What to Say

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Unsurprisingly, the GameSpot staff has been doing a lot of talking over the past 72 hours--with each other, with friends, with family--and there has definitely been a lot to be said, a lot to be sorted. I'm not going to burden you with the bulk of it here, because a lot of it is private and a lot of it you've probably heard already, but mostly I've grown weary of typing out the same conversation with different people. I will tell you some things that I haven't had a chance to get down in writing yet. Now seems as good a time as any.

Jeff Gerstmann has been a significant figure in both my personal and professional life for a long, long time. I first met him around 1997 though an odd confluence of technology, music, and personal determination. He was in a bizarre local rap-ska band that, at 17, I found utterly fascinating, and he seemed funny as hell. By my recollection, we were fairly fast friends, though I was also kind of pushy about it. As an aside, this was also how I first met review editor Alex Navarro, though at the time he was a twitchy little drummer who, for the first few years that I knew him, was never seen without his black knit cap.

Our ridiculous, protracted rap project the Suburban All-Stars was one of the more prominent early fruits of my friendship with Jeff. We arguably spent more time making each other laugh really, really hard than we did making music, though Jeff mastered the walking-and-chewing-gum dynamic and did both at once with his following music project, Midnight Brown, whose catalog stands as both some of my favorite music ever written, as well as one of the most well-produced series of inside jokes ever. I always admired Jeff's capacity for cutting wit and really imaginative vulgarity, and being around him makes you want to be funnier and more vulgar.

My friendship with Jeff was one of the main reasons I got a part-time job with GameSpot in the spring of 2000, handling support email remotely throughout the week while toiling idly at a local JC. I was only in the office one day a week, and while catching glimpses of what it took to write about games for a living, I knew I wanted to be there all the time. Jeff has literally been there ever since, if not as my direct supervisor, than as a close co-worker and a continued friend. It's been almost 8 years since I started working at GameSpot, and Jeff was there for nearly all of my fondest and most memorable experiences on the job. He's covered my ass through rough patches and helped me become a writer I never thought I'd be, or even wanted to be. Simply put, I would not be in the video game business at all were it not for Jeff Gerstmann, and I am loathe to imagine what I might be doing with my life right now without the focus I've earned from having this ridiculous job. Long after the considerable novelty of "I write about games for a living!" wore off, it was my continued professional interaction with Jeff that has kept this job fun.

But now, Jeff's gone, and I'm not afraid to say that it absolutely breaks my heart. I felt the departure of Rich Gallup from the site earlier this year in my bones, but this goes deeper. Jeff was a rare constant, and this marks the end of an era for both GameSpot and myself, a fact that doesn't seem to be getting any less upsetting for me. Still, one thing about a situation like this is that it encourages you to break out lots of trite sentiment and soft, obvious analogies--things that embarrassingly manage to resonate sincerely when one is in crisis--and there is one chestnut I've used on more than one occassion over the past 72 hours that I would like to share:

The ball is still in motion. This isn't the end for Jeff Gerstmann, this isn't the end for GameSpot, and this isn't the end for me.

drop the mic.

Advantage: The Future

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Here's a quote from the ESRB concerning the latest drama surrounding Manhunt 2:

"Parents need to be vigilant about monitoring what their children are downloading on the Internet and ensure that they are not making unauthorized and oftentimes illegal modifications to software and hardware that remove the controls the industry has so diligently put in place for their own protection."

Uhm, if your kids are savvy enough to modify their video-game hardware, be it through hardware or software means, I seriously doubt you stand even the remotest of chances of monitoring their media intake. Then again, I'm not at all convinced that monitoring media intake past a certain age is practical, possible, or even particularly fruitful. I had no problem watching movies and listening to music and playing games that my parents would not have approved of, and that was before the damn Internet.

Princemon!

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Once again, Vinny goes above and beyond the call of duty for the sole sake of being ridiculous.

[video=JX07w2P65b4Ovj7c]

RE: Dragon Ball Online

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Here's an IM exchange I had earlier today with GameSpot video producer Vinny Caravella.

Ryan (4:13:17 PM): so how excited are we about Dragon Ball Online!
Vinny (4:13:41 PM): I know my power levels are through the roof!
Ryan (4:14:12 PM): POWER LEVEL ONE GAJILLIONDY
Vinny (4:15:00 PM): WHHAA!! THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE! (so this is the power ryan was hiding when I talked with him before...)
Ryan (4:17:15 PM): now I will show you the true meaning of power! AUUUAUAUAUARRRRRRRBGHGHAUUGGGHHHHHH!
Ryan (4:17:20 PM): *glow*
Vinny (4:19:35 PM): GAH, (power...so intense...must buy Frank more time!) MONSTER!! Stop playing with me and show me what you've really got! I'm bored of these games!
Ryan (4:23:11 PM): To fight you now would be a waste of such perfection...it would be like SQUASHING A BUG! No! I require a more worthy opponent to test my new-found powers. You have three days to prepare yourself for...UTTER DOMINATION!
Vinny (4:28:41 PM): Damn you Rydeezy!! (such arrogance! his power is off the charts, not even Bradku could hope to challenge him at this point. In 2 days Jeffeta will come out of the Hypoglycemic Time Chamber, but could he have found a way to surpass Super Bagman 2?)
Ryan (4:29:06 PM): alright, I'm done. I can't top that
Vinny (4:29:54 PM): whew...dorkfest over
Ryan (4:30:04 PM): I couldn't tell if that was awesome or depressing
Vinny (4:30:22 PM): pretty awesome

Glory to the Machine!

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For the past two years, my younger brother has been heavily involved in his high school's robotics team, which is tied directly into the FIRST Robotics Competition. It's a pretty amazing program designed to add some flash to the often seemingly stale, mind-numbing field of engineering. The idea is inherently appealing to me--kids building robots to play sports strikes me as the ultimate, real-life video game--but I didn't really realize how exciting it could be in practice until I went to one of the regional qualifiers held in a sports arena at San Jose State University last year. Blaring music, mascots, color-coordinated cheering sections, and a high-energy MC keeping the crowd perpetually pumped. The game itself was also a sight to behold, with six robots ranging from four to six feet in height and from 100 to 120 pounds in weight fighting it out on the playfield. I can remember thinking to myself "I am watching my brother pilot a robot at a varsity-level sporting event. I am living in the future."

My brother's team, the Tech High Phantoms (#675), and their robot Gloria Machina, competed at two regional qualifiers this year, making their way into the semifinals at San Jose State University, and the quarterfinals at the University of California at Davis. I went to both regionals to cheer on the team, and while I had never understood the emotional investment that hardcore sports fans put into their teams, now I get it. I understand why they always refer to the team with the inclusive "we". "We had a really good season this year." The highs when they won were sublime, and had me jumping up out of my seat and screaming at the top of my lungs. I dug my fingers into my girlfriend's leg when they were one game away from getting knocked out of the quarterfinals because of the stress, and when they did lose it left me in a funk for the rest of the day. I can't even imagine what the pressure felt like for the team itself--the pit crew, the programmers, the mechanical engineers, and likely most of all, the pilots. These nerds are getting to experience the visceral glory and agony usually reserved for athletes.

While I knew that the top three teams from each regional qualifier would be invited to compete at the National Championships in Atlanta, I was unaware that there were two additional awards given out at each regional qualifier for exceptional teams who would also be invited to Atlanta. I was driving back to San Francisco from Davis, bummed out that we had been knocked out during the quarterfinals. It ended the season for the team, and since my brother's a senior, it would be his last time competing in FIRST. But then I got the call--we had gotten the Engineering Inspiration award, and we were going to Atlanta!

My dad and my brother went as spectators to the nationals last year, and I'm told that the regionals are peanuts in comparison. They fill the Georgia Dome with four playfields going simultaneously, with the adjacent convention center serving as a pit area for the hundred of individual teams. Imagine March Madness, except it takes place over three days, and there are robots. It's like Nerdvana. Not wanting to miss such a spectacle, especially when our team has made it further now than they have in their seven-year history, I'm packing my bags and heading out to Atlanta to watch it all unfurl next week. With DV camera in hand I intend on covering the event embedded-reporter-style, so expect to see something up on the site, possibly during the competition. You'll also be able to watch live video streams of the championships courtesey of NASA, and if you do, be sure to root for the Tech High Phantoms, Team 675!

Gloria Machina! Glory to the machine!

UPDATE: Team 675 has been assigned to the Galileo Field. Additionally, I'm told that DirecTV subscribers will be able to tune into channel 376 on Friday and Saturday April 13 and 14 between 9AM and 6PM EST to watch the competition live. How's that for media exposure!

Peggle Counterpoint

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Matthew Rorie stole a portion of my precious time by introducing me to Peggle. Now, I am taking back the night with Irritating Game.

One of these games should show up on XBLA for around 400 points. The other will drive you insane in record-breaking time.

EDIT: My current top score is 33.711. Beat that!