The First Hour with [Prototype]
Jun 25th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Regardless of what I am about to tell you, I cannot recommend that anyone purchase the PC version of the game [Prototype], developed by Radical Entertainment and published by Activision.

I cannot recommend it, because it is the single buggiest game I have ever played in my life, with the exception of Front Page Sports: Football Pro 99, which was so bad it killed the franchise.

I cannot recommend it, because I could not play it the first night I downloaded it from Steam. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

[Prototype] is a sandbox game. You are given control of the protagonist – Alex Mercer – and more or less left to run around a city, killing everything in your path, following the plot if you like. I’m going to link to a screenshot taken from, because I couldn’t deal with Steam’s shit tonight regarding where it decided to fucking hide screenshots (if the game allowed me to take them at all – there’s no option to map that key, and, Jesus Christ, it’s 2009, having a “take screenshot” button ought to be there) .

This particular shot doesn’t do the game’s senseless bedlam justice, but it’ll do.

It took me a long time to get to the point where I was senselessly murdering hundreds of NPCs, however!

The first issue I experienced was that I could not progress past the opening cut-scene. I couldn’t get to the screen that let me select a New Game. That’s right – all I could do was watch the cinematic over and over again. There is an issue on Activision’s forum about it here.

I eventually got past it, but I’m not sure what solved the issue. I rebooted my computer, went to work and came home. The game worked when I tried it tonight, but the bug still shows itself from time to time. If playing [Prototype] is the first thing I do after I reboot my PC, I seem to be okay.

The next issue was that my input device – a Logitech Marble Mouse (not a mouse, it’s a trackball… named a “marble mouse” for the same reason Chicken of the Sea is actually tuna, I guess) was not working correctly. The right button was registering as the left, and the actual left button wasn’t working at all.

Look, I’m bad enough at video games, I can’t play them with one mouse button tied behind my back.

This led me to trying to use a gamepad. I have a cheap-o USB hub that lets me plug up to four Playstation II controllers into my PC. [Prototype] recognized that I had a gamepad installed, but didn’t let me actually select it as the primary input device. (That bug is on the forum here.)

I mean… I mean, come on. I’m not going to fReAkoUt here or anything. This is completely unacceptable. It’s just unacceptable. The PC version of the game wasn’t finished – I can drop in a lot of swear words here, I can rant and rave and go berserk, but what it all comes down to is that the game wasn’t finished and it shouldn’t have been released. Yeah, it would have sucked for Activision if they had to delay the PC version while people were buying it for the 360 and the PS3, but you just can’t sell a game this preposterously broken. The manager or managers at Activision that made the decision to go ahead with this are incompetent, they should be fired, they’ll probably get raises, blah blah blah. They’re turning people off to the hobby with this infantile nonsense. Here’s how the technical support forum for the game looks – at the moment, there are 282 threads for the PC version, and just 37 combined for the 360 and PS3. Even when you factor in the fact that nobody owns a PS3, and even when you factor in that 50% of those threads are created by illiterate retards, it still plainly shows that the PC version wasn’t finished.

And it’s a shame. I did finally get the game to run, and I got a work-around for the mouse button issue by locating a USB mouse, plugging it into my system while the trackball was still plugged in, starting the game with the mouse, then unplugging it and switching to the trackball. After all this goddamn nonsense, I really have to say – the game is initially awesome. I’m picking up cars and throwing them at helicopters, I’m running up buildings, and – best of all! – well, this deserves its own paragraph.

You can walk up walls in [Prototype]. There are some very tall buildings in the game. After going up as far as I could, I took a running leap off the building and actually felt the sensation of falling as Alex Mercer fell to earth. I did this over and over again, just feeling my heart race and nerves go on edge. I’ve still got a bit of adrenaline in my system from this. I’ve never, ever experienced anything like this in a video game, and yeah, [Prototype] seems to be completely ridiculous in a number of ways, but even if it accomplishes nothing else, I have to give it credit for stirring that inside me. If nothing else, it’s the best skydiving simulator going right now.

I’ll end with this – I bought the Ghostbusters PC game a couple days before, and that didn’t work, initially, either. I tried to look up the issue on Atari’s site, but Atari configured their support forum so that you can’t search unless you register. Game publishers: tell your web developers to STOP FUCKING DOING THAT. I understand your desperate need for control in making us register for an account. Eliminating spambot posts is a fine reason for it. But you cretins need to let us at least run searches on your technical support forums for your bug-ridden fucking games as “guests.” No other industry in the world gets money for making broken garbage, the least you can do is make it easy for us to find out what we have to do to fix it ourselves. I’ll give Activision credit for making search accessible to unregistered users.

Jun 23rd, 2009 by Pinback

I would like to shortcut this review to say that in actuality, it is the greatest movie ever made, due to the fact that one of the pivotal characters is named “Capt. Pinbacker”. Case closed. FIVE STARS.

But were this an actual review, it would go something like:

Every review you will read of this movie says “the first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it takes a horrible misstep and fumbled into stupidity and incomprehensibility.” This will likely be your, the reader’s, opinion. There are two alternate arguments which you might make, which would be:

B. The first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it takes an intriguing turn into mystery and symbolicism.

C. The first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it gets stupid and incomprehensible, but by that point I didn’t care cuz it was still way cool.

I would probably put myself in the “C” category, though there’s surely plenty to discuss about what actually, you know, “happens” in the last act. It’s hard to make a case for anything that sounds coherent, but whatever.

The running theme, though, is that regardless of what you think of the ending, the first two thirds ARE wonderful and beautiful. What else they are is essentially a remake of every science fiction movie ever made. Let’s see, without giving any real spoilers away:

– 2001: Spaceship run by a computer which talks, and whose voice gets low when you unplug it.

– Event Horizon: Spooky ship travels long way to discover ghastly secrets.

– Alien: Ship with a bunch of goofballs on it, and cool-looking interiors.

– Dark Star: There is no WAY that this movie is not a direct homage to Dark Star. The movie is about a ship whose job it is to drop a bomb on a star (the Sun, in this case) to stabilize it. Which is exactly the premise of Dark Star, AND as previously mentioned, one of the characters is named “PINBACKER”. Alright?

– 2010: Ship finds the abandoned remains of a previous excursion, hilarity ensues.

– Every other science fiction movie ever made: Like I said.

When I reviewed Event Horizon, I made mention of the fact that regardless how much the movie sucked (which it did, very much) I was going to like it because I dig movies about big weird spaceships venturing out into the unknown. Nothing about that has changed in the ten years that have passed hence. When I saw the trailer for Sunshine, I said, “it looks like it’s trying to be a GOOD version of Event Horizon.”

So that’s basically my review. It’s a good (very good) version of Event Horizon. Actually, it’s a good version of all of the movies mentioned above, which it copies gives artistic nods to.

So, that’s fine. If the last part pisses you off, then just forget about it. It’s still a fine, fine movie, and the best of its type we’ve seen in a long, LONG while.


I am curious, though, if we’ll ever see a movie set in outer space on spaceships which doesn’t make a single mention (or set piece) out of an airlock.

(…that wasn’t set in a galaxy far far away.)

Jun 6th, 2009 by Pinback

An earlier time, call it 1988. A young Pinback gets his first real computer programming job in a real office (the US Treasury Department building in downtown DC). 21 years ago. So many memories.

Well, no, fuck that. A few hazy recollections of eating lunch at the goddamn food court across the street and nearly getting fired several times for coming in at 10:30, a practice now generally accepted throughout the IT world. A trailblazer to the core, this one.

The one lasting, vivid memory, though, was when I first discovered something which would stay with me from that day, to the very present:

Holy shit, you can play games at work instead of working.

Again, trailblazer, since I don’t think any IT shop in the world anymore actually does any work. But back in ’88, there was only one guy in the Treasury building not getting anything done, and that was your boy, Pinner.

The game I was playing, the only game I was playing, was called “Begin”. The worst- or best-named game in history, depending on your appreciation of irony. The full name was “Begin: A Tactical Starship Simulation”. The colon separates a noun and a verb which have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I think that’s what first attracted me to it, its completely inappropriate name. It still kinda makes me chuckle.


The version I grew up on was Begin 1.65, and in its time, it was the best starship simulator of its time.

Oh, the times we had. It was totally an 80s game — all text, and you controlled your starship by typing commands. A particularly ambitious coder could probably turn it into a zcode or Hugo game. I played it to death, but at some point you have to grow up, and I did, and forgot about it.

Then a couple weeks ago I saw the new Star Trek film, and liked it a lot, and then got all nerdy and started looking for a Trek video game. The only recent one I could find was Star Trek: Legacy for the Xbox 360, which had two things working against it: 1) the reviews were not altogether glowing, and 2) nobody has it.

Then the memory banks finally offered me a withdrawal, and I remembered Begin, and did a Google search.

The weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened on the internet was seeing that “Begin 3.0” had been released… in 2009.

Fucking game hadn’t had an update since 1993 (when “Begin 2.0” had been released haphazardly after the authors apparently just abandoned the project and put out what they had.) And then here it was, my past coming back to life.

Begin 3. Holy shit.

Just to give you a sense of what 25 years of technological advances can bring, Begin 1.65 looked like this:

Flash forward to present day, and watch how Begin magically becomes transformed into the multimedia extravaganza which is Begin 3:

Finally, Begin has graphics befitting a game that was released in the decade that it was originally released in.

And look again:

21 years after I first found it (and 25 years after it was first released), it is still the best starship tactical simulator available on any gaming platform.

There is no point and click. You still have to type the commands. The Windows port is a bit clunky, as the massive graphics update actually makes the interface slower and less responsive.

It is essentially the same game it was in 1984, but the shit works. It has everything it should. Power management, system management, multi-armed tactics, team tactics, tension, and various Star Trek requisites like boarding parties, transporters, tractor beams, and all that. The only game I know that ever came close to this was Starfleet Command, in the late 90s/early 00s, but countless bugs and an atrocious interface doomed that one.

As insane as it sounds, and as wrong as it should be, Begin still fucking rules. And the new, state of the art, cutting edge Begin 3 just makes it better than ever.

Here are some links:

The Begin Wiki
Ben Hallert’s Begin page, the fansite which ended up lighting a fire under the original author to keep Begin alive.
Tom Nelson — author of Begin 3 and co-author of 1.65 and 2 — started this site along with the release of Begin 3.
Begin Yahoo group, surprisingly active.

And now look once more:

Micro Foundry BBS Archive

This is the BBS where the authors and fans of the game would hang out and discuss stuff. This archive spans the years 1988 to 1990.

Right around page 5, you can see an 18-year-old Pinback come in and start taking over.

Misty, watercolored memories!

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa