Friday, September 25, 2009

Line management 101

Or, how to annoy multiple people at midnight.

There's an indie horror movie making the festival/art house rounds right now called Paranormal Activity. The trailer makes it look like Ghost Hunters done by amateurs where they actually find something. I put it on my "to watch" list.

Then I noticed that the art house theater down the street was having a midnight screening tonight. It was the only screening in Boston, and it was one of the ones where you RSVP, but you're not guaranteed a seat. Those of you who notice timestamps on posts might guess where this is going.

Having done several midnight movies at this theater, showing up a half hour early is usually plenty to guarantee a good seat. So I wander over there at about 11:30. When I arrive, I notice that the line is coming out along the street instead of going back toward the parking lot. Chalking it up to stupid people, I get in line, pull out my phone, and start reading (did I mention that a nice Kindle feature is that you can also sync your last read page to the Kindle app on the iphone and keep reading it there?), content in my proximity to the door.

After about five minutes, a guy with postcards comes by. The guy ahead of me asks him if we'll all get in. Postcard guy says he doesn't know, but they were coming this way with wristbands. He then wanders off. A half hour goes by (it's now 12:10), and we hear a cheer from near the door. The line doesn't move. At around 12:25, we start going forward. As we draw even with the alley that contains the door, I realize that what's happened is that the line has wrapped completely around the block, and I'm on the wrong end of it.

It's about this time that a different official sounding guy starts yelling that if you don't have a wrist band, there isn't a seat. Turns out that they handed out all the wrist bands over a half hour ago, but they never bothered to come down the line and tell us unlucky folks that we weren't getting in.

Now, I have no problem with not getting in. I showed up late, that's my fault. But if you have 500 seats and 500 wrist bands, once you've attached those to 500 wrists, you know that your theater is full. Your next (and only) job is to continue walking down the line to tell the rest of the people waiting that they shouldn't bother. It's an incredibly basic part of line management, and they didn't bother to do it. So instead, I got to stand in line for nothing for a half hour too long.

It's minor, but it's really soured me on wanting to see this movie. If it ever gets a wide release, I'm actively not going to bother going to see it. I'll toss it on my Netflix queue, but it's going to be a low priority. It's a good example of how a poorly-run promotion can easily lose as many potential supporters as it gained. Instead of telling everyone how disappointed I am that I didn't get to see this sweet movie, I've now gone on for several hundred words about the annoying line practices. That won't get the asses in the seats. At least, not my ass.

And now I have to go occupy myself for another hour while I wait for the coffee I drank to stay awake through the movie to wear off.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We don't need no steenking paper!

I got a huge suprise on my birthday when kt got me a Kindle. I'd been wanting one for a while, but hadn't gotten up the gumption to get one. Turns out kt has 100% more gumption than I do. Probably due to her awesomeness. I've had this thing for almost two months now, so I figured I'd write up some thoughts.

First, it's damn small. I have it in a case, so it's slightly bulkier, but whenever I take the case off, I'm always amazed at how thin and light it is. That's awesome. The screen is exactly as paper-like as you've heard. When it arrived, it had a plastic film with a diagram of how to plug it in and turn it on. When I took the film off, the diagram stayed. It was being displayed by the screen, and completely looked like it was printed on the plastic. The screen is almost completely non-reflective. This is awesome when reading outside. Or really any time.

For those of us who sometimes ride on crowded trains or busses and have to hang on with one hand, reading can be tricky. Particularly when trying to wrestle a 1000 page Stephen King hardcover into submission. The Kindle has the "next page" button on either side, under your thumb, so one handed reading isn't a problem. Of course, it's also possible to bump it accidentally, and the "previous page" button is only on the left, so that can be kind of a pain.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that you basically have to start buying your books from Amazon, and the prices aren't a ton cheaper than the print versions. Personally, I have no problem with that, because I've never operated under the illusion that when I buy a book/movie/game that I'm paying for the physical component, but rather the creative effort that produced the content. Still, a lot of people feel like digital copies of things should be cheaper than physical copies. For those people, the Kindle isn't going to make you happy. However, I certainly don't mind having fewer books to sit on shelves. I can definitely see a future Chuck who has one bookshelf filled with elaborate leather-bound collector's editions of a select few books that are worth it (I'm hoping for a fully illuminated and illustrated version of Lord of the Rings), and everything else in electronic form.

Yet for those who crave cheap books, or those who want to convert their already-purchased physical books to electronic format, all isn't lost. There are hundreds of completely free public domain works both on Amazon and at various other websites that are totally legit. I've got the complete Sherlock Holmes waiting to be read. The other option is to locate "alternative download sites" that can provide copies of the books that you already own. You've paid for them, so as long as you maintain possession of them, I feel you're entitled to an electronic copy. The Kindle also lets you download the first ~30 pages of any book they sell as a trial, which is a pretty good way to find new books. Amazon also gives away free current books from time to time. Long story short is that through various means, I have 43 books on my Kindle, of which I've paid money for two.

Since I have that many books, including all the books from the series I'm currently reading, I haven't had to make use of one of the major features, which is the free wireless. You can shop and buy books directly from the Kindle, and they automatically download. You can also shop on a PC, and then have any books you buy delivered directly to your Kindle. It's very slick, and could be handy if you somehow finish your last unread book on the thing.

So is it worth the $300 price? I think of it like the iPod. You didn't buy an iPod to save money, you bought it for the convenience of being able to carry and listen to music wherever, and do it more conveniently than you could with a CD player. This serves the same purpose. It's smaller than most books, and easier to use in certain situations. Like with mp3s, you lose the nice bits of physical media. There's no cover art, no big shelf of books/music to impress guests with, and it's certainly not as romantic to curl up with the Kindle in front of a fire with a cup of tea to read. But it's sure as hell easier to travel with, which is definitely something I'm looking for right now.

As a lifetime bibliophile, it kind of pains me to write this. In my own small way, I'm contributing to the inevitable demise of the physically printed word, and that's certainly very sad. But in a way, the transition to digital media might actually bring the status of a physical book back to where it was in the days before Gutenberg. Back then, a book was an almost revered object, something rare, to be treasured. Now, books are basically disposeable, sometimes more useful for propping up a broken table than for their intended purpose. Would it be such a bad thing to keep the written word accessible while returning the physical book to it's past glory? Not in my book.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It was a hard day's night

We had our unofficial Beatles release party the other night. It could be differentiated from the official release party because it had 100% fewer white russians made with Bailey's instead of milk, and 100% fewer tequila shots. However, the lack of tequila shots meant that the unofficial party had 100% fewer extremely bad ideas.

So we had the party. We started playing the game at around 6:15pm. I turned it off at around 2am. Kt's dad sang for the entire time, along with everyone else at various points. We did ever song in the game at least twice.

It was an awesome time. I really liked seeing everyone finally getting to see this thing, and everyone seemed to have a really good time. So that was pretty awesome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Beatles have landed

It's finally arrived, and it's been a long time coming. There's good vibes all over the office today. Heck, even Deval Patrick thinks we're awesome.

I'm really looking forward to the mini-release party on Saturday. After spending so long looking at a game during production, finding every little thing that's wrong with it, it's easy to lose perspective and forget about all the many things that are right with it. You guys playing it for the first time are my fresh set of eyes. Really, for me, a game isn't officially out until I've gotten to play it with the folks that I care about. (Hopefully) seeing all of you excited, happy, and having a good time is the point where all the incredibly long hours of frustration when it's all coming together pays off.

So I can't wait to get everyone over and give this thing a shot. Hopefully it doesn't suck.

After the party

I just got home from our release party. I stumbled off the train at about quarter past midnight. As I made my way home, I happened to look up, and saw a bus headed toward me. Through the window, I could see a guy cradling a Beatles: Rock Band bundle in his lap.

I smiled the rest of the way home. Yup, The Beatles is officially out. Holy crap.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kurt is rolling over in his grave

The new Guitar Hero game comes out today. Their new thing is to include actual musicians that you can choose to play as. That's a bit strange, but fine.

The trouble is that when they create the animations for the musicians, they hard code the animations for the song. Which can also be fine, and means that the musicians move exactly the same way every time you play the song.

The trouble happens when you combine those two things. Since you can have any character play any instrument on any song, you get some really strange things going on. Here's some examples from Youtube.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but there's something very strange about seeing Cobain in something like this game in the first place, and even stranger seeing him miming Flava Flav.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Just flew in from Germany, and boy are my arms...

I got back from Germany last week. The convention we were at pulled in a hair under 250,000 people over the course of five days. The days were incredibly long. We had a bunch of stages with both Beatles and RB2 set up, and people could come up and play. Our job was to facilitate the rocking, and fill in for anybody that was missing. That mostly meant that we were singing the whole time.

Of course, another part of the job is to make the games look awesome, which meant putting on a performance. So I was singing in full-on rock voice for five days. I made it 3.5 days before blowing out my voice.

Generally it was awesome, but really tiring. Some things about the trip, in bullet point format:

- Germans bring the metal. I sang Run to the Hills at least a dozen times per day. They also have some kind of fascination with Papa Roach, and Last Resort was the most-played single song on the RB2 stages all week. Second place was Linkin Park. Third place was Metal as a category.

- Germans really like Yellow Submarine. On the Beatles stages, they couldn't play metal, so they defaulted to Yellow Submarine. I think this had something to do with them being less comfortable singing in English, and 90% of that song is "We all live in a yellow submarine." One day's count had that song played 46 times on a single stage.

- Our main stage was 7.5 feet high. It was ridiculous, and also stupidly loud.

- We handed out shirts, but by the last day, we had a bunch left that we didn't want to take back. So we started what I called T-shirt Apocalypse. We'd get all of us Harmonix folks on stage. We'd play "Birthday", and everyone without an instrument would run around, dance, work the crowd up, and throw shirts. It was a ton of fun, and really got the crowd going. Slightly more scary was the time when we knocked over an amp from one of the piles at the front of the stage. It fell backwards onto the stage, which is good, because if it had fallen forward (off the 7.5') stage, someone would have died.

- Turns out I like wiener schnitzel. I don't know about sausages, as I had no wurst of any kind.

-I had no idea my feet could hurt that much, and I worked a lot of retail.

- If I sing loud enough, I can actually sing AC/DC in the correct octave. I'm not sure when I'll be able to replicate that feat.

- Lufthansa seats become solid after four hours, and actually grow spikes after six.

So that's Germany. In other news, The Beatles: Rock Band comes out in a week and a half. That's nuts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

I'm going to Cologne, Deutchland for a week starting Monday to work a convention. What should I bring that I'm forgetting?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In defense of torture porn

tor' - ture porn - A genre of horror film in which significant portions of the film are devoted to depicting the torture of an individual or individuals, usually in graphic detail.

This is a sub-genre of horror that's come into being over the last five or six years. One of the earliest movies that was categorized as torture porn was Saw. What usually happens in a torture porn flick is someone is captured by the bad guy, and then brutally killed, usually slowly, and with no punches pulled in terms of showing things on screen or showers of blood. After one or two characters are slaughtered, it usually switches to the "hero" character escaping the bad guy after being captured too.

Now here's the thing about torture porn: it's not new. Really, it's not. It's been around for a long time. You can go back to things as early as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Spit on you Grave, and others that are usually categorized as slasher or suspense flicks and find definite elements of torture porn in them. That's because really, at its core, torture porn is a blend of the slasher flick and the standard abduction suspense flick.

At its heart, torture porn is really all about suspense, and that's where the real guts of its horror elements come from. Of course, while the torture scenes happen, the audience gets a gut sense of "ewwww", but that type of scare is and always has been fleeting. Where the real horror elements of the genre happen are when the hero character starts making his/her escape. Why do these suspense elements work differently than your basic suspense flick? Because we've seen, in detail, exactly what will happen to the main character if he fails to escape from the killer.

That vital difference is what sets the genre apart from the rest of the horror genre. In most suspense flicks, the hero has to escape the villian because the villian will kill him in undefined bad ways, and the mechanics are left to the audience's imagination. Frankly, most people don't bother thinking in detail about what those bad things are, so the sense of danger is fairly non-specific. By showing you that the hero will, for example, be fastened to a table with screws, have their eyelids cut off, then their entrails extracted one by one and shown to them, you feel much more strongly about the hero's escaping.

So how is that any different than slasher flicks, you say? Tone. Most slashers, especially in the later years of the genre's prominence, played things for laughs. The whole thing was about tongue in cheek, formulaic violence. You were never rooting for the characters, you were rooting for the killers, and cheering as they took out the victims in more and more ridiculous ways. Moreover, few of the kills were given a lot of screen time. Yes, Jason just impaled a couple with a harpoon, but the whole thing happened in less than 30 seconds. Your average torture porn killer is utterly unsympathetic, and the killings can take many minutes. These kills are not intended to be funny, and because of that, you automatically sympathize with the victims.

Another vital difference is that it's way more common for torture porns to have bleak endings. Slasher flicks almost always have the last girl emerge victorious (or at least not dead). In tortuer porn flicks, the "hero" has at best a 50/50 chance. Because of that, you can't ever really relax into "well, I know she's going to live".

The problem that the torture sub-genre has is that it's very difficult to make a good one. It's extremely easy to fall off into just showing tons of blood and violence, and ignoring the vital elements of suspense. A perfect example of this is Hostel 2. The first Hostel was a shining example of how the genre can be extremely effective. In the second, the director opted to keep piling more and more bodies up on the screen, and worse, actually tried to make the killers sympathietic. Unfortunately, he lost sight of what made his first film so good, and wound up making absolute dreck.

So what are some examples of good torture porn? The first Hostel is an excellent example, as is the first Saw. The subsequent movies in the series have actually done an admirable job of not sucking, though they're getting too bogged down in their own mythology to really qualify for this list. The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre fits here, though it's almost completely bloodless. Some of the best examples of the genre actually come from France, with High Tension and Inside being amazing.

Now, this genre is absolutely not for everyone. They're incredibly graphically violent, and the good ones have an intensity that simply doesn't let up for the entire movie, which is what makes them so good. You don't so much watch these things as you experience and survive them. You really have to get past the ultra-violence to appreciate them as something other than gore for gore's sake. Even for horror film fans, these things can easily get written off as pure gore. But if you've got the stomach for them, and are willing to stop and consider what the film's actually doing, the genre has a surprising amount of depth. If anyone's interested in a screening, let me know.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Coming soon to Rock Band: your band

This falls completely into the category of shameless self-promotion that you probably won't care about (though Jay may find it interesting), but here it is anyway:

For those who don't want to read the article, here's the gist. We're releasing our song authoring tools to the general public so you can author your band's songs for Rock Band. You need to have the rights to the songs, so what you won't be seeing is five hundred versions of Stairway to Heaven. But basically, you'll use the full set of authoring tools that our audio department uses to make tracks for the game, author the song on the computer (using your master recordings), and then upload them to the community for peer review. If your song doesn't break copyright, and passes muster for playability and content (swears are bad, kids), then it gets uploaded to Xbox Live, and you can set a price for the song. Anyone with Rock Band can buy it, and you get 30% of all the sales.

Why is this awesome? Because it allows a ton of small, unsigned, indie, etc bands access to the platform. They can take it upon themselves to use it as a marketing tool, or just use it to get a bunch of free exposure to a huge audience.

Basically, it's a really cool opportunity for a lot of smaller artists to get involved and get their music out into the world. And it's way better than MySpace.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Did you know that I watch TV shows? Holy hell, it's true! Did you also know that I'm a giant geek? No, the full-size replica of Sting (the sword, not the singer/actor/addonis) hanging on my wall isn't for home defense. So it follows that I probably like sci-fi (not SyFy, as certain networks have been forced to call it) shows.

Why then has nobody told me before now how incredibly awesome Babylon 5 is?

What TV does far, far better than movies is long form narrative. If you have a two hour movie, you can only tell so much story. Even if you have three three-hour films, you're still limited in scope. However, if you have multiple 13 or 22 hour-long episode seasons, you can tell a crap ton of story. I like story, so I like TV that tells long stories.

Of course, most shows don't. If you sit down in front of an hour of Law and Order from season 8, then watch and episode from season 3, it probably won't matter. They'll probably also be the same episode. Good TV will tell a story over the course of the season. Things change in meaningful ways between the first and last episodes.

Great TV tells stories that have implications across multiple seasons, but not always in the same way. Think of a story as an arch. Most TV (think Law and Order) has an arch that stretches over a single episode. That's fine, but those kinds of shows are like popcorn, and ultimately, they're forgettable. Even excellent shows like The Simpsons do this.

Shows that tell a season-long story still have the short, episode arches, but each of those small arches also goes into a bigger, season-long arch. Buffy and 24 are examples of this. You really can't watch those shows out of order, or you start to miss things.

Which brings us to Babylon 5. This show was on for 5 seasons. One guy wrote them. The amazing part? He knew how the series was going to end before he wrote the first episode.

Think about that. This guy must have had a massive pair of brass balls. I can't imagine walking into a network exec's office and saying "I have an idea for a sci-fi show that's not Star Trek that will last for five seasons, and tell one complete story in that time." It would never happen in today's landscape. It's a minor miracle that it happened back in 1994. But someone gave him a tiny budget and Bruce Boxlietner, and let him have at.

It's brilliant. This show is essentially one large story arch that extends from season 1 to season 5. At first blush, a lot of episodes in the first season come across as one-offs that don't tie in. Then, two seasons later, something that happened in the first season suddenly turns out to be a pivotal moment. Because he planned everything out, he's able to do actual, honest to God foreshadowing in ways that are just never seen in TV. It's like reading a well-constructed novel over the course of five years.

Of course, it's not perfect. The show was done in 1994 on a budget of $5 and baling twine (they couldn't afford shoe strings). The acting is sometimes iffy (though often brilliant), and the special effect are...well...quaint. But once you get past all that, it's one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Just thought you should know.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Apocalypse groceries

I'm a big fan of post-apocalypse fiction. For some reason, seeing what happens after the world ends is really interesting to me. I've read books and comics, and watched movies dealing with the end of the world by way of:

-nuclear war

In most of them, the survivors wind up scavenging food from the remnants of human society, usually in the form of canned goods. Seems that produce and freeze pops don't keep well.

It occurred to me this morning, that not a single one of the apocalypse scenarios I've ever seen has had its characters resort to eating one particular item: pet food.

Now, given how many pets there are out there, and how much of their food is canned, there should be tons of the stuff hanging around. It's mostly meat, so should be very edible. Furthermore, it's not generally seen as "people food", so it would be one of the last items scavenged, and thus one of the more likely items for scavengers to find. Even better, being reduced to eating dog food would be a great illustration of how desperate the characters are.

Yet, I can't think of a single time that I've seen a character scarf down a can of Fancy Feast or Alpo. Very weird, and something that's lacking in apocalypse fiction.

Of course, you also never see anyone find any Twinkies, which would obviously survive the apocalypse. Maybe the whole genre is just screwy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From flying to first downs

For the first time this year, I'm giving up on a game. That's sad, but I'm kind of glad that it's taken me six months to have that happen.

The casualty is Prototype. On the surface, karate kicking helicopters is awesome, as is elbow dropping tanks. But after around 10 hours, which is about halfway through, I realized that I spent most of the previous five hours of playing being very frustrated. I think that right now, I want something a little slower paced than Prototype's balls-to-the-wall karate kicking choppers and hacking dudes in half. Hopefully I'll be coming back to it in a few months.

What's usurping it? Blood Bowl. What is Blood Bowl? It's what geeks play instead of Madden.

The short version is that Blood Bowl is what you get if you take a really violent fantasy universe and have them play football. If the old Genesis game Mutant League Football rings a bell, well, that was a ripoff of Blood Bowl. It's very similar to football, except that there's no downs, killing players is a valid strategy, and having the play by play announcer say something like "The goblin looney Grimnak just pulled out his chainsaw, and is chasing the elf across the field and...OH! The crowd just threw a huge rock at Grimnak, knocking him unconscious! Now the rest of the fans are charging the field! They're going to have some trouble with that tree man!"

Of course, the whole thing plays out in turn-based format, because the video game is a faithful translation of the original board game. The real meat of it is playing in leagues, where your players can earn extra skills (or in the case of some teams, extra heads and limbs), injuries can knock players out for several games, and the road to the playoffs is paved with the bodies of your opponents.

So basically, it's just like rugby.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ten down

Last night, I finished my tenth game of the year. That's probably some kind of record for me. I'm not sure what kind, but it's got to be some kind.

Amazingly, the game I finished last night, Uncharted, was done in two days. Total playtime was 7 hours, 51 minutes. That's probably one of the shortest games I've played, and absolutely the shortest game of the year for me. Contrast that with Persona 3 that clocked in at 103 hours. Fun fact: Persona 3 cost $30 brand new. Uncharted cost $30 used, and that was a good price, and sold for $60 new. Wut?

Of course, the catch is that I played the game on Easy difficulty.

I know, I wussed out. Instead of manning up, setting it to Normal or Hard, I decided that replaying all of the many, many combat sections over and over and over again in order to prove that I'm tough, I decided to save myself the frustration and set it to a reasonable level. Yeah, that means I probably finished the game faster than I would have, but if the extra two hours it might have taken would have involved having extra holes punched in my lungs, I can live without that.

So my gaming life has gone from demolishing buildings on Mars (awesome) to killing non-white people in the jungle (not so awesome), and now I think I'm going to play Prototype. This game casts you as a guy who has been infected with a mutagenic virus that's running rampant through Manhattan, turning everyone into monsters. Many games would task you with saving the city. Prototype says "well, they're all fucked anyway, so go get revenge!"

Literally everyone and everything that's not you is expendable. Bystanders can be slaughtered in huge numbers if you want. They can also be picked up and consumed to regain health. Basically, they're amulatory, screaming health packs. An indication of the mindset of the game: once you pick someone up, there is no option to set them back down. Your only option is to consume them or throw them 100 feet. You cannot play a good person in this game.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New tattoo!

So I've been wanting a new tattoo for a while now. Really, ever since I got my first one. But I've been holding off getting the next one because I haven't known what to get. Well, I figured it out.

When I thought about it, it was obvious, really. I've been a Pats fan for a long time, and I don't see that changing, no matter where I end up living. So I started thinking that the Pats logo would be a good choice. However, I didn't want to simply follow the crowd and get the current swooshy, Nike-looking logo. I wanted something classic, timeless.

So I decided to get the old school, football-snapping Pats logo. It says "Pats" without saying "I've only like the Pats when they're winning." So over the weekend, I went down to the guy I know at Regeneration, and told him what I wanted. A few hours later, I've now got my new tattoo.

I'm really happy with the way that it turned out. It looks exactly like I pictured it in my head. I can't wait to show you guys! Here's a preview from this morning. I'm wicked psyched about how well it's healing up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wide open spaces

It's been far too long since I've written one of these.  Fortunately, things have been slowing down at work, so here I am.  Hooray.

Lately (as in the last few weeks), there have been a bunch of open world games released.  An open world game, as defined by Chucker's Dictionary, is a game where instead of levels, the player is plopped into the middle of a big city/planet/galaxy/Sea Monkey farm, and allowed to do whatever they want.  Usually a number of different missions are available, but those can be undertaken in any order, at any time, and usually allow the player a lot of options in how to do them.  The poster child for open world games is called Grand Theft Auto.  Perhaps you've heard of it?

Now, not all open world games involve hooker killing.  In fact, none of the games I referred to earlier have any hookers at all, yet they don't suck (see what I did there?).  In fact, they all wind up being very different games. 

The first is Fuel.  This is an offroad racing game, and takes place on a map that is literally the size of Connecticut, weighing in a 5,000 square miles.  The map is crisscrossed with roads and trails, and covered with races and new vehicles and paint jobs to find and collect.  One of the downsides of most open world games is that while you explore them, you're usually being attacked periodically.  Fuel does away with this, letting you just wander around if you want, or go run a race while avoiding a tornado.  It's a good feeling.

The second one is Prototype.  This takes place in Manhattan.  The gist is that you wake up with no memory, but with the new ability to leap 30 feet, run up buildings, transform your arms into Wolverine claws from hell, and consume other beings.  This is all due to an experimental mutagen virus that was being tested out on you.  As these kinds of things are wont to do, things go wrong, and while you set out to find out who did what to you, and kill them, the virus starts spreading in Manhattan.  As you progress, you gain new abilities, like being able to glide like a flying squirrel or transform your hands into giant hammers, which allows you to elbow drop tanks.

Let me restate: YOU CAN ELBOW DROP TANKS.  Obviously, this is the best thing ever.  You can also do all manner of other incredibly violent things like charge down the road, do a flip over a cab, grabbing it on the way over, and throwing it at a helicopter before you land, but really why would you do anything besides the elbow dropping tank thing?

The third game is called Red Faction Guerilla.  In this one, you arrive on a terraformed Mars, and are greeted by your brother, who turns out to be working for the Red Faction, an insurgent group fighting against the Earth Defense Force, the military organization that came in to liberate Mars from the oppressive Ultor corporation, and who are now violently repressing the people in the name of social order.  Note that this has absolutely nothing to do with the current situation in Iraq.  NOTHING!

Thinly-veiled political commentary aside, the game's hook is that every building can be destroyed.   The game starts you out with a sledge hammer in one hand and a fistful of remotely detonated sticky bombs in the other.  Virtually every mission can, if you're creative enough, be accomplished by destroying a building.  Need to take out a building? Make the smokestack next to it collapse onto it.  Or maybe you'd prefer to simply drive a mining truck through it.  Or plant a bunch of bombs on said truck, park it next to the building, then blow up the bombs.  Need to eliminate some snipers? You could plant a bomb under their position on the ceiling of the floor below them.  You could also knock a hole in the ceiling above them and fall on their head.  Or just plant a singularity bomb, sucking the building and all of its contents into a single point before exploding it back out.

There's also a multiplayer mode where everyone has to cause as much destruction as possible with limited time or ammo, highest score wins.  There's also Aliens-style walking loader things.  Awesome.  We will be playing this at the next movie night.

So after many months of role playing games, I feel the time for conversation, leveling, and careful battle strategy is over.  If I can't run it over, slash it in half, or blow it up, I don't care.  At least for the time being.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Quick self-promotion

Still not much time at work for blogging.  In case you want to see what the hell's been keeping me so busy, check out  The front page has a sweet trailer of gameplay footage, and the even sweeter (and incredibly trippy) intro video.  In case the style looks familiar, that'd be because the director of the video is the same guy who did the videos for Gorillaz.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Do you like 30 Rock?

This guy does too!

Okay, aside from the inherent strangeness (and that he looks a bit like Crypt Keeper), just some befuddled guy on the internet, right?  Well, now check out this one, and you start to realize that maybe he's not quite right, like he should be wandering around Central Square and laughing at the pavement. 

Now watch this one, and you start to think that this is the kind of guy who your parents warned you not to take candy from.  Picture him driving down the road in his van, doing this routine out the window.

Now try and watch 30 Rock without picturing this guy in your head.  I sure as hell can't.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I love technology

These are amazing.  The dude uses the magic Auto-Tune voice altering software (think Cher in Believe) to make news caster types sing.  The first one gives you the idea, and then the second one brings it home.  Watch out for the amazing duet with Katie Couric toward the end of the second clip:

Playing with yourself

Lately, I've been playing through Half Life 2.  In fact, I finished it over the weekend (hooray!).  It was a very good shooter, but sometimes I felt like I was forcing myself to play through it.  I recognized that it was a good game, and I was enjoying it mostly, but some parts were just dragging.  I figured out that I was mainly playing to get to the next story segment.

So here's what happens in the game, and really, in most shooters: you get a story segment explaining why you need to go through this level killing everything.  Then you leave the dudes who you were just talking to behind, and go through the level killing everything until you get to the other end, where some more dudes meet you and point you to the next batch of things to kill.  Some games give you and AI buddy or buddies.  These buddies fall into two categories: cannon fodder that gets killed 10 seconds into the level, or a story-relevant character who follows you, sometimes assisting, and yelling at the enemy.

I've long since accepted that I really need storylines in my games.  I can enjoy the gameplay, but I need a story to give me a reason to keep going when the game gets hard.  Because of that shooters can be tricky because of the formula mentioned above.  Generally, once you get into a level, the story stops.  It's kind of like a Broadway show, where the story gets put on hold for a musical number, except shooters replace jazz hands with flying lead.

So what the hell does this have to do with Half Life 2? Last night I started playing the follow up, HL2: Episode 1.  At least in the early going, you're accompanied by Alyx, a character that you ran into occasionally in HL2.  What sets her apart from other AI buddies, besides the normal-sized, fully covered chest, is that she f-ing interacts with you.  She comments on what's going on, asks how the hell you're going to get past this barrier, and generally behaves like a person.  What winds up happening is that this interaction gives me the human element that I miss during the majority of shooter levels.  While the story itself may not be advancing per se, at least I get someone to talk to.

I think it's the same thing that leads to so many buddy comedies in movies.  If you were just watching Tom Hanks trying to solve a case by himself, it'd be boring.  Give him a slobbering dog to interact with, and it's awesome! Hell, even Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball on a desert island managed to be entertaining for a while (though I could've done without the dentistry scene).  Either Tom Hanks is simply enchanting to watch (possible), or movies/games are simply better when there's some kind of interaction going on.

For a perfect example of this, play Left 4 Dead in a room by yourself.  To take this a step further, kill your AI buddies and don't rescue them.  Now play it with four other live people.  Which experience did you enjoy more? Same game, but I bet you liked the version where there were people.  Proof positive that even something as inherently awesome as shotgunning zombies in the face is improved vastly by adding other people.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

For realsies.

We just announced a new project.  Rock Band + Legos = Lego Rock Band.  Oh my.

Some highlights from the songs that have been announced: Kung Fu Fighting and The Final Countdown.

Where have I been?

I don't know!

Oh wait, yeah I do.  That whole crunching thing.  Well, that's done with now, at least for this week.  After that, anything goes (and probably will).  It wasn't too bad, but I'm glad it's over.

I did manage to finish off two games during it, with Half Life 2 finally getting finished and Lego Indiana Jones getting played all the way through over this past weekend.  That one actually got finished at 100%.  I think that's the first game in my life that I've gotten to 100% on, in the subset of games that give you a completion percentage, usually because of copious hidden goodies.

I got to thinking about why I felt the desire to finish this particular game to 100%, while I haven't with others.  I think there's a few factors.  First, the way that you find hiddent things is to go back through the stages a second time with abilities you didn't have the first time, giving you access to areas you had seen the first time through, but couldn't get to.  That's a mechanic that plenty of other games, like the Metroid and Zelda series, have used before.  

Where the Lego games differ is that they also tell you explicitly that there are 10 of one type of goody and 1 of another hidden in each level.  Why is that important? Because it gives you explicit goals to fulfill and a set area in which to search.  In other games, like Grand Theft Auto, they might tell you "there are 100 packages hidden in the city", and only award 100% completion for finding all of them.  How is that different? The goal in GTA is far less attainable or trackable. 

Here's an example.  Let's say I told you to find 100 hobos in all of Boston.  You go out and find 90 hobos.  Now there are only 10 left, except that you have to look through every inch of the entire city to find those last 10.  That's a pain in the ass, since those hobos could be anywhere from the Financial District to JP, or anywhere in between.  Contrast this with the Lego game.  In this case, I'd tell you that there are 100 hobos in the city, 10 in Allston (camoflauged to look like BU kids), 10 in JP, 10 on the Common, etc.  If you've found 90, you can look at how many you've found in each area to figure out where you need to look for the last 10.  

In addition to making things easier on you, you get the side benefit of having a series of small victories ("Yay, I found all the hobos on the Common!") as you progress toward the big goal of finding all Boston's hobos.  In GTA, you get the frustration of not knowing where the last 10 hobos are without the breadcrumb victories.  Of course, at the end of the day,  you have to figure out what to do with 100 hobos, and the inevitable questioning of your life's direction that brought you to your current occupation of hobo hunting.  I would suggest a bath, and then starting the reality series "America's Next Top Hobo."

In other news, kt is still buried under schoolwork.  Once she'd un-buried herself, we'll resume our regularly scheduled Sunday movie days.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When a computer is like Jersey

Kt has a Mac (we know, neither of us is happy about it).  In order to do fun things with it, like play games (something that Apple conveniently forgets about as it continually portrays PCs as boring business machines), she boots into Windows.  Two months ago, the DVD drive stopped working.  Last night I worked on fixing it.

As with so many problems in life, solving this o
ne started with checking the device manager.  Windows was reporting a problem with the driver for the DVD drive.  Here's where I made my first mistake: I believed it.  

Of course, the problem with that message is that Windows hasn't needed a driver for a CD/DVD drive since the mid-90s.   Still, because I'm dumb, I started my search for a solution with the driver.  Of course, this was fruitless.

My next step was to apply my ninja-like Google-fu, using the model number of the drive and various combinations of words like "Windows", "Mac", "shitty Mac", "not working", "not recognized", "broken", "busted", and "busted-ass".  I can't remember which of these combinations worked, but I'm pretty sure it was "Mac" and "busted-ass".  It turned out that the solution involved removing two Windows registry keys.

Now, there's a good chance that you may not be terribly familiar with the Windows registry.  This is not surprising.  The registry is like the PC's version of New Jersey.  It sits in the background, and its job is to act as a holding area for all the nitty-gritty files that New York (Windows) needs in order to do all the awesome and fun things that it does.  You know that it's there, but really it's not someplace you want to go unless something has gone terribly wrong in your life.

When you actually go into the registry (or New Jersey), you'll find that it's filled to the brim with strange files and other things, all nested within byzantine family/file structures, and they're all very hard to understand.  Thus, getting anything useful done in the registry/Jersey is very difficult.  There's the added side benefit that if you do something wrong while in the registry/Jersey, very bad things will happen, like your computer suddenly no longer working/you get whacked.

Here's an example of a registry entry that you might find while visiting: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Player\Settings.  Imagine a few thousand of these, all with the power to make your computer explode.  Hell, give that entry some big hair and a few Jaeger shots, and it'll be slurring Bon Jovi at the top of its lungs for the rest of the night.  Basically, you want to go into the registry very infrequently, do what you need to do quickly and carefully, and then return to the relative safety of Windows/New York, so that you can get back to your regular routine of killing zombies/walking fast and being fashionably disaffected.

So after discovering this solution, I made the changes, and then went to reboot Windows so that they would take effect.  Then I realized that I didn't know how the hell to convince the Mac to boot into Windows.  

When you set up a PC to dual-boot operating systems, perhaps because you're a rebel and want to have the option to run Linux so that you can feel like you're fighting the evil MS empire, but still want to be able to, you know, use your computer for things without resorting to black magic, the computer very nicely asks you which OS you'd like to use when you turn it on, assuming that since you went to the trouble of installing two OSes, you might want to use both.

In Mac-land, as I found out, you have to hold down the Option key (that's the Alt key for those of us with real keyboards) while it boots in order to get the option to choose your OS.  Apple assumes that installing Windows must have been some accident on your part, or maybe some drunken dare that went horribly wrong.  Either way, it does what it can to protect you from yourself by making the option to use the non-Apple OS a hidden and obscure process, while simultaneously making it simple enough to do with one finger so they can say "Oh, all you have to do is thing x.  See, easy!"  

Once I figured that step out, all was well, and the DVD drive was once again working, which means that kt can return to playing Sims 2, and is all set for when Sims 3 comes out.  I also thought I'd share this, which I love:

Monday, March 30, 2009

It are done

Finshed! Friday night, I got through the finale of Persona 3.  The final fight was stupidly easy, entirely due to me putting in way too many hours making my characters absolutely, completely, hideously overpowered.  Some people would say that the final fight should always be challenging.  I disagree.  If I spend the extra time improving my character beyond what's strictly necessary, I should be rewarded, and that reward should come in the form of being able to crush supreme evil beneath my bootheel like an emo-haired god.

Final tally on the game was 103 hours.  That brings me up to three games finished this year, with a total of approximately 163 hours played.  For those of you playing at home, that apparently averages out to 13.5 hours a week.  That's some scary shit.  

Of course, the gods of fate decided not to smile on me last night.  I was cleansing my palatte by playing a dopey (but pretty good) casual game.  I was about 2/3 through, with maybe three hours invested, when I ran into a crash bug that makes it impossible to continue.  It's a known issue and there's a fix, but it looks like I'll have to restart.  I like the game, but I'm not convinced I want to replay the whole thing just to work around their bug.  I do enough of that crap at work.

Speaking of, today's our first day of crunch on the Beatles game.  That means working 10am-9pm Monday through Thursday, and 10am-6pm Friday and Saturday.  This goes on for three weeks, then we have a week of regular schedule, then supposedly we're done.  Of course, crunch schedules are fluid things, so I'm pretty much planning on crunching until mid-June, and if we're done sooner, awesome.  So if you don't see much of me, or if movie days become slightly scarcer, that's why.  Pray for Mojo.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I feel like I'm in college again

Last night I stayed up until 3:30am playing a game.  I did this because I'm stupid.  I got up four hours later.  Now I'm at work, and I can't believe I have another three hours to go.  I'm doing that whole light headed, nothing makes a lot of sense thing.

Still, in college, I wrote some of my best papers when I was pulling all-nighters, and those felt a lot like this.  My most epic one was a paper I wrote on Seven Samurai.  I needed to re-watch the movie and take notes (as I do just before writing all my film papers), but I had to work until nine the night before it was due.  I got home at 9:30, took a half hour to unwind, and put the movie on at 10:00.  Of course, it's Kurosawa, so I didn't finish it until 2am.  the paper was a minimum of eight pages, and was due in eight hours.  Got that sucker done (I think it weighed in at 12 pages, because I'm stupid), and got an A.  Reading through it after, I had no recollection of writing the last five pages, but whoever did it was an excellent writer.

So now I'm on four cups of coffee, about to go get my fifth, and remembering that I'm now old, and shouldn't do that kind of thing.  So sad.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


So tomorrow, someone famous is coming into the office to see where the magic happens.  We've all been placed under strict instructions to "be cool".

I'm not sure what to make of the whole thing.  It's a strange job that I have.

I'm surrounded by assholes

I ride the bus to work.  I'm amazed on a daily basis at how completely oblivious people are.  If the seats fill up, people have to stand.  It's like there's a force field halfway down the aisle that people won't cross.  Almost every day, I see people stop at that point, and not move.  The entire back half of the aisle will be empty, and the people at the front will be falling out the door, and that jackass in the middle will not go to the end.  Sometimes, they'll even look around, assessing the situation, and then decide that they're in a good spot, and not move anyway.  Sometimes they'll move two steps down and stop again, satisfied that they've done their part to improve the world.

I swear to god, if I had a cattle prod, it would be used judiciously on these jackasses.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Networking still sucks

The other night, I was doing some mild mucking about in my PC case.  Somehow, even though it wasn't involved in the mucking, my network card decided to start acting strange.  I can sort of connect to our network, but the connection would be beat in a race by an anemic 56k connection.

Of course, this isn't so bad.  It's not like I use the internet for anything on my...oh fuck, I use the internet for everything!

Needless to say, there has been a great gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and rubbing of dirt into my hair.  Of course, troubleshooting network problems is only slightly easier than diagnosing chronic stomach pain in an angry horse.  There are no pleasant experiences when trying to figure out why something isn't working.

I have some help from the internet people, and some things I'm going to try when I get home.  If that doesn't work, I've got a 30' network cable coming tomorrow, and I'm just going to say screw it to these invisible magic waves that bring the interweb to my computer box, and go with the reliable old cable that just works, and can also be used to hang myself with when I'm unsuccessful at troubleshooting other network problems.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tolerance for bullshit falling...

I've watched a lot of shows that required some pretty serious suspension of disbelief over the years.  Full House, Home Improvement, Sliders, Quantum Leap, Knight Rider (or anything else with the Hoff), all require that you check your brain at the door.  24 falls squarely into that category.  How else can you explain these  guys running all over LA without spending entire episodes stuck in traffic.  And a black man getting elected president? What the hell is that?

Yet, in the interest of enjoying myself, we all do that whole "suspension of disbelief" thing.  That's where you ignore that Rambo has been shot 357 times and still charges into the enemy, or laugh even though you know that Will Ferrell isn't actually funny.  It lets us enjoy things that our brain says we shouldn't.  

Somewhere along the line, I stopped being able to do that.  Instead of blithely accepting this crap like I used to, now I smack my forehead and yell about it.  Kt can attest to this.  My head is actually getting kind of sore.

The two shows I've noticed this in lately are Heroes and 24, with Heroes taking the cake.  I decided I couldn't stand it anymore when I realized that I was smacking my head every five minutes.  24 has almost as frequent head smacks, but it also has frequent gunfights, torture, and general action movie manliness, while Heroes turned into The Days of Our Super-lives somewhere.

What I'm still trying to figure out is whether the shows have changed, or if my bullshit tolerance is falling.  My head says that a bunch of dudes with scuba gear and a hand drill shouldn't be able to open up a 5' hole in the roof of an underwater tunnel through 6-8" of solid rock in under five minutes without using explosives.  But is that any worse than some of the things that went on in the earlier seasons of 24? 

I feel like the writers have either run out of clever ways to geting things done, or realized that we as an audience are just really willing to accept whatever crap they put in front of us.  Either way, I find myself less and less willing to watch it.  I've got many other things that I could do with my time, things that don't ask me to swallow this kind of lazy writing.  Or maybe I'm just turning into a cranky old man.  That's entirely possible.  Hopefully I go senile soon so I can go back to enjoying TV again.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Too bad I stopped playing in Little League

So I played my first real game of MLB The Show last night.  Sorry Sox fans, but we got pounded 11-0 by the Rays.  I couldn't hit anything to save my life, and it turns out the Rays really like to hit off of Timlin.

My biggest problem was hitting.  In that I couldn't.  Which seems to be a problem when it comes to scoring in baseball.  Eventually, I did manage to get the wood on the ball (heh) fairly consistently, but kept hitting grounders out to the short stop.  I did manage to get one guy on base with one out.  Then the next batter grounded to the short stop, and they (unsurprisingly) turned the double.

Of course, if I'd stayed in little league past the point where the coaches lobbed you underhanded pitches and you didn't keep score, I might be able to tell a curveball from a slider from a circle change.  In my current adult life, I can only tell you that those pitches exist due to the game listing them on the pitch selectiom meter.  Most of my pitch detection skills boil down to "OH GOD, IT'S GONNA HIT ME IN THE FACE!"

Then I had a moment of revelation when one of the players got up to bat, and I noticed in the stats ticker that he's 24.  Holy shit, did I wind up in the wrong line of work.  Think it's too late for me to make it in the big leagues?  Maybe I can move to Canada and take up curling.  It's gotta be a real sport if it's in the Olympics. 

Strike that.  According to, the average salary for a professional curler is $13,000.   That's probably in Canadian too.  It could also be for a hair curler, the site isn't terribly detailed.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Strange how things work

I've noticed a strange pattern that happens every single time I go through a concert prep with my chorus.  Things will be going along okay, and then suddenly, usually about a month before the concert, I'll have an absolutely terrible rehearsal.  I'll screw up notes and rhythms like I've never seen the music before.  The director spends the entire night yelling at my section, and deservedly so.  I go home resolved to spend some time during the week working on the music. 

Of course, I never wind up working on it.  I suck at working on music at home, it feels too much like homework.  Then I go into the next week's rehearsal, and it always goes amazingly well, and usually keeps going well through the concert.  I've got no idea how it happens, because I didn't do anything to make it happen.  It also happens every single concert prep, usually with the exact same timing.  

Well, last week's rehearsal was about a month before the concert.  It went...poorly.  This week's, polar opposite.  I still don't have any explanation.  The way the mind work completely eludes me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It was cold last night

I know that it was cold last night because I went out to Gamestop at midnight to buy this year's baseball game.  Believe it or not, I did that because it was more convenient than getting it today.  I bet you didn't even know I liked baseball.  (I don't, but sometimes I like playing a baseball video game.  Just like sometimes I watch cooking shows.)  My early impressions are that buying a game at midnight is still dumb, because when you get home, you're too tired to play it.  But at least I don't have to make a trip today.

And we wonder why they hate us

PC games used to be very popular.  Now, they're the red-headed stepchild of the gaming world, unless your game happens to be called The Sims, Peggle, Bejeweled, or World of Warcraft.  It's very sad, but not entirely surprising.  Last night, I got a harsh reminder of why they're in the position they're in.

Frankly, they're just not friendly.  If something about them doesn't work, you're more or less on your own to figure out why that is.  Technical support is, by and large, useless.  Compounding that, there's approximately ten hojillion things that can go wrong with a computer game.  Between the countless different combinations of hardware a computer might have, all the programs and settings, device driver versions, internet connection settings, and on and on, frankly, it's amazing anything works at all.

PC games have gotten many times friendlier than they were in the past.  Back in the day, you had to run them through DOS, which was its own barrier to entry.  It wasn't uncommon to need to make a boot disk for individual games that was tailored to free up the proper amount of high and low RAM (bet you didn't know there were two kinds, huh?).  Any trouble shooting had to be done without the aid of the internet.  Things were very complicated.

These days, things are much, much simpler.  However, when something goes wrong, it's frequently no easier to fix.  Last night, what I thought was going to be a simple installation of a game turned into a two hour troubleshooting process.  The root cause? Someone logged into their account on my PC.  This is a perfectly ordinary process for that service, but somehow it screwed something up that hosed a vital bit on my system.  It was an easy (if annoying) fix, but a user with less experience might not have figured it out, wrongly blamed the game, and tried to return it.

Of course, that would've failed.  We're at the point where if you open a game, movie, CD, box of ceral, it's yours, and the stores will only give you the same thing back.  That's the unfortunate reality of retail today.  Except that if a game just won't work on your computer (and that occasionally happens), you're screwed.  

All this adds up to it's just easier to game on consoles.  Since there's so many fewer options on consoles, shit just works.  If it doesn't work, it usually means something is broken.  Like so many things, a car analogy can illustrate the difference between console gaming and PC gaming. 

Console gaming is like driving a Camry.  You buy a Camry because you want a car that drives, and only requires you putting in gas and occasionally taking it to the mechanic.  You don't care what goes on under the hood, as long as it goes vroom when you turn it on.  PC gaming is like driving a rebuilt '67 Chevy.  That you restored by yourself.  With some modifications.  You love popping the hood and getting your hands dirty.  If you can spend two days fiddling with it and get an extra 2 HP out of it, that's awesome.  Something going wrong is a chance to dig inside and figure it out, it's an adventure.  At the end of the day, it takes more work, but you wind up with something that's more your own, and will get you places with more style than the Camry.

There's a reason there are more Camrys on the road than rebuilt '67 Chevys.  It's not a bad thing, it just is.  Sure, sometimes I like monkeying in the guts of my computer and figuring shit out.  But sometimes I just want to go to the store and get some ice cream.  That's when I'm hopping in my Camry.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another step down the road

Yesterday, I bought the Dungeons and Dragons starter set.  Because I wasn't a big enough geek before.

Not that this is entirely unprescendented.  Back in the day, I ran a game of basic D&D for my brother and some friends.  I'm talking basic D&D when there used to be a distinction between that and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Like, we were all in grade school.  I remember reading the Dungeon Master's Guide on the bus.  No wonder I got picked on.  

That group didn't last very long.  The typical exchange went like this:

Me: You step into the room.  Four goblins stand at the far end, snarling and waving their swords.  What do you do?

The Fighter: I search for treasure.

Me: What?

Fighter: I search for treasure.

Me: Okay, you don't find any.  The first goblin hits you for three damage. 

Fighter: Damn.

Me: Okay, next?

Thief: I hide in the shadows and search for treasure.

Me: Fine.  Owing to it being so dark in those shadows, you don't find any.  While looking, the goblin hits the wizard for five damage.  He has two hit points left.  Next?

Wizard: I search for treasure.  


So ideally, I want to start a game with other people who haven't played before so that my suckiness as a DM isn't immediately apparent, and so that we all get to learn about the basic DM tricks together.  If it works out, maybe we can bring in some more experienced folks later.  

So who wants to geek out with me? I swear it'll be fun!