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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sony's PlayStation Home

Since the PS3 was back up and running just in time for PlayStation Home's open beta, I gave it a go last night.

The beta has been greeted with largely a ho and a hum on the net, and there's quite a few good reasons why. Mostly, Home is an interesting idea in search of a real need. It's a solution to a problem you didn't really have. There's a lot of effort here to get very little done.

For instance, you can go to the theatre. In this virtual theatre, you can see the same Twilight trailer we've been watching for months now. And that's pretty much it for all your trouble for downloading the zone and navigating around a bunch of other users to get a decent view.

Or you could go shopping in the mall, except that most of the stores are pretty bare and honestly spending pretty much any amount of money on virtual pants isn't likely to excite me. Here is where the comparison to Second Life really breaks down. Second Life is an experiment in user generated content. Home's Mall is more of an experiment in making the electronic equivalent of those impulse items at the grocery store.

Home also features a handful of games, none of which were really terribly compelling to even try. Honestly, it's not that these are a bad addition to the environment, but at the moment they don't have much to offer to your already existing library of games. Mostly? It's something to do if you get stuck downloading conent.

My biggest disappointment was with Sully's Bar. As an Uncharted fan, I wanted to see the game oriented environments would be like. It was, sadly, a crowded clumsy experience with people shouting out the passwords to the secret rooms.

Home is something of a looker, graphically speaking, it's just that there's not much actually there. It's vapid.

The real question is simple. How much of this void is because this is a beta and how much is simply design? Home has some potential, but until the content gets drummed up to the point where we can see that potential being tapped, I don't see myself logging in just to watch movie trailers I've already seen.

What would I like to see?

- Better promotional areas. This is going to need to include the idea of some kind of instanced zones where I can explore content without being hounded by dozens of other players all trying to open the same door.

- Online media events. Get panel discussions going with developers, synchronized webcasts with live events, etc. It will be interesting see how this dovetails with Qore (if it all).

- Much, much better free content. The trophy room might be a good example of this. But even more, why not say, the Obsidian Suit from Dead Space? I already have the DLC for it, why can't I shove it in the corner of my living room?

So no, I'm not really thrilled about Home right now - it's been a long time coming and there is very little to show for it. I don't expect to get really thrilled about it, well, ever, but I do think Sony could make it useful. Hopefully Sony won't let the beta linger for long.

The PlayStation 3 Back In Action

All in all, I'd give Sony's customer service and repair strategy pretty high marks. Everyone on the phone was helpful and friendly. Naturally, I'm still kinda annoyed the darn thing broke in the first place, but I think my media center has to take at least part of the blame.

Turnaround was very fast. They ship you the coffin 3 day, the coffin's return slip is overnight. They had a refurb out the next day, also sent 3 day. So without my own work travel delaying the show, I would have had a working unit in about ten business days.

I did take the opportunity to upgrade the HDD to a 400GB model. I don't really what I'll be doing with ten times the storage space yet, but since I already had a fresh start to begin with - it was as good of a time to do it as any other. It's crazy easy on the PS3, once I had the right sized screwdriver, took about ten minutes.

The only hangup was when we tried to rent a movie last night off the PlayStation Network. Apparently my old PS3 was still the active console for renting video, and the new one wouldn't activate while that was true. There is no way to deactivate a PS3 you don't have on hand by yourself, however. This is more than a bit of an oversight on Sony's part - they should take a page from Apple and allow you to deactivate all the devices off your account if needed.

Instead you have to call customer service to do it for you. It actually was a bit annoying, took like three phone calls to get someone who could finally get to the screen to get the job done, but once there we were good to go.

The "new" one has a 90 day warranty. While this all worked out about as well as I could hope, hopefully it won't be necessary again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Zombie Yule Tide 2008 Meme

Corvus doesn't have a recent version of this meme up, I caught it off Facebook - but the rules are set as thus:

You are in a mall when the zombies attack. You have:

1. one weapon.
2. one song blasting on the speakers.
3. one famous person to fight alongside you

My picks:

Weapon (First Choice): Bayoneted Shotgun
At one point they were against the Geneva Convention, but they exist nonetheless. I simply can't resist the possibility of bringing a shotgun to a zombie fight, but also realize that ammo will be finite. Hence, the pointy thing at the end.

That said, I acknowledge that this might constitute two weapons instead of one, so:

Weapon (Second Choice): Shamshir
A shamshir is a type of sword, similar to a scimitar but not as heavy. It's light, so it won't wear you out as you swing, it's biased towards slashing and not stabbing - which is how you should confront a zombie anyway, and it's one handed so you'll have a free hand to grab impromptu weapons, open doors, press buttons or hold that damsel in distress you find along the way.

Song: Calling Out Remix By Lyrics Born
It's an upbeat, slightly egotistic, anthem with a backbeat you can fight to ... and it doesn't sound so bad on infinite repeat either.

Celebrity Guest: Bruce Campbell
Look, I know it's cliche and I know old Bruce is an actor and hasn't actually defeated an army of darkness before, but c'mon - it's Bruce freaking Campbell and zombies. That's like peanut butter and chocolate for the most part. Plus, I would assume Bruce would be irrationally optimistic in such situations, which is the kind of attitude I would want around.

A co-worker offered up Simon Pegg as a reasonable alternative, should Bruce be otherwise occupied by 100 other requests.

Girls' Guide To Videogame Studs

You gotta appreciate someone trying to create a "hot" list for girl gamers if not for any sensible reason, but rather for the fact that sense IGN has an entire category devoted to the cause for men, why someone hasn't done more of this kind of thing before...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

That Shelf Moment: No More Heroes

A shelf moment is where the frustration from a game outpaces the entertainment to the point where you just don't want to bother anymore, so you put it back on the shelf. I think I first heard it from Matt o' Curmudgeon Gamer.

I think I just had mine for No More Heroes last night. Don't get me wrong, I really like the game overall. And I was not a fan of Killer 7, mind you - finding it surrealistic fluff with very little value other than being so unique that I found it something of an attention whore.

NMH on the other hand, is stuffed with solid gameplay mechanics. It's easilly one of the best uses of the Wii controls outside of Nintendo, if not overall. The style is perfectly suited for the Wii's hardware and the weirdness is just fun - not distracting. I've enjoyed the game all the way to becoming the third ranked assassin.

But this second rank battle? Bad Girl? (stop here if you don't spoilers)

The fight just isn't any fun. For one thing, for being the second ranked assassin, Bad Girl doesn't seem to want to fight. She mostly just saunters around. And you can't attack first, since (as with most NMH bossess) you need to counter and dodge their attacks to do any damage.

Which brings me to the real core problem with the fight - Bad Girl has a ridiculous amount of HP and hence it feels like you do very little damage overall. I've spent this whole game mowing lawns to buy a better beam katana, and honestly that sliver of damage done to her health bar is a bit insulting. Especially since I have to keep waiting for her to get done strutting, perform some pretty lame attack, and hit her three times.

It's slow. And it's boring.

But it get worse. After you take out about half of her health, which can take upwards to ten minutes or so, she starts playing gimp baseball. This is where she hits men in gimp suits at you, and you have to fight them (if you haven't played NMH, this may sound weird - but when you've played it ... you don't even really blink at this kind of thing at this point in the game). You can't attack her ... and she can play gimp baseball as many times as she wants.

I now uncontrollable groan every time she struts half way to me, only to go running back to hit more goons at me. It's just laborious and dull.

Worse, Bad Girl has an attack which is 100% lethal. Now, it's easy to dodge, and once you realize when she's done with it, you can get hits in ... but one attempt last night ended because she performed it while I was in a corner. I had been dancing around this idiot girl for near twenty minutes, and the whole fight ended simple because I had to be close to her at the time.

Twenty minutes later, I realized my shelf moment had come. I could have spent an hour trying to beat this boss, but I wasn't going to have any fun doing it. Sure, I'd love to see how the game ends - but at this rate the reward doesn't seem worth it.

The game is in good company. I didn't finish Shadow Of The Colossus either because it took so damn long to get through the last boss, only to likely perish towards the very end. Dark Cloud 2 was, in general, one of the most brilliant JRPG experiences I've had - and I'm not normally a big fan of that genre - but when the designers decided "what would be neat is to go replay all the old levels with just much, much hard monsters" ... I said enough was enough.

I *might* unshelf it at some point, when I have a free afternoon to devote to trying to get past it. NMH fans can plead if they wish. Again, great game - which actually makes it that much more annoying. A moment like this in a bad game is just the end of an inevitable conclusion. Situations like this feel like just an ounce of really bad balancing, a moment where the designers thought "maybe the game isn't hard enough, right here ... let's add a zero to her health points..." kind of thing.

Oh well, PS3 should return tomorrow. And then I'll plenty to worry about...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich, In Chart Form

The New York Times has a great chart of Gov Rob's corruption links, in a style that anyone who has watched a season of The Wire can understand.

A few notes about Illinois politics. Number one - we don't really have a two party system here. We acknowledge such a thing exists, but we haven't bothered to go down to the store and pick one up for something like a few decades. One part of this is the odd demographics - Chicago is wildly Democratic and makes up the major amount of the state population, while the rest of the state is rural and somewhat purple, but mostly leans Republican. In part because of this disparity, the Illinois Republican Party hasn't been a truly functioning organization for some time.

I mean, they ran Alan Keyes. Alan Freaking Keyes. Against Barack Obama. This is after they fired their own guy for having a sex affair with his own wife (Jerri Ryan for you Trekkies, by the way). Whenever my dad complains about Obama, I like to remind him that the keystone cops which make up the so-called opposition are partially to thank for his meteoric rise. They just made it so darn easy.

Second, corruption is often viewed in shades of grey, especially in the Windy City. That said - nobody is looking at Rob B right now and thinking this was business as usual. The general concept is benevolent dictatorship. Sure, you get your political machine - but the city stays healthy and the roads get cleaned on time. And in the city, this largely works. On a state level, it looks like the train fell off the rails some time ago (since this is our second bout of scandal in as many governors).

Personally, I think think they guy might be slightly insane. Anyone who thinks that they can sell off a senatorial position, and if that fails take it for themselves in the hopes of a Presidential bid in a few years ... and that none of that will raise an eyebrow...

I mean, yikes. Get the guy out of office and on some meds.

PlayStation 3 Refurb Update

I got an email last night that the PS3 on the way home, or rather I should say a PS3 is on the way home. They got mine on Monday, so this is a pretty decent turnaround. I should note that had I not been in New York on business, I probably would have had it in my hands already.

The speedy turnaround makes me dubious that I'll be seeing my hard drive again. I'm not too broken up about it except for my Fallout 3 saves, since I had just gotten to point in the game which is a bit of a pain to crawl back through (the Museum). It will be interesting to see if the trophies for say, Dead Space, remember that I've finished the game without any save game (I'm guessing yes).

My real conundrum here is whether to buy a new HDD from NewEgg and get it shipped to here by Friday. If I'm starting from scratch, I might as well upgrade as well, right?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For Sunday: TIGSource's Commonplace Book Entries

Some great clips from the recent indie contest:

Check them out at TIGSource's forum. (Thanks

Monday, December 08, 2008

TV Watch: Heroes, Our Father


OK, first - Sylar is one of my least favorite characters in television history. I am so tired of his melodramatic nonsense, and in particular this season when he is whatever the hell the story needs at the moment. Bad guy, good guy, soccer mom, yada freaking didn't we kill him a couple times already?

Second. Did someone mention to the writers that Arther Petrelli was not actually conveniently located sixteen years in the past? That has to have been one of the worst plot twists ever put to print. OK, so perhaps it wasn't broadcasted - but it also simply didn't make any sense. Let me guess? Arthur had snuck in as the chef?

The show still has its moments, but the plot is just unraveling at the seams. Sure, I say this a lot about Heroes - so I guess it would be better put as "I'll be fascinated to see how they pull this one out."

If Gamers Ran The World

This is (was) in the news feed as well, but thought it merited calling out:

It has online high-score charts; you can compete against people you don’t know to be the best campaigner. On the sly, they turned politics into an MMO.

Now, politics and elections aren’t games - whilst there might be scores for a while, there are greater things at stake than mere scores. But that’s the kind of thing you build when you look at the world in a gamelike way; incentives, readouts, better feedback loops. That’s the kind of thinking that can only become more pervasive as games themselves do.
-- If Gamers Ran The World [Infovore]

(via Kottke)

There have been other articles like this, talking about how MMO's can make you a better manager, etc. I think it's a solid way to frame a conversation about games and what having games as a hobby amounts to being. It's better than assuming that you can learn how to shoot a gun by playing Quake, for instance.