Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Peace Team

You don't need to know the ins and outs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know that it's bad. In fact, it has been so bad for so long that whenever another bombing or act of terrorism is reported, it just seems to roll like water off a duck's back for most folks.

It says something when a story of cooperation is more unexpected and surprising than a story of people blowing each other up. It says something sad about the way things are there. But it also says something awe inspiring at just how far some people will go to try to change things, even on the tiniest of levels.


When you say "football", people from different parts of the world will think of different things. Most, of course, will think of what we call in America "soccer". In Australia though, they think of their own variation of "rugby" - Australian rules football.

In 2002, Australia hosted the first ever Australian Football International Cup. The idea was to promote interest in the sport in other countries by hosting a tournament that Australia itself would not participate in. It's the kind of thing I can't imagine America bothering to host - we'd want to win our own tournament, after all. But since Australia has the only professional league for their unique sport, it made sense to sit out this tournament because winning was almost guaranteed. Why not give other teams playing their sport in other countries a chance to compete and measure their talents?

The tournament was enough of a success that it was hosted again in 2005, and now it will happen a third time here in 2008. This year 16 teams from around the world will compete for the trophy, the most since the tournament started.

When you look at the list of teams competing, one jumps out at you: Peace Team.

A strange name for a side participating in a rough and tumble game.


In January of 2008, Australian football legend Robert "Dipper" Dipierdomenico, along with some other league representatives, presented the rules of the game to a room full of 100 young men. Out of that 100, 40 were selected to participate in a 3 day clinic to learn the basics of the game.

The unusual part of the story: these young men were a mix of Israelis and Palestinians, and the clinic was in Jerusalem.

Perhaps crazy enough was the idea of getting a team of men completely unfamiliar with the sport ready to compete internationally in just under 8 months.

But even crazier was the idea of trying to do it here, with these men.

The team faced complications trying to train that would be completely unheard of elsewhere. The coach's instructions needed to be translated to both Hebrew and Arabic. The team was shut out of their Israeli training facility for 4 days during a visit by President Bush when all Palestinians were denied access, including Palestinian members of the team. Team members received threats from both sides of the conflict, either enduring the usual hate from one side or being called "traitor" by the other. Palestinian team members needed to obtain work permits for every training session, sometimes traveling upwards of 4 hours through various security checkpoints.

The pressure was too much for a number of the players. Some of them, facing threats from their own friends and neighbors, left the team.

In spite of all of this, a few kept practicing. A few kept playing. In spite of the lack of a proper field (they played on soccer fields) with proper goalposts (they had none), they kept learning.

The first time the team had seen real goal posts was when they arrived in Australia a week ago.

They play their first match of the tournament today against Great Britain.


New Zealand and Ireland will be the favorites going into the tournament. The Peace Team will probably be lucky to win a single match.

But win or lose, they will do it together.

"Everyone knows the story in Israel and Palestine, the occupation, the killings, bombings, we came here to show the people, we came for the peace, we need the peace," says Palestinian ruckman Fares Switte.

In January, it's not likely Fares Switte knew what a ruckman was.

But then again, in January, the whole notion of a team like this was pretty unlikely too.


After the tournament is over, the players on the Peace Team will return to their normal lives. They will return to face the same strife and conflict they faced before they started playing together.

They might even return to find themselves reviled in their own homes.

But they'll return changed in this small way, knowing this simple thing: if we can play together, we can live together.


Note: For a tremendous introduction to the various factions and pieces in play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can't recommend the game Peacemaker enough. It is easily the most engaging introduction I've ever seen, better even than any book I have read on the topic.

And yes, it has a Mac version.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympics, and Liquor

It's an ever shrinking world.

On the one hand it means we tend to fight a little more over resources that we all need.

On the other hand, it means we have a better opportunity than ever to learn to live with each other.

I'm a big fan of the Olympics. I'm talking about an event where we get to see sports that we probably won't see for another 4 years, but with a built in rooting interest. We root for our country. We root for the human interest stories. We root for the ideal that we can all, just maybe, get along for a couple weeks.

Of course the ideal is not reality. The Olympics are bringing some of China's questionable government practices out into the world spotlight. The games are sometimes overshadowed by stories of the conflict in Georgia.

In spite of these things, sport goes on. The beauty of sport as a fan is that, for the duration of the match, game, whatever, you aren't thinking about those things. It is not a good idea to ignore what goes on in this world. But it's not a bad thing to set it aside once in awhile.


Imagine you've got a tumor in your belly growing so large that it begins to push all of your internal organs, liver, intestine, kidneys... all to the sides of your body.

Imagine that the hospital that is trying to treat you has just been taken over by a group that is likely to kill you if they see you.

Imagine that it doesn't matter anyway, since the doctors have told you there is nothing they can do to save you.

Imagine you are two years old.

This boy exists, and he lives in Iraq, the child of a Sunni family whose hospital had been taken over by Shiite militia.

On the other side of the world, in Boston, someone hears of this, a wealthy, 85 year old liquor tycoon whose own son died of an incurable form of cancer.

The world is shrinking.

The elderly fellow from Boston pays for the young boy's family to fly to Jordan where there is a very dim hope of treatment with the tumor so far advanced.

The doctors in Jordan do not know what will happen, but it is the only hope.

It is not a miracle what happens next. A miracle would be something that defies all explanation.

I don't yet believe that acts of human kindness defy all explanation.


The pursuit of athletic excellence is an ideal, just like the pursuit of global peace. They may both be fleeting things sometimes, but that doesn't mean they don't occasionally exist, even if only in very small batches.

For just a few moments, when Michael Phelps breaks another world record, for a fleeting moment he is the pinnacle of athletic excellence.

For just a few moments, when a young Iraqi boy walks out of a hospital in Jordan after treatment paid for by a elderly man in Boston, they are world peace.

The world is shrinking. And it is not a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Big 3-0

Aaaaand we're back.

So as of today I am 30 years old. Things couldn't be better.

I've written before about what I think the advantages to getting older are and I still stand by those things. Bill Watterson once suggested that people who remember childhood as an idyllic time were probably never children, and that's a statement I agree with. It's not like being a kid was bad (it wasn't), but it's a pretty amazing (and sometimes scary) thing to have a modicum of control over your life.

I also maintain it is awesome to be able to have the authority to scold those younger than you are. Age is the type of completely arbitrary authority that just increases with every passing day. Just this morning I pulled into the parking garage at work and there was a young fellow blasting music out of his car. Just the fact that I could legitimately think to myself: "That young punk, what's he doing playing music at that volume this early in the morning" and actually have a small part of that thought be automatically accurate (the part about him being "young" compared to me, not necessarily the part about being a punk, he's probably a real swell kid, I mean after all he is arriving at work at 7:30 AM just like I am, probably during his summer vacation) is the type of thing that I find internally amusing enough to keep me in a good mood.

So, where have I been these past several months? Well, I haven't been doing anything particularly epic. Since getting married, Jules had been busy studying for the Delaware Bar Exam (a 3 day test which she finished taking last week, results in October) and I've been doing... whatever it is that I do.

And frankly that's what I LIKE doing. There was a time in the heady days of my youth (you know, like 8 years ago) where I would have been terrified of the notion of working a 35-40 hour a week job, settling in to some kind of routine. Now it's really what I enjoy most. Some of my best times are just relaxing at home talking to Jules, reading a book or watching baseball on the tube together. I'm a much more boring guy than I used to be, but I consider that to be a good thing.

So why haven't I been updating the blog then? What's the excuse? Well, there really isn't any. But I've been thinking during all those months I haven't been writing about what this blog is exactly. Is it a journal? Is it a blog about games? Shouldn't it have a theme of some kind?

And I've kind of decided that there are enough blogs out there that spend their time discussing games, and enough blogs out there that are just journals. There are enough blogs out there that complain and mock various things, and really I'm not as good at any of that stuff as they are.

So as of today, I'm going to try something new with the blog. I'm going to go for a general theme of optimism. A general theme that says "life can be pretty cool." That may still involve games that I think are fun and self-deprecating personal anecdotes and some of the other random stuff I throw up here... but the gist will be the type of kerfuffle that puts a smile on my face.

We'll see, maybe it will put a smile on yours. And if you got this far, thanks for not unsubscribing from this thing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I Can Prove It With Google Results

I'm starting to see the following expression used more and more in various publications these days, particularly by journalists:

Searching for X on Google produces Y results in Z seconds.

If you haven't seen this before, let me give you a couple of examples:


Online virtual worlds are wildly popular, attracting millions of people every day, and a recent Google search for MMORPG yielded approximately 32 million results.

From the Toronto Star:

Partner new Blue Jay shortstop David Eckstein and the word "scrappy" and a Google search will advise you of some 5,300 possibilities. In just 0.38 seconds, too.

From Jose Canseco's new steroid book, Vindicated:

Put in 'Alex Rodriguez' and 'infidelity' and you'll get like fifty thousand hits.

The gist I guess is that there is supposed to be some correlation between X and Y.

People, please stop this madness. Maybe you think it's a cute gimmick and a nice alternative to the old stock "Meriam Webster defines 'infedility' as..." type of intro, but all it does is expose you as a complete idiot. For the love of god, there is no correlation between X and Y. It's a firk ding blasting search engine, it goes and gets as many results as it can.

Allow me to demonstrate via the following examples of my own.

If there was any question that more dinosaurs are wearing pink hats now than ever before, just pair "pink hat" with "dinosaur" in a Google search. You'll get 635,000 results in 0.17 seconds.

I always thought bananas were funny looking, like they're from another planet. You might be surprised to hear that a Google search of "aliens plant bananas" yields 526,000 results in 0.29 seconds. Bananas may be the proof we need that we are not alone.

Recycling for the planet is one thing, but what about recycling what our own body produces for ourselves? A quick Google search of "lose weight by drinking raw sewage" gives you 153,000 results in just 0.32 seconds. It's obviously an idea worth considering.

To writers everywhere, I am begging you this last time to please stop this insanity, or so help me I will Google "[your name here] is completely brain dead", thus proving forever that somebody needs to pull your plug.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Great Game Throwdown: RPGs

Both the LastBestAngryMan and The Philosophy of Time Travel are way ahead of me here, but this marks the final installment of the Great Game Throwdown.

Being nerds of the highest quality, we have saved the best, Role Playing Games, for last.

5 - Planescape: Torment (PC)

One thing you'll find in common with most of these choices is the quality of the stories told.

What's kind of sad is that not many heard this particular story.

Made by the RPG kings at BioWare (now a part of the EA conglomeration), Planescape: Torment was designed on the same Infinity Engine on which the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games were built. The world of Planescape, however, is a far cry from the prototypical stuff one associates with the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, and I think this probably hurt sales of the game.

Correction: Astute reader Dhruin correctly points out that the game was actually made by Black Isle Studios using BioWare's Infinity engine, not by BioWare itself.

The Nameless One, pictured here with his sidekick, Morte the floating skull

But that's too bad, because the story is nothing short of awesome. One of the major themes deals with "consensus reality", the notion that if enough people believe in something it becomes real, and that's really what the Planescape universe is all about. The game capitalizes on this in very clever ways, and in the end it is one of the more tragic plots I've played in a computer game.

A terrific game, and one I wish I could play again.

4 - Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

One of the things I've kind of been struggling with when doing these lists is what exactly the notion of "great" is.

For the most part I've been posting games that are great to me personally. Games, like music, are usually a matter of personal tastes.

But there are certain bands that whether we like or not, we can't deny they had a major impact on music in general. The same holds true for certain games.

Final Fantasy VII isn't my favorite game in the Final Fantasy series (that would be FF IV, which was actually FF II here in the US. I know, it's confusing), but it has to be considered one of the most important games in the history of RPGs, if not video games period.

The game had such enormous impact and such a complex storyline, unprecedented at that time, that it introduced an entire generation of gamers to the possibilities of the video game medium. When critics attack video games as nothing but murder simulators, it is games like FF7 that gamers present as their defense.

The iconic moment of Aerith's death in the game is one that anyone who has ever played the game remembers perfectly, and is often cited as the moment people realized that video games could be so much more.

Aerith, a gaming icon

Final Fantasy VII proved that this is a medium that can move people, and a medium that can move people can surely be considered art.

Yes, art. And I don't think the importance of FF7 in this argument can be understated. It's a game about which people have written books and graduate theses. Countless articles have been written about the game's impact. People still write fan fiction and chat about the game.

Is it a great game? I don't know. It's not really a sandbox like some of these other games, and you're kind of forced step by step through the story. But the story was unprecedented, the emotional impact real, and the significance, I believe, yet to be paralleled.

3 - Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PC)

The Elder Scroll games have built their reputation on being insanely open-ended. On the one hand that usually means the main story isn't particularly tight (at least I found that to be the case with Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall). But it really doesn't matter because the game is more like a huge sandbox anyway.

Portals to other dimensions are great space savers for your closet or garage

I know LBAM picked Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on his list but I've got to go with Oblivion for the following reasons:

- Story felt tighter and more interesting.
- The side stories/quests were better quality for me.
- Game was significantly less buggy.

They're all great games and you can easily get 100+ hours of gameplay out of any of them.

2 - Chrono Trigger (SNES)

The best game ever to come out on the Super Nintendo, hands down.

Chrono Trigger has a terrific plot line that actually uses time travel and makes it not suck. Wonderful, clever characters. For my money the best soundtrack a video game has ever had. Multiple endings. A mode where you could start the game from the beginning with all of your existing experience and gain access to even MORE endings by beating the game at different times in the plot line.

I've always wished they'd release an updated version of this game for the Nintendo DS or something. I'd buy it the second it became available.

You know it's the final battle because there are, like, LASERS in the background

A sort of sequel, Chrono Cross, was released on the PlayStation and was a decent game in its own right, but it didn't capture the pure magic of the original. If you can find this anywhere, even on an emulator, I really encourage you to do so.

1 - Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC)

Here's the thing about BG2: everything I said about every other game in the list applies here, and then some.

Did BG2 have the incredible cultural impact that FF7 had? I highly doubt it. But for me it's the coming together of dozens and dozens of other great design ideas into one flawlessly executed package.

Great story? Check. Great characters? Check. Great soundtrack? Check. Open ended enough to feel like you're not boxed in? Check. It goes on and on.

The hand painted backgrounds still look good

Even the expansion pack, Throne of Bhaal, which ends the story once and for all, is incredibly satisfying. But BG2 is capable of standing alone. This is BioWare at the height of their powers.

Worst Ever - Neverwinter Nights

Maybe it's harsh. Maybe the game wasn't really that bad. Maybe it's simply crazy for me to criticize the same company that produced the Baldur's Gate games.

But I remember sitting at GenCon in Milwaukee the year this game first got demoed. I remember being blown away by how easy it looked to create your own adventures, control your own story, etc. BioWare was selling this as the game that was going to be able to bring the tabletop experience to computer gaming. I left absolutely convinced that Neverwinter Nights was going to make it possible for my friends to play D&D together forever, wherever we might end up.

I realize now that translating the tabletop experience to a video game is just an impossible goal. The developers probably knew it too. It was probably just a marketing ploy. But none of that makes the end result any easier to swallow.

It's not just that the multiplayer aspect of this game fell way below the hype and expectations. The single player game is actually several steps backward from games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, games the same company made.

The storyline is cookie cutter. The combat is elementary. You can only control one character plus one sidekick. The initial release of the game had a horrendous bug that crashed your game after the 4th chapter. The dialogue trees would repeat themselves. None of the attention to detail and careful QA was in Neverwinter Nights that we say in every other game made the company up to this point.

BioWare would bounce back with Knights of the Old Republic, which barely didn't make this list (it would come in at 6th). They made another classic with Jade Empire after that. Now that the company has been purchased by EA, I'm skeptical that they'll ever release a really excellent game again, but I'm willing to wait and see.

But Neverwinter Nights was truly a low, low point for me. Not only did it fail to deliver on what was promised, it failed to deliver on anything really fun.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

RIP Gary Gygax

The "Father of Dungeons and Dragons", and really tabletop gaming period, died today.

I don't think Gary Gygax's influence in gaming today can be overstated. Along with Dave Arneson, the man basically helped invent an entirely new way to play games, and in the process, an entirely new way to make friends.

It may seem nerdy and cheesy to those who have never sat down with others to sling dice, enjoy good company, and hopefully tell a good story together, but his impact on my life is, as one friend said when he heard the news, "greater than any of us might care to admit."

But it was huge. When I got married a month ago, the guys that were standing up there with me were guys I had played Dungeons & Dragons with.

Even today, modern computer RPGs use systems that Gary Gygax helped pioneer. They use design paradigms that we take completely for granted now, but somebody had to invent them. Mr. Gygax was that guy.

Part of getting old is seeing your heroes pass away. Here's hoping the hobby he created lives on for a long, long time.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: First Person Shooters

There is no genre in gaming that kicks the crap out of me like First Person Shooters. For reasons unknown, I am just not very good at these. That's kind of a funny thing, because I've played quite a few of them, and college was full of FPS sessions on the campus network. There was a game or two where I became competent, but at some point these games got too fast and confusing for me to handle, and I now spend most of my time getting fragged.

Seriously, I've gotten so bad at these games that there are some of them I can't beat even with cheat codes.

I'd also argue that this is a genre that has stagnated worse in the last few years than any genre we've covered. The Philosophy of Time Travel does a good job in his list of going through some of the landmark games innovation-wise, but you'll note that most of the "innovation" is really just graphic improvements and quality storylines. Those are nice things, but they're not innovative. With First Person Shooters however, I'm not sure how you really take them anywhere new because I think this is also a genre where people have very definite expectations now about how the game is supposed to work. Improvements to physics engines (I can blow more stuff up) and graphics (it looks really pretty when I blow stuff up) are as close as it gets.

But I'm also far from an expert in this category, so I could have it completely wrong. Here's a look at my list anyway, a list that will probably appeal to people who are also terrible at these types of games.

5 - Heretic

This game was built using the Doom engine (we'll get to Doom in a second) but was set in a medieval setting. The engine was modified to add the ability to look up and down. I liked it because you got to shoot things with a magic staff, although I constantly ran out of ammo. Fortunately that's where cheats come in.

The game was successful enough to spawn some sequels, but I really can't figure out what the order is supposed to be. The incredibly hard Hexen, for example, was based in this world (Hexen, incidentally, was strongly considered for the "Worst Ever" award due the crippling difficulty of its puzzles/key chases. This is the kind of thing that hard core FPS players probably consider one of its strengths).

4 - Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

This was a really cool game but another one that was tough to beat without cheats (for me). But any FPS game where you get to swing around a light saber has to be considered reasonably awesome, and this one was better than the first in every conceivable way. This was developed by the same company that made Heretic, incidentally, and a lot of critics still consider it one of the best Star Wars games ever published. I might agree with that if I was any good with this genre, but the ability to deflect blaster shots with the light saber was pretty great.

3 - Duke Nukem 3D

Probably not the greatest game, but it was one that I was actually good at for a short period of time. This was the shooter of choice my first year of college. I don't think it really introduced too many innovations (except possibly the jetpack, but I don't know for sure it was the first to do that), but it was a well executed game that was certainly fun.

The sequel to this game, Duke Nukem Forever, is something of a running gag on the internet. The game was officially announced in 1997 and has been in development ever since. It received the Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award from Wired in 2003.

Ever hopeful, 3D Realms put up a new teaser in December of 2007. They just don't ever stop making this game.

You can read all about its hilarious, tortured history here.

2 - Doom

This game provided me with two very important developmental moments in my life.

1) The first time I killed something in a game with a chainsaw.
2) The first time I played real live mutliplayer against somebody.

The days of Doom were the days of 2400 baud modems and the like. All the modems were so different that it took heroic efforts to get them to talk to each other for games like this. My buddy and I spent an entire day back and forth on the phone trying to adjust the settings on our modems, attempt to connect, reconnect, etc. The problem also was that neither one of us had a dedicated phone line for the modem... the notion was considered real extravagance back then. So we'd try to connect, then have to hang up and call each other back, often getting busy signals as one guy was trying to call the other guy or still attempting to connect.

It was worth every second though, because I'll never forget how excited I was when we could actually see each other walking around on the screen. For awhile we didn't even shoot, we just ran around in circles and chatted, almost unable to believe it actually worked.

Thinking about Doom reminds me just how far technology has come. It's pretty awesome.

1 - Quake

I can certainly appreciate this game's significance. It's basically a standard now against which other FPS games are compared. Even the sequels are measured against this game (some favorably, some not so favorably).

I have to wonder if Quake got it so completely right that there was really nowhere else to go? I mean the physics are basically perfect in terms of deathmatch. The weapons are all awesome and basically get copied in every game since. The modding community has made it so you can play it so many different ways. I mean, what's left really to do?

Worst Ever - Extreme Paintbrawl

The most hilarious video game reviews I have ever read to this day remain written about this game.

In fact, they were so funny it made me actually want to get the game just to witness the spectacle. So I ended up picking it up one day out of a bargain rack.

This isn't just the worst shooter ever, it's absolutely the worst game I've ever played in my entire life.

The AI is coded up like this:

1) Run straight
2) Goto 1

I'm not kidding. This means that your teammates just end up getting stuck in corners.

But that's if the AI is actually working. Otherwise they just end up sort of violently twitching in place until they get shot.

"Practice" mode consists of dropping you into one of the game's five fields and leaving you there - no targets, no practice opponents, nothing. You can basically practice running around in circles.

Paintballs often get stuck in midair.

Keep in mind during all this that since this is paintball, you're out as soon as you get shot.

Ironically, the game actually uses the Duke Nukem 3D engine.

Read TPOTT's list here.

Read LBAM's "list" here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dwarf Fortress for Mac

I'm a couple days behind on this, but a Mac version of Dwarf Fortress is now available.

If your last excuse for not having tried this game is that you own a Mac, you are now out of excuses (unless you still have one with a PPC processor, in which case you are still out of luck).

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Sports

After the thorough stomping I administered in the Strategy/Sim category, we move on to Sports. With no ado whatsoever:

5 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out!

Which do you think Mike Tyson is better known for? Biting off half of Evander Holyfield's ear or Punch Out! on the 8-bit NES? The way you answer this question can sort of define you as a person.

An altogether great game that just about everybody has played at some point or another. Everybody remembers certain annoying fighters in the game that were their nemesis too. For me, it was Soda Popinski, who kept me from the upper tiers more than most of the other fighters. He had this horribly annoying laugh and was also purple, the color of pure evil.

It's very satisfying to watch this video where the guy houses the purple jerk in 1:08. I wish I knew this trick back in the day.

4 - Excitebike

I'm a sucker for any game that allows a high degree of customization. Excitebike was way ahead of its time because it allowed you to build your own tracks, which was by far the coolest part of the game. The gameplay was ridiculously simple so that anybody could learn it quite quickly, but the real fun was making impossibly hard tracks by stringing gigantic jumps and obstacles together and just trying to figure out how to make it to the finish line.

3 - Football Manager 2007

Known here in the states as "Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007", the story of this franchise is actually pretty interesting.

The company Sports Interactive used to release their soccer sports management game under the title Championship Manager via publisher Eidos. However, for the 2005 edition of the game SI signed on with publisher Sega while Eidos held on to the brand name of "Championship Manager". This led to a lot of consumer confusion, especially when SI's release of the latest version was delayed. Eidos wasted no time releasing Championship Manager 2005 which wasn't put together by the same team.

Since then SI has put out its regular yearly edition of what is now called "Football Manager" (except in the states where "football" isn't played with your feet), and this was the version that got me hooked.

I'm probably behind the curve compared to European players of the game, who have almost certainly jumped to FM 2008 by now. In fact, critical reception of FM 2007 overseas was really not that great. But it was the first version of the game I've ever played and I'm still playing the darn thing.

I've always dug sports management games like this where you don't actually PLAY the games but are in charge of every other aspect of managing a franchise. Baseball Mogul and Out of the Park Baseball are two great examples of these types of games in baseball. But there is something magical about the beautiful game, especially when you see your carefully considered tactics play out on the road to a trophy.

The English football league system is much more complicated than in the US also. In English football, the bottom teams get "relegated" to lower leagues, while lower tier teams that finish on top of their respective leagues get "promoted". This means that if you don't perform, you won't be in the same league next year, which is a pretty serious incentive to do well. Imagine, for example, that this system was in place in American baseball. The Kansas City Royals would be playing in the minors.

So it's particularly fun to try to build a lower tier team into a top tier contender. Playing the game has given me a much greater appreciation for soccer in general, and I watch it avidly on weekends now.

2 - Tecmo Super Bowl

Video game football reached perfection with this game. It's just that simple.

This game is so awesome that people STILL release roster updates for it (check out Tecmo Bowl Repository).

Madden had a few years there back in its early days where it was fun. NFL 2K5 was the last really excellent football game to come out in the past several years. But none of them were ever as fun and entertaining as Tecmo Super Bowl.

You've probably seen this before, but here's a video of Bo Jackson lapping the field a few times.

1 - MLB Power Pros

This is not the best game ever. In fact, I'm going to fully admit that in a few years this choice might end up looking silly.

But I can't stop playing this game, and it's existence has pretty much single handedly kept me from going out and buying a PS3 or Xbox360.

I could pretty easily make a top 10 of just baseball games, I've played so many of them. This game is a combination of everything I love about all of them.

It has the player customization and development of Baseball Stars.

It has the career mode style of MLB The Show.

It has the incredible stat tracking of a baseball management game like Baseball Mogul.

It has all of the pure FUN of playing the game like RBI Baseball.

In a word, it's perfect.

I do question whether we'll ever see an updated version of this game because from what I understand, sales in the US have not been great. And that makes me sad. But if you are a baseball fan and you haven't played this, you are doing yourself a great disservice.

Worst Ever - Madden 2005-Present

Around 2003, EA Sports and the Madden franchise stopped trying very hard. They were content to release small amounts of new content, comfortable with the fact that people would be willing to shell out $50-$60 for a yearly roster update.

Then NFL 2K5 came out for $19.99. And the gameplay was years ahead of Madden.

Rather than deal with a coming franchise war as people figured "Why not?" for the $20 price tag, EA made the most sensible business decision possible.

They went to the NFL and negotiated an exclusive contract to produce video games.

Now, with absolutely zero motivation to make improvements to what was already a stale franchise devoid of any innovation whatsoever, the Madden games really are nothing more than roster updates.

And why should they ever be anything more? Without any competition, people still line up to shell out $60 a year for these sorry excuses for "new games". Madden 2009 will still be Madden 2004 with shinier graphics and a roster update. And that's annoying, especially since there was at least one other franchise out there that would have pushed football video games forward.

Taken individually, none of the last 3 Madden games are BAD. But taken as a collective, taken in the context of what MIGHT HAVE BEEN, these games are an example of why exclusive deals suck for the consumer.

Update - LBAM here. TPoTT here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Simulation/Strategy

I'm a bit behind the others on this one, as I just returned from my honeymoon a couple of days ago.

Imagine my surprise that in my absence both The Philosophy of Time Travel AND LastBestAngryMan got their lists so horribly, horribly wrong, particularly their egregious choices for worst game. I'd almost think they were doing it just to spite me, if I didn't respect their integrity so much.

Yeah, probably spite.

5 - The Sims

Anyone who doesn't have this on their list has either never played the game or is lying. It's that simple.

What looks, on the surface, to be the absolute dumbest idea for a video game ever is actually one of the greatest. That's Will Wright for you.

The object of the game... well, okay there is no object really... but you control the lives of some "Sims" through their daily routine... kind of like real life, except not... including making sure they get to work on time, decorating the house, cooking meals, etc.

Yeah, there really is no way to make this game sound particularly fun. You just have to play it. This is the one game that I've ever seen my wife (that felt kind of weird to type) get completely addicted to the way I've gotten hooked on many other games in the past. She got completely caught up in trying to get her Sim all the way down the legal career track that she almost forgot about her real legal career. It was awesome.

While she enjoyed helping her Sims succeed, I mostly enjoyed tormenting them. One of my favorite tactics was to somehow lure a Sim into a room, then pause the game, sell the door, and replace it with a wall so they would be trapped. Sometimes I'd put a picture of a clown in there with them or a mirror or something to make it extra creepy. Most cruel would be putting a phone inside because the increasingly hungry Sim would repeatedly call for pizza over and over again.

I realize this is starting to sound pretty sick, so I'll just stop now. Anyway, it's a great game and one you can play pretty much anyway you want.

4 - Armageddon Empires

Look, I've mentioned this game a couple of times already, and if you haven't been persuaded to try it by now you probably won't just because I mention it again. But this is a game that is starting to pick up more and more acclaim, and thanks to a recent mention in Penny Arcade I suspect it will get even more success than it already has. It really is a stunning achievement for a development team that small... heck, it would be a stunning achievement for a large dev team.

Seriously, with a free demo version available you have absolutely nothing to lose. Except hours and hours of free time.

3 - Starcraft

One of the things that made this category tricky was that we lumped these two genres together after repeated arguments about where certain games should go. Starcraft is the only RTS (Real Time Strategy) game on this list, even though that's one of my favorite genres. In my opinion it's the best in that bunch and therefore worthy of a spot. It has three very different but amazingly balanced races, plus a terrific single player campaign that is a ton of fun.

But with RTS games, multiplayer is where it's at, and one of the things that made this game so great was the free play over the internet via a service called "". This was pretty revolutionary for its time, and meant that you could find a game anytime you wanted. It also meant that you could perform all kinds of immature, jerk internet moves that have become all the rage now.

For example, one of my favorite things to do in this game was get in a 3 way free for all, but secretly one of the 3 would be a friend (often my buddy Ed down the hall in my college dorm). Either Ed or I would create a "secret alliance" with the hapless third person, moving our armies into his base for "protection". Then, we'd cancel the alliance and launch an all out assault against the fellow whose defenses had already been breached. You'd think this would get old after the 100th time you do it, but it really doesn't.

2 - Civilization IV

Easily the best series on this list, every single one of the Civ games is great. But this is a series that has gotten better with every single version, and Civ IV is the latest and greatest. I've played this game way, way too many times and every time has been a blast. There are few things more satisfying than starting with a single settler at the beginning of the game and building a mighty empire from there. This is one game that makes you say to yourself "just one more turn" over and over and over again until the sun is coming up and your eyes are bleeding.

1 - Dwarf Fortress

To spite me, my compatriots put this as their worst game ever. So now is where I win the argument for once and for all.

Yes, the graphics take some getting used to. Yes, the user interface takes some getting used to. But the gameplay is so good, so deep, so completely unparalleled by anything else out there, at times you can't even believe what you are seeing.

Let me give you an example by way of a story.

During the building of my second fortress in the game, I had survived my first winter and with the first batch of immigrants I had about a dozen or so dwarves. At this point I was attacked by a horde of goblins, and I was woefully under prepared for the assault. The goblins went marauding through my petty defenses, slaughtering dwarves in their wake.

But then one brave dog came to the defense of one of my crafting dwarves. The dog was perfectly positioned in a chokepoint of the fortress and started killing the goblins one by one. Eventually it had killed all but one or two goblins before falling to the ground, bleeding to death. This drove the dog's owner (the aforementioned crafting dwarf) into a grief fueled frenzy, and he killed the remaining goblins with his bare hands, sustaining a horrible wound of his own in the process.

The assault being over, there were only a few dwarves remaining. The dog died, and the crafting dwarf who killed the last couple of goblins was hauled off to bed by the survivors. There he stayed for many weeks, and I assumed that he would likely die of his wounds.

Unbelievably, he survived. When he came to, though, he was mad with grief, and he immediately killed a fellow dwarf who was bringing him water. He then went on a kill crazy rampage. Checking his profile, it appeared that the horrors of war had broken him, and I watched sadly as he killed every last survivor of the goblin invasion before drowning himself.

The last dwarf he killed was an engraver who commemorated the terrible goblin invasion by making an engraving of a dog fighting a goblin in the dining room wall.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of stories this game is capable of producing.

Worst Ever - Master of Orion 3

This is the only game I have ever purchased that I took back to the store the next day.

Imagine Microsoft Excel came in a box that said "Master of Orion 3" on it and you've got this game.

Excel, you have found your long lost brother.

What's so unbelievably horrible about it is how crippling disappointing it is. The first two games are absolute classics of the genre. This one should have been bundled with Office. It's "Spreadsheets in Space".

And Microsoft Excel has more competitive AI than this game. The enemies are so colossally stupid that even though you often have no clue what you're doing, you'll still win. Meanwhile Excel can find all kinds of ways to trick you. People who think the Dwarf Fortress interface is complicated have obviously never played this game.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Adventure

This was the toughest category to narrow down so far. There was a time when adventure games, particularly in the point-and-click style, absolutely dominated computer gaming. Nowadays adventure game fans are lucky if one decent adventure game gets released a year, and even luckier to actually be aware of its existence.

But these were the types of games that really got me into computer games in general. I remember staying up late during a sleepover at a friend's house playing the first two King's Quest games. I can remember trips to my Dad's office to play King's Quest V, because our home computer wasn't speedy enough to handle it. And I remember back in the day before the internet calling the Sierra hint line since I couldn't just Google up a walkthrough when I'd get stuck.

There's also a ton of great adventure games I've never played, and I'm actually pretty excited to see the other guy's lists because a lot of these old games have become abandonware and you can download them, legally, for free.

5 - Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge

My favorite game in the hilarious Space Quest series starring Roger Wilco, the janitor. This particular game involved a plan by the evil Vohaul to unleash an army of cloned vacuum cleaner salesmen on an unsuspecting universe.

This was also the first game I played that paused when you typed your commands. This was a huge step above frantically trying to bang out the correct phrase in previous games of its ilk (I was killed many times in the original Space Quest trying to figure out the right combination of words to get Wilco to crush a deadly robot with a rock).

Vohaul is fat

The fine folks at Infamous Adventures, who provide free, graphically updated versions of some of these types of games, have recently announced they're working on a remake of this game and I'll be looking forward to taking the trip down memory lane.

4 - King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

In my opinion the best of the venerable King's Quest series, which took a sharp left turn towards awful immediately after this game (King's Quest: Mask of Eternity is a lot like Highlander 2: The Quickening in that you try to pretend it doesn't exist).

Yeah, well, I didn't like that boat anyway

I like this one best because it had my favorite story of any of the KQ games: in the end it's a classic "hero rescues the princess" story, but the stuff you did to get there was a lot of fun. It also featured the song Girl in the Tower which actually got popular enough to get some radio air time. That might have been a video game first (I have nothing to back that up).

3 - Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

If anybody were to put this game at #1, I would have a hard time arguing with them. Not only is it the sequel to the venerable Maniac Mansion which could also qualify for top 10 lists, but included in the game is a computer where you can play the original Maniac Mansion.

The game has a wacky plot and was developed when LucasArts were at the height of their adventure gaming prowess.

The gist of the story is this: a nerd and his two house mates travel back in time in a Port-a-Potty (called a "Chron-o-John") to turn off a toxic waste producing machine that an evil Purple Tentacle drank in the present day, giving it terrible powers. By doing this they hope to prevent said Tentacle from ever having to chance to drink the waste and become the dread beast the toxins morph it into.

You can see the Purple Tentacle means business

It gets better, because the "Chron-o-John" requires a diamond to operate but the one the heroes use is a cheap imitation diamond, and so the machine malfunctions and sends one person 200 years into the past (where you interact with George Washington and the like), one 200 years into the future (where the Purple Tentacle reigns supreme), and leaves one stranded in the present.

It's an awesome game and one that made me laugh many times.

2 - Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

It's tough to pick a best game in the Gabriel Knight series, which remains my absolute favorite adventure series to this day. There are only three games in the series and each is very different in terms of the graphics and controls since they were produced so many years apart, but the original GK sticks with the classic point and click model and for my money tells the best story.

And story is where the GK games really, really shine. All three of them are compelling, ranging from hunting lost Wagnerian operas that cure lycanthropy to solving the mystery of the holy grail (in a game that had a story that bore startling similarity to the Da Vinci Code 4 years before that book was published).

You can tell Gabriel Knight is a badass because he walks right through police tape

Fans of the series have been hoping beyond hope that a 4th Gabriel Knight game will happen someday, somehow, but it seems increasingly unlikely, which is sad because the two main characters were left in a very interesting place at the end of the third game and I'll probably never see how it all turns out.

1 - The Longest Journey

Without question one of the best stories I've ever seen told in this medium. It's as close to a perfect game that can be produced in this genre. It's a combination of fantasy and sci-fi with truly interesting, believable characters. I play this game and can't believe Neil Gaiman didn't write the novel first.

Just get it.

Worst Ever - Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh

The fact that I even have to mention this game and not just extend the adventure category to a top 10 makes me sad, but them's the rules.

The original Phantasmagoria was written/created by the same woman who did the King's Quest series, which is really surprising since the game was a major departure from the kid friendly KQ games (it included grisly murders, "adult situations", and even a rape scene). Phantasmagoria was part of the "full motion video/interactive movie" craze that swept this genre when designers though it would be awesome to use real actors and bundle a game across a zillion CDs instead of just plain old graphics (incidentally I think the only game I ever played that executed this remotely well was Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within). Most of these "interactive movie" games were horrible games, and this mode of design I believe had a huge hand in bringing down this genre to the niche market that it is today.

Phantasmagoria was bad, but Phantasmagoria 2 was a million times worse. The game starred a hallucinating computer tech who keeps having horrible, bloody visions of awfulness. What that means is the game tries to give you cheap scares because random blood/gore/other nonsense would happen whenever you performed the most trivial action. This wore thin because something violent/horrible would happen every time you did anything.

I don't remember the context of this shot from the game, but that might be because there wasn't any

Add to that the fact that the plot made absolutely zero sense (aliens were somehow responsible) and the puzzles made less than zero sense (combine the fungus with the blue alien, combine the starfish shaped alien with the horseshoe... if you don't get it it's because it MAKES NO SENSE) and you had an exercise in frustration that spanned across FIVE FREAKIN' DISCS. I think it was grim curiosity that kept me playing all the way until the end, much like when I saw Apocalypto in the theater. With every scene you just couldn't believe it could get any worse, but gosh darnit it did and when all was said and done you wish you could carefully drill the portion of the brain that was storing the memory.

Here's a great example of a cheesy scare scene in the game. The music really adds to the whole ambiance of suckage:

Here's a death scene. The acting, the music, the cheap effects... I mean my lord they combine to create an absolute cornucopia of awful:

See The Philosophy of Time Travel's list here.

See LastBestAngryMan's list here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Platformers

5 - Pitfall! (Atari 2600)

I have fond memories of playing this game obsessively because if you sent in a snapshot of the elusive "gold bar" to Activision, you would receive a Pitfall! poster.

I don't remember what the poster looked like, but the box for this game was magnificent:

What's great about this box (besides the rainbow coming out of the protagonist's back) is that it is truth in advertising. What you're looking at on that box is the entire game. Go from one screen to the next and you will see the same thing over, and over, and over again. That kind of audacity is just not something you see in video games anymore with people requiring things like plot and context and endings.

4 - Rygar (NES)

I debated putting this on the list because I don't know that any game brought me closer to tears of frustration more often than Rygar. But I kept playing it anyway because there was something hypnotic about just bashing things with a flaming yo-yo.

That's right, a flaming yo-yo.

Look at how bad ass this dude is. He is vaulting over what looks like some orc while wielding his yo-yo.

Actually my brothers were much better at this game than me (not surprising since my brothers are better at everything than me). I remember marathon sessions of this game because unbelievably, there was no save or password feature despite the game's absurd length. So basically you'd have to break for lunch and possibly dinner to have any hope of getting to the end. It's that kind of "screw you" to the player that makes this one a classic.

Hardcore Gaming 101 has a detailed analysis of Rygar, if you'd like to learn more about the game's historical significance (which I still believe can be summarized simply with "flaming yo-yo").

3 - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)

The Castlevania games are probably the best platforming series out there (with apologies to Mario and Mega Man), and Symphony of the Night is still the best of the bunch.

The game introduced a leveling up concept to the series, and as World of Warcraft has ably demonstrated, there is nothing more addicting than leveling up. Add to that the fact that when you complete 100% of the game, you discover that there is an additional 100% of content you need to finish, and you're locked in for awhile.

A lot of what puts these games on my lists has to do with fond memories, and I remember visiting my buddy Jay in the Bronx one weekend during college. We played this game for about 48 hours straight while rotating turns at the controller. Anything that inspires that level of insanity has to be good, right? Now based on that logic go out and buy yourself some crack.

2 - Contra (NES)

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start.

'Nuff said.

1 - Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari) (PC)

I'm going to be accused of being obnoxious for putting an independently made, lesser known, free game as my #1 choice, but I'm telling you it deserves it.

Cave Story has a surprisingly complex plot, terrific gameplay, a wonderful cast of characters, and you can download it free on PC or Mac. When thinking about this list and this game I had to go fire it up again and it is just as awesome as ever.

I mean c'mon, the main character's name is "Quote" and the female friend is named "Curly Brace", you know you're in for something original.

Go try it now.

Worst Ever - Captain Novolin (SNES)

Many attempts have been made to make video games educational tools. Some of them have succeeded. Captain Novolin is the Hindenburg.

The game was targeted towards kids with diabetes to help teach them about taking insulin and staying away from sweets. Actually playing the game however teaches you nothing but a desire to throw oneself out of the highest available window to end the pain.

Fast forward a couple minutes in to see actual gameplay. The controls are so bad that it is difficult to avoid actually getting hit by the enemies (such as the evil bouncing donut), and you have no obvious means of attack to aid your chances of survival. Imagine if you're a kid with diabetes and you're thinking "Hey, this superhero has diabetes, it can't be all bad." Then you play this game. If I saw a box of Dunkin' Donuts after playing this mess for a couple of hours I would just curl up into the fetal position.

See The Philosophy of Time Travel's completely wrong choice for worst game ever here.

See LastBestAngryMan get so angry he refuses to even name a top five here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Great Game Throw Down: Fighters

Over the next several weeks, two of my fellow friends and bloggers from LastBestAngryMan and The Philosophy of Time Travel will be listing our top 5 all time favorite games in a variety of categories.

Games on any type of platform are acceptable. I will also be using the blog space to rip their selections to pieces when they don't agree with mine.

To get the ball rolling, here are the Top 5 Fighting Games:

5 - Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360)

So the first game I'm going to mention here is a game I have never actually played. However, judging by the almost anatomically impossible females in this game (a quick search of "Dead or Alive" in Google Images will explain) you know that this game must be awesome. The girls are so popular to drooling teenage geeks everywhere that they even made a volleyball game featuring the Dead or Alive girls in tiny bikinis.

Incidentally a movie was also made based on this series, and it netted a whole $270k or so at the box office before being yanked from the theaters and relegated to bargain bins everywhere.

4 - Mortal Kombat 4 (Arcade)

This makes the list because my friends and I used to play it all the time in college under the name of "The Kick-Punch Game", since mostly all we did was mash buttons and never bothered to learn to many of the moves.

One move we DID learn, however, is the most hilarious fatality in Mortal Kombat history:

3 - Super Smash Bros. (N64)

Playing this game is like trying to pull a pack of rabid squirrels off of you while running from an angry swarm of bees. You really don't have much idea where you're going or what you're doing because you're too busy just trying to survive.

I do however have fond memories of getting pummeled repeatedly over the holidays by my younger brothers in this game.

2 - Street Fighter 2 Turbo (Arcade/SNES)

Probably one of the best, most balanced fighting games ever (by reputation, I really have no clue) and certainly one of the best ports to the SNES. I spent a ton of time playing this game, even conducting tournaments with all of the characters with my brothers. I don't know that I ever really got any good at it but it was an awesome game.

Sadly, the last film the great Raul Julia ever appeared in was the movie version of "Street Fighter", which was just a terrible shame.

1 - Mortal Kombat 2 (Arcade/SNES)

This was the only fighting game I ever played obsessively in the arcade mall when I was a lad. I got good enough at the game that I could often hang out at the mall for an hour or so just on fifty cents, as the rules of the arcade floor made it so that you were forced to queue up against the jerk who was winning and knock him off the machine before another could step up.

With Mortal Kombat 2, I was that jerk.

Worst Ever - Shaq Fu

If you have never heard of this game before, nothing can prepare you for the horror.

The LastBestAngryMan's top fighter here.

The Philosophy of Time Travel's top fighters here.

Quick Hits

With the wedding now 12 days away, as you can imagine things have been a little busy. Add to that the fact that I'm trying to get a big project done at work in the middle of all this and you basically have a situation where when I do have some free time available I haven't been spending it blogging.

In lieu of some meatier updates, I'm just going to do a real quick rundown of some things I've wanted to blog about but haven't done so yet.


Last weekend I spent about an hour or so putting a bookshelf together. It's one of those "no tools required" bookshelves so that anti-handymen like myself may end up with something that has an outside chance of actually holding up books when completed.

I used to love to play with Lego when I was a kid, but I have zero skill (or desire to develop skill) when it comes to building things. I have no idea why this is. I love design when it comes to writing software, which a lot of people seem to think is like building. I say anything you can do while eating M&Ms is not really "building". Building to me requires some kind of physical component, and it's that lack of ability to make my hands do what my brain is telling me that usually results in the problems I have on any type of home improvement project or sport.

The bookshelf sat in the box for several weeks before "Build the damn shelf" ended up on last weekend's honey-do list. Obviously I complained as much as possible to avoid more construction projects ending up on future lists, but I dutifully built the darn thing. For me there's not even a sense of satisfaction when I finish putting together a piece of furniture because I usually end up with four or five critical pieces that I missed putting in their proper place; I'm more concerned with the structural integrity of what I've just "finished" than any feeling of accomplishment.

At any rate all of my comics and tabletop gaming books are on the new shelf, so if it collapses the worst thing that will be hurt is my pride, which I'm pretty sure consists solely of scar tissue at this point.


Speaking of the "building", I've been using ASP.NET as the back end for this web based project at work that's been monopolizing my time.

Is there any company that so has so thoroughly screwed itself lately as often as Microsoft? The mess of a release that was Vista has been well chronicled. The Xbox 360 had unbelievable failure rates: even though the console has sold well it's difficult to tell if Microsoft has made a single dollar yet on the console due to having to replace so many of them. Their developer tools are the best in the business, but they release new versions of their languages too often to be comfortable keeping up with the latest and greatest, particularly since the backwards compatibility from one version to the next isn't always there.

ASP.NET is just a mess in terms of how it expects you to design. My problem with the very basis of the thing is that it tacks on too many new tags and components and they don't ever seem to render quite the same across browsers. When you are doing web design there is only ONE thing you really should be thinking about: making the app cross browser compatible. ASP.NET is the absolute worst tool possible for doing that if you use it the way Microsoft seems to want you to use it.

Instead of using all of the special stuff that comes with ASP.NET I've just been writing small web pages that will never get seen by the user that handle all of the heavy lifting (database calls, etc.) and writing the whole front end in plain ol' HTML and Javascript. I'm using Prototype to make all of the calls to the back end. I've basically taken away everything that makes ASP.NET special and that seems to be what works best.


Prepare for the most annoying two weeks in American sports. Seriously, does it get any worse than the build up for the Super Bowl?

Also, when is it going to be okay to start suggesting that the Packers may have won another Super Bowl by now if Brett Favre had retired?


Jules and I went car shopping last Saturday and got her a new ride. Car shopping is another experience that I have found pretty unpleasant in the past as well, but this time with some good research and a target price in mind the whole thing went reasonably smoothly. The downside is that it made me want a new car, as the Hyundai Accent I'm driving right now runs fine but is missing some amenities, like door handles.


There's a lot of buzz starting to build around the latest Wii game: Endless Ocean. It's being praised for being "innovative", which I think these days means that it isn't a first person shooter.

I haven't played the game and probably won't because I sold my Wii over the holiday, but after reading some reviews it looks a lot like the space exploration simulator Celestia, which similarly has no goals, plot, etc. but is just a gigantic sandbox. It also came out several years ago and is free.

Point I'm making here is I'm not really seeing the innovation angle on Endless Ocean. It looks like it might make a nice screen saver though, and the soundtrack does feature at least one tune by Hayley Westenra, who can flat out sing.


Somebody needs to take away my copy of MLB Power Pros. The debate about whether or not to get a PS3 or Xbox 360 this year has been put on hold indefinitely by this game.

You know how when you were a kid playing baseball games you would make a team with all of your friends on it? That's basically what I'm trying to do with MLB Power Pros right now, which means I've been playing Success mode nonstop trying to assemble what will be the most awesome team ever (still working on a name, but it's a tossup between the Juicers and the Djerkababalash).


Andy, who is basically the reason people find this blog, started one of his own. Make sure you check it out.


Finally, if anybody has some book recommendations toss them out there as I'm almost at the end of my reading queue and I'll want to stock up for the honeymoon.

Monday, January 07, 2008

American Gladiators is Awesome

I don't watch too much TV. I only say this because if a picky snob like myself endorses a TV show, you know it has to be awesome.

So let me just say right now that the new American Gladiators which debuted last night is a shining example of just what is possible with the medium of television.

If you're not familiar with American Gladiators, it's a contest between 2 reasonably athletic but otherwise average schmoes against gigantic roid monsters who could snap a loser like me in half with a menacing glance. They're so badass they don't even have normal, god-fearing Christian names. They've got names like Stealth, Titan, Militia, Fury, and Hellga. These are names that let you know they mean business.

The contestants play various games against these gladiators. Each game is worth points and the objective is to build up a lead against your opponent which translates into a head start in the final one on one showdown between the contestants in the Eliminator. The Eliminator is what an obstacle course would be if it was designed by Lucifer and the Marquis de Sade on a bar napkin over a couple of cocktails. People limp across the finish line of this thing looking like they've just run 4 marathons in a row while being beaten with a shoe.

Let me just summarize the high points of the debut episode last night:

1) Five minutes into the program, one of the female contestants blows out her knee getting tackled into a wall. She further destroys it attempting to hobble back to the home base and twisting it awkwardly. She ends up on crutches and is out of the competition.

2) About seven more minutes after that, Gladiator Militia blows out his arm swinging from rings, attempting to catch a contestant also swinging on rings.

3) Over the course of the next half hour, at least 4 piledrivers are executed on the contestants across 2 different events. We get to see the replays from the contestant's perspectives thanks to cameras mounted in their helmets (you didn't think the helmets were actually there to prevent head trauma did you?).

4) A guy has such a huge lead in the Eliminator that it appears over until he reaches the final obstacle: a treadmill that is on a very steep angle up. You have to run up this thing against the flow of the treadmill to get to the finish line. Completely exhausted by the rest of the Eliminator, the dude falls down at least 6 or 7 times trying to make it up that last ramp, giving the other contestant time to catch up and win the match. Watching the dude try to get up the ramp was what I imagine it would be like to watch Sisyphus try to push that boulder up the mountain: you feel bad for the guy, but not bad enough to stop laughing.

5) A woman cracks open her forehead on one of the first obstacles in the Eliminator by leaping into a steel beam. Blood running down her face, once she passes that obstacle she then has to get on the "barrel roll". On this thing you are standing at a great height looking at a barrel on a ramp lying horizontally. You have to grip the thing and then a helpful fellow pushes you down the ramp, spinning you at a rapid rate while you struggle to hold on. Confused and bleeding, the woman does not hold on very long and falls, landing almost head first. She tries to get up but falls down again from dizziness and disorientation. Undaunted she eventually finishes behind her opponent with her face covered in blood. Her daughter screams in the audience when she goes to hug her.

The show is on again tonight and I absolutely can't wait.

Friday, January 04, 2008

If Golf Looked Like This, I'd Play It Every Day

Okay, it's pretty well known that I'm not real good at golf.

Yesterday gaming website Kotaku announced that Konami would be porting terrible coin-op game Target: Terror to the Wii as what is apparently a never ending parade of horrific third party ports continues.

What these two things have to do with each other is that in the spirit of Wii game publishing standards, the port will include several mini games (nobody loves mini game collections like the Wii). One of those is a golfing game that looks like this:

Look at that thing for a second. This is the most spectacular screenshot I think I have ever seen for a video game. As near as I can tell those are hooded terrorists on those golf carts. Some of them in the middle appear to be sinking into the earth. The guy actually hitting golf balls looks like he is standing on the driving mat but is actually hitting the balls off the grass at the terrorists in an effort to defend his right to appear in a game this horrendous.

Let's not overlook the attention to detail as well. Next to the whimsical sign "Replace Your Divots" you can see a shadow effect. What makes this fantastic is there are no other shadows to be seen anywhere else on the screen.

If I hadn't sold my Wii over the holiday, you can bet Target: Terror would be on the very top of my list of games to purchase in 2008.