Archive for May, 2007

Kinda cool idea…

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Not sure if this has been done before, a quick trip to Google and VWVortex.com brought up zilch.

Anyhow, I’ve always liked the Volkswagen GTI. As much as I love my ’05, I also liked the earlier models.

After a bit of touch up in Photoshop I got this:

Project

It’s the grill, driving lights, and headlights from a ’92 MKII Volkswagen GTI planted on the front of an ’05. I might have the scale off, but it looks like if I pull it off, it might just be pretty cool. I’d definitely need a hood as well as a bumper cover, not to mention any sort of jury rigged hardware to hold it all together. Might just be a spiffy summer project.

Forza Motorsport 2 [*****]

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

When it comes to gaming, I don’t fool around. I need a challenge. I need realistic physics. I need as much of a simulation as possible. Prior to these types of games, I thought that Need For Speed, Test Drive, and Night Driver were the peak of racing in a game sense.

Then I met Gran Turismo, I played the first 3 before I traded up to the Xbox and met the definitive racing simulation of our generation – Forza Motorsport. Now I beat the first 3 Grand Turismo’s, I beat Forza Motorsport, and I’ve also gone through my share of ‘arcade’ type racers. They’ve all been relegated to the back of the pile because today I plunked down a stack of trades, $30, and landed my very own copy (one of the last in stock) of Forza Motorsport 2.

Now Turn10 could have simply spruced up the cars, spruced up the tracks, made everything 1080i compatible and left it alone. I would have been satisfied. Then again, we’re working with the Xbox 360 here. More memory, more power, more capability – I’d have to say that the folks at Turn10 dug deep, explored every edge of the envelope then shoved it so hard it created a red ring ‘o death on their test systems.

I’ve only played the game for 4 hours so far, running a few of the original tracks and some new test-track based maps in my mildly customized 1992 VW GTI MKII… and I’m in love. The graphics have reached a level that makes me believe this is the closest anyone has come to photorealism on the 360. Sound, all the engines sound great – tires screeching – collisions – everything. They covered every base as far as the audio/visual experience and took it further with the controls which only improve upon that of the original FM. Turning, braking, drifting, all the controls are sharp and well defined allowing a level of control previously unseen in the genre.

Customization is improved as well, not only can the player customize the paint, body panels, vinyls, rims, and windows… Even more granular levels of customization are available to perfect the power and handling of the vehicle – including multiple plug and play powertrain packages each with their own details to explore and refine. One of the things I recall from the last version is that I couldn’t quite determine what modifications would push me out of my current class and into the next class of cars. Power to weight ratio and handling modifications can easily bump any car from a standard D up into C class and beyond. I like to ride at the top of my class before I try a different car in another. FM2 offers a point scale per class which makes it extremely easy to figure out just what mods eek out the best performance for any car in any class.

Now with everything so perfect in the single player experience – there has to be a mistake, something to improve on last time. While I’m sure fans of the series all recall the popular elevator music soundtrack of the original FM… The music in FM2 had me running for my own personal collection faster than the MK2 as I sheared the paint off some turd in an SRT-4.

I plan to spend many hours racing through the various tracks and giving my digital cohorts no end of hell. Heck, I may just pick up an Xbox Live Gold account once I get back in the racing groove… If you loved FM, are a racing simulator fan, and happen to own an Xbox 360 – it is a crime not to have this in your collection. Go pick it up. NOW. 🙂

My response…

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

My email every day gets a visit from Bob Lefsetz, not exactly sure who the guy is but he’s got some pretty strong and usually accurate opinions on the music industry. His latest target happens to be iTunes, which now offers DRM-Free and higher-bitrate tracks for a 30 cent premium over the standard 99 cent cost of a track. His gripes? A cumbersome implementation and that even the DRM free tracks have email and account info in them. I finally got up the chutzpa to respond and sent the following:

My response…

Why hate them?

Apple is offering an absurdly CONVENIENT product to distribute music to the masses in an affordable and reliable format. Now they offer music both without DRM and at a higher bitrate…for a premium price.

The bitrate argument means little to me as 256kbps doesn’t matter in a song which only needs 160kbps or 128kbps to cover all the audible frequencies. It’s just marketing targeted at audiophiles so they can brag about their high-end stereo. The key thing is the lack of DRM. That said, while they are selling you this music DRM free at a $.30 increase in price, it is still LICENSED and COPYWRITTEN. They still don’t want just anyone to start sharing these tracks with anyone.

They’ve simply allowed you – the consumer – to be able to play these tracks anywhere without using other applications to bypass DRM or having to burn the tracks to disc. It’s a convenience feature that the consumers have asked for, and just may be willing to pay that extra $.30 per track to get.

Simply put, if you don’t like the fact that information which ties the track to the buyer is included – DON’T BUY THE TRACKS! Go buy a CD or pirate the songs online. The $.99 DRM versions rely on the exact same information to prevent piracy and encrypt the files, expecting the non DRM versions to lack this information is illogical. Apple and EMI have simply put the onus on the consumer to not pirate. If they do now it’s even easier to catch them; plus Apple has covered its ass in the long run.

Lastly, the interface says outright that it will default to the iTunes Plus tracks if you accept it, and also clearly explains precisely where to change the preference back. After your first post I upgraded thinking that there was NO WAY Apple would have made something not consumer-friendly. I was right. The people who want DRM free music will use it, the people who don’t care will not, and the rest of the world will still invest in those antiquated CD things.

Cheers

–SJ

The second letter:

And they wonder why we hate them.

In case you’ve been out of the Net loop, when you buy an UNRESTRICTED track at the iTunes Store, it comes with your NAME and E-MAIL address EMBEDDED!

Why is it these fucks think we won’t catch on, that we’re ignorant and won’t spread the word how fucked up they are. Don’t they understand this is how they got in trouble in the FIRST PLACE? The INTERNET!

Just like Lindsay Lohan can’t cover up the fact that she crashed her car high on coke, Apple and EMI can’t cover up the fact that they’re fucking with us. This is WORSE than restricted/DRM/copy-protected music!

They’re trying to SCARE US back into the last century. Trying to trip us up, trying to keep us playing on their terms. EMI hasn’t given up on copy protection, they’ve just instituted a NEW ONE! Wherein they can trace your track if you choose to do anything untoward with it. Yup, if it’s your track that’s being traded P2P, you’re FUCKED! You’d better not open your music folder to P2P trading, your NAME might get out!

How fucked up is THIS? Why don’t you put a camera in my bedroom while you’re at it. Why don’t you require a list of every girl I ever fucked before I get into the gig. What’s next, SAT SCORES?

I thought the music was supposed to be your friend. But now it’s just part of the endless scamster scene populated by spammers and thieves looking to gain information, to strip us of our identities or beat us into submission. Yup, this is exactly what John Lennon had in mind when he made his music, a private FBI, that could fuck with you just like the U.S. government fucked with him, tried to get him deported. Lennon fought for years. There was an emotional cost. As for the FINANCIAL COST? He could afford it. Can YOU? If you’re sued by the RIAA can you even mount a DEFENSE?

In the future, the music will float freely, or be so abundant and cheap that you won’t need to trade/transfer/steal. But YOU’RE gonna have to sacrifice your rights now, along the way.

Where do they come up with this shit? How could they think they could get away with it? Are they really this afraid, this desperate, willing to do ANYTHING to protect their old business model?

As for 256kbps files… I’ve got thousand dollar speakers (http://www.auxout.com/Shop/) and I can barely hear the difference between the version of McCartney’s “Letting Go” I downloaded from iTunes and the 160kbps MP3 rip I made from the original CD. On cheaper speakers, on earbuds? NO DISTINGUISHABLE DIFFERENCE!

In other words, EMI just wanted to find a way to charge thirty cents more while RETAINING the copy protection. FUCKERS!

The first letter:

This is fucked up.

The way I understood it, you had the option of paying 99 cents for the usual version, or $1.29 for the hi-res one.

Seems simple enough. They exist side by side. You just choose which one you want. But NO!

So I upgrade my iTunes software, and then search for one of my favorite McCartney tracks, “Letting Go” from “Venus & Mars”. I’ve got some credit, I’ll buy it to see how good it sounds.

But when searching I could only find a handful of McCartney albums, lame ones like “Press To Play”. As a matter of fact, I only saw FIVE McCartney albums when I said to show me all that was available, 41 songs in all.

But when I went to the iTunes Store homepage, and clicked on iTunes Plus, I saw “Band On The Run”. But when I clicked on that…I got a message. “Do You Want to Set Your iTunes Plus Preference?”

“By selecting iTunes Plus below, you will always see the iTunes Plus version of an album or music video whenever one is available. You can change this preference by going to your iTunes Store Account page at any time.”

Why would I want to do that? I want to see BOTH versions.

But when I clicked “Cancel”, I found out I couldn’t look at ANY hi-res versions!

So I clicked okay, and then I found out I could no longer see the 99 cent versions!

So I went to change the preference. In Preferences, under the iTunes Menu in the iTunes software. But there was no option in “Store” to go back!

I was flummoxed. Had I lost 99 cent tracks FOREVER!

Then, furiously checking every menu in the iTunes program, under Store, I found “View My Account”. So I clicked on that.

Well, first I had to remember my password…

Then, once inside the system, at the top of my account screen, there was an option to “Manage iTunes Plus”. The fucking boilerplate gives one the impression that you will be able to see the hi-res/iTunes Plus version whenever one is available. It DOESN’T tell you that if you click this box you will never see the standard priced one AGAIN!

At least I remembered to go to my account page. Since you only see the iTunes Plus option once, you’ve got to REMEMBER that you clicked this option. Otherwise, you will believe music is now $1.29.

This is fucking nuts. This is bait and switch. This needs to end IMMEDIATELY!

When I go to buy a car, they don’t say if I want to LOOK at the one loaded up with options I can no longer look at the base model. Unless I remember that there are multiple levels and I go into the manager’s office and sign a waiver. And then I can’t look at the EXPENSIVE version unless I go back into the office!

And since you can only see one or the other, how many people are gonna no longer know that a cheap version is available?

Utter fucking bullshit.

Whom do I blame? Eric Nicoli or Steve Jobs?

Give us the option, cheap or expensive. That’s the American way, comparison shopping.

But not in music. The going out of business labels are CONTINUING to fuck their customers.

P.S. If you click to accept iTunes Plus, THEN you can see “Venus & Mars”. I clicked on “Letting Go”, I’m still waiting for it to download… Oops, I got an error code. Has the track been lost forever? Have I lost my money? Doesn’t seem like iTunes Plus is ready for prime time.

The Godfather [*/*/-/-/-]

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Define tedium.

Here at home, 2 days off a 3 day weekend, feeling like crap due to some mystery sore throat bug that has tossed me for a loop. So I park my tail on the couch, fire up the 360, and try out my latest Gamefly rental – The Godfather.

The Godfather is a 3rd person sandbox title, one of what is appearing to be far too many in the genre which offer mediocre game play and count on some pop-culture hooks to keep the player interested. In my opinion, it took over 10 years to make the FPS genre not much to look at. I’ll put some money on the sandbox genre rapidly approaching the same brick wall. This game places you as that ‘other’ guy always in the background, yet critical to the progression of the game plot. All the classic scenes are recreated in Grand Theft Auto III quality 3D graphics.

The plot is weak. Yes, I said it – a game with ties to The Godfather has a weak plot. Subtract the recreated scenes, re-dubbed voices, and 3D stand ins for actors who wanted no part with the game – and the game drops below mediocre. Character control is basic enough, left hat movement and right hat camera. Shooting any weapon is a chore, as you can either rely on the marginally accurate ‘lock on’ functionality by holding down the left trigger, lock on and adjust the aim manually for a head shot by holding down the left trigger then aiming with the hat, or pull the left trigger, left bumper, and aim with the hat for full manual aim. Oh – don’t forget to shoot with the right trigger.

Now controls in a sandbox game are nothing new and they were all but perfected in 2001 when Rockstar kick-started the genre. There’s no excuse for any company – let alone Electronic Arts to try and break into the genre by half-assing the control structure. As for the cars, what the hell were they thinking? Control is arcade ad infinitum. Forget physics beyond the most basic expectations of big hits having big effects and little hits having little effect. Different vehicles have different handling and performance, all predictable for the most part albeit irritatingly lacking in the refinement one would expect of an at the time 5 year old genre.

Tasks in the game are all plot based, with side missions offered for extorting businesses, hijacking deliveries, doing favors and performing hits. Sadly the sandbox is too big, the vehicles are all too slow, and there isn’t much in between to keep the game from not becoming a tedious bore. Sure, I could easily drop a few more hours on the couch as I beat this bug and see where the game goes – or I can just watch the movie and save myself the trouble.

If this is in your bargain bin folks, skip it unless you’re a hardcore sandbox addict. Personally, I’ll stick to the game which has most recently set the bar in Sandbox action – Crackdown.

Oh what a night…mare.

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Hot night last night, wasn’t too humid, but hot enough that I decided to fire up the new A/C unit to keep the place cool.

Maybe around 4am… I had one of the worst nightmares I’ve had in a while.

I woke up – but I was paralyzed, lying on my stomach in the dark. I felt the cool breeze of the A/C blowing into the room and across my back, my face pressed into the pillow, and my hands at my sides. I couldn’t move my eyes, I couldn’t move my hands, my head, or any of my limbs. I couldn’t even scream.

I lay there screaming for the person next to me to wake me up, fully aware that I was having a nightmare, but no sound came out because like I said – I was paralyzed. Then I wake up and all I see are eyes around me, whether my eyes are opened or closed.

I think I’ll pass on another one of those dreams.

Heart Shaped Crap!

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Does anyone actually like the new Marilyn Manson track “Heart Shaped Glasses?”

To me, it sounds like you could replace the guy with Lindsay Lohan, tack on some choreographed dance moves, and it’d be a pop hit.

Right now, it’s absolute crap…IMHO

Farewell to the FPS

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Mark this day in history my friends, May 20th, 2007 – the day I gave up on the First Person Shooter. Take another historic day, April 8th, 1994. I sat alone in the spare bedroom of my house – at my first computer – playing a new game. Doom.

I popped my new copy of Soundgarden’s Superunknown into the Toshiba auto-reversing tape deck and tore through several episodes of what was to become a classic. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent that night playing, or how many times the cassette flipped…

Today, driving home from the mall after picking up a new outfit at JC Penny, I changed stations on my Sirius head unit to Lithium 24 and the next song that played was Soundgarden’s Let Me Drown off the Superunknown album.

I wasn’t driving my Volkswagen anymore, I wasn’t in New Jersey – my mind was on Mars, tearing my way through an overrun base full of demons, imps, and other-worldly creatures from Hell.

I’ve easily played 2 dozen first person shooters since Doom. While I have a few favorites like Rise of The Triad, Red Faction, or Unreal Tournament – all they’ve been is an improvement on an improvement of an idea. 13 years later companies are still firing off rounds like a 13 year old knee-deep in the dead.

What’s new? Nothing is. Every idea is recycled, improved, and regurgitated upon a generation that is not getting any younger. For every single idea 12 variations show up all hoping to distract the player from the fact they just spent another $60 on a 13 year old idea.

After spending the past 5 months trying to find a new first person shooter which is worth my time, my money, and my effort – I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t exist. My Gamefly queue is clear of FPS’s, and I’m slowly coming to the same conclusion about sandbox type games like Grand Theft Auto.

While I’ve seen a few really good improvements ie Crackdown and Saints Row – I have to ask – how far can we go before the games become so realistic that Life becomes the escape from virtual reality?

In the end I suppose it is all personal preference. I just played Doom on my Xbox 360, within minutes there was something I hadn’t seen from a First Person Shooter in the past 5 years… the reflection of a smile on my face in the television screen before me.

What!?

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

After work today I headed out to Sam’s Club as my supplies in bulk were running short, and I get cranky if I run out of Propel. I’m heading out to the highway when this VW Jetta with a blond girl at the wheel comes flying up on my ass. I don’t pay much attention to her tailgating as I merge on to the highway, dust her, and keep going. I slow down and after a minute or so she blows past me. Alllllllllllrighty then. I continue on my way, and catch up to her. I make a point to stay no closer to her rear bumper than she was to mine. After about a minute or so of this, she throws her hands up in the air then pulls some crazy driving maneuvers as her little Jetta books off into the sunset.

Never get that. People do something stupid – and then flip out when someone else does the same thing. Yes, I just admitted I was stupid.

So I’m heading home from Sam’s Club and as I get onto 84, I’m in the left lane when I catch up to some idiot in a Hyundai who is parked next to a box truck. Now I didn’t tailgate, but after a minute the guy/gal (didn’t look) pulls over into the right lane, and as I pass they flip me off. I just keep going, and watch in my rear view as they pull back into the left lane and once again hold up traffic.

People are just wacky… Must be the heat.

Aw F**K

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

So I’m at the gym last night doing my crunches when I hear it… The second worse sound that anyone can hear while surrounded by strangers. RRRRRIP. No, I didn’t break wind – but my boxers tore. I heard it, I felt it, I let out an ‘Aw F**K’ and had the people behind me giggling. Luckily enough my actual gym shorts didn’t tear but I guess all the lower body exercises are paying off.

Currently my workout consists of about an hour of weightlifting, 20 minutes of crunches, and 15 minutes of cardio – all in that order.

My current stats are: (Machine / Free Weights)
Chest Press: 250lbs / 200lbs
Seated Row: 150lbs / x
Dumbell Curl: x / 70lbs
Lower back: 280lbs / x
Shoulder Press: 200lbs / x
Butterfly: 220lbs / x
Deltoid: 160lbs / x
Lateral Raise: 100lbs / 40lbs
Lateral Pull: 150lbs
Shrug: 130lbs

The machines definitely do have some leeway as when I moved to free-weights on the lateral raise I was stunned that 20lbs per arm was kicking my ass. It just gives me a good starting point, I figure when I max out a machine it’s time to move on to free-weights and get everything else in line. I’m actually at 255lbs at this point, a little opposite of my original goal but I’m sure at some point it will level out.

As for the crunches, I do a few different types each week that usually leave me on my back and cursing so I’m doing something right!

Cardio, I do 15 minutes on the elliptical at 75% of full resistance which normally equates to 2 miles and rubber legs.

Doing pretty good so far.

We named the dog Indiana…

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Big news in racing is that Dale Earnhardt Jr is going to leave DEI at the end of 2007 season for a yet to be determined team. I say good for him. His father’s a legend of the sport, just the same – I doubt he has any desire to ride the coat tails of the black #3. While some rumor that he may actually hook up with RCR like his old man, at this point the possibilities are endless.

Dale is a solid driver and has long been under the shadow and thumb of DEI – he wanted a larger part in the game and was locked out. His name is synonymous with the sport and I can easily see him 10 years from now being a living legend of the sport. DEI – as stated repeatedly in the interview was his father’s dream. It was also his father’s dream to have Dale at the helm. That hasn’t come about, doesn’t appear to come about – and I see no better way to honor that dream than to move on and for lack of a better term – bury DEI.

Whether it be RCR, Junior Motorsports, or some other team – best of luck to Dale, from here the only way is up.

To Theresa and the folks at DEI that let this happen… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA… Morons.