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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Trailer Park Saturday: Bioshock

Friday, March 30, 2007

20GB PS3 Still Goes For More Than 60GB PS3

Sony PlayStation 3 (60GB)
by Sony Computer Entertainment
(Nov 17, 2006)

(PlayStation 3)Buy new: $599.99   
43 Used & new
from $599.99

Sony PlayStation 3 (20GB)
(Nov 17, 2006)
(PlayStation 3)

9 Used & new
from $719.99
-- "PlayStation 3"

Some economics student could write a thesis on that. I mean - WTF? The PS3 is regarded as expensive enough at the retail MSRP for the 60GB version. So why pay a $120 more to get the lower end model off auction?

Lost: Expose

Wow, what a mixed bag.

Nikki and Paulo are presumably quite dead. I'm not even going to bother prefacing that with a spoiler warning since it should not come to a shock or disappointment even to people who haven't gotten to Season Three yet.

Trust me - when you see them you'll understand.

Both characters were shoved unceremoniously into an already contentious season. We had not seen nor heard from them prior in any episode. They were like Arzt only completely unlikable and even less useful. While fans were still wanting answers about season one, these guys walked into the scene in what can be assumed to be a way to pad out the storyline without, well, giving answers about season one.

Despite repeated defensive statements by the producers about how their abrupt entrance was a factor of editing and that they would give viewers something to like about them - this episode is clearly a mea culpa. In one hand, they go to great lengths to splice these two back into previous seasons ... even dragging back old cast members and footage. There were scenes that almost felt like a clip show - hitting key notes with little alteration except Nikki running past someone.

If I have any major complaint it is that the writers once again skipped past a perfectly good opportunity to answers a few things and instead jeopardize their own continuity. So Locke walks right past the Pearl hatch ... even after it has been cleared and opened by Nikki and Paulo ... but this dynamic duo found it right away? Huh?

It's like the producers just spent a lot of money to say: see, we didn't just conjure them up ... we had a plan. And when you ask what plan, clearly it was to explain what Paulo was doing so long in that bathroom.

I would guess the visceral fan response to the pair and flagging ratings lead to the burial of these characters. I doubt they spent the time and money to interject them just to have one extra throwaway episode featuring them. Especially for what was kind of a weak payoff. Sawyer threw away diamonds? What? Weak.

Except, of course, now they're dead.

Like I said - a mixed bag. And if they turn out to be alive? Worst episode ever.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PlayStation 3 Demand Exceeds 360

Here's the proof:



See. The surburban Best Buy I frequent was completely sold out of PlayStation 3's. None to be had. The 360? The employees were making forts out of them and slinging memory sticks at each other. Honest to Megatron.

OK, OK, so obviously I'm not really saying this means anything. I just wanted to point out how foolish the "shelf theory" was to begin with. For all I know the Best Buy stopped ordering PS3's because nobody wanted them. Heck, gnomes might have made off with them.

Point being - it was a lousy measure of demand to begin with. It remains such.

For The Love Of Hardware - Gypsy Curse Edition

So I bought a fancy 650W PSU that cost more than the graphics card. It would generate plenty of juice, supposedly has a quiet fan and dance a tango.

If it worked.

Which it doesn't. Won't turn on. Putting in the old power supply - it turns on. New power supply? The LED for HDD activity flickers on briefly and then nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I've triple checked all the connections. Same ending.

I'll return it to Best Buy. Card is going back to NewEgg. I'll put the computer back the way I know it works for now.

A 360 as a gaming rig replacement? Looking better and better.

For The Love Of Hardware - Rail Theory

After some research, I think I may have realized it was my stupid mistake all along.

Here's a funny thing - I got a 380W card because the X800 GTO requires a 350W card. I thought getting a slightly beefier one would be safer.

That sound you hear? That's noise of experienced overclockers and hardware geeks laughing their ass off. Because they know what I'll say next.

Here's the unfunny thing - the wattage doesn't matter so much. Yeah, it's a good point - but it's not the point. You can have a 380W PSU and it might still fail your card - because the card is running off the 12V rail and it simply isn't pushing out enough juice. And when that happens? You guessed it - artifacts galore.

Most hardware types recommend 20A on the 12V rail for modern graphics cards. The Rosewill? Puts out 14 or 15 amps. As it turns out - this is incredibly common. If you buy a cheap PSU - even at a good wattage ... you have to check the rails.

So I'll be picking up a quality PSU on the way home. If this is the culprit (and I haven't fried the card), it should fix it. If this isn't the culprit, I'll still have the proper PSU to upgrade.

Battlestar Galactica: Crossroads

We watched the season finale in one chunk last night. Talking about ending with a bang - this ending made up for any shortcomings this season had shown. It had a bit of everything - morality play, space warfare and subtle creepiness.

Major spoilers, obviously, to follow - though I'll remain vague.

Apollo's speech, which seemed to be the high point of the rising action, was amazing. It was a brutally honest depiction of how the season had evolved. The whole trial was more interesting here than most anything involving Baltar prior. These episodes really dug into the conflicting aspects of his character and his role in the tragedy which the show revolves around.

And then of course - is the Cylon Surprise. The whole music thing was brilliant, although The Girl and I thought it was how the Cylons were tracking them (and maybe it was ... just in a different way). She thought it was odd that the 4 new models came to the same conclusion when they met up in the end, but to me it made a lot of sense. It was an epiphany for them - a moment in which the oddities suddenly made sense. It was a great mix of suspected and unsuspected and sets a great stage for the next season.

At the same time though - the ending of this season fundamentally shifts the show. It makes me wonder if the producers have an end date in sight or if they're just willing to take risks with the show?

For The Love Of Hardware - Finale

The card is going back to NewEgg. I finally got my dot problem semi-fixed by reducing hardware acceleration down a notch (which I thought I had tried before) - but this small victory apparently annoyed the hardware gods because afterwards no game would run properly ... even after switching settings back.

My amateur diagnosis? Heatsink might have been bad causing slow memory chip death. I think card was going to get progressively worse - hence the return. I'll try to replace with a non-open box card of similar strength.

Thanks to Mike for suggesting to turn off Fast Write yesterday - I should have noted that since it is easily one of the most common solutions for this kind of problem.

360 Elite - Why Does Microsoft Want A PS3?

So the black cat is out of the bag, so to speak. The man with the Redmond hand, Dean Takahashi, gives an extensive amount of skinny:

   In the past, games consoles have been set in stone at the launch. Microsoft debuted the XBox 360 in November 2005 with a $399 version with a 20-gigabyte hard disk, and a $299 version without a hard disk. But Sony came out with the PS 3, which had advanced video features and a Blu-ray next-generation DVD disk player that allowed it to charge as much as $599.

With the new machine, Microsoft is breaking the rules of the console wars, which dictate that the same machine last for five years or so. The new Xbox 360 Elite machine will have  120-gigabyte hard disk drive so that gamers can store more media such as movies or music. It will have a high-end video connector and cable based on the HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) standard. It will sell for $479, less than Sony’s cheapest PS 3 model, which comes with a 20-gigabyte hard disk.

Microsoft will keep its other versions of the Xbox 360 at their current prices. Albert Penello, director of global marketing for the Xbox division, said that Microsoft would not relegate its earlier customers to second-class status. That means that any game or service that Microsoft launches will play on every version of the Xbox 360.
-- Confirmation: Microsoft Unveils Xbox 360 Elite [Mercury News]

Other details include:

- The 120GB will available for $179.99
- The Elite does not use 65-nano manufacturing
- No WiFi, no HD-DVD
- No timetable on IPTV as of yet
- Includes an HDMI cable (which MS claims is a $50 value)

So a few thoughts:

First of all, I'm even more doubtful of the "collapsed SKU" rumor Engadget started a while back stating that once the Elite sells out, it will go for $399. Maybe - if the stock last longer than I had predicted and through 2007 ... maybe. But does anyone think a company that didn't bother to add the $100 WiFi adaptor into their new high model is going to suddenly comp the $180 hard drive?

On that WiFi adapter, Dean asked Microsoft their thinking on leaving it out. Here's the response:

There are so many options with connectivity, it didn’t make sense to make everyone pay for something they may not use. Many of our core LIVE users play with a wired connection. Peoples home configurations are different and people with multiple devices may require bridges. Also – as wireless protocols continue to evolve, you find that built-in solutions are inevitably outdated; as soon as we would have included a G adapter, everyone would be switching to N. We think giving customers the choice to decide how they want to connect is the best route.

Which doesn't add up to me. More users would get a use of out WiFi than that "$50 HDMI cable". Especially since they could get the cable for about $15 online.

Microsoft's Penello also noted, "I’m not particularly worried what’s happening with the PS 2. We have no idea who they are selling to. The Wii did a good job. They are four months in. They are still in allocation, launch mode. It will take time. I’m not saying they are not a good competitor. Sony is doing terribly. Nintendo is doing well.”

They may not have any idea who Sony is selling PS2's to - but they're selling an awful lot of them to whoever they are. Maybe Microsoft should spend some dollars trying to figure that out, actually, since the $130 PS2 has consistently outsold the 360 since the 360 launched.

And, as Dean points out, the $250 Wii is also easily outpacing the 360. So if the cheaper, lower end consoles are selling so well and Sony is doing so "terribly" with the PS3 ... why put out a new model to compete with the PS3?

Especially one which is more expensive than Sony's lineup. If you wanted a 360 Elite to play like the 60GB PS3, you'd have to add WiFi, HD-DVD and a media card reader. And maybe an Intercooler. At that point you've broken $800. And you're still without a media card reader since it doesn't seem to exist. And with a PS3 - you can buy a hard drive from virtually anywhere to upgrade and still come out way ahead.

The reason for the Elite, I think, is doublefold:

One - Sony isn't doing nearly as horribly as Microsoft would like to FUD you to believe. If they were, Microsoft wouldn't be spending money on a failed PR blitz to curb sales of the PS3 European launch. Microsoft knows this - but they're willing to ride out the public "shelf theory" for as long as it lasts.

Second - Microsoft isn't going after the Nintendo market because they're doing the same thing they've been beating on Sony for since Blu-Ray was announced as a PS3 feature. Microsoft doesn't want to sell you a cheap console because they want to bundle as many other features with the 360 as they can. They want you buy movies, television, Live subscriptions, IPTV and whatever other high def living content they can get their hands on. Sure, Sony is trying to muscle their high def player into the living room. So is Microsoft - they just aren't tying the concept of "playing" to a disc format.

And that's really all the Elite is - a device more suitable for Microsoft to sell you downloadable content. I'll be far more interested when Microsoft gets a better hardware design that actually reduces heat and failure in their machine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Problem With Anecdotal Thinking

Deep down, you knew, didn't you, that this would happen. ChartTrack has this evening apparently confirmed to that PS3 shifted 165,000 units in its first two days on sale, beating Wii's 105,000 units and Xbox 360's 70,000. Now, before we get into the semantics of terms like 'shipped' and 'sold', the Gamesindustry article goes with the latter, so that's what I'm using.
-- PS3 UK's fastest-selling console

The first comment for this post is:

It's odd because I've personally known people with the other two current gen consoles at launch. I don't know anyone with a PS3 yet, or who is planning on getting one for a few months yet, and it's not like I don't know people who love their PS2 back catalogue.

Now, I'm willing to chalk up this PR release as a well, PR release. I take all sales numbers right after a launch with an ounce of suspicion since they're always overwhelmingly positive.

But since the "shelf theory" of Sony's sales came around the press so often, this kind of thinking needs get examined and ... well, shelved.

Anecdotal thinking fails, especially when it comes to things like global markets, because of an overwhelming lack of evidence. It's like guessing the average rainfall for the week by looking outside your window. It's weak because it's so easily refutable - anyone's anecdote is just as strong as the next.

I personally don't know anyone with an Xbox 360. I know someone with both a PlayStation 3 and a Wii, and two other people with just Wii's. Therefore - Wii's outsells PS3's which outsell 360's. Well, unless I include bloggers and then the 360 beats the Wii which beats the PS3.

See? I can beat my own anecdotal evidence with ... my own anecdotal evidence.

Course, PR releases often play by similar rules. Narrow your evidence to make things look good. When the 360 launched in Europe, Microsoft was starved for supply. The Wii is the definition of supply short at the moment. To go back to the "shelf theory" of PS3 sales, let us remember that the PS3 is selling about as well as the 360 was at the same time last year ... despite its higher price ... although it has higher stock available.

And let us not forget Microsoft's habit of confusing the word "shipped" with the word "sold" - the PR equivalent of "I know a lot of people bought this" while forgetting to mention that those people weren't actually consumers.

Dev Diary: Unroguelike

I've gotten some query as to the state of the roguelike project. I'm not sure how to respond. Right now, I'm porting the Dreadnought concept over to this weird hybrid of Randolph Carter and the roguelike alpha code. The interface is mostly text with a small map with ASCII representations for objects in the room. There will probably be a status window as well. The user could, in theory, use either the map or the text to interact with the story/world.

But I really only have a mockup right. One room, little interaction, nowhere to run to baby. Nowhere to hide. Not sure where it's going.

Also, my journeys back into the PC dug up my old turn-based Unreal code. I had forgotten how functional it was, even though there are miles of ocean between it and anything really playable. Someone from the old mod scene swung by last week to try and entice me into UT3 modding (when it hits). My reaction was pretty negative - I spent a lot of hours playing with UT2k3 and 2k4 only to hit mostly negative comments because, quite honestly, it's not the kind of stuff people are interested in. I'm not all hoppy to jump back into that again. I spent less time and have gotten much better feedback from Randolph Carter than anything I modded after my UT2003 mutator packs.

Yet - I know nobody else is trying this. Single player, turn based, etc. Before the CheapBox++ becomes truly obsolete, maybe it is worth salvaging.

For The Love Of Hardware

OK, so here's the fallout from this weekend.

It's hard to argue with an $80 video card that can play a F.E.A.R. single player demo at full resolution with a decent chunk of effects flying around. Honestly, it really feels like a whole new game. The Titan Quest demo, as well, is a lot more stunning at the full resolution.

However, the card's video RAM is most certainly corrupt. 3D models will go "spiky" sometimes - meaning a vertex gets dropped in memory and part of the model gets pulled out into the ether. Dots - either green, purple or just miscolored - will appear on any 2D surface, including the desktop. I've even tried underclocking the memory to no avail.

The 3D models will correct, oddly enough, if the game is pushed into its highest resolution. I solved the texture flicker when I turned temporal aliasing off. The dots, however, are unavoidable. Well, they don't really show up much in 3D environments ... but if there's a 2D filter, for instance, on the HUD - it can show up then.

So here's my conundrum - stick with a faulty card that was dirt cheap and can generally push polygons pretty darn well or RMA the thing, pay a little extra for a slightly less powerful card that should work without fault.

I think I'll pick up Oblivion this week and see if that runs OK. Maybe I need a modern game, not a demo, to see if the card makes the cut.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dungeon Runners Beta

If anyone should have an invite and feel so inclined, I'd be obliged. Send word to

TMNT Unseats 300 - Irony Ensues

This weekend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bested 300 at the box office. Inside, I'm chortling just a bit.

As a comic, TMNT began life as an absurdist tongue-in-cheek parody of Frank Miller's work, particularly Ronin. It was a loving kind of parody though, work that cut so close to the source that it was hard to tell at times you weren't supposed to take it completely seriously. And then you realize you're reading about a talking rat.

Now that parody has gone up against a serious rendition of Miller's work. Course, TMNT is no longer a comic directed at readers used to Miller's adult orientated work. In many ways, TMNT is now more of a parody of itself than of anything Miller has ever produced. Since the Archie takeover, the turtles spend more time making bad puns, talking like adolescents and eating pizza.

Even though for its original audience, echoing the stern bleakness of Miller's work would be smarter and funnier, the franchise can't resist aiming for the lucrative kiddie market.

Well, I still have the original series. So they can have them, I suppose.

DVD Watch: The Departed

The Departed is easily Scorsese's best film in year. It's a whole paradigm shift away from Gangs of New York in virtually every good possible sense. The film intertwines the roles of two cops - one undercover in the Boston Irish mob and another working for the mob from within the police. The script makes great work out of its material - keeping a sense of suspense and tension with nearly every scene. Occasionally difficult to follow - but not overly complex - The Departed is a joyride of a crime epic.

I'm curious about Internal Affairs, the 2002 Hong Kong film from which the movie was based - but less so than I thought I would. And I certainly wait a few weeks - because once you get to the conclusion of the film ... you'll need some time to wind down. The pacing of the movie starts out almost slow and deliberate and slowly picks along the way. It never quite enters a frenzy, but certainly a fast clip.

Not being a huge DiCaprio fan, I've like him in both movies I saw this weekend. Nicholson is also especially good - bringing out that slow and subtle kind of creepy that he's honed so well. Sure, these guys pass for Irish about as well as any other German or Italian ... but you can't complain about the performance in general.

Both of the weekend movies, and especially this one, made me actually appreciate the Oscars a little bit more. These are just plain old good films - made with expert skill and care - but also plain old good entertainment. Especially this one. Highly recommend.

Fun Facts! The character Frank Costello was largely based on James "Whitey" Bulger, a real life Irish-American mobster in Boston; Whitey was believed to have been seen coming out of a theater showing the film in San Diego in November 2006.[3][4] Matt Damon's character is based on John Connolly, the FBI agent who tipped off Bulger for years, allowing him to evade arrest. In real life, Bulger went into hiding and is still presumed to be at large; Connolly is currently imprisoned for his role in Bulger's criminal activities. Costigan's undercover role as a former State trooper who joins the Irish mob parallels the story of Richard Marinick, a former State trooper who later joined Whitey Bulger's crime syndicate. Costigan also lives in Somerville, where Bulger's Winter Hill Gang began. (Wikipedia)

DVD Watch: Blood Diamond

Based on the trailers for Blood Diamond, I formed the opinion that it would probably be a cheesy action movie set in Africa with some kind of diamond that you probably wouldn't see until the end of the movie anyway.

As its Oscar buzz proves, that's not the case.

Sure, it has some decent action scenes - but the movie is more comparable to Hotel Rwanda than it is say, The Rock. The atrocities of civil war are brought out in full Technicolor. It lacks the pure social critique of Rwanda - but it doesn't miss that mark by much.

There's also some weird bits that felt almost edited in just to pull at your strings. Trying not to be a spoilerific, so I can't be specific - but especially towards the end the movie feels a bit overly dramatic. That doesn't really take away from the rest, though, and the ride is generally a good one. Heavy, but good.

Not Watched: Battlestar

I've missed the last two weeks of Galactica, will catch up via iTunes over the week.

Silly Sunday night programming.