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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2008 » July

July 2008


video games July 23rd, 2008 by HMTKSteve

Alone in the Dark

Before the Wii version of alone in the Dark (Atari) was released I watched a lot of pre-release videos and was generally stoked to see this game come out. I have since acquired a copy of the Wii (and 360) version of the game and spent some time playing it. I'd like to say that the game lived up to my expectations but I can't. Read on to find out my opinion on this game.

Storyline

Alone in the Dark is set in New York City, the Central Park area to be exact. You play a guy who does not know who he is. You are joined by some people who do know who you are yet they don't tell you who you are. Instead they just lament what the others did to you. You also meet people who do not know who you are and don't really care. The game is rated M for mature and there is no shortage of swearing (some of that is you swearing at the game.)

Something bad has happened to New York City that involves lots of fissures opening up and zombie-like critters coming after you. Since this all happens at night expect most of the game to be dark. I don't mean dark as in mood or low light levels I mean dark as in things that you can not see suddenly kill you and you have no idea if something killed you or you hit a button wrong.

How it Starts

After a tedious amount of blinking (yes, there is a control for blinking) you work your way through the opening scenes until you find yourself in an elevator shaft. This is the beginning of the “what did I do wrong/what do I do next” game play problems.

Shortly after the elevator cut-scene you drop a fire house down the elevator shaft and begin to climb down. Then you die. Several times. Then you go and turn the contrast and brightness up to 100% on your monitor and die a couple more times. All the while you sit there wondering what you are doing wrong. After you make it past the elevator shaft you encounter more of these sorts of problems.

Eventually you make it down to the parking garage and learn how to drive a car. Or should I say you learn how to drive five feet at a time and hit every pillar inside the parking garage. I did learn something interesting about cars in New York City; for a city with such tough gun laws it is amazing how many clips of ammunition I found inside car glove compartments.

Controls

This is where much of the frustration of the game comes from. It looks like the developers were trying very hard to make the control scheme as immersive as possible and they did succeed, to a degree. When the controls do work they are great, when they don't you just want to wrap the Nunchuk cord around your throat and put yourself out of your misery.

The basic walking around controls are excellent. You use the Wii-Remote as a pointer and to adjust your facing while the stick on the Nunchuk controls the directions you walk in. Pressing forward on the stick always moves you in the direction you are facing. This is great as it allows you to move sideways around corners. Now, with that said, there are two perspectives you can use when playing the game: first person and second person.

In the first person mode you do not see yourself though you do see your hands. I find this to be the best way to play as it is far better than the other option. In second person you are looking down at yourself. Some people like looking down at themselves and there are points in the game when you do want to switch between the two options. Sadly there are also times when the game switches the perspective on its own. Yeah, you will be walking along and suddenly your perspective will switch and you will go from first person to looking at yourself. A quick press of the C button on the Nunchuk will switch it back but it should not switch in the first place.

I can't help get the feeling that the controls were somewhat rushed. When you compare the controls to those of Metroid Prime: Corruption you can't help but feel a little bit cheated.

One prime problem with the game is that you don't always know what you can interact with in the game. Most of the time a small icon of a button to press will show up on screen to indicate you can do something or grab something. It is not always obvious and sometimes the icon appears off-screen. This is very frustrating. When you add in the dark nature of the game it is very easy to spend most of your time just walking around a room mashing buttons hoping something will happen.

The inventory system is accessed by opening your jacket via some motion-sensing controls. This is neat but once you look inside your jacket you may not know what something is. There are no small text balloons telling you that the round thing in your pocket is a battery.

All in all I think the major failings of the control system are caused by the limitations of the Wii-Remote. The developers tried to break new ground and the hardware let them down.

Visuals

Dark, very dark.

For a game that was ported from the Xbox360 I have one major gripe: 480i. Why is the game designed to run at 480i? Not only that but why does it not run in widescreen? I was very angry when I fired this game up and saw my HDTV drop down to 480i. Then when the black bars appeared on the sides I got even madder.

Yes I know the Wii is not a graphics powerhouse but it does do widescreen and 480p, why can't this game do that? Even the GameCube did 480p.

The visuals (when you can see them) are good. The color palette is sort of drab but that is to be expected given the mood and subject matter. My only real complaint is the 480i issue.

Conclusion

I really wanted to like this game. I saw the Xbox360 reviews as they came out and I thought for sure that the Wii controls would clear up many of the problems, and they did, to an extent. In the end the Wii version plays like a dumbed down, simpler version of the game.

The graphics are good enough for me though they likely could be better. Same thing goes for the lack of on-screen prompts. I don't need a text bubble to show me what do to but something that at least tells me what I can do with an object (if anything) would be helpful. I found myself wasting far too much time just walking around a room mashing buttons.

Another problem is that of motion sickness. Running in interlaced mode with a horrible lack of lighting only makes such problems worse in those that are prone to such problems. I can normally get around the issue by maxing out the contrast and brightness on my TV but even after doing that everything is still too dark.

Alone in the Dark tries to do too much and fails. The Wii version is very linear and might as well be set on rails. Many things you have to do are not immediately obvious (such as entering a crashed car via one door and exiting via the other to cross into a new area.) and the lack of visual feedback to know what items you can interact with is just maddening.

I wish I could recommend this game but I can't. Well, if you only sort of like someone you could buy this game for them as a gift. It might force them to stop playing video games for a while.

    The Good

  • Interesting control scheme
  • Entertaining story
  • Immersive use of graphics and music
    The Bad

  • Unresponsive Wii controls
  • Linear story/game play
  • Lack of visual feedback
    The Ugly

  • 480i
  • Black bars on the screen
  • Railroading

Don't just take my word for it, rent a copy of the game and see for yourself. Better yet play the Xbox360 version.

video games July 17th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Cooking Mama

Can't Decide What to Eat? is the working title of Nintendo's latest move into the world of non-gamers. Unlike everyone's favorite Cooking Mama this piece of software for the Nintendo DS is designed to help you prepare real food!

It's kind of funny when you think about it. When the Nintendo DS was released a few years back the word from Nintendo was that it was not going to be the new GameBoy. I don't know if they are still sticking with that story but you have to admit that the Nintendo DS has been making inroads into the non-gamer world since Nintendogs was released.

The cooking guide includes more than 200 recipes from around the world. You can search for recipes by clicking on a map for regional dishes or by selecting options for specific ingredients or short cooking times.

Cooking Guide: Lasange

Once you select a recipe the software walks you through the cooking process with step-by-step directions and photos. You can "turn the page" by using the stylus or via a voice command. You can also quickly adjust the recipe based on how many you are serving. Just like the old system of index cards the software allows you to append notes to each recipe.

The on-screen chef talks you through the recipe with instructional videos and photographs. The software also provides information on cooking techniques such as chopping an onion or cleaning a fish. Stuck on a term in a recipe? just click on it for more help.

But wait, there's more! The software also includes a time and calculator as well as a robust search function to help you out. you can also use the included per recipe ingredient checklist when you shop to be sure you get all the ingredients for your meal.

More and more it appears that the Nintendo DS is the ultimate console system. You can do almost anything with the Nintendo DS and now it can even help you cook!

Cooking Guide
Cooking Guide
Cooking Guide
Cooking Guide
Cooking Guide
Cooking Guide

I'm getting hungry just thinking about this one!

Uncategorized July 15th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Animal Crossing: City Folk

Yes, I own Animal Crossing games. In fact we have the GameCube version and two copies of the DS version, one for me and one for my daughter. One of the things I love about the DS version is the ability to go to another town and interact not just with the townsfolk but also with my daughter. Sadly the GameCube version did not allow for such activities. It did have a way to visit a friend's town but you could not visit them in their town.

Ever since the Wii was released there have been countless rumors of an Animal Crossing game for the Wii. some of these rumors said it would be an MMO with a monthly fee while others just said it would be like the GameCube version with some hobbled form of Wi-Fi.

At E3 Nintendo has announced the impending release of Animal Crossing: City Folk due out before the end of 2008!

From Nintendo:

If life were an endless vacation, what would you do? Go fishing, collect shells or watch fireworks with friends? Build a snowman, exchange presents with family or decorate your house for the holidays? Take a trip to the city, go on a shopping spree or visit friends from all over the globe? In Animal Crossing: City Folk, life moves at a relaxed pace, but the world brims with endless possibilities.

  • There's always something new to do. In the living, breathing world of Animal Crossing: City Folk, days and seasons pass in real time, so there's always something to discover. Catch fireflies in the summer, go trick-or-treating on Halloween or hunt for eggs on Bunny Day. If you're in the mood for something a little faster paced, take a bus to a new urban city area that's unique to Animal Crossing: City Folk. There you can catch a show at the theater or check out the sales at Gracie's boutique. But if you don't show your face back home for too long, your neighbors will miss you.
  • Up to four people from your household can live and work together to build the perfect town. Design clothes and patterns, write letters and post messages on the bulletin board for each other, or invite up to three friends to visit your town using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. With the new WiiSpeak microphone, it's like you're all in the same room. The microphone sits atop the sensor bar and picks up the conversation of everyone in the room to encourage a more inclusive experience.
  • Get to know your neighbors. The heart of Animal Crossing: City Folk is building relationships with the animals in your town as well as with other players. Befriend your animal neighbors by exchanging letters, gifts and favors. Animals can also move from town to town, bringing their memories and stories from their old towns with them. And since animals are notoriously loose-lipped, they spill all the juicy details.
  • Express your personal style. Customize your town, your house and yourself by collecting bugs, fish, fossils, art, furniture, clothes and accessories. You can also go to the salon in the city to change your hairstyle and get a Mii? makeover. Plus, if you design clothes in the tailor's shop, animals will wear them and maybe even bring them to other towns.

All I can say is "thank you Nintendo." It looks like this is going to be a great game and likely to suck the life out of little kids all over the USA this holiday season!

I'm not so sure about the microphone business but having the Wi-Fi in a similar fashion to the DS version of the game is just great.

Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing: City Folk

This reminds me... I need to fire up my DS copy of the game and go pull some weeds!

Uncategorized July 15th, 2008 by HMTKSteve

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the beach Nintendo announces a new Wii Sports game.

Set for a spring 2009 release Wii Sports Resort is being marketed as the sequel to the amazing Wii Sports game that shipped with Wii consoles and helped make that console such a hit. Packed in with each copy is a Wii MotionPlus. No word on how to get these by themselves just yet.

  • This sequel to the popular Wii Sports makes use of the Wii MotionPlus accessory, which gives players the most responsive and realistic experience possible. The Wii MotionPlus accessory, which is included with Wii Sports Resort, plugs into the base of the Wii Remote controller and, combined with the accelerometer and sensor bar, provides an experience that gives players an even greater sense of immersion.
  • Just as with Wii Sports, people will love competing against friends and family. As the competition heats up, Wii Sports Resort is as much fun to watch as it is to play. First-time players will find it easy to pick up a Wii Remote and jump into the action.
  • Wii Sports Resort takes place on a tropical island. A wide range of activities will keep players coming back for one more round. Some sample activities include Sword Play, Power Cruising (racing a water scooter) and Disc Dog, which involves accurately tossing a disc to a cute, Mii-like dog.

    Not a ton of details on this just yet but I expect that all those people who purchased a Wii just for Bowling are the target audience for this one.

    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort
    Wii Sports Resort

    That dog looks just like the one that torments me during my Wii fit workouts!

    Games July 9th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
    Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

    In 2006 Majesco Entertainment released a version of Age of Empires for the DS. In the process of porting the game from the PC it moved from an RTS game to a turn-based game. I have to say that this was a very good move. As much as I like the idea behind RTS games I always find that once you reach a certain point of domination in these games you no longer have the time to properly manage your empire on your own. Moving to a turn-based ensures that you will have the time to look over all of your empire and make better tactical decisions.

      According to Majesco these are the selling points of the game:

    • Command one of five different civilizations: the Britons, Franks, Mongols, Saracens, and Japanese.
    • Take control of special ‘Hero’ units like Richard the Lionheart, Minamoto Yoshitsune, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin among others who command special ‘hero’ powers affecting the entire battlefield.
    • Command over 65 different types of units from bowmen and monks to hand cannoneers, mercenaries and samurai.
    • Turn-based combat, new to the Age of Empires franchise, keeps the battle moving at the player-preferred pace.
    • Players construct & upgrade buildings like town centers, mines, universities and ‘wonders’ to help units learn new skills and create resources for their civilizations.
    • Players research over 50 different technologies like chemistry, ballistics, siege craft and spying among others to take their civilization into the next age.
    • Get help from the new Combat Advisor who provides advice on certain campaign strategies and an indication of how the battle will go.
    • Multiplayer scenarios allowing up to 4 players to battle each other wirelessly.
    • Gain Empire Points to unlock maps & units and improve Emperor Rank.
    Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

    The game has five single player campaigns with each one based on a given hero. They range in difficulty from the tutorial level Joan of Arc to the hard level of Richard the Lionhearted. As you complete each mission in the campaign another one unlocks. The early campaigns have five missions each while harder ones will have more.

    What I found very entertaining is that some of the campaign end missions are played through twice, once from each side. For example, the final mission in the Minamoto Yoshitsune (Japan) campaign has you defending Japan from an invasion of Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan (Mongol). When you play the final Mongol mission it is the exact same mission as the one you played from the Japanese perspective but now you are the Mongol hordes attacking Japan!

    Civilizations

    Each civilization in the game has certain bonuses and penalties associated with it. Their associated hero also has powers that are different than those of the other heroes in the game. These bonuses and penalties are realistic and add some realism to a game that is otherwise entirely unrealistic.

      Civilization Bonuses

    • Britons: Mining
    • Franks: Farming
    • Mongols: Technology
    • Saracens: Mining
    • Japanese: Farming
    Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

    Even though both the Japanese and the Franks both gain bonuses from Farming they do not play the same. For one thing the powers of their heroes are different and the other thing is that they have differing lists of discounted units.

      Unit Discounts and Buildings

    • Britons: Archery Range, Church, Crossbow, Arbalest, Longsword, 2-handed, Champion
    • Franks: Stable, Castle, Knight, Cavalier, Paladin, Monk
    • Mongols: Stable, Blacksmith, Scout Cavalry, Light Cavalry, Horse Archer
    • Saracens: Stable, Market, Horse Archer, Onager, Bombard, Light Cavalry
    • Japanese: Mills, Mines, Spearmen, Pikemen, Crossbow, Arbalest, Hand Cannoneer

    Each civilization also one unit that is unique to them. These special units can only be built once you construct a castle. Castles become available once you enter the "Castle" Age of the game.

    Through the Ages

    The game covers four ages of civilization. Some missions start at higher ages while others start at level one.

    The lowest age in the game is the Dark Age. During this age you are very limited in what you can build. Aside from mines, mills and farms (which are the buildings that give you resources) the only buildings you can build are stables and barracks. Lucky for you the Dark Age does not last very long and you will quickly move on to the Feudal Age.

    Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

    The Feudal Age brings you the ability to construct the very important blacksmith shop. After building this you will be able to research many technologies that will increase the effectiveness of your troops. You will also gain the ability to construct archery ranges, markets and towers to aid in the defense of your town.

    You will spend a good deal of time in the Feudal Age before you advance to the Castle Age. Like the Feudal Age before it you will gain the ability to construct a building that will open up new research options: the university. You will also be able to construct castles, churches and siege workshops. Castles become very effective strategic strong points, build them on the end of a bridge and your opponent will have a very hard time taking you out.

    After the Castle Age comes the Imperial Age, where you gain the ability to build Wonders. These wonders bring in bonus resources to your empire. No other buildings become available but new technologies do.

    Game Play

    When playing the game you can either use the stylus or the control pad and buttons. I tended to use both. Selecting and moving units is fairly simple though you do need to be careful when moving into areas that you can not see because running into a unit you could not see results in your unit ending its turn.

    Terrain is important as placing a unit on top of a mountain will allow you to see and attack further and better plan your moves. In contrast, placing a unit in the woods will hinder their vision and their missile range. Nothing is better than having a ranged unit on top of a mountain firing on ranged units in the valley that can not return fire!

    Which brings me to the combat system.

    Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

    When you enter battle with another unit they get to hit you back after taking damage (unless they are destroyed). Some units have special combat powers that allow them to hit very hard even when wounded. Others can heal themselves between battles.

    Before you commit to battle your battle advisor will appear on the top screen with the attack and defense scores of both units. Below that he will either give you a stirring speech on how your units will destroy the enemy, warn you of an even battle or even tell you that your men do not want to throw away their lives needlessly.

    Once you enter combat a short animation will play on the top screen and the results of combat will soon be displayed. These animations can be turned off via the options menu.

    Combat is short and satisfying. As long as you take terrain into account (yours and theirs) you can easily guess which battles are worth entering before you even see the combat advisor screen.

    The campaign missions are fun but not overly challenging. Even the hard level missions are not all that hard. The ones with fog-of-war can be difficult the first time through but, once you know the map, the mission becomes a lot easier.

    The multi-player is a good option for when you want a stronger opponent. You can play with up to four players via local wi-fi but using the hot seat feature is just as good (if not better considering it is turn-based). There are many maps to choose from and you can add in some CPU players of varying difficulty levels to round out the game.

    Conclusion

    I picked this up new for only $12. For that price it is well worth buying. Some have called this game Advance Wars: The Middle Ages and they are not that far off in saying so. Game play is very similar to what you get in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin just not as polished. If you like turn-based strategy games on the DS than you should consider adding this game to your collection.

      The Good

    • Cheap!
    • One of the few turn-based strategy games on the DS
    • Interesting mix of civilizations
      The Bad

    • Missions are not very hard
    • Some missions are more of a puzzle than a strategy contest (only one optimal solution)
    • No map maker feature
      The Ugly

    • Bonus items purchased through a point system
    • Point system is based on logging in hours of game play time
    • Hot seat game play does not have a splash screen in-between turns so the previous player can get a look at your holdings before they find you on the map.

    All in all the game is good. Adding a custom map maker feature would add hundreds of hours of game play to the title but the existing maps are good enough.

    Home July 7th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
    Wood Flooring

    Last week (or so) I told you about how I was getting my bedroom ready for a new wood floor. The picture on the right is a series of planks from the first box of wood. As you can clearly see they are about three inches wide and of various lengths.

    Each piece has a tongue on two sides and grooves on the opposing sides. This tongue and groove system ensures the planks fit together nicely and the finished floor remains level without and serious bumps or wood tips rising above the floor. This is especially nice since I found out that the new addition that was added about 15 years ago has settles somewhat. This resulted in the floor not being entirely level across the entirety of the room. If I had used a basic plank system I would have encountered serious trouble where the original construction meets the addition.

    The wood flooring I used is a product made by Armstrong from their Bruce line of hardwood flooring. We went with the butterscotch coloring of Red Oak flooring. This particular flooring is ¾ inch thick and comes complete with a durable finish. Other than lining up the boards and nailing them down there is no extra sanding, staining or sealing work to be done.

    We went together to pick out the wood to use. We thought briefly about using a laminate wood flooring but we knew that if we wanted to do the job we should do it right. I've seen too many laminate floors that just do not hold up as well as solid wood does. I put laminate wood in the same category as electric heat: It's cheap to install but will cost you more in the long run.

    Floor Nail Gun

    This is the single most important tool I used; the pneumatic floor nailer. Because I don't plan on installing hardwood floors a lot in the future I rented this one at a local rental shop for about $70. That price included enough nails to do 200 square feet of flooring.

    The nailer also requires a compressor to work. The compressor I borrowed from a friend, as well as his brad nailer and a few hours of his time. I thought those few hours of time would be enough to complete the project but I was wrong, very wrong.

    Because the carpeting covers a wood floor in the living room I decided to run the wood floor not just in the bedroom but also into the small hallway that leads to the living room. Eventually we will pull up that carpet and refinish the living room floor.

    Running the flooring out in to the small hallway was fairly simple, the only complicated part was getting the flooring to match up with the old wood. A few measurements with a tape measure and a couple of cuts with a table saw and I had a short piece ready to fill in the gap.

    Wood to Tile Transition

    For the most part we cut the bottom of the door jams off so as to better hide the cuts in the flooring we made to work around those areas. When we came to the bathroom the wood flooring was about one eighth of an inch higher than the tile but it was within tolerances for the door to close after nailing the old brass sweep back in place. Yes, I cleaned those black marks up before putting the sweep back!

    After the second package of wood (seven more to go) almost eight hours had gone by and it was time for my friend to leave. My dream of having the room done in one afternoon were quickly shown to be just that; dreams! He agreed to leave the tools overnight and I got to work pounding out the rest of the job.

    I took a few short breaks over the course of the evening but I did get the job done before the 9:00 AM cutoff time for getting the tool back to the rental shop. If I had kept the tool any longer I would have had to pay for another day of tool rental.

    By the time morning rolled around I had completed the floor. I think I spent about 20 hours in total laying the floor. I spent another four hours doing the prep work. Was it worth it? You will have to judge that for yourself. Check the pictures below to see some more photographs of the process and the final results.

    Hardwood Floor
    Hardwood Floor
    Hardwood Floor
    Hardwood Floor
    Hardwood Floor
    Hardwood Floor

    With it all done it took me a few days to recover from the all night work party. I did a lot of bending and kneeling getting those boards into alignment and I had aches and pains for days afterwards. Some people mentioned hiring someone to do the job but that would have tripled the price of the job. The one good thing is that I was able to waste very little wood and brought one box of wood back to the store for a refund. Which I then used to buy a new faucet for my bathroom sink...


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