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Kevin-V Blog

American Viewty

I was offered some quite unexpected news today: a promotion. Oddly enough, today is also the day I chose to share with you all my work environment. Happily enough, my cubicle of shame is about to become a "real office." (Thanks to Nicole Kidman for lending her Moulin Rouge voice to that line; it has more authority than her actual line, "a real actress.") Still, it only seems apropo to share with you what I do for 9 hours every day, Monday through Friday. After today's album, I will share with you the details of my promotion, as to lend this entry an artificial sense of suspense. And now, on to:

Cub At Work

Welcome to my cubicle. This is where I labor away and suffer endlessly for a banking institution known as National Datacare Corporation. Actually, I jest: NDC is a fantastic, small company that provides resident trust fund services to long-term care centers. Or, in layman's terms, we do banking for nursing homes. My job? It's all very simple: I travel to facilities to train them to use our software; I do support over the phone for them; I compile direct deposit files to send to the US Treasury; I reconcile several million dollars worth of trust fund accounts on a monthly basis; I enter data as necessary, including expiration dates (yes, in our business, death is known as "expiration"), fund transfers, interest postings, and a million other things. Is that simple? I suppose it doesn't sound it, but I enjoy what I do and I adore the company, which I respect and in return, respects me. Sadly, I can't get the big boss to install a graphics card, so no Half-Life 2 for me at work! On the other hand, as you can see, I get a neat blue stapler, and a variety of paper clips, in three gorgeous colors: silver, gold, and green! And don't tell - but I am holding onto TWO letter openers. (Shush! I told you not to tell!)

But what fun is work if you don't get to work with cool people? Thankfully, I have the best coworkers on earth, but I have too many pictures to share today, so I will highlight just a few. This is Ann, or as one GameSpot forumite calls her, "teh hot." Ann makes me look practically undramatic and normal. She is a beautiful, intelligent woman (and NOT an Asian drag queen, as another GS forumite once surmised), and has a lot of love to give, but sometimes tends to give too much to the wrong men. In fact, if I were straight, I would probably marry her, although our personal brands of melodrama would drive us to an early grave. Notice my shirt; my coworker Tae calls me "Hamburglar" whenever I wear it, as I apparently remind him of the McDonald's mascot. I suppose it could be worse, and he could call me "Fry Guy."

So what is work without a boss? This is Betty, the slave driver that sends me home exhausted every night. Betty is a native of Hong Kong, and she shares some interesting Chinese philosophies with her husband, both of whom view their marriage as much as a business partnership as a love relationship. In fact, according to Betty, it's uncommon for people in China to tell each someone that they love them. Thus, they do not celebrate holidays and have never given each other a gift. Ever. No gifts. "Happy Valentine's Day, honey! I brought you nothing again today!" I guess as an emotional guy myself, it's hard for me to fathom a relationship in which you rarely express your feelings, but then again, Betty grew up in an entirely different culture. At NDC, I work with individuals that hail from the Phillipines, China, Vietnam, and South Korea, and I am alternately fascinated and confused by certain aspects of Eastern cultures, probably because my views of love and commitment are so very - American!

As for me, well, here I am with Rich. This has nothing to do with work, but there you go:

I'm the handsome one in the Metroid t-shirt.

So now, I am off to play a little World of Warcraft, and venture into Viewtiful Joe 2 at Viewtiful difficulty. Oh - and that promotion? I will now be venturing into IT and development. Me, a software developer? Holy s***, watch out!

Fiddlecub's Journal: Special Collector's Edition

What is it that prompted me to buy the Collector's Edition of World of Warcraft, as opposed to the regular old, ho-hum, no-frills release that any gamer in his right mind would have purchased? Was it the soundtrack, maybe, or even the 250-odd pages of "rare" art found within the sturdy box? Was it the fact that the game comes on both DVD and CD, so that I can give the game and a guest pass to a friend, perhaps? No, I imagine not. After all, the true value of these things is hard to determine, and most of my game soundtracks get frequent play for a week or so, never to make their way into a CD player again. I still have my Warcraft 3 figurine sitting on my computer desk, but I rarely notice it, and the art book that came with that title is stowed somewhere in the closet. My Neverwinter Nights t-shirt shrunk and the cloth map is rolled into a ball. My Jedi Knight game tin made its way into the trash at some point.

Why, then, do I insist on buying these editions, with their questionable value and high price point? Well, because the box is so pretty, of course! That, and because there is some implicit self-perception of "hardcore-ness" that gamers love to hold onto. "I am not the casual, everyday WoW player," we say. "I am going to spend an extra $30 on extra goodies like action figures and hardcover manuals because I can then put out a neon sign on my front porch that says 'I'm a hardcore gamer!' " Of course, the neon sign itself is available in some exclusive package that includes a set of Ginsu knives and a Tae-Bo exercise video, which we then gobble up, because gamers slice a lot of tomatoes, and our pecs are definitely in need of attention. I can also impress the salesperson at EBGames with such small talk as "man, I heard orcs were majorly twinked" and "I am so l33t, I gibbed 25 n00b's in Halo 2 Slayer last night." After all, if I can walk out of the game store (or, as Rich prefers to call it, "Nerd Haven") with a chance that the clerk or random customers have an elevated perception of me, then I can hold my head high! Not to mention, I can pretend that the value of the items will exponentially increase, because that faux-pewter figurine could fetch upwards of $3.50 on Antiques Roadshow in 50 years, making me a rich man, should I move to Guatamala.

Even worse, the entire reason I bought World of Warcraft was for purposes of reviewing for Inside Gamer Online, a few days after purchasing Everquest 2. Now a year ago, I may have been able to stomach two MMO's at once, but with my current plate already overflowing with Viewtiful Joe 2, Counter-Strike, Halo 2, and plenty of upcoming reviews (like Mario Party 5 - what was I thinking???), I might as well just cancel life and do nothing but game all day. Sadly, my Qeynosian Wood Elf will have to wait patiently in his stark apartment for a while. Also somewhat worrisome is the fact that all of these games are sequels. Now granted, I adore Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Otogi 2, and Final Fantasy MCMLXVIII, but I would love to see a few more high-quality original games than we have seen lately. Katamari Damacys and Beyond Good & Evils are few and far between, and while I can appreciate a great sequel, I'm ready for some fresh blood - or a fresh genre.

Thanks, by the way, to those of you that seem to enjoy my journal. Per popular request, I will try to respond to your replies more often, and in the upcoming second installment of "A Day In Cub's Life," I will include a picture of myself and Rich, and maybe even the kids, too. Sorry today's entry is short - but a long day at work has required efficiency. Bear in mind, too, that if you order the Special Edition Fiddlecub, you will get, free, a colorful sense of humor, an emotional soul, a gentle heart, and an unlimited supply of Hot Pockets. Call now: operators are standing by.

If Life Is A Bowl Of Headcrabs, This Must Be Ravenholm

It has been much too long since I shared with my loyal (or at least, loyal in my head) readers, and I apologize for the oversight. The last week has been filled to the brim with joy, sadness, and gaming goodness across the board - so rather than cause any more delay, please indulge me while I catch you up.

Allow me to start with the sadness: today I received word that my great aunt Thelma died of lung cancer. It was a tough way to begin the day, as I loved her dearly, and she was one of the few members of my extended family that I truly adored. My strongest memories of her were of the protracted gossip sessions she held with my mother on the telephone, which developed a vague aura of hens cackling in a barnyard. In fact, that particular image I have of her is so strong, I wrote a poem about her for my college poetry class (presided over by the incomparable Rita Dove, an extraordinary American poet). Thelma had been suffering for some time, and while I can understand that her delivery from pain is a blessing, I will miss her terribly. She was a strong, loving woman, grounded in reality but always kind and empathetic, a shining gem in my small, industrial hometown. Aunt Thelma, if perhaps you are still somehow with us, I hope you can hear my prayers, and know that you touched my life deeply. I regret never being able to say goodbye, but I hope in my heart that it is simply au revoir, and that we will soon see each other again.

My sad news capped an otherwise productive but busy week. Busy, because work has been particularly stressful; productive, because I finished Half-Life 2 in time to write what I hope is a comprehensive review of what I now consider to be the best shooter of this generation, and possibly the greatest FPS of all time. I won't waste space telling you here, when you can zoom over to my review. Feel free to email me any feedback, particularly since the emails from angry Killzone fans continue to stream in. I don't know if this is some kind of concerted effort to elicit apologies from the many reviewers that scored it low (including all three major gaming sites), but I am growing weary of the whining - so please, Killzone fans, drop it already. It's just not very good. If you enjoy it, that's great, but really, stop wasting your time with unnecessary flames and spend that valuable time playing this game you seem to sincerely love, against all odds.

The next half of today's journalistic sweetness will be a little pictorial, hopefully first in a short series. I realized I have been sharing a lot of deeply personal information, but I have failed introduce you to my daily life, such as it is. For those who are just catching up, have been awakened from cryogenic slumber, or simply suffer from sudden narcolepsy upon reading my blog, welcome to my world. So, now, without further adieu, KTV productions presents:

Cub At Home

Sit, Ubu, Sit.

Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, sit back and relax, while I take you on a guided tour of my home. On a side note, if you have any connections with those Extreme Home Makeover people, make sure to toss out my name. I'll invite you over for chips and dip - or Tostitos (or is it Tostitoes? Dan Quayle, where are you when I need you?) and Salsa, if you prefer.

We start with the room that sees the least amount of action: the bedroom. Note the well-made bed, which illustrates a cardinal rule in housekeeping: even if the room is in shambles, it looks a great deal neater if the bed is made. You oppressed housewives out there, take note. A corollary of this rule is that a made bed feels better to crawl into after a long day, so take that extra 3 minutes, even if you wait until you get home from work; you won't regret it. Also note the stairstepper to your left. It sees very occasional use, although if I am too zealous, my quads hurt so much I can barely descend the stairs to the parking lot the following day.

Here, we have the most important component of the bedroom: the entertainment center. Currently, this TV has a PS2 and GameCube hooked up to it (the Xbox is elsewhere, as you will discover soon enough). Currently, the games getting most play in this room are Hot Shots Golf Fore! and X-Men Legends. The GameCube has been gathering a bit of dust lately, but Viewtiful Joe 2 is about to get its motors whirring again. That DVD player has Finding Nemo in it, still one of my favorite "comfort films," and the stereo is playing a few items, most commonly Rich's Shania Twain CD and Zero-7's brilliant album When It Falls. I wish I had a more comfortable chair in there, though, and I am considering getting one of those comfy-looking gaming chairs I saw at Best Buy.

Next we have the kitchen and dining area. I have yet to paint the dining room, but it will eventually be some shade of green or another. I do love my dining room table, although the chairs pissed me off. Due to a factory mistake, the wrong seats shipped with the chair frames, so I was not able to assemble them without a great deal of effort, which involved drilling new holes and the such (I'm butch for a homo). You can also see another little gaming area in the corner, where the kids have been playing a lot of GTA: San Andreas and Midnight Club 2. Do I approve of them playing these mature games? Hell, no - but Rich supervises them and trusts them to make the right life choices, and he always makes sure they understand the consequences of their actions. I love Rich, and I am proud that he trusts his children more than I probably would.

Here's the infamous living room, where the Golden Margarita walls and the frilly border have grown more home-y as the weeks pass, with the help of those Martha Stewart curtains. I also lucked out with some cheap plants from my friend Jeff, whose father is a florist. The center to the right sees NO gaming, whatsoever; Rich is adamant that there be one place where he can watch TV in movies without having someone usurp his space with another video game. Conceivably, we have enough televisions and systems that all three kids, Rich and I could all be gaming at the same time in different places, but he reserves the television in the living room for himself. Can't say I blame him.

But if Rich gets his own space, well, I deserve mine too, right? Never fear, my compatriots! Allow me to show you - THE SPOT. THE SPOT consists of my super-duper gaming pc, which features a 3.4 Ghz Pentium 4 processor, a Radeon X800 256MB video card, and can iron my clothes, shine my shoes, and wash my back when I shower. On the monitor, you can see Half-Life Source loading, although the TV is oddly dark. Odd, because Halo 2 has been taking up a lot of the screen lately. This is where my Xbox and another PS2 reside; the Xbox has also seen some Otogi 2 action lately, while 12-year-old Ryan spends some time on Kingdom Hearts there. I attempted in vain to make the plant look like an organic extension of the space, but at least it camouflages the area somewhat from the side, which is where the front door is located.

Last, but definitely not least, is the kid's room. Dustyn sleeps on the top bunk and Ryan on the bottom; Gregory takes the other bed. What you don't see here is their little gaming center, where they have both a Gamecube and a Nintendo 64 (Pikachu edition) hooked up. When I was looking through their games today, I noticed they have a copy of Turok Evolution. I really must sit down with them and have a little talk, dontcha think? I am a particular fan of that orange monkey grasping the ladder. In fact, almost all of the stuffed animals in the room I won at carnivals and amusement parks.

Well, friends and neighbors, that brings us to the conclusion of today's episode of Cub At Home. I hope you will join us on the next edition, entitled: Cub At Work.

Which reminds me: can I borrow a cup of sugar?

My Own Personal, Jointly Operational Killzone

I've arrived. I'm legit. And how do I know? It's all very simple, when you consider the sudden rash of emails I have received regarding my reviews at IGO this week. Let's start with this one:

"Hi,

I noticed you reviewed Novalogic's Joint Operations, you should be made aware that on nov 5 2004 Nova decided to almost completely change the game with no prioir warning to any of the players, through way of a mandatory update. A visit to their Novaworld forums will quickly display to you the mass migration away from the game. There are very many unhappy customers who are being ignored. We feel we have been conned and ripped off."

The email goes on to detail NovaLogic's response to the unhappy fans, and I can certainly understand their frustration, as it seems the sniper role has been significantly changed. The author asked me to reconsider my (8.0) Joint Operations review, which has been featured on NovaLogic's front page for quite some time. He is barking up the wrong tree regarding a re-review, which won't happen; however, I am considering reinstalling and playing Joint Ops again to see how these changes affect the gameplay, and if they are significant, it's worth a possible feature article. Any Joint Ops players that have feedback are welcome to reply to my journal, or email me at kevin@insidegameronline.com.

However, my recent 6.8 score for Killzone has some fans quite riled up. You'd think I stabbed their puppy, the way they are moaning. Let's start with this one:

I'm going to flame your killzone review.

"Killzone’s run-and-gun gameplay. Weapons are run-of-the-mill assault
rifles, a shotgun, sniper rifle, grenades, and the such – with some bizarre
secondary fire modes and an excruciatingly frustrating wait while
reloading."

- It is not a run and gun game, and doing so will easily get you killed. I
doubt you got very far with this kind of attitude. I've tried it, and upon
entering a room or running and gunning in an open area I am easily
slaughtered because of the realistic reload process. Also the weapons are
not run of the mill and the secondary fire modes are not bizarre. Compare
them to any other sci-fi shooter out there and they are easily much better
in many ways. Lastly, excruciatingly frustrating wait while reloading is
more realistic as you will have to take cover to do so.

"The meat of the gameplay itself is straightforward enough for an FPS: shoot
enemies, move onto the next area, and shoot more enemies. Your adversaries
are mostly standard Helghast infantry, and when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen
them all –"

-The helghast will have a machine gunner in a bunch of infantry quite often.
Plus, I'd much rather shoot a head of a human helghast.

"uncommon to see your comrades running in place, stuck on either the
environment (as your own avatar will have happen from time to time) or each
other."

-I've yet to see anyone run in place or get stuck, but I do agree the AI can
lack at times, but not as bad as you make it out to be.

"(jumping is conspicuously absent, a gaping hole in an action game so
reliant on WWII shooters)."

-If you can put on the armor like outfits they have, then grab a few weapons
(especially a heavy machine gun; hence why Rico cant even climb) and extra
ammo, grenades, and then go jump around like a lunatic then you can complain
about the realism of this game.

I wasnt going to put Halo in my flame, but it seems your stuck on the fact
Halo lets you do everything you want, because its a fantasy. Killzone
confines you to a much more realistic and squad based feel that you fail to
mention anything about.

Someone apparently pissed in his cornflakes that morning, since I did nothing more than tell the truth about Killzone. Every game has its rabid fans, but Killzone's seem oddly temperamental. My review stands on its own quite well, so it needs little explanation. However, I scoff at the suggestion that it's is a thinking man's shooter, and I stand by my run-and-gun statement. Run, gun, and hide while your health replenishes. Lather, rinse, repeat. Besides, anyone that suggests that Killzone's AI is nothing but terrible - and anyone that suggests that I am a blind Halo fanboy, which is silly - immediately loses any credibility in my book. Or, there is this guy, who suggested an alternative reviewer to my editors:

This is the only way i can reach you....
What the hell where you thinking by posting the review of Killzone? This is the only review i trust, it is the best review on the net.....
http://www.nlgaming.com/nl/asp/id_1030/nl/reviewDisp.htm

I will refrain from commenting on another journalist's work in a negative fashion. However, if anyone feel that Inside Gamer Online should fire me in favor of the nlgaming writer, then by all means, I will retract my negative statements regarding Killzone, declare Daikatana to be the best game ever created, and join Derek Smart in the development of his next desktop simulator.

So pop the popcorn and lean back in your easy chair: I am sure the entertainment has only begun.


Just What Do You Mean By "Ho Ho Ho?"

At this point, is there any doubt that I am the King of Melodrama? I mean, really: I am as successful as turning a molehill into a mountain as George W. Bush was at transforming Osama Bin Laden into Saddam Hussein. I am as self-aware as ever, but it's odd how the more conscious I am of this particular failing, the more powerless I feel to control my bubbling emotions. The recent trick has been to determine what is the product of the depression and what is actual, honest-to-God reality-based emotion. With a recurrence of the clinical depression I thought would remain in my past, they both feel exactly the same, and considering I am a highly feeling individual anyway, I can never quite escape this feeling that something is amiss, even when I am just playing games. Of course, the fact that I was playing Killzone didn't help, but that's a different matter entirely.

Sunday was actually somewhat of a treat, since it was Rich's niece's birthday, so of course it was another family get-together of the greatest magnitude - as these parties always are. Rich's sister Angie is a really nice girl, and her 3-year-old daughter is a trip; energetic, stubborn, and rambunctious to the nth degree. Angie's boyfriend, Kaylie's father, is in prison (!) though, so he was unable to attend the proceedings, although the fact that she had her second child by him just yesterday made me wonder if they allow conjugal visits. Most of the family don't care for the guy (surprise!), but Angie apparently loves him - Rich's theory is that it must be because he is endowed where it counts. I don't know about all that, but because the boyfriend's family was in attendance, the mix of those attending was amusing to watch. As I have mentioned before, many of Rich's kin don't hesitate to say what's on their mind, no matter how offensive, and considering Angie's boyfriend is black, the presence of his family made for interesting after-dinner conversation amongst them. The funny thing, though, was how good-natured it was. Everyone clearly had a good time, and the dynamic between the families was humorous, like watching Dennis Leary and Chris Rock telling dueling jokes.

But the drama always sneaks in when least suspected, does it not? We needed to pick up a dresser from Rich's brother's house, since it has been sitting there for years. Before moving it from the packed bedroom, Rich emptied out all the drawers to see what he wanted to pitch and what he was going to keep. Of course, I love rooting through Rich's past; looking through photo albums at the party, I discovered a few priceless shots of RIch, including one of him modeling a pair of Christmas undies that said "Ho Ho Ho" across the ass. I would have posted them here, but I worry that would break the ToS - and I know he would be absolutely mortified. Well, in one of the drawers was a rather explicit love letter Patty wrote to him many years ago, so it took me aback for a moment. I got over it quickly enough; Patty is his ex-wife, the only woman he was ever with, and the mother of his children. What I didn't get over so quickly was the fact that he refused to throw it out - he insisted he keep it. That, my friends, was another ball of wax. In my case, a drippy, messy, blubbering ball of wax.

I would offer a prize to anyone that could guess my reaction, but surely I couldn't afford it. Suffice it to say, I was none too pleased, and I proved the scientific theory that the human body is mostly water by shedding gallons of it from my tear ducts. Rich tried to console me by reassuring me that the letter was in the past. It was meaningless. It does not represent his current feelings for her, or hers for him. Of course, suggesting to me that the letter was unimportant, and yet refusing to pitch it, even in the wake of my carrying on, just made things worse. If it was meaningless, why wouldn't he just get rid of it if it made me upset? All of this ties into my latent jealousy of Patty, which has only increased since her recent weight loss. She had stomach-stapling surgery several months back, and she has lost about 75 pounds. She got her hair done, she bought new clothes; she looks fantastic. Rich sees her almost every weekday when he drops off the kids. Can anyone blame me for being a tad upset that he wants to keep a love letter from an attractive woman that he sees every day? Of course, she is a woman, and Rich has no interest in them now, but what does that matter to a possessive heart?

I got over it, as I always do. There are pieces of my past that I have held onto as well that involve men I have loved, including a lot of pictures of me and Bill, my former partner, that I am not ready to dispose of just yet. Still, I don't see Bill, and none of those things are sexually explicit - but they serve to remind me that as much of a mistake that that relationship was, there is no such thing as forgetting that your past exists. Some people's idea of "moving on" is to pretend it never happened, but that strikes me as a waste. My five years with Bill are still part of who I am today, and I shouldn't deny it, no more than Rich should pretend that ten years with Patty had no importance in his life. I guess we are more alike than I thought.

Well, I have barely scratched the surface of recent events, but this was as good a start as any. I can't deny the smile on my face, though, as I look at this photo of Rich's holiday undies. I am sure Santa never realized his face would be plastered on an ass, and I can't help but wonder if Rudolph plans on a similar marketing campaign for brassieres...

Battlecruiser Millenium Is So Complex, It MUST Be Good!

"I also trust only myself. I believe that the revievers from the multi-platform sites such as IGN, Gamespot, Gamespy, Avault, et al are really nothing more than a bunch of frat boys afraid of their futures.

Seriously, look at any review of a complex game and all they do is whine about how hard it was for them to grasp the basic concepts.

The turning point for me was Homeworld. I bought the game based upon the stellar reviews it received from various sites, Gamespot included and I found it to be a huge disappointment. I never even bothered to play past the 3rd mission and, as a guy who finishes pretty much everything he starts, that's more than a little damning.

I realised then that the reviewers were not intelligent people, well versed in the history of PC gaming. Rather, they were the slack jawed Nintento addicts who would derided a game if it required even a modicum of thought and didn't provide instant gratification.

I knew these people would never speak to me or to the concepts of what I considered to be good game material and as such, I just ignore them. It does bother me that their reviews carry a lot of weight and that by valitating the kind of garbage that appeals to the simplest amoungst us, we will end up with even more shallow garbage a la GTA III and COD, I have accepted the fact that my interests will never jive with the mainstream.

I can only hope that there will continue to be a small, select band of developers who will continue to produce games of quality which require some thought to play and that things won't degrade to the level of Pong 3D with pixel shader 3.0 and bump mapping as the most important features."

These brilliantly misguided words were written by a poster in the pc forum today in a thread regarding the gaming publications' opinions we most trust. A lot of things immediately jumped to mind when I read these words, but I will not choose on this particular day to delve into the fallacious implication that the gaming press is overvalued and underqualified simply because some reviewers may disagree with his evaluation of a particular game. In fact, I will completely disregard the gauche reference to Homeworld, and ignore how using a complex, groundbreaking RTS as an archetype of Nintendo-fanboy bias is ludicrous and completely at odds with this nonsensical point. I will also stifle my laughter at the suggestion that my opinions of various games on several different platforms are somehow swayed by fratboy journalism, ignorant of pc gaming's past and unconcerned with real depth and quality.

Actually, the most preposterous notion in the writer's fascinating treatise is that which states that in order for a game to be good, it must be "complex," a word the poster threw out with such abandon it made me wonder if he truly understands the difference between complexity and depth. Granted, some of my favorite games include highly complex elements: Anarchy Online is still the most complicated MMO on the market, and its system of skills, perks, and implants makes the learning curve steep but ensures an enormous degree of avatar customization; Kingdom Under Fire brought combat and strategy together in an initially perplexing but ultimately satisfying Xbox title; and Rome: Total War followed in the steps of its vaunted predecessors with the deepest, most epic entry in the series.

It strikes me, though, that these complexities would be somewhat meaningless if they did not significantly impact the gameplay experience and contribute to any degree of enjoyability. Take, for example, Republic: The Revolution. Elixir created an overwhelmingly intricate strategy game as sophisticated as the solution to a quadratic equation - and about as enjoyable as explaining it in algebra class. Republic collapsed under the weight of its own erudition. This isn't to say it was too complex; far from it. However, Elixir was so terribly concerned with what was going on under the hood that they forgot to make it fun to drive.

The poster obviously finds GTA3 beneath his delicate sensibilities, and apparently Call of Duty gets the shaft too, so if these games prove to be too simplistic for him (laughable, really, considering the GTA series' obviously elaborate design), I send my condolences to him for missing out on some fantastic games, including many from the respected pc vaults he claims we reviewers have forgotten. Put aside, if you will, relatively simple and dazzling titles like Katamari Damacy, Ikaruga, and Diamond Mine, aka Bejeweled. Instead, take a trip down pc gaming's memory lane, stopping first at the classic text adventure. A lot of us gaming elders hold some of these games dear to out hearts, because they helped our imaginations create vivid alternate worlds in relatively few strokes. They did not, however, feature any kind of gameplay depth as we know it today, and we were left to create the images in our minds, the game itself a variety of goto/gosub subroutines and a database programmed to recognize a limited set of commands. Even my favorite classic pc game of all time, the still-wonderful Paradroid for the Commodore 64, was a load of fun but featured two simple elements: robot shooting and a cool circuit-controlling minigame. I adore the Ultima-brand innovations of yesteryear as much as the next fellow, but simplicity was as much a part of gaming's past as any other element, and mistaking straightforwardness for monotony is as ignorant as mistaking intricacy for excellence.

So if you will excuse me, I am going to roll some maidens and cows into a wayfaring clump. I'll take that over a Derek Smart spreadsheet simulation 8 days a week.

It's Not All About Me

When I look at myself in the mirror lately - whether that be the one on the wall, or the symbolic one into my heart - I don't know that I understand what I see, or that I even care to. I see a face that's growing old: when I furrow my brow, my forehead wrinkles; when I tilt my head, I see my hairline receding; my skin is getting dryer, my waist is getting wider, and my nose and ears are growing hair. I hate what I see, and I am scared that Rich sees it too - and I am so afraid I could wake up tomorrow and find that I am too ugly, too old, or too fat for him, or anyone, to care about me. When I stare deep into the abyss of my mind and heart, I see a man lacking in confidence, unsure of his decisions, and too emotionally empty to be a good friend, a good lover, or even a good person.

The fact is, I am insecure, I am scared, and amidst it all, I am experiencing a recurrence of the depression I thought I left behind a decade ago. I am taking Prozac and Seroquel every night religiously, happy that they help ease the internal anguish and the constant crying, but medication can't bring respite to a soul uncertain of the future and determined to relive the past. My nights are spent wondering why Rich comes in but doesn't seem happy to see me. Why doesn't he come and give me a kiss when he first walks in? Why does he not hold my hand when we watch a movie on the couch? Is this distance something I have created in my head, or is it real? To me, it's as palpable as the chilly autumn air I breathe, as real as a cloudy sky or November's hard, frosty ground.

Last night, after Rich came home and went to the kitchen with barely a word and no hug and kiss, I asked, "when you come home, are you happy to see me?" I suppose, like many of us, I had hopes that I would get the ultimate response: a hug, a kiss, an "of course I am, baby," any kind of reassurance that my insecurities are products of an overactive imagination, and not an indication of my own failings. Instead, I got "why wouldn't I be?" There was no attempt to communicate what was on his mind, no reassurance, and to a heart that just wants closeness, apathy stings just as much as anger or resentment. When I pressed the issue, he was angry: he didn't want to deal with it right now, he said. It isn't about Kevin, maybe he had a bad day, he said. I was shocked, because I needed to much to feel a warm touch and soft words, and instead my desperation for that comfort only served to drive him away. We didn't say anything for a while, and then he got up, kissed me goodnight, said "I love you," and went to bed.

As I watched the electoral map on MSNBC take on a red hue, it seemed as though the leftover blue was filling my heart, and all at once, I was angry that I have to work so hard to get the affection I should be getting without looking for it, hurt that I felt so alone at a time I most needed the one I love to be with me, and worried that what I want is either too much to expect, or too selfish. One moment I would vow to stop caring so much and just do whatever it took to make me happy, and the next minute I wanted to cry out how much I loved him - and how much I want that same kind of love in return.

I am passionate about everything I do. As a violinist, singer, and composer, passion infuses the music that I create in the hopes that I can communicate its incredible meaning to those that want to understand it. I have a lot of enthusiasm for games, and I enjoy the way the best ones immerse me in a world different from my own. I love the same way: with every piece of me, from the bottom of my toes to the very tip of my head. When I love you, I want to tell you, to show you, to make you feel like the only person on earth that matters, and somewhere along the line, I must have come to believe that this is how everyone loves: deeply, passionately, with wild abandon. A Gone-With-The-Wind love, a Moulin-Rouge love, a violins-serenading-in-the-background love. It's my nature to give all I have, and my hopes to feel the same kind of dedication from someone else keep resulting in disappointment. I want to feel that kind of love, and the more I search for it, the more I fear I may drive Rich away.

So now, I am faced with a choice: stay with someone that may never want me the way I want to be had, and never experience that love I know must exist for me somewhere; or leave and take a chance, possibly only to discover that I had everything I wanted the entire time and I was too foolish to enjoy it.

I feel lost, forgotten, unimportant, and unwanted. I don't want it to be all about me - but I want someone to make their love all about me, the way my love is all about Rich. Am I asking too much, am I compromising more than I should - or is what I want simply more than I can ever actually have or deserve? When I see the wrinkles on my forehead and the extra weight on my belly, I don't know that I am even ready for the answer.

Trick-or-Treating, Begrudgingly

The weekend has been so jam-packed, I think I will have to write in two parts, either because there is so much to share, or because I like to hear the sound of my own typing - and I fear that both may be the case. I suppose yesterday started interestingly enough, because I woke in the morning with a gaming dream fresh in my memories. In this dream, several Valve developers came to visit my house and demonstrated Half-Life 2 (although Gabe Newell was conspicuously absent; whether he was actually working or just at the local Krispy Kreme was unclear). After a short introduction, I went to play the game, only to find it bogged down by cumbersome, Invisible War-type menus and game-killing bugs. However, for some reason, in the dream I was so excited to be playing HL2 that my first instinct was to get on AIM and send a message to Alec-Eiffel (the GS forums' greatest Half-Life follower) just to gloat that I had the game before he did. I woke up in a cold sweat, at first thinking it could be due to my worries that Half-Life 2 may not be as good as I hope it to be, but then realizing that Rich had swiped all the covers and the window was open.

The good news is that Saturday, I bought a car. Yes, indeed, my bad credit decided to not stand in my way, and CarMax financed for me a lovely 2001 burgundy Chrysler Sebring. I am thrilled: I have wanted a Sebring for years, and even though my first-choice convertible model was a tad too expensive, the new car is in fantastic condition, although it has over 70,000 miles on it (what did the previous owner do, use the car for the Iditarod?). I also purchased a two-year warranty that covers everything - and called Geico to hand me the bad news on my new rates. Imagine my surprise that full coverage was only $600 for a 6-month policy. I have to give major props to CarMax: the entire experience was easy, no-hassle, and the staff is so efficient and friendly that anyone needing to buy a used car shouldn't even consider going elsewhere.

So today was Halloween, or as I prefer to call it, The Eve of my Own Insanity. To celebrate, Rich and I went to see one of the most incoherent suspense/horror flicks I have ever seen: The Grudge. My first choice was actually Saw, since the previews I had seen on Spike TV were intriguing, and I liked the "Silence of the Lambs Crossed WIth 7even"-type vibe in them. As I have mentioned before, Rich loves these teeny-bopper singers and actresses, and since Sarah-Michelle Gellar is the star of The Grudge, that was the film of choice. Now, bear in mind that I love a good scare, and aside from its utterly disastrous final 15 minutes (the same portion that killed M. Night Shymalan's movie Signs), I really enjoyed The Ring, and I was expecting a similar experience. Sadly, The Grudge is many things, but it is not a good film. It is one obvious, cliche driven, badly scored, bump-in-the-attic scare after another, replete with poor storytelling and lame attempts at symbolism without a real theme. After a while, I started keeping track of the list of inane horror movie analogies, and while using these unsusprising elements as a drinking game ("take a drink everytime someone goes to investigate noises in the closet!") would be a simple task, I prefer to think of the list as a Prego commercial. Broken picture frames? It's in there. Shower scene? It's in there. Insipid backstory that we're supposed to believe connects these various set pieces together? It's in there. Honestly, I found Gellar's acting on All My Children to be more chilling than this load of junk. And speaking of loads, how about the disgusting theater ads for Seed of Chucky? "Prepare for the Second Coming." "Get a Load of Chucky." Really, guys, outside of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, do you think anyone finds those obvious, vulgar catch-phrases entertaining?

As for the tricking and treating, Rich and I took his kids to his brother's house in Baltimore for the door-to-door sugar-fest, although the boys ended up staying at the house to scare passersby, while Rich and I took his nieces around the block. Both his sister's daughter and his brother's daughter were dressed as pixies, so I did take an opportunity to mention that there were actually four fairies in the group, but the joke went over as well as the Chucky ads, so I didn't press the issue. What struck me the most was both the neighborhood's camaraderie and the joy people have in dressing up - and that those two aspects of Halloween really reveal the true nature of this odd Holiday we have created from pagan mythology and Christian methodology. As a gay man, a lot of sincerely curious people ask me about various aspects of gay life, such as "who plays the man and who plays the woman?" (we're both men; neither of us put on fake breasts when we arrive home for the evening), or "why do so many lesbians have cats?" (I don't know, but I will not be making any obvious jokes about it here). One of the most common is this: "Why do so many gay men dress in drag?" Well, I have often tried to explain it with a variety of instrospective, cultural theories involving "camp," the embracing of stereotypes to remove their power over the community, and other high-falutin' concepts. In the end, though, I think the explanation may be a simple one: people just love to dress up and show off. Halloween, Mardi Gras, prom night; it's really entertaining to dress up as something you aren't, and to see how others look as something or someone else. Perhaps all of these things are just forms of drag; I have long surmised that all those gay guys that dress in leather and put on chaps that let their asses hang out are doing the same thing, only trying to make it look butch. We just designated a day out of the year where everyone can dress outlandishly and still be considered socially acceptable.

So what did you do tonight? Tricks? Treats? Alien abduction? Do tell. But whatever you do, don't tell me any stories that involve game developers infiltrating my house; I don't think my heart could take it.

Real Men Don't Wear Fleece

DC has actually gotten a tad chilly, but I stayed warm for my first bus ride, I must admit: I put on a t-shirt (my favorite one; it reads "Lead me not unto temptation - I can find it myself") and a pullover white fleece, and made my way past the huddled crowds of schoolchildren and irritated, severe-looking men with cell phones to the bus stop. I also happened to be carrying au gratin potatoes in a casserole dish, much to the amusement of the other passengers, one of whom mysteriously resembled Elvis in his heftier years. I am not surprised with all of this gallivanting around with aliens and Amelia Earheart that Mr. Presley hasn’t had time to visit Gold’s Gym. What bothered me most about the sighting wasn’t so much that he was on the DC Metrobus, but the voraciousness on his face as he eyed the food. I ended up tossing him a peanut butter and banana sandwich to throw him off my trail. And just so no one thinks I make a habit of traveling with Pyrex, we all brought a dish for the work Halloween party today, and since I can’t get around with much ease right now, I made what I had in the house – which wasn’t much – and it accompanied me on the bus. It was either the potatoes or tuna helper, and I can only imagine the cool response that would have gotten.

I finally finished Otogi 2 and submitted my review to Inside Gamer Online, so be on the lookout for it. I was pleasantly surprised: I liked, but did not love, the original Otogi. It was dripping with personality, but I felt the combat was bland, which made for a somewhat shallow gaming experience. The combat hasn’t changed all that much for the sequel, but the entire gaming package comes together in a much more satisfying manner than it did in the original. The multiple characters, new enemies, and new levels are a blast, and I was pleasantly surprised by its fluid gameplay and hushed, violent ambience. Now, the current game on my plate is Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, and I am almost embarrassed that I have managed to play two great games back to back. RCT3 is everything we have been waiting for in the series: fully 3d graphics, fantastic new rides, customizable fireworks displays, a sims-y family manager, and all of the addictiveness of the original. After Leisure Suit Larry’s breast-fest and BloodRayne 2’s clunky but compelling production, it’s nice to get a few games that have kept my attention.

I have tried to get into the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve by recalling the frightful gaming experiences of years past, but none is as frightening as this:

As for the true scares, Doom 3 is obviously the best recent choice for a chilling experience, but some have complained that the scares are too scripted and cheap. I agree that there are a few too-obvious moments, but in all honesty, I was surprised that Doom 3 played better than the standard charity funhouse at the local mall. Still, it pales a tad in comparison to some of the great suspense games of years past, none of which is better than Clive Barker’s Undying. Undying is an underrated masterpiece of real scares conjured by a deep, involving backstory and told through journal entries, ghostly visions, and genuinely chilling enemy encounters. And as carolynmichelle reminded me a few months ago, no one can prepare themselves for the moment you look into the bathtub in Eternal Darkness to find – well, I won’t spoil it here, but it’s unnerving, to say the least. And when you think about it, showers and bathtubs are always ominous in survival horror games and suspense films, because that is where we are at our most vulnerable. Unless, of course, you find nudity somehow empowering, in which case I congratulate you on your buff, naked physique.

So what games chilled you to the bone? Do the pooches in Resident Evil render rigor mortis? Do the lumbering phalluses in Silent Hill give you the - er – willies? Tell me - I am prepared to shiver!

Assuming Makes an Ass out of Uma Thurman

Well, the Death Cab hasn't been terribly dangerous, what with my deceased car and all, but it has been expensive: $19.85 one way from my house to the office. It's also oddly unreliable: this morning, I called at 8:10 and was told the wait was 50 minutes - which was fine, since I was still freshly naked from the shower. Unfortunately, the confirmation call telling me the cab was outside waiting came 2 minutes later. I was fully clothed by that point, so I grabbed my wallet and keys and ran down to the parking lot to find - nothing. No cab. I waited in the brisk cold for 10 minutes before hauling ass upstairs to call Fairfax Yellow Taxi back. The dispatcher apologized and sent the replacement, which came an hour later, making me 40 minutes late to work. Ah, the wonders of private transport.

I did peruse the DC Metrobus schedule, though, and found that I can take a bus to work with only a single transfer. Not only will it mean a more reliable ride, but it will cost me $18 less, since the bus fare is only a buck. So it looks like I will be getting up about 40 minutes earlier every day, but in this case, it's worth the hassle, since I can use the funds I would be spending on a taxi to save for a car instead. I wonder: why is there no game that simulates bus driving? I have a blissful image of recklessly driving a bus around the city, dropping off fares, running over pedestrians, and earning points for upgraded vehicles - say, an enormous Greyhound! Even better, the next GTA installment should take place in Great Britain; can you imagine the thrill of screaming through the streets of London, surrounded by double-decker buses and overly polite drivers who say "cheery-o, old man!" as they give you the finger?

Last night certainly brought its share of drama. As you may know, my best friend Jeff has been picking me up and taking me home every night, bless his gentle heart. Rich had an early day yesterday, though, so he should have been able to pick me up and take me home - but he never called! My own partner - and boy was I pissed. Jeff got me home, and I asked if he minded if I just went inside to talk to Rich alone, since I didn't want him to see my eloquent argument devastate Rich. I was sure that Rich had dissed me, and I wanted him to pay. PAY, I TELL YOU!

Well, you could have blown me over with a breathy whisper: Rich had made a wonderful dinner for both me AND Jeff, replete with turkey breast, a baked potato rolled in rock salt, and green beans. It turns out he had called work and left a message that I never got. So, knowing Jeff was taking me home, he arranged a special night, a night that had dual purposes: enjoy some quality time with me, and inadvertently, make me feel like an ass, when my true goal was to be inflicting guilt, not receiving it!

Such is the fate of a man with an overactive imagination. I think I will sublimate this guilt by finishing Otogi 2 this evening and posting my review at IGO. I am thrilled that Otogi 2 is actually an improvement over its predecessor: deeper, beautiful, and more satisfying to play. I liked, but did not love, the first Otogi, so I am happy to report that the new game may have appeal for those that wanted more from the prior incarnation. I also downloaded and purchased Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, and I am very excited: Rollercoaster Tycoon is my timesink of choice; some players lose their lives to The SIms, Diablo 2, Everquest, and what have you, but my ongoing addiction happens to be Chris Sawyer's classic. The original RCT is easily my most-played game, and the new sequel (and I prefer to pretend RCT 2 never existed, thankyouverymuch) seems to have a lot of wonderful new features that I can't wait to play around with.

So until later, I wish all of you the most wonderful day, and I ask you to remember that roller coasters are meant for amusement parks, NOT for real-life analogies. If only I could take my own advice.