Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Since its US debut in 1987 on the NES, Konami's Castlevania series has gone on to become one of the most popular franchises in video-game history, with releases on nearly every major platform (including the Super NES, Genesis, and GameBoy). Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation, PSN and XBLA - is not just the best Castlevania game - it is quite possibly the best 2D action adventure side scroller ever made.
Unlike most previous Castlevania games, Symphony features a main character who isn't one of the whip-cracking Belmonts. In an even more bizarre twist, it turns out that the hero, Alucard, is actually the son of Dracula. Your task as Alucard is to explore Dracula's castle (rumored to only appear once a century) and find out why Richter Belmont, the hero of the first game (and descendant of the original Castlevania hero, Simon), has mysteriously vanished.
Since the main character doesn't carry a whip, gameplay was obviously changed quite a bit from past Castlevanias. You can use several different weapons and items, each of which is kept in an RPG-like inventory subscreen. But Symphony mimics an RPG in more ways than one. Experience is gained from killing enemies; attributes are raised whenever Alucard levels-up, which is good incentive not to pass up enemies when trying to get from one area to the next; special skills are learned by performing different control-pad movements that subsequently save to a move list in the subscreen; and you can find and use numerous magic items during your quest. Even with the new trappings, though, the basics of the game are true to previous installments - break candles, collect hearts and money (which you can now actually spend in a shop), and fight ghoulish enemies. Although the 8 bit Castlevania series was never known for its control scheme, SOTN features tight, precise controls with the pinpoint accuracy and impeccable timing of a fighting game.
Perhaps the most important new feature added to Castlevania is its map system. Extremely similar to the one in Super Metroid, the map (which can be viewed at any time by pressing the Select button) opens up room by room as you travel through the castle. You can buy an extended map that shows you some of the areas you have yet to visit, but as you might imagine, it's limited and doesn't show you any of the castle's hidden portions. Even if it did, it wouldn't much matter; like any good adventure game, many areas can't be accessed until later in the journey. Specifically, you can't visit certain places until you've found the three souls that Alucard can transform into - Wolf, Bat, and Mist, each of which can be used at any time for a small amount of magic power.
Needless to say, the graphics and musical score are great, which is what you'd expect from Konami. The anime-style look of Dracula X has been replaced with a more Gothic look and feel that adds a surprising amount of depth to the game's wonderful atmosphere. In terms of character graphics, Alucard is one of the most well animated sprites Ive ever seen. Some of the lesser enemies are dragged straight from previous Castlevania titles, but almost all of them have unique attack and death animations, and the bosses are some of the most towering, revoltingly detailed and twisted monstrosities in the history of videogames. Being able to square off against Frankestein, The Mummy, Medusa, and other abominations such as Beezelbub, shown below, certainly makes it one of the most fun games to play around Halloween.
Suffice to say, this game still holds up visually in 2008, and the excellent XBLA version offers a smoothing function which really reduces the jaggies without sacrificing crispness. Each area of the castle comes to with life gorgeous backgrounds, multiple levels of parallax scrolling, and stellar special effects (particularly of note are the lighting and fog effects used in certain levels).
The extraordinary amount of weapons and secrets that make this game seem fresh even after being out for so many years is why this title outdoes its Game Boy Advance successor Harmony of Dissonance or any other Castlevania title. The incredible attention to detail makes the game stand out among the best games of its or any generation. Once you've finished playing through both castles with Alucard, you can take Richter through the story again for more old-school type exploration.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is easily one of the best videogames ever released and a true testament to the fact that 2D gaming is not dead by any stretch of the imagination. The game is very large, nonlinear, amazingly well detailed and animated, a delicious treat for the ears and eyes, and will most certainly keep all but the most jaded modern gamers entertained for a long time.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
2 Gears trailers in 3 days I know is a bit much, but this one is actually good. You might want to preorder the game if you havent yet, I think its going to get really high review scores because of all the different modes and features added, and will quickly be sold out in most stores. From the day it gets released until The Godfather 2 comes out in February, I expect this game to be in my 360 a lot of the time. There are some other cool titles still on the horizon for 2008 - Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty 5, and Prince of Persia being at the top of my list, but Gears stands alone when it comes to what Im most pumped up about. Im so pumped up, I might have to flip out ninja style and go chop some heads off. That always lets off some steam.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Eco Fighters, an arcade game released in both the US and Japan (where it was called Ultimate Ecology), is a unique, hand eye coordination intensive 2D scrolling shooter (or SHMUP for short) released in 1993 and again in 2006 on Capcom Classics Vol 2. As well as superbly rendered graphics, Eco Fighters features an interesting play mechanic with the addition of an extended metal arm mounted on the side of the player's ship. On the end of the arm is a weapon that can be rotated through 360 degrees. This weapon comes in 4 different forms; Energy Ball, Long-range Hammer, Laser Sword or Scatter-Bomb foil. The rotatable weapon can be powered up before being fired, in a similar fashion to the 'Force' weapon that featured in Irem's "R-Type". The rotatable weapon is also impervious to all enemy contact and can be used as a shield. In addition to the rotating weapon, the player's ship is also equipped with forward-firing laser guns. Both the guns and rotatable weapon can be powered-up with greater shot power when the relevant icon is picked up.
Basically, its a simple twist on classic shooter mechanics and it works quite well. Apparently Stuttering Craig from ScrewAttack and I have 95% the same taste in games - especially shootem ups and classic games. He even thinks Crazy Balloon kicks ass. Hopefully Eco Fighters or a remake or a sequel to it could one day come out on XBLA and PSN. Hey, you never know.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Taylor Swift has finally supplanted Alicia Keys as the most talented young female artist in America, and I dont even usually listen to country music, but her first album is amazing. This 19 year old girl writes all her own material, plays a badass guitar, sings with every ounce of emotion in her being, and doesnt look too bad in the shower either. With several #1 hits, including the above song, she has taken over country music in 2008. Next up? The rest of the world. Her second album, Fearless, will be released November 11th, 2008.
Friday, October 24, 2008
If you overplay your hand, or play too agressively, as professionals and amateurs alike are prone to do, certain players will sit back and set you up with a huge trap. Patrik Antonius is such a player. He will flop the nuts, smooth call you to the river, check it over, and let you tie a rope around your neck and hang yourself with a pot comitting bet.
Brian Townsend made two fatal errors in this hand. First, he should have never bet $40,000 on the river with second pair, and more importantly he should have never called the reraise, because he wasnt actually pot comitted, and he could only beat a bluff. Calling a $110,000 reraise with second pair in the face of incredible strength is the ultimate donkey play. In the rare event that Antonius was bluffing and didnt have a straight or a set - let him take the pot, and give him credit for an incredible move, and try not to make the same mistake again. Its not worth another $110K to find out. The reality is that unless Townsend put Antonius on a stone cold bluff from start to finish, there was no way a pair of Queens was good on that hand - calling there is throwing good money after bad.
Playing correctly means showing down winning hands, often by checking. If a huge reraise would make you puke, dont even think about betting the river in no limit holdem - check/calling the river with marginal strength hands is almost always correct in this game. Knowing the other players hand range - in this case Townsend's most likely holding is AK, AQ, KQ, KJ or QJ - is essential for setting up a trap. If you check too much, miss bets and give too many free cards, or if you dont read the other players hand ranges correctly, and you dont have the nuts yourself when you trap, you will find that the hunter can quickly become the hunted.
Playing correctly also means making big laydowns when its either obvious you are beat, or its simply too expensive to find out when your hand doesnt demand a call. Making a "hero call" with a weak hand based on a strong read is one thing, calling a huge reraise out of frustration when you have no idea what your opponent holds is simply bad poker, and thats what you see in the above video: a top internet player with agressive betting patterns, small hand ranges, and physical tells going up against one of the best high stakes cash game players in the world, and paying $150,000 for 2 very avoidable mistakes.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Yeah, Im a shooter junkie. I never wanted to admit it, but its true. Darth Mikal pointed this out to me. I never went crazy with CoD4 or Halo online, but for years Ive played PC shooters like the Battlefield series, the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, Unreal series, Quake series, etc etc. But now all of the shooters are made for consoles as well as PC, and several of them are actually console exclusive. Who would have thunk it? But here we are in 2008 and shooters rule on consoles, and Im loving it. Even 2D shooters have made a nice resurgence.
The bar for me isnt even that high with these shooting games. Some pretty graphics, good sound, diverse enemies, some quality level design, and hopefully a boss fight here and there or some cool puzzles. If there's multiplayer, thats great too, although the chances are I wont spend too much time with it. FPS games are fun online and all, but I have to say my 4 favorite online console shooters, MechAssault 2, Gears of War, GTA IV, and Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, are all 3rd person shooters. With that being said, my anticipation for Gears of War 2 could not be higher, although something like Far Cry 2 looks like it could be a great diversion between now and then. The Gametrailers guys certainly seemed to enjoy it, so I know for a bleary eyed, gaping mouted, drooling shooter junkie like myself, it will be more than enough to entertain me.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Well we've made it this far, so I dont see any reason to stop now. I dont really have much to say tonight other than 1) Obama's a shoe-in, 2) I got my computer up and running again, 3) fulltilt.com is 100% totally rigged (j/k), and 4) I finally finished Shred Nebula. Damn, for an XBLA arcade game that nobody bought, it was pretty cool. Its no masterpiece, but its a well done Asteroids style 2D space shooter. My final score was almost 7.9 million, which put me in 13th place on the scoreboard out of a 2500 people. Like I said, nobody bought it, which is a shame really because the multiplayer possibilities are superb. But after the epic August on XBLA, people didnt spend the time or MS points to give the game a fair look, and to be honest, the controls really arent that intuitive, but once youve scrambled up the learning curve the ship controls beautifully.
So the word on the street is that Midnight Club L.A., Fable 2, Far Cry 2, Portal Still Alive and Soldner X are freaking sweet while the new Spider Man game, the new Golden Axe, and Wii Music utterly fail to entertain. Im trying to focus on unfinished games I have, like MegaMan9, skate, Metal Gear 4, Super Mario Galaxy, etc., rather than the endless supply of new crap, but its really hard, how can I not at least give Midnight Club a spin? MC:3 Dub was soooo sweet, with insanely epic motorcycle jumps, that part of me thinks its going to be hard for MC:LA to top it, and from the videos the design doesnt seem very jump heavy. I guess there's only one way to find out, and it certainly cant be much worse than Burnout Paradise, which was a nice vacation from Burnout 3 for a couple weeks but had no lasting online appeal: even adding downloadable bikes for free couldnt make the online fun - no laps, night driving - it wasnt even Burnout at that point, just another racing game. Until they find a way to capture the magic of Burnout 3 and implement it in a new racing game, be it the rumored Road Rash reload or a Burnout MMO, Criterion should just work on shooters.
Anyway, the blog should be back in order with regular updates again, we now return you to your regularly scheduled program which is already in progress.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
So the power supply in my computer failed. Its got a lifetime warranty but it will take a week for the new one to get here so I dont think I will be blogging. Aside from that, and running bad in poker, my car was overheating, and it turns out it needs major engine work, like $1900 worth, or possibly a new engine entirely, as this one already has 120K miles on it. Also, my business partner from my music studio bailed out over the summer and stiffed me on about 4 months rent. So, with all of these events conspiring against my financial and mental well being, it doesnt look like Im going to Amsterdam in November for a certain annual international festival, which sucks because I could really use a vacation - just to get out of NYC and get some fresh air. Oh well. As Ive said before, things dont always work out how you want them to. Thats life. Overall, I cant complain too much, because you have to be happy for the things you have in life rather than what you dont. Hopefully I'll be blogging again next week.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This 2D shooter came out on PC last year exclusively in Japan, and now you can download it onto your PS3 for a fraction of the original price. Nobody has reviewed the PS3 port, but barring some catastrophe with Im downloading this one for sure. There's a review of the PC version here.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
IGN: "LittleBigPlanet is a massive game, one that is essentially two parts intertwined so well that they're practically inseparable. Media Molecule has created a brilliant platformer, and then given you the tools to recreate the whole thing over again, or better yet, to create your own ideas from scratch. It's not perfect -- but what's there is nothing short of astounding. If you own a PlayStation 3, you cannot miss this. If you don't have a PS3 yet, this is the reason to get one."
IGN UK: "LittleBigPlanet is an absolute triumph of imagination and creativity. Its core conceits of accessibility and social play make its already ample charms even more endearing, producing a game that’s at once familiar and quite unlike anything that’s come before. It’s a celebration of inspiration and human interaction and a hugely welcome, utterly invigorating experience among usual roster of nihilistic shooters jostling for shelf space this Christmas. It’s like Bagpuss and LEGO and nostalgia met at the pub and invited everyone along -- and if the big grins and warm fuzzy feelings around the office are anything to go by every time we turn it on, LittleBigPlanet deserves all the recognition it can get."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
So md galaxy's blog died. Actually he tried to kill it. But do you know what happens when you try to kill a computer? Bad things. You only piss it off and make it stronger! Now Bender 2.0 is in effect, online, and apparently its playing Crysis on very high! If it ever discovers Civilization 4, we might never see md on Xbox Live again.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
By Will Self
In Ibiza, the night proceeds according to plan: we set off in convoy, several cars full of us — true, we’re going to a party in a swanky villa on the other side of the island, but while half our company are teenaged, the rest of us are past the age when we can do any raving — except against the dying of the light.
Then: solid darkness, with headlights gouging it out to expose switchback roads and useless signs. The mobile phone calls begin: like the echolocation of decadent bats. Some Ibizan parties can be found by following lizards stenciled on walls, others by pink balloons, but the turning for this one — or so we’re assured through the ether — will be clear to us because of a strategically placed pile of three white phones.
“Phones!” Our radio operator-cum-navigator expostulates to general in-car hilarity. “Three white phones!” She reiterates — and the mirth continues until, having driven the required kilometer back from San Miguel, we find the pile of three white stones. If only we were — stoned, that is. But we’re simply victims of a contact high as big as the island itself, a tenebrous and fizzing cloud of Methylenedioxymethamphetamine beneath which our hired Seat Ibiza struggles to gain purchase on the bumpy track.
The party is what we’ve come to expect — this is our third season on the island. While most of the guests are fairly decorous, there’s also a goodly proportion of mums, dads and teenage kids frantically circulating; they jig and spin on the end of invisible strings of intoxication, as high as kites that are about to crash into the ground. It’s very Ibiza, this transgenerational narcosis, and it gives the entire mise-en-scène — the pool with its artificial shingle beach; the enormous patio crowded with bohos, trustafarians and aristocrats; the trestle tables laden with truckles of uber-tender beef — a certain Pompeiian air. You don’t have to be a Cassandra to suspect that it’s all about to go “crunch,” as the liquidity is sucked out of the revelers and they’re left freeze-dried in their poses for eternity.
Ibiza, once a lazy and forgotten corner of the Balearics where a few guitar-strumming longhairs (and by “long” we’re talking collar-length here) sheltered from the asperities of Francoism, has long since hypertrophied into a nauseating projection of all the worst roads to freedom. In the immediate vicinity of the main town of Eivissa and the airport there are a score of mega-clubs — Amnesia, Aura, Space — whale-like establishments that suck in tens of thousands of Euro-youth. Ticket touts and drug dealers play the part of baleine, stripping the kids of their cash, their psyches and their inhibitions; then, once in the belly of the beast, they frolic in foam, stagger, then punch the air to the chthonic thud. In this mad realm the DJ is king of the krill, while the only writer that matters is named “King.”
As for walking — forget it; clubland itself is a desiccated zone of dirt and concrete, the only picturesque things hereabouts are… postcards. The beaches are so crowded that they resemble barbecues, with the north Europeans playing the part of prime cut. Even inland, where the country opens out a little, there’s still an astonishing density to the habitation, as if a vast suburb had been scattered over the hills. On earlier Ibizan promenades I had become convinced that behind every shuttered window of every terracotta villa there lurked a Milanese brassiere manufacturer committing some unspeakable act of onanism.
Nevertheless, despite being a guest in a beautiful hilltop villa myself (and one with no sign of lounging Milanese lingerie specialists), I still felt the terrible claustrophobia that descends on me whether I’m trapped in squalor — or luxury. So, the following day I decided to go for a walk around the northern cape of the island. This would be a modest five-miler — given the 86-degree heat — from Cala d’en Serra along the cliffs to Punta d’es Gat and the Caló des Pou, then on to the lighthouse at Punta des Moscarter. From there it looked to be a straightforward amble down to the resort of Portinatx. However, nothing’s ever as simple as that.
My wayfinding — and that of my companion, Mark — was erratic. In retrospect, we missed the beginning of the walking trail, and so set off off-piste through the scrub, sharp rocks underfoot, while to our right the ragged rocks fell away to the sparkling Med. Still, at least there weren’t stencils of lizards — but the occasional real ones. I was also thankful that Mark wasn’t some gung-ho type afraid to admit to any frailties; he had, he told me, suffered a terrible injury as a small child, a cut that festered so badly he contracted gangrene. He ended up in hospital for months, and emerged with one leg three inches shorter than the other. And what, I asked, had caused the injury? He had stood on a solar panel — a very technologically advanced wound for the early 1970s.
We consulted the map, we debated; with each advance we would set off confidently along the path, only to have it disappear in the thorny underbrush. Then we’d backtrack and start again. We made about a mile an hour. On the horizon the superstructure of a freighter piled high with containers wavered in the heat, never seeming to progress: all that stuff, cars and car tires, dishwashers and dialysis machines — the whole lot being thrust through Homer’s wine-dark sea. The sheer inertia of global commerce began to make me feel dizzy — there was this, and also the sense that with our ceaseless advances and retractions we were in some way mimicking the vacillations of our own culture, with its Promethean thefts always being found out by the aeronautical engineering of Icarus.
I began to worry: would we become lost here in the Ibizan hinterland? Meeting perhaps with other Brits who’d gone feral? A lost tribe, stark naked save for denim penis-sheaths, who called themselves “the Ex” and enacted weird psycho-sexual rituals. Mark, on the other hand, remained blithe, and chatted away about how his dad made a fortune buying up ex-Ministry of Defense Cold War bunkers in the Channel Islands, then growing mushrooms in their safe darkness. He also spoke of his own business, which manages car parks on behalf of their owners — his largest client is a ubiquitous fast food restaurant. It occurred to me that this was becoming the purest kind of psychogeography: a contemplation of these other confined spaces, while we negotiated the not-so-great outdoors.
Still, we did at least have the lighthouse to aim for, and so Mark limped and I stumped on, gained it, and then, yes, there was the pleasant amble on into Portinatx along the bluff. We found a quiet — by Ibizan standards — resort, with only a few score tourists wallowing like manatees in the warm sea, and stopped for a restorative espresso at a beachfront café. Then, the dusty bend for our temporary home; as we came along the road that led back towards where our car was parked we saw the sign pointing the way we should’ve taken; the corner of the hikers pictogram was broken off and lay beside it on the ground. Sheer chance, or maybe a willful act by the feral Ex?
Late that day I went to check on the teens who were bunking in a villa about mile from our own. Their villa, as cubicular and white as a sugar cube, was called “China White.” That’s Ibiza for you — a not-so-funhouse mirror of Surrey, where premature retirees live in houses named after varieties of heroin. It was a beautiful evening, the sun lazily declining to the sea. From a villa down the hill floated the hypnotic strains of a song that was ceaselessly played during my own summer of ersatz love: “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star : “I look to you and I see nothing / I look to you to see the truth,” the ethereal girl singer warbled her timeless existentialism. In Ibiza generations, distances, thoughts and fancies — they all fade into you. Or do I mean me?
Monday, October 6, 2008
Ive been enoying this game lately so I thought I would post the GT review. Its probably the best Battlefield game since 1942, although its not as big or as epic as the newer Battlefield games, it certainly plays, looks, and sounds a hell of a lot better. I loved Mercenaries 2, but playing this right after it really doesnt make that game look great, as the production values here are so much higher in terms of graphics and sound - the Frostbite engine looks and runs fantastic on the 360 and everything you see can be blown up. The only competition for this game in the Military FPS genre right now is Call of Duty 4. Which game you prefer is largely a matter of taste, although I think both are great, CoD4 is the faster, more action oriented game, and the single player is certainly more intense than Bad Company's, which is actually quite good in its own right. But Battlefield has and always will be about strategy as well as action, and Bad Company really delivers on that front with a great squad system and a huge variety of vehicle and kit types. Throw in massive environmental destructibility, an addicting rewards and unlocks system, and dedicated 24 person servers, all with the ease of Xbox Live, and you have the dream come true first person shooter for military buffs.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The New York Times
I was channel surfing on Monday, following the stock market’s 777 point collapse, when a commentator on CNBC caught my attention. He was being asked to give advice to viewers as to what were the best positions to be in to ride out the market storm. Without missing a beat, he answered: “Cash and fetal.”
I’m in both — because I know an unprecedented moment when I see one. I’ve been frightened for my country only a few times in my life: In 1962, when, even as a boy of 9, I followed the tension of the Cuban missile crisis; in 1963, with the assassination of J.F.K.; on Sept. 11, 2001; and on Monday, when the House Republicans brought down the bipartisan rescue package.
But this moment is the scariest of all for me because the previous three were all driven by real or potential attacks on the U.S. system by outsiders. This time, we are doing it to ourselves. This time, it’s our own failure to regulate our own financial system and to legislate the proper remedy that is doing us in.
I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system — one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.
This is dangerous. We have House members, many of whom I suspect can’t balance their own checkbooks, rejecting a complex rescue package because some voters, whom I fear also don’t understand, swamped them with phone calls. I appreciate the popular anger against Wall Street, but you can’t deal with this crisis this way.
This is a credit crisis. It’s all about confidence. What you can’t see is how bank A will no longer lend to good company B or mortgage company C. Because no one is sure the other guy’s assets and collateral are worth anything, which is why the government needs to come in and put a floor under them. Otherwise, the system will be choked of credit, like a body being choked of oxygen and turning blue.
Well, you say, “I don’t own any stocks — let those greedy monsters on Wall Street suffer.” You may not own any stocks, but your pension fund owned some Lehman Brothers commercial paper and your regional bank held subprime mortgage bonds, which is why you were able refinance your house two years ago. And your local airport was insured by A.I.G., and your local municipality sold municipal bonds on Wall Street to finance your street’s new sewer system, and your local car company depended on the credit markets to finance your auto loan — and now that the credit market has dried up, Wachovia bank went bust and your neighbor lost her secretarial job there.
We’re all connected. As others have pointed out, you can’t save Main Street and punish Wall Street anymore than you can be in a rowboat with someone you hate and think that the leak in the bottom of the boat at his end is not going to sink you, too. The world really is flat. We’re all connected. “Decoupling” is pure fantasy.
I totally understand the resentment against Wall Street titans bringing home $60 million bonuses. But when the credit system is imperiled, as it is now, you have to focus on saving the system, even if it means bailing out people who don’t deserve it. Otherwise, you’re saying: I’m going to hold my breath until that Wall Street fat cat turns blue. But he’s not going to turn blue; you are, or we all are. We have to get this right.
I always said to myself: Our government is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis, and the system still doesn’t seem to work. Our leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have gotten so out of practice of working together that even in the face of this system-threatening meltdown they could not agree on a rescue package, as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting us for the week, with no stake in the outcome.
The story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.