Thursday, January 31, 2008

Big News from the World of Gozer

The Traveller Has Come!


I was recently promoted to EiC at GameShark; my official start date for the new job is Monday. Not much will really change aside from technical stuff. But it is a nice pay upgrade and I'll have free reign to do what I want, which may or may not be a good thing. We'll see.

GameShark is an odd animal. I think the writing is solid (for the most part). I like the staff we assembled over there and I love our columns from Mike's Cracked LCD boardgame column to Brandon's Mr. Binky rants to Dan's weekly download recaps. And traffic has continued to take an upswing since last spring. So things are good from that standpoint.

My goal for 2008, as far as Shark is concerned, is to help make it more of an editorial player. No small feat, though. It's incredibly difficult running a commercial website that isn't based in California. It would be easier in fact if we were a specialized site. I mean I love the guys at GameSpy, I really do; they're great people and know their business as well as anyone in the industry. But when you are surrounded by game companies in the San Fran area, it helps with getting coverage. We can't compete with that.

It's going to be a slow process, I think, but we'll do what we can with the resources that we have. We're going to try to come up with more interesting features this year, which I think is one way to combat our other limitations. Either that, or go with nudity.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Curse of Unplayed Games

This is really the #1 issue with gamers and boardgames.

Trust me when I say how easy it is to get addicted to buying new games. If you're a PC/console game buying addict believe me it's the same with the plastic and the cardboard. The reason why games tend to pile up is usually duew to a lack of people to play with.

Take my #1 game of 2007, Shogun, for example. That takes a minimum of 3 players. It's one thing to sit down and play a game with Mary. She likes boardgames almost as much as I do. But to get that 3rd or 4th person involved--well that takes planning. And when you';re out of school with a job, and kids, OR if you have friends who do not have kids -- this tends to muck up plans. Add to the fact that when we do all mange to get together people are not always up for trying "new" games and would rather play known favs.

What ends up happening is you get a backlog of games that remain unplayed, waiting for the day you can actually try them out.

Here's my current crop:

1960: The Making of the President

Half of the design team behind Twilight Struggle, I got for this Christmas and is in fact a 2-player game so this won't remain on this list too long.

Puerto Rico

The #1 rated game on BGG, I have it, but have never gotten around to playing it. Need at least 3 people and we usually play AoE 3 for our Euro fix.

War of the Ring

Recently got this in a trade and it's a HUGE game. I set this up for a solo run and's "involved." If I ever get a chance I'll play this with Todd. He'd love this.

Duel in the Dark

Neat looking game about England and Germany in WW2 and the night bombing runs that blew the hell out of Germany.

Infernal Contraption

Bought this card game on a whim. It has rocket building goblins on the cover. I'm a sucker for rocket building goblins. Needs 3 players.

Athens & Sparta

Similar to Hammer of the Scots but this time it's based on the Peloponnesian War, fought from 431BC to 404BC.

Tigris & Euphrates

"They" say this is Knizia's best game. Needs at least 3 players and after reading the rules twice...I have NO CLUE how to play this game. None. Zero.

I hope to get to these games this year, but hey, unlike videogames, these games don't die with age so time is in fact on my side!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Shadows Over Camelot

This weekend my buddy hosted the final phase of a monthly AD&D campaign in which I've been participating for the past eight months or so. It's been my first exposure to the pen and paper RPG world after a lifetime of playing RPGs on the PC and at some point, on this blog, I might dig into that experience a little deeper. (It was a jolly good time.) But for this post it serves as a segue to the boardgame Shadows Over Camelot (from Days of Wonder), which one of the guys brought over to play after the AD&D campaign wrapped up.

I'm not nearly the board gamer Bill is, but I'm on that road as I've become a huge fan of games like Railroad Tycoon and Age of Empires III. And I've enjoyed playing some other titles to which I've been exposed over the past two years, including Shogun, Powergrid, Civilization, Ra, and one of the Lord of the Rings variants. (I forget the specifics, but it involves each player taking on a member of the Fellowship in a quest to destroy the ring.) I'm not sure I liked Shadows nearly as much as I enjoy playing Railroad Tycoon, but it is, without question, a fun game.

In Shadows Over Camelot each player becomes a specific Knight of the Round table. (Lancelot is absent, but you can select King Arthur.) The board is centered on an under siege Camelot and its Round Table. Around it are various quest areas where your knight can go to accomplish various goals like fending off a Saxon invasion, defeating a black knight, finding Excalibur, or going on the quest for the Holy Grail. Since each player is a Round Table knight, you each set off on quests to tackle either single-handedly or -in some cases- cooperatively. But you're all working towards the same goal, which is the defense of Camelot.

Each turn you must enact both an evil and a heroic action. Evil actions include turning over an evil card (which has some less than savory ramification), placing a siege engine outside Camelot (if 12 engines surround the castle, the knights lose) or losing a hit point (each Knight starts with four hit points, represented by a six-sided die). Heroic actions involve drawing heroic cards (if the knight is in Camelot), moving to a new quest location or playing hero cards (usually at said quest location). The Hero cards, for example, might involve getting closer to recovering the Grail or Excalibur. Some have special actions, like allowing all the knights to acquire another heroic card regardless of their locale.

Successfully completing quests results in multiple bonuses, but mainly the acquisition of white swords for the Round Table. Failing a quest (and a few other evil events) results in black swords being laid at the table. When all twelve sword slots are filled the game ends. More white swords equals victory, more black swords means defeat.

In this regard, it's pretty standard fare. It's fun, especially for the co-op aspect of it, but nothing special. What really added a great element to the game is the presence of a traitor in your midst. At the start of the game you're given a loyalty card that only you are allowed to see. It states whether your knight is true or a traitor to the cause. If your knight is the traitor it's your job to try and subtly steer the true knights towards defeat, while hiding your true aims for as long as possible. You can try to guess the traitor as part of your heroic action, but if you're wrong a black swords is laid on the Round Table. (You also can't guess until there are at least six siege engines outside Camelot.)

For our particular group (five players in all) this element of the game really took it to another level as we spent nearly an hour all working together, but not quite knowing who to trust until the traitor eventually revealed himself, doing considerable damage to our cause in the process. (For those in the know, he played the Guinevere card, which resulted in the loss of two of our quest battles.) Despite the setback, though, the four true knights (no, I wasn't the traitor) eventually prevailed.

You can never quite tell how you're going to feel about a board game like this from one play. Sometimes the exciting/fun elements of a game like this grow stale quickly. (I suspect if I get to play more Age of Empires III, that it would fall into that category.) But Shadows Over Camelot certainly looks to have that certain something that would make it a fun repeat play and I'm hoping to get another crack at it the next time our little gaming group gets together.

Bill's Top 10 Boardgames of 2007

The last of these lovely Top 10 lists ends with my boardgames. If you're a gamer and are not at least a little into boardgames you're missing out on a wonderful side of the hobby. Seriously -- particularly if you have kids. Videogames rot your brain, ya know. These games aren't all new, but were new to me in 2007.

10. Ingenious - Classic abstract strategy game from Reiner Knizia. Another one of those games where your final score is that you are "lowest" you need to score points in every color and not focus on one strategy.

9. Lost Cities - Another Knizia game, this one a 2-player card game that takes about 30 minutes to play but is one of the very best filler games ever made. Also, this is known as possibly the best game to play with someone who isn't into games. Some call those "gateway" games. Fun is fun.

8. Ivanhoe - The trend continues as this is yet another Knizia card game, this time built around medieval jousting tournaments. It's basically a color coded card game with special "screw you" cards. Great with 4+ people.

7. Twilight Struggle - This one will rise up the list the more I play it. A 2 player game built around the Cold War. Russia vs. the States with a slick card mechanic.

6. Hammer of the Scots - A 2 player wargame that I have reviewed here on the blog and at GameShark. William Wallace vs the Longshanks. Easy to play, and a blast if you dig the setting.

5. Capes & Cowls: The Superhero Board Game - A VERY hard game to find due to a crazy small print run but it's the best superhero game going with tons of neat heroes with great powers in a tactical game of clobbering.

4. Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery - I missed out on the whole Puerto Rico craze and people say this game is just a blend of other designs. Maybe so, but I didn't play those games. It's pure Euro. But I like it.

3. RA - Knizia makes it back with his classic auction game set in ancient Egypt. I have NO idea why I like this game...but it's addictive.

2. Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage - This is a reprint of an old game but it's again all new to me, and it's just a fantastic game. I played this a lot this year and every game is new despite the same setup. Hannibal with those elephants against the wave of Roman troops. Grand Strategy, tactics, and a neat card battle system make this a fresh game every time out.

1. Shogun - A "Euro Wargame" Shogun takes about 3 plays before you finally get what's going on, but once it clicks, you begin to see the brilliance of the design which forces you to make incredibly tough choices every turn. Plus it has that cool dice tower for combat. For 2 players, I go Hannibal -- for 3 to 5, I go Shogun so call it a wash.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Airing of Grievances: More Media Hating

No doubt at this point you know all about Fox News' latest foray into shady (ie - flat out wrong) journalism. Short version: Did you know Mass Effect has a full frontal nude sex scene in which the user could do *anything* they wanted? And that this game (Rated M) has been marketed to children?

Neither did I. Nor anyone on the planet who has, you know, played the frigg'n game.

My plan, of course, was to go off on Fox News and the media in general (again). But it turns out Bill Harris at Dubious Quality has already done that for me:

and here.

He's also done it far better than I could've hoped. I was just planning to use a lot of four-letter words, a thesaurus to find every existing synonym for retarded, and possibly embed a picture of Napoleon Dynamite.

Wait, I can still do that last one:

Did you even play Mass Effect? GAWD!

This is must read blogging, folks, so get with the link clickage already.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Last week my boss mandated that we all generate Facebook accounts so we can all learn a bit more about this whole social networking phenomena. I've purposely ignored the existence of all such "utilities" for the past few years, but having used it for a week I can understand why people can get into it. Anyway, if you're a friend of the blog feel free to become a Facebook friend of mine. Just send an invite to Todd Brakke.

Going Blu!

So my dad and stepmom made it down from Michigan this past weekend, toting Christmas presents for the family. Christmas has become something of a double-edged sword for me. On one hand both my wife and I have divorced parents, which means we get to celebrate multiple Christmases with lots of gifts going back and forth. On the other hand, it also means having to celebrate *lots* of Christmases with *lots* of gifts going back and forth. Kind of makes one appreciate Thanksgiving where you can just have family, food and Lions footb... well, there's family and food. It's a bit simpler and in my, uh, older age, I've come to appreciate that simplicity.

That said, my dad, can always be counted on to overdue the whole gift thing. It's a trait inherited from my grandmother and one that someday -if I ever have a savings account again- I hope to inherit from him. This is all by way of saying I'm now the proud owner of a Blu-Ray player. It's been awhile since I opened a gift of any kind and had the surprise of its contents kind of knock the wind out of me, but that was pretty much what happened. I got the wrapping paper half off and just kind of stared at the box for a minute, wondering if it was some kind of sick joke. As if, inside there were those springy snakes like in the peanut brittle novelty gift can.

Fortunately for me, no snakes.

Instead, a Sony BDP-300 Blu-Ray disc player. If there were any questions about my dad's qualifications for sainthood, I think this jumps to exhibit A in the pro column.

Needless to say, I'm now more anxious than ever for Universal and Paramount to jump off the decks of the Titan... er, HD-DVD platform and go Blu. I'm hoping by mid year for Universal and by year's end for Paramount. And hopefully over the next couple of years I can save up for a 1080p projector, since my current one isn't natively HD. (It looks great, noticeably better than DVD, but it's not true HD. For that I'll have to settle for our 30" HDTV.)

Right now, I have no plans to start replacing our rather sizable DVD collection. That's pure folly. But my Blockbuster online subscription is about to get a very healthy workout after beginning to stagnate the last couple months. We started out with Casino Royale. This is, bar none, the best new Bond film I've seen in 20+ years and it looked damn fine in Blu-Ray. Last night we took in the final(?) Pirates of the Carribean film, At World's End. Perhaps it's because of lowered expectations, but I didn't find this to be nearly as bad as the second film. There's a lot of scholock in there, but I found the end strangely satisfying. On the other hand it's not nearly as good as the first one either. I view this trilogy the same way I view the Matrix trilogy: marvelous potential totally wasted.

Anyway, since Bill took the lead on posting some best of lists, I should probably follow up with some of my own. After all, my selections should be much better.

Bill's Top 10 Games of 2007

Now, this list is comprised solely of games I actually played in '07. Here's the thing. Games aren't my life. Sure, I review a lot of games, do my Gameshark duties and generally fiddle with game related stuff pretty much every day of the year. But my "free time" gaming is almost nil. So I usually miss out of a lot of games every year because when I'm not in review mode...I have a life...with a family...I'm weird like that. So Call of Duty 4 might kick ass. I wouldn't know. "They" say it does. But it's not on my list. Also some of these games are leftovers from 2006 but that I actually played last year. So games like Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Halo 3 (yawn), Rock Band, Orange Box...all might be super duper sweet. They aren't on the list.

My rules -- I make them up.

10. World of WarCraft

2007 marked the year I finally kicked the habit. I stopped playing in July. But from January to July...I played...a lot...just like I did in 2005 and 2006. It's on here just to finally cast out the demon. It's dead in me now. Whew.

9. Super Mario Galaxy

A late entry -- we got a Wii for Christmas and Ashley has, more then once, asked me to stop playing SMG so she could play EA Playground (which also almost made this list.) I am a terrible father.

8. College Hoops 2K8

A good game, not a great one, but I am such a sucker for college sports. This series seems to be dead now, which bites because EA's March Madness is like playing basketball with your nuts in a vice. Sorry for the image.

7. NBA 2K8

One great flaw from being arguably the best arcade sports game ever made. Still, damn fun, but they need to fix the low post game. Great game, though.

6. Medieval II: Total War

Technically a 2006 game but this series is just plain great, and I still need to get the Kingdoms expansion.

5. Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar

Turn based strategy nirvana.

4. OOTP 2007

The best baseball game ever made. It's true.

3. Mass Effect

Finally played this well after release and it was MUCH better than I thought it would be. I still hate these types of games as as general rule on the console but I admit...this is damn good. A PC version would be better though.

2. The Witcher

The best RPG of 2007. Seriously great. On the PC too, bitches.

1. BioShock

Shit ending? Yeah. Awesome game? Yeah. On the PC.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bill's Top Ten Movies of 2007

10. Sicko - Love Michael Moore or hate him, it's hard to deny that he's a professional shit-stirrer. This is his most centrist movie, by far really, and might be his best. It also made like a tenth of the money Fahrenheit 9/11 did.

9. Ratatouille - After the dismal Pixar film that was Cars, the company got back in gear with its best movie since The Incredibles.

8. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - John C. Reilly has made a living playing a fabulous second fiddle -- he's one of the best character actors around but this shows he can take the lead and make you laugh your ass off.

7. Juno - I wish I was this witty. But I'm not.

6. Michael Clayton - Clooney catches some flak as being a pretty boy, but the man can act and Michael Clayton was a real surprise. It's really, really good.

5. Knocked Up - Roll those dice, baby.

4. Eastern Promises - Aragorn as a Russian Mobster! Some brutal scenes in this one. There's a scene where Viggo cuts the fingers off a dead man's hand -- and they show it. That isn't one of the more brutal parts in the movie...

3. Charlie Wilson's War - Hanks is great but as usual Hoffman steals the movie. Amazing how this real life drama played out, and even more amazing that it's a blip in American history.

2. Superbad - I laughed at nearly every scene, and if not for the McLovin' references that you have to endure (it's the new Waaaaazzzup catch phrase) it might even be my #1.

1. There Will Be Blood - OK I'm kidding. Superbad really shouldn't be THAT high, but I can't help it. I liked it. It's nowhere near as good as There Will be Blood and Daniel Day Lewis might be the best actor on the planet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Airing of Grievances: West Virginia University

Here's my message to the University of West Virginia, and it's the same message a girl I liked in college once gave me. Come to think of it, it wasn't so much a message as it was good advice (which I took).

Get a life already.

Paper shredding allegations? In a world where every scrap of information about anything is stored electronically and backed up to multiple, secure sources? Combing through cell phone records? Seriously, does anyone not think that West Virginia isn't acting like a jilted ex at this point?

Rodriguez left you. Go through your five stages of grief and call it a day already. Sure Rodriguez dumping your ass is kinda mean and it hurts and you're not sure you'll find anyone else quite like him, but he had another opportunity with someone better looking and more to offer and he told you to lose his number. Move on. He was all wrong for you anyway, girlfriends. If nothing else, then hit the local bar, get sloshed and find someone open to a good grudge f#@$. You'll feel better.

Bill's Top Ten Music Downloads of 2007

I totally stole this idea from Steve Bauman's blog, but since he hooked me up with a lot of these tunes, I feel OK with it. These are not necessarily 2007 releases, but what was new to me last year.

10. Parijat - Buddha Garden

This is pure instrumental acoustic guitar. I work to this CD a lot because it relaxes me while I edit people's work.

9. Johnny Cash - The Sun Recordings

I'm not a country music fan by any stretch, especially the pop/country schlock that permeates the air waves today. But this -- this is gold. This is more rock-a-billy than "country" but whatever you want to label it as, it's hardcore early roots rock and roll. I just labeled it.

8. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat

This all girl band broke up recently, but this was my favorite download from them (The Woods is great too, though). The lead singer's voice is an acquired taste but this is pure rock and roll with a splash of punk. They sound pissed.

7. Spoon - Gimme Fiction

I was turned onto Spoon this year (thanks Steve) and I like Fiction a lot -- not as much as Kill the Moonlight but more than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I might be the only Spoon fan who thinks so.

6. Emma Pollock - Watch the Fireworks

I really like Emma's voice. This is a great album, but the songs Acid Test, Adrenaline, Limbs, and The Optimist make it special.

5. The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea

I read a review of Essex that said if the Mamas and the Pappas were recording today, they'd be The Essex Green.

4. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight

From top to bottom this is fantastic. Again,. I still haven't totally gotten into Ga Ga, but I can listen to this all day.

3. The Black Keys - Rubber Factory

Ohio boys -- two dudes from Akron, actually, make a rockin garage blues album. There is a new one that I still need to get but Rubber Factory is a great download if you dig this kind of music.

2. Holly Golightly - Truly She is None Other

I first heard of Holly when she sang with Jack White on the final song on the classic Elephant CD. So on a whim I searched for some of her stuff and sure enough, her solo work is brilliant. There isn't a bad song on this 50's/folksy/rock album. She tends to sound kinda pissed too, though.

1. The White Stripes - Icky Thump

Still the best working band on the face of the planet.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


So yeah, my blog time has been nil of late -- sorry about that. I do have good reason, though. I have a lot of crazy job stuff going on right now, most of which I cannot get into just yet. Ok, I can't get into any of it right now.

Suffice to say I have been really busy the past week or so and I doubt the workload lessens anytime soon -- and it's JANUARY.

I'm still pissed (sorta) about College Hoops kicking the bucket. I know Todd had his fill with that series but I still thought it brought a lot of solid gaming to the table. And it's still SO far and away better than March Madness that it's just another thorn in the side of sports gamers.

Let's recap:

EA's best game -- MVP Baseball -- dead due to licensing.
2K's baseball game remains an unfinished mess.

NFL 2K -- dead due to licensing (All Pro Football doesn't count, sorry)
Madden -- rehashed, recycled, and redundant

CH2K - Dead due to licensing $$$
March Madness -- The only option. And it's a bad one.

Let's not forget the exclusive licenses for PGA, FIFA, NASCAR, Arena League (that still cracks me up), and NCAA Football.

How much longer until the NBA and NHL follows suit?

Part of me is infuriated by all of this -- but another part of me....doesn't care all that much. years ago I would have cared quite a bit, but after sports games went 100% console my love for the genre waned a bit. User mods and interface design make the sports gaming world go round, and without that, it just wasn't the same. Well, the games were the same. The games are *always* the same. But you know what I mean.

I haven't turned my back on sports games as much as sports games have turned their back on gamers like me. And that's fine. It's not the end of the world. So EA can snatch up all the licenses that they want. It certainly won't make the games any better. History has taught us that.

I'm still playing the Pirates of the Burning Sea beta. A lot. Fun game. WEIRD game in many respects but a lot better game than I anticipated it being.

After that I'm looking at:

Frontlines (PC)
Sins of the Solar Empire (PC)
Turning Point (PC)
MLB 2K8 (360) Yeah!!!!
Dawn of War Soul Storm (PC) Seriously -- YEAH!

I'm also knee deep in the Wii. Ashley and I have pre-school and pre-post-school homework Wii sessions. She loves that machine and do I. I think I may bite the bullet and get MLB Power Pros.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blood Bowl and Buckeyes

First off, anyone that knows me knows how much I love me some Blood Bowl. Check these pics out -- I cannot wait for this game. And for me to really get excited about a videogame these days -- wow that's rare. I have been waiting for a true BB PC conversion since...well since MicroLeague tried to do it back in like 1993. And failed.

In OSU news, as a bandage for the LSU loss, nearly every OSU Jr,. is back for his senior season. OSU only lost DE Vernon Gholsten to the league. Laurinaitis, Robiskie, Boone, and Jenkins are all returning and should provide something we lacked this year -- lots of senior leadership. As bad as the national outlook on the Buckeyes is -- they aren't going anywhere. This will be a significantly better team in '08. They'll have to be as the schedule isn't the cupcake that it was in '07.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Well %$#@

EA Sports: Killing sports games one genre at a time.

You know, there are times when I truly despise the gaming industry.

Week of Mourning Concludes

My week of quiet OSU Loss Meditation is over so I can get back to my regular duties.

We posted our Game of the Year stuff at GameShark on Friday. (BioShock wins a lot)

We also posted a scathing review of NFL Tour. Wow sign me up for that one. EA Sports, I think, is doing wonders with that NFL license. Makes me proud. Teary-eyed, actually.

I am currently playing the Pre-Board beta of Pirates of the Burning Sea. If anyone else is let me know. Pretty fun MMO if you like the theme.

Did anyone watch the Golden Globes last night? Was that not the most bizarre awards show ever? Ya know...part of me liked that a lot more than the usual "I want to thank my mom, press agent, my 3rd cousin from Hoboken..." Just announcing the winners was in a lot of ways hilarious and in other ways really sad that I sat and watched it.

It was thrilling television.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Politics and Evil TV Media Follow-Up

Gotta love this Lou Dobbs/CNN graphic posted over at Crooks and Liars. (If you can't read the screenshot, just click it for a (slightly) larger version.)

Friday Airing of Grievances: I Miss the Cloth Maps

I was reading Man Bytes Blog late last year and there was a photo in one of the posts of the original cloth map that came with Ultima V in 1988. First of all, Ultima V may be the single greatest game ever made, at least if you can factor out the whole ancient graphics/sound thing. But seeing the picture reminded me that in a shed behind my house I still have the original packaging and contents from Ultimas IV through VII Pt. 2, all the Wing Commander games, the X-Wing and Tie-Fighter games and a few others (like several of the old Sierra Quest games). It got me to thinking about how much I miss the days when games -specifically, PC games- actually came with stuff, besides just the game disc and a leaflet of a manual.

Now, I realize that I'm a crusty old gamer. (In gaming circles 33 is the new 60, I hear.) And I recognize that I'm likely in the minority in this, but I do so miss the cloth maps and spiral bound manuals of yesteryear. Not all games had good pack-in materials, but a lot of the best ones did.

The Ultima games were among the best of the best. For one, the aforementioned cloth maps. (I really ought to get those framed.) But they almost always came with multiple game books. To call them manuals would be a travesty. Ultima IV came with a complete History of Britannia that was written as if authored by one of the game's NPC residents and a faux-leather bound spellbook that detailed each of the spells in the game, but was, again, written in character. It also came with a small pewter ankh, something I still have today.

In addition to the stylized "manuals" Ultima V had a journal printed to look like it was scrawled out on parchment, detailing the disastrous journey of Lord British into the Underworld. It also had a small silver coin that I kept in my wallet for more than a decade, until I lost my wallet shortly after moving to Indiana. I'm still pissed about that.

Mechwarrior 2 was another fine example. It read like an instruction manual to be sure. But it didn't read like an instruction manual for a gamer. It read like one intended for an actual mech pilot. It even had doodles in the margins like you might find in a used college textbook. In other words, it set the frigg'n mood. Here's the text from the first page:
This book outlines the codified rules of behavior all members of the Warrior Caste are expected to uphold. It is the very definition of what it means to be a MechWarrior. You must study it well, for ignorance of its contents is grounds for caste demotion.

Each passage represents centuries of testing and modification, trial and error. The protocol contained herein has descended from Kerensky’s own words. There are only two books that are older than this one and still being read, The Remembrance and one other. You are therefore expected to live and die by its instructions.

The Warrior Caste is above all others in the Clan. The Laborer, the Technician, the Merchant and the Scientist all look to you for guidance, for you are the most perfect of all perfection. The Warrior is the very top of culture. You are the teacher and the protector, the governor and the parent.

As a MechWarrior you will fight in the Touman for the glory of the Clans. There is no higher honor, no greater glory, than to enter combat outnumbered by the largest margin possible and emerge victorious.

Your tool in the field is the BattleMech. It is your mount. You will learn to pilot it. You will become part of it and it, you. The BattleMech is designed to translate your will into the actions of the machine. As a MechWarrior, your very thoughts equal your foe’s defeat.

Combat is your life. Fear not death. The honorable will find their end in the field. Honor is the lifeblood of the MechWarrior. Without honor the MechWarrior is worth less than the dust whence he came. There is no virtue above honor. Without honor there is not life.
Just reading that makes me want to dig out my copy of MechWarrior 2 and make with the mechanized combat. And it's far from the only game that did this kind of thing. Before I'd ever heard of Mechwarrior I had already discovered the art of the killer manual from games like Starflight, which did much the same kind of thing. (Note the link for Starflight does not have the original manual's cover/form factor. Same contents, but the format was far cooler in the original.)

In addition to the killer manual, Starflight came with a starchart that was roughly the size of a Queen size bedspread. When I was planning my next voyage into the cosmos I'd actually leave my computer room (ie - the bridge), go downstairs to my kitchen table (ie - navigation), so I could plot my next move. Yes, I was a dork. But I don't care. It was, as Peter Griffen would say, frigg'n sweet.

Even the hint guide for Starflight was immersive. It read like a captain's log. It gave you all the answers, but it did so in the voice of a captain who had already gone on the same journey and failed. The classic pre-Fallout game, Wasteland, was much the same, but it was done in the form of a Desert Ranger's journal. Awesome stuff.

Want more? How about:
I could link more, but I've already belabored my point enough.

I know this stuff isn't important to all games. And not all games in those old days of 4, 16 and 256-color graphics went the extra mile like this. But damn, pretty much nobody does it today. Every manual in a game is a testament to detailing as little as possible about a game and most of them aren't worth the paper they're printed on. The only stuff they explain is the stuff that's completely redundant to begin with, like, "Graphics: Allows you to alter how the game looks." Gee, thanks for that scintillating breakdown. Surely in today's climate of spiraling game budgets it wouldn't kill publishers to reserve a little extra scratch for a detailed manual or a neat pack-in?

Sure, every now and then a game will still come with some stuff like this. Oblivion's special edition came with a making of DVD, a passable manual and a good quality coin of the realm. But that just it, it's almost always a special edition for which you have to pay extra. Back in the so-called good old days this was all stuff you got in the standard game box release. You didn't have to pay an extra $20 or more to get an extra $5 worth of schlock.

So, if any publishers are reading, here are a few things I'd like to see you bring back. It'll require both time, talent and money. I don't care. I want 'em. These things include but are not limited tdo:
  • Cloth maps (of course!)
  • Spiral bound manuals (see: most of the Black Isle games, like Fallout and Baldur's Gate)
  • Highly creative hint guides (see: Starflight and Wasteland)
  • Manuals with excessive detail. Nobody expects Falcon 3.0's manual, which was roughly the same length as War & Peace. But take the time and money to get an actual tech writer or creative writer and put together a manual that is both enjoyable to read and actually useful.
I know the first thing everyone says about a game is, "If I have to read the manual, I don't want to play it." But good manuals, and other add-ins, can deepen the immersion factor of a good game, especially where fictional worlds are involved, like in most RPGs. I miss that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Writing and Game Reviews

So, just about a month or so after scoring a copy of Rock Band I was finally able to get Bill a review of the game for Gameshark. (You can find it here.) Here's the thing, though. A review for Rock Band is not a challenging thing to write. The game is pure gold. Gold, Jerry! GOLD! (If you don't get the reference, try Google or something. Or just kill yourself.) So why did it take me a full three weeks? I mean I took the last two weeks of the year off for vacation, and while my kids were sick a lot, and I had a buttload of Christmas shopping to do, it's not like I didn't have the time.

It's the curse of the blank page.

Twice during my break I sat down and opened MS Word to write the darn thing and twice I sat there for about five minutes staring at that empty white space where the words are supposed to go and said aloud, "I got noth'n." Each time I ended up closing Word to move on to something else. (Very often, Civilization 4. What a great game.)

This is why I make my living as an editor and not as a writer. There are times when I face a blank screen and just buckle, not unlike a good belt. I can take any piece of writing and deconstruct it, change a few words, shift the order around a bit and make it better. But you throw a blank screen in front of me and, god help me, but it's like George Bush trying to comprehend particle physics. (Or, like me trying to comprehend particle physics.)

It's a rather helpless feeling that, fortunately, comes and goes. It's also why it's nice to have this blog because it's easy, and consequence free place to get the juices flowing a bit, rather than something that requires a bit more effort like a game review or a report at work.

Hopefully, I'm getting past it now since I still owe Bill a review of College Hoops 2k8. This series has officially run its course with me so I'll be glad to get the review out of the way so I can set it aside once and for all. (It's not that it's bad. But the gripes I have with it going back four years are so are still there. I seem to be the only one, but I think the gameplay just flat out feels scripted and I can't abide it anymore.)

Monday, January 7, 2008

On the Road

I'm driving down to my parents' house near Cincy today to watch the game with my dad and uncle so I'll be AWOL until Tuesday night.

I have grievances to air and I'd also like to talk games since we're about to post our end of the year awards at GameShark, but that'll have to wait.

There's business to attend to in New Orleans.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Warner Brothers Goes Blu-Ray Exclusive

You may or may not have guessed that I'm a big fan of HD video. I loves my HDTV. I've also been chomping at the bit to get a high definition video disc player, but the format war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD coupled with the high price of early adoption has kept me on the fence.

Let me be clear, I have no vested interest in either format prevailing. I think the whole concept of this format war is disgusting and counter-productive. There have been times where I've leaned towards both formats. Ultimately, it's clear that neither has an obvious technological advantage. This is just about who get to line their pockets. Given that, I think the main metric to look at is the support each format has from the major movie studios.

Through a lot of last year it looked like this:

Sony/MGM (exclusive)
20th Century Fox (exclusive)
Disney (exclusive)
Warner Brothers

Universal Studios (exclusive)
Warner Brothers

Blu-ray hardware came out later than HD-DVD and was more expensive, but obviously, you can see why, by the start of 2007's summer season, Blu-Ray was clearly starting to win the format war. (Disclaimer: The sales of both formats combined was still pretty anemic.) It's all about studio support, as the Betamax/VHS war proved two decades ago. (But this time support of the porn industry mean less than nothing, thanks to the Internet.) Around mid-year, however, Paramount/Dreamworks were coaxed (ie - bribed) into going HD-DVD exclusive. Not a whole new ballgame, to be sure, but it was clearly a move that would drag the format war out. Major bummer.

Towards the end of the year, however, I started reading rumors that WB was going to go exclusive with one format or another. Another move to HD-DVD would be a disaster if your primary concern is to see the format war over and done with. Fortunately, that didn't happen, as today WB has joined the Blu-Ray camp. So the revamped studio support list now looks like this:

Sony/MGM (exclusive)
20th Century Fox (exclusive)
Disney (exclusive)
Warner Brothers (exclusive)
EDIT: I left out Lionsgate Studios too (also exclusive)

Universal Studios (exclusive)
Paramount/Dreamworks (exclusive)

I'm no expert, and I may be hopelessly naive, but I'd say that could just be the beginning of the end for HD-DVD. It'll take a bit of time, but there's just no way on god's green earth that HD-DVD can survive long in this environment, I don't care if they start giving players away for free at the grocery store every time someone purchases a box of Sugar Smacks.

Sadly, this probably doesn't mean a Blu-ray player in my near future. The cheapest players are still in the $300 to $400 range and that's a bit rich for my blood these days. Still, I think it's a good day for those of us that want to make the HD disc leap, but have been staying on the fence because of this needless format war. A war that is significantly hurting the prospects of either format succeeding, given that most people are all too happy to stick with the plain old DVDs.

Friday Airing of Grievances: TV and Presidential Elections

I don't think Bill or I intend to get into politics much on this blog, but it's a presidential election year and yesterday was a pretty big night. You've got the political machine in Hillary Clinton ultimately finishing behind both Obama and Edwards. And you've got a guy on the Republican side in Huckabee who was outspent roughly $432,324,125,456.64 to 1 and flat out creamed the competition.

Did I mention the guy also had to contend with the fact that his name is Huckabee?

Just to be aboveboard with this post, I'll point out that I'm leaning towards being an Obama guy. I actually like Edwards a lot, but I'm just not sure he's the guy. I also don't sport the blindly irrational Hillary hate many have but my other issues with her aside, the notion of Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton just makes me cringe. It's a little (well, a lot) too aristocratic for my taste.

Conversely, there's really no one in the Republican field I could see myself voting for, though, credit where it's do, what Huckabee did in Iowa is impressive. He also gave a hell of a speech last night. And while there's not a chance in hell I'd vote for him, it's easy to see why he was so appealing to so many Iowan voters. Though, you have to question putting Chucky Norris right behind him during the speech. Is this guy supposed to be the conservative Oprah or something?

But I digress...

I ended up settling on MSNBC last night since it's the Keith Olberman network and he's the one TV "news" personality I cannot only stomach, but tend to like more often than not. They also had several segments done by Tom Brokaw, and it was good to see his mug on TV again. Of course, it also meant listening to Chris "Tweetie Bird" Matthews, Tim Russert and some other Cro-Magnon guy, whom I think was Stone Philips. (Also, who has the balls to call themselves "Stone?") Watching these guys do their usual shtick of not reporting on the story but willfully attempting to shape it is just a mind numbing exercise.

Matthews was particularly painful as he consistently tried to paint Clinton's third place finish as a rejection by 2/3 of Iowan voters, while calling Obama's victory the most significant moment in American politics since Sitting Bull became chief of the Dakota Sioux. Nevermind that technically Edwards was rejected by an equal number and Obama by more than 60%. And while Obama's win was historically significant, the biggest political story of our time it was not.

This, however, is what these pundits do now. They've got their "conclusions" all set ahead of time and once events play out they just pick the one they think makes them sound the most insightful. Edwards, whom most wealthy TV people cannot stand, is their angry inheritor of Dean's "I Have a Scream" legacy. (Anytime a politician sounds passionate about anything these chimps label them as too "angry.") Ron Paul is the batshit crazy lunatic who must not be named. Though, he may actually be crazy, Voldemort the guy is not. At least he understands the role of the Constitution of the United States. If Clinton wins its an as expected, because she's a pro, if she loses it's because women rejected her. Guys like Dodd, Biden and Richardson won't get the time of day, despite the fact that if voters really got to know anything real about them they'd find they were viable candidates.

They try to tell us what to think instead of giving us the information we need to actually think for ourselves. Sure, having partisan spinmeisters (ie - hacks) like Rachel Maddow (Air America) and Pat Buchanan can provide perspective, but guys like Russert and Matthews who are supposed to anchor these things just can't seem to help themselves. They're convinced that America needs to know what *they* think on every single issue, and they're going to hammer home their sacred insights every single chance they get like they're playing a scratched vinyl record.

Worse was watching one of the earlier Democratic debates on CNN. Surely, you know the one? It was hosted by Wolf Blitzer and ended with a Nevadan woman asking Clinton, "Diamonds or pearls?" Blitzer spent the entire night trying to get the candidates to answer a mere yes or no to highly complex questions like drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. Last I checked these events are called debates, Wolf. How much do you really learn about a candidate's position by having them answer serious questions with one word? Shouldn't we want to know why a candidate is for or against an issue? Isn't that the very definition of a debate?

Also, for the record, that diamonds or pearls woman had a legitimate question to ask, but CNN told her to ask that instead because it was a "cute" way to close out the debate. Funny, I didn't find it cute. I thought it was embarrassing to the questioner, the candidate and any American tuning in expecting to learn something of genuine importance about the candidates, not to mention to the network itself.

Somehow, the post debate coverage that night was actually worse. First you had the anchors and pundits going on and on about how well Hillary did. And yeah, she did do fine that night, but she hardly stood out from the other candidates in any meaningful way. But no, CNN brings former Clinton people like James "How Am I Still Relevant?" Carville on to tell us "objectively" how wonderful Hillary Clinton did. Yeah, that has the ring of authenticity to it.

Anyway, you'd think I'd have a point to all of this. Unfortunately, I really don't. Modern TV "journalism" pretty much sucks all around and I doubt that's news to anyone. But it's Friday, so I've gotta get worked up about something, right? With that said, I'll leave you with an interesting data point I found while ready Daily Kos this morning (it's actual source is the Group News Blog):
Total Voter Turnout (approximate): 356,000

Percentage of total vote:
24.5% Obama
20.5% Edwards
19.8% Clinton
11.4% Huckabee
If you're a die-hard Republican voter, this coming from Iowa has to be more than a little scary.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Browns Thoughts

I never got a chance to talk about this over the break, but the Browns failure to make the playoffs didn't upset me at all.

How could it?

This is a team that everyone predicted would go 3-13. Even in my "My team is never THAT BAD" mind I didn't see any way we'd win more than 6 games. After the opener against Pittsburgh when the Browns were beaten to a pulp...3 games looked like a stretch.

Then they traded Frye, gave Anderson the confidence that he needed and the Browns finished the year 10-5. Now, I'm a realist. There's no way Cleveland would have gotten past New England or the Colts and likely would have lost to San Diego in round 1 -- Cleveland beat ONE good team this year (Seattle) and 9 other stiffs. It's as weak a schedule as you can get in the NFL but the Browns still won 10 games, and tied for the division lead. I don't care who they played. Plus, this is a YOUNG team. The future is very bright in Cleveland, or at least as bright as it has been since the team came back in '99.

So when the Colts laid down and let the Titans get into the playoffs, I wasn't mad. I expected that -- even though I do think the Browns would beat the Titans and are the better team, they lost to Oakland and then laid a huge egg in Cincy with a playoff spot on the line so the Browns only have themselves to blame.

But this was a FUN year to be a Browns fan. They have an EXCITING TEAM. In CLEVELAND!
They are certain to have damn good players in next year's Madden.

I can see it now: Madden '09: Game of the Year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Stat of the Day

Did You Know...

I heard this on Spielman's radio show today. The last time LSU or Florida played a game above the Mason/Dixon line was 1991. The northern-most team either has played in the last *16* years is Kentucky.

That is absolutely amazing.

"Todd could talk about that Michigan game for a week."

Truer words, Bill could not have spoken.

I spent the bulk of last night and this morning thinking about what the Capital One Bowl really meant for Michigan and its fans. It was just such an incredible thing to see happen given the Carr retirement, the crop of seniors we had, the recent abominable bowl game and OSU record and, of course, The Horror (aka the Appalachian St. debacle). I've really been having trouble trying to find the words to sum up the moment, especially with regards to Lloyd Carr.

Fortunately, I don't have to, because The Diag's Chris Burke has absolutely nailed it. Here's a large chunk of it, but the whole thing is a mandatory read:

Michigan has officially entered what is arguably the biggest era change in the program's history. Gone are four years of Chad Henne, Mike Hart and the rest of the seniors. Gone, too, are four decades of Michigan Football - grind it out, three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust smash mouth play. Everything, as we know it, is about to change.

So it became both fitting and important to see the Capital One Bowl end the way it did. With Adrian Arrington, one last time, flying past the supposedly "too fast for you" Florida defense. With Michigan's own 'D' harrassing and pressuring the Heisman winner on his last four throws, so he looked like he'd never completed a pass in his life. With Henne, Hart, Jake Long and the offense in the coveted victory formation.

And, finally, with Carr grinning on the sidelines as he was doused with water, his players jumping in celebration around him before carrying him victoriously off the field on their shoulders.

Then here we were, as fans and viewers, conflicted.

You can swear to yourself that Michigan will be better off without Carr as head coach. You can promise yourself that Michigan football is about to reach its full potential with a new way of thinking.

You may be right.

But as Carr sailed into the sunset, he left one last reminder that the old way wasn't as bad as we came to believe.

I have always been a supporter of Lloyd Carr as the head coach of Michigan, even when, in the wake of The Horror and Oregon it became painfully clear that he had to retire. Carr's run will be remembered by many for the pitfalls of recent years. You can't erase that and it does, unfortunately, diminish his overall legacy. But it's easy to forget just how much he's meant to the program since he took over for Gary Moeller more than a decade ago. This guy was not a bum.

For too many fans, the grass is always greener with the next hire or the next killer recruit and that just isn't reality. The job Rich Rodriguez has in store for him in filling Carr's shoes is mountainous. While I don't think this will be the case, Rodriguez could very well fail miserably as the head coach of Michigan. And if he does, so could his successor or the guy after that. Winning at Michigan is not automatic and it's far too easy to take what Carr has done in his time here for granted. He was a great football coach and a better person. Sure, you can always cherry pick a few embarrassing moments he's had being a jerk to the media and paint him as a grumpy creep, but what's more important? The man he sometimes was in front of the camera or the man he was when most of us weren't looking? And I've read and seen enough from players, their parents, fans with first-hand experiences with him, etc. to know that Carr has been a credit to the university and to college football.

While it is time for him to go, no Michigan fan should be happy that this era of Michigan football is over. Yes, we should look forward to what the future holds. Hopefully it'll be a shot in the arm to a program that, while far from needing a resurrection, does need a new direction on the field. But don't let that diminish what Carr has meant to this program over the past decade.

I heard on TV yesterday that Carr's been offered a new job in the AD's office (associate AD or something). I truly hope he takes it.

Post Holiday Blues

I always feel blah in January 2nd. I feel a bit down after the holiday season.

Here's a quick rundown:
  • Lots of relatives
  • My dog almost killed my parent's dog (literally...)
  • My daughter got a Wii for Christmas and I have fallen in love with that machine. Because of my daughter. Not so much because of the games. We are having a blast with Sonic and Mario at the Olympics as well as Carnival Games.
  • She also got a Karaoke machine. God Help Us.
  • I received the 4th season of The Wire, and finished it already. Best show on TV.
  • We're also watching Friday Night Lights Season 1 and I like it more than I thought I would but I need my sports dramas to get the sports part right and whoever is writing that show needs to watch more football. Seriously. The football parts of that show really suck.
  • We finished Season 1 of Dexter, a show about a serial killer forensics cop. Really good show. With no NEW shows right now we're burning the DVD oil!
  • The thing about the break is that I rarely play games, and that's not an accident. I played may share of boardgames with the family over the holiday but I didn't touch my PC or my 360. Not one bit. I do this to recharge my gaming batteries and it usually gets me back in the mood to play something. In this year's case I have a nice backlog of stuff I need to get to. Sins of a Solar Empire is up next. I still need to get to March Madness, too. Yeah for me...

So I hope you had a nice, long holiday break. January is always slow game wise but we'll try to find things to yap about in the meantime. Todd could talk about that Michigan game for a week.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Well the Capital One Bowl went considerably better than expected. Had it not been for the four turnovers - two by Mike Hart? WTF? - Michigan likely would've run away with it. Michigan hadn't played with that kind of intensity and creative gameplanning the whole damn season. Over 500 yards of offense? Egad!

At one point I remarked to my wife that they may have passed more in the first half than they had in the last three games of the season. (Granted, the Henne injury has to be factored in.) Anyway, I can't say how happy I am that, if nothing else, Hart, Long, Henne and the rest of the seniors get to go out with a bowl win. It's not beating OSU, but taking out Florida still feels damn good, especially since a lot of people (myself included, really) didn't think Michigan belonged in that bowl game. It's also bittersweet knowing that Carr has coached his last game. It may have been time for him to go, but I'm still sad that a run that was far more good than bad come to an end. I'm so glad that he gets to go out with this kind of win. He deserves that.

Happy New Year!

I know I've been MIA for a bit, but now that the new year is here I'll resume a regular posting schedule. I have no predictions for the Capital One Bowl today. I so badly want Carr and this group of seniors to go out with a win, but my understanding is that neither Henne nor Hart are 100% yet and the truth of things is it probably wouldn't matter if they were. I fear Florida is going to roll all over my pack of feisty weasels. Ah well. I can always hope for divine intervention.

At any rate, I hope you all had a great Christmas. And a Happy New Year to you all!