Friday, January 25, 2008

Undead Like Me

Rumors are afoot that the direct-to-DVD Dead Like Me film, if successful, could lead to a revival of the series. Star Ellen Muth reportedly said that Mandy Pantinkin, who was unable to appear in the movie, would return for the series, if it happened.

This show may be what the Ned the piemaker would call "alive again."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Game Review: Forza Motorsport 2

Regular readers have likely sighed with relief lately, having been given a respite from new posts for the first couple of weeks of this year. The reason for my absence from the blogosphere, and the reason that most of my posts since my return have been automobile-related, was my absolute addiction to playing Forza Motorsport 2 on our Xbox 360. Forza 2 is a a racing-simulation game, which means every effort has been made to make the driving experience as realistic as possible. To add to the realism, I purchased the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel (and pedals). This wheel not only has rumble, like the normal 360 controller, but also features force feedback, which is invaluable for telling the driver what the car is doing. Following is my review of the game, as used with the wheel.

What I liked:
  • Perhaps the most impressive feature of this game is the modeling of the vehicle dynamics. Every aspect of the behavior of each vehicle is included: power, weight, weight distribution, drag, downforce, wheel weight, tire friction, camber, caster, toe, tire width, tire compound, tire temperature, and so on.
  • Additionally, you can see all this modeling going on by turning on the telemetry. Huge amounts of data are available, which you can monitor live, while driving---good luck with that---or afterwards during a replay.
  • Did I not mention the replay feature? After each race you can watch---and even save---a replay of your performance. The replay features multiple camera angles, both onboard and off. Some algorithm is used to select which camera you see when. Most of the time the camera choice is good, though sometimes what you actually want to observe---the car you are about to pass, say---is offscreen. Oh, and you can also take photos of your car mid-race via the replay feature.
  • About 300 cars are available in the game when you buy it, and additional vehicles can be downloaded for a few bucks from Xbox Live. All these automobiles are immediately available to drive in arcade mode. In career mode, most of the cars must be unlocked as you accumulate winnings. What's more, because of all the detail in the physics modeling, each car behaves differently. It's not just that one car is faster than another. You can also feel the difference between front-, rear- and all-wheel drive. You can tell if the car is front-, mid-, or rear-engined. Indeed, you can easily discern changes in performance from modifying or tuning the car.
  • That's right, you can swap out or add parts on each car: wheels, tires, wings, dams, brakes, dampers, anti-roll bars, exhaust systems, camshafts, and on and on.
  • You can tune the cars, too. You can adjust suspension settings (camber, toe, ride height, and so on), downforce, brake pressure and bias, swaybar stiffness, tire pressure, and more.
  • The appearance of the cars can be heavily customized as well. The exterior can be painted or covered with vinyl graphics, which is very important to superficial people such as myself.
  • A reasonable number of tracks are available in the game as bought, and more can be downloaded for XBL for a small fee.
  • Each car is given a performance index (PI) according to its speed, acceleration, braking, handling and such. The PI changes as you mod the vehicle. Cars with similar PIs are grouped into classes, which allows for fair-ish competition between very different automobiles.
  • The game includes race series (of 3 or 4 races) designed for cars that are, in some way, similar. There are series for cars of each class, cars with a certain amount of power, cars below or above given weights, cars from different countries or continents, cars of specific make or model, cars over a certain age, cars with certain engine locations or configuratins, and so on. All this variety keeps the competition fresh and interesting.
  • The game includes great multiplayer support. You can play split-screen with 2 drivers (like Alison and I do), system link with up to 8, or go online and compete with people all across the world.
  • Forza makes great use of the rumble feature of the Xbox 360 controller. You can not just hear but feel when you drive over curbs, crash into barriers, or even shift gears. This feature is one of the reasons I dislike one of the Seabring circuits. That track's built partially out of concrete slabs, with 1-inch gaps between the slabs. Driving across it produces an annoying rhythmic rumble in the controller.
  • The game also uses the force feedback feature of the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel to good effect. With the wheel, you can feel if you are understeering, detect torque steer from FWD or AWD vehicles, and tell if you are drifting. I find the force feedback not just immersive but terribly informative.
What I disliked:
  • All the races take place during the day in clear weather. I'd like drive at night or in the rain, too.
  • Many of the cars that can be won in the game cannot be painted/vinyled or can only be slightly visually altered.
Overall, because I am a car guy, I give it 9.0 out of 10. For normal folks, I'd still award it a 7.5. If you are even a little interested in cars or racing, I highly recommend it. Additionally, if you can spare the cash and have the space, I suggest you purchase the Microsoft steering wheel.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Sleestaks are Back, Baby!

Here's more fodder for our "Who ordered that?" tag: Will Ferrell is staring in a film adaptation of the mid-70s kid's series The Land of the Lost. Mmmm, claymation dinosaurs...

Gears Insanity

Alison and I recently completed Gears of War on the "hardcore" (medium) difficulty setting, and now we are working through it on the "insane" (hard) setting. Isn't my wife awesome?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Audiobook Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2004)

To help pass the time during our roadtrip to Chicagoland, Alison and I listened to the audiobook of Mark Haddon's 2004 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which she had downloaded to her iPod. The book is told from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic boy as he investigates the death of his neighbor's poodle. I've been a fan of fully produced "radio dramas" for some time, but this was my first time listening to an audiobook. I quite enjoyed it.

What I liked:
  • The writing style effectively conveys the unusual thought patterns of the protagonist.
  • The voice actor narrating the novel did an excellent job of acting, not just reading.
  • The story was quite interesting.
  • I always enjoy hearing British accents and vernacular.
What I disliked:
  • Literally 90% of the sentences in the book start with the same word: "and." I realize the author wrote this way to emulate the style of the main character, but it still irritated me to no end.
Overall, I give this audiobook 8.5 out of 10. I recommend it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'd Call it Bottom Gear

If you are even a little interested in automobiles, you need to be watching Top Gear on the Beeb or BBC America, depending on where you live. Unlike some car shows, this one is not a long series of reviews or DIY tips. Instead its a very intelligent and witty look at all things automotive. The series has been quite successful in its home country---it's run in its current 1-hour format since 2002---and has garnered a strong following across the pond as well. I encourage you to check it out.

You may ask why I've chosen now to point out the existence and virtues of Top Gear. The answer is that I've just learned that NBC, the king of American remakes of British shows, is planning to bring a remake of Top Gear to the States. I can't imaging the show being half as good without the distinct British sense of humor---or should I say humour---at its core. May The Stig preserve us all.

Update: The video here is a must-see.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Perhaps CR-Y Would Have Been More Appropriate

At the Detroit Auto Show, Honda announced that they will indeed manufacture a production version of the CR-Z concept car shown at previous shows and mentioned earlier on this blog. The CR-Z in many ways recalls the extinct CRX (CR-X in the home market), of which I own one of the last copies. The new car, interestingly, will be a hybrid. There's no word on when this car will hit the market.

In other Honda hybrid news, the company re-announced that they will be marketing a new, small hybrid-only model for the 2009 model year. Honda says that it wants 10% of their sales to be hybrids by 2010. It seems strange to me, then, that they recently discontinued the hybrid Accord.