Archive for November 2007

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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