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So here I was discussing with my friend Alan about how awesome Magic used to be back in the day. And he makes mention that we could just play Magic: The Gathering Online free of charge using some pre-made decks or something like that. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Relive a part of my earlier years for no cost whatsoever other than some hard drive space? Sure, i'll bite.

Fast forward to just now. I finally brought myself to download the client (I was worried that my Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4ghz processor wasn't good enough for the Pentium II 333Mhz requirement and that my 1440x900 monitor would be incapable of displaying 800x600 at 'high color') and I was treated to something most companies never think to do: entertain you while you install. Normally I would be able to blow through an installation pretty quickly, for larger games I would go make myself a sandwich (and I make a tasty roast beef sandwich) but in this case I was treated to a game before I even installed my game!

The name of the game is Magic Online Install/Update Agent. The premise is simple. You are given a cute window featuring this magical dragon and you are asked to choose your install path before clicking the green checkmark of awesomeness to proceed to your game. The interface is also simple, there is a box in the center of the game box that tells you what file it is downloading and what percentage of this file it downloaded. Beneath this you have a status bar that shows you your overall progress made. It begins to install a few files when the game officially beings.

A window pops up informing you that your connection has been lost while it was attempting to download a particular file. It gives you the choice of either Mr. Green Checkmark or the Ghostbusters logo. As much as I love Ghostbusters, I knew this would cancel my installation and I wanted this game installed so I clicked my old friend Green Checkmark. About 10% later, this same window popped up again, but the window with the checkmark had moved. So I moved my mouse over and clicked it, and not but 1% later it came up again, in a new home at the other side of the window. So again, I move my mouse to click it and it goes another percent and the window comes up yet again, but in a new location. I tried hitting enter but it would not accept that as apparently that would be cheating. As the percentage ramped up and up these windows became more frequent to the point where I broke a sweat trying to keep up. Like a demented game of Simon Says, this window continued to move all around.

This game was rather entertaining, and I have to give it to the creators of this fine game for giving me something to do while I was installing their fine piece of software. Some people just give you pretty pictures to look at, others give you a blue background to stare at while a bar moves up. But no, Magic: The Gathering Online has a bonus game in it's installation file. Fuck the casual gaming market with their simple gameplay and 5 really bright colors representing fuck all. Peggle and Bejeweled don't got SHIT on this. Thank you so much for the fun, the last level at 98% to 100% got really difficult and I actually had to give up. I mean, why bother trying that hard when there's no achievement points at the end of the gate, right? (I keed, I keed).

As a post-blog note, it turned out the problem for some reason was the fact I was using a dual core processor and it just doesn't like that. So I set the affinity to one core and it's been chugging along since then.

Rez HD
Xbox Live Arcade Release: January 30th, 2008 (that means get it now)
Cost: 800 MS Points

So by now you're either in the camp of the rabid Rez fans who have played the game over the last 7 years (6 if you were stuck with the PS2 version) with their Set-top boxes and 2 channel sound. Or you are one of the ones who hasn't played it yet and haven't quite figured out what is so magical about it. Well children, much like sex and drugs, you aren't going to even come close to understanding the experience of Rez by just having it described to you. You have to bring yourself to the experience with an open mind ready to feel the power of a large, throbbing apparatus in your hands as you feel the sounds and hear the sights. But for those of you who like to read stuff, this one's for you.

First things first, you're getting a lot for your money. You are given the option of being able to play Rez HD (the High Def visuals and widescreen display) or Rez Standard (Rez in, well, low res visuals and a 4:3 aspect ratio). You can also access a 'story' pane in the options menu which is two pages (with pictures!) lining out what you are doing there. From here you can blow through the main game's 5 stages in one sitting, whizzing past stage specific creatures, bosses that want your ass the fuck out of the system, and a story of evolution. Gameplay is easy. Hold down the A button, move cursor over enemies to rack up laser shots (8 total per hold-release pattern) and release to unleash the fury on the digital pests. Shoot a box that appears every now and then to advance to the next part of the stage and advance the song, and kill the boss at the end. It's on rails too, so there's no freedom to roam around. But this is never a bad thing, as the game never feels as if it's restricting you at any time. Once you beat the main game you can unlock Beyond Mode which contains two new stages (Lost Area, and Trancemission), a Direct Assault mode (take on all 5 stages in a row, and with various color variations for later playthroughs) and a Boss Rush mode. The nice thing about Rez HD is that if you beat a level and unlock something on Rez HD, you'll unlock it in Rez Standard and vice versa.

New stuff (!) includes a replay theater which lets you view replays of levels so you can see where you went wrong trying to get that 100% shot down on level 5, and Visual and Audio options. Now these aren't just the usual "brightness/contrast" and "volume" options. You get your choice of altering the graphics of Rez HD to further your audio/video experimentation, as well as adding effects that change sound on the fly.

Rez Visual Effects: Sepia, Tile, Blur, Bloom, Glare.
Rez Audio Effects: Cave, Forest, Underwater, Hall, Plate.

These effects are pretty cool and help add a new dimension to the gameplay. Sepia turns everything (except for your HUD, which is not effected by any of the effects mentioned) brown-ish, cutting you off from the rich range of colors each level has. This really fucked with me and almost ended me mid level. Tile turns everything 8-bit and pixelated, which is really nice looking and makes you feel even more nostalgic playing it. Blur makes everything appear as if you are looking at the screen in a Sauna. Bloom turns everything really fucking bright, and when you fire your lasers or blow something up (two things that happen quite frequently, believe it or not) the screen basically becomes a ball of fire, tearing holes in your retinas. Glare is basically Bloom Lite, from what I could gather. Now mind you, all of these effects do nothing to slow the game down, as it never, ever dips below 60 frames a second.

The Audio effects also give you some interesting new experiences. Cave makes an interesting echo which seems to preserve low-end sounds. Forest makes some awesome echo noises which come at you in different directions. Underwater makes the bass muddled and everything sounds a little dull, in a good way. Hall is like Cave, but..with less low-end. Plate, I honestly have no clue what it does and is kind of like 'Glare' on the visual options and is kind of a useless option.

Speaking of the Audio (and pardon me for taking this long to get to it), it is as crystal clear and thumping as ever. New sounds are thrown in to the mix, which will surely make Rez vets turn their heads a few times. The Stereo mix is worlds better than the Dreamcast version (trust me, I booted my copy up just to make sure) and while I would love to say something about it, I was unable to test the 5.1 surround sound. This is fucking killing me on the inside, but I will get to getting one of those cables for this 360 soon. But if the stereo mix is any indication, those blessed with the 5.1 setup and a nice TV will have the most amazing experience yet.

And to tie in with the audio is the rumble. Ok, so you're thinking "Sarge, baby. Every fucking game has rumble these days." To which I say "You sir must be a very lucky individual to have your dualshock 3 for your PS3. But tell me, does any game let you use 3 other controllers as vibration machines?" That's right, riding off of the cult-status of every girl gamer's wet dream is now a wet reality. You can use up to 3 other 360 controllers which will all offer force feedback. This offers even more possibilities to customizing your Rez experience and if you have the spare controllers you should give it a shot. Try placing them in different places each time and see how it changes your feel for the beat, and therefore the level as well.

All in all, this IS your daddy's Rez. With a whole new bag of tricks that will keep you coming and coming for months, or dare I say years to come? Q? Entertainment has brought their baby out of retirement for the 360, and Rez is right at home. With the usual leaderboard and achievements for the totally hardcore (as well as a few unlockable gamerpics, unless those got there before I played the game) this is the total package, and the best goddamn deal on Xbox Live. For your 800 Billy Bucks, you will be getting a game worth $50 for practically pennies. The file size is pretty tiny too, at under 120MB (at least when I first went to the download page) which also somehow makes it smaller than the Dreamcast and PS2 versions. Perhaps Q? took some tips from the masters of compression, the demoscene? It sure seems like they aimed to please, and they have delivered what could easily set the bar higher for XBLA developers. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, my hat off to you once again sir.

FINAL SCORE: Fuck you there ain't no number that can categorize this game. Go read the review or buy it already.

Warning: Man Nipples Ahead!

So what do you all think? The heroic rebel or total punk-ass kid?

So it's been a few weeks of my owning my own copy of Rock Band and the instruments. Two weeks ago my guitar had blown, and was sent off on it's trip back home on monday (that's how long it took my coffin to arrive). I figured while that was out of commission I would get through my vocals and drums careers and tune my skills there.

So today I'm playing through a rather heated and in-the-zone round of "Go with the Flow" when my drumstick snaps. I tried to finish the song with the now spear-like stick facing my palm and me hitting the drums with the other end of the stick. This proved disorienting and just isn't going to work. So I come to you, fellow D-toiders. Do you have any suggestions for replacement sticks?

Xbox 360 owners are no strangers to the problem: The DRM on items purchased from Xbox Live prevents users who purchased the item on a pre-RrOD system from using that content offline on their replacement system. Want to see something done? Post your concern in this thread, and make sure Major Nelson and Trixie get the point. We want DRM gone.

If you have a Digg account, please be sure to stop by and digg the story as well. The more coverage we get on the issue, the more replies we may get, and the sooner we may get to an answer from Microsoft on this issue.

Yesterday a collection of new gameplay vids for the cult hit Rez (now Rez HD), now coming to Xbox Live Arcade some time this year, were uploaded to gametrailers. You can view them here. The game is looking as beautiful as ever, and does not show it's age.

For those not in the know, Rez was first released on the Dreamcast back in 2001 in japan, followed by a European Dreamcast release and U.S. PS2 release in 2002. The game is an on rails shooter in which you are trying to save Eden, an Artificial Intelligence who has become overwhelmed by information and has become self aware. Eden apparently doesn't like the position it's in, and attempts to shut itself down. You're there to stop it, and reboot the system so that Eden can continue it's duties. Along the way, you must fight firewalls, viruses, and all sorts of digital nasties. In other words, kill every goddamn thing that moves.

What made Rez stand out was it's visual presentation. A bastardization of Tron and...well, Tron. A rich array of colors were always on display at any given moment. The music was pulse pounding. So much so that it had a suggestive peripheral released in japan called the 'Trance Vibrator'. Some people took it for what it's name suggests. (NSFW, has a few shots of the device in it's natural habitat) And since the game had so very little copies produced/sold, it's cult status rose up on a pedestal and gamers everywhere soon began hearing rumors about how the game could induce a drug like trance and could possibly kill their mothers while fucking the family dog if you didn't manage to beat the final stage.

Soon enough, the mystery will be unleashed upon the entire Xbox Live going public. And in HD, at a steady 60 frames a second (the Dreamcast ran at 30 frames a second, the PS2 version had a few moments of slowdown) and in 5.1 surround audio. Now if that isn't a way to bring back the magic, I don't know what is. I can tell you, I am very excited. I hope that they do the whole game over again, not just the main stages but the special modes with altered color sequences, the lost area stage and Boss Rush mode. My personal favorite of them all was Trancemission, a never-ending set of levels that would throw you jarringly from one song to the next, in what can only be described as Captain Beefheart gone techno. I hope they will not split the game up into DLC like what happened with Lumines Live! (and subsequently, NOT done with Q's other XBLA game Every Extend Extra Extreme) and just keep it as one payment of 800 microsoft points. But so far the details are slim to none on what's going on with it. So enjoy the videos while I go boot up my dreamcast and get my beat on.