Thursday, February 24, 2005

Well, That's Not Good

Disaster Strikes As Catastrophe Looms!



Instead of going through my normal routine and flying to university with my trusty magical umbrella, I decided today that my transportation would be handled by the offensively colored lump of metal which is commonly referred to as "car". As you can see above, my decision was clearly in error, producing results that are less than satisfactory. Now, the damage may not seem as extensive when captured by a camera and reproduced on a monitor, but believe me that those dents are quite nasty, especially when you take the size of my "car" into account.

It's awfully small. There are many times where I'll just be driving along, only to have the sun become mysteriously blocked out and an ominous shadow envelop all that I can see. Far from being a mysterious supernatural event, a glance upwards quickly reveals the underside of a truck driving right over me, my vehicle quaintly slipping beneath its hulking steel body and between its towering tires. There is a positive side to all this, however, as in the situations where I'm unable find parking I can simply slip my "car" into any moderately sized backpack and take it with me. So you see, those dents are rather noticeable. They're like majestically deep valleys, yearning to be explored with vigor and loads of hiking equipment. Only the hands of a good panelbeater can reunite the roaming hills with the green earth and...well, you get the idea.

Despite its shortcomings, my "car" didn't really deserve to be assaulted in such a manner. The driver of the attacking vehicle was polite and admitted that he wasn't paying attention (a fundamental part of driving, I must point out) when he turned into the parking lane and consequently T-boned me, but that's not going to stop me from at least vilifying his car...

Its eyes were burning with crimson flame and it belched thick plumes of asphyxiating smoke as it bore down upon my completely unaware car.... Right before the impact, it let out a terrifying laughter, one laced with the sounds of creaking pistons and screeching windscreen wipers!

It was quite unsettling as I heard my feeble "car" bending in new and original ways. And speaking of settling, this guy is supposed to be paying for the damages, what with it being his fault and all. Insurance isn't going to cover it though, since they don't cover accidents that take place within parking terrains. I guess that means I'll simply have to try harder and have a real accident.

In videogaming news, I'm currently counting down the minutes until my download of the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory single player demo completes. Not only is it an innovative continuation of a fantastic series, it also sports shiny graphics of a calibre that will make grown men weep tears of joy. Grab it for yourself over here.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

It's No Joke

Q: How much would a UMD movie, playable on the PSP, set you back?
A: You can expect to pay $20 to $30.

That is truly a hilarious punchline to one of the worst jokes you're ever likely to experience in the videogaming industry. I honestly can't fathom how Sony came up with that pricetag, but it certainly didn't come about from informed discussion or detailed research. No, I suspect the Magic 8-Ball on Ken Kutaragi's desk is to blame for this.

"Hey, should we sell those UMD movies at reasonable and enirely sane prices?"

*shakes vigorously*

"OUTLOOK GOOD"

"Uh...I'll take that as a no?"

Okay, so a UMD movie costs between 20 and 30 dollars. This concept could only possibly work if these extreme events were to suddenly occur:

(1) A mad scientist unleashes an army of insidious nano-bots that prey on hapless DVDs and completely destroy everything from Laurence of Arabia to Friends Seasons 1 through 10.

Probability: Un-bloody-likely.

A quick trip to Amazon reveals that the forthcoming 2-disc DVD of Brad Bird's post-Iron Giant masterpiece, The Incredibles, can be purchased for $17.99. Residing on pristine DVD, the film will boast 5.1 surround sound, crystal clear video clarity and several hours worth of behind-the-scenes footage. When we compare this to a UMD, which has inferior capabilities and no extras worth mentioning, we discover that it's an unfair comparison and Sony's pint-sized disc is way out of its league.

(2) Studios release several irrefutably amazing and mesmerizing films exclusively on UMD.

Probability: Laughable.

It would be corporate insanity for a studio to ignore the much larger DVD market in order to release a film exclusively on UMD, so you can rest assured that if a movie finds its drunken way onto UMD, it will have come from a superior DVD version. Sony's own attempts to spruce up the UMD movie list have been embarassingly poor, what with their choices of such instant classics as XXX, Once Upon a Time In Mexico, Hellboy and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (haha). The inclusion of House of Flying Daggers is more sensible, but that choice quickly succumbs to the "why don't I just get the DVD?" argument.

(3) The world's population is inexplicably reduced to a bunch of quivering consumer zombies and become unable to discern between getting their money's worth and being ripped off.

Probability: Frighteningly likely...if it hasn't happened already.

Let's face it, you'd have to be an imbecile of epic proportions to pay $30 for a UMD movie. It's an inferior format for film, it's only viewable on a comparitively tiny screen and the selection of films is, at the moment, spectacularly inept.

What's truly disturbing, however, is that many people ARE imbeciles. Those six million people that bought Enter the Matrix and blissfully ignored Beyond Good & Evil? I'm talking about them. They'll happily buy UMD movies, thinking they're getting a great deal. What a sad state of affairs.

So, what I'm really trying to say is...Earth is doomed. Yeah.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ineptitude Rising

I break the law on a daily basis.

It's true. Now, before visions of a smug videogaming geek shoving innocent old ladies into oncoming traffic or stealing soup from poorly nourished orphans run rife throughout your mind, let me clarify that my expeditions to the wrong side of the law aren't nearly as drastic. You see, I drive around in my loosely concocted system of wheels, pulleys, liqourice strips and hyper-active hamsters (hereafter referred to as "car") without being in possession of a driver's license. Now, I do have a learner's license, meaning I can recognize fundamental signs and complex automotive equipment such as steering wheels, but a technicality within the law states that this particular piece of parchment only allows me to drive with a license-holder in the passenger seat. Since I don't know anybody that's available for a daily chaparone routine, it means I have to choose between staying at home or going to university. An easy choice...but people tell me that education is important.

As soon as you become 18 years of age, you're allowed to go and take the driver's license test - a pseudo-obstacle course that's taken under the supervision of a highly unenthusiastic human claiming to be an expert on matters related to driving. I hadn't been interested in said test until recently, when I finally obtained my "car". I suppose I could have gone using somebody else's vehicle, but I have certain reservations about piloting highly expensive machinery belonging to other people. As you can see, my act of driving without a license isn't totally without reason. I took driving lessons, I obey the rules of the road and I'm mindful about the dangers of high-speed travel. In addition...those pedestrians had it coming.

So, I phoned the licensing department today in order to make an appointment for this all-important test. The man on the other end seems courteous enough and even asks for and addresses me by my name. It's an obvious trick that creates the impression of giving a damn, often resorted to by seedy salesmen and overzealous fast food attendants.

"I'd like to make an appointment for a driver's license."
"The learner's test or the driver's test?"
"The driver's test."
"I'm sorry, but we're fully booked through the whole month of February."
"Okay...so could you schedule it for March then?"
"No."
"No?"
"You'll have to phone back later, I'm afraid."
"Why?"
"Because February is fully booked."
"Yes, but why can't you schedule it for March?"
"Because we're fully booked."
"In February."
"Yes."
"So..does you system only have a one-month calendar or something?"
[ Note the regrettable mistake I make at this point by assuming that the man is actually using a computer and not a greasy scrap of paper dug out of a refuse bag. ]
"No...it's just that February is fully booked and I can't give you an appointment then."
"Not even for next month?"
"No, I can't do that."

I could never get to the bottom of this mystery. In fact, I'm not even sure said mystery has a bottom...just an endless abyss of puzzling and frustrating ineptitude. Either this guy had no idea what he was doing or he wasn't given the correct tools to let him function in his job. Regardless, I now have to phone back frequently and hope that there's a competent entity on the other line, ready to help me into becoming an official law-abiding citizen.

Since this is a videogame blog, I should probably mention, you know, a videogame. Well, I'm really looking forward to Advent Rising, an upcoming sci-fi action game that's being published by Majesco. Admittedly, that's not a company known for their genre-defining masterpieces, though Bloodrayne sure came close! (that was sarcasm, folks) Don't let that deter you from checking this game out, as it looks to be not only a fantastic third-person action game but an epic piece of storytelling. Planned as a trilogy and written by esteemed author Orson Scott Card, the game incorporates sci-fi weaponry, high-powered vehicles, weird aliens, hand-to-hand combat and psychic powers into the latest and ridiculously beautiful build of the Unreal engine.



If you want to get the best idea of what it's like, have a gander at this spectacular trailer. Judging by it, it looks like the game will have plenty of epic boss encounters and at least one emotionally gripping groin-kicking scene. If you're observant you'll also notice the main character twitch defensively when there's an explosion nearby. Nice touch! The most intriguing part of the game, however, is the branching storyline that promises to be just as throughtful and dynamic as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, with the only difference being that your actions in the first game will carry through all the way to the sequels, assuming that you'll even want to play them in the first place. The game launches in May on the Xbox and the PC - let's hope this series gets off to a good start.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

At Great Cost

Since everybody's talking about it and I don't have any particularly scintillating topics prepared, I suppose I should mention today's announcement regarding the Sony PSP. If anything, Sony has appended yet another note of caution to my mental "I want a PSP, but..." deliberation regarding their new machine. Snugly situated below may become infused with the ghost of an evil Chinese warlord and attempt to murder my family is the line costs 250 freaking US dollars, an addition which may now force me into thinking twice before buying a PSP.

Naturally, after thinking twice and possibly even a third time, I will buy a PSP. A fundamental failure in human logic and an utter abuse of common sense will accompany my purchase, but I'm appalled to say that it is inevitable. You see, I find it excruciatingly difficult to turn down a viable gaming platform. If there's any sort of chance that some great games will surface on the machine in question, I believe it's worth the investment. To ignore any particular avenue of gaming is like looking at the world with one eye closed - you're just not getting the full picture. In addition to that, depth perception is a little off and homophobic men will beat you up on occasion because they thought you were winking at them.

And before you point it out, I consider the N-Gage a platform that offers nothing of value to the gamer, lest that be uncontrollable laughter.

If I've made it sound as if the PSP's a total grudge purchase, akin to hesitantly buying a bag of unending pestilence, I can assure you that it's not all that bad. Though I do expect several locusts to attack me when I open the packaging, the pint-sized Playstation does have several things going for it. From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, it's unnervingly sexy. I openly admit that some part of me is attracted to it, whilst another part is freaking out about said attraction. And then there's the part that always experiences the urge to dance. I am suppressing it at this very moment.



Back at E3 2004, the only thing that I thought was particularly outstanding about the PSP was its pristine screen, a large window that looks upon magnificence. The graphics capabilities are also beyond those of Nintendo's DS, though the importance of that advantage is considerably less than the PSP's impressive third-party developer support. The number of games coming out during the "launch window" (marketing jargon that vaguely indicates a period of time) is noteworthy, especially considering the presence of Metal Gear Acid (an intriguing card-based strategy stealth game) and Wipeout Pure, a beautiful new entry into the futuristic racing series.



In the time it took you to glance at the above picture, a PSP's battery has gone from fully charged to thoroughly dead. Well, that's a minor exaggeration, but the thing doesn't last very long at all. A measly two hours is a reasonable expectation and four hours is rather hopeful, so somewhere in-between your gaming experience is going to be cut short. This is something that killed the Sega Game Gear and really should have been remedied before the PSP's launch. Having to run back to a power outlet every so often flies in the face of the system's portability and any hopes of uninterrupted gameplay experiences. Imagine if there was an indestructible cable attaching your it to a pole in your house. You'd only be able to get to a certain point in before being yanked back. With the PSP, you'll always have to be wary of how often you'll be able to get back to a source of electricity.

Another issue I have with the PSP is that it's essentially broken. In their attempts to accomodate the hefty screen, Sony screwed over the loyal square button and as a result, it doesn't really work all that well. You can see an informative diagram here and read my more elaborate thoughts on this grievious error (as well as Sony's embarassingly deranged response) in the latest version of the Dignews Rant Box. I love how Sony tells the world that it's an intentional design choice as if that's meant to make it better.
"We made the square button suck...on purpose!"
"Really? Oh, we thought it was some sort of manufacturing glitch or an understandable human error..."
"Nope, we were planning on ruining your combos all along. But at least we're honest about it, right?"

So, what is it that you get for 250 dollars? What exactly is in this PSP "Value" Pack? Well, let me tell you, fine readers.

(1) A cloth.
Holy Yes! My brain is overwhelmed with all the possibilities this fabric of majesty invites! Not only can I use it to clean the easily scratched screen of my PSP, it can act as a conduit for the power of...imagination. One cannot put a monetary value on such a gift! With the correct placement of this cloth, I can become a cowboy, or an exotic dancer, or a terrorist! Who needs games when this mantle of magic can bring my slightest whims to startling fruition!

(2) A soft case.
Clearly, this is the perfect way to protect your PSP from environmental dangers - play games with the PSP tucked away inside its case. Sure, you won't be able to see what's happening on the screen, but since you won't realize when the battery dies and the machine switches off, there's a potential for hours upon hours of undisturbed gameplay.

(3) AC adaptor.
Uh-oh. Could this be some kind of...foreshadowing?

(4) Headphones with remote control.
I'm actually not familiar with these. Does the remote control influence the volume of the headphones? If so, couldn't you just adjust the volume on the PSP itself...what with it being arm's length away? I have no idea.

(5) Battery pack.
Although you'll hardly notice it's there...

(6) 32MB Memory Stick Duo
Wow, that's a lot of memory...if you live in 1998. Apart from storing small saved game files, a measly 32MB is practically worthless. One of the PSP's key features is its playback of music or video files from memory sticks and in order to take advantage of that, you'll need a whole lot more megabytes (not to mention money).

(7) A UMD disc with non-interactive demonstrations
Geez, at least the Nintendo gave us a demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters with the DS.

(8) Spider-Man 2 UMD version (only in the first million packs sold)
Actually, this a nice extra, if only because it saves you from actually committing the logic suicide that is purchasing a movie on UMD. You already own your favorite movie on DVD, so now you go and buy it again...only now it has inferior audio and video quality AND it's only watchable on a comparitively small screen? You moron.

(9) Sony PSP
Wow, that almost makes the PSP worth buying!

Ah, I jest. I'd be lying if I said the PSP wasn't overpriced and that I wouldn't prefer a cheaper, stand-alone package. I'd also be lying if I said I was the Pope, but you must have already known that. The truth is that the PSP is a viable gaming platform for a hardcore gamer that must sample as many games as he can, and that means I'll probably pick it up when I'm in the US during the merry month of May. However! I'm still going to complain incessantly about it. Just you wait and see.