Oct 03 2007

Heads up Marines, we’ve got Trouble!

Published by under Games

I finished Halo 3 on Legendary mode today. Although it was a very enjoyable ride and fitting conclusion to the series, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that my tour of duty with Master Chief has finally come to an end.

It was six years ago that I joined the fight against the Covenant in “Halo: Combat Evolved”. I eagerly continued the fight in “Halo 2” and have now finished the fight in “Halo 3”. Since that first mission back in 2001 the story and characters of Halo have been a part of my life and it’s with reluctance that I say goodbye.

Playing the single player campaign of a game like Halo for the first time is very special treat. It’s something that you only get to do once and will remember for years to come. It can be compared to seeing a favorite movie or reading a great novel the very first time.  There’s the excitement of being in the middle of an incredible story and charging ahead into the unknown.



This is the way the world ends…

This blog entry should really be dated March 3rd, 2553.  That’s because the war against the Covenant and Flood is finally over and the world, what is left of it, has been saved. 

Halo 3 doesn’t pickup exactly where Halo 2 ended. Instead, there is a comic series named “Halo Uprising” that takes place between the two games. It is a little confusing at the start of Halo 3 as to what has happened to Master Chief, however, I’m hoping that when I get a chance to read the comics it will all be made clear.

It was a pleasure to fight alongside the Arbiter through many of the levels. Although I enjoyed playing as the Arbiter in Halo 2, I was happy that Halo 3 stuck exclusively with the Master Chief. Playing as the Arbiter might have been okay if the game had been longer, but as it was, I preferred to spend the time with the Chief.

Several of the set piece battles in Halo 3 involve taking down a Covenant Type-47 Ultra Heavy Assault Platform (a.k.a, Scarab). Initially fighting the scarab seemed a difficult task, however after some practice I learned how to stay ahead of main scarab gun and avoid being spiked by the legs.

One cool thing about the scarab battles is that there are several ways to approach the fight. In my first battle I simply circled the scarab in a mongoose while a soldier in back hit it repeatedly with a rocket launcher. The second time I noticed the crane extending out over the battlefield and used it to jump onto the scarab, thus skipping phase 1 of the fight. In the second scarab battle later in the game, receiving a lift from a Hornet was definitely the way to travel in style.


Let us never forget those who journeyed into the howling dark and did not return – Fleet Admiral Sir Terrence Hood

I love looking at Forerunner architecture in Halo. There is just something awesome about the structure and massive scale of Forerunner buildings. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to explore the Ark on Earth. That would have made a great level before jumping off through the portal.

The Flood were particularly creepy in Halo 3. It’s fun to take a close look at them in Theater mode and appreciate the increased detail of the models. I do have to say that my least favorite level in Halo 3 was fighting through the Flood infested High Charity to save Cortana. That level was simply a pain in the ass, particularly on Legendary mode. Saving Cortana at least made the trip worthwhile, however I don’t expect I’ll be replaying that level anytime soon.

johnson1.jpg And to Sergeant Major Johnson, it was an honor fighting at your side. Your courage in battle and motivating pep talks will never be forgotten. I’m happy that I was able to grant your last request.

One of the innovative features of Halo 3 is the Theater. The game automatically saves both single and multi-player games so they can be viewed as a movie later. The game actually re-renders the video based on saved game data and allows the user to watch from any point of view (including a free roaming camera). This is a really cool feature, particularly for someone like me who likes to explore all the details of a level.

I guess there is a certain comfort in having closure to the Halo single player campaign. I’m satisfied with the ending and am looking forward to some day when I can sit down and play through all three games sequentially. For now, my next challenge is Halo 3 multi-player. I suspect it will be a lot tougher than during the beta…

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Oct 02 2007

Happy 30th Birthday Atari 2600!

Published by under Classic Arcade Games,Games

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Atari 2600 video game system. It’s hard to believe it has been 30 years since the world was introduced to this revolutionary game system. I still remember the excitement (mostly by me) the day my family bought our Atari 2600.

The first order of business when we got home was figuring out how to hook up the RF switch the back of the TV. The switch allowed the TV input to be switched between the game and the normal antenna.


I remember spending hours playing games like Combat and Basketball with my Dad. Those were fun times. The graphics were very primitive but all I knew is that it was awesome to be playing games on the television!

The game, by far, that captured my imagination was Adventure. In this graphical adventure the player explored a magical kingdom in search of an enchanted chalice. Along the way the player encountered castles, dragons, mazes, and had to solve a number of puzzles before ultimately finding the chalice and returning it to the gold castle. The chalice was guarded by Rhindle, the red dragon, who you can actually see in the banner at the top of this page (looks a little like a duck).

 I still have my original Atari 2600 which is sitting in a spot of honor on my game collection bookcase. Thank you Atari 2600 for the great memories and introducing me to the world of home video gaming!

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Sep 24 2007

All Halo’s Eve

Published by under Games

I attended the Halo 3 midnight event at the Redmond Town Center EBGames tonight. There were several other stores in the area (e.g. Bellevue Best Buy) also staying open late for the midnight release. I read somewhere that over 10,000 stores nationwide held midnight events.


Not too many entertainment releases draw this sort of attention and I suspect it is right up there with the Harry Potter and Nintendo Wii releases. Microsoft is expecting Halo 3 to be the largest entertainment release in history for first day sales. We’ll find out later this week if it achieved that goal.

I got in line around 10:00pm and appeared to be behind about 400 people. The atmosphere was one of excitement but not quite as rowdy as the Halo 2 launch (which I also attended here). The Redmond Town Center is an outdoor mall so I was a bit concerned about the weather. Fortunately the weather cooperated with clear skies and temperatures in the high 50’s.

The wait until Midnight went by fairly quickly. The crowd provided a certain amount of entertainment with things such as people dressed up for the occasion (e.g., a guy painted green wearing a helmet), spontaneous cheering, and all other sorts of wackiness. I also spent time watching Sealab 2021 and Robot Chicken episodes via YouTube on my iPhone.

A few minutes before midnight Bungie arrived in three large busses. This, of course, generated a lot of excitement particularly when dozens of Bungie employees walked the length of the line handing out tee shirts and other swag. When midnight rolled around, the line began moving and thanks to a very efficient operation by EBGames I had my Halo 3 Legendary Edition in hand by 12:35AM. The store had earlier ran everyone by the register to pay for their purchase so when midnight came all they had to do is hand out the product when you showed you receipt.

I got home before 1:00AM which left a few hours to play the game. I won’t go into details here other than to say I’m very happy so far.

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Sep 23 2007

iPhone Accessories

Published by under Misc

When I bought my iPhone on a whim a few weeks ago I purchased the leather case that was offered at the Cingular store. The case did an adequate job protecting the phone, however it wasn’t as form fitting as I thought would be possible. Today, while at the mall I set foot in an Apple store for the first time in my life. Being a Windows guy I previously never had a reason to shop there and the pretentious atmosphere had been enough to curb my idle curiosity. This time I had a desire and purpose to visit.

I had done some web surfing for iPhone cases and had seen a few that looked promising. Heading into the store I wasn’t sure if they carried iPhone accessories. The store was pretty sparse in terms of the number of products. A minimalist approach was obviously a priority in the store design. Fortunately near the back of the store I found a rack containing iPhone accessories and the INCASE rubber cover (which I had seen on the web) was there.


I grabbed a box containing a black color cover and decided to open it up and give it a try on my iPhone. It fit my iPhone like a glove and the rubber material both felt good and seemed to provide good protection. It was slimmer than my leather case and feature integrated buttons on the side for the volume control. The thing was awesome and I had found my new iPhone cover.

While there I decided to look around for a mini-stereo cable which I needed to connect the iPhone to my car stereo. I have the phone paired via bluetooth with my Land Rover so phone calls automatically go wirelessly to the car’s built-in hands-free speaker phone. However, for iPod functionality I need to actually plug the iPhone into the audio in of the car stereo. I would have used one of my own cables, however Apple (in their infinite wisdom) decided to recess the headphone jack on the iPhone making it incompatible with most existing cables. Because of this inexplicable design,  I was required to buy a new cable and finally settled on the Belkin Retractable Mini-Stereo Cable. The retractable cable works out very nicely in the car. I can grab the phone from the center console and the cable will unwind as I bring it in front of me. When I’m done selecting music the cable retracts and minimizes cable mess.

The only downside of the INCASE rubber case is that the phone does not fit in the charging stand when in the case. The charging stand has a molded base that exactly fits the shape of the iPhone and it’s not surprising that the phone doesn’t fit while inside any case. Fortunately the charging stand cable unplugs from the stand and can plug directly into the iPhone. That’s a great design and allows the phone to charge while in the case.

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Sep 22 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction

Published by under Movies

I saw the latest installment in the Resident Evil series today. I enjoyed the first movie but really hated the sequel which sucked major ass. I figured I’d give it shot since it still stars Milla Jovovich and the trail actually didn’t look half bad. It really couldn’t be worse than Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

Resident Evil Poster

To my surprise, the movie turned out to be a fairly solid mix of zombie killing, genetic mutations, mad max road adventures, and (of course) the evil doings of the Umbrella Corporation. The movie felt much more like a sequel to the first movie than the second. In fact, it all but ignored the happenings of the second movie which I think was a good move. More to come…

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Sep 10 2007

Drawing as a Means to Architecture

Published by under Books

The book “Drawing as a Means to Architecture” by Kirby Lockard (1977) is both a student workbook and a challenge to the methods and ideas of modern architectural drawing. The author, a Professor Emeritus in architecture at University of Arizona, encourages the reader to give up reliance on traditional drafting tools and instead develop freehand drawing skills as both a way to effectively test conceptual ideas and to seamlessly integrate non-drafted elements (e.g., landscaping, vehicles, etc) into a drawing.


While the book covers the fundamentals techniques of architectural drawing the part I found most interesting was the author’s philosophy and observations on the subject. My impression is that Mr. Lockard was a bit of a free thinker at a time when architectural drawing was strictly seen as a exact and methodical science.

The author’s concepts of architectural space and the identity of the viewer help bring a drawing to a personal level. Rather than drawing from an improbable point of view that conveniently takes in the entire structure it is suggested that the student draw from a view that is humanly possible in order to bring the viewer into the space.

The section on spatial structuring taught me some new techniques for organizing the space in a perspective drawing. The chart in that section is a valuable guide for laying out a three dimensional space. The technique of creating a “measuring plane” looks very useful for accurately measuring depth into the drawing space.

Although it was my interest in perspective drawing that originally drew me to this book, I did find the sections on plan/section/elevation drawing, context and humanizing, and general drawing techniques to be very interesting. If this sounds like your thing, check it out at Amazon here.

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Sep 10 2007

Dragoncon 2007 Bands

Published by under Conventions,Music

Attending late night concerts at Dragon*Con is a tradition that I always look forward to. This post contains video from some of the concerts we attended:

My favorite darkwave band The Cruxshadows were back again this year and put on an excellent show (as always). Their new CD titled Dreamcypher was released earlier this year and has done well on the charts. This concert marked the end of their Europe/Asia/US tour as well as the last performance with violinist Rachel McDonnell. Rachel has been an integral member of the band for as long as I can remember and will be sorely missed.
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Last Dance
This traditional goth band is a Dragon*Con regular and welcome addition to the late night concert line up. Last year their was an issue with the sound mix that decreased our enjoyment of the performance. I’m happy to report no such problems this year and the band put on a terrific show.
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The tequila drinking Texas hellbilly band Ghoultown was at Dragon*Con this year and put on a memorable show. I believe it’s been a few years since we’ve seen Ghoultown at Dragon and there had been rumors that they broke up. I’m happy that they are back strong and promoting a new album titled Bury Them Deep. The horn player on stage contributes a lot to their distinctive spaghetti western sound.
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Aug 30 2007


Published by under Conventions,Games

beautiful.jpgThe Penny Arcade Expo this year was held at the Washington State Convention in Seattle. The new venue proved to be a nice upgrade from the Meydenbauer Center. Even though attendance was around 37,000 people it didn’t feel nearly as crowded as previous years. 

 Wil Wheaton delivered a passionate keynote speech that spoke true to the geek community. Wil has been a gamer most of his life and was an excellent choice for this year’s keynote. Check out the audio here.

I don’t usually get into the LAN games at PAX. My primary reason for attending is to check out the exhibitor hall, attend panels, hang out, and possibly see some of the bands. I only did three out of the four this year which wasn’t too bad.

The exhibitor hall was several times larger than previous years and reminded me of a mini-E3. Most of the big names were there: Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, Bungie, Rockstar, Ubisoft, Turbine, Wizkids, etc. Part of the fun of the exhibitor hall is just wandering around collecting swag and watching people play the games.


One interesting thing we saw was the first public demonstration of Far Cry 2 presented by Ubisoft. The original Far Cry game was ground breaking in both graphics and gameplay and from what I can tell Ubisoft has really stepped up to the plate to make a worthy sequel.  The game is set in Africa this time and you play a mercenary who has been hired to infiltrate the various militia that operate in the 50 square km game world.

farcry2.jpgThe most interesting thing shown in the demo was the graphics and phyics engine. The seamless world (no zones) is rendered to the horizon in full detail with dynamic soft shadows, HDR lighting, and depth of field. The game features a dynamic weather system, a highly distructable environment (e.g., you can shoot branches out of trees), and environmental effects such as fire that propagates based on wind direction. Each blade of grass is individually rendered and when you walk or drive through the Savannah you leave a trail of pressed down grass.

Not only do these feature increase the level of immersion they also can provide useful game mechanics. For example, the presenter showed how starting a grass fire up wind of a enemy camp can be used as a tactic to restrict the enemies movement and provide smoke to conceal your movement. Overall, the game looks very promising and I’m interested to try out a demo when available.

We had a interesting time this year at PAX. I wish we had time to attend more panels but that’s the way it goes.

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Aug 12 2007

Donkey Kong Tournament

comiccon.jpgOne of the highlights of attending the San Diego Comic Con this year was competing in a Donkey Kong Tournament hosted by Picturehouse, the studio distributing the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

While wandering around the gigantic exhibit hall I noticed a two story booth with several classic Donkey Kong arcade games on the second floor and large flat plan displays on the sides. The displays allowed people down below to watch the game action going on upstairs.

 There was a sign with the rules and instructions for signing up for the tournament. The basic idea was that the top four players from each of the first three days of the convention would come back for finals on the last day.

Although I own a classic Donkey Kong arcade game, I hadn’t really played it much in the last year and was pretty rusty. After watching some games it became obvious that most people did not have much skill or experience playing the game. I decided to give a try and was given a pager which would beep when it was my turn. About 45 minutes later the pager went off and I returned to the booth for my turn to embarrass myself.


They send me upstairs which turns out to be a lounge with bean bag chairs and the two Donkey Kong games. I notice that the games are in really nice shape. The cabinets and artwork are outstanding and the monitors look great.

I play the game and despite making a number of stupid mistakes I manage to land in the #4 position for that day’s high score. Since my score wasn’t very high I figured someone else would probably beat it before the end of the day.

At that point I headed back out into the exhibit hall and resume my wandering through the endless rows and isles of dealers. Towards the end of the day I was back in the exhibit hall and decided to check on the status of my score. As expected, someone had beat my score and I figured that was it.

Toward the end of the next day the organizer called me on my cell phone and asked if I could show up for the finals the next morning. It turns out that I was in the #13 position and they wanted me there as a backup just in case one of the finalists didn’t show.

The next morning I show up at the booth and fate has it that someone couldn’t make it and I was in the finals.

The first 20 minutes or so is spent doing media photos and being interviewed on camera. I had to agree that Picturehouse could use my picture or video to promote the film and/or possibly appear on the DVD extras.

dk-tourney6.jpgThe picture to the left is of the 12 finalists and Steve Wiebe who is in the movie and a world Donkey Kong champion.

Steve is the one standing in the middle wearing a white shirt and I’m the guy standing next to him on his right (i.e., left side of picture).

The tournament was held as a standard single-elimination. Each player was paired up with another person and the winner of a two player game would advance to the next round.

I did okay on my first game and moved on to the second round of finals which started about an hour later. The six remaining finalists were split up into three groups and we went at it again. This time my game did not go so well and I was knocked out of the competition. 

The experience of playing in the tournament was really a lot of fun. Donkey Kong is one of my favorite classic games and just being there with other people who are passionate about the game was awesome. Meeting Steve Wiebe was also very cool and it turns out he lives about 20 minutes from my house in Woodinville. It’s a small world.

The tournament sparked a renewed interest for me in Donkey Kong and I’ve been devoting some time to it since returning from the convention. I’ve actually made a lot of progress in my game and my current high score is 228,200 (27th screen). I’m hoping someday to achive a score of around 500,000, however I know that is a long way off.


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Aug 11 2007

Blizzcon 2007

Published by under Conventions,Games

I attended Blizzcon 2007 which was held in the held in Anaheim Convention Center last week. I missed the first Blizzcon so I was excited to be able to make it this time. For those of you that don’t know, Blizzcon is a gaming convention put on by Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.


There was speculation before the convention that Blizzard would announce the second expansion to World of Warcraft. That turned out to be true and The Wrath of the Lich King was unveiled the first day. In addition to several Lich King presentations the expansion was playable on demo stations at the convention.

blizzcon2.jpgBlizzard had recently announced Starcraft 2 which is the sequel to their hugely popular Starcraft real-time strategry game. The demos of Starcraft 2 looked great and it was clear that they worked hard to preserve the original gameplay style.

Throughout the convention day there was programming on a main stage and a “developer track” off in a secondary room. The talks on the main stage covered subjects such as expansion demos, class discussion, dungeons & raids, PvP, professions and items, world lore.

There was an interesting talk about the live-action Warcraft movie being made by Legendary Pictures. This was the first time any solid information about the movie had been released. On stage were Paul Sams and Chris Metzen from Blizzard and Thomas Tull (CEO) and Jon Jashni (Chief Creative Officer) from Legendary Pictures.

The movie will be told from the Alliance perspective and is planned to follow an epic story line. They mentioned movies like Braveheart and Lord of the Rings when discussing their vision for the action sequences.

It was announced that the budget for the movie was over $100 million. It became clear that Legendary Pictures was taking the movie very seriously and were not simply interested in making just another movie based on a video game. Given Legendary Pictures track record (e.g., 300, Batman Begins) it’s possible that this may turn out to be a quality film.

metzen.jpgI attended the Warcraft Lore session hosted by Chris Metzen who is the Vice President of Creative Development at Blizzard. Chris has been the man behind the Warcraft lore and story since the very first game.

The session covered many interesting topics and aftewards I had the opportunity to ask Chris a few questions. My first question was regarding the markings on Druids in feral forms and if they had any lore significance. I wondered if they were possibility runes of power (i.e., runic magic). He replied that there was no official answer but that they did likely represent runes.

bearlords.jpgI also asked Metzen for some background on the Great Bear Spirit. It’s not referenced anywhere in the books or lore, so I was curious how it fit in. He started by mentioning Ursol and Ursoc, who are the twin bear gods that NE druids follow. He said that the Great Bear Spirit, quote “might be their daddy”. If that’s true, then the Great Bear Spirit would be a fairly significant figure in WoW mythology (e.g., some sort of elder Eternal).

Ursol and Ursoc, shown to the right, were known as Eternals that lived long ago. They were actually huge, note the size of the trees in the picture. Unfortunately Ursol and Ursoc fell defending the land (along with most of the Eternals) during the War of the Ancients (~10K years ago).

blizzcon3.jpgOne of the highlights of the convention was playing the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The expansion is set in the frozen land of Northrend which is a new continent. One of my favorite zones in the original game is Winterspring so I felt right at home riding around the snowy hills of the Howling Fjord.

The expansion has a Nordic theme and there was definitely a Viking vibe throughout the zones I visited. All of that sounds really great to me and I can’t wait for the expansion to be released.

The finale to the convention on Saturday night was a concert put on by Video Games Live. The concert featured a symphonic orchestra along with a choir performing music from the Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft games. The concert was great and I’d love to catch a Video Games Live performance again sometime.


Opening the concert was Blizzard’s own “Level 70 Elite Tauren Chieftan” band which played Warcraft themed heavy metal songs, including their popular “I am Murloc”. I had discovered the previous day that my favorite Blizzard artist Samwise is the lead singer of the band. That made the performance even more cool.

Overall, Blizzcon 2007 was a very enjoyable convention. I got to meet some cool people from Blizzard and attend some interesting panels. Actually playing the expansion was great and the final concert was the icing on the cake. 

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