Jumping on the Bed!

The continuing blog on anime, games, movies, computers, college, and life in general

Archive for March, 2007

Puzzle Quest

Puzzle Quest: Undead

I love simple games. What’s more, I love when the simple games we used to play as children grow up with us. Sometimes it doesn’t work very well, and sometimes the results are down-right brilliance.

Take the simple premise of tic-tac-toe and expand it. The 3×3 playing field now becomes seven times larger at 8×8 which gives the opportunity to do a whole lot of fun strategy back into the game. Then instead of the same old connect three, wipe them away, repeat. Connect four for some sort of cool bonus. Give an awesome reward for connecting five to hook the player with a little mini goal. Now you’ve taken a great simple game and expanded its world.

Sabrina introduced me to a game called Bejeweled 2 a couple of summers ago. They not only melded all of those wonderful game play mechanics, but they did the one thing that I can never resist. They made that fucker shiny. There are 64 glowing, swirling, chiming gems on the screen that beckon you to play with them in their happy little extra-terrestrial world. Not only that, but when you start a string of “combos” as gems line up and trigger other connections, the screen is awash in an orgasm of exploding gems.

The best part of the game is the “Endless Mode” that just keeps going and going, rewarding you with a wheel of gems to fill in with each level requiring more and more points to continue to the next. It’s a great way to just blow of steam at the end of the day devote 10 minutes in order to get just one more gem. Well, that level didn’t seem too long, perhaps another gem. Oooh, only two more and I get another meta-gem. I wonder what colour it will be. Next thing you know either one of two things happens. Dawn creeps up at you and you curse yourself for not getting any sleep, or your computer crashes which is the sure-fire way to know that you’ve been on the damned thing for too long again.

Infinite Interactive takes the Bejeweled concepts and wraps them all up in an RPG element. Go download the PC Demo now while you finish reading this entry. (you can thank me later)

Four coloured “mana” orbs for Water, Earth, Fire, Air, piles of gold, purple experience stars, and attack skulls are at your disposal to wage battles against your enemies. There are bonuses when you line up more than three of any one kind of item, and of course you can pull off combos which seem like utter chaos.

The PC demo allows you to build a character up to level 7. Eventually I2 will officially announce a PC version of the game, but until then it is available exclusively to the Nintendo DS, and the Sony PSP. Sabrina was very considerate and let me borrow her DS while she’s away kicking ass in college (straight A student). After playing the demo for about fifteen minutes, I knew that both Sabrina and myself would love this game, so I picked a copy up from FYE. They actually had two copies left, so I didn’t feel too bad about whorking one for us to share.

The DS game is almost identical to the PC version. The screen layout is a little different (characters are on the top screen with the battle grid and spells on the bottom) and the animations aren’t quite a smooth. Considering I had gone from a 3.2Ghz Dual-core Intel with 2Gb of ram and an ATI x600 video card to a little hand-held system, I wasn’t going to begrudge the title fewer animations. The music is quite loud, and I’ve found that I have to put it to the 2nd to lowest setting in order to hear the characters say anything, otherwise it’s just too overwhelming. Also, the music seems to be choppy. I’m not sure if it’s trying to do too much at once, or if the audio rendering engine of the DS can’t handle whatever synthesis Puzzle Quest is trying to make it do.

Otherwise the game is the same. The stylus works very well as an interface tool. I can’t even imagine how clunky it would be to use a D-pad on a PSP. I’ll stick with mouse or stylus any day. I have noticed that the game seems to be about 65% skill, 30% luck, with a 5% wtf factor mixed together when fighting enemies. There really isn’t any consistency. After getting trounced by a vampire bat five times, the planets align correctly and the sixth try has the magic and I’m able to progress in the game. That reason alone will likely deter anyone with bad luck in games, like Mancer.

There is a fun little plot to follow while you’re gaining xp’s and adjusting your skill levels throughout the game. The game isn’t linear, so if you want to go patrolling to wipe out that skeleton over and over again, feel free. Just remember that the enemies level up with you. Kind of like the worst Final Fantasy (VIII), you can be a level 50 Warrior with the best magic, weapons, and armor but be careful, that slime over has a fair chance of whooping your ass.

For people like me who may get pissed, but persevere, the game is pretty much crack in a shiny little hand-held. If you don’t have a DS, just be patient, and the full game will come out eventually. There should be some sort of “Official” announcement soon, but who knows. Judging by the scarcity of the game now it should be a surprise hit. Of course, when Penny-Arcade heartily recommends the game not once, but twice… well, lets just say that I have a feeling that it certainly won’t hurt the game’s sales.

Wherever the game gets its props, it deserves them. It’s a lot of fun, and battles can be over in minutes so you can fit a couple in during lunch, or in transit to work, or in the middle of class, or when you should be sleeping. Just remember that when you’re staring at the clock wondering how the hell it could be 3:47am, you have no one else to blame but yourself. Or perhaps the person who sent you the demo which should be installed by now, right?

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TMNT

TMNT

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Turtles. I skipped work for a couple of hours today so Sabrina and I could watch the matinée before all the kiddies got out of school. We were at the first showing! The theatre was having a fun little promotion for it and had the place decked out with green cellophane covering the lobby lights, posters all over the place and even had three-foot Donatello and Leonardo figures hanging from ceiling. Raphael and Michaelangelo were “popping out” of a sewer lid on top of the Nacho case. The overall effect was pretty cool. When we got to the actual auditorium, the lights on the sides were swapped out with green coloured ones. Totally awesome!

Decorations aside, the movie was visually and aurally crisp and clean thanks to the digital projector. There were only a dozen and a half people there including some friends from our seasonal work. The movie is obviously tuned for kids, but it isn’t nearly as “cartoony” as the original cartoons in the 80’s. It has a darker feeling closer to the original comic books, but not as violent, so the new movie is kind of a mix of the two.

The story is pretty simple but well thought out, with the exception of one glaring continuity hole (the last monster). Well, perhaps it wasn’t a hole, and just something that was poorly explained. Anyway, it was still fun to watch, and the animation was spot on. The character designs were impressive, even though April reminded me a bit of Lara Croft in the beginning, she ended up kicked ass in the end.

If you loved the cartoons as a kid, you should go watch the movie. Not the live-action ones, but this new one by Imagi Studios. Plus there are a lot of really cool voice actors in there, including a few surprise cameos. I just wonder when the sequel will be coming out. Cowabunga Dudes!

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Ergo Proxy: Awakening

Ergo Proxy: Awakening

I had been interested in Ergo Proxy mainly due to the fascinating art style, and when Mancer decided to pick it up during one of FYE’s “Buy 1 Geneon Get 1 Free” dealies, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to start watching it as well. I think he has the first three volumes, so I should be all set for something to watch. Not like I have anything else of his to watch *coughKenshin*, or play *coughBreathOfFire*… Ah, excuse me. <clears throat> Perhaps I could use some lemonade. ^_^;

Initial impressions on the series are good. I really like the attention to small details. I mean, when was the last anime made that had the main character brushing her teeth? Little, I know, but it’s all in the details. The animation is pretty much on par with what I’d expect from a Geneon (read: Pioneer) title, and the the audio tracks offer my personal choice. Original Japanese in 5.1 Digital Surround. And the main theme song? “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead. Yeah buddy.

As far as the story goes, I’m still in it’s infant stage. It seems kind of Blade-runner / Ghost in the Shell / Bubblegum Crisis / Emo – Cyber-Punk combined. Yup, all good times. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to turn the lights out and finish the next episode.

<click>

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300

300

Mancer and I just watched 300 on a decently sized digital screen. It is one of those movies that you need to watch in the theatre. It’s an epic, plain and simple. I remember watching a trailer for it nearly a year ago and thought that it looked interesting even if the title was less than memorable. Now, of course, the title will pretty much stick in my head. I love big movies. I can’t help it. I told Mancer that I wanted to watch it and he said “But it’s really violent, why do you want to watch it?”

“Umm… because I’m an American?” He accepted that as a viable reason and he must have been more than curious about the movie since he came along as well, though I don’t think he enjoyed it as much as I did. I knew that it was going to be violent and I can tune most of that out. I knew what the outcome of the movie would be; don’t worry, I won’t tell any spoilers here. But it was still damn fun to watch. Just leave your brain at the door, and be prepared to be entertained for the next two and a half hours. Simple as that.

To give you an idea, I sometimes like movies more for their presentation and… visual creativity than their plot. Movies like “Kung Fu Hustle“, “The Cell“, and “Dark City” are all in my personal movie collection. Not necessarily because they’re great movies, but because I love their stylistic atmosphere. The fact that his movie was adapted from a Frank Miller graphic novel really shines through in a few parts of the film. Kind of like Road to Perdition, I didn’t know it was a graphic novel until after watching it and noticing how some of the scenes were framed almost exactly like they would in a comic book. That’s when Alchemise informed me of the origin of the movie.

I read a review on the movie and it had it’s normal advisory warning of what type of content to expect: Severed limbs, stylized blood, lots of violence, nudity, simulated Spartan sex. Enh? How do you simu… okay, I guess I’ll just have to watch it then. Lena Headey has a very nice body, and can command a performance when given a chance. I think I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, it is pretty gory, but it’s a good watch, and it’s certainly one that needs to be experienced in a movie theatre, not just on Blu-Ray or HD-DVD at home.

Now, I needs to get my Titan Quest on and kick some ass around SPARTA!

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SSX: Blur (Revisited)

SSX: Blur - Kaori

So I’ve spent a bit more time SSX: Blur and my opinion of the game has changed only in the fact that I can enjoy it more now… Most of the time. While I have gotten better at most of the basics and the Über Tricks and have gained some points to increase my stats (edging, speed, tricks, and boost), I still don’t quite “feel” like I should playing an SSX game. On edge.

Most of that is because there are parts of the game that are exceptionally frustrating. I’m stuck on Peak 1. Why? Because the Slalom is my new worst enemy. You thought thought it was hard racing chocobos to get those balloons was hard in Final Fantasy X? It’s got nothing on trying to hit those damned poles without careening past them on the wrong side. If I ever get past it, I’ll let you know.

Another problem I have with the game is that there is very little expanation. How do I get to the second peak? Is there really any difference between skis or boards? And why the hell is the font so small? It’s hard to read the inane mumblings the skiiers spout during the loading screens.

Perhaps with a lot more practice I’ll get really good at it. But then, when my time is caught between Final Fantasy XII, Titan Quest, Super Mario Strikers, Guildwars, Super Swing Golf, and about a dozen others, it’s not easy to be the game most likely to cause me to intentionally send my Wii-mote through my tv.

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Cooking Mama: Cook Off

Cooking Mama: Cook Off

Last summer Mancer mentioned some sort of game for the DS that was a “cooking” sim. “Huh”, I said, “That’s kinda cool.” not exactly dismissing it, but not exactly thinking it through which isn’t strange considering neither of us had a DS. Later we found that the game was coming state-side and Mancer’s interest was piqued. He received a DS for his birthday last year so Sabrina and I picked up a copy of Cooking Mama from BestBuy and a black case for him for his birthday.

After Mancer begrudgingly allowed us to put our “grubby paws” all over his shiny Onyx DS, we played “Cook” with Mama for a bit. Mama is so kind and gentle and gets pissed when you burn your meal, but that’s alright; Mama’ll fix it so you won’t starve. The controls are extremely intuitive even if the actual path is not. Perhaps I’m only good at cooking Spaghetti Carbonara and Chocolate-chip cookies. Using the stylus as a knife, a potato peeler, a ladle, or dragging ingredients from the counter into a pot and stirring is instinctive. I think that having practiced a lot of the moves in Wario Ware: Smooth Moves like (The Mortar and Pestle, The Umbrella, and others) will help out tremendously. Quick, simple, effective motions.

In two weeks, Majesco is releasing Cooking Mama: Cook Off for the Wii. While I’m not sure how well some of the activities will transfer from the stylus to the Wii-mote, I think we can trust that the game itself will be just as much fun. The only disadvantage that Cook Off has to its DS predecessor is that while the original Cooking Mama was only $20 and Cook Off is slated for the high-end pricing (of Wii games anyway) at $50. Add to the 300+ recipes the ability to battle it out with your friends, a lá Iron Chef, and you’ve got yourself a kick ass title the whole family should enjoy.

Fukui-san!

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Titan Quest

Titan Quest

Do Titans always have this many problems? There are a slew of games I’ve gone through that just aren’t… polished. Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by Blizzard and Squaresoft (FF VIII the exception), but today’s games seem to lack luster.

Titan Quest, for example, is a fun game for the most part. Take three parts Diablo II, add in every story you should have learned in Greek Mythology class, the writer of Braveheart, and Age of Empires co-creator; mix it all together in a 3D engine and you pretty much have Titan Quest.

While the game is in an isolated isometric 3D world, it is still kind of clunky, and the textures are quite bland. Even with all the graphics shaders cranked up, it’s just not that pretty. “Well, if it isn’t that pretty, they probably just spent their time optimizing the code for smoothness. Right?” No. Here is where Age of Empires rears it’s ugly head. The game isn’t smooth either. Even after removing that god-awful SecurRom copy protection, the game is still very sluggish and choppy.

The sound is enjoyable, when it plays, although there are often many times in the game when the audio simply cuts out. It is most noticeable when speaking to NPC’s. One moment their begging you to save their wayward child from the Maenads, and the next moment you’re wondering when the last time you cleaned the heat sink on your video card because that’s all you can hear… whirrrrrrrrrr… On the other hand, the NPC’s are probably the most fleshed out characters I’ve ever come across with the exception of the populace of Morrowind and Oblivion. It is a treat to listen to them… when you can actually hear them.

What really detracts from this game is the horrid multi-player implementation. To start with, when you select a secured server to join the password prompt displays. Fine. That’s expected. What isn’t expected is that you have to drag your mouse over the text box to start typing. It’s the only friggin place to start typing, why doesn’t the cursor just go there? Okay, you type your password in and hit enter. …nothing. Enter? Nothing… oh, wait. Tab then enter… nope. Once again, you have to move the mouse over the accept button and click.

Now, once you get into the game proper chatting with anyone is a pain in the arse. Seriously. T to talk, okay. you type, you hit enter. you click elsewhere and the chat menu is still up. You type a reply back. “Really?” Did your correspondent see the text? Nope. You just guzzled down your biggest Health and Energy potions and sprang a couple other character statics windows up. You have to click back into the chat window to type again. Oh, and the Esc key closes every single window that’s open. Not just the top-most. So, trading and chatting can be a very trying time.

If chatting via text in the game is such a trial, why don’t you just use Skype, TeamSpeak, etc.? That’s because the instant you get back into TitanQuest you loose your connection in Skype or whatever. I don’t know how they did it, but it just doesn’t work. Most of Ironlore’s forums are filled with players asking ‘WTF?’ And there just isn’t any support for it. It’s a “known issue” which as been around for quite a while. Here we are at version 1.3 and still no hope of having VOIP work with the game. Nothing quite like being bound and gagged to try and enjoy a game.

Other than those oversights, the game is fun and damned addictive. It is pretty much Diablo II.5 And if you are the kind of person who enjoys Loot ‘n Level games like Diablo or Champions of Norrath, etc, then you really ought to take this game out for a stroll. Just don’t expect a polished gem like Diablo II, you’re more likely to find a slab of rock. Whoops, I mean “Essence of (Name of Greek, Egyption, Asian God Here)”.

Perhaps the upcoming expansion pack will fix some of these problems. Or maybe they’ll just leave me stuck in a cave that I can’t friggin’ leave. Which is great. Because I’m the damned server, and once I close the program, every one gets booted. Like Mancer said… “It sure ain’t Battle.net” Amen, brother.

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SSX: Blur

SSX: Blur

I thought games were supposed to be fun. While, most of SSX is enjoyable so far (all 20min of it), the tutorial makes me feel retarded. The Über Tricks specifically. Mancer and I have found that holding the Wii-mote out directly in front of you to draw the shapes (Clover-leaf, McDonald’s logo, Zorro, Heart, etc…) works immensely better than trying to draw just using your wrist. That being said, it’s still very difficult to pull of an Über Trick with any regularity.

Mark, on the other hand, is very much into the game. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him having so much fun playing games before. Sure, Mark’s been this loud before, but generally because he was getting frustrated. I’ve never heard him ‘Wahoo!’ and ‘Waaaaaaah!! Yeah!’ before. Heh, quite amusing.

Perhaps once we get some more hours into it we’ll appreciate it better, but for the time being we’re finding the steep learning curve kind of off-putting. We also miss hearing the boarders’ voices as they careen down the slopes. The boarders just don’t have their personalities, and that is half the fun of the franchise. There’s nothing like edging out a race using Kaori, neck and neck with Maya 20 meters away from the finish line, dropping her with a snowball to the back of the head and coming in first. The announcer says some inane thing, the crowd cheers, and Kaori? She just waves her hands in the air and claps a couple of times… a mute. After all of the great quips we’re used to from the previous games, it’s a bit anti-climactic.

SSX: Blur is a commendable first attempt at the new system, but I hope EA puts more attention to the tricks and finer details like vocals and fireworks that make the SSX series what it is. An adrenaline-pumping over the top down-hill experience with tight controls, and the most important thing SSX has over EVERY other ski / snowboard sim… Personality.

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Not 10 Minutes Later…

I swear, it’s not 10 minutes after I start tweaking the blog and I get a warning saying that version 2.1.1 of WordPress could have malicious code in it by some hijacker. Oi. Thankfully, DreamHost made it really easy for me. I just go to the “One-Click Installation” tab in my control panel and choose to upgrade WordPress. An hour or so later, it’s already done for me. The happy installation robot told me it would only take 5 to 10 minutes, but I’m going to bet that thousands of other people were updating their installations as well, so I can give them slack for that.

Otherwise everything has been moving along pretty smoothly. I am debating whether or not to bring my old blog over to here… For archival sake. We’ll see how hard it is do install MovableType on a remote server.

For the mean time, however, I have to clear off 150Gb of stuff from one of my HD’s so Sabrina can take it back down to Kalamazoo and load that thing up with gigs and gigs! Of anime!

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‘Hello’ Indeed

Welcome, one and all to… well, I’m not sure what it is yet, but it has room to grow. cybercrystal.net was born again just two short days ago. Wait, did I just say born again? What the hell? Perhaps that may be a bit too… spiritual.

Cybercrystal.net was sitting around, waiting for me, but some dumb-ass squatter was waiting for me to pay an arm and a leg. Thankfully if there is one thing I have learned in life, is that patience is a virtue. His (I’m assuming it’s a him. Squatting on web domains seems to me an extremely masculine thing to do) registration expired on December 6th 2006. Some 75 days later, the domain was released back into the wild. That’s when on a whim, I was looking into some php hosting services, I noticed that I could register my namesake.

Now, all I have to do is build it up! As it stands there are three elements to the site.

http://www.cybercrystal.net,
http://blog.cybercrystal.net, and
http://gallery.cybercrystal.net

After hosting my own website on my own server (Urd) for a few years now on my DSL connection and a DynamicDNS solution, I’ve decided that it’s probably best if I let some professionals do it for me. Thus far, DreamHost has done a good job of making me feel at home, and the rates are much more reasonable than when I first looked into domain hosting (which is another wonderful collaboration of technology and patience).

I’ll be back later tonight with more!

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