Just finished reading Halo: Uprising, issue #1, the first issue of the Marvel comic miniseries that bridges the gap between Halo 2 and 3. No spoilers yet (except in the images), so you’re safe reading for now.
The comic is written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Alex Maleev. Bendis is easily one of the best comic writers of our time, having helmed Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-man, New Avengers, and many other best-selling comics, and his unique talent make this issue a joy to read. The issue flashes back and forth between Master Chief and events on Earth, and the human side of the comic is where Bendis truly shines.
Bendis knows how to write real, human characters, and he shows us a side of the Halo universe we haven’t really seen: regular people. When the comic focuses on the main human characters, we see humor that alone makes the purchase worth it, and we understand the fear that comes from being a citizen stuck in the middle of an interstellar war.
Alex Maleev was the artist on the duo’s legendary Daredevil run, and he’s often been criticized for his style, which is often too grim and realistic. A major criticism has always been that his characters don’t look right during fight sequences, that they look more like still photos than active characters. His style has obviously matured, and it shows in this issue.
The epic long shots, the firefights between the Chief and the Covenant, he does a great job making the action exciting and suspensful. Obviously, he’s more at home in the Earth sequences and dialog scenes, but he shows a talent for epic shots and sci-fi technology.
I’d recommend picking up this first issue, as well as Marvel Spotlight: Halo, which has interviews with Bendis, Maleev, Brian Jarrard and Frank O’Connor of Bungie, and gives some good background on the comic, the game, and the Halo mythology.
Also, revealed: Bendis wants to make a comic book based on Geometry Wars!
Bendis: What needs a comic is Geometry Wars. We really need to find out how we got here, how all that happened. You ever play Geometry Wars?
Interviewer: No. I think you’re making that up.
Bendis: Oh, you gotta play it, man! It’s a big Xbox thing. It’s hilarious.
After this image, a full plot synopsis, complete with spoilers, in case you can’t get a copy.
The issue follows two parallel stories, one involving Master Chief on the Covenant’s Forerunner Dreadnaught ship, one involving two humans, Ruwan and Myras, on Earth in Cleveland. The stories are interspersed, but I’m seperating them for clarity.
Aboard the ship, IO Station is trying to reach the Chief. In his only line in the comic, he tells them to shut up.
The Chief is flying on the ship, then on the ground, in a firefight with Covenant forces. There is no dialog, just shooting and grenades going off. The aliens look particularly gruesome, and the artwork seems very faithful to the look f the games. Master Chief blows open a door to enter a room where he faces down a very large force.
On a Covenant Cruiser orbiting Mars, Colonel James Ackerson is being tortured by Covenant forces. When they decide to end the torture/interrogation, he lets slip that they’ll “never find the key”, even if they attack Earth. Under duresshe reveals that there is a Key of Osanalan, that without it, the Halo will fail again, and it’s located in Cleveland.
The Chief is fighting back a huge force that just keeps coming and coming. Finally, a line of enemies lines up and shoots him all at once, and he falls. Commander Makala stops the battle and demands Master Chief give him the Key of Osanalan, or he’ll start pulling parts off of him.
On Earth, the Covenant have begun invading the city, hoping to get at the Key. Ruwan sits in the food court at a mall being all “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today” as people run screaming. The fighting spreads into the mall, and he meets Myras, who has pale skin and a funky sense of fashion.
A throwaway line reveals that New Cleveland has become a tourist destination, that people from France come here to vacation.
Myras grabs a gun and grenade off a fallen soldier, kills a bunch of invading Covenant, and they escape through the service exit. They attempt to take Ruwan’s car from the garage, but the roads are just “gone”. They watch the war waging around them, with Ruwan realizing that all his political feelings dissapear in the face of real conflict and death.
They sneak away to Old Cleveland, which smells awful. Ruwan realized Myras is some sort of famous performer, and that he has some of her work. They are stopped by some aliens and captured.
The Covenant is hoarding the captured humans into a giant sports stadium. People are freaking out, unable to deal with the enormity of the situation. A Covenant commander hovers over the station, and reveals why they have been brought there. He says if they want to live, they must give him the Key of Osanalan.
Myras says, “What is that?”
Ruwan says, “I– I know exactly what it is”.
I’m surprised. I thought Ackerson was lying, but Ruwan’s statement would indicate otherwise. Perhaps Ackerson and Ruwan know each other, and the Key is some sort of plan or joke. We’ll have to wait for the next issue to see.
MSDN has a new blog: Hackers @ Microsoft. The new blog is written by and about the white hat hackers employed by Microsoft, who work on improving security in Microsoft’s products (as well as research, development, testing and even management). The first post explains the kind of hackers who work at Microsoft:
We employ “white hat hackers” who spend their time pentesting and code reviewing applications and software looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities so that others don’t once we’ve released that code into the wild. We employ many many smart testers who know more about some of our software then perhaps the architects who designed it. We also employ some of the top researchers in their industry, dedicated people working on the bleeding edge of whats going to be common place in the next 5 or 10 years of computing.
Check out Vision 20/20‘s POM Offender Locator, a Windows Live mashup that shows you registered sex offenders in your area. Apparently there are 650,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., an obscenely high number*, so keeping aware of who is on the list in your area is kind of a good idea.
POM’s also got an alert system that warns you if there’s danger, like your child entering a certain area, exceeding the speed limit, possible terrorist attacks or national disasters, FDA alerts, when a new sex offender moves into your neighborhood, or your child is approached online. The perfect system for the paranoid parent! They’re also selling (I swear to god, you can’t make this up) a “POM Pilot” GPS tracker that lets you know where your kids or valuables are.
(via Blorge > Bink)
* – At first, I though that number had to be a ridiculous and inaccurate stat, but then I remembered how many girls I knew back when I was dating that had stories of when a guy tried to rape them. Now that I think about it, the number would probably be twice as high if all those unreported sex crimes had actually been prosecuted.
Some new stuff just shipped for MSN Mobile, the phone/mobile device MSN portal. The first, courtesy of FOX Sports and Major League Baseball, gives you Gametrax on your phone, letting you track a baseball game that is currently being played. You can access MSN Mobile on your computer by clicking here, and go here (clicking FOX Sports, then MLB to get there on your phone) for a list of current games. If one is being played right now, click [details] to follow it live. Enormously cool.
The other new thing is a section called “Hot Gossip” under Entertainment, for following the latest dirt on the famous. You know, if you’re obsessed with that sort of thing. Also, you can search for celebrities by name to see photo galleries and movies they’ve been in, search for movies to read a synopsis and reviews, and see movies currently in theatres listed by release date, with newest releases listed first.
This is all available on any mobile device with a web browser, just head to m.msn.com (or mobile.msn.com, or msn.mobi, whatever you like) and cancel that baseball game tracking application your cell company charges you for.
* – A note: The Mets are in the middle of the first inning, four batters into a game, and MSN Mobile hasn’t started tracking it yet.
UPDATE: One minute later, they finally got in. They’re currently caught up with the game, but nothing’s happening. We’ll see how quick they are.
UPDATE 2: Wow, they’re about one pitch behind MLB.com’s Gameday tracker. That’s damn good.
Newegg has announced it will be selling Windows Home Server within mere weeks, and that depending on wholesale costs, it will probably retail for about $179-$189. That’s pretty much matching the low end of the pricing on international sites, though higher than I had hoped. I thought the U.S. usually got a lower price?
So, now that it’s almost here, are you buying Home Server and building a system (or turning an old system into something far more useful? If you plan on it, drop me a line and let me know of your plans. I’d love to feature the process here.
MSN’s Election 2008 website has launched a new section, called The Podium ’08, which lets you compare the many different candidates running for President. The best part: The whole thing runs on Silverlight, and looks great.
Besides the great animated flag background (how can I make that into a DreamScene?), The Podium lets you choose a candidate at the top and get a list of Windows Live Search results showing the latest news on that candidate. There is a list of issues on the right (abortion, economy, environment, health care, immigration, Iraq and stem cell research), and selecting one of those will switch the results to those that will help you understand that candidate’s stand on that issue.
(via Sean Alexander)
I discovered a curious practice of Silverlight. Apparently, it automatically elevated the priority of Internet Explorer from Normal to Above Normal, and retakes the high priority almost immediately, even if you try to switch it. That is annoying and unnecessary, and if Silverlight can’t run properly without the high priority, then that is a flaw in the software that needs to be fixed, not hacked around.
It’s no secret that Windows Live Calendar is in development (and in all likelihood, close to release), but it’s nice to see some confirmation on Live.com. LiveSide spotted two icons added to home.live.com, one for Live Calendar, another for Live Events (presumably a subset of Live Calendar, especially now given the icon). For now, they link to nothing, but that’ll change.
So, what happened? Pre-production code was sent to the live WGA servers, causing it to be unable to encrypt/decrypt incoming product keys from machines in the activation and validation process. The problem only existed for half an hour, but 12,000 systems were affected. Those machines had to re-activate to get back to full functionality.
It’s a shame when something like this happens, especially since it only furthers the argument that DRM hurts legitimate customers more than fakes. In fact, pirated copies of Windows would have had no interruption of service, while 12,000 real customers lost access to most of their computer due to this error.
I always try to link to products I mention here on Amazon, in order to earn a small referral fee if one of you guys buys something. However, if you click an Amazon link here, then go buy something else entirely, I get credit for that too, which results in me getting referral fees for some strange items.
So now, I want to know, who bought the “Mr. Beer Deluxe Edition Home Microbrewery System”? On August 23, last Thursday, someone bought this $30 home brewery thing after following one of my links, and I want to know who it was.
Also, I’d like some of that beer.
Seriously, if one of you guys bought a home beer kit from here, I’d love to see the final product. Let me know.
Microsoft announced a partnership with Limelight Networks, a competitor of Akamai (which Sony and Nintendo use) to deliver better media streaming to Xbox Live. Live users will benefit from Limelight’s better servers and pipelines when downloading music, movies and games, an increasingly important part of Microsoft’s online service. Limelight powers Facebook and MySpace, so you can trust them to get this big job right.
(via OLGn > Digg)
Stardock’s TweakVista application has left beta, with the 1.0 commercial release available for download or purchase. The program is a central application for changing certain settings in Windows Vista to improve your user experience, and in many cases get more performance out of your PC.
You can get the free version or the more featured full version for $19.99 (or as part of Object Desktop). The free version brings:
Microsoft finally admitted in a public official way that Windows Vista Service Pack 1 actually does exist. They pretty much confirmed most of the leaks, and announced that a beta is coming in mid-September, just over two weeks away.
The Windows Vista Team Blog has a post making the announcement, and they said that they are in the process of deploying a beta of SP1. They also said that Service Packs are less of an important part of operating systems than they used to be, as witnessed by the Performance and Reliability patches that were pushed out through Windows Update yesterday.
A small group of testers have already been testing SP1, with the beta coming through in the next few weeks. Later on, a pre-release version of SP1 will be distributed to MSDN and TechNet subscribers (possibly an RC1 or something), leading up to Release To Manufacturing and a public release in the first quarter of 2008, the same time as Windows Server 2008.
Mary Jo Foley has more details, including that the beta will be distributed to 10-15,000 testers in mid-September via the Connect site, followed by a broader beta later (which seems to contradict what the Vista Team Blog said). The features are mostly those we’ve heard already:
Support for Direct 3D 10.1
support for Secure Digital (SD) Advanced Direct Memory Access (DMA) to improve transfer performance and decrease CPU utilization
Performance tweaks lessening the amount of time it takes to copy files, shut down and resume Vista machines
Support for ExFat, the Windows file format for flash memory storage and other consumer devices
Improvements to BitLocker Drive Encryption to allow not just encryption of the whole Vista volume, but also locally created data volumes
The ability to boot Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) on an x64 machine
Improvements to battery life by reducing CPU utilization be â€œnot redrawing the screen as frequently, on certain computersâ€
The Service Pack should be about 50 megabytes to download, 1 gigabyte on a standalone install DVD. Ed Bott writes that Vista SP1 will not contain the “Fiji” update to Windows Media Center, but we kind of expected that. SP1 will contain changes to Windows Vista Search to satisfy antitrust complaints. Ed also lists these fixes:
Improved reliability and compatibility of Windows Vista when used with newer graphics cards in several specific scenarios and configurations.
Improved reliability when working with external displays on a laptop.
Improved Windows Vista reliability in networking configuration scenarios.
Improved reliability of systems that were upgraded from Windows XP to Windows Vista.
Increased compatibility with many printer drivers.
Increased reliability and performance of Windows Vista when entering sleep and resuming from sleep.
Improves the speed of copying and extracting files.
Improves the time to become active from Hibernate and Resume modes.
Improves the performance of domain-joined PCs when operating off the domain; in the current release version of Windows Vista, users would experience long delays when opening the File dialog box.
Improves the logon experience by removing the occasional 10-second delay between pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL and the password prompt displaying.
Addresses an issue in the current version of Windows Vista that makes browsing network file shares consume significant bandwidth and not perform as fast as expected.
The headphones come with an IR transmitter that sits between the Xbox 360 and your TV, grabbing the audio signal and still passing it onto the TV through a pass-through cable. The headphones play the game audio in your ears, perfect for gaming without waking up the spouse, and they also have a microphone so you can speak to your teammates (which will wake her up).
Smartly, it even has a feature that boosts chat volume if game volume gets too high, so you can hear your teammates over the gunfire, and lets you adjust chat and game volume independentally. It also plays back a small amount of your microphone audio, in order to eliminate that thing where you yell into a microphone because you can’t hear yourself. It even has a suction cup and velcro tabs so you can clip the IR transmitter to the side of anything to get a better signal.
It looks like a solid product, and even if they didn’t eliminate the cable between the controller and the headset (and jacked up the price a lot more), it’s still a useful accessory for gamers. It’s supposed to retail for $100, but Amazon’s got it now for as little as $82.68.
A new version of Geometry Wars, the arcade-style space shooter that evolved from a PGR2 minigame into an Xbox Live Arcade classic, is coming, and it will be available exclusively as a minigame inside Project Gotham Racing 4. Geometry Wars has become a surprise hit, showing up as an arcade game in the garage in PGR versions, then achieving cult status on Arcade and coming to the Wii and mobile phones.
It’s a shame you’ll need a copy of PGR4 to get the new version, but it seems like Geometry Wars: Waves will not really be a sequel, just an update, and it’s fitting to have it go in the game where it gots its start. I doubt you could make a good full sequel to this game anyway.
Gamersyde caught some low quality camera footage of Neill Blomkamp’s second Halo live action Halo short, this one with some Warthog action. The purpose of this seems to be to show what a movie could be like, but I don’t see enough to really capture the excitement of the games. Take a look:
You can download higher resolution versions (though the quality doesn’t improve) at Gamersyde.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s that you expect more people shooting at each other, more aliens, more personality from the soldiers, more music, but it just doesn’t feel like Halo to me. Put this guy on a World War II movie, that could work better.
To see a full quality version, use any browser with Silverlight installed and go to halo.msn.com/videosHD.aspx, which is featuring the short and a bunch of other Halo videos in a great experience.
(via Mark Johnston)
Then there’s also this Mountain Dew Game Fuel commercial, centered around the drink’s promotion as the drink of Halo 3:
If you ask me, the other players were probably drinking too much Game Fuel. Anyone try out this drink yet? Is it any good?
Kotaku’s got another ad, one of those awful internet ads that ask you to do something to win something. What’s hilarious is that this one asks you to help Halo’s Master Chief defeat the Covenant in order to win a PS3. Is there any way to lose on purpose?
Finally, if you want a good look at what to expect in Halo Wars, the real-time strategy game coming in the Halo universe, here’s ten minutes of new footage, including a little background and a lot of in-game footage:
Once again, I feel like this looks nice, and will probably be fun to play, but it doesn’t have the gameplay I feel when I play Halo. Shouldn’t units be taking cover? Why do they stand around, shooting at each other, only moving after the other side has died (and they’ve taken a lot of damage)? Shouldn’t the units in these games take cover when under fire?
The latest console sales figures from the NPD are out, and Sony’s Playstation 3 improved a very nice amount but failed to catch the Xbox 360. In July, Sony sold 159,000 PS3s, 60,000 higher than the month before, but the 360 sold 170,000, down from 198,000. All this is from before the 360′s price cut, so August’s numbers are going to be doubly important.
Of course, Nintendo’s unstoppable Wii sold 425,00 units, up from 381k (and 338k in May and 360k in April and 259k in March). Total sales figures for both consoles have Nintendo 2.5 million away from catching the 360 and well ahead of the 360′s sales pace, while the PS3 is far below the pace the 360 sold last year. At this rate, Nintendo might catch Microsoft at the end of the year, unless the price cut and Halo 3 and the holiday season start to shake things up.