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I am a thirtysomething male gamer who has been playing those damn video games since I was a wee tyke and the Atari 2600 was the pinnacle of all human technology.

I mostly game on my 360, but I also own a PSP and DS which get some use and several older systems that collect dust because my retro-gamer cred is not what it used to be.

I work in retail and have done for a few years now and, yes, we sell video games.
I also enjoy board games/card games, movies, and am pretty big into music, mostly in the electronic/industrial vein.
I have a music podcast, Candy and a Currant Bun I do on a fairly routine basis which anyone is welcome to enjoy if the music is your sort of thing.

Playing right now:
360: Just Cause 2
iPod: Space Miner (this game is really good, people)
PC: Occasional bouts of Fate: Traitor's Soul. I loves me some dungeon crawling.

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Without much fanfare or announcement, RayStorm released onto Xbox Live today and no one could be more insanely excited about this than me. Why? Because I LOVE THE DAMN GAME. Most gamers have that handful of games that mean the world to them....the games that, for whatever reason, did something for them and hold that very, very special place in their hearts. One of those games for me is RayStorm.

Oh yes..you will be dazzled.

I first encountered RayStorm on the PSX back in 1997 right at the height of my obsession with shooters and the weird zen-like quality of them. For the time, the 3d graphics were a nice, artistic touch in a genre pretty much dominated by 2d sprites; proof that not everything moving into 3d was necessarily losing quality gameplay. I loved the overall style of the game as well as the gameplay itself which nicely rode the line between satisfying challenge and being too hard to be any fun. The console version in the US was handled by the legendary Working Designs, a company that many here may not remember. WD made it their goal to take excellent Japanese titles that probably weren't going to get a North American release, and convert them with respect, quality, and an attitude of being hardcore game fans as opposed to "let's just port this and make some money." WDs version of RayStorm started their short-lived "Spaz" sub-label which was to be solely devoted to quality action games. In their conversion, WD modified a few things and, most notably made it so that you could not play past the third level on any difficulty lower than Normal, an attitude towards being "hardcore" that WD upheld throughout their lifespan. There was also a high-score contest where the winner received fabulous cash prizes and the ability to brag about their insane numbers. The game effectively made me want to know more about WD and what other games they had published in the US, and, to make a very long story short, it led to me being a member of their forums for years and years where I enjoyed the company of some fantastic people who I gamed with for a long time, including at least one guy who meant a lot to me who is no longer with us. RayStorm started that process and, apart from being a great game, it holds a special place to me because of this.

It took them years to get their stuff out the door, but when they did. You knew how much they cared about games. Thanks for the years WD.

But, there's more to it. RayStorm has one of the best shooter soundtracks EVER. Hands down. The original arcade soundtrack for it was good and definitely up to the standards of Zuntata's usual soundtracks (Taito's in-house music composers), but the revamped and re-mixed console version's soundtrack by the superb Tamayo Kawamoto (a woman whose video game music has utterly captivated me since I was a little kid, only I didn't know it until I was much older) is simply wonderful. It was the first video game soundtrack I ever bought in an age when if you told people you were looking for the soundtrack to a video game, you got very funny looks. In 1997, the internet was just getting into swing and video game culture as it exists today was pretty much in isolated pockets like special forums or Usenet groups. As a result, I had to hunt high and low to find someone to buy me the Japanese version of the soundtrack (there was no CDJapan or any of those places back then, certainly not to the degree it is now) and I had to go through a complex process, including paying some massive international shipping, to get the RayStorm soundtrack from Taito. But I did. And to this day it still holds a special place in my music collection and in my MP3 collection.

I went through a lot to get this gem. And it was totally worth it.

So, to wake up today and read, out of nowhere, that RayStorm was available for download...well, that was one hell of a love-letter out of the past. I haven't had a working PSX in ages, and though I have the original game still, I haven't played in years and years.

So, how does this new version stack up? Quite well. It's basically the same game with a few minor tweaks.
-The textures are all hi-def so it looks way, way better, and it plays in widescreen. It's a little bit stretched, not quite 100% formatted right, but it's nothing major.
-There are leaderboards.
-As near as I can tell the thing where you can only play the whole game on Normal or higher difficulty is gone, you can now play the whole thing on Easy if you want.

Otherwise it's the same, solid, excellent game. As with the original console version, you can play either the original arcade version or the "extra" version which is slightly harder and has different enemy patterns. You can choose to have either the arcade soundtrack or the Neu Tanz soundtrack made for the PSX (which is the golden one, in my opinion) and after you beat the game at least once you unlock the famous 13 ship mode which HAS to be a call back to Working Designs' ideas for the game.
If you really like old-style space shooters you might like this one; I know not everyone feels as strongly about this game as I do so you might play it and say to yourself "wow this isn't really that special" but I think, personally, it's probably one of the best shooters on the XBLA marketplace next to Omega Five and Rez.

So, I like to keep track of what's coming out on Xbox Live in terms of the indie games market. Anyone with a 360 can attest that, as cool as the idea of community games available on the marketplace is, unfortunately a lot of the games just aren't very good. At all.
There's always some great diamonds in the rough, though, but finding them often requires some digging.
Anyway, the other day I stumbled on Mega Monster Mania, and I'm here to basically recommend it to anyone yet to hear of it.

Once you play the game you will realize that, in this screenshot, there is trouble brewing.

The game is a great, fast playing take on the dungeon crawler genre. Basically you run through randomly generated dungeon levels swiping your sword at all manners of beasties (or shooting your bow) picking up all kinds of loot and, when you get to the exit of that level, you're able to browse through what you found and see if there's anything cool you want to equip to make your self more powerful. Pretty straightforward. And interestingly addictive. There's different weapons that have different effects, speeds, sizes and such, but you kind of have to play to know all the ins and outs. AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE.

As I'm sure most of you out there know, about a week ago, maybe more, Roger Ebert wrote a column in which he declared that video games can't be art and are NOT art. Needless to say, this caused a bit of a kerfuffle across the internet and in the gaming world, exhibit A being the 3000+ comment thread cluster fuck found on the link I provided above (seriously, don't click on it unless you have a super computer or something because it will crash your computer loading all of that outrage).

Now, before I go any further with this, lemme say something: I have enormous respect for Roger Ebert. I love movies and, therefore, have read countless numbers of his reviews, I used to religiously watch Siskel and Ebert at the Movies until the unfortunate loss of Gene Siskel, and for a time I myself actually reviewed movies for an online magazine and grew to appreciate and understand the art of critique, especially when it has to go through the filter of an editor and the public. Also, the dude lost his jaw about three years ago, endured all kinds of horrific surgery, and now can't talk or eat properly, yet trudges on doing his thing writing great reviews and eloquent columns and still knows how to rip apart a movie when it comes down to it, which is when he is at his best as a writer, I think.

Your movie sucks.

All of that said, I think he's wrong. Now, I know this whole "are games art" thing has become this huge debate and, frankly, I'm in the school of people who don't understand why there's a debate at all.
Virtually every traditional aspect of traditional art as we know is somehow represented in a video game, from artists making the textures and skins and graphics, to people being employed to write the game's story and dialogue, to even more traditional forms of art like sculpture being used as part of the development process. Games ARE art. There is no question of this at all. They are a creative endeavor that, despite their focus on being interactive and being financially successful, fits all of the established criteria for being art.
So, on that point, I think Ebert is far too quick to dismiss video games.
Maybe a lot of people who didn't grow up video games think it's just a lot of people getting online, calling each other names, and living out revenge/murder fantasies for a few hours every night before crying themselves to sleep. And, frankly, I don't blame them since the media has largely portrayed games and gamers as...unstable at best. This is changing, obviously. Culture is evolving and accepting games as something other than just Mario jumping over those damn turtles because now it's everywhere. Even "mature" adults who might be managers and business professionals are playing games in the form of casual titles on their iPods or Blackberries or whatever. Video games are part of culture now, at least in first-world countries, and it's really inescapable that it's presence sort of irks people who never "got" games and never played them and always felt left out of it. Such is the way of a new generation of technology. Now of course, you may not think Bejeweled has much artistic merit compared to, say, Shadow of the Colossus, but it's still art on some level. I mean, your box of Super Oatmeal Crunchy Thingies that you eat every morning might not be exciting and might be a generic, shallow piece of commercial product, but it still took a rote, technical level of "art" to make that box and design it so that the product could be put out there. Doesn't mean it deserves a place in the Smithsonian, but it's better to debate the merits of it than to just dismiss it outright as something that doesn't effect our cultural realm as "art."


Admittedly, I'm surprised that someone like Ebert who has sat through countless brilliant works of movie art (as well as countless stinkers) wouldn't really see this. It almost shocks me. But, I respect his opinion more so than, say, that Newsweek writer Jack Kroll who, a few years back, wrote a similar column about games only he decided to take the route of trashing games and gamers and fueling the impression that games are for unhinged lunatic peoples. (well, maybe they SORT OF are, I mean look at the comments on my last blog.) Now I realize that a lot of people who take the "games can't be art" position argue that art is an expression of creativity that is guided by the artist for the sake of the art, whereas games are designed with users in mind and the tastes of an audience and are basically about making money on some level. This is true, I will admit, but I don't think these factors instantly nullify games from being an artistic project. Obviously there are cynical cash grab games farted out for no reason but advertising, but certainly that doesn't paint the entire realm of games.
Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this and, ultimately, when it all comes to an end, what makes a video game "art" is the perception of those that play it. The people who feel something when they're engaged in it. Who see beauty and hidden detail and feel emotion over it. That connection that is only there between the player and work itself. In a way, I wish everyone could find that experience for themselves. especially the Roger Eberts of the world.

So way back in 1988 (has it really been that long?), little ol' me was very excited to be playing the soon-to-be-masterpiece of vegetable-pulling action, Super Mario Bros. 2. Yes, I know it was actually Doki Doki Panic rethemed to be a Mario game BUT I DON'T CARE IT WILL ALWAYS BE THE REAL MARIO 2 TO ME SO BACK OFF!!

Oh hey, let's Google Image search for Mario 2 screensho...WHHAAAAAA AHHHHHH!!!

Anyway, the game was great fun, probably one of the best platformers of the era and it holds up really well, even today. The whole different characters angle was pretty cool too in that who you picked to play effected how well you ran and jumped and such. Personally, I was a Toad man myself. He ran the fastest and pulled vegetables the best. Of course, he himself WAS a vegetable, so I'm curious how he felt about ripping his vegetable brethren from out of the ground and tossing them at enemies, to and fro.
Now, if you've never played SMB2, you have to understand that it was designed, in all likelihood, by developers who were dropping acid. I mean, you're moving around in a dream world with ShyGuys and veggie throwing and a giant, weird bird thing that is dressed like a girl but is supposed to be a boy, the main villain is a giant frog in a king's cloak, there's snakes and walking cactuses and.....or wait, was that the time I smoked some weed out in the desert with my friends and we all woke up naked, buried up to our chests in sand with painted nipples? Huh..nevermind.

Yeah, so it's a pretty trippy game.

Flying carpets, ninjas, and cherries. what is this I don't even

Back in those days, Nintendo Power basically had an ALL SPOILERS POLICY and pretty much any game they did an article about had most of the secrets, details, level maps, and even game endings all laid out and explained to you before the cartridge was even in your sweaty little hand. As a result, beating the game wasn't really all that hard since most of the major warps were revealed, as well as boss tips and all sorts of stuff, so I got pretty good at speed-running through the game and, maybe out of the fact we didn't have Tivos and iPods and Twitters I beat the game a few times a week just for fun.

One day while I was home alone I was doing my thing with Mario 2, going so far as to even use Luigi's goofy ass to complete a few levels just to make things a little different, and I made it to the wonderful ending.


Feeling pretty proud of myself, I did what most people do when they feel very proud of themselves...I went to the bathroom. I left on the NES with the ending playing and basically the music just loops endlessly after the point where the above video ends. In fact, there was no way to get back to the menu without resetting the console. (HELL YEAH OLD SKOOL) So I left it on, went to take a tinkle and as I went to come back out, the knob to the bathroom door literally fell off in my hand as I went to open it. I desperately tried to figure out a way to put it back on and get the door open, but no....it wasn't working. I tried jamming something in there to somehow engage the lock, but you don't really have a lot of tools and options handy in the bathroom. So...I was stuck. In the bathroom. With the console looping the ending of SMB2. Endlessly. I panicked a little but eventually realized my mom would be home at some point and let me out, so I tried to just relax and enjoy the pleasant and inviting atmosphere of the bathroom. Eventually she did come home about 20-25 minutes later, but for that 25 minutes I had to listen to that end theme. Continuously. Forever. Coming from the living room.
(at this point, you must now replay the above video 10 or 12 times to get the general feel for what this was like)

I think that was the last time I played SMB2.

It was also the last time I was trapped in a bathroom. So far, anyway.

1:43 PM on 04.23.2010

So I haven't written anything here in long enough that I feel bad about it in a weird, karmic way which means that I struggle with the guilt every day.
In all seriousness, I've been lazy in not updating, not that there are hordes of people out there waiting with baited breath for my next blog post (or maybe they are). On the video games front, I am still playing Just Cause 2 because I like it and also it is HUGE. Now, I know at this point people have heard all about how JC2 is really, really big and they shrug it of and kind are sick of hearing about it, but seriously....IT'S HUGE. It's like it was made specifically for the kind of people who get 100% in every game they play, so they figured they'd screw with them and be like "Well, you CAN get 100% but you'll basically have to cut away your life and family and hole yourself up in your living room for the next DECADE TO DO SO."
Am I going for 100%? Probably not. I want to complete a lot of stuff and maybe go get all the pick up, but I will admit that the game's biggest problem is that it escalates a little too fast and maybe doesn't have as much stuff to do as it should. If you dick around enough, you'll easily get the best weapons and vehicles, and those really aren't even good enough to make things THAT much more exciting. Although it does give you some interesting options.

But enough about that.

Yesterday I tried the demo for Puzzle Chronicles which, for some reason I mistook as being the actual sequel to Puzzle Quest (which it isn't). PROTIP: Puzzle Chronicles is pretty horrible. Ok, maybe not horrible, but not great. It tries very hard to be Puzzle Quest, but the central puzzle gameplay is weak to say the least. Basically you play Tetris only sideways and only with 3-segment pieces and the idea is touch groups of one color brick(any size or shape) with other special symbols of the same color in order to cause damage and charge powers. In other words, it's SORT OF like Puzzle Quest, but not as eloquent or well thought out. And if the gameplay really doesn't grab you, nothing else here will.

Gotta go for now.

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo announced that, starting in May, all games published on their respective systems will have to be either be sequels or imply that they are sequels.
An anonymous spokesman for Microsoft said, "When a customer sees a video game that is a sequel but they never saw or played the original, they assume that there must have been a popular and well received first game, so it goes a long way to establishing the credibility of that title as a 'must buy.'" This new policy means that all titles, even completely original IPs must be marketed as the second game in a series, and even third, fourth, or fifth games in an already established series must now also be marketed as sequels.
"I think it's confusing.", one gamer said. "I mean, there's a new Mario Bros. game coming out in a few months and now it's called 'Super Mario Bros. 2?' But there already WAS a Super Mario Bros. 2!"
Another anonymous gamer said "I think it's a great idea because it makes sure that everyone is able to follow the story and everyone is going to be in the same place. I mean, maybe everyone didn't play Bioshock 2...but now, when Bioshock 2 comes out a few years from now, they won't feel as confused or left out."

This new policy radically changes the landscape for upcoming major games for 2011-2014 on all three major systems, with gamers now looking forwards to a number of continuing sequels like:

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Final Fantasy 2
Pokemon 2
God of War 2
Prince of Persia 2
Tiger Woods Championship Golf 2
Mario Paint 2
Madden 2
Halo 2

And a number of new franchises like:

Cat-Man 2
Dr. Bloomberg's Amazing Squash Adventure 2
SewerWars 2
She's Pregnant! The Game! 2
Dark Darkness 2
Librarian 2
Boy, I Sure Am Drunk! The Movie: The Game: The Expansion 2

More on this story as it develops...