Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I've Sold Out!

Well, sort of. My readership is incredibly small right now, but I figure it's never too early to start looking for ways to make this blog support itself. Fortunately, blogspot hosting is free, but I still have to justify my time investment, especially if I hope to get back to doing full reviews. In an attempt to achieve that goal I have signed up as an Amazon Associate. That means that when I talk about something that Amazon sells, I'll usually put a link to the product on their site. I'm a satisfied customer of theirs, and have been for years, so I don't mind sending people to their site to buy things.

Also, I've put a small link to them over on the right.

I'll probably add some other revenue generators later on, but I'll try to keep things as tasteful as possible.


I've had at least one complaint about having the comments locked down, so I just unlocked the comments so that you don't have to be a registered user to make one. I did activate word verification to hopefully keep any adbots out. Feel free to post comments if you want.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Panzer Tracks

If you look closely you'll see a new link off on the right side of the page. Panzer Tracks is my new blog specifically covering World War II history and Flames of War. I've been wanting to talk about some issues that get a little too detailed and specific to really fit into postGeek, so I decided to create a new place for them to go.

To begin with I'm covering my current Flames of War project, but later I'll be doing some book reviews and whatever else I think of that fits the theme.

I'll still probably cover my actual game playing here on postGeek and Waryammer, but that may change as I see how things are working out. In the meantime, check it out and see what you think.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Movie Review: X-Men: The Last Stand

One of the hallmarks of a geeky youth for people my age was reading comic books. I pretty much gave up on reading comics a few years back, but I still greatly enjoy the good movies that have been coming out over the past few years about comics. Some filmmakers have finally realized that it's never really been about the costumes and the powers, but about using those to tell stories covering timeless themes such as alienation and responsibility.

The X-Men movies have been especially good at telling interesting stories while remaining true to the essence of the comics. X-Men: The Last Stand is no different. The movie is a worthy sequel to the first two movies. If you liked the first two then you'll like this one. If you didn't like the first two, then this one won't change your mind.

It's hard to talk about any aspect of this film without revealing spoilers, so I'm going to keep things pretty general. All the main good guys from the previous films are back (except Nightcrawler), at least for a scene or two. We get some new ones as well, including the Beast and the Angel, which means we've now seen the complete original comic book team on screen, although not all together as a group. It handles the ensemble of characters well and gives old fan favorites from the comic books just enough screen time to show their stuff. This time around we get to see Hank McCoy (the Beast), Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat), and Warren Worthington III (Angel) in action in addition to most of those from the previous movies.

Since this blog is supposed to be aimed at people with lives, and that includes having kids, I'll mention that there is a great deal of death and violence in this film. More so than in the previous two. It's not played up for blood and gore, but Wolverine has claws and uses them, and the main antagonist of the film kills dozens. It earns the PG-13 rating for violence.

Oh, and if you do go see it, then stay until after the credits have run. There's another scene at the very end.

I'd talk more about some of the details of this film, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Maybe I'll post again about it after it comes out on DVD.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Console Pricing

So, with Nintendo's announcement today, we now know at least the general price points of the latest generation of gaming consoles. For those who haven't been paying attention, we have the Xbox 360 out now for $300 to $400 depending on whether you want the real system or the gimped one. The Sony PS3 is going to go for $500 to $600, again depending on whether or not you want the gimped system. Now Nintendo has announced that the Wii is going to be $250 at most.

Personally, I'm rooting for the Wii. With its low price point, innovative controller, and focus on gameplay over technology I think it gives Nintendo the best chance in years to gain back market share. Meanwhile, Sony seems determined to give up its leading position by going with a high price point, a late launch, and a gamble that the built in HD-DVD player is somehow going to justify it all.

Before the price announcements from Sony, I figured that I'd end up getting all three consoles eventually. I already have a 360, and I plan on getting a Wii when it comes out. At $600 though, the PS3 is going to need some truly awesome games for me to consider getting it.

The HD-DVD player is a non-starter for me. I don't even have an HD television yet, and doubt that I'll have one by the time the PS3 comes out. I have a huge DVD collection for which I don't need an HD-DVD player. I can't think of anything in my DVD collection that I would seriously consider buying again just to have in HD format. There are, of course, technophiles that will get everything they can on HD-DVD, but most of them will be buying the more expensive stand-alone HD-DVD players rather than the PS3.

The average console consumer is not a hardcore technophile or gamer. The average console consumer is the parent of a gamer. Those consumers are going to be faced with a choice between a $250 Wii and a $500 PS3, and they're not going to have to think about that choice for more than a few seconds. Even "little Billy" for whom the console is being bought is going to think twice about demanding a PS3 when faced with the option of a PS3 and one game, or a Wii and several games.

The result of all of this is that all three consoles are on more or less an even basis at this point. The 360 has the advantage of being first out of the gate, and will be able to continue to leverage that along with its more reasonable price point, that may just drop some as the Wii and PS3 come out. The Wii has its low price point and high level of innovation going for it. Sony is busy squandering its lead in the market by trying to leverage it to push its HD-DVD format, which allows the other two consoles to catch up to it.

It's going to be interesting to see just what happens as the remaining consoles are released.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

My first four player game of Flames of War


Ok, this one didn't turn out so well. It was 3000 points of Soviets vs. 3000 points of DAK Germans, and we played the recently posted Armoured Encounter Scenario.

We got slaughtered, but since we did manage to destroy two of our opponents' eleven platoons before getting taken out, it was technically just a 3-4 loss.

There were a lot of mistakes made in this one. We messed up the firepower rolls again, but in a different way this time. We also totally messed up the marching reserves rule used in the scenario we were playing, which since everything except recon starts in reserve was a pretty big deal. This second mistake was probably a bigger deal.

Anyways, it was still a fun game. Joedog brought his terrain, which looked good on the battlemat I brought. Once I get some of the terrain I'm working on done we should have a lot of really good options going.

Despite the loss, I'm still really inspired to keep painting more. I want to get a 2000 point Soviet force finished up before moving on to the German opposition force I'm planning.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pa Nurgle's Page

Just letting you know what the new link is all about. Father Nurgle is the online name of a typical postGeek type: a married professional and proud father who insists on spending time painting little toy soldiers ;-)

The link is to his miniature galleries showing a nice selection of his work. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi miniatures from Games Workshop.

He also hosts the annual Waryammer Painting Contest. A small contest run from the Waryammer boards.

I've linked to him for three reasons. The first is that he was nice enough to link to me. The second is that he is a fairly typical postGeek himself. The third is that his work is simply nice to look at.

Check it out and enjoy!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My first full game of Flames of War

I just posted a lengthy writeup of my first full game of Flames of War over on Waryammer. I've played a few skirmishes, but this was my first full 1500 point battle using an official scenario. The short version is that I won a 6-1 victory (that's the best you can do). I won't repost my whole writeup here as it's rather long, but you should humor me and check it out.

I'm hoping to get a couple pics later, but I forgot my camera, so I'm relying on others that were present. The image at left is the only one I have from the game so far, sorry it's so small. The playing area was the entire table, not just the section that's green. Most of the action tended to take place on the green section though. I'm the one holding the book on the far side. That green line on the board in front of me is most of my army. You can just make out the tan blobs that were my opponents 1st platoon and command section. At the point the picture was taken all but the company commander had been wiped out, the rest were just there to represent wrecks.

Don't expect me to put this much effort into documenting my first loss ;-)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Game Review: Star Wars Battlefront 2

This was one of the last reviews I did for the original site. It was first posted back in November I think. I'm reposting it now because there's been some interest in the game on Waryammer. The game is still at full retail most places, but if you shop around you might be able to get it for a bit less.

Star Wars Battlefront II (SWBF2) is LucasArts answer to Battlefield 2 (BF2). It's a FPS tactical game where you fight along side teammates in an attempt to win a battle. The game is available for PC, PS2, Xbox, and PSP. I played the PC version for review. All the versions are currently retailing for around $50.

The game covers both of the Star Wars trilogies, so there are four different armies in the game, two for each era. Imperial vs. Rebellion in the original era, and Republic vs. Separatist in the
prequel era. In a standard match you pick a side and then pick from one of four basic kits. Roughly these kits equate to soldier, anti-tank, sniper and support, but there are variations between armies. As you gain points in a match you unlock the ability to use two special kits that vary quite a bit between armies. The goal of the basic match is to run the opposing team out of points by killing opponents and taking control points. Basically the same as in BF2.

That's just the basic game. There are a lot more optional game setups than there are in BF2. To begin with there are the conquest maps. The most common of these are in space where instead of the normal kits you are limited to just two special kits, the pilot and the marine. The marine is basically a combination of soldier and anti-tank while the pilot is a support character with the very important ability to heal the ship he is flying in while flying it.

The basic goal in conquest is reversed. Instead of running the other player out of points, you are trying to reach a certain amount of points first. You gain points for killing enemies just like in normal battles, but you don't have control points. Instead, you get major points for destroying parts of capital ships or their escorts. On capital ships this can be done either by blasting away with fighters from the outside, or by landing a transport in the enemies docking bay and assaulting with marines and pilots. A landed shuttle becomes a spawn point for your side which adds an interesting level of complexity to these maps.

Unfortunately, the control schemes for the spacecraft aren't as good as those in the old X-Wing series of space combat games. I got used to them, but they could have been better.

The control scheme for ground units also has a few idiosyncrasies. You can't go prone in SWBF2, but you can do a combat roll. This takes a bit of getting used to, but does look better than the guy in BF2 dropping to prone and standing up again in rapid succession, and achieves the same general effect in game terms. It does suck for snipers in that they are more visible as a result, but they also tend to be more deadly with the ability to take out at least some of the kits with a single head shot.

There are also a few land based Conquest maps where the game throws hordes of NPC soldiers onto both sides of the conflict. The goal is the same as space based conquest maps, but the lack of any goals similar to the capital ships makes these maps lose their appeal fairly quickly. It's still nice for a short while to take part in the kind of massive battle portrayed in the movies.

Another type of game is the "hunt" where there is only one kit available per side. One side usually has a variation of the soldier kit, but the other side has something unique, and in some cases both sides do. The hunt in Mos Eisley pits Sand People against Jawas. Hoth pits Rebels against Wampas. Other favorite hunted targets are Gungans and Ewoks. Unfortunately, someone has to play them as well. The only problem with this version of play is that I'm not sure about the balance in these matches. From what I've seen the hunters usually have the advantage, except for the Wampas where it seems that they really dominate when played by anyone who knows hot to use them.

Overall, there's a lot of options, but unless you're hosting your own game, you might have trouble finding the exact game you want online. I only tried a few online games myself, but didn't run into any real difficulties with the browser.

Offline, the game has a rather nice, if somewhat short, main single player campaign. It puts you in the role of a trooper in the 501st Clone Legion beginning with their baptism of fire on Kamino, through their transformation into the 501st Stormtrooper Legion and on to their greatest victory at the battle of Hoth. Along the way they take part in many of the key fights of the Clone Wars and have some interesting actions during the early days of the Rebellion. The difficulty of the early missions is rather low, but it starts to ramp up as the Clone Wars end and the 501st becomes stormtroopers. There's even a nice explanation at one point as to why stormtroopers don't all look and sound the same like clone troopers do.

The campaign also lets you skip the space battles if you decide that you just don't like them.

In addition to the main campaign, there are also four galactic conquest campaigns that are an evolution of those from the first SWBF. You now fight over a map of the galaxy rather than over a linear campaign map. The main problem is that they still take a long time to play through, and unlike the story campaign, there's no way to entirely avoid the space combats if you don't like them. Still, if you do like the space combats, these campaigns can provide some nice offline entertainment.

Another new feature of SWBF2 is the ability to play heroes. Whether you can do this or not depends on how the game was set up. The default is for a hero to become available after a player scores 10 points. The hero then becomes available for the best player on that side. That player then has a period of time to decide whether or not they wish to play the hero.

Heroes play differently from regular kits in that they don't have health bars, and can't be healed in normal ways. Instead they have a timer bar. If they take damage then time is taken off the bar. For every kill they make time is added to the bar. Once the bar is gone the hero dies and there is a period of time before they become available again.

There is only one hero available per side, but the server can be set up to give the hero to the worst player or to a random player instead of the best player. They can also be turned off entirely if the administrator decides that they are too overpowering. In most cases the heroes are very powerful, although I've found the Fetts (both Jango and Boba) to be disappointing.

Offline games can be paused, but can't be saved in the middle of the battle. Most battles are relatively short, so it's not usually a big loss to have to quit one. Online games, of course, can't be paused or saved. There's a lot of violence in the game, but no blood or gore. The game is rated T for Violence and Mild Language.

Purely as a game BF2 is superior to SWBF2 except in the number of different game types available. The thing that SWBF2 has going for it is that it is Star Wars. If you're a fan, then that makes this game worth playing. There's a reason that SWBF was the best-selling Star Wars game ever, and this sequel is just as good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Licenses and how not to use them (the new Shadowrun)

I was once in college, and when I was in college I played RPGs. We're talking good old fashioned pen and paper RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons. Probably my most successfully run RPG campaign used Shadowrun.

Shadowrun was a game that blended classic Tolkienesque fantasy with the relatively new idea of cyberpunk science fiction. Set some 65 years or so in the future, it was a world where magic had returned, half of humanity was no longer human, and corporations had more power than governments. It was a lot of fun.

Now, some 15 plus years later, the RPG is in its fourth edition, but relatively few people outside of the world of RPGs are at all familiar with ite, despite a couple of games for the SNES and Sega Genesis based in the same setting.

Enter Microsoft and FASA Studios. FASA was the company that created Shadowrun. Through a long and complicated process, Microsoft ended up holding the rights to turn FASA properties into computer games. The Battletech line in particular has long been a flagship title for Microsoft Games, and Crimson Skies proved at least a minor hit on the Xbox, but nothing has really been done with Shadowrun, until now.

Now Microsoft and FASA Studios have decided to use the Shadowrun name for a new game featuring squad based FPS combat. Unfortunately, that's all they've done, decided to use the name Shadowrun.

The game itself otherwise has nothing to do with the RPG for which it is named. Here's a quote from the lead dev's blog:
So what should we do? Satisfy fans of the paper and pencil game? The novels? The SNES and Genesis games? It wasn’t a long debate, really. We decided to restart the Shadowrun time line and grow the fiction over a series of games, allowing the world we loved to unfold over time.

As if somehow the RPG, novels, and previous games all represented different universes that you had to choose from. They didn't, they were all set in the same universe. The universe that they decided to discard.

So, on to my point. If they are going to discard everything associated with the name Shadowrun, then why use the name? The only people that are going to recognize the name are fans of the RPG, and fans of the RPG are going to be pissed at what's being done. They've basically generated an automatic level of ill-will that they now have to overcome through better than average game design.

At least they didn't actually waste money on the license, since it was something they owned already, but they'd still have been better off just coming up with a new name.

Game Review: Lego Star Wars

I said I'd dig this up and repost it, so here it is. I have just a couple things to add. First, I reviewed the X-box version of the game, and unfortunately, it has not been added to the list of games compatible with the 360. I hope maybe that will change by the time the second game is released. Second, you should be able to find this game for less than the full retail prices I give in the review. I've seen it for around $20 some places. Now for my original review:

Lego Star Wars is an adventure game for one or two players set in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars, but using Legos. It's available for PC, PS2, and Xbox. I played the version for Xbox. The PC version can be found for around $30 while the console versions go for around $40.

I had a blast playing this game. Legos and Star Wars were two of the biggest things in my childhood, so I was biased to like this from the start. Even so, playing the demo didn't really impress me. It was only after reading some other positive reviews that I decided to go ahead and get the game. I'm not disappointed that I did.

The game is a simple adventure game that follows the events of Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III. You take on the roles of legoized versions of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin and others as you progress through the scenes. As an adventure game, you spend at least as much time collecting things and solving jumping puzzles as you do fighting combats and progressing the story line, but most everything is handled in an enjoyable way.

You can play the game in two ways. Either in Story Mode or in Free Play. You have to first play through a mission in Story Mode, which means that you are limited to the two characters that the story is designed around, such as Qui-Gon and Obi-Won in the opening mission aboard the Trade Federation starship. When playing in Free Play you can select your character from any of those that you have unlocked. The computer then selects a number of other characters for you from those you have unlocked. You can rotate between those characters while playing the mission. Different characters have different special abilities. Many areas of the game are only reachable by characters with a certain special ability, making them impossible to reach in Story Mode.

If nothing else, the game has one huge advantage over the movies: the dialogue. The only fully pronounced words in the entire game are "roger-roger" from the battle droids, and you only hear that once or twice. It tends to make Anakin and Padme far more bearable.

I did have a couple issues with the design of the game. First is that the camera is not controllable, and sometimes makes things more difficult than they should be, but after playing for a while I got used to not being able to control the camera. Second is that the game is short. I completed the storyline for all three movies in a day, and came very near to unlocking all the extras in a second day (although with a bit of help from www.gamefaqs.com for the latter). Unlocking extras does provide some replay value, but once that is finished there probably won't be much reason to take this game back off the shelf.

A third issue I had was with the performance of the game. I had it lock up on me on three different occasions. I only mention this because I can't recall the last time my Xbox locked up on a game, so I have to assume that it was the game and not my console.

One issue from a postGeek perspective is that while you can pause at any time, you can only save the game between missions. The missions are relatively short so it's not a complete disaster if you should have to play one over. Most of the puzzles are easy to do once you figure them out, so there isn't as much frustration as might be involved with other games. I had the game lock up on me once at the very end of a mission. In most games that would have driven me insane, but it was only a minor annoyance with this one.

The only other problem I had with the game was that it only covered Episodes I, II, and III. Fortunately, one of the unlockable items is a single mission set at the beginning of Episode IV which ended with the words "to be continued..."

The game is rated E with the notation of Violence. The violence is between Legos. Defeated Lego men fall apart into their component pieces and then fade away. The game is about as kid friendly as any that I've reviewed so far, and is a game you could get for a younger kid and not mind playing with them, especially given the drop in/drop out nature of multiplayer that lets the second player leave or enter the game at any point.

I highly recommend playing this game if you like Star Wars and ever played with Legos as a kid. I can't recommend buying it at the current retail price given the short playing time, but it's well worth a rental.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Star Wars originals on dvd: too little too late?

Finally, "in response to overwhelming demand", Lucas has decided to release the original trilogy in its original form on dvd. I suppose it's just coincidence that the updated trilogy on dvd has been out long enough now for the vast majority of those who are going to buy it to have gotten it. Now they hope those who would have waited for this release, but thought it was never going to come, will go ahead and buy the trilogy again one more time. Conveniently enough, it will be time for the whole cycle to start over again in about a year when they probably start releasing HD-DVD versions of all the movies.

They may be right, but the laser disc version of the original trilogy has been available in dvd form for years now on ebay. A lot of fans, after being told they were never going to see the original trilogy on dvd, went ahead and acquired it this way.

Fans won't have long to decide whether or not to get the official versions, since they are saying that they will only be available from September through December.

Quite frankly, I'm more excited about the Lego game covering the original trilogy. I reviewed the original game game that covered the prequel and found it to be one of those rare games that should be fun for both kids and adults. Later I'll see if I can dig up that review and repost it here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gundam Goodness for the 360

Just a quick post to link to an article Rhythmspitter sent me previewing a game under development called Mobile Ops: The One Year War. I love Gundam and I love gaming, so I'll be looking forward to this one, assuming they don't screw it up. Gundam games don't exactly have a perfect record.

Doesn't look like there's an official site yet or I'd link to it.

Geeking out on Star Trek

It's fairly common knowledge that Star Trek has sucked for some time. Just when it began sucking is a matter of debate. Some argue that it was when Voyager started. Some say it was when DS9 started. Some say it was when Next Generation started. Some say that it was after the second season of the original series. Some say it always sucked.

Well, if you're among that last group then you probably won't like this, but otherwise you just might want to check out www.startreknewvoyages.com. It's the site for one of several fan based productions of new Star Trek material. This one is a bit different for several reasons. First, rather than create new characters in the Star Trek universe it goes back and recasts the original roles with new actors. Their reasoning is that Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the others are enduring characters on their own regardless of who is playing them. Much like famous characters in plays, or certain long running series in film. I didn't like this choice at first, but after a while I got used to the idea. Second, as a setting they elected to start in the fourth year of the Enterprise's first five year mission under Captain Kirk. This sets it immediately after the end of the original third season and ties it in more closely with the canon as established by the original series and the movies. Third, they use a mix of talented fans and professionals volunteering their time, not just a bunch of fans with a video camera. Fourth, those volunteers will soon include both Walter Koenig and George Takei in special one episode guest appearances. Not just as cameos either, but apparently as the central actor for the episode they will appear in.

The costumes and sets are faithful recreations of those used on the original series, with some updates of computer screens and the like, but still keeping the feel of the original series. The acting is passable, and has improved dramatically between their "pilot" episode and their first "regular" episode. I first encountered the New Voyages a year or so ago when the "pilot" was all they had done, and I was not overly impressed. I just finished watching their first "regular" episode, In Harms Way, and found it to be far better.

One of the highlights is to see what even a small budget production like this can do with modern special effects that were impossible for the older series. Starbases are elaborate affairs busy with ship traffic. Space combats feature wide panning shots filled with movement and action. Using modern computer graphics, the special effects in this regard are arguably better than those found in Next Generation, let alone the original series.

If you want to check it out for yourself, but don't want to download all the parts of In Harms Way, then I suggest using one of the mirrors on the site to download the Center Seat vignette. It features a good sampling of the special effects along with the level of acting that you can expect. If you're still interested, then download In Harms Way. Just be aware that Center Seat includes a minor spoiler of In Harms Way.

Whatever you do, don't watch the pilot episode first. It's worth watching if you really like In Harms Way and can't wait for them to finish the next episode, but there's a reason why they decided to reclassify it as a pilot instead of leaving it as the first episode (several of the mirrors don't even have it anymore). Also, I suggest this mirror site for everything except the pilot. I had some issues with some of the parts for In Harms Way when I downloaded them off a couple of the other mirrors.

Monday, May 01, 2006

But can they really capture the "essence" of the game?

Another story stolen from Slashdot. It seems that director Corey Yuen is making a DOA movie due out in August. The trailer looks campy, but the fight clips don't look too bad. Not as much "bounce" as in the games, but still some emphasis on that area...

You can see for yourself by checking the trailer out here. It looks like B movie material with decent fight scenes, and honestly, that puts it a step above any other game related movie I can think of.

Since I'm talking about the movie, I should mention that I'm playing the game right now (DOA4 on the 360). So far it's been a fun but tough game. It seems a lot tougher than its predecessors. For example, in survival mode I generally can go 10 to 20 rounds before getting taken out in the earlier versions. So far I don't think I've made it past four rounds in DOA4.

It's a very pretty game to look at, not even counting the main selling points of the game. Although those selling points do result in a few character designs that you probably shouldn't use when the kids or significant other are around. That's also what gives it the M for Mature rating, not the violence, which is fairly tame for a fighter, with no blood or anything.

Well, that and the cutscenes. Some of which feature nudity concealed only by strategically placed lens flare or some other graphical effect. One which features an interrogation, and one which features a character getting "high" on what appears to be sake. There may be some other potentially "mature" cutscenes that I haven't run across yet, since I'm only a little over halfway done with the story modes.

I may try to do a more in depth review of the game later. For now I give it a tentative thumbs up if you have a 360, but it's not a good enough game to get a 360 just to play it.