shift between a focus of power or defense, and let you select power-ups that let you do longer and more complex combos. It created a more unfair form of gameplay compared to Arcade mode and probably would have been too unbalanced for competitive gameplay, but it was still a lot of fun and would have been great to have in IV.

One thing I was worried about was how good the game would run on my system—from past experience, games ported from console to PC tend to run amazingly sluggish. With a sigh of relief, I put those worries to rest when I saw the game not skip a beat when run with all the settings maxed out. The game even has a special PC-specific settings screen with loads of rendering tweaks including the new Ink, Watercolor, and Posterize visual styles.

I've been having a lot of fun in IV between all the various modes of play. It doesn't top Alpha 3 as my favorite of the Street Fighter series, but it's up above everything else!

I'm still alive

Flu cleared up earlier this week. It did a real number on my lungs but otherwise I'm all set for Comic-Con in a week!

Swine Flu ftl

me + flu

Yesterday I went to to the doctor's office and was diagnosed with the flu—really sucks, especially since I am away from home visiting family.