Sunday, March 30, 2008

See my Rainbow Six Vegas 2 review

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 has the best customization features of any game I know of, including role-playing games.

That's one highlight of my newly posted review of the game, which you can read on's Techcetera blog.

I must thank several of my online friends for unknowingly contributing to my review during the course of talking or playing with me: Fortiscule, Fartknockker, TheJoeyMo, StylishFever, Daddy Rocks LV and the cryptically named IC3W01Fcp666 (Ice Wolf). I hope you'll all recognize your particular contribution.

Don't miss the cool stuff about the Barrett M-468 on the second page of the review. It was interesting to me, so I thought you fellows might find it interesting as well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Army of Two story is good, but ...

Army of Two has a really good story, but the arcade-shooting gameplay doesn't measure up to the other shooters out there now in Call of Duty 4 and Rainbow Six Vegas 2.

That's the gist of it, but please read my full review of Army of Two here. See if you agree or disagree, and leave comments!

Thanks again to valiant Fortiscule and the stalwart Fartknockker for playing co-op missions with me on Army of Two.

Despite shortcomings in the gameplay, who can resist liking the characters in Army of Two? They sure would make great G.I. Joes. Hasbro and EA should make a deal to make 12-inch action figures of Salem and Rios, since Hasbro is bringing back the 12-inch Joes this fall.

Speaking of G.I. Joes, one of my new compatriots in the Alabama Star Wars Syndicate found a picture of Ray Park (Darth Maul) in his new role as Snake Eyes.

If only Activision would get the video game license and get Infinity Ward to build a G.I. Joe video game on the COD4 chassis. How cool would that be?

I'll be writing my review of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 this week, so stay tuned.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rainbow Six Alabama

A high-five to Fortiscule and my friend Fartknockker!

Fortiscule and I played the first two-thirds or so of Rainbow Six Vegas 2 together in split-screen co-op, and then last night Fartknockker and I finished up the campaign together in online co-op.

Fortiscule and I are back online, by the way, thanks to Mrs. Sythbane's generosity. As Fartknockker said, "That's my kind of wife."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Three Rings for the Xbox kings ...

I've seen this before.

Back in August, this infernal winking afflicted my first Xbox 360. I sent it off and got it back Sept. 12. In fact, the lull was when I started this blog, while I was bored while my 360 was in limbo.

Now, six months later, my Microsoft-repaired machine has the Three Rings of Death again. They tell you to check the power supply light and make sure it's green, so my little slide show reveals the holy green light shining in the shadows.

The Three Rings struck on March 16. Now I have to go through the whole hassle all over again.

It's just a good thing Microsoft doesn't build spaceships.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Syth and Fort at OmegaCon 2008

Richard Hatch, the original Capt. Apollo from "Battlestar Galactica," is a great guy.

That's one of the things I learned yesterday when Fortiscule and I attended OmegaCon, a new science fiction convention in Birmingham.

We got a late start, having missed Friday's events entirely and arriving around 11 a.m. Saturday, but we made a big day of it nonetheless.
We might have attended today as well, but I was irked that although I had not attended Friday, the convention clerk refused to prorate the weekend admission price of $40, and said I could not buy a single-day $15 ticket for Sunday at all. That's just tacky, so they got only two single-day $15 tickets out of Fortiscule and me, instead of $30 apiece that we were willing to spend. Consider that for next year, organizers.

First we hit the dealer room, which was very well stocked. We both met Peter Mayhew, shaking hands with Chewbacca and getting our pictures made with him.

Then I zeroed in on some hard-to-find collectibles: a Halo 3 die-cast battle rifle in 1/6 scale, to use with G.I. Joes; a Hasbro Titanium Classic Colonial Viper from the original BattleStar Galactica, which is never in stock on; Star Wars Miniatures of Shaak Ti and Saisee Tiin which had always eluded me; a "Serenity" window sticker for my car; and a Firefly patch like Captain Mal wore.

Next we hit the Star Wars track room for a panel discussion on Star Wars collecting.

Then we hit my friend Mark Baggett's convention party. See the slide show for some party scenes!

Next we made the rounds and check out the costumed characters at the masquerade ball. After that, we hit the tabletop gaming parlor, where we visited with our friends Shane and Rachel and Kevin of Arc Dream Publishing, who were running a game of Godlike.

While in the game room, I saw Richard Hatch, the original Captain Apollo, wearing a woodland camo coat and playing his game The Great War of Magellan at a crowded table. I hovered near the table a few times trying to figure out how to approach him and ask him to sign my new die-cast classic Viper without being rude. I finally gave up, because there was no way to do it without just butting in, and I didn't want to be obnoxious. I am still amazed at the serendipity of seeing Hatch. I just recently bought a rare collectible at a flea market, a boxed set of 12-inch Apollo and Starbuck figures from the original "Galactica," wearing their all-white uniforms. Man, I wish I'd had that with me to get him to sign!

We left and went to a panel about the activities of the local Star Wars club -- the Alabama Star Wars Syndicate -- which we've been interested in for a long time. Fortiscule and I liked the people in the group, and we plan to get involved.

As we were leaving for the night, in the lobby I saw Richard Hatch again, with his entourage as he was leaving the hotel. Seeing my last chance, I rushed up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. You must remember that I was a devoted fan of Galactica when I was a kid in about the ninth grade in the late '70s. On Sunday evenings, I'd perch myself in front of the TV with a Totino's pizza and a Coke to watch Apollo fight Cylons, and that's what is running through my brain while I nervously wait to see if he'll crush my image of him from childhood, or live up to my hopes.

"Mr. Hatch, I'm a big fan of yours," I said, and explained that I'd seen him gaming earlier and didn't want to interrupt him, and asked if he would sign my little spaceship. The guy stopped, put his bag down, smiled, shook my hand and greeted me, signed the toy, and the nice lady who was with him took my camera out of my hand and shot our picture together!

Who could imagine a nicer celebrity than that? He has earned a permanent designation of swell-guy in my book.

OmegaCon 2008 looked like a success to us. There was a good crowd, with lots of people in costume and having fun. We met some nice folks with the Alabama Star Wars Syndicate. And, we me Peter Mayhew and Richard Hatch! We hope the convention comes backs next year, and maybe it'll be even better.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is it art, or just titillation?

The topic of romance in video games is getting discussed a bit more lately. The MTV Multiplayer blog has been particularly good at addressing it.

Here is a video that MTV Multiplayer posted that shows some guys from BioWare talking about the romantic element in Mass Effect. The gist is that they're going to keep putting romance in games because it's a realistic part of life, players love it, and it's part of what makes video games an emerging art form.

I'm right with these guys until one of them verges on condescending when he talks about "titillation" in other games. Come on, guy. It's all titillation, in those other games and in Mass Effect. That's why we love it. That doesn't make it wrong, so don't go taking airs.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy's wry but honest observation about what men really want should bring you back to earth: "I'd like a beer and I'd like to see something naked."

To see Jeff zero in on the basic elements of good entertainment, you might want to fast-forward to about 1:20 into this video:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Severed heads, naked breasts and video games

The other day when I went into Wal-Mart, I came upon one of the cardboard movie kiosks in the front near the cash registers. There, at kids'-eye-level, was a DVD with a picture of a man's pale, decapitated head in a dish. Wal-Mart is selling "Saw IV."

Then I came across "Saw IV" again, this time in the Xbox Live marketplace. Not only could I download the movie to my Xbox, but I could buy a theme and gamer pictures featuring "Saw IV" to decorate my Xbox 360 dashboard.

Here is the Internet Move Database's rating description of "Saw IV": "Rated R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language."

At Wal-Mart, the sky's the limit on bloody violence and torture. You can buy the Unrated Director's Cut of "Saw IV" from right here. No doubt the Unrated Director's Cut has even more gruesome stuff in it than the R version.

Wal-Mart and Microsoft have no problem with us viewing scenes of torture, mutilation and victimization on our Xboxes. The kids can enjoy looking at severed heads right there in the aisle while mommy waits to check out. Wal-Mart puts the movies out there, and people buy them. Then when you get home, you can pop that R-rated or unrated movie into your Xbox 360 and watch it with the kids, if you choose.

Torture, smorture. A little torture and victimization never hurt anyone, apparently, or Wal-Mart and Microsoft would take a strong stand against it, just like the stand they take against nudity in video games. Both are quick to let us know that they'll protect us from the horrors of seeing a woman's bare breast in a game. THAT would be too awful for decent folks to put up with, gosh-darn it.

Adults-Only rated video games are "not available at Wal-Mart or," the retailer tells us on its web site, because "Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity."

Equally pious and paternally protective is Microsoft. "Xbox Dad" on says: "It is company policy that there are no AO games for Xbox or Xbox 360."

Anyone who's played a Mature-rated video game knows that violence means nothing when it comes to distinguishing an M from an AO in the ESRB ratings, regardless of what the ratings guide says. Our tolerance for grotesque violence is limitless, and there's money to be made from our appetite. No violent-but-profitable game will get the AO scarlet letters that would ban it from retail shelves.

The recently released trailer for Gears of War 2, which shows the hero eviscerating an enemy with a chain saw, shows how hard it is to discern any threshold between acceptable and unacceptable violence. Violence is inevitable in a story about war, and although I prefer not to see torture and victimization in something like "Saw IV," I can handle the combat scenes in Gears of War. I completed the campaign in the first Gears of War, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

A video game can depict violence all day, but the alarms go off when flesh is bared. The "prolonged scenes of intense violence" that might give a video game an AO rating can't be the problem, or Wal-Mart and Microsoft wouldn't sell a film with such as "Saw IV," with its "grisly bloody violence and torture throughout," now would they? So the nudity is obviously the offensive part, in their eyes.

Gosh, and I had always thought of breasts as a happy, comforting sight. Severed heads, on the other hand, I find considerably more disturbing and apt to offend. But that just goes to show you how out of step I am with the wisdom of the corporate mainstream.

Witness the "hot coffee" sex scene controversy over Grand Theft Auto, and the tempest in a teapot over the sex scene in Mass Effect, which doesn't even reveal a breast. The people in those Mature-rated games were getting too affectionate! If they had been cutting each other's faces off like good, decent Americans instead of getting overly friendly, nobody would have said a word.

While glimpses of breasts are occasionally tolerated in a game such as God of War, a Mature-rated, PlayStation 2 adventure about Greek mythology that makes no effort to hide a little bit of nudity, game companies usually go to great lengths to keep us from seeing the deplorable sight of nakedness.

Bethesda was taken to task when some guy discovered that he could remove riduculous, anachronistic brassieres from medieval women with a simple mod in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Bethesda did cartwheels to disavow this glimpse of nudity in their Mature-rated fantasy game. Xbox 360 players were safe from the titty horror, though, because you can't mod the console version. And the "Nipplegate" controversy over the yet-to-be-released Age of Conan is still unfolding.

The corporate fathers are looking out for our best interests. Although we can glimpse breasts in a few bold Mature-rated video games, we aren't allowed to see any extended nakedness or sexuality. We can't handle it.

Only adults are allowed to buy Mature-rated or AO-rated video games, right? No kids allowed, just like with R-rated movies. So just think of the harm it might do to an adult who sees disgusting, extended nudity in a game -- something like "Dawn," an 1881 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Talk about your "extended" nudity! This woman has been naked for about 120 years. I could stand there all day admiring this painting, which is my favorite work of art at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I guess I'm just sick.

And don't even think about seeing a naked bottom in a video game. Mass Effect showed a fleeting little side-butt glimpse of love-interest Liara's blue ass, but a straight-on blue moon? Never! You might tune in to network TV to see some cheeks, though. Remember Charlotte Ross' nude shower scene in "NYPD Blue"?

Or you could go to an art museum to see the likes of Aphrodite's gorgeous posterior, but the goddess of love's marble buns and Charlotte Ross' shapely bottom alike are off-limits in video games.

It's a good thing that I, a grown man in my 40s who enjoys video games, am not allowed to look at a breast or a butt in an AO-rated game on my Xbox. I can't be trusted to know what's good for me. Because if I could strip my avatar down to the skin in the equipping screen of an RPG like Oblivion or Mass Effect or Fable, I know I'd do it. (And then I'd put her armor back on because she wouldn't have enough hit points running around naked, but I'd check her out first, for sure.

... And, for the record, I'd NEVER want to see something in a game as indecent as a stark naked Celtic berserker woman who got magical armor protection from her woad blue body paint. That would be wrong. Besides, nobody's developing a game like that, anyway. ... Are they?)

Over on the DVD aisle, I can choose whether to see "Saw IV." I prefer not to because I dislike watching torture, but it's OK if somebody else wants to see it. It's a free country. I'd prefer to play a medieval fantasy or sci-fi video game that might let the characters get frisky between battles, but if I walk a few feet from the DVDs to the video game aisle, that option has been censored. I can't play a game like that even if I want to, not even if it's clearly not for kids, rated for adults and available only for adults to purchase.

They won't let me play a game like that, I suppose, because they're afraid I'll let my kid play it. But thanks to Wal-Mart and Microsoft, I don't have to decide whether it's appropriate to let my teenage son see a naked human body in a video game (unless it's dismembered). Sure, I have to exercise parental responsibility when I decide whether he can watch an R-rated or unrated movie like "Saw IV." Wal-Mart and Microsoft trust me with the movies. But heaven knows I'm completely incapable of good judgment when it comes to taking parental responsibility for what video games my son plays. Big brothers Wal-Mart and Microsoft make that decision for me. What a relief!

I wouldn't want my son seeing something indecent and upsetting such as a woman's naked breast for an extended amount of time, like, say, a nursing baby would see a breast. Who knows how it could warp his brain?

But, again thanks to the higher-ups at Wal-Mart and Microsoft, I know that an image of a severed head in a bowl will do my son no harm at all, unlike the disturbing sight of a medieval woman's naked bosom or an alien woman's bare behind.

I'm just glad they have their priorities straight.