Friday, February 23, 2007

Gamerscore Challenge

I'm coming in a bit late, but I've now officially signed up for the Gamerscore Challenge to raise my Gamerscore by 1500 in the time period between February 12th and April 12th. Hopefully there are some prizes left by the time I finish. Doesn't help that I'm starting with a handicap: 11 days late to start and my current GameFly games are both for the PS2. Maybe it's time to load up Dead Rising again and remind those zombies who's boss. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Okami First Impressions

Having finished F.E.A.R., I've moved on to the next game in my GameFly queue: Okami. And so far it's just as charming as all the reviews said. It features this great painted look, which is pretty impressive coming from the PS2. And it's not just an aesthetic gimmick - the whole painting motif is key to the gameplay as well. You use your canvas to paint out your special moves and solve puzzles. The actual mechanic is a little awkward with the PS2 controller, but would probably be way better with the Wii remote.

I'm hoping they bring this game to the Wii, because it would totally feel at home there next to Nintendo's other offerings. But my money says that Sony struck an exclusive contract with the developer and we'll never see this gem on a next-gen console. The whole economics of exclusivity is kinda interesting. Check out this Forbes article that breaks down what where the $60 for a game gets distributed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Final Fantasy III (DS)

I'm happy to say that after some difficulty I finally finished Final Fantasy III for the DS (Links: GameSpy, GameSpot, GameFly). And I'm having some trouble deciding exactly how I feel about it.

There have been a lot of ports of the old Final Fantasy games to the GBA. This one is distinct in that they did an extensive graphical upgrade from the original 8-bit 2D graphics to completely new fully-3D models. And they were very successful in that. The characters, monsters, and environments all look great. It gave this 17 year old game the look of something completely modern... which is kind of dangerous. Because everything else about this game is still 17 years old.

Most of the reviews for this game described it as being difficult by modern standards. I wouldn't say that. Difficulty implies that it demands a high amount of skill and engagement from the player. That's not really the case. FFIII doesn't demand skill, it demands a tolerance for mind numbing level grinding (which I guess could be a skill...). You don't have to learn intricate strategies - you just have to level up enough so that you have enough hit points to survive the attacks of the bosses. Grinding is pretty standard in the RPG genre, so it's hard to criticize FFIII too much for it, but I felt like this game demanded more than most.

Final Fantasy III is the first game in the series to introduce the job system. Unlike future evolutions, this game only allows you to leverage the abilities of one job at a time, making it more of a big "I changed my mind" switch than an adaptive strategy. This is further exacerbated by the fact that you don't unlock jobs by performing well in the ones you have; you only have to proceed through the story to get the more powerful jobs. So there's no carry-over value of your early advancement. For example, you can completely ignore the less powerful Evoker and still unlock the ultimate Summoner job. Given that the number of enemies was reduced to accommodate the new 3D graphics, multi-targeting caster jobs are far less useful than melee jobs. And since you're already going to be grinding a ton to level up, for your own sanity you're probably going to forced into a party of simple fighters because melee attacks take less time than big fancy summons.

But I'm being a bit too harsh. For its time, this job system was revolutionary. And if I was playing the game in its original 8-bit incarnation, I probably wouldn't be so critical. But the game looks so darn pretty that I have a hard time reminding my brain to lay off.

FFIII provided me with an interesting trip through the RPG gaming archives, but what I really hope comes out of this is a nice 3D RPG DS platform for some new adventures. Final Fantasy Tactics DS, por favor?

Sunday, February 18, 2007


If you haven't dabbled much in RPGs (either pen and paper or the video game kind), you might not be familiar with the difference between NPCs and PCs. If that's the case, I encourage you to click those links now and go educate yourself. Are we on the same page? Good.

I assure you that these are not merely conventions invented for gaming. These designations are applicable in real life. There are NPCs among us. They may pass immediate inspection, but I guarantee you that you interacted with at least one today. And probably more than one. Not only am I sure that they exist, I'm pretty convinced that they outnumber us.

I'm not saying that the world revolves around me and exists purely for my entertainment. This is not the Truman Show. There are certainly other PCs out there. But it seems that we're part of some sort of sinister game where we have to wade through hordes of NPCs to find each other. And what happens if we don't? Maybe there is a Rapture, and all these NPCs are actually robots, and when "the time comes" all the robots are going to explode and you had better hope you surrounded yourself with PCs and not NPCs.

I may sound crazy, but I'm only half kidding. Sometimes while I'm talking to someone I'm wondering to myself if they're, you know, real. And then I find myself poking and prodding them in interesting ways (verbally, not physically), just to see their reaction and make sure that they're not a soulless robot. These robots have many canned responses to trick you, but you just might catch them unawares and see just how shallow they are.

They might not be robots. Maybe they're all extremely diluted clones (which can also be filed under "Things that always turn evil") that are placed around us to "fill out the place."

Maybe it's just some sort of chemical imbalance. Some people get ADHD, others are stuck being NPCs. In which case it's maybe curable? No, don't sympathize with them! When you know you've found one just run away. Trust me.

Oh, and for those of you that can't make heads or tails of the title of this post, just consult your local reference of geeky gaming acronyms. And forgive me for putting you through that.


I watched Hollywoodland the other night. And I was left feeling more than a little unsatisfied. It was no fault of the actors, they all had fine performances. And the colors and aesthetics of the movie made it quite pleasing on the eye. But it just didn't go anywhere. It was pretty much the most anticlimactic movie I've ever seen. I guess there kinda was a partial climax, but it was smack dab in the middle of the movie, not closer to the end. Which left me with the feeling that I was still waiting for the real climax... and then the credits rolled.

I understand that it's a historical movie, and the George Reeves mystery is unsolved. I'm comfortable with that. I can deal with a lot of grey in my movies. But while storytellers should feel free to mess with my head as much as they please, they really shouldn't mess with the pacing.

In music, pretty much everything fits in to one of a couple standard time signatures. That provides the frame, and then the musician can paint whatever they want inside that. Breaking outside of the standard timing can sometimes be interesting, but usually just results in something you can't tap your foot to. Movies are the same way: they should follow the standard narrative structure. I'm not saying that every movie should have a happy ending. I'm saying that they should have, you know... an ending.

If I can feel mysteriously satisfied at the end of the hugely unresolved Fellowship of the Ring, you can manage to make an unsolved murder satisfying. You can flip pretty much every other standard on its head (case and point: Memento). In fact, please do. But that whole notion of "building up to something" - keep that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Martyring of the Geek

I just finished watching the season three finale of Beauty and the Geek... and I was not disappointed. This was definitely one of the most satisfying TV finales I've seen. If you missed it, it looks like they're having an uber marathon this Sunday. Be warned, spoilers follow.

The charter of the show is supposed to be about self transformation and overcoming the labels of "beauty" and "geek." But it's not always clear from the format of the show if that's exactly what's playing out. The challenges certainly encourage growth, but they also will equally reward preexisting strength. And the quiz segment will trim out those who haven't been paying attention, but it's largely a game of roulette. It's entirely possible to advance through the show without evolving at all. Thus my aforementioned concern over money hungry bitches.

Which is why I was so happy with the format they chose for the finale. There truly is no better judge of your transformation than the opinion of your peers. All the standard reality television schemes and alliances are completely trumped if you are held accountable for your actions. The whole point of the show is cross pollination, and if you succeed only by alienating others, you don't deserve to win. I'd like to think that heaven uses a similar format. Instead of being greeted at the pearly gates by an angel of judgement (a.k.a. the quiz master), you're instead at the mercy of everyone's post-mortem feedback questionaires.

Just seeing the finale's format change was enough to give me hope. But then Nate's martyrdom completely made the whole season worthwhile. The guy passed on $250k to teach that wench a lesson. My hat goes off to him. Way to take the moral high ground and make a stance on what this social experiment is about.

Did I just see what I think I saw? Humility and morality overcoming cash-money on reality TV? Bravo, Mr. Kutcher. Bravo.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beware of Port

GameFAQs's list of top FAQs is generally a really good indicator of what games people are playing right now. And it's quite telling that Final Fantasy III (the DS port of the Japan-only NES original) is still hanging out on that list after 5 months. Because old school RPGs are fucking brutal. I'm glad to see that many of my fellow gamers are still working on this one. My commute gives me near infinite time to grind through any game. Unfortunately, RPGs demand just that: infinite time.

Last week I was so psyched to be close to the end of the game. I was in the last dungeon of the game, decently leveled (with one of my jobs at level 99), and had all the best gear. I'm in the final stretch. I pass the point of no return (no more opportunities to save), and prepare for the final boss battle. 2 hours and 4 bosses later, I'm actually at the final boss. I'm getting a little nervous at this point - because if I die at this point I've lost 2 hours of work (or roughly 2.4 bus commutes). Thank god for the quicksave feature (non existent in the original game), otherwise I would have had to do that all in one sitting. But I'm feeling good, because the mini bosses leading up to the final one were pretty manageable. Then I get thoroughly owned by the Cloud of Darkness.

Fast forward to this week. My commutes are spent grinding my character's levels up so that I can make my second attempt. And now that I know just how long that attempt is going to take, I'm sure as hell making sure I'm ready. Because I'm a stubborn son of a bitch, and I will beat this game.

We forget in the modern gaming world just how unreasonable games were back in the day. I'm sitting there, post-smackdown, thinking all sorts of nasty thoughts about FFIII's game design. But then I step back a bit, and remember that I had to do almost exactly the same thing when I played through Final Fantasy I (you have a rematch with all the four elemental bosses, and then the final showdown with Chaos, who will most likely r0x0r j00r b0x0rz). I guess I just had a lot more patience when I was 8.

Damn Those Beauties

Somehow, somewhere, I got hooked into Beauty and the Geek (as I've mentioned earlier). I guess I'm naive enough to think that in the temptation of a cash prize reality television show there still might be people that care more about bettering themselves. It defies logic, I know. But for better or worse that's the idealist in me peeking out. And that little monster cannot allow Cecille to win.

I like Nate, I do. He seems like a good guy. I'll forgive him for the romantic drama (which thankfully is now over), because any true geek is so sexually deprived that they'll jump on anything. And he could have done a lot worse. But unfortunately it's down to the final two couples, and Nate is aligned with the she-devil Cecille. She represents everything that this show could be but must not be. She must be thwarted.

Not that I have any power over this. Damn you Ashton Kutcher! Damn you for making me care!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

F.E.A.R. (Xbox 360)

I really wanted to like F.E.A.R. (despite it's really lame sub-title "First Encounter Assault Recon"). The reviews made it sound like it was going to be good (GameSpy, GameSpot). Kinda like Eternal Darkness meets FPS. But it wasn't. Not even close. This is my first review of a game that I started playing after I had already started this blog. So my thoughts are pretty well catalogued. I even went so far as to even take notes while playing :O. And looking back on them just backs up what my gut was telling me 10 minutes in: this game kinda sucks.

I'll try to start out positive. We'll see how long I last.

The game features a bullet time effect that you can flip on at will (with a cooldown). While in that mode explosions and whatnot look pretty darn cool. Unfortunately as the game goes on you realize that it's actually not that useful, as that with everything slowed down all it does is give a little more reaction time - it's not likely you also get Neo-like super speed. Which has the end of effect of making what should be a pants-soiling firefight into a Valium-paced game of whack-a-mole.

In general the weapon selection bored me to tears. But towards the end of the game, it did improve a bit. You eventually get this plasma railgun thing that is meltingly satisfying. But for 90% of the game I was either using Generic Shotgun or Generic Machinegun. And I never really ran out of bullets so there wasn't much motivation to change it up.

Graphically F.E.A.R. is quite capable, but completely uninspired. The environments in F.E.A.R. are booooooring. Really, this game sets an all time new low. The entire game takes place in a nondescript industrial complex, followed nondescript office building, and towards the end you upgrade to a nondescript research facility. That is, if you kept playing long enough to give a shit. I work in an office. Wandering through one during my after hours game time just isn't fun. Especially when they're absurd maze-like complexes that no employee could ever ever navigate. And what brilliant plot tool do they use to transition you from destination to destination? Your helicopter gets shot down. Three times. That's too bad, because I was really looking forward to the nondescript alleyways that connected the locations.

One of the things that I was the most excited about with F.E.A.R. was that it was supposed to be this whole paranormal, dim-the-lights, scary action adventure. It's not. Office buildings are not scary, even if you flash black haired demon girls on the screen now and then. The story sucks, and what little there is ends up being so anti-climatic in the end that you feel really cheated. But what gets me is that the protagonist, connected as he is to headquarters or whatever via comlink, never mentions that he's having these freaky visions. He just stupidly wanders through random building after random building, hoping the law of a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters will guide him to the villain. Who you just headshot when you find him - no fight necessary (that wasn't a spoiler, that was me saving you hours of your life). Even Doom gave me more motivation to keep trudging on that F.E.A.R..

On top of sub par environments and sub par story, the entire game is littered with in-game ads for Dell XPS game systems. Almost every computer and every monitor is brandishing the Dell logo, putting you on the express route out of disbelief suspension land. If only they had used that ad money to actually build a game worth my time.

I finished F.E.A.R not because I enjoyed the story and had to see the ending. Nor because I enjoyed the gameplay and just couldn't get enough. I finished F.E.A.R. so that I could guiltlessly write a nasty blog post about it and so that I could get some achievement points (which they totally gypped me on).

Holy Poo

Okay, I guess I'm little bit behind the curve here, neither watching the nightly news, the Super Bowl, nor Veronica Mars. So I just found out now.

The Whole Story

Rand, you crazy son of a bitch. Way to make me almost cry at work.

Congratulations you guys! Now when's the freaking wedding?

I gotta say, given the voice mask they gave you on that ABC news bit, I wouldn't have fronted you the money either. They managed to make the decidedly not creepy Rand sound like a crazy stalker. Well, a well spoken stalker.

But seriously, congratulations!