Archive for April, 2005

I’m almost there…

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

I got six months of pre-paid insurance today, so I’m this close to getting my license back and generally in a happier place in life. Yay me!

San Francisco and Golden Gate Park

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Here is a dump of pictures I took a few years ago, mostly at Golden Gate Park. I captioned them, but did not otherwise edit or prune them, so there are some that seem pointless, and a few that are. All in all though, they’re a pretty nice collection of shots, if I do say so myself.

It helps to have one of the most beautiful places in the world as your subject.

Pictures!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

I photoshopped the pictures I took over the last weekend hanging out at the Greenbelt and downtown, and here’s some galleries. The pics that look way down on Campbell’s Hole were taken from the cave in the cliff that overlooks it.

First day out at Campbell’s Hole. It was cloudy, so they didn’t come out so good.

Pics from my second picture-taking trip to the Capitol and my first trip down the Waller Creek trail that runs below ground level through downtown Austin.

Second day at Campbell’s. The sun was out, so I got some better pictures before my camera died.

The telling of the Untold Legends.

Friday, April 15th, 2005

Every review I’ve read of Untold Legends grades it down for being derivative of every hack-n-slash RPG from Diablo on down. Well, I never played Champions of Norrath or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and I’m here to tell you that, played on its own, Untold Legends is a lot of fun, with hours and hours of bang for your monster-murderizing buck.

Graphically, Untold Legends is one of the best PSP games to date. The characters are unavoidably small, both in apparent size and number of pixels, but the game does a good job of working within these limitations and around them to create a pretty compelling visual experience. The variety of character models is a little low (okay, 4), but the game does have a nice enough selection of weapons and clothes to spice up your character’s appearance. You can see your character well enough on the paper doll model in the item screen to lead the more fashion-conscious to play some dress-up.

The environments look nice, although occasional artifacting makes it very apparent that they are composed of square tiles, and are generally bright enough to avoid too much trouble from the smearing problem that plagues all LCD screens. There are a good variety of different tile sets, and the randomly generated levels vary enough in room size and shape to give a different flavor to levels that do use the same tile set. The spells and other magical effects, too, range from the merely good to the truly impressive. Some of them, like the flaming yellow cyclone that follows the druid around, are mesmerizing.

The gameplay isn’t terribly innovative, but it’s solid. You can certainly mash your way through the game, but if you’re looking to take a more tactical and elegant approach, that works just as well and can be more visually gratifying. It’s basically ranged combat, melee combat, ranged and area magic. The control scheme is simple and works well.

The sound effects are good, though not spectacular, and the music is serviceable, though not great. I often find myself turning the music off, not because it’s bad, but because there isn’t enough of it to cover the many hours of gameplay.

The story unfolds through dialog boxes with little portrait icons, and, structurally, is as simple as “you need to beat up bad guys to get items in order to beat up other bad guys and save the world”. The flavor and color, however, are compelling enough to keep you moving forward, and one of the best features of this game is that there’s a lot to move through. This is quite possibly the longest game I’ve played on the PSP so far; I’d estimate the total length of a game at maybe 50 hours or so.

The multiplayer portion of the game is a hoot–you can play through your quest or your partner’s quest, and quest progress is only saved for the player whose quest it is, but the other player can still save to keep any items they aquired without overwriting their own quest.

This setup allows you to play along in single-player mode, then join up with your friend to kick some monster butt cooperatively while moving the quest along and getting better experience and loot than you would by yourself. Also, each class has some abilities that help out your buddies, if you have any near you. The characters always remain on the same level together, but can roam freely within it to clean out an entire dungeon quickly before teaming up to take out a boss.

The first time I played multiplayer, I ran across quite a few glitches–I would give my brother a pair of boots, only to have a headdress show up in his inventory, or teleporting out of a level, which should revive a dead comrade, instead kicks him out of the game. At another point I experienced hitching that seemed due to a loss of network connectivity, even though I was sitting less than five feet away from the other PSP. On the second and subsequent tries, however, I’ve had no trouble at all.

The single-player game, on the other hand, has more serious glitches, which I’m sure apply to multiplayer as well. I’ve seen the game freeze several times; usually this can be fixed by pressing the home button, and then X to go back to the game, but sometimes it seems to hard-lock the system, requiring a power-down.

More insidiously, there appears to be a glitch in the dungeon-generation system that can cause a door which shows up on the dungeon mini-map to not appear in the “real” dungeon. This can keep you from proceeding on your quest, and the only way to fix this appears to be to load a save from before you went into the dungeon and re-enter. This has happened to me only once, but I have seen it happen to various people on the official support forums. If you use two save slots and save to the second every hour or so, then this is likely to be nothing more than a minor annoyance; if not, however, then it’s the sort of thing that can rip the joy right out of your life, especially in a game this long.

All in all, I’d say that Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade is very good game with a few glaring faults, and would recommend it to anybody with a PSP that wants to get their dungeon crawl on.

What am I doing?

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

You know, I’ve always assumed that I was a person with a lot to say. Actually, I know I am, because I say it a lot–but not on this blog, no siree. Nope, I end up saying practically nothing here, and wouldn’t remember the last time I posted an entry if I didn’t see it every time I brought the page up.

So, yeah, I need to post more, and I will. It’s just that I have a hard time giving a shit about anything lately. Hopefully that will all blow over pretty soon, and I’ll be happier. In the mean time, I’ve been sitting around playing God of War on the PS2, and Untold Legends and Mercury for the PSP.

God of War: As it stands, this game is getting my vote for Game of the Year, unless something even more truly spectacular comes out. You can check out gameplay videos at the web site, but suffice it to say that it plays like Ninja Gaiden meets Metal Gear Solid 2. The story, while not overly complex, is very engaging, and the characters interesting and well-written. The music is excellent and varied, and fits the game like a glove. The voice acting is never phoned in or clunky, and the sound effects are, well, very effective.

The graphics, though–good gods, the graphics! The camera is a generally fixed perspective based on the location of your character, an idea which dates back at least as far as Final Fantasy VII, but is used to very cinematic effect here. It makes the game seem more like an interactive movie than anything else.

God of War is, quite simply, the best-looking game of its type that I’ve seen on the PS2 to date. The lighting often has a soft-edged, lower-contrast feel, but never feels fuzzy. The character design is flawless. The hero, Kratos, and the monsters you encounter have graphically stunning and seamlessly animated moves, reactions and attacks. The environments have a vast sense of scale and good variety. The water is the prettiest–not to say realistic–I’ve seen on the PS2, and probably the best you can get without using pixel shadders. The same goes for the reflection mapping. This is a game that does psilocybin proud.

The gameplay is action and adventure, and mostly boils down to running around killing monsters and solving puzzles by pushing, pulling, kicking, and turning things.

The combat portion of the game gives you several weapons and magic types that can be upgraded for new attacks, better damage, and cooler animations. Even the complex moves are pretty easy to pull off, so most of the difficulty in battle is of a tactical nature–e.g., attempting to pull off a powerful but slow combo while surrounded by several quick-moving adversaries is likely to end in sorrow. For the less nimble-fingered, it’s possible to button-mash your way through on the easiest difficulty setting, and mostly possible on normal.

The puzzle side of the game is well done. None of the puzzles are insurmountably difficult, but they do take a bit of figuring to solve, and get rather elaborate at some points, with puzzles built on top of puzzles.

One of the nicest and most involving features of the game are the mini-game action sequences, both in the combat and in the puzzles. When you walk along a thin beam, for instance, you must be careful to walk straight along it, or you will find yourself not walking along it at all. Contests of strength require you to repeatedly press a button, and complex finishing moves test your ability to do the right thing at the right time. Together, these sequences keep the game from becoming monotonous and suck you in to the reality of the game.

If the game is a joy to play through the first time, it augurs to be pretty good the second time around, as well, since beating the game enables a ‘god mode’ with higher difficulty, and beating it on this mode unlocks other costumes and special features.

God of War has an excellent selection of entertaining special features, including a “making of” featurette and a sequence about deleted levels. Totally unexpected and gratefully accepted: I think all games should come with these sorts of things from now on.

This is not a game for children. In addition to scads of extremely brutal and graphic violence, it’s also got a fair bit of nudity, a little bit of sex, and a scene with a guy in a cage that those with little ability to seperate fantasy from reality are likely to find pretty darned appalling. If the previous sentence made you think twice about buying this game, you definitely shouldn’t.

Gripes? I’ve got very few. First of all, progressive scan mode is, at least on my setup, rendered virtually useless by a horribly distracting tearing problem. “Luckily”, the interlaced mode looks just about as good, and has no such problem. Also…well, also…hmmm….okay, I’ve only got one gripe. So sue me.

Austin traffic report on Yahoo!

Friday, April 1st, 2005

Check out what I found at Yahoo! It’s a traffic map that shows speed on the major highways and the location of all the traffic accidents around Austin. It’s a brave new world.