Destiny or FUCK THIS GAME!


From the title alone, you should get the gist of how I feel about Destiny, but it isn’t the whole story. Honestly, when I’m not getting pissed off by the random number generator (RNG) driven reward system and the fact that I’ve done everything in the game (except the Vault of Glass) multiple times because there’s only a limited amount of things to do at this time and nothing new has popped up in the weeks since its release, I actually enjoy the game.

If you read up on Destiny on Reddit and a thousand other sites, you will find one common thread: the game uses a random number generator to decide what “drops” during the game, whether in combat or at the conclusion of a strike or mission. Sometimes it’s useful, frequently it’s not, usually because you have something better already. Sometimes you’ll be the biggest badass in the game during a strike and get nothing; other times you’ll really suck and get something exotic as a reward. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the nature of randomness. Worse, you can go to a vendor, Xur for instance, spend your hard earned Strange Coins and Motes of Light to get a piece of exotic equipment and come away with something completely unusable by your class.

As someone that first learned to program more than thirty years ago and an avid gamer, I understand the attraction to using a random number generator and a look up table (LUT) to determine a player’s loot. It keeps things from getting stale. Is a special reward really special when everyone knows you’re going to get it for completing a particular mission? Not to knock World of Warcraft (which I also play), but that gets boring and predictable. (In fairness, World of Warcraft has had random drops in game for a very long time though most mission rewards are fixed. In the recent Warlords of Draenor expansion, some missions (and/or follower missions) award you a generic item that becomes something specialized for your class’ specialization. So Blizzard has obviously thought about that.) The problem with RNG+LUT is just that unpredictability, especially when you have no ability to trade or sell items that aren’t important to you. In Destiny, that means if you get an item on your Warlock that is only usable by the Titan class, you have two choices: put it in your vault and use it on a Titan character you also created or disassemble it for parts. And hopefully those parts will be useful to you; unfortunately, some items will break down into parts that are only usable by the class the item was intended for, leaving you with parts you can’t use unless you move them to another class. You can’t even sell the parts, at this time, just to try to turn a buck.

Speaking of money… For a game that has no economy whatsoever, there’s a shit load of currencies in it. The primary form of money is called glimmer, which is described as a form of programmable matter. While the concept is interesting, the fact is that the concept is totally wasted because you don’t actually do anything with it other than pay for things, such as weapons, ammo, and upgrades. If you could use it to customize your appearance, make unique equipment or even just put it in your character’s hair to change the style and color, then it would be something neat to play with, and something more than just a currency. Given that it does nothing of the sort, they may as well call it dollars or pesos or gold coins. Want to know something extraordinarily silly? You can only carry a maximum of 25,000 glimmer at a time. Considering a 32 bit integer takes 4 bytes and offers a range of 4 billion numbers (unsigned in this case would be most useful), I really don’t know why Bungie chose to use less than a 16 bit/2 byte number as the maximum amount of cash you can carry. Maybe it’s a practical limit… After all, while you can’t always count on getting precisely what you wanted to buy thanks to the RNG+LUT, you can still buy almost everything that costs strictly glimmer with little effort because you accumulate a lot and many of the enemies, especially the “majors”, drop items that help you earn more glimmer just by killing members of their species. Still, I think the 25k limit is awfully arbitrary, pointless, and oddly specific. I’m pretty sure Bungie isn’t saving a lot of memory by limiting it to a 16 bit integer.

If that was the extent of my money gripes, I’d be fine with it. But, as I hinted at before, there are other forms of currency: Motes of Light, Strange Coins, Vanguard Marks, Ascendant Shards, Ascendant Energy, Crucible Marks, and the recently added Exotic Shards. Aside from the Vanguard and Crucible Marks and Exotic Shards, all of those are obtained RANDOMLY throughout the game, either as drops in combat, mission rewards, upgrades mailed to you for public events or reaching new reputation levels, bounty rewards, decrypting engrams, or disassembling things. And like all other drops, they’re random enough that you can’t count on getting them on any regular basis. Well with a caveat: certain daily and weekly strikes and story missions award Notes and Strange Coins the first time you complete them for their respective periods. The Vanguard and Crucible Marks are earned, however, by either completing strikes and missions or fighting it out in the PvP Crucible. Strange Coins and Motes of Light are used to buy equipment from the NPC Xur; the various shards and energy are used to upgrade equipment when combined with the various resources you harvest on each of the worlds, glimmer, and parts you scavenge from equipment like I mentioned earlier. The Marks are used to buy equipment from the Vanguard and Crucible quartermasters. For a game that is based around combat, there’s a whole lot of economics going on even if you can’t sell your unwanted equipment.

Now, I started this review some weeks ago, and I’m only just now working towards finishing it the day after the first DLC pack was released. While I’ve been playing Destiny regularly since it’s release and still have only stuck my proverbial toe into the Vault of Glass, I have mostly enjoyed the game. My frustrations are illustrated above, and led by the striking lack of content to keep the game fresh for a long time after the initial play through. And that continues in The Dark Below; three new missions, more bounties making you play through things you’ve already mastered, a new strike and raid, and new equipment for $20… (Or $35 or $17.50 depending on your perspective if you purchased the “season” pass.) I can’t say the DLC is worth that much, honestly. Wait for it to go on sale if you can; sooner or later it will be offered for about $10 in some special deal. The missions are tough and interesting story wise, but I find the lack of Peter Dinklage’s narration a bit disturbing even though it was replaced by the new NPC’s. I never thought that I’d miss “Dinkelbot.” (Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Dinklage!)

The bottom line of both Destiny’s main storyline and the DLC is that there are a lot of brilliant scraps of story that are laid out on the table, but there’s so much missing from the bigger picture that you’re not really sure what’s going on. Just like with Watch Dogs, I keep saying that we’re still early in the game’s lifespan, but that is sounding more and more hollow to me. It’s becoming more obvious that Activision, Electronic Arts and other major publishers, distributors and, yes, developers have decided to push DLC as the next big thing in their efforts to make themselves rich. Rather than focusing on making the best damned game they can, they strip out whatever they can get away with to sell as an add-on later, thereby securing their own destiny. While I like Destiny, I think it could have been so much more had this money grubbing scheme hadn’t been a factor.

Watch Dogs: The Good, the Bad, and the Annoying


(Note that I started writing this review on July 22, 2014, but was distracted by editing video, The Last of US (PS4), and Destiny and didn’t get around to finishing it until November 1, 2014 when I decided to finish it.)

By the time I finish writing this post and make it public, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs will have been out months, so you aren’t going to be hurting for a review. There are tons out there, and I really don’t expect this one  to stand out or garner any more attention than any of the countless others, still, I want to add my two cents to the mix for the hell of it.

Let me start off by saying that despite all the hype around this game, I actually had no desire to buy it until the week before it was released. Frankly, I just wasn’t interested. But between some streaming IGN was doing before the release and the fact that I wanted another PS4 game to play, I decided to invest in it because it seemed to have some pretty cool features and game play. While I’ve purchased open world games before, I frequently gotten bored with them before I ever even got halfway through the single player campaign; in truth, they were purchased for the pleasure of screwing around in multiplayer with my friends. That includes everything that I’ve played from Rockstar Games… Even GTA V mainly sits in my Xbox 360 unplayed most days. So Watch Dogs had several advantages: I got the PS4 version because I was always more comfortable with the Sony controllers than the Microsoft ones, better graphical quality than 360 and PS3 at the very least, and it was more relate-able to me given I work and have worked for many years in the computer industry.

Contrary to how I usually do things, I’m not going to comment on the single player campaign; while I think it’s enticing and interesting to an extent, really it’s completely expendable from the game. It’s a token story intended to make your occasional murderous rampages and other misdeeds seem justified. Considering the game was marketed along the lines of Infamous with regards to you having the freedom to choose whether you’re a hero or villain, the fact that the single player game suggests you follow a hero-ish (really more antihero) path seems a bit heavy handed.

But to cut to the chase, here are the things I really liked about the game:

A large play setting; it’s not Los Santos of GTA V, but the City of Chicago in Watch Dogs is a pretty large place.

Great attention to details on many things; where Ubisoft thought to pay attention, they did a kick ass job. Sadly, they didn’t pay enough attention… More on that later.

Things I really, really like about the game include the graphical quality, the handling and feel of most the in-game vehicles, and the idea that a nerd can be a bad-ass.

The bad…

Where Ubisoft didn’t pay attention or simply give a fuck, there are significant flaws in the game, the game play, and fun factor. My biggest complaint, particularly once a lot of people really started playing Watch Dogs was and is the fact that you can’t just start playing and not worry about getting hacked by other random players. Initially, I thought there was some triggering event, such as you pissed off the cops or did something major that triggered the notoriety kharma factor that meant the game was going to try to get you hacked. But now, as demonstrated a moment ago when I logged in for the first time in months, I got into a hacking situation as soon as my virtual boots hit the ground in the game. Fortunately, I’ve found a pretty good and effective place from which to deal with hacks but it’s irritating that I have to worry about it as soon as I start it up. There’s only one way to avoid it: go into the Online game settings and turn off “Online Invasions”. Simple right? Well, the problem with that is that it will reset any and all progress you’ve made in the online modes… So, if you participate in the online aspects on a regular basis but just want a quiet evening trying to complete the various missions, you’re just screwed unless you don’t mind losing your progress.

For the bad stuff, I kept saying this is Ubisoft’s first open world game and that this was damned good for a first attempt. But it isn’t really their first attempt, and frankly the problems really start to show after you get comfortable with the game. Until August or so, there was no cooperative mode in the game at all, and, while you could challenge your friends through the mobile app on your phone or tablet, there was no way to  hack your friends. The best you could do is get in a free roam match with them and screw around either doing things together or, with adversarial mode enabled, killing one another. I have yet to do any of the cooperative missions introduced in August/September, but it’s something that was a long time coming.

Another major issue that has now been addressed was that once you get done with the missions — story missions, privacy invasions, gang hideouts, and criminal convoys — you were completely out of things to do other than hack random people going down the street and initiate (and respond to) online races and hacking. And frankly, those things get boring after a while. It’s now possible to do the gang hideouts and criminal convoys again, though the methodology behind doing them is counter-intuitive. In fact, it’s ass backwards. Rather than just selecting the mission to play again, you have to go into the Gameplay options menu and reset the side missions. While this may get the job done, why not just make them directly playable again? Is it really that difficult to fix?

While I stated the play area is pretty large, it isn’t infinite. More interestingly, it’s rather limited on the Lake Michigan side of Chicago, as you’ll notice in the “issues” video I’m attaching to this review: there’s apparently an invisible wall preventing you from going past a certain point out onto the lake.  Although I didn’t highlight it the video, all roads, rivers and train tracks that would otherwise leave the Chicago area seem to curve into other parts of the city. The latter makes a certain amount of sense, I admit, but it’s still so… artificial.


Another particularly aggravating thing is the enforcement of law and order. If you kill a person on  the street, you can expect to be hunted down by the police and killed. I’d like to say arrested, because sometimes you don’t commit major crimes, and so you should be arrested, right? But, as in the GTA series, if you cross the line in too negative a way, you are hunted down and killed by the police. Hello Ferguson! But sometimes, Watch Dogs’ police decide that you are guilty by proximity and execute you. Throughout the game, you will be given the opportunity to spoil petty (and sometimes not so petty) crimes that occur randomly  nearby which have nothing to do with the story campaign or side missions (gang hideout, criminal convoy, etc). If you kill the criminal, say by shooting them and, I’m quite positive, running them down with a car, you may end up in a police chase even if you saved the intended target of the crime. You’re a fucking vigilante, who just took out a bad guy; why are you getting gunned down? Even if you take them down in a nonlethal way (there’s a melee attack that is only available on enemy targets), if there were gunshots fired, you will end up getting chased by the police. Not the actual criminal. You. Even though your character starts off as this anonymous anti-hero, you eventually end up well enough known that police are immediately after you for crimes you had nothing to do with. What. The. Fuck?

So the bottom line…?

The bottom line is that the game can be a lot of fun and very interesting, but it’s flawed. In July when I started this review, I was going to say that it’s early in the game’s lifespan, and it still is. There’s lots of time for Ubisoft to iron out the problems. But don’t be mistaken, there are lots of problems, and there are rumors that the primary development team has already moved on to Watch Dogs 2, so these problems may not get resolved. Time will tell… My original rating for the game was about an 8. At the time that I started writing the review I’d have put it at about 6.5. Now… maybe a solid 7.5 for resolving some of the problems that it had. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is whether you enjoy the game or not. So, make that assessment for yourself.

Simple Mobile: What’s Up?


Short Story:

My Simple Mobile service is barely functional at the moment: phone calls drop, SMS/MMS partially works, no LTE/4G/3G/2G service at all. Get in touch with me with answers and/or a fix.

 

Long Story:

I heard about Simple Mobile about 18 months ago when I was looking for a contract free phone service. I’m not writing this article to complain about other networks, or my previous cell phone problems, though I would love to rant on that. I loved the option to provide my own phone rather than having to pay for it as part of a monthly bill. In August, 2013, I bought a LG/Google Nexus 4 to give Simple a try, and I liked what I saw: the service was consistently available everywhere in the Detroit area, unlimited text messaging and minutes, and reliable 4G service for about $50/month, literally half of what I had been paying. So I decided that once my contract terminated at the start of this year, I would make the switch official, and I did.

Porting my phone number over was flawless and quick, and I eventually purchased a nice new LG/Google Nexus 5 from the Google Play Store, and I have been happy ever since.

Until this weekend.

On Friday, I paid for my monthly service a couple days before my service would have expired, and I noticed on Saturday that my internet status indicator was flickering between 4G, 3G, H and just the phone signal strength bars which indicate no internet connection. As I was out and about, I didn’t think anything of it: I don’t expect perfect coverage everywhere, even on T-Mobile’s network. (For the uninformed, Simple Mobile operates on T-Mobile’s networks.) On Sunday, while out shopping, I needed to make a call to confirm some items on my shopping list, and the call dropped. Two attempts to call back failed; the call would drop within a few seconds of the ring tones, and the person I had been speaking with was only able to get to voice mail. I again noticed that the internet connection indicators were flickering at best, more frequently than not, the phone was indicating no service at all.

When I got home, I decided to try a live chat with Simple Mobile’s technical support department to see if there was a local problem. Although it’s rare, cell phone networks do occasionally have outages that could be caused by any number of things. The representative that I was chatting with confirmed that there were outages in several other states, but that there were none in Michigan at the time. Initially, the chat was courteous enough that I wasn’t particularly bothered by he implication that it was either a network capacity problem or a problem with my phone. Perhaps my phone needed to be restarted, I decided. The rep asked for a moment while he took a look at something; I have no idea what he might have been looking at because about 30 seconds later, he sent a canned answer that suggested that the problem was either network capacity at the time, my phone, or that there could be a problem with my service plan and that I should contact customer service. Before I could even read through the text, the rep left the chat so I didn’t even have the opportunity to ask any additional questions or provide any more information after I restarted my phone.

Being a technical support representative myself, I cut the guy some slack, didn’t get pissed off, and just restarted my phone, seeing that the problem didn’t go away. I decided that I would give it another day or two to see if the problem corrects itself, and kept an eye on my phone for the next 36 hours without complaint.

This morning, Tuesday, October 7, 2014, when the problem still wasn’t resolved, I called Simple Mobile to get some assistance *AFTER* going through the Simple Mobile Programming Guide and configuring the APN as instructed, just in case. My last attempt at fixing the issue myself failed, and I advised the telephone rep of the situation and that I had attempted to reprogram the APN without success. Despite my own impatience and hatred of following a scripted procedure to troubleshoot and fix technical problems, I listened to what she told me to do, and performed the steps as she requested them.  As my Nexus 5 is on Android 4.4.4 and the Simple Mobile instructions only cover up to Android 4.2, there were some minor differences in labeling of menu items, but we got through them, and I presume I was giving her the correct responses, even though my service continued to not function properly. Finally, it got to a point where she sent some commands to my phone, telling me that they should come in as SMS messages with instructions.

The problem is, as I originally mentioned, my SMS messages aren’t working 100% properly; I didn’t receive the first message or the second when she resent it. When I informed her that I still didn’t receive them, she grew a bit frustrated and told me that I should put my SIM in another phone to see if it works, and/or to buy a new SIM and have my service and number transferred over to it. She was completely out of troubleshooting steps and advice.

As I had loaned my Nexus 4 to a family member to see if she wanted to move into a smartphone (she’s been a hold-out for years), it was unavailable for me to test with, so I followed the latter advice and purchased a new SIM, and called to have my service moved over to it.

In the 5 hours since purchasing and activating that new SIM, I’ve continued to experience the exact same problem, even after turning the phone off and on multiple times, and checking the settings repeatedly. So, problem solved? It’s my Nexus 5, right? Wrong. A short time ago, I caught up with that family member and put the new SIM into the Nexus 4 and got the exact same thing with it: although the Nexus 4 doesn’t support LTE, it does support HSPA+ 4G, 3G, and 2G service, so if the SIM and service were in perfect condition, I should have had internet service on it even if the Nexus 5 was damaged. But I didn’t. This means that both phones are in proper working order; the problem is with either the SIMs, or more likely, the service.

Now, considering that I have ruled out the phone and the SIM (by purchasing a new SIM and getting the same result), I need Simple Mobile to get this fixed. I need answers, people. I’ve been patient, I’ve been open, and I need a working phone. If I can’t get that from Simple Mobile, and I really do want to stick with Simple, then I’m going to have to move on to another service, possibly back into a contract service. If I have to move on, Simple, I’m going to need a refund of the $53 dollars or so I paid last week for my service.

The ball is in your court, Simple Mobile. I’m following @SimpleMobile on Twitter, so send me a direct message if you’re interested in helping get this resolved,  AND SOON.

End of the Story (November 1, 2014):

Roughly two weeks ago, I called their tech support line yet again after calling them out on Twitter met with limited success. I got their attention enough to get a tech to pay more attention to my situation than they previously had, and the guy determined that there was “something” suspended on my account and he was going to email his supervisor about it and I should hear back within 24-48 hours, the same fucking thing I’d been told again and again. I said “fine,” and when I got done with the call, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about this whole situation. The 48 hour window elapsed without so much as a call and I called back again, and got the same party line, but this time I had additional information for them… I’ve had a mobile hotspot since roughly May of this year, and I used my original SIM that I experimented with Simple Mobile with it; I paid for 30 days worth of service on it, and confirmed that it was getting internet service, then I put that SIM in my phone. Voila! Internet access, though it was the wrong phone number, so I couldn’t just leave it that way. So when I told them about that, I again got the 24-48 hour party answer. After that period went by, I received a call from a woman named Heather stating that she’d received my BBB complaint and would be handling the situation; I responded to her voice mail with one of my own, giving her all the various tracking numbers  I’d been assigned.

I can’t say that she snapped her fingers and made the whole thing go away, though I also don’t want to say she was completely ineffective. The next day, while going through the troubleshooting procedures *YET AGAIN*, she decided that based on her information that the APN MMSC as seen on the Simple Mobile Phone Programming page was incorrect; her information listed “http://smpl.mms.msg.eng.t-mob…” (ellipsis included) as the URL, which I advised her appeared to be incomplete, but she insisted that it was correct. Because I was too irritated by the whole situation to argue, I complied and updated the MMSC to that and rebooted my phone. Suddenly, I had internet access on my phone again. Now, before you go changing your MMSC to match that, be aware that she had also had her people and the carrier digging into the situation again, and they were supposedly resetting things and sending signals to my phone. As you’ll see, it’s probably not the MMSC change that got things working. While I had LTE, 3G, and 2G internet on my phone again, my SMS and MMS messages weren’t working , and she and I decided that it might just be too soon after making the MMSC setting change (and other things going on) for it to have started working completely, so we decided to leave the BBB ticket open until this past Monday to see how things went.

Last Saturday, after still not being able to send or receive SMS and MMS messages, I received an email from Heather indicating that I was correct, the MMSC URL that she gave me was wrong, and the documentation throughout Simple Mobile’s site and Android app showed the correct MMSC. I immediately set the correct URL again and returned my “APN Type” field back to the setting I’d had it on since I switched to Simple Mobile: “default,supl,mms,admin”.  Suddenly, everything started working perfectly. So in summary, my phone’s configuration was right back to what it started out as when this whole situation began, and my service was once again working. So I told her as much.

I have just accepted the resolution of this matter with the BBB indicating that as long as the extension of my service is honored and this does not reoccur.

A Possible Sequel?

That remains to be seen. The bottom line is I switched to Simple Mobile to get the hell away from the carrier’s contracts, but at the same time, this kind of support makes me want to go running back to them. My last few cellphones have all been in the Google Nexus series, which just started doing pre-orders on the Nexus 6. As I intend to get that phone, I’m currently weighing spending $650-$700 for the unlocked phone, which is an exceptionally high cost for me, or going back to the carriers where I can probably get it for about $200 or so for a two year contract. If I do go back with the carriers, it’ll probably be with T-Mobile… I have no desire to go back to Verizon after the bullshit they pulled with the Galaxy Nexus, I don’t like AT&T, and I like the idea of GSM service enough to eliminate Sprint. I have issues with T-Mobile, but they seem to be the best option at this point… But we’ll see what happens later this month (November), and I’ll make my decision then.

Contrast…


It’s been a little while since I last made a blog post, anywhere, let alone here… It’s now 2014, and much has once again changed in the world. Detroit has entered bankruptcy, Iran is playing nice (for the moment at least), the economy has picked up… Of course, there are so many things that haven’t changed that I’m not even going to name a few… But what’s surprised me the most is a little game I never heard of before seeing a demo video of it running on a PlayStation 4 kiosk at a Game Stop in Port Huron back at the start of December… A game called Contrast.

The basic premise of the game is that the main character, Dawn, must use her ability to slip in and out of the shadows literally to solve puzzles and circumvent obstacles.Though that’s interesting enough in its own right, the reason behind her actions is a little, sometimes painfully annoying, girl named Didi.

Didi’s sole purpose in life seems to make you do stuff that makes her life better, and Dawn is always willing to comply. So, no, this isn’t a free will open world game but there are frequently multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. There’s also a series of sub-missions that involve memories played out as shadows on building walls, these shadows, when you become one, allow you to reach not so hidden but otherwise inaccessible collectibles called luminaries. The main reason to collect the luminaries is the sake of collecting them, however they are also used to power some devices in the game as well. All of those devices are necessary to manipulate shadows that will enable you to accomplish tasks and solve puzzles, but never fear: if you can’t do some of the memory wall puzzles, there’s usually enough luminaries that are easily obtained for you to continue moving forward.

Aside from some of the shadow puppet theater, there’s no actual violence in the game which makes a nice change of pace from many other games that use a 3d environment. Didi’s story is very much the focal point of the game, and it’s a very engrossing one at that. There’s a lot going on with just her family, but as interesting as it is, it doesn’t mask the question you’ll start asking from the very beginning… “Why…?”

I’m not going to state the full question, despite my normal spoiler heavy posts, because I admire and respect the game enough to keep my trap shut. But trust me, it’s an obvious and simple question, for which you only get close to having an answer for towards the end of the game. Still, the pieces of that proverbial puzzle are there for you to solve to your own mental satisfaction. But the highlights of the game for me are all of the little touches in the game honoring cultural icons, the dialog which occasionally have pauses that completely change the contextual meaning of what’s being said, and the overall film noir look and feel of the game.

Forgive the pun but I don’t know what compulsion the team felt to develop this game, but personally, I’d put it down as the second best game of 2013, which is really amazing for a core team of seven people. Not that I am any authority of anything in any field, but the only game to surpass it last year was Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us”. Whole I’m a huge fan of their games and stories, the only reason I’m giving them the victory over Contrast is the length of the game. Not that Contrast is a particularly short game, it can indeed be completely experienced (I’d hate to say “beaten”) in just a couple hours, but “The Last of Us” has a lengthy, very involving story. Both games are great in my opinion, and I enjoyed both in different ways; TLoU got my heart pumping, but Contrast, to put it mildly, was fun. As much as I love the former, it was rarely a game that could be considered fun, it was a tense, drama filled experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well that about concludes my spiel on Contrast, but I do want to say that if you have a PS4, get this game! You should be able to get it for free at this point in time, I don’t think you even have to be a PlayStation+ member. But even if you do have to pay for it, I feel you could do a lot worse for your money. There are some bugs in the game but those will get worked out with time.

There’s a bit more information at the PlayStation Blog about Contrast that you might find interesting, and if you don’t have our want a PS4, you can also buy it on PC through Steam.

Jedi Ruined Star Wars? WTF?!?!


I’m writing this post in response to a few of my fellow Cinema Studies majors wrote about on Facebook, How “Return of the Jedi” Ruined “Star Wars” Forever; forgive me for ranting and responding as if I was continuing an already in-progress conversation, because I am. As always, this is my two cents.

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Random Friday Morning Rant


There are two issues on my mind this morning, one of importance to a large number of people, one probably not nearly as many. Well, maybe not in the same way. The big thing on my mind is that there are protesters tying up Detroit’s freeways to complain about the appointment of an emergency financial manager to run the city. The other one, by comparison, is tiny: a few people lost their jobs at LucasArts; although it’s not nearly as important, it does affect a lot of people directly and indirectly. Nonetheless, let’s take these issues in order of magnitude as I see them…

If you’re not familiar with Detroit’s financial struggles, I’ll summarize it by saying there were a number of years after Mayor Dennis Archer left office that were filled with extraordinarily wasteful spending and mismanagement, that combined with the decreasing population, crime, and occasionally hostile relationship with the surrounding communities and state in general led to today’s current financial crisis. The economy tanking didn’t help either. Once mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign and went to prison, we were hopeful the city would get better. The interim mayor, Ken Cockrel, Jr, honestly wanted to make a difference, but when he lost the regular term election, he resigned himself to just muddling through like the rest of the city council. When the city didn’t elect him mayor, he basically gave up any hope of improving the city. So as Dave Bing took office, he chose not to do anything to either help or hinder the new administration, and the new administration could certainly have used a lot of help.

Before I go any further, let me state flat out that I believe in democracy. I believe that no one has the right to take away our right to vote and effect changes through the democratic process. I think that Rick Snyder’s emergency manager laws and just about everything he’s done since taking office as Michigan’s governor have been to the detriment of the state of Michigan, and especially to the city of Detroit. So you can clearly understand, I don’t want an emergency financial manager in my city. That said, I don’t want the current mayor or city council either.

In the five years that I’ve been back in Michigan, the mayor’s office and city council, regardless of administration and individuals in office, have proven not only to be inept as managers of the city’s finances, but incompetent in terms of running the city and protecting its citizens. Every time they’ve had the opportunity to make a positive difference for the city, they’ve failed to do so. At every opportunity to protect the citizens of Detroit, they’ve failed to act. Whenever there was opportunity to hire police and fire personnel, they’ve chosen to cut their pay, stretch their hours, and put the blame on them for the city’s inability to meet its financial obligations. Mind you, both of those departments have taken at least two or three 10% pay cuts since I’ve been back in Detroit, not to mention cuts to their pension, health insurance and forcing the employees to pay more of their health insurance costs, eliminating overtime, mandatory furloughs, and more. Yet the city council and mayor get driven around in city owned vehicles, have full time police officers guarding them, and make more money a year than probably any five officers on the streets.

The only things that the mayor and city council have excelled at are mismanagement, inaction, and the inability to set aside personal views and bullshit to do what’s in the best interests of the city and its citizens.

But I still don’t want an emergency financial manager. Frankly, the state owes the city several hundred million dollars, and Snyder is constantly dangling a carrot in front of the city’s leaders in order to get his way. It’s really a shame that the city’s leaders were too busy fighting each other to see that. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have worked together when they still had a legal ability to run the city to fix the problems or at least work together long enough to prevent Snyder’s coup de tat.

But you know what I really hate? I hate that there are idiots out there, protesting the emergency financial manager situation, by inconveniencing the people of the city of Detroit by slowing down and halting traffic on the freeways. They claim it’s raising awareness. Where the fuck have you been if you don’t know that Detroit has been in a financial emergency and that the fucking governor has overthrown this democracy? May God forgive me for this, but every GOD DAMNED CITIZEN IN AND AROUND THIS CITY KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON, and fucking up traffic for everyone isn’t going to help the fucking situation! Did you learn NOTHING from the Detroit New/Detroit Free Press strike in the 90s when they tried the same fucking thing?  Those News and Free Press employees had everyone’s sympathies until they started fucking with the traffic in the exact same way you morons have been doing. You know what happened? The strike fizzled out because they pissed the rest of us the fuck off! What the fuck do you think is going to happen this time? You’re going to lose any sympathy you might have otherwise gained by making people late to work, miss their planes, and otherwise inconveniencing them. Do protests the traditional way or the modern way. The Arab Spring was started as a series of social network posts; are you idiots so backwards and dumb that you can’t match what those souls overseas did? Fuck! Get a fucking clue already!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have barely left my house in the last week because of work so these “protests” haven’t affected me in the least, but if you’re going to protest, you should do it the right way. You don’t want to piss off the people you’re trying to rally.

Gahhhh!!!

I almost don’t even want to talk about the other subject now… But I will because I feel the need to talk about it…

Earlier this week, I read an article that stated that Disney is closing LucasArts games. I think this is tragic for multiple reasons. Perhaps the most important of these reasons are the employees themselves, who now have to find and secure new employment to support their families in an already tough job market. I wish them all the best of luck. If you have some time on your hands and can afford to not get paid for a while, a friend (who works in the game industry as you do) and I might have some ideas if you want to work together…

But my personal spiel on the issue is that right as the company was free from Lucas’ iron grip for the first time in its history, just as its chains fell away so that it may pursue its own destiny, Disney put a bullet into the back of its head.

I admit it. LucasArts hasn’t been what it once was for a very long time. I believe I made a serious rant about Star Wars The Force Unleashed already. I can’t seem to find it, but I’ll say this about the game: it’s heart was in the right place, but it was a horrific failure in many respects. LucasArts outsourced much of the work to other companies, typically those that were more familiar with one platform or another, but the basic fact of the matter is that the story was strained at best, there were numerous graphical issues, and I beat a Jedi master (boss) on one level because she fell off a platform and I didn’t early in the fight. I stood there waiting for about 5 minutes for the fight to continue, but she never returned and eventually timed out. Yes, that’s a win for the 3 physics engines, but it’s shit game play.

But when I think about LucasArts, I don’t think about the more modern games that it put out. I think about The Dig, Sam and Max, Full Throttle, Monkey Island, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and a whole slew of games from that era. I think about the imaginative forces that went into creating something that wasn’t necessarily visually stunning, but was engaging and endlessly fascinating. I think about the creative staff and minds that came up with those games, and I wonder what the hell happened over the last decade or so.

Then I think about everything George Lucas has done over the last 17 years or so, and I have my answer. George was a visionary. He was extraordinarily creative, and I love what he created. I hope my own work is one day as loved. But between becoming a businessman and a father, he lost that spark. I have no way of knowing, naturally, but I suspect that the offices of LucasFilm and LucasArts were filled with people that wanted to stand up to him on a lot of issues in a lot of the products they’ve released in those 17 years, but were powerless to do a damned thing about it. I think I mentioned that before. But with the sale of LucasFilm, LucasArts, and so on to Disney, there was a glimmer of hope that these talented individuals could have branched out and done something new. They had the hope of bringing something fresh into the Star Wars universe and perhaps fresh new universes altogether. There was so much potential that had just been unchained… But it’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.

I hear that some of what they were working on might still see the light of day. I hear that some employees will be merged into other divisions. But I think the best thing that could have happened is no longer a possibility. It’s very difficult to bring together a team of talented individuals in the best of circumstances. Given the prestige of LucasArts, the pressure of of working with an outstanding legacy, and having to generally bastardize a lot of the things they idolized growing up… One could hardly say that working at LucasArts with Mr. Lucas himself in charge and overseeing everything was the “best” of circumstances… Yet without Lucas there… They had potential again. They could have branched out and explored other avenues. Done things differently for the sake of doing things differently. But that’s gone now. In the blink of an eye.

A Good Weekend for Television


No, I didn’t watch The Walking Dead. Frankly, I was impressed with the one or two episodes I saw, but it isn’t my show. I more or less gave up on the undead when they started twinkling in the sunlight… Not that I even want to hint that TWD zombies do, but I stopped caring about the whole genre or movement at that point.

What I am talking about are the other two major players, a couple of other [dark] dra-medies, and one hell of a twist in a favorite of mine, that blew me the hell away.

Lets start with the obvious: two shows this weekend hard their season premieres… In chronological order, no pun intended, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. Lets not kid ourselves, these were probably the two most anticipated shows on television this weekend, and frankly I don’t think either one disappointed. Mind you, I don’t think either one impressed me or made my jaw drop, but they were pretty damned good. I won’t talk about either show because I probably would literally receive death threats over the lack of spoiler warnings for either or both, even though my average readership is about 5 people per month, and I personally know 4 of them… Still, I’m pleased with the Doctor & Oswin, and she’s gotten hotter since her previous two appearances. On Thrones, I barely recognized some of the key characters I love (and one I despise though it’s not the actress’ fault) because they gained weight since last season, and I was pleased that a character survived a seemingly imminent death though it wasn’t explained how… I could have stood to have seen my favorite characters a bit more in the episode (one of which I don’t think was seen at all) but I have nothing negative to say at all about it.

Don Cheadle and House of Lies continue to impress me, though I really do miss the fourth wall breeches from the first season!! There have been some, and more importantly, there have been some looks that Don has given the camera that have been priceless, but I admit that I’m feeling a little disappointed that the lightheartedness in the face of the serious situations the characters were going through last season isn’t quite there… There are some serious issues going on with them, and it’s undoubtedly going to come to a head in the season finale, which I believe is next week, but that spark has been missing this season… I believe I heard it got picked up for another season, and I’d hate to see it go, but if that spark doesn’t return I’m not sure viewers like myself will…

Californication… Well, needless to say I continue to wish I was Hank Moody… That’s all I’m going to say about the show.

So that brings me to the show that most impressed me this weekend. Strictly speaking, it’s out of chronological order in terms of air time, but I did watch it last, so my timing counts. When I realized that this weekend was going to be the season premieres of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, I immediately decided that there was no way in hell I was going to miss the first run of the new episode of Thrones, and I set this surprising show aside, deciding I’d either watch it at its encore time or later in the week. While I’m not sorry I watched Thrones, I really wish I had been able to watch both it and Shameless at the exact same time, so that I could’ve watch Shameless again during the encore presentation.

Ever since I watched Shameless when it debuted on Showtime a couple years ago, I enjoyed it. I thought it showed a beautiful little cross section of the fucked up realities of this world and a family doing what was necessary to survive. I’ve loved the cast since minute one episode one, and while I concede that the second season didn’t feel as good as the first, and this third season at times has been as much a struggle for me as it has been for the characters, I still watched it regularly, and pulled for the characters.

I said no spoiler warnings on this site, and I’m keeping to it, but I will tell you honestly, watch this fucking episode if you can, even if you don’t regularly watch.

To give you a quick series summary and briefer, Fiona Gallagher takes care of her younger siblings because her alcoholic drug addict father neglects and steals from them and her equally fucked up mother is mostly absent from the series. The family has a knack for petty crime and theft, selling drugs, and doing other crimes more or less to survive, and they have a knack for not getting caught and avoiding serious punishment when they do. The second oldest child is Lip a brilliant high school student resigned to play the role of a streetwise criminal and following mostly in Fiona’s footsteps, making his family his priority in his life over all other things, though he is caught between his love for a pain in the ass slut that recently returned to Chicago that he thought he was over and a psychotic girl that literally tried to kill the rival for Lip’s affections by running her over. Just a little younger than Lip is Ian, who is in love with Lip’s psycho girlfriend’s brother and the idea of being in the military. Ian is just as focused on the family as Lip and Fiona, but takes a more practical approach to most things except the men he cares about, in which case he chooses the hopeless romantic routes. Carl and Debbie are the comic relief pre-teens and exact opposites of one another: Carl isn’t very bright and is constantly getting into trouble, Debbie is smart, a little mischievous but otherwise a good kid if a bit naive. Then there’s Liam, the baby brother that proves that the Gallagher bloodline is a little more colorful than people would expect… Fiona has a boyfriend Jimmy that used to go by the name of Steve while he was being a car thief. His secret problem this season is that he’s married to a druglord’s daughter and was trying to help her get her green card. I’ll discuss this situation more in a moment. The family’s best friends are Kevin and Veronica, neighbors from a couple houses down the street. They may as well be blood relatives, because they couldn’t be any more family otherwise.

Then there’s Frank, the patriarch. Frank, honestly, is the asshole that has somehow wormed his way into my heart as a viewer and time and again, as evidenced by the pained expressions on everyone’s faces on the show, found a way to abuse just about every major and minor character on the show in some way, shape, or form, and yet remains popular and likable enough that no one has killed him yet, but no one is ever happy to see him. He’s played masterfully by William H. Macy. If I ever write a movie about my dad, I want Macy playing him, even though there is a slight racial difference… Frank has done many, many, many terrible things to his family in the course of this show, including calling child protective services on them to get back at Fiona for kicking him out of the house. There are many reasons to completely hate him, but you find yourself drawn to him, and I think that’s a testament to Macy’s performances. And because Frank was the most surprising element of tonight’s episode, I’ll come back to him…

Back to Jimmy… Jimmy is from a well to do Chicago family, had gone to the University of Michigan Medical School, and somehow became a car thief in Chicago when we meet him in the first season. Fiona had the opportunity to run away with him at the end of the first season, but chose her family over him, and he left. When he returns in the second season, we discover that he’s married to a woman but we don’t know much about her or why, we just know that while she likes him and in particular to have sex with him, that neither one is particularly interested in their marriage. This year, we find out that it was arranged by the druglord to allow his daughter to have an education in the United States and get a green card. All season, we’ve felt bad for Jimmy because he’s caught in this terrible situation: he can’t dump his wife and be with Fiona, the woman he loves, because his father-in-law would have no qualms in killing him. He loves Fiona and wants to be with her, but he can’t tell her about his wife. He struggles to help make ends meet, but at just about every turn he’s essentially getting kicked in the balls by life. And now, it looks like Jimmy is about to go away permanently, because his wife got deported and her father was none too pleased.

That was big enough on its own.

That could have made this episode all by itself.

But it’s not the highlight of tonight’s episode. Hell, it’s barely a side show by comparison.

Tonight, we got to see that Frank actually does give a damn about his kids, at least to some extent. Although it was purely selfish, he caught up with Carl on his way to school and asked to see if he could stay the night at the house, and Carl said yes. Mind you that Frank convinced Carl earlier in the season that he had terminal cancer so that he could somehow score money and possibly a signed basketball from the Chicago Bulls, though none of that panned out. Carl, not being the brightest of the Gallagher children, still hasn’t figured out that it was a scam that Frank pulled. But Frank and Carl got to talking later that night about how Frank’s father had pulled a heist with him when he was Carl’s age, and Carl liked the idea enough that he proposed that they rob the couple that had taken him in for a few days or weeks as foster parents. (Let’s just say that Carl wasn’t happy to be there.) They go and do the heist, and appear to have gotten away scott-free, and Carl is very pleased with himself and his budding relationship with his father.

That is, until, the police show up in the final minutes and are carting him off to jail. Lip and Ian try to defend their little brother and get the police to leave him alone, but it’s Frank that wakes up and willingly and happily takes the blame for the theft, swearing that Carl didn’t have the brains to tie his shoes, that gets the kid freed and yells encouragement to the boy as the police drive off down the street.

Needless to say, Lip and Ian were just about as stunned and shocked as I was over it. To quote Lip, “hell just froze over.”

I love Doctor Who. I love Game of Thrones. I enjoy the hell out of House of Lies and Californication. But tonight, maybe even this weekend, belonged to Shameless! A great fucking weekend for television, but Shameless made me write this post.

STO Expansion: What the hell?


I’ve complained about Star Trek Online before, so this won’t surprise you too much.  I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment from STO so I’m not devastated about the limits that have been imposed on my characters for the last the years. There has been a steady flow of new content for the last two years so I haven’t had much to complain about because there was frequently something new to do.
Then a few weeks ago, they started hinting at something big coming in May. The rumor sites were predicting that this would be a large new featured episode, but instead Cryptic/Perfect World announced the first expansion for the game. The biggest thing that is being added to the game in the expansion is something that has been rumored to be in the works for years, since the beginning in fact: the addition of a third faction lead by the Romulans.
That’s great and all, but something significant is missing: there’s no level call increase.
I know that I’m probably overstating this issue, but my main character has been level 50 since June 2010. There’s been no way to really increase my character’s abilities since then, though I’ve been able to get new ships, weapons, equipment and personnel. My character is effectively stagnant, and that has had a major impact on my desire to play the game. Sure there’s plenty to do but it’s all busy work or repetition if I do it on one of my other characters. The only hope for advancement and intrigue is on the Klingon faction which I have barely used. So I’ll have another option with the Romulans. But once I hit level 50, I’m stuck again.
There’s been no level cap increase that I’m aware of since the game left beta shortly before it was released. Why not? I don’t have a clue. Blizzard has increased the level call in World of Warcraft multiple times, sometimes by 10 levels, others by 5, but they realize the importance of character advancement to retaining player interest. EA/Bioware even sees the importance of character advancement to Star Wars: The Old Republic with their first expansion pack, advancing a modest 5 levels, but at least it’s there.
The failure to increase the level cap leaves me speechless. Perhaps the game was never designed to go past level 50. I’ve heard of games where critical problems would occur if the character exceeded a certain level, because math was foolishly based on the level or an algorithm depended on a lookup table that was only extended to a certain point. One of my favorite games of all time had such a flaw: SSI’s classic gold box D&D game Curse of the Azure Bonds. Of course that game is nearly 30 years old now, but maybe increasing the cap would break the already seriously strained and tenuous connection that the two game engines in STO already struggle to view with. Maybe not.
I just can’t believe that they would think that adding new content alone would be something to keep longtime and lifetime members interested in the game. After all, they’ve been giving us new content on a regular basis for years. Why would we get excited over something we’ve expected for years in light of the regular content updates. Let us advance, keep the Romulans for all I care.

Working & Working on a New Site


Hi folks,

You may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve been quiet lately. I haven’t made any posts in weeks, and I haven’t exactly been around on the web anywhere else either. The primary reason is that I’m now working at my hosting provider, A2 Hosting. I loved their service so much, I joined the company! Any how, I’ve had less time to do everything else.

However, that hasn’t stopped me from working on a pet project, that I’m calling Toxyc.net, located, quite obviously, at http://www.toxyc.net . The name has nothing to do with what the site is for — honestly, it was a domain name that I thought was cool and had intended for another purpose, but I’ve now abandoned that other project, so why waste a perfectly good name…? The site is still very much under development, so right now there’s only the index page over there, which will allow you to pre-register for the site. What the site will be is fairly simple: it will be a place for writers to post writing prompts and challenge themselves by writing responses to writing prompts. It will allow writers to build a community with each other and a little friendly competition to hone our skills. The funny thing about writers is that we all want to be a part of a community, but we’re solitary by nature. We want to be hailed as geniuses, but we often are too shy to share our work. I hope  Toxyc.net will help change that for us.

Any how, I still have a lot of work left to do, but the major pieces of the underlying engine are done, I just need to assemble them and check for any leaks. (Obligatory auto mechanic metaphor since I am from Detroit.) If you’re interested, go sign up! If not, well, thanks for reading this far.

PlayStation 4 Announced!


So the currently least well kept secret in the gaming industry has been unleashed, the Sony announced the PlayStation 4 this evening. You know what? I’m not completely blown away. I’m satisfied, mind you, and I’m looking forward to owning a PS4, but I’m not blown away by anything that was demoed tonight. Well… Maybe Killzone: Shadow Fall… but then, I’m a Killzone addict.

Frankly, I liked what I saw for the most part, and I think this is going to be a fun and interesting system to own. I have little to complain about the PS4 itself. It’s using an x86 processor, in all likelihood, one of AMD’s Trinity APUs since the term APU was thrown around repeatedly and they, frankly, are about the only game in town when it comes to an APU. Connected with that, by extension, will be an AMD Radeon based GPU in all likelihood, which will allow graphics performance to be improved via Radeon’s hybrid Crossfire X technology. Undoubtedly these will be customized processors, designed specifically for the PS4 and not commercially available, but ultimately, as Sony stated, this will be basically a PC machine. I’m both pleased and disappointed by that… The Cell architecture was really advanced and I think another generation of it in a game system probably have blown us all away with its processing capability, but then as was pointed out several times this evening, the complexity of developing for it has been getting in the way of PS3 development. Similarly, it’s an acknowledgment that at some point, I could put together a machine with similar or better specs, and perhaps find a way to get PS4 titles to run on my desktop… Not what they want, obviously, but possible… However, by using mostly off the shelf components, it’ll drive the cost of the machine down tremendously; I paid $500 for my PS3, and I don’t regret it, but if I can pay $300 or less for my PS4, I’ll be hysterically happy…

Of course, the long standing rumor is that the next Xbox will also be based around an x86 processor, and has even been rumored to use Radeon GPUs as well… I suppose you could say that the day of the consoles is over, despite the constant proclamations that PC gaming is dead [thanks to the consoles]. Even with Valve’s upcoming Steam box, it’s little more than a PC running Linux… Ultimately, it’s very interesting to see that the PS4 and Xbox could literally be kissing cousins, and I wonder how long it’ll take the hacker community to figure out how to get a PS4 up and running on a next generation Xbox’s OS and vice versa, possibly to multi-boot the operating systems and have one console to rule them all… The advantage of exotic hardware is difficulty in bootstrapping it and then getting a compatible OS to run on it, or developing such an OS… PC hardware… well, let’s just say that the hardware is extraordinarily well known, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone running Linux on the PS4 or next-gen Xbox on release day.

As for the rest of the announced specs for the PS4, they’re interesting… Though it’s also interesting what wasn’t announced in those specs. So we know we’re getting 8 GB GDDR5 RAM, which should give developers lots of memory to play with. A constant criticism of Sony’s consoles over the last 13 years has been the limited amount of memory they have. 8 GB goes well past the rumors I heard just today; this morning I read that it would have 4 GB RAM. Still, 8 GB seems like a lot, and it might be enough to last a long time, but one of the complaints I’ve seen about x86 hardware is that it typically requires more RAM for some things, not to mention that there’s still that legacy memory hole between 640k and 1 MB. Not that that’s very big or important these days, but it may have been more advantageous to include 16 GB RAM rather than just 8. Back in the days of the PowerPC Macintoshes, many applications running on the Mac required and used less RAM than the PC version of the same application. Maybe it was MacOS versus Windows, or big-endian versus little-endian. I don’t know. But this may be an issue.

As I mentioned, it’s curious what wasn’t mentioned in the specs of the PS4, though there may be good reason for that. We can assume it will have a Blu-Ray player, but it wasn’t discussed. There was no mention of network connectivity besides the fact that we know it will connect to the internet. Will it still have an traditional ethernet port? Or will it be wifi only? What wifi standards will it support with 802.11AC coming up soon? We know the current PS Move controller will work with it, but will Dual Shock 3 controllers? Does it even have Bluetooth, or did it go with a proprietary wireless technology like Microsoft did with the Xbox 360? It has a hard drive, but what size? Will the hard drive be removable and user upgradable? Will it have USB ports, and if so how many? Will games be encouraged to allow keyboard and mouse where applicable, such as in a MMORPG or certain FPS games that have a history on the PC? It’s not going to be directly backwards compatible with the PS3, but they stated that you would some how be able to play PS3 (and earlier) games eventually, possibly through Gaikai technology… Will that be free? Will I have to mail in my PS3 games to play them on the PS4?

There are lots of unanswered questions, though I think a lot of them were deliberately left nebulous for two reasons. The first and most important reason is so that Sony has some flexibility in adjusting the final specs before the console goes into mass production, in order to maximize profit (or at least minimize initial loss), without being accused of scaling back the features and power prior to release. That’s why we didn’t hear an official gigahertz speed being bandied about, and I, personally, didn’t hear anything about an 8 core processor being used even though that’s the top raging rumor at this point. As hard drive prices fluctuate, APU and GPU processor production yields vary, and whether or not 802.11AC gets made into an official standard or not, Sony can take its time and evaluate which combination of technologies will go into the final production version of the PS4, and they can determine a suggested retail price for when the release actually occurs, all without taking fire. Well, any more fire than they probably already will for moving away from Cell. (I should note, however, that IBM, the primary producer of the Cell processor in collaboration with Sony pretty much stopped active development of the technology some time ago, so the best we’d have gotten would have been perhaps a multi Cell processor game system or one with a souped up clock speed; not necessarily a better processor or better technology.)  I suspect the second major reason that we haven’t gotten an official announcement about all those things left unsaid about the PS4 is that Sony didn’t want to reveal any more information than necessary considering that we all know Microsoft’s Xbox division was sitting there watching this announcement (despite their proclamations that no one cared what was happening tonight).

I’d say there’s about an 80% chance that there was a product development meeting going on at Microsoft at the same time as and extending for several hours after the PS4 announcement this evening. Microsoft wants to make people think that it doesn’t care. Microsoft needs to believe that they know their new console will be so much better than Sony’s that they don’t need to lose any sleep over it. The fact of the matter is that they are losing sleep over it, just like Sony’s been losing sleep over theirs. It’s been a game of one-upmanship; always has been, always will be. Except that Sony didn’t quite do as good a job in the last generation as they should have. In my opinion, the PS3 was and still is superior to the Xbox 360, however it’s not as superior as it should’ve been for a console that came out a year later. They lost the initiative and as a result trailed the 360 for pretty much the entirety of the life-cycle of the generation. I still think that PS3 exclusive games look and play better than Xbox 360 exclusive games, but with the added development complexity and the fact the cross/multi platform games consistently look and play worse on the PS3 than the 360, I have to concede that Sony lost out. I also think that Sony failed to deliver in that generation with some of the features they promised would come along… Take cross-game chat, for instance… It was mentioned as coming soon as far back as 2008.  When PlayStation+ came along, it was stated that you’d be able to initiate a cross game chat as a subscriber, but it still hasn’t come to pass. Hell, the option to take screenshots was added to the PS3 firmware years ago, but most games don’t support that at all… And it’s things like that gave and gives the 360 the momentum and Microsoft the bragging rights in terms of popularity. As owner of both a 360 and a PS3, I’ll tell you that my 360 is extremely dusty and rarely used. I’ve never experienced a red ring of death because I haven’t used it sufficiently for it to happen. I hated the crappy headset that came with it, and the cable broke, forcing me to buy the crappy wireless headset that will only work with my 360. I HATE having to pay a subscription fee to play games with my friends online… But at least it came with a headset, my PS3 didn’t. I initially used a USB one I already had, then got the official PS3 Bluetooth headset which I’m currently also using with my cellphone. On the other hand, I had to buy a battery for the 360’s controller in order to use it wirelessly; at least the PS3 controllers have built-in rechargeable batteries which don’t get a memory nearly as fast as the expensive 360 batteries do. (The one and only battery I bought for the 360 became useless within months of buying the system. My PS3 controllers’ batteries are still going strong, and I’ve had them longer.) Yes, my PS3 is a little more dusty than it used to be, but that’s because I’ve been doing a hefty amount of writing, PC gaming, and reading as of late, but whenever I get the Netflix urge, or the desire to blow something away, it gets powered up immediately.

I love my PS3, and in the Sony-Microsoft war, I favor Sony. But in the last generation, they came second. PS3 was considered second for development of titles, and inferior products were often produced. I have to admit that.  I think that Sony announcing the PS3 so far ahead of even E3 is an attempt to gain the upper-hand this time around, and despite Microsoft’s outward indifference, they’re probably very concerned about what they saw tonight. Of course, Microsoft as a long history of assimilation that Sony probably didn’t take into consideration… Microsoft many times in the past has either bought out rival technologies and incorporated them into their own product, or just incorporated the features claiming to have had them all along. I think the only time they didn’t follow that pattern was with the Xbox 360 with the HD-DVD technology versus Blu-Ray. Now, I’m not going to reopen old wounds, but Microsoft had a huge stake in that fight and lost, and though they phased out the HD-DVD external drive for the 360, they never admitted defeat by producing a Blu-Ray drive for it. They would claim that the Xbox didn’t need it, or it didn’t fit within their platform design, personally, I think they were just holding a grudge and refused to swallow their pride. At the very least, I think they have to include it with the next Xbox just to stay relevant… After all, Nintendo didn’t and their Wii-U is looked upon as even more of a toy than the original Wii was now; they put themselves out of contention for the dominant next generation platforms.

Any how, getting back to tonight’s announcements, I think the biggest disappointment for me was the Square Enix “announcement.” They basically got on stage, got screen time, and showed a demo that I swear they were showing a couple years ago. The Luminous game engine demo they showed was showcased at a prior time… It may have been last year’s E3, it might have been earlier, as I believe it was. I know it’s old, because I recognized it as soon as it started playing, and as an industry outsider, it’s impossible for me to have seen it running on the PS4 before tonight. But it was not something that was cooked up to demonstrate the PS4’s power, and I don’t know why they were allowed to claim as much. Unless, of course, when it debuted previously it was running on a PS4, but some how I doubt that. As a result I thought their announcement was pathetic and sad, especially when they then teased a Final Fantasy announcement at E3. As a friend of mine said during the presentation, “If it’s not a FF VII remake, I doubt if I will care.” Square Enix can spend all the money they want on new engines and developing new technologies, but the fact of the matter is they’ve lost their way with the Final Fantasy franchise. They are, like so many newer game developers, are showcasing pretty graphics and perhaps some interesting game play rather than telling a good story through their games. That’s why Final Fantasy 12-14 aren’t doing all that well… They forgot how to tell a story in their games. That’s why everyone wants Final Fantasy 7 to be remade. It was probably their last game that seemed to have heart and soul; the only think it needs is to be updated graphically. Square Enix claims it would be impossible, that it would cost too much to do, and take too much time, yet they want to waste their time on inventing new game engines and claim performance break-throughs that they aren’t actually demonstrating. Frankly, considering they’re sitting on the code to FF VII, I don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, a lot of it would probably need to be reimplemented to take into account the higher memory requirements of the high definition graphics, and yes they could use all sorts of more modern graphical techniques to accomplish some of the things they did in the original, but we’re ultimately not talking about developing a whole new game mechanic. We players were fine and happy with the old school game mechanics, and Square Enix’s own purported technology demonstration shows us that they have the time and techniques to update this classic game. So why not do it? I wish I had an answer. All I can say is that of all the things I saw at this announcement, I was most disappointed by their segment.

So…  That’s where I stand on things. The PS4’s hardware, at least as announced, isn’t exactly mind blowing, but I concede and acknowledge why they’ve taken the direction that they did. I’m more curious than ever about Quantic Dream’s Beyond, and although I knew that Killzone would eventually be represented on the PS4, I was fully expecting it to be a version of Killzone: Mercenary, not a completely new title. I nearly peed my pants when I saw Shadow Fall. I’m not kidding. But the one thing that was missing that I really, really, really wish had been present was an announcement from Insomniac Games stating that the Resistance franchise would be present on the new console.

The Resistance series really didn’t get the recognition it deserved. As one of the PS3 launch titles, it (Resistance: Fall of Man) was frequently compared to Gears of War, which it really shouldn’t have been. Yes, it was the launch shooter game just like Gears was, but it was a first person shooter versus a third person shooter, set in the past rather than the future on some unknown planet, and had a really deep storyline. And the multiplayer on all three games, though different in each case, was amazing in each case. I still love playing the first one and dropping air-gas grenades on my friends. I absolutely love the teamwork based co-op on Resistance 2 that involved several basic missions spruced up randomly by changing starting locations, events, and objectives. And the competitive multiplayer in R2 was exceeded only by M.A.G. (by the now defunct Zipper) in terms of simultaneous players! Resistance 3‘s story and multiplayer modes were even more fun, frankly, though the game definitely seemed to be Insomniac’s way of saying goodbye to the franchise… The end of the game seemed to say it all, and sadly I don’t foresee a new entry to the franchise on the PS4, but I strongly urge Sony and Insomniac to reconsider!

Similarly, since I mentioned M.A.G., I fear that it will not see a follow-up, nor will we see a new SOCOM on this generation now that Sony has closed the studio formerly known as Zipper. M.A.G. was flawed, big time, but it was and is a fun game. I think the concept is great, but I think it never got the polish it really needed, though Zipper was working towards accomplishing it. I think it’s sad, however, that the M.A.G. website and apparently development went quiet once SOCOM 4 got announced. Those the game is still playable, and I fully intend to pick-up my 2+:1 KDR as a sniper at some point, the game is practically abandoned. It’s parent is no more, and Sony doesn’t seem the least bit interested in continuing it. And once Unit 13 was shipped out the door for the Vita, the future of the SOCOM franchise became uncertain as Zipper was promptly dissolved. Will we see these games revived on the PS4 at some point? Seven years is a long time, so maybe we will see it happen, but I wouldn’t hold my breath…

Finally, as far as wishful thinking goes, I want a sequel to Heavenly Sword on PS4. As nice as God of War is, I don’t want another God of War game. I want to breathe new life into Heavenly Sword, another PS3 launch title that has long since been dormant. There’s no reason that Noriko should continue to be ignored; the game was beautiful, the game play was beautiful, and the story was amazing. I would sell my car today to pre-order the PS4 if I knew that a new Heavenly Sword game was coming, But alas…

So, there you have it. Everything that’s on my mind regarding the PS4, the next Xbox, a few kick ass games, the laments and concerns I have for a few franchises,  and one brain dead presentation. Take it as you will, and discuss freely.