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Malik (2/16/10)

It seems I have way too little to ramble about now that I'm between any big games. I am aiming to play some Rock Band this week since the Otis Redding pack looks good, and anything Brian Setzer is always good for a quick crazy blast. I also may try out some God of War 1 and 2, since I'm now borrowing the PS3 ported version.

The problem is that not much new and exciting is out there. For example, a couple times this weekend I was in the mood to watch a movie in the theater. In the end, I had to keep remembering that there are no good movies out this time of year. I mean right now the choices are about limited to poorly conceived romantic comedies to capitalize on Valentines Day, and Avatar. Since I don't dig the forced romantic comedy, I'm left with nothing much movie-wise (I don't even want to get started on the reasons I really don't feel like dropping a large chunk of money on Avatar).

The same goes for games about now. There are very few exciting games coming out, and many more being delayed. I think the delays are pretty obvious, since Final Fantasy 13 is coming out soon, and this leaves a lot of companies not wanting to battle it out with that behemoth in a time when sales are not too vital (it's not the holiday season).

Anyway, I'm just trying to ramble and pretend like I have something to say when I'm bored. At least this means I can bring back something tomorrow that I haven't done for a while; talk about the new RB DLC. I don't aim to get everything, but I'll pick up at least six songs. Also, I'm aiming to pick up The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom on Wednesday, since it looks like a good offbeat and alternative style game (like Braid was, but not the same...).


Malik (2/17/10)

To cover what I said I'd cover yesterday...the new RB songs are good fun if you like Otis Redding and Brian Setzer. If you don't dig Otis Redding, then I'd definitely skip his pack. I'd even say, for being a simple enough of a song, Stray Cat Strut is fun on guitar for people who don't hate but don't love Brian Setzer's stuff. There's enough quick changes to keep the song fun with it's broken beat.

Ok...that's covered. Now it's time for an "old man" style rant.

It's interesting when you start to feel both technologically savvy but also like a dinosaur. I work, during my day job, with young enough of people compared to myself that talking about the NES, DOS, or cell phones that have VGA cameras draws some blank stares or looks of amazement about how someone could have survived with such "limited" technology. It's not that I work with young uber-geeks as much as I work with people who cannot recall the 1980's any since they just didn't exist in the 80's.

It's especially interesting to feel a bit like a MacGyver of sorts with technology. It seems that a lot of younger people are just opposed to the idea of using old tech beyond it's natural lifespan. For example, my main gaming computer has some old tech in it. I run Windows XP (I still need a good reason to upgrade, and Vista obviously didn't do that despite me having three full install copies, obtained for free and legally thanks to Microsoft play tests...I may consider Windows 7 if I get a free copy the same way), an Intel Core 2 Duo factory set at 1.83GHz, a GeForce 8800 GTS (nothing has pushed the need beyond this for me so far), and an ancient CRT monitor made in the early 1990's. To explain this hardware makes me sound like my gaming rig is old tech, and it draws looks a sympathy in my younger friends and coworkers.

The thing is, I just don't get why old tech, when not truly obsolete, has to be seen as garbage. I mean my 1.83GHz is running at about 2.4GHz under normal operations. When I need something more, I can turn on one of my BIOS saved profiles to run at about 3.0GHz in a dual core without Speed Fan finding any temperature issues. If I want to push the limits of sanity, as I've done for a few multiple hour gaming sessions, I can get up to about 3.3GHz. Yes, I have altered the hardware via a giant heat sink/fan combo of doom, with a nice dose of Arctic Silver. However, this is a three or four year old CPU that runs Oblivion beyond max settings (using some major mod overhauls to make Oblivion even more resource crazy and unstable), Dragon Age Origins at maxed settings, or just about anything else I've thrown at it.

The main part of my "ancient" technology that I just don't understand being seen as garbage is the CRT. Yes, the monitor is nearing 20 years old. I may throw it a birthday or something in 2012...if the world doesn't end. However, the thing is 20" diagonal and runs a resolution that smokes the living hell out of most LCD flat panels. I love pumping my resolution, since I have no problems with small default text sizes (I like small text on my very cluttered desktop and Internet Explorer), and I love high details in games, but even I don't run my monitor at max resolution. Why? Not because my monitor displays blurry garbage, but because this "ancient" CRT can do more than even my eyes need. However, it's still set, by default, at a resolution that I cannot get from an LCD without shelling out more than $1000 to get a good sized display to go with the resolution.

I just don't see why CRT was completely abandoned by the mass market. Even when CRT was called old, however, there's a good amount of professionals who still used them. You just cannot beat CRT for quality, even if they use a bit more power and are heavier. Yes, they don't look, when not powered on, as neat. However, when turned on, the old $20 used CRT found at a surplus store or a garage sale may still outperform the latest $800 LCD found at your local computer or electronics store. The refresh rate is infinitely better since it's hard to beat near 0 second refresh rates with LCD. The resolution is amazing (my old CRT HD TV gets better resolution than my plasma and the same as my DLP, but also includes 720 unlike the DLP).

I just feel like modern technology has been used too much as an example of a reason we need to abandon the old before it's really out of date. If you look at the newest video cards, or even some of the older ones (like the GeForce 7950, for example), and check out the possible resolutions, you'll always find these amazing numbers on how they can run at resolutions you've only dreamed of...but you'll never actually see them in practice since you'd need a better monitor than you're likely to find or hope to afford. If you check out CPUs on the market, they will be faster now than something from five years ago...but if you just use the right motherboard (one with an easy to tweak BIOS is best) and throw in a $50 aftermarket fan, you can easily reach around the same performance marks. Plus, with the golden age of overclocking (which was around 2004-2007) passing us by, it's just a bit harder to really push a modern CPU much beyond the intended speed.

I'm not saying newer technology is bad. I'd love to spend about $1000 on my PC each year to get the best there is whenever something in my box starts to age. I mean the new Microsoft keyboard that allows somewhere around 26 simultaneous keystrokes sounds damned good. However, at the same time there's the problem of just upgrading for the sake of spending money to blindly try to be the leader instead of a follower. If I wanted to be a leader on the cutting edge of technology, then I'd say "I'd love to spend about $5000 on my PC each year", but that's not what I'm wanting and it's just irresponsible. When I got my 8800 GTS, the only better card on the market was the 8800 GTX...which runs a bit better, but not enough to have justified spending about $800 instead of $325. That's not even saying how you'll always lose in that type of competition, since, as the saying goes, new technology will be old by the time you drive it home from the store.

Still, even if I spent like a madman on my PC each year, I can still assure you of one thing; I wouldn't change out my CRT. At least not yet. It's not just "old"'s considered "archaic" in some circles. Nothing like antiquated technology that costs $20 at a surplus shop (which is the cost and location where my CRT came from about ten years ago), but has a quicker refresh rate, higher maximum resolution, a crisper display (especially in daylight), truer blacks, and brighter whites than any LCD I have seen for a three figure price. I may not be able to lug my CRT around for LAN parties without a fight, but you won't see me crying about it. Worst case scenario, I always have a few really crappy (previously seen as cutting edge, when they were new) LCD monitors for LAN party purposes.

Plus, while I enjoy my 52" DLP for modern console gaming, or my 42" plasma for TV viewing, I know I can always use one of my CRTs for the classics. It's not justifying their existence (there's better reasons, above), but I can play Duck Hunt on my NES with the Zapper on these old beasts. Let's see a LCD or plasma fanatic say the same without bullshitting (here's a hint: light guns don't work reliably on non-CRT displays).


Malik (2/18/10)

Less of a rambling rant today. I don't know what set me off yesterday, but sometimes I just get in a mood where it seems like the world is just too forgetful. Then again, I'm a person who loves old consoles, so old technology is a special thing to me.

Anyway, I downloaded The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom (360 Arcade title) yesterday. I just flat out bought the game and didn't get the trial version. That may have been a small mistake...or not. It's not that the game is bad, but it's not what one would normally expect. The start of the game, which I assume is the same as the trial, is not quite the same as where the game heads after the first twenty minutes of play.

The game takes the Braid approach, in a way, of using time manipulation as a game mechanic. Actually, it's more like the 2D view of Braid, but with puzzles like the Clank sections of Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time. You use the idea of timing and creating recordings (or clones stuck in a time loop) to get collectable objects. While this type of game idea can be a blast, I do have a small issue.

When you start the game, it is mainly you versus the environment. If a jump is really high, you can create a recorded clone to use as a step to jump from, or you can have a recorded clone hit you so you get flung through the air. Recorded clones will continue to loop from the start of a recording to the end and then repeating forever more. However, the game soon turns the collectable items (pies) you need to obtain into objects that only exist for a limited time. You step on a switch and then the pies appear for a few seconds. If you fail to grab them all, then you must try, from scratch, again, but with all your clones remaining. To add to the challenge, you will soon have to collect these pies in a set order (numbered one through a final, usually five). Then you will have, for more challenge, objects that appear to block your progress, or a clone's progress, once a given number pie is obtained. If a clone is interacted with in a way which moves it or prevents it from moving (like if you hit a clone to send it flying, or if a wall appears and blocks a clone), then that recorded loop is removed permanently.

When you put this all together, you have a set number of clones that you painfully recorded to work perfectly together. You finally have the layout prepared to obtain all the pies, in order, in a limited amount of time. Then you start your run by hitting the switch that activates the pies into existence. You then play out your role (you work with your clones to get those pies), but you make a minor mistake...and send down a wall that blocks a clone, who then vanishes and never returns. Now, let us say that you only got that clone created through the use of making two temporary clones (who served as a platforms to make a jump to where you placed the now gone clone). Now if you only have one clone left, out of the limit for the level (each level limits the number of clones permitted at a time), you must eliminate one of your useful clones to make the two temporary clones to reach where the missing clone goes to re-record it's loop. Next thing you know, you basically have to restart entire levels anytime you fail, despite some of your clones remaining.

In other words, while the game can be quite fun, it is also incredibly frustrating at times. Personally, I didn't expect the "limited time to collect pies" part or the "collect pies in order" part being in the game. I'm guessing the trial of the game doesn't go into it much either. When dealing with a puzzle game, which I tend to love, I like my puzzles to be simple enough to understand but complex enough to solve. This goes a little beyond into a scheme that's complex to solve and sometimes even more complex to understand the rules.

I'm only on the second world of the game (out of something like five or six worlds), so I may need more time to see where the game is heading. However, if this goes something like Braid (which used a similar world select menu and advancing complexity idea...I am not saying this game is otherwise like all), the game may go from frustrating to just flat out infuriating in no time. It already feels like playing chess, but knowing the rules. If it keeps progressing, it will be like playing a 3D chess game (like they'd show in Star Trek: The Next Generation), having a time limit per move, while the board continues to change shape, against two opponents at once, while...well, it will just feel a bit too overwhelming for a game that is so unknown that it should try to prove why it's a fun game before catering the the not-quite-present hardcore fans of the just-invented genre.


Malik (2/19/10)

Winterbottom does and doesn't get better with time. I mean it does have some annoyances that persist, and some level ideas are used a bit too frequently. However, the basics do change with each world/chapter. For example, while the game starts with an abundance of a given type of puzzle, the major theme of the puzzles will change when you enter a new chapter.

I think the one main problem I'm having with the game, at least right now, is that there are too few options you can chose from when you hit a puzzle you just cannot figure out. Most have room for several possible solutions (with one answer usually being the "best" one, but other ones will get you through all the same). Every chapter, however, seems to have one puzzle, or more, that has only one real solution that may just not be obvious or even something you'd expect. Like I said yesterday, the rules are not always clear (sometimes a clone will not move without something causing it to move, but sometimes a clone can move when the object that generated it's movement, like an elevator, is missing), so you may be stuck.

When you are stuck, you can keep trying. I mean that is how puzzle games work. When you fail, try again. However, when you try for several hours with no success, you can get discouraged. It gets worse when you must face a puzzle to progress further, despite future puzzles sometimes being easier and more enjoyable. In other words, if you hit something you cannot solve, you may literally be screwed out of the rest of the game until you either solve it or wait for a hint of sorts online...which is not easy to find with such a new and obscure title.

I must confess, one level completely stopped me for a bit due to a rule of the game not being clear. I had to wait for a video to appear on youtube to show a solution before I was able to understand what was even expected of me. I'm in that position once again, as I wait for something to explain what rule I just don't understand near the end of the third chapter. Until then, I can, and probably will, keep trying...but I can only try so many times before I just get tired of this. Unlike Braid, which had a lot of puzzle solving in it and a linear style, there are just too many obscure rules that only need to be applied once in the entire game. The part that makes this the worst is how the challenge increases in such unsteady jumps from one level to the next within a single chapter. It's only more of a bother when a level is incredibly hard, and involves a new rule that makes no sense, and then the next level uses the same unknown rule, but feels more like a tutorial to get a firm grasp of the skill.

It would be like playing Street Fighter 4, and having some challenge where you must beat an opponent with a super special move (like Ryu's super haduken) and then having to beat the next opponent with a standard special move (like the regular haduken)...but you never are even told that the game has super special moves. In other words, you must learn to run and then you're taught to walk. A great example of this is how Winterbottom level 2.9 is a more difficult way of learning the same stuff you must use for the simpler to grasp 2.10.

On a final note for today (and I'm not talking RB DLC, since the next batch of songs just seem unworthy of commenting on), I am glad to see that my addiction can continue. I'm always happy when a new Civilization is on its way.

Assuming the game continues the theme that Civ4 did so well (of streamlining and expanding upon old concepts), Civ5 will definitely be worthy of devouring my hard earned money. I mean few games have eaten as much of my time as Civ1, Civ2, and Civ4 (I wasn't a Civ3 fan...).

On second thought, I think I've got something more in me for posting today. I was reading about the speech given by Steve Perlman at DICE and started to think about the nature of "the future". For those who don't know of him, you've probably heard of Perlman's company; OnLive. That's the device that aims to bring all gaming to the "Now Era" of consumers.

Basically, as a run down, OnLive will be a small little box you attach to a TV, but you can also use with a Mac or PC, and it has a controller coming out of it. The box will then stream games, supposedly instantly, to your TV (let's ignore the PC and Mac part, since it's the same but requires me to keep saying "to your TV, PC, or Mac" which gets to be wordy). It's not supposedly like older technology that gets you cheap games on the fly. These are going to be full on games, like Crysis, Burnout Paradise, and Unreal Tournament 3, for example. It sounds like a cool idea. It also sounds too goo to be true.

I see this as just that. Actually, I see it as the Phantom. That was the previous attempt, by a different company, to bring instant gratification to games. It used a slightly different method, but the same end result; you want a game and you get it without getting off your couch. In other words, it's a bit like buying a full download or digitally distributed game for the PC or PS3 right now. However, you don't have to worry about hardware or storage space, since all the games are ran and stored on a remote server. These servers will go through upgrades on what sounds like a semi-annual cycle. No obsolete technology, no running out to a game store or waiting for a UPS shipment, and no running out of space and having to buy a new HDD or wondering what to delete to make room for a new purchase. It sounds...too good to be true.

I've said that twice now. I have since it seems to be exactly the case. For one thing, no matter how awesome technology gets, it will be hard to always have instant gratification. I've yet to see any game ran online without lag. Even the best LAN setups have seen me facing a tiny amount of ping. Usually it's not enough to ruin even a sniping sessions (something that requires next to no lag), but it exists. However, this will also be an issue for a single player (previously "offline" experience). It's just a fact of internet life. Data transfer will always require some lag. I mean even in a small scale, there is lag of sorts. Your PC has to process data, then the monitor has a touch of lag (usually in the 3-5 millisecond range). Now, when you add in a server complex that's up to 1000 miles away (the OnLine goal is 1000 miles being the maximum distance from server to user), you have a definite lag that cannot go away simply due to those all-too-pesky laws of physics.

Of course that's also not getting to the main heart of the beast; those huge server complexes. Have you ever played an online server based product on the day of a major release? If so, you've seen servers crash and burn under the stress of all those users. Now imagine if OnLive lives up to Perlman's high goals of replacing standard consoles. Now you have tens of millions of users, all at the same time, possibly many playing together in different locations, all running games from the same server complexes. Now those servers are not just processing minor bits of data (like character location and actions, but not hard processing of the games) like in a standard online game, but are actually handling the hardware for each gamers experience. I would love to see this hypothesized server setup that would handle the work of XBox Live's servers and every damned 360 that's currently running the bulk of the games that are physically running the games and generating HD quality visuals. Now add, to that thought, every Wii and PS3 and even every PC and Mac. That server would be mammoth. That server would be gigantic. That server would be...a pipe dream if it's expected to run smoothly.

There's also another problem; what if the servers are down for maintenance. If WoW is down for server work, a WoW fan can always still load up another game, online or offline, to fill the time. However, if OnLive does replace all other consoles, then this means when a server is down or being worked on, then all gaming is stopped. It's like sending a child to time-out or being grounded...but we'd all be paying for our subscriptions (I assume this would require a subscription fee to let OnLive afford the server costs) with no payout. Then there's the common problem of local internet problems (more on that in a second).

Of course, the problems go even further than that. You also have the fact that a 5Mbs connection is needed for HD visuals, and a 1.5Mbs connection is needed for SD. That's a lot of bandwidth for a consumer who wants HD gaming, and a hell of a lot of bandwidth for those magical server complexes.

On the note of the local internet problems; the US has shitty internet. It's a sad fact. Look at a place like Korea and you can see how the internet should be. However, unless Perlman expects his company to also upgrade ever internet service in the US, then he will not be able to deliver as fully as a customer would want. It's a simple reality. It also means that homes which cannot get internet, or good speed internet, due to various reasons (location and cost being the big ones) are expected to see the world give up standard consoles while they are stuck with nothing.

Now, as I've said with a sense of sadness many times in the past, I am stuck with Comcast. It's a service so bad that they are changing their name (I assume that's the reason for the new Xfinity branding). I can count on my internet being great about 50% of the time. Another 49% of the time I count on spotty internet (it works, but bandwidth go all over the board with no warning). Finally, 1% of the time I can expect outages. I'm not alone in this, since I know Comcast is the largest supplier of high speed internet in the country...and what a sad thing that is to say about the US. Now if Comcast has an outage, or if the bandwidth is unstable enough to prevent a full 5Mbs, I just lost out on either my OnLive gaming, or at least the HD visuals it promises.

Also, on the note of Comcast, they are trying to stealth in, at least the last time I checked (in January 2010), bandwidth limits on their customers. Supposedly these are not small caps. Comcast has claimed that all but a handful of users will not be effected, but those who do a lot of major downloads (Torrent fanatics, for example) will face having their internet disabled and being given a warning to not let the over usage happen again. If it does happen again, they face cancelation of internet and this means, in the world of cable monopolies, usually no other source of broadband internet will be available. Now, when so much is being streamed by OnLive, what does this mean for bandwidth limits? Will a fanatic of gaming face bandwidth issues? If I only play single player games, will I still run the risk of internet doom? True, this is not just an OnLive issue, since it's Comcast (as well as many other major cable providers across the US) that is imposing bandwidth limits, but it is a problem OnLive needs to be ready to face and to answer.

I do applaud Mr. Perlman for having a grand vision. Visionaries are great people since they push us forward. If not for people acting on their dreams and visions of grand new futures, where would we be now? Wherever it is, it would probably be a sad place (probably something akin to Amish lands) when compared to the modern age we live in. However, the important thing all major visionaries have lived with is knowing when a vision is "too big". You have to start off crawling before you run a marathon. OnLive, if it could work, if the laws of physics were negated (that will be a hard one to solve), if Comcast and other cable/broadband providers were willing to upgrade all networks and ensure 100% reliability (far more impossible than breaking the laws of physics), and if the system is adopted by major game developers, OnLive could be pretty cool. However, I'm expecting this to be more of a pipe dream than the Phantom, N-Gage, or ever were.

By the way, the final question is this; what about used game sales? When I stop a subscription, do I keep my games? Can I sell them? I doubt it.


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