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Malik (7/23/07)

After how E3 seemed to be a let down for major game makers, both in attendance and those skipping for a variety of reasons (many seem to be from the show not including retailers who would be the ideal target for game promotional concepts), it seems like a no-brainer that E3 may be on the move again for next year.

I can see the ESA's idea of keeping things a bit more casual to help to promote an actual line up of games and not about promoting pointless spectacles (like booth babes, having many non-game people in attendance, and other tricks). With a potential move, the idea of E3 needing to reach the right people is not being faced correctly. It honestly doesn't matter where E3 is when the expo is not being seen or handled correctly. It could be held in Fargo, North Dakota, for all that the ESA cares. What matters is not where, but rather how.

In particular, I mean the "how" of "how to reach the right outlets to get insights into how games will fare upon release and how to improve ideas and concepts that are still in the conception stage?" This is all that should matter to the ESA. If they keep doing what they have been up to, which is attacking a symptom and not a problem, E3 may become a non-event in only a few more years.

The real solution is for other shows to keep stepping up. Gen-Con, PAX, GDC, and other shows need to continue their quest to fill in for the void of what E3 was only 14 months ago. While PAX does a good job of filling in the void of what E3 was never meant to be (a show for the game players to be seduced by the game makers), not enough places have stepped in to give a place for retailers and publishers to scout out games in their infancy stage.

In fact, this year was not even the first recent overhaul of E3. That was seen in 2006 when the ESA eliminated the idea of booth babes being scantily clad. While I'm all for a gamer friendly show filled with plenty of flesh and flash, I do like the idea of a substantial E3. I like the idea of a show being covered by gaming outlets that really tackles bringing a blend of hype to the market (for the games, not the babes) and helping the less established ideas to be accepted into the gaming cosmos.

Blah. It's like I said...give this type of constant overhaul another couple of (or a few more) years and it will suffer and die. I've seen it from other things, and E3 has proven that the ESA is not some unstoppable machine of game hype. It's time for them to do things right or to die a slow and painful death of non-attendance.

Not much to talk about for my weekend. Seattle lived up to the stereotypes of being a solid wall of falling rain. This meant too much of my time was spent stuck in various forms of traffic as people freaked out at the idea of roads being wet and shiny.

I did see some of Overlord (360 version), a game I have ignored up until now. I watched a friend play through the last few levels. I didn't know he was about to beat the game, and he seemed surprised by when the game ended. It's not that I don't like how the game looks, but I think it's one I'll skip. It just gave me reminders of the parts I didn't like about Pikmin (minus the timer). There seemed to be too much micromanagement and too many frustrations from controlling a bunch of peons. The concept seems strong, but the controls seem like an annoyance in a lot of situations (especially boss fights).

Anyway, from the couple of hours I watched, I can say that if you like Pikmin, then Overlord is a great game for you. If Pikmin was fun, but offered a few too many instances of micromanagement for your tastes, then I'd probably skip the game or reserve it for a rental.

Now to play some Guitar Hero Encore.  Street date?  Toys R Us don't need no stinking street date!


Malik (7/24/07)

As I said at the end of my post yesterday, I went to Toys R Us and got Guitar Hero Encore early. True, I could have waited another day and went to Best Buy or Fry's and got the game for $10 less, but I wanted a new game and I wanted it now.

I spent what I consider a small amount of time with GHE last night. I know I didn't spend nearly the amount of time I did with GH2 when it first came my way, but I still spent a fair amount of time with the game. Little did I realize until I was putting down the game for the night that my little amount of time amounted to nearly completing the whole game. In other words, GHE is short. Very short.

While GH2 had somewhere around 40 or so songs on the main game and another couple of dozen bonus songs to unlock in the game's shop system, GHE is far less filled with content. GHE covers 30 songs. I don't mean they are all covers, since there are a few actual recordings of the original artist in this game, but the content is limited to 30 songs. No bonus songs to unlock, no massive track list, and no real reward for the price.

What I mean by that is that GHE feels, to me, like the downloadable content on the 360 version of GH2. It's not priced in the same proportions of price to song as the past GH games. In fact, it's almost a rip off when you consider that the game carries as MSRP of $50, like the past two GH games, but for so many fewer songs. The game simply doesn't feel worth it. Even if I waited for Best Buy or Fry's to get the game, today, the game would still feel a bit overpriced at $40.

On top of having few songs compared to past GH games, the content is also somewhat lacking. The venues are the same as those seen in GH2. The little tour screen you get when you finish a whole set is straight from GH2. The characters may now have a little wardrobe change to match the 80's feel of the songs, but they're the same guitar players...not even including the new additions to GH2 that were seen in the 360 version. You can buy new axes and sniks for them, but you simply don't have the massive stream of content we have all come to expect from GH games.

Sadly, the songs don't help to justify this price difference. True, many more of the songs from GHE fall into the recognizable category than past GH games, but they still don't necessarily rock any harder. You are even forced to sit through two set lists of the slowest and easiest songs imaginable before you can start to play the songs that you know you've been waiting for. Songs like Ballroom Blitz, Wrath Child, Caught in a Mosh (finally some good Anthrax in a GH games), and Radar Love (which has a horrible cover) all come in the second half of the game. The first half is a bunch of the most mild and sedate songs possible.

In fact, I know I have not gotten much better at GH games in the last half year. I play GH2 on the 360 from time to time and I have no problem admitting that I'm a medium player. I suck when that mystical orange button appears (in hard mode). I can five star many GH2 songs in medium, but I still get four stars on some of them (like Psychobilly Freakout). I can only get 100% perfect on a couple of songs, and it's not something I can repeat. I simply have some clumsy fingers.

So, with playing each song only once (and not playing all of the songs yet), I already have about six or so 100% songs on medium on GHE. I say this as a hint of the difficulty of this game. It's the easiest example of GH I have ever played. It's not like the 1980's were only filled with slow and simple songs, but rather Harmonix seemed to like to chose songs that could earn this game the reputation of being the beginner's GH game. I may finally be able to move up to hard, but only because this version of GH is so damned easy.

Anyway, at it's heart, GHE is a good game. However, in comparison to GH1 and GH2, this game is seriously lacking. The controls are good (same exact engine as GH2...down to the same visuals...), the songs include some fun ones and some classic riffs of doom, and the game would be a great addition to a gaming library...if only it did not follow GH2. For GHE to come along now is like deciding that an opening act at a concert and the headliner should swap places. You don't follow something like GH1 and GH2 with GHE unless the price is discounted. Maybe this is Harmonix's way of trying to show how hollow GH is before they get Rock Band out later this year. Maybe it's an attempt to lose GH some customer loyalty.

In the end, I can only recommend GHE to two types of people. It's great for GH obsessed individuals looking for another fix while waiting for GH3 and Rock Band. It's also ideal for those people who view the GH2 360 downloadable content to be fairly priced and a great deal (all one of you who works at Activision and believes this to be true).

I'll still keep playing GHE, and I'll finish all of the remaining songs tonight. However, I see myself then quickly firing up my 360 and playing GH2 to fill the void until the next generation of guitar and rock games come along this fall.


Malik (7/25/07)

Because of all the construction in the Seattle area, there are a lot of loose bits of gravel on the highways.  Well, when a car kicks up a rock, it can go 70 MPH back at my car, also going 70 MPH (err...the speed limit is 60...change that to 60 :P).  The end result of this velocity equation is...I need a new windshield and I f$#@ing hate construction and all the bull shit it brings into my life.

On that happy note, Malik is ready to bitch.  Let's roll...

First off, I beat all songs on medium at 5 stars on GHE last night. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed. On one hand, there are only 30 songs. That's really not much for a $50 MSRP. When you look at past GH games, this is a very bad deal, and when you look at how many of the songs don't pack a lot of punch (it's not until the third, of six, tiers that you start to feel the need to rock out) compared to GH and GH2...well...I like the game, but I don't see myself picking this one when I'm in the mood for random GH fun. Maybe if I'm in the mood for a little Turning Japanese, Police Truck, and Ballroom Blitz. Otherwise, I see myself heading over to GH2 on the 360 (on the PS2 for multiplayer since I have but one 360 guitar).

My other disappointment was how easy medium was. I suck at hard (the fifth fret button kills my brain), so medium is my cup of tea. I have yet to beat all songs at 5 stars on medium in GH or GH2. On GHE, I actually got five stars on all but one song on my first try. I even got 100% on about six songs on my first try. The only song that gave any challenge was Electric Eye (as performed by Judas Priest)...which took four times to get up from four stars to the fifth star. I am now feeling full and done with this game. I still want to move on and become a hard player, and that's the only advantage of offers a good training platform to handle hard songs for medium fans, versus the challenge of GH or GH2 in this transition.

In the end, I see why reviews seem to hover around a 7/10 for this game. While the past two GH games were definitely awe inspiring events, GHE is what it is; a game made by Harmonix to fulfill their contract with Red Octane and Activision before heading off to work on Rock Band. The game was a lot like a real rock album in that regard. Many artists have made sub-par albums in order to fulfill contractual obligations before working on their good stuff for their next publisher/recording label. It's not that GHE is bad, but it fails to meet the standards of GH2.

On a different note, I have to talk about TV a little. I don't mean a particular channel or a particular program. I'm talking about of the most obvious faceless corporations in my home/life.

Comcast recently decided to imitate Microsoft. With time, Microsoft will offer a new OS with a shiny new set of features and a shiny new looking UI (user interface). Comcast decided recently that they were due for an overhaul of the UI and appearance of their cable boxes. That was not a bad move. The old system had some flaws. It looked good, but it had some issues with responsiveness on some older boxes and some issues with some menus being too far imbedded in other menus.

Well, I now have Comcast's new UI on both of my cable boxes (a standard digital box and a HD DVR). The old digital box is almost unusable now, and my DVR is just a chore to use. I've lost my ability to channel surf with the best of them. I lost my ability to turn off my brain for an hour and know simple facts that require basic math (how far am I into a certain show? No longer does Comcast tell me "Just Started", "Started 5 minutes ago", "9 minutes left", or the like). I also lost my idea of how to navigate my menus.

That was one of my big new issues with this overhaul. The menus, which used to use simple options like "more info" and "last" now are built around the most pointless of picture based icons. What the hell is a triangle like a "play icon" followed by a D? Apparently it's what used to be a simple "on demand" option. What's a magnifying glass? I think it's "info" or something like that. All the obvious text based cues have been replaced with this dumbed down picture icon shit as if Comcast, of all companies, is playing off the stereotype that TV viewers are illiterate dumb-asses.

I also now have the most clutter filled DVR menu imaginable. Instead of shows being sorted by a combination of date recorded and all shows of the same series being lumped together, I now have each episode taking up a full slot on my DVR. What this means is that instead of having about a dozen choices from my DVR (Metalocalypse, Planet Earth, Venture Bros, etc), I now have a shit ton of clutter. I like to record and keep Adult Swim shows, which are typically about 15 minutes long and in SD...which makes it where I can record a lot of them. So, now my menu is plagued by 12 instances of Venture Bros, 8 instances of Metalocalypse, and so on.

To put it in simpler terms, imagine if you could not have folders within you hard drive, so that all files had to be in the root folder. Imagine how cluttered that would be. Now imagine trying to find a single file in this mess.

However, the worst change in all of this is that channel surfing is now a huge lag filled pain in the ass. Previously, I could keep hitting channel up/down or favorite repeatedly as the guide told me what I was surfing through. The picture/reception would not come in for an extra half second, but I didn't need the TV picture if I aimed to just surf past G4 (which I only use for Ninja Warrior) showing an episode of Cops. I could also slide past the History Channel when they were having yet another episode of Hitler's Something or Other instead of something fun. I could skip HBO when they were showing, yet again, Star Wars Episode 3. This could just slide by me really quickly as I got the guide telling me that I didn't want to stop and wait for the signal to be received.

Now, the system requires me to wait for the signal to be fully received before I can flip channels again. So, in my professional channel surfing ways, I now need about 2 minutes to flip through all of my favorites...instead of about 15 seconds. I have to stop at each and every single instance of every channel I've marked as my favorite. Comcast seemed to have forgotten that even a person's favorite channel can contain crap 75-95% of the time.

When you add in that the on screen mini-guide now can only cover three channels at a time (instead of four), it starts to feel like pretty new visuals mattered far more than functionality. Also, when you consider how damned slow Comcast is to adopt additional HD channels (and how one HD channel worth of bandwidth was wasted with the Golf Channel, of all channels...not FSN which has a wider appeal for sports fans), it just makes me feel a little extra rage as I deal with their insanely high prices.

So, for myself, I am proposing two things I shall do. The first, which I already did, is ask Comcast support why the f#@$ I'm paying for this shit (the loss of functionality to my system, the lack of HD support, and the high bill to round it out). I'm curious to see what they say in response to my inquiry. The second part is that Velveeta and I are now shopping around for TV providers, since Congress will never get off their fat asses and pass a bill to eliminate cable monopolies (which has, supposedly, been in the works for over a decade but is always shot down...GIVE ME A FREAKIN' CHOICE!).

Anyway, I just needed to vent. TV is not a major part of my life (except when it's used to display some gaming or some Seahawks or Mariners games), but when I am in the mood to watch, I want to watch and enjoy. I don't want to f#@$ing deal with some lame bullshit system that is pretty and pretty slow when I had a system only a week/day ago (my DVR changed last night and my digital box changed last week) that was ideal and user friendly. At least give me the choice to use the supposedly antiquated system before forcing bull shit on me. I can opt to skip out on new Windows version until it's up to par, required, or deemed useless (like Windows ME), but I have to take the Comcast equivalent of Windows ME without any choice.

I wonder what one of the dish based services are up to...

I also wonder why Comcast, when they updated by UI, decided to set Jerry Springer, The Daily Show, The Today Show, and a random block of music videos on MTV2 as set recordings...and why was it so damned hard to get rid of them?


Malik (7/26/07)

I tried to help my parents out with some more of that modern technology. Around a week ago, I was helping them setup and get used to a world that included terms like HD, plasma, and digital. Yesterday, I was teaching them about the joys of WiFi. They had a router and a desire to get it running, as well as to let their Wii get on the internet.

In the end, I had forgotten a couple of important facts. The first being how picky the Wii is for it's WiFi support (like the almost required use of channels 1 and 11, and how a good amount of routers fail to be recognized by the Wii). There simply are a lot of routers and a lot of settings that can send a Wii into an offline hell. The router I was setting up, luckily, worked with the first. We were able to find the router, download some updates (since their Wii had never seen an update in it's life), and think everything was cool. Then we tried the shop channel...and had the system hang. So we tried the weather and news channels...and watched it hang.

About thirty minutes later, and a lot of patience gone, we got the forecast for Seattle. Then we tried the news channel...and the Wii failed. I tried entering the error codes into the Nintendo support site and...well...let's just say that the last thing I want to see from Nintendo's support for something as routine as a Wii being put online is that the error code is not recognized. It was their support system and their console, so they should know every damned error code.

Some time later, we finally got the Wii to see the news channel. So we had two of the basic three; news and weather, but no shop. No matter what we did, the shop eluded us. Sometimes we'd error code with the code for the system timing out, and other times we'd simply hang for however long it would take for someone to hard power off the system.

On the bright side, I think I figured out a possible solution...I never checked the router's default firewall settings. So, the internet tubes may just be a firewall away. Since the shop channel uses more security and encryption than the weather or news channels (due to credit/debit card usage), this would make sense. On the other hand, it could just be that Airlink 101 is not the right router brand for the Wii (despite how they make a good solid product for cheap).

The other bit of good news from this was that when I returned home, later in the day, I decided to try the shop channel (to make sure it was online...which could've been another possible problem). The channel was up, so I'm back to the firewall idea as the only last resort in my arsenal of WiFi network wizardry. However, while on the channel, I decided to download Kirby's Dream Course.

KDC was always one of my favorite games as a kid. It was one of the most enjoyable takes on minigolf that the SNES, or even the world, has witnessed. For those who have not tried this game, it's almost a required SNES game. The controls are based around basic minigolf rules (putting your brains out...well, Kirby's brains).

The twist is how you need to hit every enemy placed on the course. Once you hit the second to last enemy, the final one turns into the hole. If you hit a dude with a power, then you get control of that power, to use once per stroke, until you find a new power. These are all standard Kirby powers (umbrella to slow your fall with some control, rock to suddenly stop or fall, destructive powers to kill foes, wheel to speed across water hazards and to speed up, etc). You also have the challenge of each stroke costing you one point of life (with four max life points). You regain one at the end of each hole, and a hole in one will net you a 1-up.

Beyond that, the game does allow for some trick shots. You can hook or slice, you can add top spin or back spin, and you can also pop your ball into the air. Combining these can get you a few extra moves. For example, a top spin on an air shot can net you enough bounce on your first contact with the ground that you may be able to skim across the top of a water hazard. Use an umbrella or rock power with an air shot and you can find an easier way to pinpoint the hole.

It's a simple game. However, that's the beauty of it, and why it has aged so well since it's SNES days. Also, since it's light on controls, it fits well with either the classic controller or the GCN pad. Anyway, it's one of the few games from my nostalgic thoughts that I actually can feel, after playing it, that the cost of admission is well worth the show.


Malik (7/27/07)

It was five years ago, to this day, that I faced what I consider the most excruciating of all possible events...but one that, while being almost intolerable, offered one of life's best rewards. I think of it like a rite of passage that requires patience and tolerance of people who don't understand the nature of a tradition. All in order to give a good series of events to follow. In other words, happy anniversary Velveeta! Five years of good times, and plenty more to come.

Moral of this story; Weddings suck (for the wedding party) but marriage is good.

Back to the subjects at hand (geek things), I watched the Japanese original of Dark Water last night. To paraphrase the comic book guy from the Simpsons (which is in theaters today), "worth Japanese horror movie ever!" I don't even know what the f#@$ I was watching, but I know that it had the worst setup for a horror movie that I ever saw. Here's a hint...the ghost is haunting her old home, in the typical Japanese horror movie way, but not because she was murdered. It's not because she had been neglected or abused.'s a lame as shit spoiler; she drowned on her own because she (a six year old girl) decided to climb to the top of a water tower and then fell in after she dropped her bag into the open top of the water tower. The end.

I also went out and got Beyond the Sword last night. This is the newest expansion for Civ4. Awesome game, and the expansion does bring in some needed civilizations, like the Babylonians, Ethiopia, Sumerians, Native Americans (like all Native American tribes should be lumped under one civilization rules by Sitting Bull), and...well, there are 10 new civilizations and 6 new leaders for old civilizations. There are also some new techs, some new wonders, and a larger emphasis on spies and corporations (a new feature like a late game religion).

My favorite new feature is being able to decide what religion you founded when you discover a religion granting technology. This is awesome since there are no new religions. So, if you found religions from your civilization, you can decide something like this for the theology of the game;

First Islam. You people believe that Jesus was a prophet, but who was Jesus. Hundreds of years later, you found Christianity. You've now decided that this prophet must be a messiah...way after His time on thousands of years after. He was the messiah of...some people...but who? Then you found Judaism a few hundred years later. They are people who have a "short" history and believe all that the Christians do, but they decide, for some weird reason, to reject Jesus as a savior.

I love that scenario as an example since it obviously shows one flaw of this new system. Ok...two flaws. The first being that you can make total non-sense and it shows that religions don't mean anything in the game, in terms of history or rationale of why they exist. Secondly, it shows that Civ4 needs new religions for this type of thing to happen. What about Zoroastrianism, which has a large following? What about Greek/Roman Mythology, which was once powerful and fits under polytheism? What about the pagan beliefs of northern European barbarians? Shinto belief is and was strong in Japan. I could go on for a while (I took a few too many theology classes in college).

The expansion does play pretty soundly, with only a few minor issues. The largest issue for me, besides the religion problem, is that the game's new material manifests late in the game, and I have not yet reached that far on my first couple of BtS games. I had to quit one when I could have sworn the game sent swarms of barbarians against me, and none against the AI opponents (making me go from more powerful to almost dead in about 75 turns). I'm now playing a good game of one player and epic proportions.

The only new thing I've really dealt with is random events. You'll sometimes be told of a special problem or event, and you will either gain or lose things depending on the event. If you get the right event, you'll even have a choice of how to handle the issue. For example, you have a champion in the coliseum. Do you want to give him easy opponents to gain a little gold and some extra culture from the coliseum, or do you burn him out quickly, getting a lot of gold but no culture bonus?

I need more time to really test BtS...but I'd say it's worth the price of admission ($30) for me, so far...but that's mainly because I'm a Civ4 fanatic.

Time to celebrate my anniversary!


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