Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Customer Service: Apple Store

If every store had customer service like we got at the Apple store last night, brick and mortar retail outlets wouldn't be in a slow decline.

We had two problems we needed to have addressed: Macbook with a missing "x" and my son's iPod (that had obviously been stepped on), which needed a new screen.

Initially I was put off by the fact one the reps said we needed to make an appointment -- one for the iPod, one for the Macbook. The fact I had three kids in tow put me in a frame of mind that I didn't want to wait, period. Just tell me how much these things are going to cost to repair so we can get this done!

But these things needed to happen, so I made an appointment for the Macbook, for about 30 minutes after we stepped into the store. (It would have been more than an hour later for an appointment for the iPod; son would have to make arrangements for later.) When we came back, the "Genius" handled the repair on the spot. He brought out an "x" and using a multi-tool obviously tailor made for these kinds of repairs, snapped the key into place within a couple of minutes.

No charge!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshots

Just a handful of hi-res screenshots from the PC version of Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Playing through this version is much more enjoyable than the 360 version for a couple of reasons. The obvious graphical upgrade, but also aiming with the mouse! Review should be posted on this week. *WARNING: Possible spoilers ahead.*

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Benevolence of the Games Industry

Benevolence: The Mark of the
Games Industry
I've been reading a lot about the recent implosion of 38 Studios, which also took out developer Big Huge Games and left multiple hundreds of people unemployed. There's no shortage of ink being spilled on this particular subject. Some pieces take good stabs at completely serious features chronicling what happened and the ramifications of this event.

But some of these very serious articles completely undermine themselves by including one or two lines that completely change my opinion of the entire article.

This is from an article The Verge posted a few days ago (linked above):
A slew of developers from around the country have been Tweeting that they are hiring in hopes of finding the hundreds of displaced employees jobs.
They were (or still are) developers aiming tweets at former 38 Studios employees. But this is an entirely common practice. It's not just when a studio goes does that the HR personnel mobilize to grab the best talent; tweets happen all the time. Does anyone seriously buy the idea that HR personnel have "hopes of finding the hundreds of displaced employees jobs." While not the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, this one makes the list.

This is how I imagine the conversation running in my head:
"Hey, Kathy, 38 Studios just went under, everyone was fired," says Tom. 
"Yes! I won't have to head-hunt anyone, they'll jump at the chance of working here!" says Kathy, who does a cartwheel and high-fives the nearest person.
HR Happy Dance!
This is what the feature would lead me to believe actually happens.
"Hey, Kathy, 38 Studios just went under, everyone was fired," says Tom.
"Oh, the poor dears," says Kathy. She slumps in her chair, lost momentarily in utter despair. Hope stirs. She stands up, kicks over her chair, starts typing away, and shouts in a booming voice, "We are going to find each and every one of those wretched souls a source of income! Be displaced no more, former employees of 38 Studios!"
I don't like to see anyone lose their job -- unless they're grossly incompetent -- and if I knew a guy that was free to take a job that would be perfect for him, of course, I'd make the recommendation, but I'm not sure why there's an assumption that game developers are selfless is making sure people have jobs. I'm sure other developers feel some sympathy and empathy for employees of 38 Studios, because I think they probably understand that it could just as easily be them that's out of a job, but that single paragraph manages to undermine the professionalism of the entire piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alan Wake's American Hair-Trigger Aiming

Alan Wake's American Nightmare was recently released for PC and playing through it again... egad, this game nails ambience and setting like nobody's business. And yes, it looks better than the 360 version.

It also has hair-trigger controls, especially in comparison to the 360 gamepad.

Even turning the mouse sensitivity all the way down, there's always the danger of overshooting the mark.

Imagine sneezing, opening your eyes, and finding that you've spun yourself 180-degrees and are looking at the floor. That's what it feels like. It feels a little strange to have to use such a steady hand. I didn't find this with Saints Row: The Third -- I made a minor adjustment and I was good. No further changes required.

This over-sensitivty comes in handy during fights with swarming enemies because aiming is so quick and accurate, but I so far I've felt like I'm walking a tightrope being quick and not knowing which direction I'm facing.

The full review should be posted on next week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Armchair Empire Explodes into the Future!


Move to blog format and expanded use of social networking and video content to bring “All Things Gaming” to the next level with “The Armchair Empire - Infinite”

Vancouver, British Columbia -- May 22, 2012 -- The Armchair Empire is proud to announce its second evolutionary stage, nearly 12 years in the making, with the launch of The Armchair Empire - Infinite (

“It has been more than a decade since The Armchair Empire launched and it was probably about time we made use of some of the dramatic changes in technology to make our own dramatic changes,” said co-founder and head writer Aaron Simmer. “With The Armchair Empire - Infinite we’ll be able to react faster to news, gets reviews posted sooner, and do a better job integrating video content and social networking nonsense, etc.”

“Mostly we took this step to make our lives at least 56% easier,” said co-founder and VP of Video Content, Jeff Nash. “It was time to go “blog out” with the Armchair Empire - Infinite, which features the same writers, the same level of insight of the regular Armchair Empire, but the articles can be presented much faster and possibly with more sparkles.”

The Armchair Empire ( will remain a vast planetoid of gaming information, reviews, previews, features, interviews, and editorials of the last dozen years. The Armchair Empire - Infinite is essentially a satellite launched in the hopes of remaining relevant and possibly ride on the likely success of BioShock Infinite.

The Armchair Empire - Infinite is here:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kid "Hammerclaw" Icarus

I'm finally catching up with the latest Kid Icarus and I'm really having a hard time figuring out what some members of the enthusiast press have been saying about the controls for this game.
From the way some described them, the controls are enough to turn a person's hands into a bundle of arthritic, claw-like sticks. I'm a couple hours into the game and -- playing without the included stand -- I'm not experiencing any problems so far. And since the game hasn't deviated from the flying/ground/flying combat mix, I'm not anticipating any.

Of course, I'm not walking around playing the game. I've been sitting on the bus/Skytrain. It has presented no problems.

My only complaint related to the controls is that sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm dashing the direction I think I should be.

So far, it has been a fun experience! And I would agree with some commentators that this might have started its development life as a Wii game. The controls would translate favourably to the Wii Remote and nunchuck.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm Glad this Bullet Doesn't Have My Name On It

Sometimes it's cool getting game-related tchotchkes. Sweaters, t-shirts, mugs, letter openers, jelly beans, desktop cigarette lighter, cigar box... but I've never received a bullet.

At least not from a video game publisher.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Zombie Related: Why is it...?

Any zombie film or TV show or game I've ever come across that has a "real world" setting always has one gaping hole in overall logic.

Whether it's Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Zombieland, The Walking Dead, Resident Evil, The Crazies, Shaun of the Dead -- the list is pretty long -- there never seems to be any outright acknowledgement that zombies have been a part of popular culture, in films, books, video games, legends, for a long time.

Zombies? Never heard of 'em!
Wouldn't it make sense in these movie universes that people have seen zombie movies before? Shouldn't they just know that they should avoid being bitten and aim for the head? That they'll follow loud noises? That zombie are essentially running on the basest of instincts and react predictably to a set of stimuli? Wouldn't the characters understand any of that?

Apparently not.

Any piece of zombie literature, film, video game exists in its own bubble where no one anywhere has ever had dealings with zombies before. (Unless it's a sequel.)

And for some reason this really annoys me.

Or am I just not paying enough attention for evidence to the contrary?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Boldly Going, etc.

The Armchair Empire has undergone a lot of changes in its nearly 12 years of operation but the biggest change is right around the corner.

And it's entirely out of necessity this time. Usually changes have been cosmetic in nature -- logo change, etc. -- but this change comes about because the old infrastructure and tools for posting AE's content are cumbersome and unwieldy  when it comes to timely posting of articles. I've been using FrontPage 2003! As you can imagine, it's showing its age in Internet terms. And there was no such thing as YouTube. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. And Myspace was the new thing that everyone was talking about. So incorporating any of those items into the site, making them features of the site, would essentially mean tearing down the entire site and trying to rebuild thousands of pages of content. It was a daunting task to consider.

We looked at our options. And almost all of them would either mean a massive time or money investment. (Or both.) Neither option was appealing because I don't have much of either one (and I'm pretty sure Jeff's in the same boat).

So, as we approach E3, there will be a cataclysm.

The classic Armchair Empire will fracture and splinters of the site will spiral off into space. The flagship Armchair Empire will still exist (as will a dozen years of content including the Top Ten: Best Cleavage) but we'll be posting everything new to The Armchair Empire Infinite (working title), which will showcase a more integrated approach with the likes of Facebook, YouTube, personal blogs, Twitter, et al to provide more interaction and an actual discussion. All the fresh links on will be content from Infinite.

We have every confidence that this move will mean more timely posting of reviews, opinions, and other features from writers that have been with The Armchair Empire in one form or another for a long, long time. To these people, I'm very thankful. If it weren't for them, The Armchair Empire would have folded long ago. (Of course, I love you readers, too! You're awesome -- take the rest of the day off!)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The PAST! (Part 2: Even Further Back!)

From memory (sorry, I don't remember all the last names):
(Upper, left to right) Mr. Graham, Louis Ferris, Jason Podas, Paul Vorachek,  Jason Lange, Nathan Pasecreta, Greg Olson, Steve Domaas, Aaron Bradford, Me! (middle row, left to right) Jarred Trudell, Daniel Tryko, Robbie Simpson, Courtney Edwards, Trevor Anderson, Aaron Schiller,  Brian Purca (sitting, left-to-right) Nadia, Emily Campbell, Michelle Tansey, Melanie Green, Kelly, Tara Bruno, Tanner Ansley, Jessica Matheson, Debbie Van Sickle.
I'm very easy to spot in the class picture above. I'm the tall one on the end that isn't wearing a tie.

In that picture I'm 12-years old (and the original GameBoy was blowing my mind). And more than 20 years after that picture, I'm almost unrecognizable.

In 1989-90 I was definitely more angular, had more hair (though its length has remained consistent), and I smirked a lot. In comparison to my current state... well, now I look tired. There are some years on my face, which is definitely filled out, but it's the hockey bags under my eyes more than anything that show the distance between Then and Now.

My elementary school, Herbert Spencer, is celebrating it's 100th Anniversary on Saturday, June 9, 2012 and there was a call in the local paper for memories of the place and the people that have passed through its halls. (Get in touch with Principal Fulton -- -- to submit your own memories.)

So, I cracked open the "memory" binder that my Mom filled up over the years. It's a treasure trove of personal memories and a showcase of evolution between school in the '80s and the '10s. I'll start rolling some of these things out over the next while.

And if you attended Herbert Spencer Elementary in New Westminster, think about dropping by for the 100th Anniversary celebrations!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Gaming Legacy of Jason "Jace" Hall

Additional: After this blog was posted Jace Hall responded on Twitter with "#ThisIsBadlyMisinformed #YouAreAskingToBePwnd." I responded "So educate me." No response as of yet from Mr. Hall on that one but I'm more than happy listen and be educated so I can correct myself, if that's the case.

I'm positive I read about this particular issue in Computer Gaming World (though it might have been PC Gamer) but Wikipedia has the information quoted from the Wall Street Journal (2004), Jason "Jace" Hall began to make a high Metacritic score a contractual obligation:

"If a product does not receive specific scores or better from aggregator sites like Metacritic, some deals require game publishers to pay higher royalties to Warner Bros."

In my mind, Hall's decision here is the source of a lot of angst in the gaming world. (But he's not alone when it comes to execs that could also share in the blame.)

First off, any royalties and "gain sharing" should be based on sales. Full stop.

If a game sells a bazillion copies intergalacticaly, then the developer and publisher should reap the rewards. In the "Hall Method" the game could sell more than a bazillion copies, score poorly with critics -- whatever broad definition of "critics" you want to use -- and the publisher is the sole beneficiary. The main problem with this method is that critically acclaimed games can be duds about the same percentage of the time that multi-million sellers can be critically panned.

There's a clip of John Carmack putting Jace Hall in a sleeper hold on Hall's "The Jace Hall Show" -- Carmack actually knocks Hall out (jump to 1:04). If you watch the clip, his whole body suddenly goes limp. And there was a small part of me that said, "Good."

(And also, "Carmack is a fluffy cat away from being a Bond villain.")

To this day, there are still developers and publishers signing deals like this. (No, I'm not basing this on any concrete proof.) Tying arbitrary and completely subjective scores to whether a game developer gets a bonus is the same as pulling a lever on a slot machine. Why do it? Is it just because "that's the way things are"?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Weekly Checkpoint #6

Mr. Nash and I talk about a lot of things in the most recent Weekly Checkpoint (#6), including Walking Dead, Rock Band iOS, Sony All-Stars, Serious Sam 3 and so much more!

Comments, feedback, follows, etc. are always appreciated:

Monday, May 7, 2012


The idea of Time Travel has always intrigued me. Time Machine, Quantum Leap, Back to the Future, LOST, 12 Monkeys, Garygoyles... basically, anything that plays around with Time, where someone attempts to move backwards or leap forward to alter history somehow, always intrigues me. The concept is usually what hooks me.

Time Travel in any usable capacity will probably never happen. And honestly, we're all time travellers -- all moving forward. But not backward.

If I fell asleep tonight and woke up in 1986, would I track down my past self -- 9 years old at that point -- and attempt to impart some wisdom? How would my past self react? What if tomorrow I bumped into my future self on the street and he started babbling about the Future? Would I write him off as insane? Fortunately, I'll never really have to answer that question but I'd probably at least hear him out, provided he could convince me that he was, in fact, from the future and was actually my future self.

That part's easy. All I need to do it think of a phrase now and earmark it for use if I ever run into my past self. The me in the future will also have knowledge of that phrase and be able to convince the current me on the spot that he's a future version of me. If that makes sense.

The only time travel we have access to is our memory and documentation, like photos and diary entries. I can flip open an old piece of writing or flip through old photos and be "in that moment." Pictures are really good for that, at least for me.

I don't even have to be in the picture; I could have been the one to take the photo. But somehow the picture manages to capture emotion and my own back story. It also captures details that I otherwise would have completely forgotten. Like the colour of objects, who was there, the relationship between the people in the photo (at that moment), and what was happening in the background, either historically or in the actual background.

I'll be the first to admit that I tend to wallow in the Past like a pig in filth. I like to remember "How things were" rather than thinking about "What things will come." And it's to my detriment -- and by extension, my family's -- that I do this. I'm really making an effort to not wrap myself in layers of nostalgia but it can be pretty damn tough.

That's probably what wisdom I'd try to impart on my 9-year old self: Live in the now, prepare for the future, and think fondly on the past but don't wallow in it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Hitler"

Another proper update from The Armchair Empire, which stars a cavalcade of Playstation 3 titles:

And as a result of a trip to the Seattle area, Axel has an extensive hands-on Preview of:
Hope you're all having a great weekend!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From The Air

Perspective is everything.

In the case of these two pictures, it's all about being thousands of feet above the ground from the vantage point of a helicopter. These pictures were taken by Leah Holiove -- @Leah_Holiove on Twitter -- who regularly takes picture from the air in the course of her day job and these two are from her latest round of photos.

One shows the construction of the new Port Mann Bridge. (It's easy to spot because there's still a gap.) I've driven over the current bridge thousands of times and I've never given any thought to anything other than what drivers are doing around me. I've never considered how spectacular it might all look from a different perspective.

The other picture (above) looks westward to Vancouver. (The helicopter was probably close to the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge.) There's something really awesome seeing this from the air like this. Google Maps/Earth is great -- with Street View and satellite pics -- but there's something missing from those resources. Maybe it's a "texture" or maybe it's just the angle of the picture. Maybe it's the sun shining on the city and the rain brushing up against the slope of land in the distance. Or maybe it's the way the picture is framed. I can't quite put my finger on it.

What I do know is that the pictures put me in a different frame of mind.

It's really easy to fold in on oneself and focus on the issues that sit in our line of sight and nothing else. There's a lot more out there to consider. People we haven't met, friends we haven't made, stories we haven't heard, and places we've never been. Given a little perspective, a view from the sky, makes me better appreciate what this part of the world has to offer and just how good we have it here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Radical Wants Me to Fund Their Next Title

Last night I was fooling around in Prototype 2 with the RADnet content and when I selected a "free" download option I was presented with this screen:

Wait. How many MS Points do they want? I had to write it down and count the digits.

4,294,967,295. Or about 4.3 billion MS Points.

I did some quick math to figure out the actual cost because who knows, the next piece of RADnet content may be worth it.

A single MS Point works out to be about $0.02 (CAN). More math. The total cost to grab that content is $66,571,993.00. So either that content will tear a hole in the space-time continuum because it's so awesome or Radical Entertainment wants me to personally fund their next project, which is so not happening!

Or that's just the method being used to make sure the content isn't available until a certain date. Or it's a technical glitch.

I like my first guess.

EDIT: 8:01PM, May 1, 2012 - Clarification from Radical and Activision (thanks, Steve!):  "Given that the DLC isn’t available for purchase yet but it is still listed when you use a VIP code, 66 billion is the default amount it tries to charge you to make sure no one can buy it." Basically, as part of the press, I'm special! To further clarify: "Regular gamers with the Radnet edition will not see this at all. Only you and a chosen few who were lucky enough to get VIP codes."