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Malik (8/6/07)

Today I will aim to be a bit more on the serious side of things. Why? Well, the two things I have to talk about are of the serious side of human nature (money and bigotry). It only makes sense to lump them together, instead of making a few off kilter posts in the near future that may involve silly or geeky things and then to throw in a less excitable type of subject.

First off, I, for once, can agree with some game industry analysts. When I said Take Two and Rockstar were in for some trouble due to the delay of GTA4, I finally see analysts agreeing with my beliefs and having all the right reasons.

Take Two has had a lot of problems in the recent couple of years. It all started before the Hot Coffee problems of GTA:SA, but that was the problem that brought it to the attention of the game player, instead of to the stock holder. That's when news started to really pour in of the vulnerability of Take Two's stock and how the founder was going through some issues of illegal stock practices. It was also when Take Two's stock, which was pretty healthy, started it's major nose dive. True, losing the NFL license, and eventually seeing 2K Games being forced back from covering all sports was a major loss. However, it was Hot Coffee that really showed us how weak Take Two could be, despite having one of the most impressive game franchise publication lists of all time (GTA, The Elder Scrolls, 2K Sports, Civilization).

If the delay in GTA4 is from the PS3 version of the game, then I have some advice; forget the co-release on 360 and PS3 being at the same time. Get what you can out to the public, and as soon as possible.

It was only three weeks ago that Take Two assured us that GTA4 would not be delayed. It is now only ten weeks before the scheduled release, and this crap now comes out. The shareholders were led to believe that the holy grail of games was still on schedule, the geeks were also assured of this. If Take Two wants to avoid more bad press (not a good thing for them right now) and more potential SEC investigations, then GTA4 better find it's way out for some system on time (now, it'd officially be ahead of schedule). I know I am, as a gamer, sick of Take Two f#@$ing up anything they have that's of quality. As a past investor, I got sick of their corporate bullshit about one day before I dumped my stock in frustration. Take Two, fix the problem or it's going to only get worse before it...well...before Take Two is sold to a company like Ubi Soft or EA when it cannot recover.

The other bit of serious stuff on my mind is that I watched 300 (finally...?) this last weekend. As a movie, and if the countries and settings were all entirely fictional, I would have been entertained. Amazed? No. Entertained and riding a cheap adrenaline rush? Yes.

I should add that I'm an amateur historian. I never cared for history class in school (I attribute this to teachers who had lost their passion for their jobs, and that history does not make for a strong career), but I am an avid enthusiast for history.

However, 300 is based entirely on a real conflict and dealt with a few very real groups of people. The Spartans were shown in a fairly realistic, for a comic, manner. They were brave, and they were great warriors. The Greek Phalanx maneuver they used was a very real and very potent battle strategy. To bunch the enemy, that far out numbered them, into a narrow area (forcing battle on the Spartan's terms) was brilliant. They were great warriors in a battle on their home turf, and thus on their terms.

I know less about the Arcadians. However, they were shown in what seems to be a fairly realistic way. They probably didn't have a professional military, but they instead would have probably used a volunteer army made of the people who were strong and able in their daily lives. So, I can see that their actions in 300 were probably, at least to a point, quite believable.

My problem comes down to the portrayal of the Persians. True, the modern Persians (Iran) do a lot of things to annoy the world. Especially they do things that annoy the Western world. I don't believe that a religious fundamentalist/theocratic society would ever be a better option than a (even a small) separation of church and politics.

Of course the US did not help things when America really messed up the natural development of the Middle East in the middle of the 1900's. The US caused Saddam Hussein to come into power (not Persian, but still in the neighborhood). The US trained Bin Laden (another neighbor of Persia). First, however, the US took out Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, indirectly. America had stepped in to try to turn the Shah into our own puppet by forcing Westernization of Iran and by coercing a recognition of Israel, which...well...that's a subject for another time (and not on this web site). Might it be said, however, that the Persian monarchy has existed for 2500 continuous years before America had to try to stretch it's influence beyond it's area of the world.

However, back to 300, Persia was an amazing civilization in the time of ancient Greece. Before Greek unification and the days of Alexander The Great, Persia was already a booming and amazing culture. Cyrus, two generations before the Spartan conflict (Xerxes would be Cyrus's grandson), had unified Persia under one rule. He brought some of the first signs of democracy and human rights to the world (before the Greeks), as recognized by Xenophon in the Cyropaedia.

I personally find it amazingly insulting that instead of focusing on one hell of an epic battle, the entire vision of 300 (I never did ready the graphic novel) was put into two very weird terms. First, the Spartans are amazing and heroic. That does fit any culture of warriors that would see it's king send himself and a small band of kinsmen to a guaranteed death. There was no winning, only delaying the enemy and hoping for a greater realization of impeding conquest of their homes for his fellow Greeks.

The vision of Persia, however, almost sickens me. It shows the modern views of Persia (Iran), in that they were a nation entirely of hatred and greed, and that they are nothing more than "freaks" and conceited egotists in a world of brave and hardy real men (the Greeks). Why not show more Greeks as freaks, and not just the one that betrays Leonidas (king of the Spartans)?

Afterall, the Persians had been united for two whole generations before Xerxes, but Greece was still a bunch of squabling and warring city states that could not quite find a reason for a common and shared existence with their own neighbors. Greece was not some some brilliant land with a little political bickering, it was more of a constant civil war of bickering in all parts of life. Wouldn't this stand to show the Greeks as more of the freaks and immature of sides?

Instead, we see the Persians for many things that they were not. Egotistical...there might have been some vanity, since they were the largest civilization of the world in Xerxes's day (especially after having gained total control of Egypt and Babylon under his rule). However, the idea of massive piercings and the metal everywhere to adorn their bodies as if they were freakish insane narcissists. The title Xerxes used (King of Kings) is literally the translation of the Shah term used by Persians. This was mainly to signify how Persia was united by Xerxes grandfather, when it was previously two split nations. As more kingdoms were brought in, it became more clear that (especially since Cyrus allowed for other countries to keep their traditions, despite being formally part of the Persian empire) other kings in Persian lands still had a king above them; the King of Kings (Shah).

I can see that I'm rambling and getting too far away from the movie 300, and getting too caught up in the history of the ancient Middle East. So, I'll leave this subject behind, and wrap up this post. I'll just say that 300 did entertain me...however, I still fully understand why this movie would be banned in Iran. To Americans, it would be like a movie showing Thomas Jefferson (I'd say Washington, but then 300 would have had to dealt with Cyrus, the father of Persia) as some insane dictator who cared for nothing but power and servitude of his freak legions...except America doesn't have 2500+ years of history and the knowledge that they were among the first currently existing (and longest lasting) cultures of the world.

Give me a movie with awesome battles, a cool dose of strategy, and some great comic styled art direction...but leave the bigotry out of the script.


Malik (8/7/07)

Here comes another day of misery for me (burn wounds to ones face are not a great way to have a good time...unless you're into that...then...umm...good for you...?).

Last night I went to see a sneak preview of Rush Hour 3. Key word being "went" and not "attended". I always love the obsession of people over the idea of something free, and I love the way that things are usually dealt with for free things.

First off, I refuse to stand in line, anymore, for a movie for longer than 30 minutes (as in arriving 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled start time). In the past, I have stood in longer lines for a longer amount of time. The last time I did it was for Return of the King. I only did so because it was opening night, so one of my friends refused to not show up about an hour early. Since this friend was mainly a friend of Velveeta's and from out of town, she wanted to go early so she could hang out with her friend. So, I count that as the last time I stood in a long line, way early, for a movie. Before that, the last time I did so was for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

That's the reason I don't stand in these early long lines for movies. RotK was not a bad movie, but it was not something I'd rank up there as worthy of devouring my time. Phantom Menace, on the other hand, was horrible. I wasted countless hours in prep time for that movie, and the payoff've all seen The Phantom Mess before and, unless you're a blind fanboy of George Lucas, you should know how badly that turned out. Return on my time investment? Less than nothing.

So, last night I got to the line for Rush Hour 3 about 40 minutes early. I was there that early because the movie required me to drive through some of the worst rush hour traffic in the region, and thus I got there a little early when it turned out that the traffic was not as bad as it could have been.

When I got there, 40 minutes early, the line was massive. I knew from the first second I saw the line that I had a great chance of being either one of the last to get in, or one of the first to be turned away. After we got in line, the line still continued to swell and grow. It took about 30 more minutes before the line actually started to move forward.

We were around the first 25 or so people to be turned away. About 50-100 more people behind us were turned away, as well. For some great reason, which my mind must never be able to grasp (for seeing this type of logic would be too much for me to handle...or it would just make me that much stupider if I accepted it as logical), New Line Cinema (the studio behind Rush Hour 3 and the promotion) decided to overbook the sneak preview by about 100-150 people. When you're dealing with the theater we were in line at, this is not just a minor miscalculation. This is overbooking something by about 25% or more.

I can see overbooking by a few people, since people will sometimes have to drop a planned event due to whatever their life is up to. But overbooking by these levels just annoy me. It's a waste of time for anyone who doesn't get in, but is expected to be in line and wait patiently to be notified (about 5 minutes before the show starts) that they must leave. At least count the people in line as they wait so that after a certain point, people will know if they can do more important shit than standing in a line with no return on their time sink.

In the end, the New Line Cinema representative gave us an offer of the next time they offer a sneak preview that they would mail a free voucher to all people in line. That wouldn't be so bad, except for how NLC is great about bringing the most worthless movies into theaters. If you're into the generic American action flick, then this is like a dream come true. If you like quality films (and only want to see Rush Hour movies because Chan and Tucker work great off each other), then this is an insult. At the very least, it seems more appropriate to offer something better...maybe free passes to see Rush Hour 3, when it comes out (in only another half week from last night). Maybe even limit the passes to AMC theaters, since that was the place hosting the sneak preview. That way, the theater is likely to reap the benefits of increased revenue (they would obviously be reimbursed, they got paid by New Line for the theater usage last night, and they can see $0.25 of popcorn for $5 to all those who have to come back to an AMC theater to redeem their vouchers), the fans get what they expected to receive, and New Line still gets some good press and inflated numbers upon release of the film. Everyone wins.

Anyway, in the end, I came out a bit too far behind last night for me to walk away happy. I spent $4 on parking, wasted 40 minutes in line, spent about an hour and a half driving, and wasted what must amount to far too many dollars worth of gas. Yippee...?

I'll probably see the movie this weekend, anyway. However, I don't see myself using the free voucher to the next sneak preview for New Line. Whatever the movie is, it is bound to not be one for me (I really don't care for the standard issue generic New Line action flick), and I don't want another instance of waiting 30 minutes in line to be turned away. Who the f#@$ even shows up as early as the first people in line must have (my guess, upwards of three hours)? For a free movie? My hourly rate in the working world is close to $20 per hour, and I sure as hell am not killing multiple hours for a movie worth $8.50 at matinee.

At least when I got home, I got to see that one of my mighty towers of CDs (in a rack) decided to do a face plant. What a fan-f#$%in-tastic night.


Malik (8/8/07)

My family has a long history with faulty computer components. It dates back a long ways. I inherited this curse way back in 1998. That's when I bought a P3 to use for college (read: Quake 2, Baldur's Gate, Unreal, and Diablo). It took my roommate and I about five minutes of Unreal to see that things were not good with my PC (five minutes of graphic intensive game led to 2 minutes of waiting as the PC rebooted). This continued for myself until my latest computer. I've had a few stretches of parts that would work well for me for a year or so, but eventually they would die and fail.

My parents had this problem as well. So, my mom finally got a fairly modern PC yesterday. It's not like it's built for gaming (at least beyond the casual games she loves to play), but it's a good PC. In fact, with a new stick or two of memory and a new video card, it would be able to handle games like Oblivion (probably not with maximum settings, but still high settings at least).

The thing I do not understand about this PC is how it's built and it's default settings. EMachines is typically a computer more for those who just want an easy machine to set up and run out of the box. They don't exactly give the same level of customization as Dell, and they definitely don't require the hassle that gives the customization levels of a home built machine. EMachines is for the casual PC user who wants to get running with no hassle (and that's great for people who want some internet and some casual games).

What makes no sense is why a computer aimed primarily for computer novices (at least in terms of self performed upgrading) would come with these three parts; 512MB of DDR2, Intel GMA 950 integrated video chipset, and Windows Vista. I seriously wonder what EMachines is thinking with this setup.

Shortly after my mom started using her computer, she came to a realization; the computer was slow. Very slow. It has a 3.2Ghz P4, which shouldn't be an issue. However, Vista is needing more memory than her computer allows. It may have 512MB, but when you include an integrated GPU that uses shared system memory, and then sell it to PC novices, you're going to have a very confused and unhappy customer. In reality, this PC is running around 480MB of system RAM, and the video card is running with about 36MB of memory, out of the box. Neither of these fly with Vista, and the system memory isn't even at the minimum for Vista.

Luckily, I know a bit about what I'm doing. I was able to quickly steer my mom towards the realization that she needs more RAM. However, I can't help but wonder how many people would buy this same PC and not have any idea that it comes crippled out of the box. I also can't help but wonder why Vista would be included on this PC when XP would take this configuration, out of the box, and run like the mother f#@$in' wind. It's like EMachines didn't quite think about who they are reaching for, and this is the best way to lose some repeat customers (why buy another slow crippled machine?).

Anyway, for the price, however, I like what this does offer. In the end, this PC cost my parents $299.99 (at Fry's, as of yesterday). Not a bad rig if you want a quick started kit for LAN parties. You only have to toss in a GB of DDR2 (~$50-$60) and a cheap 7600 GT (~$120) or any other video card (and if you're like me, then you have this stuff lying around anyway). Then you could have something suitable for a LAN party...assuming you don't want to reach for the metaphorical stars and play anything ultra modern.

On a different note, I finished watching the first season of Jericho. I know not many people saw this show...or at least not enough. Afterall, the show was canceled until the small amount of fans went ape shit on CBS's programming lineup people, demanding more episodes and sending in a few tons of nuts (literally...never underestimate a rabid fanbase). I'm glad the show will return, since I didn't start to watch it until a week and a half ago. However, I'm afraid that the future may be a little less than certain.

Jericho was given an extra lease on life, but they can lose that quickly if they fail to turn out greater numbers. The problem with this type of show (as well as Heroes and Lost) is that it's very continuous. This is not uncommon in many countries, but the US is fairly new to the successful serial that keeps moving forward. It's a great way to form a show, but it's also a bad way to bring in new fans. Afterall, unless you rent or buy the DVDs, you cannot jump into the middle of one of these shows without being completely lost.

I hope people buy the inevitable DVDs of the first season and get into this show. It is, without a doubt, my favorite show currently running (a very close second would be Heroes). It takes a lot of the things that Heroes and Lost have done (the mysteries and questions that face the viewer...unlike Lost, however, Jericho solves them with time), but keeps things a bit more tied into reality. No smoke-monster and no super powers. Just a post apocalyptic US farm town struggling to survive in a new and bleak world.

Plus, my favorite part of Jericho is that you are not going to know too well of what comes next. By that, I mean people die. Not just the pointless, yet awesome characters (like in Lost...too bad Mr. Eko had to go), and not like the lack of death for regulars in Heroes (I bet all of the past characters survived the finale...or maybe one died at the most). No...Jericho kills off major and minor characters alike. No spoilers, but the season finale proves just how much of balls the writers have.

Anyway, I just want people to watch Jericho when the new season rolls around. It's probably about the best right now that TV has to offer. Usually, that would not be saying much. For once, it is saying a lot.


Malik (8/9/07)

The Elite 360 was the one system that Microsoft offered that had the parts people wanted the most. Actually, that should say "part"...singular. The larger hard drive was nice, but it isn't really needed. Afterall, how long are you going to keep the most space consuming of items (demos) on your system? I know that the Virtua Tennis demo was nice, but only for a minute. The same goes for the rest of the downloadable items. The largest items, unless you're ignorant enough to "buy" the downloadable movies like a madman, are going to be demos and game trailers...both of which don't need to remain on the system for long.

When you add in the feature found on basically all of the current systems of being able to download old items again, for free (if they weren't already free), if you already downloaded them once, then HDD space is nothing more than a luxury.

That leaves only on feature on the Elite that makes it appealing...unless you enjoy the luxury of an overly large HDD. That's the HDMI port. Afterall, the Core and Premium both only can put out HD quality signals in analogue (via component or VGA cables). HDMI on the Elite gave digital HD to the 360 fans of the world.

At least that was the case. Now the Premium/Pro comes with HDMI ports. The Core is still lacking the port, for now, but the Premium (where the hell did "pro" start entering the picture?) and Elite are both riding the digital train.

This doesn't mean much to most people, however, since HD is still less common in the American market than SD and ED TVs. However, it's nice to have this feature ready when 2009 rolls in. The only thought I have to build on this, however, is that this is a nice slap in the face for those of us who bought the original Premium...the one lacking HDMI. I doubt I'd use HDMI, since my primary gaming TV only has DVI (and I have too many damned converter plugs for cables as it is) and it's being owned by my desktop right now. However, I would still like to feature.

I think, in order to best not offend loyal customers, new features should only be limited to new versions of a console. I mean versions as in the change from the Core to Premium to Elite...not the change of something like 90nm chips to 65nm chips. I mean the changes that are apparent enough to make a different price point. For the Premium to get both HDMI and a price drop at the same time is an insult to those who bought the Premium in the past. I don't mind the price drop, as the system is now nearly two years into it's life span, but the addition of new usable hardware with a price drop is not very cool.

What ever happened to the good old days of consoles.  There might be a cosmetic change (NES, SNES, Playstation, PS2, GBA, DS), but the underlying abilities of the system were untouched.  New chips, and maybe a new look...but the same games, storage, inputs, and outputs.  Now that's how to modernize an older system.

Anyway, I think I'm going to wrap this up about now. I have a lot to do, and I have a Microsoft play test this evening (they may screw me with HDMI and things like that, but at least I can score some free software from them to even the score). Since I also spent most of last night out on the town (nothing like spending under $10 on all you can eat seafood from a quality restaurant with 4 pints of quality beer...hehehe), I hope there's more news for me to bitch about tomorrow. Otherwise, the next post may be pretty empty.


Malik (8/10/07)

The summer is ending soon. In real life, summer has about a month and a half left to it, which means things are only half done. However, the gaming drought that comes with each summer is going to end soon. On the Wii, we already knew this because of Metroid Prime 3. On the 360, we have Halo 3 coming soon.

For me, both of these games don't mean all that much. Metroid Prime was not my favorite game, but it was fun...for a while. It felt like a movie that was really good until the director forgot to yell "cut!" and end it already. Then we had the bullshit of finding the 12 artifacts and retracing all of our past moves, but with a new goal. I don't go for that type of shit. It's a disrespectful act towards the gamers who were being so loyal to the franchise. You didn't find it with previous Metroid games, but we had to see it when Metroid made a risky leap to the first person terrain. However, the most obvious error on this game was changing up the weapons versus Super Metroid (or other previous entries) by not allowing the player to combine different weapons (like a long rang, waving, ice beam). The weapons became items to solve puzzles rather than tools to f#@$ up some nasty alien scum.

MP2, however, was completely lost on me. The game added some of the worst ideas in Metroid history. Your normal weapons started to carry ammo requirements, which defeats the purpose of going ballistic of the hordes that wait in the shadows for Samus's death. However, while keeping all of the old MP1 weapons errors, MP2 kept adding to the problems. Most noticeable to this geek was how there were two (identical) worlds in front of you. Two worlds, even if they are similar, is not bad. Castlevania: SotN did the same thing, and it worked out nicely. However, SotN did not make one world toxic to enter and then required constant entry into that world. The dark world of MP2 was a chore in survival skills. I don't mean knowing how to survive, but rather the surrvival horror skills of ammo collection and hording as well as the new bitchy challenge of needing to activate beacons that would offer a small oasis of non-death in a world of pure pain.

MP3 could be a great game. I will probably eventually buy it. However, that will not happen until I'm bored with my current set of games. I just can't trust the series anymore. Even the recent 2D Metroids on Nintendo's portable systems have been less than stellar when compared to the perfection that was Super Metroid. I don't want to face any more disappointment by getting hyped for a franchise that now relies on gimmicks like poisoned atmospheres (lava and hot rooms are exceptions since they have a history in the series), limited ammo for normal weapons, and other such "features". In fact, the only thing that would get me really hyped about MP3 is if a few things are promised to be excluded from the game; poisoned worlds, bosses that require more strategy than good old ass kicking to defeat, limited ammo on weapons, back tracking to "solve ancient puzzles", weapons being unable to be combined, and the lack of true super missiles and super bombs (bring them back already).

Halo 3 falls into the same category as MP3. I like Halo. It was a fun game. It wasn't the richest of experiences, but it was fun...except those few times when you can't make sense of where to go and what to do (which was, thankfully rare). Halo 2 messed up the feeling for me. True, we could no do online games (but no least Halo 3 is supposed to have that), but the other changes were weak. Playing as someone other than Master Chef (or Chief for purists) was weak, the AI of your team sucked ("Hey, Master Chef got out of his Warthog...I'll drive it for him...and bring it to him...and...oh shit! I ran Master Chef the f#@$ over and he died!"), and the game didn't offer anything really "new". It was a repackage of Halo...but with a sword.

Halo 3 may eventually get my love, but only after I get the game for free (from a Microsoft play test group). Until then, I'll be fine just ignoring the hype and playing some games with substance.

What games? Well, I'll forever more be playing Civ4 (or at least until Civ5 appears in a few years). However, I'll also be picking up BioShock (probably for my bad ass PC instead of the 360), when it comes along August 21st. Finally BioShock has a street date that's promised (of course, we've seen how that doesn't mean anything with a lot of games lately...I'm looking at you, Rockstar) and has gone gold. Finally, there will be another first person game that I give a shit about. The last time this happened was March of 2006 when Oblivion came along.

On a different side of things, I went to a Microsoft plat test yesterday. Once again (just like the last time I participated), Microsoft overbooked the test group. So, the usual happened with three people being called to leave the room. Once again, my name came up. So, while I did not get to try out some game that I could not discuss before it was released, I did still get my free gratuity for showing up. At least Microsoft is good about that. Plus, I'm considered as not having done a play test for about a year now, since being turned away and getting your free software doesn't count, so I may go through this again soon. Not that I mind getting Vista for free (as well as a free soda), with the only "cost" being me driving out to Redmond and playing my DS as I wait to be dismissed.

Now I'm at a crossroads. On one hand, Vista sounds pretty weak. On the other hand, I have a DirectX 10 GPU (8800 GTS) and I don't trust the third party projects that are trying to bring DX10 to XP. Also, I know that eventually some games I want will be Vista only. So, I will probably install the software sometime soon. I just need to know a few things first. For one thing, I want to know if this update of my OS will keep all programs I've installed (especially Civ4 and it's expansions, and Oblivion with it's countless mods and tweaks). I also need to learn how to turn off the UAC bullshit ahead of time, so I never suffer from being asked if I'm sure I want something (I only do something if I'm sure, so I don't need f#@$ing Vista questioning my every move). I guess this is when I turn to one of my friends who was involved in the birth of Vista...afterall, if anyone should be able to help, it's the person who knows both sides of the problem.

On final note for today, since this post is starting to get a little big. I will be on vacation from my day job for the next 18 days. Some of that will not matter (I don't post on six of those days normally since I don't do weekends), but until the 30th, my posts may be less frequent. I'm not sure what I'm doing during this vacation, but I know that I-5 is being tortured in Seattle, so my work would be a 2+ hour commute (instead of the usual 25 minutes) if I didn't take some time off. So, I aim to post nearly every week day until the 30th, but if a post is missed, just assume good old Malik is drunk or hung-over.

+++Following was written after the initial post+++

I learned that I could supposedly seamlessly upgrade from XP to Vista (keeping all applications), but only if I either had a different version of XP (such as Home instead of Professional) or a different install key for Vista (instead of Premium).  For some lame reason, Microsoft gave away XP Pro then now Vista Premium for play tests.  These two versions of Windows cannot be upgraded from one to the other, unless you upgrade your product key to Ultimate for Vista.  I guess I'll be using a dual boot of XP and Vista so I can keep my mod filled Oblivion happy (on XP) and have DX10 for BioShock (on Vista).  Microsoft; making life complicated, one computer at a time.


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