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What I’ve Been Doing 10 Dec 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Dec 10th, 2012 by Dan

Weeping Angel

Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. (Picture courtesy Rich Ford)

I got to share my favorite episode of Doctor Who with Min today. I’d forgotten how eerie and excellent that episode was. I mean, I literally shouted out loud in fear when one of the angels popped into view. Freaky stuff. Love that ep.

Movies

Not this week.

TV

Breaking Bad – I don’t know why I had such a long gap before where I wasn’t watching this, but these past few episodes have been brilliant. Walter White is absolutely fascinating in his almost impotent villainy. I love how addicted he is to power and how much pride he has. Just brilliant stuff.

The Amazing Race – Up to the finale on the current season and that’s been pretty exciting. I’m glad the twins didn’t get eliminated as they’re the funniest. On the S1 DVDs things are getting interesting. Team Guido is hilariously evil. It’s awesome.

Parks and Recreation – Episodes revolving around Jerry are usually pretty awesome and this one did not disappoint. Tammy 2’s ridiculous brand of evil sluttiness was gross AND hilarious. Not an easy bar to hit.

The Mindy Project – It seems like every week I’m saying, “The net critics don’t like this, but I find it funny.” Copy-paste that here.

New Girl – Another one that all the internet hated, but I thought was hilarious. The bathtub crashing through the ceiling and the Remy three-way callbacks? Brilliant.

Doctor Who – Started Min off with “Blink”, but then I took him back to “Rose” to show a more typical episode. It’s still mostly introducing stuff, but I think his interest in piqued.

Happy Endings – Man did Rob Corddry get away with saying some filthy things on network tv. Also the Penny thing was fairly predictable from her. Alex continues to be hilarious as always.

Glee – A week where I didn’t want to just turn off the show for being aggressively stupid? Wow! That first Rachel number was stunningly good.

The League – Odd pacing and dropping of plot points make me think that there are big things afoot for the finale. Totally dug the lucha libre bit.

Childrens Hospital – Madonna episode: meh. Chief episode: better.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: – I don’t think they did enough with the found footage conceit, but Alphonse’s creepy Christmas song was amazing.

Saturday Night Live – I didn’t get past weekend update, but Jamie Foxx was doing his thing ok. He seemed less comfortable that I thought he’d be considering how good he is in other stuff. Maybe live isn’t his thing?

Music

Just go listen to more Frank Ocean. Channel Orange is Awesome.

Books

A Confederacy of Dunces – At around the 100 page mark. I feel like I’ve met all the principals and now it’s time to see where this farce is headed.

The Revolution was Televised – Finished the chapters on The Sopranos and The Wire and I’m working on Deadwood. This tv backstory stuff is fascinating and I’m really digging all the analysis.

Video Games

Sleeping Dogs – I like Wei Shen and I like the undercover cop conceit. It remains to be seen how deep the story gets and if it’ll allow for character depth or go the GTA IV route where, regardless of how serious the main guy claims to be, every one else is a cartoon.

The Old Republic – Just got Vette, but we sadly haven’t had much interaction at all. Seems like a dropped ball so far, but, then again, my character has only just gotten license to head to Dromund Kaas.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – A power issue (perhaps related to SLI-ing my cards) caused save file corruption on my main game. I might have to restart and that’s heartbreaking. We’ll see if the forums come through for me or not.

FTL – I’m getting much better at this game, but I still haven’t gotten the hang of Mantis B. Racking up wins with other ships though.

May: You’ve Been Cheated [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 6th, 2011 by Dan

In their last show as a band, the Sex Pistols played one song and left the stage. Before leaving the stage, Johnny Rotten quipped, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

The thing is, I don’t feel this way for the reasons everyone else might think I might. I suppose we’ll go after the biggest point of contention first.

Linearity

“Final Fantasy XIII is The Worst Final Fantasy Ever (TM) because all the dungeons are straight lines and there are no towns.” Guess what. The non-linearity of those Final Fantasy games you all hold so dear is an illusion. Final Fantasy XIII draws so much ire because it has the gall to tell you what you already know.

I mean, really, you might be able to wander around the world man, but that doesn’t mean you get to pick what you do. The plot only advances when you go to specific places in a particular sequence (also known as a linear progression) and locations on the map are artificially locked from transit by story gates.

In fact, non-linearity is a joke across almost every video game. The main fun of any GTA game may not stem from following the story, but when you do decide to start on it, you will never be able to sequence break or do anything but follow it linearly to its conclusion. You might be able to pick which order you complete mission paths, but, with the exception of GTA IV, every event has a pre-determined outcome. If that’s not linearity, I don’t know what is.

I applaud a game that doesn’t try to conceal its story behind a veneer of faux choice. Final Fantasy games have only ever allowed choices once: The World of Ruin in FF VI. There are countless story details and sidequests to experience, but once you get Setzer, Edgar, and Sabin, you don’t have to see any of them. You’re free to grind and face Kefka at any point.

Bonus points really should be awarded to FF XIII for having the guts to let its story carry the momentum, but they are immediately lost on their failed attempt to make anything remotely interesting happen.

Foremost in my annoyance with the game is Hope’s subplot. In the first hour or so of gameplay, Snow, a big, earnest, stupid guy in the tradition of anime big, earnest, stupid guys, manages to get most of his ragtag squad killed, including Hope’s mother, standing up against the world’s government. Naturally, this infuriates Hope, who now desires revenge.

Hypothetical: A man seems directly responsible for the death of your mother. Do you:

1. Stutter and stammer every time you see him
2. Stew silently while enjoying revenge fantasies every time you see him
3. Figure out some way to confront him (in rage or otherwise) the first chance you get.

Maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but unless you’ve got some sort of emotional disorder, option three seems like the healthiest and most logical choice. Hope is all about the first two options because he is a gigantic pain in the ass.

I don’t think this is the result of some kind of cultural difference. I mean, hey, I’m not the most emotionally open person. I don’t really go around sharing my feelings with everyone I know, but I’m pretty sure that if a man were responsible for killing my mom, he’d know about it ASAP. It’s got to be a contrivance (and an annoying one). Why are characters in media so unable to just open their mouths and talk? If writers think this is an effective way to build narrative tension, then I’ve got news for them. As a rule, if your characters are forced to behave like they’ve never interacted with another human being for your plot devices to work, said devices are cripplingly contrived.

Honestly, it’s just lazy writing and it removes me from the narrative. Maybe Hope has a Deep Dark Secret that makes him act so stupidly, but we never learn about it. The game goes out of its way to say that Hope has father issues to hand-wave away his social idiocy, but when we meet Papa Hope, we’re confronted with a loving father who seems to care very deeply about his son. Did I miss something somewhere? Someone seems to have dropped the ball.

You know what, I think I know why this happened. Somewhere along the way the story gurus at Square Enix decided that many young men, their prime and target demographic, seem to have issues with their domineering fathers. Some of them wrote this detail on his character sheet. Somewhere else the scenario writers were coming up with how half of the player characters would unite and escape. They decided they’d meet at Hope’s mansion and Hope’s awesome dad would help them out. When you’ve got a game this massive and important, you’d think that these two teams would discuss these idiosyncrasies, right? How does such a glaring contradiction make it into the final build?

One of my other big “WTF?” moments comes at the end of a sequence at an amusement park. Sazh struggles with whether or not to kill the traveling companion who has betrayed him. Pretty soon after that starts, the physical manifestation of his emotional conflict attacks him. For most characters, fighting their eidolons, as they are called, brings them emotional peace allowing them to understand their path. In this case in results in Sazh deciding to commit suicide. What. The. Fuck.

Repeating this same emotional pattern six times (one for each main character!) seems like it would get old fast. It does. Suicide does not freshen the experience. It makes no sense. We all know he’s not really dead because we just unlocked his summon!

It’s a shame to see so many missteps in such a promising premise. Roll with me here. In the world of FF XIII there are two primary sentient beings: Humans and Fal’Cie (ignore the stupid name of the second species (typical Squeenix pretentious nonsense)). The FC, as I will now call them, are magical creatures specializing in producing food, power, or other more advanced functions. Unfortunately, the FC are split into two warring factions, Cocoon and Pulse. FC also have the terrifying ability to brand humans, saddling them with cryptic quests. Failing to complete these quests turns the human into a mindless monster cursed to wander the earth slowly solidifying until he finally petrifies and can no longer move. If they magage to succeed in their quest, they are transformed into crystals for eternity. Those in “crystal sleep” are not dead, but they are also not alive.

It’s the perfect deconstruction of video game protagonists. Each character has a singular purpose. Failing will result in a fate worse than death and succeeding will result in the end of the narrative, dooming the characters to non-existence. The much maligned linear nature of the game represents their inability to turn away, especially when you learn that the antagonists have been helping you the whole time. The big bad wants the characters to kill him. For once the game realizes that its point is to be defeated by the player.

If Squeenix hadn’t gone and relied on a deus ex machina ending like they had, the world would have ended with mankind and the FC extinct. It would have been brilliant.

Here’s another idea for the writers out there. If we have no idea (and no hint) a character can do something until you dramatically reveal it in the penultimate cutscene, it will feel cheap when you make the ending rely on that skill. Not to mention, of course, that the physics of arresting the momentum of a giant biome falling thousands of feet through the atmosphere would probably result in the deaths of nearly every inhabitant.

This is all stacked upon the naive and bullheaded solution that our heroes come up with to counter the manipulative FC. Get this, their plan is to just keep going along the path hoping that something will save them from dooming themselves (ok, so it does, but that’s because of narrative bullshit). It makes my brain hurt in ways I cannot fathom. It’s idiotic.

Now we’re going to take a moment for a quick aside into my personal life that will invariably lead back into the game.

I don’t know what university was like for non-math-type majors, but for my ECE degree I was forced to read and watch tons of mathematical proofs. Invariably (math pun! (so lonely)) we’d reach a point where the professor would skip to the end of the proof and tell us students “I’ll leave the rest of this proof as an academic exercise for you students”. When you’re the professor, you don’t have to waste your time doing the grunt work.

That was quick, back to the game:

Why are we forced to load the battle engine against enemies who are drastically weaker than the player’s party? What’s the point of that? The only time I’ve ever seen this problem intelligently avoided was when I played Earthbound. Once Ness is sufficiently more powerful than a given enemy, enemy encounters result in an instant KO. The battle engine isn’t loaded and XP and items are awarded as appropriate. The game surrenders a battle whose result is a foregone conclusion, saving you from wasting unnecessary time.

Shouldn’t more games do this? Why do I have to load up the battle engine to complete a fight that lasts five to ten seconds? What does the game gain by forcing me to sit through this? It’s not like we’re strategically managing resources in this game (unlike, say, a Persona or Shin Megami Tensei game); the entire party is fully healed after every battle. So why not? Does Squeenix think that if we don’t sit through a five second battle while pushing ‘X’ once we will be livid that the game is playing itself?

Of course, this makes even less sense when you think about the way the battle system works in FF XIII. There are two ways that you can fight: Auto-Attack and Abilities. If you select Auto, the AI will select a series of commands faster than you could based on the knowledge it has about the enemy you are facing. All you have to do is set the roles (Tank, DPS, Healer, Buffer/Debuffer) and the game will pick the most prudent course of action. It’s also streamlined to such a degree that if you die, all you’ve got to do is pick retry and you are respawned just outside the battle you just lost. It’s that easy.

Final Fantasy XIII wants so badly to be a well-oiled machine, like a Disney ride pushing you toward the goal, that these time sinks become way more pronounced. Fighting with auto, like almost every player does, with your only responsibility being character roles can still be strategic and fun, but at a certain point I start to think, “Why do I have to select auto every single round? Why can’t I just toggle it off when I need to change my tactics?” It’s like the game asks me every turn if I still want it to play the game for me.

Don’t get me wrong here, XIII is not a bad game…or maybe it is. Perhaps FF XIII is a better experience than it is a game. You’ve got stunning cutscenes and top-notch voice acting combined with a game that mostly plays itself along a straight line. Almost sounds like a movie to me.

Lightning cosplay at Otakon 2010

Evo 2009, Rock Band Network, ESA vs CTA [Game Overview]
Jul 24th, 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’ve got a lot of ground to cover this week, so let’s get cracking right away. Will I mention Left 4 Dead 2 again? Read on to find out:

Thank God Atlus Made a Mistake

Video game companies take note: countdown timers suck. No one likes them. Stop teasing your announcements and just make announcements like normal people do.

Or you could do what Atlus just did and tease an announcement and follow it with an accidental premature reveal. The cat is out of the bag, Atlus announced another new spinoff iteration to their MegaTen series with the upcoming (comes out 8 October) Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. Story details indicate that the main character is a member of a UN research team deployed to investigate some weirdness at the South Pole. I’m a fan of MegaTen in general, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

Big Numbers

It seems that Dragon Quest IX has sold another 600k or so since last week. Good on them, keep it up and localize that game faster!

Rock Out!

Guitar Hero fans were so smug about the music creation tools within GH: World Tour. It turned out to be a rather niche feature that created midi-representations of songs that vocals couldn’t even be recorded for. Clearly not what everyone was expecting. Harmonix announced the Rock Band Network this week, allowing bands who hold copyrights to songs to chart their own songs and release them within Rock Band, fully realizing their vision of making Rock Band a platform for music distribution. It’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see if some of my favorite underrepresented bands will start submitting their music to the game. There are a few caveats with submission, namely that the content must remain rated T, but it’s still some of the best news I’ve heard from the company not pertaining directly to The Beatles: Rock Band in a while.

While I’m on the subject of Rock Band, research is showing that sales of boxed copies of Rock Band and Guitar Hero are down 49% in no small part due to the Guitar Hero glut diluting the marketplace. Thankfully, Harmonix’s music platform idea has caught on, earning them a cool billion dollars in revenue. They’ve sold over 40 million tracks online. Good on you HMX.

Get Rock Band 2!

Evo

Evo 2009 came to a close this year and if you know anything about Street Fighter, you can probably guess who won. Daigo “The Beast” in the West and “Ume” in Japan Umehara, playing as Ryu, faced off against America’s Justin Wong, playing as Balrog, in a fight that truly went the distance.

Known around the world for his almost psychic shoryuken deployment, Daigo squeezed past Wong with truly expert execution.

If you want to see more Daigo vs Wong, check out Daigo’s most famous moment from Evo 2004. The epic action begins at about 2:43:

Confused by what you just saw? Daigo, as Ken, parried all 15 of the hits in Justin Wong’s Chun-Li super move. This is no easy feat, especially considering that he had to jump to do one of them. He then takes advantage of Chun-Li’s recovery time to unleash a super of his own, winning the match and Evo 2004.

While they haven’t faced each other as many times, I like to think of Wong and Umehara as the Federer and Roddick of the fighting game world. Good luck next year Justin.

Swamp Fever

Come on, you knew I was going to mention it? New L4D2 details have emerged thanks to SDCC. Valve has released details and footage of the Spitter at Comic-Con.

The Spitter seems to fall into Valve’s “split up groups” policy in Left 4 Dead. Not content to allow players to sit on their haunches with the same tactics from L4D, the Spitter will disperse survivors by lobbing spit balls in a mortar-like fashion that cause continuous damage when players stand in the same spot. Combined with the Charger, this game is looking to be a lot harder.

Other announcements include the common-uncommon infected, modified common infected specific to each level. One can guess that the hazmat, fire retardant infected are one example of this innovation, but Valve has specifically named Mud Men from, I assume, Swamp Fever as common-uncommon infected. They will crawl and move very quickly.

That video actually shows off quite a bit. You can see the residue from a Spitter quickly take down Coach and Ellis and Nick is knocked away from the group and savagely beat against the ground by a Charger (the little arm is so funny looking) while Rochelle is overwhelmed by common infected. It looks intense.

The Fortress

Everyone loves Dwarf Fortress-related comics. Matt and Ian at Three Panel Soul have put together yet another strip.

Man Do I Love “Paperback Writer”

While we’re far away from the subject of The Beatles: Rock Band, how about I post the new gameplay trailer?

I need this game when I get back from Japan.

Time for Updates!

The Xbox 360 dashboard will be updates on 11 August. New features seem to be their games on demand service, movie parties (think MSTK3000), and an avatar marketplace so you can buy gear for your Mii knockoff.

Grand Theft Advertising

Chicago poked the bear by prohibiting the advertising of games rated M on their public transportation ad spaces while not also prohibiting the advertising of R-rated movies. The suit comes from the ESA who claims that the whole thing defies the first amendment. Nice work getting yourselves in trouble Chicago. Was it really worth it to get rid of GTA IV ads?

Game Overview: Editorial: Instruction Manuals and In-Game Tutorials
Jun 8th, 2008 by Dan

“It used to be, if you found a key in a Zelda game and you didn’t know what a key did, you were either mentally handicapped or you reached for the instruction manual. I suppose, eventually, someone in Nintendo’s R&D did a big Powerpoint presentation, with the cooperation of a local psychiatrist, proving — quite logically — that people absent-minded enough to forget what a key does have probably also lost both the box and instruction manual of the game they’re playing. As an employee in a videogame company’s marketing division myself, I could put up a convincing presentation to explain that we should probably just explain once what a key does, and then leave it up to these instruction-manual misplacers to either remember that, or figure it out anew. If anyone attacked my views and said that we can’t shut out the morons and the idiots just because most people — not to mention most gamers — aren’t either, I would jump up onto the boardroom table and scream, what the fuck do you do if the person loses the fucking cartridge, huh? What the fuck do you do then! Would you give out a free game and console to a shaky kid who showed up at a game shop and said that first he lost the manual, then the box, then he forgot what keys did, then he lost his lunch money, then he lost the game cartridge, and then his DS? There’s a certain line, separating the place where enough is enough and the place where enough is more than enough, and incessant “You got a key!” messages, as a habit, is at least a couple steps into “more than enough” country.”

-Tim Rogers in his review of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

The time: Thanksgiving 2007
The place: My parent’s house out in Florida
The game: Super Mario Galaxy

I may have some of the details wrong, of course, but I distinctly remember the conversation. Shortly after receiving a new game and liberating it from its plastic prison, I immediately popped that sucker into my Wii and started playing the game, eager to see if this was as good as all the critics claimed. Eric saw this and then he asked me a question. “You’re not gonna read the instruction manual first like we always used to?”

I don’t remember if I told him my reasoning or not at that point, but it all boils down to the fact that, after the opening cutscenes have ended, the game explicitly tells me that I can jump by pushing the “A” button. Why should I bother trying to pick up and read the manual to a game when I’m gonna have to learn how to play the game in the opening zone anyway?

Video games weren’t always in such dire straits when it came to hand-holding (I addressed a similar topic, difficulty, not too long ago here). Blame it on the limitations of the medium, but the video games of the past had neither the time nor the desire to try and clue you into the mechanics of the game. Take Tim Rogers’ example of the key in Zelda. Graphics had evolved far enough from the Atari days that we could recognize that Link was picking up keys. They had also evolved enough that a door blocking our path had a keyhole in it, something that most people have the schema in place to understand requires a key to open. There was a counter in the bottom left of the screen and when you used a key on a door, the door permanently opened and the counter performed a little n– (although this may have predated C++…).

As games approach “photo-realism” you can be damn sure that keys look a hell of a lot more like keys. Zelda games are also not shy about the locks they put on their doors: behemoth masses of chains linked to a lock whose size is approximately 1/2 the height of Link himself. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t even need the game to tell you that you’ve picked up a key. Whenever you walk over one for the first time or you get one from a chest, you’re always treated to a scene where Link holds it high over his head. An explanation may be necessary to understand just what a bombchu or hookshot is, but a key? It’s trivial.

Back to game-starting tutorials: it’s not a mystery as to why they have superseded the instruction manual. You think gamers bitch enough about having to read in-game text? Imagine forcing them to :gasp: read a booklet to understand how to move around the map. I can also see the compelling argument that, as a kinetic medium, gameplay is best learned kinetically. It’s one thing to read that to aim in first-person in Metal Gear Solid 3 all I have to do is hold R1 to enter first-person mode, hold L1 (I think) to pull out your weapon in aim mode, and then push Square to fire, all while using L2 and R2 separately to lean left or right, respectively, or both simultaneously to move your first-person view up. It’s another thing entirely to do this properly in the game (I should know…I got my ass handed to me by Olga Gurlukovich the first time I fought her in MGS2). If you think about it, teaching you how to do it while the game is running is brilliant. You not only are learning how to play the game so you don’t throw down the controller and quit in frustration, you’re also getting some practice in.

So, as soon as they could start to fit them in the game, the (oftentimes mandatory) in-game tutorial was born. This was a real bummer for me for two entirely selfish reasons:

1. If I knew how to play a game already (I read the manual, for Christ’s sake, I know how to jump!) I was stuck playing something that counted as a level for the designers that was mega boring and unskippable. Final Fantasy games as early as FF VII mercifully allowed you to skip their materia tutorials and whatnot, but their modern day equivalents like FF X have fully scripted, unskippable tutorial battles! Ten games in and only now do they feel the need to teach me how I should be battling. Really?

2. I loved reading instruction manuals. I can still still remember the (asinine) story of Donkey Kong Country as told by its instruction manual. The epic tale featured a frightened Diddy Kong guarding a treasure trove of bananas before he is beaten up and stuffed in a barrel. That’s all without mentioning the hilarious asides that Cranky Kong tossed into the margins of the manual as he complained about the complexity of modern day games compared to games of his day.

The problem is that I’m in the majority for #1 and the minority for #2. I know too much about games and love stuff like Final Fantasy too much for them to care about annoying me with tutorial battles. They just don’t want to scare away that tiny market fragment that’s never played a Final Fantasy game. As for the second problem, well I like to read and that’s kind of rare in the video game audience. For every one of my friends who loves an epic storyline that you have to read or listen to, I can think of two or three other friends who shudder at the thought cutscenes in general (“Why am I not killing stuff yet?”). Even friends of mine who love reading in their spare time make the distinction that they don’t love to read when they’re playing a video game. Just try and get one of them to have to read an instruction manual before they understand what’s going on in a game and you’ll find yourself minus one game sale.

We mustn’t forget that the instruction manual quality has also been dropping, since no one reads them any more. Why spend extra bucks on a good writer for something that most people aren’t gonna even take out of the game case? Heck, many of them aren’t even in color anymore to cut costs.

I recognize that I’m a part of a dying breed of gamers who used to enjoy instruction manuals. Tim Rogers (boy I bet you’re sick of hearing that name in this blog by now?) is just about the only non-family member I know who loves them too, as evidenced by his spending a whopping three paragraphs and 561 words reminiscing (although some commentors would say droning on) about how much he loves and misses them in his review of Blue Dragon and that’s just the intro; I’m pretty sure he talks about them more in that review. Still, I can’t let go of them and I hope they one day return to their former glory.

Unfortunately, with the advent of digital distribution, I’m pretty sure we can kiss the instruction manual goodbye. When your game doesn’t even have to be physically put into a box, you can be damn sure that most won’t even bother with a .pdf to explain game mechanics when they can just do it in-game. Here’s to hoping that in-game tutorials stop sucking some day soon. Whether they’re just too damn long like GTA IV (5-10 hours in and STILL doing tutorial missions) or too damn boring like Super Mario Galaxy (“Press A to jump!”), they can still use some major tweaking.

Game Overview: Late Link Edition
May 11th, 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.

This week’s Game Overview’s got more links than a sausage-fest:

GTA destroys sales records!

X-COM sequel announced!

and, my personal favorite:

MLB Power Pros 2008 officially announced!

Sorry for the late post, I’ve had exams delaying me.

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
May 4th, 2008 by Dan

SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS3.

Whoever wins, the battle does not end. The loser is set free from the battlefield, while the winner must remain there. And the survivor will live out his life as the warrior until the day he dies.

-Big Boss to Solid Snake

The Story

Metal Gear’s story completely revolves around the subjects of loyalty and betrayal. From the absolute first game for the MGX all the way to Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake is always manipulated and even betrayed by the very people he has put his trust in. MGS 3 explores what is probably not the first betrayal in the MG canon, but the first important one. Kojima hops into his way-back machine to take us to 1964, the height of the Cold War. Our protagonist, the man who started it all, the man who will become Big Boss, the man who is the genetic father to Solid, Liquid, and Solidus, and the man who first takes the codename (Naked) Snake. It turns out that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not really averted at all by removing missiles from Turkey. No, it was a direct result of the US returning a valuable weapon’s scientist to the USSR. Well guess what, the US wants Sokolov back and so begins the Virtuous Mission.

Naked Snake is air dropped into the heart of the Soviet jungle and instructed to keep a low profile as he recovers Sokolov. On his support squad are Major Zero, the movie-loving Para-Medic, and last, we have Snake’s mentor, The Boss. If you’ve been reading this review at all, you can probably guess what happens to Snake as he begins his escape from Russia with Sokolov. The Boss betrays Snake, her team, the Cobra Unit, abducts Sokolov, and Snake is hurled off a bridge with a broken arm by The Boss where he is eventually recovered by US forces and taken home.

On their way out, the main antagonist, Colonel Volgin, nukes the former research facility that Sokolov was working at using missiles The Boss gave him as goodwill gifts, steals the Shagohad super weapon, and flees with Sokolov, the Cobra Unit, and Ocelot. Snake is debriefed by Major Zero a week later. Both Snake and the Major are in danger of being executed for treason. Khrushchev is not happy about the nuke going off and the US government does not believe that Snake was not involved with the defection of The Boss, his former mentor. Major Zero, Snake, and Para-Medic have one last chance: Snake must infiltrate Soviet Russia yet again, rescue Sokolov, destroy the Shagohad, kill Colonel Volgin, and, to prove his loyalty, kill The Boss. Because The Boss leads the elite Cobra Unit, the mission is given the name Snake Eater and the main game begins.

In many ways, this story is truly the masterpiece of MGS to date. Big Boss was a character born out of the 8-bit days, so his personality and his motivations seem very one-dimensional to anyone who remembers Metal Gear. Naked Snake’s (the future Big Boss) betrayal at the hands of The Boss is absolutely meant to parallel Solid Snakes betrayal at the hands of Big Boss and shows the unfortunate and inevitable chain of events that plagues every protagonist of Metal Gear games. Naked, Solid, even Raiden have all had to murder their mentors and masters as a final test to prove their worth. The final battle between Snake and The Boss gave me chills, I could not believe how well-acted and well-put together it was. MGS3’s ending is also amazing. You honestly have no soul if the end of this game, from at least the fight with The Boss onwards does not touch you in some way.

I raised you. I loved you. I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There is nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take is my life, by your own hand. One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Gameplay

If you thought MGS2 had its gameplay down to a science, wait until you boot up Metal Gear Solid 3. The camera, I think, should be the first things we talk about. MGS and MGS2 featured fixed cameras that restricted your view to preset, dynamic camera angles (less dymanic, more static in MGS) that oftentimes concealed guards, but was assisted by the super-accurate radar, complete with vision cones. Well Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964. There are no nanomachines or soliton radars to show you where all the enemies are. You have sonar and a motion detector. One makes an audible beep, the other is only useful when enemies are moving. Both can also pick up wildlife. If you haven’t yet figured this out, MGS3 takes out a large degree of the guard stupidity where you would be able to tell exactly how far a guard could see based on his vision cone. It’s another added bit of realism that is quite difficult to get used to at first, but eventually really adds to the game as it starts to feel like less of a game.

On the topic of realism…Snake now has a stamina bar that determines how well he can aim, how long he can hang, and will, I believe, begin to drain his life bar if fully depleted. Stamina is recovered by eating the food scattered throughout the jungle, from snakes to frogs to mushrooms to flying squirrels and more. These animals can be shot dead (or knifed dead, exploded dead, punched dead, etc.) and stored in that way or tranquilized and stored in cages to keep fresh or even use as weapons (ie: throwing a poisonous snake at a guard to freak him out and/or poison him) Food can spoil and actually give Snake indigestion, which brings us to our next point. Snake’s health bar can be artificially depleted through injury. Bullet wounds, cuts and gashes, broken bones, poisonous animals, leeches, and indigestion can all afflict Snake and he must either repair his maladies in the CURE menu or you can also just save and quit and let time do the healing for you.

Even more controversial than the stamina meter is the camouflage system. At any given moment in time, Snake has a percentage bar in the top right corner telling the player how well Snake is blending in with his surroundings. High camo ratings means the enemy cannot see you, even if you are on the floor right in front of him. Of course, if he runs right up next to you and you’re not 100% camo-ed (which is impossible with included camo) you will be spotted. It doesn’t sound all that bad at first pass, but since camo options are handled in the pause menu, it amounts to a whole lot of pausing and unpausing just to swap face paints or camo suits. The new system does help add to the realism and make for smarter guards, but your willingness to suspend disbelief can be tested when, like I said, a guard is standing right next to you, but your forest colored pants are preventing him from seeing you.

The same basic weapons and accessories/items are included, but with a 1960s twist. There are no laser sights and there is no C4, but you get dynamite instead. Included is a new “Backpack” system, where Snake can only hold eight items and eight weapons accessible from the in-game menu, each with individual weights. The more weight he’s carrying at a given moment, the faster his stamina depletes. Items and weapons are swapped using an option in the pause menu.

Snake also still has the option to go through the entire game without specifically killing one human being through his own actions (mostly). As you all know, this is one of my favorite features of the Metal Gear series and it actually made me start GTA IV this week wondering if I could get by without killing anyone (you can’t).

One last word on the setting. MGS has typically had Snake infiltrating modern facilities and bases, not traipsing through the jungle, which I feel is a bit weaker of a locale. Hiding in the grass is cool and all, but I just love sneaking through futuristic settings instead of through the jungle, where I get bit by leeches and have to burn them off with a cigar. MGS4 should include a nice mix of both the more open jungle environments and the typical closed MGS locations, which should be a nice change of pace.

Liquid and Solid hunted down Big Boss, trying to sever the tie that bound them to him. Unless you kill me and face your past, Jack, you will never escape. You’ll stay in the endless loop — your own double helix.

-Solidus Snake to Raiden

Graphics

As mentioned before, MGS3 instead deals with a jungle setting, which means that we get a nice green, damp, jungle-y look. The color is a bit washed out on my PS3, but I’m wiling to forget that. The character models all look superb and only showed their last-gen limitations sparingly. This is one of the best looking games on the PS2 though, it’s not to be missed.

You’re a soldier! Finish your mission! Prove your loyalty!

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Sound

Jungle sounds! Birds, frogs, snakes, etc. They all sound about right. The strength of MGS3 lies in its superb soundtrack. If you ever go to my last.fm page, you may have noticed that I very recently received about six CDs worth of Metal Gear Solid soundtracks, which I am loving to death. The music in this game continually wows me as I listen to it.

The voice acting in this game continues to hold up to the high levels of quality one would expect. Snake, still voiced by David Hayter, is still the man and his team is still funny, if not just a wee bit less interesting this time around. There are still funny moments though:

“Sigint: Uh, Snake… What are you doing?

Snake: I’m in a box.

Sigint: A cardboard box? Why are you…?

Snake: I dunno. I was just looking at it and I suddenly got this urge to get inside. No, not just an urge – more than that. It was my destiny to be here; in the box.

Sigint: Destiny…?

Snake: Yeah. And then when I put it on, I suddenly got this feeling of inner peace. I can’t put it into words. I feel… safe. Like this is where I was meant to be. Like I’d found the key to true happiness.

Sigint: …

Snake: Does any of that make sense?

Sigint: Not even a little.

Snake: You should come inside the box… Then you’ll know what I mean.

Sigint: Man, I don’t wanna know what you mean! Between you and Para-Medic, is everyone but me that is hooked up with the Major strange!?

Snake: …

Sigint: Yeah, well, anyway, I suppose even that dumbass box might make a decent disguise if you wear it inside a building.”

Overall

I’m still absolutely in love with the Metal Gear Solid series, even after three games. The characteristic humor is still there (when you die you get a message that fades into “Time Paradox.” this message can also be prompted by killing Ocelot, a character in the later (chronologically) MGS games), the gameplay is still 100% superb, and the stories all get better with each game. I’m starting to approach a bit of a bittersweet point with MGS4, since I’ve heard it’s the pinnacle of the series, but I don’t want it all to end. Should you play Metal Gear Solid 3? Absolutely.

There’s only room for one Boss… and one Snake…

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Game Overview: GT What? – Game Drought
May 2nd, 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.

So a little game flew in under the radar on Tuesday known as Grand Theft Auto IV. I’m pretty sure none of you have heard of it, but I picked it up and it’s pretty fun so far. Nico Bellic is, by far, the best GTA protagonist I’ve ever played as and the city itself is just so much fun to get around. I told my brother when I first got it, but it’s super eerie to drive around the game’s “Hove Beach” when I’m so used to driving around the real Brighton Beach where my sister-in-law used to live. Correction: it’s so eerie to run over pedestrians and shoot cops around the neighborhood where my sister-in-law used to live.

Now that GTA is out, surely there must be a huge influx of…what? Nothing? That’s right, GTA has basically scared away the month of May. There are almost no high-caliber launches until June, when Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out. Now, this may be because the Summer is typically slow for game releases, but I’m pretty sure that, Nintendo aside with its ballsy pre-GTA Mario Kart Wii launch, is about the only company who would want to even think about competing with Rockstar this month.

Of course, if GTA IV is the 100-hour ordeal that they claim it to be, then you should be more than set for the month, stop complaining. If you don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360, go play Mario Kart online, it’s the best online service they’ve got on the system. If you’re a PC gamer, there was a Team Fortress 2 patch recently (or it will launch soon) and at least Mass Effect PC comes out at the end of the month.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my MGS soundtrack CDs have all come in and I’ve got plenty of gaming and Slope Day-ing to do. Enjoy this video review of GTA IV from IGN.

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: Fukudome
Apr 30th, 2008 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.

It’s been a long while since I last posted due to homework, projects, and a general game overload (MGS3, MGO, Persona 3: FES, GTA IV, MKW), but I’m back in business today and we should be seeing a return to our regularly scheduled programming for the foreseeable future. So let’s get back to it!

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about one of the most interesting new baseball players to hit the MLB and my new favorite players, Kosuke Fukudome. While he’s not technically a rookie (Fukudome already had a productive career playing for the Chunichi Dragons of the NPB), this is his first year of stateside play and he’s already making quite a splash in the Cubs’ roster. You see, Fukudome comes to the states with a very interesting new philosophy that’s translating to one of the highest on base percentages in baseball for the Cubs.

Kosuke Fukudome brings patience to the batter’s box, a quality that’s not generally present among the current Western-bred baseball players. When he’s at the plate, Fukudome basically refuses to swing at anything that’s not clearly a strike and he’s getting amazing results. His batting average is somewhere in the high .300s and a very high, for someone who’s not a power hitter, walk count (13th in the leauge). You see, Fukudome subscribes to a Japanese philosophy of kotoshi koso, which translates to “It’s going to happen,” so as a result he’s got the highest pitch count of any batter in the MLB. He waits for his perfect pitch and he doesn’t swing recklessly, putting him in the bottom 15 of all MLB htiters for strikeouts.

The best part about his philosophy is that he’s positively influencing his teammates as well. At least two of the new players on the Cubbies are also actively drawing way more walks. The team as a whole has shifted to a brand new, for the Cubs, philosophy of patience that has pushed Chicago up to the top of the NL Central (tied with the surprisingly powerful Cardinals).

Enjoy some articles about the great Kosuke Fukudome along with this great embedded video of some of his NPB highlights (hopefully this makes up for my lack of a video yesterday)

http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3363255
http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080422&content_id=2569206&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

Game Overview: GTAIV, Mario Kart Wii, MGS Online Beta
Apr 18th, 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.

Tired of Metal Gear coverage on this site yet? Man I hope not, because we’ve got even more news. Thanks to my Insider subscription to IGN, I’m eligible for the Metal Gear Online beta (!). MGO is a standalone multiplayer title set to tie in with MGS4 once it launches. I don’t know much about the game other than that it features man-cannons, persistent character development, cardboard boxes (comic for the old MGO), and that it will most likely include body dragging that will inevitably degenerate into corpse-humping. I’ll have more details once the beta opens on Monday.

Mario Kart Wii has been in the hands of just about everyone but the Americans so far this year. While there remain some really tough detractors for the slightly more casual perception of the game :cough: IGN :cough:, just about everyone agrees that the online portion of MKWii is amazingly well done, as is the Mario Kart Channel. Personally, I’m not sure I’m gonna be a first day purchaser, I may wait until I graduate and get to my new apartment. With a pre-order on Persona 3: FES coming in next Wednesday, MGS3 to beat, the MGO beta, and needing to get enough work done to graduate, I just might have too much on my plate to handle MKWii. This also means one other important game will have to wait:

GTAIV comes out a few days after Mario Kart and the promise of at least a 100+ hour single-player experience seems quite daunting, to say the least. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the game, as it apparently offers some kick-ass multiplayer modes to really keep you interested. I don’t know all of these modes, but one of them that I heard about, Cops and Crooks, has a lot of promise. One team spawns in cop cars and they’re the cops. The other team spawns throughout the map and their goal is to escort their team leader to an escape point (a helipad or a dock) without the slightly tougher than usual team leader crook dying. All of the franticly fun stories I’ve heard about this mode have more than made me interested in this game, so we’ll see how that goes. Rumors of the Xbox 360 exclusive DLC being a whole new city are also very intriguing.

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