October 30, 2007

Which Supervillain Are You?

Posted in Other Stuff at 6:30 pm by loolar

Again, thanks to Rob Sama, who seems to find an endless supply of these time-wasters.

I hate wearing the mask, but I gotta admit, if the shoe fits… er, mask…

Your results:

You are Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom
70%
Lex Luthor
60%
The Joker
53%
Apocalypse
52%
Magneto
52%
Riddler
43%
Juggernaut
41%
Dark Phoenix
40%
Mr. Freeze
40%
Catwoman
37%
Two-Face
37%
Venom
34%
Green Goblin
33%
Poison Ivy
32%
Kingpin
28%
Mystique
21%
Blessed with smarts and power but burdened by vanity.


Click here to take the “Which Super Villain am I?” quiz…

October 11, 2007

Which Superhero Are You?

Posted in Other Stuff at 9:18 am by loolar

Thanks to Rob Sama for wasting fifteen minutes of my life. Now I’d like to forward the favor to you.

At least I’m only 34% Robin. Honestly, I think most men would prefer to be Wonder Woman before the yellow-caped pansy. And I’m a Batman fan, too.

Your results:
You are
Green Lantern

Green Lantern
75%
Superman
70%
Hulk
70%
Batman
65%
Catwoman
60%
Spider-Man
60%
Supergirl
57%
Iron Man
55%
The Flash
45%
Robin
34%
Wonder Woman
32%
Hot-headed. You have strong
will power and a good imagination.


Click here to take the “Which Superhero are you?” quiz…

October 9, 2007

Chargers woes… and who to blame

Posted in NFL and other lesser sports at 11:30 am by loolar

Jim Trotter has an excellent article over at Sports Illustrated, shedding a lot of light on the departure of Marty Schottenheimer from the San Diego Chargers, and the subsequent woes of the team. Apparently, the usual scapegoat – General Manager A.J. Smith – can only be blamed for hiring that coaching disaster, Norv Turner.

October 8, 2007

Touching my info (part II) – Microsoft responds (after a fashion)

Posted in Customer Lack of Service at 3:09 pm by loolar

Mike Torres, a Microsoft employee (and, in the interest of disclosure, my brother-in-law), commented on my last post.  From Mike’s comment (emphasis mine):
“there aren’t a bunch of evil people running around the halls wondering how we can get people to give us information so we can lock it in a vault. It’s actually quite the opposite. Windows Live Spaces is actually a leader when it comes to freedom of information sharing…”

I wouldn’t be against them “locking my personal information in a vault” – my problem is with the “freedom of information sharing;” specifically, freely selling my valid email address.

Admittedly, I’m being a bit snarky with your comment.

However, on a more serious note:  While I doubt Microsoft is doing this (mostly because they would not get away with it for long), here’s the trouble:

As Microsoft creates this “barrier for entry” (even if for understandable reasons), and the public culture accepts it, it opens up the floodgates, by way of example, for other less scrupulous companies to use this method – as I suspect many of them do – to harvest information for their own annoying purposes (junk mail, “special offers,” etc.), or, more dastardly, to sell it to third parties.  Anyone who’s ever looked into spamming knows that it starts with a service selling, “verified addresses – guaranteed!”

Basically, if we come to expect that we must enter our name and email to use something, sooner or later, less-savvy net users (the same people who must be told over and over again not to open .exe files from strangers) are going to blithely and blindly continue to do so even if the website isn’t something as, er, ahem, “reputable” as say, Microsoft.  It’s a bad example to set.

And while spam is annoying, I am never in favor of trading my privacy for security (to mangle the famous quote usually, and apparently, incorrectly attributed to Ben Franklin: “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”).

Again, I think a set of (user-selected) rules that puts the onus on the blogger to moderate things that violate those rules is the best solution.  Lazy people can always check off all the rules.  Anything else is just suspicious, invasive, and annoying.

Don’t touch me there! (my personal data & Microsoft & Kodak)

Posted in Customer Lack of Service at 12:26 pm by loolar

There is a deeply annoying trend in online services. I hadn’t really bothered with commenting on it until it finally annoyed me on a very personal level, but now it’s war (more on the personal later).

The trend is this: companies forcing you to “register” with them before you may use their services. Most recently, the trend has rudely invaded me with Kodak’s online photo sharing site, and with Windows Live Spaces (formerly MSN Spaces, I think – the “re-branding” has been nothing but confusing).

Now, granted, some of this may be a privacy setting – you only want people you know viewing your photos or commenting on your blog. Fair enough. But the messages don’t remotely indicate that you’re facing a privacy setting, put into place by your friend/loved one. No, they simply bluntly inform you that you have to, “create an account/ID/way for us to sell your data to a third party like a big dirtbag.”

For example:
“You must sign in using a Windows Live ID™ to add a comment to this space. Sign in
Don’t have a Windows Live ID? Sign up now”

Nothing turns me off faster. Luckily, I’ve been able to get around the Kodak deal with the fact that my mother visited and logged in, and now I have her ID in my passkeys (yay, Mac). Which, by the way, tells me it’s not about a privacy setting put into place by the originating album creator – why else would my mother’s ID work for photo albums created by people whom she has never met?

The truth is, this is just another contemptible butt zit method for these companies to “harvest” user data, either to come knocking at your virtual door, or to sell your valid email address to those nadir of the net world pustules – spammers.

And I refuse.

There are two far more elegant ways for companies to handle this:

  1. Tell me that this is a privacy level enabled by the blogger/creator. Of course, this is bogus anyway – blogs can be put on a moderator status if you’re worried about invasive comments from strangers – just choose to delete comments you don’t want. So why do I need to create a frickin Microsoft radio tag so they can track me in the wild? Oh yeah, underhanded sneakiness to get my valid email… and study my migratory mating habits, I guess.
  2. Just come out and say, “You want to use this free service? Then you’re going to have to give us a little something-something in return, you internet slut.”

At least then I could appreciate the honesty.

Now, I could be totally wrong about this – but there isn’t enough transparency as to WHY they want my data.  Given that, I have to use Occam’s razor (to paraphrase, the easiest explanation is usually right), which yields the explanation that they’re holding the content of my friends and family hostage, for the ransom of my data.

October 3, 2007

Halo 3 – less bang, more whimper

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 9:49 am by loolar

There is really only one “spoiler” here, and it’s not that big; frankly, if you played H2, you know most of this.

My buddy Ben and I got together for an eight hour session and played through the first dozen or so missions; judging by the missions displayed on the screen and where we are in the story, I think we played about 3/4 of the game.

This will not be some fawning, sycophantic, tongue kiss to Halo 3 (H3 from here on out). Many of the things that pissed me off about Halo 2 (H2) were left in the game, and some were made arguably worse. In the interest of disclosure, you should know that I played the first Halo (H1) up past Assault on the Control Room (ah, how I love you, best level in the game), in the hours preceding playing H3. So my experience of the first game was clear in my memory – its intuitive, smooth flow; its polish; its visceral satisfaction (things just WORK right, with the possible exception of the controlled chaos of driving a warthog, which, admittedly, has its own charm).

First, start with…

THE POSITIVE

  • Vehicle handling is much better; the ghost is a joy to drive; the mongoose is a lot of fun too. Much more “solid” feedback to the controls.
  • I love that you can now destroy anything – including a gigantor, ginormous, battle walker tank thing – if you shoot it long enough.
  • The grunts still have the best lines in the game. “I’m here to help!”
  • That frickin hammer weapon. Holy butt pimples, so this is what it feels like to be Thor! Almost worth the price of admission – except for the repeated frustration of only finding the thing at the end of a level.
  • Gorgeous to look at. Photo-realistic, lush, melt in your mouth but not in your hands, quick, change your shorts you sticky mess environments.
  • Lots more fun vehicles.
  • You can now see your other weapon on the character model, holstered at your hip or on your back. Nice.
  • Online cooperative. At last. Too bad I killed my XBOX Live account a year ago.

Now, what’s wrong with it? Ah, where to start.

GAME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

  • The non-intuitive menus of H2 have gotten worse by an order of magnitude (Magnitude ordered it to be so). You load the level – and then have to tell it to start, too? Good luck figuring out how to change your controller to invert-look. FIFTEEN MINUTES of us digging around in the menus until we accidentally hit a D-Pad to the right and suddenly found a new set of menus. Yay, controller setup as an Easter Egg! Fun, kids!
  • Why can’t you alter your profile when in the game; specifically, your controller setup? To be fair, this might be a Microsoft XBOX choice of bungle, forcing you to update a gamer profile when out of a game (why? I guess to make them “consistent” – but shouldn’t the profile be game-specific anyway?), but it makes it ridiculously arduous to adjust things like look sensitivity, which should be easy to do on the fly. It was easy in H1.
  • Can’t save a coop game at checkpoints, like the solo campaign – why not? Hard drive space aplenty. This legacy issue from H1 has no excuse for why it hasn’t been fixed.

THE HEADS UP DISPLAY (HUD)

So many elegant features of the original were changed or discarded in H2 and now H3, making the game harder to play and less intuitive. Is it the MS influence, getting rid of the Mac-style, intuitive, elegant UI?

  • HUD makes it very difficult to tell the difference between covenant weapons (brute pistol, covenant rocket launcher and grenade gun all look the same).
  • HUD words are tiny and nearly illegible.
  • Stupid “game tips” about my shield being low and telling me how to throw a grenade. In the original, a single message popped up telling you how to use something ONCE – and then it was gone forever.
  • HUD mission arrow is tiny, the same color as other things (vs. the orange of the original), and frequently disappears; it never converts to a range diamond when you’re in visual range.
  • Why no life bars? Discarded since H2, it makes no sense. C’mon, how many of us loved playing H1 “gonzo style,” with a full shield but a lone sliver of red health bar? Give me that “oh shit” valve for when the shield goes down. In H2 & H3, if the shield goes down, you die. Weak. What in the hell is the point of all that armor, again?

THE GAME PLAY

  • You can’t both play as Master Chief in coop mode. Excuse me? According to a review on CNN, which is likely quoting, word for word, a Bungie/Microsoft press release, “‘Halo 3’ lets up to four gamers play through the entire campaign together in a cooperative mode… There’s only one Master Chief, however, so additional gamers will take on roles of other characters, such as an Arbiter alien, each with unique skills.” Well, apparently, while there’s just one Master Chief, there’s no limit to idiots with their head up their anal sphincter at Bungie/Microsoft, when they unilaterally decide to give the finger to players by not letting them be the star of the game. I don’t want to be a goddamn Elite – killing Elites was the high point of H1. The worst confusion in H2 was trying to figure out who the hell you were allowed to shoot. Cripes, how about we develop a Star Wars game where Luke’s sidekick is a Stormtrooper? Good job! So, do they limit only one player to being Master Chief in the head to head, player vs. player games? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  • The world is gorgeous and full of texture; unfortunately, it also means that weapons and grenades and deployable cover are all but invisible among the background “noise” of the environment. Too much time hunting through terrain looking for guns. Most games have this problem; they have yet to master the way our visual system “picks out” objects, which means too often, important things are all too well camouflaged. Somehow H1 managed to make weapons easy to find, but still had a rich environment. Some of that was glowing covenant weapons. Some of that was realizing I don’t give a screaming zit how lush the terrain is if I can’t figure out where I just dropped my damn shotgun.
  • Since when is the game about going back and forth? Get to the command center – now, go secure the perimeter – now, back to the command center – now, back to the perimeter… we’re doing the cha cha! The only way this was ever fun was when it was go all the way in, and then all the way back out (e.g., the 343 Guilty Spark level), and even then, those levels were different on the way back out (yay Flood).
  • Why no left trigger elements to vehicles; particularly, the guns on the Scorpion? You’re left with a moronic marine to run the guns. By the way, don’t ever, ever, ever let the marines drive. “I know where it is!” the Marine declares eagerly as he takes the wheel. The only trouble is, “it” seems to be a porto-potty on the other end of the level.
  • Why is the needler no longer dual-wield? What a disappointment.
  • There are more types of grenades, but you can hold fewer of them. I don’t get it. And frankly, I don’t need it. Plasmas and frags, baby, just give me plasmas and frags.

THE STORY ELEMENTS

  • The cut scenes are still obtuse, incoherent, difficult to follow, disjointed, and unintelligible. Ben and I were constantly asking each other, “wait, what did he say?” and neither of us knew. Why hasn’t the dialogue been mixed so that you can hear it? Too much audio twiddling with radio static has left in game “chatter” a muddy mess, too.
  • The whole plot device where Mind Head or Big Brain or Doot Wad or whatever is suddenly a sentient controller of the Flood is just a weakloaf covered in weaksauce. This was already a boob-move when Star Trek made the Borg controlled by a Borg Queen just to give us a “super villain” (“I’ll get you next time, Superman!” (c) Cliche Unlimited). The Borg – and the Flood – are interesting precisely because they’re mindless. The height of this moronic toilet-floater plot idea is when the Flood help you attack Truth, with the help of Elites. I turned to Ben and said, “First Elites are our friends, now the Flood. So, who do we still get to shoot? Can I shoot you?” If the game had forced me to play as a Flood character who believes the Flood are mislead, I would have destroyed Microsoft with explosive, projectile diarrhea.*
  • I still don’t understand why the “prophet” Truth thinks it’s a good idea to activate the rings. Besides all the gibberish about being “saved” and being “chosen,” he doesn’t ever mention the fact that he and all his followers will be sucked by the cosmic dust buster, and how they expect to be rewarded for this idiocy. Radical Islam at least goes through the trouble of promising dozens of virgins to suicidal maniacs; what do you get for wiping out yourself, your allies, your entire species, and all life in the universe? The list better start with Jessica Alba.
  • The psychoactive-dementia-inspired visions of Cortana, crossed with a bad VHF transmission (apparently there is no high def in the future). What the hell was the point of that? So, Master Chief, what’s up with you and the AI chick? Are you two, you know, “crackling,” in the parlance of tech sex**? Is this really the “romantic interest”? Who cares! Just download a new one and move on, Master Chief. She’s just too psycho, with all those annoying mid-battle, incoherent phone calls and video voice mails.

THE FINAL OPINION
Just play Halo again. Put it on legendary and cackle madly. Who needs to dual wield when you can hold 8 grenades? All the frills of H3 still don’t make up for the collection of minor irritations, which, on the whole, detract from what makes a game great: wanting to play it over and over again. Yes, it’s gorgeous to look at. So is Jessica Alba – but you still can’t have sex with her. All the looks in the world don’t mean a vanilla coke and a boiled egg when you’re in the middle of the battle and trying to figure out how to drop your left hand gun so you can throw a grenade and I’M DEAD! Wheee! It’s certainly not worth ponying up $500+ for a console/extra controllers just for this game. Do what I did – get someone else to buy it.

*I may do this anyway.
**Not literally true. I just made that up. It’s not parlance until you use it, too.