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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Games: Overdue Reviews

posted by on April 3 at 5:11 PM

How's a guy supposed to review all of 2008's big games when Super Smash Bros. Brawl is out? Nearly one month in, I'm still impressed with its party-fighting, four-people-at-once appeal, as I've found that newcomers I've forced the game upon have split 50/50 between wanting to learn and master the game, and absolutely hating the overcharged randomness of its fights. That's actually better than I'd expected--the title is openly insular, paying service to fans who've learned the decade-old franchise's quirks, though again, it was built from the ground up to be easier to get into than the old guard of Street Fighter II and the like. To its credit, SSBB has passed the girlfriend litmus test, if only because she likes to electrocute critters with Pikachu. I'll take what I can get.

Even with my Brawl addiction, I've cobbled together two other game reviews after the break, both for Xbox 360: the run-and-gun Army of Two, and the "this is almost exactly like Final Fantasy, but that's not so bad" quest of Lost Odyssey.

Continue reading "Games: Overdue Reviews" »

Monday, March 31, 2008

If It Ain't One Thing...

posted by on March 31 at 2:14 PM

A study by an award-winning cancer expert shows that cell phone use could kill more people than smoking, it is reported.

According to the U.K.'s Independent newspaper, the study, headed by Dr. Vini Khurana, shows that there is a growing body of evidence that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer.

Khurana — one of the world's top neurosurgeons — based his assessment on the fact that three billion people now use the phones worldwide. That is three times higher than people who smoke. Smoking kills some five million globally each year.

Yes, but what's the risk of using a cell phone while smoking and driving?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tomorrow People

posted by on March 25 at 12:48 PM

Padded lampposts?
texting_injuries_0319.jpg What street in Seattle is most in need of this kind of padding? Somewhere in downtown's Pike and Pine area? Broadway? The Ave?

Games: Overdue Reviews

posted by on March 25 at 12:33 PM

Not sure what I'm more torn up by as of late--the lack of the Games column in recent print editions of the Stranger, or the lack of the neighboring Porns column. ("These are a few of my favorite things...") Either way, we're coming up on three months of uncovered games since the last piece printed, and I figure today's as good a day as any to start catching up--PC gamers got a World of Warcraft update today, while 360 nuts get a free Halo 3 update of their own. Those games don't need the pub, though, so here goes.


Burnout Paradise (360, PS3) - The latest in the "smash into other cars to drive faster" racing series came out back in January. This is much more my speed than an ultra-realistic Gran Turismo-style racer; you're dropped into a single, mega-sized city and given the freedom to do as you wish (along with cars that heal themselves after every crash). It's a Hot Wheels dream--find street races at stop lights that unlock new cars, look for hidden ramps to do unrealistic jumps through billboards, seek out the city's hidden roads and stunt pits. There are plenty of races and objectives for completists, along with smooth online modes, both competitive and co-op. But I'm more impressed with the freedom to potz around if you're not into the whole competition/goals thing--the game is so huge and plays so smoothly, you can lose hours just cruising, jumping and wrecking for the helluvit. Only problem is, the game's city has a boring stretch of boonies on its west side, so if you take on a race that leads you that way, there's no easy warping out; you have to drive every mile back to the bustling, busy, shortcut-filled downtown. Virtual boonies? Isn't that what Big Buck Hunter's for? Other than that, this game has had surprising legs--I'm loading it up two months later and still enjoying the aimless, high-speed wreckin'. Recommendation: Best arcade racer I've played in a while. Buy if you're into that sorta thing. (Bonus - EA's adding more to the city map in a few weeks with a free download.)


Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS) - Brainteasers on the go, but unlike DS edu-games like Brain Age, the teasers are slipped into a cartoony adventure/mystery. The presentation comes off like an Anime take on The Triplets of Belleville, meaning there's great art style depicting a little European village and its bizarre shopkeeps who, for whatever reason, cannot think for themselves. The puzzles range from cookie-cutter to hair-pulling, and a few have nonsensical solutions that must've been translated terribly from a Japanese version, but most of them average out to keep an adult challenged at a reasonable level (bonus--jot down brainstorming notes on the touch-screen while you're thinking them over). Recommendation: Though the game's not worth playing after you beat it, you'll get a few good weeks of really nice on-the-bus play, which is probably worth the $30 for the typical adult DS owner. However, DO NOT PLAY if you hate math or trick questions.

Next time: Xbox 360 RPG Lost Odyssey, along with Army of Two if Jonah and I can get through some of its co-op gunplay. Poor Jonah's Xbox 360 melted down nearly 30 days ago, and he still hasn't gotten his warranty replacement. Last I heard, the thing was stuck in McAllen, TX, due to flooding in the area. That's what I call Vista speed!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Library of Congress Flickr Stream Is Mighty Fine

posted by on March 21 at 11:05 AM

The Library of Congress is putting all of its public domain photographs on Flickr.

The Prints & Photographs Division takes care of 14 million of the Library's pictures and features more than 1 million through online catalogs. Offering historical photo collections through Flickr is a welcome opportunity to share some of our most popular images more widely.

As of right now, their account features 3,215 photographs. They want people to go in and tag things, provide historical information, and just participate in a historical group/think. There's tons of cool ones, like:

German Scientist with a Detective Camera

View Near Baden Baden from a Zeppelin Airship

Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies

The best thing about it is because they are public domain, I am completely free (nay, encouraged!) to do things like this:


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Games: Off-Road Velociraptor Safari

posted by on March 20 at 11:46 AM

Sorry to sully the streak of books- and essay-related posts today, but geez, this cracks me up. Hat tip to Games for Windows Magazine, who highlighted this free 3D web game in its April issue's "Free Play" section (and already made the prerequisite "Snakes on a Plane" joke). I'm proud to encourage the Slog nation to get fired from work for driving a jeep through mountains and crashing into velociraptors on your web browser. Give it a whirl; the game requires a quick install of a little free program that (from my research) doesn't do anything fishy, though if you're at work, that could be a funny permissions request to the IT department. ("You say you need to run this .exe to enable... 'spreadsheet backwards compatibility,' huh?")

Suggestion for a sequel: Sewer Tunnel Hovercraft Chimp Jamboree. Get on it, Flashbang Studios.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Big Dog Coming to Get You

posted by on March 17 at 1:44 PM

Afraid of pit bulls? Check this shit out.

Watch as this thing moves over ice, snow, gravel, and regains its balance after being kicked in the ribs.

Plan 1: Kick it in the ribs.
Plan 2: Run like hell.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Re: From A Nongamer With Love

posted by on March 15 at 10:33 AM

Exelizabeth made some good points about obtuseness in gaming, though technically, that issue has been going for a long time. Most of the commenters with NES/SNES nostalgia are forgetting just how criminally hard a lot of games were in the 80s, when many were designed to frustrate folks in the arcade and keep the quarters rolling. (Even home exclusive hits like Mega Man were filled with ridiculous "jump on the tiniest ledge possible" levels.)

But then she went and disproved her own points by listing her own fave games. The Sims? Viva Pinata? These games might be pick-up-and-play at first, but they turn complex pretty quickly. Both require micro-managing a sandbox to the point where you're almost better off having a strategy guide at your side while playing. But such a time investment isn't a bad thing. The whole point of a winning video game is that it earns your desire to figure it out. Maybe you really like the idea of fake-fighting your friends, so you learn how to do an uppercut in Street Fighter. Or you're a history addict who is so in love with military strategy, it's almost second nature to make sense of Age of Empires. Or you see the absolutely bizarre production values of Katamari Damacy and take about two minutes to make sense of its ball-rolling tutorial--whammo, you're now picking up loud, horny cats with a sticky ball. And on and on. Probably takes less time to learn Katamari Damacy and get into some wonderfully bizarre gameplay than it does to sift through enough humanities courses and books to "truly" appreciate art's baroque era.

But the games industry would still be wise to listen to exactly what Exelizabeth is saying. Earning players' desire is definitely different for those who have their noses stuck in the games world and for those who look at it from afar. I get that the world of art isn't exactly fair to compare to, as it has thousands of years and scholars and everything else behind its existence. Games still need a few more decades to really find a comfortable spot in culture--not necessarily in art, but at least in something people are overwhelmingly choosing to include in their adult lives.

I can only hope Exelizabeth (and, duh, her bf) come out for the Slog Super Smash Bros. Brawl Slog tourney that I am gonna organize when I get back into town this week. Who's in? What days/nights work best for everyone?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Slog the Future (and the Rest!)

posted by on March 14 at 3:59 PM



Will In Seattle

Ecce Homo

I'm Afraid We Can't Do That

posted by on March 14 at 3:29 PM

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are convinced they can, with the help of IBM's new supercomputer, build true artificial intelligence.

Human common sense reasoning is extremely hard to model. Consider how much unconscious reasoning goes into your morning routine: hearing the radio, figuring out your alarm just woke you up, turning it off, getting up and walking to the kitchen (avoiding anything on the floor in the process), deciding you need a cup of coffee ... you get the idea. In the 1980s, a researcher named Doug Lenat had an idea: Just get enough people filling in enough facts into a huuuuuuge database, apply some simple straightforward algorithms to them, and - poof! - you'll have the software apparatus to build robots who can run around figuring out how not to burn your toast. Thus the CyC project was born. They went off and spent long hours compiling collections of simple information about everyday life, like "Toasters make toast". And entered some more. And more. And more. It's now eighteen years later, and CyC has done some cool things, but they're still off filling gaps in the data, and we still don't have toast-making robots.

Since then other researchers have come up with similar models for AI - trying to decompose intelligence into multiple simple layers which can be built upon, trying to automatically learn that same common sense information about the world from libraries of text, or from the World Wide Web, and so on. Projects based on these models have solved very specific problems well and brought us wonderful technology - the Roomba that cleans my floor, for example - but the task of building a robot that can interact with and think about the world as humans do remains largely unsolved. We still don't really understand what intelligence is - how observation and memory are connected and built upon - let alone how to model it.

These researchers have gone about the task of modeling intelligence via a Second Life character that shows the cognitive skills of a child. From this, they expect to build a machine that will eventually solve the famed Turing test. History suggests they will instead solve a couple of tiny problems very well - say, building convincing personalities for video game characters - and then move on. This AI problem has turned out to be a lot harder than we thought forty or so years ago, when Marvin Minsky declared that within a generation the "AI problem" would be solved. But the most efficient process found for creating intelligent beings so far has taken about 3.7 billion years, so I guess we shouldn't feel so bad.


From a Non-Gamer With Love

posted by on March 14 at 1:43 PM

Video games are omnipresent in my life. My boyfriend, Nick, is a dedicated gamer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the industry, so I hear about new releases, reviews, controversies, and analysis of video games. We got a two bedroom apartment so the entertainment system, which centers on video games, can have its own enclosed space. I often fall asleep to the muffled sound of electronic gunshots.

But I don't play video games. Or at least, I hardly play them, because I am really bad at any of them that require any fine motor skills. They make me feel incompetent, which is not an entertaining use of my time. I am unwilling work to be even mediocre at them, because I know the entertainment value in the end wouldn't be worth the effort.

Knowing this, Nick sent me this article, in which a gamer talks about why he doesn't think video games will ever become a significant form of cultural discourse like books and film are. Part of this has to do with exactly what I complain about: inaccessibility to the average non-gaming person.

Over time, the technical and systemic complexity of video games have increased... controllers have sprouted more buttons, gyroscopes, and analogue sticks than ever; and it's still extremely common for games of high quality to be too difficult for a non-game to play effectively.

I want to like video games, it's just that I want them to be on my level, instead of having to work up to their level. And I would like to play games with Nick. Since it's such a big part of his life, it necessarily affects mine: if you live with a gamer, you hear it in the background, wires and controllers are everywhere, and it intensely consumes their time . So it seems a shame that it's so difficult to join them in their hobby on occasion, and to participate in what, throughout human history, has been a shared experience--playing games.

The game I've found that is best able to bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers is Rock Band (we play on the Xbox 360, though it's out for the Playstation 2 and 3). It's designed to be multi-player, and the bar to entry is low (even the most tone deaf can sing on "Easy"), but different players can play on different difficulty levels, so it can also be challenging for skilled gamers. Essentially, it's a whole freakin' lot of fun to play with your friends: we've got some buddies who live out in Issaquah and have no neighbors, so we've had several cheap-beer and coffee fueled Rock Band sessions that last until the wee hours of the morning. I just wish there were more games like Rock Band that appealed to group-play and accommodated a variety of gaming skills. Added bonus if, unlike RB, is doesn't cost nearly $200.

And, for any non-gamers out there who are looking for some games that might appeal to them, here are some of the console games I have enjoyed:

Animal Crossing (GameCube). A Sim type game played in real time. Soothing like Bob Ross is soothing, but still manages to gently sate the capitalist drive to acquire useless crap.
Legend of Zelda: Windwaker (GameCube). A quest type game with manageable game play that doesn't require a lot of precision.
X-Men Legends (Xbox): Okay, I have a total boner for all things X-Men, so my dedication to this game was kind of a one-off thing. However, the four-character game play is repetitive and doesn't require much precision so it's pretty easy to control, but it does require some knowledge of role-playing game conventions (or access to someone with said knowledge). Online cheats are also helpful.
The Sims (Xbox). Duh, the classic non-gamer game where you live a fake life that doesn't involve shooting much of anything. I originally played Sims games (City, Tower, Ant) on our old Mac IIci.
Viva Piñata (Xbox 360). Another Sim type game, you basically breed piñatas. It's kind of weird, but so pretty!
Dance Dance Revolution Universe (Xbox 360). Great for exercise, but even I can tell the "Quest Mode" is utter and complete crap.
Carcassonne (Xbox 360). This is an Xbox Live Arcade title that's based on a board game. It's essentially a strategy game.

Slog the Future! (the Ladies, the Ladies)

posted by on March 14 at 11:44 AM

To the unsung heroines of Slog, I offer these avatar suggestions for my favorite rock girl commenters.




Original Monique


Slog the Future!

posted by on March 14 at 9:07 AM

So yeah I love the Slog (obvs), but the progression from BBS to message boards to blogs to Gawker represents a continual march towards even better internet communities (and flame wars and trolls and 4chan). Amy Kate Horn and her minions perform a tireless service for all of us ingrates, and I love you to death, but goddamn I want me some avatars up in here. Just another subtle personal touch that brings a little value add to all the navel-gazing masses that frequent this fine establishment. SHOUT OUT TO THE LURKERS! In the spirit of friendship, I suggest these potential avatars, the images that pop into my head when I read a post, to you gentle commenters.


Bellevue Ave


There's more percolating in my Acrobat... but feel free to play along at home!

You Are Powerless To Resist the Charms of Slog

posted by on March 14 at 8:35 AM

And science knows why.

Dr. Biederman first showed a collection of photographs to volunteer test subjects, and found they said they preferred certain kinds of pictures (monkeys in a tree or a group of houses along a river) over others (an empty parking lot or a pile of old paint cans) ... When he hooked up volunteers to a brain-scanning machine, the preferred pictures were shown to generate much more brain activity than the unpreferred shots ...

[C]oming across what Dr. Biederman calls new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us 'infovores.' "

So, yes, the Internet is in fact a drug of sorts, releasing happy hormones in your brain. Computer gaming, unsurprisingly, produces similar results. To keep civilization from surfing and gaming itself to death, clearly we must find ways to exploit our boredom aversion for productivity and profit.

Thankfully, we are at work on that as well. Consider, for example, the Peekaboom and ESP projects at Carnegie Mellon, which exploit
our desire for entertainment by getting us to perform otherwise tedious tasks - like labeling online images with words - as a side effect of playing games. (Full article on the subject here
by Luis Von Ahn, the MacArthur Fellow behind these projects.) Rest assured that researchers will be there to identify and save us from the destruction they have rained upon us.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Don't Know if This Is Fake or Not...

posted by on March 13 at 11:39 AM

...but it still makes me feel like a caveman who suddenly happened across a working food processor.

Without further ado: A voiceless phone call, made by a special phone that turns your thoughts into a computer voice:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Re: Hulu Who?

posted by on March 12 at 4:25 PM

Their embed function doesn't work very well, either.

Still, this is kinda fierce.

Hulu Who?

posted by on March 12 at 4:11 PM

Hulu went live today. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd praise YouTube, but here we are. Hulu is a way to get ad-supported tv shows and movies-- allegedly in their entirety, athough I haven't tried it out yet--on your computer. I feel as though this is the Internet's version of a hideous, six-story primary-colored condo with retail space on the ground floor. Praise be, then, to YouTube. Hulu would never allow things like this:

within its prettified walls. But you can watch all the Fantasy Island you want.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Writing With Your Genitals

posted by on March 7 at 11:35 AM

Via Reason comes the online gender guesser. If you upload more than 300 words of text, it will guess the gender of the writer.

I plugged some of my writing into the engine and it determined that I am a "Weak Male," and that some of my "Weak emphasis could indicate European" origin. I decided to plug in some other Stranger writers and see what happened.

Christopher Frizzelle is a fellow Weak Male, though he is un-European. Jen Graves, Annie Wagner, and Erica Barnett were all decidedly (and un-weak) Males, said the engine. Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, Charles Mudede, Josh Feit, and Eli Sanders are all Manly Men. Dan Savage is Female, and Brendan Kiley is a Weak Female.

Charles Dickens is a Weak, and European, Male like me. But Brendan's in good company: another Weak Female? Emily Dickinson. This post, if you're at all interested, is decidedly Male.

Thanks to Slog Tipper JMR.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Games: 24 Hours Into Super Smash Bros. Brawl

posted by on March 6 at 2:16 PM

For the uninitiated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting franchise in which Nintendo's cutesy mascots beat each other up. Mario kicking Pikachu. The Princess smacking Zelda with a frying pan. Etc. When SSB came out roughly ten years ago, other fighting games were convoluted Street Fighter clones--press a joystick 100 directions, then hit a three-button combination, and your little guy/girl might do some anime-styled move. What worked for Smash Bros. back then was that you didn't have to memorize a technical manual's worth of codes and moves to play. You had two buttons to attack, you could jump, and you could throw stuff. Simple. Get to kickin' ass. Plus, four people could fight at once, making it a good party game next to its N64 sibling Goldeneye. The series wound up becoming one of Nintendo's biggest worldwide properties.


The newest version, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, somehow reached my hands before its hyped release on Sunday, and I'm already hooked. I'm the target market, though--this is a game heaped with gaming nostalgia. Kid Icarus' Pit shows up to whoop an ass. Wario farts to make foes dizzy, then runs 'em over with a motorcycle. And the playground Sega/Nintendo debate is revitalized by this game's Sonic vs. Mario duels...hopefully a Pogs resurgence isn't soon to follow.

But this game isn't meant for the Wii. It proudly boasts that you can use a zillion different controller types to play it, and that's because the Wii's default controls barely have enough buttons for this game. There's no motion control--you won't swing your arm to smack anyone, though the game has a hidden "wrist flick" option. And most importantly, the simple game ain't Wii Sports-simple. The pick-up-and-play core is still intact--wear your opponent down, and instead of draining energy like Street Fighter, you eventually launch foes off a floating platform. But there are tons of other little bits and pieces to the game, strategies to learn and items to make sense of, and the game doesn't do much to ease outsiders in. Other than a brief how-to video, it's either trial by fire, or, ugh, study the game's 36-page manual.

Doesn't bother me, but I'm the target market. If you ever played and enjoyed Smash Bros before, you shouldn't even question buying it--SSBB is a perfect mix of refinement and new blood for the series. (My only knock so far is that the series' first-ever online mode stinks. Though it may be a temporary issue, my online play so far has been full of lag; making fights all kinds of herky-jerky. At least it's not a paid service.) And I don't think Nintendo should worry about this game specifically; you look at the box, covered in angry-looking game mascots, and you know whether or not it's your bag. Nintendo's proud about this game's niche, and judging by the way the game has played for me so far--the spit-shined balance and variety of different fighters, the dozens of little modes, the, um, nostalgic Nintendo virtual sticker-collecting mini-games (I got an Eggplant Wizard sticker this morning, and I'm sad to admit that I was thrilled)--they're serving their diehard nerds right.

But Nintendo's got a problem with scheduling and with serving all niches. Where was last Christmas' Wii Sports-style game, complete with crossover appeal and super-simple, super-fun motion gaming? That's right--none came out, and grown-ups who dug the Wii (and actually managed to find one) have to wait until May for Wii Sports' heir apparent, Wii Fit--the fitness game that comes with a weight-sensitive balance board (think skiing, yoga, and, er, hula-hooping). It'll be a welcome weird game, but Nintendo had years to work out a strategy, to really make the most of their crazy Wii, and as of right now, they really haven't. I enjoy playing games w/ outsiders; Wii Bowling with my mom is easily my #1 gaming memory, and as good as SSBB is, it's not something I'd ever expect to play with her, my girlfriend, or a lot of non-gaming friends. And as a grown-up gamer with shit to do (aside from, er, collecting virtual nerd stickers), I think it's a fair criticism.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Thanks, Telecoms!

posted by on March 5 at 8:42 AM

Warning: Watching this video on an empty stomach this morning made me feel really queasy. Might want to eat a piece of bread or something first.

You got that? The telecom companies are being sued "because they are believed to have helped America." Well, that's just crazy! They "may have helped save American lives!"

It's not particularly relevant that they indisputably broke the law, because they were asked to break the law by The Leader. Since He asked them to break the law, and he is The Law, the law they broke was not really The Law in the first place, anyway, QED.

I'm going to be sick. If you vote for politicians who don't often and loudly decry this man and his insane, terrifying rule, you are, in my judgment, a very, very bad person.


via Think Progress

Monday, March 3, 2008

Games: Lost Meets Loading Times

posted by on March 3 at 4:18 PM

I ranted about TV-inspired video games just a few months ago. Generally, they’re crap. Cash-ins. Ways to wring a few extra bucks out of an IP. So why’d I go and get my expectations up for the Lost: Via Domus game?

Not even a year ago, I swore that I’d never watch the show. I’d weaned myself off of network television, particularly any series that were serial, and particularly any serial series that didn’t make any goddamned sense. I’d watched Days of Our Lives as a child, and the whole Hope/Gina amnesia thing... guh, the thought of it makes me sick.

But then I wound up dating a Lost-head, so I was practically forced to watch it all from the beginning and wound up loving the show--well, the stories and characters, not so much the plot twists. When its video game was announced about a year ago, I figured this would be the TV-to-game translation that actually worked. Perhaps the basic gameplay would be average, but the show has a lot in common with the Half-Life game series created just up the road in Bellevue--quality in scripts, acting and implementation of story. (You’ll even find Dharma logos and Hurley’s numbers scattered around Half-Life 2 if you look.)

Lost’s staff loves the show and will treat its game transition properly, I thought. But it’s a shame JJ Abrams didn’t hand the property to HL developer Valve. The “game review” is simple here--in Via Domus, you try to jog a new survivor’s memory by running around the island, talking to castaways, and occasionally running through the jungle. It’s really short. Should only take you a few hours to beat (and half of that time is padded with load times). Controls are awkward, and the game whisks by with only a few out-of-nowhere math/logic puzzles as a challenge. Rent, don’t buy.


But this is more than a merely bad game; everything that makes the TV show immersive and interesting has been gutted. The show’s cast members look like emotionless robots in game form--think the Final Fantasy movie, but much worse. In the first minute, you meet Kate, and while she gripes at you, her face is pretty much stoic, the mouth opening and closing like a puppet. Michael’s worse; his face is frozen in a rigid, bug-eyed state as he talks and yells to find his son (the above photo doesn't do the in-motion horror justice). Also, most conversations are one-sided like the old Lucasarts games from the 80s and 90s--you ask a simple question, the character speaks a long-winded answer out loud that is supposed to give a hint. The TV show works when its varied characters are forced to interact and struggle, thereby making the oddities of the island real and human. Instead, in the game, you listen to quotes from Tickle-Me-Hurleys while picking up coconuts on the ground to trade to Sawyer for a torch.

This B-movie fare has enough issues--makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the show, is a rip-off at $60 on the Xbox 360 (though it’s cheaper on PC)--but what bugs me is that the game’s shittiness comes off so flippantly. “Nobody’ll care that this game is a beating, cuz, hey, who has expectations for a video game? Get it out in time for the fourth season.” And to drive the point home, flip to the back page of the instruction booklet for a subscription offer for Lost Magazine. Wonder if they have a Q&A with Desmond about his favorite jogging shoes.

Lousy games are nothing new, but a national TV hit like Lost drives new people to games, and all the makers have to show for it is this embarrassment. The next wave of sophisticated, plot-driven games takes another blow--if a slapped-together TV show rehash can instantly sell a few hundred thousand, fewer good games will get funding greenlights, and that means the eventual Heroes game is going to suck total ass. Thanks, JJ.

(And for you Lost-freaks, the story and spoilers are after the jump.)

Continue reading "Games: Lost Meets Loading Times" »

Friday, February 29, 2008

In the Future, Your Arm Will Be Your Phone

posted by on February 29 at 12:12 PM

tattoodisplay.jpg explains:

Jim Mielke's wireless blood-fueled display is a true merging of technology and body art. At the recent Greener Gadgets Design Competition, the engineer demonstrated a subcutaneously implanted touch-screen that operates as a cell phone display, with the potential for 3G video calls that are visible just underneath the skin. The basis of the 2x4-inch "Digital Tattoo Interface" is a Bluetooth device made of thin, flexible silicon and silicone. It's inserted through a small incision as a tightly rolled tube, and then it unfurls beneath the skin to align between skin and muscle. Through the same incision, two small tubes on the device are attached to an artery and a vein to allow the blood to flow to a coin-sized blood fuel cell that converts glucose and oxygen to electricity. After blood flows in from the artery to the fuel cell, it flows out again through the vein.

I'm scared. Thank you, MetaFilter.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dear Microsoft

posted by on February 28 at 10:26 PM


My wife is happy. I am not.

America and Europe: Compare and Contrast

posted by on February 28 at 4:51 PM

When the FCC held hearings on Net Neutrality in Boston recently, the room was so packed that many interested citizens had to be turned away. Seems like good news, right?

Well, no. Turns out Comcast had hired a bunch of sleepy folks to show up early and fill the seats, thereby preventing regular people from voicing their concerns.

Fuckers. Anyone getting their cable service through Qwest or another provider in Seattle? I would really love to drop Comcast.

Here's some video:

Meanwhile, in Europe, the EU is considering adopting a proposal that would classify Internet censorship as a trade barrier, meaning they could impose sanctions on countries that restrict their citizens' access.

Thanks to Slog-tipper Fnarf.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

To the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft

posted by on February 27 at 12:19 AM


Custom error bars are gone?! I'm a scientist. I use Excel for a terrifying amount of my data analysis. Error, you know, comes up on occasion in the real world. Reviewers have this annoying tendency to force us all to recognize reality. I need error bars; we all could use some error bars. And, with all due respect, I might know how to calculate the error for my data better than a program that routinely fucks up counting.

You removed custom error bars in charts
. This is terrible. Horrifying. You removed one of the few, the very few, essential features in Excel for my work--a program that hasn't had a useful feature added since the mid '90s. Hell, this is a deal breaker for anyone doing any sort of scientific or engineering work with Excel.

I, one of the six graduate students stupid enough to pay for a copy of Office 2008 rather than pirate, have to downgrade to 2004. Fucking Rosetta!

Boo! A pox on all your houses! Boo, I say! Boo!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Games: Put the Shovel Down

posted by on February 25 at 3:50 PM

I was going to play video games all weekend long and post about them to make up for the lack of a games column in recent printed issues. But the sun showed up, so I broke character and took advantage--played a few pickup games of basketball (yes, real basketball); stopped by a farmers market; drove to Olympia and wandered around downtown; came back home and did some minor gardening with the girlfriend. Of course, it all comes around full circle.

“For a second, I actually thought that planting something next to our walkway would attract a Cinnamonkey,” the gf said.


She’s recently become addicted to Viva Piñata, a year-old Xbox 360 game where you build a garden and use it to attract living, breathing piñata-creatures (she begged for the game, so I gave it to her on V-Day, aww). When it came out in ’06, the game was marketed to Pokemon-loving kids, complete with a cartoon TV show tie-in, but its sales were awful because the game is both too simple and too complicated. Though there’s no way to die or lose, my girlfriend still has to consult a Web site called Piñata Island every minute or so to make sense of the game’s obtuse multi-garden plots and planting strategies. Planting strategies!

On the flipside, real-life gardening is relatively new to my life, and it blows my nerdy mind. Sort and arrange on a small patch of grass, and if you do it right, you get food. It’s like Tetris, only with a high score you can eat. So on a sunny day, all I could think about were games with green thumbs. Are you familiar with these? Pretty much any weird concept has been converted to a video game by now (dog-walking, cow-milking), but farming games have done surprisingly well in the past decade. Animal Crossing on the DS requires that you power the game on every day to manage a town’s trees, fruits and weeds--and it has sold millions. Harvest Moon has been going since 1997, making you play through seasons of growing crops, reaping the harvest and--hoo boy--finding a wife so your male character can make an organic baby (no same-sex marriage on this farm, sorry). Shigeru Miyamoto, the man behind Mario and Zelda, even made a gardening-inspired strategy game called Pikmin a few years back (and years later, released the worldwide-smash puppy-raising sim Nintendogs).

The earliest days of games were about the fantastic and unreachable--Asteroids, Space Invaders. And games have generally kept this up; even recent “normal” games like The Sims or Rollercoaster Tycoon at least let gamers play god. But what happens when normalcy becomes the new fantasy? When you plant apple trees to attract purple piñata horses? Hope this doesn’t come off as trying to sound deep, but maybe these games are a reaction to urbanization, to being out of touch with our hunting/gathering roots--hell, in Viva Piñata, everything in the game can be broken open to reveal wrapped candies. Kinda creeps me out when I think about it.

Is a bizarre sense of normalcy going to be the new gaming wave as mass appeal ramps up? As the original gaming generation becomes moms and dads, and companies shift their development accordingly? I fear this--already, there’s a game based on The Office in which you race to file the most documents within a time limit. Some people would love for games to be more like movies, going on about how games can be artistic, but at this pace, they may wind up more like a Sunday afternoon...and then what the hell will I do to have a break from normalcy? Pick up a fucking shovel? Or, heaven forbid, the Wii-Shovel?

[Since Games hasn't run for a few weeks in print, I'm trying out an online column with either reviews or whatever else is recently relevant about games. Next week, assuming I get a copy in time, I'll talk about the Lost video game that comes out this week.]

What if People Spoke Like They Commented?

posted by on February 25 at 10:12 AM

"Can't my dick say anything without your vagina turning it into me fucking you a lot?

Via Chaos Theory.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

War's Over

posted by on February 19 at 8:28 PM

Iraq and Afghanistan may still be clusterfucks, but we can finally pull our troops out of the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray war.

Far too much has been wasted (like this post) on this senseless struggle, and now, at long last, we can get our guys out of there.

After Wal-Mart, Netflix and other big players announced that they were backing Blu-Ray, Toshiba--inventor of the HD-DVD format--gave up the fight today, saying they would no longer develop, produce, or market HD-DVD players.

So I guess this means I can get a Playstation 3 now.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Today in Coffee and Internets

posted by on February 11 at 9:30 AM

Local coffee concern "Starbucks" ditches longtime wi-fi partner T-Mobile for AT&T, offering customers lower prices and free access with purchase.

If you have a Starbucks stored-value card, you get 2 hours of free wi-fi per day, with purchase. Otherwise, it's $4 for 2 hours or $20/month--significantly cheaper than T-Mobile's pricing.

I still think Starbucks is crazy not to make their wi-fi just plain old free (or at least free with purchase, no time limit, no silly cards), but this is an improvement*. I'm not a regular Starbucks customer, but I can't count the number of times I've been stuck with an urgent task, no access, and nothing but 6 Starbuckses in range.

T-Mobile will lose 7,000 of their 9,000 access points. Ouch.

* An improvement, that is, except for the part about AT&T seeming to really enjoy colluding with our psychotic overlords and all that. That part not so good.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Put This LoveBot to Work

posted by on February 8 at 5:55 PM

Hey slackers, if you didn't file a Stranger Valentine before 5 pm today, you're not totally out of luck—there's still time to buy a pack of doilies and some glitter glue and construct a hand-made card or two.
Or, you can have the huge-hearted Stranger LoveBot compose a personalized Valentines message for your loved one. Simply answer a few questions about the object of your affection, and the LoveBot will send a little mash note to him or her via e-mail on February 14.

Don't forget to bring your lover or your lonely heart by Slog Happy next Thursday. It's guaranteed to up your odds of getting lucky.

(Lovely little robot art by Brandy Agerbeck)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The World Is a Ghetto

posted by on February 6 at 1:43 PM


There's no need to search anywhere
Happiness is here, have your share
If you know you're loved, be secure
Paradise is love to be sure
Don't you know that it's true
That for me and for you
The world is a ghetto

Re: Would You Like to Play a Game?

posted by on February 6 at 11:29 AM

Oh WarGames! I loved it. And despite being an ‘80’s dem-computers-are-going-crazy movie, it’s freakishly factual at points.

The nihilistic glee of Dr. Falken noting that Goose Island’s (not a real Island, but clearly meant to be one of the San Juans) proximity to "a primary target" guarantees an early and total death during nuclear war? True!

Indian Island, up near Port Townsend, is pretty much carved out and turned into the world's largest depot of nuclear warheads. Where is the sub dock? Underwater! Just like the sub base in the first Indiana Jones movie!


So, take pride Western Washington. Any nation with more than three ICBM capable nuclear warheads is probably sending one our way. Just like the movie says!

Would You Like to Play a Game?

posted by on February 6 at 8:27 AM


Israel is in the early stages of developing a robotic defense system that has the ability--in "very complex scenarios"--to "generate a level of supreme situational awareness and snap intuitive capabilities that could surpass the very best wartime commanders."

In extreme circumstances, "where the number of incoming weapons could overwhelm today’s systems and their human operators, [Israel's] envisioned super system could take over completely."

Even the systems we currently have malfunction some times, killing people. This idea involves extending those systems so that they're actually designed to act completely on their own in certain situations, making it much more likely that some bad input or data sends them down that pre-programmed path.

The Israelis are calling the new system Skynet. Just kidding, they don't have a name for it yet.

Via Danger Room

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

iFrame Bug FTW

posted by on February 5 at 10:09 PM

Apple's Safari browser sometimes has issues with iframes, which we use to present our Slog polls, liveslogs, and other framey stuff. Sometimes the frame in one post will show whatever content appeared in the last iframe you viewed on your computer instead of the framed content you expect. You'll see some political poll when you expect a Project Runway live Slog widget, for example.

SO.. the funniest sight on Slog tonight is:


P.S. If you run into this bug, just restart the browser. Clears it right up.

Lawrence Lessig Endorses...

posted by on February 5 at 3:23 PM

Lawrence Lessig--founder of Creative Commons, EFF board member, copyleft demigod--strongly endorses Obama.

But it's important not because of the details about Barack Obama's policy strengths. I believe his policies are strong, especially the policies I know something in particular about — his technology policies are extremely strong. But policy differences between these two candidates are actually quite small....

This is a man who will inspire as he leads. He will inspire all of us, across racial lines, and gender lines, across class lines, across age. He will inspire us because he can capture, in a way that very few presidents in the last hundred years have been able to capture, the imagination of a generation....

So I want you to shut your eyes and imagine what it will seem like to a young man in Iraq or in Iran, who wakes up on January 21st, 2009, and sees the picture of this man as the president of the United States. A man who opposed the war at the beginning, a man who worked his way up from almost nothing, a man who came from a mother and a father of mixed cultures and mixed societies, who came from a broken home to overcome all of that to become the leader in his class, at the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinary success as a politician. How can they see us when they see us as having chosen this man as our president?

There can be no clearer way that we could say, that we could say that the United States could say, that we have changed, than by electing this man. There is no way we could more clearly move on toward peace than this. He represents the very best of who we are, the best of character, of integrity and ideals. And someone who opposed the war from the start.

Or, to put it in a different way, here is an e-mail exchange I had with a friend yesterday:

>Subject: A question of History
> Has a dark skinned man ever been elected to run a majority light skinned
> country?
> - Jonathan

no, this will be the first time.

(Thanks NaFun.)

"You Must Be Getting the High Score"--A Review of Rez HD

posted by on February 5 at 10:06 AM

Rez is a weird enough video game without its vibrator. The 2001 title sees you floating through a wireframe world a la Tron and blasting stuff with a gun that, when fired, produces the beats and sound effects of its trance soundtrack. In spite of its cult success, Rez was mostly brushed over at the time--particularly by American gamers. But a limited-edition Japanese release came with a "trance vibrator," a corded bulb about the size of a computer mouse that was meant to pulse to the beat of the music, which, as stated above, is a central part of the game. Meant to make the title "immersive," ya see. This is part of where the game's cult appeal lies--horny bloggers made their Rez love public, and lord knows how many other gamers' crevices and clits the game awakened.

The game didn't need the gimmick--Rez was pretty wild and, as some sites have recently stated, ahead of its time. It was a forerunner to the now-huge music/rhythm game genre, and its trippy visuals managed to hold up over the years. So it was good to see the game return as a paid download over the Xbox 360's Live service last week; upgraded for HDTVs and surround sound, the whole "float and destroy a computer's innards" setup on Rez HD is overwhelming enough to win over my trance-hating heart. I'd be happy to run through why the game's a treat (worth it for $10, simple for newbies, plays out like a slick short film), but I'm not daft--you want to know if the vibrator has returned.

Sure has, though the "trance vibration" option is buried in menus and must be re-enabled every time you power the game on. Sadly, you won't find mouse-sized vibrators in Best Buy's Xbox aisle, so the game turns your extra controllers--up to three--into bulbous, buzzy body-brators. Like so:


Har, har, but the buzzing wasn't erotic so much as it was, well...immersive. Honestly--as the game becomes more frantic, it's easy to get swept up going for a high score and dealing with tougher baddies, and the thumping of the bass through my body (one controller on back, one on stomach, one on feet) created near-synesthesia, the screen and sound getting the upper hand on my senses. I don't plan on ever covering myself with controllers again, but something like a "rumble vest" could be cool for fighting games and such. And abused by pervs. Like my girlfriend.

She walked in when I first got the game, asked what the hell an extra controller was doing on my lap. I told her the setup, and she laughed, then swiped the thing. Cozied up on the couch, covered herself with a blanket. I lost track of her, as this was my first go-through of the game, but a few minutes later, I looked over and her face had glazed over. "Do you want me to stop playing?" She said nothing, didn't move. "Um... do you want me to keep playing?" Her eyebrows twitched--as if a bug had landed on her. I kept at it, and then she became unusually giddy and jokey--"You must be getting the high score." "These designers were trying to make a game that would get them laid."

I asked her which Xbox game she liked more--Rez, or the new Burnout Paradise racing game I've been playing? "This," she said without pause. So I revised the question--Rez, or girlfriend-friendly Katamari Damacy? This question was tougher; she paused. "Katamari, if that game buzzed every time [the Katamari ball] picked something up."

Then we humped. Thanks, Rez! Review score: 10/10.

Trans-Cascadia Express

posted by on February 5 at 9:19 AM

Down to Portland for breakfast? Up to Vancouver for dinner?
02_train.jpg Dream, dream, dream.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why Didn't Anyone Think of This Before?

posted by on February 1 at 3:12 PM

Ladies and gentleman... the glow-in-the-dark bike:


The Puma bike has a single gear, includes an integrated wire lock system for safety, disc brakes, anodized silver alloy rims from Jalco, and a carbon steel chain. It's also part of the recent folding bike trend that we've followed for over a year. But its key selling point is that it glows like Slimer, especially if it is left out in the sunlight all day. The bike will probably be really easy to see at night, especially when combined with its regular head and back lights.

Via Towleroad.

Online Winkelen!

posted by on February 1 at 9:09 AM

I don't know what any of it says, and I don't really care what they sell, but I love this Dutch shopping winkelen. (Just wait a second after it loads.)

via vsl

Sweating the Small Stuff

posted by on February 1 at 7:03 AM

Let's say you're the biggest software company in the world, and you have a long-anticipated, super-flashy, translucent-tastic new version of your flagship product. If you find that you have to put up a page on your site that explains--with illustrations--how to open the box (you'll need a knife), you might want to consider that you have some overall issues with thoughtful design.

Just sayin'.

Or you could scrape up $44 billion to buy another giant software company*, see if that helps.

via Gruber

* Yes it is.