Archive for 2007

Hacking the Wii

Published on December 31, 2007

A couple of guys have figured out a way to hack the Nintendo Wii, opening the door for better home-brew software for the platform. The way they figured this stuff out is pretty cool, and it should be interesting to see what kind of new software is developed now that the “Keys to the Kingdom” are available.

My dad and I both agree that it seems to be in Nintendo’s best interest to open up their hardware. Why they don’t do it, however, is beyond what we can figure. Maybe they’re scared of the game publishers having to compete against “open source” (i.e. free) games? It seems to me that having lots of great third-party, home-brewed software could only help your platform in the long run. Not to mention that it would open up the hardware to great uses as assistive devices (which would be great for kids with disabilities).

Digg on the Way Down?

Published on December 29, 2007

Is Digg.com on the way down? I personally find myself visiting the site less and less, turning instead to Slashdot and Gizmodo for my news and entertainment. When I do visit Digg, there’s little that I find appealing enough to digg. In fact, looking at my profile, I find that the last story I dugg was on December 12, quite some time ago. The majority of stories seem to be very uninteresting, or (more likely) stories that are already covered on other websites.

Even the Diggnation podcast seems to be degrading in quality. The show used to be solidly funny, but I find myself laughing only a few times per episode these days. I’d much rather have the higher grade content as found in The Totally Rad Show. Neither Alex nor Kevin seem to put as much effort into Diggnation as they once did, which isn’t too surprising. Like the saying goes, ‘All good things must come to an end.’

Nintendo’s Hardware Exploits

Published on December 28, 2007

One of the things I got for Christmas this year was The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS. I’ve played the game for several hours now, and I wanted to discuss Nintendo’s usage of the DS hardware in the game. Never before have I seen a video game make such good use of the hardware it has access to. Link is controlled entirely through the use of the touch screen (the D-pad and buttons are hardly, if ever, used), which isn’t entirely a new idea; see Kirby: Canvas Curse for a previous touch-screen-only title.

What really blew me away (almost literally) was the usage of the microphone in the game. There are a number of places where the player has to take some action: call out to a character trapped behind a steel door, blow out a few candles, etc. The neat thing is that all of these actions require you to physically do something. When you are told to cry out, you have to literally cry out. When you are asked to blow out the candles, you have to literally blow onto your DS! Is this a genius idea or what? I know that Donkey Konga for the Gamecube used a microphone (where the player clapped their hands), but this is the first game I’ve personally played that makes use of this kind of hardware.

The game also uses one other hardware feature that helps to advance the storyline (I’ll do my best to avoid any spoilers here). At one point, you are asked to perform a specific task to help locate a hidden item in the game world. In order to do this, you literally have to close the lid of the DS, and open it back up. What?!? Unfortunately, the game didn’t give me enough hints to figure this out on my own (or I was too dense to make sense of the clues it was giving me). As a result, I got stuck at this particular point and ended up reading about how to advance forward (and I hate having to do that kind of thing). But this hardware hack really impressed me! It will be interesting to see if any other games make use of this technology; here’s hoping that they will!

The End is Truly Near

Published on December 27, 2007

If there has ever been proof that we are living in the end times, it’s this: Internet Explorer 8 has passed the Acid2 test. This is the scariest thing I’ve heard all year.

Interestingly enough, IE8 only passes this test in ‘Standards Mode.’ From what I’ve gathered through brief searching around the web, this appears to be an IE8-only feature that requires some ‘magic meta-tag’ to enable, though I’m only getting the sketchiest details. The comments in this post shed a little light, but not as much as I might have hoped for.

Savannah in December

Published on December 22, 2007

I have just posted a new photo album from a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia. There are some really interesting photographs in the set, so be sure to check them out. As always, comments are welcome.

Team Fortress 2 Statistics

Published on December 10, 2007

Valve recently released some statistics on Team Fortress 2. Like their recent hardware survey, some interesting items come to light:

  • Scout, Engineer, and Soldier are the three most popular classes by far (with a combined 49% of the total time played)
  • Medic is by far the least favorite class (only 5% play time)
  • Several melee weapons (the Medic’s bonesaw, the Demoman’s bottle, etc.) get surprisingly high critical damage percentages
  • The two most popular maps are cp_gravelpit and ctf_2fort
  • The least popular map is cp_granary
  • Red team wins 70% of the matches on cp_dustbowl

Lots of other interesting data is available for those interested. Some of the items I point out above are nearly opposite my own experiences. My least favorite class is the Scout, and one of my favorites is the Medic (I guess that makes me a more defensive player than most). I never use the melee weapons, and I really like cp_granary.

I’m hoping that Valve will rebalance the cp_dustbowl map, because I have noticed that the attacking team (blue) rarely makes it through all 3 stages. Seeing that red team wins 70% of the time is a clear indication that something needs to be done. As I’ve said before, this kind of statistics tracking is really great for solving these kinds of problems.

Emergent vs. Scripted Gaming

Published on December 7, 2007

There’s an interesting op-ed article that contrasts Call of Duty 4 and Crysis. The author argues that emergent gaming (player-oriented, as in Crysis) is the future. Scripted gaming (like CoD4) is the current norm, but it limits the player in a number of ways. Unscripted gaming opens up a world of additional possibilities, at the cost of a much more challenging development paradigm. I certainly hope that games become more unscripted over time; I had a lot of fun with the Crysis demo, and the unscripted work going into the Half-Life 2 world seems to really be paying off.

Call of Duty 4 Review

Published on December 6, 2007

I recently purchased Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, and having finished the game, I thought I’d write a short review. I have to admit that I’ve only tried out the single-player campaign, though I hear very positive things about the multiplayer experience. Team Fortress 2 is eating up all of my online gaming time right now, so I doubt I’ll give the CoD4 multiplayer any attention in the near future.

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Monkey Album Updates

Published on December 1, 2007

I have made a few changes to the way individual entries are handled in my photo album. The URL for a specific image no longer uses the image filename, which should help the Google bot better index my photos. I noticed recently that none of my images were being found by Google’s indexer, and I’m pretty sure that the filename in the URL was the culprit. If you spot anything that’s broken, please let me know.

The Sleazy World of Professional Reviews

Published on November 30, 2007

There’s currently a lot of buzz about the supposed firing of Jeff Gerstmann, a long-time editor at GameSpot (Penny Arcade! even has a comic about the incident). He was apparently fired based on a poor review he gave for “Kane & Lynch: Dead Men,” a game for the xBox 360. Eidos, who publishes the game, currently has a large advertising partnership with GameSpot for the game. This move indicates to me that Eidos was attempting to buy a good review, which they didn’t get. I have no trouble believing that they had a hand in getting Mr. Gerstmann fired.

It’s really sad to see when professional reviewers are forced to say one thing or another, but it’s not surprising. The almighty dollar seems to make most of the decisions these days. Years ago I subscribed to Computer Gaming World magazine, but I canceled my subscription after the quality took a nose dive. The “larger” gaming websites are starting to head in that direction as well, especially after shenanigans like these. I do most of my game review reading through Metacritic, checking out what reviewers as a whole have to say about various games. I also try to seek out independent reviews, from people like myself.

This kind of story is one reason that I decided to post my own reviews here on this website. Although I don’t have as much readership or visibility as the big review websites, I try to provide an alternative to the paid endorsements that publishers try to shove down our throats. Hopefully you find my reviews to be useful and honest. If so, then I’m succeeding where the large sites are failing. And that’s good enough for me.

Cyber Monday is a Sham

Published on November 26, 2007

I really hate how news outfits continually refer to Cyber Monday as ‘the busiest online shopping day of the year.’ If you take a look at the Wikipedia article, you’ll see that the term “Cyber Monday” is actually a neologism, undoubtedly created to generate public interest (and therefore, boosted sales figures). A number of online retailers point out that early December is actually a busier time than today supposedly is.

That being said, I love shopping online, and I try to do most of my holiday shopping through online outfits (though some things just have to be bought locally). How about you? Do you do your holiday shopping online, or do you head to the brick and mortar stores?

Team Fortress 2 Review

Published on November 24, 2007

I recently posted a few thoughts on Team Fortress 2, but I thought I should write a full review now that I’ve spent more time with the game. Let me start off by saying that when I purchased The Orange Box, I was not in the least interested in Team Fortress 2. Portal and Episode 2 were the only titles I anticipated playing, and I even considered buying them separately. I’m very glad that I went for the better deal, as I hope this review will indicate.

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Updated Contact Form

Published on November 20, 2007

The contact form at this website has been updated. If you run into any problems, simply leave a comment on this posting letting me know that something is broken.

Valve’s Statistical Data

Published on November 17, 2007

Valve recently posted the results to their hardware survey. There are many interesting things that can be gleaned from the data:

  • At least 54% of users have broadband connections
  • 39% have 2GB or more of memory
  • 55% have Intel processors versus 45% with AMD
  • nVidia graphics cards are much more popular that ATI cards
  • 1280 x 960 is the most common primary display resolution
  • Embedded audio chips are more popular that stand-alone cards (I found this particularly interesting)
  • 84% of users are still using Windows XP

Lots more interesting data is available, so be sure to check it out if you’re into that kind of thing. The results of another survey were also recently released. Statistics for Half-Life 2: Episode 2 are available for viewing. I particularly enjoyed the overhead maps that show where players die most often. I’ve got to believe that the developers at Valve think this kind of data is pure gold.

An Unexpected Surprise

Published on November 14, 2007

File this one in the “Oops!” department.

During a recent US Navy exercise in the Pacific, a Chinese nuclear submarine popped up in the middle of the US fleet, completely undetected until it surfaced. I’m guessing that the top brass in the Navy will demand answers for why the submarine was not detected. This was no doubt a shock to everyone aboard the US ships, as the Chinese sub was easily within range for launching torpedoes.

Memory Fragmentation in Firefox

Published on November 13, 2007

There’s a really great article over at Stuart Parmenter’s blog discussing memory fragmentation in Firefox. This phenomenon is what’s causing Firefox to appear to consume so much memory. Most folks simply assume that Firefox leaks memory, mostly because they probably don’t understand what a memory leak is. Although Firefox did at one point have a number of memory leaks, the majority of them have been plugged (see this article by Jesse Ruderman for further details).

It’s great to see that someone is investigating this issue, and I find it very interesting that it’s a fragmentation problem that’s causing things to look bad. Hopefully we can see some fixes for this issue in the near future, and Firefox can get a better foothold in this department.

Update: There’s a great followup article that shows some of the preliminary work going on to solve this problem.

Brief Thoughts on Team Fortress 2

Published on November 8, 2007
The Pyro

To continue the theme from my last posting, allow me to say that I am really having fun with Team Fortress 2. I never played the original Team Fortress, so I didn’t know quite what to expect going into this game. Thankfully, I have been pleasantly surprised. The cartoon visuals are incredibly unique, so much so that I hope other games use this look and feel at some point. Likewise, gameplay is so well balanced, that the game is fun even when you are consistently on the losing team (as was the case for me tonight). In other multiplayer games (such as Unreal Tournament 2004), it was often that case that I would get frustrated when my team continually failed to gain the upper hand. With Team Fortress 2, I never have that feeling; I’m having so much fun that the thought of becoming frustrated never even crosses my mind.

The Medic

One small feature that helps in this regard, and one that I have really come to enjoy, is the sophisticated stats tracking. Every time you die, you get a snapshot of who killed you. Occasionally, during this freeze frame, you’ll get a little box that says “On the Brighter Side…” and then presents you with a record that you’ve just broken. For example, after dying once tonight, I got an encouraging statistic that said “On the Brighter Side … You did more damage than your previous best!” It also told me the new record value (2186, if I remember correctly), so as to give me something to work towards beating. This kind of encouragement is really great, and helps you see that you’re actually getting a little bit better each time. I hope other multiplayer games take note of this feature and implement something similar.

It’s a little disappointing that there are only 6 maps, but again, the gameplay is so fun that this minor point becomes a non-issue. Valve has mentioned that they will be releasing more maps in the future, so I’ll patiently await the arrival of some new content. My current favorite classes are the Soldier, Medic, and Pyro (these are the 3 classes I’ve had the most success with). Be sure to check out Team Fortress 2 if you get the chance. So far, I’m having a blast!

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Enjoying ‘Pushing Daisies’

Published on November 1, 2007

I’m not sure if any of you have seen Pushing Daisies (Wednesdays at 8:00 PM EST on ABC), but I am thoroughly enjoying the show. It’s a comedy-drama (described in some places as an ‘forensic fairy-tale’) and is, in my opinion, the most creative thing to come to television in a long time. The story revolves around Ned, a pie-maker, who has the uncanny ability to bring dead things back to life. There are, however, several rules he must adhere to:

  1. If Ned touches something that he has previously brought back to life, it dies permanently.
  2. If the thing that Ned brings back to life is alive for more than one minute, something else nearby dies to take its place.

Emerson Cod, a detective friend who discovers Ned’s secret ability, gets Ned to partner up with him to solve unsolved murders. The general plot is that Ned brings back the murder victim, asks them how they died, and they collect the reward money (if any). But there are further complications to the story.

In his childhood, Ned was good friends with a girl who lived across the street, one Charlotte “Chuck” Charles. Ned’s mother dies unexpectedly, so he brings her back to life, at the time not knowing about his power’s two constraints. As a result, Charlotte’s father dies unexpectedly (from rule 2 above). After touching his mother a second time, she too dies (from rule 1 above). Ned is sent to a boarding school, and never sees Chuck again. Later in life, however, he sees that Chuck has been mysteriously murdered. He brings her back to life and, unable to bring himself to killing her again, keeps her alive (a nearby undertaker dies to take her place). Chuck and Ned are instantly smitten with one another, but their relationship becomes somewhat difficult as a result of Ned being unable to touch Chuck.

The show ultimately revolves around the unsolved murders (a new one each week), and around Ned and Chuck’s relationship and the complications therein: namely that they cannot touch one another (though they find a few workarounds), and that Olive Snook, a waitress at the Pie shop where Ned works, falls in love with Ned. It has been a long, long time since something this unique and engaging has been on television, so I heartily recommend it. The direction of this show is very similar to the works of Tim Burton, so if you like his movies, you’ll like this show.

Update: You can catch full episodes of the show at ABC.com if you want to get caught up on the storyline. You have to install a custom player (yuck), but Dustin tried it out and it says it works OK.

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