Monday, July 30, 2007

Going Back To The Pack - In Game

It's happened to me many times in the past. I get a new system specifically for one game that I really want, play it, and then there's the long, anguished wait for the next big thing for the system. Such has happened to me with my Nintendo Wii, as I'm stuck at the end of Zelda, I've beaten Super Paper Mario, and nothing else for the system has thus far captured my interest.

Thus I return to the pack - in game, Wii Sports. I had a session tonight of one baseball game (I won 2 - 0, but damn I wish it was more than three innings), 4 bowling games (with a new personal high score of 178), and three golf games (I played beginner, intermediate, and expert, getting par on the intermediate).

I had a blast with it and realized that this has happened before. When I got my Odyssey 2 for Christmas in 1981 I got the game Alien Invaders - Plus with it, because it was the Odyssey 2 version of Space Invaders, but it was easily beaten after a few tries and I found myself killing time after that with the pack - in game Speedway / Spin - Out / Crypto - Logic. I made the most of this pack - in game until a month or two later when I got K.C. Munchkin.

I got The Legend of Zelda when I purchased my NES, but it was only after I beat that game that I discovered how awesome the packed - in Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt game was.

With the Turbografx 16 it was all about Bonk's Adventure, but I found myself drawn to Keith Courage in the Alpha Zones not long thereafter.

Not all pack - in games have done this for me, though. In the case of the Super Nintendo, I bought the system exclusively for the pack - in game, Super Mario World. With the Sega Saturn, I only dabbled with Virtua Fighter but mostly zoned out on the reason I bought the system, Panzer Dragoon.

The pack - in game seems to have gone out of style with the newer systems until it was revived with the Wii. While I will certainly admit that Wii Sports doesn't have a lot of meat on its bones, I've found some replay value in getting higher scores and trying to make "pro" in some of the games to see if there are any rewards.

It might not be enough to captivate me for long, but for the time being, it will do. I only hope that there are more Wii games on the way that offer some more in-depth sports applications and more unique gameplay elements. The potential of the Wii has hardly been tapped, and the waiting is hell.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Film Crew's First Release

It's been a long, long time - September 12, 1999 to be exact - since Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired its last episode. There was no going back to the halcyon days of a man trapped in space with a few wisecracking robots riffing on movies, but now we have The Film Crew (the same guys, basically) doing it again for straight - to - DVD releases that capture the same humor and silliness of MST3K.

The premise is that they are three guys hired by media mogul Bob Honcho to make commentary tracks for every movie that doesn't have one. This first release by the Film Crew is Hollywood After Dark, a seedy and depressing black and white movie starring Rue McClanahan of Golden Girls fame as a reluctant stripper that falls prey to the "dark" part of Hollywood.

As with any given episode of MST3K, the comedy content of the Film Crew releases are going to be dependent on the movie itself, and Hollywood After Dark is one ripe tomato. Greasy characters, drab sets, and bad acting give the crew lots of fodder. And of course the presence of Rue McClanahan means lots of Golden Girls references.

There are only three points during the presentation where we see the crew - an introduction, a lunch break, and at the end, which is fine. The lunch break skit, a parody of a corporate lunch meeting, is a joke MST3K fans will recognize from the old days. We get it guys, "exploiting our core competencies" and other corporate drivel is silly. I hope whatever's served at future "lunch breaks" isn't MST3K leftovers.

Still, though, this release is a dream come true for MST3K fans, and was well worth the wait. It took me over two weeks to get my copy from, because they were apparently sold out or on back order when I made my order. I hope that's a good sign and that sales of this release went well, so that the project will continue for years to come.

There's a bonus skit called "Ode To Lunch", a poetry reading by Bill Corbett about the wonders of lunch, that's worth a brief chuckle. Speaking of bonuses, the DVD came with a little Film Crew patch (I mean patch as in cloth thing that you sew onto a garment, not a downloaded thing that allows game companies to release sloppy, unfinished product and fix it later), shaped like a movie ticket. Looking at the patch, it compels me to find a blue shirt like the film crew wears. Must resist...

The next releases from The Film Crew are Killers From Space (August 7) and Wild Women of Wongo (September 11), and I can't wait. Even if you've never watched MST3K, or watched it and didn't get it (there's no such thing as not liking it - to us MSTies, there's either loving it or not getting it), you should go out and buy yourself a copy of The Film Crew : Hollywod After Dark, and not just to see Rue McClanahan stripping, but rather to help boost sales so that I get more episodes. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Put Down The Controller And Take A Look Around

Sometimes it's a good idea to put down the videogame controller and/or step away from the keyboard and take a look at the world around you.

If you do so today, you might just notice that the so-called President just made protesting the war illegal. You'd have to dig deep, since the big networks and cable news outlets won't cover it.

Just like they failed to mention that the man who was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasure under Ronald Reagan reacted to this news by saying that there will be a staged terror attack, the establishment of a dictatorship in the US, and a war with Iran in the next year.

If you've been paying attention all along, then you know that this is just the latest in a list of scary executive orders that are prepped, along with the hundreds of internment camps that already have been built and staffed in the US.

I take all internet news with a grain of salt, of course. These sites that rightly fear the US becoming a massive police state seem to forget one thing - that the US government, military, and police have demonstrated on three different occasions that no matter what manpower and resources are at their disposal, they cannot control a city in chaos.

The three examples I cite are Los Angeles (during the riots), Baghdad (during the current war) and New Orleans (in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina). It's hard, after seeing the powers that be struggle with those cities, to imagine police-state control on a national level. Also factor in the amount of Americans that have guns, from inner-city street gangs to rural militias.

Still, though, all of this really puts us on a countdown. The clock is ticking until the next presidential election. I really won't feel safe until I actually see Bush, Cheney, Rove, and the rest of those crazies willingly cede their power as the Constitution mandates that they do at the time of the next presidential inauguration.

I suspect that I won't be the only one breathing easier on that day. If we make it there.

Okay, now back to my regularly scheduled blog.

Friday, July 20, 2007

More Fun With The Nintendo DS Browser

I spent some time with my Nintendo DS Web Browser. To my amazement, it's now allowing me to access this blog. It didn't do that before.

This blog entry was composed from my DS while sitting on my couch, This is only a test.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Doing the Ipod Shuffle

I finally got an Ipod ! Well, sort of. I got the tiny, affordable, 1G Ipod Shuffle, a flash-based mp3 player that only holds about 240 songs.

I bought Monique a real, 30G Video Ipod for Christmas last year, and she loves it. Setting it up for her, and helping her use it, has given me the same desire to have portable music. Plus, my current work situation allows me to wear one while I do my work, and the shuffle is ideal for that.

The one detail is Itunes, Apple's music program that synchs with their Ipods. I've had a lot of difficulty with it in the past, so I've had to sit down and really get my hands dirty with the program. The real challenge was making it usable with two different iPods, or more specifically two different music libraries, which is necessary since Monique and I have different tastes in music.

With not that much effort, I have managed to do everything I wanted with Itunes, and I'm up and running. Tomorrow, I return to work and will get to field-test my little Ipod Shuffle, all loaded up with songs. I'm hoping it makes the day go by a little quicker.

Wall of Frustration

Well, I was having fun with Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. Until I got to the third big boss, which looks like the rock monster from Galaxy Quest. It's insanely difficult and frustrating. So far, I've lost to him about a dozen times, and even though I've figured out what I've got to do to beat him, I haven't been able to pull it off.

I get really angry and frustrated in these situations. I was cruising through this game and having a great time, and now it's over. It was by no means easy just getting this far, and the lead-up to this boss was intense.

But it was paced and enjoyable. Now, the game is over for me because this boss is just too damn hard. Oh, I'm sure every joystick jockey out there is laughing at me now, saying how much I suck for not being able to beat it. And I certainly have no problem admitting when I am not that good at a game.

I've done what I know to do in these situations. I've studied my various attacks and how they effect the boss. I've put down the controller before my anger makes me throw it at the screen and taken a few days to cool down before trying again. None of this has worked.

It's just that, this boss seems so out of proportion with the rest of the game leading up to him that the sense of frustration I feel has killed the game for me. Metroid Prime will now sit on my shelf for years, unplayed, until the day I either trade it in for jack squat (I only paid 5 bucks for it used) or I just throw it away.

It's such a shame. It really seemed like a good game. I was hoping to play it, then Metroid Prime : Echoes, then the new Metroid coming out in August for the Wii. That ain't happening now. My real life is frustrating enough with out the so - called escape of video games adding to it, thank you very much.

Mr. Roboto - An Odyssey 2 Game with Depth!

Most of the Odyssey 2 games, other than the Master Strategy Series, are pretty straightforward shooters or maze chases of one sort or another. The new homebrew game I purchased, Mr. Roboto, is quite a refreshing step forward in terms of depth and playability.

As others have said, it plays like a cross between Archon and Tron Deadly Discs, with a big chessboard screen where robot pawns are moved around. When they meet, it zooms into a battle screen where the action is absolutely intense. I've rarely had so much frantic fun with the Odyssey.

The complex parts of the game include the Robot Vs. CPU battles and strategically using the three virus programs each CPU has. It's just amazing what these people are squeezing out of the Odyssey 2 these days. If only they'd been around back in the early 1980s doing this, then the history of videogaming might be a little different.

Mr. Roboto was designed by Ted Szczypiorsky, who previously did Planet Lander, and has also made a Tetris - like game for the Odyssey 2 called Puzzle Piece Panic, which I plan on also purchasing from Packrat Games soon. He says he's currently working on a sequel to the Odyssey 2 classic Pick Axe Pete, and if he pulls that off, that will be an amazing feat. The age of the homebrew is a great one indeed.

Triple Feature

On Sunday, Monique and I decided to catch up on some summer blockbusters. For me the priority was seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I left the decision of the second movie up to her.

The fifth Potter flick was amazing. Before I continue, there are spoilers ahead, so please exercise self-discipline now. Okay. I won't go into the whole plot, but there were some amazing developments. Like South Park, Harry and his friends live in a world where the adults are for the most part clueless - they refuse to believe that the evil one (he who shall not be named) is back, and make themselves as much a hinderance as possible for Harry and the few sensible adults (the Order of the Phoenix).

Most of the movie is that fight - against the intractable magical establishment - rather than the evil one. At the end, when Harry and his now-trained friends do what they have to do to fight the bad guy and his minions, the real greatness begins. We see magical battles far beyond people waving sticks at each other, especially when the Order shows up. It was like Star Wars Episode 1 when Qui-Gon and Obi-Won fought Darth Maul. We'd seen stilted lightsaber battles in the other three Star Wars flicks, with Luke and Vader, but suddenly in Episode 1 we were seeing real, trained Jedi fighting all-out. The magical battles in Harry Potter 5 felt like that kind of upgrade.

Another plot development that shocked me was the revelation that Harry's dad James was not so squeaky - clean and perfect, and that when he was Harry's age at Hogwarts's school he bullied the young Professor Snape. This explained quite a bit about Snape's behavior toward Harry in the previous movies. I think that this will play out more in later movies, too.

After Potter, we went to a cool new restaurant for lunch, Noodles & Co. Man, it was delicious. When we got back to theater, Monique was torn between seeing Transformers and the fourth Die Hard movie. She finally decided on Transformers.

Transformers was pretty cool, in that it was a great big screen action flick. Some of the parts at the begining really bogged down, though, with the young teen boy getting a car and dealing with the standard cookie-cutter jock alpha male and the hot supermodel he wanted to steal from him. Once we got to the fighting giant transforming robots, though, it moved a lot better. I hated some of the attempts to be cute, with lots of peeing involved by both dogs and robots. I also hated the Al Pacino - wannabee secret government guy. Another example of the clueless adults cliche.

After Transformers was over, I was ready to go home, having the beginnings of a mild headache from all the loud stuff I'd spent the day listening to. Monique, however, suggested we try a third movie and make it a triple - feature. I grudgingly agreed, as long as she paid for it and got me some cold bottled water. We made it into the crowded, small theater while the previews were still running.

Live Free or Die Hard was great, and I soon forgot my mild headache. Nothing can touch the first Die Hard movie for greatness, but this one was pretty solid, even with the addition of the smartass hacker sidekick. Bruce Willis did a great job making the character of John McClane do what he does best - fight bad guys in extreme situations and escape impossible deathtraps. It was a fun movie and the perfect ending to our triple - feature.

I still had a headache at the end of it all, though. And we still have a few movies out there we want to see, but that is for another day.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

UO Columbus Town Hall Report

I got a T-Shirt. I got a poster. And I got the same answer I've been getting for nine years on ships and sailing in UO - No.

That's not a big deal, though, to me anymore. In fact I just ask it for fun at this point. My experience at today's UO Town Hall right here in Columbus ended about an hour ago, and as always it was fun. The fun part is being among a whole room full of people who "get it" about UO and have the same diverse attitudes about the game that you see in the game and on its community message boards.

In attendance for the standing - room only event at my local Dave and Busters was its producer Darkscribe (Aaron Cohen), Draconi (Tim Cotton), and Jeremy (the community person). There were no big revelations, no invites to San Francisco for bigger events like I had in Indianapolis back in 2004, just players and team members getting together to discuss the game.

When I got there, I encountered about a dozen people already waiting to get in, and introduced myself to a few of them, inlcuding a Stratics staff member. They let us in at 3 PM and right at the door Jeremy was handing out the posters and T-shirts, and the buffet was there ready for us. I grabbed a seat, then a plate, while others did the same.

Darkscribe started out the town hall as he had done previously, with a joke announcement about adding Ultima II's time travel to UO. After that, he went through a brief overview of what we'd be covering today, including some new Kingdom Reborn features. The one they were really pushing was the new female paperdoll, which I took a blurry picture of:

Darkscribe showed us a few things in the new build of the KR client which were cool, including the addition of the boat - command macros that I had suggested over on Stratics a few weeks back. Ironically, he had no idea that I was the one who suggested them. None of those designers knew who I was. I miss the days of Binky and SunSword. Sigh.

The next patch coming for KR, hopefully in a week or so, will be a big one that will require taking down all the shards. In addition to the useful macro keys and commands, he showed off the sticky inventory, which keeps items in place when switching from the KR grid to the classic mode, and said that they want to make inventory items look bigger in classic mode, too.

KR has something he called "legacy mode chat", he said, and he showed off some chat improvements, too. In summation, Darkscribe said that "There's a lot of stuff in the pipeline" for Kingdom Reborn.

Next Draconi joined Darkscribe for some test center shard PvP, which consisted mostly of them fooling around an invulnerable character equipped with some sort of super-butcher cleaver weapon. With the cheering encouragement of the audience, they chased after a real test center player who had no idea what he was up against. That was hilarious.

Draconi next showed off his Dark Knight encounter, which he characterized as the "capstone of the new player experience". Basically, there's a huge new player experience in KR (although I haven't tried it myself), and at the end, once a new player is up to speed on the combat basics of the game, they have a recall rune that they can use to visit the Dark Knight (no, not Batman).

The Dark Knight has some really cool new attacking AI, including something they were calling "bumrush" where he charges the player knocking them back. The whole encounter seems like a nice showcase for not only some new monster AI but the particle effects that they are so proud of with KR. Beating the Dark Knight grants the player one of three random prizes.

Draconi also did a test center fireworks show that looked pretty cool, again showing off their obsession with those particle effects. He made a previous post on Stratics about the event so that there were lots of players in attendance in the game for it. I have to admit, it was pretty fantastic to see that stuff in UO.

Then began the Q&A session, which was the usual stuff players ask about - the combat and PvP balance being foremost in many player's thoughts. The impression I got was that it's a priority for the developers, too, but as an all-encompassing fix rather than patching up smaller problems with it here and there. In spite of all this vision toward it there was no commitment at all on when it could even be seriously considered.

After awhile I asked my usual question about boats and ocean development, getting the usual answer of "Umm, no. It's too big to take on, sorry." Even with that, none of them recognized me as Admiral Ruffie. Oh, if only Leurocian were there, I might have gotten some respect. Alas.

They took notes, and as the session wore on the questions seemed to diminish in importance, and by 6 PM the Dave and Busters people were chasing us out. It was a good time, I guess, but I certainly didn't leave with the same upbeat enthusiasm I had after the 2003 Ultima X Odyssey Event, the 2004 Indianapolis GenCon event, or the 2004 Community Day event.

At the town hall there were none of the community - involved players I had met in the past - no Talanithus, Leif, Fizban, Crazy Joe, Bella Noire, Nieves, Markee Dragon, Lady Malynn, or any of the others. I met a few new people, but it just wasn't the same. As a player who is considering returning full - time to Ultima Online, I had hoped that both Kingdom Reborn and this UO Town Hall would make me feel the way I once did for the game and the community.

Sadly, it did not. However, it's good to see such a huge turnout and to know that the game is still chugging forward and that there are enough fans to pack a meeting hall in Columbus, Ohio, of all places. And I am grateful to Darkscribe, Jeremy, and Draconi and EA for holding the event here.

Here's a few additional pictures. First, the crowd mills about before the event:

Next, a pic of the presentation with (left to right) Darkscribe, Jeremy, and Draconi:

Finally, a picture of Draconi's fireworks show:

There you have it.