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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Game Play: Monopoly (iPhone)

It should be noted before going to far into this - I've played a lot of Monopoly in my day. We played it as kids with our parents, The Girl's family plays it, I've played multiple digital versions of the game and so on. Monopoly occupies an interesting space for people who finally dive headfirst into being true board game geeks (probably best quantified as when you purchase a game most people have never heard of). That space is usually one near the intersection of derision and scorn.

This mostly because it is an incredibly popular game with, honestly, subpar mechanics. Most of the game is luck, a little bit of strategy and a great deal of abusing players who haven't played as much. Don't even get them started about the free parking or rent related rules.

While I agree with most board game geeks on this - the game also works because it doesn't take long to learn, the strategies are easily understood and people like playing with fake money.

Most digital versions of the game have been a mixed bag. Some have lacked AI, some have had such bad AI that it might as well not have had AI in the first place. This is something of a big deal because if you have three other humans to play with - you might as well play the board game version.

Monopoly for the iPhone picks up the "Here and Now" edition, which ups the dollar value so the game doesn't feel so quaint, uses cities instead of streets (which, oddly, makes a couple million seem like a bargain for Rome) and updates some of the random chance cards. It offers a decent number of house rules and the AI can occasionally give you a run for your money.

In short - it actually kinda rocks. The interface is very well designed, easy to play and the graphics and sounds work very well for the game. It has managed to take over Lux for my favorite game to play on the bus at this point.

My only real complaint is that the AI is a bit mechanical. There's no attempt to put in fuzzy logic or quirks that I can see - like having one player be stingy and protective while another risks and builds more. It's rather easy to make deals, even if you want to make an "inside monopoly" when you have only one card of a set, for instance. This goes for the AI dealing with itself, too, so you can bet that monopolies start cropping up rather quickly during the midgame.

Still, this is better than a totally stingy AI and a game that never produces monopolies. Some varation would be nice, but what they have is pretty solid.

The game also sports WiFi, spouts statistics and gives you a variety of backdrops to play in. If they'd stop trying to upsell EA games every time a game ends, I'd be even happier.

Solidly recommend, at least until someone ports Settlers of Catan to the iPhone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

For Sunday: FEAR 2 EPA Trailer

I love the commercial spot angle:

Heavy Coffee Use Leads To Hallucinations

A bit dubious about this:

People who drink at least 330 milligrams of the stimulant a day were three times as likely to have hallucinations as those who consumed less than 10 milligrams a day, Durham University researchers found in a study of 219 college students published today in Personality and Individual Differences.

The study, the first to link caffeine and hallucinations, explored the relationship between high caffeine consumption and an increased release of cortisol, a stress hormone believed to contribute to delusions, lead researcher Simon Jones said. It forms the first step toward examining nutrition as a factor in the occurrence of hallucinations, he said.


Nine of the 22 people in the highest-caffeine group reported hearing disembodied voices, compared with three of the 22 people in the lowest-caffeine group, Jones said. Participants also reported seeing things that weren’t there and sensing the presence of dead people.
-- Seven Cups of Coffee a Day May Lead to Hallucinations (Update1)

OK, seven cups is pretty heavy use, all in all - but I can easily down five in a day and find the idea of seeing ghosts from the caffiene alone a bit of a stretch.

But it does sound like an interesting weekend experiment...

Dollhouse begins Friday the 13th

Fans of the Joss man got a mixed blessing. His new show Dollhouse will be airing on Fox, it's set to air Feb. 13th, Friday the 13th to be exact.

Superstition aside, Friday isn't really a great time slot for television. It hasn't been uncommon to dump genre shows there from time to time (X-Files, for instance), and I'm sure there's a large subsection of Joss followers with Tivo on their side.

Still, this is Fox and their track record isn't always the greatest with handling new shows (*cough* Firefly( *cough*), so we'll see...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stealing From The Little Guy

I'm trying to think of just how cheap of a jackass you have to be to crack a 99 cent iPhone app from a husband and wife development team, but I'm pretty certain it isn't measurable by the scientific tools I have around the household.

Worse, to be such a jackass about the whole deal as to try and act like you have some kind of moral high ground on the matter. Hey, I think Apple should implement a more sensible demo setup as much as the next guy, but blackmailing developers into your beliefs isn't exactly civilized behavior. It's what my grandmother would call, um, being a damn jackass. If you think a developer should be offering a demo version and they don't - then don't buy the app. Stealing from them isn't any kind of solution, it's just stealing.

It's crackers like Most_uniQue that make companies abuse their users with DRM in the first place.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Urban Retro Offers Sculpture of Love Child Between Mario and Mickey

Some things, dear reader, I couldn't make up if I tried. Such is it with the limited edition Akashi, a sculpture which answers the often unasked question of what a creature might look like if it were a genetic splice of Mario and Mickey Mouse. To Urban Retro's credit, they mention that if this is too freakish, they have a more normal Mario selection as well.

Game Play: Metal Gear Online (Demo)

I don't have a full version of the game (yet), so I downloaded the demo.

OK, technically I downloaded it twice, because once you download the first time, you "update" the demo which somehow seemed to take twice as long and doesn't use the normal PSN update method, but rather forces you to use an ingame one. The ingame one has a BitTorrent option, which is technically fascinating, but will still force you to pack a lunch before you can try the game out which is 100% annoying.

Once in, though, I was kinda surprised at how much fun it was to play. I expected some control frustration since I haven't played either any version of the full game (which, to the demo's credit, you are warned against) but that didn't really last very long. For the most part, it's crouch, sneak and shoot.

And it works really, really well. Many games have tried to slow down the normal frantic pace of online shooters, which has evolved into a kind of ADD with sugar frenzy after years of iterations, but MGO takes the slow pace pretty seriously. And it adds the proper kind of tension to the game.

Where Unreal Tournament feels more like a high paced action movie, MGO feels more like going out and playing paintball with friends. And that's not a slight, as paintball can be a pretty good adrenaline rush on its own.

I don't know if the demo separates the audience from the full version - but my only real complaint was not having enough opponents. It took a while to get a match going, and then it was only 3v3.

Solidly (har har) recommend, hopefully can see some bigger matches down the road.

Game Play: Lord of the Rings Conquest Demo

There's so much I want to like about this game. Reading between the lines, it looks like it could have 2 player couch coop in a Middle Earth scenario playing against a hoards of enemies - basically a Tolkien version of Dynasty Warriors. Which would be pretty much all I'd need to know to make a buy, considering the particular corner of gaming and fiction that would reside on.

The online portion is something of a win for me, although these old Battlefield mechanics can kinda wear on a person. Since the days of Counter-Strike I've been wondering who would figure out really balanced play between two teams and well, I'm still waiting. Most of the games of LOTR:C I played were almost hilariously one sided, however, often with one team having nearly ten times the other team's score.

My real complaint, though, and I can only hope this is where the demo is not indicative of the final product, is with the network setup in general. Firstly, it is wildly unstable and hard to get into a server. Even servers with room and what seemed like good ping (although another point - who can tell what good ping is between just a couple of glowing colors). Getting dropped was not uncommon at all. The server browser is a pain and lacks simple filters like "don't show me those 100 empty servers".

This is the PS3 version, but I've never had this kind of problem with EA Nation on any platform. Bad Company was actually some of the best online setup I've used and a stark contrast to this demo.

So, we'll probably get it for the offline alone - but online is clearly where this game wants to be. If so, it has a long way to walk.