Super Metroid 


I recently purchased Super Metroid for the Nintendo Wii (originally on the Super Nintendo). As big a gamer as I was back in high school during the release of Super Metroid, I somehow managed to miss playing this one. Years later I would occasionally hear people heap praise onto this game as one of the greatest ever released. Iím glad to finally get the opportunity to play it. My only complaint to Nintendo is that they should have released Super Metroid a few weeks before Metroid Prime III rather than just a few days. As it is, I will likely put Super Metroid playing on hold while I tackle Metroid Prime III (which Iím picking up after work today).

I have played (and beaten) several of the other Metroid games. Itís easy to see just how much influence Super Metroid has on many other games in the seriesóespecially Metroid Prime for GameCube and the GameBoy variations. In some ways, I am disappointed in how much similarity there is. Itís like hearing a cover of an already great song before hearing the original. Somehow you end up missing out on enjoying the experience of listening to the original to the fullest.

The key game play experience that Super Metroid provides is this notion of backtracking. As you explore the game world, you will find that you cannot reach every area, open every door, or kill every enemy. However, you will eventually find an item like jump boots, a particular gun, etc., that will allow you to overcome previously encountered obstacles. So in this context, backtracking is going back and forth through the game world to find the items you need to explore deeper into the world.

Backtracking has been the tenet of Metroid games since the beginning of the series. As far as game critics go, backtracking has been controversial in general but in my opinion Metroid has generally done it right. From the game developersí perspective, backtracking is useful because they get the most bang for their buck in terms of content development. Since the gamer keeps traversing the same areas in the virtual world, that means artists and level designers can justify spending more time on polishing the content and making it more interactive. If done right, backtracking can also be satisfying to the gamer because they will notice how their skills improve over time in the same areas. Enemies that were once very difficult become easier to defeat as the gamers strategies and weapons/armor improve. Additionally, there is the reward of overcoming obstacles and being able to explore more of the virtual space. Done wrong, the user can find the backtracking tedious and boring and become largely disoriented trying to figure out which way to go next.

So far, Super Metroid has proven to have just the right balance of backtracking versus forward progress to maintain a fun game experience. There are several crafty puzzles in the game. All the weapons and items are Metroid staples, but they are still fun to acquire and use. Some items were actually introduced in Super Metroid, but as they were reused in later games they are not new to me. Bosses are huge and visually impressive given the capabilities of the Super Nintendo. However, I do find the strategies to beat them a bit contrived and monotonous (though itís rare for me to make differing observations of bosses in other games).

As it is, Iím probably only a third of the way through the game. So far I can say that Super Metroid is definitely deserving of its praise, especially when you consider it was originally released in 1994. If youíre like me and have played most of the other more recent Metroid games already then you might not be quite so impressed, but itís definitely worth the $8 to download and play on the Wii.


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Amazing Rabbit 
This video is pretty neat. Shows a rabbit that repeatedly avoids capture from a hawk. The rabbit pulls off some impressive moves including jumping over the hawk.



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Secret Fun Park: IAAPA 
It occurred to me that I should follow up about the IAAPA tradeshow which I mentioned in the last post. IAAPA stands for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. They typically have a yearly tradeshow that moves around to various cities.

The cool thing about the tradeshow is that itís like visiting a theme park or carnival on the cheap, no screaming kids, and very little waiting in line! Back when it was in Atlanta, several of my friends and I went and had a lot of fun. It was open to the public and we didnít have any trouble with the fact that we were just a bunch of college guys and not bigwigs with a bankroll to buy any of the games/rides/cooking equipment on display. I can only imagine that the reason we got in so easily is because not enough people know enough about it for the show to get overrun with non-industry folks. I think the trade show entry fee was like $25 which was probably on par with the cost of a Six Flags ticket at the time. However, we got to eat all the carnival food we could hold down so it was actually cheaper than the typical Six Flags visit. Plus, I would say it was a much more unique experience and A LOT less waiting in line.

During our experience, we got to play all kinds of arcade games for free and rarely did we have to wait to play anything. We also rode on a few small-sized carnival rides that could fit in the Georgia World Congress Center. Additionally, there were some quite big rides in the Georgia Dome next door. I remember we rode on a giant Ferris wheel type thing, only it was two arms instead of a complete wheel. We almost went up in the rafters of the Dome it was so big! There was also a free fall type ride and a human slingshot. Some other cool things included motion platform games and a really cool Apache helicopter simulation game that was actually built from the same hardware used in military training. Another area of the show that was fun to check out was the special effects section for haunted houses.

I mentioned the food earlier. Part of the show floor is covered by food vendors and fast food cooking equipment. Of course, all of them have food samples. I think we ate hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, Dippiní Dots, funnel cake, cotton candy, cookies, you name it! Itís a miracle we survived such gluttony. Probably the only reason we did make it out of there is that we showed some restraint so as not to get sick on the rides.

I can definitely recommend being on the lookout for when and where the tradeshow is going each year. If it comes by your area and the tradeshow entry fee is still cheap enough, get a bunch of friends together and head over. I think itís in Orlando, FL this year.



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Guitar Hero encore Rock the Eighties  


I just picked up Guitar Hero encore Rock the Eighties. Iíve been a big fan of the series and was so glad to see the original GH come out; especially after I played a guitar arcade game at an IAAPA tradeshow several years ago (it was probably Guitar Freaks). Unfortunately, GHeRE just doesnít live up to my expectations. The set list isnít all that great. I havenít unlocked all the songs yet, but so far the songs have just been so-so with the occasional good one thrown in the mix. For comparisonís sake, Iíd say the set list is inferior to that found on the popular 80ís rock anthology album, Monsters of Rock. Though thereís definitely some overlap and some of the songs that would be appropriate for the 80ís game have already appeared in GH 1 and 2. Also, the song covers appear to slowly be degrading in terms of quality and accuracy as compared to the original recordings when we go from GH1 to GH2 and on to GHeRE.

Furthermore, changes from GH2 are really nonexistent other than new songs. All the same animations are used with just some ďre-skinningĒ of the models for appropriate 80ís attire. Also, there are no bonus indy band songs that can be purchased from the virtual store like in GH 1 and 2.

Realistically, GHeRE can be described as an expansion pack in terms of the entertainment value. Back when the PC was the only platform to find good games, an expansion pack was a $15 or $20 software package that expanded a game you already bought with additional levels to play that didnít really equate to a completely new game (expansion packs still exist today but typically only for PC games). If I had paid $20 for GHeRE instead of $50, I would have no complaints about the product. The reality is that $50 is simply too much money for the game.

I suspect that Activision/Red Octane may have even mulled over the idea of releasing GHeRE as an expansion pack. However, expansion packs donít really make sense on a game console like the PS2 probably largely because it can confuse consumers that canít figure out that they need to own both the original as well as the expansion to play the new content. There may also be technical limitations with disc swapping and such to authenticate ownership of the original product. Also, retailers are reticent to put bargain priced software on their shelves. Finally, if a fully playable GHeRE was priced at $20, then this would potentially cut into GH 2 sales. But enough making excuses for the game...

While I will say I am still enjoying the game for the same reasons I enjoyed GH 1 and 2, I canít help but to begin to feel like Red Octane et al are milking the franchise for all itís worth with no concern for sustainability.

Maybe they will come out with a 5/6 piece drum set controller and game soon and freshen the genre a bit.


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CGI Woes Under IIS 6 
At my lab, we just consolidated some web servers and we ran into some problems with a CGI application for online surveys called Perseus SurveySolutions that stopped working. I think itís version 5. We were getting a ďCGI misbehavingĒ error which is a 502.2 in the log files. For IIS 5, in addition to the 502 generic error message I used to be able to see all output to stdout (and probably stderr) in my browser window. Unfortunately, IIS 6 does not allow the output to be displayed.

I had a hunch that the program was crashing and printing something other than a valid header such as ďContent-type: text/htmlĒ (and two newlines). Unfortunately, the program ran just fine from the command line.

Luckily, after much searching I found mention online of an ďnph-ď prefix that can be placed at the beginning of an executable CGI (*.exe) that will allow all output to be sent to the browser (example: nph-foo.exe). The NPH is for ďno parsing of headersĒ apparently. Youíll probably get a file download dialog when using this trick and the default file name to save will end with ď.exeĒ the same as your CGI executable; however this is actually text (assuming your CGI only outputs text) so just change the extension when you save. Also, if you have web service extensions enabled then you will have to explicitly give permission to your ďnph-*.exeĒ so that it can be run by IIS.

Once I did this I got some informative errors that Perseus (which is compiled Perl) was trying to write to ďC:\WINNT\Temp\pdk-IUSR_IMTCWWWĒ and was failing due to permissions. The problem was that IUSR is the restricted user that executes CGI and didnít have permissions to write to its temp directory. I suspect this had something to do with an in-place OS upgrade or the copying of files from one server to another and that directory was a leftover from a previous install. In any case, just deleting the directory and letting it be recreated fixed the problem!

Here's where MSFT's limited documentation of "nph" resides:

Info about NPH in IIS 6

And here's an informative newsgroup post from a msft employee about configuring CGI executables in IIS 6.

Newsgroup Post about CGI under IIS 6

(2nd post by David Wang [Msft] is the one to read)

Finally, here is a program I didnít use but sounds like it could be useful for debugging CGI. Itís basically a Lint program for CGI.

CG-EYE


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