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jervo Blog

Burnout demo; the sad despair of the Achievement wh0re

Rough time to be a gamer right now, and by "right now" I mean "right this very second, now that I've finished all the AAA titles and there's nothing good coming out until January." My Gamefly queue is mostly full of 2008 titles and/or crap that I kept pushing back in lieu of better fare. Which is to say: I spent this weekend playing CSI: Hard Evidence and Naruto.

But first, I gotta talk about the Burnout Paradise demo. I've been a diehard Burnout fan since Burnout 2 on the Xbox, and I've been really looking forward to the Burnout franchise making the leap to the latest console generation for a long time now. Unfortunately, the demo has actually gotten me a little worried. Maybe it's impossible to be able to do justice to an open-world game in demo form, but for me the demo felt a bit strange - and that's not just because of the ASTOUNDING AMOUNT of product placement or the COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY AND ANNOYING DJ Atomica. Part of the problem is that it's just a small piece of the world, and there's only 3 events that are unlocked, and so you'll be driving past at least 20 events that ARE locked, so there's not a tremendous amount you can do. Another, big problem is that you can't restart an event - you have to finish the event, and then drive all the way back to the original intersection in order to try again, and if you wipe out even once you're pretty much screwed. PLUS there doesn't seem to be any way to mark a location on your map, so if you wanted to retry an event you just failed, you have to remember where you started it from. There are also now gas stations that refill your boost meter if you drive through them (which is completely unnecessary since you can fill up your boost pretty quickly simply by driving for about 5 seconds) and auto repair shops which will repair your car (which is also completely unnecessary since if you get wrecked, you respawn in a brand new car anyway).

On the plus side, it's Burnout.

Anyway, as for the soul-crushing part of this post, I rented CSI: Hard Evidence because (a) my wife is a huge fan of the show, and I thought she'd enjoy playing it with me, and (b) I'd heard the Points are really easy to pick up. As it turns out, my wife got bored within about 5 minutes, but not before saying "This is one of the ugliest games I've ever seen." However, I had to stick it out to get my full 1000 points. Here's the main problem, among many: a CSI game could potentially be really cool and really fun - I remember wishing that Condemned did more with the CSI aspect than what it ultimately had, and in an actual CSI game, where you're scouring a crime scene for clues and evidence, a really fun adventure-type game could be made. The problem is that the game removes any and all challenge; there's absolutely no puzzle-solving involved. The hardest part of the game is making sure you go over every pixel with your controller to get every piece of evidence; beyond that, the game does everything else. There are 5 cases in the game - it took me 3 cases to realize that I didn't have to listen to any dialogue in order to "solve" a case, and I ended up finishing the last case in the game in about 30 minutes.

Oh, and it's incredibly ugly and the controls are non-intuitive and the game does dumb things like telling you a warrant is available, but not automatically giving it to you - you have to go to a seperate location in order to pick it up, and then go back to the location you're supposed to investigate. It's a waste of time and completely unnecessary, which is a great way to describe the rest of the game, too.

I don't know why I rented Naruto, nor am I sure why I spent more than 3 hours with it when it became clear pretty early that I wasn't ever going to really enjoy it as a true Naruto fan would. I didn't get any Points out of it either, which is annoying.

Here's hoping Avatar shows up soon - while I don't think there's any chace I'll break 30K before the end of the year, I'd certainly like to get close.

2008 To-Play List

The AAA title rush has subsided, my bank account is slowly recovering, and I'm trying to get my hands on a Wii. 2007 ended up being one of the best - if not the best - years in gaming that I can remember; here's hoping 2008 is just as good.

For the record - I'm only really looking at the 360, Wii and DS. I don't yet own a Wii, but it's definitely happening. However, I do not have any plans on getting a PS3 unless two things happen: (1) the price comes down just a bit more, and (2) Blu-Ray definitively wins the format war. Also: I'm not necessarily planning on owning all of these games - GameFly is a valuable resource these days. I'll put an asterisk next to any title that I'm definitely planning on buying, though.

Release dates are from GS. All links open in new windows/tabs.

Ultimate Brain Games (DS)
Ultimate Card Games (DS)

Burnout Paradise (360) *

Devil May Cry 4 (360)
Bully Scholarship Edition (360)
Dark Messiah of Might & Magic (360) (I originally bought this on my PC, but could barely get it to run. I know it's gotten so-so reviews; I'm really more curious than anything else.)
Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (DS)

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) (Actually, I'm not really that interested in this one - just curious.)
Lost Odyssey (360)

The Club (360)

Condemned 2 (360)

GTA 4 (360) * (Is this really the release date? I thought it was April)
Destroy All Humans 2 (360)

After that, the release dates get too nebulous to be worthwhile. I thought Mercenaries 2 would be out by this point, but I guess not.

Best/Worst Music of 2007

[Crossposted from a million other places.]

Biggest Disappointments of 2007

* Interpol, "Our Love to Admire" - basically revealed the band to be nothing but a one-trick pony, and the trick peaked with their first album. I loved "Mammoth", which I was considering for my Top Songs of 2007, but the rest of the album was utterly bland. What's more, they were downright boring at Lollapalooza.
* Bloc Party, "A Weekend In the City" - Wow, what a letdown. I feel more or less the same way about this album as I do about the Interpol - utterly bland and forgettable. Up until a few days ago I was going to include "I Still Remember" in my Top Songs of 2007, but I might have played it out too much.
* Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "Some Loud Thunder" - it took me a long time to get into their first record, but I ended up really liking it. I never got into this one, though; actually, I found it downright irritating.
* Band of Horses, "Cease to Begin" - boooooooooooring. That's probably not fair, actually, considering I've yet to make it all the way through.

Highly Regarded Albums I Either Never Got Around to Listening To or Just Couldn't Get Into

* Arcade Fire, "Neon Bible" - A lot of people love it. I got about halfway through it and then got my hands on Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky", and I guess I just forgot about it. That said, this youtube video of the end of "Once Upon A Time In The West" set to "My Body is a Cage" is pretty awesome - maybe I'll give this another shot.
* Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?" - Maybe it's the dude's voice.. I don't know. I don't get it.
* Battles, "Mirrored" - I want to love this album, I really do. But I can't. Maybe it's the dude's voice, again.

Best (Old) Albums I'd Been Meaning to Get and Now Finally Own

* The first 4 Velvet Underground albums - there's really no excuse.
* Dr. Dre, "The Chronic" - I was screwing around in GTA:San Andreas for the billionth time and couldn't believe I never actually owned this album.
* Peter Gabriel, "Passion" - ditto. I already knew this album backwards and forwards, too.
* Daft Punk, "Homework" / "Discovery" - just bought these 2 last night, actually, but they are brilliant.
* Allman Brothers, "Eat A Peach" / "Live at Fillmore West" - totally ridiculous that I never had these.
* Black Star, "Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are..." - goddamn.
* GZA, "Liquid Swords" - this didn't blow my mind quite as much as I was expecting, but it is still pretty awesome.
* Ween, "12 Golden Country Greats"
* Can, "Ege Bamyasi" / "Tago Mago"

Best (Old) Albums I'd Never Heard Of But Was Prompted To Get And Now Totally Love

* Steve Reich, "Music for 18 Musicians" - I don't know if I've written enough about this piece of music, but it altered my DNA in January. Jesus Christ.
* Don Caballero, "American Don" - Leading up to the release of the Battles album, I decided to see what Don Cab was about. I soon acquired rest of their catalog but this was the first thing I'd ever heard, and the first 30 seconds of "Fire Back About Your New Baby's Sex" absolutely hooked me for life.
* The Forms, "Icarus" / The Desert Fathers, "The Spirituality" - I came across these two albums in a random, gigantic Steve Albini thread (which link I've apparently misplaced). I've got more to say about the Forms, in a different list.
* Shakti, "Natural Elements" - I leaned about this the same afternoon I learned about Steve Reich; it's a John McLaughlin album from somewhere in the 1970s, with an Indian feel. I can't remember the band lineup, but it's pretty goddamned sick.

Best Songs of 2007, in no particular order (except one).

* LCD Soundsystem, "Us V. Them" - this is my song of the year. When I think about 2007, I will think about this song. I will think about seeing them play at Lolla as the sun was setting, and hearing them open their set with this - at an even faster tempo than it is on the record - and feeling joyous and alive and young and free. I also felt this way during "All My Friends" - that's a great song as well. But the difference between "Us V. Them" and "All My Friends" is that during "Us V. Them", you are compelled to shake your ass.
* Iron And Wine, "Carousel" - I guess I'm only doing one song per album, because "Boy With a Coin" is also really good, but there's something about this one that makes my heart melt.
* St. Vincent, "Now Now" - I don't know that I developed a crush on Annie Clark because of this song, but I did really want to be her friend.
* Panda Bear, "I'm Not" - Maybe this is a weird choice, if you know the album; it's basically one hypnotic loop repeated over and over, with some haunting vocals mixed in the middle. For whatever it's worth, this is the song that really unlocked that album for me.
* Peter Bjorn and John, "Up Against The Wall" - The record didn't really do anything for me, but this song totally hooked me from the get-go. You've probably heard it in a jeans commercial.
* The Sea and Cake, "Left On" - One of the best thing they've recorded in years.
* The Shins, "Sleeping Lessons" - I was going to put the Shins record in my Best Albums of 2007, but I think it's only because I love this opening track so much. The whole song is a sleepy, dreamy sketch and then it suddenly builds into something glorious. Now featured in a Zune commercial. Speaking of which...
* Rogue Wave, "Lake Michigan" - I saw a Zune commercial with this song in it and immediately had to find out what it was.
* Daft Punk, "Around The World / Harder Bigger Faster Stronger" - my 2 favorite Daft Punk songs, mashed up? OK, I'm sold.
* Mobius Band, "Friends Like These" - just found out about this a short while ago, via Stereogum's mp3 page. Mobius Band also was on 'Gum's tribute to OK Computer, and their cover of "Subterranean Homesick Alien", which happens to be my favorite song on that record, also happens to be my favorite cover on the tribute. These guys do the synth-pop-but-with-real-instruments thing really, really well.
* The Forms. I can't choose just one - there are no less than 5 songs on this album that I still can't stop listening to. If I have to choose one - and I really can't - I guess I'd have to go with "Bones", but I could easily make a case for "Knowledge In Hand", "Alpha", "Red Gun", "Getting It Back"...

Best Albums of 2007

Honorable mention: Patton Oswalt's "Werewolves and Lollipops". I can't put a comedy record in this list, and truth be told I think this is the only comedy record I actually bought this year. It's arguably better than his first one.

Close, but no cigar:

* St. Vincent, "Marry Me"
* New Pornographers, "Challengers"
* Liars, "Liars"
* Animal Collective, "Strawberry Jam"
* Modest Mouse, "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank"
* Dungen, "Tio Bitar"
* James Blackshaw, "The Cloud of Unknowing"
* The Shins, "Wincing The Night Away"
* Wilco, "Sky Blue Sky"
* Deerhoof, "Friend Opportunity"

10. Blonde Redhead, "23" - I wasn't totally blown away at first, but then I saw them play a bit of it live and it made a lot more sense.

9. Panda Bear, "Person Pitch" - Haunting and ethereal.

8. Daft Punk, "Alive 2007" - I said it before; one of my biggest regrets this year was that I didn't watch more than the first 15 minutes of their set at Lolla. At least they released this, which is amazing - they've mashed up all their best songs, with their own songs!

7. Menomena, "Friend and Foe" - this record came out of nowhere and utterly floored me. Totally goofy and strange and yet really powerful; great production aesthetic.

6. Radiohead, "In Rainbows" - Time will ultimately tell how this ranks in their canon; I just put it on yesterday and I think my brain is still trying to figure it out. I think this is both their most controversial and also their most conventional album yet.

5. Iron & Wine, "The Shepherd's Dog" - Some people wondered if moving to a full band and wider production scope would ruin the music; I think those people are wrong, wrong, wrong.

4. Andrew Bird, "Armchair Apocrypha" - God this record is beautiful. Andrew Bird is a goddamned genius.

3. Cornelius, "Sensuous" - I was wondering where to put this album; at first I wasn't sure it would make the top 10. So I put it on, and then I remembered that it's stunning. There are a few filler tracks, which feels almost unfair considering how long the wait is between albums, but the tracks that work are about as good as Cornelius has ever sounded.

2. LCD Soundsystem, "The Sound of Silver" - This was all set to be my album of the year, until I heard the record at #1. It's both a goofy party record and a serious mental headrush, and as I previously mentioned it's got at 2 of the best songs of the year on it.

1. The Forms, "The Forms" - I'm annoyed that this record hasn't gotten more press. Every single song on it - even "Borges", which can be irritating - has at least one section that is guaranteed to find your brain's pleasure center and reverberate until you can't take it any more; each song is meticulously considered and crafted and yet it sounds utterly effortless. I couldn't stop listening to this album for about a month after I first got it, and I still can't - if one of their songs randomly pops up on my iPod I end up listening to the whole album. This record probably has to be in my All-Time Top 10, the more I think about it - I've listened to it dozens of times already and it still remains fresh and vital and, well, interesting. I spent a few weeks earlier this summer trying to write songs on a keyboard in 5/4 and couldn't do it; I'm still trying and I still can't. I love this album, I love this band, I wish I had made this record.

Status report / Mass Effect

1. I did end up cancelling my GS subscription, but it doesn't fully run out until next September. My disgust is really directed towards management, not the GS community, and it just so happens that I think the GS community is one of the better ones around. I've been a registered GS user for 5 years, now, and I'd been coming here a few years before that; even though I feel like I've been repeatedly punched in the stomach, it's very hard to just walk away. And I confess I'm curious to see how this whole saga ends up playing out. Personally, I hope Jeff joins up with The Onion's AV Club - he'd be an absolutely perfect fit for them - and he takes a few GSers with him.

2. Finished Mass Effect last night. Ended up going full-on Paragon; got my lesbian love scene; ended at level 46, in about 28-29 hours, doing more or less all of the side quests I came across, except for a few of the scavenger hunts. Horrendous graphical glitches aside (including the worst texture pop-in of all time), this is easily in my top 3 for GOTY. Can't wait to go again as a Renegade... which reminds me, I need to re-play Bioshock as a bad guy, too.

Here's what needs to get fixed for ME2:

  1. Better inventory management
  2. Just use the friggin' HDD, already, so the textures don't pop
  3. Let me know what planets/systems I've already visited
  4. Less gigantic mountains on planets, more gentlerolling hills
  5. More save slots

I'm done with Guitar games

Finished Guitar Hero 3 on "Medium" last night, and immediately sent it back to the rental place. I'm officially done with guitar games.

GH3 has some strong points and a good setlist, but it also has some serious issues. The most obvious thingsare the boss battles which are utterly stupid, slow the pace of the game dramatically,and most importantly are completely at odds with what playing the guitar is about - in the event that you have a realguitar duel on stage, it's supposed to be awesome, and everybody's supposed to raise their game and play even better than they normally do - you're not trying to sabotage the other guy, and you're DEFINITELY not messing with his/her guitar. If I'm on stage rocking out and my dueling partner comes over to me and rips off my guitar strings, I stop what I'm doing and I punch them in the face, and then possibly takeTHEIR guitar and pummel them to death with it,and no jury in the world would ever convict me.

For me, though, the thing that ultimately ruined the game was the switch in difficulty from Medium to Hard, which (a) isway too big a difference in and (b) broke my brain. There were a few songs on Medium that are personal faves of mine - Weezer's "My Name is Jonas", Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing", Living Colour's "Cult of Personality", Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock" - and I remember whipping through them and thinking to myself about being excited to try them on Hard, since I can play those songs on an actual guitar and was looking forward to seeing how the game would approximate the real thing. And it turns out that playing these songs on Hard or Expert is actually harder than it is to play on a real guitar, which - for me - was counter-intuitive. The acoustic guitar in "My Name Is Jonas" is a simple finger-picking pattern, but even on Hard it's all hammer-ons and pull-offs and didn't make any intuitive sense to me at all. That's great that you can play it on Expert and make it completely unnecessarily difficult, but I can actually play it, and so I win.

I can see the appeal in Rock Band, I really can. If you've never been in a band before, the feeling of playing music with other people is pretty much impossible to describe, and Rock Band comes as close to the real thing as you can get without actually knowing how to play an instrument.* I've heard from a number of sources that playing the drums on Hard in Rock Band is actually pretty close to playing a real drum set, and that is awesome. I've even considered buying Rock Band just so that I could use the drum set as a cheap MIDI trigger system, so I could actually play drums instead of just tapping away on my keyboard. But the guitar in these games is NOTHING LIKE the real thing, and while that may be great for the non-musician, it's utterly frustrating for me.

*And it occurs to me that if Rock Band ever released a Beatles song pack, there would be no more war, because there would be too much happiness in the world to allow it. Could you imagine (sorry!) them releasing "Revolver" or "Abbey Road" as a complete album? (Because you know that if they DID do the Beatles, they'd have to do something totally insane like doing an entire album.) I'm excited just thinking about it. Everybody in the world already has the Beatles hardwired into their DNA, even if they don't know it - this would be the most awesome thing ever.

Assassin' Creed finished; Mass Effect begun

I really wanted to get into Mass Effect over the break, but I needed to finish Assassin's Creed first. Sometimes I can juggle a zillion different games at once, but not in this case - I wanted to give Mass Effect my full attention, and I also wanted to finish Creed while I still remembered how to play it. That said, I kinda rushed through the last section of Creed, and suddenly all the 7.0 - 7.5 review scores made sense. You really do need to play Creed at a slow, thoughtful, deliberate pace - it helps you "get into character", so to speak, because when you're in that mode the game absolutely shines. When you rush, however, the game gets ridiculous - it's somewhat jarring, actually, to move so quickly from gaming nirvana to frustration and tedium. There's also not much replay value to be had, other than picking up whatever Achievements you missed the first time through.

As for Mass Effect, I dove right back in from where I'd left off, which was basically after finishing the first conference at the Citadel (but before getting any side quests there). Now I'm just over 5 hours in, and I'm in finally in charge of the Normandy, and I'm basically just checking out the galaxy. Before I pursue the main quest and the planets that go along with them, I'm checking out some of the other planets I'd learned about from screwing around on the Citadel, just because I can.

Unlike my KOTOR, NWN and Jade Empire playthroughs, I'm doing my first ME playthrough without any pre-set agenda. This makes for a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience, as it turns out (see below for more on this), although that could also be because ME does a fantastic job of covering its bases with respect to conversations. In games past, it was pretty obvious what the "right" or "evil" thing to do was in any given situation; ME, however, handles shades of grey quite admirably, and since I'm not totally sure how I want to go about things just yet, it's giving me plenty of room to maneuver without feeling like I'm being pigeonholed.

I'm also eschewing a walkthrough this time around. I don't really ever play with walkthroughs, but in past Bioware RPGs I felt obligated to pick up every single possible quest, and walkthroughs often pointed out what wasn't always obvious. I happened to check GS's ME guide last night after I'd turned off my 360 and noticed that I'd missed a couple things, and almost considered going back and replaying from an earlier save, but cooler heads prevailed.

ME really does feel like a true, free-roaming game thus far, although that could just be because I finally finished the first level (Bioware design rule #1: the first level must take a really long time to finish) and am free to stare at a map of the Milky Way and do whatever I want. It remains unclear how long and how far I can stray from the linear path, however.

As for the "more relaxing and enjoyable experience" I'd mentioned earlier - my usual anxiety that accompanies free-roaming games (i.e., the pressure to see absolutely everything, the pressure of not making wrong choices, etc.) is largely absent this time around, and so instead of being anxious about screwing up and not being able to live up to the ideal that my preset notions required, I'm simply letting the game come to me. A better way to put it is that instead of playing the game as a 100% "Paragon" or "Renegade", I'm responding to situations and branching conversations as "Jervo", and the game is infinitely more engaging as a result. I'm more invested in how situations resolve, and I'm also really interested to see where this takes me. I do hope that this experience won't sour the idea of multiple playthroughs, however - I do eventually want to see all the sides of all the stories.

Assassin's Creed impresh

Before I get started, it was refreshing to see that pretty much all the reviews I read made absolutely no mention of Jade Raymond, unlike 90% of the previews.

And as for the scores, well, IGN went to great lengths to trash the game's story and alleged repetitiveness, and its final paragraph says that "If you play AC for an hour, you will probably think it's a fantastic game." As I've only played for4-5 hours, I can at least agree with the second half of that sentence; I do indeed think it's a fantastic game.

Gabe at Penny Arcade made a pretty insightful newspost about this the other day; I'm paraphrasing, but he essentially says that his impressions of most of the negative reviews implied that the reviewer didn't really take his/her time, and just kinda sped through the game in order to see everything and make their deadline; if you actually take your time and play the game at its own speed, it's infinitely more rewarding. This makes perfect sense to me if only because for all of Altair's dexterity and free-running skills, his default walking speed is pretty slow, which can make you impatient if you're not taking the time to observe your surroundings.

Not to single out IGN, but I believe they also made a point of harping about how the Eavesdropping missions are completely pointless and stupid, specifically because in order to complete them you have to sit on a nearby bench, hit a button, and then do nothing, and how "doing nothing" was completely and utterly stupid. I would just like to point out that the act of "doing nothing" does not seem to have hurt the review scores of the Metal Gear franchise. /rimshot

So, as for MY impressions.

Well, as stated above, I'm not very far in; I did the tutorial, the first village, completed all the side missions leading up to the first assassination, and did a heavy bit of exploration before arriving in Arce. That said, I've probably put in around 3-4 hours in just doing that stuff, as I also did a fair amount of flag-finding and really just took my time exploring the countryside and taking in the absolutely gorgeous graphics.

The gameplay itself is a bit hard to describe, at least in terms of comparing it to other games. Certainly you can trace the gracefulness and the fluidity of the animations to Prince of Persia (as well as the ho-hum combat), but there's also a bit of Crackdown in terms of all the free running (and flag-finding), and I was even reminded a little bit of Splinter Cell in terms of using patience and stealth, even though you're hiding in plain sight instead of crouching in the shadows.

The game is not without its weak points; as I mentioned before I'm not crazy about the combat, which somehow manages to be both very hard and very easy at the same time. (And it's also a little odd that you can be surrounded by guards, who all politely take turns whacking you with their swords, instead of bumrushing you into submission.) And while it's necessary in terms of gameplay, the "hiding" sequences are, to be blunt, retarded. It's just not plausible that you can be running from 5 or 6 guards, and then jump into a haystack and suddenly they have no idea where you went. And finally, the voice actor for Altair should have been replaced; he sticks out like a sore thumb and actually ruins my immersion in the game world whenever he opens his mouth.

As for the story... It's unclear to me as to why Ubisoft went to such great lengths to hide the game's "twist", when it was clear in all the pre-release videos that something odd was afoot; it's true that you're shown what's really going on within the first 5 minutes, but even the manual reveals elements of the story's dual nature. Obviously it remains to be seen why the story is being presented in the manner that it is; I have my guesses, but in the meantime I'm enjoying how it's playing out - it provides an interesting context. That said, I sincerely hope that this "twist" is not simply serving as a convenient way of getting around certain gameplay conventions such as dying, restarting failed objectives, etc. - if that is indeed the case, I will be incredibly pissed off.

The format war and other nonsense

It's been a while, and there's a bunch to talk about.

1. Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, and 5 of his greatest films just got re-released in HD. Which meant that I needed to own them. It also meant that I needed to finally pick a side in the format war, and so I chose the HD-DVD add-on for my Xbox 360. Which also meant that I traded in my old 360 towards an Elite, so that I could finally get full 1080p. And I have to say that there really is a subtle but noticeable difference between HDMI and component cables, even on just a 40" HDTV; everything (even the dashboard) looks cleaner, crisper, and the colors are richer. I'd heard from a variety of sources that the human eye can't tell the difference between 1080i and 1080p on anything smaller than 40", but I can definitely tell that SOMETHING is different.

2. I was absolutely convinced that I was making the right decision in choosing HD-DVD over Blu-Ray... but then I started to get second thoughts, which pretty much always happens whenever I spend a lot of money on technology. The truth of the matter is, this format war is going to be completely meaningless in a few years, because the way I see it, both formats will ultimately give way to Digital Distribution. This is a weird pill for me to swallow, as I like collecting things and I certainly like to admire my collections; that said, I was very much against the idea of downloading music as opposed to buying CDs until I bought an iPod and started using iTunes, and now I can't imagine NOT being able to download music. Ultimately, 1080p is 1080p, regardless of the format it's on. Toshiba and Sony (and all the other big players) should really start working on hard drive solutions and opening up bandwidth, because that's when people will stop being hesitant about taking the HD plunge.

3. As for games... I've been playing my rented copy of Call of Duty 4, and I'm a little disappointed, to be honest. I was planning on buying it outright, even before I received it in the mail, but I'm glad I held off because as it turns out, I'm not as into this series as I thought I was. The game does have its moments - the ghillie mission in particular is incredible - but it's also quite linear, and the shooting mechanic gets a little dull, and the total lack of a cover fire system seems like a glaring omission. I haven't tried the multiplayer yet, which everyone says is the greatest thing ever, but, well, I'm not really that into multiplayer in general.

4. I think there's a bug in PuzzleQuest; I don't know if it's happened to any of you or not, but my game suddenly thinks I'm still using the trial version; my character is level 24 but as soon as I enter a battle I'm down to level 7 (?!). More importantly, I can't get into the Dragonrealm. I'd be a lot more annoyed if I hadn't already beaten the game twice on the DS, but still - there are Points to be earned, and PQ is a great way to bide one's time in between major releases.

5. And speaking of releases, Assassin's Creed comes out this week, and it's getting somewhat disappointing reviews. Friend of mine in the biz has had his copy for a few weeks and he absolutely loved it, although he hadn't come close to finishing it the last time we'd talked. Again - good thing I'm renting. Mass Effect, though... that one's already pre-ordered, and I'm foaming at the mouth.

Videogame Humor 101

Talking about humoris impossible, at least for me. Trying to explain what makes something funny immediatelycauses a comedy dead-zone; it's like how to describe what the color green looks like.Either you get it or you don't. That said, I gotta give it ashot here, because I attempted to play The Simpsons Game this weekend.

For all its knowing winks and nudges about the game industry and, well, out-and-out "find the cliche" meta-gaming references, the game itself suffers from a pretty bad case of irony. As mentioned just a few words ago, each level features at least 2 cliches, and Comic Book Guy himself will appear to let you know that you've found a crate, or walked up to an invisible barrier. However, the game also features a bunch of less-than-funny cliches as well which it does NOT mention or give you credit for finding - a terrible camera, imprecise controls (Homer's helium power is especially difficult to manage), sudden lurches in difficulty that make the game unfair, and repetitive and unsatisfying combat which, whilea standard feature of 3rd person games,seems to be out of place in the Simpsons universe. Why mustthe Simpsons have to beat the hell out of everybody, when they never, ever, EVER do that on the show? Is it just because they're in a game? That feelskinda lazy and a bit of a cop-out by the developers. But then again, why is there a Simpsonsvideogame at all? Oh, right, becauseit makes money.

But getting back to the comedy, which is where I'm really going with this. The writing is generally pretty sharp, and there are more than a few times where I laughed out loud - all the voice actors in the show appear here, and they all do their usual great work. HOWEVER, that doesn't make this game "funny." There's a big difference between random one-liners uttered by passers-by and actual wit, and The Simpsons Game doesn't quite make the leap. This bears mentioning because of Portal, which raised the bar previously set by Psychonauts as Funniest. Game. Ever.

I've played through Portal at least 3 times now, and I've read the game dialogue a lot more times than that, and what's remarkable about it is that while the game is frequently hysterical, there are no obvious punch-lines - indeed, there aren't really any "jokes", and even the game's premise doesn't contain any inherent comedy. Instead, Portal has incredibly well-written dialogue whichismeticiulously performed, and which lends itself to the action at hand. In The Simpsons, you can walk around a pretty accurately modeled Springfield as you try to figure out where you're supposed to go next, and you'll hear all sorts of wacky things, but none of them are connected to you, or what you're trying to do, or even have any real purpose other than to remind you that you're playing The Simpsons. Whereas in Portal, the words you hear are directly aimed at you, and reflect what you're doing (and what you're trying to do), and have a real, vital purpose in moving you forward. More than that, they propel you forward - you want to keep going if only so that you can hear more. There are no poop jokes, there are no gags, there is nothing inherently funny about the main gameplay mechanic - but when you finally get to venture behind the game's walls for the first time and you see "the cake is a lie" scrawled desperately on the wall, you can't help but laugh. The dialogue may be sarcastic, but it's delivered with such sincerity and earnestness - by a computer, no less - that you get absorbed. There's something humane about what's happening.

Games get this wrong ALL THE TIME. Exhibit A: Conker's Bad Fur Day, which goes out of its way to let you know how funny it's trying to be, including featuring a level where you're rolling around a gigantic ball of poo. Even the game's title is a stupid pun. Games have been content for 20 years to cater to the average 12-year-old boy's sense of humor, and as gamers get older and more sophisticated, that kind of drek gets harder and harder to take without it just being embarassing. There aren't many levels of meaning within burping and farting, or random one-liners, or obvious clowning around. Sure, it can be cute, but there's only so much one can take if that's all there is.

Which is not to say there's anything necessarily wrong with obvious comedy. Certainly it works in movies like The Naked Gun and Airplane, or Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, or There's Something About Mary, and occaisonally it can be transcendent, like in South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut, which I contend is the funniest movie I've ever seen in a theater. There are big differences, though, between the movies and games - movies are much shorter, for one thing, and they can pack in joke after joke after joke a lot more successfully. But more importantly, games require the player to actually do things to get to the next scene, and if those things aren't any fun, or if they take a long time, then it starts to feel like one long, uncomfortable pause.