Nov 30, 2007

Tim Schafer and the Revenge of the Sweater Prez

I think I owe it to the loyal, milling throngs of gamers out there that (don't) read my blog to recommend this excellent post on OXM by the great Tim Schafer.

GameSpot's Gerstmann Caned and Lynched?

This story may become a very interesting one. Jeff Gerstmann, a long time editor at CNET's popular gaming portal website GameSpot, was fired Wednesday. Current interweb speculation revolves around a connection with his recent less-than-glowing review of the game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.

The game's publisher Eidos had been advertising the game very heavily on GameSpot over the last few weeks, so industry watchers are wondering how much Eidos' influence as an important advertiser factored into CNET's decision to let Gerstmann go. Obviously, questions are immediately raised regarding the journalistic integrity of this trusted game review site. Thing is, Gerstmann had given the game a score of 6.0, which is not a great deviation from the overall Metacritic score of 68%.

Gerstmann's video review of the game was also pulled from GameSpot at some point, but has been posted on YouTube. To be fair to GameSpot, it is not his best work at all.

I know that GameSpot is certainly high on my list of information sources, and as a result I will be watching developments very closely. Check out posts on Kotaku, Achievement Junkie, Wired's GameLife blog, and Penny Arcade's scathing commentary for some more angles.

Nov 28, 2007

Mass Effect: Deep Space Graphical Anomalies

Commander's Log: Stardate 112807

I finally carved some time out last night to jump deeper into Mass Effect. I'm probably about six hours into the game now, and I wanted to touch on two aspects of the game that made an impression immediately:

  1. The visual presentation is amazing.
  2. The visual presentation is rather glitchy.
Now, to form the complete picture, note that I'm a new Xbox 360 owner, and also a new HDTV owner. I'd been holding off on buying the former until the time was right to splurge on the latter. I just couldn't see playing next-gen HD games on a standard def TV. Being a long-time PC gamer, I'm used to high def, impressive graphics. OK, I'll just admit it - I'm a bit of a video snob.

That said now, for the past few months I've been thoroughly enjoying some of what the 360 has to offer: Halo 3, Carcassonne, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Gears of War. Such great stuff. I've become accustomed to how beautiful 360 games look on my new 50 inch 1080p Samsung DLP display. Even so, Mass Effect manages to step this great platform up another notch - sort of.

Yes, the character models, facial animation, and lush environments are all gorgeous. Poking through this captivating but thin veneer, however, are some irritating problems. Firstly, the engine can't seem to keep up with the visuals. The frame rate is inconsistent and unpredictable. Awe inspiring, cinematic character conversations and cutscenes lose their punch when a slow camera pan lurches jarringly during a dramatic line delivery.

Then there's the facial modeling. Bioware has definitely taken this craft to the next bar. Why then allow this beautiful technology to be marred with strange clipping and texture anomalies?
In mid conversation, a character will spontaneously sprout a weird texture effect, like some insidious attack of rampant space blackheads. Then, seconds later, their Proactiv Solution kicks in and like magic it all disappears.

One last complaint: horizontal tearing. I know the 360 is essentially just a PC under the hood, but this is literally the first time I have ever witnessed tearing on a console game. The incidence isn't super-frequent or severe, but this is one last dent in an otherwise flawless paint job.

All this might come across as hypercritical bitching. Make no mistake - I absolutely love this game and my follow-up posts will certainly be detailing my positive experiences. I'm certain that the highly impressive presentation of this game makes these little imperfections all the more evident. In the end, Bioware is a RPG developer - not a shooter developer. So perhaps given the grand scope of their universe and the enthralling depth of the story and dialog, one should forgive these minor complaints. Developers must deal with ship dates, and these few glitches were likely one last facet that just couldn't be addressed before the holiday street date.

Myself, I'm rooting for a patch. Bioware has created another console RPG work of art, truly taking the genre to the next level, and an early patch addressing these few technical snags would leave the fans (and press) with a flawless, shining gem. I'd love to see Bioware receive the accolades they deserve, free of any minor gripes (like the ones I've ungratefully brought to light here).

Nov 27, 2007

Mass Effect: the Final Frontier?

The scope of this game is truly galactic. I mean, I've literally spent ten minutes straight in a conversation with a single game character. Deep space, indeed.

So, I'm not going to be penning any formal review as such. Given the machine-gun pace of enticing new releases, there's no way I'm going to make enough progress in Mass Effect to produce any kind of timely comprehensive review. Instead, I'll be posting frequently with my thoughts on the game as I make time to play.

For those of you floating aimlessly in the vacuum left by Bioware's sparse documentation, be sure to check out GameSpot's Mass Effect Game Guide. It does a great job of filling in the black hole where your game manual should be.

(Comic) Book of the Month Club

My gaming group got together Friday for some gaming (we playtested Savage Worlds). During the session someone had mentioned us trying a graphic-novel-of-the-month type arrangement by which we'd agree on a specific book and then get together a month later over beer and discuss it.

I really hope this idea flies - I think it's pure genius. I'm not buying comics right now, so I'm only reading the few that friends lend me. It would be really great to get back to it in this fashion.

Catagorical Destruction

Apparently, during my writing hiatus Blogger has decided to implement a post tagging system. That's a great new feature, but in doing so they have simultaneously destroyed my existing tagging system, which was a Blogger hack based on a Greasemonkey script and

I think my only recourse is going back through all my posts and pasting all the current hacked tags into Blogger's new system. Luckily, I hadn't been that prolific...

I think I've learned my lesson though. No more features relying on hacks, because Blogger will eventually break them. Expect the sidebar to be a little gorked up for a few days. I'm going to begin removing any features based on hacks and replacing them with more stable, built-in Blogger functionality.

Getting Back to Writing

Well, maybe nobody's reading, but I think I'm going to start writing again anyway - I miss it.

A recent episode (#109) of the PC Gamer podcast got me thinking about the blog and why I write. The whole thing is cathartic I suppose. People have maintained journals since man invented pen and ink, and I suppose it's simply a healthy outlet for ones' passions. Mine simply happens to be gaming.

[Cue Queensryche's "Anybody Listening?"] So, audience/community or no, I'm going to get back to it. If you're out there and reading, do chime in with a comment. I'd love to get some dialog going, but if no one's out there I'm going to write anyway. Damn them torpedoes. Damn them to hell.