Point Blank Review: Space Above and Beyond

Yet another sci-fi selection I queued and FINALLY finished watching this morning. I say finally boldly but now that it is over and there was never a second season you are left hanging. As has been done on other Netflix selections, like Surface because the show was canceled after a single season. Regardless, I was rather pleased with the show, even though the first third of the season was slow going. It was interesting but for some reason I could just not get too excited about the show. I did give it 4 out of 5 stars, because the later episodes make up for a slow start to the season.

The show seemed to be a mix of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek with a piece of Stargate SG:1 thrown in. The concepts of a fleet of battling warships (USS Saratoga for example) out in the universe fighting a galactic battle after loosing two colonies that departed Earth by unknown forces. These forces become apparent and are known as the “Chigs” though out the season. Very little information is provided on this race until well into the first season.

The 58th Squadron, known as “Wild Cards” are led by Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland) and Nathan West (Morgan Weisser). This squadron comes into their own after a rival and well known squadron is reduced to only their surviving commander, TC McQueen (James Morrison) who then takes over the 58th.

Overall the cast was unimpressive with most coming from a TV background but the lack of big names and an actor to really step forward and play the dominating role, I feel hurt the show. It was interesting to see the early interaction, as to who was going to step up one the squadron was formed. Vansen was a tough and gritty woman, who was out for revenge after the death of her parents at the hands of the A.I’s years before. Hawkes was an Invitro, born out of a tub at age 17 with only a facility and a batch number. Finally West, who originally was a colonist, separated prior to liftoff from his girlfriend, who always “believed in him.” All three were driven, but for different reasons.

In the end it would be Vansen who would step up to play a very dominate role in the show being promoted to Captain and taking control in many of the episodes. West continued to hold out hope his girlfriend was still alive after the colonies were destroyed. Hawkes, he became closer to McQueen, as both were Invitros but never really found what he was after.

After reading some previous reviews I don’t think I could classify S:AAB as a “sci-fi classic” as some have. It has the necessary parts from strong acting to the great use of CGI and plot lines, along with conspiracy. But it’s just too difficult to ascertain what could have been IF there was a follow up season. The later episodes were beginning to set the stage or the season finale and the start of a new season. Unfortunately, we will never know just what could have been.

There were some rather shocking events that culminated in the final two episodes that had me shaking my head and disbelief (which you should leave before watching this). Much of the show was predicable, you knew the 58th would make it through sometimes impossible situations only to return the next week (episode) for another harrowing adventure. But maybe that is what had me coming back each episode.

This sci-fi show could be considered more of a military drama that unfolds in the blackness of space. One interesting comment I read from another review was, “Of course the show was canceled and you can readily see this by the fact that around episodes 14-16 it goes from showing the war as being a long drawn out affair to we need to finish this in the next 10-8 episodes. Story lines are obviously cut out or shortened up. The reason the Aliens are fighting us, for example goes from what I’m sure was going to be a Season 4 or 5 reveal hits us around episode 20, and only gets a 4 line delivery.

I guess this is the shortcomings of a show knowing it has no follow up season and writers are quickly revising plot lines and scripts trying to figure who will not make it though the next episode. I was sorry to see the finale episode and knew, hopelessly there was going to be no answers to the questions I had formed. Nonetheless, Space: Above and Beyond was a very well done show. I would definitely recommend it!

Point Blank Review: MLB 2K7

As always let me preface this review by saying I have been very disappointed with many of games I have purchased for the 360. Yet another console that had mega hype surrounding it, but in my opinion did not deliver. Again, that is the way of the PC/console world, it’s about the all mighty dollar, not the end user. I also prefer to play my sports games on a console as opposed to the PC because this is one area in which consoles do excel over PCs. Over the 18 months I have owned the 360 I have continued to bash my head against the wall each time I bought a new game. You think after a few hundred dollars in games I would get a clue or the increasing size of hole in the wall would be a reminder.

I have softened my stance a bit with my attitude (my wife calls is negative) towards the 360 recently with the selection of Kush Sports MLB 2K7. After Madden I was pissed another quality sports game was ruined and was dying to get my hands on a baseball game that could rival MLB ’06 from the Xbox. This game is shaping up to be that sort of sports game.

Now after playing MLB 2K6, I was rather turned off how it was designed. The models were stiff and unrealistic, the game play was horrible and the controls, well not much better. Many of those areas have been addressed in 2K7 to the point I am rather impressed, this game brings the heat!

In order to get me ready for my new franchise and upcoming season, I decided to play a few exhibition games to learn the game and the controls. There was a small learning curve, especially with the pitching and newly implemented ‘swing stick’ control. I had some mixed feelings the first time Petco Park loaded up, the graphics, while a bit cartoonish were beautiful and highly detailed. As the announces went through their pregame match ups, the players took the field and John Miller and Joe Morgan took control. You would think it was a match up you were watching on television.

As the game started I found myself on the mound ready to throw the first pitch. Learning how and where to throw the ball, taking into account the direction of break was a task that caused some pain early on. I got spanked all around the park, even when I tried to “paint the black.” After surviving and struggling to get three outs, I went on offense. As mentioned, the implementation of the swing stick is nothing new, as I have seen it in other games, but it did nothing for me. I tried it, didn’t like it and went back to the “class” controls of having a button control the swing of the bat, while using the left stick to determine the type of swing.

I struggled on offense just as I did on defense, but it was a learning process. After a few games, I became more comfortable and began understanding the physics behind the pitching and while I was not at all patient at the plate I was finding the gaps and knocking balls out of the park. With that, I took control of my franchise and began the season.

what use are graphics when game play suffers? Nothing, but MLB 2K7 scored a home run on both accounts! Each major leaguer I have seen represents their real world counterpart, from their stance to their physical likeness. Some amazing work to recreate most all of the players in the game today, from the wide open stance of Alfonso Soriano to the beer belly on David “Boomer” Wells.

The stadiums are also meticulously recreated. Each stadium is unique in its own respect, as they each have something different to offer the game. From the short porch and “Green Monster” at Fenway to the ivy covered walls of Wrigley.

John Miller and Joe Morgan, the two of the best announcers covering baseball today. Both have an extensive knowledge of the game, work well together and add their insights and comments during the game. Like any game, their comments do become repetitive, but that is only a minor distraction and does not really take away from the game.

The controls are above and probably have a rather simple learning curve, but it does take some time to learn in order to be effective. For example, running the bases is my current downfall. I have yet to steal a base. You can use the new “base burner” feature that allows you to take control of any runner at the base they are on. You can lead off, dive back and steal. While in this mode you can also control the batter, by telling them to bunt or swing away. I do think this is a neat feature, but one I have yet to master. The same goes with running the bases, moving all the runners up one base is simple, but being able to score the man from second, while holding the batter to a single or stretching it for a double takes some work.

The pitching controls require you to understand how a pitch is going to break, even fastballs have a rotation that could potentially take your pitch outside the strike zone. The longer you hold the pitch button, the more severe the break, if you release the button at the right time. Any slip and your ball will miss by however much you were off on the pitch. That could spell home run. Even now that I have learned how to control the pitch, the computer is still knocking my balls around, even great pitches that are just on the plate. Guess I still have some work to do.

As for batting, as I mentioned before the “swing stick” is the newest addition to MLB2K7 and I am not a fan of it at all. It requires you to pull back on the right stick to get into your ready stance and then you let it go or move it forward to swing with power. Personally, the classic controls work much better for me but your results may vary. Batting does seem rather easy, even on the higher levels (MVP). As in the past, I can’t draw a walk to save my life. My patience at the plate is still still horrible, carrying over my days of high school ball. I am swinging at everything, regardless of where the ball is.

The dominate game mode is ‘Season’ or ‘Franchise’, both which allow an entire 162 game schedule, as well as the All-Star Game and playoffs. In Franchise mode, you must watch contracts and business end of the team as well as manage and act as general manager. You do control ticket prices, which will have an affect on your attendance figures. Home run derby is also included, where you can take control of any MLB player (or your own created player) and put them up against 9 others to see who comes out on top.
Like many sports games today there are extensive records kept and you can unlock different achievements and spend your earned credits on additional items in the ‘Skybox.’ You can buy uniforms or special power ups that can be used as well.

Overall, this is a great baseball game, much on the level of MLB ’06, which I still consider a great baseball game for the Xbox. As the season progresses we will see how things play out. Currently, I am on a 7-game loosing streak and my #1 starter is on the DL for 3 months. Ain’t baseball grand? So it’s time to play ball! If you are into baseball, then definitely check out MLB2K7 it’s worth the price tag. Now where is my beer and hot dog?

Performance. Reviewed.

Okay, so it’s only 3 months into 2006 and company management FINALLY got around to handing out our performance reviews for 2005. I guess it doesn’t matter that of the three managers who had input, two of them were not even in our department. In order for management [and I use that term loosely] to effectively evaluate each individual, they wanted us to write a synopsis of what we accomplished in 2005. I actually did this, but never turned it in. Why? Because anything I was to write would have ended up on my evaluation. So wouldn’t that have defeated the purpose of being reviewed?

In all honesty, the performance review is not worth the paper it is printed on. How can a manager possible review what I have accomplished [or not] in 2005? Word of mouth, talk to other supervisors or managers. Okay, I guess that is logical.

So the first statement for the “Overall Summary” reads, “Steve, you are a solid anchor for midnight’s.” Here is another one, “you communicate well” or better yet, “You have the ability to accomplish all of the assignments and tasks given.”Getting back to the point I made about this review not being worth anything, we won’t see a raise because of our performance. One thing that I am surprised [again!] that is not included, but I feel is important is my dependability. It will be 11 years in June I have been with this company and still, I have not missed a day of work on account of sickness. Now THAT is saying something! This actually still means something to me, may not mean a damn thing to my employer, which is rather sad, but nonetheless not a mention of it in my performance review.

So all in all, I rated a “3” that is considered “average” I guess since its on a scale of “5”. I have yet to see anyone in our department rate anything higher, unless you really go above and beyond and kiss some dingus, then you might get a “4”.

The manager who gave me my evaluation did not set expectations for 2006. I was told to “stay focused” as we move forward. Also that I was sometimes “short on the phone.” LOL! Guess this guy did not realize, this is not a friggin 900 service, this is an operation, I can’t take 10 minutes to explain something to everyone who calls. The shorter I can be on the phone, the better. I found that comment rather humorous. Then again, I find this entire process a joke.

What’s that smell? That is the bridges burning, I cannot wait to get out of this shithole!

Point Blank Review: Battlefield 2

First off, I am not a homer for the game I helped design over the past 4 years called Urban Terror. What our development team achieved as amateurs, we consider a great accomplishment. Now for design studios out there who do this for a living…no wait, I know I am wasting my breath when it comes to the rights and wrongs or do’s and don’ts of game design. Hell, I don’t profess to know everything, if I did I would be a gaming guru like a Carmack, Meier or Molyneux (if I need to explain any of those, stop reading!).

The bottom line of ANY game development is money! How successful of a game can be created for as little as possible, while reaping a huge return on the initial investment? While I don’t follow the gaming industry as closely as I once did, I am appalled at what studios are churning out. Worse yet, gamers are buying this crap up!

Case in point, Battlefield 2 from Digital Illusions CE. *shakes head* First off, I am not much for sequel titles any longer because they rarely stack up to the original. Yes, even the Quake series! DICE, I thought would have been smart, I am sure their bottom line says they were smart and the bags of cash are rolling in.

After spending the better part of the five evenings playing this abortion called BF2, I can truly say it is not worth a second look. In order to give it a fair shake, I felt I had to give it a chance, so with the help Greg and Dan, brothers in Los Angeles I know, we played. We were fortunate to communicate, no not with the in-game communication system, but with Teamspeak 2. After getting their assistance initially, I was ready to rock and roll. Well, it was more like get rolled. Over and over and over again.

The game is short of balance when it comes to the assets you can use. I am not sure what is the worst offender, the artillery strikes or the jets. Guess it really makes no difference, but KILL (which they were intended to do) the game play! A well fought battle suddenly turns on a dime because of repeated strikes or jets dropping its loaded. “That is what they were created to do in the game, Oz!” Yeah, I know I have experienced it, over and over!

Now maybe I am spoiled by “other” games that actually allow players to move quickly across a level. If you have played “BS2” then you know just how large the fields of play are. They are extremely huge and complex levels with multitude of conquest points each team tries to control come hell or high water. So attempting to move between points without the use of vehicles is slow, challenging and often results in death.

Like other FPS games their movement system employees a stamina bar that moves rather quickly, based on sprinting or jumping. Regardless of your movement technique, stamina reduces. As for building it back up, walking or resting allow you to replenish your strength. This is why vehicles are the primary mode of transportation. Unfortunately on a server with 32, 48 or 60 gamers, your chances are rather slim to score some “heavy metal.” It goes without saying that most of the successful players I saw were flying jets (what a surprise!) and scoring near the tops of their respective teams.

These days in an ever changing industry where competition is stiff companies continue to ride their new titles based on their original concepts. Battlefield 1942 and its forerunner, Codename: Eagle were both great and enjoyable games. I do believe CE ended up as a bargin bin game rather quickly.

My point…pfft, I probably don’t have one. I think BF2 is garbage and thankfully I did not buy the game, nor after playing on my wife’s computer would I consider buying this game. I don’t see why all of a sudden it is “nuevo” to play on a server with 64 other gamers. But, if you enjoy this sort of gaming, great. You have just helped some big conglomerate, like an EA stuff their pockets full of more money.

Oh, and if you wanted to know WHY I actually played the game. It was not because of the game itself, it was because of the guys I am friends with, they were the ones who made the game bearable, or borderline enjoyable.

Urban Terror Review: Riyadh by dotEXE

ut_riyadh by Áskell “dotEXE” Löve
| Áskell “dotEXE” Löve | Score: 4.7 | By Oswald |

dotEXE is the newest addition to an already talented group of Silicon Ice’s mapping team. All too easy is it to become overwhelmed in the atmosphere of his latest map Riyadh. You can almost feel the hot dusk breeze of the desert blowing through your hair as you watch the sun set in the red sky and darkness begin to overcome the map. But don’t be distracted by the thought of warm sand between your toes too long or you may find your innards have become your “outtards.”

Texturing [4.5]
While Riyadh is not full of colorful, eye popping texturing, the featured textures complement the map and its setting very well. There is a very simplistic look and feel to all the textures used on the buildings and walls. Many of the textures recreate a sandstone look, which dominates both bases. A middle eastern decor borders the many of the structures located in Riyadh. Many of the colors are a very neural, off white color or light tan. Each base is identified by the red and blue striped awnings. The crumbling buildings and lookout posts located outside of the bases have that wind blown and worn look to them.

Ambiance: [5.0]
The most unique feature is the bright, setting sun slowly drifting below the horizon, as day turns to night. The fiery ball gives off a brilliant red glow, which is reflected on the faces of the structures facing the West. To complement the warm glow of the sun, the sound of howling wind blows over the desert hills and through the narrow valleys. Each base has the sound of beating Middle Eastern drums as you enter the plaza.

Creative Spark: [4.5]
The Arabian desert functions as a majestic backdrop and metaphysical land for the second terrain level designed for Urban Terror, this level conjures thoughts of Sands initially, but one run though the level and you will see noticeable difference. The levels are quite similar, but Riyadh does offer a different style of play, due to the accessible hills and clear lines of sight. The level is anchored by two large bases, constructed in opposing corners, like Lawrence of Arabia preparing to do battle against the Turks.

Construction: [4.5]
As previously mentioned, Riyadh makes use of the Quake III terrain generator, which really lays the foundation for a very balanced layout. Located in opposing corners are towering, fortified bases. Separating the bases are a numerous hills and winding valleys, all of which provide many options when moving through the level. The middle mountain range basically separates the map into two distinct sides, making Riyadh a very successful CTF level. Intermediate structures located at vital points on the maps, make this level challenging to negotiate where you are not out in the open. Technically, the map is void of flaws, yet the r_speeds do skyrocket up to 17,000+ when you are viewing the entire level from each base. On average r_speeds run 11,000 through most of the level.

Playability: [5.0]
This level is all about layout. The Quake III generated terrain and accompanying texturing is well implemented. Three valleys are separated by small hills, which are climbable in most areas, making the game play unpredictable, as gamers will take the quickest route between two points. A straight line! For those who decide to move more stealthy, there are intermediate points, such as the towers and crumbling buildings located through the level at two of the main intersections of the level. Even when controlling these two choke points, you do not control the level. The level is still dominated by the sniper, from nearly every point in this arid, desert environment. Although gamers who favor the assault rifles and machine guns do play an important role in controlling some of the tighter points, like the intersections, where the buildings are. Also, having a healthy weapon like an M4 or UMP45 is really more advisable when rushing the base.

6th Sense: [5.0]
What makes this map stand out from the rest? I think this is the sort of map gamers have been calling for. The level is similar to Sands, but much smaller in size, which helps to influence more fluid game play. That is a good thing. CTF just rocks on Riyadh and a real thrill to play. Be wary of the snipers, who seem to dominate the map, not only on CTF but the other game modes. The terrain works well to provide ample cover when moving between bases. But don’t get caught with your drawers down in the open, as you will end up, “as dead as friend chicken, baby!”

Final Score: [4.7]
[Oswald] While dotEXE became with his first level, 101, Riyadh got his recognized by Silicon Ice Development and a position on the development team. His talent and professionalism is unmatched. Riyadh, is just another example of how a level designer can design a high quality level, using not one the complex terrain generator, but simple texturing. Riyadh is already a community favorite amongst the CTF servers. If you have any doubt about it, hop on a CTF and make a dash for the flag. We look forward to seeing Riyadh played more, along with his next project!