Left 4 Dead 2

I just finished sitting down with the demo for Left 4 Dead 2 and I have to say that I’m not terribly impressed.

Unabashedly, I’m a huge Valve supporter. I have every single game they’ve ever made and enjoyed all of them. I hold Valve and their game franchises in the highest regards. That’s why it’s so hard for me to dog on L4D2, but I almost feel like I have to.

My biggest complaint with L4D1 was that it was too short. Valve has always adhered to the “less is more” and “quality over quantity” theories of design, which is something I can appreciate. However, L4D1 was so short that I hardly felt that it had justified it’s full retail price tag. I played it over and over again with friends and inside of a month we had grown tired of it’s 4 measly campaigns. Yes, technically there are multiple levels per campaign but when the entire campaign can be finished in under 3o minutes, they barely even count as levels.

I have to admit that when I heard they were making L4D2, I wasn’t surprised that people were upset. The first game was so short, people had figured they’d continue it by ending levels down the line. While they’ve promised to do so, I don’t think even if they had one or two more entire campaigns to it, it’ll really be considered a full game even then. L4D2 will apparently follow in a similar fashion, with just a couple campaigns when it ships.

I’m sorry, but there just isn’t enough meat on the bone to get me to bite this time. Four more campaigns would bring the franchise to 9 total (4+1 original and 4 new). With a retail of $60 a piece, that’s 9 levels for $120. I’m sorry Valve, I love ya, but I just don’t see the value.

This compounds when you actual play the demo. The levels seem small, the textures and colors seems washed out, and the gameplay is identical even despite what Valve is trying to spin as large improvements. Yes, the zombies now take localized damage (legs, arms, head, can all be shot separately), but when you’re blasting away with a shotgun, it really doesn’t matter. I’m hitting legs, arms and head all at the same time. The zombie levels in CoD:World at War offered better locational damage. They also added melee weapons. While the sound of hitting a zombie in the head with a frying pan is humorous, it hardly take the place of a pistol with unlimited ammo, so picking one up is hardly a good move offensive power wise. They “added” weapons, sorta. They added models of weapons, but kept the basic selection the same. There’s now a pump-action shot gun, a nice chrome hunting shotgun and an assault shotgun. Guess what? They’re all still shotguns. You still are making a choice between shotgun or uzi, they just have a couple extra flavors.

So, they hardly changed the game mechanic, the outside daylight levels are boring and washed out and it’ll still be a short limited depth game. What exactly is the upside here? Oh, that’s right, it’s made by Valve, so it’s polished and almost perfectly executed, which is true. It’s as solid and as fun a shooter as you’ll ever find. It’s settings are awesome (Savannah, as a level, epic), it’s design is awesome, it’s characters are funny, all that good stuff. It just all comes back around to simple economics. A game with four levels compared to a game with twenty levels, for the same price, is hardly a comparison at all. It’s really a “one steak or a hundred hamburger” type of consumer decision. I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’ve certainly had my “I need a good steak” moments, but that’s what this is going to come down to.

As much as a love zombies, and as much as a love Valve, I just can’t make this one make sense. Unless I see some gameplay videos or some sort of mutliplayer aspect that just blows me away, I’m afraid that L4D2 is just going to have to go into the “wait for a sale” category before I bother picking it up. Hell, even Bungie realized with ODST that it couldn’t sell a 2 hour game for $60 so they threw in a new multiplayer mode and a whole second disk of Halo 3 bonus stuff. Come on Valve, prove me wrong. Show me that this is worth $60. Oh, and while you’re at it, where the hell is Half-Life 3? You’re obviously not busy making zombie levels, so let’s get to it fellas. Chop chop.

Anniversary Awesome

I love my wife, she’s totally awesome. For our anniversary this year she got me a whole geek smorgasbord of cool stuff. She gave me a really awesome grill tool set that came complete with padded velvet carrying case and everything. She also got me a couple funnier gifts that I think you guys would appreciate including the…

Ninja Salt and Pepper Shakers

Gin and Titonic

Gin and Titonic

Motherboard Coasters

Motherboard Coasters

The ice cubes crack me up the most. I had a nice vodka tonic last night with a doomed steamliner and several iceburgs in it. Too funny. That store she got them at is pretty cool as well. They have an entire gift section for guys. Who couldn’t use a box of bacon toothpicks, lol.

WordPress Plugins and Widgets

I’m having a bit of a time trying to wrap my head around a request I’ve received for functionality in WordPress. I even asked the WP community to no avail.

It seems that after finally convincing my superiors that WordPress is the way to go for our corporate website, they’ve asked for something that WordPress is going to have a hard time delivering on.

The problem is that the people requesting things are looking at websites designed in Flash, my arch-nemesis. In Flash you can obviously make a little Flash object do whatever you want if you hard code it’s behavior. The trouble is that in the real world, content is dynamic and fluid, a principal that WordPress opperates under, and that creating things with equal intricate relationships is a bit harder.

Essentially, I’m looking for a way to display related material to the page I’m on, at the bottom of the page, with excerpts and images, in some sort of navigational slideshow/widget/slider thingy. Basically, at the bottom of the page, instead of a list of related pages (determined either by the author or by variables such as keywords or hierarchy relationship) they want a little interactive thingy where you can see a bunch of related material, just one at a time in some sort of slideshow fashion (not automated). I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with a list, but this is my dilemma.

Here’s my problem. I can do bits and pieces of this as a solution but I can’t seem to figure out a way to combine them. I can list related pages, that’s a built in function of WordPress. Downside is that you have to create a loop (ie: code) and use it in the page template itself. I can’t use ‘shortcode’ to put it into a single particular page. I also create and use excerpts from pages/posts, but with the same problem, no shortcode. You have to use the “the_excerpt()” tag in the code. I can create images of the related materials and use some sort of slideshow, but this is neither dynamic nor search engine friendly. Also, most slideshow widgets are designed for sidebar use and the only a few can be used in pages. The most obvious one to use is NextGen Gallery, but it doesn’t have any navigational features outside the lightbox AND uses the JWPlayer as a slideshow component and it embeds it’s logo, bigger than snot, in the middle of the images. You also can’t link images in the slideshow. Not cool.

So, that’s where I am. I need something, widget, plugin or otherwise, to display changing information on a PAGE. It can’t be embedded in the template, because I only need it on 2 or 3 pages.

Any ideas from anyone?

Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST is a solid addition to the Halo universe, but, at least in my opinion, fails to advance the franchise or add anything substantial that couldn’t have been added via downloadable content. It’s not to say that ODST isn’t without it’s merits, of which there are many, it’s simply that those merits don’t add up to enough to push the game into either a new dedicated user base or a whole new product of it’s own.

ODST is first and foremost a Halo game. You can take away all the super powers, the regenerating health, the duel-wielding guns and massive green death-machine that is the Master Chief, but at it’s core it’s very much the same game. And why shouldn’t it be? Bungie long ago perfected the formula for FPS goodness that has launched the to the top of the multiplayer world. They know how this works and they deal in it every day. The game has solid mechanics, good action, very good (and well voice acted) characters and believe it or not, not a half bad story. Actually, I enjoyed the story of ODST more so than I did Halo 3. Then again, ODST is aimed more at my tastes. I enjoy a more tactical, dark, creeping sort of FPS as opposed to Halo 3’s more “in your face neon” variety. ODST successfully has all the subtlety that Halo 3 lacks.

It’s downfall is that it’s the length of one, perhaps two, of Halo 3’s campaign story levels. And that’s not for a lack of trying on my part either. I finished the story, on Hard, in under 4 hours. I was left with a feeling of brief satisfaction followed by wanting more and being pissed that it simply wasn’t there.

Like nearly all the Halo games, I just wanted more substance. Bungie can create just interesting, exciting worlds, characters and gameplay and yet somehow they’ll all are simply vanilla. There is no FPS more generic and uninteresting than Halo. There is also no more perfectly executed and perfectly balanced experience than Halo. It’s quite the oxymoron. How can something be so loved, played and enjoyed and yet be so completely basic?

Regardless, ODST is a comparable shooter, but simply fails to bring anything to the table in terms of “above and beyond” interest. You’ve played this game before. All story arches and little interesting collectible audio logs with back story aside, you’ve played this game, in spirit, a thousand times. Perhaps that’s what people enjoy, the familiarity? It’s like watching Monday night football when you don’t care about the teams. You just watch because it’s football and you like football. ODST is a FPS, and you like first person shooters.

Bad sports analogies aside, there is enough here to warrant a rental of a borrow from a friend, but hardly enough for $60. You can thank me later for taking one for the team. A 4-5 hour story, no matter how compelling, just doesn’t equal out to full retail price. Especially with nerfed multiplayer.

Speaking of which, Firefight mode is both awesome and completely bullshit all at the same time. Again, it’s not a new concept in terms of game play, it’s more of your standard survival mode fair, but it’s extremely well done and a blast to play. Unfortunately it’s completely and totally defeated by it’s lack of XBL match making. That means that you can’t play it with anyone on XBL, unless of course they’re in your friends list, have the game and want to play at the same time you do. You can’t, by design, just hop online and get a quick game in. The greatest single system for playing video games in our current gaming culture, and a direct partnership with the creators and operators of that system, and Bungie still couldn’t manage to open it up to the masses. That’s a huge party foul. I’m sorry, but when you literally create the game AND system that defines a console, and a title in your flagship franchise doesn’t have adequate multiplayer support, that’s bullshit any way you slice it.

So, ODST is really a strange duck. It has everything that made Halo great, but interesting new characters and a fun single-player survival mode, but it’s also ridiculously short and strangely crippled. To which, almost as an afterthought, Bungie throws in a disk that has all of the previously released Halo 3 multiplayer maps on them, all 2 of them (no, Forge does not count). In what I’d consider extremely insulting, everyone who loves Halo and already has all these maps packs gets a disk that they may as well use as a coaster, where as the rest of us, we get extra maps for a game we don’t really play and, after taking a look at them, I can’t really understand how anyone was tricked into buying them in the first place. Are Halo fans really that thick headed that they’ll shell out $10 a pop for a map pack with 2-3 maps in it? That’s nuts. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just me, but the pricing model of downloadable content is complete and total shit. After paying $60 for a game, you want me to pay another $20 to have the “full experience”? Fuck you pal. My price point is $50, anything over that and it better be pretty damn special, and $30 over that is simply out of the question.

All this boils down to an easy to summarize experience. Halo 3: ODST is great for a rainy weekend when you don’t have anything else to do. It will, however, be completely and totally forgotten after the wave of Modern Warefare 2 insanity that’s about to hit. If you have ODST already, hang on to it, let your friends borrow it, whatever, in a month it won’t matter. If you’re thinking about picking it up, I hope I saved you the trouble. You can thank me later.

Matt out.

Where did September go?

Seriously? We’ve completely lost a month. I have no idea what happened. Things have been universally crazy around the ranch for quite some time now. We’re helping Lauren’s family as much as we can, we’re helping my family as much as we can, and as a result we’re slowly getting run down ourselves. Both of us have started to feel under the weather lately and I don’t really think it’s any coincidence.

Work is going pretty well for the both of us. We’re keeping busy and with the super awesome job market out there, you can’t really complain when you’re busy. I’ve been plugging away on multiple websites for a while now. One of them is fixing to go live in about a week, the other two will hopefully be wrapped up around Christmas or New Years. I’ve managed to convince co-workers and bosses that our old out-dated CMS needs to go and that we should be trying to develop a new site in WordPress for all our next project. They seem very receptive to the idea and I’m working on just such a WordPress design as we speak. I’ve already created a site in plain HTML, as a contingency plan, in case it doesn’t work out, but I think I should be able to pull it off. What parts of WordPress I’ve yet to understand fully, I’ve been able to hack and slash my way through or borrow similar code from other designs and pick it apart to see how it works.

Our fantasy baseball league has wrapped up for the year, and congrats to Nagle for pulling off the complete and total domination of everyone else in the league, lol. I really had a good time with it and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. Also, speaking of baseball, it’s my favorite time of the year. The playoffs start tonight and I get to watch a full month of the best baseball of the year. I love October.

Game wise, if you’ve been paying attention to the gamer-tag in the corner, you can see it’s mostly Halo and CoD. I picked up ODST via preorder from Amazon (saved $10 and got free shipping) and I’ve been enjoying that for a week or two now. Good solid single player campaign, although it’s a little on the short side. I played through on “Heroic” just to length it’s challenge a little bit. The “Fire-Fight” multiplayer survival mode is great, but I can’t get anyone to play with me. It’s one gigantic glarring omition is that it doesn’t have XBL matchmaking, meaning you can’t play with random online people. You’re forced to only play with people from your friends list.

That’s of little importance however since Modern Warfare 2 is dropping at the beginning of November, so I really only need to wait it out another month. Since every other game (literally) that was supposed to be released this winter has been frightened off by MW2, there’s really only one thing I’ll be playing, not like that’s a bad thing.

Caught a couple movies here and there. I watched Zombieland last weekend and really enjoyed it. I think I actually liked it better than Shaun of the Dead, which I’ve always enjoyed. I’m normally not a fan of Woody Harrelson at all, but he did a really great job in this one. I think so far this year my only solid DVD purchases will be Zombieland, Up and Star Trek. Seriously.

That’s about it. Sorry to be gone so long, everyone has just been super busy, but busy is good right?

Matt out.