Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maybe It's Mii

My troubles with my Wii have been well documented (ZING).

I've struggled for several months now with the little white box, trying to figure out what the heck I should be doing with it. I've tried several games at this point, all of which have been either sent back to the store or traded for another game.

Yesterday it became starkly clear to me that I might just be the problem here with this system.


I just finished moving into a new place a short while ago. There are still a lot of boxes lying around and lots of things to unpack. My poor computer is hooked up to the internet but sitting on a small TV stand next to another TV right at the entrance of what will ostensibly be my "office" someday. In other words, the place is still a bit of a mess and although things are starting to take shape a room at a time, getting all of the various games up and running has not been a priority.

However, I also recently had a birthday. As part of that birthday I received a gift certificate from my brother, with which I realized I could finally buy Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition without stern looks from the fiance who has made it clear money is to be saved for purchasing furniture. Although her approach is far more practical, it does not result in me shooting zombies wirelessly.

I'm sure anyone who has been/is married is nodding sagely. "Ah yes, the old zombies vs. furniture argument, you'll learn someday sonny!"

My brother had neatly solved this problem for me with the gift certificate. I happily placed my order and would check back at the website every day to see if it had been shipped yet.

You have to understand, my enthusiasm for this game was pretty high. I have been a huge fan of the Resident Evil series, and Resident Evil 2 was a game I probably played through about 50 times on the original PlayStation. I had never played RE4 because I didn't have a GameCube when the game was first released and it slipped off my radar when it came out for PlayStation 2 several months later. I had initially planned on picking up an old GameCube copy when I got the Wii... then it was announced they were remaking it specifically FOR the Wii.

Resident Evil 4 is one of the best reviewed games of all time. It is considered a landmark game by many gaming magazines and also regarded as one of the best (if not THE best) game that ever came out on the GameCube.

The Wii Edition of the game has also received acclaim for being the best version of the game on any platform yet. Naturally I read every one of these reviews and got myself worked up into a fever pitch from all the hype. I had been keeping the Wii dusted off the last several months, I thought, for this game.

In anticipation of the arrival of Resident Evil 4 I unpacked the Wii and hooked it up. My PS2 remained on a chair in the office... the Wii would get a prominent hookup to the much larger HDTV in the living room.

Yesterday morning I received notification that the game had left the Philadelphia post office. This meant it would almost certainly be waiting for me at home. I watched the clock intently, like a fat kid waiting for the lunch bell at school on pizza day.

Sure enough when I arrived home it was sitting there on the front porch. Oh bliss! Oh happiness! Oh gore soaked zombie shooting mania! At last it was mine!

I wasted no time firing it up. It had been awhile since I played the other Resident Evils but I still remembered the basic gist of things. I was greeted with a sweet opening cinematic... apparently this time I was a special agent tasked with saving the president's daughter. Whatever. The point was I had a gun for zombie killin', and I had no doubt all plot paths would soon lead to undead.

I took a few minutes to run around in a circle and get the control scheme sorted out. There was a handy guide inside the actual game, and I tried out all the moves. It was not nearly as complicated as Zelda or Madden, which was a good sign. Full of confidence, I sent my guy on screen straight into the first mysterious village. A rather predictable cutscene played as the character stumbled across his first zombie. Now we're talking.

It took approximately 10 seconds for the screen "YOU ARE DEAD", dripping with blood, to appear.

I blinked. I really had no idea what just happened. I must have screwed something up pretty badly. That's okay, I thought, just the learning curve kicking in. I hit "Retry" and away I went again.

Same cutscene, blah blah blah ZOMBIE. This time I unloaded about 19 of my 20 bullets on this guy and brought him down. Ah, satisfying!

Unfortunately, you really need bullets in this game. I walked down the next hill and was beset upon by about 3 more hulking monsters who tore me and my remaining bullet to pieces.

Things went on like this for about 20 minutes. I couldn't seem to figure out how to look around and shoot at the same time. It was actually IMPOSSIBLE (as in, not allowed by mechanics) to move and shoot at the same time (actually not that surprising, the other RE games work that way). The combination of being a stationary target and fumbling with the Wiimote/Nunchuck combo lead me to be torn to pieces by hungry zombies at a rate of 2.5 times every 60 seconds. "YOU ARE DEAD" began to get burned into my retinas.

At least three times I got killed without even seeing who or what it was that was attacking me. I would hear a threatening "GRRRR" from somewhere, try to turn around to see where it was coming from, and then my head would explode in a spray of blood followed immediately by "YOU ARE DEAD".

Now, I expected to die a few times. Resident Evil is one of those games where you die a lot, especially the first time through a new area. But I wasn't even getting close to making progress. I thought I had mistakenly put the game on "Hard", but sure enough I had it on the easiest possible setting.

Eventually I was forced to give up before going blind with rage and frustration. It had only taken 45 minutes for me to be beaten into submission.


Are my motor skills really that out of whack? I'm good at these games, dammit! I can still hold my own against my coworkers in Quake. I can play Guitar Hero, that requires a bit of dexterity. What the heck is going on here?

For whatever reason, I just can not seem to wrap my head around this freakin' Wii control scheme. At one point I was trying to run away from a large group of zombies and instead of running my guy took out a knife and gave it a swing. I didn't even have enough time to scream "RUN YOU IDIOT" before I got a pitchfork in the face from one of the zombies and that firk ding blastin' "YOU ARE DEAD" screen.

It's got to be me at this point though. I've played and failed miserably at the two games on the Wii that are supposed to be the best the system has to offer right now. I don't get it, I'm usually at least passable at these types of games.

Am I really just completely falling behind the curve? Am I ever going to figure this stupid machine out? Or do I really just need a cane and a rocking chair to go along with my complaints about these kids and their new fangled technologies?

Whatever the case, that little white box is making me feel pretty old and slow.

I'm going to hang on to the game a little while longer and see if I can get a little better with the controls, because if I don't learn how to handle my Wii now, I might not be able to call myself a man (ZING).

I also really, really want to kill zombies.

In conclusion, here is a link to many of the ways you can die in this game (pretty graphic). I've really only seen the same death over and over again because you need to actually make progress in the game to see some of these other animations, but it certainly doesn't appear things get much easier. Maybe I should stick to checkers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lord of the Rings in the 21st Century

The LastBestAngryMan and I had an extended chat about what Lord of the Rings might look like if it was written by a contemporary fantasy author.

Some highlights:

- It would be 18 books long, and counting.
- Legolas would be a gay vampire trying to redeem himself by joining the Fellowship.
- Saruman would be renamed "Gorlax the Malevolent" to keep readers from getting confused.
- Every peripheral character would be shoved to the forefront and given plotlines. Everybody at the Council of Elrond...Erestor, Galdor, Glorfindel, Gloin...would have their own chapters.

He's compiled the full Top 25 here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Soul Kerfuffle Meets Higher Education

Check it out, the infamous View from the Top is being featured in a class at Calvin College.

I'm a little disappointed the counter articles are not featured. One of the things I am pleased about after so much time has passed since the articles were written is that at least one author, Neils Clark, understood what I was attempting to do: provide a somewhat balanced perspective on the issue of gaming addiction to get dialog moving. (The link goes to page 3 of the article where the blog is mentioned, however the whole article is a very good read.)

It's still kind of amazing to me how much buzz those posts generated. This little blog was featured in a segment on Yahoo Buzz at the time, as well as hitting digg and slashdot.

I still prowl those old posts and read the comments, as amazingly they still get some (I also go there to delete the occasional spot of spam, particularly from Warcraft gold sellers).

I'm glad, however, that time has passed. It was amazing and sometimes horrifying to see things that you and your friends had written get dissected, analyzed, and sometimes completely misinterpreted. But such is the way of it: I don't believe we can read anything objectively. We can strive for it, but our personal experiences will always interfere in subtle ways.

At best hopefully it helped add fuel to a dialog about gaming addiction.

At worst, hopefully I picked up a few new readers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Golf Outing: Part II - Reckoning

Now that I'm home from work, I can finish what I started in Part I.


Sunday Morning - The Big Day

After nearly killing Jeff, we spent the remainder of the day relaxing and drinking some beers. Figuring my task was not nearly difficult enough, I stayed up until about 2 AM chatting and drinking beer after beer. By the time Jeff and I stood up to go to bed, the ground was actually spinning.

Real smart move. I went to bed and woke up with a well deserved headache.

A couple of aspirin, two bottles of water and three cups of coffee later, it was time to face the hour of my reckoning.

Sunday Afternoon - Meet Your Partner

The format for this 9-hole, 2 man team extravaganza was best ball off the tee followed by alternate shots. I was paired with one of the best players in the area, a fellow named John. He was a really nice guy and he made me feel a lot more relaxed right away: if I screwed up miserably, at least this guy wouldn't make too much fun of me.

The drawback to such a good partner was this: if we had a bad outing, it would be pretty clear whose fault it was. That same morning while I had been downing water and coffee attempting to become semi-human, this guy was playing 18 holes in a local tournament and winning. I'm not kidding.

Teeing Off

The other pair we were playing with (also a nice pair of gents) suggested I go ahead and start things off.

They must have been licking their chops when they saw my tee shot duff off the driver and barely land past the women's tees a couple dozen yards away.

John said not to worry about it before stepping up and crushing a drive 300+ yards straight down the fairway.

It was pretty obvious that I would be taking all of the second shots today.

Fortunately, this played to my "strength", if it can be called that. I'd been pretty comfortable with the irons prior to nearly taking off my brother-in-law-to-be's head the previous day. I knew if I just focused and remembered my fundamentals I could perform pretty decently.

Of course, I've also learned that's the whole trick with golf. The fundamentals are many and difficult. I sent the thing about 40 yards straight behind a tree.

This guy was so good though it didn't matter. It was obvious I had been paired with him for a reason. After he knocked the ball on the green with the third shot, I sheepishly looked at the other pair and said, "The fix is in, eh?" They chuckled but I'm pretty sure they were contemplating smashing my face in with whatever club was handy.

Hacking Away

All told I really didn't play too badly, but it was obvious that without John I would've been a total disaster. He kept leaving the ball in such great locations all day long that it was easy to keep it moving forward.

I eventually did get back to fundamentals however and remembered my iron shot. Nothing spectacular, but at least I wasn't threatening any hubcaps out there.

We even managed to score par on a couple of holes and I was starting to feel more confident.

It was then I had the crazy idea: This guy is so good, I thought, I may as well just go for the money on every shot.

This turned out to be a terrible plan, as I tried to actually play a draw shot on one hole around a tree. Why I thought I was capable of doing this I have no idea: I'm not even sure how you properly execute a draw shot. I ended up hitting it pitifully a few feet right behind another tree.

Time was running out for the day to be considered anything less than a mockery. Sure, with John on my team we wouldn't end up in last place, but all anybody would be talking about was "the fix".

The Eighth

After another magnificent tee shot, I put the ball in another lousy spot in the rough with our second shot.

John was obviously getting tired (your shoulders would've been sore too). He hit a decent enough shot for our third into the fairway, recovering my bad ball, but left it short of the green.

It was then that it all started to fall into place.

I hit a chip waaaay too hard. As soon as I hit it, I knew I had put it over the green and we'd be lucky to double bogey this mess. Once again I had blown it.

But then there was a clatter as my ball hit the pin and dropped 2 inches from the hole.

There was scattered applause from the group who at this point was likely feeling sorry for me. I knew I had gotten insanely lucky: the ball was coming in hot but was absolutely saved by striking the pin halfway up.

The encouraging words from the other gents out there though started to give me a little confidence. I still had one more chance to make a shot to be remembered, and the 9th hole coming up provided the perfect opportunity: there would be a prize for whomever hit the longest putt on the final hole.

The Ninth

The 9th hole contained really the only water hazard on the holes we played. The hole was surrounded by a river that should prove reasonably easy to hit over if you left yourself in a good spot off the tee. With John on my side that shouldn't prove too much of a problem.

Sure enough John knocked it short of the river, but just to the right of the fairway in the rough. It would be up to me to make a shot to get it on the green.

Fortunately the pressure was immediately off as the pair we were playing with put it in the water on their second shot. I would find out later this was a general theme out there that day. I guess the presence of water is enough to make you think.

It certainly made me think. I hit the thing and got enough of it to get it over the stream, but it landed right on the steep edge of the river and was essentially unplayable. I may as well have hit it in the water, because any attempt to play the ball would've resulted in falling into the stream. John said not to worry about it, he was sick of that ball anyway, and he took a drop.

His chip from the drop left it about 30 feet from the hole and about twice the distant of the current longest putt on the hole.

So this was it. My last chance.

Problem here is I have no idea how to really read a green. When I see a guy make a putt that rolls in from several feet to the right or left, I can't figure out how the heck he did it. How did he know it would break that much?

John was there to save me. He made the read for me and pointed to a spot about 3 feet to the right of the cup. "Hit it here," he said. "Nice and easy."

By which I'm pretty sure he meant "Leave me with a halfway decent putt that I can make, it's hot out here and I want a beer."

Damned if I didn't hit that thing perfectly. It rolled and rolled and started to curve to the left.

"He's got it!" John cried out, and the other pair watched tensely.

Perfect. Right in the cup. From 30 feet.

I pumped my fist and started to stride off the green in excitement. "Stay there, we have to mark it!" shouted the others.


Despite almost killing both of his progeny in a single vacation, when Julie's dad announced the winner of the longest putt later in the clubhouse, I could tell he was excited.

In the end we shot a 42, one stroke off the lead. Although it felt like I was hacking all over the place I guess it wasn't ever quite as bad as I thought. Golf is a funny game, and I guess veteran golfers know that you tend to remember your bad shots. I certainly had plenty of them that weekend.

But everybody else seems to remember your good ones.

So, in the end, despite all my efforts to make a total mess of the situation, I actually ended up having a pretty good time.

The question people have been asking me is: Will I keep playing golf now that it's over?

Let me put it this way. I don't think I'm ever going to be the one who suggests "Hey guys, who wants to spend the afternoon playing 18?"

But if somebody else were to suggest it, I'd be a lot less likely to come up with an excuse.

The Golf Outing: Part I - Pregame

Yesterday afternoon I arrived back from a very eventful trip to Illinois.

Before you go any further, if you haven't read what was at stake this past weekend, I encourage you to do so.

If you know me however, you know that I've been concerned about this trip because I was expected to play golf with my future father-in-law and many of his family and friends. When informed of the trip by my fiance, I started to try and practice for the two months leading up to the excursion so I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself.

Enough introduction. On to the story.


Wednesday Night

We had intended to get on the road around 5 PM so we could get a jump on what is a pretty lengthy drive. Unfortunately that morning one of the production servers at work suffered a hard drive failure.

You don't really need to know what that means beyond it being very bad. I didn't get out of work until later than intended while trying to deal with the day's issues as a result of this mess, and suffice it to say it was an ill omen to the start of the trip.

When we finally did get on the road, Julie did the driving for the first few hours. This gave me plenty of time to get a clear picture of my impending humiliation.

I took over driving around 10:20 PM. By 10:30 PM I had killed Bambi.

Yes, I managed to hit a deer. We were in the middle of western Pennsylvania (aka "Pennsyltucky") when a family of 5 or so deer decided that the turnpike would be an appropriate place to go foraging.

I jerked the wheel to the left to try and avoid them, but the baby in the bunch took a final leap into the side of the vehicle. This sent the car slightly out of control, and I struggled mightily to get it driving straight again. Shaking, I pulled off to the side of the road, terrified that Julie might have been hurt.

She had never stopped sipping her soda.

Some friendly locals pulled up behind us to inspect the damage and make sure we were okay. The passenger side headlight was demolished, the bumper bent, and the quarter panel on that side nicely crushed. As a bonus what was left of the bumper was covered in deer hair.

Fortuitously the folks that stopped also brought tools with them to cut the bent bumper away from the tire, which amazingly had not been punctured. While this was going on one of them regaled me with great enthusiasm about how many times the baby deer spun around on impact (seven) and how many pieces it was in (many).

After a call to the Turnpike Authority and the insurance company, we were on our way again. Obviously it was decided we should pull off to the next hotel and assess the damage in the morning.

Forty miles later we found one, and I fell asleep, my dreams haunted by headless deer driving Chevy Impalas at me, like Ichabod Crane fleeing hundreds of Headless Horseman.


Thursday was uneventful, being spent finishing the drive and arriving in Kickapoo, Illinois later that evening.

Friday afforded me a chance to spend some time with Julie's dad. The day started out well enough with a trip to the local Riverboat Casino, where I won $100 at the Blackjack table despite a lady doubling down on a hard twelve with the dealer showing a 6 and later staying on an 8 Austin Powers style ("I also like to live dangerously").

So far so good, I thought. My luck is turning around.

In the afternoon we drove to the course I'd be playing so I could hit a bucket or two of balls and get a little practice in.

Three buckets and two blisters later it was pretty clear I was actually regressing. I know my strategy had initially been to hit my 4-iron off the tee, but I was being paired with a fellow who reputedly routinely hit 300 yard drives and shot lightning bolts from his arse, so I figured there was little point since we were playing the best ball off the tee. This turned out to be a huge mistake because my miserable drives on the practice range shook my confidence to the point where I was concerned I would not make it past the ladies' tees.

My father-in-law-to-be tried to offer me some pointers but by the end of the third bucket I was so tired and discombobulated I was averaging about 4 feet per swing.

Not good.


Julie's brother (Jeff) and his girlfriend arrived on Friday night, so it was decided that the three men (myself, Julie's dad, and her brother) would all play 9 holes on Saturday afternoon to warm up for Sunday's event.

I was very much in favor of this idea after my performance at the practice range, and hoped that I'd be able to straighten some things out.

Things were going reasonably well until about the 4th tee when I smashed a shot about 60 whole yards into some rough on the left of the fairway. Jeff and I were sharing a cart and we rolled up to it. I pulled out an iron, confident that I could impress by getting it out of the rough and toward the green. My irons have been the one reasonably steady part of my game since I started playing a whole 2 months ago.

Jeff pulled the cart up to the right of the ball, about 20 feet or so away. I lined up and took a mighty whack.

Unfortunately I hit it right off the toe of the club, mishitting badly. Jeff threw his hands up in defense. The ball screamed straight right and clunked off the golf cart, taking the front left hubcap with it.

I was pretty much a wreck for the rest of the round, fearful that I had now not only slaughtered a baby deer but almost added my future brother-in-law to the body count.

How many more would have to die for me to get through the bridal shower golf event?

To be continued.