Thursday, June 30, 2011

A New Service: Bungie Aerospace

Bungie finally unveiled it's new venture, Aerospace. No, it's not a new game or even one game per say. It's a project created by Bungie to help mobile/social gaming developers launch great titles through financial, PR/Marketing, Community and Testing support. By doing this, bungie hopes to be able work not just on their titles, but HELP other independent developers make their creations great. In other Bungie-related news, big details about their next universe will be revealed on Bungie Day (7/7/11). The fantastic day of celebration, real cake and fun will also include a Halo steak off. "You steak us, we steak you"- literallly. Bungie will be providing players who beat them in Halo Reach Matchmaking via a specific playlist (following certain conditions available on their site) will be sent a real beefy beef steak made from USDA choice beef.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vile, Offensive, Overly Easy: The Duke Nukem Forever Review

The following article has been reposted from my old Blogspot account as it has accumulated a significant level of popularity and needs to be read by as many Duke fans as possible. 

Ever since the beginning of gaming there has always a video game so graphically violent and offensive that your mother would slap you just for buying it. However, I don’t think there has ever been a game that made me feel violated, disgusted and overall alienated from the FPS genre.

The Duke Nukem series has always held a special place in my gaming heart. From the amazingly fun 2D platformers to the 3D shooting gallery, the series has never failed to impress and delight me- until now. Because of this, I set very high expectations for Duke Nukem Forever, a game that took 14 years to be finished. After playing through the game once to experience it and again to review it, I have been immensely disappointed.

To start out with, the game features what amounts to a decade and a half of FPS gaming mashed into one. Now, doing this can either be good or bad in terms of gameplay, level design or character growth. Unfortunately, doing this led DNF to the bad end of the spectrum. Ever felt a deja vu moment from one game to another? Well this game magnifies this feeling, with many experiences stolen from other FPS games. This game steals the puzzle aspects from Half-Life 2 (but they’re REALLY easy), the weapons from games like Halo Reach, Call of Duty MW2 and Team Fortress 2 and the humor from a really bad joke website.

But for a minute, let us focus on the game’s attitude. Remember the badass Duke we all knew and loved? Well, he’s been replaced with an asshole who’s seemingly stuck in the 1990s and is cockier than ever. A few of the scenes include Duke receiving a blow job from one of his fans, the art of using fecal matter as a projectile for points and killing alien impregnated women. Overall, this is one of the crudest games I have ever played. The game is both degrading to women and to the first person genre.

As far as gameplay goes, there are a few decent shooting moments you will find in this game- the only thing that makes this somewhat playable. Although the boss fights are both exciting and epic, none of them really stand out as lovable or memorable like they did in Duke Nukem 3D. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the only good thing I can possibly extract from this game, besides some decent driving moments. The game is far too easy and not the least bit challenging like the earlier 2D Duke Nukem titles or DN3D. This simplicity echoes in not only the gameplay, but also in the environments- which are bland, colorless and not the least bit exciting. Whatever happened to the colorful and exciting movie theater battles?

Not only is the gameplay pretty repetitive and bland, but so is the storyline. The story is simple; the world is invaded by aliens wishing to impregnate human women to help spread their race further and dominate the universe- and only Duke can stop them. Beyond that there are no significant plot twists or features. It’s deathly simple and far too familiar a situation. Even so, we have games like Doom with similarly short plots that are awesome. And it certainly doesn’t help that there is constant epic rock music, which appear at some of the worst points in the game.

So what would the verdict be for this extremely short review? Don’t buy this game. At least, if you really want to buy it, wait until the price is below $20 USD. Right now, the price is just too high for how bad this game is. I wanted to like this game, I really did. I replayed it even to try and change my opinion some how or to try and find something about this game I enjoyed. I really makes me wonder what the 14 year wait was for.

From Desk To Pocket: A major shift in computing

The computing world is by far one of the fastest shifting industries in the entire planet. It seems as if every two or three years, technology makes another giant leap forward in terms of speed, functionality and compatibility. One of the greatest changes in the computer world which has since dominated the lives of many Americans and human beings is the shift from the desk to the pocket. Mobile computing, once a hilarious idea inconceivable due to cost and build factor, is now more than real- it's amazing.

Mobile computing, in all truth, began with the popularity of the cellular phone in the mid nineties and expanded with the release of the iPhone in 2007. You can be an Apple fanboy or an Anti-Apple PC nazi or even a regular dude in a coffee shop, and you'd know that this is cold hard fact. Before the iPhone, smartphones weren't exactly powerful and were only a business man's toy. Ever since the iPhone however, everybody can find a use for a smartphone, even your grandparents. The iPhone isn't just a phone, it's a pocket sized computer with the horsepower comparable to a personal computer only five years ago. But it continues to try and catch up, coming dangerously close to the common consumer computers of today.

You don't need to constrict yourself to an Apple product though. Google's Android solution is just as viable, providing a similar set of content compatibility and usage. Also, the third party hardware support for Android is overwhelming, with a plethora of solutions for just about every feature desired by consumers. Unfortunately, the same cannot yet be said for either Windows Phone 7 or Blackberry- two OS's stuck in the past without many of the "hot" features of iOS or Android. But the night is young, and it never really is too late to make a change, something Microsoft is working very hard to do in order to appeal to their lost audience of mobile dwelling computing trolls.

How else has the mobile landscape changed? Well, in terms of large screen computing, the tablet seems to be taking over the space of your venerable notebook or netbook computer. Yet again, tablets are a revolution not started, but perfected by Apple's iOS solution. The iPad is currently the staple industry tablet and the leader in terms of sales and popularity. Other than the iPad, the only comparable systems would be the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Motorola Xoom and the HP Touchpad- all of which were shipped almost a year after the iPad. Touch computing is one of the greatest and most fantasized ways to interact with an interface. It's a natural feeling to see something and want to touch it. For people who have never used a computer, this changes everything. The interface is extremely easy to use and adapt to using, replacing the traditional desktop interface and becoming far cleaner all at the same time. And now thanks to the next iOS 5 update, you no longer need to own a computer to own an iOS device, making touch computing even more accessible to the world.

The desktop unfortunately, is the only unchanged platform in the industry. Computing in terms of sitting down at a desk has grown too difficult for the world and is no longer a requirement thanks to the radical changes in technology in the mobile space. I predict that within the next fifteen years or so, desktop computers won't cease to exist, but simply be used far less than tablets or laptop computers- the next technological medium to be replaced and ultimately eliminated.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rant: Brown v. EMA, an opinion gone too far

The video game rating system established by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) has been in play for seventeen years now, controlling the way parents buy games and the ways stores can sell them. One the main figures behind this movement, ironically, is one of my favorite political figures- Hillary Clinton. I personally think the parents should be the ultimate decisive factor in purchasing video games for minors- I don't really think it needs to be a technical legality. The country we live in was a land founded on a movement of freedom for religion, press and now media. But video gaming as a social medium hasn't been treated the way we treat literature. Unfortunately these restrictions are also placed upon Audio (VERY RARELY) and video content- which ultimately is very unconstitutional. I guarantee that if our founding fathers were here today they would spit on the congressmen and women in charge and smack the supreme court. The entire judicial system is arguably one of the most dysfunctional and non-realistic governmental powers in the world. Unfortunately, the desire to change this system is overlooked by the all powerful governmental figureheads who take decisive action on things they have personal issues with. Personally I think of it as so; the constitution knows all, let your common sense figure out the rest. Sadly, my adage won't likely be adapted by anyone but myself, and the world will continue to be a place that revolves around perpetual bad decision making. But people will continue to be ignorant of the world around them. As it stands, a large chunk of the population doesn't know who the first president is or where their state is on a map. The world has recently become so caught up in the social media as an entertainment medium that stupidity and utter bigotry has taken place of common sense and knowledge.

You may be asking yourself "why would the government violate the legalities from which they have been uprooted?" Well, simply, because they can. Censorship, which has since been a huge part of everyday American life, was once the anti-epitome of ideal human and American life. Freedom of speech, the very guardian ideal that has hovered over our country has since been trampled upon like an insect on the sidewalk. The untouchable clause of the constitution- of our bill of rights, the guiding principle behind our lifestyle, is fading into nothingness. Eventually, if this persists, many technicalities may be explored within the internal guise of the government and we will gradually fade into a dystopian land much like post WWII Russia or post WWI China. The very world which we once fantasized will not only be improbable, but impossible to achieve.

"Wait a minute, what does this have to do with gaming?" Let me answer that question with a question; do you enjoy your ability to choose? As fully functioning legal adults, choices and decisions guided by rationality are made consistently- it's life. But imagine if slowly, your ability to choose what you want (reasonably) and that you want it- but wait! Mr. Wall Street is no longer able to sell it. Big Brother said no. Big Brother took away your privilege to choose. He locked it away in a small, tin box and he swallowed the key, tossed the box into an ocean and burned the ocean with the sun. Your life has suddenly been controlled by a single force, one which guides and manipulates you like a puppet. You ain't got no name, but it ain't you to blame, you're only a pawn in their game.

The facts, as they are now support that video games should be apprehended and replaced with cute, violence-less titles filled with bunnies and happy faces. The questionable violent content that has apparently taken over gaming will cease to exist. All your favorite FPS games? Gone. Even games like Super Mario Bros will be screened out. However, not all the facts have been looked at completely. Gaming is a larger industry than the film industry. In terms of monetary growth, it has zoomed far past other mediums and has become a dominant role in the lives of Americans, the Japanese and many other cultures. Gaming is more than a phenomenon- it's a way of life. Previously foreign names such as "Mario" or "Halo" or "Nintendo" or "Pac-man" have become widely known household names. The world is a very different place than it was twenty years ago. Here's the scary factor; gaming is less than forty years old. Television is around eighty. The world in the last nine decades has drastically shifted, and with it, has society. As Bob Dylan once said "the times they are a' changin".

Thankfully, all of the scenarios presented in this article are not likely to occur. The what if's are fortunately not practical in a real world. The supreme court's final ruling? Gaming has officially qualified in the same level as freedom of speech. Yes! The battle is won! In fact, here is the exact ruling... a small, but significant token of the great men and women guarding our god-fearing nation.
Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas—and even social messages—through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.

This is a victory day for gaming; a landmark for freedom of speech and the way in which it governs the final decisive actions taken out by the all mighty supreme court and the tiny non-so-supreme courts under it.

However, there still is the problem... for children. The ESRB will continue to wave it's obnoxious wand of rating selection as the law makes special accommodations for speech that is "obscene to youths". The court has even highlighted the obscene scrutiny of California and their special beliefs, noting the obvious vehicles that could be used to aid a parents decision in buying their child a video game. And ultimately, the decision is up to the parent; fortunately the legality of "underaged game playing" has not yet been questioned nor battled inside any public forum or courtroom.

A Blast From The Past: The Half-Life Series Review

This week, instead of reviewing something new or going too far back in the past to review an old favorite, I’d like to take everybody back to a simpler time. Back to when the internet was still blossoming, when Clinton was still president and there wasn’t a war on terror yet. Seinfeld was making an exit, and blah blah blah… you’ve heard this before. Today, I’m going to talk about the Half-Life series. “Max, why would you EVER want to do that? There hasn’t been an update to the game since 2007, and even so, most people are aware of the series.” Well, my imaginary critic, that’s simply not the case. Over the past month, I’ve been talking to my close friends and relatives who have played games like Doom, Quake, Halo and Call of Duty. Some of them were even familiar with Wolfenstein 3D or Marathon. Oddly enough though, none of them have ever HEARD of Half-Life besides in biology or chemistry class. So, to answer your not yet existing question, there is a good reason why I decided to do this. Another thing- I managed to replay every game from the series, from Half-Life to Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Nothing is really a recollection from gamer’s past. I played these games when there were fresh, and I played them again for more clarity. I must say, it felt great. Now, onto the review.

The Half-Life series revolves around the central character of Gordon Freeman; the protagonist and only playable character in the series. Freeman is a theoretical Physicist at the Black Mesa Research compound located in Los Alamos. During a normal day, Freeman is offered to perform a special test on an unknown sample (and puts on a Hazardous Environment suit or HEV suit to protect himself, a big part in the game) which somehow causes a phenomenon in the laboratory known as the “resonance cascade”. Freeman is transported to an alien world called Xen, to a group of aliens called Vortigaunts and back to the facility all in a matter of seconds. Freeman awakes to find the lab in shambles, many of his co-workers dead or transformed into zombies via frog-like parasites called head-crabs which grab onto your head and morph your body to a disgusting, deadly creature. Freeman also comes across dog-like screaming aliens with multiple eyes, Vortigaunts and monsters spewing green sludge from their mouths. As if Freeman’s  day couldn’t get worse, the government sends in a team of marines to apprehend Gordon, kill the survivors and aliens and overall keep everything hush-hush to the outside world. For the sake of preventing spoilers, this is all I will detail for the first game, now on to the next few.

After Half-Life became a huge success and a pop culture phenomenon, it’s mother company, Valve decided to release a few short spin off’s, a major sequel, a remake of the original, two episodic titles and two puzzle games with a loose tie-in to the Half-Life universe. Half-Life 2 has since been noted as “the best game ever” and has won over fifty game of the year awards. Half-Life 2 continues the story of Gordon Freeman and his troubles, twenty years in the future, in a dystopian world controlled by a race of human-like brutes known as the Combine. Unfortunately, I’d like to also stop it here. This game has such a fantastic plot that it needs to be experienced by the gamer, and not by some random reviewer. However, I will note a few non-plot related aspects. Most reviewers as well as myself will attest to the game’s amazing physics engine. Out of all the games I have ever played, this one is as real as it gets. Throughout the game you experience many little puzzles as well as a proper blend of story and some of the most satisfying shooting experiences ever. The end of the game specifically feels great but a little too easy for my tastes. The next two episodic titles continue to both add on to the story and gameplay, as well show an obvious gradual graphical improvement. However, most times it feels as if they exist only as a machine built to tell the Half-Life story, and many gamers will get to feel that. However, it certainly doesn’t take too drastic of an effect over gameplay, which continues to be amazing in both titles. And hopefully soon, there will be the release of a final episodic title or hopefully a whole new game.

Perhaps the best way to play the Half-Life series is, well, in order. And considering the way the story works, you really have to do that to understand the series and to really appreciate it. My suggestion is that you purchase both the original on Steam (or PS2 or plain CD) and The Orange Box- a collection of Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2 (Mac & PC through Steam, PS3 and 360). These games work better together and feel more satisfying when played in a row. So, what’s my recommendation? Please, if you have not played this game or even heard of it, go out and buy it. At most, all of the games in the two mentioned packages cost thirty bucks- that’s half the cost of one xbox 360 game. Also, do yourself a favor and get the Portal series as well, in case you haven’t read my Portal 2 review yet, let me tell you right here that it’s all worth it.