Monday, March 31, 2008

Xbox Support, Round 2! Fight!

Well, the galactic saga is in motion once more. I contacted Xbox Support and confirmed that the warranty I'll receive on a refurbished console is indeed 1 year, so I've gone ahead and replaced the repair order.

The total cost to me is $110.00, and the return box should arrive in 3 to 5 business days. Once dropped off at Purolator, it'll take 2 to 4 weeks to receive my refurbished console. I'll also receive a free one month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership.

Hopefully this repair process will go much more smoothly than last year's. I also hope the refurbished unit they send me has no issues this time around.

I'll still be able to use my current Xbox 360 until the return box comes, and once it's up and away, I suppose I can keep playing that game of Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil I left off on my original Xbox from my last repair order. I think I got around a quarter of the way through the game.

Editorial - Premium Content and the Xbox LIVE Marketplace

Xbox LIVE is, without question, the premiere online gaming service for both this and last generation's group of consoles. Running off of Microsoft's own dedicated servers, gamers are treated to a stable and secure gaming arena where they can play, chat, type, and even shop all in one convenient location.

Of course, to access the Multiplayer features of Xbox LIVE, Microsoft charges a subscription fee for a Gold Membership, which many gamers find negligible and a small price to pay for the quality of service that they enjoy, however a Gold Membership usually has little barring on the network's store and its content, the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

While extra content and even Xbox LIVE Arcade games were available on the original Xbox via Xbox LIVE, this content was always accessed and added, like everything else, through the game's themselves; Microsoft only fully integrated Xbox LIVE into the console's nature with the Xbox 360.

After a few Dashboard Updates, Microsoft has further refined and streamlined the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Now, you simply go to the Marketplace Blade right on your Xbox 360's Dashboard, and you can quickly browse for new content, movies, Themes, etc., as well as quickly manage any downloads presently taking place. The service itself is very nice, and in my opinion, a solid step in the right direction for console games. It used to be only PC games where you could download original content, and the fact that this is now possible on console titles so seamlessly greatly enhances a title's potential life cycle.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Game Studios, as well as other publishers, are looking to capitalize on this as much as possible, as much of this content comes at a fee (in Microsoft Points, of course). Now I know what you're thinking: "Not another rant about paying for premium content! If you don't like it, don't buy it and let me get back to my new Halo 3 maps!"

Well, you're right, but only to a point. It's your money, and who am I to tell you what to spend your hard earned cash on? The point of this editorial is not to tell you not to buy premium content, its to educate you and alleviate some of the misconceptions I commonly see stated about it.

As previously mentioned, PC Gamers have enjoyed so-called premium content for their games for about 15 years now, and almost all of it is free. That's right. Blizzard Entertainment released free multiplayer maps, both traditional and objective based, for their real time strategy games for years. In fact, they were releasing a new map every week for at least one specific title for roughly half a decade. They even released brand new single player content on occasion, all for free, for various games.

id Software would often release new multiplayer maps for free as part of game patches for their first person shooters, and even Bethesda Game Studios released several free plug-ins for the PC version of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

The point to these statements? When new content is announced on Xbox LIVE and people complain on cost, there's a surge of people who snap right back at anyone who's criticle. "It's only $10.00, who cares?", "Get a job!", "The developers worked hard on these, and I want to make sure they're fairly paid for their work."

Well that's all wonderful, and you're right. $10.00 is not a lot of money, but that $10.00 is also two regular lunches or one good lunch for me. I do have a job thank you, and no, you're not paying the developers, you're paying the greedy publisher.

Don't believe me? Why do you think, Microsoft Game Studios, as a prime example, really pushes for Multiplayer Map Packs and not single player content or honest-to-God full expansion sets? It's because Multiplayer Maps are a breeze to make, costing little in time and resources, don't have high-priced actors for dialogue sessions, don't have complicated testing periods, etc.

In short, they are dirt-cheap to produce. So, why are we paying 800 Microsoft Points for 3 simple Halo 3 Multiplayer maps? Why are they able to re-release them for free after a few months? Why was Epic Games unhappy with Microsoft Game Studios for tagging a price onto the Hidden Fronts Map Pack when they wanted to release them for free right from the get-go? Why does Bungie constantly remind us that they don't have anything to do with the pricing, that its their publisher's decision?

Because Microsoft Game Studios, as well as many other major publishers, are ripping us, the gamers, off. First off, the publisher pays the developers to make this new content, so the people who actually make the maps get paid regardless. Secondly, the publishers already profited insanely well from the sales of these games. By charging an overpriced cost for these maps, they're simply milking you, the gamer, for that $10.00 you don't care about.

Heck, take a look back at when Xbox LIVE first launched. New content was available then, and guess what, a lot of it was free. The Yavin Station content for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, two new Multiplayer Maps for Doom 3 brought over from Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil, a new multiplayer map for Star Wars: Republic Commando. I reference these titles simply because they're ones I own, but there are others. Heck, even the first round of Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Packs were free from the get-go, it was only after that that Microsoft Game Studios started to milk us gamers and indulge their greed.

So what happens when you spend $10.00 on maps? Or a couple of bucks on Themes and Gamer Pics? Sure, you get that extra content, but you also encourage and re-inforce to these greedy publishers that charging for such simple content is acceptable and most of all, profitable. Why would they stop? In fact, why not increase the cost? Well they've done just that, simply look at the cost of the Halo 3 Map Packs compared to previous content of the same quantity.

Now think about this: What if no one purchases the Halo 3 Legendary Map Pack that's coming up? What if Microsoft Game Studios isn't able to milk us for it? Why, that'll get them thinking, won't it. Instead of milking us, perhaps they'll turn around and find a sponser like the first Gears of War Multiplayer Map Pack. Wouldn't that be something? Free maps, free Theme, Microsoft Game Studios gets its cash, and the sponsor gets its prime advertising space!

But of course, nothing like that can be easily pushed with so many people just anxious to snatch up whatever the publishers toss their way, at whatever inflated cost that'd be. So remember, the next time you're downloading a Map Pack and wondering why the cost is what it is for something so simple, remember that it could be instantly free, that content like that was instantly free for a long, long time, and that to find who's to blame, you need only look in a mirror.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mass Effect 2nd Playthrough Complete

Last night, I completed my second playthrough of Mass Effect. I played as a Renegade female Vanguard and made it to Level 52. I also got the Krogan and Quarian Ally Achievements.

Mass Effect is not a perfect game, it has some pacing problems, the Mako is an abomination that should never have seen the light of day, and the combat's pretty clunky.

Having said all that, Mass Effect has one of the best stories around in a game, and the climax is a complete rush: great story, great level design, and the single most satisfying end-game I've ever played. That, and it's also a beautiful looking universe with the best digital actors ever.

I loved the Renegade ending to. The final discussion between Udina, Shepard, and Anderson just screamed Star Wars. With the "Emperor" dictating how his new Empire would be, his right hand going to coordinate the muscle, and the former mentor generally objecting but being powerless to stop the events set in motion. Classic Dark Side moment, and superbly voice acted.

The Biotic powers were a lot of fun, and Throw was great. I loved just "force pushing" a whole shit load of enemies out into space or just sending them smashing again walls. Barrier was a real life saver, and I love my Shotgun (go, go, Carnage!). For a close range weapon, it still worked wonders at long range, and since I unlocked its Achievement, I think I'll use that Skill for the Sentinal I plan to play next since he won't have any native combat skills.

Can I just say though that I'm disappointed you can't hit on Tali. Seriously. What? She's the hottest Squad member in the whole game! Look, you've got Liara who's kinda a wuss and Ash believes in stuff (wussy!), but Tali, I mean who wouldn't be turned on by that mysterious voice and sexy full face mask! And three fingers...

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Mass Effect 2, and I'll play through Mass Effect at least one more time, maybe a 4th to try and get all the Achievements. If only other games had stories and characters this strong.

Uncertain Call to Xbox Support - UPDATED

Last May, my brand new Xbox 360 Pro console had its DVD drive die on it, and I went through the warranty process with Xbox Support which was a completely horrible experience. You can read the full galactic saga here (follow the links in the posts).

Anyway, the refurbished unit I received had minor issues with its DVD tray from day one. Every now and again, when I'd eject the tray, it would get "stuck" and not eject. This was a minor inconvenience at the time and I certainly didn't want to go through the warranty process again, so I just sucked it up and got my game on (Ohh... funny!).

Well, 10 months later the problem has gotten a lot worse. Every single time I eject the DVD tray, it will not open unless I press it in with my knuckle. Sometimes this will work, sometimes it will take a few tries, and now, on occasion, the tray will eject halfway, stick, and then suck itself back in. Thankfully it always ejects flawlessly every time a disc _is_ in the tray, but I'm just worried one of these days that a disc will get stuck in there (knowing my luck it'll be some kind of irreplaceable limited edition disc).

This morning I decided to bite the bullet and call up Xbox Support. I spoke with one of their reps, and since my console is no longer under general warranty (that expired at Christmas), I'd need to pay $105.00 to send my console in to be replaced with a refurbished unit, but they'd give me a 1 year general warranty. This actually sounded pretty good, so I decided to take the rest of the day to think it over.

A few hours ago I decided to place the repair order, so I called up Xbox Support again, referencing the ticket number the previous rep had given (thankfully they hadn't lost my order like all those other times last May). Unfortunately, the new rep had a slightly different story. He told me it'd cost $110.00 and the warranty would only be 3 months, but I could get a 1 year warranty for about $40.00 to $50.00.

In truth, the 3 month warranty sounds more realistic from a business standpoint, but this changes everything and really has me thinking. Do I want to pay $110.00 for something with such a short warranty that may arrive with a mild defect anyway? I mean, my refurbished unit had issues with its DVD tray right from day one, and so does the Staff's. I also don't want to pay extra for a warranty on a refurbished unit.

At this point, I'm seriously thinking about running my current console into the ground, and if a disc gets stuck, I'll just take the case off and rip the console apart to get it out. Then I'll go and purchase a brand new Xbox 360 Arcade console. It'll cost more, but at least it'll be brand new (and I hear the newer consoles are a lot quieter and generate a whole lot less heat) and be covered under a proper warranty again.

UPDATE: A friendly poster over at the official Xbox forums pointed this page out to me. Note the second paragraph:

"If we repair your Xbox 360 after the warranty period has expired, while you will be responsible for the repair costs, you will receive either the balance of your original warranty (if it has not yet expired for all conditions), or one year, whichever is longer. "

So this means that the first rep I spoke to is correct, and I should get a 1 year warranty on the refurbished console. I'm going to call Xbox Support back later to confirm, and quote this page if needed.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Review

Some months ago, a buddy recommended that I pick up a copy of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War , what with me being a zombie whore and all. In a word, gripping. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is an amazing satirical novel, but not in a funny way.

Written by Max Brooks, the novel details the post-war events of a zombie apocalypse. The novel is presented as factual fiction, where the "author" is a survivor of the war and tasked by the UN with compiling a report on its events (complete with footnotes and everything). Once done, the author finds that his report has been heavily edited, left being only factual, bland accounts with all the details and verbatim descriptions, the "human factor," removed. To rectify this, the author wrote this book to give light to the people's voice, to the human struggle.

And it's true. It's the simple human elements that make World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War so compelling to read. Oh sure, the zombies are there, but they take a back seat to the actual accounts of these survivors. Everyone knows what zombies do (the novel uses traditional, slow zombies), but this isn't a story about some dumb teenagers trying to survive in a mall or whatever traditional zombie fare you usually think of, this is a look at a truly global experience with logistics, politics, and sheer humanity all figuring very prominently.

Set sometime around 2010, Brooks paints the picture of the initial outbreaks to the full blown pandemic, and his interviewees come from all walks of life. Some were doctors, politicians, civilians, directors, soldiers, husbands, wives, children; all flowing from person to person throughout the entire globe to piece together the horror that nearly brought about our own extinction, and extinction nearly caused by sheer human stupidity.

And that's what's so captivating about this book. While the situation of a zombie apocalypse is, of course, quite fictitious, Brooks examines it logically, realistically, and the way in which the people act to this pandemic are utterly convincing. In the words of the Staff, the human factor of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War could very easily be mimicked by people today, in reality, should something like Avian Flu get out of control.

Sorry to burst every one's bubble, but people are generally stupid. You, me, I think the Staff has some kind of mental disorder that needs to be diagnosed, but people are like lemmings. We believe what we're told to believe, rely on miracle cures, and panic easily. Isn't it great to be human!

I really want to go into detail right now. To tell you about government cover-ups, business profits, human trafficking, and all the other appalling yet utterly convincing and plausible things that happen in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, but I can't as that'd ruin so much plot, so much shock factor, and some real disgust. Through it all though, I promise you that you'll be shaking your head, marvelling at how real our follies are, and at our actions simply aided the hordes of living dead.

This book comes with my highest recommendation. Even if you're not a fan of zombies, if you're a fan of mocumentaries, or simple accounts of human nature, you will love World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Earth Hour has come and gone, and I'd like to say that I'm pleased so many people in my neighbourhood took part.

Organized by the WWF, the purpose of Earth Hour is to turn off all the lights in your home/business from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm to help reduce greenhouse emitions, and to show how easy it is to fight climate change as a global community.

Full details, including a handy FAQ, can be found here.

My neighbourhood was all but pitch dark, so much so that I couldn't find my way to the bathroom to take a piss. Take that global warming!

Unreal Engine 3 Tech Video on Xbox LIVE Marketplace

Epic Games is busy enhancing their excellent game engine, Unreal Engine 3, and they've shown off several improvements that will be featured in Gears of War 2 during the Game Developers Conference this year.

Hosted by Epic Games' CEO, Tim Sweeney, this video is now available under the Gears of War 2 section of the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. In it, Mr. Sweeney shows off key features such as crowds, enhanced shadows, and destructable environments.

It's an interesting watch, and I'll be most impressed if they can really squeeze all of this out of the Xbox 360 while keeping the game playable and at a solid frame rate.

Of course if they can do this, then this'll prove that Epic Games' inability to include the extra content from Act V of the PC version of Gears of War as Downloadable Content for the Xbox 360 version due to "technical reasons" was all BS. But then, we all knew that anyway.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gears of War (Xbox 360) Complete for the 5th Time

Short and sweet kids, I completed Gears of War (Xbox 360) for the 5th time last week, and I really do have a love/hate relationship with that Campaign.

On one hand, I love the intense, pop and cover gameplay. It's fun, it's exciting, and it's got a Chainsaw Bayonet.

On the other hand, some sections of the Campaign or so stupidly hard and way too linear, and the game's retarded Checkpoint-only save system and poor ally AI make it an exercise in frustration.

Like I've said before, Gears of War is a destroyed beauty. And yes, I know I'll probably play through it again, and yes, I know I'll be buying Gears of War 2 when it's released, so don't bother pointing those out.

Halo 3 Heroic Map Pack Free Release Date and Legendary Map Pack Preview

Bungie has revealed in their latest Weekly Update that the first Halo 3 Multiplayer Map Pack, the Heroic Map Pack, will be re-released for free begining on March 25th at 2:00 am Pacific Time.

Xbox also has a preview up for the upcoming Halo 3 Legendary Map Pack which will become available on April 15th for 800 Microsoft Points ($12.40).

Remember kids, only fools pay for simple Multiplayer Maps.

StarCraft II - Zerg Trailer

Behold the Swarm! Blizzard Entertainment has released a trailer revealing the Zerg for their upcoming RTS, StarCraft II.

Aside from the fact that you need to use the God-aweful Blizzard Downloader, the trailer itself is amazing; got my blood pumping with good ol' naustalgia.

And what was that at the end? Looked like an Infested Protoss to me, which could certainly be possible since the Zerg did infest Auir (and correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Auir still a Zerg world at the end of Starcraft: Brood War?), or perhaps its an infested character of importance. Fenix, perhaps?

Check out the trailer in all it's glory here.

Inside Lionhead Video Diary Number 5

Lionhead Studios has released their fifth video diary which is available via Xbox LIVE Marketplace or from their own web site here.

This installment takes a look at magic, multiplayer, and GDC 2008 experience of Fable 2.

Doom and Assault Heroes (Xbox 360) Now Arcade Hits Titles

Doom and Assault Heroes (Xbox 360) have each been granted Arcade Hits status on Xbox LIVE Arcade, which in English means they're now a whole lot cheaper. Each title is now 400 Microsoft Points ($6.20), and you can browse a full list of Arcade Hits here.

If you've never experienced Doom, and want to see what the grandfather of FPSes is like, this is a great chance to pick up this classic, genre and platform defining game.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Doom 3: Worlds on Fire Review

A few weeks ago I was at Chapters picking up a copy of World War Z (which is absolutely amazing, by the way) when I noticed a novel based on Doom 3 entitled Worlds on Fire. Since I greatly enjoyed Doom 3 (Xbox), I was curious to see how exactly they'd novelize the game's story. I mean, Doom 3 is the game with the classic, repetative, FPS formula: Lone Marine enters dark room, pulls out Flashlight, sees monsters, lowers Flashlight, pulls out Shotgun or Rocket Launcher, kills monsters, moves onto next dark room, repeat. In a nutshell, that's it, that's the game.

At least Doom 3: Worlds on Fire has a bit more to it than that. The novel is written by Matthew Costello, the same gent who penned the script for Doom 3. The first half of the novel is more like a prequel, starting out about a year and a half prior to the game. It details the current state of the UAC research facility on Mars, and the experiments that Dr. Betrugar is running, while at the same time contrasting a mission on Earth that goes sour, a mission headed by Lt. John Kane (aka Doom Guy).

Ultimately, like in the game, Kane gets sent to Mars and all Hell breaks loose, but even though it features a lot of the same characters and Mars locations from the game, the novel plays out very differently. While I found the plot to work in the game, mainly do to its dark, creepy atmosphere and excellent sound mix, Doom 3: Worlds on Fire is a pretty cheesy novelization.

Firstly, the "prequal" sections were really unnecessary, and it simply would have felt more like Doom is they were either abbrieviated greatly, or outright nixed. Secondly, the characters just didn't really work for me, they didn't seem real to their situation. There were many new characters (some of which we could have done without, and many from the game, however these were different from their game iterations (Swann's a wuss, for example), and Kane just didn't feel much like Doom Guy. Doom 3: Worlds on Fire certainly didn't have much in the way of suspense or horror, and it seems to me to be somewhat of an afterthought novelization for a 3.5 year old game; I couldn't even find it advertised anywhere on id Software's site. It was nice to read about General Hayden though, a character in the original script but cut from the game, but really, he wasn't necessary. In fact, his inclusion brought about the dumbing down of Sgt. Kelly, which I also didn't like.

Doom 3: Worlds on Fire is the first in a trilogy of novels, and while I suppose it isn't horrible, it certainly didn't have any redeeming qualities to make me want to pick up the next two. As a fan of the games, I know the story, and it was a whole lot more convincing experiencing it than reading this modified version of it. If you're a fan of Doom, I'd still recommend passing this book up.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox) Repurchased

Yeah, I know I sold it a year and a half ago. Yeah, I know I couldn't fully get into it back then. Yeah, I know I should probably have let it be. But truth is, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition (Xbox) has always bugged me. Why? Because it's the greatest game I never finished. And I sure as hell played it for a lot of hours before I gave up last time.

So what motivated me to buy it again, aside from the sense of an incomplete task that's been plaguing me every since? Why, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, of course. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of the best games I've ever played, and in my opinion it is the best game you can presently own on the Xbox 360. So with such a great view of its sequal, I decided to once again try The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition to see if my opinions on it will change.

Yesterday, I went to the only EB Games I actually like (since most EB Games are bloody thieves), and traded in my copies of Prey: Limited Collector's Edition (Xbox 360), Spider-Man 3 (Xbox 360), and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) for $15.00. I then purchased a used copy of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition for $9.99, so with this trade in I got it for free!

The used disc is in mint condition with no scratches and only the most minor of scuff marks. The manual and map came from a brand new copy of the game who's disc mysteriously vanished, and the case is the original release case, not the Platinum Edition's. Unfortunately, the case itself was pretty grimmy, but after spending just over a dollar at the local dollar store for a package of 4 cheap DVD cases, I now have a nice new black case for my copy of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition.

I've tinkered with the game briefly, playing on my Xbox 360 to make sure it works, played for about 20 minutes, and created a male Imperial Crusader. Not sure when I'll have time to play through this entire extensive game and its two expansion sets, but hey, let's see if I can finally finish this challenge.

Frostmourne Replica to be Released in May

Blizzard Entertainment has announced that a replica sword of Frostmourne, the Lich King's vampiric runeblade first featured in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, will be made available this May.

Frostmourne was a really cool sword that stole the soul of Prince Arthas, turning him into the Lich King's mightiest general and commander of the Undead Scourage in the Warcraft universe. Gamers the world over know Frostmourne and love it for both the lore behind it, and the simple fact that it just looks so damn cool.

The replica Frostmourne looks absolutely amazing, but it carries a hefty price that of $379.00 (US) that I simply couldn't justify.

Back in 2003, I picked up a replica sword on an east-coast trip, Morthoseth the Sword of Shadows, from Kit Rae's Swords of the Ancients fantasy series. At the time, many people compared it to Frostmourne as it looked very similar, and Morthoseth still proudly hangs from my wall today, waiting to dispatch any unwarry Jehovah's Witnesses or Girl Guides who stray onto my property.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Best. Web site. Ever.

Knicker Picker's online dressing room. Need I say more? Hours of entertainment for any man.

BioShock 2 Official

I pissed myself when I read this one. BioShock 2 has been officially confirmed, and is slated for release by the fourth quarter of 2009. It's being developed by another 2K studio though, 2K Marin.

Otherwise, there's no official details, not even the platforms it'll be released on. Still, this is great news for me!

Spotted at ActionTrip.

Mass Effect: Bring Down the Sky Teaser Trailer and Contest

BioWare has now released a short teaser trailer for their first downloadable content package for Mass Effect, Bring Down the Sky which you can view right here.

They're also hosting a contest where you can win a custom painted Xbox 360 Elite and a bunch of other crazy stuff. Full details here.

Zerg Revealed for StarCraft II

Evolution complete.

Thsi week, Blizzard Entertainment finally revealed my favourite species, the Zerg, in their upcoming RTS StarCraft II.

Feast your eyes on two classic units, the Hydralisk and Mutalisk in Blizzard's Zerg page here. Ther also extra screenshots and concept art.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 1 Review

I work in TV. So I don't watch TV. It's that simple people. The only time that I sit around and watch a television show is if it's something so unique, so amazing, that it captivates my attention and holds onto me through its entire run.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is not that kind of a series, but it _is_ set in one of my most beloved childhood franchies, and for that reason alone I'm giving it a chance. And now, after one whole season, I can say that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is not an amazing show, but it's not a bad one either, and it does have potential.

The first season contains a total of 9 episodes, the last two played back-to-back as a finale. Like all shows, some episodes were good, some were not, and some straddled the middle line. Some built on the characters and situation, some had a lot of action, and others really need more time having their scripts refined.

If you're a fan of the franchise, and even if you're not, odds are you know the gist of the story. A supercomputer called Skynet becomes self aware and begins a nuclear war to wipe out humanity. John Connor (Thomas Dekker) becomes humanity's champion and the leader of the Resistance in the post-apocalyptic future, ultimately saving our race. Because of the threat John represents, Skynet sends multiple Terminator cyborgs back in time to kill him, and John himself sends various protectors, both human and reprogrammed Terminators, to protect him.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2: Judgement Day and completely renders Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines null and void. So if you don't like having time lines messed up, well, you probably stopped paying attention to the franchise after the second film anyway.

The series focuses on John and Sarah (Lena Headey) traveling into the future, to 2007, with the assistance of Cameron (Summer Glau), a Terminator sent back by John to protect his young self in an effort to prevent Skynet from being created; thereby preventing Judgement Day.

The concept itself is alright, though we find that both Skynet and the Resistance has sent numerous operatives back through time to complete one mission or another, which I honestly find really cheesy. I mean, in the films, time travel was costly process, with the Resistance having to fight their way into Skynet's facility _and_ take control of it just to send one person back, after which the facility is destroyed. In the series, however, everyone and their grandmother can jump around the time line. Go Metro Pass!

Kyle Reese's brother, Derek (Brian Austin Green), also gets involved with the Connors, and I admittedly found his character to be rather too bitter and over the top. The Connors aren't just up against Terminator's, however, as they're also running from the law for blowing up Cyberdyne Systems in the second film. An FBI agent, James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), is also after them, and honestly he's one of the more interesting, and human, characters of the mix. Well acted.

The series does have some pacing problems, trying to mix its action scenes with loose character development, development that's not always properly fleshed out. I honestly think they should sit down and watch Firefly to see how proper characters should be developed, and how important that level of development is, but hey, that's just me.

Each episode also tries to look at some moral aspect of humanity, to try and show what the Connor's are trying to preserve. While these examples don't always come across perfectly clear, at least to me, they usually come in some kind of an experience or lesson to Cameron as she learns more about humanity, and I must say the concept of the Terminator taking ballet amuses me.

So again, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has potential. It's certainly not the best show I've ever seen, but there's enough there that I actually sat down and watched an entire season.

Master Chief Halo 3 Series 1 McFarlane Toys Review

Last week, McFarlane Toys released their first series of Halo 3 action figures, and being a fan of his collectibles, I decided to pick one up. I chose the Master Chief himself, and in McFarlane Toy tradition, he is very well detailed and simply looks awesome.

Firstly, while normally clam shell packaging is a pain to open, getting the Chief out of that was not too difficult, however getting him out of his plastic bubble tray was. He was just really pressed in there, but finally I got him popped out and decided to see what posses I could get.

The Chief only comes with an Assault Rifle (the packaging says a Grenade as well, but this is a misprint), which he can hold or you can clip on his back with a peg. I found his right hand a bit stiff to bend open and get his Assault Rifle in there, and many of his joints were also equally stiff, but after a little fiddling I was able to pose him just the way I wanted.

Unlike some other McFarlane Toys, his feet (which can also bend at the midway), can be placed very flat, so the Chief can properly stand without a base. Even with 12 points of articulation, however, the Chief is not really too poseable, and can only be placed in a few different stances, however this is also in tradition with all the other McFarlane Toys that I know of.

Considering I got him only for display, I must say I'm quite happy with the Series 1 Master Chief, and it was well worth the $12.99 price tag.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Alone in the Dark Tech Video 2 Now Available

Eden Games and Atari have released their second Tech Demo video for Alone in the Dark on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

This Tech Demo, like the first, continues to show how objects and items can be manipulated and used in the game's environment. Some really nice stuff in here, and chalk full of potential folks.

Potential. I'm hoping this one proves innovative and disturbing enough to make me shit bricks. Now there's a mental image to turn you on.

Yeah, So About Those Commandments...

Yesterday, a coworker and I were going over the 10 Commandments. You see, I'm not a religious man, though I was raised Catholic. When I was 13, I asked myself if I believed in my faith because I truly believed it or because I was told to believe. I answered the latter and simply stopped.

Anyway, we were discussing the 10 Commandments and I thought it'd be interesting to see how many of those I have broken, as they are supposed to be very important rules relating to that former faith of mine.

You can read a full list here, and to date, I have broken 8 of them. Hot damn, I'm on a roll.

So, do you think my new life goal would be to break all 10 before I die?

The King of the Frozen North is Ready to Retire

Okay, straight up, those of you who know me know that the cold simply doesn't bother me. Winter doesn't bother me. I prefer winter to summer by far, and would rather deal with cold temperatures and snow than humidity and cancer-giving sunburns.

I spend my winters walking around in the same clothes I wear in spring and fall: a simple t-shirt and trench coat, and even in -20 C weather, that keeps me plenty warm and I'm fine.

Now, having said all that, I, the self proclaimed King of the Frozen North, would like winter to end and spring to arrive. Mainly, I'm sick and tired of all these damn snow storms ruining my social life. The roads and traffic are crap, and public transit also gets messed up.

I'm not looking forward to summer itself, mind you, as summer's only redeeming quality is female attire, but I could really do with some temperate days, nice patios, and drinks all around.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Halo 3, and Possibly Halo 2 (PC), Shown in Season Finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I was able to catch the season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on CTV's Edmonton channel just now, and to my surprise Halo 3 made a cameo!

The finalee was actually two episodes broadcast back-to-back, and in the first episode, around the 8 minute mark when John and Cameron are purchasing some hardware, the people in the background are playing a Co-Op game of Halo 3 on the Tsavo Highway mission. The footage shown starts with an over-charged Plasma Pistol, and also shows the players driving around in a Warthog taking on Brute Choppers, and also one on foot firing their Assault Rifle. It ends while focusing on one player's screen firing the Fuel Rod Cannon at a Brute Chopper and missing.

In the second episode, around the 7 minute mark when Sarah and Reese enter a net cafe, the scene starts with a brief clip of what appears to be Halo 2 (PC), the Metropolis mission, in which the player is killed while riding in a Warthog. This footage only lasts for just over a second, so I could be wrong about it being Halo 2, but since the guy who cursed in anger at dying was playing on a PC, I figure it seems likely that it was Halo 2 for Windows Vista.

If you weren't able to catch it tonight, the season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs tomorrow night starting at 8:00 pm on CTV in Canada and Fox in the United States.

You know, I find it interesting how last generation the PlayStation 2 was mentioned and shown all over pop culture, which certainly helped its sales, and this generation that role has been taken on by the Xbox 360. I say good on Microsoft for securing that extra bit of marketing.

And along those same lines, my offer still stands, Microsoft. You give me an Xbox 360 Decepticon, and I'll buy a copy of Windows Visita. Really. Especially if it's an Elite that can transform itself into the mighty Ah-nold.

The Halo 3 T-shirt

When the Staff bought his copy of the Halo 3: Limited Edition at Best Buy, he received a Halo 3 t-shirt that he never bothered wearing, so he donated it to a needy cause. Me.

Since getting it a few months ago, I've received nothing but compliments over the shirt; yes, even from women.

Hell, yesterday I wore it to the Tatoo Rock Parlour, a downtown Toronto club, and no one gave a shit. I just found it amusing that I was wearing the really nerdy shirt in the trendy club filled with cleavage and no one called me out on it. Awesome.

For my own part, the only thing that sucks about the shirt is since the Staff is our "special friend," i.e. a surley dwarfen bastard, it's a small when I usually wear a medium. That means I have to slather myself up in Vaseline just to slide the damned thing on. In fact, that's why I think I've received most of those compliments from women, because the shirt is so form fitting.

Wanna slather me up?

NOTE: Posted via my BlackBerry 8830.

Halo 2 (Xbox) Completed for the 7th Time

Last night, I completed Halo 2 for the 7th time overall, 5th time on Heroic Difficulty, and for the 2nd time emulated on the Xbox 360.

Despite the fact that I've played through it so many times, I can honestly say without question that Halo 2 is one of the single most engaging and versatile shooters I've ever played. It still has solid friend and enemy AI providing quite the challenge even by today's standards. Battles are varied and intense and most encounters never play the same way twice.

In my personal opinion, Halo 2 is the best game of the trilogy, also providing the deepest, and grandest narrative.

The game itself emulates solidly, and looks very nice with wide screen support. While Halo 2 does look better than Halo: Combat Evolved with grander detail and larger environments, I do have to say that it's sadly aged worse than its predecessor.

Halo 2 looked excellent when it was released on the original Xbox back in late 2004, but even so it already looked rather outdated for it's time due to the platform's aged hardware. The graphical imperfections are more prominent on Halo 2 on the Xbox 360, and the ghosting issues experienced with its emulation is very annoying. At least the excessive texture pop-in has been drastically improved.

Still though, when all's said and done, it's gameplay that really matters, and Halo 2 still tromps many cutting edge shooters in this department; on any platform.

Earth will never be the same.

NOTE: I'm posting this via my BlackBerry 8830, my first blog post to be published this way. Once I get home to my PC, I'll clean up the formatting, spell check, and add links and a screenshot.

Alone in the Dark Tech Video and Details

To date, one of the scariest games I have ever played is still the original Alone in the Dark, released for the PC back in 1992. I played it in 1994 on a monochrome display laptop with internal speakers, keyboard and track pad, and it still scared the crap out of me.

Well, the franchise is being reinvented and last I heard, Alone in the Dark is set for a cross-platform release the first half of 2008 (though no PlayStation 3 version?).

You can now find a very interesting tech demo video on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace that's caught my attention, which details the unique item interaction, physics model, and inventory system that the game will employ.

Another interesting thing about the game is that it will be set up in episodic television fashion, with arcs and cliffhangers, and the game will be featured as an entire "season." Because of this structure, the developers will be adding in a unique "skip" feature, which will allow you to by-pass parts of the game you find too hard.

This feature will be set up like a DVD scene selection menu, and if you find a part of the game too hard, you can just move to the next section of the game, though this will come at a cost of Achievements and other in-game penalties, but it will allow you to finish the game if you get stuck. Full details here.

With such a unique presentation and the re-invention of such a classic and iconic franchise, it looks to me like Alone in the Dark is a title worth keeping an eye on.