Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Breaking Controllers

So, this week I broke another 360 controller. It was a wired one, like I almost always use, because they are so much lighter weight than the wireless ones. Im not keeping track, but I know I sent a bunch of broken ones to MD to make arcade sticks with, and I still have a few, plus this one. Definitely 6 or 7 Xbox 360 controllers, although several of them were MadCatz 360 Pro controllers which were of dubious build quality before I got my hands of death on them. The normal Microsoft controllers, I dropped a couple of them until the shoulder buttons died, and my cat chewed one's cord into infinity. Other than that I just wear them out until they stop functioning in one way or another.

I thought this was normal but apparently after to talking to some gamers, I do have a bad problem with breaking controllers, at least for someone who doesnt smash or throw them. James Bond 007 told me he was still on his first 360 controller, which I still dont believe. Maybe I just have bad luck. All I know is, if someone ever tries to design an unbreakable controller, send it to me first. At least I wont cheat and use my Level 3 Dragon Sword on it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Outrun Arcade Online

Watch OutRun Online Arcade announcement trailer in Game Videos  |  

I dont know about you but Im more excited about this game than anything Criterion has done in the last year. Bright, colorful graphics, wide open courses, huge drifts, lap leaderboards, 6 player online - sound familiar? Coming Spring 2009 to XBLA and PSN.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Zero Punctuation: Sonic Unleashed

Hilarious, even if you never played the game.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Disappointing Games of 2008

The guys at gametrailers picked Star Wars The Force Unleashed as the most disappointing game of 2008. Thats a little harsh. The gameplay wasnt amazing but the production values were out of this world, the Euphoria physics engine worked extremely well with The Force, and although at 10 hours long it was too short and the combat was too shallow to recommend buying it (except for the most hardcore Star Wars fans), I think its a fun rental.

There were several Capcom games that came out this year that I was pretty sure were not going to make the cut - but turned out to be great. Everything Capcom touched in 2008 was solid gold. Looking at what they've done with their intellectual properies, they have as much of my respect as any gaming company in the world.

Some of my favorite games of 2008, were in ways disappointments, because they were so great but fell short of perfection. Fallout 3, GTA IV, Prince of Persia, Gears of War 2, Ninja Gaiden 2 - those games were almost perfect 10s. Those are easily in my top 10 favorite games of the year, but they are also disappointments in how they brush up against perfection without achieving it.

So now that Ive confused you by telling you all my favorite games actually disappoint me, what games actually bit the big fat one in 2008? PS Home. Spore. Age of Conan. Too Human. Far Cry 2. Mortal Kombat vs DC. Legendary. Wii Music. Alone in the Dark. Sonic Unleashed. Fracture. Shaun White Snowboarding. Golden Axe. Turok. Those games, as great as certain parts of them might be, are crippled by glaring flaws that render the overall experience much less enjoyable than it should be. Burnout Paradise, I might add, was a fun single player game but had absolutely none of the depth we wanted in an online racing game, so in that regard it was a huge disappointment. Some games, like Civilization Revolution, I was simply expecting too much from. Age of Conan just didnt have enough fun quests. Sonic starred in another comic-tragedy. We kinda expect Sonic to suck now, but still.

Spore, the biggest flop of 2008 on the PC, was just too dumbed down and too short. It still sold a million copies, so what do I know. I think the biggest bomb of the year for the 360 was Silicon Knight's Too Human. Both Spore and Too Human are games with nearly 10 years of development behind them, and tons of hype, so for them to finally debut in 2008 and be so lackluster left a lot of fans shaking their heads. But really we cant complain, as overall it was one of the best years ever for gamers, second maybe only to 2007. But thats another discussion entirely.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Biggest BASE Jump in the World

I have one word for these guys: daredevils. This is far beyond wingsuit flying or BASE jumping. This is cheating death for kicks. I would not do this for any amount of money, and these guys do it just for fun, and thats why they rock. Simply amazing footage.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prince of Persia - Impressions

(For the most part, the above Gametrailers video review is an accurate representation of my viewpoint, and most importantly it shows the game in motion.)

The new Prince of Persia is certainly worth playing for most 360, PS3 and PC owners who enjoy platforming games, and while it has many dazzling moments, its not quite a must own title for the system. If you are a huge fan of the series, or platform-orb-collection in general - this game will almost certainly please you. However, my prediction is that like Assassins Creed 2, the sequel to this Prince of Persia game will be closer to perfection in all regards, even if this game is nearly perfect in some.

One of the best parts of Prince of Persia is that its actually a very non-gamer friendly title, the controls are simple to learn, and nothing occurs in the game that you wouldn't want to show your little niece or grandmother, its all very much on the up and up, which is extremely rare in a top tier title not made by Nintendo. Its easy to just pick up and play, and many non-gamers will mistake it for anime or an animated film when they first see it running on an HDTV.

The game is a visual masterpiece. It is easily one of the most graphically stunning games Ive ever played, not so much in a technical sense like Gears or Crysis, but in the fantastic art and overall gorgeous look of world. It is a world which is presented seamlessly without any loading screens, which is a true technical feat given how large and detailed it is. And unlike other games which made a really big deal about no loading screens and then it turned out nobody cared about loading screens in a racing game anyway, and actually preferred them, in Prince of Persia the lack of loading screens really enhances your immersion into the fantasy world. Because the animations are spectacularly lifelike, the entire game looks like one long anime motion capture sequence. The music is also excellent, while the voicework and sound design are merely adequate. The overall presentation of the game, from the menus to the cutscenes to the final credits, is among the best I've ever seen.

The gameplay itself will be very much a love/hate affair for many gamers, although if you give yourself over to the controls and try to shake off the years of button mashing programmed into your thumb, you will find a pleasingly addictive platformer with some occasional QTE focused battles. The combined effect of the stunning anime like graphics with minimal button pressing in both the platforming and combat segments gives the game an almost Dragons Lair like quality. You watch the game as much as you play it, and thats a beautiful thing - or not, depending on your gaming philosophy and style. For me, in the end, I loved the platforming segments, hunting the orbs, reaching the fertile ground, but when it came time to fight I simply wanted more control. The prince moves too slowly in combat, he is no longer nimble but becomes stiff and awkward to control, as his gaze is fixed upon the enemy. The animations in the combat are amazing, I just wish I had a bit more to do with them than blocking QTEs until I could go into a combo. Also, Elika becomes unwieldy at times, the hit detection isnt perfect, and sometimes button presses wont be recognized properly.

I could go further into detail about why the combat isnt perfect, or I could just say, once you get a feel for Ninja Gaiden and God of War's combat style, you cant go back - its like going from a Ferarri Enzo to a Toyota Camry - even if its the most blinged out, pimped out Camry this side of Midnight Club LA, it cant drift at 209mph. But for the way many people drive, a blinged out Camry is really all they need, and ultimately all they want, and thats why I think the combat in this game is pleasing to so many journalists and gamers. But for many of us weaned on faster, and more hardcore action games, it feels like a step backwards.

Ultimately my feeling is that driving down a beautiful fantasy land country road, in a blinged out Camry, with a hot princess by your side, isnt the worst way to spend an afternoon. In fact its quite enjoyable, despite the fact that the combat simply bores me. But thats OK, because I think this game does have a place in your collection, especially if you dont have a Wii. Could you bring a nice girl over to your house and even contemplate showing her Ninja Gaiden 2, or God of War 2? Games you can play with your non-gaming friends and family have real value, and they do great service for the videogames industry in general by opening peoples eyes to the fact that it doesnt have to be all guns and gore and violence. Lets hope Ubisoft hears our criticisms and our praise and makes the sequel that much better, because for a total reboot of the franchise, they have done a commendable job.

As a final note, I read on some crappy website called Kotaku that some guy at MTV "discovered" that Prince of Persia may have been "influenced" by Shadow of the Colossus. Thats like saying Dennis Leary was "influenced" by Bill Hicks. You just have to laugh at he naivete of it all. The New Prince of Persia is not "possibly" "maybe" "allegedly" "influenced" or "inspired" by SOTC and ICO, it is a direct descendant which lifts part and parcel segments of those games, as well as Crackdown, Zelda TP, and Assassins Creed, and retrofits them into a new environment with a new look and feel. Fortunately for Ubisoft, the new look for Prince of Persia is so exquisite that all sins are forgiven - almost.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rebooting America

Thom Friedman
The New York Times

I had a bad day last Friday, but it was an all-too-typical day for America. It actually started well, on Kau Sai Chau, an island off Hong Kong, where I stood on a rocky hilltop overlooking the South China Sea and talked to my wife back in Maryland, static-free, using a friend’s Chinese cellphone. A few hours later, I took off from Hong Kong’s ultramodern airport after riding out there from downtown on a sleek high-speed train — with wireless connectivity that was so good I was able to surf the Web the whole way on my laptop.

Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. The ugly, low-ceilinged arrival hall was cramped, and using a luggage cart cost $3. (Couldn’t we at least supply foreign visitors with a free luggage cart, like other major airports in the world?) As I looked around at this dingy room, it reminded of somewhere I had been before. Then I remembered: It was the luggage hall in the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport. It closed in 1998.

The next day I went to Penn Station, where the escalators down to the tracks are so narrow that they seem to have been designed before suitcases were invented. The disgusting track-side platforms apparently have not been cleaned since World War II. I took the Acela, America’s sorry excuse for a bullet train, from New York to Washington. Along the way, I tried to use my cellphone to conduct an interview and my conversation was interrupted by three dropped calls within one 15-minute span.

All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that’s the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.”

My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

America still has the right stuff to thrive. We still have the most creative, diverse, innovative culture and open society — in a world where the ability to imagine and generate new ideas with speed and to implement them through global collaboration is the most important competitive advantage. China may have great airports, but last week it went back to censoring The New York Times and other Western news sites. Censorship restricts your people’s imaginations. That’s really, really dumb. And that’s why for all our missteps, the 21st century is still up for grabs.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Unreal 3 vs Halo 3 - Oh Snap!

Excellent machinima featuring Unreal and Halo characters.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

E.T. Atari 2600 How To Beat Home Videogames

Is this the worst game ever made? Did this game, and others like it such as the atrocious 2600 port of Pac Man, bring about the collapse of the home videogame console industry in 1983-84? Or was the collapse just an illusionary product of a misinformed media? I actually remember playing my cousins 2600 quite fondly, but then the next year it was replaced by a Colecovision, and then the ubiquitous NES. Was Atari just mismanaged into failure, or did they simply not produce the hardware and software necessary to compete with Nintendo's hardware scrolling and Miyamoto's masterpiece, Super Mario Brothers? We're talking about it in the IGN Retro forums.

Friday, December 19, 2008


If you havent played MGS4, this trailer contains 50% less win.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How Corrupt Is America?

Thom Friedman
The New York Times

The stranger, a Western businessman, slipped into the chair next to me at an Asia Society lunch here in Hong Kong and asked me a question that I can honestly say I’ve never been asked before: “So, just how corrupt is America?”

His question was occasioned by the arrest of the Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff on charges of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions of dollars, but it wasn’t only that. It’s the whole bloody mess coming out of Wall Street — the financial center that Hong Kong moneymen had always looked up to. How could it be, they wonder, that such brand names as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. could turn out to have such feet of clay? Where, they wonder, was our Securities and Exchange Commission and the high standards that we had preached to them all these years?

One of Hong Kong’s most-respected bankers, who asked not to be identified, told me that the U.S.-owned investment company where he works made a mint in the last decade cleaning up sick Asian banks. They did so by importing the best U.S. practices, particularly the principles of “know thy customers” and strict risk controls. But now, he asked, who is there to look to for exemplary leadership?

“Previously, there was America,” he said. “American investors were supposed to know better, and now America itself is in trouble. Whom do they sell their banks to? It is hard for America to take its own medicine that it prescribed successfully for others. There is no doctor anymore. The doctor himself is sick.”

I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?

Far from being built on best practices, this legal Ponzi scheme was built on the mortgage brokers, bond bundlers, rating agencies, bond sellers and homeowners all working on the I.B.G. principle: “I’ll be gone” when the payments come due or the mortgage has to be renegotiated.

It is both eye-opening and depressing to look at our banking crisis from China. It is eye-opening because it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. and China are becoming two countries, one system.

How so? Easy, in the wake of our massive bank bailout, one can now look at China and America and say: “Well, China has a big-state-owned banking sector, next to a private one, and America now has a big state-owned banking sector next to a private one. China has big state-owned industries, alongside private ones, and once Washington bails out Detroit, America will have a big state-owned industry next to private ones.”

Yes, an exaggeration to be sure, but the truth is the differences are starting to blur. For two decades, a parade of U.S. officials came to China and lectured Beijing on the necessity of privatizing its banks, said Qu Hongbin, the chief economist for China at HSBC. “So, slowly we did that, and now, all of a sudden, we see everybody else nationalizing their banks.”

It’s depressing because China in many ways feels more stable than America today, with a clearer strategy for working through this crisis. And while the two countries are looking more alike, they appear to be on very different historical trajectories. China went crazy in the 1970s, with its Cultural Revolution, and only after the death of Mao and the rise of Deng Xiaoping has it managed to right itself, gradually moving to a market economy.

But while capitalism has saved China, the end of communism seems to have slightly unhinged America. We lost our two biggest ideological competitors — Beijing and Moscow. Everyone needs a competitor. It keeps you disciplined. But once American capitalism no longer had to worry about communism, it seems to have gone crazy. Investment banks and hedge funds were leveraging themselves at crazy levels, paying themselves crazy salaries and, most of all, inventing financial instruments that completely disconnected the ultimate lenders from the original borrowers, and left no one accountable. “The collapse of communism pushed China to the center and [America] to the extreme,” said Ben Simpfendorfer, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Madoff affair is the cherry on top of a national breakdown in financial propriety, regulations and common sense. Which is why we don’t just need a financial bailout; we need an ethical bailout. We need to re-establish the core balance between our markets, ethics and regulations. I don’t want to kill the animal spirits that necessarily drive capitalism — but I don’t want to be eaten by them either.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Next Metal Gear Is....?!?!

So, the image you see above is what visitors see when they goto Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima's website. What does it mean? Does the Colonel still need scissors and is he trying to contact us somehow? Is this Fission Mailed for Sony's exclusivity contract on Metal Gear games? Is it MGS4 360, an iPhone Metal Gear game, or Metal Gear Solid on XBLA? My best guess, its all 3. For those sad few who have never before played a Metal Gear game but who own Xbox 360s and/or iPhones, should you even care? Its a tough call. At this point, the game series might be too far along in its existence for strangers to just hitchhike along for the 4th installment. MGS4 has so many internal references which might seem like bizzare inconsistencies or non-sequitors to an outsider. But its this variety and humor thats part of what makes the series unique and so much better than 90% of the generic crap out there - it is the singular product of one visionary individual, for better and worse.

I have no idea if a Metal Gear game would be good on the iPhone, as the PSP metal Gear game had none of the charm and sparkle of its console predecessors, and Im not sold on touch or motion controls, although Im sure its a great business move for Konami and Kojima. I really hope MGS4 comes to the 360 so people who havent invested in PS3s can enjoy stealth-action-gadgetry with non-pareil production values and brain-warping mindfucks. It is definitely one of the best games of 2008, and even if you have never played the series before in your life, the game is certainly worth checking out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NXE, PS Home: Epic Failure

So Playstation Home is finally here, and somehow beyond all expectations it manages to be even worse the The New Xbox Experience. Wow, Epic Failure doesnt even begin to describe this mess. With the NXE, at least we got a few actually useful features, like party chat (when it works), streaming Netflix (only a fraction of their catalogue), and the ability to install games to the hard drive (a feature which should have been standard on all 360s from day 1). With Home, you get nothing. Nada. Its one of the most existentialist digital experiences ever. Its just that, an experience, its not a game, and it sure as hell isnt Second Life. So what is the experience? Its a world devoid of anything interesting, original, creative, or engaging, and instead filled with advertisements, overpriced knickknacks and insipid minigames that make WarioWare look like Fallout 3. The people who frequent the world dont come across as anymore interesting or inviting than the game world itself, and if you brought your own group of friends to Home what exactly would you do there given then paucity of content?

Most of the content that was promised for Home simply isnt there. Its still coming. Well, what I want to know is what in the bloody world took them so long to release this? Really, Im dumbfounded. Although the avatars are nice, there is absolutely nothing to do with them - same as the NXE. They are pointless, and only serve as a reminder of how Microsoft and Sony are no longer leaders but followers in the videogame industry. Microsoft gave us what is essentially a giant networked billboard replete with Shigeru Miyamoto leg-humping avatars, while Home gives PS3 owners a slightly more polished 3D version of that. Rather than spending time and money on developing features already found in the Xbox 360, Sony has spent an inordinate amount of time developing one of the most useless multi-user applications in the history of software. On the plus side, you dont have to download it, and its free.

I understand these companies want to court new gamers, and Im sure there is someone out there that Home appeals to, but still you truly have to wonder what Sony was thinking to release it as-is after all that hype. Remember, Home was promised to be amazing and be delivered long before the NXE was ever even developed or announced. At a certain point in Home's development, Sony should have simply realized they were too ambitious with the project design and either canned it or modified the design wholesale, because what we got wasnt worth the time and money they spent making it, and I highly doubt any updates will fix Home to make it worth playing.

If you want community, and you have a PS3, I have 3 words for you: Little BIG Planet. Simply put, LBP is one of the finest games of this or any generation. It is stratospherically, positively paradigm shiftingly brilliant, crazy fun, with amazing sound design, photorealistic graphics, and an awesome online community. Im just going to leave my review of the game at that. As bad as Home is, LBP is an epic win for PS3 owners everywhere.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Revealed

Well this is the much rumored KOTOR MMO, and now its finally been announced. What do you think? Are you pumped for the possibility of online coop Jedi battles with force powers and lightsabers, or do those lifeless animations and the thought of grinding up to level 99 make you queasy? Is there any chance in the world I could get into this game, given my history with MMOs is even spottier than my dating history? Like the lotto people say here in New York; "hey, you never know."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flower - Gameplay

Downloadable digital relaxation for your PS3, coming soon in 2009. Each level takes place in a different flower's dream as it sits on the windowsill of a dull city apartment. As the player progresses through the game, the apartment and city will gradually become more vibrant and colourful. The player guides a petal through brightly coloured abstract fields by tilting the Sixaxis controller, pressing any button on the controller gives a speed boost. The aim is to guide the petal into other flowers in the field, triggering an explosion of colour that spreads through the game world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Itagaki's Vacation

"I've been taking pictures, working on my model trains, drinking, of course, and gambling. And that's what things have been lately. But you know me — I'm not just going to sit back. No, I'm definitely going to make something very soon. The great, wide expanse of the skies awaits."

- Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Black Mesa Trailer

Of all the great things about PC gaming, the very best might be this: mods. What you are seeing above is not a Valve product. It is a total remake of Half Life 1 using the Orange Box build of the Source engine, modded "with minor improvements to the look and feel of the game to meet todays standards." Yeah, I wouldnt call those minor. Coming in 2009 to a PC near you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

This is Sparta! (Hotel Mario Style)

My blog hasnt been feeling random enough lately.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cliffy B and The Grammar of Fun

By Tom Bissell
The New Yorker

Epic Games is a privately owned company and does not disclose its earnings. But on a Monday morning in late April, while standing in Epic’s parking lot, at Crossroads Corporate Park, in Cary, North Carolina, awaiting the arrival of Cliff Bleszinski, the company’s thirty-three-year-old design director, I realized that my surroundings were their own sort of Nasdaq. Ten feet away was a red Hummer H3. Nearby was a Lotus Elise, and next to it a pumpkin-orange Porsche. Many of the cars had personalized plates: “PS3CODER” (a reference to Sony’s PlayStation3), “EPICBOY,” “GRSOFWAR.”

The last is shorthand for Gears of War, a shooter game, which Epic released in November, 2006, for play on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. Gears of War was quickly recognized as the first game to provide the sensually overwhelming experience for which the console, launched a year earlier, had been designed. Gears won virtually every available industry award, and was the 360’s best-selling game for nearly a year; it has now sold five million copies. On November 7th, a sequel, Gears of War 2, will be released; its development, long rumored, was not confirmed until this past February, when, at the Game Developers’ Conference, in San Francisco, Bleszinski made the announcement after bursting through an onstage partition wielding a replica of one of Gears of War’s signature weapons—an assault rifle mounted with a chainsaw bayonet.

Despite the rapid growth of the video-game industry—last year, sales were higher than either box-office receipts or DVD sales—designers are largely invisible within the wider culture. But Bleszinski, who is known to his many fans and occasional detractors as CliffyB, tends to stand out among his colleagues. Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby’s “Smartbomb,” a book about the industry, recounts the peacockish outfits and hair styles he has showcased at industry expos over the years. In 2001, he affected the stylings of a twenty-first-century Tom Wolfe, with white snakeskin shoes and bleached hair. In 2002, he took to leather jackets and an early-Clooney Caesar cut. By 2003, he was wearing long fur-lined coats, his hair skater-punk red. In recent years, he let his hair grow shaggy, which gave him the mellow aura of a fourth Bee Gee.

Bleszinski drove into Epic’s parking lot in a red Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, the top down despite an impending rainstorm. His current haircut is short and cowlicked, his bangs twirled up into a tiny moussed horn. He was wearing what in my high school would have been called “exchange-student jeans”—obviously expensive but slightly the wrong color and of a somehow non-American cut. Beneath a tight, fashionably out-of-style black nylon jacket was a T-shirt that read “TECHNOLOGY!” His sunglasses were of the oversized, county-sheriff variety, and each of his earlobes held a small, bright diamond earring. He could have been either a boyish Dolce & Gabbana model or a small-town weed dealer.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Double Dragon NES - Stage 2 - The Choice

In many videogames there is more than one way to achieve victory. The choice is left up to you, the player, on how to complete the task you are given. In some cases, your choices might be clear, in others, its paifully obvious, such as with Gears Of War 2's horde mode. We recently discovered an glitch/exploit that allows shields to be placed backwards in such as way that they are impossible to knock down by any enemy.

The implications are obvious - you can easily lock yourself in an impenetrable fortress and blind fire your way to victory. Sadly, it appears that this is the path many people atop the horde leaderboard have taken - the Pathetic Cowards Path. Using shields to defend yourself isnt cowardly, but placing them in such as way that they cannot be kicked in ruins the challenge of the mode - Wave 50 can be completed by a single person on the highest difficulty, surely this cannot be intentional on the part of Epic games.

Whether a patch and leaderboard swipe is forthcoming remains to be seen, however, the reality is if we want to play Horde, we are going to play it the only way we know how - The Heroic Path. Victory is never guaranteed, and the only things that can ensure our survival are tactics, skill and pure luck. Its the only way I would have it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Phil Ivey Up Over $7.6M on FTP for 2008

Phil Ivey continues to add to his god-like profit totals on this year. After the first two days of December, Ivey has made $540k over just 1,241 tracked hands.

Since the beginning of January, Phil Ivey has made an estimated $7.6 million dollars on Full Tilt Poker (according to This total is a full $4.1 million dollars more than the next closest player, Tom "durrrr" Dwan. Most of Ivey's half million dollars of profit in December have come from high-stakes No Limit Hold'em. He has banked $462k playing No Limit Hold'em so far in December, which works out to a profit of over $800 per hand.

Ivey took down a particularly big $355k pot in $500/$1000 No Limit Hold'em on Tuesday. The pot involved Ivey, Patrick Antonius and Tom "durrrr" Dwan. Antonius was in the SB, Ivey was in the BB. "durrrr" raised to $3,000 pre-flop, Antonius called in the SB, Ivey raised to $12,000 from the BB, both "durrrr" and Antonius called.

The flop came 10-4-6 rainbow. Ivey led out with a $27,000 bet, "durrrr" called and Antonius pushed. Antonius had both players covered.

Ivey called the all-in, and "durrrr" got out of the way.

Antonius showed 7-5 of hearts for an open-ended straight draw, while Phil Ivey showed pocket Jacks for an overpair. The turn brought the King of diamonds and the river brought the 10 of hearts, giving Ivey the $355k pot.

Since HighStakesDB started tracking the high-stakes cash games on Full Tilt Poker in January of 2007, Phil Ivey is up over $9.6 million dollars. This is $5.4 million dollars more than Di "Urindanger" Dang, the second place player on the list. Keep in mind that HighStakesDB only started tracking the HORSE and Omaha Hi/Lo games a few months ago, meaning that Ivey's profit totals on FTP certainly exceed $10 million dollars over the past few years. Since the beginning of 2008, Ivey has made approximately $87 for every hand that he has played on Full Tilt.

Ivey's performance on Full Tilt since January of 2007 makes it really hard to argue with those who say that he is the best player in the world. He crushes, day in and day out, against the best poker players in the world, both live and online. He is dominant in every game that he plays, whether it's NLHE, Pot Limit Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo, Stud, Razz, or HORSE.

If that isn't enough, Ivey has over $10 million dollars in lifetime "live" tournament cashes and probably plays one of the lightest tournament schedules of any well-known pro. He also regularly plays in The Big Game at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, which is the highest stakes cash game in the world (the blinds start at $2000/$4000), where he is one of the biggest and most consistent winners.

If Phil Ivey isn't the best poker player in the world, who is?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cliff Skimming

Dream as You'll Live Forever
Live as You'll Die Today

- James Dean

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ninja Warrior - Stadium Climb Training

An American training for Ninja Warrior 2009

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Far Cry 2 - I Tried To Love You

So its been quite a while since I started a videogame and didnt finish it. Ill do it with books; read half, realize the author is repeating himslef ad nauseum (I almost exclusively read non-fiction) and I will quit out of a DVD without hesitation if its not entertaining me. But not videogames. I will almost always finish a videogame even if its only half good, unless there is something in particular that just irks me so much I cant continue. I can simply force myself to play through most games, especially shooters, action, racing and sports games. The mechanics of these games come quite naturally to me so I can move through them quickly without much thought involved. But most RPGs, open world games, sims, strategy games, MMOs, arent as obvious to me, so I move through them more slowly and in general need the game to be much better than average to fully engage my attention.

Far Cry was an amazingly ahead of its time PC game that the German developer Crytek made way back in 2004, which quickly sold over a million copies when it was released. Mixing first person shooting mechanics with stealth and an open world environment, all with next gen graphics on a brand new engine, the game was nothing short of a revelation for PC gamers and to this day has an outstanding reputation in the PC world (the game was later ported to consoles, with mixed success).

Crytek got off an a bit of a tangent with the remakes of Far Cry which added superhuman abilities (Far Cry Instincts) and a new spinoff series called Crysis, and while these games were also great and sold well, Crytek never forgot about Far Cry and neither did gamers. Well, until now. Its quite clear to me, after playing 25% of Far Cry 2, and doing a fair bit of research about what the rest of the game holds, that Crytek's flagship series is no longer Far Cry, it is Crysis. Its evident in many different ways, for starters, as great as Far Cry 2 looks - and it looks amazing - it still cant touch Crysis with a 10-ft pole. Nothing can. Thats the real problem with Crysis for Crytek - the technology is so far ahead of its time, it renders everything else obsolete by comparison, even the vaunted Unreal 3.5 engine. When Crysis came out, you needed a supercomputer to play it. Now in December 2008, you can get a PC that will run Crysis for under $1000, but the reality is most PC gamers missed out on Crysis because its graphics technology was simply too far ahead of its time.

That being said, the graphics in Far Cry are a far cry from a letdown, in fact they are one of the game's real highpoints. The Far Cry 2 engine looks fantastic and runs quite well on the 360 - we all know its not even remotely possible to run even a scaled down version of the Crysis engine on current console hardware, so we have to be happy with what weve got for now. The game is set in Africa and for the most part its rendered quite beautifully, with Zebras and Wildebeast running across the plains, incredible propagating fire effects, environmental destruction - actually, the entire environment is meant to be destroyed. Because everything in the environment is trying to kill you, constantly.

There is a tiny area in the middle of the huge map, this is the only neutral zone in the entire game world. Everywhere else, for the course of the entire game, there are checkpoints, towns, and shacks all over the countryside, each filled with machine gun toting maniacs whose only purpose and desire in life is to kill you. Aside from the ridiculously impractical implications of such a gameworld, it severely detracts from the realism of an African war zone to actually never be able to leave the warzone. The mission objectives, which often include such predictable fare as infiltrating an enemy base and destroying an object, dont really feel different from the free roaming parts of the game, because you are constantly in combat for the entire game, no matter where you are. It is simply exhausting and makes the game much longer and more tedious than it needs to be. Just getting to the mission objectives takes quite a while, as you have to drive across the entire game map in real time, fighting off wackos every 500 feet, who have perfect accuracy, can see through walls, and take roughly an entire clip of AK-47 ammo to before going down.

Oh the driving. I really, really want to send a memo to every game designer in the world, that says, "If you cant design driving well in your shooting game, please dont even bother. Ill take the bus." Part of the problem is that now every game wants to be GTA. But, even GTA IV didnt get the driving controls perfect! They were simply OK. The driving in Far Cry 2 is insulting bad, and its actually the reason I quit playing the game. Alll the vehicles in the game travel at the same speed - exactly 20mph. They are all stuck in the same hellish second gear. In a way this kind of makes sense, because when you look at how the map and the roads were designed, they are all twisted up single lane affairs with no open straitaways or wide roads. In essence, if they gave you cars that went faster, most drivers would occasionally careen of the edge of the narrow raod into the jungle or off a cliff. So rather than punish the bad drivers for their bad driving, they punish everyone by fixing the speed of all cars in the game to a ridiculously low level.

Imagine sprinting in Call of Duty 4 - the cars in Far Cry 2 might move slightly faster than that. Now imagine traversing an area the size of GTA IV's map at that speed, but the area has no straight roads, so you must take twisted mountain roads, with few or no shortcuts. Now imagine that, but the cops are always after you. You permanently have 4 wanted stars. Now, imagine that your vehicle, even if its an armored transport, can only take a few bullets before emitting smoke and incredibly slowing down to an even slower speed. You have to get out, shoot the enemies (who chase you in seemingly faster vehicles - you cant outdrive them), spend a 10 second animation to repair your vehicle, get back in your vehicle, drive 500 feet, and repeat - all just to get to the area where you can receive a mission. The you have to go do the mission, and then drive back again to finish it. The enemies respawn within a few real-time minutes of you killing them, so often you have to clear the same checkpoint multiple times in the same mission.

There might be a good game buried underneath all the design flaws. The two dozen or so mission I did were all pretty fun, but once I actually got to them I was already exhausted and low on health from all the checkpoint battles. I could see that finishing the game was going to take 40 hours at least - I had put in 10 already - and that over 50% of that time would be spent driving a horribly slow and clunky vehicle and clearing the same few checkpoints of respawning enemies. Its really a shame, because the game could have been soooo great, with faster vehicles, fewer and slower respawning enemies, more mission variety, and overall more things to do than just kill and destroy.

The premise of the game was that I was saving a fictional Central African nation from devolving into a warzone, but all I ever did was kill things, and blow shit up, and even that wasnt as satisfying as other open world shooters like Mercenaries 2. Overall, despite the games high points and its overall sense of polish, the flaws are simply too heavy because they exist for the entire duration of the game - you never get a faster vehicle or one with more health, and the world is simply too big to traverse on foot. You're trapped in the developers horrible vehicles with maniac super-tough to kill enemies everywhere, and the few "buddies" you make in the game are often nowhere to be found, and when they do show up its usually to get mortally wounded in combat and beg you to save them. I really wanted to like this game and even stopped playing Fallout 3 when it arrived in the mail from gamefly. I think Im going back to the Wasteland for now, because at least Bethesda understands that a huge part of an open world game is exploring and meeting people who arent your enemies - if the gameplay revolves solely on everything either being killed or destroyed, no matter how well designed those parts are, the player will eventually tire of them - especially if they have to drive a jalopy there and back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Daniel Negreanu - Amazing Reads

Daniel is the best hand reader in poker.