Now Being Entertained

Mar 25, 2010

Now Listening

I’ve been listening Dave Matthews’ Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, jamming away in the truck while I travel to work and back again.  This album is their best work in quite a while.  “Shake Me Like a Monkey” is my favorite song of the past year or so and, one day, I’ll learn “You & Me” on the guitar.  I just have to. 

I also need to see them in concert, again.  That’s scheduled for the summer.

Now Playing

I’m playing a lot of God of War 3, which is as brutal and maybe predictable as you’d expect.  I don’t think I mean predictable in a bad way.  Kratos simply noticed that several heads are in need of removal.  I’m not surprised he’s the man for the job. 

I remain pretty happy with the formula, especially in a game that starts this fast and looks this incredible.  But the formula is incredibly obvious if you’ve ever touched one of these games before.  This is my fourth (I count the PSP game).  Next time I’ll be looking for something a little different.

Now Watching

The wife and I are watching a lot of American Idol and Survivor, the latter of which is aging better than the former.  I’m not exactly certain what’s wrong with American Idol.  It certainly has something to do with a weak lineup of contestants.  Maybe they’ve played with the format too much.  Maybe I’ve gotten too good at using my DVR.  Maybe I miss Paula.  No, it can’t be that last thing.  It can’t be that at all.

Survivor, however, remains a pretty good show where they eventually eat bugs or something similarly vomit inducing.  The villains and heroes thing feels contrived – after all, it is — but, somehow, the show remains entertaining.  Jerks and Rob will soon merge with the nice guys, however.  I’ll be happy when we get down to individuals.

I’ll be happier when I find more time to watch The Fringe.

Now Reading

I recently began the “Song of Fire and Ice” series of books penned by George R.R. Martin in an effort to fill a gaping hole in my fantasy library.  I know.  I can’t believe I waited so long either.  I’m sorry I waited, even as Mr. Martin does terrible things to characters he first made me love.  I’m well into “A Clash of Kings.”  I’ll finish reading the series, at least when George bothers to finish writing it.

I do have to say it’s been both a fantastic and terrible addition to my Kindle.  Getting the first two books for just over $6.  Awesome.  Not knowing I just purchased about 2000 pages of reading material.  What is this, Harry Potter?

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Dad Can Wait

Jan 24, 2009

The whole point of Fallout 3 is to find your dad.  See what he’s up to.  Discover why he left you behind.  Unravel a mystery that only begins with your father taking off without you and leaving no answers to exactly why.  I’m missing the point.

What to do next?It’s not that I’m not interested.  At some point I’ll find the time and energy to pick up his trail through the vast and desolate post apocalyptic world that make up my not so welcome home.  The mutants and nasty moles between him and I aren’t to blame.  I find them everywhere.  Another 1 or 20 don’t serve as much of a deterrent.

It’s just that my dad isn’t the sole story worth exploring.  I need to help a woman write a book, nearly sacrificing myself in the process.  I have to help a lady send a message to her family, discovering things she’d rather not.  Hell, a little boy just asked my help to find his father.  How can I refuse?

And each of these stories don’t end simple or even easily.  Many can be considered adventures all by themselves, both in scope and in the hours lost while following their twists and turns.  A simple bit of playing messenger ends in a murder mystery and the discovery of a cult whose methods and message are very mixed.  An attempt to bring light to a traitor ends badly for those I wanted to help.

These stories frame the world.  They make Fallout what it is, something beyond the rubble and depression, something very eager to tell you its story.

Rather that story really involves my dad, I can’t tell, at least not yet.  I assume it must.  I won’t know for a while. First, I want to explore that abandoned school over there.  And see what I can do about that nuclear bomb.  And see about delivering this bit of naughty nightwear. And…

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May 20, 2008

When I play Peggle, I can’t help but think about Bob Barker.  In PopCap’s alternative universe, Bob has been replaced by a unicorn, not Drew Carey.  Instead of models, we get animal life, like a rabbit with a helpful little magic hat.  It’s all still colorful and wonderful but here you play Plinko, not some person that has no business jumping up and down like that.

Ok, Peggle isn’t exactly like Plinko.  You don’t drop disks from above.  Instead, they are fired from a tiny cannon.  In addition to being the obstacle, pegs are actually targets.  Aim, press the trigger, and watch the ball dance along, bouncing to and fro, clearing the way as it works its way below.  It’s captivating, addicting, and proof that PopCap has this casual game thing mastered. It’s also much better than its inspiration; something that the new Price is Right is unlikely to be.

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Predicting E3

May 3, 2006

E3 is an interesting beast. The flurry of news that spews from gaming’s little trade show piles a virtual mountain of information on my computer desk from which I’m unlikely to emerge with any action resembling haste. With both Nintendo and Sony poised to chat about their new entries in the console war and Microsoft out to prove that the 360 won’t be a just stopgap until the PS3 arrives, it’ll be a fun, and rather interesting, week.

While some this week will be spent poring over the slowly leaking pre-release news, I thought I’d take the lull in activity to register a few predictions, some risky, some decidedly not. I’ll revisit these later and see how I did.

Microsoft will announce a bigger hard drive for the Xbox 360

This move will largely be a response to Sony’s announcement of a 60 GB hard drive for the PS3. How big? 100 is a nice round number. This rumor has the size correct. The price, however, is another matter.

Sony will not announce a price for the Playstation 3

Some will say it’ll be a wonderful surprise for later. Others would say that we really don’t want to know. We only know it’s going to be expensive. That will have to be enough for now.

A number within a single dollar of $500 is rather likely to show up on a sign near you. Expect them to hold this news until late summer. Expect them to sell every one of the 1 or 2 million machines that they produce this year, regardless of the price tag found on the box.

Microsoft will announce a price drop …. for the original Xbox

Microsoft won’t, however, announce a price drop for the suddenly price competitive Xbox 360. Why ignore the improved offspring in favor of its parent? Simple economics.

The 360 doesn’t need to shed pennies at the moment. The timing is all wrong. I count 6 months between now and the likely November release of its real competitor. The pressure continues to mount to establish a convincing lead in terms of hardware sales. That remains more of a supply than a price issue heading into the summer months. Microsoft could have a $100 price advantage when Sony finally enters the market. Don’t expect Microsoft to play with price tags until Sony finally lays its cards on the table. Even then, no promises are likely to be made.

On the other hand, the original Xbox isn’t faring so well. It’s quickly finding itself without many friends. Third-party support is quickly drying up, reflecting a lack of support from its first part developer. Microsoft began to ignore their giant black box late last year. Everyone else is about to do the same. They only need to clear the warehouse.

Sony will make you believe that Live was their idea

Sony won’t talk about Xbox Live. They are likely to deny its existence entirely. Their press conference will, however, inspire quite a bit a deja vu. Sony will outline a set of features that do more than just mimic the online capabilities currently available on Microsoft’s circle infested machine. You’ll add PlayBuddies to some type of registry. You’ll add up PlayPoints, earned from each PS3 game, to form an ultimate PlayScore.

Remember folks, their idea. All. Along.

Nintendo will be the talk to the show

Somewhere between the blaring videos of Sony’s promises and hubbub that should accompany Microsoft’s first round of real software for the next generation, you’ll find Nintendo’s tiny box. It’ll be different. It’ll have that fancy remote we’ve heard so much about. Most importantly, it’ll be unique. Unique is exactly what you want to be in a room full of jaded journalists who’ve spent a lifetime playing the same old thing. How the hell do you play with the damn thing anyway?

Nintendo might have no clue how to name the damn thing but don’t be surprised if the press is just snapping at their heels, for good or bad. I’m guessing it’ll be the former.

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I’m a few hours in.

If you thought Top Spin was a great game, you’ll find a lot to like in Top Spin 2. If you thought Virtua Tennis was perfect, you’ll find that Top Spin 2 has stolen even more from its inspiration this time around.

Mostly, this means things are a bit harder. Positioning is more important, both to make contact and to effectively return the ball. You can now hit things out. A deft touch is now an advantage and a skill. The career mode is deeper, longer, and more interesting.

So, it’s better, a good bit better than number 1. But, it still doesn’t support doubles play with 4 separate machines. That latter fact is disappointing. I’ll have to whip my friends one person at a time.

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One Step on Humanity

May 11, 2005

I capped my night off tonight by playing a demo of soon to be released game Destroy All Humans, an eye catching title if I’ve ever seen one. Since no one asked, I’ve decided to share some quick comments on the preview:

Any demo that begins by tossing cows automatically gets an A+ from me. I intend to keep this rule in place for the foreseeable future.

The demo is rather short. It comes in at about 10 minutes. While you get to do some rather fun stuff (did I mention cows?), the demo doesn’t give you enough time to draw too many conclusions.

The destructible buildings remind me of Mercenaries. This is a good thing. This is also unsurprising.

The ability to throw farm equipment around, like the random truck or tractor, reminds me of my childhood.

“And I’m not green!”

What I saw looks good. I want to see more.

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May 5, 2005

GamerDad, one of my frequent stops along the information superhighway, has just relanched. As a reasonably recent gamer dad, I’ve found it to be a great resource and one that I highly recommend.

I’m a big fan of their review system as they take the time to discuss both whether or not the game is good and whether or not the game is good for kids. These are completely different concepts. I’m happy to see them treated as such.

The discussion of each game’s “kid factor” is especially nice. While they do provide an age appropriate rating system to each game that goes above and beyond the standard system in place by the ESRB, I’m happier that they take the time to write some actual text on the subject. For the most part, these decisions need to made on a per child basis. I don’t need the government or a review board to tell me what my kid can do. I can make that decision. Help me make a good one.

My enthusiasm for the site is undoubtably colored by the fact that I know some of the main folks behind the site — they often find themselves on the competing end of an Xbox live matchup or two — but don’t let that stop you from visiting. If your kid plays games — and if you have a kid, the second part is essentially a given — it’s great that the internet is around to help you make good decisions about what they play when they’re playing.

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amal-Jay ewis-Lay

Dec 21, 2004

In an act of evil reserved for the creatures of hell and large corporations, Electronic Arts dropped the following bombshell on the videogame world about a week ago.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Dec. 13, 2004–Electronic Arts
today announced exclusive licensing relationships with the National
Football League and PLAYERS INC to develop, publish and distribute
interactive football games. These five-year agreements — which EA
negotiated separately — give EA the exclusive rights to the NFL teams,
stadiums and players for use in its football videogames. Both
agreements also include exclusive rights for console online features.

This move, which effectively wipes out all competition on the brown pigskin front, is liable to prove a great move for EA’s bottom line. Unfortunately, the sports gamer (yep, that’s me) will spend at least five years getting screwed in terms of price, quality, and innovation.

The most immediate repercussions of this deal will be felt by EA’s most successful competition, Sega’s NFL 2K series of football games. Without access to the names of the NFL’s teams and players, Sega’s franchise is left with a gaping hole that can only be filled with some creative use of pig latin and broad generalities. Anyone want to play the Baltimore Black Birds against the Dallas Horse Riders? I didn’t think so.

Sega’s games have given EA’s Madden series a run for their money for years. A copy of Sega’s ESPN NFL 2K5 rests on my shelf right next to my copy of Madden NFL 2005 this year, largely due to an aggressive price strategy meant to widen their consumer base. A $20 price tag is difficult to ignore, both by the leisurely sports gamer and the competition. Memo to Sega: “How’s that price tag treating you?” — Love EA.

As sad as I find the demise of Sega’s once proud NFL 2K series, the long term repercussions could be much worse. Sports games, and particularly football games due to the absolute dominance of EA’s Madden games, are a very difficult bracket to break into. Historically, EA has had such an enormous lead in terms of development time to add to their already vast resources that competition is very much discouraged. Sports games take years to make and mature. Artificial intelligence needs to be refined. Playbooks need to be tweaked. Options are added as time allows.

Deciding to take on EA on their home turf is an enormous financial risk. Given another five year lead, what company would consider bidding against them in 2010? This deal might not shut out the competition for years. It may shut others out effectively forever. EA’s the 800 lb gorilla. Just try and take him on when he’s already full.

Oddly, I’m unsure what the NFL really gets of this besides a one-time
lump sum and some ease in the bookkeeping department. Why limit your potential audience? Why dramatically slash the number of football games released in a year? Isn’t that called free marketing? Why alienate the fans of other football franchises? If that $20 price tag for ESPN NFL 2K5 was good for anyone outside of the offices of Take Two (the publisher) and Sega, it was the NFL. You want folks to fire up their Xbox and see your logo as often as possible. All signs point to the fact that the NFL was looking for this, yearning for it apparently. I’m sure the fat check is nice. You might have thought a bit about the future.

While the NFL goes the way of NASCAR, FIFA, and the PGA — all organizations that also happen to share an exclusive agreement with EA — I’m left with few choices. And, despite my misgivings, I’ll buy Madden anyway. I simply need a football game on my shelf every August. My problem has been medically diagnosed. I can’t help myself.

Apparently, the real problem isn’t EA’s evil business practices. It’s that they work.

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Oct 19, 2004

I’ve been eyeing The Political Machine, a game that would allow me to play out my political fantasies, a lot lately. Given its timely subject matter and rather positive reviews, it’s right up my alley. I’d love to add it to my always growing stable of games. However, I’ve run into one issue that has, so far, stunted any immediate purchases. I haven’t determined the form or packaging that my purchase of The Political Machine should take. Let me explain.

The Political Machine is one of many games out there available for purchase outside of normal retail channels. That is, instead of running off to Best Buy or EB, I can purchase it directly from the developer. While that alone isn’t what I’d called unique, the delivery mechanism, which includes installing an application to do all the heavy lifting for you, is a bit different. There is no box to open or manual to hold under the light. There’s no shipping in the traditional sense. You ask for the game, put down your credit card, and you have it.

From a technology standpoint, I find this appealing. Patches are delivered more or less automatically. The $5 I would hand to UPS remains in my pocket. To its credit, the rules of use, especially as the pertain to digital rights management, are very flexible and open. You can back up your games whenever or however you want. You can install the software you attain on any PC you own. I’ll miss the comfort of a box on my shelf but I’ll get over it. There’s little room anyway. However, none of this speaks to my problem.

The problem is that The Political Machine is available standalone or as a part of a bigger package called This is where my temptations come in to play. allows you to subscribe to a library of games. Rather than purchase only one a single game, I can get a bunch of them. But, of course, the price is higher. I have not yet decided if the increase in price is worth the additional games I’d receive and, presumably, play.

The studs of, in my opinion, are Galactic Civilizations and The Political Machine. This opinion stems from personal interest. Galactic Civilizations is a spiritual successor to the Master of Orion series, a series that once caused my room to glow with the light of a computer monitor well into the night. The Political Machine, fills an immediate gaming desire.

Celtic Kings and Robin Hood appear to be good games but I wouldn’t consider them reasons to make a purchase. They would be a bonus. If they happen to show up on my desktop, I’ll check them out but my level is interest is more like that of a demo than genuine excitement. Disciples 2, another game on the list, would approach the stud category if I didn’t already own the game.

All in all, it’s a good package but it isn’t a cheap one. $89 is the current asking price. Owww. I tend to think of my gaming purchases in chunks of $50 or, lately, chunks of about $20. Ninety dollars is a lot to plunk down in one sitting, especially in a year where so packed with great releases.

Timing is also an issue. I’d love to have The Political Machine right now but the other games could really wait. My gaming itinerary is nearly full. The recent crop of sports game from Sega have my fingers bleeding. Come November, I’ll be defending the earth with a crowbar one day and dual needlers the next. Christmas is coming and the gaming goose will be getting fat. However, quite the opposite will happen to my wife, as she has plans to deliver another brave sole into this world.

Throw in the fact that The Political Machine is available for $20 and the math demonstrates my conundrum. My calculator says that the games I really want cost $80 ($20 for The Political Machine, $40 for Galactic Civilizations and $20 for its expansion), just $10 less than the full asking price.

That extra $10 buys me two games I’m unsure that I’ll play to any great extent and — here’s the kicker — any game released by StarDock in the next year. Is it worth it?

Well, I might have a better idea if I knew what was coming down the pipe, despite the fact that release dates are very rarely worth the pixels they’re displayed on. $10 for two games and a player to be named later sounds like a great idea. $70 for games I have no hope of playing immediately is much more dubious.

For the moment, I’m leaning towards the single purchase. If I muster the interest at a later date — perhaps when game releases are a bit more thin — I’ll pick up the whole kit and caboodle, kissing the value of my initial purchase away in the process. In between now and the time I enter my credit card number, I think I’ll open the question to a more qualified audience. What do you think?

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Game Night

Oct 18, 2004

It’s not quite Shoot Club, but Gaming Night is something special nonetheless. It’s a gathering of friends. It’s a gathering of controllers. The five console machines under my TV do all the work. The rest is a fellowship of a normally destructive kind. There’s yelling and screaming. There are takedowns and cut downs. Mothers are mentioned in casual conversation. Few mothers emerge unscathed as a result.

Gaming night has become something of a tradition around these parts, despite its lack of a proper nickname. What started as a regular meeting of a couple guys looking for a gaming fix has morphed into an event, an event that requires planning. Those same guys are a wee bit grown up now. Some have kids. Some have wives. Oh yes, wives. Honey, can I go over Ken’s and play games on Saturday?

The set up for gaming night can range wildly, jumping from a single TV and a few players on a couch to multiple machines and network cables. For this past weekend, which marked the Last Gaming Night Before Child Number 2, I’m leaned towards the later. I brought a second TV downstairs and hooked up a second Xbox. I set up DDR upstairs to entice the occasional passerby.

The DDR pads saw a small share of dancing, mostly due to the determination and gusto of one particular DDR addict. The second Xbox was barely touched, reflecting the group’s dissappointment that Burnout 3, an otherwise awesome game, could only be played by two players at a time.

Most of our time was spent in front of screen number one. The quirky Japanese game Katamari Damacy made its rounds, in more way than one. Mario Kart saw a fair share of action. Throwing giant turtle shells from the back of a pink Cadillac being driven by my partner is my idea of fun. I’m not alone with this sentiment. We capped off the night with a little tennis and a good helping of basketball.

All in all, it was a fun night. With my second namesake on the way, I don’t expect to do this again for a good while. I’ll live. I appreciate the time I get for diversions such as these and, quite frankly, I don’t think my mother’s reputation should take another beating like that for a while.

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