Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Home audio about to blow up

The two previous Pirates movies are out on Blu-ray this week to coincide with the third theatrical release. All the reviews I’ve read about the Blu-ray discs are glowing. Top-notch video, audio quality AND tons of bonus features. Couple that with the release of Curse of the Golden Flower next week and 300 in July and you have one happy PS3 owner. Of course Ninja Gaiden Sigma will make me happiest, but we’re just talking movies right now.

A key piece to this movie happiness is the impending release of the new line of receivers from Onkyo. The most affordable is the SR605 which is among the first to decode ALL of the new HD audio formats. MSRP is $599, but most sites list it for $499. I’ve seen some early deals that offered pre-orders at $399 although I can’t find them anymore. Since the PC purchase has been pushed well back to sometime next year, this receiver purchase is a no-brainer. Thank goodness I didn’t bite too early on the earlier Onkyo.

Making equally big noise is the Matrix Trilogy on HD-DVD. I really, really want the original in HD, but I can wait for Blu-ray, whenever that will be. It’s a real shame that the Animatrix is still the same old DVD version. A crime really.

The biggest Blu-ray release for me this year is definitely going to be Blade Runner: The Essentail 25th Anniversary Edition. The flyer included in the Matrix box set teases the HD-DVD version, but the Blu-ray one is supposed to come out on the same day. Blade Runner was the title that made me adopt the original DVD format so quickly and it’s still in my top five movies of all time. The wait for this is going to be painful.

Another Blu-ray surprise is that the PS3 version of Stranglehold will also include the HD version of Hard Boiled. At first I thought this premium extra would raise the price of the $59 game to somewhere around $79-89, but it's only ten bucks more, $69! Wow. I will take the HD version of a movie over achievements every time.

Some new screens surfaced from the recent Square/Enix event in Japan. There were tons of interesting news and photos, but again, this particular pic from the Final Fantasy I remake on PSP has me psyched. I mean, the sprites are just soooo colorful and gorgeous. I really hope to see some more movies of this in action to either completely sell me on it or potentially frighten me away for good with crappy animation.

One last RTS note and we’ll be done with that business for a while. I greatly disliked Age of Empires III and naturally had no interest in the first expansion. The second expansion, The Asian Dynasties, is another story. I can’t ignore a game with my peoples in it. At least I think Japan is in it. It’s out this Fall, which means I probably won’t play it until next year when a new PC (or Mac?!) comes into play to prepare for StarCraft II.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

StarCraft II revealed = PC/Mac purchase to follow

So yeah, all that hemming and hawing about whether to give up on PC gaming is at a clear and decisive end. Whenever StarCraft II is about to hit stores is when I buy a new PC. Or perhaps a new Mac? I played the original StarCraft and Diablo II on Macs so that combo does give me the warm fuzzies. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I can't tell you how psyched I am (as are millions of other SC fans across the globe).

I was almost dreading logging on this morning. If the next StarCraft was a MMO, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s probably going to become a reality eventually, but at least there is one last hurrah like Warcraft III to go back and play.

Now the long wait for release date info begins. With previous Blizzard games, the release of the title can be upwards of 2+ years after the initial announcement. Knowing the stakes involved to make sure SC II is well balanced for multiplayer, that wait could potentially be even longer.

I’m just hoping SC II has been in the cooker for so long that it’s pretty much done and public/closed beta testing will start soon. Is an early 2008 release or (gasp) December 2007 bow an impossible dream?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Alternative RTS action

I’ve pretty much decided to wait until later this year for a PC and at that time get the cheapest of the new Direct X10 cards available. I'll just survive with my office laptop if/when disaster strikes my home PC. My hope is that by the Fall, such a rig can be had for the magical $1000 or less mark. My fingers are crossed very hard.

In case that doesn’t materialize, I looked over the RTS landscape for consoles and (gasp) handhelds. The outlook is pretty darn good actually. The big headliner is of course Halo Wars, but that is probably not coming out till holiday 2008. In the near term, Tom Clancy’s End War sounds promising and Universe at War could be good too. There are rumblings that a port of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos will be announced for the 360 soon. Even less reliable are grumblings that Relic is preparing a RTS for consoles. Whether that’s a new IP or a port of Company of Heroes or the Dawn of War series, I would be a happy camper either way.

On the less traditional RTS front, we have Grim Grimoire for the PS2. If you can believe it, GG is a side-scrolling 2D RTS. Wild. Though not scheduled for US release yet, Shining Wind for the PS2 is also lurking having just come out in Japan this week. Then there is FFXII Revenant Wings and Heroes of Mana both for the DS.

So whatever happens, my RTS cravings should get satisfied.

The power of demos
I downloaded Area 51 Black Site the other night and was completely taken by surprise. I had heard relatively good things about the last FPS Area 51 game, but could not have cared less during that period. Having played through the fairly short demo level of Black Site, I can safely say that a purchase of the full game is highly likely. Correction, a purchase “was” highly likely until the release date of Halo 3 was announced a few days ago. A scant two weeks after Area 51 hits stores. If money is tight that month, it will be no contest. Sorry Area 51...again!

The other demo I checked out was Forza 2. Admittedly, I’m not the core target for this game. I like racing games, but favor the arcade-style affairs. I was definitely impressed with the smooth car handling, and I really like the visual brake assist arrows. Even so, the graphics whore in me just could not get past the visuals. I haven’t played with the Gran Turismo HD demo since it was released, but I have been downloading the time trial and car highlight videos from the Japanese PSN store. There is just no comparison. Forza looks like a shiny, too brightly lit “game” and GT HD looks like real life. I mean really, really looks like real life. Stunning is not an understatement.

A demo that I do constantly boot up is Ninja Gaiden Sigma. It’s great that you have access to multiple weapons and difficulty to help hone your skills till the game comes out. Perfect use of a demo to keep your fans happy I'd say.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Weekend gaming report

I have some mixed feelings after playing Command & Conquer 360 over the weekend. On one hand, I was having a great old time and got right back into the RTS groove. Using the control pad works just fine and playing the game on my couch with big TV + surround sound is fantastic.

The biggest annoyance so far is how easy it is to mess up the bonus objectives. They can even pop up after it’s too late to do anything. I save quite often, but usually don’t keep more than five or six during a mission. Now I have to keep like a dozen just to make sure I don’t have to replay huge chunks of it. I’m maybe half-way through the GDI missions on Medium difficulty and I’m not sure if my enjoyment level will sustain me for all three campaigns. I’m really hoping the NOD campaign is more fun than the GDI.

The week’s releases
I stumbled across Etrian Odyssey for the first time last week and it’s kind of intriguing. From what I’ve read, it sounds a lot like Wizardry with a heavy dose of map making and anime art. There are no formal reviews yet, which makes me nervous because the last quirky Atlus game I almost bought was Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. Everything pre-release about Izuna like the art and the wacky premise screamed “must purchase!”. Then the reviews hit and it turned out it didn’t have much of a story or characters after all. Worst of all, it was an unforgivingly difficult bitch of a dungeon crawler.

I’ll skip on Etrian unless someone tells me different. Especially since Oendan 2 comes out in Japan this week and I have that bad boy pre-ordered. Woohoo!

PC conundrum round 3
I priced a few more PCs online and I just hate the configurations. Especially since there were a lot of renewed rumblings over ATI’s upcoming Direct X10 cards. I’m definitely going to wait and see what their low-end card will cost in PCs from Dell and HP. Until then, I have to use my home rig sparingly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Life could be so simple and cheaper… (UPDATED!)

…if I could only let go of PC gaming. I bought my previous PC a week after viewing the demo of Half-Life 2 at E3 2003 and believing their promise of release later that year. It still ran near perfect when it did ship in September 2004, but there were games released at the time that I already could not run at the maximum setting.

The last game I tried to play was the expansion to Dawn of War and it was an extremely painful process. I gave up gaming on my PC altogether after that, which was a shame since RTS games are my fav on the platform and I could only guess at the goodness that was Company of Heroes, the second Dawn of War expansion, and C&C 3 (well not so much the last one because of the 360 version).

My new PC plan was airtight - sit back till Crysis ships. By then, Vista will be better, there should actually be DX10 cards readily available, and I’ll reap the obligatory CPU gains. That plan got shot to hell in recent weeks. MY PC is experiencing a start-up problem that not even re-installing XP will fix. It doesn’t happen all the time, but ultimate death can’t be too far behind. I started scanning current deals and Sunday circulars and the outlook was bleak. To get something that could stand a chance of running Crysis at this point in time is damn expensive. Minium 2K, but really it would be more, much more. That is simply out of the question. I’ve got 120k miles on my car so that would take priority.

Do I even need to play PC games anyway? I haven't gamed on my PC for almost two years. I can play a dozen games like Crysis on the 360 and PS3 as well as RTS on the 360 and the DS (Heroes of Mana looks really good and it’s only a matter of time before we see more RTS action on the Dual Screen...I know I'm really reaching here).

If I settled for a graphics card that was just good enough to unleash the fancy Vista features, I could still run a number of games I missed out on (Company of Heroes, Titan Quest, etc) and only spend $600-900 tops.
And then a scarier thought cropped up – If I can let go of PC gaming, why not get a Mac? Those new MacBooks are pretty nice and I can still run XP at least. Then again, all the software and RAM upgrades I want would cost more on a Mac driving up the costs back closer to mid-level PC gaming rig.

I have no clue what to do at this point. Just have to wait and ride this PC till the wheels fall off.

I decided to dig through some older PC games to see what I might still actually play if I were to get a new rig soon. First game cases I flipped through were StarCraft and Diablo II plus their expansions. I know I would re-install either at a moments notice if the mood struck me. Ooh what do we have here…Myth I, II and III. I had always meant to go back to these (hmmm maybe not III). They were darn hard if I recall correctly and I never finished any of them. It was tough to stop my grenadiers from blowing up my own troops. I wonder if the games hold up though?

What else do we have here, ah Rise of Nations. I think this could still be good. Next. Oh man totally forgot about Rome Total War. I remember being into it for a few days and then wanted to restart because I had messed up so bad. I’m sure this could be fun still too.

Ha, well if it isn’t Emperor Battle for Dune. I doubt this would be that great. It got mixed reviews back in the day. I remember Sean playing it and marveling at the hilarious live action clips. Maybe it is worth looking at again.

Hmm Age of Mythology. I already tried to go back to this one after Dawn of War. It didn’t have enough personality to make me overlook how tediously old school it is.

Looks like stores are finally getting in copies of C&C for the 360 (none I checked had them yesterday). We’ll have to see if it helps me in this decision.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Go Warriors!

I moved to the Bay Area around 1998/99 and up to that point followed the Knicks. That was primarily because of Patrick Ewing and the team of that era. John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and later on Allen Houston, Larry Johnson and good old Charlie Ward. But it was really Ewing that I liked and my Knick love had waned greatly since his retirement.

Since they were on local TV more often than not, I started casually watching the Warriors. Ticket prices weren’t as outrageous as other teams so I started going to a few games too. The arena was usually half to 2/3 full (depending on the opponent) and most nights the biggest excitement was getting a free Taco Bell Chalupa if the Warriors scored over 100.

Fast forward to the 2001 season when…IT happened. I can’t remember which game it was now, but after hitting a wide open three pointer, I jumped up and proclaimed Bobby Sura to be a great addition to the Warriors. You heard me, Bob Sura. It was at that moment that I realized I had become a true desperate, rose-colored glasses wearing Warriors fan. There was no turning back.

Fast forward again to last night. The Warriors make history and advance to the 2nd round. It’s almost too crazy to believe. This whole season has been such a wild roller coaster ride. There were a lot of great games in last year’s playoffs, but maaaan…it is so much more exciting when your team is in there and playing tremendous ball. Go Warriors!