Monday, September 29, 2008

Xenosaga III


Girls with guns!

Long time readers probably saw this one coming down the pipe. This final chapter in the Xenosaga story was the most difficult to acquire, requiring a drive to a Gamestop located at the furthest possible point from any highway. As well, unlike the previous games which were delicious little tidbits as far as RPGs go, this immense beast of game covers two DVDs and logs a playing time that's longer than the two previous entries combined (to be fair, this only puts at a level similar to other RPGs).

Something I forgot to mention in my review of Xenosaga II is that it was the only RPG I had ever played with no 'store' where you could buy healing items and upgrades. It was something of a shock to complete the first chapter of Xenosaga II and realize that I wouldn't be able to buy a health kit or anything throughout the game, so whatever I came by during battles and whatnot had to be horded. One of the selling points on the box for Xenosaga III is that the "store is back", and they should have added "with a vengeance". Other RPGs have options like 'equip with best available' when buying new equipment but it would only roughly apply in this game since the sadistic developers put out a series of equipment and options with benefits as well as drawbacks. I began to loathe refreshed store inventories since that would mean 20 to 30 minutes of refitting characters and their battle machines with the latest available equipment and then testing it out to make sure no one was going to get 'instagibed' during a boss battle due to a botched configuration.

Other changes to gameplay include a pared down battle system that is the simplest of the three and a redone NPC dialog system. In another interesting change, players can now buy traps that give them an early edge in most battles. Previously one would have to rely on these traps showing up on random, often unhelpful, places on the levels. Probably the most dramatic improvement is the skill tree that actually serves some purpose. Every battle nets the characters a certain amount of generic experience points that affects their level as well as 'skill points' that can be spent to upgrade specific character traits. The other episodes provided stingy skill points and near worthless abilities that could then be purchased. While still inferior to Final Fantasy style skill trees, it's a welcome improvement.

This game was even more aggressive in the ancient Japanese tradition of art over substance. The story in this episode, and thus the whole series, is...it's really something else. Any story that takes place thousands of years in the future and features flashbacks of in-game characters watching Jesus give his Sermon on the Mount will inevitably have 'issues'. This is a series that has spanned dozens of hours of dialog and cut-scenes with dozens of characters, most of whom have more than one name (and some with upwards of four). Despite the difficulty in keeping up with everything in the story, that didn't stop the developers from dumping even more characters and subplots into the third game. As I neared the back 10% of the game and I could begin to gauge the end-game, I began to wonder how they were going to tie together all these plot points and characters together and wrap it up in a nice, concise package. After thinking about it for a moment and thinking back to all the 'skilled' writing in the game, I deduced how it was going to happen: it wasn't going to happen, and unsurprisingly that was how it came to pass. As the jalopy of a plot came careening down the hill, whole characters and plot points bounced out, never to be seen again; and what was worse was that what issues were resolved were handled in such a sloppy manner that it makes me wonder whether they ever intended to end the story to begin with, that they would just keep making it up as they went along in perpetuity. As an example of my frustration, the question that bugged me the most at the end was that if the main character was the key to the antagonists plan, why were they repeatedly trying to kill her over the course of several years?

The story issues are nothing new for Japanese pop culture. The Japanese story building process seems to start with set pieces and then onto characters and then, if there's time, an actual story of some sort to hold it all together. Working from this mindset the developers got the art design and battle sequences perfected, and it's almost enough to make up for the story issues. However, when a video game sets out to make the primary differentiator for itself the story (the first episode was watched nearly as much as it was played), it would be nice if they could get that part at least partially pleasing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Physical Bootlegs

Game Developer had a review of this slick product. It's a 3D scanner that can scan in regular objects and import them into a 3D modeling program. It's really, really cool, and at $2,500 (on sale!) it's not exactly a binge purchase. However, when I saw it I thought immediately of the 3D printers that are on the market. "Cool", I thought "now people can bootleg actual physical objects!"

Of course the problem with 3D printing is that it's none too cheap. I'd heard that regular non-color 3D printers can set you back $50 to $100 or more a job while color jobs can run into the hundreds of dollars. Still affordable for prototyping, but a bit outrageous for consumer level bootlegging of Star Wars figures.

However, as can be expected, Japan has the answer. There's a bit of a modeling kit hobby over there* and the prices for these things, as with many other things in Japan, are completely divorced from reality. Check out this cool Gundam figure. They send you a sack of uncolored parts after you send them 160 clams!

I boldly predict that it's only a matter of time before 3D model exports start showing up on the likes of Pirate Bay. You will simply download the model you want, send the job off to your favorite outsourced 3D printing company and presto: a $160 Japanese model kit for $50!

*Of course it wouldn't be Japan if their hobbies didn't drift towards the reprehensible. Check out this model kit (or don't, probably NOT safe for work), I love the tag on the site: "...customs regulations for your country may prevent this figure from being delivered to you". Gawd, only Japan could make a toy figurine that's illegal to be delivered in half the world.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Loan Bias

I've been neglectful in not mentioning Steve Sailer's powerful article "The Diversity Recession". It's a piece that should get as much play as possible because the one thing that needs to come out of the current crisis is to make sure that we do not repeat the same mistake, which those in Washington appear all too ready to do. A taste:
More than a negligible amount of the blame for the mortgage meltdown can be traced back to multiculturalism: government-mandated affirmative-action lending, demographic change, illegal immigration, and the mind-numbing effects of political correctness.

The chickens have finally come home to roost.

About half of all mortgages for blacks and Hispanics are subprime, versus roughly one-sixth for whites. Not surprisingly, the biggest home price collapses have occurred in heavily Hispanic cities such as Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Microsoft Tax

For those of you who missed the expensive, short lived and painful Seinfeld/Microsoft ads, consider yourself lucky as they've already been scrapped.

Unfortunately Microsoft has all new puzzling ads (which apparently were made on a Mac). I've often wondered why Microsoft even bothers and it's a wonder their ad agency can work anything for a company with such a lousy reputation; I imagined Microsoft's concern goes like this:
M$: We need some snazzy ads for our product.
Ad agency: Okay, you having trouble selling it?
M$: Oh no, it's not that, no one has much of a choice but to buy it.
Ad agency: Umm, what's the product?
M$: It's a tax on every computer sold.
Ad agency: And what's the issue?
M$: People don't like the tax and they resent being forced to pay it. We want people to LOVE the tax.
Ad agency: That might be a bit of a challenge. How about something with a washed-up, one-note comic?

I've always thought that their was something unseemly about Microsoft ads. They're kind'a like the ads for the United States Post Office: "send your mail with us!"; well what else was I going to do?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It Would Be Illegal If You Did It

So the Fed decides that it has a hankering to buy an insurance company. Of course the price for a failing company isn't an issue when you can just go to the basement and print yourself up 85 billion dollars to complete the transaction:
Over the weekend, federal officials had tried to get the private sector to pony up some funds. But when that effort failed, Fed Chairman Bernanke, New York Fed President Timothy Geithner and Treasury Secretary Paulson concluded that federal assistance was needed to avert an AIG bankruptcy, which they feared could have disastrous repercussions.
So no one in the private sector wanted to put their money up for this turd of a company, but our illustrious elites in government figured it was a steal for the U.S. taxpayer? Those three idiots should be sent to jail for pulling a stunt like this. And where is the press outrage? Americans HATE insurance companies and I'm sure not too many of them would be pleased to know that they now own a piece of what amounts to be a glorified, yet failing, gambling operation, from Steyn:
Old-school socialist nationalization generally involved governments owning industries that actually produced something - a coal mine or an automobile. But there's something almost too creepily apt about the United States government now being, literally, one of the planet's biggest insurance companies.
Indeed, if I picked up the paper and read a generic headline that said 'Government Prints Money to Save National Insurance Company', that I would figure that I would be about to read an article about the latest adventures of Hugo Chavez or something.

In other fun news, Bush and his congressional enablers decided that it would be a good idea if the U.S. taxpayer purchased Fanron and Fredron. Now good accounting practices would have the full scope of the liabilities of our acquisition put on the books, however since Bush can't be sent away for twenty years like Ken Lay, he decided to leave the liability off the books. Why is that? Well because it would increase the national debt by 50%!!

Again, where's the outrage by our elites, I thought they hated Bush? Here the government has added more than 5 TRILLION in liabilities to the government books while the business cronies from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who orchestrated this failure get golden parachutes. I guess our illustrious press is too concerned with going after a government official who tried to fire a policeman for tasering her nephew.

What am I missing here? Was Enron's only offense that it didn't hire enough Democrats and didn't give enough money to the DNC?

Ike

I still have family members and neighbors in Ohio who still do not have power since the remains of hurricane Ike passed over the area three days ago. My prayers go out to those experiencing 'colonial living' at the moment, though at least the weather is reasonable.

Looks like the Houston/Galveston area really took in on the chin despite the fact that the hurricane was rather low powered affair (as far a hurricanes go). I shudder to think what would have happened if it was a category 5 a'la Katrina; it would probably be The Road Warrior from New York down to Texas.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's Over Effective

I wonder if this counts towards Buddhist enlightenment?
A Japanese monk trying to rid his temple of a hornet's nest panicked when the hornets attacked him and dropped a torch, burning his temple to the ground, police said Thursday.
His method was effective though:
The temple in Ojiya City, northern Japan, was burned to the ground, along with the nest, Ozaka said.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Last 9/11

First, a congrats to our fighting men and women:

We may question the ends they've been assigned to accomplish, but it's still amazing what they've accomplished given the odds. Going forward, it's doubtful that America will ever be able to do again, what they've done over the last seven years.

One Iraq war argument that got brushed away by the side somewhere through the years was that this would be the last time that we'd be able to embark on so ambitious a mission. Not the strongest point to be sure, but none the less true. If I recall correctly (and I may well not) I think part of Bush's motivation for attacking Iraq was the fact that in the not to distant future there's a reasonably decent chance that the United States would be unable or unwilling to respond to another 9/11 style attack.

What got me thinking about this more than anything else was this research over at the Heritage Foundation:
The much larger threat [than the current yearly deficits] is the trillions in future costs associated with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which the CBO projects could push the federal public debt to nearly 300 percent of GDP by 2050 and over 850 percent of GDP by 2082.
300% might not sound bad next to 850% but something to keep in mind is that Japan's public debt ratio is up above 175% and it's about to break the system. So even a fraction of the 2050 estimate is probably untenable, but what are our future politicians saying about it? Pretty much nothing. In fact it's as if they're campaigning in a vacuum. Where will Obama get his money for his Red Guards, or McCain his money to invade anywhere with the budget deficit about go off like a daisy cutter?

The answer is that they're completely oblivious. They and there ilk will continue to be until events overtake them and they'll be left wondering where it all went wrong.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Adventures in Headlines

Phew, thanks guys at Yahoo, I hadn't noticed. But I wonder, does that mean that women and minorities weren't the hardest hit?

Sickies

Sorry for the dearth of posting, but a bout of the flu about did me in at the end of last week and only today did I begin feeling upwards of 90% normal (though my stomach still isn't in the mood for much food).

I'm still waiting for some kidney test results. It's more than likely nothing, but I guess the doctors at my HMO love making their patients wait the maximum amount of time, wondering if they have the big 'C' or not. There typical out is "if you don't here anything, then nothing is wrong"; but what I'd like even better is actually hearing that nothing is wrong!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

ATT MPLS LEC ETC

Time for my quarterly AT&T rant.

Why when I call AT&T on an issue do they blame the LEC (local exchange carrier) when the LEC is AT&T? Dumpkopfs, get on the phone to your field toadies and get them out here to fix it!

Sorry, just cheesed that the crappy MPLS service those guys sell is down and along with it my place of work. Always nice when a pricey product you recommend goes in the crapper. And then it's even nicer when you have to interpret telco anagrams over the tech support line from India (or an imported version there-of).

Thanks AT&T, I can't wait to blow a couple hundred a month to develop a backup to your iffy, several thousand dollar a month network!

Slimer and Slimer

Anyone notice how the media/lefties have given the rubber glove to a Gov. Palin's daughter but couldn't get out of bed to check on Presidential (and former Vice Presidential) candidate John Edwards out of wedlock love child? Nice job American media, all the vacuum cleaners in the world couldn't make you suck more.

Gotta love toadies like George Stephanopoulos and former Gov. Tom Vilsack saying "Family is off limits, but..". But what George and Tom? The 'but' of course is that they and other lefties are letting unnamed imaginary third parties cast the aspersions that they're too castrated to make themselves.

I like this transition bit:
Got me to wondering, did any of these folks fret about Barack and Michelle Obama — week after week after week, for years — bringing their two young daughters to Trinity Church to breath in the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-American gospel according to Jeremiah Wright?
Ahh ol' Barack Hussein Obama. A man whose own Vice Presidential pick said was unfit to be president. A man who tried to get the justice department to press criminal charges against a group that had the gall to point out the fact that Obama's best buddies are convicted felons and unrepentant terrorists. A man whose wife (and more than likely himself)* hates white people nearly as much as they hate being criticized for said hatred. A man who votes to let babies die in closets while pressing for murders to get out of jail. And that's the abbreviated list of hist faults. That's a world class candidate there.

*If you want to know how such a nasty piece of business like Obama has gotten so much mileage, do a Google search for "Barack on slavery reparations". All the hits come back "Obama opposes slavery reparations", when in fact he said no such thing. Much like his, well, everything he says, it was "Of course, but.."

"Of course people should speak English, but they shouldn't, and in fact you should learn there language."

"Of course slavery reparations are not a good idea, but they then again, they are."

And so on...