Monday, December 5, 2011

Bayshore Malls' Gamestop Creatures

Eureka, California's Bayshore Mall has had a Gamestop store for quite a few years.  Recently it moved into a bigger location within the mall, which was necessary.  Before, when it was located by the food court, any kind of shopping done at anything but the most off hours resulted in you being jostled by the unwashed masses who would rather converse amongs themselves about Call of Duty instead of watching were they were actually going.  The new location is bigger, cleaner, better lit and smells less of desperation and more like new carpet ... still.  It really is like the difference between Taster's Choice coffee and, well, any other brand of coffee.

I was in Gamestop over the weekend, looking for games for my daughter.  As always, there were the gaggle of teen boys trying to convince their parents to part with their hard-earned dough.  ("But you don't play the first one of this game."  "I know, Mom.  This is new.")  It's something these parents should get used to, as it will probably last until the kid is into his twenties.  And while I find these slacker morons annoying, it's really the sales staff that pushes my buttons.

First, is it just me, or is it that any guy over 30 who works there comes across as a bit creepy?  I'm actually tempted to take a part-time position to see if that is something they train you on.  ("Don't come across as a pedophile.  Come across as a guy who would get a teenage boy stoned to see if you could talk him into 'trying something new.'  Play up the fact that you have your own apartment.  Do not discuss that your mother helps you with rent.  Do make sure to point out you can buy alcohol and have a 'kick ass' sound system.")  I'm sure it's just me.  That stoner predatory feel isn't the most annoying thing about them, though.  It's the upsell.

I know every store employee these days is encouraged to do the upsell.  You know what it is, even if you didn't know the name.  It's when you are making a purchase and everything from batteries to warranties are thrown at you in an attempt to get you to part with even more money.  At Gamestop they even try to sell you a warranty that will fix scratched games.  "No thanks," I said.  "I keep everything in good shape.  I'm not like a lot of these idiots here."  That always results in looks of hatred from the people behind you.

The upsell is one of the more tiresome retail experiences.  It is one of those things that drives people to shop more on the Internet, and it is something that makes me dread taking a purchase to the counter.  If I need batteries, a warranty, a subscription to a game magazine or to pre-order the "next hot thing," I'll do what anyone else can do and ask.  A salesperson pushing it upon me won't suddenly trigger something in my mind like, "Shit, I do need a dozen double A batteries."  You aren't that good.  It won't work.

You know, Gamestop, that smell of despair that used to ooze from your old location?  I used to think that was the customers.  The folks who masturbated over World of Warcraft "relationships."  Now I know differently.  That's coming from the sales staff.  A more desperate group of predators (in every sense) I have yet to meet.  I imagine it won't be long before that new carpet smell is replaced, and you folks will be hunting yet again for a new location to taint.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shooting Up Cars and Hunting Spys

It was the early '80s.  My brother and I, whenever dragged to one of Allentown, PA's various malls, would beg and plead to be taken to Chuck E. Cheese.  You know, that place where a kid can be a kid.  (Incidentally, my first date with the woman who would later become my wife, was to a Chuck E. Cheese.  I thought it would be funny.  The staff apparently wouldn't let a punk rock guy and girl without a kid in tow partake of the fun, so I, in my usual subtle manner, promised to return later and "but the place to the ground."  Excellent first date.)  If you've never stepped foot in a Chuck E. Cheese, just know it's like a kid's paradise ... but without hookers and blow.  There are arcade games everywhere.  Pizza is served by harried staff, and prizes are to be won.

My brother and I always sought out the latest arcade games.  One day, as we walked around taking in the sites, we heard the electronic Peter Gunn theme (not knowing what it was at the time).  We were drawn to it like frat boys to an unconscious girl of questionable age ("It's my first grown-up party.").  There it was.  Spy Hunter.

Could a game be more perfect?  No.  You drive around in a car and utilize various weapons to destroy other cars.  Machine guns.  Oil slicks.  Missiles.  You could even pilot a boat!  Of course, your enemies, with their weapons and spikes that shred tires, were out to get you, too.  It was perfect.  It was magic.  It was something we fought over tooth and nail.

As soon as we entered Chuck E. Cheese, we would start for the game at the speed of light.  My mom would ask, "What do you want?"  Our answer was always "pepperoni pizza," but since we were running and screaming it probably sounded more like, "arghghghghghghgh yeyeyeeyeye!"

Quarters in hand, we'd dodge kids, hoping nobody was at the game's steering wheel.  If it was empty, it was a race to see who could get their quarter in first.  Often this ended in much shoving and banging of one's head on the game.  The loser of this gladiator-style brawl would then have to wait patiently for the other to use up his supply of cars.  If you were the loser, it was okay because watching someone play the game was just as much fun as playing it.

My brother and I fought over this game many times.  Despite that, however, when I was lucky enough to locate a sit-down version of it, I clued him right in.  "It feels more real," I told him.  It didn't, but that didn't matter.  It was Spy Hunter, and for months nothing even came close to catching our attention on its level.

Did I ever go back and burn the pizza place down?  No.  But while I was in there I swore I heard that familiar music ... and for a second I was a kid again.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Click on a link, and I may earn cash.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Extreme -- A Term I Use Loosely -- Pinball: Urban Chaos

Back in 1995 a game called Extreme Pinball came out for the PlayStation.  How pinball, which I happen to enjoy, can be extreme is anyone's guess, but here was a game based on the concept.  In 2010 the game became available on the PlayStation Network, where I got it for my PSP.  I've played a little bit on all the tables, but the Urban Chaos table, pictured here, is the one I spent the most time on.  Why?  No idea.

The load screen for the table promises lots of urban chaos.  Semis going off broken bridges into strip clubs, helicopters, fire trucks.  You know, a typical night in the big urban center.  At some point you can read about the story behind the table.  Yes, it has a story.  Why any table would need a story is beyond me, but this one tries its best to instill fear.  I can't go into too much detail, as I forgot it as soon as I read it, but I think cities are named after television networks, and there are people rioting.  It's kind of like a Dead Kennedys song, only not as good.

Nobody who plays video pinball plays for the story, however.  If they did, they would be a special kind of weirdo who not only doesn't get laid, but finds masturbating "distasteful," and instead settles for discreet "readjustments."  The rest of you play it for the virtual pinball experience, which this table kind of delivers.

The table makes it look like there is more going on then there really is.  Instead of chaos, it's more like a stroll through the city.  Four flippers, of course.  Many ramps.  Not a lot to see and do, however.  It is within the first ball, though, that you realize why it is "extreme."

You can score a lot of points quickly.  A lot.  Where some games give you a thousand points for some action, this one does ten thousand.  Looking at it with your right eye gives you a cool million.  Hit the ball with a flipper?  Five million.  I exaggerate, but you get the idea.  The extreme is in the scoring.  Oh, and a visual of a car blowing up when the game ends.

This is far from the most horrible game I've ever played, and I will admit to enjoying it despite what seems like every effort made to make sure someone couldn't enjoy it.  There are better pinball games out there (including every single real table ever made), but it makes for a nice diversion while waiting for laundry to get done.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not get this game for free, and if you click on a link, I may earn some cash.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Descent: Sickness at the Keyboard

Ages ago, when I got my iMac, I received a bunch of free games with it.  One of those games was the 1995, nausea-inducing Descent.  It was the first and only game that made me motion sick the first couple of times I played it.

For those who don't know, Descent is a standard first-person shooter.  Instead of a Nazi hunter or marine, you are a pilot in a spaceship.  Typically in a first-person shooter you walk through halls or through tunnels.  In this game, however, you have total freedom of movement in zero gravity.  Six degrees of movement actually, just as if you were flying a plane.

In flight simulation games you have similar movement, and it rarely causes motion sickness.  A great portion of this game (if not the entire thing -- it has been years since I've played) takes place in mines, which means there is a "correct" up and a "correct" down.  Instead of "walking" through the mines, you are "flying" through them, complete with barrel rolls, flips -- you name it.  When critics who first reviewed the game complained about how sick it made you, they weren't kidding.  They were entirely correct.

It took several go-arounds with this game before I got used to it.  I never actually suffer from motion sickness from first-person shooters or movies filmed with handheld cameras like The Blair Witch Project.  Nor does being a passenger in a car make me motion sick.  This game, however, kicked my ass.  And a lot of other people's, too.  Did that make it a bad game.  Nope.  If anything, it made it a bit more realistic.  I would expect to have the same feelings of dizziness and wanting to vomit if I really were flying a spaceship through mine tunnels at incredible speeds while doing defensive maneuvers ... at least for the first couple of times. 

If the game had sucked, I would've stopped playing then and there, but it was actually a good game.  It was unlike anything I had played up until that time, and it had plenty of action.  Blowing up spaceships was nowhere near as satisfying as pulling off a headshot to an enemy, but then again you can't fly upside down through the air to do that, either.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Brilliant Alien Rip-Off

One of the arcade games I enjoyed playing in the late 1980s was a direct rip-off of Alien.  That game was Xenophobe.

Those who played the game remembered that it was unique for its three-level split screen, which allowed for players to explore the levels on their own without having to wait for their partner to catch up.  That wasn't what drew me to the game, though.

The graphics are a bit on the cartoony side, but it works for the game.  As one of several different characters you would explore space ships, space stations and the like looking for aliens to kill.  The aliens are what drew me to the game.  Not only did they kind of look like Alien, but you had eggs that hatched, giving birth to aliens that clung to your body.  Larger aliens spit acid at you, and acid also dripped from the ceiling in spots.  How Bally Midway got away with this is unknown, but to me the influence of the famous sci-fi movie was thoroughly blatant enough that I always wondered how the company didn't get sued.

The game got great reviews and is still loved by many.  If you look it up online you'll see many references to how much it resembles Alien in many ways.  What I could not find, however, was any mention of whether or not there was ever a lawsuit.  Seeing as the sci-fi franchise has had video games released, this seems like it would inevitable, yet there is nothing.  Perhaps it is because it is obvious to anyone playing the game that this is more of a homage than an attempt to cash-in on the movies.  Afterall, there are other sci-fi franchise nods in the game (such as to Star Trek).  Maybe this is the one time were companies thought, "Well, this is pretty cool.  Let's let it go."  If so, I thank them because I'm pretty sure any lawsuit would've gotten this game yanked from arcades and store shelves and a good portion of the world would never know just how it was to play.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not given this game to review.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ostrich Wars: Joust

If in the '80s you were in an arcade and heard a mad pounding of buttons, it was one of two games.  If it were a furious pounding, it was Track and Field, which made players hit the dual button combo like old people at a slots tournament.  If it were a more rhythmic, controlled pounding, it was Joust, a game that featured your avatar riding on a flying ostrich while taking down enemies on buzzards.  Of course, this 1982 game also featured flying dinosaurs, lava and lava hands, floating platforms, and enemies who turned into eggs that hatched more badass enemies.  Needless to say, it was based on actual events.

I am a Joust fan, if only because of the simple, yet addictive game play.  It's not as addictive as Centipede or Tetris, but ask any player who remembers this game and the term that will often come up is "quarter sink."  Williams Electronics, the game's publishers, was unsure of how successful the game would be in the grand scheme of things. If the number of systems it's been ported to and number of cabinet types of games its been made into were any indication of success, this game would be solid gold.  Hell, it even had a pinball game made of it.  Players and critics agreed: the game was a hit.

Controlling your ostrich in the game took some getting used to.  You used a joystick to move it left and right, but had to tap a button to make its wings flap.  The more often you pushed, the higher and faster your ostrich would go.  Stop, and it would start to drop toward the lava.  It was the first time I had become aware of physics in a game, and the effect was startling.  It felt ... different.  Granted, once you played two or three times you got the hang of it, but that first time usually ended with the player reaching into his pocket for another quarter after a minute and a half.  That really did help land the game's success, too.  It was a different game, and it was one players were interested in playing.  It felt unique, and the new control mechanics sucked you in instead of ostracizing you.  (Contrast that to years later when Mortal Kombat had people turn away from the game after being destroyed by an opponent because they didn't want to take the time to learn the 8,392 button combinations.)

If you do a search, I'm sure you can find Joust for your phone, laptop or console.  Yes, the graphics are quaint and game play is simple, but it is far more enjoyable than a lot of crap out there today.  I played it again recently, and I can honestly say it has aged well.  Unlike, say, Myst.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this game to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me some golden coins.  Playing Joust may be addictive.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nightmare Creatures

The other day I decided to break out the very first game I bought for the PlayStation, Nightmare Creatures.  I enjoyed it at the time as it had monsters, amputation, black magic and violence.  Just like growing up in PA.  Anyway ...

I haven't gone far in the game this time around (I had finished it shortly after buying it), but, as expected, it doesn't feel quite the same.  I will wait to do a fuller review until I play more of it, but my initial reaction is:  This was good as an early PS game, but seems a bit simplistic now.  Of course, it is screaming out for something on the current generation of systems, but whether or not that will happen depends on how hard up for ideas studios get.

Mixing bloody violence with black magic and devil worshipping in the way this game does (in a nice nod, one character has the last name of Crowley) was a risky move back then and would be now, too.  Most people don't want children near anything that reeks of Satanism (unless, of course, it's a preschool in CA).  I don't recall there being any kind of outcry over this game, though.  Maybe it was because nobody was really paying attention.  Years later they would be concerned over the hooker killing in the Grand Theft Auto franchise and the potential killer-in-training FPS games.  Satanism, when compared to those things, seems almost quaint.  (Mix the three and watch Congress go into a tailspin.)

I will do a longer write up on this in a few weeks.  Who knows -- I could change my mind about it totally and realize that it does hold up extremely well, graphics limitations taken into consideration.  My first impression, though, is that it plays more for the nostalgia factor than as good game.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wii Sports Will Kill You

About a year or so ago I bought my daughter a Wii.  Every once in a while I decide to torture myself with it and play Wii Sports.  The one game on there I usually play is boxing.

If you haven't ever played the boxing mode, understand that any semblance to real-life boxing is entirely absent from this game.  You have no arms.  You box strange Asian men or '70s looking male porn stars.  The controls could only be less responsive if they were mired in caramel.  And pulling off a punch is satisfying if only because it's so damn hard.  No, I take that back.  It's fairly easy to pull of a hit.  It's hard to do one that's worth it.  So why do I torture myself so?  It's fun and great exercise.

Depending on how long I pound strange Asian men or '70s porn stars, my arms will ache for a day or so after.  Win a bout and your skill level climbs.  In other games this will make your character better.  In this game it just means you'll be facing harder enemies.  Your actual physical skills while matched with unresponsive controllers is all you'll have.  It doesn't matter what your skill level is in the game.  You're either gonna get your ass creamed or not.

The game is frustrating.  Not frustrating like N+, but frustrating nonetheless.  That frustration, however, translates into harder swings and more satisfaction when you take down your opponent.  Yes, your chest will feel like its about to explode, and your arms will hate you the next day, but you're working up a sweat and you just punched some big-headed weirdo in the face.  That's the sign success.

I have a skill level I'm trying to get to.  I'm about three hundred and some points away from it.  Getting there will be a minor victory in the game of life, but it will be a victory.  Can I make it?  Honestly, I don't even know if the skill level goes that high, but I'm going to push myself to try.  If I have a heart attack in the meantime, so be it.  I'm sure I won't be the first one to have that happen, and I won't be the last.  And that's the only way I'll let the game beat me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Run, Coward!

In 1982 I must have spent roughly $3,486 in quarters playing Sinistar. Readers of a certain age surely remember the game with its loud roar, iconic phrases, evil skull-like space station that ate your ship if you got too close, and chaotic game play.  Next to Centipede it took more of my time and money, with Xevious coming in a distant third.  I played this game so much that my dad actually fired me from my job at his bar.  It's the only job I got fired from in my life, and he did so because all I did was play "that game."  It was his fault for having it in the bar.

Later on in life I got a version of it for the Super Nintendo and the PSP, both on those museum pack games. Playing on a small screen and/or with less-than-desirable controls took away some of the fun, but it was still a joy to hear that all-too-familiar roar and, "Beware, I live."

Wander into a standard arcade today and you notice quite a few things.  One: less pedophiles.  Two: less kids (hence less pedophiles).  Three: less games like Sinistar.  I know the reasons for this.  As games became more advanced, so did gamers.  They demanded more out of their games, and games like Sinistar just didn't cut the cake.  With the rise of games for mobile phones, however, and the success of things like Bejeweled, games like Sinistar have their place once again, and I think arcades could benefit by pulling in a few of these classics.  They do well when they are stocked at bars, mainly due to a nostalgia factor.

Good games never lose their appeal, but they disappear because there are no venues to play them anymore.      I know if I passed an arcade and heard the roar of a completed Sinistar, I'd be sinking some quarters.  As of now, though, all I hear are sounds of games in demo mode that I have little interest in playing ... and due to the fact that they're in demo mode I'd say that other people feel much the same way.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Don't Stop Believin' -- The Journey Video Game

1982.  Journey was everywhere.  You heard it at the mall.  It was on every radio station.  It was the music Rush fans used to get laid.  (That's an inside joke.  My friend once told me that all the girls he wanted to bed hated Rush, but he'd put on Journey and the next thing he knew he'd be looking at the top of their head and wishing camera phones had been invented.)  The only thing hotter than Journey was the Atari 2600.  Imagine when the two of them met.

Journey Escape was the outcome, someone's brilliant idea on the way to cash in on the sweet strains of Joe Perry.  Data Age, the developer and publisher, promised players they'd be guiding Journey past "love-crazed groupies, sneaky photographers, and shifty-eyed promoters" to the safety of the "Journey Escape Vehicle" so that the band could make it to the next concert.  Apparently Data Age missed the idea that bands love "love crazed groupies."  That's the best part of being in a band.  You don't dodge their three-pixel tall bodies, you dive right in.  Regardless, Data Age thought this would be a really cool game for twelve-year-olds to play.

I don't remember how well this game sold, and I never played it.  Avoiding hearts on legs (representing the groupies) never seemed like a fun idea to me, and I was not a huge Journey fan.  (I had the Heavy Metal soundtrack, and that was the extent of my Journey ownership.)  I imagine, however, that there were people who really, really liked this.  If you were a Journey fan who owned an Atari 2600, it was probably a must-buy.    It did well enough that an arcade game based on Journey came out soon after.

The '80s, a time when anything was possible ... and probable.  Journey Escape proves it.  If any of you have played the game, I'd love to hear about it.  Me?  I'm not going to go seek it out for research purposes.  Even I have my limits.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  If you click a link, I may earn a commission.  Wheels go 'round and 'round ...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dumped by Amazon

The more astute reader may notice I've removed the Amazon banner ads from this blog.  This is due to the fact that Amazon yesterday dumped its California affiliates.  Amazon did not do this randomly; it was a response to Jerry Brown signing onto the budget, which included collecting taxes from Internet businesses maintaining a physical presence in California.  I do not know the ins and outs of all this yet, as I am still examining the budget, but it does cut into a lot of people's revenue.  (My other blogs, which can be found at the bottom of this page, will have the Amazon ads cut, too.)

What does this have to do with video games?  Not much, really, other than I may end up closing a few of these blogs and turning my attentions elsewhere.  I will also no longer be providing links to Amazon on the games I write about.  I'll send my readers elsewhere ... until those businesses follow Amazon's lead.

I believe Amazon acted in haste when it did this.  A knee-jerk reaction to a knee-jerk budget.  Perhaps it was hoping to cause Brown to rethink things.  I am not privy to that.  All I know is that Amazon moved fast and without so much as a nice kiss good-bye.

For those who are boycotting Amazon over this, let me recommend Play-Asia for all your video game needs.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on an ad may earn me a small commission ... but not from Amazon, and nor will I spend that money there.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Supreme Court Vs. California's Parents

Every description is worse than the last.  You can shoot people.  You can torture them.  You can tie them up, hack their heads off, wear their skins and defile a nun.  Like music, comic books and the Internet, "violent" video games have been under the attack for the negative effect, as vague as it is, that they have on our children.  Columbine is dragged out (though if anyone took the time to read the FBI's report on that incident you would see how little effect violent video games had on that) time and time again.  The GTA series and Call of Duty are dragged through the mud.  Every argument is some variation on the same: These games are destroying our children.  No real evidence is given.  None is needed.  When children are at stake it is good enough to just make claims ... or so the general line of thinking has gone.

Until now.

The Supreme Court has ruled that California, my home state -- the one that can't balance a budget without yanking away funding to schools and poor kids -- can't regulate the sales of violent video games to minors.  It has recognized that children's parents should be the gatekeepers and not a government that seems to only care about children when it is convenient.  Kudos, Supreme Court, you did right.

It should have never gone this far.  Really.  It should not have been an issue.  Violent video games exist, just like violent movies and violent books.  They are not every game or even a majority of the games (depending on your definition of violence).  In fact, it seems like the production of "questionable" games has been on the decline.  Since these things exist, it is up to the parents to monitor what their kids are playing and, more importantly, actually communicate with their children about them.  I know it is a strange, New Age idea to actually talk to one's children and treat them like individuals capable of making good and bad decisions (a process learned from their parents), but as a parent it is your job to do just that.  I'm a parent.  I talk to my child about everything.  I discuss the pros and cons, and I don't shy away from discussions about violent video games.  Again: It's my job.

Parents are very happy to give up powers to the state.  The less thinking that goes into raising their kids, the better.  Not all parents, but enough that this fight had to go to the Supreme Court.  And now the decision has been handed down.  A decision that is well-reasoned and filled with common sense (two things lacking in many parents I know).  The parents who will feel slighted (and they are legion) will throw up their hands and cry, "What about the children?"  Well, what about them, parents?  Now that the responsibility is in your court, what will you do?  Will you ignore the problem, or will you have an actual conversation with your child?  One that compares reality to fiction, the horrors of war, anti-social behavior and sexual stereotypes?  Or will you go back to asking legislators to do your job?  The same legislators you don't trust to do anything else.  Keep that in mind.  In the end, your kids can see through your hypocrisy.  Let's just hope they make better decisions than you ... despite your parenting.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Sims Reproduce on Facebook -- One More Thing to Ruin Friendships

EA is bringing The Sims to Facebook in an attempt for you to get more ridiculous wall posts reminding you that Jenny got a job and Mark is dating Linda.  Just when you thought FarmVille posts about getting fence posts was bad enough ...

I have a version of The Sims for the PS2.  I have not played it a lot.  (I did recreate the family from The Devil's Rejects and made a killing room where I let people die.  I also had fun watching them clean up their urine.)  It takes micromanaging to a new level that sometimes make watching paint dry seem like an extreme sport.  So, no, I will not be playing this game on Facebook.

I know fans of this franchise are a rabid bunch.  Many of the people I know who play it quite often can't really manage their own lives, and they obviously don't get the definition of irony.  Many others find it an amusing use of time.  I beg to differ with that one, but what do I know?  I enjoy watching old Stacey Keach movies.

EA is doing this for one reason only.  It's the same reason that defines every company's existence.  Money.  Games on Facebook rake in a huge amount of money every year by people tired of the same ol' same ol'.  They want to buy better in-game items instead of earning them or whatnot.  That's fine.  Capitalists are a lot like vultures.  If there is money to be had, they are circling the body, and Facebook is nothing but a big, rotting body.

I can only imagine the fallout of this, though.  Facebook ruins friendships and working relationships.  I've seen it happen first hand.  What happens on Facebook doesn't stay on Facebook, and people take this social networking crap way too seriously.  With what I can see Sims people doing, I can only imagine the wreckage of friendships, partnerships and marriages.  ("Your Sims dude was flirting with my sister's Sims dudette.  We're through!")  Far from being concerned about that, however, I actually find it kind of amusing.  Maybe this Sims invasion (similar to the bedbug invasion that dominated the news a while back) isn't such a bad thing after all.  The amount of entertainment that could possibly be gained from not playing the video game could far surpass the little entertainment involved in playing it.  This could be the most fun Sims game ever.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission, which I shall use to purchase a game room for my Sims people.

Monday, May 23, 2011

PlayStation Network Hack ... Worse Than Originally Thought?

Sony has had its hands full lately.  The April hack, which resulted in the loss of millions (77 million by one account) of people's personal information, is expected to cost the Japanese company the equivalent of $170 million (US).  Couple that with the earthquake that hit Japan and low consumer confidence, and Sony is doing the proverbial shitting of bricks.  Not in public, though.

Sony has been, by all appearances, fairly open about the hack.  Anyone who has studied business, however, knows that the problems Sony has discussed are nothing compared to the problems the company is actually experiencing.  That's Business 101.  Put on a happy face.

Denying new hacks, meekly apologizing about overtaxed servers, stating there is no evidence of any of the credit card information that was stolen being used, and so on is there to put consumers and investors at ease.  Whether or not works remains to be seen, but either way Sony has problems.

Sony has made plenty of mistakes as of late.  The PSP Go and the overpriced PS3 are two of the notable ones.  These are not minor mistakes.  These are company altering mistakes, and while it appeared the company was trying to correct them and ride them out, setbacks like this exemplify just how weak the company has become.  In the years past, people would have forgiven Sony for a hack like this.  They would've stuck by it.  Now?  That future is uncertain.  Plenty of people have lost confidence in the Japanese giant.  The hack pushed them to the edge.  Things are not back to normal yet, and when operations do resume I expect the amount of users on the PlayStation Network may be far less than Sony expects.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jaw Dropped

My daughter is pretty good at some video games.  Soul Calibur 3 is one of those she kicks much ass on.  In addition to fighting games, she also enjoys racing games (arcade racers).  Her favorite amongst those is the legendary Burnout 3.  Up until two days ago it had been months since we played it.  At that time she did the same thing all little kids do when first learning racing games:  spun around a lot, hit the guardrails a lot, had to reverse a lot. 

Then everything changed.

The other night she asked to play it with me.  I loaded it up on the trusty PS2 and we picked our cars.  The countdown began, and I reminded myself that I would be stopping along the track a few times to let her catch up, much like I've done for Mirror when she attempted to master Gran Turismo 4 (and she will kill me if she reads that).

As soon as we got the green, she was past me.  In fact, it was an honest-to-goodness race, with her leading most of the time (she officially won two of three).  No rail running.  No out of control spins.  Just good ol' fashioned madness that the game is supposed to deliver.  I was so stunned that at one point I was convinced that I was playing the system and not my six-year-old.  Somehow between the last time we played and now she got good at it.  She hasn't been practicing at someone else's house.  She hadn't been practicing when I'm asleep.  She just got good.

Besides being impressed, I started mentally ticking off all the games I could introduce her to.  Games I have avoided because they take more precise control.  She was interested, too.  She started asking me about ones she could see in the stacks.  As she said, "I want to beat you at those, too."


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on a link can earn me a small commission.  It could lead to some cool games, too.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gaming As The New Storytelling Medium

When I was in the fourth grade there was this ... incident.  We got a new kid in class named Chris.  He didn't last the day.

Chris was a nail wrong side up from the start.  He was unruly, to be polite.  He called the teacher a pig.  She tried to reason with him.  When that didn't work, she tried to send him to the corner.  His response to this was to overturn his chair, jump on his desk and run around the room all while reminding the teacher she was a pig.

We all sat there watching in silent amusement/shock/horror.

Eventually another teacher was called in and they removed Chris from the classroom by cornering him and literally lifting him off his kicking feet.  We never saw him again.  Kent State was probably still in the teachers' minds, so no police were called, unlike today when pepper spray is used by cops to subdue unruly kids.

The video game industry is a lot like Chris.  It makes a lot of noise, is often seen as out of control and rather pointless by those around it.  You see, the video game industry likes to think it is the next wave in storytelling, the go-to-guys for our entertainment and, dare I say it, art.  Society isn't having it, though,  and the industry isn't responding well to the demands of such a task.  We video game consumers can only sit back and watch it all play out as society tries to control a beast it doesn't understand (and one that doesn't understand itself).

I don't know many people who play video games because of the story they tell or even the art they supposedly represent (I covered that in a post quite some time ago in a post that caused some debate).  Most people play them because they are fun.  There are some fans and many in the industry, though, who insist, like the industry does, that the stories are worthy of comment and mention, and many will even claim they have reached a place where they can be considered "classic" and art.  They will talk about shedding tears at the ending of their favorite games, and others will talk about how these games will eventually replace movies and books as the storytelling medium of choice.

Quite frankly, those people need to set their standards a lot higher, as what I've seen doesn't come close to meeting those goals.

Books, movies and television are arguably the media of choice in culture for delivering a story.  They are agreed upon by critics and consumers to be proven storytelling mediums.  They have done so within the constraints of whatever medium they work in, too.  They don't try to be something they are not, and because of that, when a a film, for example, is made to deliver an experience that is a visual masterpiece and a new direction in storytelling (much like Enter the Void), we give the artistic or entertainment venture a benefit of a doubt because we know from past experience that the medium can deliver.  Video games haven't reached that point yet, and if people don't start getting realistic about it, they never will.

Video games are great entertainment.  They can connect with players in ways that board games or card games cannot.  They are still games, however, and as much as a story might be linked to them, the story will always be secondary to the game play.  Books tell stories.  They are a simple medium that has the ability to deliver a powerful message.  When the Choose Your Own Adventure series came out, it was books trying to become a game, and while it was amusing, it diluted the message the book could deliver.  Had 1984 been written as a Choose Your Own Adventure, it would have never withstood the test of time.

This is not to say video games cannot deliver an amazing experience within the confines of a game.  They can.  I don't think they've done that on a consistent scale yet, though, and until that happens, the general public isn't going to accept them as a viable storytelling medium.  In order for the video games to grow, the public has to accept them on some level.  That will result in mediocre games and definite mishaps (as is standard with books, movies and television), but it will also result in some great games that resonate with people.  Right now more people understand, accept and appreciate Bejeweled than Red Dead Redemption.  One may tell a better story (an easy feat when the other has no story behind it), but until society grabs onto that game like it does a simpler game, that story will have no serious lasting power.

The video game industry has to get its priorities straight.  Does it want to make games that appeal to hardcore gamers, non-gamers and casual gamers alike, or does it want to create stories and art?  Until it focuses on the games, it has no hope of effectively reaching the artistic stage and becoming a serious contender in the storytelling medium.  One easy, surefire test?  Think of how odd it is to hear someone say they don't like or watch movies.  Now think of how common it is to hear people say they don't play video games.  When that changes, video games will be in a position to become a new medium worthy of its boasts.  That day isn't here yet, though, and I don't think we'll be seeing it any time soon.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on links to my affiliates will possibly earn me a small commission.  Clicking on other links may provide you with interesting news and information.  Masturbation will not lead to blindness, either.  That's science.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Saddest Gamer Ever

I recently read the saddest letter ever in Game Informer, a magazine I used to subscribe to until my sub got all screwed up and I somehow got on its "do not mail list." 

In the letter, some lonely guy (age unknown, but I hope he was under 18) lamented the fact that there weren't more "naked girls" in video games.  I like naked women just as much as the next heterosexual guy.  Any shape and size.  Women are works of art, and while I think a clothed woman can be far more erotic than a naked woman, I will agree that a nude woman is never a bad thing.  Even if she's stabbing you, it's a naked woman stabbing you.  How bad can it be?

The fact that this guy/kid/man/boy wanted more naked girls in video games just seemed very sad to me.  Why would that be anyone's desire?  When it comes to video games, I just want ones that provide a challenge and are fun.  I don't need to have simulated sex in them.  I don't need to see nudity unless the game calls for it.  To want nudity just for the thrill factor seems amazingly short-sighted and pitiful.

I suppose there are people out there who masturbate to video games or pictures from them.  That, of course, is probably the geekiest thing one could do.  It seems like taking pleasure from ill-proportioned images that look like no females I know is a recipe for relationship disaster -- either maintaining one or starting one.  At least pornography features real women.  They may not look like a lot of women you know, but they weren't created from code courtesy of a diet of Mountain Dew and Taco Bell.  (Unless, of course, that's what led to the porno star's parents coupling.)

I know females in video games can be erotic.  I've played We Love Katamari.  (That was a joke.)  But you can take things too far.  Wishing for more naked females in video games is doing that.  It is a full-on embrace of the fact that despite your best intentions you will never get laid by a woman of caliber.  It's a fact:  If a woman hears you say that, chances are she's not interested in appearing naked for you.  Female nudity is a gift to all heterosexual men, not a selling point for video games.  Once that letter writer gets that, his life will be instantly better.

FTC disclaimer:  Clicking on the affiliate link and buying the game will get me a commission.  It will not lead to pictures of naked Katamari people.  Would you really want to see that?  Okay, yeah, maybe you would want to see the schoolgirls if, that is, you work for the FTC.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Trouble With Chuzzles

If you have played Bejeweled, the creators of which happened to make Chuzzle, as well, you are already familiar with the idea.  Get three fuzzy balls of the same color in a row to pop them.  Sometimes Chuzzles get locked.  Sometimes they are bigger than normal.  Pretty basic.  Pretty easy to learn.  Pretty addictive. 

Just like all the most addictive games, this one can be picked up by anyone.  And since it's on several platforms (I played on my Windows laptop), it's available to just about everyone.

This is not the greatest game to ever be played, but I will admit that yesterday, while in the throes of stomach cramps from some weird bug or another, I played this for two hours without realizing the time had gone by.  I was actually shocked when I realized how late it was, and I blame these furry balls with eyes that resemble a crafts project I used to do at my grandmother's house as a kid.

I know the hardcore gamers are scoffing at this, but the reality is that people like these kinds of games.  Not everyone can just jump into Killzone 3 for a few minutes and feel like they are getting the hang of it.  Casual gamers like something they can play while waiting for the bus or a pap smear.  You can't do that with just any game.

Chuzzle, which sounds kind of obscene, is not a game I will play every day or even every month, but when I have some down time, I will be picking it up.  I just hope I don't lose two hours every time I do it, or that could start to be some sort of total time drain.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Wii Vibrator Story Buzzes On ...

I originally wrote about this new device called the Mojowijo that will be available soon to turn yourWii Remote into a self-pleasuring device.  (You can read the original post here.)  It's the most popular post on my site, and now other websites are reprinting what I wrote (without permission, mind you, not that I wouldn't give it).  It's been commented on in many places, mostly by ladies saying the Wii Remote doesn't have enough power to actually serve as a de facto vibrator.  Nice to know they tried.

Some people are, of course, outraged by this.  It seems ridiculous, but one thing I read was that how dare anyone make something like this when the Wii is designed for kids.  These people have never really looked into the Wii or who plays it, and for the record, the Mojowijo is not being marketed to kids.  So what is the problem?

I would think most people don't care about this issue one way or another.  Geeky Wii playing couples may love the idea, and prudes trapped in 1950 may be appalled, but the general public probably doesn't even know it exists, and when they find out they don't care.  You can buy it or not.  It won't be included in a Wii Bundle, and it won't magically show up at your house and attach itself to your Wii Remote.  And that is why most people don't care.  If Fox were to ever do a story on this, that could all change, as its audience would probably be up in arms about it due to whatever spin would be put on the story. 

Let's face it, while it's a fascinating idea, the ladies who say it doesn't have enough power to actually work are right.  I've held vibrators and the Wii Remote (not at the same time), and they don't compare.  I used to have to sell vibrators, and the thing that mattered to women after looks was the power.  It had to be just right.  Too little and the job doesn't get done.  Too much and it's ... too much.  This device will still sell, though, and my post will probably be reprinted in several more places. 

I can't say I'm done writing about it because there may be a new development in the story, but until then, I think I'm done.  It was a fun piece to do, but the world of video games has far more important stories ... such as the upcoming PS3 Move Proctology Device.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ladies! The Wii is Your New Showerhead!

The Wii.  What can't it do?  Playing great games like Boom Blox.  Getting weather forecasts.  Checking out kitten videos on YouTube.  Streaming movies from Netflix.  Using the Wii Remote as a vibrator.  Wait!  What?  Yeah, that's right.  Thanks to the Mojowijo, you ladies will be able to turn your Remote into a remote self-pleasuring device.

Far be it from me to judge, but I'm hoping anyone who buys this has a remote that is their own.  Not that I would mind using it (I have no qualms with this sort of thing), but friends and other family members may not like bowling with a remote that has been utilized in getting the job done once hubby or the boyfriend has rolled over and gone to sleep. 

Motion2Vibration technology is what is used to make this sucker work remotely over things like Skype and whatnot.  The possibilities, as you can see, with this technology are endless.  When you get tired of flirting onWoW, you can grab the remote and have your Elf Lord or whatever take control from his mom's basement in Houston.  Couples can use it when they are away from each other.  Bets can be made with Tennis games or Tetris.  "Oh, you lost, honey.  Let's crank up the Mojowijo and the camcorder."  The mind reels.

I'm not going to be one of the early adopters for this technology.  It's not that I fear electrocution or some other adverse health risks.  I would just want to make sure all the bugs are out of it first lest the television remote next door somehow screws with the thing.  (Though that could be really interesting.)

Once again the Wii proves that black eyes, dead dogs, broken windows and televisions aren't the only thing it delivers.  Not it can bring you self-satisfaction of the most gratifying kind.  And you thought it was cool because it let old people fence.   

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tetris -- The Card Game?

Yes, it exists.  A card game based around Tetris, a video game more addictive than meth.  I watched a YouTube demo of this game and stopped it after a few seconds as the concept looked absolutely boring ... the exact opposite of the foundation game. 

It seems odd that a company, Fundex in this case, would take a game where the technology is so tied into it and turn it into something static.  It's not like you can't find Tetris to play on whatever gaming system/phone/iPad/handheld device you own.  It's everywhere, like the phrase "it is what it is" and Hollister shirts.  Hell, you can't avoid the game.  This all raises the question: Who wants to play this?

There are only three markets I can see for this game.  The first and most obvious is the hardcore Tetris addicts.  Fundex must assume they'll want to continue playing when the power goes out and all batteries are dead.  The next is the group who have never played the game (perhaps because they are terrified of the voodoo that must power any video game).  It is doubtful these players are going to say, "Well, I never wanted to play the video game, but a card game based on it seems like loads of fun!"  The third and final group is the Amish.  The Amish's sans technology life (except when you get sent into the real world around the age of 18 in order to flirt with Satan) means that game consoles don't readily find their way into the community built houses.  Basing a game on an Amish demographic seems like a bad idea.

I love Tetris, as noted by my many posts.  I will not be buying this game as I am not Amish or an idiot.  More power to the people who play it, however.  Maybe next you'll get the card game based on Dance Dance Revolution.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pixelated Rawhide

First, you may have noticed the new masthead.  It is courtesy of Felix Vasquez, Jr., who does the Cinema Crazed site.  I thank him.  Gotta love Missile Command.  Speaking of other Atari 2600 classics ... Stampede.  1981.  Activision.  Oh yeah, it didn't get better than Activision in those days.

Stampede was an underrated game in its day.  In 1981 nobody wanted to play a game where you were a cowboy.  That was "old."  You had to be fighting aliens or something at least current, like communists.  Now, however, you can see the genius behind the game.

The premise is simple: lasso various cattle (the different colors were different points).  Your horse moved and so did the cattle.  You would direct your horse and rider up or down and try your best not to bypass any cows.  When you first start out you can bypass three cows before the game is over.  There are obstacles set in your way, too, like skulls and cows that don't move.  These things serve to slow you up.

As with all the most addictive games, simple is better.  The cows move at various speeds, but there is a pattern to it, so if you memorize the pattern, you can rack up some impressive points (and get those patches Activision gave out). 

I've been playing the game on my PSP with Activision Hits Remixed (and have been very tempted to turn off that '80s soundtrack).  As far as I can tell, it holds up well to the original, though I never owned the game and only played it at a friend's house. 

If this game were to be remade today it would be needlessly complicated.  I believe it could be easily translated to an iPhone, however, if it hasn't been so already.  Its very nature makes it a great game for passing time while waiting for the cable guy to show up or something.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I use my PSP for some music storage.  I used to listen to it a lot at work (where Nashville Pussy helped me get through the day without putting scissors in someone's stomach).  It was fine for listening to music, having a decent shuffle mode and some great visuals that went in time to the music.  Being able to export the songs to the soundtrack to my FIFA games was just icing on the cake.  And then I found out about Beats...

Beats is a rhythm based game, something familiar to anyone who has played any of the DDR or Guitar Hero games.  You simply push buttons in time with the music.  Beats comes pre-loaded with your standard sub-par songs, but it also reads whatever you have stored in your memory.  Thus, you can either play the game to some techno shit from twenty-year-old coke fiend, or you can play it to GG Allin's "I Kill Everything I Fuck."  With a series of different difficulty modes things can get pretty intense (trying playing it on "hard" to anything by Cannibal Corpse).

What I actually found this game to be best for is relaxing.  Even if the song is fast and the game play drives you nuts, it's still nice to sit there listening to music you like playing a game to it.  The rhythms kind of lull you into a peaceful state (another thing that keeps me from putting scissors into someone's stomach).

As of now, and probably forever, the game is only available for download through the PlayStation Network and from Amazon for about $5.00.  (I should have the link here if you are interested.)  At that price it is a steal.  Honestly, it's worth it at even twice the price (which is what I believe I originally paid for it).

Monday, January 31, 2011

Hell in a Dungeon

I purchased What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 2 over the weekend for various reasons.  One of those reasons was the that while looking up the hardest games ever for the PSP, I saw that this was at the top of the rankings.  That sealed the deal, as they say in the condom business.  I was buying the game to prove something to myself.

Unfortunately, all I've proven is that what set me off on this quest may have a ring of truth to it.  I may be getting too old for this shit.

I should've known this game would not be easy when the tutorials themselves needed to be unlocked.  That is a bad, bad sign.  I could do the first few that were unlocked with little problem, but when I got to the unlocked challenges, that's when things quickly fell apart.

The basic concept of the game is that you create an ecosystem in a dungeon to kill adventurers who wander in.  Hey, I like killing things, and I like watching things mate, so this seemed like a slam dunk.  Unfortunately, I believe the game is developed by the Japanese (which means all kinds of high weirdness), and playing God in a dungeon is a lot harder than it is playing God with the Sims people or any of those Civilization games.  I have not been able to get 24 Lizardmen to populate the dungeon for the life of me.  It's not that I'm not trying or not using different strategies.  I just can't do it.  I'm up for the challenge, though.  I will use this addled brain of mine and come up with something that works.  Anything else is just not acceptable.

Of course, I could always go back to Break Quest.  That's cake compared to this one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


When I was considering an Xbox, I took a look at its premiere game, Halo.  I had heard mixed things about it.  There were people I knew who loved it, but could only say it was because it was "fun."  Then there were those who enjoyed it, but were quick to say it wasn't anything all that special. 

I played a demo of it to see for myself, understanding that the demo would not be the full game but that it should offer me some kind of incentive to get the game.

I found the graphics to be very nice to look at ... and that was about it.  It wasn't anything new, and while blasting shit was enjoyable, it didn't grab me the way it did in Red Faction.  I passed on Halo and passed on the Xbox. 

I understand why this franchise sells well.  It's the same reason Transformers is number one at the box office.  People don't have very high standards and are easily amused and just as easily distracted.  It enables anything that may hold one's attention for longer than ten minutes to be considered "classic." 

I also understand that there will be those who say that since I didn't play the complete game, a demo was no way to judge that.  Normally I'd agree, but the demo in question was made to entice people to purchase the game ... and it didn't work for me.  If a company's sales pitch fails, why would I give the finished product a chance?  If it had gotten me even slightly interested in the game, I would have pursued it to see if it lived up to my expectations, but the demo didn't even come close.  Xbox's flagship title did not draw me in, and therefore I avoided the entire system.  Fair or unfair, that's how it worked.  I still don't have an Xbox and probably never will own one.

But if I do, I won't be buying Halo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Best Video Game Franchise Ever

When it comes to video games, I have a few things I look for them.  Replay value and enjoyment are two of the key things.  Graphics mean little to me.  Storylines don't mean much, either.  (Most of the storylines in games are awful, and when someone says something like Doom has a great story, I have to question his sanity.)

The Gran Turismo franchise has all this and more, and that is why I consider it the best video game franchise ever.  (Granted, I haven't played Gran Turismo 5, but I imagine it lives up to the series' high standards.)  Some of you will disagree, mainly fans of Mr. Mario, but hear me out.

Besides the incredible replay value, the GT franchise offers something few other games do: it teaches you and gives you the most thorough sense of accomplishment deemed possible in a video game.  Yes, that's right, it teaches you.  Mastering this game will give you a good knowledge of cars and actually make you a better driver.  Few games can make such a boast.

Yes, getting Gold in all the license tests is an exercise in determination and self-control, but if you get that, you deserve them.  While other video games determine if you win or lose by a point or lives, in the GT series you are dealing in thousandths of a second.  If you have to complete a test in 39 seconds, you will fail if you hit 39.001.  Frustrating?  You bet.  But if you stick with it, you will actually deserve that medal.

The series is not without flaws, though.  In the GT community, these flaws are well-known and often discussed.  The AI of your opponent cars is laughable at times.  Up until the fifth game there was no car damage, either.  The damage you can do nothing about, but if you race your car as if it were a real car and try to keep off your opponents you'll find that the game experience is almost makes up for that lack of AI.  It truly is a game that gives you more if you put more into it.

I know my take on this will be contested by people, and I'm fine with that.  Everyone has their favorites.  If all my games but these disappeared, I'd be okay (well, I'd miss a lot of them, including all my FIFA games).  If my GT games disappeared, however, I would be seriously upset.

If you want to argue against it, go right ahead.  I'm waiting ...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why the Japanese Are Insane

If you've played Work Time Fun you come away from it with only one thought: the Japanese are fucking crazy.

If you've never played it, here's the quick and dirty on it: absurd mini-games where you earn money to buy trinkets, other mini-games, and tools for your PSP.  The mini-games include chopping wood (or bunnies), capping pens, counting people, getting ladies' phone numbers, performing seances, and cooking pottery.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but is strangely addictive, as I've written before.  The entire concept of the game is strange to say the least, and I'm slightly disturbed by my daughter's love of the mushroom hunter game, but spending anything more than ten minutes with the game gives you a clear sense that while the Japanese may be insane, they are also brilliant.

The game takes in all the socialization that our Japanese friends seem to love, while also taking advantage of the fact that the PSP works best in short doses.  The games are just strange enough and have such a strange amount of variety that you keep playing just to see what will happen next and collect more stuff (I want more duck training toilets).  This is a game that Americans could make, but would never make this good because we just don't get it.  For some odd reason, the Japanese have some deep understanding of the psyche involved in enjoying something like this -- an absurdist collector mentality, if you will.

I had heard of a sequel being produced, and I thought I saw one, but I believe it is only available in Japan, which means all the instructions will be in Japanese, a language I do not understand. 

If you have a PSP and this game seems remotely interesting, I recommend you download it or find a hard copy for yourself.  You can get it from the PlayStation Network for under ten bucks, so it is well worth it.  If, on the other hand, you didn't understand the appeal of any of this -- stay the hell away.  Playing the game won't change your obviously dysfunctional mind.