A little rant

rantBy hitting control-option-command+8 in Mac OS-X, you can invert your screen colors (make them go negative). I’m sure there’s a reason why someone would want to do that, but I’m most certainly not that person. Nevertheless, the other day, I opened up my laptop only to find my colors have been inverted. Somehow, my two year old had hit this improbable key combination and plunged me into bizarro negative world. It took me a little internet sleuthing to get back to normal.

After another flurry of precise key presses, the same two year old bought me a subscription to Guitar Hero on my cell phone. Best three dollars I never spent. I have no idea how he did it, but there it was.

I relate these stories in preface to a rant about Microsoft’s ridiculous Xbox Live Arcade refund policies. (Hint: they don’t have one)

Up front I am going to admit that this was my fault. It was me that left the controller out in the open with the 360 on. While I was up at the computer I get an email from Xbox Live, thanking me for my Games on Demand purchase of GTA IV. Sure enough, in the space of no more than THREE FREAKING MINUTES, my two year old had navigated to the XBox Live Marketplace, located Games on Demand, selected GTA IV (at least the kid’s got taste) and purchased it. My heart sunk as I see the “no refunds” disclaimer in the XBL email. Great.

So against my better judgement, I give Xbox/Microsoft a call. All I was looking for a little understanding and maybe a little compassion and maybe to get the purchase wiped off my credit card. I explained the unlikely sequence of events that had got me to this point (I mean come on! I own the game. Why would I buy it again?) and asked for the refund. I made my way through about four levels of “you can speak to my manager” before I was met with utter silence on the other end of the line when I declare, “I find it hard to believe that a company as large as Microsoft has no way to remove a purchase from an account. At all. That is mind boggling.” “You have to dispute the charge with your credit card company, sir. There is nothing else I can do,” she finally replies.

Yeah, so we had to dispute the charge with our credit card company.

I am still flabbergasted that Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, did not build in any mechanism to deal with this type of issue. It’s nigh unexecusable. I wonder sometimes why I stick around.

The Lost and Damned Impressions

I’ve made it no secret: I loved GTA IV. I loved the story, thought that even though it had flaws, it was still a great game. I’ve also been excited to give the new DLC, The Lost and Damned, a whirl. So after downloading the new content and putting a few hours in, I figured it’s time for some impressions.


In keeping with the theme, let’s go with some bullet points.

The Good

  • It’s still got the GTA IV flavor. Yes, you no longer play as Niko, the crazy immigrant. You now play as Johnny Klebitz, a member of a Liberty City motorcycle gang. It still feels like and plays like GTA IV, except now you’re riding around on a big chopper.
  • That being said, cruising around Liberty City not as Niko is an odd sensation. This is not a bad thing. It feels nostalgic, almost
  • One huge complaint about the original game was the lack of checkpoints during a mission. That has thankfully been rectified, and now if you fail a mission, you’re able to pick up right where the action started. This is a good thing.
  • I didn’t mind the motorcycle riding in the original, but it’s definitely been improved for TLAD. Racing choppers with a bat to beat on your opponents is most satisfying.
  • The moments where Niko’s story and Johnny’s overlap is a nice touch. Even during the opening cinematic, there’s a shot of Niko walking down the street, as if he’s passing the baton.
  • The new weapons pack a nice punch.


The Bad

  • Things start out too suddenly. As Niko, you were eased into the storyline and there never seemed to be any “pressure” to further the story. In TLAD, the story seems top-heavy. Things come at you fast and furious so far and they haven’t seemed to slow down
  • The main character, Johnny Klebitz, isn’t as enjoyable to play (at least initially) or as likable as Niko. You understood Niko’s motivations. Johnny’s are a little cliched and obvious. That can still change, but I’m not sold on him.
  • The new weapons are fun but useless. They start you out with a powerful double-barrel sawed-off shotgun and then dump you into a shoot-out where the shotgun is worthless. It’s a blast to use while you’re riding around on your chopper, but I’ve already picked up all the other guns which are actually useful in a firefight.

The Ugly

  • Yes, it’s the scene with the Johnny and the politician exhibitionist (Stubbs is his name, I believe). It’s un-com-fort-able. Even Johnny looks uncomfortable. I’d really rather not have another man’s wedding tackle in my video games, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

I’m definitely not finished with TLAD but I’m happy with my purchase. I’m not in love with the story the way I was with Niko, but I’m willing to let it grow on me. I’m looking forward to continuing on with it.


It’s like Christmas in February!

It’s The Lost and the Damned Eve!

Grand Theft Dead Rising?

I just read this rumor earlier today on Joystiq.

While it would be weird to go from the gritty setting of Liberty City to a zombie-infested Liberty City, I would certainly approve this change. Especially if Frank West was a playable character.

The flying rat infestation

Speaking of GTA IV and cheats, I recently uploaded a set of three maps to Flickr that have the locations of all the pigeons in the city (again, there’s an achievement for that). Now that I’ve finished the game and Niko has done what he needed to do, I suddenly feel a responsibility to clean up the pigeon problem in Liberty City.

If you’re like me and you’re interested in exterminating all the flying rats, you can check out the Flickr set here. I’ve embedded the images after the jump.

[Read more…]

You Won!

Yes, I most certainly did!

Last night I completed the story in GTA IV. I don’t have a lot of time to talk about it, but I will say I thoroughly enjoyed Grand Theft Auto IV. It has its flaws (no checkpoints during missions is criminal) but taken as a whole GTA IV was a great time.

I want to still try and complete the rest of the side quests, get all the achievements, and finally try multiplayer, but it feels good that I can now move on to other games.

Gobble Gobble

I’m working to finish up the last few missions in GTA IV, but last night I decided to work on an achievement or two before I make more mission progress. I figured the “Gobble Gobble” achievement, where you have to score a turkey in the bowling mini-game, would be easy enough.

Easy enough, right. The bowling mini-game in GTA IV is atrocious. Frustration would be an understatement. After an hour of fruitless bowling, I did that which I hate — I asked the internet how to do it. I’m not a fan of the cheats but I had wasted time trying to do this, so I ended up at YouTube and found a nice little trick to get the job done.

The point of this is that if it weren’t for the achievement, I wouldn’t have spent more than two minutes playing the bowling mini-game. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

The GTA IV Post

Niko BellicAt this point, GTA IV has been out almost two months, so after the hundreds of reviews and blog posts written about it, I’m not really sure what more I could add to the discussion. That’s not to say I don’t have anything to say, I just don’t think much more can be said. So this will probably be the only in-depth GTA IV post for me.

I could write paragraphs detailing my exploits in Liberty City. I’ve had some amazing moments, some hilariously laugh out loud moments. In the end, though, that would probably be pretty boring. Those of you that have experienced them would know exactly what I was talking about, but the rest of you would probably yawn and move on.

I won’t bore you. But indulge me to write about some things I really like about the game, and a few things I don’t.

As a story, GTA has grown on me and become rather gripping. It started slow, but when I hit the first major plot “moment,” I was hooked. As Niko started to give us some background, some motivation, it struck a chord. I’ve been riveted ever since. I need to know how things end! (I’m pretty sure I’m getting close to a conclusion)

The writing, in addition to the actual story, is great. The main characters get fleshed out over trips to the bowling alley, dates, and missions. Some of the support characters feel a bit out of place, but overall the interaction between the characters are great. I love Niko’s one-liners. (“I hope you have health insurance and a full coverage with i4mt!” “I see my invisibility pills are still working!“)

I love games that include those little details, those little nuances that elevate a good game to a great one. GTA IV is full of them. Just one example: You can car-jack a forklift (Fork-jack? Jack-lift?). If you’ve ever driven a forklift, you’ll know that the rear tires turn, instead of the front wheels like a car. It makes steering difficult at first. Sure enough, the forklifts in GTA handle just like their real-life counterparts. It couldn’t be any other way. I live for those kinds of details.

It’s all about the polish. I can’t get over the density of the city. I’ve read complaints that it would be nice if there were more ways to interact with the city (more shops, more buildings to enter), but honestly, there is already so much to do, there’s no way they could have added more. The amount of polish is staggering.

The characters, while mostly are caricatures and over-the-top, still work. Each character has a distinct individuality that resonates with my pop-culture addled brain. They crack me up. I’d go as far as say I’m emotionally attached to them and considered them “friends”. Brucie and Packie come to mind.

The amoral characters (not all of them!) are often conflicted and have issues. Niko, especially. I guess we all do.

One of the reasons I didn’t originally want to play GTA IV was that I was afraid I wouldn’t have the ability to impose my own morals (whatever that means) on the main character. I’m not saying I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but I wanted the chance to make a choice. There are times that I’ve been able to do that but unfortunately there are times when I can’t, and that bothers me a bit. The funny thing is, given a choice, I don’t always necessarily make the “right” one. I find myself considering what Niko would do. At least the Niko I’ve created. It’s not always black and white.

(Here’s an interesting factoid: Niko is Serbian for “nobody“.)

Of course, everything isn’t perfect. I wish everyone in Liberty City didn’t have such potty mouths (seriously!) and bad tempers. Pedestrians are ready to throw down at the drop of the hat. Every one is so jumpy! The driving isn’t the greatest, but I’ve gotten used to it. Speaking of being jumpy — the cops will PUT. YOU. DOWN. Do not mess with them.

There are occasional technical glitches, but taken as a whole, GTA is the total package.

Overall, I think I love GTA IV. It may have become my favorite Xbox 360 game, supplanting Dead Rising. Niko will probably go down as a favorite character as well. I wish I was playing it right now, actually.

Back home and plugged-in

So family from out-of-town was visiting this past week, so we decided to head to Mrs. Buttonmasher’s parents’ house to hang out with the fam. Therefore I have been away and unplugged for the better part of a week. It’s been nice to be away from “the stuff” but I have been missing my travels with Niko in Liberty City. It’s nice to be back.

And just like clockwork, it’s strawberry season as well, which means the missus will be helping out at the family strawberry patch with the kids while I return to go back to work. That means some quality time with the blog, the 360 (the Wii went with the kids so they could play with the cousins), and all those places to eat that I can’t take the kids. Should be fun. I’m planning on working through GTA IV and a bunch of other games.

Let the extravaganza begin!

The Onion nails it

… as usual:

Liberty City Police Face Allegations Of Incompetence, Brutality. A little taste:

“I was shot 14 times on my way to work today, including twice by police,” said one Algonquin-area resident. “That is unacceptable.”

Muchos LOLs.