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Monday, December 28, 2009

Game Play: Modern Warfare 2 Single Player

I've blogged and tweeted on this quite a bit, so this will be the last word on it. I've been holding out until I could actually play the entire single player campaign and judge it as whole. After all, when the "No Russian" level was first leaked, Activision and Infinity Ward cried foul on the blogosphere because the scene wasn't being placed in context.

So now I have the context.

Let's get a few things out of the way. The single player campaign is fun in a virtual shooting gallery kind of way and has some of the best graphics put to pixels to date. Mechanics are pretty solid, though honestly the game's concept of cover is starting to feel quite dated.

Whether the single player is worth the price of admission is another story. The bottom line is that the game is a multiplayer game and if you aren't buying it for the online experience, don't buy it. Not only is the single player game incredibly short (less than a weekend easily), but it is deeply flawed. Without the multiplayer - which I can't even debate - this would be a rental at best.

The main problem is that Modern Warfare 2 is a product of Valve style storytelling - but it fails completely in actually telling a story (key problems I had with Half Life 2 I might add). It's like watching a bad Hollywood popcorn flick - you better be paying the ticket only to see the pretty explosions, because as a movie there's nothing really to see here.

Spoilers. Many of them. Beginning in ...

The rationale of every scene in the single player game is not to create a cohesive story, but to shove some kind of action sequence in front of the player. You've seen many of these by now - the vehicle chase scene, vehicle escape scene, run the gauntlet, protect the position, etc., etc., etc.

The controversial "No Russian" scene is actually quite a lynch pin moment in just how horrible the so-called storytelling of the game plays out. Army Ranger Allen is plucked from his normal duty and sent undercover to infiltrate Russian terrorist Makarov. Most readers know by now, but almost the entire mission is just watching (or participating) in a massive slaughter of civilian casualties. In the end, Makarov knew the player was a plant and shoots them for dead.

The "context" of this scene exists pretty much solely in the voice over introduction where it's explained that "you don't want to know what it took" to get the player close to Makarov. That's it. Before that, the character was in Afghanistan - and then bam ... you're shooting civilians in an airport.

What follows next is even more ridiculous. Russia invades the United States. How do people know that the shooter was an American? Nobody knows. How is it that Makarov himself isn't fingered even if the American in question was investigating him? Uh, we don't really know. What was the diplomacy following this attack? How is it the entire United States gets implicated for the actions of one guy? Never shown. How does Russia launch a massive surprise attack and becomes the first country to successfully invade U.S. soil since the Revolutionary War?

Oh, that they explain. They stole a chip.


A chip.

The thing is - No Russian is so emotionally draining that all of this nonsense weighs on the rest of the game. If Infinity Ward is going to have a plot where you watch a lot of innocent people get brutally murdered and then shoot you in the head ... is it really too much to ask to make it make sense? There's a lot of crap out there about how "emotionally powerful" or "deeply impactful" the scene is ... ignoring that if I snuck up behind you and beat you with a cricket bat that it would also be "emotionally powerful" and "deeply impactful" but I'm not exactly laying down a good narrative here.

Infinity Ward has a bizarre taste for the morbid, actually. I don't mean in that "Saving Private Ryan" way of showing that yes, Virginia, in a war people really do get their heads blown off. They kill off the player character not once, but twice - the second time is even more gruesome than the first. The game ends with what is a way way overwrought near death scene between three characters. The directing is very into the concept that death is edgy that much of it plays out like a film school dropout's last bad edit.

Bottom line: if you remove your frontal lobe, you might consider what happens in Modern Warfare 2 a story.

I could probably get away with this without a lobotomy if it weren't for the No Russian mission. It's not that the mission is simply offensive, which it is, rather it is that the mission is the reason for all the action that follows. So a big WTF echoes through the entire single player campaign. You can decide to not play the mission, but as I've mentioned before - this is a massive cop out on Infinity Ward's behalf. You can't have it both ways, where a scene sets up the reason for the plot and also have it be optional. Basically in an attempt to be controversial, Infinity Ward ruins what was already a pretty bad plot and in the process hangs such a large sign on how bad the plot is that it makes it pretty hard to ignore.

If you can manage to do this bit of cognitive dissonance, than yes - as I started with ... the single player is fun in a shooting gallery kind of way. It's sad that a game with a profile like this one couldn't even manage the poor storytelling which is industry standard, but rather steps all over itself just for the sake of being sensational.

Why I've made such a big deal out of this is because by largely giving Infinity Ward a pass on the single player, the gaming media has rubber stamped the myth that games can't be effective storytellers. Modern Warfare 2 embraces this notions, extends it and makes its own. Basically becoming the Microsoft of bad narratives - they've just lowered the bar for the entire genre.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Facebook's New Game Dashboard

Via VentureBeat:

Facebook is in the midst of redesigning how users find, interact with, and keep track of games on the social network. Called the “Game Dashboard,” the new feature is Facebook’s attempt to play nice with social game developers, serve the interests of gamers, and at the same time stop games from ruining the experience for everybody else.

The company is reining in the worst abuses of Facebook game companies, which have polluted the network’s communications with spam-like messages that general users have begun to ignore, such as “Joe Smith wants to thank you for chasing crows out of his pumpkin patch.” Facebook has announced that these “push notifications” will no longer be put into the stream of updates that you see on your main Facebook page, the news feed.

Hoo freakin's way. The Girl just showed me that you can specifically hide apps from the news feed, and I've been knocking them down left and right all morning. If I read about one more animal that stumbled into someone's something - I might scream.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Stargate Universe Fails

We tried, we really tried to like the latest installment of Stargate, but they just make it so darn hard.

And look, if you're going to respond to this post with "but its all about the characters" or "the show is people!" then - well, just don't bother. I get that. In fact - that's the problem with the show. SGU is more about people than it is about science fiction. Or, sadly, storytelling in general.

Problem number one - the people just aren't very interesting. There's a very slim line between two basic types - slightly angry military types who are deeply burdened with a sense of responsibility and slightly neurotic civilians deeply burdened with a sense that they are all going to die. Tack on singular traits (geeky, cute, nervous, gay) and you have a pretty smooth curve when it comes to making characters distinct.

Which might actually work, in a slasher film kind of way, if the show had any guts about putting characters at risk. As mentioned previously, for a show about the horrible risks of venturing off into deep space - the show has about the same body count as Voyager, and so for all of the handheld camera shots ... comes off as about as vanilla and safe.

I'm still an episode behind, but let's take 'Time' as a perfect example of how the show stumbles on itself.

Spoiler alert.

So, you have this really decent sci fi premise: a time loop allowing characters to see their possible future. OK, great. However, it takes way too long to set this up because the show can't resist melodrama when melodrama might be portrayed, so we watch Eli getting annoyed with people and people getting annoyed with Eli, and all sorts of moaning and groaning shot via handycam until we get to the good stuff. Then, armed with this knowledge - we .... watch a lot more moaning and groaning until we finally get to step B of this plan which, if you take the hypothesis that the show is unwilling to risk getting its hands dirty - ends with a very predictable conclusion.

Next week? More moaning and groaning. This isn't Stargate Universe so much as it is Stargate Bitching About Space. It's the The View with teleporters.

For the show to succeed, it needs a real sense of dread - something the show it really wants to be, Battlestar Galactica managed quite well (though arguably lost it off and on).

Fans will say it is a "more human" show, which it is and if you enjoy these particular humans than this is the show for you. We'll be waiting for a show with less cliche, more dimensional and less predictable humans though.

2010 - you can do better sci fi than this.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Movie Watch: Ink

Ink is one of those rare gems of an indie movie. While it is very clearly done on a low budget, the constraints of the budget don't inject themselves into what is a fairly solid fantasy plot and manages to deliver some decent visuals as well. Many an indie film may use minimalistic sets as a bit of a crutch, but Ink seems to acknowledge its roots and make up for it with some very solid storytelling.

The plot follows opposing forces between the world of the waking and the world of dreaming as they are focused on a man and his daughter. The worlds and characters collide, there's some decent twists to it and a few quite honestly cool as hell scenes. I'd really, really like to blab about them here - but they work best when you see them and realize that some of the effects, while cheap, make a lot of sense in the frame of the story and work very, very well to deliver the movie. This is a movie that is probably better to not describe in great detail - because it is often the details that make it works so well.

We found this on Netflix Instant, highly, highly recommend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Game Play: Braid (really wanted to love it...)

When I heard that Braid was making its way to PSN, I was rather excited to see what all the fuss was about. Blow's platformer has become something of an indie darling - and for good reasons being both artistic and financially successful.

I just can't bring myself to keep playing it. Don't get me wrong, it is a very pretty little game with an excellent sound track. The time mechanic is interesting, although not quite as intrinsic as I had originally imagined it would be. The story looks like a great mash-up of old school and new invention, but I didn't really quite get into the "row of books" delivery method. When I first jumped into the game, there seemed to be a lot of that - a good thing tinged with a slight annoyance.

That's not why I can't keep playing it, though. Braid is clearly a well constructed game. It's clearly a good game. I just, as a baseline, hate platformers. And the more old school the gameplay is - the more likely I am to hate them, and for all it's lovely graphics and music and twists to the concept - is pretty darn old school at the core. I had numerous Mario flashbacks.

I can't entirely explain why I've logged several hours of Little Big Planet but can't continue on with Braid, it may in fact be rather subconscious ... but I'm not going to go into a lengthy comparison of the two games to prove what is a completely personal opinion anyway.

However, I would offer that just because Braid has been very well reviewed - I wouldn't assume it is for everyone. If you're iffy about the genre in general, you might hold out for a demo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roku adding a bunch of new channels (none being Hulu)

Roku is adding a slew of 10 new channels to their lineup, notably Pandora, Flickr, Facebook photos and It's this kind of value add that makes me thankful we went ahead with this route rather than wait for Sony to match Microsoft's Netflix offerings. We still use the Netflix channel pretty exclusively - but this new selection looks pretty interesting.

Not that I was expecting it - but Hulu would be such a perfect marriage for the Roku device. Hulu would instantly crank up their viewership and Roku would get a swath of decent material. It would be what The Office would refer to as a win-win-win. We won't get it, of course, because the TV industry doesn't want me watching Hulu on my TV and will go to absurd lengths to stop me from doing just that.

Even though, as previously mentioned, there is absolutely no way they can stop me from doing just that. It's like stupid was raised stupid, had a kid, and that kid was really stupid and then that kid married stupid and had a stupid child. Hulu is like stupid's grandfather.

Anyway, we'll be checking out the new channels when we get a chance.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For Sunday: Muppets Bohemian Rhapsody

Because nothing really matters...

Game Play: Why Uncharted 2 Is Just So Damn Good

I feel a bit guilty that a lot of my online posts about Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2 have been complaining about matchmaking in an otherwise pretty solid online offering. So let me make a mea culpa and rave about the single player.

Because honestly, this is one of the best games ever made.

Let's start with the mechanics. Already solid in the original Uncharted, Uncharted 2 takes the whole thing up a notch. The platforming aspects are tight and you'll rarely feel out of control with Nathan's movements. Cover is well managed and manages not to feel forced on the player (comparisons to Gears of War could fit a whole other post). You sometimes wish Nathan could do a little more, like crouch, crawl or lean ... but there's a balance of complexity that works quite well.

The weapon design is impressive. As I mentioned in comments about the multiplayer, even the starting AK clone is quite a versatile bullet tosser once you get used to it. There's nothing that feels underpowered and the range of tools at Nathan's disposal keep the gunplay from getting bland. Grenade tossing is far simpler than most games offer (much to the chagrin of many an online player...)

I don't know how much I need to talk about graphics. You've probably seen them. The game is gorgeous. You'll stop and gape. Don't feel bad.

But all of that pieces together create a brilliant framework for what is essentially a working model of strong interactive storytelling. On the surface, this is an elongated action movie plot with some predictable twists and turns and plenty of explosions. If this was a movie, there would be a lot that would be pretty average. As a game, however, works just so damn well.

Remember cut-scenes? Remember when Valve fanatics were declaring them dead? Not worth the time, no real emotional value for the player, a skip button waiting to happen. Naughty Dog writes brilliant scenes with great dialogue and they do it all with the existing engine - making a near seamless experience for the player between watching and interacting. Many developers have forgotten that cut-scenes were once used as rewards, not fillers - but not these guys.

Remember when nearly every game announced had some kind of "open world" or "sandbox" concept? Or at least some kind of "morality choice"? Uncharted 2 is a strict linear path. There's no good path or bad path, there's only Nathan's path. But that is OK, because Nathan's path is fun and littered with bullets.

This is why the game is so damn good - it takes a solid game engine, adds characters with depth, lines them down a plot full of action and packs it with some of the best dialogue ever written for a game. It's completely awesome.

Get it, unless you don't have a PS3. Then get a PS3. Then get it.

Movie Watch: Battlestar Galactica, The Plan

Battlestar isn't necessarily a show which is it a love it or leave it kind of affair - there's plenty of elements to go around, though they might not always create the grand cohesive goodness Battlestar fans had found.

One element was the relatively mysterious backstory. You have a race of robots evolved well past their original specs, seemingly hell-bent on the destruction of humankind, but with a lot of religious overtones and several (including the opening scene) references to "a plan."

You can imagine the desire fans might have to see an entire movie devoted to said plan. Sadly, the movie serves more of side story, weaving various points of the previous plot (in particular the first couple of seasons) with added, more Cylon heavily, perspectives. It serves as one part swan song, another part prologue, to an already decent story.

The problem is that if you aren't a Battlestar fan, there is nothing here for you. You'll be lost as there is a lot of assumed knowledge about the show, you're missing many, many salient points and quite honestly, the production is at its highest when it reuses previously shot material.

If you are a fan, you'll probably find a good deal of entertainment, even if it is short in actual information. The backstories on the Cylons makes for good fodder, especially the machinations of Cavil. It's kind of like one good drive around the block before leaving the house for good.

Very, very slight spoilers ahead.

My only real complaint, as one who watched the whole series, is that "the plan" is really just "genocide" which doesn't do anything to explain the particulars of the Cylons, their relationship with God(s), their true history, or any higher motives to sending many, many, many nuclear warheads humanity's way.

So kinda recommended, but mostly just for fans.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For Sunday: Parkour Fail

EMBED-Epic Parkour Fail Compilation - Watch more free videos

If anyone was seriously injured, I'll feel bad for laughing. Otherwise har, freakin' har.

Fun Fact: Parkour has origins with the athletic feats of World War One tribals in Africa. Clearly, it's changed quite a bit.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bad Movie Showdown - Transformers 2 Vs. GI Joe

As stated elsewhere, when I travel I often dig up movies which I know The Girl won't object to me watching without her. This often requires lowering the quality bar to nearly subterranean heights. This last week saw Transformers 2 pitted against GI Joe.

Both flicks are derived from Hasbro toy lines, both were once long running cartoons which resulted in movie length features. They have established plots, backstories, and characters - all, of course, being pretty hokey and shallow ... but naturally the whole thing could use a touch up for modern audiences.

And to be fair, one of these is a sequel.

GI Joe
I had a huge Joe collection as a kid. It was about the only thing that rivaled Star Wars in terms of pure action figure goodness. These were toys with serious backstories, an arsenal of weapons - and thumbs that mysteriously broke off quite a bit.

The movie can be somewhat excused for tossing out the majority of the ensemble, I suppose - especially if you take the stance that people might not have a voluminous set of toys to instantly know the characters. Even the characters that are spotlighted, though, undergo rather drastic changes to serve the plot. It's nothing earth shattering considering we're talking source material based on a toy line, not Tolkien - but still somewhat sad that even basic outlines can't be followed.

Then there are the toys. Somehow the movie takes a franchise which already had some pretty hokey concepts and just makes them big screen hokey - the well noted "accelerator suits" (AKA - CGI Battle Warriors) as a perfect example.

And poor Dennis Quaid -I don't think he's been this out of place since Dragonheart. He seems to have problems with characters who are supposed to have growly accents.

So it's bad - not over the top bad (usually) - but pretty bad. It has some fun moments, the plot isn't so absurd that you'll hate all of it - and mostly is criminal for butchering an otherwise simple concept. It's bad, and there is better movies to watch well before getting to this one.

But it's just not nearly as bad as...

Transformers 2
Wow. Just wow.

I had no idea how bad this movie was going to be. It's not like the first one was fine cinema, but kinda like Joe it was at least somewhat fun while slashing apart the original material. There is nothing redeeming about this movie. Every scene that is supposed to be funny - isn't. Much of the human interaction in the movie comes off like bad improv.

Even the big bang special effects somewhat fizzle. For one thing, every Decepticon manages to look like nearly every other Decepticon - except for the extreme cases and Soundwave ... who is now a satellite.

Yeah. A satellite. Capable apparently of shooting plot holes to earth with alarming frequency. Trying not to spoil too much here - but a quick list ... a Decepticon Pretender shows up, though unless you are wildly familiar with the comic line ... this feels like just a bizarre violation of the "big transforming robot" concept in general, humans get swallowed whole and then transported safely half way across the world (apparently that Decepticon also transforms into a motel of sorts) and the main villain spends so much time off screen doing nothing relatively nothing except confusing you if you should be paying attention to Megatron or him ... you'll wonder why the whole thing wasn't called "Transformers 2: Revenge of the WTF were we thinking".

It's just a mess, and honestly big screen special effects aren't that hard to find these days. Sadly this movie made a ton of money, so we're likely to be burdened with "Transformers 3: Rise Of Our Massive Lack Of Editing Ability" in the near future.

Fun Fact: The Baroness was voiced by Stargate alum Teryl Rothery for a while. Also, Duke's death in the animated GI Joe movie was averted because of public outcry to Optimus dying in the animated The Transformers film, produced at the same time. Oddly, Wheeljack's death had no such impact.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Out Of This World Griefing

So my post Uncharted 2 pick up was Demon's Souls, which I'm quite enjoying and will have some more thoughts on shortly after an extended note on Uncharted 2 itself.

But I did want to call out a specific thing that I had found, and apparently am not alone. The game world in Demon's Souls is connected to other players most prominently with blazing red messages on the ground left by other players while playing. These are created by combining stock words and phrases and so will usually convey some kind of warning to other players, like "Watch Out" or "Beware of the ambush ahead". If someone finds your message helpful, they'll recommend it and your health will be refilled (though this rarely happens at truly useful moments).

However - some people will place completely false statements and at times, even harmful ones. Like saying "It's safe here" in the line of dragonfire, or trying to trick the player into jumping off a cliff, or placing the message right where a trap would be triggered.

It's griefing. Even though the griefer will never see the grief play out. I suppose they could stand around all day hoping one of the game's ghostly renditions of other players will happen to portray falling for the trap - but that could be a very long wait and I've never really known griefers to be the patient sort.

It's weird to me because I keep asking myself - what does this say about griefing and I'm really not sure. But I think it says that at the of the day, the real or at least a substantial motivation is just griefing itself. It's thinking you're just so darn clever for devising the prank, that it doesn't really matter if nobody falls for it. It's this incredible narcissism.

Fortunately, it's pretty minor in Demon's Souls. Partially because you learn to be cautious about everything you do, and partially because you get so used to dying that you're almost glad it wasn't a creepy mind flayer with a bell this time.

Not kidding. Mind flayer with a bell. Love it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Movie Watch: Drag Me To Hell

Sam and Ivan Raimi's Drag Me To Hell almost went into the pile of movies I watch while traveling, until the first five minutes made me nostalgic of the Evil Dead series and I realized, yeah The Girl will want to watch this one too...

Drag Me To Hell is the movie Evil Dead fans have been wanting even if it doesn't feature Bruce Campbell's impressive jawline (for that, see My Name Is Bruce). It takes the same tricks used in the trilogy (more the first two movies than Army of Darkness) and implants them into a new storyline, this one featuring Alison Lohman as a loan officer cursed by a rather disgusting gypsy woman.

There are a few stumbles along the way - like Justin Long's rather deadpan rendition of a doting boyfriend, and a bit of predictability down the plot (especially for fans of the genre) - but the bottom line is that this great old school horror, and extremely refreshing in the days where Saw and Hostel benchmark the modern horror movie.

It's a lot of fun, and highly recommended.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Modern Warfare 2's "PSA" Funded By "FAGS" (Update)

I couldn't make this up if I tried, people.

As if I didn't just get done decrying Infinity Ward's poor content choices, now we have this fake PSA ad (pulled now).

The PSA portrays the Phillies' Cole Hamel warning against random grenade tossing. It's "sponsored" by the Fight Against Grenade Spam.

Get it? It's sponsored by FAGS. I'm not quite sure what the rationale from Infinity Ward's PR people to toss a homophobic slur so blatantly into what could have been a light hearted ad, but then I again I don't know the reasoning behind having American soldiers willingly partake in mass civilian slaughter is either.

Maybe I'm just not Modern Warfare's core demographic? True, the gay-bashers and the rage-players are two huge groups which make me dread playing with the random public - and since that seems to be what Infinity Ward is marketing towards, I guess I'll stick with other shooters.

Update - Ad has been pulled thanks it seems to some responses ... here and here.

I think the root of all this problem is this response from Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling:

@pkollar I think it was more of a social commentary joke of that stereotype than it was a fist-bump of acceptance to it.
[fourzerotwo twitter]

Word of advice to Infinity Ward: stop trying to make social commentaries. You seem to kinda suck at it. Whether it's commenting about gay-bashing players or sociopathic acts - it's striking derision ... not dialogue.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Modern Warfare 2's Airport Scene - A New Low?

When I first started to hear about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's airport scene, I thought - nice PR ploy. Look, we have this scene so violent that we'll make it optional. Cue forum chatter and lots of free advertising.

Yeah. Then I watched it (pulled now). And, um.

What the fsck was that?

I'm not even going to debate whether material like this should be allowed in a game. I don't condone censorship, if Activision and Infinity Ward want to make it ... let them make it. Trying to determine the finer lines of what should be legally distributed and not legally distributed when it comes to virtual violence is a futile, pointless debate.

That's not the same as me agreeing that Activision and Infinity Ward are in the right and there's nothing to discuss. This material is wrong. It's exploitation, it's grotesque sensationalism and has no place as a part of packaged entertainment. Let's get real specific here: this is not Modern Warfare this Modern Selling Games By Being Extreme.

According to Activision and Infinity Ward, I should be OK with this material partially because they make it optional. This is a total cop out. It places the obligation on the player to determine the morality of scene they haven't actually played out. This is them basically saying "We know this is over the top, but that's OK because we made it your choice."

If it's over the top, it shouldn't be part of the game. The player is not the producer here, Activision and Infinity Ward should take responsibility. If they feel so strongly that this material is acceptable - just keep it in the game, no if's and's or but's.

Worse, though, is narrative angle. This is Activision:

Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 features a deep and gripping storyline in which players face off against a terrorist threat dedicated to bringing the world to the brink of collapse. The game includes a plot involving a mission carried out by a Russian villain who wants to trigger a global war. In order to defeat him, the player infiltrates his inner circle. The scene is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism.

And this is Infinity Ward:

The scene establishes the depth of evil and the cold bloodedness of a rogue Russian villain and his unit. By establishing that evil, it adds to the urgency of the player’s mission to stop them...
Infinity Ward: Modern Warfare 2 Airport Scene is Real, Optional[GamerRiot]

Well, it certainly evokes terrorism. And, it certainly establishes evil. What both companies so neatly sidestep, however, is that it plants the player into a character that is a complete sociopath. That the player is, if I'm reading the description of this scene correctly, shooting innocent unarmed civilians in the back as they run screaming from them, pulling others to safety, and destroying an elevator full of people all in the name of justice and The American Way - makes absolutely no sense whatever. It doesn't "add to the urgency to stop them", it makes the player a willing participant in the atrocity. No reasonable character would go through this experience and come out the other side a military hero - there's no good side to this scene, it's just evil carried out by evil people. By playing through this scene, the player is in the role of a a cold-blooded murderer ... the very kind they're likely supposed to be fighting. This isn't narration, it's exploitation.

And let's get realistic here - this is only going forward because this is an A-list franchise with a lot of weight. If it was say, a game mod or a military shooter about Fallujah - we wouldn't be having this conversation, because the material would already be shouted down.

Activision and Infinity Ward should be ashamed and players should move on to better games.

Thanks to goodgaming for multiple tweets on the subject.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stargate Universe, We Really Need To Talk

So I thought "Darkness" was a slow but at least moderately interesting thanks largely to watching a couple of characters breakdown, especially Rush. The Eli Factor was less annoying, because at least Eli was as surprised as I was that everyone expects him to know everything or solve anything.

But "Light"? Painful. Just painful.

Spoilers abound, this is critique and not review ... so if you haven't watched it, well, you're warned.

A few of the finer points:

Don't expect a sensible viewer to really buy into "everyone is going to die" scenarios five episodes into a new show.

Especially when that scenario includes flying to a massive energy source, and everyone was originally going to die because the ship had no energy and your resident smarty smart keeps talking about how the ship came here "for a reason".

Also five episodes in - the whole "stranded on a hideously boring planet" scenario isn't really going to sell easily. The whole "this planet is full of sand" scenario was kinda dull enough.

So instead of plot or conflict, we're bombarded by video confessionals, in the form of one liners spoken into an alien handycam, a sex scene, a lot of moping around, some background music, and some really fairly nice views of the impending sun.

What we lack is any emotional connection to these characters. Eli gets the most airtime, and he's just annoying as hell. Rush is the most developed, but tuned to be unlikable. Our fearless commander is probably the closest thing to a character I might care about and we know he's destined for martyrdom.

Did any of the characters freak out and try to mutiny? Not really, not in any real way. I half expected Eli and Cute Chick to hook up in their supposed last few minutes - which might have made for some interesting dialogue later ... but no such luck. Maybe the shuttle could have gotten stranded? Oh no, we get an incredibly implausible landing instead.

Right now the show is centered around putting everyone into a horribly doomed scenario that everyone survives. Well, OK, Cute Chick's dad bit it - which is sadly the show's best moment to date, even though Cute Chick seems to have rebounded pretty well. The frame of the show is like a disaster movie, which is awesome, except that if you watched a disaster movie and five hours into the movie you only had one real tragedy - you would want your money back.

Finally, the ending of "Light" was just bizarre. Hey, I'm trying to give you a compliment here - but then I'm going to accuse you of being an evil son of a bitch with pretty much nothing to show for it. Felt to me like someone ran the tape and realized there was 40 minutes of essentially a slow ballad music video and decided to toss a bit of infighting for good measure.

Hopefully in the next couple of episodes, it will be less of the Rush and Eli show and we can finally get some real depth into the secondary characters other than lame quips that would barely pass on an actual reality show. Hopefully the conflict will get more complicated than the "big thing we can't solve, oh my we are all dead, oh wait there's the thing we need" style of arc. Because I'm not buying this show has the chops to kill any character off at the moment.

But if the next five episodes follow the same vein as the last five episodes, I'm going to wish the ship had flown into the sun ... and stayed there.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Hulu Is Kinda Stupid

It recently hit the street that Hulu is considering charging for their content. I suppose I can appreciate that, Hulu offers a lot of material which is quite valuable - recent shows, especially, for this age of time shifting. There's a decent amount there I'd access to catch up on some TV.

Which is why, if ad revenue is down and the powers that control Hulu need more cash, I have a recommendation other than forcing people to pay.

Stop being so damned stupid.

See, back in July, Hulu blocked the PlayStation 3 browser from accessing content. At first this was just done without much explanation, but then a very corporate non-answer arrived which takes a bit of brain pulling to translate (they use "windowing" as a term if it explains everything) - but in between the lines it comes down to "our partners pay for specific rights concerning television viewing, and threatened to pull out."


Distribution availability across platforms — theaters vs. TV vs. recorded media like DVDs vs. online streaming vs. mobile phones — was always implicitly or explicitly controlled in that world. But a few factors have made the barriers between those platforms more permeable: the rise of the web, increased broadband availability, the ease of digitizing video, and the increase in the computing
power of devices like gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and mobile phones.

However, in the near-term, the windowing strategy is still dominant in the business. Billions of dollars flow in across these different windows, and entire companies are organized around them. Nothing productive comes from flouting that reality (except to law firms who work on the occasional lawsuit).

Yeah. So this is why that is kinda stupid. Television industry types, listen up - because I'm only going to rant about this once.

Technology has converged your precious windows. Sorry about that, but it is really time to move on. Thanks.

See, I can watch your little television programs on my television using a computer any time I want. Heck, with the right cables - I can probably watch it with my iPhone. With some mad Linux skills, I could still do it on my PS3. This concept that my television is somehow under your control is so archaic that you make my old TiVo laugh. As if VCR's and DVR's shouldn't have been enough of lesson - the fact that my television is essentially a massive computer monitor at this point is just not that difficult of a concept to grasp.

See I have this Mac Mini. And it hooks right into my television. And it has a web browser. Which can play Hulu. So that kinda fscks your stupid windows concept right up.

But I don't watch Hulu on the Mini, because it is an older PPC model and the performance sucks. It worked pretty good on my PS3 - but now that's blocked. So now I don't watch Hulu.

And someone at Hulu is wondering why ad revenues aren't what they'd like them to be - but instead of the networks realizing this is nearly the year 2010, the whole thing is considering going to a pay-to-view model ... which is quite possibly they only way the thinking around the whole thing could travel any more backwards in time.


So yeah, go ahead and charge for Hulu. Let's see how that works for you. Or wake up to the modern world and just increase your current viewership.

Couple Notes on Uncharted 2 Multiplayer

I made a massive push on the Uncharted 2 single player experience, but don't really have my head around a full post for it yet. I did, however, want to expand my earlier review from the multiplayer demo.

The full version of the game has more maps and many more gametypes, including some fairly successful objective based ones. The mandatory Capture The Flag variant has players hauling around a large idol, which adds the not nearly used enough mechanic of hobbling the flag carrier, and also adds some of the fun of Epic's Bombing Run - namely tossing stuff around.

There are also a variety of domination/territory based games - which work remarkably well considering they are designed around the same maps as deathmatch (same, actually, goes for CTF).

The short summary is that Uncharted 2 adds an amazing online experience for the PlayStation 3. Highly recommend it.

Sadly, though, I still have to complain about the matchmaking. My assumption is that some players are teamed up at the beginning of the night, which makes breaking players up evenly difficult - but the problem remains the same. Numerous times the session will have all the high level players on one side, which often causes the highest level player on the losing side (and it always seems to be the highest level player) leaving early - which just cripples the losing team completely. Some of this gets pretty brutal.

The gameplay is good enough where it can be fun even if you're losing, which is an indication of a great game ... but when I can pretty accurately predict the outcome of a game just by the team makeup before the game starts, it sucks some of the fun out of an otherwise excellent experience.

Update: Last night I played a couple of hours and only had one match which was somewhat unbalanced, but not the wild sort I've seen repeatedly nights before. Don't know if this is just random behavior swinging to the other side or if there was a server-side fix. I'll keep an eye out.

Update to the update: Last night was bad - lots of very mismatched games. At one point, I just started leaving as the game started. Oddly, this is what finally caught Naughty Dog's eye, that I was jumping games. Which, don't get me wrong - not proud of ... but I can restart a game much faster than finishing it, and maybe the next one won't be such a one way battle.

Some digging seems to indicate that yeah, specific teams are the cause (that's in response to this, and I have lots of similar pics). This is age old problem of online play - boiling down to clan players getting repeatedly paired against casual players.

I'll probably roll this into a longer post, or the more complete Uncharted discussion. It's a huge detriment, though, and may just push me to coop way more- which I think is a shame (not that coop sucks, just that I'd be avoiding my preference. I just like fighting human intelligence...)

Update to the update to the update (guess I should just start numbering these). Naughty Dog is releasing a patch this weekend. It will "deter players from leaving voluntarily" and adjust goals for teams with fewer players. I'll try it out this weekend, but it seems like the wrong solution to the wrong problem to me. Address why people are leaving voluntarily first, simply deterring them seems pointless. I'll leave if I want to leave.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Movie Watch: Paranormal Activity

Not sure where to start with this movie - so let's start with marketing. I first heard of Paranormal Activity from Twitter of all things, and TweetYourScream is still a great way to catch quick reviews and special deals for the movie.

In this way, the comparisons between this film and Blair Witch aren't slight. People like to slag The Blair Witch Project has overhyped handycam nonsense - but I still remember when it was a highly successful marketing effort pushing the film as real footage, a truly impressive guerrilla hoax just as much as it was guerrilla film-making. The problem is that in that day and age, hype will outdo your hoax and eventually everyone wonders why anyone called this the greatest horror movie they've ever seen.

Moral of the story? Hoaxes are fun for horror. Hype isn't. Look over just the shoulder of Paranormal Activity to The Fourth Kind which is in the middle of just such a dynamic. Paranormal, however, makes such good use of Twitter and Facebook that the hype is very streamlined, and not anywhere near as out of hand as Blair Witch saw.

So how is the movie itself? Once again we have "found footage" from some people - this time a young couple who discovers things in their suburban home isn't as calm as they thought. There is some opinion that the plot starts too slow, but I was rather impressed that we get a nearly complete frame of the premise in the very early scenes.

Right here I want to call a break and give a quick recommendation. Just go see this movie. Unless what you've read so far is really turning you off - just go see it. It may not be the scariest movie ever. Might not even be the scariest this year - but it is one of the most unique and is really well done. It's an excellent spookhouse, especially for the ears. I was scared. The Girl even enjoyed it and she hated Blair Witch.

Thing is - don't go looking for info. Don't go to YouTube. Don't go to Wikipedia. It's not that there is a surprise ending or anything, but the more of a blank slate you have, the better. In fact, from what I hear some of the YouTube videos and online trailers would really spoil the movie (as bad as the cover of Quarantine). Don't think about it, just go see it.

Then come back here when you're done.

I'll wait.

OK, back? Highlight the rest of this post to read it.

For me, what was really effective about the movie is the slow progression of the demon's activities - but especially the use of audio cues and sound effects. That heavy bass was a presence which acted as a layer on top of the invisible force at work.

Another comparison between this and Blair Witch is the that part of tension is the breakdown between the characters. This is traditionally true for any good "cabin story" and a must for low budget thrillers like this one - and really well played here. Apparently like Witch, the actors worked with minimal direction and suggestions rather than a distinct script.

My only real complaint is what The Girl likes to call "going back for the cat". She hates the movie Alien because she thinks Ripley risking being eaten alive by an alien for the cat broke all plausibility. This is common in horror films, of course, the "stupid horror victim" has been parodied and even noted in recent horror films. Here, Micah goes from being bold to brainded before the third act begins. If I have a tape of something starting a spontaneous fire on my coffee table - I'm finding an expert.

That the movie got to this point is rather remarkable, and it seems like we have a lot of thanks to Spielberg and his posse for that. Not only did they pick up the film, they realized it should remain in the current format (there was the idea to remake it "Hollywood" style and just include the current film as a DVD extra) and help improve the overall structure and ending (there are two alternate endings floating around the net - neither sounds as good as their aired version).

But that's just a subcomponent of an others wise well tailored experience. I hope movies like The Last Broadcast, Blair Witch, and Paranormal Activity gets a chance to branch out into their sub-genre. Hopefully we can see this formula expanded and evolved, and perhaps now that we've seen that a studio can help the production and not hurt it ... they'll get even more sophisticated.

Obviously, highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Heart Freebies

If you haven't heard, the FTC recently enacted a rule that amatuer netizens must disclose products they receive for free or face up to $11,000 in fines.

For the sake of this argument, let me disclose - I've gotten a handful of free games from a few companies. My favorites so far being Bad Company, Godfather II and to an extent Pure as they weren't entirely on my radar before emailing back and forth with PR people and quite enjoyed playing them. It should also be noted that I've gotten several games which, for one reason or another, I've gone ahead and bought anyway and allowed someone else to play the free version (which generally gets added as feedback for review). This includes Dead Space and Spore.

The biggest impact, I think, is that I've written a few paragraphs on games I normally would not have written about. Games don't get a free ride here. The attention the game gets is in merit with the game itself - I found Dead Space an interesting game from many angles, and it got a lot of attention (and I didn't technically get it for free). Pure is a fun racing game with a couple twists - and it got a few paragraphs.

The FTC's logic is that consumers have a different relationship of trust between small amateur blogs like this one than "traditional media". I'm that guy on the street, and G4 is apparently Ted Koppel. The summary from the FTC themselves goes:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.
-- FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials []

Course, the problem the FTC is delineating between "word-of-mouth" marketing and traditional marketing. What's the distinction between here and Joystiq? Or here and a PR guy like Major Nelson? Or the official Sony blog? Let's ignore the fact the anachronistic concept that any of this is actually "word of mouth" at this point (if Cathode has ever increased any sales, trust me - it is "by way of Google" not by "word of mouth") - my biggest problem is that the leap form "material connection" to "paid endorsement".

So let me be clear - I'm completely willing to admit to having "material connections", despite them being rare, small and frequently in the wrong format. I am most certainly not saying anything on this site has ever, ever, even approached "paid endorsement" and I think the FTC is tossing a lot darts to hit a very narrow point on the board.

I agree with the FTC here in spirit, and think that doing something like seeding community sites to gather support is a fairly vile use of the 'net. I'm just not sure including bloggers who get a review copy merit being tossed into that bunch. I know I don't really appreciate it.

In summary? I love freebies. Mostly because I love the fact that there are PR people out there pushing games. It means I get a chance to engage people (and it has been more than PR peeps - like this interview with a SWAT 4 dev ... remember PR is the gateway) about games before they come out. I don't really care if it's a big label, indie title or some guy's homebrew ... if the project looks interesting, I like to have the conversation.

And if you want send me a version of your game to review - I'm likely to review it. If the fact that I got it free actually factors into my opinion of the game, I'm thinking that can't be a very good game. I'm thinking it would fall under "this would have been a waste of my time, were it not for the price" category.

Which avid readers would know I make note of when reviewing anyway.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Sunday: Assault Girls

I'm with Topless Robot here, I can't tell if this will be awful or awesome.

Comforting to know I'll probably watch it either way, however.

Fallout 3 DLC ... Bethesda, WTF?

In the beginning, there was Fallout. And it was good.

Then there was Fallout 2, and heralded it was as awesome.

Then a bunch of stuff happened, some of it pretty great and some of it Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.

Then we got Fallout 3. And we could forget that whole F:BOS nonsense.

And then we got downloadable content. And it was a buggy demon from hell.

Look, I really love the fact that the PlayStation 3 finally got the DLC. What I don't get is that after months of waiting and even more months of delay - the DLC still just doesn't work right.

Your mileage might vary - but my mileage is stuck on the side of the road waiting for VATS to get unstuck. Or that load screen to, well, stop loading. Which, by the way, many times it simply won't and I need to reboot the PS3. I haven't had an experience this buggy since I ditched playing games on the PC.

Which - for the record? Is why I ditched playing games on the PC. I can understand the graphical glitch here or there, or oddities with quest objects, or the occasional slowdown in framerate ... but there are multiple times while playing that the game simply stops running.

How does that pass quality control? Did someone forget to document "game should keep running" as a requirement? Are all the test scenarios less than ten minutes? Did they test a completely different game? Any explanation?

So far I've played through the main quests of Broken Steel, Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt and Point Lookout. All of the DLC has been plagued with slowdowns and lockups to varying degrees - with seemingly little predictability. Mothership Zeta remains, and honestly my excitement for it has waned considerably in anticipation for multiple reboots.

Sure, Fallout 3 is a great game - but this level of quality is just shameful. Hopefully New Vegas aims a little higher.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sci Fi Review: Dollhouse and Stargate: Universe

Science fiction on television seems to go through waves ... you'll have a show which takes off, acts a bit like a tentpole for more sci fi - and then everything winds down and some of the actors from one show start shuffling around. Take the Battlestar reunion taking place on Dollhouse - if Tricia Helfer shows up, I'll be convinced that Echo is actually a Cylon.

Dollhouse peaked somewhat with last season's unaired Epitaph One (unaired, but watched by probably every Dollhouse fan by now), which was easily the best episode of the show so far and serves as guidepost for the direction of the plot. Season two starts not only a little flat, but even somewhat confusing as we jump right in with Ballard now on the side of the 'house and his strategy for bringing it down feeling about as muddled as an active's CAT scan. The third episode, "Belle Chose", actually felt more like a better start for the season as we see Ballard trying to fit into his new role as well as some wonderfully creepy foreshadowing into the events of Epitaph One. The show has an odd game to play now - making the original premise and plotline around Echo work while also building to a potentially dark future. If it has any problem, it's that the latter is proving a lot more interesting than the former. However, if "Belle Chose" is an indication, this season could prove that the show can finally perform to its potential.

The other "networks show sci fi on Fridays because they assume the demographic never goes out and then complains about the numbers" offering right now is Stargate: Universe. Apparently the demise of Atlantis called for something of a reboot on the frachise, which after a long running core show and relatively long running spin off isn't worst idea. Universe has a different cinematic feel and the overall concept is more serious - it's like someone got some Battlestar in my Atlantis.

Sounds great on paper, but the execution so far is a bit lacking. One issue is that the wide array of characters feel largely similar and the ensemble feels somewhat shallow due to it. The military crew feels almost like a band of dwarves - you have stern, youthful, angry, etc. Two of the characters stand out for me ... one being Doctor Rush, in part because Robert Carlyle's portrayal is particularly awesome and secondly he's such a great throwback to a near villain like Doctor Smith (Lost in Space) than another "brilliant scientist with a gun" cutout that the series could so easily offer up.

Sadly the other character is Eli, who is such a horribly transparent viewer advocate that I fear the array of geek apparel and references to arrive. If his "Last Starfighter" premise of even being in the show wasn't bad enough, the fact that every other character willingly accepts his presence so blindly is even worse. Eli's character is a blow to the kneecaps to the show. Take the second episode, for instance, where one has to continually ask - why are they insisting on keeping the slacker civilian in the desert??

The show's pacing seems slow at the moment, so the jury is still out while we see if that's part of a method or just plodding along.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Demo Play: Brutal Legend (PS3)

I'll probably keep this short, as Legend is deserving of a full review when possible, but the demo that dropped last week is highly recommended. Schafer? Black? It's quite a team. The demo feels tightly written and funny and Jack Black is in true form here (all of that voice acting with Kung Fu Panda I guess). I remember outings like XIII where it seemed like a cell shaded shooter and David Duchovny voicing seemed an excellent match, and then Duchovny comes across with all the emotion one gets from reading a cereal box.

Not here. But as much as it works as a story, the gameplay feels just as solid. It's more or less a button masher, feeling a lot like a good variant of the God of War model with potentially more variety to the core and I think they've tossed out the QTE scenes, at least from the demo, for action which is more tightly integrated into the normal controls. Which if that holds out for the whole game, is something other designers should ponder.

Oh, and of course it rocks - as in an awesome homage to all things metal. Stop reading, go download, wait the release with baited breath.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Demon's Souls and singing online

This sounds so awesome:

The most direct way of helping other players, however, is to join them on their quest. Demon's Souls' ingenious implementation of co-op play is hardly straightforward, though it is incredibly imaginative. Players exist in one of two forms: body form and soul form. If you are in body form, you have full hit points, while in soul form, your hit points are generally halved (though a terrific ring you can find early on will give you a boost). You start your adventure in body form, and when you die, you are resurrected in soul form. Because you are only restored to body form when you defeat a boss or use a relatively rare stone, you'll spend most of your time as a soul. When in soul form, you can drop a soul marker; a player in body form can then activate that marker to summon you to his or her world. At that point, you join the player in his or her realm and tackle the challenges at hand together. If you are in body form, you can summon either one or two players, for a maximum party of three. There is no way to invite a friend, and no voice chat to communicate strategies or warnings. Yet while that sounds limiting, this imaginative system works in the context of Demon's Souls' harsh world and backstory. You feel as if you occupy a single node on a vast web of interconnected realms that mesh and overlap in mysterious ways.
Demon's Souls Review

First - seriously? Another incredible title hits the streets already? I'm already swamped with Uncharted 2 and it isn't even out yet. I've got Fallout DLC installed but untouched. I've got katamaris to roll, people.

Fine, the game sounds like a must have - but not sure when at this point. But more to the point, there's something deeply attractive about coop designed where nobody can talk to each other. I blabbed about this on twitter a bit ago ... I honestly have to say that I think online voice in games is about the most useless invention in the history of gaming.

OK, more specifically - to the large number of non-clan gamers. Sure, if you play the same game with the same group all the time - I get it. But that's not the majority of players.

Most of the time, it is idiotic laughter, rampant complaining and for some odd reason ... singing. Or playing guitar. Yes, I've had to listen to some jackass playing his guitar online. One night I had to listen to some guy who used "epic" and "fail" every other word. I remember when Counter-Strike was going to implement it and it was going to revolutionize gaming completely - but all I'm hearing is some guy's wife in the background and bunch of people screaming at each other.

So to Demon's Souls: thank you. I embrace your silent online world, no matter how vicious the demons may be...

Flash Apps On iPhone

From EverythingFlex:

So today at Adobe MAX a huge announcement came out. We now have special tooling that allows you to use the Flash Platform to build applications for the iPhone. Flash developers will be empowered to use their existing skills to construct applications for iPhone that can be distributed through Apple’s App Store. No promises but the betas of this (CS5) should be available by the end of this year.

Exciting stuff. It sounds like plan won't necessarily allow for Mobile Safari to have a plug in, but that developers will be able to develop with Flash/Flex and then go through the App Store routine to get distribution. So this might not be the golden ring everyone wanted (to use their favorite flash-enabled sites), it is quite interesting for experienced Flash developers.

See some examples and a few FAQs over at Adobe.

Demo Play: Uncharted 2 Multiplayer (PS3 Review)

I've spent an almost disturbing amount of time with the now publically open Uncharted 2 multiplayer demo - especially considering the breadth of decent gaming options open right now.

If you haven't played the original single-player only Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, it's well worth the purchase. Highly overlooked amongst early titles for the PS3, the game is still one of the better ones on the platform. Having had a taste for the sequel's online component, I'm definitely excited to see the full package.

The demo provides a couple of game modes, Deathmatch and Elimination, as well as a handful of maps and weapon sets. While "rocket launcher only" type affairs are usually gimmicky and appealing to a subset of gamers, all of the weapon setups feel correctly balanced and entertaining. The maps are splendid, well designed and packed with appealing visuals as well as multiple routes for players to run, jump, climb and roll around. Uncharted's movement gameplay allows for both running/gunning as well as stealthy cover-based action, and it's nice that these mechanics are available to the user without feeling too mandatory.

In short, as third person online shooters go - Uncharted 2 may be the best of the breed at the moment. I have a few nitpicky complaints - the grenades feel weak, the "party up" aspect feels like a miss (at least for the demo), and while the weapon balance is generally excellent - the gatling gun is a bit over the top (main complaint? way to effective at long ranges I think). But most of that just slides off the glossy greatness of the game.

Sadly - I do have one major complaint. The matchmaking can be completely brain dead at times, and while it does a good job of at least finding and creating games in general ... to wait several minutes to get into play and realize that the teams are wildly off balance can get frustrating and disappointing.

Uncharted 2 tracks player experience with a level system, so you can measure the players pretty well. Last night I (a level 27) was matched against a level 50, 43, 36, 33 and 28. So every player was more experienced than I was. My mates to help me out? A 5, 5, 4 and a 1.

Needless to say - it was a quick and bloody affair. If I recall, we managed something like 8 points before the other team hit the goal of 50. This is sadly not too uncommon either and often the lopsided matches have players jumping off the game, which just makes it that much more lopsided.

I'd be less critical of this considering it is a problem plaguing online games since their inception - if it weren't for the vast amount of statistics that get tracked. I'll concede that level alone is a poor indicator (though still a generally accurate one), but Naughty Dog tracks a wide array of facts - which you can view off their site.

Possibly this is due to high level "parties" that the server can't split up - but hopefully that means that the only defense isn't to do the same. It would at least be nice to allow players to, in some situations, swap teams during a match. I know that can be problematic and would require strict rules ... but there's been a couple of times I wouldn't mind jumping to the losing team just to make it a better match.

Regardless - it's a great demo (and, of course, hence not the final product) and proof of a top notch game. Highly, highly recommended.

Game Play: Dungeon Hunter (iPhone)

When Diablo came out, it was quasi-revolutionary. It took a known and loved format, the rogue-like, and made it highly accessible and graphically appealing. It's spawned so many clones that it has essentially redefined the genre, and so many of them are direct copies of each other that I'm half surprised there isn't a wizard in Visual Studio to churn them out.

I saw a preview of Dungeon Hunter for the iPhone a bit ago and wondered how it would fare. The iPhone market would be easy to plunder with a simple and brainless roguelike, but thankfully Dungeon Hunter manages to carve a space for itself. There's three classes to choose from (all male, although some of that may be to fit the backstory) and a narrative that frames your resurrection quite well. The graphics are very good and diverse array of environments, although most of them do boil down to a similar "walk path, kill things, turn left" kind of affair. Controls are solid for the touchscreen and there is a decent set of options to boot.

I haven't gotten a real feel for length yet - but the quests seem to be providing the chance for some real depth to the game. For $6.99, Dungeon Hunter seems a solid win for Gameloft and an easy recommend for any fan of the genre.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

PSN Updates Live (Oct 1st)

The updates for PSN are up on the store and include the Brutal Legend Demo, Operation Anchorage AND The Pitt DLC for Fallout. Nearly as good as last week. Still no Trine, though, which seems odd to me. But I'm really not going to complain about a lack of game content right now.

Brutal Legend Demothon Live Stream

The Brutal Legend demo drops today for PSN and Xbox Live users (because clearly with Fallout, Katamari, Marvel Alliance and the Uncharted 2 multiplayer demo ... I didn't have enough to play with right now). Double Fine is having a live demothon at 12PM PST today (Oct 1st) to coincide, with the following lineup:

· Welcome to the Dem-o-thon!

· A Message from Tim’s Bunker

· Drew shows how to make Brütal VFX

· Emily shares her 10 Least Metal Albums

· Lee reports from the field and share’s little known facts from the world of Brütal Legend

· Colin show’s how Eddie’s power grows in the Open World of Brutal Legend

· Erik reveals the Depth of the World of Brütal Legend

· Brad walks you through Multiplayer Stage Battles

· Levi draws a Brutal Caricature of one lucky fan while discussing Character design

· Nathan, Pete, Anna, Dan and Jon talk about programming Brütal Legend and crunch time at Double Fine

· Tasha and Dave take you inside white box animation

· Steve gives an Axe Lesson

· Forbidden Questions answered by a Special Guest

You can watch the livestream from the offical site, or check it out below:

I'm willing to bet that special guest threatens someone with swine flu...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Uncharted 2 Multiplayer Demo - Now For Everyone

Appearing now on PSN - a version of the Uncharted 2 multiplayer demo that everyone but you and me seemed to have access to, rave about, and gloat over. Downloading now, will post thoughts when I get a chance to give it some quality time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

For Sunday: IT Crowd Bloopers and Brutal Legend

Two links today:

First up: The Girl found this awesome blooper reel for the great Britcom The IT Crowd, which is now available in its entirety on Netflix Instant, should that be accessible to you.

Second: Tim Schafer vs. Ormagoden - look out for October 1st, peeps - I hear it is going to rock with a chance of some roll.

Friday, September 25, 2009

TV Reminder: Dollhouse Season Two Tonight

Dollhouse gets a second run starting tonight (9/25). It's been left alone on Fridays with the cancellation of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but at least that frees up Summer Glau for a guest appearance, right? C'mon - it would be awesome. Especially if the guest appearance was as Cameron. Whedon, call my people.

Wait, I have no people.

Anyway, whether Dollhouse can hit the ground running or will find a kind of narrative apex remains to be seen - but seeing it when it airs is probably the best thing for the show at this point (not sure how doing things like buying it off PSN or iTunes factors into the livelihood of a show versus good old Neilsen right now). We're actually going to miss it, hitting the road and going to a fish fry it would seem - but I do have high hopes for this season.

Update: Yeah, OK - as Sterno points out, if you don't have a Neilsen box - might as well buy it online. We'll probably grab it off PSN, if it's there, when we get back.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kirk Cameron Hates Monkeys (OK, really just Darwin)

Sweet Jeebus:

What exactly does Mike Seaver think will happen if you pray in public anyway? Considering he invokes Adolf Hitler around the 1:41 mark, which by Godwin's Law ends his argument before it actually finishes... I'm not sure it matters. Be sure to check out the frisking on Salon feature or the very least the funny retort with a Romanian accent.

HoneyComb Engine On Edge Online

Props to Corvus on this column at Edge Online about the HoneyComb Engine:

The latest system finds a balance, creating rules that create the outcomes but don’t necessarily describe them. While the gamemaster, or storyteller prime, runs the session, she or he can pass the duty off to the other players – dubbed storytellers – at the table. Storytellers are expected to bring their own ideas to the session, to guide whether it’ll be funny, violent or tragic. And any genre should work: Elrod has led sessions in space, Dickens’ London, and the Buffy season eight storyline. At last month’s Penny Arcade Expo, he led a session with Dierdra Kiai and Travis Megill about four siblings who reunite at their father’s funeral.
-- Tell Us A Story [Edge Online]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stonking Great Game Contest

I should check my email box more often, because I hate to think that this is the first I'm hearing about Zero Punctuation's Stonking Great Game Contest, where people can send their flash based game to the Great Yahtzee for review and a chance at fame and glory. I'd love to consider trying it myself and do something in Flex, but I'm not sure the October 19th deadline is conducive to getting anything realistic for submission.

Jeff Palumbo of The Escapist also sends word that thirteen members of the game industry will be joining the judging. This is probably since Yahtzee famously hates everything, there might actually be a winner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Game Play: Katamari Forever (PS3 Review)

Katamari was, in it's original form, difficult to explain but plenty of fun to play. The sum result of The Prince rolling around his ever increasingly girth of a Katamari to J-Pop music translates into a kind of wonderful digital stress ball (even if The King is always on your back).

That the 360 got a Damarcy rendition before Sony is something of a sign of how this generation has gone ... and yet similarly PS3 users are missing out on little but patience here.

Katamari Forever mixes up new levels with old, a mish mash of new graphic modes and more or less the entirety of the original gameplay intact. It really is what PS3 owners have been waiting for - a high def rendition of the first game with all the updates from the sequels along for the ride. One might argue that the game doesn't add enough to change the old formula .. but that just begs the question of why you want to do such a thing.

Obviously highly recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Game Play: Fat Princess (PSN Review)

Fat Princess is an isometric class-based multiplayer game where two teams fight from opposing castles which hold the eponymous royalty as prisoners. There is an offline mode, though that is basically just a tutorial area for the real deal - though the game play still works pretty well as the bot AI is consistently good (which also helps sometimes fill out the online games).

Players choose their class by grabbing a specific hat (and can change classes in the same way on the fly). There's the sword-slinging warrior, bow-slinging ranger, spell-slinging mage, staff-slinging cleric and axe-wielding worker. Well, OK, the worker slings as well, I guess. Other relatively unique mechanics include tossing pieces of cake to your prisoner, making them fatter and harder to rescue, upgrading various items including the hat making machines (unlocking a secondary attack or stronger weapon for other players).

The core of the game is pretty strong and makes for a well-balanced match in general. No class is overwhelming powerful and each takes a bit of skill and practice to really become useful, while also being simple enough to play around without feeling like a complete tool.

For me, actually, the most problematic of all the classes is the worker ... which is something of a shame. It's by far the most difficult to achieve any decent score from as the worker spends half his time running around, getting killed (he's rather defenseless, even with the bomb upgrade) and the point rewards are meager compared to the ranger (for example) who can just stand and wound opponents to rack up a decent score.

There's also the fact that the gameplay can get a little repetitive and occasionally an experienced team will just race past an inexperienced one, especially in the normal "capture the princess" mode. The team deathmatch mode is somewhat preferable, because there's not catastrophic failures ... just a lot pointmongering. The soccer mode is fairly entertaining as well, even though moving the ball around is a bit frustrating.

Is Fat Princess worth it? It gets point for being at least somewhat unique, and has a strong online showing for the money. I wish it was deeper and more engrossing, but I'll also admit to having spent a few late nights with it. If you're looking for some cartoony online hack and slash, this might be the title for you.

September 24th PSN Update Looking Amazing

So far confirmed for this Thursday: Fallout 3 DLC, in fact the Broken Steel DLC - probably the best of the bunch. Trine (see the trailer at Average Gamer). Zombie Apocalypse.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bethesda Announces Fallout 3 PS3 DLC Dates

"Broken Steel" - September 24

"Operation: Anchorage" + "The Pitt" - October 1

"Point Lookout" + "Mothership Zeta" - October 8
-- Bethesda Dates Fallout 3 PS3 DLC [IGN]

Also, apparently some optimizalkad blah blah NEXT FREAKING WEEK!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TV Watch: Virtuality

Virtuality began life as a TV pilot from some of the same crew as Battlestar but ended up as merely a movie, a show that wasn't picked up and something of a tease.

The show follows the crew of the Phaeton, mankind's first interstellar ship, on a mission to find intelligent life around Epsilon Eridani. The show's title refers to the dual nature of the crew also taking part in a reality TV show as well as having access to "virt mods" for virtual reality. Without moving into the realm of spoilers, nothing is quite right on either side of that fence.

There's a lot going on, even for a television pilot gone movie. You have the backdrop of ecological disaster, making the 10 year voyage to the stars critical for the planet. There's a lot of infighting surround the reality show itself, the bizarre problems in virtual reality and the interactions between the twelve person crew.

With so much at work here, and so much of it working quite well - it baffles me how this show didn't at least get a shot. If you look back about a year, you see Fox sticking with the more generic shows (I reallly like both Fringe and Dollhouse, don't ge me wrong) - and ditching the more unique ones ... namely this show and Boldly Going Nowhere. From those I've talked to who have seen the Boldly pilot, it's completely hilarious. And nearly impossible to see.

If anything, Virtuality reminds me a lot of Odyssey Five, a character driven show with some unique sci fi twists and mysteries to it.

At least you can still watch Virtuality on Hulu, which I highly recommend. Still, I would imagine someone could possibly find a copy somehow...

Cancel that order. The video was pulled off Hulu. Now that is a tease.

iPhone Review: Comics from comiXology

Recently iVerse released an app, and App Store got a Genius list for recommendations, which made me wonder if it would really help find more noteworthy apps.

Well, sure enough it helped me find Comics, which is an app from comiXology, though there is also an app for the website, so be careful there.

Comics and the iVerse app are extremely similar - they're both apps which allow you browse, buy, organize and read comic titles. They have some distinctions, they use different readers with different behaviors, for instance, and iVerse has more options for notifying new titles. comiXology has more titles in general, however, including it seems a continuance of both Neozoic and Atomic Robo.

I don't see any fairness in pitting the two against each other. Both apps are 99 cents. They're both going to deliver comics right to your phone. I heartily recommend getting the both of them.

Threats To My Productivity

Yesterday, Marvel Alliance 2 dropped - certainly a time sink.

Next Tuesday, Katamari Forever hits. I'm already half-addicted to the demo, and it has two levels.

By the end of September, the DLC for Fallout 3 theoretically makes it to the PS3 (theoretically). This is a game I spent so much time in I almost changed my billing address to the Capitol Wastelands.

Mid October? Uncharted 2.

Yikes. It's going to be a busy few weeks.

Game Play: Marvel Alliance 2 First Look (PS3)

Snagged the last copy Gamestop had of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 yesterday, and The Girl and I managed to get a couple hours of play down.

The heritage to the older games is tangible - most of the controls and gameplay mechanics are carried over and the first impression if you've played the other games is that this is more or less that game with a highly revamped graphics engine. Even if that's all there was - the title would probably be worth the price of admission. The graphics are top notch, although the camera leaves something to be desired and there are instance where the areas get past all the lovely dynamic lighting by simply being really, really dark.

We're only toe deep into the storyline at this point, but I think this game might set a new bar for franchise related narratives. The cut scenes are actually something you might want to watch rather than just a setup to explain why you're fighting on a bridge/forest/castle/whatever.

The "fusion" mechanic is interesting. Basically it takes the combo system from before and puts it on steroids - the combined attacks are far flashier, much more powerful and there are specific types of fusion attacks for certain situations. Area attacks are good for mobs, directed attacks for bosses and guided for ... well, running around the room a lot. We haven't quite gotten the hang of them yet.

In some ways the mechanic insists upon itself - there are clearly scenarios where you really need to use it. Which is usually fine, but also seems to make boss fights feel a bit prolonged and sometimes a little brutal. This is also because the health gameplay has changed - you can carry two "health tokens" to fully heal or revive one character, and they always seem to show up when you're fully healed.

In general, though, a big thumbs up. Probably post a follow up when we get deeper into the game. Bottom line though - they've kept a solid core from the earlier games, added a lot of fancy graphics, and added not only a few new twists and plenty of material ... but a good storyline to boot. Not a bad formula.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Movie Watch: The Wrestler

Honestly, about the only nice thing I can say about this movie is that Marisa Tomei is a very attractive fortysomething.

This is now the second Aronofsky film I didn't finish. First was Requiem For A Dream which I found so profoundly depressing that I could feel enjoyment sucked out of the room. Jennifer Connelly became wildly unattractive to me during the movie - a clear crime against nature. While The Wrestler doesn't share quite the same level of surrealistic masochism as Requiem, there's certainly enough pain and loathing to go around.

I can't find anything particularly interesting about the singular focus on a man's tragedy which is just so droning and unrelenting. Rourke does an amazing job (hey, two nice things), for sure, but there isn't a scene with any respite for the character. Even when he plays Nintendo with a fellow trailer park kid - the kid has to rub it into his face that Call of Duty 4 is out and he's stuck with an NES.

In summary: His day job sucks, his night job is killing him, the closest thing he has to a girlfriend is a stripper, his daughter hates him for being a dick, he abuses drugs, and the people who adore him either want to staple gun his face for amusement or have no idea who he really is as a person.

What's awful about The Wrestler is that it isn't even terribly unique. We've seen this kind of character before - but without the snuff film edge to it.

Obviously not recommended.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Game Play: Alive 4 Ever (iPhone) Review

Setting aside the rather obvious marketing grab from the completely unrelated game from Valve, Alive 4 Ever offers a pretty decent set of zombie shooting entertainment. It's a top down, dual "stick", shooter and the controls are about as responsive as I've seen from an iPhone game. So far I've only seen the one room, but the variety of subgoals, like rescuing people and picking up suitcases full of gold/vaccines/yummy things, is well done.

My only complaint is that the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, more quickly it seems than you can upgrade to match the new kinds of zombies, slow ass survivors, and a rapidly depleted ammo supply. The idea may be that you're supposed to replay older levels to get XP and then boost to move on.

There's also local coop available, but I haven't tried to convince The Girl to play with me just yet.

So largely a thumbs up, especially if the genre is your cup of tea.

Word of the Day: "Crapulous"

Via, it means:

1. Given to or characterized by gross excess in drinking or eating.
2. Suffering from or due to such excess.

That's just perfect.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good Question - How Would You Fix Heroes?

Topless Robot points out that Heroes has gotten to the state where commercials for the show point out it's been sagging - and I have to admit that I haven't watched the show since Sylar put on a suit and started acting like a bad Men in Black impersonation.

So I don't even know if I could answer my own question, but I know one thing - at this point it would be painful. Just a few personal notes:

- Some of the ensemble has to go. Take an existing character and revamping them just to fit the plot better is plain stupid and gets rather insulting to the viewers after a while. Kill some people, bring in fresh blood.

- Along with that ... remaining characters need to become internally consistent. Hiro should use his powers in one episode similar to how he does in an another, and not conveniently forgetting he can control time simply because he has a inconvenient power.

- On the inconvenient note, it should be added that in general ubercharacters are pretty dull (and generally inconvenient to your plot). The entire "power sucking" concept got out of hand quickly in the show and only got worse. Characters who can't be killed and can kill everything are just problematic.

- Plotwise, the show has always been hackneyed for me. It has decent themes, but relies way to much on nascent subplots that never really go anywhere and character development which seems like it can turn on a dime. I haven't watched lately so I don't know where the whole "creating superpowers conspiracy" core plot went, but the show needs to find themes which can work season to season, and not feel like it is picking up the pieces each time.

So basically: Kill some people off. Add some new ones. Be consistent. Get a trailer which convinces me you have a story worth saving.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

App Store Now Genius, iPhone gets 3.1

With over 75,000 apps in the App Store, it can be difficult to find new applications. Apple’s extended its Genius media-recommendation algorithm to iPhone applications. It looks at the apps you already own and makes recommendations based on that information.
-- Apple announces iPhone 3.1

Obviously, sign me up. At the same time, I wonder how much this will do to alleviate smaller apps with less hype getting noticed.

New Dante's Inferno Wallpaper: Greed & Greed Sale

Some fresh circle of hell rendering below. We're putting all this media on the new Cathode Tan Facebook page, so you're in FB feel free to keep an eye out there. (Oh yeah, Twitter may be next...)

EA also sends word that today, and today only (9/9/9) you can get $6.66 off your pre-order of Dante's Inferno at GameStop.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Is 3D the next HD?

I think in some ways, Microsoft's Xbox 360 heralded the modern HD era of entertainment, being the first consumer device which both insisted upon itself on being part of the high def generation, but also one that was massively adopted by consumers.

Course, much of HD adoption wasn't the rosy path either Microsoft, Sony, or the other players, wanted it to be - which to bring it back to gaming aided a certain company rhyming with Mintendo by being cheap and easy to use on existing standard def sets. However, by May 2009, nearly half of homeowners have a high def set, a 12% increase from the previous year. The dust has settled on the format war, players are getting quickly cheaper and there are more and more viewing options are becoming available.

So, just as the smoke begins to clear - the industry is trying to carve the next, um, next-generation. HD is old. 3D is new:

We saw 3-D footage shot at the Beijing Olympics, including that larger-than-life opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest stadium and a soccer game that was more vivid and lifelike than anything I've ever seen on a screen. It felt as if we were standing at the edge of the pitch. I'm not a big sports fan, but the first thing I thought was that the "killer app" for this technology will be sports. Monday Night Football will never be the same again. ESPN, which embraced HD and boomed because of it, is going to have a field day.
-- TV’s Next Dimension [Newsweek]

In part, we have James Cameron to blame. He has been spearheading a movement in cinema for a while now, trying to prove that 3D has evolved past the gimmick stage and deserves to become the forefront of movie making technology. It doesn't hurt, of course, that the movie industry has been getting kicked in the shins with piracy and low ticket sales - both things that moviemakers hope 3D can help address. See, you can't simply sneak a camcorder into a theater, burn it and sell it if that theater is playing a 3D version. Add in the additional draw (and potentially the jacked up price) and you have a very happy theater owner.

The game industry has been making similar noises, although probably with a slightly different set of motives. With Moore's Law no longer being the prime mover for selling new games, or to put it another way - you can't be sure of a bestseller by trying to outperform yesterday's graphics anymore - game producers would love to have a technical solution to spike some sales. Long term gamers will realize, of course, that they have been here before, and honestly we'll need to see some better demonstrations to decide if goofy looking glasses are worth playing the game.

All of this, of course, translates into apparently an entirely new set of hardware:

We'll have to wait and see on that one. To get into the 3-D game, you'll need a new TV, obviously, as well as a new Blu-ray player that can play 3-D discs, and a new HDMI cable that can handle the extra data associated with 3-D content. The first stuff you'll see will be on discs, but Panasonic expects 3-D content will be delivered on cable and satellite, and even, eventually, on broadcast TV. It took eight or nine years for HD sets to reach widespread adoption, and 3-D will likely follow a similar curve.
-- TV’s Next Dimension [Newsweek]

Ahem. Firstly - a new HDMI cable? Wasn't HDMI supposed to be something of the end all, be all, for media cables?

But that's being nitpicky. I think the holes in the 3D theory are a bit more expansive than just the cables.

First - I find it doubtful that piracy will be so quickly subdued. It's been a circular technological war since the onset, and will continue to do so. Second, it seems unlikely that 3D is going to be a massive hit outside certain genres. I could be wrong, of course - perhaps seeing a lame romantic comedy with an additional dimension will make it slightly less lame - but I certainly don't see dishing any extra dollars to see it that.

Finally, HD was a far harder sell than the industry assumed it would be - partially due to high prices and partially due to a needless format war. There's nothing to say that a 3D generation wouldn't face similar, or worse, issues - especially considering we don't have any ready to market sets to examine at this point. Especially since I would challenge that "nearly half" equates to "widespread adoption", and adding in consumer fatigue from the fact that half them would have sets less than ten years old (my last TV I got from my first corporate job out after college, not that I'll admit here how long that was) - I think anything less than a decade is pretty optimistic.

Also, how hard of a sell will it be to convince consumers they need new hardware to make use of a feature which has been around since the 50's?

In general, I think the industry may be getting a little ahead of itself here.