Sunday, March 25, 2007

God Hates Bloggers

Yesterday my laptop died. It unfortunately suffered one more consecutive power surge in a short period than its surge protection could handle, and somewhere inside it some sort of vital memory component died. Now it boots up but can't actually run any applications, much like a digital Forest Gump.

So (a) I have to get a new laptop, (b) I get to find out whether I'm covered by insurance, (c) I have to rescue the old hard drive, and most importantly, (d) blogging will be back to intermittent until I get regular computer coverage again. This also means my personal email is offline so ifyou need me you'll have to beg, borrow or steal my phone number...

... which, by the way, might die soon because my contract with Telstra is about to expire and I haven't yet lined up a new network. Sigh.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

XBox 360 India TV Spot

Because not everyone I know reads Wonderland, I here repost the XBox 360 India TV spot:

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Tale Of Two Tabloids

Sorry, I have to go into more detail here. Okay, so the Australian mainstream press decided to cover the Australian PS3 launch last night, right? Apparently the "big event" was held at the Sydney Myer store. The first customer to get their Aussie PS3 from the store was 31-year old Mr Danny Zarka, who from his name I adjudge to be a second-rate galactic despot, possibly slumming at the launch as part of a master plan to subjugate humanity.

Reputable news outlet AAP, always quick to cover a story, apparently interviewed High Warlord Zarka. According to national newspaper The Australian:

"I feel very privileged to be the first to buy a PlayStation 3 here tonight," Mr Zarka said.
Wow. It's like he's just been awarded a shiny, black, overpriced Key To The City. We're told it was given to him personally by Michael Ephraim (Managing Director Sony Computer Entertainment Australia) and Bernie Brooks (Myer CEO). I think possibly the console comes with an honorary knighthood, or suchlike.

But His Ruthlessness, Lord Zarka, apparently had more to say to the plebian masses. The Age reports:

The advertising executive from Pyrmont was shocked because he had arrived after 9pm, yet still found himself at the front of the queue.

"I'm surprised there aren't more people here, I thought the place would be packed," he said.

Which tells a somewhat different story of the event. The Age goes on:

Over 500 retailers around the country threw open their doors as the clock struck 12:00am, expecting the frenzy that accompanied the games console's overseas debuts.

But most stores were virtually deserted, despite the 20,000 pre-orders Sony said it had received.

Even at the official launch event held at Myer's Pitt Street store in Sydney's CBD and attended by Sony's local managing director, Michael Ephraim, media and security outnumbered PS3 fans until at least 11:00pm.

At midnight, about 40 PS3 buyers had arrived to collect their consoles, causing distress for the army of camera crews who turned up expecting to capture launch mayhem.

Desperate producers unashamedly asked the crowd to fake excitement when the cameras were rolling, while a team from 2Day FM let out bogus cheers to convince their radio listeners that a launch extravaganza was underway.

Ouch. Poor Sony. But what's really distressing here is the difference in the articles. If you read The Australian or you'll find they both just swallowed the AAP story, that the launch was a roaring success. somewhat distressingly tarted it up and passed it off as their own work despite using many of the same phrases. Was someone paid by Sony to make the bad launch look good? This isn't news - it's thinly disguised advertising.

I don't often have reason to give credit to the Age, but I'm glad at least one mainstream news service actually presented the full story here. Possibly when they're just so tired of punching nuns and kicking puppies that they need to take a break, they exhale quality journalism. Stranger things have happened. (Someone let Jhonen Vasquez make children's TV, for one.)

As for those other outlets - shame. I can only hope that after the inevitable bloody revolution, when Dark Lord Zarka calmly and majestically assumes his rightful throne, they'll be first against the wall.

Season 2

Now that you've all concluded the jiggity dance, it occurs to me to mention that I guess The Dust Forms Words is now ready to begin Season 2, in which:

* Square-Enix gets a new girlfriend, who comes with dual screens and a sexy stylus (And that's not even counting the awesome of Actraiser on the Wii).
* Koei once again lets us slay thousands of generic enemies from the comfort of our living room - this time in Europe!
* Sheridan goes to Za'ha'dum

And suchlike. I'm pretty sure that I'm not giving anything away to say that Martin Sheen is probably going to run for a second term, we'll find out what's down the hatch, the exploding man will be stopped, Sisko will kick some Cardassian ass, Buffy will come back to life, and we'll find out who really killed Laura Palmer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and mock the Playstation 3's extremely lackluster UK and Australia launch sales. Would you believe that some reports had combined Australia and New Zealand pre-orders as low as 10,000 units?

You can read more of the mocking here, but the link goes to The Age and I should warn you that (a) they're not exactly the peak of journalism and (b) their site has popups. I'll give them kudos for their title, though: "Crowds Go Mild At PS3 Launch".

And You Smell Like One Too

The Dust Forms Words had its first anniversay last Wednesday, it seems. Although I'm not sure if it counts, what with the three month hiatus. Newborn babies don't get to go on hiatus prior to their first birthday, although there's a strong argument to be made that they should.

I command all Dustbunnies to now perform the jiggity dance. You know the steps. Don't say you don't.

Excuse Me... Rewind Just A Bit...

Is this for serious?

UPDATE: Answer = yes. Please forget for a moment that Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer of Pirates of the Carribean and instead remember him as the man who gave us Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, Gone in 60 Seconds, Coyote Ugly, and King Arthur.

UPDATE 2: Oh sweet jeebers. And the writing team, at this stage, consists of the original game designer and the guy who scripted The Day After Tomorrow. Duck and cover, children, duck and cover.

The Wii Drought

Where have all the Wii releases gone? I've been pretty much buying every game for the system that looks remotely decent, and I'm still feeling shortchanged. This week I got Excite Truck, which, y'know, was a US launch title.

Elebits has been sitting on that "Coming Soon" shelf at EB for ages, taunting me with its promise of katamari-with-guns style gameplay. Mock up covers for Mario Galaxy have started turning up, too, but last I heard the plumber's latest outing was still in development so it would take some magical powers of omniscience to know when we'll actually see it in Australia.

Plus since my wi-fi widget started fritzing out, my access to the virtual console shop has been sporadic, so there's not even a lot of joy on that front.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Final Fantasy XII

Just because it's enjoyable doesn't mean it's good. Take, for example, heroin.

That's the thought that's been going through my mind over the last eighty hours of gaming as I've worked by way through approximately the first three quarters of Final Fantasy XII. It's addictive like a drug, but the thin veneer of reward schedule ends up covering up the fact that the game is wholly artistically sterile.

The visuals are not aesthetically compelling. The story is not well told. The gameplay is neither innovative nor deep. Skill and intelligence are not rewarded, nor are curiosity and experimentation greatly encouraged. The music is derivative, the details are uninspiring, and the overall pacing is poor. But boy howdy, you can level up.

I absolutely loved Vagrant Story. It is a gem among games and if you have not yet experienced it you should immediately get yourself a copy. I say this because the FFXII team are by and large the same individuals who worked their magic on Vagrant Story, and it shows. Not only is the art style similar, but there are constant references and allusions to that earlier game throughout the gameplay and naming schemes of FFXII. Unfortunately most of what made Vagrant Story good was top-notch storytelling, a unique tone and mood, a commitment to pushing the technical limitations of its platform, and gameplay which wasn't afraid to experiment (occasionally unsuccessfully).

FFXII makes a decent pass at experimental gameplay. I mean, at some stage in the development, someone tried. It just didn't make it into the final game. There's the much lauded "gambit system", which ostensibly lets you program the artificial intelligence of your characters is shallow. This mostly devolves to allowing your characters to intelligently target enemies and automatically heal themselves. There's really no strategy or depth involved and the large part of the game designed to support it feels increasingly irrelevant the further in you go.

The other half of the FFXII gameplay equation is the Licence Board. This is a large chessboard-like interface wherein you can spend "licence points" to buy the skills necessary to use certain weapons, armour, spells and skills. The catch is that having the licence isn't all you'll need - you're still required to actually find or buy the relevant weapon, spell or suchlike. It functions a little like the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, but where that system was dynamic, tactical and rewarding, the Licence Board just ends up feeling largely redundant, as you'll spend an awful lot of time buying skills for items you don't yet have. The fact that you'll probably buy every licence long before completing the game doesn't help much either.

The game purports to tell a story, which isn't by any means awful, but it's poorly told. It draws strongly from genre classics like Star Wars and Dune, yet fails to really tap into the qualities which made those titles good. The player is introduced to a plethora of named characters, yet few are characterised. Too often important events are resolved by third parties. The majority of the protagonists, including Vaan (ostensibly the lead character), spend most of the plot with no obvious personal stake in the proceedings. Throughout the game narrative is presented through poorly written text, which appears in a particularly unattractive font. The direction and cinematography are uninspiring, both in the cutscenes and the normal gameplay, and it's more than a little difficult to care about the story in any fashion whatsoever.

All of these faults are more or less covered up by the game's reward system. The player is constantly presented with a plethora of achievable mini-goals, ranging from hunting certain powerful monsters, to seeking out "rare game", to working your way through the usual assortment of sidequests. At any given point, you'll be keeping a mental list of sub-goals as long as your arm. Most goals can be completed in less than an hour of game time, and yield a tangible reward on completion, along with satisfying audio and visual fanfares. Plus, you'll be churning your way through that licence board, in addition to collecting loot (which now visibly drops from killed monsters and requires you to move over it to pick it up). The whole experience tickles that poker-machine nerve in just the right place and assists in drawing out what is essentially twenty to thirty hours of content into a 130 hour monstrosity.

So my point is: you'll like it. You will. It's good. You won't feel cheated out of your money and you'll play it all the way to the end. But if this is the way we're going to make A-list games, then we're in for a sad and unfulfilling future. We can reach further than the instinct to pull the poker machine lever - we can reach for the heart, and the mind, and the soul. We can, and we should.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blogging Again

It turns out the grave was empty.

Thought dead by many, the news now comes, shouted by the newsboys and by the rude criers of the burroughs, that The Dust Forms Words yet draws breath.

In short, I'm blogging again.

Quick personal update for those possessed of caring: I'm now working at a Canberra law firm as a conveyancing clerk, doing horribly long hours again. I will be in Perth from 5 April to 15 April inclusive for the purposes of Swancon and the visiting of friends, during which I will be staying at the All Seasons Hotel (formerly Acacia Hotel) in Northbridge. It looks like my ongoing tenancy dispute with the landlords is about to go away (fingers crossed). And Final Fantasy XII is a great game, but for all the wrong reasons - more on that later.

Feel free to leave your comments and other random exclamations. The comment feeder is actually directing them to an email address that I check now (it wasn't for the last coupla months). I dare say you will be amazed and startled by the results.