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EBautista Blog

Left 4 Red Ring of Death

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It's that time of the year, again!

Halo RROD - Left 4 Dead

Believe it or not, this is my first red ring of death. Fittingly, Left 4 Dead is what sent my supposed "RROD-proof" Halo Special Edition console to its green, green grave. The poor thing was barely a year old! Fortunately, my cousin has my back-up premium unit, which I had sent back to Microsoft twice already for repairs.

Dotted Lines of Death - NXE

My final thoughts before Xbox 360 #3 bit the dust:

"No Mercy on easy difficulty with pistols with no health packs and no friendly fire. I can do it!"
"Oooh, gpbmike is on. Oh, but he's watching some lame Netflix movie."
"I'll just jump straight off this building for a short-cut, thank you very much. Follow me, Bill!"
"Wait--What the hell? OK, reset. Wait a minute. Breathe. Turn back on."
"Well ... Damn it."

EDIT: Could it be the NXE? "Is NXE causing red ring of death for Xbox 360?"

BC and CC, but Mostly BC

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During this sun-filled weekend of picnics and barbecues, be sure to set aside at least a few hours of indoor video gaming with friends—like real friends, in person.

On Friday night, my old roommates from college paid me a visit, and after a nice, healthy dinner at Round Table Pizza, we sat down in my living room to play two of my most recent XBLA purchases: Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Castle Crashers. My first impressions of the multiplayer modes earlier in the week were disappointing, but I gave them another chance. I'm glad I did.

It took my friends half a dozen suicides to warm up to BC's old school controls (and the pretty terrible Xbox 360 D-pad), but we were swinging around in the multiplayer modes in no time. By far, our favorite mode was Don't Touch the Floor, customized with five minute match times and 10 lives per player.

The first DTTF map, Construction Chaos, is perfect for 2v2 team play. ProTip: Each team should fight for control of the bottom two platforms in the center. Have one guy push the enemy off the higher level to a teammate below (the "cleaner") who can sweep the trespassers off the edge with a flurry of bullets.

We died a lot in the second DTTF map, Warehouse War, due to our collective lack of grappling skill (and the pretty terrible Xbox 360 D-pad!). The bottom platforms are too close to the spikes below to perform a full-extension, last-second save when falling to your death. Inversely, the side walls are too far from the platforms to easily pull yourself back in from a wall-slamming push. Holding the down and B button to grapple horizontally while falling is the only way to do save yourself in these situations, and that takes a bit of good timing.

The last DTTF map, Lethal Liquid, is a great place for shootouts. Unlike in the other maps, the platforms here aren't symmetrical on both sides of the screen, so there were times when my friends would have to crouch on a right platform just to shoot me standing on a left platform. I like how the platforms are close enough to the walls to where you can stand at the edge and pin your falling enemies to the walls with a string of bullets. Reminds me of Devil May Cry.

OK, this post was supposed to be about Castle Crashers too, but I didn't realize I'd write this much about BC. We take our games seriously.

I'll keep this part short. Basically, Castle Crashers online is frustratingly buggy and Castle Crashers offline with friends, chips, and dip is a highly entertaining experience. We just beat the game last night, and it's worth every penny. I do hope they fix the online mode with a patch of some sort. Wait--does that even happen with XBLA games?

Geometry Scores

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In the epic conflict between ships and shapes, I think I've posted a few fairly decent high scores:

Hopefully, some of those will hold up while I take my tours of duty through Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Braid. Bottom of friends list is no fun.

Star Tracks

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Here you go, Lee (more singing, less "groove"):

[video=diMxlDr95b0Evz7c]

NOTE: First song has a bit of vocal lag because I forgot to calibrate the sound before howling into the microphone. Other than that, I have no excuses for the way we sound. Enjoy!

SingStar Groove

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Back in May, amid all the Wii Fit hype, I decided to purchase a game with comparatively little fanfare: SingStar for the PS3. My fear was that I'd lose interest in the fitness game after only 30 minutes. Fortunately, that didn't happen with SingStar--I played for about an hour before I moved on to something else. Smart purchase, Eddie.

Fast forward (and rewind) to a birthday party last Friday night. Determined to get my money's worth, I decided to drag my hefty PS3--complete with SingStar, the Eye camera, two microphones, and 15 extra songs--to my cousin's house. Participants were shy at first, but something quickly changed the mood. The Eye's red light turned on mid-song, activating a picture-in-picture view of the singer's performance being recorded. For 30 seconds at a time, people suddenly became rock stars, ballerinas, dancers, or just plain fools who have never seen a camera before. It was all great fun. We ended up tearing through all the multiplayer modes, including our personal favorite: Pass-the-Mic. Seriously, if you're only playing this game solo, you're really missing out.

Anyway, my family is a wacky bunch, and I auto-generated a music video (using Pinnacle Studio software) of their performaces just to prove it. I threw the clip of the dancing Wookiee in there too because he's awesome. I think it turned out pretty good.

[video=IXA3xTOr5b0EuD_a]

Operation: Xbox Customer Support (S)Cares

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It's true: Operation: Xbox Customer Support Cares is in full effect. I happened to catch the friendlier (or creepier) side of our favorite support group at the tail end of a mostly scripted conversation about removing payment options on Xbox Live. We read through the usual lines: He gets my information, I explain my problem, John says "OK. The process will take about 30 days," I record the reference number, and then I say "Thanks. Goodby--"

Random Filipino dude, might be my uncle"Oh Ed, just one more thing."
"What's up, 'J'?"
"This has nothing to do with your account or anything. I just want to ask you: Are you Filipino?"
"I am Filipino. You are too, I assume."
"Hehe, yes I am. Eddie BowTEEStuh. So ... You're in California, huh?"
"Correct, again. Where are you?"
"Umm ... excuse me?"
"Where do you live?"
[Slight pause]
"Umm ... hmm that's confidential information, sir."

Well, that's not really fair, is it? I didn't see how this one-way conversation could ever blossom into a friendship, so I repeated my goodbye and ended the call. If you're out there, John: Break down that wall. Break it down.

Jingle Bell Rock Band

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If you're looking for something fun to do over the holidays, I highly recommend playing Rock Band with friends or family (in person). I hosted such a party with friends about a week ago, and we had an absolute blast. Check out the pictures!

Fake MusiciansPlanning on hosting your own Rock Band party? Here are some things you might want to keep in mind:

1.) Microphone Lag: Some TV sets, especially older Samsung DLP models (like mine), may add additional lag to the player vocals. In my case, I found out after the party that turning off the Dolby Digital 5.1 setting in the game significantly reduces the microphone delay, but doesn't completely eliminate it. Find more lag-reduction tips here.

2.) Down Strummer Bug: Apparently, I have the dreaded "down strummer bug" on my Strat guitar but haven't noticed it. If it's bothering you, you might look into getting a replacement from EA.

3.) Neighbors: If you share the same walls with your neighbors, you might want to give them a heads-up that you and your friends will be rocking about through the night, and leave your number in case things get too wild. Hell, invite them over. My party lasted until 2:30 a.m. and I received no complaints at all.

4.) Nylon-Tipped Drumsticks, Mic Stand, Wireless Guitars: A few nice-to-haves.

5.) Say it Ain't So: Good "sing along" song for everyone to get involved.

6.) Singing is Addictive and Contagious: Don't be surprised if someone calls you up the next day asking to come over to sing "that Nine-Inch Nails song."

I'm looking forward to introducing my big family to Rock Band during our traditional Christmas Eve celebration. They won't know most of the songs, but I'm sure they'll still have some fun. If they aren't diggin' it, I have Scene-It too. If they're not diggin' Scene-It, then, well, I guess we'll fall back to the default pastime: Karaoke. [sigh]

It's Good to Play B3yond Sometimes

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I have a strong feeling that a higher power wants me to play games on the PS3. Last week, my 360 stopped reading 360 games. And now, I realize that I've forgotten my Wii (and Super Mario Galaxy) back at my parents' home in San Diego. Wonderful. Hopefully, a quick session of Heavenly Sword will appease the Sony gods.

They won't be happy tomorrow, though. That's when I get my new Halo 3 special edition Xbox 360 console, which I, in moment of weakness, ordered online last Wednesday. The unopened Rock Band bundle in the center of my living room was a depressing sight. Besides, I was looking for an excuse to buy the Halo 3 edition console, anyway--it will look good with my nerdy Master Chief helmet. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with my old console. Once it's repaired/replaced (MS: Send me the damn box, already!), I thought I'd give the console to my problem-prone cousin as a random-act-of-kindness thing. OR, I can make it a community 360, which cousins can borrow and bring to family parties and such. OR, maybe I'll just keep the 360 as a back-up unit, in case the Halofied unit decides to break down. Suggestions are welcome.

Since I didn't have many gaming options this past Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to finally concentrate on the Wii and the delightful Super Mario Galaxy. In the last five days, I managed to snag 71 stars and beat the game--not too shabs considering most of my sessions occured late, late at night when my 1-year-old nephew was sleeping, or between episodes of peppy children's programming. I love games that can be played in both long stretches or quick 10 to 15 minute sessions.

I think my parents are still amazed that I'm still playing video games after all these years. Before he went to sleep Saturday night, my dad (a smog technician / mechanic for the last 28 years) unfolded a newspaper, sat next to me, and asked me a few familiar questions while I slouched on the couch lazily waving the Wii remote and nunchuk at the TV screen:

"How do you know what to do?"
"Well, sometimes you get clues, or people tell you what to do if you talk to them. Other times, you just explore and figure out what you need to do."
"Ohhh, OK [I can tell he was feining interest.]. Is this what you do at work?"
"Ha. Sometimes. Wait--What do you mean?"
"Do you make these games?"
"Nope. I'm a manager. I manage people who work on a Web site and manage the content and tools they work with. It's a different kind of content now, actually. I hardly have anything to do with video games anymore. That was GameSpot."
"Ohhh, right. GameStop. You're Google now?"
"Yahoo ... Oh, and by the way, I also majored in English, not 'Computers.'"
"Ahh. Manager. That's good!" [A headline catches his eye.]
"This was a nice talk, Dad. Let's have it again this Christmas" ;-)

Xbox 360: Good News and Bad News

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Good News:

* I got an Overkill in Halo 3 for the first time (4 kills in 4 seconds!).

* I'm SO close to finishing Bioshock.

* I like Assassin's Creed so far. I played it for a bit on Saturday.

* I bought the Xbox Live Chatpad which lets me easily respond to messages and rename saved Halo 3 clips.

* Rock Band and Mass Effect come out on Tuesday, and I have Rock Band preordered!

Bad News:

* The DVD drive laser on my Xbox 360 just died today. Um ... Carcassonne, anyone?

I love this game!

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Super Mario Galaxy BoxSometimes, buying a game on launch day without a preorder isn't terrible. Take Tuesday night for example. After finding out that my local Toys R Us wouldn't have any copies of Super Mario Galaxy until Wednesday, I managed to snag one of the last two copies from Best Buy before the store closed, PLUS a $25 Best Buy gift card to match the Toys R Us promo. Good deal!

It was a MUCH different story last week on Tuesday when I walked into my local Gamestop just to see if extra copies of Call of Duty 4 were available for purchase. "Did you PREORDER?" the clerk says. When I shake my head, she snickers "Hehe, then not for YOU" and she gives me the ol' preorder lecture capped with a desperate invitation for me to browse through their hefty Preorder Bible. I'm sure you've either experienced or heard all about that stuff, though, so I won't rant about it too much.

Instead, I guess I'll share some random game-related thoughts I've had in the last few months. I'd like to get into a habit of posting such thoughts in a more timely and frequent manner. I know some folks didn't appreciate my last blog post in July, which talked about what happened at E3 ... in 2006.

GameSpot Staff Emblem1.) GameSpot Staff Emblem - Gone! - I knew it would happen eventually, given that I haven't been working for GameSpot since August. Darn, I guess this means I can't embed videos anymore. Let's test that out:

Yeah, that didn't work at all. Ah well, those were good times, man.

Players' Ball Emblem2.) Players' Ball - I lost the staff emblem, but I gained a Players' Ball emblem for attending GameSpot Players' Ball back in October. If I were still working for GameSpot, I would have probably played a hand in setting up the show, providing visual security, and tearing down the stations (like at After Hours and G.A.M.E.). But this time, I was able to just relax, chew some long-lasting gum, play Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3, eat some free food, chat it up with friends / former coworkers, and bother Ricardo. It was great.

Reign Over Me Poster3.) Reign Over Me - Reign Over Me has a few scenes where Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle are playing what's obviously Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2, but they kept referring to the game as "Shadows of the Colossus" with an extra "s" and using cheap third-party Xbox controllers to play their pluralized game. Does anyone else get annoyed by these things? How am I supposed to believe that Sandler's character plays video games when the movie can't even get these details right? I'm having enough trouble buying Sandler in a dramatic role.

4.) Take one Xbox 360 and Call Me in the Morning - In the past couple of months, my teenage cousin broke up with his girlfriend, heard about a friend getting shot at a party, and received a speeding ticket. Bummer. My prescription for him: Play video games. I let him borrow my Xbox 360 and a few games to help him take his mind off of things and keep him out of trouble. You know, I think it totally worked. However, I'm a little worried that he chose to play Crackdown over Halo 3 or Bioshock.

Rock Band Boxshot5.) Thanksrocking - I want to introduce my family to Rock Band this Thanksgiving, but I really don't want to lug the 360 and all the necessary game equipment on the plane ride to SoCal. So I'm taking the Wii, hoping that Wii Sports or Umbrella Chronicles are compelling enough to break up sets of bad karaoke midi tracks and off-key vocals. Meh, who am I kidding.

6.) Games Update - It's a great time to be a gamer. I've purchased one game each week in the past three weeks (Orange Box, Call of Duty IV, Super Mario Galaxy), so I've got my hands full. I'm planning on renting Assassin's Creed and Heavenly Sword this week. Almost finished with Bioshock. Rock Band and Mass Effect should take up most of my time next week and through the winter. Hopefully, I can still squeeze in some Halo 3 matches here and there.

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