Thursday, July 31, 2008

Geometry Wars 2 Impressions

So I've downloaded Geometry Wars 2, played through all the modes and gotten a few achievements. Overall, I think the game is quite good despite my initial reservations, I think that anybody who enjoyed the first Geometry Wars will certainly like this game. In some ways, its easier and more accessible, and it other ways it is decidedly more hardcore.

The game has 6 modes and runs in 1080P native - if you have the equipment to handle that sort of thing, Im sure it looks spectacular because at 720P the game looks great. In resolutions lower than that it becomes a bit more difficult to follow all the action on the screen, especially the Geoms, the teeny tiny bean shaped objects which enemies now release and you must pick up to increase your multiplier.

Of the 6 modes, I found the first one, Deadline, to be totally boring as there is no tension whatsoever in that mode. You get unlimited lives and a 3 minutes timer. Waves is OK - lines of enemy shapes dart back and forth across the screen, Pacifism is pretty cool, you evade enemies without weapons while destroying them by passing through gates, and the other two modes are great: King and Evolved. King has you darting between protective barriers and Evolved is the same game as the original Geo Wars but with some new enemies and spawn patterns.

Sequence, the 6th and final mode, I have yet to beat but it looks to be the most hardcore and potentially best of all the modes. You progress through 20 timed trials of increasing difficulty, you get 30 seconds to clear each level, and if you die, you are reset to the next level. I havent made it through 4th tier yet, so its clear if you are looking for a serious challenege Sequence is it.

Two things that bothered me, the multiplier doesnt reset when you die, which also killed a lot of the strategy from the first game where you had to save your bombs for tight situations to keep your multiplier going. Now you dont really have to worry about losing your multi, its just about dying, and if Im not worried about losing my multi, dying seems somehow more trivial.

Also, the starting gun is puny, and the lack of being able to upgrade it just seems silly. In a game where the entire screen is often filled with enemies, having a twin shot just doesnt get the job done a lot of the time. If bobbling the right analog stick was crucial in the first game, its critical in the sequal.

But the problem is that the puny starting gun doesnt even have enough to spread to do an effective bobble, that is to say even if you are bobbling the right stick enemies can still slip through the bullets, which never ever happened in the first game. The alternative is to bobble the left analog stick, which steers your craft, but this results in a smaller spread which enemies cant pass through, but its still an inferior solution as you cannot do it continuously while piloting through the battlefield. Really, the lack of a gun upgrade strikes me as just a silly omission, seeing as though the first game had it, and every other good 2D shooter on the market has upgrades; the bigger the gun, the more the fun - but not in Geo Wars 2.

The Playstations 3's Super Stardust HD is the superior game, but that doesnt mean Geo Wars 2 isnt fun. Its just been passed by while it sat on the shelf. Its not even quite as good as Geometry Wars Galaxies for the Wii, which can be thrilling with the classic controller, and is a bigger, better, more blah blah blah game. The new modes are interesting, but overall dont add as much to the mix as one would hope. The local multiplayer, while certainly crazy and fun is just a bit too hectic and jumbled with colors and explosions too be played competitively - the best way to enjoy it is after smoking a rather large spliff with some friends.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thunder Force VI Trailer

Looks like Im getting a Japanese PS2 and 360. At some point. Eventually. Hopefully. Maybe. Probably.

If they arent going to release games like Thunderforce VI, Castle of Shikigami III, Raiden Fighters Aces, DoDonPachi, Ketsui, and Raiden IV outside of Japan what else is a shoot-em-up fanatic to do? Many of the newest arcade shooters arent yet emulated in MAME, and they may never be since Cave and Treasure complained to the MAME developers, who seem to have respected thier wished to leave certain games and arcade hardware un-emulated. Seeing as though people pay $800 for an arcade PCB of Ketsui, paying $325 for an imported 360 and $180 for a Japanese PS2 doesnt seem quite as insane. Almost, but not quite. To battle a giant robot chicken that breathes fire, I think its worth it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Casual Games for Casual Gamers

By Alex Kierkegaard

Lol, yeah. You know who they are. The "quirky" indie game lovers. The XBLA "arcade" game hipsters. The Mini-Yous and the Mini-Mes. Et cetera. But don't let my derisive tone fool you -- this is one of the most important articles you will ever read on this website, or any website for that matter. If you understand this one thing, you are only one step away from understanding everything (that step I'll leave for another day -- got to save something for later, to keep you coming back and all).

So what are the causes of the mini-game phenomenon? Because it is a phenomenon -- and a recent one at that. I am racking my brain trying to remember any mini-games from my youth, or any mention of mini-games in the specialist press of my youth, and I come up with nothing. Yet ask any indie hipster gamer about their favorite recent games and most of what they'll come up with is, effectively, mini-games. So what happened in the meantime, eh? Why are we being told by these self-styled "intellectual gamers" that the future of our hobby is no longer to be reached by increasing complexity, but by reducing it?

Well, because they are stupid, man -- because complexity is too complex for them. Because they haven't yet realized that progress in electronic gaming has always been synonymous with increasing complexity, whereas the mini-game phenomenon is nothing but a denial of this progress -- a denial of the future. And this is what all their arguments against complexity basically amount to:

Random indie hipster: "Man, KOF XI and Arcana Heart look cool and all, but all those bars and meters on the screen are too confusing for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span. Everyone I play against wipes the floor with my face before I've even located my sprite on the screen, let alone figured out what all those freaking meters do."

Me: "Well then maybe you should try Street Fighter II: The World Warrior."

Random indie hipster: "Man, Supreme Commander looks cool and all, but I keep getting slaughtered online -- haven't won a single battle yet! There's so much stuff to keep track of -- and in real-time too! -- that the whole thing ends up too confusing for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span."

Me: "Well then maybe you should try Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty."

Random indie hipster: "Man, Deus Ex looks cool and all, but wtf, it's not enough that I have to run around corridors shooting stuff, now I have to actually think too? All those skills and high-tech gadgets and sneaking around and intricate interactive plot choices are just too confusing for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span."

Me: "Well then maybe you should try Wolfenstein 3D."

Random indie hipster: "Man, Galactic Civilizations II looks cool and all, but seriously, who the fuck can play these games? Who can keep track of all these factors -- planetary management, economics, ship design, politics, etc. -- in a game that goes on and on for days? It's just too confusing for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span."

: "Well then maybe you should try Defender of the Crown."

Random indie hipster: "Man, Ketsui looks cool and all, but Jesus Christ with these fucking bullets already! There's just too many of them for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span."

Me: "Well then maybe you should try Space Invaders."

Random indie hipster: "Oh wow, you're right. I'd never heard of those games you mentioned. From what I gathered from Wikipedia, they must be perfect for my tiny retard's brain and Homer Simpson-like attention span. The problem is that my local supermarket doesn't stock them anymore, so it's impossible for me to find them. And besides, from Wikipedia pictures I saw, they look... old and ugly. So what I want is all the world's most ambitious and talented developers to stop designing newer, more complex games, and go back and endlessly rehash decades-old games, only with shinier, higher-resolution graphics, gritty, realistic proportions, and perhaps random motion-sensing gimmicks. Yes, that's what I'd like! In other words, I want the videogame industry to halt all progress and instead endlessly repeat itself in order to accommodate little ignorant, lazy retards with bad taste like me."

Me : "Well then maybe you should go fuck yourself."

But enough with the joking and the name-calling -- there is an important point behind all the infantility, and that point is that increasingly complex games are necessary in order to sustain the interest of an intelligent human being. Electronic games are like toys in a way (and forget about what Wikipedia tells you on the differences between toys and games -- listen to what I am telling you here) -- you buy one, you play with it for a while, and then eventually you want something bigger and more intricate, something that does more stuff. It is vitally important that the new toy should do more stuff, since, except if you are feebleminded, a different shape or color will simply not satisfy you, at least not for long.

This is essentially the same sentiment that Pauline Kael expressed in one of her essays, circa 1969 -- only in respect to movies:

When you're young the odds are very good that you'll find something to enjoy in almost any movie. But as you grow more experienced, the odds change. I saw a picture a few years ago that was the sixth version of material that wasn't much to start with. Unless you're feebleminded, the odds get worse and worse. We don't go on reading the same kind of manufactured novels -- pulp Westerns or detective thrillers, say -- all of our lives, and we don't want to go on and on looking at movies about cute heists by comically assorted gangs. The problem with a popular art form is that those who want something more are in a hopeless minority compared with the millions who are always seeing it for the first time, or for the reassurance and gratification of seeing the conventions fulfilled again.

Kael here was speaking out against the lack of ambition in the movie industry; against the endless rehashing of simplistic movie plots, which, sooner or later, kills the interest in movies in every experienced viewer. What she craved was the same thing that any intelligent person craves from any medium or activity: more depth, more complexity, a steadily increasing intellectual challenge in other words, something to keep her brain power constantly engaged. And since the essence of movies is in their plot, she was in effect asking for more thoughtful, more intricate plotlines -- something beyond the "movies about cute heists by comically assorted gangs" that might have satisfied her in her youth, but could hardly be expected to do so for ever.Getting back to games, and since the essence of games is not in their plotlines but in their rule systems, we see that asking for more complex games means asking for more involved such systems. It's not that we don't like simple games, you understand -- it's that they already exist, and that we've already played them . And now, of course, we want something more.

The whole idea of a mini-game is in fact a farce, if you stop to consider it for a moment. A mini-game is nothing other than an older game, repackaged and resold to a new audience. Spacewar and Pong were not considered mini-games when they originally appeared, but they are now. You could stick them into a Super Monkey Ball sequel if you wanted to, and then stick that onto a cellphone, since Super Monkey Ball itself is by now nothing but yet another mini-game. A mini-game containing mini-games! Are we excited yet?

This is why I have little interest in most of the hundreds of indie and doujin games that are released each year -- because I've already played them. The hipster kiddies fall over themselves in order to praise them, because a) They weren't around to play them when they were originally released, so they think they're something new, and b) Because they are under the false impression that the indie game is the videogame equivalent to the indie movie , and that therefore praising it will confer on them an aura of coolness and sophistication or some shit.Yet there is no equivalence! Independent movies can be made on a shoestring, because an intricate plot requires nothing but imagination. This, as a rule, does not work in the domain of games, because more complex games require more complex rules, and more complex rules require, by and large, bigger teams of developers. They require, by and large, bigger budgets. There are exceptions to this rule, in genres in which by their nature jacking up the complexity is -- pardon the pun -- not such a complex undertaking (see STGs, platformers and puzzle games for example), but if you want to keep increasing the complexity of such inherently complex games as Deus Ex or Civilization -- therefore pushing back the boundaries of what's feasible in the realm of interactivity itself! -- two guys in a garage will simply just not do, except perhaps if they are extremely smart and hard-working, and prepared to, like, work nonstop for a decade.

The absurdity of the very concept of the mini-game can be seen in its full glory by considering Made In Wario (aka WarioWare, Inc.), a game that went beyond collections of mini-games in order to give us a collection of microgames. If mini-games represent a step back, microgames represented a step so far back that they ended up going back before even the beginning (the games it contained, in other words, were conceptually simpler than even Pong or Spacewar). Therein lay Made In Wario's brilliance; it carried the absurd concept of the mini-game to its absurd conclusion (it was, in other words, so bad that it ended up being good). But there is nothing more to say about Made In Wario; it was a mere stunt, fun for as long as the novelty lasted (a few hours at best), but nothing more than that. These so-called "microgames" can never hope to captivate the imagination of a human being any more than a mini-game can -- except perhaps if that human being is a child or feebleminded.

So let me hear nothing more against complexity again. There is indeed good implementation of complexity (as, say, in UFO: Enemy Unknown, Alien vs. Predator, or Homura) and bad implementation of complexity (as in Colonization, Cyborg Justice, or Radiant Silvergun), but the difference is a matter of aesthetic judgement on a per game basis. It is, in other words, debatable. Complexity itself, at least as far as intelligent human beings are concerned, is by definition a good thing -- if for no other reason than because it's interesting.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Casual Lifestyle

By Seth Schiesel

LOS ANGELES — After spending six 18-hour days schmoozing with game developers and playing dozens of games, I finally met the people who are transforming video games from a niche hobby into the fastest-growing mass entertainment around.

Their names were Thomas, Guadeloupe and Lucia, and I came across them in a departure lounge at Los Angeles International Airport last week after covering the annual E3 video game convention.

Thomas, a British former insurance executive in his 50s; Guadeloupe, his Salvadoran wife; and Lucia, their 12-year-old daughter, didn’t consider themselves gamers. Yet there was Lucia on her pink Nintendo DS hand-held playing THQ’s Paws & Claws, while Thomas explained his obsession with a PC strategy game called Stronghold and Guadeloupe recounted the times she started playing bridge on her laptop at 4 p.m., looked up and realized it was midnight.

“Her older brothers got her into Grand Theft Auto,” Guadeloupe said of her daughter while waiting for a flight to San Salvador, “but all she likes to do is drive around and listen to the radio stations. She doesn’t even really care about the shooting and killing.”

Welcome to the future of video games. In the popular imagination, a gamer is a caffeine-fueled 26-year-old with a paunch, the local pizza place on speed dial and a hard drive full of Internet pornography. And, yes, he exists. But the gamer fueling the industry’s explosive growth is the cubicle-bound Minesweeper fiend, the 45-year-old housewife who happens to be a Bejeweled addict, the schoolgirl who has recreated everyone she knows in The Sims.

For the game industry, these players represent a profitable expansion. For old-school gamers, they reflect a wrenching shift. The industry depended on its appeal to core players for many years. Those players, and the culture that emerged around them, came to assume that this industry should respond only to their needs and desires.

Now gamers have to share their beloved pastime with the great unwashed — housewives, the elderly, even girls. And they don’t all like it. At E3, Nintendo in particular was accused of neglecting its core fans while pursuing the broader market with a new edition of Wii Sports and Wii Music, a lite diversion. Longtime Nintendo fans were waiting for the company to demonstrate new installments in classic franchises like Donkey Kong, Zelda, Mario or Kirby, but the company only showed a fresh game in the kid-oriented Animal Crossing series.

“It’s like Nintendo has forgotten the people who got them here,” Andy McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer, a top American game magazine, said in an interview. “If you’re a serious Nintendo fan, what are you supposed to do all year, play Animal Crossing and throw Frisbees in the new Wii Sports? We understand that Nintendo has to reach out to that new mass market, but would it really cost so much to acknowledge the fans who have stuck with them for decades?”

As John Davison, former editorial director of the Ziff Davis video game magazine unit and now president of What They Like, a start-up that hopes to explain youth media to ignorant adults, put it, “There is definitely a feeling of betrayal among hard-core gamers as the industry matures and comes to realize that the growth opportunities are not in solely catering to 18-to-34-year-old men, but in also appealing to the rest of the world.”

At Ubisoft’s news conference during E3, the assembled cognoscenti couldn’t stop giggling as the company explained why it was making fashion designer games and sports games for girls. The company was making a shrewd business point. The hard-core players didn’t get it.

Call it nerd rage. Like loyalists of a once-partisan politician who tacks toward the center later in an election cycle, old-school gamers are coming to terms with the ramifications of their favorite’s newfound popularity. Though they have long craved mainstream respectability for video games, players sometimes resent the concessions their champion must make to attract mainstream adherents.

“When we were talking about this idea to expand the total number of customers, I was convinced that this attitude would be good for Nintendo and eventually something that would be very good for the industry as well,” Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s chief executive, said in an interview last week. “However, I had no idea how many years it would take to achieve. I was not sure if it would take four years or five years or six years. Seriously, I thought it might take seven years or eight years before audiences would respond to me.”

Needless to say, it happened a lot faster than that. The Wii was introduced in November 2006.

It’s not a bad problem to have: being more successful and more popular more quickly than even you expected. Nintendo did say at E3 that it was working on new Mario, Zelda and Pikmin games, all of which should appeal to core players. Like most fans, gamers may be fickle in the moment but fiercely loyal at the core.

They’ll be back.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I was having a pretty rough night. My first buy in went pretty well until I had to make a rough call in a huge pot with AQ - no pair on the flop - against what I thought was a flush draw. I was getting 3-1 odds and I was ready to gamble, but I didnt hit, and my opponent had top pair. The second buy in went better, I got doubled up with J10 on a board of KQ942 when my opponent held KQ. I had built that up to around $300 when the following hand came up.

In the big blind, I held 56 of diamonds. After a couple of limpers, an agressive player in the small blind to my right made it $17. There was already $23 in the pot and I called for $15 more, knowing that my opponent liked to overplay overpairs and if I hit big on the flop I could possibly win his whole stack. One of the limpers called and we took the flop 3 handed.

The flop came 646, with no flush draw. The small blind bet out $35 and I smooth called, and the other player folded. The turn was a 4. My opponent quickly said, "How much do you have?" He looked at my stack, and said "All in." With the best possible hand, sixes full of fours, there was nothing he could have that beat me. I had the nuts. I flipped over my hand. "Call." He disgustedly turned over Ace-Ace. As I was counting my chips in anticipation of becoming the new big stack at the table, the dealer peeled the nightmare card. An ace on the river. My opponent had me covered. I had no chips left. I wanted to crawl into a hole, puke, and then die. The game ended a few minutes later after I decided not to buy back in. I was 95.45% to win the hand the computer tells me when I get home.

In my head, I knew odds anyway, and somehow looking at the numbers on the screen is no consolation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

1942 Joint Strike Impressions

Its 19-420: Strike up a Joint!

Those were my first thoughts when during a late night session of Geometry Wars the words "1942 Joint Strike Downloaded" popped onto the screen at exactly 4:20am. I had about 400,000 points and I hadnt died yet, so it was looking to be an excellent run. I immediately hit the big X in the middle of my controller, proceeeded to the dashboard, purchased the full game, and began my first play. About an hour later, the credits were rolling, and I had 3rd place on the overall leaderbords (granted the game had only been out an hour).

So let it be said this is an easier and shorter 194X game than any of us have ever played, at least on the default 2 stars difficulty. The game has a look and feel similar to the new Commando game on XBLA, and if its similar in how the difficulties ramp up, the highest difficulty level of 4 stars should provide a true challenege to any hardcore, old school arcade shoot-em-up fan.

In terms of enemy spawns, bullet patterns, and boss battles, 1942 Joint Strike easily tops many other XBLA arcade shooters including its half-brother game WOTB Commando. If WOTB Commando is a 7+/10, this game is easily an 8+. I havent tried any of the coop options, but Im sure just like with WOTB they will add a great deal of replay value to the title.

There are only 5 missions and they last roughly 10 minutes each, culminating in a boss battle with a giant battleship, plane or tank. Once the boss is defeated the player is given a ranking for how quickly he defeated the boss, and the total score for the level is calculated. To get a high score, you need to not only defeat the boss quickly but also pass through the level getting as many score multipliers as possible. The multipliers are attained by shooting down enemy planes as close to yours as possible; if you hit them from across the screen, there is no multiplier, if you hit them with a point blank shot you receive a 16X multiplier which adds up quickly. There is also one bonus scoring stage which occurs after stage 1, where the player has no weapons and must dodge enemy plane formations while collecting as many bonus medals as possible - the stage lasts about 2 minutes and is quite fun.

Overall I sure cant help but wish for a more meaty experience from 1942 Joint Strike. Its very similar to the experience I had with WOTB Commando. Whats there is really quite good, but there just isnt quite enough total content to satisfy shooter junkies who can plow through the game in under an hour. If you've played any of the previous 194X games, the default difficulty wont faze you but the brevity might. Hopefully this game will be enough of a commercial success on XBLA that Capcom can start working on a more fully fleshed out sequel as soon as possible.

Rossi Vs Stoner Laguna Seca 2008 Battle

"For sure, the race was unbelievable. It was a great battle with Casey. It was fun, a lot of fun in this race."

- Valentino Rossi
1st time winner at Laguna Seca
7 time Moto GP World Champion

Monday, July 21, 2008

1942: Joint Strike Xbox 360 Trailer

This games comes out Wednesday July 25th!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Fake-HD Era

By Alex Kierkegaard

So apparently Halo 3 runs at 640p and Call of Duty 4 at 600p (in both its X360 and PS3 iterations). I know what you are thinking -- "lol what? Aren't games on these consoles supposed to be 720p minimum? Does that mean Halo 3 and COD4 are not HD?"

What the hell is going on here?

At some point during the development of Halo 3 and COD4, Bungie and Infinity Ward were forced to make a choice. Either render their games at 720p with lower polygon counts/effects/etc., or drop the resolution down to 640p/600p and jack up the polygon counts/effects/etc. And what they both ended up deciding to do is drop the resolution. Why? Because that way their games would look better.

The truth is that, contrary to what Sony and Microsoft would have you believe, resolution is not the most important factor in graphics quality. As anyone who is into first person shooters on the PC will tell you, the effects are much more important.

PC gamers have been able to switch resolutions with a few clicks for well over a decade; at the same time they've also been able to experiment with various detail settings: things like advanced shader models, anti-aliasing and bump mapping; and more recently with transparency supersampling, HDR lighting effects and subsurface scattering (I could be making these up and you probably wouldn't know the difference, but that's exactly the point). Because of this, they've long since realized a few things that escape many of the rest of us.

Whenever a new blockbuster arrives, be it Unreal 3 or Crysis or whatever, they have to make a choice between going for higher detail settings or higher resolutions. What they've come to understand is that, if you don't have enough horsepower to go for both, it's always preferable to jack up all detail levels to the max, rather than to go for the highest resolution possible.

Now you have to understand that when you hook up your 360/PS3 to your HDTV you are indeed seeing a 720p image (or, more likely, a 768p or 1080p image, since 720p TVs do not really exist). But it's a fake 720p/768p/1080p image, just as fake as what you get when watching a regular TV channel on the same TV -- the console is not redrawing the game at the higher resolution, it is simply upscaling it, stretching it, muddying it up in exactly the same way that a photograph, for example, is muddied up when you stick it in an image-editing program and try to enlarge it past its native resolution.

Of course the usual forumroids claim that Halo 3 and COD4 look great anyway and that no one can even tell the difference (though the guys who discovered the fraud certainly could) -- but that's exactly the point: No one can tell the difference because your console will not even allow you to output the game in its native resolution. If it did, and if you did a side-by-side comparison, you too would come to understand the image-degrading effects of upscaling, you too would come to marvel at the wonders of the Fake-HD Era.

But Microsoft and Sony promised that all games would be HD, and by God they will keep that promise even if it means upscaling Game Boy Color games to the full 1920x1080 Fake-HD standard. [try playing Battlezone on the 360 XBLA - ed.] The funniest thing though is that a) Halo 3 and COD4 are not even exceptions -- there's apparently a whole range of games (from Tomb Raider to PGR3 and others) that are Fake-HD-ready, and b) things seem to be getting worse, since Halo 3 came out first at 640p, followed by COD4 at 600p.

Here's a thought -- How about using 480p?!

Do not misunderstand me here -- I applaud Bungie's and Infinity Ward's decision to drop the resolution. This is what I had been asking for all along: each developer should be able to choose the resolution according to each game's requirements. But what's happening here is a travesty! I didn't pay 1,200 euros for a 720p-native projector and titanium-plated HDMI cables so as to better be able to appreciate the artifacts of upscaling. At the very least give me an option to turn off the upscaling -- I could always feed the 600p/640p image to my projector, and using the 1:1 pixel mapping option get a crystal-clear image with the corresponding black borders. With a projector black borders are not such a big deal anyway, since you can always increase the screen size to compensate for whatever screen area you lost.

This is what gets to me most of all -- not only are Microsoft, Sony and the game publishers lying to you when they print "720p" or "HD" on the game's box (since, yeah, following the same mentality even Pong is HD as long as you don't mind stretching it enough) -- they are also making it impossible for you to play the game at its optimum image quality, something inexcusable for two consoles which have been hyped to death for precisely their image quality capabilities. To top it all off, we are not talking about some EA shovelware here -- we are talking about some of the current-gen's flagship titles! Which goes to show that in order to make a game with flagship-title-quality graphics, you often have to drop the resolution below this stupid HD standard. It is the competition for better graphics which drives developers to lower the resolution -- which gets us right back to my original article.

And let no one claim this is just a matter of lazy or incompetent developers -- granted, Bungie's graphics engines were always crap (all Halos were graphically outdated by at least one year before they even shipped), but Infinity Ward and Bizarre Creations know what they are doing. It's clear that these consoles, at least with the current software tools available, are not even capable of powering proper contemporary cutting-edge 720p games -- how much less so 1080p ones.

Which brings us to another very important but even more complicated subject. Forget about the Fake-HD games for a moment, and consider the real HD ones. Assuming that most 360/PS3 games are designed for a 720p resolution, what happens when you tell the console to display them at 768p or 1080p? Is the console really redrawing them at the higher resolution, or is it simply upscaling them -- that is to say stretching them?

This was the question my friend Recap asked me in the forum a while back, and the answer I gave him was that I was 100% sure that all games were redrawn. The reasoning behind my naive answer was simple: that's what happens in PC games. And if that's what happens in PC games, then surely the same thing must happen in these new-fangled consoles -- I gullibly assumed. In the PC world upscaling is unheard of, you understand -- if your computer can't handle a game at a given resolution you simply drop down to the next available one -- nobody in their right mind would think of stretching the image in order to fool himself. And yet this seems to be exactly what these consoles have been programmed to do, in order to fool -- who else? -- you and me, their prospective customers.

Because, you see, there has to be something fishy going on when Microsoft and Sony tell you that, for every game, you can pick between a range of resolutions (720p, 1080i, and 1080p) with no performance hit. I should have zeroed in on this earlier. I mean I kind of did, this giant question mark did enter my mind at one point, but I didn't follow through with it because I just couldn't bring myself to accept the magnitude of the fraud involved. The point here is that when switching between available resolutions in PC games there is always a performance hit -- the difference in the frame rate is always flagrantly discernible -- how much more so when we are talking the gigantic leap between 1280x720 and 1920x1080. The only time you don't notice the difference is when you are playing some relatively ancient game, in which case your system is so overpowered that it ends up running the game at 100+FPS regardless of resolution.

So the only way for Microsoft and Sony to be able to guarantee the same performance across all three resolutions is if the games were designed so as to never even come close to pushing the hardware. Of course this isn't happening, the games are indeed pushing the hardware, and ever more so as time goes by, so one would expect that there would be at least a few among the more graphically ambitious games which would just about hit, say, 60FPS at 720p, but which would crawl along at 5 or 10FPS at 1080p. But the games aren't crawling -- practically none of them are -- because they are not being redrawn. These consoles can't even handle COD4 at 720p; if you could tell them to really draw COD4 at 1080p, instead of stretching it, as they've been programmed to do, the game probably wouldn't even manage 10 frames per second. But of course such a result would be unacceptable for Sony and Microsoft. In the PC world people are expected to be smart enough to just lower the resolution by themselves if their system can't handle it, but in the consumer electronics space everyone is assumed to be a slightly slower version of Miss South Carolina whose head would explode like that guy in Scanners if a game started stuttering at a high res setting. So all games have to run at the same frame rate in every resolution, something which is technically impossible without the help of fraud.

So yeah, High Definition, huh? More like Fake High Definition.

Edited by Chronic
Read More on this Topic by Alex Kierkegaard from 2006

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weng Weng: Agent 00

Weng Weng had several hit movies as Filipino crime stopper Agent 00 in the 1970s. The Chuds liked him so much they did a tribute song and set the music to a highlight reel of Agent 00's antics.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Galaga Legions Gameplay

It looks like another fantastic SHMUP is coming exclusively to Xbox Live Arcade courtesy of Namco Bandai. This game is a total remake of Namco's 1981 arcade classic Galaga, with all new graphics, a new ship, weapons, and some crazy-ass enemy spawn patterns. Aside from the obscenely large scoring numbers that constantly pop up on the screen during gameplay, this one looks like its going to be a winner and another must download XBLA title for shoot 'em up fans. Between this, Aces of the Galaxy, Assault Heroes 2, Geometry Wars 2, 1942 Joint Strike, WOTB and Bionic Commando all coming out within a few months of each other, further filling out an already incredible roster of XBLA titles, its quite clear that the Xbox 360 is the premier console for modern 2D-shooters.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Netflix + 360 + Xbox Live = Awesome

Microsoft announced today at E3 a partnership with Netflix which will allow Netflix subscribers who own a 360 with a hard drive and Xbox Live to download over 10,000 movies without any extra fees. Thats right, if you already subscribe to Netlfix and Xbox Live, you will no longer have to wait for the mailman to bring your red envelopes to enjoy your favorite movies.

Now its seems like a win-win situation until you consider a couple of things. For starters, even though 10,000 movies sounds like a lot, it really isnt compared to the total number of DVDs Netflix carries - 100,000. So you're only getting a fraction of the total catalogue available. Secondly, the DVD video playback performance of the Xbox 360 is positively putrid. Now, this is something friends of mine like ubercrunch who are film buffs have pointed out to me in the past but Ive never noticed a huge difference. Well, after I got my PS3 I did some comparisons playing the same DVD on both the 360 and the PS3 and now its quite clear - the Xbox 360 offers rock bottom DVD video playback performance.

This is NOT a hardware issue with the Xbox 360 - its very simply a firmware issue, meaning it can be fixed with a firmware update. The 360 has a very powerful graphics card that is quite capable of performing the most acrobatic DVD video playback functions like deinterlacing and anti-aliasing. The problem is the Microsoft doesnt really care about DVD playback because it doesnt make any money selling DVDs. Now that the big MS has a deal with Netflix however, both Microsoft and Netflix have a vested interest in improving the quality of the Xbox 360's DVD playback if they want the service to succeed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

God of War 3 Trailer

Did I ever mention that God of War 1 & 2 are two of the greatest videogames ever made? OK just making sure. This game doesnt come out until Nov 2009 probably, so you have plenty of time to catch up if for some reason you never played the first two. To say that my expectations are high for this game would be a bit of an understatement - I expect it to do nothing less than the first two did - shatter your expectations of what an action adventure game can be. Sony struck back nicely today with this teaser, but its still not enough to steal Microsoft's E3 thunder from the FFXIII bombshell dropped yesterday. They need to get Home up, running and on users PS3s ASAP if they want to have any chance of beating Microsoft's avatar system to the punch when it launches as part of the Fall 360 Dashboard update.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Microsoft Shows The Ace of Spades at E3

Like any good poker player, Microsoft hasnt revealed too much about the strength of its hand for 2009. Well, one of the biggest cards in that hand was just shown at E3, where Square Enix announced that Final Fantasy XIII was launching on the Xbox 360 in the US and Europe alongside the PS3 version in Japan. Originally planned as a system exclusive for the PS3, the higher ups at Sony apparently did not feel it was necessary to pay Square to keep the game exclusive. This is directly opposite of Microsoft's plan, which has been to pay off developers big time ($50M to Rockstar for GTA IV Downloadable Content) to keep games and DLC exclusive to their system. Another huge blow to Sony, this one is sure to have the PS3 fanboys in tears. Really though, they should have seen this coming, as the Final Fantasy franchise hasnt been exclusive to Sony's system for years.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dark Void: Developer Interview

IGN says Q2 2009 so it is quite a ways away, looks great though.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Audacity of Listening

New York Times Op-Ed
by Gail Collins

We have to have a talk about Barack Obama.

I know, I know. You’re upset. You think the guy you fell in love with last spring is spending the summer flip-flopping his way to the right. Drifting to the center. Going all moderate on you. So you’re withholding the love. Also possibly the money.

I feel your pain. I just don’t know what candidate you’re talking about.

Think back. Why, exactly, did you prefer Obama over Hillary Clinton in the first place? Their policies were almost identical — except his health care proposal was more conservative. You liked Barack because you thought he could get us past the old brain-dead politics, right? He talked — and talked and talked — about how there were going to be no more red states and blue states, how he was going to bring Americans together, including Republicans and Democrats.

Exactly where did everybody think this gathering was going to take place? Left field? [emphasis added - ed.]

When an extremely intelligent politician tells you over and over and over that he is tired of the take-no-prisoners politics of the last several decades, that he is going to get things done and build a “new consensus,” he is trying to explain that he is all about compromise. Even if he says it in that great Baracky way.

Here’s a helpful story: Once upon a time, there was a woman searching for a guy who was ready to commit. One day, she met an attractive young man.

“My name is Chuck,” he said, grinning an infectious grin. “I’m planning to devote my entire life to saving endangered wildlife in the Antarctic. In five weeks I leave for the South Pole, where I will live alone in a tent, trying to convince the penguins that I am part of their flock. In the meantime, would you like to go out?”

“I have just met the man I’m going to marry,” she told her friends. She had been betrayed by poor listening skills, which skipped right over the South Pole and the tent. Of course, after five weeks of heavy dating, Chuck flew away and was never heard from again.

A year and a half of campaigning and we still haven’t heard Obama’s penguins, either. It’s not his fault that we missed the message — although to be fair, he did make it sound as if getting rid of the “old politics” involved driving out the oil and pharmaceutical lobbyists rather than splitting the difference on federal wiretapping legislation. But if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb.

Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns — attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance.

On the common-ground front, he’s called for giving more federal money to religious groups that run social programs, but only if the services they offer are secular. People can have guns for hunting and protection, but we should crack down on unscrupulous gun sellers. Putting some restrictions on the government’s ability to wiretap is better than nothing, even though he would rather have gone further.

Dumb-avoidance would include his opposing the gas-tax holiday, backtracking on the anti-Nafta pandering he did during the primary and acknowledging that if one is planning to go all the way to Iraq to talk to the generals, one should actually pay attention to what the generals say.

Touching both bases are Obama’s positions that 1) if people are going to ask him every day why he’s not wearing a flag pin, it’s easier to just wear the pin, for heaven’s sake, and 2) there’s nothing to be gained by getting into a fight over whether the death penalty can be imposed on child rapists.

His decision to ditch public campaign financing, on the other hand, was nothing but a complete, total, purebred flip-flop. If you are a person who feels campaign finance reform is the most important issue facing America right now, you should either vote for John McCain or go home and put a pillow over your head. However, I believe I have met every single person in the country for whom campaign finance reform is the tiptop priority, and their numbers are not legion.

Meanwhile, Obama has made it clear what issues he thinks all this cleverness and compromising are supposed to serve: national health care, a smart energy policy and getting American troops out of Iraq. He has tons of other concerns, but those seem to be the top three. There’s definitely a penguin in there somewhere.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

"You can observe a lot just by watching."

Yogi Berra
New York Yankees Catcher (1946-1963)
3 Time American League MVP
Owner of 10 World Series Rings

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Nadal Is Legend

In what many people are already calling one of the greatest matches in the history of Men's Tennis, world ranked #2 Rafael Nadal defeated world ranked #1 Roger Federer in the Wimbeldon Final, with a score of 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. The match, at just under 5 hours long, was the longest final in the 131 year history of Wimbeldon. Words simply cannot describe what I have just seen. It is easily one of the most incredible sporting events I have ever witnessed; the match defined the words "sport" and "comptetition" - and then defied them - as the game moved beyond the natural into the realm of the supernatural.

John McEnroe, who won Wimbeldon 3 times, was speechless after the match. In McEnroes post game interview with the devastated Roger Federer, he simply hugged him and said thank you. No questions, no asking if he should have hit more shots down the line, or been more aggressive at the net. Just thank you - the way a fan thanks a superstar - thank you for leaving absolutely everything on the court. To Rafa, who demonstrated more mental toughness and focus than I have ever seen in a human, congratulations. I could write more, but its pointless. Just watch the replay of the match on ESPN Classic tomorrow evening - even if you saw highlights - because what happened at Wimbeldon today is something thats just so incredibly rare in sports. Two men, who are head and shoulders above the rest of all players in their sport - played like it was to the death. If they could have cut the trophy in half, they should have. But only one man could win it, and with the summer light fading over London, today, for the first time 5 years, it was a man not named Roger Federer.

After the match, Nadal, always the gentleman, always the consumate sportsman, said of his opponent, ""He's still No. 1," Nadal said. "He's still the best."

Not today Rafa. Not today.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Whats Important?

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."
John F. Kennedy
US President (1961-1963)

As I get older and have less time and desire to play games, when I do get on I usually end up playing with a handful of people on my friends list. Over time its not the games so much that make the experience entertaining, its the people you play them with - thats how online games work. The character of the people you play with, over time, becomes more important than skill or any other factor. No matter how good someone is at a game, if they are unpleasant to be around, or they talk or act in an insulting manner, it can make it impossible to play with them.

Im going to tell you a story about John F. Kennedy, from when he was a young man. John used to play golf with a group of his old buddies from his prep school Choate. He would call them up and they would go out and play anywhere from 18 to 72 holes of golf in a day - whatever Kennedy's back could handle before giving in. The 3 guys he usually played with were named Jim, Henry, and Tom - the last names arent important.

Well one day, when the weather was particularly rough, they were considering heading in, but instead they decided to play on. Kennedy was having a pretty good round, and so were Jim and Henry who were all at or around par. Tom, who was normally the best player in the group, was slicing the ball all over the place, had taken several mulligans, and was well above par. While they were waiting for Tom to dig his ball out of some rough, two golfers appeared at the tee behind them. One ran over to John and said, "Hey, the weather looks like its about to get rough, do you mind if we play through?" John was a bit surprised to see a black man on a golf course in Massachusets (this was 1939 mind you), but told the young man to play on. "My buddy's having a rough time finding his ball, go on through. That might be his last one," Kennedy said with a smile. The young man turned around and ran back to the tee, where his partner was already teeing up. The partner hit his shot quite well, and then the young man who had talked to John hit a long, high drive that went well over the heads of the Kennedy party and layed up on the fairway not far from the green. The two men walked by just as Tom, who had finally found his ball, was coming out of the deep rough. Tom saw the two black men, stared for a moment, and then shouted "What the f*** do these n*****s think they are doing? Hey! n******s! Im talking to you! Get the f*** out of the way!"

The two men didnt even turn around, they kept walking, picked up their balls, and walked right off the course. Kennedy, flabbergasted at what he heard his friend just say, told him "Tom you can't talk like that. Those men have a right to play on this course. If we were at war, those men could save your life." Tom said, "John you're probably right, but that still doesnt give them a right to play through." He promptly dropped his ball, took a hard swing and sliced it right over the green into the woods. The group didnt say much for the rest of the round.

The next week, when the weather was much better, Jim called up Kennedy and told him where the group would be meeting for lunch before their usual round of golf.

Kennedy asked, "Is Tom going to be joining us?"

Jim said "Of course, why wouldnt he be?"

"Well," Kennedy responded, "I cant play with you then. That man is a bigot, and has no sense of sportsmanship whatsoever. Im embarrassed to be around him."

"Thats too bad," said Jim. "Hes a great golfer, usually, I think he was just having a bad day."

"Maybe he is a great golfer, but thats still no excuse for what he said."

So that weekend, Kennedy didnt play golf with his buddies for the first time in a couple years. The next week, when Jim called him again, Kennedy again asked if Tom was playing, was told yes, and excused himself again. That his prep school buddies didnt mind playing with this man struck Kennedy as odd, as he knew from private conversations that they were not racist at all. They both believed in fairness in matters of race or sport. "So why do you keep playing with this guy?" Kennedy asked the next time he spoke with his buddy. Jim responded, "He never misses a game, and we've entered into group tournament that he can help us win."

Kennedy was surprised. Both his friends, who were men of character, were putting up with a person whose behavior Kennedy had deemed unacceptable. This changed Kennedy's view of the other two men. Although they didnt engage in intolerant or unsportsmanlike behavior, their continued tolerance of such behavior by a peer reflected poorly on both them. After a few months of being asked to join the group he was once a core member of, John stopped bothering to call Jim back about golf altogether, and his spot in the group was replaced.

Whether the story is true or just part of presidential folklore isnt really important. What is important, on July 4th, 2008, as I watch on TV the Macy's fireworks show over the Hudson River, the same river which George Washington crossed during the Revolutionary War, is character. The character of my friends, my family, myself, and the people of this country, including its next president, Barack Obama. Are we everything we should be? Can we walk down the street proud, with our heads up high, or must we hang them low? Was this country we have now worth so many men dying for 200 years ago? Why did those men choose to die? How about the Civil War and the 50,000 men who died at the Battle of Gettysburg? Was that worth fighting? Why did those men choose to die? Why did Kennedy stop playing golf?

Ideas. Ideas are worth fighting for. Ideas are worth dying for. Its an incredible concept - to die for an idea - but perhaps it is the most noble of all things you could die protecting - because its intangible, except for in the minds of other men. The principle idea behind the Declaration of Independance and the Revolutionary War was freedom - freedom from taxation without representation, and the freedom of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. But it was a flawed idea, because it did not include freedom for all men and women in America. It took another 100 years for that war to happen, and even when it was over, another 100 years before our country was fully desegregated. But since then the the Idea of Freedom hasnt been fully protected in America - it has been desheathed, debunked, and dethroned. It is continually assaulted. It is up to each and every individual American to protect Freedom - and Im most certainly not talking about the specter of terrorists which the Republicans would have us believe lurk under every bed like the boogeyman.

There is Freedom of Speech in America, but with that freedom comes responsibility. The Founding Fathers of this country had a vision - it was a flawed vision - but eventually we got it right, and freedom was achieved for all men and women, regardless of race, religion or politcal belief. As an American, you have the right to call someone a Nigger or a Jew or a Cunt or a Fag over Xbox Live. But in doing so you abdicate all the responsibility that comes with that freedom, and in turn you spit on the graves of the people who died to make this country what it is, who died to give you that freedom.

Personally, I cannot associate myself with people who do not understand the history of this country and how lucky they are to be born here, to be given these incredible freedoms as birthrights. Those that choose to abdicate the responsibility of these freedoms - and those who willingly tolerate such abdication- are part of the Other America, the part of our country that wants to move backwards and resist change, resist progress. In November 2008 the Other America is in for a huge shock when Barack Obama will be elected as the first minority President in the history of America. What will their reaction be?

We dont know where Kennedy's prep school buddy Tom is today or if he ever existed, but if he were alive to see the election results in November I sure would like to see him. Perhaps the years have given him wisdom and he is able to see the errors of his foolish youth. Perhaps the sudden departure and subsequent success of his friend and golf partner made him reconsider how he used his freedom. Perhaps his intolerance intensified. People can change - but it requires individuals of great character around them, who believe very strongly in their ideas, to take strong action to back the ideas up and reinforce them. How strongly you accept the responsibility to take actions which back up ideas defines your character - and how we each accept that responsibility defines us as a nation.

Great Civilizations have failed before - The Romans, The Mayans, The Mongols. Are we next? Have our ideas failed us? Do we have the character necessary to make it another 200 years? It is up to each and everyone of us to decide which part of America we want to be a part of - the Ideal America, which took us 200 years to achieve and is still a work very much in progress - or the Other America, who sits idly by and waits for obsolescence and extinction. The choice is yours.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives so that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln
US President (1861-1865)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Oh Happy Day for Big Oil

New York Times Op-Ed by Bob Herbert

It’s getting harder and harder to remain deluded. With each day comes new facts to drag our heads out of the sand.

Two weeks ago, The Times reported that four Western oil giants were on the verge of signing no-bid contracts that would return them to Iraq, the third-most bountiful petroleum playground on the planet. The deals, expected to be finalized in the next 30 days, were the kind of news that big oil lives for.

Giddy executives singing “Oh Happy Day” could be heard in the corporate offices of Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP, which had been shut out of Iraq for three and a half decades.

We also learned this week that a group of American advisers, led by a team from the State Department, played a key role in drawing up the contracts between the companies and the Iraqi government. Chevron and several smaller oil companies are also on the verge of signing contracts.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both former oil-company executives, have long tried to tell us this war was about terrorism, about weapons of mass destruction, about bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, about anything but oil.

Said Mr. Bush: “We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

He didn’t wait. It didn’t matter that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the U.S. Or that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The troops were sent into battle in early 2003 and there is still, after more than five years and more than 4,000 American deaths, no end to the war in sight.

One of the starkest examples of U.S. priorities came during the eruption of looting that followed the fall of Baghdad. With violence and chaos all about, American troops were ordered to protect one particularly treasured target — the Iraqi Oil Ministry. As David Rieff wrote in The Times Magazine in November 2003:

“This decision to protect only the Oil Ministry — not the National Museum, not the National Library, not the Health Ministry — probably did more than anything else to convince Iraqis uneasy with the occupation that the United States was in Iraq only for the oil.”

How convenient that the peculiar perspective of the oil-obsessed Bush administration can now be put to use advising the Iraqi government on its contracts with big oil.

The contracts themselves are not huge. They are like the keys on a coveted ring that will begin opening the doors to Iraq’s vast oil reserves. As The Times reported Monday, “At a time of spiraling oil prices, the no-bid contracts, in a country with some of the world’s largest untapped fields and potential for vast profits, are a rare prize to the industry.”

A prize, yes. But at what cost?

In addition to the terrible toll of Americans and Iraqis killed and wounded, the war in Iraq has diverted attention and resources from critical problems here in the U.S., where the housing market has been crippled, the stock market has tanked, gasoline has soared past $4 per gallon, unemployment is increasing and an extraordinary number of debt-ridden working families are staring into a financial abyss.

Even as oil companies are enjoying staggering profits, many Americans — in July! — are already worried sick about the potentially ruinous cost of heating their homes next winter.

And then there’s the so-called war on terror.

The latest news is that Al Qaeda, the terror network that actually did attack the U.S., has successfully regrouped in the tribal areas of Pakistan and has reconstituted its ability to institute terror attacks from the region.

For an administration joined at the hip to the oil industry, the lure of Iraq’s enormous reserves was stronger even than the impulse to conquer an enemy that murdered more than 2,700 civilians on Sept. 11, a toll greater than the number of Americans killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.

Referring to Al Qaeda members who regrouped in Pakistan, The Times reported on Monday:

“Current and former military and intelligence officials said that the war in Iraq consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas. When American military and intelligence officials requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq.”

Who knows how long it will be before the U.S. disengages in any significant way from Iraq. What you can take to the bank is that this country will not make any major advances in energy policy, in health coverage, in rebuilding its infrastructure, in improving its public schools or in curtailing runaway public and private debt until our open-ended commitment to this catastrophic multitrillion-dollar war comes to an end.

How long will it take before that finally sinks in?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gears of War 2 Multiplayer Trailer pulled the video at the request of Epic because it is an exclusive reveal contained on the the Unreal 3 Tournament disc. But youtube saved the day and I found a decent copy of it. The game looks awesome, I cant wait to play Capture The Max.