AlexN Blog

I'm awful at goodbyes, so...

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...goodbye.

Boy, that would have been awfully obtuse, wouldn't it?

I'm going to do my best to avoid turning this into a massive weep session. I've already started and scrapped writing this message more times than I can count, so instead of putting endless thought into this, I'm just going to say what I feel and leave it at that.

The five years I've spent at GameSpot are arguably the most important years I've spent in my life. Prior to this gig, I'd never had much of a real job. When Jeff and Greg and the rest of the crew back in 03 gave me--some skinny, 21 year old punkass who'd never done anything but freelance for a few scattered sites--a legitimate chance, I'd never envisioned that this would turn to be the job that defined me, that gave me a place and a career. I had no idea that I'd actually make some semblance of a name for myself here. That anyone would actually give a crap about what I did or what I wrote. I still find the notion kind of unbelievable, actually. Reading all the messages people have been sending me since the word got out has been utterly mind-blowing. It's one thing to enjoy what you do, but it's quite another to know that others enjoy what you do. It's gratifying, and I'm thankful for it.

I could probably spend the next several hours giving individual thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way, but most of them know who they are and have been thanked in more personal fashion, so I'll skip the acceptance speech from hell. Instead, a general thank you to the staff (both former and present) for letting me be a part of the dream that is/was GameSpot. Also, thanks to you, the reader. I'd be nothing if you folks didn't come back time and time again to read the junk I put out, and I can't tell you how thankful I am that you did.

Leaving completely sucks, and believe me when I say I'm in no way joyful about my departure. Well, OK, that's not entirely true. There is a certain sense of...freedom that I'm feeling now as I envision an endless string of pantsless weekdays. Still, if I'd had my druthers, I'd have probably rather stayed precisely where I was, doing what I was doing. But circumstances don't always work out the way you'd prefer, and things change, often not for the better. My time here was finished. I was conflicted about that notion going into the holiday break, and that notion turned into fact with startling clarity as soon as I came back from break. It was a frightening and painful experience to let it go, but I had to. If you love something, set it free, and all that junk. I don't think this one's ever coming back, though.

Of course, I'm not going to disappear into obscurity--at least, not without a fight. You'll probably start seeing my name start appearing on bylines relatively soon. I'm not doing anything full time just yet, but we'll see where the wind takes me. In the meantime, if you need to get in contact with me for any reason, my new e-mail address is alexiconofscars@hotmail.com, and if you want to read my assorted ramblings about whatever, I am keeping a personal blog at The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. Stop by sometime if you want to read about what I think of practically everything except games. I'll give you a hint: I hate all of it.

And lastly, let me just make one thing as crystal clear as possible. I hold no ill will, issue no blame, take no umbrage with any of my former co-workers on the edit team. These guys are some of the hardest working, upstanding, straight up cool mother****ers I've ever met in my life, and as long as they're around doing their thing, GS will continue to live and breathe--there will still be a soul there, underneath whatever ridiculousness might be on the surface these days. There is no GS without those guys. The GS content crew is a family, and no one can change that.

Before I duck out, a few stats to chew on from my time here:

Number of reviews written: 733

Number of video reviews produced: Somewhere around 100

Number of video features appeared in: Dozens

Controllers broken: 7

Debug consoles broken: At least two that I can remember (sorry Ricardo!)

Number of console launches experienced: 5 (not including N-Gage and Gizmondo, which absolutely, positively don't count)

Number of weekend birthdays spent at the office: 2 (thanks PlayStation 3, Wii and Rock Band launches!)

Number of E3s covered: 5

Number of hours of sleep lost while covering said E3s: 280

Number of delicious sandwiches consumed during work hours: Too many to count

Pounds gained over the last five years: 45

Favorite review ever written: It's sort of like choosing your children, but I'd have to say that Super Mario Galaxy was probably the piece of writing I was most proud of just for clarity and overall quality. For pure comedy, while Big Rigs is obviously the fan favorite, I think my Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green review was my favorite, mostly for the opening paragraph, but there are some good chuckles elsewhere, too. My only regret with that one was that it was published before I'd learned the skill of brevity.

Favorite video piece: Regarding Robocop. Tim Tracy took my hours of ridiculous footage and turned that thing into something magical.

Worst review ever written: Read any of the first five to ten reviews I did for the site. They're as boring as they are barely informative. I was still learning the craft at that point. I think I've gotten a touch better.

Review that caught me the most flack: Probably Advent Rising. I will still never understand what anyone saw in that game. It was like retarded Star Wars with a broken frame rate. Now there's a box quote for ya!

Biggest editorial regret: Never giving Burning Questions proper closure. What can I say? I snapped.

Biggest non-editorial regret: Lack of travelling, specifically to Japan. Would have loved to have gotten one TGS trip in.

Thing I'll miss least about GS: Apart from the current unpleasantness, I'll say the commute. Nothing sucks more than driving an hour through traffic to work every day, especially when you're accustomed to carpooling and then suddenly end up having to do it all by your lonesome. *cough*

Thing I'll miss most about GS: The dozens and dozens of awesome people who have come and fled over the years that helped make GS a terrific place to work during their time. You know who you are.

And with that, I bid you all a fond adieu. It's been real.

--A

Two Weeks Notice...

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...is a really terrible movie starring Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock. Seriously, it's like the most hackneyed thing you'll ever watch. Avoid seeing it, if you can.

It's also one of the more disconcerting e-mails I've ever had to write in my lifetime. The finality associated with such a short and downright glib e-mail is altogether weird. Two sentences of text, someone above me hitting the "terminate" button, and after nearly five years of commitment and passion toward the GameSpot brand, my tenure is officially put to rest. How coldly efficient.

Wait, let me back up a second. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Odds are you've probably heard by now. Yes, last week I put in my two weeks notice and I will be leaving GameSpot as of next Thursday, January 24th. No, this is not my big goodbye post. I'm still here for another week, so I'll probably spend some more time thinking that one through before posting it. This is simply my confirmation that, indeed, the rumors you've heard are true.

I haven't said anything up to this point mainly because...well, I didn't know what the hell to say. I know this might sound odd coming from me, but frankly, I've felt a little sheepish about this whole thing since word got out. As much as I enjoy having my name on bylines and being in front of the camera, I'm not really used to having a laserlike focus on me and my personal affairs. Make no mistake, I was A-OK with word being put out when it was. But considering I've never had a major gig like this prior to my time at GS, I'm kind of fumbling for the right way to handle the situation. Big, emotional outpourings confuse and alarm me, like a bear trapped in a room full of loud, flashing sirens, so forgive me if I'm not at my most communicative or tactful over the next several days.

I do want to thank everyone for all the PMs, e-mails, blog comments, Xbox Live messages, and other general statements of support I've gotten over the last week or so. It's awesome to know people care and even have any manner of opinion of me, let alone actually like what I do enough to have an emotional reaction to news such as this. Just the fact that it's news at all is totally bananas. It's really meant a lot, and believe me when I say that I'm going to miss you all. Or, well, most of you. Some of you I can and will do just fine without. System Wars, I'm looking at you.

Kidding. Well, sort of...

As far as why I'm leaving, what I can say has been pretty well covered, especially in the Joystiq story Kyle Orland put together. I know people probably want more details, but right now my comments there will simply have to do.

I'm not entirely ready to talk about where I'm going or what I'll be doing from here on out, as honestly, I don't even really know at this juncture. I'm going rogue for the time being. I'm taking the mercenary route and seeing where things go from there. I'm considering all options at the moment, and I do have some work lined up to keep my mind focused on work and away from the non-stop Internet pornographies. You may start seeing my name pop up elsewhere soon enough, so don't worry about me disappearing into the ether. I can't quit you game industry, no matter how much I might want to sometimes.

So, look for a more proper goodbye on this blog on my last day. If you happen to catch me in the OTS chat, on XBL, or wherever, say hi, say bye, say **** off, whatever you feel like. I'll be around, in some fashion or another.

Bad Analogy Time

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Remember SimCity? Remember what a joy it was to build up a fully functioning, living, breathing city, full of life and wonderment? Then, at some point down the road, after you've built up your city to the peak of its productiveness, you'd start mashing the disaster button and a wide variety of tornadoes, earthquakes, and fake Godzillas would come tromping through, laying firey waste to every bit of what you'd worked so painstakingly to create?

Yeah. It's a little bit like that. Except someone hit the disaster button for me.

The Phantom Hourglass Blog: Last Day

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UPDATES - Last Update: 10:18 PM PST

11:35 - Nothing quite like waking up in the morning with a stabbing pain in the right side of your neck. I can't quite turn my head all the way to the right, so I'm pretty excited about that.

Anyway, I woke up a bit early this morning and have been banging away at the latest Temple of the Ocean King. I forgot to mention that I got the hookshot in the last temple, so that did make getting around a smidge easier. I guess the one thing to note is that once you figure out the solution for each level of this temple, it's not terribly difficult or time-consuming to do them again, but it is a bit tedious. New section was a pretty good pain. Guards who can teleport, lots of moving alarms, and one particularly rough timed section that would basically be impossible without bombchus. Gotta love those bombchus. Parts of this game are definitely on the easy side, but this temple can get pretty sadistic at times. Once I made my way through, I got the northwest seachart.

My updates from here on out today will probably be a bit more scattered and less specific, one because I'll be playing in more scattered fashion (errands to run, and such), and because I kinda don't want to give away too much of the endgame. So keep an eye on the blog, but don't be refreshing every eight seconds hoping for an update. Because it ain't comin'!

12:24 - Northwestern waters have a lot of rocks and pirates and unpleasant sea creatures. There are two islands, one of which is initially inaccessable. There's an item on the island you can access that will get you to the other one, but this island's pretty puzzly, so you'll have to do a bunch of running around before you can get that item. It's got kind of a Lost Woods sort of vibe going on toward the end. Again, gotta love the ability to write notes on your map. So, yeah, worked my way through that, and now I'm off to the second island.

2:49 - Made it through what I think is the last temple before my last trip to the Temple of the Ocean King, that being the Sand Temple. Just getting through this island to the entrance of the temple took a bit of doing, so you can just imagine how the temple itself was. One very trap-happy temple, with some evilly tricky puzzles. Boss fight was even a little on the tough side, but I eventually prevailed...after taking a quick break halfway through to go get a few groceries. Anyway, I've got what should be the last metal I need to get the phantom sword. Time to sail out to the blacksmith's island and see if I'm proven correct.

2:54 - As I was writing that, the Niners just got scored on again. I'm really glad I had Zelda this weekend, because if I were forced to actually pay attention to this game, I'd be super-depressed right now. Really, REALLY looking forward to the Pats/Bengals game tomorrow.

3:27 - Yep, that's all I needed. After handing off the metals to the dude, I waited for a bit, had another encounter with the female pirate, then went back and got my sword. It's missing a handle, but after travelling back to the main island...well, let's just say that it was taken care of. Don't want to spoil the sequence. As of now, I'm going to take a lunch break and eat a sammich. After that, I'll be tackling the Temple of the Ocean King for what I believe is one final time. And I swear to god, if the big twist at the end is that you actually have to find eight more seacharts within the temple and collect a bunch of triforce shards scattered throughout the ocean, I'm going to have an aneurysm.

10:18 - Oh, yeah, I beat it by the way. No spoilers, no big flowery gushy descriptions of what happened. I will simply say that it ends well with some satisfying fights. And that last trip through the Temple of the Ocean King actually wasn't half bad. All told, I think it took me about 14-15 hours to bust through it, and I know I didn't find all the uncharted islands or sunken treasure, so there's definitely more to do. Also spent some time playing online against international folk in the multiplayer. I can't say it's spectacular, but it's not bad, either. I kinda dig the sort of pseudo-Pac-Man vs. thing it has going on. It's kinda neat, and it's online, which is cool.

I actually beat it hours ago, but I've been collecting my thoughts (and also doing more dishes, going for a walk with the lady friend, watching the season finale of Rock of Love [best/worst/best again show EVER]), and just getting myself prepped to write the review tomorrow. Want a sneak preview? If I may out and out steal a joke from Jeff here...

Look for the review tomorrow.

The Phantom Hourglass Blog: Day 3

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UPDATES - Last Updated 11:44 PM PST

12:43 - You ever have one of those mornings when you wake up, and you have no sense of what day it is? I woke up at like 8:45 this morning, looked around, wondered why my alarm hadn't gone off and why Jeff hadn't shown up to roll with me to work yet. Then I realized it was Saturday, slept for two more hours, and had roughly the same exact bit of confusion when I woke up later. Yeesh. Now I'm showered, shaved, and ready to get the Zelda on. Whoo!

12:52 - Yeah, this third temple is kooky as hell. Moving platforms, lots of traps you have to avoid, and an enemy type that won't take damage unless you scream into the microphone first to disable it. I'm just trying to envision someone playing this on a bus and screaming into their DS. Awkward to say the least.

1:00 - Oh invisible platforms, you will be death of me. Literally. Good thing I can sketch out the invisible pathway on the map. Got the bow and arrow. I foresee this coming in handy for the rest of the temple.

1:36 - Clever boss fight in this one. Not the toughest boss I've ever encountered, but very cool fight that uses both screens to great effect. Another solid temple all around. Lots of drawing stuff on the map, and I'll just say that there's a very specific order to it that becomes clear early on. Rescued the Spirit of Courage (who is oddly silent) and got another heart container. Ah jeez, I really hope I don't have to go back to the Temple of the Ocean King again. If I do, I think I may put that off a bit and do a little exploring first.

1:45 - Plot twist! No spoilers, just...you know...plot twist!

1:50 - Was about to head off toward the death fog to go find the ghost ship, when some crazy pirate lady attacked and started shooting torpedoes at us. I think Limebeck and this chick are previously acquainted. She caught up, we sword fought, I won, and off we go.

1:57 - Found the ghost ship. This seems like as good of a spot as any to pause and take a few questions:

In regards to the linearity of the game, the storyline definitely has a very linear flow to it. You are going from one point to the next in a very specific order. However, there's plenty of side ventures to take part in, it seems. Uncharted islands to explore, treasure to discover, etc. I'm pretty sure I could have gone through without ever picking up that cyclone slate, but it's come in handy thus far. It's worth exploring beyond the primary quests.

In regards to the difficulty, it's not very tough at this point. I've died a couple of times, but that's mainly because I keep forgetting to stock up on potions before I tackle a temple. The puzzles are clever, but I have yet to get truly stuck at this point. Usually the path to glory is at least somewhat clear.

In regards to game length, I think I'm about halfway through at this point. I still have two seacharts to find, which I imagine I'll start doing after this ghost ship bit.

In regards to those enemies that have to be shouted at, yeah, they look like a cross between a Pikachu and Buggs Bunny. Gigantic ears and fat and yellow.

In regards to how long it takes to eat a sandwich, 45 minutes, minimum. At least, that is if you're doing it correctly. Hmmm. A sandwich sounds kinda good. Time to call the girlfriend and see if she can bring me back some grub on her way home from work. After that, to the ghost ship!

2:24 - So, I'm inside the ship, and there are these sisters trapped throughout the ship. I have to escort them back to the first sister I found. There's something...unsettling about them. Something...sinister. I wonder if they're left handed...

2:55 - Yeah, I was right. After rescuing all the sisters, they turned into creepy ghosts and I ended up playing an evil game of table tennis with them until I'd smoked them all. They send me in the direction of Tetra. I find her, but without giving too much away, I'll just say all is not right. Gramps mysteriously appears again. Dude has a knack for getting around. He explains a bunch of stuff which I won't go into here. Again, plot twist. From here, big, big bout of plot exposition with more of the art cutout style cutscenes. Love the art on these.

3:03 - Some decent comedy in this game's dialogue sequences. Limebeck is a good comic foil. Anyway, long story short, I know who the ultimate evil is behind all these monsters and crap now. I've got to go see some blacksmith who has some idea of how to defeat it. But before that, I really need a burrito. More later!

4:35 - OK, I am fully burrito'd. To Bannan Island, and the blacksmith!

4:48 - OK, so that wasn't the right island. But I did find a mermaid and a weird target shooting minigame on that one!

4:59 - Found the island with blacksmith. I need to get three pure metals for him so he can build the phantom sword, the weapon I need to dispell evil and all that. Three different tribes on various islands have them. I gotta go back to the Ocean King's temple to get a new seachart. Sunuva!

5:06 - Bought a quiver so now I can carry more arrows. Back at the temple, another earthquake hits. I go inside and the phantom dudes are now glowing red, which apparently means they're faster. Joy! I'm really beginning to loathe this temple.

5:39 - Oh sweet tapdancing Christ, there's a save point here at the next section of the Ocean King temple. That is the LAST time I will ever have to deal with those levels. I'm sure there will still be some repetition here and there, but at least that section's over and done with. Now then...

6:02 - Well, now I know why they added this midway save. The temple turns into a gigantic pain in the ass from here. Floors that make noises that alert the phantoms, weird ghost things that attack you from time to time, and of course, more invisible platforms. This might be OK if I didn't have to be constantly carrying around crystals to fit in holes to open doors. Sigh. I'm going to go put on a load of laundry and hope my head clears a bit before tackling this again.

6:46 - After doing a few household chores, I tackled that temple again and finished it with a couple of minutes to spare. Yeesh that section was annoying. Got the southeastern sea chart. Let's see about finding that first precious metal now.

6:48 - Just checked the hockey scores. LA trounced the Ducks. Who'da thunk it? That Bernier kid looks like he might be for reals.

7:17 - Gorons! I always loved these guys. Had to introduce myself to everyone on the island so the chief would accept me into the tribe...for a small fee, of course. Wandered around a maze for a bit until I figured out the slightly opaque solution, then headed off to the Goron's temple for the first metal. I wonder if this one will be markedly tougher than the previous temples...

8:07 - Nah, not much tougher. It's really only the ocean king's temple that kinda sucks at this point. Another solid temple with some good puzzles, most of which revolve around bombchus. You also get a goron helper at one point. And possibly my favorite boss fight thus far. Heart container woot! First pure metal woot! Sounds like the head Goron wants to see me before I leave. Let's see what he wants.

8:12 - Just more money. Oh well, nothing to sneeze at.

8:27 - Arrived at the isle of frost, which is completely encased in ice from the get-go, which means I've gotta blast it away with my ship. Doesn't help that weird flying eyeballs are attacking me. Finished that off, and now heading to the island to speak to the population.

8:40 - Well that was just silly. The Isle of Frost has two native inhabitants, the Anuki and the Yook. The chief of the ANuki thinks they have a spy in their midst, so I had to deduce who it was by doing the sort of process of elimination problem I haven't had to do since seventh grade. After doing that and then beating up some Yook on my way to the Ice Temple, I...uh...well, I went to the Ice Temple. I'm gonna pause here for a little while and take a break. For some reason, I have a very distinct and altogether perplexing desire to do some dishes. More later.

10:31 - Mkay, after a little break, I'm ready to get back to it. I'd like to at least bust through this temple before I crash for the night. Maybe we'll go further, we'll see.

11:24 - Definitely the toughest of the traditional temples so far, though the boss fight was wicked easy once I figured out what to do. Still, a few tough puzzles and challenges in this one. Got my stuff, and I'm heading out.

11:39 - While sailing around I discovered a really weird and kind of awesome secret island. No spoilers, it's just rad. You'll know it when you find it. Beyond that, it looks like I'm heading back to the Temple of the Ocean King for one more seachart. Not looking forward to that, so I'm going to quit here for the night and resume tomorrow.

Current impressions? I'm loving everything about the game except for one thing, and that's the slog that is the Temple of the Ocean King. I don't quite get why there is this insistance on making you jam back to this place over and over again. I certainly appreciate the challenge of the temple itself (not to mention the save point that pops up halfway through the game) but having to redo chunks of it multiple times is just not that much fun. Beyond that though, very few complaints. The controls are a dream, if you ask me. Love the responsiveness, and very rarely have they caused me to do anything dumb. Game looks amazing, as I've said, and while the story is contrived in a very stereotypically Zelda kind of way, I like the characters I've encountered thus far and I am legitimately excited to see how it all ends. Look more more updates tomorrow. For now, sleep. Because that's where I'm a Viking.

The Phantom Hourglass Blog: Day 2

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And we're back to the Zeldaing. What delights await us today?

UPDATES - Last Updated 5:57 PM PST

10:03 - It begins...

10:20 - Kind of a goofy first boss fight. As you'd expect, it's big on the boomerang useage. Just not real clear at first if the thing it looks like you're supposed doing is the right thing to do. It is. Beating him released Leaf, the Spirit of Power, who looks like a fairy, except glowing red. He's going to join my posse. Sweet. Also, at the end of a boss fight, you get a heart container. Talk about bucking trends!

10:25 - Apparently I need to find three of these spirits in order to track down the ghost ship. Power, wisdom, and courage. Triforce anyone?

10:35 - Got the Phantom Hourglass back at the temple of the Ocean King (I knew I'd have to come back here). Now I can search through the temple without getting the life sucked out of me until all the sand reaches the bottom. And before any of you smart alecs out there start whining about how you could just flip the glass over again endlessly, no you bloody can't, and the game addresses that particular contrivance. So nyah!

11:01 - Stealth sequences! Agh! Actually, this section wasn't half bad. Big knight demon dudes you couldn't kill wandered the three floors of the Ocean King temple, and I just had to avoid them while wandering around finding keys and "force gems" (see if you can read between the lines on that one). Some neat traps in this one. Got a new sea chart. I predict more sailing!

11:20 - I must sail northwest, but I need a cannon to break some rocks that are directly in the ship's path. Maybe I should take a trip to cannon island...

11:22 - A copy of Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol just showed up on my desk. On the box is a fat sticker that says "Only at Wal-Mart." That's always a good sign.

11:38 - Cannon island is an island where a guy...makes...cannons... Well, at least there's no false advertising. Had to circumnavigate the entire length of the island to get to the guy, but now I can get all cannon happy on those rocks. Picked up a treasure map too. I'll need a salvage arm before I can get it, though, and the cannon dude hasn't built it yet. Does that mean when I come back, this place will be called Salvage Arm Island?

12:21 - Ran into the ghost ship along the way, and got trapped in a blinding thicket of fog. If you go the wrong way, it resets you back to the beginning of the area. Flailed around in that for a while until a realized Limebeck had hinted about asking someone on a nearby island for help. Sailed back to an island I hadn't been to and got some info by digging a lot of holes with a newly gotten shovel and pilfering some old sailor's journal. As you would figure, the route through the fog is appropriately labyrinthine. Drew the route on my map and set sail.

12:30 - Made it through that damned fog and fought off some pirate ships to get to the next island. I think I'll break here and let my DS recharge for a short bit. Translation: I need a sandwich. More later.

1:15 - To heck with a sandwich, curry in a hurry is the way to go. Chicken Tikka Masala FTW! OK, back to it.

1:28 - This island has a wind gimmick. Big gusts of wind knock me around from time to time, and I just had to blow on a bunch of sacred windmills to get some doors to open. Yeah blowin' on stuff! Wait, what?!?

1:38 - Got legitimately stuck for the first time inside this latest temple, until I realized one of the doors I thought was sealed wasn't. God I'm awesome. While I'm reveling in my own stupidity, I also realized I've failed to mention how totally amazing this game looks. They really did just shove Wind Waker onto a DS cart. You can see the little details Nintendo skimped on to get it to fit, but they're small things. The art style is still amazing, the frame rate never drops, and the camera hasn't screwed me over once yet. Beautiful looking game.

1:40 - Rock Band pricing announced. $170 for everything! Sorry, I know, off topic, but that's exciting!

2:16 - Great second temple. Solid puzzles all around, and the boss fight is nicely tricky. Got the bomb bag here, and the whole level nicely mixed the wind theme with the bomb mechanics. I can definitely feel the game picking up some momentum here. Hopefully it keeps it up.

2:18 - This time it's Neri, the Spirit of Wisdom I've rescued. Heart container! Whoo! OK, break time. More later.

3:22 - Mkay, enough of that "real work" crud. Back to the Zelda.

3:35 - Explored an uncharted island, solved a silly riddle, and picked up the cyclone slate from a giant creepy golden frog dude. This will allow me to travel around via sea cyclones. Boss.

4:13 - So once I headed back to the main island, I had to go back to the temple of the Ocean King, and had to go through all the puzzles I'd solved previously to get to the next area. Bombs helped me circumvent a few of the more lengthy sections, but don't go in without an ample number. I just ran out and ended up having to go back and buy more--at which point, I had to go through the temple AGAIN to get back to that spot. Fun. I really hate it when games make you repeat stuff. I have a feeling there's some sort of teleporting device I'll get later on, but right now this is a little annoying.

4:55 - Mkay, finally got through that blasted temple. A few good puzzles eventually made up for the repetition, including one of those "close the DS shut to solve something" dealies. Now I'm off to another island that isn't on my map. Who makes these silly maps anyway? They're not very accurate.

5:08 - Actually, instead of that, I decided to go buy the salvage arm and go hunt for treasure. I had to yell into the microphone to show just how badly I wanted it. Not the most comfortable thing to do in an office environment.

5:15 - Dug up some extra sand for the Phantom Hourglass using the salvage arm. Gives me more time to live! Salvaging is more of a minigame now, so that's kinda neat. Also, the cyclone slate is pretty neat. You find these little golden frog dudes swimming around, and when you shoot them with your cannon, they stop to chat, and show you a symbol you can draw on the slate to warp back to that point any time. Right, because that's what I do when someone shoots me with a cannon. I exchange pleasantries.

5:49 - Had to sail around for a while until I could remember what I was supposed to do with this crazy key I picked up from the uncharted spot on the map. Then I realized I'd drawn that thing on one of the island maps earlier. This feature DOES come in handy!

5:57 - Just opened up the third temple. Think I'll stop here for tonight and maybe dabble a bit later. Got a concert to go to tonight, so I dunno if I'll play anymore. We'll see. Thus far I like the game a whole bunch, though I'm a little dubious on the game's insistance on forcing you to revisit the same areas again and again. Mainly it's just that damn Temple of the Ocean King. Hopefully this new temple is good. More later/tomorrow!

The Phantom Hourglass Blog: Day 1

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Howdy all,

Yesterday, a shiny retail copy of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass crossed my cluttered desk, and I immediately let out a mild squeal of utter glee. I enjoyed the Wind Waker more than I probably had any right to, given the obscene fetch quest at the end. Definitely been looking forward to this one, and getting to review it should be a nice change of pace from the generic street racers and endless poker games of which I have been forced to partake lately. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to start in on it yet, as I've been handcuffed to a less-than-stellar other game which shall remain nameless...at least, until the review goes up later today. Rest assured, I'll be getting at least an hour or two in before today's On The Spot demo.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, I wanted to try doing something a little bit different with this review. Technically, there's no review embargo for Phantom Hourglass, so I'm free to say whatever the hell I like about it until the review goes up on Monday. As such, I'll be periodically updating my blog with any interesting notes about the game as I play. I'll avoid any significant spoilers wherever I can, but if you'd like to get a little preview of what the game's all about between now and Monday, here ya go. I don't know how long this will last, as I've heard the game isn't much longer than 15 hours, but hopefully there's enough meat to the package to keep this going for another couple of days.

I'll be creating a new blog entry each day, and adding updates infrequently to that day's blog as I go, so be sure to check the page periodically to see if I've added anything. Also, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section. Try to keep them specific, if you can. Questions of "OMG IS IT AWESUMZ?" will be ignored, as hopefully the tone of my posts will let you know if it is, indeed, awesome.

Anyway, with that, let the game begin!

UPDATES - Last Updated 06:09 PM PST

1:00 - Popped in the cartridge. Opening cinematic of seagulls flying by a pirate ship immediately greets me. Link is strattling the front mast of the ship with a %$#*-eating grin on his face. Don't want to guess why. I am also immediately struck as I watch this cutscene that my DS Lite screens are absolutely filthy. It's like Sylvester the Cat ate Lobster over top of this thing. I need some kind of DS squeegee.

1:05 - The game asks me if I hold the stylus in my right or left hand. I choose right, because I am not a child of Satan.

1:11 - Neat opening cinematic with a paper-cutout art style that briefly recaps Wind Waker's plot. Turns out it's an art project by one of Tetra's pirates. Looks like this one picks up very, very soon after Wind Waker left off. Zelda is all Tetra'd out again, hates being called Zelda. Link is apparently a lazy ass, sleeping while he's supposed to be on lookout. Something about a ghost ship. Intrigue!

1:15 - Yep, there's the ghost ship. Tetra's convinced it's got treasure on board, and in a classic bit of plot setup, makes the ill-advised move of hopping on board, only to get kidnapped, or ghostnapped, or something. Link leaps after her, but ends up in the drink. Cut to a scene of Tetra getting sucked down into the ninth level of hell. This is all still the opening cinematic, by the way, so I don't consider this spoilers. I won't be getting as granular with the rest of the plot happenings.

1:17 - Link awakens on an island with a fairy swirling around him. He looks haggard. I think this is how they're explaining why he has none of his items or abilities from Wind Waker. Whee. Fairy's name is Ciela. Apparently she's got amnesia, so she can't help you solve this ghost ship dillema. She directs you toward someone named "grandpa."

1:22 - Met up with gramps. He tells me not to go find the ghost ship. It's evil, like the Event Horizon, or something. Of course I'm going to. He directs me to a sailor who knows more. Ciela's coming with me. This is where the game starts explaining map stuff. It highlights the area near the docks. The map seems to exist on the top screen exclusively at the moment. I assume once I have to start drawing on it, that will change.

1:30 - Second I walk out of the house, an earthquake hits. Apparently there's monsters about. Yay. Before going through the spooky monster filled cave that will take me to the other side of the island (the decidedly less monster-filled bridge got destroyed in the quake), I break rocks for a guy and find rupees in them. He pays me one rupee for my trouble (I made more than that from the rock breaking itself!), and directs me to a tree on the other side of the map that has something neat inside it. Yep, here's where you mark your map for the first time. Either I have Parkinsons disease or it's really hard to write legibly on this thing. I do my best, all the same.

1:36 - Puzzle solving! I need a sword before I can take the monster-filled path. Gramps has a storehouse. There's a code that must be drawn on a sign before it will open. I will leave it to you folk to figure it out. I'll just say that the symbol recognition via the touch screen seems pretty spot-on so far.

1:40 - Gramps has to train me on the sword. I know this is a tutorial, but seriously, did Link falling in the ocean turn his brain into mush? He just saved the princess like one GameCube game ago!

1:46 - If you're going to lock up a cave with a giant door, why would you put the key in a chest three feet away? Early level, I know, but come on now. Also, sword combat is nicely responsive. Nothing but slimes and bats so far, but I've been cuttin' 'em good.

1:49 - Solved a puzzle while having to draw stuff on the map. I think I'm going to stop here for a little bit so I can show this puzzle on On the Spot, and cut some more dudes after that. Seems like a good, early spot to show off. Watch the show, dammit! More later!

4:26 - OTS demo is over. If you caught it, you saw a couple of quick puzzles solved. If anyone noticed that I missed the quick running rat with the key a few times with my sword, that's because I kept trying to tap on it. Fast moving enemies tend not to get caught by that attack very easily. You're supposed to do a sideways slash in their direction to do more of a broad swipe. That works better. So, yeah, I'm just a dumb-dumb.

4:39 - Few questions answered. Gramps is set up as a resident of the island who rescued Ciela when she lost her memory. He's just a kindly old man who knows a thing or two about a thing or two. And in regards to the controls, so far I dig 'em. However, yes, they are very much like the drag-happy controls from Animal Crossing: WW, so if you hated that, you may not dig this. THE BUTTONS, THEY DO NOTHING. NOTHING!!!

4:56 - Went to where the sailor was supposed to be, but no dice. Someone suggests I check out the milk bar. He ain't there either. Bartender says he went to the temple of the Ocean King. Aha, that's what that big temple looking thing is on the top of the island. A temple! Fitting, really. A patron says something about the place sucking the souls out of all those who enter. Maybe I should go buy a wooden shield first.

4:59 - The tree with the special thingamajigger in it? Big rupee worth 100 rupees. Now I can go buy some bombs when I'm done with this quest.

5:03 - Skeletons with souls hanging above them litter the entry way to the temple, telling me they should have made notes on their map, and that enemies unkillable with swords wander the halls. Fun!

5:08 - This sailor guy, Linebeck, is kind of a prick He's trapped in the temple and needs help. Looks like the gimmick here is that certain areas of the floor drain your life, but there are safe zones, often with hearts contained in jars. Anyway, after freeing Linebeck, he gives you a key and rather forcefully demands you find the clue about the ghost ship contained within the temple. Sounds like a plan!

5:17 - Wow. Short temple. Picked up the first seachart in about two minutes. Granted, it's the very first temple. Plus there was a door I couldn't open. Get the feeling I'll be coming back here at some point. This excursion seemed like more of a launching point to get you on your first quest. Sailing for the win! Let's see how this goes...

5:24 - Sailing's super easy. Just plot a course on the seachart, and the boat drives there automagically. You can stop it at any time if there's something you need to do. Went to the first island. Fought some octarocs inside a fortune teller's place, then had to yell into the microphone to get her attention behind a locked door. Yay for microphone useage.

5:39 - Had to wander around the island a bit to solve the puzzle that rescued the fortune teller. Best line in the game so far: "You touched the right places."

5:44 - Yeah blowing in the microphone! This game really is running the gamut of DS gimmicks. Not in a bad way, mind you. To the fire temple!

6:09 - Died for the first time inside the Fire Temple, so I think I'll stop here for the evening. You get the boomerang here, and the temple is filled to the brim with boomerangy puzzles. Drawing the path for the boomerang is neat, and so far the puzzles have been clever, if not super-challenging. Some enemies can only be taken down via the boomerang as well. Specifically the flaming variety. This is definitely a properly involved temple, with multiple floors and all sorts of traps and baddies. There is apparently some evil darkness at the end of this temple, but that'll have to wait until tomorrow. I have domestic duties to take care of this evening, so no more Zelda until tomorrow. Check in tomorrow for more updates!

The Game That Launched a Million Drummers

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As someone who has been playing drums on and off for a good 13 years now, Rock Band started out as an interesting curiosity. Drum games have never quite worked for me. I hear the DrumMania arcade machines are pretty awesome, but I've never played one. The closest I ever came was the home version Konami released here in 2000, and I thought that game was garbage, primarily because the pads just sucked. Beyond that, the landscape gets pretty bare, degenerating into the Donkey Konga and Taiko Drum Master range--games I don't much enjoy, myself.

Then Harmonix had to go and do something crazy. They build this kooky pad set that's set up pretty similarly to most practice pads you can buy at real music stores, include some drum sticks, and design the gameplay in such a way that by the time you get up to expert level, you are actually playing the goddamn drums. There are no bones about it. This isn't the guitar hero/real guitar debate all over again. You may be hitting less stuff than you are when you play a real drum kit, but you are hitting that less stuff in a mechanically identical way to authentic drumming. Essentially, whether you want it to be or not, this is a teaching tool. Rock Band is going to manufacture real, honest to god drummers.

I know it sounds like hyperbole, and I don't mean to oversell the game. But at no point was this fact more apparent to me than today at EA's Summer Showcase, the company's big gamer's day thing where it showed off the gaggle of games it has coming out for the next eight months. Brad covered the basics in his updated hands-on. EA had the game playable inside the campus' auditorium, complete with a drum riser and a gigantic screen behind the people playing. Hell of a set-up, and certainly not the way you'll see the game played by most consumers, but awesome all the same.

Anyway, I digress. I spent some time playing the game after I got all my write-ups done. Much of the time was spent drumming, and I finally got to try a few songs on hard and expert. When I first got hands-on time with the game back at E3, during that fateful stage performance during the live broadcast, I set the game to medium because, quite frankly, I was a little paranoid about looking like an idiot on live internet TV. The thing about the drums on medium is that it skips hits. Like, for instance, on the bass drum intro to "Wanted Dead or Alive," you only hit the bass pedal once on every hit, even though the rhythm is a hit followed by two quick hits in a "dun, dundun, dun, dundun" kind of thing. Hard and expert put it back to the real rhythm. Same goes for every song. For me, being a drummer, that is a much more natural feel. I've heard these songs, and come to expect notes that aren't there on easy and medium. On the songs that I played today, including "Wanted Dead or Alive," "Say It Ain't So," (did both hard AND expert on that one) and "Wave of Mutilation," I did everything on hard and expert, and fell into each song really quickly. In some instances, I wasn't even really looking that carefully at the screen because the rhythms just became natural. I think I damn near broke that bass pedal during "Wave of Mutilation" I was rocking out so hard.

Of course, there's a flipside to that coin. I sat and watched several other people, who I presume weren't drummers of any kind, fumble their way through the available songs. Some people you could tell were just hopeless, completely unable to grasp the proper timing even on easy. Some people just don't have a sense of rhythm--it happens. Others seemed to grasp the timing, but clearly just weren't used to holding sticks and hitting things in said timing, not to mention using their foot as well. Those are the guys I watched get better each time they played. Most of them dared not go beyond medium, but you could see them get more comfortable with each song they played. They weren't hitting 100% or anything, but the comfort level definitely improved.

And that's the thing of it: the ability to learn the basics of drumming is there, embedded within the game. I guarantee that anyone with a rhythmic bone in their body who picks up Rock Band and dedicates themselves to getting good at the drumming part of the game will be able to play a real drum kit at least well enough to get by. I'm not saying you're going to become the next Neil Peart or Danny Carrey by playing Rock Band, because you won't, but you will be able to comfortably play a 4/4 rock beat, the cornerstone of all things rock drumming. It took me a good number of lessons before I got to a point where a 4/4 beat became second nature. You kids are going to have it easy.

The one thing that's still an x-factor for me is drum fills. To me, at least from the couple of songs I played today, it seemed like a big difference between hard and expert difficulty was the way fills are mapped out. For instance, "Say It Ain't So" plays basically the same the whole way through on both hard and expert, save for a few minor adjustments. The big difference is the wicked crazy snare fill right at the end of the bridge/guitar solo. It's easy on hard, and note for note difficult on expert. That stuff is fine--the thing I'm more concerned about are the fills people can make on their own. Save for a few song sections I remembered as having very specific fills, the "free fill" areas, as I call them, seemed to be a little random at times. Plus, because of the way the audio was mixed in the room, I had a hard time hearing what I was even doing when I was hitting that stuff. Mind you, I'm all for improvisation, I was simply left curious as to whether those free fill sections would sound particularly good if you knew what you were doing, or just lead to a lot of messy sounding drum wankery, a la Keith Moon on a horse tranquilizer bender.

The thing that's really interesting about all of this is that drummers are traditionally the hardest brand of musician to breed. Well, OK, maybe harpsichord players are tougher, but in the realm of rock, drummers are notoriously tough to get, especially good ones. There's a simple reason for this--drums are a pain in the ass. The equipment is heavy, awkward, and expensive, and drummers simply do not get the glory. Ever. Guitarists and singers get all the fame, the money, the notoriety, and, of course, the women. Bass players might not get much glory, but they've got it relatively easy in terms of equipment hassles and at least they get to move around on stage and get noticed. What do drummers get? With a few exceptions, they get a few quick camera shots in the videos and performances and no love beyond that. And the women? Unless you're ridiculous famous (like, Tommy Lee/Lars Ulrich/Travis Barker status), you're getting the chicks that the guitar player and singer turned away. I guess the one exception is that guy from the Strokes (whose name I don't know and refuse to look up), who as I recall, is shacking up with Drew Barrymore. Wait, does that even count? Didn't Drew Barrymore's hotness and relevance dry up sometime around 1993? That's like winning the lottery and finding out your winnings have been rate adjusted for what they'd have been worth 15 years ago.

So, yeah, long story short, drummers don't get much play, despite the amount of effort that goes into the craft. Maybe Rock Band will change that to some degree. It's still an overly expensive instrument to pick up, but if you learn the basics of drumming before you have to spend dime one on a crappy Mapex starter kit (do they even still make those?) with even crappier Sabian entry-level cymbals and hardware that looks like it's made out of a combination of thin sheets of tin and a prayer (all of which still costs several hundred dollars, at LEAST), maybe that will make the decision all the clearer, and solidify or dissolve whatever drive you might have to learn the instrument for real. That's what's been missing from drumming. A concrete and popular way to get people interested without spending an assload of money. Sure, we don't know how much Rock Band will cost, but anything other than a kidney, a first-born child, and all your body hair would be a good start.

It's much, much too early to say definitively if Rock Band will be worth owning for all the people of the world. But for anyone with aspirations of one day sitting behind 40-piece drum kit floating inside a spinning cage high atop a stage inside a jam packed arena (because, let's face it, we've ALL had that dream at least once in our lives), it's looking like it could be the sort of thing that 's just too cool and too beneficial to pass up.

It Must be May Again...

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A dry heat encompasses me as I sit at a semi-cramped workspace, surrounded by coworkers, laptops, empty red bull cans, impossible entanglements of wires, and one poorly positioned fan. The heat comes from a high combination of sources, and is combated by precious few. My hands sweat profusely as I read through fact sheet after press release after asset disc, scanning for points to touch on as I write up games that will be shown at a trade show that has yet to even begin. As I do this, I begin rocking back and forth slightly without even realizing it, like a visibly upset autistic child.

My iPod has been the source of music for the entire room since I arrived from my morning press conference. It started on song 75 of 6805. It's up to 210 now. Some song from the new Eels album. It is soon replaced by the shrieking grindcore sounds of Dillinger Escape Plan. Variety is the spice of life.

All around me, transparent versions of people I know watch over me with frightening looks in their eyes. Tim Tracy looks much happier than a window decal ever should. Jeff Gerstmann is staring a hole in my soul.

My legs ache ever so slightly, a side effect from sitting in the same chair for over eight hours, only taking 2-3 minute standing breaks every hour or so to grab a piece of stale pizza or answer nature's call. I did not sleep well last night, and have no illusions of making up for that fact any time throughout the next week. My eyes burn from the combination of the air's relative dryness and lack of proper rest.

I have heard and used the word zombie approximately 130 times in the last 24 hours. Make that 131.

The mechanations of cranes frequently pull my attention away from whatever I'm doing, causing me to look up and see one teamster or another gruffly adjusting a light or a kiosk while scratching their asses and wooly facial hair simultaneously.

Seemingly every hour on the hour, one thing or another causes the entire room to stir. Be it a big announcement from a press conference, a technical snafu, an emergency video coming in STAT; whatever the case, I could set my watch by it at this juncture...if I actually owned a watch.

I hurt, I'm tired, I'm grody, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm stressing. And yet, I couldn't be happier to be here, a part of this monstrosity of a trade show, covering it with all these thoroughly insane, but thoroughly cool people. Living in this body-heated box for 8-10 hours a day is a privledge dammit, and while this conglomerate of minor annoyances may try to bring me down, it ain't gonna. Between the new consoles, new games, and just doing my damn job, I don't have time to be unhappy. Irritation is a luxury I cannot afford. Ladies and gentlemen, it's great to be back in Los Angeles. Seriously. I am willing to love this town for exactly one week a year. This week. E3 week.

Only 16 hours until the real show starts. Godspeed You Black Emperors.

Pissing Off Juggalos Everywhere

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Today, I received this PM in regards to my Backyard Wrestling 2 review. I'll save the commentary until after you've read it. Note: this PM contains foul language and a complete lack of proper sentence structuring. Your eyes may bleed.

"alright, i red your review of Backyard Wrestling 2 and yout toally suck dude. only thing i agree is that the soudn effects are missing, yes, that is right. but alright, let me say, WHO GIVES A DMAN BOUT GRAPHICS? real gamers wont give a **** bout graphics, exemple: The Legend Of Zelda. rated one of the best games ever, the *****st graphics ever. and for more, "voice acting"??? have you never heard the Insane Clown Posse voice or something? they recorded their own vocal tracks you stupid ass! not brutal? BYW games are more brutal than whatever you play. and for once more, every seem to comment on how its not wrestling. i wodner why really..maybe because...THEY NEVER SAID IT WAS WRESTLING! wow that makes sense. its BACKYARD wrestling. have you never assisted a backyard wrestling match before? have you never tsarted your own backyard wrestling league? it has about nothing to do with wrestling else than a couple moves. and yeah i agree, there are glitches, that always suck. and the music? its good music, not like stupid as sgame shavin "Barbie Party" **** music. and also, sayin all that stuff, bout the guy stabbin the guy in the eye, wheres your sense of humor? todays peoles sense of humor lacks alot of originality, you cnt even laugh at a fart nowadays else its wrong. and if i had "Someone understands. That someone is Robocop." has my profile, i would tlak much as a ***** peace sucka. JUGGALO FOR LIFE aint no dissin round the ICP, *****! ban me from the site, i dont give a ****, i wont see all you critics sayin **** on games, thats really not reviewing a game the good way. reviewein a game is givin out good and bad points, and sayin who would like that type of game, not going and end it up with "flat-out bad, dont play that game" bla bla, thats just pure ****** ass **** just like you. hope you enjoyed the **** iw rote for ya sucka, and dont forget, ban my acount so i dont see your fat stinkin llama face anymore, bEYAAAAAAAATCH!!!!!!"

It's funny. I don't get good hate mail like this nearly as much as you might think I would. It's great and all, but you know, it's because of people like this that I can't listen to the Insane Clown Posse anymore without feeling an overwhelming sadness.

Anyhow, just thought I'd share with people one of the pure joys of my day. To dude who sent this to me (who is, incidentally, banned now), I thank you for putting a smile on my face.