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4:27 PM on 04.17.2008

Quick Look: TrackMania Nations Forever

I spent yesterday home sick from work, and had still not yet picked up a copy of Gran Turismo Prologue. This could have made for a dull day indeed. The I remembered, a much less hyped, or heralded, or realistic racer was available to sate my need for speed.

TrackMania Nations Forever was available for download, free of charge for your windows PC. If you are unfamiliar with the TrackMania series, I suggest you take a look below:


As you can probably already gather, this game is not about realism. It's not about car damage physics. It's not about having an opportunity to 'drive' cars that you or I will never be able to afford in real life.

What it is about, is simple unadulterated fun. (Remember when games were all about the fun?)

So after a relatively painless download and install procedure (which is even less painless the faster your connection - I'm stuck with 1.5Mbps DSL), I fired it up.

If you have played any of the previous TM games before, you'll have little problem jumping right in. My last time playing was with the original TM Nations a few years ago, and it was like the proverbial bicycle riding - once you learn, you never forget. Create an online account, log in, and choose single player or online. If you're new to the game I'd at least try a few of the singleplayer maps just to get a feel for how TM 'works'. Once you get the hang of control, which can be handled via Keyboard, or joystick/gamepad, I highly recommend jumping into the online racing. There is a ranking system for TMNF's single and multiplayer modes, but I have to confess I haven't paid much attention to there intricacies.

Courses in TM basically boil down to 2 types: Point-to-Point, and circuits. The fun of the game really comes into play in that Reality is not a consideration. These are the racetracks you fantasized about building with your old Hotwheels cars. Insane Loops, ramps, and obstacle courses that happily ignore realistic physics and safety standards. Your mission is simple complete the course in the quickest possible time, while making sure to pass all checkpoints on the course. The game also ships with a course editor, so you can try your hand at tormenting your fellow racers if you are so inclined. When playing online, you'll find that most servers a running custom courses which definitely helps to keep the game fresh.

The part that you will either love or hate is how multiplayer is handled. Essentially, a track is loaded, and a time limit for that round is set. Your goal is to clock your best time before time expires. With some tracks you'll have the opportunity to take multiple tries, on others, you'll be lucky to finish the course completely. You can view other racers on the course, but they don't actually have any effect on you. You are all essentially racing against the clock. While the notion of being able to drive right through one of your competitors without will no doubt bother some, it does offer up several advantages when considering online play:
1. Lag is irrelevant. It can make for some odd visuals with how competitor cars are seen on the track, but otherwise your net connection won't lose you a race.
2. It's pretty difficult to be a griefer when you can't smash other people off the road just to be a dick.
Races are generally only a few minutes long, and the variety of courses I encountered on just a handful of servers in a few hours of play was quite good.

TMNF is certainly not going to supplant the Gran Turismos of the world, but if you like your racing a little - actually A LOT more arcade-like, or just want a change of pace from the norm, you could do a lot worse than to grab TMNF - the price is right. You can get it from the TrackMania Website   read

9:36 PM on 03.24.2008

Backstory to My C-Blog Title...

...or: How I Misspent My Youth.
(My Entry for RetRose Tinted: Corrective Lenses Competition)

When I hear people talk about their childhood relationships with their parents, at least when they talk about the "good times", I tend to see the following themes repeated:

-The Family Vacations - Beaches, Lakeside Camping Trips, Family Reunions, or Occasionally a once-in-a-lifetime trip to some exotic locale, that precipitates some serious bonding and learning the value of family.

-Helping Dad fix the family truckster, or some other technical endeavor. Learning the intricacies of internal combustion engines, or the ins and outs of TV repair, maybe some Ham-Radio goodness.

-Playing a game of catch, or having Dear old Dad coach the little league team, and all the lessons that come with the joys of competitive sport.

You know, that All-American apple-pie kind of thing.

I don't have any of that. Our family vacations consisted of 2 weeks each summer driving from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, and traipsing around the eastern part of that sate from Milwaukee to Oshkosh visiting my Mom's family. They're all great folks, but for a kid from the city, pulling weeds with your cousins in their family "Garden", is not the stuff of great vacations. And as far as technical ability - my father possesses none. Fixing the family truckster was left to professionals, and the man is a technophobe. He didn't even learn how to program a VCR until 1993, when my parents moved to another time zone, and I could no longer be counted on to take care of such complex tasks. Sports were a thing to be watched, not engaged in, and as a short, skinny, nerd growing up, I had no qualms with that assessment.

No my dad and I certainly didn't have the stereotypical relationship. Not by a damn sight. By today's standards, my old man did things in a decidedly nontraditional fashion. And I'll never stop thanking him for it.

My dad made made a living as a Salesman. Fortunately not the door-to-door type, but nothing too glamorous either. He sold Vending machine services. For reasons, that I'm not entirely clear on, or rather, I never questioned him on, many a Saturday afternoon was spent in various Pittsburgh area watering holes socializing with business associates. Many other Saturday afternoons were also spent socializing with old acquaintances. And still more Saturday afternoons were spent going out for a drink. Amazingly, I was often along for the ride. Now before, you get concerned about how this is going to turn into one of those "I had to call my mom to come and get me and my drunk ass dad home from the bar" stories, relax. Dad was pretty controlled in his imbibing, and there was never a scary moment. And before you get all worried about taking a 10-12 year old to a bar in the first place (You wouldn't, I know - this is Destructoid after all), I'd just like to mention the valuable lessons I learned in these frequent trips to the Steel city's finest dive bars:

1. Drinking to excess aint pretty. I never so much as touched a drop of alcohol until I was 22. Seeing men your father's age and older obliterated at 1 in the afternoon, will put you off drinking for a loooong time.
2. Dive bars make the best hamburgers. This is fact. Please do not try and debate me on it.
3. Dive bars of the late 70's and early 80's in Pittsburgh always had at least one each of the following: Pinball machine, Video Game, Video Poker Machine.

With these above points made, maybe now the picture is getting clearer. A Saturday afternoon, hanging out with my dad, a gloriously prepared Bar-burger, a plate of fries, a cold coke (in a Glass!), and a stack of quarters made for some great times. I can remember PLying my first Vector Game at the Castle Tavern - Rip Off, not asteroids. Discovering the pure visceral joy that can only be had while grasping the sides of a pinball machine - Gorgar (first talking Pin), as well as getting copious amounts of Play on now classics like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Berzerk, and countless others, all while my dad watched and cheered on every new high score. Never once did I think "I'd rather be playing catch"

It never occurred to me that these places should be off-limits to me, after all I was always there with my father, and he always seemed to know every bar-maid, waitress or tavern owner, like they were old friends. As far as I was concerned, I was having a great time with my dad. I think I spent a lot more Saturdays hanging out with my Father than my friends spent with theirs. Who needs a vacation to make memories?

Pittsburgh had it's share of arcades, and as I hit my early teens, and was more able to travel to them unattended, I spent more and more time in them. But when I look back at my love of video games, I always go back to the bar. And "My Misspent Youth".

Thanks Dad.   read

7:52 PM on 03.03.2008

And the gamers who play them: Old School Arcade Games

I could have taken this opportunity to rail on a gamer demographic that I have little first-hand knowledge of, like MMORPGs, or perhaps tried to delve into an oft-discussed genre like Casual Games, and just tired to push some buttons and get a nice flamewar going on this my inagural cBlog post.

That, however, would be the weak-sauce.

Instead, I'll wear my gamer heart on my sleeve, and write about something I actually might know something about. Specifically, that which was the inspiration for my cBlog name: Arcade games from the late 70's to the mid 80's.

I'm no curmudgeon by any means, and I'm not here to tell you how "It was so much better when I was a kid", or any other such nonsense. I'm not going to suggest that your money is wasted on modern consoles, when you could just stick to the classics, blah, blah, blah. But if look at the "Old School", as a bunch of 30 or 40-somethings trying to relive the glory of their youth with overly simple games, with lame sound effects and crappy graphics, then I will have to rebut your misconceptions. Because if you haven't experienced the joy of Tempest with it's Neon-Vector graphic delights, or experienced the visceral joy that is Centipede played with a trackball, or sat down at that aging Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table machine in your local pizzeria and dropped a few quarters in, you really are missing out on something good. Not necessarily better, but definitely as good, but for different reasons.

As much as I love modern video games (PC, PS3, and Wii are the current rigs in my lineup), with their more complex control schemes, great depth of play, and visual and aural overload, the best of the classics still shine when compared to the latest and the greatest. Recent releases like Geometry Wars, Everyday Shooter, N+, as well as graphical updates to old arcade classics, demonstrate that their is demand for this simpler, bare-bones type of game play. I'm not here to make a case for a business model though. I'm here to tell you to play some classic arcade games, and understand why it is so many of us who have been gaming since the 70's still find ourselves drawn to the past. With the ready availability of arcade classic releases on various consoles, as well as emulators for a more "authentic" experience, there's no reason you shouldn't take trip back in time, back to when the arcade experience was what the home gaming market was constantly trying to match - and failing to do so.

While the Old School Arcade gamer can get called out for living in the past, or preferring to stick to games they can actually beat, or just being grumpy old farts, the truth is that most of us just like to play good games.   read

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