Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We're All Doomed

The news on the television just reported there's now a two-month waiting period if you want to buy Sarah Palin's particular brand of rimless glasses. Two months.

I've got a bad feeling about this.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Glutton for Punishment

I'm taking a break from writing a review of Spore in my blog about Spore. Afterward I will probably play more Spore, because I really want to patch up the bad relations between my own empire of Flatula (below) and the Troggles who have been pounding my home world mercilessly. There are planets to colonize! There is spice to be had!

This is all after having basically done nothing but play Spore, think about Spore, and listen to talks from the people who made Spore and inspired Spore since last Thursday night. Ugh.

I guess that means it's a good game?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Not Dead (Yet)

If anyone is still listening out there: hey! I haven't forgotten about this blog. I've just been a little busy with another project lately. Look for updates to resume...soon.

In the meantime, please enjoy this loaf of cat.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fourth Trip to Hell

Seemingly out of the blue, id Software went and announced Doom 4 this morning. I won't pretend to understand why they issued this reasonably big announcement via an underwhelming press release, what with their annual Texas fan orgy QuakeCon barely two months out. (Maybe they have something more momentous to blow out there. Playable Rage, perhaps?) Anwyay, I can't help getting excited about another Doom game, even if the people who are going to make it haven't actually been hired yet.

I loved Doom 3; Doom 3 got a bad rap. There, I said it. Yeah, the point-A-to-point-B gameplay was archaic by first-person shooter standards even in 2004, and having to swap back and forth between flashlight and weapon was kind of a drag (although I will bow to anyone who's able to handle a tactical 12-gauge one-handed).

Setting the design issues aside, I assert the quality of the Doom 3 experience hinged on the conditions you played it under. Not just the screen resolution and beef of your graphics card -- although those things matter -- but more importantly the ambient elements of your play environment. I plowed through the game strictly at night, all the lights off, with a good bass-heavy pair of Sennheisers on, and it scared the bejeezus out of me time after time. I can't remember a game before or since that's poked my brain's primal fight-or-flight fear response so acutely (some Resident Evils come close), nor one in which I've become so utterly immersed. At times I was living in that world and running for my damn life, and I think the external sensory deprivation I imposed on the experience was crucial to maintaining that feeling.

At the time, the prevailing sentiment about Doom 3 was derision for all the button-pushing, rusty industrial corridors, and endless monster closets. But then, most people I knew who played Doom 3 did it with the lights on (lolz) and even sometimes with other people hanging around. Most of them weren't impressed. Indeed, I went back and played it again in that manner some months later, and the jump-out-and-scare-you moments came off as largely ineffectual and sometimes downright cheesy. Not scary in the slightest. Looking at Doom 3 in the light of day brought its faults into stark relief, where before I had been able to overlook them for the sake of allowing myself to get sucked into the game's reality.

It would be ham-fisted and more than a little pretentious to suggest those other people weren't playing Doom 3 "the right way," and of course you are free to enjoy any game in whatever manner you want. And if you just couldn't stand the mindless enemies and dated gameplay conventions, well, that's down to personal preference. Can't knock you for that. But is it fair to expect a horror-themed game to succeed in any environment? You wouldn't watch Alien or The Thing on a sunny afternoon and expect it to be very scary. (If you would, your constitution's even weaker than mine.)

At any rate, with a new team at the helm on Doom 4, I'm optimistic. The whole Hell-on-Mars thing has been done to death, so let's hope they dispense with that setting and take it somewhere new. (Any ideas? Post 'em in the comments.) If they're smart, they'll at least make sure that the Hello Kitty flashlight is UAC standard-issue equipment this time around.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Stuff You Own...

...ends up owning you, etc. etc. Clich├ęd but true. It's hard to appreciate how much crap you can accumulate in four years of living at the same address, until you have to pack it all up and move it somewhere else. This ain't even the half of it.

Regular posts to resume after I get settled (and get an Internet connection) in my new place. Hopefully! I've been awfully slack in that regard.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Eaten by Grue

You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door.

There is a small, neglected blog here.

update blog_

Okay, so I wasn't really eaten by a grue (although that might not be all bad -- always wanted to know what they look like). That's a more convenient excuse for not having updated in a week than the real reasons, namely being busy and being lazy. Usually in an alternating pattern, those are pretty much mutually exclusive activities.

Last week was a good week for podcasts. In addition to the IGN GameSages 'cast on Monday, Garnett Lee and the gang over at 1up Yours had me on their show on Thursday. I'm a big fan of 1up Yours and listen to it every week, so it was extra gratifying (and slightly intimidating) to actually get in the mix with Garnett, Shane, and Shawn. I got a little insecure about my contribution to the show; it's hard to jump right into a new roomful of dudes and mesh instantly, but hopefully I done 'em proud.

This afternoon I also got to go outside the protective embrace of my house to check out my first game-that-isn't-out-yet in a while, which I'll be writing up for Shacknews, another site I spend too much time on. This will be my first freelance writing assignment, so it's fitting I'm doing it for a site I've been active on in some way or another since it was called sCary's Quakeholio back in like, geez, '96? Anyway, the game is Fallout 3, the impressions are positive, the embargo is Thursday.

Call of Duty 4 and its variety map pack are dominating my game time right now, to the exclusion of entirely new games that go yet untouched. Playing last night, it occurred to me how long it's been since pure deathmatch was a compelling game type in an online shooter -- but team DM is indeed what I play in COD4 the most. (Looking at some quick stats, it seems to be far and away the most popular mode in general.) That testifies to just how damn good the basic run-'n-gun in that game is. The pacing, the feel of the weapons, the hit response animations -- everything it takes to make up basic first-person shooter gameplay -- are all so perfect. I don't think I could ever get tired of it.

If anyone is still reading this blog, what are you playing these days? I feel like I need to branch out a little. Suggest something!

Lastly, if you happened to get a nostalgic jones to play a little Zork just now, here's a good free option for doing that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nobody's Fool

In defiance of the calendar, today's post will be 100 percent earnest and truthful. Sorry! I'm not a very funny guy (not intentionally, at least), and it's good to know your limits.

I wondered how the fine folks at Doofy Crap would handle today's occasion (their first, to my reckoning). They deal in the droll on a daily basis, after all. When your MO is tomfoolery, what do you do on the day when everyone else gets stupid? Do they cancel each other out, like a double negative? I wasn't disappointed in the Doofy response.

On a more serious and work-related note, Jeremy Dunham over at IGN was kind enough to invite me onto their GameSages podcast yesterday, along with Official Xbox Magazine senior editor Dan Amrich, and current TeamXbox contributing editor and games press elder statesman Andy Eddy. (I was a big fan of Andy's first magazine Video Games & Computer Entertainment -- one of the first intelligent console-game magazines, and one of the first game magazines I avidly read -- so it was a real gas to get to share a podcast table with him.) The topic was the games press: the ins and outs of writing about games, how to break into the industry, misconceptions about the job, the standards of games criticism, that sort of thing. Haven't heard the final product yet, but I think we had a really good discussion, and we managed to exceed GarageBand's maximum track length before we finished. Give it a listen, and feel free to bitch about my boring monotone; it wouldn't be a podcast without it.

Finally started playing some games again last night by jumping into a Company of Heroes skirmish match against AI with my buddy Mark from the east coast. And then another, and then another... By the time we quit I'd missed dinner and he'd stayed up late enough to (presumably) raise his wife's ire. Can't remember the last time I've been so enthralled by a strategy game (probably Starcraft), nor so humbled by a strat game's AI opponents. Still learning the tech tree and abilities, in my defense, but we only won one out of at least four matches against two AI players at the 'normal' level, which behaved in surprisingly dynamic and competitive ways. We got worked, basically.

I love the way COH handles resource nodes: they're small, strategically valuable points spread diffusely all over the map that you capture the same way you'd capture a control point in a Battlefield game. It makes your defense absolutely crucial; you have to figure out the right kind of defenses for the terrain and buildings surrounding every point, not to mention choke points all over the map where the enemy will be sending armor and infantry through. It was very tempting to play the game like Starcraft at first -- you know, build up a giant goddamn army and assign the whole thing to the 1 key, then roam around the map obliterating the other guy's expansions. But you so can't play COH that way. It's all about splitting up your troops into specialized teams, using the map features to your advantage, flanking the enemy position. It feels more like real warfare than most RTS games I've played; by way of analogy, COH is to RTS as the original Ghost Recon games were to Quake (but unlike Ghost Recon, COH doesn't make me want to punch myself repeatedly in the temples).

Company of Heroes and its standalone expansion Opposing Fronts are both on Steam as a combo pack for $40, and so far I can say it's worth every damn penny. I was waiting for Starcraft II to revitalize my interest in real-time strategy games (and still I can't wait to play it, especially now), but COH has really beaten it to the punch.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It Goes on Everything

Last Sunday morning a considerable contingent of GameSpot editors and producers past and present, their significant others, and even my own parents converged on San Francisco's best British pub, the Pig & Whistle. Led by our resident loveable limey Justin Calvert, we took part in the sort of terrible breakfast gluttony that I thought was unknown outside my own native southeast. Ladies and gents, I give you the Full English:

That's baked beans, bangers (sausage to us yanks), bacon, a frightening mess of scrambled eggs, English muffin, fried potatoes (how did I forget the fried potatoes?) and one lonely slice of fresh tomato. Understand this picture represents no more than two-thirds of the original quantity of food; I was so excited to start eating that I actually forgot to take a picture beforehand. Here's the aftermath, in which I take a great deal of pride:

The best part about enjoying this breakfast is that the Pig & Whistle stocks copious amounts of HP Sauce, arguably the finest condiment known to man. (I also forgot to get Mr. Calvert on camera extolling its virtues, which he does very well.) Imagine a sauce with the consistency of ketchup but a flavor much closer to a traditional steak sauce, like A1. But there are some other subtle flavors going on in there too, something sweet and tangy that I can't put my finger on. It's delectable. The best part, as the title implies, is you can put it on ANYTHING. You may notice the gentle looping, the delicate distribution of brown sauce across the entire plate. It went on the eggs, the meats -- heck, even the beans, and those come in their own sauce already. Next time I get a chance, I'm putting HP on my ice cream. (It's great in a bloody mary, natch.)

There are actually multiple types of HP, based on where they're manufactured. Calvert will tell you the UK version is the best, because it's made with a specific kind of sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup or some madness like that. Whatever, let's not split hairs. Get it however you can. I encourage you to educate yourself on this best of all sauces. You don't hear a lot of kind words said about British food, but they sure as hell got this one right.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Token Update

Do those of you with your own blogs feel a burning compulsion to update a lot? I do, and I feel like I've been shirking my responsibility to fill this space. As in, nobody will read this stupid thing if I don't write in it. (Duh.) The blogosphere abhors a vacuum, I guess.

Lots of free time with games is one of the things I was most looking forward to after I left my job. So I'm disappointed (or ashamed?) to admit I haven't even touched a controller since I was last paid to do so -- though over the weekend I did get in one mission with Company of Heroes, which is rocking my socks off. (Totally late to the party, I know.)

No games yet, but I did finally see No Country for Old Men last night and really liked it. There's not much I can say about it that its Best Picture award didn't already say, but the Coens have got to be among the savviest filmmakers working these days. What an uncanny sense of narrative pacing those guys have, and they're successful in so many genres too. Also Javier Bardem can be one really creepy dude when he wants to be. The casting was pretty great in general -- Josh Brolin was especially convincing as the salt-of-the-earth, blue collar Texas badass -- but the movie lived and died by Bardem's ability to scare the hell out of you. That guy literally became the face of evil here.

If you haven't seen it you should stop reading now: the open ending left me hanging. I wanted to see less injustice and more resolution for the protagonists, largely because the filmmakers did such a good job getting you attached to the characters, but you just don't get it in this one. (In defense of this movie, however, I hear the book's conclusion didn't really differ at all.) It seems like the sort of ending I would have loved in my more pretentious pseudo-intellectual art-house college days, but instead it was really a bit unfulfilling.

Such a vast majority of movies use the more typical Hollywood style of ending -- the one where the hero offs all the villains, blows shit up, gets the hot chick, utters a one-liner, and flies off into the sunset clinging to a rope ladder dangling from an Apache or whatever. So it was kind of jarring to have the film just end with all these seemingly loose threads still hanging, and without the bad guy getting what I thought was coming to him. Maybe one's tastes tend more toward the mainstream as one gets older. Maybe it's really that hard to see bad people get away with doing bad things. Oh well, whatever -- sign me up for the next focus group.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't Play With Your Food

These guys managed to combine two of my favorite things -- 20th-century geopolitical strife, and food -- into one amazingly well animated and way-too-clever short film. Starts out with World War II, obviously:

They offer a handy breakdown of the foods' nationalities, but I recommend watching it first before you look at the cheat sheet. Figuring out who's blowing up whom on the fly is half the fun of it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Slowing Down and Catching Up

Big enormous sappy thanks to everyone who wrote to me or left a comment today wishing me well. You guys made all the hard work and late nights worthwhile. On the record, I don't have any immediate professional plans, which I know sounds crazy to a lot of people with steady gainful employment (and more so to those without it). But there you go. Conveniently, my girlfriend and parents are all visiting next week, and after that, I'm gonna be ready for a little break. Sometimes you just really and truly need it. The ruthless San Francisco economy will understand, right?

Games-wise, I do plan to start writing freelance for a number of outlets in the fairly near future, so you can look out for that if you're interested. There will be links to specific articles when the time rolls around. I'll also offer thoughts here on whatever I'm currently playing, and I'm really excited to finally plow through a daunting backlog of important games that eluded me the last couple of years. (Started early by plowing through Half-Life 2: Ep2 last weekend, quick verdict: exemplary. Valve is more on its game than ever.)

Then on the "crazy abrupt change of life direction" tip... Since around this time last year, I've been toying with the idea of ditching this stupid landmass and heading down to Hawaii, where my girlfriend currently lives, to get into the booming business of beach-based shaved ice stands. It'd only be a year, tops. Do you know how much spam one man could eat in a year? Do you want to find out?

My pledge to you: if enough of you make a compelling argument in the comments (or alternatively, send me $1 each), I'm gone. Continents are bullshit, anyway.

Well, that would be at least a couple of months away. In the short-term: Anyone out there playing Condemned 2? Would a person need to play through the first game to appreciate it?

note: I've enabled anonymous comments per request; you won't need a Blogger account to post. Like Rufus said, be excellent to each other.

On the Flip

So this is what it's like on the other side. At least the background is lighter.