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Bulletstorm Demo Impressions

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on January 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Bulletstorm is a doting love letter to the days of first-person shooter yore, to when games like Unreal Tournament ’99 dominated the scene with its ridiculous weapons, ludicrous alt-fires and quirky, idiosyncratic kill messages.  For a time, every new FPS would possess the elements for which UT’99 was praised: slick weapon design, innovatively increasing the number of “weapons” with alternative fire modes, and an in-your-face demeanor that married perfectly with its fast-paced over-the-top deathmatch.

Over time, beginning with the enormous popularity of Halo, the adoration for these features waned, and today most games release with your holy triumvirate of pistol-shotgun-machine gun, with iron sights replacing alt fires and ragdollized corpses sounding the death knell for unique kill animations and commentary.  It is in thusly that Bulletstorm enters the scene like Bobby walking out of the shower in Dallas, acting as though all that preceded was somehow illusory.

Which is how you start the demo with a weapon that is not a grenade launcher per se, but a grenade bola launcher that binds enemies and detonates shortly forthwith; this same weapon may be “overcharged” — local parlance for alt-fire — instead sending the bola flying at such speeds as to slice all in its path.  And in doing so, a number of descriptors will pop up on your screen describing the act in all its profanity while simultaneously granting bonus points for the effort.

The example above is perhaps the least example that may be given.  And yet, with its focus on scoring your creativity in deploying the tools at your disposal, the game is strangely compelling.

In Gears of War, Halo or Call of Duty (et all), you’ll gun down any number of foes in a largely unremarkable fashion, save for that series of events every once in a while — when an enemy blunders into a grenade trap or when you headshot your foe and his mate behind him — that you exult in your skill, tactics and the rare circumstance that allowed such a moment.  Immediately and afterwards, you’ll regale your friends with this special moment where the game allowed you to do something truly spectacular.

This happens in Bulletstorm all the time.  It is, in fact, the very premise behind the game’s tagline, “Kill with Skill.”  Because for every kill you make, you are scored, and you get a much higher score for doing something ludicrous.  Your score is then converted into an overall rating on the level (out of three stars) and placed upon the game’s leaderboards, which take a page from Need for Speed and default to comparing you to your friends list first.  So there’s clearly a heavy emphasis on replaying levels to get the most out of your score, which is also used to purchase and upgrade weapons in-game.

So far, I’ve:

  • Shot a man in the head with a rocket flare (Englightenment)
  • This set his friends on fire (Fireball)
  • Who I then launched into the air (Afterburn)
  • Who then splattered on the ceiling (Fly Swatter)

All of which were accompanied by commentary by the protagonist and his team that expertly blended juvenile and profane word choice, with the effect being somewhat profound.  And this is a small sampling of the one-hundred plus skill shots that will be in the final product, and an even smaller sampling of the full length of the main game, being that the demo tops out at about six minutes or so per playthrough.

Seeing that this  model wouldn’t marry well with your standard multiplayer deathmatch, Bulletstorm eschews that pretense and sticks to a Players-v.-Endless Waves of Monsters model seen in Gears and Halo.  As you might expect, this mode is complete with unique team skill shots for depravity you can share with your friends.

I’m told it also has a story in its single-player mode.  Every ad, dev diary and video featurette tends to gloss over this in favor of the above.

Bulletstorm isn’t being inobvious about what it’s offering.  It’s got a crude, sophomoric attitude cranked to eleven and revels in its gore, profanity and in that its scoring system calls additional attention to its gore and profanity.  For me, it works, and I do approach every encounter with a mind to making the most of out the skill shot system, just like I wanted to see every alt-fire for every weapon back in the days of UT’99.  If the above doesn’t sound interesting to you, either as a single-player challenge game or a fun multiplayer competitive shootout, then the rest of us can only hope it has enough maps, content and challenges to keep us replaying it long after we’ve expended the unique content on offer.


The Lie Is A Ass

In My Girlfriend Does Not Play Video Games on January 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Discussing the law's portrayal in media is dedicated to the patron saint of such, Bob Ingersoll.

Lie To Me is an excellent show that was most definitely greenlit to capitalize on the popularity of House, M.D. Unlike House, Lie To Me keenly realized that it was not the presentation of a mystery us laymen would be incapable of understanding or solving that attracted its viewers, but rather the eponymous character’s dissection of the human condition.  So enters Lie To Me, its premise centered around the very real science of microexpressions, explored through Cal Lightman and his rag tag band of analysts and psychologists.

It’s had its ups and downs and several subtle retoolings — notably the heavy emphasis on the science from the first season is all but abandoned — but largely stands on the stellar capabilities of Tim Roth as a very crass, very crude, very intelligent and very British living lie detector who champions the truth, even if it means switching sides on a consult.

At this point, I’m convinced that Tim Roth has a heavy say in the writing process, else some of the writing staff must either be English or know him very personally, as the show does not shy away in the least from using heavy slang or cultural idioms from the island across the pond.  Lightman’s interactions with his daughter, especially, remind me of a lighter-hearted version of my fiance’s insane interactions with her own very Scottish mother, right down to extended discussions and jokes on beans on toast.

But while they may have some expert consults on the matter of presenting Tim Roth as a crude, British scientist, equal parts arrogant and cursed with his knowledge, they certainly don’t waste any time or money on making sure they understand the legal process.  Which is strange, since ostensibly, the Lightman Group’s major retainer seems to be the D.C. area police and FBI.

The most recent episode, “Saved,” revolves around a traffic accident, and the driving motivation of the episode is dedicated to the teenager involved in the accident being unfairly charged with murder-two after running a red light in his stolen car.

The DA wants this case cleared fast and hard, as the man that was slain in the accident was none other than the city’s premiere sports star; certainly the kind of headline case where everything goes by the book.  So for reasons that were never adequately explained, the Lightman Group is tapped to verify that he was driving the car.

This is all nonsense.

First off, the DA is acting fairly leniently in granting the defendant a second degree murder charge.  To understand that, let’s go over what murder is.  First degree murder is premeditated, the willful, precipitated act of ending a life with malice aforethought.  Second degree murder is made from a “depraved heart” or extreme recklessness, otherwise known as gross negligence, otherwise doing something so stupid, any reasonable person could see that it would in the serious harm or death of others.

Between the two, obviously the car thief did not intend to kill anyone, but in running a red light he was extremely reckless, so a murder-two rap does make sense.  Except it’s still more lenient than the murder-one charge he should be getting.

Gosh, Mrs. DA, I thought this was a headline case?  So why are you going easy on the guy?

Because he killed someone in the act of committing or perpetuating a felony — grand theft auto — the malice aforethought requirement for first degree murder is waived.  This is called “felony murder,” and its used to make sure criminals receive the fullest punishment possible when their criminal acts result in the death of others.

Is grand theft auto a felony, and does this law apply to it?  Great questions, invisible rhetoric person!  It is a felony, though it can be downgraded to a misdemeanor for first time offenders or in cases where it’s seen as an “isolated incident.”  Something that, in this high profile case, the state is not inclined to do.  Now, it was his neighbor’s car, and I’m sure his mother and them are good friends and swap recipes.  So what if she convinced them to not press charges?

He’d still be charged is what.  Just because an individual victim does not press charges does not mean the state must refrain from doing so on behalf of itself and society, which are understood to be victims when crimes are committed.  So the kid’s definitely got a felony grand theft auto charge, and thus has a felony murder charge.

Now, there was that weird scene where it was somehow important to identify the driver.  The kid smartly lawyered up before saying anything, but Torres, a Lightman consultant, reads the body language and facial expressions of all three teenagers to identify the driver.  Meanwhile, Loker is trying to prevent the lawyer from gaining access until she can make this judgment.

So what we have here is a minor infringement on defendant’s rights, and a violation of the 5th amendment.

First off, you have a right to a lawyer.  Police can and do try to get as much non-lawyer time with you as possible, and in light of recent rulings on the matter, anything you say, even after invoking your right to remain silent and to see an attorney, can be used against you.  So there’s nothing wrong with using a confession given after invoking these rights, since you must actively exercise them to benefit.  The police can’t actually stop your lawyer from seeing you, but as I said, this is minor.

The more major piece is in “reading” them.  Your fifth amendment rights protect you from self-incrimination, meaning your status is not harmed by refusing to testify and you can’t be compelled to testify against yourself.

So all of those times the prosecution calls, as a surprise witness, the defendant?  Would.  Never.  Happen.

This amendment, and the one-hundred plus years of precedents, also protect you from being made to confess or self-incriminate involuntary.  Voluntary confessions are defined as “the product of a rational intellect and a free will.”  So when the police put a gun to your head and you let them know they can stop looking for Tupac’s killer, you weren’t acting rationally.  And when the Lightman Group reads your microexpressions, they are doing so against your free will, since you can’t actually stop yourself from expressing yourself in this manner.

So at this point, the police don’t “know” who the driver is.  Not that it really matters, but they don’t.

It also does not matter that the Lightman Group is not part of the police or government for two reasons: the law doesn’t state who it considers when it speaks against coercion — looking at you, Batman — and the Lightman Group is part of the police as they’ve been hired and retained by the police for the express purpose in assisting with investigations.

You didn’t think the police could bypass all of your constitutional rights by hiring someone that wasn’t as expressly forbade as they were, did you?

As a lesser matter, we have issues of timing.  Much of the conversation made it sound like the kid was already convicted, or their trial had already happened.  Given that it was, if anything, days after the accident, the kid would still be in jail while the police proceeded with their investigation.  He probably wouldn’t have even been arraigned, which is where his charges would have formally been read to him, trial date decided, bail amount set and so forth.  He wouldn’t have been in an orange jumpsuit in prison quite so fast.

As far as spoilers are concerned, it turns out the kid didn’t run the red light, as a psychotic ambulance mechanic had rigged a controller to manipulate the lights.  Honestly, this is where the case would have gotten interesting, and I’m not totally convinced the kid would have had his charges reduced.  But then, his lawyer could have made a big stink, and the city probably doesn’t want a huge, public case made about how a kid is rotting in jail because it can’t keep tabs on its emergency personnel.

Oh, and as a closing note, both the EMT and her brother would both be getting murder-one, because the brother, with malice aforethought, took actions which could and did result in the death of others.  You’ll note the law doesn’t say you actually have to know the person you’re killing.  And the sister receives this punishment as well as she’s his accomplice, having harbored, aided and abetted him for the past ten years.

Maybe They Should Investigate the Death of Constitutional Rights

In My Girlfriend Does Not Play Video Games on January 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm
I love it when the pen shoots down it's all like bam and stuff



I love this show.  I’ve not traditionally been into mysteries or crime procedurals, although my friends will note that, technically, The Dresden Files is more mystery than fantasy (in my defense, I bought the first four books off of Waldenbooks’ speculative fiction shelf, though I’ve seen it in practically every section of the bookstore).  Outside of that, I only watch Law and Order or CSI: Topical Subject / Popular Location while I’m at my parents’ house and The TV Must Remain On At All Times.

If asked, and the presumption of an isolated editorial is that I have been asked, I would say I watch it for the characters and characterization.  Nathan Fillion is possessed of a charming demeanor, non-traditionally handsome countenance and the miraculous ability of deft and subtle portrayal of his character.  He’s geeky, whiny and awkward while also being suave, smooth and debonaire; a definitive stand-in for all of us would-be writers and fans that is human enough for us to know where he’s coming from.

Rick Castle isn’t just a “likeable” character.  He’s a believable, real person thanks to the quality writing and excellent portrayal.

Kate Beckett is also indispensably played by Stana Katic, who makes believable this woman who has succeeded and flourished in the man’s world of homicide and detective work.  She pounds the pavement and grills suspects in such a way that we never forget that not just a woman, but written as one as well.  This is important.  It’s too easy to give a male character a female actress in the interests of making a “strong female character.”  She works with the victims in a way that might seem demeaning or mercenary with a male lead.

The rest of the cast is equally well supported in tandem of being the supporting cast.  Ryan and Esposito get just as much done as the rest of the cast, and the captain is suitably advocates and obfuscates lightly across each season.

All of this makes me love the show.  Each character relates with the rest believably and you’re genuinely invested in moments, like Ryan’s proposal to his girlfriend in last week’s episode, and little touches like how Beckett teared up at the proposal just like my fiance did.

So all of that makes it harder to say that Castle, sadly, ranks very poorly in terms of accurately depicting any type of accurate procedures or methodical legitimacy — two huge issues for the police and the citizenry today.  Not just that, but it does join the ranks of CSI and Law and Order in demonizing those that exercise their constitutionally-mandated rights.

This comes up because, for the first time in more than a dozen episodes, and among just the few times it’s happened in the series, one of the people they questioned lawyered up.  And I think it’s the first time it happened with someone that actually turned up innocent.  And, of course they vilified her.

We’re always lead to sympathize with our recurring cast members much more so than the cast that rotates out with each new case.  As such, we’re meant to hate the barriers that prevent them from doing their job and exult when that barrier is removed.  And no barrier is more prevalent than grabbing a lawyer in a police procedural.  We’ve even actually heard heartfelt speeches about how only criminals ever invoke this right because they know the jig is up.  Most of the time the phrase, “I want a lawyer” comes out only when they’ve found the real killer.  So the intent is clear: only guilty people get lawyers.

Why?  Tanya, the scheming soon-to-be divorcee from this episode just got linked to an ongoing murder investigation that the police are trying to close as quickly as possible, and while the last thing they’d want would be to waste time investigating someone that had nothing to do with it, much less book them on charges so the investigation actually stops, they would be obligated to do so if Tanya had said something stupid or accidentally admitted to something.  And even if she didn’t become involved in the booking for the murder, she probably would have gotten charged with something relating to extorting her husband with the honey-trapping.  At the very least it would weaken her pending divorce settlement.

To put it more succinctly: currently there’s over ten thousand offenses on which one might be charged.  Unless she knew each of those offenses intimately and how precedence has affected how they’re deployed by the prosecution, she’d be a complete moron to speak with the police without a lawyer present.

The same goes for all of us, really.

An example I’ve heard about how even answering the police’s questions without legal counsel illustrates it even better:

Imagine that someone you didn’t like got murdered.  As you live down the street from them, the police question you.  Now, you’d read about the dead in the papers: a “grisly gangland-style killing.”  Naturally, you tell the police that you didn’t hear any gunshots, and nobody you know in the neighborhood even owns a gun.

You’re in trouble now.  Nobody ever actually said they were shot.  But now you’ve revealed information that the police had been keeping confidential as part of the investigation.  And believe me when I tell you, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter that you “just assumed” gangland meant gunshots.

So now the police mark you as an interested party and want to know where you were two weeks ago.  Can you remember what you had for lunch two days ago?  Now imagine that any inconsistency will be thoroughly checked by a team of people looking to clear this case as quickly as possible.  Your reported evening out with aunt Mabel didn’t check out.  You thought you were there all evening, but apparently you left early to watch the game, conveniently around the time of the murder.  And oh yeah, even though you said you have no problems with the deceased, every other neighbor spilled the beans on how he’d been hanging around your wife too much.

So they now have motive and means, and you “lied” on record.  Sure, they don’t have a murder weapon, but between your previous “confession” about guns being involved and all of your other inconsistencies, you’ll have an uphill battle not getting convicted.  At the very least, the next few months of your life are going to be on hold as the police turn your life upside-down.

A lawyer would have prevented you from volunteering any information or accidentally assuming anything about the murder weapon.  You wouldn’t have revealed your plans for that evening by invoking the fifth amendment, and they certainly wouldn’t have had any reason to go checking on your relationship with the deceased.  You’d be just another neighbor they questioned on the way to catching the real killer.

So with how important it is to exercise your rights, it’s a little surprising how little lawyers come into play in Castle.  It’s equally dismaying to see how infrequently Beckett procures a warrant, and when was the last time she Mirandized someone she was arresting?

At the end of this episode, she  confronts the killer at his office and does not mention anything about warrants or arrest.  Yes, he randomly confesses to her in a fashion that would do Perry Mason proud while brandishing a weapon in front of an officer.  But the entire thing could probably be thrown out by any decent lawyer as Beckett tried arresting him without a warrant and didn’t Mirandize him; more damaging for him, he’ll probably get a full second-degree murder charge, even though it should be downgraded to manslaughter, since she accidentally died while he assaulted her.  Or even downgraded to non-negligent homicide.

And speaking of making plea bargains, Gretta might get screwed as she made a deal with the police that she never signed and no lawyer ever reviewed.  Heck, Beckett even waived a bunch of scary charges in front of her, but she wasn’t actually charged with anything at that moment; I imagine a little lawyering would have removed most of those charges anyway.  So she basically confessed to a number of things she probably could have gotten off on because she was too stupid to get a lawyer.

I realize that much of what doesn’t happen is for the sake of fitting the entire thing into a 48-minute episode with a beginning and an ending, rather than just getting blocked by lawyers at every turn.  And it’s realistic, since most people also forfeit their rights and get convicted in similar circumstances.

But it’s still disappointing to see Castle joining the ranks of lesser crime dramas and mysteries that villify exercising your rights while showing a number of intelligent people jumping at the police with confessions and letting them run rampant with no warrants, issues they at least paid lip service to in the first season.