The New ‘Copyright Alert System’ Takes Aim at the Wrong People

fbi_seal_large_verge_medium_landscapeWith the new Copyright Alert System, the MPAA and RIAA are dropping the hammer… On the wrong people…

Internet Service Providers, the MPAA/RIAA, and the Federal government have all teamed up and decided that they are going to fix the problem of internet piracy and copyright infringement. They’ve worked for years, struggling to come up with a comprehensive solution to such a horrible and thoughtless crime epidemic. Piracy is corroding the soul of America, let’s face it. Multinational Corporate-Run Motion Picture Studios work extremely hard to distribute a product that they can make a profit from, and despite the fact that the box office just had its best year in a decade, the scourge of internet piracy has to be stopped.

WarOnDrugsInfographicLike the equally important and equally effective War on Drugs and War on Terror, the War on Piracy has become one of the most important wars of our age… Symbolizing not only the great struggle for the morality of this nation, but for the very souls of our children as well. For what are we if we teach our kids that theft is acceptable? What are we saying about our society if we don’t let our most important corporate citizens set an example for what is and what isn’t appropriate economic responsibility? And now, after years of work, countless man-hours of thoughtful analysis, finally the policy makers AND the government have given the Corporate-Run Motion Picture Studios have a weapon they can finally use to target offenders… Education.

Internet-PiracyAlso called the Six-Strikes Program (just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?), the Copyright Alert System was finally rolled out this last week, and citizens can sleep a little easier at night knowing that the intellectual property of their beloved Multinational Corporate-Run Motion Picture Studios is safe at last. The copyright owners have tried for a decade now to stem the tide of illegal file-sharing, and since going after the source of pirated movies and music (the downloadees) hasn’t worked, it’s only logical that the next step is to go after the downloaders.

And the best news? It’s not TOO unconstitutional!

anonymous-maskBut seriously, with the new system, if a major motion picture studio invades your privacy and detects that you have illegally downloaded copyrighted material, they now have the ability to let your internet service provider know that this breach (that is the breach that YOU have made) has occurred. The ISPs can then send you a pop-up or alert with educational tips about the importance of copyright law and possible consequences for future theft can be. How about that? A private coalition of corporations can watch your activity and report it to other corporations so that those other corporations can take away some of your freedom! This is truly a step forward in privatizing our liberty.

Let’s say you want to know if the new Green Day album is worth buying or not (Cause let’s face it, at this point in their career, and in this economy, you can’t afford to go spend money on an album that is going to suck and you’re never going to listen to), so you go to your local peer-to-peer network and find an illegally distributed copy of their new album for free. Now you download that file and listen to it. Sure enough, your hunch was right, the new Green Day is worse than whatever a Bruno Mars is. So you don’t buy the album. Now little do you know the Recording Industry Association of America is the one who put that copy on that peer-to-peer network… As bait… That’s strike one. The RIAA has been watching the network, and now they’re watching you. You might not have been on the list, but now you are.

pirate-bayHowever the more likely situation is this: You’re a good consumer. You work, pay taxes, go to the movies, buy iTunes songs AND albums of bands you love, you buy video games, BluRays, Netflix, Amazon streaming, etc… You’re the prime example of the modern media consumer. However you’re hiding a dark and terrible secret, you’re also a downloader... As a movie fan, you love films, but you’re also not rich, so you can’t afford to pay for every single movie you want to see. You don’t go to the movies with video cameras, you don’t upload your screener copies of awards considerations, you don’t even upload CDs you buy for others to get… You’re simply A CONSUMER… Just like the MPAA/RIAA wants you to be. You grew up with your parents teaching you how to hook two VCRs together to record a crappy copy of Tron for pity’s sake.

torrentWould you be surprised to hear that this new Copyright Alert System might just violate a few federal laws? Like primarily that one that says a person is innocent until proven guilty? Or that a person has a right to due process? Or that these coalitions of corporations and internet service providers completely blocked all subscriber/consumer representation from the drafting of their “system?” Or that this whole process runs without any kind of oversight whatsoever?

Or that the Constitution of the United States of America gives CONGRESS sole right to enforce copyright laws and that only our federal courts have the right to punish violators?

Guess that makes this whole Copyright Alert System work-around as shady as it sounds. Watch your back, and call your congressman. Seriously. Here’s the link to find out who is your representative in congress and tell them how you feel about this draconian, privatized law-enforcement system.

Winning the War on Reality: Playstation 4 is Coming

Sony announced its latest break through in video game technology last night amongst massive fanfare, unimaginable consumer expectation, and an industry that is still unsure of where it will be in the next five years. The Playstation 4 aims to hit that target when it gets here, and to steer the next generation of consoles toward an all-inclusive, social, and online experience.

large1The PS4 sounds awesome, hands down. Out of the gate we’re talking top-of-the-line hardware here, eight x86-64 cores and a native Graphics Processing Unit that has 18 separate “compute units” that produce 1.84 teraflops of processing power. It has 8GB of system memory with a GDDR5-based system that produces an unbelievable 176 GB per SECOND of bandwidth for graphics rendering and performance. It has a completely separate chip for handling downloads as well which means “download in background” doesn’t mean waiting for two days for your latest game or demo to arrive.

largeBasically all of those Teraflops and GDDRs really just mean one thing: the Playstation 4 is a beast. It’s hands-down high-end graphics processing, and some of the videos shown at last night’s event proved that there is a whole new world of entertainment out there that Sony wants to bring to ALL your devices, not just your living room TV. The graphics are truly next-generation. From the millions of objects it can handle on the screen at once to the ability to provide feature-film-like animation. This thing will blow your socks off… And it will further combine all of your entertainment possibilities in one hub, with games, movies, TV, music, and more all rolled into this new paradigm of “the War on Reality” Sony is using. It’s clever.

The PS4 is based on 5 principles that Sony feels are the future of gaming: Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated, and Personalized. For simple, Sony has stripped down the frills and fine-tuned the experience of the User Interface. They have created the largest, fastest, and most comprehensive gaming network on the planet, linked with Gaikai Inc’s cloud technology, that will allow players to browse ALL titles for the system through the Playstation Store. Gone are the days of downloading a stripped-down demo of a game to see if you like it. Now you’ll be able to go to the PStore, select a game, and immediately start playing it.

finalfantasy_versusOne of the most anticipated aspects of the PS4 is this immediate principle. Need to pause your game for awhile and don’t want to leave your system on? Not problem, just hit the power button and the PS4 will instantly freeze and enter a low-power standby mode. Then when you’re ready, you just hit the power button again and jump right back in where you left off. I don’t know how this will work with online games, but I’m sure there will be some version of it integrated. Taking this immediacy one step further is the ability to buy a game from the online Playstation Store, and immediately start playing it. Not like now where you have to wait for a game to finish downloading before you can jump in… With the PS4 you click download, and then start the game. It will continue to download (at full speed thanks to the dedicated chip) in the “background” while you play.

Sony has also gone social. One of the biggest problems with online gaming, in my opinion, is the prevalence of dickheads. Trolls hide behind stupid user names like YourMomSuxIt69 or WeedRulez420, talking smack while sheltered by the mask of anonymity. Well Sony is hoping to oust the dickheads with the PS4. Each user will now create a REAL profile with your REAL name and REAL Facebook integration. Does this mean MomsBasement420 will stop tea-bagging your corpse in a heated match of Battlefield? Probably not. But it will hopefully provide ways to screen out the kinds of players your want to play online with, and at least a real name so you can meet at the bike racks after school.

playstation-4-console-logoAnother huge social aspect of the PS4 is the “share” button. This button is going to kick ass. Ever just finish an epic killstreak on Black Ops II and wish someone else had been around to see your expert shooting and knifing and jumping? Now you just hit the “share” button, skim through the last few minutes of gameplay, select the beginning of the moment you wish to share, and upload it as a video for others to watch. I think this function is going to be unbelievably fun. Creating moments of awe-inspiring fun is what gaming is all about, and now you’ll be able to share those experiences with your friends. That is friggin cool.

Integration is also the name of the game with the Playstation 4, and they’ve gone beyond all expectations with this one.  The new Playstation app will allow iPhones and Android devices to have a “second screen” experience with their favorite titles. Imagine you’re playing Grand Theft Auto 5 and need directions across town. Now I’m completely making this up, but the technology is real, and it would let you do things like pull up a real-time map of the city on your iPad with a route planned out for you… Or Maybe a dossier on a potential client in whatever Hitman-type game could be sent to your Samsung tab for you to read up on different game aspects. These aren’t real game aspects, but the “second screen” experience is very real. Sony plans to integrate ALL your devices into your gaming exploits.

ds4The new Dualshock 4 controller sports a familiar shape and layout, while giving a new touch-pad input and “share” button. They have perfected the art of the rumble, and each controller comes with a more integrated motion-control input. Along with the direct control of the Dualshock 4, the PS Vita, which Sony released last year, will allow gamers to remotely control their console and their games. They introduced a technology that promises to make seamless play possible between the console and the handheld, giving users the ability to play ANY game remotely through the Vita.

Lastly, the PS4 aims to be completely personalized. The console will get to know you over time, suggesting titles from the games you play, and the ratings your give. It will even download games, music, movies, and television for you that it thinks you might like! The PS4 will take snapshots of your entertainment habits and offer up content based on that information.

playstation-4-controllerWhile Sony doesn’t have a physical console yet, the guts are there and the technology is here. In my opinion, they’ve taken a huge leap forward, and in the right direction. Combining awesome processing power with a completely immersive and social experience. If Sony can follow through on the promises they made last night, and deliver it without breaking the bank of the average gamer, they might have just put the future of gaming back on track. The PS4 will be available this holiday season.

Dead Space 3 Proves There’s Still Plenty of Life Left in Sci-Fi

Isaac_DS3Let me tell you a quick story. While it may be one you’ve heard before, I won’t keep you long…

Not long ago, Isaac Clarke was just a clever engineer on a rescue mission to save his girlfriend. This is in the future, after the human race almost caused its own extinction by using every resource it could get its hands on. This is after the Concordance Extraction Corporation (or CEC) unveils the colossal USG Ishimura, the ship that became a symbol of mankind’s endurance and will to survive. Not only was it the biggest ship ever built, but the first “planet-cracker” as well, using gravity tethers to pop giant chunks of rock from the crust of lifeless planets. CEC, and the Ishimura were almost solely responsible for bringing humanity back from the edge of extinction and jump-starting space expansion.

Deadspace_CrackedNearly a century later, our hero’s scientist girlfriend Ellie is stationed in the Ishimura‘s medical research wing when it is dispatched to CEC’s not-so-legal mining colony on Aegis IV. You see in the 26th century, the dominant religion is Unitology… A faith based on the belief that mankind was created by an alien race through the power of an all-power object known as “the marker.” This isn’t one of those flower-holding religions where you’re accosted in the airport, this is the “death is only the beginning” kind where followers adamantly believe they will be reunited with their alien architects after death and their leaders ascend to the highest levels of military, business, and government.

Dead_Space_Vs__Alienware_by_DarkCrash100The Ishimura is sent to Aegis IV to retrieve “the red marker,’ an alien object which is believed to be a holy object and the source of life in the universe… However not long after the marker is discovered, the colonists start to suffer from hallucinations, outbreaks of irrational behavior, and violence. Once the Ishimura arrives at the planet and the marker is brought up from the surface, all hell breaks loose, and all communications are lost.

Unitology_010With religious zealots scheming to bring about the “evolution” of mankind, greedy corporations who are only after what they can exploit, and a REALLY gross alien virus that reanimates dead tissue and turns your dearly departed into twisted monsters called Necromorphs… It’s up to you to help Isaac Clarke and his suspiciously gun-like engineering tools to save the universe.

Dead_Space_3_Ice_Demo_01Welcome to Dead Space… Welcome to science fiction horror gaming at it’s best… Welcome to a silent universe, where new planets are always lifeless, and where only the scuffling of razor-sharp claws in the ventilation ducts is there to keep you glued to your controller at 1:45 in the morning. I’m talking NASTY critters here, the kind your girlfriend is going to hate this game for. The kind that have to have their arms and legs blown off to really slow them down at all. The kind that send you screaming into controller-throwing frenzies when the limbless corpse of your digital hero goes tumbling through a darkened corridor for the fifth time in a row.

This is also really fun.

dead space barrel

I haven’t finished Dead Space 3 yet, EA‘s latest installment in the blockbuster, multi-platform franchise released last week on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, but that’s because I’m deliberately going slow. Normally I cruise through Dead Space games, including the original, the sequel, the spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, and even the two animated movies (available on Netflix). I eat it up like chocolate, pulse pounding and palms sweating… But I always end up completing these games too fast… And while my first inclination is to run through these horribly scary environments as fast as I can, I’ve made the right choice. Visceral Games has given us something worth taking our time.

dead-space-3-ice-planetThere are enough reviews of Dead Space 3 out there right now, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say that the game has its faults… But you barely notice them. One of the biggest complaints for this iteration is the action-heavy theme this time around. Making Isaac more maneuverable, able to duck and roll and climb ladders, the significant jump in ammo count, but these aren’t just thrown in… I was never happy with the Resident Evil-style slow-walking Isaac from the first game, with his stiff movements and unconventional weaponry. These “changes” feel more like fixes to me, but that’s just my opinion. They haven’t turned Dead Space into Mass Effect… This game is straight up terrifying… And I like horror. I live for the thrill, the jump, the yelp. Dead Space takes it to a whole new level. See, one thing other reviewers are missing is the bigger picture here… And I think it’s because a lot of reviewers have a quota. dead-space-3-pc-1343203492-020They have to rush through and finish 3 or 4 times to test out what most consumers can take weeks, even months to savor… And that’s when I realize that Dead Space, while action-packed this time around, is meant to be savored.

It’s a feast for the senses. A gruesome, suspenseful, and epic sci-fi adventure that takes Isaac and his crew across the galaxy chasing the origins of the marker conspiracy. It looks bright and colorful on my LCD, and nearly flawless on the plasma screen. The crowded corridors and giant machinery of the environments are all accented by the scariest soundtrack I have ever heard in my life. Seriously, turn up the levels on your surround speakers a little and it practically drops you into the game. Noises like creaking ducts, slamming doors, awesome weapons, and all manner of beeps, blips, and alarms fill the scene… But it’s the whispers that truly freak me out. Dead-Space-3-PS3-610x400One of the main aspects of the plot is how the marker gets into people’s’ minds and seeps poison that drives them to insanity and murder. These whispers make you want to turn the game down, it’s that creepy.

I want to stress how visually stunning this game is. It’s easy to forget the graphics in a horror game where everything is dark and gory with disturbing monsters jumping out of nearby air ducts to surprise you as you walk down a seemingly safe passageway… But in Dead Space 3 there is a moment in the first few chapters, when Isaac must use his engineering smarts to fix up a 200-year-old space ship from a floating junkyard in orbit… This is genius level designing… Various half-wrecked hulks and abandoned space stations all connected by a handy little taxi system that lets you explore a staggering amount of free-roaming space… And the best part? It’s all in zero-gravity.

DeadSpace3-4

When Isaac emerges from the taxi to see the ancient spaceship graveyard for the first time, standing on a flimsy metal platform that overlooks the never-ending debris field that orbits a mysterious and stunningly rendered planet… It’s nothing less than poetry. It’s a special kind of magic that only video games can give you, and that’s when you forget you’re playing a game. It’s when you’re transported into the screen. Isaac and EllieWhen you’re actually standing on that flimsy metal platform, with the abyss of space before you. You can feel that first step off the platform…  The vertigo is real… The suspense is maddening. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of pop art that deserves more praise and analysis than I can give. With an intricate plot, professional acting, outstanding graphics, intense gameplay… However it ends I know it’ll leave me wanting more. This is Dead Space.

 

Oddfellows Reanimates the Bloated Corpse of Rock n Roll

Tomahawk-CopsIf you don’t know who Tomahawk is, you aren’t alone. If you don’t know who Mike Patton is, you’ve lived under a rock for 25 years. The former Faith No More singer is responsible for some of the most groundbreaking independent music around, from Mr Bungle to Fanotmas to lending his pipes to movies and video games alike, Patton has a range that would put… Well… Anyone to shame really. The guy sings metal and opera and Italian pop songs from the 40s for pity’s sake. Tomahawk is another “don’t call it a side project’ that has been around for over 10 years, but hasn’t put out an album in 7. Tomahawk-Oddfellows-608x608From Patton’s own label, Ipecac, he and Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard) started the “super group” in 2001, eventually bringing on ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier, and long-time friend of Patton and bassist Trevor Dunn stepping in to round out the cast on their latest effort Oddfellows.

Enough about the parts, let’s get to the whole. Lets face it, if you watch The Voice and think Cee-Lo is weird, then Oddfellows probably isn’t for you. They’re loud, they’re in-your-face, they defy genre, but most of all… They rock. This isn’t your top-40 jingle-jangle tambourine-shakin “rock,” no sir. This is front line, ahead of it’s time, straight-no-chaser rock and fucking roll.

083af_1250746I’ve always thought of Mike Patton as a kind of “Stranger in a Strange Land” when it comes to music, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he is some kind of Immortal who is destined to live forever, vocally battling other immortals throughout time, each victory netting him the vocal powers of the defeated. His voice on Oddfellows, the opening title track, echoes with electric power of all of those vanquished foes. Against the unique and catchy chord manipulations of Denison, Patton howls lines like “They call us odd fellows; We’re dancing on the gallows…” The opener sets the stage with chunky structure, just as the second track, the single Stone Letter, rips out of the speakers.

A song so irresistibly catchy it’ll be stuck in your head on auto-repeat for days, with a chorus like “I threw it, a stone letter, thinkin’ I could know you better; but I don’t know you, know you anymore…” Patton is brilliant at using his voice as an instrument on its own, and is famous for sculpting phrases based on their sound rather than their literal meaning. That’s not to say these words don’t mean anything however, in fact it’s a little like peeking into the mind of a mad genius. You’re not going to get any Bruce Springsteen story songs or Taylor Swift break-up songs, you’re not even going to get a metal meditation on plagues or capital punishment… You’re going to get aurally molested, and you’re going to love it… All propelled by the driving sounds of Stanier’s drumming, Dunn’s wild finger-work, and Denison’s unique, reverberating howls.

tumblr_inline_mgj8gscebs1qe5mh5IOU starts off with a simple drum-machine beat, adding layers of sound until Patton jumps in a half-step early (notice a pattern here?) and croons, “I owe you a love song, for everything I’ve done wrong..” With each line, the music builds, chunky guitar riffs come in, sounds collide, crescendos rise, until finally the only chorus bursts free with a single word: “RUN!” and Patton spreads on thick layers of melodic accompaniment to bring the song to a close. It’s a brilliant tune that sounds as if written by a prison-escapee on the run… Which in itself is more symbolism than my tiny brain can handle.

58203_548863771793284_1652535427_nThen the guys burst forward from the speakers again with the fast-paced White Hats/Black Hatsa song that jumps on our head, pushes us down to the ground and pounds itself into our brains through our ear canals with it’s thundering rhythms and fast-paced vocalizations. It’s about that point the album settles into a groove, a tidal ebbing of highs and lows, each rock-out-with-your-Tomahawk-out song followed by slower, and yet somehow heavier songs. With the very Mr Bungle-sounding Rise Up Dirty Waters wondering “We’re not drunk, what have we done?” to the maddeningly catchy bass lines of two-parter I Can Almost See Them and Waratorium, Tomahawks triumphant return will be bouncing off the walls of your head for days… and will leave the rest of Rock and Roll wondering what it’s been doing for the last 5 years.

130128-tomahawkIt’s a shame that Oddfellows probably won’t be spinning in many clubs or topping the Billboard charts, but it’s nonetheless one of the most important albums put out in the last decade. It stands tall on it’s inde-metal foundation and exceeds every expectation. In fact it politely invites your expectations in for a drink and then ties them to the bed. Relax, they’re in experienced hands, and if you just let yourself go, you might have the time of your life.

Tomahawk is playing the Wonder Ballroom in Portland on Feb 13th… And I don’t have tickets… But I’m a cheap date!

X-tended Terran Conflict 2.0 Brings Modding to a New Level

xtc_wallpaper_argon_1600x1200

Let’s talk fans. Not the plug-in kind, but the obsessed kind. There is a level of fanaticism out there that goes beyond fan fiction, beyond long hours spent twiddling away with whatever the focus of the obsession might be. In the world of video games, that level of commitment has a name, and it’s called Modding. Modding is when you take the original code of a game and tweak it, re-write it, add-on to it, and re-release it. This can take weeks, months, years to do, and the bigger the game, the bigger the task.

XTC_Release_1_12After 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (and apparently a consensual, adult relationship with an office coffee-machine), X3: Xtended Terran Conflict 2.0 has been released to the masses. Do you like learning curves served in healthy portions with your Space Combat Simulators? Then this game is for you. XTC is one of the most beautifully built “unofficial” games I have ever seen. From the ground up, it is filled with gorgeous solar systems, gigantic space stations, and absolutely killer ship designs.

x3screen00018The basic premise is, way in the future mankind exists in a universe with many other races. The galaxies are linked by star gates that allow instant travel between solar systems. These gates are always popping up as they were built millions of years ago, and we’re only finding them and turning them on. Now Pandora’s Gate has been found, a new link to an unkown portion of the galaxy, “the expansion zone.” Of course everyone is hot to settle the zone and exploit it for profits and resources. When you load the game you have many options on how to start out, as there are at least a half dozen different playable races in this game, everything from the human Argons or Terrans, to the aquatic-planet based Boron. the profit-based Teladi, holy crusading Paranid, or war-mongering Split… These are just a few of the different species you can start as, or run into the during the course of the game. Either way you cut it, you start out with a ship and a dream. Plopped down in the heart of a newly discovered galaxy, this expansion zone is being swept up by the different races for their own reasons (the strongest of which is always greed).

FXTC_Release_1_16or the first few days, maybe even weeks of playing, it’s all about learning and exploring. As you fly through different “jump gates” to map different sectors (fully contained solar systems with planets, suns, resources, etc) you come into contact with all manner of pirate, military, and friendlies that want you to go here and shoot down this, haul this over to there, keep pirates off of this transport ship, or give rides to passengers needing to get to other places in the galaxy.

Of course this is all based on your “notoriety” with each race, which can be bad simply based on the color of your skin or the genes in your DNA. The Boron are at war with the Split, the Pirates are at war with your wallet, and the Terrans are at war with everyone else (go humanity!). If you want to get your notoriety up, you’ve got to grind away these missions… Cause the point of this whole thing is to stockpile $ and create an empire..

news_2006_08_24_003The economy of the X Universe is all-encompassing and fully functional. There are space stations that need “energy cells’ in order to produce their products, so you need to buy a freighter to go get some energy cells at a low price, and sell them to a factory that is willing to pay higher. Profit, period. This example is repeated throughout the galaxy. Someone ALWAYS needs raw materials, and YOU’RE the one who can bring it to them, or they’ll get it from some computer-controlled “other guy.” This is how the second stage of any X game unfolds, at first it’s all flying around and exploring, then it’s moving on to trading and expanding.

XTC_Release_1_10The ultimate goal is to get your notoriety up enough to be able to purchase more items from the different races. Cause at first, if they don’t like you, you’re shut out at the door- they won’t even let you in their solar systems, less dock at their stations. In order to fix this, you’ve got to be crafty.

This is empire building in an elegant, grass-roots kind of way. You have the ability to work away building up a fleet of transport ships, and eventually enough cash to start building space stations of your own. The stations can produce anything from energy to weapons to shields to food for the masses… Or if you’re a crafty space pioneer, you’ll hook a bunch of stations together to keep the intermediate raw materials in-house. For instance to build weapons you need a few things, silicon, energy, and a food source for the workers (simplified of course), and each one of those items needs intermediate products as well (to mine silicon you need energy, to produce “energy cells” you need special crystals that are made from silicon and a food source… See where I’m going with this?)

XTC_Release_1_01If you connect enough space stations, you get yourself a self-sustaining space factory pumping out profits. One of the more lucrative business opportunities is the production of more illicit forms of entertainment. Mainly booze and weed. Space Fuel and Space Weed are highly profitable products, but if you’re caught with them in your hold in 90% of the galaxy you’re at least getting your cargo yanked… And possibly getting shot down by pirates who want your goods. If you build a space-still in the wrong race’s territory, they’ll send giant capital ships to blow your station away.

destroyerne4While you’re grinding away at missions and flying materials around the galaxy earning profits, there is a threat hiding out there in the unexplored sectors of the expansion zone. No one knows where the zone goes, exactly, so no one knows what else might be out there, waiting in the dark. You see, thousands of years ago Artificial Intelligence was born, and machines were built to fly out into space on their own to “terraform” found planets, and ready them for colonization. Well as things go, those machines eventually evolved beyond their initial mission, they learned how to build themselves… and disappeared. They are known as the Xenon, a race of terraforming machines that see biological life as an anomaly to be eradicated. That can put a damper on your space-exploring fun if you go through the wrong gate. And who knows… Maybe there’s another threat out there in the darkness of space. Something even more terrifying than a genocidal race of machines. Watching the races, studying them as they expand, colonize, and lay claim to the new areas of space.

galleonxq0This is just some of the complexity of this game. Xtended Terran Conflict is frustrating, it’s buggy, and it’s imperfectly perfect. Made by fans for fans, this is truly the best of the best here. The team behind this re-invention deserves all the kudos, pats-on-the-back, and lots and lots of good booze sent their way…  This game is awesome. Dive in and say goodbye to your social life… And do yourself a favor, stay as far “south” as possible. Good hunting!

Eve Online – The Biggest Game You’ve Never Played

There’s something about far-off galaxies, giant spaceships, inter-factional warfare,  and integrated economies that make the dial on my geek radar spin out of control. After spending countless hours in the single-player X-Universe, I’d grown weary of waiting for the two new X games coming out this year… So I decided to try something I’d only heard of, EVE.

I don’t know what it is about my sci-fi games, but apparently the more complicated  a game – the more it appeals to me. If you’ve never played either universe (X or EVE) then you’re probably asking yourself why anyone would spend hours playing two of the hardest games on the market… And my advice would be to run, as quickly as possible, in the other direction… Save your social life, your relationships, and your friends respect for you…

Not afraid? Don’t heed warnings well? Looking for an excuse to alienate your friends and family? Or just feel like an epic challenge? Then read on…

You’ve been warned.

Eve Online is what’s known as a player-driven, persistent-world MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). In English, it’s a sandbox. There’s no single-player, no storyline, no pausing, and no retries… I repeat… NO RETRIES. If you lose your ship in Eve, it’s because another player sitting in front of their computer somewhere in the real world, has taught you a lesson about where it’s safe to fly, or who it’s safe to mouth off to.

And this thing is big… I’m talking huge. The day-to-day of Eve depends on what your profession is (mining, pirating, military defense, entrepreneur, etc) and where you’re located in the fictional galaxy of New Eden. Most of the time the action takes place in local solar systems, each with planets, asteroid belts, space stations to land at, and plenty of npc (or “rats”) bad guys to deal with. Now multiply that by 7,500. Yes I tapped correctly, 7,500.

There are over 5,000 individual solar systems, and 2,500 discoverable “wormhole” systems, inside the Eve universe. They are all linked by “jumpgates” that players can fly through, they are all individual systems with unique characteristics, and they are all tied together by one massive, fluctuating, and completely player-driven economy. What that basically boils the game down to is what I like to call a galaxy simulator. The creators have made a completely immersive experience, where if you want to buy a ship, somebody, somewhere, has to mine the minerals and then build the thing before it ever reaches whatever market you are in… And players can insert themselves into almost any part of that process…

I’m a newcomer, I’ve been playing for just under six months, and my character is the Vice President of a nice little mining corporation situated in a “quiet” corner of the galaxy. Game time, for me, is mostly made up of constant mining for minerals I need to build products for market. I set out in my mining barge with a buddy and sit on an asteroid belt while they ferry the valuable ores back and forth to our headquarters… Then I take those minerals and combine them with blueprints I’ve purchased to make things like ships, weapons, ammo, and equipment. Some items I sell for cheap, some items for millions of dollars, some for tens of millions… those are the money-makers there. I also spend a lot of time answering questions for people who want to join the corporation, or for people newer than I. Whether by “Evemail” or by the in-game live chat, someone, somewhere, always needs something. Life is busy for a Vice President… And the name of the game in Eve, is money. “ISK” is Eve’s version of cash. Ammo can be bought for a few isk each, or giant spaceships can cost billions… The most expensive item I’ve ever bought was a blueprint for a Mining Barge, which gives me the right to produce ships I can off for $12.5 million each. I can charge more, but I’d have to move my ass further out into dangerous territory to compete with whoever was building them in the area.

My path in Eve is so far wrought with corporate intrigue, failed alliances, and a few of those “where it’s safe to fly” lessons I mentioned earlier… But all in all, the attraction for me is the fact that it’s more than just a game… For a few hours a day, if I suspend my disbelief just a little, I get to transport myself to the future. A future full of epic space battles, pirate-hunting, making money, and that doesn’t even touch the community aspect of the game.

Cause if there’s one thing I’ve learned in Eve, is that the more friends you have, the better.

CCP Games, the makers of Eve, are also prepping a massive free-play extension of the game that reaches all the way to consoles this fall: Dust 514. Dust is a break from the space-faring norm of Eve, and comes in the form of a first-person shooter game that is directly connected to the economy and on-goings of Eve in real-time. Connected in the sense that in the game of Eve, you can set up planetary “colonies” on almost any planet in order to mine raw materials, refine other minerals, or produce products – depending on your abilities… And it’s those “colonies” that are the actual battlefields in DUST 514.

Think on that for a second… A First-Person-Shooter PS3 game that is plugged into the living, breathing economy of a PC Space game… It’s an entirely new way of integrating games. When I say linked, I mean live, as in you can contact (from the PS3) players in Eve (on PC) and have them effect change in DUST 514 itself. Need orbital artillery bombardments? Need new supplies? New weapons? New vehicles? No problem. DUST 514 takes place on the actual planets that are scattered all over the galaxy in Eve. That means if you want to take over another person’s “colony” you hire mercenaries (in DUST) to do the job. Depending on the outcomes of matches in DUST, you can take territory and assets in Eve.

There’s never been a game like this before, that is spread across two different devices (PC and a PS3). Because while DUST is a separate game, it really isn’t. DUST is just an extension of Eve. A really, really cool extension. The thought of being on my laptop raining down fire on actual people on the PS3 is so cool my geek-radar is just spinning out of control… Or the thought of being in a losing FPS match on the PS3 and be able to turn the tide by flying to the planet on my PC and bombing the hell out of the other team… Yeah that’s just neato, I don’t care who you are.

And the best part? FREE-PLAY on the PS3. I didn’t pay a dime.

GAME ON!

Where Black Bleeds Into White

Once in awhile there are movies that move you. They make you laugh, cry, and talk to your friends in excited voices after the credits roll. Then there are movies that possess you, that you can’t tear your eyes away from. Sometimes you sit there, on the edge of your seat, as if the filmmakers have taped into some primordial part of the brain and are tinkering around inside your head. It’s those films that can be so powerful that it echoes in your mind for days, months, even years after you’ve seen them.

The Grey is one of those films.

The Grey is all about man’s fears. Fear of flying, fear of crashing, of the harsh elements, of the unknown, of being torn apart by vicious wild animals, the fear of being alone, and our fear of each other. Mainly it is about our fear of death and the ways we think up to deal with that fear.

The story follows John Ottway (Liam Neeson), who has been hired by an oil company to hunt wolves that pose a threat to their Alaskan drilling operations. After completing his job he is faced with returning to a world that he no longer belongs to. Ottway has traveled to one of the most remote, isolated places in the world to escape the memory of his wife Ana, who we learn has left him. As the movie opens he writes her a letter, walks into the “town” bar, downs a few shots, then walks out into the cold with his rifle- bent on killing himself. As he sits in the snow with the barrel of the rifle in his mouth, he hears the howling of wolves in the distance and stops.

The next day Ottway boards a very frozen jet with other men returning home from the oil rig as the pilots hurry to take off before a storm closes in on them. During the flight we are introduced to most of the men in the film, nothing brings out the heart of a character like unexpected turbulence. Disneyland’s got nothing on a charter jet in bad weather.

The plane goes down in one of the best crash sequences ever put on film.  Ottway, who has visions of his estranged wife throughout the movie, dreams of her under a bright sheet of white- only to awake in a frozen hell. He staggers up over a snow bank to see the wreckage of the plane and in that moment, where he previously had wanted to die, he desperately clings to life, finding the will inside himself to fight.

Inside the wreckage, a man is mortally wounded and panicking as he lies there bleeding out, surrounded by the battered survivors. Shaking, cold, and dying, the man is caught in the grip of shock. It is a horrifying scene in almost every way possible. As the survivors utter phrases like, “You’re going to be alright,” and “It’s not that bad,” Ottway takes the dying man’s hand, calming him and forcing him to look him in the eye. “You’re going to die,” he says, “It’s ok, you’re not alone… Let it slide over you… it’s warm.” He tells the man to let the fear go, to remember the good things, finally asking him, “Who do you love? Let them take you.” From the harrowing crash to this terrifying scene, The Grey kicked me straight in the gut, and never let me up.

The survivors band together to stay alive, searching for food and something to burn. Soon they find they are not alone in the dark, cold hell. Ottway is attacked by wolves while searching for food, and manages to fight them off with the help of the others. A new kind of fear sets in as they find they are surrounded by these deadly animals. Unsure of the wolves’ motivations, Ottway assures the men that motivations aren’t important. Whether because they’ve crashed in their territory, or because they simply pose a threat to the pack, the wolves have targeted them, and that’s all that matters.

The survivors escape the wreckage of the plane and are hunted mercilessly by the pack of wolves as they try to find their way back to civilization. Each one of the characters get flushed out along the way, mostly in conversations by fire-light, and while the story focuses mainly on Neeson’s Ottway, the supporting cast does a great job of giving more depth to the film. The writing is excellent in these scenes thanks to director and co-writer Joe Carnahan, who also made one of my favorite cop movies of all time, Narc.

I won’t go into much more detail, suffice it to say that the film is a race. A race away from the wolves, away from the elements, away from the fear that keeps a person thinking too much in a situation where thought is secondary to instinct. As the chase goes on, and the survivors are picked off one by one, I sat there frozen to the seat, in awe of the images and the story being told. The Grey is truly a terrifying film. From the ferocity of the wolves to the harshness of the cold, I was glad that I had worn an extra sweater to the theater, also that I could leave the darkness and go home to a warm house and a loving smile.

The Grey explores themes that are so deep-seeded in our psyche that it reminded me of a colder, more desolate Jaws. Manly men finding themselves reduced to a lower link on the food chain than that of the beasts around them. The dread is real, the characters are grounded, the acting is solid, and the movie is a brilliant meditation on life, death, and that one constant thing that haunts us in between, our fear.

Stay through the credits on this one.

the Pinnacle of Play: GRAND THEFT AUTO Returns to Westside

For some of us, playing video games is more than fun… It’s an obsession… but it wasn’t always this way, I swear.

I am a child of the Commodore 64 generation. Growing up, my friends all had Ataris, and SEGAs, and ColecoVisions, and while I might’ve been the last kid on the block with a Nintendo Entertainment System– we did always have the latest and greatest of the home computers. From the Commodore 64XS in all its color glory, to the green lettered IBMjr with its giant floppy disks, the Amiga, and CGA graphics (a milestone in computer gaming), in the Toomb household there was always a newer computer.

Enter the golden era of adventure gaming, and a little company called Sierra. I booted up King’s Quest for the first time in the 4th grade, and was immediately transported into every fairy tale I’d ever read. What I remember as brilliant color graphics and a fully-realized 3D world is mostly sentimental memory, because looking back now the graphics and game play are almost embarrassing. If I showed my kids these games, they would think there was something wrong with me… But I spent hours and hours glued to the mouse and keyboard- frantically typing in commands like “use hammer on door.” Those early adventure games were like an extension of my imagination, where the characters could go anywhere, explore anything, and complete some quests along the way. Sierra put out a slew of these Quest games when I was between the ages of 8-12- ranging from Police Quest to the extremely inappropriate and revolutionary Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Now, my parents weren’t the most censoring parents in the world, and while letting your 10 year old play a game where the sole purpose is to get laid might sound like fun, it’s sad to say that I learned a lot about the birds and the bees from ‘ol Larry (I will never forget the first time I saw digital breasts in VGA… all those pixels… wowza).

As I got older and Nintendo took over the world, I spent hours guiding Mario and Luigi through countless levels and machinations, from Yoshi’s Island to Mario Kart, Mario 64 to Street Fighter II. I also logged countless hours on the computer with flight simulators and open-world driving games like Test Drive, but something was always missing. Call it my young initiation into the Land of the Lounge Lizards, but video gaming was entirely too safe. By the time I was in my late teens, early 20s, the Playstation I had introduced me to blood-splattering fun games like Resident Evil and Siphon Filter, but they were all just plug-in-and-unwind kind of games. To be played with friends on a lazy afternoon, not to be immersed in. I always longed for those days of open-world adventure, where exploring a digital landscape was part of the fun. Nothing matched King’s Quest or Leisure Suit Larry.

Enter Grand Theft Auto III. The game that literally changed the way my brain was wired. In the video game world there is everything before GTA III, and then there is everything after. Before GTA my video game playing was a hobby, an escape, something fun to pass the time.

Grand Theft Auto puts the player into the shoes of a criminal who has just escaped from prison after being betrayed by his bank-robbing ex-girlfriend in the New York-esque town of Liberty City. I cannot impress the impact that this game had on me enough. It was as if every game I’d played in the past was really just building up to this particular game. It had everything I ever wanted in a video game: an open-world with tons of stuff to do besides the missions, a real soundtrack with real music instead of digitally produced noises, and a sense of humor- I repeat- a sense of humor. Until GTA, video games were all “hero this” and “save that,” but suddenly game play was wide open. I could steal cars, drive them at high speeds into oncoming ambulances, I could run from the cops and shoot my way out of going to jail, and most controversially: I could pick up a hooker, have implied sex with her, and then kill her and get my money back. A long way from Mario and Luigi, but not so much from that first game of Leisure Suit Larry.

Over the years, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has evolved- every time taking place in a new locale based on an American city. This is the key point to the GTA games… American popular culture is truly what’s being lambasted in these games. Sure you can sneak up construction cranes and snipe random people on the sidewalk, but it’s really our society’s ridiculousness that’s being assassinated. The games mix satire, social commentary, criminal fun, and whimsical amusement perfectly. Leave it to the British (Rockstar Games North) to skew American culture in such a brilliant “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” kind of way.

From Vice City (Miami) to San Andreas (Southern California) and Las Venturas (Vegas), Grand Theft Auto has clung tight to the criminal mythologies of America while offering up a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek comedy, mostly missed by critics. Grand Theft Auto eventually became sillier, wilder, and yes, funner as the years and locations progressed- culminating in what most see as the height of the series GTA: San Andreas. Taking on the role of CJ, an “LA” gang member, the bustling cities gave way to freeways and landscapes, deserts and ghost towns alike. San Andreas was the first in the series to incorporate 3 major cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas) into the game. San Andreas was a sprawling epic, with almost too much to do. From working out at the gym to become a hulk, or gorging yourself on fast-food until you grew fatter and fatter (even a little binge and purge at the “Burger Shot”). CJ could sneak onto an aircraft carrier and fly a Harrier-like aircraft (complete with missiles), he could even steal alien jet-packs from Area 51. GTA: San Andreas had it all… including base jumping from the Transcontinental Building and Golden Gate. Uh, yes please.

The outlandish qualities of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were eclipsed (much to the chagrin of those who fawned over giving their characters different haircuts and tattoos) by Rockstar Games‘ reboot of the series, Grand Theft Auto IV. The only game I have ever waited in line until midnight for. Boy was it worth it. GTA IV, in my opinion, is simply the greatest video game ever made. Rockstar took a step back from the silliness of some of its previous titles, incorporating more dramatic aspects, free-form storytelling, and cranking up the social satire. Rockstar did this by creating the greatest video game character ever made: Liberty City. Based on New York’s Burroughs and New Jersey, Liberty Cityis a living, breathing monument to what can be done with a video game. When I first got the game I would get lost for hours, looking at scenery, following random street people as they go about their days, watching two drivers duke it out after a fender-bender… I mean,  for all intents and purposes Liberty City is the greatest simulation ever made public. From FoxNews pundits spouting fire and brimstone to reality TV (yes, there are in-game channels to actually sit and watch), GTA IV has it all- especially when combined with the two add-ons Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

But that was almost four years ago.

Rockstar has released Red Dead Redemption and LA: Noire in the meantime, both of which are quality games of the highest marks, however still fall short of the bar set by GTA. Yes I said it, Red Dead isn’t as good as GTA. I know this is camp-splitting issue, and I don’t want to detract from the open-world awesomeness of Red Dead, but it didn’t have city buses I could drive down the sidewalks of Times Square at high speeds, killing hundreds of innocent bystanders while laughing maniacally… ok?! No amount of standing up to zombie bears with a flaming torch as a weapon can match that feeling.

However the wait (or should I say, the initial pre-announcement-wait) is finally over. On November 2, Rockstar officially kicked off the hype for Grand Theft Auto V with a teaser trailer featuring none other than a brand-new, re-imagined San Andreas (specifically Los Santos, the GTA version of Los Angeles). That’s right folks, GTA is returning to the West Coast with a bang.

From jets to jet-skis, the great outdoors to inner-city struggle, Grand Theft Auto V sets its sights on American culture and Hollywood lifestyles. The economy is also a big player in the latest in this franchise, as the trailer contrasts movie stars and mansions with homeless camps and soup kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to get my hands on Rockstar’s latest opus.


Why Occupy?

There is a sickness in our country. A binding and far-reaching disease that has decimated our economy, corrupted our leaders, and left Americans holding the bag. It has been said that the top 1% of people in the country control 99% of the wealth, power, and government; it has also been said that we must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the divide between the haves and the have-nots widen astronomically. While investment bankers made billions off the backs of stretched-thin Americans who believed it was their time to prosper as well, corporations were given the go-ahead to channel unlimited amounts of money into political contributions by the Supreme Court. Millions of hard-working citizens lost their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods while tax money went to bail out the investment banks and the insurance companies that made it all possible.

Always follow the money.

There is one reason our government does not work. There is one reason “our representatives” play politics instead of doing their jobs. There is one reason why even the media we rely on to get our facts and become informed citizens is slanted and processed and mainly just plain hype. It is money. It is greed.

-Corporations and people with money are able to exert influence and control over the American political system through campaign contributions and funneling cash into campaigns and lobbyists.

-Major corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google are pushing for a “tax holiday” in which the TRILLIONS$$ they hold in US BANKS as “overseas profits” (ie what they claim are profits made in business abroad, and thus avoiding having to pay US Taxes) will be transferred into the “US economy” without the appropriate taxes paid. These corporations claim this money will then boost the economy by allowing them to spend it on hiring, creating jobs, etc. However Congress has done this before. In 2004’s “the American Jobs Creation Act,” Congress allowed major corporations to bring home offshore profits at a tax rate of 5.25% – a fraction of the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent.  A two-year study by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that companies involved in the tax break failed to create new jobs and instead boosted executive paychecks.

-Despite bringing in $150 billion at a reduced tax rate, the top 15 corporations actually eliminated more than 20,000 U.S. jobs. They also reduced their research and development spending, despite arguments that the tax break would help companies spend more money on innovation.

-While those corporations whittled away their payrolls, they also spent more money on repurchasing their own stock (to increase its value) and on increasing executive pay. These stock repurchases went up by “16 percent the first year after the tax break and 38 percent the second year. Executive pay went up 27 percent the first year after the tax break and 30 percent the next.” (Carl Levin, US Senator, Argus Press)

-Since 2004, the corporations have dramatically increased the amount of money they keep offshore to avoid paying American taxes.

-At the height of the mortgage crisis in 2008, TARP and the American Taxpayer bailed out the very banks that created the crisis in the first place in order to save the economy from certain collapse. Original criteria and regulation for TARP was rejected by said banks in lieu of a loosely defined executive pay cap instead. Basically the banks that created the economic crisis told Washington that they wouldn’t take the TARP money if there were strict regulations on how they could spend it. That money should have been a solid stimulus for the failing economy, yet here we sit three years later in the midst of the same recession.

We were told we had a chance at the American dream… but came to realize that it was truly, only a dream. We went to college to better ourselves and make something with our lives, only to find the jobs we studied for disappear before our very eyes. We pulled ourselves up by our boot straps only to find ourselves in a race that needed nicer, fancier foot wear in order to compete. In America it is fairly easy to make money if you have it to begin with, but the simple truth is- the poor are staying poor, and the rich are still getting richer.

If you’ve seen the news lately you’ve seen the Occupy Wall Street movement. It started a month ago with a call to action from Anonymous, urging New Yorkers to peacefully, calmly, and democratically camp out in Zuccotti Park. Since that day the movement has not only gained press, but momentum as well. Joining the streaming/blogging/YouTubing protesters we’ve seen US Marines in dress uniform, heads of major labor unions, and celebrities alike… They’ve been corralled, arrested, pepper-sprayed, and yet almost a month later, the movement is spreading… All the while it is being laughed at by the mainstream media who view them as leaderless, left-wing, anarchist burn-outs, who should be looking for work.

Conservatives blast the movement for it’s lack of cohesiveness and singular vision, however is another mission statement what this country really needs? It is time to throw out the buzz words and the paradigms, the press releases and the sound bytes. Occupy has become larger than anyone could’ve imagined a month ago. What started with a protest in Lower Manhattan has steamrolled across the country, gaining momentum and support.

The time has come. The movement is here. They can not ignore it any longer. Use your voice. Use your internet. Use your hands. Do something. The revolution will not be televised.

“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing a people to slavery.”

-Thomas Jefferson