This ain't your grandaddy's TV

On my drive home from work, I heard an article on (yes, again) NPR, discussing how boring cable TV had gotten. First of all, why this counts as news is beyond me. I’ve hated most things on TV as long as I’ve been alive, save for a grand total of maybe 10-15 shows in my life time.

This NPR article kept coming back to the same point; the big crux of the article was “remember the good ol’ days of cable?” No, Pappy, I don’t.

In my life time, and in all likelihood the lifetime of anyone reading this, “cable” has been synonymous with “television.” There are lots of “cables” running all around my house these days. I grew up with “basic cable” – which still meant, even when I was about 10, I had over forty channels to pick from. Now I have a “cable box” that goes up in to the thousands. And it seems that, no matter how many ways people are cutting corners to get through this ongoing depression (I’m sorry, recession that neglects to take in to account underemployed), cable TV is one of those things that people are keeping. It’s not only a comfort, but it’s commonplace. Your life would feel empty without it, because you’ve had it as far back as you can remember. Your cell phone, for many who aren’t quite as bound to it as I am, is a new fangled gadget of convenience, or your home phone an unnecessary burden. These can be dropped. But cable TV? No way would someone give up something that’s been part of their daily life for over twenty years!

The article’s author, Andrew Wallenstein, used antiquated reasoning to justify why cable has cleaned up it’s act a bit, even saying things like “They’re courting advertisers just as big as the broadcasters at this point.” To me, that’s asinine. They’re not just courting them, and it’s not a new development. For nearly a decade I’ve seen the same advertisements be it during a live sporting event, a 10-plus-year-old re-run of The Simpsons, or The Daily Show on Comedy Central. It didn’t matter if it was “network” or “cable” – the advertisers have been the same, and in general, the content has been the same. I would wager that the majority generation doesn’t understand the difference between broadcast and cable, they just know that when your cable bill is late, only a couple of channels work – but that has nothing to do with the FCC standards imposed on the content of the cannels, as far as my peers know.

I think, with that government mandated “switch to digital” – the terms “broadcast” and “cable” should’ve gone by the way-side, as a way of defining the content on a channel. It’s absurd and antediluvian, stop saying it: your readers, viewers, and listeners have no idea what you’re talking about.

Review: XBLIG: Zombie Sniper HD

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
For a buck, Zombie Sniper HD is one of your better options of the Zombie games on Xbox Live Indie Games.

80 Microsoft points gets you three game types: an Arcade Mode, where you simply just shoot as many zombies in the head as you can within a certain time limit. A Challenge Mode, which is similar to Arcade Mode except that it has a classic shooting gallery feel – enemies walk by in pre-determined rows and paterns – still, you have a target number of kills and a time limit. Then there is “Story Mode” – in which you protecting unwitting civilians (see: zombie bait) from becoming zombie lunch.

To accomplish any of these tasks, you take your sniper rifle in hand, and looking down the scope, just start doing what you do with zombies: turning their heads into piƱata party favors and watch all of the fun leak out! You have a targeting reticle on the screen, which you scroll left, right, up, and down with. To zoom in, pull the left trigger, to fire pull the right trigger. And that’s where the problem lies… that’s the entire game.

While the game rewards you for multi-kills, “Nitro kills,” and Killing Sprees, there just isn’t enough going on. If you’ve watched the trailer on the top of this page, you’ve seen the entire game. Zombie Sniper HD itself, in the Arcade Mode instructional screen, the voice over seems to think this game type is a fool proof formula for addictive gaming, claiming you’ll never get tired of shooting zombies in the head. Unfortunately, there’s not much truth to that.

The game seems bug free, the sounds are good, and the HD sprites are cartoon-like by design, but very good looking. All animations are fluid, whether it’s the shambling of the zombies or panning of your crosshair. My biggest visual complaint is that, in some cases, that black aiming reticle disappears into the background; having the option to choose your color from a palette of more visible colors (yellow, white, cyan, green, etc…) would be a nice touch. However, the game really loses it’s luster quickly, and in the end is a great time waster while you wit for your pizza rolls to come out of the microwave.

For a dollar, like I said, it’s not going to break the bank, and it does give some variety. I believe a mode that is timed, but has no target number of zombies to kill (3 minutes to beat your own high score, for example) would have been an invaluable addition to the game. But as far as the overall “fun” the game provides as it stands? It’s a good thing it’s only 80 MS Points.

Review: XBLIG: Avatar Paintball

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
After some “sit down time” with Avatar Paintball, I’ve got to say that it’s a great starting place. The game has obviously been treated with more care than many other Indie Games out there. A lot of work went in to making what is a genuinely good game, though a little more public feedback and play testing I’m sure would have lead to the resolution of my biggest complaints.

In Avatar Paintball, we are treated to an Xbox Live Indie Game with multiplayer online supper through Xbox Live, and a Leaderboard. This is among the most advanced XBLIG’s I’ve played. And while it may not have quite the graphcis of other games out there, even other indie games, but it’s not always about looks. The game itself is fast paced enough to keep you entertained – you don’t have to wait 30 seconds to respawn everytime you’re “painted.” The many powerups in the game, including super speed, invisibility, teleportation and more, all make the game quite interesting. You could be chasing after someone who is leading you right in to a trap.

Some graphical glitches bother me from time to time – fences in the game are only a pixel thick: meaning that, at the right angles, fences don’t even appear on your screen. While most of the game has a cartoony feel, it is a perfect environment for your avatars to play, with many buildings sporting familiar names of other Xbox Live Indie Games from the same developer. This is kind of funnym but the self promotion gets shameless when you press buttons that to find out what they do, and the demo of the game prompts you to buy it every five seconds. Some things, like some of the shrubbery near the buildings, looks out of place and poorly texture mapped, but that may be a graphical complaint not many others will notice.

It’s funny that after spending a few hours in the game, I have no recollection of there being music in the game – if there was, it was neither memorable nor annoying, so let’s just consider that a plus! If you’ve ever played the Xbox Live Arcade Game “Texas Hold’em” for more than 5 minutes, you’ll understand “annoying.”

The game is not without its faults, however. The over the shoulder, 3rd person view is abhorrent for aiming. You’ll go through half of your ammo hopper each time you encounter an enemy, because there is no targeting reticle. It’s a good thing ammo is readily available throughout the map, but perhaps stocking more ammo would be easier.

Avatar Paintball offers upgrades, but they are only unlockable by getting many points built up over a long “career” (so to speak). The more multiplayer games, or single player training sessions you go through, the more points you get to unlock better guns – but the point values for those guns are so high that most players will never get to them. If some players do, the players that haven’t, aren’t likely to stand much of a chance against the more advanced players, either. I’m guessing skill-based match making wasn’t a concern when this game started using Xbox Live’s multiplayer feature.

Finally, the lack of a jump does make me feel a little bit stagnant. While the map is big, there’s only one of them, and at least a little bit of “verticle” may have made the game more interesting. Auto-Aim could solve the problem of looking up or down, it could be relatively straight forward levels of “verticle” – but an ability to jump would come in handy – not just when you back yourself into a corner, but when you see an enemy you want to get to.

A future revision may cure some of these problems, and frankly at the $3 price point, I want just a little more from my indie games. But it’s an excellent start and I hope to see more solid work from DigitalDNA, especially when the demo is shamelessly begging for your Microsoft Points.

The game, itself, I would give a 4.5/10 – but the fun level still gets at least a 6, because you may just want to have a little fun wasting time some nights, and Avatar Paintball may just be a good way to do that.

Review: XBLIG: World War Toon

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
While I hate to be cheap about it, the two previous XBLARatings reviewers both hit the nail on the head when it comes to World War Toon, and you may see me referencing some of the things they had already talked about!

I had seen the name of “World War Toon” and was interested, but I had not yet seen anything about the game the game. After finally having a chance to sit down with it, I could not be more thrilled to play this game.

Protip: when starting the game: use the quick start. Otherwise, be prepared to spend a large chunk of time just determing where all of your troops will begin. While that does stay true to the board game style, I have to admit it got very old – and I think the AI bot placements should go a little faster. In some cases an AI player will rotate the globe painfully slowly. Once they find what they’re looking for, however, the AI players fly through their progressions, knowing exactly what they want to accomplish.

There is no beneficial tutorial mode, other than the basic “rock, paper, scissors” which troop-type is best suited for battle against which. It would help if the game explained or offered tips when placing new troops between rounds. The game seems to rely heavily on prior experience of board game players.

Fluid animation of the interface, the simple and straight forward design of the combat dice being rolled, and the joy of zooming in and out on troops makes this game “not much to look at” and “eye candy” almost simultaneously. The game has no music to speak of, and lacks much in the ways of animated combat or even sound effects of battle… but what it lacks, it makes up for in the same way board games do. The action is almost never ending, can go for hours on end, and will undoubtedly hook you and your friends in to extremely long battles.

I say World War Toon needs to be a full Xbox Live Arcade game with Xbox Live support – I want online play, with maps of different sizes (20 minute games would be nice for LIVE Support), an ability to sort of ‘save and resume’ would be ideal for the long campaigns, even if multiplayer. There is so much potential for this game I really hope the developers continue to work the idea out some more and have a full 800MSPoint offering some day in the future!

Good luck to them. I enjoy the game, and I hope many others will, too.