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Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving moments

Mom trashtalking during Wii Tennis.

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

Mom says: 'I played the ninja'

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Notes On Team Fortress 2

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

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

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

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

Fear Of Girls 2

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

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

Holiday Gaming Buying Tips (For Non-Gamers)

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

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

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

• Ask the child to write out a wish list.

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

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

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

Good advice. Let me add a few more:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinkpad Meets HP Printer - Hilarity Ensues

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

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

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

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

Which, it already is.

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

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

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

But I'm willing to blame all three.