MIA: Incoming Links

Anybody else notice the “Incoming Links” section becoming very pared down or disappearing entirely from your WordPress dashboard? I blog on more than one WordPress-running site, and have noticed that this section has just about disappeared from all their dashes (but people are definitely still linking from time to time)…

Short Book Review: Old Man’s War

If you were looking for the high concept of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, you could probably do worse than to call it Ender’s Game for the geriatric set. In the future, you can enlist in the offworld military when you hit 75, which many do as there’s a sort of legend that they’ll make you young again, and many of those who join have no reason left to stay on Earth (to which you can never return). It’s an interesting perspective for a war novel told through the perspective of the elderly, though I sometimes feel that some of the uniqueness of that voice is lost as the story progresses. Scalzi’s novel is neither an all out glamorization or condemnation of the military and war (though the author does acknowledge a particular debt to Robert Heinlein), portraying it as a necessary evil in a dangerous universe. There are apparently a pair of followups, which I look forward to checking out.

Short Game Review: Call of Cthulhu – Dark Corners of the Earth

Despite efforts to the contrary I am still trapped in the “last generation” of hardware console games and have taken some free time to play games for the GameCube, Xbox, and PS2 that were purchased long ago but never fully explored.

Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth (original Xbox or PC) is a fun and interesting game that was, as far as I can tell, a commercial flop. Basically what they have done is grafted an adventure game into the a first person shooter engine, with some survival horror elements. The game is a loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s Shadows Over Innsmouth, perhaps my favorite of all Lovecraft’s stories, and I would consider it a highly successful adaptation of a short story to the video game format (though I don’t have much to compare it to.) The story is well implemented, with appropriate considerations for building a spooky experience through great use of audio and ok graphics (given when the game was made.) The “interface” is one most striking elements of the game; where as most first person shooters would present a “Heads Up Display” to show weapon/health related status, Dark Corners of the Earth presents all such information in not-entirely-quantifiable adjustments to the visuals. The game tracks both health and sanity(!) and indicates the status of these by blurring vision, slowing the game down, and using the controller to simulate frantic heart rate (I thought this would be stupid but it is well done.) These way of controlling the experience combined with the exploration of nicely rendered Lovecraftian environments (ruins, old mansions, collapsed townships etc.) work well togehter. I don’t think I have been this successfully creeped out by the experience of playing a game since exploring a haunted mine in “Thief: the Dark Project” (circa 1999.)

The best part of the game (to me) is that it is a first person shooter in which one does not actually engage in much combat for about the first 6 hours of the game. I am huge fan of the adventure game genre so it is interesting to me to see how that type of gameplay can merged with the more popular genres such as a shooter. You explore a decaying town, solve light puzzles, engage in some “stealth action” style scenarios and such, all of which I think work well to present the environment for a “horror” game more successfully than simply advancing through rooms shooting adversaries. I am about 10 hours in at this point and now have a collection of handguns and the requisite shot gun with which I must now dispatch the good folk of Innsmouth, but the game seems to slow down and not really feel any different from any other shooter once the combat stage is reached. The story is interesting (more so than most FPSs) so I am compelled to play more but defeating zombies can only hold you for so long.

If you are looking for a short list of old Xbox games to check out I would probably put this on it. Though the graphics are dated this game stands out to me as being part of small set of games for the xbox that did particularly original things insofar as the gameplay/story experience. Other original xbox games I am particularly fond of that I don’t think got around much include Republic Commando, Psychonauts, and Chronicles of Riddick (don’t laugh).

The Ghost Hair of Destiny

Tonight, I yanked out a very thin, white hair—maybe a quarter of an inch long—from my face, right near my eye. It had been hovering in the periphery of my vision for days. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to brush it out of my face, I realized it was connected to me, and dealt with it. This, however, made me very bitter. You see, it was not the first time I have had to do this.

Mild physical deformities always seem perfectly fine as long as they are a sign of something bigger. A lightning-shaped scar, a couple missing fingers, even a robot hand that reminds us of our dark side—all of these signal something about our destiny.

I have plenty of weird scars, oddly-shaped lumps, miscellaneous aches and pains, and ghostly hairs growing from the area around my eyes and forehead. But where’s my frigging destiny? When people ask me about the mark on my neck, I want to answer something about an ancient prophecy, maybe how I survived a sacrificial ritual. “Partial thyroidectomy” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But I refuse to give up hope. In particular, I hold Teen Wolf in my heart. The movie is about a guy who is beloved for being ridiculously hairy, and ultimately revered despite that he is a nerd. I will cling to this.

Xbox Friends Widget, Part II

You might recall that I recently wished aloud for a Mac Dashboard widget that would list the availability and status of my friends on Xbox Live. Well, Jacob took that task upon himself, and has made a very pretty widget indeed. Actually, it’s exactly what I wanted:

The tricky part, now, is debugging the thing. He’s done some work in Actionscript, but Jacob’s still somewhat new to Javascript. Currently the widget has got a memory leak problem (which may have caused it to crash), and in the latest version, I had trouble getting it to list the names I entered (though Jacob got it to work).

So, if you have any interest in helping see this through to its conclusion, send an email to jason at this domain. This is history in the making, people.

No Need for Eugenics When You’ve Got Rocket Fuel

From McSweeney’s: Excerpts from the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook for People with Rocket Packs.

Comply with the Nazi’s demand that you drop your gun: the Nazi must be allowed to feel in control of the situation, especially if you are Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual, a Freemason, socialist, Slavic, a Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, finance-capitalistic, physically disabled, a prisoner of war, mentally ill, or Nazi.

Also included: breakup tips for the rocket pack-wearer.

Cranky Robots Unite

I just stumbled upon a nice blog about gaming and general geekery, Angry Robot (dot Canada). Their little robot header and general demeanor are pleasing to my eyes. I wonder if we can be “sister sites”? (I never questioned why the term “sister school” is gendered as it is, but I assume the same must apply to blogs. And I never had a sister of my own.)

Also, this is hilarious.

Lost Opportunity (Revisited)

Awhile back, I complained that the Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey looked really cool, but the way the game handled turn-based combat seemed like it totally killed the action. I feel both disappointed and validated to learn that my suspicion may have been dead on.

Lost Odyssey’s combat…is excruciatingly, unbelievably, agonizingly slow. A random battle can take somewhere around five to 10 seconds just to get through the opening animation of the battle. This is compounded by Lost Odyssey’s rather lengthy loading times, which occur quite often and last for what feels like an eternity. Between the loading times, the pointless camera panning and the incredibly time-consuming animations, combat slows to a crawl.

See what others have to say about it, if interested. The main complaint seems to be that the developers really wanted to make a movie, and the player isn’t really doing much to contribute. If you happen to get your hands on a copy, feel free to speak up here and let us know what you think.

The Man in the Hat is back

“Damn, I thought that was closer.”

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trailer is up, and it’s worth hitting one of those HD links at the bottom. Holy mother of god am I psyched.

Count Me In

Perhaps you’ve already seen this, but it’s stuck in my head today, so I felt like sharing.