Friday, October 11, 2013

Giant Bombcast

I've recently started listening to podcasts while I'm working.  Usually I'll start listening to things when it's either getting too loud in the office to concentrate or if I feel myself starting to zone out or get distracted and I need to refocus on my work.  Those seem like times where I totally wouldn't want to listen to a group of guys talking about video games, but it seems that most of the time, that helps me focus more than anything else I've found.  One of my favorite podcasts I've been told about lately is the Giant Bombcast.  I haven't listened enough to really get to know the guys individually, but it's a long (2-3 hour) podcast about what the guys have been doing lately, what games they've been playing, any recent gaming news and their thoughts on it, and responses to listener e-mails.

It reminds me of the morning show I listen to on the radio where they have a list of things to talk about, but get easily distracted or go into great depth about whatever they feel like, which makes it feel more personal than just a normal news thing, but it never feels like they're trying to force their opinions on anyone (well...maybe on each other), they just share what they feel about the given topic so it never really feels preachy or manipulative.  They also seem to enjoy a variety of different games and systems, so it doesn't seem very biased overall.  If you've got enough time to listen to podcasts and enjoy gaming, then I would recommend listening to the giant bombcast.  It pops up every Tuesday, I think in the late afternoon roughly.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Batman The Video Game

Just like almost all the other Gameboy games I played growing up, Batman the Video Game was hard, but fairly simple game.  Much like Super Mario Land, you can only move to the right, there are hidden blocks, enemies and bottomless pits that will kill you fairly quickly, and the occasional flying stage.  Unlike Super Mario Land (and unlike Batman in pretty much every iteration ever), you use a gun to break blocks and kill enemies.  Similar to Contra, there are power ups that change which gun you are using (the most powerful one shoots Batarangs) as well as powerups for being able to shoot more bullets, be protected by a circle of Batarangs, speed up said Batarangs, and get extra lives.

I think the "plot" of the game is trying to follow the movie?  It starts with you confronting Jack in the Axis Chemical Factory.  Then you go through a museum.  Then the batwing levels (which were pretty brutally difficult shoot 'em ups).  Then into the cathedral to face the Joker once and for all.  I guess it was short just like Super Mario Land, too.  It's also pretty entertaining because the life counter is in hexadecimal and how the first and last boss fights are pretty much identical.  If you have 30 minutes to kill, you can watch the entire game here.  I remember really hating that auto scrolling level at the end...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: Curses!

Normally, I don't really like games that require improv speaking or acting of any sort: charades, 1/4 of Cranium, Taboo, The Ungame, etc.  Probably the introvert in me.  Even though half of Curses is improv speaking, it's still probably my favorite party game, mostly because what you say doesn't really matter once the game really starts going.

Like most casual party games, the rules are incredibly simple.  Every turn has you drawing a Challenge card, doing what it says (e.g. "Give a news report" or "Explain the difference between Coke and Pepsi") and then drawing a Curse card and giving it to someone else to do what it says (e.g. "Don't bend your elbows").  The Challenge cards are only for a single turn, but the Curse cards last until you get caught failing at it.  If anyone else notices you not following a Curse, they can ring a bell and call you on it, at which point you will flip over the card and be free of that curse.  A player is knocked out after three failed curses and the last player remaining wins the game.

This is one of those games where it's most fun if you don't play to win, but instead you play to make awesome/terrible Curse combinations.  A lot of the Curses build off each other so you can get a Curse chain going around the table until someone fails.  For example, there's a curse that makes say a pizza topping whenever someone stands up, another that makes you howl whenever someone says a food, and another that makes someone clap whenever someone makes an animal noise.  Alternatively, you can give someone a theme of curses, so one person has to speak in a French-Irish Vampire-Pirate accent anytime they talk.  Of course, as with most games that make people talk in certain ways, most people stop talking when those start appearing, which is precisely why the Challenge cards are so crucial and why the content of your response to a Challenge card is so meaningless.  It's not about what you say, you just have to say things to activate all the curses on the table.  Admittedly, this makes the first round kind of lame since there aren't very many curses on the table, but you could always fix that by just evenly distributing at least one curse card to every player.

The game is designed for 3-6 players and lasts between 60-90 minutes (in my experience).  You could easily play with more players, but it will not only take longer since there are more players to eliminate, but it will also be much harder to keep track of what everyone is supposed to be doing, so it'll be easier to not get caught when you slip up doing a curse, which is only going to make the game last even longer, so just keep that in mind.  This is definitely a great game if you want to laugh a lot during your game night.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Picross (a.k.a. Nonogram) are Japanese logic puzzles where a picture is revealed by filling out spots in a grid using numbers on the columns/rows.  For example, if there is a 1 1 1 on the side, then there will be three individual spots filled out with at least one empty spot between each one.  Usually Picross puzzles come in either 5x5, 10x10, or 15x15 configurations.  It also helps to have grown up with pixel art to try to determine what the picture actually is (especially on the 5x5 ones).

I'm pretty addicted to these puzzles types (if Sudoku made pictures when complete, I'd probably be equally addicted to that) and have played through/bought pretty much every instance of it I've seen.  Online versions like Armor Picross and Armor Picross 2, DS versions like Picross DS and Picross 3D, 3DS versions like Picross e, Picross e2, and soon Picross e3 (just came out yesterday), and Kindle Fire versions like the Flippix Art series, CrossMe Color, and Picranium Picross (of course I always wait for those to show up as Amazon's free app of the day).

If you play one Picross game, generally you play them all (unless it's a color version since that changes how the puzzles/number system actually work).  There are minor differences in how the input works.  For example, are mistakes pointed out immediately (usually with a time penalty or a limited number of allowed mistakes) or can you build the remainder of the puzzle based off of a mistake?  Can you zoom into the 15x15 grid or do you have to be a little too accurate?  When you're done, do they turn the pixel pictures into a real picture or color it so it's easier to see what they are saying it is?  If you have never played a Picross game, I'd start with one of the free online ones to see what you think about it.  The Armor Picross series is very well done, so I'd start there.  Enjoy and don't spend too much of your day on it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Movies I Grew Up On: Strange Brew

One of the movies my family would always use as a rainy day movie was Strange Brew.  I'm not really sure how to describe this movie, though.  Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas play two unemployed Canadians who love two things: hockey and beer.  When going to a beer factory to get beer (by stuffing a dead mouse in a bottle and saying this is how it was when they bought it) they get hired to help bottle the beer.  Then things get weird with some sort of scheme to take over the world with mind control and hockey that these two bumbling idiots stumble into and there's a digital ghost at some point.  It's kind of like Dumb and Dumber the Canadian Version.

Honestly, I really don't know what else to say about this's weird, it's silly, it's dumb, and you should watch it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Once again, the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs series has gone above my expectations.  I wasn't expecting much from the first and really enjoyed it.  Based on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 trailer, I was expecting to really enjoy it and I'm pretty sure I was smiling and laughing the entire time.

The plot is essentially Jurassic Park 2 and 3: the science that went wrong in the first one has gone ever further wrong creating an ecosystem of its own.  Instead of dinosaurs, however, it's food animals (or foodimals).  And even better than Jurassic Park 3, all the new types of creatures are actually well designed.  Just about every foodimal is created solely to be a pun (Shrimpanzee, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, Mosquitoast, etc.), but beyond the awesomeness of that, they are all really beautiful and well thought out.

The entire movie is also incredibly well animated with lots of little subtle (and some not so subtle) visual jokes going on almost all the time.  There was one scene that totally reminded me of Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing where the scene and dialogue were about one thing, but the entire time, there's something happening visually that was way more entertaining.  There were also a couple characters who had me smiling pretty much the entire time they were on the screen just because of how their arms moved or the random stuff they were doing while they talked.

The following is a non-comprehensive list of who I think would like this movie:

  • People with kids
  • People who love puns
  • People who love good animation
  • People who love food
  • People who love food puns
  • People who love animated food puns
  • People who love to laugh
  • People looking for something lighthearted
  • People who secretly (or not so secretly) wished they had a living Strawberry, Pickle, or Tacodile Supreme
  • People who were told not to play with their food
  • Probably you

Friday, September 27, 2013

When Collecting Goes Wrong

Sorry, I'm not talking about hoarding, although I guess collecting goes wrong there, too.  I'm talking about collectibles in video games and how they can ruin certain types of games (or at least certain sections).  As I'm sure you're aware by this point, I love collecting things in games.  I love scouring every corner of a world to find all the hidden widgets and whatsits (especially if there's a tracker or some way to know if I've missed any), but I've come to the realization that collectibles lying on the ground can completely ruin any dramatic tension a game may have built up, not to mention any sense of sanity in the playable character.

Say your girlfriend just got kidnapped and you've chased the bad guys into some building.  Being a video game, chances are pretty good that you could just stand at the entrance indefinitely and the bad guys will never leave the building or try to find some other way to ferret away your girlfriend because you were just standing there.  Personally, I appreciate this bit of video game logic since it lets me move the story forward at my choice.  But it definitely kills the mood of the game if it's an intense moment and I stop because there might be some hidden goody in an adjacent room and I have to stop chasing them to go find it.

This happened a bunch during Last of Us where I'd meet someone and they'd say, "Come follow me to safety" and they'd just walk off.  Logically and cinematically, I should immediately follow them to make sure I'm safe.  But I know I can comically just ignore them to wander into all the rooms they should have already cleaned out of useful items to see if I can find anything since the story won't trigger until I reach a certain place and I know enemies won't be coming from anywhere until that point.  The problem I'm talking about is mostly with collectibles in games like Uncharted, Last of Us, and Remember Me.  The fairly linear, cinematic type games where the pacing is very important to the overall experience.

I think collectibles can be done in those games, but it should only be in the sections where you have no immediate goal to rush somewhere.  So, if the collectibles were only found in some kind of rest area, usually found right after a particularly intense part of the game, then it wouldn't really break the pacing much.  If they were consistent about it, then it would also help me to not constantly be breaking the action to scour all the corners of a room to see if I missed anything.  I could play the action sequences like action sequences and the collection sections like a crazy OCD packrat - essentially how I treat collecting in any open world game.  I am either running around in collection mode or I'm moving the story along, but I get to choose when to do both.  Of course, this is all because I can't stop myself from needing to collect everything and hating the feeling that I missed something, so as usual, maybe it's more a personal problem than a game design problem...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Zelda II - The Adventure of Link

The majority of video games used to be unforgiving where a lost life could mean you have to replay many hours of gameplay.  Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was a prime example of this.  You have a set number of lives, losing all of them sends you back to the palace where Zelda is stuck in an eternal slumber and you'll have to make the trek back to wherever you lost that last life.  If this was on the last boss, you'd have to fight your way back through the super difficult levels just to get to the super difficult dungeons to fight your way to the super difficult second to last boss and finally fight the final boss (which, fortunately, had a simple trick to defeat somewhat easily if you grew tired of making your way to him again).

Zelda II was one of those really rare sequels that has so little in common with the original that it's hard to see them as a series.  I guess there's still an overworld map, but you don't fight anything there.  Instead, if you touch an enemy in the overworld map, you get brought to a side scrolling view where you have to walk to either the left or right edge of the screen to get back to the overworld.  The game also had a (in my opinion) really awesome RPG aspect to it where killing monsters garnered XP that would eventually give you more levels to put into your health, your sword, or your magic.  All three of these were crucial and by the end of the game, you'll have maxed your level so you can't choose incorrectly, you just determine how hard/easy it is to make it through the game to the end.  The map also held a number of secret locations that stored extra hearts, important items, and more monsters that you'd either need a guide to play along with or memorize where they all are because they are visually indistinguishable from the land around them.

I've managed to beat this game once and I had a friend who just celebrated his victory over the game.  This is definitely a game where beating it is an accomplishment.  This game also just came out for the Wii U virtual console and is also available on the Wii and 3DS virtual consoles, so if you're really itching for some true challenge and exploration, then I would recommend this game.  I am Error.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Super Luigi U: The Timer Complex

Super Luigi U is a lot like every other side scrolling 2D Mario game.  You need to get from the beginning to the end of a level, there are special coins to collect, and hidden goodies along the way.  It's even more like Super Mario Bros. U than the rest because it's a redesigned version of the same game.  I haven't actually played the original one yet, so I'm not sure how redesigned the levels are, but there are three consistent changes throughout the game: No Mario (hooray!), Nabbit (nearly invincible playable character when playing with 2 or more players), and only 100 seconds to complete each level.

While the first two changes have their own fairly large impact to the game, the 100 seconds per level fairly drastically changes things for the better, with one side effect.  With only 100 seconds to play in each level, there isn't a lot of time to explore and test every pipe for secrets, so the secret coins have to be more cleverly hidden, but still be quick to reach.  Most of the time they'll be in a slightly harder to reach path or behind a hidden wall.  Some of them, I'm not entirely sure how you're supposed to get them without a sacrificial leap from a cooperative player (but I'm sure there are ways because all coins should be reachable with just Luigi alone).  100 seconds on the clock also means that at most, each level is only going to take a little over 1.5 minutes, which means that it's very easy to complete a given world within 30 minutes if you're not going for coins and not completing every level.  It also means that replaying a level over and over again to get those coins isn't as punishing.  With 100 seconds, there are no need for checkpoints, so you can't accidentally activate a checkpoint right after missing a Star Coin (thus having to play another level or beat the current one and play it again).

The side effect of the 100 seconds is that other Mario games have trained you to panic and rush when you hear the "Hurry up!" music that plays when a level's timer reaches 100 seconds.  Well, in Super Luigi U, every level starts with that noise and they certainly take advantage of the psychology by making a few levels here and there where you specifically have to slow down and wait right at the beginning.  Many a death was caused by the previous training from Mario games.

It's interesting to see how drastically a Mario game can change when the timer is so short.  It never really felt like I had to rush (unless I had stopped to explore too long), but it actually puts on the pressure of the clock that I haven't felt in nearly any other Mario game.  I generally hate time limits, but I think Super Luigi U finally made the timer in a Mario game actually purposeful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Look: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

One of the new TV shows I was looking forward to checking out this Fall aired this week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  This is one of those cases where advertising actually worked on me.  Thanks to watching TV online, I only ever really see like 5 ads.  Over and over and over again.  One of those ads (thanks to watching MasterChef) was for this show.  The fact that I was still laughing at most of the jokes in the ad after having watched it for so long definitely piqued my interest.

So, I am pleased to report that at least with the first episode, it looks like there is a lot more humor in the show than even the ads showed.  While the main character conflict (goof-off detective meets new by the book captain) is entertaining, I think my favorite character is probably Detective Rose Diaz, a super tough and scary lady who looks like she's suffering from a particular disorder.  The super awkward nervous cop who wants to go out with her is kind of an obvious source of humor, but it's done very well.  It's also nice that there doesn't seem to be any actual drama in the show (so far), just pure comedy.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this show and hoping that it wasn't just a really good pilot.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Books I Grew Up On: Two Minute Mysteries

Ever since starting this whole Blank I Grew Up On series, I've been struggling to remember the names of the books I read as a kid.  Thanks to Monday's post, I now remember one set of books, the Two Minute Mysteries series of books.  This was a series of books containing a whole slew of 2-3 page mysteries that was more an exercise in reading comprehension and critical thinking than a story with a plot.

Since each mystery is so short, there really wasn't much time to set things up or have a denouement of any sort for each of the stories.  It was mostly just a focus on that fun crucial part of mysteries where the detective catches someone making a mistake.  At the end of each story, the book would pose a question like, "How did the detective know that person was the killer?" with an upside answer explaining the subtle mistakes.  A lot of times the person mentioned something about the crime that the detective never told them (so they weren't supposed to know it).

I think this series was a good training tool for even deeper mystery solving and has prepared me well for the Phoenix Wright series.  Now I know to scrutinize pronoun use and crime timelines among other things.  The series has three books in all, but looking on Amazon, only the first one is still in print (and the others must be in huge demand since the new price is $150-200!).  Fortunately, if you read one, the others are pretty just more of the same.  If you're into mysteries, I'd give the main one a look since it's only $5.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Video Games

  • September
    • The Wonderful 101
      • Out Now!
      • Strategic action game about controlling up to 100 super heroes at once much like Pikmin in a Pikmin game or like the armies in Little Kings Story
      • I've heard this is very difficult, so I'm probably going to put it on the end of my list for now
  • October
    • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
      • October 18th
      • A TT Games LEGO game with Marvel super heroes
      • I have yet to be disappointed by a Lego game and they have only gotten better after each one
    • Sonic Lost World
      • October 22nd
      • A Super Mario Galaxy-style game involving Sonic and his universe
      • This looks like it will be pretty fun with even more Gamepad cooperative gameplay like Rayman Legends and Super Luigi U
    • Batman: Arkham Origins
      • October 25th
      • The prequel to the two previous Batman: Arkham games
      • Although this is developed by a different company, I still am hoping that this will be a quality adventure with a lot of detail and uniqueness for each of the villains.  I hope this game does justice to the other two and isn't just a quick cash grab
    • Wii Party U
      • October 25th
      • A Wii U mini-game party game akin to Mario Party, but with Miis
      • Honestly, I'm getting this for two reasons: It comes with a motion plus Wiimote and so far the Wii U has been a really good party system for my house on game nights with Nintendo Land, Super Luigi U, and Rayman Legends
    • Assasssin's Creed 4: Black Flag
      • October 29th
      • The fourth assassin ancestor of Desmond (I think it's the sixth main game in the series?) involving pirates and of course, assassins
      • I'm really hoping they utilize the Gamepad in some unique way, but even if it's just a more convenient map, it'll still be worth me purchasing it on the Wii U in my opinion
  • November
    • Watch Dogs
      • November 19th
      • Open world hacking game.  I don't know too much about the game because the short trailer a saw impressed me enough to convince me that I want it, so I stopped paying attention to anything about it (how I normally treat anything I am already convinced I want to buy)
      • Just like AC4, I'm hoping they make good use of the Gamepad and that there are a plethora of ways to hack through any given situation
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
      • November 22nd
      • A 3DS Legend of Zelda game that's essentially a successor to Link to the Past, which was my absolute favorite Zelda game ever
      • I hope the Overworld and Dark world is as vast and filled with as many little secrets as the SNES game
    • Super Mario World 3D
      • November 22nd
      • A sequel to the 3DS's Mario Land 3D, but adding in multiplayers and different character abilities like in Super Mario Bros. 2 (at least as far as I understand it)
      • Whether I end up playing it alone or with friends, Mario Land 3D was one of my favorite recent Mario games, so more games in this style excite me
  • Undetermined
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
      • The fifth entry in the Phoenix Wright series of defense attorney detective/puzzle gameplay
      • I've only recently gone back and started playing the Phoenix Wright games, but they are definitely right up my alley: grand mysteries, awesome plot twists, and puzzle gameplay.  Essentially each one is an interactive story that reminds me of the Two Minute Mysteries I used to read as a kid

Friday, September 13, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Television

New shows are in bold.  Each show is followed by when it starts and what channel, roughly what I know about it, and my expectations for it
  • Sundays
    • The Amazing Race
      • Starts September 29th on CBS
      • One of my two favorite reality competitions where teams race around the world trying to complete various challenges and reach their destination before the other teams
      • Hopefully there won't be super annoying drama teams this year or if there are they get knocked out early (kind of a general hope for all reality competition shows)
    • Once Upon A Time
      • Starts September 29th on ABC
      • Every fairy tale you've ever heard is true, just in another dimension and this is a story about those dimensions and characters colliding with our own
      • I'm hoping there are more character reveals where the audience gets to try to figure them out during the episode
  • Mondays
    • Sleepy Hollow
      • Starts September 16th on FOX
      • Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman are in modern times
      • I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but this will get the normal three episode judgement of a new show, looks like it could be entertaining
    • How I Met Your Mother
      • Starts September 23rd on CBS
      • Final season where Ted will finally meet the mother
      • There better not be any nonsense about Robin and Ted getting back together, that should've stopped after season 2 and yet it keeps reoccuring
  • Tuesdays
    • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
      • Starts September 17th on FOX
      • Not sure the premise is, looks like a funny show about cops
      • The trailers for this were pretty funny, hopefully the trailers didn't show all the jokes
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
      • Starts September 24th on ABC
      • Joss Whedon.  Marvel.  Superheroes.
      • Joss Whedon.  Marvel.  Superheroes.
    • New Girl 
      • Starts September 17th on FOX
      • Zooey Deschanel being awkward and funny and a bunch of guys being funny
      • Honestly, I was starting to lose interest in this show near the end of last season, so I hope it gets me hooked again somehow
  • Wednesdays
    • The Tomorrow People
      • Starts October 9th on CW
      • Superheroes.
      • Superheroes.
    • Survivor
      • Starts September 18th on CBS
      • My other favorite reality competition because the people design the actual game aspects (both the overall game and the challenges) are really good and I love to see what they add/change next
      • Again, hoping there isn't a super drama contestant or if there is, they should at least be entertaining drama like Coach "The Dragon Slayer" Wade
    • Arrow
      • Starts October 9th on CW
      • Modern day, mostly realistic Green Lantern TV show
      • I was amazed by how much I like this show last year and hope they just continue being awesome!
  • Thursdays
    • The Crazy Ones
      • Starts September 26th on CBS
      • Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar in a comedy about something or other
      • Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar are enough to sell me on just about anything
    • Once Upon A Time in Wonderland
      • Starts October 10th on ABC
      • Once Upon A Time spin-off focused on the Wonderland dimension and Alice in the modern world
      • I'm honestly not expecting to like this one as much as the original for a number of reasons, but I'm hoping to be wrong
    • The Big Bang Theory
      • Starts September 26th on CBS
      • Seven characters getting more and more caricatured as their roles as nerds doing random stuff that is usually funny
      • I'm constantly going back and forth about how I feel about this show.  Some weeks it's hilarious.  Other weeks they take something geeky and portray it as inaccurately as possible in order to get cheap laughs and I get mad.  Other weeks Leonard is just completely incompetent at even the most basic common sense thing when it comes to interacting with Penny and it makes no sense.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

TV Shows I Grew Up On: Freakazoid

Super teen extraordinaire, Freakazoid, Freakazoid.  Runs around in underwear, Freakazoid, Freakazoid.  This was by far the most bizarre, but most hilarious superhero cartoon I watched while growing up.  Dexter Douglas was a mild-mannered (and stereotypical) computer nerd who had the (mis)fortune of buying a new model of computer that when a specific set of keys was pressed followed by Delete would send the user hurtling into cyberspace and give them the powers of the Internet.  His cat enters walks across the keyboard pressing all the right keys in order and naturally, Dexter tries to delete it and becomes the Freakazoid whenever he yells the words, "Aw, Freak Out!"  The Freakazoid is insane, slightly childish, and seems to have the powers of Looney Tunes cartoons (i.e. he can do whatever he feels like when the plot calls for it).

His villains include the likes of Arms Akimbo - a mafia thug whose arms got stuck akimbo, so he can't pick stuff up and he tends to flap his elbows a lot, Candle Jack - a kind of ghost-like villain who will kidnap anyone who says his name (which of course Freakazoid does even after knowing that because comedy demands it), The Lobe - a guy with a giant brain for a head, who at one point tried to turn everyone in the worlds to clowns, and many more equally ridiculous villains.  Sometimes they'll have short mini-adventures for other heroes like Lord Bravery (whose exploits involve fighting a bakery for the trademark to his name), The Huntsman (essentially a Charlton Heston Robin Hood), etc.  They also have hilarious songs every once in awhile like Bonjour Lobey (parody of Hello, Dolly!), educational bits like learning to say who cut the cheese in French, and Relax-o-Vision (basically just clips of fish swimming in an aquarium while relaxing music plays).  Freakazoid is a very silly and childish show that I still very much love.  It's basically the 90's version of Looney Tunes (even more so than Tiny Toons) and paired well with Animaniacs, which aired around the same time.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Coming Attractions: Fall 2013 Movies

  • September
    • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2
      • Looks punnier than a Piers Anthony book in his Xanth series
      • I hope there are more jokes than what was in the trailer
  • October
    • Escape Plan
      • Sci-fi(ish) prison escape movie starring Rambo and the Governator, need I say more?
      • I'm hoping for some good twists (a staple of prison escape movies) and good action (a staple of Rocky and Conan)
  • November
    • Ender's Game
      • An amazing book they hopefully treat well and stars Harrison Ford
      • I'm hoping it's not terrible...
    • Thor: The Dark World
      • It's a Marvel comic book movie
      • I'm hoping it starts to make the weirdness that is Thanos a little more palatable to the masses
    • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
      • The book series is great (I think the 2nd one might be my favorite) and they did well enough with the first one
      • I'm hoping they use less stupid action camera work where you can't see what's happening
  • December
    • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
      • I want to see how beautiful they make Smaug and to see why they think a third movie is warranted
      • I'm hoping I can make it through the Mirkwood section to see an awesome looking dragon
    • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
      • I love lamp
      • I'm hoping for another giant battle between the various news channels

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: Capture

Another interesting summer reality competition that debuted this year is the show, Capture.  Dressed up to be Hunger Games the TV show, but ending up more like the Syfy show, Cha$e, Capture is all about one team hunting down other teams in a large woodland area and tagging them with fancy devices called Talons.  Each episode, a team will be randomly selected to be the Hunt team and the rest will be the Prey.  The Hunt team has two 4 hour hunts in which they can capture a maximum of two teams.  If the Hunt doesn't catch any teams, they are automatically eliminated.  If they catch two teams, the remaining teams vote to eliminate one of the captured teams.  If the Hunt team only captures one team, then the captured team and the Hunt team are up for elimination.

During the hunt, there may be Sabotage events, Supply Stations opened, or Looking Glasses that are usable.  Sabotages task players with getting to a certain point to make another team have alarms blasting out of their vests or the Hunt team gets a compass pointer to them or some other bad targeted event.  Supply Stations contain some dinner of some sort, supplies received when they go back to camp after a hunt, and are also a large safe zone where the Hunt team cannot enter (at least while the station is open).  Looking Glasses let a Prey team see where all other teams are (including the Hunt team), but also let the Hunt team know that a Looking Glass was used.  After a Hunt is over, captured teams spend the night in cell, the Hunt team spends the night in a very fancy area with a luxury dinner, and the rest of the teams sleep on metal cots with rice and beans for dinner.

As the game goes on, all teams get more and more tired and alliances are made between Hunt and Prey teams.  There is a little bit of strategy to the game between the voting, who the Hunt team tries to capture (although, mostly they just wander around and capture whoever they can), and who gets sabotaged.  It should also be noted that within the first or second episode, someone already had said, "We didn't come here to make friends."  Is that a requirement of reality competition shows now?  Is it in a contract somewhere that someone has to say that?  Anyway, it's a pretty entertaining show and it hasn't ended yet.  The sabotages have gotten more interesting game design-wise, so it does seem like there was some thought behind the show.  If it makes it to a second season (usually not likely for summer reality competition shows), I'll watch it again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Gauntlet Legends

Gauntlet Legends was a game my friends and I would actually willingly replay over and over again just to get our characters to level 99.  Essentially a revamp of the original Gauntlet, there are still monster generators, characters with different strengths and weaknesses, and magic potions and health items.  But this game adds a 3D look, bosses, hidden collectibles, and the ability to level up your characters to make them even better.  What I remember finding awesome is that you could actually see a visual difference between low level characters and high level characters, so it actually felt really satisfying to level up since you could see the difference.

Alongside the main four characters (Archer, Warrior, Valkyrie, and Wizard), players could unlock other characters like the Minotaur, Tigress, Jackal, Falconess, and the Sumner.  It was a pretty mindless hack and slash game overall (except for trying to find the collectibles), but I think that may be a good thing with four players cooperating.  A lot of times cooperative games that require actual thought (other than fight to fight strategy and communication) usually have one or two players strategizing and everyone else just doing what they're told or everyone starts fighting.  The game also had a sequel called Gauntlet Dark Legacy.  It pretty much just added more characters, but was otherwise the same game.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Agricola

Agricola is a 1-5 player resource management game about farming.  It's quite possibly the most complicated resource management game I've played, but it's definitely a well designed game.  Just don't play without a lot of time set aside and players who are focused on the game.  But for the players truly interested in a deep game that requires a lot of planning and out playing each other.

The game board(s) are covered in the various actions a player can take.  Some actions gather accumulated resources, some build things, some give you new occupations, taking over starting player position, etc.  Just like Puerto Rico's roles, only one player can take each action, so it becomes not only a game about maximizing your turns, but out-thinking your opponents.  You have to not only have multiple strategies planned out, but they all have to be very flexible plans in case someone takes the action you were relying on, especially if you are playing a 5 player game.

Each round unlocks one new action that players can take and after set rounds, players must feed their families or become beggars.  As the game goes on, this harvest time comes sooner and sooner, making players have to alternate between making their farm grow and getting food out of their farm.  At the end of all the rounds, players score their farms (any missing animals, vegetables, or grains or unused fields subtract points, surpluses, upgraded houses, and a large family score a lot of points), and the highest score wins.  There's no way you're going to be able to have everything on your farm, so you generally have to try to be diverse and pick one or two places to have a surplus and hope no one else picked the same.  The only real downside I have with the game is that it takes so long that even though I want to play again to try other strategies, I just don't have enough time.  Fortunately, that's a smaller and slightly faster version for two players called Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Gordon Ramsay Shows

I think I've said before that I get hooked to reality competition shows pretty easily.  Even when they're pretty bad.  So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I keep finding myself watching Hell's Kitchen even though that show is not at all about the cooking or the competition, but purely about the drama, yelling, and cursing.  Supposedly, the earlier seasons were the reverse, but I haven't seen them to be able to tell.

Then when MasterChef came out a few years ago, I watched that and was pleasantly surprised that there was a severe lack of cursing and it actually seemed to be about the cooking and the competition.  Sadly, the more seasons the show has, the more it seems to be about the drama, so it's only a matter of time before it becomes as ridiculous as Hell's Kitchen.

When I started watching Netflix, one of the shows I watched on it was Kitchen Nightmares (the UK version).  Much like MasterChef, there wasn't nearly as much yelling and screaming as I expected and it honestly seemed to be about Gordon Ramsay actually helping people make their restaurants work again.  Sometimes, the owners would be stubborn (which always makes me wonder why they signed up to be on the show in the first place) and kind of warrant being yelled at.  But even the yelling was toned down and more normal than what happens on Hell's Kitchen.  I do believe that the American version isn't nearly as nice and involves much more yelling.

So it seems that eventually all Gordon Ramsay shows turn into yelling drama shows no matter how they start.  I'm not sure if this is Gordon Ramsay's doing, Fox's doing, or what, but it makes me kind of sad because all three of these shows started with interesting premises.  Hell's Kitchen is a competition to find a head chef by making cooks alternate between cooking individual dishes in challenges and serving meals to customers as a team for elimination.  MasterChef is essentially Top Chef, but with home chefs (i.e. not professionals) instead of real chefs.  Kitchen Nightmares is about trying to help a restaurant owner and their employees to figure out why their restaurant is failing and fix it.  I'll probably keep watching these shows and other Gordon Ramsay shows, but I really do wish they'd focus more on what made the shows good initially rather than making every show a screaming match.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

TV Shows I Grew Up On: Cartoon Planet

I was looking at some of my music to see if I could find some music I could write about for Blank I Grew Up On and I came across my three CDs based off of Cartoon Planet and decided to write about that instead solely because of pictured, Brak.  Cartoon Planet was a one hour block of old Hanna Barbera cartoons with hilarious and random clips between featuring Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak.  For the younger folks, Space Ghost was a superhero from the 60's, Zorak and Brak were some of his villains.  Only, on Cartoon Planet, Zorak and Brak are prisoners of Space Ghosts and forced to help him host this show.  Oh, and Brak is a hilarious idiot.

The CDs were made up of audio versions of a lot of the songs and skits they would perform between cartoons.  These included songs like Brak wondering what day it is or how much he loves beans.  It's really hard to explain how awesome these songs and skits were (for the most part) because they all sound so stupid, but I think that's mostly what makes them so good.  It seems like the three voices behind the characters were just making stuff up and having fun with being ridiculous.  It's kind of like a comedy movie with a bunch of actors good at improv just having a good time.  Or, like the mind of Neil Flynn.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Unlike the Paper Mario series, the Mario & Luigi series seems to still be trying to follow Super Mario RPG in its gameplay and concepts.  The latest in the series is Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and is not only focused more heavily on Luigi, which is always awesome, but doesn't portray him as a weak coward like the previous Mario & Luigi and Luigi's Mansions games always portray him.  He's actually got quite a bit of courage this time around.  I also really appreciated the fact that Bowser ended up being the main bad guy and he and his minions were more competent than they have been in past Mario games.

This is a fairly long game.  Even though, I try to do everything in a game, I've always been fairly speedy at beating games and this took me a little less than 50 hours to beat.  There's quite a lot to do and nearly all of it is quite enjoyable.  Just like in Super Mario RPG, combat is a turn based system where correctly timed button presses can deal extra damage or avoid damage.  Unlike Super Mario RPG, it's possible to completely avoid taking damage from enemy attacks and in most cases counterattack the enemy and deal damage to them instead during their attacks.  The big difference between this game and other Mario & Luigi games is entering the Dream World through Luigi's dreams.  In the overworld, Mario and Luigi are separate characters, Mario controlled with A and Luigi with B.  In the Dream World, Dreamy Luigi combines with Mario to form one more powerful character.  This is good since the enemies in the Dream World come in hordes of 10-20 at a time.  It was actually pretty fun to have a mass of slightly weaker enemies to attack at once vs. the normal 3-5 enemies you normally face in these games.

Alongside the main quest, there are a plethora of side things to do.  You can look for and rescue all the Pi'illo people that have been trapped throughout the island, you can find all the beans hidden in the ground throughout the island, you can replay harder versions of boss fights to try to win some coins, you can take on the expert challenges (generally just getting Excellent on attacks and avoiding all damage from enemies), and you can challenge yourself to a high score mode for the special attacks (basically repeat a special attack endlessly until you kill enough enemies or screw up performing the special attack).  The item you get for completing all the expert challenges is well worth the time and effort it takes to get it, so I would recommend you try that, but the way the special attack challenges are done makes them not worth attempting.  Each challenge requires you to get over 800 points even though some attacks are much slower or more challenging, so getting that score will take you much longer and many failed attempts.  I personally did not find those fun in the slightest.  Really my only complaint about the game.

Along with a leveling system that has the same choice and risk of Super Mario RPG (you get to pick the stat you're boosting, but you have a spinner deciding what you get), the game also has equipment that not only boosts your stats, but also gives you some interesting benefits, like doubling your defense when you have low health, possibly stunning enemies, or giving you back your Bros. Points (basically magic points, mana points, energy, etc. for using special attacks) if you score Excellent on the attack.  By the end of the game I was just about invincible due to my combination of equipment.  However, I still had to be fairly good at learning the enemy attacks so I could dodge them.  So, I felt powerful, yet still challenged, which I think is how every good RPG should feel at the end.

So all in all, this is a quality game, very much worthy of following Super Mario RPG and trying to keep what that game did alive.  I do still miss the hidden coin blocks in the overworld, but I guess I can't have everything...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Choosing Random vs. Random Choice

A game design issue that I've been working and struggling with at my job lately is the difference between choosing to take a gamble that involves some random chance in it vs. having some outcome of the game be randomly selected for you.  The end result is going to be the same regardless of which way the game is designed, but it feels incredibly different from a player's point of view because in one case they get to choose to take a risk and in the other case, they have no choice and whether the end result is good or not, it doesn't feel as satisfying.

I'll give an example to make this a little clearer.  In the game I'm currently working on, there's a lot of hidden information.  So what information each player gets is very important and what they do with that information is the real crux of the game.  In the original design, one player moved pawns around and each turn, had a random chance of seeing what the other player did at those spots.  Having multiple pawns on the same spot would increase that random chance.  So, the "interesting" choice they had was how to allot their resources and hope for the best.  It turns out (unsurprisingly now that I look back at it) that this is really not fun to play.

The new design is to instead give the first player a bunch of false information along with information about what the other player is doing.  They can't tell the difference between false and real information, so the choice is still seemingly random, but the player gets to choose which information they think is real.  Eventually, the player should have enough information to start figuring out what the other player is doing and deduce their strategy and come up with a good counter strategy.  This makes it so the interesting choice is how to deal with the information you have and not how to hopefully get the right information.

A similar example of random choice is battle in the game of Risk.  You do get to choose where to attack, but the outcome is pretty much completely random, so even if your strategy is amazing or you have 99 times as many units as the other player, you can still lose because the dice hate you.  It's still important for the defender to have some method of surviving an attack, but at some point, the better strategy should be rewarded over the luckier player.  Of course, this is why the combat in my first board game took a long time to play because I eliminated random die rolling and had straight up math (attack vs. defense), which taught me a whole other lesson.  Still a balance I have yet to completely figure out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Drakkhen

Drakkhen was one of the weirdest, yet interesting RPGs I played for the Super Nintendo growing up.  It's a "3D" "action" RPG where you create four characters, travel from castle to castle, carrying out quests for giant dragon princes/princesses, and fighting monsters.  I never finished the game because there was always one point I got to where I had no idea where to go to next.  I also don't know if I ever really understood any story there may or may not have been.

Traveling the overworld was along the XZ planes (no going up, only forward, backward, left, and right) and battles would take place in a brawler style view (you could travel around in all three dimensions in a fixed space).  Battle consisted of your characters kind of randomly milling around enemies, occasionally attack enemies whenever they felt like it, with maybe some strategy that I couldn't really figure out.

You could equip your characters with armor and weapons you find (which changed character appearances).  Generally, you'll find this equipment in the castles you can explore.  Speaking of exploring, the game lets you explore pretty much wherever you want from the get go, so you can very quickly get overwhelmed by the giant black cat heads that shoot laser beams from their eyes or constellations that come down to destroy you.  Like I said, a very weird game.  It had a much more normal and super awesome sequel, Dragon View, that I was never able to finish because every ROM I found of it would freeze in the same spot.  So basically, one series, two games, two games I was never able to beat.  Sad day.

Monday, August 19, 2013


It can be really overwhelming when staring at a wall of board games in a store and trying to figure out which ones are good.  It can also be a very expensive mistake to buy a game you don't like.  This is where web series like Wil Wheaton's TableTop come into play.  Every episode is the same format: different B-list celebrities play a board game with Wil Wheaton, hilarity ensues, a winner is declared, the losers mope on the loser's couch, and the winner gives a little speech.  It's very obvious that everyone involved has a lot of fun making this.

Watching the series is a great way to see how a game plays, how much story can be involved in a board game, and possibly find out about other celebrities you enjoy and should follow.  Each episode is 30 minutes or so (except for the extended ones that are an hour and a half each).  The first season is filled with games that all very shortly became available at Target (I'm not sure if they had a deal with Target or just good timing).  Of course, I'm sure all these games are available on Amazon as well.  Just keep in mind, I've noticed a number of times where they'll play the game slightly wrong.  Either a rule gets ignored or played differently.  I'm guessing this is to fit the format of the show or keep the game shorter.  During the extended episodes, you can see how the behind the scenes people make sure they're playing the game right.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Adding Spice To A Game

The most important thing when designing a game is to keep it simple and build slowly.  Start with the simplest possible set of rules, play it, if the game functions (and has a hint of fun), add or change one thing, repeat.  That is called iteration.  But how do you know what to add/change next?  Well that kind of depends on the state of the game.  If the game is horribly unbalanced, then focus on making the weaker player's game stronger (give them more advantages) or weakening the strong player (take away some of their advantage).  If the game isn't fun, then figure out where the fun got lost or where you think the interesting choices should be found and focus on those.  If the game is playing well, but it seems to be the same game for a player (that is, if there seems to be one optimal way to play the game), then it may be time to add another system or more options for the player to take.  No matter what you're adding, the important things are to start with the simplest and easiest to implement changes first and to try to avoid making special case rules for any part of the game.

If you can try a change without having to get new pieces or change game components, those should take precedence.  For example, changing balancing (e.g. how much damage something deals), changing what information each player has (e.g. whether cards are revealed at certain times or not), or changing game flow (e.g. players take turns simultaneously or alternately).  You should always keep in mind what future complicated systems/variations you want to add to the game (if you have pawns, maybe you would want special types of pawns) and add those in one at a time when the game is in a stable(ish) state.

Special case rules should be avoided in game design for the same reason that quick hack fixes should be avoided in programming.  Sure, you may fix that one weird case your playtesters found, but not only is that fix going to be hard to communicate to your players, but what if you missed other weird cases?  It's far better to try to figure out the root cause of the problem and simplify things where you can or maybe completely change how one part of your game works.  It's almost always better to simplify things to fix a problem than to add more systems to fix it.  As much as it may hurt sometimes, never be afraid to oversimplify things.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPG is one of thee most memorable Super Nintendo experiences I had growing up.  Not only was it one of Square's numerous amazing RPGs of the era (I miss those days), but it was the first time that Bowser was a playable character.  It was also the rise of his occasional steps into being an antihero (usually only happens when someone else tries to take over the Mushroom Kingdom).

The basic premise of the game is Mario and crew trying to save the seven stars of Star Road that grant people's wishes from the evil Smithy and his gang.  On the way to victory, there are a ton of mini-games, hidden secrets, and an incredibly difficult optional boss.  While wandering around the world in an isometric view, Mario can jump around to climb platforms, hit ? blocks, and jump on enemies.  Whenever Mario makes contact with an enemy, the characters enter a turn based battle like most JRPGs of the time.  The difference (and the greatest thing this game added to the turn based RPG genre) was the ability to deal extra damage during attacks or dodge/lessen damage from incoming attacks with properly timed button presses.  For example, pushing A right before landing a Jump on an enemy will make Mario jump an extra time (and with certain special jump attacks, you can keep doing this until you mistime the button press).  This means that not only does the combat have strategy in it (the real purpose behind good turn based combat systems), but it also requires some dexterity to be fully effective.

This RPG spawned the Paper Mario series and the Mario & Luigi handheld RPG series.  The Mario & Luigi series seems to be able to hold its own, but the Paper Mario series seems to be declining in quality, but all of them have been lacking some of the magic of the original.  I'm not sure what exactly it is, probably the same magic that Square has lost since then.  Or it could just be nostalgia won't let me like anything as much as the original...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dealing With Virtual Loss

I don't seem to deal well with losing characters in video games, even when it's fairly inevitable.  In any game with minions (Overlord, Pikmin, Little King's Story, etc.) or in games with permanent party member deaths (Fire Emblem, X-Com, etc.) I find myself constantly reloading and replaying sections whenever any of my group dies.  In some cases, like X-Com, this means I'm essentially cheating because I'm not really accepting the fate of my teammates, don't have to lose money in getting more teammates, and don't have to retrain new troops.  In other cases, it's just really frustrating (any of the bosses in Pikmin games since it's inevitable that some Pikmin will die).

My theory about why I can't handle loss is twofold: all other video games have taught me that dying means I failed at the game and also, I seem to get attached to things too easily.  Even with a troop of completely non-unique followers, I still can't stand to lose them, let alone if they're given names or have unique traits (like the super hilarious and awesome helmets the minions in Overlord would wear).  What really makes this hard is when there are statistics being kept of how many I've lost or the memorial to them.  There's no real game design problem with this, this is entirely a personal problem of mine.  So far, the only way I've been able to handle the loss is if I get sick of repeating the same thing over and over again.

All this is probably the same reason I don't like reading/watching/playing things where characters die, but at least when its the story that kills them off I had no control over it, so it can't be my fault.  I wonder if that's why I care so much...I feel like I got them, I'd never survive a zombie apocalypse, if I didn't get outright killed, I'd be consumed with guilt for anyone I couldn't save.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: Tomb Raider

It's been awhile since I was so incredibly surprised and pleased by just how good a game is.  I had heard good things about Tomb Raider before trying it, but I wasn't expecting it to get just about every game mechanic it had so very right.  The game has sneaking, shooting (if you fail sneaking), melee combat (if you fail shooting), item collection, exploration, upgrade-able skills, movie-level cutscenes and action sequences, and more.  It even managed to have quicktime events that I almost enjoyed!

If you've played any Uncharted games, the story will be very familiar, a group of archaeologists are looking for some location of legend, find it, get more than they bargain for, fight another group of people and the supernatural goings-on to try to survive and get back home.  To be fair, I'm pretty sure Tomb Raider had this story format first (and Indiana Jones before that), but there are definitely some game and story elements in the game I recognize from Uncharted.  It should also be noted, this is my first Tomb Raider game I've ever played.

The game is fairly linear in nature, but each area has a lot of rewards for exploring.  The few times the game makes you backtrack to previous areas there have either been major changes to the environment that makes it feel new or you have new abilities/gear that lets you access new areas and new secrets.  In each area with collectibles, there are one or two treasure maps that reveal the location of the other collectibles in the area.  You can also unlock an ability that lets you mark hidden collectibles on your map when you see them in Survival Instinct (like Batman's Detective Vision and Assassin's Creed's Eagle Vision).  You can also unlock a skill that reveals the location of all the treasure maps.  This means that if you really must collect everything (like me), you have ways to ensure you don't miss a thing.  You'll have more than enough experience and scrap (to upgrade weapons) by the end of the game to have everything fully upgraded, so you aren't forced to play through the game multiple times to collect everything.  The combat always made me feel powerful, but still required me to pay attention and be strategic about how I took out the enemies.  It's also the first game where I felt like using the bow was the most fun (I only used the shotgun in one fight and used the bow the rest of the game).  All in all, if you enjoy a game with collectibles, upgrades, and a movie feel to it (so your spouse/friends can still be entertained watching you play) then I can't recommend this game enough.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Xenophobe

One of the "cooperative" games I liked to play with my brothers growing up was the NES game, Xenophobe.  Since this was a game based on an arcade game, it's more about a high score and seeing how long you can play than winning.  In fact, I don't even know if this game had an end.  If it did, it was a little too repetitive and long for me to ever find it.

In the game, the players are tasked with trying to find these strange glowing orbs (dropped by killed enemies just like everything else in the game) before the space station you're on blows up.  I think if it did blow up, you still teleport off it safely, you just get less points.  So each space station is made up of a randomly generated set of rooms, which each contain some pre-determined aliens/barriers/teleport switches and also have constantly respawning enemies.  You kill enemies to get items, most just give you points, some give you health, some give you better weapons/grenades, and the glowing orb things end the level.  If you kill too many enemies in one room, they stop dropping items when killing them, so you're encouraged to keep wandering around.  While playing co-op, you can see the other player if you're both in the same room and if either player finds the orb, both players get warped out of the level (which definitely caused much strife for one of us not waiting for the other to get that awesome item that just dropped before forcing them to leave the level).

The enemies range from little amoebas that jump from the ceiling to the floor, floating laser turrets, little bitey leech guys, big jumpy Xenomorph looking aliens (like on the game cover seen above) that spit acid and basically just charge you a lot, and winged blue giraffe looking things that hang on the ceiling and drop bombs on you.  If anything touches you, you get hurt.  If you lose all your health, you lose.  It's as simple as that.  It was definitely a lot of fun at the time, but there's no way this would hold up now.  This is especially disappointing since the arcade game it's based off of sounds way more designed and fleshed out.  I guess that's probably just due to the technical limitations of the NES.  Either that or it was a cash grab...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Console Wars: 1st Year

I'm having issues finding solid data and numbers for the first year of video game console sales.  Most of the searches I come across are all along the same ridiculous lines: "Company X is DOOMED!", "Video games are DOOMED!", or "The economy is DOOMED!"  I find this hilarious because as far as I can remember (and this is where I wish I had more solid data), very few consoles do well in their first year.  I know the 3DS, DS, PS3, and now the Wii U all had pretty miserable first years.  In all cases, it was a severe lack of games because developers were trying to figure out how to develop for these systems.

The PS3 had its own super complicated tech to figure out, but if the developers could, it was super powerful.  The DS was the first touch based gaming system with a few other bells and whistles that developers seemed to feel needed to all be utilized in every game (I'm so glad I don't have to blow out fires by blowing into the mic or talk at my DS anymore...).  The 3DS was mostly the same except for the whole 3D factor.  The Wii U has a completely separate screen that game designers need to figure out how to use.  Most of those systems were also supposedly overpriced, but I feel like if a game system doesn't have enough games that you like on them, it really doesn't matter what price the system is for.  Take for example the OUYA.  It's only $100, the price of most collector edition games.  All games on the system are "free" as well.  However, I have zero interest in the system because not a single game I've heard about on the system sounds appealing to me.

It's especially entertaining to see people say Nintendo as a company is doomed because of lackluster Wii U sales (which is understandable since they only just now started releasing their big slew of games) when there are articles like this that are clearly indicating that the 3DS doing amazing well after a similarly terrible first year.  Personally, I'm hoping the Wii U does well enough to get more than the Nintendo loyalists (like myself) to buy it because of all three new systems for the next generation of gaming, I feel like the Wii U has the most potential for new and different gaming experiences.  Nintendo just needs to start making more asymmetric multiplayer games like the three minigames in Nintendo Land to show the other developers how it's done.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Strip Search

Yet one more awesome reality competition I've found myself happily addicted to is Penny Arcade's Strip Search.  Like Top Chef or Project Runway, this is a competition to find the best in a certain field, namely running a web comic.  Unlike most other reality shows, the contestants on this one aren't constantly at each other's throats and backstabbing each other.  In fact, this is quite possibly the nicest group of people on TV I've seen since the character on Full House.  Quite the opposite of the reality competition trope, they do seem to be here to make friends.  Also, instead of the judges (Jerry and Mike from Penny Arcade) crushing the soles and hopes of anyone who gets eliminated, they meet two on one with them with words of encouragement.

The show is broken down into 20-30 segments that follow the pattern of a social challenge mostly for funsies, a competitive challenge to determine potential contestants to eliminate, and an elimination challenge to whittle down the contestants.  Jerry and Mike definitely had a lot of fun both mocking tropes of reality competition shows and interacting with the contestants.  Just a warning, there is some NSFW language throughout the series, but kind of what you should expect if you've ever read the Penny Arcade comics.  Despite that, this web series is a great way to counter other shows making you lose your faith in humanity.  I really hope they can manage to make more seasons of this show at some point in the future, but they're pretty busy guys.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Movies I Grew Up On: Batman

This movie is a strange, but fond Christmas memory of mine.  I remember my family had went up to Canada to visit my grandparents and other family on my dad's side and someone got the VHS of Batman, so we watched that together.  This was the first Batman movie in 23 years and decidedly darker than the so very awesome Adam West Batman.  Unlike the even darker and more "realistic" Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton still embraced the comic book source material and kept the characters fairly faithful (e.g. Joker wasn't just a crazy killer, but wanted everyone to die laughing/smiling).  It stars Michael Keaton as Batman, who in my mind is the best Batman, but not a fantastic Bruce Wayne.  It's also the the only Batman movie to only have a single villain (which really should be the norm for comic book movies, not the exception).

If you haven't seen it, this movie serves as both an origin for Batman and the Joker.  Jack Napier, second in command to Gotham's current crime lord, is set up to take a fall during a crime at the Axis Chemical factory.  While trying to stop the criminals, Jack falls into a vat of chemicals, partly due to Batman.  Instead of dying from the chemicals, Jack Napier is instead transformed into a deranged killer who uses chemicals in every day hygiene products to cause people to laugh to death.  Things escalate to a very climactic fight up at the top of a cathedral bell tower.

Unfortunately, this movie starts the trend of comic book movie villains dying in their first (and only) movie appearance.  I'm not talking about random villains created specifically for that movie (like the Superman movies), but one of the villains from the hero's gallery of villains.  I've never quite understood this since not only do the heroes only have a small number of villains that could actually hold up a movie by themselves, but usually the villains they do kill (like The Joker) have so many more stories that could be explored and character depth that could be done.  This can only lead to more future reboots that (for some reason) must retell the hero's origin story again and again.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Video Game vs. Book Sizes

I forget where this thought came from, but I started thinking about how the various ways video games are released (full releases, expansions, DLC, etc.) are akin to how books are categorized by length (short story, novella, novels, etc.).  Some of them are pretty obvious, a full video game release is just like a novel: it can both build a new world, create grand adventures for a set of characters (generally recurring characters in future sequels), and has multiple ups and downs as well as conflicts (albeit one main one).  Expansions are like novellas: the are generally smaller adventures with the same characters that have already been setup in the full game/novel, only have time for one real conflict, and don't really have time to do much world building.

DLC, on the other hand, seems to come in two forms.  It's either like reading the same book, but with a different font (the main content is no different, but there's at least one minor difference to how that content is experienced).  In DLC forms, this is the new weapon/armor/skin.  The other type of DLC is more like a short story.  It is generally a new small adventure for the characters you know and love in an already established universe.  I haven't seen any DLCs that are the other form, where it's a whole new set of characters used to build the world/universe further, except for maybe Bioshock 2's Minerva's Den.  I can partly understand this because where a short story only needs to reference things from the world it comes from, DLC has to use the same technology (and generally art assets) made to use the game it's a part of.  So the easiest way to make DLC is just to make more of the same thing as the original game.

What I haven't quite figured out is what (if any) equivalent there is to smaller full games (i.e. PSN/XBLA games).  Would this be like a magazine article?  Just sort of a small way to amuse yourself for a bit of time, but generally no real substance to it?  Obviously there are exceptions on both ends of this analogy.  Not sure what else it could be.  I'm also curious what the visual media (movies, television, etc.) compare to these.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where'd My Teammates Go?

If you've ever played a turn based RPG, like Chrono Trigger or one of the Final Fantasies, or any Bioware game, you've noticed how in the story parts there will be a large group of characters wandering around and saving the world together, but during battle only a few of them seem to actually be there.  Some games specifically showcase this by having the other characters walk in and out of your main character to exit and enter story sequences.  I understand that balancing battles for giant groups of heroes is way too much to ask for, but this is definitely bizarre video game logic at its worst (finest?).  If the other party members are waiting in camp until you take them in to battle, then does that mean that they shouldn't get any credit for saving the world since they spent the entire time lounging about in your posh headquarters?

Sometimes (rarely), games will help alleviate this ridiculousness by having your characters split up into teams.  Final Fantasy 3/6 did every once in awhile (which actually kept me from winning since I was required to use characters I hadn't been using at all).  One of the few good things Infinite Undiscovery did was the occasional instance where this happened and you either fought along side your groups or traveled through a tower seeing them appear on the other side of fenced off areas or coming in the middle of a boss fight from a different entrance.  So I only personally cared about the three characters on my team, but it at least felt like I was a troop trying to save the world.

Other than bizarre story logic issues this represents, my issue with this concept is that I have to choose which companions are important to me and miss out on a lot of good moments/stories (protagonist & companion content, companion & companion combination content, etc.).  This is a way to add replayability, but assuming there are 6 companions (generally there are more) and you can only bring 2 with you at once, then you'd have to beat the game 3 times and probably 70-80% of the content is the same each time.  That's not enjoyable, that's tedious.  This essentially means to me that all having more companions does for me is increase the chances that I'll like the two characters I decide to play through the game with and the other characters might as well not exist other than the occasional parts of the story you're forced to go bring them with you.

The only way I can think of to fix this is to structure the game where you travel with a small group of characters for a bit and then leave them and move on to another group.  Of course, this means that I have less chance of liking the characters I'm grouped I guess I just can't be pleased with this bit of bizarre video game logic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Games I Grew Up On: Gargoyle's Quest

It's strange that Firebrand (the gargoyle pictured on the box) is green since the game, Gargoyle's Quest, is all about becoming the Red Blaze.  Gargoyle's Quest was one of the early Gameboy games I played on that system and had quite a bit of depth to it, alongside some very punishingly difficult gameplay.  The difficulty isn't too surprising when you realize that Firebrand is actually one of the enemies from the Ghosts 'n Goblins game that was known for its difficulty and lack of mercy for the player.

In Gargoyle's Quest, players take on the role of Firebrand the Gargoyle in his quest to get more powerful and save the Ghoul Realm from King Breager and his army of Destroyers.  The game has two modes: an overhead map with potential random battle sequences and side scrolling levels to fight monsters and collect items.  Many items you collect improve Firebrand's abilities - they may let him shoot stronger fireballs, jump higher, fly longer, or extend his health to another hit or two.  Levels can be played multiple times or exited by reaching either end of it (just like in Legend of Zelda II).  Like Metroid games, you may have to replay a level after getting a new ability so you can reach new places.

I haven't played this game in ages, but I'm pretty sure it would be super frustrating since it's generally not clear where exactly you need to go (without those handy Nintendo Power maps/guides I had as a kid) and the random battles will inevitably get you killed since this game requires Mega Man level precision, you can only take a few hits before dying, and if I remember right, health recovery items and extra lives were hard to come by.  But there's something to be said about that type of difficulty since, when I did finally beat the game, the feeling of accomplishment can't be beat.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Random Consequences In Game

As my final single player Xbox games in my game backlog, I'm finishing up Infinite Undiscovery.  I only paid $10 for this, so I'm not too miffed that it starts out as a very generic JRPG and the game only gets more frustrating as it goes on.  One odd game design decision that's bugging me the most is a very strange choice to punish players for trying to play the game.  The game is an action RPG with large areas filled with wild monsters to fight.  Fighting those monsters makes your characters stronger.  Most of your characters' abilities are powered by the moon.  At a certain point in the game, the moon starts raining lunar rays on the world while you're exploring.  Exposure to this lunar rain makes your characters more powerful until they have too much power to control and turn into monsters.  You have a few ways to combat this, so it wouldn't be so bad except for one thing: the lunar rain occurs at random times for random intervals.

So it may be that you can fight monsters for awhile before having to run from the lunar rain.  Or it may never stop raining because a random chance has decreed it.  Unfortunately, if you find yourself underpowered in a section, the only way to get better is to fight monsters.  So there's a random chance that doing what you need to will be impossible without having to lose and fight your own teammates.  This bizarre problem that has repeatedly made me just run blindly through areas is made worse by the fact that you can't seem to tell your teammates to run blindly like you do.  You can set them to a non-aggressive mode where they won't attack, but at they'll inevitably get hit a few times when running past monsters and will then stop to heal themselves, only to end up getting killed because they decided to stop.

So, I guess the takeaway from this is if you're going to have some (potentially) interesting pressure put on the player, make sure it doesn't conflict with the main gameplay element of the game making them not want to play the main gameplay element (and thus the game itself).  Or at least make sure that their method of avoiding that main gameplay element doesn't have annoying detriments of its own.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: The Colony

I seem to be on a post-apocalyptic rebuild humanity thing now, what with Last of Us, Survivors, and now The Colony.  The Colony is a "reality" experiment about a group of 7-10 people surviving in a world after a virus has wiped out most of humanity.  Since that hasn't actually happened, it's really just people relegated to a portion of some desolated town with broken down buildings, cars, and other debris.

They use whatever they can scavenge from designated areas to help them get fire, water, food, and power.  When they start getting really comfortable, they tend to pick random projects to work on to help with morale (like building a record player).  Every once in awhile, various "attacks" on the colony are staged by marauders.  In the first season, these marauders weren't supposed to actually make any physical contact with the colony (although the colonists didn't know that), so most fights were more verbal yelling matches than anything, but the second season that limitation seems to be gone because the group gets beat up by a militia in the second episode.

While the general concepts and most of what happens seems more realistic than some of how society is portrayed 15-20 years later in Revolutions and The Last of Us, there's also a lot of events that are a little too convenient on the show (Finding brand new tools in the building you're told to find shelter in?  Sure...).  I'm sure some of this is for legal or realistic reasons (since a virus has not wiped out most of humanity the colonists certainly have to follow certain rules like staying in designated areas) and some are to make it an interesting/educational show (the aforementioned brand new tools or when they find a large set of absolutely flawless solar panels).  But despite this, it's an interesting show with enough random little educational tidbits (it is a Discovery Channel show after all) and "expert" tips/advice (the psychologist constantly telling the audience why the colonists are acting like this is all real) to keep it entertaining.  The second season is definitely a lot more disturbing than the first, though, since the marauders seem to have more free reign for their attacks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TV Shows I Grew Up On: The A-Team

One of my other favorite TV shows growing up was The A-Team.  The premise was fairly simple: a crack special forces team was framed for a crime they didn't commit and are wanted by the military police.  While they try to clear their name, they live as soldiers of fortune for anyone with a worthy cause (and usually some sort of payment).  Most episodes are them trying to help the little guy who is being overwhelmed by greedy corporations, landowners, rival companies, etc. and won't or can't stoop to the levels of the bad guys.  Because this show was made in the 80's, it's pretty darn black and white: there are clear good guys and clear bad guys with not many plot twists.  But honestly, that's part of what I love about it so much.  That and the fact that no matter how horrendous a car/helicopter/plane crash is, everyone gets out of it just slightly bruised and sore, even the bad guys.  Also, no one ever gets shot by all the ridiculous amount of gunfire that goes on unless it's an important part of the plot.

What made the show so wonderful was the four main characters: John "Hannibal" Smith (the brain who concocts all their wild schemes and love it when plans come together); Templeton "Faceman" Peck (the pretty boy con artist who could talk anyone out of everything the had and almost always got the girl in the end); Bosco "Bad Attitude" Baracus (the muscle and wheel man on the crew, who had a heart of gold if you weren't Murdock); H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock (the pilot who is declared insane, but always makes you wonder if he truly is).  Most episodes focused on the four of them together, but occasionally there'd be an episode that focused specifically on one of them for character development.  Almost every episode also went the same way - starts off showing someone in trouble, who then goes on a long and seemingly ridiculous quest (or so we're told) to find the A-Team, the A-Team reveals themselves to the bad guys in a show of force, the bad guys push back harder, the A-Team starts welding/building/constructing as part of "the plan", the A-Team is successful after a large fight with at least one vehicle flipped over, everyone lives happily ever after (except the bad guys).

This ridiculous, over the top, and completely unrealistic action is precisely why I was afraid of a modern day movie version of The A-Team (since so many directors/writers nowadays need everything to be dark, gritty, and super realistic), but as it turns out, the people who made that movie got it and it was a wonderful homage to this glorious TV show.  If you have never seen this show, I would highly recommend it, but just like with MacGyver, don't expect to take anything even remotely seriously and don't expect any amazing plot twists or you'll be disappointed.