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Malik (8/21/07)

Once again, I skipped a Monday post.  It's not that I was being lazy as much as I was still on vacation.  I still am today, but I needed to spend some time doing the vacation thing that all home owners do; spend my precious days off working around the house to improve things.  On one hand, it's been a lot of "important" things, like replacing different plumbing parts and installing garbage disposals and all of that not-so-fun stuff.  On the other hand, I've been handling the number one and two problems of the modern geek; loose cables stretching across rooms and TVs that need to be mounted on the wall.

The cable problem is actually good fun to solve when you know what you're looking for.  Originally, I had loose cables running across rooms.  Then I got some gaff tape (think a cloth based duct tape looking thing that is looser on it's hold to carpets and walls).  The gaff tape was nice, but it still left too much of a visible mess in the end.  Also, the tape would lose it's hold eventually, since gaff tape is not meant to be a permanent solution.  So, I got some base board mountable plastic molding/conduit.  The stuff looks good and basically is installed along the base board of a room.  It looks like it belongs in the room and can be snapped open or closed.  When open, there are several channels to fill with cables, and when closed it looks like a nice solid unit.

Anyway, that has been my primary assignment with my work around the house.  The loose cables and the giant mess of black gaff tape was just getting on my nerves.  Some molding has done a great job of making my rec-room look like a nice geek paradise instead of a island in the great sea of wires.

On a different note (or the same note as most of last week), there is another new demo on Live that really makes me excited.  I would never have known about this demo if it wasn't for a friend asking me what I thought of it.  The demo, which you'd imagine I'd know about just by it existing, is the one for Beautiful Katamari.  Yes...Katamari on the 360, in a playable manner.

In a nut shell, the game seems to play exactly like the previous Katamari titles.  That is not a problem.  There are three franchises that I think should never undergo more than a minor graphical improvement in their new incarnations.  Those would be Katamari (all we need is more of the same), Guitar Hero (damn Neversoft for adding "power ups"), and Dragon Quest (at least Enix knew a good way to preserve a good franchise).

Katamari is continuing the pattern of just giving more of the same.  Unfortunately, the demo only includes one stage with a 3 minute timer.  There is no real goal of reaching a specific size for your Katamari, and you'll not get enough time to escape the starting area.  However, the controls definitely feel spot on and solid, just like the previous PS2 incarnations.  The game also uses a HD version of the same kooky and fun visuals that made up the previous games.  It's not obvious how the levels will work or how many there are, since you only get the 3 minute demo area.  It's also not clear of how large of a scale will be found since you will only really pick up items ranging from food (at your smallest size) to some animals (at your largest) on the demo.  I imagine it will be like the past Katamari titles, allowing you to start as small as a bug and growing large enough to swallow up clouds and land masses.  However, it's not clear if Namco-Bandai is going to take things bigger this time around or keep it all the same.  It's also not clear what types of unique stages will be included.  Katamari 2 (We Love Katamari) had the race track stage (awesome fun), the school house interior, and some other unique places.  Hopefully Beautiful Katamari will include even more of these unique stages and more scope to the large world related stages.

However, no matter what is included in the game, it's safe to say that it will be good fun.  I have yet to feel even the slightest twinge of regret over buying any Katamari title.  However, for those who remain uninitiated to the world of the "royal rainbow", I think it would have been better for Namco-Bandai to include a full stage in the demo.  That way a new Katamari player could see what the game is about.  True, it's about rolling up random shit into a big ball of silly chaos, but it's also about reaching specific sizes within the time limit.  A new player should be able to see what level of challenge and fun is involved in reaching a size goal.  A true representation of the game, by showing a full (yet small) level would only bring in more potential buyers than a demo level that lacks a real goal to it.

Anyway, I now have another game to toss on the pile of games I need to buy.  I now have Blue Dragon (next week), Stranglehold, Beautiful Katamari, Rock Band, Guitar Hero 3 (regrettably), Smash Brawl, Mario Galaxy, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and...well, the list is looking very large and almost endless.  For anyone who thought the fall releases of a couple years back were too much to handle, this year will show how much worse and more chaotic it can become.  Looks like money will not stay with my wallet for long through the end of the year.


Malik (8/22/07)

This morning I got a nice link from one of my friends.  Basically, the link breaks down the known confirmed songs for Rock Band and sorts them by what decade the songs came to the public.  None of it is overly new news, per say, but is more of a reminder, with some organization, of how freakin' sweet this game is going to be.  In fact, with how much is covered (sadly a couple of songs I could do without...but I'll put up with that over GH3 power ups) in Rock Band, I don't think it's fair to call it a "game".  This is no's going to be an event to rock the world.  An event that can happen any time I choose to pop in a disk and turn on my 360.  An event that can turn a regular get together into an epic event of complete awesomeness.

On another smaller bit of info, it's a bit interesting to see that the next-gen DVD wars are still being waged.  I figured that, by now, the wars would be more or less decided.  I mean the Blu-ray side of things has scored countless victories.  Blu-ray has a majority of the studios, it has a mass marketed player in the PS3, and the HD-DVD side has pulled out little to alter things.  True, HD-DVD does have the support of Warner (which is not saying much when the best they can pull off is The Matrix trilogy).  Also, HD-DVD has won over Wal-Mart, but that's not all that important (compared to what it would have meant a couple years back) since sales of movies are moving into more stores than just the department store model.  However, it looks like HD-DVD has no won over Paramount.  I wonder if the executives at Paramount have not been looking at the facts or what.  Considering how far Blu-ray has gone, it seems silly to chose HD-DVD as your exclusive content provider at this point in the game.  However, it does mean this war is far from ending, since it re-opens a can of worms that seemed to have fully closed.

I guess all I can really say about this is what I keep saying; to pick a side right now, as a consumer, there is nothing to gain.  In the end, half of the media on the market will be toasted and laid to waste, and the other half has potential to do the same.  Who knows...maybe by the time one clear winner emerges from this, another media format (like the rumored holographic media disks) could be ready for the market with a cheaper price and greater technological achievements.  If that happens, then the Blu-ray/HD-DVD winner won't even matter as they face a more rigorous level of competition.  However, until a clear winner emerges, any consumer who buys into this is either paying way too much for two sets of disks and two sets of players, or they will miss out on one set or another of movies.  It's a complete no win situation for active consumers and the only real "winners" for now are those who are sitting patiently on the fence for this all to end.

On a final mini-subject for the day, I found this interesting.  Basically, Julian Eggebrecht (president of Factor 5) has some choice words for the ESRB.  It's no surprise that someone would have a problem with the broken rating system.  It's not that it's broken because stuff gets through (like Hot Coffee or Oblivion nude models...which requires mods or hacks to even find).  It's more that the problem is due to the fact that we have a very lop-sided ratings system when you look around the world.  Both the world as in the countries of Earth, and the world as in the different media types around the geek world.

On one hand, a game being out right banned (like Manhunt 2 was in the UK) is a bad thing.  It shows that censorship is alive and well in the modern world.  Censorship only brings about one thing; loss of freedom.  If there is something one would find objectionable, the best option for these people would be to ignore it.  I find some things very objectionable, like the butchering of TV shows by adding live message boards to them (looking at you, G4 and you're destruction of Star Trek), but I know I have the power to walk away.  If I don't like something, I know damned well that it's my place to leave it alone, but it's not my place to force my views on others.  We don't have morality police in much of the free world, until games are considered, so inclusion of bannings to games is showing that morality police can be accepted by the populace.

On the other hand, in the US the ESRB gave Manhunt 2 and (after Hot Coffee) GTA:SA AO ratings.  That would not seem so bad if it wasn't for the fact that A Clockwork Orange and other violent and sexually explicit movies received the equivalent rating from the motion picture ratings board.  However, an incredibly violent or sexual movie will usually be given an R rating (not an NC-17).  In fact, some of the stuff that would earn a game an AO can be found on daytime network TV...a time that isn't supposed to allow graphic depictions of sex or violence.  I'm fine with daytime TV not being censored, but I don't like to see games getting a double standard.  Plus, despite the obvious over rating of games, it's still constantly attacked by activists and censorship fanatics as too weak.

The main problem I have with this situation can be summarized in one quote from that link;

Eggebrecht also says that he wants to see more sex in games. He told the audience, "Games do not have sex and there is something wrong with that because it says essentially that games are what children play."

That's my problem with much of how games are understood by non-gamers.  I personally don't do much reading (at least of books that cannot be classified as "classic literature"), but it doesn't mean that I will classify all books as a media for children (despite how more books are usually read by children than adults...due to scholastic requirements).  I'm just glad that companies like Nintendo and even Microsoft are helping to slowly change this perception with things like the Wii, DS, and Live Arcade.

I personally cannot wait to see what the government may be like, in regards to games, in another 20 years.  By then, more people who grew up playing video games may finally be in higher government positions, and more of the voters and activists may have been from the gaming generation.  Maybe then a new technology or media format could come along and be the new scapegoat for the problems of society, despite the obvious causes being elsewhere.


Malik (8/23/07)

I don't want to skip posting for a second day in a single week.  So, instead of no post at all, today will have a short post.  I'm still going through too much of the home owner's vacation (spend all your free time renovating, rebuilding, and removing various home components) to have time for actual fun.  For example, today is that ever popular combination; water and electricity.  Should be fun, as long as we remember to not do both at the same time.

I finally finished all puzzles on Picross DS.  I did have to cheat on one puzzle.  I would have beaten it eventually, but I...well, here's the deal;

On Picross DS, you have two main game modes; normal and free.  Normal will tell you if you make a mistake, but it will also add some "penalty" time to your game clock in return.  Free mode will not notify you if you've made any errors, and the timer will always be real time.  Each of these main modes have 10 main levels.  Each level has 15 individual puzzles.  When you start a mode, you only have access to 4 levels, but more will unlock as you complete puzzles.  Also, as you complete puzzles and move on to new levels, the grid size of the puzzles will increase (from 5x5 in the 15 puzzle easy mode to 20x25 on the highest levels of normal and free modes).  Once you've hit all 10 levels in a mode, you can unlock a "extra" level by completing all of the puzzles in a given mode (all 150) in under one hour each (penalty time will cause some problems here).

Well, I was at level 10 of free mode, and I had only one puzzle to go.  Unfortunately, I kept making dumb mistakes and was sick of dealing with restarting that puzzle.  I couldn't get anymore puzzles until I beat this one final puzzle (and 15 more awaited me on the extra level).  So, when I was about 95% done with that puzzle, I got impatient and looked up the solution so I could play something new.  That was it for cheating, but I feel like I had to unburden my conscience of that gaming sin.

Now I have no puzzles to play, and that's something a bit disturbing on it's own.  Why?  Nintendo offers the ability to download puzzle packs.  In Japan, the puzzle packs are plentiful and ready for download.  In the US, and last I heard Europe has the same problem (despite getting the game back in spring), Picross DS has no new "classic puzzle" downloads.  This wouldn't be too big of an issue if Picross came out only a week or so ago.  However, it's been around 4 weeks, and I think that should really be the time limit for downloadable content on games that are supposed to obtain regular downloadable content packs.  Also, it didn't take this long in Japan.  Most of all, it doesn't take much time and I imagine most Japanese puzzle packs could be directly copied to the European and American releases with no problems.  Since these are ready across the Pacific Ocean, maybe it's time for them to cross some oceans.

Anyway, now that I'm free of the Picross addiction for a few weeks (or until some packs are ready), I will probably move on to Civ4 (Beyond the Sword) for the next few days.  Then my RPG fix can finally be met via Blue Dragon.


Malik (8/24/07)

There will be a demo of Guitar Hero 3 with five songs on it.  It will be for the 360 version of the game, which only makes sense since the 360 has both the wonderful ability to push demos and the fact that the 360 guitar controller exists while the PS3 guitar controller is not really an option at this point (and from my understanding, the PS2 guitar works like ass on the PS3 due to the wired to wireless transition).  The demo will even include some awesome tastes of the real game by including some powerful songs, like Even Flow (original recording) and the original of Tenacious D's "The Rock".

On the bad side of this, the demo will first come along as an added bonus for people who buy the newest version of Tony Hawk.  Since Tony Hawk has been whored out like the cheapest slut in the red light district, I don't see myself going for the new Hawk game.  I can't even stomach dealing with any more Hawk since the game started it's downward spiral way back in the first half of the PS2 era. 

Luckily, two weeks later (around the middle to end of October), the demo will find it's way to the Live Marketplace.  That will be the time I'm looking forward to.  Since there is nothing Neversoft can do to get me to forgive them for the train wreck years of Tony Hawk, I'll just sit happily playing other games until the demo comes along...too bad it will only be one week before the actual game comes along.

On the other side of this rock game battle, Rock Band is looking better all the time.  Especially so since many of the awesome songs that will grace Guitar Hero 3 are also heading to Rock Band.  Originally, the two developers (Neversoft and Harmonix) looked like they were trying to one up each other.  However, as the music lists blend more and more together (Sabotage, Cherub Rock, etc), it is now looking more like Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3 are just trying to beat the other.  There is little room being left for true competition for our attention, but rather they want to destroy any options or choices by the buyer.

It once looked, to me, like I'd need Rock Band for the true four player action that only Rock Band could offer.  I would have still wanted GH3, but it would not be nearly as important as RB.  Now, as the track lists blend more and more together, the option of getting both is becoming less important to many people.  Why buy the same track list twice?  It's now becoming more of a question of if you like 4 players and the thought of drums and vocals, or do you prefer to pay less and walk away with a game that offers a familiar level of play...but with the backwards ideas of boss battles and power ups (in a music game).  I will probably still go ahead and get both games.  However, a good part of that thinking, for me, is that GH3 comes out before (one week before) Rock Band, so it will give me a quick fix for a week.  Also, there will be a little bit of difference in the track lists, and I think I'd be more likely to get Velveeta to play a game featuring Muse and The Killers than to get her to rock out with a more heavy based track list.

In the end, however, the week that spans from the end of October through the start of November will be one hell of a bad time for my bank account and one hell of a good time for my game loving brain.


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