Monday, October 31, 2011

Top 7 Games That Should Be Ported to Modern Consoles

If this piece looks familiar to you, you've got a good eye. I wrote this for GamePro, you can see the original post here. I took out GoldenEye since the HD version comes out this week. 

Feeling nostalgic for classic retro titles? You're not alone. Many gamers are clamoring to see their favorites ported to current-gen consoles. I caught the "retro game nostalgia" bug when I started reviewing the port of Soldier Blade, recently made available through PSN. To me, this aerial shooter is just as enjoyable now as it was back in 1992.
There are plenty of other great games out there that still haven't been ported to current-gen consoles. Many of them would be just as much fun to play today, especially if given basic multiplayer features, plus some Achievements or Trophies. Here are our recommendations.
1. Sunset Riders (Arcade/SNES/Sega Genesis, 1991)
Genre: Side scrolling shooter
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 80%
Red Dead Redemption proved that Westerns are an untapped genre in gaming. Sunset Riders, an addictive 4-player Contra-style arcade shooter that was in arcades before being ported to the SNES, isn’t nearly as authentic (when the cowboys in the game wear bright yellow or green pants or don a pink pancho, you just might be getting something more City Slickers than Unforgiven), but the chance to play with friends online or at home through the convenience of current consoles would be fantastic. 

2. NHL 94 (SNES/Sega CD, 1993)
Genre: Sports (Hockey)
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 65%
Truth be told, there’s no reason why every EA Sports game 10 years and older shouldn’t already be cleaned up and ported to consoles right now. They could make a killing selling just old downloadable Madden games alone. But even better, EA could put all their classic sports titles as downloads on Wiiware, PSN, XBLA and even the Nintendo 3DS store, sell them for $5 and make a mint. But, if there was only one EA Sports game allowed to grace today’s consoles, NHL 94 should be it. It introduced the keeping of records and the one-timer and knocking opponents into the bench, hats being thrown on the ice after a hat trick, the bright flash of the lamp after a goal, the organ music were all beautiful to see. Best. Sports game. Ever.
3. Blasto (PlayStation, 1998)
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 30%
It’s hard to make a funny video game. Just ask Jack Black. But it can be done and Blasto (picture in your mind a wise cracking Buzz Lightyear), a PS1 game from 1998, is proof that it can be done. The brilliant Phil Hartman, who died shortly after the game was released, voiced the titular character with hilarious one-liners that were wet-your-pants funny. Not that that ever happened to anyone I know.  

4. The Simpsons Arcade Game (Arcade/Commodore 64/PC 1991)
Genre: Beat’em Up
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 50%
The Simpsons and gaming go together about as well as Keith Olbermann and MSNBC (or ESPN, take your pick). You’d think a franchise as great as The Simpsons would translate well to video games but that’s not been the case. Instead of subjecting fans to one dud after another, Groening and Company should have stopped after its first – The Simpsons Arcade Game. You can still find these standup arcades in the wild (usually in a Chuck E Cheese) but playing it at home sans pizza stained kids, and the ability to play online with your friends would be much better.
5. Spy Hunter (Arcade/Commodore 64/Atari 2600, 1983)
Genre: Action Driving
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 30%
Let’s be honest, the poorly received PS2/Xbox title Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run game featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (51/100 on Metacritic) pretty much buried this franchise. Why not get it back on life support by releasing the original 1983 classic? An easy to play, yet tough to master driving game featuring a car with enough gadgets to make James Bond jealous (smoke screens, machine guns, missiles, oil slicks) and a great soundtrack (the Peter Gunn theme plays throughout) would be very attractive to gamers who enjoy driving games, yet are budget conscious.
6. Ironman Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road (Arcade/NES/SNES, 1989)
Genre: Racing
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 60%
Even after playing this game a thousand times I still don’t know who Ivan Stewart is. For all I know he’s the Tony Hawk of off-road racing. What I do know is that he lent his name to one hell of a racing game. This title made its way to the NES the SNES and a few other systems back in the day, but it is probably best known as a classic standup arcade racer. One of the first games to let players upgrade their vehicles and allowed for 4 drivers to compete against each other, Off-Road would be a perfect game to play with friends.
7. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox/Mac/PC, 2003)
Genre: Role Playing Game
Chances You’ll Ever Get to Download It: 50%
When most people hear the name Bioware, they typically think Mass Effect. Ahhhh, kids today. They know nothing of gaming history! Bioware cut its RPG loving teeth on one of the greatest games of all time, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The company doesn’t usually fool around with downloadable titles, but with KOTOR’s tenth anniversary coming up in 2013 and publishers and developers looking to cash in on gamer’s sense of nostalgia, maybe they’ll consider throwing fans a dialogue tree…er, I mean a bone.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 7 Running Diary

Another Wednesday, another night of Survivor: South Pacific. No long Jeff Probst advertisement or TV shows to recommend this week. Let's get to it!

7:04 - Whoa, this episode gets straight to business as this week's duel starts early. Could a merge happen already? Maybe. Catherine and Mikayla are about to go at it. I'm rooting for Mikayla but if it requires any kind of intellect, she's not going to make it. Maybe I'm being shallow, but I just don't think models are that bright. There's something about people who wear skimpy clothing in front of total strangers that screams "Low IQ", "I was abused as a child", or "I'll do anything for money".

7:06 - Christine looks like a German lady from Munich with her gray socks and sandals. I bet she makes a great schnitzel. I'm also certain that her middle name is Christine and her first name is actually Heidi and she cross country skis and plays an accordion in her spare time.

7:07 - And Christine wins in a surprisingly close competition. Mikayla, whose hotness has disappointingly slipped will now disappear into obscurity as just another pretty face in Survivor lore. In fact, I'm already starting to forget what she looks like. Aside from Pavarti and Amanda, has any attractive female Survivor ever made a lasting impression?

7:07-7:12 - If there's one thing CBS knows how to do it's pimp the hell out of themselves. I swear I just watched commercials for 27 CBS programs (20 of them were CSIs) during the break. I guess no one is buying ad time during Survivor anymore.

7:14 - Ozzy and Count Cochrane (tell me he doesn't look silly with his collar up like a 1980s Anthony Michael Hall) talk strategy and are considering the possibility of sending the Ozman into exile to knock out Christine and keep the numbers of each tribe even going into a merge. This could be the stupidest Survivor move I've ever heard of, right after Lexx trusting Boston Rob in Survivor All-Stars.

If I'm Ozzy I PRAY she wins out, that way I can swing her to me. Somebody had to have seen her flip her ex-tribemates off. Why would anyone think that someone who got voted out would want to go back to their own tribe?!!? If Coach said this, it would sort of be a clever play because Christine seems hell bent on revenge. But for Ozzy to propose this is flat out stupid.

7:15 - Panoramic shot of Coach praying to his "father". I GUARANTEE you he does this just for show. Oh wait, someone in editing just threw in an eagle cry. No freaking joke. When will we get a "Waa waa waa" for Brandon when he says something stupid?

7:17 - I have a problem with Coach leading his tribe on a useless search for an idol he already has. It's just poor form. If people want to look for it, fine. But to make up some prayer and BS to build up fake team unity just seems wrong.

7:19 - Odd tree mail exchange where Coach and Sophie learn about dressing up for the challenge and for some strange reason decide its time to announce that they have the idol, as if its community property. When, in the history of Survivor, has it ever been a good idea to let everyone know you have it? And naive Brandon believes God had something to so with it. I'd be shocked if he doesn't stab Coach in the neck during the reunion show for pulling the wool over his eyes in such a malicious way.

7:20 - Says Brandon, "Its definitely an advantage having the man upstairs on your tribe". Either he's talking about Mark Burnett or God. Sign #37 that Brandon is crazy, he believes God gives a crap about a reality TV show. I'm pretty sure he's got slightly bigger problems to work out - like fulfilling my request for an iPad 2 and a Gran Torino with a Starsky & Hutch paint job. Both those things are hard to find.

7:22 - Immunity/Reward Challenge! Shameless plug from some lame Adam Sandler movie. Looks like blindfolds are involved, which usually leads to some funny shots of people running into things. I don't really mind product placement in Survivor. In all honesty, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often.

Insert your own joke here. 

7:25 - Coach breaks into prayer during the challenge. He's turning into the Survivor version of Tim Tebow.

7:27 - And Coach's tribe wins, followed by Coach leading the tribe in a group prayer. Come on! I have to agree with what Sophie said earlier. All this religiousness by Coach rings completely hollow. When did he find Jesus? When he was searching for the hidden immunity idol?

7:29 - Ozzy melts down after being probed by Probst post challenge. He's pissed and is throwing the blame entirely on Cochran's shoulders. Probsts running commentary during the challenge didn't help, but it's hard to blame this all on Cochran. It's a pretty safe bet at this point that the whole "send Ozzy to Redemption Island to knock out Christine" plan is out the window. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

7:34 - Coach and his tribe at reward watching Adam Sandler's Jack & Jill. Sandler in drag AND Katie Holmes? No thank you. Maybe in 1999 I'd be interested but not now.

7:37 - Ozzy will not let go of putting all the blame on Cochrane and is coming off like a complete douche. Then, after talking everyone else into the idea, Ozzy proceeds to pump Cochran's ego up about how well he will do against Christine at Redemption.

WTF?!? How did we end up here?!? Granted, part of this is Cochran's own fault, he should have had enough backbone to stand up to Ozzy and called him out on his own idea for going into RI himself. Why take any crap from someone who has turned out to be emotionally unstable? That said, I have to give credit to the Ozster for completely messing with Cochrane's mind and avoiding ANY kind of blame or responsibility himself. It was somewhat clever how he pulled it off, albeit in a conniving, psychotic, I've-completely-lost-all-respect-for-you kind of way.

7:43 - Okay, Ozzy is clearly off his crazy pills. After having some weird dreams Ozzy shows everyone his idol and throws out the idea that HE should be the one to be sent to Redemption to knock Christine out. WHAT A FRICKIN IDIOT! Depending on how this turns out, Ozzy runs the risk of turning into the stupidest Survivor in history. It makes no sense to make this move. Ozzy has no game, lacks the ability to think strategically, and is just an overall crappy player. Either he wants to be the hero, or he wants everyone on his tribe (except Cochran) to show how badly they need him by not voting him out. If it was me? I'd send him to Redemption. This is a complete Drama King move. Give him what he thinks he wants.

7:47 - Tribal council time!

7:49 - Ozzy talks about his dream and proceeds to tell some convoluted story about why it completely makes sense for him to be voted out. Probst brilliantly counters with "Let me offer another argument. If you don't win the duel tomorrow, you go out a bigger fool than you did last time." This is why I love Jeff Probst. He throws stuff out there that the malnutritioned, sunbaked, slightly out of their minds contestants don't really think about. It's like he's talking to a bunch of drunk people who seriously think it's a good idea to jump off the fourth floor of a hotel balcony into the swimming pool below. You never, EVER, voluntarily ask to leave the game. Under any circumstances.

7:51 - Time to vote! I hope Ozzy goes, but I think his much more rational tribemates prevent it.

7:53 - And Ozzy gets voted out. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, STUPID.

Final Thoughts - Okay, let's examine Ozzy's move. At best, he defeats Christine, beats whoever else comes into Redemption (if anyone) and makes it back into the game with his tribe at a merge with even numbers. It turns into a fascinating plot point for this season but one that didn't necessarily have to happen because it's not clear that Christine would have gone back to her old tribe. In fact, it appears that she'd be more than ready to flip. Worst case scenario for Ozzy's tribe - Christine knocks out Ozzy, rejoins her tribe, Coach Jedi mind tricks her into joining his growing cult, and they wipe out Ozzy's old tribe. Worst case scenario that makes Ozzy look like a complete idiot - Christine knocks out Ozzy, joins his tribe because she hates Coach with a passion usually only reserved for ex-spouses, and she ends up losing to Cochrane in the final. Even in a best case scenario, this doesn't really turn out that well for Ozzy...Isn't it funny how over the course of the show how some people become MORE attractive? Dawn is looking cuter every episode. Just sayin!... Cochrane's luck is proof that sometimes all you have to do is be patient. People on this show constantly screw themselves over without any help from anyone else. Ozzy is the most recent obvious example.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Music Review - Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto

I've been defending Coldplay for years. My wife hates them, my daughter hates them, and many of my friends hate them. Not that this stops me from listening to their music or being a proud Coldplay fan. In fact, I kind of get a kick out of annoying people about my fifth favorite musical act (after The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Who, and U2). At a friend's BBQ a few years ago, which was full of opinionated music lovers, I made it a point to wear the one Coldplay shirt that I own. People were staring at my shirt like it had the words "F*** You!" on it. It was great!

I'm not exactly sure why, but the band is polarizing. As someone who appreciates Coldplay I don't really understand that but what do I care, it has never stopped me from enjoying their music. Until recently that is. It pains me to admit that when I heard the first three early released tracks from Mylo Xyloto (good luck figuring out how to pronounce that), I was very skeptical of the direction the band was taking. Unfortunately those songs proved prophetic, as this fifth album is easily Coldplay's most unbalanced, unfocused, and weakest offering to date. 

The theme of Mylo is hard to pinpoint as many tracks, taken as a whole, lack structure. There are several references to nature (water in particular with lots of tears, waterfalls and rivers getting shout outs) but also of destruction, mostly of the emotional variety. Independence and freedom pop up several times too, but there are also cautionary tales of distrust. Coldplay's lyrics have been known to be a bit convoluted. The band has made its mark more for the feeling its songs induce rather than saying word for word what people are thinking, but the album's lack of narrative seems to contradict itself. 

Yeah, I've been to a Coldplay concert. What of it?!!

Even the rhythm of the songs themselves are indecisive, as multiple tracks maintain a beat and cadence for 30 seconds to a minute and then change completely. Perhaps this is a nod to one of Coldplay's influences, such as The Beatles (other influences are evident too, "Major Minus" has U2 written all over it and "Hurts Like Heaven" has a Radiohead vibe), but it's overdone here. 

The band attempts to cross multiple genres with mixed results. From techno/club music, hard rock angst, mournful acoustics, to their standard piano driven pop, Coldplay tries to spread its wings in an attempt to keep from being pigeonholed. This may be a result of being one of the most unfairly criticized bands in the world, unable to keep haters and critics universally happy despite worldwide success. However, in Mylo Coldplay instead just comes across as having lost their way. 

In an effort to please everyone, it seems Coldplay has done something it could ill afford to do, disappoint their loyal base and disorient casual fans. While it does offer a few noteworthy songs, Mylo Xyloto falls flat, lacking the emotional power that is traditionally a hallmark of a Coldplay album. Parachutes had "Yellow", Rush of Blood to the Head had "Clocks", X&Y had "Fix You", and Viva la Vida had "Strawberry Swing". Each of the band's previous albums contained at least one song per album, out of many, that stood out. 

Considering that the best song on Mylo is the just okay "Paradise"and a close second is hard to find, this is an offering that will leave most Coldplay fans wishing. Wishing Gwneyth Paltrow dumps Chris Martin so the guy can get back the inner melancholy that made him so successful.   

Overall Score: 7/10

Songs on Mylo Xyloto you might enjoy - Charlie Brown, Hurts Like Heaven, Paradise, Princess of China 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 6 Running Diary

Another Wednesday, another episode of Survivor: South Pacific. Before we get to this week's rundown, I have a comment about Jeff Probst.

I love the Probster. As TV hosts go, he seems like a regular guy. He's not a pretty boy metrosexual like Ryan Seacrest and he's not some space cadet like TJ Lavin. The dude actually adds something to the show, which is one of the reasons why I wish tribal councils got more air time, or that they'd at least have the entire tribal on

My point is, if you'd really like to get the most out of Survivor, you need more Probst. Follow him on Twitter as he Tweets during the show, even check out his stuff on Tout. For some people it may be Survivor overload. I'm not recommending you read every Tweet and watch every Tout video, but it does give viewers who really want to get a peek behind the curtain a better peek.

Okay, enough slobbering on the guy in the blue shirt. Let's get this thing started.

7:01 - Back at the beach after tribal council and Ozzy is bent that Elyse got blindsided. Overly so. The man just isn't mature/smart enough for this game. Why announce yourself as a free agent, playing only for yourself? Why tell everyone you have the immunity idol? If you really wanted some payback, wouldn't it have been smarter to piss everybody off so badly that the entire tribe votes for you and then you play it and someone they want to keep gets tossed? Throwing the game away at this point is stupid. Ozzy couldn't look worse right now. Well, I guess if he speared Cochrane in the eye he could look a little worse.

7:05 - Denver Jim on Ozzy's tantrum last night, "the guy couldn't have made any worse moves than he did". Couldn't of said it better myself. He's now completely flipped things around in the worst way possible. With tribemates that are fed up with his cry baby act, Ozzy looks like the next one to go. Unless he sleeps with Cochrane. It's the only way he can make up for spearing him in the face.

7:08 - Brandon has a case of "deja vu" by finding a clue for the hidden immunity idol (that Coach already has) without a note from Probst. This guy misuses words worse than Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman combined!

7:11 - Arena time! Elyse vs Nancy Grace's twin sister, Christine. It's a game of Survivor shuffleboard. Gopher, Julie McCoy, and Capt. Stubing would be pleased.

7:13 - During the challenge Christine flips off her tribe while scratching her nose. What the hell is going on? Is this Survivor: South Pacific or Survivor: The Middle School Years? What's with all the bittermen and the sense of entitlement? This is a fracking game (yes, I watch WAY too much Battlestar Galactica)! Show some decorum, some tact, some class. When has acting like a spoiled brat ever gotten anyone their way? If it really was an effective tactic, I'd start throwing a fit every night when my wife didn't massage my feet. Mmm, maybe I should try that.

7:16 - And Elyse goes home. Christine has won 4 in a row. Yawn. I gotta say, this duel idea is really losing its luster. If there was some rotation in the winner, perhaps it would be more interesting. But with someone out of the game soooo long, I doubt any viewer believes someone can truly be out for an extended length of time and be successful. Like Matt last season, you'd be spending so much time catching up to people who have figured out the game that you are lost. My suggestion? Win three times in the arena and you're back in, but on the opposing tribe. That way you'd give a team with a numbers disadvantage some leverage.

7:21 - Coach calls Edna her "friend", "adorable" and says he "loves her" all in the span of 60 seconds. Coach's Asian chick fetish refuses to be denied. I wonder how far Edna will let it go. Will she pretend to love him like Katniss did with Peeta in The Hunger Games? Or will it even go farther than that? If Edna ever kisses Coach, I'll projectile vomit all over my laptop.

7:24 - Ozzy has calmed down. I guess they have Prozac in the Survivor med kit. He realizes he has nowhere to go, kneels down and kisses Keith's ring, and apologizes to the rest of his tribe. That's one of the things I love about this game, it is so humbling. Just when you think you're steering the ship (controlling the game), a shark (the rest of your tribe), jumps up and eats your first mate (the hot chick you aligned with whose vote you had in your pocket). Good stuff.

If Brandon saw more of the bikini clad Mikayla than the shorts
and tank top Mikayla would he keep her around or burn her at the stake?

7:28 - Immunity challenge/reward time. Pfft, it's just a coconut slingshot challenge. I have a setup just like it in my backyard.

7:31 - And Ozzy's tribe comes from behind and wins immunity and reward. Mikayla hurt her tribe by being stubborn and not using two hands during the slingshot portion of the challenge. Since she's been walking around in shorts and a tank top instead of a bikini in the last few episodes, I guess it's time for her to go.

7:38 - Ozzy's tribe enjoying the reward of food and a natural water slide. And all is right with the tribe. Isn't it amazing how some free time and some grub makes all the anger go away? That's something that I'm certain I underestimate (especially as I sit on my couch in front of my TV), just how much the living conditions effect your actions. Think about it. Imagine going without breakfast and lunch tomorrow. How irritable would you be? It's probably best that I'm not on Survivor. I'd likely turn into a lunatic. I'd end up making a fake coconut iPhone so I could "check" my email and get "online".

7:41 - Back at Coach's tribe and it looks like it's between Edna and Mikayla. Al, for some weird reason, wants Mikayla to stay while Coach is ready to see her go in favor of his Asian crush, Edna. This could be an ominous sign for Coach. If Al swings things his way, isn't he really the leader of the tribe?

7:44 - Funny quotes from this last segment - says Al,"If I had to do a Survivor draft and I have Mikayla and Edna standing next to one another it's a no brainer. I pick Mikayla 11 out of 10 times." Math is obviously not a baseball coaches strong suit.

Says Brandon, "I'm uneasy about Edna. She's too sweet not to be playing us." I get it, the old you're-too-nice-there-must-be-something-wrong-with-you logic. From a Hantz, this makes perfect sense. Yet again, Brandon proves he can be talked into anything. I can't wait until Mikayla and Brandon become BFFs three episodes from now and she talks him into suffocating Coach with his own buff.

7:46 - Interesting exchange between Al and Coach. Coach makes the case that Edna will do whatever he asks, that she's a loyal and solid 6. Al on the other hand brings up how she's a physical liability and that Edna knows she's the lowest on the totem pole and will flip the first chance she gets. I'm with Coach on this one. I'd go with loyalty over strength, which is always overrated in this game. And Al, don't you think Mikayla knows she's at the bottom of your tribe? And what's to say someone else in your "solid 5" won't flip anyway?  This brings us to Survivor Rule #8 - stick with who you trust.

7:49 - Tribal council time! The tribe is clearly divided. Al and Coach go back and forth, then Brandon climbs up Mt Pious, misuses about 4 different words and opens his pie hole to say something completely non-sensical. The dude is a walking contradiction.

7:51 - Time to vote. The Cowboy is the swing. Who gets their way - Coach or Al?

7:54 - And Mikayla gets the boot. The Cowboy (Rick) made the only play he could. If he's thinking long term, which he should be, he can really use this to his advantage. If he's savvy enough he could turn his strong six into a tight four, leaving Al and Sophie on the outside looking in.

Final thoughts - Is it just me or did Mikayla suddenly start to look very average? I thought she was supposed to be this season's babe. What gives?... Ozzy's meltdown shows what kind of guy he really is, which is overly emotional. It's sad that a guy that has now played the game 3 times can't separate the personal from the gameplay. I'm not saying there is never anything personal that happens in the game, but what happened to Elyse certainly doesn't qualify...Guess how old Sophie is. Go on, guess! 22! I feel bad for the girl because she looks to be at least in her mid-30s. It's sad when someone who is 41 (Dawn) is in better shape than someone half their age.

That's all for now. See you next week!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gaming's Most Misleading Cover Art

My pappy used to say, "You don't judge a book by its cover and get me another beer." I'm not sure why he always thought reading and drinking went hand-in-hand but I got the point. Not that it stopped me from drinking or book cover judging. 
In fact, not only have I been suckered into checking out a book just because of its cover, but I've also been fooled by cleverly designed movie posters, album covers, and of course, videogame box art.
While all packaging is meant to entice a consumer to purchase a product, videogames are the biggest offenders when it comes to misleading people because they tell the biggest lies. When I see an Asia album cover I understand that I'm not going to be hearing songs about giant sea monsters (although that would be cool), but when I see a well designed game cover I expect the graphics to be a little bit more like what I see on the box.  
Gaming is full of misrepresented covers, but the list of the most egregious deceivers has been pared down to the following five games. 

Tomb Raider (Sega Saturn, PlayStation) - Gaming fans have had a crush on Lara Croft ever since Tomb Raider first came out way back in 1996. Sadly her voluptuous figure on the series' first cover (left pic) didn't translate as well in the game. Instead of seeing a brunette Pamela Anderson, gamers were given a woman who looked like she was getting dressed for a guest appearance on Mad Men. Advances in graphics have made Lara much more curvy today, but it took awhile to get the in-game version to look like the box art model.

Combat (Atari 2600) - I like to call chocolate that comes in those heart shaped boxes you get on Valentine's Day "gamble chocolate". You just never know what kind of disgusting flavor you're biting into. Gaming has its own version of thisBack in the 80s stylized box art (like the kind above for the Atari 2600 game Combat) were the norm and misleading as hell, making buying a videogame a crapshoot. Sometimes you'd get lucky and find something fun, other times you'd end up with Combat or E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Grand Theft Auto series (Multiple Platforms) - One of the greatest franchises ever has had a hard time getting its in-game graphics to look even half as good as its artistic box covers and load screens. From CJ's bear claw hands in San Andreas to Claude's boxy silhouette in GTA III, gamers have been left wondering why the outside of the game looks so much different than what they're playing. Thankfully the gameplay in GTA titles is so excellent, nobody seems to mind too much. 

EverQuest (PC) - Think consoles are the only platform that can't deliver on the promise of a sexy box art cover? Oh no, PC gamers have to deal with this problem too. I've always had a fascination with EQ covers, they remind me of the Dungeons & Dragons module books I'd see at comic book stores when I was a kid. Sadly back in 1999 when EverQuest first came out, the mental images created by its box art couldn't match the actual game. 

Final Fantasy series (multiple platforms) - Gaming's biggest deceiver. There's nothing on any Final Fantasy cover, from FF1 to FF 59, that gives gamers a clue as to what they're getting themselves into. Throw in the misleading launch window commercials and its non-sensical (though very pretty) 2001 animated film and no franchise has done more to make gamers think it's one thing while delivering another. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 5 Running Diary

Brandon's favorite song? Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake.

Another Wednesday, another episode of Survivor: South Pacific! I'm looking forward to a shake up soon, hopefully this week. Before we get to this episode though, I do want to briefly talk about two other shows, one new and one old.

The old show I want to throw out there is Battlestar Galactica. Prior to this summer I'd never seen a single episode. I got in on Caprica first, which is ironic since it's a prequel that came out after BG ran its course. I loved the characters and the storyline, even though I already knew how things would turn out. I figured I'd give Galactica a try, despite my reluctance to do so when it first aired because I was concerned about how it would compare to the original show (yes, the cheesy 70s version but I grew up with it as a kid so I had a soft spot for it). Now I can't get enough. I watch it on Netflix streaming all the time and it is FANTASTIC. I'm seriously considering asking for a Blu-ray box set for Christmas. If you're a late comer like me, don't hesitate. Jump into Battlestar Galactica now.

The other show I'd like to recommend is Homefront on Showtime. It's the only new show out this fall that I feel is worth watching. It has a stellar cast. Damian Lewis, who was fantastic as Maj. Winters in Band of Brothers, is the male lead. Claire Danes, who I've previously only really liked in the third Terminator movie, really shines in her role as a CIA agent teetering on the edge. Best of all is Morena Baccarin. Most will remember her as Inara from Firefly or as Anna from V. In Homefront she's Lewis's wife who is conflicted about her husband's return. It's a great show with lots of intrigue. It's only two episodes in but I'm already hooked. I highly recommend it.

Okay, enough of that. Let's get to this week's Survivor episode.

7:01 - Recap from last week. Ugh, here's yet another shot of Brandon crying like his dog just died. He's getting on my nerves. If there are Survivor gods, they'll be sure he takes a coconut to the groin this week.

7:03 - Stacey and Christine are reunited and it feels so good. For them. For those of us at home, it's like watching two clucking hens. They talk at the same time and no one understands what they hell either of them are saying. Not that anybody cares what these two non-factors are blabbering about anyway.

7:05 - Winning this week's "Pot Calling the Kettle Black Award" is Brandon, whose Forrest Gump-esque IQ blurted out this gem - "Mikayla said that she didn't like that I was a Hance, which is pretty prejudiced. It shows she has very little class." This coming from a guy who has the word "loco" tattooed on his neck and is so threatened by attractive women that he wanted Mikayla voted off because he was afraid he'd rape her.

7:05 - And we have Brandon tears. Shocking. This guy cries more than a pregnant woman watching The Notebook.

7:07 - Time for today's duel in the arena! Stacey goes on an incoherent rant complete with eye rolls, zerberts, random hand gestures, and more non-sensical slang than I can keep track of. She's essentially the female Victor Borge. And yes, that could be the most vague pop culture reference I've ever made.

7:10 - And Stacey loses. Nancy Grace (Christine) lives to see another day. Sadly, the audience loses a chance to absorb more of Stacey's eloquence. How will we survive?!?

7:16 - Coach gets a post duel report from Albert about Stacey's tirade and seems overly bent. Dude, who cares? Let it roll. Instead he gets mad and is thinking too far ahead and is concerned about how this will affect him at a merge. Then, he proceeds to utter the words you never should under any circumstances, "could this day get any worse?". That's what we in the writing trade call Foreshadowing.

7:18 - Such an interesting scene just now. Cochrane (who looks like a red-headed Count Chocula with his collar popped up for some weird reason) carrying in an armful of wood while Ozzy and Elyse lie around and pump up each other's egos. Why is the wimpy ginger kid doing all the work while you two pretty people sleep in and sit on your asses? I feel a usurping coming on. USURPING! Or at least I hope one's coming.

7:20 - Back at Coach's tribe. Albert, walking around in his boxer briefs (it drives me nuts that the dudes on this show constantly walk around in their underwear) easily finds an immunity idol clue. I again implore Mark Burnett - hire me as your official immunity hider. I'll make it harder to find than a good David Spade movie. If a guy just walks by a tree and sees a clue, the dude you hired is not doing his job.

7:23 - Holy crap, Coach found the idol. To steal from a Simpson's episode, everything's coming up Coach. Now both he and Ozzy have immunity idols. I guess these two, unless one or both does something stupid or trusts someone they shouldn't (which is possible) aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

7:29 - After an ocean excursion with Keith and Cochrane, Ozzy walks on the beach with a handful of fish like a strutting Jim Morrison. I understand how important food must be in the game, but haven't we seen it before where the overconfident "provider" gets the boot? It's not like a spear is a complicated tool. With a little practice, even Elyse could figure out how to use it. Right now, Ozzy seems ripe for the plucking.

Elyse, you're not quite pretty enough to be riding the Attach Myself to the Cute Guy train.

7:31 - Immunity challenge time! The old roasted-pig-on-a-spit-grab-off-a-hunk-of-meat-with-your-face-place-it-in-a-basket-and-hope-you-have-the most-weight-torn-off chestnut. Besides seeing this on Survivor multiple times, I'm pretty sure this is some kind of Man vs Food challenge.

7:35 - Wow! Coach's tribe wins by 2 ounces. They get to take their collected meat with them. Which honestly, if I was on the island for 13 days, I'd eat right out of the basket. So what if there's spit on it?!? If I go 3 days without a hamburger I'm cranky. Twelve days without meat? I'd have probably started to eat my tribemates by then. I'd start with Brandon so I wouldn't have to deal with his crocodile tears.

7:43 - Back at Ozzy's tribe. Looks like it's between Cochrane (the underdog) vs Elyse (the lazy pretty girl). Denver Jim is playing both sides but needs to swing Keith. Can a hunky jock be swayed to go against his natural alliance with Ozzy? I don't see it, but if he did it could really turn the game around.

7:45 - Brilliant play by Denver Jim. He talks with Keith, but not about voting for Cochrane. His stance is that he's more about voting (sort of) against Ozzy by taking out his strongest ally, Elyse. He's specifically using the news Dawn brought back from the arena duel earlier in the show to illustrate his point. Well played sir, very well played.

7:47 - Now we're presented with our twist. Keith is paired with Whitney, complicating matters. A vote for Elyse would essentially switch their alliance leaving Ozzy on the outs. Which side do they choose? The smart play is to vote out Elyse, the loyal play is to vote out Cochrane. I think Cochrane goes because Keith and Whitney don't seem very smart.

7:48 - Tribal council time!

7:53 - Yes! Elyse goes. Keith and Whitney throw away their votes at Dawn (such a stupid move, I hate the old we-chose-not-to-decide-yet-still-we-made-a-choice vote, you're just as guilty as everyone else) and Denver Jim, Cochran, and Dawn vote Elyse out. See ya!

Final thoughts - Loved the preview for next week where it looks like Ozzy is pouting like a baby and throwing challenges. Way to throw the game "All Star". Elyse in her exit interview got on her high horse and talked about loyalty and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This is Survivor sweetheart, get over yourself. I can't stand when people get on Mt. Pious and start acting like bittermen. You were bested, you got overconfident and you received what everyone gets who doesn't keep their head on a swivel - decapitated. I love blindsides, they always turn the game on its ear. Hopefully we'll see even more action in the next episode.

See you all next week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Writer's Workshop Part 1 - How Does Writing Make You Feel?

Writing is an unusual thing. It's a form of art but also an important means of communication. Unfortunately, for many people trying to get a point across through the written word instead of verbally just doesn't come naturally. Some people will stare at a blank piece of paper or computer screen and have no idea what to do. 

I believe anyone can be a writer, at least on a basic level. Like any skill, it just requires a lot of practice and the ability to comprehend the process. To demystify writing, I'm going to be periodically putting up a series of posts called The Writer's Workshop. While I do write professionally, what I'll usually do is ask some friends of mine who put pen to parchment (or fingers to keyboard) for a living about the writing process through a question. This week's question is - how does writing make you feel?

This is a bit of a touchy-feely question to be sure, but one of the best ways to understand writing is to be in control of how you feel when you do it. I think some of the responses from the people I asked this question to will surprise you.

Joe Sinicki (Games Editor, Blast Magazine) - When I start to write, I feel like I'm schizophrenic in a way. I've got all of these ideas in my head and they often merge into a giant puddle of words and thoughts until I finally get a chance to sit down and let them spill out.

That being said, I kind of look at writing as a bit of a puzzle, and it's really rewarding to solve it -- ie, when I finish. But thats the thing, even when I step away from a piece, it never really feels finished.

Will Herring (Reviews Editor, GamePro) - Writing has always been very much about the words, for me, and the act of crafting sentences around them. There are few things more rewarding than discovering a word that perfectly sums up some wayward thought or emotion --  and one of those things is finding an opportunity to properly use that new-found word in a sentence. The idea of the ever-growing vocabulary is an excellent motivator for me, and a prime reason to experiment with those words at every available opportunity.

Jay Lopez (Senior Games Editor, - I've always loved informing and sharing information. I also love the creative process. There's something about taking letters to form words, taking words to form sentences, then again taking those sentences to form paragraphs that I have always enjoyed.

And while this may sound incredibly stupid to some, something has always fascinated me about written language. The fact that I am typing this all out on a screen and that it will somehow be decoded by other human brains to translate a thought, feeling or idea is awesome to me. But reading and writing are so common that we think nothing of it. Say what you want, but it really does blow my mind when I stop to think about it. As for writing about games, it's just something I enjoy doing. 

Robert Workman (Freelance Writer, Gamerlivetv, - Being able to express myself through writing is kind of a freedom, actually.  It really lets me get my thoughts off my chest, sometimes being a little too frank at times (hey, that's the business).  But it's an outlet that very few people seem to get the grasp of, as most of them simply accept the terms of their job, whatever they may be.  Me, I buckle down and do my thing, and I do it my way, and then look for feedback to see what others have to say about it, whether they agree or disagree.  It can get a little tiring when you have multiple articles to write in a day, but that just adds to the challenge of staying unique.  And free, obviously.

Terry - Writing brings up a number of conflicting emotions. When I start writing I'm actually nervous. Overcoming the fear of writing is part of the challenge that I enjoy most. I'm scared that I won't start the right way, which for me leads to the flow and feel for the rest of the piece. I also always try to write with humor, so I will read and reread what I've written to add as much figurative language and pop culture references as I can. It's just my style. When I'm done however, I feel fantastic. I have a real sense of accomplishment. There are few things that feel better than creating something from nothing.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tales of an Achievement Point Junkie

4 1/2 years ago Microsoft presented Xbox 360 owners with the Old Spice Challenge, a contest which inspired gamers to acquire 1500 Achievement Points over a two month period to win prizes like t-shirts, free XBLA games, and MS points. Here's my repost of my original piece where I regale readers with how cool it is too have an unhealthy addiction to collecting imaginary points.

Unfortunately, the word "challenge" does to me what the word "chicken" does for Marty McFly. It makes me do things I wouldn't normally do. So when my good friend Bill Gates threw down the gauntlet and challenged (there's that word again) yours truly to earn 1,500 Achievement Points in two months, I was in.

The Old Spice Experience Challenge (evidentally Billy was short on funds and needed a little sponsorship money) kicked off February 12 and was to run until April 12, but has recently been extended to April 22. This gives gamers a little over two months to earn prizes from Old Spice and Microsoft for earning 1,500 Achievement Points.

Hoping to win a new soap-on-a-rope and after shave I headed over to to learn what the prizes were. For a level three gamer like myself, I saw that I could win a free Old Spice t-shirt, a copy of "Fuzion Frenzy 2", 200 Microsoft Points, an XBLA "Contra" download code and an exclusive Old Spice gamer picture. All I can say is, YOU HAD ME AT FREE T-SHIRT!
I'm one of those guys who pushes over little kids at basketball games when cheerleaders with giant rubber bands launch free tees into the stands.

Did I hear the words "challenge" and "free" being used together?!? And there's a deadline that meets my anal retentive obsession with doing tasks in a timely manner?!? Game on!

I signed up February 17, meaning other level 3's had a 5 day head start. Some of the prizes are of limited supply so they're awarded on a first-to-1,500-first-to-be-given basis. Not good news for me. I had also just earned 60 points the day before I signed up. D'oh! Oh, well. I'm not concerned. I can earn 1,500 points in my sleep. Here's the day to day breakdown of my road to 1,500.

Feb 17: Earned 60 points each from "Rainbow Six Vegas" and "Winning Eleven 2007" so I'm feeling pretty good about myself. At this rate, I'll have this wrapped up in a week.

Feb 18: Feeling nostalgic I buy "Paperboy" on Xbox Live Arcade and quickly earn 50 points. I soon realize that I never really got that far on the arcade version of this game back in the day and that I'm lucky I got as many points as I did. Pick up another 80 points from "Winning Eleven". I've now earned 250 points in two days and I'm laughing at my framed, autographed picture of Bill Gates that sits on top of my TV. The phone rings right at that moment and I quickly apologize to the picture. The phone stops ringing. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Feb 19: It takes me forever but I get another 30 points out of "Vegas". This game is really making me earn its points.

Feb 20: I'm up until 3am to earn 35 frickin' points from "Crackdown". I love the game but what the heck is up with the way points are doled out in games nowadays? The last two days hard fought points are starting to worry me.

Feb 21: In a move that makes me feel more desperate than Britney Spears with a pair of hair clippers I buy all three Burger King games while out to eat with my son. I now know the exact minute he has lost all respect for me. Despite my shame, I still earn a quick 50 points from "Pocket Bike Racer".

Feb 22: Can't play games today. Still trying to wash the unclean feeling from my hands for buying video games at a fast food restaurant. My dog now barks at me, she doesn't know who I am anymore.

Feb 23: Just found out that the t-shirt, 200 Microsoft Points and "Fuzion Frenzy 2" have all been grabbed by guys even more point crazy than me. I don't care about "FF2" because I already have a copy but the loss of the Old Spice t-shirt is crushing. Severe desperation sets in. I have to earn these damn points before I end up with nothing. I now know no shame and will resort to whatever means necessary to get to 1,500 as quickly as possible.

Feb 24: Earn 30 points each from "Crackdown" and "Sneak King", 60 points from "Vegas" and 40 from "Winning Eleven".

Feb 25: Grab 250 huge points from "Fuzion Frenzy 2". I guess the game is good for something as my total now stands at 775.

Feb 26: In order to avoid getting divorce papers served, I take a day off.

Feb 27: Sneak in 40 quick points from "Crackdown" while the wife's back is turned. (Quick aside: I'm not exactly sure why but I love this game. Its a good game, not a great one but for some reason jumping around the city is like catnip for me. On the rare days that I find myself outside, I look at buildings and think about how I would get to the top. I may need psychiatric help when this is over.)

Feb 28: A big day for me as I earn 50 points from "Crackdown" and another 250 from the point generous "Fuzion Frenzy 2". I'm now at 1,115 and feeling like the King Kong of Achievements. Using my jumping powers I've absorbed from playing "Crackdown" I leap on top of the tallest building in downtown Colorado Springs. Since its only 15 stories tall, I make it in two leaps. 

March 1: The calendar flips but I don't notice as I earn 20 points from the game about my life, "Crackdown".

March 2: Day off. Wife insists I shower and moves around the cushions of the couch during my 2 minute abscence. I miss my ass groove.

March 3: Earn another 30 from my beloved "Crackdown" but these small point Achievements are killing me. I decide I need a heavy hitter to get to the finish line.

March 4: I have no idea what happened March 4. I don't think it exists, the number 4 is overrated anyway. Or perhaps the magic that makes my 360 wireless controller work shorted out my brain and erased my memory like one of those Men in Black flashy thingys. I'm getting punchy, I don't know anything anymore.

March 5: Today I've found my bazooka as I play "NBA Street Homecourt" and quickly earn 390 points giving me 1,555. Or maybe not. When I go to the Xbox rewards website to click "I'm finished" they tell me I'm 65 points short! Gaah!!! I have no idea where my math went wrong! Then I remember that I suck at math and decide to take the website's word for it. Seeing how I'm so close I continue to play "Street" but soon realized those first 390 points come a lot easier than any others. I earn 70 more points and it only takes me 50 wins to get it.

Final Tally: 1,505 points (or 1,625 if you use REAL math) earned by playing 7 games.

And what did I learn? - I earn my 1,500 with over a month to spare but was it worth it? Hmm, lets see. For all of my effort I earned Contra on XBLA, an Old Spice gamer pic and the logo of the Old Spice sailboat on my gamertag. While I do love sailboats, this task left me exhausted and questioning why I love Achievement Points so much. Besides rubbing it in my brother's face (he only has 8,120 points - loser!) what's the point?

I'm not sure, but after a few days off I realized that I don't care if Achievement Points have a purpose or not. Its just something I like to do when I'm playing games. And as with anything about gaming, if you like to do it (or play it) I don't see anything wrong with it. I'm certainly not as maniacal as most point fiends, so I don't plan to make a habit of buying games like "Pocket Bike Racer" just for the points. In fact, after this experience I'm less likely to play a game just to earn some easy points.

Does this mean I'll never do another reward promotion? That depends if it has the word "challenge" in it.