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It should be no surprise to devoted readers of IBNttT that I love Civ IV. Over my gaming lifespan, I’d wager a guess that (WoW aside), I’ve probably sunk more hours into the Civ franchise than any other. The series is that good.
I can’t quite remember what sparked the most recent return by my brother to the game, but he started playing it again, sparking my interest yet again. If I didn’t already have Mass Effect 2 to sink time into, I’d be playing Civ IV like mad right now, I’ll tell you that. As a compromise I decided to start some Play By E-Mail (PBEM) games with him instead. Three games, to be exact. I plan to make weekly reports on these games and our status, hopefully without giving too much away to my enemies (I’m looking at you Eric). This can either be a terrible idea or a great one, depending on how well I do, so I’m pretty excited about it. Since we’re still at the once city stage with all three games, I won’t go into any detail today, but I might take some screenshots for tomorrow or next week and put some up.
A little known series called Mass Effect just released its second iteration on the series this Tuesday. Since none of the major outlets seem to be covering it, I figured I’d give some impressions. Note that the screenshots were taken in windowed mode because my stupid computer didn’t want to actually capture images in fullscreen. Thanks computer!
The bridge and CIC haven't changed too much, just got a new paint job...
So far the game is great. I’m loving all the dialog and the way that the shooting mechanics and powers all intermingle. It’s kind of a bummer that killing dudes doesn’t give me XP (only completing missions does), but I have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with the way they balanced the game.
Since there’s an achievement for beating the game on Insanity (it’s actually insane that I care since I’ve got the PC version and that doesn’t even report achievements to anyone!), I decided to start my first playthrough on the highest difficulty level. It was cool that I didn’t have to beat the game once to unlock it in an effort to artificially extend my time with the game. Thanks for that Bioware!
Unfortunately, I seem to have made a LOT more work for myself by choosing to do this. Like Mass Effect, the chief way in which Insanity differs from easier difficulty levels is all in the enemy shields. There are three shield types in ME2, armor, barriers, and (bog-standard) shields representing the three main class types in the game, soldiers, biotics (adepts), and engineers. When an enemy has one of these shields up, it is invulnerable to certain powers. For example, an enemy with a barrier up cannot be thrown, pulled, or effectively singularitied. Instead I’ve got to use warp to lower its shields and allow myself to really use the fun stuff. Armor can be melted off with fire and shields can be overloaded by engineering-types. On easier difficulty levels, only the hardcore enemies have shields of any kind. On Insanity, every enemy has at least one shield type, mini-bosses have two, and bosses have two to three. It’s almost a grind, but it’s also fun to have to use powers and specific weapon types in concert to try and whittle down these barriers to the really fun stuff.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that there are more enemies in waves on Insanity, which is why they just went and got rid of kill XP instead of giving them even more shields (the Mass Effect 1 solution). The glut of enemies has proven lethal plenty of times as most major battles play out the same way for me the first time.
1. Walk into a room
2. Don’t take cover fast enough, lose my shields quick
3. Shotgun guy comes around the corner and kills me
4. Get into cover faster
5. Advance too fast, get flanked, get dead
6. Restart, clear the first wave, advance to fast, get killed
7. Repeat until I manage to not get blown up by the giant robot that they unleash upon me as the last part of the battle because dying means I have to START OVER
It’s tough, but it’s also a lot of fun and it’s at least taught me how to play the game better.
Even more fun is my crew. So far my crew is composed of the two I started with, Miranda and Jacob, one DLC recruit, Zaeed, and three actual recruits, Jack, Dr. Mordin, and Archangel (using the in-game nickname for him to avoid identity spoilers). Of these, the only real disappointment is Zaeed. Unlike Shale in Dragon Age, there was next to no effort put into his characterization. You can’t enter into dialog trees with him and his loyalty quest is unlocked from the get-go. He’s powerful, but boring.
The other crewmen are way more interesting and the backstories I’ve unlocked so far seem to be hinting at some interesting missions coming in the future. It seems like they interact with each other less than in ME and far less than Dragon Age, which is a bummer, but maybe I just need to put more time in.
One other oddity is that when they realized that they were hiring Yvonne Strahovski to play Miranda, they decided to make her character model look like her. It definitely looks like her, but it might be a little too far into the uncanny valley land, because it sometimes wigs me out.
I don't normally allow such disrespect aboard my ship, but for Yvonne Strah-I mean Miranda Lawson, I'm sure we can bend the rules a little.
The character modelers did a fantastic job capturing Strahovski’s face (see reference below), but it can also be jarring when you look at her realistic features and then talk to an alien or another human whose face is not quite so clearly modeled after a real person.
For reference, this is Yvonne Strahovski
Another interesting character design choice is the ship’s computer, EDI. Now it may be saying more about me than the designers when I say this, but there’s something seriously wrong, in a Freudian sense, about the way that they chose to animate and represent EDI…
Tricia Helfer always seems to wind up playing AI-characters
Especially when she’s in a restrictive or angry mode and they change her color scheme to represent that. Hey, maybe it’s just me being juvenile, but it’s distracting.
I'm just sayin', man...maybe you should see someone about these character designs.
Another small gripe has to do with the planet scanning mechanic in this game. Believe me, I’d much rather scan planets than drive the Mako around, but my gripe has more to do with the way that the planetary side missions are found. Instead of giving me a tutorial on how to find those missions, I get all sorts of on-screen instructions about how to find minerals and resources.
Way to put on-screen tutorial information for the half of this that is entirely intuitive...
That part is obvious. Having to figure out how to find an anomaly mission should not be so hard. EA and Bioware either need to start offering a manual online with Steam games (I couldn’t find one) or offer better resources for learning how to play the game. It’s pretty insane that I had to use Google to figure out how to find my side missions.
In case you’re wondering how, a white line will appear in the radar indicating which direction you should move to find the anomaly. When you’re close, a white dot will appear on the planet. Fire a probe and voila!
If it seems like I’m being nitpicky, it’s indicative of how much I enjoy the game and how it’s only the little things that bug me. I’m having tons of fun using singularity to create mini-black holes and then using warp with Miranda to pound my captured enemies and decimate their HP and setting them on fire with Dr. Mordin to finish them off. The game leaves me wanting to sink more hours in each day I play it and already has me excited for my renegade playthrough. Look for more impressions as they come.
After being slammed by the players and owners year after year, the Marlins have finally started to buckle and spend a lot more for their personnel. You can partially thank the finalization of the stadium deal for this renewed vigor, of course, but the benefit is the same no matter what the source of this change is: actual spending on player talent.
That’s why, for the first time in years, the Marlins have actually entered a season looking to capitalize on the previous year’s success with a squad that mirrors the year before. Josh Johnson, one of the ace pitchers of the NL, has been offered a 4-year contract worth $39 million and Dan Uggla will not be traded at this point in the year either. It’s looking like the core producers will still be around.
On the cheaper side of the fence, the rookie-of-the-year performance by Chris Coghlan last season will hopefully begin to motivate the other up-and-coming stars, Cameron Maybin, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison, to get their act together and begin to produce at a professional level. It’s not great to have a team that’s 100% young, but the Marlins need to bring at least two of them up to cover holes at first and in the outfield. Good luck to you, rookies.
Other than that, it’ll just be a question of whether or not the Marlins rotation will produce consistent wins. Headed by Johnson, hopefully it will.
One of the first major features on this blog was a Villains of Final Fantasy series that ran for 13 weeks covering the main enemies of every numbered Final Fantasy game from I to XII including X-2. With Final Fantasy XIII launching in the states in just over a month, I figured it’s high time to give some recognition to the teams who are actually responsible for bringing those villains to justice and saving the world. I bring you the Heroes of Final Fantasy.
Not to kill the momentum of this first iteration of the series, but the first Final Fantasy was too traditional RPG to actually have any characters. Instead you just pick classes and name your four characters and that’s that. I’ll do something a little different (how can it be different when it’s the first time?) this week and just show all of the classes that comprise the Four Warriors of Light.
He looks so cute, but he's also scowling. Mixed messages there.
A generic, beefy tank class who relies on expensive equipment to be effective. The Warrior is not exciting, but it’s not his job to be. Surprisingly enough, this boring dude was selected as the representative for Dissidia. My guess: they had an unused 3D model of him floating around and decided to finally put it to use.
Kind of reminds me of Ryu
Known as Black Belt in the original translation to avoid religious connotations, the monk fights with his fists and wears light to no armor.
Really reminds me of Link. It's almost theft.
Surprisingly unable to steal anything in this first iteration of the series, the Thief’s main skill is being able to run away easily and reliably. He also has high agility.
The most famous of the bunch. I bet it's because he has no face.
With an iconic design that has held from Final Fantasy I all the way to throwbacks in modern iterations, the Black Mage casts black magic, AKA offensive spells.
Typically portrayed as a woman.
Another design that has remained relatively unchanged, the White Mage and his/her iconic white robe casts white magic, which is mostly curative, but also holy.
Looks more like a rogue-ish character than a mage.
A jack-of-all-mages class that can cast white and black magic spells, but specializes in neither. The top level spells are unavailable to him, but he is versatile.
Lame. These guys are all ciphers. No personality, no motivation, and no story. My pet rock has more personality.
Saving the world is kind of the status quo for these heroic parties, so they won’t be getting bonus points for that. Eliminating the guardians of all the elements and deciphering the nonsensical plot centered around a time paradox does earn them some bonus points in their score.
As a bonus, you can check out Brian Clevinger’s webcomic, 8-Bit Theater, to see the personalities that he feels these heroes should have.
Coming out tomorrow! I can’t wait!
Man do I love these commercials.
This is amazing and it makes absolute sense in why it works.
Right around Christmas of 2009, Zelda Reorchestrated completed a pretty ambitious musical project: a reorchestration of the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. The free, 82-track download is available to download here and I’ve given the songs a listen or two and they’re fantastic.
As someone who actually owns the original Ocarina of Time soundtrack, I was impressed by the high quality work that this fan group was able to bring to bring to the project. Not only are the tracks faithful to the original music, they’re actually a vast improvement from the original MIDI-synthesized tracks that we’ve all become accustomed to.
A month later I’m impressed that the work hasn’t seen some sort of cease-and-desist or been sued, but I wouldn’t wait around too long to download the collection if this kind of thing interests you. It’s really only a matter of time before Nintendo cracks down on this.
Rock Band News
This week the Rock Band Network, the service enabling non-Harmonix-employed musicians to chart their tracks for Rock Band, entered open beta for anyone interested in working with the software. Recent interviews give reason to believe that the service is within a few months of launching, which represents a way awesome breakthrough on the platform, least of which is because I’ve seen the Rx Bandits listed as a band who will be utilizing the service.
I’m just really excited to see the game move forward as a new way to experience music and not see them cash in as much as Activision has with its Guitar Hero franchise. That’s not to say that Harmonix won’t be releasing any new games this year. Both Green Day: Rock Band and Rock Band 3 are expected to launch this year, but I know I can live with a two-year Rock Band cycle, so I don’t mind too much.
Damn good Brit-Rock
For a band that’s only been around since 2006, the Arctic Monkeys have made quite a splash in England, setting all kinds of sales records and winning tons of awards. As someone who is officially late to the party, here are some words about their three albums released since 2006
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not
This is the way you debut a band. The Arctic Monkeys came out swinging hard in their first offering with a high octane offering filled with edgy lyrics and seriously upbeat, fast-paced guitar riffs and drums. If you’ve heard any recent Brit-Rock, you probably have some idea what to expect. It kind of reminds me of a moodier version of The Fratellis in that way that only British rock can really sound. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d heard their next two albums, I’d probably give this album greater props, but they’ve clearly grown some since their debut, which has a really same-y feel throughout the entire disc. Speaking of their next album…
Favourite Worst Nightmare
Yet another band that avoids the sophomore slump, Arctic Monkeys somehow managed to grow leaps and bounds from WPSIATWIAN. I mean, this album goes almost everywhere and is solid the whole way through. I can’t get “505”, “Old Yellow Bricks”, or “Fluorescent Adolescent” out of my head most days. Of the three albums, this is the real MUST HAVE. I wish I had a better musical vocabulary to describe it, but Favourite Worst Nightmare should be on everyone’s playlist.
The most recent 2009 offering is actually a bit of a step back from FWN. Humbug isn’t bad at all, it’s just not spectacular and its songs aren’t anywhere near as catchy. The band has still retained the maturity it gained in FWN, but I think they went a little too far in trying to make their music seem older. Getting back in touch with the lyrics and music from FWN without regressing too much will be a challenge for the band, but I’m sure they can do it. Heck, they’re about my age anyway, so they’ve got a ways to go. All that said, “Crying Lighting” is an absolute gem and “Cornerstone” rocks almost as hard, while “Dangerous Animals”, “My Propeller”, and “Dance Little Liars” are also fine tracks that round out their second best album.
If you can only buy one, go with Favorite Worst Nightmare, but the latter two are both solid purchases and their debut album is also plenty awesome to listen to if you’ve got spare cash.
I wrongfully believed that the difficulties in finding an embeddable version of the video for the site was due to OK Go being restrictive. I should have known better and assumed it was the record companies. Below is an open letter by Damian Kulash to the fans of OK Go about why their videos are not embeddable on Youtube. Sorry for doubting you OK Go, you guys are amazing. Record companies: Your days are numbered. Get with the times.
To the people of the world, from OK Go:
This week we released a new album, and it’s our best yet. We also released a new video – the second for this record – for a song called This Too Shall Pass, and you can watch it here. We hope you’ll like it and comment on it and pass the link along to your friends and do that wonderful thing that that you do when you’re fond of something, share it. We want you to stick it on your web page, post it on your wall, and embed it everywhere you can think of.
Unfortunately, as of now you can’t embed diddlycrap. And depending on where you are in the world, you might not even be able to watch it.
We’ve been flooded with complaints recently because our YouTube videos can’t be embedded on websites, and in certain countries can’t be seen at all. And we want you to know: we hear you, and we’re sorry. We wish there was something we could do. Believe us, we want you to pass our videos around more than you do, but, crazy as it may seem, it’s now far harder for bands to make videos accessible online than it was four years ago.
See, here’s the deal. The recordings and the videos we make are owned by a record label, EMI. The label fronts the money for us to make recordings – for this album they paid for us to spend a few months with one of the world’s best producers in a converted barn in Amish country wringing our souls and playing tympani and twiddling knobs – and they put up most of the cash that it takes to distribute and promote our albums, including the costs of pressing CDs, advertising, and making videos. We make our videos ourselves, and we keep them dirt cheap, but still, it all adds up, and it adds up to a great deal more than we have in our bank account, which is why we have a record label in the first place.
Fifteen years ago, when the terms of contracts like ours were dreamt up, a major label could record two cats fighting in a bag and three months later they’d have a hit. No more. People of the world, there has been a revolution. You no longer give a shit what major labels want you to listen to (good job, world!), and you no longer spend money actually buying the music you listen to (perhaps not so good job, world). So the money that used to flow through the music business has slowed to a trickle, and every label, large or small, is scrambling to catch every last drop. You can’t blame them; they need new shoes, just like everybody else. And musicians need them to survive so we can use them as banks. Even bands like us who do most of our own promotion still need them to write checks every once in a while.
But where are they gonna find money if no one buys music? One target is radio stations (there’s lots of articles out there. here’s one: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/20…ouse-senate.ars ). And another is our friend The Internutz. As you’ve no doubt noticed, sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Blahzayblahblah.cn run ads on copyrighted content. Back when Young MC’s second album (the one that didn’t have Bust A Move on it) could go Gold without a second thought, labels would’ve considered these sites primarily promotional partners like they did with MTV, but times have changed. The labels are hurting and they need every penny they can find, so they’ve demanded a piece of the action. They got all huffy a couple years ago and threatened all sorts of legal terror and eventually all four majors struck deals with YouTube which pay them tiny, tiny sums of money every time one of their videos gets played. Seems like a fair enough solution, right? YouTube gets to keep the content, and the labels get some income.
The catch: the software that pays out those tiny sums doesn’t pay if a video is embedded. This means our label doesn’t get their hard-won share of the pie if our video is played on your blog, so (surprise, surprise) they won’t let us be on your blog. And, voilá: four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re – unbelievably – stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared. It’s like the world has gone backwards.
Let’s take a wider view for a second. What we’re really talking about here is the shift in the way we think about music. We’re stuck between two worlds: the world of ten years ago, where music was privately owned in discreet little chunks (CDs), and a new one that seems to be emerging, where music is universally publicly accessible. The thing is, only one of these worlds has a (somewhat) stable system in place for funding music and all of its associated nuts-and-bolts logistics, and, even if it were possible, none of us would willingly return to that world. Aside from the smug assholes who ran labels, who’d want a system where a handful of corporate overlords shove crap down our throats? All the same, if music is going to be more than a hobby, someone, literally, has to pay the piper. So we’ve got this ridiculous situation where the machinery of the old system is frantically trying to contort and reshape and rewire itself to run without actually selling music. It’s like a car trying to figure out how to run without gas, or a fish trying to learn to breath air.
So what’s there to do? On the macro level, well, who the hell knows? There are a lot of interesting ideas out there, but this is not the place to get into them. As for our specific roadblock with the video embedding, the obvious solution is for YouTube to work out its software so it allow labels to monetize their videos, wherever on the Internet or the globe they’re being accessed. That’ll surely happen before too long because there’s plenty of money to be made, but it’s more complicated than it looks at first glance. Advertisers aren’t too keen on paying for ads when they don’t know where the ads will appear (“Dear users of FoxxxyPregnantMILFS.com, try Gerber’s new low-lactose formula!”), so there are a lot of hurdles to get over.
In the meantime, the only thing OK Go can do is to upload our videos to sites that allow for embedding, like MySpace and Vimeo. We do that already, but it stings a little. Not only does it cannibalize our own numbers (it tends to do our business more good to get 40 million hits on one site than 1 million hits on 40 sites), but, as you can imagine, we feel a lot of allegiance to the fine people at YouTube. They’ve been good to us, and what they want is what we want: lots of people to see our videos. When push comes to shove, however, we like our fans more, which is why you can take the code at the bottom of this email and embed the “This Too Shall Pass” video all over the Internet.
With or without this embedding problem, we’ll never get 50 zillion views on a YouTube video again. That moment – the dawn of internet video – is gone. The internet isn’t as anarchic as it was then. Now there are Madison Avenue firms that specialize in “viral marketing” and the success of our videos is now taught in business school. But here’s a secret: zillions of hits was never the point. We’re a rock band, and it’s a great gig. Not just because we get to snort drugs off the Queen of England (we do), but because the only thing we are expected to do is make cool stuff. We chase our craziest ideas for a living, and if sharing those ideas takes 40 websites instead of one, it doesn’t make too big a difference to us.
So, for now, here’s the bottom line: EMI won’t let us let you embed our YouTube videos. It’s a decision that bums us out. We’ve argued with them a lot about it, but we also understand why they’re doing it. They’re aware that their rules make it harder for people to watch and share our videos, but, while our duty is to our music and our fans, theirs is to their shareholders, and they believe they’re doing the right thing.
Here’s the embed code for the Vimeo posting:
OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.
Go forth and put it everywhere, please. And buy our album. It’s great.
Damian (on behalf of OK Go)
(Originally posted on the OK Go forums)