Gamers' Bill of Rights

By Mike on 11:43 am

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Stardock and Gas Powered Games have created a Gamer's Bill of Rights. As readers will know, I've praised Stardock in the past for their user friendly and DRM free gaming experiences. They have been highly critical of the industry and the general attitude that legitimate gamers need to be clamped down on to prevent rampant piracy. Previously, the company was quite frank in saying that if you make a game that's good and sell it for a fair price, people will buy it. The "bill" contains 10 rights that Stardock and Gas Powered believe that PC gamers should have, as published on Edge by Stardock's Brad Wardell.

  1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don't work with their computers for a full refund.
  2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
  3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game's release.
  4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
  5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
  6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won't install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
  7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
  8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
  9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
  10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.
I have to agree with this list 100% since it sums up perfectly the grievances I've had with PC gaming in the past. The whole industry has declared war on both legitimate and illegitimate gamers, and it's the former who is suffering the most. Of course I have some comments on each of these 10 rights.

1. The days of burn and return are long over when its simply easier to download something off a torrent. For some reason, it became part of copyright law that "intellectual property" cannot be returned for refund at a store regardless of whether it is faulty or not. It can only be exchanged for another copy of the same thing. Some stores like EB skirt around this law by allowing gamers to trade in games for store credit, though at lesser value of what they originally paid. PC games have historically been valued much lower than console counterparts. This basically allows developers to sell faulty products without consequence.

2. The patch thing I mentioned before. Many PC games are released with mountains of bugs. What you get in box basically amounts to a public beta. Gamers then report problems to the company and patches are (hopefully) released. I talked about this in depth previously.

3. Meaning patches that work to actually fix issues and/or add new content. UBI's Blazing Angles is an infamous example of how not to do this. They actually gave up on patching it.

4. More of an irritant than anything else but I don't consider this a major issue.

5. Back we are to Lock on: Modern Air Combat. Perhaps my most hated game. The game ran at slide show speeds despite me exceeding the recommended requirements. Microsoft Flight Simulator also has this problem. There is no way you could possibly enjoy the game with the minimum requirements FSX lists. For example, it lists as minimum, a Pentium 4 1.0ghz or equivalent, 256mb RAM for Windows XP, and DX9 video card with 32mb ram. I have an Athlon X2 3800+, 2gb of RAM on Windows XP, and a Radeon HD 3850 256mb card and yet the game still struggles and cannot be run on full settings. On a minimum system, the game would be a blur. Crysis is yet another example.

6. Starforce and SecuROM are two DRM schemes used in PC gaming. They have received a lot of flack for installing drivers, spyware, and registry keys that often cannot be removed from a system even if the game has been uninstalled. Technically, it's illegal to install software on someone's computer without their consent. Of course, you give this consent by agreeing to the EULA, which nobody reads or understands. That's how they skirt the law. These DRM schemes have been known to do unintended damage to a system or trigger false alarms. As such, people actually turn to pirated copies of games they bought just to get around these damaging DRM schemes.

7. Basically saying that gamers should be able to obtain patches or download new versions of downloadable content without fees.

8. Digital Rights Management has been getting more intrusive over the years. At one point not too long ago, all it required you to do was type in a software key at the back of the manual. More recently, its started phoning home to make sure you're not pirating the game. When Mass Effect and Spore were announced, they were going to phone home weekly to keep checking for piracy. Not only is this ridiculous, it's an invasion of privacy and basically labels all gamers as potential criminals.

9. Goes with #8 and the whole phoning home debacle. If you're on a laptop and not near a Wifi hotspot, some of your games may not be playable because they can't connect to DRM servers. Criminalizes mobile gamers.

10. Another thing that criminalizes mobile gamers. Most games once they install on the HDD don't require any more data from the DVD. It's basically a measure to make sure you're not sharing your games with friends. You can actually take the CD/DVD out of the drive when the game starts up and it will not effect play at all. With all the DRM schemes they put on the system when you install the game, why is a disc check still required? For desktop gamers, this isn't a big issue since it's no different from console gaming but mobile gamers don't want to carry around stacks of discs.

Source: Edge-Online

The Simpsons: Best Episodes Seasons 1-10

By Mike on 9:53 pm

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There are so many great episodes of the Simpsons that I wished I could have added to my original top ten. As a follow up to my post back in July, I'm going to list the best Simpsons episodes per season. In the case of seasons that have an episode already on the top ten, I'll select the runner up from that season.

Season 1: The Crapes of Wrath
The vary first season of the ground breaking series. The earliest episodes were largely just extended Ulman shorts. Crapes was one of the first episodes to introduce a well developed story that could not be told in less than five minutes. As a prank, Bart flushes a cherry bomb down the boys toilet, causing Springfield Elementary's entire plumbing system to explode. Skinner's mother just happened to be using the bathroom at the time. As punishment, Bart is sent to France as an exchange student. While there, he gets setup at the Chateau Maison (The Mansion House) and is forced into making wine for two crooked vineyard owners. In return for Bart, an Albanian named boy Adiel stays with the Simpsons. Adiel turns out to be a spy attempting to gain American nuclear secrets. Back in France, Bart discovers the two Frenchmen adding anti-freeze to the wine, which is dangerous and grossly illegal. (Adding anti-freeze to wine is an old scam. Ethalene Glycol that makes up anti-freeze is an alcohol, but its not the same as ethanol, which is the natural alcohol in alcoholic beverages. It is added to grape juice to make "wine" without the normal lengthy aging process require to produce ethanol. It would produce a sweet tasting "wine", but is toxic and potentially lethal) Bart tries to tell the police, but he can't speak French. Finally, the language comes to him, the vineyard owners are arrested, and Bart comes home as a hero. The episode shows Bart has a heart and isn't as dumb as he appears to be.

Season 2: Lisa's Substitute
By season 2, the series had begun to mature into its own. The second season had many memorable episodes. Lisa's Substitute is probably one of the most important episodes of the entire series and is a close 11th place behind The Way We Was. Hypochondriac second grade teacher Ms. Hoover thinks she has Lyme Disease and takes off work. Substituting is a charismatic Jewish teacher named Mr Burgstrum. Lisa instantly falls in love with the intelligent, caring teacher who is a far cry from the bitter and jaded Hoover. Lisa sees her new teacher as the father figure she never had. He nurtures her intelligence unlike the dimwitted Homer. Lisa eventually reacts to Homer's uncaring attitude by calling him a baboon. Like all subs though, Burgstrum eventually leaves but before he goes, he gives Lisa an important message. "You are Lisa Simpson". Lisa eventually patches things up with her dad. A heart warming episode from an overall excellent season. Also a great performance by Dustin Hoffman (AKA Sam Etic) as Mr. Burgstrum. The episode bares some similarities with Hoffman's film The Graduate.

Season 3: Like Father, Like Clown
The third season is widely considered by fans to be the one in which the show finally matured. Krusty the Clown has been a predominant secondary character since the first season. He's a boozing, womanizing, surly, playboy TV clown who Bart adores. In this episode, Krusty comes over for dinner as a reward for Bart getting him out of jail in Season 1. While there, we learn Krusty is Jewish. All his life, he wanted to be an entertainer but his Rabbi father strongly disapproved. 25 years of not speaking to his father has begun to take a toll on the clown. Bart and Lisa decide to reunite the two. Rabbi Krustofsky wants none of it despite the two kids reading from the Jewish scriptures to try and prove that his religion commands father and son to make up. Eventually, Bart reads the Rabbi a passage that sums up the Jewish struggle eloquently. It was written by Sammy Davis Jr, and entertainer like his son. The Rabbi decides that maybe having an entertainer as a son isn't such a bad thing after all and he and Krusty patch things up. A good human story wrapped up in some great humour. Also features Jewish comedian Jackie Mason as the Rabbi. The episode is a parody of the 1927 film "The Jazz Singer".

Season 4: Marge vs the Monorail
"A town with money is like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows where he got it and danged if he knows how to use it." This episode is a parody of The Music Man. Lyle Langly comes to Springfield promising to sell the city a bonified, electrified, six car monorail. The town is excited to have an ultramodern mass transit system and quickly buys into Langly's shtick. Marge is skeptical about the idea, especially when Homer is given the job of conductor/driver. It turns out that Langly has sold monorails to three other towns. Each one turned out to be a death trap. Marge meets the designer and the two rush back to Springfield to save Homer from the now runaway train. In the end, Homer learns that there's nothing that doughnuts can't do. This episode features some of the best musical numbers of the series. The late Phil Hartmann did an excellent job portraying the crooked Langly. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I think the series started to fall right after his death. (Hartmann, an SNL veteran who was frequently a guest voice on the Simpsons, was murdered by his wife in 1998) Lenard Nemoy also guest stars in this episode, playing himself.

Season 5: Homer and Apu
Apu sells Homer some tainted meat, twice, landing Homer in the hospital with severe food poisoning. When the owners of the Qwick-E-Mart chain find out, Apu is promptly fired. (Apparently his brother Sanjay sold the store) Actor James Woods is hired to take his place. Apu at first isn't mad at Homer, seeing it was his fault that Homer got sick. The broke convenience store clerk lives with the Simpsons briefly, paying his way by doing chores around the house. Apu is a mess so he and Homer decide to go to Qwick-E-Mart headquarters, home of the world's first convenience store, to get his job back. The store turns out to be in India, on the top of a remote mountain, which really isn't that convenient. The guru manning the store knows all except the combination to the safe. The pair may only ask him three questions, which Homer promptly wastes before Apu can ask for his job back. Outraged, Apu and Homer get into a fight and end up back in Springfield. While there, Apu takes a bullet for James Woods and is rewarded with his job back. A perfectly entertaining episode from start to finish with a good soul searching theme.

Season 6: Homer the Great
Homer learns why Lenny and Carl have so many special privileges at work. They're members of the secret, ancient order of the Stone Cutters, a Mason-esque brotherhood that every man in Springfield, except Homer, belongs to. To join, one has to be the son of a Stonecutter, or save the life of a Stonecutter. Since Abe is a member, Homer gets to join too. Soon after joining, he destroys the club's sacred parchment by using it as a napkin. He is immediately ejected from the club, after his punishment of course where he has to be naked for some reason. While dragging the stone of shame, the Stonecutters discover a birthmark on Homer which labels him as the "chosen one". Homer is now the unquestioned king of the Stonecutters. Discovering he's unhappy with his new title, Homer decides the club should give back to society by helping people around town. Homer finds his niche and starts really making a difference to Springfield's less well off residents. The other members get fed up with all the do-gooding and break off from the Stonecutters, forming the sacred, ancient order of "No Homers". The episode shows off Homer's classic struggle to be loved and accepted by his pals. Patrick Stewart shows off his funny bone in one of his earlier comedic voice rolls.

Season 7: Mother Simpson
Homer was told long ago that his Mom was dead. Upon trying to fake his own death to get out of forced volunteer work, Homer has to right it with the city, where he is told she's still alive. Homer desperately searches the cemetery for her grave, and meets Mona Simpson there, alive and well. She had been on the lamb for 30 years after trying to sabotage Mr Burns' germ warfare facility during the late 60s. Mona had grown tired of Abe's Madison avenue scene and decided to become a hippie radical. After the incident with Burns, Mona was forced to abandon her family in the middle of the night. With the two reunited, Homer and his mom try to spend some quality time with each other. Meanwhile, Bart and Lisa stumble on Grandma's past where she is forced to spill the beans to her son. Burns finds out she's still alive and goes after her. In the end, Mona is forced to flee again, but this time she can tell Homer she loves him. I like the episodes with the human stories, back when the series used to do them of course. Abe has some memorable moments in this episode. Glen Close stars as Mona Simpson.

Season 8: Bart After Dark
The ground breaking Season 8 had a lot of memorable episodes and two were already on my top ten best of all time. I went with Bart After Dark just because it's a fun episode and combines several of my favourite things. After Nelson and Bart crash Milhouse's RC plane into a mysterious mansion, Bart destroys a precious gargoyle while attempting to retrieve it. Bart is forced to work for the reclusive old lady who lives there to pay for the damage. Unknown to Bart or the rest of the town, the house is a Burlesque theater run by the old lady Belle. (Burlesque is a type of variety show involving comedy routines, song & dance, and striptease. It's more tasteful than modern strip clubs but was considered scandalous in it's heyday) Scantily clad woman, booze, and gambling are on tap at the Maison Derrière. (Literally the Back House as Belle describes, but more accurately the Rear House, as in a lady's butt) When Marge finds out, she immediately tries to close the place down, ends up accidentally destroying the building, and is forced to pay off the damage just as Bart had to do. There are a lot of memorable scenes. Bart working the door is probably one of my favourites. There's also the big song and dance routine, which won an Emmy. Plus, I love Milhouse's line about "perfectly level flying is the supreme challenge of the scale model pilot", which is hilarious knowing the hardcore stunts those planes are capable of. The crashing part is accurate though.

Season 9: Lisa's Sax
Season 9 started out good but then kind of dropped off into 1998. Lisa's Sax is a memorable episode since it introduces how Lisa got her saxophone and how Bart became the person he is. Bart is just starting school and becomes the outcast of the kindergarten class. While speaking to the councilor about Bart, they discover that Lisa has a special gift of intelligence that needs to be nurtured. Homer wants to enroll her in private school but all the family has is $500 to spare, which Homer had put aside for an air conditioner. He's frustrated about how to nurture his daughter and yet keep his cool at the same time. In the mean time, Bart learns he can make the kids laugh and earns the title of class clown by telling Skinner to "eat my shorts" for the first time. In the end, Homer discovers Lisa's musical talent and spends the AC budget on a saxophone for his daughter. He is finally proud of one of the kids, but is forced to endure another sweltering summer.

Season 10: D'oh-in in the Wind
By Season 10, the show started to fall apart. This is when a lot of today's most frequent criticisms of the show started really becoming noticeable. Namely the wackier, more slapstick humour and the over reliance on "A list" celebrity guest stars. I found it hard to pick an episode I really liked from this season. This particular one features Homer J. Simpson trying to find his middle name. He travels to the hippie commune where his mother stayed to find out his past. It turns out he was named Jay. The episode gives some more back story to Homer's mother and his childhood. It features the late George Carlin as an ex-hippie who makes organic juice for a living. The Springfield wide drug trip scene after Homer tainted the juice with drugs was classic. "Pucker up Ned!"

The Force Unleashed Demo Review

By Mike on 7:21 pm

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Ok, admit it, you loved force dropping stormtroopers into bottomless pits in the Jedi Knight series of games. That was what made Jedi Knight such a great series, the ability to wreak havoc with the force. Sure you could shoot guys with guns too but where's the fun in that? It's been nearly two years since LucasArts has released a major platform game other than the Lego Star Wars series. The Force Unleashed is rapidly shaping up to be one of the most anticipated games of year for Star Wars fans. Today, the demo version was put up on PSN. Was the force unleashed or was the game just not up to its medichlorian count?

In the game, you star as Darth Vader's secret apprentice, code named Starkiller. This was actually George Lucas's original name for Luke Skywalker and it has since appeared as an easter egg in some Star Wars content. Most notably in Knights of the Old Republic. The demo gives you a small taste of the TIE Fighter facility, a level early in the game which has appeared frequently in the promotional material. The game is a hack and slash type where you get to basically rampage through the facility destroying everything in sight. Square button is your basic saber swing and you can block by pressing L2. The apprentice is quick on his feet and can pull off some impressive moves. At this point though, there's not a heck of a lot of difference between this and similar games like Devil May Cry. You can also supposedly unleash combo attacks but I haven't figured out how to use those properly yet. Of course few Star Wars games would be compete without force powers. You get a few basic powers from the beginning of the game, O button controls your force push. You can use it to push objects and break through doors or hold the button down for a charged blast of kinetic energy. Triangle controls your force lightning. The Apprentice can only shock a single enemy but presumably he'll be able to use Force Storm at a later point. L1 controlls force sprint, which gives a quick burst of speed, but is not as prolonged as Force Speed in the JK games. Other powers such as saber throw seem to be missing. Lastly is Force Grip. It allows you to pick up and move objects and throw them at enemies or other objects. This has been the show piece of the promotional material so far and in my opinion, it falls flat since the controls are clumsy. R2 picks allows you to pick up moveable objects, signified by a blue halo around them. Left stick allows you to move the object side to side and back and forth. Right stick allows you to move the object up and down. Releasing R2 will let gravity take over. Moving the right stick in the direction you want to throw the object, and then releasing R2 will do just that. The whole system just feels overly complex and unintelligent. Moving and throwing objects is precise and takes a while to get used to. There's no auto-aim so often objects will go where you don't want them to. Moving objects using grip is also a lot slower than what we've been used to in previous games and it leaves you exposed to enemies. I really think this whole system could have been simplified. It just places too much demand on the gamer.
The demo features one boss fight against an AT-ST, which has repeating blasters, laser cannons, and rockets. This can be a tricky fight if you don't know what you're doing. The walker will also try to stomp you, doing considerable damage. I wonder why they never tried that with the Ewoks? The battle takes ques from God of War in that if you wear down it's health enough, you'll be able to unleash a firce finishing attack by pressing the right buttons as they appear on the screen. After slicing the walker in two, hightwise, the demo ends. The experience is pretty short lived. The demo promises half an hour but you can beat this in 15 minutes if you have experience with these games. The final game does show a lot of promise if the story is good. The story follows Starkiller's struggle with the dark side and will explain how Jedi Master Shaak Ti escaped Vader's raid on the Jedi Temple. Aside from the TIE factory, other locals will include Bespin, Felucia, and Kashyyyk. Vader will also be a playable character in the first level on Kashyyyk according to reports. The story seems to share similarities to KotOR.

Onto the technical side as usual. I'd rate the game's graphics as being average. They're decent enough but there's nothing eye popping about them. The graphics aren't bad but not the best on the PS3. The demo runs at 720p. I didn't notice any frame rate issues. Audio is decent with fresh music added, but it's still kept in the classic John Williams style. The big technical stuff in this game is Digital Molecular Matter and the Euphoria engine, which create realistic physics and AI. DMM makes objects react in the same way they would in the real world. It's neat blowing apart doors with the force, or using objects as battering rams. The doors bend open realistically. Unfortunately, the demo level doesn't really show this off as well as it should. I think Kashyyyk would have been a better level for the demo to show the splintering of trees as we've seen in videos. Eurphoria gives the AI a "brain" or sorts, meaning if they get picked up, they'll try to grab onto things or shoot you. It gives an added edge to the game. Still, I think they could have done a better job showcasing this than what's present in the demo.

Overall, Force Unleashed isn't a bad game yet its nothing really special either. It's best described as a combination of Devil May Cry and Jedi Outcast with a sprinkling of God of War. LucasArts had promised that this would be the best Star Wars game of the decade but from what I've seen, it doesn't hold a candle to Knights of the Old Republic. I also personally think that the way the controls are, this would have been better suited as a PC game. I have no clue how they're going to work out the control scheme for the PSP version since the PS3 one is busy as it is. I recommend the game but it's definitely over hyped.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

Sony Backtracks on PlayTV Promises

By Mike on 2:07 pm

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The PlayTV was Sony's attempt to bring the PS3 full circle into the HTPC sphere. It would allow you to record, watch, and playback free, over the air HDTV content through your Playstation. The system is being introduced in the UK with no word on a North American release yet. However, the system is already proving to be an utter disaster. First of all, there will be no HD recording. The PlayTV cannot record 1080i content, which 90% of HDTV is broadcast in. Presumably it also can't record in 720p as well. Worse still is that the system will include DRM, something that Sony had promised not to use. Therefore, you cannot transfer shows to your PSP or other PMP, or burn them to a DVD. Lastly, background recording is said to cause slowdowns in gameplay, and Sony has added a warning to the system for that.

Stuff noted that the menus are pleasantly slick but to me, this system sounds incredibly crippled. It's a far cry from what Sony had originally promised us. The PlayTV costs £70 (approx. $140). A basic TiVo unit will set you back $199 plus the monthly subscription and will pretty much do the same thing, but it lacks DRM and has better features. It also works with cable and satellite where PlayTV is supposedly OTA only. I really was excited about this PS3 accessory but after reading more about it, the thing is looking to be an utter waste of space and money. I highly recommend passing on this if/when it does come out here. In the mean time, hopefully the movie industry will take a note from their music counterparts and learn that DRM is not the answer.

Source: Stuff.Tv

Sony's Gaming Convention Annoucements

By Mike on 2:02 pm

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Rather than make a separate post for each, I'll just round them off quickly in one. Sony is going to be coming out with a whole slew of new Playstation stuff in the next few months. Some of this stuff is currently being exhibited at this week's GC in Leipzig.

PS3 Wireless Keypad:
One of the biggest issues with chat and internet on game consoles is the fact that it's hard to input text. Microsoft has had a QWERTY keypad for the Xbox 360 for some time now. Sony is now jumping into the foray with one the PS3. The pad contains a proper though downsized keyboard for entering text and numbers. The pad clips to either a SixAxis or Dualshock 3 and runs wirelessly presumable drawing power from the controller's internal battery. Check out the link for pictures!
Source: PSU

160gb PS3 Announced:
As I had expected, Sony is releasing a 160gb PS3 to replace the outgoing 80gb Metal Gear/Motorstorm bundles. The new 160gb bundle will include a copy of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, a PSN voucher for PAIN, and the Dualshock 3. It will retail at $499. The system has been confirmed for Europe and North America but no release date has been set. The big question is whether this model will retain the PS2 backwards compatibility that the old 80gb had.
Source: PSU
Update: Pictures are showing the 160gb model with only two USB ports. This has led to speculation that the new system is identical to the current 40gb SKU except with a larger HDD. This could possibly mean that Sony is dropping PS2 backwards compatibility entirely. Unfortunate news for PS2 fans looking for an all-in-one upscaling system.

PSP 3000 Announced:
Sony has announced the much rumored PSP-3000 will be coming out soon. The system features an improved display with better colours and reduced glare as well as a built in microphone for Skype and GoMessenger. The upgrade wasn't the leap that gamers had hoped for. Many expected the PSP-3000 to ditch the UMD drive in favour of hard drive or solid state memory with downloadable games. However, if the response time of the LCD display gets sped up a bit, I might consider this one. The system will arrive in North America on October 14th in two bundles. The first in "Mystic Silver" colour will include Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, National Treasure 2 UMD, Echochrome PSN voucher, and a 1gb memory card. A second in "Piano Black" will include a 4gb memory card and a PSN voucher for Everyday Shooter. Both will retail at $199. A $169.99 Core pack is also planned at a later date. The current Slim bundles will drop to $169.99.
Source: PSU , IGN

Metal Gear Solid 4 Review

By Mike on 3:15 pm

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I'm late reviewing this year's biggest PS3 blockbuster. Quite late in fact and with good reason even though I've had the game for a while. MGS4 follows the Solid Snake on his final mission; it is the final game in the Metal Gear franchise. I admit that I have not played any of the other games in the series so Metal Gear Solid 4 represents my initiation into Snake's world. The games story follows Solid Snake trying to stop his deranged brother Liquid (Ocelot) Snake from taking over the world. Sometime in the near future, the world's economy is governed by war. Private Military Corporations (PMCs, basically mercenaries) have been hired to maintain a perpetual war to keep up the economy. PMC soldiers are controlled, at least partially, by implants that regulate mood, pain, and send out the soldier's stats. Liquid has found a way to hack into the system so he is able to control the PMCs. As a former soldier, Snake also has these implants. Rather than just spewing story summaries, lets get into the meat of the game.

Lets talk gameplay. Control layout is pretty standard. Left stick moves you, right stick pans the camera. R1 fires your weapon, R2 selects weapons. X allows you to crouch or crawl flat, and adjust your camo gear. Triangle is the action button, circle reloads, and square switches between auto and manual aim. L2 selects items and L1 is your weapon aim. Pretty basic stuff.
Gameplay focuses heavily on stealth. On your HUD, you have a stealth meter which tells you how hidden or how exposed you are. 100% stealth means you cannot be seen at all. To help you, you have camouflage gear that helps you hide. The Octocamo suit can change its colour and pattern to blend in with your surroundings. It's best to set it to automatic. When laying, it will change to march the ground. Leaning against a wall will cause the suit to match the wall or any other object near by. Changing the flak jacket colour can also affect how well you can hide. Of course the real key is good old fashion hide and seek. Staying in the bushes or shadows, hiding under objects, etc. To help you in your mission, you get two items from the beginning to help you see enemies when they can't see you. The Solid Eye is an eyepatch that has radar, night vision, and binocular functions. The Metal Gear Mk II is a small remote control robot with its own built in camo. It can be used to scout areas or shock enemies. The MG Mk II has a limited range. The MG MkII also acts as a communicator for friendly characters in game.
If an enemy PMC does see you, they will attack and go into alert mode. You're goal is to either fight or flee until the PMC troops stand down. The problem with this system is it can be a very unbalanced at times. When the PMCs are alerted, an unlimited number of PMC troops will hunt you down. In other words, if you kill one, they just keep coming unless you get into hiding. Therefore, it's best to avoid combat at all costs. However, this rule only applies to what the game labels patrol zones. In active war zones, PMCs will be fighting rebel groups. If they see you, they will attack but will not pursue you.
On to combat. You can either shoot enemies with weapons or attack them with Close Quarters Combat (CQC). The game does have a no-kill bonus for not killing enemy PMCs. Combat is like most other third-person shooters. The goal of the game is not to get into a fight, but if you do, you'd better be armed and move fast. There is a large variety of guns available. To add another twist to the game, guns you pick up off killed or unconscious enemies are "ID Locked". In game, weapons are tied to the specific PMC soldiers in order to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Therefore, you'll need to launder your weapon to remove its ID chip. That's where Drebin comes in. Drebin is an eccentric gun launderer who keeps a shaved pet monkey and has a love for cola. When you collect a weapon, its added to your inventory. If you collect the same weapon again, you keep the ammo and sell the gun to Drebin. Doing this earns Drebin Points, which you can trade to Drebin to remove the ID locks from weapons in your inventory, buy new weapons and items, or buy ammo.
A final note on gameplay is life and psyche. Snake has a health bar that goes down when he takes hits. It recovers automatically when he is crouching or lying down. Recovery rate is effected by stress and psyche level. In intense situations, Snake's stress goes up. If it gets too high, his psyche drops. Low psyche effects Snake's battle performance negatively. He won't shoot strait for example. It will recover gradually if Snake's stress drops to zero.
Metal Gear Solid 4 offers an interesting gameplay experience but I think if it has one fatal flaw, it's that it tries to be too realistic. The gameplay is very demanding of the gamer. While it doesn't throw you into the battle without any help, the game certainly does not mess around. Even on lower difficulties, the game is pretty hard from start to finish. If you're unfamiliar with the series, it's all the more difficult. All the hiding and crawling also works to slow the pace of the game. You can literally eat up hours in the patrol zones just trying to get from point A to point B. Assassin's Creed had the same issues but at least it game you something to look at. The active war zones open up the game for a lot more fast paced action and are thus more fun in my opinion. Unfortunately, they tend to be few and far between. Lastly, if you die the game has a nasty habit of rubbing that fact in your face by having one of Snake's comrades start screaming "No, you can't die!" With common sense, you won't get killed but the game can be quite frustrating at times. Save frequently at every checkpoint is the best advice I can give.

I'm sure you're all wondering about the size of the game, especially those cutscenes. As Kojima noted, the game comes on a dual layer Bluray disc. This was cited as the primary reason why it was not released on the Xbox 360, since that system would require at least three to four discs for the entire game rather than just one. Metal Gear Solid 4 requires a mandatory 5gb install on the hard drive. Not just one install, but five, one for each chapter of the game. This might seem like a lot, but after you're finished one chapter, the game installs the next one over it so it will only ever take 5gb of space at one time, not including saves. The game cannot be run from the hard drive alone so it still requires the BD to be inserted for play. The installs give fast load times.
The infamous cutscenes are not just a rumor. They are there and they are quite long & numerous. At times, it can feel like your watching a film with a small sprinkling of gameplay mixed in. It gives MGS4 a very cinematic feel about it though I really can't decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the negative side, the long scenes don't exactly make MGS4 a pick up and play title. In one particularly bad case, the scene between acts 3 and 4 I swear is 45 minutes to an hour long. However, they can be skipped. Most cutscenes as far as I can tell are rendered in real time rather than prerendered FMV. On the plus side, they do an excellent job at furthering character development in the game and provide a break from the often frustrating action I mentioned above.
For visuals, the game is probably one of the best looking games on the PS3 so far. Environments are crisp and realistic looking. The overall colour scheme of the game is a tad on the drab side, which I'll chop up to cinematic effect. HDR looks good as is done realistically. Physics look good and objects interact with the environment realistically. I haven't noticed issues with frame rates in game, though they can slow down sometimes during the cutscenes. MGS4 is compatible with 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p video. Sony is finally starting to come out with more full HD games. Still, I don't think the game is the cutting edge graphical masterpiece that it was made out to be. I still believe that Naughty Dog's Uncharted is the best looking PS3 game so far. One thing that can be said about MGS4 though is that characters are more fluid rather than being stiff like in some other games. Textures on some of the scenery though are not at the detail level they should be. Audio quality is excellent and the music is very well done. MGS4 features a cast of gaming's best voice artists. For example, veteran voice artist Jennifer Hale has a leading role as scientist Naomi Hunter. Hale has been featured in many other Metal Gear games. She also voiced Bastilla Shan in KotOR and does a wide array of cartoon work. One problem with the game though is that sometimes audio won't play over HDMI connections. Restarting the game usually solves the issue. I'm not sure if this is a MGS4 problem or a PS3 problem, though it's only this game that does it.

This review was a very difficult one to write for a variety of reasons. First of all, the game has been so highly hyped and has received numerous perfect 10s from leading game reviewers. Such things tend to cloud the perceptions of people who start to believe the game is flawless, which it's not. I write this blog with causal to intermediate gamers in mind. I consider myself the latter. The amount of gaming I do in a day is relatively small compared to the hardcore ones out there. MGS4 is a game that really is targeted at the hardcore gaming crowd. It is deeply immersive and demands a lot of attention and concentration from the gamer. Therefore, you really do need a lot of experience and skill with a) the series, and b) with these types of games in general. I really cannot recommend this game to casual gamers at all. It just demands far too much from the gamer. In its attempt to be ultra realistic, that feature has become its Achilles Heel. It's just not fun if you don't know what you're doing. Myself, I don't play a lot of games like this so I bought into the hype and admittedly though it was something different than it was. I did have some idea about what Metal Gear was all about but the level of difficulty and demand on the gamer was unlike anything else I've played. The game also has some technical flaws. Well, not so much flaws, but areas where it didn't live up to hype. It simply is not the best looking PS3 game around, though it does come close. If you don't like the score I'm going to give this game, go whine to your COD4 buddies as this is just one man's opinion. I highly recommend MGS4 to hardcore gamers and some intermediate ones. However, casual gamers should avoid this game or else be met with an unpleasant experience.

What Works
-Good graphics with full 1080p support
-Fast load times
-Excellent audio with award winning voice cast
-Unique cutscenes further story well with good character development
-Well developed storyline
-Immersive gameplay

What Doesn't Work
-Very demanding gameplay
-Can be slow paced at times
-Cutscenes longer than necessary
-Game is unbalanced at times
-High difficulty limits game to only experienced gamers. Game is too realistic for its own good.
-Graphics and gameplay don't live up to "best on PS3" hype

Score: 8 out of 10

Xbox in a PC Case?

By Mike on 10:17 am

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We all know the Xbox 360 has some problems, to say the least. The biggest issue it tends to experience is overheating, which can eventually lead to the dreaded "red ring of death". So how does one deal with all that heat? What I've been saying all along, add some bigger fans and better airflow. High end PC chassis maker Lian-Li has recently released it's Xbox 360 case. The gunmetal gray exterior is a far cry from the 360's sickly white appearance. The 360's components lift out of its original case and drop right into the new one. Replacing the noisy and impotent 70mm fans is one large 120mm one, which promises to move a lot of air silently. The system also includes pre-drilled holes for using Koolance's Xbox 360 watercooling system. (They also make a water kit for PS3 now) On the outside, the case looks like an ordinary PC case complete with top mounted drive bay. Metal flaps on the front hide the USB ports when they are not in use. The one problem is that this case is significantly bigger than the original 360's. It may be a little awkward in living room setups. Using this case also voids the 360's warranty. However, if you want a cooler and quieter system, this looks like the way to go; especially if you have an older 360 without the 65nm processors. The whole unit costs $150, with you supplying the Xbox of course.

Source: The Register

The Biggest Flaw of DRM: The License Key

By Mike on 1:54 pm

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I'm not a big music buff. When I do listen to it, I usually listen to it on the radio (or satellite radio) or from physical media such as CDs or vinyl. I rip audio from those physical sources to my MP3 player in high quality 320kbps AAC files for listening on the go. I have never purchased digital music (not to be confused with CDs despite them technically being digital as well). DRM has always been the overwhelming flaw with the way digital music is distributed. As you probably know, Digital Rights Management restricts what you can do with a song such as the number of times it can be copied to another device, and even what devices it can be copied too. The whole concept was (supposedly) developed to stop music and video piracy. However, many users who bought the songs without realizing they were protected, or the extent of how they are protected have been getting a rude awakening. DRM on songs stored on your computer are subjected to a license. You have paid for the song but technically, you are only renting it. Each song has a license embedded in it. It communicates with a central server that determines that you are allowed to use said song on that specific system. Now here's the issue. What would happen if the retailer chose to shut shut down their licensing server. That's what now defunct MSN Music did. Now Yahoo Music is going to do the same. What this means is that the DRM embedded in the song can't find out if your are its rightful renter and therefore, it locks down the file. You've paid for something that is now totally useless.

There is a work around, being to burn the songs to CDs. This strips them of their DRM but reriping them lowers their already low quality further. Also, this is technically illegal to do under the United States' DMCA as it is considered circumventing copy protection. Yahoo is telling its users to do this anyway despite that fact. CNet's Digital Media blog brought up an interesting concept though. What if Apple shut down the iTunes licensing servers. It seems impossible but remember that Microsoft and Yahoo are huge companies as well. If they ever did, more than 1 billion songs would go down the drain. It would be a PR nightmare but the iTunes Store terms of service specifically states that Apple cannot be held responsible should this happen. Therefore, customers would be shit out of luck. You really did get what you pay for. As I noted above, most people don't even realize that music is not theirs to own. You're just leasing it. Unlike auto leases and such, you don't have vary many legal rights when leasing music. This is the fundamental flaw with digital distribution and the reason why I would never buy songs from iTunes. As I have said before, I think it's high time DRM be banned. All it serves to do is abuse legal customers. In the mean time, you should purchase your music on CD, vinyl LP, or from trusted DRM-free music services like Amazon. If you choose to buy DRM ladden products, you're taking a gamble with your investment.

$200 Xbox 360 This September?

By Mike on 1:40 pm

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Ars Technica is reporting that a $199 Xbox 360 model will be released this September. It's not a new model but actually the current hard drive-less Arcade that currently retails for $299. In fact, all models are due for an apparent $100 price drop. The new 60gb Premium will drop to $299 and the 120gb Elite will drop to $399. Ars didn't exactly say where they got this from, other than referring to the source (jokingly) as the Mole. Maybe they have someone working inside Microsoft Games providing this info.

While the source seems a little sketchy, it's not outside the realm of possibility. The PS3 has consistently overtaken the 360 in North American sales for most of 2008. The Wii juggernaut of course shows no sign of stopping. The Wii is priced at $270 and the PS3 40gb at $399. Since the 360 is approaching its third anniversary, sales are of course going to start slowing so Microsoft may be looking to bounce back with some major price cuts in time for the Christmas season. Would I buy a 360 at $200? It is tempting but I still have to pass on it. The PS3 has a very strong game lineup for the fall, and I simply cannot afford to be buying software for two systems. Still, if you're looking for a gaming system, this might be a good choice. I would expect these units to include both the 65nm CPU and GPU, thus solving the quality issues with the system.

Source: Ars Technica

Life With Playstation Coming in August

By Mike on 10:33 am

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Wow, I must have been living under a rock because this is the first time I've heard of this. Well, apparently Sony ran into some trouble with the service that was supposed to be due out in July but is now planned for release this month. (Is it August already? Summer goes by WAY too fast) If you're as confused as I am, let me give you the run down that I found on PC World. The service is similar to Nintendo's Wii Channels. A 3D globe interface will list regions and cities. From what I can tell, the interface will be similar to Google Earth, using weather satellites for the image. You'll be able to get weather and news headlines for major cities using the service. The news service appears to be similar to RSS feeds. Clicking headlines will open that page in the browser, which according to PC World is different from Nintendo's which relies on content partners. Music stored on the hard drive can be played in the background of the interface and will either play user defined playlists or shuffle what's there.
It's certainly far more usefull than the halfassed ticker that was added in Firmware 2.0, which of course only displayed Playstation news. There is currently no set release date for Life with Playstation other than it will arrive sometime in August 2008.

With HDTVs becoming more common place, I think this is the way things are moving. People already want and get their information on demand. All the better if it's always there without having to turn on your computer. I expect this type service will eventually be integrated right into TVs but for now, game consoles are doing jobs that nobody had ever intended them to do even just 10 years ago.