Monday, November 26, 2007

If you love this game so much why don't you marry it? Well, I bought it and that's kind of the same thing...

I picked up Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on Tuesday night and brought it over to my gamer-wife Mike’s place so that we might have something shiny and new to look at. After passing the controller around for two hours all in attendance were pretty wowed by the lush beauty and tight playability of the title. I started the story myself on Wednesday evening and completed the twelve hour story on Saturday. I devoured this game, I simply couldn’t put it down, and if Uncharted hadn’t already interrupted my progress in Ratchet & Clank then I would fire it up again searching for the treasures and medals I missed.

Uncharted was developed by Naughty Dog exclusively for the PS3. This company rounds out the holy trinity of Sony’s top-tier American developers, the others being Insomniac Games and Sucker Punch Productions. All three companies had big franchises on the PS2 and show no signs of stumbling. What’s better the three are known to enjoy a good business relationship and have even assisted each other’s productions. These are the kinds of arrangements and biographies you want to hear about as a game player; original intellectual property used in a slew of quality titles. Notice the absence of endorsement titles or licensed products? Had they been there I would have mentioned them. This is why I always look back to company history and their track record; it does a good job foretelling the future. So far the only of the above companies we haven’t heard from this generation is Sucker Punch, who is working on a superhero title called Infamous. I’m taking bets that game will kick ass as well.

Uncharted takes all the great things in adventuring and mixes them up into a flawless confection. At its core it’s a pulp-action tale in the spirit of Indiana Jones. It’s a treasure hunting thriller that has you exploring a lush tropical rain forest, ancient Mayan ruins, and deserted Spanish colonies. When things get rough it turns into an exciting third-person shooter that’s as simple to play as it is satisfying. Best of all, the story is compelling, the characters are engaging, the dialogue sounds natural, and there are a couple of plot twists that really take you by surprise.

Visually this game can compete with anything put out on a console; everything is absolutely gorgeous and runs very smooth. Playability-wise you have a character that climbs about like the Prince of Persia and fights like Gears of War. What that means is you are having fun every minute you play no matter what you’re doing. What’s more, Nathan Drake; wise-cracking descendant of Sir Francis and the game’s hero is a supremely likable and believable guy. The sound is wonderful and the musical score is fantastic. From beginning to end this whole game is an exercise in high production values and polish.

The game awards medals and rewards for a wide variety of accomplishments like finding treasures, effective fighting techniques and other interesting challenges. It thickens up the competitive aspects of the game and provides a nice assortment of bells and whistles. With Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Ratchet & Clank Future, and Call of Duty 4 all earning top marks it seems the age of the PS3 has finally come... and it's about time.

The great game that wasn't.

For more video game reading here’s Wired Magazine’s take on Assassin’s Creed. Thanks to Marc for passing it on. It’s a pretty scathing review that echoes the talk I heard about it throughout production.

You see that nasty alien zit that begs to be popped? That's IMMERSION!!!

Getting much higher critical success is Mass Effect; a science fiction RPG. The focus of Mass Effect doesn’t seem to be the fighting or exploring – which I’m told is done well enough – but the interaction and conversations to be had with other characters. I’m going to be picking this one and turning on my X-Box 360 for the first time in over a month so I’ll be chiming in on this one.

The fat, middle aged plumber that just won't go away.

Meanwhile all of you Wiitards out there have what looks to be an A+ game to play as well. Super Mario Galaxy is getting stellar reviews and appears to be making good use of everyone's favourite waggle-box.

Duelling Fake Guitars... Still not as gay as the lead singer of Judas Priest...

Meanwhile in mainstream gaming Guitar Hero seems to have some competition in the form of Rock Band. I see this to be a non-issue. The only complaint lovers of Guitar Hero have ever had is that there aren't enough songs. I don't even understand why these games are sold on disk with only thirty songs a pop or so. They should just set up an iPod Store-like website, have coders do nothing but pump out playable song after song until there is a library of thousands, and sell them individually for a couple bucks a pop. Guitar Hero isn't so much a video game but a new form of digital entertainment; interactive music appreciation.

Notice how many video game articles there are in the mainstream papers? Holiday shopping season must have started.

Can you imagine the orgies to have occurred in a place like this?

In an attempt to eschew any mention of current events I’ll put up this really exceptional story. This is what people who don’t waste their time playing video games do with their lives. It’s an impressive achievement to say the least.

On the other hand...

Of course, if you devote your life to Jesus and elect to never learn anything of worth for the entirety of your life, you are liable to fritter away your days building sets for the Creation Museum. The one with primative man feeding the animals while a dinosaur looks passively on is my favourite.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For a picture it was a toss-up between Condi and this troop transport... I picked the prettier of the two...

I have found the past couple weeks to be somewhat slow on the news front. When I mentioned this over the weekend to my semi-automated news-tracker friend Nima at he concurred. Things were still happening in the world; cyclones in Bangladesh killed over 3,000, there was anti-petrodollar rhetoric at OPEC meetings in Saudi Arabia, a Polish visitor arrived in Vancouver B.C. only to be executed by airport security, and the trial of an Atlanta wrestler who enslaved nine women was underway. It was the usual run of events but there seemed to be a restrained air to the monkey knife fight that is world events. There seemed to be an absence of the frantic and frothing.

Finally I thought I put my finger on it; a shortfall of concrete Iraq stories. For years now the Iraq war and occupation has been the linchpin of the daily news cycle, especially in America. Papers, news programs, and websites build their product around what Iraq items they are going to showcase on any given day. It’s become the frame and focus of their product. When the load is lightened it seems to alter the whole structure itself. That’s when I focused on Iraq in particular to see if there was any merit to my notion.

I want to be clear that this news topography I claim to have prescience over is entirely speculative if not subjective as well. I thought I saw an interesting question and then in gathering news items I constructed myself an answer. At the very least it’s a deductive exercise wrapped up in your friendly Iraq up-date...

This is when things started to go quiet…

At the end of October, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was threatening to essentially draft State Department employees into diplomatic duty in Baghdad because there weren’t enough volunteers to fill the posts. This forced relocation caused an uproar as many employees thought the conditions were unsafe and the work futile. This incident created something of a breach in public relations. The solution for Iraq has always been placed in the political and it takes diplomats, not soldiers, to facilitate those kinds of improvements. If the Foreign Service workers weren’t going to be there then Iraq’s rise from a sectarian hellhole wouldn’t happen. I speculate that this is where a clamp on the media started and I then attempted to qualify my hunch. I put ‘Iraq’ in the search engines of both the New York Times and the Washington Post, and then scanned through over 300 articles each in each publication over a timespan of just over three weeks.

Two year old weapon story, printed this month

Release of prisoners caught in neighbourhood dragnets

The first article goes over weapons handed out to Iraqi forces without proper tracking measures and thus there are tons of missing weapons. The subject matter isn’t new and the article itself is concerning itself with action occurring in 2004 and 2005 with no new information surfacing to justify printing this article in 2007. The second article reports that 500 Iraqi prisoners have been released from U.S. custody which must be considered good news because most of those people had no business rotting in jail in the first place.

Both of these articles are typical of the first two weeks in November. Iraq is either given a clinical and retrospective treatment or the stories are domestically based; things like the Blackwater civilian hard-on hearing or Mukasey’s non-opinion on torture. The ‘good news’ story is reaching but printed nonetheless while Iraq as it is on the ground is no where to be found with the exception of soldier death announcements.

Dissent in the State Department you say? How convenient!

Security money for the State Department you say? How reassuring!

Meanwhile two stories give the State Department a whole new coat of paint. The first talks about employees in Iraq chastising the position of Foreign Service agents back home. The article points to an inter-department blog as a source for these cracks in their solidarity. I am suspicious as to what the true point of this article really is. I think it’s a given that a workplace with hundreds of employees is going to have differences in opinion, newspapers don’t need to inform me of this fact. I cannot help but think however that it undermines those diplomats who roundly spoke as one when they declared” “hell no, we won’t go.”

The second article talks about the significant security budget increase the State Department requested. How else would this be taken by the employees other than: “worry not, we’ll take good care of you.”

Travel restrictions starting to lift in Baghdad

Violence in a downward trend

Some Iraqis return to their homes

We’re coming to it now. Starting last week and rolling into this one are stories like the above. Stability in the capital is said to be up and attacks down so there are plans to remove roadblocks and permit easier travel throughout the city. Add to that reports that some Iraqis feel secure back on their home street if not in their neighbourhood (and certainly not in their city entire.) Still, its progress as the media chooses to measure it and must come as a relief to those faced with travelling there.

Success! An embarrassment averted! On with your scheduled programming...

All of this may or may not have culminated in the State Department filling its roster without issuing strong orders. Who knows what incentives or pressures were employed in the end. Perhaps the muted arc of the news cycle was merely serendipitous. What I find remarkable is that people who were justifiably in fear for their lives at the thought of being shipped to the most dangerous place on earth had a change of heart in about three short weeks and I myself believing that it took a whole lot more than the hit-and-miss diplomatic capabilities of Condoleeza Rice.

I am not stating that Condoleeza Rice or any other person has power over the news but if Canada is any indication then I will assert that the news gets a lot of material from government sources. If the government turned the spigot of information off with regards to the Iraq war or Afghanistan or any other issue then there is nothing for the news service to report and we the citizenry would assume that there is nothing to report at this time. Ours is a society of open government at best, propaganda at worst, and the Sunday Edition tends to sit somewhere inbetween.

In going over all this news I see the occupation entering a new phase and it isn’t Iraq returning to normalcy, even if you consider normalcy to include sectarian enclaves and no-go zones in what was once a civilized country. I see acceptance sinking in on both sides; Iraqis and Americans are starting to wearily come to grips with their new reality and make the necessary accommodations to live with their fate. The shock doctrine is in full effect right now and U.S. over-lordship might be something that everyone at home and abroad accepts provided the news doesn’t get too ugly and everyone is allowed to cook in their own kitchens, bullet-riddled as they may be. I think the U.S. military knows that America’s long-term strategic plans in the region involve keeping a message ephemeral yet clear: “Sure it sucks now but it could go back to being much, much worse. Get used to us hanging around.”

One last article, the one they didn’t want you to see...

Thanks to Marc for sending this piece. It’s a startling statistic that I didn’t find anywhere in my search of those two big American papers. British troops were holding Basra and getting attacked constantly so they withdrew with the result being a 90% drop in violence. They were bringing it on themselves and thus removed the problem.

The U.S. will not follow this course of action, not their diplomats and not their soldiers. The British were interested in keeping the peace; the Americans have a different set of priorities in mind.

UPDATE: The rash of 'good news' from Iraq created quite a response among readers of the New York Times and a question/answer blog was set up. It goes over some of the articles I've posted including the Basra situation.

New York Times Q&A article

Monday, November 19, 2007

Listen up ya scurvy bastards! We're gonna help some kids and for once in yer miserable lives yer gonna do some good in this world...

Last Christmas I implemented a “No Gifts to Adults” policy amongst my family and my in-laws. I wasn’t going to buy for them and I hoped that they wouldn’t buy for me. I instead wanted people to focus strictly on the growing number of children in the clan and to double-gift them if they couldn’t restrain their capitalistic urges. This gift giving amongst thirty-plus year olds is wasteful to me; we do it more out of habit than anything else, shopping consumes a vast amount of time that could be better spent with family, and children go crazy when they receive a gift while older folk must often feint gratitude and receive similar awkward praise for their own trouble.

Unfortunately it was a middling success at best. Some followed it in half-measures and some ignored it completely. Hopefully the mild shock I saw in their eyes at my failure to reciprocate will have remained with them but this year I’m upping the ante just to be sure. I’m going to promote a charity and have them choose between helping needy kids and giving to a thankless bastard.

Child’s Play – It’s where I’d like your spare holiday dollars to go…

I found a charity that speaks to me, that represents my passion and views on life. Child’s Play is an officially recognized non-profit charity that gives toys to children stuck in hospitals. So far they have donated over a quarter-million dollars since they began in 2003. They focus primarily on video games because these items are in low supply but high demand amongst ailing youngsters. So what I’m going to do amongst friends, family, and you, gentle reader, is put out the good word so that some tykes spending the holidays at Toronto Sick Kids get some really cool toys this year.

Why this charity in particular? First because I want to do something nice for kids; it’s their time of year above all. Being in a hospital must suck and I want to help them have fun while they are there. Second is this is a charity organized by gamers for gamers. This charity shows that people who enjoy video games are decent, generous people.

This is the Sick Kids hospital Wish List. You can Amazon a Gift in no time…

There are a couple ways to go about this. If you want to do something on your own then hit the link above and pick out something you want to give. A game for thirty or forty bucks is a great gift on its own. I think however that collectively we can do even better. Kids need to play on something and getting a portable console like the Nintendo DS would knock a kid’s socks off. Seeing as they run nearly $150.00 I don’t expect everyone to pony up but if we collect our funds then a single purchase can be made for as many units as we can buy. Optimally a nice mix of games and handhelds would really make the day for some bed-ridden children.

This charity is tax-deductable.

If you read this, then chances are I know you. If you want to add to the console fund I’m starting then just say so in the Comments section and I’ll get in touch with you. I will set up a Pay-Pal thing or if you tell me how much you’re in for I’ll cover you until I release Scar-Bee on a collection run. If you decide to donate something on your own then let me know in the Comments section with your confirmation number so that I can track the donation and tally it up at the end. If you’re digging this idea then get the word out and collectively let’s generate some significant numbers. If you have any other ideas or suggestions then get in touch and let’s work on something.

I will be coming back to this topic and updating you all throughout December.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You get to play an assassin who may have been touched by a hot chick!!!

Assassin’s Creed has hit the shelves to mixed reviews. Now remember what I’ve outlined about video game critiquing. By mixed I mean a crop of 7’s which in turn means sub-par; go run and get one with someone else's money. The hype for this game may have exceeded its true merit and I have found it interesting to follow this particular story.

Game publishers in general have a few tools at their disposal to ensure their advertising of a less than decent product eclipses journalistic – and I use that term loosely – impressions. Ad revenue can be pulled from a magazine or a website and this may motivate an editor to practice a spot of self-censorship. Review embargoes are not unheard of, whereby unfavourable reviews are requested – and I’m using that term loosely too – to be held back and published only when the game is in the stores. Swag, perks, and the free stuff that is so beloved to nerdlinger-kind can be withheld. Prior to Halo 3's release some privileged reviewers received an army duffle bag containing a militarized X-Box 360 complete with controllers, headset and the so-called Legendary Edition of the game that comes in a Master Chief's helmet to be worn by your cat! I’ve read things, questionable things from unreliable sources, we’re talking the very detritus of wannabe journalism; blogs, message boards, group emails... Places just like My Time. More than one has claimed that Assassin’s Creed has unleashed the fucking fury in this regard. These baseless rumours should be ignored by any person of reason, of course. I however do not count myself in that group.

Disgruntled Employee or Beacon of the Hidden Truth?

Look to the lovely young lady above. This is Ms. Jade Raymond and she is the producer for Assassin’s Creed. Ms. Raymond received her computer science degree at McGill and has previously worked for Sony and EA before moving to Ubisoft. Her charisma landed her a gig as a host on the Electric Playground video game review show. I want to make a couple things clear at this point. I am not stalking Jade Raymond, that job seems to be taken by whoever's running her fan website. Also, my journalistic fact-finding skills are bush-league at best. How then do I know so much about Jade? How do I know more about Jade Raymond than video game developers that I have personally interviewed? Understand this; In the two year-plus long run-up to the release of Assassin's Creed, if I were to select a word describing Jade Raymond's entrance into my life it would be UNAVOIDABLE. Put her name in google and there you will find a teeth-whitening shit-ton of pictures and print. At first I thought this was because she has appeared on somewhat obscure cable television but her relationship with Assassin’s Creed; one of the most anticipated titles of this console generation thus far, is what is mentioned over and over again.

I’m going to assume that Ms. Raymond is fantastic at her job as are all the other women who work in video game entertainment. That’s not what this is about at all. I would however question the integrity of any company who pushes their game with the good looks of an employee and this seems to be the case with Assassin’s Creed. I’ve listened to lengthy narrations from the likes of Ken Levine of the phenomenal Bioshock or Gabe Newell’s ruminations on the flawless Half-Life, but I have no idea what they look like and if I google their images I don’t get the thousands of sunny snapshots that greet me when I do the same with Jade.

Hey I get it, she’s a great looking girl and gamers are… well… you know what they say. Why wouldn’t Ubisoft take the initiative and thrust her into the spotlight, to become the face of the game? No, shut up, I'll answer; perhaps because it takes the focus off the game, it takes it way off and when you marry this with a multi-million dollar advertisement campaign, an anti-journalistic psy-op, and no playable demo you get what this release looks to have become; the disingenuous foisting of a so-so product on a bamboozled customer base. Maybe it's not fair that Jade can't hype her game without drawing these kinds of analysis whereas guys like Cliffy B. of Gears of War or Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear don't, but (aside from the fact both Cliff and Kojima are associated with wicked games and success trumphs all) the SECOND fact of the matter is we live in a world where chicks in bathing suits sell beer. Do you know what sells beer to me? IT'S BEER! Marketing people however leave no stone unturned. If there's a fucking idiot out there who needs a chick in a bathing suit to remind him that beer in Lakota means awesome-sauce they'll make a commerical. Let us join hands and universally agree that the masters of Ubisoft, they know this too. They're french! They practically invented kissing!

Ubisoft needs to do some soul searching between the torrent of Tomless, Clancyless, Tom Clancy titles they crank out; do they want to provide a quality product to valued customers or do they want to make half-assed games and then work hard to deceive people? Ubisoft has been both kinds of companies but every time they eschew Jeckle in favour of Hyde they further corrupt their own corporate culture. Developers of lacklustre games only learn to make more lacklustre games. A marketing department with a penchant for deception and punitive action is only going to get more detached from the truth as the games go by. We are creatures of habit and we tend to fall into familiar, previously-established patterns.
Scroll down and look at the picture. It says at least a thousand words...
This picture disturbs me. She’s on display for fuck sakes! What the hell kind of a team photo is that? The shot has a Gwen Stefani/No Doubt vibe. Ms. Raymond works with these people and I cannot understand what would make a person of good judgement and character agree to be captured like this. With regards to this whole topic that picture is the only blame I lay at Ms. Raymond's feet. It's understandable that some of this episode may have gone to her head. It's barely a sin and if I haven't been clear in my writing the focus of my distain is the crafty exploitation that Ubisoft enacted. This is me being telepathic; there was once an Ubisoft boardroom meeting and Jade's good genetics was mentioned, professionally.

So I guess I'm not alone in not trusting Ubisoft on this one.

The plot, it thickens. The good people at Something Awful posted some photoshopped pornography and a comic crafted by the esteemed Chugworth Academy. I wasn't fast enough to catch the nudey stuff but the comic involved Ms. Raymond performing fellatio on young boys who between moaning and groaning promised to purchase the game. Lovely. These images were predictably considered internet polonium and they are no longer to be found... for now. I sincerely hope Jade doesn't feel too banged up by this should she have seen the material in question. The punchline for photoshop porn is always the pan-drippings who waste time doing such things. The comic was well drawn but not especially cutting or witty. It's not like she got her ass reamed by the boys at Penny Arcade, which if you're not into internet comics means it's not like Jade was targeted by the likes of Matt Stone and Trey Parker from South Park... If you don't get THAT reference then I have to ask you what you think you're doing reading my blog? Seriously, I'm sure I wouldn't like you very much and so you should just fuck away before I put a page counter on this thing and find out where you live... Page counters can do that, right?

What the Chugworth (such a great name) comic was in all its blunt obviousness was a pretty succinct social commentary on how Ubisoft is attempting to pimp their property, breathing and otherwise. Naturally Ubisoft's lawyers sent the webmaster at Something Awful a publicly released 'cease and desist - slash - free P.R. stunt' type letter . Trust me it's lawyer-speak and thus not worth your time. The Something Awful response however is another matter and I'll leave you with that. So long as Ubisoft believes this geek-strength shit-storm might sell Assassin's Creeds it won't go away so I might give an update if the comment section tells me there is a person or two who cares. Seriously people, I'm lonely and getting a little self-conscious. Say hello... Say anything. Say you, say me, say it together... That's the way it should be.
From: Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka (
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 9:06 PM
To: 'Anderson, David'
Subject: RE: NOTICE: Infringement of ASSASSIN'S CREED Mark and Jade Raymond's Personal, Privacy, and Publicity Rights
Please let it be known that hereforth I have read the express mail and email sent thereforth by Famous Lawyer David Anderson of the Famous Lawyer Law Business of Nixon Peabody LLP, and furthermore a declaration shall be expressed on the part of Internet User Rich “LowtaxKyanka that thatforth herethrough I have conducted rigorous tests implemented through a vigorous barrage of legal studies, and furthermore hitherthrough these rigorous tests have therefore proven Famous Lawyer David Anderson of the Famous Lawyer Law Business of Nixon Peabody LLP shall be recognized as a man of the fag persuasion.
Pursuant to the United Dairy Council
Rich “LowtaxKyanka

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yes it's a murder simulator but George W. Bush would totally approve...

The time has never been better to become obsessed with video games. Top drawer digital entertainment is literally coming out faster than I can play it. I recently finished the single player in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and feel compelled to do justice to the online multiplayer PLUS complete the wondrous looking Ratchet and Clank Future BEFORE next week when the double-barrelled deluge of Mass Effect and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune hits the street. In leaner times I would be thankful to subsist on a third helping of Bioshock, more movie making in Halo 3, and a do-over of the Half-Life 2 series but these are the heady days of a Henry the 8th calibre gorging. Thankfully I’m not into PC gaming because then I would have to add Crysis and the new FEAR title to the list. When child-rearing and bathroom breaks become something of a distraction it’s a sign that you are on the receiving end of too much of a good thing.

So I’m going to express what I thought about while playing Call of Duty 4. With so many glowing critiques of the game already printed I don’t feel the need to go over that ground and will instead focus on deeper themes and more ephemeral aspects of this fantastic game.

Infinity Ward developed this modern military shooter and these game purists work on a higher level that is only gained by making two back-to-back award winning, million-plus selling titles. They are not only brimming with success-fuelled confidence but possess the smug superiority of having one of their properties farmed out to another company who could only cook up mediocre results. So it's not just their product, you see, but what they can do with it that makes the real money. This may be something only a true fan-boy cares to follow but what it explains is that this company can do whatever the fuck it pleases, publishers be damned, which is a rare exception in this medium. We benefit from this, greatly.

Boiled down that is really why this game is worth playing, to see what unbridled game makers can do with their art. It’s not just that the game is bloody beautiful and fun as all hell to play; it’s the psychological needling that gets you the day after; the telling of little stories that you didn’t expect to be told.

The Call of Duty series stands out as some of the best military games you can play because with each game they try to give you the whole war experience as they see it. You don’t play a single character following a linear story; they pop you into different bodies and battles throughout the conflict. This allows for a big story with many small parts to be told and they really ran with it this time around. You get to play people who die, not die and re-spawn like every other game you’ve played but die and that’s it, their story is done and you will play another person henceforth. It’s so simple and subtle but it’s the kind of storytelling masterstroke that only a fearless company would pull off.

World War II shooters are at their core romantic, uphill battles. I wind up dumping the Thompson for an MP 32 every time which makes for righteous, guilt-free killing of Germans. It's their high-end machine gun after all, using it on them is poetic. This is not the case in Modern Warfare and the people at Infinity Ward were shrewd enough to pick out a very relevant theme; that today’s battles tend to be horribly one-sided affairs. Weapons like the M4 or the G36C or the P90 are science-fiction-like in their ability to locate and penetrate third-world militia-men. There is no fictitious space marine weapon that compares with the present-day Javelin anti-tank missile. Once you’re locked on and fire a ballistic shoots straight up a few hundred feet in the air before coming down hard. Even firing one for the third time is something of a ‘whoa’ moment.

Mix it all together and you create a game with a lot of ethical quandaries. This is war as Donald Rumsfeld had wet dreams about and the designers not only confronts you with it, but force you to act on it. In one scene you have night vision and have to take out soldiers in a dark house. If you do it right then they don’t even know you’re there. The last man standing is pointing his gun in every direction, clearly frightened out of his mind. In one scene you operate the three guns on an AC 130 flying at 30,000 feet. The enemy can’t even see you, never mind strike back. You complete the scene by killing them and not striking any of the nearby structures. It’s a level that has made visitors to my living room uncomfortable. It’s quite a trick to make a game challenging all the while crushing any notion of fair play.

The online multiplayer matches give this game its true legs of longevity. I’ve been throwing myself into free-for-all death matches, eschewing all concepts of teamwork or flag capturing in favour of killing every motherfucker I see. It is savagely unforgiving; you take a couple in the chest and you’re done. Sneaking around and playing smart is mandatory. By the same token killing someone is deeply satisfying because it only comes about as a result of you playing well. One amazing new feature is the death-cam. Bang, you’re dead. It will take the computer five seconds to re-spawn you, but while you wait why not look through the eyes of your killer as he killed you? You get to see where he was, how he scoped in on you, and how he did the dirty deed. There is no arguing, griping, whining, pissing, or moaning when you see how they did it; there is only grudging respect and a vow to do better. You get shown your error; that your ass was hanging out or that you were looking the wrong way. Every failure is a learning experience. I am finding it to be an immensely valuable tool.

Seeing as this game is out on PC, the 360, and the PS3 there is no reason why you should miss it. There are sure to be a whole slew of games that allow you to kill Middle Eastern people but this one sets the bar very high right out of the gate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

You can see by our stockings and pantaloons that we are gentlemen engaged in gentlemanly pursuits...

Torture is in the news once again this week. It pops up every so often due to some legal wrangle or another, causing but a cigarette burn on our collective psyche only to scab over when the ill practice retreats back to the out-of-sight black sites where it rightly belongs. This time was because when Attorney General To-Be Michael Mukasey went through the confirmation process he was asked point-blank if he thought waterboarding was torture. In true greasy Gonzales style Mukasey tap-danced around the issue while Bush backed up his choice with a little soft-shoe of his own. The reasons of course are tap water transparent; Mukasey would be responsible for laying charges on anyone up to and including the President in the event of an illegal act. The Bush Administration secretly endorsed torture and torture has indeed been carried out. There is no way Bush is going to elevate someone who will make his life even more miserable than it already is.

By rights this should be a huge deal because George W. Bush is on record stating the United States does not torture people. Therein lies the battle congress has had with the Administration, they wish to test the validity of the statement. They have made formal requests for documentation, Bush has refused citing such work is classified, they have subpoenaed advisors, Bush has claimed Executive Privilege, they have asked for clarity when it comes to techniques employed, Bush has said that such information will be of value to the enemy. Everywhere congress turns for information they find the President trying to cover his ass and bury his mistakes.

Many times it has been repeated by the supposed experts that torture does not produce worthwhile intelligence. By the same token those same experts claim that a person tortured will say anything to save themselves from further abuse. Perhaps that is the point! Would a steady stream of fictional confession be of use to this Administration? Not only would these desperate falsehoods cover the tracks of the witch hunt by producing those who are guilty but it also has the beneficial side-effect supplying bogus terrorist plots to keep people in fear and make some feel even grateful for the protection they receive.

At any rate waterboarding or controlled (simulated) drowning is at the heart of this issue because it is the one thing that is known with evidence to have been endorsed and performed. It is therefore the gateway to congressional hearings. Waterboarding was not considered torture by the likes of Alberto Gonzales and was merely designated an Enhanced Interrogation Technique. Now the obvious truth is finally being spoken; of course waterboarding is full-on torture. The Japanese were condemned for doing it during World War II and it was first mentioned being employed way back in the easy-breezy days of the Spanish Inquisition! If Mukasey admitted that it is torture then a case can be made, special prosecutors demanded, and the Democrats would get another opportunity to take a run at the Bush Administration in hopes of bringing the whole house of cards down.

Hey I'll try I mean how bad can it be blub-blub-blub OH MY FUCKING FUCK MAKE IT STOP!

Daniel Levin was the Acting Assistant Attorney General when he submitted himself to waterboarding in order to learn what the fuss was about. Sure as shit he came back wet-haired and with no doubt in his mind that this was the real deal. As soon as Alberto Gonzales secured the nomination for Attorney General he fired this guy’s ass.

World War II Veterans: Pussies... There, I've said it. Now I'll never get advertising.

By comparison some of the old WWII interrogators reminisce about some of the hard-core methods they employed to make Gerry talk. If you have a sensitive stomach you shouldn’t read this; games of chess, steak dinners, long talks and moonlit walks. They befriended their prisoners and eventually the Germans spilled the beans on military strategy, submarines, rocketry projects; treasure troves of intelligence by any modern standard. How did later generations become so fucking stupid?

It's every civilization's dream to beat the shit out of lawyers but not like this, never like this!

Pakistan is still descending into bad times. Those feisty lawyers took to the streets again where they were beaten up and carted off by the hundreds. In diverting police and intelligence resources towards domestic security Musharraf will have no choice but to shift focus away from fighting the terrorists. Though he claimed that they were a serious threat to Pakistan’s stability it seems he’s primarily moving against political rivals and those in support of the democratic process. Good call, Pervez and good luck with that. Take your eye off the guys who killed over 150 people in a single attack just a couple weeks ago. You know what I call that? Good Leadership… Of course I’ve been known only to care about sensational headlines and blood-soaked fodder for the digital grist.

Saddam had a chemical plant... on a train I tell you... run by robots with rockets - no - lazers!

Introducing the one and only Curveball; this is the Iraqi guy who supposedly convinced The White House that Saddam Hussein had a chemical weapons program. It was all lies of course and the man who spun them did so thinking it would improve his chances for asylum, which it did. I don’t think this guy changed history much. The Iraq War was going to happen and the Administration was, in the Pentagon lingo of the times; fixing the facts around the agenda. I’m sure Rafid Alwan didn’t convince Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld of anything; he was preaching to the converted. His fabrications may have helped convince other nations though, and fool Colin Powell whose participation lend a lacquer of integrity to the whole enterprise.

Our quant island of coconuts would like to thank the white man for giving us guns.

This is what I call a very future-earth-today situation. The nation of Fiji has established itself as a mercenary contractor. They maintain a large military which they shop out around the world, especially to the United Nations. Unlike Blackwater they are government soldiers who have to abide by a code of conduct because they reflect the nation itself. They are said to be very well trained and seem well regarded. All in all it seems a very interesting way to bring a human product to the world market when you are a resource poor country.

"They didn't owe me but $100, but I took $400 and set the whole damned place on fire."

Finally for something completely different THIS is a truly interesting article. It’s coming out on the heels of that intense looking American Gangster movie. The flick was based off a real person; one Frank Lucas, the Harlem Heroin kingpin. If half of what this guy says is true then his life reads something like a modern day Conan the Barbarian. Sure he was a killer and a drug lord but he also has a larger-than-life outlaw streak to him that’s hard not to admire. Great movie makers have realised that gangster stories are American Dream tales just as viable as the law-abiding ones and Frank Lucas is no exception.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Between Democracy and Religious Extremism a Military Dictator Takes His Place in History...

It was June of 1979 and this debonair gent to my left; one Zbigniew Brzezinski by name, was National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Following Zbigniew’s advice President Carter ordered the C.I.A. to start secretly funding the Mujahadeen and prepare them to repel Soviet aggression. The pro-Soviet Afghan government was losing control of the nation and it was thought that they would request military support from the U.S.S.R. Brzezinski rightly believed that American covert involvement in Afghanistan would further incite the Soviets to make their move and in doing so draw them into a Vietnam-like quagmire. It worked with the Soviet military entering Afghanistan in December of 1979 and staying for over nine years before retreating in defeat. The U.S.S.R. fell shortly thereafter and while experts argue whether the campaign in Afghanistan was the death-knell for the Soviet Empire it certainly couldn’t have helped.

With the U.S.S.R. no more many European nations gained their independence and the threat for a nuclear end to the Cold War was finally averted. It is considered to be one of the greatest victories of the 21st century, a victory that heralded a new era of western power and influence. There was however a trade-off; something that Brzezinski dismissed back then as he dismisses today. What would become a radical Muslim movement gained an equally momentous victory against a superpower and this would not only embolden them but validate their cause.

Brzezinski is a brilliant strategist who played no small role in helping the U.S. achieve an even greater supremacy in the world. What you might find interesting is that he studied at McGill University in Montreal and was planning a diplomatic career in Canada before the winds of fate brought him to Harvard and from there American citizenship. I wonder how Canada would have changed with the likes of him in a similar position counselling the Prime Ministers. The prescience of Brzezinski’s genius seemed to have served him well as far as the Soviet entrapment went but beyond that it is difficult to say. Radical Islam has continued to gain strength and spread over the years. Propaganda aside the Jihad may not be a global threat to equal the Soviets but we have no way of knowing what the future truly holds in this regard, the history is of course still in the works.

This weekend however a major milestone in this unfolding drama took place.

State of Emergency Declared in Pakistan

Pakistan has basically been put under martial law. General Musharraf suspended the Constitution and fired the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This move seems to be an attempt to maintain control in the face of the growing pro-democracy opposition to his government and to fight the spreading radical Islamist influence.

White House Left Holding Their Dicks

For the Bush Administration this has resulted in a very serious situation. One of their major allies in the War on Terror has left the democratic scene despite their protests. Their influence on one of the war’s fronts may be severely diminished and the support they have given may wind up being a bad investment.

Arrests, No News, Tear Gas... The Usual

The day after a state of emergency was declared the lock-down began. Hundreds of political rivals, lawyers, and human rights activists have been detained. Television stations and international news feeds have been shut down. There is zero tolerance on the streets for protests or demonstrations. Democratic elections scheduled for this January have been indefinitely delayed.

We Love Democracy Just Not In "That Way"

Meanwhile the Bush Administration has refrained from condemning the move as they did against Myanmar last month. They have expressed disappointment but the billions of dollars in military aid that Pakistan receives will not be suspended. Unless Musharraf gets much worse it seems that a clamped down dictatorship makes for just as good an ally as an unstable democracy. At this stage it looks like they don’t have any better choice.

Pakistan has a mild and secular middle class that has permeated all levels of thought and government through the years. Perhaps that will help pull this nation back from the brink and prevent extreme action but right now this has all the necessary components to turn a nuclear power into a country consumed by chaos.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This post has no title because there is no definitive theme... You shouldn't bother looking at this part anymore... Seriously, cut it out...

This picture comes from Ubisoft’s upcoming big-budget game. In it you play the pictured Altair. He’s a medieval assassin whose skills involve killing people and disappearing into crowds. Looking at him you can tell that he is not a person to be trifled with and therein lies a problem I have with videogame storytelling.

Imagine you're a guard and there are clues that a deadly assassin is afoot! Your crossbow is loaded but who is there to fire at? Who in the sea of peasantry could be the dreaded assassin? Worry not friend because sussing out the killer has become quite easy in the video game world. See that guy over there who looks really, really cool? Shoot him. Don't ask questions; just put one in his back. There is no way a normal, everyday, unthreatening person winds up looking that cool. Check the peasants around him, not nearly as cool looking, are they? No, in fact they look rather lame when put up next to this guy so really there should be no doubt. Kill the really fucking cool guy because that will be your assassin each and every time. If I was an evil tyrant in a video game I would simply execute anyone wearing metal-as-fuck armbands and crazy belts, and in doing so I would live to be a ripe old age.

Consider Mungo; he who herds sheep in the video game world. I have no picture of Mungo to show you because he is undeserving but worry not, your imagination will suffice. You can tell worthless Mungo is harmless because his serf’s rags are lame and he wears boots made out of burlap. His belt is but a piece of knotted twine and there are no daggers tucked within. If he was designed by a Japanese person he might be wearing a pot on his head and be prone to breaking out in dance. Hiding behind Mungo, however, is this impressive looking fucker who's sporting some insane leatherwork and looks as if he’s never danced or known happiness in his life. How in the video game world does a guy come to own such finery? Really there is only one answer...

He looks that bad-assed because he can kill a lot of people easily. The toughness of a person is in direct proportion to the crazy gear they sport. See the detailed embellishments on his bracers? Translated that means he can kill like ten guys in a row, so shoot him.

Shoot him in the back.

If only real life bad guys were so easy to spot.

A number of Donald Rumsfeld’s memos have been leaked. Chances are his former employees stopped being afraid of him and are cleaning out his desk if only to show the world what kind of insane fucking goober they had to work under. It seems this guy was completely consumed with image and how to manipulate it. He was a pre-internet dinosaur who vainly thought that he could still control the message despite the avalanche of facts at our disposal. The delusion of this man stems from the fact that he thought the States could be run as it was thirty years ago. The real shame is that he was allowed to do so.

Can you even say weapon of mass destruction using clicks and whistles?

Civilized nations around the world are moving to ban the use of cluster bombs. What a bunch of pussies! Most of the countries who want them banned have to import fire so of course they’re against them. I think that if you can’t invent it then you shouldn’t even have a say. Settle down there Swasiland, adults are talking, it’s big boy time. Tell me what’s so wrong with a weapon that releases a thousand other indiscriminate weapons that lay dormant until a child finds them? These things are better than land mines because you don’t have to bury them; they do all the maiming and require none of the shovel work. Israel dropped cluster bombs on the Lebanese last year so if you don’t like these horrible weapons then an argument can be made that you are in fact an Anti-Semite. You’re not an Anti-Semite are you? America loves their cluster bombs and their Jews so thankfully I don’t see these rocket propelled amputee factories going anywhere soon.

It will be just like the bible only with no god.

You know what Iraq needs, a flood! Did I say need? What I meant is gonna get. The Mosul dam is shoddy and the money that was going to go into fixing it is gone. If it breaks the city of Mosul will fall into the jurisdiction of Aquaman and parts of Baghdad will be under a dozen feet of water. Can you image some guy with flippers and a suicide vest paddling towards you? That would be pretty interesting.

Freedom and Democracy - It's super-effective!

Apparently a few hundred of them there Taliban were spotted poking around the Afghan city of Kandahar. That’s bad because Kandahar is where all the Canadian hotel journalists hang out and wait for the military to give them news on the war. When the Taliban move into a village the residents are forced to flee, not because they fear the radical Islamists but because they want to avoid getting caught in the customary NATO bombardment. Nothing like fighting the good fight eh? In other news from Kandahar the war is going super well and we are all totally awesome.

This is a totally bragible statistic...

This is Parade’s annual 20 Worst Dictators in the World list. There are some truly diabolical assholes on this list but let me break it down to you in the way you really want; 6 black dudes, 7 brown dudes, 4 yellow dudes, and 3 white dudes though one of them is named Islam so there is no fucking way he’s on my team. Not one woman tyrant was able to break the barb-wire ceiling. It’s like I always say, vagina and human suffering just don’t mix.

I'm Robert Frikken Goulet! I AM LAS VEGAS!

Robert Goulet died this week, he was 73. Mr. Goulet had a French-Canadian dad and spent some time growing up in Canada so we can lay claim to him in that desperate way that Canadians lay claim to American celebrities. His later commercial work was pretty hilarious as was Will Ferrell’s belligerent rapping impression. When he was young he looked totally different then when he was old too. I hate that about old people.

Consumption and Bowel Movements: The building blocks of the universe.

I’ve gone from vaginas to the elderly so my next logical stop will be Black Holes! These aren’t just any Black Holes either but the super-serious ones that eat suns and can fart out a planet! Check the gallery to see some beautiful pictures of space. If looking at things that are not beautiful is more your thing then the article also provides a picture of an astronomer.