The Happiness Hypothesis

I know someone that has been going through this self help kick. I tried to explain to them that everyone writing those books is full of bullshit, and they are just working angles in order to get money from you. But, people are always looking for easy answers, and I did not have any better recommendations at the time.

After digging into things for a while, the first book that I determined had merit is, “The Happiness Hypothesis” by, Jonathan Haidt. Do not get me wrong, this is not a self help book, it actually has substance. Basically what Haidt does is a survey or ancient wisdom with a little modern positive psychology to establish his take on the issue.

The basis of his analysis is related to the happiness formula devised in positive psychology: H = S + C + V. Where H is happiness, S is the genetic set point, C are the conditions surrounding you, V are the voluntary things you do. From this base level he defines what most happy people do with their C and V to achieve happiness, and what you can try to do to change your set point. One of the more amusing aspects of the book where the ways he suggests that you can change your set point, either using meditation, cognitive therapy, or Prozac.

In the beginning of the book he talked about the four major divisions of the mind, and establishes the metaphor he uses throughout the book: the rider and the elephant. Basically, in this metaphor the rider is the rational part of the brain, and the elephant that representation the finely tuned autonomous brain functions. I think that if he ever writes a more “self help” style follow up to this book it should be called, “The Elephant Whisperer.”

One of the things I got a kick out of is that Haidt, an atheist, open advocates that people become more actively involved in religion (this is in a beyond the book section of the website). Now, he is not advocating any particular religion, since from his perspective it does not matter since non of them are right, just that you become more involved with it. There are a few reasons for this, that are not immediately obvious, but it has to do with the social / interconnectness of religious organizations, and fulfilling a need people have for sacredness.

Anyone that has read the book knows that I am greatly over simplifying some of the concept here, but I wanted to get the basic ideas out there for people to think about. And, while I do not necessarily agree with many of the conclusions he comes to, I do recommend the book to anyone that is interested in the subject matter. I am officially giving this book a 4 on the undecim.

2009-01-27: There is actually a really good outline of the book available online.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) [VETERAN]

This post comprises both my thoughts on the game, and the veteran difficulty. I am going to embed at least one video clip in this post, so I am going to hide everything but the excerpt from my homepage in order to make sure the page stays responsive. To read the full post, please click the title link.

This post comprises both my thoughts on the game, and the veteran difficulty. I am going to embed at least one video clip in this post, so I am going to hide everything but the excerpt from my homepage in order to make sure the page stays responsive. To read the full post, please click the title link.

Originally I had no intention of playing through this game. My brother’s had told me a little about the story, which I determined was incredibly stupid. And, I have always preferred an arcade style FPS like Halo, rather than pseudo-realistic like the CoD games. But, vanlandw threw down the gauntlet so I was once again sucked into the wretched world of “Modern Warfare.” In a journey that defies all logic and reason, vanlandw quested through the first Modern Warfare game on veteran on his first play through. I defeated the first game when it came out years ago, so I thought it would jade my experience a little, even through I did not remember much about it. This is why I decided to play through Modern Warfare 2 on veteran, so I could simulate, if not duplicate the experience.

Much of the game play was as I expected it, it was challenging, but not really over the top. And, the story is so mind shattering stupid that they had to put in unskippable cut scenes (I hate this recent trend in games). If you attempt this game on veteran, you are going to die, frequently, but it does not matter too much because the check points are pretty generous. I managed to get through the first few levels without any big problems. My first tough checkpoint was experienced in the “Takedown” stage.

If you watch the video below, the point I got stuck in is the checkpoint at 4:00 in. If you get stuck here, you pretty much have to do exactly what the guy does to get past it, I tried every path, and the one he does on was the only one that worked for me. Ultimately, this point was not so much of a problem of stage design as that I had run out of ammo with my rifle, and it is really difficult to do it with the shotgun. And, if you want to see a version where the guy just badasses his way through it check this out.

The area that I thought was the most difficult in the entire game was in a stage called “The Only Easy Day was…Yesterday.” The problem on this stage is towards the very end. At this checkpoint you have to take out wave after wave of enemies that are concealed in smoke that make it rain grenades (reminded me of COD4) while flanking you. In the video below you can check out the checkpoint at 2:08. I did not do what this guy did. Whenever I stopped for a second to aim I got naded so I just ended up sprinting while zigzagging through cover into the next room. It worked, but it took a few tries and a little luck to do it.

The last really annoying part of the game was in the last stage. The whole trying to navigate on a “high speed” dingy chase is as absurd as it was annoying. You can check out the stage in the video below, basically you just end up swearing around while praying you don’t get shot. Beware as the video does contain the end sequence of the game, so if you don’t want to spoil the story make sure not to watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oJI2usOZws

Speaking of story, the story in Modern Warfare 2 is really stupid. It is utterly implausible, and they added in controversial aspects (playing as a terrorist in an airport) just to get PR as far as I can tell, but they did not make the game better, and just added annoying game play elements (forced to walk slowly on the terrorist stage). In the original MW game, that story elements seemed at least somewhat grounded in reality. The second game just goes bat shit crazy, with things like Russia invading the United States, and rogue Army Rangers. It just makes your brain hurt. Infinityward even removed Co-op for the game, because they did not want to tarnish their horrible narrative. A pathetic call if I have ever scene one. This game could have been much more enjoyable co-oping with a friend while protecting Burger Town. Sadly, I think that COD 5 is the best game in the series, and IW didn’t even make it, Treyarch did.

Having said all that I should point out that IW did fix many of the bugs from the first MW game. I discuss those more in my COD4 post, but there are some glaring problems with the first game that were not nearly as bad. The two big ones for me are dogs and grenades. In MW it literally rains grenades throughout most of the game. Seriously, WTF, where do these people get all the grenades? With dogs, you actually have a chance in MW2, where as in MW you had to anticipate when it would pop up the prompt because they did not give you enough time to react. The other major issue is pure level design, there are no poorly designed areas that are virtually impossible to get past like the War Room in MW. You’ll probably notice other things, such as enemies not spawning as quickly, in MW there were parts where guys would come as fast as you could shoot them, but that isn’t as noticeable in MW2. Inf MW2 if you are fast you can usually killed all the guys in an area.

Taking into consideration that I played this on veteran my perspective on the difficulty may jade my rating, so I am going to issue a few ratings for the game. One for playing on veteran, and one for the game in general, and one for multiplayer (which I did not even discuss in this post because it sucks so much).

For the game itself, I am going to give it a 1, since it has reasonable game mechanics, and the visuals are pretty decent. For playing on veteran I am going to give it a -2, because while IW did fix many of the bugs in MW, it is still clear they did not do enough play testing on the highest difficulty for it to be a smooth experience. For the multiplayer, I am going to give it a -5 on my undecim scale, because it sucks, and I cannot figure out what people see in it.

Would You Kindly Read this Post? Bioshock (2007)

After years of gathering dust on my shelf, and becoming infected with a mysterious used band aid, I finally took up Bioshock to complete it. The ordeal yielded mixed results.

This game has received generally positive reviews from pretty much every critic across the industry. And, I frequently found myself wondering why. Sure, the graphics are decent, but everything is so linear that the stages are basically just painted sewer pipes. Many people have talked about the story, which I found to be alright, but nothing to write home about.

The story is really just another attempt from a group to try to capitalize on someone else’s ideas while fundamentally misunderstanding them. In this case, they create a dystopian world that is very loosely based on the works of Ayn Rand. Anyone that is even faintly familiar with the principles will release that Bioshock missed the mark. For example, in a objectivist society you wouldn’t have a black market, because the regular market goods would already be at the lowest prices.

Even though you could talk about the visuals, story, and atmosphere all day those aspects really just cover up the crux of the game, the game play. When you get down to the core mechanics of the game, you quickly release the game is average to mediocre.

The game essentially plays as a first person shooter. But, the sensitivity is slow, and all the weapons feel clumsy. However, the weapons don’t matter a whole lot since the ammo is so limited / ineffective that you will probably spend most of your time clubbing things with your wrench, because that is what I ended up doing.

There is a cheap “magic” system in the game called plasmoids. Unfortunately, you can only have a few equipped at a time, and you are constrained by “eve” which basically makes them an ineffective as the weapon as you will find yourself quickly running out. To a certain extent it balances out, because while there are multiple different plasmoids you could possibly use, you really only need one, electricity, for a majority of the game. And, there are two, telekinesis and fire, that you are forced to used early in the game. But, other than that you can pretty much ignore everything else.

“Hacking” is a “mini-game” that has been shoe horned into the system, and is far too over used. Essentially the way it works is that you have pipe tiles you need to use to guide a fluid from one end to the other. It isn’t really difficult, but it does get tedious when you find yourself having to do it a hundreds of times throughout the game. And, it is hilarious that you can be right in the middle of a firefight and then “hack” a machine in peace. Seriously, if I were in a battle with someone for my life and they stopped to play some DS I wouldn’t just stand there and watch.

Vitachambers I believe was the excuse of the developers to justify how unbalanced the game is. While I did play the game on hard, I died countless times, but it did not really matter because you are instantly resurrected in a vitachamber and can come back and beat some more ass. It is annoying that you die so often, but it is better than being faced with the prospect of having to load a saved game every time. Really, between the ammo scarcity and strange balancing this game would be absolutely brutal to play without vitachambers.

However, this all dwarfs in comparison to the end sequence of the game. You are forced to collect the pieces of a big daddy suit, which you are then forced to wear. I suppose it would not be such a big deal, but the bubble overlay they put on your screen is unforgivable. I actually had to enable FOV lock (treats the game as 4:3 and crops to 16:9) just to bring down the motion sickness enough to get through it.

Also, I am not a fan of how hard the game punishes you if you are trying to get some of the achievements. For example, if you kill Cohen in your first encounter it is impossible to upgrade all the weapons. But, that isn’t that big of a deal. The bigger travesty is the audio logs. There are two towards the very beginning of the game, and if you missing one you cannot get it, period. You have to start the game over. It is seriously wretched.

On that thought, I shall bring this rant to a close lest I let this post grow to insurmountable length. When I take into consideration the good things in this game, and the unforgivable, I have decided to give this game a 0 on my undecim scale. Thus, I neither recommend nor dissuade anyone from trying it.

Dresden Files, Completed

As mentioned in a previous post, I did not manage to complete the Dresden Files in 2009. But, I did manage to finished before the end of 1/1/10, so it was nearly a photo finish. Note that this did not include the short stories, and I do not even own all of those. I guess there is supposed to be a collection of them published this fall, so I might pick that up.

The Dresden Files series is alright. It features a wizard in Chicago that works as a private investigator. It follows a formula very similar to the early Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. Blake featured what is effectively a female private investor, and contains the same genre cliches. If it were not for my brother Jason being such a huge fan of the series I would not have read it.

The stories are extremely formulaic, and it shows. If I were Butcher I think I would have a love hate relationship with Dresden. Since, the books much be ridiculously easy to write so you can just keep cashing in, but you know you are capable of writing better. I was not at all surprised when I read that Storm Front (the first Dresden book) was written to demonstrate how awful a book would be if he listened to his writing instructor’s advice.

If you are planning on reading the series, I recommending getting it in audio format. James Marsters does a pretty good reading, and the story has kind of a cinematic feel.

Based on the published novels thus far, I am going to give the series a 0.5 (slight recommendation) on the undecim scale.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

This post is mainly to pick up the slack for vanlandw who wanted an outlet to share his thoughts on the game without being obligated to write an entire post about the game. So, he has called upon me to write a rant about it so he can just comment on it. Granted, I haven’t played the game since it first came out, but I do sort of remember what it was like, so here goes:

Modern Warfare was one of the first “realistic” war games that I have been excited about in quite some time. I originally picked up the game because I was glad that someone find made a game that was not World War II, and it was well reviewed. And, yes, before I get any comments about the Tom Clancy games, I am aware that many of them are set in the near future, but they suck, so its basically like they do not exist.

There is one important thing to note about this game; it does not have co-op. Many people feel the strength of the game is its online multiplayer. However, I found it to be quite lackluster. I suppose I have been spoiled by games with more diversity, like Halo. MW consists primarily of death matches, which are not very fun. A lot of people have told me its so good because it has “realistic” weapons, and other such BS. If I wanted to fire realistic guns, I would fire real guns.

Other people feel the campaign is the highlight of the game. And, while it is not bad, it is nothing to write home about. The story they came up with is very formulaic, and is not better than anything you’d expect to see in a summer popcorn flick.

So, thus far I have established that the game is pretty average across the board. Which, is true, but there is one particularly irritating aspect of the game that I found to be quite frustrating (a common theme in the Call of Duty games I have forgotten about), choke points that you are forced to push through. I like to be able to element all the enemies in an area, and then progress. This methodology works pretty well in most video games, and keeps you from getting killed. Unfortunately, there are certain areas in MW where enemies continue to respawn endlessly, so you could never effectively clear out an area. Thus, you are forced to do a rush that will frequently result in your death if you are playing on one of the higher difficulty levels. But, this one really the only thing in the game that really bothered me.

Ultimately, I decided that the game had been considerably overrated. And, while it is a solid enough game for me not to feel ashamed to have it in my collection, it is far from the pinnacle. Thus, due to the lack of replayability, and general averageness of the title, I am going to give it a 0 on the undecim scale.

P.S. I need to get a proof reader.