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9:47 PM on 05.03.2010

Halo Reach Beta thoughts

This evening I played a little over an hour of the Reach beta with my roommate and friend. What's different? Not much, but I'll touch on what I noticed and then add color with a blast from my filthy opinius.

Fewer Cocks. For now, that is. Another friend, account name "Authorities," suggested a reason: many of the real dickheads aren't there yet because they don't have codes. They didn't buy ODST because they don't play Halo for the story. They play Halo to feel like they're good at "sports." They'll be there for the major release. But for now, it's pretty quiet.

Hard to read. Whoever their graphic designer is, I should send him/her/it a graphic design book that explains why you don't decrease your leading to -15 and use sans serif, bright white fonts on a dark textured background. Text is really freaking hard to read. I know it's supposed to look all futuristic/sterile, but really guys, I want to be able to read my teammates' tags on the map. And navigate the menus without squinting.

Character classes. Like battlefield, or Modern Warfare, or whatever. Four for the Spartan, two for the elites. These have some effect on starting equipment (for the elites) and provide one of the following to the Spartans: The rocket pack, the invincibility pose (it's about Tai Chi, after all), Invisibility with the hearing impairment that happens when you're underwater, or...the ability to run. Which was usually what I chose, because I figured out the maps faster than the other players and would sprint to a good position off the bat. Kind of like paintball.

Graphics look like ODST. Which is to say, not as good as Halo 3. A little rough, even. This is probably a beta thang.

Fewer shots to die. When you're caught out in the open, you're more or less screwed this time. Which makes the power weapons less powerful in the scheme of things.

Grenade blast radius is increased. Maybe not to original Halo range, but it's there. Know what else is back?

Insurance. Not sure anybody else uses this term, but it's the tactic of throwing a grenade as you die. In Halo 3, the grenade would magically disappear, so this went away. But it's back in the beta.

Assassinations. You get stabbed in the back and stuff. I only found this irritating. A KICK ME sign would be more fun. Oh yeah, and I found myself given more time to kill enemy players when they were busy in the assassination animation. I usually left a friendly grenade at their feet.

I'm excited to find out what others think. All in all, it's not terribly "innovative," but as Xyzliac pointed out in her excellent blog on that topic, that's not always necessary. I, for one, had a pretty awesome time playing tonight. Looking forward to more of this good thing, even if it's largely the same thing.   read

11:41 AM on 04.29.2010

Bungie, Activision, and Corporate Entropy

In 1999, a handful of demos included on a disc within Myth: The Total Codex included a video for another new direction Bungie Studios was taking. The idea behind it was to improvise using a small force of humans to survive on an open, alien world. The implication was you would be warrior-badass and play as force commander, making decisions as on a chessboard rather than gliding down a predefined hallway, shooting baddies. As with its predecessor, it was a lofty concept, and like its predecessor, it had some of the very best minds behind it.

In 2000, Microsoft acquired Bungie, and that project changed. It became a first-person shooter alone. What complexity and historical depth came with Myth did not follow with the Halo series. Fortunately the level of gameplay quality did not suffer, perhaps because both companies knew gameplay was key.

Still, Bungie's then CEO Alex Seropian told stories about running interference between Microsoft and his creative team. Initially, he reported being given a lot of creative freedom, but that changed later on.

If you're a Halo nerd, as I am, you may remember the initial preview for Halo 2. I still maintain that is what Halo should have been - the same, but with more depth. As the Master Chief walked through the Marine hospital, marines could be heard trying to fix up the wounded. When he entered the combat zone, marines were interacting. "Is it dead?" one asked. A grenade went off. "You tell me!" another shouted back. Simple and sublime.

When the game was released, little of that initial charm remained. Its replacement was mostly a cartoon with dialogue distilled into the simplest formula. It was worse than hokey. But the quality gameplay remained, along with the soundtrack that was too good for the story, and it remained enjoyable.

What happened? I suspect "market targeting" happened.

Others here have already argued as much, saying the target marketing will continue to provide games for obnoxious kids, but we'll benefit because the games will remain enjoyable. It's true they will make money, it's true that will be good for business. It is cynical, submissive and pathetic, however, to sacrifice the quality of your favorite media to the same phenomenon that turns out 30 Rock and "The Bounty Hunter."

Why not hope for extended gameplay and memorable moments? Why not ask for memorable characters and broader environments? And why not demand quality?

The absence of these virtues is not a guaranteed result of Bungie's deal with Activision. Another incarnation of Seropian may run interference against Activision to prevent it from becoming as generic as Call of Duty. But as you've seen from other IP's absorbed by Activision, that's not typically the case. There is reason to be skeptical. And there is reason to lament the bloating of what was once a fast and ferocious company.

I'll finish with an anecdote on corporate entropy. Two days ago I found a problem with some of my company's product. Essentially, instead of having a button for users to switch between two screens of the interface, the developer has placed a large, unlabeled rectangle. It's so unintuitive that it's essentially an Easter Egg. When I reported this inadequacy, I was met with nothing but resistance.

I think I can name three or four Dtoiders who could label a button and tie it into the back end of a SQL-based product in less than a day. Maybe less than an hour.

The woman in charge of this has had four years to make this thing work. She gets paid over $65,000 for this. Her boss likely makes over $80,000. But neither of them wanted to both this week, or even this month, to make the product better. Because they don't have to. They're going to get their money either way.

Is that what you want your favorite game developers doing?   read

1:45 PM on 04.26.2010

I command you: Maganzo

Maganzo is so awesome that even the most deep-voiced, sexually deviant postmodernist English professor couldn't deconstruct it with a two-ton "wrecking ball."

[embed]172072:29419[/embed]   read

11:18 AM on 04.23.2010

Splinter Cell: Conviction should get probation

Last night I tried Splinter Cell: Conviction, playing a bit of co-op and watching my compadre blaze through single player. I was not impressed.

1. The Story
Everyone has heard it's a Bourne ripoff, but obviously the creators knew it, and all you can see is them winking at the Bourne movies while muttering "no homo" to themselves. Sam Fisher wears the same sweater as Jason in The Bourne Identity. The head baddie wears a jacket like Conklin. We have past trauma. We have the same flavor of music, except created in Garage Band by a high school student.

It gets worse. The storytelling method is like your aunt trying to show you pictures of her vacation in Reno and expecting you to feel excitement over a picture of her smoking cigarettes in front of a slot machine. The whole "Sam's daughter" thing is the opposite of touching, too. She looks like a Chucky doll with a giant head.

Seeing Sam or Archer or Kestrel beat the shit out of somebody every time they don't kill them gets repetitive. Hearing the baddies make cliche comments about being bad gets repetitive. Having every interaction with another character be a life or death ultraviolent situation reduces the story below TV quality. It's like watching 24, except without everybody being attractive and mysteriously well-groomed. Cliche, cliche, cliche, forced titillation, cliche.

2. Level Design
You're in a box. Not peeking out of a box, either; you're in a giant box filled with smaller boxes and scraps of paper, and there isn't much room for creativity. You can move through this part the way they suggest, with the obvious pipe overhead, or you can engage the enemy in a gunfight and come out unscathed in your bulletproof sweater. You can't go outside and go around, you can't disguise yourself, you can't blow the power to the building, etc, etc. It honestly feels like a side-scroller.

3. Character Design
How many times have we seen the guys in black specwarrior gear, carrying all the latest technotoys? Can we move past the fetishization of all that shit and get to some worthwhile characters? This isn't Modern Warfare 2. The guns don't make the man.

Further, Sam walks like an animal. His head bobs from side to side while his arms hang like starched neckties. The Japanese are right to criticism character movement in American games. Most of it is seriously lacking. And after all these years!

4. Hand to hand combat
They really tried here. I remember in the first game, when a guy was shooting the shit out of your face with an AK at point blank, you had to patiently perform a "forearm shiver" twice to knock him out. Now they do arm grabs where the victim instantly compliant, and one elbow to the cheek automatically knocks out an adrenaline-charged opponent. Uh-huh. Studying the martial arts makes me more skeptical, but things look a lot more believable in games like MGS3 and RE5, where enemies struggle and blows look realistic.

5. Gun combat
Now you can automatically kill everyone in the room without doing anything. You just sit back and watch. Talk about taking the fun out of it. Also, you aren't likely to snap-headshot somebody at forty yards holding a pistol like a paintball gun. Yes, it looks like it would be badass, but anybody who's ever shot a pistol knows they require steady finesse, to say the least.

Rating: I would pay $10 for this game.   read

12:57 PM on 04.08.2010

Lag Switches now common on Halo 3: A Narrative

Girls don't talk to you. They don't even make eye contact with you. The High School Football Team has a habit of shoving your head in the urinals because it's less work than the full fledged toilet, and urinal cakes leave enough evidence on your angry face to inform everyone that you are at the bottom of the social totem pole. You don't entirely understand why they target you, because you're not really a nerd, you have no technical expertise or passion; the only thing you can claim as your own is 1) A whole lot of acne and 2) An XBox Live account named "xxXsNiPErDiCkXxx".

And now you have a third bid at justifying your meaningless existence: a lag switch.

You log on to Halo 3 now, because the monitors at Modern Warfare 2 know you and your kind somehow, though you're not sure how; maybe it's the way you slur "fa**ot" and "ni**er" at people, but everybody talks that way, unless they're gay. Your two buddies and that one little kid who thinks he's your buddy are already on, and you enter matchmaking together. This is going to be good. You're going to get back at Tim Rawlins the quarterback by totally pwning these fags and newbs.

You get a match set up. The three and a half of you immediately start talking about things you actually know nothing about: sex, weird sex positions, and your favorite hilarious topic, homosexuals. The little kid on your team, when not laughing too much at everything you say, reads the name of everyone on the other team and says "gay" immediately afterward, although you notice he mispronounces "Angry Liberals" with "Liberahs."

Angry Liberals and the other guy, Minority Fees, start talking back, except they sound really nasally, and they're complaining to their moms in the background, and they're talking about how people pick on them at school. It all sounds so close to home. And then you realize they're mocking you. You instinctively swing back, using your two attacks, saying what you'll do to their moms and calling them fags. You've heard these insults thousands of times before, and because they're the only insults you've heard, you can't think of any other way to respond.

The game begins. It's close. Angry Liberals and Minority Fees can be heard telling their team where your teammates are. Your teammates are getting frustrated, but because you camped the rocket launcher, and because the other team had a betrayer, you managed to keep the score nearly even. Now it's 47-42 them, and the time has come. You put one hand down your pants and the other on your lag switch. You push that mac'n'cheese sullied button and count to three, wary of Bungie's lazy software having a four second monitor. While the other team is force to run into walls aimlessly, you assassinate them, take their weapons and recharge your shields. After another minute you put your hand back down your pants again, because you've won, and the feeling of power is shuddering through all one and a half inches of you.


This is happening a lot now when I play Halo 3. I suppose, given the demographic, I'm just "asking for it," but that doesn't justify it. As hated as this game is, I really enjoy it, and it's really disappointing to find that one in four matches has something either subtle or blatantly obvious happen with the connection. Occasionally the user gets kicked from the match, but most of the time they're successful.

Is this the future of gaming? Or is it just a jerks on Halo thing? If you Google "lag switch" you get instant explanation and pictures of the damn things. Mr. Minority Fees tells me WoW has countermeasures to this. I'm hoping Halo: Reach will have something, but I'm not holding my breath. It's gotten bad.   read

10:00 AM on 03.02.2010

How to never get laid by your girlfriend

From direct observation, cliched as it is:

1. Have pretty girlfriend who wants to feel loved

2. Be gaming addict

3. Be unwilling to acknowledge problem

4. Play WoW or other PC games secretly in your room until 2 a.m., get up at 6 a.m. to work shitty job for 10 hours

5. Come home, log on, receive call from girlfriend, fake yawning to get her off the phone, tell her how hard your job is and how it tires you out, tell her you're heading straight to bed, resume gaming until 2 a.m.

6. Occasionally bring girlfriend home, lay around exhausted, blame it on the job, fall asleep on her, snore, be awakened by angry girlfriend, take her home, return, resume gaming until 2 a.m.

7. Occasionally bring girlfriend home, sit and watch roommate play video games instead of taking her out on the town or playing a game or talking

8. Actively hide addiction from roommate, collapsing the screen when playing WoW, not communicating when playing Age of Empires, putting pillow/blanket at foot of door to conceal monitor light

9. Only perk up from gaming when offered different medium of gaming

10. Leave all housework to roommate, eat frozen pizzas and drink pop all day

11. Become the embodiment of one of life's grand mysteries that you used to muse: why girls stick around for guys like you   read

10:34 AM on 02.25.2010

Griefing in Afghanistan

Imagine getting shot by the guy talking horrendous trash. Or being able to call in artillery on him.

ABC News Ran this story about how Afghan soldiers and Taliban talk shit about each other using old-school two-way radios.

An excerpt:

"The Taliban will say things like why do you side with the Americans? Why do you sell out your country? You love Obama more than Afghanistan."

Being Mr. Angry Liberals on Xbox live, and with an avatar of Michelle Obama, I find that the Taliban are after my own heart.

Still, on Xbox Live the consequences are only as real as anybody lets their ego get bruised. Controlling irrational, abrupt impulses to send obnoxious nine year-old boys through a window is about as rough as it gets. But out there?

Hakmal said the standard response goes something like, "The Americans are here to help our country function again. They don't want to stay. They want to help, then leave. You should help, too."

Then the shooting starts.

I would totally break protocol if I were an Afghan soldier. And teabag.   read

12:41 PM on 02.24.2010

You should crawl like the snake you are

Does anybody else revel in crawling around on the ground, unseen?

I'm crawling around the bottom of the corporate ladder as I write this. But really, what I'm talking about is going unnoticed in natural settings. I love this stuff in games, and I love this stuff in real life.

I started thinking about this after I tried the co-op segment of the sniper level in Modern Warfare 2 a few weeks ago. I crawled around some, but, being impatient and not respecting the game's engine enough, I had a habit of coming up to my knees to draw fire and get the enemy's position the cheap way. The game punishes you for being so impatient, but if you've got a buddy to revive you the consequences aren't so steep.

There was a segment in that level with a stream, and I was brought back to my last duck and goose hunting trip in Canada. One day my old man and I were hunting a field in our usual style: goose decoys out, my dad hiding in the bushes holding back our spaz of a chocolate lab, and myself wearing 3D camouflage, laying out in the middle of the decoys, shotgun by my side with the muzzle resting on a green hat.

I can tell you that 3D camouflage, much like a ghillie suit, is amazing stuff. I've had geese land eight feet from me, first swooping so close to my face that the displaced air seemed as loud as an airplane. I could have grabbed the goose out of the air. When another goose landed just yards away from me, I came up to my knees, and the damn thing only honked at me. I think it was saying "What the hell?"

I shot that poor sucker. I kind of regret it. It was too easy. At the time I justified it by saying that's evolution and the dumbest goose of the flock got weeded out. In retrospect I wish I had been holding a goose call and could have honked back, "dumbass."

I'm digressing. Using that 3D camo with my old man last time, I watched a small flock of ducks swoop overhead and land somewhere on the field over a football field away. Assuming they would be wary, I crawled through the brush and the rocks and the thorny plants, enjoying the scent of Canadian farm field, rich with sweet decaying straw and ancient gumbo (clay-rich mud).

When I neared the birds I found them in a small pond of rainwater - hence the memory. I was again unobserved. Five teal, small ducks bearing the color of their namesake on their wings, were swimming around and shaking out their feathers, relaxed. At first I slowed my crawl to, well, a slow crawl. But I gradually noticed that none of the birds turned their heads toward me at all.

I closed to about fifteen feet and took aim. Then I asked myself a few questions. Should I try to group the shot pattern to hit multiple birds, or focus on just one? Where will the other birds fly toward after the opening shot? Are my shots going to alert a mark my old man is watching? Where will the birds drop if I hit them? Can I retrieve them there?

Were I playing Metal Gear Solid 3, my favorite game for crawling around and hunting and being real friendly with the soil and grasses, I would ask a similar set of questions. Will this shot alert the guard if I miss? Can he radio in for help? Will others see him drop if I succeed? Can I get to his fallen body and shake him down for items without being seen? Is he going to see me if he keeps approaching? Should I just get past him?

I had similar considerations playing paintball against my friends ten years ago. I crawled 200 feet along a drainage ditch to get around them without being seen. The limited vision you have when in grass six inches above your head is stifling. And really kind of exciting. You have to work so hard to see anything. You start to listen a lot more, and to create a picture of where everything is in your head, where you can see. I like when games reflect that phenomenon too.

I'm down for suggestions on other games that do a good job of this so I can get my crawl on.   read

1:47 PM on 02.23.2010

A response to Jesse Schell's future: Blech

Jesse Schell's vision of the future - a future where games consume everything and are an unavoidable, universal cheap trick to control behavior, and this somehow improves people, is rubbish.

Click to here to see the video, referenced in Podtoid 138.

To summarize the video, Schell has some merit. The first half of his presentation dissected marketing strategies so well that I passed it along to some of the higher ups at my job. I work at a student information system company and our CEO has passions for a similar future. Or at least one that will consequentially make him richer.

Schell initially speaks about authenticity driving sales toward the beginning of the lecture, yet strangely, by the end, he speaks of a future that is entirely contrived. Cereal boxes letting kids compete in eating the most cereal. Fifty points if you stuff your chubby face more than the kid down the street. A hundred points if you beat your autistic brother on the English test. A thousand points and a $10 tax break if your poo tests free of phthalates and the government can sell it to a farmer.

At the end, Schell postulates that playing these games, some of which would be based around important things like protecting the environment or not peeing in the aquifer, could make people value the important things more.

Yet the impact companies would create virtual rewards for activities with intrinsic value is about ends vs. means. Every task in our lives could become about points, a means to keep us addicted and unhappy and buy the mega-corporations' boardmembers new yachts. They disregard and trivialize those ends that make us happiness - time spent laughing with friends, hours learning to paint or speak another language, chores teaching us the value of being organized. Each of these is now a "Quest" that is compared on the leaderboards, and are worth...more quests.

Take Halo 3 on Xbox Live rankings. Players accumulate experience points to grant themselves higher ranks. It sounds legitimate. Until, that is, you learn that the majority of high-ranking players got there by "boosting," using a loophole in the scoring system to rapidly rise in the ranks. You can still even pay people to boost for you.

The results bastardize the ranking system. You have high-ranking players who quit as soon as the odds are any worse than 100,000:1 in their favor, and who aren't any better than the mid-level players. You have the naive boys in awe of them, wondering how they can possibly beat a general. And you have me, asking that high-ranked asshole not to quit if he's on my team or banking on it if he's on the opposite team.

What, then, is rank good for? Nothing. Character is worth everything. A teammate who will communicate enemy positions and share weapons is invaluable. He or she is also extraordinarily rare. How does this player come to be? He or she disregards points and silly rewards and cultivates character by valuing camaraderie and friendship. Good soldiers don't learn accurate shooting because they want a medal. They learn it to keep their friends alive.

Yet so many of the kids I encounter don't care about that. They will do whatever it takes to unlock the achievements and get the points, be it cheating, deceiving, or outright paying for 'em. They'll kill you for the sniper rifle on a non-slayer match and boast about all their useless kills. They don't understand that the points don't matter and won't make them happy. Why would a system that perpetuates that ignorance make people grow up?

So I disagree with Mr. Schell. Company CEOs like to spout about how they are working toward a brighter future, and helping things and creating change and rainbows and unicorns with cotton-candy asses. It happens at my job four times a year, when the CEO tells us how we're making kids smarter when in reality we're only making administrators faster on the taxpayer's dime. Maybe CEOs are trying to convince themselves they're as worthy as anybody else. I would prefer they did it without the delusions.

I don't want a future of points systems, and I sure as hell don't want cameras and computers everywhere I go. That authenticity Schell values would be completely nullified by an inundation of cheap substitutes for joy. And as much as he would want it to improve people's lives, it could only be an artless, worthless manifestation of the desire to make as much money as possible.   read

11:31 AM on 02.12.2010

Ecko Halo Stuff on Sale

Check out Ecko's sale for Halo stuff like this.

CHEAP! I just snagged the track jacket for a friend's birthday, $17 including shipping. I rather like that white tee, too...   read

10:08 AM on 02.10.2010

Failed post - not public

This post wouldn't appear public, so after contacting tech support I had to retry. No, I'm not a spammer.   read

10:17 AM on 01.08.2010

RE5: Actually happening?

Check out this story from Uganda.

"According to officials trying to tackle it, the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity - and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly."

Wow. This is more macabre than any transnational quasi-corporational terrorist plot for immortality featuring a matrix-ripoff villain. And I love RE5! Now who's up for doing steroids and searching for their old partner in Uganda? I call the Hydra.

Uganda's president is no stranger to battling some rather heinous causes, even if they don't involve malevolent parasites. Paul Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front during the Rwandan genocide. For a good read on that, check out the book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families. Although Phillip Gourevitch clearly idolizes Kagame, Gourevitch's account of Kagame's exploits is pretty cool. Basically they marched in with a ragtag army and radios and just captured ammo and supplies as they went around, killing or imprisoning people involved in genocide. It was like...a video game plot. A good video game plot.   read

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