Jim's Blog Ramblings about novels, comics, programming, and other geek topics

29Jan/080

Halo 3

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I just purchased Halo 3 from seeing a great deal (just $37) on the CheapAssGamer.com's Best of the Sunday Ad Video Game Deals blog entry. I've been following CAG for a week or so now and there's a lot of great deals posted there for video games and DVDs. That deal was even better than the Amazon.com used game deals that had it listed around $40.

I've never been a FPS (first person shooter) game lover, but I've played a few and I did okay at them. I've just started playing this game in both solo and co-op modes. I'm a bit lost with the story because I've never played any of the previous Halo titles. Well, I did play one quick session of Halo 2, but I didn't learn much about the story besides shooting aliens.

I guess that I'm just one of those gamers that actually cares to listen to the story/dialog - maybe that's because I'm a RPGer at heart. Maybe I should buy some of those Halo novels (graphic novel, another, and another) to read up on the story...

The game play has been pretty good, but the controls are a bit foreign to me due to the lack of previous Halo experience. The graphics have been superb and I'm looking forward to finishing the campaign after I finish my Mass Effect multiple play throughs.

One of the great things about this game is the Bungie Online Halo 3 community web site. You can upload screenshots from the game to the web site and it keeps track of your character's accomplishments and statistics. The web site also allows you to use your in-game character's customizations as your community avatar.

I really feel that this is the direction new XBOX games should head. Forza Motorsports 2 also has a community similar to this that allows uploads of your customized cars. I'd really love to see more communities connected to your XBOX games like this.  

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26Jan/086

Mass Effect: Best Sci-Fi RPG ever?

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I finished Mass Effect a couple weeks ago and I'm about half way through my second play through of the game (as of this writing).  I plan on completing the entire game about 4-7 times to play all of the different character classes, get all of the achievements, and finally beat the insanity difficulty.

The game won tons of awards (75+) and continues to score near perfect scores, ratings, and reviews from editors and gamers.

I believe this is the best sci-fi RPG game that I've ever played for several reasons. I think it could even be the best RPG game that I've ever played.

If you have been living under a rock and haven't heard about Mass Effect (and you know what RPG stands for), then you owe it to yourself to check out the game.

Likes

  • The Story. Every BioWare game has a great story, but this story exceeded my expectations. I think that planning to make a trilogy helped create some storylines that will flow through each of the three games much easier than if the writer needed to wait to see how successful the game would be before starting on the next version. 
  • Character classes. The six different character classes really seemed to work well together. None of the classes seemed to be added for show and each class holds their own in the games. Combining the three skill sets into six classes really seemed to have balanced the game and make each class a little bit different from each other.
  • Combat. Now this isn't a FPS like Halo, but I really like how the combat system works in Mass Effect. My preferred combat strategy is to get to high ground, take cover, and use a sniper rifle to take out any enemies dumb enough to stand in the open. Then rush into the compounds with my assault rifle blazing. This works well, especially with the multiple weapon types (Pistol, Assault Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Shotgun), tech skills, and biotics skills.
  • Missions & side quests. The missions really seemed to flow together very well. A few side quests are lengthy and involve making moral choices.
  • Voice-overs. The voice overs for every line of dialog in the story makes it feel almost like watching a movie. There are several recognizable actors who took part in the voice-overs including Seth Green (Austin Powers, Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.) and Keith David (Crash, Halo 3, Armageddon, etc.).
  • The Novels. A prequel novel (written by the lead writer for the game) was released a little bit before the game. This was a great idea for those of us who wanted to be immersed in the game's story. Another novel is due out in a few months that will help bridge the story between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. I really hope they continue writing novels to fill in the gaps between the game releases.
  • Commitment to releasing DLCs (Downloadable Content) to bridge between Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3.

Dislikes

  • The graphics are great, but every now and then there's a little bit of texture popping (an effect when an object's texture suddenly changes where there should be no noticeable change between low-res and hi-res textures).
  • Unable to upgrade/customize the MAKO. (see wish list below)
  • Not enough cities (see wish list below). There's only a couple planets that you can visit that have any form of city. The vast majority of planets are just open landscapes with a few small outpost buildings or underground compounds.

Wishes for Mass Effect 2 and/or Mass Effect DLCs

  • The MAKO. The MAKO is the all terrain rover vehicle that transports your group across the planet's surfaces. I'd love to see customizations for the MAKO including the basics such as upgrades. A Combat Scanner upgrade for the MAKO would be great along with almost any armor and weapon upgrade.
  • More cities including landing on Earth.
  • More land vehicles.
  • Space combat
  • Underwater exploration/planet
  • In-game link to online community (upload screenshots, etc. similar to Halo 3 and Forza Motorsports).
  • Fix the 999 saves issue.
  • Increase the level cap
  • New player class - maybe a generalist with a little bit of combat/tech/biotics skills.
  • New squad members - maybe a Salarian infiltrator or Asari Commando
  • Double the play time from around 40-50 hours to 100 hours
  • More native flora and fauna for planets

 

3Jan/083

Netflix’s Releasing This Week Page Redesign

Sometime redesigns don't always go over well with clients. Many might remember the awful redesign of Yahoo's TV section - that used to be one of my most visited sites, but now I haven't been there in months.

Another one to join the Yahoo TV ranks is the recent change to Netflix's "Releasing this Week". The old design listed all movies that were releasing this week (pretty intuitive, huh?). The new design removes most of that functionality and instead just lists recommendations for you based on some algorithm.

There's a lot of controversy about this and the Netflix Community Blog has posted a few entries concerning the reasons why they changed the page.

The New Release page redesign is one step towards the idealized presenting new releases. In the meantime, don't forget that you can always get a feed of the movies releasing this week via RSS.

Netflix's blog entry titled "Releasing this Week" (Dec 21, 2007)

In this blog entry, the community spokesperson is recommending that users just use the old RSS feed to find the releasing this week's movies...

The Netflix's Releasing this week RSS Feed can be found at http://rss.netflix.com/NewReleasesRSS.

A little bit later, one of Netflix's team found a backdoor into the old page.

[Tygger]  found this link, which apparently is the missing page:
http://www.netflix.com/AllNewReleases?lnkctr=NavAllNewReleases
... Please note- the fact that it is accessible now does not necessarily mean it will remain there...

A few days later (Dec 27, 2007) a petition started. As of this writing, there's just over one thousand signatures.

On New Year's the spokesperson followed up the issues with a new post titled, "Happy New Year."

A lot of people are unhappy with the loss of the Releasing This Week page... [The New Release pages] were fundamentally like Search pages – just lists of movies. Certainly very convenient for people who come to the site often. Not pretty but understandably efficient. For those of you who are upset (which I guess is most of you), the loss of this very efficient page would seem pretty moronic.

As a web developer, I understand the need for redesigns. And I also understand that most redesigns will require changing old ways of accessing information and that a few people will be upset, but in this instance I really don't understand why there's not an adequate replacement for the same functionality that was a cornerstone of many subscriber's Netflix experience.

2Jan/08Off

New Year’s lights (UFO?) over San Diego

It was about half past midnight on the first day of 2008 when a string of nine lights from east to west were spotted over San Diego.

Just saw an interesting video on the local news channel. There were a few unknown lights flying over San Diego around 12:30 am on New Year's morning (January 1, 2008). Some people captured it with a video camera and a few others are talking about it. The news reporters are saying that it looks a lot like the Phoenix lights which turned out to be parachute flares.

Here's a few links to info on the story:

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1Jan/080

Old school disk spanning (DOS)

I rarely need this, but every now and then I need to split files into smaller pieces that can be reassembled by someone else. Usually for email reasons now, but we used to use this a lot when we only had 1.4MB floppies.  There's tons of shareware, freeware, and commercial software that does this, but that usually means the recipient needs the same software.

Here's the old school way of joining files by using a simple DOS copy command. We'll start with a ZIP file named files.zip that needs to be split into smaller chunks.

Splitting the file

  1. Use WinZIP, WinRar or whatever software you need to split the files into multiple files. Usually the files will end with a sequence such as 001, 002, 003, etc.

For the example, the files.zip was split into three files: files.zip.001, files.zip.002, and files.zip.003.

Joining the files

  1. Open up a DOS Prompt or Command window (Start->Run->"CMD")
  2. Change directory to where the file is located
  3. Enter "copy /b files.zip.001+files.zip.002+files.zip.003 files.zip"

Now, you'll have a files.zip with all of the pieces reassembled. You can delete the 001, 002, and 003 files.

References:

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