25 December 2008

Blog hibernation

Due to a dead video card in my laptop, this blog will not see many updates until my replacement comes in the mail. It should arrive around new years.

I am having a good Christmas and I hope you all are, too!

19 December 2008

RSS with a Beer

Part 1


Part 2


I forgot YouTube doesn't allow more than ten minutes in a single clip.

Recently Consumed Media

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The previews for this movie portrayed it as an average romantic comedy; a serious injustice.  Lisa saw this in theaters and explained to me how much more the movie has going for it.  Written by and starring Jason Segel, seen most recently in CBS's "How I Met Your Mother" (a great sitcom), FSM adds character depth to the romantic comedy.  Stereotypical characters become realistic with positive traits AND flaws.  Best example I can make without spoiling the movie- the two characters that would traditionally be disliked as antagonists in the generic romantic comedy possess qualities, motives, and stories that bring them closer to middle ground in the moral spectrum.  This makes all four characters likable, instead of using two throw-away characters to contrast the protaganists.  Bravo to Jason Segel for first recognizing this cliche and second for writing a story that fixes it.  The funnies are also solid; I was cackling for the duration!

Russian Spy Camera - Mutiny in the Kitchen with Knives
Stop reading this, click here, and get your free album straight from the band.  Fantastic indie rock album!  I was mesmerized from the moment I hit play.  Thanks to Davy @ Ohmpark for the heads-up!  Trivia - RSC was born in Athens, GA, and Lisa used to work with the lead singer's girlfriend.  

Liquid Tension Experiment
Dream Theater minus the singer makes for exquisite prog rock!  Basically the guys from Dream Theater put together a side project to rock some tasty jams.  Two albums were released in the late 1990s, Experiment 1 and Experiment 2.  I haven't listened to the second album yet, but a song titled "Chewbacca" has me interested...

T.I. - Paper Trail
Not my usual taste in music, but I am developing a small attraction to beats & rhymes.  T.I.'s Paper Trail has several fun songs to dance and sing along.  My favorites are "On Top of the World" and "Live Your Life."  Ludacris and Rihanna probably have something to do with those choices, not to mention the sampling from O-Zone's "Dragostea Din Tei!"  Numa numa yay!

This leads me to something I've been meaning to ramble.  You know how there is a lot of artist collaboration in the rap/hip-hop/R&B community?  I think it's great, from my limited perspective.  I don't know why it happens; part of me hopes these people enjoy working together and producing fun stuff.  I would love to see something like this happen in the game development community.  It's interesting to speculate what would come of certain people working together.  If you put Tim Schafer and The Behemoth guys in a room for 8 hours, what hillarity would come out?

17 December 2008

Brutal Legend Trailer

Oh, it's beautiful....


I seriously can't wait for this game.  Tim Schafer & Double Fine make a game about metal lore featuring the voice of Jack Black?  You tell me what's gonna top that in 2009.

16 December 2008

Songbird

Songbird is the Firefox of software jukeboxes.  It's free, open-source software, friendly to add-ons, and a snap to use if you have any history with Firefox and iTunes.  

Why use Songbird over iTunes?  The add-ons.  I'm already enjoying the musical experience more with Songbird than I ever did with iTunes.  While I'm listening to a song, Songbird displays metadata about the song's artist from Last.fm, shows me if the artist is on tour and coming to my city, and scrapes the net for relevant reviews, photos, and videos.  It can also suggest me artists similar to the ones I like.  It slices, it dices, and it's dishwasher-safe.

The first add-on I downloaded, The Exorcist, scanned my library for ghosts (songs in Songbird's library XML that are missing the mp3) and displayed any possibly song duplicates.  This made it very easy to do a little maintenance on my music library.

Some add-ons I mean to try in the very near future are Seeqpod support (searches the web for an mp3 and let's you download to your library) and a display for lyrics of your current song (*bumps Rock Band mic to Expert*).

The only feature of iTunes I miss is how iTunes would copy files into your library and create artist/album folders on-the-fly.   How about it, Pioneers of the Inevitable?

14 December 2008

Computer Science, a Degree in 'Thinky'

Last night I ran a script to strip the DRM from my 890 songs from a store that rhymes with "myTunes" but couldn't be named anything further from the truth.  

When I checked the output folder (rather than strip the DRM from existing files, the application I used creates new mp3 files as "myTunes" writes to a virtual CD drive), I noticed one small problem.  There were only 889 songs.  And the DRM-stripper didn't keep a log.  Balls.

Thus began an hour of looking at ways to organize the data in "myTunes" and Windows Explorer so that I could find the missing bugger.  The challenge here is that "myTunes" is no help at all.  You can only export a playlist to a giant, useless text file.  It also "helps" users by ignoring "a" and "the" when sorting.  So, when I first attempted to compare groups of filenames, song titles, or albums, I ran into problems because "The Go Team" would show up under 'G' in "myTunes" and 'T' in Explorer.

How to sort these 890 songs without relying on sorting text?  I would have used file size, however, Explorer shows size in KBs and "myTunes" rounds to MBs.  Thanks again, "myTunes" devs!  What ended up working was sorting by song length.  Then, with Explorer positioned above "myTunes," I set the window sizes to show 20 songs each.  From there, I hit page down on both windows and made sure the top and bottom songs were the same in each.  Doing this, it didn't take more than a couple minutes to find the set of 20 songs that were different.

Which one was it?  Si*Se - More Shine.  Turns out the DRM-stripper couldn't handle the asterix character in the artist name!

13 December 2008

GameFly Mini-Review

The Bourne Conspiracy (PS3)

I wanted to like The Bourne Conspiracy.  Really.  I like the film trilogy and the game previews seemed positive enough.  When I played the demo a few months ago, it did it's job: I wanted to play the full game. 

The game's problem is simple.  More time and money went into the production values than the game design.  Each ten minute segment of the game went something like this:

- "Jason, you've got to sneak your way to point X"
- "Hey, there's the intruder!"
- 3 guys run up to you
- Fight them with the same 3-4 three-hit combos
- Proceed to tougher enemy
- Fight him for FIVE MINUTES using the same. 3-4. three-hit combos.
- Marvel at the "takedown" ability which looks cool and does more damage than a combo
- Win

That's all I did for two hours.  I'm sorry, but the gameplay is terribly shallow.  I know there's some driving elements later, but I couldn't stand to play any more of it.  The gunplay is mediocre although if an enemy gets close to you, mandatory close combat fighting happens until you defeat all nearby enemies.  Just awful design decisions here.  I don't know how anyone could playtest this and not slap the developers upside the head.

The context (of the first 2 hours) doesn't feel like the Bourne movies, either.  They tried to extend the story by having a few missions leading up to Bourne's amnesia.  A good move, but Bourne isn't about beating down legions of guards to get to his destination.  He's a smart protagonist, resorting to violence only when necessary.  This isn't conveyed in the game at all.

What's good about the game?  It looks good?  Like I said, the  game has good production value, but just isn't worth playing.  Get your fill of the demo and be satisfied.

12 December 2008

Media Sharing Musings

First off, Lisa and I watched Kung Fu Panda last night and it was so awesome that I went blind for seeing too much awesomeness. Check out the movie's intro on YouTube (be sure to click the "watch in HD" button in the bottom right!)  Jack Black had me in stitches and DreamWorks did a fantastic job with the animation of physical comedy.

Now, on to media sharing.  Let me preface by saying I'm a big fan of streaming media.  If I could pay for a subscription service and access any album or movie from the net, I wouldn't even bother with mp3s or DVDs.  We're certainly getting close!

Until that glorious day when I can rid myself of gigabytes of data (and data storage), I must make do with sharing media over my network.  In the past, when I owned a single computer and had the convenience of a direct hook up to my home entertainment hub, I had no need for streaming.  Now, I live in a house with 3 computers and a home entertainment hub with a 360, PS3, and a Wii.  I also travel for at least one week a month and desire access to all of my media on the go.  What's a geek to do?

To the entertainment hub
Believe it or not, my preferred method of sharing media to the living room is Windows Media Player 11 and the Xbox 360!  For awhile I was using Orb's UPnP server and picking it up on the PS3.  This didn't work quite right... I couldn't figure out how to play music in the background while browsing other files or doing anything else in the OS.  Video files were also getting cut off before completion.  
Since PS3/Orb wasn't satisfactory, Lisa and I were watching videos straight off a USB hard drive on the 360.  I'm not even sure what prompted me to do so, but I decided to try streaming media via WMP11.  I wanted to create a central hub for all of the devices on our home network.  It works perfectly on the 360.  Files play instantly with no perceivable loss in quality.  Music will play in the background, even when loading up other games.  WMP11 + 360 gets the "it just works" seal of approval.

To other computers (local)
I was pleased with how WMP11 streamed to the 360, so I turned on my laptop to see how easy it is to browse the same content from WMP11 on another machine.  Turns out... you can't.  After an hour or so of research, I learned that WMP11 doesn't stream to Windows XP with WMP11.  What. the. hell.  
Microsoft implemented their own media streaming tunnel, called Windows Media Connect, rather than use UPnP.  This way, they can strong-arm end-users into upgrading to Windows Vista.  Hate hate hate!
After another couple hours of researching various UPnP servers and clients (Orb's web-based interface is too slow for home network sharing), I realized something incredibly simple.  Just share the necessary folders from the hub machine and map them on the other XP machines.  Then you can easily browse My Docs with Windows Explorer and play whatever media you want in your player of choice.  No setup, no streaming, no fuss.  I had a /facepalm moment when I realized I lost sight of what I was trying to enable.

To mobile devices
Orb.  Orb Orb Orb.  I can't stress enouch how this is the best solution for accessing media from my phone or from my laptop out in the wild.  It's not the speediest interface, but it's functional and it nails the bottom line.  Orb is quick to setup on your hub machine and only requires a web browser to access the goods.  Win.

11 December 2008

Almost live from funde razor

Didn't realize the msg didn't send earlier = almost live

can't see anything. sorry. I promise its awesome though. the pod is signed up to play Learn to Fly in about an hour and a half!
i'd say there's about three hundred people in attendance. not bad!
there is a stage with COMPLETE rock band setup. every peripheral is here, including the light and smoke stage kit =)

10 December 2008

Funde Razor Tonight!

Heading down to Denver tonight to attend Funde Razor.  Brian Crecente, from Kotaku, is hosting the event and it looks like a blast.  In short, the event is a fund raiser to support the Penny Arcade Child's Play annual charity.  In other words, we're all going to party, play Rock Band, and drink so other kids can be happy.  What a cause.

I'll try to send some pictures from the event in real time, but otherwise expect an update tomorrow!

Beautiful Sight

Merry Christmas to me.

A couple months ago, my only storage drive died on me and guess what.... I had no back up drive.  Long story short, I was using my back up drive as my storage drive until terabyte drives fell under $100.  Oops.  You can now see that I'm no longer messin' around with data protection.  It does indeed happen to the best of us.

My motherboard has no onboard RAID chip (I know, I went cheap-o this time around), so I'm using SyncBack to synch all my files on SAMMY1 to SAMMY2.  It's a free app and I'm pleased with it so far.

My old data is probably not lost forever.  I called up a few hard drive recovery centers; they all said based on my described symptoms that the data could be salvaged.  However, the lowest quote I got was $485.  I couldn't bring myself to do it just now.  I have all of my music on my laptop and iPod.  Most of the pictures I cared about were uploaded  to Picasa.  Mostly what I'm missing is any work I did in college and some video footage that never made it to YouTube.  It's interesting to think that had I uploaded all of my pics and videos to the web, I really wouldn't have been hit that bad by a drive failure.  If privacy is no concern, there's no reason not to backup all of your files on the web!

07 December 2008

you, sir, just got your ass beat

go manny pacquiao! I just watched him dominate oscar de la hoya on live tv. pac-man didn't even look tired, that's how much control he had...

05 December 2008

Gaming Tidbits

Three gaming blog posts caught my attention today.  

Rock Band
New DLC coming soon featuring 13 of 15 tracks from No Doubt's The Singles 1992-2003 album!  I always thought Rock Band could use a little No Doubt and now I can have two of my favorite songs from their Tragic Kingdom album... Don't Speak and Just a Girl!  Available for download (purchase (highway robbery)) this week.

Mirror's Edge
I haven't played anything more than the demo yet, but this trailer for an upcoming level pack looks quite interesting.  A major complaint from most reviewers was that the way the armed guards were implemented detracted from the true meaning of the game mechanics.  I can already tell it's going to bother me, too, when I get to play it.  However, this level pack seems to ditch the guards... and the city!  These levels look a lot like they were designed to test the free running controls without the burden of designing a complete cityscape.  As such... I feel like it's wrong to charge ten bucks.  If the whole game, with all its finished levels and production value, cost $60, how are a handful of gimmick levels worth $10?  I can't wait to play them as a free patch on the PC.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
First off, if you never played Escape from Butcher Bay on the original Xbox, you are LUCKY that the game is being remade for 360.  The game just didn't get the attention or sales that it deserved.  If only more games were blessed with such an opportunity.  Anyway, it's not so much a remake.  It's kind of... a port with better graphics, a second single player chapter, and multiplayer modes.  One mode in particular caught my eye.
In "Pitch Black" mode, it's one-versus-all as one player is Riddick and the rest are the hunt.  The catch?  The entire level is lights-out and each hunter has a dinky flashlight and a pistol.  Riddick can see in the dark, so I'm dying to know how well this mode is implemented, how well the lighting system works in multiplayer, and so on.  I think it's an interesting concept and I'd certainly like to see it in action!

04 December 2008

I Watched C-SPAN Today

And it was fascinating.  The auto industry figures were back in Washington to request additional funds for a bailout.  Our senators are wary of handing out thirty-four billion dollars when there is very real evidence that it won't prevent these auto makers from going bankrupt.  To see these big-shot industry leaders actually humble themselves to preserve their companies was at first inspiring.  Here they are defending their companies, what they do, who they employ, and how critical they are to the economy was very interesting to hear.  However, I can't help but feel like they are acting.  The media burned them for taking private jets to Washington a few weeks ago.  So now they make a PR spectacle of driving themselves in hybrid/fuel-effecient vehicles that their companies are still behind the times on?  I don't buy it.

Economist extraordinairre Dr. Mark Zandi was on the panel today on the side of the automobile companies.  In his expert opinion, the proposed $34B won't save the companies, but only sustain them through fiscal year 2009.  He thinks there is a strong chance that they will be back for more money should this bailout be approved.  Doesn't sound like he's really on their side, does it?  However, he states that should these companies go bankrupt, the resulting damage to the US economy would cause FAR more damage than to approve the bailout now.  For some reason, I feel confident in his findings.  Maybe it's just the fact that he's an economist who doesn't work for the auto industry and could honestly be out to protect the economy.  Like a superhero!  Can we start an internet meme please?

The other guy who got my attention today was the senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker.  This guy did his homework and it showed.  He asked the best questions of all the senators I caught on C-SPAN today.  Really tough material like pointing out that Ford and Chrysler have less market value than BMW, a niche car company.  Or the fact that industry analysts believe that Chrysler jumped on the bailout bandwagon in order to survive just long enough to merge with or sell to another company?  The auto boys were sweating and shaking in their boots when Senator Corker took stage.

It's disconcerting that this event may have more immediate and more serious effects on the country than the presidential election!  Also, how many Americans are paying attention to this legislation?  So many people are still bitching/celebrating Obama's victory...

I was surprised that A) the coverage of the bailout hearings was interesting to watch and B) that I was able to follow along and interpret some of this deeper meaning behind what these men debating!

P.S. Yes, I know I missed my blog update yesterday.  All I can do is attempt to make it up with another post today or an extra one tomorrow. =P

02 December 2008

Auditorium is good for you

The gaming community is ablaze today with links to a sensational flash game. It's simple, engaging, and relaxing. Part of the game is to learn how to play yourself, something I enjoyed about Braid. So don't get dismayed when you get to the site and don't see any instructions! =)

Give it a go and let your mind swim in the Auditorium...

Living Game Worlds IV

For the last couple of years, I've been attending the Living Game Worlds symposium, hosted by Georgia Tech. Once a year, GT hosts an academic event where students and faculty show off their latest projects and industry folks speak on panels to attendees. The head count is low, but honestly it's been nice to attend such an event because the demos are always fascinating and personal! Students and faculty are excited to show off their work and love to let attendees get hands-on if possible. Here are some pictures of Carey interacting with one such project that captures your form via camera and inserts you into a comic art style game.






Very interesting concept: you play as a human egg in the female reproductive system. After literally hopping over a gap, the player is presented with several sperm swimming around the screen. Hovering over a sperm with your hand, you can see a preview of the future child! Bizarre!

We saw some of the demos on our lunch break and returned in the evening for the keynote from Raph Koster. Mr. Koster was the lead designer for Ultima Online and a creative force behind Star Wars Galaxies. He prepared a delightful keynote taking us from old train yards in Spencer, NC to folk singing to the decline of the opera; always making interesting analogies to the games industry. I'm going to ask him if the video of the broadcast was recorded and if possible, get it up on YouTube. It was definitely worth hearing and has been the first thing in my life to make me miss college.

30 November 2008

HBO FTW

Gotta love HBO. They make the finest series on television these days. To name a few of my favorites- Band of Brothers, Big Love, Cathouse, The Wire, Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, Sex and the City, and Tenacious D!

Why? I'm not quite sure. It's hard to put my finger on the elements that make HBO series stand out from most other cable television. Certainly HBO produces shows with bigger budgets and higher production quality, but so does Michael Bay. Money doesn't make quality.

One thing that certainly helps... no effin commercials! Shows are a full 30/60 minutes long without any interruptions. A lot of cable TV shows are filmed and edited with commercials in mind. How can you make a solid product when you plan your final product to include flow disruption? Let's keep exploring this subject.

How truly engaged can you be if your brain gets sidetracked every ten minutes? I've noticed just recently while watching BattleStar Galactica a second time that I'm enjoying it more than I ever did. I genuinely feel that a big reason is watching it commercial-free. Without consistent interruptions, I'm getting more mentally and emotionally into the show from start to finish as the director intended.

What if a show doesn't require a certain level of engagement to be fully enjoyed? For this argument, please note the subject of this post is the television series as a long-term story telling medium, not other types of television such as sports or sitcoms. If your story can be constantly interrupted and still achieve it's intended effect... maybe your story isn't that great? This brings me to my next point. I can't find a way to write this without sounding like an elitist jerk, but HBO shows seem to target those of higher standards.

I don't mean that dullards watch cable and smarty-pants watch HBO. Not even close. But when I watch something on HBO, I have a certain expectation. I expect quality writing to tell a worthwhile story and acting to bring it to life. I get that every time on HBO. Obviously, I haven't seen everything the network has to offer, but for my time, it doesn't get any better.

For example, take a look at two "cop dramas," NYPD Blue and The Wire. A show like NYPD Blue, to me, just felt like a team of producers constantly searching for edginess to bring in more ratings. Ratings dip, the writers kill off a character or introduce a popular actor for a few episodes. In greener pastures, a season of The Wire is written out ahead of time to tell a complete story. The notion of "ratings" is important to HBO HQ as a measurement of overall success and to green-light an additional season. Surely it's a matter of perception, but I feel like cable TV wants me to watch because they want money and HBO just wants to show me a good story.

TL;DR = HBO is awesome. I'm always excited to start a new series. They have a network that understands what it means to make a good show.

29 November 2008

O Misfortune

this sign is on the door of a doughnut shop called "DONUT" and taken at 530pm on a saturday! bummer. maybe they should turn the lights off and close up...

Game day!

Today at noon the Wramblin' Wreck takes on UGA in Athens! We've lost seven games in a row against these guys now... I'm hoping that QB Josh Nesbitt and coach Paul Johnson can turn it around this year.

It's early Saturday morning and raining to boot. I'm in the car taking Lisa to the airport so she can fly back to Colorado. I am somewhat happy that we can put off watching the game together until next year... When we're married!

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for my fiancee, the way my life is going, and for my family (and all those who are now a part of it)!

I hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday. Good luck to all those die-hard Black Friday shoppers, may you find the deal of the century!

26 November 2008

The other Triforce of Power

Almost went with "A Very Zelda Christmas" as the subject.

25 November 2008

Stupid Computers

I spent 4 hours last night trying to diagnose a new DIY AMD PC.  Damn thing blue screens on Vista install as soon as it finishes the inital loading of drivers to disk.  Then we took into work today and spent another couple hours on it, eventually deciding on a bum hard drive.  "Wrong again!" I'm told as the owner slapped a brand new hard drive in it tonight.  Fiddlesticks.  No longer being present at the machine, I recommended they do some exhaustive RAM testing & swapping.  No luck there either.  The last thing I suggested trying was swapping the processor out (I didn't build the rig, who knows what happened during the delicate CPU install) with another AMD machine.  Good luck to those boys.

Today at work was The Great RAM Swap of 2008.  Most of our work machines were running 1GB of RAM.  So, we bought two 2GB sticks and reorganized various RAM across all the machines to get everyone up to 2GB.  It only took an hour and was infinitely more successful than the AMD SNAFU WTF above!


FOLLOW UP: Turns out the problem was CPU-related after all. The processor they chose was not supported by the BIOS version of the motherboard. Flashing the BIOS to the latest version fixed the issue. That's a new lesson for me; just because the BIOS properly identifies the CPU doesn't mean it's supported!

24 November 2008

Rock Band vs Guitar Hero

A friend of mine recently asked for my opinion on the Rock Band 2 vs Guitar Hero World Tour situation.  With the holiday season upon us, I feel obligated to share with my readers a quick rundown on the latest match-up in the rhythm game space.  

Here's the bottom line.  Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour are essentially the same game:  4-player plastic rocking.  In the big picture, you are getting the same experience from either game.  There are only three distinct factors that determine our winner.  They are price, instrument quality, and song selection.

Price
If you don't own any plastic instruments yet, you will need to buy the "Special Edition" of one game, which includes a game, guitar, drums, and a microphone.  Note that neither game will get you all 4 instruments, only one of two guitars needed.  

The complete Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour packages are equally priced at $190.  However, the original Rock Band 1 Special Edition is now only $100-$120 at various retailers.  This is your best deal to pick up 3/4 of your instruments.  You can then pick up Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour with just a guitar for another $80-90 and have two games and all four instruments for nearly the same price as just the Special Edition of RB2 or GHWT.

The instruments from all three games work in the others, so no worries about which combination of games you buy.

Instrument Quality
From the opinion of an "Expert" plastic rocker, the Rock Band 1 guitar is my least favorite of any plastic instrument.  The fret buttons are clunky and the strum bar has very little feedback.  That being said, I've only played with the GHWT guitar in a store display and never used the RB2 guitar at all.  I've used the Guitar Hero 3 guitar since it came out and insist on using it for any songs on Expert.  The GHWT guitar is definitely better than the RB1 guitar, but I can't speak to the RB2 version.  If you don't plan on mastering the art of the plastic axe, then it doesn't really matter which guitar you get.  

The RB1 drums are also considered more loud than the others by the internet community, but that can be solved with an add-on to the drum heads that makes them quieter.  Ultimately, you should be playing these games loud enough that the sound of hitting the drums won't be noticed. =P

The GHWT drums are wireless and come with cymbals for two of the buttons that give them a unique feel.  Cymbals can be purchased for the RB2 drums, but not the RB1 set.

If you're getting these games for PS3, do your homework.  I heard that there's some incompatibility between the games' instruments.  Look everything up on Wikipedia.

Song Availability
The Rock Band series has a big leg-up over GHWT in this respect.  The songs from RB1 can be imported into RB2 and all downloaded songs work in both games.  Rock Band also has many more songs available to download than GHWT.  It's worth heading over to Wikipedia and looking up the track lists for both series to make sure there's not some tracks that one game has that you can't live without!

There are also a dozen songs found on both RB2 and GHWT.  So be aware of that!

Synopsis
Combining RB1 and RB2 is too good a value to ignore.  If you're fine getting only 3 instruments, I recommend getting the RB1 Special Edition and then the RB2 game by itself.  It's really worth the extra $30 or so to pick up RB2 with a guitar for maximum party fun.  Buying the full RB series should run you about $190 and gets you 162 songs.

If money is no object, then get the GHWT Special Edition, RB2 with a guitar, and rent or borrow the RB1 disc to import that game's songs.  Total price of buying everything is around $280 and nets 248 songs.  The difference between this plan and the first is about $90, so you're paying for another 86 songs and at nearly $1/song, that's a better price than you'll pay for downloadable songs.  It IS excessive to buy all this up front, but I do sign off on the GHWT instruments as the best you can get.

Right now, I own RB1 Special Edition, RB2 (disc) and a GH3 guitar.  In the future, I'd like to get GHWT + guitar to replace the RB guitar I don't like and to access the songs of that game.

Which games do you own?  What do you think of my assessment?

23 November 2008

Back in Atlanta

Lisa and I are back in Atlanta for Thanksgiving.  I'm also here to go into the GameTap office for a few days and do my monthly Reserve duty.  It's definitely weird being here.  I've been gone for ten weeks now.  This place both feels like home and doesn't at the same time.  I recognize the locales and people, even have two jobs here, but I don't "belong" anymore.  It's not a bad feeling, I just have a home somewhere else.  

Despite having grown up in a military family (moving every 2-3 years, all over the world), I rarely ever visited the places that I used to live.  Since I consider Atlanta to be the only place I've lived in my adult life, this feels like the first time I've ever visited somewhere from my past.

I look forward to work tomorrow and seeing all the familiar faces of my coworkers and friends!  It's been far too long since we hung out, shared some grub, and played video games.  

How often do you visit somewhere you used to live?  How does it make you feel?

a sight to get used to

seeing my picture with lisa in another family's household!

21 November 2008

PC Spending Guide - Intel's Core i7

With the arrival of Intel's new CPU and motherboard chipset, the Core i7 and X58, I felt the need to put together a few machines to put perspective on the costs of a new platform.  Here are three NewEgg Wishlists that highlight the most bang for your buck at three price ranges.  Please note that all machines are complete towers; they do not come with any operating systems, input devices, monitors, etc.

Budget
Price: $860
Pros: Plays every PC game currently on the market at 30+ frames per second, cheap processor easily overclocks to 3.0GHz, it's what I use
Cons: Older LGA775 chipset, not upgradeable
Longevity: At least 2 years, pending no technological miracles
Comparable Alienware machine: $1,469 (DIY savings of $609)

Mid-range
Price: $1,715
Pros: Will play any PC game at max settings, new Core i7 CPU, futureproof
Cons: Pricey intro to a new platform, would rather pay $1200-$1400 for a mid-range PC, CPU multiplier is locked = no overclocking
Longevity: 3-4 years, longer with appropriate upgrades in 2 years
Comparable Alienware machine: $2,628 (DIY savings of $913)

High-end
Price: $4,178
Pros: Cures cancer and finds extraterrestrials on boot
Cons: If you have this much money, please let me build you this PC
Longevity: Until time-travelling quantum computers are the norm
Comparable Alienware machine: $6,597 (DIY savings of $2,419)

Should you get a system with the new Intel goods?  NO!  As a general rule of thumb, never buy first-generation hardware of anything.  Prices will come down as more of these CPUs come out, more motherboard manufacturers launch additional products, and hopefully when (if?) AMD puts out a processor to challenge.  I advise waiting until Windows 7 launches and then re-evaluating the X58 platform.  If your gaming benchmarks are truly in need of polishing, you are likely better off with a RAM or video card upgrade to tide you until then.

BattleStar Galactica: Round 2

I've been watching BSG for the second time around.  Lisa started the show recently and once I moved in with her, I was all too happy to share the experience.  Seeing her reactions to plot developments has been quite entertaining.  We just started the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. =)

It's been far too long since I travelled with the remnant of the 12 Colonies.  I watched the show from the premiere of the mini-series on SciFi and I've been hooked ever since.  I only ever watched the first half of season one twice and other than that, I've only seen the episodes once each.  It's been a lot of fun watching the show again.  I definitely forgot how good it can be!  The cast and crew have redemption cut out for them from the last season and to end with bang.  I have faith!

I've met the actors who have played all my favorite characters save for one... Katee Sackhoff.  At the most recent DragonCon, I had the pleasure of meeting Edward James Olmos and seeing again the familiar faces of Aaron Douglas, James Callis, and Jamie Bamber.  Mr. Olmos led the DragonCon attendees in a rallying cry of "So Say We All," which I have to say has been one of the nerdy highlights of my life.  I hope I see them one more time at a convention next year, once BSG has run its course, perhaps as a way of saying farewell.

I can't frackin' wait for January 16th!

19 November 2008

The New Xbox Experience

NXE dropped today.  It's the new OS interface for the Xbox 360.  With it come 3 major changes:

- Redmond's version of the Mii, called Avatars
- Streaming Netflix movies (!!!)
- Ripping games to the hard drive

The Avatars
Doesn't affect me or the gamers like me.  As a new feature, there are less than a dozen games that take advantage of it.  So unless developers are gonna spend time bootstrapping these avatars into their older games, I don't see them impacting the platform for some time.  I do admit that the 3D friends list is much more interesting than the text list of yesterday.
Sure, it's a complete knock-off of Nintendo's concept, but honestly, is that important?  People see through that bullshit immediately.  There's no "opting out" of the feature, so who cares?  It might help MicroSoft a little with their casual appeal, but Nintendo's got that locked up tight.  For what it's worth, I think the Avatars look better than Miis.

Streaming Netflix Movies
This is how I pictured the future of movies.  You subscribe to Netflix, you get to stream their Instant Movies to your PC or your Xbox.  That's it.  Simple.  Let's work on a more complete catalog and call it a day!
There is no option for browsing movies on the 360, so you'll have to add anything you want to watch to your Instant Queue on the web.  Minor inconvenience and I'll bet they add a browser soon.  Great move for Netflix, a company I heart dearly.

Ripping Games
Haven't tried the feature myself, but I've heard it does save a number of seconds off of game booting and all loads.  Not bad, but with the limited size of my 20GB Xbox HDD, I won't be using this feature.  Makes sense for all the 360 Elite users and anyone just now getting the system with a 60GB HDD.  I may rip Rock Band 2 just because it's my most used disc.  
I like the idea of ripping the game to the HDD.  It's kind of like.... oh yeah... installing a PC game!

There are a couple other neat features to touch on.  One is the option to NOT boot whatever disc is in the drive on system boot.  It's a multimedia device; nice to see it get treated like one.  The other feature worth noting is the Party mode.  Haven't tried it out either, but supposedly it's like a virtual couch with your friends.  Start a "Party room," invite your friends, discuss what to play, then everyone loads up that particular game.  Seems like an efficient way to get your friends together and figure out what to play.  (Better than 8 people each IM-ing each other!)  Also works with sharing pictures and, in the future, collaborative movie watching!

What are your thoughts on NXE?  Sound off in the comments.

18 November 2008

17 November 2008

My Commitment Until 2009

One blog post a day. They may not be long, they may not be interesting, and they may not even have words, but that is my commitment for the rest of the year. I don't even know why I'm setting this goal for myself! Perhaps when I put off blogging until there's a subject I know I can write a couple paragraphs on, I skip too much. I wanted to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo, but realized I just didn't have the time, so maybe blogging every day is my way of making up for it.

On to tech stuff.

Today I disassembled my Dell Inspiron E1705 in order to clean out the gunk causing it to overheat. Thanks to the wonderfully convenience-oriented engineers at Dell, I had to take apart the whole damn thing to get at two fans. I followed this walkthrough to help take off the keyboard, LCD screen, and half of the chassis. Once inside, there was a solid build-up of human decay preventing my fans from pushing air through the heatsinks. Now the laptop can once again idle at safe temperatures without needing the fans. More importantly, it can play games again without overheating. Success!

11 September 2008

The Braid Post

I'd been loosely following the saga of Braid's development ever since the 2007 Independent Games Festival. GameTap was a sponsor of the event and fishing for some talent to bring to the service under the GameTap Originals program. A bunch of us in the QA department were tasked to play the majority of the entries and provide feedback to the suits. There was one title in particular that caught my eye, however, the build of the game submit to IGF was not permitted for distribution to the e-judges. That title was Braid.

It was my understanding that the creator, Jonathan Blow, was not yet ready to reveal his work to the masses or risk his build leaking to the net. Whatever the case was, the description of a puzzle platformer that used multiple time manipulation techniques piqued my interest. The fact that it was being built with Microsoft's XNA SDK caught my eye as well. There hadn't really been any great success stories of indie developers using XNA to create some original content at that time, so this game went on my watch list.

About one year later, a demo for Braid was released to Xbox Live Arcade. I fired it up with Lisa snuggling me on the couch in our new Colorado apartment. Immediately, I was entranced by the game's art style, soundtrack, and narrative structure. Before I even used a single game mechanic, I experienced that unique wave of pleasure that comes from playing something truly great. The demo was a good taste of the progress in time manipulation game mechanics and I wanted more.

It wasn't until I was back for a short stay in Atlanta when I had a chance to play the full version. My roommate, Jason, had purchased the game while I was in transit and already played through the relatively short story. I was hearing nothing but kudos on the net by the time I sat down and played it. And boy, was it good.

I've never had to think so hard about a puzzle game. Traditional puzzle games require a mindset towards object orientation and planning movement order. This game does those, too... but it introduces a dimension not often seen in games. It's a dimension that I always crave and for which I typically laud games. To play a game is to learn the rules of a new world. A high percentage of games today have a chart, a manual, a voice always forcefully telling a player what to do and how to do it. Press A to jump. Jump on this button to advance to the next tutorial. Not here. Not in Braid.

In the world of Braid, the player must discover how things work. How time flows. How the world reacts to your power. In many puzzles, I found myself experimenting with different scenarios in order to discover the solution I needed at present. When confronted with a height ten times the size of the character, new methods of ascension must be engineered. The game's designer cleverly provides hints via messages embedded in the terrain, in the narrative, or even in the name of a level. For my personality, at least, the opportunity to experiment with a game world and make my own discoveries is an enlightening and mentally orgasmic activity. Developer Valve has a key to my heart and wallet for this very reason.

Sure, the story is brief, but the medium needs more games like Braid to shrug off this misconception that games need to be 10+ hour experiences. I also applaud the developer for announcing that there is no Braid 2, even though I am saddened that he will challenge my brain no more in this way. I can only hope that he will extend his talents to new game concepts and use the same creative juices.

Also, the last level is holyshitawesome.

Braid is available for $15 on Xbox 360, through the Xbox Live Marketplace.

02 September 2008

Dr. Horrible Soundtrack Released

The Dr. Horrible soundtrack is now available on iTunes! For $10, you can sing along as Joss Whedon intended to all the wonderful songs from the short web series. Wait a minute. Ten bucks for the soundtrack? How much was the entire series on iTunes?



What the hell? The entire series is five bucks and today they release a sub-section of that product for twice the cost! This sounds like a scheme hatched by none other than the Doctor himself!

I certainly won't be buying the soundtrack on iTunes. I have an iPod; I can just as easily listen to the video tracks on it. Let's hope the inevitable DVD release includes a soundtrack you can transfer to your PC.

Must keep singing "Brand New Day"... =)

Ketchup

As my brother Kyle points out, blogs are meant for updating.

I've been engaged in a whirlwind of activity this past month. Much of said activity should have been reported here as it happened. I tried conveying some of my activities via the Twitter feed on the right and what I've been reading about via the RSS feed beneath it. Hopefully that has been some consolation for my dedicated readers. With a five-week technical school coming up for me, I will make my best attempt to keep updating, but I can't be sure I'll have the time to report on anything other than local area networks and communications infrastructure. Woo.

Here's a quick update on my status. I'm currently living in Atlanta for two more weeks. All of my stuff has been moved to Colorado with the help of Lisa's amazing parents. We are mostly moved in to the new apartment... we want to get a couch, new bookshelf, and some other odds and ends before it feels complete. I'm in love with the place. Pool and hot tub are right out the door and it feels like every store and service is around the corner.
After two more weeks, I'll be going to a five-week communications school in Hurricane Headquarters. This, in a word, blows. Har har? When I'm done there, I'll finally drive out to Colorado for good. Work will be interesting doing the same things from a remote home office, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

More soon, I promise!

15 July 2008

Joss Whedon's New Web Musical, "Dr. Horrible"

This was the best part of my day: Joss Whedon has produced a three-part web musical starring Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion called Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog.

And I love it.

The premise is simple. NPH plays Dr. Horrible, a wannabe villain on a mission to be accepted in the world's league of evil. He pines after a local girl in his city and is generally very like-able. Which is to say, he's not very good at being evil. During his latest get-evil-quick scheme, his plans are thwarted by brainless super hero Captain Hammer, as portrayed by Nathan Fillion.

The production value is fine; this is definitely a web series. I've heard that Whedon produced the entire three-part series for under six figures! Impressive. The songs are catchy and fun. The acting is stellar. C'mon, it's NPH and Nathan Fillion, what more do geeks want? They are the dreamiest geeky actors out there.

I promise I'm straight. Look! It's my fiancee.


P.S. Link to Dr. Horrible blog.
P.P.S. This is so popular that the site is probably down. Figures! Anyway, the series will only be hosted for free until the 20th. I recommend just getting it on iTunes. It's four dollars!

27 June 2008

Sitting at the terminal

I'm at the airport. Again. Can't seem to get away from this place all summer! Oh well, at least the significance of being here means I am meeting friends and loved ones at some point today =)

This time I am off to the state of new york for a weddng. Can't seem to get away from those either! This summer there are four weddings, one a month from may to august. They also coincide with my Lisa time! Speaking of that beauty, things are going very well with us. We are excited about living together this fall and researching possible locations for the wedding. Asheville is promising; we are checking out two venues on Monday.

My plane is now boarding, TTFN! 

18 June 2008

Spore Creature Creator

For my subterranean readers, EA released the trial version of the Spore Creature Creator for free on this very same Internet. Grab it here!

This software is amazing! Creating interesting aliens is a snap and tweaking them to perfection is oodles of fun. That's right, oodles.

Here are short clips of my first three abominations:

Beelzebubble


Fakebutt


Barney


Send me links to your creatures!

17 June 2008

Follow Up to Cool Idea #9764

First, you may want to read the inital post for this topic here.

It looks like someone has already implemented the idea and rather well! The software has been named sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! and the developer in the video sounds Scandinavian. Most impressive is the fact that it renders so close to real time! I can't wait for him to release the code (or binaries!) so I can check out his work.

16 June 2008

GameStop, I HATE You



Seriously? Also, if you own a PS2 without Katamari, fix yourself.

14 June 2008

Recently Consumed Media

Here's a bunch of entertainment I've been meaning to write about. Monster post!

Games
Grand Theft Auto 4 - My anticipation level for this game was high. High enough to take me to the midnight release at Best Buy. Not having played any other game in the series, my excitement for this game laid in the promise of compelling narrative and fun multiplayer modes. GTA4 succeeded on several fronts. Rockstar delivered a living, breathing city in which I was introduced to and drawn in by characters that walk the lines of stereotype, but ultimately deliver entertaining stories. I was initially impressed with the direction that I felt Rockstar was taking with the narrative, but halfway through the game, it starts to fall flat. Most characters have specific segments during which they are introduced and shortly thereafter leave Niko's path. It feels like these segments were produced separately, perhaps by different writers, and they just don't come together in an interwoven story. The sad thing is they could have and made for a masterpiece of criminal drama. As a whole, the game is technically excellent and pushes triple-A game boundaries in the right direction.

Age of Conan - OK, so I didn't think I would be playing another MMO this year. This game was literally off my radar until a week prior to launch. A couple work buddies were playing with the beta and describing the enhancements to MMO combat and intricacies of the hybrid classes. It sounded enticing so I figured I'd give it a whirl, at least for the first 30 days of subscription.
Visually, the game is leaps and bounds ahead of all current fantasy MMOs. Texture fidelity, landscape, and view distance are all spectacular. The style goes for a "realistic" approach, so World of Warcraft's distinct art style still gives it an aesthetic edge and I'm sure it will for a couple more years to come.
I do love the combat. It's fast, visceral, and engaging. Players are required to swing their weapon manually, rather than rely on auto-attacking and using an ability here or there. Attacking in the right direction, responding to incoming attacks with defense of your own, and lining up enemies for maximum damage are all superior combat concepts. I applaud Funcom for incorporating such a signifcant level of collision detection in an MMO.
AoC can practically be played as a single player game. The first 20 levels are completely voice-acted and do a wonderful job of immersing the player in the world of Hyboria. The game takes on a more familiar MMO path after level 20, with quest hubs that mostly consist of "Kill 10 of these" or "Find 10 of these", but if you actually pay attention to the NPC conversations, you discover there are more interesting stories at play than World of Warcraft. Quests are pretty easy to complete on your own, even inside dungeons. I have yet to enter a dungeon that requires a full six-character team. I don't know why that is... perhaps they made those more for levels 30+ or perhaps I'm just not in the right areas.
It's hard not to compare a new fantasy MMO to WoW, but really there's not a whole lot a developer can do in the genre unless it tries to compete with the king.

Movies
Dan in Real Life - I found my second favorite movie. It was a real surprise as I didn't see any hype leading up to the theatrical release or any mention of it in the various award shows. How the hell did that happen? This movie has a PERFECT script, PERFECT acting, and a PERFECT soundtrack. Steve Carrell delivers his best performance as a widowed father of three daughters on his way to the yearly family reunion at the cabin. He meets a woman in town and has an instant connection with her, only to discover she is currently dating his brother. The uncomfortable situations he is placed in are reminiscent of Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, yet completely realistic, heartfelt and still funny.
The script is just plain smart. Events and motives are intelligently crafted to appear natural and then come full circle to have a greater meaning or influence in the film. For example, each of his daughters have what appear to be a typical teenage girl problem that Carrell's character has trouble dealing with. By the end of the movie, each daughter's problem plays an important role in teaching their father a life lesson. Brilliant stuff. The lighthouse scene is wonderful, as is the family talent show. HIGHLY recommend this film to all.

Indiana Jones IV - One of the worst movies I've ever seen. Never have I wanted to walk out of a theater more. I only stayed because I just had to know if it got better. It didn't. Horrible characters (despite decent acting), horrible plot, horrible continuity. GAH!

Juno - Wonderful movie. Charming performance by Ellen Paige. Good writing that I've never seen before. It was natural yet provocative at the same time.

Good Luck Chuck - Funnier than I expected. I like this new "heartfelt" comedy genre that is developing. Stuff like Knocked Up, Wedding Crashers and some others are really delivering for me.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - AWESOME drama. Great performances by all involved and a heart-pounding story. Intriguing use of cutting to different times in the story to increase suspense.

Iron Man - Best comic book movie in a while. That is, until The Dark Knight comes out in July! Robert Downey, Jr. breathes life into what I consider an uninteresting hero. The movie took itself seriously, which is a great direction when adapting comics to film. Despite all the technological feats that Tony Stark achieves, something about the movie didn't require that much suspension of belief. Great summer action movie.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry - Meh. I liked the combination of Adam Sandler and Kevin James; they have good screen chemistry. I liked the overall pro-gay message of the movie, great choice to put the characters in the New York City fire department. The jokes just didn't hit laugh out loud levels, nor was the script that good.


Music
Sondre Lerche - FANFUCKINGTASTIC! Incredibly smooth acoustic guitar folk music. Beautiful male vocals. I was just introduced to this guy because he did most of the Dan in Real Life soundtrack. I'm currently listening to his entire discography! Please go listen to his stuff! Personal site -- Last.fm link

Shaimus - You may recognize the band name from the bonus section of Guitar Hero 1. The high-energy track "All of This" quickly became one of my favorites in the game. I recently decided to get their album, looking for more of what I saw in "All of This", yet the rest of the songs on the album are quite different. Instead of high-energy, most of the tracks are pleasantly slow and easy listening. Kind of reminds me of Snow Patrol's Eyes Open album.

Weezer - The Red Album is out! And it's... OK. Only a few of the tracks are truly reminiscent of traditional Blue/Green album energy, but the rest are still enjoyable. I like the Make Believe album over this one, but I certainly won't pass over this.

Black Stone Cherry - I meant to blog about this band earlier in the year. Great modern southern rock. If Lynyrd Skynyrd were still around, I have to say they might be making music like this today.

The Format - Wonderful indie rock. Highly recommend if you enjoy Sondre Lerche.

Nine Inch Nails - This is a recent discovery for me. I had never really listened to NIN before, under the assumption that the music just wasn't for me. Forget that! They've actually turned me onto industrial rock as a genre.

Other enjoyable stuff I'm listening to: Aberdeen City, Anna Nalick, Cake, Coheed and Cambria, From Exile (c'mon, new album!), The Mars Volta, Voxtrot.

03 June 2008

Animoto = clapclapclap

First, check this out.



Those are pictures in my Picasa album, but I didn't make any of that! It is the handiwork of Animoto. It's a service that creates music videos based on your pictures. Videos that are far superior to any photo slideshow to date. The final product is nothing short of breathtaking! My mind is blown by the amount of aesthetic interest generated by adding some cool transitions and music to a set of pictures.

30-second clips are free to make. Full-length videos can be purchased for $3 each. Pictures can be imported from any major photo-hosting site. Videos are rendered on the Animoto servers and can be exported to YouTube or embedded in any major social networking site.

Animoto is seriously cool software. The burden of editing, compiling, and hosting is 95% of the work that goes into such a medium. For those interested in making slideshows for an event, a fond memory, etc, $3 is friggin' chump change in comparison to what you might pay an amateur film student for something like this.

If I had cyberspace arms and legs, I would give Animoto a standing ovation. Since I don't... /standing-o

13 May 2008

Cool Idea #9764 - Recreating Audio With Video Clips to Produce a Video Collage

Recreating Audio With Video Clips to Produce a Video Collage

First let me explain the concept. Say "hello" out loud. Go ahead, people around you won't think you're weird. Maybe. An audio clip of your "hello" can be recorded digitally. It can be matched as a loose similarity to an audio clip of me saying "hello". You can experience audio recognition in technology like an automated telephone response system. Call UPS if you've never interacted with one. This "loose" relativity is useful, but my ideas are rarely useful. Only neat. What about "tight" relativity? What if your "hello" clip was digitally altered to sound like mine? What if I took 1,000 audio clips of people saying "hello" and cut tiny bits and pieces out of each one to make a best fit to approximate a recreation of your clip? This is the basis of my concept.

Here is a clip from Live Free or Die Hard that's an example of a video collage cut together to recreate a written speech.


Cool, eh? The writers made a script for the message to be broadcast, then cut bits and pieces of audio from presidential speeches and edited them together to create a video collage to tell the message. This is a perfect example of where I'm coming from. Only I want to take it much further.

In the movie, the process started with text and some editing crew manually searched for video clips that used the words from the speech. If this were to be automated, a computer would either:
- have to know how to sound out the original text in order to search audio clips for matches
- or, have some text document of all the words represented in the library of audio clips with which to match the search parameters.

Forget all that, let's do something easier. Let's just take in audio as a source and match it to audio clips. Take text out of the equation. As input, say our sample audio is you saying the words "don't fly through the air on a banana". Then, we give a computer access to 1,000 feature-length movies. The algorithm could search for each complete word in the audio of its library and put together clips that match at some forgiving percentage. An unoptimized algorithm would probably take a few days of computing time, but that ain't too bad. At the end of it, you would have a totally cool video of compiled clips where the audio is the words (or close to them) that you originally recorded. Much like the clip from Live Free or Die Hard.

I'm not done yet.

What about exact (well, >90%) replication of your audio input? What if we even wanted the output to SOUND like you? Instead of returning entire words that are loosely similar to what you recorded, what if the algorithm took tiny snippets of length 1/30 of a second and did a best fit? It would take far, far longer to complete, but the result would be a visual assault of video collage. Scenes of movies would be absolutely whizzing past your head, but the audio you hear would be scarily similar to your own voice! This would be very exciting to experience.

Another neat example would be to pass in audio of an explosion. The resulting clip would likely find millions of tiny clips of explosions from movies, all strung together to make a visual representation of the input.

I don't even want to think about the processing time for the precise reproducing algorithm, but what do you guys think about the loose fit algorithm? An application that could accept audio as an input and produce a collage of video clips matching the words?