Monday, January 29, 2007

Wow!

I think I just made a mess on the keyboard. Here's some info from Wikipedia on the 360 version of Guitar Hero II. (Hey, give me a break. I wanted to unlock all the PS2 songs first so it wouldn't be a spoiler.)

Bonus tracks that include "Hush" - Deep Purple, "Billion Dollar Babies" - Alice Cooper, "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" - Rick Derringer, "The Trooper" - Iron Maiden.

The original set list from Guitar Hero via the XLM.

Downloadable songs via the XLM.

Kleenex, please.

Guitar Hero III should have ...

Right, so you've knocked out enough songs in I and II to get the complete set list (not including the lame-o extra songs), and you're saying something like "Why isn't _______ in here?"

Well, I was. Maybe you weren't. But this is my blog, so we'll go with my idea.

What songs ought to be in Guitar Hero III? Yes, there are a million posts on this already, but I don't feel like being original, and anyway, I don't care what anyone else wants.

Dire Straits - Money for Nothing
Doobie Brothers - China Grove
Any Zeppelin song
Dueling Banjos. Don't tell me this wouldn't be an awesome two-player song.
Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody. Has the added benefit of causing involuntary headbanging in 90% of observed instances of play. An automatic two-player win for you if you can resist.
Guns N Roses - Welcome to the Jungle. You got the slow song in, now give us a harder one.
Aerosmith - Walk This Way. Same thing. By the way, please don't ever use that guy's voice for Steven Tyler again. He's not even close.
Cheap Trick - Don't Be Cruel. Bonus points for it being an Elvis cover. I have no idea how well they'd do the walking bass line, but it would sure be worth it.

How about some Freedom Rock selections?
Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath.
Derek and the Dominos - Layla. (If you don't get a special feeling any time you try to play Clapton, this is not the game for you.)
Allman Brothers - Ramblin' Man.

This is still a work in progress. Links and stuff to come. I bet I can come up with a list of 40 songs (8x5 like GH II, no, not like the color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one).

Whitesnake - Still of the Night. I'd never be able to play it on Expert, but I'd love to watch someone else do it. (I vaguely recall trying to play the bass line.)
Kiss - Detroit Rock City. Don't question me.

Ted Nugent - Cat Scratch Fever. An air-guitar standard.
Peter Frampton - Show Me the Way. Bonus points if we get a wah-wah pedal for the 360.
Charlie Daniels Band - The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Now that might be a 7th- or 8th-set song.

Eagles - Hotel California.

Eric Johnson - Cliffs of Dover. Presumably, this would be in one of the last two sets.

Cars - My Best Friend's Girl. This would be kind of like the Stray Cats tune: not flashy, but a good technical challenge.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

360 review: Saints Row (6/10)

Saints Row. GTA: New Orleans? Maybe. (They don't say that, but it is a lot like GTA, and seems to be based on a southern port city.) But it's not quite the same.

The AI is much better. Not for the random people – those people are still morons – but for gang members and cops. Rather than being morons of your color, homies are intelligent and will shoot at cops and rival gang members, especially during missions. You will find that it's a good idea to be accompanied by as many as possible once you get past the entry-level missions: the missions seem to be ramped up in difficulty because of the helpful AI. This is a pleasant change from GTA, where your homies stood around and fired wildly and slowly.

There's no super-armor or near-invincibility, either. Get hit by a rocket or a grenade and you're dead. A couple of shotgun blasts up close? Better be carrying food or drink. (Alcohol will dull your senses, too. Nice touch.)

The graphics are very impressive. Rain stops falling when you drive under a bridge (cf. Oblivion). Headlights have a visible effect on your vision: driving at night without them is not recommended. You can even see the heat coming off the fire in an old trash barrel.

There are bugs, naturally. Sometimes they're the result of the game locking up (which is due in my case to a faulty disc or 360 or both). Sometimes it's just a bug: people suspended in midair or stuck in a staircase, not being able to blow up one of those eight cars because the game insists it's still there, things like that.

The game's biggest problem is with pathfinding. You can be heading south, marking an activity on the map that is southwest of you with roads between here and there, and frequently the pathfinder will suggest that you go north. AI pathfinding can be just as bad - if you release a homie in the wrong spot, said homie may end up blocking the doorway, and unlike in GTA, you can't simply shove past someone to get by.

Another problem is the camera. It doesn't reset very well in the car, even after pressing the shoulder button, and if a wall is right at your back, you're likely to be completely unable to see what's going on, which is a problem if you're in battle. Strangely, the view from directly overhead, which is so unhelpful when you're surrounded by enemies, is not available here.

There are a lot of little problems with the missions and activities. The biggest one is that there is a "trick" to many of them. Unlike most of the GTA missions, where finishing the task or mission was what mattered (like the one where you're supposed to parachute onto the roof of the mansion; even if you don't make it, as long as you get up to the roof, you're fine), there's a specific way you have to complete some of them. If you don't do it that way, you have no chance.

The Hitman and Chop Shop activities are a nice improvement on the GTA activities. When you have a car or person in your HUD display, if that car or person is in your vicinity, it'll appear on your radar and your map. Much better than trying to remember what kind of car X was again. (Note that that person is a type of person, not one specific person. It's really weird to see two of them on your radar at once.)

Territories are similar to GTA, except that you take them over by completing missions - you can't just pick a territory and try to move in. Also as in GTA, the previous landlords will fight back. The good news: they only try once, right after you complete a mission. The bad news: you have to stay within the territory. Literally. Doesn't matter if you are on a major road right next to the block with the enemy, shooting at them as they shoot at you. If you're not "in" the territory, it doesn't count. Stupid, especially if the enemy lieutenants are on a part of the block that is accessible only from the adjoining territory.

The music selection is pretty weak. Bonus points for giving us classical tracks (if you don't like Beethoven's Ninth, I have nothing more to say to you). Negative points for taking the vast majority of tracks from the last few years. No classic hip-hop? Boo. No classic rock? Boo.

A number of achievements are secret, like one that has to do with running. Nice touches. Unfortunately, a few involve online play, so solo players will need some help to get them all. (Co-op mode? Very nice.) Some of the secret ones are ones you'll eventually hit if you keep playing. Others are ones that you'd pretty much have to learn from a website.

They're not spaced out very well, either. From the story line, you get one for the first mission, one for the second, and then none until you completely wipe out one of the gangs.

Overall, Saints Row is a darn good cover band. They add enough of their own touches so that it's not simply GTA: Saints Row, but borrow enough concepts that a GTA veteran can step in and be familiar with his or her surroundings. The nagging things about the game prevent it from getting a perfect score, but it's definitely worth your time to pick this game up and wear the purple.

Update: A one-point deduction for a really stupid ending (in terms of game play, not the story line). Really, really stupid. (I thought about deducting another point for the way in which you have to finish some of the missions ... or for something else ... but I'll be charitable for now. Let's just say that I may be looking for walkthroughs.)

zlionsfan's score: 6 Saints out of 10.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

PS2 review: Guitar Hero II (9/10)

Okay, I couldn't wait any longer (and as mentioned before, it's a good thing, with the 360 version delayed over a month so far), and as you can tell, I like the game. Here's my official review.

What's different:
  • +++ Practice. (We talkin' 'bout practice?) You can now practice parts of a song at different speeds so you can figure out how to handle the difficult parts.
  • ++ Perfection. In addition to the three- to five-star rating system, the set list now marks songs that you've played perfectly with solid stars, as opposed to outlined stars for the normal ratings.
  • ++ Encores. Starting with Medium difficulty, instead of simply adding a song to the set when you get to that level, you have to complete the set first (3 of 4 songs). Once you do, the crowd asks for an encore, which happens to be the new song in the set. (Kansas and Guns 'N Roses - great tunes.)
  • +++ Complementary two-player mode. Instead of splitting the melody, one person can play lead and one can play bass. (Haven't tried this yet. I have only one guitar at home.
  • - Songs. There seems to be more emphasis on modern songs and on speed songs, rather than on classic rock and technique songs. Eh. (On the other hand, one advantage of speed songs, especially those with repetitive notes, is that you build up points a lot faster. The only song I've completed on Expert on GH I is I Wanna Be Sedated, precisely for that reason.)
  • + More obvious unlockables. You unlock guitars by beating a difficulty level and by getting five-star ratings on all songs within that level. (There may be similar things in GH I, but it's hard to tell.) On the other hand, unlockables really don't make that much difference.


One thing that didn't change, sadly, was the list of songs you can buy. Hey, it's great that this game was developed by guys who also play guitar, but you know what? When you play cover tunes, you generally want to know the songs you're covering. I guess I'm thankful they didn't make us play their music and unlock well-known songs, but still, there's not much point in having unlockables that people don't want to unlock or purchase. I really didn't care much for any of the songs you can buy in GH I, and I didn't see anything in GH II that I really wanted either. (One nice touch would have been to add bonus songs related to songs that you perfected, even if you did it on a set-by-set basis. For example, if you perfected all of the set 2 songs on Medium, including Strutter, then it would unlock Detroit Rock City.)

(Note: the Wikipedia entry says that RedOctane won't be using Harmonix for Guitar Hero III, which hopefully means no more developer songs to unlock.)

It uses the same guitar controllers, which means you have the same issues: there are little things about the guitar that aren't quite right. I saw one reviewer on Amazon who suggested that the fret buttons should have been angled toward the top of the guitar, more in line with the curvature of your hand (and also more like a real guitar - you don't have to press straight down on a string). There seem to be some times when you don't get credit for a note because you're not pressing quite right on the buttons.

Overall, I like the improvements, and I suspect I'll really like the multiplayer improvements. Guess I better get working on Medium so I can unlock Pro Face-Off mode for us. :)

Update: Deduction of one point for no longer showing a cumulative score for a difficulty level. Honestly, I don't know how these things happen. Did they really think that we wouldn't miss it? They realized we wanted to tell the difference between a perfect performance and an imperfect five-star performance. Why wouldn't we want to know our total score for that difficulty level? BOO!

zlionsfan's rating: 9 groupies out of 10.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Aha!

Bastards! EB World is showing a new release date for Guitar Hero II on the 360, April 3. That's almost a five-week slip.

I'm definitely glad I got the PS2 version now. I hate when release dates move back (even though it's usually for a good reason). It's almost as bad as being teleported backward in time and having to wait even longer for release.

Diary of a rock star

I couldn't hold out for the 360 version, so even though I'm only about halfway through Guitar Hero, I bought Guitar Hero II for the PS2. Reviews to come ... this is more of a progress report.

On Guitar Hero, I'm in the second set of hard songs. Easy and medium are all completed, although there are several medium songs and perhaps a couple of easy songs for which I need that fifth (or fourth) star. I just squeaked by on You Got Another Thing Comin' - one more and I can unlock the third set.

I figured out something revolutionary: you can move your fingers on the fret buttons. Yes indeed. Despite the fact that I know this perfectly well in the real world (granted, playing bass is much easier than playing lead, but they still don't write many songs that you can play without moving your left hand), I hadn't yet translated it to Guitar Hero. You can get by on the four-button songs without moving, but not with five-button songs unless you're like Antonio Alfonseca, and let's face it, we don't know if that sixth finger can push a fret button or not.

I was mildly successful: I still needed a Star Power boost to squeak by with three stars, but I passed nonetheless. I may try Iron Man yet again. (Randy Rhoades, I'm not.)

Guitar Hero II: I've just unlocked the fourth set of songs on medium. I wasn't entirely fond of the first four songs, so hopefully the encore will be a good one. I haven't completed all the easy songs yet, but I have more perfect songs in II than in I. (I'm guessing this is partly due to having played more, but it also seemed as though the easy songs in II are easier. I played at least a couple of them perfectly the first time.)

I still make mistakes at times because I'm listening to the melody and trying to play it instead of the notes I see on-screen. Example: Message In A Bottle, medium, the part in the chorus where "Sting" is singing "I'll send an SOS to the world."

The bass line (which is what you're playing for this part) translates in eighth notes as
2222222233344444
but the Guitar Hero line you play is
2222222-3334444- (positive about the first rest, not sure about the second)

It makes sense from a difficulty perspective - it's much harder to move to another fret when you have to keep playing than when you have a beat to change your fingering - but it messes you up if you're playing the song instead of what's on the screen. (This is the first song in either Guitar Hero that I've also tried in real life, and in fact, I've not only played the bass line, but I've attempted the first part of the lead melody. It helps in some ways and hurts in others.)

More progress this week, maybe. I got Rayman Raving Rabbids from GameFly yesterday, so I may have to save my arm for that.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

YEA!

Hey, I may not be a Colts fan, but I have lived here for 12 years, and in Indiana since there were only 26 teams in the league.

Go Colts!

Everything looks good now. In two weeks, when I have to watch two of the three teams closest to my house in the Super Bowl, while the Lions prepare for a high draft pick yet again, it may be another story.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We've shipped ...

After the Post Office's latest fiasco (the letter carrier refused to deliver my mail because my neighbor's car was partially blocking access to my mailbox, slowing down his 20-mph run around our circle), I sent back Madden 07 for the Wii Saturday the 30th. I figured out early this week that it hadn't arrived at GameFly yet, but after checking my queue and seeing that there weren't any good games available, I didn't bother to complain (basically, you say it was lost, they ship you the next game, and end up canceling the complaint when the game finally arrives). Of course, late last week, almost everything was available.

Finally, this afternoon, I get the message that they've received it. Good news: Bomberman: Act Zero, #8 in my queue, is available now. Will others become available? Will I have to play Super Swing Golf for the Wii? (This may be academic because I have Zelda at home.) Only time will tell.

That hasn't stopped me from refreshing my queue every five minutes or so.

Update: Four more games are available, including Rayman Raving Rabbids. I think I might wait for that for the 360, though, so for now, we're going with The Godfather.

Update: Saints Row is available too, so now that moves up to #2 behind Viva Pinata. (I know, but it's supposed to be pretty cool. On the other hand, I might move it down just in case.)

Update: Ha ha ha. Now Dead or Alive Extreme 2 is available. It can't possibly suck as much as Rumble Roses XX (so bad I didn't even keep it long enough to get an achievement).

Last update: Saints Row shipped. Sweeeeeet.

Last, last update: I got Saints Row for late Christmas. Ha ha on GameFly.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cheater, cheater

23.5 percent.

Less than one-quarter of the Hall of Fame voters put Mark McGwire on their ballots.

For someone who crushed pitching for five years thanks to juicing a remarkable workout regimen, McGwire certainly didn't get many votes.

Then again, he was a mostly-average first baseman with a lot of power for five or six seasons. That, in and of itself, doesn't seem like enough to get anyone elected. Maybe people looked at his overall career and realized that it didn't merit consideration.

Or maybe they looked at what happened starting in 1993 and realized that there really aren't a lot of players who suddenly get their power stroke midway through their careers.

Gossage didn't get in? That's a surprise. Jim Rice didn't get in? What does he have to do, put on a Yankees cap?

Albert Belle got 19 votes. Paul O'Neill 12. Jay Buhner 1. These people realize that this is the national Hall of Fame, right? Sportswriters wonder why players seem to have such a low opinion of them ...

I hope McGwire gets 4.9% of the vote next year. Then he can spend the rest of his days not explaining how he feels about missing out on the Hall of Fame, just like he doesn't explain why he didn't have anything to say about the past when he testified - strange behavior for someone who volunteered to speak out about drug use. (Maybe he thought he was being asked to recommend it.)

Sorry, Mark, but I have your '88 Topps card. You were 24. You weighed 220. You looked about like I did at 24 (well, much taller, but you know what I mean). And you want us to believe that it was all natural. What did you do at USC, get other people to carry your books?

Blocked!

Yeah, I know, everyone else knew about Adblock Plus for years, but hey, I just started using it. Anyway, it's like being a kid in, well, not a candy store. Maybe it's like being a kid and getting permission from your dad to get those bushes out of the back yard.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the need for ads (some of the time), and I'm respectful of the needs of the companies whose sites I browse. However, I have certain rules:
  • No popups.
  • No sound.
  • No extending over what I'm reading.
  • No seizure-inducing animation.

Follow those rules and we're fine. Break one and you're gone.

It's magic. Yeah, advertisers will try to find ways around it, and hosts will try to prevent you from using programs/add-ons like that, but hey, if you want my business, you can set up your site the way I want it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Mis-queue

GameFly just received the latest game I sent to them. They haven't shipped one yet. Suck.

Looking at my queue, of the top 14 games, only #7 (Moto GP '06) and #10 (Top Spin 2) are available. All the rest are "short wait" or "long wait." Naturally, about a week ago, most of them were available. Also naturally, after they ship one, most of them will become available. Suck.

GameFly would be a much better concept if they'd been smart enough to have a centrally-located distribution point, like Chicago or Kansas City. So where do they put it? In LA. Who the hell plays video games in LA? Well, I would ... but anyway, it would be nice to have Netflix-type delivery speed ... suck.

There is a precedent

Twenty years ago, a network with a lot of cash to burn decided to buck tradition and give people what they wanted: a matchup between #1 and #2. They got it in spades. A great game, a victory for the good guys, and the start of a new tradition (and soon, with the end of the Southwest Conference, a seat at the big boys' table).

Sure, the Fiesta Bowl is the antithesis of the college presidents' argument against a playoff: it has little tradition, it has always been about the money, and it's been played pretty much whenever the organizers wanted it to (not that there are classes that week, but you know what I mean). And that's why it's eventually going to lead us to a playoff.

Eventually, one of the networks is going to realize that the BCS has never really resolved any of the issues put before it, and that no non-BCS team will ever play for the national title. They'll talk to the five outsider conferences and some of the second-tier bowls, maybe even to some of the BCS bowls. And then they'll march into the NCAA's office with an SMU-sized briefcase of cash (maybe Craig James can carry it - who was jabbing him this week about money? Someone in the studio ...) and lay it out on the table:

  • Eleven conference champions. The NCAA won't buy into a system that doesn't include all conference champs.
  • Five at-large teams, decided by a selection committee as in the other sports, and seeded the same way. No special exemption for Notre Dame. They can earn their way in like everyone else. Maybe this is why they've lost what, seven bowls in a row?
  • Opening-round games at the higher seed so that students have one last chance to catch their teams in the playoffs.
  • Quarterfinals at the Cotton, Citrus, and Gator Bowls (a nod to tradition and warmer climates), plus one of Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta, with the highest remaining seed playing in that game.
  • Semifinals and finals at the remaining three bowls, rotated as they are now.
  • Games played every Saturday, ending with the first Saturday in January and starting three weeks prior. The NFL will gladly concede the Saturday-night time slot if it conflicts with wild-card weekend.
  • The bowls not involved in the playoffs will continue as before, although they may have to loosen their tie-ins somewhat. Not that this would hurt anything - how many teams from the SEC? Really?


It'll happen. Wait and see. In 2010, the first year after the four-year sequence of the extra-game BCS, we'll have a I-A playoff. The NCAA won't take the games away from the BCS during the current cycle, or else the bowls that didn't get the extra game won't agree to it.

The avalanche has begun. It's too late for the pebbles to vote.
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