My XBox Live Gamer Card
Wednesday, August 19. 2009
Back at the end of June, Travis rented [Prototype] from our friendly neighbourhood Blockbuster. He liked it well enough that he kept it beyond the week, and Jennifer returned it a week or so late.
Yesterday while I was reviewing bank statements I discovered a charge for $59.99 on my credit card on July 1st. Having no idea what it was I called Blockbuster and asked. They were more than happy to tell me it was for the unreturned copy of [Prototype]. Knowing very well that Jennifer had returned the game I asked what could be done and was told I would need to call back when the manager was on duty. This morning I called back and talked to the manager. I told him the story, he asked me a few questions, and while not happy about doing so, he credited my account for the $59.99.
I had no proof that Jennifer had returned the game. I know she did but could not prove that. In addition it had been a long time since the charge was placed on my credit card. Note to self: pay closer attention to your credit card statements. Despite those things the manager chose to do the right thing. In a world where the customer is very rarely looked out for, I appreciate it very much when people do look out for their customers and do the right thing.
Wednesday, May 27. 2009
I love Star Trek I loved the original series, I loved The Next Generation, loved it when they changed things up with Deep Space Nine, enjoyed Voyager, and paid no attention whatsoever to Enterprise. The films were a mixed bag, from brilliant science fiction to abysmal efforts created solely for the purpose of extracting money from die-hard Trek fans. This film is definitely not the latter.
With each Trek film I looked forward to it with fear and trepidation. We knew long ago that this was going to take the characters we love and give us a prequel to the series, but how do you successfully replace William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig? If you're J.J. Abrams you hire Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin. These newcomers slip into their predecessor's roles almost seamlessly. In some cases the resemblances are uncanny.
The new film gets us off to a very emotional start as we see James T. Kirk's father saving the lives of many hundreds of his crew mates at the very same moment that the baby James is being born. The young Kirk turns into a rough and ready rebel, drinking hard, playing hard and fighting hard. We see a young Spock on Vulcan being tormented by his school mates for being half human. This eventually leads to the most inventive use of "Live long and prosper" ever captured on film or video tape.
Bruce Greenwood, far too often cast as a heavy, plays Christopher Pike the commanding officer of the Enterprise. He meet with the young Kirk and encourages him to follow in his father's footsteps which eventually he does, taking his hell-raising ways to Starfleet Academy, and setting up the all the required meetings to get The Crew together.
The action is fast and exciting, the story much better than recent Trek films, but also with some glaring plot problems that, if they had been conquered, would have pushed this into Wrath of Khan quality territory. Unfortunately while it is quite possible to suspend disbelief for the duration of the film, mostly due to it's fast and furious pace, those plot problems come back to haunt you when reflecting on the movie.
The performances are really quite brilliant all around. Zachary Quinto is Spock, there is never any question. Chris Pine does well with his portrayal of Kirk, resurrecting many of the mannerisms, but discarding the delivery. Karl Urban looks so much like a young Dr. McCoy that you might have trouble distinguishing the two. The backstory of why he has joined Starfleet is quite entertaining. Everyone else does very well.
While, upon further review, the story fails, I still would place this film high on the list of Trek films. Because of the ingenious manner of resetting the story, it is possible that we will see some very good films in the future. Of course, it's also possible that this will be viewed as an excuse to regularly milk money from the new generation of Trek fans.
I hope that the next installment is of the quality of Khan. That would be totally awesome.
Tuesday, May 5. 2009
Last night I finally finished Fallout 3. I had enjoyed many many hours of playing this excellent game. A world full of interesting characters, interesting questions, and interesting places. Sure I was disappointed at the level cap (one of the reasons the game fell to the wayside of my gaming), but I understand that it was part of the price we paid for not having auto-leveling bad-guys in the game (like we did in Oblivion). On the whole my experience as I wandered through the Capital Wasteland was one of awe and deep enjoyment. There were so many little touches that made it possible to completely lose yourself in the world these incredibly talented developers had created.
And then we got to the finale, and instead of putting the capstone on this incredible piece of work, the game came to an Epic Failure. Not just a small gaffe, not a tiny distraction, but an Epic Failure. I won't go into to details as I hate spoilers as much as the next person, but the ending tossed out everything we might have expected for this game based on how things were handled at the end of Oblivion, based on what we had learned about our avatar as we wandered through the beautiful Capital Wasteland, based on the skills and items I had picked up in my wandering. It all came crashing down in a nonsensical jumble that left me incredibly disheartened and wondering whether I will be investing in the DLC Bethesda have made available for the game.
I don't understand how something so beautiful could end up so disappointing.
Monday, April 20. 2009
Last Thursday night David (our DM), Joe, Scott and I made two major decisions. The first was to roll up 4th Edition characters, the second was to get Travis involved in our game. I've been pestering Travis for a while about it, but rolling up new characters made it just too good an occasion for him not to join in. So he did.
Rolling up characters is a bit of a misnomer for 4th Edition as rolling the dice to generate characters under the new rules is frowned upon. But he had a lot of fun creating a new group of characters (I used the Players Guide 2 and created a Longtooth Shifter Warden). Originally I was going to be a Halfling Rogue but Joe wanted to play a Halfling so I used the opportunity to try something completely different.
We still have lots of questions about the new rules and how powers and feats and everything else all work together. We spent a lot of time looking at the Players Guides and trying to decipher exactly what some of the things meant, but in general it seemed to work out quite well.
I'm looking forward to our gaming session this Thursday night.
Tuesday, November 18. 2008
Sunday, November 16. 2008
Friday night Jennifer, Travis and I went to see Quantum of Solace. We had been looking forward to it ever since the excellent series restart in Daniel Craig's first Bond film Casino Royale. We came away mostly disappointed from what may well be the worst Bond film ever. While it may be the worst Bond film ever, if viewed without the Bond lens, it does succeed on some levels as a film.
When describing James Bond, there are all sort of adjectives that can be used, but I usually think along the following lines, suave, debonair and witty. This Bond is none of those things. In fact, during the one brief love scene (which barely qualifies as such) my son asked me, "Dad why did she put out for him?" Granted this Bond is troubled by the loss of his lady-love in Casino. But Bond does not feel right when completely driven by vengeance. He needs something more to be Bond.
There is no wit, there is no charm, there is simply a very good looking man killing his way across the globe in search of some sort of justice in the death of Vespyr, the woman he loved. In addition to the lack of wit or charm there is a decided lack of any of the cool or exciting gadgets we're used to seeing in the Bond universe. Their use was very limited in Casino but we did get to see some of the neat tricks the Aston Martin had available. In this outing we're deprived of even that little bit of gadgetry wow-factor.
On a positive note Judi Dench's M gets a bit more valuable screen time in this installment of the series. She is a marvelous actress and does a great job of bringing Bond's boss to life. Her no-nonsense toughness, plus evident caring for Bond are the one bright point in what is a colossal failure as a Bond film. A Bond film far worse than any outing Roger Moore ever participated in.
If you can remove the "Bond Lens" and watch Quantum solely as an action film with a disposable hero, it is really quite successful. The action sequences are well done and exciting, including one scene in an airplane that is quite the nail-biter. Watching Daniel Craig, beat, thrash and kill his way around the world is an entertaining diversion, but one which requires you to complete forget the character Craig played in Casino.
Wednesday, November 12. 2008
Travis and I finished the Gears of War 2 campaign on Hardcore difficulty last night. We will tackle it again on Insane and see how we do. While Epic and Dude Huge didn't re-invent the game, they did do a very nice job of making it an exceptionally satisfying experience. The campaign, in general, is much more solid and much more satisfying, answering a few questions, but leaving many more unanswered. As this is the middle chapter of a trilogy I don't find that to be much of a problem. The ending, while somewhat abrupt (I didn't expect to be there when I got there) is not as bad as much of what I have read about it in the press. I found it to be very similar to the novel where the climax happens three-quarters of the way through and the rest of the story is winding down.
While the storyline is much better, it is hampered by incredibly hammy voice-acting. There is one scene that is really quite poignant, and if done correctly I would have probably been in tears, but the voice-acting is so over-the-top that I never got past it and fully, emotionally into the moment. The story is also hampered by a couple of levels that seem to have been created for no other reason than to show off some of the cool features of the Unreal Engine.
In general, the levels are a lot of fun, one of them included some of my most satisfying moments ever in a video game. The mechanics are pretty much identical to the mechanics in the first game, however, there are a couple of really nice features that were added. One is the ability to attempt to crawl to safety when you are downed by the enemy. The other is that it is quite possible for you and your buddy to split up and carry on down two separate paths of the level for a brief while. This was forced several times in the first game, and sometimes still is in this one, but sometimes it's an optional path which is quite nice.
The new weapons and finishing moves are lots of fun. The mulcher, mortar, and flame thrower all add new and interesting strategies both in single-player and in multi-player. One of the fun things Epic has done is they have added distinct finishing moves for each weapon. Other new additions are the ability to use any of the grenade types as a proximity mine (you melee the wall) and that the concussion from grenades other than the frag grenades will knock you down.
Gears of War featured and achievement called "Seriously" and you achieved it with something like ten-thousand kills in public, ranked matches. The new game ups the ante on that significantly. Seriously 2.0 requires one hundred-thousand kills. Fortunately you get credit for every kill, not just kills in ranked matches.
Multi-player has changed too. The basics are still the same but there are several new game modes, and one additional player per team. The greatest improvements in multi-player have to do with the game lobby though. No longer is it an exercise in frustration to try and put a group together and take that group in search of battle.
My favourite addition to the PvP game modes is "Submission" (formerly known as Meatflag). The meatflag is a Stranded, lost in the middle of the map. Your job is to down the meatflag grab him as a meat-shield and carry him to the capture point. It's basically capture the flag with one caveat, the flag shoots back. I have seen several of those matches where the meatflag had more kills than anyone on either team.
I think my favourite multi-player mode overall is the new Horde mode. In Horde, you and up to four of your friends are dumped into a map where you will face wave after increasingly difficult wave of Locust enemies, fifty of them to be exact. The sheer fun of tackling that many enemies with your friends, and fighting cooperatively to defeat them is incredibly addictive and lots and lots of fun.
Epic has done a fabulous job on the sequel to one of the best games available on the XBox 360. I highly recommend it.
Monday, November 3. 2008
Yesterday I finished Fable II. I was somewhat melancholy when the credits rolled and that is the sign of a good game. If I am sad when it is over, I know I have experienced something that is not typical, something that is a cut-above. Fortunately, while the main quest is over, I can still experience more of the game as there are some side-quests yet to complete.
Fable II is one of the best RPGs I have played on the 360. The story follows the protagonist, Sparrow, from young child, to adult-hood. From the back-alleys of Old Bowerstone, to the regal halls of the Fairfax Castle, from the beautiful fields of Oakfield to dank dungeons beneath the world of Albion. The world is beautifully realized, all of regions have a look and feel and sound to them that is quite immersive. These regions bring up one of the shortcomings of the game however.
There is no sense of continuity to the world of Albion. After spending many hours in the game I can barely tell you where each of the regions is in relation to any of the other regions. Is Oakfield north of Bowerstone? The region system, and lack of adequate mapping completely yank you out of the world of Albion and put you squarely back in your game room every time you load a new region. For a game that is so well done, this was a horrible oversight. Compare it to the world in Oblivion, or Fallout 3 where you can run, walk or ride anywhere on the map, and know where all the cities and villages are in relation to each other, and you will see just how badly Lionhead failed in this regard.
Character customization is incredibly broad, and not entirely within your direct control. While you can find or purchase and vast quantity of clothing items and mix-and-match-and-dye them to your heart's content, while you can change your hairstyle and beard, you can't directly change your musculature, your height, or your weight. Musculature changes as you become stronger. Height changes as you become more skilled weight changes based on what you eat--eat fatty foods get fat, eat celery get thin. The weight issue is one of the games other minor shortcomings, while there are many foods and beverages that will make you fatter, there is only one that will make you thinner. Given the variety of the diet available to you, this seems to be another oversight on Lionhead's part.
Character leveling is unique and enjoyable. Every battle and many of the foods, drinks and potions provide attribute mana. Attributes are divided up into Strength (blue), Skill (yellow), Will (red), and General (green). When you fight with a melee weapon you gain strength, when you fight with a ranged weapon you gain skill, when you fight using magic you gain will. Regardless of how you fight you gain general mana. If you mix up your combat, you will gain mixed attribute mana. You can purchase new abilities with the correct color of mana (plus the green mana which is a sort of wildcard mana). Each Ability has four or five levels you can aspire to as you play the game.
In addition to questing and getting money and fame, you can work and gamble to get money. You can use that money to buy businesses and residences, and then live off the income and rent. Setting prices can be a noble, neutral or nefarious act, and you are rewarded or penalized accordingly. You are paid every five minutes regardless of whether you are playing the game or not, so you can leave the game for several hours and return to it and find a nice sum of money waiting for you. There are three jobs you can hold in the world of Albion, each of them provide increasing levels of reward as your skill increases, and the mini-games involved in the jobs are fun and addicting. You can do blacksmith work, you can chop wood, and you can tend bar. The pub games, Spinner Box, Fortune's Tower (my favourite), and Keystone also provide fun diversions, and if you're lucky some extra cash.
Activities in the game are good or evil, pure or corrupt, and they shape the world in which you live, and the way the characters in the game respond to you. The entire look of an area can change based on the choices that you make. I had heard much about morality in this game and was hoping for some tougher choices, some epic moral decisions, unfortunately those types of choices did not crop up. Yes there are some that might be slightly difficult but none made me really stop and pause and think. Your goodness or badness or pureness or corruptness can have an effect on both the look of your character, and the look of your dog.
Your dog (which you can name) is one of the highlights of the game, never getting in the way, but ever present. He is a wonderful companion, a treasure hunter and fighter. In addition to your dog, you may marry, and have children. While I quite liked my wife, and really enjoyed watching and listening to my son, whenever I returned home from adventuring, neither of them found their way into my affections the way my dog did.
The main storyline is quite formulaic, and likely forgettable, all except for one place where I shouted "you fucker!" at my television. However, there is so much to do in the world that it is quite possible to view the main quest as a secondary quest and just wile away endless hours in the world of Albion.
Peter Molyneaux has a history of over-promising and under-delivering, however, he managed to keep the promises moderated, and Lionhead has certainly delivered a fun and memorable experience.
Wednesday, October 15. 2008
Paramount started releasing some pictures from the new J. J. Abrams helmed Star Trek film. This is the film that is going to be a "reset" of the series going back to when the crew of The Original Series was very young.
I'm a big fan of all the Trek's but Enterprise. I've stuck with it through some really really horrible film versions. I have big hopes for this film hopefully they can bring it back to level of excitement that it deserves instead of the "ho-hum" many of the films have produced.
I'm also hoping these pictures will breathe some life back into my investment in the film at the Hollywood Stock Exchange It's fun game, you should check it out, though my portfolio there tanking at the same time the Dow was tanking was a bit surreal.
Via: The "Looking Closer" Journal
Thursday, September 25. 2008
Today it became official, Jack Thompson, the ranting madman and anti-game crusader was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court...forever.
The Court approves the corrected referee's report and John Bruce Thompson is permanently disbarred, effective thirty days from the date of this order so that respondent can close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients. If respondent notifies the Court in writing that he is no longer practicing and does not need the thirty days to protect existing clients, this Court will enter an order making the permanent disbarment effective immediately. Respondent shall accept no new business from the date this order is filed.
Judging from court records and his own press, the man was a horrible example of being an attorney, and also a horrible example of what it means to be a Christian.
If you don't like video games, that's cool. If you want to work to change the system, I suppose you're welcome to do that too, though I believe our Constitution may have something to say about your efforts. However, don't be a total and complete git about it. Thompson was an expert at being a git. He deserves his derision, he deserves his disbarment, he should be ashamed that he has caused other's to look with contempt upon his faith, and thereby the faith of others who ostensibly share it.
Friday, September 19. 2008
Major Nelson just released a video about avatar creation on the New XBox Experience.
I'm really looking forward to the complete redesign of the 360's interface, and as cutesy as avatars are, I'm really looking forward to getting to spend some time creating one. I'm sure I will be spending some MS Points to buy kit for my avatar at some point also.
One of the things I noticed in the video was just how smooth the interface appears to be when navigating between sections. I hope that it's as smooth for us as it is for the Major in this demo.
Via: Xbox Live's Major Nelson
Wednesday, September 17. 2008
...on the release of his second novel, Cyndere's Midnight. It is the second book in the Auralia Thread a four book series.
The reviews for Auralia's Colors were wonderful. I encourage you to check these books out.
Monday, September 15. 2008
Linda Litzke, employee of the Hardbodies Gym, needs several cosmetic surgeries, Osborne Cox, recently of the Central Intelligence Agency, needs a way to make some money. Harry Pfarrer, Treasury Agent, needs more women than your average male. Katie Cox, wife of Osborne, needs Harry Pfarrer. Ted Treffon, manager of Hardbodies Gym, needs Linda Litzke. Lastly, Chad Feldheimer, trainer at Hardbodies Gym, needs...well he needs a haircut and hydration.
Burn After Reading is not the Coen brothers best film, however, it is an amazingly entertaining, quirky diversion, and far better than most of what is available on the big screen. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen it is as quirky, offbeat and sometimes dark as many of their other films. There is no message here, nothing deep and thought provoking, just the Coen's supported by a fabulous cast having a wonderfully good time being mostly silly.
Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) quits his job after finding out from his witless boss (David Rasche) that he is being re-assigned to a far less important part of the agency. The bow-tie wearing, perfectly pronouncing, effeteness of the man is set in contrast to his ability to use the word "fuck" with almost Joe Peschi fluency, and a burning rage that moves from simmer to boil. Deciding to write his memoir (a word he pronounces so perfectly that many people can't understand him), as a bit of vengeance against his former employer, and a way to earn some money, he sets one of the pieces of the complex machine into motion.
Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton) wants the philandering Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and uses her husband's quitting his job as an excuse to start investigating divorce proceedings. This sets a second cog in the machine in motion.
When a CD containing what appears to be highly classified "stuff" is discovered on the floor at Hardbodies, Linda (Frances McDormand) and the vacuous Chad (Brad Pitt), set another piece of machinery into action when they attempt to be good samaritans and return, for a reward of course, the "stuff" to it's rightful owner.
Once all the pieces of this machine are in motion, it behaves like one of those children's wind up cars, spinning all over the floor in all sorts of interesting directions. It's a story that is never dull, often pushes the edges of of credence, but is held together by the sheer willpower and willingness of the cast to chew up as much scenery as possible and act like complete buffoons. The buffoonery is heightened by the fact that two of Hollywood's leading men, both with appearances on People Magazine's Sexiest Men lists, are so sure of themselves that they are willing to act like complete imbeciles. I can't imagine that there are too many actors confident enough that they would be willing to take on the task, especially Pitt's appallingly bad haircut.
Along the way we get to meet the manager of hard bodies, very nicely played by Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons (recently seen in the fabulous Juno) has an all-too-brief, but wonderfully entertaining turn as David Rasche's boss at the CIA.
Definitely well worth seeing.
Tuesday, September 9. 2008
When the tweet about the Black Crowes playing a concert at the came across my Twitter feed I clicked the link expecting to see a review of the show. Much to my surprise it turned out to be a blurb about a show the following Friday, and what's more, an affordable show. I checked out TicketMaster who insisted on charging $8.50 a ticket for the privilege of ordering online, and then read that tickets were also available at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom boxoffice. So I hopped on the bike and rode downtown to get a pair. TicketMaster still managed to get a cut, just not quite as big a cut.
I have never been to the Edgefield for a show so I was really looking forward to exploring a new venue. Friday evening I picked Jennifer up just after 4:00pm and we headed for the show. There was already a line when we got there, but it wasn't long line, and we were quite assured of getting good seats. Once we got inside, we headed into the lovely grassy bowl where the show would be, found a spot on the grass about half-way back (far enough back and high enough up that we wouldn't have to stand the whole show, and would still be able to see) and lay out our blanket reserving our spot. Then we went off to find food and drink.
The first thing I noticed about the prices was "Hey these are reasonable!" Definitely not like the prices at the Rose Garden or a movie theater where once they have you inside they turn you upside down and shake every last penny from your pockets. Our dinner was filling, and my gin & tonic was fabulous due to the McMenamin's private label Vintner's Gin (which is the best gin I've ever had). The best thing about reasonable prices is you don't feel bad about spending money, so I was willing to spend a bit more.
Returning to our blanket we enjoyed the sun and people watching waiting for 6:30 to arrive. Much to our surprise Carney, a Los Angeles band fronted by brothers Reeve and Zane Carney, came on at 6:20 and got things underway early.
From the very first notes I was a bit worried, lead singer Reeve Carney and his band mates channeled just a bit too much White Stripes for me. The White Stripes are interesting, but I have never enjoyed their music, only tolerated it. But after the first song, things improved dramatically. These youngsters (none of them are over 30) really know how to rock, and by the time they got to a cover of The Beatles I Want You (She's So Heavy) I was thoroughly in the groove of things and letting the raw power of the music sweep over me. I was actually slightly disappointed when they finished their half-hour set.
Reeve Carney's vocals were quite good, though a bit weak. As he matures I can imagine he will grow into a very competent front-man. His brother Zane's guitar work was top-notch (though his bright blue guitar looks like it belongs in a video game). Bassist John David Lipscomb, laid down a consistently good bass track, and drummer Jon Epcar kept everything moving with consistent work.
One of the things I really appreciated was there were very few attempts at showmanship. They stood up, and played raw, emotional music, letting the music be the focus of the show not the individuals playing the music.
After half an hour break the Black Crowes came to the stage for what would prove to be and incredible musical experience. Once again there was no pretentiousness, no flash, no whizbang, just a few lighting effects and 120 minutes of amazing jam band influenced, southern rock-n-roll played by six talented musicians. It's a good thing that Chris and Rich Robinson managed to put their differences to rest because they were depriving the world of some fabulous live music while the band was split up.
Chris Robinson is one of those vocalists like Bob Dylan, you have to wonder how he ever got the job as lead singer, but there's no denying that his growl has something wonderfully primeval to it that enhances the kind of music the band plays. The only "hit" the band played was Hard to Handle, and this was my only disappointment of the evening as I am a huge fan of She Talks to Angels and had hoped to see it performed live.
This show was such a contrast to the show I last show I blogged about. Where sick puppies were musically excellent, their lead singer thought the show was about him and not his music. Where Evanescence's music was fabulous, it never left the confines of the CD recording. Both Carney and The Crowes understood that live music is about the music, and that live performances should not sound the same as the CD, and that the audience both wants and deserves more.
Rock and Roll just doesn't get much better.
Jeffrey Overstreet has a new column appearing at Christianity Today Movies. Now before you go dismissing it because he's a Christian, please keep this in mind. If more Christians were like Jeffrey more people would pay attention to Christians and not completely write them off as having nothing useful to add to the discussion.
His new column, "Through a Screen Darkly" is an extension of of his book by the same name. It is a column that will allow him to explore the themes he started exploring with the book.
Whether you share his core beliefs or not, I encourage you to go check out what he has to say about the Russian film The Island, and the service, Film Movement, who are bringing some exceptional foreign films to this country.
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