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..