Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Xbox 360 should upscale 480p DVD...

I can't really find a straight answer on this. A lot of places says the 360 does upscale to 720p, but says "Watch your DVD movies in glorious 480p from the get go." It seems some of the other sites base their answer on this statement alone.

If the 360 doesn't upscale, it easily could with a patch from Microsoft.

I will have to test this out, but if the 360 does upscale SD DVDs, then I give an even bigger middle finger to Bluray and HD-DVD. This means unless you have a fancy Plasma or LCD DLP HD television, then the noticeable difference between an upscaled DVD isn't worth the price.

[04/04/06 Edit: The 360 DOES NOT upscale movies. That's too bad; Microsoft should have done this.]

Shadow of the Colossus is completed

Apparently, there is some replay available if the gamer is interested in playing the game over again at a higher difficulty or with a limited time frame for each fight. Special weapons and items become available as well, although why these aren't available until a second playthrough is beyond me.

However, after finally getting through the game and watching the interesting ending, I'm done, and have no interest in playing through again. What did I take away from playing this game?

Well, I now am interested in playing ICO, which I believe is somewhat of a sequel to SOTC. The game designers did a great job, but I still wish they would have made the game on a more capable machine. I especially like how "open-ended" the story becomes, meaning the player has to come up with some of the story themselves. That makes the story almost like an epic poem.

Now that I'm done with the game, I can somewhat rate it with numbers. With better controls, graphics and special items on normal, this game could have easily been a 9 out of 10. However, I'll have to stick it with a 7.5; the gameplay saves the experience from a failure, but it still needed a lot of polishing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The 360 may not be a hit with Japan, but it "PWNS" Australia

360 beats Sony and Nintendo with sales record
It's good to see the 360 have such great sales at a non-US location. After the disappointing sales in Japan, this has to be a morale builder.

Hopefully for Microsoft, the upcoming Japanese-tailored 360 RPGs will do the trick. But they better get some before the PS3 arrives, unless they prove to be more interesting and/or better than what the PS3 launch can provide.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Shadow of the Colossus....mixed feelings

Wow. The first sentence to come out of my mouth when watching the opening sequence was, "Wow, this looks like crap; this is why I don't play PS2 anymore."

And the second sentence, "This obviously would have been 10 times better on the [original] Xbox."

Before now, I've never understood the term "jaggies". After playing this game, I completely understand. The environment looks horrible, as does the main character. All the edges are jagged and the detail is low.

In a shorter phrase, "The graphics are weak sauce." Moving on.

Those of the English-tongue will be disappointed that they have to deal with subtitles. The cutscenes are low on action, and are drawn out to long to get to a simple point. With the sword + light = direction ability, the info from the cutscenes has little value.

Next up: controls. I applaud the developers on allowing customizable controls. Specifically, inversion of the camera controls is available. FPS gamers can survive this game, but must change the default controls. The default controls leave actions such as in order to look left, the player must push right. It is initially frustrating, but the options menu is excellently simple, so the problem is abated quickly.

However, this game makes a perfect example of why the Dualshock controller is dated. The analog sticks do not respond well, and they are much too floppy for precision aiming. It's frustrating. I'm considering purchasing an XBox to PS2 controller adapter because I'm so tired of it.

It's interesting that games like these lose some potential "great experiences" because the PS2 is the top-selling console with the worst abilities. A better result could have even been produced on the Gamecube. This is where PC gamers have to say something as well.

But enough bitching, not all is grim. The game actually brings a somewhat different scheme to the table. Instead of dealing with long, annoying levels, the game is based around semi-long boss fights. Consider the bosses the levels. The technique to defeat each colossus is essentially a mediocre puzzle.

When the first colossus steps onto the screen, it's flabbergasting. It's huge. Once it spots you, it attacks. Once it makes contact with the ground, it shakes, and your character loses balance and possibly takes damage if close enough. Luckily for the player, hints come after a while to help defeat the monstrosity.

Immediately noticeable, is that the colossi have the most detail. While trying to hang on, it is easy to ignore the jaggies and the weak-on-details surrounding world. Since the game revolves around the colossi, it makes the graphical failures in the environment semi-acceptable.

Although each colossus fight can be tense, the method of their destruction follows a basic pattern:
  1. Find a way to get on the colossus (via ledges or hair)

  2. Hang on for dear life and watch your grip meter

  3. Find its weakspot(s) and stab them

  4. If life gets low, get away and duck out until health recovers

  5. Repeat (if necessary)

It may sound boring, but it's actually somewhat refreshing. New approaches are always welcome, and the designers deserve recognition for breaking the stand mold.

Still, it is hard to see why this game would receive awards for anything but design. The sound it fitting, but not memorable. Graphically, it is a mess. As I said previously, recognition is deserved, but this game is far from a perfect ten.

Thankfully, if we see a sequel, it won't be on such terrible hardware. Between fights the graphics really are disturbingly bad for current technology with this generation of consoles. I recommend a rent, but definitely not a purchase. The replay value seems low after the first couple of colossi. Enjoy one run through, and move on to the next game.

Games don't even use full DVD9 yet, and PS3 programmers avoid PITA work by not using the cell to its potential

Programming "Tiers" for the Cell processor (warning: techy speak)

Most Xbox/360 games to date fit on DVD5 (Single layer)

Luckily, it sounds like the PITA low-level code can be avoided by programmers in relation to the Cell. However, IBM has some work if they can get these high-level spoiled programmers to get the most out of the cell without forcing them to drop a tier (per article above).

I should mention that in the programming world, "low-level" programming is more "advanced" than "high-level" programming. For example, a "low-level" programming language is binary, which is just 1's and 0's. A "high-level" programming language example would be Java. Good low-level programming is more efficient than good high-level programming, because it allows a programmer to work more directly with the hardware instead of having the compiler translate everything to a low-level language.

I guess a quick analogy could be made to human languages. If you don't understand Japanese, then it would take you longer to figure out a paragraph (with a dictionary) than it would if you already knew the language.

As for the article about DVD9 storage, I am aware that there is a note saying the original article had a bad calculation. However, I find this article interesting because it gives perspective to how much space is actually used on a few popular games. I was even surprised at some of the numbers.

In short, the average Xbox game in 2005 didn't even fill up a single layer DVD (4.5GB). Although a few may exist, there wasn't any mention of a game that filled an entire dual layer DVD (8.5GB). Even the Xbox 360 games available now do not fill up a dual layer DVD, but rather only use about half of one!

Personally, this article alludes to the idea that Microsoft made the right decision. If you've read my blog before, I've already said that Bluray and HD-DVD are not really necessary, and both formats will probably fail. With better compression and codecs, DVD9 CAN support HD movies. Even without improvement in those areas, an upscaling DVD player will produce similar HD results with an SD disc.

Blue-laser technology will be great for backups and as a storage medium, but as for entertainment media its days are already numbered. The only way these formats will survive is if the consumer accepts them. Us gamers will have a particularly hard time if Bluray fails. If Sony isn't able to retract their Bluray requirement, then we will end up paying more for PS3 games because they will need to be on the obsolete format.

I'm sticking with DVDs, we'll see what the world does.

Ebay scam #2,000,000,001: Upgrade your Xbox 360 Hard Drive to 200GB+

Scam example

Small print:
"...instructions on how to disassemble and install a new hard drive physically."

This means the instructions tell you how to disassemble the hard drive enclosure. Sure, you could put a bigger HDD in there, but it won't work. The drive would have to have the same files, file setup, and there is probably proprietary firmware on the factory drives. These instructions say nothing about formatting a replacement drive, or copying files. If it was easy to just pop a bigger drive in there, we would have heard about it by now. I'm guessing using Ghost to image an original doesn't work either.

These instructions also tell you how to utilize an external USB hard drive for added storage. To be clear, you can only access music and pictures from an external USB hard drive. Here's how to do that:

Llama's USB HDD instructions

I've seen bids on similar "items" for $80+. What a rip off. It's pretty obvious how to disassemble the factory HDD enclosure, so this "item" provides no useful information.

Just a warning to fellow 360 owners. I'm only out $0.99 in order to appease my curiosity. Now, no one else should have to.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

NDS and PSP recommended games, and hopes for the Revolution

Metroid Prime: Hunters and the Nintendo GDC Keynote made me want to make a list of games I recommend for the DS. I figured I would do the same for the PSP as well.

My DS recommendations:
  • Metroid Prime: Hunters

  • Mario Kart DS

  • Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney

  • True Swing Golf

  • Meteos

  • Tony Hawk's American Sk8land

  • Trauma Center: Under the Knife

  • Nanostray

*My PSP recommendations:
  • Mercury

  • Lumines

  • Midway Collection(?)

  • Burnout(Takedown?)

  • Tiger Woods PGA 06

*Note, I don't own a PSP (yet), I play my room mate's.

From what I've seen, the DS still has the best selection of games. Nothing that has come out lately has been that interesting for the PSP.

As far as the Revolution goes, wouldn't it be great if Nintendo included the Metroid Prime 2 Multiplayer with the Revolution? It is Nintendo's Halo afterall, and a lot of fun. If it supported online play, I would play MP2 a lot more. It'd be a good way to silently stab at Microsoft (not that I want them to).

Hopefully the Revo will support flash memory cards and/or USB storage. They say it won't have a hard drive, so I'm wondering where we are supposed to store all these Virtual Machine games? I'm willing to get a 4GB CF card for that purpose.

Nintendo would also be smart to include an S-Video connection (component would be better, but I think more people's televisions have S-Video support). Even SD looks great with non-composite cables.

E3 should be Nintendo's moment, but we all know that Sony will steal it. Give me a Revolution!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The PS3 may be getting interesting, but proceed with caution...

Kotaku - PS3 GDC Keynote
Joystiq - PS3 GDC Keynote

Well, up to to this point the PS3 is proclaimed to a great machine so far. I will remain skeptical, because Sony blinded me from the Xbox platform before. Just remember, Sony doesn't have the best track record with new formats or providing experience living up to their claims.

Before I start talking about the good things, let's cover what misconceptions Sony has provided about the PS3 so far. First, 1080p is just another way to false hype the PS3. Second, Bluray will not be viewable in even 720p without an HDTV that supports HDMI and HDCP. Lastly, the PS3 will pass the expense of features to the consumer that they may not need (Wireless (consoles aren't mobile), dual HDMI out, Bluray (if it fails)).

1080i vs 1080p: Should you care?
Check the quote about 1080p and framerates
HDCP Fiasco
No HDMI means no full HD

However, the PS3 now brings online matchmaking, a hard drive, Bluetooth wireless controllers, and flash card readers to the mix.

Flash card readers are exciting, assuming they allow you to store save data on them. This would mean for once that Sony WOULDN'T be making a proprietary format to save games to. However, there are vulnerabilities by using standard flashcards that we can only hope they will address. We don't need game hackers screwing up our online experience.

Even though we still must be weary of the quality of the Playstation Network, it should be great to have the ability to only have one username and a more standard platform. If it is anything to Xbox Live or even Nintendo WiFi, then it will be a good service. Supposedly it's free, and there's never a complaint for that. If this service is worth anything, then we should see some pressing competition from Microsoft.

Bluetooth is what a lot of people are missing with the PS3. I see the question, "Why would you need seven boomerang controllers?" That's just a misunderstanding of Bluetooth. The spec is 7 bluetooth devices. So it could potentially support Bluetooth Cameras, Keyboards, Mice, PDAs...the list could go on. It's for peripherals, not seven-player games. For those who might ask, the PSP is NOT Bluetooth, it uses 802.11b. This is probably why a wireless card is in the PS3. But if you don't have a PSP, then the wireless function is only useful if you don't wire your house (which is a mistake, wireless access isn't stable enough for online gaming of this magnitude).

The new Resistance (f.k.a. I-8) game looks appealing, and I'm curious to see how fun Gran Turismo Vision will be. None of the other offerings (Killzone, DMC4, SoCom, Metal Gear Solid, etc.) interest me at all. To me, the Playstation brand has provided the best RPGs, so I'll need to see FFXIII or Xenosaga 4 to get really excited.

For me, the PS3 is a mixed bowl of excitement, but my perception of it is getting better. Going balls out for it like we did with the disappointing PS2 seems like it would be a mistake. I'm proceding with caustion, and recommend that everyone else do the same.

But with 3 fantastic systems available this year, hopefully gaming will be revitalized and gain more players. acquired! now points to this blog. Hopefully I will have time in the future to build a whole website, which this blog being the main feature. Nothing too fancy, just maybe a gallery of my systems and setup, some useful links and links to my profiles on other popular sites, and anything else related to gaming I can think of.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Maybe I'm going to have reason to play the PS2! And possibly a new website...

Well, I've really wanted to play Shadow of the Colossus, so I just barely bought it off someone on Ebay. I'll be sure to to post my opinion of the game after I've played it a bit. Hopefully it's not a mistake going in with high expectations, but it received good reviews and a lot of positive comments.

I've been thinking that I need to make a website again. I'll probably be at my job for quite a while, so I'm not so concerned about having my domain being found by potential employers (due to my email address). Of course, I could always buy yet another domain, but I don't know if that is necessary. I would like to have different sites for personal and gaming content. We'll see.

Showing off my semi-ghetto rig would be entertaining, too. It's not that I couldn't afford to make it nicer...the problem is I don't own the house I live in. So I don't want to get too crazy. Plus I don't know how long I will live there.

In any case, I really need the upcoming weekend. Hopefully there's some good gaming for everyone regardless of preferred platform!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Burnout Revenge, Feeding Frenzy, and Jewel Quest

In my last post, I mentioned Burnout Revenge. I have the 360 version, and I must say it is the best version I've played yet. The damage models, features, and online play totally sell the game. In my opinion, this serious is the best in the racing genre, because you don't just try not to crash and drive in circles most of the time (like in PGR, Grand Turismo, and Forza). Here, crashing and wrecking are the highlights.

Playing the game after playing Full Auto makes a gamer want to rip the "most destructive racing game ever" subtitle from Full Auto. The physics, graphics, and especially sound throttle BR way beyond FA, and that's without artillery, just driving skills. Not to mention that most of the cars in BR are hot.

Being able to record any part of the events played is an excellent feature as well. Then a gamer can share his/her most destructive moments with their XBL pals. I'm hoping my amazing catapult off a semi trailer will be seen by someone! It was also interesting to see what other "burners" around the world recorded. Nice feature!

Overall, the only thing that disappoints me about BR is that after a crash, the damage is no longer tallied with "expense" baloons on the post-crash overview. That gave the crasher a sense of personal accomplishment, but the focus now seems to be on the physical resulting damage. Still, crash mode is the most amusing, especially with friends.

To me, Burnout Revenge is near perfect. Definitely a must for anyone that likes cars and destruction.


I also tried out Feeding Frenzy and Jewel Quest on XBLA. Jewel Quest is more of the same-old Hexic/Bejeweled style games. FF on the other hand, is a completely new style for XBLA (at the moment). Essentially, the player portrays a fish that has to keep eating in order to grow and move up the food chain (to the top). One thumbstick and two buttons are all that is required, and the game's main idea is just to avoid getting eaten by a bigger predator until the player's fish becomes big enough to eat the predators. There's not much to it really.

I can't really say either of these games is a must-buy. Play the demos, and if you think you'll get your money's worth out of it, go ahead and buy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gaming slump

I think I'm actually burning out on gaming. The biggest problem is I have several games that I haven't even had a chance to play through yet, and I'm waiting for a few of the upcoming titles. Maybe I just need to take a break from racing, FPS, and oldschool titles for a while, and pick up an RPG. I need to finish Xenosaga II, but how the game is setup drives me nuts (not to mention it's on PS2). The story is great, but the gameplay is so obnoxious I'm considering cheating to get through some of the more annoying parts. I don't like cheating. Maybe FFXII will be a good recovery from Xeno's disappointment.

There wasn't really a chance for me to game last night (I wanted to continue my career on Burnout that game), but I was busy dissecting my "new" laptop so I could replace a hinge and solder in a new DC power jack. Furthermore, I'm distracted by the laptop since its main purpose is to be my "gaming" laptop. The couple of PC games I play and all the emulators I use hook up well to the 51" TV. AVP2 on the big screen is awesome, I just wish it had better gamepad support (analog functions aren't working for some reason). I still froth at the thought of AVP3 hitting the Xbox 360. It won't happen...but let me dream!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Xbox 360 is reliable...

It drives me a little nuts that people who know nothing about the Xbox 360 try to negatively comment about it. Supposedly, it overheats, crashes, has intrusive updates, and has no good games on it. This couldn't be further from the truth.

As I've said before, I understand as I was previously a Sony fanboy. I unknowingly didn't like gaming anymore because the PS2 wasn't providing me the entertainment I could have had with the other consoles. This realization came once I made the step to buy the other consoles, and I was gaming regularly again.

Now the tables have turned, I really try not to bash the PS3 as we know very little about it. However, as human nature, I cross my dislike of Sony and its products in general with reality and the PS3 on occasion. If I catch myself, I reword any comments that I post. The fact is, I still like some games provided only to the Playstation brand, so I know eventually there will be a PS3 in my living room.

To the point, my Xbox 360 has been the best device to grace my living room. I have not had a single crash. Problems I did have were specifically with Quake 4 and Perfect Dark Zero. I think twice through campaign mode in Quake 4 the game locked up and I had to restart the Xbox. With PDZ, it had a couple of weird bugs and also froze twice during campaign mode. However, Tiger Woods, Condemned, Full Auto, and Dead or Alive 4 have been played several hours each without a problem. Same goes with the games I play on Xbox Live Arcade.

With heat, the system does run slightly hot. This should be no surprise as the processor is a tri-core 3.2Ghz. Even 2.5Ghz P4 with Hyperthreading get extremely hot. Just look at the heatsink they have. However, I think the heat issue is more on the power supply. The power supply just needs to be in open space; mine is out of the way behind the entertainment center. Maybe putting it inside an entertainment center with little airflow or by a heating vent is a problem.

As far as updates, there have only been a couple, and they have not been intrusive whatsoever. Sure, I've had to wait a little bit before playing but generally not more than a couple of minutes. It's nothing like the PSP where games won't work on older firmware versions.

Talking games, I've only truly been disappointed with Perfect Dark Zero. I owned it for about a week, didn't bother getting through campaign mode and got bored. Quake 4 I played online a few rounds, but the campaign mode was the highlight; same for Call of Duty 2. Tiger Woods PGA has got the household playing together on many occasions and has been very entertaining. Full Auto is soon to follow, although I don't think it will have the entertainment value of Burnout Revenge (the Xbox version was already a blast).

There's my remarks against common negative 360 comments. My system is from launch day, and I've been really happy with it. The only bad thing is having to give my old Xbox to my girlfriend in exchange. But that has nothing to do with the 360.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Help Bluray and HD-DVD fail, for your own benefit

First of all, ask yourself why many of Sony's formats have failed. They are heavily proprietary. They are less convenient and more expensive. Not to mention that they don't play well with other equipment.

Before you get too excited about upcoming Bluray and HD-DVD discs, know that the movie studios are doing their best to make it as difficult for you as possible. The new formats will require HDCP and HDMI connections in order to display High Definition video. What does that mean?

What is HDCP?

From that definition, HDCP doesn't sound bad. It doesn't preventing copying. And it protects data. But the key term there is DVI interface. Not mentioned in the definition is also the HDMI interface. These are both different types of plugs in the back of your media devices, such as SVGA, RCA, or Component. In other words, HDCP cannot be used without one of these two interfaces.

HDMI Overview and Specs

Check out the fourth paragraph on the above link:

"Additionally, without support for HDCP, the video quality and resolution may be artificially downgraded by the signal source to prevent the end user from viewing or especially copying restricted content. "

In English, this means that your video quality will not be up to HD quality if you are not viewing it through an HDCP supported interface (in other words, DVD or HDMI). This holds true to both Bluray and HD-DVD; the picture quality will be purposely subpar if not used through an HDMI or DVI interface.

Now, in order to view HD content in the first place, you will need an HDTV. That is fairly easy since many HDTVs are dropping in price and we are seeing less SDTVs (Standard Definition Televisions). What you may not know, is many of the HDTVs available do not have DVI or HDMI inputs, but rather use Component connections (Red, Blue, and Yellow RCA-type connections). In effect, this means that an HDTV that you buy for well, HD, may not even be able to display video from HD-DVD or Bluray discs in High Definition!

Check the comments on the following link. Move down several, and users will start talking about problems they are having using their DVR equipment because of HDCP and not having HDMI inputs:

Check the comments on this article.

I find these comments a bit trustworthy since there is no issue of brand loyalty, just consumers having trouble with the annoying new technology. If you won't want to be one of those shafted consumers, I recommend avoiding HD-DVD and Bluray altogether. As said by several in the comments, DVI and HDMI are hardly any better than component anyway.