November 16, 2004

Half-Life 2 Has Me Steamed

Before I go into my rant, let me say that I've been playing now for about 3-4 hours and the game's excellent so far. The graphics are unbelievable, gameplay is smooth. The story's a bit...well, weird...maybe once things are explained a bit, it'll make more sense.

My big beef with this game is the installation procedure. You don't get a manual or book with this game, only a card with key commands on one side and installation instructions on the other. The actual instructions are deceptively simple:

A Steam account is required to play Half-Life 2 and an internet connection is required to create your Steam account. During installation you will be prompted to create your Steam account and validate your CD key, once this is complete you can play Half-Life 2.

This sounds like every other game, but these instructions are extremely misleading...make that a bold faced lie! What I went through was more painful than my last Windows operating system installation - and no, I'm not kidding.

The actual install from the 5 CDs was smooth. Early on I got a prompt to register my copy, which I clicked. But after entering all my data I found myself on the Vivendi University site, where I had to tell them not to send me any game product we'll see what interesting spam I get out of this.

Now comes creating your Steam account, which is in no way clear or automatically prompted. More like, I clicked on the Steam icon on my desktop (while online) to get this going. Now maybe it's because of the incredible server lag on this first day of release, or because I'm on dial-up, but it took over an hour to create my account! I kept getting an error that the connection was reset by peer...over and over and over again.

*whew* That's over, now I can log on to Steam and start Half-Life 2. It took over 30 minutes to log on to my Steam account. We're talking a simple handshake here, just like logging onto your web account or into a server. But for whatever reason Steam moves very slowly and seems to hang up at the distant end.

Then I register my CD key, but get a message that the server's too busy but it can be done later - do I want to play Half-Life 2? I say "Hell yeah!" and up pops the main menu.

I click play Half-Life 2, nothing happens. I highlight and click it several more times, finally getting quite spastic, still nothing. In disgust I close the window, only to find that the CD key registry window has reopened in the background. I finally register my CD key.

Now Steam starts to unlock the Half-Life 2 game files. I suppose if I'd been waaay smarter and preordered this online, I'd get to start at this step. That would have been nice, but still not entirely painless.

Now I'm ready to play, but Half-Life 2 has detected an old video driver. Old? I just reloaded all my stuff with new drivers 6 months ago. It doesn't help that the automatic driver detection fails to identify my NVIDIA GeForce 4. No matter, I download the driver (which takes 1.5 hours) and restart my computer. By the way, make sure to turn off's a bandwidth hog.

So now I'm ready to go, right? Not quite. I get the main menu. I click Play Half-Life 2 - nothing happens.

I open up the game menu on Steam and select Half-Life 2 to play, but get an error that says "This game is not ready to be played in offline mode."

You see, there's another piece of instruction on that card: An "Offline Mode" will also be available if the "Remember my password" box is checked on the Steam login screen. I had this box checked every time I logged into Steam, but I don't think it actually remembers anything until the first time you actually play Half-Life this means I have to log into my Steam acount again! That's another 30 minutes or so.

This time Steam needs to validate the game files. Will this never end?

Once that's over, I go the the Steam icon in my system tray, select Play then Play Half-Life 2. Now I get a dialogue box saying it wants to install Half-Life 2! WHAT?!? In frustration, I click OK, then get another box telling me it's preparing to play...about damn time.

All told, 5 hours from start of installation to actual gameplay.

I'm really enjoying Half-Life 2 so far, but want to wring someone's neck at Steam. I mean, what were they thinking? By creating the need for a Steam account to install, register, unlock, verify, and play for the first time, they've created a huge bottleneck that the entire gameplaying community has to fit into.

November 13, 2004

Vin Diesel Is Ultra-Cool

Wizards of the Coast just published a hardbound book called A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons - 30 Years Of Adventure. I hefted this with a chuckle (couldn't open it because it's shrinkwrapped)...then noticed right under the title it says Forward by Vin Diesel.

Vin "Fast And The Furious" Diesel played D&D? Riddick once rolled 20-sided dice? The mere idea floored me.

As I said, I couldn't open this book to see what treasures laid within, but there is an excerpt of Vin's forward on the back cover:

"We are all drawn to the game because it allowed us to become these characters, vastly different in appearance and in actions, but what kept us hooked was the search for the character that represented our higher self. Playing D&D was a training ground for our imaginations and an opportunity to explore our own identities."

What can I say...other than "Spoken like a true role-player". I have a new level of respect for Vin, and may even forgive him for XXX.

November 11, 2004

Fear Of The FCC

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has come down exceptionally hard on broadcasters since the "wardrobe malfunction" at this year's Superbowl. It's so bad that now many TV stations are refusing to air Saving Private Ryan uncut on Veteran's Day, which has been a tradition since 2000.

One of the reasons it can't be cut is per contract with Steven Spielberg (similar deal he made for Schindler's List).

Why does the FCC have this measure of control over free public airwaves?

Their main authority is frequency allocation. They control what bands are used by the military, radio, TV, and all other communications equipment. They also investigate and stop any intrusions into a liscensed frequency range. Clearly this kind of control is necessary.

But control over broadcast free speech? And especially with such vague guidelines and in defiance of U.S. courts? Here is some data I gathered right from

Indecency: "Language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

(Note however that this is different from obscenity; "Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory references that do not rise to the level of obscenity." But that's just splitting hairs.)

Profane: "Language that denotes certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."

My initial problem with this is the vague wording. Nowhere do I see "7 dirty words" or anything that clearly defines these standards. These standards are all up to interpretation, in other words any single individual can determine something is patently offensive or profane. Imagine if our driving laws were treated in the same way, just vague outlines with no posted or written limits:

Speeding: Any speed that is inherently dangerous as measured by community safety standards for travel, while taking into account such factors as pedestrian traffic, time of day and weather.

Wreckless Driving: Any speed or method of driving that is violently dangerous or so grossly endangers other travellers and pedestrians that it amounts to a niusance.

So speeding tickets would be entirely up to the civilian who thought you might be going too fast. Following the FCC enforcement example, the police would then perform an investigation to see if they think you were truly speeding or driving wrecklessly, then fine you if they decide you were indeed breaking the law. So in this example, not only is the witness biased (I'd probably say you weren't speeding, but if granny saw you then she'd file a report for sure), but the police also have their own they fine you, or overlook your crime?

Which brings me to my second point, the FCC does practice selective enforcement. They have no problem fining the balls off of Howard Stern, but they won't touch Oprah Winfrey...even when she does a show about teen sex acts after the Superbowl incident! The teens talk about such acts as "tossing a salad", a coded reference that Stern is no longer allowed to use for fear of FCC fines. In fact, the recent fines brought against Clear Channel were for Stern broadcasts over 2 years old.

The FCC enforces standards in two ways. One is that they fine the station, these fines have recently been increased to some astronomical amount (I believe it's 250,000 or 1/2 million) per incident. Meaning that if the FCC wanted to fine ABC for this year's Saving Private Ryan broadcast, they could level the maximum fine per station that airs the broadcast. For a big company like ABC that may be a bitter pill indeed, but one they could possibly afford to swallow. But an individual broadcaster?

The other way the FCC enforces standards is through their liscensing of the frequency band. Over 10 years ago, when Stern was again in hot water with the FCC, Infinity was preparing to take the FCC to court. But before they could bring the matter before a judge, all new liscenses and liscense renewels were stalled by the FCC, ie. not renewed. A media company not getting its frequency liscences renewed spells financial disaster.

Which brings us to my final issue, free speech. Here's the blurb on free speech from the FCC website: "Expressions of views that do not involve a 'clear and present danger of serious substantive evil' come under the protection of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material, in most cases, and from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of speech." It goes on to say that, "This principle ensures that the most diverse and opposing opinions will be expressed, even though some may be highly offensive."

So free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution. The Communications Act prevents the FCC from censoring or passing a regulation that prevents free speech...even offensive speech.

But here's the killer, again right off the FCC website: "The Courts have said that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be banned entirely. Nonetheless, the FCC has taken numerous enforcement actions against broadcast stations for violations of the restrictions on broadcast indecency."

So U.S. courts have protected indecent material as part of free speech, but the FCC has enforced their standards and punished broadcasters anyway.

Now even though I am a fan of Howard, I'm not a conspiracy nut or an anarchist. I simply don't see the need for the FCC to selectively enforce a vague decency standard. Either draft a set of clear rules on what can and can't be said, then enforce these across the board, or get out of the morality business altogether.

November 06, 2004

Episode III Trailer

There's a trailer for Revenge Of The Sith on It looks really good, but then again so did the trailers for the other 2 movies.

Hopefully this one's so action packed that there won't be any time for rolling-in-the-grass romance or Jar Jar Binks shenanigans.

(added 9 Nov)

Apparently George Lucas has turned into a whiny little bitch! I just learned that the trailer on has been locked down, so unless you're a paying member of Hyperspace (which can be had for a mere $39.95), all the good content is denied.

Go to this site instead, courtesy of

November 01, 2004

"May The Best Man Win"

Tomorrow is Election Day, so make sure you get out and vote. This looks to be a heated election, so make your vote count by picking your candidates carefully.

I just did my usual information gathering on all the candidates (not just the Presidential ones), this took an hour or so more than usual since none of my local papers had a voter's guide this time around. I guess all the attention is focused on the two big candidates, so the little and not-so-little guys lose out.

Now I've got my candidates picked: 4 Republican, 2 Democrat and 1 Libertarian. So even though I'm non-partisan, it's easy to see what kind of core beliefs I hold to.

I was really interested in a heated battle between a pair of local candidates for a U.S. House seat. One put out an ad about his opponent, accusing her of being supported by an organization funded by terrorists ( was featured in the spot, though I've also read that it may also have something to do with her courting the Irish/American vote despite the fact that she's Irish/American), as well as condoning the rape and torture of people (she's opposed to the Iraq war). You heard that right, a woman who approved of people being raped and tortured. This was an actual television ad, I shit you not!

When I checked out the web sites of both candidates, the truth became evident. Her site contained all sorts of data on her record, beliefs and intentions. Her opponent's site didn't have much to say about anything, at least nothing that was stated with any clarity. This level of mud slinging offends me so much that I almost just went ahead and voted for his opponent just out of spite, but managed to take some time and look at how they both felt about the issues.

Now is the time for all of us to speak our minds by voting. If you don't vote, then I don't want to hear you bitching after the election.