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The end of APWC...

I've been thinking about doing this for a long time, and the longer I put it off, the harder it is to do. So this week, with all my extra free time, I created the new account and I'm ready to make the switch.

Let me explain.

Back in 2003 I created a profile at Gamespot. I'd been visiting the site since 2000, but I was only a casual visitor. When I got to college, I found myself visiting a lot more often, so I decided to become a mmber, for the sole reason of taking advantage of the basic membership perks. I had no plans of writing a blog, talking on the forums or writing reviews. Years later, my wife suggested I start blogging to keep my writing skills sharp, so I used my GS account. I didn't like the APWC name, in fact it doesn't even mean anything. It's a cryptic acronym from long long ago, and I only used it, because at the time, I didn't plan on anyone interacting with my lame alias.

When I got Xbox Live, I signed on as Yeah Write. The name seemed to identify with my personality so much more than APWC and it instantly became my screen name of choice. I searched for a way to change my account name on Gamespot, but my search was in vain(if any of you know a way, let me know though). I decided to make Yeah Write user icon's and banners, but it just wasn't the same. I wanted to create a new account on GS with that name, but I was already at level 20 and I had a few friends and emblems.

Lately, traffic on my blog has been increasing, so I thought now would be a good time to make the switch before I get too many readers. It's hard to say goodbye to the levels, emblems, reviews, history and more, but it's got to be done. So to you, loyal readers and internet friends, I ask to make the switch with me. Click on the comment made by my new self and be my friend. Thanks for reading!

Post-Potter depression

Well I'm three days in to my wifeless week and other than the fact that I miss my wife, things are going well. This weekend was a blur thanks toHarry Potter. The final book in the series was definitely the best. While the ending was extremely satisfying, it still stinks that it had to end. I look forward to the day that I get to visit Harry again with my children. If you haven't read it yet, you should, it's a truly magnificent story. I've had to wait to discuss it with those around me because many of my friends and family haven't finished it yet. If you have feel free to leave a comment about what you liked. Personally, (SPOILER) I loved that Snape turned out to be one of the bravest most noble characters of the series. I always suspected him of being good deep down, but based on his actions in the final book I had almost lost hope. Finally, in the last couple of chapters she reveals his true intentions. Brilliant!

After finishing Harry, I picked up the Mass Effect prequel novel. I don't usually read things like this, but I thought it would be nice to read something lighter to help ease me out of my post-Potter depression. My wife (and brother, and coworker...and friends) called me a nerd for reading a book about a game, but I have my reasons. Not only am I ruinously excited about the game, but as an aspiring author I like to read outside my comfort zone, it helps to see how other people do it. I also would LOVE a career in video game story design. To write dialogue for a company like Bioware would be a dream job for me. Alas, this is an industry that is hard to get into. Good thing I like my job now.

I still haven't picked up FFXII...

NBA Street Homecourt is fantastic. I'm having so much fun with it. My brother and I have been meeting during our lunch breaks at my house for a little suit and tie gaming this week and I've beaten him every time (rare for me when it comes to sports games). The best thing about the newest Street? Moving during trick animations! In the previous games you would start a trick and get pulled in a direction while the animation played out. Now you can steer your player around the court as you pump out tricks. It seems like a little adjustment but it makes all the difference in the world.

Still haven't called London yet...or mowed my lawn, but it's only Wednesday.

Sorry for the random ramblings, I promise to post something more worth reading later this week. Maybe that long awaited editorial on the word "gamer." We'll see. Till then, enjoy the latest cartoon.

post potter

It's just me and Harry...

My wife is going out of town for a week tomorrow. That means I'll have a lot of extra free time after work. So here are some things I'd like to accomplish with my time.

-Read Harry Potter 7. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm insanely excited about this book. I was a Harry naysayer until a year ago when I finally decided to read one of the books. I enjoyed it so much that I read the first six in two weeks. I'm going to purchase my book at midnight at the local book store. I won't start it till the next day, but this is my last chance to attend a Harry Potter book launch and look at all the crazies in their glasses and robes.

-Beat Transformers--it's a purely average game, but I had a free rental, plus Optimus Prime is cool.

-Play through NBA Street Homecourt. It came in from Gameznflix today. I really don't like sports games (or real sports for that matter) but for some reason I have played every single NBA Street and Fight Night to death, I can't get enough of them.

-Get most of the way through FFXII. As I said in my previous post, I've been avoiding this game since purchasing it a week ago. I think I might take the plunge after I'm done with Harry Potter. I might need the good story to lift me out of my post-Potter depression.

-Go see Rescue Dawn. After watching The Prestige a couple of weeks ago I'm willing to see anything starring Christian Bale. I'm interested to see what Steve Zahn can do too--Saving Silverman is one of my favorites.

-Go back to the gym. A slight back injury has had me out of commission this week. I jumped into the pool (on top of a floaty, I was trying to body surf with it) at my parents house and nearly snapped my spine. Not only did I almost paralyze myself, but I also managed to uphold my clumsy reputation. I've been going bonkers without my daily workout so I'm looking forward to getting back. Endorphins are good.

-Mow the lawn. Ughh...

-Work on my book.

-Call London. We're trying to interview Bear Grylls for the next issue of the magazine. Hopefully this call will go over better than my last long distance call. The echo on the phone made me pause because I would hear my voice and think it was him trying to interrupt me, it made me sound like a simpleton...

For those of you out there with spouses, how do you use your time when your significant other is gone? I always have high hopes, but I usually end up like the picture below...oh well, I can dream.

wifeless

PS-I've found I really enjoy drawing these little comics. So you can expect them to increase in frequency.

Delaying the Fantasy

As I shared with Dreski last night on Xbox Live, I like to stagger my holiday purchases. Not only does it help financially, but it makes the slow summer months bearable. I recently (finally) purchased Final Fantasy XII. It was only $24 at GameStop, and with my wife leaving town for the week on Saturday, I figured I'd have a ton of time to complete it. I haven't played an RPG since Jade Empire and I haven't played a Final Fantasy since VIII, so I'm due for an epic saga, plus it's July and there really isn't anything else to play. The thing is, I can't get around to playing it. I got my feet wet last week, playing the first hour and learning the basics, but since then I haven't even turned it on. Instead I've been wasting 30 minutes here and there doing races in Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man 3! What am I thinking? Maybe I'm intimidated by the massive adventure that awaits me. Maybe I'm so stupidly hyped for the last Harry Potter book that I don't want to wet my palette with any other story till I'm done with that. Maybe it's the time investment. The past couple months have been rough on my gaming habits because of the move, so I'm used to playing in 30 minute chunks. When you sit down for a session with Final Fantasy, playing for 30 minutes is out of the question. Things will probably change when my wife leaves town. When she isn't here making me watch So You Think You Can Dance? or some awful show on TLC, I'll probably have more time for gaming. Plus when she leaves town I usually stay up later than normal (out of fear of the monsters under my bed), so that might be just what I need to jump start my Final Fantasy desires.

What about you people in blog land? Have you ever purchased a game and then purposefully avoided playing it? Or am I just a weirdo?

Bad day for movie fans everywhere

The following stories were found at rottentomatoes.com today, read them and weep.

Bond 22 Less Serious, More Comedic

I've been a Bond fan since I can remember, but I sort of fell out of love with the series after Goldeneye. Pierce Brosnan was a terrific Bond, but the craptastic puns and unbelievable relationships were too much to bear. I had all but given up on the long-running series until Daniel Craig came along and brought more to the character of Bond than any actor before him. Casino Royale reinvigorated the series and instead of running with it, the powers that be want to return Bond to his joke-slinging, whore-kissing ways. No thanks.

Josh Flitter Cast as Lead in Ace Ventura 3

Good Lord! There is no possible way this movie could be good. Who approved such a thing? Ace Ventura was a tired character by the end of the first movie. As a young teenager at the time of the original releases I was surrounded by prepubescent peers constantly spouting lines from the movie as if they were in fact the son of Ace--sorry guys, turns out Josh Flitter is. I can't imagine who would find this movie amusing. I have yet to meet a person that still likes the Ace Ventura movies. Sure, you might have some fond memories, but have you watched them lately? Next time TBS is obnoxiously running them back to back to back to back, watch them. If you aren't clawing for the remote in 15 minutes or less, congratulations, I hope you enjoy Ace 3.

Bad news usually comes in threes, and the day is far from over. I wouldn't be surprised to see that Uwe Boll has been let out of his cage to slaughter another video game series. Or maybe we'll find that another beloved franchise/tv show/cartoon is going to be destroyed by money hungry Hollywood execs ("Coming to theaters this winter, Jimmy Fallon is Captain Planet!"). Bad day for movie fans.

Confessions of a young professor

I know this is weird. I'm writing in this blog, to announce that I'm writing in another blog, but I thought I'd extend the invitation for anyone that wanted to read it. I have the privacy settings up so that you can't search for me (even though I change names and locations, I don't want student's or my boss reading it), so if you want to check it out let me know. A few weeks ago I wrote about getting a new graphic tablet for my computer and said that I was thinking about doing a web comic. Well I decided to do one about myself and my adventures in being the youngest professor at the university. The comic's will be accompanying my weekly (or more) blog posts on blogspot. I thought I might post them here too. So enjoy.

webcomic

since everyone is doing it...

I guess I'll throw my two cents in on the big three press conferences (sadly I could not watch Microsoft's till the next morning, thus no emblem). What makes my opinion matter? Nothing really, but I am a journalist with significant public relations training, so I go into these things with a different view than some.

Here's a quick break down:

Microsoft

To me, MS had the most "user friendly" conference. If you were watching online, you always got a great view of the action and the game footage always filled the screen. The graphics that accompanied the presentation (MS PowerPoint maybe?) made the conference flow smoothly. While there weren't any huge announcements, MS did a good job of keeping the excitement going by letting the games and MS exclusives speak for themselves. It was nice that many of the trailers and a few of the XBLA games talked about were available to download on Xbox Live immediately following the show. The games for Windows sections was a tad boring, and the Gears of Wars announcement didn't have much thunder left in it, but it was nice to see that PC gamers get some extra content. The overall tone of the press conference was one of excitement and confidence. It seems like MS really believes in their line up.

Pros: great presentation (pacing, flow, visuals), showed a lot of footage of some great games, very user friendly, some amazing exclusives

Cons: no big announcements other than Disney, Halo console is lame

Nintendo

The big N's press conference can be summed up in one word: weak. From a PR stand point, the presentation was terrible. It was filled with Reggie's awkward pauses and pacing. The beginning was filled with too many meaningless stats ("Here's how many old people play the Wii") and instead of games, we watched people play the Wii while news anchors babbled on about it. Unlike the exciting tone of the other two conferences, the Nintendo conference seemed to have a defensive tone. It was as if they were saying, "Hey we're still in this, see look, another Mario game!" I was very disappointed with Nintendo. They have clearly changed the focus of their audience, as many hardcore gamers could care less about Wii Fit, or a DS cook book. Their big announcements were also underwhelming. A new Zapper and Wheel? More games starring Mario and friends? Another Zelda and Metroid game? I'm all for classic characters, but Nintendo needs to get on the ball and start developing some original IP, because Mario and crew are quickly growing stale. I'm also wondering who on earth was fooled by their online presentation. I believe Reggie said something like, "What if we were already online and you just didn't notice?" What!? Oh we noticed. We don't care about Wii channels and friend codes, we want a structured online community, not a place to vote on other Mii's. It's 2007, online functionality should not be a big announcement or an issue, and it was for Nintendo. "Mario Kart will go online!" They shouldn't have to announce that, they should be at the point where the consumer assumes that a game will have online play. As a gamer and journalist I was disappointed with Nintendo.

Pros: the Zapper looks kind of cool.

Cons: boring, awkward presentation, more games starring Mario, Zelda and Metroid, Reggie's lame online cop out, not enough game footage, too many useless stats

Sony

Sony's presentation was almost as user friendly as Microsoft's. It would have been just as good, if not better if it wasn't for those four screens, which made it hard for those watching online to see the game footage. The presentation was easy to follow and the new Home system was put to good use. I still think that Home is going to cater to a specific type of gamer. Outside of customizing my avatar, I don't really care about it, but I know my wife will get a kick out of it, so Sony's got that going for them I guess. They were still lacking in the exclusives department, most of the games they showed were multiplatform. The exclusives they do have look pretty good, but I think Sony's problem is the exact opposite of Nintendo's, they don't have a lot of exclusive franchises to lean on and it's hard for people to get excited about new IPs. The new games from Insomniac and Naughty Dog looked fantastic, as did the MGS4 trailer. As for Killzone 2, I'm still a naysayer. Has the public forgotten that the first game was a mediocre shooter? Other than some impressive graphics, what has this game (and series) shown to prove that it can go up against Halo and Call of Duty? Sony had a good show and the conference had a positive tone. It looks like they are really trying to spin themselves out of the bad PR trap they are in.

Pros: Exclusives looked amazing, good flow and pacing to presentation, Home is looking great, the price drop and PSP redesign wasn't surprising but they were still nice, Insomniac and Naughty Dog still remain among the top first party developers of any company, Little Big Planet

Cons: Really Sony? Chewbacca? Didn't give me a reason to care about Killzone, not enough exclusives, I think they tried to say "Blu-Ray" every chance they could

In the end I would put Microsoft in first, Sony in a very close second and Nintendo in a shameful third (sorry Nintendo, but your show sucked).

Read my lips

I finished the fourth game in the Ratchet and Clank series yesterday, and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable. I missed some of the platforming elements of the prequels, but the gunplay was great and the customization and leveling was fun to experiment with. The most refreshing thing however was the story. Sure, it wasn't as involved as the first three, but it was still quite entertaining, which brings me to the topic of the blog. I attribute much of the entertainment value of the Ratchet and Clank games (as well as the Jak and Daxter series) to the excellent animation and lip-syncing.

Ratchet
You can tell what each character is feeling just by their faces

I appreciate those two series for putting so much effort into the animation of their characters. They move so fluidly that during lengthy cut-scenes it feels less like a game and more like an animated movie. I think many gamers underestimate the value good lip-syncing brings to a game. To me, it is the difference between full immersion in the experience and just watching a cut-scene. With good lip-syncing/animation you never have to worry about not knowing which character is talking and you won't need to turn on the subtitles to follow the story.

Speaking of story, have you noticed how much good lip-syncing helps a story? The Kingdom Hearts series has quite a convoluted story that probably wouldn't be near as enjoyable if the lip-syncing wasn't so good. Great lip work can make an average story worth watching (Gears of War). On the other hand, think about all the great stories of gaming that have been hurt by terrible lip-syncing. Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence is one of my favorite games, but the lip-syncing stinks, and it really takes away from the experience. The same can be said for Indigo Prophecy, I might have liked the game more but I couldn't get over the poor facial animations and bad lip work.

Indigo
Can you tell what he is feeling? (GENERIC_EMOTION13)

I understand some characters are easier to work with than others are, which is why the cartoony Ratchet is more emotive than the realistic Snake, but it's 2007, why is that still an issue? According to one of the developers at Insomniac, the PS2 Ratchet had 120 joints in his whole body, while the PS3 Ratchet has 90 just in his face! They didn't have to step it up like that, Ratchet animated nicely with 120 joints, but they did because they know that stuff matters.

What do you think? Should developers put more effort into lip-syncing and facial animation? I think so. Take a look at the slick new Stranglehold trailer (can you tell a movie director has a hand in this game?), the lip-syncing and facial animation are great and they seem to have made a point of showing them off. I believe good lip work and animation really help pull you into the game. It's one of the many reasons I'm going bananas over Mass Effect. Technology has reached a point where a character in a game can say, "Read my lips," and we can do just that.

mass
Those lips look readable. I think she's saying something with an S in it.

Hate the Player not the Game


I wonder if developers create certain characters or environments in games to evoke feelings of hatred from players. I'm not talking about the looks and actions of an in-game villain; of course developers want you to hate the bad guy. I'm talking about the little quirks, gameplay strategies, and animations of a character (or environment) that really get on your nerves.

For example...
-The way Liu Ping always fans himself with his paddle
-How M. Bison will never let you jump
-How those stupid wretches always manage to explode on you
-The way Mike Tyson can send you to the mat with one punch
-How the enemy can see you even though the shadow meter says you're hidden
-The rotation of that blade column in Hades
-Never being able to avoid that stupid bouncing fire thing in Mario 3
-Every moment in Ninja Gaiden
-The speed at which the third level of Battletoads requires you to play at
-How every enemy in every Castlevania game regenerates
-Trying to survive the underwater segments of the first TMNT game on NES

If you haven't grinded your teeth from at least one of the above, I'm sorry friend, you are not a gamer. For some of you, just reading that list stirred up that heavy feeling in your chest-the weight of hatred that pushes you to do unreasonable things to controllers. What is it about certain games that cause us to swear curses on our polygonal adversaries?

What if it's not the game? Have you ever seen a friend play a game and watched him get frustrated? You see him fail over and over and watch as he squeezes his controller and shouts expletives. What's your reaction to his electronic-induced outburst? Nine times out of ten, it's usually, "Dude, calm down, it's just a game." Because from the outside, it doesn't look like the game has a problem (unless of course it is a broken game like True Crime New York, in which case you have every right to be frustrated), it looks like it's the player's fault. I'm not one to deny my hypocrisy either, I've seen violent game rage from friends and suggested anger management when just hours before I was alone and screaming at my TV.

What produces this rage? I'm no psychologist, but I believe it has something to do with our ego. We are human, the Xbox is a machine; surely our superior intellect can handle a few animated pixels in a boxing match. We press the buttons, our character punches, the machine is defeated, and we bask in our achievements (Microsoft cleverly rewards us and strokes our ego when we outsmart their toy).

This whole entry was brought on by my wife, who is probably the most observant and attentive person in the world. I was playing a game of Table Tennis last week while she sat on the couch and lazily flipped through a magazine. I was working my way through a tournament when I got to Liu Ping, who stopped my forward progression with his evil paddle. After being nearly shut out for the fourth time in a row I shouted, "AHHH! Liu Ping! You're stupid and I hate you!" To which my wife replied (without even looking up from her Glamour), "It's just a game. You're just mad because you're not good enough to beat him." Burn.

So (as my wife deftly pointed out) when we get mad, it's not at the machine, it's at ourselves. It sure is annoying to watch Liu Ping fan himself, but I'm not really angry at him, he's just a high resolution animated character, I'm angry at myself, because I cannot defeat this animated character in a game of digital Ping Pong. It is a simple phenomenon that happens in all sports and activities. When you boil it down to its basic form, putting a ball through a hoop, writing an essay, hitting a ball with a stick, or jumping on a goomba seems so easy. It's when we fail to does these seemingly easy tasks that frustration ensues.

If the frustration is inevitable it would seem the only reason we keep playing is because the fun outweighs the aggravation. I think this is only partly true. If there were no frustration or challenge, there would be no reward. We play for the fun, but we also play for the frustration's reward. The underlying simplicity behind the action of pressing a button and making a character jump (or putting a ball into a hole, or kicking a ball in to a net, etc.) is what hooks us; the challenge is what reels us in.

Let's go back to my original question. Do developers purposely create characters, actions and environments in game to frustrate us? When the folks at Rockstar were creating Table Tennis, did they say to themselves, "Let's make Liu Ping fan himself after every point because it's really annoying" (if you haven't noticed, I really hate Liu Ping)? Yes, I think they did. Did they anticipate how angry it would make gamers? Probably not, because Liu Ping and his stupid face do not bother everyone, especially if you can easily beat him. Games can make us frustrated (sometimes it's the developers intention, other times it's not), but if we're going to hate something, it should probably be our own inadequacy.

This strange love/hate relationship is what keeps us playing. That self-loathing we feel when we lose for the millionth time is what drives us to have the high score, to get 1000 achievement points, or to make it to the top of the leader boards. For some, the reward is not worth the frustration, (some may call those casual gamers) but for me, defeating the machine and proving to myself that I'm good enough is a selfishly addictive feeling that never gets old. I'll always love the game, even if sometimes I hate the player.

Liu Ping

I hate you too Liu Ping.

Talking is overrated (part two)

In part one of Talking is Overrated, I talked about the company you find on Xbox Live and why they promote silent play. This time I'm going to talk about the games themselves. Are some made to be played quietly? Should you keep your mouth shut when playing games in some genres? Can you have a great time without ever saying a word? I think so.

Before we look at the games, let me say again that I am not totally against talking, especially when it can make the experience better. I am against talking for the sake of talking. In other words, don't tell me about the headshot you got online two weeks ago just watch my back and tell me where an enemy is so I don't get sniped. While every game on Live is compatible with the Xbox headset, some can be just as enjoyable, if not more so, if you leave the headset unplugged.

Splinter Cell Double Agent

As a stealth action game, Splinter Cell has always been about silence, and I think the developers knew that when they created the multiplayer. Though you often work as a group, sticking together is ill advised, especially as a spy. The game encourages you to split up yet still work as a team. The verbal and visual cues given when a teammate hacks a terminal help you keep track of your fellow spies without having to ask where they are. Stealth action begs for silent gameplay. Sneaking through the shadows isn't as cool when the guy on your team is talking about the meatball sub he just ate.

Rockstar Presents Table Tennis

Ping Pong, like its cousin foosball, is a game that almost requires trash talk. So why is it on this list? Two reasons: Half of the appeal of ping pong trash talk is seeing your opponent's face when you put them in their place (which you can't do online), and none of the annoying (Carmen!) single player competitors indulge in much trash talk and the game is still enjoyable. The gameplay is so excellently crafted that you can let your paddle do the talking for you.

Burnout Revenge (Forza 2, Dirt, etc.)

If you're talking during Burnout, you must not be very good. Have you ever tried to hold a conversation while screaming down the highway at 200 mph weaving in and out of traffic? It's not easy. When you multitask while racing, something's going to suffer, be it your position in the race or the convo with your mom in the other room. Games like Burnout or Forza require precision and concentration, which means you should probably disconnect that headset.

Dead or Alive (Fight Night, Def Jam Icon, etc.)

What is there to say in a fighting game? The scenery isn't changing, there are no snipers or frag grenades to worry about and you have no teammates. Besides, the time you spend actually fighting is usually no longer than a passing conversation. It's bad enough we have to look at those ridiculous gravity defying breasts, is talking about them necessary?

As you can see, I've touched on most genres but not all of them. To suggest that people silently play shooters is a bit overboard. While I do believe you can still have a great time without talking, some shooters (especially team-based matches) require good communication to succeed. Often times, the silent uncommunicative guy on the team is the first to get fragged. Lone wolf gaming just doesn't work in some genres.

Talking IS overrated. PC gamers have been playing online without it for years, and the competition is just as fierce as a chatty Halo lobby. Just because the Xbox 360 comes with a headset doesn't mean it needs to be used. The next time you play online, before you reach down and plug in that microphone, ask yourself if the game you are playing requires talking. Are you playing with friends? Do you need to communicate with teammates to survive? Does the genre necessitate speaking? If you answered no to all of those questions, you don't need the headset. You can play without it and have just as much fun, I promise.