Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tech 'Tardness  

So I've been using a T-Mobile Sidekick 3 for a while... I use it a lot for comunication on the go, and for work purposes. I started using Sidekicks with the Sk2, a very durable and well-designed unit that served me faithfully for about three years before it was time for a new model.

The Sk3 (pictured above)is a different story. Not sure what happened, but the quality of the craftsmanship went way down. The plastic is lighter and feels cheaper, and the unit itself has fallen apart with small impacts (being dropped out of my hand onto a floor, for example). The internal guts are sketchier, with random bugs popping up and unexplainable tech glitches appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason.

I'm feeling like it's time for a switch, but i'm in love with the Sidekick's general design philosophy prioritizing simplicity and ease of use overall. It feels good in my hands, the keyboard is great, and all the functions are easily accessible and extremely straightforward. I'm not quite ready to let go of the product line yet, but Im hesitant to try another SK since the quality seemed to take a nosedive with the 3.

Being the tech-tard that I am, I'm really hesitant to go with something that's more complicated. I really only need texting, IM, and email... I do a little websurfing on the go, but not a lot and the SK has been able to meet my needs in most ways. I've dinked around with a few models of BlackBerry and I think the designers of those units could take a few lessons in user-friendliness from the SideKick. Granted, i'm very familiar with the SK, but some of the things about how the BB is laid out just rub me the wrong way.

The wife is currently testing a Motorola Q (above) and although it has a better web experience from what I've seen, it lacks in every other way by being less intuitive and more complicated in its menus and layout of programs. A Treo doesn't seem to be what I'm looking for either, and frankly, most of the various units I've looked at are all less than optimal in one way or another.

Is there anything out there that's simple to use, easy to understand, reliable, durable, and gives me everything I need with nothing I don't? If you've got something you think works well, drop me a line and let me know.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Exciting Stuff  

...Nothing happened today.

Check back tomorrow.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Looks Like Banana, Tastes Like Potato  

Just a quick shout-out tonight to a local restaurant that the wife and I think is pretty groovy. It’s a small Puerto Rican place called La Isla, tucked away back on the west side of Market Street.

There aren’t a lot of tables and a chilly breeze blows in whenever someone opens the door, but it smells great and the food hasn’t disappointed us yet.

Tonight we tried the garlic shrimp that came accompanied by rice and beans, a slice of avocado, and some crazy tasty garlic dipping sauce. On the side of the plate were a few slices of fried plantain. They look like bananas but taste like potatoes, crispy on the outside and very starchy and firm underneath the crust. Good stuff.

We also ordered some small empanadas, one stuffed with pork and the other stuffed with chicken. They could have used a little more seasoning, but the meat was very lean and the shells were just right.

The waitress didn’t blink when I ordered a virgin Mojito, and the kitchen graciously splits orders onto two separate plates and garnishes both equally, instead of simply giving you an extra plate and letting you dish it out yourself. It may be a small touch, but one that I really appreciate.

This little place seems to always be doing good business whenever we go there, and with good reason.

Check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.

Cloverfield Addendum  

So after a little waffling, we decided to be bold and go out to catch a movie after the sun went down. Cloverfield was playing out on 45th, so we took in the last show along with a small crowd of completely obnoxious twentysomethings who probably should have either been studying, or in lockup.

The movie was good, but I went into it without knowing much about it except that it was a Godzilla sort of thing told from the perspective of regular people. I had heard that they aped the Blair Witch Project shaky camera style, but I didn’t realize that the entire film was shot that way. It did indeed give the movie immediacy and intimacy, there were a couple of times when I wished they would just hold the damn camera still.

I don’t wanna give away too much to people who haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll just say that it does a very effective job of re-creating what it might be like for a group of big-city people under siege from the unknown. It wasn’t perfect but it was fresh, and that counts for a lot in my book.


Sunday, January 27, 2008


I took a few days off from posting, but I’m back with a few random tidbits… I’ll throw them up here in no particular order while I try to decide whether or not the wife and I should go out and see Cloverfield’s late showing.

Nothing makes you feel old quite like being ready for bed at 8 p.m….

I think I may have a title, and I’m proud to say that I have thrown myself back into the slow, torturous process of writing again and I’ve got two (extremely rough, admittedly) chapters in the can.

Started and finished Dearly Devoted Dexter the day before yesterday… it’s a quick, fast-moving read. I think the concept of having a sociopathic serial killer for a main character is fantastic, and obviously quite a few people out there agree with me. Personally, I think Dexter comes off as little too warm and likable at times, but it’s probably a necessary evil if the book wants to maintain an audience. CBS is going to air repeats of the Dexter series (based on book 1) that were originally created for Showtime, and anyone who’s interested at all in the material should check it out. A few of the actors seem to be miscast, but the series expands greatly on what the first book covered and actually provides greater depth and more exploration than the source material, in my opinion.

In any event, Dearly Devoted Dexter felt a little rushed but was another solid installment. I’ll be coming back for number three.

Just this morning, I started The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, by Acevedo. It’s about a soldier in the Gulf War who becomes a vampire, and then starts a job as a private investigator when he gets back to the states. I’m not very far, but the first three or four chapters have been pretty solid although I’m kind of thinking that vampires in general have been overdone in every sense. I’m not sure that enough genius exists to bring a fresh, new angle to these bloodsucking creatures who walk the night, honestly… maybe if all vampire novels went away for five or 10 years, they wouldn’t seem so similar and played out. Still, Nymphos seems promising.

Wrapped up Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles with the wife this morning. We got stuck for a long time on one particular level that prevented us from moving forward until we had gotten an “A” rank. Oddly, it was the only level in the entire game where meeting that particular requirement was in effect… every other level simply asked that you reach the end. We busted our humps for a while with no success, but eventually pulled it off by taking turns going solo. Evidently, the points requirement for a good ranking skyrockets when you have a second player aboard, and the challenge seemed stiffly disproportionate to the rest of the game. That particular frustration aside, the game was surprisingly much better than I expected, quite possibly the best on-rails shooter I’ve ever played, honestly. It needed some tweaking and graphics and with the responsiveness of the Wiimote, but the concept and execution in general were a thick cut above what you’d usually expect from a game of this sort. Definitely recommended, although the story sort of falls apart unless you’re already a RE fan.

Moving on to Half-Life 2: Episode One next.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Life, Interrupted  

Had a lot of plans and things to do yesterday and today, but I got kicked in the ass by a few emergency assignments. 

Life, interrupted.

The wife had a great dinner going last night and I had just started unwinding from a day in the salt mines when the cell phone rings and it's the boss, asking how long it'll take me to get where she needs me to go. 


Don't get me wrong... the money's good and I'm grateful as hell to have a good job in an unstable economy. It'd just be nice to have a little "off" time and a chance to have a meal without wolfing it down as I'm putting on work clothes with one hand and packing my bag with the other. (The fork for eating is held in my toes, of course.)

Seven hours overnight one place, three hours of sleep, and then another three hours in a different spot followed by two more short gigs. Needless to say, everything I had planned on doing got pushed aside. When I finally got home, i crashed for a four-hour nap, effectively killing any chance of productivity for today. 

Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be a little bit slower... I have a book to write. 

Still working on  Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles

Just started Dearly Devoted Dexter

See above.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Before I launch headlong into Rantsville, my latest piece just went up on GameCritics... it's running about ten weeks later than I intended it to go up, but some things are out of our hands.

Anyway, check out Portable Project 12.

And on to the main event...

Tonight I spent about 74 minutes on the phone with Microsoft customer support, and of those 74 minutes, probably about four of that was me not being pissed. Why was I calling?

Three issues.

1> Like many of my fellow 360 owners, I make a habit of logging in to Live on Wednesdays to see what new content is available to download. I eagerly await new Arcade titles, but I’m always up for a good trailer or a few demos that tell me I don’t need to waste my time with some title I’ve had my eye on. (Elements of Might and Magic? That’s now a pass.)

Anyway, I log in like I usually do and when I get to the demo for The Club, I see that it has a little message stating that this demo is “only for Gold members”. I recall reading that Microsoft had recently spit in the eye of Silver (i.e. - non-paying) members by making them wait a week before being able to download any of the good demos and trailers. I thought it was pretty lame, but I’ve been a Gold member since Ive owned my 360 and I do believe that eight dollars a month is a very reasonable price for the service they offer, so it didn’t bother me that much.

I couldn’t figure out what happened, so I went to my status and saw that I had been downgraded to Silver. It made no sense. Microsoft has had my credit card on file since the day I bought my 360, and they’ve been charging me every month like clockwork. I know for a fact there is money in the account, and I haven’t made any changes to my membership. WTF?

2> Microsoft completely screwed up their DRM (Digital Rights Management) for Live Arcade games when they were doing repairs on consoles with the Red Ring of Death. For some reason, apparently Microsoft matches downloadable game purchases with GamerTags AND specific 360 machines. Prior to catching the RROD, any Arcade game I downloaded under my Tag was fully accessible to my wife under her own Tag. After my 360 died, got repaired, and then was sent back, every single Arcade game I bought prior to this repair was now only accessible to me, completely locking my wife out and prompting her to pay full price if she wanted the privilege of enjoying the games she had full access to prior to RROD.

3> This past holiday season, apparently tons of people had issues getting onto Live and getting it to function properly. Personally, I only had about two hours of problematic service total, but I guess the problem was more widespread in other parts of the country.

To remedy the situation (and probably to head off any more talk of class-action lawsuit) Microsoft was kind enough to announce that they’d be giving away a free Arcade game as a way of saying sorry. Unfortunately, that game was Undertow. It’s a great game, but I and many right-thinking people like myself bought the game long ago. For us, we were instructed to call in to customer service and be compensated in another way.

After dialing 800-4-MYXBOX (so clever, that) I was connected to quasi-English speaker “Aren” who offered to listen to my issues in between telling me to “please hold, I need to check my resources” approximately every 15 seconds.

What were the resolutions?

Item 1, the mysterious downgrade: “Aren” was absolutely convinced that I had not been paying for my Live account with my credit card, despite the fact that my numbers were entered into their data banks, I have bank statements going back a year proving otherwise, and I had the card in my hand. After further investigation, she explained that my pre-paid membership card had expired.

What membership card, you may ask?

When I received my 360 back from the service Center, they included a note of apology and a prepaid card for a one month’s worth of Live service. I redeemed the card thinking that I would skip the eight dollar fee for a month and everything would be back to business as usual, but that was not the case. By redeeming the card that MS had sent, it had actually cancelled the credit card I had on file and my account did not revert to its original billing status once that free month had run out.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, use this card and we’ll inconvenience you some more.”

Item 2, the games lock-out: after explaining this issue to “Aren” several times and not having her grasp it, she insisted that all I needed to do was re-download the games and that would solve everything. I did it while I was on the phone with her at least three or four times, insisting each time that the issue was still there.

I literally must have went over the problem for over half the time I was on the phone and we kept going around and around in the same non-comprehensible circle. She eventually just gave up and tried to pull the wool over my eyes by giving me a reference number and telling me to re-download every single game that I had an issue with (about twenty, in all) and to call back if it didn’t work. Since I had confirmed with her in real-time that it damn well did not work, she wasn’t going to go any further with this.

Customer satisfaction: zero.

Item 3, I already have Undertow: This is the only one that Microsoft got right. Although “Aren” was well and truly sick of talking to me by this point, she credited me 800 Live points on the spot after I had to read her my 360 ID and Serial numbers and repeated them more times than should be necessary. I don’t quite understand why she had to have me hold three separate times to do this transaction, but I did verify that the points were added and I was just about ready to get off the phone whether I got my points or not.

All told, only one issue out of three was solved to my satisfaction and Item 2 is still enough of a pain in the ass that I’m going to need to call back again and probably waste another hour or two trying to explain it to another rep who won't understand before passing me off to a supervisor who probably won’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my 360 and of the current consoles, it’s my favorite by far… However, that’s not to say that I’m all right with getting dicked around when I’m paying cash money for a Live membership and downloadable content. Microsoft dodged a bullet the size of an oil tanker when they started the repairs for every console that had Red Ringed and found that amazingly, people weren’t really that pissed.

Do they really want to push their luck and see if their audience will be just as passive when they start getting nickel and dimed on Arcade games and have to call in for wonky membership problems? If anything, I would have guessed that the online aspects of the 360’s management would be Microsoft’s strength, but tonight’s wasted hour suggests otherwise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Getting the Ball Rolling  

First up, a quick link that I got from Bill Harris' Dubious Quality blog (the link is to your left.)

A Day in the Life of a Turret

This clip will be more meaningful if you've already played Portal, but it's funny as hell either way. Kudos to the guys who put that one together.

Started up Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles with the wife today, and she's a pretty good shot. The game is much more difficult than I had anticipated, but it's still quite do-able with two and it's a hoot to go back and revisit some of the classic RE bits... Basically Capcom repurposed a lot of old cutscenes and reworked older game content to create an on-rails shooter similar to a House of the Dead and the like. Not sure I'd buy it full price, but we're enjoying it as a rental. My thumb gets pretty tired hammering on the Wiimote's 'A' button, though.

I've basically got the outline for Untitled Book Two in my series sketched out, and I'll be starting the actual writing pretty soon. My hope is that the process will go faster since I've already established a lot of things and I'm not starting completely from scratch, but we'll see.

My recent obsession, HeroScape, just announced that it's been sold to Wizards of the Coast, a local (as in, Washington-based) gaming company that's taken the not-videogame-games world by storm over the last fifteen years or so. They started with Magic: the Gathering and exploded due to its incredible popularity. They eventually bought Dungeons & Dragons (if that gives you any idea of how big they are in the games world) among other properties, and now they're bringing HeroScape into their all-encompassing arms.

A rep from WoTC has been taking comments from players over at the HeroScapers Forum which I think is an excellent idea, and hopefully they'll be able to grow the game into something a little more accessible and successful. For some strange reason, Hasbro had been aiming the game at the 8-12 year-old bracket (which is WAY too low) and shipping it to toy stores when they should have been shooting for the older disposable-income gamer and stocking a wider variety of outlets.

Picking up some of the older pieces on eBay has been a minor nightmare and future releases had been thrown into question, but the WoTC reps are hearing the feedback from players and with their unsurpassed games know-how, I'm sure it's nowhere but up from here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Just A Quiet Weekend...  

...It's good to have one once in a while.

Between tons of work and the insta-parents schedule madness (wonderful madness, don't get me wrong) of my son's recent winter visit, we've both been feeling like the needles on our tanks were hovering just above a flatline 'E' lately.

Fortunately, the stars aligned for us this weekend and we had *almost* the whole thing to ourselves. What did we do? Pretty much just stayed home, and loved every minute of it.

We're both still young and we love the things that Seattle offers in terms of culture and entertainment; on any given night we can find at least a few interesting things to do. However, there's something to be said for just kicking back, turning the heater to 'toasty' and puttering around the house without anywhere to go or any schedule to be adhered to.

We played some games, fired up the hot sandwich maker (salami and peppered turkey with olive tapenade on sourdough... KICK ASS), and did a little spring cleaning. 

I wish we had more weekends like this one.

In other news....

Been catching up on my comics lately. 

>Invincible is still great, but so much stuff has happened in that storyline that I'm not sure if it's approachable to newcomers anymore. Still, it's probably the one I most look forward to every month.

>Simon Dark from DC has me interested, but I'm not sure it's leading anywhere. The title character has a visually striking design and I'm somewhat a fan of Scott Hampton's art, but the plot is taking a little too long to get started. I'm giving it a few more issues before I decide if I'm sticking around.

>The Goon used to be fantastic, but it's gotten very soft after finding success. I buy it more out of habit now than genuine interest... I may cut this one loose soon, though I heard the recent standalone graphic novel was strong. I'll have to take a peek.

>Ghost Rider has always been on of my favorite Marvel characters, but the latest incarnation completely sucks. The art's bad and the writing's even worse... The book is starting a new arc next issue, and I hope to god it's better than the current one.

>The Terror from "hyper-explicit" Max Comics has me intrigued. The intro story tripped a bit, but the concept is good: a cursed warrior survives hundreds of years by stealing fresh body parts every time one of his old ones wears out. Don't understand why nobody reacts to his rotten skull of a face, though...

>Boneyard is still one of my guilty pleasures. I haven't been following it in the last few months so I'm lost as to what the hell's going on, but I like the characters and the writing's good. Richard Moore strikes good tones with "relationship-lite" and I call myself a fan, though his inking could use some work. Shhhhh... don't tell him.

>Strange Cases is fun, but I'm hoping it gets a little heavier.  So far it's been "creature of the week" action with a motley crew of monster busters, but the action isn't quite intense enough and it doesn't quite make me laugh, either. It seems to be stuck in some limbo middle ground that doesn't satisify. Hopefully this one will pick a side soon and stay on it.

Your recommendations? Drop me a line.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Short Story - In the Trees  

As promised, here's the short story I whipped up last week - "In the Trees".

The contest that I wrote it for had a few rules:

1> The story had to involve a ghost as the main character.

2> The ghost's focus couldn't simply be on being dead.

3> Extra points would be awarded if there was sexual content.

4> The total length had to be 700 words or less.

As I mentioned in previous posts, the contest was suddenly canceled for unknown reasons, but I still had the story... I may work on it a little more and expand it, or maybe I'll look for another contest to enter it in, but for now, here's what I had...

In the Trees

It was about 9:15.

I knew because I could see the face of the clock in the town square from my vantage point on top of the hill.

It was also Thursday.

Ordinarily I can’t tell one day from the next, but I had seen Lester Jenkins driving his huge supply truck as he made all his regular stops earlier in the day, restocking the cold beer cases down in town in preparation for the inevitable Friday night festivities.

It wouldn’t be long now.


A pair of shining headlights made their way up from the dark burg below, the small clusters of houses and strip malls invisible except for the twinkling of porch lights and a few weakly-lit bits of neon.

The approaching vehicle ignited the tiniest spark of warmth at my core, the most I could muster on my own after being stuck here for decades. I could only recall vague glimpses of the night I lost my life on this hill, but enough time had passed since my last breath to allow hemlines to rise and morals to shift.

Some things never change, though. That’s why Laura Spinney was on her way up to my little secluded corner of the hilltop with whatever willing stranger she had hooked this time.


Laura and I had met just a few months ago.

At the time, it had been several years since anyone had spent more than a moment or two on the ground where I was bound, the last living people I could recall being a pair of roughnecks hunting deer as they passed through. I hadn’t even had had time to collect the bits of my essence that were floating amidst the treetops or lying dormant underground before they had moved on.

It was just as well. They probably would have killed themselves after I was done with them, and they didn’t seem the sort that would be good company for the rest of eternity.

That particular day, a quiet girl who had spent most of her time amidst the sorry stack of books that passed for the town library found her way up the hill and through the trees to me. I don’t quite know what was on her mind—reading thoughts wasn’t one of the gifts that came with my curse—but I like to tell myself that she had found a telling scrap of newspaper somewhere, or some dusty mention of the foul play that occurred in this very spot.

I like to think she knew I was here. After spending so long on this lonely ridge, it was comforting to imagine that someone cared enough to come looking for me.

As she drew closer, her energy brought me to life.

As she stepped over the gnarled roots and shifted the piles of dead leaves strewn about, the simple fact that she was breathing and present gave me the strength to manifest in a way that I hadn't ever done; feeling the pull and the warmth and given off by her innocent soul, I leapt inside her body and reveled in the feeling of flesh.

Laura could feel my loneliness, and the harsh, bitter cold of being trapped alone as my bones rotted where no one could see. Wrapped again in blood and skin, I filled her body with my own. My hands became her hands as her eyes gave me sight. I had forgotten the taste and smell of rich forest earth until I had sucked in breath through her lips.

Overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive again, I couldn’t control myself. Although we shared one body, I made love to her with the fierce desperation borne from being given the chance, and the thought that it might not come again.

But it did.


I was feeling much stronger these days, and not nearly so alone.

As her car’s headlights died, I glided through the forest in anticipation of what was to come. I could sense them drawing near, snapping twigs and tripping on the underbrush along the way.

As she laid down a thick woolen blanket, her head turned discreetly from side to side. She couldn’t break herself of the habit, though there was really nothing to see.

The man she had brought with her didn’t need much coaxing, though he might have reconsidered that she had told him what was about to happen. Or maybe not.

As his urges grew stronger and he tried in his awkward, crude male way to draw her close, I leapt inside of him and made his body my own. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get used to the feeling of borrowing a stranger’s alien, hard stiffness when I had only ever had soft, gentle folds in life, but I made love to Laura again that night.

…And many nights after.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I've mentioned HeroScape at least a few times since Christmas, and I strongly encourage anybody with even a passing interest in tabletop or miniature games to check it out.  

The wife and I have been playing at least twice a day, and it's still endlessly entertaining even though she's been schooling me. She claims she's never played strategy games of this sort before, but I'm starting to think she's feeding me a load of bull. Since the day I opened the box, I've won a grand total of one time. 

For those of you who haven't tried it yet, here's a pic of one of the wife's favorite characters--Sonlen, the overpowered dragon-wielding and nigh-unstoppable elf bastard. That might not be his official name, but I can't quite recall at the moment.  


Anyway, every figure in the game comes with an accompanying card as pictured above. The cards give all the vital info and save players the trouble of trying to remember everything, and the pics clearly show who goes to which card. 

The picture at the very top gives a very basic idea of what the player-constructed terrain looks like (all ground tiles and such come with the starter box and more are available. And no, that's not me in the picture, wiseass.) 

I'm sure it all looks a little confusing (it sure did to me at first) but it's really pretty simple and intuitive after a little practice. 

One of the best things about it is that there are so many different types of characters that get blended together. The "story" behind the game is that some powerful guys on some other plane start picking and choosing warriors from different time periods and places in order to form the most powerful armies.  Honestly, I could care less about the scenario behind it... it's just supremely cool to be able to mix grizzled WWII paratroopers with acid-spraying dragons, or to pit fierce samurai against relentless combat cyborgs. There's a little bit of everything thrown into the mix, and the hex-based terrain tiles lock together in quasi-Lego fashion to create all sorts of battle conditions.

I'll shut up about it now, but gets my top recommend for anyone seeking out some non-electronic gaming. 

...And I will take Sonlen out the next time we cross swords.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Back On Track  

If you read my blog regularly, careful observation of the last few posts will reveal that this week wasn’t exactly peaches and cream for me. That said, I had a little turnaround late this evening and things are looking up. On that happy note, I’ll stop my e-moping and get back to what you come here for.

(..And what is that, again?)

(Okay, I know this is cheating but here’s a quasi-repost from something I put up on the GameCritics forums)

So, I haven't spent much time with the ol' PS3 since I dropped an uncomfortably large stack of cash on it, but I 'm a big fan of most of Naughty Dog's work, and I figured there was no way Uncharted: Drake's Fortune would let me down.

So wrong.

Truthfully, I’m completely shocked at how weak this game is. The graphics are pretty cool, don't get me wrong, but underneath all the shiny stuff is a simple formula cribbing off of Tomb Raider and a whole lot of generic shooty action games. Shockingly, I discovered within the first few minutes that this game isn’t even an adventure game; it’s a piece of crap third-person shooter disguised as an adventure game.

Honestly, I’m offended at how much shooting is in this game. There’s so much, I can only describe it as childish. Hordes of African bushmen/pimp mercenaries come pouring out of every damn crevice in the caves and ruins I’ve been through so far. It’s ridiculous. To top it off, the main bad guy is pretty Aryan-looking, his second-in-command is Hispanic, but every generic dude I’ve mowed down has been black or African. I’m not sure exactly what this message is supposed to be, but it feels pretty racist somehow.

I’ve died a ton from excessive gunfights too, and this is only through chapter 5. I can't even say that the AI has been taking me down fairly, either. The sheer number of enemies you encounter is unreal, and their main purpose in the game seems to be to flank the player at any cost. Dudes spawn in back of you, they come climbing over cliffs, they pop out from places you’ve already cleared, and from everywhere... it's just stupid.

As for the rest of the game, it's highly MEH. Level design is pretty anonymous-tomb-like and grindingly linear, with some non-puzzles every now and then. (Light this torch? puzzle solved.) There’s some ledge-grabbing and shimmying, and some wonky-looking jumping that doesn't feel dialed-in at all, but none of this stuff can hold a candle to the recent reinventions of Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia by any means. It seems to halfheartedly try, but I'm having a hard time that the dev team was really trying to go there.

I was considering having Drake's be my next review but I’m seriously questioning whether I’ll even finish it at this point. It’s just too much of a slog to get through insipid ambush gunfights just to see more sub-par rock-jumping areas. Checking it out on Metacritic, I see many of my same complaints echoed almost word for word, yet not a single critic seemed capable of giving it less than an 8. 8 isn’t average, people-- it's pretty good. This game is not an 8. Based on what I’ve seen so far (and granted, I’m not all that far) I’m thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 seems more appropriate.

In multiplayer news, the wife and I are steadily going through Trauma Center: New Blood on the Wii. It’s exactly like the first game which is basically good since I liked it, but the developers have gone completely off their rocker because the game seems completely designed for two players at all times. The difficulty of even the beginning surgeries are orders of magnitude tougher than what the first game attempted, and the first game was known for its player-crushing difficulty, on the DS at least. We’re having fun at the moment, but this is one game I would’ve chucked out the window if I had attempted to do it alone.

Finally, I just have to throw out another recommendation for Omega Five on Xbox Live Arcade. It looks great, it plays exactly like one of my old favorites (Forgotten Worlds), it has multiplayer, and it’s really well put-together. Practice really pays off in this game, and it’s gratifying to be able to see my skill improving every time I play it. Not all shooters are so welcoming in this sense, so although it’ll chew you up the first few times you play it, patterns begin to emerge and the game isn’t nearly as heartless as it first appears. Even better, after logging an hour of gameplay, the game gives you an extra few credits to continue, which is always appreciated. Without a doubt, this is one of the better Arcade games to come down the pipe in a while, and it’s one of my favorites overall.

Nothing new to report on SIFT at the moment, but I’m going to do another big push and send out some more submissions this weekend. However, I had taken the time to whip up an original short story this week that I had planned to enter in a small contest. Oddly enough, the contest seemed to have fallen apart before I actually got a chance to enter. Not sure exactly what was up with that, but the end result was that I have this little story sitting here and no real venue for it, so odds are that I’ll post it here this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Heavy Sigh on Parenting  

So, look.

If you're thinking about having kids, that's great. Kids are awesome. One of the best things on the planet is being a parent, no doubt. 


Before you go impregnate someone/get impregnated by someone, THINK HARD

Just take a few moments before you decide that birth control isn't necessary or that the person you're about to conceive with is your one true "soul mate". Give a second thought before you go ahead and have that four minutes and twelve seconds of really intense sweatboxing.

After the fun of the production process, having a kid and being a responsible parent is incredibly tough at times, and you don't want to make it even tougher by trying to do it with someone who isn't 100% on the same page as you about basically everything.

Recall all the times you've talked with folks and you had some sort of bizarre disagreement or divergent viewpoint. Usually you can just walk away, laugh about it, and think they're cracked, right? 

So now imagine the same thing except that cracked person is going to be in your life, screeching like a diseased monkey and generally jacking around with you for the next eighteen years and there isn't a damned thing you can do to not be around their cracked-ness except turn into a disappearing deadbeat dad or deadbeat mom-- which I don't advocate or condone in any way, shape, or form. Kids need their parents around and having that sort of healthy relationship can make or break a little one's future.

So, knowing that you are going to be an involved, responsible parent and knowing that the effort is worthwhile, make it easy on yourself and everyone else who could possibly be involved and don't have a kid with someone who's not as with-it, responsible, and upstanding as you.

For real.

Today's episode has been brought to you by the letter W, and the number 3.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lying to Eat, Eating to Lie  

Certain things about my line of work are great. Other aspects aren't. I'm sure that you could say the same thing about most jobs, but as a biased person with a limited field of vision stuck deep inside my day job, it seems to me like my particular gig depends on lying and falsehood more than most.

In my line of work, getting paid depends entirely on how many freelance jobs you can line up for yourself. There are always situations where someone's needed in a hurry and those last-minute things are easy enough to grab, but they're not consistent. To get regular, steady work... the kind of work that provides a comfortable living, you have to play the game.

It's all about who you know, who they know, how much people like you, who owes who a favor, and about a hundred other factors that have nothing at all to do with the sort of work you're capable of producing. Consequently, as a person who spends a lot of time calling bullshit on things (or at least, I'd like to think so) I spend an equal amount of time biting my tongue and censoring my own comments. It's not just to be PC... There's a very real likelihood that one wrong statement or one aside taken the wrong way can lead to a freelancer like myself being completely locked out of a job because someone's miffed.

There's no union to go to, nobody to petition, no higher power to beg for mercy. Play the game, and go along with everything while wearing a smile. If not, you're taking your next paycheck in your own hands.

It's just that simple.

To make things worse, there are a lot of... shall we say, eccentric personalities to deal with on a daily basis. Usually it's not a problem to get through the day, but sometimes... just sometimes it gets to be too much.

Today was one of those days.

I was tired. I was annoyed. I couldn't play the game, couldn't hold it in. I had all I could stands, and I couldn't stands no more.

I made some partially straightforward comments.

Did I burn a bridge? Maybe.

Am I tired of constantly self-censoring and worrying for hours afterwards if I burned a bridge? Definitely.

Days like today probably explain why I have about three or four friends in the whole world. Playing the game is hard enough between the hours of 9 and 5... I'd sooner jump off a bridge than have to do it in my off-hours, too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Random Stuff  

It's been a busy couple of days recently, so I'm going to skip coherence and just throw out a bunch of stuff.

Games: Finished Id's and John Carmack's Orcs & Elves yesterday on the plane back to civilization. I sort of take issue with him since he's so adamant about drawing a hard line between games and art, but I can't deny that the man knows how to make games. Look at this one, for example. It's a port to the DS of a simplistic dungeon-crawler that was originally made for cellular phones, and I thought for sure I'd toss it aside after one sitting.  

Naturally, I found myself coming back to it whenever I had a free five minutes and plowed through the end in a two-hour session. 

The animation is crap, but everything else about it is genuinely clever and shows a wise hand in design. Each level is discrete, perfect for gaming on the go, and the combat system is a great hybrid that looks like a standard FPS, but is actually turn-based. There were a few rough patches and optimizing everything for the DS would have been nice, but it was still a little gem with hyper-old-school charm.  In fact, I had so much fun I was sort of hoping that Id would announce plans to bring their Doom cellphone RPG to the DS as well, but no news there.

Half-Life 2 is still the game that won't end... every time I think I'm in the home stretch, it keeps going.   

And finally, the wife and I have been making a concerted effort to play more 2P Co-Op, so we rearranged the GameFly queue and we're doing it. Tonight we polished off Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes for the Xbox. It's a standard overhead hack-n'-slasher with nothing special going for it, but it was pleasant enough until the home stretch. 

I will never understand what drives game makers to jack up the difficulty of endgame segments to the point where players stop having fun and seriously start contemplating quitting, and this game was a perfect example of what not to do. Hordes of enemies that block all attacks, endlessly spawning enemies, crowded hallways that hinder movement.... ugh. To top it off, the story was weak and the usual thrill of collecting Phat Lewtz was nonexistent thanks to five different suits of armor that were all uniformly gray, and a series of underpowered weapons with no nifty tweaks.

...Needless to say, we were both glad to be done with it.

Books: Finished The Amulet of Samarkand yesterday, also on the plane. It's a Harry Potter-ish sort of thing with a slightly darker twist to it. The writing for the main human character was a little dull, but the main demon character was a hoot with multiple snarky asides to the reader and plenty of action. To be honest, I'm weary of the same sort of complicated politico-plot motivation that drives the main conflict in the book, but it was worth reading even though I feel pity for any author who tries to write this sort of thing today-- it's just impossible to not compare everything to HP.  

Moving on to Queer Fear 2, a collection of horror shorts with the sort of slant you'd expect from the title. I originally bought it on the recommendation of a friend who has a great little story in the book. He spotted a tale that had some similar themes to SIFT and thought I might want to check it out.  That story (The Narrow World by Gemma Files) was great and proved a very interesting read... some of the parallels were amazing, though our stories diverged in more places than we aligned. Most of the other stories in the book are quite good as well, one in particular making me laugh out loud (Night of the Werepuss), and one giving me a severe case of the creeps (Bugcrush). 

SIFT: Speaking of books, now that things are getting back into a sort-of groove here at the homestead, I need to get serious about sending out more submissions. I've hit the publishers I wanted to directly (and again, a huge debt of gratitude to MM) so now I need to get cracking on trying to find an agent. My goal is to send out the first round of query letters by friday, and then to start collating my notes and fleshing out my outline for SIFT2 (currently still in need of a title). 

And finally... It's good to be back home. 

How the Other 10% Lives  

So my son's winter visit is over, and the wife and I flew him back home to be dropped off with his mom.

When we arrived at the hotel, the three of us were tired from the long flight and eager for some downtime. We stood at the counter with bags under our arms and bags under our eyes as I presented our printed reservations, but it was obvious that the clerk on the computer was having some problems. He checked and double-checked our info, and struggled with what he was seeing. He didn't specifically say so, but it was clear that the hotel had somehow not confirmed our reservation.

However, this fellow was a quick thinker and a generous soul. I never got his name, but whoever you are, a thousand blessings upon you, sir.What he did was give us a free upgrade since the standard room we had booked was not available and the rest of the joint was full up.

An upgrade to what, you may ask?

...the $800/night penthouse suite.

Without a doubt, this was the finest hotel room I've ever been in. The space was enormous, more like a complete two-bedroom condo than a hotel room. It took up the entire top floor of the hotel, and although I didn't measure the square footage, I'd say it was comparable (if not larger) than my actual house.

There was a deck that ran the entire perimeter of the room around the roof's edge, giving a panoramic view of the city, not to mention the hot tub and shower that were installed outside. Inside, we had two full bedrooms and bathrooms, a washer and dryer, a full kitchen and dining room, a sauna, multiple flatscreen HD TVs with cable, internet access, and a huge living room with couches and chairs to stretch out on.

The kicker? This place was so swank, the toilets were completely silent when they flushed. If that's not fancy living, then I don't know what is.

Now, I'm not saying all this to brag because it's worlds away from what we usually get and not at all within our travel budget. It was just a completely unexpected and lucky circumstance that felt like winning the damn lottery to the three of us after being on a plane all day and getting wiped out on an exhausting trip. I couldn't have imagined anything sweeter waiting for us when we landed, and it was the bright ray of absolute joy that we needed.

It got me thinking, though... it must be really nice to have the kind of money to be able to stay in places like that every time you take a trip. If it hadn't been for this stroke of luck, I don't think I would have seen firsthand how the other half... No, more like how the other 10% lives.

It's pretty damned nice.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Late to the Barber's  

As usual, I'm a few days late for the latest bit of news or culture. I do get around to it, though... this week, I outdid myself and got to see a film the wife and I have been eager to check out before it hit DVD. Yay for us!

So we took in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, and both enjoyed it. The wife was already familiar with the story and a few of the songs, but all I knew was that he was a barber and killed some folks. So, going into it with just that much knowledge, I was still pretty open for anything.

I'm not much of a Sondheim fan and I was slightly thrown when the movie opened with a song right off the bat, but I got into the groove pretty quickly. The story kept my interest, and Johnny Depp did his usual bang-up job of looking intense and delivering the charisma he does with most of his roles. 

The rest of the cast did well, Alan Rickman in particular. He's always great as a villain, and here he's portrayed as the ultimate disgusting bastard, so that was a good fit. 

I was a little surprised at how much blood was shown onscreen, but it was all in good fun and there were plenty of morbid laughs to be had. Several times during the show, the audience we were with erupted into laughter, so kudos to Burton for hitting a great balance between showmanship and wink-winking to the people in the seats.

Overall, a thumbs-up and recommended to anyone who's not automatically against the idea of watching a musical. 

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Hsu Editorial  

Got my copy of EGM yesterday, but didn't have time to crack it until I had started seeing reports about Dan Hsu's editorial in the latest issue today.

Apparently, some publishers have gotten peeved at EGM's less-than-favorable coverage of specific games-- Mortal Kombat, Assassin's Creed, and whatever junk sports game Sony's put out lately. The result is that the publishers are apparently going to withhold access to their upcoming titles as some sort of retaliation. 

People bag on EGM at times-- myself included-- but I have nothing but respect for Hsu and his choice to speak out in spite of the potential consequences. Writing for, our site has been on the receiving end of publishing cold shoulders at least a few times over the last few years, so I know what he's talking about. 

(Last I checked, GC  holds several of the lowest score slots for a number of games on's rankings. I may or may not have been responsible for most of those.) 

It's no secret that the game press is dependent on publishers for any information on their upcoming titles, which inherently puts said journalists in a perpetually sticky situation, ethically. There's no such thing as independent research or investigative journalism when the subject of coverage is on computers under lock and key in private development offices. Naturally, good reviews and favorable coverage earn you cherry perks and inside peeks while low numbers and negative comments reduce the likelihood that you'll ever get such access again. 

I can understand the position of the publishers, but I can't say I sympathize. If you want your games covered, be prepared for people to talk about what the product is actually like. Don't want crap previews and bad word of mouth? Don't make crap products and try to sell them as blockbusters. I can't think of any category of writers so prepared to gush positively over the slightest promising glimpse, so is it really fair to yank the rug out from under us when we start talking honestly about things that look sketchy... or worse? 

Hell, half the time honest words don't put a dent in a bad game's sales, anyway. How many times has a movie license tie-in turd sold millions regardless of all the cautionary reviews? And look at Assassin's Creed. That game's a half-step above being a tech demo and got a surprising number of low scores, yet it was still one of 2007's biggest sellers.

Publishers, don't punish game journalists when they finally decide to tell it like it is... Take the bad news and use it as motivation to create better games. And when you do?  Sit back and watch us fawn all over you. 

It's what most of us do best, anyway.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Super-quick mini-update:

Just finished all SIFT revisions in one gonzo session, and sending out a full manuscript tomorrow. I get to write the words "Requested Material" on the envelope, and I'm peeing my pants.

In a good way.

Thanks for the hookup, MM.

Omega Five on Live: Cool.

Tron on Live: Nostalgicool for five minutes.

Bedtime: Imminent.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ratchet and Clankin' Away  

Just a quick one today, I'm neck-deep in revisions and tweaking the text on SIFT and I've got to seize the quiet time while I can.

Games: My review for the PS3's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction went up a few days ago, you can check it out here.

I've also been putting in some time with Contra 4 on the DS. It's classic Contra if I've ever seen it, but Easy mode was tough and Normal is enough to make me quit. Not sure why they bothered to add in a Hard mode. Even though it hates me, it's still recommended.

Omega Five and Tron just came out on Live Arcade last night, so I plan to get to those today.

Books: I'm in the home stretch with The Amulet of Samarkand... gee, reading sure takes me a lot longer now that I'm a grown-up. Wonder why that is...

Anyway, it's a good book. Specifics to come. Looking forward to the second Dexter book up next.

Food: The wife made up an awesome salad yesterday: a few thin strips of italian sopressata salami, some frisee lettuce and field greens (also in strips), white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little s&p... damn, that was delish. Do it up yourself and let me know what you think.

Monday, January 7, 2008

What's so Half about it?  

So after stirring up a shitestorm on the boards over at Gamecritics, I've been continuing to digest the contents of the first item on Orange Box's menu, Half-Life 2. It's influential and creative, but it's also flawed and troubling at times.  The worst thing about it so far? 

It's too damn long. 

Anybody that knows me or reads me knows that I'm all about short games, but I'm also about games that end when ending is prudent; games that sense when they are wearing out their welcome and inherently know that more does not equal better.

Always leave 'em wanting more... this is a true phrase to live by, fo'real, yo.

For every few moments of completely inspired design or unexpected direction, Valve packs in at least fifteen or twenty minutes of repetitive action that does nothing but constantly remind me that the game I'm playing is too long. 

A brilliant flash... followed by miles of generic hallway. 

A genius segment... whose impact is dulled by another 300 headcrabs to shoot.

I've activated my stamina meter to power through to the end of the game, but I sure hope Episode 2 is as good as everyone says it is.  I'm going to need a little pick-me-up after this.

In other game news, the wife and I finally got in our first "real" game of HeroScape today. We had futzed around with it earlier using the basic rules, but neither of us really knew what we were doing and the basic rules are too... well, basic.

I spent some time reading the rulebook and going over it in detail, and when I felt like I had grokked enough of what was going on, we went for it.  After playing two sessions, I can say that her purchase of a starter box (Swarm of the Marro) was money well-spent. 

I've never been much into tabletop miniature games except for a brief stint with BattleTech a lifetime ago, but 'Scaping is great. It's easy to set up, the figures are already painted (and really well-detailed), it plays quickly, there's a good bit of strategy involved, and it's a hell of a lot cheaper than sinking a fortune into Warhammer or 40K stuff. 

For another $12, I got the Marvel Comics expansion and now I can add Spider-Man or the Hulk (among others) alongside my skeletal warriors, rampaging clansmen, or sniper robots. At this point in my post, I observe that I am rapidly descending into indefensible geekery, but I'm entitled to a nerdy fanboy moment every now and then. Anyway, it's a really fun game.

...I'm gonna go lift weights or watch sports or something now.   ; )  

Fictional Fish  

Just a quickie before bedtime...

I was at work in a very not-fun situation when my wife IM'd me and told me that my son had finally caught an elusive fish he'd been chasing all day.


He's 6 and loving the hell out of the Wii's Fishing Master, and I couldn't be more proud. His catch: the surly (and entirely fictional) Rage Trout. Yellow eyes, molten red scales... it's a real beast.

I can think of few things that would give me as much pleasure as raising a little boy to love games as much as my wife and I do. Him being persistent enough and hanging in there until he reeled in the thing is a damned good start.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Pimpin'... er, I mean Reviewin' Ain't Easy  

Not to sound like I'm endlessly in love with Mass Effect and I'm sure this is old news to some, but I stumbled across Dean Takahashi's recent review fiasco regarding my favorite game of 2007, and had to say something.

In a nutshell, Dean (who is primarily known and respected for being a serious games journalist and not a reviewer) posted his official rundown on BioWare's opus. His take was that the game was seriously lacking, going so far as to refer to it as "Mass Defect". In particular, that the game's combat was a mess and he felt like he was wasting a huge amount of effort on one of the game's bosses only to be defeated for one reason or another, which led to his amassing a big ball of negative energy somewhere in his midsection.  

Turns out that over the course of his playtime (somewhere in the 8-12 hour range according to his estimate) he was not leveling up his characters or improving their skills. Basically, he was walking around with starting-level characters, getting wiped, and then crabbed on the game based on his experience.

Nobody's perfect and I've certainly had more than a couple of my own "duh" moments, but this situation raised a few issues for me. Primarily, it sort of suggests that Dean thought writing a review would be no big deal or that reviewing games is easy.  I mean, would a serious journalist like Mr. Takahashi have dashed off a "real" news piece with an equivalent cursory look-see and no research? I doubt it. So what made him think he could do so for a review?

In all fairness, he printed an apology/retraction sort of thing and admitted his boo-boo, and for that I give him props. 


On the other hand, as someone who's written several hundred reviews over the last eight years and committed a serious amount of time and effort to my reviewing process, it chaps my hide to see someone like Takahashi (and he's by no means the only offender) phone one in after some half-assed gameplay and what must have been a minimal amount of examination. After all, the options he was overlooking were featured prominently on the pause screen that he must have seen at least a few dozen times over the course of 8-12 hours. Besides that, he didn't even finish the game even after he came out to re-render a verdict and admit his errors. (Mass Effect is known for having an extremely brief playtime in terms of RPGs if all one does is stay to the critical path.)

I could go on, but the point I guess I'm driving at is that it's extremely easy to write a bad or even mediocre review (after all, the 'net is full of them), but it takes a lot of work and dedication to do good ones-- let alone great ones. I'm not saying I've mastered the art of reviewing myself, but I try my best and I try hard. Maybe it's a bit petulant or resentful, but I feel that even an established journalist with name recognition and strong readership like Takahashi needs to pay his dues when it comes to reviewing. With this fiasco, I guess he ponied up a big down payment... Hopefully others will see how this all went down and take reviewing just a *bit* more seriously.  

Or not. 

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Post-Holidays Post  

Christmas and New Year's are behind us, and I've gotta say I'm glad. 

Call me an old fogey, but the inconvenience of having things closed and services delayed or suspended outweighs the benefit of having a couple days off... especially when you don't actually get the days off.  

It wasn't all bad, though. The wife scored this year and got me some pretty groovy stuff. Not that it was all big-ticket, high-cost items or anything, but they were gifts that she had put some thought into and they put a smile on my face when I unwrapped the paper. I appreciated the effort she put into the selections because my family's infamous for not having a friggin' clue as to what I ever wanted for my birthday or Christmas, and I gleaned two things from that experience: 

1: I learned to not look forward to ever getting cool stuff on those days.     

2: I learned that people who supposedly cared about me spent little to no time listening to me when I talked about things that I liked or interested me, i.e.- what better gift could there be than a wood-burning craft kit for someone who's been a rabid comic book fan for a decade?

Anyway, the point is that I eventually sort of grew to see these lame gifts as physical evidence that barely anybody gave a rip about me as a person (great for the self-esteem, let me tell you) and I quickly developed an aversion to any occasion where people were going to expect me to smile and say thanks for receiving proof wrapped in colorful paper and bows that I was a stranger to my own. 

This year, the smile and thanks were genuine, and that's a really good feeling.