Notes from the Library

Ocarina of Time and the GNU Typing Tutor

Started a couple of new things a few days ago, firstly I’m playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time again, but this time in its Master Quest incarnation, though I’m not finding it very hard to my disappointment. OoT is a legendary game, considered by many to be the greatest game ever, and it’s reasonably high on my list after coming back to it and comparing it to others. I always used to prefer Wind Waker, but OoT seems to have more originality in it. Looking over at Twilight Princess (via some gameplay videos on YouTube) is sad because it’s a gorgeous game, with graphics and music that outstrip OoT technically speaking—OoT is all MIDI because the N64 cartridge couldn’t fit anything better on, what with the size of the game—but it’s not really memorably better. Those traditional Nintendo melodies are shown at their best in OoT.

The hack-and-slash-and-puzzle of the gameplay in WW and TP far outshines OoT. Sword combat is a lot more interesting and things like fire, ice and light arrows look so much better. My favourite parts of TP are the dragon fight high in the clouds and the requisite tennis boss, with the possessed Zelda, which looks, feels and sounds so good.

I am reminded of Oblivion here: TP’s graphics remind me of Oblivion’s in the extra fluidity you get compared to the previous generation, but the game has far less substance in both cases.

This is sad because TP could have been Ocarina++. Watching the final boss battles of each, and of WW too, WW and TP stand out for their gorgeous presentation, which to my mind comes together much better than any PC game I’ve seen—Nintendo’s Zelda team seem to have the edge—but the Zelda magic isn’t there in quite the same way as it is in OoT. Maybe it is because TP just feels like a rehash of OoT, and WW is great but too different to be really comparable, but they never have managed to improve on OoT and the upcoming Skyward Sword appears to be taking a different direction anyway (and it’s for the Wii, and I mean come on, what a ridiculous platform for an action RPG).

Majora’s Mask is always recommended to me by others and I would like to play it; some day I would like to get hold of/borrow the GameCube game with it on, the Collector’s Edition.

All this has been reminding me of other classic games and I’m wondering if I am past the stage where I can have a game take over my life, where Ganon really scares me when he appears and where boss battles are edge-of-seat-help-must-not-die situations. A lot of this has to do with how easy I tend to find these sorts of games now. I remember spending hours slogging through the Wind and Earth temples with a friend visiting from far away, taking it in turns, solving puzzles (he solved most of them iirc) and slashing up bosses (my job). Being stuck for hours on particular puzzles. It is true that games are getting easier but I’m getting better at them too.

Of course I’ve played great games more recently as well. The Half Life series—all of them—is probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. And I played Final Fantasy VI only a few years ago and became totally absorbed in that. It’s interesting to compare these things to fantasy books. The relative inaccessibility of classics like OoT to current younger teenagers is because they’re not drawn in because they’re used to games being better at that. Looking at the dialogue between, say, Link and Saria, I can see just how much of my nostalgia I am pasting on to make the characters at all interesting: it’s really not very good dialogue, it’s simple and most of all there isn’t very much of it. So why do we love these things as we love legendary books and films? Immersion—one thing that’s got better with time and technology—and while lots of words can give you a vested interest in a character’s survival/achievement, so can actually playing them.

The other new thing I’ve been doing is learning how to touch type properly, that is, using all ten fingers with minimal movement rather than the weird self-developed touch typing I use now, which most modern young people seem to have a variant of, being able to type very fast without ever having sat down and learnt. The advantages are clear: better speed through improved accuracy—though my accuracy is actually very good nowadays, as I’m now seeing in typing this post, to my dismay—and better treatment for your hands. gtypist is a great little program for teaching; I’m going through the ‘T’ series of lessons, but I don’t really know if that’s the best as the main menu is a bit confusing. Though I’m not so sure that this is worth it. I’m taking a massive hit to my typing speed for the next three or four months; after spending about four hours learning over the last few days, ignoring the fact that I don’t know all the letters yet, I’m on something like 25wpm when I usually get about 90wpm, if not more. Websites talking about touch typing tell you how great it’ll be when you are comfortably typing 60wpm, well that’s not actually so great, and I only hope this new scheme can actually improve on things for me or I’ll be pretty annoyed if I’ve forgotten how I used to do it.

Some of the finger decisions in the standard way of typing on a qwerty keyboard annoy me but I’m loathe to change them, since they were probably picked for the best reasons in the longterm (unlike the qwerty layout itself). For example using my little finger for anything other than hitting control feels strenuous, but to be fair it is lessening as I progress. And the bottom row of the keyboard is proving to be a great challenge, as I struggle to hit c with the right finger and to type commas and full stops, which I keep getting wrong. I think I’m not moving my hands enough to change row, but this is confusing as the whole point is not to move your hands very much. Maybe I should try to find some YouTube videos. I’ve also got to work out how best to use caps lock and meta for all my Emacsing. Meta is not a problem—just use the unused left thumb—but control means that you then have to bring another finger in when you want to use the (important) C-a. I could train myself to use M-m instead which in most cases does what you want (it’s first non-blank char of line rather than start of line, like vi’s 0 vs. ^). Speaking of this, what I also have here is a new opportunity to relearn Emacs in the sense that I can be less wasteful with key presses because I’ve got a temporary chunk of thinking time before each action that I am having to slowly work back to the unconscious level. So I can actually use C-v and M-v and C-s/r for movement rather than just lazily holding down C-n and C-p which is so much slower. Speaking of which (again), C-p is a bit of a worry right now in terms of stretching.

One small improvement I can make is using C-m for enter, C-h for backspace and C-w to delete a word backwards because these are a lot easier then stretching up to backspace and return.

I think though that it’ll probably be worth it. I mean I switched from Vim to Emacs (ha, how amusing, I just tried to capitalise ‘Vim’ using the Vim keybinding rather than the Emacs one, how rare) without too much difficulty and I can see the advantages with things like actually using both shift keys, and keeping your fingers moving but your hands still which is a lot better for scary things like RSI. I’ll just have to keep at it and watch the steady improvement; this is what the vac is for I suppose.

So you know I own the Collector's Edition, right? You can borrow it any time (that said, MM is slightly risky, as they essentially just wrote an N64 emulator for GameCube and with MM it's not perfect, very occasionally crashes, but with the, uh, idiosyncratic saving in MM that can be annoying to say the last.

Also, the Wii is not a ridiculous platform for an action RPG: Nunchuck + Wiimote worked great for TP for me. Very little waggle. (SS will have moar waggle but I think it'll work.)

comment posted by James Robson at Fri Aug 12 23:38:14 2011

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