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Malik (11/26/07)

I think yesterday was the ideal football watching day.  At least it would have been if there wasn't some stupidity with how football was broadcast in the Seattle area.  Yes, we did get to see the Seahawks take on the Rams.  Yes, we got to watch the nail biting end to the Bears defeating the Broncos in overtime (in the same way they laid Seattle to rest in the playoffs last season).  However, the afternoon Fox broadcast was not seen.  This meant we could not, in Seattle, watch two divisional rivals (the Cards and the 49ers) take each other on in one hell of an overtime battle...a battle of epic proportions that would help to define what type of lead the Seahawks would have in the NFC West.

The Seahawks did play a very sloppy game.  I guess two things can be looked at in a brighter side.  On one hand, it was a victory...even if the game was won only because of a very bad snap on the final Rams possession of the game.  By all logic, the Rams should have scored on 4th and goal to end the game with a very slim 2 point victory.  However, the snap was bad (it looked like the Ram's backup QB tried to claim the ball a little too quickly and ended up grabbing air), and that turned the tide and sealed a 5 point victory of Seattle.

On the other hand, the game did go better for the Seahawks, I believe, because of Morris.  Alexander, once again, was out due to his injuries.  Meanwhile, Morris was able to make a few amazing runs and made plenty of small gains.  He was far above his 1st string competition in how he handled the ball.  I think, if the two were allowed to play the same game, that it would be seen that Alexander is on his way out.  He is in his 30's and is starting to break down.  A running back, afterall, does not exactly have much of a life after the big 3-0.  On the other hand, Morris is younger and plays a more tactical style of running.  Morris looks for openings and uses them while Alexander likes to use an arm to make an opening while a lead man keeps him open.  It's this style of force versus finesse that keeps Morris in a great position to take the number one spot on the Seattle rushing game.

In the end, the Seahawks did play a good half of football.  The Rams did as well.  Luckily, for me at least, the Rams did not return from the locker room at half time and were replaced by lazy and inefficient versions of themselves.  The Seahawks did the opposite and did not show their real powers until after the first half ended.

I do wish, however, that I could have watched the Cards/49ers game.  It ended in an amazing style that showed two teams that just would not give up.  It was tragic to watch the replays of the final attempts by Arizona.  They should have made their field goal in overtime to seal the deal.  Instead, an easy kick was lost to a delay of game penalty and the second attempt (which was still an easy attempt) went wide.  This left the 49ers to fail on another attempt...only to destroy Warner in the end zone to recover a fumble for a game winning touchdown in overtime.  One hell of a finish...that I was left "watching" by reading play by play on sports web sites.

On the other end of the geek spectrum, I've been playing a mix of Rock Band and Mass Effect.  I have played enough Rock Band to wish that I had a more constant "band" to play with.  Velveta and I are now trying our own career as a band.  I'm jamming on the strings (trying to work up to hard by taking hard on bass for most songs) and Velveta is filling in on the other ends with drums and vocals...not at the same time.

At least I have learned how to change band members in a group.  The important fact is that whoever logs in first to start a band cannot be replaced or eliminated.  They are the band "leader".  Everyone else can be "substituted" by being kicked out on the Band Roster menu.  Then when you have kicked out all people, you exit the band and reload it with only the leader being forced on the same instrument (I suggest the leader plays guitar since guitar and bass can be swapped on the fly).

The other thing I find annoying about RB so far is that my avatar is deemed "not classy" enough in name to be shown online.  I doubt I'll play online, since I find the fact that "Malik" is not appropriate for online to be weird.  The only reason for this that I can think of is racism due to the war on terror.  Malik is primarily, but not exclusively, a name found in people of Arab countries.  Well, it's not always the case, since other ethnicities do use this name...but the game must have been designed by Harmonix (or with EA's supervision) to not allow names that could be "mistaken" for "terrorist" names.  Which is just stupid.

At least RB is giving me some good fun.  It's great that one character can be made to be used in many different bands.  For example, my non-classy Malik is in about five bands or more right now.  That way I can use this character in multiple bands and buy the clothes to fit in with the theme of each group.  It may not give any real effect on the game play of the actual game, but it is well worth the fun factor of staying in character.  Afterall, we are playing the role of musicians and you might as well get into the feeling of all of that.

Now if only a patch would be sent out to allow Band World Tour mode to be played single player...which will never happen.

I know I didn't touch on Mass Effect today.  I have too much to get around to doing today, so I'll leave that for tomorrow.

Malik (your un-classy geek)

Malik (11/27/07)

Yesterday I got my replacement guitar for Rock Band.  I think something is really sad in the fact that Red Octane always made such strong peripherals for Harmonix games (GH1 and GH2), yet Harmonix made the great software to use these devices.  It's like a bad divorce, and we fans are stuck in the middle.

Let me backup a bit.  I got Rock Band last week (on launch day).  The same is true for three of my friends.  One person I have not really spoken to much, so I don't know his story or experience.  The other two all got the bundle and have seen their guitars go to crap by the end of Thursday.  Mine went bad after only about three hours of playing.  True, EA has a good RMA policy for these controllers, but it does not excuse the fact that these things break pretty quickly.  For those who have been fortunate enough to not have problems, or for those who don't know what happens, the down strum (assuming a standard right handed usage) stops working correctly.  Mine started with the down strum double strumming, but it later turned into it never working unless I smashed down on the damned thing.

Also, for the blind fanboys, this does happen.  It may not happen for everyone, but it does happen a little too often.  When people claim blindly that the only issue is with people who worship GH claiming their guitars for RB fail are full of shit, it just makes RB fans look bad.  It's like when the 360 started to be shown to be unreliable in many cases.  I'm still on my original 360, from launch, but I am fine with admitting that my favorite system of this generation was not properly designed.  The same goes for the RB guitar.  I love the controller, and I would not give up RB for all the GH in the world.  However, I can see that the controller is garbage, despite feeling so nice.

Anyway, I just want to say that EA is good on the RMA for now.  If you give a credit card number, they will UPS a new controller to you with express shipping.  Then you send in the old controller in the same box you received, with pre-paid shipping.  Your card will only be charged if you fail to send back the old one within 28 days.  Not a bad deal in ensuring the fastest turn around possible.  I just fear that I may be doing this again.  At least RB has a 60 day warrantee and this will allow for a few more exchanges if I keep getting bum controllers.  Right now I'm trying to use the replacement guitar as much as possible to see if it's an improved version or just another waste of plastic and wires.  I suppose, at this juncture, that only time will tell.

I said yesterday that I was going to talk about Mass Effect today.  I'll only start to discuss it today.  I just have not played it as much as I'd like, since RB is claiming most of my free time.  However, I can say a few things in quick retrospect.

First off, ME does not give any tutorial phase to the game.  This means that you may start the game not understanding a damned thing.  You get no review of how to fully utilize teammates, no full disclosure on assigning tasks to utilize tactics, and no real understanding of the slightly confused menu screens.  In fact, the menus are confusing as hell when you start and are still pretty annoying and less than fully fleshed out when you know the game.

Most of all, the game throws you into it's world with little explanation.  You will not understand the plot when you start.  This is a shame since the opening is really amazing, but you will not know this until after the fact.  A little slower and more explained of introduction to the world of ME would be a great benefit to new players.  Afterall, this is not KOTOR, so this is not a world that you will have already received any training in it's mythos or culture.  ME is a whole new setting and a lack of explanation into what you're doing and why you're there is a bad way to start the adventure.  At least you are given the Codex (an in game encyclopedia) which gets you going once you know how to use it.  Plus, all entries in the primary part (the important world related part) are voiced, so you can even skip reading and let laziness take control.

As for the game itself...well, just like the world, it starts fast and furious.  I hated the combat system when I started the game.  Is it because the system is bad?  No.  It's actually the best system I could think of for the jab at hand.  You have a lot of control and a lot of freedom in how you can play out situations presented to you, the player.  However, you start the game in a combat zone with no understanding of what you are doing and a lot of potential for death.  I still don't know what happens, after about 8 hours of plying, if a party member dies (not counting if I use a special ability to revive people found a few hours into the game).  I simply have not been given a lesson into this information.  Why?  I guess Bioware didn't want players to feel like their hands were being held.  It doesn't make things easier on the player, but I suppose it could be seen as a sign that Bioware is respecting the intelligent of their customers.

The only solid complaint I have after this much time to get used to the game is that the Mako (you battle tank you use in many missions) handles like ass.  Actually, it handles like a shopping cart made of ass.  It is hard to control, poor to maneuver, and the weapons seem unreliable, at best.  Throw in a poor level of shields and I can say that I do dread each and ever vehicle based mission.  Plus, I have a party of two other people at any why do I have to gun and drive?  Why can't I get a tech expert (almost always found in my party, and my protagonist is not a tech friendly sort of person) drive and/or shoot while I handle the other side of the controls.  It is not fun trying to aim carefully while also driving and using rocket boosters to avoid incoming fire.  I have enough on my hands just trying to control this thing without worrying about being shot and still returning fire.  Most of all, the Mako is steered partially with camera sensitive directional controls.  What does this mean?  It means that if I aim at something, my movement controls are now all screwed up.  Why can't I always treat up as forward and call left a left turn?  It would be more intuitive.  It would also make this thing easier to use when the shit hits the fan and you need to shoot and drive at the same time.  If you decide to target a foe that is not dead ahead or is moving, you can expect some trouble to follow.

At least when you're not in the damned Mako, you do have a solid game on your hands.  This is probably the best example I've seen of appealing, successfully, to two very different fan bases at once; fans of RPGs and fans of third person shooters.

I'll have more thoughts later this week.  For now, I need to play more to really have a good conclusion of what I'm playing.  Afterall, I don't want to rush any opinions without really being sure of them


Malik (11/28/07)

I finally took some time yesterday to enjoy Mass Effect.  I did play quite a bit last week (as in eight or so hours).   I not only took some time to look at some side missions (which make up the majority of the actual game), but I also started to tackle some of the primary missions of the game.  I still feel about the same as I did yesterday, but with a few minor changes in my opinions.

First of all, I still hate the Mako.  I hate it more now, in fact, than I did when I last posted.  Why?  I was driving on a long straight-ish path taking out enemies.  The first thing that reinforced my hatred of the Mako was when I could not drive in a straight line.  I could drive in a way which had the average driving route straight...however, each time I pressed up on the left analogue stick I found myself weaving with a slight stagger...a stagger that makes me thing that Shepherd may need a slight intervention.  That is to say that Shepherd may be hitting the booze a little hard.  Maybe being a Spectre (Mass Effect's equivalent of a cross between a double-0 agent and an NSA operative like in Splinter Cell) is too much pressure for the protagonist to take.  Or it could be that the Mako drives like a shopping cart (with that nice little wobble found on your average cart) and nothing will make it work correctly.  Either way, I either need a new mechanic on my team (I am using the alien with a mask who's all tech in her class) who can fix the obvious flat tire or I need to help Shepherd find a higher calling and to meet the other parts of the all so well known 12 steps to recovery.

My other issue with the Mako is that damage is subjective.  While a rocket will naturally deal some major damage, I have to wonder why a rocket will sometimes damage the shields a little, and another time it will leave the Mako in ruins...both from the same starting shield and damage positions.  How do I know so well that damage is not a constant set affair?  I blew up at one point in the Mako when a total of 4 rockets and 5 balls of energy slammed into me in a span of about 4 seconds.  When I reloaded, from a save only 30 seconds (and zero enemies) before that point, I took 6 rockets and 6 balls of energy in one quick burst of about 3 seconds (I thought I was going to blow up again since I was obviously doing worse).  Instead of blowing up, I remained alive and continued on to kill the enemies after taking another rocket or two in the process.  Why would I be counting how many hits killed me and how many I was taking?  Because I keep seeing this same damned effect.  I know the game may throw in some variables to the damage, but the Mako has so many variables as it is.  It really is not fun driving the equivalent of a tank made from one part shopping cart and one part Pinto.  Maybe if it was made from the durability of a shopping cart (since you never find one that is actually too beaten up to function in some capacity) and the maneuverability of a Pinto (not the best car, but it still handled better than a shopping cart) it might have been slightly fun.

When you throw in that you cannot aim worth shit if you're on an incline...actually, that's another major issue.  If you are on an incline that raises or lowers the Mako from front to back, then your aim will no longer matter.  The crosshairs will mean nothing and the actual victim of one of your large shots or the machine guns will instead be some innocent chunk of ground a mile away from the dude who's blasting you in the face.  I can understand a slight change in actual aim based on any alterations to your vehicles placement compared to flat terrain.  However, I would also expect a civilization that is advanced enough to build your ship (complete with cloaking effects) and personal shields into each piece of armor would be able to use some computer program to adjust your aim in comparison with the crosshairs you see and the actual facing of your weapons in such a big freakin' tank.

Anyway, it's not like it's all bad with Mass Effect.  For one thing, the last primary mission I did was some of the most fun I've had in a game that doesn't use guitar controllers in a long ass time.  I forget the name of the planet/mission (well, I don't forget as much as I rarely remember in the first place with so many alien sounding names), but it's one of the initial three missions you get after becoming a Spectre.  I think the planet is something like Feros...but it's the one with a research station and a colony being attacked by Geth raiders, and ultimately it involves a unique sentient plant.  The mission plays out a lot like a fast paced section of Resident Evil 4...with the main difference being that you don't have to worry about saving and finding the right ammo for the job (which was always my biggest problem with survival horror games).  You have the entire people freaking out issues, lots of zombie like enemies, and plenty of good old action while trying to uncover the true nature to a group of people acting funny and seeming to be under a form of mind control.  In fact, if more of these style of missions are in ME, I may have to start skipping some side quests and get more into the bulk of the game.

Anyway, to wrap things up and to get to a different subject, I played through every single player song on Rock Band yesterday.  This matters because I was using my replacement guitar controller that EA sent me when my first one went defective.  So far I have not seen an issue.  I hope this means that the replacements are designed without the downstrum flaw found in the initial batch.  Of course, only time will tell on this.  However, for the time being I feel safe with the controller.  Hopefully I won't have to deal with EA's replacement plan anymore...beyond running to the UPS store today to ship off my defective controller.

Also, having played through the solo career path fully, I have to say, at least on medium, Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld is one hell of a fun song to play.  Not as good as the Metallica pack, but still a good blast of pure enjoyment in the same way that Thunderhorse and Trogdor were on GH2.

Lastly, with Velveta finally tracking down a copy of the deluxe (2 CD) version of the Dethklok album, I hope we see some downloadable content for Metalocalypse for Rock Band sometime soon.  So much metal and so much fun.  The only hard part to imitate would be the vocals since a growl into the mic tends to make the game freak out (try it yourself and watch the tone arrow vanish)...but I still need some more Dethklok with my guitar controller.


Malik (11/30/07)

I have been getting in some more time with both of the games that have claimed all of my free time.  That is to say that I've been rocking out on Rock Band and being frustrated beyond belief with Mass Effect.

I don't want to make it sound like ME is a bad game, but it does have some problems.  I really think the game would have benefited from an additional month or two in development.  Sadly, I think the game was probably rushed to meet some publisher imposed deadline, since there is no way that Bioware would have been 100% happy with the game as it stands.  That is to say the control of the damned Mako tank and the AI issues.  For example, in the tank, you feel like you're driving the most wobbly and unresponsive shopping cart in the history of grocery stores.  Also, you're party has some issues (as well as some enemies) in knowing the right action for a situation.  The best example of the AI and team control issues that I've found is the Luna (Earth's moon) mission to unlock specialized classes for your protagonist.  In that mission, I was lucky if my party obeyed a single command on the d-pad to follow me or to move to a specified location.  Usually my group will wait outside the room I was trying to enter, despite what I told them to do, and meanwhile I was stuck, alone, fighting a swarm of robots armed with rockets.  It's a very hard mission as it stands, but it only gets worse when you have to fight it alone because your squad is stuck in some weird mindset that says that entering the combat with you is impossible.

I am enjoying ME, overall, but this AI issue is pretty damned sad.  Another example would be how some enemies will sit there as you pelt them with bullets.  It does not happen too often, but it seems to happen the most for me when facing boss type enemies.  They will literally sit there taking bullets (or shells from the Mako) while wondering, apparently, wondering where the damage is coming from...or maybe being numb to the pain and accepting the fact that their demise will come no matter what so it's not worth fighting to survive.  No matter what spin you want to give this behavior, it's pretty bad when a boss, who is supposed to be superior to it's followers in combat, just sits there and takes some damage.  A few examples of how I've seen this is with the Alpha <something> (the monster that allows you to get food) on Feros, a Geth Dropship in one of the missions to take out a Geth Outpost, and one Krogan Warmaster who charged at me and then froze right before he would have torn me limb from limb.

At least the other end of ME is fun.  That is to say that the dialogue and exploration of the back story of the game is great fun.  Also any mission that requires only a few small amounts of tactical combat (combat in which enemies fight from cover for their survival and don't just try to commit suicide) and plenty of dialogue options is great fun.  Especially these types of missions that could offer some diverse alternative endings based on going paragon (good) or renegade (not so good).  Bioware has always had a good knack for making fun choices in dialogue scenes in their games.   Not too mention, despite it being an overly simple practice, the good versus evil aspects of their games are always good to entertain me.  Now if only the combat was slightly improved...

As for RB, I'm now playing mainly on hard.  My brother and I have our band (Full Metal brother is an unusual person who likes making unique names) on the band world tour mode.  We were getting ready for the Hall of Fame gig when we decided to quit on medium.  We just had enough of not earning any more fans and we didn't like to stop with so many venues and cities locked.  So, we just went hard and never looked back...except on the random sets and a few special songs.  Mainly on the random song sets since the game loved to give us Say It Aint So on medium (way too easy) and Ride the Lightning on hard (way too hard for us).  It didn't matter how often we try the random sets, but the game always gives us a double dose of Metallica on hard, and that's just a hair beyond two people just working into the weird world of orange notes and a massive jump in total notes...especially on any guitar solos.

My only real issue right now with RB is the whole EA aspect.  I don't mean that they published the game (even though I do prefer to avoid that creativity deprived publisher), but rather their shoddy guitar controllers and how they treat their loyal customers.  My replacement guitar is still working perfectly (thankfully).  However, my friend Tangwich, who was the first one to show me how easy it was to order a replacement for a defective controller, is being screwed by EA.  He does not have another guitar controller for the 360 (he stuck with the PS2 for all of the Guitar Hero games), and he has a very busted down strum on his controller.  So Tangwich had placed his order for a replacement guitar before I ever ordered mine.  He also went with the express shipping option, like I did.  The one difference between Tangwich and I on this is how I got my replacement on Monday and he is still waiting for his.  Why?  Because EA apparently had a "glitch" in their system and lost his order.  So, while Tangwich is unable to play the guitar part of his game, that he did pay nearly $200 for (Washington has a high sales tax), EA has done nothing except put his through frustrating support phone calls and waste his time.  They could, at the very least, give him something for this hassle.  They could give him an extended warrantee to extend his coverage for an extra few months, some sort of gift certificate for any EA online purchase, or numerous other things.  Instead, they have a customer who is now thinking of buying the GH3 bundle, which would give support to their rivals at Activision, just because they are being so damned incompetent in this whole matter.  Plus, I'd imagine this would be a deterrent to people like Tangwich (if the defective issue wasn't enough of one) who may eventually want a second controller once the individual instruments go on sale next year from buying EA and maybe going with the highly superior GH3 wireless controller that also goes on sale early next year.

The best part is that I know a lot of people who have worked in customer support...including Tangwich.  If any of them acted towards a customer like he has been treated by EA support, they would have been fired without hesitation.  EA has been giving one hell of a run-around and has done almost anything in their power to overly complicate the matter (including refusing to let the customer talk to a supervisor) without offering anything to compensate for how the game is effectively a two player game while he awaits a solution to the guitar issue.


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