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!