Monday, December 31, 2007

2007's Games of the Year  

Since tonight is December 31st (and I’m not out partying my way into a drunken stupor) it’s officially the end of the year. So I’m rolling out my top picks of 2007 in no particular order-- except for the last one.

More details when you get there.

Anyway… Looking back at 2007, it wasn’t a year that stands out in my mind. I had to wrack my brain pretty hard for anything I played more than two months ago. Checking out Wikipedia’s “Games of 2007” page for a refresher, I saw a lot of so-so things, but very few that made me say “Oh yeah! Gotta include that one!”

To be fair, there were a few games that I meant to get to, but never did. Call of Duty 4 got a surprising (to me, anyway) number of nods. I’ve never been a fan of the Halo series, so Halo 3 went untested. Raw Danger was a niche sequel to one of my favorite PS2 games (Disaster Report) but the copy I bought new to support the developer is still in cellophane. I’m sure I’ll like Persona 3, and Rogue Galaxy had some wildly varied reactions, which piqued my interest. Level 5’s been on a roll since Dark Cloud 2, so I’d be pretty surprised if I don’t get into that one. I doubt Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would have made my list, but there was an outside chance.

So what about the games I did get to?

Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii) is a game-of-the-year shoo-in for a purely kinetic, throwback experience. It was very probably the best pure platformer (perhaps only pure platformer?) all year. It wasn’t the second coming of Christ the way some have portrayed it to be, but it revisits old territory with a new and interesting spin by way of the whacked-out gravity and high-on-‘shrooms level design. The story sucked and I didn’t appreciate a lot of the stars (out of 120) being assigned to lame time trials or other gimmicks that recycled levels, but regardless the game gets props.

Jeanne D'Arc (Sony PSP) was by far the most superb SRPG I’ve laid hands on in a while... a very long while. Nothing else came close to it in the genre this year, in my opinon. The mechanics were fresh and interesting, the character selection was focused yet varied, and the developers were obviously designing to the PSP hardware since it managed to avoid a lot of the technical pitfalls that plague so many ports. The PSP is really a great machine when developers work with it instead of shoveling foreign objects from other platforms where they don’t belong.

Portal (Xbox 360/Sony PS3/PC) was one of those rare instances when something was truly as great as people were saying. The mind-bending warping mechanics were fantastic, the story and setting were focused and tight, and the developers knew damn well when to stop; at around three to four hours, it was perhaps the shortest game of the year ever but it was solidly enjoyable all the way through. There’s a lot to be said for a game that ends before it makes a player sick of it.

Another Wii entry, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure deserves a nod. Its old-school point-and-click approach was miles away from anything else that's been released lately, giving it a fresh, original feel. Polished, cute and charming, it could also be quite mentally challenging at times, which is something that a lot of games just don’t even attempt these days. It made a few stumbles (actually killing my character and necessitating a restart when I made a wrong move was a little too old-school) but it tried harder than most to avoid the insipid motion-control retardation that plagues most of the Wii trash out now, and there’s something to be said for a title that can legitimately make you feel not very smart at times.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PSP/DS/Xbox 360 Live) was absurdly addicting and a brilliant idea that doesn’t seem like it should have worked: taking a clone of PC shareware Bejeweled and marrying it to an RPG-like system complete with leveling up, magic abilities and quests. This game was the definition of playable.

The Red Star (Sony PS2) was a super-old-school character-based shooter that languished in development hell for a few years before limping unnoticed to retail. Created from a comic book property nobody’s read, the developers took the alternate-universe Russian characters and crafted a superbly intense and intelligently designed experience on what must have been half a shoestring. Don’t come unless you’re bringing mad skills, but anybody (like me) who was ever into these sorts of games should definitely come.

Last but not least, Mass Effect (Xbox 360) gets my top honors for 2007. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it hit a blistering home run out of the park and screaming into the atmosphere in terms of storytelling, characterization, cinematic energy, and the ability to get me so drawn into the game that I seriously considered skipping work while I put everything nonessential (like personal hygiene and eating) on hold. Without a doubt, this was the one game I enjoyed most all year. I gushed all over it in my review at GameCritics, and I’m doing the same here.

…So that’s 2007 in a nutshell.

Bring on 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mongolian / People  

In reverse order:

Today was a really depressing day... one of those camel/straw/back days.

I've been having problems over the last few months with a certain person. We've generally been cool, but this time things got pretty serious. More serious and heated than just about any altercation we've had in the past, and I've known this guy for over 20 years. 

Like I said, I had a feeling the path we were heading down was a bad one, but a part of me held out hope that he'd come to his senses and we'd eventually figure things out. The event that first set us down the road to ruin should have been a minor blip, but instead of a quick apology and an "all's forgiven", everything just spun out of control and now we're to the point that I honestly don't think that the relationship can be salvaged.

I don't see how we're going to come to some sort of middle ground without a major personality change or an epiphany hitting this guy over the head with freight train force, and realizing that two people with so much history can drift so far apart... that they can even grow to curse each other's names and renounce their friendship is a deeply sad and regrettable thing.

The worst part is that it just didn't have to be this way. But, as much as I like to play the optimist, the fact is that there's just no getting through to some people no matter how hard you try. That's a pretty bitter pill to swallow, and it gives a hell of a case of heartburn going down.

In happier news...     

The wife, son and I set out to get some Mongolian cooking tonight and we found a place in the U-District that we'd never seen before. The place was all right, but at the moment I'm wondering which particular ingredient was the one responsible for my current state of nausea and general ill feeling.  I'm a big fan of the whole Mongolian experience, really-- picking your own ingredients is fun, and seeing people cook it in front of you while you watch adds a neat bit of novelty to dining out. I guess the only downside is the one hitting me now; the occasional undercooked bit of food kicking the hell out of your innards.

Guess I should have went PB&J instead.   

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Everybody Wants Something Different  

I signed up for Writers' Market online and got a list of agents... seems like the old days of submitting a manuscript directly to a publisher are pretty much long gone. I'm just starting to scratch the surface of this whole writing thing, but it looks like the way to do things is to get an agent and then let 'em open a few doors for you... hopefully.

Going down the list of what each agent wants, every single one seems to want something different. Three chapters here, five chapters there. Bio, no bio, brief bio. Some are looking for great new clients, some will take referrals only, and some specialize in self-help but they'll do other genres on the side for the right book.  Honestly, my head's starting to spin trying to keep all this stuff straight. 

Today was errands and two Fishing Master tourneys with my little boy, but tomorrow I'll be assembling some packages and getting things in order for some more submissions. 

Games-wise, I started the Half-Life 2 portion of the Orange Box on 360.  Valve really knows how to tell a story based on what I've seen so far. Their approach to dramatics make a lot of developers out there look like rank amateurs. On the other hand, the physics still have that off-kilter loosey-goosey feeling that I primarily associate with PC games. Sometimes it's totally clear what to do, and at other times, it seems like the only way to make progress is to fudge my way through some weird physics glitch and just thank my lucky stars I was able to keep going. 

I may be exaggerating a bit, but there's always been a noticeable shortfall in the polish I expect of games and what I've traditionally gotten in the past from PC games, and this kind of stuff is one reason why I've never felt comfortable committing to anything not (originally) on a console. I'm always paranoid that there will be a weird bug or glitch that will just kill an experience for me, and sometimes my brain doesn't seem wired to get in to the groove of what PC devs expect of their fans. It's not like all console games are perfect, but in general, things seem more stable and a wee bit more trustworthy, at least in the days before console games could be patched.

Not sure I'm explaining this clearly, but I know what I mean in my own head and it's late, so forgive the lack of clarity if it seems like I'm aimlessly whining.  ; )

Friday, December 28, 2007

Heavenly Wha?  

Writing Update:
Ok, so it has nothing to do with my novel, but my friend Doug over at Randomly Generated 
offered me the superb opportunity to contribute to a strategy guide he was doing, and the publisher finally sent me a box of free copies. So, I'm assuming the thing is in stores and on shelves as I type this. Hey look, I'm in print!   

It's called Xbox 360 Achievements: Unlocked, so run out to your local GameStop or EB and check it out today. In it, there are detailed explanations on exactly how to earn Achievements for the top 360 games available, and these are personally tested and guaranteed to work. For $10, it's a sweet little book for yourself or any gamer on your post-Xmas shopping list. 

Games Update:
The meh-ness of the PS3 continues. Started Heavenly Sword tonight and was severely underwhelmed. It looks nice enough, but it plays like an old-school button-masher, and I say that without any hint of nostalgia or appreciation. I was bored before finishing the first set of levels, and I'll probably whip it back to GameFly in the morning, unfinished.


Fishing Master on the Wii is about what you'd expect... sparse graphics and a pretty straightforward formula where you (wait for it) fish.   It has some Pokemon elements and I prefer it without the shoulder-wrecking nunchuk-reeling, but my son friggin' loves it. The look on his face and his explosively overflowing, completely honest joy when he landed an 18-lb Lake Trout was absolutely priceless. For that reason alone, I'll be adding it to the permanent collection.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vacation Away!  

Not much to report today.
Things were pretty low key as the wife and I each finished our last gigs before my son arrives tomorrow. Made a little lunch, tidied up the place a bit, nothing big.

We had meant to go see Sweeney Todd tonight, but for the second night in a row we both found ourselves a little too pooped to pop and decided to stay in. Heard nothing but good about it, and if any readers have comments, I'd love to hear them.

Games-wise, we've been trying to do a lot more co-op lately. I had picked out a handful of last-gen games I never got around to and we decided on giving Dungeons and Dragons Heroes on Xbox a whirl. It plays out like a standard dungeon crawl so far, but the graphics are surprisingly good for the Xbox and I appreciate the amount of short cutscenes that've been added to spice things up. It's nothing to rave about, but it's good and solid. We'll move on to Lego Star Wars II and Resident Evil Chronicles later on. Army of Two is what I'm really waiting for, though.

Last but not least, I'm about 10 minutes away from sending in my first official submission to a real-deal publisher. Their website says not to expect to hear anything for at least three months which seems to me like a crazy amount of time to wait, but I guess that's the way the game is played....

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friggin' Looney Tunes  

Just a quick one tonight.

Had a list of things to do but before I knew it, I looked up and the day had slipped away.

Le sigh.

Anyway, a quick observation: My "day job" frequently takes me into mental health wards and psychiatric inpatient units. A lot of the staff there are fine, but there's always a certain percentage that seem like they're patients wearing stolen lab coats.

Case in point, one particular staff person tonight was completely irate that I had shown up for work about 20 minutes early. That's right, early.

When i got there, I asked if the staff person was ready for the appointment , but instead of a simple yes or no, this person took the opportunity to launch into a tirade and berate me for not calling ahead. Keep in mind, I'm not going to someone's house for a social call... this is a scheduled professional appointment in a clinical facility.

I explained that I had just happened to be done with my previous appointment early and thought maybe we could all go home a little sooner if the gig was done ahead of schedule. (It was friggin' Christmas Day, after all.) I went on to apologize for any inconvenience, and said that I could easily come back in 20 minutes at the originally scheduled time. Was this good enough? Of course not.

This person then made a point of saying that they could have been doing something... or could have been on the phone when I arrived, like I'd somehow interrupt their ability to do anything while I was in the building. They went on to reiterate that it was just bad manners to arrive somewhere early without calling ahead, regardless of the fact that they knew I'd be there in 20 minutes anyway and there are an infinite number of spots for people to sit and read a magazine.

I mean, it would be one thing if I was popping up unexpectedly on someone's front porch, or if I came to pick up a date while she was still putting on makeup, but unless I'm way off base, isn't the logical, sane response just to say that you aren't ready and then let the person wait?

I didn't really see the point of this person going off on me, but I pride myself on being professional and didn't want to make a scene, so I just apologized again and took it while I bit down on my tongue and cursed the staff person silently.

The really messed-up part? This same person was telling me just last week that they wished I could show up a little earlier for the next appointment.

No joke.

So, mental health staff and mental health patients... birds of a feather?

I think perhaps.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fortuitous Timing  

First of all, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to any and everyone reading. Although it's Christmas Eve as I write this, my son doesn't arrive until the 27th, so there shall be no opening of presents until the 28th. Santa better just hold his goddamn horses this year.

In reference to the title of today's post, I've finally gone through all of the major edits and feedback that people had given me about SIFT, and I've implemented all the ones that I felt fit just in time to take a break and give total attention to my son once he gets here.

...Of course, I have yet to hear from about 14 people who received preliminary copies, so it's very possible that I'll have to go back in and do some more tweaking. It's pretty hard to be objective about something I've been working so long on, and I never would have imagined that it would be so tough to get people to read my book and give me some feedback. On the other hand, I guess I could see it as commentary of a sort that people actually haven't read it... in that case, it's very possible it could need a lot more work. ; )

That aside, I'm calling it "done" for now. I could continue fiddling with it for the next six months if I let myself, but there has to be a point at which I just let go and move the entire process forward. So, I'm leaving the main text alone for the moment and I'm starting to gather my material for Book 2. At the same time, I'm going to be sending advance copies out to some of my favorite authors in the hope that I might catch their eye, and I'll also be submitting to most of the houses that similar genres. Fingers crossed!

One last thing, I already knew I was married to the best lady in the entire world, but tonight I received proof positive... she slipped me a copy of Hem's "Rabbit Songs", a CD I've had on my to-get list for the last few years. I'm spinning it now, and the wait was worth it.

Thanks, Hon! = )

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Best Laid Plans...  

When I started this blog, I was thinking that it would be a personal goal to put something up here at least once a day. It's not necessarily that I think my life is all that eventful or interesting, but I saw it as sort of a discipline thing that I would challenge myself on. Things went good for the first few days, but then work started popping up unexpectedly and not only did my blog go out the window, so did everything else.

As a freelancer, some of the positives are that I can set my own schedule, I can sometimes choose where I work or who with, and the best thing of all is that I don't have a boss or supervisor breathing down my neck. The downsides? There are more than a few, but the one on my mind this week is that sometimes work can be a little thin, leading me to take any and every thing that pops up out of necessity.

Hence, total abandonment of all blog, review, and fiction writing for the last few days. I know what side my bread is buttered on and it doesn't escape me that my wife and I need to eat regularly, so it's never much of a choice between working for something that will pay me now or writing for something that will pay me later. That said, today is a day to get back on track.

Quick updates:


Zack & Wiki: still loving it, but it can be extremely maddening sometimes. The game has a nasty habit of surprising me with "hurry up or you're going to get f'ing killed" challenges when I least expect them, so I usually get f'ing killed and lose all progress. It's not a major thing since most levels can be done in just a few minutes once you know what you're doing, it's just completely irritating when you die because it feels like the game didn't give you a fair shake. Thinking of doing a review for this one on GameCritics, and so far it's still a thumbs up.

Phoenix Wright 3: I know NightDreamer loves this one, but so far (I'm on case 5 of 5) I feel like it's been the weakest of the three. Phoenix himself has only been the main character in 2.5 of the 5 cases, and I feel like a lot of the trials hinge on some pretty hair-splitting pieces of evidence that aren't very convincing or decisive. I haven't finished it quite yet, but I'm having a hard time imagining that the ending is going to redeem some of the softer sections.


Fables: Finished the first book, and it was pretty good. I'll pick up Book 2 next week.

Death Note: Started reading this manga (again on ND's recommend) and it didn't disappoint. I was initially leery because I feel like the whole manga/anime thing has been played out, and it's really getting hard to tell what's quality and what's hype. This particular book is about a demon who drops a magical notebook and a boy who finds it. The book has the power to kill anyone whose name is written on its pages, and the story soon becomes an exploration of ethics as well as setting up the characters for a sort of showdown between the boy writing the names and the police inspector who's out to catch him. Some of the questions posed here made me think a little bit, and the characterizations (especially of the demon) are pretty entertaining. Coming back for Book 2 on this one also.

Speaking In Forked Tongues-

Only about five more chapters to go over for quick edits before going back in and tweaking a few things on a slightly larger scale. I'm getting to the tail end of monkeying around with the text, and I'll be creating some submission letters pretty soon. If any publishers reading this are in need of a snarky urban horror comedy, email me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Getting Ready For The Holidays  

Made a conscious decision to try and pack as much work into this week as I possibly could. My son's coming to stay with my wife and I starting next week, and his visits are probably the most important blocks of time that occur for us all year. As a result, we both scale back our work hours drastically so that we can spend as much time with him as possible. It's great to be able to have big chunks of family time when he's here, but trying to sock away enough money to coast through these "mini-vacations" can be pretty exhausting. Still, it's totally worth it.

In other news, I started playing Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure on the Wii tonight. Wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Yet again, Capcom turns in an effort that's charming and clever in equal amounts, confirming my gut feeling that if I had to pick only one developer to support for the rest of my gaming career, it'd be them.

I won't say a lot about it at the moment since I've only just started, but so far each level is basically a big "room" that has a series of puzzles that must be solved in a particular order so that our hero can collect pieces of an animate skeleton. What makes it so great is that this is one of the very few Wii games that doesn't feel like the motion control is crammed somewhere that it doesn't belong. Even better, since it's sort of a puzzle game to begin with, the need for split-second timing (so far) doesn't seem to be an issue -- which is great because I don't feel that motion control has the same level of precision and accuracy that a standard controller can give.

One more quick note before bedtime: picked up a copy of Fables, volume 1 of a collection from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. It was suggested to me by Nightdreamer (his blog is under my suggested reading list to the left) and so far all the things he's recommended have all been money.

...Wait, do people still say things are "Money"?

Anyway, it was worth the price of admission. I guess everybody in the world has known about this comic except for me, but if there are a few of you out there who haven't heard of it, it's sort of a crime drama starring characters from fairy tales and similar literature such as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Bluebeard the pirate (not quite sure how he fits in), Jack from Beanstalk fame, and so on. I was a little skeptical at first, but Bill Willingham has done a great job from what I've read so far, and I'm looking forward to more. Nightdreamer also recommended another comic called We3, which I totally fell in love with. It's a grim little stand-alone thing about animals strapped into mechanical attack suits, totally sad, and it was probably the best comic I've read all year.

Props to ND, and now it's time for bed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

...About Last Night. And Oblivion.  

So, yesterday was one of those days that I can't stand and it was especially worse in combination with today. Don't know if this happens to anyone else, but what went down was that the wife and I both had the entire morning off. Neither one of us needed to be anywhere until well into the afternoon, so of course we both wake up at 6am because we can't sleep. We're not usually morning people, so getting up that early skewed our biological clocks for the rest of the day, and we ended up turning in a lot earlier than is our norm.

Of course, we both needed to be at work first thing today. Naturally, we were both dead tired and would have paid cash money to sleep in. Not only was I doing my best impression of the living dead getting to my first appointment, I sleepwalked through the rest of the day and crashed on the couch as soon as I got back.

Nothing makes you feel old quite like needing a nap at four in the afternoon.

So, about Oblivion.

I got into it a lot later than most everyone else did because I knew it was huge and that I wouldn't have enough time to devote until it was already old news. I did my best to avoid spoilers because I wanted to come into it fresh, and I succeeded. The only downside to avoiding all the chatter was that I fell right into what I see as one of the biggest flaws in RPGs:

Making players pick their skills before they know which ones will be useful.

This is a problem because (in this particular situation) I didn't really know what I was going to like and what I wouldn't-- and by the time I figured it out I had already put in way more time than I was willing to ditch in order to start over properly.

For example, I had some bizarre idea that I would use speechcraft more than I would lockpicking. Don't ask me why I thought this; in hindsight, it seems like one of the most asinine things I've ever done in an RPG and doubly so in Oblivion. Anybody who's played the game knows that you're not getting anywhere without being able to get through locked doors.

It wouldn't have been too bad, ordinarily. I played my fighter-type character well, and finished the main quest without much difficulty. It was only when I wanted to see some of the other questlines that the problem became significant. Since my fighter focused on combat-based skils and so on, his stealth and magic skills were practically nil. I found the Thieves' Guild quest to be nigh-unplayable, and as much as I wanted to see the Dark Brotherhood storyline, I found myself completely halted by some simple locked doors. I mean, my character saved the world and defeated uncounted creatures along the way, yet I can't get into a house because the door's locked?

I broke every single lockpick I had acquired on my run-through and couldn't locate anyone selling a spell to open a door tougher than "Easy", so I basically hung it up and washed my hands of it. If I had known then what I knew by the time I got stuck, I would have picked an almost completely different set of skills and leveled my character up in much different way. Although some may say "that's what a second playthrough is for", I call bullshit on that. I may have had time to go through lengthy RPGs more than once when I was a kid on summer vacation, but anything over 20 hours is too much of a commitment these days. Playing through Oblivion twice? Not gonna happen.

If any developers are reading this, please consider granting players a limited "do-over" option. For example, if i had the option to ditch 2 or 3 of my skills and get different ones early on after learning the game, I would have gladly done it and my overall experience would have been better for it. Another option would be to not require players to choose disciplines until they've already put in a few hours and got a feel for things.

I'd really like to see some of the things i missed in Oblivion, but I just can't see myself devoting any more time to it when I have so many other things clamoring for my attention. Several people I've talked to say their average playtimes top 100 hours, and I'm just amazed that anyone can put that much time into something that's not an MMO these days. As for me, I'll always look back on my time with the game as a good experience, and something of a missed opportunity.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Off My Hours  

Could have slept in until 11, but woke up at 6.

Couldn't go back to sleep.

Should be staying up until 2, working on writing... but it's 11.

Can't stay awake.

...Good night.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Portal, the Significance of HD, and Motivation  

Finished Portal yesterday.

All told, it took me around three hours. Would have been faster, but levels 18 and 19 were a little hellish with some of the jumping. Despite that, it was a fantastic experience and I truly appreciate a game that says what it has to say and then knows when to quit. I had absolutely no attachment to the Weighted Companion Cube, though... Hard to see what all the fuss was about. I mean, how attached can I get when the thing appears in exactly one level?

Moving on to the issue of the HD era, I've seen dozens of demonstrations of HDTV and never felt compelled to take the plunge. The "HD difference" when watching a movie or television program just doesn't strike me as that significant. However, now that I'm in possession of a games-dedicated HD set, I have to admit that things actually do look a step up when all the settings are tweaked and the options enabled. I wouldn't have guessed it, but they do.

What do these things have to do with motivation? Playing Portal on an HD set effectively killed mine for getting the edits on my book up to speed. Hearing that it was so short beforehand, I thought I'd blast through it and then get cracking on a few chapters afterwards. Fast-forward to the credits rolling (and the credits song deserves a round of applause, by the way) and all I wanted was a snack and then bed.

Le sigh.

Although the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I'll make good on them tomorrow.

I swear!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Self-Defeating Engineering  

Meant to post to his hours ago, but I got caught up in Valve's Portal on their Orange Box collection. It's good stuff.

Anyway, wireless controllers are a great idea, right? I mean, rarely were the cords on older controllers long enough and they always ended up a tangled mess. Now that all of the current systems come standard with wireless controllers, my wife finally made her dream a reality of a game-zone living room that wasn't overrun with tripping hazards crisscrossing the floor. We got some cabinetry and a TV stand so all the consoles are in a place where they're accessible, but can be tucked away when guests come over. All the remaining wires are out of sight, and it's all good... except that the PS3's designers made the boneheaded decision to make the controllers rechargeable only while the system's on.

Hang on, let me explain.

Rechargeable controllers? I'm all for them. Recharging while connected to the console through a USB cable? No problem there. The problem is that the controllers aren't drawing current to charge unless the PS3 itself is actively ON and running. Why is this a terrible idea? Simple...

1> Since the controller is WIRELESS, I'd imagine the concept there was to let people MOVE AWAY FROM WHERE THE CONSOLE IS. This is especially true in our house now, since all the consoles are off in a corner. If the controller dies (as it did today) it has to be plugged in and the cord's like, 3 1/2 feet long. I don't know about you, but I don't make a habit of sitting with my TV in my lap when I game.

2> In our case, the PS3 isn't anywhere near the TV that's being used. Even if I was to go sit with my controller plugged in to the console, I wouldn't be able to even see the TV. Isn't one benefit of having wireless to be able to position things where you want them rather than being a slave to a bunch of cords tying you to the traditional "sitting in front of my console that's sitting in front of my TV" position?

3> The PS3 has a red light that glows when the system's "off" but the hard switch is still in the "on" position. This red light suggests to me that the unit is still drawing current, even if a very small amount. However, the controller can't be recharged unless the system has a green light, meaning that it's fully ON and running. This is fine if i'm actually playing it at the same time, but what about in instances like today? I don't want to play, I just want to recharge... soooo... I actually have to leave the unit on and running while I go and do other things? What sense does that make? It's a no-brainer to have the thing charging while the main unit is in standby, in my opinion.

Seems to me that if the PS3 engineers had given it just a little more thought, they'd have realized their choices are defeating the entire point of going wireless.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

That's not Commander Shepard.  

To any of you that frequent, you're probably well aware that I was completely under the spell of BioWare's Mass Effect for the 360 from the moment I started it up until the final credits rolled. I thought it was such a great game, I even gave it the second perfect score of my career. (The other? Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.)

There are tons of things I could discuss about Mass Effect, but the thing buzzing around my head today and for the last few days is that every time I see a picture or screenshot of the game, I wonder: "Who the hell's that?".

Because the game lets you customize your character's race, gender, and facial features, it always takes me a second to realize that the often-seen pug-ugly generic-looking dude in the space suit is actually the same Commander Shepard who's a red-headed Goth chick hottie in my own personal alternate universe.

I'm actually insanely thrilled that the developers have said that the character I've created in this first installment will carry over or at least affect the game in the next two sequels (it was announced as a trilogy from the start), but I have to say that I find it disconcerting that the experience I had is going to be unavoidably different from the one everyone else did.

In general, when you get together with a friend to talk about games, it's easy to say "Man, do you remember getting killed a million times by those damn birds in Ninja Gaiden*?" or "That line about horse wang in Disgaea was classic!" and have the person you're talking to know exactly what you're referencing. There's a near-infinite number of experiences that are common to people who play games; a sort of virtual shared history.

In Mass Effect, if I try to mention the well-done lesbian scene at the end of the game, I could very likely be talking to someone who completed the game just like I did, but experienced a hetero scene or no scene at all in their version. (...And by the way, the idea of some random spaceman getting busy with Liara totally creeps me out.) I think it's fantastic that players can customize things to suit their tastes. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a female gamer and have to constantly be forced into a male protagonist, or to be a non-white ethnicity and play 99% of games as an anglo-saxon, or whatever fictional race those spiky-haired anime characters are.

At the same time, I wonder what effect this will have on the "shared history" of gamers. Without a doubt, anyone who plays through a quality game like Mass Effect, Oblivion or any other title that allows personalization to any degree will be able to discuss it and appreciate its finer points. But instead of revisiting commonalities, maybe we'll be contrasting our own individual strategies, difficulties, and experiences that highlight ourselves as individuals.

*The NES version, not the overhyped, underdeveloped and retardedly difficult Itagaki reincarnation.

Friday, December 14, 2007

One of those days...  

Ever have one of those days where you just feel like every single thing is a mess?

My wife's stuck on the job, I need a haircut, my house needs to be picked up, I had a superbly lame day at work, editing my book sounds like a drag at the moment, nothing sounds good to eat, and although Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations is still treating me good I've got a craving for something more action-y and substantial. Shooting things is always nice.

Of course, nothing in my to-play stack is looking at all interesting.

...This is definitely one of those "get back in bed and restart the day" days, if I've ever had one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ace Attorney?  

I've always been a big fan of text games, story-based games and games that factor characters heavily into their composition. As such, Capcom's Phoenix Wright series has been right up my alley since the first game launched about two years ago.

The third iteration is out now, subtitled Trials and Tribulations. It doesn't change the formula of the first two, but that's alright by me... it's been good stuff since the start. I'm only on the second case (of five) and there's already been loads of nods to the first games, a sort of meta-game acknowledgement and tip of the hat for players who've been along for the whole ride.

Although the game can be frustrating at times thanks to some strange leaps in logic or dirty tricks played by the developers (what do you mean I had my hands on a vase but couldn't *see* it?!?) it's still highly recommended and a bright spot in my playlist.

Thumbs up so far.

Inaugural Post  

Welcome to Drinking Coffeecola!

This may be the first time we're meeting or you may know me from my work at GameCritics.Com, but my name is Brad Gallaway and this blog is intended to be an independent effort chronicling things on a smaller, more personal scale.

About me: I'm a thirtysomething living in Seattle, Wa. Been playing videogames for 20-plus years, writing about them for eight, or so. I'm also a book nut, and along those lines i've just completed my first full-length novel. It's a fantasy/horror/comedy mash-up currently in revisions titled "Speaking In Forked Tongues." I hope to shop it around soon, and who knows... it may even be in print someday.

I'm also proud to say that i'm ecstatically married to a lady who's as nuts about games, food, and coffee as I am, and I've got a wonderful little boy (age 6) who visits me three or four times a year. (Don't get me started on the state of men's rights in custody situations these days...)

That's it from me for now, but check back for updates. In the meantime you can say hey and post comments about games, books, writing, or anything else, OR check out blogs from some of my friends if you're the lurker type under the Selected Reading links at left.

Thanks for reading.