Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On a long enough timeline

... the life expectancy of every Xbox 360 reaches zero. A year and eleven  months after I bought mine I flipped on the power switch one evening for a round of Call of Duty 4 to be greeted by the Red Ring of Death. Called MS, got the shipping label, will be sending it back by Friday.

In the meantime, I've pretty much committed myself to buying an Arcade at the end of the month. Mainly I don't trust MS Repairs and $199 for a supposedly cooler running chipset isn't a a bad deal. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Going HOME Again

When I first dropped into this newly created digital equivalent of The Undiscovered Country I found myself in a "Create-A-Character" Imelda Marcos sized wardrobe and paper doll factory. There I confronted my preset choices, the default option avatars that ranged from clearly White Homosexual and White Metrosexual to closeted White Homosexual Republican and several strains of White Model Fag Hag. Oh, and two black people Sony obvious included to satisfy some Affirmative Action quota.

The first instinct leans towards Risk Aversion. Play it safe, play it cool, grab one of those pre-fabbed Abercrombie & Fitch dress up dolls off the rack and prance around HOME for fifteen minutes, then tell the world how utterly compelling the whole business turned out to be. But this was no time and no place for risk aversion. There would be no playing it safe, or playing by the rules. This was a moment for bold, hideous action and for the challenging of the preset social norms of this preset social world. This was a time to get weird, to get funky, and to get ugly.

I knew very quickly that achieving my goal of weird ugly Freakdom would not be easy. No, the Sony Overlords that fashioned HOME appear to have set out with the expressed goal of making everyone look as un-freakish as possible. "NO!" I heard Kaz Hirai cry from his Tokyo Spire, "There will be no freaks here. Lock up the real life monsters and put them away! Out of sight I say!" 

In HOME it is impossible to create the 400 pound woman who can barely trundle on fractured cankles. Absent are the midget beggars dressed in Dickensian frock coats and monocles. Verboten are the Transvestites in fishnets and purple afros whigs trolling the virtual boulevards for cyber tricks. The best I could do was a pudgy, wrinkle creased, quietly heroin addled replica of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers adorned in pink corn rows and a matching mustache.

As I walked outside my Sony subsidized Beachfront Condo and took in my first deep breath of HOME I realized that even though I had not been able to push the Freak Level much past "Sad, Washed Up Burn Out" I had pushed it far enough. Perhaps too far given the pedestrian boundaries laid out before me. 

HOME was the a living definition of White Bread Corporatism. As if the Gays, the Republicans, and the Third Reich had all reached some form of mutual detente and agreed to send their adult male children to be held in a state of suspended animation to ensure the  peace accord was never broken. Until that fateful hour these three disparate groups had found peace here, in HOME, and co-mingled into a race of utterly bland Consumerists.

Vicious packs of lithe white males in virtual off the rack GAP clothes where running this place, and very quickly I was made known that my will to be weird was not welcome here. As I walked around the Central Plaza of HOME most ran from me as I walked up to them and tried to make a gesture of friendship. Others took it upon themselves to type out, "UR UGLY AND FAT" so offended at my inability to conform to their ideal vision of an ideal world for their ideal self.

This was to be expected. No one walks into HOME, or its elder sibling Second Life, wanting to replicate a life approximating their real life. The whole scene reeked with pre-fabricated corporate digital fantasy passed out on a sliver platter. Radical individualism was not to be encouraged, only corporate sanctioned expressions will be tolerated.

And if you lack the necessary pieces of 3D Flair to live out that Sony Endorsed Fantasy life, oh, no worries, Sony will be happy to sell it to you .50 cents at a time. Where? The mall, of course. As "Dawn of the Dead" instructed us, The Mall has it All.

I'll give this to Sony they managed to take an odious dual temple of capitalism and consumerism and completely transform it into a sterile homage to totalitarian fiction and Swedish design aesthetics. 

Two levels of shops: clothes for your digital self, and furniture for your digital playhouse, and even a real estate office no doubt ready to sell you a new digital condo on a balloon mortgage that will no doubt be repackaged as a virtual CDO and traded on the HOME version of Wall Street. All these accoutrements can be yours for a nominal fee of a couple cents here, a couple dollars here. Real world currency, of course. No HOME version of Second Life's infamous LindenDollar ... yet. Give the Sony Overlords time however.

Overlooking the comings and goings inside the Mall is a giant video screen mobbed by video avatars playing an advertisement for something called Qore featuring Sony's Women from Meatspace and canned footage of upcoming video games. Give this time as well. As Sony's economic position in the world of video games worsens I fully expect Kaz Hirai to fill that screen proclaiming the evils Microsoft and its chairman, Emmanuel Goldstein. No doubt HOME Avatars will then spill out into the Central Plaza to engage in their Daily Hate against everything Xbox 360.

Thirty minutes in I was bored and more than a little freaked out by HOME. What horrible, uncreative mind dreamt of this utopia I had to wonder? And who thought this was a good idea?

Then I wandered to the subject of subconscious intent. Was HOME something more? A Corporate Fever Dream; was this the world that the suits and squares who graduated from Harvard Business School and now ran Fortune 500 saw the World as it should be? A Happy Joyless Land filled with Zombie Look-A-Likes who wear the same style, and buy the same things, and spend Friday night in a movie theater playing the trailer for "Twilight" on a loop? I had to wonder then, and I still wonder now, whether HOME is not just a half-assed version of a 3D chatroom, but a peek inside subconscious vision for the Corporate Utopia of Tomorrow. 

As I walked from the Mall to the Movie Theater I caught a glimpse of another freak like me. Some Dude masquerading as a Chick preaching the Center of the Plaza, spreading the Good Word of an Alien Worship Cult. I thought to myself, Right on brother! Fight the power! Be all that Sony doesn't want you to be! Preach your Alien Cult nonsense! Shock the squares! Scare the suits! Fight the Power!

Fear and Loathing in Sony's HOME

I am planning to write about my journey into Sony's OpenBeta of HOME once I actually can log in and stay logged in for more than Fifteen minutes. Right now accomplishing even that task is the equivalent of scaling Everest. Maybe tonight, after I've finished a separate writing project, the Sony Gods and Servers will be kinder to me. In the meantime, here's this:

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm back with this ...

Just got my Macbook back from Apple, complete with new hard drive so posting can resume normally...

I spent most of Thanksgiving re-living the glories of Mystery Science Theater's 3000's "Turkey Day" Marathon by watching old Mistie episodes on YouTube (embiggened using my PS3). I came across this. A mash up of one of my favorite MST3K episodes ("Space Mutiny) and "Mass Effect". Enjoy as we put our faith in Blast Hard Cheese.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hard drive Massive Fail

The hard drive on my Macbook has died. So, as Nikki Finke says, light posting until ...

From my iPhone

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought for the Day: Lara Croft

So I was listening to the latest episode of Retronauts, a retrospective on the Tomb Raider franchise, and, as is the trend whenever Lara Croft and her ample physique comes up, the discussion wended its way around to 'Why oh why can't we have a "realistic" version of Lara Croft'. Realistic meaning a Lara Croft that looks like some version of the collective "Us", instead of a completely unattainable fantasy.

My inner Marcus Fenix bellowed the same response that I have when this topic comes up about characters in movies or T.V. Shows, or about fashion models and magazines ads. Awww, c'mon!

No one really wants to see a realistic, body attainable version of Lara Croft. Sure, everyone says they want to see a realistic Lara Croft to be Politically Correct while giving the appearance of sensitivity, but no one really wants to see a realistic Lara Croft. You know why? Because, taking the average Americans our model , a realistic version of Lara Croft would be 5'2", 200 pounds of flesh poured into a tube top and spandex pants, barely able to wheeze through the first level of a game before dying in the second of an enlarged heart.

Can we just be honest with ourselves. We do not want to see a realistic version of ourselves in movies, T.V., in fashion magazines, or as avatars in our video games. We want to see an idealized depiction of ourselves in movies, T.V., in fashion magazines, and as avatars in our video games.

Entertainment, particularly video games, is escapism from the sad realities of our daily life. We want to escapist to places where Zombies walk the Earth and you are one of four survivors fighting to stay alive, or where two men shaped like tree trunks from a Rob Lefield fever dream fight off hoards of Mole-Men, or where Lara Croft's boobs could conceivably be real. And no one wants their escapism interrupted by a heroine that looks like Cameron Manheim, or a hero that looks like Larry the Cable Guy.

C'mon, it is really okay to admit. Really. It's also OK to admit you really didn't find the chick in Uncharted attractive, and were convinced she was a Post-Op tranny for most of the game.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Twitter

If you really really care I've started up my Twitter. Yeah, I know, one more thing to not update. Personally I blame Jenn Frank and possibly the Spanish Inquisition to a lesser extent.

Why Does "Mirror's Edge" Need Guns?

Violence and a need to express it is hardcoded into our DNA. Put a stick in a boy's hand and it becomes a broadsword. Put an L-shape twig in a boy's hand and first thing he does is shoot the bad guys with it. Ask a boy to design a game from a first person perspective and he will immediately stick a gun in the middle of the screen. Then, if he works for Epic, he will put a chainsaw bayonet on the gun because having a simple firearm isn't enough, and then fill the surrounding environment with objects that look like they were constructed of tinfoil, slathered in vaseline.

Nothing wrong with that; it is catharsis on a massive scale, a generation of you men and women, pent up in plastic and plywood cubicles, getting in touch with their primal need for blood through Team Deathmatch.

However, when a video game developer is bold enough to say, Hey, there is this great thing we could do with a first person camera in a game and it doesn't involve a gun, that feels on first inspection like some form of Gamer Heresy. What you are going to put me in a first person world and then tell me I'm not going to shoot people for 90% of the game? GUARDS! TAKE HIM AWAY!

Unless you're like me and happen to be overly fond of heretics. Then the polar opposite over-reaction kicks in. The one that jumps up and down on your Mom's couch yelling, "OMFG this is the greatest thing, the greatest game ever ever EVER!" Even though you know it isn't and that you are acting like a 13 year old girl at a Insert Popular Boy Band Here concert.

This is how I arrived at "Mirror's Edge". The latest attempt by DICE to do something different with a first person game other than have you run around shooting people. "Mirror's Edge" works most of them time because you don't run around shooting people. "Mirror's Edge" oddly but unsurprisingly doesn't work some times when they make you run around shooting people, or make you run around trying to disarm the people who are shooting at you so you can shoot back at them.

This where most of the complaints by reviewers (I can't call them critics with a straight face) derive the complaint that combat in "Mirror's Edge" sucks. Actually, Enthusiast Reviewer, the combat does not "suck". The combat is fine. What "sucks" is you are in a world where you have to use hand to hand combat but everyone else possesses a large firearm.

About halfway through "Mirror's Edge" I began to think new, fresh heretical thoughts (is there ever such a thing as old heretical thoughts?). I said to myself, what if ... What if "Mirror's Edge" didn't have guns at all? What if the Blues -- the cops in Mirror's Edge -- just had tasers, and batons, and that non-lethal foam "stuff"? Well, that would at least even out the combat, wouldn't it. I certainly wouldn't be dying every time I miss time a punch on a SWAT Officer who then shoves me to the ground and pumps me full of lead. What if the Blues tried to arrest me instead of just shoot me, and then the combat mechanic could also double for an escape mechanic... What if ...

I hear the protests already. But how does that work with the story line? Cops that don't shoot? I mean, wtf? You're crazy! I'm going to stop reading this site! Mom! Get me a Hot Pocket and a Mountain Dew! Mom! But think about it.

Most cops nowadays do not shoot on sight. Even SWAT doesn't shoot on sight if they can avoid it. And "Mirror's Edge" is set in a kindly totalitarian city where the control is derived not from guns but from control of communication, control of the media, control of the people. The all prying eye that sees All.

How would an underground group or a resistance get guns into a city where privacy has been completely stamped out? Wouldn't massive, intrusive gun control be the first law you'd pass if you were planning to rule anything as a dictator? And why arm the Blues, the cops, when you already have complete control of the city? Arming the police just makes them a possible contender to your throne, a Praetorian Guard in dress blues, and also increases the likelihood of people doing exactly what I started to do about halfway through the game, disarming the police and turning their guns on them.

This is all a thought exercise, running through my head as I played the game, trying to come up with a coherent, consistent logic for omitting guns in "Mirror's Edge" altogether. Then once I arrived at a sound way to do it my thoughts turned to those nebulous Whys. Why does "Mirror's Edge" need guns at all? I'm not talking from a pure design perspective, but a more philosophical space. Why does "Mirror's Edge" need guns?

And it is one of those questions I do not have a great answer for. You can go for the soft underbelly and blame it on game designers lacking in imagination, or a video game audience that is still stuck firmly in the juvenilia stage that expects every game to have guns and an option to kill in them.

But I think, while maybe true and maybe not true, the answer runs a bit deeper. I think we've grown so accustomed to a violent world dominated by the gun and the sword that we -- We in the Collective sense; the societal We -- cannot fathom a world rid of power through guns. Even if that world is a near-future one of enforced Utopia, controlled by corporations and fascists mayors, we cannot conceive of it existing without guns. Almost instinctively there seems to be a voice in the back of our primal heads that whispers, You'll never be free. Violence, and death, and murder, and the weapons that come with them will always be here. Always. An inescapable fact of life.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Call of Duty: World at War Impressions

Stop Me Before I Consume Again

I bought a copy of Call of Duty: World at War... Oddly enough I bought World at War mostly with change I harvested from my car. Parking meter money and uncollected quarters sitting in a tray underneath my stereo. About $30 worth. I only played about twenty minutes of single player, enough to get past the first to Pacific War Levels and into -- surprise, surprise for a Call of Duty game -- a Stalingrad Sniper Level.

My heart sank. The Pacific War Levels were actually way better than I expected from a TreyArch Call of Duty. Those levels were almost something I hadn't experienced to death in a World War II game before, and right when I was hooked on flamethrowers and Kiefer Sutherland TreyArch bait and switched me back to 1942 Stalingrad, Russia. Really?

The single player right now feels tired and extremely competent. Basically, Call of Duty 3.5 on a better engine and enemy spawn closets that are more effectively hidden. All in all TreyArch appears to have upgraded from being the Retarded half-child of Infinity Ward to the Differently Abled Stepchild of Infinity Ward.

I also hopped into multiplayer. Sorry, TreyArcn this is what will make you a forever stepchild to Infinity Ward. The Maps are way, way, way too big for a 12 player game. Every map I've played so far feels like "The Creek" from CoD4. Too massive and sprawled out. You can literally spend two minutes of Team Deathmatch wandering around, looking for someone to kill before finding the opposing team, and quite often you'll just find an opposing team member wandering around behind your lines. The voice acting tidbits are laughably bad with Kiefer Sutherland bellowing at you constantly and other voice actors putting on the worst German, Russian and Japanese accents you'll hear this side of a free acting class. Call in one wave of "dog attacks" and you'll wonder why they didn't go all the way, have Mister Burns yelling, "UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!" The weapon selection is beyond pedestrian -- you can't fault TreyArch for that though; well, I guess you can, there are no rules with multiplayer games so why not toss in M16s and G36Cs and those Nazi Zombies too; screw historical accuracy as long as its fun.

All in All Call of Duty: WaW feels like an overpriced World War II mod for Call of Duty 4. And the more I play it, the more I want to go back to Call of Duty 4.

Saturday Update:

I've been playing more of the multiplayer and everything I said still holds true. All in all it feels badly, badly broken and poorly laid out. But I am still playing it. I came to the realization that I am just so sick of COD4's maps even a broken change of pace is still better than none. The single player campaign however is still completely disposable.

In an ideal world, a world where Activision isn't trying to "monetize" every franchise in their library, the multiplayer parts of World at War should've been released as a $30 Expansion while the single player campaign should've been wrapped in a filthy blanket and shoved in a dumpster.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Currently Playing...

Wow, I glanced underneath my A/V Console at this pile of sheer Consumer Spending that has accumulated like driftwood from the Fall Game Flood and thought to myself, you know, that's somewhat disgusting. Some dude working the line at GM just lost his job and his family is probably going to dwell in the depths of poverty for years to come, but here I sit, fat and happy, buying my little plastic $60 discs. But then I remember, wait, that is the reason I buy $60 plastic discs is so I can forget about the world outside, the dude at GM who just lost his job, and live in my ever increasing plastic Happy Bubble.

I picked up Mirror's Edge this Wednesday from a nearly vacant Best Buy. It's good -- Mirror's Edge, I mean; the Best Buy, not so much -- and I'll have some longer thoughts on Mirror's Edge by the weekend. Short-hand: DICE did good and the Enthusiast Critics (outside of 1Up's Nick Sutner) are moaning a bit too loudly over the flaws.

Last weekend I plowed through the Homoerotic Adventures of Marcus and Dom in "Gears of War 2", and now that the matchmaking is sort of working now the multiplayer is going into my weekly rotation of online entertainment. Soon to be followed by "Left 4 Dead". I played the demo a bit, and, yes, this is exactly how I envisioned my own Zombie Apocalypse fantasy playing out... Over and Over and Over again. I fear for the Xbox 360 version of this game. Too many people in the demo ... just don't seem to "Get It". I have this theory (which I will be expounding upon later) that with Halo Bungie and Microsoft have effectively retarded a generation of console gamers to the greater possibilities of online play.

And then there is "Little Big Planet" ... Sitting there, mocking me. "Little Big Planet" feels like the out of place Educational Toy a distant relative in a obscure section of the Northwest U.S. of A sent you for Christmas. I'm not entirely sure what I am supposed to do with it. No matter what I do do with it I'm not all that amused or entertained, but I know it's a game, so therefore there must be fun in there somewhere. Right?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gears of War 2 Multiplayer: Screwed or Extra Screwed?

So far I haven't seen much made of this on other gaming sites or blogs, but the multiplayer in Gears of War 2 seems ... well, screwed up, and screwed up bad enough to not even be playable.

Epic's Official Gears of War 2 forum is flooded with complaints about Gears of War 2's matchmaking system. The big one being that its slow verging on unusable -- with people waiting in the in-game lobby for up to an hour searching for players. Personally speaking I've waited as long as thirty minutes for a multiplayer game since launch on Friday. The shortest wait I've experienced is 5 minutes between games.

Along with bigger and more bad-ass, Cliffy B. can now add "broken" to the list of things Gears of War 2 is going to be. Hopefully Epic will sort out the problem soon, or at least patch in some snappy hold music.

UPDATE: Yes, Virginia, Epic admits Houston has a problem.

Hello and Welcome

I started this blog so I could have a specific space to prattle on about video games. I'll be doing ... whatever I feel like frankly. I'll also be porting over some of my older video game blog entries from my private blog.

P.S. Right now the Blogger Hosting is just temporary until I get something better set up

Friday, October 17, 2008

Little Big Nerd Rage

If you follow video games and the video game industry you probably know by now that Sony delayed its marquee first party exclusive, Little Big Planet, a week today and recalled discs already shipped to retailers. Why? As MediaMolecule, the developer of Little Big Planet, explains on their website:

We learnt yesterday that there is a lyric in one of the licensed tracks which some people may find offensive, and which slipped through the usual screening processes. Obviously MM and Sony together took this very seriously. LBP should be enjoyable by all. So within 12 hours of hearing about this issue involving a lyric (in Somalian, I believe!), we prepared an automatic day 0 patch and had a new disk image ready; however a decision was made within Sony that the right thing to do for quality and support of people with no on-line was to replace existing disks.


Specifically the music tracks contain expressions directly from the Qu'ran. I've been told since that expressions or quotations from the Qu'ran set to music is considered offensive to Muslims. Double oops on Sony's part. And to Sony's credit they decided to walk on the side of caution and tolerance, taking an extra week to yank out the possibly offending song.

I decided to peek over at NeoGAF to see how "the gaming public" (the .05% of it at least that has a GAF account in good sted) was taking this news. And never turning up a opportunity to live down to their reputation as a repository of douchebaggery the community that is NeoGAF once more proved Denis Dyack right and served up a help of vile comments worthy of a Sarah Palin stump speech.

From User Maladev:

I'm too pissed off to express my real feelings towards Sony and some oversensitive Muslims. Too fucking pissed off.

From User Durante:

Fuck delusional idiots for ruining everyone else's fun since they can't have any.
Fuck SCEE for giving in to a few bullies.

From User Mdk7:

i have to shut up, it's better not to write what i'm thinking at the moment.
Let's say it's just "SURREAL", Islam is getting really really powerful these days.

From User Saren is Bad:

This cannot be close to a release date to push it three weeks when you can just patch it? People need to quit getting pissy over simple stuff, the Muslims that were offended need to suck it up so that everyone else doesnt have to suffer the consequences of their babyish attitutdes.

From User AnimeTheme:

Islam... a religion that I find hard to understand from time to time. Sometimes it seems so easy to offend Muslims (and we all know offending them or their religion can be very dangerous...) even when it is not intentional most of the time...

From User GreekWolf:

What's inherently wrong about your entire argument, is that you're mistaking tolerance for intellectual stupidity.

Being forced to endure a co-worker's annoying habits is an example of tolerance. Attempting to keep peace within the family, by making a concerted effort to get along with your rude and condescending mother-in-law, is an example of tolerance.

Bending over backwards and submitting to the irrational demands of delusional individuals, who frighteningly pattern their entire thought process and behavior on the ancient writings of violent, schizophrenic madmen, is an example of intellectual stupidity.

Is that clear enough for you, or should I spell it out even further?

This person trying to respond and rebutt to this bit of blather was banned by Mods. Yes, the person trying to rebuke the racist ass-clown was banned. Great job there, Lou.

And this goes on and on and on for (as of this writing) 34 pages of vile, racist, bigoted spewing by fanboys upset that a game was delayed. Yes, a game. Thank your Preferred Maker that this was only a game. One wonders how they same enraged nerds would deal with an actual set back in real life. Needless to say I am once more dismayed by my own tribe. As a person who has played video games and actually managed to grow-up at the same time I am discouraged to find that the subculture of gaming failed to do likewise, instead becoming lodged in a state of permanent libertarian adolescence. This why, even though just about every one plays video games, the stigma around being a gamer hangs particularly thick. It is hard to prove your not an ass-clown when surrounded by ass-clowns.