Sunday, September 20, 2009

Retro Gamer - Lands of Lore

Issue 67 of Retro Gamer is finally out unless you live elsewhere in which case you already missed it. Not sure why the U.S. is a month behind. Why issue 67? Because that is the issue with the long over due "Lands of Lore" article. Damien McFerran actually interviewed Rick Gush and myself over two years ago, back when I was living in Brisbane. Damien's finishing of the article was interrupted by his wife having a baby, his triumphant return to the Tour de France and drafting Obama's Presidential acceptance speech. Did that come off as funny or mean? I was trying for funny. Writing it a little off at the moment, I'm watching the Emmy award show and I'm a bit upset Neil Patrick Harris wasn't in the red and black Dr. Horrible uniform. Why would he go back to the white uniform when the red and black one was so much more evil?

Okay, sorry. Seriously Damien's wife did have a baby. Again, congrats on that! Then the article was originally supposed to be in issue 64, but the editor felt that that issue had to many "making of" articles so he decided to push it back.

Unfortunately, the layout artist of the issue was too smart to publish the picture I gave him of members of the team. Actually, it is a picture of the "Eye of the Beholder" team, though it was pretty much the same people on "Lands of Lore." Note to the guy who wrote the Wiki article, Westwood did not split from SSI over artistic differences. Westwood became a part of Virgin Games, though we still provided a lot of help, support and love to our friends over at SSI while there were doing the EOB III. And if you don't beleive me, you'll have to deal with my bad-ass self from the early 90's in the picture. Oh yeah, don't mess with me!

It might be obvious by now that I am really just typing away trying to add some meat to this post to balance out the two pictures. I don't want to actually post a copy of the article itself until it has been off the shelf for a few months. It a glorious 3 page article with a nice shout out to the late great Rick Parks. I think you should rush right out and buy at least two issues. I did.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to win friends and influence people

My beard is starting to turn grey. It is really annoying that it is doing so in patches so it looks really bad and I’ve had to start dyeing it. I have been thinking about how I can turn this to my advantage. I’ll admit that my thoughts were initially more along the lines of dating, but as that hasn’t been working out too well I’ve decided focus on other areas.

I am hoping that I’ll be getting a job pretty soon (praying) and a new job brings new people, new opportunities to make a first impression. So, I am thinking of ways to convince these new people that I’m a time traveler. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m watching Journeyman on Hulu. You people sure let them cancel some good TV shows while I was out of the country.

First thing is that I am going to start sneaking off to dye or shave my beard back down during the day. The ‘shaving it back down’ thing has to do with how I keep it pretty short and am always shaving it back to stubble. After four or more days since my last dye job, I can go from brown back to grey-ish. This means that I can appear to alter my apparent age.

I am also going to start carrying around another set of cloths and change in and out of them at odd times. If anybody notices I’ll either deny it or make overly lame excuses. One trick I just thought of is to have two identical shirts and pre-stain one with ketchup or something. That is the one I’ll start the day in. Then I’ll switch to the non-stained shirt and make sure it’s noticed by some people who I’ll later let see me “accidently” spill some ketchup on it.

I’ll also throw in some more subtle conversational bits. I am going to start asking people the date and then when they tell me, I’ll say, “yeah, but what year?” I’ll spend time on movie spoiler sites and then casually working in tidbits of information about movies that aren’t out yet into conversations. Occasionally after asking a question about whether or not somebody has done something and told no, I’ll follow it up with a serious sounding, “good, that means there is still time!”

Now you are probably thinking that these new people may read my blog and see this post. Experience has taught me that although people I work with may occasionally read my blog, they never read too far back into the older posts. But in thinking of this I realize that I can also leverage the thing I discovered about how Blogger publishes posts that started as drafts by the time and date I first started writing them. By occasionally starting posts and saving them as drafts, I’ll be able to go back and seemly make posts in the past filled with things that I wouldn’t have known at the time of the postings, like this post I made back on December 14, 2008. Hey, that reminds me those aliens are due to land next month!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Publishing in the Past

Oh that sucks. Because the "I'm Batman" blog post was actually started and saved as a draft, before I got tired of tossing and turning last night and wrote the Warehouse 13 post; when posted it inserted itself before the "Warehouse 13" post. (Was that sentence punctuated correctly?)

It should always put posts up by the date & time the user presses the publish post button.

What use would I have for posting things in the past? People coming to the blog's main link will see the top post and think the blog hasn't been updated. Stupid move Blogger.

Warehouse 13

I've been watching Warehouse 13 on SyFi since it started and I really haven't been impressed yet. It seems so dumbed down. I kind of view it as the Sci-fi version of NCIS and CSI. Let's just make crap up and insult everybody with a brain because most people don't have one. They are crime scene investigators, why are they investigating the crimes, interviewing suspects and arresting people! They aren't even cops let alone police detectives! I know people like those shows, as they are doing quite well in the ratings. It is probably just me. But what is the Internet for if not a place to vent.

So on with the venting about Warehouse 13! In the latest one, episode 10, "Breakdown," Claudia Hacks the door keypad by using an "ASCII-Binary-Algorithm?" Okay, even if that made even a little sense, how do you do that by entering numbers into a keypad? Not that you have to bother with that; because, a well placed kick can disable the whole ultra, super security lock on the scary Dark Vault.

What is next? Is somebody going to re-route the encryptions? Divert power through the deflector dish? re-shizzel the fah-shizzel? Please, can these shows get a tech-writer or something? Maybe teach these people that you can't write a program to do anything in 30 seconds by banging on the keyboard no matter how much flashy graphics you have on screen. Maybe if you used the mouse and pretended to click on drop down menus and file menus for 30 seconds I'd beleive you were actually doing something.

Oh and the Dark Vault with it's ultra, super "purple" containment fields because we've never seen a black light before.

Okay on to the acting on the show. I'm fine with the delivering of the lines part. It isn't the greatest acting in the world, but I've seen much worse. What really bothers me is the way they move sometimes, the lack of any effort on the physical acting. Dodging the lighting bolt thing that went down the corridor, they didn't even really get out of the corridor let alone make me think they really were seeking cover. In a previous episode they take cover behind something while somebody is shooting at them, only they aren't really doing a very good job of it with half their bodies still stick out where they could get shot. They looked more like they were just getting more comfortable so they could continue their conversation.

Again in episode 10, at the end where Claudia trying to act like the Silly String is really hard to break wasn't working for me. It could be the Silly String's fault that it drooped and didn't look like it was resisting her slow, agonizing pulls. But then even when Myka and Claudia are struggling not to get pulled into the gears, they arn't really selling it.

You know the one thing that I would have forgiven all the other stuff in that episode for. If Myka had done something like lifted up her shirt, instead of using a broom to knock Peter away from Sylvia Plath's typewriter, and that caused him to snap out of it. Not asking for nudity, just a harmless over the shoulder shot where she lifts up her shirt and a reaction shot from him. Because really, if the broom worked she could have just ran and tackled him away from it in half the time it took for her to run out of the room and find the janitor's closet... assuming it wasn't an evil broom artifact.

Another little annoyance. They put all this emphasis on low-techy-tech, yet have these custom LCD displays for all the artifacts? Modern LCD screens with flashy custom animated graphics and yet the machine that keeps all the artifacts in the warehouse safe is run by a set of big, giant-toothed gears... that nobody thought to put a cover over... even though it they are right under some sort of air vent with space enough for frick'n can of Evil Silly String to fall though?!

I like that they finally vented one of my other fustration issues in episode 7, "Emplosion" by addressing the Gandalf syndrome problem the show has. You know where the brains of the outfit can't simply take the two seconds to explain anything causing things to be way more complicated and difficult than need be. My theory is Marty can't explain anything because even the writers don't even know what is going on. At least we have on-going plotline now and maybe they have mapped some more of the mythos out.

Okay, I'll stop whining now, at least until the toilet Elvis died on shows up as an evil artifact.

See, you last that long through one of my stupid rants you get a decent joke. Admit it you laughed. Don't try and say you didn't. Next time the show comes up in conversation, you know you'll be bringing up the possibility of the evil Elvis killing toilet artifact.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm Batman!

Wow. Batman: Arkham Asylum really took me by surprise. Of the four PS3 games I have, it is the one I would have put last on my list of what I thought I’d enjoy.

As it turns out, I had just forgotten how much I loathe trying to play First-Person Shooters on a console system; so that kills two of my four games. Seriously, it’s like I’m floating around while looking at the world through a paper-towel tube.

The fourth game is Little Big Planet, and the spongy jump is getting on my nerves. I’m hoping the level building stuff will be fun, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet as Batman took all my time. I finished it last Friday and I’ve been replaying it on hard, though I did just pick up Assassin’s Creed PS3 used for $17 and Braid PC on special this weekend on Steam for $5.

I read a number of reviews where Batman: Arkham Asylum is being called this year’s BioShock and frankly, I don’t see it. Other than the visuals and atmosphere, where I see the comparison on quality, I think Batman eats BioShock’s lunch. I’m saying that having played BioShock on the PC for those of you paying attention where I mentioned my view on FPSs on a console system. Anyway, Arkham Asylum’s story may or may not be better, but I think it came across as part of the game better. The depth of the gameplay is better. Arkham Asylum is a much better game.

The camera work was amazing, Batman hardly ever got in my way. I remember how frustrated I got at the old Alone in the Dark game back in the early 90's because of the way they handled the camera. We have certainly come a long way. (BTW, Has anybody played the new Alone in the Dark: Inferno?")

The world is very immersive and beautifully rendered. The game is a confined, open world; meaning you’re stuck on Arkham Island but it isn’t a series of levels your forced though. You travel back and forth across the island and through its buildings all of which change a bit as the story progresses. That is exactly the type of set-up I like in a game. It makes it feel like a real place. I hate games that are nothing but hallways. Even Half-Life 2 is really nothing but a game full of well disguised hallways.

The gameplay in Arkham Asylum feels great. The controls are intuitive and easy to master; and that is being said by somebody who hasn’t seriously played with a console controller in a few years. Although, I do have a small problem with the combat system in the game. Don’t get me wrong, it was easy and fun. But it was kind of too easy. The extra combat combos and other unlocks didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t able to use them very much. The combos themselves are only available after you chain a certain number of attacks and the situation is right. In

my case, by the time I noticed that the combo was available; it was too late to use it. All of the other unlocks felt a bit useless. It took more time and effort to try and use them when I could just have easily defeated the goons normally. I felt a little like they designed and balanced this decent combat system and then added the extra stuff instead of having it all in the mix in the beginning. Maybe that was just me and not having played a console game in awhile. I would have rather see those just unlocking generic combos that you could use much more freely. Again, just to be clear, the basic system was still fun. I was Batman and I kicked some butt exactly as Batman should.

The best thing about the game is that it is Batman in this world. Batman feels like the big, bad, Dark Knight. He looks grim and gruff, and even that evolves as the game progresses; rips appear on his costume, he gets bruised a bit and even develops a five o’clock shadow. He moves, gestures, and fights exactly like Batman should. And when you are controlling him, you feel like Batman. It really hit home for me when I was spraying the explosive gel on a wall, and didn’t bother to step back before blowing it up. In another game Batman might have taken damage and that would have taken away from the mystic that this is actually Batman. In Arkham Asylum Batman simply turns his face away from the explosion and takes it like a man with no damage.

The designers/writers/artists also included a lot of subtle things that really show you how much of a grip they had on the source material. I’m not a big Batman reader myself, but even I was catching lots of little things.

The voice actors were also great, I beleive they are a lot of the same people from the cartoon series including Mark Hamill as the Joker. Excellent.

Some of the other nitpicks I had besides combat being a little too easy, was that I felt like I had to always run around in Detective Mode. Even though its graphic effect was subtle, I would have rather enjoyed the visuals naturally without the color shift, but it was too easy to otherwise miss things like hidden Riddler’s question marks alignment puzzles which you could only see in Detective Mode.

I also didn’t like that some of the Riddler “camera puzzles” were ones that you couldn’t solve unless you came back later in the game when you got some more equipment. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure them out only to find that I needed the zip line or something else that I wouldn’t get till much later in the game. I’m fine with some of the Riddler’s other hidden stuff not being accessible right away, but the “camera puzzles” text are thrown in your face when you enter a new area so I expected to be able to solve them.

Control wise, when doing the hanging movement along a ledge, the game tilted the camera at an angle but you still moved the joystick straight to the side. I thought they should have let you move the joystick to the side in a matching angle to move Batman to the side. Wouldn’t have hurt to have both directly to the left or angled to the left work.

Story nitpicks:

Batman can remotely summon the Batwing to fly in so he can get his zip-line launcher out of the glove compartment (which I really wish he’d brought with him in the first place) but he can’t use it to fly out some Arkham personnel? Especially since he keeps finding guards and doctors, telling them to sit tight, only to find them dead next times he comes through.

About the entrance to Croc’s Lair from Batcave: Batman says, “I found a door in the Batcave, but it was locked.”

Umm, didn’t YOU build the Batcave? And isn’t it supposed to be a secret? If somebody is building new passageways, and putting in locked doors you can't open, that’s bad.

A nitpick about the DC universe in general as far as Batman goes; reading these villian back stories, I’m seeing a constantly reoccurring pattern. So if I ever find myself in theGothem area, I need to remember to be careful to not so much as bump my head or stub my toe. If I do I’m more than likely to develop some physiological break-down and/or neurosis which will cause me to become a super-villain. This normally only seems to happen to people with names that easily, and stupidly, relate to their pending neurosis. This is so their super-villain name can be easily identified. I’ll be an ax-murderer if you were wondering, Hewitt. = Hew It.

P.S. Blogger's new (actually it's kinda old by now) editor sucks. It keeps screwing up the formatting and is just flooding the post with unnecessary HTML. It is also preventing the Crome browser's spell checker from working at times. I also have no idea why these last two paragraphs are printing in a lighter color. Spent a few minutes trying to fix them, then I stopped caring as I have other things I need to go do.

P.S.S. Yeah, like I could let something like that go. I fixed the color.

Rocket Fuse

A number of the talented people I used to work with at Interzone Games in Perth, have managed to escape the long arm of the law long enough to get together and formed their own little indie game start-up called Rocket Hands.

On the left there, starting at 12:00 and going clock-wise is Jason, Anthony, Brad, Daniel, Jack, Robert and Simon.

They just released their first iPhone game called Rocket Fuse for the iPhone. If you're sensing a rocket theme going on, you're not alone.

I'd love to tell how great it is and all that, only I havn't played it. My iPhone was locked to the evil Telstra network in Australia so I had to have a violin duel out on some lonely crossroads to get out of it. Anyway the result of all that is that I no longer have my iPhone.

Here is the offical trailer video though, so you can take a look for yourself.
Do the guys a favor and pick it up.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I've finally arrived at the next generation... updating...

Back in October-ish of last year, I was in San Diego visiting the Sony Online offices. And because of somethings that were in the works finally bought a next gen game system. I think I would have gone XBox 360, but because of the SOE stuff I got a Playstation3 instead. I also bought Little Big Planet and Resistance 2.

Now in generations past I always bought every system, as soon as it came out. But living in Australia with the region codings, had me just skip this generation. I didn't want to buy a U.S. region 1 system and have to import the games and I didn't want to buy a Australian region 4 system with the risk that I'd be back here in the U.S.

I was worried about customs and such bringing it back with me to Australia, so I took it out of the box, roughed up some of the manuals, tangled up the cords, and then dragged the box across the parking lot to scuff it up. Turns out all that was completely unnecessary, but still a little fun.

Then it sat there. I couldn't find my power converter since moving from Brisbane to Perth. In February I moved back to the U.S. (and found the power converter as I was packing up the house.) It was on a boat for a few months and then when it got here I really didn't have a proper TV to hook it up to... and so on.

Then the other day I decided to take my previous generation systems down to Gamestop and trade them in. They told me they no longer take XBox systems or games, so I still have those to sell on Craig's List or something. But I did sell them my Nintendo GameCube, Playstation2, lots of extra cables & controlers, and about 35 games. In return I got Batman: Arkham Asylum, Wolfenstein, a subscription to Game Informer magazine (which is part of their Edge Card deal, which got me bonuses and discounts that affected my total), and Picross for the DS (which I had bought for Connie and she either remembered to take back from me or I lost). I also have $10 left over.

I had one PS2 game that was unopened. I was on the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences' Game of the Year panel, twice. They are supposed to send you copies of the games that have been nominated. Only they tend to send you only about a third of the games you are supposed to get, a third that seem to be just random games they had lying around, and the final third you just don't get at all. As a result of this I had a few unopened games, but my roommate years ago checked out all by one of them. The Gamestop manager says he isn't allowed to take unopened games and can't buy it from me today.

I understand this is policy implemented to discourage you from stealing new games and selling them. I asked if I could go outside, open it, and come back in.

He gave me a deadpan look and said, "I can't take this from you... today."

So, I took it back and sold it to him two days later. He also gave me some advice on how much some of my XBox games are worth. The two Baulder's Gate games are supposed to fetch top dollar.

Anyway, I finally decided it was time to get the damn system hooked up. Got my LDC TV (unfortunately kinda small and not High Def) out of storage and started plugging things in. I was kinda surprised that it not only worked right away, I even got it to connect to the internet on the first try. After that shocking turn of events, I was kind of afraid to put a game in the thing.

When I finally overcame my fear and decided I needed to, as Brad Pitt said it, "kill some Nat-zies."; it told me that I needed to update the PS3. Waiting...

Then once I got that done and tried again to play, it told me I have to update the game. Still waiting...

I almost felt like doing the old man voice, "When I was a boy, Console systems was different. Didn't have no bugs, cuz you tested'em real gud! Once they was out there in da market, wasn't no way to do no updates. That was it! If ya screwed up, you was screwed!"

Woot! Update done!

Manual Sold Separately

I picked up Champions Online today. Little disappointed to see that we are back to the days of manual sold separately and called "Strategy Guide." Seriously, the game comes with a 8 page manual that mentions not one word about how to play the game. System requirements, trouble shooting and 4 pages of the End User License Agreement.

I know that the goal is to make your game good enough that you don't need a manual. I can't speak to whether this is true or not for Champions Online as I haven't had a chance to play it yet. I had a beta invite and access to the Head Start Weekend, but my gaming computer isn't set up since I getting my stuff back from Australia.

But even if you have the greatest game in the world, so great that people new the concept of playing games can play without needing a manual; what am I supposed to read while sitting in the bathroom when I get home from the store?