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mnrunner Blog

Acceptance

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Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief. Welcome to acceptance. But first there are a couple of things that I need to say.

It'll be fine. It'll blow over.

Every time I read "it'll blow over" I find myself right back at anger.
No, this debacle will not blow over. It must not be allowed to blow
over. I have too much respect for the people who work at GS to allow
all their hard work to be destroyed in this spasm of stupid.

In my past life as an I/S consultant, my specialty was in salvaging
development projects gone horribly wrong. The first step always
involved an After Action Review. What went wrong? What did we learn?
How do we make sure it never happens again?

Someone here messed up. That's bad.

The customer got involved. That's potentially terminal for an
organization.

Now C|Net not only needs to find and fix their problem, but they need to
do it publicly. They won't like it and they'll fight it, but they still
need to do it. This is the price you pay for involving the customer.

You don't want my opinion? Don't get me involved in your screw-ups.

How do we fix this? How do we make sure this never happens again?

And there's the 800 pound gorilla in the room. How does C|Net fix the
problems they've created at GameSpot?

I don't know, and I don't think C|Net knows either, but I do have a few
suggestions for them.

Sit down and talk to the staff at GameSpot. Listen to them.

Address the morale problem or expect to relive these last ten days all over again when the next staff member leaves.

Communicate to your customers early, often and only through the editors at GameSpot. Your PR staff is ill equipped to speak with your customers. So far, they've done you no favors. If you can't listen to this advice and insist on having someone from C|Net communicate with the GS community, I suggest the first words out of their mouth be "We apologize". Come to think of it, a blanket apology to the paid subscriber base seems like a good idea.

Do not delude yourselves into thinking you can just let this "blow over".

I have more suggestions (like throwing bushel baskets of money at Greg, Carrie and Rich to get them back), but I doubtC|Net islistening anyway.

All we can do now is wish Jeff the best of luck, show our support to the staff that remains at GameSpot and wait for C|Net to get their act together.

I could've had a better time

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Put me in a room of strangers and you'll never hear me make a sound. I'm not anti-social, but I am extremely shy. I'll reply to direct conversation, but it just won't occur to me to initiate it.

Put me in a room of friends and you can't shut me up. I'm the life of the party.

Last night I needed to attend a booster club function for the cross-country team. A room full of strangers. To make matters worse, I needed to be the life of the party. It was the longest night of my life. Four hours of sheer terror.

When it was over, my boss comes up to me and tells me it was a terrific event and we should plan to do these more often. He's really looking forward to the next event.

Oh, me too! I went into the ladies room and threw up. If the bar had still been open, I'd have ordered a double shot of tequila. God, I hate public speaking!

I was exhausted by the time I got home. I tried to play a few games, but nothing was grabbing me. I was just mashing buttons. So I stopped.

Instead, I took an inventory of the games I've purchased but not finished. "Finished" being defined as "played to completion" or "so bad as to not be worthy of any more time". For example, I consider Kameo as finished. I played the story through one time and that was enough. There are time trials in the game, but they're just not worth the effort.

In the pile of shame are games like Burnout Revenge, Call of Duty 3, Carcassonne, Dead Rising, Forza Motorsport 2, G.R.A.W., Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Ninety-Nine Nights, Perfect Dark Zero, Test Drive Unlimited, Tomb Raider: Legend, Top Spin 2, and Viva Piñata.

That's a load of games.

Next I made a list of the games that are on my radar between now and the end of the year. BioShock, Blue Dragon, Stranglehold, Project Gotham Racing 4, Eternal Sonata, Lost Odyssey, Half-Life 2: The Orange Box, Clive Barker's Jericho, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Assassin's Creed.

That's a load of games too. Let's see:

$59.99 * 14 games = $839.96

$839.96 + Sales tax = $903.67

Nope. That's just not going to happen. There's going to be a whole lot of terrific AAA titles coming out the next few months that just aren't going to sell as many copies as they deserve.

UPDATE: The other day I mentioned how I hoped BioShock would someday be released on Steam. Someday will be Tuesday. Awesome!

Minimum: Operating System: Windows XP (with Service Pack 2) or Windows Vista, CPU: Intel single-core Pentium 4 processor at 2.4GHz, System RAM: 1 GB, Video Card: Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA 6600 or better/ATI X1300 or better, excluding ATI X1550), Sound Card: 100% direct X 9.0c compatible sound card, 8GB of free hard drive space.

That'll work - sign me up.

Anarchy

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I'm sitting in the living room. An old DVR'ed episode of Dr. Who is on the TV. The laptop has the MLB.TV feed of the Yankess-Orioles game in one window. In the other window is the GS feed of the Madden release. The BioShock demo is downloading in the other room. The dogs are sleeping in a pile on the sofa. Bri is packing for a trip we're taking to Chicago this weekend for a very formal wedding. Just a normal night at home.

Top of the ninth inning, Mariano Riveria on the mound with a one run lead. The Orioles leadoff batter singles. Damn.

Wham! Suddenly the house is being slammed by rain and hail. Where did that come from? The dogs are going nuts. Bri is running down the stairs yelling, "Let's go to the basement!"

No, it's the ninth inning!

Wham! More hail and the lights in the house flicker. The cable goes out. The internet connection drops. The dogs are terrified and barking their heads off.

Bri's running back up the stairs. "What are you doing?! Get downstairs!"

"It's raining for Gods sake. Relax."

I grab the laptop and head to the basement. The dogs come running up to us and plaster themselves against our legs. They're panting like they've just run a hundred meter dash . They're really scared.

Bri puts "The Weather Alarmists of Channel 4" on the downstairs TV. They're saying something about cats and dogs living together. They're always saying that. What else is new?

I get a momentary internet connection. Long enough to know the Orioles have tied up the baseball game. Damn.

Channel 4 shows a big black spot on doppler radar moving right over the top of where we live. I look out the basement window, which freaks Bri out.

It really is an impressive storm. Hail the size of nickles and quarters are pounding the house. The lawn outback looks like it's the middle of January in a snowstorm. OK, it's an impressive storm, but it's just a storm. Why are we hiding in the basement?

Bri finally figures out the this is all just annoying the hell out of me. In her best Scarlet O'Hara impersonation she says, "I'm scared. Hold me."

"Oh, jeez. Man up girl."

I give up and fling myself on the sofa, resigned to waiting out the storm in the basement with Scarlet. the dogs and the Weather Alarmists. As soon as I'm on the sofa the dogs leap into my lap. I'm on the bottom of a 140 pound dog pile.

The internet connection comes back. No score from the ball game, but in the GameSpot window there's some hairy, troll in a kilt playing heavy metal guitar. What happened to Madden?

"I thought you were watching the Yankee game? What is that? Braveheart 2 - The Metal Years?"

"I'm scared. Hold me."

"Man up girl."

Nothing If Not Predictable

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GameStop was running a special yesterday - pre-order Blue Dragon and get overnight delivery for free. Blue Dragon's been on my radar since it was featured on "On The Spot". The Japanese release reviews are solid. A game I want released on a single platform (that I own). Easy choice - I pre-ordered Blue Dragon.

Another game I want comes out next week for the Xbox 360 and PC - BioShock. I'm just having trouble deciding which SKU to buy. Are achievement points worth the extra $10? I'm not an achievement junkie so, for me, probably not. On the other hand, do I want to mess with installing the PC version on my laptop? No, not really.

In a perfect world 2K would release BioShock on Steam. I was delighted when Civ IV: Beyond the Sword showed up on Steam at release. I figured a few weeks/months later - not immediately. But BioShock on Steam? I just don't see it happening. At least, not before I cave and buy it elsewhere. Too bad -BioShock on Steamwould ROCK! .

Not that any of this matters. I'm downloading the BioShock 360 demo now. Later tonight I'll play it for a few minutes -then go place my pre-order.

Doing What You Love

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One good thing about posting once every nine months - I'm not boring anyone.

It's been a busy time. Within a week of my last post I had a new job and a new career. I gave up the Information Systems Consultant gig (aka overpaid programmer) and took a job as a college track and cross-country coach. Making me the only running coach I know with degrees in Math and Computer Science.

Needless to say, I had a few concerns about taking the job. Can I do it? Will I be any good? Am I old enough to get the respect of the athletes? Am I young enough build a rapport with them? And my biggest concern (and why it relates to the crowd here at GS): Will turning my hobby into my career mess up my hobby?

Clearly there is a large segment of the GS community who would kill to have a career in the gaming industry. Getting paid to develop, test, market and review games looks like heaven to lots of people around here.

Personally, I don't really understand the appeal of working in the game industry. Programming is fun and, in its way, rewarding, but the C++ code behind a cool looking action sequence or a static quest log or an Accounts Payable Vendor Compliance Report all looks the same. I imagine, that after a while, the coolness of game development gets lost in a sea (or is that C) of function calls and indirect pointers.

I also imagine that writing game reviews has similar downsides. For every Gear's of War, there's at least one Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.

So despite how much fun the gang at GS make the game industry look (and they do), I never fully bought into it. It scared the hell out of me when I picked up my whistle and pulled on the (new) old school colors for the first time. I kept thinking - if this is a mistake, it's a really big MISTAKE.

Nine months later and everything is good.

I survived the track season unscathed. I got comfortable with the routine, the team colors, and rooting against my old alma mater (at least in the events I had a vested interest in). I even managed to get myself an extra title (aka - same money, exponentially more work) as "Conditioning Coach" and a real office with a real door. Sweet!

There've been a few down moments, like saying goodbye to our graduating seniors, but overall it's been very positive.

Now it's the second week of August and Cross Country preparation is in full swing. Three weeks from now the starters' gun will fire to start the official season. Plenty of work left to complete between now and then.

Life is good.

Good news: you can make a career out of doing what you love.

Bad News: the jury's still out on being able to eat, pay the rent, and afford next-gen games while making a career out of doing what you love.

Playing Catch-Up

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Sean Connery: We're playing that most American of games.
Wesley Snipes: Which is what?
Sean Connery: Catch-up.

-Rising Sun (1993)

I had this big, long journal post written that described what I’ve been up to the last few months.  It was long, sappy and stupid.  I hated it.  It did tie in nicely with the quote above, but that’s not a good enough reason to post it.  So here, in one sentence, is the short form of “Playing Catch-Up”:

Eight weeks ago I quit my job.

Ok, you’re all caught up.

So you ask, now that I'm an unemployed bum what am I doing with myself?

Glad you asked. I've been playing a ton of games. Specifically, the Xbox 360 games that I picked up during the year in the never-ending pursuit of achievement points.

In the first ten months of the year, when I was a useful member of society, I’d finished one game and had a Gamerscore of 3020. But in the weeks since becoming a useless drag on the free-world economy, I've finished 2 games more and increased my Gamerscore by 2130 points to 5150.

What I've played recently:

Enchanted Arms (1000 pts): If you're looking for a guaranteed 1000 achievement points, look no further. This game isn't going to win any game of the year awards, but it's not going to win any dubious honors either. The characters are mostly likeable, and the story, while not riveting, does show a sense of humor in spots. Good, mindless entertainment, but only if you can sit through the 40+ hour story. If you don't like JRPG's - avoid at all costs.

Call of Duty 3 (10 pts): This may win my award for most disappointing game of 2006. I managed to get through the first chapter, but the annoying as hell "story" and stupid hand-to-hand combat mini-game had me hitting the eject button. Someday, I'll play through the campaign, but not until COD2 is a distant memory.

G.R.A.W. (25 pts): Well, the training mission is OK. But this game still hasn't grabbed me. Maybe I’ll try again after I play through COD3.

Hardwood Backgammon (40 pts): OK, I wanted the points. 'nuff said?

LUMINES LIVE! (20 pts): Love the PSP version.

Burnout Revenge (35 pts): Good game. Better with EA Trax turned off. I played this one through on the original Xbox, and maybe I'll play it through again if I decide I must have the achievement points, but I doubt it. Bri loves this game, but after watching her play it for hours on end, there’s nothing here that makes me want to see it again for myself.

Texas Hold'em (45 pts): I didn't believe it when I read you could win every hand at the lowest difficulty setting just by betting like a lunatic. It's true. You can. Moving on.

Rockstar Table Tennis (130 pts): Toughest single player game I've played this year. I'd like it better if the difficulty ramped up slower, but that’s just nit-picking. Great game! Now, if we could just get the guys who code for Madden to get this same focus on doing one thing really, really well.

Top Spin 2 (25 pts): This game is good when the view is immediately behind your character and totally broken when you’re controlling your character from the opposite side of the court. Who thought that was a good control scheme? Pass.

DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (20 pts): Sorry Greg, I just don't get this game. But the crowd I hang with does enjoy the “big, well-rounded cast of characters”.

Oblivion (730 pts): The other game I "finished". Yeah, right. After 132 hours and over 1000 save game files, I did get all the points. I'm still nowhere near finished. This is my personal choice for game of the year.

Test Drive Unlimited (30 pts): I've only just started this game. I like what I’ve seen so far. The cars are tough to control.

Gears of War (20 pts): Bri finally got tired of playing this, so now it's my turn. I'll play through the campaign twice and then never pick it up again - ever. Not that I’m not enjoying it – I am. The dialog between the characters is very funny in spots, but I dislike the games third person view - moving Marcus around feels like driving a big truck backwards at high speed.  And how about a longer game next time guys, jeez.  You think anyone is going to be surprised when Gears is voted the community’s choice for game of the year?  It’ll win just because of the "chainsaw" gun.

Brain Dump

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At long last, a quiet evening with nothing better to do then throw together a quick journal entry.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve got a million other things I should be doing like responding to emails, folding laundry, cleaning house or preparing for a work trip next week.  I’ll try to catch up tomorrow.

Sorry, this is going to be just a tad disjointed and not game related at all.

The best piece of technology I own is my iPod.  Not even close.  Second place goes to my automatic coffee maker.  Coming in dead last is my cell phone / pager / instant messenger.  I have a dream about rowing out into the middle of a very deep lake where, suddenly and unexpectedly, the damn thing jumps out of the boat and disappears under the waves.  With no witnesses, they’ll never be able to prove it wasn’t suicide.

Last week Bri dragged me to a concert down at the zoo.  It was a great night for a concert.  Too bad the music was lame and sad.  Thank God I had my iPod.  I wonder how many people go to a concert and listen to something else.  She had a great time.

If you watched the U.S. National Women’s Soccer game against Sweden Saturday on ESPN2 you saw a terrific, exciting match that finished with a flurry of goals in the closing seconds.  You also saw my national TV debut.  The cameras caught me covering myself in suntan lotion just before the start of the second half.  I only mention this because I know ESPN isn’t showing the game again.  At least they didn’t catch me picking my nose.

Lollapalooza is a little over two weeks away at Grant Park in Chicago.  I want to go so bad I can taste it.  Sparta, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney, Coheed and Cambria, 30 Seconds to Mars, Broken Social Scene and about 120 other acts I’d like to hear.

Is the lead singer for Coheed and Cambria related to Rush’s Geddy Lee?  They sound similar.

I love Minnesota.  Where else can you get a 150 degree temperature swing in a year?   It was 98 degrees here Saturday at 5 pm.  That was when the soccer match started.  The wind was gusting to about 25 mph.  It was like standing in front of a blow dryer.  Glad I wasn’t out there chasing a soccer ball around for an hour and a half in that heat.

I consider myself a bit of an expert on blow dryers.

Out of the Park Baseball 2006 is a weak imitation of Football Manager 2006.  There’s a good game hiding in there somewhere, but it’s going to take more then three patches to find it.  Maybe it’ll be ready to play by the World Series.  OOTP2006 reminds me of Masters of Orion III.  Yes, it’s that ambitious and that buggy.  Jeez guys, at least get the baseball right!  When a player is pinch hit for, they can’t play the field the next half inning.  It’s a rule.  Honest.

I guess I lied.  One game comment, but that’s it.  I’m done now.

And while I’m ranting - Oprah, please, put a sock in it.  Thanks.

I hate my job.  No, that’s not right.  I love my job.  I hate my employer. 

Momo doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting a sister in a couple of weeks.  If anyone has any good dog names they’re not using, let me know.  The puppy’s a Weimaraner, just like Momo, so think 70 – 85 lbs of big grey dog when all grown up.  Names like Bubbles (and Momo) are probably not appropriate.

They opened a new “sporting goods” store just down the road.  I needed a new pair of hiking boots, so I walked down to take a look.  What I found was aisle after aisle of guns and ammo.  Good thing I looked non-threatening.  If South Dakota attacks, Minnesota is ready.

This stores other claim to fame is live bait.

Ok, that’s enough “stream of consciousness” stuff.  If anyone here ends up going to Lollapalooza, I’d appreciate it if you told me it was hot, crowded and the sound was terrible.  Thanks.

Let’s be careful out there.

Hold the Cheese

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There was an interesting exchange on this weeks On The Spot.  The discussion was around achievement points on the 360.  Carrie made the comment: "If we keep talking about how easy it is to cheese points, then maybe developers will start to make points so that you can’t cheese them".

I really hope that’s true.  I’m annoyed by games you don’t even need to play seriously to score points.  I don’t even want to go near those games.  I don't want the appearance that I played a game just for the points.  I’ve also got a beef with games that rely on multiplayer to award points, but I’ll complain about that another day.

A few hours after I watched On The Spot, I read a forum post over at the Online Gaming Union titled The Perfect Time to Get Those Gamerpoint(s).  It talked about the news story GS ran recently about Xbox 360 game prices falling.  Many of the games that just had their prices cut are games that are featured in the GS article How to Score 6000 Points (Without Really Trying).

Damn.

I want developers shamed into making achievement points mean something.  But I get the feeling that developers are going to be pressured into making achievement points easy.  Sadly, there might be a market for easy points.

We won’t have to wait long to find out how this battle is going.  The date is 8/22.  The game is Madden NFL 07.  My prediction: 900 easy points and 100 where you might actually need to play the game.

Now what

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I finished Call of Duty 2 last Thursday evening.  I waited a week to write about.  I don’t want to come off sounding too negative about the game.  Clearly, COD2 is a terrific game.  It looks great, it sounds great and it plays like a dream on the 360.  If you like games, take it out for a spin as a rental.  For a while, it was where bar was set for next-gen FPS.  I hear G.R.A.W. is where the bar is set now.

Anyway, Call of Duty 2 is great.  It’s just not my cup of tea.

A funny thing happened when I finished it.  I went through “post-game depression”.  It caught me off guard that I breezed (relative term) through the last chapter.  I wasn’t prepared for “what’s next”.

I’ve been filling my time with Ridge Racer 6, Football Manager 2006, and Oblivion (all 360 versions) in the hopes that one of them will grab me and become “what’s next”.

Ridge Racer 6 is only OK.  I played Ridge Racer 5 on the PSP and really enjoyed it.  The arcade style racing seems perfectly suited for the handheld.  RR6 certainly looks sharp on a big screen.  And the sound, for the most part, is pretty good too.  If only there was a way to turn off the “announcer”.  Every time he says “nitrous” (which is no less then ten times a race) I want to grab my gun and left over grenades from COD2 and frag his behind. 

Football Manager 2006 I’ve written about before.  I like the game a lot.  Most people won’t.  The 360 version does have its quirks.  The control scheme is just weird.  You get used to it over time, but it’s still funky and odd.  Another problem with FM06 is the clarity of text on a TV.  To play the game I need to almost sit on top of the TV, or wear my glasses.  Since I’m vain, I choose to sit on the floor with my nose pressed up against the TV.  I’ll probably go blind, but in the meantime, the dog is happy (she gets the comfy chair).

I’ve got a few comments about Oblivion, but I’ll save them for another day.  I know if I can just get past the opening few hours, I’ll learn to love the game.  So far, it’s just not happening for me, but I’m sure it’ll will sooner or later.

I suspect “what’s next” is still sitting on a store shelf somewhere.  I did pick up Ghost Recon at Best Buy yesterday.  I figured if I’m ever going to play G.R.A.W., it should be now while my FPS skills are still relatively high.  I’m also going out of my way to play all the highest rated 360 games, even if they’re not the kind of game I’d normally play.  Of course I’ll carry that logic only so far (no Fight Night 3 – no way – I don’t care what OXM says).

Checkpoint Reached

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I’m not functioning very well today.  It’s lack of sleep.  Bri keeps talking at me, and I understand each individual word she says, but when she strings the words together in sentences I lose all comprehension.

Finally she wrote it down for me on three separate post-it notes.

Bed    Sleep

Two of the last three nights I’ve stayed up until 3 am playing Call of Duty 2.  I’d like to tell you it’s a great game and that I’m loving it, but if I did that I’d lying.  It’s actually a nasty, evil, sadistic game bent on destroying my sanity and destroying society as we know it.

I don’t even care for first-person shooters.  Why am I even playing it?  Achievement points?  To hell with them, I just want to finish this stupid game.  Game?  It’s not a game!  It an exercise in frustration!  I hate it!  I keep getting stuck.  And it’s not in my nature to save and quit until after I’ve gotten myself un-stuck.  Problem is it’s taking me hours to get through one level.  Last night I played at least eight.  I didn’t get through one whole chapter in all that time.  Granted, it’s one of the longest sections in the game, but jeez!  Why am I putting myself through this?  Because dad dared me to finish it on the Veteran difficulty setting, that’s why.  Sadist.

Eight hours just for the relief of seeing the words “Checkpoint Reached” in the corner of the screen.  Yay!  Never have to do that section again!

Did I mention this is a stupid game?  Oh, and I stink at it too!

But I’m getting close now.  I can see the finish line.  I need to close off the last, tiny little bit of the D-Day chapter and then I’ll be one full chapter away from being done.  Naturally, it’s the chapter that gave me the most fits when I played through the game on Easy - The Battle for Hill 400.

Hopefully, I’ll get done before the guys in the white coats show up.

What a great hobby!