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Malik (12/3/07)

I am now done with my time off from work. Of course, it wouldn't make my first day back at what I don't really want to do feel right without it being a day of horrible weather. So, as I write this out, I am soaked. It is raining...a lot. It is enough that my coat and whatever other precautions I use mean nothing more than how I have an additional five seconds of dry before I am soaked as if I went outside in a t-shirt and jeans. If only the Seahawks were playing at home tonight (instead of being in Philly yesterday) it would feel like the typical weather for a Seattle Monday Night Football game.

Speaking of which, the Seahawks did win yesterday. That surprised me since both teams played like they had forgotten how the game works. For one thing, as a reminder to both QBs, you only want to pass to people wearing the same uniform as yourself. You are not supposed to just give the ball away to the other team. Of course this worked more in Seattle's favor as Tatupu picked off three interceptions to easily make himself the MVP of yesterday's game.

Tatupu even had what could easily be called the most important play of the game. As the fourth quarter was winding down, Philly was down by four and coming close to a touchdown. It was looking like Philly would score and the Seahawks would be left with only a minute, or less, to pick up at least one final field goal to force overtime. Then, as the final Philly play unfolded, Tatupu looked almost like a deer in headlights...nicely deceptive of him. He was watching Feeley's eyes as he prepared to pass. Then, as the ball was fired off, Tatupu was ready to go and snatch the ball from mid-air. That was all it took for Seattle to be able to end the game and allow the clock to run out as Philly sat without any of the timeouts they used to get that far on their final drive.

The one thing about the game I really noticed was the obvious difference in playing styles of Alexander and Morris. Alexander had 65 yards while Morris almost tied with 64. The one big difference is that Alexander reached this on 20 carries (for a 3.3 average) with one touchdown. Morris had the same single touchdown (on a 45 yard run!) but only needed 5 carries (for a 12.8 yard per carry average). I also noticed that many Seattle drives faltered as Hasselbeck handed the ball to Alexander on successive plays, only to see him get shut down with no substantial gain.

I was a big fan of Alexander. He was once an amazing player. However, his time has passed. He is not in his prime, and thanks to injuries last season, and even this year, we don't even get to see him slowly decline to infamy. Instead, we get to watch as Alexander has gone downhill and has stumbled quicker than Richie Sexson did for the Mariners. He is done and unless something impossible happens, it is time for Morris to be given the 20 attempts and Alexander to be demoted to five or so carries a game. The times have officially changed.

Ok...I noticed one other thing; Brown is in a major funk. Of course anyone could notice this. He has missed 5 of his last 9 field goal attempts. The man who last year was responsible for keeping the team afloat in close games (with last second field goals to claim victory) is in a major problem. I don't know what the problem is, but it's sad to see it happening when he was once the most reliable part of the team. Maybe his time has passed as well...but I'm more willing to bet, considering he's a kicker, that it's some rattled nerves and he needs a bye week badly right now to find a way out of this.

On a different note, I finally did play through the Hall of Fame on Rock Band. Of course it was away from home, so I didn't have my gamer tag to log in with. However, I can happily say that the game does not require you to play on anything above medium to reach this point. This matters since it's not exactly easy (for me at least) to find someone able to rock out the drums on a 11 song set on anything above medium...yet. Next up, my "band" and I need to find a time (like a weekend) to plan for the endless set. When that happens, I will need to remember to bring my gamer tag with me.

On a final 360 note, the Winter Update is due to come along tomorrow. Most of the stuff being added doesn't mean shit to me. I don't care about parental controls (no kids and if I had them, I would be more inclined to watch them instead of letting a game system do the babysitting), turning the system into a personal networking device like another myspace, or any other gimmick they toss my way.

I do care about additional video codecs. That is my only place of interest on these updates. I have had the 360 for over two years and have yet to use the video playing abilities from any of my PCs (including the one running Windows MCE 2005) since I use AVI files almost exclusively. AVI, in the right codecs, are more reliable, easier to find, and have far better compression than the WMA crap that the 360 has been able to play. If this codec support is as good as it's been rumored to be (I don't have the links anymore, but I've been following this for a few days on various sites), I may finally have a use for the media playing support on the 360. I guess we'll all find out for sure tomorrow.


Malik (12/4/07)

I've been playing some more Mass Effect lately, but I'm starting to see the game more and more as one of my friend's nick named it...Mass Repetition. The game really seems stuck on using the lowest amount of resources available for the longest game possible.

For example, if you enter a ruin or a cave, it will look a certain way. Maybe the boxes, crates, rocks, and other forms of cover and item to scavenge will be in different places, but the actual blue print for the area will always be the same. If you enter an outpost or lab or whatever other man made structure...well, there will usually be one of two different layouts, but with a few additional rooms sealed off or some crates in different locations. I could literally draw out every blue print in the game, for secondary missions at least, without referring back to the game or any guides. The game really does lack variety in this regard.

The same is true for planets that you can explore. Any non-essential planet is a big open area that is square in shape, it will contain at least one resource (like lithium) to lay a claim to, a few anomalies (usually a crashed probe that, for some stupid reason, contains weapons), and some sort of generic ruin or outpost (see above) may even get three outposts on some planets/moons (but all three use the same blue print).

Each outpost or ruin will include some random weapons and maybe some armor, as well as some upgrades to your equipment, that are all scaled to your level. You may even find a thrasher maw (giant sand worm) or two that will screw you over with an insta-kill (if they touch you, or appear under you, you will be killed instantly).

That's it. That is the secondary missions for the game, in a nut shell. The only thing I didn't mention is that 95% require constant fighting, and only 5% require any dialogue or strategy (beyond combat strategy). The game is really that devoid of least on secondary objectives.

The primary objectives do require you to explore unique lands and explore unique cities, as well as interact with unique people. However, if my playing is any indication, I think the main game (primary missions) only make up about 15-20% of the total game's content. That is to say that for a game that took so long to develop, Bioware really didn't offer that much bang for your buck. The game really lacks the experience that one would expect from a game so highly hyped...and, like Fable, this was hyped as much by the developer as the media and gaming community. So, Bioware is responsible.

Also, like Fable, a sequel is in the works. Hopefully Bioware will draw from the awesome setting of the first ME, but actually offer content this time around. In fact, the more I play ME, the more I think of Fable. I don't feel like either game wasted my money, but I don't feel like either one was what they were really presented to be.

On a different, but equally bitchy, note...

It's around the holiday season, so it's natural that we're seeing shortages of what one may like to get as the ideal gift. In particular, the Wii, Rock Band, and anything else that is game friendly and hyped. That's a way. I do like to see games selling well since with each game sold I can hope for a little more tolerance from non-gamers for the gaming community.

However, I find it sad that the Wii is not living up to the demand that is there for such a open audience system. However, this is to be expected.

The Wii has been selling at a hotter rate than anyone could have imagined when the system was first announced. The console that was expected to come in a distant third this generation is devouring it's competition as fast as new units can be produced. It has been this way since the launch, last year. This is the first console that I can think of that has actually been hard to find sitting on a store shelf more than one year after it's release. It has just been selling too well.

That is why I'm really sick of the ignorant bullshit I read on message boards (yes, it's the same link as before...scroll to the comments section at the bottom of the link and read). A lot of people who prefer to keep a closed mind and act like spoiled children (usually in the name of buying gifts for their spoiled children) seem to have "figured out" why the Wii is not in large supply. What can we learn from their "logic"? Apparently, Nintendo is holding back supplies because this will create an artificial demand.

That is bullshit. That is not true and it's the same crap that people go off about every single year around the large gift giving times. No artificial demand is needed. The demand is there. For each post on that backwards forum (not the forum itself, but the people responding to it) claiming that Nintendo lost a sale due to "holding back" their supplies, it only shows why Nintendo is NOT creating a fake shortage. People want the Wii and will try anything to get one.

If Nintendo was creating a fake shortage, they, for one, would have ended it by now as they see Sony and Microsoft dance for joy as failed Wii purchases turn into PS3 and 360 purchases. Nintendo is losing out because of shortages. Secondly, if Nintendo was creating a fake shortage, then they would not have been able to remain the quickest selling console out there. The Wii is selling and is hitting giant numbers in record speeds.

Each year we hear this same bullshit that is having artificial shortages to drive up demand. I'm glad that Kim Peterson (the author of that blog) was smart enough to not fuel this stupidity. However, we will always hear it this time of year as the average consumer, who cannot see beyond their own "I want it NOW!" mentality, cannot find what they want and takes the blame on the faceless companies instead of accepting a simple truth; if you want it, odds are that others do too and no supply is ever unlimited. More than that, if you expect to buy your popular and hyped gift in that time between Thanksgiving and about the 23rd of December, and it's a popular gift...well, you shit out of luck...and pretty damned stupid.

The other side of this that I love to hear are those occasional comments that say how Nintendo (or whatever major, usually not American, company that makes the hot Christmas gift) needs to hold back supplies to other countries and only send units to the US. That just makes Americans look even worse when those words come out of their mouths..."we want it, so screw the rest of the world!"

It's that type of behavior that makes Americans look like bullies to the rest of the world. It's that level of selfish attitude that is not needed in a time when people are supposed to be thinking of peace, love, and all that other stuff (the immaterial stuff).

Anyway, I'm glad to see the Wii is breaking borders and bringing non-gamers to the game embracing community. It's a great thing. I wish Nintendo had a better chain of supplies, but I accept this issue existing for a very obvious reason; not even Nintendo could have predicted such a hit product after two generations of slumping sales. Too bad there are enough people out there trying to bring hate against a company for simply being too damned good at what they have been doing.


Malik (12/5/07)

NIMF has their yearly holiday report card up and running. Like always, this is a joke. Why? They focus on things that do not matter and things that should not be of importance.

For example, they like to list the ten worst offenders in the gaming market for being games that children should not be exposed to. Every year and every game that always makes this list is a M rated title. At the same time, they like to talk about random facts about how too many children play M rated games (that are designed for adults, as opposed to children).

Well, I'm sorry but this has no place in a "report card" that analyzes the game industry. This belongs more in a place that discusses how parents and retailers are failing...not the developers and publishers. If a child is playing M rated games, and this child is not ready for such content (all children mature at different rates, despite that magical 17+ age range put on M ratings), this is not the developer's fault anymore than the fact that they are trying to appeal to many different demographics.

To blame the industry for M rated titles is the same thing as blaming the movie studios for R rated movies. More people play games than just children, just like more people watch movies than just children. Plus, like with movies, not all games are rated as "mature" for simply including excessive blood and violence. Sometimes a subject cannot be handled in a touchy-feely way and this requires an M/R rating just to breach unpopular or brutal subjects.

Maybe it's more of a time when we should focus on why some kids get away with watching/playing content that should not be in their hands. I think this falls, with games, more to the fact that many people (and I'd wager that most, if not all, NIMF people are included in this grouping) don't accept, after all this time, that games are not just for children. It's an old style belief for many adults who were adults when games came along into the mainstream (1980's), that games cannot have a targeted audience beyond 17 year olds.

When it comes to games falling into a younger audience's hands than they should, it's time to ask where these kids are getting $60+ and who is helping them to get to a store to buy an inappropriate game.

Blame constantly gets put upon content makers, but these companies are mainly targeting a higher aged audience versus trying to corrupt the young. This is not smoking we're talking about where it's a one-size-hopefully-fits-all audience as the companies involved see it. This is more like any other business that makes popular media; there is an audience for everything and not all audiences overlap.

Anyway, I had to say that. On one hand, if any parent who vilifies games see this, I hope it helps them to open their horizons and maybe accept there could either be games for them (gaming is a good and fun thing for all ages...especially with thanks from Nintendo) or at least that there could be some games that are not for their children or younger people on their shopping lists. On the other hand, I don't have children as of my posting of this, however I can say that if/when I have some, I will keep in mind that being a parent is a full time gig. You cannot just put in a game or a DVD and let the TV be the parent. It may not sound glamorous or fun all the time, but when you have a child you need to be responsible for their entire youth...not just on whatever days fit your schedule.

Anyway, I'm still trying to finish Mass Effect. I had what was probably the worst boss fight yet (some spoilers ahead for people who have not beaten Peak 15)...and maybe the worst of the game according to many frustrated message board posts. I'm talking about when you face Benezia (Deanna Troi, as I call her). It's a battle of you facing, for the first part, an invincible boss with too powerful of biotics and a super pistol. The only thing you can do is take out her henchmen. This was not fun, especially when your party AI is so stupid as to stand in one place getting shot while shooting back at the invincible boss. It makes matters worse when your party will not follow proper commands to seek cover or to move to a specific rally point.

After one round of henchmen, you face another. In fact, you face the same thing but only worse. I was lucky enough to find a safe spot and be able to rest long enough for unity (life spell) to recharge a few times as Talli kept deciding than an engineer is strong enough to be a meat shield.

When you kill enough weaker opponents, you finally are forced into a conversation, on friendly terms, with Benezia...but are not allowed to heal before the battle resumes. I had no shields at this point and little life left. You also resume the battle facing straight at the boss. I was lucky enough to have Talli in a nice place to dive behind and use as a meat shield as I threw on a barrier, shield boost, and a med kit. Talli was not so lucky.

At least the battle ended quickly from there as Ashley commit a great suicide strike to knock Benezia down to almost nothing, leaving me with the need for one well placed shotgun blast to end the mess. It didn't help, however, that there were still three enemies left after the fight, and I was running out of options.

This probably would have been a lot more fun of a combat if my squad had any intelligence. With that not being the case, it was hell and I think I would have taken a long vacation from ME if I had died any point after the first two minutes in that horrible fight. Hopefully this is the last time I face such a poorly designed combat scenario for this poorly built system of AI.

Luckily, I am mostly done with the game. I got the completionist achievement (game is 75% done) last night on this mission. I figure I will try to keep sane as I finish the game, and then I will probably never touch ME again.

I do look forward to the next ME game, since Bioware is working on ME2 right now. However, I hope that they don't mess with their amazing world they have designed, but instead work on the faulty AI and the fact that most secondary missions focus on barren time consuming planets. Most of all, I hope they fix the sloppiness of the Mako control system. It's too fun of a world for me to give up on yet, but it's still not a good game system.

Also, we need more real cities to interact with people upon. As far as ME is presented, the universe/galaxy shown is simply a giant warzone with not real society outside of the Citadel. A little more interaction with you party would also be cool to see.

I still want to finish the main quest before passing too much judgment on the entire game, but as of now, I would only give this something around a 6.5 out of 10.


Malik (12/6/07)

I was amused yesterday. Greatly amused. Shortly after Velveta came home from work, she informed me of something her doctor told help with some arm related issues, and for general fitness purposes, her doctor recommended Rock Band. Specifically, the drumming on Rock Band. So, I guess this game, which is probably my ideal to call "game of the year", can now be known as "doctor recommended". Something about that just brings a smile to my face.

I was also amused by Mass Effect. Some spoilers may follow, since I'll be talking about Saren's base/lab on the planet that, I think, starts with a "V" (sorry, I can't keep these planets straight nor recall most of their names).

On one hand, it was the first mission of the game that really felt like a well paced action scenario. True, I think the game could use a bit more adventuring (I don't count random barren worlds as real adventuring) and dialogue related scenes, but some good run and gun is fun. The action was well timed, included a good setup for the levels (the blue print of the area was unique and very well laid out), a nice mix of Mako (for once it was a Mako area that was fun to play) and on foot action, and some nice choices that do actually effect the rest of the game.

I was actually having fun scouting out areas and planning my routes to infiltrate optional areas and then escape after taking facilities offline. Each area was open enough to make using cover important, but also small enough to not feel like you were always fighting in one giant empty room (unlike most bunkers and ships for the secondary missions). It was the first time that I honestly felt like Bioware put any attention into a level's design...and didn't just count on a random room generator to do all of their work.

It's a shame that this exciting of a level was not found until the main quest is half (or more) way completed. In fact, most of my complaints about this game would have been erased, except for the poor controls of the Mako and the AI issues, if Bioware had used the infiltration of Saren's lab as a template for the game and not as some unique exception.

Best of all was being able to actually decide the fate of several party members. This is where the spoilers are going to come about...consider that your warning.

First you have the forced choice of destroying the cure for the phage that has doomed Wrex's people to a slow extinction. However, the level is designed, plot-wise, to force all party members to be present at this "decision"...including Wrex. You then have a nicely heated debate with Wrex (including him pulling a gun on you) on why the phage must not be cured (hint: Saren is using the cure to breed a Krogan army). You choices can either lead to your party being the same afterwards, or you could have a firefight and one dead Krogan on your hands. For the record, I liked Wrex (not in my party...just for dialogue), so I used some charm to make him happy with his inevitable extinction.

It's funny, one mission earlier, I save the Rakhni (or is that "Rahkni"? Who cares...the big ass bugs of Peak 15) from extinction, and no one pulls a gun. This is despite how the Rakhni are seen as nothing more than a threat to all life in the universe. However, when I doom a race that includes one of the party members and is a productive (if not barbaric) race friendly to the council, no one, besides Wrex, even bats an eye. I think this is something that could have been further analyzed in the plot by Bioware...but that doesn't matter. Both are fun scenes to make choices upon.

Then you're soon in the run and gun section of the level. Like I said above, it's an amazing level that really does capture the best of Mass Effect. If any single level was to show off what Bioware was intending to design, I think this must have been the level. It looked good, it was well staged, and it included more options (Save the Salerian slaves? Trust the Aasari servant of Saren? Divert guards towards your Salarian friends or take them on yourself? Help the Salarian allies by sabotaging Saren's network and systems or avoid the additional chance for suicide?) than any other part of least so far.

It even ends with (mega-spoiler...fine I gave one more warning) a choice of sentencing one of two party members to a quick and fatal end. You have to decide if Kaiden or Ashley will get back up from your party when they both get rapped behind enemy fire. To complicate matters, this choice comes right when a nuke has been armed, so you only have the time to help one person or the other. On top of the choice, you even get a few chances to spice up the dialogue and gain some paragon or renegade points by praising your soon to be fallen comrade...or being an ice cold bastard about it.

For the record, Kaiden is weak in a fight (Ashley is a 100% soldier with all weapons and all armor) with no weapons specialization, and only light armor. Also, Kaiden dabbles in both biotics and technology...which I have the same level of biotics and I like bringing Talli (who is 100% technology, but with the ability to specialize in pistols). So, the choice came down to saving a jack of some trades and master of none, or to save the tank of the party. Since I can't take too many hits, as a vangard, and since my weapons are limited to shotguns, my choice was easy. However, when you consider what a depressive dick Kaiden is, it makes the decision go from easy to being fun when you can finally send him to his doom.

It was the type of "fun" as when you play through KOTOR (the original) as a dark side character. When you finally get to the last planet (forget it's name...been too long since I played) and your affiliation to light or dark plays out. In the dark side path, you not only get to do a bit of party killing, which is good fun, but you also get to be rid of Carth (who is the same damned character as Kaiden...annoying and a bit too goody-goody, even for a light/paragon player, to tolerate) in total dark side brutality.

Anyway, the spoilers are done. However, with playing out that planet and all the awesomeness that surrounded it, I have to say I'm re-energized towards ME. I think I finally have a bit of motivation to play through some more of the game. Hopefully it doesn't go downhill from here.


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