Friday, February 29, 2008


Well, I feel like hell today and it's on days like this that I'm really glad I work from home so I don't have to deal with people face to face. Nothing against "people" but when I'm borderline sick I tend to get grumpy.

(Brandon, this is why I didn't respond to your "You're working from home I wish I was you!!" XBL message.)

Ashley is at my parents for the weekend and here I am feeling like a ball of mush. Mary will be thrilled.

I shipped Frontlines off to another writer today so that's a done deal but I will be getting a copy of MLB 2K8 (360) PROBABLY on Monday. I may throw in a few pre-release blogs on that one. Am I being silly because I'm anxious to play that? Prolly so. Damn hype filled conference calls. They get me every time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frontlines: Fuel of Shit

Ya know, people keep telling me that PC gaming is dead outside of World of WarCraft and Peggle and I keep carrying the PC torch, shoving away people who tell me I'm crazy.

But when companies do does not help my cause.

THQ released Frontlines yesterday across various platforms. Being a large scale multiplayer shooter, it's perfect for the PC scene -- especially my beefy new computer that could run NORAD.

Turns out, Frontlines doesn't like Vista. Oh, it SAYS it does. Right there on the box: WINDOWS VISTA.

This is a lie.

The game gives me a "wrong disc" error and just won't budge. Turns out, the gremlins are not just in my machine, either.

Is it even remotely possible that THQ didn't know about this? Is this a SecuROM issue? Crap like this is what turns people off to PC gaming. 360 users are killing each other on the Frontlines as we speak but me --I'm out a freelance commission because my machine that runs XP has NO WAY of running a game like this due to system specs.

It makes a guy want to sit back with a game of Minesweeper. Or CATAN.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sins and Stuff

My review of Sins of a Solar Empire is up today at CG. Great game.

My workload is about to hit Silly Status this week with the release of Frontlines, Turning Point, and the soon to be released DoW: SoulStorm and MLB 2K8.

I think I am officially loaded to max capacity.

All kinds of stuff going on at GameShark, all of which I can't really talk about. Even the writers, many of whom read this blog, are as of yet unaware. It's good stuff. I tried firing Brandon but my boss says he's an avid Binky reader much for that idea. I should prolly send out a staff letter. Nah. Let 'em sweat.

Todd's music post reminds me -- here's a great CD that is right now in heavy rotation. Really, really good.

Btw Todd -- no Beatles in the house? Yikes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Albums versus Singles

One of the stories making the rounds today is the news that iTunes is now the #2 retailer of music. Not just online downloads mind you, but of music sales in general. Ars Technica's story frames it pretty much how I think of it, Kids Don't Like CDs. (Yes, you can buy full CDs on iTunes, but you're kidding yourself if you think that's how most music there is sold.)

I think about that and suddenly all I can hear in my head is the voice of Randal Graves in Clerks 2 saying, "Jesus. What the fuck happened to this country?" It's odd, but in a time where single song downloads are taking over music sales, all I really want to do is fill in my collection with the numerous great albums I don't own.

Between my wife and I, we own a lot of CDs. Check that. We own a lot of bad CDs. At least, relative to the number of classics we don't own. For example, in our house you will not find an album by The Who, nor Led Zeppelin, nor The Beatles. Granted, you'll find a sh#@load of Tom Petty, so I feel like that mitigates those omissions somewhat.

The point is, after a few years of really not buying any music at all, my addiction to Rock Band and Guitar Hero has made me want to fill in those gaps. Last week, for example, I went out and picked up Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins, a two-disc set that nobody who went to college in the mid 90s has an excuse not to own. The thought of downloading single tracks from iTunes or Amazon is heretical to me. I don't want single tracks. I want the albums. That's where you typically discover the best an artist has to offer.

Back to the Tom Petty example, sure, I love his radio classics like Learning to Fly or Don't Come Around Here No More, but I'm a huge fan of his for love of all the tracks that I've never once heard on the radio, whether it's Square One from Highway Companion or The Dark of the Sun off of Into the Great Wide Open. Hell, just about everything on Full Moon Fever is great stuff. And that's true for pretty much every artist of which I'm a fan.

Sure the radio play of an artist might catch my interest, but the real magic is on the albums and it grieves me every time I see references to the death of the album/CD.

NFL Head Coach 09

Well, EA announced that it's a green light for another Head Coach game. Developed by...Tiburon.


The original Head Coach had the worst interface this side of the mouseless High Heat Baseball, but had the bare bones inkling of a cool game.

I'm really, really surprised this is getting made. I heard Head Coach sold like 10 copies and those were to developer family members. Usually when a game tanks on its initial run, EA takes a carving knife to it. Odd.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Board Game Update

Lots of games are due out in the next week or so and I'm tasked with reviewing some of them: MLB 2K8, Frontlines, Turning Point, and DoW: Soulstorm -- all PC, of course.

But let's keep it all in perspective -- I gotta have my BG fix and I'm currently knee deep in a very cool strategy game called Mare Nostrum with its Mythology Expansion. Basically it's Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Carthage, and Atlantis all vying for ancient world domination. It's a cool blend of European and American game design and is a total blast.

Our boardgame columnist, Michael Barnes says this about MN:

When you've played a game 20+ times over 3 years and you realize that you love it MORE than you did the first times you played it, you know it's a classic. MARE NOSTRUM is such a game for me. Unlike most recent "Civ in 90 minutes" games which shall remain unmentioned, Mare Nostrum actually manages to capture the spirit and flow of ancient civilizations while also allowing the player a huge amount of freedom. Mare Nostrum combines the best traits of American-style light wargames with the fluidity and structure of Euro designs and the result is a game that has much of the flavor of Civilization (particularly in the trading and expansion) in a 2-3 hour game.

There is an inherent variability built in to the game where games can be won through shrewd trading, economic dominance, military strength, or smart diplomacy and the possibilities make for an interesting game every time. It will appeal to folks who love Advanced Civ but also to people who like Settlers. A real, bona fide masterpiece. Do not hesitate to purchase the Mythology expansion- it's essential!

He's right.

I also ordered the new Railroad Tycoon Europe expansion. Todd -- take note.

EA Looking to Buy Take Two

Yeah, here's the info.

Gordon Gecko has his sights on something -- consider it done.

MLB 2K8 Call Write Up -- Todd's a Douche

Ok so my report on the report is now live at GameShark.

The short version: It sounds like the best game ever. I give it...a B.

As for the Todd Douchebaggery: He knew that I wasn't planning on reviewing MLB this year. I said so. Right here on OUR BLOG. He's supposed to review it.

So, Friday I get this in my Inbox:

"...has anyone asked you for the 360 review for Bully yet? I'd be interested in doing something on that."

Now, I know damn well that he knows Bully comes out on March 3rd. MLB comes out March 4. That will make it a shade tough to review MLB, don't ya think?

See, he does this crap on purpose just to annoy me. He knows I won't fire him because about an awkward blog: Bill and the Guy he Fired: a Blog of love and friendship.

So, I'm back on the MLB review train. So much for my 2008 baseball break!

Thanks Todd.

Playing Lately: Bioshock (*SPOILERS*)

After having the box sit on my desk for the better part of six months, I'm finally digging into 2k Boston's undersea homage to Ayn Rand, Bioshock. As a huge fan of its spiritual predecessors, the System Shock games, I'm predisposed to love Bioshock, even if it does take the basic gameplay from System Shock 2 and reskin it with a new setting and better graphics. (This is well-chronicled in Yahtzee Croshaw's Zero Punctuation review.)

That said, it did take a while before I reached that moment where the game was really able to dig its claws in. Where it got personal. Up to that point I was really only appreciating it on a technical level. The absolute beauty and grandeur of Rapture. The slick controls that allow you to so quickly switch between conventional weapons and plasmids. The nostalgia back to the days of System Shock I get from the audio logs found throughout Rapture's corridors.

The moment I speak of occurs when you finally reach the escape sub in the section of Rapture known as Neptune's Bounty. Up to this point I was convinced that the character of Atlas (the guy who's guiding you through the game up to this point) is playing the nice guy only to manipulate me into achieving his own ends. Actually, because of the parallels with System Shock 2, I was convinced that he was the labor-boss type character of Fontaine that is referenced throughout Neptune's Bounty, much like how your initial guide in that game turns out to be the computer A.I., Shodan (an incredible moment in SS2). I thought reaching the sub, which purportedly holds Atlas's wife and child, would be the point at which Atlas reveals his true intentions and that the whole wife and kid story would turn out to be a ruse. Instead, you enter a control room above the sub and see it explode right in front of Atlas.

That, I was not expecting and, for me, it's where the game changed.

Once the ensuing chaos from the exploding submarine subsides (ie - you kill off a new wave of splicers) Atlas gets back on the radio and the dialog from him, which comes as you're picking your way through the wreckage of the sub, is just amazing. I'm not sure who the actor voicing Atlas is, but I suspect it's the guy who played Chief O'Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In any case, the anger and the pain he sells in the ensuing monologue is just note perfect. That's the point at which I finally got emotionally involved in the game. The point at which I went from, "Yeah, yeah. Let's stop that menace Andrew Ryan and save the day. Yeah!" to, "I'm gonna f#@'n kill this guy."

Brilliant. Even the first time I rescued a Little Sister (which is a powerful moment in and of itself) didn't have this kind of impact on me. (Though, for the record, I'm still not convinced Atlas is who he says he is.)

After playing for a large chunk of Sunday, I've managed to clear out the indoor forest level (the name escapes me) and the Garden Market level. And while the game has, what I feel are, a few missteps (I am so incredibly sick of hacking), I'll save those for another post. Ken Levine and the 2k Boston team deserve all the hefty praise they've been getting for this game.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Belated Airing of Grievances

I've missed the past few Friday Bitch Posts, my apologies.

I'll try and make up for it by pilfering a notion from Steve Bauman's blog. Steve's a buddy of mine so I'm sure he won't mind. He's no longer my boss, so I really don't care.

I'm sick and tired of not being allowed to enjoy stuff. When Steve posted this on his blog it sorta pricked a side of my brain and made me realize just how accurate it is.

Was it always like this? Has the Internet made us all a bunch of anonymous, hide behind the keyboard "haters"? I'm not talking about not liking MLB 2K7 isn't being a cynic, it's being honest. I'm talking about Guy A says he loves Movie/Game/Band/ X and Guy B calls him a hopeless twit.

It's the reason I rarely post on game forums anymore. I used to be a regular at places like Operation Sports, Qt3, -- and even old school haunts like Usenet. But the general discourse has gotten to the point where if you don't make at least one witty, cynical comment a day you're not cool enough to participate in the discussions.

It's like what Jack White said in an interview I read a while ago -- It's the cool thing nowadays not to have an opinion or if you tdo for it to be contrary.

I wonder if it's always been like that or if the 'net has just put a spotlight on it.

But it's frustrating.

Friday, February 22, 2008

MLB 2K8 Conference Call

I'm doing my write up tonight, but the call went well outside of the crazy static because some DUMB ASS refused to put his phone on mute despite numerous pleas from the moderator. So it was kinda hard to hear.

These calls are always hard to decipher because rarely (i.e. never) will a Dev say, "Nope, we TOTALLY ignored your complaint. It's still there!"

Brinkman said all the right stuff so it all sounds rosey on paper. And despite the barbs people throw his way (sheepishly raises hand..), the guy is clearly a baseball fan. And that's important. As to my questions, which he was kind enough to answer:
  • Are there going to be more fielding camera angles this year?

Answer: YES! Two, in fact

  • Has any attention been given to the base running AI?

Answer: YES! Lots!

  • Last year it seemed that no matter what settings were used, it was very hard to score from 2nd base on a single, even with a fairly fast runner with 2 outs. Has this been fixed?

Answer: YES! Actually, he seemed to like this question and specifically said, "You'll like this year's game if this was an issue." Well, it was. So we'll see.

  • In franchise mode, will the CPU teams do a better job in managing their rosters – will it leave star players rotting in the minors, for example?

Answer: YES! It's better and NO they won't rot in the minors

  • The franchise mode AI would sign a player in free agency regardless of whether or not it was a position of need. Has this area been given any attention?

Answer: ....SORTA! He said the AI will still try and "obtain a lot of talent" but will also try to fill a need. So, I dunno how to take that.

I also asked about walks and if we could actually throw them this year and he was firm about this -- that we can because of the better ratings and the new pitch controls. So again, we'll see.

There's also some weird baseball card collecting feature that sounds like a huge waste of dev time.

Sorry if I sound jaded.

But the industry made me do it.

Yahtzee Strikes Again

If you're not a regular viewer of The Escapist's weekly Zero Punctuation reviews from Yahtzee Croshaw, well, then you damn well ought to be. Never in my life have I regularly tuned into a game review, in any form, purely to be entertained. But that's what Yahtzee brings to the table. This week, though, the dice game guy takes a break from his usual review format and instead we get Yahtzee's GDC awards video. If nothing else, watch the award for Nameless, Faceless Dork of the Year. Priceless.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Champions Online! Hoo Hah!

Game announcements come and go and, usually, I skim them with the only thought being, "We'll have to cover this at some point."

But when Cryptic announced that the company was doing a Champions MMO...that got me feeling tingly inside. I loved that game way back in the day; it was one of the very few role-playing Superhero games to actually work, and there was supposed to be a PC game based on it but it died back when there was the Great Superhero Game Curse, before Irrational broke it by releasing Freedom Force.

Then they released screens for the game and now I'm even more excited. The fact that Cryptic is doing it is even better news because City of Heroes/Villians was (is) a very solid MMO, so there's a lot of tight-wearing experience there.

So far this is hands down the best news, for me, to come out of GDC. I mean I'm jazzed about the boogie board thing for the Wii, and that Too Human looks to no longer suck, Fable 2 promising to breast feed grown men while getting a foot massage, and Gears of War 2 being announced which I am SURE will totally make Gears of WAR I obsolete -- but those bombshells have to play second fiddle to a Champions MMO.

What is Project RedLime?

I was just perusing Joystiq and came across this story about EA having tapped Starbreeze Studios (Chronicles of Riddick) to revive one of their "classic" franchises. Over the years EA has acquired a lot of franchises that could fall into that category, so I'm very curious as to what it might be. It's probably too much to hope for a rebirth of System Shock (what with Bioshock already out there), something in the Syndicate line, or even Starflight. It's probably some console-only IP that I couldn't care less about. Nonetheless, I'm very curious as to what direction they're heading and if the name Project RedLime offers some kind of hint as to what it is.

What would you like to see them bring back?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Format War: The Conclusion

Unless you were living under a very large and heavy rock, you no doubt have heard that Toshiba -finally- officially pulled the plug on the HD-DVD format, thus, ending the high-definition disc format war.

Not surprisingly, making my personal predictions for the year very, very wrong. I figured Universal Studios would jump ship by the end of the spring, at least going back to producing titles on both formats like they were last year at this time. At that point I thought it would take till the fall or even the end of the year for Paramount to officially cave and, by default, kill the HD-DVD standard with or without a white flag from Toshiba.

I'm happy to be wrong. Getting this thing over with now, hopefully means Universal back on the Blu-ray train by summer time (in terms of product on store shelves) and Paramount at some point after that. I don't know what it'll take for Paramount to get situated in the Blu-ray production market, but you have to assume that behind closed doors the preparations for such a move are already being put in place, if they're not already.

All in all, I'm very happy the format war is ending. That does not, however, mean, I'm all starry eyed over Sony's "success" with the Blu-ray format. Frankly, f#@ Sony and f#@ Toshiba. For over two years I've watched these two camps squabble and bicker and pontificate on the future of high-definition of video and how superior their respective format was, when what consumers deserved was a single, unified format from the very beginning. No, though I love watching movies in HD, Sony gets no bonus points from me just by virtue of being the last one standing. They're going to have to put far more time and energy into convincing consumers to move on from DVD as it is, and that doesn't even factor in the growing competition from downloading video online and the proliferation of OnDemand content from both cable and satellite.

Enjoy your big victory, Sony. Better hope it's not a pyrrhic one.

EDIT: Being the savant that I am, I reversed the standing of Paramount (plus Dreamworks) and Universal above. I don't know why I thought Universal was the one who was format neutral at this time last year. (It was Paramount.) In any case, there's stories circulating now that both of these studios have announced their intention to support Blu-ray and Engadget has indicated we might see product on shelves from both as early as the end of Spring.

MLB 2K8 and Capes and Cowls

Another 2K Conference Call is set up for Friday and I'll be on the phone, listening to how totally awesome MLB is going to be this year. Baseball fever, inject it.

In other news, some of you know that I am a huge fan of the Capes and Cowls boardgame -- by far, IMO, the best superhero boardgame on the market today.

Recently I was able to play in an 8 team tourney with some old college buddies who visited for a long weekend. I took some pics, and did a few session reports at BGG.

You should be able to see the reports by going here -- just look for the Tourney of Champions threads. I report on the initial draft and every match. Lotsa fun. These reports should give you an idea of how the game works.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


So I've been a bit MIA the last few days. The plan was to have a nice, long weekend sans the little ones (whom we dumped on my folks Thursday night), but it was quickly derailed. Thursday night was great. After passing the kids to my mom we drove back down to Indy, window shopped at a local mall and had a nice, long, quiet dinner at a local restaurant; something we haven't been able to do in forever. Good times. Too bad it was followed up with a day of Angie throwing up every couple hours (including in my car... that was pleasant). Saturday it, whatever "it" was, was out of her system, but it was neatly replaced with severe, immobilizing back pain, which still hasn't really let up. So much for a care-free weekend of romance and shiftless layabouting. I blame the carnies. You know, circus folk. Big hands. Smell like cabbage.

To be fair. It wasn't all bad. I finally got some Bioshock in (iiiit's faaabuloussss!) and we watched a season of Family Guy and half of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Not the best of Buffy, but it's still better than the dreck on live TV.) We also got out for a game night with some friends, but that was pretty rough on Angie's back, so it wasn't as much fun as it could've been. It certainly was not how we were hoping our first kid-free weekend in over a year would go. But what can you do?

Anyway, I'll talk about the games from game night later in the week. We got in some Carcassonne (a nice Valentine's gift from Angie), Shadows Over Camelot and Fury of Dracula, all of which were very enjoyable.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Insane Crispy Gamer Contest

Check out the prizes you can win in this thing.

It's...impressive. Just for signing up.

Birthday Boy

Today I turn 36 years old. Wow. 36.

Busy day today with GDC going on and all, but have you seen the LEGO Batman screens? Are they just milking the LEGO thing at this point?

Saw Spiderwick Chronicles this weekend. Fun movie. It's worth seeing.

A quick look at this week's game releases:

The Club (PC, PS3, 360)
Dynasty Warriors 6 (PS3, 360)
FIFA Street 3 (360, PS3, DS)
History Channel: Battle for the Pacific (PS3)
Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (Wii)
MX vs. ATV Untamed (Wii)
Pimp my Ride (Wii)
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (DS)
CABAL Online (PC)
Need for Speed ProStreet (PSP)

The industry goes 0-10 on games I want to play. Nice birthday present.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Culdcept Saga

OK, sorry for the lack of posts yesterday -- been busy.

Today I leave you with my review of Culdcept Saga on the 360.

100% addictive with a splash of coolness. Seriously, for $40 this is A List stuff with a few minor annoyances. This is such a simple design but's hard to put down.

Green light.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Indiana Basketball

Under Bobby Knight: The Hoosiers have had no NCAA major violations since 1960.

They then hire a known cheater in Kelvin Sampson.

Uh, Duh? Hire a guy with a checkered past and he brings that past to his new job.

I love this bit. "The NCAA launched its investigation after Indiana announced in October that Sampson had made 100 impermissible phone calls while he was on probation for illicit calls made while he was the coach at Oklahoma from 2000-2006. During that time, he made 577 impermissible calls."

A real chatty Cathy, this guy.

Ricker Racker Firecracker Sis Boom Bah!

Bugs Bunny Bugs Bunny RAH RAH RAH!

I love that cartoon.

That song started to play in my head while I reading excerpts from the Peter Moore interview at the WSJ.

I guess I should care about this more than I do. I've pretty much resigned all sports game industry venom to the very capable hands/teeth of Bill Harris.

Bill still fights the good fight and he and I are pretty much of one mind when it comes to this part of the industry (so much so that at LEAST once a year we are confused as being either the same person, or someone mixes us up. It's pretty funny.) Hint: Bill is the smart one.

When it comes to sports games, I'm just tired. Exhausted to be honest about it. It took a long time to happen, but the malaise is here in full force.

I'm not even reviewing MLB 2K8 this year.

Todd is doing it for GameShark and I gave a Crispy Gamer freelance fee to another writer without as much as a whimper. I'll play MLB 2K8, most likely for about 2 weeks before I get bored to death with it. Trust me, it is better this way.

I didn't even get upset at all about the latest "extended" EA NFL deal. I just don't care anymore. Is that a bad thing? I mean, the publishers don't care about me -- or you -- so why should I get all mad about what they do? The games are all glossed over, over-produced fluffy pieces of pigeon droppings so what's to get mad about?

The kinds of sports games that I loved died about six or seven years ago; even games like OOTP are falling into the yearly release trap -- so I just have no interest in faking outrage at another EA exclusive licensing deal or another over-promised 2K sports game. Sorry. I've kicked the habit.

I want to be surprised by sports games again. And that’s my real beef. I’ve been playing the same games for far, far too long.

On the plus side Ashley is loving the Wii. Mario Party 8 and the new Hannah Montana game are huge hits with her and I'm so utterly hooked on Culdcept Saga (360) that the thought of quitting to play another early March release baseball game holds no interest to me whatsover.

Blood Bowl, baby

There are usually one or two games per year that I get absolutely jacked up about. Granted, the older I get...the frequency of this feeling has lowered quite a bit. I used to get this way over sports games but not anymore. The publishers of sports games have pummeled me into submission. When the latest franchise comes out, I play it and move on.

Last year, I was pumped for The Witcher because I had followed its development and was rewarded with a kick ass PC RPG. BioShock was on the list because Ken Levine just plain knows his shit and I still hold System Shock I/II as two of the best games ever made. That was about it. Halo, Call of

I guess you can now add Mass Effect PC to my 2008 list even though thanks to Brandon’s column….I kinda know what to expect. Ha! I’d add Fallout 3 to my list but no way in hell does that make 2008. No way.

Perhaps on TOP of my 2008 list is Blood Bowl. To appreciate this you need to understand just how fan-freaking-tastic the Blood Bowl boardgame is. In college back in the golden days of the early 1990s I played so much Blood Bowl that I would guess that it prevented me from getting a higher GPA and thus forced into a life of Internet journalistic purgatory.

Basically the game is a mix of American football, rugby, and…war. Most Warhammer races are represented: Orcs, Humans, Undead, Skaven, Wood Elves, Chaos, etc. You build teams, watch them grow over seasons (and watch as your favorite star player dies). I have waited for a long, long time for a real Blood Bowl PC game (MicroLeague tried back in the early 90s and failed miserably). But Cyanide Studios, makers of the Blood Bowl clone Chaos League is making what I hope is a real conversion of the boardgame. By the looks of it it will be a true boardgame port.

Check out these new screens.

Sign me up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sins of a Solar Empire

First off, this game just flat out rocks. Rocks.

A 4X game in a deliberate real time environment. Heavenly.

Dan over at the Old Board Gamer's Blog is running a contest, so check it out.

This game rocks.

EA and the NFL: The Nightmare Continues

It was bad enough, several years ago, when EA secured an exclusive license with the NFL and Player's Association to stifle competition in the NFL gaming market. But if you were desperate (as I was) to find a silver lining there was always the hope that the deal wouldn't increase Madden's sales one little bit (especially as the quality sagged from lack of competition) and that the cost wouldn't justify extending the deal any further. In short, the hope was it would be a one shot deal

So much for that.

Per a post at Kotaku, EA and the NFL just extended their deal into the 2012/2013 season. In the post EA's Peter Moore claims it was the NFL who first approached them when the deal was first signed. I'm not sure how much I believe that, but even if it's true I doubt very much they needed to twist EA's arm much.

I swear to god, every year I grow a little more disenchanted with the NFL. But then, that's probably the Lions' fault.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I am not a fan of Apple. In fact, I find Apple quite irritating most of the time. It's due to my loathing of this once-bitten fruit company that I haven't used one of their products since I was playing games on my dad's Apple IIE. (Among others, it had a Star Trek game that absolutely frigg'n ruled.)

And it's not that my non-existent love of all things Microsoft prevents me from looking on Apple with anything but disdain. I could really care less about the "my OS is better than your OS" rigmarole. It's just the trademark the company has on arrogance that I find irritating as hell. Here's a top 5 list of things about Apple I don't like:

5. Their "I'm a cool Mac, You're an arrogant, incompetent PC" commercials. They're not cute, they're not funny and most importantly of all, they're almost never accurate. Unfortunately, they're also criminally effective.

4. Paying the Apple premium. Maybe I'm missing something, but I think Apple products are ridiculously overpriced. They just introduced a 32GB iTouch this week and instead of lowering prices on the existing iTouch line like any normal company would do, they set it a full $100 higher than the 16GB model's current price ($500 and $400, respectively). The MacBook Air? Yes, there's nothing I want more than to pay a premium for a laptop that can do, well, less, than a typical full-featured laptop. (Note: I'm including the cost of crucial MacBook Air accessories. See next.)

EDIT: "4b." Paying the Apple premium multiple times. If Apple's core products are merely overpriced, then I don't know what the appropriate adjective is for what it costs to buy accessories or get a repair. $100 a year for the .Mac experience? $100 for an external Macbook Air drive. $50 for a set of composite cables to connect to an iPod? Are you guys stoned? I'll tell you what, I'll just leave the money on the nightstand. I'm not even going to get into their love of non-user replaceable batteries.

3. Apple's "superior" quality. Easy to use products? Yes. Well designed products? Yes. Perfectly implemented products... uh, no. The number of people I've known with Apple products (iPods in particular) that failed within the first year is legion. (Note: You have to redefine "legion" to a number that can be counted on two hands. But, proportional to the number of people who will speak to me, the number's still huge!!!) If Microsoft releases an update that bricks some Xbox 360s, it's practically front page news around the globe. But if Apple does that with an update for the iPod it's all so very hush hush that, from what I've been reading, even Apple's tech support folks can't hear the users screaming.

2. The Apple mystique. Look, I'm all for combining art and creativity with technology. I'm a gamer after all. And Apple has both of these qualities in spades. They also buy too much into their own hype. And if there's no hype to buy, they'll import some from overseas. At some point whether you're using a Mac or using a Windows PC, you're still just using a goddamn computer. Apple, your Mac/PC commercials may own 95% of the commercial airwaves, but you're still about 5% of the overall PC market. It's all very much like that scene in Ratatouille when the "evil" critic arrives at Gusteau's and tells the waiter he'd like order up a nice heaping bowl of perspective.

1. Apple fanatics. Not the fans. The fanatics. This small, but ludicrously vocal subset of Apple fandom have bought into the Apple mystique hook, line and sinker, and Apple's encouragement, even cultivation, of these people has forever soured me on the Apple brand. To these lemmings Apple is the golden calf of our time. The mighty Apple can do no wrong! Give yourself over to the glory and wonder of the Apple! Worship at the altar of the Apple and be saved! What's that? You use a PC? Well, you know you're going to burn in hell for eternity, right?

Despite all that, there's a problem with my desire to slather Apple in carmel and devour it whole: As loathe as I am to admit it, most of their products are actually quite good. And this weekend I finally broke. I used some Best Buy GC's to fund my purchase of an iPod Classic (80GB) and, so far, I absolutely love the little bugger. Porting my music collection into iTunes has been a royal pain in the ass (long story; not all iTunes fault, I suppose), but the relationship between iTunes and the iPod is soooo much better than between Windows Media Player and any other MP3 player I've owned. The iPod UI is like mana from heaven. And having built-in iTunes support for Podcasts is a godsend. (Seriously, how does Media Player not have this yet?)

So to you, Apple, I can only say this: I surrender.

I still think you're bunch of overrated, overvalued, hypocrites. A wildly creative bunch of hypocrites, to be sure, but hypocrites nonetheless. But like a battered spouse I end up loving you anyway, despite your overinflated sense of self worth. So just let me know where the local cult meetings are and I'll attend. I just won't tell anyone I'm still going to hell for actually liking my Vista PC.

I leave you with this:

*To be fair, while wholly accurate, this video was made in the days of OS9.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Items of Note

In bullet point mode!
  • Sins of a Solar Empire is so wonderfully awesome I can't describe it. It's SO much better than the beta I played. That's all I can say. Just great. Huge space fleet battles in a slow pace ala Kohan with solid AI. Giddy up.
  • The house still has a tinge of skunk smell.
  • I'm also still having fun with Culdcept Saga on the 360. Some tedium there, but it's got an addictive quality to it. It just takes too long to play.
  • I'm playing Todd and a mutual buddy (Billy Baroo) in Catan tonight on the 360. Todd -- 10PM be there or be fired.
  • I usually don't plug GameShark too often here but if you missed Brandon's Mass Effect Log column -- it's hilarious. Spoilers abound, so be wary.
  • A new feature I am working on is about games "Jumping the Shark". When did it happen for a particular franchise? Did you know that the phrase came from Happy Days? I had absolutely no clue.
  • Boardgame(s) of the moment are 1960: Making of the Pres and a new one (new for me anyway) that showed up last night called Mare Nostrum as well as the Mythology Expansion. This was based solely on the ramblings of our boardgame columnist Michael Barnes, so we'll see if I have to fire him now, too.

Friday Airing of Grievances: Mitt Romney Edition

So a vote for Obama or Clinton is a vote for surrender, eh? We'll just let A Daily Show tackle this one:

Actually, the show's first segment is better than this one, but it takes awhile to get to the part I like (check around 3:35 into the linked clip).

You know I really don't intend to wax politics quite so often on this blog, but god did Romney's surren... er, uh, withdrawal speech yesterday piss me off.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Holy Lord That is Awful

My Wednesday:

Got my car stuck in the clay soil mud and then one of our dogs gets drilled by a skunk. If you have never been really up close and personal with a skunk's "power" let me describe it to you.

Imagine the worst smell you have ever smelled. Then triple it, then imagine trying to CLEAN it but it won't go away. It lingers.

It's ungodly.

Before I could stop her, my wife tried the old wive's tale of dousing the dog in tomato juice. That made him smell like rotten spaghetti sauce.

So we then used SCIENCE!

The skunk spray is an oil base -- so it oozes onto everything it touches (rugs, beds, etc.) and if you allow it to dry on the coat it can stay with the dog for years (literally). Turns out, if you take Hydrogen Peroxide, baking soda, and dish soap and bathe the dog in it, it removes the oil and thus the smell -- not just masking the odor.

Of course by the time we did this the house had a, shall we say, ridiculously bad smell to it, so today I am going onto lockdown clean mode in an attempt to get the smell under control.

In this ordeal I had to throw away my snow gloves, my wool hoodie, and my OSU jacket. (I have another, but still..) Some things were just too pungent to save.

Skunks have the best defense mechanism -- ever.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

disclaimer: This is a long one.

Every year I make a New Year's resolution to read one book a month. The first time I think I made it through February (two whole books!), the year that it was March or April. Last year I lasted till June. This year, by the letter of the law, I blew it in the first month. But only by a couple days, as I finally wrapped up reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. Which is the first non-fiction work I think I've read since college. Well, not counting the tech books I edit every day, anyway. Anyway, what with it being Super Tuesday and all, it seems a good time to give some thoughts both on the book and the man.

I'm no more qualified to tell you if Audacity of Hope is a groundbreaking work than I am qualified to explain to you the theories behind quantum physics. And certainly, Obama's critics can rightly point out that the book doesn't offer a lot of specifics in regards to Obama's plans for this country. But that's really not what this book is about. It's about the man himself. It's a look at how his life experiences have molded him into the person he is today and a primer on how he thinks about issues confronting both the country and the world. So, if you're looking for him to explain a detailed tax plan or how exactly he'll get the money to support a universal health care system, steer clear. If you want to know why he supports the notion of universal programs, such as healthcare, or why he thinks some regulation of the free market is important, then this is the book to read.

Broken down into chapters ranging from his thoughts on political parties and the Constitution of the United States to his feelings about race, faith and "The World Beyond Our Borders," in Audacity of Hope Obama offers a direct and honest look into his mind. It was a refreshing read in a lot of ways that I wasn't expecting. Let me explain...

With this being an election year I'm reminded just how much of what we know about any candidate for office comes from television. Yes, the print media offers up its opinions on anything and everything, but what I'm talking about is what we learn from the candidates themselves. Their own words and actions. And it's hard to escape the notion that after watching numerous debates, interviews, etc. you really learn very little about these people. The nature of the questions they're asked, the degree of mandatory pandering to every interest group under the sun, etc. all obscure the person behind the persona. Contrasting that with having read The Audacity of Hope, it's impossible to escape the fact that I learned so much more about Obama himself from those 360 pages than I have from any TV debate, interview or campaign ad in which he's featured.

Sure, you can pander in a book just as well as you can in a debate. And there's an argument to be made that a book is less reliable because it can be so carefully crafted and molded to fit an image you want to project. But, being an editor (even if it's just tech books), I've found the opposite is more frequently true. I think it's much harder to hide who you are when writing 130,000 words than in a 60 second answer to an interview question. It's all in the words a person uses, like when Obama talks about why he prefers to fly commercial when traveling from DC to his home in Illinois, despite the many amenities of private flights.

If you're really looking at the words themselves you'll also know when they're coming from the author himself or from a ghost. (There's no way this was ghost written.) It's the little things we do in language to convey a thought or idea that will betray you as a genuine voice or a panderer. And I found Audacity of Hope to be a very genuine book.

I've also found in my time as an editor that there are two kinds of good writers. There are good writers who are, for lack of a better term, artsy. They know how to use words to convey a thought or idea or paint a picture in sometimes unbelievable ways. I'm no fan of Jane Austin novels, but you can't deny the eloquence of her writing. Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as well as numerous movies) can turn a phrase like no TV/movie writer I've ever seen. In the online world, when he's on his game, Sean Sands at Gamers With Jobs is one of those guys who just knows how to bend the English language to his will. Then there are writers who aren't especially gifted with the language, but they have this innate ability to dissect and analyze a topic and use language to convey a message or tell a story better than the rest of us. In print I think of guys like Raymond E. Feist (wrote The Riftwar saga). J.R.R. Tolkein he's not, but at the same time, he can spin a compelling yarn. Online I think of guys like Bill Harris at Dubious Quality. It's not the way Bill turns a phrase that makes his blog one of the best on the web, but rather the way he is able to use language to convey his thoughts and ideas. And this, back to the point, is what Obama does.

Obama, be it in this book, in a stump speech, or at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, isn't a gifted writer/speaker in the way, say, Martin Luther King Jr. was. He's gifted with the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas; with the ability to put into words what a lot of the rest of us are thinking, but can't quite articulate. His words bely the workings of a contemplative, complex and often brilliant mind. When he writes about people he's met as a state legislator at town halls across Illinois, or his work as a community organizer in downtown Chicago, and how those people have influenced his policy ideas on matters of health care or free trade, it reads genuine. When he talks about the negative impact his political life has had on his family and his insecurities as a father, he describes feelings that any father can recognize as the real thing. And when he talks about America's role on the international stage it's obvious there's a mind at works that sees the world in the necessary shades of gray that it really is.

So, if you want to get to know Obama the presidential candidate, my best advice to you is to turn the TV off and read this book. This is where you'll learn if Obama is the kind of person you want to occupy the Oval Office. I was leaning his way before reading it, but my reservations about him were numerous. Now, I have no questions, and should he fail to win the nomination I don't think "crushed" would be too strong a word to describe how I'd feel. (I'm not a Clinton hater, but as I've said before, the notion of Bush, Clinton/Clinton, Bush/Bush, Clinton/? is much too aristocratic for me. And no, there is no Republican on the ballot for which I'd cast my vote.)

Hopefully when all is said and done today, he'll have at least stayed close to Clinton in the delegate count. He doesn't need to win every big state today, just so long as it stays close. (The fact that delegates are split rather than winner take all is what's so great about the Democratic primary/caucus system this year.) If he can do that, I like his chances to get the nomination as we move into the spring.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pirates of the Burning Sea

My review of the swashbuckling MMO is up at CG today. I rated it in the "Try It" camp. I really dig it but it is not without its shortcomings. Some pretty significant.

Here's a snapshot of Doc Faustus, not quite a terror on the high seas. Click to enlarge to see my awesome white dyed dreadlocks.

Two Reasons I'm Not So Smart

1. I hosted a Super Bowl party (with much drinking) without getting out of going into work today. Who the f#@ decided having the Super Bowl on a Sunday night was a good idea?

2. I had an 8am dentist appointment scheduled for this morning to boot. Not cool. That bright overhead light on the dentist chair may as well be the equivalent of looking straight at the center of the sun when you're as hungover as I was this morning. (Good news: no cavities!)

There's an episode of The West Wing where we see Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman hungover in his office after a bachelor party. He's in a bad way to say the least. Anyway, a campaign manager for a politician in California (Joey Lucas) arrives on the scene and is, of course, put off by Josh's shoddy condition, which Josh tries to explain away with a simple, "I have a very delicate system." (It's a funnier line if you actually see the scene.)

I, not being much of a drinker (never have been), now have newfound appreciation for that line.

On the bright side, after the Patriots lost (yes, I was rooting for the Pats), our group got in a little Rock Band action, which was hysterical if for no other reason than my role as the vocalist. Nothing like a little Wanted Dead or Alive and Won't Get Fooled Again to close out an evening.

1960, Sins, and and SPEED!

First off, my new Dell XPS is here. I have not fully upgraded my PC in about 5 years or so, and I also decided to have Vista installed, which I'm still learning how to use. I also went with the GeForce 8800. It's grossly fast.


I'm bummed that Troy and Tom (Chick) both have review copies of Sins of a Solar Empire and mine is still in transit. I enjoyed the beta of that one and they are both raving about it. (Troy's version of raving is that he sorta likes it.) I want to get in on the fun and use my new Norad PC.

I'm also playing a rare 360 non sports game, Culdcept Saga. It's a roll and move board game mixed with Magic: The Gathering. Basically. With weird Japanese story dialogue. Fun, though.

Finally, I managed to read the rulebook for 1960: The Making of the President. I get it. It doesn't seem too difficult and I know Troy has played this on Vassal but man you need to get some face to face time with these games! Holding the cards and moving the pieces...that's half the fun. Anyway, 1960 reads like an easier version of Twilight Struggle, but since I love the theme I'm willing to give it a few runs. Nixon and Kennedy -- FIGHT!

Since this post reads like Troy 101, he's got a blog post to a GWJ article about a new version of RISK. Like Troy, I'm not a RISK guy.

But -- if you play one version of it, play the Star Wars Original Trilogy version. Totally, crazily fun.


Whenever The Hoodie loses a game, an angel gets its wings. I bet you didn't know that. See, I don't hate New England. Or Brady. Or Moss. Or Cheap Shot Harrison. Or any other Patriot.

I just hate Belichick.

I hate him for what he did to Kosar. The cheating (both on his wife and the spy thing) just adds another layer of bricks to the wall of hatred. He's a dour, sour, miserable fellow, and when he loses, especially a meaningful game like last night, I give a smile and move on.

As for depressed N.E. fans -- give me a serious break. Feeling bad, eh? The hangover from the Red Sox has worn off? Or the Celtics rolling through the East? Or the 3 Patriot titles this decade?

You claim to hate New York and its fans. Mirror time, fellas. Mirror time. Take your loss and swallow it. As a Browns fan, and an OSU alumnus -- I can relate.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dogs and Cats Living Together

Mass Hysteria!

This concludes Ghostbusters quote week, btw. OK one more.

You're right. No human being would stack books like this.

The end is indeed here and Gozer the Destructor must be dusting off her Pat Benetar leg warmers because I finally played College Hoops 2K8 with the patch. Honestly, this is a big deal. If companies start allowing developers to tighten up games post release on the Xbox 360...this could radically alter the way sports games are looked at -- at least by me, anyway. This has been my #1 issue with console sports games: the lack of custimer support post release. With the short dev cycles it's impossible to make these games complete. Unless they patch them.

We're going to ignore the fact that CH2K9 has been cancelled due to "licensing issues." But CH2K8 is now a MUCH better game -- from player development to the gameplay itself. CPU reach in fouls? CPU steals? Sub logic that makes sense? Yeow! Now we're talkin!

I haven't touched College Hoops since Christmas but after playing five games post patch I can see myself playing this for a while and with the fact that there won't be a college basketball game next year on the 360 (March Madness doesn't count, sorry) I may finally be able to play a real Legacy and not worry about the next version making my old one moot. Hooray!

Oh, and in other news, my new Dell XPS just arrived.

Speed Rocky Speed!

Ohh Rocky quote week. That would be a good one, too.

Even More News: Crispy Gamer

As if I wasn't busy enough, a new site that I am contributing to part-time just launched its beta site this morning.

Crispy Gamer is the brainchild of former GameSpy Editor in Chief John Keefer. Keefer is a 20 year newspaper veteran and one of THE best in the business. He's put together, "My All Star Team" (his words, I'm not that happy with myself).

One cool bit: Crispy doesn't accept ads from game companies. Zone. Zip. Even if they offer.

The site is still rough and there is a lot of work to do but take it for a spin.