Code Red Revisited

I have a list. This list is titled Things I Do Not Like. On this list are a great many things. Foreign films, choking on fish bones, and going without sex, are just a few. These are entries number one hundred and three, eighty seven and two, respectively. At position number three, is driving in Boston.

Boston is one of those cities in which you are not supposed to own a car. There's no law or anything, and no one will come out and tell you this even if you ask. You're just not supposed to have one. If you're foolish enough to disobey this rule, then your contraband vehicle will be keyed, the headlights will get stolen, you will rarely find a place to park and when you do, your car will be buried under an avalanche of snow every time the road is plowed. When this happens you will more than likely decide to simply leave it there, cocooned under a ton or so of frozen water. Because driving it around is worse.

First of all, there are no street signs in Boston. None. I'm not sure that they even make them here. This would make finding one's way around difficult enough, yet not much more difficult than driving in other places, if not for the fact that most of the roads in Boston were planned by cows.



I'm not joking.

The main roads, like Massachusetts Avenue (Mass Ave if you live here) and Commonwealth Avenue (Comm Ave – there's a thing about syllables) led from church to church back in the day, and since that's about the only place most anybody needed to go, those were the only roads that mattered. As a consequence, those roads were laid out by actual people and tend to be straight.

The rest of the roads in our fair city were originally laid out by cows wandering between the trees, and down to the creek and back to the grass and ... wherever. Cows aren't very dedicated city planners. They tend to get distracted. Pretty soon these cow paths became trails, which then became cart tracks and about two hundred years later somebody dropped some asphalt on them and they became roads. So, needless to say, those roads aren't very straight, and a lot of them don't seem to go anywhere. Unless you're a cow, and then I guess it might make sense.

I'm not a cow, so I tend to get lost a lot. I'm not a programmer either.

Item number fourteen from my list, until fairly recently, was Having to Debug My PC Just to Play a Game. This is why I have avoided PC gaming like the plague for several months, and why, when Pyroman and The Fly recently cajoled me into attempting to play a few long-forgotten titles, I should have remembered the last time I tried such a thing, shouted No! and run away.

I remember when Gamer and PC Enthusiast meant the same thing. I was there. I have the t-shirt and the .bat files to prove it. That day has passed, however, and I for one couldn't be happier.

These days I am just a gamer. I play games. They should turn on and work right when I am ready to play them, otherwise I will go do something else. I say this often because it is true and it is the single most important message I have to relay to developers and programmers alike. Make it easy to use, or you will lose my interest. Yet as murderously disagreeable as games that don't work strike me, there were many more upsetting things ahead of it on the list. Thirteen of them, in fact. It would have taken a catastrophic event of some sort to elevate this item above, say, number ten.

A catastrophic event like the time I had to drive into Boston, wearing my fancy pants during late winter (otherwise known as Stormy Season # 4). That was the day that Driving in Boston captured the number three slot on my list. Up from the seventies, where it languished for years alongside running out of toilet paper and rap music.

I had a dinner thing to go to for my job. It was important. I'm not sure why it was important, it just was. Getting along with one's boss is often like getting along with one's spouse. Things tend to go more smoothly the more often you can nod your head and go with the flow. That's what I was doing driving into Boston wearing fancy pants in late winter: going with the flow. Unfortunately, neither my vehicle nor any of the other vehicles around me were doing the same.

I'd been stuck in traffic for almost an hour (toll booths are the bane of rapid travel), and while I was waiting, the time did what it does; it passed. Slowly, but it did pass. Before I realized it, and certainly before I'd made it through the damn tolls, it was 5 O' clock. Our six or so hours of allotted late-winter daylight had elapsed and the sun ran away faster than my uncle Charles from his parole officer.

Darkness + lack of street signs = lost Fletcher. My odds of actually finding the place with the dinner thing plummeted from about 1:5 to something like the odds of winning the lottery. Still, I was resigned to going with the flow. This dinner thing was important and I was already wearing the pants and I had to go. I handed the lovely Tool Booth Person my dollar, got a brief glimpse of open road in my headlights, and then the sky opened in a biblical way. Water began falling, in other words. Lots of water. I believe the commonly used cliché is "in sheets". I'll go with that. The odds rapidly dwindled to something akin to those of finding Jimmy Hoffa.

Yet somehow, despite the dark and the pouring rain, I found the place after only about ten minutes, and a whirlwind tour of the South End. I instantly began making plans to canonize a patron saint of driving in Boston, and build a shrine to him. I would use the proceeds from the lottery ticket I was about to purchase on my way to Giants Stadium. I only had one problem left, and I idly wondered if my unknown beatus could help me; I needed to find a place to park.

I chased phantom parking garage signs for about half an hour before realizing that they had been laid out as part of a Wil E. Coyote scheme for nabbing roadrunners with driver's licenses. I gave up and drove to a department store where I knew for a fact that there was a garage. It was a bit of a walk from there to where I was headed, and it was still raining, but I was running low on gas and patience and time. I decided to risk it.

This is the point at which going with the flow began to feel less like eating dinner where she likes to eat, and more like letting her second cousin, twice-removed (the one with the coke habit) borrow my truck to go 'shopping' in Juarez. Still, I'd made it to the city and I was, after all, already wearing the pants. I had to go.

I made it safely to street level, and began the long, wet walk to my destination. That's when two very interesting things happened. First, I completely forgot where I was. I had a map and everything, but somehow the view from the actual street no longer bore any relation to what was printed on the page. I had become instantly lost. The second thing that happened was that my umbrella broke. It literally turned inside-out, busted in half and flew out of my hands, down the street and into an alley. I always laugh when that happens to other people. Comedy is fickle like that.

I was now umbrella-less, soaking wet, tired, hungry, miserably lost, incredibly late and my fancy pants were all muddy around the ankles.

You know those Don Bluth movies where there's always a cute animal who gets lost in the deep, deep jungle and it's dark and it's raining and the cute animal doesn't know where to go or what to do and he's dodging wild boars and falling banana trees or whatever, and all he wants to do is go home to his mommy, but his mommy has been captured and taken away to a zoo and his home has been destroyed by the giant threshing machines so he eventually huddles under a big plant, or an elephant, and just cries? That's how I felt.

Going with the flow was no longer an option. Fancy pants be-damned. I went home and got drunk.

As I'm searching through arcane web forums and attempting to jigger the driver settings of my video card at 5am, on a lovely summer morning, I realize that just such a catastrophic event is in progress and that it's all the fault of a game. I am trying in vain to get No One Lives Forever working on my aging desktop PC. Neither the game, nor the PC seem to be cooperating. I have been awake just long enough to seriously consider the possibility that they are in cahoots.

This is two days after I'd spent roughly an hour watching my machine crash in front of my eyes, again and again, while trying to play Doom over the internet. That was Pyro's idea. It sounded like a good one at the time. Now, at The Fly's urging, I've agreed to play NOLF and NOLF 2 back-to-back. You can hardly blame me. NOLF was a fantastic game. I enjoyed every single aspect of NOLF each of the ten or so times I played it back in 2000. The graphics, were fun, the gameplay was interesting and the dialogue was superb. Sometimes I'd hide around the corner from bad guys and take my hands off of the controls just to hear what they had to say. Other times I'd start up the game just to hear the music or watch the cool, sixties-style hippie daisies swirl across the screen. If it were possible to marry a game, I'd have married this one. For no other reason than that, for a game character, Kate Archer was smoking. Her outfits made me want to turn gay, and the (imagined) body beneath made me want to turn back again.

So it is not without a certain amount of anticipation that I loaded NOLF one more time. It's like looking up your ex-girlfriend, Jenny, whom you've recently discovered is once again single. You're not quite sure how it will turn out, but if it's even half as good as you remember, then it will definitely be worth the trip.

I clicked "play" and it was good. Really good. For about two levels. Then: Crashville.

I adjust this setting, download that patch, but nothing. The game will not operate on my machine. Or rather, it will not operate with any hint of stability on my machine. Jenny, while still just as good in bed, has somehow turned into a crazy bitch. She starts throwing dishes and boots me to the desktop, where I spend eight continuous hours visiting fan sites and vid card help forums searching for a solution. There is none. Time to lose Jenny's number.

It is now 6am. Rather than be reasonable and go to bed, I decide to try my luck with NOLF2. If she won't do it, after all, her sister will. Or at least that's what they say. I install the game and click "play" feeling confident for no logical reason.

The game starts right up, sounds good, looks good and when I start the first level, even seems to play well. I'm briefly happy. Then I notice that about half of the in-game text is failing to render. In the main menu I see options such as ... ame and ... rols, which I can sort of puzzle out if I want to, but in-game I see strange text like ... k up and ... lk appended to "action items." Some of these make sense. I know, for example, that I can pick up certain things and talk to others. I have no idea however, what I am supposed to do with suggestions such as ... ou or ... nia.

The game, therefore, is unplayable. This is how Having to Debug My PC Just to Play a Game jumped ten spots to number four, with a long-distance dedication to Jenny's younger, hotter, yet sadly retarded younger sister. Cue: sad animal music, straight to you.

Comments

Great read, one of my few near death experiences involved the words Taxi and Boston.

Now, what is number one?

and going without sex

for how long before it is an issue?

haha, great article...!!

fancy pants rule... in theory anyway

That's such a great article, Fletch! You really hit the nail on the head: I fear PC games for the very reason you elucidated. At least I'm not alone.

And its...

Fletcher, for the win.

Awesome article. Oh, how I miss my .bat files. Oddly enough, swapping all those old boot disks made me feel like my computer was a little bit closer to a console than I'd prefer. I think there are games that are more suited to each platform and I will rue the day of convergence if ever it doth arrive. Being a gamer used to be a rather elite and masochistic club of players willing to beat their computer into submission with each new driver and patch release. Now it's so prole. I'm gonna have to find another subculture to bolster my flagging cool-guy cachet.

To fill out the analogy, people who enjoy PC gaming are like explorers who explore just to see what they can find. PC gaming takes work, and a decent computer, but some of us like messing with our computers sometimes. Now sure, after about hour 3, it starts to suck, but occasionally I'll just get the itch to upgrade or defrag, repartition something or another and I'll use a game as an excuse.

Not that I don't agree with your point that developers need to make their games above all just work damnit, but the occasional fiddling is a-ok with me. It's just that developers think "occasional fiddling" means "writing your own device driver to make the game work".

PyromanFO wrote:

To fill out the analogy, people who enjoy PC gaming are like explorers who explore just to see what they can find. PC gaming takes work, and a decent computer, but some of us like messing with our computers sometimes. Now sure, after about hour 3, it starts to suck, but occasionally I'll just get the itch to upgrade or defrag, repartition something or another and I'll use a game as an excuse.

Yes, that's it exactly! It's like when my wife suddenly decides that it's necessary to reposition the couches in the living room or something. It's therapeutic, somehow. When it works.

lets hope Vista and the new API for autodetecting settings goes along way to making PC gaming a smoother experience..

oh...and Fletch needs a new PC

Podunk wrote:

Yes, that's it exactly! It's like when my wife suddenly decides that it's necessary to reposition the couches in the living room or something. It's therapeutic, somehow. When it works. :)

Nobody expects the intricacies of interior design therapy to be grasped by a mere cat-farter.

I just can't get into any games that require extra knowledge to play them. I'd have to learn how to tinker with my PC to play half the games out there, and I be afeared of change. Hand me my wavebird and let me get back under my rock. Besides, I've seen the heartache and heartbreak that can go into fixing/upgrading/decrapifying a computer - I don't think I'm emotionally strong enough to endure the pain of upgrading, and possibly watch my harddrive simmer and go up in smoke, just in the interest of playing Half-Life 2.

Boston drivers suck. And the big dig supposedly was going to cure all our ills. Uh, not when it leaks like a granny in depends...

oh..I forgot my Boston driving horror... many years ago going to Boston for a weekend to watch the Sox play me and some friends got stuck in a tunnel in late July in about 97 degree weather.. there was some construction going on during a Friday afternoon (genius!) plus ungodly traffic..

As life would have it my friends POS Grand Am choose that moment to start overheating forcing us to blast the heat and roll down the windows in the tunnel.

AND I had to really really go to the bathroom...and the hotel was still quite a ways off...

for that single reason I was incredibly pissed off the entire weekend and got into a bar fight.

I would sympathize with you except trying to run a game from 2000, almost 6 years ago, is like trying to start a car from 1956. You might can get it to run, and even run well, but it will take some work and effort and tweaking.

Now if you were talking about a modern game, I would def agree.

I personally ran NOLF not too long ago without any problems, but there are plenty of other games from that era that would cause problems on a modern pc with a modern OS, so I know where you are coming from.

Rodeoclown wrote:

I would sympathize with you except trying to run a game from 2000, almost 6 years ago ...

The caveat to that sentiment, Rodeoclown, would be the fact that my PC was built in 2000, and with the exception of the GeForce fx5200 I installed a year or two ago, it's cherry. Therefore the problem lie with said video card, which being new-ish, should have handled a 6-year old game with aplomb. Except for the fact that somebody seems to have mislaid their compatability handbook along the way. And therein lies the rub.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Nobody expects the intricacies of interior design therapy to be grasped by a mere cat-farter.

Oh, snap!

I cheated last time I was driving in Boston. It was late, so there weren't many mass holes to deal with, but I couldn't find my hotel. I just threw $10 at a taxi driver and followed him to my destination.

*sob*

This article reminded me about the "text gets cut off" problem with NOLF2. The same thing happens to me--with nothing but an upgrade from one nVidia card to another in the interim. If anybody figures out how to make it work, let me know...

PC gaming is feeling more and more like "something nobody should ever bother with again" as time goes on.

The caveat to that sentiment, Rodeoclown, would be the fact that my PC was built in 2000, and with the exception of the GeForce fx5200 I installed a year or two ago, it's cherry.

I think what he meant was, you're using a 5 year old PC to play games, you're going to have to do a little maintenance to get it running. It's like using a car from the 70's for some street racing, it's going to take some time with a wrench.

Though it sucks that PC games are considered high maintenance when they're as little as 5 years old.

Ah...Boston. Gods save me from ever being in a motor vehicle again in Boston. Well, if I have to pilot. Or watch. *shudder*.

Tweaking my PC, I don't mind so much though. Although, to be fair, I keep one of my old computers around just for those times when I want to play my old DOS games, and don't feel like making XP/NT/Linux figure out how to make it work.

And for the record, I agree that Fletch needs a new computer.

Fletcher wrote:

Time to lose Jenny's number.

It's 867-5309. Hard to forget. Sorry man.

Thankfully, my gf and I will be using public trans when we're up there visiting her family this weekend. We're going to Cheng Du near foxborough and then into the city for dancing I think.

podunk wrote:

Yes, that's it exactly! It's like when my wife suddenly decides that it's necessary to reposition the couches in the living room or something. It's therapeutic, somehow. When it works.

Are we married to the same woman?

As for Boston, both times I was there, we relied on the metro. However, if it's anything like driving in NYC....

Quintin_Stone wrote:

However, if it's anything like driving in NYC....

...I'd rather have a root canal!

Actually, I thought driving in Boston was much worse than driving in NYC. Sure it takes forever to get anywhere in NYC, but the streets are laid out in a mostly very orderly way. Boston is total chaos.