Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mass Effect: First Impressions

I finally got my hands on the new sci-fi, tactical RPG, Mass Effect; the game many view as the spiritual successor to Bioware's other sci-fi epic, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). And after having played a decent amount (about 12 hours of play time, and 15 if you counting reloading), I'm finally starting to "get" this game.

To everyone who enjoyed KOTOR, this has every bit of role-playing charm that that game offered, despite the lack of a Star Wars license. Having said that, you should be aware of its stark differences in combat. While KOTOR was billed as a turn-based, yet optionally real-time RPG, Mass Effect is much more the latter. You can still pause the game, but only to issue each party member to use an offensive/defensive power. None of these actions can be queued up and you have very limited influence over the movement of your other party members. After I had a few battles under my belt, I discovered that I was approaching the combat all wrong. If you look at it as more of a tactical shooter withRPG elements, you'll find yourself reloading your saved game much, much less.

Just as BioShock straddled the shooter genre line, so too does Mass Effect. For starters, you actually need to utilize cover. Don't worry, it's placed everywhere, with loads of crates and rectangular-shaped rocks. But instead of the "stop 'n pop" Gears of War gameplay, you'll need to strafe behind cover like in most other FPS games. Shields also work very similarly to those found in Halo, where you're can simply wait behind cover for them to reactivate. Circle strafing during the vehicle combat is also quite useful. For example, you fight your fair share of giant, Dune-inspired, sand worm creatures, and this tactic seems to work every time. But like I said, this game has it's fair share of RPG elements, though most of them won't hit full stride until you unlock more of the Biotic and Tech powers (let's just call 'em what they are.. Force Powers). Now that I'm at a much higher level, the combat has improved significantly over what I started out doing in the game's prologue.

The game does have some issues (namely, technical problems), most of which can be read about here. But my main problem with the game stems from the its failure to simply teach me how to play it. I'm not looking for a mandatory boot camp segment that holds my hand, but I was hoping for something more akin to Oblivion's brilliant first hour of play. Since you're being introduced to a huge game world with rather complex gameplay, I'd hope for a few pointers now and then. Instead I end up having to hunt through the manual or painfully learn the game's systems through trial and error. For example, the first time you come to a locked storage container, the game tells you little about how to overcome this obstacle. I must have reloaded my save 5 times trying to figure out that you needed to tap each face button fairly quickly to match the onscreen buttons. I also couldn't understand why I could only useMedi-Gels (ie: health packs) sometimes and other times I couldn't. Since there was no tooltip or visual cue on the HUD to inform me, it wasn't until I was 10 hours in that I learned they had a 60 second cooldown timer. I admit, the game does a great job documenting lots of information on the various alien races, technology, and history of the game world. However, I wish some of that effort was actually spent on helping the player learn how to play the game as well.

The nice part about this flaws is they're immediately overlooked once you've played enough of the game to understand the ins and outs. I'm well into the main story arc now, and it's been one of the best gaming experiences I've had this year. I'm already thinking about how I'll play it differently as a Renegade (ie: Dark Side) character on my second playthrough. So if you own a 360, you enjoy deep and engrossing gameplay, and don't mind a bit of a learning curve, then this is a must-buy, much like I'd say Super Mario Galaxy is a must-buy for all those Wii owners who are tired of playing Wii bowling. Even as I write this, I'm thinking I could be leveling up my party and exploring some uncharted worlds like a bad-ass Jedi Knight.. I mean Spectre.

If that didn't sell it for you.. How about a tastefully done alien love making scene?

A few other things to note:

+ New game plus
+ Absolutely gorgeous visuals
+ Huge game world
+ Lesbian romance
+ Brilliant voice acting and dialogue

- Money not very useful
- Most off-world side quests aren't too interesting
- Lots of loading, lots of pop-in graphical problems
- Inventory system could use a tweak

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Bleep Button

Listening to this week's IGN's Podcast Beyond, I was reminded of the South Park episode "It Hits the Fan," where the word "shit" is used so much, a little counter is displayed at the bottom of the screen. It wouldn't have been so bad if they had just stopped using the expletive bleep button and just let it slide. After all, podcasts are more like Internet radio, so they don't have to abide by ridiculous FCC regulations. But when you have to hear that loud high pitched noise over and over, to the point where your ears are ringing, it just acts to highlight the actual use of the profanity, not hide it. Then it becomes a fun guessing game and vocabulary builder for little kids.. Try to fill in the blanks, given the context and the sometimes obvious first letter.

On the other hand, I understand that some shows (online or not) should not be casually dropping the f-bomb. There are some great podcasts out there that you might wanna share with your kids (The Word Nerds is a good example), so maybe leaving the foul language out altogether might be better.

So how about a compromise? If you must censor the audio, how about using the same technique network television stations use when they're rebroadcasting Die Hard on TBS. Simply redub the racier lines over with hilarious, toned down versions of the phrase. For example, instead of "Yippee-kay-aye, motherfucker!", use "Yippee-kay-aye, Mr. Falcon!". Win-Win-Win!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rock Band: First Impressions

They weren't lying when they said it would be hard to find a copy of Rock Band. The morning of its release, I went to my local Target, thinking they'd have a bunch of them stacked up. The guy at the counter said they only had a few left from the initial shipment of 20 Xbox360 and 15 PS3 versions (might wanna take that with a grain of salt). Lucky for me, I was going home happy, clutching a big, huge ass box in both my arms. Seriously, you could probably use those boxes to smuggle small children inside the country. Once I got home, I proceeded with the epic unboxing ceremony. It took nearly 20 mins to unpack everything, and set it all up in the living room (drum kit, guitar, mic, USB hub, and yes they're all shackled with plastic wires on the 360). At one point, I had what seemed like 2 "extra" metal pipes.. But after a quick glance at the manual (I know.. RTFM), I found a home for those parts.

As for the peripherals, the drums were my first instrument of choice (obviously). They're pretty solidly made, but all the instruments felt heavier and more realistic compared to the Guitar Hero controllers. The drum stand is adjustable in height, so it should work from the comfort of any sized couch or chair. The addition of the bass drum foot pedal certainly mixes the gameplay up a bit compared to the regular guitar experience. Best of all, they actually included real Ludwig drum sticks with the game, keeping the authenticity quotient high. Overall, the hit patterns are much more demanding on the drums. I'm usually pretty comfortable on the Medium difficulty on Guitar Hero, but I had to demote myself to Easy when I tried out the sticks. Once you get the hang of it though, the experience is definitely the most satisfying of the bunch. I can't wait to work my way up to the harder difficulties, where the notes begin to match, beat for beat, with the real songs themselves.The guitar has been redesigned quite a bit. Mostly taken from the many criticisms by gamers over the past few years. The strum bar no longer makes a clicking sound, but I found myself missing that lack of feedback. The fret buttons are now totally flush with the guitar neck, which can make positioning your fingers tricky when things get hairy. The addition of extra "hammer-on" buttons at the bottom of the guitar neck and the effects knob, add a little extra variety. Lastly, the mic is your standard, metal-tipped karaoke bar instrument. It's got some weight to it, same as the guitar, and a really long chord, so you can dance around the room like a possessed rock vocalist. I gotta say, the karaoke aspect is pretty addicting, and if the drum and guitars are already taken, I'd gladly rock the mic.

One great feature they added to all the instruments are freestyle sections. These allow everyone to add their own flare to the song, like a glorified cover band would. For the mic and drums, these sections are actually the only way to activate your "Overdrive" (think "Star power") and add a multiplier to your score. Since each person (drum, mic, guitar, bass) has their own life bar, using your Overdrive is also the only way to revive a band member who has failed their portion of the song. Just like in a real band, it's a team effort, although some will obviously gain more groupies than others (sorry Mr. Bassist).
I have to say, the hit detection in this game is much more harsh than in past Guitar Hero games. I often find myself getting really into the rhythm, only to miss a note I was sure I'd hit perfectly. This could be due to the learning curve of the new game and hardware, but I think Harmonix should think about releasing a patch to make things a bit more forgiving. Especially considering that this is going to be more of a party game, and everyone knows parties are supposed to be fun, right?

One last note (pun intended) to cover is the new Band World Tour mode. You start out in one city and slowly branch out across the globe, gaining fans, managing your shows, even recruiting roadies. It's a great change of pace from the boring, incremental setlist progression of previous Guitar Hero games. Only thing is, this mode is only available in offline co-op. Why this isn't offered as a solo experience with A.I. band members is beyond me. One can only hope this gets added eventually.

Black Friday

Like a hungry, zombie mob, consumers can't resist the delicious savings!

It's the one day every geek loves to hate. Loves, because you're never gonna find more consumer electronics deals on a larger scale (every store, every type of item, one crazy morning). Hates, because it's one of the worst days to shop due to the crowds, pushing and shoving, and the absolute need to "camp out" in line for the really good stuff.

Every year, I vow never to put myself through the ordeal and every year I prove myself wrong. But it's hard to resist the promise of good deals. Only thing is, everyone else seems to have that very same problem. So, since you're going (yeah, quit fighting it.. you already know you're going), here are some tips to get you ready for Black Friday this year..

1. Bring a friend. If you're going to sit outside in the cold, darkened night, squashed up against a crowd full of electronics geeks of all shapes and sizes, you gonna want someone else there to share in the pain. See, you're misery and their misery now cancels each other out, thus balancing the universe. And if one of you starts dosing off, the other person can be there to poke them back into consciousness. What are friends for anyway? Besides, who are you gonna trust to hold your place in line while you go pee behind that bush? Getting them to make a quick Mickey-D's run at 6am is another good reason to bring someone else.

2. Bring stuff to do. Unlike most other waiting games, this one kinda requires consumer electronics. Unless you're waiting under a bright street lamp or you bring amaglite w/ extra batteries, you're probably not gonna be able to read anything or solve any sudoku puzzles. Sure, if you followed my advice in step #1, you could simply talk to your friend for your entire wait, but we all know that's only gonna take up a good 20mins, maybe 30 mins if you're lucky. If you want to prepare for the long haul, you'd do well to bring a handheld gaming system or two. Rack up the high score in that Bejeweled clone you've got on your cell phone. How about renting a mobile power generator and bringing an LCD with you? Now the guy behind you in line has got 2 things to be jealous of you.

3. Have a gameplan. This is like the big show, so preparing is everything. Maybe it's because I'm a guy, but when it comes to shopping, I never go just to go. What the hell is the point of just looking? I came for a reason dammit, and I've already memorized the fastest route to get my 5 items and then get to where I calculated the tail of the line should be by then. Hesitate even a moment and then little Timmy is gonna have one less overpriced gadget to brag to their friends about come Monday morning. Check the websites early (link1, link2, link3), so you're not waiting for the Thanksgiving newspaper. Also be sure to prioritize everything. Your gifts > Other people's gifts >USB Memory Sticks. Just remember to keep it realistic. Chances are you're not likely to get a shopping cart, so make sure your eyes aren't bigger than what your arms can carry.

4. Hit up multiple stores. If you're got the energy left, you might be able to grab a few more items elsewhere. Naturally, you camp the store where you can strike themotherlode , but don't forget that most people forget about going to those second tier stores like Sears, Comp USA, or even Costco. I know you're probably gonna be in zombie mode, but if you can just hold out a few hours longer, you can be soaking your feet in that brand new foot bath or relaxing in a new gaming chair. Trust me, you'll be glad you sacrificed your body in the name of electronics.

5. Be safe.

You don't wanna be those people on the ground when the shit goes down. One way to make sure you avoid the craziness and mayhem is to pick stores that you know will be handing out vouchers. I know Best Buy usually does this and I'm sure others do as well. Many stores only let groups of people into the store in controlled waves, but it's probably best to ask the store manager before hand. On the flip side, a class action lawsuit is always a good Plan B.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Let's Play Spot the Difference!

Completed Map:

My Map:

If you wanna know how crazy I am, take a look at the above pictures. See those two diagrams of the Castlevania Symphony of the Night map? If you look very closely, you can see them begin to mock you as you try to spot the differences. I was only missing 4 rooms (if you're feeling up to it, try to find them yourself). 4 little squares away from gaining 100% and satisfying the completionist part of my gaming brain. But as miniutes turned into hours, I quickly found that might not be so easy. I started questioning myself. I started questioning God, Allah, Santa Claus, as to why they'd put me through such pain and agony?

Then I thought maybe I should stop attacking this problem like a caveman and learn to use some 21st century tools. So I whipped out Thao's digital camera, loaded up my copy of Photoshop Elements, and like a CTU agent working on terrorist intel, I got to work! It was actually a nice little exercise, because until now, I had never used a Photoshop application before. I've used other, smaller apps like SnagIt to do simple modifications, but never anything that involved multiple layers. I think the hardest part was adjusting both images to match well enough for the whole thing to be useful. Once that got taken care of, it was fairly easy to modify the completed map's opacity (37% worked pretty well) to a point where the overlay of my map bleed through quite nicely.

The best part of the whole ordeal was that, almost instantly, a light went on and the all the secrets of the Universe were revealed to me. It was like finally fitting in that last piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Well.. now that I'm halfway done with the game, I might as well get moving. This castle map isn't gonna reveal itself.

Btw, if you're interested in the solution to the above challenge, look below.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Big Misunderstanding

I don't know why, but this really cracked me up as I was listening to it..
Taken from EGM Live - 11/12/2007, talking about the classic 1996 blockbuster, Independence Day.

I think that we're the bad guys in that movie. Cuz if you think back on it, when the aliens first come to Earth and they try to make contact with us, we send up a helicopter that's got all these lights on it. The scientists say it's like Close Encounters. they show all these lights and the aliens will understand it. So the helicopter goes up and shows its lights to the aliens and the aliens shoot green lasers and blast us all to hell. But how do they know we didn't just say the most degrading insult in the universe to these aliens? Like, "We're gonna find your homeworld and we're going to ass rape your mothers!" So of course the aliens are gonna blast us and then they start this whole war.

And then there's the whole chase sequence where they're chasing Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. But I think that was another alien trying to catch up with him and say it was all a mistake. But Will Smith pulls out his parachute and blinds the alien and the alien crashes. And Will Smith opens the alien's hatch. The alien's all flailing around and it's probably saying, "Stop! Stop! We don't want a war! We think there's a misunderstanding!" Will Smith punches him in the face and says, "Welcome to Earth!"

At that point of course it's a downward slide. If you look at it from that point of view, it's all a big misunderstanding and in the end we send a virus through their firewall and kill them, and good riddance! And if we ever do go to their homeworld, we know how to kill them with our computer virus.
Why do we gotta kill everything we don't understand?? What they really could have used at the time was a babelfish. Or maybe not go to war with everyone that doesn't sing the Star-Spangled Banner.. Just a thought.

Monday, November 12, 2007


So I just bought the $5, Harmonix-developed iPod game, Phase, and I'm highly recommending it to all fellow 5th gen and up iPod owners. Harmonix being the developers of the original Guitar Hero 1 and 2 games, as well the upcoming peripheral extravaganza, Rock Band. To be honest, it's not really fair to compare it to any of its console siblings. I'd view it more as a cell phone game, since it's relatively cheap and simple. The gameplay basically consists of hitting 3 buttons (rewind, center select button, fast-forward) in time with the constant scroll of dots, while also sweeping your fingers along the scroll wheel to follow any series of dashes. It's not really different than any other rhythm game out there. But where Phase really shines and where it will likely earn it's replay value is its ability to play any song you own.

Yes that's right, you can convert any song on your ipod to work with this game and it'll automatically generate the proper hit patterns. That said, I'm sure some genres of music may work better than others. Fast-paced dance mixes and techno J-Pop songs come to mind as ones that might make for some challenging hit patterns. I've already taken the liberty of playing some Guitar Hero classics (eg: "More Than A Feeling".. my personal favorite guitar hero song). I also couldn't resist playing some Ouendan and Elite Beat Agent songs, to see if the DS-tapping games translated well. Keep in mind, the game does come preloaded with some 7 decent songs already.

I just love the idea that any song I want is available for this game. I really hope this is where the future of rhythm games is taking us. Imagine if you could convert any song you own to play with a guitar, drum set, piano, or even karaoke machine. You never have to buy any new songs, because that's a library you have full control over. Buy once, play anywhere. That's the system we need to adopt. Instead, we've got music stores that only play on a limited number of players. Movies that aren't easily made portable, or worse, you're forced to buy multiple versions. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Update: I noticed that there might be a issue with this game if you use multiple computers to update your iPod's content. The game can only be installed by syncing all your games from one PC/Mac and it creates a special playlist called "Phase Music". However, if you manually modify any of your iPod playlists on a different computer, the game won't run at all and you'll need to reinstall it using the original computer. It's unfortunate and hopefully this bug will be fixed soon. This could be why Apple is reluctant to allow third-party apps on the iPhone.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The One About Anatomy

Old Penny Arcade post..

This is today's comic, which represents an authentic conversation between my son and I. There really should be some kind of licensing requirement for procreation.


Kotaku post..

Excerpt from tonight's conversation with my son:

Mini-Bash: (coloring in a coloring book) What happened to mommy's penis?
Me: Huh?!
Mini-Bash: What happened to mommy's penis?
Me: Mommy doesn't have a penis. She's a girl. Girls don't have them.
Mini-Bash: Did it fall off?
Me: She never had one.
Mini-Bash: Did it fall off because she didn't take good care of it?
Nope, not looking forward to the where-do-babies-come-from conversation in the least. NOT IN THE LEAST.


I was gonna call this post "The One About Penis Envy", but instead I went with my better judgment. I just find it funny how fascinated we are, as little boys, at our own reproductive organs. I guess even at that age, we're constantly trying to categorize things to make them more identifiable. And back then, girls and boys were just about the most different things I can think of.. come to think of it, that's still kinda true now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Ramifications of the Writers' Strike

Well, the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) strike is in full effect. The first ubiquitous protest from the group in almost 20 years. I can't say I blame the Writer's Guild for fighting to gain proper compensation for their work. The truth is that the entertainment industry is evolving and the television networks and movie studios are not properly keeping up with the recent change in climate. Reality shows have become a dominant slice of programming pie, requiring dirt cheap production costs and virtually script-free programming. In addition, many TV networks are experimenting with newer forms of media like time-shifted Internet clips and webisodes, excluding writers from earning royalties off these new ventures, along with the highly lucrative DVD business as well. Obviously, both sides clearly recognize that having a dominant position among these new media types is where the money will be in the future. But the group that will be ultimately lose out the most from this strike are the millions of viewers across the world this Fall and next Spring.

Most likely, the shows that be affected the earliest will be the late-night talk shows and weekly news programs (like The Tonight Show and The Colbert Report), since these are usually daily offerings that are highly topical in nature. The scripted comedies and dramas that started in September will likely have enough episodes in the hopper to cover up till X-mas hiatus, but I predict many of these will opt for shortened seasons. No doubt a few may have even been scrambling to hammer out season finales early. And I can't imagine what will happen to shows like 24 and LOST that were slated to begin in January or February of next year. How can you produce a proper serialized show when you've only got half of the episodes finished? And with LOST and Battlestar having a finite set of remaining episodes to go, I hope they don't get compromised in the end.

Even if the strike only lasts a few months, that could carve off nearly half the episodes required to finish most of the seasons this year. After all, producing a high quality program takes months. It's not quite as simple as filming the actors and sending it off to press. Just like a threaded process running in parallel, it quite costly to abort an instruction midway through. Even worse, networks will have to come up with something to fill those empty time slots. Whatever they decide, it's not gonna be pretty folks. I've heard everything from an onslaught of reality and game shows, to lots of reruns, to an influx of foreign programming (think UK imports). Mostly, I'm concerned that the jarring season endings will hurt the ratings of many shows out there, simply due to viewer apathy. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but too much may leave you wanting something new, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a huge reboot across the board of high profile programming in the Fall 2008 lineup.

So enjoy those episodic gems of TV goodness now, while you still can. I, myself, am looking forward to catching up with as many DVD box sets as I can get my hands on. I'm currently working my way through Battlestar Galactica. Next up is Twin Peaks. As for anything beyond that, I'm welcome to take recommendations..

Saturday, October 27, 2007

WTF Moments in Halo 3

So apparently, Bungie is making the infamous Recon Armor permutation available to a few "lucky" individuals outside of the Bungie studios. You see, Halo 3 offers you the ability to uniquely customize your appearance in the game. By changing your helmet, shoulders, and body armor of your space suit, you can hopefully distinguish yourself from the other 50 million Master Chiefs running around online. One such customization is the rare (previously Bungie only) Recon Helmet armor type that displays a flaming particle effect around your skull (which I've heard still persists even when you pick up the invisibility powerup). Naturally, this makes you a bigger target than a fat guy at a comedy club, but I guess exclusivity has its benefits.

So how might you obtain this honor, you say? Well, experience something that's both depressingly unfair to you, and yet hilarious to everyone else on the Internet..

Explosion + Cone = WTF!?!

Sniper Rifle + Real Time Physics = WTF?!?

And here's one more that's worth checking out..

Plasma Grenade + Blind Luck = FTW!

And thus, we finally understand the awe and beauty that is the Saved Film. Never again will you be able to dispute an unfair kill with your friends and/or loved ones. The Saved Film has spoken and it never lies (or so Bungie would have us believe). And although I have yet to experience a WTF moment myself, such as the ones above, you can bet I'll have that replay saved, edited, and posted on YouTube if I ever do.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Guitar Hero III vs Rock Band

Update (10/27): This just in from IGN's latest playtest session.. So as of right now, the Les Paul Guitar Hero 3 controller apparently DOES work on RB. However, on the flip side, the Fender Strat Rock Band guitar DOES NOT work on GH3. My guess is that this was an intentional, lockout move on Activision/Red Octane's part. It makes business sense that they'd allow their controller to work with other games, yet not vice-versa. But underhanded moves like this are rarely accepted by the gaming industry with open arms. I really hope this comes back to bite them in the ass. Karma, karma, karma..

I was gonna write a diplomatic bit about how Guitar Hero III and Rock Band are both equally good, but with the recent news circulating, Guitar Hero III has lost my vote entirely. If you're somewhat confused right now, I'll try to straighten things out for you.

In the beginning, the rock gods known as Harmonix, developed the Guitar Hero games and Red Octane published the ridiculously popular series for them. After making a retarded amount of money from the sequel, Red Octane was acquired by Activision and they went on to create the next Guitar Hero sequel, GHIII. Meanwhile, Harmonix partnered up with MTV and began work on the multi-instrument follow-up game, Rock Band. This month, the stage is set for both of these guitar games to come out, and go head-to-head "Battle of the Bands" style.

Now both games have their strengths and weaknesses. Guitar Hero III is really all about a great guitar experience with a top-notch song set. Rock Band is promising to deliver a much broader experience with the extra inclusion of the drums and microphone. I had thought (actually everyone on the Internets had thought) that either guitar controller would work with either game. But apparently, Activision and Red Octane are keeping the Guitar Hero III peripheral in a more proprietary state. In contrast, Harmonix has stated that they are abiding by the open standards set forth by Sony and Microsoft (you know, for all those other guitar games out there).

In other words, Activision and Red Octane are a bunch of greedy, money grubbing bastards that wanna force people to choose between one game or the other. Fuck you Red Octane. Fuck you Activision. Fuck you Neversoft for letting your publishers force us consumers into that decision. It's bad enough a guitar game costs over $100 now, but to have to buy two separate bundles containing plastic guitar controllers is nothing less than a travesty. A travesty that must be avenged! The bizarre part of this convoluted mess, is that EA, Rock Band's publisher, seems more likely to pull this kind of crap on us. Well, if there's already a Rock Band 2 out nine months from now, you can be sure I'll be back bitching and moaning about the situation again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Office - Local Ad

Wow, a lot of great moments tonight, but it was the ending really lifted this episode up into the stratosphere for me. I've been waiting all season long for that one act of Michael Scott brilliance, where he manages to redeem himself despite his constant failures. From the moment I heard that Chariots of Fire song, I had a smile on my face and I'm anxious to see that "Great Scott Production" again on YouTube.

I also loved the whole Dwight playing Second Life thing. I totally bought that he would make his character would fly around the world like some creepy Heroes side character. And I'm glad they included Jim's jab at the sorry excuse for an online community. Guess the WoW reference has already been done already. I still like the concept of an office playing Call of Duty as a team-building exercise better though.
Dwight: Second Life is not a game. It is a multi-user, virtual environment. It doesn’t have points or scores, it doesn’t have winners or losers.
Jim: Oh it has losers.
Man, Daryl and crew can really sing one heck of a jingle. You've got Andy rocking the a capella harmony, Kevin adding his wedding singer vocals, Creed lending his musical talents, and Kelly in there for good measure. Almost as good as the teleconferenced serenade of "Take a chance on me" to Angela a few episodes back. As the guys at the That's What She Said podcast say, whatever they're paying Ed Helms, it's not enough.

I had planned on writing more, but really those are the only things that stuck out in my mind from my first viewing. But like other great shows out there (Lost, Simpsons, Futurama), The Office is one that really benefits from repeat viewings. Those subtle, unspoken jokes are ones that make this show one of the best on TV.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Things I've Learned From Kid Nation

Every new season of TV shows begins kind of like a new sports season. You start out with some fresh new blood, and that group slowly whittles down to only the best and brightest. Some shows barely make it through the season and usually find themselves on the chopping blocks come next Spring. Some turn out to be break-out hit sensations that go on to last 10 solid seasons, ending in a "better-late-than-never" sliver screen treatment. Well, rounding out my list of new shows this year that I'm keeping an eye on (along with NBC comedy/drama--or cramedy--Chuck) is the controversial new CBS reality show, Kid Nation.

Now, I know a "Survivor" type show when I see one, and this is definitely not one of them. Sure, it may look like "Survivor with braces", but trust me, there is so much more here than artificially engineered friction among the kid-aged contestants town residents and competitive mini-games physical challenge events. These kids are trying to recreate a better society through their own means and that's no easy task, if you ask me.

So here it is. The list of things I've learned from watching Kid Nation:

- Kids cry. A lot. Judging from the footage, you'd think they're always playing that Bambi's Mom death scene every time they point a camera at these kids. To be fair, I also frequently cried at times when I was younger. But that was because clowns are evil. Also, that Greg guy can be really hurtful sometimes.. Fuck him. That's right, he's on TV now, so I can say whatever I want about him and it's perfectly fine. Like criticizing that YouTube Britney sympathizer chick.

- People who do volunteer work will always do their work more willingly than those that are required to do that type of work. Like when the lower class kids are forced to do their jobs, it feels to them like a bunch of chores to them. But when the upper class team pitches in, they're making a difference for the community. Therefore, if you want to get a bunch of work done, just tell them it's volunteer work for a good cause. That way, they feel good about themselves and you get the job done at little to no cost.

- The kick-ball method of picking teams is the best way to divide people into groups. Like a fantasy-basketball draft ritual, the best people are picked first, leaving the real losers of the bunch to be picked by a random number generator. Oddly enough, these seemingly random divisions usually spawn a healthy amount of rivalry. Which explains why in multiplayer First-Person Shooter games, the people on the red team are usually bitter enemies of the people on the blue team, and vice-versa.

- "Deal with it!" is just about the most effective thing you can shout at people to get things done. In fact, simply yelling out "Quiet!" at the top of your lungs can solve practically any dispute. I think the folks in the Middle East could really learn a thing or two about diplomacy from these brave young souls. Settling their differences, despite the difference in color of their designated teams' neckerchiefs. Just think, someday these kids will be the ones running this country when we're on life support in some hospital. Who am I kidding? Old people run this country, and by that time, it won't matter too much to us who's running what.

- Incentives will only push a person so far, but it's what's in your heart that really determines a person's motivations. Take for example, the $20,000 ($10,000 after taxes) gold star prize that is awarded each episode. Based on the show's current recipients of this honor, it's really more about doing what's right, not about the positive reinforcement that's being shoved down their throats to get them to do shit. It's just like that "Leave Britney Alone" chick, who I hear is getting her own show of some kind. She's doing it because that's what she believes in, no matter how backwards and twisted that may be. Wait a minute.. That's not a chick, that's a dude? No way.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Browser Issues

So apparently, my blog has a slight problem with Internet Explorer.. Try it out (don't hold your breath though). And by "slight", I mean it doesn't fucking work. At least it hasn't worked for me on 3 of the PCs I've tested so far (all using IE 6.0, of course). I'll research the problem, but I just don't get it. It's Blogspot for crying out loud, not some crazy Web 2.0 shit I pieced together from scratch. I don't even know if it's a individual blog post that's violating the whole deal or if it's a template issue, but I guess figuring that out would be a good place to start.

So far, the page seems to load just fine using both Firefox (ver and Opera (ver 9.23). I've yet to try out Safari, but I don't have a Mac so I'm gonna need some help on that one. I know having any type of website (I suposed your Myspace page is a "tyep" of website..) means you should check for browser compatibility, but I guess I just forgot about IE. But it's still the mass market choice out there (more like default choice), so it's still important to cover all your bases.

It's just that IE seems to be the worst offender out there. I can't even go to Google without getting some kind of debug error, which is just sad. It really goes to show how continually adapting an existing system can be a burden over time. Every once in a while, you have to stop iterating on the same old ideas and leap forward to keep up with the changing times. Sure, you'll face security hurdles initially and people may not be willing to quickly adopt the new ways, but change is good, and that extra robustness really pays off in the long run. Especially when your web browser is bombarding you with a million dialog boxes complaining about run time errors.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

RSS Backlog

Well, since we're still without internet at the new apartment (actually there's one computer that I'm using to "borrow" wifi from a very generous neighbor.. thanks, btw, whoever you are). But yeah, for the most part, it's been hard to keep up with my podcasts and various RSS feeds. I don't know why, but if I fall behind in checking my email or if the articles in my RSS feed reader start piling up, I can't just let them be. It really bothers me to leave them unread. But things are getting so bad that I may need to do the unthinkable.. "Select all and mark as read" (a travesty, I know). The last time I had to do this was when I went on vacation, and believe me when I tell you it was a difficult few mouse clicks.

Usually I can get by with just listening to my weekly list of podcasts (since they usually do a good job of covering the major stuff), but it still bugs me--maybe I do have a problem. The news tid bits are like my marijuana and Google Reader is like my bong. Each time a feed is updated, it's like taking another tiny hit of digital bliss (no hits for Jesus?). Just like a smoker trying to quit, I think I should maybe try to cut back, trimming my RSS feeds down to only the utterly necessary. If only there was a way to filter out the good stuff, saving my eyes the trouble of sifting through a never ending scroll page, but sadly, that alien technology is still very far off. For now, the best way to stay updated is to cram in as many feeds as possible and click, click, click.

How's Your iPhone?

So I just heard about the bricking iPhone fiasco on TWIT this past week. To those of you who fought the good fight against AT&T, I'm sorry for your loss. But good news, I heard there might be a class action lawsuit in the works. I wonder if this is coming as a result of pressure from Apple's business partners. Certainly, Apple knows they're not winning many popularity votes with this kind of recent behavior.

Let's just hope they make good on this in the near future. I suppose the true Apple loyalists out there have already made the telco switch. For everyone else.. Be careful what you put in your iPhone, or risk turning it into a $599 $399 paperweight. But sexy paperweight nonetheless!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weeky Radar - Week of Oct 1st, 2007

This Week in Gaming
10/1 The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
10/2 NBA 2K8 (PS2/PS3/PSP/Xbo360/Wii)
10/2 Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox360)
10/2 Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC)

This Week in Movies
10/5 The Heartbreak Kid (Ben Stiller)

This Week in TV (All times in PST)
10/1 Chuck - Chuck Versus the Helicopter (NBC 8pm)
10/1 Heroes - Lizards (NBC 9pm)
10/3 Bionic Woman - Paradise Lost (NBC 9pm)
10/4 My Name is Earl - The Gangs of Camden County (NBC 8pm)
10/4 #8 Kentucky at #11 South Carolina (ESPN 4:30pm)
10/4 Grey's Anatomy - Love/Addiction (ABC 9pm)
10/4 The Office - Dunder Mufflin Infinity (NBC 9pm)
10/6 #1 LSU at #9 Florida (CBS 5pm)
10/6 Notre Dame at UCLA (ABC 5pm)
10/6 Stanford at #2 USC (TBD 4pm)
10/7 Family Guy - Believe It or Not, Joe's Walking on Air (FOX 9pm)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Office: Back from Summer Vacation

The Office returns this Thursday (9/27) at 9pm for a full-hour of office hilarity. Lots of new developments to follow and tons of new possibilities based on the aftermath of the Season 3 finale ("The Job").

If you haven't caught up with the funniest show on television.. what are you doing!?! Get out there and join "the Dwight Army of Champions".


So.. I'm really excited about Season 4 of The Office. Oh course you've got the JAMers (Jim and Pam 'shipers) going crazy. I'm just glad the whole "will they or won't they" part of the show can finally take a backseat. Sadly, I was a proud member of "Team Karen" and I will miss Rashida Jones' character. But out of all the cool twists that happened at the end of last season, I'm most interested in seeing where the Ryan story arc will take us. You know he's going to be a power hungry bastard and I can't wait to see how the show handles him in his new gig and inevitably, his fall-from-grace back to the Scranton office (c'mon, you know this won't last more than Season 4). At least we have Steve Carrell for another season of Michael Scott antics. And can we please see more Creed?? That guy is awesome!

Taking a Second Look At Review Scores

I know that aggregate game review scores (such as gamerankings or metacritic) should generally be taken w/ a grain of salt. They're helpful to weed out the wheat from the chaff, but that's really all they do. You're not going to base your purchasing habits on a single averaged number. It's more of a consumer tool, but the final say will ultimately be yours.

I know this, yet I still cannot get over the fact that (as of this writing) Halo 3 is the overall gamerankings #4 best game of all time, unseating BioShock with an average score of 95.7%. That literally places it right behind Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube and right above Goldeneye for the N64. But taking a step back, does Halo 3 really deserve to be set amonst the pantheon of great gaming titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime? From what I've played of the co-op campaign and multiplayer modes, I would have to say "No". Though I'm not trying to say that it's not a great game, because it's absolutely a great game. There's enough content here and creative tools for the community to enjoy this game for 3, 4, 5, heck even 10 years to come. But I have to question the gaming critics out there who may be inflating their reviews solely because it's Halo.

Sure, it's a well polished game, but isn't it just offering more features with the same solid gameplay. It's a shame that certain game series' aren't faulted for playing it safe and essentially making the same game over and over again. Halo 3 does offer new features (4 player co-op, Forge map editor, interactive saved film replays) that console shooters have never seen before, but I think Half-Life 2 and BioShock have done a much better job moving the needle forward. And isn't that what a great game should be doing? Sure a game might be an extremely well polished product that does everything right, but does that automatically make it a great game? Shouldn't we expect developers to bring something new to the table and, in addition, do it well?

I guess I'm just worried that games like Halo will continue to overshadow the truly refreshing titles coming out, like BioShock and Mass Effect. Worried that the popular will win out over the more deserving titles once again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Motion Control and the Future of Gaming

There has been a lot of debate recently on the use of motion controls in video games. But the more I play games that use it and the more I hear about games that rely on it, the more I'm convinced that motion control is not the future of gaming.

With all the buzz surrounding Wii-waggle and the PS3 sixaxis controller, you'd think motion control were the second coming of Mr. JC himself. But for all its novelty and innovation, the control scheme is not quite where it needs to be yet. There are a number of games that use it well, but for each of those, there are a dozen more that fail to use the control scheme properly. I don't fault Nintendo or Sony for trying to push the hardware technology forward in creative new ways (improved graphics, larger digital media, and faster CPUs are getting rather tired). I do think that developers should make a better effort to include these new controls in more appropriate ways that don't bog down the gameplay.

Having motion controls in a game for the sole sake of using every part of the hardware is the the worst way to add a feature to the back of the box. If it works, use it, if it doesn't, please give us the option to turn that shit off. By far, the most notorious example of this so far has been Lair, for the PS3. Fresh off of developing all those nifty Rogue Squadron games for the N64 and Gamecube, Factor 5 (or Factor 4.9 as they've come to be called) decided that controlling your Dragon rider via sixaxis motion controls would be the best way to make this beautiful PS3 title appeal to a broader audience. Only problem is.. the controls don't always work. Now I haven't played it yet, but the general consensus online is that in the later stages of the game, when your precision is required to pull off complex maneuvers, you end up unfortunately flinging yourself the wrong way, or speed boosting into a wall, or doing any number of things you didn't plan on doing. This is a little disconcerting, because I figured the next generation of games would actually be more precise and intuitive. Now I understand games have learning curves, but if you're constantly dying by no fault of your own, I'd say that game has a bit of a problem.

I guess I come from the old school of gaming where if you push a button, you expect it to do the action you intended. But with many of the games coming out on the Wii, that function has shifted from pressing the X button to instead waggling your right wrist. Which is fine with me (a little wrist exercise couldn't hurt), but it gets frustrating when I'm trying to make Link do a spin attack and I get ass raped by 5 goblins because the damn thing didn't pick up my waggle at the proper time. Granted this doesn't happen a lot, but I remember it happening far less when all I had to do was spin the analog stick around on the Gamecube and N64.

It's also a shame that motion control on the Wii has not given us a game with good 1-to-1 movement in areas like sword fighting (c'mon lightsaber wii game) or any other type of quick and precise hand movements. When I first heard about the wiimote, this is what I envisioned. Some games, like Warioware: Smooth Moves and Wii Play, have some mini-games with this type of control scheme, but when the action gets too fast, that little sensor bar has trouble keeping up with your wildy flailing wiimote. Likewise, when you use the cursor like a mouse on your giant HDTV set, a little lag is noticeable, which may just be an indication that these are simply the first generation of consoles that are using this technology.

There are some exceptions that seem to work really well. Warhawk (PS3) gives you the option to fly futuristic jets and a number of other vehicles with or without motion control. Wii Sports (and esp. Wii Bowling) gives you simple, yet direct control over your actions. Heavenly Sword (PS3) allows you, at certain times, to steer canon balls in slow-motion toward your enemies with the use of your sixaxis. What I'm getting at is that in the right situations, motion control can be great. But a developer doesn't necessarily need to utilize them for everything. In fact some things are better without them. At least give us the option to waggle or not waggle.

I just can't see motion control becoming the sole control method for games any time soon. At least not without a vast amount of improvements in the technology. The 19-button gamepad will continue to remain in some form, albeit maybe scaled back a notch, with a bit of waggle added for good measure. Heck, maybe 10 years from now, some form of the PS2 Dual Shock controller will become the new "classic controller". For now, I feel comfortable knowing that if I get beat down by a melee attack in Halo 3, I have only myself to blame.. or our horrible internet connection. Yeah, that was probably it. Damn packet loss!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

An Erector Set For A New Generation

Growing up, we had toy chests full of Lego blocks for building anything and everything. We molded Playdough into custom-made action figures, reshaping the dough over and over again. Today, toys seem much less malleable, focusing more on the consumption of various types of media, rather than creating your own. Lego sets now come with instruction manuals explaining how to create elaborately designed replicas. Branded action figures come with built-in sound bytes and voice commands. Well, at leastvideogames are finally stepping up to the creative plate by offering players ways to not just play the game, but change the way games are played.

It's about time that level editors, previously exclusive to mod makers and prospective level designers, are finding their way into the hands of the broader audience. Though these PC tools have been around for ages, the addition of a more collaborative environment has opened the door for everyone to add their own creative touch in ways never before seen on a console. Games like the cute,platformer, Little Big Planet include a simple, easy-to-use interface that promises to make the level creation experience just as fun as the levels themselves. Halo 3's new mode, Forge, plans to offer infinite ways to modify your favorite multiplayer maps, by allowing you and 7 other friends to join in on the creation process all in real-time.

But collaborating to create new content is only the half of it. The part that makes this special is the ease at which these games allow you to share your content with everyone else. The social networking aspect of sharing among friends' lists and community picks will do forvideogames what Youtube did for videos. It's collaborating on a meta-level, with people around the world contributing their own part to the whole.

Just like the erector set, the fun is only limited by what your imagination can dream up. What you put in is ultimately what you get out of it. Looking are some of the great games that still have communities developing maps for them, such asStarcraft, Warcraft III, Half-Life 2, and countless others that have faded into the background. Yet they all maintain strong communities and that is what keeps these games active. Offer a community the right tools and it can go a long way toward it's longevity.

The sky--or sky box--is the limit!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How I View Game Reviews

So recently, there have been several debates over game reviews and the scores tied them. Everyone has their own idea of what they should be for a particular game, since we're all armchair critics when we analyze our favorite forms of media. However, BioShock has proven that no matter how good the review scores are, they're never good enough. When Gamespot gave it a 9 out of 10 (currently its lowest score so far), fans decried the review as a ploy to get more net traffic. They claimed that if BioShock could finally dethrone The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time off the top spot (avg 97.7%) on, it would encourage devs to make more art house masterpieces with richer stories and better gameplay. The fact is, one score isn't going to change anything. The game has already received a great deal of well-deserved praise. The positive buzz even helped 2K Games, its publisher, enjoy a nice 20% bump in their stock price, filling the void of that the GTA IV delay left behind.

I just think it's funny that people are mad at Gamespot for giving Metroid Prime 3 an 8.5. I think it's cool that they're not afraid to point out a game's flaws, and not just talk about the good parts. Long time fans of the series are still sore over the 8.8 that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess received by Gamespot. Sometimes, I think when a sequel come out for a classic series, people expect a certain review score. However, the legacy of a series should in no way factor into a game's review. Originality counts for a lot. So does innovation. You could make the best game of Madden ever, but if it's a hair better than last year's version, it doesn't deserve the same praise.

Personally, if I'm interested in a game, I usually check out the reviews from sources like IGN, 1Up/EGM, and Gamespot. I know I can trust them to provide a fair, unbiased spectrum, that actually uses the whole 0-10 scoring range. There are too many publications that view 0-5 as a bad score, 6-8 as okay, and 8-10 as good. This, unfortunately, seems more in line with an American grade scale than a professional review scale. If the video game medium is to be taken seriously, this type of thinking has got to stop.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Top 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Get Excited About BioShock

Joystiq is doing a little contest to give away a free copy of BioShock (ends this Friday). All you have to do to win is leave a comment on this post, citing a reason for NOT being excited for BioShock.

Here are the top 10 comments so far...

10. Not enough minigames.

9. No pirates, zombies or ninjas.

8. It's an affront to Objectivist Utopians everywhere.

7. The water effects in Ecco the Dolphin are better.

6. The many hours you will spend playing BioShock, will likely lead to a Red Ring.

5. Hot coffee between the Little Sisters and Big Daddies.

4. There are no motion controls.

3. None of the nearby Toys 'R Us stores were selling it early.

2. It has the same frame rate as the PS3 version of Madden NFL 08.

1. The game opens with a plane crash survival, but this game has nothing to do with LOST.

Update: The accolades continue to roll in for BioShock. Check out this YTMND page!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BioShock Early Impressions

I'm apologize in advance for the enormous amount of hyperbole I'm about to spew, but BioShock is, by far, the best game demo I have ever played. From the moment the demo began I felt totally immersed in a world real enough to touch. From the initial elevator ride down into the city to the first visceral murder happening right before my eyes, and myself helpless to do anything about it, my thoughts kept returning to the first Half-Life game and how a part of the game world it made me feel. The detailed, art deco environment, the moody atmosphere, the chaos around you every step of the way, everything about this game draws you further in for the entire hour.

As you make your way down into the underwater city, you get a real sense of the dire state of the society. Rapture (named for the utopia of brilliant minds "left behind" in the city) is falling apart and its citizens have all gone crazy. Enemies frequently mumble to themselves, refusing to accept the reality in which they live in. The areas themselves are painted with the evidence of a once prosperous city. Discarded party favors and masks litter the room of an abandoned New Year's masquerade ball. Audio diaries clue you into their troubled lives. The clever use of "mise en scène" promotes the player to search every crevice of the world for answers to just what went wrong with this place.

From what I've seen in the demo alone, I believe this could be the game changer for the shooter genre. After this, I'll be sort of let down if I play a shooter and I can't loot the bodies of my enemies or I can't interact with my environment in meaningful ways. Within the first hour ofgameplay , I was able to hack a bunch gun-wielding security bots into fighting for me, and sent them to preoccupy my foes as I clubbed them with a wrench. At another point I lit enemies on fire, stood in awe as the fire spread to the rest of the bathroom, then watched as they ran to a pool of water to douse themselves which allowed me to shock them like a toaster-in-a-bathtub. I've seen more surprises in the first half hour of this demo than most movies throw at you. And this is just the tip of iceberg. There's the item crafting system, weapon upgrading, and character development via genetic modifications. It's really part horror FPS, part RPG.

Oh yeah, and the water is un-freaking-believable. I'm not joking when I say I literally stood by a window just to stare out into the ocean. August 21st can't come soon enough. Like Cartman and his quest for the Wii, please cryogenically freeze me until the release date..

Monday, August 13, 2007

Internet Meme of the Week: Meh

This week's phrase, "meh" combines two very common Internet traits: a smug, air of superiority and a sense of indifference to everything. The word has several meanings, but the one context I hear the most is that of "a vocabularised sigh, commonly used in the online gaming community to represent indifference, or lack of enthusiasm at a certain proposal." Kind of like the response, "Eh," but with a more pronounced emphasis on your indifference. The beauty of this particular meme is that it can sum up, in 3 letters, your entire opinion of a particular issue, claim or situation; pure apathy.

Let's face it, people on the Internet are lazy. They concatenate or abbreviate everything. Emoticons can convey, in an instant, what might take a paragraph to describe. Leet -speak, or whatever you wish to call it, saves us time when we're chatting online or posting on message boards. If we could have a second keyboard (like this for example) filled with commonly used Internet phrases, we would (sounds like a perfect use for the customizable LED Optimus keyboard, actually).

The specific origins of the word are unclear, but sources seem to credit The Simpsons as an early adopter of the slang term. The following scene comes from the Season 6 episode, "Lisa's Wedding," in 1995.
    Bart: [whining] Oh, these renaissance fairs are so boring.
Marge: Oh, really? Did you see the loom? [camera turns to it]
I took loom in high school.
[Marge hums, quickly weaves "Hi Bart, I am weaving on a loom"]
Bart: [pause] Meh.
The Simpsons writers have since used the phrase many times throughout the show's existence. It seems only natural that the term would eventually slide into popular usage on Internet forums and the like. Many other terms used by the show have, to a lesser degree, also gained notoriety in various online communities. Some of these include: "Jebus", "Yoink", and "My eyes! The goggles do nothing!"

Here are some examples you can use in your everyday activities.. Feel free to drop them in, under the proper conversational context, to pick up women, attempt to leverage that raise with your boss, or just plain flame that asshole back into his place on that Harry Potter message board you're trolling.

  • What'd you think of that movie last night?
    "Meh.. it was better than Catwoman, I guess."
  • How do you think is hotter? Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan?
    "Meh.. it doesn't really matter to me that much."

  • You guys wanna hang out tonight?
    Meh.. I guess so, although I could be playing WoW.

  • Isn't this just the most perfect place for our wedding?

EDIT: Interestingly enough, there was an article about this in the Guardian early this year.. Meh, you can read it if you want.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Beach Games

I went the beach at Corona Del Mar today to get some sun and squeeze in some much needed summer reading (yes I know, I'm getting old). It's getting close to mid-August, so I figured I'd make the most of a beautiful summer day before the seasons begin to change. I guess everyone else in the South OC had the same idea, because it was more crowded than a Costco on the weekend. As I walked past various families and other groups of beach goers, I started to remember all the many things I used to love about going to the beach.

Well, there's the obvious swimming in the ocean activity. That one's always fun. The salty water makes floating a whole lot easier and the modest ocean waves are great for body surfing, boogie boarding, or whatever floats your boat. But unlike a wave machine at a water park, the waves that nature produces are always random and unpredictable. You're not always gonna get a monster wave, but when you do catch one and ride it all the way back to shore, it's truly amazing.

Building sand castles is one of those past-times that never gets old. You always end up picking a build site too close to the water and inevitably find yourself fighting the incoming tide. Remember those days when digging a hole in the beach sand was all you needed to make your day? Unfortunately, your digging effort would never end though. Either the walls would cave in on the sides, or the tide would fill it like a reservoir, or you'd dig far enough down to hit water. Burying people was also an option if you got your hole big enough. The best part was finally seeing if a person, buried up to their neck, could climb out all by themselves. Ending their constant boasting and trash talking by finally giving your friend a helping hand.. Priceless.

It's the simple things I really miss about being younger. Like hunting for tiny sand crabs and then depositing them in your own personal hand-dug pool. Or staying out in the ocean for a while, only to find that when came back ashore, you had drifted a good ways from where you started. Or standing in the sand, sinking slightly every time a wave washed past your feet. And yet, out of all the fun beach ideas I could think of, I decided to bring a book. I guess for me now, the beach is really nothing more than a place I go for relaxation. It's a shame really, because digging holes is actually quite relaxing.

MS Announces Maintenance Reminder Service

In addition to the recent announcement of the new Xbox Support website , Microsoft has taken quality assurance one step further. In order to aid those customers with potentially faulty Xbox 360 hardware, the upcoming Fall firmware update will add an important maintenance feature. An annual maintenance alert, indicated by an orange ring of lights, will be triggered on all Xbox 360 consoles to remind users of a recommended maintenance order. The Xbox owner can then opt for a preemptive repair order on their console, thus avoiding any potential "three red rings of light" errors or any other hardware failures that may occur.

The timing of these maintenance alerts will be made to coincide with traditionally slow periods of the Xbox 360 release schedule. This feature is there to ensure that customers will not be without their console when the really important games are released (such as the award winning title Gears of War or the upcoming title Halo 3). Instead, the complimentary maintenance service will focus on sending out notifications near the projected release dates of less distinguished software products (such as Bullet Witch or Vampire Rain).

This new policy is an industry first and sets the bar for customer dedication and support. For more details on this initiative, see the official press briefing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Taken from this week's Digital Unrest comic

For those of you that are familiar with or interested in the new Mario Strikers Charged game for the Wii, the following video will be of some interest to you.

And to anyone else who's never heard of a video game exploit before, watch the reel...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Video Game Conspiracy Theories Part 1

I thought I'd take a closer look at some of the more fascinating conspiracy theories out there in the video game world. Keep in mind, none of these are confirmed. Nothing more than reasoning drawn from rumors and speculation I've heard in one place or another. On the other hand, they might be so ridiculous, they're the most ridiculously perfect ideas that you never thought of. Think about it..

Nintendo Wii Supply Shortages

Background: The Nintendo Wii has been constantly selling out everywhere since its debut in November of 2006. At the same time, the system has also been supply constrained in every major retailer in the country, essentially since launch day.

The Controversy: Many have speculated that the relatively static supply amounts have, in fact, helped Nintendo generate additional buzz and mainstream media coverage of the Wii. Just look at how quickly demand can rise for a consumer electronic device when they're impossible to find. Yet, it's hard to believe Nintendo is having trouble ramping up production on technology that is so conventional, for so long a period of time. Neither the accelerometer, infrared detection, GPU or CPU components are expensive or necessarily difficult to manufacture. So what's keeping these things from reaching store shelves?

The Conspiracy Theory: Nintendo, in an effort to raise public awareness of their new console, have intentionally kept supply relatively constant. By keeping a tight control over the retail channel, they are limiting units in order to create an air of intrigue to reach the common household, and their target demographic.. Aged 8 months to 80 (minus the 18 - 35 range, or anyone with an HDTV).

Verdict: Somewhat likely. If Sony were towing the "Our supply can't meet the demand" line, we'd understand. Blu-ray diodes are tight right now, and we know production will ramp up eventually. But this is definitely not the case, so something is obviously going on. Iwata, stop printing money and spill the beans!

The Rockstar/ESRB Deal

Background: In June, 2007, Rockstar's controversial sequel, Manhunt 2, received an AO-rating by the ESRB (which for the industry, is a mark of death, much like the NC-17 rating is for movies). The original, which involved a released death row inmate killing people in grotesque ways, was given an M-rating (essentially an R rating for movies) and early previews have indicated that this next game contains about the same level of violence as it's predecessor.

The Controversy: At first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to a developer known for controversial titles like Grand Theft Auto, almost akin to a Rasheed Wallace effect. This is evidenced by judging the public's reaction to Rockstar's previous PS2 game, Bully, which was perceived as encouraging bullying, but in reality put you in much the opposite role. Some also thought the Wii version's violent gestures were to blame for the AO-rating, but the official reports indicate that none of the Wii controls were taken into account (which of course could silently be the actual reason).

The Conspiracy Theory: The ESRB and Rockstar completely engineered the Manhunt 2 controversy. On the one hand, it makes the ESRB look strong and competent. Then, when Rockstar takes a month or two to tweak a few lines of code, they release an M-rated version of essentially the same game. Rockstar manages to get a whole lot of extra press and the ESRB remains happy, and (after a short delay) we get to strangle people like a psychopath using our Wii-mote and nunchuk. Now that's "Win-Win-Win!".

Verdict: Unlikely. As great a story as this would have been in corporate espionage drama, Rockstar seems like the last company in the industry to give into such demands.

Stay tuned for Part 2..
Video Game Conspiracy Theories Index

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Online Purchases: It All Adds Up

As a corollary to my recent Xbox 360 console repair, I finally decided to stop being lazy and set my downloaded DRM content straight. I called MS support one final time and they asked me to make an auxiliary Xbox Live Silver account Gamertag (I chose "nuka kola" and if you get the reference then props to you). Then the guy started verifying my entire list of online content purchases, such as downloadable content (DLC) for retail games and full versions of Xbox Live Arcade titles, in order to quantify the amount my account should be credited.

Let's see, I've got.. Crackdown "Gettin' Busy" DLC pack, Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, TMNT The Arcade Game, Alien Hominid, Bomberman Live, Marble Blast Ultra, Geometry Wars, Assault Heroes, and Contra.

I started adding up the values in my head and wham, it hit me. Not counting the free copies I received of Contra, Hexic HD and Aegis Wing, I realized I've spent $70 on content on the Xbox Marketplace. I guess when it's only $10 here and there, the hit on your wallet feels less substantial. But out of all those titles, I've really only returned to a few of those arcade games after the initial purchase. I'll admit, some of those were impulse buys. I mean, $5 for 4-player online Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action is hard to pass up. Oddly enough, many of these transactions were relatively painless and I always felt like I got my money's worth from them.

When you make large purchases, your mind goes through a process of justification. You almost feel like you're trying to get your worth out of it. If a retail game lasts 12 hours and costs $60, that experience is essentially worth $5/hour to you (equivalent to the price of a movie ticket). Depending on how much you enjoyed it, you may play the game again another time through, or you might play the online multiplayer to squeeze more entertainment hours out of it. In some cases, even if your experience was mediocre, you'll still rationalize that you paid $60 for this and it was a damn good purchase.

However, with these smaller downloadable games, you could spend 2 weeks playing a game and feel considerably good about the $10 you spent. Heck, even after 2 hours, it might seem worth it to you almost instantaneously. Since the price is low, it tends to fly below your consumer threshold and you tend to forget about it. Like picking up a pack of gum at the supermarket check-stand or buying that bottle of Coke at work in the afternoon, you don't really think twice about these little transactions, but they do add up.

I guess the good news is that since my new account will get credited with 5600 points (or $70 in the real world), I can pick and choose which of these games deserve to stay on my HDD and which ones I can do without. This is rarely the case in life and I suppose I should cherish that freedom. With all those virtual points at my disposal, it'll be hard to remain reserved in the online marketplace.