Friday, April 29, 2005

A taste of the next generation?


The screen above is from a game called 2 Days to Vegas from a developer called Steel Monkeys. Is this for the next Xbox or PS3? Is it actually a game? I guess we’ll find out eventually. The cars look especially realistic. So much so that they appear to be real cars photoshopped into rendered backgrounds.

It’s very impressive taken at face value, but still not that exciting right? The more realistic graphics get, the more challenging it’ll be for things to not look incredibly fake or wrong in some way. The Final Fantasy Spirits Within movie is a great example of this. Some portions look damn good and indistinguishable from reality while other scenes appeared jarringly awkward.

That reminds me, I should have mentioned in my previous post about NFL 2K that although the graphics were top notch at the time, it was the animation of the characters that I felt was truly groundbreaking. A football game can’t mimic broadcast TV presentation unless the players move just right. Hopefully the next gen Madden keeps that in mind.

Later Jade
So I unexpectedly beat Jade Empire yesterday. I hadn’t read anything about the game beforehand to avoid spoilers so I was unaware a play through would only be about 20 – 30 hours versus the 80+ hours KOTOR demanded. That’s a smart move and a great motivator to play through multiple times and try crazy crap. I haven’t gathered all my thoughts yet so look for the full rundown next week. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Questionable purchases


Before you say anything, keep in mind all the above were bought at a varying degrees of discount.

I finally made it to the nearest Fry’s (about 30 miles away) this past weekend and didn’t completely lose my mind. I limited myself to two purchases, P.N.03 for the GameCube and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for the Xbox. I remember playing a bit of P.N.03 when it was first released and being disappointed. The controls were awkward and the targeting system had an odd learning curve. Still, there was something about it that I felt had potential, so I stored that thought in the memory bank and went on with life.

The price tag said $14.99, but it was on sale for $4.99. That’s right, five bucks. Sold. I browsed the PC section and saw a special CSI bundle. The first two PC games for $29.99. Hmmm, pass. I remembered they released it for the Xbox too, but wasn’t sure if it was the first or second game. The sticker on the green case informed me that the Xbox version has both the original CSI game and CSI Dark Motives…for $20…SOLD! So do I have any hope either adventure will be any good? Hell no. My obsession with CSI demands it though and I must feed the monster.

A few weeks ago, I was equally consumed with the Futurama DVD sets so I wound up picking up the Xbox version of that game at the Wherehouse for $14.99. Most reviews agreed it was average at best, but 30 minutes worth of new footage plus all the voices and script by the writers means it’s a must have. Besides, it looks nice next to the DVD box sets.

So which three of these games will be the most decent? It may be a while before I find out as I’m quite deep into Jade Empire now and picked up some more freelance work. Has anyone played any of the above pictured? Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

E3, CSI, and other acronyms on my mind


I was watching the pilot episode of CSI the other night on DVD when this bit of dialogue caught my ear:

NICK STOKES: Dude, you got NFL2K for Dreamcast?

GREG SANDERS: Bought it the day it came out. Those graphics are killer, aren't they?

I’m guessing it was some paid product placement since Nick and Warrick are seen playing the actual game in a later episode. In any case, it reminded me of that magical Dreamcast launch. “Those graphics are killer, aren't they?” I felt exactly the same way. I had never seen a football game look so real before. The only other time a football game really blew me away was Madden for the 3DO, but the gameplay was so lacking it detracted from the visual dazzle. That wasn’t the case with NFL 2K. Sure it had problems, but man was it fun.

I’m really hoping the unveiling tomorrow (the commercial during the NFL Draft) and at E3 of the next gen Madden has a similar effect on me. News has been leaking fairly regularly now of games that are going to be showcased and it’s all very exciting. My one prediction is that we’ll see a dizzying amount of titles announced for the PSP. So far, the list of upcoming titles has been conspicuously small. A look at the recently leaked Nintendo DS release schedule (I can’t seem to find the link at the moment) shows an insane amount of titles are indeed coming, so you can just imagine what the PSP sheet will look like. Unfortunately, the list will surely be dominated by plenty of PS2-light ports.

From Splinter to Jade
I lost interest in playing Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow on the PC since it doesn’t work with a game pad. It’s just too awkward to play with a mouse and keyboard. I guess I’ll eventually have to track down a cheap Xbox copy or just rent it. That left me free to get serious with Jade Empire. Played for about two hours and so far so good. Nice story, looks great, and the combat is interesting. It’s finely editing though. Damn fine editing. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around the combat, but it’s still very early. The only thing that bothers me is the way you open item boxes—the game teleports you directly in front of the crate or vase you were trying to open regardless of where you were standing before. It’s odd that such an ugly glitch made it in. It really takes you out of the game and makes it harder to search for goods and get back to your mission at hand.

Daggers, Kaneshiro, and Ziyi Zhang!
I also finally watched House of Flying Daggers and loved it. I liked Hero better though. I thought Daggers would get me more excited about getting back to Jade Empire, but it made me want to go back and finish Onimusha 3. I wasn’t really familiar with Takeshi Kaneshiro’s background other than seeing him in a Japanese TV series and his role in the Onimusha series, so I was shocked to hear him speaking fluent Mandarin. You can read more about him here. I also thought this was Ziyi Zhang’s most complete role since Crouching Tiger. Her commentary with director Yimou Zhang is very interesting and recommended for fans of the movie.

Back to the scene of the crime
Getting back to CSI, I mentioned earlier I’ve been inhaling reruns of the original CSI as quickly as Spike and other rerun channels can churn them out. Unfortunately, they aren’t very thorough in the order of these replays so I’m missing large chunks in the various seasons. There’s a very long story I will spare you from and simply boil the details down to the essentials in the order they happened:

- Rented first 2 discs of season 1
- Decided to just buy the box sets
- Found out they are re-releasing season 1 so it will be presented in widescreen (season 2 – 4 already are) and adding tons of bonus features
- After weighing costs found it was cheaper to buy the season 1 – 4 super brick and sell off the included full frame season 1 and buy the re-release widescreen when it comes out

- My lovely wife (who will no longer be referred to as "the wife") surprises me by picking up the tab on the set.

So now I’m just waiting for the set to arrive. Maybe I can crunch and finish Jade Empire before then. Probably not. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Splendid Splinter


I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the plot of Chaos Theory revolves around tensions between Asian powers China, Korea, and Japan. It’s all laid out in the first cinema before you start to play. It’s extremely topical with the recent protests in China over Japan’s continued lack of a proper apology for wartime crimes. The biggest sticking point (I’m talking about real life and not game plot from here on) is recently approved school books that gloss over Japan’s aggressions during that time period. Great strides have been made between Korea and Japan (although plenty of still work remains to be done), but relations with China continue to decline. Japan’s Prime Minister just came back from a 2-day visit to China with nothing much resolved. There are numerous cultural factors that will make true resolution hard, but I’m hoping for the best.

Maybe it’s because of the real world political climate that I’m still hungry for more Splinter Cell, even though I just beat the single player portion of Chaos Theory last night. I’m guessing it’s the escapist fantasy that a solution in the form of Sam Fisher can straighten the world’s problems that’s so appealing right now. The following may count as a slight spoiler so please note this warning. Through the course of the game, you come into contact with Korean and Japanese forces. It certainly added hours and frustration, but I’m happy to say I killed no other Asians in Chaos Theory. I got rewarded with a higher mission percentage rating, but the true reward was doing my small and mostly inconsequential part in non-violence among Asians.

Ironically, my initial plan was to move on to Jade Empire, a game based on a mythological version of China. I’m still very psyched for Jade, but I may go back and play Pandora Tomorrow for now. I didn’t play it much past the 1st mission when it was released mainly because I was more intrigued by the online bits and ended up getting rid of my Xbox version a while ago. I snagged the very affordable PC version (I think it was like $9 at Target or some similar retailer) for reasons I can’t recall at this moment, but it sure comes in handy now.

The Xbox version of Pandora Tomorrow didn’t support widescreen or even 480p! It still looked pretty decent, but I remember my PC version looking very sharp when I loaded it up back when. I have the latest Logitech analog PC pad, which I’m praying will work somehow with the game. Still, I’m quite torn about not moving on to Jade Empire. I didn’t even mention how much I also want to play Psychonauts, which also comes out this week.

Doom 3…pass. Half-Life 2…bring it!
I checked out the demo of Doom 3 in the lastest issue of the Official Xbox magazine. It’s pretty slick looking and the button functions map beautifully to the Xbox controller, but it’s just not for me. Having played through the PC version at fairly high graphical settings, the Xbox version looks too muddy to me. That’s not the whole reason though since I’m also passing on the PC expansion. I’m not into the demons stuff right now I guess. On the other hand, I couldn’t be happier about the upcoming Half-Life 2 expansion. Thank goodness we won’t have to wait another 5 years to find out what the hell happened.

Best case scenario would be the upcoming Xbox version of HL2 has the original game and the expansion. That would be hot. Playing HL2 on Xbox Live plus getting the expansion would be enough to stomach the trade off in graphical punch. I think. Maybe.

Madden 360
So excuse me for waiting till the end of the column to write about the pics above. A 60- second preview commercial of the new Madden is scheduled to air during the NFL Draft this weekend. The pic on the left is the first teaser pic EA showed at a conference last year and the pic on the right is the one they released yesterday in conjunction with the announcement. At the time of the first teaser, everyone assumed the visuals looked too good to be actual gameplay. The latest pic appears to be from the same footage, but close scrutiny points to very different character models in the two shots. The pics aren’t large enough to properly analyze so I could be outrageously wrong. My gut still tells me the final footage won’t look anywhere near as impressive as the shot on the left promises. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 14, 2005

God of Waffles


I made this the day I beat God mode, but forgot to post it till now. Feast your eyes upon the Kratos family waffle! It starts with heavenly clouds surrounding six mighty columns that support Mount Olympus. Nestled in the god’s playground is Kratos, his wife, and child. Here’s how to make your own:

Kratos family waffle

Ingredients
¾ cup of Swedish pancake/waffle mix
½ cup cold water
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 scoops Rasberry marble ice cream
Chocolate syrup
3 Maraschino cherries
2 large bananas
Whip cream
Toothpicks (optional)

Directions
- Cut bananas into desired size. They should be tall enough to keep away mere mortals. Arrange them by twos as pictured.

- Now is a good time to start your waffle iron. I have a “boat” waffle iron that is ideal for holding all manner of topping, in this case…gods! Well god and wife and child anyway.

- Mix ¾ cup of Swedish pancake/waffle mix with ½ cup of cold water and 2 ½ tablespoons of melted butter. You can use 2 ½ tablespoons of Vegetable oil instead, but I think it tastes too greasy that way. Swedish variety mix is crispier and a bit thinner than standard pancake/waffle mix. It’s consistency and luxurious taste matches with the majesty that should be Mount Olympus.

- Set the iron to its highest temperature (mine is level 7) and leave it in for two full cycles. You want to make sure the waffles get very crispy and golden on the outside, but fluffy on the inside. If you were able to get past the formidable barriers into Olympus, you would be engulfed in a similarly fluffy reward.

- Right before the waffles are done, start laying down the whip cream around the bananas. How much you want to use is up to you. If you are worried about your waffle tipping over, insert toothpicks into 2-4 of the bananas. Just be careful not to bite into them lest you feel the pain of Hades.

- Place the cooked waffles onto the bananas, then top it with three scoops of the ice cream. As you can see, the white matches Kratos’ skin and the red his tattoos. His family gets the same color because they are (SPOILER………………………………………….) dead (SPOILER END…………………………..).

- Drizzle chocolate syrup around the way Kratos drizzled the blood of the damned with his blades.

- Top each scoop with a cherry (this really doesn’t signify anything, it just tastes good) and you’re done! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The year of the progressive scan 16:9 PS2 games


If you have a High Definition Television, you’ve probably noticed that most PlayStation 2 games look pretty crappy on it. The nature of the display amplifies visual flaws in software, most noticeably the jaggies. That’s true for standard definition broadcasts too, but let’s stay on point. According to Microsoft, we’re another five to seven months away from the beginning of the “HD era” in games. The current Xbox is quite respectable already in terms of decent HD support, but it’s the PS2 that has been surprising me lately with a recent show of power.

God of War, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, Tekken 5, and Gran Turismo 4 all feature 16:9 widescreen and 480p progressive scan. GT4 even has a 1080i mode, which is insane. Before you get all huffy and tell me there have been quite a few widescreen progressive scan PS2 games already, let me clarify by saying those older titles never looked as good as this bunch. I’m not talking about pure graphical improvements that make gains every year, I’m referring specifically to the impact true/optimum 480p resolution has on the visuals. Perhaps the developer tools for progressive scan have been improved?

Let me put it another way; The visual difference between older PS2 progressive scan games and this new bunch, is comparable to how PS2 games look like with composite video (you know, the old yellow, red, white cables) compared to S-video cables. There is a clear contrast, maybe too subtle for the average person, but it’s there for graphic snobs. And really, if you already own a HDTV then you’re most likely the type that will notice.

If I have one complaint, it’s that many of the above titles don’t completely own their power. Tekken 5 features true widescreen only during the fight. The menus, ending cinemas, and story illustrations wind up getting stretched out. Your only option is to manually change it back to standard display. God of War on the other hand does a brilliant job of presenting all the cut scenes, cinemas, and menus in widescreen. My two gripes this time (and they are minor) is that the videos in Treasures are not widescreen and the PS2 doesn’t automatically kick you into progressive scan even if that is your saved setting.

I’d like to officially join the chorus of folks praising God of War. I just beat God mode last night (the secret message is pretty cool actually, not sure if it was worth the hurt on my hands though) and I’ll probably mess with it a little more before being totally done with it. The whole time I’m playing the game I’m thinking “they are just blowing it out, throwing so much cool stuff at you, what the hell can they do for a sequel?” I won’t spoil anything, but rest assured the special features provide clues that could power five more God of War games. Speaking of special features, the ones in God of War totally blow away most of the so-called bonus Special Edition content you have to pay $5-15 extra for these days. I also thought (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD…………………YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED) I hate these damn jumping puzzles especially the spiral blade climb crap.

(MINOR SPOILER END…………IT IS NOW SAFE)

I’m going to momentarily jump off the PS2 fan wagon to put a few things into perspective. As good as Tekken 5 looks on a HDTV, Dead or Alive Ultimate looks better. Same goes for God of War compared to say…Ninja Gaiden. That’s for both resolution and sheer graphical power. How you judge the artistic design of these games is up to you. Even when comparing apples to apples, like the PS2 and Xbox versions of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, the Xbox clearly looks better. It’s damn close though.

That reminds me, I loaded up Ninja Gaiden Hurricane pack 2 this morning and it kicked my ass but good…again. That pretty much deflated most of my sense of unstoppableness gained from beating God mode.

Anyway, the point is that the lion’s share of games released in the next two years will still be for PlayStation 2. Instead of looking upon that fact with dread, these last few games have been beacons of hope for a graphics Nazi like me. The quality of the game itself will always be the most important factor, but one always yearns for a cake that can be had and eaten too.

If I overlooked any other great looking progressive scan PS2 games, drop me an email or comment below.

I can’t wait to see some Xbox 2/360/next games though. Had to throw that in there. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Sega Fantasy VI

Can the new era of the PSP be defeated? For all the long time gamers out there, check this out. It goes on for a while, but man is it entertaining.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Power of schoolgirls! or Give you my knock for justice!

In the anime version of Japan, the streets are teeming with school uniform wearing girls who are all bad ass at karate and defeat creeps on the regular. In real world Japan, the streets are teeming with creeps groping girls on trains or something equally depressing so it’s awesome to come across an item like this. If I’m lucky enough to have children and they are girls, they will take up some sort of martial arts for sure. I actually took Judo and my wife practiced Karate (she is far better at her stuff than I am at mine though). Talk about Asian sterotypes. Just not to our face though cuz we’ll kick your ass!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

How did I get here? or Sin City fans welcome!


I used to work at a retail store many moons ago and would occasionally ask the customers how they found out about the shop. Sometimes it would be the Yellow Pages, but mostly it would be because we were next to two fast food joints. Every once in a while, I check to see how folks happened upon this blog and the results were mildly interesting so of course I'll share.

First off, my ramblings and image postings about Sin City have caught on somehow. So for those people looking for SC related info, I have a new nugget to report. My wife did not go to see Sin City with me and I'm glad she didn't because the violence alone would have turned her off something fierce. I still get the occasional grief over dragging her to Kill Bill volume 1. She asked me if I have the books, I replied in the affirmative, and then asked to read one. Now here is the thing; I'm fairly sure she would dig the books, as the impact is not quite as severe as the movie, but which one to start her on? I'm leaning toward That Yellow Bastard, but it's rather long and she might be intimidated. The shorter stories are good, but shouldn't be where ones starts a journey. Hmmm, have to figure that one out.

So what were the other ways folks got here? The following is a list of google search words that will lead you to my blog(s):

"Hyung Tae-Kim" - The ultra talented Korean artist I wrote about a while ago.

"Tekken 5 extra outfits" - I'm sure it was Costume Get that registered here.

"Asuka Kazama schoolgirl outfit" - Another Costume Get one ... I hope.

"Toshinden 2005" - Without a doubt my favorite of the bunch. Who is still holding a candle all these years for Toshinden? Amazing. Truly fantastic. If you're still out there, I would love to hear what's up with that query.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Real costs. Or have it on PSP or not.

Searching around, the 1GB Pro Duo cards are due to be in stock anywhere from next week to the end of the month depending on where you go. Now here’s the kicker, how many will the dedicated owner buy? The cheapest is the gaming colored Sandisk 1GB cards, MSRP $150. Careful shopping online can net you one for maybe $125. It’s been stated many times before, but price vs value ratio sucks big time for most any Sony propriety format. So, what else can the PSP owner do, but accept it? It comes down to how much do you want your PSP to handle the extras that you’d put on a Duo card, photos, music, and movies.

Having tried a lot of portable media players, I will say that the PSP’s photo viewer is far superior. The options you have to manipulate the pics and access/focus speed is as good or better than every PMP out there. Music playback wise, the PSP is about as bulky as most PMPs so that’s a wash. Now, in terms of movie playback, it’s no contest some PMPs trounce the PSP. Note the “some” qualifier. All have large hard drives (at least 20GB, up to 100GB), but not all are created equally when it comes to screen size and resolution.


The rough math works out to $2600 in Pro Duo cards if you wanted the 20GB of space you would get on a $300-500 PMP. Ideally, you’ll want a device with 640x480 resolution and the largest screen possible. Getting one that uses Windows Media Center is both a drag and a blessing. A drag because most folks don’t have Media Center PCs and official content is just now starting to gain any momentum. It’s a blessing from a format stand point since it’s fairly easy to convert movies (well not DVDs actually) to the Windows Media format and the file sizes in relation to playback quality is pretty good. Perhaps not as efficient as some of the newer codecs out there, but better than most.

What am I going to do you ask? Pick up one 1GB card (which is more than enough for photos) for the PSP that I can empty when I want a large card for my digital camera. For movie viewing, the wife wants one of those portable DVD players. I’m not too fond of them, but I can’t argue against the practicality of it. We can take however many DVDs with us on trips, buy DVDs on said trips, enjoy it on a fairly sizeable widescreen display, and watch them without having to convert and fit them on a hard drive. I’ve been trying to get her to just buy a cheap laptop for a few hundred more, but that has different drawbacks as well.

My current PDA just went bust so I’m heavily eyeing this number. The $750 price is kind of steep, but 30GB of space, Wifi internet, and full PDA functionality is HOT!