Wednesday, December 31, 2008
So, this week I broke another 360 controller. It was a wired one, like I almost always use, because they are so much lighter weight than the wireless ones. Im not keeping track, but I know I sent a bunch of broken ones to MD to make arcade sticks with, and I still have a few, plus this one. Definitely 6 or 7 Xbox 360 controllers, although several of them were MadCatz 360 Pro controllers which were of dubious build quality before I got my hands of death on them. The normal Microsoft controllers, I dropped a couple of them until the shoulder buttons died, and my cat chewed one's cord into infinity. Other than that I just wear them out until they stop functioning in one way or another.
I thought this was normal but apparently after to talking to some gamers, I do have a bad problem with breaking controllers, at least for someone who doesnt smash or throw them. James Bond 007 told me he was still on his first 360 controller, which I still dont believe. Maybe I just have bad luck. All I know is, if someone ever tries to design an unbreakable controller, send it to me first. At least I wont cheat and use my Level 3 Dragon Sword on it.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Watch OutRun Online Arcade announcement trailer in Game Videos |
I dont know about you but Im more excited about this game than anything Criterion has done in the last year. Bright, colorful graphics, wide open courses, huge drifts, lap leaderboards, 6 player online - sound familiar? Coming Spring 2009 to XBLA and PSN.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The guys at gametrailers picked Star Wars The Force Unleashed as the most disappointing game of 2008. Thats a little harsh. The gameplay wasnt amazing but the production values were out of this world, the Euphoria physics engine worked extremely well with The Force, and although at 10 hours long it was too short and the combat was too shallow to recommend buying it (except for the most hardcore Star Wars fans), I think its a fun rental.
There were several Capcom games that came out this year that I was pretty sure were not going to make the cut - but turned out to be great. Everything Capcom touched in 2008 was solid gold. Looking at what they've done with their intellectual properies, they have as much of my respect as any gaming company in the world.
Some of my favorite games of 2008, were in ways disappointments, because they were so great but fell short of perfection. Fallout 3, GTA IV, Prince of Persia, Gears of War 2, Ninja Gaiden 2 - those games were almost perfect 10s. Those are easily in my top 10 favorite games of the year, but they are also disappointments in how they brush up against perfection without achieving it.
So now that Ive confused you by telling you all my favorite games actually disappoint me, what games actually bit the big fat one in 2008? PS Home. Spore. Age of Conan. Too Human. Far Cry 2. Mortal Kombat vs DC. Legendary. Wii Music. Alone in the Dark. Sonic Unleashed. Fracture. Shaun White Snowboarding. Golden Axe. Turok. Those games, as great as certain parts of them might be, are crippled by glaring flaws that render the overall experience much less enjoyable than it should be. Burnout Paradise, I might add, was a fun single player game but had absolutely none of the depth we wanted in an online racing game, so in that regard it was a huge disappointment. Some games, like Civilization Revolution, I was simply expecting too much from. Age of Conan just didnt have enough fun quests. Sonic starred in another comic-tragedy. We kinda expect Sonic to suck now, but still.
Spore, the biggest flop of 2008 on the PC, was just too dumbed down and too short. It still sold a million copies, so what do I know. I think the biggest bomb of the year for the 360 was Silicon Knight's Too Human. Both Spore and Too Human are games with nearly 10 years of development behind them, and tons of hype, so for them to finally debut in 2008 and be so lackluster left a lot of fans shaking their heads. But really we cant complain, as overall it was one of the best years ever for gamers, second maybe only to 2007. But thats another discussion entirely.
Friday, December 26, 2008
I have one word for these guys: daredevils. This is far beyond wingsuit flying or BASE jumping. This is cheating death for kicks. I would not do this for any amount of money, and these guys do it just for fun, and thats why they rock. Simply amazing footage.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
(For the most part, the above Gametrailers video review is an accurate representation of my viewpoint, and most importantly it shows the game in motion.)
The new Prince of Persia is certainly worth playing for most 360, PS3 and PC owners who enjoy platforming games, and while it has many dazzling moments, its not quite a must own title for the system. If you are a huge fan of the series, or platform-orb-collection in general - this game will almost certainly please you. However, my prediction is that like Assassins Creed 2, the sequel to this Prince of Persia game will be closer to perfection in all regards, even if this game is nearly perfect in some.
One of the best parts of Prince of Persia is that its actually a very non-gamer friendly title, the controls are simple to learn, and nothing occurs in the game that you wouldn't want to show your little niece or grandmother, its all very much on the up and up, which is extremely rare in a top tier title not made by Nintendo. Its easy to just pick up and play, and many non-gamers will mistake it for anime or an animated film when they first see it running on an HDTV.
The game is a visual masterpiece. It is easily one of the most graphically stunning games Ive ever played, not so much in a technical sense like Gears or Crysis, but in the fantastic art and overall gorgeous look of world. It is a world which is presented seamlessly without any loading screens, which is a true technical feat given how large and detailed it is. And unlike other games which made a really big deal about no loading screens and then it turned out nobody cared about loading screens in a racing game anyway, and actually preferred them, in Prince of Persia the lack of loading screens really enhances your immersion into the fantasy world. Because the animations are spectacularly lifelike, the entire game looks like one long anime motion capture sequence. The music is also excellent, while the voicework and sound design are merely adequate. The overall presentation of the game, from the menus to the cutscenes to the final credits, is among the best I've ever seen.
The gameplay itself will be very much a love/hate affair for many gamers, although if you give yourself over to the controls and try to shake off the years of button mashing programmed into your thumb, you will find a pleasingly addictive platformer with some occasional QTE focused battles. The combined effect of the stunning anime like graphics with minimal button pressing in both the platforming and combat segments gives the game an almost Dragons Lair like quality. You watch the game as much as you play it, and thats a beautiful thing - or not, depending on your gaming philosophy and style. For me, in the end, I loved the platforming segments, hunting the orbs, reaching the fertile ground, but when it came time to fight I simply wanted more control. The prince moves too slowly in combat, he is no longer nimble but becomes stiff and awkward to control, as his gaze is fixed upon the enemy. The animations in the combat are amazing, I just wish I had a bit more to do with them than blocking QTEs until I could go into a combo. Also, Elika becomes unwieldy at times, the hit detection isnt perfect, and sometimes button presses wont be recognized properly.
I could go further into detail about why the combat isnt perfect, or I could just say, once you get a feel for Ninja Gaiden and God of War's combat style, you cant go back - its like going from a Ferarri Enzo to a Toyota Camry - even if its the most blinged out, pimped out Camry this side of Midnight Club LA, it cant drift at 209mph. But for the way many people drive, a blinged out Camry is really all they need, and ultimately all they want, and thats why I think the combat in this game is pleasing to so many journalists and gamers. But for many of us weaned on faster, and more hardcore action games, it feels like a step backwards.
Ultimately my feeling is that driving down a beautiful fantasy land country road, in a blinged out Camry, with a hot princess by your side, isnt the worst way to spend an afternoon. In fact its quite enjoyable, despite the fact that the combat simply bores me. But thats OK, because I think this game does have a place in your collection, especially if you dont have a Wii. Could you bring a nice girl over to your house and even contemplate showing her Ninja Gaiden 2, or God of War 2? Games you can play with your non-gaming friends and family have real value, and they do great service for the videogames industry in general by opening peoples eyes to the fact that it doesnt have to be all guns and gore and violence. Lets hope Ubisoft hears our criticisms and our praise and makes the sequel that much better, because for a total reboot of the franchise, they have done a commendable job.
As a final note, I read on some crappy website called Kotaku that some guy at MTV "discovered" that Prince of Persia may have been "influenced" by Shadow of the Colossus. Thats like saying Dennis Leary was "influenced" by Bill Hicks. You just have to laugh at he naivete of it all. The New Prince of Persia is not "possibly" "maybe" "allegedly" "influenced" or "inspired" by SOTC and ICO, it is a direct descendant which lifts part and parcel segments of those games, as well as Crackdown, Zelda TP, and Assassins Creed, and retrofits them into a new environment with a new look and feel. Fortunately for Ubisoft, the new look for Prince of Persia is so exquisite that all sins are forgiven - almost.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The New York Times
I had a bad day last Friday, but it was an all-too-typical day for America. It actually started well, on Kau Sai Chau, an island off Hong Kong, where I stood on a rocky hilltop overlooking the South China Sea and talked to my wife back in Maryland, static-free, using a friend’s Chinese cellphone. A few hours later, I took off from Hong Kong’s ultramodern airport after riding out there from downtown on a sleek high-speed train — with wireless connectivity that was so good I was able to surf the Web the whole way on my laptop.
Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.
The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented. The disgusting track-side platforms apparently have not been cleaned since World War II. I took the Acela, America’s sorry excuse for a bullet train, from New York to Washington. Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.
All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that’s the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.”
My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.
To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.
For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.
That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.
It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.
America still has the right stuff to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse, innovative culture and open society — in a world where the ability to imagine and generate new ideas with speed and to implement them through global collaboration is the most important competitive advantage. China may have great airports, but last week it went back to censoring The New York Times and other Western news sites. Censorship restricts your people’s imaginations. That’s really, really dumb. And that’s why for all our missteps, the 21st century is still up for grabs.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Is this the worst game ever made? Did this game, and others like it such as the atrocious 2600 port of Pac Man, bring about the collapse of the home videogame console industry in 1983-84? Or was the collapse just an illusionary product of a misinformed media? I actually remember playing my cousins 2600 quite fondly, but then the next year it was replaced by a Colecovision, and then the ubiquitous NES. Was Atari just mismanaged into failure, or did they simply not produce the hardware and software necessary to compete with Nintendo's hardware scrolling and Miyamoto's masterpiece, Super Mario Brothers? We're talking about it in the IGN Retro forums.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The New York Times
The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I’ve never been asked before: “So, just how corrupt is America?”
His question was occasioned by the arrest of the Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff on charges of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions of dollars, but it wasn’t only that. It’s the whole bloody mess coming out of Wall Street — the financial center that Hong Kong moneymen had always looked up to. How could it be, they wonder, that such brand names as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. could turn out to have such feet of clay? Where, they wonder, was our Securities and Exchange Commission and the high standards that we had preached to them all these years?
One of Hong Kong’s most-respected bankers, who asked not to be identified, told me that the U.S.-owned investment company where he works made a mint in the last decade cleaning up sick Asian banks. They did so by importing the best U.S. practices, particularly the principles of “know thy customers” and strict risk controls. But now, he asked, who is there to look to for exemplary leadership?
“Previously, there was America,” he said. “American investors were supposed to know better, and now America itself is in trouble. Whom do they sell their banks to? It is hard for America to take its own medicine that it prescribed successfully for others. There is no doctor anymore. The doctor himself is sick.”
I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?
Far from being built on best practices, this legal Ponzi scheme was built on the mortgage brokers, bond bundlers, rating agencies, bond sellers and homeowners all working on the I.B.G. principle: “I’ll be gone” when the payments come due or the mortgage has to be renegotiated.
It is both eye-opening and depressing to look at our banking crisis from China. It is eye-opening because it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. and China are becoming two countries, one system.
How so? Easy, in the wake of our massive bank bailout, one can now look at China and America and say: “Well, China has a big-state-owned banking sector, next to a private one, and America now has a big state-owned banking sector next to a private one. China has big state-owned industries, alongside private ones, and once Washington bails out Detroit, America will have a big state-owned industry next to private ones.”
Yes, an exaggeration to be sure, but the truth is the differences are starting to blur. For two decades, a parade of U.S. officials came to China and lectured Beijing on the necessity of privatizing its banks, said Qu Hongbin, the chief economist for China at HSBC. “So, slowly we did that, and now, all of a sudden, we see everybody else nationalizing their banks.”
It’s depressing because China in many ways feels more stable than America today, with a clearer strategy for working through this crisis. And while the two countries are looking more alike, they appear to be on very different historical trajectories. China went crazy in the 1970s, with its Cultural Revolution, and only after the death of Mao and the rise of Deng Xiaoping has it managed to right itself, gradually moving to a market economy.
But while capitalism has saved China, the end of communism seems to have slightly unhinged America. We lost our two biggest ideological competitors — Beijing and Moscow. Everyone needs a competitor. It keeps you disciplined. But once American capitalism no longer had to worry about communism, it seems to have gone crazy. Investment banks and hedge funds were leveraging themselves at crazy levels, paying themselves crazy salaries and, most of all, inventing financial instruments that completely disconnected the ultimate lenders from the original borrowers, and left no one accountable. “The collapse of communism pushed China to the center and [America] to the extreme,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland.
The Madoff affair is the cherry on top of a national breakdown in financial propriety, regulations and common sense. Which is why we don’t just need a financial bailout; we need an ethical bailout. We need to re-establish the core balance between our markets, ethics and regulations. I don’t want to kill the animal spirits that necessarily drive capitalism — but I don’t want to be eaten by them either.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
So, the image you see above is what visitors see when they goto Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima's website. What does it mean? Does the Colonel still need scissors and is he trying to contact us somehow? Is this Fission Mailed for Sony's exclusivity contract on Metal Gear games? Is it MGS4 360, an iPhone Metal Gear game, or Metal Gear Solid on XBLA? My best guess, its all 3. For those sad few who have never before played a Metal Gear game but who own Xbox 360s and/or iPhones, should you even care? Its a tough call. At this point, the game series might be too far along in its existence for strangers to just hitchhike along for the 4th installment. MGS4 has so many internal references which might seem like bizzare inconsistencies or non-sequitors to an outsider. But its this variety and humor thats part of what makes the series unique and so much better than 90% of the generic crap out there - it is the singular product of one visionary individual, for better and worse.
I have no idea if a Metal Gear game would be good on the iPhone, as the PSP metal Gear game had none of the charm and sparkle of its console predecessors, and Im not sold on touch or motion controls, although Im sure its a great business move for Konami and Kojima. I really hope MGS4 comes to the 360 so people who havent invested in PS3s can enjoy stealth-action-gadgetry with non-pareil production values and brain-warping mindfucks. It is definitely one of the best games of 2008, and even if you have never played the series before in your life, the game is certainly worth checking out.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
So Playstation Home is finally here, and somehow beyond all expectations it manages to be even worse the The New Xbox Experience. Wow, Epic Failure doesnt even begin to describe this mess. With the NXE, at least we got a few actually useful features, like party chat (when it works), streaming Netflix (only a fraction of their catalogue), and the ability to install games to the hard drive (a feature which should have been standard on all 360s from day 1). With Home, you get nothing. Nada. Its one of the most existentialist digital experiences ever. Its just that, an experience, its not a game, and it sure as hell isnt Second Life. So what is the experience? Its a world devoid of anything interesting, original, creative, or engaging, and instead filled with advertisements, overpriced knickknacks and insipid minigames that make WarioWare look like Fallout 3. The people who frequent the world dont come across as anymore interesting or inviting than the game world itself, and if you brought your own group of friends to Home what exactly would you do there given then paucity of content?
Most of the content that was promised for Home simply isnt there. Its still coming. Well, what I want to know is what in the bloody world took them so long to release this? Really, Im dumbfounded. Although the avatars are nice, there is absolutely nothing to do with them - same as the NXE. They are pointless, and only serve as a reminder of how Microsoft and Sony are no longer leaders but followers in the videogame industry. Microsoft gave us what is essentially a giant networked billboard replete with Shigeru Miyamoto leg-humping avatars, while Home gives PS3 owners a slightly more polished 3D version of that. Rather than spending time and money on developing features already found in the Xbox 360, Sony has spent an inordinate amount of time developing one of the most useless multi-user applications in the history of software. On the plus side, you dont have to download it, and its free.
I understand these companies want to court new gamers, and Im sure there is someone out there that Home appeals to, but still you truly have to wonder what Sony was thinking to release it as-is after all that hype. Remember, Home was promised to be amazing and be delivered long before the NXE was ever even developed or announced. At a certain point in Home's development, Sony should have simply realized they were too ambitious with the project design and either canned it or modified the design wholesale, because what we got wasnt worth the time and money they spent making it, and I highly doubt any updates will fix Home to make it worth playing.
If you want community, and you have a PS3, I have 3 words for you: Little BIG Planet. Simply put, LBP is one of the finest games of this or any generation. It is stratospherically, positively paradigm shiftingly brilliant, crazy fun, with amazing sound design, photorealistic graphics, and an awesome online community. Im just going to leave my review of the game at that. As bad as Home is, LBP is an epic win for PS3 owners everywhere.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Well this is the much rumored KOTOR MMO, and now its finally been announced. What do you think? Are you pumped for the possibility of online coop Jedi battles with force powers and lightsabers, or do those lifeless animations and the thought of grinding up to level 99 make you queasy? Is there any chance in the world I could get into this game, given my history with MMOs is even spottier than my dating history? Like the lotto people say here in New York; "hey, you never know."
Friday, December 12, 2008
Downloadable digital relaxation for your PS3, coming soon in 2009. Each level takes place in a different flower's dream as it sits on the windowsill of a dull city apartment. As the player progresses through the game, the apartment and city will gradually become more vibrant and colourful. The player guides a petal through brightly coloured abstract fields by tilting the Sixaxis controller, pressing any button on the controller gives a speed boost. The aim is to guide the petal into other flowers in the field, triggering an explosion of colour that spreads through the game world.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"I've been taking pictures, working on my model trains, drinking, of course, and gambling. And that's what things have been lately. But you know me — I'm not just going to sit back. No, I'm definitely going to make something very soon. The great, wide expanse of the skies awaits."
- Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Of all the great things about PC gaming, the very best might be this: mods. What you are seeing above is not a Valve product. It is a total remake of Half Life 1 using the Orange Box build of the Source engine, modded "with minor improvements to the look and feel of the game to meet todays standards." Yeah, I wouldnt call those minor. Coming in 2009 to a PC near you.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The New Yorker
Epic Games is a privately owned company and does not disclose its earnings. But on a Monday morning in late April, while standing in Epic’s parking lot, at Crossroads Corporate Park, in Cary, North Carolina, awaiting the arrival of Cliff Bleszinski, the company’s thirty-three-year-old design director, I realized that my surroundings were their own sort of Nasdaq. Ten feet away was a red Hummer H3. Nearby was a Lotus Elise, and next to it a pumpkin-orange Porsche. Many of the cars had personalized plates: “PS3CODER” (a reference to Sony’s PlayStation3), “EPICBOY,” “GRSOFWAR.”
The last is shorthand for Gears of War, a shooter game, which Epic released in November, 2006, for play on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. Gears of War was quickly recognized as the first game to provide the sensually overwhelming experience for which the console, launched a year earlier, had been designed. Gears won virtually every available industry award, and was the 360’s best-selling game for nearly a year; it has now sold five million copies. On November 7th, a sequel, Gears of War 2, will be released; its development, long rumored, was not confirmed until this past February, when, at the Game Developers’ Conference, in San Francisco, Bleszinski made the announcement after bursting through an onstage partition wielding a replica of one of Gears of War’s signature weapons—an assault rifle mounted with a chainsaw bayonet.
Despite the rapid growth of the video-game industry—last year, sales were higher than either box-office receipts or DVD sales—designers are largely invisible within the wider culture. But Bleszinski, who is known to his many fans and occasional detractors as CliffyB, tends to stand out among his colleagues. Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby’s “Smartbomb,” a book about the industry, recounts the peacockish outfits and hair styles he has showcased at industry expos over the years. In 2001, he affected the stylings of a twenty-first-century Tom Wolfe, with white snakeskin shoes and bleached hair. In 2002, he took to leather jackets and an early-Clooney Caesar cut. By 2003, he was wearing long fur-lined coats, his hair skater-punk red. In recent years, he let his hair grow shaggy, which gave him the mellow aura of a fourth Bee Gee.
Bleszinski drove into Epic’s parking lot in a red Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, the top down despite an impending rainstorm. His current haircut is short and cowlicked, his bangs twirled up into a tiny moussed horn. He was wearing what in my high school would have been called “exchange-student jeans”—obviously expensive but slightly the wrong color and of a somehow non-American cut. Beneath a tight, fashionably out-of-style black nylon jacket was a T-shirt that read “TECHNOLOGY!” His sunglasses were of the oversized, county-sheriff variety, and each of his earlobes held a small, bright diamond earring. He could have been either a boyish Dolce & Gabbana model or a small-town weed dealer.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The implications are obvious - you can easily lock yourself in an impenetrable fortress and blind fire your way to victory. Sadly, it appears that this is the path many people atop the horde leaderboard have taken - the Pathetic Cowards Path. Using shields to defend yourself isnt cowardly, but placing them in such as way that they cannot be kicked in ruins the challenge of the mode - Wave 50 can be completed by a single person on the highest difficulty, surely this cannot be intentional on the part of Epic games.
Whether a patch and leaderboard swipe is forthcoming remains to be seen, however, the reality is if we want to play Horde, we are going to play it the only way we know how - The Heroic Path. Victory is never guaranteed, and the only things that can ensure our survival are tactics, skill and pure luck. Its the only way I would have it.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Phil Ivey continues to add to his god-like profit totals on fulltiltpoker.com this year. After the first two days of December, Ivey has made $540k over just 1,241 tracked hands.
Since the beginning of January, Phil Ivey has made an estimated $7.6 million dollars on Full Tilt Poker (according to HighStakesDB.com). This total is a full $4.1 million dollars more than the next closest player, Tom "durrrr" Dwan. Most of Ivey's half million dollars of profit in December have come from high-stakes No Limit Hold'em. He has banked $462k playing No Limit Hold'em so far in December, which works out to a profit of over $800 per hand.
Ivey took down a particularly big $355k pot in $500/$1000 No Limit Hold'em on Tuesday. The pot involved Ivey, Patrick Antonius and Tom "durrrr" Dwan. Antonius was in the SB, Ivey was in the BB. "durrrr" raised to $3,000 pre-flop, Antonius called in the SB, Ivey raised to $12,000 from the BB, both "durrrr" and Antonius called.
The flop came 10-4-6 rainbow. Ivey led out with a $27,000 bet, "durrrr" called and Antonius pushed. Antonius had both players covered.
Ivey called the all-in, and "durrrr" got out of the way.
Antonius showed 7-5 of hearts for an open-ended straight draw, while Phil Ivey showed pocket Jacks for an overpair. The turn brought the King of diamonds and the river brought the 10 of hearts, giving Ivey the $355k pot.
Since HighStakesDB started tracking the high-stakes cash games on Full Tilt Poker in January of 2007, Phil Ivey is up over $9.6 million dollars. This is $5.4 million dollars more than Di "Urindanger" Dang, the second place player on the list. Keep in mind that HighStakesDB only started tracking the HORSE and Omaha Hi/Lo games a few months ago, meaning that Ivey's profit totals on FTP certainly exceed $10 million dollars over the past few years. Since the beginning of 2008, Ivey has made approximately $87 for every hand that he has played on Full Tilt.
Ivey's performance on Full Tilt since January of 2007 makes it really hard to argue with those who say that he is the best player in the world. He crushes, day in and day out, against the best poker players in the world, both live and online. He is dominant in every game that he plays, whether it's NLHE, Pot Limit Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo, Stud, Razz, or HORSE.
If that isn't enough, Ivey has over $10 million dollars in lifetime "live" tournament cashes and probably plays one of the lightest tournament schedules of any well-known pro. He also regularly plays in The Big Game at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which is the highest stakes cash game in the world (the blinds start at $2000/$4000), where he is one of the biggest and most consistent winners.
If Phil Ivey isn't the best poker player in the world, who is?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
So its been quite a while since I started a videogame and didnt finish it. Ill do it with books; read half, realize the author is repeating himslef ad nauseum (I almost exclusively read non-fiction) and I will quit out of a DVD without hesitation if its not entertaining me. But not videogames. I will almost always finish a videogame even if its only half good, unless there is something in particular that just irks me so much I cant continue. I can simply force myself to play through most games, especially shooters, action, racing and sports games. The mechanics of these games come quite naturally to me so I can move through them quickly without much thought involved. But most RPGs, open world games, sims, strategy games, MMOs, arent as obvious to me, so I move through them more slowly and in general need the game to be much better than average to fully engage my attention.
Far Cry was an amazingly ahead of its time PC game that the German developer Crytek made way back in 2004, which quickly sold over a million copies when it was released. Mixing first person shooting mechanics with stealth and an open world environment, all with next gen graphics on a brand new engine, the game was nothing short of a revelation for PC gamers and to this day has an outstanding reputation in the PC world (the game was later ported to consoles, with mixed success).
Crytek got off an a bit of a tangent with the remakes of Far Cry which added superhuman abilities (Far Cry Instincts) and a new spinoff series called Crysis, and while these games were also great and sold well, Crytek never forgot about Far Cry and neither did gamers. Well, until now. Its quite clear to me, after playing 25% of Far Cry 2, and doing a fair bit of research about what the rest of the game holds, that Crytek's flagship series is no longer Far Cry, it is Crysis. Its evident in many different ways, for starters, as great as Far Cry 2 looks - and it looks amazing - it still cant touch Crysis with a 10-ft pole. Nothing can. Thats the real problem with Crysis for Crytek - the technology is so far ahead of its time, it renders everything else obsolete by comparison, even the vaunted Unreal 3.5 engine. When Crysis came out, you needed a supercomputer to play it. Now in December 2008, you can get a PC that will run Crysis for under $1000, but the reality is most PC gamers missed out on Crysis because its graphics technology was simply too far ahead of its time.
That being said, the graphics in Far Cry are a far cry from a letdown, in fact they are one of the game's real highpoints. The Far Cry 2 engine looks fantastic and runs quite well on the 360 - we all know its not even remotely possible to run even a scaled down version of the Crysis engine on current console hardware, so we have to be happy with what weve got for now. The game is set in Africa and for the most part its rendered quite beautifully, with Zebras and Wildebeast running across the plains, incredible propagating fire effects, environmental destruction - actually, the entire environment is meant to be destroyed. Because everything in the environment is trying to kill you, constantly.
There is a tiny area in the middle of the huge map, this is the only neutral zone in the entire game world. Everywhere else, for the course of the entire game, there are checkpoints, towns, and shacks all over the countryside, each filled with machine gun toting maniacs whose only purpose and desire in life is to kill you. Aside from the ridiculously impractical implications of such a gameworld, it severely detracts from the realism of an African war zone to actually never be able to leave the warzone. The mission objectives, which often include such predictable fare as infiltrating an enemy base and destroying an object, dont really feel different from the free roaming parts of the game, because you are constantly in combat for the entire game, no matter where you are. It is simply exhausting and makes the game much longer and more tedious than it needs to be. Just getting to the mission objectives takes quite a while, as you have to drive across the entire game map in real time, fighting off wackos every 500 feet, who have perfect accuracy, can see through walls, and take roughly an entire clip of AK-47 ammo to before going down.
Oh the driving. I really, really want to send a memo to every game designer in the world, that says, "If you cant design driving well in your shooting game, please dont even bother. Ill take the bus." Part of the problem is that now every game wants to be GTA. But, even GTA IV didnt get the driving controls perfect! They were simply OK. The driving in Far Cry 2 is insulting bad, and its actually the reason I quit playing the game. Alll the vehicles in the game travel at the same speed - exactly 20mph. They are all stuck in the same hellish second gear. In a way this kind of makes sense, because when you look at how the map and the roads were designed, they are all twisted up single lane affairs with no open straitaways or wide roads. In essence, if they gave you cars that went faster, most drivers would occasionally careen of the edge of the narrow raod into the jungle or off a cliff. So rather than punish the bad drivers for their bad driving, they punish everyone by fixing the speed of all cars in the game to a ridiculously low level.
Imagine sprinting in Call of Duty 4 - the cars in Far Cry 2 might move slightly faster than that. Now imagine traversing an area the size of GTA IV's map at that speed, but the area has no straight roads, so you must take twisted mountain roads, with few or no shortcuts. Now imagine that, but the cops are always after you. You permanently have 4 wanted stars. Now, imagine that your vehicle, even if its an armored transport, can only take a few bullets before emitting smoke and incredibly slowing down to an even slower speed. You have to get out, shoot the enemies (who chase you in seemingly faster vehicles - you cant outdrive them), spend a 10 second animation to repair your vehicle, get back in your vehicle, drive 500 feet, and repeat - all just to get to the area where you can receive a mission. The you have to go do the mission, and then drive back again to finish it. The enemies respawn within a few real-time minutes of you killing them, so often you have to clear the same checkpoint multiple times in the same mission.
There might be a good game buried underneath all the design flaws. The two dozen or so mission I did were all pretty fun, but once I actually got to them I was already exhausted and low on health from all the checkpoint battles. I could see that finishing the game was going to take 40 hours at least - I had put in 10 already - and that over 50% of that time would be spent driving a horribly slow and clunky vehicle and clearing the same few checkpoints of respawning enemies. Its really a shame, because the game could have been soooo great, with faster vehicles, fewer and slower respawning enemies, more mission variety, and overall more things to do than just kill and destroy.
The premise of the game was that I was saving a fictional Central African nation from devolving into a warzone, but all I ever did was kill things, and blow shit up, and even that wasnt as satisfying as other open world shooters like Mercenaries 2. Overall, despite the games high points and its overall sense of polish, the flaws are simply too heavy because they exist for the entire duration of the game - you never get a faster vehicle or one with more health, and the world is simply too big to traverse on foot. You're trapped in the developers horrible vehicles with maniac super-tough to kill enemies everywhere, and the few "buddies" you make in the game are often nowhere to be found, and when they do show up its usually to get mortally wounded in combat and beg you to save them. I really wanted to like this game and even stopped playing Fallout 3 when it arrived in the mail from gamefly. I think Im going back to the Wasteland for now, because at least Bethesda understands that a huge part of an open world game is exploring and meeting people who arent your enemies - if the gameplay revolves solely on everything either being killed or destroyed, no matter how well designed those parts are, the player will eventually tire of them - especially if they have to drive a jalopy there and back.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
This game, by Japanese developer From Software, looks to pick up the the mantle of Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi in bringing ninja action games into the next generation with a more cinematic presentation. Whether this will actually work is anybody's guess, as this is the devlopers first shot at a high budget ninja game. With Team Ninja now defunct, will the new kid on the block rise to the challenge of making a brilliant brand new ninja game, or will it be a medoicre mishmash of better games weve played before elsewhere? We wont be finding out until Spring 2009. If you are interested in seeing in-game footage from the demo, follow THIS LINK.
Friday, November 28, 2008
So, I have a little tidbit for you here. If all goes according to plan, the Next Xbox will ship in Novemeber 2011 with Gears of War 3, running on the brand new Unreal 4 engine. While much of this is rumour and speculation, Epic has informed investors that it has been working on the Unreal 4 engine for 2 years now, the first year being largely a solo project of the Chief Technical Officer at Epic, with his team and budget being ramped up significantly in 2008. The new Unreal 4 engine is being designed exclusively for next generation video cards - meaning it wont run on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
It is well known that both Microsoft and Nintendo have been making the rounds at various development studios, asking them what features they want and how much power they need going forward into the next generation. While most of these talks have been general in nature, the purpose is clear: get the ball rolling on the design and launch of the next generation of hardware. There are vast technical hurdles and economic questions which must be answered between now and then. Will the Next Xbox retain its own API, or will it use Direct X 10.1, or Direct3D 11? Is the public ready for a new console already? Will the economy be ready to support a flood of new hardware sales? Microsoft released the original Xbox in Nov 2001, the Xbox 360 in Nov 2005, and given an economy thats stuck in the mud, it only makes sense they would wait another 3 years until 2011 rather than try to push new hardware to market in 2009 or 2010 when people are still recovering financially and arent yet ready to upgrade.
Yes, there are many questions that must be resolved, but we do know this: Microsoft and Epic are starting to work very closely together on something huge, but its something thats far off in the future (36 months is light years in the technology world). It doesnt take a degree in forensic science to realize what that Next Big Thing is.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
By Thom Friedman of The New York Times
So, I have a confession and a suggestion. The confession: I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”
Now you know why I don’t get invited out for dinner much these days. If I had my druthers right now we would convene a special session of Congress, amend the Constitution and move up the inauguration from Jan. 20 to Thanksgiving Day. Forget the inaugural balls; we can’t afford them. Forget the grandstands; we don’t need them. Just get me a Supreme Court justice and a Bible, and let’s swear in Barack Obama right now — by choice — with the same haste we did — by necessity — with L.B.J. in the back of Air Force One.
Unfortunately, it would take too long for a majority of states to ratify such an amendment. What we can do now, though, said the Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, co-author of “The Broken Branch,” is “ask President Bush to appoint Tim Geithner, Barack Obama’s proposed Treasury secretary, immediately.” Make him a Bush appointment and let him take over next week. This is not a knock on Hank Paulson. It’s simply that we can’t afford two months of transition where the markets don’t know who is in charge or where we’re going. At the same time, Congress should remain in permanent session to pass any needed legislation.
This is the real “Code Red.” As one banker remarked to me: “We finally found the W.M.D.” They were buried in our own backyard — subprime mortgages and all the derivatives attached to them.
Yet, it is obvious that President Bush can’t mobilize the tools to defuse them — a massive stimulus program to improve infrastructure and create jobs, a broad-based homeowner initiative to limit foreclosures and stabilize housing prices, and therefore mortgage assets, more capital for bank balance sheets and, most importantly, a huge injection of optimism and confidence that we can and will pull out of this with a new economic team at the helm.
The last point is something only a new President Obama can inject. What ails us right now is as much a loss of confidence — in our financial system and our leadership — as anything else. I have no illusions that Obama’s arrival on the scene will be a magic wand, but it would help.
Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving — with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled.
“The unity seems to be gone. The emergency looks to be a little less pressing,” Bill Frenzel, the former 10-term Republican congressman who is now with the Brookings Institution, was quoted by CNBC.com on Friday.
I don’t want to see Detroit’s auto industry wiped out, but what are we supposed to do with auto executives who fly to Washington in three separate private jets, ask for a taxpayer bailout and offer no detailed plan for their own transformation?
The stock and credit markets haven’t been fooled. They have started to price financial stocks at Great Depression levels, not just recession levels. With $5, you can now buy one share of Citigroup and have enough left over for a bite at McDonalds.
As a result, Barack Obama is possibly going to have to make the biggest call of his presidency — before it even starts.
“A great judgment has to be made now as to just how big and bad the situation is,” says Jeffrey Garten, the Yale School of Management professor of international finance. “This is a crucial judgment. Do we think that a couple of hundred billion more and couple of bad quarters will take care of this problem, or do we think that despite everything that we have done so far — despite the $700 billion fund to rescue banks, the lowering of interest rates and the way the Fed has stepped in directly to shore up certain markets — the bottom is nowhere in sight and we are staring at a deep hole that the entire world could fall into?”
If it’s the latter, then we need a huge catalyst of confidence and capital to turn this thing around. Only the new president and his team, synchronizing with the world’s other big economies, can provide it.
“The biggest mistake Obama could make,” added Garten, “is thinking this problem is smaller than it is. On the other hand, there is far less danger in overestimating what will be necessary to solve it.”
Conventional wisdom says it’s good for a new president to start at the bottom. The only way to go is up. That’s true — unless the bottom falls out before he starts.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Shieeeelds!!!! Get the fucking shields! Ohhhh my goooddd!" Those are the words one hears right before they enter The Panic Room in Horde, the new 5 person coop mode in Epic's smash hit, Gears of War 2. What is The Panic Room you ask? No, Im not talking about the atrocious 2002 film starring Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker. Im talking about the fortified defensive area set up by the 5 human players in Gears 2's Horde mode. When endless waves of Locust enemies are descending upon you, kicking in your shield doors and laying down a hail of grinder fire, your only hope is The Panic Room. Your last chance for survival. Your only salvation. Your final gasp for air.
Last night I had one of the most amazing online or offline gaming experiences of my life - playing Horde on the map Hail, we went from Wave 1 to Wave 49, scoring 515,818 points along the way, placing us 45th on the leaderboard - out of 424,192. It took us 4 hours and it was one of the more exhausting sessions Ive ever played in. We had just come off a 3 hour battle on Blood Drive, only to have one of our party members pass out drunk during Wave 30. We didnt make it much beyond that, but fear not Tequila Troubadour md galaxy, because that failure inspired us to make another go with Darth Mikal in the 5th slot. The lineup was myself, James Bond 007, umopapisdnpuaq, Darth Mikal and Evil Max. Starting off, we didnt think we had much of a chance of going deep due to massive inebriation and the fact that we started the run at 5am EST - when we usually are logging off. The European players - Darth and Bender - were fresh off a nights sleep and kept us going through the first 20 waves.
Bond took a break around Wave 11, and just stood in the Panic Room by himself. "Guys, Im just gonna rest my eyes for a few seconds." At that point, I thought we had absolutely no shot. Bond was gonna fall asleep at the wheel, and the bus was gonna go off the edge of a cliff with all of us in it. But 15 minutes later, on Wave 17, he was miraculously awake again, and we began mowing through the waves. On Wave 29, we were a bit spread out, with Bender and Max manning the bridge and keeping the Horde at a distance with frag grenades, Bond and myself manning the front door and Darth running in between us. We peeled through the wave, until it got down to the last 5 guys.
"Noooooo!" I heard Bender cry out, as his character was chainsawed by a crazed Cyclops. "No way!" Shouted Darth, as the buzzing massacre continued. When you get down to the last few Locust in each wave, they tend to Kamikaze run at you with either their chainsaw up, or their arms flying, trying to melee you. Max fled the bridge and started down the stairs, being chased by a couple of Bolters. I ran up to him with my chainsaw out, but the Bolters shot me and meleed me down, while Max downed one of the Bolters and then he was taken out by the other. It was down to Bond. He ran from the Panic Room as it wasnt properly shielded, killed the downed Bolter and ran upstairs, where he found a chain gun, which he promptly turned on the remaining 2 enemies, turning them into mincemeat. Disaster Avoided.
The next scare was on Wave 37, when we exited the Panic Room en masse to go get ammo. The problem was, nobody stayed behind to guard against a Locust spawn, and several Grinders, Boomers, Sires and Wretches spawned right behind us. Our shields were up, so the big guys couldnt get out, but we couldnt get back in either, leaving us trapped and exposed to enemy fire from the main pavilion area. I died in the crossfire, but somehow the other team members managed to keep a cool head and mow the remaining interior enemies down, reclaiming our Panic Room for the remainder of the match. The first rule of The Panic Room is, never leave The Panic Room empty.
Wave 39 came, and at that point none of us could believe we had made it that far. But now we were awake, aware, sobering up, and ready for anything. I dont really remember much of Wave 39, to be honest. But I do remember we played it textbook, hanging back and picking off enemies, reviving each other, and using tons of planted grenades all over the entrances to our area. Personally, I had nightmares about being flanked from the stairs in case our right wingmen fell, so at both the top and bottom of the stairs I placed frag grenades - far away from the frontlines of battle, but just in case the Locust breached the bridge. Towards the end of the round, when we were down to 4 players, thats exactly what happened. The final Kamikaze-loco-Locust charged us, and started taking us out at a frightening pace. First the right wing fell, then Darth, who went to save them got taken out, and then Bond, who went out to save Darth, confronted the last 2 Bolters, taking out one and being downed and killed by the other. It was only me left alive. I could see the Bolter on the bridge, but I dared not venure out beyond the safe confines of The Panic Room. Out of machine gun ammo, and carrying only a Pistol and Hammerburst, I knew my only shot was to get him to run past my nade gauntlet. I fired a few Hammerburst rounds in the direction of the bridge, and marvelled as the Bolter ran past my first grenade without even pausing to register the impact of the shrapnel, only to be blown to smithereens by the second grenade at the bottom of the stairs. This wasnt going to be easy.
Somehow, through a mixture of proper strategy, communication, luck, and skill, we powered past the Beast Riders of Wave 40. Then we pimpslapped Wave 41. Then 42. 43. 44. 45. We were unstobbable. Wave 46. 47. 48. We were going to go all the way. We all knew it. Nobody was talking about it though. We our score had already passed 500,000. It was just a matter of executing the plan. It was just a matter of protecting and placing our shields, we simply had to maintain the physical integrity of The Panic Room.
Then, came wave 49. It started like a drop-kick-to-the-eye from a 500 lb Ninja in a Gorilla suit. There were Beast Riders right on top of us, with Sires kicking in the shields on their sides. "Get me up! Get me up!" Bond is screaming. There is a Mauler at the front door who has downed him, and hes in dire jeopardy of being killed by the Grinder firing in from outside. I get him up, and am immediately downed by Grinder fire. Bond returns the favor and gets me up, and I empty an entire active reload shotgun clip into the Grinder before he falls. "Holy fucking shit! Pull Back!" I hear Darth yell as I hear Evil Max's head being stomped in. We just reload, and empty, and reload and empty, and the enemies keep on coming. We shoot the Riders off the Beasts, and they stand up and kick in our shield doors. We put the shields back, and Sires show up and kick them in again. Bender goes down. Darth tries to revive him, and he goes down. Im not even aware of this, until I hear them shouting, "Its just you two! Panic Room! PANIC ROOM!!!"
Right as I hear this, I see a Grinder standing at the top of the stairs, his gun aimed right at me, glaring menacingly. "GRIND!" he intones, and I dive towards the shields, grab one, and start backing up. "BOOM!" I hear as a rocket sails over my head. The enemies are now clogging up the foyer, like a legion of undead overgrown club kids waiting to be let in the door. I toss a grenade into the pack and it doesnt faze them. There is Grinder fire everywhere. Boomshots are exploding constantly. Im backpedaling, the shield in my hands the only thing keeping me alive. Time slows down, as the bullets rain down with the two remianing survivors backing into the Panic Room. My reticule is turning red with blood, the shield isnt stopping everything. Somehow I manage to back blindly into the doorway of The Panic Room, and when the Grinder at the front door hits the cooldown on his chain gun, I get an instant to slam the shield into the ground, and tuck into cover. I glance over to the right, and James Bond 007 is mirrored in the exact same position, shield planted, in cover, blindfiring. "Is that all youve got!" Marcus yells as he peeks his head out, gets a headshot on a Theron Gaurd and lines up on the Grinder in the foyer. In that moment the Grinder's gun unloads a hail of bullets aimed right at Marcus' head, and he goes down instantly. "Fight through the pain!" my character Cole yells as I hit the X button, reviving the fallen Marcus.
The enemies are countless, but our blind-fired lancers cut through their flesh with remarkable efficiency, and within a minute or two we are down to 4 enemies. Four enemies between us and - Wave 50, the Final Act, the Final Boss, victory. All I can see is a Kantus right in front of me, with a Grinder backing him up. I unload the remainder of my machine gun ammo into the Kantus, and then switch to the shotgun. The Kantus tosses a Poison grenade into the Panic Room, but its off center, and it only downs me, and Bond quickly revives me. I get up, take cover, and fire an entire clip of shotgun ammo into the Kantus' head, then hit the active reload. Just as Im about to let off glowing shells of active reload death into the last few hitpoints of the Kantus, he throws another Poison grenade, and this time its perfectly placed, filling the entire room. "Noo! Noooooooo!" I hear Bond screaming as his character falls to the ground and bursts in an explosion of blood and body parts, Grinder fire ripping him to pieces. Cole's reticule turns red from the Poison, then redder - and then, just as the green Poison begins to fade from the room, the reticule turns dark crimson, and Cole falls to his knees, limping back behind the pillar in the center of the room. Everything is quiet. There are no enemies. There is no machine gun fire. Everyone in the voice chat is quiet, except for Max, who says softly, "Its over." Cole lies down, clutches his Cog tag, mutters a profanity, and takes an well deserved 8 hour nap.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
On a misty mountaintop on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, scientists for the first time in more than two decades have observed a living Mogwai Pygmy Tarsier, one of the planet's smallest and rarest primates, and a direct descendent of the creature Gizmo from the 1984 film Gremlins.
Over a two-month period, the scientists used nets to trap three furry, mouse-sized Mogwais -- two males and one female -- on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in central Sulawesi, the researchers said on Tuesday.
They spotted a fourth one that got away.
The Mogwais, which some scientists believed were extinct, may not have been overly thrilled to be found. They were enjoying a diet of Skittles and Dr Pepper they had pilfered from the locals, who hunt the Mogwais for sport. During their capture, one of the Mogwais chomped Sharon Gursky-Doyen, a Texas A&M University professor of anthropology who took part in the expedition.
"I'm the only person in the world to ever be bitten by a Mogwai," Gursky-Doyen said in a telephone interview. "They usually dont become agressive unless you feed them after midnight."
"My assistant was trying to hold him still while I was attaching a radio collar around its neck. It's very hard to hold them because they can turn their heads around 180 degrees. As I'm trying to close the radio collar, he turned his head and nipped my finger. And I yanked it and I was bleeding."
The collars were being attached so the Mogwais movements could be tracked.
Mogwais are unusual primates -- the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and people. The handful of tarsier species live on various Asian islands.
As their name indicates, Mogwai Pygmy Tarsiers are small -- weighing about 2 ounces (50 grammes). They have large eyes and large ears, reproduce asexually by covering themseleves in water and spotaneously replicating, and will die if exposed to direct sunlight. They are nocturnal insectivores and are unusual among primates in that they have claws rather than finger nails.
They had not been seen alive by scientists since 1990. In 2000, Indonesian scientists who were trapping rats in the Sulawesi highlands accidentally trapped and killed a Mogwai.
"Until that time, everyone really didn't believe that they existed because people had been going out looking for them for a decade and nobody had seen them or heard them," Gursky-Doyen said. Her group observed the first live Mogwais in August at an elevation of about 6,900 feet.
"Its a good thing they didnt make a Gremlins 3," the scientist added. "Otherwise the little guys like this one here would likely already be extinct."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This GT review of Mario Kart Wii is interesting. On one hand, they spend most of the review taking potshots and making backhanded compliments about the game, and then they give it an 8.4 anyway. Rather peculiar if you ask me. Especially because this is by far the best Mario Kart game ever made, and if you cant see that, you've either got blinders on or are simply not a fan of the series. A bold statement, I know, but Im going to try to back it up.
For starters, lets talk about the drifting. The GT guys dont like how they changed it so that you dont have to wiggle the stick to get extra boost, now you just hold it, but the result is the same. Well, its true its easier to do, but the idea that making the controls easier makes the game worse is patently ridiculous.
"Now the noobs can win!" Thats also a complete misrepresentation. Ive played a fair share online, and in 12 person rooms, usually one player dominates and the same 2-3 people are always in the top 5, while the rest of the field finishes almost randomly. Its pretty much the results you would expect from any racing game, and its the same in Burnout, Midnight Club, GRID, GT, or any other racing game you want to pick. The veteran players usually win or or place high. The casual players sometimes get lucky and come in 3rd. Picking out the best racing line and being aggressive are the keys to victory online. The Ghost Mode alone, where you can race in solo time trials against developers and online friends best times, is worth checking out even if VS multiplayer isnt your thing.
As for the battle mode, I personally never cared for it, and although Ive heard its not as great compared to past MK games, at least its there and you can play it online. The 12 player racing online is amazingly tight, lag free, and hassle free with brilliant matchmaking and global rankings. I was in a room with 12 people from Europe, the United States, and Japan, all at the same time, with no visible lag. The guy from Japan kicked all of our asses. His name was a symbol. He was using Luigi. It was awesome.
The graphics and sound are fantastic for the Wii. I cant believe how hard the GT guys swung and missed on their technical analysis. While I am playing on a 480P 27" CRT in 4x3, and Im sure the game doesnt look as good on a 50" flatscreen, for what it is, it looks and runs fabulously. The lighting effects are really impressive, it has the effect of HDR lighting but Im not sure that the Wii is capable of that actual feat. Whatever the glowing effect is, it looks great. I think its the best looking Wii game alongside Mario Galaxy. Super Smash Bros has some nice looking cutscenes, but the actual in game graphics arent quite as snazzy. The music and sound in MK Wii are also top notch - several of your favorite themes are reprised, and the new tracks are stellar. Some people just cant understand vastly different varieties of music in a single video game. Nintendo never hired any of those people.
The AI is tough in the game on 150cc. Has it ever not been? No. And, mind you the AI is just as brutally merciless as in another fantastic Nintendo racing franchise, the original game that got me addicted to lap times, F-Zero. Is there evidence of abusive pimpslapping by the AI in the 150cc class? Yes. Will you get hit 3 times in a row on the last turn and lose the perfect Grand Prix you were running? Yes. If you get easily frustrated, Mario Kart just isnt for you. But my guess is if youve read this far, youre likely already a fan of the series. If you're not, go out and get this game for you Wii as its the best possible introduction to the series, and an awesome online racing game. Just remember to turn on Manual drift, as the Automatic setting is set up for people who have never played a racing game before.
The new levels are phenomenal, and pretty much every good level from every other Mario Kart game is represented here. N64 Sherbert Land? Check. DS Delfino Square? Check. DK's Jungle Parkway? Check. All new Rainbow Road? Double check - its the best Star Cup ever. The character selection is perfect, the bikes, carts, buggys and muscle cars are well balanced, and the weapons are just as deadly as ever before. Does getting hit with the Blue Shell in 1st place suck? Of course. But come on, you're in 1st freaking place. You still have a lap to go. Quite whining, you're gonna win the GP anyway. And if you dont, you'll win it next time.
For every game - even games which feature high degrees of luck mixed with skill - there is a winning strategy. Just because the higher luck factors results in variance where sometimes the "noobs" beat you doesnt mean the game sucks, it simply means it needs to be approached with some humility, and in this case, an attitude towards having fun. Gran Turismo might delineate the winners from the losers a bit more consistently, but it cant touch the levels of insanity in an average 12 player Mario Kart online race. Winning is great, but even sweeter is snatching victory from the hands of your enemies at the last possible moment, and thats what this game is all about.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Im bringing you another video series, this one feauring clips from the Japanese TV show Sasuke, or Ninja Warrior as its called in the US. It features contestants performing acts of incredible strength and acrobatics, with the mens competition focusing on upper body muscle, and the womens stages testing agility and concentration. Ayako Miyake is the first female to beat all 4 ninja warrior womens stages, and she has won the competition a total of 3 times.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
General Manager Brian Cashman's answer to all the Yankees problems? A 27 year old journeyman named Nick Swisher who owns a bat made of used 2x4s held together by duct tape and twine, named Thunderbolt, which he carries around in a guitar case, for inspiration. A career .244 hitter, with almost no speed or defensive capabilities, Swisher relies on the occasional long ball and a decent sense of plate discipline to keep a spot on a big league roster. Unfortunately, the Yankees already have a bunch of guys exactly like him, which is why this move puzzles me so much. They want a guy who is kind of big and sweaty like Giambi, but they dont want to have to pay $20M a year.
Personally, I think they should have traded for more pitching, and tried to focus the team on defense and contact hitting - which is what won them 4 World Series in a row. None of the players on the 1998 team that went 114-48, scoring 965 runs in the process, had over 28 home runs. They were all hard nosed, situational hitting, glove flashing, make you pay for your mistake position players, 3 lights out starting pitchers, 2 money in the bank relief pitchers, and couple solid guys like Darryl Strawberry off the bench. Thats the proven formula. If the Yankees want to get back to winning in the playoffs, they need to sign players who fit the mold which produced one of the best teams in the 100+ year history of baseball.
Friday, November 14, 2008
By David Brooks of The New York Times
Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target. The U.S. became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction — with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country’s prosperity.
But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.
This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.
Granting immortality to Detroit’s Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. It crosses a line, a bright line. It is not about saving a system; there will still be cars made and sold in America. It is about saving politically powerful corporations. A Detroit bailout would set a precedent for every single politically connected corporation in America. There already is a long line of lobbyists bidding for federal money. If Detroit gets money, then everyone would have a case. After all, are the employees of Circuit City or the newspaper industry inferior to the employees of Chrysler?
It is all a reminder that the biggest threat to a healthy economy is not the socialists of campaign lore. It’s C.E.O.’s. It’s politically powerful crony capitalists who use their influence to create a stagnant corporate welfare state.
If ever the market has rendered a just verdict, it is the one rendered on G.M. and Chrysler. These companies are not innocent victims of this crisis. To read the expert literature on these companies is to read a long litany of miscalculation. Some experts mention the management blunders, some the union contracts and the legacy costs, some the years of poor car design and some the entrenched corporate cultures.
There seems to be no one who believes the companies are viable without radical change. A federal cash infusion will not infuse wisdom into management. It will not reduce labor costs. It will not attract talented new employees. As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wittily put it, “Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package.”
In short, a bailout will not solve anything — just postpone things. If this goes through, Big Three executives will make decisions knowing that whatever happens, Uncle Sam will bail them out — just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, capital that could have gone to successful companies and programs will be directed toward companies with a history of using it badly.
The second part of Obama’s plan is the creation of an auto czar with vague duties. Other smart people have called for such a czar to reorganize the companies and force the companies to fully embrace green technology and other good things.
That would be great, but if Obama was such a fervent believer in the Chinese model of all-powerful technocrats, he should have mentioned it during the campaign. Are we really to believe there exists a czar omniscient, omnipotent and beneficent enough to know how to fix the Big Three? Who is this deity? Are we to believe that political influence will miraculously disappear, that the czar would have absolute power over unions, management, Congress and the White House? Please.
This is an excruciatingly hard call. A case could be made for keeping the Big Three afloat as a jobs program until the economy gets better and then letting them go bankrupt. But the most persuasive experts argue that bankruptcy is the least horrible option. Airline, steel and retail companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings and adjusted. It would be a less politically tainted process. Government could use that $50 billion — and more — to help the workers who are going to be displaced no matter what.
But the larger principle is over the nature of America’s political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country’s success.