Monday, December 31, 2007

Mass Effect (XBOX 360)

Warning: Potential very minor spoilers:

- finished in around 36 hrs and 445 saves (Yeah I save a lot), level 50, normal difficulty. Finished almost all side quests (except for a couple of the collection ones).
- great save system. You can pretty much save anywhere anytime except during combat.
- I went soldier -> Shock Trooper (akuze). I wanted to play this more like a shooter so I maxed out Assault rifle pretty earlier on. I went almost pure Paragon.
- Do the find Liara (Artemis Tau) mission first. You will get a new squad member. Actually I ended up using Liara and Tali for most of the game. I also finished the romance thread with Liara.
- Turn auto leveling completely off. You can still hit Y to see what auto leveling would have assigned which you can undo if you don't agree with it. For Liara I just pretty much auto leveled her (make sure she has good first aid though). Tali I would focus on Decryption and Electronics. If you get them high enough you should be able to open every container and salvage all the debris.
- The way the game works for first aid, decryption, and electronics is that it takes the highest stat of any member in your party and applies that. This means Liara covers first aid and Tali covers the other two so I don't have to spend any points on those skills.
- After about level 20 combat got pretty easy. This is true all the way to the end. I had no problems with the last boss fight. I don't know if this has to do with me grinding out to level 50 or not.
- Make sure you buy all the licenses, grenade, and medi-gel upgrades that you come across with the merchants.
- Talk to your crew after every major mission and even after some side quests especially if you leveled up.
- The spectre gear is the best. It was pretty much better than anything I found in the game. You'll get a chance to buy a second set that's even better near the end of the game.
- I went all out assault rifle then sniper (which I used only once in a while), I gave Liara the best pistols, and had Tali go shotgun. By the end of the game with 2 heat reducing mods I could fire my assault rifle on full auto indefinitely. Before that though use overkill a lot (along with adrenaline boost).
- Money isn't an issue in the end game. I got to a point where I maxed out my money at 9,999,999 which at that point the game just stops rewarding you money until you go spend some of it.
- To level up faster never kill anything inside th Mako vehicle. Instead soften them up with the mako guns, then get out and finish them on foot. You get a LOT more experience points.
- side quests suck. I mean they really really suck: boring, repetitive, cookie cutter, unimaginative....just a complete grind. You can waste a good 10-15 hrs doing these but you can make good money, items, and experience.
- driving the Mako just plain sucks. Steering while in reverse is opposite of what you expect. You can't shoot at targets below you. It's bounces around like crazy. Climbing steep hills suck. The thrusters are completely worthless (if they had just stuck them on the back to give me a boost up mountains it would have been so much better). All that mako driving just made those side quests that much less enjoyable.
- Long load times. I've never seen so many elevators in a game before.
- Inventory management got really tedious. You do get to hold quite a few items though (150).
- Story was great. Most of the dialog and voice acting was good too (Seth Green is Joker). There were some really great dramatic moments. I went back and replayed some of the hard choices and it didn't seem like it made that big of a difference. I'm hoping that they will use this save file in the rest of the trilogy and maybe see some greater impact down the road. The "love" scene was amusing. Great satisfying ending.
- Music was pretty good. Sort of what Tron would sound like if Michael Bay directed it.
- I really enjoyed the combat especially since I played it like a shooter. Your teammates get a lot less useless at the higher levels.
- Don't bother with the cover system. Circle strafe/side stepping works better most of the time anyways.
- Graphics/art are beautiful. Frame rate is acceptable most of the time. Some minor texture popping on initial load of an area. It didn't bother me much.
- In the 36hrs of play I had one freeze on a loading screen. I also got stuck once but managed to free my self by crouching and wriggling.
- I might go back and spend some time in the Codex. There is a LOT of information in there.
- I turned off film grain and motion blur.

Highly recommended especially for fans of bioware RPG's. I can't wait for the next Mass Effect game. Here's hoping they fix the mako and spend some time making quality side quests.

UPDATE: 1/2/2008
Major spoiler warning!
Here is a video of the ending with my character.
I've also started reading Mass Effect: Revelation

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nintendo Wii Zapper and various compatible games

- $25. Comes with the plastic wii Zapper and Link's Crossbow Training.
- The zapper is pretty well designed. Everything fits nicely together, and cables are hidden and managed really well. The trigger works fine. I just wish it was further back like in a typical gun instead of way up front.
- The biggest appeal of light gun games for me has always been the ability to use the actual sights on the gun for aiming. There usually isn't a big crosshair on the screen. In stead it took some actual skill and psuedo realistic aiming of the light gun to do well. With the zapper there are no sights. So basically all the games have a big crosshair you move around on screen shooting from the hip. It's almost like playing a light gun game on the PC with a mouse. It just doesn't pull you in as much. Having said that it's MUCH MUCH easier for younger kids. But for adults who grew up on Virtua Cop, Time Crisis, and House of the Dead series this is a pretty big disappointment. Somebody needs to make a more realistic light gun (maybe ditch the wiimote entirely and make a true 3rd party light gun controller) that has real gun sights.

Link's Crossbow Training
- This is a great little game that really makes the wii zapper worth getting. You basically have 9 levels each with 3 stages. The first stage is always some sort of target practice, the second is defend, and the third lets you move around using the nunchuck. This game is great for younger kids.
- There are a tone of hidden targets to find and shoot. Not missing lets you chain up a big score multiplier and is key to doing well. You can also charge up your shot for a bigger blast.
- Throw in a few boss battles, and it's a great little game.
- We finished this game pretty quickly though.
- No simultaneous two player. It's just take turns.
- Great price.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
- I've only finished the first level.
- I think I find it more comfortable to play without the zapper. You can configure the controls to either use the zapper or not.
- Nice selection of weapons which you can upgrade.
- Lots of breakable items in the environment with hidden goodies.
- Supports two player co-op.
- A nice rail light gun shooter more for the adults. I need to spend some more time with it to get a better impression. This is one of the meatier zapper games currently out for the wii.

Ghost Squad
- Now this is my kind of game. This is classic Sega light gun game similar to Virtua cop. Embrace the glorious campy cheesy aspect of it all!
- Some difficulty and immersion lost b/c of lack of gun sights and a big crosshair on the screen.
- up to 4 players on the same screen at the same time or how about two people dual wielding!
- A few branches for replay.
- Variety of weapons.
- Cheap 2nd level end boss.
- Pretty darn short.
- Plays great even without the zapper.
- Ninja mode!
- Graphics won't impress but are pleasantly retro.

I hear Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 is suppose to have great controls and a rail shooter mode. I might have to go pick it up.

Overall I recommend the zapper and all the games. There really is something for any light gun enthusiast. Now, lets see some ports of all the old classic light gun games!

UPDATE: 9/28/08
I highly recommend the nyko wii perfect shot over the official wii zapper.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Assassin's Creed (XBOX 360)

- I'm a few hours into this game now. I just finished up the investigation part and I'm about to start my second assassination.
- Graphics are really incredible: ability to render an entire city without load times, incredibly detailed textures, some of the best animations in any game, good frame rate most of the time, and great shadows and lighting.
- Pretty big learning curve. You won't get a feel of this game until you complete your first assassination. Once you hit rank 2 and gain the ability to counter, combat becomes much easier and much more enjoyable. Once you get use to the unorthodox controls it really does work quite well. Tip: you'll want to read the manual on this one.
- I can see the mini missions in the investigation part getting a bit repetitive.
- Voice acting is pretty good so far. Story is pretty average. The Music is great.
- Combat is excellent and is all about timing. Do NOT button mash. The death cam animations never get old. I especially like the running jump hidden blade kills. Free running works great. After a while you get good at spotting which parts of the city you can climb. The vertical exploration aspect of the game kind of reminds me of crackdown like finding that one path to get up to a very high tower..
- The pseudo stealth using the crowd in daylight works well too. Also, there isn't much penalty if you decide to go all out killing either. This ain't GTA where they just keep escalating the number of guards.
Usually you can kill a group of 5 or 6 and then quickly blend into the crowd before more guards show up.
- The kingdom (overworld) is kind of bleah.
- Fighting on horse back doesn't seem to work that well.
- The actual assassination parts are obviously the best parts of the game. For my first hit I screwed up the stealth assassination. So the dude bolts and I have to go chasing him through the crowded streets. I finally corner him and kill off the few guards that are with him and finally my target. After that I head to the roof tops for a free running chase to break line of site and then hide. Now that's exciting and compelling game play!

This is one of those games you really need to give it a few good hours before you "get" it and all the things start clicking. After that you'll discover something truly unique and incredibly fun.

Highly Recommended!

UPDATE: 12/12/07
(potential very minor spoilers)
- FINISHED! about 20-22hrs if you do all the mini missions in the investigation phases.
- Altair needs to learn to swim. Drunks on the docks that can grab and shove you into the water for an instant death kind of sucks. I just end up killing them.
- I found running a lot didn't seem to attract the guards attention too much as long as you weren't running into a lot of people and knocking over their pots. So don't be afraid to run a lot even on street level. Also, I didn't find holding the blend button that helpful unless you are in a group of scholars.
- Needs a cleaner, faster, easier way to warp between the different maps.
- There needs a clearer indication that you locked on a target (and which specific target). It would also be nice if you had more control over which target gets locked instead of just picking one for you sort of in the direction you are facing. This is especially true when you are doing stealth assassination mini missions (like the last 2 in the game) where it's a lot easier to do with throwing knives from the roof tops. With the extreme downward angle I would end up killing maybe a guy or two before it would lock on to the target I wanted.
- I need clear feed back when a combo attack was pulled off. Enemies have health even though you can't tell how much they have. So if your combo won't kill them it still looks like a block but really isn't (they actually take some damage). I think the "combo hit but looks like a block" animation is slightly different that the "I screwed up the combo timing and so it's a real block" animation but man it needs to be more clear. Without that feed back it's hard for the player to correct and improve their combo attack timing. Health bar for the currently locked enemy would have helped greatly.
- Combat requires quick timing. DO NOT BUTTON MASH!!! That will get you killed quick. Watch and learn all the different attack/grab animations and time your counters correctly. They they are doing a charged slow attack you can easily counter too early and then get whacked.
- I didn't use the charged attack much. It's too slow and leaves you too open.
- You can counter with any weapon even the hidden blade. The only thing the hidden blade can't block so if you screw up your counter timing you will get hit. The nice part is if you pull it off it's an instant kill. This is also true if you knock guys down to the ground and quickly switch to hidden blade for an instant kill. This can greatly shorten longer fights especially with bosses. Odd that you can't beat on bosses on the floor with your long sword. I recommend you at least get some practice in with countering with every weapon.
- Combat is my favorite aspect of the game. Try doing counter, killing a guy, immediately go into a defense breaker on the next guard, and into a combo attack. Lots of fun. Typical combat for me is counter, and if they are thrown to the ground whack them twice with the long sword. Do this until there are around 5 or less guys. After that I go on the offensive with a mix of counters going into combo attacks. I didn't use dodge a whole lot.
- When greatly out numbered (I'm thinking the 9th target assassination attempt which I think is the most difficult combat in the game) try running up to the roof tops. Maybe find a spot where you have at least one wall. Hug that wall and as you counter grab guys there is a good chance you will throw them off the roof. This really helps with the crowd control. It also helps if you clear the area of archers first.
- Tackle actually means more like a charge. This lets you run through crowds without tripping. It's a slower run but helps you bust through really crowded areas or even through those guard blockades.
- You can typically stealth assassinate two guards before they get alerted when saving citizens.
- Best way to take down a running target is to use the hidden blade. You get this really cool leaping stabbing kill animation.
- Make sure you mash buttons during in engine cut scenes. This includes right before an assassination and right after (during the confession) if you are interested in getting the related achievement.
- Punching doesn't alert the guards. It's a good way to get those drunks off of you. Throwing drunks doesn't make them run away, only punching them.
- Throwing 20 women beggars gets you an achievement. Throwing the drunks doesn't count.
- Make sure you wait until after the credits for a bit more game play. Also sit in the animus, scroll to memory block 7 and read the attachment. You can also replay any memory block here to grab flags or finish up some achievements you might have missed.
- Before you start an assassination it's a good idea to review your memories (hit start) that you gathered from the investigation phase. You can usually view several attachments (most are maps). I highly recommend you do this for the book burning one.
- I loved the end game with all the fighting. I thought it was exciting, intense, and a lot of fun. It wasn't even that hard (never died once). I really liked the hordes of enemies yet they seemed to have less health so they were easy to dispatch (makes you feel like a major bad ass: counter attack, straight into a defense breaker, into a combo attack = awesome sauce).
- Controls are great once you get use to them. There is a rather steep learning curve since this game is so unique in so many ways (well except for all the parts that remind me of Crackdown).
- I didn't find the ending quite as bad as halo 2 or even Crysis. Yeah it sets it up for the obvious sequel but I felt it had pretty good closure on this part of the story (that set of memories). All the great fights toward the end was a good pay off for me so I actually felt pretty satisfied with the ending. I liked the story too!
- Sure the game had its share of flaws but I still really enjoyed it. Just from a fun factor perspective I'd easily put it up there with orange box, halo 3, cod 4, and bioshock. In fact I don't think any of those games had me staying up until 2-3am for several consecutive nights in a row. Hmmm I also liked Heavenly Sword a lot more than most people. Maybe I'm just into sharp pointy things lately.
- What this game needs is an arena mode or something. Make a few arenas, stick them in the animus, and let me fight waves of increasing number/difficulty of enemies. Give us at least some re-playability! DL content? maybe??? And no I don't feel like finding hundreds of flags for a few achievement points.

Probably the most fun I've had in a flawed and repetitive game! The good parts are so great that I really didn't mind doing them over and over again. I personally loved this game. Highly recommended (but probably not for everyone).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Megazone 23 - Lullaby of the Wind (piano)

This is from Megazone 23 OVA part 1 sung by the character Eve Tokimatsuri (Kumi Miyasato). Also known as
Kaze no Lullaby ("The Wind's Lullaby"). Ok time for some lame excuses for all the mistakes. I did this while I was a bit sick. Oh well I just wanted to get it out there. I hope you enjoy it. This is a piano arrangement an old friend of mine did a LONG time ago that I decided to re-learn. Sorry, no sheet music is available.

UPDATE: 10/22/08
Somebody on youtube requested this in mp3 format. So here it is encoded in 192kbps stereo mp3 direct from the wmv I captured to.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rock Band (XBOX 360)

- nice faq:
- Pre-ordered way in advance from gamestop. Picked it up launch day for $170. Includes game, drums, guitar, and microphone.
- Solo play takes kind of a back seat to multiplayer especially the world tour mode.
- Online works fine but the omission of world tour over live is just stupid.
- Having characters tied to a gamertag, which are tied to an instrument, and bands having band leaders that must always be present (and you can't change leaders) is just again really stupid and inflexible.
- If you want to play over live, everybody local MUST have a live gold account, again stupid.
UPDATE: Thanks to Corby for the tip. The way it works is that non gold members should NOT sign in with their gamer tag instead need to be guests under the gold gamer tag. Once you do it that way then all local players can play over live under a single gold live account.
- The guitar is pretty much crap: flaky tilt sensor (I tried two different ones that had the exact same issue), mushy strum, down strum breaks easily (had this happen on one of the guitars after about 4 hrs of use) though here is a fix:
- Guitar difficulty is overall easier and ramps up better than Guitar Hero 3. I think I like circles more than rectangles for the notes. Also I thought the shorter rectangle indicator for hammer downs/pull offs are a bit harder to spot.
- GH 3 and 2 guitars work with rock band but the rock band guitar doesn't work with guitar hero.
- Earn while you burn star power is nice. Ability to save band members is great.
- Microphone is nice and made by logitech. Plays pretty much like karaoke revolution.
- The drums are the best and work great. This is by far my favorite instrument. There is quite a steep learning curve. It took me 6 hrs before I got comfortable with medium. Once you feel and "get" it, it's loads of fun.
- Set list is better than GH3.
- Graphics are better too. I really like the character creation with tons of options to customize.
- Very extensive calibration options for those who have hdtv lag.
- Getting a full band together is a blast. This is the best party game ever. We had lots of friends and family over thanksgiving and everybody loved it. You need at minimum 2 players to create a band and do the main world tour mode.

Highly recommended if you can get at least 2 players. If you are buying this for single player then maybe wait until they sell the drums individually.

eVGA 8800GT KO

Top: 8600GTS, Bottom: 8800GT

It clears the hard drive cage just fine except you can't actually put a hard drive directly behind the 8800GT.

- I picked this up from and got it for $303 shipped. I was lucky to even find one in stock. Of course now it's out of stock and they jacked up the price up to $313. The price gouging on the 8800GT is really getting out of hand.
- Factory oc from stock 600/1800 to 675/1950.
- Came with Quake Wars for free which is nice. It was a game I was planning to get anyways.
- 9 inches long. Still, it was longer than my previous 8600gts so I had to move some hard drives around. It fit fine in my case: THERMALTAKE Tsunami VA3000BWA Black Aluminum.
- 65nm means a lot less power (110w max), single slot solution, takes only one PCIE 6 pin power connector, has the same HD video decoding processor like the 8600 series, and is faster and cheaper on most benchmarks than the 8800gts.
- Beats ati HD 3870 in most benchmarks, only takes a bit more power than the 3870, same exact length (9 inches). 8800gt should be only slightly more expensive than the 3870 once supply catches up to demand. I've seen 8800gt for as low as $207 now.
- on my ancient motherboard: DFI Lanparty nf4 ultra d I ran into an issue where the video card now blocks 2 out of the 4 sata ports. I was using 3 so this caused an issue. The solution is head out to fry's and pick up one of these sata cables for $6:
It has a 90 degree connector on one end.
- 3dmark06 under vista 32bit, latest nvidia beta drivers 169.09:
9116 3dmarks
sm2.0 4154
hdr/sm3 4753
cpu 1799

gt1 34.510
gt2 34.720
hdr1 50.994
hdr2 44.061
cpu1 .562
cpu2 .922
- I ran into performance issues in Crysis (see this post for detail benchmarks) with the 169.09 drivers. Framerate would half for no reason at all after about 10-15 min of play. Dropping back down to 169.04 fixed everything.
- Heat under load is around 86c (idle in the 60's). If you install ntune and just crank up the fan to full speed you can keep the temps down in the low 70's even under full load.

Overall the 8800GT is an incredible price/performance card. Now, supply needs to catch up so prices will normalize.
Highly recommended. There hasn't been a value like this since I bought my ti4200.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sandisk Sansa e250 MP3 Player

rio forge 512mb, Sandisk Sansa e250, iPod Nano 2nd gen
- Picked it up from for $35 shipped. It's a refurb but it is in great condition and works just fine. New e280 8gb models run around $120 which still isn't a bad deal.
- 2gb flash based mp3 player but has a micro sd slot. Supports microsdhc (currently largest size is 6gb which is confirmed to work but 8gb is coming soon) when using rockbox. Has built in fm tuner, can record from fm or built in mic in wav or mp3 format, uses a proprietary usb cable for charging and syncing, lock button, and aproprietary but user replaceable battery (after removing 4 regular screws).
- About the same size as an ipod nano 2nd gen but about double the thickness.
- Navigation works pretty well. There is a white ring (glows blue when in use) that spins around. It clicks and feels like a gear when you move it. There is a button in the middle of the ring and then 4 additional buttons surrounding the ring. There is also a dedicated record button on the side.
- Battery life should be around 12hrs using rockbox.
- Supports MPT and UMS/MSC. I just use it in mass storage mode of course so no need for any software. You get two drive letters in file explorer (one for the internal memory and one for the microsd slot). Just drag and drop your media onto the player.
- With rockbox you can browse your media by folder or database (id3 tags). So it's great whether you like to organize all your music with folders or you properly tag everything.
- Fully supports rockbox open source firmware. (faq) (manual)
- I did a Manual Installation. It took only a few minutes and I had rockbox dual booting between the original firmware and rockbox up and running. The only thing currently not supported is the usb port. It's easy enough to boot back to the original firmware for usb duties (hold left while powering on). Also, it conveniently auto boots into original firmware if you plug in the usb cable while the player is off so you can easily charge it up.
- With rockbox you get THE BEST mp3 player software out there. I've been a user of rockbox on the archos jukebox recorder 20 for years so I'm glad to finally have the same rich and robust feature set(I can't live without their bookmarks implementation) in a smaller flash based player. With rockbox on more modern hardware they were able to add quite a few new features. There are a lot more plugin games now and b&w gameboy rom support
- mpeg 1/2 video playback at 220X177 @ 30fps
I used mediacoder. I couldn't get the mediacoder extension to work so I just used my own settings: mpeg 2 video, 300kbps, resize to 220X177, 16:9; Audio: mp3 lame, 128kbps cbr, 44.1. I encoded the freeway scene from Matrix Reloaded and it played back just fine: nice and smooth with audio in sync. I'm not sure how enjoyable it would be to watch anything for an extended period of time on a 1.8" screen but it still looked pretty darn good for what it is.
- jpeg slideshow looked fine.
- Lots and lots of neat themes:
I'm currently using iPod Vision:

What can I say. For $35 it's an incredible bargain. I only briefly played with the original firmware. Once you go rockbox you can't go back. This is by far my favorite flash based mp3 player and just blows away my wife's 2nd gen nano in every way (IMO, well ok the nano is thinner). Even at $120 for the 8gb I think it's a good value.

Highly Recommended!

So I just tried doom on the sansa:

Rotate the screen 90 degrees and then remap the direction keys. Turn on sound. I'm really impressed. It actually runs at an ok speed, and it looks pretty impressive on the tiny screen.

UPDATE: 11/27/07
Refurb is the way to go since it seems the new e280's are now v2 with completely new and incompatible hardware:

UPDATE: 1/23/08
So I've now bought a few more: another e250,e270, and an e280. They were all refurbs and made great Christmas Gifts. I just love this mp3 player. It's my favorite by far. I kept the e280 for myself :-)

UPDATE: 2/5/08
I picked up a sandisk 8 gb microsdhc card for $95. It works just fine in the e280 so now I have 16gb of total memory. The only caveat is you have to use the included reader to transfer files to the microsdhc card since the original firmware can't handle mircosdhc but rockbox recognizes it just fine.

UPDATE: 12/19/08
I picked up a sandisk 16 gb microsdhc for around $60 from this seller on amazon. It works great in the e280 so now I have 24gb of total memory.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Last Starfighter (PC freeware)

- Written in Dark Basic
- That cabinet/control is all kinds of awesome.
- They basically tried to duplicate the actual Last Starfighter arcade machine from the movie and did a pretty good job. This would be the video game footage in the movie NOT the cray rendered graphics that represented the "real world".
- Graphics are pretty low rez but hey they seem to match pretty closely to the game footage in the film. The sound effects are spot on. I really like all the nice little touches like the voice samples and the midi music.
- Since you are the gunner you don't really have any control over where your Gunstar goes. You basically have one joystick to control the direction you chair faces and the mouse for moving the aiming reticle and shooting. What is weird is it seems you can't turn the chair/turret a full 360 up/down but you can left/right. I kind of remember from the movie that the chair could spin freely 360 endlessly (as seen during Death Blossom).
- I enabled Death Blossom in the options but I couldn't figure out how to get it to work. Maybe I need to read the readme more carefully.
- The controls are the worst part about this game. It could really use dual analog stick support.
- You have all 3 weapon types but the missiles have to be fired pretty close to the enemy for it to track and hit.
- Ships seem to zoom in and out of view too quickly. They need to scale in/out more smoothly and more gradually.
- I made it to the command ship but all I could do was shoot the missiles and those asteroid bombs it kept shooting at me. I went through several more waves of enemies after that. Maybe eventually you get to actually fly around the command ship and destroy it but I didn't make it that far. I did get a high enough score to join the star league (you get to see rows of Gunstars at the end while the theme plays in midi) and made the league of heroes high score list.
- They also have a version of Space Paranoids on that site. I'll have to give that a try next.

Overall it's a pretty impressive fan made game with some great attention to detail especially in the sound and art/model/hud assets. Just imagine what this game would be like ported to XNA and running on a xbox 360. This is the game I always wanted to write in XNA if I had the time. It's nice to see somebody who actually did it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Guild Wars Eye of the North (GWEN PC)

Warning! Potential minor spoilers in the following screenshots:

- Finished GWEN main storyline with the elem.
- Pretty short if you skip all the optional dungeons (I've only done 5 so far).
- Easier than any of the other games. You can pretty easily hench the entire game if you want. I found the last boss incredibly easy. I just grabbed some random henches and beat him in 5 min. I believe the bulk of the challenge is in the dungeons which I found overall longer and more challenging.
- Every place is an explorable area so you can always rez so no need to worry about full party wipes.
- I like the new consumables you can craft (which require 1 skill point). Finally a use for my 100+ skill points. Perfect Salvage kit FTW!
- Fun mini games like the norn arena and kilroy punchout. I still need to try polymock.
- I like the new PvE only skills and getting them for free as quest rewards. Overall there are some worthwhile new skills in GWEN.
- Henches have updated (and much improved I might add) skill bars.
- Some quests tend to spawn multiple sub quests and it's hard to tell when is the next stopping point. You might be doing 3 chained quests before you get to another town/outpost.
- Dungeons entrances are not always that close to a warp point. It usually requires you to fight your way there.
- Still need to decide what to spend my green key on.
- Still need to populate my hall of monuments.

XBOX 360 Arcade

XBOX 360 Arcade
- This is basically what is replacing the "core" (aka tard) sku at the same $280 price point.
- There are a few nice upgrades like a 256MB MU, wireless controller, HDMI, and 5 free FULL arcade games that comes on a disc.
- I picked it up at best buy a week or so ago. Here are the build details:
team: CSON
lot: 0735
mfg date: 09-05-2007
hitachi optical drive
Looking at this I'm pretty sure I don't have a falcon (65nm). Oh well. At least it does have the new heat sink and HDMI which is what I really wanted.
- I stuck another 120mm fan on the right side of the 360 forcing air into the console.
- This is my second xbox 360 which I will leave connected to my new home theater. I have an older 360 (no hdmi) upstairs hooked up to a samsung 40" LCD over vga that I use mostly for gaming. This way the new 360 becomes more or less my dedicated HD-DVD player (and some games on the side). Now I just leave my profile and save games on the MU so I can easily move between the two 360's.
- I had upgraded my older 360 to a 120gb hard drive earlier this year so I have a 20gb 360 hard drive just sitting around which I promptly slapped onto this new 360. That way both of my 360's have hard drives.
- I've been playing some Halo 3 and HL2 Orange Box and all is good so far.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Call of Duty 4 (PC/XBOX 360)

- I played through the single player demo.
- It runs really smooth even at 1600X1200 (with no AA or AF; under vista). It looks pretty good overall but I didn't see anything that blew me away like Crysis did. I guess I really should have played this demo first before Crysis.
- It plays....well pretty much like other cod's. I mean yeah the graphics are nice, I like the modern day setting, weapons, etc but it pretty much feels like the previous games: you fight along side many fellow soldiers, endless re-spawning enemies and friendlies, push past some invisible trigger line to stop the enemy spawns, proceed to next objective (reach objective point, clear an area, destroy certain enemies, defend a point from wave after wave of enemies until reinforcements arrive....does any of this sound familiar to you?)
- I was really excited about this title after all the e3 coverage. I still am to some extent though not as much as crysis.
- I might actually pick this up on 360 instead.

UPDATE: 11/13/07
- picked up the xbox 360 version and finished the single player
- Wow this game was much more impressive than the demo. In fact the demo was probably one of the less original missions in the game. I love how they took tried and true fps mission types like turret, stealth, sniper, defend, escort, etc and just twisted it, changed it, and made them truly unique and original. This level of quality keeps up from the opening all the way to the very end of the game. There are many moments where I was genuinely stunned. My favorite mission hands down is the ac-130 gunship. There is ZERO filler or fluff in this game.
- Graphics are very impressive: great detail, lighting, draw distance is amazing, and all this at 60fps. I mean rock solid 60fps. It never dips no matter what is going on screen.
- Checkpoints were pretty well spaced apart and never became that frustrating though the final level got pretty tough.
- You can now shoot through stuff in both single player and multi player which is a nice touch.
- I still don't quite like the mechanic of constant respawning enemies and AI teammates. I'm not sure how else you would do it but sometimes instead of battling through a tough spot, you can just toss a smoke or two and just charge to the next invisible checkpoint. If you cross it and die in the process it really doesn't matter since well you made it to the next checkpoint. This kind of lets you cheese your way through some of the battles. This is on normal difficulty level. I'm sure this would be more difficult to pull of on harder settings.
- Make sure you watch until after the credits for a nice but confusing little surprise.
- I briefly tried multiplayer. After 3-4 team death matches I unlocked sniper. You level and unlock stuff MUCH faster than r6 vegas. No annoying respawn time. If you die you respawn pretty much immediately after watching the killer cam. You are pretty much always playing which is a nice change.

Highly Recommended. Easily the best cod yet. Infinity Ward at the top of their game.

Crysis (PC)

- I've played through the single player demo. There's a good couple of hours of gameplay there and quite a bit more if you just want to goof around (nothing quite like throwing chickens in strength mode)
- The suit really is really a nice gameplay mechanic. It really opens up many options on how you approach a particular battle. My favorite strategy is sneak up on a vehicle in stealth mode, kill the occupants, and then turn the turret on the rest of the remaining guys.
- I really like the destructible structures.
- Driving controls are improved and now you can shoot and drive at the same time in 3rd person view. The only problem is this only works in normal mode. If you increase the difficulty then you are stuck in either driving or shooting modes depending on your seating position.
- Real quick save/save anywhere. Quick loads are FAST!
- On my very average rig I get around 30 fps(under vista) on medium at 1024X768 but it does dip into mid teens. Even on these lowly settings the graphics really blew me away. This is hands down the best looking fps engine I've seen to date by far. I really like being able to cut down trees with gun fire. That pesky enemy squad hiding in the foilage? No problem, just cut those trees down with your turret mounted on the vehicle.
- Latest version of fraps causes really bad keyboard lag so I suggest you don't keep fraps running all the time.
- I didn't care too much for the weapon mod screen. Also, I kind of wanted direct hot keys for switching between suit modes.

Surprisingly I found the game very pretty and playable on my ancient rig. What I really want to do though is spend $2000 and build a brand new quad core rig to really do this game justice. IMO it's actually good enough to make this worth doing. The only thing that's holding me back besides having spent a ton of money lately are the new dx 10.1 parts from ati and nvidia are just around the corner (and so is Penryn). This is one game I'm actually hoping for a delay of a couple of months.

UPDATE: 11/25/07
- Finished the single player game.
- Good length, lots of variety of missions and environments, great pacing.
- Fun and satisfying final boss, craptastic ending (think Halo 2 horrible).
- I didn't like the zero g level too much. I guess it was sort of like playing descent (which I loved btw) but more confusing and disorientating.

Easily my favorite single player fps experience this year (and yes that includes having finished cod 4, halo 3, and bioshock).

I'm loving this game so far but it sure is a beast system wise. I picked up an evga 8800GT KO (oc 675,1950)

First some nice tuning/tweak sites:

to display fps in the game hit ~ to bring down the console and type:
r_displayinfo 1

to run the benchmarks find and run these bat files:

It will use whatever resolution and quality settings you last set in the game. Let it loop and finish at least 2 runs. Take your second run which will be more accurate since the first run is usually slower due to hard drive access.

CPU: opteron 170 (oc from 2.0 -> 2.7ghz)
memory: 2gb
video card: evga 8800GT KO (675/1950)
video driver: 169.04 (169.09 gave me weird performance issues, 169.04 worked better for me)
OS: Vista 32bit

all set to medium settings
no AA

Play Time: 45.83s, Average FPS: 43.64
Min FPS: 23.86 at frame 1949, Max FPS: 72.06 at frame 131
Average Tri/Sec: 33785088, Tri/Frame: 774150
Recorded/Played Tris ratio: 1.18

Play Time: 36.47s, Average FPS: 41.12
Min FPS: 23.27 at frame 1094, Max FPS: 58.05 at frame 312
Average Tri/Sec: 29974938, Tri/Frame: 728875
Recorded/Played Tris ratio: 0.99

all high except shadows, shader, post proc set to medium
no AA

Play Time: 50.83s, Average FPS: 39.35
Min FPS: 17.54 at frame 154, Max FPS: 67.41 at frame 82
Average Tri/Sec: 35853296, Tri/Frame: 911199
Recorded/Played Tris ratio: 1.01

Play Time: 43.02s, Average FPS: 34.86
Min FPS: 18.38 at frame 196, Max FPS: 50.30 at frame 347
Average Tri/Sec: 31219914, Tri/Frame: 895472
Recorded/Played Tris ratio: 0.80

I think I prefer 1600X1200 at medium b/c of the more even framerate (the min fps is higher).
I think that's what a better cpu will really buy me is a more even framerate. Max or avg might not increase that much but it should help remove those dips.