Main

July 23, 2010

User Experience Changes in Outlook 2010 [FTW] | Posted at 8:11 AM

I wanted to make a list of changes that I really appreciate from a usability perspective. Thank you Outlook team!

  • Reordering Accounts: You can finally reorder your left pane accounts any way you want; now my archive folder is properly at the bottom and my accounts are ordered by importance.
  • Auto-detect Outgoing Mail Account to Use: It used to be in 2007 that when you composed a new mail, it defaulted to using your main email account. Now, however, it properly detects what account the current folder you're viewing is associated with and uses that. YES. Now my hack of an addin is no longer needed!

I will keep this list updated as I discover new features.

June 2, 2010

One Sentence Review: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time [Movie] | Posted at 2:15 PM

image

Title: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Blurb: An "adaptation" of the Prince of Persia video game with pretty "Persian"-ish actors.
Review: Yes, Hollywood, British accents definitely equal Persia in my mind.
Grade: B+

May 25, 2010

One Sentence Review: Red Dead Redemption [X360] | Posted at 4:45 PM

image

Title: Red Dead Redemption
Platform: Xbox 360
Blurb: You're the most bad-ass cowboy in the wild west.
Review: Any game that lets you hogtie people and throw them on train tracks causing them to be run over by said train is an A in my book.
Grade: A+

March 25, 2010

One Sentence Review: New Super Mario Bros. [Wii] | Posted at 8:51 PM

image

Title: New Super Mario Bros.
Platform: Wii
Blurb: IT'S MARIO. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? GUNS?
Review: If you have friends, sign a contract saying whatever happens while playing, you never really meant to hurt them.
Grade: A

Buy it on Amazon

One Sentence Review: Mass Effect 2 [PC] | Posted at 8:46 PM

image

Title: Mass Effect 2
Platform: PC
Blurb: More hooligans messing up the damn galaxy.
Review: It's like they took the first Mass Effect, dipped it in sugar, spice, and everything nice, then lined it with crack.
Grade: A

Buy it on Amazon

One Sentence Review: Battlefield Bad Company 2 [PC] | Posted at 8:42 PM

image

Title: Battlefield Bad Company 2
Platform: PC
Blurb: NOT A WORLD WAR II SHOOTER.
Review: Engaging singleplayer experience and awesome multiplayer… I was brought back to the time I first played through CoD.
Grade: A-

Buy it on Amazon

One Sentence Review: Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver [DS] | Posted at 8:39 PM

http://gamerant.com/wp-content/uploads/Pokemon-Heart-Gold-and-Soul-Silver.jpg

Title: Pokemon HeartGold / SoulSilver
Platform: DS
Blurb: If you don't know what Pokemon is then you probably shouldn't be alive.
Review: Brings back old memories and melds retro with modern to create love incarnate.
Grade: A+

Buy it on Amazon

One Sentence Review: Just Cause 2 [PC] | Posted at 8:33 PM

image

Title: Just Cause 2
Platform: PC & Xbox 360
Blurb: Who the hell cares about the story.
Review: I am 3% done with the game and I can already tell you it's the greatest thing since Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Grade: A+

January 22, 2010

One Sentence Review: Dragon Age: Origins [PC] | Posted at 9:55 AM

image

Title: Dragon Age: Origins
Platform: PC
Blurb: An epic dark fantasy filled with adventurers and bad guys.
Review: One of the best games ever made—amazing cut scenes, voice acting, and gameplay.
Grade: A+

Buy it on Amazon

One Sentence Review: Bayonetta [X360] | Posted at 9:49 AM

image

Title: Bayonetta
Platform: Xbox 360
Blurb: You are a witch that has guns on her feet and you kill angels.
Review: As ridiculous as Devil May Cry and way more fun, Bayonetta is not only awesome graphically but incredibly fun to play as well.
Grade: A-

Buy it from Amazon

November 5, 2009

Of Dragons and Torches [RPGs] | Posted at 12:39 PM

Since I can't do one sentence reviews for these two games, I thought I might as well talk about how awesome they are instead.

Torchlight

image

A team that includes some former developers of the acclaimed Diablo series as well as some other big RPG titles have started a firm called Runic Games and their first release, Torchlight, is pretty damn awesome.

Torchlight is a Diablo style, one hero conquers all, hack and slash RPG adventure that takes place in one city with a huge underground mine (over 30 levels). It's single player only and because of its limited scope, is a mere $20.

I was skeptical of this game before I tried the demo. It looked cartoony and I said to myself, "Yah just another Diablo wannabe." I was very wrong. I currently have 4 characters, 2 of which are maxed out in the demo.

The thing about Torchlight is that is a very rewarding single player experience. You get great drops to keep you interested and the quests are fun, though typical. The gameplay, and I daresay the graphics, make this game great. It's classic Diablo gameplay, even having a lot of the same hotkeys with some gameplay tweaks that just improve the formula (like auto-picking up gold when near). You also get a pet, who will lovingly return to town to sell any goods you give it while in the middle of a dungeon. You can also transform it into different monsters by feeding it fish. Sweet.

I really urge you to try the game, at least. I know I'm buying it. Runic says that it is currently working on a Torchlight MMO. I would be very interested if it had the right price (either one-time Guild Wars-esque or very small monthly fee). The reason is because I really want to play with my friends… I wish it had come with multiplayer. However I think what Runic was trying to do was test out the waters, Torchlight really seems like a concept game rather than a full-fledged offering. The great thing is that at $20 get up to 20-30 hours of gameplay per character. Plenty more if you're like me and want to have different builds.

Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age

If Uncharted 2 is the pinnacle of the action-gaming cinematic genre, then Dragon Age: Origins is its RPG equivalent. Created by the legendary BioWare (Baldur's Gate, KOTOR, Mass Effect), Dragon Age is what you'd call a "dark epic fantasy." It's bloody and real.

There is a lot to say about this game. First let me get this out of the way: while I appreciate the epicness and excellence of Baldur's Gate, I didn't really get into it.

Maybe that was because I am not a huge fan of party-based RPGs where you micromanage your team. I'm very much of a Oblivion/Morrowind/Fallout 3/Titan Quest one-guy-kicks-ass type of RPG player. I want my hero to stand alone…

That is why I am so surprised I love Dragon Age. Yes, it's party based but BioWare does an excellent job at letting you fight in real-time without worrying too much about how your party members are doing. Sure, occasionally I want to directly control my members and heal them or give them orders but more often than not I focus on my character.

The next part that makes DA amazing is its cinematic gaming experience. Mass Effect excelled at storytelling and letting you explore the world's history and culture. Dragon Age is the same way, only better. The voice acting, like Mass Effect, is top notch and the writing superb. Gone is the hold-your-hand moral choices, instead the game doesn't even tell you how evil/good/neutral you are and a lot of the choices you make actually make a difference. If you are a goody two-shoes, like my current character, the more chaotic characters in your party will show their disproval of your actions. Other characters that share your sympathetic nature will implore you to help. Sometimes making the right choice can be difficult as there are sometimes good reasons not to help.

Another thing I love about the game is that it keeps things simple. There is plenty of depth for a hardcore RPG player (character-specific tactics, specifically) but for those of us who aren't up on DnD jargon, Dragon Age keeps all that stuff in the background. If you've played an RPG like Fallout 3/Oblivion/Mass Effect things will be familiar. You level up, you get skill points, and you get talents. While perhaps not as simple as Fallout's system, it is still very manageable for someone like me who can't (and doesn't want to) get around all the DnD-style rules (ahem, Baldur's Gate).

The last thing I want to mention is the way you play the game and the presentation. You can play the game in both over-the-shoulder 3rd person style at ground level or zoom out anytime into a tactical top-down view. I thought that was ingenious because when you're in the action, it feels a lot like an action RPG even though it is essentially a DnD-style RPG. While you are adventuring, I find it really enjoyable hearing the banter between party members. The first member who joins your party is hilarious and I keep him in my party just to listen to him argue with other members or my dog.

I've only played for maybe 10 hours and am already heavily enjoying the game and its world. It reminds me of the days I used to play Morrowind for hours in a row without tiring… and as my friend told me yesterday, you just want to finish one more quest…

October 29, 2009

One Sentence Review: The Beatles Rock Band [X360] | Posted at 12:38 PM

image

Title: The Beatles Rock Band 
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Blurb: You are The Beatles and you play Beatles music.
Review: If you like The Beatles you will like this game, plus the way it tracks achievements makes it pretty addicting and has lot of replay value.
Grade: A-

One Sentence Review: Scribblenauts [DS] | Posted at 12:32 PM

image

Title: Scribblenauts
Platform: Nintendo DS
Blurb: You draw stuff and solve puzzles.
Review: This game's fun factor is directly proportional to how creative you are.
Grade: B+

One Sentence Review: Batman Arkham Asylum [X360] | Posted at 12:30 PM

image

Title: Batman Arkham Asylum
Platform: PC, XBox 360, PS3
Blurb: You're Batman and you kick ass.
Review: This is what a superhero game should be: kicking ass and taking names.
Grade: A

One Sentence Review: LittleBigPlanet [PS3] | Posted at 12:27 PM

image

Title: LittleBigPlanet
Platform: PS3
Blurb: You're a sack person jumping on everything.
Review: Super creative, super addicting, you must play this game with other people, because it is absolutely fantastic. 
Grade: A+

One Sentence Review: Uncharted [PS3] | Posted at 12:24 PM

image

Title: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Platform: PS3
Blurb: Treasure hunter Nathan Drake is trying to find the lost treasure of El Dorado…
Review: Fantastic storytelling, classic gameplay, I feel like I am Indiana Jones when I play this game.
Grade: A

January 8, 2009

Mini Review: Anathem [Neal Stephenson] | Posted at 12:42 AM

Anathem Book Cover

If you need a synopsis, check it out on the wiki.

What a great book, in its own right. Personally, I don't think it was better than Snow Crash but it was still awesome. I have to be fair and say that Snow Crash is my favorite just because it's so geeky in a computer way which is why I liked it so much. Anathem is geeky in a more typically sci-fi way and it is fantastic by itself, independent of Stephenson's other novels.

I listened to the Audiobook, so the unfamiliar words were a bit easier to grasp. Plus, you can really infer the meaning from the context in which its used and the dictionary entries provide a larger definition. Still, even at the end I was not 100% sure what some words were, but that was because I didn't have the book's glossary to reference.

I make note of this because when I bought the book off Audible, a user had rated it one star. They said that they couldn't understand any of the words and it made no sense. I'm glad I ignored them, I found it really interesting how as you read the book the words exist on their own, like a real language. By the end, you know and understand exactly what Fraas and Suurs are (and similar things).

Like most of Stephenson's books this one contains a lot of theoretical dialog, but in typical Stephenson way he explains through the character's questions. I think that everything was sufficiently explained and even things that were confusing aren't central to understanding what happens. The ending was awesome, it really built up.

Definitely for the nerds... I would hesitate to recommend this to a casual reader, but if space, time, and aliens interest you... well, go for it. It's not a cut and dry approach to sci-fi, Stephenson uses actual (fake?) logic to explain everything and why it works. It's not like there's an "alien" and it looks a certain way just because. There's tons of explanation for everything. Sometimes I got lost, but it will still keep you interested in between the long, drawn out dialogues.

Overall, definitely a good read as long as you make it past the first hour and a half, which you should be used to if you've read Stephenson before. If you like Stephenson, it's a must. If you're new… it may be intimidating, but as long as you enjoy interesting ideas, read it.

Buy it off Amazon or Audible

January 1, 2009

One Sentence Review: Penny Arcade, Episode 2 [Game] | Posted at 11:13 PM

image

Title: On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode Two
Platform: PC
Review: As much fun as the first, short and sweet, and still hilarious.
Grade: A-

Buy it from Steam

Prince of Persia 4: Why do you do this to me? [A Review, Bittersweet] | Posted at 11:07 PM

Warning: This post will spoil the ending, so don't read it unless you've beaten it (or don't care).

Prince of Persia 4 (2008)

Title: Prince of Persia 4 (2008)
Platform: PC
Grade: B+
Rent or Buy?: Rent
Time Taken: 3 days, maybe 15 hours

First, let me say that I mostly enjoyed my time beating the newest Prince of Persia. There were parts that really ticked me off (camera angles, repetitiveness, etc.) Now let me follow that up with this: it was all going great until the end. The end was… frustrating. It was frustrating because I can see why it had to be done, but why couldn't it have been something that didn't totally undo EVERYTHING I DID IN THE GAME.

I did not want Elika to die. I was in the same boat as the prince… but I also didn't want to free that slow, half-retarded God Ahriman (seriously, he isn't smart enough to punch ahead of where you're going). It was like the whole game was about getting me to like the characters and I really did, then they drop the bomb even though I knew it was going to happen. I kept hoping they wouldn't ruin it, hoping that they would find another way to keep her alive without unleashing the God. THANKS GOD OF LIGHT, lots of good you did!

I wrote this post after talking with some people about it and standing back and thinking about why they did this. It is obvious that they are doing a sequel, otherwise it would have been the happy ending. Is it a testament to their narrative abilities that they pissed me off? Doesn't that mean it was a good story? Maybe. One thing is for sure, they can redeem themselves with the next game. If they leave Elika to die in the next game, then I'm really going to be disappointed. It's like those authors that have these epic trilogies and then at the end, kill a character you were really attached to. I hate it, I don't care if it's supposed to be a "tragedy" or whatever, I like happy endings!

Enough of the story, I don't want to think about it. What of the actual gameplay? I'm sorry to say that it suffered from the same problems Assassin's Creed did. Fun but repetitive. Sometimes it felt like they just put stuff in between things that really didn't need to be there. Like, for example, jumping and whizzing about the Temple at the end. Or that whole "boss fight" with Ahriman. He seemed pretty dumb to me.

Still, I have to say that it couldn't be all bad because I beat it in the span of 3 days. What kept me going? The characters, mostly… waiting for those two to get together, but also the environments were very well done. The fact that you couldn't die also kept me playing, knowing I could do whatever I wanted and suffer no consequences. During fights I really did not enjoy the "push the button quick or else the dude will regenerate half his health!" moments. I was playing on PC, and the icons were in the Xbox 360's colors for ABXY. That didn't translate well and I found myself pressing the wrong buttons all too often. This was mostly alright except that the worst part of the whole game was trying to maneuver The Warrior into those stupid wooden columns. I was almost going to just turn the game off because it took like 15 minutes to try and do it.

Understand that I am not someone who enjoys failing at the same thing 20 times ala Ninja Gaiden, God of War, etc. After 3 times I usually quit. That's just how I am. At the same time, I felt PoP was too easy… which is a paradox, I know. I think it was because of the almost fully automated platform mechanics. Just press the right button and the Prince will do his thing, without your control. Assassin's Creed at least let me do whatever I want, and I felt like it was me who was doing everything. In PoP, it feels like you're telling the Prince what to do and he goes and does it. Don't ask how it should have been, I have no idea. I feel like these complaints are just because of how the gameplay mechanic works and perhaps there's no real solution. My constructive feedback to Ubisoft Montreal is to add better puzzles, or just more of them. I did like how it broke up the monotony to take some time and solve a puzzle.

I also think that you should hold our hands less. We are smart people, us gamers, we don't need to be told what to do every second. Look at Portal. No hand holding there. Even if it used visual indicators, it still left it up to you to figure out how to get there. In this, scratch marks on the walls tell you where to go. Why are there scratch marks there? It is a sad fact that platforming games will never fully explain why everything is there for the player to succeed. How come that platform there is there? What use did it have before I came along? I can't hold it against the game, as I wouldn't hold it against the myriad of previous platforming games.

I've also heard about other reviewers complain about the voice acting and its lack of… ethnicity. This was a "problem" in Assassin's Creed too but if you asked around, the assistant tells you its because the Animus can't translate everything or whatever. Then again, why do the rest of the cast have good voice acting or ethnic voices? Like AC, PoP has Californians do the main characters. The small difference is that I actually liked PoP's voice actors… I actually didn't mind the lack of ethnicity to be honest, it was like Aladdin. I don't think it takes away any from the narrative. I don't know if the humor the Prince used would be lost on some other actor. I, for one, enjoyed the banter back and forth between the Prince and Elika. Maybe it was cheesy, but I thought it better than a lot of games.

Elika: Haven't you heard that good things come to those who wait?
Prince: Good things are good things, why wait?

I really do feel like the actors did a good job portraying their character's personalities. This makes sense for Elika, being voiced by Kari Wahlgren, a great actress that you've probably heard in other games (Soul Calibur IV, Tales of Symphonia, Ninja Gaiden 2, FF12, etc.). Matt Mullins, the guy who does the Prince has a great voice and he actually does put comedic inflection into his acting, which really helped portray the Prince's character well. The two of them go together very well, their voices complement each other.

My final score? I'd give the game a B+. It was good enough to want to beat but frustrating and lacking in some parts that dragged it down.

One Sentence Review: The Blade Itself [Book] | Posted at 12:16 PM

image

Title: The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book I)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Blurb: A bunch of characters get unwillingly thrown into a situation where no one except a few know what's really going on.
Review: The action scenes are fantastic and the plot is finally not a rehash of some dragon or God or [insert villain] trying to take over the world.
Grade: A

Buy it from Amazon

December 9, 2008

Review: Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner | Posted at 7:39 PM

Where Wizards Stay Up Late Ever wonder what that little "@" sign means in your email? What about why we put "www" before we visit a website? How about the origin of email itself? Look no further than Katie Hafner's Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The origins of the Internet. In it, Katie and co-author Mathew Lyon outline the origin of the Internet from concept to implementation, from the very first networked terminals in ARPA to the modern TCP/IP-driven Internet we know and [mostly] love.

This is not so much a book of the technical underpinnings of the Internet, though there is much of that, so much as it is about the people who did it all. Let it be known that I love technology, I live for it. What amazed me while reading this book was the people who were involved that no one except people knee-deep in computer science/networking talk about. Take J.C.R. Licklider, a prominent psychologist turned computer enthusiast. He was put in charge of ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency department), a strange choice considering he was a behavioral psychologist. However, without him we may not have had the Internet as we see it now. The ARPANET was the predecessor to the Internet and without ARPA and Licklider's passion for keeping the department alive there would not have been an ARPANET. The book says it best:

"Lick's thoughts about the role computers could play in people's lives hit a crescendo in 1960 with the publication of his seminal paper "Man-Computer Symbiosis." […] In the moment Licklider published the paper, his reputation as a computer scientist was fixed forever. He shed the mantle of psychology and took on computing. There was no turning him back." (pp. 34-35)

To think a former psychologist would be the one are the forefront of computing, it was amazing even back then.

There were other fascinating facts that I had never read about before contained in the book. For example, people keep citing the development of ARPANET was a way to protect national security after a nuclear attack. In fact, my IT Infrastructure teacher cited this reason! I didn't know better until I read this book. Bob Taylor, one of the former heads of ARPA and the starter of ARPANET, has tried his best to distill this common myth, having known "the project embodied the most peaceful intentions—to link computers at scientific laboratories across the country so that researchers might share computer resources" (p. 10).

Later in ARPANET's life, there are still surprises to be had. Will Crowther, who I had never heard of, developed a game called Adventure for ARPANET. It was a cave exploring game, it even had graphics, and "was a simplified, computer version of Dungeons and Dragons" (p. 206). When Crowther, dispirited by a recent divorce, ceased development of the game and left it on a BBN computer, Don Woods, a graduate student at Stanford heard about the game and downloaded it from there. He got the source code from Crowther and fixed it up, adding new features and ridding it of bugs. He created a guest account for people to login to the Stanford computer to play it and it was a huge hit. Myself being a gamer, this little tidbit of fact was especially fun to read.

Reading Where Wizards Stay up Late is definitely not a chore. I definitely recommend picking this one up, you won't be disappointed. It's a joy to read, both for the interesting historical anecdotes along with the conversational and engaging storytelling nature of the narrative. It is definitely not a vanilla history book but rather is a deep and fascinating read about the lives of those who spent nights upon nights building us one of the most valuable tools in human history: the Internet.

Review: The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick | Posted at 6:39 PM

Art of Deception

When you think of a hacker, what comes to mind? A scruffy man sitting in his parent's basement, the constant whirring of servers and computers in the background, staring at all three of their computer monitors, Moutain Dew cans strewn about, typing away madly while streams of code scroll madly down one of the screens? At some level, that may hold true but in the case of social engineers, that is, the craft of conning persons into divulging sensitive or seemingly innocuous information, a different impression should be formed. By their very nature, social engineers are friendly, helpful, clean cut, and have a very good way of making you trust them. That's the other kind of hacker, the kind, it could be argued, that is more dangerous.

This is the mind of the person we are privileged to enter through Kevin D. Mitnick's recent book, The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security. Mitnick, one of the more famous, or perhaps infamous, social engineers of our time shares his secrets about how the mind of a social engineer works and how they ply their trade.

Mitnick discusses two ways of formulating a social engineering attack: from the outside and from the inside. By that, he means that you can either use the telephone or actually entering the premises. He cites several techniques a social engineer uses to compromise a victim including directly asking the question, building trust, causing a problem then fixing it, reverse social engineering, email attachments/phishing scams, and a "reverse sting" or causing the victim to ask the attacker for help. A social engineer uses psychological methods to appeal to people's specific emotions like guilt, empathy, and trust.

What I most found interesting in this book was the way Mitnick explained the techniques and methods. Instead of outlining how to attack, he created fictional (but based on real attacks) stories that are from both the attacker's perspective and the victim's perspective. I found that these really helped me understand how social engineering worked, along with his definitions and "Mitnick Messages" peppered throughout. Sometimes, however, I felt that he used too many anecdotes when instead he could have explained more about the background of the attacks. There was minimal use of actual, non-fictional stories to illustrate his points which I think would have increased the impact of these stories. Despite these shortcomings, the stories are very illustrative and thought out, often raising your curiosity as to how these types of attacks can actually succeed. Indeed, there are many stories that will tickle your spine as you realize how vulnerable these large corporations really are.

Mitnick doesn't only provide all the different kinds of problems and attacks your company is susceptible to, he also outlines an entire policy to combat the weaknesses in your human element of security. However, no amount of security policy will ever protect you from all social engineering attacks, as Mitnick warns, "unless everyone in the enterprise understands that security is important and makes it his or her business to know and adhere to a company's security policies, social engineering attacks will always be a grave risk to the enterprise," (p. 259). Even so, there are important ways you can minimize risk from attacks. Some of these include:

  • Classifying your data effectively such as Confidential, Private, and Internal.
  • Extensive and detailed verification and authorization procedures
  • Management policies aimed at executives and management-level employees

There is an entire chapter dedicated to a large and extensive security policy.

While social engineering may not have been something you've heard of, after reading Mitnick's book it is apparent that this is a serious consideration in any organization's policy. Chances are you have been victim of a social engineering attack, I know I have. One time, a solicitor who came to our house was so friendly and convincing that I went out of my way to donate money to his cause in exchange for a magazine subscription. Needless to say, I never got one. If I had read The Art of Deception before that con-man had manipulated me, I might have been smart enough to catch his lie. Don't get caught like I did, do yourself a favor and buy this book, or you may end up losing far more than $20.

November 13, 2008

One Sentence Review: Fallout 3 [PC] | Posted at 8:35 AM

image

Title: Fallout 3
Platform: PC
Review: The only way to describe the experience when you first fire up Fallout 3 is how you felt when you played Morrowind: confused, epic, daunting, and a whole ton of awesome.
Grade: A+

Buy it from Steam

One Sentence Review: Fable II [Xbox] | Posted at 8:29 AM

image

Title: Fable II
Platform: Xbox 360
Review: Addicting, long, and full of fantastic voice acting and writing, Fable II is one of the gems of 2008.
Grade: A

Buy it off Amazon

October 24, 2008

One Sentence Review: Far Cry 2 [Games] | Posted at 2:39 PM

image

Title: Far Cry 2
System: PC
Review: I was pleasantly surprised to see that an open-ended world would really work for a FPS, since Far Cry 2 is actually pretty fun.
Grade: A-

Buy it from Amazon

One Sentence Review: Fable II [Games] | Posted at 2:34 PM

image

Title: Fable II
System: Xbox 360
Review: Despite its semi-shallow combat offerings, the game is tons of fun and well worth the price.
Grade: A

Buy it from Amazon

October 17, 2008

One Sentence Review: Scream, Aim, Fire [Album] | Posted at 3:02 PM

image

Title: Scream, Aim, Fire
Artist: Bullet for my Valentine
Review: There is definitely some good songs on this album and damn if they aren't catchy.
Grade: B+

Buy it from Amazon MP3

September 26, 2008

One Sentence Review: Rock Band 2 [Xbox 360] | Posted at 12:29 AM

image

Title: Rock Band 2
Blurb: You play plastic instruments to some awesome songs.
Review: It's like they took everything that was bad about Rock Band 1, threw it out, and put a nice yummy glaze on top with some killer songs.
Grade: A+

September 15, 2008

One Sentence Review: Burn After Reading [Movie] | Posted at 11:28 PM

image

Title: Burn After Reading
Blurb: No one knows.
Review: It's a Coen brother movie, what do you expect?
Grade: A-

September 10, 2008

One Sentence Review: Castle Crashers [Games] | Posted at 11:33 PM

image

Title: Castle Crashers
Blurb: Throwback side-scroller hack 'n slash with RPG elements.
Review: Haven't had this much co-op fun since long nights with Diablo II, this game is ADDICTING!
Grade: A+

August 26, 2008

B.C. Before Crysis: Thief III Deadly Shadows [Look Back] | Posted at 12:42 AM

Back when I was a sophomore in high school, I was fervently following the Half-Life 2 mania like everyone else. I used to frequent the forums a lot, it’s kind of sad. Well, IGN had a sweepstakes going on that they’d draw a random member and they got to pick their top 5 games and IGN would send them for free.

On one cold night I was that winner. Out of the 5 games I got, 3 were some of the best games I’ve ever played to-date. One was Beyond Good & Evil, one was Half-Life 2, and…

One was Thief III.

Thief III cover

I can hear the collective cries of reviewers and critics the world ‘round. What the hell? Yes, I think that Thief III was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had, ever. I’ll tell you why.

Story

I own Thief: The Dark Project and I was always caught by its narrative. I still mean to play it through. In Thief III the narrative was one of the focuses of the game and as such it played an important role.

I think, for me, the reason I enjoyed the story so much was the drama and the whole creepy aspect to it. I felt like I was Garret, that I felt Garret’s feelings, and it just really pulled me into the game. I think that without the story I would never have finished it.

I think my feelings about this are similar to my feelings about Dreamfall. You either like it or don’t and that decides whether you’ll finish the game or not. From my first experience with the demo, I knew that I wanted this game and I was not let down.

The plot twist at the end had me surprised, I have to admit. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The Atmosphere

I exclusively played Thief III on my headphones. I think that this was around the time I bought my X-Fi sound card so I wanted to take full advantage of it. The sound in this game is phenomenal. It adds so much it’s not even funny. I couldn’t imagine playing with the sound turned way down or muted, it just wouldn’t be the same.

There is one level, the Shalebridge Cradle, that stands out the most. In fact, if there was one reason you should play this game, it’s because of that level. I don’t think there has ever been one level, one experience, that can fully match the experience of the Cradle.

The Cradle is the scariest, creepiest, spine-tingling, piss your pants worthy level ever developed. It’s creepier than any movie I’ve ever seen. I had never experienced anything like it and I never have since. You know why? Not only is it an abandoned orphanage but children disappeared out of nowhere and they kept mental patients in there.

Maybe it was the slow melodic dripping of leaky pipes, maybe it was the soft creaking of floorboards when no one was around, maybe it was the whispering wind curling through cracks in the walls, maybe it was the distant screams of abandoned orphans or the wailing of mental ward patients, but if a developer could win an E3 award for "Best Level That Scared You Shitless"? than Eidos would win it for the Cradle.

Here’s what makes the Cradle such a masterful level. It makes you keep going. There is something about the level that just keeps you going through it, unable to quit and sob in your mother’s open arms. Oh, you want to. Oh, how you want to. But you can’t. I couldn’t. It scared the hell out of me but unlike most horror games where I can’t go further, it beckoned me like a silent, unconscious command.

The Stealth

I am a big fan of stealth gameplay. Eidos are the masters of the stealth game. The only other stealth games I played to the end were Splinter Cell’s Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory.

There is just something about sneaking around, trying not to get caught, and narrowly avoiding guards that I love. That’s not for everyone. One of my friends hates stealth games. I love them.

Thief was always about the stealth. You had your trusty blackjack and your bow to take out enemies silently.

It may be that you could probably run really fast to get past people but I always like to go slow, to scan my environment, and go at my own pace. Maybe that’s why I love stealth gameplay, because I don’t have to rush… I can beat the game at my own pace. There are moments where you have to run for dear life and I really enjoy those. The moments where you’re almost dead or almost caught but then you get some stroke of luck.

The Gameplay

And now we come to the meat and potatoes of all games: the gameplay. I think this is where most reviewers and gamers called Thief out. Since I haven’t played much of the original Thief games I cannot attest to its similarity or differences compared to previous installments.

There were a number of problems that kept Thief III from being a perfect game but I felt that the pros outweighed the cons.

Dumb AI

So, I plan to eventually replay the game on a higher difficulty because I played on Easy and it was way easy. Classic moments always include making lots of noise and then having a guard come over and claim, "It must have been a rat,"? and walk away/you stab him.

Dumb Physics

This game had flawed physics. Well, maybe not flawed, but easily forgettable and it didn’t provide any sort of gameplay mechanic. It’s like it was just there.

Animations

I think the game lacked good mocap considering character animations looked pretty silly.

It didn’t seem like any of this was a real dealbreaker for me. I still heavily enjoyed the game.

The Detail

I mean "detail"? in a game design sort of way, not necessarily the game world. One could argue that Thief III is not a dense game world, in fact, it’s fairly sparse considering you can’t enter most of the buildings. However, there are a lot of places to go for the story and while some people disliked the whole centralized city idea I really liked it.

The one part of the game that really surprised me in a good way was the "death"? mechanic. When I would be killed I was used to the regular routine of loading up a saved checkpoint. But one time I was killed and I just left it… and I woke up in jail.

Yes, that’s right, when you died in Thief III they locked you in jail. And it wasn’t just a "grab a key and walk out,"? no, it was an entire level! I was really surprised and that’s when I realized how great a game Thief III really is. Instead of just having a player die… they give him something to do.

I wouldn’t call Thief III a short game which I am glad for. I put a lot of time into that game and I bet half of it was me just taking my time sneaking around. The added jail level made the game even longer.

Conclusion

So that’s why I consider Thief III an amazing game. Maybe it had a lot of flaws but it delivered, to me, a very rich interactive narrative. It enticed me to keep playing, it was creepy as hell, and its stealth gameplay was a lot of fun.

Stay tuned for a look back on Beyond Good & Evil, one of the most underrated and overlooked games ever.

August 18, 2008

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson [Extended Review] | Posted at 3:28 PM

image

Like a lot of good authors, Stephenson has books that aren't as well known but may end up being better or as good as his best-known works. This is one of those.

It is a different breed than Snow Crash, but I want to talk about this book in its own right. Diamond Age is almost a children's story, with the main character being a child who grows into an adult by the end of the book.

Here's something you have to keep in mind: Neal's books take about an hour to 2 hours to understand the world they are taking place in. He usually talks a lot and goes into a lot of detail early on, using phrases and names of things that you have no idea what they refer to. However, by about 2 hours in, you understand where everything is taking place and the world makes sense.

Since this is naturally important for any book, I didn't take off a star because of it. I really enjoy his introductions to the world that he creates, because I find myself wondering and asking questions about it.

Here's another thing to keep in mind, this book isn't for everyone... people who like technology and computing might find it more enjoyable than someone who doesn't, but I think that it can appeal to many people since it is grounded in a story about a girl growing up.

With all that said, Diamond Age is a really, really good book. You get really drawn into the characters and a lot of that has to do with the narrator and how she reads the fairy tales from the Primer, as well as the different voices she uses for other characters. Unlike some other books in Neal's stash, Diamond Age doesn't go off on long tangents about ancient Gods or religions. Some of it is there, but it has a lot more to do with destiny and abuse of technology, or "Unforeseen Consequences."

If you really liked Snow Crash, just be prepared for something a little more light-hearted and less "kick-ass action" oriented, but still highly enjoyable.

Grade: A-

One Sentence Review: The Diamond Age [Audiobook] | Posted at 3:01 PM

Diamond Age

Title:The Diamond Age, or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
Author: Neal Stephenson
Narrator: Jennifer Wiltsie
Blurb: A young girl is raised by a book that can adapt to its surroundings and generate fairy tales. Plus other sweet stuff.
Review: An excellent read/listen, possibly not as "cool" as Snow Crash, but I thought it was really enjoyable and the narrator was awesome.
Grade: A-

Buy it from Audible

August 13, 2008

One Sentence Review: A Night at the Opera [Music] | Posted at 11:00 AM

image

Title: A Night at the Opera
Artist: Queen
Review: Wow, just WOW this album is crazy good and blew away my expectations.
Grade: A+

Buy it from Amazon MP3

August 12, 2008

One Sentence Review: Old Boy [Movie] | Posted at 8:37 PM

old-boy-poster

Title: Old Boy
Type: Movie
Blurb: Crazy Korean dude wants revenge on a man who locked him up for 15 years.
Review: Good movie, questionable plot, highly enjoyable, and thus recommended.
Grade: B+

July 27, 2008

One Sentence Review: Wall-E | Posted at 1:46 PM

image

Title: Wall-E
Blurb: A robot falls in love with another, that’s about it.
Review: A robot love story, but the best one ever told.
Grade: A-

July 25, 2008

One Sentence Review: The Dark Knight | Posted at 11:36 AM

dark_knight_joker

Title: The Dark Knight
Blurb: Why so serious?
Review: Awesome but not “the best movie ever,? I mean, c’mon.
Grade: A-

July 24, 2008

One Sentence Review: Dreamfall – TLJ | Posted at 9:13 PM

dreamfalltlj

Title: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Type: PC Game
Blurb: An epic narrative told through the eyes of various characters.
Review: Average game play aside, the narrative is fantastic and I can’t wait to learn the conclusion.
Grade: B

July 9, 2008

One Sentence Review: Sagas | Posted at 10:26 PM

image

Title: Sagas
Artist: Equilibrium
Genre: Epic Black Metal
Review: I was not disappointed by this album, I am really enjoying it a lot.
Grade: A-

Buy it from Amazon

July 8, 2008

One Sentence Review: Wyrms | Posted at 6:13 PM

image

Title: Wyrms
Type: Audiobook
Author: Orson Scott Card
Blurb: A teenager saves the world from a giant writhing dong.
Review: I loved it, it’s not a rehash of Tolkien, a vapid love story, or a 3 book “epic? bore and it’s sci-fi meets fantasy which is, like, double-awesome!
Grade: A+

Buy it on Audible

July 7, 2008

Guitar Hero DS and Dreamfall: TLJ | Posted at 10:35 PM

Guitar Hero: On Tour [DS]

image

My littlest brother got Guitar Hero: DS for his birthday. I was skeptical of such a game being made for portable... preferring my Rock Band or Guitar Hero plastic controller.

The game has 25 songs of no real "awesome" value. There are some nice songs that I forget but they are there, including one by Ozzy. It has a career, quick play, and multiplayer mode and the standard Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. It also comes with a plastic pick that acts as stylus, it's great!

I started on Expert. Now, it should follow that if I can play GH on a console on Expert, I should be able to handle the 4 buttons instead of 5 offered on DS. I was happy to see I could. Here's the problem though: with someone like me who has large hands, doing fairly quick button presses is a chore. When I got to Ozzy's song on the last tier, I couldn't do the solo. It has a lot of arpeggio motions, going yellow, red, green, a three-finger quick hammer-on-pull-off. My fingers in the DS grip can't move that fast easily. If I try to move real fast, the screen shakes making it hard to see anything. That and for doing fast note sequences, I am used to moving my hand a bit above the neck of the guitar to make sure my fingers can have breathing room. Not possible with the DS since I'm all strapped in.

In addition, after only a handful of songs, about 8, my hand starts to hurt and I'll have to put it down. I can't play too long.

With all of that said, however, I still find it fairly fun to play. I think that if you're on the go a lot and need that GH fix, GH: DS is a great game. I mean, the lineup isn't Rock Band but it's not bad either. I think with enough practice, you could probably get through the solos on Expert. I only played 3 times and I got to the last tier in no time. My little brother has finished Easy, Medium, and is working on finishing Hard tours.

Plus it's pretty cheap considering all you get.

There's one other thing about the DS that I like. A touch strum. Some people might find the touch screen a bit awkward at first, but I think a translation of touch to a real GH/RB controller would be amazing. I much prefer strumming on a touch screen than a friggin' lever. It's so much easier to do fast riffs on a touch screen, which is better. Just because it's easier doesn't mean it's easier, know what I mean? I feel like on the DS version I am actually strumming to the music because I can use a natural picking style versus grabbing on to the lever on my Rock Band controller. I noticed I can hit a lot more fast strum notes than I can on a plastic guitar.

Someone should mod their RB controller to use a touch screen, then post a How To so I can do it too.

The Good

  • Fun to play
  • On the go Guitar Hero
  • Multiplayer!

The Ugly

  • Fast note sequences might be too hard
  • Large hands get cramped
  • Only 25 songs

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

image

Dreamfall: TLJ is a very overlooked game. I saw it on a shelf one day at Target and looked at the box. "Adventure game." Whoopee? After that I forgot about it. Not until I saw a demo offered on Steam that I decided to check it out.

I liked what I saw. It's a very story-driven game. In fact, I would say that if you don't like the story, you won't bother finishing it because the gameplay itself is pretty sub-standard. I mean, a few of the puzzles are challenging but overall it's fairly straightforward. I stopped playing for awhile due to a puzzle awhile ago but just yesterday I picked it up again. I figured out the puzzle and have played it for about 4 hours today.

That's another thing, the game isn't short. I think I must be up to about 15-20 hours by now and I feel like it's getting near finished but not quite.

Back to the story though. I enjoy it a lot. Some of the voice acting is bad but a lot of it is fairly good. Good enough to be enjoyable. In fact, Krow, who becomes the main character's sidekick later is my favorite personality. The other thing I like about the game is the variety of narratives. It isn't a one person story. It's about a lot of people and you get to play them to advance the story, very much like episodes of a TV show. It's like playing a book because you do get to see some scenes that are revealed solely to you rather than the cast of characters and they eventually link up at some point. I think what I enjoy most about the story is its originality and actual enjoyableness. It's set a bit in the future (year 2219) and deals with a parallel world scenario where "dreams" act as the transport between them, but there's more to it than that. Technically, you start out by playing an unknown character who is living in a monastery. There you lead him to some sort of ritual where he gets transported into a different dimension and weird stuff happens. Then, the game moves to the future where you start playing Zoe, a girl with an Australian accent who lives in Casablanca. The story is too convoluted to get into but suffice it to say there's something wrong with "The Wire" (like the Internet only it transports all communication) and it has to do with Dreams and a girl named April Ryan. It blows up into this immense narrative about a corporate conspiracy, a lost orphan, two dimensions, a drugged plant, politics, and the search for meaning. Trust me, it's cool when you play it. Here's the official plot introduction:

Zoë Castillo is about to get involved in a conspiracy that spans parallel worlds and hundreds of years.

Something is affecting our world: static interference disrupts technology, and it seems to be linked to a ghostly presence seen only by a few – a presence inhabiting a black house in a wintry landscape. As Zoë begins her search for a lost friend, she discovers that there is a magical world behind our own – and the search is now on for the one person who may help Zoë unravel the dangerous web she has become entangled in:

April Ryan.

Like I said, the story is where this game shines. It's an adventure game in the vein of classic graphic adventure games I seem to be playing a lot of lately ala Grim Fandango or Secret of Monkey Island. It's simpler in that you have an inventory but don't constantly keep things in it instead using them fairly soon to solve puzzles. It's mostly driven by conversations you have with other characters instead of using various verb commands to solve riddles. They did implement some fighting but they are horrible and I am so glad they happen only once in a blue moon. They should have just left out fighting, it's useless in this game.

There are many characters involved in the story and all have unique personalities (albeit one or two with poor voice actors). What I like about the characters you play is that they have depth. They aren't some vapid piles of skin and bone who just drop in and can do everything. They have feelings, guilts, uncertainties, backgrounds, and a history. For example, one of them is a member of the religious and military civilization that has occupied one of the cities in the alternate universe and one of them is a rebel fighting against said occupational forces. It is a different story for both of them but they run into each other and while you are witness to the narratives that tie them, at first they are unaware of each other's fates and how they are tied together. I still am not certain how it works out because I haven't finished.

I tend to enjoy stories that are mixes of fantasy and sci-fi so I really enjoy the story a lot. However, it's not for everyone and if after the demo you feel no real desire to answer the questions it poses, you should probably move on. If, though, you were like me and enjoyed the story you saw in the demo, I think you should give it a chance. My girlfriend even enjoyed watching the story progress way back when I started playing it.

I am one of those people that will play a game to the end if the story is compelling enough. Devil May Cry 4? No. Eternal Sonata? Eh. Thief III? Hell yes. Beyond Good and Evil? Loved it. It's the same idea here. While gameplay is lacking but still not horrible, the story makes up for it all, in my humble opinion.

If you want to try it, you can get the demo off Steam or buy it off Steam with its prequel. System requirements are small, the graphics look fairly good, and it runs quick.

I didn't realize that there was a game before Dreamfall, confusingly titled "The Longest Journey," and apparently it's done well for itself, garnering 91 on Metacritic. I bought it just now. Why Dreamfall's subtitle is the same as its prequel, I'm not sure, but whatever I guess.

The Good

  • Amazing narrative, characters, and cinematic storyline
  • Fun puzzles and adventuring
  • Nice graphics and colorful scenes
  • Easy interface
  • Nice and long

The Ugly

  • Fighting sucks but there's not a lot of it
  • A couple bad voices but not dealbreakers
  • Linear, but that comes with the territory
  • Average "actual" gameplay experience

July 1, 2008

One Sentence Review: B13 / Borough 13 | Posted at 8:47 PM

b13

Title: B13 (Banlieue / Borough 13)
Blurb: David Belle, who invented parkour, stars as the kick ass dude who kicks ass.
Review: This movie is frickin’ awesome, action is better than most American movies since all or most of it is real.
Grade: A

June 30, 2008

One Sentence Review: 10,000 B.C. | Posted at 8:03 PM

10000bc_teaser

Title: 10,000 B.C.
Type: Movie
Blurb: Who the hell knows?
Review: I watched an anime while sparingly paying attention [to Evolet] during this movie, that’s how bad it was.
Grade: D

June 25, 2008

One Sentence Review: The Golden Compass | Posted at 10:45 PM

goldencompassposter

Title: The Golden Compass
Type: Movie
Blurb: A little girl and a bad ass polar bear kick some serious alter-dimensional butt.
Review: Well, I bet the book is better because it went fast, but it was still pretty good, better than that Narnia crud.
Grade: B+

One Sentence Review: Devil May Cry 4 | Posted at 10:29 AM

dmc4

Title: Devil May Cry 4
Blurb: You play some other annoying kid for half the game.
Review: Meh, it was cool at first and then just got tedious and annoying.
Grade: C

June 14, 2008

Mega Review: Toshiba REGZA 42RV530U | Posted at 10:25 PM

Product: Toshiba REGZA 42? LCD TV
Price: $1200
Link: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16889253124

Product

A few weeks ago, my family and I bought this TV for our downstairs entertainment room. I had been researching TVs for awhile and I ended up on this model. Now they have a newer, more expensive 120Hz version which I’ll get into later.

I’ve had some time with the unit, played some games, watched some movies, and TV so it’s about time we had ourselves a review. Let’s go, shall we? Read the review after the jump!

Continue reading "Mega Review: Toshiba REGZA 42RV530U" »