Rock Band

I have had the game for a week now, and I have to say it is quite awesome.

Before this, I had played a little Guitar Hero, all at parties, and I previously owned one Karaoke game for the GameCube. But Rock Band presents everything in a way that just appeals more to me that any of those.

The first day we had it, the wife and I played for a about eight hours, me on guitar and her singing. Having played no other part of the game, we stumbled into one flaw of the game: if you jump immediately into multi-player there are very few songs unlocked, so they repeat… a lot. Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a fun song, but after it came up for the seventeenth time, we were pretty sick of it. Then on Friday we had a friend come over, he brought a guitar (the wireless GHIII guitar) and he and the wife played guitar and bass while I sang. Since the wife and I had not unlocked very much, our six hours of playing were met with some variety mixed in with repeats of Say It Ain’t So by Weezer and In Bloom by Nirvana. It got to the point where during parts where no singing was required, I would talk up the crowd by insulting the songs. However, we learned that a song unlocked by any player or band becomes available for set lists.

The last couple of days have been the wife and I trading off playing the solo version of the game trying to open up as many songs as possible. Because I didn’t spend the past few months monitoring the Harmonix website and memorizing the set list, every time I open up a new city and see the song list, I’m pleased to see new songs… Epic by Faith No More, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, and Vasoline by Stone Temple Pilots, just to name a few.

Overall, the game play is aces. We haven’t played with a full band yet, but we will. Soon.

The guitar plays mainly like any other guitar game, in fact, the much hyped “solo frets” for playing solos without strumming are usually left unplayed, because the advantage of not having to strum is defeated by having to move your hand and lose your place on the guitar. I do like the effects switch on the RB guitar that allows me to throw in some wah-wah, flange, echo or chorus on my solos and overdrive. Sadly, the RB guitar is also rush built. From the forums people who are braver than I (and perhaps more fool-hearty) have opened up their guitars to discover that some parts are hot glued into place, glue which apparently warms up and/or slides causing the strumming not to work properly. Our guitar worked fine for about a day. It still does work fine on occasion, but in any song where fast strumming is required, forget it. So later I’ll be blogging about my experience returning the guitar. In the meantime, I picked up a copy of Guitar Hero II with the X-plorer guitar on Black Friday for cheap, so we’ll use that. We had wanted to get it to have a designated bass guitar, but plans change. As a final note, the Guitar Hero games are utterly incompatible with the Rock Band guitar, so if you want to play both games, you’ll need both guitars, or just the GH guitar, which is annoying since I prefer the feel of the Rock Band guitar.

The microphone is… well… its a microphone. It reportedly has the ability to detect pronunciation to determine if you are saying the correct words, but so far on Easy level it doesn’t appear to do that. Singing is a blast, if you like that sort of thing, and I do.

I haven’t spent much time on the drums, just a few practice songs to see if I could get the hang of it, and I did fairly well (over 90% for all tries), however I’ve avoided playing them because my one short stint on the skins showed me that I need to find the right chair and position to sit in. I couldn’t seem to keep my foot on the foot pedal. The tension in my calf while waiting for the next bass drum beat lead to me constantly resting my foot on the floor instead of the pedal, so I invariably missed the first bass kick of any series. Once a chair/position is found, I will become a double pumping cymbal crashing two fisted hammer of god… hmm… maybe this Rock Band thing is going to my head.

Lastly, outside the game-play of playing songs, Rock Band allows you design your own rock alter-ego. The one thing that always struck me about the Guitar Hero series was being forced to play as the characters provided. In Rock Band, you make your own you, and you earn money and buy clothes and tattoos, you can paint your face and put on make-up. You can buy guitars and decorate them with art. It adds a whole new level to the game as I find myself not only wanting to perform my songs better, but I want to buy the perfect wardrobe to fit my new found rock and roll lifestyle.

So yeah, I like this game a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to sort out the guitar issues before too long, and maybe RedOctane/Activition will release a patch for their games to let the Rock Band guitar play.

The Mist

One day, long ago, I picked a random book off my older brother’s shelf and started to read. The book happened to be Skeleton Crew, a collection of short stories and novellas by Stephen King. There were a number of cool stories in it, but the one that stuck the most was The Mist.

Later, when the family would go and purchase our first PC, a Leading Edge 8088 with 512K RAM and a 20MB hard drive (yeah, Megabyte, not Gigabyte), we would also pick up a handful of games. The Black Cauldron was one, and Stephen King’s The Mist was another. The game differed from the book a little, but that was okay, it needed to because as good as the book was, it wouldn’t make for much of a game. It was a text adventure, and that means I spent hours and hours trying to figure out the right combination of going North, East, South, West, every direction in between, picking things up and using them, in order to not get killed.

But I always wanted them to do a movie… and now they have. Frank Darabont, the man who did The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, took a crack at it, and I have to say, I’m very satisfied with the result.

This movie perfectly captures the mood of the book of people trapped in a country grocery store surrounded by a think mist. There are monsters in the mist, and inside the store isn’t going to be safe forever. The tense building of the religious cult as people take sides on what just might be the end of humanity is well portrayed.

Like the old text adventure, the movie strayed from the book, which in this case it didn’t have to do, but where it did it worked. Especially the end… the end of the book haunted me, and part of me hoped to see the same ending because I felt it was so good, but the movie has a new ending, but its haunting just the same.

Overall, two thumbs up from me. Worth the money to see in the theater.

Oh, the THINKS you can think!

I have always been a dreamer, and when it came to Dr. Seuss, while part of me even now holds a special place for his final work “Oh, the places you’ll go!”, my all time favorite is “Oh, the THINKS you can think!” I suppose my imagination and all the thinks I can think is why I enjoy fantasy and science fiction so much, all of the magic and technology sets my brain sparking. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I were a touch older, just a decade or two, and have had to have lived without the things I have lived with. By today’s standards, even what I grew up with seems like the dark ages. Life without cell phones and the Internet probably seems unbelievable to people younger than me, as much as life without multiplexes and cable television would be strange to me. Every day, in every way, it is like we are living in the future.

I’ve seen laptop computers and palmtop computers, I’ve seen portable devices and ebook readers, but Amazon’s new Kindle, to me, is another one of those leaps, like I’m staring at something that has fallen out of a rip in the space time continuum. The future right now.

We have six five shelf bookcases in our house, and four smaller ones. By width of the shelves we probably have one hundred feet of books, but likely more than that as some of those shelves are two paperbacks deep and double stacked, books laying across the top where we could find room to jam them in. Working in computers, I’m not really surprised to know that all of those could be digitized and stored on a thumb drive, but somehow the idea that all of those books could be purchased, stored and read wirelessly on a device the size of one of those books just makes my head momentarily spin.

I’m sure people will say that nothing will replace the feel, the smell, the experience of books, and to a degree I agree. I’ve got two shelves of children’s books for the children, nieces and nephews that I don’t yet have. I don’t think an electronic device can replace the book you share with a child, at least until they come up with the Kindle 2 with two color screens to better emulate an open book. But outside of that, I think of carrying books with me on the bus as I travel to work, or back to my days of lugging heavy texts around the high school halls and across the college campus and I know that an electronic book from the future would have been a welcome replacement for the weight and the hassle.

Of course, no advancement of technology can come without its own share of pitfalls. The voracity with which my wife and I devour books these days, we’d be bankrupt in no time thanks to the ease at which we could purchase books. Owning such a thing would definitely be a test of will. I suppose we’d be okay as long as we retain the option to not store credit card information on the account. One click purchasing is an innovation I think we’d all be better off not having.

That said… I still want one.

Friday isn`t for the faint of heart

The day after Thanksgiving has become known as Black Friday. I’ve said it before, I go shopping on this day. The second reason I go is for some great deals. I’m not the camp outside all night type, so I never get the $100 TVs and things of that nature, but I’m more than happy to take advantage of DVDs under $5 and other such deals to help take the bite out of holiday spending.

The main reason I go out though is that I am, especially during the holiday season, an avid people watcher. I don’t do it as often as I used to, but every now and then I’ll head to the mall and wander around, or find a nice place to sit, and just watch people. The holiday season is great for this, largely because they are so focused on shopping that people rarely catch you watching but also because of that focus they are so interesting to watch. How people deal with crowds and lines and limited quantities, misprinted ads, misunderstood special prices and getting around from here to there and back again. It is a smorgasboard of idiosyncratic behavior of people at their best and their worst, and the two sides of every person struggling from moment to moment over which will win at any given obstacle.

The day after Thanksgiving, to me, is officially the “Christmas Season” and I love me some Christmas. If you do decide to brave the shops this Friday, do everyone a favor… every half hour or so, stop, take in a deep breath, exhale slowly and relax. One missed deal isn’t going to ruin Christmas. If it is, well, you’ve probably got far more problems than the wit and wisdom of a blog will ever be able to solve. Seek professional help.

The Plague

Normally I reserve Wednesday posts for discussions of all things Zombie. This week, despite the title of this entry, I will not be speaking of zombies, unless you count the fact that I have felt like one.

One of the wicked cool things about WordPress, which is what I use to do this blog, is that you can post entries in advance. When I’m in my rhythm, I run about 3 entries ahead, so that on Monday I’m writing Thursday’s post while you are reading the post I wrote on Friday. Now, this isn’t always true, sometimes I just can’t think up or find stuff to write about, other days I’ll sit down and crank out a week’s worth of entries. The best part about this is that it allows (forces) me to think about what I’m writing. Often times I’ll write up an entry and then during the next two or three days while it waits in queue, I’ll think up new thoughts on the subject and go edit my entry. The bad part about this is that if I’m away from the PC for a few days and I’ve accidentally “published” items I wasn’t really finished with, they make it to the front page while I’m not paying attention.

So, a little over two weeks ago, I started feeling a tad under the weather. I wrote up a post for the 5th and one for the 7th, and then I vanished into a cloud of illness and phlegm.

There is nothing so oppressive as not being able to breath. There were days that I felt like someone was stepping on my chest. Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to go see some free movie screenings. However, not being able to take a full breath and hearing a disturbing rattle in my lungs if I exhaled too deeply was just bad… when I realized that the never-ending pounding in my skull was actually from lack of caffeine, I felt like a complete idiot. Thankfully, the fine folks at Papa Johns will deliver Cokes along with pizza. Also, NyQuil works much better if you get the kind with the alcohol still in it. Its hard to feel sick when you are asleep.

However, illness does have its upsides. We did watch all of season three of 24. Now I’m only three seasons behind. I also played a lot of Dead Rising (hey, look! zombie games!) working my way toward the Zombie Genocider achievement (you have to kill 53,594 zombies, enough to equal the stated population of the town).

There comes a point, though, when you’ve missed all the work you can miss and slept all the sleep you can sleep and driven over all the zombies you can drive over… okay, driving over zombies never gets tiring, but there comes a point where you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. My point is at about 10 days.

Sometimes, a person just needs a break. I got sick, and I let myself be sick because I needed to be sick. Ten days of sick and I was ready to rejoin the world. I’m all better now, and I’m more certain than ever before that attitude and outlook affect your physical state.

What was the point of all this? Oh, likely just so that later I can justify to myself why I failed to reach 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo by pointing and saying “I was sick!” But then again, I do still have ten days… 5,000 words a day. Maybe…

The Census

Over on his blog, Tobold has provided a nice little analysis of hardcore players’ complaints on casual players. In the midst of that, he made the following comment:

If Blizzard wanted to know what their players want, they would have to put up some sort of survey *in game* with in-game prizes for everybody who answers, so that even the casual players would want to participate.

The funny thing about this, is that Blizzard has crafted a game world with enough tongue planted firmly in cheek that this could easily work.

First off, they’ve already introduced a game mechanic, the daily quests, that has taught the players to return to the same NPCs on a regular basis for new content. Using that, restricting it to “per account” instead of “per character”, and co-opting the sense of humor that already pervades their world, they could insert NPCs representing the Azeroth Census Bureau. These agents, standing in cities and towns with their clipboards, could ask monthly, or even weekly, questions in the form of quest text and reward choices. Participants in the surveys would be paid for their time, perhaps in money or maybe in faction for the location of the census representative. The agents could even have localized questions, asking about nearby raid instances or other features, if localized data collection would be of benefit.

With an in game mechanic like this, they’d be more likely to collect better sample data than that of any out of game forums. Well, except that hardcore players might not participate if the rewards aren’t great enough, but surely adding more avenues of capturing the voice of the players couldn’t hurt.

Beowulf

Last night, despite still being ill (more on that later), I went to a screening of the new movie Beowulf.

The story of Beowulf has been done so many times that I figure everyone knows it by now, so I’m not going to review that part. It is what it is, and its still pretty good.

This movie version is a computer animated tale. It uses the same motion capture system that brought us The Polar Express three years ago. I had the same problem with this film that I have had with every single computer animated movie in the past as they’ve approached realism: eyes and mouth. Two things that computer animation hasn’t gotten quite right yet, that eyes are not steady (people tend to flick their eyes around even if they don’t realize they are doing it) and that mouth movement actually affects the entire face (when a person yells, the jaw opens and it pulls the skin of the entire face, affecting the nose and eyes as well).

Now here comes the compliment… Beowulf is the first computer animated movie to make me forget that the eyes and mouth are wrong. Going in to the film, I did not know it was a digital 3D movie. The animation by itself would have been amazing, but rendered in 3D and popping off the screen it was breathtakingly phenomenal. Astounding.

Because of this, I highly recommend going to see this movie at the theater. The big screen and the digital 3D absolutely makes this film be exactly what Beowulf should be.

Zombies: Blogstorming

So, to begin, I need to identify tasks, and seeing as how I am sure I will miss something I’m posting this to get ideas.

In a world overrun with zombies, what tasks must an individual person perform to survive. Obviously, one must kill zeds, because while zombies are a finite problem (if the world population is 7 billion and you are the only survivor there can, at most, be 7 billion minus 1 zombies, since they don’t reproduce) they will cause issues if too many are waiting outside your door. Beyond that, there is gathering food, water, weapons, clothes, sanitation, entertainment and the extremely important activity of repairing the barricades.

Lets start a bulleted list:

  • Kill zombies
  • Gather Food
  • Find/Purify Water
  • Empty poop bucket
  • Find/Maintain weapons
  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Shelter/Barricade Maintenance
  • Books/Music/Entertainment

Optional items:

  • Maintain Generator (fuel)

I’m sure there are things I am forgetting, so if you have ideas, I’d love to hear them. However, I request that suggestions remain in the “one person all alone” realm as I plan on tackling that first before working on any kind of multi player aspect.

The Pick-Up Group Dilemma

One of the banes of MMOs would appear to be, from scanning forums all over, the Pick-Up Group. More commonly known as a PUG, these are the random people you end up grouping with trying to accomplish goals in the MMO of your choice.

World of Warcraft has had the biggest impact of group expectations that I have seen due simply to the fact that when it comes to grinding experience points and other general gameplay every player can always say “Screw you guys, I’m going to go solo.” The only situations where that really isn’t true is most instances and raids. As a result, because every player has the viable option of soloing, they put up with less, but they also don’t try as hard.

Back in the age old days of EverQuest, where grouping was practically required because only certain classes could solo well and even then not everyone could do it (it made me weep sometimes to watch druids repeatedly screw up kiting), a player just couldn’t tell everyone to go away and run off by himself. You had to make the group work, or you had to find another group.

The good side of that is that the community on an EQ server was, in my opinion, much tighter than your typical WoW server. Forced grouping compounded with non-trivial travel and no rest bonuses for exp meant players tended to stick in one area for long periods and group with the same people again and again. Doing my tenure in Velketor’s knowing people meant that they understood I was a monk, a monk who knew how to pull, and capable of joining a group pretty much anywhere. When I went to look for a group in zone, it rarely took long at all for someone I’d previously grouped with to see me, invite me, and the fun would begin.

The bad side is that sometimes it was necessary to yell at people (or rather, to type at them furious in all CAPS). If you put together a full group at the front of Karnor’s Castle, proceeded inside to set up camp, and only then discovered that your bard was a spastic mental case, you might be forced to just suck it up and deal with him because even though he was crappy at his job, a crappy crowd control class was often better than no crowd control class. However, given that the spastic bard needed the group almost as much as you needed the bard, compromises would be met, adjustments to play style made, and the exp would again begin to flow.

City of Heroes is an example of a game that has tried to make the solo and group experiences equally fun. Almost any mission in the game can be done alone, but if you bring along five or six friends the mission will scale upward in a fairly predictable fashion. But, since the game goes largely without item drops and other things some MMOs depends on, CoH is actually able to provide a weird dichotomy between the two: solo play is much much more reliable for progression, you know your own class and you can go at your own pace; in a group, classes mesh together to provide new strategies but due to the size of the scaling encounters are usually more chaotic and “exciting”, providing a different rush than solo play. In both cases, you can flag your character or group to adjust the difficulty up or down to fine tune your experience.

Overall though, despite all the frustration bad groups gave me in EQ, I’d still prefer them to the eternally disbanding groups of WoW. CoH was a nice middle ground but might not mesh well with the item-centric design of other games.

What do you think about Pick-Up Groups?

The Quick and the Zed

Its Halloween, my favorite holiday. And just in time for it, a friend sent me a link on how to build a proper Emergency Zombie Defense Station. I’ll need at least two for the house, and one for the office, though I may have trouble getting it through security.

In other zombie news, we have XXXombie, a new comic book about the undead shamblers and the pornographic film industry. If you want to know more, read this, because I’m not going into any details here.

The latest issue of GFW magazine has a nice little article on the upcoming Dead Island. Sounds like a ton of fun.

In my copious free time, I’ve been working on a prototype for my zombie survivor tamagotchi. I really hope to be able to have a playable game by the end of the year, single player of course. Maybe multiplayer if I have time. But next month is the NaNoWriMo, so you might not hear much out of me for the next 30 days, or you may hear alot… depends on how the writing is going.