Monday, June 12, 2006


Weekend Gaming Binge

This weekend I spent quite a bit of time gaming, and had a blast.

Perfect Dark Zero

I played Perfect Dark Zero, which is a first person shooter where you’re some kind of spy/troubleshooter character. I haven’t actually figured out what you are – it’s like you’re a spy, but you work for a private organization it seems, that works for money, not a government.

Graphics are pretty good but not better than anything I’d seen before on the PC in most recent FPS games. It really takes a lot to wow me on FPS graphics, and PDZ doesn’t really wow me.

However, the gameplay is good, albeit it’s kind of easy. I’m playing on easy, so I may bump up the difficulty and restart. I’m only on mission 4 or 5 so far. I like the fact that you can use cover, by hugging a corner of a wall, or getting behind a crate, whatever. Since I’m on easy, however, that isn’t mandatory, in fact it can just make things harder, when the easiest thing actually is to dodge and move to melee against your opponents then take them out with punches/kicks, or a quick blast from an SMG or shotgun at point blank. I think if I bump up the difficulty to the next level maybe cover will become more necessary and make the gameplay better. So far the puzzle solving has been pretty simple and not a big part of the game.

So far I'd give Perfect Dark Zero an 8/10.

Kameo: Elements of Power

I also played some of Kameo: Elements of Power. This game is a classic Rare platformer, it’s fantastic. I’m surprised it didn’t get better reviews, this game is truly special. You are Kameo, a fairy. Yes, you are a fairy. And you have magical powers to switch your form into different creatures, like you can turn into this plant guy called "Pummelweed" who can beat up on trolls and orcs, and also dig under ground to get under really low places. At the start of the game you can switch between 3 creature forms for a lot of puzzle solving opportunities. But after the first large ‘level’ (I’d guess about 2 hours of play, maybe 1 if you’re really good unlike me), you get your powers taken away in a cut scene and you have to start all over re-learning all your creature powers.

The graphics in this game are truly "Next Gen", they are amazing. It has a cartoonish feel to it but it is incredibly detailed and has all kinds of cool special effects. The gameplay also seems Next-Gen to me because it is so unique to be able to switch powers by changing forms and that makes for a lot of cool puzzle solving opportunities. Different creature-forms are definitely better at different tasks or against certain enemies. For example, the Pummelweed guy is great against orcs, while the roller-ball troll guys you can only kill by pushing them into a hazard, like lava, so the roller-ball form you can do works well for them. Figuring out how to get by all the different enemies and obstacles is what makes this game a blast.

I'd give Kameo: Elements of Power a 9/10 so far.


I also played a PS2 game that was a renter from GameFly, called Teen Titans. This is based on the Cartoon Network cartoon. I love the Teen Titans. This game, however, is not that great, it’s just one big massively long fight, interspersed with Teen Titan cut scenes, which is the main reason I keep playing, and that’s it. So far about 4 hours into it there have been no puzzle solving whatsoever.

You learn tons and tons of combos you never need to use, and no matter which character you use, it seems like it makes no difference really, as none of the titans seem like they are better at the enemies than any of the other titans, so you could just stick with Robin the entire game and it makes no difference. Even the flyers Raven and Starfire don’t make any difference, because they hover, not fly, so it’s still essentially a 2D game even for them. Even if you’re almost out of health, switching to another Titan doesn’t help, because the titans all have a linked health meter, so whatever you’re active character’s health meter is like, that’s what they all are.

The best scenes so far have been with fights against the H.I.V.E. Five villains, Jinx, Gizmo, and Mammoth. But even against these potent super-villains, it’s still just a button masher, and the super-villains don’t require using different Titans or anything like that. Admittedly it can look pretty cool when you have all five Titans beating the crap out of everything all at once with superpowers flashing all over the screen, but gameplay is still kind of trite.

Graphically, this game is woefully ugly especially after having just played Kameo, but even compared to other PS2 games, the graphics of this game blows chunks. The Titans are not cell-shaded, comic-book style like you would expect (and like found in other PS2 games such as Ultimate Spiderman). Instead they’re goofy deformo looking versions done in 3D. I guess, though, I still enjoy this game because I like the Teen Titans so much, and it does have good voice acting that seems to have been done by the same actors from the show (or competent sound-a-likes). So I will probably end up finishing it.

Since the game’s price plummeted I was able to "buy-it" from GameFly for $15, so probably worth what I paid I guess. I did that so I could get the next games in my queue sent to me, some Xbox 360 games. Speaking of GameFly, if you are thinking about signing up for it, let me know, I can send you a referal email and I get some bonus credit if you sign up that way.

I'd probably only give Teen Titans a 5.5/10, unless, like me, you love the Teen Titans, and then maybe a 7.5/10. Loving the show gives a bit of a blind spot to overlook the game's obvious flaws. Still, it's budget priced now, at $19.99 at Amazon for PS2/Gamecube/Xbox, so if you don't expect much, and if you like the Titans, I'd say it's worth a rent for sure and maybe a buy.

Tomb Raider Legends Demo

The only other thing I played is the demo for the Xbox 360 version of Tomb Raider Legends. This is a great demo, and pretty long, it took me about an hour and a half to beat it. Someone more dexterous could probably beat it quicker, or who could figure out some of the puzzles faster. I had fun with it though. I died a lot. And I fell down a lot and had to re-climb to wherever I was. Sadly the gun fighting parts were a bit too easy, even handling 10 or 15 bad-guys at a time was no problem for Lara. They need to make it so if she gets hit it hurts a lot more. Other than that one minor flaw, I felt this game really captured the feel of the original Tomb Raider game, which was a classic. I’m definitely renting this one as soon as it becomes available on GameFly. I heard it was like a 10 hour game so I’m not paying $60 for it.

Retro Gaming

Oh, I also did play a little bit of Baldur’s Gate II for the PC. It’s a great RPG, but it’s oldish, so unless you like retro gaming you probably won’t like it. Still, it has an awesome story line, with tons and tons of quests, and great characters. You could do a lot worse! The graphics aren't that dated, yet.

I also figured out how to get Infocom games on my new phone (Treo 650). So now I can play Zork, Enchanter, and all the other Infocom Masterpieces text adventures on the bus ride every day. Plus, I can also play more current z-code adventures written by fans, available on the Interactive-Fiction Archive. Right now I'm using a z-code interpreter called FrobNitz to play them, which is nice, but there is a more feature-rich interpreter called CliFrotz that requires and supports the memory card slot that I'll be using when I get my 2gb memory card. Totally sweet! Retro gaming with a high-tech twist!

The Treo 650 phone is really cool, BTW, and I’m thinking about writing some software for it, if I can find some Palm developer tools on the cheap somewhere.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Color Change

Decided to get rid of the University of Texas colors and go with a blue theme. Let me know if something looks goofy.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Treo 650 First Impressions

Work was giving me some hassles about using my work phone for personal calls, so I felt I needed to just get my own phone. I did a lot of research. I already knew about the Palm Treo 650 from checking out Lyndal's phone, but I still looked at all the competing smart phones from all the major providers, comparing total cost of ownership (price of phone plus monthly plan charges), features, etc.

I looked first at T-Mobile, because Kim's phone was already on T-Mobile. T-Mobile, if you're reading this, the primary reason you lost our account is because your sales people are idiots. Kim was already getting 1600 minutes for $40 a month. They would not let us keep her minutes, we would have had to pay more money to get a family plan with less than half the minutes. That's just stupid. So that turned me off to them right away. Then after comparing their smart phones to the Treo and others, I determined that they didn't fully offer what I wanted. The only phone they had that I would consider a valid competitor to the Treo was the T-Mobile MDA. The MDA had a better camera than the Treo 650, and a very nice touch-screen and hide-away qwerty keypad. So ergonomically the MDA was I think probably at least as good if not better than the Treo 650. It also has Wi-fi support which would have made for faster browsing in wi-fi enabled areas. It used a Microsoft OS, so I assume there would be plenty of software for it, however from what I could tell you had to buy through T-Mobile. I was already partial to the Treo's software suite. The MDA was quite a bit pricier, though, at $400 with 2 year agreement versus $300 which is what I paid for the Treo via sprint. I guess the real deal killer was they treated us like 2nd class citizens when we had been loyal customers since 1998 or so, and their new deal they were going to offer us was less attractive than Sprint, our minimum would have been $90/mo, for 700 shared minutes. So we'd have paid a lot more, for a lot less, and that just ticked me off. Plus they were going to charge us $70 per phone for setup fees. Way to reward loyalty, T-Mobile!

There was also a phone called the Nokia 9300. Ergonomically, this phone is a very cool, with a bar-phone look including a color screen on the outside, but you can open it sideways and it has a really cool, extra-wide screen and full qwerty keyboard. But reading about it, the phone used Symbian which I didn't know much about, and the deal killer for me was that the reviewers I read said it wasn't very responsive compared to their palm-based Treo's. I also wasn't sure what kind of software I could get with it. Plus I could only get this from Cingular. So I passed on it.

The cheapest plan by far, which is the bulk of my expense, was Sprint PCS. To get a shared minutes family plan with free mobile-to-mobile calls and free evenings and weekends starting at 7 pm, and unlimited data for the Treo, it was only $75 a month. The next cheapest plan was Cingular, who had a plan with a few more anytime minutes with Rollover, but their data cost was higher and as a result the total monthly from them with unlimited data for the Treo would have been $110 a month, and their nighttime didn't start until 9 pm. Verizon's web site wouldn't even let me pair a Treo 650 into a family plan at all, and their cheapest single-line, unlimited data monthly fee was starting at $105 a month, plus we'd have to get Kim a plan on top of that!

The Treo does a lot of cool stuff. I've been using it to read my Bloglines feeds, it can do email, sync with Outlook, and of course, run Palm software, which I haven't got any yet but will soon. The phone comes with a USB cable you can use to sync to a PC or you can use BlueTooth for that also if your PC supports it. I haven't tried syncing yet, am about to do that today. Looks like I will definitely need a memory card, however, to store applications and mp3's.

The screen on it is just awesome. Very visible, even during the day, and in the dark it's nice because the qwerty keyboard is backlit. I like the heft of the stylus, it's fairly large and heavy, which is nice for my big ass fingers. Using the stylus is nice for navigation, but when you need to type something it is a bit awkward to have to hold the stylus while "thumbing" out what you want to type. I'm sure I'll get used to it.

The one downside to this whole affair is that they sent me the 650 sans camera, and I wanted the camera model. After about two hours on the phone last night with their support, I should be getting a new one with the camera sent to me sometime next week. Then I can ship them back the old one in a return box they are sending to me. I'll post again when I have tried more software for it, including... games!

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Xbox 360 First Impressions

I got my free Xbox 360 from GoGamer.Com last night. Xbox Live is awesome now. I didn’t have any games for it yet, but that didn’t matter because there was a ton of stuff to download and try via Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace. They had free demos of games, and they also had some cool arcade style games you could try for free or if you want to buy them you can just download the full game. Almost all the arcade games support multiplayer over Live. Live Arcade has classics like Joust, or Gauntlet, and newer puzzle-style games, and also a really cool shooter similar to Robotron 2089 called Geometry Wars.

I also had a buddy with a 360 that I hooked up with. The chat is awesome, you can sit there voice chatting with your buddy while playing games or just browsing the menus. You can also be downloading stuff while playing games (as long as they aren’t multiplayer online games otherwise it’s too laggy). It’s got a really slick interface and was a joy to use. You can even power on and power off the 360 using the wireless controller. The headset plugs right into your wireless controller, so you can talk and hear your buddy via the headset while playing. The only downside to the chat is that out-of-game chatting only works with one person at a time, you can’t set up like a group meeting room with all your friends chatting at once while doing different things. If you’re all in the same game then you can hear each other, but the system-wide chat is limited to one at a time. Hopefully they will improve this.

I should be getting some games this weekend, I made a deal with a guy to buy his Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo for $60. The post office tried to deliver yesterday but I guess they wanted a signature and we weren’t home. I might not get them until I can go up there Saturday. I played some of the demo for Tomb Raider Legends and it looked great, but my friend Ryan said it was really short, he spent like 10 hours to play everything and get all the points. I might end up renting that one.

Oh yeah, that reminds me… Gamer Points! You get a gamer profile on Xbox Live now that tracks your reputation and your gamer points. Each game you play you can win different “Achievements” that go on your profile record, and you can earn up to 1000 points per game. Some games make it hard to earn all the points, and some make it easier, it’s completely up to the game publishers, they can award up to 1000 points for their game, and they get to decide how to award the points to the players. But for example, I got 25 points by unlocking 3 achievements last night in the free game that comes with the 360 (a puzzle game, similar to Columns). You can view your friend’s achievements and see what games they’ve played. It’s pretty cool. The points aren’t really good for anything other than bragging rights, but it’s still kind of neat. Ryan had like 13,000 points or so. He plays a lot.

The reputation thing I think is some kind of tracker to help you weed out the idiots. I think if someone rates you as an idiot it lowers your rating and if they rate you as cool it raises it.

I’d say the 360 is a vast improvement over the original Xbox. Now if they can just come out with some great games that aren’t on the PC I’d be really happy. A lot of the games for it have PC versions, and generally I’ll take PC over console because my gaming PC is usually nicer than playing on console (although I was pretty impressed with how good the 360 looked at 720p HD). Two of the 360’s best games I already have on the PC (Call of Duty 2 and The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion). Looking forward to Gears of War later this year, that one looked great on the E3 coverage.

I’ll post more info later, when I have played some actual full retail games on it.

BTW, is giving away 4 more Xbox 360's in the month of June, so be sure and read the official rules about how to play!

If you have a 360 then look for "virtuadept" on Xbox Live!

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