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mechberg Blog

From Now On...

... I will only respond to my new nickname: MechBerg.

TIA.

P.S. -- Oh, and can someone please make a picture of a Mechberg and send it to me? I'll return the favor by sending my favorite entry a prize.

Fake Album Art Rules

I saw this Internet meme running around earlier today and thought I'd give it a shot: a fascinating and gloriously time-killing way to make fake album art for bands that never existed. Here's the three-step formula:

1) Your band's name comes from title of the first article on the Wikipedia random articles page.

2) The title of your album comes from the last four words of the final quote on the random quotations page.

3) Your album cover is the third item on Flickr's interesting photos page.

Choose a font and a color scheme in Photoshop and voila! you can call yourself an album cover designer. Here's a couple of examples I whipped up in just a few minutes:

The serependitious poingancy of both of these randomly generated albums is startling to me. And "spaces surrounded by teeth" is a great name for a metal CD.

Give it a try and see what you come up with.

08 Cool Things at CES 08

Just returned in from CES 08 last night. This year's show was light on games but that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of cool stuff to see. Here's a glimpse:

01. The Dual View System from DLP Technologies. Back when I was a kid, Texas Instruments was known for cruddy calculators and a huge corporate campus in Dallas. Now, annoying commercials aside (why is that little girl standing with an elephant!?), DLP is doing cool stuff with game displays; case in point, the Dual View System. It's hard to explain without seeing it but essentially it allows two game images (running out of two separate game systems) to be superimposed on the same screen. Then, wearing special goggles (which felt more like sunglasses, really) one player can differentiate his or her game, and the other player, the other image. It's cool stuff and, while not necessarily technology I would personally use, you've got to admire the technical genius behind it.

02. The fact that I got to play Simbin's WTCC on a kick-ass PC, complete with a curved display monitor that's reminiscent of the old Sega arcade racing game Ferrari 355 Challenge and one of the nicest pedal-wheel combos I've ever tried. The manufacturer, ECCI, makes this Trackstar 6000 model wheel and pedal setup and the feel of the metal construction is excellent. I want.

03. One of our Las Vegas cab drivers who, immediately upon finding out that we worked in the videogame industry, asked us if we knew if anyone was making "erotic" videogames. Okay, that's not really cool. But it was creepy. As all hell.

04. LittleBigPlanet. Do I need to explain?

05. This guy:

I forget his name but he's the mascot for Sony's upcoming free-to-play online RPG-for-youngsters, Free Realms. Because nothing says "kids game" like a cross-dressing goblin.

06. Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. Because... well, because of this:

07. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Sorry, I can talk much about this game because of embargos but this one could be one to look out for later this year. Check back for more info on this game towards the end of the month.

08. The BMW Sauber F1 Pit Lane Park, which was located just outside the confines of the Las Vegas Convention Center. For a Formula One geek like myself, this was a miniature slice of heaven--a theme park of sorts that let you get up close and personal with F1 car technology, check out what it's like to work in an F1 pit crew (you could even change a tire on an F1 model car), and even check out demonstration drives of Formula BMW cars, motorcycles, and even an all-too brief drive of BMW's F106 model, driven by Graham Rahal, son of legendary American driver, Bobby Rahal. For me, however, the pinnacle came when I ran into this guy:



That's Steve Matchett, one-third of Speed Channel's Formula One broadcasting team which, in my opinion, is the best play-by-play group working in sports today. Matchett is a former Formula One engineer and inarguably one of my heroes, both for his technical expertise and his skill at explaining the extremely compicated world of F1 tech in a way that even non-gearheads like myself can understand and enjoy. I ran into him completely by accident at the BMW event, and immediately forced my camera into the hands of a stranger (whom, in retrospect, I don't think spoke English) and insisted he take our picture. See that dorky looking smile on my face? That's called racing-nerd love.

Voices in the Box 002

Hi folks, as promised, here's the second episode of Voices in the Box, this one a special hour-long holiday-themed edition. I hope you enjoy.

[video=J3MwkWf_5bwPuTfa]

The above format is designed for the GameSpot video player, though there really isn't video to speak of in the program. If you just want the audio-only MP3 version of VIB 002, you can find it here.

Previous Episodes:

Voices in the Box 001: video, MP3.

Voices in the Box #002 -- The Trailer

Yes, I've been home all week, taking some much-needed vacation. But that doesn't mean I haven't been hard at work...

[video=IiQ1kWes5bwOsjXc]

And if you have no idea what this is, check out Episode 001 (video, mp3).

VIB 002 coming this Friday. Merry Christmas.

Liveblog (well sorta): Gran Turismo 5 Prologue

Okay so I just managed to get Gran Turismo 5 Prologue installed on our Japanese PS3 here in the office and I've been playing it for about an hour and I've been taking notes the whole time, preparing for a hands-on preview with the game. Then I thought, "Well why not share my notes and observations with you folks out there so you can experience the game along with me as I go?" Good idea, right?

So here's my "live" semi-blog of the Japanese version of GT5 Prologue, which I'll be updating up until the game's appearance on today's On the Spot. Apologies for the incoherency of the postings. I'm kinda excited.

Here's what I have so far:

[2:53 p.m.]

Alfa event back in London

12-car race

ok this isn't a traditional race
it's time trial with other cars on the track

1:20 for bronze
1:08 silver
1:05 gold

start out iwth best lap 1:11
can't beat that I think

10 minute event
as many laps as you can

lots of differnet models here... could I use something other than Alfa
1:10 on final lap wooo

okay got a bronze and 1,230,000 credits

back to C-1 events to earn more cash so I can afford Suzuki Swift
head to C ****Swift event...

At Suzuka short... start from pits
another time trial match

1:05 bronze, 1:04 silver, 1:02 gold
best lap 1:04.692... so close!

[2:08 p.m.]

Someone said damage is in this game. Nuh uh. These cars look pristine no matter how many times you hit them.

Second race in london pretty fun. Track has something other than left turns (unlike Daytona)
Credit total no over 2,000,000...

Ferrari F430 costs 24,320,000, Ferrari 599 '06 costs 32,030,000... got a ways to go.

move on to C-7 Sunday Cup races... skipping races b/c my Integra doesn't meet make or weight requirements for earlier races

C-7 race at Fuji... yeesh this track is a pain, but at least it's not Tsukuba

load times are basically non-existent.

start fourth in this race and all the others prior...

2:04.141 best lap... not sure I can get a sub-2 minute lap in this car

750,000 credits won
total credits 2,770,000


can choose to watch or record replays

moving on to C-8: "Mission Race"... I wonder what that means?

yeesh ok... start 16th

one lap race... what's the point here? to finish as high as I can?

manage to get to 6th

earned 200,000 credits and a plate

try again... nope can't get better than sixth but hey another 200K credits

game crashed on me again. WTF. Second time that's happened after a race.

went back to make-specific race to see if I could complete it. Yes finished
1,250,000 credits won
total: 4,220,000

there are also B and A ****events... looks like i have to finish all C first

go back to dealer looking for a new car

Alfa Romeo 147
3,140,000 credits ... ok it is mine

now on to Alfa C-****event

[1:37 p.m.]

GT 5 Prologue

start with 3,500,000 credits
multiple cars to buy
only a few you can afford


we go with Honda Integra Type R in Satin Silver

have races associated with each make
one make race at Daytona

set your options
AT/MT
cars

5 lap race at Daytona
Start in the middle of the pack of 16
have to make up time
noone to draft off of... slowly inch up on pack


pack bunches up behind you... long trail of stragglers behind them. Realistic in the sense that cars bunch up
in oval races.

Cars behind you will draft if given teh chance.

Bought car
enter Sunday C-1 cup

then on to
C-4: Sunday Cup in London
gear shifting animations are working yay!

It Is So

"Foreplay/Long Time" is officially (at least to me) the most fun song to play on drums in Rock Band. Especially on hard difficulty; I can't beat it on expert yet. The final two minutes or so of that tune are pure bliss.

'EA Sports', College Hoops, and Turkey Day Thanks

Erin Andrews had the nickname "EA Sports" long before she went to work as a sideline reporter in the upcoming NCAA March Madness 08. That's what her friends and colleagues in and out of the locker room called her, a playful combination of her initials and her reputation as one of the most popular sports reporters in the business today. In a world not too far removed from Eric Dickerson mumbling along the sidelines of "Monday Night Football," Andrews is a breath of fresh air: a knowledgeable and determined sideline reporter who isn't afraid to look a coach in the eye and ask the tough questions.

For me, those halftime conversations with coaches are sometimes among the most painful moments in sports television, especially when the interviewee is on the losing end of the match-up. For Erin, it's a chance to tell a story, one that--in the case of one of her interviews with a notably disgruntled Charlie Weis earlier in the year--needs to be told.

"[Notre Dame] was down by 20, and he knew I had to get him," Erin told me. "And you always know there's a sense that they're going to roll their eyes when you come up to them. But at the same time, Charlie was great with me because he knew I had to do it. There's a story, regardless of if they're down by 20 or down by 50; people want to know what the heck is going on with Notre Dame."

So who is this doggedly determined and mindful sideline reporter who counts the Tampa Bay Lightning among her favorite franchises (a former Lightning reporter, Andrews refers to the team as her "brothers" and the coaches as her "second fathers.") Check out my latest preview of March Madness 08 for an exclusive audio interview with Erin who is now, officially, my favorite sideline reporter of all time. Except for Melissa Stark. And Craig Sager.

--

If you're done with the preview of March Madness 08 and the Erin Andrews interview, and are still looking to scratch that college basketball itch, check out the series of blogs from College Hoops 2K8 producer Zach Timmerman over at SportsGamer. Timmerman is one of the more open and enthusiastic sports developers I've met in this industry and his blog series will give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it's been like putting the final touches on this year's college basketball offering from 2K.

--

One more note before I get out of here: Ten Sports Gaming Things I'm Thankful For:

1. NHL 08's create-a-play feature.

2. The fact that the Golden State Warriors don't suck nearly as bad in NBA 2K8 as they do in real life.

3. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. Yeah it's 2D and yeah it's got perhaps the ugliest menus of all time. But you won't find more value for your $15 this year

4. Post play in March Madness 08. Especially on defense.

5. The new Nissan GT-R in the Gran Turismo 5 Prologue demo, complete with an in-board dash designed by Polyphony Digital. If I buy GT 5, will I get a discount coupon for the real thing?

6. The fact that my Auburn Tigers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 34-20 in my NCAA Football 08 dynasty earlier in the year. Here's hoping we can move the Iron Bowl win streak to six in the real thing this Saturday. Which leads me to...

7. Downloadable ESPN college football games on Xbox Live Marketplace. Should Auburn win the Iron Bowl, I'll gladly shell out $4.50 for the HD replay.

8. My created wrestler: Dickson LeDirk from SmackDown! Vs. Raw 08. Okay I haven't actually created him yet but, trust me, he's going to be awesome.

9. Showtime Championship Boxing, for being mercifully short.

10. Quebec (daytime) and Shanghai (nighttime) from Project Gotham Racing 4.

And naturally:

11. Turkey. Because it tastes nothing like chicken.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Heroes Don't Do Jumping Puzzles

Call me late to the party but, this morning, I finished Half-Life 2 for the first time and I seriously loved it. Alyx? Dog? Wonderful. Dr. Breen? A deliciously vile enemy. And what an incredible dystopian atmosphere, especially in the City 17 levels. You feel, as your rollicking along in the dune buggy or zipping through the waterways in the airboat, that you inhabit a real city and that you're really heading somewhere as you escape. That level of "being there" isn't maintained consistently, however. Ravenholm, for example, felt completely out of context from the rest of the game--too Resident Evil for my tastes and way too many jumping puzzles. Or, rather, too many bad jumping puzzles.

You see, I hate jumping puzzles. In fact, practically each time I encounter one in a game I usually loudly exclaim to whomever is in earshot, "I &@!#ing hate jumping puzzles!", which usually causes my dogs to slink out of the room in fear. Either that or they don't like jumping puzzles either.

As I was making my way through the last level of Half-Life 2, I realized why I despise the jumping puzzle phenomenon in games so much. It isn't because jumping puzzles can be a pain in the butt--though they most assuredly can (as in Ravenholm). No, the reason I dislike jumping puzzles in gaming so much is because they are such an obvious gimmick. Most of the time, even good jumping puzzles are the antithesis of heroism.

What do I mean by that? Well, let's consider the final moments of Half-Life 2. Spoilers ahead for those who haven't finished the game. As Gordon Freeman attempts to head off Dr. Breen's completion of the Combine portal, he's tasked with getting to the top of the tower where the portal will open. Now, an elevator or set of stairs would be far too easy, far too logical, and, frankly, far too un-fun method of getting to the top. Instead, as Gordon, you have to run along the side of the tower's interior, jumping up on ever-ascending ledges that ostensibly are parts of the mechanical parts of the energy core itself, until you finally reach the top and can blast the portal.

There are no stairs or ladders to climb. Instead, you ride the very machination you look to destroy. In effect, the ultimate enemy you are looking to defeat provides you the very means you need to accomplish your goal. This makes no sense, and seems to me to be the biggest defect in jumping puzzles. Instead of relying on the ingenuity of the player, the game, in effect, sets itself up for defeat. That's what I mean by it being antithetical to heroic behavior--how much of a hero are you if the world around you is conspiring against itself?

Of course, I don't think games need to become impossible. When done in a manner that makes sense within the context of the game world, I think jumping puzzles can be done well, providing a fun (and plausible) method for players to succeed. Consider the "Sandtraps" portion of Half-Life 2, a level that is essentially one big, long jumping puzzle. So why is this perhaps my favorite level in the game? Well partially because of the ingenious nature of some of the puzzles, which utilize physics well and take more than a little ingenuity on the part of the player. But, moreso, what makes the level so strong is the context for the level. It's simple: You can't set foot on the sand because the ant lions are agitated. As a result, you've got to find your way across using little more than your gravity gun and your hand-eye coordination.

Even better, in several sections of "Sandtraps" you're met with vast stretches of nothing but open sand--intimidating to say the least. It's up to you, as Gordon, to make your own path across these lakes of sand. Sure, the game gives you the necessary tools to be successful with the amount of gravity-gun-grabbable-garbage at your disposal. However, the path you choose, and the steps you take to get there, are your own. To my mind, getting through "Sandtraps" successfully is the single most heroic thing Gordon does in Half-Life 2.

I suppose we'll never be completely rid of the jumping puzzle. For one thing, they're an easy way to extend the length of a level, even if they so often expose themselves as 3D rat mazes. Still, if we never completely rid ourselves of the "what" of jumping from ledge to ledge, I'm hoping that developers will at least strive to explain the "why."