Tonight's Discovery 
2008.10.28 00:15 - Entertainment, Microcode
The PC port of Mass Effect leaves a bit to be desired, and I suspect that the experience is probably better on the Ecksbawks. I'm not going to bet that the console version is entirely free of bugs and hard locks (I think I've only had two or three of those, but one is really too many), but I'm pretty sure that the 'Exit Vehicle' button is clearly documented someplace. On the PC, it's the button you've mapped to (un)holster your weapon in third-person mode. Which would be fine, if it had been obviously documented in the game, with the rest of the vehicle controls.

In case you're wondering, yes, I found this sensible if unintuitive. I had to do some searching to dig it out of the Interblag, actually.

More support for Pikafoop's assertion that hardly anyone is developing for the PC with any degree of seriousness. I guess we still have Valve, Blizzard, and any MMO you care to name, though. For now.

[Addendum: No, I didn't read the manual, where it's clearly documented. The probability of the game's manual containing useful information has been nearly 0 for the last ten years or so, so I don't feel I can be slighted on this one. And it's still screwy that the exit vehicle command is inextricably linked to the one for holstering your gun.]
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Just started Mass Effect on the PC 
2008.10.26 15:55 - Entertainment, Microcode
I wouldn't say the price was right yesterday afternoon, but the ennui certainly was, so I purchased and installed it.

So far, the biggest thing that's bugged me, aside from having to update my CPU drivers (my processor has OS-level drivers?) has been that my protagonist, Commander Shepard, is a marine designated as XO on the SSV Normandy, a naval vessel. Admittedly, Shepard's a space marine, and the Normandy a spaceship, but the US Navy and US Marines use different schemes when assigning rank, and I'm not sure that a USMC officer would be assigned as XO to a Navy ship. There's the minor quibble that it seems unlikely that the Normandy's XO would also be head of their away team (a group that isn't even the size of a platoon), but this is easily brushed away with some story exposition and the catch-all justification that Star Trek did it, so it must be okay. But the rank thing bugs me, if only very slightly.

I can get over the negative current technobabble on the justification that the direction the current is run through whatever weird circuit is used with the game's handwavium probably determines the phase of the weird graviton waves so produced. This is equally ridiculous, but is sufficiently complicated to allow me to suspend disbelief. Many years of Star Wars and Star Trek have built up such mechanisms for dealing with absurd explanations.

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'Tis the Season 
2008.10.09 15:54 - Guns, Entertainment, Movies, Internet Stupidity, Zombie Preparedness
I'm just going to present these without commentary. I think they pretty much speak for themselves.

Zombie Targets
DIY reactive zombie targets
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Disgaea is weird 
2008.10.09 01:23 - Browning Hi-Power, M1 Garand, Entertainment, Microcode
Multiple years ago, the ... quirky strategy game Disgaea was released in the US on the PS2. Reviews were good, so I eventually purchased a copy before it disappeared from the shelves forever. Never played it. (I do that a lot.)

Ditto for Disgaea 2, actually. (Like, regularly.)

Disgaea was then ported to PSP a little while back. I did not buy it, because I don't own a PSP and there's not yet a killer app available that I feel like worrying about.

This year Disgaea (the first one) has been released on the Nintendo DS. I am finally playing it. It is weird. And Prinnies? Prinnies are great.

In retrospect, I should probably look up a PSP and a copy of the FF:Tactics port. Maybe after I get the High Power and Garand. (This month, I swear!)

1. There is a Penny Arcade strip for almost everything, it seems.
2. I forgot to mention what brought this all to mind:
Every item in Disgaea has a handful of character classes attached to it, indicating certain bonuses conferred by that item or piece of equipment (I guess; I think there are some caveats, like the item has to be equipped, and consumables aren't equippable). These are distinct from character classes, FWIW, and often are a bit ... weird. Like, I can guess that Cryophile boosts the wearer's resistance to ice damage, and Firefighter does much the same for fire damage. I'm not sure what to make of the Coffee Maker bonus, except that I have to buy every item with it I can.]
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The Force Unleashed Instant Review - In a Can! (Just Add Water!) 
2008.09.25 00:44 - Entertainment, Microcode
(Disclaimer: We at can take no responsibility for any damages that may or may not occur as a result of applying water to this review. Additionally, no can or other container is provided.)

(Actual disclaimer: I played this game on an X-Box 360; some or all of my complaints and observations may not apply to some or all of the other platforms the game is one. I have heard that the PS3 version has similar issues, however.)

Here's the short review: a compelling story somewhat compensates for uninspired gameplay and a buggy implementation. Weak recommendation; wait for a patch before buying and/or buy on sale.

And here's a longer one:

The Force Unleashed is not, quite, a good game.

The basic gameplay mechanics run a lot like entries in the Devil May Cry and God of War franchises. The big differences being that those games had additional weapons, and TFU has Force powers. Some especially large enemies and all bosses have quick-time events to finish them off with cinematic flair. Be aware that these don't seem to be skippable against proper bosses.

The story is sandwiched between the end of "Revenge of the Sith" and the beginning of "A New Hope", following a new character, Darth Vader's secret apprentice. And that's all I'm going to say, because I don't want to spoil the interesting bits. Well, except that the most interesting bits happen in the interstitial cinemas that seem to exist in large part to hide the level loading times, so there might be thirty minutes of that in the entire game.

All of this is forgivable, because the story is good, does a nice job of stringing together the levels, the voice acting is surprisingly good, and the gameplay, if a bit pedestrian by now, is still fun (at least for me). But, the game is buggy. I twice managed to throw my character through the floor of the map, and later wound up with a curious bug that's keeping me from getting an Achievement. (I only sort of care about this: I don't really care about Achievements, but the lack of polish annoys me.)

Additionally, frames drop like crazy when you send too many objects flying at once; given the heavily populated and highly reactive environments, this doesn't take much at all. A couple of sequences in the cinematics look suspiciously like a cel being moved across a matte without any other animation (save, perhaps, scaling--no perspective, though). Targeting is often frustrating. Although the pause menu pops up immediately, menus accessed from there have loading times. Things like character customization, the movelist (which isn't in the booklet: what the heck, guys?) ... anything, really, except "Save Game", "Resume", and "Exit Game", I think. And that big sequence with the Star Destroyer? The one that was hyped during the game's development? Not a lot fun, sadly.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Given the prohibitive cost of next-gen titles, I wouldn't recommend this game to anyone at full price. If you like Star Wars, though, you should probably give it a look when it reaches the budget bin or greatest hits catalogs.
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