Saturday, September 27, 2008

Satellite, In My Eyes...

I tend to be pretty brand loyal. I drink Coke products 99% of the time, Burger King over McDonalds, Microsoft over Apple, Trojan over Durex, soap and water over rolling around in a small bowl of dust, you get the point. One product, or type of product, I have been behind for a long time is cable TV over satellite service. While satellite has a superior base technology (it uses friggin satellites!) I have been a proponent for cable service over the dish. I have even worked for the cable industry, quite proudly I might add. Heh, look at that, I added it. With my recent move, however, satellite has found it's way into my life. Seems like a great time to compare services!

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: A Review

I recently had one of those "I'm a grown-up now" moments when talking to some people about games. Looking back, I would pour hours upon hours into an RPG on the SNES Genesis, during the Saturn and PS1 days, and even with my PS2. However, for the past several years, I have had too much else going on in life to dedicate to these types of games more than once in a while. So when several RPGs come out, it is quite a tough decision to pick just one. When it comes to the Tales series, it's hard for me to not put in the time. In the case of Tales of Vesperia, I am glad I did.

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....


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lars Ulrich would agree...

The following conversation took place on the GameFAQs forum for Rock Band 2. The names have not been changed to protect no one.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's Been a Long September...

Well, I am a week away from finally moving to the other side of town. My 17 mile/45 minute afternoon commute will now be 3.9 miles and 11 minutes. I also have more space, more privacy, and less money... but what can ya do, right? Can't have it all. Some of the things I DO have are Tales of Vesperia and Rock Band 2, which I have been spending time with in between packing and paralyzing back pain CAUSED by said packing.

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.