Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Left 4 Dead

Last night Bill and I hooked up with two buddies (Billy Baroo and Dan) for our first foray into Left 4 Dead. Two words: It's good. In fact, it's good enough that after the first hour I got over the fact that we were playing a shooter on a console, which I normally hate with the white hot passion of a thousand suns. (I really like my mouse.)

The best moment of the night, and one of the best I've had in gaming came at the end. We were playing the (I think) No Mercy campaign. We had reached the final stage in which you end up on a hospital roof waiting for evac. After failing to survive three straight times we decided to give it one more shot. As fate would have it, this time we survived long enough for the helicopter to arrive on the scene. We were all holed up in a smallish supply room and the helipad was about a couple hundred feet straight out the ruined double doors. Bill, Dan and I are frantically trying to ward off the charging zombie horde while trying to make a semi-orderly withdrawal to the chopper. Over the voice chat the three of us are all shouting out some variation of, "Are we ready?" Then the question goes out, "Where's Bill (Baroo)?"

Dude was gone. We looked outside to see his silhouette already running flat out for the chopper. You kind of had to be there, but we just started cracking up. It was kind of like that scene in Top Gun where one of the pilots says, "I said to Hollywood where'd he go. Hollywood said, 'Where'd who gooo!?!?'"

So much for camaraderie, right?  At that point it was pretty much every man for himself as we all bolted for the helicopter, laughing hysterically in the process. The irony? Billy made it to the helicopter first, but was overrun waiting for the rest of us to get there. We survived. He took the dirt nap. Poetic. 

Anyway, as a single player game Left 4 Dead is no great shakes and I've got zero interest playing it with total strangers. But as a co-op game with three other people that you know? This is just a great, great game. There are three more movies (scenarios) that we haven't tried and I can't wait to get started on the next one.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mark Titus Blog

Required reading for OSU fans and for sports fans in general or for people that just want to laugh, this blog is written by Mark Titus, a walk-on player on the OSU Men's Basketball team.

And it's hilarious.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Date with Infamy

So, if you've turned on ESPN this week, or a late night comedy show, or cracked a newspaper, or a sports blog, or this blog, or or or... you're aware the Lions go for 0-16 today. As I noted prior to their loss to New Orleans last week, I'm not rooting for 0-16. I understand why some fans are, but I can't do it. One win won't make a lick of difference as to what the incompetent William Clay Ford will do with the team come tomorrow and as long as he's running the show the odds remain stacked against the Lions forging any kind of significant turnaround.

Ford has already said he intends to keep Millen's right and left hands (Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew) in their current roles and would like to hire a third person to run the organization by committee. I've got no grudge against those two and I'm not qualified to judge their qualifications, but that's not change I smell in the air, that's the stench of continued failure. I don't know what power the NFL has over this franchise, but if it's possible for them to do so, they should take the Lions into receivership and strip Ford of all decision-making ability with regards to who gets the keys to the franchise. Ford is the only constant in 50+ years of losing and as long as he steers the ship it will continue to founder.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fallout 3

Worst. Ending. Ever.

Remember how I bitched about the end of Dead Space? You know, the end that I never saw because it was a cheap design ploy that made me watch a cut scene over, and over, and over -- so I quit? I hate overly hard end games, especially ones that make me watch a 30 second cut scene multiple times until I "get it right."

I also don't care for boringly easy ones that make NO SENSE. That's Fallout 3. The "end game" of Fallout 3 is rushed, easy as all get out, and makes absolutely zero sense. And there is 0% chance I will replay Fallout 3. Zero. Nil. If this is the best game of 2008, then 2008 was a really weak year for games. Fallout 3 is worth playing, but is that what the Best Game of 2008 should be? Something that's worth playing? Fallout 3 is NOT a game you MUST play. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Todd hinted at this and I'm going to abandon the hint and come right out and say it.

"Hey Fawkes, why don't you do it?"

And while I'm asking, why isn't the Brotherhood of Steel at ALL upset that I am traveling with Fawkes in the first place? No one mentions him...he's kinda hard to miss.

Also -- WHERE IS MY DOG!? And where is Cross?

I'm going back to Monster Lab and Rock Band 2. The drums are a blast and the cymbals make it truly special...in a geeky 'I'm playing with a toy drum set' sorta way...

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Steam: Portal for $5 and More

Steam is having another one of their mega sales right now. I only browsed through some of the titles, but there are some killer deals, including Portal for just $5; so if you're one of the three people on planet Earth who hasn't played Portal yet (like me; so I guess there's now just two) you know what you have to do.

Seriously, there's some great deals right now.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from the Nut and the Depressed Weasel

Michigan is no longer feisty. Ho Ho Ho. Unless you count the hoops team. Pretty feisty bunch, those guys. Todd, does that count?

We both hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

Ashley is going crazy. We're driving down to see my parents today and then coming back this evening. Christmas at 8 years old -- golden.

Before I leave, I wanted to get one last Bah Humbug in.

Did anyone watch the TCU/Boise State game on ESpin? I swear ESPN is tearing down the house of sports one brick at a time. Did you see the inane forum posts scrolling across the top of the screen DURING THE GAME? It redefines annoying TV.

So Boise State throws a late INT that basically ends the game and I'm reading dumb ass comments by "RedSkin0001" that spout nuggets of wisdom such as, "This game is OVER!" and "That pass was the play of the game!" This went on...and on...and on...and you can't help BUT read them. I literally tried to force myself to ignore them. It was impossible.

Hardcore sports fans already carry the stereotype of being as dumb as a box of hair -- please stop reinforcing it. Seriously, who came up with that brilliant idea? They should be fired. Today.

Hopefully it was Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith.

Merry Christmas! :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

10 Games to play with your kid(s)

The feature is up at GameShark today. This is Ashley's list. 100%. Hand picked. Her commentary is also authentic. She took this seriously. More than I did. :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

MLB 09 The Show

A few emails about this today as well as a buzz from my old blogmate Dan Clarke.

MLB 09 The Show was "officially" announded today.

Can you say, "Woo hoo!"

"Franchise mode has been expanded to include 40 man rosters, and the new online season leagues are available, allowing friends to get together in a league and pool MLB players together for an in-game fantasy draft."

Oh. Yeah.

Ashley's 2008 Boardgame Bonanza

I play a lot of games with my daughter. She's now 8, which is really the time, for her at least, that we can start to show her more advanced games. No, she can't sit down for a leisurely game of Tigris and Euphrates, but we've moved past the Gulo Gulo stage.

I'm saving my Ashley videogame list for a column at GameShark -- but for cardboard -- I'll just rattle them off here. I have no idea if I mentioned any of these games last year, so if there are repeats...ah well.

Ticket to Ride - I'll never play this with a group of adults but it's a great game to introduce Ashley to the world of non-kid board gaming. Plus you can find this damn near everywhere now. Even Xbox Live.

The Black Pirate - Can't find this one at Target. This is a European game that's great for kids. It comes with an ear drop air puffer that you use to push ships across the board. Super components and using that air puffer highlight this one. I have yet to see a kid that didn't like this one.

Sorry Sliders - Yep, Sorry. For the super mass produced games out there, Sorry isn't bad. But Sorry Sliders is full on fun. It's a dexterity game and if you can find it (it's selling like mad) you should snag it.

Qwirkle - Scrabble with shapes. This is a great brain burner for young gamers and you can find it all over in malls across the nation.

Loopin' Louie - This is a real kiddie game but I love games with motors. Ok...well, Ashley does. Easy, cheap, and addictive and mass produced.

Midnight Party - A nice ghostly game that works with a lot of people. Midnight Party (also called Ghost Party) is fun for kids and is easy to learn. This gets played on Halloween every year.

Mr. Jack - Another "hot" game that I'll never play with another adult, but for Ashley this 2-player deduction game works her noggin' and she loves playing Jack. Not sure what that says about her...

I'll link that videogame piece when it goes up.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Links and Scattered Thoughts on a Sunday

Today is the battle of Ohio -- Browns and Bengals. It would be hard for me to care any less.

Fitzgerald Vs. Dorsey -- Rockin.

A few links today for you to check out.

We posted a really, really long walkthrough for Resistance 2 so if you're playing this Ps3 exclusive and want to cheat-- here you go. It's long. Our hands on look at The Godfather II is also up. My review of NCAA Basketball 09 is set for Monday. (Hint: I gave it a C)

If you don't read Tom Chick's blog for the Sci-Fi Channel, you should. His latest entries on the massive Civ 4 mod Fall from Heaven make me want to reinstall Civ 4 and give it a spin. This mod is epic and I guess based off some dude's D&D campaign. Yeah...

Anyway check out entry 1 here.

Troy Goodfellow's eulogy to Ensemble Studios is also required reading. Troy writes for Crispy Gamer and also hacks around for me at GameShark. That GameShark gig wrecks his rep, so I hear.

Here's Part 1 of the feature
And Part 2
And Part 3

If you have a kid and have not played/bought Monster Lab for the Wii...seriously, what's wrong with you?

Played two games of Pandemic at my in laws Christmas gathering last night. 4 player games on Heroic difficulty, and in both games we allowed the diseases to destroy mankind. Yep. If you need a savior -- do not call on me, Mary, and my two nephews. If you do, you are all sooo dead.

I really hope Rock Band releases more Presidents of the United States tracks. I want to sing about Peaches. And Dune Buggies. And Boll Weevils. Naked and Famous!

Are you an old PC gamer who wishes you could play classic games of your youth? Hmm? Well, I'm doing a feature/interview on GOG.com and you should give this site a visit pronto. Fallout 1 and 2 -- totally Windows XP/Vista compatible with no DRM security crap? SOLD. They have Castles II! CASTLES II!!

The GameShark GOTY Awards should be ready soon. I just need to write all the stuff. I polled the staff and got their top 5 games for each platform. The GShark awards are categorized by system and then we have an overall top 5 of the year. Pretty simple. We don't do "best action game" or "best sports game", etc. Every genre doesn't deserve an award just because it' s a genre. At least that's how my world works.

I won't spoil the absolute staggering-ness of the GameShark awards but the games in the running for overall GOTY appear to be Rock Band 2, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, GTA4, Saints Row II, Prince of Persia, Far Cry 2, and Fable II. Dead Space was nominated a few times but it is times like these when it's good to be the king. Dead Space wins nothing! Nothing I say! No Soup!

Pretty good list, I think.

Finally I have some free download codes for Grey Dog's college football text sim, Bowl Bound. Maybe we'll do a contest with the BCS games.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rooting for a Winless Season

The topic du jour in Detroit sports this week is a debate over whether or not you can call yourself a legitimate Lions fan if you're rooting for the team to go 0-16. The case for the prosecution (i.e. you're not a fan) has been represented this week on Fox 2 Detroit's SportsWorks featuring local media guys Dan Miller, Jamie Samuelsen and Sean Baligian. Online you can find a piece by Tom Kowalski. (Sorry, Tom, I won't call you by your ridiculous nickname; you're a sports beat reporter and a great one, but you're not a pilot in Top Gun). Representing the defense you've got Ian Casselberry at Sweaty Men Endeavors (you have to be secure in yourself to call your blog that) and Al Beaton over at The Wayne Fontes Experience (god help me, but I actually miss the unwavering mediocrity of the Wayne Fontes era).

The prosecution thinks no fan roots for their team to lose. Al calls "bullshit" as only he can and Ian... well, Ian settles on a polite, "Fuck You," which if you read his blog is not something he writes very often (if ever). Their premise is that only the complete and utter humiliation of an 0-16 season will spur real and lasting change.

I've been thinking about it all week and I sort of agree (and disagree) with all parties, if that's even possible given the bitter divide. The people who run this organization, who've been outright stealing fans' money, while displaying the kind of inept incompetence that would get anybody short of an elected representative fired, absolutely deserve to have an 0-fer hung around their necks for all time. The Ford ownership deserves it as do the people running the show. But then you get to the players.

Regardless of whatever hacks are in the offices upstairs, the players are the ones fans turn out or tune in to see. I love Pistons GM Joe Dumars, but when I sit down to watch the Pistons play on TNT it's the players I want to see and I just don't think fans should wish that kind of shameful immortality on them. Some of them may deserve it, but regardless of individual talent, most of them don't. Jason Hanson doesn't deserve it. Calvin Johnson doesn't deserve it. Dan Orlovsky doesn't deserve it. Ernie Sims doesn't deserve it. So, when the team takes the field against New Orleans this weekend, and again when they head up to Packer country for their final game, I'll be pulling for a win. They're not going to, because this team is so epically bad the only way the will sniff a victory is if the other team mails it in (possible, but unlikely; nobody wants to be the team that lost to the Lions).

0-16? 1-15? Al and Ian things there's a world of difference between the two. They think a winless season is the only way to guarantee that ownership takes off and nukes the site from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.) I respect that, and I would never arrogantly question their fandom as the hacks in print and TV media are doing, but I don't agree. Records aren't the writing on the wall for William Clay Ford. The writing on the wall is the fact that Lions home games are now regularly blacked out on Sundays. As inept as the franchise has been in the Millen era, fans were still showing up. Not so anymore and that's all the ammunition needed to spur the next new wave of Lions management and coaching. No one's job within the organization is going to be lost or saved on the presence or absence of just one win (or two).

So, in the next 30 days or so the Lions are sure to tap their next savior and try to build something up from the ashes of this season. That's all well and good. The rebuilding process has to start somewhere after all. But as I wrote when Millen was finally, mercifully shown the door early in the season, starting over again is the easy part. The hard part is putting someone in place to run this franchise who is actually... what's the word? Oh yes: Competent. I hope that happens. But William Clay Ford hasn't managed to do that during his entire 50-year stewardship of this franchise. Is there really any reason to believe he's going to get it right this time?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Braylon Edwards: Class Act

"I’m not Paul Warfield, Webster Slaughter or Jim Brown. I’ve given my all to this city for four years, and I realize it will never be enough. I went to the Pro Bowl last year and resurrected this team from the darkness, and nobody cared.”

“People in this town believe they are entitled to too much. They have been disrespectful to me and my family. I’ve gone out in public with my family and have had to deal with being called foul names. My parents have been called vulgar things at restaurants.”

“My biggest problem is that I actually give a damn. I’m always rushing back from surgeries and injuries, never missing games or practices. But through this, I’ve learned how to overcome adversity. I’m also proud of how my foundation has taken off. I’ve been doing all this community service in Cleveland … my charity efforts will only be in Detroit from now on.”

***

The people in CLEVELAND feel they are entitled to too much? Are you HIGH?

Here's a prime reason why it gets more and more difficult for me to care about pro sports. It's REALLY hard to root for my Browns like I used when I was young because we have a team full of players like this. These quotes are some of the most ridiculous I have ever heard from a player. It makes Moss and T.O. look like school children.

Braylon thinks because he's a Michigan player that Browns fans give him a hard time.

No. Cleveland has had players from Michigan in the past who were treated just fine. If Tom Brady played for Cleveland he would (prolly have been decapitated by a DE by now...) but would be treated as a king. IF YOU WIN the fans cheer. If you lose and act like a primmadonna they get pissed regardless of your Alma mater.

Browns fans give him a hard time because he leads the league in DROPS. BIG DROPS. Game changing drops. If you look at that quote -- he took the Browns out of the darkness. Not the Oline, or the fact that Anderson helped make him a star last year. It was all Braylon. Of course it was still dark enough that we failed to make the playoffs. And this year? I guess #17 lost his flashlight because Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the league in 2008 and Edwards is a primary receiver who you cannot trust to catch the football.

Fans who chastise players and parents in public suck. But to think this is just something that happens in Cleveland is stupid. There is a section of football fans, as a rule, who are low hanging society fruit. It's part of the deal, Braylon. Catch the football. It will stop. People are losing their jobs on a daily basis -- many in northern Ohio. And they're walking pissed off machines.

CATCH THE FOOTBALL.

As for doing no more charity work in the area -- that's classy. It's the kid's fault, after all. Stupid homeless kids.

The Browns are a mess from the front office on down. And our "star" WR is a prime example of why.

Stupid homeless people.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bill's Top 10 Boardgames of 2008

I did this last year and I still get hits to the old article so -- poof! The 2008 edition is born!

Again, these games may not be 2008 releases but I played them for the first time this year. I have a few games that I haven;t played yet that I feel might make this list but the odds of me playing them by January...not likely.



10. Age of Napoleon - 2 player grand level card driven wargame where one player plays the little general and the other plays the allies (Prussia, Russia, England, Austria) who try to squish France. The rules for this are tough to read but the game isn't too hard. Once you get past the learning hump -- damn fine game with great bits.

9. Pandemic - One of the "hot" games of 2008, Pandemic is a co-op game where players take on various roles -- medic, engineer, etc. The goal? Stop the killer viruses before mankind bites the dust. No pressure. I like Pandemic, but some lavish this with GOTY praise. Not sure about that...

8. Friedrich - This might have been higher but I only played it a couple of times. Another wargame, this is built for 4 players based on the Seven Years War. The catch here is that battles are resolved via playing cards -- as in spades, aces, etc. I've never played anything quite like it.

7. Formula De' - I'm not a car guy but this dice fest is a real hoot with a lot of people. We played it at Todd's place and it went over well. Plus I can play this with Ash -- so, bonus points. This was just released I think. I have the old version.

6. Star Wars: Original Trilogy Risk - Yep. RISK. This version is based on the real Star Wars movies and drips with theme (you can control the Death Star and blow stuff up!) Plus it plays in about 2 hours and even though the basic design of RISK is just 'ok' this variant is an excellent 3 player game (Rebels, Empire, Hutts) if you love Star Wars before George Lucas took a whiz on it.

5. Warrior Knights -- I have the expansion on the way and I've had this game for a while but finally played it this year -- glad I did. This is a really, really good game. Theme, player conflict, strategy, some luck, and original design ideas. You need 3 and preferably at least 4 players for it but if you can get people together this is A List stuff. With 6 players? Total chaos.

4. Cutthroat Caverns - The game that Todd almost pulled a General Lee on (he'll have to explain that in joke). A card game where you have to work together and at the same time stab each other in the back. Play it with people you know or a fight might break out. Highly recommended with at least 4 people. :)

3. Mare Nostrum with the Mythology Expansion - This is a "civilization" type game where you play a ancient society: Rome, Greeks, Egypt, Carths, Atlantis (yep), and the Babs and try to conquer the world either militarily, economically, or via diplomacy. Again this works best with at least 4 players and if you have the table space it's a stellar game. You must get the Mythology add on which adds more Gods and a better rule set 9and adds Atlantis..) Love this one, but don't get to play it enough.

2. Rails of Europe - I will always have a soft spot for Railroad Tycoon which was the game that got me headlong back into boardgaming. Rails of Europe (an expansion) actually has a much better map that causes more direct conflict. A+.

1. Warriors of God - Two player game about the Hundred Years War. It's easy to learn, chaotic, historically brilliant, and is really without question the best new game I played this year. Mary is no wargamer, but even she loved this. This game made me go out and read a few books about the period and any game that does that did its job and then some.

All in all a pretty good year.

Four Links on a Wednesday

I'm at a point where I've been doing very little gaming or anything else at home, which hasn't left me with much to write about, so I'm filling the dead air with links to people who are actually doing stuff and writing about it.

#1: Death Throws by Brian at MGoBlog. Brian is, bar none, the single best sports blogger I've read (maybe even the best overall) and his analysis of the recent Detroit News/Free Press announcement that they are no longer doing daily home delivery is spot on. The people who have been the guardians of media for the last 100 years simply can't wrap their heads around the notion their established way of controlling information for profit won't work in an Internet world. There's also a 9-minute video clip in here from a guy by the name of Clay Shirky that I can't recommend strongly enough. There's one quote in particular that stuck out to me: "They didn't care that they'd seen it work in practice because they already knew it couldn't work in theory." I'm printing that quote out and putting it on my wall as a reminder not to dismiss things that I don't immediately understand, which is something I think people do way too often as they get older. (Not that I'm getting old... oh no, not me.) Also, also, there's another link in that post that's pretty damned funny: The Guide to Understanding Flow Charts.

#2: A Roll of the 'Dyess by Chris McCosky at the Detroit News. Putting this link right after the one above is probably hypocritical in the extreme, or at least ironical, but it can't be helped. Even Chris "I-Hate-Pajama-Wearing-Basement-Dwelling-Bloggers" McCosky is capable of writing something decent sometimes. Most of these guys did get their fishwrap jobs for a reason (Rob Parker excepted). Anyway, this one details the Pistons' Antonio McDyess and his recent trade from the team to Denver, subsequent buyout from the Nuggets, and month long wait to re-sign with Detroit. McDyess is one of the genuinely good guys in sports who found a home playing in Detroit and wants his ring there even if the chances were better for one elsewhere and I think that's pretty damn cool. (He had about 15 different teams inquire about him while waiting to re-sign with Detroit, including the Cavaliers and Celtics.)

#3: Teentastic by Hannah at My Mess of Motley Musings. After she commented on one of my posts here I ended up making my way to Hannah's blog which, despite all the pink, is incredibly well written. Really. She's a first rate writer and it's easy to see how she was able to get a book deal so soon after finishing college (at Yale no less). In this post she answers a bunch of questions about her upcoming book and it's a great read. Here's a snippet: "When I was unpopular everything sucked because I felt like there was something wrong with me. Seriously, I was sure I was defective. Maybe if I just tried harder, got smarter, skinnier, funnier, then I would be able to be "normal." This seemed very important and also very faroff coming from a house where a monkey roams around the kitchen and instead of spending money to fix the gutters my Dad once designed and constructed a vehicular shoe. Here is some advice: if you want people to think you're normal, do not show up to school in a shoe."

#4: Elitism in Senate Appointments by Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga at Daily Kos. I know your more extreme right wingers (emphasis on extreme) think of Daily Kos as a hate sight, a notion that would be laughable if it weren't so misguidingly untrue. (As an English major I am licensed to make up words.) Anyway, whether you agree with his politics or not, Markos is a fascinating mind and I agree 100% with this post of his regarding Caroline Kennedy trying to get handed a seat in the United States Senate. She absolutely should not get appointed to that seat. This isn't an aristocracy. If she wants it, she should have to do it the way Joe Biden's son intends to get it in New Jersey: By letting the people actually elect her to it. At least then the voters actually get to choose. This whole notion of having state governors fill US senate vacancies is a bad idea.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Inexorable Passage of Time

My baby girl turned 5 yesterday. She's been obsessed with being a princess of late, which in her mind means wearing dresses with tights every single day. So, yesterday we let her pick out and wear her new size 5 dress that her "Granny G" recently got for her. It's a good Christmas dress: A velvety green with a red belt/bow thingy and hefty enough for cold weather. After I helped her get dressed (not that she needs much in the way of help with that anymore), I looked her over and realized, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, my baby is gone and in her place is this young girl.

It's hard to describe the mix of emotions wrapped up in that. It's not just the change in age. It's the changes I see in her. Six months ago she could still wear size three clothes. Now her size four clothes are getting tight and this new size five dress fits her perfectly. Six months ago she could sing the alphabet song, but could only recognize and identify a handful of letters. Now she knows them all. She can spell her full name (Anastasia Brakke), the word stop (as in the sign), and her brother's name (Kyle). Her ability to reason and our ability to reason with her has taken boundless leaps. (And her brother, despite being 16 months behind her is doing everything in his power to keep up. It's hard to explain, but I see in him unlimited potential.)

I see all these changes, this speedy evolution, and I look at both her and Kyle with a sense of pride I've never known. I know that ultimately there is nothing extraordinary in all of this. Every kid makes these leaps. Ana's not obviously gifted in any exceptional way, except perhaps the capacity of her heart, which is boundless in ways I could never have imagined. And yet it doesn't make this "standard routine" of watching her grow up any less remarkable to me.

I look at her and think that even though my baby is long gone, I couldn't be happier about the young girl she's become. I look at her and try to imagine what she'll be like in another five years. In another twenty. I can't really conceive of it. All I know is that it would be just fine with me if time could just slow down for a little while so that I could enjoy the now just a little bit longer, mostly because I simply can't conceive of her being more perfect than she is at this moment.

Happy Birthday, Ana. Your mom and dad love you very much.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Zen and the Art of Throwing Shoes

So an Iraqi journalist throws his shoes at our outgoing King President and my worry was actually, "When I write about this in a few hours I sure hope I can find a 'who throws a shoe,' clip from the first (and only good) Austin Powers movie."

What on Earth was I worried about?

This one's just one of many such mash-ups that are already up on YouTube. God bless you, YouTubers. Unlike FEMA, you always rise to the occasion.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Links!

I read a couple articles this morning I thought worth passing on.

#1: CNN's Prisoner of War at Men's Journal Online. This is an interview with Michael Ware by Greg Veis. Ware is a CNN reporter who's spent the bulk of the last 5+ years in Iraq and his mental stability has paid the price for it.

#2: Fallout Boy at The Escapist. This one's an editorial by Gamers With Jobs' Sean Sands. In this one Sean talks about why Fallout 3 failed for him and why that says more about him than it does about the game. He comes to the same conclusion I had with the game when he writes, "Fallout 3 is not a bad game. It's just not that great." I agree 100% with just about everything in there except that I don't think Sean's history with PC games is why he hasn't enjoyed it. Fallout 3 is a flawed game. There's just no way around it. It's a good game, but it could've been great and it wasn't.

Left 4 Dead Guide, GOTY, and Fallout 3 The Football Engine?

We have a good guide by Tony Mitera up at GShark right now. If you're into this game (I need to get this still..) get the printer ready and run this off. In fact, my plan is to get Billy Baroo, Todd and Brandon together after the holidays for some 4 player Xbox 360 Left 4 Dead zombie killing action. Todd doesn't know this is my plan. But that is in fact my plan. But anyway Tony's guide is very good so give it a look.

I'm still slogging through Fallout 3. I hit level 13 last night and the main storyline is starting to pick up. I still have a love/hate relationship with this game, and I didn't put it in my top 3 games of the year when surveyed by Crispy Gamer this past week and I think I have played it enough to decide. Top 5 game? Yeah. I do like it a lot, mostly. But I have to admit I had more fun with Saints Row 2, Warhammer Online, and Rock Band 2. Two Xbox 360 games and an MMO.

Weird, weird year, 2008.

A lot of people in that contributor survey loved Dead Space, which if you recall I "sorta" finished -- I got to the final battle, it royally pissed me off, and I quit. I liked Dead Space, glad I played it, but I don't believe it's GOTY material and I definitely don't think it's "scary". Startling? Yeah it's that. Scary? After an hour that feeling sorta wears off. Did for me, anyway. Prince of Persia almost made my list but in the end it's just too easy and a shade too short. Still worth playing though. Really fun game.

No sports games made my list even though I thoroughly enjoyed NHL 09, NFL Head Coach, FIFA 09, MLB 08 The Show, OOTP and a few others. Sports games, to me, have officially hit the wall.

Although I do have an idea how sports developers could use Fallout 3's combat engine and tweak it for use in a football game and I think it would be a pretty novel idea. This idea came to me the minute I first saw Fallout 3 at a trade show. I recall telling Bill Harris about this and his reaction was, "Great idea -- that you'll never ever see happen." After playing F3 I think now more than ever that it could work.

He's prolly right, though. I should write that up so you could all laugh at me.

NCAA 09 will make my top 5 Disappointments, though. That's becoming a yearly award I think.

I'm still receiving entries from the GameShark staff on our GOTY awards and they should be up end of next week...or so.

Dead Space will not win.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The reason I didn't see it in the theater (despite rarely being able to get a sitter) was because it was what I feared it would be:

The epitome of tongue-in-cheek suck that totally missed why the old movies were great. I think Todd said this was better than Temple (which I agree is the worst of the trilogy) -- and I think that's loopy. This is so far and away the worst Indy movie ever made it's not even close. I thought it was painfully bad. So bad Mary and I almost turned off the TV 90 minutes in.

During the past 2 days -- the time we will refer in our house as the Great Stomach Virus Battle of 2008, I finally got caught up on a lot of movies I never had a chance to see this year (and last).

Iron Man -- I loved
Hellboy 2 -- I liked a lot
Hancock - was cool for the first 45-minutes or so
The Hulk - Was a hell of a lot better than I expected
Indy: A painful, sad ouch.

Just like Star Wars, you just can't go home again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

White Flag of No Mas

I'm sick.

Not like the "I don't feel good" stuff but five late night projectile vomits sick. I rarely get sick and whatever illness this is -- it wins.

With that, back to the couch.

Ashley's sick too. It's an Abner House of Fun Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cruise Diary

I spent last week onboard the Carnival cruise ship Splendor. We departed from Ft. Lauderdale and after a day at sea, spent time in San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; La Romana, Dominican Republic; and Nassau, Bahamas (with another day at sea sandwiched between La Romana and Nassau). On the boat were Angie and me, Angie's step-sister (Chris), and her husband (Rod), her dad (Craig) and stepmom (Ellie; both great, great people), and two old friends of theirs (Marshall and Mary). So, in all, there were eight of us traveling together. If I had kept a diary, it would've gone a little something like this:

Day 1: Arrived at the port around noon. There are a few different cruise ships in the harbor. Upon seeing our boat, I channel my best James Earl Jones in Hunt for Red October, "Big son of a bitch." The check-in line is long (this boat apparently houses the population of Wasilla), but relatively painless. We're given plastic cards that serve both as ID and as credit cards for use on board the ship. This could be trouble.

Around 4:00 we depart Ft. Lauderdale. Having lived only in Michigan and Indiana, I've not spent much time around the ocean. Growing up we spent two weeks every summer staying with my mom's parents on the coast of Rhode Island. That may be more than some, but two weeks a year on the beach and going on a boat for an occasional whale watch is not a lot of sea time. Nevertheless, as I watch the sun start to set and the Florida coast shrink further back on the horizon, there's something incredibly familiar about it; there almost always is when I'm around the ocean. It just feels right. Perfect. I'm not a big believer in any particular ethos, but it's hard not to wonder if there's something to this whole reincarnation thing when I consider my inexplicable love of the open sea (despite a healthy fear of things with large pointy teeth beneath the surface). It feels like home.

Day 2: It's Sunday, the first first of our two full days at sea. (The next will be Thursday.) We decided to plunk down some cash on a week long pass to the onboard spa. This is not smart spending of funds, but damn did the aromatic steam room kick ass. The food buffet's are ridiculously massive in scope, but the food itself is so-so. Some of it's really good. Some not so much (the jalapenos, for example, were of the type you'd get on a burger at Hardee's; i.e. not fresh). Dinner in one of the two main dining rooms, is really good, however. We also found out at dinner that Marshall was the only one of us to get seasick. Not fun for him, but he got one of those patches and was fine for the rest of the voyage.

Did you know that boats are well stocked with alcohol? On this particular day the bars were open on the captain's tab for an hour before dinner. I had a couple glasses of a thick red wine. At dinner Craig brings a bottle of zinfandel. I have a couple more glasses. (Surely you can see where this is going.) It's formal night, so after dinner we go for some family pictures. One of the many bars around the ship is literally dumping unserved glasses of wine down the sink. Angie grabs me two. I drink them both while in line for pictures. There's a stand-up comedian scheduled for one of the ship's lounges. We get there early and I get some more wine. The comedian (the name escapes me) is frigg'n hilarious. Craig and Ellie call it a night while Rod, Chris, Angie and I go to the karaoke bar. Nobody else will do it. Me however, what do I care? Rod treats me to another glass of wine while imploring me to sing. "Dude, you'll be my hero." Like I need more convincing than that. I step up and belt out Jon Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive in front of a sparse crowd. I wanted to do Journey's Don't Stop Believ'n, but some tramp two songs ahead of me gets it first. Either way, it's a miracle I was not sued for verbal abuse. The karaoke bar closes, so we hit the piano bar next door. Don't Stop Believ'n starts to play. I look up and see that same tramp draped over the shoulder of the piano guy singing the song again. More drinks. The piano bar closes. We hit the dance club. Drunk white people dancing is rarely a good idea, but it's probably better than sober white people dancing...

Day 3: I feel bad.

Around 5:00, as I rejoined the 3-dimensional people, we hit San Juan. I read something that it was once the city that was called Puerto Rico and the country was called San Juan. At some point the two names were flip-flopped "by accident." I find this notion dubious at best. How exactly does that happen? Did nobody there speak up? Was it like in high school when I let Mr. Dent (my favorite teacher) call me Mr. Brake for four years because by the time I got to his class on the first day I was tired of correcting people?

As the sun set we took a tour of a fort located near the port (I think it's El Morro, but my memory is hazy). It was beautiful looking out over the coastline at dusk and as the sun fell the fort became more than a little spooky. I need to find a book on the history of the place because I found it fascinating. After the fort we shopped a bit, stopped for Rum and Cokes, or as I always knew them, Roman Cokes. Shut up. I took flack for that all cruise long.

Day 4: Probably the best overall day of the cruise. We hit St. Thomas early and went on a snorkel tool of "shipwreck cove" aboard a catamaran called the Castaway Girl. The two guys and a girl (I failed to ask them if they also had a pizza place) were entertaining as all hell on the way out. I'm a poor swimmer and have only been snorkeling a couple of times, always in shallow water, so I had some anxiety to get around since the cove we were in was in a nature preserve (or some such thing) and we weren't allowed on or near the shore. My resolve to get over this anxiety was tested early on when our guide pointed out about a six foot shark near the sea floor. Screw National Geographic, I've seen Jaws. I know what they can do. But, nobody else panicked, and I have my pride, so I said, "Hey, neato," waved politely to the shark and did my best not to look appetizing.

A bit further out we swam over the shipwreck, the remains of some boat that was used for drug-running in the late 70s. We were told it was set on fire to avoid capture, was eventually towed to the cove and then, in the 90s, sank during a hurricane. (That's an abbreviated and possibly errant history; I was watching for the shark.) I was hoping for something older than this (like Pirates! Yargh!), but snorkeling over the remains of a sunken ship is still tres cool. I suddenly find myself enjoying this whole snorkeling thing.

Our host points out a barracuda swimming about 20 feet away. Tension rises. Fortunately, he swam the other way and I relaxed as we circled around back towards the Castaway Girl where one of the crew was throwing tasty morsels into the water to get the attention of host of different types of fish. (I still say he was chumming for some meat eaters.) Very pretty. Very cool.

We get back on the Castaway Girl. The crew passes out cups and keeps them filled with rum punch the entire way back to port. This is almost as good as the snorkeling. We then stopped for a late lunch and did some shopping at some of the shops near the port. It was a good day.

Day 5: We arrived in La Romana early and took a boat excursion to a beach on Catalina Island. Spent the next few hours reading on the beach with a couple of quick dips in the ocean (some cold water there). I was bummed that there was no surf at all as I really hoped to get a chance to do some body surfing (something I haven't done since those Rhode Island trips when I was a kid). Later, at dinner, Angie and I get in a snit over something I won't write about here and hardly speak for the next 20 hours. It was bound to happen.

Day 6: Our second day full day at sea. Spent a lot of the day out on the deck reading. Tried the mini-golf, but the course was a bit lame. At dinner I discovered my newfound love of lime margaritas. Rod wants me to do karaoke again and offers to buy me another drink. I remind him that I don't need the drinks to make a fool of myself. (I accept the drinks anyway. I'm not a complete idiot.) After dinner we meander for a bit, hit the smoking bar to try some "Cuban" cigars Angie picked up from a beach vendor on Catalina. The cigars were labeled, "Habana, Cuba," so make of that what you will.

After a cigar and some drinks we all head down to the karaoke bar, which is 100% packed and already has a one hour wait. Suddenly nervous, I consume many margaritas as I prepare to do Tom Petty's Free Fall'n. An hour goes by and the three songs preceding me are all quiet tunes. The place clearly needs a shot in the arm. As I'm called up, I know what I have to do. I approach the "karaoke goddess" (I'm not making that up) and tell her to switch it to Don't Stop Believ'n. I won't be denied this time. The place goes absolutely ape shit. Mayor Adam West had it right in Family Guy when he said, "Journey. I love Journey, especially when amateurs sing it!" Between the early applause and the alcohol I get a good surge of confidence and adrenaline going and belt it for everything it's worth. Maybe a bit more. I'm quite sure that before the week is out I'll have been served for verbal assault. Whatever. It was fun. I'm told there are pictures of it. If they get sent back to me I'll post one or two of 'em here.

Day 7: Chris told me that I should take a Tylenol before bed and drink a lot of water with it. Surprisingly, it works. No hangover. We arrive in Nassau around mid-day. We were going to try another snorkeling excursion, but they were booked up, so we decided to join the rest of the family for a tour through the portside shops and a couple of drinks at Senior Frogs. This was easily the least interesting of the stops. The vendors are very aggressive in Nassau, which I found annoying. Plus, I was out of cash so it wasn't like I was going to be buying anything in the straw market anyway.

After dinner I hit the one hold 'em poker table they have set up in the shipboard casino. (It was $1/$2 blinds.) I had played earlier in the week and dropped $50, most of it on an extremely bad beat. This time I vowed to be more disciplined because the other players at the table showed themselves to not be very good. Patient players can usually do well in that kind of environment. I played for three hours, had one of the longest dry spells of my life in terms of not being able to hit a flop, and still ended up making $25, covering half my loss from my previous stint. (I was actually up more than that, but I got careless on the adrenaline of winning a big hand and dropped $20 before stepping way from the table.) In the meantime, others at the table dropped hundreds of dollars on some epically bad plays. A guy two seats down from me reaped the most from the asinine play, having won a total of $700 over a series of five consecutive hands. That was nuts. If I had had any real luck all night, I'd of done a lot better. As it was, I was on the Olympic folding team while I waited to hit something, anything, worth playing. Given the horrid string of bad flops I had to endure, I was pleased with how I played.

Day 8: We arrive in Ft. Lauderdale around 8am. The debarkation process was chaos incarnate, despite the ship's best efforts to keep it under control. People just don't listen to instructions. Nevertheless we were off the boat and at the airport by 10:30, which wasn't bad time. Too bad we planned for the worst and had a flight that didn't depart until 5:00. Worse, the plane arrived late and was then further held up with the dreaded "mechanical difficulties." We ended up not boarding until about 7:00.

The whole trip was kind of surreal (in a good way). If, as is true of me, you haven't done a lot of traveling, the whole notion of spending a day in a port and then moving on is actually kind of nice. You don't get to see a lot of any one place, but you do get some quick hits on a few different places and it gives you and idea of where you might want to visit again. In my case, that would be St. Thomas. Based on the view from port, it was by far the prettiest place we stopped and every place we did stop was incredibly friendly and accommodating without being overly aggressive, like in Nassau. That said, it looked like there's a lot more places of historical significance in San Juan, which ranks it high up on my list too.

Ultimately, I just like being out on the water. As much as I liked visiting various ports, I also really liked the two days we spent at sea where there was absolutely no agenda other than vegging out in the sun. I think I'd like to try a smaller boat next time just to see how much different that is. Either way, I'm glad to get home to my kids. We haven't been without them for anything close to this kind of stretch of time. But at the same time, I really miss the experience of being on the boat, the gentle shifting from side-to-side, up and down, the blinding reflection of the sun off choppy seas, the strong winds whipping across the outdoor decks as the ship pull 20 knots, etc. Like I wrote above: Perfect. 

More Fallout 3 -- A Question, More Spoilers and a Bugged Dog?

More spoilers so if you haven't played it yet -- stop now.

***

My dog is a tank.

I don't know if my loyal companion levels with me, turning himself into Cujo with IronSkin, but I am at the point where Fallout 3 is getting very, very, easy. I'm pushing level 9, am armed to the teeth with missiles, a potent combat shotgun, and a sniper rifle that takes out Super Mutants with one clean head shot -- and a dog that would chomp Mike Vick's nuts off.

After doing a lot of side quests around Megaton, mostly for that damn survivor's guide, as well as The Family Quest and the quest with the fire ants, I decided to go after dear old dad. Last night I ran through the entire Jefferson Memorial location, which is littered with Supers, and came out with barely a scratch. My dog stole the show.

In one room he charged three Supers and I was sure he was dead -- but he kept all three occupied while I sat back and pot shotted every last one of them and and a few rounds later we had three dead Mutants and a panting dog looking for a Snausage.

When I first got my pup he would die a lot - and I would have to waste my stims keeping him alive. Now? He's like an Orc Warrior in World of WarCraft. Send him in, he can take it, while I play the ranged killer. When he took point blank Minigun fire from a Brute last night -- that triggered the "this can't be right" signal in my head.

That can't be right, can it?

Anyway, if anyone has done the Rivet City missions -- how do I get into the broken bow of that ship without having a 100 lockpick skill? My lockpick is 73, which doesn't cut it and I tried swimming under neath but I tend to drown...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fallout 3: The Warming (minor spoilers ahead)

Finding the dog companion really helped. We all want to BE Mad Max, right? Although in my world the dog doesn't die.

I'm still very early into the game, still doing Megaton missions for the most part and doing the odd side Wasteland job here and there. It took me a few hours to accept the fact that the mission structure in Fallout 3 is basically par for the course and I wanted this game to be more than that. Maybe that wasn't fair or realistic, but it's hard to ignore expectation.

I have grown to despise the Side Quest as Game Tool mechanic. And Fallout 3 does this like most every other RPG ever designed.

Are the quests fun? Oh yeah. The Family Quest in Fallout 3 was cool.

But it made no sense that I was doing it, and as these games become more and more involved and successful at sucking you into their world I start to look at them like I used to look at paper/pencil RPGs back in college.

We played Warhammer Role-play a ton in college (tuition $$ well spent..sorry mom and dad), and what made it so enjoyable was that Warhammer itself (back in the early 90s anyway) was a very "realistic" world -- just with Orcs and Chaos thrown in. But the world made sense -- more than D&D did for me anyway.

Regardless, I GM'ed a lot of our campaigns and I made it a point to give the players (or asked them to provide one) a reason why they were there. Just "being adventurers" wasn't enough. That was cheesy and stupid. There had to be something tangible -- why is Player A with these people doing these dangerous things? Why would a Halfling Scribe be in the forest far from a city that could use him?

This was another great boon to Warhammer as players had Careers and not Classes. You could have been a Tomb Robber rather than a "thief" or maybe you were an ex-soldier of the Empire rather than a generic "fighter" -- that sorta thing. This level of detail, to me, was important because it helped tell a better story which is what playing RPGs with my friends was all about. It was never, ever, about throwing a bunch of dice and looking up charts and arguing over saving throws. It was about storytelling that was fun and that also made sense.

I want CRPGs to do the same and thus far the fact that Fallout 3 doesn't do that annoys me but perhaps I shouldn't hold it to that standard.

When you leave Vault 101 you have one CLEAR mission -- find dad. You have known nothing but Vault 101 for 19-20 years and you leave for that sole reason. And that made sense.

What doesn't make sense is why in the world I would tackle these quests that have nothing at all to do with that one goal. Why am I trying to repair this bomb? Why am I a guinea pig for a crazy shop lady who is writing a survival guide? And why am I delivering letters for people I don't even know?

Where is my dad? Can you help me find him? No? Then bugger off.

I fully realize that I can ignore these side quests and just focus on the Dad Task at hand but I also know I would be missing out on a lot of what F3 offers and I don't want to do that. But I want RPG designers to get off this side quest kick unless they make sense.

It would be easy to do. "Hey, I need you to do me this favor -- and I can give you info on your pop's whereabouts." Maybe this person is lying? What choice do I have? I better play Mr FedEx.

Other quests wouldn't have to be directly tied to your dad's location but a creative mission designer could craft the quest so that it made sense as to why you were doing it other than "Hmm...hey why not? I have nothing better to do!"

RPGs, especially now with their ridiculous level of graphics, are all about immersion and the side quests sorta of break that wall for me. So it's not that Fallout 3 is bad or even disappointing, it's just not what I had hoped from a mission/design POV.

You know the game that recently bucked this trend?

The Witcher.

If you didn't play that on PC:

A) You Suck
B) You should absolutely get the upcoming 360/PS3 version.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NCAA 09 Final Four

North Carolina, USC, Ohio State and Arizona State.

Arizona State beats UNC in the final.

Yeah.

This game does the same thing Ch2K8 does -- WAY too many HUGE upsets. OSU lost to Samford. Carolina lost to UNC Ashville. Every team has a crazy loss like this. Lousiville was the #1 seed, losing 3 games, ALL out of conference and all to bottom feeders. Weird sim engine to say the least.

Much of this has to do with the ratings. Every team in the Big10 is at least a B with Ohio State as an A- overall which is just nuts. Love the Bucks -- but no, that's silly.

Ohio State made the dance as a 9 seed and played George Mason, another A- overall team in the opener.

Oh, and Navy signed 2 5-star recruits and a 4-star. Navy? Really?

Huge OSU Hoops Win

Beating Miami on the road for such a young team -- wow. Huge, huge win. Yes, the Canes lost their star player but ya know -- take a swipe at a dude, even if it's not a closed fist punch, and you get tossed.

Not smart.

OSU was down big in the first half and stormed back -- maybe this team can make the tourney after all?

It'll be nice when Oden, Conley, Cook, and Koufos come back from their hiatus. OSU is gonna be tough! Oh, wait...

Like Jayhawker said in the comments a few posts back, watching college hoops is really getting me back into college basketball videogame mode.

And I have EA's latest game and I am doing everything I can, slider wise, to get some full game fun out of it -- and I have read on various forums that a lot of people are digging this game...but I'm just feeling it at all.

I popped CH2K8 back in after about a 5 month layoff from playing it and while there are a few areas where EA's game excels, the overall package isn't even remotely close. Even though NCAA 09 is a MUCH better game than March Madness, EA's annual doormat.

Unless something dramatic changes and something starts to click, I still think the best option is last year's College Hoops 2K8.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NCAA 09 -- Sliders Are Needed

And how.

I am in no position to say whether or not NCAA 09 is going to suck or end up being great but out of the box this game needs a lot of tweaks.

It's weird because I can see how this could be pretty good. The game flow and spacing when compared to CH2K8 is actually quite good. You see OPEN shots, which is what college hoops is all about and you rarely see that in CH2k8.

Problem is, there's a TON of pass interceptions, player ratings and rosters are terrible, and teams shoot 70% from the floor.

I created Dallas Lauderdale and made him the defensive stopper that he is. High blocks, high D ratings, etc.

Well the "center" for Delaware State just schooled me to the tune of 26 points and was hitting reverse under hand flips, 12 foot fade aways, baby hooks , you name it. Good luck stopping the AI on the block one on one.

Graphics and animation is very average. The animations are herky-jerky but the pace feels so good that I am willing to give it a fair shake by tweaking some settings. Too many shots go in plain and simple.

Prince of Persia Review

This comes out today, and here's my take. I like it.

Back to NCAA 09...

Monday, December 1, 2008

NCAA Basketball 09

Spent some time messing with this today.

Man, I want my College Hoops 2K9.

I have a question -- how do you create the OSU basketball team in a video game and not only put SG Jon Dielber as the 11th man on the depth chart -- but not even include C/PF Dallas Lauderdale at all?

OSU has ONE center on the roster and ONE PF. And they both start!

Nice rosters. And that's just OSU -- I wonder if they're all this messed up?