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Animated Toupee's blog

12:44 AM on 09.10.2009

Browser Tab Bar FAVICONIZED.

I've been using Windows 7 full-time since around December, and I particularly adore the new taskbar - turning the basic concept of it into a much more functional, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing interface tool. See, I would always have tons and tons of programs open, and hardly make head or tail of what they were, so relying on established icons and sensible grouping of windows instead of long text strings for each program with a tiny icon is a GREAT idea, I think.

(I'm not going to get into whether it's a ripoff of the OSX dock. They are more similar than ever, but still different. I prefer 7's taskbar.)

Anyway, ever since I began using Firefox (back then, Firebird! Remember that?) I've had a problem with having waaay too many tabs in my internet browser for my own good. I still do. It gets really bad when I'm doing a report for school; I would easily have 40, 50, or more tabs open. It just gets out of control.

So after I had been using the Win7 taskbar for, gosh, maybe a week, I got an idea: why not make Firefox group tabs together JUST like that? Tons of sites already have memorable, recognizable favicons, so why not just use them?

I blogged about this (twice, actually) on a site that nobody ever read, and I would have just given up, but in case anybody is still reading, I've managed to use Stylish and an add-on called FaviconizeTab to create something similar to what I proposed nine months ago.

That's actually how many tabs I had open before I fairly innocently decided to take a screenshot and bring this up again. You know what? That's a real pain in the ass to manage when you have to scroll through like three lines to see them all. I know. Granted, right then I was searching for drivers for my new eeePC, but this is the kinda shit I do! I use a lot of tabs at once!

The FaviconizeTab add-on for Firefox will actually do pretty much just what that screenshot shows, especially if you set its filter to a * wildcard to make all tabs do that. You can specify specific sites, or just right-click a tab and faviconize it. Perhaps you consistently have the same six sites open - just faviconize 'em and make sure Firefox reloads your sessions!

If you want to "Windows-7-ize" them a bit (*cough* really just enlarge them *cough*), you can use Stylish with this code. I think I had to tweak the parameters slightly.

Granted, it doesn't really behave like a Windows 7 taskbar; it certainly doesn't group sites or tier them in any similar way, and it actually can be annoying when you have like four Destructoids open. But hey! It's helping me cope.

One step at a time...   read

3:19 PM on 09.04.2009

Resistance 2: Mere Adequacy = AAA Game?

I just don't get it. Granted, there are some pretty cool weapons in Resistance 2, and lots of giant monsters, big levels, and uh, online play. Yet all of these aspects are so hampered by the core gameplay, the lost potential just saddens me.

A forewarning: I didn't play the whole game. Don't kill me. I only have impressions more than complete observations, and mostly from the beginning and end of the game, and co-op. We only got our PlayStation 3 last week, and I can't compare this to its predecessor or any other FPS titles on the system right now.

Now don't get me wrong, the weapons are pretty cool: the sniper rifle with secondary "bullet-time" function, the gun that shoots through walls, the gun that tags an enemy and homes the rest of your clip on it, and the medic gun that gives you energy and recharges your comrades' energy are all nifty and I appreciate that.

But the level design, while attractive at times (particularly the gas station area and the bog/swamp area towards the end) is incredibly deceiving. There's constantly a waypoint marker telling you where to go. You don't really have any other options but to go towards it, and then to another, and another. And along the way there will be enemies that have pretty incredible aim and the balls to charge right at you.

And you will die, a lot, because you can't take much damage, and many areas are just traps waiting to spring. Invisible enemies, bullets that shoot through walls with reckless abandon, melee attacks from aliens that kill you instantly. There are lots of checkpoints, and you will be utilizing them, but it just ... isn't ... fun. What's fun about running into an area, getting slaughtered, going back to the checkpoint and doing it again, with more caution?

It doesn't really help, in my opinion, that there's no health bar. The first game I remember doing this is the game adaptation of Peter Jackson's King Kong, but that game tried to eschew any sense of a HUD to create a more cinematic style experience. (And it actually had Michel Ancel at the helm, and was kind of a neat game.) But this game already has an ammunition display, a waypoint marker, and other information - why the hell NOT a health meter?

Instead it's all peek out from a wall, or place a shield, and shoot as much as you can safely, and retreat, and hope you don't get swamped in creatures. Your teammates suck, and enemies ignore them anyway. And that appears to be the gameplay. Over and over and over. There are no interesting constraints placed upon you; there are no real interesting enemies to fight.

As for the giant monsters, the few that I saw required no more thinking than knowing where to acquire a rocket launcher or other similarly powerful explosive. In contrast with Half-Life 2: Episode 2, you're encouraged to use the Strider killing device (the proper name of which I can't remember) - you know, where you throw it at the Strider's head (a tiny traget), hope it sticks, and then blast it with a pistol and watch as its stilt-like legs fall apart.

Let's compare the final battles of HL2:E2 and R2. (Spoilers!)

Half Life pits you against like, a dozen Striders, on a big-ass forested battlefield, and you have to keep them from reaching a certain point. You have a car, a number of the Strider-killing devices, and that's about it. You have to anticipate from which direction they're coming and not let one breach your line of defense. Maybe you try and round a couple of them up. Maybe you don't. But that's not all. Then there are the reinforcements, the FAST and deadly Hunters, which require a completely different strategy to kill - there's no standing still allowed if you want to live, you're going to have to strafe quickly from side to side and take the fuckers out before they get you, while still not letting the Striders get away. It is hard. But it is engaging, it is fun, it is empowering, and when it is over, it is incredibly satisfying. Then there is some more interactive visual storytelling at the resolution of the game.

Resistance 2: You wander into an EXTREMELY Halo-esque spaceship environment, doing exactly what you've been doing: take cover and kill, take cover and kill, until you finally get into the final chamber, which is basically a linear walkway with some kind of armory-type structures littered along it. Don't worry, you won't get lost, there's waypoints telling you exactly which way to go! And don't worry as the big boss tries to claw at you, because he won't hit you, he's merely tearing apart the bunkers and clearing a path for you to progress. Then you finally get to the last section, and oh! Don't worry about figuring out what to do, or having any creative input, and certainly don't worry about any emergent gameplay, because the waypoint markers point out exactly which glowing orb you need to hit to kill the boss. Just don't get slashed and keep running in a circle.

Seriously. Then you run away from the area with a 4 minute countdown ticking, the base blows up, your character alludes to a sequel, and your teammate shoots you in the head. That's it. The end. Roll credits.

I wish I was kidding but I'll just leave it there. I don't know if you were as shocked or disappointed as me, but I guess that's what you get with merely adequate gameplay.

(P.S. I was going to write about the co-op, but I'm sure it's been written about plenty before; the leveling-up is a neat concept but yet another wasted opportunity because it takes SOOOO long to level-up and the gameplay is just plain monotonous. Fuck this game.)   read

12:40 AM on 07.28.2009

Logic in Cannabis Law? ... Still waiting.

I just need to share the latest in The Man's gung-ho conquest to beat down the little guy who likes to smoke some pot. At whatever level of government, in this case at the state level (New Jersey's, specifically) there continues to be intolerant bastards with an illogical hate for marijuana, in contrast to the rather socially acceptable alcohol.

Guy has 14 marijuana plants in his backyard. Helicopter spots it, tells the state cops. Going on that (and as far as the article tells) nothing else, the fuzz "found well-worn trails leading to the plants, some as tall as 6 feet. Authorities also found Miracle-Gro in a shed and psilocybin mushrooms and bags of processed marijuana in the dwelling, according to court papers."

Okay, lemme get this straight. They have no reason to investigate this guy besides a tip from a peeping tom helicopter. What gives them the right to investigate this further in the first place? If they had no reasonable "leads" that this was the guy fueling the pot economy in NJ, they SHOULDN'T be able to put this guy in court against twenty years.

Twenty years.


That's compounded with the fact that the guy - gee, I forgot to mention - has multiple sclerosis.

New Jersey is currently in line to be the 14th state to implement medical marijuana laws, too. Huh.

As far as the judge is concerned, using a drug commonly known to ease the symptoms of terrible diseases like, say, multiple sclerosis, is absolutely nothing worthy of being cited to a court. OF BEING CITED TO A COURT? A drug that is recently undergoing a well funded study that has high hopes of finding positive benefits to its use.

The judge has this to say:
"If medical marijuana use is to be recognized as an exemption to our criminal law, the legislative process must produce that result. This court will not do so."

If the guy was just a healthy, regular dude, I would still feel bad for him, up against twenty years. Sure, a guy like that would probably sell to close friends and maybe make a little bit of money. But a guy with multiple sclerosis? Growing pot in his backyard with Miracle Grow?

So, will this guy, John Wilson, be processed without a trial that might give the guy a break for, heaven forbid, having a fair reason to break the law? Slipped under the radar a couple of years before NJ breaks into the medical marijuana fold? As easy to forget as his name? Or could he become a poster child for a movement in accepting cannabis and really put politician's feet on the fire and maybe, just maybe, get real lucky?

More people need to know.

And big deal, he had a bag of shrooms.   read

10:46 PM on 07.26.2009

M-Y-O (Make Your Own) Cigarettes

The internet excites me so.

As a kid, I was an avid Nintendo Power fan. One time, when I was probably in sixth grade and in the midst of being a Pokemon fiend (the first kid at my school to introduce Pokemon cards - thanks NP!), my family spent a few days in Maryland with my uncle's family, and I bonded with one cousin I never see often over that and Command & Conquer. Which I had never played before. We rented it, and played the shit out of it. To be honest, I had never really played an RTS like that, and C&C on Nintendo 64 introduced me to a simply fascinating style of gameplay.

I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I remember on the way home I wanted to absorb as much information about that game as I could. My greatest urge was to head straight to my collection of Nintendo Powers and pull out the issue that I knew had Commander & Conquer coverage on. I certainly did that, and then bought the game, and then got sucked into the beauty of StarCraft.

Right. How does this involve cigarettes again?

It's not a great habit, but due to, well, the people I have chosen to surround myself with are smokers. Inevitably, cigarettes made their way to be a daily purchasing habit. Damn interesting people. Damn girls.

I've very recently taken up making my own cigarettes, for a number of reasons: I expected it to be a lot more inexpensive than prepackaged smokes, I didn't really like the feeling of giving so much money to Camel or who be it on a very regular basis, and, well, it sounded kind of fun and exciting.

I headed to a local headshop to see if they had cigarette machines. I was in luck. The girl immediately said, "Nobody comes in here looking for them cause they don't know we sell them. I'll give you 25% off for it."

An offer I couldn't refuse, and I also grabbed a box of 250 Laramie filtered cig tubes for $2.50. The tobacco: "Uh, it's really expensive here... $40 for this can of Bugler." Damn. I'll check Snappy's then.

$40? Seemed a lot higher than what I figured. I got off with the machine, an EXP1000, for just over $20, but I could have sworn cans of tobacco like that were around ten bucks. Turns out there's a new tax on rolling tobacco that just began this summer. It raises the tax from a dollar-something per pound to over twenty!

I got a 6 oz can of Zig Zag's full flavor blend ($32 at Snappy's) but as I made the purchase (still, I assured myself, cheaper than a pack a day for a week) I vowed to immediately go home and get on the internet and research this matter further!

It's funny, because if this had happened and the internet hadn't existed, I wouldn't have found this community of MYO Enthusiasts all swarming together on some forum. I wouldn't have discovered the wide variety of blends available, the uniqueness of filter tubes, or the intricacies of the EXP1000 I bought. I wouldn't have found a 16oz (1 pound!) bag of "The Good Stuff" tobacco for $23! THAT is a fairly significant price difference!

It's actually had an interesting effect on my mentality of smoking. I seem to not be having a constant urge to light a smoke whenever someone else does. It's not hard to make a smoke, and I'm extremely happy with the quality of the final product. But the mere act of putting effort into making one: estimating the proper amount of tobbaco to load, compressing it into a chamber with your fingers, aligning a filter tube and locking the chamber into place, sliding the spoon full well into the tube and then releasing quickly. It's almost cathartic in a way - "At least I made this thing that will make me less healthy!" and it's less enticing to chain-smoke when bored because I actually have to make each one. I think I've moved down from a solid 20 cancer sticks a day to maybe 12 or so, without even trying.

Because I'm waiting on UPS (their $8 shipping sucks ass and all online retailers seem to exclusively use them) for my goods to arrive, and my 6oz can finally went dry (a solid nine days later) I ended up buying a pack of trusty Camel Wides, and I'm really not enjoying them so much. The mere act of them being on my desk does not make me want one all the time. Instead I actually find myself rolling the few tubes I have left with another small package of Zig Zag I picked up to tide myself over instead.

I don't know if there was a point in all of this, just a few observations. All I know is I feel enthusiastic about making my own smokes and I'm glad the internet exists to help me out.

I'm wondering if there are any other MYO or RYO'ers on Dtoid?   read

3:23 PM on 07.25.2009

Memoir of an Ex-"Professional" Reviewer

Sometime in 2002, I became a "professional" video game reviewer.

More specifically, I didn't really get paid, but I did get to keep lots of free games. My reviews were published on websites more popular than my own for a wider audience and my scores influenced aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and GameRankings. I also got occasional swag like t-shirts and, depending on how generous the editors were feeling come Christmas, maybe a $50 gift card.

Although it wasn't a real income in any way (it certainly didn't displace my minimum wage job), the goods I got to keep were handy for bartering. I reserved the poor trade-in rates of Electronics Boutique for games that absolutely nobody wanted, and was usually able to trade games "other people would want" for games I really wanted. Of course I kept the really good ones, few and far between as they came.

At first, I didn't mind that the vast majority of games were either "total crap," "woefully average," or the somewhat elusive games "other people would want," but at least I could bear through the latter and crank out a review and get rid of the thing for something more worthwhile. The "total crap" was almost fun to play because of the potential for making fun of them in a hearty review.

The "woefully average" games were really the problem. These were games so basic, so merely competent, so uninspired and this-genre-as-usual affairs, that you would begin playing them for possibly twenty minutes, say "I get the idea," and proceed to forget about them for a week. (Expected turnaround was three days; with these, that didn't always happen.) By the time I would start to feel a little guilty about not having my review done, I might google a sampling of reviews, note their observations, play the game for perhaps another twenty minutes, and attempt to write 2,000 words on something I couldn't care less about.

Sometimes obscure games like weren't even recognized by EB, or were worth as little as $1-$3. Since nobody else wanted them - let alone had even heard of most of them - I let them go for whatever I could get.

Sometimes games weren't retail copies at all, especially the PC games. They often came on burnt CD - exactly from where I don't know; sometimes the sharpie on the discs were from my editor, sometimes they had crappy printed CD sized stickers on them. Either way, you couldn't get squat for them. I'm sure many of them I still have.

Take a look at the list of games I reviewed for just before I had had enough: Blitzkrieg 2, Mall Tycoon 3, Marine Park Empire, Pac-Man World 3, Crash Tag Team Racing, America's Army: Rise of a Soldier, TMNT 3: Mutant Nightmare... needless to say, the catalog of games I received did NOT reflect the site's name.

I also had the pleasure of doing previews for the same kind of crap: COPS 2170: The Power of Law, Scrapland, Virtual Skipper 3... as with the PC reviews, I was expected to take an assortment of screenshots for each, often with very uncooperative software.

Terrible games. Yes, I was lucky enough to scoop up Psychonauts, F.E.A.R., Beyond Good & Evil, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Otogi, and a few other gems. Worthplaying put up a list on their FTP server of available titles, which was usually crap, and GameZone (the other site) had a more efficient ranking system of games expected to come out that month, with the most wanted games being rotated by the reviewing crew.

That's not to say I never took advantage of the system. Sometimes I would get the same game from both websites, "return" one game still in shrink wrap to Wal-Mart for full price, and try and come up with two different reviews.

Problem was I was not patient enough to write two different reviews for each site. More often than not when this happened they both got the same exact thing. I feel kind of bad about that. And if I was being particularly late with reviews of some crap, I might keep the editors on my good side by giving them a review I wrote for the other site... "Sorry, I'm still working on Scooby Doo 2: Monster's Unleashed -- but will this review of Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter[i] tide you over? :)"

I do feel bad about that. And surely it was only a matter of time before they figured it out. And they did. But I was sick and tired of the crap selection of games and screenshots and deadlines by then, so it was an easy out.

Since then I've mostly relegated any 'reviewing' to forum posts, unread and soon abandoned blogs, and a shortlived (mostly retro oriented) podcast. But upon digging my way to Destructoid more than once lately, and finding the video content quite compelling, as well as the community surrounding it, I think maybe I have found a catalyst to ... enjoy?!? writing about games again.

Granted, I'm not planning on getting any free things for doing it, but that's okay by me. I have some things to say about games. I have some thoughts on older games, observations of recent games, and hope for games of the future. More to come.   read

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