Friday, October 30, 2009

New 'Hit Song Science' predicts song popularity

The folks at have developed a new and interesting technology that allows them to predict, with an incredible 80 percent accuracy, whether a song will become popular.  This is contrast to the record labels, who release singles at a 10 percent success rate.

This incredible technology analyzes aspects of a song such as beat, chord progression, and lyrics.  The data gathered in this way are then compared to a matrix of existing songs that has what the company calls 'hit clusters' as well more remote data points.  If you're close to a cluster and have some innovation that isn't common to the songs around it, you score well.

The site offers artists two free evaluations of their work as well as varying subscription packages, and allows music lovers to look into new music that is being scored.  They feel that this system will offer a new and exciting way for people to connect with music that they will enjoy in an age where radio is rapidly falling to the wayside.  It will be interesting to see if they're right.

Motorola Droid reviews coming in

Engadget has their big review of the new Droid smartphone up, you can reach it here.

It sounds like it has the iPhone beat in areas like messaging, customizing, and sound quality, but otherwise is still playing catch-up.  The big draw for me personally is the new Google Navigation software that put a nice dent in Garmin and TomTom's stock yesterday, but that software may yet hit the iPhone as well.  We shall see.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buckyballs: Very cool.

Need ideas for a Christmas gift for your favorite tactile-centric nerd?  This'll do nicely:

Buckyballs! The official site is here.

UPDATE! Looks like you can get better pricing at NeoCube.

UPDATE AGAIN!! Looks like prices are just a wee bit better here. Plus, this brand (CyberCube) seems to be universally well reviewed.

Those crazy Honda engineers

Picture if you will the nightmare world where Segways are combined with unicycles in a twisted perversion of science.

'Preposterous' you say!  'Utter lunacy!'

My friends, the nightmare is reality.  I give you the Honda UX-3:


This is a twenty pound monstrosity that remains upright through the use of an inclinometer.  When folded up it's compact enough to fit into a car door.

Control is achieved through subtle leaning, as with its predecessor the Segway.  For those truly brave, Honda's demonstration video shows the beast in action here.

Know that evil is among you, ye faceless masses, and know TERROR.

You have my pity.

Until someone offers me evidence to the contrary, it is my assertion that Alepnrose Egg Nog is the single best thing that can be seized and consumed.  Those of you that don't live in the Portland area and therefore don't have access will have to make do with my pity.

New game on the way: Infamous

GameFly just shipped out Infamous, and it's now on the way to my door.  I'm looking forward to taking this one for a spin.  See why for yourself:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Google Wave: The email killer

I am confident that within the next 5 years this is going to replace email in general usage.  This technology effectively uses current browser capabilities to merge email, IM'ing, wiki, and a number of other communication technologies.  It's called Google Wave, take a look.

Yes, the video is over an hour long, but the first 20 minutes are more than enough for you to see what I mean.   It's worth a look, believe me.

DJ Hero. Yes, you heard me.

Folks, I really don't know what to say to this one, so I'll just say it.  DJ Hero hits stores this week.

DJ Hero - DJ vs. DJ

You should all be ashamed of yourselves for allowing the world to come to this.

Netflix Coming to the PS3

Even though Xbox 360 reps claimed exclusive access to netflix streaming on a console back in august, it seems that the PS3 is getting some of the action too.  Plus, on the PS3 it's **FREE**.

The Gathering Storm is released!

The twelfth book of the Wheel of Time hits shelves today, written by Brandon Sanderson after series author Robert Jordan's untimely death.  This book is the first of three by Sanderson that will take the place of Jordan's original close to the series, Memory of Light.  Those of you who know the series need no more info than that.  For anyone else, the best I can say is that this series is the next step up from Tolkein.  Just be aware that there are now twelve books, all at least 600 pages.  Its a hell of a trip to get started on, but well worth it if you can take the time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: Brutal Legend (PS3) *8/10*

Brutal Legend is the most recent game from creator Tim Schafer, veteran designer of games such as Grim Fandango and Psychonauts.  Set in an alternate past, modern day roadie Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black) finds himself fighting an ancient evil in the land of heavy metal.  The game is a mix of third person hack-n-slash, vehicular combat, and real time strategy with a dash of RPG.  Brutal Legend is a fairly short game, running roughly ten hours, and the first half of those are slow and largely uninteresting.  Thankfully, the final half of the game makes up the difference.

The game begins with a cut-scene backstage at a concert, where the player is introduced to Eddie.  As a roadie, Eddie is most comfortable behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.  However, stupidity on the part of one of the "artists" leads to an accident in which Eddie is forced to save said artist's life, and is himself pinned beneath falling debris.  Things get interesting at this point, and Eddie wakes up in the land of heavy metal.

For a while after this the story is extremely simple and cliche, not at all the fantastically creative fare that Tim Schafer is known for.  Eddie aligns himself with the first human he happens across, meets up with her cohorts, learns of an oppressive evil, and helps out as only he can.  It is only at the games halfway point, after this initial oppressor is dealt with, that things get interesting.  Thankfully, it does so with gusto.  Character development picks up, there are some nice twists, and the ending is very satisfying.

The characters themselves are sometimes complex and interesting, sometimes shallow and cliche.  Eddie himself is exactly what you would expect from Jack Black in a game, which is generally a good thing, though maybe a bit predictable.  Eddie's cohorts are generally pretty one dimensional with one exception, who isnt explored as much as you might like.  The initial baddie, General Lyonwhite,  looks and acts like David Bowie in the Labyrinth and is easily dismissed.  The REAL threat however, Emperor Dovinculus, is one of the most interesting and sincerely evil feeling villains in recent history.  His visual design is perfect, his writing is excellent, and of course Tim Curry's voice work is the icing on the cake, hearkening back to his little known role in 'Legend' (natch.)  The bonus is the presence of a number of heavy metal personalities doing guest voice work as various minor characters.  Most interesting is probably Ozzy's performance as the Guardian of Metal.  His acting is surprisingly coherent, and genuinely funny.

Graphically Brutal Legend falls into line pretty directly with Tim Schafer's other work.  It is visually interesting, colorful, vibrant, but somewhat lacking in complexity resulting in a cartoony look.  Animation is also a little jerky, contributing to the cartoon feel.  Thankfully it all works, and feels very fitting for the subject matter.  Plot characters are all fairly standard examples of various rock stereotypes, but of course thats the POINT of the game so all is well.  Ally and enemy design have the same ramp-up issue as the story, being bland and uninteresting at first but becoming more and more intriguing and downright cool as the game reaches its final stages.  Environments hit the ramp as well, starting in simple open plains and moving through jungles and haunted woods as the game progresses.  As with the character design, where the visuals shine is in the continuous nods to heavy metal culture.  From ruins and monuments that resemble specific album covers on to jungle creatures called Metal Beasts that strongly resemble a certain long-tongued face-painted lead singer.  The only negative is a tendency for the picture to jitter jarringly during cutscenes.

The audio for Brutal Legend is solid, with good sound effects and voice work that is always good and sometimes excellent.  The big gold star goes to the soundtrack, which consists (of course) of a solid selection of Heavy Metal.

Gameplay itself is divided between travel and combat on foot, travel and combat in vehicles, and 'stage missions' which are a sort of real time strategy minigame.  As the game starts each of these modes feel overly simplistic and unfinished, but improve dramatically as upgrades are acquired.

Foot combat is basic hack and slash with some simple combos.  The uniqueness here comes from Eddie's guitar Clementine, which can be used for magic-like ranged attacks, as well as team attacks with allied units.  For example, Eddie can surround himself with a group of headbangers that act as an offensive shield, or have a razor girl hop on his shoulders to become a powerful ranged attacker.  Even so, combat on foot would probably be a little simplistic if it weren't for guitar solos.  These solos are Eddie's 'super-powers' that are activated with a mini-rhythm game.  They do everything from boosting friendly units, melting enemy faces, to (and yes I'm serious) calling down an awe inspiring fiery zeppelin to do heavy damage to all enemies in the area.  All these dynamics add up to combat that can get repetitive, but is easily and intuitively controlled and doesn't cease to be fun.

The vehicle portions of the game are pretty standard fare.  The Deus, Eddie's hotrod, is initially just a means of conveyance but becomes a formidable death-dealer as upgrades are acquired.  The controls are a little loose, but not problematically so.  The navigation system while driving toward a set destination is interesting and effective.  Aside from the standard glowing beacon that can be seen on the horizon, the Deus' blinkers light to show you the direction you should turn to stay on the best route to the target. The game determines this route for you, staying on major roads and avoiding obstacles.  It's an intuitive and helpful system.  The one negative to mention here is the presence of always annoying escort missions, but in this case they aren't ridiculously difficult and can be enjoyable.

The stage battles are perhaps the most interesting part of the standard gameplay.  In these set piece battles, Eddie takes command of a battlefield.  He can capture resource points (vents in the ground that emit the souls of fans, which are tapped with merch booths), build units, and issue orders.  The basic idea is to capture all the resource points and throw your units at the opposing stronghold, joining in the battle and using special guitar solos to help when necessary.  Eddie is given wings during these battles which allows rapid movement around the terrain.  It's an interesting system, one which will feel very familiar to anyone that ever played Giants: Citizen Kabuto or other such games.  Unfortunately, the strategic depth is all but non-existent and so these battles are more or less a grind to work through to get the story moving again.  This is problematic as most of the central points in the story revolve around these confrontations, and they also provide the only mode of multiplayer action.

These gameplay modes are driven by the familiar GTA-like 'find a mission, travel there, do it, repeat' model.  This system, as always, works well.  There are obligatory side missions available that provide extra currency for upgrades in the form of 'fire tributes,' this world's term for lighters.  Unfortunately the side missions come in a fairly limited variety and get old quickly.  There are races, combat missions in a couple of forms, a couple of one-off tasks, and one set of missions where Eddie pairs up with an ogre like bouncer modeled after and voiced by Jack Black's band mate Kyle to blast enemies with a large mortar.  These side missions really aren't necessary however, and can be skipped if the player doesn't feel the need to acquire every upgrade.  The mission system effectively links the various gameplay modes, and drives the story along well while allowing for exploration.  There are some minor issues though.  The map will always center on the starting point of a mission when opened rather than Eddie's current position, which is annoying.  The story cutscenes will also occasionally refer to information that Eddie can only learn in optional exploration, which can be jarring if the player has not actually made the necessary discoveries.

All in all Brutal Legend is an interesting foray into the heavy metal culture.  Jack Black is fantastic, and Dovinculus is a truly great villain.  The often self-mocking and off-beat sense of humor is great fun.  However the game is sadly short, and it takes a good 5 of the 10 hours of play for things to really start to be interesting.  In the end though the game is fun and satisfying, and well worth a rental if not an actual purchase.

Graphics:  9/10
Sound:  10/10
Story:  7/10
Gameplay:  8/10
Overall:  8/10

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brutal Legend Impressions

I'm just over halfway through the single player campign of Brutal Legend, and so far my impressions are very mixed.

In comparison to Tim Schafer's previous game Psychonauts, a few things are similar such as graphic design and semi-irreverant sense of humor, but the storyline is much more cliche and uncreative.  In fact, for the first half of the game the story can be completely dismissed.  Thankfully after the first 'big boss' is disposed of, things take a big turn for the better.

The gameplay suffers from the same slow ramp up.  There are three major components to gameplay:  foot combat, vehicular combat, and field missions which are a semi real time strategy minigame that hearkens back to Giants: Citizen Kabuto.  In the early to mid game all of these components feel overly simplistic and generally uninteresting.  As the game progresses however, upgrades become available and enemies become more interesting, greatly improving matters.

So, at this point, my disappointed optimism is cautiously returning.  I'll post a full review as soon as I've finished the game!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Helpful blogging tools and info

I've been playing around with some of the third party tools available to bloggers, and I thought I'd share some of the ones that I find most useful.

Sitemeter is a nice utility that be added to your blog by simple HTML insertion that lets you track a number of useful statistics like page views, unique user visits, references (pages with links that led people to you), and geographical locations of your visitors.

Feedburner is a highly versatile set of tools that allows you to publish your blog in feed formats that can be easily consumed by many feed readers, as well as adding some extras to your content such as 'Digg this' type links.

How to get Me to Read Your Blog
Not actually a tool, but a very good article on getting your blog noticed.  I strongly recommend it.

I hope these prove as useful to you as they were to me!

GameFly iPhone app live!

The much anticipated GameFly app for the iPhone is live on the app store.  The app allows you to keep up to date with gaming news, search for all the relevant info on existing games, and for GameFly members allows GameQ manipulation.  All the info is here:

GameFly GameCenter

or watch the video below!

Trine now available on PSN!

Trine, a very snazzy 2.5D platformer which has been available on the PC for a while now, is now up on the Playstation Network.  This is an interesting sidescroller in which you can play as either a knight, a wizard, or a theif, hotswapping as you play.  Each of the three have their own unique abilities, enabling them to overcome the obstacles you face in their own ways.  You can find out more here:

Trine Homepage

or watch the video below!

I'll let you know my impressions once I can get home to grab it for myself!

WCF Service Tutorial

Any code monkeys among you that may need a brief rundown of WCF services may have noticed that its difficult to find a good one.  This one did pretty well for me:

A Quick and Dirty WCF Service and Client

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Push Gmail on the iPhone

For those of you that are IPhone and Gmail users, its now possible to set up push mail on your phone.  What this means is that your mail will show up on your phone as soon as it hits your inbox, instead of the usual 'whenever your phone gets around to checking it.'  Heres how, courtesy of the gmail blog:

First, be sure that you have iPhone firmware 3.0 or later.  For those of you with the 3G s, this came on your phone.  For the rest of you, you can check your firmware version by going to Settings->General->About and looking at the 'Version.'  If you need to update you can do so by connecting your phone to iTunes.  It will guide you from there.

It would probably be a good idea to backup your iPhone for general purposes before continuing.

Ok, once you're all ready, here's what you do:

1. Open the Settings application on your device's home screen.
2. Open Mail, Contacts, Calendars.
3. Tap Add Account....
4. Select Microsoft Exchange.


Enter Account Info

5. In the Email field, enter your full Google Account email address. If you use an address, you may see an "Unable to verify certificate" warning when you proceed to the next step.
6. Leave the Domain field blank.
7. Enter your full Google Account email address as the Username.
8. Enter your Google Account password as the Password.
9. Tap Next at the top of your screen.
9a. Choose Accept if the Unable to Verify Certificate dialog appears.
10. A new Server field will appear. Enter
11. Press Next at the top of your screen again.

12. Select the Google services you want to sync.

13. Unless you want to delete all the existing Contacts and Calendars on your phone, select the Keep on my iPhone option when prompted. This will also allow you to keep syncing with your computer via iTunes.

If you want to sync only the My Contacts group, you must choose to Delete Existing Contacts during the Google Sync install when prompted. If you choose to keep existing contacts, it will sync the contents of the "All Contacts" group instead.


That sets up your gmail account.  If you already had a gmail account set up on your phone, you'll probably want to disable it now.  To enable the push all you have to do is go to Settings->Mail, Contacts, Calendars->Fetch New Data and turn it on.

iPhone 2.0 screenshot: Push settings by sbisson.

Then just restart your phone and you're good to go!  Enjoy :-)

Go Go Bargain Bin!

With the recent release of Guitar Hero 5 it's predecessor Guitar Hero World Tour has hit bargain bin prices.  So, I snagged a copy for cheap with free shipping thanks again to the magic of GameFly.  I'll let you know my impressions when it gets here!

Scribblenauts update

During my first play session with Scribblenauts, I have:

  • Given a lumberjack a lightsaber to do his job
  • Used a flamethrower to clean up a park
  • Held down a wall switch with a precisely angled dining room set
  • Learned that wings are far more reliable that jetpacks
  • Learned that Pirate > Ninja (which is wrong on many levels)
  • Confirmed that Ceiling Cat is eeeeeeverywheeeeeere

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New games coming! Scribblenauts and Brutal Legend

Thanks to the magic of GameFly I now have Scribblenauts for the DS and Brutal Legend for the ps3 en route to my house.

Scribblenauts intrigues me mostly because of its basic premise.  The idea is that your character solves the puzzles he is presented with by 'scribbling' anything he can think of into existence and using it to interact with the environment.  The game allows you to input whatever you can think of and with a dictionary of over 10,000 items it's quite likely that one will pop up!  This includes everything from basic tools and objects to named weapons like Excalibur, mythical creatures like Cthulhu (who must then be tamed with a summoned mind control device or the like to be useful) on up to things like black holes!  The incredible open ended nature of the gameplay makes it worth a shot in my book.

On the other hand is Brutal Legend, the new project of Tim Schafer, creator of Psychonauts for the original xbox.  I'm sure at some point this blog will touch on Psychonauts in detail but for the moment let me just say:  If you have the means to play this game and have not done so, DO IT.  It is absolutely fantastic from beginning to end.  The story, environment, characters, and abilities are all incredibly creative, and downright hilarious.  In my opinion the game is the paramount reason to own an xbox, far and above the Halo games.  It is my sincere hope that Brutal Legend will be a spiritual successor.  The game is about the adventures of a roadie (modeled after and voiced by Jack Black) in a world completely themed around heavy metal.  If the game strikes the same irreverent chord as its precursor, it should be a blast.

I'll have reviews up here for both games as soon as I beat them!

An observation

To the Invader Zim fan it is impossible to play Metal Gear Solid 3 and listen to the voice actors talking about the biggest threat to the free world, the super-tank called 'The Shagohod,' without constantly hearing it as 'The Shadow Hog.'

Just sayin'.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Dead Space (ps3) *9/10*

Yes, I know, I'm a bit behind the ball talking about this game, but I started it when it first came out and for any number of reasons finished it only recently. Believe me, many of the games that I'm likely to talk about will be considerably FURTHER behind the curve.  So, about the game:

Dead Space is one of a bevy of recent survival horror games that depend on stereotypically thrusting the player into some threatening environment to generate suspense, and rapid unexpected action to startle the player.  What differentiates Dead Space from the rest of the pack is that it does this right.

Dead Space is a survival horror/thriller/third person shooter published by EA, with the intention of becoming a big new intellectual property for them. The game world is sci-fi / future where space travel and planetary mining are the norm, but humans are (to their knowledge) alone in the universe. As the game begins the player character (perpetually silent engineer Isaac Clarke) and two cohorts are approaching the mining vessel Ishimura, which has lost radio contact during a mission. As is frequently the case in any survival/horror medium, within two minutes everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. The player's vessel crash lands in the Ishimura's docking bay (rendering the ship inoperable) and the small team discovers the huge vessel seemingly abandoned, heavily damaged, and infected with a mysterious biological contaminant. The team members are quickly separated and Isaac finds himself in the thick of it fighting horrific nightmare creatures that emerge from every orifice of the Ishimura with whatever equipment he can find at hand, beginning with a simple plasma cutter.

As the game progresses Isaac is guided by his team members over the radio in slowly restoring essential systems to the Ishimura initially in an attempt to complete their mission, and eventually simply to facilitate an escape. During the course of these repair missions Isaac slowly finds evidence in various forms that pieces together the identity of the biological contamination, the origins of the nightmare creatures infesting the ship, and the chain of events that led to the Ishimura's infection. There are several well executed plot twists, culminating in an epic scale climactic final scene.

Overall the story is very well executed. The game does an excellent job of presenting the real story as a mystery that is pieced together as the player performs more mundane mission objectives rather than shoving it down the player's throat, which adds a sense of realism. In a genre that isn't traditionally driven by plot depth, Dead Space's immersive storyline is a huge plus.

Part of the reason that the story works so well is the game's atmosphere. This is easily one of the game's strongest selling points. The main character is almost completely disconnected from the player, never speaking, rarely reacting to stimuli that would shock a crazed sociopath's undead corpse into a white haired gibbering mass, but it still WORKS because the atmosphere itself draws the player in COMPLETELY. The huge derelict ship with its dark, flickering, flesh encrusted corridors, the occasional terminally insane crew member gibbering into the emptiness, the randomly strewn debris cast about by unknown horrors, the subtle but ominous background music, and many other atmospheric devices will all have the player leaning on the edge of their seat with their heart in their throat. And of course in this state the inevitable monster springing from a ceiling grate will take a year or two off of the players lifespan and possibly enrich the vocabulary of any nearby children. As a personal example of just how effective the atmosphere is in this game I generally yawn my way through today's horror films and I wouldn't let myself play Dead Space too close to bedtime.

Another reason that the environment in Dead Space is so quick to draw you in is the game's innovative user interface. There is no on screen display of any kind. All of the information that you need at a moments notice is displayed on the character himself. His health, oxygen, and stasis meter (more on this later) are all displayed on the back of Isaac's armor, and his ammunition count is displayed on the currently equipped weapon. In situations when a menu would normally be warranted the game makes use of an image holographically projected by Isaac's suit in real time in front of the character. This means that while digging through the inventory or perusing the map it is entirely possible and often quite likely that a spiny appendage will be embedding itself in the player's skull. This unique approach to interface creates an incredible continued sense of intensity so vital for success in this genre.

Technically speaking Dead Space fares very well against modern competition. Graphics are very solid and appropriate to the material. Enemy design is suitably horrifying. Environment design is occasionally monotonous but usually appropriately so for a sprawling government vessel, and always dripping with ambiance. Sound quality is excellent, voice acting is spot on, and the music is particularly effective, adding substantially to the air of intensity and spiking beautifully at the appropriate moments.

It is in the actual gameplay that Dead Space hits some of its very few snags. Control of the main character feels a little clunky and hard to maneuver. His positioning on the left hand side of the screen makes for a clearer view of the action, but it also means that turning right and left feel very different and can be disorienting in the thick of battle. Combat itself is wonderfully intense, making excellent use of the targeted damage system that is another of the games major selling points. As the opposing creatures are effectively undead, simply unloading into them has little effect. Instead the player is heavily encouraged to surgically remove the limbs and heads of the monsters using a variety of weapons designed to suit the task, rendering the beasties harmless. This is an extremely visceral mode of combat and the necessity for precision under stress adds even MORE to the intensity of the game. All that being said, however, this same system makes combat extremely frustrating in close quarters when it is nigh on impossible to make surgical shots.

The weapons themselves offer a creative spread of options, each with an interesting secondary fire mode, but I find it perhaps too viable an option to simply use all available upgrades on the basic plasma cutter found in the first ten minutes of the game and never require the use of any other weapon. Aside from that minor issue the weapon acquisition and upgrade system is intuitive and fun. In addition to the actual weapons, Isaac is equipped with two technological 'superpowers,' stasis and telekenisis. Stasis is a refillable resource that Isaac can use to slow the targeted object for obstacle avoidance or combat advantage. Telekinesis is, predictably, the ability to lift and move loose objects for puzzle solving or use as launched projectiles. While not necessarily MAJOR elements of gameplay, these abilities do add some variety and strategic depth that are a welcome edition.

Enemies in dead space don't offer particularly impressive AI, but as they range from the traditional slow-moving dogged zombies to the more recent hyper-fast rush-to-the-kill zombies in basic archetype, they aren't really SUPPOSED to be tactical geniuses and the lack of intelligence detracts in no way from the feel of menace they provide. Boss fights, though few and far between, are varied, interesting, and EXTREMELY satisfying when complete.

Overall I would say that Dead Space, while not for the squeamish, is a wonderfully executed horror / thriller whose many strong points completely overwhelm its few minor flaws.

SOUND: 10/10
STORY: 9/10

Theory for your consideration

Postulate: Pepperoni hot pockets are among mankind's greatest culinary achievements.


Result: Proven. Additionally, I'm hungry.

Just FYI

The reason for the name:

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)

While most good nerds at least ACT like they're nocturnal, I really am. On the one hand I think its a pretty unique twist to my nerd-cred. On the other more RELEVANT hand, however, I have to fight to get up for work every morning at seven AM, as my seven is equivalent to the normal person's TWO. So, as I write this, I'm struggling to remain conscious. Now you know :-)


Ah, the traditional blog intro post, in which intentions are stated, personal info is given, and no one ever, ever, EVER cares. Forgive me if I give it a miss and let later posts do the talking :-)