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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Never Too Late For Child's Play

Just a quick reminder before the year runs out, Child's Play does not close its door just because Christmas hit. I completely blanked on the charity (which provides games off a wishlist for children's hospitals around the nation) until just now, so I tossed in a set of Wii controllers, some journals and a few games for the kids. I mean, what kid should be without Uno? C'mon ... it's freakin' Uno.

Movie Watch: Southland Tales

As a rather big Donnie Darko fan, I was pretty interested in Southland Tales when I first heard about it, but then it fell off my radar. We got around to it this weekend, and the end result is almost sadly what I would have expected.

For the unfamiliar, Donnie Darko is the story about a high school kid who mysteriously survives the destruction of his house through a rift in time. Or at least that would be one interpretation of the plot. The wildly surreal movie never quite puts its finger on what is going on (although the new director's cut adds more context), but that is part of the movie's charm. Darko works for me because while the plot is woven around this really odd premise - the core is still about one kid's conflict with the rest of the world, fitting in school, dealing with his family and pretty much a lot of human stuff we to which we can all relate.

Southland Tales uses a lot of the same concepts but transports it to a national level and paints a surrealistic version of a biblical apocalypse onto southern California. It is basically Donnie Darko with a bigger budget and larger scale. And while, like Darko, it isn't for everyone, there is actually a lot of culture commentary and Lynch-esque sequences to entertain your eyes and brain for a decent portion of the movie.

But with its size and dept, Tales finds it harder to shrug off the feeling of being overwrought and slightly pretentious. Fans of a Mulholland Drive kind of thing should probably give it a try - but in a lot of ways the movie is a pretty hard sell. I recommend it, because I think its fun and unique, but even I felt the two and a half hour length droned on a bit too long without giving much satisfaction in the end.

Watch Darko first, and if you like it - rent Tales for an afternoon viewing sometime.

Movie Watch: Mummy 3, Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

Oh. Dear. God.


There are times when it should be clear to those involved that a project is going to come out so bad that it should just be halted. Mummy 3 is such a movie. Rachel Weisz turned down the offer to return as Evie, presumably because the script was simply not up to snuff.

Kudos to Weisz for reading the script. In her place, the producers give us Maria Bello, and even insert a rather snarky joke in the movie to point out this fact. It should be noted to the filmmakers that when you have a girl from Pennsylvania doing a bad Rachel Weisz impersonation for the entire movie - you probably should not point out this fact. It's not a knock against Bello, I loved her in Payback and loved her more in A History Of Violence, but the writers would have been better off simply writing the character out than including a bad breathy English accent through the the movie.

But Evie is hardly the movie's real problem. The script suffers from not only all the normal Hollywood flaws, but manages to create a few new ones on the way. There's the odd references to the war and espionage that has apparently made our character fantastically rich and famous. There's the fact that their kid has suddenly turned college aged, mysteriously become another Indiana Jones clone without all the other Indiana Jones clones figuring it out. There's the rather awkward slamming of what feels like a draft for someone else's kung fu movie into Mummy 2. And that's not even accounting for the numerous plot holes and rather impressive suspensions of disbelief required from the viewers.

And going to jump into some spoilers here - because this is one of those movies I really think should be spoiled. Firstly, Jet Li (who heads a woefully underused Asian portion of the cast, including the generally excellent Russell Wong) spends most of his time in a mocap suit grunting and pointing. The Dragon Emperor himself is one of those "insanely powerful and yet conveniently not" kind of villians (I think he may make a cameo on the next season of Heroes). By the end of the movie, the big bad can transform into any manner of beast, including a massive three headed dragon ... and yet still prefers to get his ass kicked in human form quite a bit.

And all of this hooplah is to stop ... wait for it ... wait.... for it...

His terrible, horrible terra cotta army. Surely, you say, they are supernatural soldiers who can't be stopped by mere bullets? Because that would be really something, right? No, no, pretty much one bullet and they go down like a clay pot.

Know why? Because they are clay freaking pots, people. The movie would have been more effective threatening the world with shrubbery, because at least that would have been hilarious.

This is an outright avoid type of title, unless you're under the influence of drugs and can get it for free.

And oh by the way, if you need more proof that Ebert is hack, he considered this "the best in the series", apparently accepting the "it's so bad it's good" philosophy to the extreme.

Maybe Ebert has a taste for movies that are so good, they're good. This one, dear Roger, is just plain bad.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Games In Review

2008 was a pretty decent year for games. We got to see EA try to become somewhat more creative, with titles like Mirror's Edge and even branch out genre-wise when it comes to games like Dead Space. Smaller indie shops got great breaks into the marketplace with the evolution of WiiWare, Xbox Arcade and PlayStation Network - offerings from the big three that at times rivaled anything the disc-based offerings had in store.

And yet, when it came to blockbusters - we had our fair share. For myself, it would be a decision in between Fallout 3 and GTA IV for best game of the year, but we'll get to that in a second.

I could nitpick on titles like Mirror's Edge, whose demo actually made me far less likely to purchase, or even lament Destroy All Humans: Big Willy on the Wii - which was an atrocious abortion of design ... but my biggest disappointment was really in what we didn't see this year. Let's take it from the big three point of view.

Not being a 360 owner, I can't properly critique Redmond here, but I still knock them off points for not offering 360 owners a proper hardware revision that I think they are severely owed. When you have entire articles about how to determine if the box your getting has the latest chipset, I think you have a problem. Microsoft certainly has the resources to fix this - but they've clearly gotten a taste of trying to be profitable for a change.

I did recently get to see the new dashboard and can't say I was terribly wowed. But software-wise, it is hard to complain too much, the 360 certainly has the library to show for its early start.

Sony promised that now they had the hardware nailed down - they would deliver on the software. The problem is they're still playing with their SKU lines, or at least were until recently, and they haven't entirely delivered on the software. The much ballyhoed Home finally had an open beta - and was greeted largely by a yawn. PSN offered more than a few winners, but Sony has a long way to go before hitting "Gaming 3.0".

In short: I love Little Big Planet as much as the next guy, but it is only a taste of "social gaming" that Sony made such a big deal out of while trying to upsell the console.

On an anecdotal level, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention I had to go to Sony for repairs twice, back to back, this year.

I intentionally mention the big N after Sony because while Sony had made big promises which haven't been coming true, Nintendo seems to almost be defiant in not capitalizing on their massive demographic. I had thought Super Smash Brothers was going to be a great moment for the company, but it turned out to feel mostly like fan service. There was no channel to easily download new user-created levels, creating new levels was hampered by Nintendo's love of "play some more, and we'll unlock some more" mechanic and matchmaking in general was pretty awkward.

I know plenty of people with Wiis and nearly all of them have WiFi. So where's my clubhouse?

And really, Nintendo, stop with the hardware. I've got wheels, nunchuks, now a Wii Fit and possibly a Wii Talk in my future. For 2009, focus on software.

For the most part, I'd say I wasn't expecting to love my PlayStation 3 quite as much as a I did. We use it all the time. I'm personally a big fan of Blu-Ray. By volume, we probably spend more time with downloaded material - but that's just because we get that while we wait for Netflix (or catching up on shows, etc). Blu-Ray is just a dead simple way to get an excellent viewing experience.

We download movies off and on from PSN as well, and I'm sincerely hoping Sony gets a deal with Netflix in the near future.

Honorable Mentions:

Pain (PSN): We freakin' love Pain, a PSN-only offering which lets you toss people into environments. It's cheap, fun to watch and great with a crowd.

Endless Ocean (Wii): OK, it's technically an older title and I grant it won't be for everyone. My dad played it like twenty hours straight, but Big Brother couldn't stand it for twenty minutes. If you can find it, rent it.

No More Heroes (Wii): Yeah, I hated the Bad Girl boss fight, but for the most was utterly roped into the quirky little brawler.

Phantom Hourglass (DS): Simply a properly executed Zelda title. Great mechanics, great fun.

Battlefield: Bad Company (PS3 / 360): Some of the most fun I've had with a shooter online, and by far the best online experience I've had on a console (with the possible exception of the early days of Phantasy Star Online).

Wish I had played:
Halo 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, any Gears of War, Mass Effect and Fable 2.

Runners Up:

Dead Space (PS3 / 360): It only barely gets in there, because of some naked mechanics and disappointing story elements. However, Dead Space had atmosphere, and for me plenty of character - and I really felt like the designers had done their homework.

Little Big Planet (PS3): This is a bit on the sly, because I only barely pulled back the cover on this title before my console went belly up. But even then, you can seee that LBP makes good on its promise and begins to show a framework for things to come.

Fallout 3 (PS3 / 360): This is so close, it feels bad calling it #2. Fallout 3 is two of my favorite things - a Bethesda RPG and Fallout - in one great package. Course it should be known - combine zombie like monsters, shotguns and a dog and nearly any title will go a long way to win my heart.

Game Of The Year
If I had to give anything the title, it would be GTA IV. It is the title that got me to finally get a PS3, even before I got an HDTV (not the order I would recommend, btw). Graphics, voice acting, music - all top notch. Plus, I think the game is undersold as simply a good crime story. Niko is one of my favorite characters of all time. For all the hooplah about driving drunk and stabbing hookers, GTA IV is just damn good design, and was a lot of fun to play even on standard definition.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Massive Fail Of iPhone MMS

This is honestly just embarrassing, Apple and AT&T:

If someone tries to send your iPhone an MMS message, you can't actually get it. Instead, you get a stupid text message with a link to a AT&T website that uses a special id code AND password. AT&T is not smart enough to embed any of that information into the URL, and the iPhone doesn't support cut and paste - which means the link is pretty much useless.

However, even if you have computer handy, apparently you - as I did- can just get the above message and no picture whatsoever. The ID and password are correct, because if they aren't you get a different error message. AT&T is just incapable of displaying the image even in this hobbled, half-assed manner.

For a device which prides itself on user friendliness, this is about as user unfriendly as you can get. My old Windows smartphone handled this stuff like a champ. I've complained about this before, but this is the first time I've had both the phone and the website fail me.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Thoughts and Some Tips on Fallout 3

Most of the PS3's return has been heralded by catching up on Fallout 3, to the point where I've even downloaded a few things and haven't tried them yet. I really, really, want to jump back into Little Big Planet, but I haven't had a large enough reliable chunk of time to do it justice.

So back to the Capitol Wasteland with me. Since I've now had the rather odd experience of playing the first part of the game twice in short order, I thought I'd jot down a few tips:

It's a rough world...
While there's something to being a talker, sneaker, shooter, etc. in this game - there are couple things which are going to always be true. You'll need to defend yourself. The easiest route is Small Guns, which occupies the largest section of weapons you'll find out there.

I have some fondness for melee and unarmed weapons, though, as they require no ammo and you can pummel an enemy while they reload. If you've got Dogmeat with you, it works even better since he provides another layer of distraction.

It's like someone was trying to steal something
If I had to lay down a single skill that is most useful, it would be Lockpick. The lock system won't even let you try some locks without a certain level at this skill, so I've actually got it at 100 already at level 12. In the long run, being good at lockpick makes some quests easier and provides more access to scavenging.

Plus, law enforcement just isn't what it used to be. You might risk a little karma, but you've got plenty of chance to get that back in the game.

If only I knew
There are quite a few things in the game which are quite handy, which my complete lack of RTFM didn't realize at first:

- The PIP Boy has a light, which is handy for scavenging those dark areas. Hold down the normal PIP button until it turns on. It will make being stealthier much harder, however.

- From the world map, you can fast travel to discovered locations by clicking on them. Discovered means you've actually been there, not just marked on your map.

- You can set the hotkeys for specific weapons from your inventory screen. Honestly, though, jumping into the PIP menu might take longer - it does have the handy feature of pausing the action, so I don't really use it that much.

- Ammo and most chems have no weight. This is handy for storing large amounts for either future use or to dump all at once for quick cash.

- Between VATS and your stealth status (visible when you crouch), you can get a really good impression of what is around. Crouch, see if your status is pretty much anything but hidden, and then click VATS to see what enemies might be around.

Good dog, Dogmeat
Dogmeat is the canine henchmen in the game. My second time through, I went for Dogmeat early in the game. I haven't really investigated the in-game henchmen just yet, but Dogmeat is pretty handy. In combat, he offers a decent amount of distraction, soaks up damage and adds a new layer of damage on his own.

Like all dogs, though, Dogmeat requires watching. It's good to make sure he is around before fast travelling, so that you don't have to go back to some area to retrieve him. Also, Dogmeat's protective nature means you'll need to make sure he hasn't gone off to chomp some Super Mutant you didn't know was there. Dogmeat doesn't require healing often, but he can get into trouble if either ganged up or left alone against someone half decent with a shotgun. Sometimes it's just better to leave him somewhere. Especially some missions where there will be either a large number of traps or creatures he is just not well suited to fight.


- Also, it's good to note that the hacking minigame marks a "correct" letter as being both the right letter and in the right position. Took us a while to realize that, but the game is much easier once you catch on...

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Sunday: Santa Versus The Martians

Via Cinematic Titanic (basically MST3K take two):

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For Sunday: Timecrimes

This movie has been getting a decent amount of buzz for its storytelling on a budget, including an interview on Wired.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunny In Philadelphia meets Star Trek

Boldly Going Nowhere might be the best thing I've heard about in a great while. From the creators of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it will be science fiction comedy about a rogue ship and what I can only assume will be their insanely socially inappropriate misadventures. Details are a bit fuzzy, but there's apparently and intentionally downgraded android and holodeck abuse. It's slated to be coming out on Fox and I can't wait to see it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sony's PlayStation Home

Since the PS3 was back up and running just in time for PlayStation Home's open beta, I gave it a go last night.

The beta has been greeted with largely a ho and a hum on the net, and there's quite a few good reasons why. Mostly, Home is an interesting idea in search of a real need. It's a solution to a problem you didn't really have. There's a lot of effort here to get very little done.

For instance, you can go to the theatre. In this virtual theatre, you can see the same Twilight trailer we've been watching for months now. And that's pretty much it for all your trouble for downloading the zone and navigating around a bunch of other users to get a decent view.

Or you could go shopping in the mall, except that most of the stores are pretty bare and honestly spending pretty much any amount of money on virtual pants isn't likely to excite me. Here is where the comparison to Second Life really breaks down. Second Life is an experiment in user generated content. Home's Mall is more of an experiment in making the electronic equivalent of those impulse items at the grocery store.

Home also features a handful of games, none of which were really terribly compelling to even try. Honestly, it's not that these are a bad addition to the environment, but at the moment they don't have much to offer to your already existing library of games. Mostly? It's something to do if you get stuck downloading conent.

My biggest disappointment was with Sully's Bar. As an Uncharted fan, I wanted to see the game oriented environments would be like. It was, sadly, a crowded clumsy experience with people shouting out the passwords to the secret rooms.

Home is something of a looker, graphically speaking, it's just that there's not much actually there. It's vapid.

The real question is simple. How much of this void is because this is a beta and how much is simply design? Home has some potential, but until the content gets drummed up to the point where we can see that potential being tapped, I don't see myself logging in just to watch movie trailers I've already seen.

What would I like to see?

- Better promotional areas. This is going to need to include the idea of some kind of instanced zones where I can explore content without being hounded by dozens of other players all trying to open the same door.

- Online media events. Get panel discussions going with developers, synchronized webcasts with live events, etc. It will be interesting see how this dovetails with Qore (if it all).

- Much, much better free content. The trophy room might be a good example of this. But even more, why not say, the Obsidian Suit from Dead Space? I already have the DLC for it, why can't I shove it in the corner of my living room?

So no, I'm not really thrilled about Home right now - it's been a long time coming and there is very little to show for it. I don't expect to get really thrilled about it, well, ever, but I do think Sony could make it useful. Hopefully Sony won't let the beta linger for long.

The PlayStation 3 Back In Action

All in all, I'd give Sony's customer service and repair strategy pretty high marks. Everyone on the phone was helpful and friendly. Naturally, I'm still kinda annoyed the darn thing broke in the first place, but I think my media center has to take at least part of the blame.

Turnaround was very fast. They ship you the coffin 3 day, the coffin's return slip is overnight. They had a refurb out the next day, also sent 3 day. So without my own work travel delaying the show, I would have had a working unit in about ten business days.

I did take the opportunity to upgrade the HDD to a 400GB model. I don't really what I'll be doing with ten times the storage space yet, but since I already had a fresh start to begin with - it was as good of a time to do it as any other. It's crazy easy on the PS3, once I had the right sized screwdriver, took about ten minutes.

The only hangup was when we tried to rent a movie last night off the PlayStation Network. Apparently my old PS3 was still the active console for renting video, and the new one wouldn't activate while that was true. There is no way to deactivate a PS3 you don't have on hand by yourself, however. This is more than a bit of an oversight on Sony's part - they should take a page from Apple and allow you to deactivate all the devices off your account if needed.

Instead you have to call customer service to do it for you. It actually was a bit annoying, took like three phone calls to get someone who could finally get to the screen to get the job done, but once there we were good to go.

The "new" one has a 90 day warranty. While this all worked out about as well as I could hope, hopefully it won't be necessary again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Zombie Yule Tide 2008 Meme

Corvus doesn't have a recent version of this meme up, I caught it off Facebook - but the rules are set as thus:

You are in a mall when the zombies attack. You have:

1. one weapon.
2. one song blasting on the speakers.
3. one famous person to fight alongside you

My picks:

Weapon (First Choice): Bayoneted Shotgun
At one point they were against the Geneva Convention, but they exist nonetheless. I simply can't resist the possibility of bringing a shotgun to a zombie fight, but also realize that ammo will be finite. Hence, the pointy thing at the end.

That said, I acknowledge that this might constitute two weapons instead of one, so:

Weapon (Second Choice): Shamshir
A shamshir is a type of sword, similar to a scimitar but not as heavy. It's light, so it won't wear you out as you swing, it's biased towards slashing and not stabbing - which is how you should confront a zombie anyway, and it's one handed so you'll have a free hand to grab impromptu weapons, open doors, press buttons or hold that damsel in distress you find along the way.

Song: Calling Out Remix By Lyrics Born
It's an upbeat, slightly egotistic, anthem with a backbeat you can fight to ... and it doesn't sound so bad on infinite repeat either.

Celebrity Guest: Bruce Campbell
Look, I know it's cliche and I know old Bruce is an actor and hasn't actually defeated an army of darkness before, but c'mon - it's Bruce freaking Campbell and zombies. That's like peanut butter and chocolate for the most part. Plus, I would assume Bruce would be irrationally optimistic in such situations, which is the kind of attitude I would want around.

A co-worker offered up Simon Pegg as a reasonable alternative, should Bruce be otherwise occupied by 100 other requests.

Girls' Guide To Videogame Studs

You gotta appreciate someone trying to create a "hot" list for girl gamers if not for any sensible reason, but rather for the fact that sense IGN has an entire category devoted to the cause for men, why someone hasn't done more of this kind of thing before...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

That Shelf Moment: No More Heroes

A shelf moment is where the frustration from a game outpaces the entertainment to the point where you just don't want to bother anymore, so you put it back on the shelf. I think I first heard it from Matt o' Curmudgeon Gamer.

I think I just had mine for No More Heroes last night. Don't get me wrong, I really like the game overall. And I was not a fan of Killer 7, mind you - finding it surrealistic fluff with very little value other than being so unique that I found it something of an attention whore.

NMH on the other hand, is stuffed with solid gameplay mechanics. It's easilly one of the best uses of the Wii controls outside of Nintendo, if not overall. The style is perfectly suited for the Wii's hardware and the weirdness is just fun - not distracting. I've enjoyed the game all the way to becoming the third ranked assassin.

But this second rank battle? Bad Girl? (stop here if you don't spoilers)

The fight just isn't any fun. For one thing, for being the second ranked assassin, Bad Girl doesn't seem to want to fight. She mostly just saunters around. And you can't attack first, since (as with most NMH bossess) you need to counter and dodge their attacks to do any damage.

Which brings me to the real core problem with the fight - Bad Girl has a ridiculous amount of HP and hence it feels like you do very little damage overall. I've spent this whole game mowing lawns to buy a better beam katana, and honestly that sliver of damage done to her health bar is a bit insulting. Especially since I have to keep waiting for her to get done strutting, perform some pretty lame attack, and hit her three times.

It's slow. And it's boring.

But it get worse. After you take out about half of her health, which can take upwards to ten minutes or so, she starts playing gimp baseball. This is where she hits men in gimp suits at you, and you have to fight them (if you haven't played NMH, this may sound weird - but when you've played it ... you don't even really blink at this kind of thing at this point in the game). You can't attack her ... and she can play gimp baseball as many times as she wants.

I now uncontrollable groan every time she struts half way to me, only to go running back to hit more goons at me. It's just laborious and dull.

Worse, Bad Girl has an attack which is 100% lethal. Now, it's easy to dodge, and once you realize when she's done with it, you can get hits in ... but one attempt last night ended because she performed it while I was in a corner. I had been dancing around this idiot girl for near twenty minutes, and the whole fight ended simple because I had to be close to her at the time.

Twenty minutes later, I realized my shelf moment had come. I could have spent an hour trying to beat this boss, but I wasn't going to have any fun doing it. Sure, I'd love to see how the game ends - but at this rate the reward doesn't seem worth it.

The game is in good company. I didn't finish Shadow Of The Colossus either because it took so damn long to get through the last boss, only to likely perish towards the very end. Dark Cloud 2 was, in general, one of the most brilliant JRPG experiences I've had - and I'm not normally a big fan of that genre - but when the designers decided "what would be neat is to go replay all the old levels with just much, much hard monsters" ... I said enough was enough.

I *might* unshelf it at some point, when I have a free afternoon to devote to trying to get past it. NMH fans can plead if they wish. Again, great game - which actually makes it that much more annoying. A moment like this in a bad game is just the end of an inevitable conclusion. Situations like this feel like just an ounce of really bad balancing, a moment where the designers thought "maybe the game isn't hard enough, right here ... let's add a zero to her health points..." kind of thing.

Oh well, PS3 should return tomorrow. And then I'll plenty to worry about...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich, In Chart Form

The New York Times has a great chart of Gov Rob's corruption links, in a style that anyone who has watched a season of The Wire can understand.

A few notes about Illinois politics. Number one - we don't really have a two party system here. We acknowledge such a thing exists, but we haven't bothered to go down to the store and pick one up for something like a few decades. One part of this is the odd demographics - Chicago is wildly Democratic and makes up the major amount of the state population, while the rest of the state is rural and somewhat purple, but mostly leans Republican. In part because of this disparity, the Illinois Republican Party hasn't been a truly functioning organization for some time.

I mean, they ran Alan Keyes. Alan Freaking Keyes. Against Barack Obama. This is after they fired their own guy for having a sex affair with his own wife (Jerri Ryan for you Trekkies, by the way). Whenever my dad complains about Obama, I like to remind him that the keystone cops which make up the so-called opposition are partially to thank for his meteoric rise. They just made it so darn easy.

Second, corruption is often viewed in shades of grey, especially in the Windy City. That said - nobody is looking at Rob B right now and thinking this was business as usual. The general concept is benevolent dictatorship. Sure, you get your political machine - but the city stays healthy and the roads get cleaned on time. And in the city, this largely works. On a state level, it looks like the train fell off the rails some time ago (since this is our second bout of scandal in as many governors).

Personally, I think think they guy might be slightly insane. Anyone who thinks that they can sell off a senatorial position, and if that fails take it for themselves in the hopes of a Presidential bid in a few years ... and that none of that will raise an eyebrow...

I mean, yikes. Get the guy out of office and on some meds.

PlayStation 3 Refurb Update

I got an email last night that the PS3 on the way home, or rather I should say a PS3 is on the way home. They got mine on Monday, so this is a pretty decent turnaround. I should note that had I not been in New York on business, I probably would have had it in my hands already.

The speedy turnaround makes me dubious that I'll be seeing my hard drive again. I'm not too broken up about it except for my Fallout 3 saves, since I had just gotten to point in the game which is a bit of a pain to crawl back through (the Museum). It will be interesting to see if the trophies for say, Dead Space, remember that I've finished the game without any save game (I'm guessing yes).

My real conundrum here is whether to buy a new HDD from NewEgg and get it shipped to here by Friday. If I'm starting from scratch, I might as well upgrade as well, right?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For Sunday: TIGSource's Commonplace Book Entries

Some great clips from the recent indie contest:

Check them out at TIGSource's forum. (Thanks

Monday, December 08, 2008

TV Watch: Heroes, Our Father


OK, first - Sylar is one of my least favorite characters in television history. I am so tired of his melodramatic nonsense, and in particular this season when he is whatever the hell the story needs at the moment. Bad guy, good guy, soccer mom, yada freaking didn't we kill him a couple times already?

Second. Did someone mention to the writers that Arther Petrelli was not actually conveniently located sixteen years in the past? That has to have been one of the worst plot twists ever put to print. OK, so perhaps it wasn't broadcasted - but it also simply didn't make any sense. Let me guess? Arthur had snuck in as the chef?

The show still has its moments, but the plot is just unraveling at the seams. Sure, I say this a lot about Heroes - so I guess it would be better put as "I'll be fascinated to see how they pull this one out."

If Gamers Ran The World

This is (was) in the news feed as well, but thought it merited calling out:

It has online high-score charts; you can compete against people you don’t know to be the best campaigner. On the sly, they turned politics into an MMO.

Now, politics and elections aren’t games - whilst there might be scores for a while, there are greater things at stake than mere scores. But that’s the kind of thing you build when you look at the world in a gamelike way; incentives, readouts, better feedback loops. That’s the kind of thinking that can only become more pervasive as games themselves do.
-- If Gamers Ran The World [Infovore]

(via Kottke)

There have been other articles like this, talking about how MMO's can make you a better manager, etc. I think it's a solid way to frame a conversation about games and what having games as a hobby amounts to being. It's better than assuming that you can learn how to shoot a gun by playing Quake, for instance.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Random Wikipedia Fact #3432

Georgia Moffet, who played The Doctor's daughter in, well, The Doctor's Daughter, is the daughter of Peter Davidson.

Who played the Fifth Doctor.

That Pushing Daisies / Wonderfalls crossover

So, I was highly expectant to see Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies cross, I just didn't expect them to pull out one of the more obscure character to do it with.

Yeah, if I was a serious Wonderfalls geek, I would have recognized the Muffin Buffalo routine, but as it was I missed it. In retrospect, I guess expecting Jaye show up was a bit much - but I was hoping for at least a Mahandra cameo.

Pushing Daisies spoiler to follow...

However, there was (or might have been) a sly reference to Jaye herself when Chuck is listening to the dead Dwight Dixon speak. That seemed distinctly like a Wonderfalls moment to me, and it will be interesting to see if it was a one time nod or if the surreal aspects of the shows will blend at all in the future.

I'm assuming the former, since inanimate objects talking to Chuck might turn into a bit of a stretch.

Steam Offers GTA IV Refunds

Faithful readers know my opinion of Steam, so naturally I was bit surprised to hear that they're offering refunds (on a case by case basis, apparently) of Grand Theft Auto IV because the darn thing is just too buggy.

Considering Valve fought me tooth and nail to refund a product that would do nothing but display a black screen and crash, that has to be some pretty serious quality concerns. I pondered at one time if Rockstar would even bother with a PC version of GTA, considering the franchise has done so well in recent versions on the console. Did they just go the ultra cheap route to try and maximize their profit and get burned?


Thursday, December 04, 2008

EA Wants Your Scared Face

Think you've got what it takes to pull off a scary face? Prove it! Enter the Dead Space "Show Us Your Scared Face" Contest where one grand prize winner will receive a Dead Space standee of the character Isaac Clarke signed by the development studio. Approximate Retail Value ("ARV") of $200.

Other prizes include the following:
- Dead Space Ultra Limited Edition for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system. ARV of $150 each.
- Ten (10) runner up winners will each receive a copy of the book The Art of Dead Space. ARV of $10 each.
To enter, email us a picture of your scariest face to with "Dead Space "Show Us Your Scared Face" Contest" in the subject line.
-- Enter the Dead Space “Show Us Your Scared Face” Contest

I'd be more excited if I knew what a "standee" was.

For Sunday: Prop 8, The Musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catch Up: iPhone Games, Spaced, Hellboy II

Cathode has been a little neglected, partially due to NaNo, partially due to being on the road a considerable amount, and now partially because the main device I both watch movies and play games on is a cold brick. So here's a little make up before the holidays and even more travel steal me away:

iPhone Games
Kelly of University Reviews sent along this list of little known iPhone games, which includes more than a handful that I haven't seen yet. Perhaps burned by Soul Trapper, I think about 95% of my iPhone gaming is still Lux.

Simon Pegg's (Shaun Of The Dead) old school BBC comedy is finally on DVD and well worth the rent. It's a direct heritage to the kind of pop culture infused, rapid shot, medium brow comedy that makes the movies great.

Hellboy II
I wanted to like the first one, but honestly it was a bit of a mishmash plotwise and hard to sign on. Hellboy II plays it safer, with a plot that is perhaps a bit more formulaic and shallow - but much more consistent and solid. This feels like what the first movie should have been, a fun popcorn flick with unique and interesting visuals.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Black Day

So I get home from Atlanta last night, not late late by most standards, but feeling late enough when you've spent hours in the air that had been preceded by hours in an airport which had been preceded by wondering if the rental car was going to get a flat which was preceded by driving in Atlanta in general which really kinda sucks and ... well, you get the point.

So I wanted nothing more than to see The Girl, have a beer and play a little Fallout 3. A little Fallout 3 turned in a lot, and that finally panned out as I finally found that damn Museum of Technology. I was toying with the Mutant Army camped outside and ended up getting killed quite a bit.

One time, the PS3 didn't come back after trying to load the last save. So I restarted it. Then I died again - and it didn't restart at all. Just got nothing but a black screen.

It had been running hot, so I let it cool a bit and then tried again. I wasn't getting any screen. I thought maybe the OS had reset the video settings and the HDMI wasn't getting anything to show, so I spent a few hours toying with turning it on and off in a variety of ways to force the video to reset, but didn't get anywhere.

I decided to get to bed, in the morning it would boot up and then freeze. I tried taking the hard drive out, but even without the drive it just freezes up on the orchestra / boot screen.

While I'm sure this just karmic justice for all the comments I've made about the 360's Red Ring Of Death, but it appears to be completely beyond normal repair at this point. All snide remarks aside, finding decent information about this kind of thing is hard when it comes to the PS3. I think the fan died, though, the console had been running louder lately and now the fan doesn't seem to kick in when everything is starting up.

So I'm pretty bummed. I'll need to call Sony and get what is apparently called a coffin to see if I can get this refurbished. I'd love to be able to keep the hard drive intact, but I'll settle for at least getting a 40GB again.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More On Fallout 3

I think the short version is this: I am freaking loving this game.

If you've played either Bethesda's previous Elder Scroll offerings (especially, obviously, Morrowind or Oblivion), or if you're a fan of the Fallout franchise in general - this is an easy recommendation. People, particular the Fallout fans, complained early on that it would be "Oblivion with guns" and I secretly thought to my self - like that would be a bad thing. And I wasn't wrong. VATS works brilliantly and is one of those rare successful blends of turn and real times based systems that complements rather than annoys. The most complicated combat I've gotten into required several retries until I finally flanked the guys behind me, bludgeoned the scout before he could cause too much of a racket and then tossed fragged grenades into the house before the Super Mutes could do too much damage to the caravan.

In terms of a story, this game approaches Deus Ex levels of good for me and honestly blows Bethesda's previous attempts away. This doesn't feel like the story about gates or a story about some weird messiah - but it feels like your story, about you entering a wasteland of a world in search of your father. While the main character is mute, you do control the conversations with the other characters and feel like you have a part to play in the world.

You can wander off on side missions or continue on the main quest, although I'm not sure how much the game allows you to just plow through the main plot without leveling up a little first. That said, I don't feel like I've embarked on any "kill five rats" type of missions. They feel like solid role playing adventures. Not that there isn't plenty of emphasis on combat - the vast majority of the game is spent trying to blow some crazy thing's head off.

Sure, there's a few foibles. The graphics are mostly great, but the character models are not the best in the world, comparatively speaking, and occasionally the animations are a bit off. A couple of times my dog has been floating about. When I nuked a massive beast, it stay aloft a bit longer than it should. This is still the Gamebryo engine, after all, and if you played Oblivion, you know what I'm talking about.

Also, navigation around the ruined parts of downtown can be a massive pain in the ass. The city is walled off by rubble, forcing you to use the underground systems. This is sometimes fine, and does encourage exploration - but can get frustrating when you pop out in a completely unexpected location, sometimes far past your goal.

There's a few other things, like the fact that herding your dog can get a bit tiresome ... but c'mon, you get a freaking dog - so who really cares.

A big thumbs up from me, can't wait to play the game all the way through. Easily one of my favorite games of the year, if not my favorite game of quite some time.

Conversation on Dead Space

Matt of the Curmudgeon Gamer blog was playing Dead Space at about the same pace I was, so we got together a running dialogue of the gameplay (Matt is JVM, I'm JB):

JB: This is a beautiful game. I saw a couple of collision problems (one humorous one where the undefeatable deadite was sticking his head out of a crate) and occasional the physics on the bodies was odd. The HUD is design genius. The Girl kept telling me to turn the sound down, too, because I really liked playing this game in the dark with the volume cranked up. The Ishimura just breathes at times.

My real complaint visually is that we didn't get enough views of the scenery. When I first hit the bridge, I saved the game just to show The Girl the meteor storm. The inside of one Chapter begins to feel the same as the next by the end of the game, but the outside is usually interesting.

JVM: Dead Space communicates very effectively with sound. Obviously the scary noises are important, but the atmospheric sounds flesh out the world and enhance the sense of spatial relationships. What really blew me away was the effect of almost no sound when Isaac had to work in a vacuum. After the game trains you to know the sounds of your enemies, you suddenly find yourself in an environment with practically no sound at all. That contrast is one of the game's high points. Each time Isaac had to enter a vacuum after that, I shifted my play style to constantly scan the corners of the room for any movement, relying on vision almost exclusively.
-- Dead Space: A Conversation

We hit on the narrative, the graphics, the gameplay, etc. It was a pretty interesting kind of peer to peer gaming, not connected directly in any way - but through trophies and the like, we more or less knew where each other was in the title. He even noted our different play styles by the awards we had earned. Matt finished the game before I did and headed off to the land of BioShock, so it will be interesting to follow up later and compare notes on how the two titles match up.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movie Watch: Quantum Of Solace

So I'm something of a Bond nut. Seen every movie at least once, can usually remember George Lazenby was that middle Bond guy, try to see the openings in the theater, etc.

One of the things that I love about the Bond franchise is that it has changed and mutated over the years. Craig's Bond is a far cry from the Roger Moore days, Dalton and Brosnan were different takes on the character than Connery, etc. Craig makes for an impressive bond and the whole "who was the best Bond" question gets more complicated with every outing.

Casino Royale introduced not just Craig, but a new angle on the franchse. Less gadgets, less over the top spy stuff and more upfront action movie action. Quantum Of Solace moves farther in the same direction with slightly less success, although it does still make for an entertaining film. Parts of the plot never quite connect with neither other parts of the plot nor the audience in general. It's not bad B-movie writing, but if the writers want to make a more realistic and gritty Bond, they'll need to make sure they have realistic and gritty stories to tell.

Part of me wonders why some of the people behind MI-6 (Spooks) haven't been previously tapped.

While Solace isn't great, it is still a lot of fun. I don't think it's as good as Casino Royale in general, it does keep a sharp character focus on Bond himself and the ties back to Royale (much of plot gravitates around Vesper) and there's enough artistry in the action scenes that we're still above the cheap jokes of say, The World Is Not Enough.

In short: a good, though not great, Bond flick which values action scenes over nearly everything other than Bond himself.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Game Play: Alone In The Dark Demo (PS3)

This is almost an exact duplicate of the post I just made.

I really wanted to root for this game, and for the first brilliant five minutes of the demo I was totally rooting for this game. It felt like a tight gameworld that might be capable of telling a story that I was actually feeling like a character within. I kept blinking, and blinking alone made me feel part of the scene - a brilliant use of cinematics and controls. This continues with the walk to the stairwell, and even the "realization" of the third person perspective.

Then it was like I was playing a completely different game. Then I was playing some Resident Evil knockoff (and no, you do not need to email me to remind me that Resident Evil was originally something of a AITD clone). The controls were lousy and when I died it felt like the game was fighting me more than some horrible nightmare in the dark.

What I wonder is - what would this rendition of Alone In The Dark had been if it had stuck to more traditional adventure genre roots? What if the gameplay had followed the first five minutes? The puzzles could have been logic, not twitch, based. What if this game had taken cues from The Seventh Guest more than Resident Evil 4?

Coulda, woulda, whatever. Hopefully other game designers will at least play this title to riff off of, but I don't see myself doing the same.

Game Play: Soul Trapper (iPhone)

I would love to recommend this game. It's basically an audio adventure title, replacing the basics of classic text adventure/Choose Your Own Adventure with audio clips. The writing seems pretty decent, as is the voice acting and the sound effects are really pretty damn good.

The gameplay itself needs another round in the cooker, though. On the second chapter, I was first intrigued by the "heart puzzle", where you are listening to the sound of your heart and try to control by pressing a single button. It's quirky, unique and potentially the kind of immersion that would really sell this kind of story.

Problem was - ten minutes later I'm still just listening to the stupid heart. I had no idea what I was or was not doing correctly. No clue as to how close I was to potentially solving the puzzle. Worse, when I backed out of the chapter - the game forgot I had completed the first chapter. So if I want to get back into the game, I'm starting from scratch (thankfully it was only the second chapter that tripped me up).

The game could benefit from a demo so that players could see if this kind of thing is for them. I appreciate where this game wants to go, but at $7 my experience with it doesn't really lend to a recommendation.

Why Exactly Does Netflix Hate Blu-Ray So Much?

OK, so I already complained about the tax Netflix has levied for renting Blu-Ray movies. They're more expensive, it's more manpower to sort, it requires yada yada yada whatever. Don't care. Paid it.

But why did they have to break the setup on their site? When I first set my account up for Blu-Ray, it offered and then subsequently updated any film in my Popcorn profile to the format. Perfect. Simple and easy. Was happy as a clam.

When the tax hit, they removed all the preferences. Everything reverted to DVD. I tried to update the profile, but was told I had to do it in the master account. I did that, and told the master account to choose Blu-ray over DVD.

Not only did this decision not descend down to the profiles, but the profiles were automatically set to "let me choose the format". Which I could not actually do since there was no dropdown to do just that. So then I went into the profile itself and was now able to tell it to choose Blu-Ray instead of DVD - which it also did not do. Instead, now I got the drop down where I could chose the format - but that format defaults to DVD.

Excuse me - I'm paying extra so that I can have worse service than I was getting for free. Anyone want to send the clue train over to Netflixville? I think it missed the stop.

It does at least now add new movies in Blu-Ray, but still - annoying.

Truly annoying.

Game Play: Fallout 3 First Impressions

I didn't get a lot of time with Bethesda's latest, but I got through the tutorial and (I don't think this exactly constitutes a spoiler) out of the Vault. My impressions so far are almost universally positive, I think everything from the interface to the voice acting feels solid, VATS seems like a great concept for mixing up FPS and RPG style combat, and the world (sorry doubters) feels like Fallout to me.

I know there will always be some dissenting views on it, but just like there were people walking out of Jackson's Lord Of The Rings thinking it just wasn't exactly like the book, sometimes we'll just have to agree to disagree.

I'm willing to guess that this will be Bethesda's best so far, but its still very early in the game for me, so give me a week or so to beat on it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TV Watch: Heroes, Villains

I was not, in general, a fan of this episode.

While I agree with The Girl that seeing past moments interwoven with each it often a pretty neat idea, and in some parts this works pretty well in this episode - the only real meat here feels like the scenes with the Petrelli family. Everything about Sylar just feels a bit surreal and potentially unbelievable. Why would The Company risk keeping him out "in the wild" when their entire reason for being is a deep paranoia about the potential dangers of the superpowered? It kinda undercuts all those "can you imagine letting Generic Example X walk around freely" moments when you know someone was thinking "let's keep psychokiller who steals powers off the hook for a while". It was clearly a forced setup to get more Gabe and Elle time.

It was nice to get more depth on Ma and Pa Petrelli, though, as it gives them some added weight as the prime motivators for the plotline. I would have liked to have know more about the experiments, the "artificial" heroes versus the "naturals" as it were - but I get that they have to save stuff for later.

I do think it's interesting that two of the most overpowered characters are the clinch of the cliffhanger...

Game Play: Mirror's Edge Demo

With NaNo about, I don't have much time for either blogging or gaming, but I thought I'd get a quick note about EA's much anticipated Mirror's Edge based on the brief demo that came out recently.

In short - I found the tutorial portion of the demo to be incredibly frustrating. It's a toss up for me, actually, which was more of a pain in the ass - "balancing" on the stupid pipe or executing the run, turn, kick as specifically as the computer wanted. In the first example, the mechanic just seems insanely poorly tuned - for someone as capable and balanced as Faith seems to be, to fail repeatedly at the task felt like a break in immersion and a ridiculously tedious exercise. In the latter, I kept managing to make it to the point I was going for - only to have the game pull me back because I didn't get there in the prescribed arc or something.

Some redemption kicks in when the story starts up and absolutely - the art design and use of first person perspective is unique and engaging. It's just that that jumping mechanic means that the game is in part at least a first person platformer and brings in some of the weight that genre implies.

I'll have to wait for a full review on this one to see if the "jumping, exploring and fighting" parts outweigh the "stupid balance beam, missed timing and potential jumping puzzles" parts, because as it is I'm not too sure.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back In Town: Dreamforce, NaNoWriMo

Plane arrived last night - got more or less a full night's sleep and I'm back in the office now. I'm going to be a little incommunicado though, because post conference mania has not yet subsided (it's taken me about twenty minutes to type this far), and I'm hitting the road for Door County at the end of the work day.

I'm crazy behind on my NaNoWriMo, at least by 5K right now, 7K if I use my usual 2K/day standard. To help motivate, I quickly tossed together an app called WriMoWar which will let you see how poorly you're doing against other authors...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Po Little Co: Bill Kristol On Daily Show

I'm watching Bill Kristol talking with Stewart right now and it is completely disturbing. Almost sad. The intellectual dishonesty is clear and seems a little hard to wear.

For Kristol, I mean, of course. Every time he defends McCain he gets this look on his face like he is about to cry and laugh at the same time.

First - can we stop pretending as if Palin has gotten a bad rap? What? She can't take some Tina Fey jokes? This is a woman who is repeatedly trying to call Barack a terrorist so don't give me this crap about how Caribou Barbie is unfair.

The woman is a radical right wing religious hardliner who has just won the political lottery of the century. She was also brought in during one of the most negative campaigns run in some time. Obama called off the potential scandal of her family, told a rally of his to stop booing McCain - but she won't even pause to perhaps suggest that the n-word might be off base.

The current talk is that the Republican think tank is considering pushing Palin for a 2012 run. I can only hope this is true. Perhaps in hindsight they'll realize that this election year has been a repudiation of the Rovian tactics which may have served well in simpler times and before the veil of 9/11 became as transparent as it was - that perhaps drumming up the fringe while hoping the middle won't notice. While McCain has been courting the same groups that helped push Bush over the narrow margin, the Democratic party has been actually getting some smarts when it comes out to pushing early voting, getting out the vote and maintaining focus on the issues.

Kristol seems to be stuck in this paradigm as well. His support for a campaign which has clearly gone off the rails, as well for a woman that - as John himself pointed out - would be far more likely to attack a man in Kristol's shoes as not being part of "Real America" than do the same - must be as painful of a position to keep as it was to watch.

Is LittleBigPlanet A Better Spore?

I'm not going to say LittleBigPlanet is a better (or worse) game than Spore. They're just too different in most ways for a decent comparison. It's a flame war that doesn't have to be fought.

But there is a thread where the two are very alike. Both games are driven by user created content. Both games offer an online universe to share and play this content. Both games offer an innovative editor to generate the content.

And I think in nearly everything along the thread, LittleBigPlanet edges out ahead. Bouncing in between user generated levels, story mode and the editor is a lot different than having another random creature come over the edge. The scale of the control that you have in the editor is empowering, whereas Spore's felt a lot like window dressing.

This isn't so much a critique of Spore, but rather a preference and some praise for LBP. However, I did have one crash last night while trying to leave a game - hopefully LBP will be successful in both generating good content and keeping the lights on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Game Play: LittleBigPlanet Quick Thoughts

I only had enough time last night to do a quick dive into Sony's much anticipated hit, Little Big Planet. So here's a few quick thoughts:

This may be the best tutorial ever made for a game and will be damn hard to beat for a while. It's entertaining, it feels like you're playing and not being lectured, you get to explore and it has Stephen Freaking Fry.

I've read some complaints about Sackboy's jumping controls. I don't know if they were tweaked in the patch at all, but I didn't have any real problems. I'm not a huge platformer fan in general, but in the first few levels very little annoyed me.

The LBP servers were down last night. Boo. I didn't miss much as I had just gotten to the "larger" game, ie where I think you can start playing with the creator, but the grace period won't last long.

Even as someone who doesn't like platformers, I had a lot of fun.

If the design doesn't make you at least a little happy - you might need medication. This is one of the most adorable games in the wide world of adorable games.

Monday, October 27, 2008

TV Watch, Heroes: Eris Quod Sum

A pretty even episode, all in all - more of a bridge episode than anything else as with the exception of Sylar and Suresh, very little moved. And in Suresh's case, his flip to Pinehearst happened so fast that I blinked and nearly missed it.

But really my pain point is Claire at the moment. I'm just not buying the whole "going painless breaks me" routine. It feels forced and overwrought. Honestly I would think it would be more logical to become afraid of not being invulnerable than not feeling pain.

A close second is Black Fear. For one thing, the show should avoid any character that is required to describe his power every time it's used. Second, the whole bogeyman routine just doesn't cut it for me - there's not much reason I see for people to actually be scared in the first place.

The plot hangs more or less together and the show is starting to dip into the backstory pretty well. The formula and how it ties into the characters makes for a nice container to the events in general. Heroes confounds me a lot, but I still find it pretty compelling overall.

Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls to crossover

“Very bittersweet,” Fuller admitted, “because I loved [Wonderfalls] and the cast. So much so, that I had to do a Wonderfalls crossover in this season of Pushing Daisies. That happens in episode eight of the second season and I’m really excited about it.”
-- Bryan Fuller Plans 'Pushing Daisies'/'Wonderfalls' Crossover

Some heartstring of mine just made a yipping noise.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Game Play: Lux Touch (iPhone)

Lux is a longstanding, multiplatform, Risk clone and Sillysoft has brought it to the iPhone in the form of Lux Touch. Lux Touch is free and quite simply a great port of the gameplay we're all familiar.

Sillysoft has done a great job of expanding Lux in general, so let's hope they continue that on the iPhone.

Apple And The HDTV: Our Mini As Media Server

For a while there, we used my Mini to download movies and then when we wanted to watch them on the big screen, we just moved it into the living room and hooked it directly up to the the TV.

Then we got the 50" plasma, our laptops and the PS3. It got to be easier to just download stuff to my laptop and then wirelessly stream them to the PS3 and view it that way. It was also a pretty cool party trick.

Two problems with that, though, is that movie watching became dependent on how well my network was running - usually OK, but sometimes we'd get the occasional annoying pause - and I couldn't use my laptop while we were doing things. Well, I probably could but I didn't really want my compiles slowing down Doctor Who.

So now we have the Mini permanently behind the TV, hooked up via DVI. If I've torrented something, I can just access the Mini's Drop Box folder, drag and drop the torrent file to it, and then Transmission picks it up and does the work. We've got a bluetooth keyboard and a trackball, but then I found AirMouse for the iPhone which works like a total charm for couch orientated control. If need be I can VNC in as well.

The only other trick I'm considering is a way to email myself torrent files, have an app on the Mini which monitors the inbox and pulls them if found.

But put that on the large pile of unfinished apps, games and Great American Novels I've planned as well...

As I'm writing this, there are questions about whether Apple will keep the Mini in its lineup. I certainly hope that they do - it's a great design and fits a niche that few other computers really can. Without the Mini, we'd be stuck with a Windows based solution for sure to get anything nearly this convenient.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Qore Qan Qinda Qiss My Ass

OK, seriously.

I bought the August edition of Qore primarily for the Resistance Beta. Don't get me wrong, I think Veronica does a fine job and some of the interviews were interesting and all - but paying for the kind of information wasn't attractive without the beta tossed in.

The beta is out and all I've got is this damn Burger King ad for my troubles. Originally the beta was due "in late September", mind you. When I go to the link, I still get the unavailable error. I paid for Burger King ad. Yay.

So maybe in the second wave, or whatnot, I don't know. I don't really care. Don't sell me an issue based on a beta you can't deliver and don't give me a damn download link that I have no idea if it will never, ever work. I can get better experiences for free and, well, quite honestly from now on plan on doing just that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Movie Watch: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I really wanted to like this movie.

And the guilty truth is - in some ways I did. In some ways I enjoyed it because Indiana Jones is a fun character and Harrison Ford plays him just so very, very well. That's the telling truth about the movie, though, it's watching Ford recapture the charm of his performance that give the film its own - but so much of the rest that hangs around that wry smirk is a low and embarrassing pillage of a franchise that shows, if anything else, that George Lucas needs to stop writing completely.

Spoilers continue.

Let's start with the scene that most everyone has heard about by now, even if you haven't seen the movie. The fridge scene. "Nuke the fridge" is a phrase which is quickly becoming the new "jump the shark" as fewer and fewer people remember Fonzie in the first place.

Long ago I had lunch with someone who used to get the chance to help edit screenplays while they were in pre-production. One action movie had a scene where the hero is protecting a block of C-4 from various flames while running down a tunnel. He pointed out that C-4 is actually designed not to ignite under such situations. It was a pretty stupid writing blunder easily corrected with a bit of research.

The fridge scene makes that look like Ulysses. Ignoring that lead is no way a reasonable protection against the heat of a nuclear blast, surely one with the proximity required to send that fridge flying into the air safely - another action which defies the very laws of physics ... but even if it might have maintained some concept of armor that Indy would have merely been cooked like a November turkey ... we at least know in this day and age that Indy would have spent the rest of the movie dying of radiation poison at the least.

So in one hand, the fridge scene is like those funny "survive the bomb by hiding under your desk" films they used to show kids, only with a fridge instead, isn't funny and possibly makes even less sense.

That hand is already holding a pretty little pile of something stinky, but in the other hand the scene is indicative with what's wrong with the likes of Lucas these days. So in love with fancy computer graphics and the ability to edit all the logic out of a scene by distracting the audience, the fact that the screenplay is practically an insult to the audience's intelligence survives the cutting room floor.

And there's no excuse why that scene did survive the cutting room floor. It's a flimsy segue to another scene and could have been replaced with a fade and some edits in dialogue. Snap. Snip. Snap. Better movie. Better Lucas and Spielberg are like kids at their first college kegger - drunk, out of control, messy and completely oblivious to the above.

The scenes that follow cascade from this fact to varying degrees. While some, if not most, are at least fun to watch - even the best can't rise above popcorn fluff.

The original Indiana Jones captured the joy of a simple action adventure movie while never losing sight on the characters themselves. The best, most memorable, most entertaining scene of the entire franchise was shot while Harrison had a fever, was completely improved and didn't use a single frame of computer animation.

I'm the first person to wave the flag of technology and proudly try to claim new land by shoving it firmly into the ground. The sad fact, though, is that it may have helped men like Lucas rise to where they are now - it stopped helping them make better movies years and years ago.

Sometimes it even just helps make them worse.

Another View: The State Of The Mod

The regenerative cycle of modders coming and going means that few begrudge such commercial interest, even if it hampers or even threatens ambitious projects like Warm Gun and Airborn (pictured on p81). Games and their mods inhabit the same ecosystem, after all, if not the same shelves. The fate of outfits like Trauma Studios, however, the team behind Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat, has raised ethical concerns which are far from unique in the industry overall.
-- The State Of The Mod [Next Gen]

The "ethical concerns" are discussed a bit and somewhat dismissed in the full article - and I think that's fair. I think the industry is pretty honest with the mod community for the most part, but it doesn't change the fact that said community has become something of a feeding pool for a ravenous crowds. I think it's quite telling that the article has nothing but screenshots of interesting maps, concept designs, and otherwise artistic mod efforts - but the fact remains that these efforts are the true dying breed.

Mods, in general, will never die because portions of the industry have become to accustomed to them or have too many ties into the mod community in general. The loop now, though, is about developing young talent to be either implement free content or fill upcoming professional ranks. The same industry pressure, though, means that experimentation with genres and gameplay is risky and nearly impossible to attract the same kind of team that would be required to make a full game.

Don't get me wrong - innovation exists and it's not like new blood doesn't inherently bring new ideas ... but it's not the same kind of innovation that small teams (or individuals) used to be able to garner any attention for ... the kind of innovation which brought us Capture The Flag, Counter-Strike and more.

NaNoWriMo Around The Corner

It's about to be NaNoWriMo time, and this is not going to be an easy year for me. I'll start the month off with a conference in San Fran and end it with the normal family bonanza and we might have a vacation in Door County in between, cutting my workable nights down considerably. Sadly The Girl doesn't accept NaNo as a decent reason for her to drive while I type either...

However NaNo is not about the finish, but rather about the rather insane march into producing something quasi-unreadable in the first place. And in light of recent events though, I don't think I could not do it this year. In preparation for my probable defeat, though, I think I'll be diverging from the normal format of "string random plot events together in the hopes of a storyline" and have a variety of starting points to tell shorter stories instead. Whether these will use the same characters, be interwined, whatnot, etc - we'll see.

Currently the name is "30 Fortunes" and the plan is to use fortune cookie fortunes as the impetus for the stories. Actually, my first task will be to start collecting fortunes...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Netflix has a Blu-Ray Tax?

When adding Blu-Ray to our Television queue at Netflix for the first time, we got a message saying it would cost an additional $1.00 a month:

Seems odd - a Blu-Ray disc is exactly as easy to stuff into an envelope as a DVD. Is it the extra cost of the format itself? The cost of having a framework for deciding between the formats versus the lack of adoption?

For Sunday: Death Star Cantina

Eddie Izzard + Legos = awesome

Friday, October 17, 2008

Game Play: Dead Space, First Look

I'm a couple hours into Dead Space now and if I had one line to say about the game, it is this:

Someone did their homework.

I mean, really, when you start to pull the game apart you see components strewn from various parts of FPS and survival horror neatly and nicely geared to fit together. Clearly, there's Doom - not just the first but the third as well. One might wonders if this wasn't far more the game that Carmack intended with Doom III with its excellent use of lighting and sound in gameplay. There's enough Half-Life that Isaac might as well be a cousin of Gordon Freeman, with his stoic and shy nature (but more on that later).

Level design is a beautiful combination of System Shock and Resident Evil - although it is interesting that we are still strapped with some of the same "find blue key" mechanics from nearly every shooter ever made. The air sequences from Doom III have been refitted - and combined with zero gravity zones are quite a lot of fun.

Naturally we also see Max Payne and Half-Life 2 crop up with "stasis" and "kinetics" instead of "bullet time" and "grav gun" - and thankfully they feel more useful than cliche (although any usage of these mechanics runs the risk at this point). We get a dash, but only a dash, of Deus Ex style inventory and weapon upgrades.

The growing call for "HUDless" design in especially survival horror is near perfect here, combined with an improved Resident Evil 4 aiming convention and some impressive floating HUD components which appear when needed. I'm quite glad, though, that Isaac is not allowed to heal by leaning up against a wall. I'm half surprised we don't see more of the herb mechanic for healing, actually.

What's impressive for me, though, is that these don't feel like lifts from another playbook. They've been integrated very tightly and the game feels like it has been extremely well tuned for the mechanics at play.

My biggest complaint, actually, is that Dead Space follows the same narrative style as Half-Life 2. I actually find Issac's lack of speech somewhat jarring considering the situation. He doesn't scream, doesn't offer consolation or advice - Isaac feels cold to me. His search for Nicole, which I'm sure will have some kind of plot twists to come, seems silly and futile at this point. The last guy I ran into died while ramming his head into a wall - what hope should Isaac have that Nicole is still alive?

In general, though, two thumbs up. The game isn't just looks, but brains too. It manages to be one of the spookiest titles I've run across - which is a hard goal for any game. Highly recommend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TV Watch: Heroes, Angels and Monsters

Spoilers warning.

Once again Heroes proves how it can spin a great beginning only to get tangled along the way. For the last couple of episodes, we've been bouncing between timelines and getting a moderately interesting peek into how some of the characters might diverge and change - and interesting take on character development in general.

The problem is - the main plot continues to unravel in simple bizarre ways and this week's episode seemed to explode with questions about what's going on with the show.

To start with, I couldn't agree more with Hiro and Ando's lament about, well, Hiro and Ando. Hiro can control time and space and here in this episode we see him able to essentially teleport Adam back into a coffin without a problem, but he's been unable to keep track of a few lousy pieces of paper for some time now and his "nemesis" is simply a hot chick who runs real fast. We're a far cry from future Hiro decked out leather for sure.

Hiro's problems with Ando have seemed pretty odd, to be honest - for a guy who has hopped around time as much as he has ... his reaction and treatment of Ando felt forced. Course, that was nothing compared to seeing Hiro shove a sword into Ando's chest for what seemed like very little reason at all. I'm guessing weird "fear is my strength" guy had something to do with it - but either The Girl and I microslept there a second or we couldn't figure out what Speed Girl and Fear Boy were doing there at all. They were looking for a job? What the hell? Hiro and Ando have been the prime motivator of pretty much this entire season's plotline - so it be nice if they started making at least an ounce of sense.

Thankfully if history has taught us anything it's that if Heroes can't make sense of itself, it will always at least make itself interesting in the end. So I'm still pretty positive about the show in general, just puzzled as usual.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dead Space Preview, Trailer

The Ypsilanti office of Cathode Tan sent along a quick note about the first few hours of EA's recently released, very well reviewed, horror piece Dead Space, which we've been covering off and on:

It is hard to avoid the comparisons to Doom, although visually it is a significant improvement, and overall the enviornments are the best I have seen in a space FPS. The pacing is a bit different from most FPS, in that you move rather slowly, as do many of the opponents. They are pretty tough however, and where you hit them (blowing off limbs is encouraged) makes a big difference as to how quickly they die. They also like to drop out of vents behind you. Also there are pretty big gaps between encounters, which are pretty much always telegraphed by sound effects. There are a few minor puzzles but nothing that slows things down much. An guide feature keeps you from getting lost. There are a lot of options for buying equiptment (only your first weapon is given to you, the rest are bought or unlocked with schematics at the store). Weapons and suit can be upgraded by power nodes which are found or bought. This is reminiscent of inventory in Deux Ex. All ammo is stored in inventory. You have a few tricks up your sleeve, a stasis effect that can be used with any weapon, and a gravity gun like effect. So far these serve mainly to get past the puzzles. Use of different weapons is encouraged by the variety of ammo that is found. All are very accurate but moderately powered (the 4 of 7 I have used). Some areas have no gravity and you move by launching yourself and walking with magnetic boots, these are intersting. The main character silent, plot is conveyed through video comm and logs of the deceased. The plot seems well constructed but not particularly novel. Overall, I am enjoying the game, but don't find it too hard to walk away from.

The game should be showing up Chicago-side tomorrow, so I'll be able to dig into myself by the weekend. Quite looking forward to it. It feels so much like Christmas in October at this point - Dead Space imminent, LittleBigPlanet on pre-order and Fallout 3 waiting in the wings.

Anyway, here's the latest trailer for eye candy value:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Well Now I Feel Old

My page on the old UnrealWiki has bee moved into legacy. Yikes.

Spore To Get Expansions, Lack Of Shock Thunders Nothing

Ars Technica gives a brief rundown of Creepy & Cute Parts Pack and a Space Stage expansion for EA's Spore.

Nobody is exactly surprised at this move - it's EA and the guy who made The Sims so the math was pretty obvious. Sadly I don't think either are destined to exactly reinvigorate my interest in the game. Oh, I might hop back into the game from time to time but there's an odd lack of variety to the gameplay (outside of the Creator itself) and the space stage doesn't need an expansion, imho, it needs a rewrite.

I hold out some hope that future expansion will give the twist, update or improvement the game deserves - and I may be judging the space on too quickly. Just have to wait and see.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is LittleBigPlanet A Game Changer?

Thanks to the old Curmudgeon for bringing by this link:

But the game has managed to do what console titles have thus far shuddered to provide - an open, easy to use creation system that lets the community make the magic, while the creators stand back and marvel.

Why is this such a big deal, and what makes LittleBigPlanet's air of creativity so different?
-- Opinion: Why LittleBigPlanet Is Web 2.0 For Games, Fulfilled

It's a pretty insightful look into the game and touches on or relates to things we've discussed here before: the evolution of mods, the community that consoles have the potential for and the power of user friendly creation tools.

While chatting with Matt on it, it occurred to me - does this signify Nintendo dropping the ball on the concept? Super Smash Brothers held a lot of promise for the Wii on this front, but most of that seems to have more or less evaporated after the release. Nintendo has a relatively mature network - but one burdened by its own concepts of linking users. It's got a massive user base ... could the big N being doing more to empower them?

Game Play: LED Football (iPhone)

Just a quick note about LED Football for the iPhone: if you remember the original device fondly, just go ahead and get it. It translates to a great little iPhone game. It doesn't really matter how long you play, it's simply but challenging and gives you nice little nostalgia fuzzies too. The emulation is simply spot on and at $0.99 - an easy sell.

Never Holiday With Sandals, Part Two

In the beginning, there was Sandals Travel Sucks (the first part).

Then we swam, ate, drank and generally had a merry time for a few days.

When it came time to leave though, we were pretty rightfully frightened considering the treatment Sandals had given us on the flight down. The Girl kept asking our butler (yes, we had a butler - but it's not really as swank as it sounds) to verify our schedule but we were continually told not to worry about it.

So I double checked the only flight information we had on hand - the original paper itinerary. This told us we needed to board around 9:45 and considering the amount of merry time we had the night before ... this proved somewhat difficult. We awoke and sloughed around 7 in the morning to shower, finish packing and harass the front desk. We were both in a state of pain from being hungover with very little sleep.

The front desk was certain we were to check out at 11, leave at 12 and board a plane at 2:35. This prompted a lot of questions from us. Were we still getting into Chicago at 7 if we were leaving half a day later than before? Were we going to have enough time in San Juan to make our connecting flight (without the use of a time machine)? Were we confirmed for this new flight out of San Juan?

The first story we got was the yes, we would still get to Chicago at 7:00. Yes, thirty minutes was enough time to exit the plane, get your luggage, get through customs and get to the other gate.

We were a bit skeptical of all this.

The second story we got was that we had about an hour in San Juan but we'd still get to Chicago later that night. We still didn't get any real confirmation on this phantom flight and never got confirmation that we were actually on that flight.

We were a bit skeptical of all this.

So noon rolls around and we're put into a cab and get sent off to the airport. We get to the American Airlines ticket counter.

We are told there has been a schedule change and there is no flight out of San Juan to Chicago. The best they can do is get us to Miami that night, hope we can get a hotel and then get to Chicago in the morning.

At this junction there are only three possibilities. Either Sandals is so woefully incompetent that they don't understand the difference between a plane being in existence and not being in existence, they know the difference but they were simply lying to us because they knew once we were off the resort we weren't their problem - or some combination of the two.

To make a long, painful, story short - we spent four hours in a Days Inn off Miami International. We made it into Chicago about 17 hours after we were supposed to originally. I missed a day of work and The Girl had no chance to clean or organize for our impending house guests. We've been in varying states of exhaustion ever since. Oddly being stuck for inside hotels, airports and airplanes for nearly a day cycle really throws the body out of whack.

Despite the fact that we had a plenty good time while on the island itself - our end summation is that there are plenty of resorts in the sea and we don't need to deal with one that treats its guest so carelessy from both a corporate and local level. The treatment was truly astonishing.

I've heard back from their odd, secret, internal customer service on the first part and the response was essentially a formal summary of their original stance. They process many flights like this and if a few customers fall through the cracks then well, shrug, ho hum and go sod off.

Which we would say to Sandals: the feeling is now mutual.

I sent a summary of this to the "internal customer service email" (whatever the hell that means). I had already sent the first post there and basically got a paraphrase of the same "this is our policy" nonsense that they gave us before.

This time I got nothing. Not even a "sorry for lying to" or, heck, even a sorry. Nothing at all. This is Sandals, people. Unless you're calling with your credit card in hand, they could really care less.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Back. Momentarily Indisposed.

We're back. Our travel out was actually just as bad our travel in. Sandals more or less lied to us on our way out of the resort. I have like 67 more emails to go through, another cup of coffe, I feel like a bad Johnny Cash song and am pretty booked for the day - so the tale will have to wait for another day. This is the weekend of the Chicago Marathon, so I might not get a chance to do much until Monday.

To come later, other than another Sandals rant: some iPhone game reviews, some basic tips on travel entertainment and a description of the BitTorrent hookup we've got going on at home. Also, I'm trying to get some Q & A out of EA about the creation behind No Known Survivors still, so hopefully there will be some meat on that.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sandals Travel Sucks

So we are not in Antigua.

We might not be tonight.

Sandals booked our flight an hour after our connection was to leave. Without a time machine we were screwed.

Then things got bad. And weird. American Air was a champ. Karen V and your supervisor? Angels. Thanks again. After much work we were at least booked for the next day.

Then they noticed someone booked a local Carribean flght. American has no connection with them so they couldn't do much more than tell us it was there.

Mind you - if they hadn't ... nobody would have.

So we fly to San Juan and head to Liat, the local carrier, to see what is up. They are pretty much as surprised as we are to our predicament.

But we are booked.

It will just cost us $300.

I call Sandals Antigua. I get forwarded to what think was the front desk. This happened this morning too. And nobody picked up. This time nobody picked up.

So I call back. Last I called back I got into a debate which almost certainly sparked our odd booking.

This time I am almost certain someone hung up on me.

So I called the 800 number and got angry with one person and then the next and then a supervisor. At one point I was on hold for not one, not two but four Marley songs.

In the end I was told it was my fault.

All my fault.

Because in June and I think April I got emails that notified me of my schedule change. Apparently without calling them - and I kid you not - they aren't even aware it is happening.

Tip to Sandals: if you are going to send a blind email that will require me to say use a time machine to keep my schedule ... IT SHOULD SAY TIME MACHINE IN THE SUBJECT. That will get my attention.

But what if I had changed emails.

Or as The Girl pointed out - I was blind.

So far today I've disappointed, left on hold, left to a ringing phone, hung up on and ultimately blamed. A fine statement to the true nature of Sandals.

The highest name at Sandals I got was Yoni Epstein. Yoni: your service sucks. This entire setup sucks. And to pay what we have paid Sandals over two holidays and to be treated to and blamed for a $300 scenario is dangerously stupid.

I build software for a living, Yoni Epstein, and I can tell you were I truly responsible for this situation I would have been fired.

And anyone who thinks "blame the customer" is sound policy should be as well.

I haven't even made it to the resort and I can tell you we will never ever do Sandals again. And we don't recommend it to anyone else.

The Girl is opting to pay Liat and just get to beach drinks sooner. I'm inclined to agree as they are probably our best remedy for now.

Sent from my iPhoneIn San Juan

Also, Sandals Sucks Part Two!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Island Bound

So we're packing up and gathering a wealth of entertainment so that we don't go on insane on the long flight to Antigua. This is the follow up to the Honeymoonicane from last year, so we're getting a pretty cheap trip out of the deal.

A bit of housekeeping before I head out:

Apple drops the NDA. Thank god. This was far too wide of a net to protect some of their software patents which was becoming more and more of a detriment to development in general as more developers jumped into the pool.

Nintendo DSi. Sounds good. Might be tempted to pick one up, I never did get a Lite and the one drawback from the model, the lack of a GBA port, isn't an issue since I still have the original DS. On the flipside - I have an iPhone and the camera, web browser and music player simply aren't a draw. The new memory and downloadable content, though, could be a big one.

Hopefully I'll be able to talk a bit more about Dead Space when I get back. I have some questions about No Known Survivors's creation. If you haven't checked it out yet, check it out. There's apparently a $5 coupon at the EA Store for you when you register - and also the grand prize winner is due the Ultra Limited Edition of the game and now a replica of Issac Clarke’s Helmet as well.

The VP debate just ended. A lot of the talking heads are scoring points for Palin. Fine, she didn't make an ass out of herself, but she's still a religious fanatic who couldn't bring herself to admit that global warming isn't man made.

So I'm out for about seven days. I'll have very little access to nearly any kind of modern communcation.

But there will be plenty of snorkeling.

Game Play: Pure

I got a chance to sit down with Pure for a while, toss together an ATV rig and jump into a few races. Pure aims to bring trick ATV racing to the console and the bottom line is that the game hits all the cylinders quite well.

I want to compare it to WipEout HD, which I downloaded and also briefly got a chance to toy with - but that doesn't seem fair. WipEout is trance music, whereas Pure is grunge rock. Pure holds its own by doing something I really hope more racing games try - push the genre by changing the mechanics somewhat. Pure's trick setup isn't just a cosmetic change, but the way you can gather enough boost to nitro your way past your opponents. The tricks need to be properly timed and considered as you come over that hill and "pump the jump" to gather more air - otherwise it's easy to get too tricky and end up flying off your ride.

Graphically the game is pretty dreamy as well. The tracks are full of debris, buildings, backgrounds, the occasional helicopter - with visual cues to look out for alternate routes and hills as well. Frame rates were smooth and the sense of speed was well stocked.

I don't have much to critique on the game. I'm not entirely crazy about the rig garage ... it might almost be too detailed for what seems like just another ATV when you're done - but that feels like a squabble and I'd rather have the garage in it's current state than many other alternatives.

Solid recommendation.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jeff Freeman, Rest In Peace

I noticed an uptick in traffic to Cathode Tan about Jeff Freeman, who I interviewed a while back when I was tracking down parents who were gamers and/or game designers to get their opinions on children and gaming. He gave me one of the most positive perspectives on the matter - that gaming was an activity he enjoyed with his children and something that brought him closer.

Jeff was old school, and he was real and I enjoyed immensely corresponding with him. Seriously a high note in blogging.

Sadly the uptick has a tragic reason: he has passed. According to the obituary, he took his own life on Sept. 24th.

I am shocked and saddened. I know he was greatly respected among others in the MMO community. My condolences to his family on what is simply a horrible loss.

David Foster Wallace On McCain

In 2000, Dave had written a piece on McCain and left several wondering what he would have thought of him now. Salon tracked down a quote from the Wall Street Journal just last May:

"McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing."

I can't agree more - and that was in May ... before McCain chose Palin as his running mate - a woman who couldn't epitomize more his now desperate ability to throw away earlier ideals for a bump in polls. McCain has proven himself a Bush style opportunist who is willing to go negative (which in 2000 he fought against), play politics with national issues and select a running mate who works against values he supposedly supported in the past. His maverick status is lost on me now - the man simply wants to win. Moderates who are seriously considering voting for the man need to check their scorecards.