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Friday, March 09, 2007

Why I don't get eBay sometimes

I've been wondering if Microsoft's manufacturing problems could turn into a cheap method of getting a 360. Standard cost of getting your 360 refurbished is about $150 ... or half of the Core system. I figure if people have a really bum system and simply didn't want to fix it - they'd dump it on eBay for whatever they'd get. So anything less than $150 and you might have a bargain - especially if it was less than $100 or so.

Course, some people will pay $200 for a Core system that specializes in blinking red lights. So that theory hasn't really worked.

Then you have some peeps who want to offload some systems at above retail. Really? $20 for the priviledge of also spending shipping when the Best Buy down the road has so many boxes on the floor the employees are making forts with them?

I guess he's not too crazy when people are paying for over retail on some used items. I think I'll stay away from the auctions for now.

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I don't really know what to make of that, but it's a brilliant function name. From Sklathill's photostream.

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Game Night: Illuminati

Illuminati is another Steve Jackson creation. The goal is create a network of groups (represented by cards) of a certain size before anyone else. Mechanically, there's some similarity to Munchkin - success is based on the simple math of power versus resistance with as many modifiers as can be thrown against either side. In this case, it's generally power from other groups and money. In true Jackson form though, the game can elevate it's complexity from time to time.

For instance - one of the moves that cinched a game for me was having the Orbital Mind Control Lasers convert the S.M.O.F.'s (a sci fi fan group) into communists so that the Communist Party could more easily control them. That kind of thing.

Fairly easy to learn and once you have the hang of it ... a game can take about two hours or so. We played two games in the night compared to the epic battles of Munchkin. Course, we were down to five last night which also makes it go quicker than having eight or more people around the table.

Another great Steve Jackson Games creation and highly recommended.

Fun Fact! Steve Jackson Games appears as a company in the hacker sim Uplink. They seem to be getting raided by the Secret Service - mirroring a real life raid. (Wikipedia)

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Jagged Alliance Film

A similiar weirdness must have been at play when, after a chance meeting with a man named Daniel Jevons led to a quick and wonderful friendship led to a conversation where I was asked what video game property most excited me for the purposes of creating a feature film.

"Jagged Alliance", I said. Without a hesitation.

Fast forward almost a year of discussions, treatment scripts, and a lot of paperwork and the following press release hits the world:

Strategy First Partners with Union Entertainment to Develop The Jagged Alliance Feature Film!
-- Strategy First Partners with Union Entertainment to Develop The Jagged Alliance Feature Film!

OK, so knowing our luck it will be a B-movie bloodfest which barely ranks in between Cobra and Commando ... but Jagged Alliance is at least old school proto-X-Com style joy.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Landover Baptist Offers FREE PS3 (if you accept Christ)

Hey kids! If your Mom and Dad can't get you a PlayStation 3 for Christmas, you can still get one FOR FREE! Have you ever heard of Jesus Christ? Well, He's heard of you! And He wants you to have all the cool toys your parents are too cheap to buy! In fact, the Lord Jesus is very upset with your parents that they won't give you all the latest stuff that every kid in America deserves! And Jesus has got your back, because He is your homeboy! If you've never heard of Jesus, He is an invisible cloud-dwelling deity (infinite lives!) who loves you very much and wants nothing more than to give you a free PlayStation 3!  
-- Accept Jesus Christ and Get a Free Playstation 3

If you're not familiar with the good work Landover performs for this Earth - you might take this seriously.

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Game 3.0 Explained

Essentially, Game 1.0 was represented by the disconnected console and static game discs; Game 2.0 was brought to us by connected consoles (or PCs) that offered static content; but Game 3.0 takes connected consoles to a new level by leveraging online collaboration and user-generated content. Suddenly the content is dynamic and, as Sony says, Game 3.0 "puts the spotlight back on the consumer." Harrison explained that Sony was influenced by the ideas put forth by web 2.0 – sites such as MySpace and YouTube that are driven by user-generated content. Harrison also made clear that Sony is not trying to trademark Game 3.0; they simply want to get the developer and gaming communities thinking about a trend which Harrison believes "will power the next decade of growth in our industry."
-- Gaming 3.0 [BusinessWeek]

Technically, Game 3.0 is not entirely new. Not really. I mean, there has been user created content with mods, maps and the like. And there's often been ways of sharing and discussing that content. It's the "leveraging online collaboration" that takes it to a new level.

Web 2.0 has always bugged me - as a term. Like AJAX. It's a blanket phrase for explaining way too many disassociated things and an easy way to sell ideas which aren't quite as important as some would like to have you believe. It's not specific enough for real technical use but has been so overhyped that you can hardly get away from it.

Still, I'm hopeful. The Dreamcast was the first time a console really leveraged an online base to seriously enhance the games it carried. Between Xbox Live and Sony's new ideas ... it will be interesting to see what unfolds this year.

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Lost: Enter 77

New rule on the island: Locke is not allowed around computers.

Seriously - was that Locke last night? He was more like the third Stooge than someone generally assumed to be the "other leader" of the group. Who leaves a person bound in one room to go play chess in another room? How could Locke, of all people, think that blindly playing with a DHARMA computer is a good idea?

Did Kate manage to get all those DHARMA books which probably explained the operation of the island? I'm guessing not. No, Locke's accidental explosion now gets in line with Jack dismissing the captured Losties and Sawyer sending Karl away. Doesn't entirely make sense ... but conveniently keeps the Lost ones (and us) from learning anything new. That book about food drops? Might have been helpful.

And in that vein - the producers claimed this was an episode where we would learn important connections between DHARMA and the Others. I guess in a way we did - we know now that it was antagonistic. The Others aren't ex-DHARMA people, DHARMA arrived on the island and apparently tried to "purge" the hostiles. DHARMA lost.

Course, that doesn't entirely make sense either. Juliet is definately DHARMA, right? And Klugh was part of Ben's group, and Juliet is part of Ben's group ... so how is Mikhail also not part of DHARMA?

So in typical Lost fashion ... the producers promise clarity and only end up clouding the picture some more. We really don't know squat.

Even the show's writers seem to realize the show is in trouble. In this episode we get Sawyer asking Nikki who the hell she is (we're still wondering ourselves) ... Sawyer asking Hurley if the hatch exploded or imploded (the producers can't seem to keep it straight) and Sayid telling Locke that using a stick as a compass is silly (because really, truly, even on this island ... it is).

Speaking of - wasn't it established in season one that north wasn't a trustworthy concept? That some kind of magnetic field was throwing it off? So either the hatch (ex|im)plosion removed that problem and they forgot to mention it ... or they simply forgot?

I'd go back and look - but someone at work pointed out yesterday that the first season isn't so much fun when you realize that the story will just string you along for two more episodes.

He's right, of course. It's not that last night's episode was terrible by television standards - it's just that it made the show feel like it had bottomed out. The producers aren't willing to tinker with the format of the show or resolve revelations on any timetable which might appeal to those bored with the show.

I'm clocking it - the show is not going to get any better. Either enjoy it as it is or watch Medium.

Fun Fact! The series began development in January 2004, when Lloyd Braun, head of ABC at the time, ordered an initial script based on his concept of a cross between the movie Cast Away and the popular reality show Survivor. Unhappy with the result and a subsequent re-write, Braun contacted J.J. Abrams, creator of the TV series Alias, to write a new pilot script. Although initially hesitant, Abrams warmed up to it, and eventually collaborated with Damon Lindelof to create the series' style and characters. (Wikipedia)

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A Brief Defense Of PlayStation Home

Yesterday, Sony gave the world details about their Home concept, a mashup of avatars, online lobbies and advertising space.

By today, there have been a lot of people weighing in.

For instance, Joystiq ponders if PlayStation Home is just a sex den in disguise. Which is a bit like writing a review of World of Warcraft and saying it's like having cybersex - but with elves. Or even worrying that Home will be home to griefers and idiots - as if this doesn't plague every online concept in virtually all of gaming since the days when modems still bothered advertising baud rates. Some just wish Sony had bought Second Life outright it seems.

All of these are just aspects of online worlds in general. They're either too open or never have that one feature that everyone wants. I don't see how any of the above are stumbling blocks above or beyond any other online community. Heck, I'm helping someone organize a bulletin board system and let's see.... check, check, check and check.

Curmudgeon levels the three basic worries, I think. First is that it's not a finished product. Second that it might be overcomplicated. Third is that there is paid content.

Let me address them in reverse order. First - of course there will be paid content. And plenty of advertising. I don't see how that's a huge deal as long as the basic services - connectivity, lobbies, achievements, matchmaking - are still free. So you want that floating bed instead of a futon? So pay for it. The real question is the cost. Are we talking $5 horse armor here?

Second, games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and even my old fave Phantasy Star Online use this kind of setup all the time and it really is never a problem. Actually I loved PSO's setup - almost more than any other matchmaking setup I've used. It was fun and personal.

The real question as to how complicated it will be, however, speaks to the unfinished aspect of the design. While others are worrying about sex dens - I'm wondering if Sony will be sure to add in the basics that need to work above the virtual world. Buddy cards, the ability to ping other players from anywhere in the world, LFG lists - that kind of thing.

I think it's a grand idea and it needs some details to fill in the gaps. However, that's not even why yesterday excited me. Yesterday excited me because it was really the first time Sony started to explain why the PlayStation 3 might actually distinct itself from other offerings. This more than anything has been my complaint about Sony since they announced the PS3. While most of the world seemed to be worrying about the price point and shelved units - I was still wondering when Sony was going to announce something worth talking about.

They finally have - and even if I hate the term "Game 3.0" ... it's something worth talking about. Sony has a lot of answers to give ... will Home be offered to all developers? When will their "Edge" tools be ready to wear? Is this all we get? Will you stop producing stupid ads?

Still ... they are answers I'm more willing to expect now. Sony says that they are now ready to make this the year for software ... and if they can produce the goods then the PlayStation 3 might finally become the product they were talking about so many months ago.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Trailer Park: Heavenly Sword

Did I just see this on Heroes? This has a lot more behind the scenes and I think Gollum as well.

OK, enough video hunting for one night.

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Trailer Park: Hellgate

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Trailer Park: Shadowrun

Not as much fun as the Playstation Home video out today, but still something:

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TV Watch: More On Starbuck

This is the text to warn you of a spoiler ... this is the text to warn you of a spoiler. All work and no play make Jack a something something.


So Starbuck (Katee Sackoff) blew up in that swirly storm full of visions or whatever -- it was possibly the stupidest and most pointless death imaginable for a kickass pilot and awesome pivotal character. Delving into Starbuck's childhood abuse and turning it into a flimsy excuse for a sudden mental breakdown made no sense whatsoever. And what about the whole Leoben paint-sex scene, coupled with his puppy-eyed sympathy as she remembers her dead mom? As they say in Australia: yucko.

Why the hell do we want Leoben to help Starbuck "pass over into the space between life and death"? He's the creepy asswipe who tortured her repeatedly on New Caprica. But redeeming the creepy is apparently the whole point of this episode. Not only is Kara's abusive, finger-crushing mom recast as a nice lady in her deathbed scene, but Leoben is recontextualized as spirit guide. WTF? I'm feeling nothing but the squick.
-- Starbuck: Is She or Isn't She?

I agree with the sentiment if not the empasis of the text. Part of me, though, is happy that the show did something really controversial for fans of the show to chew on for a while. Personally, here's my theory -

We haven't seen the last of Starbuck because yes, true believers, she is one of the "missing" Cylon versions. Her projected version of Leoben and even her mom were unrealistic because they had to serve a purpose - to get her to hit the "in between" that we saw Three abusing so much. Death can be a spiritual adventure for a Cylon and with Xena boxed ... the race might be looking for a new messiah.

So I'm guessing Sackoff will be getting loads of time off from the show ... but she won't be completely off the roster just yet.

Fun Fact! According to Ronald Moore, Centurions do not download into new bodies upon death like the humanoid infiltrators. (Wikipedia)

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More On A Community Of Gamers

Curmudgeon wakes me up with this:

There's a "YouTube for games" that Microsoft is working on to develop and share XNA games, which should be out "when it's done".
-- [Kotaku]

Now combine that with this:

More than two dozen text strings hidden in iTunes 7.1 related to game management with the Apple TV have been found and reported by various sites. The strings, such as "Are you sure you want to sync games? All existing games on the Apple TV XXX will be replaced with games from this iTunes library." and "Some of the games in your iTunes library were not copied to the Apple TV XXX because they cannot be played on this Apple TV." are further confirmation of comments by PopCap VP Greg Canessa indicating that the Apple TV would indeed support games.

Rumors regarding Apple's interest in the gaming market received a kick-start in December when Prudential analyst Jesse Tortora released a research note stating that he believed Apple would have to offer some sort of console gaming device in order to compete against offerings from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.

And now allow me to quickly quote myself:

The other problem that faces Mac gaming is the lack of coherent online community to learn about new games, have developers upload games and players to try them out. iTunes is perfectly well equipped for this and is even somewhat taking the first steps by offering games for iPods. But hey, not every Mac user is an iPod user.
-- List Of Demands For 2007

What would a "YouTube for games" really mean? YouTube did for online movies what iTunes did for podcasts. A YouTube or iTunes for games would follow the same format - extremely low cost of entry and massive amounts of exposure. Quality? Not a factor. Social networking will filter the good from the bad.

At first glance I would say this is not what Microsoft is heading towards. The XNA contest is a Valve style strategy - it's embrace and extend. YouTube doesn't embrace and extend ... it merely embraces and lets everyone else sort it out. A Valve strategy is very tempting because when it works - it's highly benficial to the mother company.

When it fails, though, it doesn't leave much behind.

Games could use the same kind of broad community that podcasts and home videos currently enjoy. For one thing, it would place it in the same ballpark as other homespun forms of art and perhaps shove the notion that they're the product of the technical elite behind. These days you can make games with a wide, wide variety of technologies and the appeal of games is quickly broadening beyond just graphics and horsepower.

Course, Microsoft would use XNA. Apple probably won't even bother with a public SDK. So once again, we're steps behind the notion of a "YouTube for games". It's a great soundbite - but as long as the companies trying to host the games are also going to try and control the development and publishing of the games - it won't be true.

Fun Fact! The name iPod was proposed by Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter, who (with others) was called by Apple to figure out how to introduce the new player to the public. After Chieco saw a prototype, he thought of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the phrase "Open the pod bay door, Hal!", which refers to the white EVA Pods of the Discovery One spaceship. Apple had previously registered the name "iPod" for Internet kiosks, but never put it to use. (Wikipedia)

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An iTunes For Games

But online, shelf space is infinite and inventory risk is zero. So gamers will be able to pick and choose not just from a retail store's limited, hit-centric selection, but from a wide range of obscure classics and experimental new designs.

At least, they should be able to. But in reality, and quite ironically, the number of full-blown, disc-based games on retail shelves dwarfs the online offerings for two of the consoles. Microsoft's Xbox 360 has amassed a library of more than 160 game discs since its November 2005 launch, but only 45 downloadable titles are on the Xbox Live Arcade service. On the PlayStation 3, there are 21 games on Blu-ray disc, but only eight in Sony's online store.

Only on Nintendo's Wii does the downloadable catalog outnumber the retail one: 56 to 35. The company's secret: recycling.
-- An ITunes for Games? Not Yet

Recycling should be Sony's trick as well ... they theoretically could leverage the largest library out of anyone (depending on licenses and probably a hundred other legal loopholes, of course). Aside from games, they surely have more media to throw at consumers than anyone else on the planet consdering their movie and music assets.

While pouring out old games for simplicity and nostalgia is fine, I don't think it's a solid enough idea alone. To riff off the rant about XNA, Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo need to concentrate on new content ... and I would say the community around this new content as well. There's a chance here to rekindle the kind of synergy that once took place between innovative developers and players willing to try untested and unfinished games ... something that once existed for PC's but now is essentially lost.

I think it's interesting that Kohler uses iTunes as the titular example - since I've been saying since Apple announced iPod games that iTunes could in fact serve this purpose as well.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Build, Dream, Play ... Maybe

Microsoft has announced a XNA Studio Contest. One lucky winner will get ten grand and an XBLA contract. Some other folks will get some other stuff and not an XBLA contract.

I'm rather mixed on this. I'm never against a company spending to create a groundswell of hobbyist development.

It's just ... well ... I've seen this before. It doesn't really work out the way people think it should. A couple lucky Joes do not sit down with a lot of pluck and time and get a level of attention from professionals to help foster community of like-minded lucky Joes that might actually create a groundswell of hobbyist development. Not just a breakthrough title, but a breakthrough community.

I suppose I should say - it probably won't play out the way I think it should.

See, the thing is - I do have a problem with Microsoft's XNA solution as it stands. Right now it's a development path which is only good for one thing - sharing with other XNA developers. If someone has a 360 and wants to try your game, this is how they have to do it:

# The individual you are planning to share the game with must be logged in to Xbox Live and have an active subscription to the XNA Creators Club
# The receiving user must have downloaded the XNA Framework runtime environment for the Xbox 360
# The receiving user must have XNA Game Studio Express installed on their own development PC
# The game project, including all source and content assets, must be shared with the receiving user. The receiving user then compiles and deploys the game to their Xbox 360.
-- XNA Frequently Asked Questions

So if your friends aren't willing to spend the extra scratch to join into the XNA club (and they aren't) then you're essentially developing this for your own entertainment and the entertainment of other people trying to build a game.

That last part might not be so bad.

Until now.

Now there is money involved. Now there is a contract involved. Now there is a chance to not be a hobbyist but a professional. Why would I want to play your game and give you any feedback on it if it might help you beat me to a license? Heck, why would I bother helping you with any coding if it might help you beat me to a license? Why should I talk to you at all?

For those who are reading this and thinking I'm just reading too darkly into the human condition and I should have faith - I'd responded with ... I've seen it all before.

Epic had the Make Something Unreal Contest which offered a professional license to the Unreal Engine to the winning team. I'm not laying everything here at Epic's feet - they were just the last in a long line of taking modders to the market. The last MSUC was kind of a contained example, though.

There were mod teams with NDA agreements. NDA agreements. I mean - sweet Christ on a stick - how crazy has a community gone when it tries to enforce legal doctrine to keep secrets. Forgetting, of course, that if the first modders had similar notions that virtually no mod team would even get off the ground. The source code to the UnrealScript portion of Unreal Tournament is like reading the leftover scripts of a dozen programmers rushing to a deadline. Largely because it's the leftover scripts of a dozen programmers rushing to a deadline. It's not that it's badly documented it's that it's not documented. Well commented in sections, sure - but if it weren't for people spending hours either bugging Epic for answers (which they often would mercifully give) or simply trial, error and reporting (which they would mercifully share) ... most UnrealScripters would spend so much time getting off the ground that they would never make a deadline.

Now the contest is over. From what I'm told - the Unreal mod community is something of a wasteland. Well, OK, modding in general has turned into something of a wasteland. Like I said - I'm not laying anything at Epic's feet.

So I get why Microsoft is doing this ... but I don't they should. I don't think it will foster the kind of community they would want. Instead - auction off something of value to the whole community. First, fix whatever problems keep XNA devs from sharing their games with just about anyone who has a 360. Second, make a Gold Circle within the XNA Dev Studio and give the winners of this contest access to that Gold Circle. This would give members better access to Microsoft support, development tools and whatnot. Gold Circle members would then be better equipped to share information with everyone else.

And with a community not fiercely divided in a competitive struggle to "be professional" - they would share. And every one would be making the community stronger ... not weaker.

American Idol produces a ton of humorous failures and a couple of stars every year. It does not, however, raise the bar when it comes to talking about singing. This makes it a poor example for game development.

But hey - it's just one ex-modder's opinion on the subject.

Fun Fact! XNA stands for "XNA's Not Acronymed" ... how GNU for you.

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To PC or Not To PC, Part Whatever

There sits next to my desk at home the CheapBox - a GQ 5090 upgraded with spare parts from previous computers. It's not a performance rig and it won't play the latest and greatest ... but it will play a vast array of the not-so-greatest. It handles Guild Wars like a champ, for instance.

Since we moved into the new condo - it hasn't been powered up. It's not even plugged into the wall at the moment. I even lack a VGA cable should it have a power cord attached. Its only function is holding my wireless router off the floor - and I'm not sure that is even necessary. Discovering that I have no spare VGA cord (although I naturally have like three miles of ethernet cable, several feet of stereo speakers, a redudant array of RCA adaptors and more phone jack splitters than I care to admit) - I just ended up searching for playable games on the Mac Mini (landing on Darwinia and Uplink).

So once again I ask myself - is it even worth the bother?

My options, as I see them:

Plug it and suck it up
Advantages: Only costs a VGA cable. Still plenty of games to be played - including SWAT 4 and any shooter from the UT2004 era.

Disadvantages: The clock is ticking. By this time next year, I'll probably have played through any game of interest the box can handle it and it probably won't like any new ones. It's not a Vista worthy rig, so there is that ceiling to be had as well. Is it worth the space?

Updgrade the CheapBox
Advantages: AGP cards are still readily available (though not as much as PCI-E cards). For $200 or so you can get a reasonably powerful budget card which probably raises the bar somewhat. A more powerful Pentium chip is also a possibility, although the motherboard won't take one of those fancy new Core chips.

Disadvantages: Total cost ranges from $200 - $500. The CPU will still be limited (and possibly require more heatsinking). PSU might need updating. Feels like a stopgap measure.

Replace the Cheapbox
Advantages: Power. Get a modern gaming rig and feel how Quake IV was meant to be played.

Disadvantages: Cost. As soon as anything hits over $1,000 - I just want to save up for a MacBook Pro instead.

Xbox 360
Advantages: Has VGA option, will travel. Compared to a new gaming rig - a 360 offers a lot of power for the same price as a high-end graphics card. Takes up less space than the CheapBox and matchs the Mac Mini better to boot.

Disadvantages: $400 still feels like a decent amount of scratch (especially if you add in accessories). Reliability a concern for that amount of money as well.

VGA Adaptor
Advantages: Cheap. A VGA box would (theoretically) make any old console playable on a computer monitor. Good excuse to drag out X-Com or Jet Set Radio again.

Disadvantages: Results may vary as a non-VGA machine tries to get sucked into a high resolution monitor. Basically good for yesterday's games.

For now, I've taken the last option as it would provide the widest range of games for the cheapest amount of money. I even have old PS1 games I wouldn't mind dusting off. Eventually the price point on PS2's will crash and it would be a good way of occasionallity recycling the existing library.

The real question is - when I am willing to sink around $500 or more into a new gaming option ... why wouldn't I get a 360 or PS3 over a new gaming rig? Sure - some genres like MMO's are still the purveyance of the PC world ... but that will probably change. I used to say that about FPS games as well. For less than the price of hardware I could get a performance machine, accessories and some games to boot. With the high-def generation afoot, the old argument that PC games will always look better is getting stripped away. With the Xbox - many PC games were essentially ports of their Xbox counterparts. A trend I'm sure will continue with the 360 (or, like Gears Of War - won't even be ported).

I've gotten more game time out of my PS2 than any PC I've ever had. Don't get me wrong - I love PC's. I love PC gaming. I'm just wondering if the price of admission hasn't outpaced the length of the stay.

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Battlestar Galactica: Maelstrom

Spoilers are so obviously going to be here - so avert thy gaze if you haven't the latest Season Three. Big spoiler here - so if you're confused as to what I might be talking about ... you haven't seen the episode in question. So bail the frak out right now.

For me, Starbuck has always been part of the lifeblood of the new Galactica. The new show really banked on the promise of space battles that was a core - and failed - concept of the original. And at the core of fast-paced ship to ship battles? Starbuck. She characterized the fun of getting strapped into a cockpit and having good hunting.

Season three has been critiqued for moving slowly away from the space battles that were a staple of both the mini-series and seaon one. And now ... we don't have Starbuck either. Heck, we don't even have Kat at this point. I can only name a couple of Viper pilots - Hot Dog and Apollo. Is Seelix flying yet?

Starbuck's departure (assuming it is final) was powerful in terms of imagery but a little lacking in terms of action. Perhaps more of a metaphor for the show than herself. Instead of mighty conflict like we saw in Scar - Starbuck was mostly plagued by her own past. We didn't get a gritty portion of flying but rather a surreal descent which ended not in a blaze of glory (despite the fireworks style graphics) but rather an implosion.

I'm not saying it wasn't a good episode - the writing was good and it was hands down one of the most eye catching of the year. Still, part of me thinks Kara Thrace deserved more.

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Game Play: Uplink

There's a side story to all this which I'll get into later today - but over the weekend I started to cruise around for non PlayStation 2 orientated material and ended up downloading two demos for the Mac which had failed me before but now worked flawlessly - Darwinia and Uplink.

I only got so far into Darwinia so I'll wait on that for later. I played several hours of Uplink, however. This game is somewhat old so most are probably familiar with the premise - you are a hacker/cracker for hire and run missions in a streamlined network OS simulation. Make money, upgrade your software and hardware - try not to get caught.

More on that last bit in a while.

If there's anything fascinating about Uplink it would be the overall framework. It's a lot like an RPG or a roguelike without being either. Take away the map and combat system and replace it with a robust mission setup and what essentially boils down to time-based puzzles which require a little concentration and a lot of mousework. Some missions require more steps and tools to complete while others quickly become a simple and repetitive exercise.

And there's a lot of repetition to Uplink. It has its own version of level grind. It also has a version of permadeath. In some ways it's one of the better implementations of permadeath in a recent game. If you run a mission too sloppy - allow a trace to get too close or forget to clear out the right log files - you'll get busted and usually disavowed by the company. It ups the ante in trying new missions considerably and the risk is a good portion of the fun.

My problem with the endgame of Uplink is the almost complete lack of feedback on how you failed. An anonymous company files a complaint and you are gone. You don't know what company, what hack they caught or how they caught it. Because of this the learnng curve on Uplink isn't just difficult - but invisible as well. There's no chance to learn from your mistakes.

Instead, you just have to read up on the (real) Internet for tips on what you did wrong. Thankfully there seems a small sample of tips to help you stay in the clear - but still it feels cheap to have to Google how to play the game right.

It's a great game and a format I wish more people would play around with (myself included) - but don't be shy about researching the game's ins and outs online before jumping into it.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

For Sunday: Azeroth Exposed

It seems Blizzard, Intel and YouTube have some kind of feature deal going on which looks an awful lot like advertising to me. But I know more than a few WoWers come by here so ... there you go.

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