Video Games Archives

December 9, 2004

Halo 2 effect

Ha! This c|net article speculates that Halo 2 could be the thing that forces broadband infrasture improvements.

Sandvine's latest statistics showed that Xbox Live traffic quadrupled when "Halo 2" was launched on Nov. 9, and it has stayed at that level since.
A closer read, however, seems to indicate that this issue is a non-issue, at least for now. Given the relatively small percentage of online gamers, the article ends up sounding like a puff-piece soft-sell for some British Telecom next-gen networking technology.

I've already seen speculation that sometime soon, you'll see a department of labor report blaming extensive Halo 2 -play for a 4th quarter drop in worker productivity. If my own bleary-eyed, early-morning ass-dragging self is any indication, I'd believe it.

January 7, 2005


Now this guy is serious about his Halo 2.

January 31, 2005

Xbox Live Customer Support

If you ever find yourself in need of actual phone support for XBox or Xbox Live, you can reach them at 1-800-4My-Xbox. I'm sure Microsoft would rather you endlessly wander around the maze of low-overhead, self-serve uselessness that is their official web-based support. When you get 'em on the phone, tell 'em that Bryce sent you. (FWIW, the woman who helped me today, "Bonnie", was awesome. Courteous, helpful and patient. The Web will never replace a smart, kind person. Never.)

Update 1/08/2007: I'm not sure this will matter, but—from comments this entry has been receiving—it's clear that some stumble across this page and somehow mistakenly assume that I or this site are affiliated with Microsoft, or are responsible in some way for providing customer support for xbox live. This is, of course, not the case. I'm just some guy who was himself frustrated with XBox Live Support. Particularly, with locating the telephone number for said support. So... call the number above with your support needs. Comment here if you must, but I can guarantee you'll get no satisfaction from doing so.

March 2, 2005


Nightcrawler from the X-Men Aside from my ongoing Halo 2 addiction, I've been enoying the hell out of X-Men Legends on Xbox. I haven't been the world's most dedicated X-Men fan for... oh about 20 years or so (I'm a big fan of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne-era Men.)

The good news is that the developers, Raven, have cleverly devised a game that should appeal to anyone who's read the comics -- no matter your favorite era. Through liberal use of playable 'flashback' missions, you might find yourself battling Sentinels in NYC circa 1989, or trying to keep Juggernaut from smashing up the X-Mansion in 1968. Playing as a Kirby-era Beast is a hoot.

The most compelling part about the game, though, is the pure visceral thrill of cutting loose with the various characters' powers. Cyclops, who's never been my favorite character, becomes a deadly scalpel in this game. His Optic Blast, at higher levels, will destroy most anything on the screen. And Storm, once fully amped, is amazing. (Almost makes me forgive Halle Berry's lame casting in the movies. Almost.) Cutting loose with Colossus is fun, too. I'd have to say my favorite character to play, though, is Nightcrawler. The 'poof'-ing 'bamph'-ing acrobat is realized perfectly. Just the way my 12-year old imagination dreamed.

I do have to say that the gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive (walk from scene to scene, fights thugs. Occasionally take on Boss. Repeat.) But you know what? Wielding Jean Gray's Physic Scream, or zipping around the screen on Iceman's Ice Tracks just never gets old. I've spent entire hours just busting up shit in empty hallways. And loving it.

March 14, 2005

Of Halo2 and SCRAPIs

So I spent the better part of last night putting together a little Applescript. The intent is to scrape a given Halo 2 player's stats page from for their 'Last Active' time (The date and time when they were last on XBox Live - useful for knowing when you should jump online and catch someone for some party-play.)

Bungie stats pages displays Last Active time

A little curl-ing, a little grep-ing and a little Applescript date manipulation (which is weak btw, in Applescript - no timezones!) and I had it working alright. I'd planned on polishing it up tonight -- Bungie returns all times in Pacific Standard Time, which annoys me, here in the heart of Ohio.

So I'm tying in a quick sidetrip to the Current Time web service at, then doing a comparison so I can give a 'x hours ago' or n minutes ago' estimate. (Why the query to a time server? Cause I want to make the script available for download, and I don't want to bother asking people to choose a timezone to do the date/time comparisons.)

Anyway, I am digressing...

So last night the script was working fine. Tonight however, my text munging was coming back all wrong. At first, I suspected that Bungie had made a configuration change to their servers. For a couple of minutes earlier tonight, hitting the stats pages unauthenticated (via .NET Passport) was yielding a different display (it was ommitting Clan Name and Last Active) than when you were signed in.

I actually got a little paranoid: did someone at see my curl calls in the logfiles, and suspect some scraping? Did they password-protect the Last Active date to discourage me? Puh-lease.. I made like 30 attempts last night - barely a blip on their radar, I'm sure. And plenty of other folks are scraping. (On a far larger scale, I'm sure.)

I was already researching ways to get around the authentication problem (wget has cookie- and browser-auth switches, right?) when the problem stopped and non-auth and auth versions of the page synced up again. I think what happened is that they actually changed the displayed information for the Last Active date, and it caused a temporary behavioral blip (probably while the changes propogated out to various servers.)

And... sure enough.. they now display the timezone, PST, alongside the date. (Probably after getting a couple of 'why is this time so wrong?' complaints.) And my crude data parsing methods actually involve find the end of that line and counting backwards to extract the pieces I need. (Ghetto, I know, but my perl chops are nonexistent and I just wanted to cobble this thing together in a night. So there!)

Which all goes to point up the well-known danger of scraping data from a website for use by some format-sensitive script: it's a website. It will change frequently, and frequently without any warning. (And, to be perfectly honest, it seems to be against the site's Terms of Service (read that bit about 'Personal and Non-Commercial Use'.)

Now Bungie does provide RSS feeds of player stats. (Which is cool.) All you'd have to do is look at the first (chronologically, the last) entry's PubDate, and you're good as gold. (btw, I'll point out that all dates in the RSS file are GMT which, while no better for me here in Columbus, at least don't come off as quite so Redmond-centric as Pacific time.)


The added benefits of getting it from the RSS? You can be sure the format won't change quite so arbitrarily (no presentation dust-ups every couple weeks) and I wouldn't feel quite so ... dirty, getting the data this way. I can't say that the TOS necessarily encourages data manipulation of RSS vs. the HTML way, but one would think that Bungie reasonably expects people to take the RSS and have fun with it. I suspect that the data-scrapers (like, the serious ones that are building full-on stats-package websites for Halo2) give them headaches. They'd certainly explain why the site feels so damn sluggish at times. I've also read that they don't bother with the RSS, cause it doesn't include as much raw data as you can get from the scraped site.

So I'd like to get the Last Active time via the RSS feed, but I'll be danged if I can figure out how to derive a given players RSS url from nothing more than their gamertag. Has anyone out there found a way to do this? (It's probably some brain-dead simple scheme, but remember - I wanted to do this in an hour!!)

Okay, I've probably taken more time writing this entry than I wanted to spend on the script itself. Carry on... (Oh, and I'll post up that Applescript once I've got the kinks worked out.)

March 28, 2005

New Halo Maps! New Halo Maps! New Halo Maps!

H2_mp_turf.jpg Hey! New Halo Maps! Coming Soon! With a sneak peak available right now. This is way cool -- to me, Containment kinda looks like a Coagulation-scale map (but maybe with some of the pedestrian-traffic boredom eliminated.) And just the other night I was playing the H2 campaign game, and thinking to myself: "Wouldn't it be cool to do multiplayer in Old Mombasa? I got my wish -- 'Turf' (pictured) looks like it'll be a blast.

And in other exciting Halo 2 news, a good friend of mine just got onto Live for the first time tonight. (You know who you are.) Evening frag-fests will never be the same again.

May 9, 2005

Jack Bauer, Splinter Cell

I know I'm a week late with this observation (I just watched the taped-yes-taped-no-not-Tivo'd episode last night), but last week's 24 was incredible. That whole bit at the Chinese Embassy was lifted straight outta the first Splinter Cell. (Others have noted this, too.) Climbing over banisters through draped Chinese flag banners, whispered directives in his earpiece. It was good stuff, I kept waiting for Jack to pause and set a Wall Mine.

Update: Chloe rocks this season, cheesy Cisco product placement and all.

June 2, 2005

Halo2 Strategy Guides

These Halo 2 Strategy Guides are fun and informative.

August 9, 2005

Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down

So I think I'm taking the day off on Friday, and taking LeeAnn to the Ohio State Fair, just to take a 3- or 4-minute beatdown from Matt "Zyos" Leto, World Halo Champ. (Whom I have blogged about before.) I can't wait to see LeeAngry square off. You win something if you can get 3 kills off of him (to his... what.. 25 or 50.) I'll report back on Friday.

May 6, 2006

More than just a game

Wow. Now this is a refreshing perspective. Richard Castaldo was left paralyzed from the chest down after the shootings at Columbine. When he learned that a video-game based on the events of that day was being produced, he actually kept an open mind about it.

[A]t first it just surprised me that someone would make a game like that. And I know most peoples knee-jerk reactions would probably be that it is horrible and disgusting and stuff like that. But, I just thought I should play it to see what it actually was. I didn’t think it was necessarily bad, if i was done the right way, which at least part of it seemed to be.
Mind you, I'm not defending the game (I haven't played it, nor even seen any of it) but Richard's attitude is almost amazing to me, and his further analysis of the game is well worth a read.

September 20, 2006

4 Summer Flings

Apropos of nothing, and partially to alleviate my guilt at having been such a non-blogging fool lately, here's a small taste of my pop-culture life over the summer.

photo of 'Ryan Adams
★★★★★ Awright, Adams has since proven himself to be a bit of a clown in the intervening years (Summer of '69 taunts and Message-board pissing matches with fake Jeff Tweedies haven't exactly bolstered his 'rock n roll bad boy' image.) But his work with Whiskeytown never fails to please me, so I sought out this, his first solo album, on eMusic. It's really great.. soulful when it should be, rockin' where it needs to be. And guest vocals from Emmylou on 'Oh My Sweet Carolina.' What more could you ask for? Sadly tho, I think this album may be Adams' high-water mark.

photo of 'The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap '

★★★★☆ I've somehow found myself spending a lot of time waiting this summer. Vet's office, doctor appointments (for reasons I'll disclose later.) So I've dug out my Gameboy Advance, which had been gathering some dust of late, and this is the game that convinced me to do it. I loved the old Zelda game for SNES (A Link to the Past, with its fun and engaging overhead perspective and cartoony 2D sprites.) I pretty much lost touch with the franchise since then, though. It's all looked too 3D "immersey" for my tastes. So the Minish Cap has been a pleasant surprise - the 2D style is back from LTTP, as well as referential nods to that game in many of the character designs and dungeon puzzles. But it's been updated in smart ways too (including a fun 'Kinstone Fusing' technique that reveals side-adventures and opens up areas of the map for further exploration.) I would've given this game 5 stars, but the bosses were a bit too easy and there weren't enough dungeons.

photo of 'eMusic'

★★★★☆ I realized a couple of months back that I'd somehow all but eliminated music from my daily life. Which was a painful revelation for me -- I've always enhoyed music. I met my wife when we were both working at a record store.

So eMusic has been my attempt to put myself back on a healthy track: listening to, loving, learning about and living with more music from day to day. I've been pretty pleased so far. The best thing, without a doubt, about emusic is the complete lack of DRM controls on the downloaded tracks. These are straight MP3s, baby. Play 'em anywhere, on anything (I found a nice little set of Applescripts synchronizing iTunes with my Sony Ericsson walkman phone, and the whole setup works like a charm.)

Of course, the whole eMusic catalog consists of small and indie labels, so you won't find your guilty-pleasure Justin Timberlake fix here, but you will find the whole White Stripes catalog, and the Replacements, and a buncha Willie Nelson, and Iron & Wine, and The Decemberists, and... they got a lotta stuff is all I'm sayin.

photo of 'Fables'

★★★★★ The premise is simple, but the series' creator Bill Willingham keeps finding new and deeply satisfying ways to twist it, tatter it and constantly break expectations. And the premise is this: all of our collective cultural Fables are real, across countless dimensions and worlds. And they've been driven from those worlds by a nameless, faceless bogeyman called The Adversary. Now Snow White, and the Big Bad Wolf, and Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the rest live in a quiet, ageless block of New York City where they try to stay hidden from our mundane ('mundy') world.

I'll admit it, this series started slow for me. Volume 1 "Legends in Exile" probably suffered from the same malady that befalls any origin story. A lot of the energy is expelled on just setting up the premise. But there's still enough thrill left in there for a pretty good whodunit, with Bigby ("The Big Bad") Wolf nicely wrapping up all the loose threads by the end. But you've really got to give the whole series a chance. With each successive issue (I've been buying 'em by the trade paperback) this world just gets better and better.

Around the time that Jack o'the Tales and Bigby Wolf blackmail a nosey reporter by staging some ... um, compromising photos of him with the eternally-young "real boy" Pinocchio, I knew this series was going someplace twisted and great. I'm only up to trade #5 right now (I'm trying to dole them out sparingly, cause once I'm all read up, the wait between releases will kill me) but it's been the best of the lot for me. I really admire the way that Willingham has been willing to take risks with his characters: some die; others disappear or move on; still others come to the fore, and grab the spotlight in ways that I wouldn't have imagined when the series began. Willingham even manages to craft something rare in comics today: a really sweet romance that's done just right between Snow White and Bigby Wolf. I can't wait to see how it all turns out, but my suspicion is that it won't be happily ever after.

These hReviews brought to you by the hReview Creator.

December 18, 2006


My ol' friend Uncle Don is dipping a toe back into the waters of gaming, and makes an interesting connection to the current state of the hourlong TV drama. Several of them seem to be stealing a page from the gaming playbook and presenting looping, non-linear goal-directed plots that require protagonists to “discover objects, negotiate with their owners and determine the object's proper uses.” Don correctly points out that this dynamic is at the very heart of most RPGs and MMORPGs. (FWIW, I too have been watching—and enjoying the heck out of—Daybreak but apparently I shouldn't've bothered.)

This line of observation made me think a little bit about another genre of game: the first-person shooter. (Or, okay, third-person, too—I guess it's the 'shooter' facet that is the germane one.) And how linear and straightforward game objectives tend to be there. I got Gears of War a couple weeks back and I've been picking my way through the campaign game.

(For the uninitiated, the 'campaign' refers to the linear, chapter-based gameplay that you typically work through alone—much like the name implies. Think of it as a military campaign with goals, objectives and enemies that need to be defeated in order to progress to the next 'level' or checkpoint. Many games also feature a competitive mode where you square off against other human opponents. Gears of War has both, and both are fun in different ways.)

In Gears of War, you play as Marcus Fenix, a thick-knecked, tough-as-nails, convict freed from your cell to lead the last of ... ah, nevermind. The point I really want to make is that Marcus' world is a pretty damn simple one. As far as plotline goes, you never really need to be aware of much more than “what's my next objective?” (And if you forget, a quick stab at the 360 controller's Left Bumper always reveals your goals.) This simple model of 'objective based progress' is hardly new to GoW—it's practically a hallmark of the genre.

Halo and Halo2 share the same straightforward linear flow and it can be one of the most frustrating factors of the campaign in those games. Because, while the objectives are usually pretty straightforward and one-after-the-other, the environments that you achieve them in are anything but. Some of my most infuriating minutes (hours?) in the Halo 2 campaign were those times when I knew what was expected of me next, but I couldn't find the damn place on the map to get there. Hours spent wandering some labyrinth full of splattered alien bodies, just because I'd missed the teensy, distant lit doorway that eventually clued me to further adventure? Grr.

But, the simple straightforward linear nature of a game like Gears of War is also one of its greatest appeals. There is something deeply immersive and almost intoxicating about these games, and I wonder if the secret goes no deeper than this: when I'm playing Gears of War, I know exactly what is expected of me. “Progress” is not measured out in teaspoons (or status reports, or ambiguously-worded business agreements.) In Gears of War, progress is a blunt instrument, cracked over the head of some ugly and horrific beast.

The media gives much play to violent aspects of games like this (and I suppose I'm not immune to this—I can say with all confidence that I'm not a violent guy, but Marcus' take-no-prisoners style can be fun escapist fare in small doses.) But you don't hear as much about this other factor playing video games—the comforting and comfortable certainty of your goals and objectives (and, by extension, the methods you typically employ to achieve them.)

Maybe it's just me, cause I'm an old guy and—like most old guys—a bit beaten down by life. But when I'm playing GoW or Halo, for that hour or the occasional two, life just isn't that nuanced. There really aren't 'incidental tasks' in a game like GoW: clear a landing zone; retrieve a bomb; kill the enemy commander. The next thing you're doing is always exactly what you should be doing and it always leads you naturally to the next relevant task.

Cause. Effect. Objective. Resolution. Like I said: intoxicating.

Little wonder that my generation, weaned on Pong and Pac-Man, continues to cling to our love of the game. It's practically the medicinal balm for our continuous partial attention-afflicted, Flow-craving modern lifestyle. I can't imagine that Marcus Fenix, or The Master Chief, keeps a GTD list stuffed between the pages of a Moleskin notebook buried in a hip-pocket of their fatigues. No, the resolution to their problems is usually no further out ahead of them than a rifle-butt to someone else's face. Or clearing that landing zone.

May 2, 2007


Nice! I see that Settlers of Catan has come to XBox 360. Must check that out some time.

About Video Games

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Soldier Ant in the Video Games category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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