Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Song Clips

We were watching 'The Holiday' today on Blu-ray and a couple songs in it caught my ear. I went to the keyboard and figured out a little of each them, and made clips so I could remember them to work with them again later. Here they are, for better or worse.

Song one

Song two

Not very good, and pretty short, but it's the first thing I've recorded in a years, so I'm happy to be at it again.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

MP3 players and HL2 Ep2

I've been thinking it's finally time to join the portable mp3 player generation. I have a Philips Expanium portable CD player that reads CDs, CDRs, and CDRWs, plus MP3 CDs (on any of the aforementioned formats). Basically, if you can put it on a disc, it'll read it. But it was still disc-dependent, and I don't like burning disc after disc just to get what I hoped a dedicated flash-memory mp3 player could give me, with infinitely reusable internal memory and expandable SD cards.

I took the plunge on the Insignia Sport. Sports 4GB, plays music, video, and pics, and has Bluetooth for just over $100, I thought it sounded pretty good. There are several things I hated about this player.

1. First and foremost (and I guess this is pretty common, so deal with it), it doesn't allow me to just browse my mp3s by folder. It's entirely dependent on ID3 tags, which I don't have all filled out nice and neat. So, half my music ended up under "artist" or "unknown." Annoying trying to find anything that way. Is that "Fall To Pieces" by Avril or Velvet Revolver? Who knows.

2. If I delete a song off the player, it freezes up everything, stops playback, etc.

3. If I back out of a menu, it doesn't just go back to the item I was on previously. It jumps back to the top of my music library, making me scroll all the way back to wherever I was on the somewhat loose scroll wheel.

4. Ahem, the loose scroll wheel.

5. Inability to read my m3u playlists from MusicMatch, and inability to make its own playlists.

6. Impossible to remove battery cover. It's not even mentioned in the manual. Nothing about the battery at all, which makes me think to get it replaced when it eventually dies, you have to ship off your player to the shop for a few weeks. Bleh.

7. With the given form factor and unintuitive interface, it'd be a nightmare to use either while driving or with sweaty fingers on the treadmill.

That's the big stuff. I could deal with the fact that it didn't come with a AC adaptor. I borrowed Laura's iPod USB to AC adapter and it worked fine to charge it up. I guess the most telling thing about it was that the protective insert on the SD card slot said "DUMMY" on it. That's how I feel having plunked down money and being so disappointed. But hey, live and learn.

So I'm going to return it and go back to my Expanium. I can burn 700MB of mp3s to one CDRW and potentially rewrite the disc several times as my tastes change. It takes longer and isn't as convenient, but dammit, if none of these other mp3 player manufacturers are going to have a folder/file browse system like the Expanium, then they're just not going to convert me.

Started and finished Half-Life 2: Episode 2 tonight in just under 8 hours, taking an hour longer than Episode 1, though it was infinitely more satisfying. I'd heard as much from others (Tippy, et al), but it's something you really have to walk a mile in to FEEL what the game is all about. The Source Engine still impresses (especially maxed out on a Geforce 7950GT), and has a bit more polish and flair this time, including the motion blur effect also included in Portal, as well as more splatter and sheen on things. The truly frantic battle against the Striders was tense whether you have God Mode on or not.

But most importantly, when I saw the Hunter first pounce on Alyx...it made my gut sink. The animations, character definition, voice acting, and heart put into these characters are so genuine that you don't even notice it, and it stings all the more when they get hurt, as much or more than when heroes in movies take a fall. You didn't fight side by side with the guy in the movie. You didn't aim the flashlight while the hero shot up the baddies. He didn't provide sniper cover for you while you inch your way to the gate controls at the end of a heavily contested alley. It means more here, and fuck Roger Ebert if he thinks games can't be art. He states that, "video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic." Bullshit. Go play the Half-Life saga start to finish and talk to me then.

That said, Eli Vance, I hope to see you in Episode 3. Maybe the Vortigaunts can work their magic on a father as well as they did on his daughter. I'll go back down there and stomp Antlion guts till the cows come home if a little larvae will put you back the way you were.

Made a run for goodies the other night, grabbed F.E.A.R. Platinum Edition, Voltron: Red Lion (Vol 4), and South Park Season 9 (the only one I was missing). Aside from the depressing (and, of course, cliffhanger) HL2: Ep2 ending, I'm a pretty happy camper right now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Shit on TV, Neck Pain, Everyday Sunday

Tila Tequila has her own show. I won't tell you what channel/network in the hopes that you'll avoid it, or at least make it more difficult for the sad fucks who really really want to watch. People are pining to get in her pants. That's like shit getting a hard-on for garbage. So shallow. So stupid. 13-year-old boys will unfortunately keep this crap on the air for a LOT longer than it deserves. This has to be the most worthless, degrading, pointless show I've ever seen. It's better with the sound off, but best not to be watched at all. Just Google her and spank it to the nudie pics on there.

My neck hurts a little today. Started about 24 hours after the accident, which apparently is "normal." Hopefully it will go away in a few days rather than render me paralyzed.

Heard "Let's Go Back" by Everyday Sunday on the radio today and really liked it. You can hear the whole thing at their MySpace page, and while it does sound a lot like Quietdrive and the other recent kings of cookie-cutter pop-rock, I won't deny something I like on principles alone. I'm not sure yet whether to plunk down for the retail CD, select Amazon MP3s, or just that one song. Amazon's store makes it way too easy and affordable to resist. Decisions, decisions....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Car vs. Guardrail. Guardrail Wins.

We're fine. Just a couple bumps and bruises. That's the important thing. Now the rest of the story.

We were driving back from a visit to NYC tonight, and it was going well. It started raining in western Pennsylvania, but still, it was going pretty well. We got into Ohio and were getting off I-76W and onto I-71S. The leftward curve was fairly sharp. It was rainy. It was wet. The back tires lost traction. The car started to slide and Laura tried to turn into it. Maybe it was a lost cause already at that point, maybe she over-corrected, who knows. Whatever the case, the car suddenly spun clockwise, putting the front left of the car into the guard rail. This added to the spin, bringing the back left of the car into the rail as well. The spin continued until we came to a stop 270 degrees after the rotation started and we were perpendicular to oncoming off-ramp traffic. Luckily, everyone behind us stopped in time and only one person immediately behind us caught a little of the rail herself while trying to avoid hitting us.

Laura was completely freaked and I tried to point her in a direction to get the car off the road so we could calm down and avoid any more trouble. We parked. A lady ran up to see if we were okay and if we wanted her to call the highway patrol through her OnStar system. We declined and said we'd be okay.

The next knock at the window was the girl immediately behind us who also just barely kissed the rail, wanting to see if we were okay and whether we should swap insurance info and such. We did, and at that point I skimmed my cell phone book for the toll free highway patrol number (I programmed it in "just in case" several road trips ago; came in handy today) and reported the accident. The cop showed up about 20 minutes later. We'd swapped info already and the girl behind us stuck around to make sure her side of things was covered.

We surveyed the damage together. Both headlights were out of commission, one not even lighting and being pushed about 3 inches into the front end, and the other lighting properly but pushed at an angle that only lit things off the side of the road. We wouldn't be driving home tonight, regardless of the other damage, which we probably could have driven with on the whole. Also, the remainder of Laura's birthday cake (Happy Bday indeed) was crushed inside the trunk upon impact, unfortunately.

Everything's squared away with the cop, he radioed the tow truck, and luckily my AAA-Plus membership was on hand to trump Laura's basic membership, giving us 100 free miles of towing as opposed to 3. Turns out we had the accident exactly 100.2 miles from home, and the tow guy didn't want to haggle over $0.60 for the extra two-tenths of a mile.

So we're back home, not planning on going anywhere for a while now. She's got to figure out what she wants to/can do with her driving situation. I could drive her to her second job when I get off work during the week, or she's thinking of renting something for a week. We'll see.

In the end, we're home, my car is still fine, the apartment is still fine, and overall we're fine. Nothing a hot shower and a bit of alcohol can't drown out for the night. Just glad to still be here. Cheers, all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

PORTAL FTW!!!

The Orange Box is out, and I grabbed it primarily for Portal, to end my year-plus wait since the first videos surfaced for it. It's just as frickin awesome as it looks, and I played the main "campaign" straight though, start to finish. That's not saying much since I beat it in about 4 hours, but it was easily the most satisfying and rewarding puzzle-solving, game-playing experience I've had in recent memory. I even enlisted Laura's help solving some of those brain teasers of navigating the environment with a portable portal-throwing device. Replayability? You bet.

I'll dig into the rest of the Orange Box package shortly, having missed out on Half-Life 2 and its other episodes when they originally debuted, and my own curiosity towards Team Fortress 2's unique art style. It was a bit indimidating at 15GB of hard drive space, meaning it'll never all go on my laptop unless I come up with a bright idea.

The only real concern I have with the package is that it logs me into Steam every time I go to play it, meaning that without constant internet access, I probably can't play any of it, which is only a smidge less irritating to me than the limited activations on BioShock. Grrrr. Portal is really, really good, almost good enough to make me not think about how copy protection is yet again fucking over the paying customer. >:|

Unreal Tournament 3 comes out soon, in about a month, so I'm brushing up with UT 2004. There are a lot of parts of that game I never dug fully into, mainly the single player campaign with its team management options and gambling on 1-on-1 deathmatches. It's an interesting twist, and I'm interested to see what they do with it in the next iteration.

Gears of War is coming to the PC soon, too. And Oblivion GOTYE, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Call of Duty 2 are also sitting on my desk, not to mention a handful of demos I haven't even scratched yet. Yay for the holiday nuttiness in the games business!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Copy Protection Bullshit

I just bought Norah Jones' CD Not Too Late, brought it home, put in my laptop to listen to, and nothing happened. I tried it again, and nothing. The drive didn't even acknowledge that there was a disc in the drive. So we tried it in my portable CD player, running through my stereo in the living room. Played fine. So the disc isn't screwed up. I decided to do some research.

Apparently, companies are (and have been for a while I guess; I hardly ever buy CDs anymore, so how would I know?) producing the discs with so much copy protection on them that they deliberately are made NOT to run on PCs, in an effort to stem copying and the proliferation of MP3s and file sharing. Don't believe me? Check this out:

Corrupt audio discs, aka "Copy-Protected CDs"

CD creator burns copy-protection efforts

And finally, Lawmaker: Is CD copy-protection illegal?

They're shitting on the paying customer once again to protect their profits. Lovely.

In contrast, in the same shopping trip, I picked up Rammstein's Reise, Reise and it plays just fine in my laptop's DVD drive. Furthermore, maybe a half hour ago, I downloaded "There Is No Light" by Mairead Nesbitt off Amazon.com's fairly new no-DRM MP3 download purchasing service. For $0.89, I'm plenty happy with my one-song purchase, with no protection, no ties to one music player, and at 224kbps and 44kHz. Hey CD publishers! Take note! You just lost another customer, and your business model is on the way out.

Fuck off with your copy protection.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

PC Gaming is Killing Itself with DRM

I just read this, and it made me feel a little better, but still annoyed me:
http://www.2kgames.com/cultofrapture/revoketool.html

Now a little backstory. 2K Games released BioShock on the PC and Xbox 360 to critical acclaim, and as expected, it sold really well at first. Then a few days into the hubbub, PC users started getting hamstrung by the limited "activations" on the game. In other words, you can only install it a low, fixed number of times before it stops working (the X360 version doesn't have this problem). Imagine if your car dealer pre-set a fixed number of "key turns" on your car before the ignition stopped working arbitrarily. This would be completely unacceptable.

The limitation on game activations includes installing on different user accounts on the SAME computer, meaning each user account install counts as an entirely separate computer. It becomes a huge pain in the ass for the paying customer. 2K says it's designed to minimize the chances of the game being pirated, but you know what? It WILL be pirated, sooner or later, or as the folks at The Consumerist put it, "The organized piracy movements will crack almost any system within hours." The people copying games out there are far craftier than developers give them credit for, and take great joy and pride in breaking these mechanisms just to spite the companies that put them in place. Let those two groups battle it out, but who actually ends up suffering? It's not the software pirates. It's the people who paid for the game fair and square.

The info at that Revoke Tool link above isn't really much of an improvement, just allowing you to free up one activation, but if you do so much as get a new video card, motherboard, or DVD-ROM drive, you could be out an activation. What? BULLSHIT. But you're still limited in activations in the end, and if you're not anal about revoking them with their little tool there, sorry Charlie.

And this, dear readers, is why I will not be buying BioShock. Grats on the anti-piracy, 2K. You "protected" your game right out of me buying buying it! Good work!! Way to kill those sales! The only way it will wind up on my system is if they remove that DRM crap entirely--or if someone does it for them, if you know what I mean. I don't support piracy, but I do support getting the product I want in a format I can tolerate (or preferably enjoy), even if the ones who provide it aren't the company who made it in the first place.

Consider this...I just cracked open my big case of old PC games the other night, like Tribes 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Half-Life, and Heavy Gear 2. I've installed them probably a half-dozen times on a few different computers I've owned over the years. With the type of "security" 2K is trying to use, I wouldn't be able to play these games I shelled out good money to have. 2K says, "...we have a support division set up to help increase your limit so that you can always play your game." Ok, so what about a few years down the road when this particular game isn't hot stuff anymore and the support team dissolves, they shut down the activation server, or what if the company goes under entirely? No more game for you. They took your money and flushed it right down the toilet.

This comes hot on the heels of Microsoft releasing Halo 2 for the PC and saying that it absolutely required DirectX 10 and Windows Vista to run. A group of savvy coders in a garage somewhere figured out that MS is full of crap (as usual) and were able to copy a few files and get the game running on DirectX 9.0 hardware, in Windows XP. Why did MS make this brash move? Because DX10 is native to Windows Vista, which isn't selling so well (and rightly so, it's crap), so they thought making their fancy, shitty new OS a requirement to play a hotly anticipated port (of a game that was made for and ran on the original Xbox, which certainly didn't use DX10) would get things moving. They were wrong. The little guys beat them. Again.

Going back to copy protection bullshit for a minute, I got a preview copy of the game Infernal for review, and it had Starforce anti-copy malware on it. I can almost understand this from the perspective that they don't want their preview code being leaked, though the game would be out in a few months anyway, and it wasn't anything particularly revolutionary. But overall it didn't make much sense considering how negatively Starforce has come to be viewed as a DRM solution, and really, it's a preview build of an almost finished game, that I was going to write all about. Everything about the game would be noted in the preview anyway. Starforce had a 30-day expiration, which was also stupid since what if we want to refer back to that copy during the full game's review process?

What really blew my mind was that Ubisoft's King Kong PC demo that came out shortly thereafter also had Starforce on it. What the hell is that about? It's a FREE DEMO that ANYONE can download and play, and for those without speedy internet connections, being able to have a friend give them the demo is a golden opportunity to spread the good word about your game. Why any company would put copy protection on their free, publicly available demo is beyond logic and reason.

So what's the big deal with Starforce? Well, it made headlines for being particularly malicious, causing some computers to malfunction and in some cases reportedly destroyed DVD-ROM drives. It was bad enough that major publishers like Ubisoft eventually dropped using it due to customer outcry.

Copy protection--especially damaging versions like Starforce--is making users not want to buy legit games anymore, myself included, so their efforts to prevent copying are actually just driving more people to WANT to get pirated versions with the vindictive, un-user-friendly copy protection garbage skimmed off. We just want to buy something and have it work. Is that asking so much?

Contrary to this unsavory approach, developer Stardock (not to be confused with shitty copy protection maker Starforce) released Galactic Civilizations II, making a big deal out of the fact that they were releasing the game with NO copy protection on it whatsoever. All you have to do is enter the CD key for the game (a familiar process that's been around for decades now), and you can install it on as many machines as you like. It only allows operation on one machine at a time, but it doesn't have multiplayer apparently, so who cares? Here was Stardock's take on using, as they put it, "draconian copy protection."
"Naturally, some people have taken the conclusion that because we don't have copy protection on our game, that we invite piracy. That is not the case, we simply think there are other ways to stop piracy than CD checks, strict DRM, etc."
They went on to say, "If you make it easy for users to buy and make full use of your product or service legitimately then we believe that you'll gain more users from that convenience than you'll lose from piracy." You can read the whole thing here.

This is how it was in the old days, and it appears to still work now, including Unreal Tournament 2004, which once you install, you don't need the discs anymore, even the one specifically labeled "play disc." Stardock adds, "Sales reports on Galactic Civilizations II have been much higher than anticipated. We've now outsold the first Galactic Civilizations in North America in the first 10 days." The people at Starforce, in a show of rebellion against the idea of not using DRM/copy protection, posted links at their site to torrents where you could illegally download GalCiv II for free. It was a stupid move, further tarnished Starforce's already lousy reputation, and the links have since been taken down.

Beyond the realm of gaming, copy protection is also being challenged with Amazon's new DRM-free mp3 store, which certainly has a huge appeal for me. Being able to download songs and use them however and wherever I like sounds much better than being a slave to the Apple iBot way. Here's hoping consumers vote with their wallets and support this and other moves to give the content back to the users without superfluous strings attached.

Play on.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Why I (and I'm sure many others) won't buy a PSP

I just read this and it reminded me of the day I decided the PSP wasn't worth investing in. When the thing first came out, it exploded due to two things: UMD movies and homebrew hackery. Within weeks of release, people figured out how to run Super Nintendo and PS1 ROMs on the system via the Memory Stick. I was stoked. It sounded like great fun and a nearly limitless library of titles that could be ported over...albeit not entirely legally (though I own tons of games, so owning the original technically means I have rights to the ROM).

Sony's reaction? Rather than embrace any semblance of user created content, they released a firmware updated REQUIRED to run any Gen 2 PSP games, and after the force-update, the homebrew stuff was quashed. I don't know if it recovered since I really stopped following it, knowing that for every step the users made to try to make the system worth a shit, Sony would be there saying "NO, YOU MUST ONLY PLAY OUR SHITTY GAMES AND NEVER HAVE FUN!"

And since I don't give a flying fuck about any "real" PSP games (other than *maybe* Jeanne D'Arc and Loco Roco), I won't buy it. I won't buy the slim model either. Sony says they care about the customer, but do everything they can to shortchange and rip them off.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Movies of Late

We've been on a bit of a movie-renting tear lately, so I'll try to cover a lot of info quickly. Titles in CAPS for quick reading.

BABEL is our lead-off, and wasn't what I was lead by the previews to believe it would be at all. With all the"international incident" and terrorist messages in the trailers, I was bracing myself for a Tom Clancy-esque thriller. Instead what I saw left me bored and completely detached. Kind of like CRASH. Or TRAFFIC. Well, I actually liked TRAFFIC.

THE CONTRACT stars Morgan Freeman and John Cusack in roles better suited to Joe Pesci and John Cena, respectively. I really don't know how this sort of casting happens, but the story is dull and forgettable, and the characters have all the depth of a puddle in the desert. Casting agents, you snookered me.

THE NUMBER 23 with Jim Carrey was equally disappointing and dumb. It had potential, and it's not that Carrey couldn't deliver on the prescribed role. It's more that the script started with a good idea and did nothing worthwhile with it.

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN was a pleasant surprise. Laura and I felt a little differently; she wanted the tone in the first half of the movie to continue, whereas I preferred that things got serious and deliberate in the latter half. This was a much better role for Freeman than THE CONTRACT, and seeing Ben Kingsley was nice, too. I hate to say it, but this is arguably my favorite flick of both Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu. They're just so damn likeable here.

STEAMBOY is an anime that gets a little too caught up in trying to weave a moral and the story slows down too much early on, but the last half saves the day with high-powered actiony stuff and some of the best animation/visuals in the genre. I liked it by the end, but I probably won't watch it again.

I wish the same could be said of fellow Japanimation flick SPIRITED AWAY. I heard it was Miyazaki's best, but I still prefer PRINCESS MONONOKE, which I consider to be his best of the ones I've seen. Maybe it was the years of hype and expectations, or maybe that the movie is clearly more of a flick for the kiddos, but it just didn't grab me. Too bad. The imagination and animation are good, but I'll probably not see it again, at least not for a good long while.

LADDER 49 surprised me, too. Again, a case of somewhat misleading previews/trailers that branded it an action movie about firefighters when really there's a lot more humor, humility, and heart in it than I expected. Good flick.

PERCEPTION we picked up solely because we're both fans of Piper Perabo, notably seen in COYOTE UGLY. This is no longer a valid reason to rent something. This movie bored us to tears. It had its moments, but I just couldn't give a shit about all the whiny, two-faced characters and how meaningless their lives were, let alone how stupid it all ended up by credits time. Pass.

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland was good, wholesome popcorn fun. I wondered why it was in the comedy section, but despite being about an elaborate heist, it really is pretty lighthearted all in all. Not the most clever thief movie out there, but good fun, without being too heavy.

KNOCKED UP surprised me as well, much the way THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN did, and rightly so. Again, what the trailers make look like a stupid slacker comedy actually hits several important and memorable themes and moments about becoming parents, growing up along the way, and making sacrifices/compromises. Plus it's just damn funny, to boot.

REIGN OF FIRE. Ha. It was pretty dumb, as expected, but was worth seeing once I guess. If only to see Matthew McConaughey getting eaten by a dragon.

ULTRAVIOLET was really great....till anyone spoke. Nice (if not wholly impressive) action scenes, but possibly THE WORST dialogue I've ever heard in a movie. Watch it with the sound off for the visual imaginativity only. Or better yet, just watch EQUILIBRIUM instead. Fantastic flick on it's own, but even more so compared to this reeking pile.

SHE'S HAVING A BABY annoyed me with too much chick crap and crying. Sorry ladies, but KNOCKED UP was much more my speed.

BATMAN (1966), which many of you have probably seen, is suitably terrible just like the concurrent television offerings. Bat Shark Repellent. How the franchise survived this era is beyond me, but Christian Bale and the rest of the crew behind BATMAN BEGINS somehow managed to make the caped crusader cool again. The animated series didn't hurt, either.

That's it for now. We still have DOMINO and THE TERMINAL on our coffee table, so I might blab about those in the near future. I had a tetanus shot yesterday with my physical (btw, I'm fine) and my arm is still a lil sore, so I'm gonna give it a rest now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

OMFG!!!!

Guild Wars SUCKS. In SO many ways. Seriously, just pony up the $12-15/mo and play World of Warcraft. You'll be doing yourself a huge favor. Here's a brief list of things that irritate the holy shit out of me about Guild Bores.

I can't manage to click on the ONE pixel of a guy that's running by that will actually SELECT him, let alone double-clicking to attack. Which reminds me...single click should select a guy, and go ahead and steal from WoW here and let single RIGHT-clicking attack or interact. GOD.

Aggro range and area of awareness is totally illogical. I can shoot a guy standing in a crowd, and only he and the one other guy linked to him will come running. The others are oblivious. WHA? Or I'm pounding the crap out of some dood and his buddies come patrolling by, completely oblivious to what's going on even though they walked right THRU me.

Then there are times you'll wander into a room full of people of, say level 3, and they spot you and mob you from 100 yards away, then the next room will have similar level 3s who won't attack you even if you walk up and tap them on the shoulder. WTF?

My pet is stupid. He's entirely one-dimensional. I can't control him, tell him who to attack, can't use him to pull anyone off of me since he can't manage aggro or hold it to save his life.

The interface for selling items is retarded. Why not just let me sell straight out of my bags (like WoW)?? Why pull up a second screen, and not even let me filter the gear I have in my custom weapon slots so I don't sell the wrong thing because of the game's unintuitive redundant bullshit?

Collectors? For what? I can run halfway across a vacant level to trade 3 baked husks (i.e., garbage) to a guy who'll trade them for an item that sells for 9g.....WHEN I COULD JUST SELL THE HUSKS DIRECTLY TO THE NEAREST VENDOR FOR 9G. Who the fuck would bother?

Quests that REQUIRE you to get some other fag to party with you...and for what? Just for the sake of partying with you, and doing such exciting tasks as "come hold this lever for me while I run thru the gate it opens....you can't come with me, and after I run thru I'm going to dump you from the party, so HURRY UP AND JOIN ME!!"

Camera that doesn't just move gradually around the terrain or zoom in, but goes VWOOM VWEE up and down all over the fucking place since it can't figure out what to do with that rock it just collided with. If you're not standing in an empty FLAT field fighting the most boring creatures known to man, you will hate the game. And fighting said boring creatures will make you hate it, too.

GOD. Fighting high lvl murlocs for eternity is better than this.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

WE'RE BACK!

Or maybe it's just WE'RE HERE! if you never read the MandM blog before. If not, get caught up, fools. We've been gone since November, now sporting an email-to-email format since we don't talk on AIM much anymore. The man hath taken our souls and forced them into cubicles, thus we caint talk online till 4am no mo'.
http://lifebymandm.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 16, 2007

PS3, or not PS3

I was perfectly happy waiting to get a PS3 until some games actually came out, comfy in the fact that we (the U.S.) weren't getting screwed out of hardware backward compatibility for all PS2 and PS1 games. The recent price drop from $600 to $500 didn't phase me either since I still didn't want any of the meager offerings currently available for the system.

Then I read this explanation for the price drop, and how it's really only being done to get people to buy a system no one cares about. There are only so many that are going to be available at this price, but again, meh. Then another nugget came out, stating that we ARE in fact getting screwed just like our friends across the Atlantic, and that the Emotion Engine will be removed to lower costs, screwing over hardware backward compatibility for the vastly inferior and far less supported route of software emulation.

So not only are they shoving the old unsold launch systems at us under the guise of a lower price point, but it's actually the better version of the hardware (you can always give yourself a much bigger hard drive later, as posted here), and the new version that they're actually saving money on, they're raising the price of, in a sense.

So now I face having to buy a console I'm not really ready to buy that has nothing to play on it, or lose the one key hardware feature I even give a crap about right now. It'd be like knowing the PS2 was going to lose DVD playback functionality six months after release, since that was a big selling point for me 6.5 years ago.

The only reasonable option I see is to put a 60GB PS3 on layaway somewhere and hope that something worthwhile comes out in the next 90 days to justify the asking price. At that point, I can choose to take it or leave it. But I don't like it. Sony is eroding even more faith with the dwindling fan base with moves like this.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Transformers

Many of you expected this by now, perhaps way sooner. Either way, I wasn't impressed with the new Transformers live action movie. I had a little trouble putting my finger on just what I so disliked about it, then I read this, which sums it up pretty well:
And I want to hear people stop saying, "But it was teh based on teh toys! It couldn't be good!" That's a bunch of BS.

The movie sucked for one very clear reason: a story about a teenage boy trying to screw the hot cheerleader.

Hold on a sec... WHAT THE F!)*$ DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH TRANSFORMERS?!?!

Thusly, I put to you this theory: Transformers, the live-action movie, sucked because of all the stuff UNRELATED to the actual Transformers toyline and cartoon.

PErsonally, I also enjoyed the original Transformer designs more than the movie ones. The whole Decepticons as evil demons with teeth? Hated it. And what about Optimus with a moving mouth? AWESOME!! WOO!! Not.
This from iceblast21 and can be found here. His comment about everything NOT having to do with the title characters is also what I felt ruined the hell out of Alien vs. Predator. If you're going to spend all the money getting these licenses, USE THE CHARACTERS. Have them on the screen THE WHOLE TIME, even if they're just doing something in the background. I tried to be forgiving of the vehicle redesigns in TF. But everything else about the movie was a disappointing sham. The CG is some of the best yet, but that's about as significant as a gold-painted cow pattie.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Btw, we're back.

I forgot to mention the rest of the trip, now that we've been home for two weeks or so. Aside from finally meeting a buddy I've been yakking and working with via AIM for years for the first time in person, it wasn't too terribly exciting.

Salina, KS
We were gonna stop here, but decided to press on a bit further into the trip, and made it to Topeka, where the NHRA event in Kansas City had sold out all but the deluxe hotel rooms. Jacuzzi tub anyone? We splurged for a night, and the closest eatery was Hooters, so that was a new experience for us both. Needless to say, those hos aren't getting hired based on their personalities or IQ, so I shouldn't have expected the best. An hour to get one simple burger seemed kinda ridiculous, not to mention them bringing the wrong food to our table once, two waittresses trying to take our orders, and all the girls being a little less endowed than I'd been led to believe they'd be. Still, when the burger finally showed up, it was mighty tasty. Everything else was disappointing, though. Sorry Topeka. Your girls need work.

Kansas City, KS
Didn't do much here but drive through it, though it did look pretty nice. Might come back and check out the city a little more someday.

St. Louis, MO
This is where I met up with Mike at the deli. After an extended debacle that started with him saying we could crash with him, then not there, then he didn't even know if he'd have any time available that day, then forgot which day we were even going to be there, things generally worked out. We got a room at the Drury just outside of Arnold (near Mike's home/work), and played with the idea of killing a couple hours driving around St. Louis. Everyone encouraged us NOT to. They say it's dangerous, and a statistic I saw not too long ago slated St.L as the new murder capital of the country. Eh, pass. We just lounged in the hotel room for a bit and then went back out to have Mike make us some bourbon chicken after he got off work.

Indianapolis, IN
The stretch from St. Louis to Columbus was largely forgettable. Dave Letterman's hometown wasn't bad lookin, but it was mostly a footnote at this point in the trip since we were close to home and could come back and visit this place almost anytime. Didn't look bad from the highway. Laura did have a few problems getting a pic of it though. Stupid truck.

Columbus, OH
Home at last, and not a moment too soon. Weather was turning shitty when we got here (drove thru it on the way), and I had to host a multiplayer event for work literally about 15 minutes after we got home. Rushed in and set up the laptop, then helped Laura unload some of her stuff from the car quick as we could. Figured she could sort it all out from the doorway while I was working if we at least got it in out of the weather.

I worked. She unpacked. And that was about it. Combined with our drives from Columbus to NY, NY, we've now driven the entire width of the United States. Of course, mom pointed out I haven't been to Minnesota yet, which....I don't even see what that has to do with the width.

Ahh, mom. I think she loses it a little more every year.

The Gaming Landscape As It Stands

Chances are, I'll never buy a Xbox 360. It'll be a while before I touch a PS3. And my Wii has had only a couple minor hiccups. So as not to bore you non-gamers too much, I'll try to keep it simple in case you were thinking about picking up a new system for yourself or your kiddos this summer.

Xbox 360
Everyone I know who bought this hunk of junk, literally everyone, has had at least one system die on them, and not a year or two down the road. I mean like a month or even the same WEEK as purchasing it. They simply don't hold up, and I don't know if it's because Microsoft is using cheap parts or cheap labor--or both--but neither would surprise me, coming from the company that would do anything--badger, steal, or kill (the competition)--to stay on top. Read more from a non-gaming site here:
http://www.fool.com/investing/value/2007/06/07/microsofts-xbotch.aspx

Sure, Live Marketplace is supposed to be the "shiznit" and playing online is seamless (though you have to pay for it). But as the article puts it, if the hardware doesn't work, why would someone piss away $400-500 on it?

PS3
Speaking of price, this is one of the three reasons I don't have a PS3 yet. Even when I was working at Pizza Hut full time after school and had an all-disposable income, I couldn't have justified blowing $600 on a game console. The 3DO tried that shit back in the '90s and we all know what happened there (if you don't, I rest my case....it died a quiet and meaningless death).

Reason two that I don't have one is there just aren't any games out for it yet that change the world or appeal to me in any meaningful way, like how Smuggler's Run, SSX, and Midnight Club expanded things between the PS1 and PS2 at launch. I'm sure Resistance: Fall of Man is lovely to look at, but is it really that big of a departure from the last console first-person shooter (FPS) I played? I doubt it. Probably has more in common with PS2 launch FPS TimeSplitters than it does with that same series' robust and infinitely superior Future Perfect installment that came third and serveral years later. And it goes without saying that Blu-ray doesn't matter to me at this point, either. I'm still trying to wrap up my DVD collection as it is, and since I own more movies than anyone I know, I become the go-to guy for movies when I visit friends, and buying movies on discs they can't play at their houses doesn't help anyone.

The third main reason I don't have a PS3 yet is that I don't feel like they've really finished the damn thing yet. They're still changing the firmware and releasing patches for launch games. Download download download is all you end up doing, just to make things do what they should have done (at least, IMO) out of the box. The ironic part is, I just opened up the DVD remote for my PS2 the other day, hoping to use it with my elder PS2 that doesn't work so well but will still play movies, only to find out that the version of the DVD driver on that old workhorse is too old to support most of the remote's special features and buttons. /sigh

Wii
The Wii has held up well to all the abuse and hours we've thrown at it. Laura plugged five hours into ExciteTruck the other night without even thinking about it. Hunter and I played various games within Wii Sports and Wii Play for quite some time this past Wednesday. I'm getting new Miis from friends around the country. And the system hasn't even flinched. Aside from Wiimotes turning off for a second here or there mid-game or batteries dying (you have to expect a little of that with all wireless input, and the console DOES warn you when the batteries are getting low), the only time I've gotten a serious error out of it was when ejecting a disc and then hitting the Reset button rather than hitting Home on the Wiimote and going back to the main Wii screen that way. I learned that the Reset button is only designed to restart the game in the disc slot, not the entire console. It seems like a deliberate design choice I simply wasn't aware of. Still, making the teaching method into a system freeze so hard that I had to unplug it to get it to do anything was a little harsh.

In The End...
All in all, my Wii and PC are more than enough to keep me happily gaming these days, much to the dismay of Microsoft (note: fuck Vista-exclusive PC games) and Sony. An article in EGM recently even predicted that the Nintendo DS could reach a 90% market penetration in Japan within the next few years, making it not only more popular than the original Game Boy, but making it as common as a DVD player or a TV in most homes. At that point, the DS would be as mainstream and accepted as a cell phone, and Nintendo's gonna be laughing all the way to the bank.

Note: Stifle the Big-N fanboy comments. I was a VERY late adopter of the N64 and GameCube, and probably would have skipped them altogether if not for the always solid Zelda, Metroid, and Mario games. Oh yeah, and a little gem called Perfect Dark.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I Pooped In Las Vegas

Down:
Sacramento, CA
Redlands, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Mesquite, NV
Springdale, UT
Vail, CO
Denver, CO

To Go:
Salina, KS
Kansas City, KS
St. Louis, MO
Indianapolis, IN
Columbus, OH

About halfway through this crazy cross-country road trip, and here's what I've learned so far...

Sacramento is nice, not spectacular or anything. Prolly wouldn't be my first pick if I moved to Cali. The drive from there to L.A. reminds me a lot of Ohio, except Ohio's grass is actually green, not brown.

I could easily do without about half the geography of California, namely the desert. Can't we just carve off areas we have no use for and drop them on other countries? If not for Pennsylvania, driving from home to New York would only take 3 or 4 hours.

Nevada is....bleak. Somewhere between Redlands and Las Vegas I made a few references to WoW. For instance, I swear we drove through the real world equivalents of Mulgore and The Barrens, and Laura assures me that not too far away are regions that reek of Thousands Needles (apologies to non-WoW players, as you must be lost now).

Anyway, Nevada reminded me of a circus that doesn't shut down, and the attractions are the only thing keeping the state going. Vegas itself is kind of like living in a caricature of a caricature of reality. Sure, there are live human beings there, but with that level of tourist mentality, it must warp the locals' sense of what a well-rounded person is like anymore. It might just fry my brain to live there, what with all the cardboard and illusions. But it is the best place to catch Broadway and other live acts outside of a more congested major city.

Vegas to Springdale was largely forgettable (Mesquite was nice), save for the giant thermometer. Drive up on Rte. 15 and you can't miss is. It read 90F when we got there, and 100F about 20 minutes later when we left, loaded up with Burger King and gasoline.

I also don't want to hear about "overcrowding" problems anymore. There's PLENTY of real estate out here just begging for a town or at least a truck stop to emerge on it. When you can go 200 miles without seeing any signs of life, it makes the insanely compressed life of NYC seem ridiculous. NYC is all stone and little vegetation anyway. It would do just fine if it woke up one day in place of Ute, NV.

Springdale and the greater Zion National Park area in general was quite nice. Not too hot yet this time of year, nice enough that my bro and his wife sleep outside on their deck. No screen. No tent. Just out there with the bugs and the iguanas and the bats. I admire the outdoors, sure, but I still like sleeping with four walls and a ceiling around me. The view of the stars was second to none, though. Even saw a shooting one.

Springdale to Denver was the best looking yet worst overall day for me, and the most recent. I had some ear adjustment problems on the initial flight out to Sacramento (i.e., my left ear simply does NOT adjust), but I thought it might play more nicely with a gradual ascent through the Rockies. Sorry to say that's not the case. For...I dunno, 10-20 miles straight (?) my eardrum wracked me with agonizing pain, so much so that if I were driving, I wouldn't have been able to make it through. Hooray for being the co-pilot on this trip. Somewhere past Vail it finally popped (or ruptured, I don't know which), and I was able to let go of my head and wipe away the tears. Not fun. This rules out traveling or living in the mountains for me (unless I somehow get the ear fixed), since the pain starts at about 5000 feet and gets worse from there on up. Around 9000 feet elevation in Frisco, CO, we stopped for gas, I felt headachey, went to take a piss, and almost blacked out standing in the bathroom. Thin air + an already tore-up me = 1 step shy of the emergency room.

We descended into Denver some 9.5 hours after we left Springdale, I was miserable, and temporarily deaf in my left ear. It was all I could to do mutter out the words "room for the night?" when we got off 70. Tried to get some food, but most of the stuff in west Denver closes at 10pm, and wouldn't you know it, we arrived at 10:15pm. Annoying.

I slept a few hours and started having nightmares (nothing trip-related; more inspired by seeing 28 Weeks Later recently methinks), but luckily Laura's rumbling sinuses woke me up before it got too unsettling in dreamland. I'm sitting before you now in the hopes of clearing my mind before going back to sleep.

I decided we should break up our remaining days into shorter drives, even if it means we don't stay the night in the most scenic of places or have to be gone a day longer. About 6-7 hours driving/riding in a day is my limit for now. 9.5 was simply too damn much. Makes me wonder how I made it from Tallahassee, FL to NYC in one day. Must have been something that happened the night before. ;)

And where the ear is concerned, I never thought I'd say this, but I'm really looking forward to being in Kansas.

More as it develops...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Video card goes bad....then goes good?

Bought my desktop machine about a year ago, to the day. The video card has started misbehaving, causing certain pixels in the display to just stay one off-color, and to leave trails on any window that gets dragged across them. See these for reference:

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 2

I made those patterns by just dragging the windows around across the bad pixels, and the longer the computer was on, the more pixels started doing it. At one point, as many as 40 were wigging out, in turquoise, a pinkish-red, and yellow. I thought I was screwed and would have to return my video card, or replace it outright.

BUT!

As one not content to just take the easy (and expensive) solution, I spent today screwing around with the computer, trying to make damn sure what the problem was before dropping potentially another $250-300 on a piece of hardware that might be fixable.

I tried switching cables. Same thing. Changed monitors. Same thing. Tried another computer on both monitors, found no bad pixels in the monitors themselves. Thus, it MUST be the video card or the motherboard at large.

Sometime during that tinkering, I got a blue screen of death (BSOD), and my computer magically restarted itself. Later, I fired up Google Earth to look something up and POW it froze.

I reached for the scalpel (i.e., screwdriver) and started taking Betsy apart. Opened the case, pulled out the video card and sound card, moved the sound card down to the bottom-most slot to hopefully give the video card more room to breathe (those things run hella hot). I tried this once before without luck, but this time the comp recognized the sound card okay and just had to reinstall the sound drivers.

I took a good look at the video card for any signs of breakdown, or smells of smoke from overheating. It looked fine, save for a few flecks of dust here and there, so I sprayed it with compressed air. Then removed the heat sink and fan from the card to see if any clues lie inside there. Nope, so I screwed that back together.

Perhaps the card wasn't seated properly in the slot on the motherboard. I situated it, fired the machine back up, and nothing had improved.

Next big idea was to take a room fan and point it straight into the case (with the side still off) to push all that mofoing heat out and see if the heat trapped in there made a diff. Strangely enough, the bad pixels started disappearing.

I let it vent for a few minutes, then fired up World of Warcraft (the last trigger for a catastrophic unplanned restart). No problems. Turned on the frame counter and it was staying solid at around 60 frames per second.

Switched back to Windows Explorer and dragged the window around the screen to see how many bad pixels we had. I only saw one or two.

Back to WoW for about another 10 minutes. Kept the fan blowing. Toggled back to WE. Down to one bad pixel, and barely at that.

I shut the fan off and kept playing WoW to see if the number of pixels would go back up. It did not. In fact, the one bad one seemed to taper off and barely be there at all.

An hour later, with the case back sealed up and everything running as it should, I no longer have any bad pixels on my screen, and have had no crashes.

Say it with me, folks. "What. The. Fuck."

So apparently all I needed to do was move the sound card away from the video card so it could vent better. Let this be a lesson to you. I just saved myself $250.

You never know what tomorrow will bring, though, so I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Being Poor

John Scalzi nailed this one. I remember living some of these things when I was a kid, but mom hid many more of them from us. Read on:

http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003704.html

Appreciate what you have. I know I certainly do.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Maturity

David Jaffe is head honcho at Incognito Studios, a second-party company in the Sony Computer Entertainment umbrella that makes PlayStation stuff. Incog used to be SingleTrac, responsible for some great stuff on the PS1 and PS2, including Warhawk and the better Twisted Metal games.

So now he's releasing a downloadable game for the PS3 that costs $10, has 4 levels, and is essentially an online version of the fun modes from Smuggler's Run on the PS2, Loot Grab and....whatever the other mode was called. In any case, you drive like mad to pick up an item, then try to carry it to a drop off point, all the while dodging your opponents who can steal the item by simply running into you.

This was fun in Smuggler's Run. It's the reason I still own the game. I could probably understand some people buying the thing he's pushing here (called Calling All Cars). However, one lousy review from GameSpot got him talking and re-analyzing what goes into a game review. Nevermind that most of the other reviews of it have been good. Hell, one of my friends didn't think 300 was a very good movie, despite the majority of people thinking it rocked. Who am I more likely to listen to, one guy or dozens of others?

In any case, I don't care that he questions the review process, stating that maybe it needs to be more clearly defined, have better market disclosure and analysis in the review body, or that smaller downloadable games should be rated on a different scale--and thus, different criteria--than major retail releases. He can think what he wants, he can blog his concerns.

What bothered me was that he--as a respected member of the gaming industry, figurehead for good game development, and someone with reasonable influence in the industry--stooped to say things like the following:

"...before any of you cowards who don't post your real fucking names tell me that I should stop crying, here's a big, juicy: 'GO FUCK YOUR MOTHER UP HER JIGGLY ASS TWAT' for you. Go ahead: Take it; that's right, it's just for you! So take it and shove it up your ass there real good!

"Why is that such a sign of weakness to some of you pricks? I swear I don't know. But either way, I can live with you asshats if you can live with me."

"TO THE LAME ASS WEBSITE THAT SHALL GO UNNAMED (ed: www.joystiq.com)- Fuck you, guys. Go fuck yourselves. What other developer makes a fucking change to a game when a review (IGN's in this case) has a good, valid point and is willing to open the fucking code up at the risk of more bugs to make the game better? Amazing.But hey, you guys are great, you guys rock. I hope Kotaku fucking puts your ass out of business, wanna be fucktards. And if you were actual journalists you would have read the motherfucking quote I posted on NEOGAF where I said because of the two bugs we needed to fix (not because I was afraid of the bargin bin) we had a window of opp. to fix the magnet problem. Assholes...total fucking assholes."

First amendment, free speech, yadda yadda. I'm fine with him saying what he feels. What kind of appalls me is that someone I respected a few hours ago has acted like such a forum troll/goon. Name-calling, excessive profanity, and then calling out the very people he's acting like for being degenerates. Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear) would never do this. Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario) would never do this. Hell, I wouldn't expect this level of behavior from Howard Stern. He even admits it's a pissing contest by kicking off that last rant with "I gotta get off a final parting shot before I go."

Grow the hell up.

Add yet another reason to why I won't be supporting Sony's gaming biz for a long, LONG time, and me being a guy who owns three PS1s and two PS2s. In a way, I'm hoping Sony chastizes him for acting out like this. Chris Hecker, one of the devs behind the upcoming life-sim game Spore, recently bashed the Nintendo Wii publicly, and recanted the next day. I wasn't there, but I suspect the rest of his team said "WTF?" and asked him to change his tune before their next game gets completely ignored.