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aerobie Blog

Three and a half years of being a gamer dad

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It's Father's Day, so I'm reflecting on being a father. I am grateful for my son. At the moment, he, more than anyone or anything else, is helping me grow. He lets me know when I am not being present. He shows me that I am really not as patient as I like to think I am. He humbles me, and in doing so, shows me where I might improve. And I want to. For his sake and for mine and for everyone's. I love him dearly.

He's showing an increasing interest in games now. He plays Pac Man on my PS3, Tinker on my PC, and a pile of iOS games on my iPod Touch. I think Zen Pinball, Tekken Bowl, and Ninjatown: Trees of Doom are his current favourites.

And I'm coming to the point where I have to start making decisions about how to guide his gaming. Do I need to put limits on his game play? What kind of limits?

My parents never put any gaming limits on me. And I think I turned out all right, even as I grew up with games like Doom and Mortal Kombat. But now that I'm the parent, and now that the games are Gears of War and the Mortal Kombat reboot, I'm less sure about just letting my son just go to it on his own.

It's clear to me at the moment, now that he's only three. There are certain games I don't want him playing, and I don't want him spending his whole weekend with my iPod. But what about when he's seven? Or twelve? Or fifteen? When do I hand it all over to him and say, "It's up to you to figure out the balance now"?

I know I still have a few more years to think of the answer, but it's been on my mind on and off since my son was born. And I'm still no clearer on what the right answer is.

Anyway. Happy Father's Day to other gamer dads. And to everyone else, Happy GameSpotting!

aerobie

What Being a Gamer Means to Me

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I am a gamer. And this is some of what being a gamer means to me:

  1. A party is instantly better when videogames are involved.
  2. Same with a conversation.
  3. I measure time not so much in decades, but in consoles.
  4. Just hearing the word "Hadouken!" gets me psyched.
  5. A mall's reputation hinges almost entirely on whether or not it has a game retailer.
  6. When I'm trying to pack a suitcase, I hear Tetris music.
  7. When I'm reading a map, I hear Zelda music.
  8. When I enter a building for the first time, I judge whether or not it would make a good FPS map.
  9. E3, not January 1, marks the start of the videogame year.
  10. Gaming is the only interest I can think of that I have held for as much of my life as I can remember.

What does being a gamer mean to you?

Happy GameSpotting!

aerobie

5 best and 5 worst things about my iPod Touch

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I got an iPod Touch. After a month with it, there are things that I am enjoying, but I am far from won over. This will likely be my first and my last Apple device. But I will enjoy it while it lasts. Here are the five things I enjoy most about it and the five things I enjoy least.


5 best things about my iOS device

  1. Jetpack Joyride
  2. Making orderly grocery lists with Wunderlist
  3. Having the Complete Works of Shakespeare in my pocket, free
  4. Having all my files in my pocket with DropBox, free
  5. Finding the occasional truly great, truly free, ad-free app


5 worst things about my iOS device

  1. In-app ads
  2. "Joystick and button" controls on a touchscreen
  3. iTunes disorganizes my music!
  4. iOS is a walled garden
  5. Designed to make you feel like you're always about to drop it

Quick Update

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I haven't updated since March! I've been occupied rocking the full-time job, plus the part-time university courses (and homework), plus being a contributing father and husband. Somehow, I've managed to play through and Platinum InFamous 2 in there as well. But my blog has been neglected.

InFamous 2 was a great, fun superhero ride, but still suffers from the no-brainer moral choice system of the first game. If you want to be good, do the clearly good things. If you want to be evil, do the evil things. It's great for telling two different stories, and offering two sets of powers, but it rarely left me second-guessing my choices or pausing to ask myself what I should do.

I'm surprised that more hasn't been made out of the choices you need to make in StarCraft II's single-player campaign, for instance. Rather than stark good vs. evil choices, Jim Raynor has to decide, several times throughout the game, which ally's advice to go with. He has something to gain and something to lose in each case, and there is no 100% clear "good" or "bad" choice. Now, I felt making choices in this case was hard. And the choices had an impact on the subsequent mission, and the story. And I loved StarCraft II for that.

Now, I'm on to Batman: Arkham City. (I was hoping to finish it before the GOTY edition comes out, to justify having bought it way back in January...). It's off to a good, but overwhelming start. I'm used to Cole McGrath! Now I have to get used to Batman again, who doesn't have a jump button! There are so many things to do. So many gadgets and buttons for each one. And a whole other character to control with Catwoman. (And Robin and Nightwing, should I be persuaded to buy their DLC packs.) I need to retreat to the Batcave and do some Bat-practice so I can Bat-catch-up and clean up Arkham City.

But this has been interrupted by a starter edition code for Diablo III. Nice. Arkham City and Diablo III will be wrestling for my time until June 5, 2012: the day that Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown comes out. (Go, Lei Fei!) It is also the day E3 starts.

This summer is going to be awesome for gaming.

Happy GameSpotting!

aerobie

Obsession takes hold

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Do you ever have that experience where an obsession just grabs you and won't let go? For many gamers, I'm sure it's common. Anyway, an obsession has recently caught hold of me, and it occupies my every other thought. I am currently obsessed with anything having to do with infamous game design and balance genius, David Sirlin.

Here is how my obsession is manifesting:

  1. I already bought and read his book, Playing to Win, about playing games competitively, but I am reading it for a third time now.
  2. I've read his articles about multiplayer game balance and design and other articles on his blog and on Gamasutra.
  3. I bought Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, which he rebalanced, among other things.
  4. I've spent hours on his sites (sirlin.net; sirlingames.com; fantasystrike.com), learning about his newest games set in his Fantasy Strike universe: Yomi, Flash Duel, and Puzzle Strike.
  5. I received Yomi for Christmas and continually marvel at its design (and wish I had more people to play it with).
  6. I recently built myself a test version of Flash Duel to see how it plays to see if I want to buy it. (I do!)
  7. I wait anxiously for his expansion to Yomi, his new non-collectible card game in the works, and his eventual Fantasy Strike fighting game, and I scour the web for news and updates on these.
  8. I've searched out every last review, podcast, and news item I can find featuring him and his games.


And I still can't get enough. His games astound me. His ideas and opinions fascinate me. I feel as excited to play Yomi and Flash Duel as I do to play actual video games! Board and card games have never caught my imagination like this before. Seriously, they are awesome games, and it will be some time before I am able to shake the intense grip of this obsession. This blog is an attempt to start that shake-off by openly acknowledging my fixation.

Any other Sirlin fans out there? Or Sirlin critics?

Happy GameSpotting!

A Few Observations About Kratos *Possible Spoilers*

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I recently finished God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Now that I've completed both the trilogy and the Origins Collection, a few thoughts about Kratos occur:

  • Kratos doesn't like many things. One thing he does like though is his family... but that still doesn't mean he won't cut every last one of them down with his chain blades.
  • Do not cross Kratos. It doesn't matter if you're immortal. Just don't. Being bigger simply means there's more of you for him to break.
  • Even if you don't cross Kratos, he will still cut you down for the offense of being within reach.
  • Your best hope for survival is to be a loyal Spartan soldier. Kratos seems to like those too, and is less apt to stab them. Less apt.
  • If you're not a loyal Spartan soldier, your next best hope is to disrobe... But what happens next, some might consider a fate worse than death. Just be ready to hand over your red orbs.

Ultimately, Kratos frightens me. Not because of how powerful he is. Or how resourceful he is. Or how relentless and determined he is. Kratos frightens me because of how childish he is. He is a complete slave to his anger, his pride, and his petulance. He has no thought for the consequences of his actions. I mean, he sinks Atlantis--all of Atlantis, presumably full of children as lovely as his dear Calliope whom he misses with such gnawing regret and longing--for what? For just because. For because it was on the way to where his brother is.

On very rare occasion throughout the series, Kratos stops for a split second and asks "What have I done?" and "What have I become?" and then goes right back to doing and becoming without the slightest change in behaviour from the introspection.
Kratos has the emotional intelligence of a sociopathic bull shark, and it is for this reason that I fear the guy most.

But I sure enjoyed the games. :)

Happy GameSpotting!

A final thought: It was Athena's idea for Kratos to replace Ares as God of War. And Athena is supposed to be Goddess of Wisdom?! No wonder Olympus fell.

The Best Games I've Never Played

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I like keeping lists. They're very… organized. One list that I started last year, and that has only been growing since, is a list of games I have never played, but that I want to keep track of all the same, either because they are gaming landmarks I think I should try out or because they are wildly popular games and I suspect I must be missing out on something.

Here are some gaming landmarks I haven't played:

  1. Beyond Good and Evil
  2. Psychonauts
  3. System Shock 1 and 2
  4. Grim Fandango
  5. Baldur's Gate 2
  6. Planescape: Torment
  7. Star Wars: KOTOR
  8. Rez/Child of Eden
  9. Everyday Shooter


Here are some popular games I haven't played:

  1. Metal Gear Solid Series
  2. Assassin's Creed Series
  3. Grand Theft Auto III and IV
  4. Halo Series
  5. Call of Duty Series
  6. Battlefield Series
  7. Gears of War Series
  8. Mass Effect Series
  9. Demon's Souls/Dark Souls
  10. Red Dead Redemption
  11. Bioshock 2
  12. Bayonetta


Thoughts? Which of these do you find to be my greatest oversights as a gamer? What other games could you not forgive someone for never having played?

Games That Have Changed My Life 4 (Final Entry): My Identity As A Gamer

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Like many on GameSpot, I've always loved games. But there have been some key games and moments that really shaped my identity as a gamer.

I grew up with Atari 400, with old-school PCs, with arcades, with NES, SNES, and N64. Throughout, I've always been into games. If a friend had a computer or console, that's what I would want to play at their house. During the summer, I'd prefer playing games for an hour or two before going outside in the sunshine. Anything related to video games always caught my eye: cartoons, breakfast cereals, stickers, figurines. Revolutionary games like Street Fighter II and Doom astounded me and occupied my time and thoughts. But throughout these earlier years, I never consciously thought of myself as a gamer. (Maybe I just didn't know an identity could be formed on such a thing.)

But things have changed. And instead of growing less interested in games as I've gotten older, I've grown much more interested in them, to the point that I now feel they are a part of who I am. This increase really started in 2004. A major personal calamity involving a significant other (i.e. a really bad break-up) left me devastated. This was likely the lowest emotional point of my life.

In an attempt to lift my spirits, my dad got me a PS2 for Christmas that year with SoulCalibur II. It helped. It really did. Games were one of the few things that helped me find solace from my sadness, even if only for a short time each day.

But there was something about SoulCalibur II, and subsequent PS2 games, that pulled me in like nothing I had ever played before. The seemingly endless content. The detail. The depth. The feeling of immersion. The amount of stuff there was to know about each game. I had been playing games for over 20 years by this time, and the games were just getting more engrossing.

Along with SoulCalibur II, other PS2 titles, SoulCalibur III, Virtua Fighter IV: Evolution, then, later, Okami and Shadow of the Colossus (and, later still, WipEout Pulse for PSP) hit me like no other games had before. There was a sophistication to them that I felt never previously existed. Something that validated them for me, at long last, as something beyond just kid stuff--something that pulled down any mental block that might have felt that these things couldn't possibly be used as a basis for who I am. I was being reborn from someone who liked games into a gamer.

Around this time, another key experience reinforced this rebirth. In 2006, I joined GameSpot. Before this, I had always distanced myself from communities. I always kept myself on the outside of any group. But here, at last, was a place where I made a firm decision to join in. For the first time, I got involved. I posted on forums, reviewed games, helped run a union, and had found my home base on the Internet (which has remained my home base ever since).

In 2009, I got a PS3 and my sense of myself as a gamer keeps growing. Further amazing games keep reconfirming this: Portal, Street Fighter IV, Batman: Arkham Asylum. During this year, another key experience occurred: I took a workshop on RSS feeds. From this workshop, I created a list of game-related feeds on Google Reader, and my knowledge of to-the-minute information on games has exploded as I read hundreds of headlines and dozens of gaming articles daily.

And, still, my sense of self through games increases. This past year, GameSpot introduced Fuse, another outlet through which I build community.

Now, I begin 2012 feeling like more of a gamer than ever. I pore over gaming history and stay current on gaming's future. I thoroughly search out games I want to play next, but try to keep my knowledge as broad as possible, extending into genres I tend to not even play. I read gaming news every day. I think about games every day. I check in on GameSpot every day. I discuss games every day. I even play them too! ;)

I am a gamer. It was those early games on my PS2 that made me start to feel this way. I am a gamer. And I am grateful that I can enjoy the good fortune of being one. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Happy GameSpotting! Happy gaming!

Games That Have Changed My Life 3: My Future (and Happy 2012!)

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If, in the future, I ever get around to growing a vegetable garden, it will be because I played Plants vs. Zombies. :P

---

Happy New Year! I am so relieved that it is a new year and I am allowing myself to buy games again. I megasplurged this week to make up for lost time, and I now have enough new games to get me through... at least 2012, if not well beyond. The following will be keeping me busy while others play 2012's offerings:

  • Portal 2
  • Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
  • inFamous 2
  • inFamous: Festival of Blood
  • PacMan Champsionship Edition DX
  • Beat Hazard Ultra
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
  • Upgrade to Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition v.2012
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection
  • God of War: Origins Collection
  • The Binding of Isaac
  • Bejeweled 3
  • Waves
  • Half-Life 2: Episode 1
  • Half-Life 2: Episode 2

Never before have I bought so many games at once. However, because I waited the year out, I got all of the games above for less than the price of 5 full-price new releases. Not too bad... Still, I admit it's excessive... but I was suffering from game-buying deprivation...

If it weren't for Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown coming out this summer, I would tell myself that this is all I am allowing myself this year. But I don't think I will be able to resist VF5:FS!

That is all. Sorry for the bait and switch with the blog topic... just wanted to get that all out there before we got to far into the new year. I've played an hour of Portal 2 so far, and every second of it has been pure distilled awesome!

Happy GameSpotting through 2012 and beyond!

aerobie

Games That Have Changed My Life 2: My Taste in Music

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Previously, I wrote about how games, specifically how Street Fighter II, changed my life to make me a more balanced and self-actualized person. Today, I wanted to describe how games had a major hand in shaping another aspect of my life: my taste in music.

So, there I was in high school, trying to latch onto whatever music was considered cool by others. At the time, grunge was taking hold of one segment of my generation, while R&B and hip-hop were grabbing the other. I tried to slot myself into the grunge contingent, listening to Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam. I wore plaid shirts and torn jeans, like everyone else. And I liked the music well enough; I just didn't love it.

Then all that changed.

One day--one fateful day--I went to a friend's house. He had a PlayStation console, which I had never seen before. He had PaRappa the Rapper. He had SoulBlade.

And he had WipEout XL.

And my musical life has never been the same.

Then and there, I was a convert to electronic beats, starting with The Prodigy's "Firestarter". It was the first time I had chosen a genre of music to like independently of the dictates of my peer group. In fact, electronic music has always remained pretty unpopular among those in my social circles, but that hasn't altered my love for it a bit.

At the time, I was stunned by how much more awesome the game experience was because of the pumping tracks, so unlike any game music I had ever heard before. The Prodigy. The Chemical Brothers. Fluke. Leftfield. The WipEout soundtrack was a who's who of the top electronic music acts of the time, and I loved it all.

My tenuous appreciation for grunge began to die off, and my love for a thumping beat and bizarre digital noises took deep root and flourished. I bought the WipEout XL soundtrack, which had additional music not in the game, including a track called "Musique" by a group called Daft Punk--to this day, my favourite band. I couldn't get enough beats, and I still can't.

Back then, it was Daft Punk, The Prodigy, Orbital. Today, it's still Daft Punk, still The Prodigy, but also Boys Noize, Para One, Strip Steve, Justice, MSTRKRFT, the BBC Radio One Essential Mix. It's all about the beat and the innovative uses of sound to create something to move to. Without video games, I might still be listening to Pearl Jam.

WipEout remains a favourite series of mine as well. WipEout Pure and WipEout Pulse alone justified my purchase of a PSP. WipEout 2048 is really drawing me to the Vita. WipEout HD is a primary reason I chose PS3 over 360. I even played, and enjoyed, WipEout 64 on N64. :)

For that, thank you WipEout. Thank you Daft Punk and The Prodigy. Thank you to all creators and promoters of awesome beats. And thank you, once more, video games! Happy GameSpotting!