Jun 8, 2004

A couple months ago, I spent the entire day gaming. When I say the entire day, I mean it. I started at about 9:00 am and finished up around 11:00 pm. I took short breaks for lunch and dinner but nearly every minute of my day was spent staring at my computer monitor. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one; about twelve guys stationed to all around me did the very same thing. See, I was invited to my very first lan party. My activities were encouraged.

While LAN gaming surely isn’t the necessity it once was — broadband access can make it seem like thousands are right there in your living room (hey no crumbs on the couch, please) — it’s still a worthy exercise. The camaraderie of close quarters provides an experience that the solitude of my office desk cannot reproduce. Something can be said about hearing the cries of your victims from across the room.

What surprised me about the event (outside of the absolutely incredible setup the host of the party possessed — network cables and power wires seem to lurch from every crevice of his basement) was how several moments of the day have become solidified memories. I’ll attempt to describe a couple here. If you can imagine a room lit only by the glow of computer monitors, the sounds of running computer fans, and occasional scream of anguish while you read below, so much the better.

My most prized moment of the morning sprung from a match of the Battlefield 1942 mod, Desert Combat. After some intense battles on the Weapon Bunkers map, our team was falling on hard luck. Two of the map objectives, which involved blowing up bunkers of weapons, had been destroyed, leaving only the last objective, a third bunker, left standing. The problem was that our tickets — and tickets are what determines the winner and loser of the match — were rapidly approaching zero. I raced to the third bunker, with very little hope that anything could be done. Upon arrival, I rapidly laid explosives, noting that the bunker was already smoking and heavily damaged. My immediate problem was that much of my team had been wiped out by staunch defenses and I could see the enemy approaching from all sides. I would never make it down from the bunker alive to flip the switch and time was very nearly up. I made a snap decision and pulled the plunger, sending both the bunker and myself sky high. We won the match by a single ticket.

Another Desert Combat map left me with memories of a furious tank battle. Throughout the match, two of teammates and I fought to keep control of one of the map’s two capture points. It was a long battle and the hectic activity required to raise a proper defense gave me a sniff of that “in the bunker” feeling. The three of us shouted locations of mined entrances at each other. One of us was always directing the others towards the direction of the latest attack.

At one point we were all ousted nearly simultaneously, leaving the base in the enemy’s hands and the three of us respawning in front of pretty new tanks back at our home base. Those three tanks left the base at full speed in an effort to reclaim our lost prize. The result was a glorious exchange of gunfire as all three tanks rolled into and then recaptured the lost base. The only missing was the music from the “Ride of the Valkeries”.

Unreal Tournament’s Leviathan provided the parting shot of the party, at least from my perspective. This vehicle seats about 5 and is pretty powerful even when used for a leisurely drive around the battlefield. Its main weapon — which must be deployed in a special sequence, leaving it immobilized, is something to behold. I wasn’t prepared for the massive explosion that could erupt from this lumbering beast. Neither was the other team.

All in all, the event was a blast and something I very much hope I get a chance to repeat. If there was any doubt, gaming is better as a community experience, especially without the convenience that the internet provides. It’s even better when you control the Leviathan.

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Take Two on Take Two

Jan 6, 2004

I’ve been trying to read the NY Post’s assessment of Take Two‘s stock. Take Two, for those who aren’t gaming inclined, publishes the Grand Theft Auto games. The article blasts the company for the content of its games in a great display of fire and brimstone and, in doing so, is both more than a little self-serving and quite incorrect in the process. Much of the gaming world is up in arms about this piece. I’m still trying to wrestle it down like a moldy sandwich. There are bits of bread that aren’t entirely green, but meat is most definitely rotten and, Lord, how did a rat tail get in here?

It all starts well enough. Christopher Byron, the author of the piece, begins by talking about stock prices. He tells us that Take Two’s stock has been a hot ticket. I agree. Any stock that goes up 500% in a couple of years should be watched with a wary eye. He talks a little, and eventually wraps up with, some recent problems they’ve had with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Again, I share his fears. Any company that gets that many visits from suited men from the Federal government must be held under a certain amount of suspicion.

But then things go to hell. Christopher Byron gets to leave the intended subject — I’m guessing stock prices from the title — behind and launch into a personal tirade, a tirade that is as silly as it is littered with inaccuracies.

He takes Take Two to task for its products:

Some long-overdue questions are also being raised about the nature of Take-Two’s unusual product line, which is coming under attack by local and state legislators around the country.

Unusual? They have a couple of runaway hits (the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto games), a couple of great games (Mafia, Age of Wonders), some good games (Railroad Tycoon, Serious Sam), a bunch of other stuff, and — get this — a good helping of children’s games (Dora, Piglet’s BIG Game). This sounds like a great resume for a publisher. Oh, and yes I said publisher; Take Two doesn’t even make these games. They only market and distribute them (“produce”, as Mr. Byron says, is a bit misleading). Maybe Mr. Byron should cast that evil stare at Rockstar North, whose games are almost exclusively violent in one way or another (they are indeed the creators of the Grand Theft Auto games). Then again, that may require him to do some research, click on a link or two, and have a clue about which he speaks.

He then discusses the real sand in his underwear: one particular game published by Take Two, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

And when you do, everything will look incredibly and shockingly real, with blood spewing everywhere.

You can kill a cop, steal his gun, and then use it to shoot someone else. Or you can pick up a prostitute and have sex with her in the back of your stolen car, then beat her to death – or shoot her, bludgeon her, whatever you want.

First of all, GTA does not look “incredibly and shockingly” real. Here’s a screenshot and here’s another. What do you think? It’s almost cartoon-like in its appearance. Of course, these are just my eyes. My Byron may classify Pac Man as incredibly realistic depiction of circular construction paper consuming electrified food and colored bed coverings at enormous rate.

Second, sure you can steal a gun and shoot the police. You can entertain a prostitute and kill her. But you don’t have to so. It’s an open world; that’s really the beauty of the whole game. You do what you want. Nobody is stopping you and the punishments aren’t very harsh when you cross the very faded line. Mr. Byron, I suggest you spend your playtime doing other things, like furthering the story. Really, you should be ashamed. There is much more to do than watching the back of old Chevy bop up and down.

Finally, he gives us his speech. These are the lines to make them tremble. These are the lines to get people to read his article. This is his chance to step up on the soapbox.

People, this is insane. This is 10,000 times worse than the worst thing anybody thinks Michael Jackson ever did to a little boy – or than any lie the feds think Martha Stewart ever told them, or any line in any song that Bruce Springsteen ever sang that rankled a cop in the Meadowlands.

People, and I say this with much more respect than he, this is insane. He can’t be serious. He simply cannot believe that playing a game — and let’s not forget that’s what this is — can even compare to pedophilia or stealing from folks for personal gain. The only plausible reason for making a statement such as this is to preach to the morally superior choir. He understands his intended audience. He wants to sing along, solidify their fears and misguided opinions.

It matters not that most lack a proper frame a reference. Not everyone has a copy of Vice City on their shelf. Not everyone has the initiative to witness its assured banality. That’s unnecessary. Opinions are formulated from the news media — this news media.

It’s a prostitution simulator despite the fact that you need to actively seek them out. It’s a killing simulator even though half the games I play have a higher causality count (including Super Mario Bros. — those poor turtles). It’s controversia; it must be evil.

They forget for a second that this game is an interactive version of any great mob movie (in fact the voice of the main character, Ray Liotta, is famous for his movie work). These things are for our kids, despite the fact that most studies or surveys say the average age of the modern gamer is somewhere between 24 and 27. I certainly don’t need Mr. Byron to look after the content that crosses my television and I don’t appreciate his efforts.

This whole age-cutoff thing is simply garbage – just like “Grand Theft Auto” itself – and sooner or later, I would imagine, we’ll come to our senses and ban these games from public commerce, just like we ban child pornography and entertainment spectacles such as cock fighting and dwarf throwing.

I also have no need for incredibly stupid suggestions such as this. This is a game and, it seems that I again must make this point for Mr. Byron’s sake, just a game. Comparing Grand Theft Auto to such morally reprehensible acts add flair to his argument. It also reveals him to not be of right mind.

Maybe I should be thankful. His public display of ignorance provides a safe passage into a discussion that leads back to actual financials. He worries that the Grand Theft Auto games encompass too much of Take Two’s paycheck:

The company’s latest three-month and nine-month financial results, covering the period through July 31, show “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and an earlier version of the same ghastly program (“Grand Theft Auto III”) to have accounted for just under half the company’s sales.

Well, duh. Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City have been the biggest selling videogames of the last couple of years. The competition hasn’t even been close. For a while, they could barely make them fast enough. These sales numbers would impress even EA or Sony, a couple of big boys of the gaming business. I wonder how much of New Line Cinema‘s bottom line was padded with The Lord of the Rings. Having a runaway hit is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, this should breed excitement. Each Grand Theft Auto has been better than the last. A well established franchise keeps improving with age. Talk about bread and butter.

Mr. Byron blatherings are made all the more obscene by the fact that I’m not entirely convinced that he’s actually played the game. Ok, maybe he picked up a controller for a couple of minutes. Maybe he once witnessed a friend play from across the room. Maybe he peered through a store window. Maybe he once saw a commercial.

I can give no other explanation for his goofy talk. His separation of fantasy and reality is misaligned. I have trouble trying to swallow his arguments. I have more trouble trying to digest what his intolerant views of gaming have to do with his day job. It sounds to me that he’s simply cruising the mean streets of the information superhighway, just looking for trouble. Some of us Vice City game players know exactly how he feels.

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Now Playing

Aug 6, 2003

In the last couple of weeks, two of my biggest gaming addictions, Battlefield 1942 and Nascar Racing 2003, have been put aside for calmer, but not necessarily greener, pastures. This shift in my attention was forced on me but the overall effect has been refreshing. I’ve been spending a lot more time ridding the world of evil than making bombing runs or turning that 50th lap, an activity which is much friendlier to my partially blinking eye.

Role playing games have been stealing a lot of my time. Two of them came off the shelf after a long, dusty stay. A third is brand new and has sunk its claws deep into me.

An earlier post mentioned the travels of the wife and I through the land of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. This action RPG was a lot of fun. The statistics are dumbed down to the point where all you really need to do is run around and smack stuff – or, in my case, hide in the back and chuck spells at things – and that’s a good thing. It’s easy to pick up and and easy to play. My only disappointment revolved around the story. It seemed more like two stories than one and the two didn’t seem to have much to do with each other. Our disjointed style of play, which was stretched over several months, surely didn’t help the matter.

Neverwinter Nights, which is now more than a year old, came off the shelf because of an opportunity to play it with a friend. That friend had purchased the newest expansion pack, Shadows of Undrentide, and was interested in tackling one of many user made modules for the game. The result is that I’m not actually playing the game, per se. I’m playing a game someone made using the tools the developer so kindly provided.

Birthright of the North, chosen from a list of hundreds because of its high rating in the Neverwinter Vault, is impressive, especially when you consider it was constructed by a single person. I’m always stunned at the amount of work individuals put into game modifications. This one boasts 40 hours of play time, a ton of things to do, and a very open ended style of play. We’ve probably got thirty hours left. I’m looking forward to them.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the new kid on the block, does a lot to appease my disappointment with Star Wars: Galaxies. It’s the first role playing game I’ve ever played in the Chewbacca’s universe and – oh my – it’s a good one. The first thing you notice is how much story and dialog there is. All the dialog is spoken, regardless of the language. Want to hear some Wookie spout off about his grooming? This game has it.

The other thing that becomes immediately obvious is the number of choices you can make. Every situation has choices that decide whether you will follow the light or dark side of the force and, because of this, you get a good sense of freedom. I might be a good boy now but a second play through might be necessary to see how much of a bastard I can really be.

That’s what I’m playing now. As soon as I get better, I’ll return to a more balanced meal on the action front. My poor eye better start blinking soon, though. Madden 2003 comes out in a week. I want to be ready.

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Playing with the Wife

Jul 29, 2003

The wife and I completed Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, a cooperative role playing game, the other night. I had to jostle her awake to finish off the end boss but that didn’t help the powers of evil. My mage made a final bow during the final battle and her dwarf dealt the killing blow. It was a lot of fun.

The sad thing is that we started our 16 hour adventure many months ago, months before the birth of our son. In the rush to prepare for, and then have, our little baby boy, we’ve left little time for dawdling and little time for gaming. Finding one of us on the couch with copious amounts of free time is a rare sight. Happening upon two concious parents with time to play is an aberration, an aberration that often leads to other things (like cleaning).

Frankly, I’m surprised she not only puts up with my gaming habit but joins in. Most normal men wouldn’t look kindly towards a wife who swings an giant axe and quaffs health potions like there is no tomorrow. I’m no normal man.
Combining one my loves, gaming, with the love of my life is a personal joy. Next up: Grim Fandango. Manny’s going to help us celebrate the Day of the Dead.

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Jun 30, 2003

If there was ever a fantasy world I would have liked to step right into, lightsaber in hand, Star Wars is it. I want to pilot that X-Wing. I want to face the Hut full of jelly and save that princess with buns in her hair. I want to be the swashbuckling hero. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like I can do any of those things in Star Wars Galaxies, a game that launched just last week.

Galaxies sounded like a gamer’s dream. User controlled cities, controllable vehicles like land speeders, and space combat headed the feature list. As the years rolled by, features became future promises and even future expansion packs. What’s left sounds more like Everquest with Ewoks than the incredible game I hoped to rush home and play.

I say “hope” because I’ve yet to purchase the game. Another reason has kept me from the retail shelves. The rapidly shrinking feature list should give you a clue. From the initial reports – and the reports of some folks in the beta – the game is buggy. Some things are incomplete. Some things are completely broken. Day one found many gamers waiting for the registration screen. Subsequent days have been filled with server downtime.

For many massively multiplayer role-playing games – Dark Age of Camelot excluded, server instability in their infant days is par for the course. That doesn’t make it right, particularly when Joe consumer is sitting at home $50 lighter. For this game, it almost seemed to be the plan. The game isn’t ready to play. They are, however, more than ready to begin collecting money.

And somehow, I’m still interested. I won’t spend my hard earned money to beta test their software. However, I hope one of my friends does. I need someone on the inside. Someone to approach me in a year and assure me that my dream of what this game could be is close to becoming reality. Much like the suits at Sony, I need a guinea pig.

The Star Wars license with a $15 a month fee is the closest thing that the massively multiplayer gaming community will see to a sure thing for a long while. Look ma, I can be a Wookie. They can’t screw it up. They just can’t. That doesn’t mean they won’t give it a college try.

I would have gladly paid their sum to play the game that I really wanted to play. As it turns out, though, they haven’t finished it. I won’t pay them a cent until they do.

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Return to Sender

Jun 16, 2003

Not too long ago, I submitted a column to a web site I visit every week. GameSpotting, the site in question, is a freeform feature run by the GameSpot crew. They basically run around to each member of their staff and ask them to write something, anything about games. Recently, they began to take reader submissions. Mine didn’t get in.

Why didn’t it get in? I’m sure there were all sorts of reasons. It mentions too many retail chains. Its more of a narrative than an article. The timing of my submission wasn’t the best. E3 loomed right around the corner and, in addition to the folks of GameSpot turning their attention to the big gaming event, they didn’t run a GameSpotting column for a couple of weeks. Lastly – and I have to allow for this – it just wasn’t very good.

In any case, their four weeks are up. The rights of my writing have returned to me. For better or worse, I’ve placed the object of my rejection below. Feel free to peruse and even compare it to what they have up this week. Enjoy. I promise I’ll do better next time.

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You Light Up My Screen

Jun 16, 2003
Now Playing: Zelda: The Wind Waker, Battlefield 1942, Nascar 2003
Lighting Up My Life: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of the Seasons, Metroid Fusion, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

You make my GBA whole. You make it easy to carry along. The glow emanating from my new Game Boy Advance SP fills me with delight. The difficult quest I undertook to acquire it helps it shine that much brighter.

Just days after the release of the GBA SP, I was found wanting. I thought I was patient. I thought I could wait until late April, when my birthday would surely usher in a finely wrapped package. I was wrong. It took only the faint flicker of a friend’s display to prove it. They say timing is everything. My bad timing had left me empty handed.

Darkness falls, on both the game and my GBA screen.
Darkness falls, on both the game and my GBA screen.

But I would not let hopelessness set in. I could get one of those tiny little silver systems. I had only to try. I was determined, even if resolve hasn’t always been my closest friend in the past.

Determination once led me across town to pick up that last copy of WaveRace from the not-so-local Electronics Boutique. Determination taught me how many Best Buy trips it takes to acquire a copy of Dark Age of Camelot on the first day of its release (hint, it’s no less than four). Determination sometimes does me wrong. In this one case, it did me right.

My quest began in the morning. Phone call after phone call resulted in failure. The local malls were sold out. The boutique on the corner wouldn’t be getting any more shipments for weeks. You could almost hear the eyes roll around in the clerk’s head as he let down another anxious customer. Sorry buddy, not today.

Finding this on the first day of its release was no walk in the park.
Finding this on the first day of its release was no walk in the park.

Best Buy was cleaned out, so much so that it was difficult to find the sign. Compounding my problems, I had promised to visit relatives in the hills of Pennsylvania this day. A road trip awaited. The lack of a lighted screen would be torture. Surely, I could find one on the way.

Strike two occurred at a small town mall. It seems that eyes roll there much like they do back home. Saddened by the news, I had no choice but to continue my journey. My plans were in ruin. I should have thought ahead. My old GBA taunted me from the dark depths of its screen.

Thankfully, a Walmart, cleverly hidden on a lonely stretch of road, ended my pangs of regret. The sharp eye of my wife picked out a location that needy gamers often skip entirely. The pot of gold at the end of my rainbow was a striking silver. My treasure was finally in hand and I couldn’t have been happier.

The backlit screen makes all the difference. Where I once peered deeply into my own reflection, I now bask in the bright glow of screen below. The goodies it reveals warm my heart.

There’s no game where this makes more of a difference than in Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. The background is dark. The foreground is dark. Even the cartridge and package are dark. Maybe they were trying to warn me up front. The addition of a little light reveals a whole new experience. Little did I know that the walls were made of some type of heavy stone. It turns out that little thing flailing from Nathan Graves was a whip after all.

Samus is also searching for a brighter light.
Samus is also searching for a brighter light.

And my sunny joys are not limited to that game alone. Much that was once old is new again. Happy soldiers stare back at me in Advance Wars. Ghosts shift warily behind the tracks in Mario Kart. Samus can finally spend a little less time looking for an extra flashlight in Metroid Fusion.

The included battery back and slick design round out the package. It’s truly the backlit star of the portable world. I have but one question: why didn’t we get it sooner?

A problem for Nintendo and a blessing for gamers, the SP has raised the bar for what constitutes a portable game system. Just as the Xbox will make any future console that doesn’t include a hard drive a second class citizen, any future portable system simply must include a rechargeable battery. A backlit screen may have been an option before; it is no longer.

Were my travels worth it? It depends on who you ask. If you ask my boss, the flash of silver looks much like a PDA and well, that’s all I need to know. My next status meeting just became a whole lot more entertaining.

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Mar 26, 2003

There’s something about a beautiful spring day combined with the release of a new Zelda game that makes my heart swell. The sense of giddy excitement I had as I approached the counter at the local GameStop is something that I haven’t experienced in a while.

It harkens me back to my high school days, where a good friend and I would run off to EB with freshly saved cash stashed in our pockets. Minutes later we would be back in the car. One person had to man the wheel and pedals. The other would tear open the packaging, eager to digest any indication that our purchases were good or bad.

In this case, the verdict has been out for a while. You might not agree with its art direction. You might not appreciate the devotion the Link name carries but you cannot deny that every Zelda release has been a damn fine game. This one is no exception.

I’m happy that my wife shared a bit of my excitement. We brought the child down to the living room and Cambell and I watched mommy play through the first hour of the game. After the wife and I returned from church, we returned to the GameCube for a little more. This time my bit chomping was reduced. We swapped the controller back and forth.

Whether or not this one will hook me is already decided. I didn’t need to see my sister carted off by a bird to figure that out. The big question is whether or not I’ll have to fight my wife for seat time. I’m guessing I might – she beat A Link to the Past twice.

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As I promised, or threatened, depending on your point of view,
here is the list the games that came close but didn’t quite
make my previous list of the five best games I played this year.
These are numbers six through ten, presented in their unordered

Warcraft 3

Warcraft 3 is simply the most polished real-time strategy game
around. Everything about the game just oozes quality.
Great graphics? Check. Well-designed interface? Check.
A blast to play? Check. Everything that makes a good game
is ready and waiting. But that’s my only problem with it so
far: it is still waiting for me. The game got a bit lost in
my shuffle to get a new computer and has yet to reside on
my newest machine. As a result, I haven’t finished it.
No matter – the time I spent on the beta was fun enough.
This is just a damn fine game.

Aggressive Inline

Without the recommendation from a friend, I would never have
touched this game. It’s published by Acclaim – a company that
has a spootty record, a record that is even more questionable
when you consider that this looked like a simple clone of the
most popular extreme sports game out there,
Tony Hawk.
But it wasn’t. It took away the chains of a time limit, offered
a bunch of new and inventive tricks, and gave you
environments that you could change (e.g. in one level, you can sink
a cruise ship, opening an entirely new area). This one
gets quite hard near the end but, while it lasts, Tony
Hawk 3 can’t compete. Now Tony Hawk 4, that’s another story.

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault

If I had only played the level where you storm the beach at
Normandy, this game would still have made my top ten.
Immersion is this game’s forte. Explosions rock the boat,
the gate drops, gunfire peppers the beach, your squadmates
go up in a nearby blast – it’s Saving Private Ryan in
videogame form. The rest of the game is pretty entertaining
as well, sporting some of the best sound and event scripting around.

Dungeon Siege

Dungeon Siege could really be called
Diablo in 3d – beautiful, wonderful 3d.
Click and kill is the mantra here. The gameplay is simple but addictive.
The fact that the game never loads once is a special treat. It
garners special marks because the wife and I play it over my
local network. If they added a town portal spell, allowing you to easily
stop and sell your newfound junk, it would be darn near perfect.

Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City

I list both of the latest incarnations of GTA here because I played
them both this year. Both of them are great examples of open-ended
gameplay. Here’s a city. You aren’t such a nice fellow. Go have some fun –
a lot of fun. Steal cars, run from the cops, and cause havoc. The great
part of this very mature game is that it is what you make of it. You
don’t have to beat the prostitute with a stick if you don’t want.
But if you do …. Congressmen get all up in arms about its content.
I’d be surprised if
Joey Lieberman, media’s personal watchdog, hasn’t mentioned
it at least once. Just remember folks, keep the kids away from this
guilty pleasure.

That’s it. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a year with so many quality games and
so many quality choices. And if
Metroid Prime, my current game of choice,
is any indication, next year could be even better.

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I’ve always wanted to make a top ten list of my favorite this
or that of the year. Since I’ve been ignoring my favorite
hobby as of late on this site, I thought that a list of my favorite
games of the year would be in order.

Making the list was more difficult than I thought. I’ve
played a ton of games this year. I was suprised to learn
that a decent amount of them came out in 2001, not 2002, so I had
to trim my list a bit (don’t worry, it did not effect the winner).
I was also surprised to learn that the PC dominated my list.
For someone who owns all three current console systems,
I thought I played them much more.

In the end, my top 5 mostly came down to play time.
How much time did I spend with the game?
Which ones really, truly hooked me?
Which ones busted in to my already busy schedule, possibly
victimizing another game in the process?
In the very end, I was very happy with my choices.

1. Nascar 2002

This choice will surprise a lot of people – it even surprised my
wife. How could a racing game that takes place almost entirely on
oval tracks garner my “GOTY” award? There’s one very simple answer:
online play.

A one hundred lap spin on a Monday night might not sound like a whole
lot of fun. But add 20 other real drivers, who constantly trade
paint and jostle for position, and you have more than an hour of
white knuckle action. Pit stops mean something. You better watch
your tires. You’ll need them for those last 10 laps. The wonderful,
self-policed community at
Online Racin gives me a great playground
in which to play. There’s never a shortage of very good competition.

My enjoyment of the game is enhanced by my enjoyment of the sport.
Each week I get the opportunity to take a spin around the same venue
as the real drivers. Jeff Gordon and I get to spread some rubber around

Just recently, nearly a year after I purchased the game, I renewed my
three month contract with Online Racin and moved up to the next level
of competition. It seems that I’ll be turning left a lot next year
as well.

2. Battlefield 1942

Battlefield took the internet by storm in September. The demo
had me captivated for months. I once heard someone mention that
the best game they played this year was the demo of Battlefield
1942. It didn’t take the release of the real game to know that
they had something special.

Slap 16, 32, or even 64 players on a battlefield and let them go
at it. The missions are based on historical battles.
Ever want to storm the beach at Normandy? Here you can.
Each battlefield is strewn with drivable vehicles. See that
B17 over there? You can fly it. Don’t forget to bring a
couple of buddies along to be man the guns on both the top
and bottom of the plane.
See that tank? Hop in and lay down some justice. And it
doesn’t stop there. Battleships, aircraft carriers,
submarines, and artillery are all fair game.

The focus is on ease of use and quick action but I can’t remember
a war game that did such a good job of making you feel like
you are there. You might run up a hill only to spot a tank.
Just as he sets his sights on you, a buddy flys by and
drops a bomb front and center. Don’t forget to thank him.
That AAA gun on the horizon and the smoke spewing from his
tail means he’ll soon be meeting the ocean.

3. Mafia

Nascar was a surprise to everyone else. Mafia was a surprise to me.
I’ve played Grand Theft Auto. This whole driving, shooting thing
has been done. Hasn’t it? Not like this.

Hop into vintage (well, vintage without the manufacturer’s licence) cars
and take a slow spin around some very seedy corners. It’s the 1930’s
and your luck’s about to change. Chased by the one mob family
only to become the member of another. Time to work your way up the ranks.

Hop in a car and you get a slower version of Grand Theft Auto. Hop out
and you get Max Payne, with a bit more realism and without all of
the special effects from the Matrix. The freedom that the open world
offers is awesome, all rendered beautifully on my screen. It also did a great job
of using my 4.1 Klipsch speakers. O to hear the rain falling on tin
rooftops once again….

A great story holds it all together. The Don keeps you busy. Tony
wouldn’t have it any other way.

4. Tony Hawk 3/4

Yes, Tony Hawk 3 came out last year but cut me some slack. I got it for
Christmas. At the time, my wife was a bit unsure of her purchase. I hadn’t
specifically asked for it but there it was under the tree.

I didn’t know extreme sports were my thing. Now I’m a devoted fanboy.
Tony pulls off all sorts of moves. Flipkick over this. Frontside grind
on that. String together a combo to impress the ladies. Get Chuck’s
poor tongue off that pole. The missions are fun and quite addictive.
I spent last January starting an earthquake in San Francisco and
helping some poor kids deal with a bully. Now two other extreme
games occupy my time: its sequel, Tony Hawk 4, and a game
that made my second list, Aggressive Inline.

5. Madden 2003

I won the Superbowl with the
Ravens about an hour ago. All they were
missing was a great receiver, mysteriously named K.Wootton, some
help on the offensive line, a corner from free agency, and
Sam Adams back. Todd Heap came into his own and Jamal Lewis
carried the load (much like in real life). The strech run featured a bruising running attack
with the occasional big play. The Rams didn’t stand a chance.

If you can’t tell, the franchise mode has me hooked. Raise your team
from the ashes. Sign, draft, and cut players. Negotiate their
salaries. Attend the scouting combine. Deal with the salary cap.
Play as many seasons as you want. See what you have during the
preseason. Think I’m done now that I have the Vince Lombardi trophy?
Think again.

That’s the top five. If you like games and you don’t own any of them, get out
to the store (they would also be great presents for some late Christmas shopping).
I’ll add another list sometime with numbers 6 though 10. I’ve already
elected them. I might as well make someone read about them.

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