Just a quicBk observation...
Games: So, if you’re a developer who makes kids’ games and you’re reading this right now, let me just ask you… exactly what the fuck is the deal with the difficulty levels?
Notice that none of these kids are angry or crying? Remember it.
Do you have anybody even remotely within your target age range try these games out before you ship them off to retail? My guess is, probably not.
As the parent of a soon-to-be seven-year-old, I have an absolute hell of a time finding games that my son can play. Automatically ruling anything out that has language, sex or violence, the number of available titles is minuscule. Of that minuscule number of titles, the number of titles devoted specifically towards children is even smaller, and of that smaller number, the number that would be fun and appropriate for kids of my son’s age range is practically nonexistent. I’m getting a little bit off-track here, but I think you get the point.
Anyway-- difficulty levels, what the fuck?
You want me to do what with what fingers while holding the stylus?!?
Do you seriously think anyone above the age of ten is going to give a second glance to Kung Fu Panda on the DS? This game screams “for little kids only!!!” so why is it that it’s so ridiculously hard in spots? My son started getting frustrated about 15 minutes into it, so the wife stepped in with some parental guidance. 15 minutes after that, the wife started getting frustrated, and the wife getting frustrated is not a good thing.
Don't let its friendly appearance fool you. This game is evil.
Boom Blox. Again, what the fuck?
Although I do think the game is pretty fun, anyone who thinks this title isn’t aimed squarely at kids is fooling themselves. The characters are friggin' rectangles with faces, and you basically knock down brick structures for the majority of the game. Naturally, this intense kid appeal explains why the developers have crafted a number of levels which are stupidly difficult to complete, even for a person with my considerable gameplay expertise. Rather than being the gather-the-family experience I hoped it would be, it ended up being a “this is too hard, I need help” session on all sides.
I want to love Cars, but Cars won't love me!!
It’s not like these two games are the only offenders, either. The entire history of kids’ games is filled with titles that are geared with precision accuracy towards the young ones, only to crush their little hopes and dreams with absurd design choices and completely unrealistic difficulty curves that seem to exist only to make children cry.
As a parent, I absolutely do not fucking appreciate spending money on a game designed to make my son happy and introduce him to the hobby that I’ve spent so many years in myself, only to have him walk away from a game system frustrated, upset, and discouraged.
So, if you’re a developer who makes kids’ games and you’re reading this right now, make your games EASY. Very few people (and even fewer children) will ever complain that a game was too easy. On the other hand, everyone complains when a game is too hard – and if Dad and Step-Mom who’ve got near-on forty years’ combined experience playing games think the latest kiddie title is too hard, then it’s WAY TOO FUCKING HARD.
The new films may suck, but the games do just what they're supposed to.
You Lego games over there… Yeah, you. Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Your puzzles need a little tightening up, but otherwise you’re alright in my book. Good job on that can't-really-die thing.
You piss me off.
Seriously, you think I'm going to buy another game from you that makes me look like this?
Get it the fuck together, playtest with the kids the games are actually meant for, and do every parent out there a favor by making your titles a source of enjoyment, not frustration and difficulty. If you don’t start flying right and cleaning up your act, I’m going to start taking it personal-- not to mention the fact that your future audience is going to disappear if you teach them over and over again that games aren’t any goddamn fun.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
Random: I hate to say it, but it’s got to be another quick one tonight.
I find myself putting everything not related to childcare off until the end of the day (which is actually how it should be, really) but the downside is that I have lots of projects and things I like to putter around with, and I can’t squeeze them all into a two-hour block before bedtime.
Forgive the cliché, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Anyway, the subject of tonight’s missive is the Broadway show, Avenue Q.
I wasn’t much of a musicals fan before hooking up with the wife, but theater is a great passion of hers and she’s introduced me to it gradually. Every time a new show comes to town, we try to get tickets and make it out for a night of live entertainment. This week, Avenue Q is in Seattle, and it’s definitely worth the price of a seat.
Before you start rolling your eyes and click away to someone else’s blog, let me just say that Avenue Q is a musical for people who don’t like musicals. Skipping a lot of the kind of screechy, sappy production you’d usually expect from the sort of thing, the people behind the show have given it a strong injection of modern sensibility and comedy. And really, the point of the show isn’t the singing or drama, it’s about the biting social commentary and saying a lot of things that are absolutely not PC.
Yeah, I know this puppet is Rod and not Princeton.
The gist of the story is that Princeton, fresh out of college, finds himself in the big city and in need of a house and a job. He finds a cheap room for rent on Avenue Q, and over the course of the show the characters find ways to sing songs about the worthlessness of college education, the problems of being homosexual, the joy of finding pleasure in other people’s misery, the fact that it’s OK to be a little bit racist, and a dozen other things that you don’t usually associate with people up on a stage, singing and dancing. However, I wouldn’t say that the show is absurd just for the sake of being absurd, it’s actually pretty frank and direct communication about topics that most people are just too uncomfortable to discuss openly.
It's pretty damned refreshing, actually.
The really genius part (as you can tell by the photos) is that the whole show is a takeoff of Sesame Street, featuring the same sort of educational bits and kid-friendly puppets that you’d expect to see on channel 9 any Sunday morning. The juxtaposition of the visuals with the content is absurdly delicious, and makes the whole thing go down just as smoothly as a spoonful of sugar.
My only disappointment is that I had listened to the soundtrack before actually seeing the show, so I already knew in advance what the songs and gags were about. I still enjoyed it, and the visuals of seeing what goes on onstage absolutely added an element that a simple CD couldn’t provide, but if I had been seeing the show for the first time when I sat in a theater, I would have been busting a gut and completely shocked (in a good way).
If you’ve got the chance to see the show, I absolutely recommend it… unless you’re a complete social conservative, Avenue Q is a hilarious, entertaining experience that’s solid enough to provide a worthwhile night out to even the most dedicated musicals hater.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
Just another quick one for tonight.
I've actually had four or five separate blog topics in my head over the last week or so, but I'm still trying to find my rhythm and being sleep deprived isn't helping.
Don't get me wrong-- I'm not complaining at all. It's the most wonderful thing in the world to have my son with us again, even if it's for such a short, finite period.
(And yes, the clock has been counting down in my head since the day he got here.)
It's just funny how priorities change. Having a six-year-old in the house, all of a sudden it doesn't seem nearly as urgent to finish the rewrite of the short story I slaved over two weeks ago, and there's always something that's keeping me from finishing off the day’s chores. When he's not around, I'm pretty focused on getting things done and staying on task, but when he's here, the big picture definitely changes and life itself takes on a different flavor.
A good one.
Anyway, one last thing before I crash on the couch (and what today's title was referring to.)
The other day, the wife and I had just had a few minor run-ins with some jerkfaces and endured other assorted unpleasantries that had popped up, and we were both feeling quite rotten and cranky at the end of a long drive. We had both come to the decision that most people are selfish, thoughtless, a-holes when you get right down to it, and mankind is three quarters of the way to Hades in a cozy little wicker carryall.
Of course, immediately after we came to this conclusion…
--A guy at the local Jiffy Lube went out of his way to make sure that we got taken care of when we had come in to ask about a check engine light. We didn't spend a dime in the place and he didn't get anything out of it, he just put more effort than either one of us expected into getting the job done, and was cheerful, to boot.
--A barista at the place where we buy our coffee beans (Dancing Goats blend, the best in the world) informed us that they were no longer going to be carrying it. Before we had even started concocting a plan to burn the place down, she offered to make a special order just for us, and now we’re going to be getting a pound a week. Just like the guy at Jiffy Lube, she got nothing out of it, and was just doing it to be nice.
--As we were pulling up into a jam-packed section of Capitol Hill, the guy whose parking spot we were taking rolled down his window and waved something to us. We started wondering if we were about the victims of some kind of road rage (parking space stalker rage?) when he gave us his paid parking slip on top of letting us take his spot, so we didn't even have to pay for parking. We didn't know the guy, had never seen him before, and he just handed the parking pass over and drove off.
Is this some kind of message, or what?
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
I got caught up on some sleep (though I could use some more) but Metal Gear Solid 4 was released a couple days ago, and it's absolute hell on my productivity.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
My son (the best little boy in the world, BTW) arrived this morning to spend a month with the wife and I. It's our 'summer visit' and we've been looking forward to it since the end of the 'spring visit'.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
Games: Since I was laid up this weekend, I got caught up on my gaming. I didn't feel like doing much else besides laying down, blowing my nose, and sipping tea, so I went with it.
First, I downloaded EchoChrome on the PS3. I've been eagerly awaiting this title for quite awhile since I'm a big fan of games with minimalist aesthetics and the demo I saw a few months ago looked absolutely fascinating. For those of you who don't know, the game is best described as a moving M.C Escher drawing, based on perspective and illusion. After getting through the tutorial, I found myself absolutely stumped on the first level and decided to save it for later. I'm blaming that on my illness, but that might be an excuse.
Next, I switched to the 360 and started (and finished) Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. I'm thinking of cooking up a review, but for the moment I'll say that it was a pretty solid RPG. The core combat engine is mostly fun and could eventually be excellent with a little more polish. The writing was quirky-smart and had more than a few laughs, and the art was absolutely in line with Penny Arcade itself. A great first effort, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. Recommended, and doubly so if you're a PA fan.
Finally, I jumped consoles again and spent some time with Final Fantasy Chrystal Chronicles: My Life As a King on the Wii. I'm not a fan of the FFCC series, but this one is a pretty big departure in terms of formula. Basically, you play the role of the King, and it's your job to develop your town in such a way as to keep your villagers happy. You also recruit townsfolk to go dungeon crawling for you, and eventually you get the option to change them from standard warriors into the other various classes (Black Mage, Thief, etc.) that are common to the FF games. I was a little hesitant at first, but the game sucked me right in and I'm pretty addicted to it at the moment. Definitely a thumbs up, and although it starts slow and simple (which is a good thing) it heats up pretty quick and I'm on the verge of feeling overwhelmed at the moment. In a good way. At this point (Day 53 in the game) it's Recommended.
Film: Since we were both still feeling so rotten, we decided to bail on our fifth SIFF film and stay home while we recuperated. Kind of bummed about that, but there's always next year. Anyway, instead we rented The Mist, the recent adaptation of Stephen King's novella. Personally, I'm not much of a King fan, but I did like this story when I first read it a long time ago.
In watching the film, I felt like it was quite faithful where it needed to be, and what I was seeing on the screen matched up with what I had in my head to a good degree. I thought it was a very good film for the same reason that the story was good; the scariest parts in it are the people and how they react to being put in a terrible situation.
Also, it's worth mentioning that the end of the film is radically different than the end of the novella. I had heard that the director had taken some license, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but let me assure you, the last few minutes of this film are a complete shock and... and... if I say anymore, I'm going to spoil it. I definitely approved, though... the wife and I were talking about it for an hour afterwards. Recommended.
Random: So the other day, I was standing outside and two alterna-fellows that were walking down the sidewalk chose a spot 5 feet away from me to start shooting the breeze as they lit up some cigarettes. I'm not a smoker myself, and I can't stand the smell or being around people who are smoking. In that particular circumstance, I couldn't leave so I was forced to stay where I was and try to avoid the secondhand smoke they were blowing my way. Of course, every time I tried to shift position, the wind would move to blow smoke straight back into my face.
I realize that smokers feel like they're a persecuted group right now, but the simple fact is that smoking is not healthy and it's also one of the very few bad habits that isn't limited to the person partaking of it. You may have the right to smoke if you want to, but I have the right to not be exposed to the carcinogens you're spewing my way.
I mean, I don't drink but I don't care if people do. If I'm out with friends and they're enjoying some alcohol, none of it accidentally spills and falls into my mouth. I don't eat beef, and if I go out to lunch with people who order burgers, none of it ends up in my stomach. Smoking is the exception here... it's the one vice where it's nearly impossible to contain it to the person who's doing it, and for that reason I feel like laws should be stricter and people who smoke should be more limited in where they can light up.
It especially drives me crazy when I see parents who smoke around their young children. I mean technically, is that not some sort of child abuse? A parent who exposes their underage child to alcohol is breaking the law, and a parent who strikes or physically disciplines their child is risking abuse charges... how is breathing poisonous smoke into the face of a toddler deemed perfectly acceptable?
Sorry to go off on a rant there-- but seriously, people.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
The wife and I are both down with some sort of infectious demon sickness that's taking over the sinuses in both our heads, and we didn't feel well enough to catch the #4 film in our SIFF series.
In lieu of that entry, here's some random junk to help you kill a few minutes.
From Bill Harris' blog, Dubious Quality, two excellent links:
The 7 Commandments All Videogames Should Obey (completely true and patently hilarious.)
Birdmen and the Casual Fallacy (so sharp in most aspects, I wish I'd written it.)
At GameCritics, the saga of my torturous ordeal with getting a brand new HD TV repaired can be read in its entirety on the boards. If you've ever considered buying anything of significant value at Best Buy... DON'T. Check out the link for more details.
Otherwise, there's not much to report. I've been drinking a lot of tea and taking more naps than I usually do, chores have been piling up, haven't finished reading my latest Keene, haven't touched my stack of comics, haven't written even a single word in Behind Infernal Eyes or my upcoming short story Love Means Leaving Together, and I've basically come to the conclusion that being sick just flat-out sucks.
Pass the tissues, please.
by Brad Gallaway | 2 comments
Games: If there’s one thing gamers love, it’s top 10 lists.
I haven’t done one of these in awhile and I was in the mood, so I figured I’d tackle the original Xbox.
Why start there?
I consider the big black beast to be a truly “dead” system – there sure aren’t any more games coming down the pipe for it, and I’ve had ample opportunity to track down and try every game for the system that caught my eye. My Xbox has been packed up and in storage for months, and I’m feeling pretty good about calling this my definitive list.
One quick note: some of you may be wondering why a few great titles aren’t on the list, so I’ll say that I either didn’t like them or they also appeared on another console. I haven’t included anything that was a multi-console release -- these are titles that make their home on the Xbox, and the Xbox alone. (…and no, the PC doesn’t count.)
Without further ado, and in alphabetical order:
Arx Fatalis: A first-person RPG featuring real-time combat and an interesting magic system, this game was smaller and more focused than Morrowind, yet told a better story and was a lot more personable and exciting than King’s Field. It probably wouldn’t hold up very well today, but it struck a great balance and kept me captivated until I saved its underground kingdom.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay: I hated Pitch Black and I never bothered to see the sequel. Also, I’m hardly what you’d call a Vin Diesel fan. Yet despite the fact that this game had two strikes against it before I even put it in the console, it was impossible not to be impressed with the sophistication and quality of this title. I think I knew I was in for more than the average FPS after a surprise prison cell ambush that happens early on, and the game was full of clever moments like that all the way until the end.
Crimson Skies: The High Road to Revenge: Truly one of the best titles on the Xbox, I’m quite shocked that there hasn’t been a sequel announced. I fell in love with the sky pirate motif almost instantly, and the game had tons of quality action for fans who can appreciate aerial combat.
Galleon: If this game hadn’t hit retail as absurdly delayed as it did, I really feel like it would have been one of those history-making, genre-defining titles. The rough graphics were enough to turn most people away, but those who got past appearances were treated to some truly inspired design choices and an adventure that rivals any of its contemporaries. A title that was ahead of its time, yet so late that the industry had already left it behind.
Jade Empire: Bet you didn’t guess this would be on here. I admit it, I’m a pretty devoted BioWare fan, and although Jade Empire isn’t their best work, BioWare’s ‘okay’ stuff is miles and miles better than most developers can ever hope to achieve. I liked the Asian theme, the story was well-told for the most part, and although they shied away from it in their next game, Jade Empire gets props for giving players the option of pursuing a straight, gay, lesbian or FFM romantic encounter – or none at all.
Panzer Dragoon Orta: Although I personally think the best game in this unique, stylish series is Panzer Dragoon Zwei on the Sega Saturn, Orta is a fine shooter in its own right and well worth playing for anyone who can appreciate the tight, reflex-based gameplay and fantastic setting.
Shenmue II: Not only is this game one of the best for the Xbox, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played, hands down. It certainly has its share of problems, but Yu Suzuki was reaching for the stars when he put this together, and he came pretty damned close to hitting the mark. Ryo Hazuki’s exploits while trying to track down the man who killed his father are a great mix of action, characterization, open-world exploration, and sheer storytelling. The final segment of this game (nothing but dialogue and a peaceful setting) was pure genius in a game full of brilliance.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: BioWare again, no surprise. What can I say? This game told a better tale and had more memorable characters than the last three Lucas films combined. Not only is it a solid RPG any way you slice it, it handles the Star Wars elements deftly and with more reverence than the man who actually created them.
Tork: Prehistoric Punk: I’d be willing to bet that this particular selection caught most of you by surprise. Haven’t even heard of it? Released as a budget title late in the Xbox’s lifecycle, there was no reason at all to suspect this game of being anything more than a cheap piece of shovelware, but it’s actually a very tight, tuned platformer with quality production values and a great sense of style. The bosses were a little on the cheap side (okay, maybe a lot on the cheap side) but it still delivered a surprisingly quality experience.
Tron 2.0: Killer App: A superb FPS, this game managed to not only deliver absolutely solid action, it takes advantage of its source material (Disney’s seminal 1982 film) better than just about any licensed game I can think of. Positioned as an actual sequel to the film, the level design was fantastic and capitalized on the unique neon visuals the movie is known for, and kept mission goals and enemy varieties completely in line with the themes established onscreen. This is the perfect example of how to make a licensed game correctly – it fits perfectly with its inspiration, yet would still be a great experience if you stripped all the Tron-ness out of it.
So there you have it, my top 10 Xbox list. Disagree with my choices? Have some suggestions of your own? Post a comment or send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.
(And BTW, anything mentioning Halo will be automatically vetoed-- Bungie may be a bunch of really nice guys that have their shooting nailed down, but they can't design a level or tell a story to save their lives.)
by Brad Gallaway | 2 comments
Film: The wife and I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tonight (a non-SIFF film to break things up a bit) and wow… all I can say is that it was incredibly disappointing.
Harrison Ford, replaying the 'ka-ching' sound over and over in his head.
For starters, the performances all felt very stiff and lifeless. Nearly every scene felt like it was phoned in or read off a cue card. There was only one brief scene in the entire film that had even a shred of the original spark an energy of the first three films, when an old character makes a surprise appearance. Outside of that, it was like the actors were standing around and waiting for a paycheck.
Careful kid, there are some huge plot holes around here.
The writing was quite bad as well. None of the one-liners hit the mark, and a lot of the dialog felt stilted and unnatural. The characterizations were just as bad. Instead of a brisk film moving quickly, it felt like I was watching shorthand sketches of who the characters were and where they were coming from. Some of it was just plain off… for example, Indy himself has personally seen proof of God twice (Raiders and Crusade) and the probable existence of another higher power at least once (Temple), and all of a sudden he finds it impossible to believe that something else might exist?
The plot itself never came off as more than half-baked, and completely failed to capture my attention or even interest me the way the others did. Not meeting what I expected from a Jones film, Crystal Skull could just as easily starred anyone else and been any other half-baked adventure movie.
Who to blame? That guy over there... it's his fault.
I don't know who exactly to blame (though I'm looking at you, George "Midichlorian" Lucas) but all I’ll say is that just like the last three Star Wars films, Crystal Skull doesn’t exist in my world.
...for those of you who haven't seen the movie. I'm about to list just a handful of the things that completely sucked, so don't read any more of this post if you're worried about possible spoilage.
> The FBI agents leaning so hard on Indy at the start vanishing without even a quip at the end.
>CGI prairie dogs.
>Surviving a nuclear bomb blast in a fridge. The impact alone was broken neck territory.
>Falling down three waterfalls unharmed? How much disbelief am I supposed to suspend?
>Shia LeBoeuf becoming Tarzan of the Apes.
>The skull impossibly magnetic only part of the time.
>Wasting John Hurt as the madman.
>South American capoeira experts inexplicably wearing skull masks and randomly hanging out in crypts for archaeologists to wander in? WTF?
>South Americans living inside the stone walls of a temple and popping out whenever someone violates their territory? Again, an even more emphatic WTF?
>The python used as a rope.
>The British double-triple-oh-wait-I’m-just-greedy agent. Snore!
…I could go on about the ants, the psychic who can’t read minds, the extra-dimensional alien melding and so on, but I'm already waaaaay over my alloted 'ranting fanboy' quota for the night.
I'll have to be extra good for the next few posts to make up for it.
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments
I'd like to apologize to anyone who might have been spoiled by my bit on Let The Right One In.
In my original post on the film, I summarized the entire plot. In retrospect (and was pointed out by rose-buddy) that was a mistake on my part, and potentially spoileriffic for those who haven't seen the film.
Again, apologies to rose-buddy and to anyone who might have been spoiled... I've amended the post so it's now safe to read without fear of the ending being given away, and I'll try my best not to do it again.
by Brad Gallaway | 2 comments
Film: Number three in our SIFF series, Young People Fucking is a sex comedy from Canada, made up of short segments featuring a variety of different couples: First Date, Friends, Husband & Wife, Exes, and a MMF Three-Way.
By far, the most hilarious sequences were of the Husband & Wife. Suffering from bedroom boredom and a lack of communication, the truth about what's going on in each of their heads comes out and things are brought to a happy ending thanks to a ribbed red strap-on. (the Husband's face during the reveal is CLASSIC.)
The Three-Way bits were nearly as good, being completely absurd and off the wall thanks to a voyeuristic boyfriend and his cookie dough fetish.
First Date started off okay, but the story went off track and failed to nail the ending. Friends was sort of awkward (although it had a few of the best lines in the movie) and Exes was just... depressing. Watching two people with distance between them tried to reconnect while denying that they're trying to reconnect served to kill the good humor the other segments kept building up, and I wouldn't have minded if they had skipped trying to inject this comedy with a little bit of drama.
Overall, the movie had more than a few genuine laughs and a lot of the observations and commentary from the writers were spot-on. I don't think it's going to end up as a cult classic, but it was definitely worth watching and came off as a modern, somewhat more mature entry than the usual teen-oriented, apple-pie-flavored sexcapades. Recommended.
(and BTW, the film isn't nearly as graphically explicit as you might expect from the title. Porn, it ain't, though you couldn't be blamed for thinking otherwise.)
by Brad Gallaway | 0 comments