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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TV Watch: Lost, What They Died For

Well, let's just get right to it then.

The Good
This episode probably had me more excited about the LA X world than most, and I'm hoping that whatever Desmond pulls off will be truly explosive for the finale (honestly, I'm half expecting a bomb to go off). The scene where Desmond beats the hell out of Ben to remind him who is was relatively awesome.

I'm rather liking Ben in general, actually. On the island, it is very tough to tell if he is just being his old manipulative self or if he has some long con for redemption. In LA X, his potential hookup with Danielle is both touching and mildly creepy. Ben's a complicated guy.

The Kinda Good
There were some sideways explanations here - which is I suppose better than no explanation at all, even though we are almost at the finish line. Is the pregnancy issue tied to the importance Jacob puts on someone being a mother? Are the powers of Jacob and Not Jacob actually tied to conversation, and that's why Not Jacob went ahead and just offed Zoe? It will be annoying if some of this isn't more fleshed out in the finale, especially the pregnancy thing which has been so core to the show - but I'm pretty much braced that we're not going to get a real good definition of the "sickness" at this point.

The Not So Good
The whole "why they died" speech and Jack getting promoted to protector gets lumped into what is a series of anticlimactic explanations which have been put out this season. Considering what has happened to these characters over the last few years, one might think they would have a more heated Q & A with the entity most directly responsible for it. That the island and the candidates "needed each other" fits well into what we know, but why Jacob had to do it by crashing a plane (killing a bunch of people), the actions of The Others, why it took so long to reveal the idea of "candidacy", etc. - nobody asks? I guess Kate kinda did, but who is listening to her anymore...

And Jack actually getting the promotion was about as exciting as, well, watching a normal person get a promotion. He was the obvious choice and the entirely scene seemed most ceremonial, even plot-wise. Maybe this all gets more detailed in the finale, but it seems like a small prize tied to a very long string at the moment.

I did like the "just a name in chalk" bit. Sometimes a cigar smoking chimp is just a cigar smoking chimp, people.

The Outright Bad
Ben and Widmore really deserved more air time. Well, more specifically - we deserved more air time to explain what has been going on with these two characters. Why do the rules apply to them? OK, I still don't know why the rules apply to anyone or anything, but the power dynamic between Widmore and Ben is the untold story of the island from the military, to DHARMA to The Others. And to have it seem that Widmore is suddenly good because he and Jacob had an offscreen chat is just downright annoying.

And if Richard is dead and does not make an appearance during the finale I will throw a chair in the general direction of Carlton Cuse. Not anything against him over Damon or anything, but I do believe he is taller and therefore easier to hit when throwing a chair several thousand miles.

Bottom Line
We are in the eleventh hour and I think we're about where most fans expected: the story is coherent (good), they don't have time to really reveal everything (bad), but all in all we should have one thing to comfort us:

I don't think there has been a bad Lost finale yet, and I honestly suspect this one will be the best of the lot.

If you can watch it out without a mental checklist of things left unexplained - it will probably be awesome. If the last episode was bringing the story to a simmer - we're certainly at a full boil by now. I think we're done moving the pieces on the chess board ... it is time to throw down.

My long shot guesses? SmokeLocke is throwing Desmond down Ye Old Tunnel Of Light. Or trying to do so. Also, my money is on the LA X world surviving, especially with the current kill rate on the island ... or by bringing LA X down there will be a chance of some kind of reunion.

Also for the last scene? Jack and something that appears to be Locke on the beach.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Steam on OS X: Nice But Certainly No Nirvana

Last Wednesday, Valve officially released Steam for OS X. Along with the release was the promise of the release of essentially the entire Source library for Mac eventually.

To date, only one Source game is available - Portal, but it has been offered free for a limited time. Portal is a pretty great game, so Steam + Free Portal is pretty decent gift to the Mac community. And honestly, I'm still optimistic - but having played around with it for nearly a week now, most of my original feelings about Steam haven't changed.

For one thing, Steam is buggy. I can't speak to the PC version anymore - but I never knew it to be terribly stable. The OS X version likes to do things like block you from closing Steam because a game is running - even though a game is not in fact running. The browser Steam uses shows an almost interesting lack of performance considering how basic most of the pages are constructed. It will lock up. It will zombie.

Also, Steam is just poorly designed. Essentially one large custom browser with a lot of access rights, Valve didn't bother to actually coordinate your Steam account with your community account, forum account or support account in 2008 - and they apparently haven't bothered to add such things by 2010. The end result is a decent browsing experience, a relatively robust checkout experience and a a lackluster everything else (at best).

Partially because of that - Steam is quite possibly the most user unfriendly gaming product in the history of gaming. It's not just that their support section feels like a bad PHP script bolted onto the side of an online store, but rather that is the support for a product which can at any time update code on your hard drive without any control on your part, completely trash your game, and then simply walk away.

And remember people, Steam does not offer refunds (unless you feel like reporting them to the BBB it seems). So if Valve forced an update on you and it broke your favorite game - well, tough. And I've had Torchlight less than a week and guess what? That very thing has already happened. I don't think there is a Mac user on the planet right now who can play the game.

And has Valve responded to any of the many forum posts about it? No. Have they sent out any tweets from the Steam twitter account? No. Have they bothered to respond to any of "Ask A Question" support tickets (I could go on for some time about how annoying that they frame support issues as me asking questions. I shouldn't have to ask Valve why their QA sucks)? Not that I've read and certainly not mine.

So yeah - Portal for free running natively on the Mac? That's a nice thing. And if down the road I can play Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead off the MBP as well, then that will be a win. But Steam is still Steam - it's a buggy mess and does nothing to empower users when things go wrong. So remember Mac users - Steam is buyer beware for the digital age.