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Rational Animal's blog

8:45 AM on 03.30.2009

Standing Up for Gaming (Warning: Misleading Title)

Some of my earliest memories as a child involve me standing in front of a 14" CRT television in my parents' bedroom, playing Nintendo until my thumbs could take no more abuse. I've chosen my words carefully in the preceding sentence. Despite the presence of both an awesome flip-chair and a leather beanbag chair in the room with me (both circa 1987 and, thus, truly radical), I was perpetually standing in front of that screen. You see, as a child, I had a complete and utter inability to play video games while sitting down. I have since outgrown the behavior, but I've never quite come to terms with why I did it in the first place. I don't know if I felt that it took me out of the action too much if I sat down, or if I just felt my seating options were not suitable, but what I do know is that it made for some memorable (read: awful) experiences.

As many of you will recall, during the early console era, the lack of a save game option in many titles was often overcome by a password-based level unlock. This led to countless hours of debate as to whether or not the barely legible character scribbled on the back of the manual or that nearby napkin was a numerical 0 or a capital O, but I digress. However, there were many titles that made no such effort to help you make it through to the end of the game by spreading things out over multiple sittings. These were the titles that required a dozen or more consecutive hours of gameplay to defeat.

While I could go on for hours about times when this combination of idiosyncratic behavior and mid 80's technology led to considerable pain in my developing joints, there was one game in particular that punished me like a Catholic nun for my quirky behavior. That game was Godzilla: Monster of Monsters for the NES.

First of all, the game was and is awful. Every stage on every level was nearly identical and there were about 50 million stages. It was unbearably repetitive and you were essentially forced to defeat every level twice: once as the awesome Godzilla and then once as the completely worthless Mothra. Your means of attack, particularly with Mothra, were laughable. Both characters were capable of a standard attack and a special attack, which had to periodically recharge. Just to give you a sense of how bad the game was, Mothra's special attack was to molt on her enemies (seriously). You flew directly over top of them and shed portions of your wings onto their heads.

Even Godzilla can not contain his laughter at Mothra's molting attack and the terrible level design.

Anyway, by my recollection, I spent roughly 14 hours or so, on my feet, defeating this game one Saturday as a kid. I recall being sore for several days thereafter. So why am I sharing this oddball anecdote? I have actually met more than one adult gamer who is still stricken by this compulsion to stand while playing, even in situations where comfy seating is readily available. While I outgrew it, I get the sense that this is actually a more widespread behavior than most people realize/acknowledge. Any Dtoiders out there who feel the need to stand up for gaming?   read

1:16 PM on 12.12.2008

Love Video Games? Love Sushi?!? Look What Happens When They Have Babies...

For those of you out there who enjoy both video games and sushi, Anna The Red's Bento Factory has something for you.

As many of you may know, bento boxes are multi-item meals served in a box at Japanese restaurants and are sometimes presented in very artistic ways. Well, Anna (probably not her real name) took it one step further and made several amazing bento boxes with various game-related themes. Take a look if you get a second (the recent postings section links to several of them). She is immensely talented.   read

11:23 AM on 11.24.2008

Cheap Xbox 360 Games at the Amazon Gold Box

For those of you who like buying your games new, but don't like paying full-price, I have good news. Amazon, through it's Gold Box daily special/Lightning Deals, is offering you two games on the cheap.

You can buy Midnight Club: LA any time today for $40 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for $30, but the latter deal expires in about a half an hour, so hurry if you are interested. Both titles are for the Xbox 360.

Click here or go to and click the golden box-like icon at the top of the page to get in on the offers.   read

9:07 AM on 11.21.2008

Novint Falcon Pistol Grip/Orange Box Bundle Now Available

For those of you like myself who are familiar with the Novint Falcon, a dynamic haptics-driven peripheral that debuted at the CES a couple of years ago, today is a big day. The much-anticipated Orange Box Bundle has arrived. I signed up to reserve the bundle a few months ago and was notified today that it is now available for purchase. For those of you who are unfamiliar, you can see the device in action here.

The bundle comes with the following:

A must-have bundle for every FPS enthusiast, the Novint Falcon Pistol Grip Bundle takes gaming to the next level with our 3D Touch technology that lets you feel realistic weapon recoil and force feedback for truly immersive game play. The bundle includes:

* 1 award-winning Novint Falcon (black)
* 1 highly-anticipated Falcon Pistol Grip
* Penumbra:Overture (first person action-adventure/horror)
* Talon Special Ops (FPS)
* All of our free downloadable FPS mods, including:
o Haptics-Life 2
o Haptics-Life 2 Episode One
o Quake 4 HaptX mod
o F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R Combat (multiplvayer)
o Crysis
o Prey
* And your choice of one game from the following list: The Orange Box (when available), Aquatreous, Butter Bean, Cave Brain, Cell Blast, Chicken Hunter Buck Shot, Chicken Hunter: Birds of a Feather, Chicken Hunter: Chicken a la Kart, Chicken Hunter: Fowllywood, Chicken Hunter: Raiders of the Lost Whatsit, Chicken Hunter: Retro, Chicken Hunter: The Temple of SingSong, Crystal Quest, Feelin’ It: Arcade Roller, Feelin’ It: Arctic Stud Poker Run, Feelin’ It: Virtual Pool 3, Force Fighter, Gish, Impulse Thruster, Klectit, Mo the Mole, Newton’s Monkey Math, Snowbear, The Feel of Steel, Tobbit or XLR8.

Follow this link to get your FPS on with full force feedback. Also, alliteration FTW.

(Full disclosure: I own shares of Novint stock (NVNT.OB))   read

11:22 AM on 11.19.2008

Creative Director of New Tomb Raider Claims Lara Croft Has a Personality; Gamers Remain Unconvinced

Eric Lindstrom, the Creative Director of the upcoming Tomb Raider: Underworld game, wrote a blog entry over at EDGE Online detailing the inner workings of Lara Croft's carefully crafted persona. I laud his effort at deconstructing such a complex, multi-dimensional character. I would point out gems such as the following:

"But the character was never a traditional vixen bimbo kind of character and it’s been very important for us to reinforce that."


"One of the things that I don’t hear about so much, but is very important to us internally, is that she never, ever appears to be aware of her own sex appeal, that she never uses it as a tool or a weapon in any situation."

Okay, on the one hand I kind of see what he's going for here in trying to maker her look a little less like a pair of polygonal tits floating from one jump puzzle to the next, and more like an icon of strong, independent femininity. On the other hand, Lara Croft is one of the most disproportioned embodiments of typical male fantasy to ever grace the video game arena. I'm not saying it isn't important to see her as more than that, but the article comes across as very dishonest to me and doesn't even mention the fact that she is basically fanfic fodder to the maximum. What do you guys think?

Check out the blog entry here.   read

8:32 AM on 11.19.2008

A Time to Build: The Ultimate X-COM Squadron

For starters, I'd guess that by and large people have either never heard of the X-COM series, have been bludgeoned over the head about its awesomeness by rabid fans, or are one of said fans. It suffices to say I am in the latter group. While the other entries into the series were remarkable in their own right, only the original, X-COM: UFO Defense, has a special place in my heart.

I have had a decade-plus long love affair with this game, which began when I bought a copy of it's European counterpart, UFO: Enemy Unknown, at a computer show (any other old-heads remember those!?) for around ten bucks. To be clear, the titles are different, but they are the same game. It was sometime in the early 90's and I didn't hold out much hope for my purchase, but my Dad was being chintzy with my allowance that day and so this is what I ended up with...

This was perhaps the best money I have ever spent on a gaming purchase, as I pretty much played the game until it exploded. The utterly insane level of personnel and supply management, combined with the tactical, if sometimes frustrating, turn-based gameplay make for an unparalleled experience. Having said all that, let me address some of the specifics of the game and how it pertains to this month's theme.

For those of you who aren't familiar, you play as the head of a multi-national organization that has been created to ward off the escalating threat of alien involvement in Earth affairs. You begin with a meager budget and must first build a central base, complete with labs, living quarters, storage facilities, satellite arrays and a variety of evolving surface to air defense systems. You can build additional bases as the game progresses and, just to share a bit of strategy, this generally involves placing them in the countries that are footing the bill for your little operation. From these bases you manage inventory, research, manufacturing and personnel, as you launch various assaults on alien targets around the globe.

In order to grow your operation, you must be an efficient, turn-based killer in your ground assaults against the aliens, as well as a fiscally sound CFO when micro-managing the group's operations. This game doesn't simply give you the resources you need to create an alien extermination squad to rival the dudes in Predator, you have to earn them, slowly and painstakingly.

Initially, your squad has a bunch of sand in their vaginas. For instance, you have to deal with the wussy human weapons, whose effectiveness (except for the auto-cannon) is more or less equivalent to firing a BB gun at a polar bear. However, as your research progresses, the arsenal grows in kind. First lasers that are developed in-house, then you start co-opting all the alien's gear, and finally you end up with a crew that is utterly badass. This includes such badassery as a flying suit of armor, heavy plasma weaponry, and the alien grenade, the latter of which I estimate could level a city block.

Your research continues as you continue to fight off the growing alien hordes, which now include more and more dangerous species. You learn about the aliens plot to probe our lifeforms, infiltrate our governments and, ultimately, their devious plot to takeover the world from their Martian base. Meanwhile, you steal their technology (UFOs, craft and base weaponry), their corpses (for research), and, presumably, their dignity (via interrogations that almost certainly involve waterboarding). This results in your amassing a wealth of knowledge and equipment. Your squad takes a form the world and those alien bastards have never seen and grows to epic proportions.

There is this amazing sense of satisfaction you receive from rolling 24 deep in an alien spacecraft, with each of your crew strapped with flying suits, heavy plasma, and alien grenades, topped off by a commanding officer who can literally command the bad guys to march in front of him before he blows their head to pieces with super-heated electrons. I imagine the sense of accomplishment is akin to birthing a child, but it's probably nothing like that.

In closing, building the ultimate X-COM squadron is a fantastic exercise and one that I go through on at least an annual basis. For those of you who enjoy building a team and micro-managing many elements of its progress, this a great game to try. It is retro and it is tough to run on new machines (you need DOS Box), but trust me when I say it's worth it.   read

1:11 PM on 11.10.2008

Gene Simmons AXE Guitar: Prepare for Imitators

Ars Technica picked up on this story about a Gene Simmons branded guitar that has been made available by a small, third-party peripheral designer named Hipstreet. This is the first of their product offerings that has caught my eye and my gut reaction is one of conflict.

On the one hand, I'm quite impressed by this particular piece of hardware. On the other hand, the big problem for me is that I suspect it might represent the beginning of a trend that could lead to a glut of cheesy branded/licensed instruments. As far as I can tell, just about everyone involved with rhythm games (except Harmonix) at this point is looking to milk this thing until the udders are dry and this just might be another avenue for that to take place. The era of cheap plastic instruments has begun and it will consume your wallet.   read

9:38 AM on 11.10.2008

Shari Redstone is out at Midway

I won't belabor this point, but I haven't seen this anywhere else on the site. I imagine some of you still have fond memories of when Midway was a decent publisher and would like to see them return to glory.

Anyway, Shari Redstone, daughter of famed media mogul Sumner Redstone, has resigned from her board seat at Midway (she was the chairwoman). The Redstone family plays a role in a number of different ventures, but the tie that binds it all together is their holding company National Amusements, which controls their ownership interests in CBS & Viacom and also operates a chain of movie theaters around the U.S. Recently, National Amusements has had some much-publicized difficulties regarding maintaining compliance with its debt covenants, which forced it to sell millions of shares of both CBS and Viacom. Some are speculating that taken in conjunction with the previous events, this resignation is perhaps the first step towards an eventual sale of Midway, who is desperately struggling and recently had to beg its parent for money to make it through the holiday season. In this M&A market, I can't imagine the company would fetch much of a price tag. This may be the beginning of the end for Midway.


6:47 PM on 11.05.2008

A Worthy Feature in the PS3 2.52 Firmware

While I'm not convinced about the overall necessity of the latest PS3 firmware, I did happen to find one seemingly useful feature in the update history:

"You now have an option to set the PS3â„¢ system to turn off automatically after a background download or installation of content has completed. This option is available when you turn off the system under [Users] > [Turn Off System] while content is being downloaded or installed."

While this might not matter to some of you, people such as myself (i.e., those with a relatively slow connection speed) are often forced to download things overnight if they are of substantial size. Likewise, people such as myself have to pay for electricity. This will seemingly help me to do the former and help limit my exposure to the latter.


2:46 PM on 10.24.2008

Watchmen Videogame: What to expect...

So I had contemplated posting a blog asking about the likelihood of a Watchmen videogame that would undoubtedly coincide with the upcoming release of the film, when it struck me that I better google it first, lest I be smacked by numerous, "Google is your friend" replies. Alas, I stumbled upon the following story over at

Now, my question becomes, what is to be expected of the title? Personally, I've never heard of the developer (Deadline Games) and I'm not familiar with the two titles referenced in the story (Chili Con Carnage and Total Overdose). What I am familiar with is the tremendous awesomeness of Watchmen, which I'm currently about 3/4ths of the way through. It's my first read-through and I have to say it is simply fantastic. I hope that neither the game nor the film will be disappointing. Judging by the trailer, the latter looks very promising.


4:05 PM on 10.20.2008

"Rip It Out of the Sky!": A Brief Word on Annoying AI Monologues

So I had a really full schedule of gaming this weekend and I managed to plow through a couple of titles on Saturday that had been lingering on my conscience (mostly due to being about 80% of the way through the both of them). The two titles at issue were Haze, a generic, if somewhat underrated FPS, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which I'm sure most of you are familiar with. I felt a great sense of accomplishment in finally beating the both of them, but was also met with an overwhelming sense of relief.

The relief came not from what you might expect, such as knowing that I would no longer have to suffer the nigh unbearable plot of Haze or the awful menu load times of SW: TFU. Instead, the source of my relief was the knowledge that I would never again have to listen to the idiotic AI grumblings of either game, each of which had moments of ENDLESSLY LOOPED audio that drove me to the brink of violent crime.

If I had to hear the phrase, "Rip it out of the sky!" or "Remember your promise to Merino!" one more time...well, I probably wouldn't have done anything, but I would have continued to think it was a dick move on the part of everyone involved.

Anyway, my question to you is: How do design elements like this get through QA? Are you telling me not a single person during testing had the balls to stand up and say, "Yo, that line is annoying as all hell." As a public service to fellow gamers, are there any other examples of said phenomenon that folks should know about?   read

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