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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2009 » October

October 2009

video games October 27th, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Panzer General: Allied Assault

The Panzer General series of games has been out since 1994 when SSI published the first one. Seven sequels were produced with Allied Assault being the most recent. SSI is no longer its own company and this particular incarnation of the title was created by Petroglyph Games for the Xbox360 Live Arcade.

Unlike the previous titles in the series that emulated a form of the old style chit based wargaming systems Allied Assault takes the game into the card game realm. While the playing area is a board (6 wide by 5 deep) the game system is heavy on the card side using the board only for placement of units and for defining victory conditions.

Let me state right away that I have not purchased the full game and that this review is based solely on the results of playing through the demo a few times. While this has not allowed me to experience the full breadth and depth of the game it has shown me enough of the game to form an opinion on it.

Panzer General: Allied Assault

Panzer General: Allied Assault is a two player game where you play either against the CPU player or a real player over Xbox Live. More than half of the achievements are Live-based so expect to play many games online before earning them all. Playing against a human opponent is not that different from playing against the A.I. except that you should expect the games to take longer.

The game uses a point system (prestige) in an attempt to limit your actions on each turn. Each card you play has a prestige cost that must be paid in order to be played. While this sounds like a good mechanic in theory it only works until you exploit the one major loophole in this game which I will discuss later.

Prestige points are earned each turn based on the zones you control. Some zones earn you bonus points (cities, towns, etc). A zone is considered to be controlled by a player if their units were the last to enter or exit that square. Thus it is beneficial to use a fast unit to grab land whenever possible. Just be ready to defend the lands you have taken lest your opponent do the same to you!

You can also earn prestige points after you defeat an enemy unit in combat. If you choose not to earn the points after combat you also have the option to force your opponent to lose points. While the tutorial tried to make the claim that it can be very useful to do this I find that the instances when denying my opponent points outweighs my gaining points to be few and far between. In fact it is only useful if denying them points would put their prestige low enough as to deny them the ability to play any more cards in response to your attacks.

Panzer General: Allied Assault

When your turn begins you draw a number of cards. If your hand size is lower than ten you also get the option to spend prestige points to draw more cards. While I did not see a definitive cost formula it does appear that the cost to draw more cards costs you X prestige where X = the turn number. Thus if you want to buy bonus card on turn one they will only cost you one prestige each. Those same cards purchased on turn five would cost five prestige points each.

After you draw cards you then have the option to place new units, move existing units, have existing units 'dig in' (gain a defensive bonus), attack with existing units or place a relevant card from your hand. Movement is very simple so I will not even bother covering it here. Instead I will move directly into the combat system.

When units are adjacent to enemy units you can engage them in combat. This consists of comparing attack and defense values as well as checking for supporting units. Supporting units are any adjacent friendly units and artillery units that are within range. If one side is 'dug in' they get to attack first in combat, otherwise attacker fires first.

After figuring the base values for both sides you have several rounds of playing combat cards. These cards can alter some elements of the combat round (and only that round) and are discarded after being played. Some cards can add or subtract from attack and defense values while others can cancel the combat entirely, remove support for the enemy unit or even cause direct damage to the opponent. Combat cards can be played until both sides pass.

After playing combat cards you can then sack one card for it's Battle Value. This number ranges from 0 to 6 and is added to your attack or defense score depending on which side of the battle you are on. As strange as it may be I did see some cards with a Battle Value higher than the value they impart for being played as a Combat card. Why would you play a card for three points (paying prestige) when you could sack it for 6 points?

Panzer General: Allied Assault

Once all numbers are finalized a die is cast and the battle concludes. If the attacker's total is higher than the defender's defense damage is taken. If enough is taken to eliminate the unit it is removed and the attacker gains a point of health. Armor units also have the added bonus of being able to move into the now empty square.

This is the core of the game and as a representation of card/chit war gaming it's not that bad. Where the game is broken is in the cards. OR should I say in one particular card.

Fans of CCGs know that it only takes one bad card to ruin a game. Games are quickly thrown out of balance when one card opens up a loophole that the game can not handle. Panzer General: Allied Assault has one such card. While I will not give the name of the card I will tell you what it does.

This card allows you to search your discard pile for two cards and put them into your hands. At this point you are either thinking, "oh no!" or "so what?". If you don't see the potential mayhem that can occur from such a card existing in this game than you have not been paying attention or you have not played a lot of CCGs.

While by itself the card is not overly broken as soon as you have two of them the exploit becomes more obvious. With two of them you can search your discard pile for any one card and the second copy of this card. Rinse, repeat ad infinitum ... Yes, with two of these cards your discard pile will only ever have one card in it!

Is this game any good? Is it worth 800 points? My good friend Grim seems to think so even with the exploit described above. Of course he has no intention of playing the game online where the exploitation of this broken card will make for some very one-sided or drawn out games depending on whether or not both sides are aware of the exploit. For me it's not worth 800 points. I'd rather play Panzer Tactics on the DS.

Wii October 22nd, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Black Wii
Yes, you read the title correctly, a black Wii is coming to Europe (Well UK and Ireland at least). No news on when it comes to America.

The Wii console is about to get an exciting new look as it launches across Europe in sleek black.

The black Wii will be available to buy in UK and Republic of Ireland from 6 November and mainland Europe on 20 November, and will come as a “Limited Edition” bundled with a Wii Remote, Wii MotionPlus and Nunchuk – all in black – as well as the exhilarating new Wii Sports Resort game and the original Wii Sports. The Wii Sports Resort black bundle will offer a total of 15 different sports and activities to enjoy.

Also launching in Europe as part of the black range of accessories will be the new black Classic Controller Pro – an enhanced version of the Classic Controller. Additional black Wii Remote controllers, Wii MotionPlus accessories and Nunchuk controllers will also be available to purchase separately across Europe from November 20 onwards.

Wii Sports Resort, which is bundled with the new black Wii, has already sold well over one million copies across Europe, and brings an entire island, along with 12 exciting sports and activities, to your living room for all your friends and family to enjoy. Each of the sports featured in Wii Sports Resort is modelled with incredible accuracy thanks to the Wii MotionPlus accessory, included with this new package.

If black is your colour then prepare to get your hands on this popular console and accessories in their new look, launching across UK and Republic of Ireland from 6 November and mainland Europe on 20 November.

So this is coming with:-

A Black Wii
1 Black Nunchuck + Wiimote
Wii sports
Wii Sports resort + Black MotionPlus

Lauching November 20th.

h/t pikadude609
Nintendo UK

Technology October 21st, 2009 by HMTKSteve

Just to let everyone know the Windows 7 Upgrade Family Pack is now available to order via Amazon.

This special upgrade version of Windows 7 includes product keys for 3 PCs. Yes THREE PCs. With the base upgrade version of Windows 7 costing over $100 it is in your best interest to pick up this one while supplies last.

Yes, I have ordered this for my family and we will be upgrading a desktop, laptop and netbook to Windows 7.

video games October 19th, 2009 by HMTKSteve
Star Wars Republic Heroes

When I picked this game up I had two options. I could have picked up a used copy for the Wii for only $30 or a new copy for the Xbox 360 for $50. The fact that a used copy of a new game was available should have clued me in to the quality of the game I was preparing to purchase. Sadly I ignored the feelings I was picking up from the force and purchased this title for my 360.

My daughter and I love the TV show that airs on Cartoon Network. We DVR it every Friday and watch it soon after. The thought of her being able to play as her favorite Jedi padawan was enough to get her to convince me to buy it. The added bonus of drop in/drop-out co-op play was also a point in the game's favor.

Why didn't I save some money and buy the Wii version? Well, we had recently seen the game in action on the Wii via the Nintendo Channel's weekly Nintendo Week show. What we saw looked like a lot of waggle and sub-par graphics. So I paid a $20 premium for a non-waggle version of the game that still included sub-par graphics.

The game is set between the events of season one and season two of the Clone Wars animated show. The game begins with a mission staring Anakin and Ahsoka. As you progress through the three acts of the story you alternate between playing as Jedi and playing as clone troopers. While the story itself is well written and entertaining what you have to do to enjoy those parts is very painful indeed.

When playing as a Jedi you have a lightsaber and a limited force push power. You also have the ability to jump on top of a driod and 'jack it for a short time. When jacked you can use the driod's attacks to damage other droids or overcome obstacles in your path. If you spend some of your points in the shop section of the game you can also purchase the ability to make droids dance.

Yes, I said dance.

Dancing droids are busy dancing instead of fighting and are easier to take down. Be warned, a dancing droid can not be jacked. Why would you want to make droids dance? For one thing you can get an achievement from killing dancing droids and for another dancing droids do not attack. This can be very useful on levels where lots and lots of droids are coming after you.

While the Jedi characters are able to use a lightsaber and knock things around with the force clone troopers play a more traditional dual-stick style platformer. In fact I found the clone trooper missions to be much more satisfying than the Jedi ones.

Star Wars Republic Heroes Wii

When playing as a clone trooper you can either use the right trigger to shoot your weapon straight ahead or use the right stick to shoot in whatever direction you aim the stick. Along with your blaster there are several heavy weapons you can pick up on some missions. These secondary weapons use the Y button to activate and the stick to aim.

The clone troopers are far less nimble than their Jedi generals. Clone troopers can not jump and can only hop over short obstables or roll across the ground to avoid enemy fire. On some missions clone troopers have jet packs that allow you to bound over larger obstacles. There are several different clone troopers you can play as.

So far the game sounds a bit silly but not that bad, right? That's what I was thinking myself.

The first beef I have with the game is the graphics. Did the design team create this to be a Wii game and a month before release they were told it would be on all consoles? Seriously, the graphics are bad, real bad. Even the cut scenes are poorly rendered which is very surprising because the source material for the game is a computer animated show!

Now you might be able to get past the poor graphics. Why back in the day we used to play games that had monochrome or ASCII graphics. So we'll give the game a pass on graphics for now because this is a Star Wars game and Lucasfilm certainly wouldn't approve a crappy game right. Right?

Star Wars Republic Heroes 360

When it comes to the camera angle a poorly rendered game becomes even worse. In the very first mission I often found myself thinking I could make a jump only to fall to my death. Often this was repeated five or more times until I finally discovered the sweet spot to jump from. I was not alone as my daughter had the same problem. Often we would insure that we were both far away from the respawn points before trying a tricky jump. Why you ask?

One slightly redeeming feature of the game is that you have an unlimited amount of lives. If this were not the case I would not have gotten more than five minutes into the game before GameStop would have found themselves with a used Xbox 360 copy of this game for sale.

While unlimited lives may seem like a good thing there were several levels in the game where this fact works against you. One of the skills that Jedi have is the ability to scale a shaft by bouncing off opposite walls. This usualy works well enough except that when one player dies during the ascent and they respawn it can have a drastic impact on the camera. This often happened to us with the end result being the other player also dieing because the respawning action caused the camera to move in such a way that the jumping player could no longer see where they were and would miss their jump!

We also encountered several levels where we knew what we had to do to pass an obstacle but the game wanted us to perform this action in a very narrow manner. Think of throwing a rock at a stop sign from five feet away but only registering a hit if you manage to hit the part of the sign with the little letters proclaiming it to be the property of your local town's public works department. Yes, the game can be that frustrating.

One thing I will give the game is that when something appears in a boss battle it is there for a reason. If droids appear they are not there to hurt you but are instead there to be used against the boss.

Speaking of boss battles they all suck. I don't just mean as in they are cheesy, lame or boring but that they are just terrible. One boss battle had me checking my watch while waiting for items to appear that I could then use as weapons. The final boss battle awards an achievement if neither player dies during the battle. This would be an easy achievement to get except that you have to jump on moving droids to jack them and then use them as weapons. Yes, you will die several times just jumping towards droids!

I could rant all night long about this game but I have better things to do. All I can say is that if you feel particularly masochistic or if you have a Star Wars fan you are mad at in your life you might want to pick this game up. If you enjoy games where you suddenly die for no reason you might want to pick this one up. If you want to play more games that look like they were designed for the GameCube you might want to pick this one up.

If you play games for the enjoyment factor then please stay away from this one. Just because I wasted $50 on this turd does not mean you have to!

I'm sorry this review was not better. If it's any consolation this review is written better than the game.

Movies October 17th, 2009 by Josh L.

This review should be slightly more relevant than the last, as Zombieland was only just released a couple of weeks ago in the U.S. Perhaps future postings will be even more so, provided I resolve to more diligently refrain from frittering precious time away on certain anonymous image boards. Regardless, this article's relevance is indirectly proportionate to my rambling, so let us commence!

As is usual, this review is not a summary, and I will refrain from spoiling key story developments.

Although I'd heard of Zombieland's rave reviews, I was apprehensive entering the theatre.

You see, my only real impression of Zombieland's plot was this: In a world where Woody 'Tallahassee' Harrelson has got one mean hankering for a Twinkie, no zombie is safe. Jesse Eisenberg, AKA Columbus, is the socially inept and chronically phobic Sancho Panza to Harrelson's Don Quixote, clashing starkly with Harrelson and his up 'n at 'um attitude. When the time comes to 'nut up or shut up,' hilarity ensues.

In short, I was afraid that Zombieland would be just as brainless as its undead. I feared that the 'zombie survival 101' gimmick would wear thin, and that Columbus's Bueller-style soliloquizing would just feel forced. But just as certain among Columbus's terrors are met head-on and dealt with, so too were my own worries laid to rest by the bell's final toll.

Despite his inane motivations, Tallahassee sticks by your side throughout as the big oaf with a big heart. There's a tender side to what the zombies see only as tender flesh, a part of Tallahassee that slowly but surely gurgles to the surface. Contrary to what I'd feared, Harrelson's search for the last 'spongy yellow bastard' on earth serves wins the marathon as a running gag, and does not over-exert itself. In all seriousness, it's a serious endeavor. Now, I may be digging too deep here, but it's my belief that Tallahassee's philosophy of enjoying 'the simple things' is his best remedy for dealing with both painful memories and Zombieland itself. In a world without people, a Twinkie is all that stands between Tallahassee and insanity.

Next is Columbus. Although he certainly does occupy the role of Sancho Panza with relation to Tallahassee (Tallahassee being perhaps as insane as Quixote himself), Columbus differs in that he, rather than Tallahassee, occupies the role of main character.

My main fear, here, was that Columbus would be little more than just another Evan a la Superbad, characterized only by the shallow stereotypes that, combined, constitute the modern definition of a nerd. In many ways, Columbus is host to those traits and more; however, they do not define him. When faced with the drooling maw of half a jaw, he does not attempt to cast Meteo. His double-tap is of the shotgun variety, not the B-button. Columbus may play a Wood Elf, but his performance is far from wooden.

Just as I'd feared that Columbus would simply be Evan take two, so to was I afraid that Wichita would be little more than Jules 2.0. Indeed, actress Emma Stone played both roles, Superbad's Jules and Zombieland's Wichita, rendering my concerns quite well-founded. Wichita's character is that of the headstrong and manipulative young woman who, by her wit and wiles, can easily hold her own in a fight. At first glance, she's just the freshest bad girl on the block, yet another 21st-century cliche. Wichita's younger sister, Little Rock, is even worse. Possessing Wichita's same qualities, Little Rock squeezes them into an even more ironic parcel, being a 12-year-old little girl and all. Together, the two sisters are partners in crime, surviving by their smarts as much as by their killer instincts.

Pre- and post-Zombieland, both Wichita's and Little Rock's modus operandi is to expertly con unsuspecting men out of house and home via their feminine charms. For instance, one flashback scene features the sisters tricking a 40-year-old virgin-type gas attendant out of $300 and a fill'er with utter impunity. They time and again succeed in getting Columbus's and Tallahassee's proverbial goat. Yet, after a more extensive analysis of both characters, you should discover just as I have that there's definitely much more to them under the hood. For instance, one has to wonder, what were these two young girls doing all by themselves pre-Zombieland? Are they orphans? Like in the case of Tallahassee, the film challenges the viewer to fill in the blanks. Some may argue that this tactic is cheap, but I disagree. To the contrary, it lends great intellectual depth to what would otherwise be a mere half-a-laugh undead shoot'em up.

At first a motley crew whose quirks and stubbornness compound the overall hopelessness of their situation, by curtain call all are united as one big happy family. As Columbus observes, 'What's life without people? After all, without the people you love, you'd might as well just be a zombie." The moral of the story, perhaps the oldest one in the book, is nevertheless undeniably poignant.

It should be clear by now that I wholeheartedly enjoyed the film and would recommend it to just about anybody not in the no-fun club. This would normally be the paragraph that my official endorsement would occupy; however, in the case of this review, the whole of its text has thus far been one great recommendation. See Zombieland, it's well worth the ticket price. In conclusion, the only downside to the film is that-- similar to 9-- it's dreadfully short, clocking in at precisely 80 minutes long. But oh, is it sweet!

Cross-posted from www.NeoToonami.com courtesy of PompousClown.

Movies October 10th, 2009 by Josh L.

Well, seeing as even those of you whose opinion this review may have swayed can't exactly decide to up and see the film since it's probably out of circulation now, I'm not sure as to the point of this article. I guess that its main point is to just be SOMETHING new, for there hasn't exactly been a glut of updates lately. Ah, well.

About a month ago, some friends of mine and I resolved to catch Tim Burton's latest, the CGI animation flick "9." Technically, the film isn't Burton's latest as a director, as he simply produced the film with Shane Acker at the reins. Needless to say, 9 is perceived by many as being "Burton's latest," much as District 9 is "Peter Jackson's latest." There's much to be said of the recent phenomenon of nameless directors playing sidekick to big-name directors-turned-producers, but I digress.

This review is not a summary, and I will refrain from spoiling key story developments. What I will primarily address is how the film made me feel, as it is a heavily atmospheric film, relying not so much on dialog as on more subtle nuances and cues to carry the film forward.

The aptly named "Nine," voiced by Elijah Wood, is the ninth and last of his kind-- a race of Sack Boy-esque, mechanical rag-dolls. One of the film's key plot points is Nine's quest for personal purpose and the reason behind the existence of his kind. Since we ourselves are ever in search of such truths, Nine is rendered especially endearing. As a result, moviegoers will find it easy to empathize not only with Nine but also with his curious kin, each possessing their own unique personalities and motivations. Each of the 9 harbors some distinct quality or another which any human being should be able to identify within his or her own self. Thus, one cannot help but grow attached to the film's quirky cast.

Nine's adventurous nature clashes with the isolationist philosophy of the rest of his tribe, a philosophy which is primarily perpetuated per the mandate of their stubborn leader, One. As a result, One and Nine are put at odds with each other from the moment they first meet. While One's leadership had indeed kept his people out of harm's way, the potential change of pace that Nine represents is met with little resistance.

The post-apocalyptic world of 9 is certainly a perilous one, especially if you're approximately 10 inches tall. The "scary imagery" that apparently earned the film its PG-13 rating consists of the odd corpse here and Terminator bloodhound there. I distinctly remember many PG- and G-rated films of my youth that far surpassed 9 on the creep-meter.

Regardless of whether or not the film could have squeeked by with a PG- rather than a PG-13 rating, 9's desolate wasteland setting remains utterly breathtaking. I, for one, found it to be almost disturbingly comforting, so serene was this world without people. One scene in particular brilliantly integrates the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow, creating a juxtaposition of scenery and soundscape that is more than reminiscent of the famous Mad World Gears of War commercial. it's truly wonderful, and definitely my favorite part of the movie.

Before I wind up divulging all of the film's high points, I will conclude this review on a high note. When the film ends, you will immediately find yourself wishing for more. Shortly thereafter, though, you will conclude that 9 felt short, yes, but was ultimately sweet, and any more would surely spoil you. Sweet, but not sickly so. Satisfying and uplifting. 9 more than holds its own against all contenders for the title of Best Animated Film of 2009, of which there are many worthy candidates.


Cross posted from www.NeoToonami.com courtesy of PompousClown.

Uncategorized October 4th, 2009 by Force Drainer

501st CTG

On October 19th, 2009, The 501st Legion and Rebel Legion will take over The Big ‘E’ Final Day Parade in FORCE! This will be the biggest showing of Star Wars characters this event has ever seen!

The Big E, New England's Autumn Tradition and the largest fair in the northeast. It's a New England extravaganza with top name entertainment, major exhibits, The Big E Super Circus, the Avenue of States, New England history and agriculture, animals, rides, shopping, crafts, a daily parade and a Mardi Gras parade and foods from around the world for 17 glorious days during New England's most colorful season.

If you have children, you will not want to miss this event.

For more information on The Big ‘E’, click please goto www.thebige.com

PLEASE BE ADVISED: We love fans of Star Wars and The 501st, but we respectfully ask that folks not follow us after this event. We do have places to go after our events, and non-501st are NOT allowed to go to these places with us as this can cause problems. We hope you understand and enjoy the event!

1305 Memorial Ave
West Springfield, MA 01089

TIME: The Big ‘E’ is an all day event, though the Star Wars characters won’t make their presence known until 5:00.

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