SIDEBAR
»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
8-bit Jesus [Feedback/Game Overview]
Dec 30th, 2008 by Dan

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a grinch when it comes to Christmas music. The songs never change and it all gets rather repetitive, especially since radio stations start exclusively playing Christmas music almost immediately following Thanksgiving. What’s a guy to do? Find an awesome alternative.

In the past that alternative has usually been rock Christmas albums, like the always fun Relient K Christmas albums, but this year my, admittedly post-Christmas, salvation comes in the form of chip tunes.

Doctor Octoroc has put together a brief, 22-minute, Christmas album inspired by the music of multiple NES games called 8-bit Jesus. It’s free, but donations are encouraged and a donation of $15 (or any multiple thereof) will land you a nifty physical copy of the CD complete with album art.

It’s a really cool spin on your Christmas favorites, so be sure to check it out. The songs are all brief, so it doesn’t drag on, and if you’ve played these games it’s pretty easy to pick out which ones are being used for the inspiration.

Now I’m off to go look for more chip tunes, especially Mega Man 2-inspired ones.

Death to Clamshell [Embedded Reporter]
Dec 29th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

And we’re back from Christmas break! Expect this post and tomorrow’s post, but then I’m on hiatus again until after the New Year’s weekend.

This video highlights a move that I hope many more companies make in the near future:

Clamshell packaging is an absolute chore to open and I fully applaud Sony’s decision to stop using it. I can’t wait to see what new anti-theft packaging they’re going to come up with next.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Embedded Reporter]
Dec 22nd, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

One of my favorite games from the current era has finally had its sequel announced :cough: last week :cough:, and I must say I’m pretty excited about it. It features our favorite protagonist, Nathan Drake, treating us all to his trademark, characteristic wit while finding himself in a bit of a bind.

Blink and you’ll miss the whole teaser, but it’s still pretty cool and good looking and I can’t wait until Naughty Dog puts the finishing touches on this guy. Unfortunately, my guess on that date will be next fall videogame rush…

The Villains of Final Fantasy Week 8 [Game Overview]
Dec 19th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

With every Final Fantasy game there exists great (and not so great) teams of heroes bent on saving the world from some sort of evil force. While we could take a look at those heroes, let’s instead take a look at the evils that motivate these heroes to do what they do.

It should be noted that this feature will be full of spoilers.

Week 1 – Garland
Week 2 – Emperor Mateus of Palamecia
Week 3 – The Cloud of Darkness
Week 4 – Zeromus
Week 5 – Exdeath
Week 6 – Kefka
Week 7 – Sephiroth

If you look up the word narrative disaster in the dictionary, guess what you’ll see a picture of? Yeah, Final Fantasy VIII.

Following the previously unrivaled success of Final Fantasy VII in the States, Square decided to keep a lot of the same quasi-futuristic and more realistic atmosphere in place for their next epic endeavor. The cartoony/anime-like character models were scrapped for more anatomically correct (hands instead of blocks!) and realistic looking character models and the storyline became a love story…or tried to become one…

If you thought I hated Cloud Strife, wait until you hear what I think of Squall. He’s a vapid, empty shell of a character whose catchphrase could arguably be “…” and whose emo-whining takes up every other opportunity he has to talk, yet, for some strange reason, Rinoa is strongly drawn to him. I’m gonna go out on a limb and compare it to the awkward, unbelievable romance portrayed in that mess of a movie, Twilight.

So we have a marionette of a main character, what should we do with the villain? Make her even less interesting and more of a motivation-less villain than Sephiroth was.

Ultimecia is some sort of time traveling witch from the future seeking to collapse time into one point. She posesses the body of the Sorceress Edea to accomplish this. Ultimecia hates SeeDs for some random reason. End of characterization.

There’s more to it than that, I think, but not much more. She’s just evil so that the good guys can have something to fight. Way to go Square, you guys really worked hard to make this one seem worth fighting…

Evil Rating:

She looks mean and hates us, but why?

2/10

Cool Rating:

Hotter than Kefka? In fact, the first female antagonist, if I’m not mistaken, so she gets brownie points for that.

6/10

Images:

Dissidia

Final Battle: Phase 1

Final Battle: Final Form

Dark Knight, MGS5 [Filmmakers Bleed/Game Overview]
Dec 18th, 2008 by Dan

The Dark Knight

I saw The Dark Knight twice on Blu-Ray this week and after three viewings, this movies still undoubtably holds its own as the best movie in the summer and even fits into my top five of all time.

What Christopher Nolan did with this movie was incredible, creating a superhero movie that feels decidedly not like a superhero movie (in that nothing that happens in it is that far beyond what you’d see in any action movie), and still retains a sense of cinematic integrity and depth beyond any Batman movie before it (save, perhaps Batman Begins).

A superb piece of cinema. I cannot wait for the sequel, especially if Nolan directs again.

MGS5?

It really is a surprise, considering how much of the early life of this blog was devoted to Metal Gear Solid 4, that I haven’t mentioned this yet at all. There’s a teaser site out there about about Metal Gear hinting at some sort of new product. I would get the link for you now, but I don’t have access now, so I’ll do it later on, perhaps tomorrow. The general crux of the teaser is that it’s an all black site with an upside down exclamation point (or an ‘i’) plus an exclamation point is equal to a power sign, with the power sign part being an exclamation point. It looks something like this:

i + ! = power sign with exclamation point instead of a vertical dash

Underneath it says “A NEXT METAL GEAR IS” or some other Engrish-y sounding phrase. Speculation is rampant as to what this might be. The fact that the writing is all in green makes it look like it could be MGS4 on the Xbox 360. The ‘i’ and ‘!’ makes it look like it might be a sequel to Metal Gear Ac!d. No one knows yet and we’re all anxiously awaiting (unless the news has spread by now and I’ve missed it since I’m behind on gaming news).

A 360 announcement would be devastating to PS3 loyalists, but untimately intelligent for Konami, a company that probably loves to make money.

I’m hoping it’s for a new Metal Gear game, although I do hope that there’s no Solid Snake in it, his story is over.

L4D League [PC/M$]
Dec 17th, 2008 by Dan

Today’s the first non-WMQ Wednesday, so I thought I’d ease us into it with a discussion about competitive gaming, since that’s closer to a sport than, say, a book review.

Online leagues are nothing new to the computer gaming space. For as long as we’ve been able to play over our 14.4 modems (or slower!) people have been fragging each other in Doom and Quake in leagues, continued doing so through the most popular competitive shooter, Counterstrike, and are even now forming clans and teams within Halo 3.

Why talk about a L4D league then if the topic is essentially not that new. The real question that people are asking and that no one’s sure about is whether or not the games played in versus are standard enough to be considered fair and viable in terms of ratings. The X-Factor comes in the form of the AI Director, whose evil knows no bounds. In all seriousness, if the AI Director gives the infected a Tank in just the right place, but doesn’t give it to the survivors on the next iteration in the same place, is the game considered broken from a competitive standpoint?

When my roommate and I were discussing this last night, I mentioned that sports, while supposedly fair were actually inherently unfair. Geographic advantages, weather advantages, home field advantages, they’re all intangibles that could favor one team or another. His counterpoint was that they were intangibles, but bad Tank spawning is a real, measurable thing that can be proved to favor one team over another.

In a sense, the debate is more or less rendered moot by the fact that leagues will spring up regardless. The true proof will be whether or not they exist years from now when the game is old news. I’ll keep you guys posted on any league progress if I happen to join one.

And now: PA comic about ZOMBIES! I’m just glad they’re of similar mind…

Penny Arcade, The Guild, Lost, Heroes [Game Overview/Idiot Box]
Dec 16th, 2008 by Dan

PA

I think it’s worth mentioning that the guys at Penny Arcade are universally hilarious. I was tooling around their site today and I found a couple of oldies, but goodies that I thought I would share:

There’s one about Pok√©mon that shows Gabe at his training worst. If nothing it’s a hilarious take on the oftentimes frantic and crazy love of the game that you usually witness in small children.

Then there’s the running gag that Gabe loves Patrick Swayze and Dirty Dancing. I’ve seen the ending to that movie. I think this does accurately represent it.

There’s also Gabe dominating children’s games and deciding that he needs a new group of friends.

And, finally, we have Doritos. I think the less said about that the better. Let the professionals do the talking.

The Guild

I’ve never seen The Guild, but I love Felicia Day and the premise of a WoW guild who decides to meet in real life just sounds like too much of a delicious premise for me to pass up. I’ll probably start watching today, but if any of my readers has seen it and knows if it’s good or not, let me know. Season 2 is debuting every Tuesday on XBL.

LOST!

It’s been about half a year since we saw just what happened to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and I’ve gotta say I’m itching to get back into the swing of things. I got my hands on Season 4 on Blu-Ray and I’ve been working my way through the disappointingly short bank of episodes to fully recap all the plot points I’ll be expected to have at my fingertips on 21 January.

Supposedly the new season will feature less flashbacks and flash forwards, but I’ve gotta say that I don’t really mind those. I’m just insanely curious about how the (SPOILER ALERT!) Oceanic Six are going to find their way back on the island. How is Jack going to convince Kate to get back on a plane? What happened to Locke and the rest of the folks still out there? T-36 days until I can finally find out at least one or two answers…

Heroes

Despite a lukewarm season so far, Heroes managed to put together a rock-solid mid-season finale ending to Volume 3: Villains.

Contrary to what most people have been saying about the show, I think this season has been as strong as S1 in a lot of places and certainly way stronger than S2. Still, they could use some refocusing and I hope that they learn from the finale (which was amazing because of Sylar) about how to effectively tell these human stories in the future.

Just remember guys, Hiro is not a moron, so stop making him act like one!

LOST in 8:15 [Embedded Reporter]
Dec 15th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

There’s still plenty of December standing in the way, but it won’t be too long before we hit January 21st and the fifth season on Lost hits the airwaves.

I know this little Youtube video is old. It was featured as a special feature to get viewers up to speed for the pre-Season 4 happenings in the series. It’s quick, funny, and it sums up the past of Lost well. I highly recommend watching it for a few good laughs.

Neal Stephenson’s Writing [You Can Quote Me On That/Bookmark This]
Dec 13th, 2008 by Dan

Here’s an interesting analysis of most of Stephenson’s writing by Matthew Bey of the Austin Statesman:

But even as Erasmas and company pursue the answers to their cerebral quandaries, violence and chaos aren’t far behind. As intimidating an intellectual artifact as “Anathem” is, it’s still an action story. Stephenson takes just enough time to establish his setting before blowing it apart. Like the Unix machines he has praised, his novels are a system of logical mechanisms that run flawlessly until they hit extraordinary conditions. They never quite come to a clean ending, but tapering to a close was never the point. A Stephenson novel doesn’t wrap up so much as it crashes, one process at a time.

I think he’s so right about this aspect of Stephenson prose. Many people complain about his endings since they’re not quite as conclusive as they’d like, not to mention the predictable style of most of his work, where there is a dramatic “crash” of events that drastically changes the status quo, and I think this might be as good an explanation as we could get. For a UNIX programmer to become a novelist, one would imagine that he would have certain thinking processes in place that would shape his work. I can honestly say that I’ve never had too much of a problem with his style, maybe because I get it in the same way? In any case, I thought it was cool and relevant since I reviewed Anathem just a few days ago to post this.

Anathem Review [Bookmark This]
Dec 11th, 2008 by Dan

It’s been quite some time since Stephenson’s ambitious Baroque Cycle hit the shelves, but, based on his latest offering, it seems that Stephenson spent that time doing boatloads of research for his second most ambitious title to date (the ~2700 page Baroque Cycle has to take the cake on that one), Anathem. While it seems that his work is definitely well-researched and that he has a very clear unerstanding of what points he’s trying to convey, I think that Stephenson fails at the more important task of keeping the reader interested and conveying the complex-yet-interesting plots from the get-go that he is normally so capable of.

It’s not that Anathem is bad or anything, it’s more that The Baroque Cycle seems to have spoiled Stephenson a bit by making him think that he can spend as much time goofing off with intellectual tangents as he did in the previous, epic-sized novel. To a certain degree, it’s all relevant to the plot and some of it is downright integral, as the reader needs to come up to speed with the crazy, outlandish philosophical points that Stephenson is trying to convey within the narrative. I can imagine trying to read this book like any pre-Cryptonomicon Stephenson book and being totally flabbergasted by the points he makes in Anathem being laid out within the twenty (if that) pages allotted, but these Socratic dialogs he presents can seem a bit useless to engineering types, such as myself, who find theoretical philosophy to be a little bit impractical.

Let me take a step back and explain this a bit better. Anathem is a book about a planet that is much like ours. It has developed, philosophically, along similar lines, but culturally it is quite different. In this world, Arbre, there was a division way back in history that split up the intellectual/philosophical elite from the rest of the world. The intellectuals are part of the Mathic world, a world consisting of hyper-isolated monks, to draw an Earth connection, while the rest is part of the Saecular world. This isn’t to say that smart or dumb people inhabit one or the other or even that the maths are religious and the outside world is not, there are both in both, it’s just that most of the interesting theoretical work is being done by the maths (and they tend to be athiest) instead of the outside world…except for the detail that all outside technology is mostly forbidden from the mathic world. Each person only has a robe, a rope to tie it with, and a sphere, all technologically advanced so as to change shape and property, but nothing more technological. Even so, they have a vast telescope and develop serious theoretical advances based solely on their devotion to such advanced intellectual thought.

Here’s where it starts to get a little annoying, even if it is basically the whole point of the book. You see, instead of using Earth-terms for stuff, there is a whole series of terms that are native to Arbre that are used instead. For example: we have “Gardan’s Steelyard” instead of “Occam’s Razer.” While it doesn’t really take too long to get all of these intricacies sorted out and the book does provide a useful glossary in the back, its still a little bit distracting and annoying. This is just personal preference for me though, and I did start to soften up to it once I got further in the book, I got used to the parallel terms, and it started to get more interesting.

Which leads kind of nicely into the next problem: the pacing. Yes, we need to establish the characters. Yes, we need to take it slow at the start so that you can get used to this brand new world (in fact, as a reader, you have to take it slowly, flipping back and forth from glossary to text trying to understand Erasmus’ narrative), but we’re talking around 400 pages just to get the faintest scraps of knowledge about what is truly going on. In an 900 page book, you have the liberty to take it slow, so to speak, and it’s generally not Stephenson’s style to tip his hand early (if my memory serves me right, Golgotha didn’t even become a factor in Cryptonomicon until 3/4 of the way into the novel), but the daily life of an avout just wasn’t as interesting as, say, the emotional development of Randy Waterhouse.

I don’t want you to think that I hate Anathem or even that I didn’t enjoy it. Once I started to become familiar with the terminology that Stephenson was using in this new world, things began to get much better. The story got compelling and interesting very fast, with the exception of all the theoretical discourse that serves to slow down the novel a bit, but ultimately prepare you for the stunning events which will be impenetrable to anyone who wasn’t a professional philosopher had he not slowly ushered you into understanding. The characters are great, but not as memorable as the Shaftoes, Eliza, Hiro Protagonist, YT, or the Waterhouses. As mentioned before, the plot, once it gets going, is amazingly cool, filled with some neat head-scratchers and only one poly-cosmic plot hole that I don’t think was fully resolved (or maybe it was and I have to re-read it). There are some neat little bonuses in the narrative too for anyone who understands just a wee bit of French (or has the Romance language know-how to recognize the origins of some words) that I thoroughly enjoyed and quite a bit of philosophical exploration for those who love a little bit of that.

Anathem is a bit of a mixed bag. The more I think and write about it after having read it, the fonder I am of it and the things it did. Clearly, Stephenson wanted to try something new, that much is clear. The entire book cohesively fits together with his themes as well as the purpose for his parallel world-structure, but I can also see it as being impenetrable to those who do not already give Stephenson some credit. If you’re not willing to read up at least four to five hundred pages to even start to get why you’ve been doing this the whole time, you’re not going to like Anathem, the payoff is just not as immediate as with Cryptonomicon (I can’t compare any other books, like Snow Crash, because their shorter length necessitates different pacing). There’s also a good chance that, unless you love this sort of thing, you’ll feel like this XKCD comic at least until you get the hang of the new vocabulary. Trust me though, there is a definite payoff and it’s quite good once you get there, it just takes a little work.

My recommendation: If you love Stephenson, you should still consider that you have to get through about half the narrative to get to the action. If you can manage that, it’s a must read. Non-Stephenson fans: think about what I just said above and realize that Stepehnson writes intellectual prose. If you don’t like a little philosophy, mathematics, and physics served up with your novels, you won’t like this book. Anyone who does though, will be treated to a book with an incredibly engaging and cool story that returns huge dividends based on the time you put into it.

If you’ve read and liked this book, you should, without a doubt, read Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, two of Stephenson’s best works. Move on to The Baroque Cyle if you didn’t mind the density and pacing of Anathem.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa