Ubisoft: When Offline Isn’t Offline

Given the furor that Ubisoft has been experiencing over their DRM methods, you’d think they would have learnt to back off.

Unfortunately they haven’t.

For all the ‘offline mode’ support Anno2070 claims to have, once you’ve performed the one-time Tages authentication check, you also need to create an ubi.com account, register your game key against it (which invalidates the key), and log in at least once.

I wanted an offline mode to avoid this sort of shit treatment.

No longer will I put up with this sort of crap.

I don’t want to create and maintain accounts for every publisher and/or every game.

I don’t want to have to worry about losing those account details when I put the game down and come back to it in 6 months.

But most of all, I feel like the publishers are intentionally trying to violate my privacy by tracking my game actions and forcing me into signing into an online service I didn’t want to play what’s fundamentally a single player experience.

No longer.  I am now actively refusing to buy any Ubisoft games, irrespective of platform, developer or quality.  Unless they demonstrate a healthy dose of reality, I doubt they’ll be coming off of it again.

And I will be encouraging my friends and peers to do the same.

Whitespace and why the Typographers are Wrong.

I’m getting sick of artistic high horse rants from self-important idiots who think that Typographers are the individuals who should dictate how people type. This is not the only instance of it I’ve seen lately, but it’s getting worse.

The monospaced font typing conventions are all correct, all of the time. Any failure to render this into a form that pleases the typographers should be brought up with the software authors.

Why? Computers can fix this shit up trivially. There have been computer typesetting systems around for longer than there have been WYSIWYG wordprocessors (such as TeX) and they have never had any problems with correcting the spacing between words or around full-stops. You also need a way to differentiate between abbreviation stops and sentence stops, and the two-space/one-space convention is an excellent way to do this without needing to maintain a dictionary of all abbreviations.

On top of all of this, some of us still work in mixed monospaced and proportional text environments all of the time, and will copy content between them constantly. Computers are supposed to make our lives easier – part of that is maintained through consistency. Declaring that the method in one context is incorrect in the other is utter rubbish in usability terms.

There’s also absolutely nothing that says that spacing in a document should actually be honoured to the level that it is inside rubbish like Microsoft Word – if whitespace was automatically collapsed and reflowed, it might force people to actually learn to use the tools correctly.

Animania Sydney 2011 Photos and Wrap-up

Well, Animania has come and gone.  I’ve posted my photos up to Flickr as usual.  Spent plenty of time chatting with Kris from whatabigcamera.com and a few other of the regular anime convention photography crowd whom I’ve been interacting since I got back into things.

Very low shutter count again this time – I think only 100 for the entire weekend over both cameras, and even that may be higher than reality.  After SMASH! I’m finding I’m a lot more selective over how I take shots, and I’m shooting a lot more with Flash Exposure Bracketing turned off, so I’m losing a few more “would have been good” shots than I used to, but have a lot less to cull overall, and the average quality is a lot higher.

The bulk of Saturday’s photos were taken single strobe – the later ones done with strobe off camera.  Mostly used the 5D, but took a few notables with the 50D + 50mm/1.8 combo mostly so I would have some material to defend my “you can do this with cheap, mainstream gear” claims. 🙂

The majority of Sunday’s photos were taken dual strobe – main off camera, on-camera unit for fill.  Having two 580s is handy that way.  Only took the 5D, but switched between the 70-200 and the 17-40 a fair bit.  Really need to pick up a 24-70 at some point.

SMASH 2011 Photos and Wrap-up

SMASH! has come and gone. It was an excellent effort given it was it’s first time at the Sydney Convention Centre.

Unfortunately, I was quite sick this past week and have only just gotten over that – so I cut my kit down heavily (I only brought one camera, 2 lenses and my speedlights), kept my activity down to a pretty low level and literally only took a few (about 40 total) photos.

To contrast, at both this year and last year’s Supanovas, my shot counts were up around 2000 photos for the whole weekend, of which I have to cull pretty heavily to get down to the 100-200 photos that get posted. Also, because I’ve taken so many photos of so many people, I feel compelled to at least publish some of the poorer photos if they’re still ‘viable’ because it features a cosplayer who has gone to great efforts to make their costume, etc, and I simply don’t have a better photo of them.

This time, because it was so short and sweet, the culling and selection was extremely easy, and the quality of the results compared to some of the other events speaks for itself.

The gallery of photos can be found on Flickr.

Technical Details

(Because for once, my workflow stripped the EXIF – I’ll work out why later…)

All photos were taken with an EOS 5D Mk1 with EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. (I had my EF 17-40mm f/4L in my bag, but didn’t use it at all).

The first 6 (predominantly outdoor) photos had fill-flash from a single on-camera Speedlite 580EX II with Rouge Flexible Flash Bounce Card. After I shot the first few photos, I also connected the Speedlite to a CP-E3 battery pack to improve it’s cycle time

The last 6 (indoor) photos were lit using an off-camera Speedlite 580EX II with Rogue Flexible Flash Bounce Card. Triggering was done via a standard Canon ST-E2 trigger. Flash held by captive flash bunny (thanks Retro!) – the camera weighs about 3kg in this configuration and I can’t balance the 70-200mm for conventional shooting one handed without introducing a LOT of shake to the camera.

All flash metering was Automatic. No Auto Exposure Bracketing or Flash Exposure Bracketing (FEB) was in use.

All post-production was done in Aperture from Camera RAWs. All edits are crop, exposure, dynamic range, and vignetting only. For once, I needed to do almost no cropping.

Tactics Ogre

Squeenix dropped Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together unexpectedly into Australia retail.  It’s a PSP remake of the original Tactics Ogre game which featured on the SNES.

Tactics Ogre is yet another turn based strategy game developed by the guys who went on to produce Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story.

It features a branching storyline, and enough tricky combat tactics to keep you busy for some time – it’s dislodged Z.H.P as my current carry everywhere PSP title.

The Australian retail box is a “special edition” which contains a minimalist artbook (meh) and a mini soundtrack.

The PSP remake features a few nice view options, but doesn’t appear to have been drastically altered from it’s original SNES format graphics, which is a nice change. Players familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or A2 will find the visual style familiar.

Finally! A fight we can win!

Interestingly enough, the game features a screenshot option, and has extra scenarios for you to play through once you’ve finished the main game.  So far I’ve only finished chapter 1, and that’s already taken a few hours of my life to achieve.

Battles are difficult, but not impossible – occasionally a battle really comes together well and you can storm through it, but in general they feel genuinely difficult as you face poor terrain hindering your units mobility and face powerful enemies who shrug off attacks. This, however, rarely crosses the boundary to unfair – and frequently the best way to finish a mission is to rush for the goal than to cautiously fight through the enemies.

Overall, an excellent member of the genre, and worth the time and effort.  The branching storyline should also offer a fair bit of avenue for replay.

November Wrap-up

So, November is practically over and I haven’t really updated all month.

I posted some photos I took whilst at Watson’s Bay on flickr.  This was all standard slow exposure + tripod stuff – nothing fancy, but the results are plesant.  My 17-40mm f/4L USM is showing it’s worth nicely in some of these.

I do quite like night photography when waterfronts are involved – you get such nice, and sometimes hard to predict, results with the light reflected off the water.

I also went to 3 Japanese Film Festival sessions (planned for 4, but missed one due to an emergency call) in the last few days.

Anime Matsuri 1 (Time of Eve movie + Precious PV) was mixed.

Precious was interestingly animated, but felt like it missed the mark slightly being shown in the JFF.

Time of Eve followed, and was interestingly recut from it’s original 5 episode format – with some nice material added to help flesh out the circumstances surrounding the stories.  I won’t bother saying much more about Time of Eve’s plot or execution – plenty of others have posted about this series and can preach it’s virtues better than I can.  I will state, however, that it’s worth a watch in either format.

Unfortunately, the subtitles used in the JFF screening were amateurish with all sorts of errors, missed line and repeated/mistimed lines all over the place.  Even when I was involved in a little 3 man fan-subbing effort quite some time ago, we were churning out subtitles with fewer timing and repeat errors, with practically no external QC.

Oh, and the guy from SMASH! waffled on too much leading up to the session’s start.

Next up I saw Castle Under Fiery Skies, which was a compelling movie about the building of Azuchi Castle in the late 1500s.  The cinematography was excellent and the story development was great… up until the last 5 minutes.

My issue with the finale was the movie encouraged you to empathise with Mataemon (the peasant carpenter) with the feudal lord’s unreasonable requests and the hardships he endures as he pushes on to make the castle a success.  The movie culminates with a major challenge that threatens the completion of the castle, and once the threat is resolved, we suddenly lose focus on our master carpenter and are left with a closing statement – a very abrupt way to part ways with the characters we’d been following so closely.

None the less, it was a beautifully executed movie despite this flaw, and I would happily recommend it.

The last movie I made it to was Sword of Desperation.  Whilst I mostly enjoyed the plot and story of this movie, the presentation lacked coherency – the movie jumped around between flashbacks and ‘present’ time, frequently with little prompting to this fact, leaving you to work out which events were in the present or the past.

For the most part, I found myself using the presence of those who were deceased in the ‘present’ to identify the flashbacks from the ‘present’ flow of the story – mostly as this was the only way I could find to do so.

Movie presentation issues aside, the plot was engrossing as you followed Sanzaemon and looked into the justifications for a sudden and cold murder, and the events that culminate afterwards that lead to the movie’s finale.

I can’t help but think this movie could have been significantly better had a bit more effort been made to make the flow of events easier to track.


[Updated 31 Aug 2010]
[Updated again 6 Sep 2010]

Just ran smallpt against a few machines here:

CPU OS Compiler Cores / Processors Execution Time(s) – 100spp – in seconds
AMD Athlon64 3800+ Linux amd64 G++ 4.4.1 1 365.181
Intel Xeon 2.4GHz Linux i386 G++ 4.4.3 2 x 2-way HT 358.000
Intel Itanium2 900Mhz (McKinley) Linux ia64 G++ 4.3.2 1 1366.38
Sun UltraSparc 3i @ 1Ghz Solaris 10, 64-bit Sparc G++ 3.4.3 1 3384.46
Intel Core2Duo E6850 (3.0Ghz) Linux amd64 G++ 4.2.4 1 x Dual-core 177.46
Intel Core2Duo P8700 (2.53GHz) OS X 10.6.4 G++ 4.2.1 1 x Dual-core 138.36
Intel Core2Duo E5200 (2.5GHz) Linux amd64 G++ 4.4.3 1 x Dual-core 142.50
Intel Core2Duo E8400 (3.0GHz) Linux amd64 G++ 4.4.3 (static link) 1 x Dual-core 117.96

These figures are in no way scientific and should be considered ballpark figures only.  No efforts were made to reduce system load in order to run these tests, but systems used for these tests weren’t particularly loaded to begin with.

Linux builds were compiled with whatever the latest version of G++ installed was, using -O2 (except for the ia64 run which was built with -O3 by accident)

OS X refused to build a binary with OpenMP support that didn’t die very rapidly from a bus error. As a result, the test couldn’t utilise both CPU cores.  Please adjust expectations accordingly.  Build was with -O2 -ffast-math.

[Edits below]

The OSX figures have been updated to use OpenMP thanks to Brian’s advice.  Built using -O2.

The rather noticeable difference in speed between the E6850 and the P8700 is probably due to the different memory systems or the lower core/bus contention on the P8700 (although if it was the latter, I’d expect the margin to be smaller – the difference is only 9 vs 9.5) – it’s hard to say without doing more digging to see where this is slowing down.

The E6850 box is using an XFX branded nVidia nForce 680i motherboard which only provides a DDR2 memory interface – and the system in question is decked out with 4GBs of Corsair low-latency DDR2-800.

The P8700 is an Apple Macbook Pro 13″ 2.53Ghz (Mid-2009) which uses the stock 4GBs of DDR3-1066.

I’ve just added my work E5200 to the mix, and it too is getting scores comparable to the Penryn. I’ll have to re-run on the E6850 to verify the times.

[Updated again]

After a bit of research, I’ve managed to isolate the cause of the speed discrepency to be most likely the result of the upgrades to the design from the Conroe to the Penryn/Wolfdale family. I am surprised that the result is so pronounced.

[Updated again again]

I found an E8400 (Wolfdale 3.0Ghz, 1333MHz FSB) system to run smallpt on, and sure enough, it scores proportionally to the Penryn and E5200.