Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Best Good Times Ever in 2006

Since we're closing out the year, I thought I'd acknowledge some events and experiences from 2006.

My son's second Christmas: this year was awesome for him because he was finally able to enjoy the toys much more than the wrapping paper and boxes. Who can forget the intoxicating fun of Mr. Crinkle-Wrinkle and Mr. Corrugated Box Face?

F.E.A.R., Call of Duty 2 (COD2), and Prey: while F.E.A.R. and COD2 came out in 2005, I played them this year on my ultra-sick custom built system with a Thermaltake Tsunami case, an ASUS A8N-SLI mobo, an ANTEC TPII-550 power supply, an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ processor, running XP Pro SP 2, with 2GB PC3200 RAM, a 320GB WD SATA 3.0 HD, a BenQ DW 1655 DVD-RW, and boasting the EVGA 7600GT KO. This machine spits hot fire and was featured in the Arthur C. Clarke short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God." I'm not a blasphemer.

F.E.A.R. incorporates the Max Payne/Matrix bullet-time effect so that everything slows down so you can maximize your carnage and shoot 16 guys in the face and still have time to attach a proximity mine on a wall next to the Robocop looking killbot (check the section on "...wave after wave of my own men...") This game has some of the best graphics for a shooter that I've seen. The gore factor extremely high. Close range shotgun blasts make limbs vaporize in a red mist. Wounds profusely bleed and leave hideous smears on the walls and floors. It also makes cool references to Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta, which is always close to my heart. The story elements are spooky, and it's obvious that the writers gleaned themes from modern Japanese horror films, read "Ringu/The Ring" and "Ju-on/The Grudge."

COD2 is a World War II shooter that has you play through all of the major campaigns of WWII, first as a Soviet rifleman, then as a U.K. armored infantryman, and lastly as a U.S. Army Ranger who supports efforts to make D-Day a success. The play is gritty, not so much in gore, but in the way that battle is portrayed as it should be: messy, confusing, and inaccurate. The American campaign intro sequence pulls from the landing scene in "Saving Private Ryan", and it's just as tough to watch as you're the proponent of the action and the witness to all the destruction. This game is the largest factor in why I haven't posted in so long.

Prey is a beautiful shooter that uses the DOOM3 engine (think portals) and puts you in the shoes of Tommy, a native American who wants to get off the reservation, and end up getting his wish...and so much more. You never run out of lives, rather if you die you're allowed the opportunity to enter the spirit world to recharge your life and spiritual powers before continuing on in your quest. The gameplay is fluid, the graphics are luxurious, the story compelling, and the enemy smacks of the Borg, always a good villain.

Honestly people, aren't these the best villains ever: Borg and Nazis? You just can't get tired of smoking these jokers. Incidentally, name one of the first video games in which a certain German WWII psychopath was THE main boss character. American versions of the game list him as "Master-D", but he looks like you-know-who. Just for the sake of your well-being, know that his head explodes in a very graphic way at the end of the game. It wouldn't be right if it didn't.

V for Vendetta: the film that's based on a comic that's set in the 80s that nobody (except fanboys) knew about. It also tackled serious political issues and should be used a vehicle to inspire political and philosophical debates if an uncomfortable silence always ensues while visiting the in-laws. Fortunately, I don't have this problem. Alan Moore, a Brit, one of the authors of the comic, remarked that the film didn't go far enough. Being as that it was originally about life in England under a totalitarian government, Moore commented that as an American piece of work and considering the current state of affairs in American politics (I'm looking at you Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Rummy), the film should have used the United States as the setting. Since the film does have a message about truth and justice and acts involved to actualize these ideas, Moore seemed to feel that Americans would've gotten more out of the film had it been set in NY or SF or LA. Of course, then the studio would've been firebombed by the Christian Coalition and Michigan militia driving what....Homeland Security SUVs with Calvin pissing-stickers on the rear window, of course.

Quitting smoking: yes, I had picked up this rather nasty habit. I kicked it this year. Actually I grabbed it by its dirty yellow face, and smashed its tubular head against the concrete until its tobacco brains littered the street in a glorious fan of projectile bleeding, at least as much blood as an imaginary cigarette-person has in his/her body. Needless to say I'm very glad to have changed this habit.

Computer-based games for the blind/visually-impaired: This has been a growing area of interest, and developers are starting to listen. There are tons of articles out there about smaller shops that are putting these games out. Just a few days ago I was listening to a story on NPR, and the developer/innovator being interviewed made an interesting comment when the interviewer asked him about his interaction with larger publisher/developer houses. The developer mentioned that when he approaches big shops, the common response from them to take on software projects like his was that making games for the blind would be bad for their stockholders. Of course, it wasn't phrased like that, but essentially, that's what they meant. Still, it's great to see these games coming out. I should probably brush up on my ear-eye coordination skills else I'll get smoked by someone who hears me lean around a virtual corner and gets the bead on me before I on him.

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank: If these names don't sound familiar, the Nobel Peace Prize should. Mr. Yunus is a Bangladeshi economist who started loaning money out to people who the bank shunned because they were poor and had little or no collateral. He effectively helped reduce poverty from the ground up, and shown the world that there's an alternative means to helping people help themselves. If you get a chance to hear him interviewed on NPR, which I did a few weeks ago, I recommend you spend the 30 minutes listening. It's a great story and helps remind us that there are still good people in the world committed to helping others by helping them help themselves so they don't need to resort to less civilized means. And when I say "less civilized means" I mean they don't want to shoot you or blow your buildings up. That's right - helping people become financially solvent and economically viable can help eliminate the root causes of terrorism. Mr. Yunus said as much during his Nobel prize acceptance speech. A notable quote: "I firmly believe that we can create a poverty free world if we collectively believe in it…The only place you would be able to see poverty is in a poverty museum."

Too bad we're busy diverting/cutting funding for education and social programs in the States. I can see this graph in my head that depicts how incidents of terrorist acts fluctuate as money is diverted from such programs. You know the looks like an MS Excel bar chart graph that has two columns and if you modify the source data in the "program column" it impacts the metrics in the "terrorist" column because the "terrorist" column is a function of the "program" column. I digress.

My wife's new digital camcorder: Maybe she'll let me take it to work in 2007 and film the man who stands in the middle of the sidewalk on 21st by Broadway and sings off-key songs and smiles at everyone, but who will tell you not to look at him if you do. Finally everyone will believe me when I have irrefutable visual proof and I put it up on YouTube.

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