September 28, 2006

Marketplace Overload

There has been a lot of activity on the Marketplace lately thanks to X06. I love it. Here are my impressions on the items I have downloaded:


Lego Star Wars II - This was fun. I enjoyed the first one. This one is more of the same, only set in the original trilogy universe. That is a plus in my book. Good demo, although not as much fun if you are playing by yourself.

F.E.A.R. - This is the same demo that appeared in the OXM a month ago. It is entertaining. The weapon fire feels great and the slow-mo action is very cool. Some freaky moments in there too. Graphically it is not as impressive as I would have liked, but it was just a demo, hopefully the final product is more polished visually.


Battle Stations Midway - Some WWII Fighter Pilot game I have never heard of before. Looked blah.

Import Tuner Challenge - Another one of those racing games. Looked absolutely terrible. They showed an in-car view that looked laughable compared to PRG3's stunning cockpit view.

Eragon - Some fantasy/adventure game that looks right out of the LotRs universe. Again, it looked absolutely terrible. Are all these games running on the same system that has Gears of War, GRAW and PGR3? Because they look like they are running on a regular Xbox. Completely underwhelming.

The Darkness - The trailer is ok, but I want to see gameplay already. This game is high on my list of games to watch, but show us some gameplay!!!

Forza 2 Physics & Damage Trailer - Wow, this game is going to be fantastic!!

Shrek 3 - Meh. Again, this game does not show off the 360 in any positive way.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men - Looks interesting storywise. The verdict is still out. Entertaining trailer though.

Halo Wars - Holy freakin' hell this was bad-ass!!! An army of Spartans?! Oh hellz yes, can I have some more!!!

Rainbow Six Vegas - This game needs to come out already. I want it. I am a little concerned with the frame-rate however based on this trailer. I hope it is smooth. The Vegas Strip looks phenomenal.

Lost Odyssey - The marketplace demo is cool. Very good CG. I saw the extended portion from the Microsoft X06 press conference though, where you actually get to see the game being played, and I was completely disappointed. Typical RPG circa 1985. The turn based battle system looked archaic and boring. Oh well.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent - This game is still not wowing me the way I would like. It looks like the last SC game with better graphics. The animation appears completely reused from last gen, which is a major bummer.

Assassin's Creed - From what I can tell the Marketplace trailer is made up of footage from the live demo that was played at the press conference. Very impressive stuff. This game looks great right now.

Blue Dragon - Pretty long trailer for this very Japanese RPG. You know what? I though it was great. Silly me. It is mostly CG and showed zero gameplay, but I was completely entertained. I liked it.

Bioshock - I'm salivating for this game, especially after finally seeing it in action. This trailer is not gameplay however, but it is still very, very cool and atmospheric. This game cannot come out soon enough.

Marvel Ultimate Online - CG trailer just showing you different Marvel characters. As an ex-comic book junkie, this trailer was awesome to watch. The CG character models looks very nice. Very detailed.

COD3 - Real-time trailer, although it does not show gameplay. Was a little boring at the beginning, but it picked up the pace by the end. Looks like physics come into play in this one, with some destructible environments. Pretty cool trailer overall.

Viva Pinata - This game looks gorgeous in still pictures, but if they can't get that frame-rate smoothed out, I don't know . . .

I believe that is all I've downloaded so far. I hope there is more goodies in the near future.

Oh, I purchased Doom for Live Arcade. The game looks decent enough considering how old it is. It runs silky smooth and very fast and it controls great with the 360 pad. I look forward to strolling down memory lane with it. Hopefully Powerpuff gets it so we can try it co-op.

September 26, 2006

Gaming notes

A few gaming notes from the last week:

- I finished Condemned: Criminal Origins. It was a fun game. It got a little repetitive towards the end, since the basic formula didn't change, but the fantastic atmosphere kept it entertaining. I wasn't very fond of the last level or so. Things got a little weird and they remove the two tools you relied on the most throughout the game, your flashlight and your taser. Seemed like a cheap way to make those levels harder/scarier. But overall, I enjoyed it.

- Powerpuff and I managed to do a bit of gaming this weekend together over Live. First up, Madden 2007.

We played a couple matches a little while back and we had experienced a bit of lag, but it was somewhat playable. This past Saturday when we tried a rematch, the game was so laggy we had to quit after 1 quarter. And I don't even know how we managed to play an entire quarter. Seriously, it was that bad. The game was running is slow motion.

Why EA cannot get a football game to work over Live with a west coast vs. east coast user is beyond me. There are not that many variables at play here. It is two people and voice chat. I can play Halo 2 with fifteen other players from all over the world, with rockets launchers, wrecking absolute havoc, and that game will run smoother on an old Xbox than Madden 2007 runs on a 360. That boggles my mind.

And this is ALL EA's fault, because every other game I have played online has been fine. CoD2 was spotty for a second there, but the patch fixed it. This has been going on with EA for years now. This needs to be resolved. This is the "next-generation". EA is the largest game publisher in the world and Madden is their premier title. This should be a non-issue.

- With Madden unplayable, we moved on to GRAW. We hadn't played it in a while and Powerpuff still had some of the co-op achievements to unlock. We managed to get him one, and that was about it. Man, Wharf is a bitch to complete with just two people. It is actually pretty hard no matter how many players you have, but with only two (and with no respawns, since that is the only way to unlock the achievement), it is hella hard. We must have played it 10 times, trying different tactics each time. We got close sometimes, but no dice.

Don't worry Powerpuff, you'll get those achievements if it is the last thing we do! I'll get the clan together and we'll try again soon.

- After dying in Warf for the 10th straight time, it was time for a change. But what to play? Eureka! Project Gotham Racing 3!

I bought PGR3 about 2 weeks ago through Circuit City, which had it on sale for $19.99. I know Powerpuff has had it since launch, but he hadn't really delved into it. I myself had played it sporadically since I purchased it, but I was too busy with Condemned to really give it a go.


I gotta say, both Powerpuff and I were extremely impressed with the polish this game shows. Graphically, it is a knock-out! Silky smooth frame-rate, amazingly detailed tracks, gorgeous car models, and the best damn in-car view ever created for a game.

But best of all, the online portion of the game is both fun and runs flawlessly. And this was a launch game.

Take that EA!

We played various matches against CPU controlled opponents. It was a blast. I have a new found affliction with PGR3 (as was evident by both Powerpuff and I continuing our solo careers in the game for the rest of the weekend.

For any 360 owner who has not tried it and have even a slight interest in racing games, I give it my full endorsement.

It is also one of the games that makes the best use of Live that I have seen. Not only can you play a solo career, but you can play an on-line career as well. You can take photos and upload them. You can watch Gotham TV, which shows the best players in the world competing (great for learning some helpful tactics), you can access countless leader boards and view clips of how each player achieved that position, you can go to the Friends channel and watch people from your friends list racing, the list goes on and on. Very, very impressive stuff.

I only wish I would have discovered this game at the peak of its popularity, as most players have moved on to something else and the online portions of the game are not as active as they once were. Oh well, there is always Forza 2.

September 13, 2006

Man, it is dark in here

After playing nothing but Madden for two and a half weeks (with the occasional Texas Hold'em mixed in) I realized I was needing longer breaks between Madden games. Instead of playing back-to-back-to-back franchise games, I needed to play something else in between.

So I look through my games for something to play. I am still nowhere close to beating Oblivion, but Oblivion is a weird game where once I put it down, it really takes me a while to pick up again. Once I do however, I am fully hooked all over again . . . but I'm not feeling Oblivion right now.

Table Tennis? I still have plenty of characters and venues to unlock . . . but, nope, not feeling it.

Looks like I am done with all my games. Off to Best Buy.

I pick up Loco Roco for the PSP. I played the demo many, many times and I loved it. I've been eagerly anticipating this game's release. But, a portable game is not going to satisfy my fix. If it would I could just continue Syphon Filter (which I am . . . slowly. Good game). No, what I need is a 360 game. I need high definition graphics and 5.1 sound. But what to get? No recent 360 release has caught my eye. Saint's Row? Nope. Dead Rising? The demo was fun and I've heard great things . . . but I hear it is badly in need of a patch (and that it fries people's 360), so no. Prey? Yes . . . and no. Not yet.

Then I see it. Condemned: Criminal Origins. Of all the launch games that I have not played, this is the one I had the most interest in. And it is on sale too! 50% off!! SOLD!

Here are my impressions so far:

- First, I have to say, I've realized that I am a first-person shooter fanatic. I love FPS's. Ok, granted, Condemned is far from being a first-person "shooter", but I just love games played from a first-person perspective. Some find them disorienting, or boring, but I've realized that I love 'em.

- The game's opening credits are very cool. They are a blatant rip-off of the opening of Se7en, but it sets the mood for the game very well and is well produced. Very atmospheric.

- The graphics so far have been fantastic. Very dark, very gritty. Great lighting. Looks like you'll be spending all your time walking around in dark areas with your flashlight. I wonder why they even have a button to turn your flashlight on and off since it never runs out of battery (thank God) and I have yet to be in an area when I've thought, "Gee, there is more than enough light here, I can turn my flashlight off. Nope, that sucker has been on the whole time.

- Like I mentioned earlier, this is far from a first person shooter. It feels more like a first-person Silent Hill game. If you do find a fire-arm (revolver, pistol, or shotgun) the only ammo available is what is currently in the weapon. Once it runs out, it is time to find something else. This is cool, since it is unrealistic to just have ammo scattered through all these real-world locations, but I wish you would be able to take the ammo from a current weapon and transfer it to another of the same kind. For example, I came across a section where I had a shotgun with only two rounds left (max of 5 available). I found another shotgun left behind by an enemy I killed. That shotgun had three rounds left. I sure would have liked to take those three rounds out of his weapon and add them to mine (would have been realistic), but unfortunately, you can't do that. I had to just exchange weapons. Oh well.

- Speaking of weapons, this game is all about melee combat. While fire-arms are hard to come by, melee weapons are a dime a dozen. You can use many environmental objects, such a pipes, 2x4's (with rusty nails no less!), crowbars, shovels, sledgehammers, conduits, fire axes, even signs! The list goes on and on. Each weapon deals different damage, has a different speed and block rating, and a different range. Plenty of variation here.

- Combat is visceral and extremely violent. After all, bludgeoning someone to death with a pipe or slapping them across the face with a sledgehammer is not for the squeamish. Blocking an attack actually requires timing, you can't just hold down the block button, so that adds an extra layer to the combat. Enemies also show some intelligence. They don't just run at you all the time, but will sometimes actually run at you, attack, then run and hide. They'll even exchange their weapon for a better one if they find one. My biggest complaint with the combat so far is that the distance that an enemy can hit you from appears to be off. Even when you look like you are a safe distance out of range of their melee attack, they might still hit you. It makes combat feel a little less precise than I would have liked it, but once you get used to that aspect of it, you learn to adjust.

- The sound in the game is fantastic. Voice acting is good and the 5.1 audio creates a really intense and scary environment. You'll hear creaks and groans coming from all over. Excellent audio!

- One cool aspect about the game is that your character has various forensic tools he can use to gather clues. These all look great and are fun to use, except that the game practically kills this by holding your hand through the whole process. You can only use your forensic tools when the game tells you to use them and they even choose the one you need to use. So, while they are fun to use, you're not really doing any "detective" work after all. If this could have been implemented better, it would have been absolutely fantastic.

- This game is scary!!! Like I said, it is a very dark game (bother literally and figuratively). Mix in the gritty graphics with the previously mentioned audio, and this game will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

So far I'm probably halfway through the game. Much like Kameo (another launch game I played recently for the first time) I am really enjoying it. This was another game (again, like Kameo) that was criticized for being too short. Since I am mixing my play time with Condemned, Madden, and some Loco Roco, I think the length of the game is going to fine by me. I've mentioned a few times how I don't have as much time to play before like I used to, so these 10 hour games can last me a week or two (when before I used to be done with them in two days).

I hope to give final impressions when I am done with the game . . . but I've said that about lots of games and never followed through, so, we'll see. =)

So far, I recommend anyone with a 360 and who likes scary games ala Silent Hill to give Condemed a try.

September 08, 2006

Steelers 28, Dolphins 17

Well, it being the day after a tough Dolphins loss I am in my predictable sour mood today. I hate these losses more than blowouts, because when you have the lead with 6 minutes left to go you really start to think the game is in the bag. Or at least that your chances are pretty good.

Talk about a total breakdown late in the game.

Up 17-14 with 6 minutes left in the 4th against the Super Bowl champs, on their turf, in front of a national audience. Man, that was a good feeling. Less than one minute later, I felt like someone slugged me in the gut. I was looking like poor Booker did walking to the sideline after his injury. Dazed and confused.

I wasn't going into this game totally convinced we would emerge victorious. Sure, the news that Roethlisberger was out added a little fuel to the fire, but the Steelers' defense is no joke, so I knew it was not going to be a walk in the park. Both teams looked pretty mediocre early on. Our running game was non-existent. Hell, aside from Wes Welker, our entire offense was non-existent. Give Wes a damn game ball, because he was always the spark when the Dolphins needed one. Whether on special teams or making a big catch, Wes was the man early on.

The turning point in the game obviously was the 87 yard TD by Pittsburgh's TE. I don't even know the guy's name. Maybe I should learn it since he just had the longest touchdown reception by a tight end in three freakin' decades. Is it just me, or do all these crazy records seem to be set against the Dolphins? But everyone knows that wasn't a TD pass. He stepped out at the one yardline, and the play would have been overturned, except that Nick Saban's throwing arm makes Chad Pennington's look like a cannon. I mean, really coach, you might want to throw the flag like you mean it next time, ok? Especially late in the 4th when the play in question gives the other team the lead!

And why is it that every time a back-up, rookie, or 3rd string QB starts against the Dolphins, he looks like Marino in his heyday? I mean, is that just me too?! Charlie Batch with 3 tds and no interceptions? Of course, he's playing the Dolphins, I should have expected it.

Culpepper had his highs and lows. He had some terrible off-target passes, but then he had some true gems like that beautiful 31 yard floater he threw to Welker. His two late interceptions were the nails in the coffin though.

I'll tell you one player that really impressed me. Willie Parker. Man, this kid is going to have a huge year. He was ellusive, fast, and never gave up on a play. If it was a one-on-one tackle situation, he was going to get away. Too bad he plays for the Steelers.

Overall, I shouldn't be too hard on the Dolphins. They were 6 minutes away from beating the World Champions on their turf. I didn't really expected them to win, I just hoped they would, and they almost made it happen. It is only the first game of the season. We will get better. There are some positives to take from this game.

But man . . . it still hurts.

September 06, 2006

Miscellaneous ramblings

- I remembered and picked up the extended 2 year warranty for the 360 last week. My original warranty was renewed when I sent my 360 in for repair in May and I made a mental note to extend that to two years before it expired. I've heard too many horror stories (and been through one myself) to let it slip. Besides, $60 for two years buys more than just coverage for my 360, it buys piece of mind that every time I put a new game into it I don't have to worry that it is the last time I will see it working (been hearing crazy tales of Dead Rising messing up people's units).

- I was messing around with my 360's settings the other day and I began to wonder just how many people buy all these Themes and Picture packs that are out there. I've bought one theme (Halo 3) and haven't even considered buying a picture pack. I tend to alternate my theme from Halo 3 to the Glass theme, as those are the only two I have liked so far. I just don't see myself spending points on pictures or themes. Maybe I would if you get to preview them before you buy it. I hate the fact that you can only see a tiny picture of what the theme/picture pack looks like before you make a purchase. There should be a "Preview" option that lets you actually apply it and see what it looks like for about 30 seconds or something. If you had that option, I might consider making more purchases.

- Another thing that I have zero interest in are different face plates. They don't attract me at all. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but spending $20 for a different "look" to the front of my system is a waste of money. But if you enjoy that sort of thing, that's cool. It is great that you at least have the option I guess.

- I'm getting antsy for some reason to raise my gamerscore over 5000. I'm not a gamerscore "whore" or anything, and usually don't pay it no mind, but it has been in the 4000's for so long now, I just want to see the damn "5" on there. Maybe I'll try to rent King Kong and get a really easy 1000 points. :p

- Games I'm playing now are obviously Madden, and I still try to sneak in some Texas Hold'em. I'm really enjoying it and hope to get the courage to try it on Live soon. I wonder if you can play an arranged match with just a few friends and have the rest be controlled by the cpu? I doubt it, but it would be great to set up a match with Powerpuff just for fun and play a little poker.

- I fired up Wik last night and played it for about 10 minutes. Fun game overall. I hope to beat it sometime in the next five years, since I seem to only be able to take it in in 10 minute intervals.

- I will achieve 1,000,000 points in Geometry Wars one day. One day. Really.

- While writing that last sentence I almost wrote Colony Wars instead of Geometry Wars. Man, I wish they would release a new Colony Wars game for the 360. The original PSOne games were fan-fucking-tastic!!! And the creme-of-the-crop as far as console space-combat games go.

Who needs HDMI anyway right?

I think Sony is quickly running out of feet to shoot themselves in.

According to reports, the ultra pricey $600 version of the PS3 (the only one with HDMI support) will be shipping . . . without the actual HDMI cable.

So lets see. Sony's big hook is that the PS3 is the first "true" HD gaming system, it supports 1080p resolution, blah-blah-blah. So what do they do? First, they only include HDMI support in the more expensive version of their console (required for 1080p) and they don't even include the HDMI cable with that system in the first place.



Yesterday I was surfing through Wikipedia, just thinking up random topics and looking them up. Man, I love this site. Somehow I decided to look up "Dragonlance" (surfing this site is like surfing through IMDB, one thing leads to another, next thing you know you've spent 20 minutes on there)

Now, for those of you not familiar with Dragonlance, it is a series of fantasty novels that are part of the TSR/ (now Wizards of the Coast) Dungeons and Dragons series of RPGs. There are novels, D&D campaign sets, comic books, even videogames (although very crappy ones at that) based on the Dragonlance series. Pretty popular among us fantasty fans, but at the same time obscure to those not in our "club".

I am a HUGE Dragonlance fan. My user name of "Tanis" is taken right out of the novels. I have read over 20 books based on this world. I've played the AD&D campaign in high school with friends (yes, I was a D&D geek, and proud of it). I read my first DL novel at the age of 13 and have been hooked ever since. The first book in the series, "Dragons of Autumn Twilight" is the first full legnth novel I remember reading and to this day is my favorite book of all time. I have read it five times.

During all this time, my ultimate dream has been to see a full-length Dragonlance movie on the screen. Many movie rumors have come and gone, all just being a big tease. I've directed this movie in my head many times. I've contemplated writing the sript (just for shits and giggles). In the perfect scenario, I would be given 300 million dollars by some crazy movie studio and told to go ahead and create this Draginlance movie. Yep, a whopping 300 million is what it would have taken for this movie to be made the way I want it, because in order for it to be done right, no expense could be spared. I want top of the line effects, prostetics, sets, I want to film as much as I can on location, and it was going to be a 3 hour epic. Ah yes, it would have been great, but I knew it was never going to get done.

But then I got the Lord of the Rings trilogy and my appetite for a polished, high-quality fantasty epic was quenched. Or was it? Actually, seeing Peter Jackson's masterpiece on the big screen only made my longing for a Dragonlance movie worse. Dragonlance shares many similarities to LotRs, and like all fantasty works, owes its very creation to J.R.R. Tolkien's opus. Without The Hobbit, there would be no Dungeons and Dragons. Being the rabid DL fan that I am, I would have gladly traded Frodo and his adventures to see Tanis and his companions up on that screen instead, and their quest to stop the Dark Queen from taking over Krynn.

But I digress. So, I come upon Wikipedia's entry on Dragonlance . . . and what do I see? Not only are there plans to make a Dragonlance movie, but it has already been cast, has a director, and is in pre-production!

Holy hell how did I miss that?!

After my initial jubilation, I take a step back and looked at the situation. The film is not my 300 million dollar blockbuster, it is an animated film based on the first novel. Now, this is actually not a bad thing. I always said if the film could not have a huge budget, I would much rather have it be animated. I definitely would not want something like the Dungeons and Dragons movie as a result of trying too much with limited resources.

So, animated is good . . . but what kind of animation? From what I read it will use a mix of 2D and 3D effects. That sounds great . . . but how big is the budget? Keifer Sutherland has been cast as the voice of Raistlin . . . that could work. Is it going to look like a quality production, or some cheap straight to video cartoon? What's the rating? It has to be PG-13 right? It is not going to be 70 minutes long is it? That is not enough time to cover the plot!

See? That's my problem. I love Dragonlance too much to see it get massacred on the big screen. I'm dying for this movie to be made, yet dreading it at the same time. I have a clear vision in my head of what these characters and world looks like, how will I react when the director's vision doesn't match my own? Is any Dragonlance movie better than none at all?

Too early to tell at this point, but I have my eye on this. It could be one of the best movie going experiences of my life (remember, huge fan here) or the worse. I'm hoping for the former.

September 05, 2006

Steve Irwin

This weekend we drove up to St. Augustine to spend the long weekend. Nice place. A bit touristy though, taking away from its history, but that is to be expected.

Anyway, Monday morning we stop at a McDonald's for some breakfast before driving back and I heard on the news that Steve Irwin had died, from a freakish sting ray attack.


I was shocked. I was a huge Steve Irwin fan many years back. Me and my buddy would love watching this guy's show. He was funny, entertaining, and above all very passionate about what he was doing. He really did love his profession and the animals he spent his entire life studying and protecting.

I stopped watching Steve when he became so popular that everybody was talking about him. I tend to do that. I was a huge Emeril fan before he blew up and started doing his live tv show. I used to like him when he had his solo show, The Essence of Emeril, with no studio audience and was not showboating as much. Whenever an obscure band I like begins to get played on every radio station, I tend to loose interest. So, when Steve Irwin starred in his own movie, I decided to move on.

Being a diver, the news that he was killed by a sting ray was hard to understand. I've been around many sting rays and never felt in any sort of danger. But really, you shouldn't, because they are not dangerous creatures. Steve's situation was a horrible, horrible accident. A one in a million situation.

At least he went doing what he loved. In all honesty, I always figured it would have been a crocodile or a poisonous snake that would have done Steve in (not that I really gave the subject much thought mind you).

I am sure Steve inspired a whole generation of future nature conservationists and brought greater awareness to that which he dedicated his entire life to.

Steve, you will be missed.