Friday, October 31, 2008

We're Pregnant  

We've known about it for a while now, but we both wanted to wait until we cleared the first trimester before saying anything.

We just cleared it, so...

... And yes, it was on purpose.

The wife and I are both thrilled, and our little boy is looking forward to being a big brother.

It'll mean some sleepless nights, a drop in income, and I should probably start knocking out the RPGs in my to-play stack before the baby arrives, but you know what?

It's all worth it.




The facts:

>We don't know if it's a boy or girl yet. (Our little boy is hoping for a sister.)

>We will want to know the gender before birth. (We're not big on surprises.)

>We do have names picked out, but we're not going to say what they are.

>We won't be giving birth in a tub of water or on a patch of moss in a forest. None of that fruity new-age stuff for us, we like hospitals.

>Disposable diapers all the way.




Best parts about it?

I've got the most wonderful lady in the world to help me raise our young ones, and it will be a true blessing to finally have a child who doesn't spend the majority of their time in another state.


Full-time Dad-Land, here I come!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bejewled Twist Launch Party  

Games: Tonight, the evening of October 27, gamers and journalists from across the country gathered at the Experience Music Project in the heart of Seattle to celebrate the release of PopCap Games’ newest offering: Bejweled Twist.

Gracious enough to extend an invitation, I was only too happy to attend.

Though the EMP is better known as a museum of music, the upstairs portion near the northern end of the building is a stage/performance space called the Sky Church, which is where PopCap held the event. Greeted by a mad professor and his highly reflective assistants, things soon got underway after a brief stop at the snack table. (The cedar plank salmon was quite well done, and the desserts were to die for. I could have eaten the cappuccino mousse all night long…)

The presentation itself was nice and tight, a good mix of information and entertainment that was over long before anyone had a chance to be bored. Towards the tail end they brought out some performers to demonstrate the concepts of "three-in-a-row."

Closing the formal talks were the three founders of PopCap, Jason Kapalka, Brian Fiete, and John Vechey, three my-age-ish guys who probably drive better cars than I'll ever be able to afford.

Some interesting factoids about PopCap from their press release:

>PopCap itself has sold over one billion downloads, with more than 350 million of those being related to Bejweled.

>A Bejeweled game is sold every ten seconds.

>76% of PopCap’s customer base is female, and 71% of the base is over age 40.

> In the early days of PopCap development, they used the “Mom Test”: if one of their mothers could play an Alpha or Beta stage game anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes, they knew they were headed in the right direction.

>Bejewled is the original “match three” game, and is the most mimicked game of all time with over 150 knockoff versions.

As far as Bejweled Twist goes, the game sports a number of additions including HD graphics, a new soundtrack, and six new types of gems which affect gameplay.

me, trying to make an impressive combo for the crowd

Taking it for spin, I was a little surprised to find that the computer I was playing on was also being broadcast on the big screen, so I tried hard not to embarrass myself, with only moderate success.

Bejeweled Twist is available now at, and will be available atother online sites such as MSN Games and Steam starting November 18.

the best swag EVER... just look at the size of this diamond.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

World of Goo  

Games: Despite my hesitation to comply with the $15 price point that's been occurring more frequently on the various download services, I've been hearing nothing but good about World of Goo via WiiWare and decided to take the plunge-- thankfully, the word on the ‘net was correct.

the art style is great

I really didn't have any idea what to expect, but after a short period of trial and error, the gist of the game is that the player starts each level with a big pile of Goo balls that can be used to build structures. Grasp one of the balls with the Wiimote, and little lines appear showing where structural supports will connect it to the Gooballs that have already been placed. The goal is to get a certain number of balls to a pipe (inconveniently, always placed far away) and the only way to do this is to build bridges, towers, and other sorts of large support structures. In essence, it's a big physics simulation asking players to indulge in a little creative architecture.

the white lines near the blob at the top indicate where the supports will go when you release it

Honestly, it reminds me quite a bit of the PSN’s Elefunk, although I will say that World of Goo is the better game by far-- it's more elegant and cohesive, and the mechanics are easier to grasp and more transparent.

fun, but not as good as Goo

I'm about halfway (just completed the second world as I write this) but my impressions so far are enormously positive; the intelligent gameplay feels perfectly dialed-in, the art style is quite stylish and appealing, and the writing is clever and self-aware. Looks like another absolute winner for WiiWare.

yes, it does

(… and if you haven't tried Art Style: Orbient or Art Style: Cubello yet, what the heck are you waiting for?)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Podcast Is Now Up  

Just a quick addendum, the first episode of our new podcast is now up on the homepage at Give it a listen and let us know what you think!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Late Night...  

It's been another long day and another late night.

The only thing to report is that it looks like the GameCritics podcast is going to be a GO for tomorrow.

Look for it soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nothin' Much... Except A Podcast  

Nothing much to report today. I've been pretty slammed with work over the last two weeks, so both my game time and my writing time have fallen by the wayside.

In fact, I thought I would have already blown through Saints Row 2 by now, but my guess is that I'm probably just over the halfway mark... my initial plan was to have claimed Stilwater by the time Fallout 3 hit shelves, but that timeline has been blown to hell. It's going to be a real challenge getting through all the titles I need to get through in order to do a proper end-of-the-year wrapup.

One quick thing before I scoot... GameCritics is getting ready to launch a brand-new podcast. We're hoping to find a good balance between intellectual discussion and chuckle-worthy wisecracks. It's not available quite yet, but it will be soon. If you're into the whole podcast thing, keep your eyes peeled and lend us your ears for an hour or two-- if talking about games is up your alley, I have a feeling that you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Spring Awakening  

Misc: So the wife is a big fan of musical theater, and since I'm a big fan of the wife, I became a fan of singing and dancing on stage by default. Truth be told, I had seen a few musicals here and there, but only on TV or cable... never in real life. Since we've been together, I think I've been to the theater more often than I would have ever imagined, but this is a good thing.

So, getting to the point, Spring Awakening is in Seattle right now, playing at the Paramount. It's been regarded by some as the new Rent, and it won all sorts of awards, etc. etc. Besides knowing that it was about kids at some German school and that pop artist Duncan Sheik wrote the music, I didn't know squat about it before we got there.

Basically: not impressed.

The music was indeed very well done, I give it that. Sheik did a great job with some very evocative songs, and I think the music on its own would be a great concept album on the theme of adolescence, or teen angst. It's almost as if each piece touches on a different aspect of the trauma we all go through making the transition from youth to adulthood; frustration, sexual desire, love, and so on.

As for the other stuff... ugh.

The story has the potential to be a very moving tale, but it just misses the mark on every level. In stark contrast to the moody songs, the acting portion was played almost at a slapstick level, complete with goofy voices and hammy gestures. It was impossible to take any of it seriously, and the direction absolutely undercut Sheik's work. The dancing was atrocious, the last act rushed through a series of events that really needed a little bit of time to build up, and the end was just sort of a non-ending. I've never been to Broadway and I don't really know what makes a great Broadway show, but what I do know is that Spring Awakening doesn't cut it in Seattle.

I think there's a very good chance that I'll pop in the soundtrack at some point, but I'll never pony up for tickets to see the show again.

Rent, it aint.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Love Technology  

...Not really.

Misc: Despite my love of videogames and the glasses I wear, don't mistake me for someone who's a tech-head, or a fan of computers. I like it when things are simple and they work, which automatically rules out pretty much anything to do with PCs.

Case in point:

My old computer was wheezing its last this morning after having continuous difficulties over the last few months, so the wife and I decided it was time to get a new one. It was especially important to get something that ran well since I'm a big fan of Dragon NaturallySpeaking-- it lets me skip typing with my hands, dictating what I say directly onto the screen. It works great, it saves tons of time, and since I'm usually working on a story or a review, it's saved me from carpal tunnel.

So,we go down to a local electronics palace, and despite being on a budget we find something that's about 42x faster than my old rig. It also came preloaded with Vista.

::cue ominous music::

We get it home, I spend about three hours getting it configured, deleting all the extra crap I don't want off the drive, and transferring files. Finally, after I get it up and running to my satisfaction, I start loading up NaturallySpeaking, and IT WON'T INSTALL.

Turns out Dragon is only compatible with the 32bit versions of Vista, and the comp I bought has the 64bit. I do a little more digging, and not only do I find out there's no way to have the 64 run in a 32 mode, practically nobody supports the 64bit version-- I mean, if the package says it works with Vista and I have Vista, I'm going to assume it'll work.

Of course, this is where assuming gets you.

Long story short, I'm going to return the PC I have for a different model running the 32bit Vista, I wasted half the day between the drive and the configuring, and none of the paperwork or writing I needed to get done today got done....

Like the title says, I love technology.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cubello, $10 vs $15, Sanctuary  

Games: Some good news and some bad news on the topic of console downloads.

The good news-- a second game has been released in Nintendo's Art Style series. Available now on the Wii is Cubello, a 3D puzzle game which sports the same elegant, minimalist qualities shared by the first release, Orbient. Although Cubello isn't the religious experience that Orbient was, it's still an excellent title available for only $6.

Using the Wiimote, players must match four cubes of a like color by shooting new blocks onto a spinning mass. The hook is that since any exposed surface of the blocks can be potentially accessible, matches don't have to be made in a row; as long as the four are touching on any surface, they can be anywhere along the X, Y or Z axis. A surprisingly engaging combination of traditional match-game and precision shooting, Cubello looks like another clear winner.

The bad news-- with the resounding success (on any platform) of the download model, publishers and developers are now starting to cash in as the price for electronic delivery creeps up.

Although $10 had been originally thought to be the sweet spot for consumers (I agree), more and more titles are now sporting a $15 price tag.

Personally, I think this is too much. I love the new download trend since it provides a new channel for smaller, indy developers to float games that would never be considered for retail, but if I'm not receiving a physical copy of what I'm purchasing and if what I'm purchasing is usually a time-killer between major releases, $15 is just too expensive to spend on a regular basis.

was worth it

I didn't mind doing it for Braid since I had heard about its "art" status as well as what an ordeal it was to bring to the 360. The $20 I spent on Penny Arcade's Rain-Slick was fine too, since I knew how much effort had been put into it and how big it was, but let's face it-- not every DL game can match the quality of those titles. The now-becoming-common increase of $5 seems less about a statement of quality and more like bean counters testing the limits of what consumers will pay.

Neo... where's Neo?

One last thing... Linger in Shadows is finally out on the PSN. Not really a game, but more like a piece of electronic art, it's a bit of a headtrip. A series of abstract images flash across the screen, and the events that follow involving an evil cloud, a flying dog, and a robot that looks like it's from The Matrix almost make sense of a sort... but not really. Even so, it's a pretty provocative piece of work, and I give kudos to Sony for offering a challenging nonconformist work that can't be had on the competition's machines. Yet.

there are actually two nonhumans in the photo above

TV: With Reaper still absent from the current TV schedule, I needed another supernatural-themed show to fill the gap. Sci-Fi recently launched a new series called Sanctuary, and it may fit the bill… in a nutshell, it’s about a couple of investigators (one human, one might not be) who track down and capture cryptozoological critters. I’m only one episode in, but the fact that I’ll be coming back for a second episode (thank you, DVR) is a statement in and of itself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Superman's Not Bulletproof  

Just a short one tonight, I've got a new story in the works and I've found about 42 million ways to put off working on it today.

Sex: The wife and I are huge fans of the Savage Lovecast (follow the link on the left side of this blog and you can find it for yourself if you're not already a listener) and we agree with the advice given out by carnal guru Dan Savage about 99.99% of the time. The man definitely knows his stuff, and he's got a good head on his shoulders. That said, nobody is right all the time, and the last installment we listened to was a perfect case in point.

he's only right 99.99% of the time

If you've never tuned into the Lovecast, what basically happens is that people call in to Dan, a nationally-syndicated sex advice columnist (and Seattle resident, yay for the home team), they ask him bizarre questions that they'd probably be too embarrassed to ask anybody else, and then he gives them the answer with healthy doses of blunt honesty and sarcasm.

Anyway, one of the callers who phoned in was a woman who said that she had gotten piss-ass drunk and taken a guy home with her who she didn't know well. They get back to her place, and then the guy allegedly did some stuff in bed that she wasn't cool with. (They go into very explicit detail on the Lovecast, but I’ll skip it here.) After the night was over, she started feeling bad about what had happened and then took it upon herself to tell every person she met from that point forward that the guy she took home was some sort of abusive asshole, and that any woman thinking about going out with him should stay away. Her question was, was she right for doing this?

The answer Dan gave basically boiled down to something like “you're entitled to your experiences and to share what you know, but now it's time to move on.”

Now, ordinarily I'd be fine with this, but I was thrown for a loop because at no point in the call did Dan ever really call her out for being responsible for herself. For example, if you don't want to be subjected to weird sexual acts that you're not comfortable with, don't bring people home when you're drunk, don't have sex with strangers, and don't have sex with strangers when you're drunk. Beyond that, he didn't really call her out for being quiet and not voicing any objection when the sexual acts in question were being done. She didn't push the guy off, she didn't tell him “no”, she didn't really say anything… she just sat there in bed with him until the whole thing was over, and then decided that it would be a good thing to do to go out and start smearing this guy's name when she didn't say boo about it to him during or afterwards.

Quite frankly, it sounded to me like she was just embarrassed that she had done something stupid and was possibly even disgusted with herself for what happened, but instead of owning up to the fact that she was drunk and not thinking clearly, it's easier to put the blame on this guy and turn him into the villain—and before I start getting e-mail calling me a sexist or a chauvinist, let me just say that the wife and I were of the same mind on the topic. Hell, if anything, she was even more incensed than I was.

Gotta admit, I was pretty disappointed in Dan, someone who I have a great deal of respect for. Still love him, still a fan, but listening to that piece of toothlessly delivered advice was sort of like realizing that Superman isn't totally bulletproof, after all.

Books: Totally off the topic, but here's the cover to the first book in Ann Aguirre’s Corine Solomon series, Blue Diablo. It wasn't available at the time that Ann did her interview, so here it is now. Enjoy!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thursday, Yakuza 2, Naan  

Today was one of those Thursdays where you spend the whole day wishing that it was Friday….

Games: Haven't had a whole heck of a lot of time to game this week, but what little time I did have was devoted to Sega’s Yakuza 2.

this guy is one seriously badass motherf*cker

I'm not going to talk a lot about it right now because I feel an ethical responsibility to review it and I want to save some ammo for that future piece, but I will say that I think it's great. For those who don't know, the game is basically a real-time brawler with some light RPG elements bound together by an extremely well-written crime drama storyline -- and in this case, i do mean well-written. It's not a parody or a caricature of a story twisted around and made to fit all sorts of absurdly contrived game nonsense... it's a real, honest-to-goodness, straight-up serious crime drama.

One of the things I love the most about it is that it's absolutely mature in the sense that it deals with subject matter suitable for grown-ups, and is aimed directly at them. The characters talk about honor, loyalty, personal relationships, and putting aside the fact that the player's character is an unstoppable engine of destruction during combat, everything takes a very realistic slant. The characters are rendered very much like the way real people look, the mannerisms and physical gestures are very convincing (making allowances for the fact of the game is on the PS2, of course), and the direction and content of the cutscenes are of feature-film quality. I rarely say this, but this is one of those games where if the play was removed and all that was left was the story, I’d still be completely interested in it.

this guy won't be causing more trouble any time soon

Putting all my cards on the table for just a minute here, I've got to say that I’ve never been much of a Sega fan. I've just never cared for the way they produce most of their action games-- their philosophy has always seemed to be more about how you do something instead of what you do, but I absolutely bow down to them for creating the two most brilliant reality-based series in existence: Yakuza, and its forerunner Shenmue. The games have much in common thematically and in terms of design, and I absolutely love them both.

one of the best games... ever

(…As sort of a side note that could be a blog post unto itself, for all its success, the universally overpraised GTA4 to me seems nothing more than a pretender to the kind of content that was already realized in both Shenmue and Yakuza. In my honest opinion, the writing and characterization present in Rockstar’s latest “masterpiece” are thin caricatures of the greatness accomplished in the adventures of both Ryo Hazuki and Kiryu Kazuma.)

though small in scope, yakuza's cities are rendered quite convincingly for the PS2

Although neither series is perfect by a longshot, I think there are some deeply significant lessons to be learned here, and I sincerely hope that the industry starts taking notes… in terms of engaging character development, there are few that’ve done better than these two.

Completely changing the subject, is up and running… a new buying/selling site for used games, their claim to fame is that their site is supposed to be incredibly easy to use and has several features that can be found elsewhere like the “standing offer”. Name a title you want and the price you're willing to pay for it, and when a copy becomes available, the site will automatically buy it for you. I didn't spend a lot of time on it today, but it will be something I'm keeping an eye on. If anybody reading has user impressions, let me have 'em.

the good stuff is on the inside

Food: Fans of Indian food, the wife and I stopped off for a quick bite at a local place and I tried something called Kashmiri Naan. Naan, of course, is a flatbread baked inside a tandoori oven and served warm, often with garlic or cheese mixed into the dough or tucked inside. The Kashmiri is a variation on that, being stuffed with chopped nuts, raisins and cherries. Two words: Dee and Licious.

Writing: Checking out the schedule for upcoming events at the PNWA website, I was more than a little dismayed to see that it appears I won't be able to make it to any of the monthly meetings for at least the next three months, and the next presentation being given is about criminal profiling and forensic procedure… color me perturbed for missing out on that one.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Round 2 with Ann Aguirre, Author Extraordinaire  

Books: Regular readers of this blog may remember that I first interviewed Ann Aguirre back in March soon after her book Grimspace was released. The second in Ann’s spacefaring adventure series, Wanderlust, is now on shelves, so I thought I'd get back in touch with her for another round of author talk. One of the nicest writers in the biz, she graciously agreed…

Congratulations on Wanderlust, it's a great sophomore entry on top of a dynamite first book. How has the book been received, and are you happy with the way that it turned out?

You know, like Goldilocks with her porridge, for some Wanderlust is too hot, for some it's too cold, and for others it's just right. I think it's been pretty well received, and I'm happy with the book. I don't think it's helpful to compare it to Grimspace because I try not to write the same books over and over again. I might feature the same characters, but I'm always working toward growth.

One of my favorite aspects of Wanderlust was the interplay between main character Jax and her love interest, rugged former mercenary March. Their relationship and the tension in the book felt very authentic and realistic to me. Where did you draw the inspiration for the dynamics of the relationship?

Like many authors, I find my examples in real life relationships. I observe how people relate to one another, and I ask my friends whether the motivations ring true. Otherwise, I can't say there's any one couple who represents March and Jax, nor are they representative of gender roles as a whole. Basically, I invented them, so their behavior comes from me. I guess that makes me a good student of human nature, huh? *g*

In both Grimspace and now Wanderlust, characters often use the term "Mary" as part of an exclamation or declaration. How did you come to decide on this word, and will we ever get any backstory on it?

Ah, I've actually taken some heat over this. A few people have called me misandrist for dethroning Christ and installing his mother at the top of the religious hierarchy. A brief explanation occurs in Grimspace:

When she brings a bowl of soup up for my lunch, I just have to ask, "Why are you being so nice to me?"

She gives me a Madonna's smile. "Mary teaches us that's how you change the world, one soul at a time, one kindness at a time. That's the only way it'll ever take root."

"Didn't they kill her for that doctrine?" I ask, taking the dish from her.

Adele shakes her head. "No, that was her son. They knew better than to martyr her. It was meant as an object lesson from the authorities, but it didn't shut her mouth. She went on to live a good life."

I've never been religious, never thought much on the oaths I swear, but I pause in spooning up a bite of soup. "That's why she's revered? For living a good life?"

I don't mean to minimize its importance, but I can tell my tone struck a chord because she drops down on the battered old sofa that came with my apartment. "Isn't that more than it sounds like, Sirantha? It's easy to do right when everything goes right. But let everything go wrong and see how difficult it becomes."

Since I'm writing about some indeterminate future, it made sense that religion would have evolved like everything else, so I took a mainstream religion and gave it my own spin.

I've got to ask… there are a few characters in the book that seemed (to me, anyway) like surreptitious shout-outs to Harry Potter. Grubb and Boyle seemed a little like Crabbe and Goyle, both in name as well as their role in the story, not to mention the name Riddle pops up as well. Homage, or pure coincidence?

I'd have to call it coincidence; a thousand monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare sort of thing. See, I haven't read all of the books. I can't remember where I stopped, but I don't think I got through more than three. But hey, if it sells more copies, all you Harry Potter fans, come read my books for the surreptitious nods!

Besides Sirantha Jax and her outer space adventures, you're also cooking up a supernatural-themed series starring new heroine Corine Solomon, due out in early '09. You gave a rough description of the series last time, but what can you tell us now? What should readers expect from this series, and do you feel that fans of Jax will likely enjoy Corine's adventures as well?

I think so. Unless you just hate action and intrigue with a touch of romance. All my books have a love story threaded through them, but the development of it will come slower in the Corine books. These books are urban fantasy, not SF, but I think they're fun, entertaining reads. But don't take my word for it!

*produces unpaid author endorsements*

"Ann Aguirre proves herself yet again in this gritty, steamy
and altogether wonderful urban fantasy. Outstanding and
delicious. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next."

–NYT Bestselling author Patricia Briggs

"An authentic Southwestern-flavored feast, filled with magic,
revenge and romance, spiced with memorable characters
and page-turning action. ¡Muy caliente!"

–Rachel Caine, author of the Weather Warden series

Coming April 7, 2009 from Roc.

And a Blurb...

Right now, I'm a redhead. I've been blonde and brunette as the situation requires, though an unscheduled color change usually means relocating in the middle of the night. So far, I'm doing well here. Nobody knows what I'm running from. And I'd like to keep it that way…

Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border to Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her "gift". Corine, a handler, can touch something and know its history—and sometimes, its future. Using her ability, she can find the missing—and that's why people never stop trying to find her. People like her ex, Chance…
Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help. Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine's gift. But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies—and black magic...

You've recently started using the Ava Gray nom-de-plume for another series of books, though it's pretty clear from the website that it's not really a big secret who Ava really is for anyone who does minimal clicking. Why the new name, and what can you tell us about the new line?

Because these are romances, make no mistake. They'll be dark and gritty, like my spec fic, but the point of these books will be the relationship. Expect lots of hot sex and violence. I wanted my romances to be separate from my spec fiction (SF&F) so that readers wouldn't see my name on the new fiction table and then be distressed to realize they'd purchased a romance novel.

I hope most of my readers will be open-minded enough to give it a try because I surely put a new spin on the "romance" genre. Yes, I give you a happy ending, but there's a high body count, lots of action along the way. These stories have a paranormal element, but it's light -- no vampires -- instead you have a greedy medical research corporation trying out radical vacines on poor people, which results in strange abilities. My heroines and heroes walk in shades of gray, owing loyalty to nobody but each other.

On your blog, you've mentioned attending a few conventions. Now that you've got two great books on the shelf and a bunch more in the pipe, do you notice any difference in the way that people react or relate to you in person? More specifically, how does the early phase of genre superstardom feel?

Pardon me, gotta stop laughing first. Can't type. Superstardom? Really? Uhm. Well, I still make dinner at night. I write five days a week, and I answer emails. I also fret about stuff over which I have no control. Except for the writing part, that makes me like any other Joe with a day job. But it is kind of cool when people recognize me. I'm not used to having folks know who I am, unless I owe them money.

Top three things you've read in the last year, go.

Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione
The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine
Dead Shot by Annie Solomon

The last time I interviewed you, I asked you to make a tough choice between corn, wheat, and rice. This time, the stakes have been upped. Now, it's dogs and cats… the species you choose will become the domesticated animal of choice for the entire world, and the species you don't choose will end up in a series of industrial-grade meat grinders, be turned into low-grade cafeteria patties, and vanish from the earth forever. Do you save cats OR dogs… and why?

No way. I live with both cats and dogs. They'll find out if I take sides. It's not happening.

They're *both* safe. Drats! Foiled again...

I should have foreseen that a clever author like Ann would have found a way around answering that one, but next time she won't get off so lucky.

Many thanks to Ann Aguirre for the chat. readers can visit her website for more info here, and her books Grimspace and Wanderlust (both available online and in finer bookshops everywhere) get top billing from me. If you haven't already, run out and buy a copy of each right now.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Art Style: Orbient, And Erasing Things To Play It  

Blog topics were running a little thin last week, but it's amazing how many things can pop up in just a few days.

Not enough memory in here.

Games: The amount of storage available on the Wii is truly pathetic, and not at all appropriate for the current environment. Adding insult to injury is the fact that you can only fit a small handful of games (never mind demos or movies) and I'm not able to delete the totally unnecessary news and weather channels to free up space for things that I actually want.

In what can only be seen as an incredible coincidence, Nintendo's recent announcement that players will be able to save downloaded content onto SD memory cards came exactly one day after I had to start deleting things off of my Wii to make room for more WiiWare. Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but something's better than nothing, I suppose... Maybe Nintendo will start paying more attention and be ready to catch up with current tech when the next generation begins.

In another bit of Wii-related news, I want to put out a triple-A recommendation for Art Style: Orbient, which was recently made available this past week on WiiWare.

This game is absolutely fantastic.

From the trailer that's available on the Nintendo Channel, it's pretty difficult to tell what's going on or what the game is about, but I decided to give it a try anyway… it just had that "look" about it, and I figured that $6 wasn't much to lose if it turned out to be junk. Far from being junk, I think it's an excellent example of minimalist development and one of the front-runners for examples of a game being actual art.

Orbient starts with the player controlling a small sphere or planetoid. Using the Wiimote, the only input the player has is to either generate attraction or repulsion in relation to the other heavenly bodies in the area. That’s it.

The goal is to get your planetoid to touch another planet that is of equal size, upon which it grows. Upon reaching a certain diameter, there is a "target planet" that can be brought into orbit by passing close to it and remaining in proximity for a short amount of time. Once this is done, the level ends and the next one begins.

Everything about this game is absolutely beautiful. The graphics are spare, being mostly circles and lines, but they do a fantastic job of expressing the content. The feeling of being a small speck in the vastness of space is captured, and relying on relationships with objects in the environment rather than any traditional form of direct control only reinforces the concept-- everything is about speed and trajectory, using the orbital pulls of large planets to change direction or slingshot to another area of space.

I haven't completed the game yet, but I'm close. It's such a pure, absolutely elegant affair that the playtime thus far has been sublime. I'm totally impressed that so much can be provided through so seemingly little… expect to see this one on my year-end bests list.

Misc: I have to say that people puzzle me sometimes. I'm a pretty laid-back guy, and I feel that I can get along with all sorts of people, but every once in awhile I’ll come across someone who completely rubs me the wrong way-- and usually, that feeling is mutual.

Thinking of one particular person in particular, our entire history is one of being completely irritated with each other, each person thinking that the other is a total moron.

In this particular case, they’re the jerkoff and not me, but I still find it somewhat fascinating in a sick, twisted way that there are people out there who for whatever reason will be completely, diametrically opposed to just getting along. They're the kind of person that will disagree simply for the sake of disagreeing, or will be absolutely convinced that they’re right, not being willing to even momentarily entertain the notion that someone else may have a good point.

In another example of someone being a human defect, as I was crossing the street at the mall this morning, I saw a large high-end SUV with some over-coiffed suburban lady behind the wheel came charging towards me at high speed, only to brake at the very last second. There weren't any visual obstructions in the area, and there's no way she couldn’t have seen me… she must have either assumed I was going to stop in the middle of the street and let her blaze on through, or it was some sort of statement on privilege that she wouldn't have minded running my peasant ass over with her car that probably costs more than everything I own, combined.

As frequent readers of the blog might notice, the last few days for me have been pretty thick with assholes.

Here’s looking forward to a slightly less obnoxious next week.

Games: Oh, and here's a link to my Bangai-O Spirits review up at GC. I don't expect to win many fans with this one, but it's brutally honest and it's exactly how I feel. A reviewer's gotta do what a reviewer's gotta do.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Failure of a Parent  

There’s a guy I know… He’s had a pretty successful life, he’s pretty well-off.

He had a kid.

For whatever reason, this guy chose to raise this kid in such a way that the kid never learned to be self-sufficient. Instead of teaching responsibility and being accountable, the lesson instilled over the years is that Daddy will take care of it.

Money’s not really an issue, so anytime a problem comes up, he writes a few checks and the problem goes away. Any time a complicated matter comes up that dollars alone won’t solve, he steps in and takes charge. Like an aegis from life, he shields the kid from anything that might be difficult or unpleasant.

Evidently not much of a believer in the real world or natural consequences, the guy just didn’t get that raising someone to be completely dependent on others and protected in every way results in a weak, fragile person devoid of coping skills or any semblance of competence.

To me, the ultimate goal of a parent is to bring a son or daughter up with the knowledge and confidence necessary to go out into the world and make a future for themselves. Teach them the value of work. Teach them the value of critical thinking. Teach them how to respect others, and to ask for it in return.

The sort of upbringing this guy seemed to believe in… well, there’s really only one outcome there – the kid is going to go on not knowing how to care for themselves in any real way, always looking for someone else to deal with the things that can happen over the course of a lifetime. An eternal victim, their vulnerability constantly reinforced by the parent that created it.

It’s sad for the kid since they live out their days woefully unprepared for the tribulations that are sure to come, but the real blame falls on the shoulders of the guy who failed to see the harm in what he’s done.

In fact, I’d say that he’s a complete and total failure as a parent, the sort of life he’s provided to his offspring a form of neglect. The easy way he's chosen to solve problems may have worked in the short run, but how will he ever find peace knowing his burden can never be laid down for fear that the kid will encounter something that Daddy's not around to fix?

He should be cripplingly embarrassed, and even more than that… he should be infinitely ashamed for utterly failing in the one thing a parent should do before all else.

What greater harm can a person do than to sabotage the life of their child?