Category Archives: Entertainment

Fun stuff; movies, tv, web, games, whatever

Virtual suckage

Yesterday, after owning an XBox 360 for something like a year and a half, I starting playing my first XBox 360 video game. And I sure do suck. I starting playing Mass Effect, and I have found that it’s rather difficult for me. Luckily, I knew in advance that I’m not all that, so I set the difficulties to the easiest I could, and started playing. I’m enjoying the game so far, even though I haven’t played very long.

My biggest problem is controlling the camera. I’m always running the damn thing in the wrong direction, or too far in the right direction, so I have trouble seeing the enemy and shooting them. I also have trouble remembering the controls to use for various things. I know this will all improve with play and practice. After all, this is only my second modern video game, with my previous having been Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction on the Playstation 3.

I think I played for about two hours, yesterday, and stopped mostly because I was having some wrist/hand pain from holding the controller. Definitely don’t have the gamer training, there. And in those two hours, I didn’t advance the plot much, either, as I kept getting lost in the first scenario.

Anyway, that’s it for now.

Encounter critical

I promised my brother that I’d talk about my thoughts on D&D4 after playing through a demo some time ago, but I kept putting it off. He probably doesn’t care any more, since his group is playing D&D4 now, but I don’t want to be a liar, so I’m going to post something now before even more time passes.

Now, to be clear up front, nobody in our group had played D&D4 yet, except maybe Steve (the GM running the demo). A couple of us have the first set of core books, but hadn’t really looked at them yet. The demo we were playing was the one put out by Wizards of the Coast for the Players Handbook 2 launch events, so it was built for 11th level characters. Not necessarily ideal for folks brand new to the game, but it certainly gave us a feel for how the characters work after they’ve been around a while.

I think that D&D4 makes for an interesting approach to the game, and it can certainly be fun to play, if you’re playing in the fashion intended by the designers, which is basically to concentrate on missions or dungeon delves, and not really on the time between them. However, I find that the whole system of powers for everyone, and a concentration on types of roles governing those power groups (strikers get up close and hit people, controllers shape the battlefield, etc.) makes for a remarkably bland experience. Yes, I said bland.

Even though everyone has all these cool powers to use all the time, and I like cool powers, too, they don’t really feel all that different between the various classes. I had no real sense of “that is so cool”-ness about one type of power over another. Sure, the specifics of the powers are different, where strikers are pretty specifically one-target kinda hitters, while controllers maybe have some area effect abilities, but all the effects seem so similar when you get down to the basics of things: more damage, maybe a position shift, maybe a condition change. That guy can do it at range, while this other guy has to hit you with his sword first.

I even felt that there are way too many things that let you shift your position or your opponent’s, so that it felt a lot like you’re sliding around on ice for some reason half the time. I don’t know if that’s a PH2 thing, or inherent in powers over all, but while it was very useful in the combats, it was kind of annoying, too.

I do like the fact that everyone has powers to use, even the fighters, so that nobody is entirely dependent on magic items, as older D&D fighters were at higher levels. I like that magic users always have some basic power to use, so that they aren’t useless once they’ve used all their best spells. But when everyone has powers, and all the powers are roughly the same types of things, and they’re all roughly the same capability, everything totally ends up feeling very similar, and that ends up feeling bland.

Now, outside of combat, they also have this thing called skill challenges, where the adventure has some kind of challenge that must be overcome by successfully making skill rolls. Get enough successful skill checks before you get too many failures (both set by the challenge designer), and you succeed, otherwise you fail. This is a pretty ingenious way to incorporate certain types of skills into an adventure at certain points, and I can see it being quite useful for certain types of challenges, but I didn’t like the way it was used in the demo adventure we played. Basically, in our case, the skill challenge was there so that no role-playing would be required, and so the GM wouldn’t have to decide if a particular effort was good enough to get the job done–instead, just roll until you succeed over all, or fail, and you get (or don’t) the info available. That irks me, because it prevents a clever bit of role-playing from overcoming a mostly social (in this case) challenge. There’s no reward for cleverness. (Let me clarify, the challenge was actually in two parts, the first physical, which was fine, and the second social, which I didn’t like.)

That would normally lead me into bitching about the lack of non-encounter-oriented skills in the new D&D4, which takes away a bunch of what I like in various role-playing games. It might also lead me into bitching about how much I dislike the new skill picks system for skills. But I’m not going to get into that, because it would take a while, and didn’t really come up from the demo we ran, anyway. Instead, I’m going to conclude this post with a quick wrap up.

In the end, I mostly enjoyed playing the D&D4 demo, and some day perhaps I’ll play in a game that starts at 1st level, and builds up the way you normally would. Play in a game that concentrates on encounters, as intended, and I suspect you can have a lot of fun breathing your own life into the powers and such your character can do. However, I really don’t have any particular need to ever play D&D4 again, as I get a lot of fun playing things between encounters, not just during the missions themselves. For me, D&D4 is an excellent piece of focused and targeted design, that results in a type of RPG that I’m not really interested in playing most of the time.

There you go bro, sorry it took me so long to get around to it.

Hollywood annoys me, again.

I love movies, all kinds of them. I love them enough that I buy a lot of DVDs, and now I buy blu-ray discs, too. But I hate that blu-ray often costs so much more than a regular DVD. And now Hollywood seems on the way to making things even worse.

It’s not bad enough that they are already including a very much unwanted (by me) digital copy disc in most blu-ray packages, basically charging me even more for something I don’t want. Now they’re offering only a single option for the Up blu-ray package, which is a 4-disc package including a digital copy and a regular DVD. WTF? And this is compared to the only DVD option, which is apparently a single-disc version.

Why is there no single-disc blu-ray option? Or even better, a two-disc version that includes all the extras, but not the other formats? Why must I pay a fortune for a package that includes two additional formats of the movie that I don’t want? It wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t paying for those extra discs, but I certainly am. The blu-ray package retails for $45.99, while the dvd retails for $29.99. Yes, those prices ARE absurd. Street price isn’t quite as bad, $31.99 and $16.99 respectively, at But WHY do I have to pay $15 more to get the blu-ray version with all that extra crap? Why can’t I get a beautiful blu-ray for just $21.99, which is the more common $5 price premium over DVD?

People who buy blu-ray right now already pay more, so they’re apparently considered purchasers of “luxury” items, and they’re now being offered only the “luxury” package. The price differential between blu-ray and regular DVDs in the past had already put me off of buying quite a number of blu-ray discs, opting for the cheaper version instead. This kind of thing will only ensure that this continues. And that sucks, because I really enjoyed Up in the theater, and really wanted a nice high-def version for my library.

Please note: I recognize that for some people, such as those that have kids and who travel a lot, these extra discs really fit the bill, as they allow for a parent to watch the blu-ray, let the kids watch the DVD on their player, and allow for a traveler to use the digital copy. But I don’t want those, and should be offered a package that doesn’t include them.


After my previous post about why streaming video shouldn’t be the future, and shouldn’t replace DVDs or Blu-ray discs, the great minds at Fox are now planning to remove extras from rental discs (via CNET), in the hopes that doing so will prompt people to buy the discs instead. So, now you won’t be able to rent the disc to see if the extras are worthwhile, and, instead, people for whom that might make a difference will just skip buying entirely. Brilliant.

Stream This.

I read various tech blogs and listen to various tech podcasts, and when it comes up, the one thing most of those folks seem to agree on is that the future of the home video market is not in Blu-ray discs, but rather in streaming video over the Internet. I certainly hope they’re wrong, and here’s why: streaming loses too much of the content I might want.

Right now, streaming video does exactly that: it streams a video program (with an audio track) to your computer or TV. Fine. However, that’s all they’re streaming. You probably don’t even get the subtitle tracks that were produced for the movie you may be watching. And heaven forbid that you might actually want to see deleted scenes or a making-of, or any other type of extra. Not available.

Streaming video, to me, has a definite market in replacing cable television. (That is, if your ISP wasn’t going to cap your bandwidth, preventing you from watching all the streaming video you might want to watch. And capping is happening, and getting more common.) Cable TV provides you with just the movie or TV show, and maybe closed captioning. Streaming can do that just fine. Heck, these days you can even stream some high-def content moderately well, without having to pay extra to the cable company to get the HD channels.

If you want to watch the commentary tracks for a show, however, you’re out of luck with the streaming options available. No commentaries, no deleted scenes, no making-of features; no extras of any kind, in fact. Contrasted with the DVD or Blu-ray disc, if you’re a fan of extra content as I am, streaming sucks.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike streaming, and I do it myself. But for me, it’s for watching current content, for which there are no extras yet anyway, or it’s for content where I just want to see the show, and if I like it, may check out other avenues for any extras that might be associated with it. In other words, I use the streaming kind of like I use my cable subscription, although my cable currently has a lot more content available that I want to watch.

So, having rambled around the point a bit, I’ll re-iterate: I don’t want the future of home video to be streaming, unless they somehow add back in the extras we’ll lose in the current offerings, and ISP bandwidth capping doesn’t continue it’s current trend. And even then, I know I’d be constantly waiting for them to remove content that I might want to watch, for whatever reason studios and media companies do what they do, and then I might not be able to revisit the show I feel like watching. For now, and into the near future that I foresee, I’ll be sticking with my DVD and Blu-ray discs, and loving them for giving me the content I want—with extras.

Dark Imax and Wii.

This past Sunday some friends and I went down to the Imax theater and saw the Imax The Dark Knight. After hearing from some other folks that “you have to see it in Imax”, I did, and I have to say: not all that impressed by Imax. Sure, the screen is bigger, and I liked that in some scenes, but I was really annoyed by the fact that the movie didn’t use the whole screen the whole time, and every time it shifted one way or the other, it annoyed me. I don’t think I’ll be spending my money on any more Imax shows, as I don’t feel the premium price is worth the return.

After seeing The Dark Knight, those friends and some others met up at Jon’s house for some dinner and some Wii. Gen made us some salmon for dinner, and some blackberry pie for dessert. Yummy nom noms. Steve brought a cake, and I brought cookies, and Jon already had cookies and ice cream, so we also had lots of sweet snacks. Luckily we also had a veggie plate, or the sugar may have made our heads explode.

So, we hooked up my Wii, and proceeded to spend many hours Wiiing together. Between myself and Kevin we had four Wiimotes, so we could get a lot of four player action going. I only had one Wii wheel, though (Kevin had two), so when playing Mario Kart one person had to use the Wiimote as a handlebar instead of a wheel. I am definitely not a great kart driver, but it was a lot of fun, definitely more fun playing with others than playing alone. Later, after about half the group left, we also played some four-player tennis in Wii Sports, and that was also much more fun than I’d have expected. I apparently exerted myself a little too much doing that, though, and have some soreness in my arm.

I’ll say that the commercials are pretty much right, and the Wii makes for a fun party console.

Miscellaneous Stuffs.

It’s a light week for blogging, I guess, at least since the new blog. Not a lot new to talk about. I am trying another variation on the blog theme I’ve been using for a while, though.

I’ve been spending most of my programming time split between VB.NET (with the lion’s share) and REALbasic, which I’m also trying to get up to speed on after having owned it for several years now. REALbasic seems to feel more like what I’m used to, although I think I’m going to have to use VB.NET for a number of work projects, regardless. If I can come to terms with some of the feature differences between VB6 and REALbasic, though, I may use REALbasic for a future GCA version. Nothing definite, yet, although I’m pretty happy with a lot of what I’m seeing right now.

I saw The Dark Knight on Monday. It was very good. Nothing profound to say about it. In recent weeks I’ve also seen Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Hancock, and Wanted. Enjoyed all of them. I may be easily pleased; not sure.

Netflix Player by Roku.

A couple weeks ago I picked up a Netflix Player by Roku, which I’ll just call my Roku box or Roku player. What the Roku box does is connect to Netflix to stream movies over the Internet to your TV. It only costs a hundred bucks, and setting it up was incredibly simple. I even connected it to my TV using an HDMI cable to make it even easier, although it doesn’t currently support HD content (perhaps they’ll add that in the future). Connected to my HD TV, it’ll play widescreen movies formatted correctly for the screen, which is an added nicety.

At this time, I’ve only watched one movie using the Roku box, but it worked very well. The quality was better than I expected, looking to me much like the quality I see from many DVDs. I even managed to watch the entire movie without any hitches or pauses, and only saw one tiny artifact. Impressive. I did watch a comedy, not an action movie, so we’ll still have to see how something with a lot of action plays.

The selection at Netflix for streaming isn’t the best, but I still managed to find plenty that I’d be willing to watch at some point. Since I already have an unlimted rental Netflix account, I get unlimited streaming to the Roku box included–no extra charge.

Because the box streams live–and it does not have a hard drive to cache content–you don’t scan forward or backward in the live, full-screen picture. Instead, you see a row of images, like screen shots (or kind of like cover-flow for iTunes), that you can scan through to see where you’re going in the movie. It actually works pretty well, I think. If you scan faster then the first speed setting, you only see the screen shot in the larger middle window, instead of having the other little windows sitting there to show you what’s coming up or passsing behind. I’m probably not explaining it too well, but I think it works well, and again, is a much better solution than I would have expected for a streaming device.

On the whole, I’m really impressed with the Roku player, and for the price, I think it’s a great bargain if you already have an unlimited Netflix account (and you have broadband Internet access). Best of all, you can check out the movies available (and add them to your Instant Queue) and see if you might find the box worthwhile before you spend a dime. If I remember to watch a more action-oriented movie in the near future, I’ll post an update on how that goes.