Friday, March 30, 2007

New MC Frontalot Album

MC Frontalot's new album "Secrets From the Future" drops on April 6th and woe to those that don't pick it up. It is available for preordering for those of you as superfresh, or possibly superfresher, as I. Here's a quick test to determine if you're fly enough to preorder this album:

1) Do you like mad rhymes about nerd heavy stuff like encryption?
2.) Do you have the $15.95 needed to swing both the cost of the disc and the S&H?
3.) Do you have access to Teh Intraweb?

Answering yes to those three puts you in a category of megadopeness necessary to preorder this compliation of what will no doubt be unrelentingly thick rhymes.

The Front is also going on tour, however just like last year, he is visiting the ATL on a day when I will be away on vacation. I like to think that this is the universe's way of keeping two people of such incredible funkosity out of range of one another lest a quantum groovularity open and the world be sucked into a Black Hole of Soul. It could also just be an unfortunate coincidence.

For those that are not in danger of rending the world asunder by being near the Front, please attend one of his shows and report back. I am interested at the level of raptacularness that is achieved. I expect it to be staggering.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Some Advice

If, as you go about your day's events, you come across a huge tub filled with bubble solution and half a dozen bubble wands, take some time and make some really big bubbles. You'll feel better that you did.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Please Easter, Don't Be Late

I am currently gripped with what can only be described as gross impatience as the day of Easter draws nigh.

I shall explain, as one usually is not so overjoyed with that particular holiday as to be on pins and needles awaiting its arrival.

I am not a huge fan of candy. Oh sure, I enjoy an occasional Big Kat or Skor bar and I have been known to get Nutrageous from time to time, but if candy were to up and ship out for parts unknown I wouldn't mourn its passing. Linda, on the other hand, would track down wherever candy ended up making its home and gorge herself. Because her love of candy is so strong, I have made it a point to provide her with a selection of sweets on Easter that would cripple lesser mortals. As a result, her Easter "gift" ends up being upwards of 50 lbs of peanut butter eggs and my "gift" is usually a book or movie or handheld game.

It probably comes as no surprise that Linda and I exchange gifts on Easter as I think I have displayed, on a number of occasions, that if a holiday doesn't involve me getting something, it's not worth celebrating. Sucks to be you Arbor Day, but until I start getting gifts, ironically wrapped in the pulped and flattened versions of your botanical brethren, I don't care. I realize this makes me both spiritually bereft and incredibly materialistic and I'm OK with that.

This year, to help Linda out of a gift giving bind, I told her that I would like Puzzle Quest DS for Easter. I have been told that I am difficult to shop for when it comes to games. It certainly doesn't help that Linda's attention span, when it comes to my gaming, is so short that she wouldn't be able to keep herself focused long enough for me to answer the question of which game I'd like. In fact, as I write this, her eyes are probably reflexively glazing over. For those not in the know, imaging a role playing game with character progression, the ability to build and manage castles, capture beasts, ride mounts and craft spells. Now, imagine the same RPG where instead of madly hacking and slashing at your enemy, or firing off bolts of arcane magiks you battle each other playing a tricked out version of Bejeweled and you have Puzzle Quest. Yes, it is exactly as good as it sounds.

I have been playing the PC demo incessantly since downloading it last week, going so far as to start 4 different games so that I can experience the joys of the different character classes. There are subtle differences, like with the Druid who, by all accounts, is completely useless that are best experience in the demo so that you can make all the important RPG decisions before you go too far down the road of puzzle questing. In an odd move, the demo is available for the PC, despite the retail game itself being available for only the PSP and the DS. This is an odd, but strangely satisfying method. There is nothing out on the DS today that would tax modern PC's, and with no means of playing demos, short of hanging around your local GameStop for hours on end hogging the demo kiosk, it lets people try before they buy.

The problem becomes that, on the PC, this is an absolutely gorgeous game, well served by the PC's ample screen real estate. When I move a leering skull to be nearer to his malevolent neighbors, I can feel the grievous injury I am about to inflict upon my adversary. The various mana gems sparkle merrily as if to say, "Horde me so that I may help you smite your foes." Experience gems are a glorious purple, as if to display their regal roots. Gold is, well, gold and looks perfectly gold like. My concern is that the reduced real estate on the DS will make the visuals less striking, possibly reducing the skulls to smaller, infinitely more cute versions of themselves who don't so much inflict pain and suffering but accidentally sit on the remote and change the channel. I have read reports that this is not the case, but alas, once you play it on a PC, you are somewhat spoiled.

At the same time, my children are all too happy to try and press random keys while I'm on the laptop, but seem strangely uninterested in my DS. Perhaps it's because, of late, I'm playing things like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk, populated by spiky haired lawyers and playable A-Ha videos who aren't compelling to those 4 years old and younger. Perhaps they see my lips turn into a snarl of defense when they move towards my DS and know that should they attempt to touch my console, I am not above snapping it closed and feeding their fingertips to it's slavering maw.

The problem is that Easter is so very far away and I am about to a) finish Hotel Dusk and b) get to the level cap in the Puzzle Quest demo. This is unacceptable. Oh Easter, why must you torture me so by being a week and a half away? Why? I guess I can wait. What choice do I have? Jesus waited three whole days in some sort of netherworld between life and death prior to Easter so I guess I can wait 10 or so days to get a new game for my handheld console. What did He do while He was dead anyways? I would have napped. He had had quite a busy few days.

Anyways, between Puzzle Quest and the upcoming Pokemon Diamond and/or Pearl, my DS will be the console of choice for quite some time. Yesterday, when playing Hotel Dusk in front of my daughter, I told her, unbidden, that the DS is my favorite console evar. I too was shocked by the emotion behind that statement as it was tantamount to telling your significant other that you love them for the first time. As was the case with my wife when I told her I loved her, my DS responded with stony silence, however, as was the case with Linda, I knew the sentiment was returned, the bearer just had no way of expressing it at the moment. At least that's what I'm attributing to my DS. It may have just impassively served up pixels, hoping that it's ignoring of me would quell the obvious discomfort it was experiencing. Hell, Linda might have been doing the same thing, however if so, our subsequent marriage was a strange choice of action. At any point, I stand by the statement as the DS's combination of portability and ever expanding software library, filled with titles such as Hotel Dusk and Puzzle Quest ensure that the gameplay experiences it offers are found nowhere else. No longer need we search for the answer to the eternal question: Nintendo DS Lite, great console or greatest console? The answer is clear.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Behold! Self-sufficiency Is Nigh!

The first step on the road to self sufficiency has been taken. No longer shall I bow to the yoke of my grocery store oppressors! I have started growing my own plants, nay crops, and soon I shall harvest them all the way to the um, food storing place.

Witness my greenery first hand!

From left to right are jalapeno peppers, basil, oregano and cherry tomatoes. I should give Linda some credit as she bought them, brought them home and planted them, but I'm the one who told her what I wanted when she called me. That wasn't easy. I mean, she was only taking care of our sick daughter while I was going coming back from getting coffee.

This is beside the point though. The point is that no longer shall I live under the thumb of Irwin Kroger and John Q. Publix. Independence shall be mine! Soon nature's bounty will be open to me and I shall have everything I need from my deck as long as I plan on living on a diet of jalapeno peppers, basil, oregano and cherry tomatoes.

Actually, this last crop is the one I'm most excited about. If it takes off like I hope it does, then we'll be living like kings.

Kings I tell you! Kings!

Monday, March 26, 2007


Greetings! I thought I'd pop in for the benefit of any new readers who might have been sent here from Dubious Quality. We stick to kind of an odd schedule here, so I figured it would be beneficial to lay out what you can expect from day to day.

Think about posting. Don't.

Think about posting. Feel somewhat guilty about not having posted on Monday. Plan on posting at lunch but instead go to Target and look at Nerf sniper rifles.

Read something funny on Penny Arcade. Plan out post. Play on my DS all through lunch and then go get a big soda. Think about posting at night. Don't.

Spend the day trying to remember what it is I was going to post about on Wednesday.

Realize I haven't posted in a week. Snap some poorly lit pictures of Transformers with my Treo's camera, post them with some witty comments and call it a day. Go bowling.

Saturday and Sunday

As you can tell, our work ethic here is beyond reproach! We look forward to not entertaining you in the future.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Battle Royale!

I was successful in smuggling these photos out. Bear witness to the robotic brutality!

Battle Royale!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Soul Seethes

There are times in our lives when the Gods deem fit to remind us that we are but mere mortals, undeserving of the praise and accolades we have heaped upon ourselves, that truly, we are deserving of only the dust we shall eventually return to. I have recently had one of these reminders and I am filled with equal parts rage and shame.

It has been quite some time since I have bowed before the Gods of Rock and made an offer at the altar of Guitar Hero. I will not make excuses as the Gods are not interested in my petty mewlings, but instead will just say that I have been lax in my supplications. With the arrival of Guitar Hero 2 for the 360 on the horizon, I have, naturally, been excited to pick up the axe once again. I have played a song or two on the PS2 version on Medium and found it to be relatively Easy. Oh how the Gods must have laughed at my foolish pride!

Recently, Linda and I had a minor disagreement over who sang "Cherry Pie". I put forth, correctly might I add, that it was Warrant. I know this because, if I could erase one song from the collective memory of the universe, this would be a top contender, so deep does my hatred for this song run. A quick search on Google proved me correct and the matter was dropped. Yesterday, while in Best Buy to purchase oh-so-packed-with-extras new Re-Animator DVD, what appeared before my eyes, but a new Xbox 360 kiosk, complete with Guitar Hero 2. Ye Gods! I thought it an incredible coincidence that "Cherry Pie" was also queued up, however now I recognize the hand of Divine Providence.

I picked up the guitar, which, is a little small for my tastes. I know that the controllers, in general, aren't sized to scale however this one seems smaller than the PS2 controller. I'm also not a big fan of the Guide button on the 360 guitar as it takes away from the illusion of your controller being a real guitar. Finally, I'm a Fender guy and lean towards your Stratocasters and your Telecasters, with an exception for the Gibson Les Paul, of course, so this Gibson Explorer model brings to mind too many hair bands of the 80's for me to be completely comfortable with it. But I digress. I picked up the guitar, selected "Cherry Pie" on Medium difficulty and proceeded to descend into an inky black pit of despair.

From the opening lick, I knew something was wrong. It was as if my hands had aged decades before me and no longer could be relied upon to do something as simple as work a calculator, much less do chord changes, hammer-ons and pull-offs. My timing was off, my finger work was miserable and I saw my rock meter plummeting down to earth like the pride feuled Icarus I must have resembled. Embarassed, I ended the song early, looking around me to ensure that my shame was limited to only myself and Linda. Clearly the Gods were sending me a message and that message was this: Rock, lest the Rock be taken from you. I have heard your message, Oh Gods, and will obey. I have but a few more tasks in Crackdown to accomplish and once these are completed, I shall take up the axe again and prepare myself for Guitar Hero 2. Once more your servant shall venture out into the land, bringing Rock to those who can not, or will not, Rock themselves. No longer shall I hide my Rock under a bushel! I thank you, oh Gods of Rock, for showing me where my true priorities lie. For those about to Rock, I salute you!

Speaking of Rock, I recently purchased the new Fall Out Boy album and boy howdy is it a good one. To be honest, I'm not really sure what problems people have with Fall Out Boy. I mean, sure, sometimes the lyrics and song titles are a bit too cutesy and/or self aware, but the songs are pretty tight with good hooks. They never fail to get the windows down and the volume up when riding around in Vanstar One which is pretty much all I'm looking for in an album these days anyways. They seem to be a band that people just love to hate. Whatever. If you do hate the band, I doubt there's anything on this new album to change your mind, but if you're looking for a good, catchy pop-rock album you'd be well served to pick it up.

I spent a couple of nights this week watching Pan's Labyrinth on DVD. Yes, I know it's not out yet. I can't tell you how I got it, other than to say that my source's generosity is matched only by his raw animal magnetism and unchecked virility. Yes, that's right, George Clooney has secretly been supplying me with bootleg DVD's. I kid. Seriously though, the movie is a fantastic one and I can't wait for it to come out on a perfectly legal DVD so that I can buy it and listen to the commentaries. Guillermo del Toro is one hysterical dude and I bet his commentary for this movie will be top notch. See, gaffer dude, people who watch bootleg DVD's also buy the full versions too! Oh, and while we're on the subject of illegal DVD PSA's, I would so totally steal a car if I could get away with it. In my wildest dreams it would be a car filled with bootleg DVD's that then ended up being Tracks who transforms, gives me an important life lesson and then helps me distribute all of my stolen movies. We'd probably get a sundae too.

Now that I've watched Pan's Labyrinth, I feel the need for a week long del Toro fest, including Blade 2 and Hellboy. I should probably also pick up The Devil's Backbone and Cronos too, if I can find them. I should also figure out a way to make 8 hours of movie time magically appear while I'm at it.

Finally, there is a battle of mythical proportions currently underway at my desk. The veneer of civilty has been removed and replaced with open hostility and bloodlust. I guess in this case it'd be Energonlust as I am naturally speaking of my Transformers. I don't know what caused things to break down, but the battle has been joined, in earnest, by all members of our once happy little family. Like the war-torn journalists who braved the battlefields of so many conflicts, I too have returned from the fighting with pictures stark in their depiction of robot on robot brutality and naked aggression. I shall be posting them soon, to an Intraweb site of my choosing, however in the meantime, to sate your curioisity and own need for violence, I offer this:
The rest of the pictures will be available tonight, or early tomorrow, depending on when I can smuggle them to the outside world. I have arranged to cross the border tonight under cover of darkness, hiding in a farmer's pig truck. I can only hope the Decepticons aren't watching all of the back roads. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Momentary Diversion

When I was driving home yesterday afternoon, window down, I was marveling at how nice it is to have springtime in Atlanta. Here it is the middle of March and the skies are blue, the temperatures are in the 70's and the trees are starting to bloom. Then I passed one of those trees and my sinuses exploded with a force that could destroy baby stars. I'm back to thinking that spring is overrated.

I usually don't use this space to comment on things that are happening in the gaming world, as I'm not sure the audience of this site, both of you, are at all interested. Sure, I'm happy to talk about games I'm playing, but I leave the commentaries on current gaming events to other, more informed people. This time, however, I feel the need to comment.

EGM (that's Electronic Games Monthly or something) and it's sister site have a podcast and in their most recent podcast they invited a one Denis Dyack to join them. Denis is the man in charge of Silicon Knights, the development house extraordinaire who gave us Eternal Darkness and the Metal Gear Solid remake for the GameCube. Currently their working on a game called Too Human for the 360 which, from what I gather, has something to do with people being half machine and named after Norse gods. This is what I meant by others being more informed. Anyway, last year, Silicon Knights invited someone from EGM to go up to Canada and see what was going on with Too Human. The EGM writer thought the game was the bomb, came back saying such and wrote up a cover story preview thingy.

Fast forward to E3 where Silicon Knights brings a demo that leaves everyone, including Silicon Knights, extremely disappointed. Frame rate issues, camera issues, ugly textures the whole shebang. The EGM folks on hand who were writing up their impressions of each game for the magazine pretty much tore the demo apart and said, I'm paraphrasing here, that it shouldn't have been shown at a high school science fair, much less the premier gaming event of the year.

Was this demoralizing for the Too Human team? Yeah, it probably was. I've worked in software development long enough to know what it feels like to have a build you feel really good about, only to see it all go to shit a build or two later. It's frustrating, maddening, disheartening, you name it, to feel as if all of your progress has gone out the window. To take this step backwards and then show your product publicly, knowing full well that it was much, much better just a build or two ago would absolutely suck.

Despite the fact that E3 was 10 months ago, Denis Dyack is still pretty pissed off. He joined the EGM guys, including the writer who first ventured up to the cold North to see Too Human, and the dude who wrote about it from E3, for their podcast, and basically went off on them for an hour. Now, I understand completely how it would have felt right after E3 to see the press tear apart your epic, 10 year in the making project. I also can understand Dyack's befuddlement over getting such a harsh preview from a magazine that devoted an entire cover story to how great your game was looking. At the same time, E3 was 10 months ago. 10! By now, shouldn't he have moved on? I mean, the rest of the gaming world pretty much had.

Now, some points that Dyack made, I completely agree with, and some were so off base as to be in a sport that doesn't even have bases like curling, or archery. His assessment that gaming journalists can't effectively pass judgement on preview builds of games is pretty on the mark however, I don't think that means that previews themselves have to go away entirely.

Here's what I think in regards to previews. Previews, as they are now, are usually bloated, PR fest pieces of shit used by magazines and gaming sites to garner good feelings from publishers so they, the magazines and gaming sites, continue to get exclusive previews and early review copies and such. See, the average gamer can get reviews of games the day said games comes out, from pretty much any site out there. As a result, where the sites distinguish themselves is by getting the early scoop on new upcoming games. That and a complete and total aversion to editing, a la IGN. In order to get these early scoops, and trips to studios to see games in progress, blah, blah, blah, the sites/magazines have to write pretty glowing previews, and at the same time, take for granted that the big, glaring bugs they do see will be fixed by the time that the games ship.

All too often, these bugs aren't fixed, or others pop up, or the game changes entirely so that the game that makes it to retail is but a quality-less husk of a game compared to the game that was previewed. The gamers that read said preview are now, at best, left wondering why the final game is so shitty compared to the preview and at worst, left having purchased a copy of the shitty game and have no recourse to get their money back. The development houses say "Hey, we don't control what the magazines write." The magazines/sites say "Hey, they said they'd fix these bugs, and it was only a preview." The consumer is left trusting no one, which is a pretty shitty place for a consumer to be, especially when you're asking said consumer to shell out 60 bucks a game and upwards of 600 bucks for something to play the game on.

Does this mean that previews should be done away with entirely? I don't think so. I do think that the gaming sites need something to differentiate themselves from each other, and previews can still be that thing, just not as they are now. In short, we need more previews like the E3 "preview" of Too Human and fewer of the cover story preview. Well, maybe not as harsh as the E3 report, but certainly not as glowing as the cover story. Previews should stick to the facts, and leave the embellishment to the reader. The game has these features, this kind of story, this kind of gameplay, supports these multiplayer modes, et cetera. It should also point out the fair criticisms of the game, including issues that the developers are planning on fixing. In other words, give the reader honest impressions of the game, rather than some fluff piece.

Oddly enough Dyack seemed to agree with this, and stated that gaming journalists should be "more critical" of games despite the fact that EGM being critical of the E3 demo is what got him all in a lather in the first place. I say "seemed to agree" because honestly, this dude was all over the map.

Dyack also said that magazines and sites shouldn't look at games until the games are "in the can" and that the marketing effort shouldn't begin then either, and the way a marketing push can be built for a game is to hold on to the finished game for 6 to 12 months and then release it. With the rising costs of game development, I'm not sure how studios could spend millions of dollars on a game to then hold on to it for a year. Where would they get the money to work on their next project? This is especially true for the smaller development houses. Silicon Knights has an impressive pedigree, and now with Microsoft behind them, I'm sure they could easily work on another project while Too Human was in the can, but not every studio can do that. Not every publisher is going to agree to fund another development effort without seeing some return on their investment on the game they just paid for. I agree that it'd be great to hear of a game first on Monday, have it ship on Tuesday, read a review on Wednesday and play it on Thursday, but I don't see that as being a viable business model.

These comments didn't really bug me that much, as I just don't agree with them. The comments of Dyack's that bugged me were that he felt sorry for the guy who wrote the E3 write-up because when Too Human is released, the E3 writer is going to have to stand by what he wrote about the game's E3 build. Mind you, he's basing this on the fact that people "in the industry" have seen Too Human and they all say it's super awesome, so we should just all automatically believe him. After all, every god in the Norse pantheon is represented! I guess that's a good thing because Lord knows we wouldn't want Freya to get pissed.

My response to this was the same response that the E3 writer had, which was basically to ask why it would be a problem for him to stand by what he wrote about the E3 build? By Dyack's own admission, the E3 build was a mess, so why would the brilliance of the final product make the author of the comments about an 18 month old build look silly? At no point during the E3 write up did the writer say that no one should buy Too Human. In fact, the overwhelming response to the E3 build by most of the gaming press wasn't that Too Human was going to suck, but that the demo should never have been shown in the first place. I understand the logistics of showing a demo are such that you can't pull a demo last minute just because things aren't working as you expected them to, but at the same time, if the build that the first EGM guy was so good, why not show that build, rather than the one you brought to E3, especially if you knew that the E3 build was a mess? I find it very hard to believe that they don't have the ability to roll back to earlier builds. Maybe that would have meant that it was no longer playable by the press but just watchable, but that still would have been a better way to go.

Of course, debating what should or should not have been shown at E3 isn't really the point. The point here is that Dyack seemed to want it both ways. He said that he didn't like the E3 write up because he didn't want people to discount Too Human based on what they read about the E3 demo. He also felt that because EGM had seen an earlier, better build of the game, they should have given them the benefit of the doubt and not been harsh about the E3 demo. Well, which is it? You can't say that you don't want people to have a bad impression of your game based on a demo that's at least 12 months out from the finished product but you do want people to have a good impression of your game based on a demo that's even more than 12 months out from the finished product. You either take the position that your demo, good or bad, isn't indicative of the final product, or you say that this demo is pretty damn close to what we're going to be showing, so it better be fucking aces.

I can see his point about people getting the wrong impression, especially at E3 where there's like 5000 games being shown and you have a very limited amount of time to make a good impression. This is especially true now that there are 3 consoles, 2 handhelds, PC's and a gazillion PDA/cellphone platforms out there are all competing for gamers' time and money. At the same time, most gamers know that E3, and the things shown at E3 are, for the most part, illusions. Taking anything that originates from that marketing cesspool even remotely seriously is an exercise in folly. Despite what Dyack's condescending tone seemed to imply, we're not all idiots. We know that sometimes builds go bad. You decided to still show it. OK, bad move, but whatever. Just fucking man up and move on. If your game ends up being Teh Sh1t, then people will play it. Hell, look at Crackdown. Most folks believed that it was a throwaway, GTA ripoff that was using the Halo 3 beta to move copies. Now that it's been out for a while, most people seem to love it. I know of at least 3 folks who were incredibly harsh in their comments about it who are now running from rooftop to rooftop with glee. Gamers are a lot of things, but holders of long attention spans isn't one of them.

There was more to his comments that made me feel like he thinks we're all idiots, or that the EGM E3 writer was an idiot, but I think I've written enough here. Don't get me started on his failed Okami argument as that's another post entirely. If you'd like to hear it for yourself, please do so. The first 45 minutes or so is where the real meat of the discussion is. The second hour is just Dyack going on and on and on about how great Too Human is and all the fantastic things that Silicon Knights did before anyone else did, like creating fire and inventing language. In the end, I was left thinking that he should have just stayed up in Canada and worked on making his game as good as it could be, rather than taking a page from the Book of Harrison and opening his mouth and looking like an asshole. As Mark Twain once said, "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Before I get too much into talking about Crackdown, I want to talk about something that Bones told me about today, namely that Marvel comics is planning on killing of Captain America in an upcoming issue. Now, maybe this isn't true or maybe Cap won't really die similar to when he "died" back during WWII, but my gut feels me that it is true. If so, this is very, very disappointing. Cap has always been an amazing character and given the United State's position in the world today, I find it very hard to believe that there isn't someone out there that can't write a decent story for the spirit of America made flesh. If a character becomes irrelevant, it's usually the fault of the writers, not the fault of the character. It would seem to me that the solution to this would be to get better writers, not blow Cap's fucking head off. Whatever. DC's last big crossover was Infinity Crisis, which followed on the heels of Identity Crisis, two amazing pieces of work that examined what it meant to be a superhero in modern times. Marvel's was Civil War which had Spider-Man unmasking himself for no good goddamn reason and other pointless "wow" moments. Cap's death will just be one more example of them trying to gain readers by having "big" moments that do nothing but damage their properties. On the plus side, this seals the deal on my next tattoo. I had been toying with the idea of getting Cap's shield on my left forearm, to compliment Spidey on my right. If Marvel isn't going to care about Cap, I will.

So, Crackdown. I've been playing it for a couple of weeks now, and I've been having an absolute blast. This game kind of snuck up on me. I had read about it before, and seen screen shots but didn't get interested until watching a gameplay video. When I played the demo, I was completely sold though. This is a game that really has to be played to be fully appreciated. Screen shots of the game are kind of "eh". The videos give you a better idea of what the explosions and game mechanics are like, but until you take your agent running from rooftop to rooftop, targeting a gang member in midair and cutting him down with a rain of bullets, you really won't "get it". And by "it" I mean a near obsessive desire, nay need, to pick up a dumpster and throw it a hooligan.

In the past few days I have done the following in game:
  1. Jumped from a rooftop and taken out 6 gang members with a rocket launcher, while in midair.
  2. Killed a gang member by kicking a vehicle on to him after pulling him out of said vehicle.
  3. Killed a bunch of gang members by chucking a 2 ton metal globe at them.
  4. Kicked a gang general off of a rooftop.
  5. Run down gang members in a semi cab.
  6. Performed various barrel rolls in a tricked out SUV.
  7. Gotten killed numerous times trying a frontal assault on a steroided out gang general holed up in a quarry cave filled with explosive barrels and missles. Found a back door by leaping into the air off of a billboard and hanging on to a rock ledge and eventually making my way to a tunnel that allowed me secret access to the gang general. Threw in enough grenades to take out a small office complex, detonating all of the explosive materials in the process and taking out the holed up general. Picked up the general's corpse, targeted a gang member on the highway below the caves, hurled the general's corpse and killed the gang member.
  8. Ran from rooftop to rooftop collecting agility orbs.
As you can see, there's a fair amount to do in the game, and this isn't counting all of the rooftop races, road races, stunt rings and various other combinations of shooting, blowing up and straight up brawling at your disposal to help take back the city. All of these events work together to rob you of your in game productivity. Oh sure, you start out with every intention of taking out a gang general but the next thing you know, you've spent an hour building a tower out of cars all so you can see how high the top one goes when you blow them all up.

It's not all perfect though. The camera, which is usually done very, very well, sometimes moves into your agent's body when you get too close to a wall. This isn't a problem most of the time, but when you're trying to make a certain jump to try and get to the top of the ferris wheel and complete the rooftop race you've been working on for the past 45 minutes.

The driving is probably my biggest complaint in the game. When you start out, you can't drive for shit, however the main way to get better at driving is to complete races, perform stunts or kill gang members by driving. All of these are next to impossible with your crap-ass driving skills. Add to this the fact that all cars other than Agency cars handle like shit, and Agency cars can only be obtained if you kill yourself and go back to the Agency Keep. Thankfully, if you find enough hidden orbs you'll raise all of your stats a little bit, including driving, and finding enough hidden orbs will raise your driving skill enough for you to start having fun behind the wheel. It seems to me that if you want people to drive in the game, you should make it easier from the start. That's just me though.

The other skills work remarkably well, and the ability to equip yourself with machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades all at the same time means that a group of gang members milling on a rooftop aren't so much a potential threat as an opportunity to increase three skills, possible at once. Yes, if you shoot a gang member in the legs by locking on and targeting their kneecaps, then chucking in a grenade to liven up the party and ending the evening by stomping them to death, you'll get skill points in firearms, explosives and strength. It's truly time management at its finest.

It seems like the game is doing fairly well, no doubt helped by the Halo 3 beta invite packaged with it, which is a good thing, because I think they've got a really strong foundation to build from. The funny thing about this game is that there are so many people I've talked to that had no interest in it, thinking it was a GTA ripoff, only to find themselves having an absolute blast once they play it for some time and give it a chance. Given that this is the case, putting the Halo 3 beta invite in with the game was genius as it allows people who may have written it off as a GTA clone the opportunity to play it and fall in love with it. Hopefully the good word of mouth and strong sales will warrant a sequel as this game is just too much fun for only one outing.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Show and Hell

Somehow, through no fault of my own, Thursday night has become Arts and Crafts night at our house. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago when Thursday night was 2AM Denny's night because you didn't have any classes on Friday, or Thursday night was lie on the couch and watch "Friends" night and try and get through to the weekend when you can sleep all day. Those days are over. Now, Thursday nights are spent gluing and drawing and trying to explain what "nervous" means to a 4 year old.

Perhaps some backstory is in order. My son is 4, which puts him in Preschool II at his daycare, or what I like to call the Pre-Harvard Program. For some reason, his school does everything a year ahead, so the PS II kids are doing what you'd normally do in Pre-Kindergarten and the Pre-K kids are doing what you'd do in Kindergarten. Not sure what the private Kindergarten kids do, probably work Pi out to 8 billion digits, and we'll never know because I'll be damned if I'm going to pay property taxes for full day school and then pay for private full day schooling on top of it. Actually, I know why they do everything a year ahead, it's to satisfy a generation of parents who think that if Timmy can't conjugate Spanish verbs by age 5 he's going to end up homeless and living in a refrigerator box.

When my son first joined this class, the kids were allowed to bring in whatever they wanted for Show and Tell. Being that they're all small kids, they brought in toys. Linda and I were pretty restrictive as to what toys he could bring as we tried to put ourselves in the teacher's shoes. Basically, nothing too big and nothing that made noise. Other parents apparently didn't feel the same way, shocking I know, and Show and Tell day descended into a cacophony of toy sounds, screaming children and a lack of attention to the day's activities. For this reason, Show and Tell in its toy free for all form came to an end.

In it's place, Ben's teacher put "projects" for the children (parents) to do to help relate to the week's lesson. Now, I'm all for activities that get kids and parents working together, and I'm all for projects that reinforce the week's learnings for the children, but some of these projects are not designed with 4 year olds in mind. To me, the project should be something that the kid can at least come up with the ideas for, and just require parental assistance with the implementation. Not create an internal combustion engine from twigs and leaves.

The first sign of trouble was in October, when the project for Show and Tell was to have your kid draw a cornucopia and put in it pictures of all of their favorite foods from magazines. OK, most adults I know don't know what a cornucopia is much less a kid who, when asked what he does on the weekend, tells his teacher "We go to the jungle." Plus, the magazines I read are Game Informer, Playboy and Cooking Light, none of which have pictures of Yogables and Cheezits, his favorite foods. If the cornucopia needed pictures of Master Chief, an Easy Ravioli Bake and Ms. April's boobs, we'd be all set. We settled for me drawing a corcucopia with drawings of Ben's favorite foods as told by Ben and him coloring everything in. That seemed to work fine.

The next big project was to create a 3-d cat, owl or some other animal. Ben chose a cat. It took me some time to come up with a design that didn't involve papier mache or some kind of elaborate scaffolding. I also tried to avoid the craft store as much as possible, but ended up relenting as we, strangely enough, don't keep a readily available supply of pipe cleaners at home. Should you be of the mind to search out some hot, 60+ action and they won't let you loiter around the nursing homes, might I recommend the craft store at lunch time. The combines age of the shoppers in that store exceeded the age of our galaxy.

The cat ended up being a smashing success. You may remember it.

We had a small respite over the holidays when Show and Tell involved nothing more complicated than wearing a particular color on a particular day. At one point, Ben had to bring in something that could go in the water and something that couldn't. I suggested he bring in a boat and a cat tied to a brick. Linda didn't appreciate this suggestion so he brought in a Matchbox boat (ok in water) and a Matchbox car (not ok in water).

Then came the Tome of Feelings. The week's lesson was feelings, which is probably a good idea considering that these kids are volatile powder kegs of emotion just waiting to explode in fury. Ok, so maybe that's just my kid. Anyways, the project was to create a book of feelings. Not too bad as you'd expect that for a 4 year old, they'd cover the old standbys, your happy, your sad, your mad. Oh no, not this class. The five feelings were happy, sad, nervous, scared and excited. Nervous? How the frak do you explain nervous to a 4 year old? When the hell are 4 year olds ever nervous anyways? I don't think the emotional spectrum of kids this age is finely tuned enough to register nervous. Scared? Sure. Happy? Sure. Nervous? I don't think so. Rather than give him examples of things that could cause him to be nervous, and risk making him nervous about things that used to never bother him, I simply made the book, drew a smiley face on each page for the associated feelings and had him draw whatever he associated with the feelings. For the record, green ladders make him both nervous and excited.

This past one was the toughest one of all. I got a week's break when the Show and Tell item was a family photo on a piece of paper. I let Linda hande that one as she's our resident photographer. In retrospect, this was a bad idea as the picture was poorly placed and didn't allow for writing and/or drawing all around the picture. Strictly amateur hour but understandable given her self imposed distance from the crafting process. Apparently I posess craft chops where she does not which is how I got roped into this whole thing in the first place.

But I digress. This past week's lesson was life cycles as in eggs -> tadpole -> frog or catepillar -> cocoon -> butterfly or 80's hair band star -> washed up drug addict -> "Surreal Life" cast member -> washed up drug addict. The exact assignment was: "This week I would like for the children to Pick one out of the three and make the life cycle using a variety of things: Frogs, flowers, or a butterfly. Example: {frog} I would collect a leaf from outside and make it my lily pad then I would draw an oval and color it green and add glitter, and the frog can be made from toilet paper roll." OK, I can handle the leaf thing, and I know what glitter is but how the hell do you make a frog out of toilet paper rolls?

As it's "his" project, I asked Ben which life cycle he wanted to do. I was pushing for the flower. I figured some construction paper, some glue, an unpopped popcorn kernel and a daffodil culled from the front yard and we'd be done. Of course, Ben wanted to do the most complicated one and tackle the frog. Behold the finished product!

The eggs are cotton balls marked with a Sharpie. The tadpole is a construction paper creation, illustrated by yours truly. The frog is construction paper glued together by Ben and myself with eyes of Ben's creation. He went for two different colors for the eyes. A bold choice to be sure. The lily pad is an actual leaf. I cribbed from the teacher on that one. In retrospect I should have made the frog's body more elongated, but I was working from a design that used a paper plate to make the frog, and once I got locked on a folder circle for the body, I didn't think of anything else. I have no idea what's going on with his legs. I think he's jumping but now that I look at it, it looks like he's been run over by a semi. I wanted to make more eggs to use as googly eyes but Linda thought it'd be unsettling to have a frog with eggs for eyes. She's got a valid point there. Ben also helped with the spelling of the words as I felt that having him write "tadpole" would take us well into the next millennium so I took care of that for him.
I think it turned out OK, and it's certainly better than my original idea of gluing a toy frog to a foam plate, but it's not as good as it could be. There's certainly room for improvement. Ben seemed satisfied which is the important thing as it's his project. Actually, he seemed fairly oblivious and this morning wouldn't have even remembered it had I not pointed out where it was. Ah the joys of youth and short memories.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Show Off

I think Downshift will fit in here just fine.