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Index: 2019 2018

Q&A: Web dev pointers?

August 14, 2019

Anonymous asks:

Have you thought about making a brief guide for building the ideal site, or at least refer to existing guides for such? I realize one can just google up them HTML pages, but considering how you discuss the topic quite a bit I feel such a post would be useful for us youngsters. Hope I'm not being too burdensome with this suggestion. Cheers.

I'm flattered that you'd think of me for this! I'm by no means an expert in web design, or any kind of design, and my idea of the ideal website is pretty idiosyncratic (as you can tell by the website you're looking at) and I think personal websites should be unique, an expression of the builder's personality. So I don't think I'm qualified to write a direct tutorial or anything. However, I can talk about how I learned, and hopefully that can help inspire you to learn. First off, the web is open-source by its very nature. Find a page someone built by hand, (you can usually tell which ones are handmade by disabling javascript in your browser - it should look mostly the same afterwards. You can see a few modern examples by visiting the low-tech webring.) Right-click anywhere on the page that isn't a link or a picture and choose "view source". This will show you all of the HTML that went into building the site you're looking at. Hopefully, this should mostly be the text on the page with all kids of weird words in <angle brackets> sprinkled in here and there. If you see something that looks like ancient Egyptian calculus with nary an English sentence to be seen, you're waist-deep in javascript land, run before it's too late. You can compare the source to the page to see how everything fits together, how paragraphs and sections are designed, how people make links, and the basic structural elements of a website. Most of the actual design work, the colors and fonts and columns and whatnot, is made in what's called "cascading style sheets", or CSS. Sometimes the CSS will be built into the page, in which case you want to look at everything between the <style> tags. (my own site is one example of this.) If it's a separate file, you want to look for a line near the top that says something like <link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css">. Click on that, and it'll open the CSS file in another window. Download a local copy of the HTML file to your computer (and the CSS file, if there is one) and mess around with them. You can use notepad or whatever text editor is on your computer, or download one that's good for HTML. If you're on Windows, Notepad++ is a popular free choice. It'll highlight different parts of the code in different colors. Open the HTML in your text editor and have the site open locally in a browser. Change things, refresh the site in your browser, and see how your changes affect what the site looks like. If you don't like it, ctrl-Z and try something else. You can't break anything or do anything wrong, just experiment. Once you make enough changes that it looks different enough from the original to satisfy you, congratulations! You now have your own unique website. If you want more information about a specific HTML or CSS tag, is my bible. I always have it open whenever I'm making any design changes to a site, especially when I'm working with CSS, because it can be pretty dang unintuitive and that site has good written explanations AND a tool that allows you to see how the code works and make changes right in your browser - click the "try it" button on any element and it'll open a little live code window that you can tinker with. (addendum: you will occasionally see sites that don't use CSS at all. They add colors and font styles with tags like <body bgcolor="gray">. This is the HTML 4 way of doing it, and even though tutorial sites will tell you it's deprecated or outdated, it still totally works, and will even work better on older browsers than CSS. Some people swear off CSS completely, which I can totally understand, it can be pretty intimidating for a beginner. I like it, once you start to understand how it works, I find it's a lot easier to make big style changes to a lot of pages at once.) This is how I learned, but it's not the only right way to do it. I'm definitely the kind of person who learns best by doing. If you learn best by reading, ask someone who would know about good books on the subject. If you learn best by watching, find some good video tutorials. There's plenty of good resources out there. Just don't listen to anyone who says your site has to have bootstrap and dynamic menus and 800 fonts and be a self-contained javascript app. The important things about a website are the words and pictures on it. Once you've messed around and you have a site you like, sign up for a free account at neocities and share it with people. It'll be a perfect cozy little home for all your pictures and words. Finally, if you try to learn about this stuff and you're bored to tears by it, don't worry about it. Web design definitely isn't for everyone, and there are lots of ways to make a website without having to think about it. Blogger still has some HTML-only templates that are totally fine, and some of my favorite sites are people writing with just the basic default template. If all you wanna do is write, black text on white background with blue links is easy to do and totally valid. But if you do want a bunch of clashing colors and weird gifs and randomly scattered text, that's ok too. Do what works for you. Make the thing you want to make. I hope this is helpful, and if you have any specific questions about how to do something, my inbox is always open.

New Doom 1 mod: Hoofin' It

August 11, 2019

I made a new Doom 1 mod. It's called "Hoofin' It: A study in the effects of antimatter ballistics on demonic cyberflesh". It's a challenge mod in which all of the monsters have been replaced with cyberdemons and you have an antimatter rifle that can kill them in one shot. Check it out! (requires GZdoom)

Pokemon Go

August 8, 2019

My Pokemon Go trainer ID Please be my friend, I have several gifts I can exchange and I need items. Also does anyone know how the capturing in this game actually works? It seems like you want to throw the ball when the two circles overlap, but everything I read on the internet says you want to throw it when the inner colored circle is as small as possible, which doesn't really seem to make sense, and I feel like I get more "nice" and "great" throws when the inner ring is larger, but it still seems to happen pretty randomly.

Review: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

July 30, 2019

✔ Recommended Original review $30 on Steam/GOG Incredible game, one of the best adventure platformers I've ever played. Stays true to the spirit of the Wonder / Monster series without feeling old-fashioned and frustrating like those games sometimes could. Impeccable PC port, worth the wait. 100%ed it in 25 hours so there's plenty to sink your teeth into. Looks phenomenal, excellent sound design, mostly decent music with one or two jams and one or two clunkers. Felt very good to play. My only small criticism is with the UI design - radial menus were a bad choice for this game, because I'm constantly having to switch between the D-pad and the analog stick. It wouldn't be so bad, except that I frequently had difficulty shifting between forms with LT and RT, it would randomly stop responding to individual trigger presses and I had to hold both triggers to bring up the radial menu more often than I'd have liked. Made sections where you had to quickly shift from one form to another a little frustrating, but there were only a couple sections like that in the game and I never got stuck because of it. I haven't seen anyone else complain about this, so it might just be an issue with my controller. I know the review looks negative when the "con" section is longer than the "pro" section, but I don't wanna give too much detail about the good stuff because you should discover it for yourself. Just take my word that the nitpicks are incredibly minor and this game was a joy from beginning to end.

Top 5 English video game songs

July 23, 2019

Hover your mouse over or tap the dots if you just want to see the list: 5. Pumpkin Hill Theme (Sonic Adventure 2) 4. Que Sera Sera (Katamari Damacy) 3. Still Alive (Portal) 2. Momoko Ring's Theme (Final Zone II) 1. Your Reality (Doki Doki Literature Club) I recently had the thought, "you could probably count the number of good video game songs with English lyrics on one hand." So, here are my top 5 video game songs with English lyrics. I don't have five in mind as I start writing this, but I'm sure I will by the end. For inclusion on the list, the song has to be sung in English (so the opera from Final Fantasy VI doesn't count) and actually appear in the game, it doesn't count if it only appears on a supplemental soundtrack album. Also, this goes without saying, it has to have been composed for the game, so as much as I love "Jerry Was A Racecar Driver", Tony Hawk's Pro Skater doesn't count either. In addition to a numerical ranking, arbitrary numbers are fun, so I'll be assigning a rating of 1-10 for three different variables, for a maximum score of 30.

Note that this list may contain spoilers for the games that are mentioned.
  1. Pumpkin Hill Theme (Sonic Adventure 2) [youtube link]
  2. Gets an 8 for thematic appropriateness. It's a hip-hop song in which the singer self-identifies as Knuckles, the character you're playing during the level where this song plays. He's describing exactly what he (and the player) are trying to do during this level like the intro to a 1970s sitcom. Not much to complain about. The only thing I take issue with is Knuckles' attitude, which feels out of character to me. Maybe it's because my primary familiarity with Knuckles comes from his titular game on the Genesis and I'm not as familiar with later games, but Knuckles strikes me as a serious, peaceful person who only fights when it's necessary to protect his home. I don't believe he'd introduce himself as "the fighting freak Knuckles" and he just feels overly aggressive for what is mostly a level about exploring and searching rather than fighting. Gets a 0 for crossover appeal. Like... I can't see this appealing to almost anyone, even big fans of the game. It's not a good hip-hop song, but I appreciate that it is a hip-hop song in a medium where that's not really a thing. I like it, but I wouldn't suggest it to anyone except as a joke. It gets a 4 for emotional impact. How emotional can you really get about a Sonic game? But the vocal songs make Sonic Adventure 2 stand out and give it a charm that really sets Sega apart from any other game developer of the time. They were going for something, you know? Blue skies in games. You could put "City Escape" in this slot and it would get exactly the same reaction. It might not be a good song per se, but it evokes Sega in the 90s, and what they represented, and that makes me emotional in a different way. Final score: 12
  3. Que Sera Sera (Katamari Damacy) [youtube link]
  4. Gets a 9 for thematic appropriateness. It is a song about exactly what you do in the game, rolling things up into a ball to make a star. It's the first time I recall a song in a video game with lyrics about what you actually do in the game, and it was refreshing and unique! It's only missing a point because it's not clear whether this song is diagetic or not. Is this the King singing? Is he serenading the Queen? Comparing her to the stars in the sky in his clumsy way? Because that would be sweet, and there are other songs in the Katamari oevure that are the King singing in-universe, so it's likely, but they didn't make it explicit. It gets a 2 for crossover appeal. Don't get me wrong, I love this song, but let's be honest, this style of jazz music is already something I wouldn't recommend to anyone I know who's not specifically into it, and a man with a very thick Japanese accent singing about how he wants to "wad you up into [his] life" is going to raise some eyebrows for anyone not familiar with the game. No disrespect, I still love it. It gets a 5 for emotional impact. This is just one of many background songs in a game that's a pretty unserious thing in the first place. Katamari never made me cry, I never felt any particular way for any of the characters, but it's still a beautiful thing that brought me joy, and each song contributed to that joy in its own way. So it gets a 5, "the coward's number." Final score: 16
  5. Still Alive (Portal) [youtube link]
  6. Yes, it was ground into dust by internet meme culture. It was still an incredible song the first time you played Portal. It gets a 7 for thematic appropriateness. It's GladOS singing about the events of the game, but the ambiguous ending makes it kind of a head-scratcher. In what form does GladOS still exist? How is she getting this message to you? What is Black Mesa? That reference would have been totally lost on anyone who hadn't played Half-Life. Also they pushed the cake joke maybe a little farther than they should've, even before the internet got ahold of it. It feels like the writers calling back to a funny joke they made, not something GladOS would necessarily focus on herself. It gets a 5 for crossover appeal. The song appeared in Rock Band, but the vocal distortion makes it a little too weird to be just a regular song that people listen to. It gets a 7 for emotional impact. Because of the way the story is mostly told by an unreliable narrator barking orders at the player character, you don't really get a chance to develop a strong emotional connection to GladOS. The song gives you a glimmer of personality that wasn't there during the game, and it leaves you wanting to learn more about her, but it doesn't really hit you hard because you're still not sure what her deal is. However, it's still sweet and charming in a way few video games ever are. Final score: 19
  7. Momoko Ring's Theme (Final Zone II) [youtube link]
  8. A legitimate jam, maybe the first truly great song composed for a video game in English. This was 1990!! It scores an 8 for thematic appropriateness, as it directly describes Momoko's thoughts about the events of the game from her own point of view. It only falls short of perfect because of how difficult it is to tell what the game is actually about, as the English script and dialogue are legendarily flat, so the song suffers for its context. It scores a 10 for crossover appeal. I listen to this song for fun all the time, and everyone else should as well. If you disagree, well, it's my list. It gets a 5 for emotional impact. Unfortunately, this song is only played as background music as portions of the game where you're playing as Momoko, which is a real wasted opportunity. No real emotional weight. It gets a 5 because it's such a good song that it made me feel an emotion about this game at all, which takes some doing. Final score: 23
  9. Your Reality (Doki Doki Literature Club) [youtube link]
  10. It gets a 10 for thematic appropriateness. It's an in-universe song that was written and composed by the antagonist, which was telegraphed very early in the story when she mentions that she's been taking piano lessons. It references the events of the game in a poetic and thoughtful way. It's not just someone directly singing about what happened like in a musical, it's a story filtered through the character's perspective and emotions. It feels real. It gets an 8 for crossover appeal. As lovely as the song is, the production is still a little rough and you can tell it's not a trained professional singer. This is a good thing for the other two categories, because the character singing is an amateur, but it might make it a little harder for a non-video game player to get into. (plus, nobody who likes the game is going to recommend the song on its own because it loses much of its impact out of context, and you should really have played the game before reading this.) It gets a 10 for emotional impact. It's similar to the ending of Portal, with the primary antagonist singing the protagonist a song over the credits, but this time, you've spent a lot of time with the character, you've really gotten to know her, and you've accepted her fate, and that makes this sincerely sweet song so much harder to deal with. It humanizes the character - literally, because it's the only time in the game you hear anyone's voice. It's totally out of left field and it hits you emotionally in a powerful way that you'd never expect. It's a perfect end note to the game. Congratulations to Doki Doki Literature club, with an impressive 28 out of 30, you scientifically have the best English song ever composed for a video game.

Compatibility or "security"?

July 20, 2019

I'm thinking of removing TLS from this website so it'll work in Lynx and on older computers in general. I think backwards compatibility is more important to me than the illusion of security. I say "illusion" because this site doesn't actually need to be secure; no information is collected from you except what you voluntarily type into the contact form, and that doesn't need to be encrypted because you shouldn't be entering sensitive information there anyway. As I mention on the privacy page, I only use TLS because it's easy to set up thanks to "let's encrypt" and because of theoretical man-in-the-middle attacks from hostile governments or ISPs. If I'm being honest, it's mostly because modern web browsers tend to give worrying scare-or (scare + error? I dunno, it kinda works) messages on any site that doesn't have TLS, even if it's just a plain HTML page, because the web has mutated and web browsers are more like some sort of god-awful javascript virtual machine terminals instead of a program for looking at documents. I doubt any visitors would pay any attention to a message like that, but it's still annoying to see. I guess the ideal solution would be to set up an alternative version of the site with no TLS, something like, and automatically redirect a visitor there if their browser doesn't support TLS, but I don't know to do that. That goes beyond the "one click dirt-simple script" that was the whole reason I set up Let's Encrypt in the first place, and I really don't want to have to actually learn about this shit, which is why I'm thinking of scrapping it altogether. I dunno, I'm on the fence. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please drop me a line.

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