Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
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Saturday, November 25, 2006

For Sunday: My Pakistani Step-Dad

This incredibly irreverent comedy comes courtesy of our friend at mini red satan and is wrong on several levels - but it's perfect for Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

What Sound Does A Space Turkey Make?*

My dad used to call the sum of all computer games "shooting space turkeys" - a reference to an ad he saw once in a magazine. I don't think he ever lost the humor of it ... probably to this day. Even though he is now a GameCube owner and something of a TimeSplitters addict.

So enjoy your Space Turkey Day peeps - I should be back in the chair by Sunday.

* hubble, hubble, hubble

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance Additional Notes

We're still hooked, but a few new things:

1. You might have noticed a Genji bug which Kohler describes as a "game-killer". Both X-Men Legends II and now Marvel Ultimate Alliance featured similar problems. XMLII had a bizarre issue about finishing the Temple level - if you left at the wrong point of the level and didn't come back the same way ... you would never get back. Last night, the Arcade Boss level in Marvel Alliance literally placed itself in the corner ... and proceeded to get stuck there. The XMLII bug required us to actually restart the whole game. Thankfully last night, we had just saved before entering Murderworld.

Yes, these kinds of bugs suck. But I wouldn't assume it's because it's a PS3 launch title. It's just because it's a title.

2. Arcade mode isn't getting enough credit in this version. This is where only the people playing are in the game - no coop AI players. No hotswapping between heroes. For one thing, the game feels more like a straight up action RPG. For another, it reduces clutter on the screen. Finally the end "tally" screen is a fun addition to a night of playing some couch co-op.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Replacing the PlayStation 3 HDD

Wow, that looks incredibly easy to do - just get a notebook style HDD with similar specs and pull the Sony HDD out, put yours in, format and reboot. Almost simpler than flipping a PC hard drive. Does this make the low end model a little more attractive? I think I might go without the media card reader to save cash on a big hard drive.

This is not possible on the Xbox 360, right? Custom interface, I think. At least Sony has shown some real smarts with the design of this console. It apparently runs cool and silent. It's largely stock components and interfaces it seems. You can install Linux on it. I mean, go hack-crazy people. Don't let the man slow you down or anything.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Via Pat Beyer's photostream.

Eat, drink and be merry people. Because after this, you get to deal with the Christmas season.

Is Lost Failing ... As A Game?

I have bemoaned the sorry decline of Lost over the last season and a half (or so - Season Two started out strong enough) quite a bit ... and for now I'm willing to see if the producers took any notes with them when they started shooting the second half of Season 3 (which I think by the break, they were about half done).

However, there is another angle. Lost has been compared to a new wave kind of game - the marriage between television elements and in particular, Alternate Reality Games (like Jaime Kane or I Love Bees. The fact that the show begged viewers to watch, record and rewatch for various hints and clues as to the mystery of the island is similar to web users pouring over HTML code, decoding images and watching videos for hints.

So if the television critics have turned on Lost - what might a gamer think?

No Wocka-Wocka
No, I don't mean Lost needs a talking bear. One of the first things I ever read about game design talked about how Pac-Man's "wocka wocka" was a kind of instant gratifcation for the player. A simple and pleasing sound to indicate that points were being earned. Think the "bling" noise of Sonic.

Lost, on the other hand, is an exercise in delayed gratification. You'll see a flash of a tidbit - and then it's gone. Sometimes for many episodes ... or even a season or more. Remember Adam & Eve, the mysterious bodies in the cave? Yeah, neither do I. No, I'm not expecting a Pokemon style call-out for every important facet shown on the island - but when episode after episode fails to reward for paying attention to detail ... it doesn't make the details any more noteworthy or desirable to chase after.

In an ARG - attention to detail is usually rewarded quickly with new information. Clues cascade into each other and build into a revelation. On Lost, they often just dwindle away. Even more frustrating is the complete seperation between the show and ... the show's ARG, "The Lost Experience." Knowledge of one isn't particularly relevant to the other, and this lack of synergy feels like a missed gaming opportunity.

No powerups
In games, powerups give players a brief feeling of power. They can quickly change the fortune of a battle on the screen. They might take the player into completely new directions. On Lost - upgrades are fleeting and random. The characters get dynamite - but use it only to blow up the hatch. They get a radio - but it does them little good. They find a plane - and it kills one of them. They build a boat and ... well, you're seeing the pattern emerge here. The island giveth and the island take twofold away.

Locke is about the only exception to this rule. When the guy saddles up, the viewer feels like someone is going to get their ass kicked. For most of the other characters - when they try really hard, it almost makes you cringe in fear as to what might happen to them next. Most characters who go through any kind of empowerment on the show just end up dead.

No Boss Fights
Some designers would say this is a good thing - that boss fights are a throwback to coin-op evolution that we haven't figured out how to shake just yet. I like them plenty ... if they're designed right.

So far - big confrontations have been short on the island. We had Ethan - and it was good. We had the polar bears - but they were brief. We've got the Smoke Monster - but that's pretty one sided. In fact, the Smoke Monster is turning into the kind of boss fight that designers love to hate - overly convenient, mostly specially effects and ultimately meaningless.

Wrong Genre
In general, Lost seems to be more modelled after old school adventure games than ARGs. In lieu of meaningful clues, there are object hunts and location finds. Poke around the jungle enough and find the hatch. Go to Dark Terrority and get dynamite. Use dynamite on hatch. Open hatch. Enter Season Two.

ARG? I think the best format for a Lost game might be a text adventure. Seems like a pretty straightforward translation to me. And I don't mean that as an insult - I love me text adventures.

But a warning to the producers - it's very hard to make them commercially viable.

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The $100 360 From Amazon

For Turkey Massacre Day - Amazon may be selling 1,000 Xbox 360 Cores for $100. I say "may" because it's one out of four possible nominees - although at last check it was ahead in the voting (which is now closed).

I will probably be stuck in Central Illinois and removed from the power of technology. In general. So I'd say my chances of getting there in time are pretty slim, since I imagine Amazon handles 1,000 concurrent connections regularly. What that means is that the whole thing will probably be over by the time the little hand moves another step.

A few tips, from a web developer, in trying for this thing:

- Have one browser window open. Shut down all other apps. In fact, shut down the browser and start it up again. Windows users - you might even reboot. Browsers are clientside applications and a lot more processor heavy and memory heavy than people give them credit for ... especially with big sites like Amazon.

- Go to the page early and reload it. Just once will do, but this should get those common images and filles cached locally on your computer. Don't shut down your browser now (a new sessions may check for new files). You might double check your cache settings to be certain they aren't set to something like "Request From Server Every Time". Cache is speed, and speed is good.

- When the time comes, get a few minutes early and don't be shy about stopping and refreshing. It's true that web servers will just see these as mutliple requests - but as long as Amazon has prepped for the load ... the client doesn't really care.

- Chances are - the page will not need to be fully loaded to be functional. This is rarely the case, especially for forms, because the submit button is generally right when the form ends and should be after all the info that needs to be sent on.

Well, good luck and good hunting. The 360 hasn't had enough appeal to me to drag me in - but it's really hard to argue with the price, even for a Core unit.

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Apple Mouse Buckle

Via New Launches.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Link To Welcome You

More events should have life sized statues of Link to greet you, goes without saying. From Jen Chan's photostream.

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PS3 and Wii Estimates

We estimate that Sony will sell 600,000 to 700,000 of its PlayStation 3, and Nintendo will sell between 1 million to 1.1 million units of the Wii. We expect titles to drive near-term sales growth throughout the early stages of the next-generation transition. While the numbers of new consoles build, we think game makers will continue to capitalize on the current equipment by releasing games on PlayStation 2.
-- Bright Holidays for Video Game Makers

Big winners, according to these analysts, seem to be the developers who can help herald in the new consoles while continuing to cash in on the Playstation 2. The 600k figure might sound a little odd since some had suspected that the holidays would only see 400k PlayStation 3's - so at this point the real figure might be somewhere in between "anyone's guess" and "whatever Sony manages to ship".

EDIT: I guess the 400k number is about what was shipped for the launch, so this is assuming another shipment of the same size also selling out.

And note to Microsoft - I think they mean sold to consumers ... not retailers.

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PS3 Buyer Contact Info Goes For $1,100

Via Destructoid, Marginal Revolution notes the tale of an eBay sale for nothing more than the contact information for a PS3 owner - not the PlayStation 3 itself. He "may" be willing to sell, but of course is not contractually obligated to even pick up the phone.

What was that? The sound of a kid running into a pole? Why yes, I think it was.

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GamePolitics Down, O'Reilly Still An Idiot

GamePolitics had the rundown on O'Reilly waxing moronically about how horrible geeks are, which is funny since as Cult Of Mac points out ... the guy delivers a podcast. Apparently the weight of the pinheads who actually take O'Reilly seriously have maxxed out GP's hosting because at the time of this writing, the site is suspended. (EDIT: This just got Slashdotted too, so maybe it's those evil computer geeks taking down the internets as well!)

O'Reilly, who along with conservative pundits like Hannity and Limbaugh, makes a practice of being belligerent to guests and cutting their mics when they might have a point - suggested that it was near impossible to have a conversation with computer geeks.

And then, of course, he accuses all computer geeks of aiding terrorism.

Sorry Bill, I'm too busy re-watching that shower scene from V for Vendetta to really give a damn.

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PSP Firmware Offers PS3 Integration

New Launches is reporting that the latest firmware update for the PSP adds, among other things, better PlayStation 3 integration. You can play music and view pictures over wifi that are stored on the PS3 as well as use the PSP as a remote (as you can see in the image I stole from them above).

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Gameplay: Marvel Ultimate Alliance

The Girl and I started playing Sunday afternoon and we've been hooked since. I'm prepared to say it's the best Diablo-esque game for the PlayStation 2 since the original Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. The new combat moves bring a much needed layer of complexity to the melee - not ... complex per se ... but you have a few more options to your buttonmashing as it were. Raven finally revamped the gear system so that it's not an annoying treasure chest management minigame. Powers are more streamlined so as to avoid useless branches and overall character management is much smoother (even though oddly the menus feel kinda clunky).

Oh, and the game looks better than most of the genre before it. GG, Raven, gg. I don't see us putting down this one for a while.

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TV Watch: Save The Cheerleader. WTF?

I continue to like Heroes almost, it seems, in despite of itself. Perhaps it's because the plot is finally feeling a little cohesive and it's fun to watch it gel. Maybe it's because of the extremely competent special effects and good directing of photography.

Course, maybe it's because there are so many subplots popping around that it's fun just to try and keep track of it all. If Flying Guy doesn't buy into all this malarky - why bother defacing a paint that isn't the future? Just how fast are all these jets that seem to be able to keep characters in the same time zone? Will Hooker Mom cap Shadowcat Dad? If so - will that keep PhoneFreak Boy out of foster homes?

And of course - what really happened to Hiro? Oh ... and will Angsty Teenager finally take those headphones off?

I think the show works because unlike Lost - which at one point had a coherent narrative - Heroes only superficially takes itself seriously. You get that great horn music or voiceover when you're supposed to really buy into it ... but everything else is just popcorn television. Lost begged to be overthought - to a fault even ... once those of us who overthought got tired of all the producers' "gotchya!"'s (What's that in the middle of the ocean?? HUH? HUH??? WHAT COULD IT BE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN???? OH .. A .... boat? Oh. Um. .... k, thanks).

I mean, "Save The Cheerleader. Save The World." Honestly, it's just a dumb simplification of the basic premise of nearly every popcorn film ever made. But who cares? It has a cheerleader right there in the slogan.

On the funnier side of life, Studio 60 gets to finish the season and I still can't understand why there was any question of that. One TV reviewer said he loved the show primarily for the soundtrack - which I think is funny because if anything remains almost intact from Sports Night it's the music. Oh, and we got a cameo from one of the console guys. And that in joke about pushing a button.

OK, fine, I love Studio 60 because in my warped mind it's the next season of Sports Night. So sue me.

Tonights our date with Veronica Mars ... which has slowly only gotten better with time this season. I still think Logan is dead weight, the show has gotten a bit of a soft side and there's not nearly enough Backup this season. But it's still good watching.

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360 HD-DVD For Your PC

You will need a powerful PC (Core Duo 2500, P4 3.2 Ghz or AMD 3500+) with 1 Gig of RAM, running Windows XP SP2, a decent video card to handle the decoding and WinDVD 8. To get started connect the Xbox HD-DVD player to your computer via USB which will be detected as Toshiba DVD/HD X807616 USB Device then install WinDVD 8 Platinum which supports HD-DVD and Blu-Ray media and automatically chooses HD-DVD between the two. Chapter selection, Audio setting etc can be done from WinDVD menus itself which are similar to any DVD playback software. In case your Video card has HDMI output you can connect it to your LCD / Plasma and enjoy high-def goodness on the big screen.
-- Xbox 360 HD DVD player and WinDVD 8 HD connect to your PC [NewLaunches]

Nifty. I'd say this be a pretty cheap way for someone to tack on a HD-DVD drive (considering they are just now coming down to over twice the add-on's price) - but the high end nature of the computer required seems to negate that - at least a little. Still, if you've got one of those high end rigs - it's an interesting options.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

PlayStation 3 "Not That Great"

By now, the New York Times' negative review of the PlayStation 3 is probably old hat. Most of the other reviews I've read have been fairly positive - but I can't say I can find much fault in the NYT's opinion. It's not that I've played the PlayStation 3 - it just matches my expectations.

For months now, Sony has just been saying - "trust us ... it's next gen." But they weren't really able to talk about how. Will the media capabilities be different than what we expect. No comment. Will the basic online gameplay be different. No comment. What's the name of the network. No comment.

Even in interviews, people who have developed for the console seemed tight lipped. And now that the final product is in the hands of consumers - some people are still waiting.

There's no doubting that the PS3 has potential. But the launch barely scratches into that potential. After the holidays, Sony will require something other than short supplies to get headlines.

Compare this to the Wii. Nintendo has been up front with what they're doing - what the machine will and won't do. They post videos of people playing the darn thing. Screenshots of the channels.

To make a really bad play on words: What You Wii Is What You Get.

Just saw this:

Sony Computer Entertainment America communications boss Dave Karraker dismissed the review, telling Next-Gen in an e-mail, “This is one person's view of the PlayStation 3 and is not reflective of the majority of great reviews the system has received to date."
-- Next-Gen

Another missed opportunity out the window. Couldn't even muster up a "we've got updates planned that should please people."

I don't even want to think how much money that guy makes to just dismiss stuff.

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Real Sign

I'm not even sure if that joke is still relevant in this day of broadband - but I find it funny as hell. From cgancos' photostream.


How Stupid

Does this get?

At a Wal-mart store in West Bend, Wis., a teenager injured himself when he slammed into a pole while racing for an opportunity to buy a PS3. Evidently the store only had ten PS3s, but 50 customers, so the assistant manager set 10 chairs in front of the store. On his signal the 50 potential customers raced for a seat and the opportunity to buy one of the coveted game systems. The 19-year-old male received nothing but a trip to the hospital for head injuries and an interview by a television crew.
-- PlayStation 3 Debuts on the Dark Side [OhMyNews]

Let's count the ways:

1. Sony knows that the PlayStation 3 and everything about it is currently undersupplied. Their network isn't complete. The launch library has a couple bright spots but is really pretty meager. There's only a handful of Blu-Ray discs to be played.

Now, I'm not of the conspiracy theory that Sony intentionally held back design in the hopes that some kid would bash his head on the nine o' clock news getting one or that some other jackass would decide to spend $15,000 on eBay for one. For one thing, I'm not willing to attribute that much intelligence to this launch. It's the same philosophy as the PSP and 360 launch - just get it when you can and when you might get the best PR for your buck.

Check your calendar. This wasn't a product launch, it was a media event. No, I don't think they intentionally withheld units. That doesn't, however, suddenly make it smart.

I gotta say - as someone has worked on e-commerce since before they called it that, I wish someone would just wise up and only do online orders for when the supply and demand is this out of whack. Guess how many poles the Internet has? None.

2. Store managers. Gotta love them. And I used to think that bullfighting or boxing was the last remnant of old school bear baiting. Good ole unadulterated violence. But no - any jackass who thought that making people race for lawn chairs in the hopes of beating out forty-nine of the people next to them clearly sees that if you think hard enough, you can bring the wonder of idiotic violence into the modern day.

If this jackass wasn't sued - they should surely be fired. And everytime they utter "well, I thought it was a good idea" - slapped. With a fire hose.

3. Our brilliant youth. Dear god kid - it was a pole. I mean - damn. That's pretty dumb. Eyes on the prize, kid - especially when you're running at full tilt.

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Some Notes From Management

Couple changes for Cathode Tan:

For one thing, I dropped Joystiq off the RSS reader during the NaNo break. They had some crap post which for some odd reason had to tack one useless and somewhat idiotic ranting about how stupid Sony was ... again. It's not that I mind reading a little opinion with my news from time to time - but blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq simply have to start drawing the line somewhere. I mean, damn, I post an innocent question about how the PlayStation 3 will handle's its large PSU ... and Kotaku links to me stating the that PS3 will be twice as hot as the 360. Which is a) not what I said because b) it's completely inaccurate.

Opinions are one thing - but just making crap up because you've decided you don't like a gaming company is bad reading. Plain and simple. And especially since these blogs are purporting to be some kind of news outlet - it's just bad taste. For me and Joystiq, it started when they couldn't link to a simply survey without inaccurately describing it and just ended when they felt the need to editoralize a relatively neutral quote from Sony's Harrison.

Update: Gizmodo just got put on the chopping block as well. First they announce the PS3 is a flop because Sony cancelled a line of TV's. Now they just used "drops a steamer" in a headline.

And let me repeat - I'm no Sony fanboy. Right now, in order of likelihood, I would probably be a Wii owner, then a 360 owner and finally a PS3 owner. I think Sony's done bizarre and stupid things.

That doesn't mean I want to read bullshit about them. If you want to report the news, do it. Don't give me fanboy fodder I can find on any gaming web forum under the sun. Sony may be capable of doing stupid things, but stop tripping over yourselves to look like idiots.

Why do I mention this? It's not like these blogs will care. And I'm sure if I find a funny picture of a novelty computer, they'll still link this way. I just mention it for the readers - don't expect any more snarky commentary on other game blogs and if there is a particularly nonsensicle brouhaha afoot (like reporting that the PS3 runs really hot or that Twilight Princess sucks because its too brown) - don't expect me to even notice it's out there.

I think that's best for everyone involved.

And if you direct your attention to the right - you'll see three links to "starred" items in my Google Reader. I'm likely to keep this up and possibly even expand it. I often post what I think is interesting news without really feeling the need to make any commentary on it. It will change probably throughout the day.

Finally, I'll be updating the "no particular order" links in the near future to catch up with things like Gaming Hobo moving and the such. Some might get cut, some might not. If anyone has suggestions for blogs I should be reading daily but currently aren't (i.e., they aren't on the list ... I mean, it's not exhuastive but indicative) - send em to cathodemail. As a side note, I get an email about every week or three saying "I'm doing such and such - would you link to me if I link to you." I don't respond to these not to be an ass - but simply because I try to remember to check those blogs a couple of times and see if it is the kind of thing I would read daily. Here's a tip: send me your RSS feed instead. I'm more likely to put that into reader and see if stuff catches my eye. I'm not out to disrespect anyone - I just like keeping the list short and tight.

And that's about all. Did I mention I accidentally put the milk in the cupboard this weekend? Yeah. It's been that kind of month.

Movie Watch: Casino Royale

We saw this over the weekend with some friends. Now, I'm a dyed in the wool Bond fan. There's really not a single aspect of the franchise I haven't liked - and we should acknowledge the wide myriad of features that includes within the long history since Dr. No. Connery's bond sly and occasionally almost sinister. Lazenby had that brief stint of drama. Moore was mercurial, almost whimsical at times. Dalton was a pretty stock action hero. Brosnan somehow managed to blend everything I just said.

So when people say that Casino Royale is a re-invention of the Bond series - that is almost redudant. The series has constantly been redefining itself. So how does the Craig era start off?

Rather well, really. The concept is to "go back to the books", so to speak. I'm not sure how true that is - I only vaguely remember the books. I think they do manage to capture Bond as the rough-and-tumble soldier-in-a-suit rather than the gentleman spy pretty well, and I think that's more accurate. There is less of an emphasis on puns and wordplay in the dialogue - most of it is more realistic and in the end, tight. Many feared Craig didn't look the part - but Bond has had a lot of faces. Thing is - Craig is cut like a damn tank. When he walks, he has the foreboding stature of a soldier. It makes Bond's role as an assassin (remember what the 00 means after all) fairly credible.

However "close to the books" they wanted, some of the modernizations are interesting. Instead of a car chase, we get a lengthy free running chase (that stuntwork where people are hopping from wall to wall). Bond plays Texas Hold 'Em. He isn't picky about his martini (until a pretty bad drink scene later in the movie). Some of these are savvy nods to an audience which may have grown on Bond - but doesn't need all the trappings.

It's the kind of savviness that other movie series like Star Trek and Star Wars could learn from. I swear - Lucas actually thinks we get dumber with age.

And a lot of the Bond formula remains the same. There's a bunch of stuntwork intersected by pretty women and expensive cars - all threaded together by a plot based mostly on events crashing into each other. And hey, Judi Dench is still M. Which of course means that Bond is engaging in all colors of retcon here - but it's Dame Judi Dench ... who the hell cares? She is rock solid and a necessary counterweight to Craig's steely delivery.

And Craig is really one of the best things in the movie. To hell with the detractors - the man brings nuance to a role which so often didn't care it lacked any. A couple of scenes where Bond regains his composure are pure gold.

The only real problem with the movie is that in the latter part of its two and fifteen minute running time seems to drag down. Parts of the ending feel somewhat tacked on to an already complete story and the wait for the final stunt scene feels long It's worth the trip, I think, but if you see a late night show like I did - you might find yourself shifting in your seat by the end.

Martin Campbell definately deserves some kind of bonus - he also directed GoldenEye which for me felt like a breath of fresh air for the series when Brosnan took the role (that some would say he was made for).

In short, it's fun to take Bond seriously again.

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I'm back

Sunset Winterland is "done" - in that wonderful way that could only be defined during NaNo. It's a complete mess. It's a jigsaw of different drafts around a common theme don't even really agree with each other. Some of the most core sections of the story just change. It was almost more like pimping a car than writing a story - I was worried about whether the rims matched the trim ... not if it got good mileage.

It's Thanksgiving week - so I don't know how much blogging or writing I've got in me. Probably get a flurry of posts which have been pent up since the start of the month and then I might disappear for a couple days again. I had thought I'd have another interview when I got back, but I never got a response so I suppose that might be off now.

Oh well. I hear some console like - launched or something. Anyone else hear about that?