Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GTA, Kids, and Parenting in the Videogame Age  

Games: The words on everyone's mind today are Grand Theft Auto IV.

This is a big game, quite likely destined to be one of the biggest in history thus far. I hardly think I need to explain why, but for anyone who needs proof, look no further than your nearest newspaper or television newscast.


Like hogs to the trough, uninformed sensationalist media are re-converging on this series not because for what is touted to be the most compelling narrative in GTA history, its detailed approach towards presenting an open-world environment, or the latest innovations in online multiplayer. No, the reasons the media flock to Rockstar’s most famous title are the appearance, deserved or not, of violence and lurid content corrupting the nation's youth and the very likely event that it will set a world’s record in sales.

I could go on for ten thousand words deconstructing and debating the history of GTA, the biased media coverage, game design, morals, values, potential influence of images and play on impressionable minds, and everything in between… but there's no need to even have the discussion.

The only thing that's necessary to say in relation to GTA IV is that it’s an M-rated game.


For people who either don't bother to read or simply don't understand what this labeling means (and that’s at least three quarters of the adults in this country) let me spell it out for you:

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV IS NOT FOR CHILDREN.

To all the ignorant adults, pandering politicians and neglectful parents who rail against the ‘evil’ games industry for turning America’s na├»ve offspring into Columbine clones and sexual deviants, the answer is simple--

Don't let your kids play this game.

Quite literally, that's all there is to say. The discussion ends here.

Games are like any other form of information or media. Like movies, books, and music, videogames are simply a vehicle to communicate a spectrum of content that spans a range of (say it with me now) ALL AGES, and certain content is simply NOT for kids.

As a parent myself, I make it my responsibility to check into whatever it is that my son is playing, watching, reading (and even eating) to make sure that it's within the guidelines for what my wife and I feel is appropriate for a person his age. I may personally enjoy a double feature of gory horror classics and popcorn on a Friday night or curling up with the latest torrid fantasy romance novel and breaking into a sweat during chapter 4 , but my son’s not going to be partaking of things like this until he’s mature enough to handle them, and responsibly so.

Any parent who buys (or pays for) a copy of GTA IV without doing the research and then complains about their children playing and being ‘influenced’ by the game should first take responsibility for their own actions, and admit that they're not doing the job they should be. I have absolutely no respect or tolerance for people who want the government, the industry, or anyone espousing censorship to raise their kids. If you’re too lazy to check out what’s in the game your kids are playing, then you don’t deserve to have kids. It's a parent's job to monitor what their kids are into-- this is not up for debate.

But they’ll just play it at a friend’s house

…So call the friend’s parents, ask questions and have the discussion.

They’ll just get it and hide it

Support stores that enforce the ESRB and don’t sell M games to minors, and while you’re looking under the mattress for a sticky copy of Plump Rumps and in shoeboxes for marijuana, take a look-see at what’s on their game shelf or under their bed. Better yet, when their TV set is on and they have controllers in hand, look at what's on the screen.

Granted, it’s not possible to shield children from every conceivable evil that exists in the world, but an interested, involved parent will know when their kids are getting into things they shouldn’t – and even if your kid is a contraband ninja – you should consider yourself to be the strongest, most effective influence in your child’s development. By setting a good example, talking to your kids, and being a part of their life, any possible negative effects from games (as well as TV, movies, books, music, modern art, red meat, and a million other things) will be defrayed by the love and care you show them.

Will I buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV?

Absolutely. I’ll probably enjoy the hell out of it, too.

Will my son be playing it, or be beside me on the couch watching while I am?

Not for another ten or twelve years.

Monday, April 28, 2008

We Must Be Too Old...  

… because it was too loud.


Music: The wife and I went to go see Ben Folds tonight. Playing a small venue down south in Tacoma, we traveled outside our usual stomping grounds to see the witty piano man as he set up shop at a local college campus.

It's been a while since the last time we went to a concert -- Cake playing Portland, I think.


At the time, we were struck by the fact that although we were definitely not the oldest people in attendance, we were in the upper age bracket. At that concert, we hung out in the back and stayed out of the way of all the schmucks getting drunk and making asses of themselves while feeling out the notion that perhaps we had ‘grown out’ of going to small clubs and up-close performances. The appeal of standing-room only and hanging out in a crowd of people who smelled like patchouli was already starting to lose its appeal, and after tonight, that feeling was only reinforced.

For starters, there was no assigned seating at tonight’s Folds show, so we ended up standing in line for about 45 minutes in the rain before the doors opened. Once inside, we were a little dismayed to see that the place was basically a big gymnasium with a stage set up at one end. On the plus side, there did end up being seats on an upper level. On the downside, they were rock-hard bleachers perpendicular to where the music was happening, so not only were our butts sore, our necks were stiff.

We sort of expected the conditions before we got there, but what drove home the fact that perhaps we were no longer cut out for the concert scene was that the music was just TOO DAMN LOUD. And really, this was nothing particular to this specific concert… I've been thinking the music's been consistently too loud at every show I’ve been to for the last couple years. I mean, it's usually loud to the point that the music becomes massively distorted as the speakers strain to put out the amount of wattage being cranked through them, losing all nuance and notework in an overwhelming wave of ear-ringing noise.


As we sat on our bench trying to enjoy the show, we both looked over at each other at about the same time and remarked that the sound quality was shit – and it was. Folds plays a mean piano, yet all we could hear was the drum kit and a pounding bass guitar. We could forget about enjoying his quirky singing, too… we were catching about every fifth word, and that was on the songs that we already knew.

I'm starting to wonder if the sound guys who arrange the tech side of concerts fix things so that the music sounds good to the performers on stage instead of the people who are in the audience. I mean, we see the roadies up there doing endless sound checks on all the instruments and speakers, yet when the music starts going, it always sounds atrocious.



We ended up leaving a few minutes before the show was over so we could get out of the parking lot before the rush started, and as we drove home it seemed to me that we would have been better off buying a couple of Folds’ CDs and a few bottles of sparkling cider… we would have been a lot more comfortable at home, and we would have been able to actually hear the music that we paid for.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Never Shuffle Again  

Games: Lost Cities was released on Xbox Live this past Wednesday. Described by the friend of that recommended it as a sort of two-player solitaire (which is a very good description, actually) it's a quick game to learn with just a few rules. After spending about 10 minutes on the tutorial and a match against the computer to feel it out, this friend and I were playing against each other and enjoying the friendly competition.


During the course of play, I remarked to him that Xbox Live was spoiling me for tabletop games. For example, even though Lost Cities is about as simple as card games come, the computer was still handling the shuffling and score tallying, and of course, all rules were enforced by the AI. All we really had to do was play.

Looking at another of my favorite Live offerings, Carcassonne is a highly complex game that asks players to build castles with points awarded for things like building roads, the amount of adjacent farmland, and how much area is within the castle walls that are built. (If you haven't played this game, it's a LOT more fun than it sounds... trust me.)

Anyway, it's a great way to spend a few hours but by playing it on Live first, I couldn't even begin to imagine playing it the original way -- on a table with printed cards. Trying to make sure that all moves were legal and then manually scoring something like this seems so complicated and arduous, I have no idea how people ever did it without electronic assistance, let alone did it correctly.

Doing board games better than board games do wasn't something that I would have anticipated before the advent of the 360, but I have to say that the thought of going back to having a piece of paper and pencil beside a stack of playing pieces and mixed-up piles of multicolored money seems a lot less appealing than just plugging in a headset and checking my friends list.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Quiet Week  

It's been a quiet week here at Lake Wobegone and... Oop, sorry. Wrong show.

Anyway, it's late and there isn't much to say at the moment, so check out the update at Talking With Our Mouths Full and and I'll probably post another few bits before the weekend's over.

In the meantime, file this under "If you love games this much, you need to get out more" department...


I really don't want to see where the ghosts respawn after Pac-Man eats 'em...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Asian Stuff  

While we were taking care of things (see previous post) the family decided that we all needed a break so we headed out to the local theater to take in a picture. There wasn't much to pick from, so we ended up seeing Forbidden Kingdom, a fantasy-lite Kung Fu flick starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

Jackie's hair in this pic says it all.


Despite several years of my formative youth spent deep into Hong Kong cinema, I've never been a Jet Li fan at all. Jackie Chan, on the other hand, was The Man for several years running as far as I'm concerned. I was such a fan, I even went out of my way to meet him twice when he came to the states. Nicest guy ever, and Ken Lo (who was with him at the time) was a pleasure as well. I say this to establish the fact that I'm no stranger to films of this sort, or to either of these stars. So how was the movie?


Frickin' terrible.


For starters, the plot was like an anglo HK nerd's wet dream. In a nutshell, a doofy-looking white kid finds a "magic staff" that teleports him into some misty, magical Asian dimension sporting every possible HK reference and cliche from the last, oh, I don't know... forty years or so.

I mean, if the film had been an obivous parody or designed for the 'core HK fan as a sort of Where's Waldo spot-the-nod it might have been passable, but there's not even the slightest hint of tongue-in-cheek going on, which makes watching the insipid quest to learn martial arts, win the heart of the chaste Asian girl, and defeat the Jade Army (yes, it's really called the Jade Army) completely unbearable.

The only people I can see actually enjoying the film are the 12-and-under set thanks to the bloodless combat, silly characters, and pap plotting -- and even under the grip of a Red Vines sugar coma, I doubt the savvier kids will sit through something that would have felt dumbed-down even in the midst of the late '80s/ early '90s kid-movie boom. I mean, 3 Ninjas Kick Back had more edge than this gauzy piece of fractured fairytaling.

This is what we get when we take two of the biggest martial arts stars in the history of the world and put them on film together? I can't even put my disappointment into words.


On a more positive note, I finally wrapped up the Death Note manga series a day or two ago. Many thanks to Nightdreamer for turning me on to the best Japanese comic I've read in years.

There's tons of info online detailing this series, but the gist is that a supernatural entity gives a magical notebook to a high school genius. This book can kill any person whose name is written on its pages, and after criminals start dropping like flies, a super-detective named L is called in to solve the case. After many twists and turns, the book becomes a battle of wits between the boy with the notebook and the detective pursuing him, and the spiraling corkscrew action of the plot is guaranteed to make anyone's head start feeling a little dizzy, in a good way.

Bizarre as it is, I completely recommend this series to anyone looking for something far off the beaten path, as long as you don't mind reading the comic from right to left in Japanese format. If the strain is too much, it's also an anime series currently running at night on Cartoon Network and there's even an upcoming live-action film. (Trailer here.)


If any of you readers out there have more suggestions for quality manga, drop me a line... I'm planning on finally completing the Lone Wolf & Cub series at the moment, but I wouldn't be opposed to getting into something more recent as long as it delivers the goods .

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Permanence  

We recently had a death in the family on my wife's side, and we spent the last few days helping take care of the affairs -- cleaning up the apartment formerly occupied by my grandmother-in-law and other mundane tasks.

Most of the people who've died on my side of the family went when I was too young to have much of a part in the proceedings, so this is the first time since becoming an adult that I've been so involved in the aftermath of having a relative pass away, and it's been an interesting experience.

I actually never met this particular relative so I didn't have grief or a sense of loss to deal with, but the impact of this person's death had clear effects on those that did. Most specifically, it highlighted to me that unfinished issues between family members should be resolved while the opportunity still exists, and if the issue can't be resolved, then some sort of acceptance of the circumstances should be reached before death removes all options.

Make peace with others, or at least yourself. Regret is a heavy thing to carry.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Catching Up  

Work has kept me pretty busy this week, hence the lack of updates, lack of game playing, and lack of book writing. Let's take care of at least one of those things now...


Random: American Idol is my secret shame, but I have to step into the sunlight for a moment and say that this week's performance by David Cook was nothing short of mindblowing.

With the theme of "Mariah Carey" for the singers to work with this week, I was prepared for all the male contestants to suck -- surprisingly, just the opposite happened. By not being directly compared to MC herself, the men were seen more for their own merits rather than by how closely they copied the originals, like the women.

Anyway, as predicted, all the songs were emotional ballads (snore!) except David Cook's... in a balls-of-stainless-steel maneuver, he rearranged the uberpop "Always Be My Baby" into sort of an emo-rock thing which actually rocked. My mind was completely blown, and this is just one more example out of many which show Cook to be tied for "most musically capable" with David Archuleta. If the Davids aren't the top two for this year, I'll be shocked.


Games: Surprise of the week: Downstream Panic! on PSP.

It looks like a cheapo-crap puzzler on the box and in screenshots, but this little unkown number packs some serious chops. Sort of like a combination of Lemmings and Pachinko (yes, that crazy Japanese game with the metal balls.)
Players manipulate the environment to properly channel a stream of falling water filled with fish. Bomb a hole here, turn on a gusting fan there, and do whatever it takes to make sure the flow being pulled by gravity gets to where it needs to go. It can be extremely challenging and touchy (timing matters and the correct placement of objects sometimes depends on just one pixel) but it's fresh, it's creative, and it's a quality game. Recommended.

Also started Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core on PSP recently.

I'm still way early in the game, but it looks like a winner at this point. I'm not sure the story will grab me the way FF games have in the past, though... I'm sort of over the hyper-styled hair and androgynous male character thing. More thoughts to come on this one, and for those of you who are into such things, check out my friend Doug Walsh's guide put out by Bradygames. Their Signature Series books are always nice pieces.

...Oh, and Persona 3 on PS2 is still going swimmingly. It doesn't top the sheer god-what-an-awesome-game factor that Mass Effect had, but it's absolutely my #2 pick for RPG of 2007. (Apologies to Atlus and R&D1... I didn't have time to get to it until 2008.)


Food: Shameless plug time...
The wife and I just updated our restaurant blog. Go check it out.


Random: This has been all over the intarwebs for a while, but if you haven't seen the FAIL BLOG yet, the pictures there are a mixture of amazing and (mostly) amazingly stupid, in the best possible way. Check it out and the laughs are guaranteed.

Elf Needs Sleep Badly  

Two late nights in a row puts a cramp in my blogging.
More tomorrow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Books and Planes  

Books: One of my latest book-related pet peeves: when an author has a series or multiple books in print and doesn't make the relationship (if any) between the books as clear and obvious as possible.


Since the wife and I have been on a book-buying binge lately, I've noticed that it's sometimes almost impossible to figure out which book in a series comes first, if the books in said series are actually intended to be read in any certain order, or if the books are even related besides having the same author.

I can think of at least three separate occasions lately that we've gotten home thinking we have a stand-alone story or the first in a series, only to find that it's actually the fourteenth out of twenty-three. Two other times, I thought I was getting a sequel only to find that the book in question was not at all related to what I thought it was.

If you haven't been checking out series fiction lately, my rant may not make any sense, but trust me... I'm starting to think that this muddled way of listing an author's other works is a new sales strategy. Trick them into buying #7 on accident, and they'll be forced to buy # 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.


Random: Frequent readers of this blog may know that my son lives in Hawaii. Since spending time with him is one of the most important things in my entire life, my wife and I have to pony up for multiple plane tickets every year -- and if you've ever priced such a trip, then you know it ain't cheap.

With all the trouble US airlines have been having lately between gas prices and lack of mechanical maintenance, there's been much talk of buyouts and mergers. If these rumors pan out, the word is that the number of competitors would shrink and fares, of course, would rise. I may not be capitalism's biggest fan, but I do like the way the system brings prices down in a fair market...

Fewer competitors? Higher prices? My son still 4000 miles away? How's a couple supposed to put anything away for retirement?

Le sigh...

A Son's Request  

Random: One of the great things I love about being a dad is that my son will sometimes come up with totally off-the-wall things out of the blue, which I find fascinating. An example:

Dad, I want you to draw me something.

OK, what?

A stormtrooper.

From Star Wars? No problem, I’ll do it tonight and send it out to you in tomorrow's mail.

But don't draw the head. I want to draw it.

Oh. So you want a stormtrooper with no head, right?

Yeah. And what’s that thing that we saw at the museum? The long thing with the blade?

A scythe?

Yeah! Draw that too.

... So you want a stormtrooper with no head, and a scythe? Like… each one on a separate piece of paper, or how?

No, I want him to hold it.

One headless stormtrooper with scythe, coming up.



Gotta love it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Ruins  

The wife and I just got back from seeing The Ruins. Wasn't our first choice, but theaters are a dead zone right now and tonight was one of those nights that you just gotta be out.


I read the book a while ago and thought it was just alright. It got a lot of praise at the time, but honestly, I thought it was about twice as long as it needed to be and it was really, really slow in some spots. For a horror book, there was entirely too much inner dialogue going on for characters I cared nothing about. After finishing the volume, my first thought was that it'd make a better film -- and that was proved mostly right.
The movie itself is no instant classic, but it got the job done and eliminated the bulk of what made the book drag. The effects were fine, and there were a few scenes that were genuinely horrific and painful to watch. The ending differs slightly from the book (a minor cop-out, in my opinion) but it basically worked.

Overall, we both enjoyed our time with it on the big screen, but it'll be just as good on DVD.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Interview and Two Game Bits  

Games: My interview with Metanet’s Mare Sheppard is now up at GameCritics… You can check it out HERE, and make sure to pick up a copy of N+ via Live Arcade or for the PSP/DS. It’s great stuff! I swear!


Play-wise, I wasn't sure that I'd be ready to commit to Persona 3 for the long haul with reported completion times averaging anywhere from 70-plus hours to over 100. These days, 40 hours is my usual quit time for anything -- there are precious few titles that I feel truly justify even that much, so signing up for a tour of duty that's at least double that size gave me pause.


At this point, I've logged around 20 hours and I'm still coming back for more every chance I get. The developers behind the Persona/Devil Summoner series have always been a brilliant bunch of guys, but the fact is they usually lean towards the crazy-sick-hardcore side more often than not. This time, they've taken extreme measures to rein those impulses in and crafted something that's simple, streamlined, and easily approachable.

Maybe I can appreciate it more because I've played (and drowned in) their past efforts, but they've gone above and beyond this time. I'm starting to think I may actually see this one through…


A few days ago, GameDaily ran a short story from EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design And Research.)

In this piece, the gist was that one in five games becomes a “success”, and that games which do not have playable demos before release sell better than games that do.

Although they may have come to this conclusion by a statistical, scientific means, I think anybody with more than three brain cells can figure out anecdotally that what's going on here is that crappy games don't sell when people get a hands-on chance to see how crappy they actually are.

Even the worst piece of software can look like a superstar when the developers snip and edit selected pieces of footage to highlight non-playable cutscenes or clips from dramatic angles that couldn't possibly represent actual gameplay. I can think of dozens of games offhand that got me pumped after seeing a slick trailer, only to find that the final product was nothing near the grandeur of what was represented.

Granted, there have been several instances where the demo itself has not given a complete picture of what the final game really is -- for example, games that employ complex mechanics that are introduced to the player over time through a series of tutorials usually seem like jumbled messes when someone checks them out at a kiosk for two minutes. The same goes for RPGs or games that incorporate lots of mood and atmosphere. These sorts of titles just can't be done justice without first laying the fundamentals down for the player. Honestly though, I think most gamers get this and don't count it against a game when the demo fails to capture the substance.

I may not be a researcher, but I believe that the essence of these findings is not the value of a demo, but rather, a statement on the quality of software being shoveled onto shelves with the take away message being:

If your game sucks, make a great trailer and don't put out a demo to guarantee higher sales... because gamers will get suckered by the hype and waste their money on it.”


Great research there, guys… I don't think anyone is surprised.

Our Mouths Are Full  

Had a long post planned for today, but things came up and I had to sideline it for the moment.

Check back tomorrow for the full update.


In the meantime...

...The wife and I started a new restaurant review blog.

Called Talking With our Mouths Full, it's going to mostly be about Seattle-area eateries, and you can check it out here.

The current plan is to go weekly by featuring a new place every Thursday or Friday, so drop by and leave a comment or two, and let us know what you think.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Freakin' Delicious  

Food: The juice pictured below...


...is freakin' delicious.
Picked up a can at my local Asian grocery store a while ago, and I've been hooked ever since. The fruit this stuff is from, the calamansi, is like a mix of lemon and lime, but not as tart or acidic as either one. Evidently it grows mostly in the Philippines and may be native to the region, and the imported cans of juice that I so adore are from there as well.
If you've got an Asian foods market near you, give this a shot. It costs about .75 or .80 cents a can where I get it, and the investment is well worth it.
Thanks, Philippines!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Putting Justice to bed, and GTA IV's DLC  

Games: I finally put Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney on DS to bed last night, so after this post I’ll stop complaining about it, I swear.

Out of all four Ace Attorney games, this one was by far the weakest. It didn't start getting interesting at all until former main character Phoenix Wright came back for a while in the fourth (and final) case, and that one was a confusing mess of quasi sci-fi with a lot of nonsense evidence-gathering in two different time periods, one in the present and one in the past.



Overall I found the characters in AJ:AA to be either dull or annoying (or both), and the cases were mostly absurd to the point that I couldn't become immersed or suspend my disbelief enough to ever get in the swing of things. By the time I was halfway through, I was clicking past the text as fast as I could and had given up trying to make sense of each case’s “logical” flow.

Capcom needs to remember that not every case has to be a four-part, multi-layered epic. Sometimes, it's fun just to unravel a standard murder without having too many outlandish tricks or ridiculous intuitive leaps. It's like the devs feel the need to keep pushing the envelope of reality with each game, and the formula really doesn’t need to be this complicated or overdone.

More tedious than anything, I'm hoping that the Attorney series doesn't end on this down-note.


In other news, Sony’s Scott Steinberg was recently quoted at GameDaily Biz as saying that the 360-exclusive downloadable content for Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t going to be a big deal. My first inclination was to say that the man was smoking crack, but after further thought... I’m not too sure.



Pretty much anybody who’s anybody is going to play this game at some point, but since it’s going to be available on both PS3 and 360, that negates its potential status as a single-handed system-seller.

Then take into account that the downloadable content in question will not be available immediately (not to mention, it’s not exactly clear whether or not the small fortune Microsoft paid for the exclusive rights will guarantee that it’s exclusive forever) and I’m not too convinced that anyone who already owns a PS3 but not a 360 will refrain from picking up the game based on the knowledge that some sort of content will be coming to the opposition's box at some point in the future. It's a lot easier to drop $60 and say "oh well" than it is to save up a few hundred and buy a second console.

For people like me who have the choice to play on either the PS3 or the 360, the choice is a simple one; Since I don’t perceive the PS3 as having any real technical edge over the 360, and since the PS3’s online experience is complete crap, and since Live is as smooth as silk to use, and since I enjoy going for Achievements, and since I would most definitely download additional content when it’s offered, I’ll be going 360, no question.

However, I’m sure that the percentage of people who are in my same situation are probably a very small percentage of the overall market… it’s doubtful that we’d swing the pendulum very far in either direction, so while Microsoft’s decision to secure future download content is just fine with me, in all likelihood I would’ve bought the 360 version anyway. I imagine that other multi-console homes would likely do the same, for similar reasons.

Another thing to think about is that by the time the downloadable content is available, GTA IV’s status as the “it” game may have cooled down substantially to the point that an additional scenario may not matter that much to people who are already done with it by that point.

Or not.

I will admit that I’m a big fan of add-ons that give me a reason to dig out old discs… I did it for Overlord and for Mass Effect, and I imagine that I’d do it for GTA IV too. Hell, I'd do it for Viva Pinata if Rare offered a new animal or two.

I guess in the end, it remains to be seen what exactly it was that Microsoft paid all this money for.


Will the sum earned by downloading this content from Xbox Live make up for the fortune they spent? Probably not… Will it guarantee them a stronger position in terms of console sales? I doubt it. They’ve got bragging rights for sure, but add-ons are a new territory for consoles and I think that this is more a gamble on Microsoft’s part than an educated strategic maneuver, even with the juggernaut that is GTA.

It’s definitely something to chew on…

Friday, April 4, 2008

Persona 3, and Talking With Mouths Full  


Games: Started Persona 3 today after having it sitting in my To-Play pile since release day. I'm a big Persona/MegaTen fan, even though I'll be the very first to admit that the various entries in the series are usually way too hardcore for their own good. Crazy difficulty and grind-lust aside, the series has always been chock-full of superb ideas and interesting design, and Persona 3 is no different.


I'll have more to talk about when I get a little further in, but for now I will say that it has the absolute best intro and tutorial sequence I've ever seen in an RPG, ever. Great music, great voice acting, fabulous cutscenes, a slow but steady pace bringing together several different elements one at a time with extremely clear explanations at every step of the way... It's the perfect way to gently bring someone into the complicated madness that is Persona, and I'm glad they took the time to do it right.


These games are great, but I've felt that they've limited themselves to a fairly small audience by being too inscrutable, too often. I hope this kinder, gentler trend continues.

Food: After going out for a meal with the wife tonight, we chatted afterwards about the experience as we usually do, and we decided to launch a blog about our restauranteering here in Seattle. We're going to aim for weekly updates at this point and see where the thing leads us... hopefully by the inside of a year, we'll have been to every great grub joint in town (and probably a few not-so-great ones, too.) Gina will be in charge of the updates, and I'll be handling the editing and such.

When it's up and running, I'll post a link here and you're all invited.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Quickie, the Second  

Another quickie post today...





Games: I just wrapped up another interview with the always awesome Mare Sheppard, half of the creative team behind the diabolic-yet-delightful N+. I have a spot of copy-editing to do, but look for a link to the words here soon. For more on Mare and what she's doing now, click on the link to your left titled MetaBlog.




Random: On the way home from a gig I was doing tonight, I heard a crazy squealing noise over the sound of my radio as I was passing through a tunnel. Looking around trying to figure out what the hell it was, I was more than a little shocked to see some crazy guy with a deathwish doing a standing wheelie on a souped-up crotch rocket, weaving around the other cars in the narrow passageway and causing every vehicle in three lanes to suddenly slow down in order to avoid an accident. Guy on the bike, if you're reading this... you're a f*cking jerk, and the next time you get the urge to attempt suicide, do it somewhere where there's no risk of taking anybody else with you.

Thanks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Quickie  

Just a quickie update tonight, so let's get down to business:


Books: Finished City of the Dead a few days ago...


...And polished off Dead Sea last night, both by Brian Keene.


Although neither of them was as earth-shattering as the same author's The Rising, they were both some extremely good horror reading. I totally recommend all three, and picking up the rest of his backlist is priority #1 for me the next time I hit a bookstore. After getting through three of his books, it's clear that certain themes resonate strongly in his writing -- family, love of children, responsibility. Probably not what one would expect from books where zombies tear people to shreds, but the undercurrents are strong and only increase my respect for the man's writing. Keene is at the top of my list of authors to interview, and my fingers are crossed that I'll be able to get him.



Games: Downloaded the trailer for Iron Man on the 360 today. Based on the movie that's based on the comic, I was a little surpised at how amazingly awesome it looked. Granted, it was a non-interactive series of developer-selected images and action shots, but damn... it was looking hawt. If that game plays even half as cool as that trailer suggests it will be, then we're in for quite the ride.


In non-trailer news, I'm still slogging my way through Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney on the DS, and all I can say is that I WANT PHOENIX WRIGHT BACK!!! Completely dropping the entire cast of familiar characters that Capcom's spent three games building was madness, and the actual court cases taken on by the thoroughly incompetent newcomer have all been extremely dull and tedious, missing the wacky spark and pizzazz that's always carried Phoenix and crew in the past. I've had practically no enjoyment with this title so far, and I'm nearly done... If I wasn't interested in seeing the explanation for why Phoenix left in the first place, I would have shelved it already. Unless you're a diehard courtroom action fan, my suggestion for Apollo Justice is to skip it and stick with the original Phoenix Wright games instead.


Behind Infernal Eyes: Now that my son's back in Hawaii and things are sort of getting back to my usual routine, I've started work on the book back up and things are moving. I haven't quite gotten back in the groove yet, but it's one foot after the other, one page after another. Chapter 8 begins tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Mile-High Club, part two. (Or, The Long Way Home)  

So as I said in yesterday’s post, I just got back from dropping my son off at his other house. He lives in Hawaii for most of the year, but he flies out to be with us for every school break, and since he’s 6, my wife and I (or just me sometimes) go with him. We’ve been doing this visit schedule pretty much since his mom left Seattle, and for the most part it’s fine.

(My exact definition of “fine” in this context is an entirely different post, of course, and it's not found in the book shown here.)

Anyway, due to some issues we weren’t able to buy the tickets when we usually do. So, by the time we were making the phone calls to see what was available, we were S.O.L. for our usual times and airlines. We were getting close to the wire by that point, so we had to grab what we could and just hope for the best. We picked a less-than-optimal package and the wife wasn’t able to come…

…So, naturally this was the worst trip we’ve taken in a while.

It’s about 5 ½ to 6 hours from Seattle to Honolulu on average, so we usually get a direct flight and we’re done with it. This time, no such luck… heading there we had to get a connection in Oakland that added about three hours to the total, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. Of course, it was the return trip that was the bitch.

On the island, we couldn’t get a room at our usual hotel, the parking attendant at the new place was a microcephalic anus, and I paid $42 for a dinner my son ate about three bites of (he scarfed peanut butter crackers back at the room afterwards) but I’ll just say that things went as well as could be expected.

So, after dropping him off, I headed to the airport and returned the rental car, checked in at the gate, and was sitting in a seat near an electrical socket (to recharge my DS) by around 11:45ish AM. My flight didn’t leave until 3PM, with an arrival time in Vegas of 11:30PM taking into account the three-hour time difference.


It was a long time to wait, but I caught up on my Death Note, finished reading City of the Dead, carved a huge chunk out of Dead Sea, and laid the litigative smack down in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. (Which isn’t nearly as good as the last three Phoenix Wright games, by the way.)



By the time I arrived in Vegas, I was pretty tired and ready to crash, but it was not to be since my flight from Vegas to Salt Lake City wasn’t until 6:30 the next morning. With nothing to do, I dropped $2 in some slot machines hoping for a big win. Didn’t win, and only killed about 70 seconds doing it. At that point, I knew it was going to be a long, painful night.

Interestingly, for a city that allegedly never sleeps and has nightlife going around the clock, the Vegas airport was utterly dead. The only shop that was open was a newsstand sporting magazines, chips and some soft drinks, and every establishment advertising hot food or other amenities was locked up tight, lights off.



The place was shockingly deserted too -- nobody could be seen except for the janitorial staff shampooing the rugs and the casino attendants who seem to have it pretty good; they’re only there to handle payouts, and since there was nobody gambling (in addition to how infrequently slots pay anyway) they were hanging out on a bench doing their hair and reading some paperbacks while they chatted.

With no place to lay out and sleep except the floor, I tried to catch a few winks in one of the seats but that was an awkward no-go, so I just sat and stared out the window at the desert’s flat landscape lit up by the strip. Sitting there eating dried banana chips and drinking pink lemonade all alone, missing my wife, dead tired and wasting time until I could get on the plane, it sort of occurred to me that times like this were what being a good dad are made of. I was suffering for my son’s sake, and I was glad to be doing it.

Ok, maybe ‘suffering’ is too dramatic a word, but at the very least... highly inconvenienced.

The night went on minute by minute, the only other thing to say about the Vegas airport being that their automatic soap dispensers are hyper-sensitive. Instead of the usual frantic handwaving that’s necessary to get these half-blind electronic bathroom sensors to work, all I had to do was get my hand vaguely in the neighborhood and the spigot happily ejaculated a blurping money shot onto my hand as I tried to water down my toothbrush and scrape the banana chip-fueled funk off of my teeth. After being soiled by this multi-orgasmic device enough times to have made a one-man bukkake film, I gave it up and went back to my seat.

(I could put a picture here, but I won’t. You can thank me later.)

Slowly the place came to life, the Starbucks getting staffed as more and more travelers trickled in. $14 for a dry ciabatta sandwich and a tall cup of hot milk so diluted that I doubt any coffee is actually in there? At that point, sure!

I left Vegas behind soon after, and arrived in Salt Lake City. It was snowing, it was small with no place to sit, and the residents catching outbound flights were doughy, unattractive, super-anglo messes reeking of uber-vanilla. That’s all I have to say about Salt lake City, though the no-cheese, extra-pineapple pizza and Red Bull I had while waiting for my connection tasted like manna from heaven after the lonely night spent in Vegas. Small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.

A few hours later I touched down in Seattle… but recalling that I got to the Hawaii airport at 11AM on the 28th and my flight was arriving in the sweet, sweet Emerald City at 1:15PM, on the 29th, the total travel time was a wee bit longer than the usual 5 ½-6 hours.



It’s not something I’d like to repeat any time soon and I was tired as hell when I got in, but we had a great visit with my son and if I had to do it all again to make sure he’d be able to come next time, I’d agree without hesitation.

I’d definitely bring a few more books and something besides banana chips next time, though.