First Impressions: Red Dead Redemption

May 30th, 2010

Alright, so I’m going to try and do this ‘review’ a bit differently. I can’t do a real review yet, as I have not finished the game, so I’m going to do a ‘first impressions’ bit which will let you know what I think of the game after approximately a week of playing it.

 Graphics are the first things people notice, so lets start with them. Now, people have always said that Rockstar games have good graphics, and I’ve never really understood this. GTA3 did seem like a game from the future, but everything else has, to me, just been a mild next gen upgrade. Even GTA4 had problems; the characters looked blocky and marionette-like, and even the cars (though impressively metallic) seemed to be fairly computer-y. I’m not saying that this is bad (I believe graphics technology should actually slow down a notch), its just not groundbreaking.

RRR continues this fine tradition. the graphics are… acceptable. The landscape, especially the draw distance, is amazing and the scenery can almost feel real. Unfortunately, the characters still look blocky, etc. A few year ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but games like Mass Effect (1 and 2) and Fallout 3 have spoiled me. I’ve grown used to character models that DON’T look like they were designed by Gerry Anderson. And its just the people. All the animals look good, but the horses are especially spectacular! Manes billow, muscles move realisticly under flesh, and they rear and whinny with true authenticity. Its a pity that they are being ridden by action figures.


Total realism! Not seen: strings, awkward motion


Also, the landscape is spoiled by the grass. In the immediate foreground, there is usually this scrub grass that I believe is just a series of pixilated 2 dimensional sprites. It looks awful, and it does detract from the sense of atmosphere that game is otherwise so good at creating.

And the game does provide atmosphere. The sound quality and the weather is top notch, and all the disparate areas have a different feel, from the low lying swamplands of Thieve’s Landing to the red mesas of Mexico, John Marston’s journey does feel like an epic journey across a wide area. Improve the character models and we have the makings of a Dark Tower game.

The story so far is decent. Its a western revenge story, and while it seems to be heading in an interesting direction I know now not to judge a game’s story before its ending (see Mass Effect 2, brain-liquifyingly awful ending of). What does strike me are the references to Cormac McArthy’s Blood Meridian. Someone at Rockstar has done their literary homework, or has at least looked at the Blood Meridian entry on wikipedia. You see, the main character of this game is one Mister Ganton, a man who is one letter removed from the second in command of the man group of yahoos in Blood Meridian. In Red Dead Redemption, you play a man hunting down the members of his old gang of yahoos, and its pretty obvious from the getgo of the game the your character was pretty high up. Also, Ganton’s mentor and the leader of the gang is described as a psychopath, a terrific shot, and… a man of learning? He’s basically the Judge, the true leader of the yahoos in McArthy’s novel. Red Dead Redemption is essentially Cormac McArthy fan fiction.

However, the characters are only rough sketches of what they should have been. Rockstar games are known for their colourful and politically incorrect characters, but in Red Dead Redemption, aside from the crusty Marshall and the young cattle girl, every character is a half crazy con man who wants nothing better to betray you… or at least that what John Marston seems to think. He spends half of each bloody pre-mission cutscene telling the other character how untrustworthy they are, even when it becomes apparent they are actually trying to help. Frankly, Mr. Marston, you are getting a bit annoying. If you don’t like these people then stop working with them, or at least shut up! Sheppard kept his mouth closed while working for the terrorist group that killed his entire team in Mass Effect, so why does Marston take up my relaxation time by complaining about his co-workers!

I shouldn’t blame him though. I’d complain if I lived in a universe that had same amount of AI bugs as Red Dead Redemption. I save a girl, and she takes three second to thank me before running away screaming in terror. The person driving the wagon I’m riding in refuses to swerve around a stage coach parked in the middle of the road, with the result that it gets stuck on the stagecoach, and begins to push it very slowly down the road. It’s just like what would happen in a real high speed chase! When I get out to move the coach, the driver of the wagon screams I’m committing suicide, and I’m forced to move the wreck using my horse as a battering ram because Rockstar won’t deign to let me use the other wagon. Three cheers for immersion! There are other examples…

As I mentioned, I can’t give a final opinion until I complete the game. I still think there is a high chance of that happening. I’m not bored of it yet, and I can’t quite afford Alpha Protocol yet, but my initial impressions are  mixed.I’ll write more on the multi player and single player once I’ve fooled around with them a bit more, but as of this moment the game seems perfectly acceptable, though it lacks the polish one would expect from a Triple-A title in 2010.

Review: Crash of the Titans

April 25th, 2010

Zeus is a dick. I saw the movie, and that’s what really jumped out a me. He’s not evil, though he is angry, but man… is he ever a dick. Example: According to the new version of Clash of the Titans, there was once a King named Cassius who led a rebellion against Olympus for reasons unknown. While the other gods wanted to eradicate those pesky human fleas, Zeus advocated an even crueler option: cuckolding. He disguised himself as Cassius’s wife, slept with her, then flew out through the window when he was found out. Presumably the high five with Ares was cut due to time constraints.

The movie follows the trials and tribulations of Perseus, the offspring off the above human-god mating. Twenty years later yet another king has decided that Gods are not Great and that humans will rebel against them to chart their own path, presumably because he wants to be cuckolded. He tears down a statue of Zeus, which results in an angry Hades being sent by Zeus to punish the vandals and then inform Argos that unless beautiful princess is sacrificed, the Krakenwill be unleashed. This would be bad, the Kraken essentially being the the Neutron Bomb of the Mediterranean.

Amid all this furor, Perseus loses his surrogate family to Hades rampage and is informed of his true, divine ancestry, which in turns leads him to join the squad being sent out to search for Anti-Kraken Missiles. He at first refuses to acknowledge his divine birthright, including a glowy sword and a matte black Pegasus (bringing the Sam Worthington Mutated Horse Count up to two), but later learns to embrace his rich daddy while hangout with the poor kids and fighting ‘the man’ (spiritually speaking). It’s almost a grecian version of Richie Rich, except that  Richie’s friends spend their time trying to convince Richie of the true value of money, so maybe its more like Richie Rich as written by Ayn Rand.

Guff but lovable Zeus gives his own kid some help on the sly, and even his full support once he realizes that Hades has been egging him on for Hades own nefarious purposes, and man and god’s faith in each other is restored once again. Zeus even appears to be sorry for the beating he gave humanity in anger, one of the classic signs of a healthy relationship. So that’s alright then.

But we didn’t come to this movie for the story, we came for the sexy, sexy CGI ghoulies and ghosties. My favourite of these are the giant scorpions, who also evoked more pathos for me than any of the humans. The fight scenes are generally spectacular, with the Kraken stealing the show in all its tentacled, Cthulu-ish glory. For clarification, I did see this movie in 3d, and personally found it more enjoyable than Avatar (thought that may be because the film project was focused correctly for once). Also, Gemma Arterton is beautiful, especially in 3D.

All in all, I really did enjoy Clash of Titans. I wanted an action packed monster brawl fest, and thats what I got. Plus, even though the story was pretty dumb, its still proves that Greek priests knew how to put asses in pews. If a god today were to make a Kraken erupt from Lake Ontario, I wouldn’t only worship him (or her. It could be a Kraken-ess too for that matter) I’d give him a high five.

Adventures in EVE, Introduction

April 11th, 2010

Currently, I’m working my way through an EVE online trial account. Mostly because it is free, but also because EVE is a unique game. It is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and in this case the massive is earned. In most games, there are multiple servers running the full game that only contain a fraction of the people playing. World of Warcraft boasts millions of players but you will never run into more than the same couple of thousand with the same character. In EVE, everybody is playing the same game at once. This comes to around 32000 people on some nights, though I hear it has been known to go as high as fifty.

 EVE Online is a space game. You design a character, log in, and are immediately floating in space in your beginner spaceship. All your interactions with the game are done through the ship. The main point of the game is to earn money (called isk in this particular patch of the multi-verse), with which you can buy better ships and equipment, and thus engage in the many space hijinks you see going on around you.

The game  is very focused on player interactions. There are some NPC given missions, but they tend to be lack luster compared to EVE’s competitors such as Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft (both of which I have played, although only for a few hours a piece). The meat of EVE is the ongoing rivalries between player run corporation who mine all the materials and produce all the resources, explore, or simply engage in blood sport. The entire economy is player run and controlled, and I beleive there is even some form of virtual stock market.

Player progression is centred around skills which take a certain amount time to train, ranging from several dozen minutes to severa days. The neat thing is that this time passes and the skill is trained even when you are not logged in; I may be at work right now, but my character is improving his ability to fly Caldari Frigates. I’d say this time based skill system is unique, but it reall isn’t. The only difference between this and a standard RPG is that the game does the grinding bits for you, and you can focus on having fun.

In theory. Actual fun might be a little harder to come by…

In the next few days I’m going to be starting a series of posts on the adventures of my EVE character, Phinneas Q. Spacely the III, and my own personal experiences in this harsh, Randian, universe.

The Shadow Over Niagara

March 28th, 2010

It all began with two of the most potent words in the English language: “road trip”. Not a very big road trip mind you, just an evening jaunt down to Niagara Falls for my friend could purchase a brand new 1987 Honda scooter-thing from a guy who fixed them up in his garage.  My friend, whom we shall call ‘Dave’, invited me to go along with him to Niagara, and I agreed. Besides, I had never even been in that part of Ontario. We were off on our magical journey.

And what a magic journey it was. We travelled past the creaking monoliths of Hamilton, through the mysterious, untamed, jungles of the Ontario wine country, and skirted the borders of the mythical kingdom of Niagara-On-the-Lake. We arrived on the outskirts of Niagara, where we met the Honda wizard who, in exchange for the promise of gold, would sell my friend one of his finest mechanical steads. I must say that I felt the poison sting of envy.

After the trade had been made, we continued on towards the Falls of Niagara, and truly, they were a miracle of nature. Thundering, Powerful… and oddly they were also backlit at night. We were awed, yes, but we had expected to be awed by this miracle of nature. What we did not expect was the city itself.

The casinos were huge. Neither Dave nor myself had ever seen on one of them, and I had always imagined as the casinos of Niagara Falls as being relatively small. In reality, they were  full fledged hotel sized money pits, and one even had neon lights continuously screaming “CASINO!” into the murky night. Much impressed, Dave and myself were discussing this as we began driving up a hill, which is where a small sign  indicated that Niagara Fall’s tourist area lay… an area also known as Clifton Hill.

And then we turned around a corner and gasped with wonder. Rainbow coloured neon lights assaulted our senses from every angle. Strangely shaped buildings, almost non-euclidean in their design, beckoned, inviting us to experience everything from wax movie stars to haunted houses to a maze of mirrors. The familiar emblems of some restaurants were the only things I could hold onto amid the garish strangeness. It was different. It was tacky. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. It was glorious.

We parked the car and began to walk around, sampling the atmosphere. We were rapidly drawn into the epicentre of the madness, a strangely tilted sign advertising the presence of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It was clear that this was indeed the true reason for our presence here and we hardly blinked at the price of ticket before venturing inside, drawn forward by insidious, unearthly, forces.

Medieval torture devices. Wax sculptures. A shoe belonging to the world’s tallest man. A spinning tunnel, which seemed to be a symbol of the dive into the madness that would inevitably overtake all who wandered into this building unprepared. Plaques sought to inform us of everything from American flags made out of seeds to the history of grave digging. I only have a few pictures from that place, but they have all turned out subtly… wrong… as if the museum existed someplace perpendicular to our own reality. We left, shaken and scarred, yet satisfied.

The air of unreality dissipated somewhat as we left that place. We ate burgers at a Wendy’s, itself not uneffected by the hill, as it had seemed to have swelled to gargantuan proportions. This Wendy’s belonged in R’lyeh. Finally, we worked up the strength to leave this place. We walk down from the hill to catch a final glimpse of the Falls before heading back to Dave’s car.

As the radio blasted songs from yesteryear, we returned to our humble city and pedestrian lives, knowing that someday we would return. Though we had plumbed the fathoms of Clifton Hill’s insidious depths, we had only begun to explore. Our minds clamoured with the knowledge of it’s existence; knowledge the could never been unlearned. We would have to go back, and we would have to bring more victims to the Hill’s waiting maw.

Shudder Island*

March 21st, 2010

*Possible Titles: Stutter Island, Strutter Island, and Splutter Island

Shutter Island is decent film; nothing really special but it has a decent story, some good (although fairly disquieting) moments and leaves before wearing out its welcome.

The film is set on an island in the Boston Harbour… that is home to an asylum for the Mentally Isane! (Cue dramatic lightning flash) where some spooky doings are afoot. Two Federal Marshalls (played by actors) arrive to investigate the mysterious dissapearance of an inmate, who appears to have walked right through the wall, past a guard who may or may not have been at his post, and out into the stormy night.

The best part of this movie by far is the island itself. It’s brooding, dark, dank, and dunk in the classic North Eastern U.S way epitomized by American horror authors such as Lovecraft and King. It is properly moody ands bleak, and also seems to be a faintly malevolent force in and of itself, kind of like Silent Hill’s underacheiving slacker of a brother. The storm scenes during the end of the first act are almost worth the price of admission.

Another highlight of the movie are the dream/drugtrip/ghost/craziness sequences. In most movies, the director makes a scene a dream sequence mostly through cinematic trickery: the camera shudders and sways disconcertingly, fog shrounds and obscurres the action, the entire scene is in echoey slow motion,  etc. Scorsese does it slightly differently. The actual filming is as crisp and clean as the rest of the movie (I hate shaking cameras), but the use of dream logic and disjointed time is without peer. People change faces and place, events flow together with dream unlogic, and the sequences help to give genuine insight into the mind of the main character.

My biggest gripe is with the story. Its solid and works well, but it could have been more. The movie deals with themes of identity and subjective reality, but the conclusion of the movie finishes quite cleanly without leaving much ambiguity over what was real and what was not. Even Total Recall, which dealt with the same themes, left some wiggle room for discussion and mental exploration, creating what sci-fi author Larry Niven called ‘Playgrounds of the Mind’. Shutter Island wraps things up in much too neat a package.

Other minor gripes include some of the acting from the minor characters, unnecesary characters that did not seem to be there for any reason at all, and the people sitting next to my friend in the theatre (though I suppose that can’t be helped, or is at least not the fault of the movie). The movie also gets going very quickly, with hardly any build up. This isn’t really a plus or minus, but I found it a bit abrupt. There is also a scene with some rats that is supposed to be horrific, but that rats looked too gosh darned cute to be scary. They looked like pet rats, and I think one was sniffing to see if the shouty man in front of the green wall had any treats.

Overall grade? Not falling into that trap. If you like psychological thrillers, you’ll like this, but only if you can stomach some faintly horror-ish scenes.

Let’s Play

March 14th, 2010

A “Let’s Play” is a type of game writing somewhere between a review, a walk through, a plot analysis, and a riff track. the writer plays through the game, taking screen shots and just generally pointing out it’s foibles. They can be very factual, or halfway between fact and faction, with the author making up dialogue and logic behind the frankly ridiculous and illogical things that can happen in video games. Unfortunately for me, to do newer games I either need to get a new computer or find someway to run my X-Box through the computer. I’ve been wanting to do one of Star Trek Online for quite some time.

However, I’m open to suggestions. Incidentally, I shall try to make it funny, or at least an amusing read. I’m going to try and do that with most blog entries, and hope that my writing will steadily improve. Its different (and nice) to be writing something non-academic for a change.

Anyway, the comment system should work, so feel free to speak your mind at any time. I won’t give out emails, and you can even them back to your own blog. Also, the current theme is a placeholder, and not set in stone at all. Suggestions are always appreciated. Finally, if you look to the right, you will see some links. If you want to be added, just let me know!

Review: Mass Effect 2

March 14th, 2010

And, so we start off this blog with a gush of fanboy love… not exactly an auspicious start, so I shall try to temper myself. I will clarify that Mass Effect 2 really is all I have been playing for the past week, and  further more is the best game I have played in a while.

For those who do not know, Mass Effect 2 is the second in a set of three planned games that comprise Bioware’s epic, sprawling, space opera. The mere fact that it is space opera is probably half the reason I like it so much, because for those of us who are fans of space opera there has been little enough of it available (except for Avatar, of course). Even shows that traditionally scratched the itch, such as Stargate: Atlantis have begun to follow the Lost route of having an interesting premise, but only five minutes worth of plot each episode and filling the rest of their air with angst. So starved have I been for this style of genuine laser blazing, princess rescuing, space adventures that not only have I played both Mass Effect games, but I have read the Mass Effect books.

Mass Effect 2 begins with a pseudo cliff hanger, by which I mean something that would have actually been a cliffhanger if it occurred in the last game. Admittedly, if there had actually been a cliff hanger at the end of the last game, people would have sworn blood oaths against all the script writers. In Mass Effect 2, this is primarily used to drain you of all the resources you had accumulated in the first. Eh… at least this game actually pretends to have a reason for doing so.

Most of the game is spent recruiting your team, and also building up their self confidence, cooing reassurances, and taking time out from your desperate race against time to go solve your crews Daddy issues (I’m not kidding, that happens). This is actually highly entertaining, as the backgrounds of the your crew are interesting, and the missions are quite fun. It does, though, occasionally make you feel like a space middle manager, especially with the amount of time that you spend mining.

Mining is a huge stroke against the game. Its take a long time, and it s flow breaking-ly dull. It can’t be ignored though, as you to mine resources so you can upgrade your team’s weapons and your spaceship, and you need these upgrades if you want the best ending to the game. I really don’t know why this is here, as I can’t imagine anyone implementing this in a game without realizing that almost everyone will hate it. If you must have us collect resources, at least figure out an interesting way to do it. You could have the player set up mining facilities through missions which would then give a steady flow of resources. Or you could have the player either persuade or intimidate mine owners to give you resources. Or you could outright attack other ore haulers. Anything but moving a slow cursor over a 3d model of a planet hoping to find some platinum.

Combat is good though. In Mass Effect 2, combat is centered around gun play and force… er… biotic powers, and plays much like Gears of War. Its viewed from a first person perspective, and you have to take cover while firing rather thn charging blindly into combat. Or you die. Over and over again. This is similar to the first game, but overall the experience has been improved. Every character no longer carries every weapon; in the first game you were force to carry an assault rifle everywhere even if trying to use one would result in bullet holes in everything but the enemy. Combat also feels…smoother. Aiming is better, the action flows more, and it just seems better tweaked. I’d have to play the first one again to catalog the small changes, but then again I liked the combat in the first game as well.

Aside from the combat, there are many little changes between Mass Effect 2 and the first game that make the second one stand out. Mass Effect 1 was enjoyable, but filled with tiny irritating flaws that I beleive signifigantly reduced its appeal.  The minigames to hack computers and break into doors consisted of paying Simon Says with the computer, the inventory system was a mess, the driving was horrible, he loading screens were disguised half the time behind elevators that moved hilariously slow… these errors have rectified and the game is much improved for it.

Some issues remain… no, no, no I can’t say that. I’ve admited to being a fanboy, so I’ll call them ‘unanticipated  gameplay enhancements”. You character will frequently get themselves stuck on the world geometry, to simulate how clucky their space suits would be! And the system used to highlight important objects is almost invisible because of space myopia! Caused by vacuum exposure! And Tachyons!

These annoyances aside, it is quite entertaining game-play wise. I cannot judge the story until I have finished the game, but I might come back to that later, if it utterly falls apart. Until then though, Mass Effect 2 is a refreshing burst of space opera goodness.

Old Tapp’s Notes Site

March 14th, 2010

The Old Tapp’s Notes Site can be found at:

I will also be putting a couple of links up at the side of the page on a permanent basis, and the Old Tapp’s Notes site will be one of them.

Hello world!

March 14th, 2010

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!