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Microsoft Claims 100% Next Gen Market Share in Vital Gaming Sector


They opened a new Circuit City at the local "lifestyle center" (aka. whored up strip mall) near my home. In celebration of this momentous occasion they offered some discounts on games and a deal where if you spent more than some arbitrary number you got a gift card for 10% of your purchase. I don’t anticipate any price drops soon so this seemed as good a time as any to jump into the next ... er current generation of game consoles.

After much discussion with the wife it was decided that I would purchase my toy during the grand opening sale. We went to the store and picked up a movie, a game, and my new 360. Then we stood at the checkout for 30 minutes while the staff tried to figure out why the games and movies were not ringing up at the correct price. The lone checkout girl standing only three feet from us the entire time was the only person capable of fixing the problem while the rest of the employees spent their time gabbing about their coworkers, gawking at the checkout screen or wandered off to watch the HDTVs with a careless “not my problem” sort of jaunt.

It is perhaps telling that a.) I’m married. b.) These generation of consoles are not exciting me as much as past systems and/or c.) That I’ve grown older and other aspects of life are taking priority because my 360 is currently sitting on my desk at home unopened. I sure it is it is a little of all three.

When I finally open up the box I a few house keeping things to do other than play games:

First, pack up my 360 and Gamecube. They’re dead, are taking up valuable 360 space, and gathering dust at this point. The PS2 will stick around for the occasional Katamari romp and Final Fantasy XII.

Second, see if I can find any info in the box about purchasing an extended warranty from Microsoft. I’m pretty gentle with my hardware but with a $400 price tag the reports of 360s dying simply can’t be ignored.

Third, physically arrange the 360, cables, and charge the wireless controller if needed.

Fourth, sign up for Xbox Live and futilely find some way of limiting my exposure to the dorks that populate that service.

Finally I’ll buy Geometry Wars, Uno, and then fire up either of those games or Lego Star Wars II.

Yep, all I own for my 360 at this point is Lego Star Wars II. I admit that kind of flies in the face of what I had been saying about my interest in the 360 being driven by finally picking up tittles that I couldn’t already play on my PC.

What happened was when waiting for someone to open up the ever-present glass case at Circuit City (oh and that took a good 10 minutes) I blanked on what games I wanted. You see I couldn’t just peruse the 360 games like the PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube. No that might inspire a sale or two. The 360 games that were $49 and up were locked in this three foot tall non lighted glass case with the two systems they had and sat on the floor. So I just picked the one game that I knew I’d likely buy anyway. Also they didn’t have Dead Rising :P

Aside from Dead Rising I’m still not sure what to buy next (I already own Oblivion on PC, thanks). As any new console owner I’m in the mood to graphics whore it up a bit. Also being a big PC gamer I’ve got a need for some racing action that my PC simply can’t fulfill. As you can probably guess that means there is some competition between Burnout Revenge and PGR 3 with Burnout Revenge leading due to its non hardcore racing fan appeal.

So there we go. Microsoft has gained 100% “next gen” market share in what I think is an often ignored and vital market, my home. I expect this news to be in the next Microsoft press release.



Update: My gamercard shows up in my profile now. I invite everyone to gawk at my massive 20 achievement points whenever it is most convenient for them.

Bittersweet Civilization


The Good

Fan service has its place and I’m looking forward to some Civilization fan service coming this October. It is missing Call to Power but that’s hardly a loss. I look forward to the book and DVD. No I will not be playing the card game! I just can’t take the fan service that far. If I did the next step would be writting fan fiction. I don't think I could handle that.

The Bad

I am a bit surprised they didn’t include Alpha Centauri. It doesn’t have Civilization name. Yet it is as much a Civilization game as any other game, and Alpha Centauri had some great features that even Civilization III did not have despite being released three years after Alpha Centauri.

The Ugly

In the meantime I have been playing CivCity: Rome. Most Civilization games can make hours pass in what feels like minutes and when you realize that it is 4 o’clock in the morning the urge to keep playing remains. CivCity: Rome on the other hand will eat up your time, and for the most part you will remember enduring every boring / frustrating minute of it and when you do quit you will realize that you didn’t get squat done while you were playing anyway.

The game itself is fairly shallow. For a game with the name Civ on it that seems a bit odd, but that doesn’t make it a bad game. Simple simulation games such as SimGolf can be plenty of fun.

The city building premise is about what you expect. You build the components of your city to fulfilling the basic needs of your citizens, occasionally trading goods with other cities, and accomplishing goals given to you at the start of each game. Meanwhile the citizens of your town go to work, eat, and play as any normal citizen would. Depending on their access and use of various buildings and services that you provide near their home they then can choose to upgrade their homes. This increases your tax revenue to spend on other services and so on.

The first catch is that the AI seems to be horked. Simply having a butcher shop near a citizen’s home isn’t enough to fulfill the requirement of access to meat to upgrade their home. The citizen must stop by that shop and take some meat home. That makes sence. Escept that sometimes the citizen will inexplicably choose not to pickup any meat, despite living right next door to a butcher with tons of meat ready to be purchased. Worse yet you’ll watch them walk across town to take a bath wasting valuable time despite the fact that there is a fully functioning bathing facility right next to the butcher that they keep ignoring.

This problem is compounded later in the game as more such food and services are required to upgrade, and even maintain a home’s improved status. Meat, wine, olive oil, and of course entertainment only lasts for so long, so the citizens must keep up with their various daily errands to fulfill their need for each one. The more food and services required the more likely it seems that citizens are to simply ignore any one of those prerequisites to upgrading the house, or worse ignore what the need to even maintain the house’s status and as a result having it downgraded.

It’s not uncommon to see a low grade houses stagnate for no apparent reason. In addition you’ll see houses with access to every food source or service possible and constantly bounce back and forth between various stages because the occupants seem unable or unwilling to keep up with the plentiful resources you provide them.

Considering that completing X number of a specified type of hous is a requirement for some missions you can find yourself sitting there waiting for a long time to finish a mission despite doing everything required of you. At times I’ve even had to just start a whole mission over because the AI citizens seemed to have no chance or will to gathering the required food despite letting the game run for a few hours. Making things worse the fact that sometimes you’re not given credit for all the houses you build. I’ve had the computer ignore some houses who are clearly of the required type for no apparent reason on several occasions requiring me to work to build yet another additional house.

Seven or so years ago nearly every game that had some simulation aspect to it had these kinds of problems. That was just how sim games were and everyone dealt with it. Having them today and in such glaring fashion is dumfounding.

Then there are the graphics. The aforementioned SimGolf is a good example that you don’t need fancy graphics to be a good game and despite being fully 3D CivCity: Rome certainly doesn’t have fancy graphics. If that was it all there was to say it wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately that isn’t all there is to say about the graphics.

One issue is that you can’t seem to zoom out enough to get a good look at your city, either to admire it or to evaluate its overall structure. When zooming in all the way the city doesn’t look particularly nice either. Despite having all the graphics settings cranked to maximum zooming in just results in a fairly unpleasant looking and even pixilated scene.

It also doesn’t help that the zoomed all the way in pixilated view is about the only way to click on some structures bring up the details of that building. When zoomed out the mouse seems to avoid highlighting some structures despite being placed right on top of the structure you’re trying to select forcing you to zoom all the way in. Worse yet is that if you play the game you will find that you probably will probably be zooming in and clicking on structures a great deal as it’s very difficult to tell the difference between some types of shops even when zoomed all the way in.

Bad stuff. I know 2K Games bought Firaxis, but someone from Firaxis really needs to stop by 2K’s offices and ask them to kindly stop tramping over their brand before they do some more damage by releasing another game like CivCity: Rome.

The Cost of Gaming


Each year around holiday time I grant myself one or two big purchases. In the past they have been things like a new camera, a new camera lens, and of course video game consoles. This year I’m thinking of an HDTV and a 360.

For a while I figured it would be just a Wii console. The Wii would be a more affordable choice to be sure. Yet as Greg mentioned once on the Hotspot, when you’re standing there really thinking about throwing down money the Wii priced at something like $250 is indeed less than the other consoles, but it also isn’t an automatic decision to just toss down that much cash. $250 isn’t exactly impulse buy kind of money, at least for me.

Meanwhile I have warmed to the 360. Partly because I haven’t seen much from Sony to justify picking up a PS3, but also because the 360 is showing some good games such as Dead Rising that I can’t already play on my PC. It also doesn’t hurt that XBL sounds as if it is finally beginning fulfill some of its obvious promise such as regular arcade game downloads and other content.

That’s not to say that I find this a convincing lineup of games to throw down $400 just for the opportunity to pay $50 to $60 a pop for the big games, a regular fee for online services, and goodness knows what for the arcade games not yet released. Then again, what are my other options? I seriously fear the Wii will suffer from the same drought of games after the initial release that hit the GameCube, and as I said the PS3 just hasn’t given me a reason to toss down $400, let alone fight to get my chance to throw down $600. So the 360 it is, unless I change my mind again.

Then there is the question of a HDTV. This TV would replace the TV in the “den.” We call it the “den” if only because we don’t know what to call that space in our house that really doesn’t have a door and is sort of a big wart on the end of our conspicuously wide second floor hallway in our tiny townhouse. Anyway it is where my wife and I (I’m still getting used to typing w-i-f-e) have our desks, computers, TV, and of course my gaming systems.

The big old 32” TV I bought when I moved to the Twin Cities about 7 years ago works fine except for the fact that it is large and takes up a lot of space. We’d rather get rid of it and buy a nice small LCD TV that could sit on top of some nice cabinets or even be wall mounted. It wouldn’t need to be as big in terms of screen size as the old TV, in fact smaller would be ideal.

Not having much knowledge of the HDTV world I started doing some research. I was a little disappointed that gamespot didn’t have their own HDTV Buyer’s Guide, oh well. I’ll spare you the rest of the details and just say that I was surprised how much there was to learn (in fact I’m still fairly confused and unsure what to buy). Then it occurred to me.

360 + some accessories and a game or two = ~$550
A new HDTV of appropriate size = $1000 to maybe $1500

Holy Shnikies! This is expensive!


Little did I know that a generation down the road and my spending on entering last generation would be put to shame almost first day I started with this generation and just one console. Pretty graphics be damned I sincerely hope gaming doesn’t get much more expensive.

I wonder if Rich’s HDTV ever fell out of the sky, and if so where he was standing when it did?

What would just buying the Wii cost again?

The Wizard on DVD


I remember going to watch The Wizard at the rundown downtown movie theater. I was around 12 years old at that time. I was old enough to enjoy the sparse SMB3 footage, and old enough to get that “not so safe” feeling that told me there was something very wrong with that movie. It wasn’t the acting, it wasn’t the plot, and it wasn’t the power glove. We didn’t expect to be wowed by any of that, we were there for the SMB3 action. It was something else that bothered me. Only later would I fully appreciate the horrors of cross-marketing.

For those brave enough to tread those waters The Wizard is now available on DVD. There are games out there that I would suggest younger gamers play who weren’t old enough (or born) at the right time to enjoy those games were in their prime. However, I would not suggest anyone bother with the DVD as the only part of the film worth watching is already widely distributed on the net.

Things I Learned The Last Two Weeks


  • Driving a decrepit old Dodge Neon 414 + miles is not fun. Driving a new Subaru instead of the cruddy Neon on the way back is much more fun.

  • No matter how important it may be nobody actually tells the groom what he’s supposed to do at the wedding unti the rehearsal, but tt doesn’t matter as he (I) will forget it all as soon as the music starts playing anyway. A priest’s covert hand signals in such cases are quite useful.

  • The more you fiddle with your wedding ring the less comfortable it will be. Leave the dang thing alone and you’ll be just fine.

  • When you are the groom or bride time seems to accelerate by a factor of 10 during the wedding and reception. This might be useful if it could be bottled and sold to bored wedding guests.

  • The San Diego airport blows. They need to build a new one and abandon that valuable piece of land ASAP. Once you pass the security checkpoint you’re stuffed in this sort of pod with a dozen or so gates and at best two crappy “restaurants” with about 1.5x as many people as there are chairs to sit on.

  • San Diego’s weathermen should all be lined up and shot as they are unnecessary.

  • The San Diego Zoo r0x0rz the big one!1111111. If all I got to see were the Hippo’s play fighting and then snacking for an hour it would have been worth it but of course it was even better than that.

  • Sea World is an interesting mix of theme park and sort of zoo. If it weren’t for the killer whales I’d say it is a total waste of time.  Yet as it is the only place to reliably see killer whales jump out of the water and drench an audience I’m glad I went despite what I thought was this creepy feeling about the place.

  • 10-year high school reunions are interesting events and mine proved to be as I expected, totally unpredictable. The folks who you would least expect are busy finishing their PhDs.  The “troublemakers” are all now cops or fine upstanding pillars of the community. The most likely to succeed females are mostly housewives, and who showed up and who did not show up seemed to be a total roll of the dice.

I need to get a full night’s sleep already, good night.

I promise the next post will be about games.  Enough about me already.

Time to get married

I do not post personal stuff in this space often. Partially because I have this likely mistaken perception that everyone here is much younger than myself, and partly because I can’t imagine there’s much entertainment value in the comings and goings of events in my life. Seriously, I’m a boring man.

Today is an exception to that rule. No, I’m still boring, but I’m going to post something personal. A few folks know that I’m getting married next week and now you do as well. Accordingly I’ll be out for about two weeks.

I will be bringing some games along with me. The location of our wedding isn’t quite the middle of nowhere, but when people visit the middle of nowhere they often stay in the town that I’m getting married in. So I’ll be dragging my DS along with me along with the last two Hotspot pod casts on my bride's iPod for the trip to the wedding site and related downtime. I don’t expect to need them much. They’ll be there just in case I need them as I was unable to convince my bride to let me put a 360 on my wedding registry.

Take care all!

User Review Pimping - Review Writing


I’m on the bleeding edge of gaming with my review of a nearly 10 month old game, Call of Duty 2. Perhaps you have heard of that game?

I’m not sure what it is like for other folks writing reviews, but I find the biggest challenge for me is just getting past the first few paragraphs. Once I’m started momentum tends to build and I find myself working fairly fast. Of course I’m not always writing it strait thru. I’m often rereading what I’ve written, editing and then continuing on with my work. Having no training when it comes to writing (in any capacity) I often feel clumsy and awkward when trying beginning a review and only a bit less so when I’m finally doing the bulk of the writing. Despite all awkwardness it feels surprisingly satisfying finishing something (review or longer journal or other such project), or at least finishing it to the point where I feel it is coherent and of some value.

Meanwhile I have a review that I’ve been trying to write off and on since I bought the game, Civilization IV. If I felt like it had to be done I’m sure it would be but my own frustration has gotten the better of each and every time I sit down to write it. Once I do some writing I’m inevitably dissatisfied and then with the mixed blessing that is cut and paste I chop up what I have of the review in an unsuccessful attempt to salvage it. Problems like trying to pack in too much information, referencing the previous Civ games too often, and writing a review from the perspective of past games to the point that I don’t think inexperienced players would fin it useful plague me. So do you know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to go do it once and for all!

ANON!

O M G: Defcon One!


One of my fondest memories of my father was sitting on his lap watching the movie WarGames. Accordingly the movie has a warm place in my heart other than for its state of the art vector graphics and thoughtful commentary on nuclear war.

So hopefully you’ll forgive me for using the overused OMG! when I mention the upcoming game DEFCON. Apparently this is a game inspired by the movie WarGames, and developed by the people who made Darwinia. The graphics aren’t totally vector graphics as they’ve obviously been given some artificial glow but they’re close enough and I can’t wait to see what direction this game takes.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME?

>OOOOOOOO YEAHH!!!

Attention Shutterbugs!

If anything irks me about digital photography it is that most of the tools used for digital photography reek of their non photography origins, and after smelling them working with them is no treat either. Most systems such as Photoshop require you open photos one by one in order to find the photo(s) you want to work with. Then when inside the program the software presents you with an interface that is non intuitive and more useful for grafting a donkey on someone’s head rather than process and/or print photos.

There are programs that help you organize your photos. Some do a great job in terms of organization but unfortunately when you want to process them you’re more often than not directed to an outside program such as Photoshop where again you encounter issues with the interface. It is 2006, digital cameras are everywhere and I’ve yet to use a photo organization or editing program that I would rate better than “satisfactory.”

Enter Adobe Lightroom. A photo organization and processing program built from the ground up for modern digital photography. Not just some folks with a handful of photos (although they might love this program too) but for easy organizing and processing an entire collection of photos in one program. I’d go into detail about all the cool features of Lightroom but the demo video on the Adobe Labs site does a better job. I’ll just say that it is by far the most intuitive and powerful photo organization and editing program that I’ve used. Hardcore Photoshop fans and professional photographers may still want to utilize Photoshop as a supplement to Lightroom to do some of the more complex processing, but for most photographers Lightroom should provide more than enough tools and still be useful to the professional and Photoshop fans.

I’ve dabbled with the Mac beta that has been going on for some time and as of yesterday the windows beta was released. Both betas are totally free up until the release of the final software. I have not heard of any photo destroying bugs but I suggest copying your photos to a safe location before throwing them all in Lightroom as the program is in beta. Then again we should all be backing up our data anyway ;)

Enjoy shutterbugs!



Edit: I should also mention Apple’s Aperture program that attempts to accomplish many of the same goals as Adobe Lightroom. I haven’t used it in many months but when I did I was impressed by its ambition, but also was disappointed with some of its missing features and quirks such as how it manages files on your HHD by sticking them in a big DB. Also I was very disappointed that at the time it was selling for hundreds of dollars for what IMO felt like a very promising, but also very beta product.