Lesson Learned

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One thing I've remember to do in Star Ocean: The Last Hope is to talk to people. It's easy to talk to everyone once. But I'm finally remembering the lessonthat often in games like these you need to talk to everyone after every major story event. All of the sudden the person who was just rambling now has something they need or need done. And it may not be until the fourth time you chat them up, having heard a story that felt like it was leading somewhere. Of course, this is a tremendous time suck, but you do get a decent amount of xp, plus I just got the 'do 60% of side quests' achievement. I'm not worried about more since I know the 100% is out of reach.

Anyway, I've reachedthe very near end, where thankfully you're given a warp to go anywhere, though if you go back more than one planet you have to swap discs. And sadly, you still have to go back to your ship every time to make items. I'm also about to attempt beating the #1 ranked competitor at the solo battle tournament with Reimi. She's a good choice as her bow lets her stay out of harm's way for physical attacks and it's faster than symbology. With items making her immune to silence and voidand regenerating 5% HP and 2% MP every half-minute so so, she's pretty solid.Tack onthe auto-healing skill that gives back about 3% of her HP every few seconds, and she's golden. Sadly,the full tournamenttakes so long I don't think I'll bother with team.

Anyway, summer TV is really in full swing. I went from having nothing to having 6½ hours weekly within about 10 days. Big Brother is almost half of that, with Torchwood, Rizzoli & Isles, Breaking Bad, and Curb Your Enthusiam filling out the rest. Big Brother's been great so far, though it sucks Evel Dick had to bail. The second episode of Torchwood was clearly a money-saving 'bottle show' with few effects or locations, but had some very interesting moral and medical thoughts about what nobody dying would really do to us, especially when/if the sudden immortality gets fixed. Rizzoli & Isles honestly had a season premiere that was fair at best, falling into the category I've griped about before: when you have a 'shockwave' cliffhanger as a season finale, you're stuck dealing with it later, and it often means an episode way out of kilter from most. CYE is a slow start, and what circumstances will find the heavily publicized trip to NYC have yet to reveal themselves. As for Breaking Bad, it's just as amazing and jaw-droppingly good as ever; luckily for actors who aren't Bryan Cranston, they missed this year's Emmy eligibility period, so someone else will get a turn—and Giancarlo Esposito was crazy good last night.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Invent This!

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Curb Your Enthusiasm just kicked off season 8 Sunday night. It was a decent, but not great episode, as first episodes tend to be for the show. There's usually an episode or two getting all the season plot arcs set, which this season will involve going to NYC for an extended period. Anyway, Gary Cole is always a welcome guest, and I'll be looking forward to the rest of the season.

As for Star Ocean: The Last Hope, it been pretty enjoyable. The knock of some very annoying characters is spot on, as it's a bit extreme even by JRPG standards. A 15-year-old girl who talks like a 7-year-old and ends every other sentence with 'kay? starts agitating exactly as fast as you think. There's no denying bang for the buck here, as I'm 40 hours in and only just started the second of three discs. There are side quests galore (almost too many), and the other day I spent several hours doing nothing but delivering on quests, as most involve getting items or creating them for people. Either way, the side quests and ability to do what you want for a while immediately makes clear how deficient Final Fantasy XIII was. And many are worth significant money and XP.

The only real negative to the game is the quest/item creation implementation. On one hand, I never felt like I fullyunderstoodinventing new recipes in PS2's Star Ocean: Til the End of Time; here, it's well taught to you, and even if it's somewhat out of your hands, you know who to put together to get what types of objects. The problem is that while Til the End of Time hadrecipe invention/item creationlocations all over the place, here it's only available on your ship. Can you say backtracking endlessly? Before if you had the materials to make a requested item it was simple to get to make it, while now it may take five–ten minutes of running back to the ship and then equal time running back to make delivery.

Still, combat is fun and lots of strategies can be used. There's a ton of battle trophies to get, though they're tough as often you have to control the character to count progress towards them. And often to ensure you defeat who you need to and not have kills 'stolen', you need to shut off the other characters, which is kind of stupid; I'd kind of rather 50 trophies that didn't rely on nonsense like that instead of 100 where many do. The only thing I don't care for is how fast the three characters you don't control burn up their MP on special maneuvers, and there's not much leeway. You can tell them to fight freely or fight freely without MP usage, but there's no middle ground (a "don't use MP against weaker enemies" would be great). I've also got the full battle tournament open to me now, so that's hours of mindless battling if I choose. All in all, it's been a wise purchase to get this.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

You're Our only Hope

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Since last time I've wrapped up (or at least played) a trio of games...

Little Big Planet was a pretty short game, but it was fun. Not thrilled about all the stickers/components/et.al. that are dependant on co-op, but for those who want them there are still plenty of players, I'm guessing partly due to the influx of people like me who got it for Welcome Back.

Dead Nation was not overly spectacular, and I quit a little less than halfway through. The difficulty is punishingly stupid, and I wasonly at thethird of five available. Toomuch reliance on cheap tactics, like enemies spawning behind you. Toss in darkness that makes it easy for a straggling zombie to sneak in on you and kill you without you ever knowing it was there and it's all too disappointing. The sound mix also has a bug that actively hampers your progress, as I'd hear a zombie's footfalls from my rear-right speaker only to be attacked from the left. Also, my fault for expecting a cheaper, less fleshed-outDead Rising/Resident Evil experience rather than a top-down 2D shooter.

Prototype got endlessly compared with inFamous. Having now recently played both, I can say Prototype has a far superior and more memorable story, with an inventive mechanic of consuming individuals to gain access to their memories to learn backstory. That said, inFamous is the far superior game. Prototype is littered with annoyances like a gnat that endlessly circles your head, never going away. The Manhattan map is far too big to not have some auto-travel mechanism, though at least even if you've never been to NYC, if you played GTA IV you can navigate with ease. There are almost too many moves, and while the parkour aspect is fun, all too often you don't 'get' to use parkour, but are 'stuck using' parkour'; namely, in timed events where you need to melee tanks you're forever accidentallyjumping atop them or kicking yourself away, losing precious seconds of time. There's also landmark orbs and hint globes to collect, but what qualifies as a landmark in most cases should be designated 'random hidden orb', while the hints are often things a small child would have figured on their own even if the game hadn't already specifically told you the technique several hours ago. The achievements are a little poor, with the same10 GS assigned to many tasks despite widely different difficulties in attaining them, while another offered for completing several missons without a military alert would be more palatable if at least half the missions didn't have scripted alerts. It was afun game overall, and I still recommend it at the less than $20 pre-owned it can be found for, but needed a tad more polish.

This means I've finally gotten to Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It should take a nice bit of time, and I have the time with little to buy this summer but Catherine, plus I'll join the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta tomorrow. I'm still on the first bit, with only two characters (who seem destined for love) and not having access to many types of powers or item creation. If there's one thing JRPGs love, it's recipes and item creation. anyway, my first impression is very positive. The status menus are very much like for Final Fantasy XIII, the visuals well-improved over Star Ocean: Til the End of Time, and combat offering deep tactics for those who want to learn them all.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Cutting the Cord

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I can't believe I forgot this last blog, but the biggest news I had lately is saying goodbye to Verizon. I just have no need for a landline anymore. Since DirecTV only needs a phone line for pay-per-view movies, and I've not ordered one in the near-decade I've been with them, there was no reason not to dump my landline and save $50/month. I also think I'm saying goodbye to Entertainment Weekly. My subscription ran out last week, and anymore they're just too far behind the news curve. Besides that during commercials I'm now far more likely to grab my iPhone to catch up on entertainemnt news than grab EW to read entertainment news, the Charlie Sheen affair got me thinking about leaving. They had a big article that was about three developments behind by the time it hit my mailbox. Factor in my being far less interested in movies than I used to be and there's just too little appeal anymore. I may get their Must List app for my iPhone, however.

In gaming, I wrapped up Beowulf: The Game. It stayed fairly mediocre until the end. Luckily, it was only about eight hours of mediocrity to endure. The final of the game's three acts only takes about 15 minutes, zipping you through the last 20% of the game with incredible speed: a boss fight where you're essentially invincible if you know what you're doing, followed by what breaks down to essentially a quick-time event conclusion. I also seem to have made the same mistake many have made: Sean Bean is not in the game (or original movie) at all. Apparently it's some other guy whom the CGI made look nearly exactly like the more well-known Mr. Bean and explains why I was certain why I never heard his voice.

I've now decided to tackle the Welcome Back gifts from Sony. I'm first doing Little Big Planet. It's one of those games that from the opening credits you can tell will be unlike any other you've played before. There's a lot of good stuff there, and it's very creative. Even more creative are the over four million user-created levels out there, though many focus on telling a story (often based on a TV show; there's NCIS, Doctor Who, and Seinfeld levels galore, and I'm guessing most popular shows people have borrowed from) rather than having real game play, and admittedly some are kind of cute. Others you just run fast and embedded music notes play songs as you run past; I 'played' one of those that used Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal". Also, the spelling in the descriptions of the majority of community content would make a first grade teacher weep. As for the real game, it's not overly difficult, though having to restart the entire level because I died four times after a checkpoint is a blast from the past, and I'm not sure it's a good one. While it's fun and often has a Katamari Damacy type craziness, the need to do some co-op to get all the goodies on a level is a buzzkill, and friction/inertia fail you when you need it most. It's way too easy to slide helplessly after a jump and over an edge to your death.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Nightmares

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A lot going on since last time:

  • I wrapped up L.A. Noire, at least the full main game. I also went around and got all the golden film reels and did the leftover street crimes. I then bought the Rockstar Pass for the game and did the badge hunt challenge. I'll wait to do the cases it gives me until all four are released, then do them all at once. It was fun from start to finish, and hopefully at least a sequel-in-spirit will come out at some point, as Rockstar nailed this type of storytelling as much as they did the western in Red Dead Redemption.
  • Speaking of, I took a few days to finally do the RDR: Undead Nightmare DLC. It was pretty fun, and I was able to 100% it without a ton of difficulty. The combat is really fast-paced and you'll need dead-eye for the vast majority of your kills. The undead swarm at you in large numbers and very quickly. Luckily, you're given more dead-eye to work with, as only headshots get kills.
  • I'm now onto Beowulf: The Game, which I'd picked up for $5 at Five Below. I still feel ripped off. Maybe not quite, but there's no escaping that it's a bad game. Endless repetition, every area is relentlessly dim and dark, making navigating even the one way you're able to go a chore, and a poor save system. I had retry one area a few times right after hitting an "upgrade marker" to beef my skills, but it doesn't save after your upgrades, so I had to remember to repurchase them every time—so stupid. The game's so cheap that when it's in your tray, there's not even a 'play game'image for it at your dashboard, just the mini pic-in-pic gamercard icon at lower right of the window. Lucikly, it's apparently under ten hours to play, which my play time and completion percentage seem on track for, and even on the tougher Legendary difficulty, it's not so bad.
  • I'm also hoping to stick to my 'retirement' from CoD: MW2. I got myself back to the top 100,000 on the accuracy leaderboard (out of over 17,000,000), which seemed a decent place to be done. I've got a backlog of games to tackle and this will free some time. I'd like to knock a few out before the must buy trio of Elder Scrolls V, MW3, and Uncharted 3 hit the shelves in November. It seems a blessing that Silent Hill: Downpour is delayed.

In TV, I'm just marking my time until Big Brother and mi amore Julie Chen start back up in a few weeks. Thanks to A&E, I'm still catching what few remaining Criminal Minds episodes I've not seen yet, plus they've had some of my favorites lately, like "North Mammon" and "Sex, Birth, Death". Now if I could just get them to stop showing Lola Glaudini episodes and only showPaget Brewster episodes, we'd be all set!

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Social Studies

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I've advanced to the last desk of L.A. Noire, the Arson Desk. I stopped after an auto-save following completing a street crime, so can't say how they play out yet. I will say that I dislike there only being an auto-save, as this game continues the disturbing trend of games just auto-saving without giving you the chance to alternate between two or three saves. I get that it's probably to stop you from reloading and retrying every time you make a bad accusation in an interview to get a coveted five-star case rating, but disaster recovery should trump that; anyone who's been through the corrupt save issues of Fallout 3 or had power cut out in themiddle of a save due to a carhitting a utility polecan tell you that. Only having one save file is a dangerous game to play.

I've finally thought of a good comparision to highlight the game's one short-coming, which is that the interrogations suffer the same failing as cross-examinations in the Phoenix Wright series. With often a dozen clues, depending how you think and how much you think, any number of them could perhaps reasonably make at least adecent case to prove someone's lying, but that game doesn't consider it strong enough proof, so you should only doubt the interviewee, not accuse them of lying.

Add to that the fact that even when I make the correct truth/doubt/liedecision I often can't tell from the response given exactly why I was correct, and interrogation is really tough. I think it's also because you want to think every little eye twitch or glance is a sign of deceit, when it could just be nerves or their natural demeanor. I am willing to say a lot of the incorrect face-reading is my shortcoming, but it's still frustrating.

I've run into a few more familar faces. The mayor of Los Angeles is the guy who 'fired' Kramer from the company he never really worked for to begin with in a Seinfeld episode. Crime syndicate boss Mickey Cohen is played by Patrick Fischler; you may not recognize the name, but you'll know him on sight. I also have to give kudos to Heroes' Greg Grunberg, who's made his Twitter account's avatar his character from the game, Hugo Moller. If you've done/saved an #lanoire search on Twitter, you know he gets a tweet an hour from the gaming world telling him how great he was.

I also finally signed up for this Rockstar Games Social Club thing. It's fairly interesting, and it seems with each game they give it more oomph and give more and better metrics, both from an individual and community standpoint. For this game they have all manner of information, from the total number of criminals shot by the community (over 30 million in less than a week) to a complete case-by-case breakdown showing everything and everybody about every case you've solved. There's also a 100% checklist map to show you landmarks and such you may still need to 'collect'. I wish they'd go back and do one for GTA IV, as I'd love to know where that 200th pigeon I've yet to find is. They also have neat Social Club only challenges for Red Dead Redemption. If you have any of these games, I'd recommend going and signing up.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Two in the Bush

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So, lots of interesting TV news this week:

Lisa Edelstein leaving House. I honestly don't care. I watch for the medical mystery, not 'Huddy'. She's a perfectly cromulent character, and probably in the top 10 sexiest women on TV, but I won't really miss her. Hope there's some resolution to her exit for the fans, though, rather than a throwaway "oh, yeah, she left" in the S8 premiere. House is the one show I could have be just a guy's club. If they ditched Chase, fast-tracked Thirteen's Huntington's,and had just House, Wilson, Foreman, and the awesome Taub saving patients, I'd be perfectly happy.

Rules of Engagement to air on... Saturday? That's an interesting move. No new scripted show has aired on Saturday here in the U.S. since 2004. If it gets even partway decent numbers, it could usher the return of that night to networks' good graces.

Catherine the Great. As I'd long suspected, news reports citing various inside sources are now starting to surface that Catherine "the Great" Tate is indeed the producers' first choice to be the new boss on The Office. I really hope this can get done; she'll be an amazing asset, assuming anyone's still watching to enjoy her. Judging by the ratings, there's a lot of people who can't get past Steve Carell being gone.

I did complete Call of Duty: World at War to my satisfaction. I'd love to go grab the two 30GS achievements for doing the last two levels on Veteran at some point, but the roughly 850 I have is plenty fine. Unfortunately, since I don't have the two maps packs, but they're stupidly still counted in my potential, that ends up being out of 1500GS, so it mucks my percentage a bit.

As for thefantastic L.A. Noire, I've wrapped up the Traffic desk and moved on to Homicide. Lots of familiar faces so far, like Daniel "Arzt on Lost" Roebuck and Michael B. "Secret Serviceagent Calleigh liked on CSI: Horatio" Silver. My current partner is Southland's Michael McGrady. And if I didn't already know Greg Grunberg came along at some point, I'd have been tipped off by the person who tweeted about having "Ken Cosgrove interview Matt Parkman. #madmen #heroes." It's amazing how much having real faces immerses you like no other game has done before. It's also gritty in a way few games have ever been; while breasts usually don't make it into M-rated games, here there's been a completely full-frontal nude female corpse (who as an added 'bonus' has profanity written on her). I'm still working on solving her murder, though it's becoming clear that in the 40s, higher-ups cared less about getting the right guy than just pinning it on somebody.

Also, telling shades of truth is getting more difficult.Recognizing that someone is telling the truth is fairly easy still, but doubing someone versus accusing them of lying isa thorny issue. If you haveironclad evidence to dispute what a witness or suspect says, then you accuse them of lying; if you simply think they're lying based on their reactions, but don't have evidence, you can doubt them. But often the evidence is not 100% obvious (at least if you're not a detective in real-life, I suppose), and you have to take your best shot. Either way, there are usually multiple avenues to get the information you need. Some crimes you can work out yourself what's happened before you get all that evidence; I'm guessing the game will make that more difficult or set traps for you to fall into based on the expectation that the less careful among us will play hunches that are ultimately incorrect.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

People Keep Wanting to Give Me Things

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First off, if you're curious about inFamous 2 (especially since Sony will be giving away the original in its Welcome Back program) check out my preview article on Doylestown Patch. And if you want great hyper-local news, see if your neighborhood is on Patch yet. They're expanding all the time!

Secondly, if you don't have L.A. Noire yet, run to the store and get it now. It really is amazing. I wrapped up the tutorial beat-cop bit yesterday and got bumped up to detective, starting on the traffic desk. Right now telling when people are lying is pretty easy, but as the game goes on the tells that people elicit on their mannerisms will get tougher to detect. I'm midway through the first case; I'd be further, but I keep letting myself get side-trackedwith pop-up street crimes (which generally involve firefights) that award XP. Music, great; atmosphere, great; graphics, great; realistic faces, greater than great. There's a few minor kinks, like that the cars steer wildly with the slightest stick move (but I'll get that down, I'm sure). I was also chasing a perp (who some may recognize as the treasury agent Calleigh had a playful banter with in several episodes of CSI: Horatio a few years back) and the game popped up instructions how to aim and fire my gun. "Super," I thought, "I'll cap him in the lower leg and apprehend him", but when I did I was told I failed the mission because I injured the suspect. Why would it show me how to use my gun if I wasn't allowed to use it? I do love that the cars are real instead of the made-up names like in GTA games; whether that means they licensed them or that 65-year old cars are public domain I'm not sure, but it's nice all the same. There's something more real about getting into a Buick or Chrysler than aWillard or Maibatsu. And a city has never looked as real as L.A. does—truly breathtaking.

I was also happy to discover that even though I hadn't pre-ordered, when I got home I found the Best Buy pre-order bonus inside the box, the Sharpshooter Suit that increases your aim with rifles and pistols. That was just freebie icing on the cake compared to the Sony Welcome Back program, that luckily has games I'm interested in acquiring. For certain I'll be taking Little Big Planet; then it's either Dead Nation or Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty, more likely the former. To top it off, I got an unexpected bonus at the Panera Bread next to the Best Buy. I had already decided I'd grab a bear claw from the bakery when I left. But when I ordered my Napa Almond Chicken Salad sandwich, I was told that since I got a drink, too, that I could get any pastry for 99¢ (it's normally $2.39). Score!

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Redeemed

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Well, Survivor: Redemption Islandwas no surprise who won, as it's doubtful anybody's everdeserved to win the competition as much as Boston Rob did. It was a master class in how to play the game, though it should've been since it was his fourth go around. It'll be tough to ever top this season for awesomeness. The control BR had on everyone was near frightening, but thatwhen everyone gavetheir opening statements at the final Tribal Council, even Natalie and Phillip just gave reasons Rob deserved to win, it was pretty impressive. Poor Natalie was out of her element, and Ralph really called her out on looking to at Rob before almost every time she opened her mouth; she was looking for guidance that Rob was no longer going to be giving her. No surprise at all that the Redemption Island concept is sticking around; it really was a best twist they've ever had and adds a new layer of strategy to voting people off. I'll be curious to discover who the two former player coming back are for the fall. Coach and Phillip? Or maybe two women? Stephenie and Cerie?

Sadly, I've hit a huge bump in Call of Duty: World at War. I'll likely have to restart the penultimate mission on Regular difficulty to advance. There's this part that every place I look to for advice, every forum agrees on one thing: destroying these Flak-88s is possibly the cheapest, most stupidly unfair sequence in all gaming (especially on Veteran). Endlessly spawning Nazis who also spam grenades endlessly make it virtually impossible to advance. Toss in that I'm on the second Flak-88 and everyone says the other two are even harder and I've got better uses of my time. This has to get finished by tomorrow, since that's L.A. Noire day, and if I'm not done WaW I'll likely nevergo back.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Flame On!

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As a sucker for punishment, I just completed the Burn 'em Out level of Call of Duty: World at War... with just a flamethrower... on Veteran. I only did so because there's an achievement to complete a level with just flamethrower and here you start out with one. In truth, it would have been much easier to play through on Veteran using my gun, then came back later on an easier difficulty and done the flamethrower bit, but that somehow felt wrong and a tad sissyish. It sucked as the Japs' bullets go further than your flames, so you need a little luck, some well timed grenades, and prayer that a checkpoint is coming soon.

In MW2 news, luckily it seems Infinity Ward released the patch yesterday to cure the wave of hacking, which is great to hear. I've also heard it fixes the bug on Fuel that allows a rock to be entered. Can't confirm that personally.

I'm also happy that Pennsylvania's Wine and Spirits Shoppes now suck a little less than they used to. I'd heard of Brazil's national drink, the caipirinha, over Huffington Post a month ago. Then a Detour on The Amazing Race on Sunday involved making them on Copacabana beach, so I decided to try to find some cachaça. Not only did I find it, but our liquor stores now have all manner of things they didn't have even 18 months ago: maraschino (which I special ordered one time), chartreuse (both yellow and green), orange-colored curaçao (which I'm still suspicious of since far too many people think triple sec and curaçao are the same—they are not). It looks like the need to take the 20 minute drive to New Jersey to find some things for summer cocktail season may be a thing of the past! Anyway, the caipirinhaI made from the Mr. Boston recipe was on the tart side, but the recipes on Wikipedia and the Huff Post article use more sugar and less lime, so I'll try that next. I may also watch that Detour again, because I know they mentioned a recipe on air.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!