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30 March 2009 Web Gems [WMQ]
Mar 31st, 2009 by Dan

Everyone loves web gems, it’s an immutable fact of life. In honor of that fact, I’d like to start posting the gems of the day on the blog as often as I can, hopefully daily. I have no idea if ESPN will keep these videos up beyond this season, but until then, hopefully plenty of people will get the chance to enjoy these great plays. My favorite from today’s batch: without a doubt, Torii Hunter’s diving catch TOWARD THE WALL(!) and Evan Longoria’s smooth, clean fielding of a ball in what could even be shortstop territory.

Price Drop [Sony]
Mar 31st, 2009 by Dan

Oh man! Amazing! Sony finally dropped the price of the…PS2?

Yeah, it makes no real sense to me either, at least not when you look at the serious problems that Sony’s been having with the PS3 since launch. Yeah, they’ve got that whole ten-year plan going for the PS2, but one would think that they would, I dunno, refocus their efforts so that they could drive the sales up of their flagship console.

Think about it: Nintendo is selling bajillions of Wiis. They just crossed the 50 million mark before GDC and they’ve been out just as long as the PS3, give or take a few months. Meanwhile, as of 31 December 2008, Sony was at 21 million PS3s. Sure, those numbers have certainly increased, but as far as I know the console is still lagging behind the Xbox 360 and they need to do something in the states to bring it up. Most people think the console is too expensive. Microsoft has a version of their console that competes, price-wise, with the Wii. What are you doing Sony? I love your system, but you guys need to re-evaluate things and try and drive that manufacturing cost down hard, cause you’re gonna lag behind.

Flock [Embedded Reporter]
Mar 30th, 2009 by Dan

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

Capcom’s upcoming arcade game Flock seems pretty interesting. Who wouldn’t want to play an alien abduction puzzle game? Enjoy!

The Villains of Final Fantasy Week 11 [Game Overview]
Mar 27th, 2009 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
Week 8 – Ultimecia
Week 9 – Necron
Week 10 – Yu Yevon/Jecht/Sin
Week 10-2 – Shuyin

If you thought sequels were a strange place for Final Fantasy to go, now we get to the only ongoing iteration of the series, Final Fantasy XI. The first (and so far only) MMORPG to hit the market with the Final Fantasy name, FF XI is unique among MMOs in that it allows both console and PC players to play in the same world along with an integrated Japanese and English playerbase, with communications facilitated by a neat little translation program.

All MMOs have a final boss, but the challenge in this feature is which boss do I cover? There have been three expansion packs released thus far with three new final bosses, so instead of bothering with backstory (this is the one modern Final Fantasy game I have never played) I’m just gonna present the bosses as a whole and evaluate them as one.

The original boss is the Shadow Lord, a fairly generic dude being controlled by magicite and Zilart princes to unleash beastmen on the world. As you’ll see below, he kind of looks like Dark Cecil, which is both cool and incredibly lame. I mean, this is the final boss? He’s way generic.

The next boss of XI is Eald’narche. Despite his fairly unintelligible name, I think he’s the most interesting villain of the lot. It turns out that he was really mind controlling the last dude, the Shadow Lord (they didn’t think to give him a name?) to bring about his goal of opening the door to paradise, despite the fact that it would destroy the earth. What a selfish jerk!

Our next villain is Promathia himself, the Twilight God of Chaos or something like that. Fairly typical FF villain with an embarrassingly lame character model.

The final final boss is an FF classic, Alexander. Meant to duel with Odin to bring about Ragnarok, he’s your fairly typical esper, avatar, aeon, etc.

Evil Rating:

Unleashing beast men ranks pretty low, but threatening to destroy the universe isn’t exactly nice.

2-6/10

Cool Rating:

The only inspired models are Eald’narche and Alexander. Doesn’t bode well for coolness.

1-5/10

Images and Video:

Shadow Lord
Eald’narche
Promathia
Alexander

GDC News [Game Overview]
Mar 26th, 2009 by Dan

Not as much Fat Princess news as I would have liked so far, but we’ve had a lot of Nintendo news hit the wire. First we’ve got the announcement that the SD card slot has finally been unlocked on the Wii, despite Nintendo’s initial, strong reluctance to do so. This will definitely help with storage woes on the system.

They also announced a new Zelda game: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. It revolves around trains and appears to be using the Phantom Hourglass engine. Also announced were some DSWare games and a balance board game which interests me so little, I won’t even drop its title.

Hideo Kojima came up to announce that he will be making an announcement at E3 ([sarcasm]thanks Kojima…[/sarcasm]) and dropped hints that he’d like to make a comedy game.

That’s about it, unless you care about God of War III’s frame rate (60 fps, unless they need it to be 30 fps…yawn), so enjoy this Fat Princess trailer and hope for a release date.

WBC Results [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Mar 25th, 2009 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ‘em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Those of you who were already watching the tournament know that the game between Japan and Cuba ended in Japan’s favor, giving them the trip to the finals that they were looking for. Their win put them directly in the path of the US team and on schedule to be world champions for another tournament.

What happened with the US game is considered by many to be the result of terrible mismanagement. The general consensus amongst sports writers is that the US team was wrongfully being managed as if it were an All-Star team and not a tournament team. As a result, the much more seriously managed Japanese and Korean teams, whose players are far less at the mercy of the MLB, were able to destroy the US and Venezuela. Anyway, we cam close, but we just didn’t have what it takes to make it to the final.

Korea and Japan played a tense, close game of stellar baseball that tied up dramatically in the 9th thanks to a small mistake on Yu Darvish’s part. The walks and single he gave up were still salvagable in the 10th as Japan plated two, leaving it up to Darvish to get rid of the rest of the batters, which he quickly made short work of. In fact, of the last six outs on Japan’s side, five of them were Yu Darvish strikeouts. I really can’t wait to go to Japan this fall, cause I totally wanna see tihs guy pitch. Will I get a chance? Who knows, it depends on what the rotations look like, but hopefully at least one Ham Fighters game will feature the phenom. It would be really special if he were to come to the states to pitch, but, sadly, he’s always stated that he has no interest in pitching in the MLB.

Congrats Team Japan on a job well done. Hopefully we can put together a much better team and lose some of our American arrogance for the next WBC.

For now, it’s time to head full tilt into the 2009 baseball season!

L4D GDC News [Game Overview]
Mar 24th, 2009 by Dan

Left 4 Dead Survival DLC pack out next month! It’s supposedly coming out on 21 April and will allow you to play VS mode on the remaining two maps or an infinite zombie wave mode where survival’s the name of the game.

Left 4 Dead was easily my favorite game of last year and it’s great to see that Valve hasn’t forgotten about updating the stellar title. I can’t wait for the next update, you know, the promised new campaigns! I’m infinitely happy for the fact that Valve is such a perfectionist company that strives for high quality games, but sometimes I just wanna see new content!

Dwarf Fortress Intro Movie [Embedded Reporter]
Mar 23rd, 2009 by Dan

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

You asked for it, you got it! The high quality, super-graphically intense Dwarf Fortress intro.

Great Dwarf Fortress Stories [PC]
Mar 21st, 2009 by Dan

Borrowed from After Action Reporter on why people should play Dwarf Fortress:

The best answer, I believe, is presented by Damien Neil from over on QuarterToThree.com, read on…

I built an arena. A pit on the bottom level for the contestants. On the next level up, seats for the spectators, with a pair of thrones forged from solid gold for the Baroness and her consort. A level above that, the cheap seats. On the top level, a retracting bridge extends out over the pit, so that unlucky contestants can be dropped in.

The main level has a number of silver statues on it, and is designated as a sculpture garden, so my dwarves like to hang out there, giving me plenty of spectators. Unfortunately, they tend to run away when I toss a goblin in. Wimps.

So I decided to add some additional features to keep them happy when the arena isn’t being used for my goblin-war dog cage matches. I dug out a cistern below the arena, and an lengthy, winding channel leading from the brook on the surface down to the cistern. Floodgates controlled by levers allow me to fill the cistern without flooding the fortress.

I then added a sequence of pumps to draw water from the cistern to a channel above the arena. The water falls through two holes to splash down in the gladiatorial pit. From there, it drains back into the cistern. The pumps are powered by windmills on the surface, and a lever permits me to disengage a gear and shut off the pump system.

My dwarves were ecstatic, with many happy thoughts generated–dwarves like waterfalls.

While this construction went on, the Baroness’s consort mandated that we produce several adamantine items. We have no adamantium available, which made this request…problematic. Eventually, he furiously gave up–and declared one of the smithdwarves responsible for failing to fulfill the mandate.

One of the guards carried out the smithdwarf’s punishment, beating her senseless in the dining room. He was overly zealous: She died.

A short while later, her youngest daughter threw herself into the arena pit in despair. She was washed into the cistern and drowned. The stench of her rotting corpse hindered the dwarves’ enjoyment of the lovely sculpture garden.

I resolved to retrieve her bones from the cistern to provide her with a proper burial. I added hatches to the top of the waterfall system, covering the holes that allow water to pour down into the pit. Pull a lever to close the hatches, and water flows over them and to a new sequence of pumps that will draw it to the surface. The uppermost pump is located in a small building atop a hill behind the fortress, and a windmill on the roof powers the system. To dispose of the water cleanly, I constructed an aqueduct (built of lovely blue microcline) that will carries the water back to the stream.

The system isn’t quite complete yet; I still need to redesign the bottom end of the pumping system to reach the lower depths of the cistern.

And that’s what’s so special about this game.

And if that doesn’t get you going, how about this fantastic story from Nate over on RockPaperShotgun.com:

When one dwarf got a mad look in his eye, grabbed a sheet of eagle leather and some silver, and emerged from his workshop three months later with the most beautiful quiver the world had ever seen, I knew it belonged on the back of Nil, the settlement’s legendary champion, a master of four weapons, and getting pretty good at swimming to boot. After a few months of fiddling with doors, Nil eventually strapped on the artifact quiver.

Life was good for a while. Goblins delivered more iron goods than we could ever use. We’d struck a thick vein of adamanite. The larders were full, the merchants looted, the goods organized behind locked doors to protect and control any moody dwarves.

Then a miner uncovered a strange room, covered with engravings, filled with smoke, and with moans of the damned. And the demons came. Spirits of fire, they filled the tunnels with burning dwarves.

Nil picked up his crossbow and gathered his squad of champions. He was fearless. His crossbow was a machine-gun in his hands. Demons fell. But Nil was injured, and the wound… smoldered. And smoldered. Nil left a trail of smoke behind him. At first it was his arm. Then his chest. His endurance failed, and after several weeks, Nil collapsed, and burned into carbon, along with all he carried.

All he carried, that is, except for the artifact quiver that was strapped to his back. This was a quiver of the gods– more beautiful than any dwarf could imagine, tougher than the rock we stand on, and as deadly as any demon. The quiver, of course, was on fire, but no dwarf that laid eyes on it could trouble him or herself with wondering why it was perched on a pile of cinders. One by one, each dwarf claimed the flaming quiver, and one by one, each dwarf in the settlement burned.

Here’s a link to a nice, LONG succession game story: Boatmurdered. I highly recommend at least reading up to StarkRavingMad’s update. It’s hilarious.

Recession Gaming: Dwarf Fortress [Game Overview]
Mar 20th, 2009 by Dan

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

We’re gonna take a quick break from talking about Final Fantasy villains until I take some time to figure out how I’m gonna tackle XI and instead talk about the game that kept me up until ~0345 this morning: Dwarf Fortress.

You’ve probably never heard of this game, but this incredibly robust one-man (!) coding project will knock your socks off. Here’s how I got around to it:

DF has been released since 2006, but I first heard about it on Three Panel Soul, Ian McConville and Matt Boyd’s followup project to Mac Hall. There was a strip in there describing a dwarf fortress whose entire economy consisted of cats. I was intrigued, but the game’s simple ASCII graphics made the interface look daunting and scary and kept me from trying it out right then. The seed was planted, I just didn’t have the time or patience to try it yet.

Fast forward to earlier this week. I’m listening to one of 1up.com’s podcasts, Good Grief (you rock Tina!), when they started talking about the ancient roguelike Nethack. I had to pause the podcast to go to work, but memories of the Dwarf Fortress strip clawed their way back up to the front of my brain (admittedly not very well, I thought the strip was about Nethack) and I started looking for the strip to get information about the game. Again, I found the graphics daunting, but I learned of a graphical tileset available at May Green that allowed you to take the hyper complicated ASCII graphics and turn them into at least more recognizable icons.

Still, it wasn’t enough. The game’s interface was super daunting when I booted it up and I was too intimidated. Cue the timely rant reference to the game by Tycho of Penny Arcade. His intervention led me to a detailed tutorial that allowed me to finally come to grips with the game mechanics and implement all the stuff I’ve been reading about.

Phew, so that’s a long way to get to where we wanted to get with Dwarf Fortress, but I think it’s a great story. DF has totally blown my mind as a game. Right now I’ve got abou 12-14 dwarves under my command and as I have them bore into the earth, deforest the landscape, trap bears and kobolds in cages, and wrestle so hard their clothes start to fall off in the barracks, I find myself falling in love with this quirky game. Every tiny detail is tightly modeled. For instance, every creature in the game has an organ system. Battle can cause damage to a dwarf’s spleen, causing him to die if he doesn’t get medical care. Individual limbs can be damaged. The guy in the tutorial caught goblins in cage traps (my main defense right now) and somehow in the ruckus the goblin’s eyes were gouged out. Now it just sits in the cage, freaks out, and repeatedly passes out. Here’s an excerpt from a dev about development of these systems:

Today was compound fractures as well as fractured layers being knocked inward to damage soft inner portions. So a bone in the arm for example could break through the skin if the arm is struck by even a blunt weapon, and impacts can also force jagged skull edges into the brain or a broken rib into the heart or a lung (generally, the broken layers can cross body part boundaries according to the wound’s path over body part relationships)

I could go on and on for hours about my fortress, but I’ll hold off for a bit until I’ve got some screenshots and some story to go with it. Can’t wait to get home and play some more instead of napping.

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