Mortal Kombat – X Marks the Spot?

Over the past month, Ed Boon has been posting a countdown on Twitter, with “zero hour” coming today. At 8 AM, he made his big announcement.

Shortly afterwards, the first teaser trailer for Mortal Kombat X was unveiled.

At first thought… well, I’m not sure what to think.

The trailer itself gives a good indication of what we can expect, gameplay-wise, with moves and attacks similar to what we saw in Mortal Kombat (2011), but with new features like using the environment against your opponent. The character designs are pretty respectable as well; for example Sub-Zero looking like he pretty much always does, with the added feature of his eyes glowing ice-blue. Scorpion looks more like the design used in Injustice: Gods Among Us, with his mask harkening back to the plain yellow face-covering used in the old games, and the hood being looser and not as form-fitting.

However, for me, the teaser is nowhere near as comprehensive as the teaser for the last game. For example, we still don’t know what the plotline is; while chances are the game will start at the new timeline’s version of Mortal Kombat 4, there’s no hint of Quan Chi, Shinnok (the Big Bad of Mortal Kombat 4), or indeed anything from the last game. In fact, the teaser raises an interesting storyline question. In the previous game, the older Sub-Zero was killed and transformed into the specter Noob Saibot. The younger Sub-Zero was transformed into a cyborg, and died at the hands of Sindel; his soul is now enslaved by Quan Chi, but retains the cyborg appearance. Was he given a new body, and if so, why is he fighting Scorpion (who also serves Quan Chi)? Could this be a brand new Sub-Zero?

Also, is the X in Mortal Kombat X a reference to the letter or the Roman numeral?

EDIT: Patrick McCarron of TRMK just pointed out to me that it’s the latter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really interested in the game, as while Mortal Kombat 4 was my least favorite of the arcade titles, I also thought it had a lot of storyline potential. Hpwever, unlike the other games in the series, we’ve never had a really good look at how the events of Mortal Kombat 4 played out. While some of the endings were concise and were quickly shown to be canon (Raiden becoming an Elder God, Scorpion learning Quan Chi killed his family), some were so vague that it took a couple of games before anyone understood what the hell was going on (I’m looking at you, Johnny Cage and Reiko). Some more clarity into what happened would be welcome, even with the game being part of a drastically altered timeline.

I’m also hoping that Shinnok gets much more development this time around; while he’s supposed to be one of the most powerful adversaries in the series (stronger than either Raiden or Shao Kahn), his appearance in Mortal Kombat 4 was not handled very well. He was almost “Diet Shang Tsung”, as he had no moves of his own and copied the moves (but not appearance) of other characters. Hopefully, in this game, we’ll see something more akin to his Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero implementation: a very powerful character that transforms into a demon larger than Goro or Kintaro when provoked enough.

The other big observation I made is that if the graphics of the teaser are an indication of the game itself, we should not expect it to come out on Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. It makes sense, as WB Games has already started the push to exclusively next-generation with Batman: Arkham Knight. I doubt we’ll see a PC version of Mortal Kombat X come out at the same time as the console versions, which means for me personally that unless I get an Xbox One or a Playstation 4, I won’t be getting the game at launch. EDIT: As my friend Matt pointed out on IRC, the official site has it listed as coming out for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. I guess I don’t have to wait for the PC version or a new console after all. :-)

As it stands, this is only a glimpse of what is to come; it’ll be another year before the game itself is released. Until then, I’m going to wait and see; hopefully it meets my expectations, and hopefully I’ll be able to play it on launch.

Mortal Kombat is coming to PC after all.

Well, I guess I get to eat some crow.

The “Komplete Edition” of NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat will be available on Windows PC this summer, publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced today.

A worldwide digital release is set for July 3, while a physical retail version is scheduled for Aug. 2 in Europe and Aug. 6 in North America. High Voltage Software is developing the PC port, which will support PDP’s Mortal Kombat Tournament Edition Fight Stick as well as controllers.

I had earlier stated that I did not believe any current Mortal Kombat game would ever come to PC, based on lack of titles from the past ten years and the fact that Midway had said they had never made money off of their PC titles. I guess that the success of games like Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and the high demand for Skullgirls (an indie fighting game) on PC caused WB Games to change their mind. Also, Mortal Kombat is two years old now, so the chances of it being pirated to hell for PC and affecting console sales is nil. The game can stand on its own.

I don’t know if I’ll get the game, except maybe to play against friends like Jenn Dolari who don’t have a console. Still, I’m interested to see how this plays out, and whether this will mean we’ll get PC ports of Injustice: Gods Among Us and future NetherRealm games.

I admit to trepidation regarding the third Arkham game…

So, WB Games has finally announced the third game in its Batman: Arkham series in a Game Informer exclusive.

Warner Bros. Games Montreal has taken the mantle of the bat from Rocksteady Studios this time around for Batman: Arkham Origins. WB Montreal has full access to Rocksteady’s custom modified Unreal engine to capture the look and feel of the Arkhamverse. As the title suggests, the game takes place years before both of the previous Arkham titles when a young, unrefined Batman encounters many supervillains for the first time. On our full cover image below, fans will recognize the assassin Deathstroke, who appears for the very first time in a core Arkham game.

I suppose I should be happy, considering how good Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were. Instead, I’m not feeling entirely optimistic.

First off, unlike the first two games, this game isn’t developed by Rocksteady Games, and it is not written by Paul Dini. Furthermore, the voice cast has not been announced, but we can be reasonably sure that the Joker will not be involved (as Mark Hamill has retired from the role). No reason has been given yet for WB Games Montreal getting the reins, but it strikes me as odd that Rocksteady was not given the chance to go again. Also, considering how vital Dini’s writing was to the quality of the first two games, I really hope they find someone just as good to write the story for this game.

The fact that this game is a prequel is troubling as well, as Arkham City had set up three hooks for a sequel; the side mission encounters involving the Scarecrow’s lab, Azrael, and Hush all give ample buildup for a sequel storyline. That the third game is a prequel indicates that such hooks are being abandoned for the time being (if not permanently), which is a real shame; the Scarecrow, for one, was probably the most effective boss in Arkham Asylum.

What troubles me most, though, is that it almost seems that WB Games doesn’t have the faith in this game that it did in Arkham City. WB Games had started marketing Arkham City as early as mid-2010, while the game itself was released in October 2011. By comparison, today is the first we have heard or seen anything concrete regarding the game other than a mention in a conference call a couple of months back, and the game is due to be released this October. Why have we not seen anything else before now?

I know I’m not the only one worried about Batman: Arkham Origins. I’ve talked to a few friends and they all share the same concerns. Until we learn more, though, I’m going to be taking a “wait and see” attitude towards the game. I’m hoping it will be as good as the previous two games in the series. Only time will tell whether it actually is.

SCOTUS strikes down much of SB1070; Romney’s response is telling…

Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court released its decision regarding SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial law regarding illegal immigration. In a 6-3 decision with Justice Kagan not participating (she had argued for the Federal government’s side before she was appointed to the Supreme Court), much of the law was struck down, except for the provision where local and state law enforcement officials were required to ask a suspect who had been stopped for another violation if he or she is in the country legally. To be honest, as long as said law is applied fairly, then I have no problem with that.

What blew me away was Mitt Romney’s response to the ruling.

Today’s decision underscores the need for a president who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy. President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration. This represents yet another broken promise by this president. I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities. As candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But four years later, we are still waiting.

To quote a particular internet meme, “What is this I don’t even…”

There are a lot of things wrong with this statement. First off, I have to agree with Steve Benen when he says, “The irony is almost jaw-dropping. Romney is certain we need a president ‘who will lead’ on immigration policy, while at the exact same time, Romney refuses to lead on immigration policy. Put it this way: refusing to take a stand because one constituency or another might get angry isn’t leadership; it’s cowardice…” In my own mind, though, it’s also rather hypocritical to demand leadership from Obama on one hand, while on the other refusing to commit on what he would do in the same position (which he wants). It’s not enough to point out the incumbent’s flaw when running for office; we need to know what you plan to do to fix the problem.

Unfortunately for Romney, though, the problem is even more fundamental than that. The truth of the matter is that Obama has led in immigration reform. If one needs evidence, one needs only look back ten days ago, when Obama announced he would give relief to young illegal immigrants brought here at a young age by their parents, providing they meet certain conditions. Obama has been working towards this as far back as 2008 with his support of the DREAM Act. To say that Obama has not provided any leadership at all is dishonest posturing.

Speaking of the DREAM Act, it was introduced in 2009, and considered throughout 2010. However, a Republican filibuster caused the bill to die on the Senate floor. I’m sorry, but in my opinion, one loses the moral high ground to request bipartisanship when the party’s reaction to legislation it doesn’t like is not to work with the other side to make the necessary changes, but to stamp its feet and cry, “NO!” To quote a friend, that is also not leadership. It is a temper tantrum.

In fact, it reminds me of a novel I once read. The protagonist and his fiancee were arguing about some necessary business travel he was doing. He told his fiancee to please be reasonable. She angrily replied, “No, YOU be reasonable.” In his mind, he thought, “Translation: do it my way.” It’s hardly a spirit of bipartisanship if one side is unwilling to compromise.

Finally, what he believes and what is true are not anywhere the same thing. Despite what Romney might think is the states’ rights, the Supreme Court has held since 1875 that immigration is the exclusive purview of the Federal government. More, to say that the Federal government has not been meeting its responsibilities is false, as double the number of illegal immigrants have been deported in Obama’s term so far than in George W. Bush’s first term. In fact, it’s been suggested that Obama’s move last week was designed to head off anger from Hispanic voters concerning the increased number of deportations. As the old saying goes, “If you’re not making someone mad, you’re not doing your job…”

All in all, Romney’s response comes off to me as mealy-mouthed, dishonest, and out-of-touch. The last is the least surprising part, as we’re talking about someone who asked Alabama’s lead singer to sing “his” song “Sweet Home Alabama” (warning: video autostarts) and praised Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman’s approach to job creation the same day it was revealed planned on eliminating 27,000 jobs. I may not be happy with everything Obama has done as President, but so far, Romney shows me he is not the leader we need.

(As a post-script, I know Democrats in Texas and Wisconsin both pulled stunts to make sure legislation did not get passed that they didn’t like. In retrospect, I disagree that their actions were the right way to go, even as I heartily disagreed with Scott Walker’s bait-and-switch tactics. It isn’t right when either party pulls underhanded tactics.)

NetherRealm is giving us Injustice.

So, NetherRealm Studios has officially announced their next game. It’s called Injustice: Gods Among Us, and it’s a fighting game based on the DC superheroes.

Of course, this isn’t NetherRealm’s first foray into DC-based games. The last game they made as part of Midway was a crossover with their Mortal Kombat series called Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, and they recently released a companion game to Batman: Arkham City for iOS called Batman: Arkham City Lockdown. However, this looks like this is the first time they’ve been given their own property to work with, as Lockdown was essentially a prequel to Rocksteady’s game, and the DC side of MKvDCU was very by-the-book.

It appears (according to an interview with Ed Boon) that whereas MKvDCU used the concept of a magical “rage” to explain how characters such as Batman and the Joker (who is not an announced character in Injustice; Harley Quinn, on the other hand, is) could go toe-to-toe with heavy-hitters such as Superman and Wonder Woman, Injustice separates the characters into two types: “power” characters (like Superman), and “gadget” characters (like Batman). Environments appear to be a big factor in the game as well, with items in the arenas able to be used as offensive and defensive weapons.

Not much is revealed about the storyline, other than a tagline given during the trailer: “What if our greatest heroes became our greatest threat?” It sounds like they’re going for a variation of the Justice Lords storyline from the Justice League episode “A Better World”. In it, the Justice League of another universe become the fascist Justice Lords after the Flash is executed by President Lex Luthor, who is then himself murdered by Superman to keep him from starting a world war. Another option is a variation of the Young Justice story “Auld Acquaintance”, where the Justice League fell under the mental control of Vandal Savage and Klarion, and were used to cause devastation offworld. It should be interesting to see where the storyline goes, especially after the critically acclaimed story mode that Mortal Kombat had.

In any event, it definitely looks like this will be a must-buy for me; since parting from Midway, the guys at NetherRealm have done a superb job with their games, and I admit I’m a sucker for DC-related media. It’s just too bad it won’t be coming out until next year.

Twice nothing is still nothing, and an interesting rephrase.

HOUSTON—A Senate committee has approved a plan to double the fees charged to airline flyers to help fund the Transportation Security Administration.

Every flyer pays a $2.50 federal fee each way to help fund the TSA.

The proposal that just passed out of a US Senate committee would make that $5 each way or $10 per round trip.

Most federal agencies are trying to avoid the budget axe but the Transportation Security Administration is looking for direct revenue.

Adding an increase to the TSA budget would not be a problem if we got anything out of it, but the problem we face is that we’re getting nothing from them except for extra hassle at the airports. Even experts such as former FBI counterterrorism experts and the former security chief for El Al Airlines have said the TSA is remarkably ineffective, providing an illusion of security while doing absolutely nothing to make us safer. If the added money were to be used for more effective procedures, that would be one thing. However, there is no indication that that is in the cards; they even asked a Congressional panel to rescind their invitation to security expert and TSA critic Bruce Schneier, keeping him from testifying about the TSA’s problems.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, mind, but I noticed something interesting yesterday morning when watching the local CBS affiliate’s early news. I happened to walk by the TV when it was showing the news story about the fee increase, talking about reactions from viewers on their Facebook page. At the end of the piece, one of the two anchors, Ron Trevino, said, “Well, if it makes people feel sa… if it makes people safer…” I thought that was a fascinating self-correction; as stated earlier, one of the biggest criticisms of the TSA is that it engages in what Schneier aptly calls “security theater”, providing an illusion of safety while not actually making people safe. Saying people “feel safer” leads into the question of whether people actually ARE safer. If one didn’t know better, one might think the station might be pushing the current status quo and toeing the TSA’s public line that they are making travel safer, when the evidence states otherwise. The anchor’s rephrasing would fall under those lines, if one bought into that theory.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. However, it just struck me as interesting that such a correction would be made.

A few thoughts on Nokia, post-MS announcement.

It’s happened. Former Microsoft exec and current Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has married his future and his past in the holy matrimony of a “strategic alliance.” Windows Phone is becoming Nokia’s “principal smartphone strategy,” but there’s a lot more to this hookup…

Well, I could say I was surprised, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth.

Something had been troubling me for a while now regarding Nokia, and it only just occurred to me what it was yesterday. Don’t get me wrong; I used to really like their phones. I’ve had a 5210, a 3390, and a 3650 in the past. However, for all of their domination in the “dumbphone” market in the United States and abroad, they never seem to go anywhere in the smartphone market. I’ve heard people on Slashdot and other tech sites talk about how much they loved their N900 phones, but when it came to people I knew in person who used smartphones, it was always Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile. I never knew anyone who used Nokia phones. Then yesterday, in a Slashdot discussion about the merger, I saw a couple of people mention how much they liked Nokia’s E71.

It hit me then. Nokia’s smartphones are very geek-friendly, but ONLY geek friendly.

The reason the E71 made me realize it is more of a personal one. A year or two ago, in an effort to try and save money on smartphones at my old job (as we were handing them out more and more), I did a bit of research and found the most cost-effective one was the Nokia E71x. It had full Exchange support, which was our primary requirement. So, we started handing them out to users.

In the end, we stopped after a few months. Why, you may ask? It’s simple: the users HATED them.

The company I worked for was not a tech firm. It was a company that manufactured oilfield equipment, so the users were much more often than not non-tech savvy. The phone interface was confusing them, and as a result it was extremely difficult for them to get the phones to do what they wanted them to do. It was also extremely confusing for us to troubleshoot, as the menus didn’t make any sort of logical sense to us either, especially when previously dealing with phones like Windows Mobile or Blackberry. We got numerous complaints about the devices, and in the end they were phased out.

Around that same time, my parents went and got new phones, and without consulting me they got E71x devices as well. Mom is (and has been) ambivalent about them; she doesn’t care about the phone one way or another, and probably would like a better interface, but she likes that she can get photos off it via free software on her PC (unlike her old Motorola phone) and she likes the QWERTY keyboard for texting. Dad, on the other hand, LOATHED the phone, to the point where his brother did him a favor and sent him an unlocked RAZR to use instead. Dad can’t get pictures off it easily, but he considers it a small price to pay for not having to deal with the E71x anymore.

I know people around have been saying Symbian et al were very powerful phone OSes, but the problem is that Nokia wasn’t going anywhere in the US in the smartphone market. Everyone I know hated the interface, and while I know the plural of anecdote isn’t data, it would not surprise me if a lot of people across the board felt the same way. It doesn’t matter how powerful or versatile your phone OS is if it’s difficult to use. That’s why I can easily see Nokia having partnered with Microsoft in this venture: say what you want about Windows Phone/Mobile, but it has a much more logical and usable interface than Nokia did. If Nokia wants to be taken seriously in the business world, then they need a much more friendly OS for their phones.

After all, while geeks care about power and versatility, the lay users care more about whether it works easily and efficiently. In the end, it’s the lay users that end up driving the market.

Wait, what? My employer’s being acquired?

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) — Robbins & Myers Inc., the industrial- equipment maker with operations in 15 countries, agreed to buy T-3 Energy Services Inc. for about $422 million to boost sales to oil companies.

Owners of Houston-based T-3 will receive 0.894 share of Robbins & Myers and $7.95 in cash for each of their shares, the companies said today in a statement. The deal values T-3 at about $31.80 a share, 17 percent higher than its closing price yesterday, according to a calculation by Bloomberg.

Excluding one-time transaction costs, the purchase will start increasing earnings for Dayton, Ohio-based Robbins & Myers in the company’s first full year of owning T-3, according to the statement. The companies said combining operations will yield about $9 million in annual cost savings.

I have to admit, that was a fun bit of news to come in to work to yesterday. On the other hand, I’m not really worried per se. According to the press releases, there’s going to be very little overlap between the two companies, so layoffs are not guaranteed. In addition, they’d likely need the IT people to help in the integration. I’m fine for the foreseeable future, especially as the sale hasn’t even closed yet and won’t for a few months at the very least.

I suppose we’ll see what happens.

I’ve heard of crap from PACs, but this takes the cake.

I’ve actually started listening to NPR on the drive to/from work, simply because I wanted to get caught up more on news. This morning, while listening to KUHF news, I heard a piece that frankly made me boggle.

A local political action committee says it now has proof Houstonians are in favor of having red light cameras at intersections. A survey paid for by the group “Keep Houston Safe” shows a majority of Houstonians are in favor of the cameras. Bill Stamps has more.

The survey finds that sixty-five percent of highly likely voters support the use of cameras at Houston intersections. Whether or not that number would be different if it included people who weren’t likely to vote is unknown. Regardless, Mayor Parker remains a strong supporter of the cameras.

“Our Houston Police Department is very much in support of it. We see the red light cameras as a force multiplier that allows us to keep our streets safer and allows us to deploy our police officers into other areas.”

Chris Begala represents Keep Houston Safe, the group that paid for the survey. He says the survey shows there’s widespread support for the cameras.

“Sixty-five percent of whites, sixty-seven percent of Hispanics, sixty-percent of African Americans support these intersection safety cameras — conservatives, liberals, across the board. People want to drive in a safe community and these intersection safety cameras make Houston safer.”

Civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen doesn’t buy it. Since the survey was paid for by a pro-red light camera group. He believes they got exactly what they paid for.

I’ve got two different takes on this whole mess.

In the end, I’m getting the definite feeling that this is more about astroturfing. The red light cameras do not increase safety; they increase revenue for the city. So, this PAC is trying to make it look like the rest of the public supports the cameras… when their study is questionable and is not supported by evidence. We’ll see what happens, but obviously I’m calling “unbelievable bullshit” on this one.

It’s not “sampling” if you don’t have permission, damnit.

I just read this story via Slashdot, and it pisses me off to no end.

BERLIN — It usually takes an author decades to win fawning reviews, march up the best-seller list and become a finalist for a major book prize. Helene Hegemann, just 17, did it with her first book, all in the space of a few weeks, and despite a savaging from critics over plagiarism.

The publication last month of her novel about a 16-year-old exploring Berlin’s drug and club scene after the death of her mother, called “Axolotl Roadkill,” was heralded far and wide in German newspapers and magazines as a tremendous debut, particularly for such a young author. The book shot to No. 5 this week on the magazine Spiegel’s hardcover best-seller list.

For the obviously gifted Ms. Hegemann, who already had a play (written and staged) and a movie (written, directed and released in theaters) to her credit, it was an early ascension to the ranks of artistic stardom. That is, until a blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.

Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

If I can be forgiven the vernacular response, BULLSHIT. The difference between what this girl has done and the “mixers” to which she refers to is the fact that those who produce commercial mixes not only acknowledge who they are sampling from, they get the original copyright holders’ permission first.

The biggest reason for that is the song “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve. They sampled a section of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and the Stones’ record label (the copyright holder) sued saying that the Verve did not have permission to use that sample. The courts agreed it was an infringement, and now 100% of all proceeds from the song go to the record label instead of the Stones.

If she had admitted to what she had done beforehand, and gave references in her novel, then I could understand what she did. As it stands, right now what she’s doing is making an excuse because she got caught committing the biggest cardinal sin in writing. The story says the book is still a finalist for the Leipzig Book Fair; I (and I would hope others, including author friends of mine) believe she should be instantly disqualified. This should be a black mark on her reputation, and that she’s apparently getting away with it is something I find shameful.