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Malik (1/4/10)

I am, sadly, back from my wonderful freedom of vacation. I guess this also means I should begin to post again with some regularity.

First off, I want to say I am glad that 2009 is over. I don't mean the year, but rather the NFL regular season which ended with a painful realization yesterday. That realization is that the Seahawks are screwed. There is not much else to say. Last season was bad, but it could be blamed on the platoon of injured wide receivers that were being destroyed in a freak occurrence. As for this season...there's no real blame to spread on circumstances. It all was real and created by the team.

The best part of this season was the resignation of Tim Ruskell. This was the GM that nightmares are made of. When the Seahawks lost players to injuries, nothing was ever done to fortify the now lacking roster spot. The same was true when players retired. Most of all, under Ruskell, the roster was never fortified when we lost players to free agency or to trades. Ruskell seemed to manage the team with an attitude that if Seattle lost a key player, then somehow the NFL gods would come down and magically make that position dissapear.

If Seattle wants to come back as contenders next season, then they need to realize MLB and MLS exist. If Seattle wants to be a contender in the NFL, then some psychiatric drugs and therapy are the only possible option to eliminate these delusions. 2010 will be a rebuilding year, or another year of crap before the rebuilding begins in 2011. No simple solution will be found when the offensive line is missing, the coaching is horrible (especially when the offensive coordinator is about as uninspired as humanly possible with his obvious and generic play calling), the defense is lacking in a few key spots and cannot contain the rush or the pass, and the budget is still being drained on bloated salaries to worthless players.

Most of all, some realism is needed from Mora. Mora kept pretending to call out his players this season with talk of "if we fail again, then I'll look at roster changes..." when nothing was ever done. I mean Julius Jones is the starting back while averaging maybe a yard or two per attempt, but Forsett averages more than 5 yards per carry and remains the backup or third down back. Any coach worth his pay would see that changes have to be made, not just hinted at. That also goes with making obvious play calls and then pretending like they are brilliant. I think not one person in the NFL is surprised about what play is coming when Seneca Wallace is lined up with the receivers. Here's a hint, like any defensive coordinator in the NFL knows, you can be assured that the ball will be lateralled to Wallace, following by a quick pass to the nearest receiver (since he's too damned short to see much further down or across the field).

The Seahawks, most of all, were sad to watch in how they were flat out horrible, but they were even bad at being bad. The Rams are getting a sweet draft pick. Tampa Bay, and Detroit are also getting some nice draft picks. The Seahawks, who even lost to the Bucs, are meanwhile getting the sixth pick because they did too damned well, while being so damned bad. Only the Seahawks can be losers at being losers, while still being almost assured of no coaching changes and no real restructuring next season. Maybe the next GM will be able to pull something amazing out of his hat, but if another Bavasi/Ruskell style GM is found, it would just continue business as usual in Seattle. In fact, I'd expect another horrible GM just because of how the Mariners somehow managed to find a good GM. Seattle sports tend to play the law of averages, and that says that another good GM cannot be expected.


Malik (1/5/10)

I'm still getting back in the swing of things. I took such a stance of laziness during the last couple of weeks that I even fell out of knowing what I feel like I SHOULD know. For example, I like a good deal of music from Paul McCartney, and I sure as hell live for the good old punk days, like with The Ramones. Yet, it's only yesterday that I saw both of these are coming, or came, today to Rock Band. I should know this stuff ahead of time...I really should.

I also fell so far out of things that I really spent the bulk of my last few days of vacation doing nothing much beyond watching bad TV, bad instant watch Netflix, and really bad youtube. It's not a bad way to spend vacation time, but it's not one to exactly take pride in talking about.

It's only in the last couple of days that I've really gotten back to my playing of games that are not Rock Band related. I have taken a break from the latest DS Castlevania (more on that in a second), but I've done a bit of Burnout Paradise (360 version) and a bit of Dragon Age Origins. DAO is probably my favorite game to kill time with right now, but it's hard to even get back to that game when laziness calls.

I would have kept up with Castlevania (Order of Ecclesia) a bit more, but for all the improvements shown in this latest game of the franchise, there's a few too big of bugs for me to enjoy for too long at a time. I mean the game is back to it's Castleroid roots from Symphony of the Night. The touch screen bullshit is gone (thankfully) and the game is once again focused on only one character who does seem to have an interesting story and idea behind her. The game has a good deal of exploration, and more of the old areas can be revealed later in the game as you find new powers (like the double jump). You also have a big assortment of weapons and abilities to use, so it's like the game is back to where it was last great; on the GBA before the DS touch screen screwed over the series.

At least all would be good if not for one large change. The game still feels great, but only until you fight a boss. This is not a standard Castleroid game. You don't take on a boss and just hope that you deal more damage than it does, and that you can learn to avoid the most deadly of special attacks. No, this time it's all about dying a few times on a boss before you really face it. A boss can, even if you grind for levels and equipment, kill you quickly. Too quickly. Even a weak "normal" attack from a boss will usually be enough to take you down in about four to six hits. A major attack (or a special ability) will cut that number down to two hits. It's like the first hit is a reminder that the game hates you. The second hit is the game saying "f#@$ off!" That's all there is to it.

This means that a good player, one who learns to adapt quickly to boss fights in prior Castleroid games, or a player who is slightly off his/her game but still wants to have some fun kicking ass and taking names cannot get their normal enjoyment from Order of Ecclesia. No. Only obsessive completionist style games can get fun out of these fights. Hell, the game even rewards you with a special token (it does nothing...only for getting your 100% item collection bragging rights) for killing a boss without taking any damage at all. This is not what Castlevania has ever been about. Castlevania, up until this title, was a game about being hit and hurt, but knowing that you can learn from your mistakes...not "you can learn from your mistakes after you die and reload and therefore, in the game, your character never got better from a narrative perspective, only in a fourth-wall-is-gone perspective." Also, I just find this annoying since it means buying new armor is nearly worthless in the game (and you do equip armor, hats, and boots, as well as two accessories at any time) from the protection aspect, which is what armor should be about.

Anyway, if I could somehow skip all the boss fights, I'd love this game. With the boss fights requiring you to learn how to dodge every damned attack thrown at you (and some bosses have a fairly large assortment of annoying moves to learn and predict) instead of just rolling with the punches, it just starts to feel like a chore. Actually, it feels like a fun game with an annoyance forced on you every thirty to sixty minutes. If anything, it's like playing Simon's Quest and having your fun halted for a while since you need to buy something in town, but comes that slow's night time and you have to wait for day before you can buy anything. Not to mention the second slow transition and text box that comes up during the dawn transition.

I hated it with a passion, but I think I actually enjoyed the touch screen bullshit of Dawn of Sorrows more. That was the game that required you to draw a seal, with a glitchy touch screen detection system, after slaying a boss or else the boss would return with 50% HP for another round until you finally entered the seal correctly after temporarily slaying it another time. The system was so bad that I could never finish the game (the seal on the final boss was just too damned strict on how you drew it and would never work for me). Still, I'd rather have that hell thrust on me than a Castleroid with bosses that rely too much on perfectionism.

Anyway, all bitching aside, I think it's just another reminder of the simple fact that haunts Castlevania to this day; Symphony of the Night was too damned good. Until another Castlevania game can be made this complex, yet this simple, the series will always been seen as less than it could be.


Malik (1/6/10)

To change gears from my usual geek speak (being video games), I have a small story of sorts. In January of 2006 I bought a Motorola v360 phone. It's a nice phone. I mean it has survived some punishment that should void the warrantee. I'm talking about sending in into a flying deep fat fryer (now that's a long story involving both alcohol and my disappointment following Super Bowl XL) as it crashed to the ground, and a nice dose of being submerged in a hot tub (no alcohol in that story...just...ummm..."operator error").

It's been a great phone, but it's old. Also, the abuse has not made some features the best, especially the newly added "auto-power-off" that happens about once every few days. So, I've been thinking about a new phone. I like my T-Mobile account, especially since the free in network calls include land lines using the $10/month T-Mobile home phone service. In other words, I've been wanting a new phone, but preferably one which lets me keep my current provider.

The geek in me, who has too much say in my life, says I need a phone with a bunch of gadgets that I should feel are worthless. This means a camera that is at least passable (not the VGA camera on my v360), a good MP3 player (even if my iPod still is my main source of music on the go), web browsing (which I still think I don't really need on the go), and the ability to get some pointless apps. However, this has meant, until now, that my options were basically Blackberry, of one of the flimsier Android phones. I don't care for Windows Mobile, with a large lack of app support, so Blackberry is out. I also don't dig the Android phones that seem to be stuck in Nintendo thinking. I mean every Android phone seems to be stuck on the 512MB of internal memory idea. However, I do like the Android platform as a whole, as it seems to be the best thing that's not Apple, which means it's the best possible for a non-AT&T mobile user.

Well, that's the story. No resolution, as of yet, since I'm still thinking about a new phone. However, this brings us to reality, which includes Google releasing (and formally announcing, in the same day, more or less) the Nexus One. That would be the new and highly hyped phone that is the first released phone to be designed by Google, with some new and wacky ideas. I mean it's the first major US phone that come unlocked. There is no provider locked version of the phone. If you buy one, and you have a carrier who uses a GSM network, you're able to make calls. Give a little time, and AT&T's 3G network will work for data. Right now, T-Mobile is about the only major carrier to have full usability with the Nexus One, but this is due to change in the next few months.

As a geek, and as a person who would probably enjoy, while hating the idea of owning, a mini-all-in-one gadget, I am intrigued. I mean I can even get around the idea of having to pay $529 for one of these. After all, with no locks on it, you don't need a contract, and with T-Mobile's no-contract plans (which are cheaper per month than a contract plan with a subsidized phone), the price is only something like $50-$100 if you buy the phone straight up. It's not as bad as it sounds, as long as you're up for a large initial payment with a better final payoff.

The one thing I just cannot get my mind around is that Nintendo thinking. For being designed by Google people, why is this thing still running the standard 512MB of internal storage space? That means you can only have a small amount of Android apps before you're stuck in the Virtual Console idea of erasing something and having to re-download in the future. Yes, Google has the idea out there that they will eventually find a software upgrade to allow the micro SD card to be encrypted (allowing it to be used for app storing and usage). I've heard a lot in the past from too many companies about plans that don't really benefit them and being free. The one thing these plans all seem to have in common is that these plans are always "coming soon". As long as Android phones have 512MB across the board, there's no reason for Google to encrypt the SD card. It costs money to research and implement this free fix, and not too many successful companies like the idea of paying money for zero profit.

Anyway, it is a nice looking phone. The reviews I've seen all sound pretty good, and the images I've seen taken from the Nexus One camera look damned nice for a cell phone camera. It's not the large-internal-storage multi-touch behemoth that is the iPhone, but it's as close as one can find. In some aspects, it's better than an iPhone with some powerful hardware specs. However, being better on paper is only so good. Being better in reality is the better option. It's like with a desktop computer. You can have a powerful PC that is humbled by an aging machine if the powerful one has no freaking storage. Of course, that example is only so good, since a PC can be upgraded, but a smart phone is stuck in place for it's entire life. If the rumors and hints that Google drops about the SD encryption and talks of enabling multi-touch (which is understandably difficult...Apple has some nice patents out there) "in the future" come to fruition, then this would be one hell of a great phone. I'd be happy with a 32GB SD card instead of permanent internal memory, as would a lot of us geeks. However, I cannot get past the hype of "this is awesome*" when it all seems marked with an asterix (denoting the small print that says "awesomeness is a future available upgrade").

What's the point of this story and my thinking about the Nexus One? Hell if I know. I think it's just me stating in a more tangible way the battle between my rational mind and that damned hyped up geek that keeps trying to open my wallet.


Malik (1/7/10)

Next week, Harmonix is brining a new Alice in Chains 5 pack to Rock Band. I've been lazy about RB DLC lately, with one burst of buying the week of Christmas. This will change that, at least for one week. I mean Alice in Chains is what I grew up with and am still digging.

Anyway, I decided to give Order of Eclessia (Castlevania DS game) another shot yesterday. It was mainly out of necessity. I had a dentist appointment, and since waiting rooms and waiting for my mouth to numb are both dull prospects when surrounded by no distractions beyond easy listening jazz and outdated issues of People and Woman's World, I brought my DS. Castlevania was the game in there, and I resumed by torture of facing the not-so-end boss (final boss if you go for the bad ending, otherwise the half way point boss). I got through, and immediately faced another boss. Luckily, that actually passed quickly...maybe I was in the zone.

Now that I'm in the second half of the game (assuming you skip the bad ending), I'm feeling good again. The game is hard right now, but not torture. It can be amazing how a game can go from painful to play to being hard but rewarding in just five minutes. I'm at a happy state with the game now, so I'll probably continue until my next torture session (major boss battle), before I stop again to resume Dragon Ago Origins. Then I'll be back after another round of getting annoyed with DAO.

Why am I now annoyed with DAO, you ask? It is a good game. It lacks a hook to really pull me in, which Bioware had in the past with familiar enough of worlds from Forgotten Realms and Star Wars. DAO just feels a bit lifeless to me so far. The engine is solid, the visuals are nice, the voices are good, and the character system is good fun. So, no hook is not a game breaker, but it is a bit sad when I feel like I need a final hook in the plot to really draw me in.

Anyway, while happy with the game, I realized that the deluxe edition (or whatever it's properly called..."deluxe", "collector's", "ultimate"'s all the same meaning but with a fancy new name) didn't come with the Warden's Keep and Prisoner of Stone DLC. Instead it came with a code to download the DLC. Well, between having a very old Bioware login name and newer EA login, I had a stupidly annoying time trying to log in well enough to get my game to recognize the DLC codes and to download them. In the end I had a nice (sarcasm) time of digging out old email accounts to find my Bioware name, and then linking it to the EA name, and then linking my game and logging in to the EA account after adding the DLC. By the time it was done and the DLC was downloaded, I was only out about three hours of my life.

Anyway, as I said, DAO is a fun and good quality game. I can get past the "hook" issue, since I'm sure I'll be hooked after a few more hours of playing. I mean the plot, while cliché, is picking up nicely. It is a good game and does redeem Bioware, in my eyes, for Jade Empire and Mass Effect. I just feel like, after the DLC issue (shouldn't it actually be included in the digital deluxe version, and not just a redemption code?), that I can't face the game until my feeling of annoyance passes. If I jumped in right now, I'd probably pick apart any other minor annoyances, instead of enjoying the quality that is there.

At least, on the bright side, it is the weekend. This means, after seventeen bad weeks, I am free to relax. In other words, no need to feel like four hours of my weekend has to be wasted on watching the Seahawks forget more about football every week.

Speaking of being free from the hell of mediocre Seahawks...Jim Mora is not a problem anymore. His ass was canned today. While I think the team has more problems than just Mora, I don't see him as a solution to anything that went wrong this season. Yes, the GM (Tim Ruskell) was a huge issue since holes were being made in the roster for too many years. However, when Mora made phony promises (along the lines of "if you don't do a good job playing, we will re-examine your role" and never delivering) and couldn't seem to offer anything concrete to help his end of the problems, it seemed like his removal was going to be an important first step. However, it also looked like he was too friendly with the front office to ever be removed this quickly. Maybe now, especially if Pete Carroll does join the team, a bad player can be demoted while his better backup gets to start. I'm talking about situations like when Julius Jones was the starting back and the better Justin Forsett was left as the back up or third down back.

Carroll would be awesome, but we also need a good GM.


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