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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Destructoid Interviews SCRPG! and VTech Creators

Destructiod got interviews with Danny Ledonne and Ryan Lambourn, creators of the Super Columbine Role Playing Game and V-Tech Shooting respectively. It calls them the "most hated game creators alive". [Via TIGSource]

Ledonne comes off as thoughtful as usual. It's very clear that despite what some people think, Danny has put a lot of thought into the whole debate which has raged around his game:

Regarding the bigger question of whether a SCMRPG player won't "get it," I wonder if Shakespeare had the same question asked of him when he wrote a play like 'Titus Andronicus.' How does Oliver Stone feel about the fact that countless criminals regard "Natural Born Killers" as their favorite film (including Eric and Dylan)? I'm not sure I know the answer to this, per se, but I know the rhetorical question is worth asking. Should artists think twice before picking up a microphone, a brush, a pen, a mouse, or a camera because there's a possibility that their message (if there is one) may be misconstrued? I believe the answer is "absolutely not." Art is often about impulse; when I saw RPG Maker I had the impulse to create something. I followed it.
-- Virtual school shootings: interviewing two of the most hated game creators alive

Ryan, on the other hand, seems to have thrown this together largely for shock value and attention whoring. Granted, his interview is over IM and hence is more slapshot and informal from the get go - but I've done interviews over IM from both sides and it didn't come across this bad. For instance, when asked why he did it:

Ryan Lambourn: i just made the game as a recreation of the events as i knew it as best detailed as i could in the short game form.....and added jokes of course for lulz factor

RL: it was meant to be offensive so me and my friends and people like me and my friends could have a laugh

RL: a laugh at the other pissed off people....and the game of course

RL: making so many angry has won me enough points for the rest of my life :d

And then down the way:

RL: i dont support being angry over a game

So, you know, whatever. I'm not sure you should expect much from some who doesn't even support his own stated goal.

So Ryan comes off as a bit a jerk. Should we care? Should we attach much to a game based on the developer's attitude. In a case like this - where a game is almost as much, if not more, of a statement than actual entertainment, we probably should.

At the same time we should also probably just accept games as media and either use them as a starting point for reasonable conversation or leave them behind. SCRPG! has incensed many, many people - but it's also given rise to some interesting commentary from both sides of the industry on the role of violence in culture and media.

It doesn't seem likely that Ryan's work will follow.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Game Night: Settlers Of Catan

Here's some proof on how finely designed Settlers of Catan really is: take four people, ranging from having played the game a few times to never before and break out the box.. With many board games this would require plenty of explanation and anyone new to the game would be at a severe disadvantage unless much of the mechanics relied on luck. With Catan, certainly a portion of the mechanics (resource creation) are luck ... but a majority of the game is how your strategy of expansion works. The rules take about ten minutes to explain if someone has already played once - longer if you have to drift through and parse the relatively short rulebook.

The game ends when a player reaches ten victory points. The end score was 8,9,9 and 10. The ten went to someone who hadn't played. Catan is a lesson in mechanics - you can't get too far ahead doing any one thing. You have to trade with others. You have to plan a little ahead. And then, after all that, luck helps out.

I'm very glad Catan has made it's way to Xbox Live - however at the same time I'd say to any 360 users who have liked the game online ... pick up the boxed edition. I'm sure the experience is similar, but there's something social about having the game on a table in the middle of some friends which you might find as a bonus.

Game Play: Lost Planet PC Demo

At first, this demo was a lesson in frustration. I was actually convinced that it wasn't meant to run on XP until I did some forum hunting and realized that there were sporadic problems with the DirectX 10 version as well. It seems some DirectX files were left out from the install and so on some computers the demo won't run until you hunt these down and put them into your system directory.

After that hurdle was leaped, I tried to jump into the game with different settings. One thing Capcom has done here which should be a staple of PC game developers is include a performance test. So instead of guessing your framerate or whatnot, you just adjust some settings and run the test. A nice little summary of what's been going on and how well things are performing runs in the corner.

This is hands down brilliant and the only excuse not to release something like this for every PC game on the planet is that you're afraid you'll lose sales because you're game won't run on my computer. Course if your game won't run on my computer, it's probably going back in the box anyway. This is the kind of consumer friendly behavior which I honestly think would be a huge benefit to the PC market.

Course, Lost Planet is a 360 port and I'm running on a Celeron D with a mediocre graphics card. So while most of the game would run at 20+ FPS in most settings, the "cave" portion of the demo dropped down to a crawling 7 FPS. So at this point, I'd probably guess I couldn't run the game.

While that might seem bad for Capcom, I'm now equipped with information to give them feedback on that fact. This is just a beta and my purchase isn't 100% based on this codebase. If they were to release another test down the road that showed better rates, I'd reconsider.

The game itself seems like a pretty straightforward, somewhat unique, shooter. I wasn't overwhelmed by it, but the setting and setup made me curious for more.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wired Sums Up Virginia Tech Reactions

A high school student was suspended for customizing a first-person shooter game with a map of his school. A contractor was fired from his government job for talking about a gun, and then visited by the FBI when he created a comic about the incident. A dean at Yale banned realistic stage weapons from the university theaters -- a policy that was reversed within a day. And some teachers terrorized a sixth-grade class by staging a fake gunman attack, without telling them that it was a drill.

These things all happened, even though shootings like this are incredibly rare; even though -- for all the press -- less than one percent (.pdf) of homicides and suicides of children ages 5 to 19 occur in schools. In fact, these overreactions occurred, not despite these facts, but because of them.

The Virginia Tech massacre is precisely the sort of event we humans tend to overreact to. Our brains aren't very good at probability and risk analysis, especially when it comes to rare occurrences. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. There's a lot of research in the psychological community about how the brain responds to risk -- some of it I have already written about -- but the gist is this: Our brains are much better at processing the simple risks we've had to deal with throughout most of our species' existence, and much poorer at evaluating the complex risks society forces us face today.
-- Virginia Tech Lesson: Rare Risks Breed Irrational Responses

Pretty dead on stuff right there. Bruce describes the sound and fury as "security theater" - and aptly places everything from absurd rules to scapegoating into the cast.

Scratch - It's Like Flash For Kids

Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.

Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the process of design.
-- About Scratch

Unfortunately it mostly runs slow on my low end Mac. The output seems to be a java applet which should be easily deployable in a browser. It's a great idea - a straightforward IDE allows kids (and adults) to design simple interactive animations and games. One of my biggest problems with Flash is the learning curve on just the IDE alone, not to mention the ins and outs of ActionScript and the like.

Also it's completely free and they already have a great community site up for sharing projects.

Lost: Greatest Hits

So this was primarily a bridge episode - a lot of events strung out to lay the foundation for the finale. As Lost episodes go, though, this was a pretty good bridge episode. The best part of the writing here was keeping Charlie's flashbacks to tight, precise moments that made up his "greatest hits". It is the beginning of a very tight swan song (if you will) for his character.

Although a couple people I've talked to today found it odd Desmond was absent in Charlie's flashback.

Let's go to the tape.

Getting rescued?
Shortly into the episde we get Desmond's description of his vision ... where Aaron and Claire are airlifted off the island. We know the show has three short seasons left so the big question after this episode is ... could any of them get off the island before the show is finished?

Certainly. We've already seen the outside world. The outside world has now parachuted it's way onto the island. Whatever was being done to keep this little island isolated is collapsing. The Hostile's revolution of the DHARMA initiative is ending. Of course, we can't have everyone leave next week or they'd be little show left. The writers, however, might have a vested interest in clearing out some of the characters, however. We've seen this season that the main backstories are getting a bit dull. Simply transplanting new characters, a la Nikki, does not work. They can't simply add - they'll need to subtract as well. Instead of killing everyone off, some people might find freedom - a la Michael and Walt.

Although like most people, I'm not satisified with Michael's fate until we see him again. If everyone thinks the Losties are dead, Michael's emergence into the outside world must not have made much of a splash.

Crazy, Angry Ben
I really hope next season clarifies some of the nature of the Hostiles and why they are so ... well, hostile. Heck, I almost thought Ben was going to shoot Alex this episode. I wouldn't assume the absence of Locke this episode means Ben actually killed him - I assume his arrival is being held for shock value later.

Seriously, though - how hypocritical can Ben get? He betrays his own people because "they couldn't even get along with the natives" and now he's planning a mass murder?

Amazon Women Under The Sea
There's a bit of a question as to whether Juliet was being honest when she thought Looking Glass was flooded - though I'm willing to believe her. Not like Ben couldn't have lied to her about it. It's certainly more plausible than Charlie navigating a flooded hatch while holding his breath, looking for a single switch he's never actually seen. Still, it's curious that it is beein manned by hostiles, although Ben could have foreseen the Losties trying to access it and wanted it guarded.

Did Sayid get those blueprints from the Flame folders? What else does he have?

Looking Glass
Does the name "The Looking Glass" seem a bit odd for a jamming station to anyone else? I suppose a "mirror" would reflect back signals, so it makes a little sense. Still, it seems a pretty overt Wonderland reference to make for such a narrow function. And why would you place a jamming station underwater? Keep it a secret, I suppose, but it seems like you've made your task harder by submerging everything. Best guess is that the hatch is more central to the island's nature than we're being lead to believe.

Guesses, guesses
I think Charlie is going to bite the dust. I wouldn't hold my breath for Bernard's survival either - Rose might as well have been suiting him up for a red shirt as "something darker". Still, it was great to see them. I'm beginning to think Sun might be safe until we see more about her pregnancy and/or she fesses up to Jin about what she's done.

The more I think about it, Naomi is sure survivor. She's ripe for flashback material next season.

Claire, Aaron and Desmond might get rescued. Or Des's vision might be farther away than he thinks...

Xbox Live - The Next Golf Course Meeting?

The Girl has considered taking golf back up because a lot of people she knows from work play. I've told her that unless there's a controller involved, my golfing usually consists of dealing with a fifth on the back nine.

It seems, though, that those worlds are colliding:

We call our group "nerd poker," with only a hint of irony.

We biz gamers are playing for fun, but valuable relationships sometimes result. "I can be at home at 2 in the morning with writers and directors and producers and executives who all vaguely know each other in the business," notes producer-manager Aaron Kaplan. "All of a sudden, I get to know people the way they really are."

The Xbox Live broadband Internet service was designed by Microsoft so that owners of the old Xbox and current Xbox 360 console could play with or against each other, as well as download game content. Players can blow one another's heads off in "Gears of War," sneak into a terrorist compound in "Rainbow Six: Vegas," compete in a boxing ring in "Fight Night," or even play a friendly game of "Uno."

The fast-growing networking tool is distinguished by little details like a microphone headset and the ability to send and receive messages. Another key factor is the "gamertag": Each person has a moniker that keeps them anonymous. It's like a cell phone number -- a valuable piece of private info that we share only with a few select comrades.

And my nerd poker group occasionally gathers for a party where showbiz players can meet face to face. We sometimes have to remind each other of our real names.

Online play is a unique and often contradictory experience. It creates social interaction, but is also a solitary activity. (I have debated whether drinking while playing is the same as having a beer during any other social activity, or if I'm simply somebody drinking alone on my couch.)

But the question remains: While networking is occurring, is there any remorse about not reading a script, or poring over a contract one more time? (Personally, I wonder: Would I have written a better story if I'd spent more time writing and less time "researching"?)
-- Young execs network via vidgames [Variety]

Feel free to chortle a bit that Variety calls them "vidgames". And sure, this is the liberal technorati of Hollywood, not the conservative boy's club of Wall Street or even good old CBOT (Chicago Board Of Trade). Still, you can see the attraction ... especially from an American work ethic. More and more we don't have time to go hit the green or the court. Time at home is a very valuable asset for the average corporate worker these days. So being able to mix socialization, networking and time on the couch? Bonus.

DVD Watch: Children Of Men

Alfonso Cuaron' s Children of Men is simply a work of beauty. It is one of those movies where all the pieces work together so seamlessly that it makes you appreciate the medium itself. Everything fires on cue here - Clive Owen's lead performance, the deep colors of the cinematography, and of course Cuaron's often brilliant directing. Some of his scenes are done in extended takes using specialized cameras and the effect is mesmerizing. In one part it makes the movie feel more like a documentary and forces the viewer to feel sympathetic to the characters and action on the screen. In another, it's simply a marvel of technical movie making.

Pieces of the plot at worst feel a little haphazard but at best supplies the story with a wide landscape of a world gone slightly insane. Not the random wildness of a Mad Max style apocalypse, but more a dreary backdrop of a culture that has had hope pulled away. This is a work of speculative science fiction that cuts so close to the modern age that you'll barely notice it wasn't shot outside your window.

Highly recommend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gundam Amusement Park Ride

A new Gundam attraction opens up this summer at Fujikyu Highland, a popular amusement park in Yamanashi known for its kick-ass roller coaster rides. In Gundam Crisis, park-goers will have the opportunity to fight with the giant mecha to protect a new space colony called Solomon.

I know, it's the opportunity we've all been waiting for--but don't jump out of your seats just yet, it doesn't open til July.
-- New Amusement Park Attraction Lets You Fight With Gundam [TOKYOMANGO]

Click through that link for a sweet drawing of what the ride might look like.

Virginia Tech Flash Game Ransoms Self

A homemade video game about the Virginia Tech shootings has surfaced on the Internet less than a month after the shootings, and it has drawn angry responses.

The game, V-Tech Rampage, casts the player in the role of shooter Seung-Hui Cho. The video campus and surrounding area includes a post office, Norris Hall, a dorm and students to shoot. The player can use the keyboard to make Cho walk, talk and shoot, and the game follows the general plot of the events of April 16.

The song "Shine" by Collective Soul, reportedly a favorite of Cho's, plays in the background.
"It's so contemptible it's beneath response," Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.
-- Video game casts player as Tech gunman

I was well prepared to launch into my, "despite content it has some right to exist" style speech, until I read this:

In response to the negative reaction to the game, Lambourn posted a note asking for donations in exchange for taking the game down.

Addressed to "Angry people," Lambourn writes, "I will take this game down from Newgrounds if the donation amount reaches $1,000 US I'll take it down from here if it reaches $2,000 US and I will apologize if it reaches $3,000 US."

Newgrounds founder and CEO Tom Fulp did not respond to an e-mail request to comment on the game.

Some have compared Lambourn's notice with a ransom note, and he has since said that it wasn't meant to be serious.

Serious or not, it makes you into an ass. Ledone has at least been up front for his reasons to create Super Columbine RPG and none of them were provoking people out of cash to remove the controversy - in jest or otherwise.

Best Buy Adding More Ratings and Reviews Online

Best Buy, the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer, announced today a relationship with Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides parents with tools to manage the entertainment and media in their kids’ lives. Through this agreement, Best Buy will add reviews, content descriptions and user comments from Common Sense Media to to help shoppers make the best video game choices for themselves and their families.

Best Buy is the first retailer to add Common Sense Media reviews as an online shopping tool. The initial rollout will focus on video games but there are plans to add movie reviews at a later date as well.

“At Best Buy we understand the importance of giving customers clear and accurate information to help them make good decisions about the video games they buy,” said Jill Hamburger, vice president of entertainment at Best Buy. “The information from Common Sense Media provides guidance about both the content of a game and its entertainment value. We want parents to be confident they are buying games that are appropriate for their families and fun to play.”
-- Best Buy and Common Sense Media Team to Educate Consumers About Video Games

Great, now put a kiosk in the stores to provide those many, many luddite parents with the same information. Common Sense seems to be one of the good guys - providing really decent information for parents (even if one their members agreed to an interview here and then later failed to respond). Honestly, putting this kind of stuff online is a good start - but I can't imagine it will hit the majority of Best Buy consumers.

Sony Plans To Ship 11 Million PlayStation 3's

Tokyo - Sony said on Wednesday that it aims to ship 11m PlayStation 3s worldwide this year, ramping up competition against its rivals after missing its recent targets.

Sony shipped 5.5m PS3 consoles in the year to March, below its target for 6m due to production problems with its high-definition DVD player that gave rivals Nintendo and Microsoft an early lead in the console war.

Sony said it expects losses in its game division to narrow this year after swallowing the huge start-up costs of the console.

"Although it seems to be difficult to fully turn around the performance at the game division in the current fiscal year, increased sales of the PS3 should help narrow losses here notably," chief financial officer Nobuyuki Oneda said.

The electronics giant is aiming to increase sales of the PS3 in Japan, the US and Europe, although Oneda admitted that rival Nintendo's Wii console continues to eat into its market share.
-- Sony plans to ship 11m PS3s

Note they say ship and not sell. Also, I don't entirely buy that the half million unit undersell was the product of supply shrinking because while I think the shelf theory is a poor indicator of demand, it's not the worst indicator of supply. If your product is abundant in stores, you can't be having too many supply chain problems.

Sony still has to get on the stick, so to speak, this year. The summer is approaching fast and they'll need more than a few Home trailers to sell the units they want.

Lost Planet Demo For XP, Vista

There's some confusion afoot about the just released Lost Planet Demo. Even though it is a "Games For Windows" product, an official blog post states it will run on both XP and Vista, DX9 and DX10 alike. I'll give it a whirl when a get a chance at home.

The blog also sports a set of screenshots for the PC version.

Half-Life 2, Episode 1, Second Impressions

It must be the manchurian child inside of me, but once this game put a gun back into my hands everything seemed to get a little better. Oddly once there were things to shoot at - all the jumping puzzles went away.

Not that the AI is any improved. OK, sure, at this point the game is all head crabs and zomboids - so you can chalk that up to character development. But even the Combine soldiers insist on complete stupidity. At one point all I did to gun down a flock of them was kneel, point at a single point, and keep firing. Not exactly the stuff of modern warfare there.

It's interesting that the designers went the KillZone route - making Alyx essentially invincible with unlimited rounds. Oh sure, she'll complain and sometimes quip about how she's running out of rounds - but that girl has cheat code all over her. Not that I think this is a bad decision - it's definately better than having to reload a hundred times because she failed to dodge that grenade. The flipside is that sometimes it's better to just get out of the way and let Little Girl Rambo go to town.

And yeah, I still hate the grav gun. At least twice I was stuck fussing with the thing in situations where a crowbar would work twice as well. At point I even hit my head with a flying crate just by trying to open the one next to it. Oh sure, it's funny to kill a heavily armed soldier with a chair ... but not long term funny, if you get my drift.

Still, there are moments when you're reminded just how smart and creative Valve can be. When Alyx makes spooky noises in the dark and then says "Gotchya!" when you shine your light on her? Brilliant. Like crazy idiot savant brilliant.

Speaking of Alyx, let us all tip our hat to Merle Dandridge. Merle is the voice of Alyx and by proxy - Gordon as well. Let's summarize that, actually, Merle is the voice of Episode One. She is providing the background, the narration, the jokes, the insight - the whole ball of wax. Without her work, and the work of the writers behind her words, Episode One would a silent, confusing and potentially sad little game.

Also, she was in Rent as Joanne. Which, you know, like rocks. For the geek set, she was also in an episode of Angel (as Lucy Shepard).

At this point I'm willing to rate Episode One as potentially better than Half-Life 2 (Epsisode Zero?) but not as good as Half-Life (Episode Negative One?) - but I still have a ways through the game.

Game Play: Phoenix Wright

I finally got around to playing this last week. I'm rather glad it came shortly after I abandoned Hotel Dusk to whatever strange little fate lay for that delivery guy. It's almost like someone realized all the things that annoyed me about that game and fixed them. The basic format of the two games are actually remarkably similar, but Wright is far less frustrating. The interface is straightforward and the puzzles are mostly based strictly on reading and logic - not trying to figure out what some unknown game designer thought you were supposed to do with a pen.

Even though this is exactly the kind of title I would just rent, I went ahead and bought so that I could take loads of time finishing the game.

On Sony's Losses

This is my surprised face. (/sarcasm)

Look, I've been saying since this generation was knee-high to a grasshopper it would go down this way. Microsoft lifted all they could from Sony's playbook to launch the Xbox and added that usual Microsoft flair - burn lots of cash. This generation, Sony was going to retun the favor. Where Microsoft is looking to level the 360 into profitability (or rather position the brand for it in the next generation), Sony is trying to spike their way into an important market - high definition media. They've taken HD twice as seriously than Microsoft from the start with HDMI support, 1080P support, larger hard drive and Blu-ray. Many of those being features Microsoft said gamers flat out didn't need - and then later released the Xbox Elite anyway.

Of course Sony is bathing in the red here. The real answer to the PlayStation 3's success is at least a year off, if not two. Remember, if we're just going by dollars - the Xbox was a miserable failure.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scientology Doesnt Like Being PWNED

The infamous Derek Yu tells tale of the Scientology PWNED game:

Zi-Xiao Liang, creator of Scientology PWNED, has informed me that his game (in which you blow away the faithful followers of Xenu), was the target of local police, who are making him change the name of the game.

I don’t really have an opinion either way, but I suggest that the name of the game be changed to “American McGee’s Scientology PWNED,” therefore putting all the blame squarely on American McGee. And because we also need more games that have American McGee’s name in the title!
-- Scientology PWNED... PWNED

More at the IGDA thread.

Heroes: Landslide

What's impressing me about Heroes is that they've managed to put all their pieces on the playing board, make the story flow smoothly, everything is making sense - and they still find opportunity for a little angst and emotion. I had wondered if the "tracking device" Glasses Dad was searching for wouldn't turn out to be "tracking girl" Indian Doctor was trying to cure. I mean, how many similar objects can you have in the same plot - so not really a Sherlockian deduction.

The Girl brought up an interesting point though - did Indian Doctor's sister provide Indian Doctor's dad with parts of "the list"? Does this power cause this unique illness? Is there some dialogue I'm forgetting here?

I wasn't a huge fan of Time Otaku's training montage. I mean, I get that Sulu is a badass and all - but he learns how to be an expert swordsman in an hour? It's not quite as much of a stretch as Invisible Doctor Who being able to train Absorbing Little Brother to use any power in the universe within minutes ... but it's pretty close. Still, if you spin it that Sulu was just giving Time Otaku the confidence he needed, then fine.

I love the Illusionary Hot Chick might not be a hot chick at all. It's actually pretty brilliant character development. Who wouldn't use such a power to hide behind a beautiful mirage? Course we know from the future episode that Incredibly Evil Watchmaker will run into her at some point, though we aren't sure when.

And I was a little sad to see Malcolm McDowell get the rear delivery brain operation. He was a pretty interesting villain and always fun to watch.

I'm guessing next week Sylar will get his due. Next season might focus on the "generation past" and all the little details we don't know about the origins of these powers.

War In The Internet

Alice has reports from the front of an insidious, invisible cyber war:

A war is being waged online, it is being waged on and for your computers, and it is being paid for by spammers. These groups create huge botnets by sending out email worms, they then lease time on these botnets to spammers, who do their thing and spam the rest of us. Now, each of these groups want to own it all, and the attacks are increasing, remember the Storm Worm? This is a video showing how fast the Storm Worm spread.
-- The Internet Battlefield [RealTechNews]

On one hand it's a grim and awful picture. I lost a whole domain and an age-old email address under the weight of spam. Lawmakers can barely understand the "intertubes" much less defend the citizenry from this kind of plague.

On the other - it would make a great game. Somewhere inbetween GalCon and Uplink.

Ambient Gaming

Interesting article from The Guardian Gamesblog:

Would you play a game that required no actual input from you, but responded directly to things you did every day? Where your in-game progress was mapped to your real-world movements, or your success against enemies was matched to how often you made a phone call?

This is the strange world of Ambient Gaming, a movement tied to Zero-Player Gaming. Titles like Progress Quest or the newly released Ambient Quest incorporate no actual interaction between the user and the game at the time of play, but play themselves out purely based upon the natural, ambient lifestuff that players engage in when away from the computer.

Progress Quest is a game where the player's only interaction with the computer is to start the role playing game going. Ambient Quest is slightly more "interactive"; the number of steps a player takes per day controls the number of spaces she or her moves in the game.
-- Ambiently gaming

I've been wondering for a while if there wasn't room for "mini-ARGs". Gamemasters (who could be players or AI or both) would serve as intermedaries between game data and participants. Actions would be recorded via email, text messages or web. A site would serve as a neutral space for common information. Essentially PBEM with a twist.

The Riches: This Is Your Brain On Drugs

I may have a Heroes post later, although it would sound an awful lot like my Heroes post from last week.

One of the things I love about The Riches is that it refuses to have a formula. Sometimes it follows a purely dramatic line, sometimes it's almost a tragic comedy, other times it's like a heist film. This week was parable week as "Doug" snorted a handful of meth and proceeded to go mildly insane in the membrane.

The meat of the episode was obvious and heavy-handed - but also brilliantly acted. Doug, going the the twenty four hour throws of full on drug addiction, reflects on his new life of being filthy rich and wonders if either will make him happy, empty or just outright kill him. Get it? Materialism is like a drug addiction. The more have, the more you want, the more you want, the more you work to get, so the more you have and ... well, so on.

It is one of those analogies that's just right there in front of you - but Izzard (and Driver) does such a grand job of selling it that it's still somewhat mesmerizing. Plus it adds to the heap of potential trouble the family continues to level on itself, as he confides (fully) in a priest and bails his (non) mother-in-law out of jail.

As first seasons go, The Riches has definately hit the ground running.

Monday, May 14, 2007

DVD Watch: Deja Vu

OK, so a quick post.

After much debate about whether we'd be active and social this Saturday, I took a two hour nap and then we settled on the couch. Determining whether one should or should not be active can be extremely tiring, after all.

It got late after some rounds of golf on the PS2, so I opted we watch the least cerebral movie in our stack - Deja Vu. Deja Vu is a Bruckheimer/Ridley Scott affair with Denzel Washington as a federal agent who gets caught up in a special unit capable of reviewing virtually any spot within a certain radius of their magic device exactly four days ago. He and this crack team (including Adam Goldberg playing ... well, Adam Goldberg and someone who looks like he might have eaten Val Kilmer) use this to investigate a terrorist strike.

If you don't want any spoilers, stop reading here.

The thing with Deja Vu is that it feels like a couple of movies wedged together. About half way through it was apparently decided that simply reviewing the past wasn't neat and interesting enough. Now despite have been shown that much of the view is digitally recreated (including half-rendered people and the like) - suddenly the twist is that the machine is actually a wormhole into the past. Denzel figures this out, and I kid you not, by shining a laser pointer at the wormhole's monitor. By some physics defining event, the laser goes four days into the past and subsequently starts to confuse the movie a bit.

Well that's not entirely fair. For a moment, this seems to up the ante a bit. There are some moral questions about what do if you could actually alter the past, the impact that would have (if any) and some other neat bits. Unfortunately the plot never quites survive the splice and where one twist feels like it was put in to save the second half of the movie, no additional twist is brought in to save the ending.

It's not bad, but it's something of a letdown by the end. Watch while sober at your own peril.

A Day Of Absence

Wow, I'm way behind on feeds, reads and news in general and have way too many real-life things going on to catch up with it.

So whatever happened this weekend I'm sure will survive without my commentary.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Half Life 2: Episode One, First Impressions

Seriously, it's everything that annoyed the heck out of me with Half-Life 2 - times ten.

Gordon refuses to talk, even when people are just so darn glad to see him. I'm sorry, I just can't accept this as a Good Thing(tm) anymore. It's a Bad Thing. It's jarring. It's distracting. It reminds me I'm playing a game. In any other medium, there would be dialog here. Not here. Here there is just silence and some wild assumption from non-player characters that I'm simply being laconic.

Yes, Alyx and Dog are brimming with personality here. It's a shame that just makes me envious and feel like a voyeur.

Nothing but grav gun. I was never a huge fan of the grav gun. Honestly, it's just a physics demo gone amok. It's also a complete noob gun - just click somewhere around were you think enemies might be and keep clicking wildly. They'll die soon enough. No skill required.

Oh - and gone is the impressive strategy and AI from Half-Life 1. These guys will not only run right up to you - many will continue to do so even if they had the advantage from just staying put. The only ones that won't, if fact, are the ones Alyx will shoot. Don't run and gun here - just click. Click a lot.

I will give this to Valve though - I think they may have perfected the First Person Jumper. I mean, this isn't really a shooter because you don't really have any guns to speak of. But there is plenty of precision jumping and running around ... 99% of which will reward you with instant death on failure.

I'm actually at a point in the game where I'm not sure what platform I'm supposed to be trying to jump on. Oddly, that's about where I quit.

It might be where it stays quit.

Don't get me wrong - I get that Valve can produce some of the prettiest assets, animations and staged cinematics this side of the hemisphere. Just stop trying to tell me that it amounts to actual storytelling and innovative gameplay. Especially when I spent half my time trying to figure out how soldiers kept appearing behind me. Just because they aren't actually closets doesn't mean they aren't monster closets, people.

Notes From Management

I finally got the logo Corvus had so graciously designed plugged into Blogger. It's not exactly the treatment we had thought, but that is actually more due to wrangling with Blogger's built-in template more than anything else.

On a side note to that - this is the third time in the last week or so I've run into problems doing a relatively straightforward update to a design due to what I like to call "OPCSS". Or, Other People's CSS. See the thing is - CSS can be an amazingly powerful tool for maintaining content. The problem is that someone can so overdefine basic things like margins, paddings, alignment across so many elements at once that unless the guy after you follows those assumptions - things go caterwampus.

At work we've got some consultants running amok and our designer keeps telling me they're going to push to go "no tables". I've been hearing (and at one point even agreed) this line of thinking for several years now. The problem with the theory is that while common CSS approaches offer many advantages over the old pure HTML of old ... in may ways CSS still sucks. It's not well standardized, it's flaky in places and just downright clunky in others.

The theory that "tables are bad" stems from the belief that they take up more HTML and are slow to render. The first is only true, though, if you don't require a fresh page of CSS to accomplish the precision you need and the second is only true if the layout has gone over two or three recursions of tables with a lot of old-school image spacers and the like.

Anyway - brief rant over. I'll probably try and keep tweaking the look through next week. C also provided an amber colored logo which might replace the green, should I get over my Apple II nostalgia at some point.