Archive for November, 2007

21
Nov
07

Dear Sony: I’m Tired of the PS3 Online XMB System Updates…

OK – I was silent for awhile. As much as Sony has been in this gaming industry strong since 1995 (and some may argue even longer), they’re really learning (and in some cases stumbling) their way through this whole online experience. As much as they profess that the “PlayStation Network” experience is thriving, I’m hoping these are the beginning stages of what will eventually become a mature online community. I don’t feel connected to anyone when I’m on the PS3 (unless I go to the PlayStation Store).

But honestly… these online updates every few days has got to stop.

Microsoft’s business is in software and they’ve been through their share of headaches, but they’ve learned. Two years ago, you’d log into Windows and every day there would be an update of some sort staring you in the face. However, somehow they understood that it’s a completely disruptive experience to the end user and as a result, now we have “patch Tuesdays”. (The Tuesday every month when Microsoft sends out its patches and OS updates. And unless there is a dire emergency or critical vulnerability in the wild, you won’t hear from them again until next “patch Tuesday.”) Xbox has leveraged this mechanism and taken it to an even more mature level. Understanding that the Xbox 360’s interface and OS is a lot less critical and sensitive than a full PC’s OS, they only provide updates twice a year — the Spring Update and the Fall/Winter Update. They too will break that schedule if necessary, but only in the most dire circumstances. What’s more, the updates are much less intrusive. They alert you that the game or the Dashboard has an available update. You click “OK”…. you wait for the download to complete…and 2 minutes later, you’re back to playing.

Sony has the most disruptive and bothersome method of making updates to the OS. You have to navigate through accepting an agreement — just to update what you already own. You’ll then need to go about 3 or 4 clicks and sometimes multiple restarts to get back to the XMB. And worst of all is the frequency of the updates. This has to stop. Last week everyone ran the update for version 2.0 of the XMB. Less than a week later, we’re being asked to update to 2.1. Clearly there’s some sort of issue with managing these updates, or perhaps not properly testing ones like 2.0 before they launch.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve owned my PS3 for less than one year and right now I’m starting to question some things.

Initially the PS3 was designed to be my “lead system”. This would be the system that I’d use to buy titles if they were available on all other systems — the rationale being that the PS3 version would look better (and because I prefer the Dual Shock, so the playing experience would be a bit better for me.) I’m almost 180 degrees in the other direction. For a lot of reasons, the PS3 is starting to cut away at that confidence I had. I’ll talk more about this in subsequent weeks, but Sony is definitely losing my confidence and the 360 is starting to look like the system I’d recommend without hesitation to any gamer looking for the best game selection, connectivity/online gaming experience and the best end user experience overall.

Sony: It’s time to get serious. Price is not the only area where we needed to see improvement.

Advertisements
21
Nov
07

Matchstick Men: Review

This had been in the Netflix queue for a little while.  Kinda kept pushing it down because I felt like it would be an experience that I’d seen before.  But I should have remembered that this is a Ridley Scott film and if he’s going to attach himself to the project, there has to be some compelling quality.  After having checked this one out, I must say that it is a much better film than a lot of the Netflix selections that I put before it.

Matchstick Men stars Nicholas Cage and Sam Rockwell — two of my all-time favorites.  Sam Rockwell in particular I believe to be one of the most underrated actors.  He’s funny, witty, edgy… Confessions of a Dangerous Man is probably one of his best performances.  This one is a pretty good performance as well, although he plays a somewhat smaller role.  Also starring in the film is Alison Lohman, and she turns in a really notable performance as well.  But Nick Cage is by far that star here.  Although many may question his film choices considering the fact that he’s an Academy Award Winning Actor (Best Actor, no less), he still brings across that Cage-like charm in all of his roles.

I found Matchstick Men intriguing on many levels.  The main plot centers around two con men (Cage and Rockwell) and the change that their con business goes under when Cage meets his long lost daughter.  What’s more intriguing about the movie (and in particular Nick Cage’s role) is that he plays a man who suffers from OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.)  This is a condition that I also deal with on a daily basis.  I don’t have the condition quite to the extreme that the character in the movie does (what with him having to open and close the door three times before entering and exiting) but I saw a lot of parallels between some of his decision-making and mine.  Sometimes it causes you to do things that you realize are completely rudimentary, just because you need to keep the routine.  There’s a safety found in keeping the routine the same.  However, the oddity is that in an effort to keep the routine, you find yourself losing perspective on priority.  Perhaps it may be more important to maintain a professional demeanor than to insist that someone takes off their shoes.  It’s an interesting condition, and one that I probably wouldn’t understand if I didn’t have it.  This film gives people a very good look into how the condition can affect your relationships, etc.

(As a side note, for an even better and more extreme look at how OCD can affect your life, take a look at the English film, Dirty Filthy Love.  This is a powerful film that really made me take a look at how blessed I am to not have the condition to the degree that it can affect some people.)

This film also works on a much more tender level.  Often Hollywood takes a stab at showing fathers who have children re-introduced into their lives in their teenage years — often these are Adam Sandler-type comedy films.  “Daughter shows up on doorstep of busy father whose career supercedes all else….daughter throws a monkeywrench into his life, but makes him realize what’s really important, etc.”  This is a film that does the same thing, but in a much more tender way.  Even though it requires you to stretch your imagination a bit to put yourself in the shoes of a man that is a big money, scheme plotting, con man, putting aside that fact and just watching Nick Cage interact with Alison Lohman is a chance to watch something special.  The way that their relationship evolves is great, and I’m almost thinking it can be a guide for fathers (or mothers) who are re-entering a child’s life and don’t know quite where to begin.  This film shows that it will be rocky, but ultimately worth the trouble.

Initially, passed Matchstick up originally as ‘ordinary’.  It is far from ordinary.  I don’t want to give anything away here.  If you like con films, just check this out.  Stick it out until the end.  This is a different sort of film from the man who gave us Gladiator and Alien, but in the end, you’ll feel redeemed.  This is one not to miss.

21
Nov
07

I Love My Mets….But Not Quite This Much.

Came across this on Uncrate.com. I always use the term, “live and die with the Mets”. But perhaps this will make me think more carefully about using those words.

Eternalimage.net is selling MLB Team-featured….(ready for this?)….urns and caskets. Actually, the caskets do look quite charming. And the urns do also (that is, if you’re into the whole “ashes thing”.) But I kinda don’t get it. I mean, thinking of some of the most treasured MLB figures over time — say, for instance, the recently deceased Phil Rizutto — I don’t even see him being buried in one of these things. It kinda cheapens the experience.

I hope it’s a long time before somebody needs to make a decision about this for me, but let there be no doubt — this isn’t quite the end to my life that I’d appreciate.

(I must say…really nice design, though.)

21
Nov
07

Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer

When it comes to most games that I purchase, I’m probably being robbed. Sixty bucks for about 5-10 hours of gameplay — by my own choice. There’s probably 10-15 hours worth of gameplay in the average game today if you consider all of the “extra modes” that games usually include to increase the perceived “good value”. But after awhile, repetition sets in and I stop playing. Most sports games have lost their appeal for me. And these days, it take a pretty special game to truly make me feel that my $60 was money well spent.

Guitar Hero is probably the only game that I’ve purchased in recent years and received more enjoyment than than the $90 put towards buying it. The original Guitar Hero provided me and my friends with hours and hours of gaming fun. It was just perfect. The song list was comprised of old time favorites and new songs that quickly became favorites. Guitar Hero II had some of my favorite tracks, but the general consensus was that it just didn’t seem to have the same appeal as the original song list. In looking ahead to Guitar Hero III, the song list seemed to return to the days of glory. My Name is Jonas by Weezer, One by Metallica, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, and, my personal favorite, Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones, made this new version of Guitar Hero the game to buy. However, there’s another game that was waiting behind the curtain… one that curiously enough was developed by the folks who made the first two games.

Rock Band is being developed by Harmonix — the studio that made the first two Guitar Hero games. (There’s been enough said about the split. Let’s just say that Harmonix is now doing Rock Band and Neversoft, makers of Tony Hawk, are doing Guitar Hero. OK?)

Two guitar-based games? Two years ago, we barely had hopes that the first one would be accepted. But now we’ve got this new “Rock Band” which incorporates singing, bass and lead guitar and the drums. It all seemed kinda strange to me. What could Harmonix legally take from the old series and bring to Rock Band? And more importantly, what would my old favorite, Guitar Hero, be like without them?

Well, the verdict for both games is in. I’ve played em both. Guitar Hero III has been in my PS3 for about three weeks now. And it’s fun. Real good fun. However, the one thing that I think gamers are in agreement about is the fact that, in an effort to add some flavor to the game, they’ve detracted from some of what made Guitar Hero the ‘pick up and play’ game that had Wii-like mass market appeal. It’s almost inexcusable that upon booting the game, you don’t have a complete song list. By now studios should understand that many people treat Guitar Hero and games of the like as karaoke-type games: they get a bunch of friends and play for fun. Why force people to play to unlock songs? But let me not get into details here — I’m not writing to give a review. Let’s just say what’s most important: it’s loads of fun. I look forward to coming home after work and banging out Evenflow and Paint it Black to ease some tension for many months to come.

I had a lot of doubts about Rock Band. For one, the song list seemed a bit uninspired. There were some great songs on it (Say It Ain’t So, Dani California, Epic, Paranoid, Highway Star) but as I looked over the playlist, I saw a lot of great bands — but “wrong” songs. Anyhow, my doubts also turned to the fact that at $170, would this really be worth it? How many times would I have one other person over to play — much less three other people — to justify the cost? And this big question mark for myself and many others was the inclusion of the most intriguing part of the package — the drums.  See, we’ve done the guitar. (Guitar Hero).  And we’ve done the microphone (Karaoke Revolution).  And as much as there have been games like Donkey Konga and a few others, I had to wonder: would a drum set even work accurately? And four players?? How is all of that information going to be represented on the screen at the same time — and not give everyone a headache? (I get confused sometimes with only two guitar scroll bars on screen. Imagine four sets of streaming data??!!) And what about this new guitar? Yeah, it looks ok. But I’m used to my Guitar Hero controller. And on…and on…

Well, this afternoon, I had a chance to check out Rock Band. And…well…. I’m in love. Continue reading ‘Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer’

21
Nov
07

A Prairie Home Companion: Review

On the strength of friend’s suggestion, I decided to check out A Prairie Home Companion. The film is less akin to a typical movie experience and can better be appreciated as a tribute to a lifestyle perhaps gone by. Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly and Garrison Keillor himself all star in this original film experience.

The plot is….well…. there is no plot. Perhaps it can more appropriately be presented as this: “the setting” is a Minnesota town where a weekly radio show is in the last night of production before the theater where it is produced is destroyed. That’s it. The movie is more a collection of moments and exchanges between the participants in the show. I’m simplifying the plot a bit — there is a thread of intrigue woven amongst the witty exchanges. As simple as the plot may be, I must say that the film is long on charm. This is due in no small part to the star-studded cast. Meryl Streep — for all the acclaim that she has received — never ceases to amaze. Initially I kind of short changed her as getting acclaim because she took on lofty roles. But as she’s shown in her recent film appearances, there is no such thing as a “small part”. (At least not for her.) But her role in A Prairie Home Companion is a large role. And she does a great job giving the character a truly authentic “down-home, apple pie, white picket fence” kinda feel.

When I was in college an English teacher that I thought highly of was a big Garrison Keillor fan. And for years I had been meaning to read one of his books. Well, never really got around to it. But in watching this film, I understand a bit what the appeal was. Garrison Keillor is the writer of the story, as well as the screenplay, and actually plays himself in the movie. His wit is dry, but I kinda dug it. I think this was his first role, and even though he played himself, I thought he did a super job considering all of the talent around him.

I feel like I’m not doing this movie justice — I know there are folks who love it. Having grown up in an urban jungle, I found it hard to catch the story for the first 15 minutes or so. By the time I realized that they were going for something totally different here, I just kinda went with it and in the end, I appreciate what it’s saying. To try and say that there’s a message here probably goes completely against the down-homey kinda feel that they are presenting. But I did walk away from the film feeling that with all of the advantages that our modern, Blackberry and Internet-filled lives have provided us, perhaps we’re missing something much more real and true. The film is actually based on a real radio show done out of St. Paul, Minnesota.

As much as it would be easy to distantly judge these middle America common folk and the theater that they find interesting. However, if we stop and take a a look at our own lives, perhaps our lifestyles aren’t quite that different. Recently I’ve spent considerably more time listening to podcasts from folks that I barely know about tech topics. When I stop and consider, it isn’t so different from shows like this. There’s a special quality that radio possesses. You can’t move your arms or raise your eyebrows to convey emphasis. I find the podcasts I take in weekly providing more entertainment than many of the shows that I used to frequent. (For one, podcasts allow me to work while I listen — well, sometimes they do.) Perhaps this is why I’m not feeling deprived despite the fact that we are in the middle of a writers strike.

Often folks will tell you that, “this is not a film for everyone”. Well, this really isn’t a film for everyone. If you’re in the mood for action or even the least bit of plot and twist in story, maybe you should skip this one for now. But if you have any level of appreciation for a country-living, Thomas Kinkade-kinda lifestyle, then you’ll find something special to take away from this film. Not really my cup of tea, but I must say that it’s a prolific look at a way of living that I don’t know much about. Would be nice to spend some time there someday.