SEB Review: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” for the PC.

It's a great game that has some terrible flaws.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

I’m in a real love/hate relationship with this game and I’m torn on how to present the review. So I suppose I’ll start off with a quick summary: It’s awesome and horribly flawed at the same time. This latest outing manages to improve upon the original in almost every way, but at the same time it also manages to take several steps backwards that mar what would otherwise be a flawless game.

The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a big surprise for me and, I think, for a lot of other gamers when we finally got our hands on the release version. Not only were the graphics as new as the setting, but it was clear that Infinity Ward had been paying attention to what the modders had been doing with the multiplayer in previous CoD games. The addition of kill-streak rewards recreated the functionality of some of the most popular CoD2 mods and then when you stacked the RPG-ish XP system that unlocked new weapons, attachments, and perks on top of that it made for a helluva fun experience and a title that is still widely played to this day.

The sequel builds on most of what made the original so damned amazing and that generally is a good thing, though in some places it’s a bit over-the-top. Take, for example, in the singe-player game’s storyline.

Single Player

I said in my review of CoD:MW that I didn’t pay that much attention to the plot in part because it had you jumping back and forth between a couple of different characters in different locations and was hard to follow when you’re busy just trying to survive the mayhem taking place around you. The plot for Modern Warfare 2 is similar in that you jump back and forth between no less than five different characters throughout the course of the game. If you thought that mechanic in the first game was a tad confusing then you’ll just love it in the second one.

The story is set some five years after the events of the first game and it apparently involves the Ultranationalists (Russians) from the first story gaining control of Russia and declaring the main Russian villain from that game as a national hero and martyr. The new villain, an Ultranationalist lieutenant, is engaging in acts of terrorism designed to ultimately bring tensions between the U.S. and Russia to a boiling point. It’s hard to go into too much detail without revealing a lot of spoilers, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of setup for an eventual Russian invasion of America without the use of nukes and then a whole shit load of plot twists that reveals yet another major villain and sets things up for the inevitable sequel.

Here’s the thing about the story in MW2: Imagine the folks at Infinity Ward weren’t happy with the quality of the story from CoD4 and decided they needed to bring someone in to punch it up for this game. Now imagine that they hired Michael Bay to write it and he somehow got a little confused and thought it was a James Bond film. That’s the sort of aftertaste that was left in my mouth by the time I was finished with the campaign mode. It was that over-the-top at times.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Early on in the story you take on the role of Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson who, along with a Captain “Soap” MacTavish, infiltrate an airbase in Kazakhstan to recover a lost ACS module from a downed satellite. It starts off with lots of stealth, but finishes up with a wild snowmobile race to the extraction point and a waiting helicopter. There’s lots of shooting and exploding snowmobiles and trees to avoid until the very end at which point you have to leap the snowmobile over a yawning chasm that in the game looks to be at least a quarter-mile wide. The longest snowmobile jump I’m aware of was around 263 feet by Ross Mercer which is sill a tad bit short of the 1,320 feet in a standard quarter mile. Now I don’t know how big the chasm was really supposed to be, but it definitely looked bigger than what the snowmobile could handle so when I made it across easily it just seemed a rather silly ending to the level. There’s a lot of stuff like that in the single player campaign, but you don’t really notice it being quite so silly at the time because so much of the rest of it is just very cool. When you get done and reflect upon the events, however, you realize how silly a lot of it is.

That’s only a slight disappointment, though. The real disappointment about the single player game is just how short it is. This was a problem with CoD4 as well, but it seems even more pronounced in MW2. I don’t recall how long it took me to finish the first game — it was a couple of nights — but the total time for Modern Warfare 2 was a scant 6 hours. Much like the first game, again, there are collectibles scattered throughout the levels to stretch things out through replaying the campaign mode, but it’s still short by past standards.

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My thoughts on WordPress so far.

So we’ve been running WordPress for over a week now and I thought I’d take a moment to give my impressions. There is much to like about WordPress and much to dislike, but it’s certainly much better than it was the last time I checked it out over five years ago.

First, here’s what I love about it:

  1. The WYSIWYG editor for writing entries. It takes some getting used to after years of hand coding HTML into my entries, but having an editor that performs more like a word processor than a text editor is really nice. WordPress’s previews are also rendered using the template for your site so you truly get to see what it will look like when you preview. You can toggle over to a standard text editor window right in the middle of editing to allow you to massage the code by hand if you wish and then swap right back to the visual editor.
  2. The built-in media system. WordPress makes working with images in your entries surprisingly easy with a system that maintains a library of images used to make reusing them simple. Support for captions in themes and an easy method of specifying parameters are also welcome. The 2.9 release will include a built-in image editor for rudimentary things like resizing and cropping.
  3. The back end Dashboard is simply amazing in it’s configurability. You can drag and drop various elements around the screen to set things up the way you want to use them. Minimize options you will hardly ever touch, and so on.
  4. Core support for both tags and categories. I tend to use both and both are well supporting in WordPress.
  5. Built-in blogroll system. Not having to use an external service or code all the links by hand is nice. I’m still using a link to my Google Reader Blogroll so I’m not using it here, but for the other folks I host blogs for it’s a nice addition indeed.
  6. Well organized and laid out backend. Getting around to the things you need to do is pretty easy in WP’s backend.
  7. Pings/Trackbacks are handled just as well as comments are. The comment/trackback system in WP is one system that handles both items exactly the same. Both can be set to Approved/Moderated/Spam as a status and displayed or not displayed accordingly. This allows Akismet to effectively police both comments and trackbacks easily. It’s been years since I last allowed trackbacks and I’m happy to be able to allow them once again.
  8. You can download and install plugins to extend WP’s functionality right within the dashboard. This makes trying out new plugins very easy indeed. And many do not require theme modifications to work.
  9. The templating or themeing system is amazing in what it allows. Not only can you download and install freely available themes from within the backend, but those themes can include their own plugins as well as options and settings that allow you to customize the theme without ever touching the template files directly. This is dependent on the skill of the person coding the theme, of course, but just about every aspect of the Atahualpa theme I’m using at the moment can be modified in the WP dashboard. And if you’re willing to dish out the cash for the Thesis theme the level of customization borders on the insane. Additionally the ability for a theme to allow for widgets makes adding sidebars to themes a breeze for novices.

Now for the stuff I’m not so enchanted with:

  1. There’s still a lot of functionality I would expect in the core of the system that isn’t there. Stuff like the ability to subscribe to email announcements of new comments. This is probably because WP does include the ability to subscribe to an RSS feed of the comments for individual entries, but I’d rather get emails than track all of the various threads through RSS. The ability to preview comments is also not part of the core system, which seems odd. There’s also no built-in system for Captchas.  This means you’ll be looking to the voluminous number of plugins available to make up for what should be core functions. And while there may be a dozen plugins that do what you want it’s not always a given that the one that fits best is the one that’s likely to be compatible with your current version of WordPress.
  2. The focus of WP is clearly still on a single user maintaining his own blog. It is possible to have multiple authors on a WP blog, but notifications of new comments to a thread are only sent to the author of the entry. This means that if any of the entries written by you SEB regulars gets a comment then you get notified, but I don’t. This makes policing for spam that got past Akismet a bit trickier. The same is also true, I believe, for notifications about comments being moderated for an entry. Fortunately it is possible to have more than one email address receive notifications for stuff like new user registrations.
  3. It doesn’t support multiple blogs in a single install with one overriding administrator. This one something that made MovableType and ExpressionEngine excellent platforms. There is a branch of WordPress that does this, called WordPressMU, but it’s a fork written by different people and it deviates in some key ways. It’s also more than a little confusing to work with. Supposedly 3.0 will see this ability come to standard WordPress, but until then this is a big deficiency.
  4. The member profiles are pretty thin compared to a lot of other systems and the reliance on Gravatars over built-in avatars is disappointing.
  5. The templating system is still a pain if you want to build a theme from scratch. It still relies on you coding a bunch of files with PHP function calls in them. It’s somewhat analogous to the tags used in ExpressionEngine and MovableType, but it can make theme files look more like program code than HTML and confusing to read at best. The ability to use PHP right in the templates does make them very powerful (see the Thesis theme mentioned previously), but it also opens up a potential security hole at the same time.
  6. Sometimes plugins will work once and then die for no apparent reason. Just about every post announcement to Twitter plugin I’ve tried has done that.
  7. There doesn’t appear to be any way to develop one theme while leaving a different one active on your site. I’ve had to set up a test blog just to play around with different themes without SEB changing appearances every five seconds.

I’m sure there’s a couple of other things that annoy me about WordPress, but those are the big ones I can recall at the moment. Overall there’s a lot I’m enjoying about using WordPress and a lot that I think it gets right, but there’s definitely still lots of room for improvements. It’s wonderful for novices as it keeps things simple, yet powerful, but if you’re a power user like me then it often gets in the way of what you want to do. Its come a long way in five years, though, so there is good reason to hope some of these issues will be taken care of in time.

SEB 30 Second Movie Reviews: “Star Trek”

This will be short and spoiler-free.

The wife and I saw a late showing of the new Star Trek on Saturday night so I thought I’d take a moment to offer my thoughts. Keep in mind that this comes from someone (me) who absolutely detests The Original Series, thinks The Next Generation was tolerable, couldn’t stand Deep Space Nine, and lost interest in both Voyager and Enterprise within the span of a single episode. In other words I’m about as far from a Trek Fanboy as you can get.

That said, you should go see this movie. Had the original TV series been half as entertaining as this movie I’d be a die hard fan. Simon Pegg as Scotty steals every scene he’s in making me wish he’d shown up earlier. When I left the theater I was actually excited about the prospect of this becoming a new franchise, assuming they’re able to get everyone to sign up for another outing. So go see it even if, like me, you’re not a Star Trek fanboy.

Consumer Reports tests the ShamWoW.

We’ve all seen the commercials for ShamWows wherein the hyper host Vince demonstrates the amazing absorbency of the microfiber towels he’s selling. The question is: Do they really work? The folks at Consumer Reports decided to find out.

As with most things in life they’re not quite as amazing as they’re presented to be. Not necessarily a bad product, but not exactly living up to the image being portrayed in the commercials. Which is right about what I’d expect.

Via The Consumerist.

The OS that wouldn’t die. ArsTechnica.com reviews AmigaOS 4.1.

I still have a big soft spot in my heart for my old Amigas. I’ve not used them in ages, but I still own my Amiga 1000, 3000, and 1200 (though I can’t locate the 1200 at the moment) and I have my buddy Karl’s old A500. My hope is to get my hands on a network card for the A3000 and get it running on the Internet someday.

Commodore has been dead for quite some time now and the Amiga assets have been sold and resold numerous times since then. That’s why hearing that a new version of the AmigaOS has just been released is so amazing. The folks over at ArsTechnica got their hands on it and have written up a review that makes me long for breaking out my old Amigas. Oddly enough the new OS wouldn’t run on any of the current hardware that I own as it’s aimed at the PowerPC based machines that were developed by Amiga Inc. and some partner companies long after Commodore went belly up and even that hardware isn’t being produced any longer. This poses an obvious question: Why is a company out there still producing this OS when the hardware for it isn’t even available anymore? Ars attempts to answer that question:

One might ask, and many people do, why anyone would bother putting so much effort into continuing AmigaOS when Windows, OS X, and Linux are already available and well-entrenched? Such a question betrays a lack of imagination about the computer industry and assumes that nobody will ever be interested in alternative platforms. The continued existence of OS X and Linux shows this to be an incorrect assumption.

[…] At the moment AmigaOS is still tied to the PowerPC, but that is not necessarily a bad thing: there is still a market (albeit a small one) of geeks who would be interested in a non-Intel platform, and the PPC continues to be developed in the embedded market. Embedded hardware is designed to be inexpensive to manufacture, and this allows products such as Genesi’s $99 Efika, a tiny motherboard and CPU combination that currently runs the work-alike AmigaOS clone MorphOS, but could easily be made to run OS 4.1. The PlayStation 3, PowerPC Macintoshes, and mobile devices are also viable OS 4.1 targets. A Hyperion developer told me that not only has the OS been run on a PS3, but they have even tested support for the seven SPU units in the Cell processor.

The thought of having an AmigaOS running on a PS3 provokes a Pavlovian reaction in me. I would have to save up enough money to purchase a second PS3 just to run AmigaOS on. As it stands there’s the potential for more hardware to be produced coming down the pike and the Amiga fan base, while not as large as it once was, is still very devoted. The new features in AmigaOS 4.1 is definitely impressive considering the small market it has. Who knows? Maybe it’ll make a comeback some day.

“Spore” gets a shitload of 1 star ratings due to DRM.

Out of the (currently) 230 reviews for Spore at Amazon.com some 199 of them are 1 star and the comments make it clear this is due entirely to the SecuROM DRM. Some of the comments include insights such as:

This type of DRM with not stand, man

Do not treat your customers as “Criminals First”. The DRM has already been cracked and is online anyway, so what was the point, seriously? The only people who are being punished is those of us who actually pay for quality games.

NO DRM! – Jason C. Roskam

A sentiment I agree with completely.

DRM is a no go

Their DRM copy protection is outrageous. Limiting to 3 installs for a full price PC game is not going to cut it. They are inconveniencing their customers for a game many have anticipated for many years. To prove the folly of gimping their official disc, I think I’ll pass for now. My pirated copy will keep me busy in the interim.

NO THANK YOU EA!

You’d think someone at EA would take note of the fact that their DRM has actually driven at least one person to the pirated game, but chances are they’ll just use it as an excuse for why they need DRM.

Personally I’m torn once again. I really was looking forward to this game as was everyone in my family to the extent that we were seriously considering buying three copies at some point because we’re all going to want to play it at the same time. That’d be a total of $150 from one household alone, but the presence of SecuROM and the three install limit bugs the shit out of me. I’ve only played a small amount of Bioshock because I refused to buy it for the PC due to the SecuROM and was limited to trying it at a friend’s house. It’s finally coming out for the PS3, but I don’t tend to care for playing FPS games on a console (much prefer keyboard and mouse) so Ken Levine will probably never see a dime from me for his excellent game. Now I’m seriously thinking I won’t be buying Spore either because of the DRM and that’s seriously disappointing. I doubt EA will get the message as it’ll probably still sell well enough for them to consider it a success, but badly enough that they can jump up and down about the problem of piracy. For legit customers it’s a no-win situation.

Found via Twenty Sided.

“Spore” hits store shelves today.

In a rare Sunday release you can now pick up Spore from a retailer near you. It seems to be netting scores in the 8 – 9 range and a lot of people are wondering why it’s not getting 10’s considering all the lavish pre-release hype it got. The folks over at MTV Multiplayer did an interview with Will Wright to get his reaction to the reviews:

I read Wright that Times paragraph and this is what he said:

“I haven’t read that, but it’s interesting. The feedback we’re getting from people is that everyone has some level they like and some level they don’t like. A lot of the reviews I’ve read have said that the Space Stage was far and away the best and they were disappointed by the earlier stages because they were too simple. Other people have said the Creature Stage is their favorite and that the Space Stage seems too complicated. We knew, since we were using different genres with every level, that everyone would have ones they really clicked with and ones they didn’t. We’ve pretty much seen that. There hasn’t been any consistent feedback. Some people have said the Civ phase is the best.”

When I talked to Wright, I had played deep into the Space Stage, which I was enjoying. But I had seen complaints from hardcore game reviewers and message board posters that all of the stages have less complex gameplay than many gamers had hoped. As wonderful as the content creation and sharing options are, the one consistent complaint I’ve seen is that the gameplay seems to have been “dumbed down” for the sake of appealing to a more casual audience. Was it?

“I’d say that’s quite accurate,” Wright told me. “We were very focused, if anything, on making a game for more casual players. “Spore” has more depth than, let’s say, “The Sims” did. But we looked at the Metacritic scores for “Sims 2″, which was around 90, and something like “Half-Life“, which was 97, and we decided — quite a while back — that we would rather have the Metacritic and sales of “Sims 2″ than the Metacritic and sales of “Half-Life.”

Considering the fact that The Sims and The Sims 2 are two of the best selling titles of all time I can’t say that his approach is a bad one to take with Spore. I won’t be writing a review of it anytime soon as it’ll be awhile before I can swing a copy. Anne’s still looking for a job since the move so we’re living on a shoestring budget, but we hope to pick the game up as soon as money isn’t quite so tight. We’ve had great fun with the creature creator so far and I can’t wait to put some of them through their paces in the actual game.

Best Amazon.com Customer Reviews page EVAR!

I never got around to writing about it, but awhile back word was spreading on the blogs about an amazingly overpriced set of ethernet cables being put out by the folks at Denon that supposedly enhanced audio playback to such a degree that they were selling these cables for a mere $500. No, that’s not a typo.

The page lists a lot of bullshit reasons why these cables are supposedly so good for audio playback that only the hyper-credulous could ever buy into, but it has spawned one bit of awesomeness and that’s the greatest Amazon.com customer reviews page ever seen by mortal man. I swear some of these folks must be ad copy people doing work for the Q-Ray and Q-Link scams. Here’s one of my favorites written by customer S. V. Bugaj:

Many people have posted here who appear not to understand the science behind Denon’s cabling and its superior hyperphasal multibit inductive ultraconductance technologies. They assume that there is no way to improve upon the transmissive properties of copper cabling (mainly because they don’t understand the properties of alloying megacopper), or to create a better-than-normal digital signal (BTND coding). I would give this cable eleventy million stars if I could, and once you understand, so will you.

In order to clear things up for the scitards, let me quote to you from the original Denon research literature by Quick & Salwen:

“Work has been proceeding in order to bring perfection to the crudely conceived idea of a new cable technology that will not only supply inverse reactive current for use in unilateral phase detractors, but will also be capable of automatically synchronizing cardinal grammeters. Despite the claims of some critics, such a cable is possible. We call it the Turbo-encable-ator.

The cabling system has a base-plate connector of prefabulated amulite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two spurving bearings are in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The main cable winding is of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-boloid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible tremble pipe to the differential girdlespring on the ‘up’ end of the grammeters.

Forty-one manestically spaced grouting brushes are arranged to feed into the pulse phasing slipstream a mixture of high S-value phenylhydrobenzamine and 5% reminative tetryliodohexamine. Both of these liquids have specific pericosities given by P = 2.5C.n^6-7 where n is the diathetical evolute of retrograde temperature phase disposition and C is Cholmondeley’s annular grillage coefficient. Initially, n was measured with the aid of a metapolar refractive pilfrometer, but up to the present date nothing has been found to equal the transcendental hopper dadoscope. It is clear from this that intrapolarphasal preteslence is now empraxified, correlating with an increase in conductive hyperplatitization.

Electrical engineers will appreciate the difficulty of nubbing together a regurgitative purwell and a supramitive wennelsprock. Indeed, this proved to be a stumbling block to further development until, in 1992, it was found that the use of anhydrous nangling pins enabled a kryptonastic boiling shim to the tankered. Spooling of the reframublant diaphanator became possible, allowing for cromulence.

Our early attempts to construct a sufficiently robust spiral decommutator failed, potentially dooming the project, largely because of a lack of appreciation of the large quasi-piestic stresses in the gremlin strands; the latter were specially designed to hold the roffit windings to the spamshaft. When, however, it was discovered that wending could be prevented by a simple addition to the living sockets, almost perfect running was secured. With this problem overcome, we were able to initiate googolpolar preferatory unbinding.

The operating point is maintained as near as possible to the h.f. rem peak by constantly fromaging the bitumogenous spandrels. This is a distinct advance on the standard nivel-sheave in that no dramcock gel is required after the phase detractors have been remissed. Such advances allow for non-holoxified, doubly-flexocorrigent operation.

Undoubtedly, the Turbo-encable-ator has now reached a very high level of technical development. It has been successfully used for generating nofer trunnions. In addition, whenever a barescent skor signal is required, the cable connector may be employed in conjunction with a drawn reciprocating dingle arm to reduce sinusoidal depleneration.”

Now that you know the science behind these amazing cables, you can see just what an amazing advance they truly are. With all that R&D behind them, they’d be cheap at twice the price. I haven’t listened to any music across them yet, but all relevant synthetic cableometrics show that the AKDL1 are operates at a very advanced level and should be more than suitable for hyperlistening.

If I ever get around to actually selling my soon-to-be-patented Anti-Alien Anal Probe Ass Shield you can bet your ass I’ll hire Mr. Bugaj to write my ad copy! And that’s just one of many hilarious customer reviews that only the deeply sarcasm impaired could ever mistake as being real.

Found via Boing Boing Gadgets.

SEB 30 Second Movie Review: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

We went and saw the latest Indiana Jones movie yesterday and I had low expectations because of some of the reviews I’d been reading from around the web. The film was actually more enjoyable than I had expected, but it helps if you keep in mind that realism has never been a strong point in any Indiana Jones film. There’s a lot of stuff that happens in this film that strains the suspension of disbelief so far beyond the breaking point that you’ll sprain your brain if you think about it too hard, so just switch off and let it wash over you and you should have a good time.

The rest of this review will contain some potential spoilers so stop reading now if you don’t want to know anything more about the plot.

Still with me? OK, the one plot point that everyone pretty much already knows going into this film is that it does involve aliens and for some reason a lot of folks are having conniption fits as a result. Personally I’m not sure what the big deal is. When you consider that the original films are set in the 40’s and were homages to films of that era then it makes perfect sense that the new film which is set in the 50’s when movies went UFO crazy would feature aliens as a plot point. Is it really that much harder to believe that Indy finds a buried space ship over him finding the Ark of the Covenant which has the power to melt Nazi faces?

No, the bit of the movie that was almost too much for me to bear, and this is a spoiler so here’s another warning, is when Indy is trying to make his escape from the Russians at Area 51 and ends up stumbling into a fake town set up for a nuclear bomb test which is just about to take place. He survives the nuclear blast by climbing into a lead lined refrigerator which is thrown by the blast quite a few miles away thus ensuring that Indy is easily decontaminated by the Feds when they pick him up.  Never mind that the flight he takes and the landing would’ve resulted in jellied Indy plastered all over the inside of that fridge.

Also it appears that monkeys respond to hairstyles as a whole bunch of them, upon being startled by Mutt—Indy’s teen aged greaser son—when he ends up caught up in some vines during a jungle chase sequence, decide to join in on the fight against the evil Russians for no reason other than Mutt’s hairstyle makes him look kinda like the monkeys.

But what the hell, it’s an Indiana Jones movie and the series has always had lots of silly and implausible nonsense. So why should this one be any different? The folks out there claiming Lucas and Spielberg have “raped the corpse of their childhood” would probably do well to watch the first three films again with a more critical eye. It was fun seeing Indy in action again and I thought the whole alien plot was handled in a fashion that fit into the franchise just fine. There was even a hint that perhaps Shia LaBeouf, who plays Mutt, might take over the torch in future Indy films, which isn’t as bad an idea as you might think once you see him in action.

Yahtzee takes on “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

You just know I had to share this one…