Sunday, January 18, 2009
I called my normal doctor to try and get an emergency appointment. After 20 minutes of no one picking up the phone, I gave up.
We went to an office my mom had a good experience with in the past. I start to sign in when the girl behind the counter tells me they do not take my insurance. Best case scenario, I am only responsible for 20% of the bills, but more than likely, I will have to pay it all.
We leave and go to the quick care office by my place. The parking lot is packed. We walk through the door and there are 20-30 people standing around. As I walk up to the counter, the man behind the counter simply pushes a clipboard forward and says "sign in here." I wanted to ask him how long of a wait it would be, and if they accepted my insurance after the last place didn't, but the most he would say is "we are busy, sir..."
Off we went to an office I visited before where I have had good and bad experiences. The female doctor here is very sweet and helpful, spends as much time as you need. The male doctor, he, well, let us just say he got his degree in the 60s and appears to be stuck in his ways. Guess who was on... We get in the door... no receptionist. A few minutes later, a woman appears. She has me sign in, then argues with me about whether or not I have been there before. Yes, I tell her, but its been maybe 18 to 24 months since I have been sick, so my information will need to be updated. She had to repeat everything 1o times because not only did she never look at me to talk, but she mumbled, and my head was congested. She also argued with me about tissues. She said some were on the counter. My ability to LOOK WITH MY EYES showed there were none. After 5 minutes of me asking repeatedly, she reached under he desk and finally handed me a box. Needless to say, she was of no help.
A bright note was the doctor's assistant, who is the nicest medical professional I have ever met in Nevada. I remember him from when I got sick a few years earlier, and how helpful we was. He actually remembered me and immediately commented on how proud he was that I lost so much weight. After a few minutes, he placed me in a room.
My dad and I spent the time waiting for the doctor reminiscing about previous insurance coverage. For 5 years I worked for 2 of the biggest east coast companies and had incomparable insurance, and my dad was management growing up, so we never had worries back then, either.
Once again, the doctor on was of little help. He poked and prodded, asked 2 questions, then said it "looks like you have an infection. What medicine do you usually take?" This medical professional is asking ME what medicine I should take... At no point did this man ever make eye contact, ask me how I was feeling, ever really want me to describe my symptoms... and after all of this, because of my deductible, I will still end up paying for this appointment in the end. He handed me a prescription and left. A day later and I feel no better, both in health or about the whole situation.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
After 2 years of offers and denials, I finally went to CES this year (had no idea it went through the weekend...) and had quite a lot of fun! It was different than I expected. I was thinking something akin to E3: dark rooms where the only lights are coming from booth lights and the glow of monitors and chicks holding glow sticks. Instead, with the exception of the main hall, all of the floors were brightly lit, much like the other traditional trade shows I attend each year for work. While I didn't get to see EVERYTHING I wanted (no Palm Pre) we had the chance to tour the majority of the show in a single day. Here are a few highlights. Click on any picture to se ea larger version.
3D Technology: No pictures, cuz that's impossible. Very unimpressed with what I saw. Very gimicky. Don't want to take glasses on and off constantly, and it was no better than the old 3D tech we had growing up.
Big TVs were impressive. At the top is me standing next to a 108" LCD from Sharp, and below that is the crazy 150" unit from Panasonic.
Tiny TVs were even more impressive. The above 2 shots are of an OLED TV. The brightness on these things are incomparable, as you can probably tell in the first shot because everything else became black on the camera. The speed and refresh is perfect, and they are so thin and light that you could store then in the sleave of a folder. They even use the new thin wire technolgy.
Microsoft had a large booth, and right in the middle were touch screen Windows 7 demo units like these. Sadly, these did not actually run Windows 7, but merely used Windows 7 technology to show how the system might work, including multi-touch features. It was basically a less impressive Surface...
LG's wristwatch phone has impressed me ever since I first saw pictures it a while back. While I didn't see it in motion, it was still cool enough to make me snap a few shots.
Cool old school cars dotted the show floor, including the above Delorean and Kitt from the REAL Knight Rider. Overall, I was shocked to see how much in car tech was part of the show, as it took up an entire hall.
Robots are cool...
Monday, December 29, 2008
Big laughs: Step Brothers is the funniest movie I have seen in ages, and Big Bang Theory makes me chuckle every week and Hamlet 2 is the new Napoleon Dynamite. SNL had a few great moments (most courtesy of Anne Hathaway) and Jizz in my Pants will be around for a while. Eddie Izzard is incredible live, and I am lucky to still be breathing after his performance. I am also hilarious. You are welcome world.
Braid: Play Braid. Complete Braid. Send your gratitude.
Dr Horrible: I met Neil Patrick Harris. I actually met Dr Horrible. The DVD arrived this week, and "Commentary! The Musical!" is fantastic. More music was written for the all signing commentary track than for the actual movie, features most of the cast, and contains a rock ballad about an online flash game, a song about a guy with a lisp, and a tune on how there are no Asian actors/actresses in movies and TV. Also, I want to have Felicia Day groomed by Tycho...
Rock Band: I have spent more time with Rock Band (and now Rock Band 2) than I have with any game since Tetris. I have played with different people ranging from 5 year old children, to classy "I don't play video games" girls, to senior citizens, and everyone found immense pleasure from the experience. I currently own 203 songs, and with more coming every week, including the just released No Doubt pack (sadly lacking "New"(but containing "Running!? WHY?!)) and March's release of Pearl Jam's "Ten". Harmonix has an amazing IP on their hands. Now if only they can get the whole Beatles thing right...
New music: 2007 was an amazing year for music, and while 2008 wasn't as great, there was a lot to love. Kings of Leon now have some fame, and Sex on Fire was a great way to introduce them to the world. Viva La Vida is a great album, with the title track being one of the best songs of the year. Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs struck a unique chord with its finely tuned mixes and wonderful I Will Possess Your Heart. My favorite lyric of the year is courtesy of Katy Perry with "the taste of her cherry Chapstick" even if she hasn't struck a permanent chord with with me quite yet. With solid releases from Weezer and The Killers and Vampire Weekend, not a lot to complain about.
Prince of Persia: Stop your whining you whiners! Who cares if the game is very simple, easy to pick up and play, simple to master, and if it steals/borrows the main conventions of superior titles like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. IF IT IS FUN, THEN SHUT UP AND ENJOY YOURSELF. While I am not as enamored as certain people like IGN's Hilary, I had a lot of fun with the Prince. Simple yet great flowing gameplay, wonderful story with a solid ending, and the best visuals and artistic style since Okami. I am looking forward to a sequel.
Comic book movies: Between Iron Man, Dark Knight, Hellboy 2 and now The Spirit, this has been a great year for the comic book movies. Even the previews, like Watchmen and Wolverine, have made the year better. While I might only read the occasional comic nowadays (Buffy) they were a large part of my youth and I keep up with the big news. I still don't care for anything Hulk related, though.
Me: Yes, I am one of my favorite things this year. I have found an incredible group of friends, made dramatic self improvement by losing another 30lbs on top of building up my muscles, and I love my job. I also have a nicer TV than you... unless yours is nicer... in which case, gimme.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Despite doing everything right, Veronica Mars never made it out of the bottom of the ratings bucket... of failure...? On average, Veronica Mars reached about 2 million viewers, a solid number, but for it's Tuesday night slot, not nearly enough. The fact that it was on the unpopular UPN/CW did not help Veronica's case. It steadily gained new viewers each year, despite a difficult transition to a college setting for the final season. Veronica never got the ending it deserved either, as it was never really cancelled, but put on hiatus in the winter (replaced with the Pussycat Dolls reality show), after which 5 more episodes were produced to make it a complete season, and then just not renewed. Creator Rob Thomas (Dawson's Creek, not the singer) made a great preview for season 4 where Veronica became a rookie FBI agent, several years after the 3rd season concluded. Sometimes a show can do everything right, from the theme song ("We Use to be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols) to the amazing cast (Bell and Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars) to critical acclaim (Joss Whedon calls it the "Best. Show. Ever.") and never find the audience it deserves. So the next time that you get told to call the girl, pick up the phone.
Angel: Fox hates (hated?) Joss Whedon, and Angel is the last nail in the coffin of proof. To keep it simple, Angel remade itself from 2 years of serial storytelling into a weekly series and turned the character's world upside down. Now in charge of the evil lawfirm (ya read that right) Wolfram and Hart, Angel and co. now had the power to make a true difference in the world. Angel had a great run, and truly became it's own show, seperating itself from Buffy quite well, but the timing and nature of the cancellation is what hurts. Whedon was given JUST enough time to make a good finale (I want to fight the dragon) and the series found new life in comic book form (don't bother reading past issue 5 unless you are a big fan, in which case, you are already reading). Despite gaining it's highest ratings since it's premier, Angel was cancelled during the celebration of the 100th episode. No reason was provided at all. Costs were down, ratings up, it was the only Whedon show on the air, fans loved the new premise, dogs and cats were working together... everything was lined up for a 6th season to continue the magic, but Jordan Levin (WB's Head of Entertainment) cancelled the show without ever providing a valid reason. Ouch.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The show is a spoof of itself, and makes no apologies. Imagine if Mystery Science Theater 3000 had the cast acting as other characters... that is the best way to describe Darkplace. It takes place in modern times, with Marenghi showing his failed 80s TV series, and complimenting himself and his "art" all along the way. Marenghi's ego is what really makes the show work, with his name appearing in nearly every credit, including the music "based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi." You can find the majority of the show on YouTube (HERE YA GO). This is one of those rare shows that may BENEFIT from a short lifespan, but I would love to see a few more hours of what Dr Rick Dagless, aka Garth Marenghi, aka Matthew Holness had in him.
Dead Like Me: Any TV show that has it's title based on a classic novel written by John Howard Griffin must be a winner, and Dead Like Me is no exception. This Showtime program aired in June 2003 through October 2004, for 2 seasons. We follow 18 year old Georgia Lass. George, as she prefers to be called, is a slacker who cares about nothing, lives with her parents and sister, and is being forced to get a job by her mother now that she is no longer taking classes. While on lunch at her first day of work at the Happy Time Temp agency, a toilet seat falls from the sky from Mir space station, incinerating young George where she stands. Instead of dying, George finds herself wandering around, and learns she must become a grim reaper. Her task is to take the souls of those who are about to die in painful and gory situations, and escort them to the other side. She must also lead a "normal" human life, however she cannot be harmed or killed again.
Georgia works with several other reapers. The incomparable Mandy Patinkin plays Rube, the eldest and leader of the reapers. She is also joined by Mason, a British stoner, Roxy, a hard skinned traffic enforcer, Betty, an upbeat woman who quickly befriends George, and later Daisy, a starlet from the 30s. George returns to her Happy Time job as her new persona Millie, and finds herself living life for the first time despite now being dead. She works with the wonderful Delores Herbig played by the hilarious Christine Willes. The show lost a lot of the zest that made it unique in the first season, especially after creator Bryan Fuller left due to arguements with MGM. While some reports say that the ratings were over three times higher than the average show on Showtime, the full numbers, and reason for cancellation, have never been released. A direct to DVD movie has been commisioned, but is now 18 months behind schedule. Dead Like Me remains one of the most petitioned shows online and continues to have a very strong fan base.
PART 3 COMING SOON....
Thursday, December 4, 2008
For those of you who don’t remember (AND HOW DARE YOU!) I purchase a nice new big screen back in May. Don’t believe me? HERE YA GO. Since then, I have had a lot of fun. I have played some great Xbox 360 games, watched some Blu-Rays on a borrowed PS3 (Speed Racer is the movie equivalent to dropping acid) and watched lots of TV in HD. Sadly, most of the TV I have watched has sucked.
For some reason, this year’s crop of new TV shows has been below my normal TV viewing standards. The only shows I look forward to watching are House, Big Bang Theory, Fringe and The Office. Chuck is fun on occasion, but Heroes and other former favorites (and anything new) have been big let downs. What have I done instead of watching new TV programming? I have dug back into the TV archives with some great DVD collections. So which shows do I think were cut loose before their prime? 6 great series come to mind right off the bat.
Firefly: I will say very little about Firefly, because so much has been said, and so much has been done in regards to this instant Joss Whedon classic. Fox hopefully learned its lesson for the most part after manhandling this show, giving Whedon another chance with this fall’s Dollhouse. Firefly is clever, wonderfully written, atmospheric and deep. Thankfully we got a taste of what was to come with the movie Serenity, but Firefly will long remain the number one “cancelled before its time” show for many of us.
Carnivale: Carnivale premiered on HBO in September 2003 with a critically acclaimed first season, but after a slow start to the second season, the show was cancelled before the 3rd season went into production. Set in the 1930s dustbowl, Carnivale follows the story of Ben Hawkins as he loses his mother and joins a travelling carnival of freaks and weirdoes. Ben has the power to heal people, but does not understand how his power works, or the consequences it brings. He slowly learns about his past, and how he is connected to those are the carnival, and why he has this power. We also follow the story of Methodist preacher Brother Justin Crowe and his sister Iris in
The show focuses on magic and mystery, the stories of the fellow carnies, and the ultimate battle that is to come. The story is told in flashbacks that the main characters suddenly have, as if their destiny is magically written for them. Sadly, due to a very slow 2nd season start, the show was cancelled just as things became truly interesting. Ben has found his boon and inherited new powers, we learn how sick and twisted Justin truly is, and even the secondary and tertiary characters shine bright. I would love to follow the story in any medium, either film or television or book or comics or anything. They planned a total of 6 seasons, and many small clues that appeared since the first episode will continue to remain mysteries now and forever.
PART 2 COMING SOON!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
For the uninitiated, the original programmers of Guitar Hero 1 and 2 (Harmonix) got bought by MTV Games, while the original publisher (Red Octane) kept the brand name Guitar Hero and then were bought by Activision. Harmonix created Rock Band, expanding on their 2 years of Guitar Hero experience (and many years of great rhythm games like Amplitude and Frequency) which included not only guitar and bass, but also drums and a mic. Activision created Guitar Hero 3 with dev studio Neversoft (get it? lol) which took the guitar playing to the next level. Both Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band stood on their own, 2 significantly different products for the most part. Rock Band was easy to play with a constantly expanding set list for purchase, while Guitar Hero 3 pushed the limits of the guitar playing, especially in its difficulty and quality.
With Guitar Hero World Tour, Activision and Neversoft are trying to steal back their chunk of the market with a full band game, and for the most part, they do a good job. However, instead of taking the year to make a game that is better than Rock Band, World Tour is simply a Rock Band clone, failing in many of the areas that Rock Band 1 even succeeded in. But first, the good. The wider breadth of time to hit a note is a welcome return from GH3, you can crank or lower any individual instrument's volume, great for single player gaming, the character creating mode has good depth, the bass is given lots of attention with the no-fret strum, hammer ons and pull offs are a breeze to pull off (hehe), you can switch difficulty in the career mode at your leisure (like in RB2) and the bigger better drum set is more fun to play than Rock Bands thanks to a 5th pad and the cymbals, and the kit feels better overall. This is a fun game on its own.
However, when compared to other games, World Tour starts to falter. To start with, I really dislike the set list. I only care about 10 songs or so, and the rest are background noise. Normally, I find myself being won over by a few songs I have never heard before (Seven by Vagiant in RB for example) but World Tour simply lacks a great set list, and with Rock Band's nearly 500 songs, its a much bigger disappointment. The folks at Harmonix are musicians themselves and understand what plays great in the game, and what is good music in general. And the old Guitar Hero issues rear their ugly heads, like large segments of songs with nothing to play or only playing 1 or 2 notes (even on Hard) when there are really several to play.
Comparing Guitar Hero World Tour to the original Rock Band, even without the 500 songs, Rock Band still wins. Rock Band 2 creates an even wider gap in quality. I am still a HUGE Guitar Hero 3 fan, its the game I play when I want a quick solo session, even over my 200 Rock Band 2 songs. The lack of innovation and paltry set list don't even compare to a year old game. Don't get me wrong, I do not DISLIKE World Tour, I have had some fun, but I had higher hopes. On its own, World Tour is fun, and the drums are great, but it is a constant disappointment after playing other games from the same genre.
Monday, November 3, 2008
-I met Neil Patrick Harris, of Dr Horrible and Doogie Howser fame. Oh, and that whole "Met your Mom" thing people tend to mention. Super nice, super tall.
-I also saw Laura Prepon (not as tall as you'd think) and Christopher Knight with wife Adrianne Curry.
-I voted, 2 weeks early because Nevada has that, and it rocks.
-Heroes continued to suck. I hate Peter, and Milo is quickly becoming one of the worst actors in history. Jeff Loeb got fired today, not surprised.
-Got upset that Buffy is now 2 months behind on new issues. Karl Moline does not understand the word "deadline".
-Was both super excited and extremely disappointed over the Beatles/Harmonix announcement. I want to play Beatles songs IN Rock Band, not switch to a completely separate game to play a Beatles song.
-Started watching Carnivale again on DVD (thanks Amazon for rediculously low prices). HBO had an amazing show, and just let it slip away. This is as good as Heroes was at it's best.
-Laughed at an episode of SNL for the first time in 8 years. Anne Hathaway once again proves she can do no wrong (except for Havoc... showing your boobs does not make you a "mature" actress)
-And finally, this happened on Halloween:
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Today, October 21st, marks the 10 year anniversary since Xenogears hit US shores. Xenogears tells the story of Fei Fong Wong, a painter who found himself in a small village with no memory 3 years ago, fallen in love with a girl who is about to get married in town, and befriended the local doctor, Citan Uzuki. One day, a large mech, called a Gear, crashes in town. Fei finds himself in the cockpit of the Gear, hoping to somehow prevent the mayhem taking place, but winds up destroying the town in the process. He is exiled from the city, and bumps into a young redhead named Elly Van Houten, and the two instantly seem to know each other, though they have never met. This is the beginning of Fei’s journey.
The story is what sets Xenogears apart, and is its best feature. The main story is about Fei and Elly’s love for one another, and how their souls find each other again, over and over, generation after generation. The story covers Fei’s battle with himself, having formed split personalities after a tragic accident in his youth, and Elly’s evolution from a young naïve officer following in her father’s footsteps, to a grown woman with a past that spans centuries. God’s existence is brought into question, both literally and figuratively, and the origins of life and humanity on this planet are eventually discovered.
Visually, Xenogears went the opposite way of FFVII. Instead of 3d character models placed on pre-drawn sets, the world was fully 3d, with 2d sprite based characters. This led to some interesting platforming elements, and with full control of the camera’s rotation, it leads to some very well designed dungeons and towns. The audio is top notch as well, with a moving score that remains one of my favorites to this day.
This game nearly didn’t make it to the US due to its very adult themes, including death, sex, and the questioning of God. It nearly didn’t make it out in Japan either, as budgetary and time constraints forced Soraya Saga (aka Kaori Tanaka) and her husband Tetsuya Takahashi to remove many of the gameplay elements (dungeons and side quests) out of the final third of the game, the infamous 2nd disk, and focus exclusively on the story. This was done by having the main characters, specifically Fei, Elly and Citan, to talk directly to the player, in a first person perspective, telling the player what is taking place in the story, instead of having the player experience it themselves. The character would appear on the screen in front of art, with text scrolling along, with music playing behind. This caused a large number of players to never finish the game, detracted by the major change in pacing and gameplay style.
Saga and Takahashi went on to form Monolith, and eventually created the Xenosaga series, which Square-Enix would not allow to directly reference Xenosaga due to copyright laws. The Xenosaga series takes the story telling aspect of Xenogears to the next generation, with state of the art cut scenes, something that many gamers lamented. Sadly, the world of Xenogears seems to have come to an end, but for me, the story will live on as long as Fei and Elly continue to find each other again.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Roger Moore has been with the Orlando Sentinel since 1999, but I have not heard of the man until today. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Spin Magazine, and even The Washington Post. He now finds himself as the Sentinels's movie critic after an award winning career.
His latest movie review is for the video game to movie translation of Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. For the first 9 paragraphs, Mr Moore offers a fair and balanced review, sharing his opinions on the movie and its less than stellar story, and sub par performances of the films stars. He even makes an extremely intelligent point, saying that as long as Uwe Boll is around, Max Payne could not possibly be the worst video game film ever made. I should point out that I have no plans to see Max Payne, only mildly enjoyed the first game (bullet time was born here) and almost every other review mirror Mr Moore's opinions.
However, his final thoughts sent a shiver down my spine. "But as good as a couple of its action beats are, Max still suffers from the heartlessness that makes games emotionally inferior to movies. Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character's death." This final sentiment will be the reason Roger Moore gains internet fame (ya know, other than because his name is Roger Moore, but not the actor).
This is an extremely bold statement by Mr Moore. Simply because a video game has not caused a deep emotional impact in HIS life, he decides to make the broad generalization for all games, and all gamers. It might make Mr Moore give pause to know that I have never cried because of a book, and yet I do not make the huge leap to say that nobody ever shed a tear over a book character's death.
I suppose I don't really have a point here other that to say I am disturbed by such bravado that Mr Moore has shown. Several video games I have played have brought deep emotional connections, with two bringing a tear to my eye (ironically, wait for my next post on Tuesday). The same number of films can make the same statement of giving me such a profound reaction. I think Mr Moore should take the time to experience a real video game story. When you spend 50 hours with a character, you are much more likely to experience a deep connection, than in a 90 minute film.
Feel free to read the entire review by CLICKING HERE and then check out Rotten Tomatoes for a great list of fantastic responses to his review by CLICKING HERE! I cannot wait until I read his response to the high volley of calls, emails and posts he will receive, and takes the time to enjoy a real game. At the very least, Mr Moore is about to get quite a bit of attention from my fellow interwebbers.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I have had every type of cable service imaginable. When you work for the cable company, they treat you good, or treat you well, if you follow those 3rd grade English lessons. In order to best know the product, and properly trouble shoot it, the cable company will give you every channel and as many boxes as you need for free, or deep deep discounts. While I cannot say it is true for the entire industry, it certainly is for the company I worked for, for when I worked there. I have had an HD-DVR, non Tivo variety, since 2004. I have had 4 different types of cable HD-DVRs, different cities and generations and now I have an HD-DVR from DIRECTV.
In terms of picture quality, there seems to be absolutely no difference that I can see between the service offered by cable and DIRECTV for 99% of programming, but there are some minor differences. Cable has a slighty more blocky "digital" look to their standard def broadcasts on many stations, while DIRECTVhas a softer "broadcast" look to the picture. On the HD side of things, the only difference I have seen is that the DIRECTV does a better job at preventing noise in night shots. Normally, in a night setting, the darkness will look staticy and noisy, and this is improved in the DIRECTV broadcasts. Switching from SD to HD signals on cable was seamless, but the DIRECTV box takes an extra 2 seconds to go from one to another. Audio seems a little off on DIRECTV as well, much louder and bassier, with a low treble. This could have something to do with the much larger and more open room I am in, but I have a feeling it's the service. The only other difference I have seen so far is the lack of "digital tearing" you see when the signal drops for a split second. This is those blocks that will appear and the sound goes away for a split second. So far, none of that with DIRECTV. DIRECTV has a slight edge here
The biggest difference so far is the options offered by the digital converters and DVR services. Both let me record 2 shows at once, and have interactive digital guides. All cable DVRs I use have had a superior and much quicker guide, while the DIRECTV guide is slower to respond and takes a few extra clicks to get to some menus. Cable also offers different guide styles, while DIRECTV has only given me a single guide with no variation. The big positive here is that I can create a custom favorites list with DIRECTV, so when I click on Guide, only the channels I select will appear. No more scanning through 800 channels in the guide, I can look at just the 25 channels I watch the most. Overall, the cable DVRs are superior in my opinion, mainly because of the speed, customization and ease of use, but I love having the ability with DIRECTV to load only the channels I want.
I still believe that cable is a better product overall. It is easier to repair, less prone to being damaged or broken, and because so much of it is based locally where you live, can offer a more refined product experience. DIRECTV definitely uses superior technology, and seems much more "high-tech" overall. It is also more costly (gotta buy the equipment, yuck) and generally tougher to repair, but it does offer more channels. At the end of the day, I still prefer cable, but I think I will enjoy my satellite service once I get used to it.
EDIT: Day 3, realize during the Eagles game that there is no picture in picture. Big negative for DIRECTV....
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Tales of Vesperia comes out a month short of the 10 year anniversary of the Tales games US premier. Tales of Destiny for the original PlayStation was a unique experience, especially for the time. You tour through towns and dungeons, make new friends and allies, and bring down a big evil. The difference in this RPG is that instead of turn based battle systems; you have direct control of your character, using standard combo attacks and special attacks. Tales of Vesperia continues this gameplay, and most of the Tales traditions. While there are very few new additions compared to the other games in the series, it refines and perfects almost everything the Tales series is known for.
Yuri lives in the slums of the world capital with his doggy pal Repede. He briefly joined the knights with his best friend, Flynn. The local blastia, a magic source that, in this form, controls the water in the slums, is stolen, and Yuri is arrested while trying to retrieve it. While escaping from prison, he runs into Estelle, a princess on the run, and together they escape. Along the way, they meet little Karol, a young monster hunter with no back bone, Rita, a genius mage who alienates everyone she meets, the voluptuous and mysterious Judy, and her dragon buddy Ba'ul, and Raven, a strange "old man" with a hidden past. They start their quest to retrieve the stolen blastia, and, well, things stick at that point for about half of the game.
The story doesn't get to the "world in peril" level, with the exception of wars and monsters, until about two thirds of the way through Vesperia. While this isn't a complaint, there were some points in the game where the characters had little motivation to move forward. The characters are also not as charming as in other games, but it’s great to see them mature. Yuri really shows his dark side by killing the corrupt, Rita turns a corner and becomes best buds with Estelle, and Karol becomes the group’s leader despite his age and inexperience. Again, the characters do blossom, but they are not as endearing as others from the genre. The ending is very short, with just a triumphant "WE BEAT THE BAD GUY" smile on everyone's face, and nothing else, which is disappointing, but fits with the rest of the story I suppose.
My complaints end there. Everything else, especially the combat, are as good as they have ever been. At hour 49, I was still enjoying every single fight I got into. The graphics are a solid anime style cell-shaded beauty, the voice over work is top notch, the loading times are non-existent, and the fighting engine is the best the series has delivered so far. It ended up taking me 50 hours to complete the main quest about about 90% of the side quests. Another 10 hours could be spent doing much more, like casinos and "find the missing guy" quests, but I am happy where things left off. Now I just need to find something to do with the next 50 hours....
IMAGES COURTESY IGN
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
In case I don't write a full review, here is a synopsis of Tales of Vesperia. By far, this is the best Tales game since Symphonia for the GCN, the pinnacle of the series. The battle system has been perfected, and the ability tree is almost perfectly spread out across the game. In the past you could go several dungeons in between new abilities (looking at your Abyss...) but here you get new special moves right when you need them.
While the story here has been toned down about 5 notches, the characters develop very well. No flat folk here. The quest itself does not because "save the world" epic until about hour 30, but you always have a nice motivation to move forward. I am 47 hours in, about the enter the final dungeon with about 50% of the major side quests complete. I plan to complete the main mission within a week and get a chuck of the additional side quests complete within the month.
The rest of my month will likely be dedicated to Rock Band 2 which I picked up today. The biggest improvements are the ability to use any character in any mode for any instrument, hammer ons and pull offs are now more obvious and clearly indicated, and the challenge of each song has increased. The biggest negatives? Only 2 so far, and that is the aforementioned hammers and pull offs are a little more tricky to pull off, as you have to press the fret button AS they cross the line instead of being able to just have them held down before they play like normal notes, and unlocking songs.
You have two ways to unlock new songs, and both are in the career mode. You now play through a solo career, which is now like the previous band career mode, but it can be done as a single player game, which is a GREAT idea. No more list of songs that you complete one by one to open the next, you have to go from city to city, getting fans, money and stars, up to 5 stars per song. As new cities, and new gigs in those cities appear, you get more songs. After over 2 hours in the career mode, I had unlocked no new songs, only the original 20 that come unlocked with the game. Assuming that an average song is 5 minutes, that means I played every song at least twice and yet no new songs... Now 7 hours in, I have maybe 20 new songs, so roughly half of the disk is unlocked. I finally put down the guitar after playing Everlong, the reason I bout the game. My pinky has that little blister back, which I haven't had in months.
Alternately, you can play the new Challenge mode, which is series of different set lists. The issue in unlocking songs THIS way is that you need to play each instrument (guitar, bass, drums and mic) and also play as a band. While not a huge negative, this is an issue for solo players who want to just get new songs. There is an unlock code, the game even tells you so, but so far there is no word on what that code might be, and if it will effect your achievements and such. It shouldn't, considering I have seen what the achievements, but its a possibility.
So far, in career, I have 218 stars (got 4 stars on 2 songs), 394,400 fans and $5866, having already spent about $500 on new clothes. The game is a considerable improvement, with nearly EVERY complaint people had from last year being resolved. The quick play mode even lists the actual difficulty of each song and works like the music store, allowing you to quickly search through songs. With my 60 or so song downloads, the 80 I will have unlocked, that's about 150 songs for Rock Band 2. I plan on doing the Rock Band 1 export once the career mode is complete, so add in another 30-40 there that I actually play, as I will delete the rest. Check back for more details once I get the band back together.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Favorite summer movies:
1) The Dark Knight
2) Iron Man
3) Hellboy 2
4) Step Brothers
5) Kung-Fu Panda
Summer movies I still need to see:
4) Speed Racer
5) The Dark Knight again...
Most anticipated upcoming games in 2008:
1) Tales of Vesperia (picking it up tomorrow)
2) Prince of Persia
3) Tomb Raider Underworld
4) Guitar Hero World Tour
5) Rock Band 2
6) Mirrors Edge
7) Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
8) Fallout 3
9) Star Wars: Force Unleashed
10) Infinite Undiscovery
Most anticipated returning TV shows:
2) Heroes (keepin' my fingers crossed...)
3) Big Bang Theory
4) The Office
6) Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles (best season finale of last season besides House)
Most anticipated NEW TV shows:
1) Dollhouse (yeah yeah, not til 2009...)
3) Damn... pathetic list...
Monday, August 11, 2008
While Braid doesn't have the humor found in Valve's Portal, playing Braid was a very similar experience to me. The game is short (all puzzles solved in about 6 hours), pretty (great hand painted appearance), has a great overall mechanic (rewind time to solve puzzles), wonderful music (like a tour through Irish fields), strange hidden secrets (super secret stars do nothing?) but more than anything else, Braid left me wanting more.
It took me roughly 4 hours to get through the 5 main worlds, getting 60 of the game's 72 puzzle pieces. To complete the game, you must find all 72 puzzle pieces, and once all of the level's puzzles are complete, the final World 1 opens up to explore. Those final 12 pieces took me about 2-3 hours alone, because Braid gets very challenging, and makes you think very far outside the box, using each world's unique mechanics in a way that is both brilliant and frustrating. Kill your own cloned shadow just to scavenge the key he was carrying? Reverse time to make the unreversable cloud appear below your feet? You will have to use your imagination to completely solve this game.
The story is unique as well, written like an epic poem, told through short paragraphs at the beginning of each world. The story starts with Tim searching for the Princess that has left him. We are told that "this happened because Tim made a mistake." It is not until you complete the very end of the final world, that you can fully appreciate the simple story. While not a "twist" per say, the ending to the game is very satisfying, and worth the journey to get all 72 puzzle pieces, and uses the game's time mechanic to reveal the truth.
At $15, a lot of people have been turned away from the game simply for the price, which is rediculous. I have paid a full $50 for games that lasted as long, and brought nowhere near the level of satisfaction that Braid brings. If you want something to last forever, then get GTA4 and Madden. If you want to have the most fun in a game all summer, then get Braid. The demo is free on XBLA, a PC version is on its way, and if you come over to my place (or where ever I move to) you can play my version. Just play this game already, smile, and thank me later.
Image courtesy http://braid-game.com/
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
That's right, the Japanese LINING UP EARLY for a 360 exclusive. Which game you ask, or "どのビデオゲームか。" if you are actually Japanese and reading this (thanks Babelfish!)? Tales of Vesperia of course!
80% of my 360 games are from Namco/Bandai, an incredible number when you look at the fact that for my PS2 collection, only 2 Tales games and the 2 Katamari games can make that claim. That is out of +/- 25 games. Tales of Symphonia was one of my top 5 Gamecube games, and the original PS1 Tales of Destiny convinced so many twitch gamer friends of mine that RPGs can be fun.
Tales of Vesperia will be coming out at the end of the month. Let's hope that those fine young Japanese folk in line will be as happy as me.
Photo courtesy Famitsu
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
CLICK HERE FOR THE FUNNY BECAUSE BLOGGER DOESN'T WANT MY BLOG TO BE WIDER THAN 15 PIXELS
Monday, July 28, 2008
Dark Knight: What can I say that hasn't been said already by every person ever? Amazing film, amazing story, amazingly realistic take on something that so many of us view in such a brightly colored and animated way. Also, it wasn't too long, it was the right length given the story that was told. One of my favorite parts is the Joker telling Batman they will probably be doing this for the rest of their lives, a nod to The Killing Joke, but with the roles reversed. As for Batman 3, I say we will be seeing a Catwoman centric plot.
Hellboy 2: Simply put, the most amazing visual experience since Moulin Rouge or the Matrix. Yes, I just lumped those movies together.... G. del T. has an amazing visual style to most of his work, and he pulls out all the stops in this one. While the story felt a little too stuffed at points, and too slow at others, Hellboy 2 surpassed the original for me. Now if only they could get rid of that horrible opening scene...
Step Brothers: Go see this movie. It is one of the flat out wackiest movies in ages. They make no attempt to be anything other than a random almgamation of words and sounds, and it works out wonderfully. My two favorite lines are "It's like masturbating in a time machine" and "that was like a combination of Fergie and Jesus." The serious part went on a little too long in my opinion, but that made the funny parts even funnnier. Will Ferrell and John C Reily should do every movie together.
Dr Horrible: In case you missed it (what is wrong with you?!!?) Dr Horrible made it's debut earlier this month, and was as wonderful as I hoped. I wish there was more duet work between NPH and FelDay, but it was the best 45 online only super villain musical I have seen in years. I will keep everyone posted on the DVD release, which is reported to include a musical commentary track.
Eddie Izzard: I saw Eddie Izzard this past Saturday night, and he was astoundingly funny. At one point (jazz chicken) I was unable to breathe for a minute as I was doubled over in hilarity, my body trying to continue laughing, but no oxygen was available. By the end of the show, I was so tired from laughing, I had to check my watch to see how long it had been. He did a solid 2 hours of comedy. If you ever get the chance, go check him out, he is one of the most amazing comedic minds in the world, even if he doesn't do jokes you can repeat without telling 15 minutes of sourse material.
Monday, July 7, 2008
A pic from the upcoming (yet, until just now, not previewed in any way) Half-Blood Prince movie. I am excited because HBP is my favorite book in the Potter series.
I have also just started (and nearly finished) the Order of the Phoenix video game on the 360. It is a simple, fun adventure game, plain and simple. You basically have free range of the entire Hogwarts ground, and get to cast magic spells with the right analog stick on everything in sight looking for hidden secrets. I am already 40% through with only 4 hours of gameplay. Again, nothing fancy, horrible story elements, but its just fun to explore the grounds and solve all of the puzzles. A great game for Potter fans and adventure gamers alike.
**Image courtesy Mugglenet
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Last Friday night, Weird Al began the second leg of his Straight Outta Lynwood tour at the Henderson Pavillion, and it was a celebration of nerdiness and geekdom. Weird Al emerged with acordian in hand, long curly hair, pants hiked up to his chest. The show started off with the chicken dance (yes, the wedding-time, kids birthday chicken dance) and his latest polka mash-up (sadly the songs in it are now about 3-4 years old). I felt completely uncool. Me, someone who pointed at a dude in a "Browncoats" thsirt outside of the show and shouted "nice goram shirt buddy!". Me, someone, who earlier in the month, was at the same location for a video game music concert. Me, someone who says "epic fail" multiple times each week, has more than 2 video game shirts, over 20 anime DVDs and proudly displays his signed copy of Serenity for all to see.
In between each song, clips from the Weird Al Show and his MTV interviews and even random cartoons played. These were a fantastic break in the action and were some of the funnier moments of the show. Weird Al is an excellent comedian, perfect for the tv/movie world, and this showed off those skills. His music videos provide further evidence. After each video, Al would emerge in a different outfit, whether it was a red zoot suit for "Wanna B Ur Lvr", a silver track suit for "All About the Pentiums" or an actual fat suit for "Fat."
Two moments stood out for me that had me screaming and singing along as much as anyone else. A long line of storm troopers appeared on stage, with Darth Vader in the middle. Al emerged in his Jedi outfit, and began to sing "The Saga Begins", not that you could hear much at first over the hooting and hollering. I felt OK when the "cool" guys I sat next to also knew the words. He followed that up with Yoda of course.
The show ended with an encore of the cell phone song, and an extended (yes, extended) version of Albuquerque. I felt a little cooler knowing that 500 other people knew all of the words to this 16 minute rant. The show ran for two hours and had about 10 costume changes. While I doubt I will go see Weird Al again any time soon, anyone who is or was ever a fan, will find something to laugh about, and if your friends are as uncool as you, you will have a great time.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Kung Fu Panda: I went into this one with looooow expectations. It took a big beautiful pair of brown eyes to convince me to see this movie, and boy am I glad that I did. Instead of going with stupid fart jokes and a bunch of childish name calling, Kung Fu Panda is an intelligently written and excellently performed little movie. This movie was written for Jack Black, and the animators captured him perfectly. Nearly everyone brought a great performance, from David Cross's Crane, to James Hong's Mr Ping. A fun movie that no one should overlook.
Get Smart: I had high hopes for Get Smart, between Steve Carrell and the sitcom-heavy writers, and for the most part, the movie delivered. Changing Maxwell Smart from a clumsy goof who accidentally saves the day into an intelligent and cunning agent, who just happens to be a bit accident prone was a smart move in my opinion. The loads of fan service (Bill Murray in a tree as Agent 13, and Bernie Kopell getting hit by a car) and fun action was just the right combination without being too corny. A good time for fans of the series, and a fun movie for anyone else.
The Incredible Hulk: I dunno... I have never been a fan of the Hulk in general, either in comics or TV or movies. I actually liked the first movie, minus the zombie dogs and cloud/lake battle. The best thing I can say about TIH is that I had no complaints. It was a good action movie, with or without the famous lead. The thing is that I STILL do not see Ed Norton as Bruce Banner... A descent movie for actions fans, a nice comic translation, but little to nothing more.