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Star Wars Clone Wars. Surprisingly good actually.

 

 
Here we have yet another of those shows people are having mixed feelings about, on one side there are the "I hate Star Wars since Lucas released the abomination called Episode 1 and I don’t buy into the whole merchandise hype anymore" people who decided to bash the movie and everyone going to see it for being stupid to pay for something that would be freely available just a short time later on TV, on the other side the "I will buy anything related to Star Wars even the Toaster because I love Star Wars so much, a lot more than my house, my wife and my 4 kids actually" folks who went to see the movie on the big screen and while not giving Lucas the top spot in the box office charts granted him at least a spot in the top 5 for a few weeks. I did not go see that movie and I was a little skeptical about the characters and how child friendly it would be after seeing the movie trailer. I am one of those people who saw episodes 4-6 as a kid and loved them to death and who was very envious of those guys who could get their parents to buy them Star Wars toys, but already back then thought the plastic lightsabers were kinda silly, I even read around 10 Star Wars Novels and played tons of Star Wars video games on Super Nintendo, N64, PC and other platforms with Jedi Academy being my personal favorite, I think I replayed the last 3 levels of the game at least 100 times creating my own time trial mode in certain levels and otherwise just enjoying my Darth Maul style "lightsaber staff" (?), but I never went on any of those conventions to dress up like a storm trooper nor do I have a R2D2 trashcan or whatever. Episodes 1-3 were definitely disappointing in terms of story and while I liked the huge amount of CGI used it never felt those 3 movies did Star Wars real justice, of course I am one of those hating on Jar Jar Binks as well. When I got the first TV episode of Star Wars Clone Wars on my laptop I had very low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. The only real thing I had to get used to were the a little stiff facial animations of the characters but after a few episodes I didn’t even notice that anymore. Now having seen the newest episode *SPOILER ALERT* where Anakins (sometimes annoyingly friendly and optimistic) Padawan teams up with a Jedi general to fight off Ventress to keep their high ranking prisoner who most certainly has valuable information, I must say that I am very much entertained and happy about the show, the total amount of awesome Star Wars action is huge, the story is interesting and involving, there is more Star Wars each week and with the latest episode we even had a PG rating, which makes it even more appealing to me. People might argue that it’s a show running on Cartoon Network, designed for kids and that its not the "real" Star Wars anymore they knew from the 1980’s and that might be true but it surely is incredibly fun to watch! So grab the Torrents or turn on your TV and get your beverage beholding object, with Star Wars shit on it or not, grab some snacks, sweet or hearty and enjoy the show, I promise if you can look past a little awkward facial expressions you will certainly enjoy it!
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Dark Sector. (D)Evolution of a video game.

Before I begin my personal rant about how this game turned out to be exactly what I not wanted I should mention that this game, as you will see if you watch the second of the videos in this blog post, did get 70 out of 100 average review points on http://www.metacritic.com which makes it definitely not a bad game. So why am I personally so unhappy, you ask? Well, mainly because when this game was first seen on the Internet, it looked completely different than now. Of course, you probably think, that was back in 2005 now we have 2008 and a lot of stuff can happen in 3 years of development, but I am talking about rather deep changes here, the few things that are still the same include Hayden’s (thats the main character…) cool looking whole body suit and the general idea of those Asian style sort of Mech like robots. All the other stuff changed basically. This is what the game looked like in the 2005 trailer video:  http://static.ning.com/gaxonline/widgets/video/flvplayer/flvplayer.swf?v=3.0.1:3917
Find more videos like this on GAX – The Gamers Social Network
Amazing, right? A science fiction setting with a stealthy secret agent type of main character that uses technological gadgets, his training and skills to complete a mission on a space station. He fights the stations security system, the security guards and robots and then gets extracted by his partner in a very stylish way. Without knowing much about the actual story or anything you get the feeling of actual depth, the character seems to be part of a secret organisation or maybe independent going against the government or maybe other mercenaries. So what happened? Well, look: Dark Sector Review.  You probably get where I am going. This just isn’t the same game! The whole setting is different, there is no space, the story, now being described, filters down to your generic CIA secret agent with the guns and thats it, being infected by that mutant guy and then this Krull (a fantasy movie from the 80’s) like thing "grows" out of his right hand.

So then he has to kill all the mutants while becoming a mutant himself and during the process he definitely gets totally gory about it, which for me generally is a plus point but it just doesn’t make me think positively about the game. The whole thing has been reduced to a more or less brainless substance with the GLAIVE as the main attraction. While your of course being feed the eye candy motion blur, bump mapping and high resolution texture stuff that is more or less common even on consoles these days I am just wondering what made the developers decide to take this perfectly great game that had been well received already in 2005 and turn it into this mediocre thing including quick time events and a stolen super weapon from an 80’s fantasy movie. In addition I don’t have a console, so I am out of the possible buyers field for the game anyway. Luckily Mass Effect is coming for PC in May.

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The King of Kong (a movie about gamers)

This is a documentary about 2 guys competing for the world record score in Donkey Kong. The "bad" guy and record holder since 1982 (until 2007 and then again) is Billy Mitchell, a guy with a sort of funny haircut and a beard who also happens to be the owner of a restaurant chain and hot sauces brand called "Rickey’s World Famous Sauces". Billy is very convinced of himself and has this method of looking down on you from whatever angle he happens to see you. He also has high scores (that in the meantime all have been beaten) in several other arcade classics like Pac-Man, Burgertime and Donkey Kong Jr. and has a quite manipulative nature in addition to his huge ego. Billy however isn’t the main focus in this documentary, which probably is the reason he started talking negatively about it, after it had been released to the public. The other guy and underdog by any means is Steve Wiebe, a math and science teacher at a Junior High school with a very humble and honest nature who happens to have a Donkey Kong arcade in his garage. Steve has always tried being the best at something but never had success in the fields of Baseball and music, neither has he gotten the job his dad wanted him to get, engineer at Boeing, so he tries to find something he is really good at and looks up the high scores for several games on Twin Galaxies, the official electronic scoreboard. One day Steve plays Donkey Kong while recording it with a camera and happens to break Billy Mitchell’s record, you can hear his son demand him to clean his butt while he plays. Steve sends in the video tape and gets lots of media attention, his family and friends finally recognize that he is the best in the world at something and then one day 2 guys visit his garage while he is at work and take apart his arcade machine to look for possible hacks or ways he might have manipulated the score. Guys who by accident also happen to be friends of Billy Mitchell and they find out that Roy Shildt, a person with a very unfriendly relationship with Billy Mitchell has sent Steve a new board for his Donkey Kong machine. Of course they take back Steve’s world record and tell him, that if he wants an official record he has to play at a public arcade, so they can be sure he isn’t cheating… Drama, emotions, intrigues and video games. Get your popcorn folks and rent this movie or buy the DVD, every gamer should have seen this!

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MMO’s and how I would change them.

Recently I finished my 14 day LOTRO trial after not having played the game since the beta last year and I am currently looking into how to keep playing the game on US servers without using a credit card. Probably will have to get a friend of mine to buy the game and a 60 day prepaid game time card from a local store in Detroit… Anyway while I was playing LOTRO and totally blasted away by the awesome graphics which weren’t so awesome during the beta for me because of the really old laptop I was playing on, there were several things in terms of general MMO gameplay/technicalities/style that really jumped into my head which seem to be used in any MMO I ever played or heard of (except EVE which is a complete exception for gameplay). Let me start by stating that in the world of MMO’s fantasy games clearly have the most players and are also the sort of game that gets released most often, which clearly is an indicator of the preference of most people playing this kind of game that they like to use their technological equipment to blast themselves into the past/a low tech world without any technology that usually surpasses the use of wheels and fire. Many times there aren’t even glass windows in those games. Now, I am a total tech geek which makes me wonder if it’s because of technological restrictions that scifi MMO’s are so very few among so many fantasy games or is it because people want this kind of mental superiority that not only are they playing a video game where they can make very powerful characters that may gain wealth and become legends among other players on their game servers by completing certain quests or getting a certain weapon etc. but also when the wizard shows off his newest fire spell they can laugh at him and while turning on their candles for atmospheric light with an electric lighter… It’s like people love to do old stuff using new things. So now we get to my second point, if people want all this fantasy and not the whole technological side of it, why do all those games have to be so damn technical? Auction houses work sort of like an in-game Ebay as far as I can tell from personal experience, the mail system uses digital transfers to enable people to send gold and items instantly with the click of a button, which makes me wonder how do they get those messenger horses to run that fast? The whole HUD and hotkey business usually completely mechanizes the game experience, even with AOC I didn’t get the feeling of actual combat but instead of precooked and timed hotkey button usage there simply was a constant hammering the attack buttons which definitely results in faster keyboard wear. Another thing that really bothers me is realism. These days all the hype is about "living and breathing worlds" with day and night cycles, moving vegetation and small animals living their lives for your visual enjoyment and consequences your actions have in terms of yourself and the world like doing this one quest for the butcher where he asks you for some boar meat might actually deliver free steaks for you in the future and what not. But when it comes to other aspects of "reality" as we know it, things get a little weird. Where does the archer get those 120 arrows from he uses while fighting 10 higher level lonely grey wolves which are all placed in a certain area of the map within a 100 foot distance of each other for the players convenience? I mean, have you ever walked into a forest and found vast amounts of carnivores and herbivores walking around in circles not noticing each others presence not to mention doing nothing besides actually walking? Honestly I would much rather stalk and hunt down one single wolf with a few arrows, maybe even get those arrows back after use for the same amount of xp instead of repeating the same process a million times with the same generic mobs in an overcrowded area. Other things are actual food and rest requirements of characters, which basically come down to healing up after combat and eating something to buff your healing ability, it’s not like you die if you don’t sleep in the game for 2 weeks or you just forget to drink. How do people carry around 30 sturdy hides in addition to their swords, a bow, 5 quest items which happen to be auroch skulls and the pocket horse? Also while there is actually the feeling of time passing by indicated by earlier mentioned day and night cycles your character doesn’t actually age and is virtually immortal, which of course also is attractive and while it’s understandable that people want to keep playing their beloved characters I don’t understand how on one hand developers talk about realism and how they improved it but on the other hand they leave very essential parts out. I know that visuals in a video games are very important which is why developers never get tired of talking about their graphics and visual effects, but I personally don’t understand why most games these days have to be so over the top shiny, like the amount of actual light reflecting from a characters biceps indicates the person either being completely oiled up all the time or blessed by a god as a holy avatar with the inner glow. Innovations in combat dynamics seem also quite half baked and the whole evolution of the genre seems very slow compared to video game evolution as a whole. Thinking back to Ultima Online which I never played there really isn’t that much new besides improved graphics that really sticks out and while things like adding the ability to play music etc. are pretty nice I wonder when the first MMO is released that lets me take a dump in the morning… When I hear Funcom talk about their new game it’s obvious they are very proud of making it and the marketing machine really rolled this one out well and while they mention drawing from their knowledge from making The longest Journey and other games for advanced story telling features in AOC which is really nice to hear, I wonder how the whole city building thing can be sold as new, because that stuff is as old as Anarchy Online from 2001, also a Funcom game. Basically its just telling you the new game is coming, new graphics have been added logically in coordination with the technological development that makes few people rich and lots of people spend their money on new PC’s every year or so and then there is a mix of stuff you already know from other games or don’t know but probably has still already been used in other games, so why don’t they just say "We made a new game, there is new graphics and stuff."? One more thing to think about is individuality. Customizing your character is a much talked about topic in game promotion and it seems to always get better and better, so if thats the case why am I limited to 12 different tattoo’s in AOC and why do I see 85% of level 50 characters in LOTRO run around with the exact same cape? what keeps the developers from letting me create my own tattoo or clothing design like in Second Life where almost all the content is user/player created? Let me go back to LOTRO. I really like playing the game, it is very engaging and the visuals are amazing and hanging out in the Shire alone is worth a purchase in my opinion (you have to like hobbits and a very mellow atmosphere though). But while there are many reasons for me to play the game there are at least as many reasons not to play it. While I can mention a whole lot of things that make me feel like being in Middle Earth there are at least as many things that make me not feel like being there while playing LOTRO and it’s not just a question of graphics. While the whole genre defines itself by it’s own terms I have never actually seen anything that made me feel like participating in something massive and while millions of people are playing the same games at the same time there is often no connection at all between them. Something like the battle for Helms Deep in LOTRO is not possible in the foreseeable future, so to make you feel like your doing a lot of stuff anyway they added 10 million billion boars?!? Why can’t it all be a little more like pen&paper role playing games?

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Seriously Dell. WTF?

Ok, so in the following post I will be sharing with you my experience with Dell and their customer support over the past few days. First I should mention that I got this XPS M1730 gaming laptop from them because at the time I really needed a new laptop Alienware didn’t yet offer financing, so I had to go with Dell and the crappy 8700m GT graphics with 512mb total in video ram instead of 1 gig and then I got this useless Ageia Physx card that isn’t supported in any of the games I usually play. The wait time for this machine was over a month with several long talks on the phone about how urgently I wanted a PC and how they were unable to send it faster because they were missing hardware parts at random. One month after I finally got this thing, which basically was bugged on day one because the loaded graphics drivers would not support SLI mode (Dell hasn’t updated graphics drivers once in 9 months) they released the new version with the 8800 graphics cards, of course with no option for me to upgrade. Hadn’t I searched the internet and found the Laptopvideo2go website that does provide drivers which do enable SLI while being rather on the unstable side and not supporting WHQL which leaves fancy stuff like Dreamscene for Vista Ultimate out, I would have been left with a 256mb graphics card on my high end gaming laptop. By the way, the processor is a Intel Core 2 Extreme @ 2.8Ghz and it’s supposed to be made for overclocking. Tried that once for 200Mhz and 5 minutes, then decided the speed upgrade wasn’t worth having a lawnmower in the room. 4 gigs of ram of which Vista 32bit can work with 3.2, 2 160 gig HDD’s with 7200 rpm set to raid 0, onboard sound which is HD according to Dell and then all the fancy kiddy stuff like backlight for the keyboard, lightshow behind the speakers and on the backlid which I luckily found out how to turn off and the funny little Logitech display they probably put in there because I never bought anything of their awesome gaming equipment mice or headphones or whatever. The thing shows stuff like in game data like in Lotro it automatically switches to showing my morale, power, mood and location, but I never actually look at it because I get the same freaking information from looking at the screen. Then there is a stop watch and performance monitor but I mostly have it to display the time. So anyways, I think on monday I called Dell XPS support with a complaint about my graphics card since the machine was acting up when running in SLI mode which I had always used in the past, the drivers had been working for almost a month and the system worked fine when I turned SLI off. So my assumption was that something with the card(s) was wrong. Dell guy asked if it could be a software issue and the drivers I was using and I said no, the drivers had been working fine for a while and I had tried several other drivers too. He then sent out a technician to change my graphics card, the guy came by and changed it out and afterwards I was unable to log in to my user account. Called Dell again, they said reinstall Vista, I reinstalled Vista, still had problems, called them again, they said reinstall Vista but this time format your main partition before you do it, so I did, still had problems, called them again, they said we’ll send a guy to change the motherboard and the Physx card and then they decided to have the guy change the Ram too. So on friday the technician came by to change all the stuff and after he was done, he told me how to delete my raid volume and to reinstall vista – AGAIN. So I did and guess what, I still had problems. Then I got on the phone with Dell support (I am very thankful for having a phone flatrate) and the guy did some remote control crap to try to turn on aero on my machine which I had turned off because it would cause the machine to run slow. Maybe I should mention that I had crashed twice with an error message about overheating which I had told them earlier. After one and a half hour on the phone the guy ended up telling me to call software support which is chargeable even with a phone flat. At that point I was just about ready to come through the phone and remove all the teeth from the guys face. Still I managed to calm down and call Dell again and explain to them the problem which made them realize it would probably be the CPU or the HDD’s, the only 2 parts inside the machine that had’nt been changed yet…. The technician will come on monday to change those parts, then he will stay in my home to reinstall Vista and run a few diagnostic tests. I am considering of welcoming him with a baseball bat that I would have to buy early on monday. What do you folks think, is this normal even for Dell and how should I react to them basically leaving me without a working machine for a week at least instead of just sending a guy to take the laptop with him and then replace it with a working one within 48 hours? Did you have similar problems and were you able to claim any compensation for all the stress you went through while trying to communicate with those half retarded Dell service people? Please let me know.

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Warhammer Online!!! Well… almost.

What I really wanna talk about is the Wii and the attention it gets in the media, what I think about the Console, the technology behind it and the fact that it makes people active to some degree but also forces people with low fine motoric ability into deep financial depression. I am for some reason not interested in playing with the Wii and the game lineup the console has is probably better than any LSD flashback ever could be (not that I ever took LSD or endorse such behaviour) with all the same characters from my gaming childhood with slightly updated graphics and the typical family friendly attitude that has proven to be very successful for Nintendo. Overall I am quite amused by the buzz the white little thing generates though, because always will people jump on something that promises them to get in shape without leaving their couch, it’s like those hair growth potions people sold out of the back of their horse waggon back in the days. But unrealisticly high expectations set aside the Wii has proven to get people who aren’t used to or unable to conduct regular physical activity moving and sometimes even sparks competitivness within people who before the Wii used to pay more attention to their bladders emptying themselves at rather random times. So what about the technology behind this magic machine? Basically its infrared which has been around for a while that enables the motion sensor functionality that then in turn creates a "new" gaming experience for people with a completely new level of immersion. Nintendo claims they invented the Wii controller but sometime last year a guy named Pat Goschy showed up in the media and claimed it was all his idea, that he had invented the technology for Midway and they sold it to Nintendo, that he hadn’t seen any money for the whole thing and that he was going to sue Nintendo.

I haven’t heard anything about the development of that lawsuit after that and I don’t even know if a lawsuit was actually filed but my personal assumption is that Pat Goschy hasn’t gotten anything but trouble sleeping out of this. Then there is interesting stuff like shown by this guy implementing new possible ways to play games, I don’t think the folks in physical therapy or homes for elderly are going to love it lots though…

Another interesting field of employment is people using the Wii controller to control many different things including robots as seen here. I would like to conclude by mentioning that I personally think the Wii fit is hilarious, people who actually think they are getting fit by using that thing are making me roll on the floor laughing. It isn’t even necessary to show me this video

to make me realize I can do pushups without using the Wii board, but then who am I to judge and if people actually do get fit by using the thing that makes me happy, but I don’t think Nintendo really wants to make you fit, they just want to sell their stuff, sport studios and trainers want to make you fit, a jumping rope makes you fit and drinking protein shakes helps you build muscles during exercises and of course they all want your money.

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