Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pauked Again

pauk vb 1 : to maliciously and intentionally reveal story or plot information to another person who does not wish to know it yet

In January of 1998, I got two videogames I'd been waiting a long time to play : Ultima Online, for the PC, and Resident Evil 2 for the Playstation. The amazing nature of Ultima Online made it the clear priority for my valuable game time. I would get to Resident Evil 2 eventually, and I knew I would enjoy it when I did.

Enter a co-worker at the time named John Pauk. He knew I had gotten the game and was excited about it, just as he was. Every day, he would come in and begin talking about what he did in RE2, spoiling parts of the game as he went.

Every time he started talking about the game, I would tell him to stop, saying that I would be getting to it very soon and didn't want the surprises spoiled. He would do so, but only after having revealed the next thing he had done in the game. The next day, he would forget my request to shut up about the game and begin anew, with some new cool thing he had seen or done in it.

When I finally did sit down to play RE2, much of the first half was indeed spoiled for me. Just the little tidbits he had mentioned every day before I cut him off were enough to ruin much of the experience.

Soon I had my only available revenge, as I started using the term "pauk" to warn others not to spoil things for me, and not just videogames either. Television, movies - anytime someone went too far in the description of something like that, I would halt them with the plea "Don't pauk me!"

I had a few of them even using the term, too. I tried to get it into the greater cultural lexicon, but time erased it from their memories and today I am probably the only one who uses the term at all.

The reason I mention this is because I got pauked this morning, and am very bitter about it. There's little recourse when one is pauked. I don't believe in a pauk for a pauk, so I did not pauk the offending party even though I had the ability to do so.

Why do people pauk? I think it has something to do with GCI, or geek cred insecurity. In many situations where I've been pauked, it's been by someone who knows my interests, knows that I stay on top of it (taping TV shows, reading magazines and websites about it), and feels insecure about their own geekness in my presence.

There is a naturally occurring personality type that always seeks to one-up everyone around them to shore up their own walls of self-doubt. In the comic strip Dilbert there is a character called Topper that always does this. This is the type of person who pauks.

After my pauking today, I plugged in my Ipod and let the music wash away the bitterness about it all. It worked, to some extent, but nothing can salvage the thing I was pauked on. Luckily, I have a lot of interests and it's impossible for one person to pauk them all.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ten Years Ago Today...

Yep, it's another big videogaming anniversary. Before I get into what it is, let me set the stage.

In late July 1997, I broke my leg - right at my ankle - at work. I was out of work and on crutches for about two months because of it. I spent much of that time staying with my folks while I recuperated, and damn I was bored. I had my Playstation and my Nintendo 64 with the latest games, but most of them I had already played to death and beaten.

So I had all the time in the world for videogames, just nothing new and interesting to play. August dragged on, and I languished in videogame hell. Until, on this date in 1997, Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 came out.

The graphics and controls were just perfect. And on that first level, almost immediately, I got the sniper rifle and was totally amazed. It was the first game in my experiece that had one, and it worked really well. Picking off those guys on the dam before they saw me was a thrill. And everything that followed, from the Siberian level to the train level, was just one helluva ride.

When I got back to Columbus and back to work, the game got another year of play as a four player multiplayer game. My friends and I played every level, with every different weapon combination there was available. Rocket launchers made for chaotic and quick battles. Proximity mines dealt death mostly to those who placed them.

I've been very nostalgic about 1997 lately for some reason. I recently found an old VHS tape of Spawn (the animated HBO series) episodes which I had, at the end of the tape, accidentally taped about two hours of VH1's top video countdown. It's given me a new appreciation of the music that was popular at that time, from the Wallflowers to OMC's "How Bizarre" and beyond.

1997 was a year of great change for me personally, with the broken leg giving me a lot of time to reflect on my life. Three big videogame things actually happened during that time. Other than Goldeneye 007, I also got Final Fantasy VII, and had read in Next Generation about a revolutionary upcoming PC game called Ultima Online. I came out of my convalescence vowing to get a PC just so I could play that game.

Ten years ago I was experiencing all of this. Goldeneye 007 totally ended my videogame boredom when I was recovering from my broken leg, and provided many, many hours of fun long after that. If only such a game would be released for the Nintendo Wii right now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Three Years Ago Yesterday...

I sort of forgot another important anniversary, which was yesterday. Three years ago yesterday was the UO Meetup at GenCon in Indianapolis. It was a time of great optimism for the future of Ultima Online, particularly for the seafaring community, as game designers Patrick "Leurocian" Malott and Peter "Fertbert" Phillips were pushing forward with some amazing new additions to the game.

They had in the weeks before the event fixed a long-standing bug with an oceanic gateway called the Serpent Pillars, and in gratitude I presented them with my hand-crafted sculpture of the pillar:

And here's a picture of myself with Fertbert (holding the Serpent Pillar) and Leurocian (to the right of Fertbert):

It was a great day, full of hope. A month later we all met again in San Francisco for the 2004 UO Community Day. I'll remember that anniversary when it comes around next month, I promise.

Four Years Ago Today...

I've got a few major personal videogaming anniversaries to talk about in the next few weeks, but perhaps this one is the most important to me. Four years ago today was the EA:X Event, held in San Francisco, where Ultima X: Odyssey was unveiled. I was very fortunate to attend.

This is the movie they showed us upon entering the meeting hall at Yerba Buena:

And, once again, my own personal tribute to that day:

To Stellerex, Calandryll, Stormwind, Jalek, Static Fingers, Indy, Khonsu, Morgaine, and all the rest, would have been a great game.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More MST3K Goodness

I'm winning the war for more Mystery Science Theater on three fronts now. You see, back in the heyday of the show in the mid 1990s, it was on Comedy Central all the time. At midnight, on Saturday mornings, and at other times. So I figured I had plenty of time to get myself organized and tape all the episodes.

I was wrong, and what I was left with, instead of a complete high-quality one-episode per tape with the commercials edited out collection of those episodes, was a poorly-organized hodgepodege of VHS tapes of varying picture and sound quality with tons of commercials.

As the nineties wound down, I did a little better, making sure to get all the Sci-Fi channel episodes on tape (again, though, not very well organized) during it's last three seasons which aired on that network. But after that, I was left to the random Rhino VHS and DVD releases, which were a bit pricey.

And the problem of no new MST3K being made persisted, too.

Now, all that has ended and I find myself with free access to some of the episodes I missed, some new movies via the Film Crew, and something I always wanted to see - riffing of current, big budget Hollywood movies via Rifftrax.

A Strange Convergence of Technologies
People are putting up old MST3K episodes on YouTube now. Each episode is broken into about ten parts due to the limitations of the format, but it isn't really a big hinderance to stop and select the next part. I don't want to watch them at my desk, though, as MST3K is very much a couch potato experience, so what was I to do?

Enter the Nintendo Wii Internet Browser. Unlike the wimpy DS browser, it has the capability to play YouTube movies. The problem is, of course, that the full screen presentation is a bit pixellated and blurry, but it's still quite watchable. I've already enjoyed several episodes this way, and have a list of a few more that I know are up on YouTube.

The Film Crew
Last week saw the release of the second Film Crew DVD, where the crew takes on the Peter Graves movie Killers From Space. It's just what any MSTie would expect from a black and white 50's movie with Peter Graves - atom bombs, stiff acting, and Biography references. It was actually so slow at times that I fell asleep, but overall still pretty funny.

The funniest part of the DVD is the bonus feature, called "Did You Know?", featuring Kevin Murphy talking about backmasking. He then presents the viewer with a small list of outtakes from the movie to choose from with each one having a different backmasked message. Those are funny enough, but I seriously recommend not selecting anything when Kevin prompts you to, for some real fun. I didn't catch that on my first viewing and it's easily the funniest part of the DVD.

Next month's Film Crew release is The Wild Women of Wongo. Just that title shows some promise.

I had heard of Rifftrax when it was launched but ignored it because I did not have an Ipod. The service is basically downloadable mp3 files of Mike, sometimes with guest riffers Kevin, Bill, and others, riffing on movies. You put the mp3 on your player and synch it up with the movie and laugh your ass off. The files are only $2.99 each, and the best part is that they are made for modern Hollywood movies and even TV episodes, such as Star Trek VI, The Matrix, and the first two episodes of Grey's Anatomy.

Since I now have an Ipod I decided to test one out last week - Star Trek Generations. It was absolutely hilarious, with Mike and guest riffer Kevin just tearing into the movie ruthlessly. There was no mercy for Chekov or Data, and of course Shatner has always been an easy target for these guys. Even as big a fan of Star Trek as I am, I found myself just losing it over what they were saying. In fact, this was the first riffing in years that made me pull a noser (losing my beverage through my nose while unsuccessfully attempting to sneak a drink in between riffs).

While fans of the show have debated endlessly about the merits of Joel versus Mike or Comedy Central era versus Sci-Fi channel era, I've always said that it's the movie that they are riffing that makes an episode good or great. Some movies move so damn slow, and offer so few opportunities to get in good shots, that it's sometimes difficult to watch them, at least more than once.

But the movies they are doing with Rifftrax are pure gold. And for $2.99, it's quite a bargain.

So, for me personally, Mystery Science Theater is enjoying something of a revival. I suspect a lot of other fans of the show feel the same way, and are enjoying this new era of riffing as much as I am. When I met Mike Nelson back in 2005 and got his autograph, I pleaded with him to get back to the riffing, as Hollywoood was continuing to make really bad movies that deserved it. I guess he already knew that.

More Sword of Fargoal

Although I sold my copy of Sword of Fargoal a few months back, along with my other Commodore 64 stuff, I still think it's one of the best games ever made for the system.

The game's author, Jeff McCord, recently contacted me on Myspace to let me know that he had read and enjoyed my blog articles earlier this year about playing the game, and that he and the other people who put out this authorized remake are working on "some new game versions".

I can't wait to see what they come up with. I'll be sure to follow it's development with much interest.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Suddenly, It's Working

I decided to try Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the Wii again today, just to see if I was still unable to do the Stupefy spell.

For some reason, I was. I'm now able to cast it. Why couldn't I before? I do not know. Maybe it was the relative humidity of the room. Anyway, I'm going to delve deeper into this game and see if it's worth playing further. It seems to have a high exploration level, with tons of secrets all around.

It's a good thing I can progress in this game, too. I just got stuck on Metroid Prime again with another nigh - undefeatable boss, the Omega Pirate. It might take me a few weeks to get past it, assuming I even can.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Speed of Light Broken

Quantum physics. It'll mess with everything you thought you knew about the universe. The breakthroughs being made lately in this field are, simply put, mind-boggling.

Now, two German scientists have apparently broken the speed of light, and in turn might have broken Einstein's theory of relativity.

Read about it here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Big Can of Suck It Up

Ok, I'm good now.

I drank a big can of Suck It Up (an imaginary beverage that washes away all the whininess and makes one tougher), and got down and dirty with Metroid Prime for the Gamecube. I made it past where I was stuck before, and well beyond that. In fact, the last two nights I've had three hour sessions with the game.

It's amazing. So much exploration, so many hidden power-ups to go back and look for. My aresenal is now to the point, too, where I can kick some serious ass on all those who sent me running in fear before.

It's extremely rare that a first-person shooter that has jumping and grappling does it right, but Metroid Prime does. There have only been a few jumps where I've experienced a little frustration, and usually it only took a few turns to figure it out.

Now, I cannot guarantee that this game will not piss me off again. But since it's such a blast, I plan to keep a lot of Suck It Up nearby. The good thing is, if I finish it, there's still Metroid Prime : Echoes for the Gamecube (which I often see used at Gamestop used for about eight dollars) and then the new Metroid Prime : Corruption coming soon for the Wii. That should keep me busy for the rest of the year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Burned Again

The frustration continues to mount for me in my quest to find just one fucking playable game. Today I traded in some junk, including Rayman Raving Rabbids and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, both of which I did not enjoy, and got the Harry Potter game for the Wii. The reviews I read were all very favorable, citing exploration as being a big part of the game, and the use of the Wii remote as a wand as a great control.

Not so. I came to a point where George and Fred Weasley explain some spells to Harry and Ron, and you have to execute them to continue. The first one, no problem. The second one, I tried for about a half an hour and simply could not get.

The spell is aptly named Stupefy. The action involves thrusting both the Wii remote and the nunchuck controller forward simultaneously. In spite of having no trouble at all doing any of the other spells so far, this one could not be done. I tried several stances, all kinds of twists, I tried accomodating for lag, and had no luck.

On the screen, all my attempts barely made Harry's arm move at all. Thus, my fifty dollar investment in this piece of crap has yielded about a hour of playing. This year, so far, there have only been three games - Zelda Twilight Princess, Super Mario World, and Wii Sports - that I have had any fun with. Everything else I've played has been utter shit.

I'm not having fun in Ultima Online. I have Guild Wars : Factions but cannot get into that. Metroid Prime for the Gamecube is an exercise in frustration, having few save points and absolutely sinister design (example - having two henchmen appear immediately after a sub-boss battle, before you can save, is insane. The people who designed this game are clearly expressing their absolute contempt for gamers).

I have some great DS and GBA games, but for fuck's sake I just want a modern, good looking game I can play on a nice big screen and enjoy. Why is that so much to ask? Overall, the Wii has been a major disappointment, and there really is no relief in sight.

I ask myself - maybe I'm so "middle - aged" now that my time with videogames has passed. Maybe I just can no longer keep up with what gaming has become.

But then I remember that I have beat Resident Evil 4, the entire King's Field series, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, Medal of Honor Frontline, Beyond Good and Evil, Paper Mario : The Thousand Year Door, The Legend of Zelda - The Minish Cap, and Super Paper Mario, all in the last two years. And I've played almost all the way through The Legend of Zelda - Twilight Princess.

If a game is designed well by having sensible game play, good controls, and a low frustration factor, then I will get into it and enjoy it. Lately, though, I cannot find such a game to save my life. Couple that with my tight budget and limited play time, and you can see where all this frustration is coming from.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Flash Game Fun On The Wii

While waiting for something substantial to play on the Wii, I've discovered a whole community of flash games that work on the system.

First and foremost is a version of the classic Atari VCS game Adventure, available here.

Then there are whole pages of flash games that are supposed to work with the Wii. Some work better than others. Some are just better games than others. I've found two specific pages here and here. Do a Google search for Wii Flash Games and you'll find more.

It's something to do during this long, endless drought. Oh the agony. Super Mario Galaxy, where are you?

Rayman Raving Rabbids

Today I dusted off my X-Box, packed it up with the four games I had for it, and took it to Gamestop for a lousy trade - in deal. The X-Box, no longer supported nor desired, it worth jack squat. In fact, it barely covered the cost of my newest Wii game, Rayman Raving Rabbids.

I was really torn on what to get. I went back and forth between the meager Wii selection, contemplating Cooking Mama, Scarface, Godfather Blackhand Edition, Excite Truck, and a few other Wii options, and the PC and Playstation 2 choices I had. Since I've had so much bad luck with more hardcore games lately, and I've heard good things about Rayman Raving Rabbids, I finally settled on it.

It's a very weird selection of mini games. In the story mode, which I apparently MUST finish to open the multiplayer stuff, Rayman is imprisoned by the rabid bunnies in a gladiatorial arena, and must complete at least three out of four mini-games to unlock the main game of the day. They range from shooting carrot juice to running fast to milking cows to a frequent dance game. The main game of each day is often the coolest part of the whole package - usually a first person rail shooter using a plunger-gun.

The difficulty varies and the instructions before each mini-game are often not enough. One must go in and play the game a few times to even make sense of what is to be done. At the successful completion of each day, Rayman is tossed back in his cell with his only reward - a plunger. With each day's new plunger, Rayman is building a ladder in his cell to reach a really high window to presumably escape.

There are lots of unlockable things, like videos, songs for the jukebox in his cell, and costumes. In today's sessions I've reached day 6 and had gotten over a third the way through the game. It's not a bad game, but I sort of wish that most of the game was the first-person plunger shooter and that the other mini-games were less important. I really, really hate the dance - off game, which comes up just about every day.

Oh well, I'm stuck with this game now. Hopefully, once I finish the story mode, I'll have a few new multiplayer games that Monique and I can enjoy. I suspect she's going to give me some weird looks when she sees this game, and is probably going to question my decision to get this game rather than Cooking Mama or Bust a Move.