BEA on Friday!

Don’t know if anyone else from the blogging community will be there but I’ll be attending Book Expo America at the Jacob Javits Center tomorrow.  It’s my first year going and I’m pretty excited.  Needless to say you probably won’t see another post until Monday(ish).

Gaming Bits and Weekend Recovery

You’d think that with a three day weekend here in the states that I would have got more reading done.  You’d be wrong.  I made the mistake of not properly planning what I want to read next which I means I have stupidly been splitting my time between about four different books.  The result being that I’ve made startlingly little progress in any of them.  Certain other distractions this weekend in the form of golf, grilled meats and Call of Duty 4 mean I made even less progress then I should have.  I’ll be hopefully buckle down and finally finish A Grey Moon Over China tonight.  It has been a slow read for that one, not a bad read mind, just slow and not the kind of pacing I’m used to, but more on that when I finally get a review up.

As mentioned I did purchase Call of Duty 4 only 2 years after its initial release.  I’ve only played the single player campaign so far but it has been enjoyable.  The game’s single player aim assist is a Godsend for the controller impaired.  It helps just enough to make me feel competent without feeling overpower.  Unfortunatley, I seriously doubt it works in multiplayer.  I find the sniper rifle implementation particularly smooth and the added ability to hold your breath and steady your aim is perhaps one of the simplest and most effective control tweaks I’ve seen; now if only I could stop moving my character when I press down on my left thumbstick.  The game is particularly good and capturing epic moments and creating tense adrennaline pumping moments.  Unfortunatley the game, while taking a fascinating multi-perspective narrative approach to tell what appears to be a fairly cohesive, and certainly engrossing, story, fails in getting you at all attached emotionally to any of your characters, or your computer controlled allies.  For me this haslead to a fairly detached gaming experience.

I’ve also picked up Left 4 Dead and have so far enjoyed my experience.  I’ve managed to make it through one of the “films” in the game Dead Air. I came close to completing another but me, and the rest of my group, were obliterated by a zombie horde mere feet from our escape boat.  I’ve been yet to convince any friends that Left 4 Dead is worth dropping $60 for (on the 360) and, truth be told, I can see there point.  Not that Left 4 Dead isn’t worth the money, but I can point to few games I’d really be willing to shell $60 for, especially since the PC version is $20 cheaper.  This is has left me playing the game with the “unwashed masses” on Xbox Live.  So far my first time was the best time, the straight run of Dead Air, but subsequent excursions have proved fun but less than stellar.  I was particularly disappointed that so few of the people I’ve played with were taking advantage of voice chat which in an almost purely co-op experience should be mandatory.  I’ve yet to try either Versus or Survival mode but if they’re even half as fun as the regular game they’ll still be a blast.

I’ve also been slowly working my way though the latest Prince of Persia game.  It has been a surprisingly pleasant experience so far, but one that feels perhaps a bit too easy.  On the one hand the simplicity of the controls lends a certain degree of fluidity to the game.  There is a collection element to the game and, oddly enough, that (rather than the story) has been my favorite element so far.  As you collect the “seeds of light” there are moments when you hit a rhythmn traversing the various levels that is particularly soothing.  There are some sticking point in the game, especially for an anti-platformer like me, but by and large Prince of Persia is kind of like a pleasant walk in the park; not terribly taxing but surprisingly refreshing.  Again, as pleasant as it is, there hasn’t been anything to really grab me.  At this point in the game the titular Prince is only a thief and I’m not even sure he is a prince at this point.   The game does require a fair bit of backtracking which I find a bit tedious.  I’m not sure if I’ll end up finishing it or sending it back to Gamefly for another game.

There are only two games on the near horizon that I’m really looking forward to: Prototype and Ghostbusters.  The Ghostbusters game is the next best thing to a new movie (which we are supposed to bet getting as well) and looks to capture the feel of films quite nicely.  I really don’t know what to expect out of Prototype but I do know that the videos of slaughter, carnage, and mayhem with weird genetic powers and strange biological enhancements tickles some sick fantasy in the dark recesses of my own mind.

Anyway, that’s about it.  Hopefully I’ll have a review for A Grey Moon Over China up sometime Wednesday.

Lovecraftian Props

that book
I discovered a new blog the other day, appropriately called Propnomicon.   I was actually trying to track down a Lovecraftesque short-film a co-worker had mentioned to me some time ago about an arctic expedition that slowly goes mad and, as the people slowly slip towards insanity, the film stock degrades as well until it essentially disintegrates completely.

Or something along those lines.

It was a conversation from years ago and every once and a while it pops up into my mind to take a look on the interwebs. Still haven’t found anything yet though. This time I was looking to see if any short film interpretations of “At the Mountains of Madness” were made; since that story was the genesis of the aforementioned ancient conversation. Anyhoo, Propnomicon is a really cool blog with some absolutely stunning work on it and you should definatley go check it out.

Linguistic Tomfoolery

I caught this on a forum and found it damned interesting:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. 

This was followed by another post by someone else:

Vandalin – that’s why it’s so hard to read anything written in all caps – see below:

I BET IT’S MUCH HARDER TO READ THIS ONE LINE THAN IT WAS TO READ THE POST ABOVE

Eerie how true that is. Anyhoo, just some random stuff I came across while trying to figure out whether dilemma should be spelled dilemna. Hint: It shouldn’t. Where that idea came from is beyond me. Thread is here if you’re interested.

RIP Michael Chrichton

For those that haven’t read already Michael Crichton passed away on Tuesday.  While I wasn’t a big fan of some of his later work his earlier novels certainly had an impact on my reading during my adolescent/teen years, and at the very least are strongly entwined with my memories of that time.  Strange as it might sound he is an author I will always associate with long car rides.

Back when we had time for big family ski vacations we would always pick out an audiobook to listen to during our car rides to Vermont.  My strongest memories are of Crichton’s books: Jurassic Park (to a lesser extent, The Lost World), The Sphere, and Congo.  I remember falling asleep during the way home and rushing to my room when we finally arrived so I could listen to the end.  While he isn’t often seen on lists of “genre authors,” and he never won a “genre award” (he did win an Edgar Allan Poe award though) Crichton was was probably my first introduction to science fiction.

So Mr. Crichton, thanks for the memories.  You will be missed.

Halcyon Days of Youth

While look for the final components of my Jayne Cobb costume I picked up a Nerf Maverick as my sidearm of choice.  A cooler person might have went with some kind of replica air pistol or something but well that seemed like a particularly bad idea on my part.  Anyway the Maverick is a damned fun little toy, especially for the $9 I paid for it!  Talk about value!

Anyhoo while browsing the toy section of a local Target I was struck by how hard it is to find (re: impossible) toy guns nowadays.  A fact I readily understand, but a bit curious none-the-less.  Anyone in their mid twenties probably remembers these:

For better or worse we’ve come a long way from realistic replic waterguns (anyone remember Airheads?). Nerf is still making a handful of awesome products to fuel backyard battles.  The Maverick, Recon, and the motorized Vulcan (a frickin’ Nerf machine gun!) are leaps and bounds beyond the Nerf toys I remember.

The King in the Kitchen

Little fact people don’t really know about me: I like to cook.  Though, if you saw me in the kitchen you probably think I was there under duress given the rather prominent scowl you’d see on my face.  I might like cooking but I don’t always find it relaxing; at least when I’m cooking for people other than myself.  I’ve tried a few new things in the kitchen the last few weeks that I thought I’d share (NO! Not that! Get your minds out of the gutter!)

Last weekend it was a recipe from La Tartine Gourimand that I found via Serious Eats: Cocunut Milk Mussel Soup.  It isn’t a cheap dish to make, though most of its price is a result of the safron and the mussels.  Truth be told I was hoping for a bit of a bolder flaver than what I got but overall it was rather tasty and while I won’t claim the pictures on the site represent my final product they aren’t as far off as I’d feared.  It is a damned attractive and really tasty dish to make that while a bit time consuming (the de-shelling of 2/3 of the mussels the main hitch) certainly worth a try.  In the future I’d consider forgoing the safron and going for a bit of a Thai blend, perhaps replacing the thyme or shallot with lemongrass and the safron with some green or red curry paste.  In truth it might come off as a bit more like a traditional thai curry but might be worth a try, regardless.

I also made sliders.  My first attempt was a near disaster.  I don’t recommend fitting a square paninni press (from Pampered Chef) into a round pan then covering it to produce steam.  Getting to my burgers involved a hammer and a screwdriver.  I did manage to save both the pan, press, and burgers so all was well.  They were damn tasty too!  I would have preferred an iron skillet…but couldn’t find mine.  I’m of the opinion that 80% lean chuck makes some damned fine burgers; especially of the “griddle” variety.  I also carmelized some onions to top off the burgers.  I tried both Pepperidge Farms dinner rolls and Martin’s dinner rolls.  Both worked well but I think I preferred the slightly larger Pepperidge Farms rolls.  Also, the second time I made them I skipped the steaming process which, truth be told, I’d like to try again.  Next time around I’ll be sure to try for the iron skillet.  Also, I fully admit that this meal lacks in nutritional value but is both easy AND delicious so you health nuts can go screw yourselves.

I also made the tried and true grilled cheese via Tyler Florence. I highly recommend that recipe and will ad that Vermont Bread Company’s unbleached white is the way to go in pre-sliced store bought bread department.

Last but not least on friday I tried the omlette recipe over here, though I made the recommended switch to goat cheese and was pleased with the results.

Trashed Post: State of the Bioshock

I was going to trash this post sitting in my Drafts section but decided to let it out, unfinished, into the light of day.  I’ve pretty much come to accept what I see as Bioshock’s shortcomings.  Will I finish the game?  I don’t know.  It just hasn’t really been fun for me and there is just so much other stuff I’d rather be doing, and other games I’d rather be playing.  This will be the last time I’ll talk about the game here…unless I finish it.  So here is the scrapped post:

Just so you all know I am still playing the game…occasionally.

My previous thoughts are here so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but I still  don’t quite get what the big deal is.  I’m not going to touch the story, the art, the graphics or the soundtrack since all of those reveal a level of attention and quality unsurpassed, or even equaled, by games past and present.  No, my problem is with the gameplay.  Let me address the points in bullet fashion:

  • AI: The AI for splicers is, to put it simply, dumb as a rock.  Sure, they seem concerned about staying alive (evidenced when they run away to hit a med station, the economics of which I won’t address) but seem almost uninterested in actually taking me down.   Plus, they all do the same thing.  As far as I can tell there are only three kinds of splicers: hittin’ you guys, shootin’ you guys, and explodin’/burnin’ you guys.  Some have minor variations: climbing walls, teleporting, hacking security bots but none of them actually do anything different.  They don’t work together in any meaningful way.  Maybe it’s intentional, a fact that the smarter AI of the Big Daddies would seem to support.
  • Character Models: I can’t blame Bioshock too much for this one, every game does it.  But the splicers don’t look very different from one another…or maybe it’s just me.
  • Rails: While many reviewers harped about the organic and detailed world of Rapture I have to wonder if they were playing the same game as me.  Rapture, cool art deco architecture, creepy lighting and atmosphere aside is just a fancy dress on that same old FPS level design.  It lacks an openness (in terms of when you can go where, not in terms of open spaces) that hearkens back to the very earliest shooters.  The levels feel contrived and never organic.  In truth, and perhaps a weakness in the game, is that the level design serves the story forcing you down a predetermined path.
  • Colored Keys: Once upon a time there was a game.  In this game you would come across a door banded in red (or blue, or yellow, or green) that just wouldn’t open.  Low and behold in you travels you would come across a key that was red (or blue, or yellow, or green) which would open the aforementioned door.  This game was called Doom.  Now, Bioshock isn’t nearly as obvious but each major section of the game is, in truth, a key hunt.  Save the trees by finding the serum, assemble the bomb, take pictures of certain things, etc.  Each of these quests inevitably unlocks that mysterious door which, unfortunately, only really leads to the next key hunt.
  • Ill-timed Narrative: A minor item but sometimes my allies/antagonist chime in at terrible moments when I can’t listen (or read subtitles), which is shitty since they generally have interesting things to say.

I know Bioshock tries to do some revolutionary and innovative things but I don’t think it really accomplishes them.  I know the whole save or kill the Little Sister thing is supposed to draw you into the narrative with a serious moral quandary and, as a result, engender a deeper emotional attachment to the proceedings but I just don’t feel it really works that well.  However that single element seems to be the only real moral conflict in the game and you’re left literally no other choices in determining how the narrative unfolds.  I’ve already harped about the plasmids, but similar abilities have been tried elsewhere with more success and, the real clincher, none of your abilities ever really offer you alternative means to getting things done only slight variations on the same method.

All this leads me, almost ineveitably, to the conclusion that as well-crafted and powerful as Bioshock’s story is it actually gets in the way of the game.  Film is a wonderful medium that through the use of well crafted story and stirring visuals transports the viewer outside him/her-self and can bring them to places, and create expierences, encompassing the entire range of the emotional spectrum.  Games can do the same thing, but I’m not sure that Bioshock’s methodology is necessarily the correct one.  It takes steps in the right direction certainly, by forcing players to contemplate their moral standpoint and reaction to the decisions they have to make, but it seems to me that the game largely ignores one of the most powerful aspects of video games: the ability of the player to craft the story through their own decision making.  As ambitious as the game is it tries to hard too walk a middle ground between film and game, makes too many concessions towards the latter rather than the former, that it falls just short of being revolutionary.

PAXsplosion!

OK now that I’m beginning to emerge from my post-PAX depression (it begins when the house lights come on after the final round of the Omegathon) I figure I can comment a little on the goings on.  PAX was packed.  With a number cited just over the 58,000 mark it was see of geeky delight.  While there was certainly complaints on overcrowding, particularly with some people being turned away as events filled up quickly, I am still suitably impressed at the level of enthusiasm and community evidenced by the PAX attendees.  Sure there is a certain geek stratification but by and large the feeling of solidarity at the con is certainly something special.

Con highlights:

  • Mega64 panel=awkward fun
  • Wil Wheaton panel= “How can one man be a whole panel?”  Wil: “Kinda like this baby!” Plus: Wil as Shatner sings Happy Birthday.
  • Dedicated cowbell guy during “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on Rock Band.  Seriously. Real. Live. Cowbell.
  • Spy and Engineer performing “Sabotage” on Rock Band.  The irony was not lost on me, sirs.
  • Left 4 Dead.  Didn’t get to play it but watching a horde of around 10+ zombies swarm 4 PCs was chill inducing.
  • the Fallout 3 airstream.  I ❤ Bethesda.
  • Judy Nails cosplayer/Activision employee.  Truth be told I’m more of a Casey Lynch fan, but still, props.
  • MC Frontalot:  Yellow Lasers and Goth Girls plus bonus JoCo appearance.
  • Darkest of the Hillside Thickets:  Lovecraft frickin’ rocks!
  • JoCo+Felicia Day= Dorkgasm
  • Rock Band 2 drums=bueno!
  • and more!

Con cons:

  • Give some 3000+ people pipe cleaners to play with and what is the most likely thing they will build?  If your answer was penis than you are correct.  Some major phallic fixation going on from the 4 foot long elaborate 3d pipe cleaner models to 10+ foot long 2d sculptures I quickly rocketed beyond wry amusement into being creeped the fuck out.  Seriously the line room was covered in penises. WTF.

I might have more to say later about the awesomeness of PAX but right now many a site and personality have impressions and breakdowns of PAX that say things way better than I can:

Tycho’s post after PAX

Khoo’s post after PAX

PAX Forums Picture Thread

PAX Forums Video Thread

JoCo’s Impressions

JoCo’s Set List and video links

The slightly condescending Arstechnica write-up

GameSetWatch’s PAX-related opinions

GamersWithJobs PAX Wrap-Up

ScrewAttack’s PAX Wrap-Up

Wil Wheaton’s Post-PAX Comments

Mega64 Podcast 63 w/ footage from Panel! At the Expo

Rocco’s (of Mega 64) flickr page

Work Marathon ’08

To any faitful readers out there noticing the lack of new posts: “I’m sorry.”

It’s the end of summer and some staff juggling at my part-time job left me with extra shifts.  Throw in my actual full-time job and one has a 7 day work week totaling over 50 hours.  Add in the fact that I’ve been doing that for about 3 weeks (I think I’m in week four, but honestly I’m passed the point of knowing for sure) and it’s no small surprise that I haven’t posted in 5 days.

I do have a couple of things for you coming up.  At the very least I’ll have a review of The Steel Remains up within the next week as well as a review of the debut CD from Scars on Broadway. Next week I’m heading out to Seattle on Wednesday for PAX.  It’s still up in the air whether or not I’m going to bring my shiny new Eee 1000H with me, but I’ll have pictures and commentary on my return (I’m sure my own meager opinions will be buried under the deluge of professional bloggers/journalists doing the same, oh well) at the very least.

Keep your eyes on the skies.