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Saturday, October 20, 2007

DVD Burning - Seriously, I want names

Who is responsible for the awful balkanization of DVD (and CD) recordable media? I just brought home a short stack of Maxwell DVD-R's. The Mini's internal Superdrive will recognize the discs, but fails to actually burn to them. My Sony 710A external burner states it supports DVD-R's - but OS X refuses to see them as anything but CD-R's.

You know what worked? Tapes. I never had the problems with my VCR that I had with my recordable DVD player (which we elected to simply throw into the dumpster than risk someone else using it) and I certainly never had this kind of trouble burning mix tapes.

Argh. Want proof? Check out Sony's support page which breaks down not only what discs might work, but which manufacturers to boot. Right, like I'll remember that at my local CVS.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Halo 3 For Jesus

I've already covered that while we have politicians and lawyers making as much green and hay out of the fact that violent video games are evil, that games should not be violent and that violence in games is always bad and will rot civilization to the core ... that while they continue to beat the constant drum of "think of the children", that the Air Force thinks of the children in terms of getting them to be violent with a little Halo 3 to recruit them into real war.

So violence in media is bad, unless it is serves as an escapist fantasy before getting on with the real thing.

Now the New York Times reports that churches are getting in on the action by offering Halo 3 to their youth groups:

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church.
-- Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church

The quite wonderful Aleks K rightly points out that this undermines the games industry in their efforts to maintain rating standards. It's hard to fight the good fight when the other side sometimes forgets there is a battle at all.

To be honest, I'd rather have fourteen year old kids hanging out in the basement of a church earning frags than, well, a good number of things fourteen year old kids might be doing otherwise. I just think if we're going to get into a "well, it's OK because" type debate we should have started with "well, it's OK because these games don't turn kids into criminals". The next time the media jumps the gun on some school shooter assuming it was all Counter-Strike's fault - I don't want them to go interview BatJack Thompson, I want them to call this priest. Tell them you've had a flood of kids come through your door playing a M rated game and the worst that happened was that they didn't give a donation that Sunday.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Can We Mute All On Team Fortress 2?

I could probably dig it up, but I recall an old IGN article about Valve adding voice to Counter-Strike. Interestingly, I first remember the old V talking about this in accordance to the redesign of TF2. This was back when it was going to get all military serious on us and you could shout orders to men in the field.

Well, TF2 is here, and its not military serious. And I think I'm going to go on record as saying that the biggest failure of gaming technology in the last decade might be voice over the net.

Oh sure, I know there are guilds and clans out there that won't play a match unless everyone is on voice and knows how to use it. I realize there is the potential for voice to be great. And in personalized settings, I'm sure it is.

However, when swimming within the morass of your average multiplayer game ... it is a slightly different story.

In order of likelihood, this is what I hear in my headphones:

- Random noise and static. I'm amazed at how many players apparently chew on their mic during games.

- Cursing at, swearing at, bitching at a random player that the person talking doesn't realize probably can't actually hear them. Surely by now they'd figure out that just because that person is standing in front of them in the game it isn't like you can just shout at them like they were in front of you.

- Singing. WTF?

- Annoying and not terribly funny comments about the state of the game. Like "oh, were we supposed to defend that circle thing?" Or "hey, maybe we should attack them".

- Wild panic about the state of the game.

- Two players who are probably actually in the same room as each other making fun of each other.

- Someone actually trying to be useful, but gives so little information that it really isn't all that useful, or nobody even cares if it were. "Someone should play a medic" or "Why is anyone playing a spy on this level" are possibly valid points, but people will continue to play what they want.

- Something actually useful.

No, wait, scratch that last one. I don't think it has happened yet. So - is there a mute all?

TV Watch: Bionic Woman

Man, I really want to like this show. It's geeky, features badass chicks and Starbuck. It looks great, visually, as well.

So why does it make it so hard to like? Take last night's episode (spoilers follow). Jamie lies to her sister about where she's going. She says she's off visiting a friend instead of fighting bad guys in Paraguay. Did she, like, miss a couple classes at clandestine school? The company can create a fifty million dollar bionic implant, but they can't afford to give her a decent cover story? How hard is it to say - there's a conference I have to go to out of the city. See ya Monday.

Not to mention - doesn't sis find it odd that Jamie is, what was it - a bartender - and now has some high powered consultant gig? What exactly is she consulting on - jello shots?

Then we have this whole go save this guy, no we're killing this guy, no I let this guy go and now I put my supervisor in the hospital. I've been on some mismanaged projects - but it is becoming evident that these people spent all their money on leasing that ubercool mountain secret lair and not so much on, say, good project leads.

There's this program called Visio. They should check it out.

And then we have Starbuck. Sorry, Sarah. Who apparently was killed once, went insane, but might have been insane to begin with, so we're going to poke her with needles a lot and ask her if she's insane. So the CIA operative with a flash drive was going to get the six foot severance package - but they don't have a sniper decent enough to snuff out crazy cybernetic chick.

Nor, apparently, with all the nanobots, internal sensors and GPS hookups did any of these braniacs consider installing an off switch. C3PO had one, go rent Star Wars a few more times before making a drunk into a super villain.

Right now, Sarah stands as the analogy for the show. Pretty and can kick a little ass - but in the end something of a train wreck.

So You May Have Heard Of This Wii Thing

So my Wiibay purchase arrived on Monday, just on schedule, and in perfect working condition. I'd say people looking for the console who can't find it, consider looking for a used one for auction. You might save a few bucks from the Wii + Wii Games bundle for $400-$480 which is still common.

For about $100 over retail, I've got two full controllers (wiimotes + chucks), a charging station, and an extra game. Granted that extra game was Red Steel. More on that later.

I've only had a handful of hours with the Wii so far, but even just playing around with the channels and jumping into Wii Sports has been fun. Largely, Sports is a strange affair. We hopped into Wii Golf first - which was probably a mistake as the controls mostly got us to toss the ball back and forth fifty times. If you've got to jump into any game - Wii Bowling is definately the way to go, the controls are simple enough to get the hang of right away and complicated enough to get a decent amount of play.

And the training exercise which continually adds pins until you're bowling like a 100 at a time? Excellent.

My second fave is probably Wii Boxing - which even though The Girl refuses to play because "you look like you're have a spasm" - it's a game where the dodgy controls are actually somewhat fun. Tennis and Baseball have tighter, simpler control schemes - but they'll also take a good deal of practice.

Then we get to Red Steel. Basically if you're reading this and you've played Metroid Prime: Corruption, I wouldn't read any more of this paragraph. My understanding is that Corruption has excellent controls that really makes the wiimote stand out. Red Steel is like the inverse of that. If it weren't for the wiimote, it would be a subpar shooter with decent visuals, lousy art direction and some fairly glaring bugs - which happen to include the controls. Red Steel likes to confuse right from left and have you pointing at the ceiling at regular intervals. I also managed to start a mission with no weapons at all and at one point a bad guy looked to be frozen in 3D Max (arms spread eagle and all) and constantly rotating to stare at me.

Granted - as an exercise to play around with the wiimote within a shooter, there's mild measures of success. But if you have Metroid Prime at your disposal - you don't need it.

The Virtual Console has a lot of hopefuls - I tried "Dungeon Explorer" and enjoyed it, although mostly I got it because of the five player mode. Lode Runner has perked my interest for similar reasons - and also because its just one of those fine games out of gaming history. I need to get a GameCube controller, though, because Sin and Punishment is really staring me down.

All in all, the Wii scores high. Other channels, like the News and Weather, are excellent additions. I didn't have much luck with Opera last night, when I tried to check my meevee account I couldn't find any listings and Gmail functioned, but honestly was a bit of a pain. The ability to use a USB keyboard is nice, but I haven't tried it yet. At MAX one of the speakers was bullish on the fact that the Wii was a vastly untapped platform for targeted web services ... and he is completely right. If the Wii had gotten the treatment the iPhone has, with specific interfaces and all, there'd be a lot more functionality for the device already.

And Nintendo needs to work on their marketplace. Sure, the VC is neat - but Microsoft and Sony have much better downloadable offerings, with playable demos and indie titles galore. If the fact that over half of Wii owners haven't been recently playing is true - this is the kind of thing Nintendo needs to reverse that. I'm browsing old Sega titles here while the guy in the cube next to me took BioShock for a spin.

Not to knock the VC, mind you, I think the implementation is pretty brilliant overall and is the kind of execution that makes me not terribly care about what kind of emulation software I can shove onto my Mac.

Finally - Nintendo needs to have real multiplayer offerings. Everyone Votes does not count.

In summary, though, I'm wiitastic. If you send me your Wii Code, I'll send you mine. And our Miis can mingle and go on parades.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lucas Aims For Robot Star Wars Television

George Lucas, the Star Wars creator is looking for writers to help pen a live-action series about the lives of robots, according to a story published Wednesday in Los Angeles Times.

Does this mean C-3PO and R2-D2?
-- Report: New Star Wars show about robots

Adult Swim just did the Robot Chicken and Family Guy Star Wars parodies back to back - pure gold. If this comes to light, I just hope Lucas keeps to a benevolent dictator role and not, you know, writing and directing or anything.

Cloaking Device Engaged (sometime)

Certainly to be the quote of the day:

"These materials would comprise a complete -- almost magical -- mastery over light," said David Schurig, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, who did not participate in the new research. "They would enable not just invisibility cloaking, but arbitrary control over the richest information channel humans employ. One thing I know for sure, it will happen sometime between now and the technological singularity."
-- New 'Metamaterial' Brings Scientists Closer Than Ever to a Cloaking Device

(emphasis mine)

Thanks, doc, for clearing up that time frame for us...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sweet Mario Wedding Cake

And no, we couldn't have gone with that - despite the attention to detail.

DVD Watch: As You Like It

It's been a while since we talked Shakespeare. Like, forever I think.

As You Like It is one of The Bard's pastoral plays. Basically old Will wrote two types of plays - ones where (most) everyone dies in the end and ones where they all get married. Or sometimes (as The Girl pointed out) - they do both, although generally not in that order.

The basic plot is that a family gets banished from their kingdom and they go risk starvation in the woods while wondering lots of things about falling in love. Branagh moves this stage over to Japan for a bit of flair - and the flair works wonderfully. The movie is beautiful - every scene drips of color and nature. He's got a wonderful cast, including Ron Howard's daughter doing a splendid job, and the setting and acting blend incredibly well.

A main theme of the play is that Rosalind disguises herself as a boy while being courted by Orlando. People experienced with similar plays already know that in Shakespeare's fictional world, disguising yourself as a member of the opposite sex is insanely easy. Just dress in their clothes and it doesn't matter how much a person knew you intimately - they'll think you're someone else of a different gender. If you thought Clark Kent's disguise was silly - well at least he usually wore a hat and glasses.

This only leads me to assume one thing - women dressed as boys must have been incredibly common in Will's time. So common that their number must have challenged the actual boys, so that distinguishing the two became impossible.

Thankfully in our time, it just comes off as bizarre and funny. If you like this sort of thing - go rent Twelfth Night ... you'll find it hilarious.

Interview With Patricia Vance on ESRB Ratings

Just how the ESRB rates games is often a source of wonderment and curiosity ... actually it isn't, but it should be considering that the ratings on games is a central point in the controversy of what games should be handled by what people of what ages and all that.

Curmudgeon Gamer's own Matt Matthews talks to the woman who can answer these often unasked questions. Here's a sample:

I can't speak to the rating process for any one game, but generally speaking, things like language -- bathroom humor, plays on words, slang -- fictitious or non-descript substances, or use of religious imagery can often be tricky. The presence of sensitive social issues in games, like sexual or racial stereotyping for example, have also led to internal debate about how best to address them from a ratings standpoint.

Though it might surprise people to hear it, low-level or cartoon violence actually tends to be something that receives a lot of thought and discussion. Take for instance an animated character that smacks another over the head with a frying pan. Is that Comic Mischief or Mild Cartoon Violence? To a degree, that's going to depend a lot on the depiction itself. What happened to the character when he got hit? How malicious or realistic was the violent act? How often does it occur? Context is also a consideration. What prompted the action? Is it player-controlled, or is it in a cut-scene?
-- This Game Is Not Yet Rated: Inside The ESRB Ratings System [Gamasutra]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Christmas Comes Early

This was a good weekend for gamers - Valve drops the Orange box and Epic releases their "demo beta" for Unreal Tournament III (I'd say demo and beta is redundant, but I guess some people need reminding that demos are rarely final code).

The Cheapbox++ can play UT3 at about 800x600 with a framerate decent enough for online matches. That's to say, for those scoring at home, that it has a decent margin of requirements over that of BioShock. This isn't terribly surprising - Epic always pushes the hardware as much as they can on their releases. I got my old Radeon 9700 specifically to play UT2004. This time, though, I'd probably me more likely to wait out until I get a 360 or PS3 than to spend any more money on the PC. The Cheapbox should be sufficient to do any modding on the game, should I fancy, even if it isn't going to the show the game in all its glory any time soon.

UT3 essentially plays like a pretty version of UT2004 - which is to say a lot considering UT2004 still looks good three years later. I'm not thrilled with some of the new vehicle mechanics (the Scorpion doesn't feel like it is as much fun to drive and some of the trucks are downright difficult) and the team glow feels somewhat annoying to me (not to mention a concession to the pro gamer crowd). Still, should the console implementation be solid enough - I see no reason why UT3 shouldn't be a worthy alternative to Halo 3 ... especially once the campaign mode hits.

I spent most of my time this weekend with Team Fortress 2, however. It's a rather remarkable upgrade on the old classic, maintaining all the original fun while giving it a great new design and few new tricks as well. Plays great on the Cheapbox too, which is definately another draw for me. I think I finally got the hang of the Engineer (its now my highest scoring class) - but the real fun of TF was always trying to jump between role to role to see how your tactics change with the game.

Two complaints - it needs more maps and it is buggy as hell. The biggest problem with the map glut is that if you get a team of people who have played certain ones enough, the game is over before it even begins. With some maps if the team knows how to get to a specific point and get a turret built - while the other team is floundering around wondering where the control point is ... well, might as well go make a sandwich.

And while I've only hit a few bugs while actually playing the game - the bugs around the browsing and loading functions are numerous. If I swap to headphone settings on the audio, for instance, I lose all audio until I flip it back and restart the app. The game browser doesn't refresh properly on load, I have to manually force it to refresh right away to see any servers. Plus, if I do anything at all during a level change, there's a decent chance that the whole game locks up and I have to kill the process.

It's a great game and lots of fun - but Valve needs to throw some resources and fix it. It doesn't feel finished to me right now.

And yes, this is really RegularX's blog.