Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution is a stealth/action game about the titular assassin wherein you sneak around trying to kill your way through your former employers after going rogue. The engine is ridiculously smooth, and the game is simply bursting with creative ways to kill your targets, though silently garroting them and dragging the body off to a dark corner to dispose of it is probably the most satisfying. The more linear sections that seemed to force direct confrontation were decidedly less enjoyable. I really wanted 15 more levels like The King of Chinatown and unfortunately, there were only really one or two other spots that came close in the rest of the game.


Sneaking around garroting battle nuns and dragging them into the bushes is not quite as fun as bushwhacking heavies and sicking tigers on their friends, but still absolutely worth playing.

Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 is the most fun I've had playing a video game this year. It is a sandbox where you take the role of an American tourist stranded on an island in the south Pacific that's crawling with pirates, drug dealers, and human traffickers. Your friends are captured by the Big Bad, resulting in your going on a roaring rampage of revenge, rescuing your friends, and killing every pirate you see with a big freaking knife. Kind of like Just Cause 2 meets Assassin's Creed.

Stuff I liked:

The stealth and the recon. There are pirate outposts scattered around the island which you can retake to help liberate the island, and reduce your likelihood of being randomly accosted by pirates. While attacking these outposts, you can carefully sneak up on them from basically any angle, and scope out the position of the pirates with your camera. This gives you a good idea of the lay of the land, how many pirates you're going to need to fight, and where they are.

You can then sneak off, thin out the ranks with your sniper rifle, and sneak up behind guards and stab them in the back. Basically there is actual payoff for carefully studying your enemy and coming up with a plan to eliminate them quietly.

The weapons. While the weapons themselves are not necessarily particularly memorable, you get to pick the load-out that suits your style of play which is something I really appreciate. Lots of games railroad you into carrying the basic assault rifle, and then making you pick through the corpses of your enemies to find the gun that actually suits you. Furthermore most of the weapons are customizable with a number of attachments which gives you the ability to further specialize your load-out to be truly suited to your style of play.

The exposition. While the narrative may be more than a little bit over the top, for the most part the game explains things to you while you have control of your character. This is in stark contrast to Max Payne 3, which bombards you with freaking cut scenes all the time.

Stuff I didn't like:

The story missions. While the story missions aren't particularly bad, they are much more likely to railroad you into blasting your way through tons of dudes, rather than outflanking them, or stealthily taking them by surprise, and I find both of the latter two approaches much more satisfying.

The boss fights. They're a bunch of stupid-god-damned quick time event driven bullshit cut scenes. You know, it might actually be satisfying to sneak up on the big-bad's stronghold, and put a bullet through his head from the next hill over before disappearing into the jungle... but no, you've got to let him talk you to death while you play poker. Fuck that.


Sneaking around the jungle and stabbing heavily armoured dudes with a big knife is the most fun I've had with a video game so far this year. You should check it out.

Video Games in 2013

This is a ranking of the games that I have played in 2013. It's pretty subjective and is mostly about how much fun I had while playing it. Also, these are games that I played in 2013, many if not most of them will have come out before then, because there really are not that many games that get me to drop $60 so that I can play them on release day.

  1. Far Cry 3
  2. Hitman: Absolution
  3. Resistance 3
  4. Max Payne 3
  5. Spec Ops: The Line

The Humble Bundle 2, Anchoring and A/B Testing

I recently purchased The Humble Indie Bundle 2 after reading an Ars Technica article about it and thinking: "Why the hell not?" The Humble Bundle is a collection of 5 independant games, released DRM free in a name-your-own-price sale with some of the proceeds going to the EFF and Child's Play.

One of the interesting things about the about the pay-what-you-want sale is that the price field is pre-filled with $29.95 as a default price:


Unfortunately for them, $29.95 is actually slightly above my threshold for why-the-hell-not purchases, but it did get me thinking about anchoring:

Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.

... says the Wikipedia. It actually has a very interesting effect on our perception of prices. Basically, if someone tells you that something was originally selling for $1000, but you can buy it for $500 now, you are very likely to be thinking about how good a deal $500 is when compared to $1000 even though the "original" price could very well be a completely made up number (this is where MSRPs actually come from).

The $29.95 in the box is an anchor. So is the $85 in the copy where they explain the set-your-own-price nature of the sale, but I expect it's a much less powerful anchor as it's not inside the box where you name your own price. Since $29.95 is an anchor, and there is a reasonable expectation that changing it will affect the number/value of purchases, I started thinking about another, somewhat related idea: A/B Testing. A/B Testing, in software development, is the practice of serving multiple versions of your software and seeing if one version works better for some value of "works better".

In the case of the Humble Bundle, I would be very interested to see if changing the value inside the set-your-own-price box had a significant impact on the size/number of purchases. You might have variants with $14.99, $29.95 and $59.95. Perhaps toying with people's cognitive biases is too evil for a project that's supporting not one, but two charities, but I'd still like to see the results of such an experiment, y'know, FOR SCIENCE!

s/the Combine/the combine harvester/g

A combine harvester.

Image Credit: kenny_lex

I have come to the realization that Half-Life 2 is a whole lot funnier if you mentally add in "harvester" whenever anyone mentions "the Combine":

Alyx: Dr. Freeman I presume? We better hurry, the combine (harvester) can be slow to wake, but once it is up you will have a hard time taking it down.

A letter: Dear Dr. Breen. Why has the combine (harvester) seen fit to suppress our reproductive cycle? Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen.

Citizen: We better hurry, we have to tear down this camp before the combine (harvester) gets here.

Aylx: We know all about you and Breen. You have been a spy for the combine (harvester) the whole time.

Gordon Freeman, the MIT graduated theoretical physicist hero-protagonist, saving the world from enslavement by a piece of anthropomorphized farming equipment.