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Malik (4/9/07)  

Microsoft is releasing the 360 Live Update for spring next month. The update sounds like it tackles everything that is wrong with the 360, doesn't solve these issues. Instead it makes a lot of them larger, to my mind at least.

Those auto-announcements that pop up whenever you reach a new achievement will not being going away. Instead, they will now feature more information. They will say what the name of the achievement was and how many GP it is worth. While this may be nice for achievement whores, it doesn't help the people, like myself, who game for the sake of gaming.

I cannot tell you how much I loath getting into some massive adrenaline rush on a game, like Guitar Hero 2, only to have my attention broken by a damned pop-up coming onto the screen, with the standard 360 message noise. I want the power to easily turn these off. I don't want more information. I want less. 100% less. Give me the power, already, to turn them off. I can play my XBox, PS2, Wii, GCN, or whatever else you want to name without worrying about being distracted by the system. Why can't I get that same feeling in a system that is supposed to be so much more towards the cutting edge? There is no logical reason why this feature, to turn off these announcements, has not yet come to the 360.

Also, the idea of adding a QWERTY keyboard to the headphone jack of the 360 controller (see the image in that link) is nothing short of pathetic. A tiny keyboard, with tiny keys, is not a solution to the slow and almost worthless ability to type on the 360. How about we instead get a full sized keyboard that attaches to a standard controller? Afterall, if you're going to use text on the 360, then you probably want real text typing and not some small Sidekick style peripheral. It wouldn't be too hard to do, and it shouldn't be too expensive (since keyboards for PCs are now almost disposable with how cheap they are).

The only smart add-on with the spring update will be the ability to download files in a low power mode, and then set the system to power off when finished. That's actually a smart, and overdue, move. That and the ability to now view videos as they download in a stream-like environment are probably the only bits of intelligence that have gone into the next update. Sadly, the updates are just becoming more of excuses for Microsoft to justify either Vista/360 connectivity or to whore out the 360 for more money (the paid video downloads, for example), while the Wii seems to offer more of what matters; updates and channels that are free and fun, like the Forecast and Everyone Votes channels.

Anyways, I have now finished Puzzle Quest. I doubt that I will write up a review, since it's basically reviewing Bejeweled combined with Magic: The Gathering. It's a great game, and any person who ever became addicted to Bejeweled needs to give it a shot. Just count on losing a lot of your free time since addiction is the name of Puzzle Quest's game.

I also bought Guitar Hero 2 for the 360 this weekend. I've only played the first 4 tiers of songs, but I'm loving the 360 interface. While the controller's do have some issues (especially since there are a couple of batches of bad guitars on the market) and the shape is annoying (especially when it digs into your right arm), but the overall feel is better. The controller feels a little more responsive, the buttons are spaced and shaped just a little better, and the controller is a little more quiet than the overly loud PS2 controller. Also, while some people seem to feel mixed on it, I think the tilt sensor is a little more responsive on the 360 controller. There are some problems with the tilt, and there is no sweet spot or speed to tilting, like the PS2 offered. However, the controller picks up on my tilting a good 90% of the time (versus about 50% of the time on the PS2).

I just wish there was an easy to locate star power button on the 360 controller, like the select button was on the PS2 version. I honestly stopped tilting for star power back when GH2 hit the PS2, and I hate going back on the 360...but there's not much that can be done about it.

The controller cable is also longer on the 360 controller, which is good. Plus, if you get a USB extender, you can make that even better. Plus, by being USB, I can't wait to see if some good home made PC games come along that use the controller in a freeware GH style setting. You have to love the potential of 360 controllers and peripherals when the connection is so universal.

Lastly, two words; Possum Kingdom. Ok, four words; Possum Kingdom original artist. Nothing like playing that song, and it's a level one song (so you get it from the moment you start the game), and hearing the Toadies and not the Harmonix/Red Octane cover band. F#@$ yeah!


Malik (4/10/07)  

For those who bought Crackdown (which was, surprisingly, a fun game) for the Halo 3 beta, there is finally some good news. The beta will open on May 16th. I think many people are thinking it's about time. Considering that the US military personnel in Iraq have already had some limited opportunity to play the Halo 3 beta, it's nothing short of amazing that it would take this long for the US to finally see it.

However, I guess this should be said; I don't give a flying f#@$. I got Crackdown for free (literally...not a wasted b-day gift, not a wasted gift for anything, and not because I did anything more than watch some Simpsons at's true) and it was only to kill some time while I prepared to move. I did not buy it for the Halo 3 beta, and I couldn't care less about Halo 3. I have very strict tastes in FPS and very few appeal to me. Halo, as a franchise, is not one of those that passes my strict requirements in the FPS genre.

The type of game, that's not FPS, that does meet my requirements for fun is Super Paper Mario. I picked up the game from Target last night, and I am enjoying it. It is a great blend of old school SMB from the SNES and NES era, Super Mario RPG concepts, and some unique takes on the idea of basic 3D in a 2D setting. In other words, it's not a game that many companies could even attempt to make...but Nintendo has and has succeeded at their valiant attempt.

That's not to say that Super Paper Mario is the be-all-end-all game that many would expect from Nintendo. There are some issues, and they do take time to get used to. Most of all, it takes a long time for the game to really begin. The first 20 minutes is all dialogue. Considering that the game is primarily a 2D platformer, that much dialogue feels redundant and worthless. I am not playing for some long winded plot, but rather for a minor plot while I enjoy 2D game play.

Also, the game does like to offer "helpful" advice. That would be nice, if it wasn't forced and if it wasn't obvious advice. How many times must I be told where to go when there are very few options to take? I understand that, when I can only go to the right, that I must go to the right. I understand that I must hit up when in front of a door to enter (the game repeatedly tells you this, and a small diagram showing the up direction is shown when you can enter a door). The difference between helping and being a nuisance is a small and thin line, and Super Paper Mario will dance on this line...and then cross the line...then jump across the line...then turn the line into a shark and jump the shark.

It's also a little unusual getting used to the controls. You hold the Wiimote sideways (like an NES pad) and play without the nunchuk. It's nothing too complex or unusual, but it feels a little strange...especially when you must jump back to pointing with the Wiimote from time to time. However, it is very simple and easily to get accustomed to...or it would be if the strap wasn't on the Wiimote where it's located. I feel like I have something extra that is only serving to get in my way. It might be better for right handed people (who point with the Wiimote with that hand), but my left handed ways don't help me. If I wear the strap, it feels bad, and if I go without the strap it is still in the way.

However, once you get into the game, it's a blast. The ability to use Mario to check out the forbidden third dimension while traveling a landscape is fun. It may look like you've found all of the treasures and coins in an area, but the third dimension may reveal not just new items, but new enemies and pathways to traverse. It is really a great way to remind us of the 2D nature of the paper made Mario, but without some of the silliness of rolling him into a tube and those other abilities found in previous Paper Mario games.

Most of all, the thing I noticed is that boss battles are amazing to behold. I've fought two bosses so far, and each one was a fun and unique challenge. It's no longer about just doing the obvious (hit the axe, shoot fireballs, or jump on the head), but rather it's about finding ways to use all of your powers in the best way possible. Bosses are additional puzzles, while being additional challenges.

I'm also glad to see Nintendo making a Wii game that is not focused entirely on motion sensing controls. The Wiimote motion sensing abilities are used from time to time, but it's not the star of the controls for the game. It's like an old school Mario game, with the d-pad, A, 1, and 2 being your main weapons in your battle to save the world.

I definitely need to play more to get a better feel for what the game has to offer. I have not tried to use any of the additional characters, except a short escape scene with Peach. Peach and Bowser are both playable after you find them in the plot of the game. There's also more powers and abilities to find. I just need to play more, and to relive more of the nostalgia of old school side-scrolling Mario glory.

...and for the record, it only takes me 8 minutes (to the second) to f$#@ up a perfectly good phone interview...


Malik (4/11/07)  

The PC version of Shivering Isles (the Oblivion expansion) has bugs. This should not serve as news, since I know the 360 version of Oblivion (the version I played) was nothing but bugs. Bethesda may be able to make a great RPG experience, but they also cannot make a bug-free game (or expansion) even if their lives depended on it.

The original Oblivion contained bugs that went from minor (making it impossible for some people to buy a house in the town with the vampire lord...sorry, I haven't played for about a year, so the names mean nothing to me) up to major bugs that could kill entire guild story lines (fighter guild). In fact, Bethesda has done the bug & patch thing for many games and for many decades. I wish I could have more faith in a company that offers such deep game experiences, but I can't. Bethesda needs a quality control group that actually plays the game like it will be played by game owners. For example, the latest bug with Shivering Isles on the PC takes 50-120 hours to destroy the game...this should not be beyond the realm of a good testing team.

On a different, and less buggy note; I played some more Guitar Hero 2 on the 360 last night. All I can say is that, as a Iron Maiden fan, I am not disappointed. The Trooper sounds like the real deal (or more like it than the STP cover and some other notorious covers) and is a fun challenge to play. The notes are fast, frantic, and hard as hell. However, no song has pulled me so much into wanting perfection as this one.

I also finally got my rear surround sound speakers wired, and with the optical cable, the 360 version of GH2 sounds amazing. The crowd is yelling from the rear channels, the music is blasting from the front, and it feels like I am in the middle of it. When you consider that the lights in my basement (my TV area) are all spot lights (the previous owner didn't know much about proper lighting), it feels like I'm on stage. A bright and hot light over my head, the crowd behind me (ok, I'm on stage but playing with my back to the crowd...maybe playing for the...drummer...?), the music blasting, and my sub banging out the bass. Nothing feels that amazing, besides really playing guitar on a stage on a professional sound setup...but my days of working in an AV related job are far behind me and they won't be coming back.

I also played another chapter of Super Paper Mario. While I am not enjoying the fetch quests that occur between chapters (chapters include the action of the game), the main game is definitely growing on me. The humor is amazing, the boss fights are a blast, and the game includes just enough puzzles to really make one think. You have to check everything, kill everything, and find everything to feel like you're doing things correctly.

I still feel like some things could have been handled better, however. For example, the controls are ok, but it would probably feel better to me if I could use a nunchuk. It just feels like there are one or two too few of buttons on the controller, without the nunchuk, and the nunchuk would allow for the full control that this game begs for. Also, with the nunchuk (which all Wii owners should have since it's included with the Wii), you would still have the limited movement sensing needed for certain events in the game.

While a nunchuk would eliminate the nostalgic control of the Wiimote turned sideways, it would just feel like it better belonged in this type of game. As it stands, you can only equip on special ability (or pixl) at a time. However, some work together so well that you find yourself wasting some time jumping into menus in the middle of a single action so that you can fully utilize the abilities you have. Since the nunchuk would allow the use of the C and Z buttons, and would also open up the B button on the Wiimote, it seems like the obvious choice. It's not like this breaks the game...but it does make one think of what could have been.

By the way, I'm not going to comment on the GH2 download songs and their prices.  500 MP ($6.25) for three songs, that you cannot chose is something that should be self-explanatory.  I'll just say that, while I'm tempted to get Bark at the Moon and Ace of Spades...I'm not that tempted.  Also, if all of the GH1 songs get ported at the same price, the final package will cost close to $100.  Think about it.  I'll speak with my money...and I'm a mute to the GH2 downloadable content subject, if you catch my meaning.

Lastly, if I don't post tomorrow, it's because my PC is being gutted tonight.  I have a new mobo, CPU, and GeForce 8800 (!!!) sitting on my table.  Sadly, my PC usually has only a 50% chance to get through upgrades in a single night.  Usually, it turns into a far more arduous task that involves some violence (like old components getting the Office Space treatment) and a lot of swearing.  Here's hoping for the best...


Malik (4/12/07)  

Nothing like a massive PC upgrade, made necessary due to some unknown component being crap, to elicit responses of anger and frustration. As you can tell, by this post being up, everything is working so far. However, the first few hours were nothing short of arduous and frustrating.

I replaced my motherboard and CPU, since I believe that one of these components were bad...and it's pointless to change one at a time with these type of hardware since it's easier to find a good deal on a bundle. However, while I had DDR2 memory from my old configuration, my old video card (GeForce 6600) was AGP and would not work on a good modern mo'bo'. So, with a nice selection of either good priced, but not becoming old technology, 7000 family and the cutting edge 8800, I was left with a problem; Do I want to make my PC slightly more future proof and spend more money, or do I want to watch my spending?

Part of that was solved for me when a certain someone (name skipped in case certain people read this) gave me a very generous monetary house-warming gift of $3000. With this type of money, and with the fact coming that my money would be limited for the next few months (as I await a big promised raise) as mortgage payments loom on the horizon, I decided to go with the 8800 (GTS...however...not ready to go crazy with a GTX).

So, I installed all of the hardware, lost some things I could not possibly lose (like my power light and internal speaker cables!?), and plugged it all in. The first thing I realized is that the 8800 is a f#@$ing beast! It takes up more room than any single card should. However, with the visual power it pumps out, I will forgive it. I slapped all the cables in place and turned on the PC.

I soon realized that, despite my protests, I needed to flatten my box. Windows was not taking to a simple hardware upgrade (as I would blue screen after about 0.5-4 minutes of Windows running). I hate installing Windows, and I hate reinstalling everything (especially old games and my video codecs), but sometimes life gives of lemons that taste like instead of making lemonade, you have to buy new lemons, add some vodka, and hope the shit will get you drunk enough to not care. I don't know what that means, but I flattened the box and grabbed a beer.

However, that was after I figured it may be my RAM that was giving me blue screen hell. Afterall, the messages always focused on memory issues. So, I ran out and bought 2 more GB of DDR2. I installed these chips in place of my old 1GB stick, and watched screens still haunted and hunted me. So, I slapped the old stick in and am now running at 3GB.

About three more drinks, and a few reinstallations of productivity software later, I had what looked like a stable machine. I installed Steam and downloaded the Half-Life 2 demo (as my video card needs to show me how sweet it is). I haven't run any video heavy programs yet, since my time is way too limited...but I should after posting this.

A few things I can say about this experience; I want my power LED and speaker cables! I don't know where they are, but I need them since my PC has a quiet set of fans and power supply, so I can't tell when the damned thing is on without turning on the monitor. I also would like to hear the wonderful beep when my PC turns on to know it's fine. It's like being told by Velveeta that she loves me before I leave for work in the morning. It's just a good and safe feeling.

I also learned, for the tenth time (you'd think I'd learn by now), that I will not buy certain brands again. ECS made my old mo'bo' and they have made every mo'bo' that failed me. I should have learned, but I usually saw good reviews on for any ECS gear I ended up buying. I also still will not touch Radeon video cards, since everything became complicated and annoying with them once they got beyond the 9800 drivers (now that was a good card for it's day!). The modern Radeon Catalyst drivers are complete ass and they have no place on a computer that runs a VGA monitor and a DVI secondary HD-TV display (it will always make DVI primary and VGA secondary...ALWAYS).

I think I'm now set, and assuming nothing else breaks, this will be the last upgrade for my main PC for the next couple of years. I have plenty of memory (3GB), a great processor and mo'bo' (don't know the numbers off hand, but they rock), a great power supply (and silent as a mouse on valium), a freakin' GeForce 8800 GTS, and a nice and big SATA drive to go along with my IDE hard drive and IDE DVD burner. Assuming nothing goes wrong with the more enjoyable part of my rebuild (installing games), I am happy to just work on the outside of the box and to leave the inside sealed.

On a different note, and a bit less Malik-centered, the 20GB PS3 is now dead in the US. Sony is dropping this product. What does this mean? Well, even with the 360 Elite costing about $480, the PS3 will still be over $100 more than any 360. Between MS making the stupid moves that can be seen in the 360 Elite (and the GH2 downloadable content prices...yes, I blame MS more than Red Octane after the whole Gears of War DLC price fiasco that broke this last week) and the elimination of the cheaper (and more PR friendly) PS3, I have given up on trying to think either Sony or Microsoft care about gamers. They have lost touch and I am happy to say that I will easily support Nintendo over the other two if they are going to continue this type of illogical shit.

Also, some new GTA4 news has arrived. It's basically just stating that Niko (the dude from the trailer) will be the main protagonist. Liberty City is the setting, but it has been redesigned to be more modeled off of New York City (four of the boroughs and a bit of New Jersey). Also, planes will not be back, probably due to the setting being like NYC, since they don't want the PR nightmare of being potentially called a "9/11 Simulator". Motorcycles, however, will be back.

There's some more information in that link and it all sounds interesting so far. I have, however, typed enough and need to get to some more serious matters (work and PC work), so I'll just stop here.

Remember: You speak with your wallet, when it comes to making purchases and showing your happiness or rage over prices and gouging...just say no to Guitar Hero 2 DLC.


Malik (4/13/07)  

The Wii Opera Browser is now out of beta and in it's full incarnation. While this may seem cool to a select few (mainly Nintendo fanboys), it is the real gimmick for the Wii. Motion sensing? That's a fun take on game play to help make the games more immersive and enjoyable to a wider audience (as seen with how Wii Sports is bringing the casual gamers and the anti-gamers into the Nintendo fold). However, the browser...

Until the Wii allows one to use a USB keyboard, or some other solution to easy data input, the browser is nothing more than an exercise in slow futility. If you have the broadband connection needed for the Wii to get online, then you most likely have a computer on site (at the very least, to maintain your wireless router or to utilize the WiFi dongle) or you're an idiot who is wasting money. Now, if you have a PC on site, you can web browse already...and with better speed and control, while also having better visual resolution than 480p/i.

There is only really one type of person who could use the Wii browser in any real constructive way; the underage gamer living in their parent's home but has a Wii in their own room, while there's no PC present. If you fall into this category, then I would like to say that a cheap PC that could web browse is a better investment (since a used internet capable machine could run as low as $25 with another $25 for a monitor...just look at local industrial surplus sites). For example, if you're in the northwest, find a Boeing employee (and we all do know, through a certain level, at least one Boeing employee) and hit the Boeing surplus. It is that simple. Unlike the Wii for browsing, which is anything but simple.

I can see the point of the other Wii channels. The Forecast Channel is a great tool that could benefit sports games by giving real time weather to the game. It's nothing major, but it's fun none-the-less. The News Channel is something simple enough to not require typing, while offering the equivalent of a daily newspaper. It doesn't add to games, but it does it's service without any hassles.

Well, my PC upgrade adventure continues. While I've gotten the system stable, and while I've installed all I need for web updates, I'm still lacking my gaming abilities. I was able to test out the Half-Life 2 demo last night, to push my video card...which only revealed that some other elements need to be fine tuned. I have a LAN deal going on tomorrow, so I'm stuck with too much work with far too short of a timeline to solve all my issues.

However, since certain programs and updates take time to download or install, I'm able to get in a little Super Paper Mario. This game keeps amazing me by how fun it is. Last night I finally found the arcade (casino) in the town of Flipside. I spent a good amount of time playing the card matching memory game, only to see that the payout is not worth it. After playing one game of it for about 20 minutes, I came out with 42 tokens than I put in. It's a decent enough payout, except I don't have the patience to continue to earn tokens this way.

I also mastered the stylish attack. The game should really offer advice on how to do this in the game, like they did on other Mario RPG games. If you have SPM and don't know about stylish attacks, here's the basics; when you jump on an enemy, you'll bounce upwards off of them. During this bounce, you can hit the jump button (2) to rebound higher. During this rebound, shake the controller and Mario (or whoever you're using) will do a couple of flips and shit. This will net you more points for the attack, and thus you'll gain levels quicker. It also adds a bit more challenge to a basic attack, which is a bonus for this game, which feels so easy so far.

I do need to play more SPM, since I'm only at world/chapter 3-2 (out of, I'm guessing 8-4). I also need to play more Guitar Hero 2 on the 360. I'm still only about 80% done with medium difficulty, and I cannot sleep well until I both beat medium, and get five stars on Trooper.

Well, it's time to do a bit more tweaking of the PC before some friends arive. Then, tomorrow morning it will be more PC tweaking before I LAN it up. At least, while the PC stuff is frustrating, it is going smoother than it did last time around (when I bought my defective mo'bo' or CPU...the ones that forced this latest upgrade.


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