Games


Rockstar’s second episodic download for GTA: IV is coming in just two long weeks, and I anticipate this to be the best experience, probably outdoing The Lost and most certainly the original. This episodic brings with it the content which was, unfortunately, missing from GTA:IV. Coming back is the glitz of Vice City, the super-weapons of San Andreas, the all-purpose tank (re-imagined as a SWAT Tank, or APC), a larger variety of helicopters (including one based on the AH-6 Little Bird from Vice) and the parachutes for those dearly-missed BASE-jumping exercises.

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And, if that’s not all, we will now be able to experience Liberty City from yet another perspective. Niko was an OK character, certainly nothing stellar and sometimes just an asshole. Johnny was great, someone I could really enjoy playing as, but his was a dark world. Luis, the protagonist of the new game, will be the body-guard and assistant of the titular character, Anthony “Gay Tony” Prince. Seems like we’ll now be able to experience Liberty from a different vantage point. Some places, a tough biker or an immigrant mobster just can’t get into (at least, not without a fire-fight or an invite from double-crossing politicians).

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From the very magical intro to the wonderful presentation of such favorites as “Yellow Submarine”, “Octopus’s Garden” and of course “I Am the Walrus”, the game simply looks awesome. Gameplay is stellar, as usual for Rock Band titles, and the collection of Beatles songs makes it all the better. Single-player quickplay mode (that I’ve seen so far) is very nice, simply based on the fact that the songs start and end with the group in a recording studio, but the middle is taken over by elaborate and inventive (probably LSD based, hehe) animations, known as Dreamscapes.

My only gripe with the game is the small collection of songs, though of course I’ll try to remedy that by buying any and all additional tracks that are released.

Just another hour and I’ll be the proud – and happy! – owner of “The Beatles: Rock Band”. It’s the first music game I’m buying, so of course going for the full haul: drums, guitar and microphone. Well, it’ll add some much needed flavor to my place.

On a different topic, I’ve recently started using NoScript, a Firefox add-on that blocks scripts and Flash, making surfing both safer and faster. Seriously, I haven’t seen I Can Has Cheezburger? render so quickly in… ever! Not to mention that now all the ads are blocked and I can surf in peace.

This week at work is a bit hectic: all of my bugs have to be fixed by Friday/Monday. (It’s technically supposed to be Friday, but if I get them in my Monday then all’s good.) So that brings us to a bit of a dilemma. For the past half a year or so I haven’t been working on weekends. At all. Yeah, a huge achievement, considering that before that, for the past two years, I’ve been at work every single weekend.

So, here’s the dilemma: this weekend I’ve got scheduled a writing session, a fair amount of Lego Batman, the new Mass Effect expansion pack, the new Batman game, programming my ray tracer (of course). A packed weekend to be sure. But then, if I don’t get my bugs finished off by Friday, that means that all the plans go right out the window. Sigh.

More on the individual things I’ve got planned for the weekend:

  • An ex-coworker is organizing a writing session. For some of us it’s about planning for the next NaNoWriMo, for me it’s about just practicing writing short stories.
  • I’ve been playing Lego Batman for the past two weeks and it’s really a lot of fun, even for a silly kid’s game. And for a silly kid’s game, there are some interesting puzzles in the game. It’s taking a while to get everything there.
    lego-batman
  • A new expansion has been released for Mass Effect. It’s only 5$, so I don’t expect to spend a lot of time on it, but it’ll still be something new to experience. Can’t wait!
    mass_effect
  • The new Batman game, Arkham Asylum, is really quite amazing. I tried out the demo just an hour ago and I’m very impressed. From the looks of it, there’s a large amount of stealth – sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies and ambushing them while hanging upside down – as well as pure kick-ass fighting.
    batman-arkham-asylum
  • I’ve been doing quite a bit of coding on my ray tracer application, and this weekend should be no different: I’m trying to optimize the application so it’s viable to add interesting effects and construct complex scenes. ATM, it takes anywhere between 4 and 35 minutes to render a single pig (3D pig-shaped object consisting of 7,000 polygons). That’s way too damn slow, even considering that the rendering is occurring on a dinky old laptop and in managed code. So I’m implementing some accelerators, like k-d trees, lazy initialization and caching some frequently-accessed data.
    computer-ray-tracing

If only I could squeeze in a few other things, like dim sum, reading (haven’t been reading for a while now), getting mildly drunk, watching a movie, watching a movie while getting mildly drunk, etc. Ah, wishful thinking. Ooh, maybe Labor Day weekend. 🙂

Big Lebowski

First impressions on “Saints Row 2”, which I picked up this weekend. First off, comparing Saints to GTA4 – which is something that’s pretty much inevitable – illustrates the basic differences between the two games: GTA is much more “realistic”, while Saints is very arcady, both in graphics, controls, characters, etc. Now, this mini review is probably best done with a bullet-list, so let’s get on with it:

  • The graphics are pretty crappy, a distant step behind GTA4 and almost like something from a last-gen game
  • Driving is arcady: cars go from 0 to 60 in a second, stop on a dime, corner at any speed and behave ridiculously when colliding with objects
  • The game is entirely too easy: health auto-regenerates, the cops are push-overs, drive-through confessionals remove your wanted level instantly, etc.
  • Diversions like drive-by missions or ambulance missions are too easy: the first one gives you unlimited ammo, the second one is impossible to lose. Nothing like the similar activities from the GTA franchise, which were an actual challenge.

That being said, the game is actually a lot of fun. As long as you like your fun to be simple and semi-mindless. Often times I just sit down for a short rampage around the city, popping gang-members from behind human shields, or using electric paddles on unsuspecting citizens.

These two activities are actually particularly fun and have something of hidden surprises. While using a cop as a shield, the cops sometimes say – softly – “shoot the hostage”, which I think is just a great reference. And if you’re using the paddles, you can have some interesting fun with them: use the paddles to kill a person, then shock them back to life, only to kill them again. There’s actually no limit to this, as you can kill/resurrect a character as many times as you want.

Aside from these two activities, there is quite a lot of stuff to do. So far I’ve participated in a “Cops”-style reality-TV show, attacked people with a Taser pistol, explored an underground cavern (certainly something that GTA4 doesn’t have), high-jacked a police tank-like vehicle, tried BASE jumping, and created a character strikingly-similar to Greg House. Fun stuff.

For the un-initiated, bug triage refers to meetings that are held between two parties, where the subject is bugs. One party is there to push for a bug to be fixed, another party is pushing against that. The latter party’s motivations can be varied, but they’re usually along the lines of “not important”, “too destabilizing”, “too expensive” (in terms of time, personnel or whatever), etc. The former party’s motivations… well, these are varied. I’ve had bugs assigned to me that I’ve lumped into the “font is too blue” category. These are literally bugs that concern themselves with such inconsequentials as the color of the font or background, or (a real bug I had to fix) the width of a column in a data-table.

These meetings usually go like this:

  1. Customers say that without bug A being fixed, the product is unusable
  2. The Dev’s point out that there is a work-around, or the Customer is being an idiot for either using the product wrong or expecting it to do something it’s not supposed to
  3. Customers complain some more
  4. Dev’s say there’s not enough resources
  5. Customers grumble something and move along, defeated

I would have loved to be at Rockstar while they were triaging GTA: IV bugs!

There must have been a few hooker-related bugs:

  • “Hookers don’t appear at correct times”
  • “Hookers in Bohan, on the intersection of M and N streets, don’t perform oral sex”

Some must have dealt with the visceral violence:

  • “Increase blood-spray from rifle shot by 25%”
  • “A pedestrian was pinned against a wall by a garbage truck, didn’t die. Please investigate.”

And a few must have been just… different:

  • “Character’s penis is the wrong color” [“The Lost and Damned”, the first expansion pack, includes “full frontal male nudity”.]
  • “Helicopters keep falling out of the sky. Please investigate the pilot AI.” [This one actually happens, so I guess they didn’t fix it.]

A few hours ago I finally reached 100% completion of GTA:IV. What does this mean? It simply states that I’ve completed all missions and finished all the minor to-do’s, like meeting all important NPC’s, finding 200 hidden “packages” – which just happened to be pidgeons, and to “find” one I had to “shoot” it with a “gun” – and other minutiae.

Along with the 100% completion, I’ve got some other minor statistics:

  • 845 game points gained through 41 out of 50 achievements – the rest of the achievements are “complete the game in less than 30 hours” and multiplayer miscellany
  • Current money – 948,329$ (had 1 million at some point)
  • Times busted – 2
  • Times died – 57
  • People killed – 1718
  • Playing time – 97:26:04
  • Addiction level – Intervention Time (this is one of the statistics for the game, I kid you not)
  • Days passed [in the game] – 187
  • Cars stolen – 887
  • People run down – 1475
  • Miles on foot – 145.56
  • Miles by car – 1165.46
  • Bullets fired – 24,592
  • Verhicles blown up – 234

Now, I do have to mention that I also spent countless hours just messing around in GTA, not bothering to save after a series of rampages that put me in the hospital a dozen times and depleted all my ammo. That’s probably a quarter of the time listed above, and likely with more kills.

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