Sunday, October 19, 2008

Not dead

Yes, I realize it's been weeks since my last blog post. No, I'm not dead. I apologize profusely for the lack up updates, but school has been keeping me extremely busy. In case you don't believe me, I'll throw some facts your way: just last week, I had three mid-terms and a paper due. This week, I have a 50-point assignment to turn in and another paper due next week. So yeah, don't expect too many blog updates for awhile, but I'll definitely be making more of an effort to blog more regularly than I have the past few weeks.

Besides school, another thing keeping me busy has been the videogame Dead Space. I went to Hollywood Video to rent it on Friday, but I didn't realize that they charged an arm and a leg for a measly rental. Faced with this travesty, I did what any money-grubbing frugal person would do: spend even MORE money and outright BUY the damn thing. So, $60 lighter, I took home my shrinkwrapped copy of the game. I normally never buy a game without trying it first, but Dead Space had been getting good/very good reviews, so I decided that my odds were fair enough. I'll write a more detailed analysis/review of the game when I finish it, but here are some general first impressions.

First off, this game just oozes with atmosphere. Dead Space sets you in the shoes of engineer Isaac Clark, sent with his team to examine the derelict mining station Ishimura. When you first approach the station, it's obvious that something has gone terribly wrong, and it's up to you to find out what happened. Everything about the game is very polished, particularly the sound design. The space station groans, creeks, and sighs like a giant industrial haunted house. Just think of a submarine in space and you'll get the general idea. It's actually reminded me a lot of BioShock's sound design. Trickling water, bangs and noises in the distance. Things like that.

Dead Space and BioShock also share a similar setting: an abandoned and mysterious colony where something horrible has happened. Along with the setting, another similarity BioShock and Dead Space share is their mode of storytelling. Instead of being told story elements by NPCs or through cutscenes, Dead Space uses text logs and voice diaries to inform the player of what happened aboard the Ishimura. Although story isn't the game's strong suit, it's interesting enough, but impatient gamers can skip as much of the story as they please. (WHAT?! I have to READ in this game? THIS IS AN INJUSTICE OF GREAT PROPORTIONS!)

As of right now, I'm in Chapter Five, so I figure I'm about halfway through the game. As I feared, the beginning of the game is scary enough, but the tension quickly fades as you become more powerful and the necromorphs become less mysterious. They're frightening enough as you catch brief glimpses of them early in the game, but once you actually see them in their glory, they become a little silly. And I can only fight the same monster so many times before I begin to grow weary. Still, it isn't stopping me from enjoying the game.

Like I said, I'll review the game once I finish it, so for now, I'll just leave it at that. I didn't mean to write so much; I just wanted to let people know that I haven't forgotten about my dear ol' brog. So forgive my spelling mistakes and occasionally bad syntax in this post, I wrote it in one go without reviewing it for mistakes.

Until next time (which will be sooner, I promise).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Breaking News: American VP candidate has IQ of 40

Alright, listen up. I'm not a very political guy. I don't keep up with politics, I couldn't tell you the specifics of the electoral college, and I personally think that politicians are shady characters. But one thing about the upcoming election has piqued my interest (as well as everyone else's): the impossibly dumb Sarah Palin.

A few weeks ago, the Republican presidential nominee John McCain blew the collective mind of America when he announced his vice-presidential running mate: Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. You may recognize Sarah from her role on King of the Hill, in which she lent her likeness to Peggy Hill. Besides this small trivial fact, however, most Americans know Sarah, really. She was the mayor of Alaska's second-largest city (almost 9,000 people!), but besides that, does anyone really know anything about her?

Well, Katie Couric decided that she wanted to know more about this woman, so she bit the bullet and interviewed Palin. And here's what happened:

Can you believe it? No, this wasn't a sketch for Saturday Night Live (SNL hasn't been this funny in years), nor was it a result of clever editing. This is Sarah Palin, the VICE PRESIDENTIAL nominee for the Republican party. If McCain is elected, this woman will be second-in-command of this country, and, if anything unfortunate happens to McCain that causes him to cede the presidency, Sarah Palin will be our new commander-in-chief. What a scary thought, yeah? I mean, she'll be in charge our nuclear codes, yet she can't even name a newspaper that she reads (for extra laughs, check out Couric's "what have I gotten myself into" face at :34. Classic).

But let's get back to the first video. Palin's words are even more absurd when written out. I mean, just re-read her response to Couric's question:
"Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country - Russia - and, on our other side, the land, uh, boundary that we have with, uh, Canada.'s funny that a comment like that was, uh, kind a made to , uh...charac- I dunno, y'know?"
Okay, moving on, we see that...wait, what? WHAT? What in the hell was she trying to say? Palin's response to the question was completely and utterly incoherent, a simple string of words clumisly put together and blurted out before her brain had the chance to stop her mouth from opening . I dare you to repeat this quote out loud among a group of people. If you do, watch as people's faces twist and contort into a combination of horror, pity, and ridicule. I don't think I'm being inappropriate, here, but this woman is daft.

It's looking more and more like John McCain's VP application looked like this:

1. Are you a woman?
2. What are you doing the next four years?

You know what? Screw it. Let these links speak for themselves. Thank you, Gaf.

The Unofficial List of Evidence That Sarah Palin is the Worst VP Pick Ever

She can't name any supreme court cases aside from Roe v. Wade
She reads every newspaper, but can't name any of them
Would counsel a raped 15 year old to birth the child
Does not think global warming is a manmade problem
Thinks homosexuality is a choice
Participated in a Miss Alaska competition...and didn't even win
She doesn't know what the Bush Doctrine is
She...supports Hamas?
Is upset that they don't tag the oil molecules to be tracked
Is an expert on Russian foreign policy because she's closer to Russia than you are
She didn't want that Bridge to Nowhere...but she did before, but not now!
Thinks community organizers have no worthwhile responsibilities
Matt Damon is not sure if she thinks dinosaurs existed 4000 years ago
Thinks she can ban books from libraries

The Unofficial List of Evidence That Sarah Palin is the Best VP Pick Ever

She is immune to witches

No more politics on my brog from here on out. I promise (just as long as McCain loses the election, that is).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Xbox 360 woes

Well, it's finally happened. My Xbox 360 red-ringed this past weekend. If you don't know what that means, I suggest leaving your cave on the moon and catching a plane to three years ago.

Truthfully, I can't say that the problem was completely unexpected. The problem is so widespead it has its own name and acronym, for crying out loud! It's like Microsoft's sequel to the "Blue Screen of Death," only on consoles and a different color. The Red Ring of Death is so ubiquitous it isn't a matter of if your console will break, it's a matter of when. I'm pretty sure I read that houseflies generally live longer and more productive lives than most 360s, and I believe it.

Anyway, I had been getting the dreaded red lights periodically over the past few weeks, so I knew my console was entering its death throes. I just wish it had picked a better time to kick the bucket. Like, anytime within the last six months, for God's sake. After all, my most-played 360 game this past summer was "Xbox 360 Dashboard," an awesome game similar to Windows Desktop. Despite its fantastic gameplay (giving bad feedback has never felt more satisfying!), I think I could've gone without it for a few weeks should my 360 have died during that time. Instead, like a little fiend, my 360 decided to bite the dust after I discovered the greatest game on the system: Call of Duty 4. Great timing.

So, after receiving the "coffin" from Microsoft, I sent the overworked piece of machinery on a jolly journey down to a Texan repair center. Fun fact: in Texas, the only thing that outnumbers dead Xbox 360s is dead criminals. Seriously, those guys love executing people. If you have to commit a crime, don't do it in Texas. In any case, I guess it's fitting that all these dead consoles are being sent to the state with the highest number of executions since 1976.

Oh well. I guess I should grateful. I'm still within Microsoft's three-year warranty plan, and the stupid console was scratching discs, so hopefully I'll get a brand new 360 back. Then I could almost forgive MS for their incredibly shoddy hardware. No, wait, scratch that. Screw those guys.

Now if only I could get into the LittleBigPlanet beta on PS3, I would be a happy camper.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heroes season three!

In case you haven't been following Heroes lately (and who could blame you if you haven't?), I'm here to let you know that the third season of this show premieres tonight! The most popular show of 2006 returns with a laugh-filled two-hour episode. Don't let the atrocious second season dissuade you from tuning in, just think of all the unintentional comedy you might miss out on! Witness supremely powerful characters make mindbogglingly stupid decisions! Act like you're concerned for people who can heal any wound, time travel, and move things with their minds! I mean, c'mon, they're so vulnerable and defenseless, right?

Don't miss out on the hilarity!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Walking With Dinosaurs

This weekend, I headed up to the Save Mart Center to watch a showing of Walking With Dinosaurs. The show had been getting a lot of buzz, and I was interested in seeing how exactly it worked, so on Friday I purchased three tickets for Saturday at 11:00AM. The tickets weren't exactly cheap ($33 a pop), but who knows when I'd be able to see this show again, right? So, 10 minutes later (and $100 bucks lighter), I walked away with three glorious tickets.

The next day, I headed up to the show with my family. We got there with a couple of minutes to spare, and quickly found our seats. The show began right on time. A man walked on to the floor, and introduced himself as a paleontologist who will take us on a fantastic journey back to the time of dinosaurs (the show was, after all, initially positioned as "edutainment." More on that later). After speaking for a few minutes, the audience was introduced to the first dinosaur, the Utahraptor.

I have to admit, even I was impressed as the raptor was shown. In fact, the entire audience let out a collective gasp of amazement, followed quickly by a lot flash photography that didn't stop until the end of the show (so much for the "no pictures" rule, eh?). The raptor was life-size, as far as I could tell (it was a little tough to accurately gauge its height at the angle I was sitting), and moved with amazing fluidity. With binoculars, I was able to look at the creature's finer details. The eyes blinked, the mouth opened, and the skin looked amazingly real. Even though it was just a man in a suit (aside from the amimatronics in the head and tail), it was probably the most impressive thing there, and that's saying a lot, because the other dinosaurs were amazing as well.

After the raptors left, the host introduced some bigger dinosaurs. As far as I could tell, the following were completely animatronic. All the larger dinos had a cross-like base for support, with the legs on either side moving as they were walking. The base may look a bit intrusive at first, but after awhile you just stop noticing it and become fully immersed in the show. First up was a stegosaurus, the dinosaur with plate-like ridges along its back and a spiky tail used for defense. Other dinos that were in the show (and equally impressive) were torosaurus (obviously a very close relative to the triceratops), brachiosaurus, allosaurus, and some more, including the titular T-rex, which was saved for the finale. All of the dinos were amazingly detailed. With binoculars, you could even see cuts and scars on some of them.

Although the show is called Walking With Dinosaurs, people weren't allowed to actually, y'know, walk with them, but that's to be expected, obviously. Instead, the audience witness the dinosaurs interacting with each other in various ways, such as scavenging for food and fighting each other. The fighting was more of a suggestion than full-out conflict, but I can understand the creators not wanting to destroy the expensive animatronics.

All in all, I have to say that the show was more than worth the $30 per ticket. As I mentioned earlier, the show is definitely more entertainment than educational; the host only briefly mentioned the time periods we were in, and they mostly served as a reason to show more dinosaurs. Nevertheless, the show was immensely entertaining and brought out the little kid in me. Definitely check out the show if you get the chance. I can't recommend it enough.

Here's a quick peak to what the show looks like. Like I said, this show needs to be seen firsthand to get the full experience, so if you're interested in seeing this show at all, DO IT! It's something you'll never forget and something that a video could never do justice. This isn't my video, but I think it serves as a fair representation of just how awesome Walking With Dinosaurs really is.

Late to the Party: Call of Duty 4

With their latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise, developer Infinity Ward has left behind the confines of World War II and entered the realm of modern warfare. Gone are the Nazis, the invasion of Normandy, and the battle of Stalingrad that we all know so well, replaced by current settings and familiar locations. It may be jarring to the gamer traditionally used to WWII, but by jumping 60 years into the future, Infinity Ward has effectively given new life to their acclaimed franchise.

Setting a war game in modern times opens up a can of worms for developers. The game needs to be entertaining and fun, but also respectful and mindful of the issues facing soldiers on the frontlines in real wars. Call of Duty 4 manages to straddle the fine line between staying true to currents events without completely romanticizing war (key word completely), though the not-so-fictional setting may prove to be too controversial to some. The premise of Call of Duty 4 is loosely based on several current political situations in the Middle East and Russia. A Soviet Union sympathizer and a Middle Eastern terrorist leader conspire to perform a coup in a nameless Middle Eastern nation (apparently Infinity Ward themselves felt pressured to not name the nation, even though it's obviously Saudi Arabia), which quickly snowballs into an world-threatening situation. The result is a plot more akin to the last season of 24 than current headlines, but it serves its job well and sets the stage for what's to come.

Like the previous Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare sets players in the shoes of multiple characters on different fronts of separate, yet related, conflicts. You begin the game as a new member of the British SAS, and your first mission is to infiltrate a cargo ship carrying a nuclear device. Soon after, you're playing as Sergeant Paul Jackson of the US Marine Corps, fighting terrorists in the post-coup nameless Middle Eastern country. Throughout the game, you'll switch between these two characters (as well as some others) in separate campaigns that eventually overlap and spiral together. This method of storytelling is nothing new for Call of Duty veterans, but the missions are wonderfully varied and set the game apart from previous entries in the series (as well as other "realistic" shooters). You'll perform everything from silent and stealthy sniper missions to balls-to-the-wall shoot-whatever-moves shooting galleries, and you'll be taken to several locations across the world.

Call of Duty 4 is a globetrotting experience. In one moment, you'll be fighting in the intimate close-quarters of a cargo ship, the next, you'll be running through a field dodging helicopter fire and tank shells in Eastern Europe. The wide range of locations prevents a tired, been-there-done-that feeling from occurring. One particular example happens near the middle of the game. Fresh from leading your SAS squad through an enemy-infested countryside amidst deafening gunfire and well-placed grenades, you're immediately placed in the relative comfort and safety of an AC-130 gunship, miles above the battlefield, nonchalantly clearing a path for the squad you were just in. The chatter of your gunship crew and the heat-scope you peer through completely remove you from the chaotic battles you were just fighting. It's the superbly designed and well-paced missions like these which set this game apart from other FPSs on the market today, though there is another, more obvious reason why the game continues to be so popular: online.

Even though great care was taken in the single-player experience, multiplayer is where Call of Duty 4 truly shines. The game uses a system in which you unlock more weapons the longer and better you play. Each weapon has multiple customizable parts to it. Want an underslung grenade-launcher attachment on your assault rifle? Or would you prefer a silencer so you can keep a low-profile? The choice is yours, and with dozens of guns to choose from, there's an almost endless possibility of weapons to suit your playing style. The customizable options carry over to your online character, as well. You can assign up to three "perks," basically physical modifications, to each custom class you create. The perks range from extra, albeit very limited, supply of tertiary weapons to abilities such as taking out your pistol when you "die," allowing you to kill as many enemies as you can before you finally succumb to your injuries. With the combination of perks and customizable weapons, you can easily create a class ideally suited for your specific playing style. In-game achievements, labeled "challenges," even further supplement the addictive online game. Good luck breaking the habit.

With a silky-smooth frame-rate that rarely dips under 60, thrilling single-player campaign, and an incredibly robust multiplayer, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of, if not the, best gaming experience you can get for $60.

Bottom line: buy it now!