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.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Internet Meme of the Week: Rick Rolled

As a tribute to all of our most beloved and hated Internet Memes, I've decided to dedicate a place for all these fade-based phrases, trends, and sayings that sweep across the internet and yet are just as quickly forgotten. I'm assuming anyone reading this blog (or any blog out there) knows their fair share of net lingo, so for now I'll gloss over the obvious stuff. However, if you're particularly fond of a specific meme, leave me a comment and I'll try to work it in. So without further ado..

My first pick is the term "Rick Roll" or "Rick Rolled", as in "You've been Rick Rolled!!" This refers to a practice on Internet forums where a poster creates a new topic or replies to an existing one and provides a false link within their post, and instead linking to a youtube video of Rick Astley's song, Never Gonna Give You Up. The forum post usually consists of promised evidence of an enticing claim or outrageous news story, which is why it's even funnier when your hopes come crashing down to reality after the reveal of the bogus link.

The first occurence of this phenomena can be traced back to the 4chan imageboards, where phony links were made to a picture of a duck on wheels, hence the phrase "Duck Roll" (source). The deceptive technique later evolved to youtube links and is still used occassionally in various game-related forums. So beware of suspicious posts like "Hey, check out this new 1080p gameplay vid for MGS4!!!! PSTriple Owns All!!!!"

Slightly similar to phishing in technique, but nowhere near as dangerous, it's mainly just plain annoying. Since forum posters are essentially anonymous, the frequency of this type of behavior can be quite common in certain communities. Essentially, the problem stems from people on the Internet being too trusting (myself included). We read random news stories, pass around odd facts about almost anything, and trade web-based online videos like bacteria spreading through a 2nd grade classroom. Like Michael Scott from The Office, we're all the "King of forwards!" Because of this, we always have to be prepared to flip our judgment of something obtained online at the drop of a hat. Rumors are incredibly easy to start online so they keep us skeptical about everything we encounter via mouse and keyboard.

Edit: Looks like I was incredibly insightful in picking this particular meme, as Merriam-Webster has recently included it among the ranks of words like "google" and "podcast" as an official part of our common lexicon.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

Just checked out a free screening of The Bourne Ultimatum tonight and I gotta say, it was pretty solid. I was kinda bracing myself for the fast-cutting edits, super close-up action and shaky cam shots that remember so much from the first movie. But despite sitting in the front section of the theater, the action seemed to me at least, a bit easier for me to follow in this third Bourne movie. The overall premise involved a clever cat-and-mouse game, much like the previous installments. The CIA vs Bourne. Pretty much your standard action hero fare.

Each clever twist was incredibly enjoyable. I don't know if it was because no one in the theater had paid for a ticket, but there were several moments when the audience cheered out loud for Bourne, myself included. There were also a LOT of chase scenes too. It never felt stale though, and I always got the sense that we were being offered something new. For example, as soon as the rooftop chase scene began, I immediately thought of Altair in Assassin's Creed, skillfully jumping from rooftop to rooftop, tracking his target across Jerusalem. By the end of the big car chase, I didn't know what else to expect next, it was that jarring.

About midway through, I got this connection to an old favorite game of mine, Planescape: Torment. If you've seen either previous Bourne movies, you know about his past and how he's almost trying to right his past wrongs. I couldn't help but think about how in Planescape, you were this immortal, blank slate with no memory, who was continually discovering atrocities committed in your past lives. What kinds of responsibility do you take when facing the demons of your past, when you can't even remember them? Anyway.. that's a lesson to us all, I guess, in case you ever get amnesia. Actually, amnesia in movies is very strange in that you always end up being a completely different person post-amnesia than you were previously. Maybe we all deserve amnesia every once in a while, so we can all start fresh from time to time. Tabula-rasa, baby!

Overall, the movie seemed to deliver a decent action movie with enough mystery and underlying intrigue to keep you going. It's not going to be the deepest movie you'll see this year, but it's certainly a lot of fun. There was one part of the movie that have to complain about which was toward the end. It almost felt like they were trying to put you to sleep. In a movie full of action, you should never slow it down to such a crawl for so long. I suppose, since this movie was the third in a series, you had that Lord of the Rings effect where you were wrapping up plot from 2 movies back. Since I had knowledge that there was a fourth book, part of me knew this wouldn't be the end.

Plot-wise, the movies are quite different from the books, but that doesn't really bother me much. I hate when people complain that a particular movie veers too far from the original source material, whether it's a book, comic or whatever. Different mediums call for different things and there's no one right way to tell a story.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Obon This Weekend

This weekend, I'll be at the Gardena Obon, which is basically a traditional Japanese festival to honor the deceased spirits of one's ancestors. Mostly I just go for the food though. There have Okinawa dangos (fried donuts), spam musubi, bbq chicken and beef teriyaki, snow cones, and tamales.. Wait, what? Actually, those tamales are pretty good, especially with chili and onions.. If you've ever been to an Obon, it's pretty much the usual fare as most other ones in Southern California. There's food, bingo, carnival games, dancing, and did I mention food?

I'll probably be there Saturday night with the family. The traditional dancing is sort of the main attraction, and that starts at around 6pm, i think. The live taiko drum performances begin a bit earlier than that. What's cool about the dancing is that the crowd is usually very diverse and everyone is encouraged to join in. Kimonos and hapi coats are welcome, but most people just wear whatever they want. And since the Gardena Obon is one of the bigger ones, it's easy to blend into the large crowd.

So I'll be there, but we'll see if I can avoid being dragged into participating in that dancing stuff. It's funny, my family mentioned that they were planning on placing their chairs on the street outside the Gardena Buddhist temple at 9am to secure a good seating area. I told them if it gets any crazier, they may as well camp out over night.