Saturday, December 30, 2006

Resistance > Gears

I have to admit that Gears of War has the most outstanding graphics of any game this year, but I think when you take all the other factors that make a good game into account, that Resistance: Fall of Man for the PS3 is a superior title.

Both have great graphics, with GoW having a slight stylistic advantage. HOWEVER, I think Resistance has a much better storyline, better writing, better sound, and better gameplay. Gears of War's storyline is sketchy at best, and the dialogue between the characters is juvenile macho chest-thumping at its worst, and entirely lacking in imagination. I mean, c'mon, this is supposed to be another planet at some point far in the future, yet everyone comes across as current-day steroid-addicted jocks? This is about as completely berift of imagination as a storyline can get.

On the other hand, Resistance is consistent in it's use of alternate early 1950s earth, with the scenery, clothing, and dialogue fitting perfectly into the setting. The storyline is much more robust and well thought-out. It does start out seeming to be a Half-Life rip-off, with an alien race infecting and converting humans to more soldiers to fight for them, but it has some interesting twists and turns later on in the game that save it from seeing like a total copy.

Resistance also avoids the repetitive gameplay of Gears of War. 95% of GoW is the same style: jump from one point of cover to another while popping out occasionally to shoot at the enemy. The GoW enemy AI is good, and there are a couple welcome breaks to duck-and-cover, such as a couple vehicle-based sequences, and the Berserker section also servers as a great change-of-pace.

However, unlike GoW, Resistance is constantly changing its tone and pace. It starts out similar to GoW, with an emphasis on use of cover, but has a more Doom 3 / F.E.A.R. feel later in the game, when it goes more indoors. It gets enjoyable creepy, and managed to make me jump a couple times. Later on it shifts to some chaotic outdoor battles with dozens of enemy and friendly soldiers, with mortar shells flying, and more resembles WWII-based shooters. It's constantly shifting, and along with the well-done narration (although, can we PLEASE come up with something other than the all-male soldier game with single-female-as-narrator approach!??!) is compelling and fun consistently throughout the entire game.

Finally, unlike GoW, Resistance has an excellent selection of weapons, each having a unique feel and set of capabilities. Every single weapon has a reason to be used, unlike the rather generic and uninspired weapon selection in GoW.

After seeing all the gaming sites come in with GoW as Game of the Year I have to admit I'm in the minority here, but I think this just points out that when everyone says "It's the gameplay not the graphics", many of them are being more than a little disingenuous, because I think graphics is the ONLY area GoW is superior to Resistance, and that in almost any other measure of gameplay, Resistance is clearly the better game. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's now my all time favorite first-person-shooter, surpassing even Half-Life 2 (just by a hair) as my all-time favorite. This is a must-have game for all PS3 owners.

PS3 First Impressions

Unlike the small, modest Wii, the PS3 is a heavy, hulking, imposing piece of electronics. There's something slightly retro about its design, but overall I like it, despite the size. It attracts dust like a champ (you can wipe it off and literally see the dust snap back on the PS3 due to static electricity), but does look snazzy once you do convince the dust to stay off for at least a few minutes.

I ran into one snag which I blame on my Westinghouse TV: when I hooked it up to the PS3 via HDMI there was some flickering white spots on the screen when I tried to view 1080p resolution (the other resolutions were fine). Online postings (especially on the AVSFORUM site) leads me to believe that it is the TVs fault. A firmware upgrade would fix this, but you have to mail it back to Westinghouse (!!!) to get the upgrade. Luckily for me, after one of their updates, the PS3 can pump 1080p signals out its component outputs too, so I got their component adapter and am all set. (The signal is just a tad less crisp than the HDMI output, but given Sony's propensity to have aliasing issues, a touch of softness may not be a bad thing.)

Once I was past my video snag, I checked out their online store, and downloaded a couple games. The PS3's menus are elegant and easy to use. The menu's background/foreground colors change based on time of year and time of day. So, for example in the daytime the mainscreen background is a bland light gray, and turns black at night.

In general, the PS3s colors are vibrant, and at 1080p the resolution is as crisp as it gets. What pleasantly surprised me was how wonderful the sound was too. Like my 360 I'm using the optical output for sound, and I found the PS3 sound to be significantly warmer and richer than my 360. A visiting friend who also has a 360 agreed the sound was noticeably superior.

The launch games are ok for the most part, with Resistance: Fall of Man being the clear winner for currently available games. However, I have to say that in one sense the Gran Turismo HD (free) downloadable demo is the true standout, because it begins to hint at what the PS3 will really be capable of doing. It's truly amazing, even to someone used to high-def PC and 360 games. The scenery (especially the mountains in the background) is jaw-dropping, the number, variety, and detail of the spectators is great, and the look/sound/feel of the cars is marvelous. This is the cutting edge of gaming graphics and sound, and shows that the PS3 has more than enough muscle to be running great looking and sounding games for the next several years.

The SIXAXIS controllers are surprisingly lightweight, responsive and using them will come naturally to anyone used to PS2 controllers. The lack of vibration doesn't bother me too much. The motion-sensitive features aren't really used by any of the games I'm playing, except the arcade game Blast Factor, which uses them minimally. Clearly added as a response to the Wii, perhaps later games will take better advantage of the motion sensitivity in the future.

If you have a 1080i or especially a 1080p capable TV, and send your sound through a Dolby 5.1 or ACS-capable sound system, then the PS3 is definitely a worthwhile purchase. People without a newer TV or sound system don't need to rush to get one. I suspect that I'll be playing the PS3 a LOT, starting with Resistance. It may "lose the battle" with the Wii in the near future, but I suspect that in later years, when more people buy newer TVs and sound systems, and there are more beautiful hi-def games available, that it will gain back that lost ground and come into its own.

Wii Impressions

I've had the Wii for about 3 weeks now, and here are my first impressions:

If you want to try to interest a non-gamer in videogames, then then Wii is your best bet. I brought it to Russ' family Xmas day get-together, and more than once people who had not really been into gaming before said "Where can I get one?!?!" by the end of the day. They all had a blast with Wii Sports (especially tennis and bowling), and got a kick out of Rayman Raving Rabbids too.

The Wii's menus and controls are consistently easy to use, and have a clean, bright, albeit slightly boring, design. The newly enabled weather Globe is a surprise favorite of mine. It's fun, elegant, and a relaxing way to spend a few minutes every couple of days to see what the weather is like around the world.

The Wii's graphics on my 1080p LCD TV looked quite pixellated, even using the component cable. After getting used to seeing my PCs graphics on my TV (a Westinghouse LVM-42W2 that lets me run my PC through it at 1920 x 1080 resolution...EQ2 looks GREAT!) as well as my 360's, the Wii's graphics are, to put it kindly, underwhelming. However, moving it to our older TV (a Toshiba 1080i DLP) improved the look. I know it's common to say "It's not about the graphics, it's about the gameplay", but I guess I've been spoiled beyond recovery by newer hardware, because I'm finding I need a certain level of graphics to truly enjoy a game. Gameplay is still critical, but when you can have both, why settle for just the gameplay?

I'm sure I'll still have lots of fun playing the Wii, but I suspect I'll mostly play it when I'm with other people in person, especially if they're not avid gamers. When I want to sit down for an extended session of solo or online gaming, it will be on my PC, PS3, or 360. With all these latest-generation options, I don't imagine I'll use the Wii as much as the others.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My PS3 has shipped w/ ONE day delivery

Sony came through and shipped my PS3 today with ONE day delivery, so I'm due to get it tomorrow (Friday)! From my unpleasantly-self-satisifed-and-gloating email to friends:

So, I go to the Sony site and see my PS3 has shipped, but not only that, it was shipped via Fed-Ex ONE day and will be here FRIDAY, estimated time of delivery being 10:30AM. I gave a little-girl shriek and started clapping my hands. Russ was not impressed with my less than manly outburst, but I'm all excited now.

I have Resistance: Fall of Man to play, and the third X-Men movie to watch on blu-ray. I'll try to get one other game tomorrow while I'm out doing my last-minute Xmas shopping. (Yes, I plan to make sure it arrives, then go shopping before coming home and playing with it. Once something is in my possession I like to prolong the first use as long as possible....)

Ok, true confession time: In my original e-mail to them I said I have "Gears of War" to play, instead of "Resistance: Fall of Man". Ooops. (Yes, I do have a 360 too. I think GoW is beautiful, but I find the gameplay a tad to repetitive to recommend wholeheartedly...)

Snagging a PS3

I was trying to get a PS3 using the TechBargains and other search sites, but not having much luck. By the time I saw that site x had some available, I'd go there to their now-obviously-swamped site and get nothing. Plus, most of them were selling these heinous bundles trying to shove a bunch of hateful games down your throat, or make you pick 10 accessories to buy (out of a list of 12 or so....).

So, I came up with the strategy of just checking sites offering *unbundled* PS3s myself when they were listed as OUT of stock, figuring I'd have some slight chance to beat others to newly released systems. And, two days ago, my strategy WORKED! I went to the Sony Style site (supposedly out-of-stock according to all the monitoring sites), and much to my delight I saw the 'Add to Cart' button on the 60G PS3 screen! I rushed through and actually completed the transaction!

Not only did I get it unbundled for list at $599, but I got FREE 2-day shipping!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Zune: First Impressions

As any of my friends will quickly attest, I have no self-control when it comes to buying gadgets. I picked up a Zune (brown, of course...) at EB Games today, and so far my impressions are very good. In no particular order:

  • General look and feel: About as big as a first generation iPod, but doesn't feel as heavy, and I really like the fingerprint-resistant rubbery-feeling case. The brown color seems to be a love it/hate it kind of thing, and I'm on the 'love it' side. Go Earth tones!!

  • Screen: Big, colorful, and crisp. One reason the Zune is so large is that the screen is as large as it is.

  • Controls: Simple and easy to use. I keep expecting the center control pad to turn like an iPod's, but it's just an up/down/left/right button. (Think of the d-pad on almost any modern videogame console's controller) A touch less quick to move around long lists, but still works well.

  • Menus: Similar to Window's Media Center menus. Very nice looking and easy to move around in. Definitely a strong point.

  • Zune Marketplace: Not as feature-rich as iTunes, but what it has works well. Very similar to Urge if you have used that. I really love that you don't have to specify what your search string is for. It QUICKLY searches their entire library and shows how many matches found in artist, album, or song title, and THEN you can choose which of those search result sets you want to see. I anticipate that video downloads will come VERY soon (since they'll be on the XBox Live Marketplace soon), and I hope podcasts aren't far behind. But, for now you have to take it on faith that those will arrive in the future.

  • Radio: works well. Nice to have as an option, but not a big deal for me.

  • Wireless: I'm not too excited by 'share your songs with a friend' stuff. I'm hoping they get future enhancements to allow syncing and/or song downloads direct to your zune via wireless in the future. I see this more as a feature that shows much promise for future enhancements rather than something I'll use much now.

  • Sound quality: Excellent.

  • Synchronizing: Here's a big win for me: it's easy, trouble-free (so far), and above all it is FAST. It's easily as fast as my iPod in synchronizing, if not a touch faster. Since I'm a huge fan of subscription services, I do LOTS of new song synchronizing every day, and not having to live with the Plays-For-Sure slower-than-coral-growth speeds feels like a gift from the gods.

  • Battery life: tbd

I'll post a week later or so and let you know if my very positive first impressions hold up.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Giving a try

I'm looking for an easy cross-browser way to manage all my favorites, so I thought I'd give a try. I'm not too happy it seems like a two-click process (click on the icon on my IE toolbar, THEN click on my favorite), but if it works well in terms of easily tracking work and home related links by category then that may not be much of an issue. We'll see....

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Poor Pluto....I'm still gonna call you a planet!

After a week of contentious public and private debate, a small cluster of astronomers has voted to demote Pluto from its planetary status.

Science & Technology at Scientific Astronomers Relegate Pluto to Dwarf Status

Evidently small clusters of astronomers can suck harder than a black hole.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Work From Home

As part of my employer's disaster recovery plans, we had a 'work from home' day where a large number of employee's used VPN to connect to the company network and work from home.

It was wonderful!  Here's hoping they decide to save costs in the future by having us share cubes and work from home part of every week.  It would be great!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Perhaps if i cater to my laziness?

So, I'm still too lazy to blog on a regular basis.  I read about Flock today, which makes it supremely easy to cut and paste from a page and make a post about it.  I'll try to post about various games etc that I'm involved with to see if I can make a more concerted effort to actually post on at least an every-2-or-3 day basis.  We'll see!

Here's a web snippet I highlighted on their page, right-clicked, chose the 'Blog This' option, then typed this post and they handled getting it posted to Blogger, because I'm even too supremely lazy to actually log in to make a post.

Flock — The web browser for you and your friends

technorati tags:,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Now reading: Last Call, by Tim Powers

A mix of magic, mysticism and Las Vegas. It gets off to a strong start, and so far is a perfect summer read. It's one of those books that makes you feel that magic is just underneath the surface or around the corner of everyday life. It's a bit like a mix between a Dan Simmons horror novel and a Charles de Lint fantasy novel. I recommend it!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fun Night at the Red Sox

Russ & I went with our friends Scott & Judi to the Red Sox game vs. the Nationals last night (which happened to be my birthday...) We ate at Bangkok Blue first (although Thai Basil is still my favorite Thai restaurant in the Copley Square area), and had a very good dinner.

The game itself quickly turned into a blowout, but that was fine as we had a chance to catch up and chat for most of it.

Thanks Scott & Judi for such a wonderful night!!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Shape of Things

Okay, so I didn't post last night, but at least I'm posting the next day. We went to see 'The Shape of Things' at the (relatively) new Arsenal center for the performing arts in Watertown. I wasn't too fond of it. There were some choices they made in how they did the piece that I'm not sure were the best, but even more importantly I'm not overly fond of the play itself. Overall their production was fine, but I didn't really enjoy it at any point, other than a few moments here and there.

The movie version is available in Comcast's "On Demand" area, and I watched the first 15 minutes or so of it. It affirmed my sense that there were certain choices made in the particular production we saw that I thought weakened it (Evelyn needed to be more the artsy/quirky/creative type, and not just very pretty. Adam was likeable but overly tic-ridden and twitchy, and didn't show enough of a change in personality (just a decrease in the tics/twitches) over the course of the play.) But, watching the movie confirmed that I'm still not fond of the story itself, even when done by its writer.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Maybe this time?

Okay, so this and my other blog have been idle for quite some time. I'm starting yet another attempt to resurrect them and actually post on a regular basis. I'll start with this one, my general 'whatever I feel like indulgently rambling on about' blog. I don't have anything specific to post about at the moment, but am just making a post to put the thought in my head.

I've recently been seeing/hearing/reading about things that I thought would fuel a good blog post, but was just too frickin' lazy (as usual) to do anything about it. So, here I go again, with another attempt.

Russ and I are going to see a play tonight in Watertown, MA. Afterwards we're going to a nearby Best Buy to see if they have a cheap 1080p TV (don't laugh, Westinghouse actually has a couple!) that may be worth buying. I'll try to follow through with a post or two tonight....

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Disappointment

I wasn't hoping for anything great, but after seeing the Chronicles of Narnia the other day I was definitely disappointed. With the exception of the youngest, the child actors were stiff and their characters not particularly likeable.

***SPOILER ALERT***: The following few points about why I was disappointed give away some of the plot, so those who haven't seen it yet may not want to continue reading....

Too many events felt arbitrary, from when and how the wardrobe served as a gateway to Narnia vs. just a wardrobe, to what "laws" the magic of Narnia operated under, to the "prophecy" of the children's role in defeating the witch. Aslan the lion "sacrifices" himself to save one of the children, but we later find out it was more of a lawyer-ly technicality rather than true sacrifice: he knew that the way the "deep magic" of Narnia worked would let him be reborn rather than be truly dead when he 'gave his life' earlier.

We also had the odd intrusion of Santa (!!!) into the movie, and to top it all off he serves as a sort of arms dealer for the kids, handing them weapons and other goodies to triumph in battle later.

The children seemed to be led by the nose through the whole adventure rather than truly showing intelligence, fortitude, or creativity. Things just seemed to constantly happen "Deus Ex Machina", which I suppose shouldn't be surprising given C.S. Lewis' intent to make this all a metaphor for Christianity.

The special effects were mostly good, and some of the Narnian creatures such as the beavers and Tumnus were likeable, and Tilda Swinton certainly did show more energy than anyone else as the witch. Liam Neeson's voicing of Aslan was soporific. He was gorgeously animated, but felt more like a kindly uncle than a strong, spiritual, charismatic leader.

Having said all this, I have a feeling I would have liked this movie much more as a kid, and imagine that most children would greatly enjoy it. But, I'm uncomfortable at the movie's attitude of violence as the only way to defeat your enemies. The Lord of the Rings certainly had its share of violence too, but the character of Gollum (amongst others) brought some interesting moral ambiguity into the mix, but Narnia is all black and white, with nothing but death being the way to handle your foes.

When not gaming: In Search of Lost Time

While gaming takes up lots of my leisure time, it's not the only thing I've been doing lately. I also decided to read the latest translation-series for Proust's "In Search of Lost Time". I'd ready about two-thirds of it using the old translation, but never got all the way through. By turns brilliant, funny, tedious, challenging and absorbing, I certainly can understand why many consider it the finest novel of the 20th century. (Not to mention one of the longest....)

A UK publisher had coordinated having several people translate the various volumes of the novel, and 4 of the 6 have been released in the U.S. by Penguin. I've just started reading them with "Swann's Way". So far I'm enjoying the new translation quite a bit. It seems clearer, more energetic, and less archaic and dated.

I'm off to read some more..... :-D

Games I'm playing right now....

I'm on an MMORPG kick on my PC while I wait for Oblivion to come out for the 360. Right now I'm playing:

Horizons: They have a special cheap rate going so I signed up to play this a bit more. I had played it when it first came out about 2 years ago, and thought it had lots of good points, but wasn't quite there yet. They've had some time to improve things a bit, so given the price of it I decided to give it another whirl. We'll see how it goes...

Irth Online: A new MMORPG made by a local company. It has lots of rough spots, but also some good strengths: A large world, communicative and hard-working dev team, lots of crafting choices, skill-based rather than level-based advancement, and graphics that are awkward and crude one moment, and gorgeous the next.

Settlers of Ganareth (prelude to Dark & Light): Lots and lots of bugs, not much content at all, but has a framework with lots of potential. A gigantic world with beautiful scenery (but very hardware demanding to see it at its finest), and an ambitious set of features that, if they deliver on most of them, will make for a fun and involving game that is rich in both PvP, exploration, and crafting activities. They seem to be making steady improvements, but I will take a wait-and-see attitude on how many of its promised features it'll actually implement.

So, between these three games I'm kept quite busy. We'll see which one captures the most of time over the next couple weeks.