Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Somedays, You Get The Best Gaming News Ever

Every day I scan gaming websites, looking ahead to see what upcoming titles might catch my interest. Most are games that, yeah, I'll probably get into, others, it's too soon to tell. Once in a great while - maybe once in a generation, an announcement comes along that makes me raise my hands and cheer to the gaming gods for showing us some mercy.

Today was one of those days. Ubisoft announced that it's developing Beyond Good and Evil 2, a sequel to the extremely underrated and undersold adventure game from the last generation. I picked it up used back in 2006 and for that week or so I was playing it, I was in gaming heaven. In spite of being a painfully short game, it was one of the best adventure and storytelling experiences of my gaming life.

The teaser trailer is available here. If you know of the first game and its characters, it won't seem as weird. Bring it on, Ubisoft. Whatever console(s) it appears on, I am there.

Monday, May 26, 2008

20 Years Ago Today

On this day, twenty years ago, I received a package from Lyco Computer in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. This large box contained a major step forward in my personal computing evolution in the form of a Seikosha SP 180-VC dot matrix printer, some printer paper, and the GEOS operating system, as well as the GEOPublish program for it.

GEOS stands for Graphic Environment Operating System, which was made by Berkeley Softworks for my good old Commodore 64 computer. It resembled the early Macintosh operating system, and the modern Windows systems, with on-screen icons for various functions. GEOPublish was an expansion pack for GEOS that gave me unprecedented desktop publishing abilities.

With GEOS and my printer all hooked up, I was in no time creating files and documents and saving them onto disks. I was printing out permanent paper records of things, such as an inventory of my Commodore 64 purchases, which I still use to this day to reference important anniversaries such as this.

I used my printer and GEOS with my Commodore 64 well into the nineties, as it was my only available technology to do those things until I got a PC in January of 1998. It became impossible to find new printer ink ribbons for that Seikosha printer at one point, but while I had it I really felt like I was, at last, part of the modern computer age.

Especially on that night, twenty years ago, when I hooked it all up for the first time. I spent the whole night exploring GEOS, printing things out, and thinking of all the new things I could do with my Commodore 64. To the brilliant makers of GEOS, wherever you are now, you have my thanks.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Some Kids Got No Time For Games

The title of this post refers to a great Midnight Oil song, as well as my current gaming situation.

I'm currently working two jobs, a full-time one and a part-time one, I'm getting married in about 35 days, and I've been called to jury duty for June and July. Life is tearing me further and further away from my hobby, as happens to us all. When it rains, it pours.

On top of that, there's nothing new I really want to play (except for Boom Blox for the Wii, but money is too tight to get that one now). On the Wii front, Nintendo has released all their big guns - Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, and Wii Fit - and none of them are really that enticing to me.

Brawl was fun for a few weeks, Mario Kart was a major disappointment, with too much emphasis on insanely-overpowered power-ups and not enough on actual racing, and Wii Fit - well, I can't see spending ninety bucks on it. In addition, Bully was so good (see my previous blog entries) that I want another game with that kind of depth. I've actually been kicking around the idea of picking up the Grand Theft Auto trilogy (GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas) for the Playstation 2, which is only thirty bucks.

What I really want is an XBox 360, so I can play the huge plethora of great games already available for it. If I don't get one as a wedding present (I sincerely doubt I will), I've vowed to get one after the honeymoon, which in reality, of course, depends on our financial situation at the time.

With nothing at all interesting on the horizon for the Wii - in fact, it looks like the world's top selling console will continue to be treated as undesireable by game developers forever - the only option I have to find great games with some serious depth lies with the 360 or the PS3. Can I have it all in this world? Can I marry the girl of my dreams and still keep up with the latest in gaming? Stay tuned.

Zack and Wiki : The Quest For Barbaros' Treasure

I picked up Zack and Wiki : The Quest For Barbaros' Treasure last week, mostly because its price dropped to twenty dollars. It's a point and click environmental puzzle game, meaning that each level/stage/whatever consists of a number of obstacles that must be overcome to reach the treasure chest.

Zack is your typical Japanese boy-pirate and Wiki is his generally useless heli-monkey (what, you've never heard of a heli-monkey? It's a monkey with a tail that acts as a helicopter rotor and hovers around you. Try to keep up.). In the game you work out of a pirate's hideout as a central hub and journey to each level one at a time. Success opens more levels, and there are hidden things to find along the way.

The levels themselves are trial-and-error challenges where you try out different items on different objects to see what happens. Some monsters are around, and using Wiki as a bell can defeat them and turn them into useful tools. Centipedes, for example, become saws when you ring their bells, and bats become umbrellas. There must be some really good drugs in Japan.

These tools turn up in multiple levels, so it's good to remember their uses. The whole experience harkens back to the extremely underrated and much-deserving of a revival NES and GameBoy classics A Boy and His Blob. Using the Wii remote in various ways is fun, too, even if the on-screen instructions for these uses are over-the-top. Seriously, Capcom, it's not that hard to figure out. You don't need the 1/4 screen size human figure popping up every time there's something special to do.

It's an okay game so far, certainly worth twenty dollars. I can take it in small doses, playing one level a day. Death comes frequently in this game, with the only apparent penalty being a running tally of how many times you've died.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

There Can Be Only One

When I created this blog, in January of 2007, I thought it was a unique idea. I'm a videogamer that has been there since the start, gaming across many platforms and through every genre, and is still gaming this very day. And I knew I wasn't the only person my age with the same experiences.

Today, I found out that I was, very literally, not the only one. Note that my doppelganger's site began in January of 2008.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The 2007 - 2008 TV Season Wrap-up

It was certainly a rough year for television, thanks to a writer's strike that was fortunately resolved in time for a few shows, at least, to get episodes back on the air before the traditional end of the season.

In this age of the DVR, there are certainly more opportunities to give new shows a chance, having the machine record them and then checking them out days, or even weeks, later. The device doesn't do all the thinking for you and does require some tending - deleting multiple recordings of the same show for example - but like a carefully cultivated garden it can yield a bumper crop of mindless TV to sample.

As the season wraps up and we learn which shows get to come back again in the fall, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the ones I do like and reflect on the highs and lows of the season.

I'll start with the lows.

Monday nights last fall were just great on NBC, with a triple hitter of Chuck, Heroes, and then Journeyman. Journeyman was an interesting show about a San Francisco reporter who finds himself travelling through time to the recent past to change the lives of individuals in trouble.

The how and why of the time travel, and the who-the-hell-is-pulling-his-strings questions were never answered, but each episode had a self-contained story of a life being fixed by Dan (the Journeyman), as well as a cast of present-day characters who had to deal with his disappearances. There was also an ongoing backstory involving a scientist who knew about all the time travel somehow. The fact that it took place in my favorite city, San Francisco, didn't hurt either.

The show started out a little slow, but each episode seemed to gain momentum, and before long the cast had gelled and the drama was gripping. Actor Kevin McKidd played the Journeyman and was brilliant. The writer's strike was the final nail in the coffin for this show, but the show's creators knew in time and re-worked the last episode that aired, "Perfidia", to wrap things up in style. That episode is staying on my DVR until a DVD of the show comes out, if it ever does.

Journeyman wasn't my favorite new show of the year, but it certianly was enjoyable. Its loss is the biggest disappointment of the season.

Back To You
This Kelsey Grammer sitcom about a TV news anchor had some strong points - mostly the chemistry between Grammer's Chuck Darling character and the female lead, played by Patricia Heaton. Grammer, of course, carries the show with his egotistical, womanizing character, but the rest of the cast, including Heaton and Fred Willard, worked well together.

After the writer's strike, the show was re-tooled somewhat, with a jarring change of the young actress playing Heaton's daughter (the new girl looked about 5 years younger) and the dismissal of the hot and ditzy weather girl. Fox recently cancelled the show, but there is some small hope that CBS might, just might, pick it up for the fall.

I hope the show comes back on CBS and gets a chance to crank out a full, consistent season.

By a thousand miles the best new show of the year, Reaper, which airs on the CW, features Sam, a young man whose parents sold his soul to the devil when he was born and now has to act as Lucifer's bounty hunter on this mortal plane.

He's joined by his two friends Sock and Ben, with Sock in particular being the funniest new character on TV this year. The cast has grown and gelled over the year, with the subplots and ongoing drama unfolding very well, mixed in with comic situations and pretty good special effects.

The Prince of Darkness is played by veteran actor Ray Wise, who is absolutely brilliant in this role. He makes the show and is abolutely believable as a quirky, whimsical, but still malevolent Satan. His visits with Sam every episode are often the best part.

The good news is that Reaper has been renewed for a second season. It was close, but it's the CW after all - they certainly don't have much else going on. Hopefully, a second, uninteruppted-by-a-strike season will pick up enough viewers to keep it going. Again, Reaper is the best, funniest, and most refreshingly original new show of the year, so please watch it and shout about it to strangers on the street. Thanks!

Airing right before Heroes, Chuck opened those Monday nights with a laugh. Chuck is about a nerdy computer-repair guy who gets a government supercomputer subconsciously planted in his head, and is thrust into a life of espionage and adventure, all the while trying to keep his regular life intact.

The role of Chuck is played brilliantly by Zachary Levi. Rounding out the cast are his handlers, a CIA hottie that the show's creators gratuitously put into revealing outfits, and an NSA agent played by Adam Baldwin. The rest of the cast, mostly Chuck's co-workers, work well together and have chemistry.

Chuck is good, guilty fun, and has thankfully been renewed. It'll be back in the same time slot in the fall, airing again right before Heroes.


The second season of Heroes was mostly a slow-moving let-down, but wrapped up well. The main problem was that the plot generally copied the first season - a horrible thing was going to happen in the future, and the scattered cast members moved to prevent it with the urgency of that cartoon dog Droopy. It ended well, and is coming back in the fall with a three-hour season premiere.

Hopefully a full, untruncated third season of Heroes will pick up where the promise of the first season ended. It's been off the air for so long that I hardly remember how much I enjoyed it.

There was no season of 24 this year, thanks to the strike. They just gave up. It will be returning in January of 2009, but there is reportedly a 2-hour 24 movie in the works, slated to air this fall. It will take a lot to reinvigorate this show after such a long break, which itself follows after a stunningly lackluster sixth season.

Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles
I have mixed feelings on this show. It was generally pretty cool, but the plot got so complicated, and there was so much time travel involved, and it ignored the plot of the third movie - it was kind of a mess when it ended its short run a few months ago.

Still, I'd give it another chance when it returns. Word is either this fall, or January of 2009.

Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica is currently airing it's final season, with constant boasts of "ALL WILL BE REVEALED". So far, very little has been revealed and the show is moving at a snail's pace. It's still good though, and since this is the final season (sort of, rumor is that half of it is airing now, and the other half will air next year), I might as well stick with it and hope for some serious payoff.

Frisky Dingo
Hilarious. One of my favorite shows, it's an insane 15-minute cartoon on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. It's just crazy and funny. The second season recently wrapped up, and so far all we've heard are rumors about a third season and a possible spin-off featuring the Xtacles. Bring 'em both on, I say.

All Those Cartoons
The Simpsons, South Park, The Boondocks, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and American Dad all continued to crank out sporadically-aired episodes. Some are great, others just fun entertainment. As far as I know, most of them will be back in the fall. The Boondocks might take longer to return. There's also a Family Guy spin-off series in the works featuring the character of Cleveland, but I have no idea when it starts up.

Over the Summer
On June 1st, two more of my favorite animated shows return for new seasons. The Venture Brothers is finally back on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim after a very long absence, and Code Monkeys, the only really good original thing to air on G4, is back too. So at least the summer won't be completely devoid of good TV.

Unfortuantely, the 4400 won't be back this year. The show had a good run of 4 seasons, always airing in the summer, but it got the axe this year. It's a shame, too, since the show was really building up to something.

Well, that's my long-winded analysis of the television season we just came through. Come back next year and we'll see which shows made the cut once again. I suspect that there will be a few more tragic losses, and a few triumphs as well.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yes, I'm A Videogamer ; No, I'm Not Playing Grand Theft Auto IV

I play videogames. I am not playing Grand Theft Auto IV.

Those statements seem to be a confusing contradiction to many people I encounter, for some reason. As if, in its unquestionable glory, GTA IV is the sole reason gaming was invented. Sure, we all play different types of games, but when something so epic is released, we must all join together, converging on Liberty City to get handjobs from hookers and listen to the silly fake talk news radio.

No thanks. I play what I want, when I want. Also, when I can afford it. I don't have an XBox 360 or a PS3 yet, although I actually could afford one, mostly because all my economic efforts are going toward my upcoming wedding. And, the subject matter doesn't really interest me.

Now, I love these type of sandbox games, don't get me wrong. Check my recent posts about another Rockstar game, Bully, and you'll see me gushing about it. No, the truth of the matter is that I've never really been a follower of the herd - and the numbers show that the herd has really taken to GTA IV.

When I had a choice about a 16-bit system in December of 1990, I choose the Turbografx 16 over the Sega Genesis, and never regretted it. There were more of the types of games on that system, at the time, that I wanted to play. I didn't even get a PS2 until 2006, and spent the next year catching up on several great games for it.

And so it goes with GTA IV. Down the road, I may want to play it. However, the three PS2 GTAs have all be available as a $30 bundle for some time, and I still haven't checked them out, so it may be unlikely that I'll ever play any of them, ever.

Of course, I still have to hear about the goddamned game every single day from an annoying co-worker who babbles on incessantly about it like I give a shit. Such is life.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Iron Man - Stay Through The Credits

There are some spoilers ahead. Stop reading unless you want to be pauked.

I saw Iron Man on Monday. Luckily, I was tipped off to stay through the credits for the real final scene of the movie. Thanks, Speedman.

What happened was so mind-bogglingly cool that I stood up in the theater, raised up my arms, and yelled "YES!". The theater attendant who was waiting to clean up said she had a similar reaction when she saw it.

I won't say what it is, but in an amazing coincidence, as soon as I got home later that day, I read on the internet that Marvel Studios announced Iron Man 2 and a Thor movie both coming in 2010, and a Captain America movie preceding an AVENGERS MOVIE in 2011. Ant-Man is also in development.

As for this Iron Man movie, well, it rocked hard. Robert Downey nailed the role of Tony Stark and made it his own, Jeff Bridges was great as bad guy Obadiah Stane, and everything else in the flick, including the ending (before the post-credit one) was simply heaven for an old fan of the comic like myself.

We've entered the second age of Marvel Movies. Now that Marvel has and is its own studio, it has control and is clearly building up the "universe" aspect of it. And the quality of the care for the property far exceeds what the other studios have done with Marvel properties over the last eight years.

Blade paved the way, and X-Men really started what I thought was going to be the great, golden age of Marvel Movies. At the time, I was totally blown away by the X-Men movies, the Spider-Man movies, and even Daredevil and the Hulk, in spite of most people's disdain for some of them. Looking back, though, I realize that I had settled for movies that were "good enough", and that could never be linked together like the comics are.

The clear failures of the last few years - the Punisher, Elektra, Fantastic Four movies, and the terrible Spider-Man 3, had me giving up hope that Marvel even gave a rats ass about these things, as long as the money kept pouring in. There were great things about these movies, don't get me wrong, but they failed on a lot of levels (Doctor Doom is the most blaring example).

Iron Man has kickstarted everything and there is hope again. I can't wait to see if the upcoming Incredible Hulk movie keeps the momentum going.