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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Opposite Of Pro?

Gamerspeak strikes the education system again:

From nick see's photostream, who swears the image isn't personally his own.

Tamogochi That Thinks Like You

This very strange Japanese toy called the "Human Player" asks you 50 questions in the beginning, and then spawns a digital you that eerily From there, it splits into 22 personality offshoots and analyzes you the way a psychoanalyst would, and tells you who you really are. Once this is done, you can let you interact with up to 16 other digital peeps via IR and see how they interact. It'll be interesting to see if your digital mom would get along with your digital dad, or if the digital you will try to annihilate your digital boss, etc.
-- A Tamagochi That Acts Just Like You

Wanna know what that is? Creepy. Plain and simple, creepy.

Lost: Left Behind

Weirdly one of the best episodes of season three seems to follow one of the worst. Where the Nikki and Paolo fest was enjoyable only for its removal of the most annoying characters on the show, Left Behind managed to showcase a few things which made fans really enjoy the show in the first place.

While Kate's backstory didn't stun us with a lot of new information about her character, at least it neatly dovetailed into the main story. Between the parrellel female relationships or the theme of unintentional harm (Kate's mom, Jack) - the episode felt dense and entertaining rather than rambling and ... well, lost.

And it was spooky. The Smoke Monster, or "Ambigous Plot Device" as I like to call it, managed to create tension. That Smokey isn't really under the Other's control nor do they know what it really is (if we're to believe Juliet) is even an interesting island factoid. Imagine, a character offering information without being killed.

This is the kind of episode which makes it feel like the producers are getting the show back under control. Next week should prove interesting since they have an Other in the camp, not in captivity, and apparently Sayid will interrogate her. Will Sawyer tell her to run? Will Jack tell her to run? Will someone shoot her or shove her off a cliff?

I'm hoping the writers give us a compromise. Juliet will be helpful, but not overly so. She's got to give something to the Losties in order to gain their trust. I imagine there will be a combination of "I don't know" or "I can't tell you" to cover the rest. The latter feels pretty weak, though, since her old comrades just left her to be polar bear chow.

The show's rating spiral has continued downward - so let's hope they can end this season with a bang. Surely Locke will play a large part in this season's finale.

More Hitman Movie Details

Most interesting detail is that it might not suck:

While I'm not ready to proclaim Woods's January 2007 draft of Hitman the greatest pure action screenplay since Die Hard, it is a well above-average take on the international espionage genre, which has been curiously popular in the wake of 9/11. The conventional wisdom regarding Woods's last produced screenplay, Swordfish, has always been that it got excessively dumbed down during rewrites. This is entirely plausible after reading Hitman, which is polished, smart and genuinely exciting on the page. Woods even gets away with a wraparound device that should rob his script of some critical suspense; fortunately, he's quite gifted at pacing, immersing the reader in the non-stop intrigue and relenting only to dispense with some shopworn exposition (which works better than it should because the characters are actually well-drawn for this kind of material).
-- - Cinematic Happenings Under Development

Sounds interesting. I think Olyphant will do a great job - he's got that deadly steely gaze from life on the Deadwood camp. I really enjoyed parts of the first Hitman, although I haven't been quite as enamored with the franchise since then - I'd still vote for it making a reasonable movie if it were made by reasonable people.

My Slow Return To PC Gaming

I've discussed, at length at times, here how I've gotten more and more distance between me and my once beloved PC for the purposes of gaming. Consoles were once an afterthought for me ... but the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 paved the way with with titles like Phantasy Star Online and GoldenEye that made the living room a more and more attractive place to game. The night after I left my first office job, the going away party descended into a four hour late night GoldenEye match. Try doing that on your PC.

More than anything, modding kept me on my PC. I learned a lot about object orientated design from UnrealScript and ... well ... blowing stuff up. Really - trying to build a better nuke grenade is a great way to learn about abstraction. That peaked for me with the last Make Something Unreal Contest and I never finished any of my follow up projects.

Now, though, I'm getting back into it. Here's why:

With pre-existing hardware, you can still cheaply upgrade
I still have the same $250 rig I got from Frye's a year or so ago. A RAM upgrade and a $200 AGP card is suitable for playing most every game out there at fairly impressive specs. No, it's not equipped to go SLI - but more on that later. Point is - if you have an old computer laying around, you may be able to play games at the same res as a 360 or PS3 (or better) for the cost of a Wii.

Huge library of older games for cheap
Sure, this is true of the PS2 as well - but choosing between Knights Of The Old Republic II or Fable: The Lost Chapters for $20 each is a nice treat.

First Person Shooters used to be a genre which dominated PC gaming - now not so much. Now RTS and MMO games are the real reason to keep that PC hardware around. I don't know how long that will last, and these genre's aren't the biggest draw for me, but they're still there.

Ah yes, good old modding. I can't say that staring at old code that never really got its due and wondering how long it would take to get it playable isn't a curious thing. I'm seriously considering taking all the stuff I never properly released and combining it as one final mod pack for Unreal Tournament 2004. It would be an updated version of the UXL mutators, some gametypes I never released and a stripped down version of the turn based code I didn't really finish.

This isn't all peaches, though. I'm still not sure how long this love affair will last:

Games For Windows is a marketing trick
I'm so wildly disappointed in the "Games For Windows" branding now. Simply because I can see it for what it really is - a way to force gamers onto Vista. I don't see any real benefit in it. The 360 controller is apparently not very useful on the PC. Sure, you'll get some cross-platform multiplayer benefits - but if Microsoft isn't willing to share Live with XP users ... I'm not about to spend the extra cash for Vista to play along.

Microsoft has cannabalized PC gaming for their Xbox strategy - and "Games For Windows" is just another meal for Vista.

XNA is a shallow strategy right now
As I've noted before, XNA is really good for other XNA developers right now. I can't develop on the PC and easily deploy to non-XNA machines - so I'm not sure what the point is right now. I've been a pretty good cheerleader for the concept, but it's getting time for Microsoft to pony up. Stop talking about being the "YouTube for gaming" and do it.

The Hardware Curve
Buying PC parts is like getting a new car - the worth depreciates from the moment you take it off the shelf. I've hurdled the requirements bar for the last crop of games, but we've got monsters like Crysis and Unreal Tournament III around the corner. Consoles conversely better with age, as developers learn new tricks to apply to the hardware. If or when parrellel cards (SLI or Crossfire) become a standard - I don't see myself trying to catch up anymore.

So far now I've got the hardware to catch up on the games I've been missing out on at settings to make them look impressive and maybe cap off my modding work. If I can run Unreal Tournament III, I might fall back into that crowd. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Theories Of Thermodynamics

So I hooked the Mac Mini back up and sure enough, it just boots right up. Silent. Cool. Been running ever since. No problems. I look down at the PC, which has been turned off, and wonder - maybe these two things really aren't getting along.

Seriously. The Mac Mini uses an external power brick. That brick is not too far away from the back of the PC. The PC vents out the hot air from the CPU and GPU right out the back. So the PC is blowing hot air onto the power brick. I have no idea how sensitive power bricks are to that kind of thing - but I've heard tale of a certain console running better when you hang its power brick and run a fan next to it ... so I'm thinking it could be somewhat.

Scientifically speaking, I don't have much proof. I haven't turned the PC back on and the Mac is running fine. I'll probably rearrange my various machines so that they have their respective corners. Then I'll see how many hours of Fable it takes to konk the Mac out.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

For Sale: KITT, Slightly Used

The Knight Industries Two Thousand could be yours:

It's literally impossible to underestimate the power that KITT can have on an individual. Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff wouldn't be where he is today without the help of KITT, for example - it was KITT that made Princess Diana want to shag David Hasselhoff, it was KITT who kickstarted the David Hasselhoff musical and it was KITT who bought up all the copies of Jump In My Car to save David Hasselhoff from yet another failed attempt at a musical career. So if KITT can do that for someone like David Hasselhoff, imagine what it could do for whoever buys KITT in this sale.

As for the rest of us - the ones who don't have $150,000 to spend - there's a much cheaper way to feel like David Hasselhoff. True, it involves drunkenly wetting yourself in an airport at 7am, but rather that than waking up knowing you've spent $150,000 on a non-driveable 25-year-old car just because it's got a flashing red light on the front, eh?
-- Hey Geeks! Buy KITT From Knight Rider!

Mercury News adds, "Most of the buttons don't do anything, Verhoek said. Nor can the car hold a conversation, or drive itself."

Wait - Unreal Tournament 3 Mods On PlayStation 3?

How did I miss this? It's like a year old?

While Sweeney seemed to be disquieted by the complexity of developing for Cell, he did praise Sony elsewhere in his keynote for an "enlightened business model" when it comes to online PS3 capabilities - one that will apparently allow Epic's users to create Unreal Tournament 2007 levels and content on the PC, and distribute them via the PlayStation 3.

He notes that the mod community was "an essential part of [Epic's] success", and commented: "We would love to transfer this mod community over to the console platforms." Of course you'll need a PC to create levels for the upcoming UT2007 for PS3/PC, but Sweeney believes that everything will be in place so that modders can make new levels on the PC, "download them to the PlayStation 3, and distribute them online."
-- Sweeney Talks Cell Difficulties, PS3 Online Inclusivity [Gamasutra]

Wha? Seriously? Levels would be neat, but partial or total conversion mods would completely rule. Especially if there was some kind of support for split screen. Code a mod and then invite some friends over for beers and playtesting? I may feint now.

Eating My Megahurtz

Since I got the CheapBox++ working, the Mac Mini refused to work. When The Girl takes it to our friendly neighborhood Apple Store, it works fine. Just peachy. The above best represents my luck with computers lately.

Transformation Complete

OK, I'm done modifying blogger's template for now. I've lost the commented sidebar widget, added the YouTube one and readjusted the styles to fit closer to the old style.

Like? Dislike? Don't care?

Lemme know.

Notes From Management

At some point in the near future, I'll be trying to port CT over to Blogger's new template structure. It will fix a few problems with Blogger in general and presumably make future updates easier.

So if the site goes a wonky, that's why.

Analyzing Forum Posts ... Really?

Analysts Mark DiPaoli and Gerrard Suyao said that they pegged sentiment about the new machine with a 120-gigabyte hard disk and HDMI connectors at a 2.6 rating on a scale of 1 (highly negative) to 5 (highly positive). Suyao explained that a rating of 3.0 and up is positive. He noted that previous studies tracked the Xbox 360 at 3.9, the Nintendo Wii at 3.8, and the PlayStation 3 at 2.8. The study was based on a relatively small sample of 600 posts by 328 gamers, but the analysts say they believe it fairly represents gamer views.
-- Brandintel Report: Commenters Aren’t Enamored With Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Elited [ Mercury News ]

I've commented on this before - but I'm astounded there are people out there making a living by compiling forum posts into stats and selling them. They must be selling them to people who have never ever done a forum crawl. Web forums are often dark dens of misinformation - like blogs with less research and flame wars. To presume that gamers are represented by netizens in general seems bad enough, but to slice that against your average game forum? How many trolls does it take to pull a bell curve off?

Game Play: Fable

I picked up Fable: The Lost Chapters yesterday for $20. It was either that or KOTOR 2 for the same price. Interesting that it boiled down to such remarkably similar games - though as a side note I saw Unreal Anthology for about the same price and that is SO worth the admission considering the amount of content you can get for the Unreal engine.

Fable runs very, very pretty on CheapBox++. I've got everything maxed out but dropped the res just a tad to kick up some framerate. Kinda like my Dungeon Runners note from yesterday, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of the game so far - so I can't say anything too comprehensive about it. I remember the debate that engaged over the game when it came out for the Xbox, but I don't really remember the details.

Basically, I didn't get the hype in the first place ... so it isn't disappointing me.

I found it to be an interesting mix of classic RPG elements and that of more free-form styles like the Elder Scrolls series. Everything about that last sentence makes me a happy camper. I haven't figured out if this has any kind of replayability factor for me, since I'm not sure how many of these quests I feel like repeating. For $20, though, it seems like a great deal at the moment.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rockstar Goes Wii (Not)

I can't, like, see this anywhere at the moment but I'm hearing that Rockstar officially announced Grand Theft Auto IV for the Wii over the weekend. Wish they hand't done that over April Fool's weekend, but I'm guessing this one is serious.

I'm a little surprised but if true it certainly proves the demographic for the Wii is pretty serious and already has more clout than the GameCube ever did. For Rockstar to downsize its next-gen engine for the Wii shows they believe the numbers are leaning in their favor.

If this works, it could be a milestone for the Wii having a truly diverse library - from kid friendly games to innovative gameplay alternatives to serious titles.

Update: The Brother informs " is claiming it's a hoax they made." Yeah, I wondered and can't really vet it from work. So definately call this one questionable.

Update 2: confirms the hoax. This was a kinda good one since it had that "air of plausibility" but kinda lacked the "air of deniability" since there isn't actually any technical reason GTAIV couldn't be done on the Wii.

Oh well.

Game Play: Dungeon Runners

Thanks to the quite wonderful Brinstar, I got a Dungeon Runners beta via I just sneaked in at the last of the giveaway late last night - so they may all be gone now.

I only played for about twenty minutes or so, so I can't say this is any kind of definitive review. Dungeon Runners aims to be an MMO lite. It has a free client, like Guild Wars, so there isn't barrier to entry when it comes to price or playing around with the game. The graphics are simple and should run on most hardware out there at some setting or another (the 7600 GS can play it at full tilt). The gameplay is decidedly reminiscent of Diablo - very much a clickfest of attacks. There are MMO style skills and powers which work in the classic sense of having a timer to indicate when they can be reused.

The theme is also directed at the casual gamer. Nothing in Dungeon Runners takes itself too seriously. There is a demon named Karl on your HUD to tell you how many more points to your next level. Items have bizarre qualities like "ludicrous speed" or "something of penguin". The two-handed sword I'm carrying right now is made of cardboard, that kind of thing. It isn't really laugh out loud funny - if anything it could push the cartoony graphics and humor even more - but it does serve well to lighten the mood and add some fun to a genre constantly in danger of taking itself too seriously.

I haven't tried playing with a group because I want to get the hang of the interface first. And for the interface nazi's out there - Dungeon Runners is definately a mixed bag. You can't move UI elements around as has become common. The keybinds don't appear to be customizable. At times combat seems to get needlessly confusing - a number or graphic will appear and you aren't sure what it means.

Plus, signs of the beta status are quite present. I think you can have only one character at a time and currently there isn't a way to "respec" skills (unlike Guild Wars where you can swap out builds while in a town).

Still, I think I'm leaning more to trying Dungeon Runners for a spell than jumping back into Guild Wars. I still believe Guild Wars is pretty brilliant, but I'm finding it hard to jump back in. Maybe if I get Nightfall I might change my mind, but at the moment Dungeon Runners feels like the kind of MMO fling I might desire. No commitment, little obligation.

They have a referral system and I aim to send out a couple tonight. If anyone wants to try it out, let me know. I think they have a waiting list of unknown size at the moment, however.

For The Love Of Hardware - Finale Finally, AGP tips

It turns out that I was confused about the 12V rail stats. The Rosewill has two 12V lines and they need to total more than 20A for some cards, not have 20A each. Thing is, though, that you can't apparently just add up both lines and get the total for the rail.

In truth, there's little you can do to be sure of what the PSU is capable of since as one reviewer put it, "they're just numbers someone wrote on a box".

So to recap: there's a number that you can need but it is very difficult to know exactly what the number is or what number you have. A bit like playing War without either player showing their cards.

In the end, though, it wasn't the PSU. I put the Rosewill back in and bought a 7600 GS from Best Buy. It's worked flawlessly so far and without putting out much heat. It isn't the fastest card, not even as fast as the X800 GTO was, but it makes the CheapBox worth keeping around and staves off the need to put any more console hardware in the study.

I don't know how it will fair against titles like Unreal Tournament 3 (or whatever they end up calling it) - but it certainly breathes new life into most every title currently on the market.

I think I need to build a shrine for my old 9700 however. That card has outlasted almost every computer component around it and done it with admirable stamina. Good times. Good times.

So - in summary, for other AGP gamers looking to upgrade:

1. Check out your current card and compare it to where you want to go. Here's a great list of cards listed out by performance:

The Best Gaming Video Cards for the Money: March 2007

I only went up "two levels" on the chart and am quite happy with the results. The specs on these cards get pretty confusing, so research before you buy.

2. Beware of OEM deals and other discount prices. Video cards have a lot of soldered parts and so sometimes when they die - they stay dead. Even after a refurb.

3. If you're going to get a truly upper tier card - be very mindful of the power requirements. Try and find out specifically what the 12V rail requires and what you are putting out. Price is a poor indicator of a PSU and they are generally no reviews for them, so just find the tech specs and hope they're accurate.

I'd say the Gypsy Curse is lifted at this point - but it seems the Mac Mini is now turning itself off after being on for about fifteen minutes. I'd be freaking out about this now, but I think it's just because enough cat hair and dust gets inside the case that it thinks it is overheating - even though it isn't.

I hope.

DVD Watch: Borat

I stumbled on Ali G via an NPR interview. During the clip they aired, Ali openly questioned the existence of bones to a prominent British doctor ("Yo, have you heard about dis conspiracy of bones, mahn?"). Brilliant stuff.

Borat was never my favorite character from his television show as it seemed to mostly hinge on Cohen getting people to repeat themselves a few times and then shock them with some cultural absurdity. Still funny, just not quite as funny as mixing up "veteran" with "veterinarian" in an interview.

In movie form, however, Borat works wonderfully. This is mostly because the movies is structured to be more than just a series of pranks pulled on unsuspecting people who really buy into Cohen's over the top representation of a "Khazak". His trip across America intersects many walks of life and leaves only a scant few unscathed. While Cohen drums up plenty of laughs by acting like a well intended idiot, it's often the subjects of the mockumentary that end up looking truly stupid.

One interesting outcome is that often the people on the lowest runs of the American social ladder - namely street kids and whores - often come out looking the best. Whether ... and this is a solid question for much of Borat - this is the outcome of how people truly act or simply clever production and editing is extremely hard to tell.

In the end, Borat is brilliantly funny in much the same way The Office works. You know something horrible is about to happen someone very soon - and its worth the tension to find out who and what.

Fun Fact! According to interviews with Baron Cohen, most of the "Kazakh" dialogue in the film is actually a mixture of Romanian, Armenian, Polish and Hebrew, as Baron Cohen speaks Hebrew nearly fluently with a faux-Russian accent and uses the language around unfamiliar Americans when keeping up his character's foreignness. (Wikipedia)

Follow up: For those who have seen the film, Wikipedia does a great job of illustrating the fallout and includes how some of the participants were (or weren't) duped. Don't go near this page if you haven't seen it - it will definately ruin the film for you.