Monday, March 31, 2008

You may notice that the guy's eye is white as porcelain... So that's not the Bloodshot they're talking about...

I finished Condemned 2: Bloodshot over the weekend. It was late at night and I was alone in the dark. Of course I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Not only was Condemned 2 a damn good game but it was the perfect way to cap off this terribly long, bleak, and depressing winter. If I could complete this title with my sanity intact then I had hope I could get through March without descending into a Jack Nicholson-like episode straight out of The Shining.

Developed by fear aficionados Monolith and published by ye olde tyme Sega of America for both the PS3 and the X-Box 360, Bloodshot seems poised to up the ante on a modest original title that became a sleeper hit. I own and loved the first Condemned: Criminal Origins and have loaned it out twice to friends so that they may attempt to enjoy it. One returned it days later saying there was “no fucking way” they were going to complete it. My second victim wasn’t even able to manage speech in this regard; he just handed it back in, shook his head and literally sputtered something unintelligible.

The mood and atmosphere of Condemned is simple to explain if you’re not familiar with the series. Condemned is a video game attempt to capture the essence of films such as Silence of the Lambs or Seven. You play a detective in a Serial Crimes Unit and you are hunting mass murderers. You serve and protect in a fictitious city that has succumbed to all manor of urban blight and social decay. The crime scenes are all abandoned, derelict, and well… condemned. Within these ghettos and urban ruins psychosis, violence, and death have taken over. While solving crimes you go mad and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Parents you’ve been warned: Condemned is a relentless and unrepentantly violent hobo killing simulator. The weapons of choice are whatever you can find within the crumbling environments; boards with nails through them, plumbing pipes, axes, hammers, toilet seats, prosthetic arms, gumball machines - if it’s not already clear by now this is one grisly product. It is however gripping, anxiety-filled stuff.

Mixed in with the disturbing bum fights are crime scenes that your character must investigate with special tools a la C.S.I. As gruesome as the head bashing is, the collecting of evidence and solving of crimes is thoughtful, interesting, and a great break from the horrifying action. Of course the crime scenes are the leavings of serial killers and so if you’re put off by close-up photography of a severed head or passing a UV light over a maimed corpse then you will find this aspect of the game just as disturbing as the rest.

So if you didn’t know already this is what these games throw at you and they do a really good job of it too. The first Condemned was rather basic in its controls; we’re talking two buttons that you have to push at the right times for the most part. The difficulty lay not in mastering the controls but in mastering your fear and Condemned can play your emotions like a fiddle. In order to appeal to the experienced gamer the second Condemned title added some more variety and options to the player. The main character, presumably a rookie leg-breaker in the first game is now a force to be reckoned with in the back alley death-match circuit. You don’t just beat a hobo until he stops moving, oh no, that’s for rank amateurs! Now you dispatch them in style by ramming their heads into urinals or television screens. In this way the game becomes more of a martial art or arcade styled game but I don’t think it suffers any because of it. When a game moves from a niche into the mainstream it needs to expand on its premise and Condemned is doing a fair job in that regard.

The crime scene investigation aspects of the game were also expanded and in this they did a masterful job. Once you arrive at a scene your office will ask you a number of questions revolving around the particulars of the incident and you must treat it as a puzzle, unravelling what truly happened to create such a mess of blood and entrails. The game rates you and unlocks better police equipment that you can use throughout the game. The combination of swinging heavy implements and deductive reasoning gives this title some nice variety. It does a good job keeping you off balance and guessing at what comes next.

I liked the cultish conspiracy story that Condemned 2 told and I thought that some of the environments or levels were among the best I’ve ever played. The game had some minor bugs and glitches, things quality assurance and play testing should have caught, but certainly not enough to detract much from the overall effectiveness of the game. As well I hear the on-line extras they added are a waste of time but I don’t play these kinds of games to be communal at all; horror is an intensely singular experience.

So if you like the survival horror genre then I highly recommend this one, it is right now the scariest and goriest franchise out there. Other horror classics like Silent Hill and even Resident Evil couldn’t hold a candle to the scariness of the first and this new one just blows the old competition out of the water.

Here are a few other things I found floating around the Internet lately…

Barack Obama’s speech on the State of Racism in America

I’m putting this up here for posterity. I hope you’ve heard the story of Obama’s pastor preaching some inflammatory remarks and rather than simply disowning the reverend the presidential candidate explained how things came to be this way. We haven’t heard anyone speak like this since Trudeau, Kennedy, or Dr. King and that’s why it’s worth pointing out. His thoughts and experience on race is most honest and insightful. A lesser candidate would have simply thrown their old family friend under the bus but Obama sought to elevate the dialogue instead. This is well worth the read.

Frontline Double Documentary: Bush’s War

All told this is something like four hours of quality viewing. If you’re fine with watching the program in ten minute segments on a small screen then it’s all at the link ready to go. Otherwise try to find the full version on-line. P.B.S. has been creating great documentaries on the Bush Administration and its running of Operation Iraqi Freedom for years now and this one is the whole succinct package. The first two hours are amalgamations of numerous documentaries they’ve made on individual topics or people. The last half contains quite a bit of new material. So far it seems that this is the definitive version of events; of the run-up to war, its initial execution, and a play by play of what all went so terribly wrong. Again well worth one’s time.

A Manned Mission to Mars may have to be a one way trip…

I found this thought provoking and in line with topics I have touched upon in the past. This essay goes over how vastly more feasible it would be to engineer one-way trips to Mars. It’s the getting astronauts back which make the voyage prohibitive and so in the name of human exploration volunteers would be asked if they would be the first to colonize the far away planet. These people would probably not come back and would probably not even survive to their full span of human years. It is a hell of a thing to ask anyone.

The article rightly points out that this wouldn’t be the first time this kind of high risk exploration has been undertaken. There were no guarantees even when crossing weeks of ocean to hopefully reach one of the newly discovered continents and who knew what lay in store for the pioneers. The reality of space travel is so much more daunting than anything we’ve done before and this is what may be necessary to even start. It beggars the question of course: Would you go if asked?

I don’t believe in god but when looking at our solar system I always am always forced to re-evaluate my stance. It’s like the planets are a treasure trail laid out right where we need them. Each one has something we desperately need; water, metals, various combustible gases. If we made it to one it could re-supply us in order to get to the next. If we’re going to get them - and let’s be clear, we NEED them - the sacrifice is going to have to be monumental.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Don't mind my husband, the shriners are taking him to the zoo... The cage over his face prevents his tongue from touching anything...

Gentle reader I give you Big Dog! Not me actually, it's Boston Dynamic that's developing it for the Pentagon. Had I constructed this robot the rather dull sounding name would have of course been upgraded to Panzer Stomper IV or perhaps I just would have gone with Neo-Proto-Deathbot because let’s face it; the doom of our species probably lay somewhere within that hollow metal frame.

We can’t program evil yet but its coming. If we can make cheese evil with the advent of Kraft Velveeta (tm) then anything is possible! Computer and robotic circuitry is inherently malignant by virtue of geometry, much like the hives of insects.

Big Dog currently walks, can ascend angles, and carry considerable loads for our convenience. Thanks to Mike J. for this Youtube demonstration.

What walks down stairs and feeds off your tears and is the sound of despair…

Let’s get real for a minute. Putting a rucksack on Big Dog is a form of clever propaganda. Take it from me; I’m on the Internet and therefore know all about these things. You see, the army will always require a soldier to carry his own gear; it builds character and hatred. An infantryman who doesn’t carry his own pack is called a sailor in most Christian nations. They have Big Dog acting in a subservient role so that the beast appeals to our sense of laziness and entitlement. We want one so that it will carry our crap. On the other hand it doesn’t have a head meaning it will never know joy or happiness. It will therefore kill us without remorse because we have cursed it with a hellish existence.

We’re going to see what Big Dog is really capable of once it starts terrorizing Will Smith through his suburban home a la Velociraptor in his next summer blockbuster. After that we’ll hear of them being dropped out of the sky into some defiant, oil-rich, fundamentalist fiefdom. Then they’ll be prowling our very own streets after Leaf games and we’re going to have to look into their soulless television screen faces for retinal scans in order to prove our identity. Man’s best friend indeed!

Meanwhile in the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh, a baby girl born with two faces is being worshipped as a reincarnated god. Reincarnated into what? We humans, we’re just all over the place, eh? If we’re not deciding to sit on a toilet for two solid years so that our skin becomes stuck to the seat then we’re preparing to sell the most expensive champagne in the world at $6,485.00 US a bottle. It’s been a heck of a couple weeks for news! In case you just got back from a far-away place the human race is still just spinning its wheels for its own amusement.

Violence in Tibet - Protesters clash with Chinese police in Lhasa.

This might wind up big or it will just go the way of other Chinese-squashed uprisings. The dead are nearing one hundred in Tibet and violent demonstrations are popping up in India, Barcelona, and other sympathetic nations. The poor Dalai Lama has really been bent over a barrel on this one, when I’m 72 I hope my life is going easier than his. One day he’s slamming the Chinese over waging cultural genocide. The next he’s threatening to resign as head of Tibet’s government-in-exile if his people don’t simmer down. Of course he's not there - couldn't be in Tibet if he wanted to. Asking people getting hit with batons and teargas to show restraint is like me admonishing British football hooligans, telling them "relax man, it's just a game."

Don’t expect the Chinese people to pursue peace on this; they support the hard stance.

We’re seriously living in a time of moral disconnect but this isn’t surprising because when hundreds of millions of people believe the same thing it has the power to alter our reality. By rights China has earned the reputation worthy of Myanmar, North Korea, and Iran for its human rights abuses, both pre-emptive and reactionary. They’re fast becoming rich however so not only does the world at large turn a blind eye but they get the Olympics. I expect these kinds of incidences to increase through the spring and summer up to the games. It’s going to be real interesting to see how that turns out.

Admiral William ‘Fox’ Fallon: ‘Retired’ between now and the publication of this article.

This is a great article from Esquire Magazine that features Admiral Fallon; a lifetime military man who headed Pacific Command and Central Command, which includes the Middle East region of the earth. I defy you to read this article and not wind up somewhat in awe of the man. In his youth he was a fighter pilot landing on aircraft carriers. Towards the end of his career he was brokering peace and communication through economic expansion in some of the most benighted places on earth. Admiral Fallon was the one man standing up to the Bush Administration and their thirst for war with Iran. Perhaps this article was the final straw of pressure that either forced him out or caused him to throw it in. Either way it writes up as a grievous loss in my opinion.

The arrogance of Bush and his cronies never ceases to amaze. Consider if you had a man of Fallon’s ability and experience who was duty-bound to serve and council you, would you not take a man such as this in the most serious of stead? If a guy like Admiral Fallon had a different opinion than you in the matters of war and foreign policy would you not at least second guess your own outcomes and motives? Even if you didn’t agree with him on everything, would you make life so untenable that the good Admiral would leave? It is fucking crazy how drunk on their own ignorance these neo-cons are, scary too.

Keith Olbermann points the Integrity Cannon away from President Bush for a change.

If you like reading/watching Keith’s Special Comments from his Countdown news program then this is a good one. It started with Clinton financial fundraiser Geraldine Ferraro saying that Barack Obama wouldn’t be where he is today if he wasn’t black. Nice. Clinton called the remarks regrettable but didn’t denounce or fire the woman for her racist remarks. (She left on her own volition after the public at large labelled her a dried-out old bigot.) This kind of skulduggery paves the way for Keith to hit the Hil-Dog (not a bad robot name) with a double barrelled blast of righteous outrage and sound reasoning. It’s all worth your time.

The next slum might very well be those god-awful, cookie-cutter suburbs…

I found this article very interesting. It goes over the trend of populations moving back into the cities after fleeing from the core in the 60’s and 70’s. With the suburbs starting to empty out of working class people you can naturally expect the gangs and drug trade to move in. We already know that marijuana and artificial narcotics owe their life to those sprawling anonymous neighbourhoods, soon prostitution and other illicit forms of finance might make the move as well. More than ever our city developers need to plan properly; to make sustainable, mixed-use communities that won’t fall out of fashion in a few decades time.

New war deserters find support from old war deserters…

Anytime Toronto makes it into one of the big American papers I’m compelled to put it up here. This article goes over the draft-dodging sub-culture that began back in the Viet Nam era and is getting a small revival from those who challenge the Iraq War. What a shame that this depressing predicament has become a cyclical thing!

I sh00tz t3h magik bult wit my BRAINZORZ!!!1

By using existing medical technology (EEC, ECG, etc.) this company can make retarded looking headgear that allows you to play video games with various impulses. You know, what passes for your mind. While cool in theory that’s all this toy will be unless the big game makers get behind the technology, which historically has been a tricky thing when it comes to emergent gadgetry. Getting a crummy Harry Potter game on board is one thing, Call of Duty 4 is another matter entirely. I don’t know dudes. On one hand it’s more like Virtual Reality which is really keen. On the other hand how I am going to slip that thing on in the living room and have my wife retain what little attraction she still has for me? I'm going to look like I'm waiting for my day trip on the short bus.

Then again if I touch Hermione Granger with only my brain am I breaking any laws? Decisions, decisions, decisions…

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cure Light Wounds spells will feel a little colder after this day...

I remember being twelve years old when a couple of older kids invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons one afternoon. I created an ineffectual elf that was both overwhelmed and awed by the other, more experienced and more powerful player. This fighter, fresh from the mind of a smug fourteen year old, rode into the dungeon on a war horse and was equipped with weapons and armour that far outstripped mine. I was assaulted, taunted, robbed and left unconscious in a room with only 1 Hit Point - a mercy bequeathed upon me presumably so that I might be used as fodder again on the next rainy day.

That was enough however, I was hooked for life.

I borrowed the two flimsy soft cover books that comprised the game at that time and over the course of a week I transcribed all the rules and tables into a series of blank notebooks. I knew that I would never get the money to buy these tomes from my parents, who as expected did not understand or condone the past-time for the duration of my teenage years. I then went on to make my first dungeon; an ogre-infested subterranean fortification that housed The Father Diamond, a jewel of obvious great wealth. The next time the three of us got together for a game I offered to run it, to play Dungeon Master.

Throughout my school years I played this most unpopular of games and from it stemmed parallel interests in reading, writing, ancient history, archaeology, mythology, religion and eventually politics. The game was a gateway to other avenues of study and in learning about real world events and culture one’s game and characters became more authentic and believable.

Since then I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons or other types of role-playing games right up to this very day. The game I’m currently running has been the longest and most involving story I’ve ever done with a great group of players. The game changes dramatically when being played by adults. When young the game is merely another form of competition but as you get older it mellows into a cooperative experience. Despite HD television and photo-realistic video games Dungeons & Dragons remains an excellent way to spend some time with friends. It provides a unique communal experience; an exercise of the brain, an expansion of the imagination, and the simple comfort of a kitchen table or fireside gathering. For all the good times had on Thursday nights lo’ these past years, we owe one man in particular a debt of gratitude.

E. Gary Gygax; The Original Dungeon Master, dies at 69.

The talented artists of the Penny Arcade comic strip drew up a fitting tribute to mark the passing of The Great Gygax. Do hit the hypertext and read Tycho’s impression of the game and its infernal codexes. It is a far grander thing then anything I could hope to write!

To celebrate the life of this most unique and nerdilicious of men all Wizards of 17th level or higher are invited to my house where we shall break our Staves of Power in unison. The simultaneous Retributive Strike will be seen for miles around and is sure to be perceptible in both the Astral and Ethereal Planes! In truth however I believe Gary’s death to be a ruse, a hoax to prevent the zero levellers from disbelieveing. No doubt the very creator of the Tomb of Horrors has long had his phylactery prepared and will rise as a Lich upon the next full moon. His reign of terror on low level players will continue throughout time, as it should. New “4th Edition” rulebooks will be out in June and of course I will not be able to resist buying them. When I eventually make a new game with the upcoming rules you can be sure that ‘Gygax’ will make an appearance as some godly game-smith, a trickster deity of the bizarrely beautiful.

To those who have never played D&D I was trying to be funny in the above paragraph, please disregard.

X-Boxes turning a profit for the first time ever…

In other gaming news it seems that the X-Box has become profitable for the first time in seven years. The original X-box cost the company over four billion dollars but they knew a price would have to be paid in order to shoulder their way into the market. While they have stopped losing money per unit this doesn’t take into account the 1.5 billion dollar extended warranty program they had to enact in order to prevent a recall on their chronically overheating machines. Time will tell if the X-Box 360 will actually turn out to be profitable in the end. This years gaming line-up seems not as strong as 2007 and with Blu-Ray being the dominant technology the 360 will no longer be on the leading edge. Some video game enthusiast sites are already predicting that we will see yet another Microsoft games console before the decade is up. I could live with that.

What this article doesn’t comment on is that smashing psychotic hobos with lead pipes and sledgehammers is a ton of fun. I’m replaying Condemned: Criminal Origins on my X-Box in hot anticipation of the sequel coming out next week. I was worried that the second chapter would not be as good as the original sleeper hit until I recently downloaded the game trailer. It shows a pig-faced man getting bludgeoned with a prosthetic arm that ends in a hook! Oh joy, high art indeed! This corrupter of society is coming to both the PS3 and the 360 so stay tuned!

The Douchebag and the Prince

Here’s some news that’s only slightly more fitting for a supposedly grown man to chew over. Prince Harry, third in line to the throne of England - Long Be His Reign - has set his sights on a military career and wanted as little special treatment as possible in this regard, including being posted with his unit in sunny Afghanistan. In a surprising turn of character the British press agreed to an embargo on the topic thus keeping Harry’s whereabouts a secret. A couple small European news outlets reported it but nobody managed to notice, not until conservative Internet giant douchebag Matt Drudge let his 20 some-odd million readers in on the operation. Hours later the British government announced that Harry would be returning immediately, his safety no longer assured.

Okay, first of all, Matt Drudge, in case you haven’t already sussed out my opinion of you, you are in fact a giant fucking douchebag. Actually you know what? Douchebag isn’t a sufficient descriptor because ‘bag’ denotes a limited or set amount of material within, and your douchbaggery is more like a constant stream, so I’ll amend my characterisation of your personality and from this point on refer to you as a fucking douchenozzle.

What kind of a douchenozzle messes with a young guy’s career and endangers his life just to get some hits on their already popular website? As a news item this piece is worthless. We the reader simply go: “Oh really,” before moving on with a click of the mouse. It doesn’t educate us in any way. In order to give us less than a second of amusement you ruin a kid’s deployment. Fuck you and your bullshit “Support Our Troops” flag-waving.

The only people who really care that Harry is in Afghanistan are his family and assholes who think killing the prince would score points for their side, so nice going, you intelligence gathering service for terrorists! As I see it the only good to come out of this is that now the empire of Great Britain hates your douche-pumping guts. You can’t go there anymore which is too bad, because the mushy peas are bloody excellent. I dearly hope that young Prince Harry uses the power and influence of the monarchy to exact some righteous vengeance on your pillow-biting ass.

Since this story has been reported you have no comment to make which I see as typical, you cowardly, douchenozzley worm.

Victor of Iraqi Freedom Arrives to Fanfare and Applause

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad visited Iraq in full state panoply, publicly announcing his trip and travelling outside the fortified Green Zone. President Bush, eat your heart out! While there Mahmoud got kissy-face with the leaders of the hour - as is the fashion - and reminded Americans that they are not liked.

Iran and Iraq do about eight billion a year in trade and as time goes by this is sure to increase what with war-torn Iraq needing, well everything. As it does so too will Iranian influence, importing cultures and values through mercantilism is as old as time. Strip searching and home invasions, not so much. Poor, poor America! There’s a number that’s making the rounds this week, it’s a big number, a number that describes Operation Iraqi Freedom’s price tag: THREE TRILLION DOLLARS. But who needs affordable health care, right?

Did Chavez get caught with his hands in the terrorist cookie jar?

A Columbian operation to kill a Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia leader holed up in Equator got Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez hopping mad! Chavez has vocally supported the leftist F.A.R.C. in the past but oh-ho what do we have here? Evidence on the rebel leader’s laptop indicates that Chavez supported them to the tune of 300 million dollars. Sloppy Hugo, very sloppy. Most regional powers fund rebel organisations whose ideology line up with their own but no one wants to be caught doing it. Destabilization and attrition policies are a dirty part of power government. This and the bellicosity Chavez is displaying, not to mention the tank positions on the border, comes off like an admission of guilt. Let’s hope Hugo’s bruised ego doesn’t plunge Venezuela into a war, they would be fighting American proxies and playing into their hands. I liked the old Chavez better. The Chavez that emerged after his failed referendum is a bit too much of a blowhard. I want less Soviet jet dick-waving, more red-hot and spicy Chavizmo!

Mini-Put Sweeps Russian Elections!

Who knew? Putin’s appointed protégé pwned the Presidential elections and he did it without a fourteen month primary! Putin himself will claim the Prime Minister’s seat and continue ruling Russia in all but name. That these two would come into conflict, be it foreign or domestic policy is highly unlikely.

So what’s better or worse in the long run? I can’t tell anymore. I made a point not to follow the American Primaries anymore than reading front page headlines because I knew that fatigue would set in. This shit seems endless at this point, it's nothing but non-scandal after non-scandal. Obama and Clinton are still fighting, meanwhile John McCain can now start actually campaigning for the Presidency instead of campaigning for the chance to campaign for the Presidency. That one sentence sums up the past few months in American politics and it STILL made me weary to type it. Does all this mean the people of America will have a better government? Remember this is the same mechanism that picked You Know Who! What if the Democratic nomination is ultimately decided by the super-delegates? What of democracy then? Our U.S. brother and sisters will merely be voting for the person that was picked for them to vote for. I mean who fucking cares at that point?

Russia took care of their freedoms in their typical cold-blooded way but now everyone is on the same page, lock-stepping in unity and they can continue with the business of returning to the Superpower Superfriends Club. Meanwhile the U.S. dithers, drunk on their own pageantry. I wish I could act all smug and superior (as we Canadians love to do) but our issues are just as bad only the opposite.

Our government has election-aversion, at least that pussy Dion does. Who cares if you're unelectable, show us some bloody principles and stand up for what you believe! That's the Catch 22 of this: Dion is unelectable because he lacks all fibre of leadership. In order to look like a leader you have to stand up in opposition and show that you're not afraid to call an election you might not win. That's takes balls, leadership balls, and people will see it. But if you don't take that first step and instead let Harper intimidate you then the cycle continues and you become more and more unelectable. The first step in not being a loser is not being afraid to lose. Meh! Feh! Sneh! What more could you expect from the guy who initially placed third at the Liberal caucus.