Global Warming

November 10, 2008

Global Warming is one of those topics that can get you into hot water no matter what side of the debate you fall. I've always felt that the basic arguments behind global warming make sense logically and that to me has always been that the amount of industrialization we've seen in the last 100 years on our planet is something that has never happened in the world's history and it could have an impact on the planet's atmosphere.


That to me is the basic premise that global warming proposes, whether or not it will affect the planet in a warming way or a cooling way or whether or not it will have immediate effects are the deeper below the surface issues that are a bit open to debate and interpretation.


Today I watched the YouTube videos of John Coleman's views (4 parts in all) on global warming, and for the first time while watching I came to the realization that global warming has lost the Republican vs. Democratic battle that originally created most of the divide as to where people fell on the topic. For years the debate traditionally lined up the value difference for both parties, Democrats became Global Warming proponents while Republicans took the opposite side of the debate. Since that divide is now seemingly over (except with a few holdouts) and politicians on both sides of the political ticket believe that global warming is a real threat to the world, this has actually made me re-question what I think about global warming and it's affects on our planet.


Coleman makes some interesting points about global warming and what his thoughts are on the subject. He basically puts it in the realm of if people believe in a giant flying spaghetti monster due to a media blitz and some scientific jargon explaining that one exists, eventually the general consensus will be that a giant flying spaghetti monster is out there threatening us and we must do something to fight it.


Essentially Coleman doesn't believe in Global Warming because the scientific data to back it up is not agreed upon by all scientists who have done studies. He also believes that there is a large potential for people to want to believe it exists which causes them to draw the wrong conclusions when finishing studies or potentially massaging data to get the conclusions they purposely set out to achieve. Basically proving your conclusion regardless of what information you find out during the course of the investigation. Now that both sides politically are aligned to combat the threat, there is no longer questioning of the proposed evidence and people gladly drink from the water cooler to serve their own political agendas.


That's all fine and good he makes some good points, but while watching him explain the doubts he has and the causes as to the public's beliefs in the global warming threat, I couldn't help but ask myself "who cares?".


It may sound a little cynical, but I can't help but look at the larger picture which really is the world's energy use and the source of that energy being fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a limited resource, period. People disagree on how much longer we can solely survive on them and how much remains, but it remains that at some point they will run out. As far as I am concerned that is an undisputed fact.


So to me, the question really becomes how to replace our reliance on fossil fuels for the sole purpose that at some point we need an alternative to generate the massive amounts of energy we rely on them to provide the world? And further more, how do we motivate that change to the alternate energy sources or at least accelerate their research and development? This kind of change is a massive undertaking, fossil fuels are cheap to use and easy for businesses to generate profit. They are widely used across the world in a variety of applications.


So at the end of the day, whether or not Global Warming actually will do anything to the planet that wouldn't already happen naturally is pretty irrelevant. It is the catalyst that will be the driving force that helps convert the world from fossil fuels to different energy sources. Coleman would say to that point that it's stupid to have to create a false reason like Global Warming to use in this manner, and I would agree with that observation, however, I also believe that people are naturally a little too complacent and resistant to change especially when talking about changes of such a grand scale. In order for their to be a driving force behind the change, everyone must feel a bit threatened. The threat that the world may end is a lot scarier than the threat of just running out of fossil fuels. While both are extremely catastrophic, it's much easier for the average Joe to picture the world being destroyed by severe climate shifts (thanks to movies) than gas pumps running dry.

The real question posed by the "Global Warming Threat" is actually a philosophical one. If the belief in the giant flying spaghetti monster proves to be false, but as a result of that belief we as people of the world are able to make advances in science that reduces or removes the world's reliance on fossil fuels, are we not better off? Or in other words do the ends justify the means?

Fun Demos to Try

November 3, 2008

At the end of last week I took the opportunity to download the demos on XBL for Mirror's Edge and the new Tomb Raider Underworld games which are soon to be released. I took notice of Mirror's Edge when E3 hit and it really appealed to me as a genre-changing type of game. I really like the idea of taking the first person shooter type of game play and re-tooling it into something similar and yet new at the same time. As for Tomb Raider, I wasn't originally too interested "oh gee look, another Tomb Raider game..." but then I saw it with a little demo time on Xplay and it looked worth a try.

 Mirror's Edge

I'm going to really have to give this game a solid play through, it will be worth a rent for sure, possibly a buy. There are a couple of things that irked me about the demo, but let's talk about the positives first: the graphics are very well done and while the environments which are mainly the tops of buildings and once and a while indoors a bit while atop those buildings, the feelings of scale in the city really sell the visual quality. You really get immersed in seeing a building ledge off in the distance and knowing that you can make some amazing jumps to get there. The story is interesting enough to carry the game and at least give you a reason for all the death-defying leaps from building top to building top. The combat or really fleeing from combat except for those few in your way is fun in a frantic feeling that adds pace to the game play. What I'm not really to happy about is the controls. The default buttons seem odd and uncommonly used for a first person game. Moving yourself and the camera are controlled with the left and right thumb sticks as you would expect, but then the similarities sort of disappear. LB and RB will be your main button presses in the game instead of a more normal A or X to jump, roll, etc. I found this a little awkward, especially using LB to jump and I really hope I can map that to a better button that I'm more likely to press. Instead they have a bullet-time mode mapped to the X button but I don't think I will ever use it except in combat which is how they choose to teach you about what X does.

I really had fun with the demo, I think the way they have presented the 1st-person shooter is really more of a new 1st person action game. Now the best thought I had about using this game play model while running around building tops was to use this method of presentation to make a Batman or Spiderman game, that would really be something.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

I was a fan of the very first Tomb Raider game from way back when. The puzzles were fun to solve and the environments were really well done and that to me was what "made" the game stand out on it's own. The series sort of lost that a bit as it had various sequels try to improve upon the original game and as a result I lost interest long ago. I thought this latest version would also pretty much suck but I happened to catch a 5 minute hands-on demo on Xplay and it looked good enough to pay attention to it. Once the demo became available on XBL I snatched it up and I have to say it's very much reminiscent of the original. The demo gives you a look at the Thailand level which you approach via boat with a quick swim and then climb and Croft-ian jumps and flips up a few ledges. While going through this exercise, I became familiar with the controls which were fairly well done. You have to do battle with the camera once in a while but that is pretty much standard in any 3rd person action game (when will a camera ever just work?). Graphics in the game definitely have a good level of polish. I found myself pulling out the binoculars to have a good look around whenever I got up high and had a great view or just wanted to check out some of the areas better. I'm looking forward to this one now as well having played the demo, it really gave me the old feeling I had when playing the original game.

So now of course, I have to add these to my list of games to get this season. I'm going to go broke with all the great stuff that's out there.

Fable 2 Review

October 22, 2008

Since I've gotten my new laptop and it came with Windows Live Writer which is a fancy blog-a-ma-bob application, I've decided to try a post through it to see how it goes.

Fable 2 is pretty awesome. For once I don't think anyone is going to be disappointed in this title in the way the first game had a few let downs. The only real issues have been the crazy stuff that happened to the Collector's Edition and how it essentially got whittled down to nothing but a bit of downloadable content that even got screwed up this week.


Game Play

Fans of the first game will feel right at home with the sequel. The overhaul to the combat system was fantastically done. One of my gripes about the original Fable was that it was too difficult to use magic in combination with other melee or ranged skills. Fable 2 corrects that by making single button presses (X, Y, B) to handle melee, ranged, magic attacks. The combat is simple to use, but difficult to master. You can easily mash buttons and kill enemies, but there is a lot more involved if you want to pull off cool combo attacks using different types of attacks in combination with each other. You also are rewarded with experience bonuses when you show your prowess with combat.


As you can see from the video there are lots of ways to mix and match attacks and they all work very well and are pretty easy to get the hang of within a few minutes of your first couple of fights. There is also a "cool" factor when you kill an enemy with a single critical hit and the camera zooms in and shows you in bullet time the result of your kill. Also magical spell effects are really well done, they all are very impressive and sometimes I find it hard choosing which spell to use to kill enemies with because they are all lots of fun. So far I've been sticking to shock and fire which are great. Shock will stun enemies temporarily so you can use other attacks to finish them off.



So far the story isn't blowing me away, it's a pretty normal RPG-like plot, quickly sets you up with an antagonist and gives you a reason for not liking that person (they kill your sister). So you grow up and have a reason for vengeance and in addition to that, this bad guy is also trying to rebuild a mystical tower that was responsible for blowing up part of the world back after the first game takes place and so it's probably not a good idea. But really that is all well and good, there are so many Other things you can do in the game to occupy your time with, that you may end up only following the main quest when you get bored.


Other things to do in Albion

I'm hardly sure where to begin with this, there seems to be almost an unlimited amount of ways to entertain yourself within the world of Fable 2. Besides progressing along the main quest line, it's nice to stop a bit and take a look around to just explore the rich environments. The developers and the art direction paid a lot of attention to adding little details here and there in every area you encounter. Also the areas themselves are about 2-3 times as big as they were in the original Fable, that you can almost get swept away off exploring. I took a quick trip to explore the graveyard in Bowerstone and ended up spending 30 minutes looking at gravestones, and even finding a couple of secret treasure chests and on top of that noting some things I will most likely need to come back to later as the story progresses.


Here are just a few other possible things you can occupy yourself with:

  • attract members of the opposite or same sex
  • get married to someone, get divorced
  • purchase a house to live in or rent
  • redecorate the homes you own with different furniture
  • have some children
  • get fat, drunk, lazy
  • take up odd jobs to earn cash, blacksmith, woodcutter
  • play some pub games like keystone or fortune's tower
  • take up side quests for loot and experience
  • play fetch with your dog
  • roam the country side looking for chests and pools to dive in


Those are just a few of the many things I found so far, you can even earn money from the homes you rent out or businesses you purchase while not even playing.


Fable 2 Pub Games Integration

I noticed when I sat down with a game master to play a round of Keystone I had the option of merging with a patron from my Fable 2 Pub Games on Xbox Live. Since I hadn't played the games since they were patched and reset to fix the cheat in Fortune's Tower, I had 500,000 gold available at my disposal to have fun with. There were some consequences for my actions however, while my main alignment of good/evil didn't change, the bar underneath went far down into the "corrupt" level. But the good news is that it is still early in the game so plenty of time to undo the damage and salvage it back to the light. So all in all, there isn't much wrong with cheating in the pub games and then getting that loot in the real game. The pistol I got from the pub games is actually pretty nice. Haven't tried out the fancy bed yet.


Final Thoughts

Well if you haven't gone out and picked up a copy of this game, then do it now! There is really no way you can be disappointed with this game unless you absolutely hate action RPGs or don't even like dogs. I swear the first time your dog finds you some treasure you would have completely wandered by you will wish you had a virtual milk bone to give him.


Here is are some tips on making money in the game. I found the two for upgrading your dog's treasure hunting ability very useful. There is one note they don't mention in the video. You have to find the first book upgrade before your dog can sniff out the 2nd one. I had trouble finding the first book so I went after the 2nd (very easy to find the location) but the dog couldn't find the spot without the first upgrade.

Fable 2 is almost here!

October 20, 2008

Well just a few short hours more to go until I get my hands on a copy of Fable 2. Supposedly it will ship overnight through and the street date delivery garuntee. We'll see if they can live up to the promise.

A couple of things to note:

I have not patched my Fable 2 Pub Games so I'm wondering if I can still merge the hundreds of thousands of gold I have gotten through the cheat into a character in Fable 2. I'll let you know how that goes.

It also has been mentioned that we will be getting the multiplayer co-op patch tomorrow upon release which is great. Although from what I've heard, the single player experience is really well done and we wouldn't have missed the co-op anyways. Still it's good that it won't be missed from day one of the game's launch. It's a little more surprising that consoles are electing to pull the old PC release game tossing out patches on or just after release in order to make release dates.

XPlay has also reviewed the game today, getting a solid 5 out of 5 with only one small gripe about the cutscene animation. Looks like another must-have title for the Xbox 360. I know my Xbox blog has been complaining of me not spending much time with it, but now I'm sure I will be spending a lot of time in Fable for the next couple of weeks.

Update: Seems there are still troubles for the Limited Collector's edition. It's been reported that some of the copies that were distributed by one publisher did not include the cards that allowed access to the exclusive downloadable content. Supposedly the copies that have the orange LIVE sticker on the package do have the cards, so if you are going to purchase one, you may want to check the packaging. Microsoft has stated they are looking into the issue and expect to resolve it for customers by the 28th of Oct. As for me, I didn't bother with the collector's edition and after all the issues it's had, I'm really glad I didn't.

Dell Customer Service Sucks Big Floppy Donkey Dick

October 17, 2008

Never order anything from Dell period.

I've made a few purchases from Dell in the past, and everything worked out as expected. In the past the process was painless and items were recieved as expected.

Unfortunately, Dell now sucks.

Needing a new laptop, I decided to purchase a XPS 1530 system this week. I modified the base system to include a slightly better processor, better graphics card, the max ram the system would take, and also the larger faster hard drive. Then removed all of the extra junk they pack on in the customize section like the virus software and Microsoft Works.

The system ended up being around $1500. 

I logged onto their site today with a pleasant surprise that the order was shipping today and I would get it early next week, much sooner than anticipated. 

In my email, a special offer from Dell, in which I noticed that the system I just purchased may be on sale even more than it was at the earlier part of the week. Thinking it's probably a special build of the system they are offering at a cheaper price, I go ahead and customize it the same as the one I purchased on Monday.

Lo and behold, the price comes in at about $1300. Same system, 4 days later $200 cheaper.

At first I figured I probably missed something that would make my system a bit more expensive, so I compare my build out confirmation email with the one on the web page, and everything is the same. So I decide I would contact customer support to help out with this, I choose the chat method from the page.

I only need to wait a bout 2 minutes to get connected with someone, so far so good, but after explaining the issue, they tell me all I can do is call XSP Customer Support. I thank them and pick up the phone.

This is where things take a turn for the worse.

After navigating their voice menu to get to a human that can help me, I give the order number and verify shipping information and explain the issue about the lower price. I immediately get transfered to someone else who tells me there is nothing they can do about the price, and that the "prices change everyday".

I simply tell them that this is an unnacceptable level of customer service, and I should not be penalized for purchasing an item not 4 days earlier at a higher price. Furthermore, since my system is shipping today, the start of the sale, they should honor the lower price for me since this is when I am actually being charged. Still they explain to me that there is nothing they can do to the price once the order is placed.

Furious, I yell a few obscenities at them about how prepostorous this is and hang up. Drinking a shot of vodka, I calm down and then decide this is not over.

I call back, this time I don't get transfered and the idiot on the phone tells me the same thing as before, they can't credit me the difference in the price even though he agrees with me. I ask to speak to his manager to which he informs me that no one, not even the manager can change this policy. So I continue to speak with him, explaining similar circumstances with other companies always result in a way to make the buyer happy within a time frame of a new sale price on recently purchased items. Hell I used to do that sort of thing all the time when I was in retail. If you make a purchase on something within 30 days, there is a cheaper price, then bring in the receipt and we will refund the difference. Why not? Why punish the consumer for being a little early.

Even though this customer service rep still agrees with me, he won't connect me with the manager who is apparently busy with "3 other calls at the moment". I tell him this is not surprising considering how poorly they are handling this issue.

The rep then comes up with a brilliant plan. He tells me that while he doesn't want me to return the system that was shipped today, I could return it, get a refund, purchase another system today with the sales price and then everything would be fine.

I explain to him that I don't want to spend $3000 just to have $1500 refunded back to me so I can save $200, just credit me the difference and there is a lot less work involved for everyone, no reason to build 2 systems, just let me use the one I have not yet recieved and don't make me jump through all of these hoops to save a few bucks.

He remains steadfast that this is the only option I can proceed with. I ask yet again to speak with the manager who is now on "4 concurrent calls". 

I ask, what the hell kind of bullshit is this? You mean to tell me that if I purchased this system yesterday at $1500, there is no way you can today give me the $1300 price on the same system? The only way to make this work is to buy yet another system at the better price? 

He replies "Yes..."

After a few more obscenities, I hang up the phone. Why the hell do consumers get the shaft all of the time? How hard is it to help ensure that the customer is happy and will continue to return to the company for future purchases? While faced with an opportunity to make a customer for life, they have lost a customer for life instead.

The moral of the story, don't buy a Dell. "Dude you're getting the shaft!".

Been Busy

October 9, 2008

Whew! Been a busy past 10 days or so, haven't hardly had time to even update this blog at all. Just wanted to post a couple notable things that I've seen lately.

Fable II Co-op patch
It looks as if we will be getting the Co-op patch on or near release day for Fable II which is great. I was really worried that we wouldn't be getting it until a week or 2 later. I'm also a little more relieved by this news as maybe the game won't be lacking the polish I previously thought. It's going to be tough to play the game and forget all of the hype and look at it from a fresh perspective as it is, lots to live up to in this game.

Richard Garriot in Space
Sunday is the big day as Lord British himself will be making his way into space. You can watch live coverage of the launch and ISS docking events on TV if you care to stay up late enough. 2:00 am CST on Sunday is the launch and Tuesday at 3:00 am will have docking coverage. Maybe he'll play some Tabula Rasa from space? Maybe that will boost the failing MMO? Doubtful.

New Xbox Live Experience
It's finally been announced that we will get the new Xbox live experience on Nov. 19th. I'm looking forward to pretty much everything that it has to offer, the avatars are a bit meh and I will not be spending money on getting new "clothes" for it. Actually it might be fun to create the worst looking avatar on the system.

Creative Xdock iPod System
I recently purchased a Creative Xdock iPod system and reciever off and I have to say it is a pretty cool product. It ran $50 new on Woot, and usually retails for $90 or so getting a main dock and a reciever. Basically the product allows you to wirelessly stream music from one source ipod dock to any number of reciever docks in a 100ft range. It supports a digital out on the base station which I have plugged into my home theater and then the recievers can plug in to a speaker system via RCA or standard mini-jack. There is absolutely no delay in the music transmission and the included remotes work well. I was even able to program my universal remote to work with the system right out of the box which was pretty awesome. If you do any playing of your ipod on a home theater and want to also be able to pump it through your house, this is a great setup and well worth the $50 price if you can find it. The regular sales price is a bit up there, it's a good product, but you really need to be pretty hard up for the solution.

Palin email hacker to face up to 5 years
Man this kid was dumb. I knew this would happen as soon as they announced they were going to get the FBI and secret service involved in the investigation. The guy should have just keep access to the email a secret, done a thorough search for a while, archived anything incriminating and then unleashed his own version of an October surprise to smash the McCain/Palin campaign if that was truly his intent. If he had found anything really bad, people mainly would lose sight of the fact that he hacked the account and maybe even branded him a hero, or if jailed, a martyr. Either way he'd probably end up more famous instead of a soon to be forgotten felon.

More XNA 2.0 Development
I've been working a lot on learning the XNA development framework. So far I like it a lot, the objects are really great and always seem to have the properties I'm looking for in order to accomplish some kind of effect. I'm currently working hard at getting particle systems going and have a pretty good base particle system engine object. I will be trying to refine it a bit and then probably moving on to developing a pac-man game using the knowledge I have just to solidify everything I've learned so far. Back in college I had to write pac-man (then called Slackman) for homework in CSE 142 so all the game rules and everything is old hat. I do get to make it look much nicer with some high quality sprites though. Once I start developing my real game I will start a new blog dedicated to it's development, I'll need a name for it though and that may take the most time to come up with.

Dissapointing Fable 2 News

October 2, 2008

As the Fable 2 launch is fast approaching we are starting to hear some disturbing news about items not in the final version of the game that will be shipping on the 21st. 

The first of these is the online multi-player co-op mode will not be available when you put the game disc in your Xbox, but will be released (hopefully) that week as a patch. I'm pretty worried about this fact since in all of the most recent demos of the game since E3 have shown the multi-player working in the game. They've been touting it being so special and revolutionary, and now it looks as if the first "patch" that actually will add the feature may be a bit buggy. I've been worried that something like this would happen since the announcement of a patch that fixed the Pub Games cheat in Fortune's Tower, starting to make it seem like we may not get everything we were promised in Fable 2 right out of the box. I hope that whatever is lacking from the finished product is put into place asap after release.

Also the limited collector's edition has had some issues. It was just announced yesterday that due to supply issues, the collector's edition will no longer include a fancy tin, the printed "fate" cards, or the Hobbe figurine. To make up for this, they are knocking $10 off the price putting it at $70, but it hardly seems worth getting in the first place. I have been known to snag the collector's editions of some games because of the offerings of great extras. I have the Warcraft III collector's edition, World of Warcraft Collector's Edition, and the Burning Crusade Collector's Edition. Coincidentally, they are all from Blizzard, but Blizzard always does a good job of making them worth the extra money. The art books that came with them are just simply amazing, and worth the price alone. Suffice it to say, I didn't order the Fable 2 Collector's Edition and I'm glad I didn't. If anyone hasn't already done so, I'd change your pre-order to the regular version and save yourself another $10.

XNA Game Studio 2.0
Instead of just playing games, I've decided to try my hand at making games. I've always had a few good ideas for different types of games, but really didn't have the time to invest in all of the development. Besides being able to do the programming, there are lots of additional resources necessary for putting together a gaming experience. It can all be a very daunting task to start with, deciding what platform/language to develop in, look and feel of the experience, artwork & sounds to build.

While I have heard of the XNA Game Studio, I hadn't really taken too deep a look at it until recently. The XNA framework really does a good job of making some of the more tedious game development tasks easy. Handling resource based content loading pretty much all automatically and allowing you to take advantage of very rich classes that expose useful methods that work on either Xbox 360 or Windows platforms. In fact, one of it's greatest strengths is that you can develop a windows or 360 game and change the project to the other rather easily. You do need to take into account some coding differences with pre-compiler directives, but once you know which areas you need to watch out for, that is easy to accomplish.

I went ahead and got the Visual Stuido C# 2008 Express product and the XNA Creators Studio 2.0 (3.0 is currently in beta and also available) and picked up a couple of books to go along with the tutorials they offer online. The first book "Beginning XNA Game Programming From Novice to Professional" is a decent book but I do have some gripes about it. The title of the book is a little mis-leading. This really isn't a book for someone who considers themselves a novice. You need to have a good grasp of programming concepts and some background in C, C++, or C# or you will be quickly lost as you progress out of the first chapter. The code examples in the book are good, but also lack some important information and have some errors as well. They have corrected these issues in the online source code available for the book, but stuff like that can cause real headaches for someone who is a novice. For me, these mistakes of omission actually help me to learn, because it forces me to think ahead of what the book is telling me and decide if I have to do anything else on my own to make a sample project work, which in turn reinforces what I'm learning, but without having 8+ years of real-world programming experience in a variety of languages, I would be frustrated by the missing information in the book. Consider this a book for the intermediate/advanced developer and not for someone who doesn't know anything about programming.

The 2nd book I picked up, also by Apress, was "XNA 2.0 Game Programming Recipies: A problem-solution approach". This book is much better, but it also geared more towards someone who has already got some development experience with XNA. The problem/solution approach provides real world examples of things you need to accomplish for different game types and while I've only glanced through a few chapters so far, I find it to be a good no-nonsense type of approach.

So now all I need to do is solidfy my gaming concept and get cracking. Unfortunately this is the busiest time of the year for me work-wise which means I won't really be hard at development until sometime in November, but until then I'm open to any game design ideas any fledgling game developers out there have in mind.

Classic Games I Love

September 29, 2008

The recent purchase of Xcom: UFO Defense and it's sequel Xcom: Terror From the Deep via Steam has reminded me of some classic games that I will always love to play. There is something about them that was done so well, they were great to play, and even after completing them, I can always go back and re-play them again and enjoy them just as much as before.

Xcom: UFO Defense
Created by Microprose, Xcom is one of those rare games that successfully blends 3 game genre's together to create it's own type of game. It's part turn based strategy, RPG, and civilization all rolled into one fantastic game. The turn based strategy is where you spend most of your gameplay time, and while it is very simple in nature, it's very fun and can be extremely challenging. The RPG element deals with your squad of soldiers, they get better in different areas after each successful mission. The civilization aspects deal with building and maintaining your bases around the globe, reasearching new equipment, and manufacturing new facilities and equipment your squad can use on missions. The goal of the game is to protect the world from invading aliens, intercept their spacecraft as well as protect innocent civilians from attacks on world cities. As the game progresses you learn more about the aliens themselves through your research and eventually the aliens begin to attack your bases directly. The game culminates with a final showdown attack launched against their home base of operations.

Xcom: Terror From the Deep
The sequel to the original Xcom, takes the same game and puts it underwater. I actually enjoy this version of the game more than the original because of the updated graphics and other all around improvements on the original. The gameplay is the same, just underwater, the story is also essentially the same as well. While it may sort of lack originality, they knew the original gameplay wasn't broken so there was no point in fixing it. Alas, they did change everything for the 3rd and 4th installments of the series which I ended up avoiding like the plague.

Syndicate was created by Bullfrog and was originally a Peter Molyneux creation I believe. Bullfrog was responsible for quite a few great games and Syndicate was one of my all time favorites. Essentially a mission-based, action RPG, you are put in the control of a squad of enhanced cyborgs and tasked with various objectives to increase your Syndicate's influence in the world. Battling rival syndicates for world dominance is the ultimate goal of the game, and you also have RPG elements and research that allow you to upgrade your cyborg squad with enhancements you can activate during gameplay to literally reign in complete destruction in the mission environments. It was always lots of fun to activate your squad and watch them go on a killing spree, mowing down police, civilians, rival syndicate cyborgs, and usually blowing up half the screen in the process. The sequel Syndicate Wars, messed with the game enough that it wasn't enjoyable which was really too bad.

Dungeon Keeper
Another Bullfrog classic, Dungeon Keeper was the first game I remember that took a different perspective on the player being an evil dungeon master instead of the expected benevolent protagonist. Another Molyneux real time strategy game, your goal is to build a dungeons that can attract strong and powerful monsters while holding off would-be heroes from cleansing your taint from the land. The notable things about this game were the ability to treat your minions with an iron fist making them work or train harder. You could also step into any of your minions viewpoint and get a first-person view of your dungeon which made the game a lot of fun. Not only could you walk around in your dungeon, but you also took on the abilities of that creature, so that if you were an imp you could dig walls and fetch gold, or as a monster you could engage directly with fighting heroes that entered your dungeon. The game also offered multiplayer where competing dungeons would be built out of the same earth, but that was only so fun. The games always ended up in one large conflict, where the victor would destroy the other player's dungeon heart. The bigger draw to the game was the single player campaign and it was a lot of fun. The voice of the narrator was deliciously evil as well. I never got a chance to play the sequel, and it's something I need to try and find somewhere and give it a playthrough.

A Halo MMO?

September 24, 2008

It was revealed yesterday that soon to be closed Ensemble Studios was at one point working on a MMO set in the Halo universe. The project was killed by Microsoft, which was probably a good thing.

While the Halo universe is most likely rich enough to support an MMO game, I don't think it would really work too well in practice. There is a continuing struggle between 3 different races, a war that rages across many different planets and locations, but that really wouldn't fit the game play mold for an MMO in my opinion. Maybe it's just that I've played too much WoW, but whenever I've tried the futuristic scifi based MMOs such as Anarchy Online, they always seem to have something lacking.

I think were a Halo MMO would work, would be something similar to Planetside in which it's a class based first person shooter set in a persistant world where battles are continually on-going. The problem with that is it would compete too much with Halo's multiplayer already and not bring anything really new or different to the series.

The released concept screenshots, look like something right out of WoW and I don't see 5 spartans joining up to investigate a bunker and rid it of flood or covenant. I think that the game would have to go away from a class-based MMO and allow players to customize the type of game play they would want to have and it would largely be based as a single-player multiplayer game similar to the first Asheron's Call. Players could accomplish 90% of the game on their own but have a social component built into the game to group up with friends and have fun.

All in all, I'm glad this project was scrapped because I think it would have just cheapened the Halo series. The upcoming Halo Wars on the other hand looks to be a good game and something that works perfectly well within the Halo universe. I'm looking forward to seeing how they make the controls fit the console for a real time strategy game that are traditionally only worth playing on a PC.

Fable II

September 23, 2008

Well I recently discussed my thoughts on the Fable 2 Pub Games cheat, and I'm a little surprized and dissappointed at what has now happened. Apparently there is a patch that removes the ability to cheat from Fortune's Tower which really doesn't make any sense.

When the games first came out, it was clear right away you could cheat in Fortune's Tower and people quickly got lots of gold and items from the exploit. It seemed clear to me that if they didn't want the ability to cheat in the pub games, they would have patched it with in a week or 2 of the release.

Then we find out that Molyneux, intended the cheat in the first place, and that those who cheated would be in for a surprise in the game. Fable being a game of consequence, you'd expect exactly this type of thing and a fun and clever way for the developers to pull a little prank on those who used the exploit.

And now there is a patch that removes the cheat from Fortune's Tower? This makes absolutely no sense. If they intended it in the first place, why remove the ability? This move has me a little worried. It seems as if the game may not have all of the bells and whistles we were promised. Supposedly there will be all kinds of things one can do to entertain themselves besides moving along the story line. It is possible that they had to scrap this little prank to ensure the game made it out  in time and that is what I'm hoping for, but it also makes me a little sad they couldn't pull it off. Maybe at some point after the game is released we will find out what was originally intended and why it had to be removed, or perhaps it can be re-enabled in a future patch or expansion of game content.

In other Fable 2 news, the game has gone gold and is shapping up to hit the Oct 21st launch.

Busy Weekend

September 19, 2008

I'm thinking of changing up the structure of the site a little bit. I want to try and review a new game each week but in addition to that I think that smaller posts about a variety of the week's current hot topics will probably serve the blog better and provide my viewers with more variety in my posts. With that said, let's begin...

Sarah Palin's E-mail Hacked
There is a heck of a lot that one can say on this topic it's almost hard to begin. My overall impression on the matter is that Palin was doing something she shouldn't and she got caught. Now it doesn't really matter if any of the emails show some actual proof that something shady is/was going on, she crossed the line using a public email for more than personal stuff and should've known better. As soon as she accepted the Vice Presidential ticket, she should have cleaned out skeletons in her closet because being quickly thrust into the political lime-light brings a fuck-ton of scrutiny on everything you have previously done and every step you take up until the election.

Now I'm not defending the hackers for what they did, although it seems it wasn't too complicated in the first place. I'm sure since the FBI and Secret Service are investigating them, they probably have a limited amount of time left before they aren't so "anonymous" anymore. This is more question about having the brains to cover your own ass if you are going to play in a grey area of legality. The moral of the story? People who do stupid things get caught, eventually. Some are quicker than others such as this case, and some take several years of bad investments as seen by a few of the great American corporations who have officially wrecked the stock market for the last 2 weeks.

Spore DRM (Redux)
The whole Spore DRM thing started to piss me off a little yesterday after thinking some more about it. Originally I didn't care one way or another too much, it was just another retarded move by EA which was to be expected. I guess what I think is so stupid is the amount of idiocy on both sides of the equation. EA was the first to show how much they have been whacked with the dumb-stick by including SecuRom in the first place in the game. It absolutely has done nothing but screw over the individuals who purchased their game. People who will pirate their game will do so no matter what anti-piracy measures are in place. A fact they just need to live with instead of trying to alienate their player base.

Players who are vocal about the inclusion of SecuRom have chosen poor ways of voicing their opinions. While creating creatures hinting on DRM and doing the Amazon poor rating scheme garner some attention to the issue (which there was already plenty to begin with before the product's release), ultimately people are still buying the game and EA still wins. In order to truly make a statement, boycotting the game is the strongest method in which to tell EA you are pissed off and don't want to give them any money. While the whining has gotten EA to say they will allow more installs of the game, it has put them in a power position by being able to please the petulent screaming children, and taking away their lollipops at the same time.

For a different take on Spore, check out Zero Punctuation's review.

The Force Unleashed
I was thinking of picking up a copy this weekend but I'm going to wait until all the hype dies down and I can just grab a cheapo copy of the game in late Oct or Nov to see how it plays. Hopefully I will forget the below average reviews and come in with an open mind. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy it anyways, even with some of the game play pitfalls. The story is supposed to be very good, and the graphics for the environments are top notch. I'm just afraid that if the game ends up being "throw the controller at the wall, while screaming obsenities" annoying, then I don't want to have paid $60 for the pleasure.

Weekend Plans
Well the weekend is finally here, but instead of just watching football and swilling beer for it's entirity, I will have to actually do some work around the house starting with re-painting the dining room. I hate to paint, or rather, I hate doing the prep-work to paint. It seems to take forever to get all the tape up the way you need it in order to make clean paint lines and not color everything incorrectly, but I guess that's life. Once you get started with the actual painting, it's not that bad. Hopefully the Hucking Fuskies can figure out what they need to do to get a win this season and be prepared for Stanford in a week. The Seahawks aren't doing much better starting the season 0-2, but are favored by 9 points this weekend over the Rams. This being Holmgren's last season as head coach, they need to step it up a notch despite the injuries plauging our reciever core.

A couple of things

September 17, 2008

Force Unleashed Reviews
Got a few different things to talk about today. Starting first off with all of the bad reviews that The Force Unleashed has recieved since it's release yesterday.

I'm not quite sure what the problem is, and granted I've only played the demo. There was so much hype surrounding this game and the amount of talk it has been getting in the video game media since very early this year, it makes me wonder if the industry shot itself in the foot by hyping it up too much and then had no choice but to give it poor reviews when the game didn't live up to their own bloated expectations. From all the reviews I've seen or read, they all seem to nitpick some of the same issues and really what it boils down to from what I've seen of the game is that the game environments got a huge amount of polish to create a fantastic Star Wars universe to play in, but the game play didn't receive the same amount of polish to ensure that you had a good time while looking at the pretty graphics.

Cheating in Fable II Pub Games
The pub games on Xbox Arcade give players a unique opportunity to earn some gold before the game is released for your Fable II characters. Pretty much as soon as people started playing them, a cheat was found that allowed you to amass huge amounts of gold very quickly. Since the cheat was very simple and Fable has always been a game of consequence (your game play morality choices affect the outcome of your character) it seemed fairly clear to me that this "cheat" was intentionally put into the game so that it would alter the game world in some way. The easiest thing they could do is give your character lots of evil points for cheating, but they may even take it a lot further by making the game have incredible inflation on all the prices of anything you can buy in the game. 1000s of gold to buy some apples wouldn't be much if you had several million gold in starting cash. Several people have speculated that the cheat was intentional, but now we know for sure that it was. It will be interesting to see what happens the day the game is released and people choose to cash in on the items and gold they collected in the Pub Games.

The other thing that was a bit of a clue this was planned is there was a lot of talk and hype about a "patch" that would reset the gold and fix the cheat, however, one was never released to fix the issue allowing players to continue. Since it was widely known about and could have been easily patched via Xbox Live, why wasn't it done if it truly wasn't intentional? Well it was intentional and we will get to see what prank the game plays on us with all our gold we cheated.

Spore DRM Issues
EA has taken a lot of flak for their inclusion of SecuRom as Spore's DRM. Everything from the Amazon review fiasco and now EA's changing their stance on allowing an authorize/deauthorize mechanism for moving the game to and from different machines. My opinion is that EA really screwed the pooch on this one. The people who are going to pirate their game will pirate it no matter what kind DRM they implement. All they do is screw the regular paying customer with crazy restrictions on content they legally purchase. It comes down to bad PR, but that is also something EA is pretty much known for, so I guess no surprizes there.

Something fun...
If you haven't seen the fun little video with the Portal song "Still Alive" then you should check it out.

Spore Review

September 15, 2008

Finally getting my hands on Spore over the weekend, I thought I would do a little review of the game so far. I've had a chance to play through all of the stages (except for completing the space stage) and going a carnivorous route as well as trying the herbivore route.

For those who aren't sure what Spore is, the game gives players the opportunity to create a race of beings that start out as cell organisms that land on a planet from a meteor and evolve into beings that can eventually dominate the starting planet as well as reach into space and later colonize planets. The game plays through 5 stages (Cell, Creature, Tribal, Civilization, & Space) with each stage having it's own type of game genre but also retaining some overall similarities such as how you advance from stage to stage or how you enhance your species.

Cell Stage
The Cell stage plays very simple, you move your creature around to eat your type of food (green for herbivores, red for carnivores), you look for new parts to collect for your creature, and you avoid or do combat with other cells that are in your pool of primordial soup. For being the first stage and also a rather quick stage, this stage is a lot of fun quite simply for the sense of scale that it brings as your fledgling organism grows up. You can often see much larger organisms in the background and when you grow up, they will dynamically change and reflect your new size. At one point I was being chased by another carnivore and I grew up, turned around and swallowed my persuer in one gulp. 

Here are a couple of tips I've noticed for getting through this stage no matter what your food type. Make sure you aren't slow, look for ways to speed yourself up so you can quickly attack or flee from persuers. Defense can be a good offense, make sure you have defensive spikes or shocking parts around your body that have a good length to them, for herbivores this is especially important and I've found having them on the rear of your creature is good when you are being chased, often other cells will attack from behind and run into your defense. Also don't be afraid to search far and wide looking for new creature parts. As a carnivore I killed a much larger herbivore and was rewarded with a new part besides lots of food.

Creature Stage
The creature stage is very similar to the cell stage, but there is a bit less chaos. You get a nest which is your base of operations and as you progress you can add to your pack so that you aren't a lone individual fighting in a strange world. Depending on your path, this stage can be a little more difficult. I've found that carnivores can quickly go through this stage as you can run around hunting almost any other species you come across. Planties have a tougher time as you have to impress other species to earn points and depending on the amount of attributes you have spent in areas like singing, dancing, charm, and posing some species will be hard to impress. You continue to hunt around the land looking for new parts to add to your creature, they are most often found near other species nests which provokes contact with them for good or ill. There is still a sense of scale at this stage of the game as well. One of the most fun things I encountered was an "elite" version of a T-Rex I made back in June with the creature creator. I heard a loud roar and found this very large animal bearing down on me, he ate one of my pack but I managed to survive with a large grin on my face and exclaiming "That was fucken cool!".

Tribal Stage
After your species becomes the dominate creature in your area, you evolve into a primitive collective that is capable of wooing or eradicating other tribes on your planet. You stop altering your species itself, but rather change how they are dressed. You gain technologies and new clothing apparel from other tribes. How you dress yourselves help with socializing, gathering, or combat and the technologies allow you to outfit members of your tribe with different tools. The tools range from combat, social, or gathering oriented. Your main sources of food remain the same, animals for meaties and plants for herbies. I was a little dissappointed that carnivorous races can't eat other races, I guess they didn't want hints of cannibalism in the game even though it really wouldn't count. Since they knew they would piss off all the Creationists out there, not sure why not just push the envelope a bit further. Anyways, I found the tribal stage to be my least favorite and a little boring as far as the RTS style game play it brings. I've found members of my tribe not eating when they are hungry, or even my chief getting stuck and not engaging in combat.

Civilization Stage
Once you move into the civilization stage, you no longer are evolving the look of your race, but begin to craft buildings and vehicles to help conquer the rest of the planet. So far I've played this through as warrior and religious based cultures and they both really play exactly the same. You need to gather resources and take over other cities. Land based cities can create land and air based units, while cities with sea access can create ships. There seems to be more depth to the building of other houses, factories, and places of entertainment within your cities but it doesn't seem to have any real affect to the gameplay of this stage. Basically get lots of resources, get lots of units, and take over the enemy. It seems to be best to rush through this stage and get to space as that's what seems to be the longest stage of the game.

Space Stage
I've only just recently reached the space stage and it almost seems a little overwhelming. You start out by creating your space ship in the similar fashion to creating vehicle units from the Civ stage. Once ready, you get a small tutorial to get you the ins and outs of piloting around as well as a basis for some of the types of missions you will be doing in space. Being able to colonize planets, investigate ruins of other civilizations, capture, study, and eradicate animal life are just a few of the things you get to do. There are lots of items you can add to your spaceship as well as lots of rare animals to collect and what looks to be hundreds of planets possible to explore.

Final Thoughts
Overall the game delivers what it promised. While a few of the stages don't really feel like more than bumps in the road to get to the space stage, they don't take very long to complete and do provide some interesting challenges. The large elite creatures still exist in the Tribal stage and are fun to hunt as payback from when you were chased by them in the creature stage. Don't play any stage expecting it to be a good RTS or good Civ clone or anything like that, they are just very basic knock offs of those types of game play, familiar enough that you don't need a long tutorial but also very basic as to what you can do with your bases and units. For some reason achievements exist in the game which reward you for certain accomplishments based on the type of species you develop. Since this isn't an Xbox game and unless you are playing around with Raptr, achievements are really only for yourself.

Death Magnetic

September 12, 2008

The first album release from Metallica in 6 years, Death Magnetic is the band's 9th album and thankfully brings back the sounds that one comes to expect from Metallica.

When listening the tracks to this album, the first thing most older Metallica fans will notice is how similar it feels to "And Justice For All..." and could have been an album released before the "Black" album. Out of the 10 tracks, only one clocks in at under 6 minutes long. Each song also features a fierce solo by Hammet who sounds very much like the crazy lead-guitarist found on "Kill 'em All", "Ride the Lightning", and "Master of Puppets". There is even an instrumental only track (Suicide and Redemption) on their latest offering, which I haven't seen on a Metallica album since Justice.

Like most Metallica fans, I have been very reluctant to purchase anything that has come from the band in the last 10+ years. They just had a very completely different sound that wasn't the Metallica that I knew, I'm glad to say that Magnetic really brings back what I consider the Metallica sound. Multiple intro-riffs to each song, hard and fast pounding riffs that build and change through out the long songs, hinting at what is to come later. Amazing solo's that would make your fingers bleed if you try to play them as fast as Hammet.

Also new for the first time, this full album is available for Guitar Hero III at the same time it has been released for regular purchase. The band's position on the digital medium for music seems to have done a 180 this year and finally embraced the Internet as a way to get their music to the fans instead of worrying about music being stolen. They even have their own YouTube channel.

Overall this is a fantastic album and a must have for any Metallica fan. The band will soon be starting their North America tour soon. Here is where you can find the tour dates.

Check out The Day That Never Comes, similar to One in many respects.

Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band

September 8, 2008

I've been waiting a while to weigh in on the whole Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band debate. Originally when both products were released last year, I didn't really feel they directly competed with each other. Both games really had their target auidence, Guitar Hero focusing mainly on being a guitar god and Rock Band being more of a party-game version allowing your friends to participate instead of just watch you be really good at Guitar Hero.

With Guitar Hero World Tour (the 4th installment in the Guitar Hero franchise) as well as Rock Band 2 fast approaching launches for the holiday season, there are a lot more features that pit these two products head to head.

The first is most notably the addition of a drum kit (pictured), bass guitar, and microphone to the Guitar Hero package which brings it up to speed with the number of instruments available to Rock Band franchise.

Clearly one of Rock Band's most successful selling points was the drum kit in the first place, even spawning a drum kit only version of the product. For Activision to include this in the next Guitar Hero product, it's clear they noticed what helped make Rock Band a success.

The other draw that Rock Band originally had was the release of new tracks each and every week for use with their game. While Guitar Hero has done a decent job of adding new track packs, Rock Band has had the edge.

Instead of simply copying Rock Band and trying to get more DLC, which they are doing anyways, the next Guitar Hero will also feature the ability to create your own music tracks that you can share with the community. This is pretty innovative and for the first time actually makes the game more like a real music product than just "push-this-button now to make the music play" game.

So far the Guitar Hero franchise seems to be leading in the battle for best rock rythym game in the next two installments. I'm not entirely sure what the new Rock Band is really bringing to the table as far as innovations besides more of the same. They've made much welcomed improvements to the instruments and have also made sure most of your previous Rock Band tracks will work in the new game but there really isn't anything differentiating them from Guitar Hero anymore.

Guitar Hero is also doing some amazing things with track line ups for the next product, starting this Friday as the entire new Metallica album is released for GH3 and will also work with World Tour. If that wasn't enough, Tool has also got 3 tracks lined up for World Tour as well as their own set done in the style of their music videos and concert performances.

Originally the GH series was the king of the hill, Rock Band recently displaced it by bringing new instruments, and the party with your friends atmosphere to the genre. GH3 is prime to reclaim their spot as the #1 rock rythym game with all the new features in World Tour. I will be waiting to purchase either products since my little living room really does not have the room for all of those instruments in either package I also want to give them some time in the market to see what the early adopters of each new game think.

On a side note, I'm a little tired of the ad campaigns for both games trying to hype it up that you are forming a "real" band, or somehow playing real music. The music creator in GH World Tour is finally the closest thing either product can claim to being more than just a button mashing game. Now granted, they are both fun to play, but it's not "real" like they seem to try to make it.

The real sound track to this commericial would be a lot of clickety-click, click, click.

Blu-ray dead in 5 years

September 5, 2008

Really? No freaking kidding...

I'm not sure why this is such a shock to anyone in any technology based industry, but for some reason I keep seeing sites posting about the comments from Samsung on where they think Blu-ray will be a defunct technology in 5 years, like this is some kind of earth-shattering announcement. As far as I'm concerned, saying "5 years" is a gift and over estimating it's actual shelf-life.

CDs, killed records & tapes, MP3s killed CDs. VHS killed Beta-max, DVDs killed VHS, Blu-ray killed DVDs (as well as HD-DVDs) and each of these conquering technologies killed their predeceors in a quicker time frame. What right did Blu-ray earn to be king of the hill for any length of time at all? Blu-ray is just a stop over in the technological gap before we can almost instantaneously download any type of multimedia content to our PCs or more likely our 72 inch OLED TVs via the Internet. All it takes is one of three things to happen.

1) An "MP3" like format for HD video content is developed, which allows existing Internet technology (fancy series of pipes for the less-technology inclined) to handle delivering the new herald of HD digital medium to our living rooms.

2) The way in which the Internet is delivered to our homes is changed in a manner that allows for higher bandwidth consumption at either metered or un-metered rates so that as our need for bandwidth increases per household, ISPs can deliver. Already there are some ISPs that are offering extreme bandwith to paying customers, it costs a lot today, but how long before that standard becomes the measuring stick by which most people have for their upload/download speeds? I remember not so long ago when 4800 baud was a heck of a connection to have to the fledgling Internet.

3) The third and most likely happening, is really just a combination of 1 & 2, where both new methods of compression for HD content as well as increasing speeds for home Internet access usher in an era where set-top boxes can provide HD content delivered in a matter of moments at the whim of the user. Who in their right-mind is going to pay over $300 for a Blu-ray player or the expensive discs at $30 a pop?

The other catalyst is storage space. As drives get larger and larger, and cheaper and cheaper, the "Tivo" 5 years from now will probably come with at least a 1TB drive in it for storing HD content downloaded directly from the net. Besides TV and movie content, why not video games. The Xbox Live platform already offers HD downloadable content (games, TV, & Movies) that are delivered via the Internet to your Xbox and stored on the hard drive. For a measely 120gb you can store quite a bit on your Xbox, 5 years from now an appropriate device would easily have 5x that amount. Really all that leaves is the delivery hurdle.

Storage is already cheap and getting cheaper by the month in almost every format available. We just sit waiting for the next major way to compress HD content for easy Internet delivery and/or the ISPs to increase delivery speeds to the home user at affordable prices.

Where is the real downside to this equation? The Internet itself is pretty much a horrible delivery medium at the moment. It has gotten much better in the last 2-3 years, but still has some major pitfalls to overcome. First of all, it really needs some major restructuring and an easy way to get rid of all the junk. The amount of Internet traffic that is currently wasted on spam and other crap needs to go for it to be a successful delivery medium. 

Update: This stuff is already in motion, just look at what Tivo has.

Google Chrome

September 2, 2008

It was inevitable that Google would some day release their own browser. While in the Google vs. Microsoft wars it seemed as far as browsers broke down on the fields of battle, it came down to Firefox vs. Internet Explorer. There are a couple of interesting issues that come to mind as I await for the beta of Chrome to be released today.

Where will Chrome fit in?
Google's take on the browser seems to promise much, and it had better come through on those promises if it wants to take market share away from Firefox as well as IE. But taking users away from Firefox probably isn't Google's aim. That may end up hurting their tug of war against Microsoft, mainly because IE is already on all windows based computers right out of the box and anyone who looks for a different browser gets Firefox because it has the name for itself as the "Anti-Microsoft" browser, or the "more secure" browser. There are those Google-fan boys that worship anything the company does as pure gold, which will ultimately be the largest voice for Chrome support out on the Internet, especially in the next couple weeks as we get to poke and prod at the beta version. In the end, Google probably won't mind stealing Firefox users. As long as they aren't using IE, they will be happy. I'm sure this will create a rift in the Anti-IE browser community, fighting over Chrome and Firefox as the best alternative to IE.

What I hope to see in Chrome
Chrome sounds very nice on paper. I'm eager to see what their "new take" on the browser is going to look like. There are some obvious features, it will most-likely support all Google products and will have a way to integrate right in to each and every page you are viewing. This way you can look at a map that relates to the site you are on, while writing a blogger post about some new topic, as well as chatting with your friends in the Google Talk app, all while using Google's search to come up with new links for you to peruse. Google Calendar may pop up and notify you of appointments or upcoming birthdays while you have the option of saving any image you see to your Google Picasa account. What I'd really like to see is a mobile version of the browser that will work on Windows Mobile devices so I can get a replacement for the mobile IE, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Google will reserve a mobile version of Chrome specifically for the Google Android mobile phone platform. At some point later they may release their own mobile version but not until Android has the amount of market share they are looking for.

Final Thoughts
I like most Google products, in fact I can't think of one that really is all that bad. The spreadsheet could be a little more robust, but as far as being an online application it does well and has potential. I used Google Desktop when it first came out and while I kind of liked it, it didn't really end up being very useful for me and removed it after a couple months. Chrome will be good a solid browser platform, I'm hoping that the integration of Google widget applications will also provide a good developer API so that others can create their own with easy integration, or even use existing Google Desktop Widgets with a minor tweak or two. As I sit here looking at my Firefox toolbar, I note lots of extensions on my toolbar for various activities. For Chrome to be successful, those extensions will need counter-parts which will most likely take time to develop and also be a major contributing factor to its success as a browser platform.

Looking at the bigger picture, this may also be a first step for Google in writing an operating system to directly compete with Microsoft. As every thing becomes more web-oriented and websites themselves become applications, as the concept of "Cloud Computing" becomes more and more prevalent and concrete, it makes perfect sense for a company like Google and all of the technologies it represents to create an OS that directly operates with the Internet as it source rather than the machine itself that it runs on. It could end up completely changing the way we know computers today and pushing all future hardware into a 1 single compatibility construct that only has the purpose of interacting with the Internet using a Google OS of sorts.

Once the shift of home and business machines changes over to a new medium, it would then push into the mobile devices. Or perhaps more likely, it will be the mobile devices that will be a the forefront of this change. The iPhone is already a product that could be eventually seen as the pioneer product in 10-15 years. Imagine having a single device you carry around with you that integrates into "The Cloud" for all your applications, when at home or the office, it automatically connects to your workstation peripherals. In 20-30 years we could even see bio-engineered versions of this technology directly embedded in people themselves. We live in interesting and exciting times, who knows where we will be in 30 years.

Learning Guitar

August 27, 2008

Nope, not another video game post. Today I've decided to discuss my little journey of learning to play the guitar.

Ever since high school I always wanted to learn how to play the guitar. For some reason I was reluctant to really give it a try as I had a few misconceptions about playing the guitar. First of all I thought that I needed to have long fingers in order to be a good guitar player, but it turns while having longer fingers may help, all it really takes is practice. I also thought that guitars and guitar equipment was really expensive, and while it is expensive, you can also find good beginner equipment or used equipment which is perfect for someone getting started.

Around last Christmas, I got into playing Guitar Hero III for the Xbox 360. I had never played any of the Guitar Hero series before and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I had originally stayed away from it, figuring the game for a silly DDR-style rhythm game, but the guitar peripheral really made it a lot of fun. After getting good on the hard and expert difficulties, I had a renewed need to learn the guitar. I figured it was time to stop being a Guitar Hero poser and learn to play for real. No sense spending hours getting good at something "fake" when you can spend the same time to learn becoming a real guitar player.

I did a bit of research online first of all to decide how best to go about learning. I found a few different resources that helped a bit, but by far the best one was Justin's site helped immensely with a great beginner course with detailed explanations and videos to help get started. I decided I would learn on an electric because they are a little easier to learn on in the beginning and there are plenty of cheap electric guitars and starter amps to be found.

My Gear

Epiphone Les Paul Special II

The guitar itself has great sound for whatever type of music you want to play. I've been using it primarily for learning different metal songs, but it has a very nice clean sound as well. With tweaking my amp a bit on the "crunch" channel, I can even really get a nice punk or grunge feel out of the guitar as well. If you are interested in this guitar or how it sounds, there are tons of people messing around with this guitar on youtube to give you a good idea. For the price, you really can't go wrong with it, great sounds, and excellent for the beginner.

Line 6 Spider III 15w

This amp rocks. Another great beginner item, this amp doesn't have too many complicated features. It's simply great for quickly making music the way you want it to sound, dial in one of the preset buttons and you are good to go. You can also tweak the sounds a bit by adjusting the gain, bass, mid, and treble as well as adding 2 other simultaneous effects. For 15 watts this amp can wake the neighbors, I've never even pushed the main volume past 1 on the dial. My next amp will probably be the 120w or 75w version of the same amp as they have hundreds of pre-set sounds which gets you more time playing and less time trying to dial in sounds when switching songs.

Both the guitar and amp are very solid beginner products. They aren't too expensive and if you purchase them separately you can basically build your own beginner starter pack that you often find around at Guitar Center or Musicians Friend.

Great Learning Guitar Resources
Essential Guitar Guide
Fretboard Guitar Trainer
Ultimate Guitar Tabs

My next Amp :)

Too Human Review

August 25, 2008

I finished the campaign of Too Human on my first character over the weekend and decided to give a review post about the game. Overall it’s a good game; I only really have a few gripes. Since they are planning on creating a trilogy for the franchise, I expect to have these issues resolved in the next installment of the game or maybe if lucky, a patch via Xbox Live. I have a feeling they are more likely hard at work on the sequel.

Game Play
Fundamentally the game play is solid, the controls are a little difficult to master at first but once you get the hang of it, Baldur is pretty easy to control around the environment. Movement itself is very simple, it gets complicated when you start wading through mobs of enemies with larger mini-bosses towering over you mid-battle.

At first I had a very difficult time timing the juggle move and the instructions weren’t clear that you had to move the right-stick 2x in the same direction, without that you end up slide attacking all the time and while that may work well for the weak enemies, you will find yourself dead quickly when going up against “leader” mobs. Leaders or mini-bosses usually are named and will display a health bar underneath Baldur when you have them targeted. Learning to master the juggle move is essential for successful game play or you will end up frustrated and resurrected by valkyries every few minutes.

Every class seems to kind of be a one-trick pony, you do attack A to kill weak mobs, juggle and try out attack A & B on the tougher mobs, trolls require a decision to go destroying it piece by piece or just enough to deliver the final blow while atop the great beasts. You’d think it gets boring after a while, but it really doesn’t because there are enough enemies coming at you as well as your special attacks (spider abilities, battle cries, and ruiners) to keep things interesting.

The levels themselves are very long and just when you think you are getting close to the end of a stage you find you have another 15-20 minutes of enemies to slog through. The promise of new shiny loot keeps you going from enemy to enemy, level to level. There is so much loot that if you don’t take a couple minutes of looking at what you have recently received in your inventory every 5 or so minutes of playing, you can easily be overwhelmed with the amount you need to go through sifting the good from the bad from the epic. Luckily there is a salvage assistant which you can set to auto-salvage certain quality types of items, but you still find yourself looking for armor/weapon upgrades that you can quickly toss into a slot.

It almost seems like the cut-scenes in the game get a little better in quality as the game progresses. In the beginning, the don’t quite have the same level of polish as the rest of the game areas that you are playing in, almost seeming like they are from a 1st generation Xbox title, however, once you are about half-way through the campaign they all of a sudden get a little better and the few graphics quirks I noted originally seemed to disappear.

Some fantastic looking environments and lots of eye candy to please in this one. They do a good job of pushing the 360 to it’s limits and you will only find there is any considerable amount of game slow down when there is just an absolute amount of stuff going on in the game. At one point I was fighting a troll, surrounded by smaller enemies and also being shot at by missile-goblins, the game finally succumbed to the madness as about 20 rockets exploded all around me and there was a few seconds of slow-down while the explosion animation was multiplied across the screen. All the stages have their own unique look and feel so you don’t get bored playing through the campaign, there is enough to mix it up and keep things fresh. This is essential as you will spend time replaying levels to gain additional experience and hunt for elusive armor and weapon sets.

Music & Sound
The game does a good job of creating the environments along with sounds that surround Baldur’s position. Whether it be explosions off in the distance, or characters speaking near you while in Midgard, they are believable. The music will quicken pace when entering combat areas with lots of enemies to provide the player with an epic feel and that lends to the satisfaction of cleaning out a large group of enemies without taking much of a scratch. The only complaint I have is that the in-game sounds are extremely loud compared to the voices at the default levels. I had originally cranked the volume up while watching a cut-scene and nearly went deaf when the game came back in, trolls around screaming for my blood.

The multiplayer system allows you to run back through areas you have un-locked with your character in the campaign and bring a buddy or random Xbox live player along for the ride. You get to pick the area, the loot distribution, and that is all you really need besides someone to join. What you embark on is a 2 player loot drop romp back through a previously cleared stage. The enemies you fight will be a mixture between your level ranges which is best if you have players fairly near each other level-wise. I had a game with my level 30 champion bringing in a level 48 commando and it made things difficult when I was one shot-stomped by a troll while trying to break off its armor. The game scales making the enemies more difficult as you progress, keeping it challenging.

If you happen to lose a connection while in the middle of a game, a new player can re-join right at the same spot in the level. There is no need to restart the session, just drop them in and keep killing things.

This is probably the most important aspect to the game if you want to consider it for a long time purchase over a rental. The campaign itself only houses about 12-13 hours of game play before you finish and will start over again either with a different class or continuing on with the same character to try and reach level 50. There are quite a few things to attain beyond the campaign for any individual character. First of all, reaching level 30 from one play through really only starts to scratch the surface of the human vs. cybernetic skill paths, you will want to continue to level and pump points into either of your skill trees to make your character even more powerful. Loot, loot, and more loot! There is so much loot to obtain, out-level, re-attain, that it is easy to find yourself re-playing areas and trying to win all of the best loot you can out of them. There are even areas in cyberspace that are only accessible after you have obtained all your cyberspace powers that garner you with fancy charms that in and of themselves have their own quest chains to complete. So while the main campaign is a little short, there are plenty of reasons to re-play through that content as your characters progress in level.

Final Thoughts
Too Human has been a long awaited game, and it does not disappoint. I wish that the campaign had 1-2 more levels in it to round it out around 20 hours of game time, but the extensibility of all the other content that is not just story but character progression more than makes up for that. If you are the type of player that likes action-oriented RPGs with a very deep class specialization system and all the loot you can get your hands on then you will like this game. If you are on the edge about the game, give it a rent or give the demo a try and see if you can stay away from all the awesome loot.