Sunday, April 30, 2006

How the Xbox Influenced Console Gaming

IGN Xbox has this great feature up called "The Xbox Effect", in which it discusses the various ways that the Xbox has influenced and re-defined various aspects of console gaming since it's release in November 2001.

Highlights include true online gaming for a console, the inclusion of a hard disk, and the rise in success of western RPGs for consoles.

The article also discusses how similar to a PC the Xbox is, and how that's helped bring more gamers (such as myself) over from the PC market.

You can check it out here.

BioShock Screenshots Released

A few days ago, 2K Games released the first screenshots for the Xbox 360 version of BioShock. When announced, BioShock was stated to be the spiritual successor of System Shock 2, however this TeamXbox feature states that it will be an actual sequal, a third System Shock. Time will tell if this is true, however a think the official spiritual successor bit is true.

Anyway, considering how amazing and immersive System Shock 2 was, BioShock is a game to keep an eye on.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nintendo Revolution Renamed

Nintendo has renamed their upcoming Revolution console, changing the name to Wii. That's right, Wii, which is pronounced "we." So basically, the next-gen market will consist of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. Honestly, it's going to be hard to take the console seriously with a name like that. Insert playing with your Wii-Wii joke here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Apr. 27

37, 44, 51, 71

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Valve Announces Development of Xbox 360 Titles

Valve Software, the developers of the Half-Life series, have announced today that they are officially developing titles for the Xbox 360. While they have not disclosed what those titles are, they said that they are using a custom version of the Source engine, and that they'd be revealed soon.

My speculation is Half-Life 2: Episode One, or perhaps the overall upcoming Half-Life 2 Episodic Collection released in one shot. I doubt they'd re-develop and release Half-Life 2 since there's already an Xbox version.

I suspect we'll find out at E3, and until then, you can read Valve's full press release here.

New PlayStation 3 Details

TeamXbox is reporting some new details it's learned from the latest issue of PSM. Apparently, the PlayStation 3 will sell for about $399 US, and come with a standard, non-removable 60 GB hard disk. It will also be backwards compatible with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 in 720, 1080i, and 1080p.

The final controller design will be revealed at E3, as well as the console's launch line up. Sony's online gaming service, the PlayStation Network Platform, will launch with the console and offer free online play, as opposed to charging monthly like Microsoft's Xbox Live.

The Smashing Pumpkins Reformed

I find this a bit amusing: According to both their official web site and this article at Sympatico/MSN Entertainment Music, The Smashing Pumpkins have reformed and are writing songs for their next album. Their last album, Machina and the Machines of God, was released in 2000 (excluding their online only follow-up), and that was back when the entire band was pretty much hating one another and everything was a mess. It remains to be seen if D'Arcy and James will be back.

Anyway, I'll check out their new stuff once released for the hell of it.

New Official Plug-In for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Not too long ago, Bethesda Softworks released the third of their official plug-ins for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and this one seems to have the most content yet. It's called Wizard's Tower, and you can find the full details right here. And yes, this one'll cost you real cash to get, just like the others.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Once the Staff, always the Staff

So, Fearless Leader has probably been giving the bunch of you fellow shmucks endless reasons for Our seemingly endless absence. The more popular explanations range from "He's off and joined another cult... this time it's the Primate-Lovers Association of Upper Southern Interior Bulemic Luxembourg Endocrinologists - aka P.L.A.U.S.I.B.L.E." to "He became a mail-order groom for some chick in Russia who ain't really a chick..."

But alas, all heretofore mentioned rumours are just that. The truth is, We, the Staff (TM) are just plain easily distracted by shiny objects. So, since Fearless Leader hasn't officially canned us yet (you just gotta bribe him with a bottle of Sleeman's sometimes), We announce our return to contributing to the Realm of Useless Crap that is Arbiter's Judgement.

-The Staff

Sunday, April 23, 2006

'Cause Being Antisocial is Cool

So, being a gamer, I've heard it all through the years. Without even knowing me, people have said things like "You have no social life, you must live in your parents' basement, and you play D&D, don't you?" None of the above are true, yet just because I enjoy a game in the privacy of my own home when I have nothing else going on, I'm a nerd. And yet, most everyone enjoys the greatest antisocial device on the market today: the iPod.

Yes, that's right, the iPod. Why? Because when you use it, or an MP3 player, or a disc man, or a walkman, you are telling everyone to fuck right off and leave you alone. When you use these devices in a public place, you are trying to force a bubble around yourself and block everything else out of your little world. This is insanely antisocial, and yet it is the completely "cool" thing to do.

Don't believe me, go up to someone using an iPod and tap them on the shoulder. You see that look they're giving you? That's the "how dare you burst my bubble you asshole" look. Hell, I've even gotten these looks from people I know and call friend!

When I'm out and about, why would I want to cut myself off from the rest of the world? Do you have any idea what kind of stuff you're missing simply on the subway? How many friends would I not have noticed if I'd retreated into myself as the iPod forces one to do? How many interesting conversations, sights, or situations involving people I know and out-right strangers would I have completely lost out on?

Then there's the music myself. This is a personal belief of mine, but I believe that music is meant to be listened to out loud. That's why it's music, that's why it's pure audio. To me, music looses a good part of its soul when compressed into tiny little nubs or headphones. I'm not saying you have to have to volume cranked so high the room's shaking and you can't hear anyone, but why would you want to smother it and limit it from being heard to such a small area? If music defines you, and you're happy with who you are, then why hide it?

So the next time you think that someone playing a video game in the quiet of there own home, where people traditionally seek to escape and forget the outside world, is lame, think about how much you missed out on while you attempted to force your own bubble from the world for that trip to and from work. There's a lot going on outside your door from the simple to the complex. Take notice of it and experience life, you nerd.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Quake 4 (PC) 1.2 Patch Released

id Software announced this week that they have released the 1.2 patch for Quake 4. This patch includes several fixes and optimizations, as well as a bunch of new multiplayer maps.

You can find out the details on id's main page.

New Family Guy Screenshots

Some new Family Guy screenshots have been released, which you can check out at IGN Xbox here.

Honestly, I'm not finding the game visually impressive. I guess it captures the look of the show in a somewhat three dimensional, animated way, however the environments are looking way to bland. The locations in the show have much more background to them.

PlayStation 2 Price Cut

Sony officially announced on Thursday a price cut for the PlayStation 2, dropping the current gen. console down to $139.99.

If Microsoft wishes to remain competative with its current gen. Xbox, it would be wise for them to announce a price drop as well.

News spotted at TeamXbox here.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Apr. 20th

36, 44, 45, 61

Not a single number this time.

Monday, April 17, 2006

New Content for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Bethesda Softworks has released a new plug-in for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You can check out the Xbox 360 version here, and the PC version here (which will be available soon).

This content is the Orrery Quest, which has a new quest, dialogue, spells, etc., much better content than the horse armour download. Details are found on the Xbox 360 page linked above.

A Dream of Eagles: The Skystone Review

Before heading out on my little vacation, I knew I wanted to relax and do a lot of reading, so I went to Chapters and took a peak at what they had. What caught my eye was the cover to a short series entitled A Dream of Eagles. The series is a historical fiction that chronicles that fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Britain, and ultimately culminates in the coronation of King Arthur spread across five volumes. I grabbed the first book, The Skystone, and the first few pages I read seemed interesting enough, and the book was certainly lengthy enough at 620+ pages, so I purchased it.

After going through it in about a week, I must say that The Skystone is one of the most engaging books I have ever read. It is such an excellent mix of action, family, values, history, and political intrigue that it was hard to put down. The book is told from the perspective of Publius Varrus, a member of the Roman Legions at the start of the story and a primus pilus (his rank) under Legate Caius Britannicus, Varrus' general.

Now, it should be noted that The Skystone is a lot of back story and establishment, setting up the world's events, both historical and fiction. For example, both Varrus and Britannicus are fictional, as are their families and personal dealings, however many of the characters they interact with and events they are involved with are indeed real and historical.

The Skystone begins with a very interesting writing style, where the author has Publius telling his tale as an old man, an he goes into the main story and fleshes it out with a sub-story and details that further with a sub-sub-story. While highly detailed and complicated, the plot and character motives are extremely simple to follow and all the plot tangents add a great deal more depth to the overall whole as this style is carried out through the whole book.

The Legionnaire part is brief, chronicling an invasion by Picts and Scots who nearly take all of Britain, and Britannicus and his soldiers' battle to return to Roman controlled land. From there, Publius goes on to detail much of his life after he's discharged from the Legions, and his growing friendship with Britannicus. Publius returns home to take up the trade of his deceased grandfather, that of a blacksmith, and it is here we learn that his grandfather discovered a stone that seems to have fallen from the sky, which he was able to smelt and forge into a sword and dagger respectively; the sword ending up in the hands of one of the Roman emperors and the dagger to Publius himself. At this point, both Publius and Britannicus take a keen interest in trying to locate more of these mysterious stones, all before the Empire collapses in upon itself.

Relationships play a heavy role with the characters and their development and interaction with one another. The Skystone has many romantic and even erotic aspects to it, but all within reason and perspective of the character experiencing them. The Skystone also focuses a great deal on family and militaristic values as many of the characters go on to establish families, and the "colony" that will apparently become Camelot is formed.

I really don't want to give much more detail away as A Dream of Eagles: The Skystone is such an excellent read, I could only do it justice by recommending you go out and pick up a copy yourself. Heck, I picked up the second novel this past Saturday, and I'm nearly half-way through it; its that good.

Another note of interest is that the novel is a Canadian one, having won several awards and recognitions in Canada for its international success (I believe the overall titles of the books are different in the US, for example). With such a strong start to the series, I look forward to going through all of A Dream of Eagles.

Half-Life 2: Episode One Official Site and Release Date

Valve Software has launched the official site for Half-Life 2: Episode One, and the expansion will be available as of June 1st. The web site contains screenshots, a trailer, features summary, and a story summary to wet players appetites.

Half-Life 2: Episode One is the first of a series of episodic releases that continue the story of Half-Life 2, this time following the exploits of Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance as they attempt to escape City 17, the Combine, and the G-man himself.

Half-Life 2: Episode One will expand the story of Half-Life 2 and answer some unanswered questions (we hope) left over by its predecessor, and it is also a stand-alone product and will not require Half-Life 2 to play. At present, the game will be a PC release and will be availabe for download over Steam or for purchase in retail outlets everywhere.

Anyone reading this blog already knows my feelings towards Half-Life 2 and my extreme disappointment in Valve Software, and I'm fully expecting Half-Life 2: Episode One to be another glorified tech-demo instead of an actual game. I also love this feature from the site:

  • Incredibly advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Wow, does that mean enemies will actually take proper cover this time, try and flush me out and generally, oh, I don't know, pose a challenge unlike the backwards AI of Half-Life 2? And perhaps will there be some depth to the gameplay and combat this time, instead of just hucking radiators at enemies who are too dumb to do anything about it?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bungie's Guide to Sci-Fi

Bungie has posted up their guide to sci-fi influences on the Halo univerese, as well as what sci-fi films, shows, books, and games they like in general.

Notable mentions include Serenity, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Half-Life, etc.

You can check out what the Bungie guys like right here.

Touch Screen and Voice Command for Warcraft III

Saw over at ActionTrip that some guys have created a user interface for Warcraft III that allows the game to be played via a touch screen as well as limited voice command.

While not practical at this point, it is certainly really cool to see the game in action this way. Christ, I wasted hundreds of hours on that game and its expansion, and something like that would have breathed new life into it a couple of years ago.

You can check this out with a video right here.

The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits - Rotten Apples Review

When I picked up Exile and the Kingdom this week, I also snagged Rotten Apples as it was only $9.99. Rotten Apples is the Greatest Hits Collection of The Smashing Pumpkins featuring such great singles as "Rhinocerous," "Disarm," "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "Zero," etc.

Anyway, the following is my in-depth review: Smashing Pumpkins = We can't compete with Britney Spears so we're breaking up even though the real reason is because we all hate one another and now Billy's gonna try a solo career that isn't going anywhere.

Smashing Pumpkins Music = Amazing Singles, Shitty Rest-of-the-Albums.

Rotten Apples = Great collection of singles that's well worth $10.00 that the band didn't even endorse 'cause they were non-existent at that point and this album is a small cash in by the record label.

Rotten Apples is an excellent reminder of both my youth and why the music industry now sucks ass. Go corporate America.

PayDay Winning Numbers for Apr. 13

52, 58, 60, 64

Didn't play this week since I'm on vacation. Of course, this means had I played, I probably would have won $50,000, but since those numbers are randomly chosen for you, I'll never know.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jeff Martin - Exile and the Kingdom Review

Jeff Martin's first solo disc, Exile and the Kingdom, was released yesterday which I snagged shortly after FutureShop opened (it actually wasn't even on the shelf yet!). For those not in the know, Jeff Martin was the lead vocalist of the now finished Tea Party, which broke up last fall under... conflicting circumstances. Being a rather large Tea Party fan, I admit to being worried as to how Exile and the Kingdom would sound, if it would live up to my expectations. We'll, if you have the same fears as me, I can assure you that Exile and the Kingdom is a solid album, and a strong solo release.

What I found most interesting is the progression featured on the disc. The first three tracks are very Tea Party-ish, and take the listener through the development of that band. "World is Calling" is an exceptional opening track that captures the early Tea Party feel (The Edges of Twilight), "Butterfly" seems to repesent the Tea Party's mid-run albums (TRIPtych), and "Where Do We Go from Here" reminds me of the best stuff from Seven Circles.

After leaving the Tea Party, Martin made it known that family is now the most important thing to him, and I find that the remainder of the album really reflects this. The tone is not necessarily different than what's come before, but the focus is definitely an evolution beyond Seven Circles. The tracks are more mellow but no less powerful, featuring a nice duet on "Stay Inside Me," and great overall structure on "The Kingdom."

The only track on the disc that I really, really do not like is "Black Snake Blues." I honestly find it bad, just plan bad and wish I could remove it from the disc.

After purchasing Exile and the Kingdom yesterday, I though about reviewing it promptly, however I decided to wait the extra day and listen to it another time; taking some time to digest it and I'm glad I did. While I greatly enjoyed the album on my first listen, I've enjoyed its subtlties all the more the second time.

While The Tea Party may be finished, I'm happy to say that Jeff Martin is still putting out great music. If you're a Tea Party fan, whether your sad or angry over the band's break up and Martin's reasons for it, you'd still be doing yourself a great disservice by missing out on Exile and the Kingdom, and for $9.99, what do you have to loose?

New Screens for The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for MIddle-earth II (Xbox 360)

EA has released two new screenshots for the Xbox 360 version of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, which you can check out at TeamXbox right here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Doom 3 (Xbox) Completed for the 4th Time

Last Sunday evening, I completed Doom 3 (Xbox) for the 4th time. I didn't feel like playing through on Nightmare, so to increase the challenge on Veteran I actually reduced the default brightness by half, which more closely mirrored the PC version's darkness. This actually did increase the game's atmosphere by a good bit, allowed the game to be scary, and of course made the Flashlight that much more invaluable.

Oh, and I still hate Commandos. I really, really hate Commandos. At least this time I learned how to kill them with the Shotgun, though I still preferred the Chaingun to mow them down quick.

With Doom 3 finished, I now only have 2 games on the go. I'm going to try to get through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords quickly (I'm about halfway), and then that only leaves The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition.

Half-Life 2 (Xbox) for $29.99 at Best Buy

Saw at Best Buy today that they're selling the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 for only $29.99. That cost is more like it for such an over-rated title (and yes fanboy, that goes for the PC version to. Lackluster gameplay doesn't change with the platforms).

You can order it online from Best Buy here.

Upcoming Patch and Further Plug-Ins for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Saw over at ActionTrip that Bethesda will soon be releasing a patch for both versions of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as well as two more Plug-Ins.

On the official The Elder Scrolls message boards, Bethesda Softworks discusses their plans to have a Beta version of the patch (PC only), and they also reveal the details and content regarding their next two Plug-Ins, including the cost. These new Plug-Ins will have new Quests, Dialogue, and actual long term effects on your character and his/her potential abilities.

They also go on to justify why they are charging for such content. While I still don't agree with it, at least the upcoming Plug-Ins seem more worth it than the Horse Armour, and they will actually be a bit cheaper.

You can read Bethesda's post here.

New Doom 3 (PC) Speed Demo

Last December I posted about a speed demo for Doom 3 (PC), in which someone completed the game on Marine (Normal) Difficulty in about 1H 45M. I just noticed that this past January, somebody has managed to best that time.

The new Doom 3 speed demo is clocked at about 1H 31M, and you can find it here. I haven't had the chance to download and watch it yet myself, but it's on my list.

Winning PayDay Numbers for Apr. 6th

17, 21, 52, 75

On Vacation

Finally on some vacation time, kids. I'm hoping to do a lot of catch up today since I've been behind for the last few days, and then I'm out for about half a week.

I'd say the Staff would keep things going, but he's AWOL, that fucker is.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Official Plug-Ins Now Available for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Bethesda Softworks has released some minor mods for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on both Xbox 360 and PC, and guess what, you have to pay for them! That's right, you have to pay a couple of bucks if you want your horse to have armour.

Sorry, but when I get around to getting the game (and most likely the Xbox 360), unless I get a bunch of free crappy Microsoft Points to blow on this stuff, I'm not wasting my cash on something so minor. Considering stuff like this is typically free content downloads on the PC (and even PC gamers have to pay for this junk now), it's rather insulting to the players.

You can find out details about this skam for the Xbox 360 here, and the PC/Xbox 360 here.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Decline of Blizzard Entertainment

Some of you reading this might be immediately asking, "Decline? What the fuck is he talking about?" While true, World of Warcraft is a huge success and Blizzard Entertainment's sales have never been stronger, a decline is not always measured in terms of overall success, as success can be about cattering to the masses. No, decline can be seen only from ones own eyes, from what one expects to see, or knows what one should see, yet what lies before them is something different and in the opposite direction.

Basically, people tend to like game companies for different reasons. Some love the companies that put out great new game engines, others like a specific series, some like strong stories, etc. Back in the mid to late '90's, Blizzard Entertainment was a company about substance. They had excellent quality titles that redefined and/or paved the way for certain genres, and they had strong stories to engross them. That's what I always loved about Blizzard Entertainment, their stories and characters. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness has a great backstory for its day, and Starcraft has an exceptional sci-fi concept with great characters. Who didn't immediately like the honourable Tassadar, or the smooth talking Mengsk, the scheming Kerrigan? Their titles were also of such strong quality that bugs were rare to be found, and the quality of the gameplay was so high, other titles from other companies were trash in comparison. Well, I find that all that's changed now.

I haven't purchased a Blizzard Entertainment product since Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, seeing as how MMOs aren't my thing and the World of Warcraft Beta didn't want to work for me. However, today I was reading over the web site for the upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade, and I gotta say what a load of crap the story's become.

The Warcraft universe was very thorough, it had focus, but now, Blizzard can't seem to make up its mind as to what direction the world of Azeroth should take. How many times can shattered kingdoms quickly rebuild themselves? How many times can entire factions switch allegences? How many times can you justify the shifting hatred and alliance of the Horde and Alliance, how many times can demons keep invading, new sub-factions emerge to conviently go against the grain, dead heroes come back to life, etc? How much more inconsistent and simply dragged out can the Warcraft universe become. Instead of evolving the Warcraft universe as Blizzard began to do in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Blizzard seems to want to keep things in a fixed mind-set, something that doesn't make sense to all that's happened in the world.

Interestingly enough, this also is a nice little mirror of the company itself. Ever since the days of Diablo II, Blizzard has been less interested in listening to the opinions of their hardcore fans and more focused on the masses and on what they themselves want to do. They seem to have let their success go to their head and have, in a sense, become pretentious. Not to the extent that Valve Software has, but still up there. And now that StarCraft: Ghost has been essentially cancelled after being stuck in development for three and a half years, it really makes you wonder about the future for Blizzard. For better or worse, depending on the kind of gamer you are, the company has changed from what they were in the late '90's.

For me, the Blizzard I loved through my teens and beyond is gone. They've taken their worlds I liked so much and thrust them down a path that is just plan cheap to me, that takes away from the strength and cohesion they once had. I'm not saying I'll never buy another Blizzard product again, but I won't rush into them, and I'll be checking carefully to make sure future titles aren't just over-hyped, hollow cash grabs.

Edit: Another train of thought is that perhaps Blizzard hasn't changed a huge lot, but perhaps my tastes in gaming have grown and expanded beyond Blizzard's target audience. I was a huge fan of Blizzard Entertainment as a teen and very young adult, however my gaming tastes have gravetated to a more mature themed level, more complex stories, worlds, and interactivity. I mean, playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition and taking a look at some of the content presented there (such as that of a sexual nature), its simply something you would not find in Blizzard's more cartoonish worlds. I find I'm looking more at M rated games instead of T rated ones, and I suppose that tells me something about myself. Perhaps, in the end, the stories and worlds Blizzard wants to convey just aren't my style anymore, and perhaps its better that a new generation of gamer enjoys them.

V for Vendetta Review

Movie of the year. If that isn't a way to start off a great movie review, I don't know what is. I went in to V for Vendetta knowing the film was set in a not too distant future Britian and that people would rebel against the government, but I wasn't prepared for how engrossing and properly thematic the film truly is.

V for Vendetta tells the story of Evey (Natalie Portman), who resides in Britian which is now under the control of a totalitarian government. The British government, and its control over the media and everything the people see and hear, reminds me very much of a facist, Nazi styled regime. Curfews are in effect, people's homes are constantly monitored by government agents, all religions save Christianity are illegal, etc. Evey is caught breaking curfew by government agents and is rescued by V (Hugo Weaving), a masked man intent on starting a revolution to free the people. Through V, Evey learns more about herself, her beliefs, and her hope for freedom than she every thought possible.

The timing of this film could not be better. In a world where America constantly partakes in "wars on terror," where violence, insecurity, and fear are a constant part of mainstream life, V for Vendetta takes a look at what the end result of this destructive and decadent path could be (And yes, decadent is a most appropriate term if you think about it). It is a film that, should you have the slightest care about current and global political events, you will find a lot of substance within. V for Vendetta embodies a lot of the current feelings of mid-20 somethings today, such as dissatisfaction with society, with the powers that be, and with life in general, something I most certainly can relate to. Without giving it away, how Britian came to be under the control of its totalitarian government is something I find quite ironic, and also quite sad because it is something that could very well happen in any modern first-world nation given time. In fact, the setting very much reminds me of City 17 from Half-Life 2 save that the story of this film doesn't actual end up sucking.

V for Vendetta is a movie of such substance and thought. Take V himself, for example. He is a character who truly believes in what he's fighting for. He is violent, resorts to extremes and terrorist methods, but is compasionte, rational, and extremely intelligent. He will kill to do what he must, but always with purpose, always with reason. He is such an intriguing character, such a strong ideal that you can't help but feel for him, and believe with him.

If you haven't already, go see V for Vendetta. If you believe strongly that the world now is not as it should be, go see V for Vendetta. The film will make you think, and make you wonder how truthful its look at the future may be.