Friday, January 22, 2010

04. review - darksiders: wrath of war [x360]

war, carnage, a game flying high on borrowed wings.

"borrowed wings" does not necessarily mean ripoff.  there are a lot of themes in darksiders that seem to have been drawn from other games, but it works to achieve the desired intent.

way before earth, heaven and hell were in all-out war, with angels and demons constantly killing each other.  a third faction, a group of "old ones" known as the charred council, sent their agents to quell the violence - the four horsemen.  the horsemen succeeded in getting both sides to lay down their arms.  in case this hasn't set in yet, i will repeat myself in a slightly different manner - the charred council and the horsemen are crazy enough to scare heaven and hell into a cease-fire.  word.

the council sees a third kingdom arising - the kingdom of man - and only know that they will be weak, cunning, and have a part to play in a three-way endgame between angels, demons, and men.  as is the case with most apocalypse-themed media, when the 7th seal is broken, the horsemen will ride out and own all.

so apocalypse comes, and as war you ride out to start regulating, but you're missing 75% of your project team.  turns out the seventh seal wasn't broken, and charred council HR wants to have some words with you for jumping the gun.  you get them to agree to let you find out who's behind it all, as long as they send a watcher with you to keep tabs, and completely gimp your skills.

why that last part is awful - right before your skills are gimped, you play, as the horseman war, through the prologue, with ridiculous skills and the ability to change into a huge demon-like monster tearing any being in front of you limb from limb.  that's not to say the gameplay still isn't interesting.  you start with a giant zweihander called chaoseater (justified, trust me) and basic genre melee skills.  in addition to this your options evolve into a multitude of combos with both swordplay and gunplay, a berserking chaos form, and some help from war's fiery warhorse (his name is ruin, and he's a pretty little pony).  along with the devil may cry like sword/gun attack combination, the game also employs god of war like finishers.  when an enemy is near death, war can grab his hapless victim and end them with a brutal deathblow.  enemies yield souls (orbs) that restore health or wrath (mana) or souls that can be used for currency.  another god of war draw are certain fights that require button sequencing for success.

the puzzle portions of the game might remind you of ocarina of time and other zelda games - as in you can drop every clown in your path, but you better be able to dogde, time, and find non-combat methods of doing very mundane things - like opening a damn door.  haydn dalton, the lead developer, said that the game was designed to be about 40% puzzle.

the GUI ain't bad either.  wrath powers (think magic spells) are programmed one per button for the 4 main buttons, and triggered by, well, a trigger button.  as opposed to some console games that have trouble making alternate forms of attacks work fluidly, darksiders' wrath system fits in well with the basic gameplay, and adds a definite fun factor to doing what war does best.

i mentioned similarities between darksiders and games like god of war and devil may cry but a straight comparison isn't really fair.  there's a major difference in play feel - where GoW and DMC's fight styles were highly stylized and elegant, darksiders doesn't bother.  it is pure straightforward fight, all day, everyday.  vigil put together a solid game.  but konami had their hands in this too...

i wonder if the konami code works anywhere in the game.  i'll have to check.  oh and the screenplay for the big screen version is currently being written.  who the HELL are they going to get to play war?  i mean just look at this dude.

overall: 8/10.  very good.

Monday, January 18, 2010

03. review - bayonetta [x360]

ok, finally got to play the copies of bayonetta and darksiders that have been sitting next to my 360.  i'll start with bayonetta today, and get to darksiders later.

i'll admit, i'm a little biased on this one - i am a HUGE fan of the devil may cry series and bayonetta carries a lot of those same qualities of stylish action.  as it's directed by DMC's hideki kamiya and scored by masami ueda, that's really no big surprise.  there was some controversy around this one though, mainly about the lead protagonist being just short of a dominatrix, and that the character design was just a standard trick to lure the industry's target market into buying in.  i don't think that's entirely true (at least it's not why i got it).  if you look at it from a different perspective, and look at the "traditional" female role in games - the princess to be rescued, the secondary character that has less speed and skill as the main hero, or a love interest of some sort, this is a far cry from it.  while there is some obvious sex appeal to our heroine, bayonetta pretty much shatters the age-old formula - she's cool, confident, highly skilled, extremely powerful, doesn't play second fiddle to anyone, and nothing's going to stand in her search for the truth.

you're thrown into the action as title heroine, last of the ancient clan of umbra witches, battling against angels and the lumen sages, the umbra witches' opposing faction.  this kind of description may have you thinking you're playing the part of the evil bad girl, but that's not wholly the case.  the game introduces the two factions - representing darkness and light, inferno and paradiso respectively, as two parts of a whole that share a deep bond of mutual respect, where both halves must exist in balance to maintain order.  in that sense you're not killing the holy, flaying the innocent, or anything evil like that, you're just... doing your part.  as if being the last of your kind isn't enough, you have a couple of huge gaps in your memory explaining your origin and true fate.  overall sounds good as a storyline, but there are some negatives - the story's shifty in a few places and doesn't always "come together" as well as other games of the genre do.

bayonetta's gameplay is simply put, fun as hell.  like starting with dante's twin pistols ebony and ivory, bayonetta's first real weapons are a set of four pistols called scarborough fair (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme of course). in addition to a pistol in either hand, she has the other two strapped to her feet, and is able to fire off crazy sets of acrobatic multi-target shooting with them.  this is in concert with the myriad of melee combos that can be executed - with hands, feet, and a collection of badass weaponry.  not enough for you?  still feel like you can't inflict quite enough pain?  worry not, there's a set of torture moves - special finishers to go along with bayonetta's standard offerings of agony and strife.  these are very fun to watch, and while borderline sadomasochistic, flow together extremely well when dispatching multiple foes  (think a flurry of punches and kicks, taking an enemy airborne and putting them in a giant guillotine, then moving on to the next).  what really brings it all together though is witch time - a period of slow mo where you move incredibly fast and can pop off more attacks than usual.  as opposed to the system in devil may cry and other similar games where this kind of thing has to be triggered,  bayonetta weaves it in seamlessly by automatically triggering it when you dodge an attack at just the right second.  chain a few well timed dodges together, and the melee fun factor increases tenfold.  a game where button mashers fail, casual players can learn, and veterans can own, has succeeded in gameplay design.

the game itself is also visually stunning.  i've heard some bad things about the playstation3 port, but as far as i can tell on my 360, minimal load times, the animation is fluid, absolutely zero tear and choppiness, the textures are great, and the special effects for basic combat and the torture combos are easy to watch over and over again.  there's one thing that kind of upset me though, visually - the cutscenes.  instead of putting this powerful engine to work and presenting FMV of grand scale between scenes, they opted for filmstrip-style cutscenes (if you've ever played "wet," kind of like that but less grainy) and i felt a little bit cheated.  the music is pretty different than the deep electronic thrash chords ueda put together for devil may cry, and is instead a little lighter, and gives battles more of an "all in a day's work" kind of feel, which fits our heroine perfectly.

overall, great game.  people can draw a lot of parallels between this and devil may cry, but bayonetta succeeds in keeping its own identity.  style, substance, and a hellish good time.

overall: 9/10.  excellent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

02. google's china syndrome, and my favorite toy from CES '10

to start with a more serious topic, we turn to china.  as you may or may not know, google shared news of a cyber attack on their chinese infrastructure in december.  newer reports indicate that this was not just a routine hack, but an attack aimed specifically at gmail accounts belonging to human rights activists in china.  as a result, google has announced that it is no longer willing to filter searches in its webspace, and if that means leaving the chinese market, so be it. google's official blog states:

"We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech."

and further:

"These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China."

of course the ramifications of this move are tremendous, not only to google and the people's republic of china, but to the world as a whole.  china has been responsible for a large percentage of global economic growth in the last decade, particularly with the U.S., partially due to some opening of the chinese information channels to the rest of the world.  as google is a major player on a number of levels, will other companies also start withdrawing?  how much of a victory is this for human rights in asia pacific?  this would be a fanTAStic point of discussion - now i just need to get some readers... you know, to participate.

everyone should be in full support of google's decision, and understand the difficulty that must have gone into it.  i believe that free speech is a natural right that everyone is entitled to.  i feel bad for the people involved with google china that will suffer for this with their jobs, but it's important that someone of google's size and magnitude stands up and says that the social good is as important as profit.  which they may stand to lose a lot of.  millions of dollars from their adsense service adding up over years will result in billions in lost revenue.  timing also couldn't be worse while sales of driod-powered mobile devices are beginning to ramp up.

oh well, i guess there's always baidu.

on to something a little lighter perhaps?

last week was one of the big weeks of the year for my fellow geekkind, as the 2010 consumer electronics show descended upon las vegas.  it's nice out there in sin city, as opposed to new jersey, which has a wonderful gray haze this time of year.  unfortunately my view of CES was on a couple of monitors under said darkened sky, with a server buzzing in my ears.  sad, i know.

... damn it i really should have gone to vegas.  monkey.

from what i've seen, the trend over the last few years continues on at CES.  wires and cables are the devil (except HDMI, which may in fact be a source of the purest light of the heavens above), and wireless tech is the way to unshackled freedom, and salvation from the tyrant 6 foot cords that rule you.  which is why, out of everything that was shown at CES, forget the phones, forget the note/net/smartbooks, what caught my attention was WiDi - wireless display. it has always been one of those "wouldn't it be cool if..." items that i've always wanted badly, but not badly enough to try designing.  i figured i'd leave it to the pros.  WiDi makes it possible for intel core/centrino procc'd laptops to transmit video through wireless adapters to LCD/LED televisions, through HDMI (and you know how i feel about HDMI).  it's early but looks solid (though the folks at cnet claim some signal lag), but i can easily see this being an integral part of my digital life, and sooner than you think.  netgear's WiDi offering, the push2tv adapter, will be hitting stores later this month, and will be bundled with WiDi enabled laptops from dell, sony, and toshiba.  think about what this is going to do to our computer and entertainment center setups.  why even bother buying monitors anymore?  just wireless into your tv.  tank ICC on your 1080p.  fully replace your dvd and blu-ray players.  stream those sweet divx movies that you may or may not have acquired yourself through, shall we say, alternatively legal ways? (not that i encourage that, of course)

and do it all from the center of a cushy 5.1 (7.1 for the truly ballin') system blasting a couple kilowatts of sound into your person.


sorry this was so long, but at a post a week it's going to be.  i had more stuff on lots of other things, like the recent release of bayonetta and darksiders, but time and space, and my need for sleep are factors.  damn it, i might have to start doing these every day.  see you all tomorrow?  maybe?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

01. greetings

yeah that's right, another blog.

there were over 15 million active blogs in 2009, so i figured i should get in on this while it's still emerging technology.  being on the ground floor of something like this is really exciting.

(for my illiterate readers, that was sarcasm)

so with that many people actively slinging opinion, why do this?  funny things happen, insane things happen, and i, like apparently 15 million plus others, have a take on it.  and we should.  famous golfers cheat on their supermodel wives, the show jersey shore exists, WE NUKED THE MOON, and commercial pilots are drunk in flight.  and that was just last few months.  if you really think about it, all of the people who see these things around them and choose to express their two cents on the web are doing humanity a service.  we don't actually want historical archives on our generation to be some amalgamated version of cnn and access hollywood, do we?  so consider this my contribution.  observations of the world with a technocratic spin.

so what's my story?  well, i generally have something to say about everything, whether it's openly verbalized or not.  as one who spends a lot of time in the throes of american and global pop culture, there's a lot of things that i see that i think are great, and on the other side of the coin, trends that i find downright horrifying.  maybe that's me taking the first step to becoming a cantankerous old man.  who knows.  

but enough about that, here's a little more on me (let's face it, all blogs are partially fueled by ego) - i'm an engineer and a businessman, and the self proclaimed mayor of brown town, who through a series of ridiculous events, became embroiled in the glamorous and horrific world of IT.  as irritating as that can be, it gives me power, money, and holds me accountable to a few less rules, so for right now i deal.  i stumble across a lot of funny things from this view, from simple things like people calling equipment "thingys" to people thinking android phones mean "we can buy robots."  i really wish i could say i was kidding about that one.

i'm an unabashed nerd, technology enthusiast, scientist, gamer (i really hate that term, we should come up with something new).  but that doesn't mean i don't enjoy the business side of things just as much, as well as  numbers and graphics, and dabble in a little philosophy and the abstract, and when forced, politics.

so i'll start this show off with a once a week scene, so to speak, or maybe two, on some of these aforementioned topics.  but most likely it will be a collection of stories on why your IT department hates you.  i dunno.  we'll see how this little experiment works.  if i get 5 readers i'll consider it a win.  hope we can have some fun.