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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Brief Incommunicado

We're going to head to NY for the long weekend and hop the plane tonight. Internet access will be spotty, so I'll see you all sometime next week.

A few quick thoughts about stuff in general:

Haze Demo
I didn't spend much time with this game, to be honest. I first downloaded the demo as another test to see how a PS3 games hold up on an SDTV. Then it peaked my interest when the less than stellar reviews hit. I really like Free Radical's stuff, huge TimeSplitters fan actually, so I was curious.

The good: It's fairly good looking, even on SD. The bad: It's dull. The nectar "mechanic" is way overblown - it's basically just a merged version of every Quake powerup. Not to mention it makes no sense, narratively, to send a bunch of mercs into a jungle with a drug that can both make them powerful and insane.

A Day In The Life Of Niko Bellic
We've more properly settled into life in Liberty City and so far everything is a positive. The short version is that Rockstar shows an impressive ability to modify their previous work - to cut things which worked somewhat, change things that were working without breaking and them and overall build a better experience.

The PS3 In General
Surpassed our expectations. Not only has it performed quite well on the SDTV, with everything I can throw at it: menus, GTA IV, Haze, Stardust, fl0w (which The Girl walked in on and asked if I was playing a constellation) - but it's really lived up to being the digital hub of our living room. Not just replacing my aging Toshiba (although it still produced excellent picture) - but also streaming movies and music from the MacBook. As I've said, the quality has been as such that I'm strongly considering a 720P set over a 1080P one at this point, but we'll see.

Gaymer Tags
You know - I get that these communities are hard to manage, but I think Microsoft is in the wrong here. Not just the whole "Dick Gaywood is his real name" thing - which, OK, if I had name that was also porn name I'd probably use it as my handle too -but if someone wanted to tag themselves "TheGayAgenda" (props to Three Panel Soul) or "Lord StudMuffin" or "BlackPower" or whatnot, if these words don't have any intrinsic wrong to them until someone else's prejudice comes to play - then let them stand and let those people who get all riled up about them go play elsewhere or get some character development themselves and learn to deal with it.

It's not like "PopeFan1" or "IMAGaymer" is in the same field as like "HolocaustApologist" or "ThirdReichWarrior" or "YayKKK". There is a pretty distinct line in the sand and it's idiotic to treat "Dick Gaywood" like it's the same offense as "TitsAndAssMan".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

TV Watch: House Season 4 Finale

House was rapidly becoming one of those shows we watched out of habit, but wasn't truly addicted to anymore. Last season's closer definitely peaked our interest enough to dive back into this season, but the whole reality show metaphor in the first quarter felt a bit odd.

But boy golly did they manage to end with a bang. Compare this finale to the one where House was battling ... what was it? An evil administrator? Ooooh. Nooo. Don't administrate me and stuff.

Now House left against who should be his worst enemy - himself. And the whole reality show cast has settled into an interesting blend of the old cast and the new. When House is average, it's really average.

But when it's good? It's really good.

Word of the day: Potemkin Village

Potemkin village: An impressive facade or display that hides an undesirable fact or state; a false front.

Don't know why, just struck me as neat.

Game Play: GTA IV & The PS3

I haven't mastered parking yet, it seems. The dented up semi that I thought I left outside was no longer there when I went tearing back through the neighborhood in the stolen SUV. Course, it was really more of a consolation prize after sending that muscle car off the bridge.

Must remember to take the construction signs more seriously.

So yes, the PS3 arrived yesterday and so GTA IV finally had a home. We briefly tossed San Andreas into the machine, just to watch what would happen. I swear the game is actually a little smoother, like maybe a hardware level of anti-aliasing has been enforced. I rode CJ around his bike for a while, stole a motorcycle and then he went back into the box.

Next we installed GTA IV. And as we were sitting on the couch waiting on the little bar to go to the end (The Girl occasionally egging it on) it seemed to me that maybe it really isn't fair to say PC gaming is dying when the next generation behaves almost as much like a PC as my PC does. I just hope the annoyance ends with installation waits.

When the game finally loaded up, it was an eyeful. Now we're playing this on an SDTV and I can safely say that for the most part it looks completely awesome on an SDTV. In fact, if anything this game has leaned me more to the belief that "720P is sufficient for most everyone" unless you have like a honking 60" set. I mean if the game looks this good at 480i and full resolution isn't even 720P but like 680P or whatnot, then is the extra $700 ever going to pay off?

Still, there's a bit of eye strain involved with all that detail being slightly unfocused. And those text messages are like an eye test from hell. Being the good geek that I am, I'll probably get the 1080P plasma. Probably. But at this point I'm mostly convinced that it will mostly benefit those times we tack a Mac to the thing.

Anyway, GTA IV. We quickly ignored Roman and his constant whining about a taxi and whatnot and went rampaging down the city streets in whatever car we could find. I think this is the first GTA (aside from III) that's required serious adjustment. Having just played San Andreas made flipping to the shoulder controls for driving a bit awkward. The added physics are a little odd as well, but I think in general an improvement as it honestly feels like I have more control of the car at times. Plus all those wonderful physics are great when you plow headlong into an armored truck.

Payday. Yay.

I'll have more on the game and the console later, I'm sure. I downloaded the Haze demo last night to see how it fares on 480i. For now the HDTV purchase is still on hold, but inevitable.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

TV Watch: Lost, There's No Place Like Home (Part 1)

Honestly one of the better episodes we've seen in awhile, even with this season's strong return to the quality of writing we had in Season One. This episode mixed Lost's three great strengths: character development, mysterious island happenings and teasing the fans with knowledge. The last one has taken more of a backseat, thankfully, this season as much of this plot has been trying to keep track of who is with whom and how the Oceanic Six become the Oceanic Six.

But first, the first two parts. This episode not only gave us some great moments with the characters - it managed to balance it between Hurley, Jack and Sun and balanced it very well. Each character had some brilliant scenes that helped blend the life back home into a great backdrop. This is rare for the show as it usually provides a lot of focus on one character and handles a subsection of the ensemble in a side plot. Here, both island and off island time was shared well between the players. It gave the episode a rare epic quality that the show has lost touch with from time to time in recent seasons.

Second, we see a bit more of the Island and the Others ... although clearly this is mostly appetizer as the Orchid Station gets opened up a little more. What we're really seeing here is a closer definition of the war that the Losties stumbled into in the first place. My guess: first there was DHARMA, a somewhat well-intended organization out to save the world. Maybe when Hanso was in charge everything was peachy, but as Widmore started to take over, or have more influenced, and The Purge happened. What we have at the beginning of the show is a dysfunctional remnant of that union, with supply drops still occuring thanks to the odd time/space shifting of the Island.

So thirdly - our main question for this season seems pretty clear now. Six people enter a dinghy and head out for a nearby island (whose location will be handed over by Michael). The *real* question now is - what happens to the rest? Things don't look so good for Jin as it's hard to think of him leaving Sun behind (or vice versa). Some portion might remain with the Island as defenders (or get ... Claire'd? what's the verb for become a spooky extension of the Island without dying?)

So definitely looking forward to the two hour finale next week (we get a Grey's Anatomy finale this week).

Game Play: Back in San Andreas & GTA IV PC

So the PS3 is to arrive tomorrow. GTA IV actually already arrived at the office, sans anything to play it on. If you think that shows enough of our Grand Theft Fanboyism, it should also be noted we've spent most of our available gaming time last week and this weekend on GTA: San Andreas.

Spoilers ahead, btw.

We've actually pretty quickly hit that bittersweet moment in the game where CJ has pulled Grove Street from the ashes and The Girl is now delighting taking hood after hood in the Gang Wars minigame. I'll be honest that I'll miss this gameplay in the GTA IV. While it certainly could have been more sophisticated, that there was this completely optional portion of the game which lets you control most of Los Santos (and earn money from the territory) adds a lot to the game. When we played through before, we obsessively hunted down every little section, even the obviously buggy 10x10 squares that Rockstar probably never assumed anyone would. One of the great things about this subgame is that the storyline takes it away from you. We spent hours and hours on this originally and one act of betrayal and we were exiled out into the country - all our hard work stripped away. A brilliant combination of narrative and gameplay if there ever was one.

The Girl loves it as she was never really into the missions. She loves the franchise for allowing her to unleash wanton violence on the world.

Heck, one of the reasons I have a PS2 is because I would come home to find my PC occupied with flame-thrower induced mayhem and darn if I didn't have some modding to do. Which brings up an interesting side question: Why won't Rockstar announce a PC version of GTA IV?*. We're talking about a franchise which started on the PC, has always faithfully ported games at least 6-8 months after and has enjoyed a decent modding community on the PC.

Basically I've got two theories. One is that the new engine Rockstar now enjoys, RAGE, isn't up and running on the PC yet and so they have no timetable to base a port on. I occasionally give people a work a response something along the lines of "this is either going to be really easy or just near impossible" meaning that most of it is simple (there is already a 360 build after all) but there might be one or two key questions that could hold the whole thing up. It's not terribly easy to put that into a PR release.

Second is my PC pessimism rant. Having already broken records and made money hand over fist, Rockstar might just decide that the money will be best spent moving ahead on the franchise and avoiding the delay that we saw before getting our hands on San Andreas. The PC version of San Andreas accounts for a mere fraction of the current 21.5 million total ... although to be fair so does the Xbox version - which probably is a shared position of having lost out of the initial launch.

Course the PC is in that position now. And while the mod community can certainly be notable, it's failed to push any serious after-market sales in the way that Counter-Strike did for the original Half-Life or Epic's Editor's Edition did for UT2004 (albeit on a much smaller scale, of course). Tack on that Hot Coffee hit Take Two particularly hard and you have a platform which doesn't measure up a lot of dollars out of the total pie.

But my real answer is all of the above. If RAGE can be made to run on the PC, and it doesn't cost too much, and they can make sure there's no way Hot Coffee can be repeated (like not keeping unused sex games in the code, for instance) - we'll see a PC version announced and/or released around the holidays.

Anyway, we're going to back to roll on some Ballas. We got this game like three years ago and it's still pretty addictive. Hopefully GTA IV looks decent enough on the SDTV...

* For the record, this happened when GTA: SA came out too. It was a "PS2 Exclusive" and much hand-wringing was to be had. So there's a decent chance that there's a lot of speculation over nothing.