Friday, April 12, 2019

The Black Hole Madness

Today I'd like to discuss the recent black hole image making the rounds on Media, because the supposed "news" sites and channels are, once again, butchering the truth.  Yes, this is an astounding scientific achievement, but journalists are just not getting it right.

First, the picture is NOT of a black hole.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, rather it is the shadow of a black hole and the light around the shadow is not a disk of light, but the light being warped by the warping of 3+1 dimensional spacetime.  This light isn't visible light that you can see with your eyeballs, but invisible light in the radio end of the spectrum.  I'll try and provide a better explanation.

So the black hole exerts such a powerful gravitational field that is literally curves space and time.  I understand that it is a difficult thing to visualize and is typically shown as the black hole causing a bend in a rummer sheet.  The analogy does, kind of, get the point across, however, it's still a two dimensional representation.  Readers need to extend the idea to our three spatial dimensions.  Length, width and height are all warped toward the black hole's event horizon. 

The event horizon is the area near the black hole where nothing that crosses is can ever make it out.  An observer outside the event horizon would probably see no light for a distance outside the horizon as all light would be heading toward the horizon and not outward toward the observer's eyes and instruments.  Beyond that space some light would be flung away from the area outside the black hole.

Ok, got that?  I hope so...

Now about the light.  It is light in the sense that we are seeing detected photons, but the wavelength is outside our visible range and into the radio part of the spectrum.  Why not look at the visible light?  Well there is material around the black hole being accelerated and ripped apart as it migrates toward the event horizon.  As this material accelerates it heats up generating all sorts of light from many different wavelengths, visible light included.   This material is transparent in the radio part of the spectrum, so radio waves can pass through some of it.  If we looked in the visible part of the spectrum we would simply see a bright, amorphous blotch which wouldn't really tell us much.  Looking in the radio part of the spectrum shows us a great deal.

Around the event horizon, material is heading in all directions.  Some circles around, some passes in front and some spirals inward.  We cannot see the radio light directly in front, because it is all heading toward the event horizon or spinning/spiraling around it.  This means that the matter and generated photons are not heading toward us, hence the blackness at the center of the image.  The doughnut of radio light we do see is coming from behind the region of the black hole. 

Very massive objects all warp spacetime and light from behind that passes close enough can get kind of sling-shotted around these objects which is a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.  What we see in the image is pretty much just that.  Light generated behind the black hole is lensed by a region of severely warped spacetime near the event horizon.  Since the light comes from behind what we are seeing is a shadow of the area around the black hole.  The area of blackness is about 3 times the diameter of the black hole.  Ok, so big deal.  Is that it?  Actually there's more.

If you examine the image you may notice that it is dimmer near the top and brighter at the bottom.  This difference in brightness is due to doppler effect where the stuff at the top is moving away from us and the stuff at the bottom is moving toward us.  All this information fits very well with theory and contributes to confirming some of our understanding of how the universe works.

Finally, this image really does not convey the amount of effort involved in receiving this bit of confirmation.  Sure, it's not enough to move from theory to fact in out understanding, but the sheer amount of effort needs to be acknowledged.  It took a lot of very smart and dedicated people, something like 200-ish, and cooperation from 20 countries not to mention a lot of radio telescopes to get this data.  I am personally amazed at this effort and look forward to what the data can tell us once fully analyzed and the experiment repeated.  Exciting times!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Astrox Imperium

Another day, another early access game.  Today I am going to post about Astrox Imperium which is a game I've been following for a while now.

Astrox imperium is a single player space game set in a unique universe developed by Jace Masula ( game home page found here).  The game features open world exploration, mining, faction interactions, fighting, market play, missions and fleets.  It is reminiscent if something like Eve online, but players can experience the feel without the headache of unwanted PVP action.  Ive spent a few hours in the game to find myself pleasantly surprised with it.

First there's the developer who also goes by the handle "momoguru".  The developer is extremely responsive to well thought out criticism.  This does not mean that he will fulfill every request, rather it does mean that he will evaluate and fix, or tweak, things that need it.  A responsive developer is something we don't experience often enough in the gaming industry.  I have to tip my hat to Jace and the people helping on the forums as they are very responsive, active and positive.  Kudos to you all. With that said we should look at some of the features of Astrox Imperium game play.

Getting started can be a wee bit daunting as the tutorial missions in the beginning are a bit weak, in my opinion.  This should not be taken as a large negative though as it really isn't that big a problem if you are willing to just try things and in the worst case just start a new play through.  I think this will be expanded upon since the developer is mainly concerned with bugs, play balance, and streamlining systems, which is good and will make the core mechanics much better although they are pretty good now.  Starting ships and skills are quite capable and sufficient enough to get you going.

Different play styles are easily accommodated with the engine as it is.  Personally, I like to try them all, so I am starting out as a miner in order to build up a cash reserve and transition to a bounty hunter.  I will admit that I had a really hard time at first making any space bucks as a miner in the starting ship, because the quantity you mine and what the starter ore  sells for was just too small.  I was able to overcome this by purchasing the first fleet skill and hiring a mercenary miner who had a MUCH larger ship to mine for me.  With a merc to mine I made bank in no time flat.  My advice to beginners is buy the first level of fleet skill, hire a merc miner and hit the large asteroids for fast, early cash.

Modding is another important feature built into the game from the beginning.  The developer has included all the modding tools they use into the game and accessible from the start menu.  I feel that such things are extremely important in sandbox style games to enhance the experience and longevity of game play.  The addition of the modding tools allows players to tailor their experience to their liking and flex their creative side which is a thing sorely lacking in AAA games.  I could write a whole other article on the subject, but I'd I will stop myself there.  Kudos again to momoguru for thinking of this.

Last, but certainly not least, is the price.  Astrox Imperium is a steal at around $15 USD.  There is so much content and potential in this game that I almost can't believe it is so inexpensive for the amount of effort put into bringing it into early access and the continuing effort now that players can grab a copy of the game.  I sincerely hope that the developer has every success both financially and personally with this effort.  May the release of the game be everything he hoped for and then some.  Well done!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The "computer" industry

I've literally grown up through the "computer revolution" and I am quite dismayed at the direction it is heading.  I can remember waaay back before the average consumer could even think about having a computer in their home, yes, back to when having a transistor radio was on the cutting edge.  In those days computers were the exclusive purview of government and universities and took up rooms, or buildings, worth of space. Along came the late 60's to early 70's and calculators.  The miniaturization revolution had begun.

My first look at a computer came in the form of a rather expensive, for the time, calculator.  My calculator was an old Texas Instruments jobbie and I can remember tinkering around with calculations in an attempt to get it to do something other than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, essentially looking for boundary conditions that made the brain in it freak out.  Fun and geeky times.  Calculators became more powerful and started rocking those cool, new liquid crystal displays, memory and more functions just as the first hobby computers came out.

Fondly, I remember the first real computer I ever laid eye on.  This computer was some variety of HeathKit with a 2 digit display that could do some hexadecimal math.  It only had a very basic set of keys and just the 2 hex digits for display.  In modern terms it was barely a computer, but to me it was cutting edge and I used it at every opportunity I could.  The programs were small and you had to understand the architecture pretty well to get it to do much.  To me this was just awesome and it is where I discovered my affinity for such things.  Not long after my school came into the possession of an early Apple computer with an actual CRT display. My God, the power.  Still programming in Hex and accessing the hardware directly this was a heady time.  More systems were hitting the market and schools were picking them up, computer clubs were forming, and we students were really diving in and "hacking".

In those days the term "Hacking" did not mean anything evil.  Hacking was the term for taking things apart and probing their innards to discover how they worked and what cool things you could accomplish with them.  In short, we LEARNED a lot about computer architecture, programming and even pushed the boundaries of what these devices were meant by their manufacturers to do.  We were proud to wear the label of Hacker and we had a passion for learning and discovery.  These days the term Hacker has been co-opted in a negative light and most people equate it with criminal and that makes me rather sad.  However, I am digressing, but I thought it worthwhile to understand where I come from to make my point about the current direction of the computer industry at large.

Ok then.  so I come from the early days of computing where everything about our systems and devices were open and discoverable, yet today it seems to me that the overall direction is now the opposite.  Computers, and software are now subject to patent lawsuits, "ecosystems" are now a thing with many manufacturers, and the general push is towards disposable devices.

Take Apple for instance.  Here you have a company that puts on a happy, public face of cool hipsters, user friendliness, and ease of use, yet they will tell you if your phone won't start you need a new one.  They literally cannot fix much or even replace a battery and actively prevent customers from seeking out sources who can fix their gear.  Just check out Louis Rossmann's YouTube channel for info on that subject.  Apple isn't by any stretch the only company making disposable devices as the majority of smart phone manufacturers now glue everything in their phones making simple tasks like battery replacement impossible for customers.  I fear that computers are heading in that direction.

Look at laptops which is a classification where I include notebooks, ultrabooks and the like.  Contrast a laptop with a desktop, and I don't mean and "appliance" like the Intel NUC.  I call the appliances, because to me they are just that and have much the same issues as laptops which I shall spew on about presently.  Laptops are what I now term "disposable computers".  I call them disposable for the following reasons:

1) You have very limited upgrade and repair options.
2) As software becomes more resource heavy, the laptop only has a few years of useful life for most.

Let's talk upgrades now.  In a typical laptop you might be able to replace the main storage unit, or hard disk and upgrade the memory.  That is about it.  In a more traditional desktop, you can still replace all the guts from memory to CPU to graphics processor and over time keep the machine current.  if you want to keep a laptop or appliance current, well you have to get a new one.  Could laptops be made to be upgradeable?  Certainly.  That is an engineering issue, but it seems to me that corporate greed and consumer laziness spawned a business model that keeps us buying replacements and generating ever increasing mountains of toxic e-waste.  As evidence, just go to your local electronics store that sells computers and look at the ratio of upgradable desktops to laptops they sell.  You may be hard pressed to find a desktop in some stores these days.  This is one trend that upsets me.

Another trend that really makes me want to pull out what hair I have left is that of licensing and proprietary systems and software.  Back in the early days pretty much all information about those computers were made available.  Circuit and logic diagrams, processor and chip functions, manufacturer generated technical specs and documents actually came with many systems.  These days mainstream manufacturers tell you little to nothing and they sue each other over stupid things like rounded corners on phones.  So if you want to "hack", in the original sense", you can be subject to prosecution if you publish your discoveries for spilling trade secrets.  This extends to hardware and software, so you are expected to operate on the lack of information, or outright B.S. a manufacturer deigns to give you and be happy with that even if all you want to do is fix what you already paid for.  Very sad times indeed which leaves me feeling rather down about banking my future on the tech industry in general.

That pretty much sums up my feelings regarding the computer industry and has played a fairly major part in my decision to retire from I.T.  I am not someone who will take crap handed to me when I know full well that the barriers to achieving a successful outcome are purely artificial.  Please note that there is some light, not much, but some.  The Open Source movement is now not only concerned with software and is moving into hardware albeit slowly and with much resistance.  I do hope it makes major inroads into the public consciousness and that we see a return to those wonderful times when computing was open, information was exchanged freely, and when we were excited and proud to be called Hackers.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Far Cry: New Dawn Final Impressions

So, last night my gamin' buddy and I finished Far Cray new Dawn and I thought I'd follow up the last post with my thoughts now that the game is completed.  Warning! There be spoilers ahead.

I stand by the impressions of combat, driving, graphics and environment as they are great and the mechanics feel good.  Unfortunately I don't recommend it for the story.  In short, the story stinks.  The story is full of forced scenes that do not make much sense in how they unfold.  It may be that I have been influenced by having a spouse that is a writer, or that I am thinking too much about it, however I found myself watching the cut scenes and thinking "what the F***?"

In the beginning, you are cornered by the twins and the obvious choices you have are to either open fire and try to kill them or jump off a cliff, but you don't get the choice, so you are forced to jump.  Now I'm not a jump kind of guy, so I would have opted to take the chance and wipe out the baddie leadership when I had the opportunity. Hell I had a light machine gun with a full belt of ammo when this happened.

Next time you are confronted with the twins it's just you, them and a hostage.  Again, I had an up-scaled LMG and a full belt, could I take a shot then?  Hell no.  They tell you to handcuff yourself so they can beat you.senseless and then kill the hostage anyway.  Yeah, I didn't see that coming (that's sarcasm by the way).  There's also a similar set of scenes with Mr. Seed and his son.

I don't like it when games are "on rails" where you are forced down a specific path.  It shouldn't be so difficult to engineer a couple of endings and allow some choice during the story cut-scenes that will affect the ending you have as the game winds down.  This sort of design laziness really does not make the game very open-world as was advertised.

So what about the open-world aspect?  It's extremely limited.  The outposts you have to take are few and easily taken while the "game world" is very small.  So you take over all the gang's outposts, after all you are supposed to be driving them out of the area, the story proceeds like you haven't taken over any completely ignoring what is actually happening.  I felt I was entering alternate dimensions half the time.  You can even find the prison where the gang takes all the people it kidnaps, but if you go there you find a little loot and zero people until the story decides you have to go there.

To conclude, I felt the game has very strong mechanics for combat, driving and environment but it falls down horribly when integrating the story with the "open world" aspects.  I could not recommend it as a AAA title at an AAA price.  My advice:  Wait for a sale if you still want to play it and maybe pay for it at 60% off.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Far Cry new Dawn - First Impressions

I recently managed to get Far Cry New Dawn for the PC today through a sale on the Humble store.  In short, I haven't laughed that hard in quite a while.  Oh, wait!  It's not a laugh of derision, rather I had some real FUN.

See, I have this friend who plays a LOT of games, and we really enjoy multiplayer and cooperative games together.  For the last few months all that was available were the "battle royale" style arena games, which I detest, so we haven't been playing together so much.  Since the game was on sale and my friend liked Far Cry 5, we decided to purchase it and I am very glad I did.

New Dawn is set something like 16 years after the end of Far Cry 5 and after a nuclear war, so start thinking along the lines of the Fallout series... kind of.  People of the area where the game is set are trying to start over with not much in the way of resources.  before they know it this "road warrior" style gang starts to bully and kill the inhabitants and take everything for themselves.  As the protagonists you are to help people, defeat the gang and are free to roam the game map as you like, really.  Anyway that's the premise in a nutshell.  What follows is my breakdown of the game's strengths and weaknesses.

Graphics:  These are great and even on low settings they are quite immersive.  I feel that they are quite sufficient and if there are glitches/problems I didn't notice any.

Gunplay:  Since this game is, essentially, a shooter I found that combat felt really smooth and organic.  Some of the weapons are really over the top, but it's not a reality simulator, so enjoy the craziness.

Movement:  Once again I found the movement to be very smooth and organic with the typical controls available (run, crouch, etc.).

Tasks/Quests:  Well, they are in there and you can do them.  Lots of side things to do or you can just run around shooting and looting if that is what you like.

Vehicles:  Probably one of my favorite parts.  There is a good selection of land vehicles pretty much right off the bat from ATVs to Semi trucks.  All the ones I tried during my stream felt good driving in first person view.

Wild Life:  This was pretty hilarious.  With the exception of deer, so far anyway, everything else is hostile to humans.  We were attacked by wild boars, a bear, feral dogs, a skunk and several turkeys.  Yes, that's right, turkeys.  One of my favorite moments during the initial stream was yelling out "turkey!" to my friend as it rushed him.

Weaknesses:  Hard to find right now.  Everything felt great, but I didn't take the game very seriously and it felt to me that you shouldn't do so.  There are probably a ton of bugs that I didn't notice.

Odd Notes and Summary:  Lets see... Overall, I had a blast.  I would tell people on the fence about the game to take the premise and story with a pinch of salt and immerse yourself in the game.  Most of all just have fun.  Try silly things and don't take getting whacked too seriously.  If you are looking for a combat simulator and want to act like you are in the military, then this probably isn't the game for you.  If you are looking for some over the top action, then hell yeah, go pick it up.  The sale on Humble has 2 more days to go.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What is Science?

So here I am today pondering the collective term Science.  What is it, at least to me and what I think it should mean to everyone.

I am not going to begin with the dictionary definition, rather I am going to draw upon my own experience having been immersed in the scientific world for quite a while.  Technically, I am not a scientist as I don't have a PhD.  Instead I do have a BSc and a couple of college diplomas.  Note that where I live there is a distinct difference between university and college.  If memory serves, in the United States the term "college" refers to university and "community college" is equivalent to what we here call simply college.  My own definition is as follows:  College trains you for a job while university trains you to think.  Of course it's overly simplified and not 100% applicable, but that is a discussion for another time.  I do feel qualified saying the previous as I've been through both systems.  Anyway, back to the discussion at hand.

Science, to me, is a methodology for understanding how things work following the principle of parsimony.  Predictions must be predictive and not accepted as fact unless there is a mountain of evidence to support them, better yet proof must exist for each.  Science is not a jumble of facts, people wearing lab coats, test tubes, boiling liquids or wild-eyed people surrounded by lightning bolts screaming "it's alive", etc.  Science is a way of thinking about everything which leads us to a structured discovery of the reality around us.  The second line in this paragraph represents the caution that must be exercised to separate theory from fact.

Theory must be predictive.  The term theory used in common conversation is incorrectly used in most cases.  I often encounter people who present their "theory" on a subject, but you cannot test this "theory" as it has no predictive value.  So what do I really mean by this?  An example is in order I guess.

Let's say someone has a theory that the sky is blue because magical creatures paint it each morning, but it happens instantly and these creature can never be detected.  Well that isn't a theory as it contains the hypothesis that you can never detect the activity.  If you leave out the undetected bit then it could remain a theory as it predicts 2 testable items, mainly the act of paining the sky each morning and that there are magical creatures doing the job.  These are testable.  The activity in the theory may be difficult to detect, but with better measurement techniques may be possible and open to scientific investigation or refinement following parsimony.

Parsimony, loosely stated is "the simplest explanation that accounts for all aspects of a phenomenon tends to be the correct explanation."  This may also be dubbed "Occam's Razor" by some.  One must use some caution here as not all explanations are so simple though, but many are, so it's a good principle to follow.  The main component of any theory that makes it a theory is the predictability component that can be tested, hopefully leading to a proof, or further refinement.

Proof must be repeatable independently of whomever claims to have discovered said proof.  Take the cold fusion flap in the the late 80's to early 90's.  This so called discovery could have changed the world and rightly so got a lot of people excited, however it wasn't repeatable independently.  No proof.  The people involved were not looked upon kindly as they did not follow the basic principle of scientific reasoning as initially stated in this article.  Other theories that have been proven time and again still remain theories, like with the great Albert Einstein.  His theories are still regarded as such, even after a literal mountain of evidence because we lack the capability that they apply everywhere in the Universe.  Proof would require that we can show that general and special relativity, among others, work the same at every point in the Universe.  So now we have a, more or less, technical understanding of science, but I haven't answered what it means to me quite yet.

My personal understanding of science is that it is a way of thinking about pretty much everything.  when I was in University they would bandy about the term "critical thinking" in all my classes.  Oddly enough this got me critically thinking about "critical thinking: and I came to the conclusion that it is simply the application of scientific principle to pretty much everything.  We all do it to some degree whether we recognize it as such or not.  Children seem to exhibit a great degree of critical thought at an early age, and as they get older it seems to take a back seat to things like belief.

Ah, belief.  My nemesis.  I really, actively avoid using speech that includes that word, because of what I have observed belief to mean.  Belief, to me, means "the acceptance of something as fact when there is no evidence to support it and often, when there is evidence to disprove it."  It's the opposite of science.  If I ever say "I believe" I am abdicating conscious thought and to me, that is just wrong.  The Universe is a far, far more interesting place in reality, there is no need to make stuff up.

My reason for writing this is mainly that I see the rise of belief these days leading to some truly horrendous acts on the part of "regular" people and even whole governments.  Not only is this horrifying to me, it's extremely wasteful.  So much potential and resources wasted on the alter of belief.  I do recognize that it is human nature to believe, however we also have the capability to override our instincts and we need more of that these days.  I do think that the principle of scientific thought, as simply stated in the intro can lead people to a better understanding of each other, the world and ultimately everything.  We do not have to give up our imaginations, however it wouldn't hurt the next time someone makes a claim about nature, the world or other people and ask themselves "where is the evidence"", or better yet, "is there any proof?" and does this evidence or proof follow parsimony.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Good Games & AAA publishers

Time for me to expound on what I consider a "good game" and why I often ignore the big, AAA publishers.

I tend to have a little ranking system in my head that I try and use when determining whether or not I think a game might be good enough to purchase.  I have noticed over the years that it may not coincide with what the "cool kids" think is a great game. For me, the actual game play is of the utmost importance which include the game mechanics, information on how to play, the possibilities offered, bugginess, price, and finally graphics.  I am often ridiculed because I don't consider how pretty a game is to be a major feature.

These days it seems, at least to me, that a lot of games rely on their graphics to sell it and often the beautiful games get played for a bit, but not for long.  The last time I bought a game based on graphics it was a wake-up call.  That game was Modern Warfare.

It was beautiful for it's time.  Pretty realistic and I really go into it, all 4 hours of it.  I think I paid like $50 for it when it came out and really felt like I didn't get my money's worth at $12.50/hour.  After that there wasn't any reason to replay it and to be frank I don't like replaying the same scenarios over and over.  I think that replaying just so you can feel that you have gotten some value out of it is really lying to yourself and a cheesy way to validate the purchase.  Needless to say that was the last time I got excited over graphics.  IMHO if a game meets the other criteria AND has nice graphics, I consider the graphics a bonus.  So then, what do I mean by the criteria above?

Mechanics are the most important thing for me by far.  The systems in a game must entertain, be clear and give you some sense of accomplishment.  I get really tired of overly complex games that fill the experience with minutia that doesn't server any purpose other than to extend play time because it takes you 50 steps to do something that should be done in 3.  The mechanics should be clear, make sense and be accessible to players.  I feel that this is where a lot of games these days fall down and leave it up to the player to "discover" how the game works.  I also think that's why the recent rash of Battle Royale games are so popular with their simple and accessible mechanics.  Mechanics that are somewhat obvious tie directly in to the requirement of information on play.

Many games are either not including, or only partially including tutorials and other information on how to actually play the game.  I remember the olden days circa Commodore 64 and earlier, yes I am that old.  My first computer was a BCD Heathkit system you had to assemble and could do hexadecimal math with a 2 digit, 7-segment display I got in grade school.  Anyway, In the olden days of yore you not only bought the game, but you would get a really nice manual, maps and other stuff that you would go over building anticipation and actually giving you all the information you needed to play.  These days you are lucky to get an in-game tutorial, a slap on the ass and thrown to the wolves.  A game doesn't need to lead you by the nose, however it should give you enough information about the game world and it's systems so you don't have to scour the web or search forums to discover how things work.  Good documentation, either in-game or in print, can get you going well enough so you can enjoy the experience and see the possibilities.

The possibilities a game offers is a major reason why I play the games I do, so I tend to gravitate toward survival and open world types.  I want to experience the game, not just beat an endless string of bosses.  A good game should tantalize me with things I can do or be.  When I say I want to experience a game that may not have been the right term, rather I want to immerse myself in the experience and cannot really do that without seeing the possibilities.  As an example I will use Eve Online.

While it's true that Eve misses the point of being overly complex, it certainly does tantalize with possibility and that part is done right.  It's pretty easy to get involved in the game world and immerse yourself for a couple of hours each play session.  They so this with character/racial backgrounds, their consistent appearances and since the game relies heavily on player interaction you are immediately immersed in conversation with actual people.  Over the years they have revamped their new player experience to teach ALL the basics, so kudos to the folks at CCP for listening to the veterans.  These are the reasons that I played Eve for so many years.  Eve is just one example.  I could go on about the games I despise, but will prevent this from becoming a rant.

So what about how buggy the game it eh?  Well I have a fairly high tolerance for bugs unless they really prevent some good game play.  Take the Fallout series.  I love Fallout from version 3 to New Vegas and *gasp* even Fallout 76.  There I said it.  Why though?  It's well known that these games have some pretty obvious bugs, and heck some are even pretty hilarious.  I love the games because of they hit all the previous points and in spite of the bugs you can get some really serious game play in.  It's even become a running joke about Fallout bugs from the early days that are still present.  The fact remains though that they are just darned fun, engaging and the graphics are not bad at all.

Now we turn our attention to graphics, the elephant in the room.  Graphics are cool, but not a big requirement for me.  The graphics only need to depict the game world enough to let the player get into the game, mentally.  I see a lot of reviewers go on about the rendering engines, pixel/polygon counts, lighting, colours, (yes that's the correct spelling), etc. and pay lip-service to the other aspects of a game.  I could play a game made entirely of stick figures if it met the rest of the requirements and be completely happy with it.  Unfortunately I see too many people comment and get excited about the graphics without considering how the game plays, what it offers otherwise and I believe that this contributes to the enormous costs of AAA titles,

Finally there's my beef with AAA publishers.  Sure they are out to make a buck and I don't begrudge them that.  You don't get into business to become poor.  My beef is that they generally are offering "pretty" instead of good games and for enormous prices.  The games on offer these days seem to focus almost entirely of pretty graphics rushed out the door having very shallow game play.  This is why I'd need a very compelling reason to shell out 80 bucks for any AAA title ever again.  It is my sincerest wish that some day, before I die, that a AAA game publisher will say enough is enough and start showing some integrity demanding that the developers of their games actually address the above.  At the same time I wish that consumers would speak with their wallets and voices and demand that these publishers start pushing games that will last longer than a few hours and that teh games actually have some depth to foster that immersed feeling.