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6:53 PM on 09.02.2011

Being Social: Planet Puzzle League

A medium time ago I lived in San Diego and worked for one of those places that make big posters and provide computers and copiers to people that don't have them or don't know how to use the ones they have. I didn't have a car at the time so I had to ride the trolley to work.

The trolley is a big red above ground bus on railroad tracks that shuttles poor people from places they can't afford to places they'd rather not be. Its route's are assigned colors, The blue line takes you from Old San Diego to Mexico. The orange line takes you from Petco Park to the Gillespie field. The green line takes you from Old San Diego to Santee. Most locals don't ride the trolley because it only stops at places we work hard to avoid.

My workplace was a block away from a stop on the green line called Hazard Center. I lived about five stops up the green line. So the trolley became my main mode of transportation to work. I had to get up pretty early to catch a ride that wouldn't make me late. I would usually get there about five minutes before the trolley at the same time as three other poor people.

One guy wore a suit with the name tag of one of those clothing stores that seemed to stock anything someone found on the street, and the isles looked like people would try shirts on and thrown them on the floor if they didn't like it. A girl wore the outfit from one of those places that serve hotdogs with no buns, instead they shove a stick up its butt. And one guy wore a chefs outfit with the name of one of those chain restaurants that serve almost passable imitations of Mexican food.

I had enough time between stops to get a few founds of Tetris Attack or Planet Puzzle League or Panel de Pon or whatever else you want to call it for the Nintendo DS. After about a month of Daily Play mode I began to feel pretty good about where I was with my skill. I had a good rhythm, I didn't get flustered when the garbage blocks started to pile, and was regularly pulling of five and six combos. Every once in a while when I looked up I saw people steeling peeks at me. I just assumed I was startling them because I tended to get vocal when I was having a band round.

One day I hopped on the trolley and sat down in the wheelchair access double wide because my legs like to breathe. I pulled the DS out of my purple apron and to my surprise the chef began waving his DS at me from a seat across the train. I gave him a respectful head nod and looked back down then did a double take when I saw his name pop up on my wifi local. I knew it was his name because it was written all over his back pack in old english style lettering.

Turns out he wanted to to do an audit of my skill. I looked up at him and said, "Really?" I was trying to warn the poor guy, he had no idea that this is what I do. I play games and he mistakenly assumed I was in it for funzies. He responded with a shoulder shrug, which let me know that he needed the lesson I was about to teach him. I never found out which game he wanted to challenge me in because I only carried Planet Puzzle League, and it supported online play with one card so that's what we played.

It took him about two stops to beat me. He made a jab at me with baby chains then would make a horizontal clear with a gap above the middle block. Before I knew what was going on he would drop one in the middle and I would be in the weeds until he put me out of my misery. After the match he smiled and said, "Something something payoso." I assumed he was telling me good game but I'm not sure because I can't speak Mexican. I tried to congratulate him on his crap win but it turned out he didn't speak American.

He mercilessly beat me every morning for the next three months. By this time the other poor people we share the train with had joined in and chosen sides. The department store guy went to camp chef and would sit over his shoulder commenting whenever the chef would complete a big chain which he did often. The bun less hot dog girl sat over my shoulder and messed up my focus by making dumb suggestions like clearing horizontally or bunching same color blocks on the same side.

By the time the green line got close to our destination the car would be packed and we would get pretty rowdy during a close match bot nobody seemed to mind. The most anybody would do would be to walk up and ask department store guy or hot dog girl what was going on and they would give them a brief synopsis of my fail. Every once in a while after a close loss the commuters would all go "Ohhhh!" and give me shit even though they couldn't do any better against this freak bot.

I got fired about five months after I got the gig at the copy place for loading WOW on one of the work PC's so I could do dailies. My record against the chef ended at a respectable 52-0 considering he didn't know what he was doing. I still look for his tag on live every once in a while but not for revenge or anything, well a little, but its mostly because looking back the dream of beating him made me forget that I was going somewhere I didn't want to be surrounded by people I didn't know. And by the end I learned a lot about the people that I shared the trolley with without even having what some people would define as a real conversation. We plotted and commiserated and celebrated together by playing a silly little game for kids on the way to work, and that's gotta be worth something.   read

8:37 PM on 04.16.2008

Afterthoughts: The Club; the Brotha Lynch of Video games.

In a time that histronomers refer to as the "mid-ninteys" I would be forced to sit and listen to preacher's, teachers, and parents rant and rave in opposition to these rap artists that were corrupting our ever so impressionable youth. They would throw out names like Snoop Dog, then speak on his violent gang activities, or, Two Short, and his misogynistic behavior or his frequent use of the word, Biiiitch!

I listened to all they had to say, but walked away confused, because these people would always reference the same rap artists. I would think to myself, well that's odd, because if they really wanted to be horrified all they had to do was dig a little deeper.

You see, when I wanted to relax after a hard day of smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding and generally doing nothing productive. I would light a few candles, draw a warm bubble bath, and drift away to the soothing sounds of one Brotha Lynch Hung.

Brotha Lynch Hung was a Semi famous rapper from my hometown of Sacramento, California, but instead of rapping about boring standards such as how cool it is to be in a gang, or repping your set to the fullest, or getting money and women, he preferred to testify his love of, as he puts it " eating baby's nuts and guts like bar-b-q ribs," having sex with womens private parts with his gun, and my personal favorite "shooting infants in the face for talking that shit."

Here is a little taste. this is an excerpt from his song "Rest in Piss," from his now classic album "Season of tha' Sick"

When I'm at your set betta pack you a tech/
cause I'm at your neck with a clip full of that shit/
ni*** don't trip when i put one in your dick that Ripgut Cannibal/
Hannibal shit ni*** nuts and guts all over my chest/
and stomach running to the Lac threw my strap in the back/
twist me up a sack and I'm back on the Garden block/

This guy was far and away rapping about the most psychotic shit ever. no taboo was safe from his eviscerating vocal styling. And when I listened to him I would feel like I was in turn committing some cardinal sin, as if I were intercepting transmittances from Satan. I would feverishly read the news or go to sermon just to hear if anyone of authority had yet gotten word of this demonic rapper that was speaking about violence and sex in a far more graphic manner than anything on Snoop's Doggystyle.

But to my surprise, to this day no one has ever spoken out against anything the guy has ever rapped. no one seems to care. I used to always wonder why this was so, but now I understand that for the general public to take umbrage against something, they first have to know about that something, as in that something has to be popular, and also that something has to offend a particular group, in a very specific way. and if this is not the case, then a person is almost literally able to get away with murder.

I am only reminiscing on this because I have recently finished playing SEGA's latest effort, The Club. During play I was noting the group of multicultural characters killing indiscriminately for points, and I almost instantly thought of the recent flack that certain games have caught over the race of the protagonist (not gonna name any names), or another for the use of shallow, stereotypical characters that kill for personal gain.

But the Club when released was greeted by crickets, even though the main characters, that kill waves and waves of enemies of varied backgrounds included...

- A Cop, shooting dudes

-A Spanish biker literally named "Killen," shooting dudes

-A schizophrenic man in a Gordons fisherman outfit, shooting dudes

-An African giant, shooting dudes

-A guy from Jet set radio, shooting dudes

- An Asian man, shooting dudes

- A Russian stereotype, shooting dudes

- A white guy that I am going to assume is an Irish stereotype with a gambling problem, shooting dudes

Sure, the game had a barely fleshed out storyline involving each of the guys being forced one way or another into the tournament. But the bulk of the game simply asks you to run laps as fast as you can through a level, shooting enemies that resemble your neighbor, or a DJ in a club, or your English teacher with an uzi in his hand, in the face or the nuts, if possible, with stylish kills yielding even more points.

I don't dislike this game, nor am I claiming that there is a double standard in society that puts things that are of higher order in the national zeitgeist to a unfair standard of political correctness above other, more underrepresented works of art that are far more riske. no, wait, I do dislike this game because of the horrible characters that move like they are underwater, bad level design, and woeful lack of depth. And Ditto on the second point.   read

1:54 PM on 04.14.2008

Afterthoughts: Lost: Via Domus

Here is the thing. If I am a character in a video game, film, TV show, or in real life, stricken with amnesia, and at every juncture I am solving puzzles involving conveniently placed fuze's and circuit boards, I am going to just assume that my past involved this kind of work. This would also be the case if I was running from splicers in an underground post Utopian hell, but still had time to direct water across a board or whatever the fuck you were doing to open doors in Bioshock.

I am not an electrician. I want everyone(especially game developers) to know this. I want to scream it from the rooftops. Taking voltage from one side of an electrical panel and distributing it evenly through a circuit is about as fun to me as having my pubic hairs removed by tweezers. Just so you know. but recent games like Bioshock and Lost: Via Domus, seem to not have gotten the memo that I, and most gamers, in fact, have no Issac Newton aspirations.

In the case of Lost especially, this puzzle element drastically hinders the flow of the game. situations that call for immediate action, tense situations where you don't know what is coming next, are derailed at their apex by these antiquated, filler, Myst-esqe,puzzles that would make even Steven Hawking mutter under his breath "For fuck sake..."

Uh oh, the plane I think I may have been on just violently crashed and is leaking fuel. Something needs to be done! I better run around and collect fuzes, cause when I complete a Circuit on this electrical panel, that gas is getting shut the fuck off!

Damn, I lost my camera and laptop, because I am a Photojournalist, that does electricity work as a side gig, apparently, and they seem to be stowed in the compartment of the airplane that was ripped in half, but it can regain full power if I just put a fuze... there! Got it!

Aww shit, I'm in the hydra station and I am about to finally confront my captors, they are on the other side of this door, but how do I get to them? Fuck, man, I wish there was a... Oh there it is! A goddamn electrical box! Good thing all these random fuzes I have been picking up from the jungle floor are compatible with every circuit box on the island! good stuff.

The whole, "putting puzzles in adventure games to lengthen play time," thing, needs to go to hell if the puzzles themselves cannot even be properly put into context within the world of the game. I don't remember Locke ever having to collect fuzes to escape a hatch lock down. So why did this guy? The whole situation reeks of either laziness or a misplaced pretension on the developers part.

They were at best pandering to the Idea of viewers of Lost being "smarter" than the average television viewer, and in doing so created what they thought would "challenge" us. Or, they assumed that this smarter viewer was too busy reading Faust in braille while completing black belt level Sudoku puzzles blindfolded with their penises to play little "pew-pew games," and decided that having engaging game play was not necessary to rake in the moo-la.

And that ending... Ehh. It wasn't bad.   read

5:00 PM on 03.27.2008

Industry Jargon: Milestones suck, here's why

[D-bag note:I figured that since I usually end up bitching about the business in all of my posts anyway, why don't I just make it a weekly blog. So here is this thing that I just did. Every week I will attempt to spotlight a practice or job in the video game industry, and attempt to make some sense of it by either giving a day in the life, or by breaking down what an industry practice effects. And if possible, at the end of my post I will throw in a website or link to the mentioned job, if a job was mentioned.]

Third party developers are a lot like restaurants in that the mortality rate is high, and that the prospect of your business crapping out in the first few months is often a better hope than the long bleed it could become.

The cost of programmers, artists,testers,hardware, and the random ins and outs of running a business in a technology driven industry makes the non "in-house" development team an endangered species. And if EA's attempted hostile takeover of Take-two was any indication, the big sharks can smell any devs blood in the water from a mile away.

And here is where the big problems, the problems that lead to the shutting of doors, the firing of employees, and the general fuckery of the whole situation occurs. Imagine you are a Producer in a moderately respected third party and you gained notice from Company X for your creative use of the Jumanji engine in your latest title, "Shane and Grinch."

So Company(Publisher) X sits you down and tells you that the grappling hook mechanic and usage of massive gibbs would be perfect for their new Video game adaptation of the film "Knar-Gar, the Groin ripper." They want the title to be multi platform and want it to coincide with the movies release July after next. you explain to them that this is the first simultaneous multi release your company has ever done, and that your version of the engine was tweaked for a specific console.

But they shoot down this logic with reassurances that they have worked closely with third parties in the past that voiced the same problem, and the outcome was simply David Blane magic.But with doubt in your heart and dollar signs in your eyes you get on-board, and out pops the Contract. Its nothing serious, and only a little binding, they say, just a way to keep things honest, and to keep both sides informed and on the path to success.

And stuck somewhere in-between the part about security badges and the section detailing parking privileges, is a little thing called a Milestone clause. This little gem of a business practice makes it legally clear that if you do not hit a (usually publisher defined) set of goals by a certain date, then you and your people are not getting paid. No one gets paid. The Programmer doesn't get paid, the testers don't get paid, the producers don't get paid. The Mocap dudes, don't get paid. And that is not good.

Say it is November now. The Launch date is about about nine months out and everything is looking good. The emails from the Publisher are positive. You as a smaller third party cannot afford a marketing juggernaut, but thanks to the fat pockets of Company X you see early teasers for you game on the Internet, and in magazines. They love how it is coming along, they sent you dev kits, manpower for test, even the programmers learned to code for all platforms by going to Naughty Dog's website. Every thing is looking great for a July launch, and everyone is getting paid.

So December rolls along, and the problems with it. You get an e-mail from The publishing manager about how the Gibbs that they loved so much are not going to get any play now because "Large Rob Cycle," and "Emohunt" have trusted video game violence into the spotlight during an election year, gotta tone down the violence, bud. So you run down to tell the programmers that they are going to have to go back and clean up the code they already finished.But its too late, they now have their own problems.

They tell you that the testers are sending them way too many bugs about the goddamn grappling hooks, and that trying to fix all of them would take them well into the next lifetime, and that it would be easier for everyone involved to just tone the mechanic down to isolated...quicktime events... No.

So you run back to the office to stab you balls with chopsticks when you glance at an open magazine page flapping in the wind.And there on the page is none other than an old screen cap of Knar-gar in all his glory, Ascending a mountain with grappling hook in one hand, and an enemies throbbing nutsac in another, looking as if he just took a big bite out of it like it was a Georgia peach. Fuck.

Next thing you know you are a talking head on TV, shilling the hell out of a project that you don't even recognize anymore, while every journalist on the planet wants to crawl deep into you ass about the "uber Violnce" your new title touted when they played it at the HAXORZ game show. They want to give you both barrels concerning the voice acting, collision, the hard to open shrink wrap, and ask if these issues will be addressed by launch. Fuck.

So you go back to the office and call a meeting. You tell everyone in the room what is riding on the project, and that the expectations have reached a fevered pitch because it is running parallel to the film. They all got to get on the ball and fix this, no matter how long it takes. Not so fast.

You get a call from the publisher and they are mad, well not really mad, just disappointed. You missed four of six milestones and unfortunately they cannot pay you the full royalty for that particular six week cycle. They hope you get back on the ball, they wish you luck, and remind you to tone it down,bud.

Usually no money from the Publisher would not be so crippling, but you took on the extra manpower from them and now you have to pay them. Everyone on staff has been working Eighty to ninety hour weeks and have been waiting on the "Big Check." So to not have that money during crunch time will just about be the worst thing that could happen. But hey, payday is about a week and a half away, so there is time to figure something out, right?

No. Its June now, the title is not close to shippable, a couple of programmers have quit, and you are now two milestones in the hole. It is looking bad, it is looking really bad. A "false launch"(A title that doesn't ship on its specified date) looks inevitable, and you getting shitcanned is both assured and looked forward to by yourself.

And then it comes. Company X has taken notice of your repeated missed deadlines, they notice your company unable to attain the standard of quality that the Company X brand requires. But it is ok, They have an option. If you sell your company to them, then they will eat the cost of the false launch, eat the cost of the missed milestones, and put a pretty penny into the coffers of you and your shareholders. And all they ask is that you work exclusively for them, under relaxed conditions, retaining most of the autonomy that you previously had.With the small exception that most of the money will go to them obviously, and the benefit of stock perks will be theirs also, and they choose and redline all the games you make.Besides that though, good times.

So you and your Dev house go with the only option available, and you spend the rest of your careers pandering to whatever Company X asks of you, Never getting to create original or innovative games because the company bottom line demands at least one hit from every company every fiscal year.

This cycle of Milestone manipulation occurs constantly in the game industry, and almost always serves to benefit to Larger company. And while it is true that former third parties like Neversoft and Vicarious visions still operate much like they did independently while under a large publisher( in this case Activision), far too many companies fold nowadays due to the intense pressure for every title to be a triple A success.

I prefer the Valve method of "it will be done when it is done." A situation like this serves to allow employees to produce great work in an relaxed environment. And while I understand that it would be financially irresponsible for all companies to do this, I would like to see publishers allow some of the more respected and proven companies to have more time in producing their titles and to not be held under the thumb of unfair Milestone achievement practices.

As promised, a couple links[Big shout to]

Insomniac games/tester
Snowblind studios/programmer
Blue Castle Games/Producer   read

5:03 PM on 03.20.2008

When Tactics meets Katamari meets blatant fan service you get/Final FantasyXII: Revenant Wings

Rock, paper, scissors. Anyone that has ever played a strategy or role playing game knows in the back of a hearts that this is what it all boils down to. My archers versus their infantry. My big gun versus their little knife. But even with truth evident, a game may still rise above this limitation to do something truly unique if the immediacy and importance of these simplistic match ups are exploited to their fullest.

Advance Wars accomplishes this task by spacing out the battles, and in doing so forces the user to constantly flex his/her strategic inclinations by positioning units four or five steps ahead of the current situation. If an anti-air tank is in the area, I cannot move my plane within four or five squares of it, because Anti-air beats plane and so forth.

I submit that Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings should voluntarily distance itself from any "Strategy," or "Tactics" monikers. I would have them do this only to limit the confusion of anyone that will pick up this title in the future expecting strategy to be involved in troop movement and combat.

Any stage in the game will have you placed at starting point X with your base party all concentrated in one area. The old friends are all here. Cut off shirt kid, his "girlfriend," Pirate guy, and Fran. I say her full name with proper respect because I am in love with her, and we will get married, and you need to respect that, Lyly.

Anyway... npc's that played minor roles in the former game have now been upgraded to full time annoyances. One of which,interestingly enough, has stole Marty's pink hoverboard. Which proves beyond a doubt that the Final Fantasy Cannon is set in the (future)? And doc Brown was the mastermind of the Janus project. Which has been believed for years as truth by FF scholars such as me, for instance.

So you are in level X, you have arranged you battle party according to Melee fighters, Flying fighters, healers, and ranged attackers. The various enemies roam the plains in clumps of the same type, so you ever so carefully drag the stylus across the length of the battlefield to get the lay of the land, which is almost impossible to do without somehow selecting all combatants to full on attack, thanks to the horrible stylus centric control scheme.

nevertheless, you select a target close to your current location that is ripe. With a battleplan set, all spells upgraded, support summons for backup monsters called out, and all characters in the party equipped with the most powerful armor and weapons possible, you release your troops to as Sun Tsu said, "Strike like Lightning."

It is at the moment that your party meets the enemy that you realize none of your preparations truly mattered because the whole of your party will commence to doing whatever the fuck they want to do anyway. The Gambits that you selected for your characters will execute at mostly inappropriate times, the characters themselves will clump together to the point that any attempt at a functioning in battle micro strategy is an act in futility.

You would do well at this moment to just get up and make yourself a sandwich, or talk to your significant other about his or her day, because your party, If they do not meet a wall or any other collision that halts forward progress completely, giving the enemy a chance to pick them off one by one(which happens frequently), will take care of everything themselves.

Any given stage in this game is like passively watching a living deer being squeezed and consumed by a large(depending on your current level) Boa constrictor. Its slow. The deer is kicking and fighting in the first part, but towards the end has given up completely against an overwhelming aggressor. The outcome inevitable, you just watch this brutal play unfold helplessly, and walk away feeling rather sorry for the food.   read

3:12 PM on 03.15.2008

In Retrospect: The Simpsons Game

When comedians or middle school kids find themselves at a disadvantage against an audiance or a bully, with the bully or audience having an overabundance of ammunition against them, there is only one truly affective thing they can do. Draw attention to that flaw and make it work for them.

Phyllis Diller is old, wrinkled and worked on. Carlos Mencia is a thief and also the worst comedian alive. My friend Joe has one testicle. We all know these things. So these aforementioned people make quite a good living bringing them up in their sets or among their group of friends in order to take away that advantage and to force the audience to look for something else to judge them on. And they hope that new thing they will be judged on will take the focus away from what they cannot change.

And so it is that when EA was tasked with creating a new Simpson's title that they understood the limitations of video games and knew the climate that they were sending this game out to. After all, just one play through of a few levels of the game will show that the devs understood the game making process(check the QA level. Spot on.) Or check any of the mini games that serve as homages to a game players childhood(Missie Commander, anyone?)

But the problem in the title arises in the Cliches that they provide as in game collectibles. Sure they are funny. I know that being able to hang from a ledge indefinitely is impossible unless you last name is Norris. I understand that it is funny when AI pathing is so bad that npc's are constantly running into walls. And pointing these things out in a game is a great way to show that you know it too and understand the frustrations associated in it.

But here is the thing. If you are going to go that route, pointing out flaws in games in general, and satarising the creations of others and such, you better make damn sure that your game is polished enough that its own problems do not overshadow the ones that you have pointed out in other titles.

Here is a short list of cliches that the Simpson's game may have missed if only because they were in the game itself. It is cliche when a character gets a power up and is unable to deactivate that power up on their own, especially when it is necessary for that character to be in their normal state to interact with objects in the game world. This is evidenced when Lisa is in her "Super Lisa" mode but it is unable to activate her "Bhudda Hand" special ability while still powered up.

Another. While in a Sandbox style game, it is cliche to have the WORST FUCKING CAMERA EVER. A camera that forces you to go left when next to buildings.A camera that battles you harder than a boss in Contra. It wants you dead. And it also wants you to not enjoy this game. I did not see that collectible on the list, guys.

How about another? Co-op mode as an afterthought in a game that features multiple protagonists. The Simpson's game only offers a vertical splitscreen, only allows the second user to enter play in the town and in story mode. No time trial for two. Sorry.

Ok, I could go on, but as exhibit D I would like to present the overlapping of button uses for multiple action functions. Am I shooting a slingshot? Am I putting it away? Why is my auto target on now? Crap, this is very confusing.

Listen, because this is the part where I tell you that the Simpson's game, for all of its flaws is by far and away the funniest and most entertaining title I have played in a long time. The story is well thought out and extremely well written, to the point where even the ancillary characters feel like normal extensions of the show itself. And the whole package is well worth the price of admission. But if you are a franchise that makes its bread and butter on making fun of the flaws in something, and then you decide to create that something, you will automatically be held to a higher standard if only because it has been established that you know better( I am looking at you, Gabe and Tyco).   read

4:04 PM on 03.11.2008

You think you love a genre, and then you play: Nobunaga's Ambition

Day 1

So I run down to the mailbox to check for my new gamefly rental. Bill, Bill, credit card...Bill, jury duty notice, ahh... here's the shit.I had put Lost Odyssey at the top of the list with about ten other selections below and in low availability, so I'm about to get my rpg on after I un-wrap this.... Oh... Nobunaga's Ambition:Rise to Power. For the PS2. Ok... It feels like I just got socks on Christmas morning, but it all good. Dammit.

But its cool, I put this on my game que at some time or another. Which means that me of the past had wanted to play it. Actually, I alwayse noticed this title on the shelf and wondered why it felt so exclusionary. Only the most Japanese among my group of gamers played it and even they walked away a bit shell shocked. When I would ask about it they simply mumble something about watching my farm production and shuffle off. Hey, I played most of the Harvest moon series. So on the subject of farming, I feel "you can't tell me Nuuuthhinn!" Thank you.

But It can't be all that bad. I mean, they are in game 100,000,000 of the series. I hear you can dispatch spies, and murder Ronin. And I do hate me some Bum ass, lazy ass Ronin. So I guess I can just crank up my trusty old PS Deuce and give this Period piece a good bleeding. Ugh. I just read that last sentence.

So I will play it. But not today. I'm still working my way through the old Fallouts. I got CoD 4. Gotta hit up a little Puzzle quest. Just to keep the skills sharp. And then there is, you know, Work. But yeah, its on the list. I promise I will not send this game back until I have given it its fair shake. Definitely. tomorrow.

Day 10

Oh, Nobunaga's Ambition. Hey. Little guy. You still here? Ok, lets go ahead and see what all of the fuss is about. Cool, so I pop it in and, what's this? A twenty section tutorial... Wow. That's not that scary. Just saving money on paper.

I'm introduced to Nobunaga, who is this Lazy rich kid who is visited by the ghost of his dead father. His father teaches him how to run his Diamyo, which is like the equivalent of a European's piece of land in Feudal times.And after about a Dickens book worth of text, its time for Ghost dad to take his kid around and show him the ropes.

Here is how you farm. Here is how you allocate resources for the acquisition of new lands while focusing on an agriculture based economy. Here is how you deliver plans to your lieutenants and place them in the best position to create positive revenue streams based on their strengths. Here is how you wage war on your neighbors for no other reason than they are there. Here is how you control your people with an iron fist. You know. The basics. Great. So part one through three of the tutorial is knocked out. Can't wait for section four. And it only took... two hours. I'll get to the rest tomorrow.

Day 20

Oh, my fucking god. It just sits there on the table, staring. "I thought you liked RPG's J4RMZ?" "I thought you enjoyed story driven titles?"" What's wrong? is NOBUNAGA TO AWESOME FOR YOU?!? HA. HA." Fuck you, Nobunaga's Ambition. You are just there, clogging up my gamefly cue.Knowing I can't send you back until I have at least gotten out of your damn tutorial. For honors sake. I have 17 MORE of those left! I can't do this. This is just to much. What are you, Nobunaga's Ambition? Are you a RTS? RPG? Adventure?Political Drama? Excel spreadsheet? Passions? What? Tell me! Damn you. Look at my hands. I'm sweating. Damn, I'm seein' Demons! this game is work. Its the book report I never did. Its the Albatross around my balls. No, I said I was going to do this, and that is what I am going to do. Even If it kills me.

Day 30

Last... Tutorial... Something about the proper use of archers during sieges using the L2 shortcut, and something else about paying tribute to connecting fiefs... almost... done... The tutorial is done. Now I am sending this fucking pox on my house back to the hell from which it spawned. Gamefly. You taught me a valuable lesson about myself by sending me this...Game. You taught me my limits. Nobunaga. You defeated me today...   read

10:00 PM on 02.22.2008

EA tried to pull a fast one.

The blazing speed, the intense moments before crossing the line in photo finish race, flinging your car off of an overpass and gleefully watching the ensuing pileup. That is the kind of shit I expect when booting up a Burnout title.

But what I got when I plopped in Burnout Paradise was a job at the DMV. So the question must then become, how can you ruin a game that asks you to plow into other cars in order to win? Well the answer is deceivingly simple. All you gotta do is inject it with a bit of bureaucracy, take out a mode that made the title unique, and then slap on a big old heaping of existential crisis. Mix it all up and you have what Sigmund Freud would describe as, "sum Buushit. Mayn."

This screen is waaaay to busy...

Here is the thing. Just as 3D is not the natural progression of every 2D side scroller or brawler, an open ended and realistic sandbox world is not the natural progression of every successful franchise. Other games have found success with the style because they all have what Burnout has never had nor does it need. People.

The games that pull off a sandbox style populate their cities with objectives and storyline that give the player the illusion of purpose. You are this guy, going to do this thing, to reach these ends. So the idea that the the buildings around you all have little people in them going about their little lives is already implanted in the end user and placed in proper context. And its all created so we never get bored exploring the world or interacting with the NPC's.


These dudes...

The problem in this situation arises for burnout in the fact that any reference to a living person in the game besides the disembodied voice of and incredibly annoying DJ conjures up images of "deathrace" style vehicular manslaughter.

But to me, the idea of EA trying to avoid a murderous connotation from the burnout franchise is a lot like a developer creating a title called "Little girl tickle fest 08'" and saying that it has nothing to do with molestation. EA, calm down, the bad stuff is what we are paying money for. You are only 75% of the problem. If you were gonna do it, you shoulda done it EA BIG. ya know? Kill people, like you do smaller companies.

So what you end up with in Burnout Paradise is a city devoid of personality and empty cars crashing into each other in it. And it is this choice to make Burnout open ended and more realistic that robbed the game of a lot of its fun factor for me.In real life I would have to meet a bunch of objectives to get a license. In real life if I lost a race I would have to drive back to where I started it. In real life I would have to drive halfway across the city to get my car washed and painted. I don't wanna do that shit in real life. Why would I want to do it in a Burnout title?

The fact that John Riccitiello has been publicly going the Ken Levine route of "talking like a real person" about the problems at EA got the hamster wheel in my head spinning. Below are two EA titles.


Great balls of fire!

One is an open ended sports title that focuses on exploration and objective completion, displays shiny new gen graphics and a great frame rate, made a lot of moneys, and is fun to play. The other is Burnout Paradise. They both look alike, play alike (relatively),are from the same company, and attempt to cash in on the popularity of a new game play style. The only difference is one fits perfectly into the new genre and the other struggles in it like a fat lady caught in a dolphin net.

EA, we have put up with you releasing the same game every year for as long as you have been in business. But now just releasing every game in your lineup on the same engine with the same design? A new low.

P.S. Riccitiello. I see what you are doing there. Sneaky sneaky.   read

3:47 PM on 02.15.2008

Toon link is @#$%ing bossy.

Woe is the game that tries do make me do stuff that I am not yet comfortable with. A long time ago in Internet years, a.k.a around November of last year, I picked up Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass for the DS. I had heard that it would be a direct sequel to the Wind Waker, a title that I, much like the rest of the gaming community, grew to love only after what locals here would describe as "Hella bitchin."

I played about twenty minutes of the game, then threw it in my "gonna play it later(never)" pile. This decision was based on a fundamental disagreement between myself and Miyamoto that I dared not vocalize until now.

First, please let me explain that I am not a small dude. And so it is that were you to look upon me with a DS stylus in my hand the image of that chimp prying food out of an anthill with a stick would come to mind. And it is with this knowledge that you should imagine my confusion and anger when I was left to search for the Ocean Kings hut and got no response from the control pad or action buttons.

The stylus worked just fine though. I thought, is this what it has come to Nintendo? Forcing me to go along with your innovation shenanigans by making them the only way to play your franchise titles? Whats next, only being able to play smash bros. by jumping up and down on the wii yoga mat?

Well. I overcame my hate of the unknown and fear of arthritis( someone please tell me, is there a comfortable position to hold the DS and stylus for over 15 minutes?) and picked up the title again. It....Is....not...bad. Its a Zelda game. And an above par one at that. The bosses take three hits. The sidekicks are annoying as all fuck. Everyone is a spirit animal in disguise in the end. You know which weapon to use according to which refill comes out of which pot. It is all there.

And when all is said and done, some of the puzzles really do benefit from the innovative use of the dual screens, and the ability to make notes and direct weapon trajectory with the stylus makes some otherwise boring dungeons rather fun. It just takes a ridiculously long time to forget that you are being bossed around by a game. Dammit Nintendo. You big bully.

P.S. For everyone that thought this was some kind of smash update....Yeah...   read

4:25 PM on 01.17.2008

Videogames: The Puff Daddy remix

It seems that the game industry is always in a race with itself. And in this race there are four very distinct types of people all vying for the front of the pack. The Designer/Writer is the new guy on the block. He came around in the late 80's and early 90's. He went to a big school on an English scholarship but drank a lot and got fed up with the normal run.He thinks up these dope concept games that combine heavy story elements with engaging and addictive game play. The rule sets of the games he creates are mostly complicated and exclusionary. But that is only because he wants the hardcore audience to look at look at his game as art. he wants the Shakespeare, he wants non game players and the snobby literary and film elite to look at his work and acknowledge it as serious. He doesn't care about the masses that only peek into his world as far as the Halo's and Maddens. They only eat junk food and he thinks he is cooking fillet mignon. Fuck em'. So he takes his big Idea to the...


The Coder/Programmer/Lever builder/Guy that knows what he is doing. this guy was taking apart his moms computer at about age 10. He slept through computer science class with all A's because that is all he does anyway. L337, haxor, don't bother spouting that shit to this dude because technology for him has long since gone from being an exiting distraction to just... life. All pragmatic and super surly to the point where he knows the specs,the fix, and the code stream to your dreams before you sleep. And it always looks like he just woke up. This guy looks at the sample level drawings and character designs that the Writer got some artist to draw up for a sack of sticky and some Chinese farmed WOW gold, and nearly shit himself laughing. He loves crushing the ideas of designers if only because his gatekeeper title allows him to do so. With knowledge being the power it is, and him with all of it, he can tell easily shave this guys big idea to a skeleton. Not enough memory for this. Would need a hard drive for that. this is just stupid, and wouldn't allow you to do that later. The poor artists eyes begin to water as his golden horse gets beat to death with the hammer of reality right before his eyes. But both reach an unhappy middle ground and take their sample level to...


The Producer/The Publisher/The Money/The Alpha Deuche. This guy went to business school. He left with an M.B.A. in "getting that Guap by any means necessary." He followed the money smell into the offices of [insert big game company here]. He doesn't play games, he studies titles. Then he sells them to consumers. He looks at this sample build that the other two guys brought in. The next week he sits them in an office filled with expensive figurines positioned in action poses, and one sheets of games signed by Designers and Programmers past, that look to the guys on the other side of the desk like the the stolen souls of Shang Tsung. He sits back in his chair and tells the guys that he loves what they have done so far, but why can't the action play a little more like "God of War?" Why can't you guys put a little bit of a Sci-Fi twist on the story, like "Assassins Creed?" Have you thought about places that you could put some in game advertising? "You know, L337 it up a little bit, we gotta think about who we are selling this to." They just look at him with blank faces. They hated each other before. But now they have a common enemy.Yet after a lot of arguing, screaming, and sleepless nights, the game goes gold and gets shipped to the hot little hands of...


Us/The player/the consumer/ The Civilian. We take one look at this title and see what could have been. We put in the required Thirty Hours of game play, neglecting to collect all of the in game do-dads and finish the filler side quests. then we run to the forums and flame hard and long about the fact that while the game is decent, it didn't deliver anything we haven't seen before. The story was confusing and pointless. The Bosses sucked. The frame rate was for shit. For god sakes, it didn't even have a letterbox option for PC and only ran in 720i! What the Fuck! The Designer gets drunk. The Programmer goes home and has sex with his wife, or his hand. The Producer does lines off a strippers ass while counting his money. We wait for the sequel.

And I say all of that to ask this. The pics above are all of games that attempted to do things with story and gameplay that were well ahead of what was possible technologically at the time. they worked within the confines of an isometric view that proved to be one of the few ways a person could create the illusion of a living world back in the 90's. but now that technology has almost caught up with imagination, game makers are returning to IP's that they probably wished had been 3D in the first place, and are making the games that we loved back then for what they were, better in the process. But where does that end? I went back recently and downloaded the original Fallout to refresh my memory and prep for the new chapter that is on its way. And while playing it I began thinking about all of the titles that deserve a face lift every time technology moves forward. I dunno, is there any titles that you can think of that did not reach their full potential and deserve an upgrade?   read

12:22 PM on 01.12.2008

Get ready! February is National Black Zombie Month

In recognition of resident evil 5 returning black zombies to the forefront of the nations consciousness, I would like to present my picks for the black zombies in mass media that broke down walls, and did their part to end the horrible monopoly that White,Spanish, and Japanese zombies have had over the "getting your flesh eaten and joining the ranks of the undead" business for years.

Pick 1: That one zombie guy from land of the dead that did implausibly smart shit with no real explanation.

Look at this guy. He was like the Lando Calrissian of zombies. A leader, a gentleman, an impeccably groomed beard. He told the world, look, I got bit, there is nothing I can do about that. But I am not going to blame society for my problems. I am going to get these other zombies together, go out there, And tear off as many ballsacks as I can with my teeth. A hero for us all. Why the fuck was he walking underwater?

Pick 2: Luke Cage in Marvel Zombies.

Some comic fans say that Luke Cage is an embarrassing leftover from marvels dark age of the 70's where they attempted to cash in on blacksploitation films of the era by introducing an escaped gang member with a lame power and put him in clothes that were twenty times gayer than the cast of Les Misrables.And then topped it by putting an upside down tiara on his head. to them I say, Sweet Christmas! Look at the man now. He wears titty shirts, which are a vast improvement from a yellow silk bathrobe with tights. He is a zombie. he is a Lego collectible. You, are a hater.

Pick 3: Mike Epps from whatever dumb Resident evil movie he was in.

It is hard to be the "not funny" comic relief while alive. Try hiding your zombification, sharing awkward and uncomfortable sexual dialog with Ashanti, and being the destined to die sidekick, all while not telling one funny joke. Epps represents the new wave of black horror movie actors. Well, not really.

Pick 4: Ashanti

I dunno. She is just hot. I don't think she was ever a zombie. Umm.. Wait yeah, she was the one that got eaten by (jim) CROWS AT THE BACK OF A BUS!! (rosa parks, racist).

Pick 5: Duane Jones from Night of the Living Dead.

Yeah, uh, not actually a zombie in the film either. But he was one; a badass, and two; tried and convicted of being a cool black man in a horror film. In the south. And we all know that black pioneers do not last long in the south. But seriously, his role in this film was not only a great step for black actors, but revelation for movies in general. Just good stuff.

And there you go. I wanted to get this list out there just to let folks know that black zombies are nothing new, and working black zombie actors are a dying breed (no pun intended), so any work is good work. So stop your whining ya' uppity Negro's!   read

1:26 PM on 01.08.2008

The mutation of the arcade

It was only a matter of time until we became what we played. The arcade at its peak was both sanctuary and battlefield. You would walk in with your five dollars, do a lap around the dark room, taking in the sticky floors and soaking up the flashing lights and jarring sounds of bleeps, bloops, punches, tire screeches, and coded messages shared between fellow game players. They chat about everything from fighting game fatalities to rumors of your favorite company finally releasing your favorite game on console. Because after all, the arcade did what game journalists and the internet do now before anyone even knew that there was a need. It got us all together in one place and told us what we needed to know.

You would feed your dollars into the weird little box that would only work about 40% of the time. And if it didn't, there was always a twenty something guy milling about, ready to fulfill the task that the ugly machine had failed at. You could tell him by the half apron that constantly jingled when he walked, and the look of disdain he had when you made eye contact with him, because that meant that he had to work, and the only reason he took the job in the first place was to be around video games. not feed little kids quarters.

You grab your loot and once again look around the area, even though you know exactly what you want to play. So with your head down you slowly saunter toward the wall of people that circle shoulder to shoulder but quietly entranced behind two guys standing in front of a video screen that flashes harder and screams louder than all others around it. There is a fight happening. You have read about this fight, and practiced it yourself a few times in the arcade late at night when no one else was around, but never when it meant something. Your hands start sweating and your heart starts racing as your legs begin to move themselves close enough to get near the machine. Your arm shakes as you stretch out your hand and place a quarter at the base of the screen, next to five others in a line. Then you wait.

Darwin would have you believe that Lan parties and online play would be the natural evolution of the arcade. People say that the arcade never really died, but that with the introduction of these tools we were all were rid of the hopelessly archaic need of "seeing each other" that plagued us in the stone ages of gaming. To this I would only ask that a person one day take the time out to visit any medium or large game company and ask where to find either the "code dungeon," or the "tester pit." Then visit a large Lan party like the one pictured above and walk those dark corridors.In both these places I believe you will see what Ebenezer Scrooge was showed by the ghost of Christmas future. Some fucked up shit.

They are all dark warehouses illuminated by rows and rows of video screens reporting the same images. And next to them sit rows of rows of expressionless kids with faces invisible to the darkness. Not really playing games,just manipulating those images for a response. As long as something, anything happens on screen its ok. It doesn't mean nothing.

Arcades were places of anticipation and excitement because you were under constant audit by your fellow game players. At anytime during play a person could stand next to you, put their money in the machine, and test your skill. And if you won you could look the other person in the eye, say "good game," and have that guy walk away knowing that you beat him in a fair fight. Or you could be a D-berg, just walk away from the machine and allow the peon to finish your round because you were, "bored."

I am sure its all relative, and the future of online play will introduce something to entertain or inspire me enough to forget how much I miss the true social aspect of the games we play. But as of now I feel that technological advancements have taken us from playing the games we play, to constantly De-bugging the games for the companies, prepping them for the next release, patch, etc... We now just sit alone in a room, accountable to no one, accepting challenges from funny 1337 tags with no soul.   read

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