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Sunday, December 30, 2007

More On Modding (Aside From UT3 PS3)

I've had an idea for a gametype mod for a little while, but was going to wait on UT3 before deciding on cracking it out. It's not a complicated design and shouldn't require any new maps or weapons or anything. It's basically just an streamlined version of the scoring system I used for my first mod, Bounty War.

But with the PS3 aspect of UT3 being such a snafu and the honestly just not running all that well on my PC in first place (based on the demo) - I wondered if I should worry about coding it for UT3 at all. So then I asked - if one was going to make a basic gametype mod today ... where would one do it?

It seems the answer is nearly nowhere. In fact, mods themselves are nearly a vanished species it seems. Now, I know GameSpy stats aren't exactly gospel ... but they're about the best you can get for looking across all the online games. For one thing, there seems to really be no active UT2004 mods ... a sad reflection on Epic's Make Something Unreal contest. Course, there are about as many people playing Team Fortress Classic as there are UT2k4's Onslaught mode ... which makes me wonder if there's still enough of an online populace for 2k4 to support even testing a multiplayer mod of any variety.

Half-Life 2 has a larger base, but of course now we're getting to the original sport where the concept that mods were best done as total conversions took root. Although even those are somewhat absent these days. Zombie Master looks pretty insteresting, but even it is cresting at just a few hundred people online.

So interestingly while the two companies which pushed the hardest to get viable total conversions up and running, Valve and Epic, they have very little to show for it at the moment. More interesting is that the company that maintained a strict hands off policy with mods - id - still has the last bastion of small, gameplay orientated mods. Quake 3 Arena currently has a couple thousand people playing gametype mods, strewn out between three or four of them - including old standbys like Excessive and Orange Smoothie. There was a version of Excessive for UT2k4, btw, and a fine one at that ... but like many other partial conversion mods - it got lost in the frenzy that was MSUC.

Course, I've never had more than twenty people playing any mod of mine at any given time and I think the mean average was usually more like five. It might just be best to go back to UT2k4 and pick up where I left off. It's not like I'd be any worse off than I was begging people to play Riftwar or trying to get beta testers for Freehold NG.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I've got to agree with Tycho On Epic, Modding, and PS3

Penny Arcade has responded to Mark Rein's response to their disdain for the current setup of PS3 mods for Unreal Tournament III.

Look, nobody could be a bigger supporter of this idea in theory. In theory, I think it's the only way to go. PC and console convergence is happening. Some might say it's pretty much happened. To be able to create user content for my console from my PC isn't just smart - I'd say it's becoming inevitable.

Just because it's a good idea, though, doesn't mean we should applaud any old implementation of it. Epic's mod framework has given me hours of indulgence. I've written mutators, mods, code tutorials, etc. It is still my favorite mod setup. That doesn't mean they don't drop the ball on the big picture though.

Take the code change from UT2003 to UT2004 ... which drastically altered some classes, especially weapon classes, in the middle of Make Something Unreal. It disrupted the contest and made several online tutorials completely useless. And there was essentially no warning for this. Then for UT2004 Epic decides to overhaul the actual ingame mod framework. In some ways, this was an excellent idea - it was to standardize the interface for organizing and launching mods within the game. It was also to help organize the file structure so that mods were less likely to clutter the normal system folder.

Problem was ... it was insanely total conversion centric. Without starting off with basically your own branch of code you couldn't get anything properly compiled and running. If you wanted to just make a new gametype for the original game, you were sort of left out in no man's land between the "old way", which Epic was making clear was frowned on, and the "new way" which was not only time prohibitive in simply getting setup but also clumsy for players to use. I played with the new way simply for the contest ... but then everything else I just went back to the old method.

So now they bring mods to the PS3. But you have to find some kind of media to download the mod to which you can plug into the console, which pretty much means a memory card - which some models don't have, or a flash drive - which not everyone has. This is after users spent a good year just bitching about how installations were working on the PC and how they wanted a better ingame browser for installing, organizing and removing both mods and mutators.

And I haven't seen the code, but other modders have told me that the Unreal Tournament III codebase sets a new record for native code references. This is code written in the native C++ and not exposed via UnrealScript. For instance, all of the homing code for the rockets.

However for me, the killer in all this is that the Unreal Editor won't currently compile for the PlayStation 3. This is awful. This means Epic must hand select mods and compile them for the PS3. It's the worst possible atmosphere for modmakers, when they have to suck up to the mother company for favors. Now modders are going to worry about what Epic wants, what will make Epic happy and what will get them noticed. It's the same kind of market pressure that smothered mods in Yet Another Realism Mod clones for the longest time. It's the inverse of a healthy mod community.

All of this lumps into a mod framework which is less friendly for modders and less friendly for players. Yes, I'm glad that some people can play mods on their PS3. But until Epic fixes this mess - I don't really want to be a part of it.

Christmas Loot Reviews

Brief rundown of what the Wii got for Xmas:

Geometry Wars
Played it for about it an hour. It's a solid port of the PC game, I can't really speak for the 360 version of course. The "galaxy" mechanic is solid enough to provide the kind of variation required for an actual purchase, but this title isn't going to win your heart or anything. It's an old school arcade shooter, it's fun and it has multiplayer modes (though not online).

Short version: If you have friends over every now and then, this is probably a solid afternoon time waster or something to leave on during a party. The lack of online is a bit of a shame - but not a dealbreaker.

Metroid Prime: Corruption
I've spent most of my time on Metroid. I think I'm like 10% through already. It has a beautiful frustration curve to it ... once you think you're fed up with a location you just start exploring some more and generally find your workaround. Exploration, as is proper with the Metroid franchise, is the key here. Corruption has a different style to it than nearly any other shooter outside of it's own predecessors. There's not a lot of over the top action ... instead the game swims in the environment. If other shooters steal anything, they should steal the scanning mechanic ... the closest I can think of right now is BioShock's photography schtick.

Simply put - it's one of the best shooters ever made. It has the foibles of the Metroid design - exploration and well, re-exploration - which might not be for everyone. But Metroid: Corruption kinda reminds me of when everyone was playing Doom and some people kept raving about Marathon. Except now everyone is playing Marathon's spiritual offspring Halo and some people keep raving about Metroid.

Super Mario Galaxy
The Girl and I whipped this out for a couple hours to give it a whirl, so I can't say I have anything extensive to say about it. I'll just say that it feels like the proper successor to the Super Mario 64 mantle. The planets/gravity mechanics give it enough of a twist that you don't feel like you're playing yesterday's game, the co-op mechanic is solid enough to make it worthwhile to coax someone else to help out and the graphics are just simply wonderful. In two hours, the title felt like one of those must-haves for the system.

Phantasy Star Online
The Gamecube edition offers up better graphics and a new split screen mode ... something I can't get if I just jack my Dreamcast into my PC monitor. Plus the edition The Brother found has the extra quests for the single player mode (and both episodes). So lots of content here. The only stumbling block for us was that the split screen "multimode" is hard to jump right into. You can't play the quests, so there's no safety net for new players. We tried a bit, The Girl's hunter died and was left with no weapons or money.

Still, not a hard thing to workaround - we'll just buff up characters in single mode and then meet back up in multimode. And I'm amazed as to how well this gameplay holds up. PSO set such a solid standard for an action RPG that it still makes me think of the Phantasy Star Universe for the PS2 and cry. Well, maybe not cry, but certainly shake my head. Here's a Gamecube game with tight mechanics, hours and hours of content and a split-screen offline mode, and there was a PS2 game I had in the tray for less than an hour.

PSO still rocks the kazbah. The Girl was saying I should walk the dog tonight so that she could catch up to my level 7. Oh yeah, level 7 in just one night. I still got it...

Overheard On The El

"Well, since tomorrow is Friday."

"Wait? Tomorrow is Friday?"

"Um, yeah. Friday."

"Really? Friday?"


"Oh. Oh my. Oh no. Are you sure?"

*shows PDA presumably with a calendar on the screen*

"Oh. Oh man. Oh, I screwed up. Tomorrow is Friday."


"Oh. I screwed up big. Big time." *pause* "I gotta stop drinking."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Days Of Christmas: Old Dog Vestibular

There are always the things unplanned.

It was about 3:00 in the morning that we got our dog, Goethe, to the ER vet here in Chicago. This was last Friday. I woke to the noise of her falling - which isn't that odd since she shifts around in her bed sometimes - but this was just continous. At first we thought something was wrong with her back hips ... her legs are splayed out and she couldn't stand without leaning on something.

Then The Girl noticed her eyes - flickering back and forth with rapid succession and her eyebrows dancing to keep up. My first thought was a stroke and my heart sank. Just earlier that day I had ran with her in the park. It was hard to think about how this was going to turn out.

The ER vet was across town but it is definately one of those things you're glad you live in the city to have. Expensive, sure, but we could just get in the car and talk to a real vet without trying to wake anyone up or hold on the phone for an emergency line. Once in Bloomington, my cat had a bad reaction to some of her shots and ended up running around the apartment with one leg kicking in fits of spasms. I ended up calling the emergency pager number five times. I never got a call back, even in the morning. I never went back to that vet again.

At the ER, we got what was definitely bad news ... but not as bad as we had feared. Goethe had what is commonly called old dog vestibular disease, or sometimes just old dog vestibular or old dog disease. It's not uncommon. It's idiopathic - which means they usually will never find a cause. Essentially something happens in the brain between the ear nerves and central processing which result in the poor dog's world turning into a combination of a merry go round and one of those evil spinning car on an arm things. And they can't get off.

As bad as this sounds, the silver lining is that it is generally self-recoverable. Treatment is rest, making sure the dog is hydrated, and trying to get them to stand and walk on their own so that the brain attempts to sort everything out. My instinct would have been to put a towel over her head and keep her in a dark room - but that's apparently precisely what you shouldn't do.

The problem here was that we had nothing to do but wait. The self-recovery bit is nothing but probabilities. Some dogs recover fully in 24 hours. Some recover partially in 72 hours. Some recover somewhat in three weeks. Some never really recover. And all you get to do is wait to see if you get your dog back or you'll be setting up the IV at home. We spent Friday afternoon at the vet's congratulating Goethe on standing and leaning. At one point Goethe tried to kiss The Girl on the cheek and ended up toppling to the ground.

Thankfully by Saturday her condition had gotten better and the vet was comfortable with releasing her. She had eaten some wet food from someone's hand - she was still to not able to navigate a bowl just yet. She could walk a little. The Girl was uneasy putting her in a car in this state, so our holiday weekend ended up getting split as I drove down to the homestead to catch my brother while he was still in town, and then looped back up with my dad the next day to pick her up, if she felt the puppy was up to the task.

Fortunately it seemed like time favored the good dog. Her recovery was in degrees, but we took every step we could get. Once down in Decatur, she was treated to a wide variety of holiday food and for a few days we were happy she was just eating anything at all. By the time we left on Tuesday, our concern was mainly that she wasn't drinking any proper water. My worry was that we had gotten this far only to need to worry about dehydration in a hurry.

The three and a half hour car ride seemed to convince Goethe that water was a good thing, though. She's back to drinking normally and eating pretty well at this point. Her head is usually at a slight tilt when she walks - and that might never go away. She's shy about stairs and when she's excited she forgets all about how to walk in a straight line. Yesterday, though, she chased down two squirrels in the park all on her own and gave them a good chase in the process. She can give puppy kisses any time she wants without so much as a stumble.

It's hard to keep a good dog down. And while our holiday week was strewn with worry and watching over her, I can only imagine the trip back that Goethe took to return home to us. Superstition says that one should take care of all leftover business before the new year. I think her timing seems like it will be pretty good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Duke Nukem Forever Trailer - Stay Tuned?

So the DNF trailer that just hit is mildly entertaining, but since it doesn't end with "COMING 2008" - is ultimately only going to serve to continue what Duke Nukem Forever has served as for years now ... the butt of many an forum joke.

Honestly at this point I'd almost rather see a scene by scene remake with modern technology than anything else ... because nostalgia will be the only thing the title has going for it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Great Simpsons Video In Copyright Fight

If you missed Simpsons on Sunday, you missed one of the better episodes ever. Sadly, the producers neglected to clear the background music for the 'Everyday' parody and so you'll have to wait before you can watch.

Alien Apocalypse Cover Goes Too Far

The movie is bad enough, and not bad in a "ha ha that's bad" way but in "oh my god stop the bleeding" kind of way. It's painful. Bad enough to see Renee drop to this level, but to see Bruce do it just makes you want to cry.

So how do you get people to buy or rent a movie like this? Well, when the only remarkable asset is a guy who did another movie which was actually good, make the poster look close enough that people might mistake it for that movie. And for the record, there isn't a single scene in Apocalypse which looks like that. Heck, there isn't even a scene with a background like that.

Trust me when I say - just rent the other movie.

Pac Man Meets Rubik's Art

A French street artist known as Space Invader created this brilliant piece for an exhibit called "The Streets of Europe." We're sure you recognize these troublesome ghosts from the Pac-Man franchise, which were made so retroliciously from Rubik's Cubes. The concept is so simple yet brilliant that we can't help but be awed.
-- Pac-Man and Rubik's Cubes make a marriage of artistic genius

Via The Brother's shared items.

Why The Internet Was Made

I found it via buttonmashing.

25. I'm pretty comfortable with that.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dark Knight Trailers Looks Quite Excellent

Take a look for yourself. Ledger looks like he really owning the role as The Joker, which can't be too easy no matter what artistic changes hit the franchise if you're following Nicholson. And for Chicagoites, this movie looks to be a real treat as the city honestly looks like our city in these shots.

We'd be hitting this one just to see how our hood turns out.

Thanks Jamie.

Legos As Art

The Red Bull Diary seems to think these lego sculptures would qualify as art and by gum we'd agree.

For Sunday: Fan Boys

Thanks to teh Sterno. And yes, gentlemen, that is Kristen Bell you see there. You can start obsessing in ten, nine, eight...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Note From Management: Sunday already?

Posts are slow, and I offer the following excuses. One - I was sick last week and essentially slept two days straight. My head is actually still a little out of sync with reality, a little confused with time zones. I couldn't sleep at all on Friday and ended up playing TF2 most of the night and then last night I could barely stay awake. Today is a little bit of a daze.

Also, I'm actually working on the Text the Halls contest over at TIGSource. I'm taking a completely different slant now, and we can blame the illustrious Derek Yu for pushing the focus to "something you can actually finish" for that one. And thank we should, because while a next iteration of the Carter interface is still on my plate - this new slant means I can probably actually just sit back and write the story (which was, I point out, the emphasis of the Carter framework in the first place). I've got a little more ActionScript to do and then afterwords I think I can write everything in basic HTML and JavaScript with very little of the latter.

The slant is this: Recognizing that many IF parsers are just guessing what the developer intended and turning that into a word game. If I make the deadline (which is really more like this Wednesday since shortly thereafter we're on the road) - I'll release it as a beta and as a an Apokalyptica present to you all.

Because yes, there are zombies.

Also, I've been adding more and more videos to the blog. This is part, and I kid not, that because of the Writer's strike my traffic has doubled with people looking for material to download. Hence, I'm trying to actually provide. No, I don't have all of Heroes Season Two available, but you gotta admit a girl sneaking up on Wii bowling is pretty damn close.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Godzilla Wii Commercial (Ugh)

I think most of us can agree that this is not the way to advertise a Wii game:

Yeah, I mean, I get it's supposed to be over the top funny and all - but mostly it succeeds in lampooning itself more than anything else. Since I doubt anyone actually wants to invite their friends over to throw punches at each other, smash the furniture and spit randomly - it leaves one wondering just what the actually gameplay might be like. It's about the silliest Wii advertising I've seen since Nintendo suggesting hiding behind your couch might be a good strategy to play Metroid.

And if you want more ridicule, see it in slow and fast mode.

30 Years Of LucasFilm Christmas Cards

This year’s card by Lorraine LeBer, photographed above, features three rows of die-cut pop-up Stormtroopers holding candles and songbooks. Click on the image to enlarge. But lets take a look at some of the cards from LucasFilm’s past
-- Cool Stuff: 30 Years of LucasFilm Christmas Cards

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Forest For The Trees With Colorado Killer

I'm fighting off some kind of dire sleeping plague, so hold on tight while I attempt to form complete sentences.

This Sunday, Matthew Murray attacked two locations and killed four people, two at a missionary center and two at a Church. Theories abound and of course his relationship to video games pondered, but this struck me as odd:

When I was a teenager my mother would do a pat down to check for music, DVDs and video games whenever I came out of an electronics store like Best Buy or Circuit City.

I’d still obtain things anyways, it was like getting drugs from a drug dealer, EVERYTHING had to be done in secret. lolI remember getting thrown around the room and hit while getting interrogated about whether or not I had video games and DVDs. Then there were the constant interrogations by the church pastors… I remember having to listen to everything in secret, at very low volume levels or with headphones, whether it was video games, TV, DVDs, or music/radio.
-- Gaming Today via All Spin Zone

Emphasis mine. Does anyone else think that kid getting "thrown around a room and hit" might have something to do with his level of aggression?


All I found in christianity was hate, abuse (sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional), hypocrisy, and lies," writes the poster, who adds that he is one of the "nobodies" "who just wants to be loved and accepted somewhere. I just want to be one of the somebodies.
-- Denver Post

Again, emphasis mine. Anyone else think that maybe this isn't as mysterious as it looks?

Some Odd Wii Bowling Techniques

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jim Henson's Time Piece

Via POPMODERNE. According to the Muppet Wiki (and can I just take a moment to thank the Internet that such a thing as a Muppet Wiki exists): "Henson began the project in the spring of 1964 and continued to work on it for nearly a year, between commercial projects and various Muppet television appearances. The short film premiered in May 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art and was distributed through Pathe Contemporary films to arthouse theaters and the film festival circuit. It played in New York City along with the French feature A Man and a Woman."

Frank Oz and other Hensonites make appearances as well.

Machine Girl Trailer

I got this off Boing Boing, so chances are it has been around. Warning: cartoonish uberviolence ensues.

TIGSource Asks You To Text The Halls

What is TIGER Assault? TIGER Assaults are short competitions based around a particular theme. The emphasis is on collaboration, sharing, and, most of all, the completion of projects. I.e., it's an exercise in making small, tight, enjoyable/interesting games that can be played from beginning to end. There are no prizes involved.

What is Interactive Fiction? Interactive Fiction has a long and storied history that begins with the history of video games themselves. Put simply, they are text-based games. They have a strong cult following to this day, and I'll let Wikipedia explain the rest!
Text the Halls: An Interactive Fiction Competition


Monday, December 10, 2007

Video Watch: Dalek Vs. Annoying Kid

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No More Heroes Preview

For Sunday: The **** Of The Count

Some friends revealed this to me last night at a party. May be the lowest form of humor I've ever posted:

Remember - censorship is bad, but at least it can still be funny.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

For Sunday: Hijacking Catastrophe

When it comes to 9/11, Iraq and the Bush administration - I highly recommend Hijacking Catastrophe. It's a pretty thoughtful and well researched look at recent history.

Or, if you'd rather have the glitzy version:

Friday, December 07, 2007

Crazy Taxi In The Real World

Remember, when your cabbie asks you to put on your safety harness, either do so or get out:

Thanks Tokyomango, who also gives a handful of translations.

Book Listen: The Golden Compass

I've probably mentioned this before - but I don't read nearly as much as I used to read. My saving grace with literature has been the rising production values of audiobooks - a trend we might be able to attribute to the popularity of the Potter books and the many parents who opted to have a professional narrate it for them.

The audiobook of The Golden Compass tightens the distance between someone simply reading a book and a radio play. For one thing, the book is narrated by the author himself, Philip Pullman. Secondly, all the main characters have their own voice actors - so the story isn't handicapped by a singular talent who can provide a wide range but usually still stumbles with one voice or another. The voices here are done by London stage actors and it really shows.

Not to make this too much of a post-modern book review (as in one that spends volumes commenting on the craftsmanship of the spine) - The Golden Compass is also a great read. The alternate world Pullman has created is unique and interesting and manages to avoid feeling derived ... unlike how most books tailored for both young and old readers fall prey.

The controversy surrounding the movie, being released this weekend, is rather silly. Sure, Pullman did once say "my books are about destroying God" - but what exactly are the Christian groups afraid of here? Bands of children looking for nautical devices in order to take down deities? It's kinda like the boycott of Harry Potter because it "advocates witchcraft". Are there really a large enough number of people actually afraid of witchcraft to warrant a boycott?

Unfortunately it looks like the movie might not be worth the time to boycott anyway, as it sounds rather like Weitz's adaptation has managed to cut the daemon away from the story, or in other words sucked the life right out of it. If that's the case - I'd recommend a good listen instead.

Really Ineffective Trash Talking

Really, this isn't going to cut it:


OK, let's start with the obvious. The guy's dead. You can't claim you owned someone when you're dead. That shouldn't even require explanation, it's like saying you can't stay dry while you're in the pool. You died. You own nothing.

Not to mention he killed me in pretty much the same way I killed him - shoving a flamethrower in my face. Now, I love me some pyro - but I'll also be the first to admit the class doesn't really require a lot of skill (some stealth, maybe) - because essentially you're just shoving a flamethrower in faces. We both did this to each other and then moments later some actual soldiers ran by and finished us off.

And - and I'll preface this by saying I think the point system in Team Fortress is a bit off, but it's what we have - I had a handful of points over this guy. Actually, I had a handful of points over all of his clan except for one guy who kept a point ahead of me. I think this is largely because half of them kept declaring things as being owned or pwned or nwbs or what not and probably dying while typing a great deal.

For instance, we slug it out on Gravel Pit until almost the last bell and when a victory finally arrives, someone announced "owned". Look, people, if we keep abusing our slang like this it will lose all its meaning. If you think a suifrag is "pwning nwbs" and a close win is owning the either team, pretty soon we'll have everything being owned. People will come out of Starbucks proclaiming they own their damn latte. Your teachers will own you, your co-workers, your grandmother.

It's not a pretty sight, so please trash talk responsibly.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wii Transfer Rocks - Also Gives Away Wii

I saw on TUAW that Riverfold is giving away a Wii to some lucky winner and they won't even make you buy their quite wonderful Wii Transfer software to do it. Although that be a bit of buying the horse and all that.

Though if you're an OS X user and have a Wii already, I highly recommend Wii Transfer. Well, if you have an iTunes you like at least. It's basically makes a website that you can hit your iTunes, iPhoto and converted movies with - and naturally it runs just dandy on the Wii's Internet Channel. Waiting on my registration key now.

On Gerstmann, On Reviews, On WTF Else Is There

I wasn't going to blog about this as it is hard to care about a review I didn't watch for a game I'm not going to play anytime soon or what happened after. But I started to rant on when Thomas brought it up and so here it is.

So I watched the video review and thought it was honestly a pretty bad review. Bad as in quality of the review, although I don't think K&L looks like it is exactly masterpiece theater. Jeff complained constantly about how dark the characters were and how much swearing they do and how he thought it was an ugly game - and by constantly I mean he kept bitching about it even when talking about the multiplayer at the end. Really, I got it the first fifteen times. That K&L is trying some of the most inventive multplayer we've seen in a few years and that is so rare it really, really isn't funny might have been mentioned a little more instead of complaining about the ugly any more.

Not saying he should get fired over it - but honestly if that was the standard he held, I'm not going to cry over it. And no, I don't think Gamespot should have behaved like the electronic three stooges in trying to deal with the onslaught of negativity that followed it. Half of what they did either was conspiratorial or almost looked like someone trying to look conspiratorial, not the opposite effect one would have thought they were going to try to achieve. Heck, if the conspiracy theory is true then think of trouble they could have saved if they had just waited a couple of months.

Honestly, I believe Gamespot's PR at this point simply because it has been my experience that companies which are both evil and stupid don't last very long.

My other thought with it is that gamers are really, really harsh about the connection between publishers and reviewers but really, really don't want to do a damn thing about it. What I mean by a damn thing is pay for it. Gaming mags either routinely fail or run on shoestring budgets (which are also paid for with advertising cash), the Internet is the the primary source for gamers information largely because it can be advertised based.

So let's say there is bias and it is based on who pays the checks ... what's the alternative? Do we think some ultimate good or virtuous state will arise if everyone just boycotts Gamespot? There's never going to be a certificate of honesty from an organization which is paid by the people they review ... so you either have to take their word at face value or change the model. And just because this dusted into a real storm this time doesn't mean there isn't a constant dialtone of complaint amongst gamers that reviewers are held in hock ... so I'm not sure how many were taking them at face value.

Course that dialtone might just be out of sync with reality, as forum chatter doesn't really reflect the real world. I've never really bought into this particular theory and honestly think most game reviews are more burdened by short turn around times than any adversarial advertiser.

Point is - if you don't like it, stop waiting for moments of dramatic crucification and figure out something different. Go support smaller sites like GamerDad or the like.

Cuz Giving Is Child's Play

I'm currently multi-tasking like a mofo, browsing my ActionScript to see why my SOQL statements is returning null (even though I'm using id numbers previously retrieved), listening to plumbers bang on pipes above and below, fending off a dog who can't quite figure out what "working from home" actually entails and believes it should definitely not entail anything that I'm currently blogging about, catching up on emails and trying desperately to make holiday shopping an effort in procrastination. In the process, saw my bookmark to Child's Play staring at me.

If you do one thing this holiday season, go donate to Child's Play, set up by a couple of guys most gamers are familiar with (though if you were already familiar one, you probably knew that. It helps kids and reminds people that gamers aren't sociopathic shutins at the same time. What could be better?

You can buy stuff off of Amazon and have it shipped right off to a hospital. I have no earthly idea why there aren't any Chicago hospitals on the list, so here's what I'm shipping off to one in St. Louis:

Simba Doctor Dog Vet Kit - Simba Toys
Honestly, too freakin' cute not to get

Cars - PS2
A decent movie tie-in for a game, I hear.

Cars (Widescreen Edition) - Owen Wilson
So they get the movie too

Animal Crossing: Wild World
Because kids need to learn that sometimes life is about paying off your debts to some crazy raccoon.

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Hey, it's on my list too

Brain Age
Consider it something to keep their brains from going to mush after playing all these games...

Mario Kart
I saw that they already had a couple and they clearly need another for decent wireless play

Classic Etch A Sketch Magic Screen
Well, it's freakin' etch a sketch. Every kid should have one

OK, I might have gone a little overboard, but I didn't give last year - so I'm playing a little catchup. They have a wide range of items, so even if you just want to find some $10 gift that gets Prime shipping - you're still doing a bit of good.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

When Rockets Go Bad

Not that rockets generally "go good" - but here's a great bit of Japanese news featuring a rocket launcher against bullet proof glass.

Thanks MAKE.

Shop Like It's 1999

Snopes is being geektastic this week. Here's a clip of how 1967 thought shopping in 1999 would be, and it's actually not far off:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Paradroid That Never Was

One of those classics of gaming that could really be interesting to remake.

TV Watch: Heroes Season Two "Year End" Finale

In what is the industry favorite euphemism for "we wanted to cheap out on Internet royalties so our writers stopped writing and he only had half a season so the story just ends here", Heroes had the "Year End" finale last night. It's a little hard to tell with a show like Heroes just what that actually means since the plot generally goes from one cliffhanger to another anyway.

The second season of Heroes feels very much like a sequel to the first. Some of the good elements remain while several hoops are being jumped to maintain focus on characters who only peripherally really deal with the plot anymore. Nikki's entire storyline feels grafted onto the show largely as an excuse to keep her in the show and while Super Cousin might have some potential, major stumbles like the iPod Of The Future kinda makes it a groaner. The whole revelation that an injection of Claire's blood apparently makes one Wolverine also adds a slew of needless complications. Why can't anyone's powers be transferred this way? Claire has what ... mutant red and white blood cells?

At least the core story clicks pretty well. The conflict between Nate and Peter, Hiro and Adam, and ... oh, somewhere that cop guy keeps showing up too. Least he isn't moaning on about his wife. Heroes still delivers some slick looking scenes and pretty decent action numbers, not to mention being one of the better looking shows on right now. The main plot not only hangs together - but maintains a level of intrigue even if it too feels a little rehashed from last year as well (time travel to foresee a terrible event, Peter being the catalyst between good and evil, etc.)

So while we end on a high note, with the virus plot being well flushed out - now we're stuck with Sylar again. Still unclear as to why the Company left him in a shack in a Mexican outland with basically one person and an unlocked door to guard him ... Sylar is quite possibly the most lethal living being on the planet and The Company guarded him with all the care of a pet hamster. So, gee, surprise, he's back.

Which, while I'm liking the show more than I did early in the season, I'm rather dreading its return.

Radiskull #1

By popular demand (of Duncan, that is), here is Radiskull and Devil Doll:

1956 5 MB External Hard Drive

The 350 Disk Storage Unit consisted of the magnetic disk memory unit with its access mechanism, the electronic and pneumatic controls for the access mechanism, and a small air compressor. Assembled with covers, the 350 was 60 inches long, 68 inches high and 29 inches deep. It was configured with 50 magnetic disks containing 50,000 sectors, each of which held 100 alphanumeric characters, for a capacity of 5 million characters.

Disks rotated at 1,200 rpm, tracks (20 to the inch) were recorded at up to 100 bits per inch, and typical head-to-disk spacing was 800 microinches. The execution of a "seek" instruction positioned a read-write head to the track that contained the desired sector and selected the sector for a later read or write operation. Seek time averaged about 600 milliseconds.

With storage capacities of 5 million and 10 million digits, and the capability to be installed either singly or in pairs, the 350 provided the 305 system with storage capacities of 5, 10, 15 or 20 million characters.

An IBM RAMAC 305 with a 350 disk storage unit leased for about $3,200 per month back in 1957. Over a thousand of the 305 systems (one of IBM's last vacuum tube units) were manufactured before production ended in 1961, and the 305 was withdrawn in 1969.
-- Snopes - Computer Storage

Weighed over a ton. Maybe I'll stop cursing at my Lenovo Thinkpad now.

(nah, I'll keep cursing at it)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

DVD Watch: Futurama: Bender's Big Score

A friend from work loaned this to us since Netflix has it on "very long wait". Honestly there's not much to say about it other than it is good - I mean really, really good. A solid treat for Futurama fans everywhere.

Brilliant Maytag Support

The Girl wants to move one of our adjustable shelves. She's already drawn some blood in the process, so I decided to read the f'n manual. Problem is, Maytag doesn't seem to think it has one.

If you go to their site to download a manual, it will ask you for your model number. There's no alternative to browse models or anything, just the number. I tried ours - no results. I tried three other models I found online with adjustable shelves .... also no results. Did someone forget to maybe actually upload the stupid manuals?

I then tried the FAQ to find that the "next" arrow for moving pages just reloads the current page. Brilliant.

Stainboy #1

Did you know there was cartoon by Tim Burton with music by Elfman? I didn't - but there it is, from Atom films.

Cosplay Images

Decent series of cosplay images, via Glinkster.

For Sunday: Star Wars Revelations

Friday, November 30, 2007

Team Fortress Notes: Bad Strategy #232 - Look At Me At C!

If you don't play TF2, turn back now, this rant won't really make any sense.

Hey, if you're on GravelPit and you're team has NOT taken both the A and B points, you know what would be a brilliant idea? Go be a sneaky bastard and stand on C while the rest of your team fights it out.

OK, granted sometimes that actually works. But usually it is one lone spy who can just hang back and hopefully his team already has the momentum. But for the two times tonight that three people three - generally one engineer, one spy and either a soldier/demo thought that holding C while the other two-thirds of the team actually played the game for you was a good idea - go play lawn darts and leave me the hell alone. You're idiots, you're point whores and glory hounds and the reason why most pick-up online teams fail.

Violent Game Study By The Numbers

On Sense:

This is absurd:

"Exposure to violent electronic media has a larger effect than all but one
other well known threat to public health. The only effect slightly larger
than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking
on lung ...
Read Full Article, Violent video games worse than smoking?!?

Long time Cathode buddy Sterno points out that comparing violent media to smoking, alcohol and other health factors doesn't make any numerical sense. It's true, the age of modern computing and hence living room game systems has, if anything, brought less violent crime - not more.

To me, this is the biggest point with the scaremongering. It's hard to believe in an epidemic that doesn't exist. If violent television made kids violent criminals, my brother and I would have been knocking over bank and jumping rivers in his Volvo shortly after Dukes of Hazzard aired. Don't get me started on The Incredible Hulk.

With all the PlayStation 2's in the world today, we'd be seeing some kind of mass apocalypse if they were causing violent crimes.

And it's what really gets me about politicians complaining about the Wii and the wiimote as being "more violent". You don't get to extend your argument without first proving your argument. You can't say the wiimote will cause even more violence when you can't prove games cause any violence to begin with.

Study links violent media to aggression and crime

On Gamespot Recent Updates [News]:

University of Michigan professor ties violent media to aggressive behavior,
says they go together like smoking and lung cancer.
Read Full Article, Study: Violent games 'public health threat'

It's really the second part that is a bit unsettling, linking media to criminal actions. The reason you should put that in highlight mode is that it is the stick certain politicians like to use to make censorship a "public safety" issue and not an "ethics" issue.

The old psych major in me, though, would argue with the methodology in the second part, though. It's an interview process, not a controlled experiment. It was a fifteen year follow-up and doesn't state a) whether these kids were watching more violent media to begin with (and if so, why) and b) what other factors might lead to the criminal behavior.

The whole "kids who watch 300 or Gladiator before playing football are more aggressive" argument feels flawed to me as well. Floor hockey is an aggressive sport. Football is an aggressive sport. Getting people pumped up before an aggressive sport is probably going to lead to more aggression in the aggressive sport. Did this guy not study basic biology? It's called adrenaline and if their dads stood yelling at them before sending them into the game - I'd bet they'd be more aggressive as well.

So maybe we should just ban that, too.

Rein On the Open Modding For UT3

On Joystiq:

Filed under: Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, First Person Shooters,
The always talkative Epic Games VP Mark Rein is exuberant about the open
system for downloading *Unreal Tournament 3* mods for the PlayStation 3.
"It's fantastic! I ...
Read Full Article, Mark Rein excited about UT3 mods on PS3

Saying "open modding" is generally redundant except that in this case - nobody has really tried it for consoles before. Epic taking the high road and letting users be users, letting modders be modders, is about the only way to keep "modding" in any semblence of its original form. Otherwise its just cheap outsourcing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deus Ex 3 Announced With Resounding Meh

I was going to lead this off with the teaser for DX3, but I went ahead and watched first and can confirm it is not worth the bother. It's a teaser with the lower case t and a big "can I get my three minutes back" at the end.

I was never as harsh on DX2 as pretty much the rest of the world - but that doesn't mean I still wasn't hoping for a different game. Project: Snowblind was a better sequel in some ways in part because they didn't have to follow in DX1's footsteps. Following in DX1's footsteps would have been hard, as DX2 showed, but following in DX2's footsteps would just be a colossal mistake. I hated the way DX2 tried to get by with threading DX1's storyline into a kind of hackneyed "maybe all the endings happened" kind of way and threading that again into another game would just prove disastrous. We don't need to have everything be about the Dentons - the world of DX is big enough to give us something different.

I'll hold out hope that DX3 will actually build on DX1 more rather than slimming it down for the console world as DX2 did ... but I won't hold my breath. Games in general are making this sacrifice and I doubt Eidos Montreal will risk the console market too greatly.

Wii Shortage To Continue For Holidays

"I've never seen anything like this," says Michael Pachter, a videogame industry analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, about the overwhelming demand for Wiis. "Nintendo could not have expected this level of popularity."

So, why doesn't Nintendo just make more and cash in?

It's not that the company isn't trying. It's bumped up production from about 1 million to 1.8 million a month, says Nintendo Senior Vice President George Harrison, with roughly a third of them earmarked for North America. Last week was Nintendo's best since the Wii's launch, with 350,000 sold in the United States alone. In comparison, Microsoft sold about that many Xbox 360s last month. It's a remarkable triumph for a console focused on the kind of simple games skeptics originally wrote off as "thumb candy for dummies."

Since its launch a year ago, Nintendo's diminutive console has been perpetually sold out in North American stores. By the time you see Wiis advertised in the Sunday paper, they're already gone. Yet the company insists it's not creating artificial shortages, instead saying that demand -- from gamers young and old, and from eBay sellers looking to earn quick profits -- keeps increasing.

"Although we've made efforts over the year to increase the monthly production rate, we haven't been able to catch up with demand," admits Harrison.
-- Why You Can't Get Your Hands on a Wii

My tip is to wiibay a used one. It's what I did, it cut down the surcharge of going to an ebay scalper, I got some accessories tossed in to ease the pain and it's been working fine since I got it.

TV Watch: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

No, it didn't premiere and you missed it or anything, only through the magic of the Internets did I somehow stumble on an preair copy of the upcoming television series which aims to fill in the Terminator storyline after the events of Terminator 2 and apparently before the events of Terminator 3.

I would say this show is of interest to three groups of people:

Firstly, anyone who wants to see Summer Glau, formerly River on Firefly, act like a kickass robot (spoiler there, but no more than the previews, so). Personally, I don't understand how this isn't every living person on the planet, but each to their own and all that jazz. If you want to see Summer Glau act like a kickass robot, certainly check this one when it premieres.

Secondly, Terminator fans who just want to see more of the franchise. It seems to handle the subject material and hold tight to the existing canon, so you're in luck there. The production value is a little bit of a mixed bag and leans to the first movie than the sequels in terms of special effects wizardy - but it is definately Terminator.

Finally, sci fi geeks looking for something next month when the writer's strike has robbed them of pretty much everything except apparently Battlestar.

I'm certainly in the first and third category, so I'll be checking it out. The Girl hadn't watched the Terminator movies (I know, I know) and said it was hard to follow and kind of shallow. So non-killer robot geeks should probably stay away.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NaNo Win

Around midnight last night I clocked in the 50,000 mark of my NaNoWriMo entry, Wonderful. The end result is a mess of a rough of a rough draft - a series of inconsistent plot points, two dimensional characters and lousy dialog. Also, I think I'm quickly losing my ability to spell.

Still, NaNo is a brilliant excuse to write and a kind of self-imposed challenge with the spice of peer pressure to egg you on. It's not that anyone will actually think less of you if you don't win, 99.9999% of people won't even notice - but you get to feel as if they would and press on anyway. It's not even about the winning, it's just about the jumping in and getting something on paper.

So anyway, I'm back. I don't know what I'll use to consume my time now - but I'll probably get back to the Flex based text adventure I was working on before.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Orange Box PS3: Preview Versus Review

I'm not sure if this fits in with the rest of the really bad PlayStation 3 reporting that the blogosphere has only recently been able to shake, but it must be close.

Witness the horror:

To add insult to injury, and then to pour a salt and lemon juice cocktail into said injury, the PS3 version of Orange Box has received the developmental shaft, according to a recent preview on 1UP. While the PC and 360 versions of the game were largely managed by Valve, the PS3 version was apparently the responsibility of a team at EA. This has led to a number of framerate hiccups and other technical issues which "at best merely hinder game play and at worst make the experience downright unplayable."
-- PS3 version of Orange Box might be 'downright unplayable'

Now witness the stop-freaking-out:

Before you freak, know that in my time playing The Orange Box on PS3, I only encountered a few truly troubling framerate issues. For the bulk of my playtime, the pieces of The Orange Box run fine. Sure, there's more hitching than on 360, but I was still drawn in to the dense world Valve created. The technical issues aren't going to be enough to deter anyone who wants to enjoy Orange Box on PS3. Unless you require your games to never dip below 30fps, you should not strike The Orange Box off your PS3 holiday wish list.
-- The Orange Box PS3 Hands-On

The bottom being an actual review of the published version by IGN, the above being a quote being widely circulated around blogs based on a preview version. Thing is, people, framerate issues with preview editions are as commonplace as air is to wind. It happens all the time - but usually without all the drama. Sometimes those issues don't get resolved, sure, but now that full reviews are out ... the preview is really rather obsolete news, right?

How much TV is left with the WGA Strike?

The Futon Critic gives you the run down on what is remaining with the current television schedule in terms of how many episodes were ordered versus delivered before the strike went into effect.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Will the Wiipuns ever end? Is it too wiierd? Who cares.

One of the biggest concerns with the Wii is the library. I'm not sure how big of a concern it needs to be when I just got done with a two-day Thanksgiving Wiifest which largely consisted of either Wii Bowling or Wii Tennis - both which are included with the console itself.

And besides, November is turning out to be a killer month for the Wii. If you're new to the system, you have the standbys in the form of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime: 3, both of which I got a chance to preview at The Brother's over the turkey holiday and found them to be exactly what you might hope them to be - insanely well updated versions of games already classics on Nintendo's hardware. And if that wasn't enough of a no-brainer for you, Super Mario Galaxy becoming one of the highest rated games of all time sure should be.

If that's not enough Mario action for you, I keep being told that Mario Strikers Charged is the best game nobody is talking about for the system to date, which is odd since it apparently snuck in as one of the earliest examples of playing on NiWiFi with the Wii.

The brother also had Battalion Wars 2 via Gamefly, but we didn't get a chance to try it out with all the trash-talking turkey-dancing Wii Sports action that was going on. Still, makes my list.

Three suprise contenders include Zack and Wiki, which is apparently the other best game nobody is playing on the system, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 which from the previews sounds like it might either surpass or round out Metroid for gameplay with online and arcade style modes, and finally Ghost Squad, if you happen to like over the top rails shooters which have unlock codes to replace knives with bananas.

And you know you do.

The Myth Of Cyber Monday

Being somewhat attached to the Internet professionally, the term "Cyber Monday" continues to gain some speed every year. For the record, Cyber Monday is marketing stunt pulled off by, a prominent online retailer association. As Snopes points out, Cyber Monday is rarely a big day for online sales - the month of December alone pretty much eliminates any chance of that as procrastinators wait until the week before Christmas to get their last minute items shipped to them. Actually, I think Black Friday still regularly outsells Cyber Monday.

Still, I probably do about 90% of my holiday shopping online and honestly this year might be more like 100%.

Movie Watch: Beowulf

The decision to see Beowulf at IMAX is something of a catch-22. Traditionally computer animated movies don't go over so well, but the promise of 3D means that if you don't catch it at the theater, you may never see it "as intended" as movie geeks like to say.

Bottom line: go see it as intended. The 3D technology here is better by far than anything that precedes it. It's crisper, clearer, easier to watch and suffers far less from the abusive gratuitous scenes of yore like shoving long objects in your face (although the occasional spear does get shoved in your face). For the most part, the 3D here accomplishes what 3D should be trying to accomplish all along - it makes the movie a deeper, more immersive experience.

Storywise - Beowulf is much better than some will expect. Gaiman and Avary truly deliver here if you really take the task at a whole. Beowulf, the poem, is possibly one of the best known and least read pieces of literature. They follow the basic plot (which, if you want to get down to it - is about what you'll get anyway from the poem) and offer a bit of depth as well. Occasionally the movie dips into outright campiness - Beowulf's naked fighting style and Grendel's mom having high heels come to mind. But it wears even that fairly well. Sure enough, the plot is really something to hang the action scenes on - but some moments, like Beowulf raging on the beach - kick things up a notch.

In short, if you can see at an IMAX, it's probably worth the pennies. Otherwise, a decent rental.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving moments

Mom trashtalking during Wii Tennis.

Dad blaming the wiimote that he keeps crashing in Excite Truck.

Mom says: 'I played the ninja'

Stepfather actually does turkey dance after three strikes in Wii bowling.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Notes On Team Fortress 2

I'm still kinda stuck on this game, putting me into a kind of nostalgia making me wonder if it isnt worth checking into Counter-Strike:Source to see if it has matured much lately.

Still - two things are really dragging the game down for me.

One is this trend towards fast or no respawn times. On some maps it doesn't really amount to much, but to others, like Dustbowl, it throws out the original mechanics of the game for what really amounts to just plain old impatience. It's stupid and the kind of thing that, quite honestly, gives multiplayer games a bad name. If you really need to chalk up points so quickly you can't take the punishment of death ... go back to Quake III Arena.

Second - Valve just released an update and did NOT fix the underground sentry exploit on Gravel Pit. This exploit renders the map essentially useless as the first team to use it pretty much destroys the final control point on the map, gamewise. Bad pool, Valve, bad pool.

Fear Of Girls 2

Ryan of Dangerously Adorably Productions sent along a kind note that the next episode of their geek-loving parody Fear Of Girls is out. I've been watching it on and off and it's just as darn funny as the first, so it is hereto embedded for your pleasure:

Ryan points out that apparently Cathode gave the first episode the tip of the hat needed for bigger blogs to run it. We do what we can ... we do what we can...

Holiday Gaming Buying Tips (For Non-Gamers)

Kids don't want to hurt their parents' feelings, but they are saying, 'My parents don't really get it.' But maybe they don't really understand the difference between the Wii and the Sony PlayStation 2," Khamis said.

Grandparents, relatives and Santa were also likely to give unwanted video games as gifts, respondents said.

The 580-store retailer opted to do the survey to smooth over holiday giftgiving, and perhaps increase some sales along the way. "Overall, we just want to say, 'Come to Game Crazy, so you can be a hero.' " Khamis says. Her advice for parents and other shoppers who want to get the right games:

• Ask the child to write out a wish list.

• Know what game system the child has. "A lot of parents come into the store and we have to show them a picture of the systems," Khamis says.

• Know the child's interests, whether they like music or sports games, for instance. "Oftentimes, they would like to get a few other things they didn't ask for, to surprise them," she says.

A child's age can come into play because many of them (62%) said that they would ask for a game that they know has a rating over their age level. "Say a child wants Halo 3. We know that's a Mature-rated game. But every parent has a different comfort level for their child," she says. "Let the store staff play it for you and look at the content."
-- Parents often bungle gaming gifts [USA Today/]

Good advice. Let me add a few more:

- If the game has a felony of any kind in the title, it's probably not for kids.

- If you're buying a game because you think they liked the movie - think again. Actually, probably should just buy them the book the movie was based on instead. Chances are - they haven't read it.

- If you aren't willing to do some research, at least follow in the footsteps of those willing to do it for you. On the right side of this blog there is a set of links grouped "For Parents" ... use it.

Man, Christmas really does start earlier and earlier every year...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Few (More) Notes On Half-Life's Story

A while back, like when CT first got rolling, I wrote this bit about how Half Life 2's story is best not really thought about and it's since been something of a centerpiece when I talk about narratives in games and what constitutes storytelling.

Having now finished Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal, I kinda started thinking about it again. Sorry.

And you know, I'm not even going to put in my normal positive bit about Valve's ability to create sets and environments. First of all you know all that and second if you don't get that for a decent play you need more than a decent stage, just stop reading now.

First, let's dismiss something that is being commonly talked about right now. If you want to go listen to Portal's credits song and you haven't played the game or don't actually own it, well you just go right on ahead and do so. Seriously, people are playing up the spoiler thing way too much here. Hey, the good guy kills the big boss at the end and gets away. Oh, I'm sorry - did you honestly not expect that???. Honestly you should play the game first simply because half of the humor of the song will be a little lost on you - but it's not like song tells you Buffy's mom dies or anything. Portal doesn't have much of a plot to speak of - and hence, not much to really spoil. There's about one "twist" in the game, the song doesn't mention it and you pretty much see it coming soon in the game anyway.

"Still Alive" is one of the best video game songs ever written and it's a lot, lot funnier if you get through the game first (not to mention more rewarding) - but don't let that stop you from listening to it at all.

OK, that said, let's get back to Gordon.

So does anyone else find it odd that Black Mesa is still such a prominent aspect of the future when it was blown off the face of the earth by a thermonuclear bomb? Not to mention being the entry point of a full scale extradimensional invasion because Gordon kills some big baby alien thing. And not only did this band of mad scientists manage to essentially destroy the entire planet - they still seem remarkably well funded and still inventing?

And my favorite bit? The fact that at the beginning of Half-Life 2, the guy who was running the whole facility not survives the nuclear blast, survives the invasion - but gets promoted to ruler of the planet. Yeah, I know HL fanboys like to say that just proves Breen was in cohoots with the Combine from the beginning - but my two word response to that is stupid retcon. For one thing, explain to me why an uberpowerful race of conquerers needs a frontman in the first place. What, they were afraid of the bad PR from a seven hour war? They were afraid it might last eight hours so they just went and found the nearest guy under a rock and said, hey - sorry about all this, how about ruling the planet for us?

Not to mention the fact that quite honestly, a seven hour war seems like a little bit of an overkill. Bit of a stretch there. I'd maybe a buy a seven day war ... maybe. But any organization that can conquer an entire planet in seven hours and yet still has a teensy weensy little resistance problem two decades later has a serious case of short attention span.

The thing is I think the Episodes are really moving ahead. Honestly, the best thing the story can do is just move foward at this point and try and build on itself. And it is - and I think its about time we all thank Alyx Vance for this. Let's face it - Alyx is the main character of Half-Life 2. Sure, Gordon is the player's viewpoint ... but he has no lines of dialogue, no real relationships with other characters and can't even move the plot forward without Alyx literally opening doors for him from time to time.

I'm hoping Valve gives her some depth in Episodes to come, as she's about the game's only chance at character development. Yes, Valve can make some great sets and in Alyx they've made a great character. Episode 2 actually brought out some interesting dynamics with her dad, her past and what's coming down the road. I'm hoping Episode 3 does even more.

Thinkpad Meets HP Printer - Hilarity Ensues

My stepmom came through town this weekend and wanted to print out a boarding pass. Considering we have three laptops, a desktop PC, a Mac Mini and a printer - this really shouldn't have posed much of a problem.

Except that when I plugged the HP printer into my Lenovo Thinkpad (my work computer) - it didn't want to recognize. Fine, no problem, obvious fix, right? Install the correct driver and go a printing away.

I downloaded the installer from HP's site, except it wasn't an installer but an installer for the installer and eventually the installer the other installer installed started performing some kind system updates which pretty much crashed everything moments later. I tried to reboot the computer, but it refused to log off - so I just shut it down.

Upon reboot, the installer uninstalls everything - which wasn't entirely what I had mind, so started the installer (the installed installer, not the downloaded installer) up again and we went to go eat some brunch. An hour later I have a prompt for some kind of license agreement so I figure it's more or less done. Except it's not done, it starts updating some files again and then asks me to plug the printer into the computer.

Which, it already is.

So I unplug and plug the thing back in and the Thinkpad starts to try and talk to the printer. The message suggests this might take several minutes and in fact does take several minutes. Fifteen minutes later, actually, there's a big red X over the message and the installer is preparing an error log and then precedes to uninstall itself and all of the lovely updates it had previously installed.

At this point I got The Girl's MacBook Pro and plugged in the USB cable. The MacBook said it had some kind of printer, looked like an HP model and would I like to use this driver? I said it was and I did and five minutes later I had a boarding pass printed out.

When people wonder why I hate Windows, this is why. I'm not sure, honestly, whether to blame the Thinkpad - which I have to say Lenovo has really done a fine job of butchering that fine lineage of hardware, HP software design - which still manages to lock up modern computers, or Windows.

But I'm willing to blame all three.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Ancestry RPG

Corvus asked kindly if I'd elaborate on an idea I mentioned over at MBB for this month's roundtable, and in return he'll give me my cat back*.

Theoretical game design is something of a common sport between me and my friends since it costs nothing and you can get really excited about games you probably will never make. I think out of our group I'm the one who has gotten farthest down the road of actually trying to create any of it - with Unreal mods and the occasionally dabbling into indie/hobbyist design.

This concept followed a talk about permadeath, which I've touched on here at CT before and would go hunt down the links but I'm only on my second cup of coffee and The Girl is about to return from her walk and yell at me for not moving boxes around. We were talking about permadeath and alternatives to the usual extremes of "you're dead, respawn" and "don't". The idea came back with, "you're dead - be reborn."

In Ancestry (theoretical working title), when you die you'd have two choices. The first would be to choose and PC (that had agreed) or an NPC (that you had met) and have an offspring. You could also choose to spawn as a sibling. Kids would be born in specific stages depending on that choice in a fixed timeline. While daddy/mommy is off fighting a war, the kids would grow up in moderately safe zones where they can finetune their skills and abilities before heading out. Parents would have the option to send inheritence to their kids so that when they reach a certain age, they can continue using some of the equipment the player had before.

The advantages here would be that you don't have to lose your favorite +99 sword when someone kills you cheaply. You get a chance to respec your character through some wacky retcon ("I didn't know I had a kid!") and possibly build up familial roles with other characters (kids' abilities would be a mixing of the parents, so).

The other flipside is age. As players advance in level they would also continue into new timeline zones. Eventually, they'd die. While enforced death probably makes every MMO player groan, the idea here is that you could have an afterlife. Once in the afterlife, you can continue adventuring in a plane of existence depending on your life choices. Get powerful enough and players in certain timeline zones can even worship you and you can offer boons, blessings and curses.

So the basic idea here is several timezones being played concurrently, each with their own purpose and restrictions. There'd be two or three zones for new players and the offspring of other players. There's be two or three main zones for fighting whatever premise makes up the game, and then a handful of afterlife zones for the veterans. Each of these interact (child zones feed into war zones, war zones feed into child zones, war zones feed into afterlife zones, afterlife zones alter war zones).

So hey, if anyone wants to take a stab it - let me know how it turns out ;) Now I must lift boxes and find some time to NaNo.

Back to the table:

* Just kidding, Corvus loves cats. He'll never give me my cat back...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Activision Pulls A Fast One On Wii Owners

Rumors have been flying for a few days about Guitar Hero III being mono only for the Wii, and it is now confirmed. Can we get a boo hiss from the audience?

Not only does this suck simply because it's, well, a music based game and to be quite honest my old 36" RCA television actually has pretty good speakers, thank you much - it also just stinks of deception. Activision knew of this issue when the title launched and for golly goodness sakes, probably a lot longer than before that. Yet gamers resort to examining audio output to prove their point.

Anyone here think that the Wii version would have sold nearly as well if Activision had fessed up to this one before the launch?

I'll keep rocking out to my PS2 version, thank you much. Bite me, Activision, bite me. "May fix it", they say, in an upcoming downloadable update. Yeah, right. Oh, so the company which just happened to forget to mention that the output is mono - in a day and age when HDTV's and 5.1 stereo sounds are a gamer's goal for the living room - wants me to buy that they'll fix it later?

And shame on reviewers who missed this one.

What I Don't Get About Assassin's Creed

Is not, rather, how it seems that the entire body of reviewers are giving it the stinkeye after having helped hype the darn thing for like a year - although if anyone can give an answer on that one, I'd be interested in hearing.

No, I don't get part of the art direction. Don't get me wrong, I think it looks real pretty. Screenshot after screenshot, video after video - the game is a looker.

What I don't get is why an assassin, who by his very profession should be a person who would like to keep his whereabouts and activities secretive - is spending a lot of time running around in a white flowing robe and cape with a bright red sash looking like a complete badass. Even when he's standing he strikes this pose that he's a complete badass.

I mean, sure - it looks neat. But if you're in the middle of some Arabian city full of brown and tan robed peeps and realized someone had just gotten killed, wouldn't you wonder hey, I wonder if it was that total badass that did like three backflips to get here. And because you're the helpful citizen you are, you can tell the local federalis that it might be the only guy in the city wearing white robes. And the local federalis would be like, oh that total badass - yeah I saw him jumping from boat to boat.

Anyway, just wondering. Don't have a 360 or PS3, so it matters little to me anyway.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Five Hours Of Energy

Perhaps you've seen these - almost definitely if you live in the greater Chicagoland area - the commercials portraying a poor attractive secretary who would still be bouncing around in glee, or apparently perhaps in her dream job of washing children and serving muffins, if only she had taken a "Five Hour Energy Shot" after what a neutral observer can only assume was a late night of raves, some cardio and blow.

The Girl kept commenting on how if we had to keep watching the commercial we should try some - which is sort of an odd concept of marketing logic but worked for me. We've had a couple of them on the kitchen counter for a while and so I decided to try one this morning.

First - tastes awful. Kinda like a watermelon flavored Sprite gone south. If you've had guarana or taurine drinks you know that kind of off bitter flavor they have ... well let's like that but someone tried some kind of artificial spice to cover it up. And instead of covering it up, it just added to it.

Second - not sure I can report any real boost of energy. My sinuses feel a little more energized, but that could just be the last vestiges of my otherwise vicious allergies. I certainly don't feel like offering anyone muffins.

Finally - this thing cost me like three bucks. That's expensive even by Starbucks standards for anything which doesn't include the word "espresso" during the order.

I'll stick to coffee. In fact, I may have some soon...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Game Play: Portal

Let's cut to the chase. Portal is great. Game of the Year, though? I really don't think, so. But let's get to that debate in a second. Let's enjoy some cake.

Portal is what happens when the guys from the indie hit Narbacular Drop teams up with the guys from Valve. And honestly, I tried Drop for about an afternoon before getting somewhat bored with it ... and hence from my perspective that union has been nothing short of brilliant.

Portal does right where Drop went wrong. Portal is a clean, streamlined experience. Drop was cluttered, literally, with mirrors and boxes and goblins and stuff. Portal lets you worry about the problem at hand. It presents the puzzle and sets you about the task. Whereas I found Drop to be distracting and confusing, Portal was engaging.

Aside from simply killer level design, Portal has benefited from stronger game mechanics. Portal layers on the difficulty level, the enemies, the equipment and brings you deeper into its little world.

Speaking of the world - there's been a lot of discussion about Portal's storytelling. Honestly, I find it a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Portal has a more honest concept than, say, Half-Life 2. Valve designs Gordon as a tabula rasa character but never really admits as such in the story. Hence it seems odd when three people ask Freeman a question and nothing happens. Portal admits you have no idea who you are or how you got there. It even admits that you are trapped running experiments with no logic or, at times, even sanity.

And that honesty bears more immersion than nearly any cinematic in the history of games. It's easy to feel like a nameless avatar running a maze when you are playing a nameless avatar running a maze. The real weak point here is a lack of explanation for respawning. And that's too bad, because as anyone who has read I Have No Mouth... could attest, Valve missed some opportunities there to bring out even more madness with GLaDOS.

Ah GLaDOS. If anything else, there should an award for the monologues here. Her quotes and quips are some of the most priceless ever recorded. Let's be honest, without her you could still have almost the same game. The puzzles are still the game, but GLaDOS just really sells it. The quirks - the companion cube, the cake jokes, that poor missing other subject - flesh out a concept which is simply delightful.

However, I don't think it is honestly great storytelling. I'm not even sure it is much of a story at all. Here we get even less backstory than Half-Life 2 ... we know that Aperture was a competitor of Black Mesa and that GLaDOS went nuts. Most players probably had that figured out within the first few hours of play. After that the plot is what? Run around and then get sucked into an implosion?

Don't get me wrong - Valve is still the master of set pieces, but stage design is only one part of a play. Portal has even less plot than Half-Life 2, which had a plot of "Gordon mysteriously appears, runs around shooting stuff and blows up a tower." Yeah, I know some stuff happened in between but it was so forgettable and unimportant to those three points that I've already forgotten them. If you think Portal had a good story, go read Ellison's I Have No Mouth ... But I Must Scream from which Portal has a somewhat mirrored premise. Except if the Harlan's short took the same route as Portal, it would be "Some humans woke up, got tortured for a day and all but one died."

The difference between the two is the detail in the characters and the interactions. Its their resolution with the past that has caught up to them and their final triumph of a machine world gone mad. But Valve consistently robs players of these possibilities by asserting blank slates and "the backstory is what you make of it" style writing.

If Portal is short, it has to be in part due to this. While I'm sure designing good puzzles with the concept is hard - how much longer could they have dragged out the whole GLaDOS thing? If Portal had been twice as long, her quips could easily have gone from funny to annoying.

So yeah, I think Portal is great - but I'm not sure I agree that it will revolutionize storytelling in games or that we'll see a flood of clones. The puzzle premise in Portal would be hard to outdo, so expensive to ripoff. And honestly the rest is extremely clever writing, but something of an empty shell.

Hey, I'm still humming "Still Alive" in my head and think Portal is the bee's knee's - but I don't think it's Game Of The Year material. In part because I think it's a short concept piece and while wonderful - is riding a lot of hype on the GOTY train. Also, I think GOTY games are one of the few times we should reward big production pieces. Consider all the design time that went into a game like BioShock. GOTY games should celebrate those times when games come completely together - voice acting, level design, music, texture design, etc. BioShock was designed from the ground up whilst I can't help but notice that Portal's androids are just remodelled autoguns.

Now if someone wanted to pitch me The Orange Box against BioShock for Game Of The Year, I'd be willing to listen.

For differing opinions, see Leigh's Aberrant Gamer column and a couple of editors duke it out.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Note From Management: Send Coffee

If you check out my NaNo progress report, you'll see I'm about a day behind. If you've followed the Wonderful blog at all, you'll know that I'm only that close because of a major push yesterday afternoon which ended in one of those moments where one can simply not think to write any more.

Time wasters include: work, more work, Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. I'll have more on those latter two later, maybe, if I have time. Which I probably won't. Corvus asked me elaborate more on comment I made over at MBB, which I'll certainly give a college try to accomplish.

On the work note, Model Metrics was part of a write up in Crain's. For those missing a picture of me, I'm the guy pretending to look busy in a cubicle on the left. Definitely my best side. As The Girl's matron of honor and our stylist guru for the wedding said - "You know, just not photogenic."

So true. Anyway, long month ahead. Send coffee.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Hot Coffee Settled - Bored Media Awaits GTA IV

Take Two settled "Hot Coffee" out of court for some wacky terms. If you swear you were offended by altering your own game so that you yourself could see porn on your own game, you yourself can ask Take Two for $35. It's quite possibly the best deal going on the planet right now. Someone finally found a way for corporate America to pay me for watching bad porn. Clearly, there is a God.

Seriously, I kinda wish Take Two had fought this one. I think they would have won because this was a case made by the media (and the ESRB) and not the facts. I think they would have won and I think there would have been a legal precedent that consumers are actually responsible for the changes they make to software that they buy.

But I can't argue on someone else's dime - so I'm not surprised they didn't. Clearly, it's a shame this didn't all happen on the PSP - where nobody would really care and the ESRB would just squirm their way out of it.

Solace On "Golden Compass"

The Golden Compass comes out soon and many people call it the "anti-Narnia", in part because the original books were written by an avowed atheist who openly admits the book attacks the church, dogma, etc. The script has been edited to avoid conflict, and Solace In Cinema offers this response:

The script has already diluted the source material down to avoid upsetting the overly religious. This of course beggars the question why go near these books at all if you have to fuck them up so badly just to appease people who’d rather watch a tractor-pull anyway? Dumbing down the religious aspect in these books is akin to green-lighting a new version of the Nativity Story only to open with an abortion scene. And of course the god mob are far from appeased, preparing more wholesome fare like a dead man being fingered in his stabports by a doubting cult member. So we’re given a half-pint concept for no good reason at all. Wonderful.
-- The Golden Spinnything trailers

The trailers have me a little jazzed about the movie, but The Girl and I want to get audiobooks on the originals as well.

Writer's Strike Closes The Office

I honestly haven't written anything on the WGA strike because it kicked up right as NaNo did and I haven't had time to actually figure out what the nuances are.

So here are the writers and actors of The Office doing it for me.

From DailyKos, thanks Jason.

"Suicide" Bombing Always Made Sense In Games

Don't get me wrong - I think Clive Thompson is a great games journalist and I really did find his column on suicide bombing in Halo 3 enjoyable. And while I think he has a point well taken that Live's matchmaking service makes particularly effective because people don't want their stats going down ... this kind of strategy has existed for some time. Unreal Tournment's Redeemer is a suicide bomber's technological wet dream. Sure, it's great if you can guide it half way across the map - but it will do if you can just shot it into a crowded room. And of course when I played Counter-Strike, half the time anyone used a grenade it seemed like it would take them and half their team along with them. And in CS, you don't respawn until after the round, so...

Or take being a pyro in Team Fortress. While the baseline strategy is to hide around corners and from beneath ledges and burn people while they can't get to you - another is to run headlong into a group of people while holding down the trigger button, hoping that you'll get four or five of them before anyone can get a bead on you.

And of course, none of this is actually suicide bombing. It's respawning bombing. One is taking the ultimate in all penalties and one is waiting a few seconds. So while I appreciate Clive's article - I think it might have to go up for some kind of hyperbole award.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

ESRB Continues To Blur Its Message

I exchanged some emails last night with Matt O' Curmudgeon Gamer, which you can read the summary of his opinions on the ESRB's Manhunt 2 statement over there. I poked at him first because he's had real interaction with the ESRB and I wanted to make sure I wasn't off-base with my initial reaction. From his take on things, it would seem rather not.

Let's break this down:

Earlier this week we learned about a hack into the code of the PSP and PS2 versions of the game that removes special effects filters that were put in place to obscure certain violent depictions. We have investigated the matter and concluded that unauthorized versions of the game have been released on the Internet along with instructions on how to modify the code to remove the special effects. Once numerous changes to the game's code have been made and other unauthorized software programs have been downloaded to the hardware device which circumvent security controls that prevent unauthorized games from being played on that hardware, a player can view unobscured versions of certain violent acts in the game. Contrary to some reports, however, we do not believe these modifications fully restore the product to the version that originally received an AO rating, nor is this a matter of unlocking content.
-- ESRB issues statement about Manhunt 2 hacks and controversy

OK, here's the thing about the above statement: it does not represent any departure from the original Hot Coffee fiasco. The modders for Hot Coffee also modified code to remove logic to show previously unshown scenes. The only big distinction is that the PC does not have the same kind of restrictions that the PSP platform has - but that just alters the hill the PSP hackers had to climb to get to the same point.

Let's examine the ESRB's rebuttal to that point, from the same Joystiq post:

The Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "Hot Coffee" situation involved a scene that was a) fully rendered in an unmodified form on the disc (the Hot Coffee mod did not alter the content that was there, it merely unlocked it), b) not previously disclosed to the ESRB during the rating process, and c) easily accessible to all owners of the PC version of the game. Conversely, in the case of Manhunt 2, a) content that was programmed to be part of the game (i.e., visual blurring effects of certain violent depictions) is being modified, b) the content was previously disclosed to the ESRB, and c) unauthorized versions of software and/or hardware are required to play the modified content.

To say that the Manhunt 2 material wasn't unlocked, because code removed special effects filters, but that GTA material was unlocked, because it switched some flags to allow the scenes to play - is simply semantic. Technically it's the difference of an apple and say, a granny smith apple. For the Manhunt 2 material to be shown at all, the scenes must exist in their unaltered format (just like GTA). Telling the code not to display a blur filter isn't significantly different from telling the code to show scene A instead of skipping it.

The ESRB has engaged in this kind of wordplay before - shifting blame from publishers to developers to modders in their arguments depending on who was asking the question. The only real distinction here is that we are talking about material that Rockstar disclosed, the ESRB rated and Rockstar "edited".

So in other words - the real distinction between the Manhunt 2 content and the GTA content isn't Rockstar, it isn't the publisher and it isn't the modders. It's the ESRB. They've decided to handle this situation in a different way for one basic reason:

Someone did the math and they realized they could get away with it. The PSP is a tiny market compared to the PC, Manhunt 2's controversy is already old news and quite frankly nobody really cares about a subpar game on the world's second rate handheld martket.

The problem with that is that the ESRB continues to act more like a political body than as a standards body. Their message in instances such as this is not necessarily about communication with consumers as it is about damage control.

If the same kind of focus was getting shown onto the situation as we saw with the frantic over-reaction to Hot Coffee, I'd put dollars to donuts that the ESRB would be singing a different tune. If we were talking the Wii version here? Oh brother, watch out.

Sadly, that's precisely what consumers - and especially parents - don't need. Parents don't give two cents, nor should they, whether the material was on the disc, or added to the disc, or hacked from the disc, or if the flag was set by a config file, or if it took a hex editor, or if their kid could run a binary patch, or whatnot. They need to know what happens when they buy a game and what can happen after they bring it home.

This is a failure to communicate - and one that's indicative of a problem with the ESRB in general.