January 31, 2008

CoD4 and Beethoven

On Tuesday night I had my best match ever in CoD4.  I had 26 kills, only 2 deaths, and a 23 kill streak.
Here is the kicker: I was playing the game with no volume and blasting Beethoven in the background.
So I had my best match ever while playing deaf basically.  I could not hear where gunfire was coming from.  I could not hear if someone was sneaking up behind me.  Yet I was dominating.  Why?
I even started the match 3-2.  I was tense at the beginning, expecting to get shot from behind at any moment.  Then I just went in the "zone".  The music was kicking and my focus on the match went up tremendously.  I was using the radar as my ears.  I was planning ahead.  Because I did not have the benefit of hearing, I was forced to focus and use all my other tools.  And the results speak for themselves.
Every match I played like this I did well in.  None came close to that first 26-2 match, but I had a kill/death ration above 3/1 in all of them (which is a lot better than I normally do, I'm usually at 1.5/1).
I am tempted to try this experiment again with some Pantera to see what the results are.  But I actually think it was Beethoven's compositions that put me at ease and let me achieve the zen-like state I was in.  Pantera will just get my adrenaline flowing.

GotY Awards coming soon . . . really

I'm working on a 2007 GotY post.  It is just taking me longer than expected.  A lot of great games last year.

January 23, 2008

The price of ignorance

Ok, a few days ago Fox News aired a "debate" about the sexual content in Mass Effect.  Those that have played the game and experienced the optional "sex scene" knows that it is barely PG-13 material.  They also know that this scene takes up about 30 seconds of a game that took me 40 hours to complete.  So I'd say the percentage of "sex" in this game is pretty insignificant.  But that does not stop so called "experts" (who clearly have never seen, played, or read anything on Mass Effect) to come out and spew lies and misinformation.  Please see the following clip (thank you joystiq)
Infuriating right?  I know I wanted to reach out into my monitor and slap these ignorant people upside their heads.
But, never underestimate an angry mob of gamers.  It seems that gamers - infuriated with Ms. Lawrence's clear lack of research on a subject she decided to go on national tv to bash - have decided to return the favor by "reviewing" her book on Amazon.com.  See the link:
Now, I wish no ill will towards Ms. Lawrence, but this seems sort of poetic.  She bashes a product on national tv in front of millions.  A product in which she clearly did zero research on.  She had all her facts wrong and was making pretty ridiculous claims on the content of the game, so forgive me if I can't muster up any sympathy for gamers doing the same to her book.
Childish on gamers' part?  Probably.  Funny?  Absolutely.
Bravo gamers.


Remember, between now and Sunday you can download Undertow for free from the Marketplace.  If you already own Undertow I hear you can contact Microsoft Support and get your 800 Points back.
I enjoyed the trial game, so I plan on downloading it tonight.

January 20, 2008


Looking back 2007 was a great year for the video game industry as well as for its many fans. The xbox360 and Wii continued its growth providing various ways for gamers and non-gamers to keep themselves entertained for many hours, while the Sony PS3 continues to lagg way behind.
Clearly the xbox360 has turned into the hardcore gamers choice of the three consoles. With the 2007 release of games such as Rainbow 6 Vegas, Ghost Recon 2 Advance Warfighter, HalfLife 2 Orange Box, Bio Shock, Halo 3, COD 4 and Mass Effect These great games have clearly propelled the 360 forward. But how will 2008 fair for the 360, with no particular title showing the promise of last years predecessors. 2008 maybe Sony's perfect opportunity to finally establish itself as a major player with the PS3. Now that Bluray appears to be winning the DVD format war, and titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and Killzone 2 are finally being released this year. If I were Sony, I would make 2008 a new relaunching of the PS3. By not only releasing quality games, but improving their online service and multiplayer games. Xbox live has contributed to the success of the 360 just as much as the hardware and game software. Deep inside I am rooting for Sony to succeed knowing that competition creates and environment for better games, where we all win. Can this be the year that Sony's PS3 makes a turn around, time will tell.

January 09, 2008

Format war coming to an end?

It is not looking good in the HD-DVD camp as of late.  Warner Brothers is now exclusively supporting Bluray.  With Warner Brothers comes sister company New Line (and Lord of the Rings).  HBO (also owned by WB) hasn't announced their plans, but we'll see what they decide.
That leaves HD-DVD with Universal and Paramount.  Or does it?
The latest rumors say that Paramount has an out clause in their contract with HD-DVD and they are thinking of jumping ship in light of WB's announcement.  If Paramount decides to support Bluray exclusively, this format war is officially over.  And I couldn't be happier.
I feel bad for all the consumers who own HD-DVD players.  I really do.  I know I'd be pretty pissed off right now if I owned one.  But I just want this to be over.  I never wanted a war to begin with.  I would have been happy with either format, but I wanted only one from the beginning.  Now that I own a PS3 and have a few Bluray movies in my collection, I have a bias favoritism for Bluray, but either way, one format needs to win.  HD-DVD is on the ropes right now so I wish Paramount would just deliver the final blow and get it over with.
The only ones losing are the consumers.  It is pretty amazing just how little either company did to educate consumers about what was going on when HD-DVD and Bluray first hit the market.  Everyone I know had no idea what I was talking about when I would say "Bluray" or "HD-DVD".  Most still don't.  I think both companies, in their attempt to grab the market share, rushed to the scene well before they should have.  If they would have held out and tried to compromise, I think everyone (including the companies themselves) would have been better off.
With Bluray on the verge of victory, it is not all going to be smooth sailing for them.  Check out this article.
Here are the highlights:
"Unlike HD DVD, which mandated features such as local storage, a second video and audio decoder for picture-in-picture, and a network connection from the very beginning, the companies behind Blu-ray took a different approach. Initial hardware players lacked these capabilities in order to keep costs down.

None of the Profile 1.0 players can be upgraded to Profile 1.1, which was finalized recently, with the exception of the PlayStation 3 -- whose update arrived in mid-December. Likewise, Profile 2.0 is expected to arrive in October bringing Internet connectivity that Profile 1.1 players lack."

It continues to say . . .
"In addition, the BD-J interactivity layer, based on Java, has continued to evolve since the introduction of Blu-ray Profile 1.0. This means that early players may have a buggy implementation and perhaps more importantly, they are not powerful enough to play the latest films properly.

When BetaNews asked developers of BD Live whether they were concerned about a backlash from early adopters who supported the format from the beginning, we were told: "They knew what they were getting into."

And finally . . .

"When BetaNews asked why these manufacturers rushed out players that were not fully capable and potentially buggy due to their BD-J implementation, the Blu-ray partner pointed blame across the room to HD DVD. "We should have waited another year to introduce Blu-ray to the public, but the format war changed the situation," he said. HD DVD was already coming and the BDA had no choice but to launch Blu-ray."

"They knew what they were getting into"?  Well that is a really nice thing to say to the people who took the plunge and backed your format well before any clear cut winner was appearing on the horizon.  I am pretty sure those early adopters did not know their current players would not be 1.1 or 2.0 compatible.  They did not even know there was going to be a 1.1 or 2.0.

It looks like the Bluray group really dropped the ball with the implementation of their early players and really did not plan ahead or seem to care about the consumer in this regard.  The HD-DVD camp were clearly more prepared and because they were, forced Bluray's hand.

Again, this goes back to my earlier point that both companies did a poor job of educating the consumer of what was coming and that they were released too soon.  Bluray, specifically, was not ready.  Shame.

We'll see what the future holds.

January 08, 2008

End of year awards

I plan on writing an "End of Year Awards" post for all the games I played this past year, similar to what I did last year (or was it the year before?  I lose track).  I just need to gather a list of everything I played since off the top of my head I'll only remember the more recent stuff.  Too many games!  At this point I'd just give all the awards to Bioshock, CoD4 and Portal, but I should probably be a bit more thorough.  Hopefully I'll get around to this before 2009 comes along.

January 04, 2008

Mass Effect: Final Thoughts

I beat Mass Effect on New Years Day.  Took me just over 45 hours.  I reached level 50 with my character (the level cap on your first play through) and I completed every single one of the side missions I came across except one (and that one was not a typical side quest which you can complete by finishing one objective, I had to find several artifacts scattered across the galaxy and I came up a few short).
Final thoughts?  The game was thoroughly enjoyable and any issues I have with it are minimized by the absolutely spectacular finale.  The game's last couple of hours are some of the most enjoyable I have experienced in gaming.  The story reveals itself at a great pace and it truly reaches a massive scale towards the end, with the fate of the entire galaxy hanging in the balance.  The much touted "tough decisions" you have to make do live up to their hype, as they gave me a moment of pause before choosing my path - and best of all - left me wondering afterward if I made the right choice and wonder what might have been if I chose otherwise.  Any game that can evoke those thoughts in a gamer has done something right.
The game nails the storyline, the voice-acting, the music, the insanely deep and detailed universe (reading all the Codex entries is mind-numbing.  Bioware went all out in creating a sci-fi universe with a rich history), the conversation system is sublime and the character models and facial animations are amongst the best in the business (the character Wrex - and Krogans in general - looks freakin' amazing during conversations!).
And then, there are the flaws.  Most technical, others design choices.  On the technical side of things, the game could have used a few more months of polish.  As I mentioned in my earlier impressions, the game stutters frequently, the frame-rate drops and textures take forever to load during scenes.  This is especially distracting during the game's climactic cut-scenes towards the end, since nothing is more of a mood killer than watching a greatly directed cinematic with an emotional score fall all over itself because everything has a flat-shaded look for 5 seconds while the textures load.  When you're caught up in the moment those annoying texture fill-ins scream "THIS IS A GAME!!!".  Not good.
I also encountered a few instances of my character getting awkwardly stuck in the environment.  The worst being when I "impaled" myself when surveying a mineral deposit in an unchartered world.  See, when you survey a mineral a small beacon appears next to it, signifying that it was already surveyed.  I guess I was standing in the exact spot where that beacon was scripted to be placed, because my character was stuck in it and no matter what I did I could not free myself.  Time to boot up a previous save.
I also came across several instances of my teammates getting stuck behind objects and me having to backtrack to get them.  One time I marched right into battle and began noticing that I was getting my ass kicked.  When I looked back, I was taking on all the enemies by myself because both my squad mates got stuck behind crates two rooms back.  Funny?  In hindsight, yes.  At the time it was just annoying.
My other negatives involve design choices and I've covered my biggest problem in my previous impressions post as well.  They involve the side-quests mostly and how some of them are so trivial it is comical to think that Commander Sheppard would take time out of his "saving the world" duties to do them.  Some could argue that they are optional and I do not have to bother with them, but I am a completionist, I want to do and see everything I can, so I feel like I am "forced" to do them and take myself out of character.
Now that I have beaten the game I realized that the main quest is actually pretty short.  If one concentrates just on the main quest they could probably beat the game in under 10 hours.  That seems really, really short for an RPG.  I would have gladly traded 75% of the side quests for a 50% increase in the main game's length.  The core missions are also so much better than the side quest, since about 80% of the optional missions have you doing the same thing: visiting a planet, finding the one facility that you can enter, and clearing out the enemies.  The "final" confrontation of these can usually be resolved with diplomacy or brute force.  Throw in the fact that Bioware really only created about 4 or 5 different facilities to actually visit (the layout of these places repeat ad nauseam) and things begin to feel a bit artificial.
In general, my main complaint is that it seems like Bioware tried to artificially extend the game's length by adding too much filler.  The conversation system is fantastic, as I mentioned, but it seems like maybe there are too many dialogue options.  Why do I want to ask about the background of some 3rd string character that I will never speak to again and has no real importance to the story?  Some might see that as Bioware making their game extra deep.  I just see it as Bioware wasting resources that should be applied to expanding that actual meat of the game, the main quest, and focusing on that.
I'm not even going to comment on the weird inventory system and the hassle of having to manage your ever increasing inventory and selling items off constantly for fear or reaching your item limit and then having to reduce new items to omni-gel . . . ok wait, I guess I just did comment on that.
All in all, like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the game's fantastic main narrative and pulse pounding finale is enough to bypass these flaws and leave Mass Effect etched in my mind as one hell of a thrill ride.  This was initially planned as a trilogy and I hope that is still the case, because I cannot wait to see how things turn out.

Xbox Live

So for the past week or so this has been my 360 gaming experience:
- I sign into my Profile and it takes 20 seconds for the "Xbox Live" Blade to show anything at all
- I go to the Marketplace and select an item and it takes 20 seconds for anything to show (if at all, sometimes I just get an error message)
- I pull up a friend's profile and it is blank for about 20 seconds (no gamerscore, rep stars, previously played games)
- I send aa voice message to a friend and it takes 20 seconds to go through
- I press the Guide Button in the middle of a game to see what achievement I just finished unlocking and my 360 freezes for half a minute
- I try to get into a match of CoD4 and I spend 5 minutes getting into and out of lobbies because they all fail.  I finally find one that loads, play one match, then that lobby fails
- I invite a friend to be in my Party in CoD4, spend 5 minutes finding a match that works, and when I finally find one, I join the match by my friend gets disconnected for whatever reason.
Not fun in anyway.
Microsoft released a statement today apologizing for the problems, claiming that so many new people subscribed to Live over the holidays that the servers went to shit.  The statement sounded like they were more proud of the fact that they have so many new subscribers than they were sorry for the problems it has caused.  They are going to be offering a free Live Arcade game to make peace.  Nice gesture, for sure, but I just want Live to work properly again!
And of course this has been happening ever since I got really addicted to CoD 4 multiplayer.  I've had the game since it was released but have been too busy with others games to really jump into the multiplayer (and I knew I would get addicted because I was pretty hooked on the beta).  Just when I start to play it on a regular basis, Live dies.  Nice!
Hopefully it will be back to normal soon.