Sunday, April 20, 2014

PS3 games people overlooked, Part 1

I don't normally play shooters...

(no, this is not a Dos Equis commercial)

...but when I do, they should be interesting. As I might have stated previously someplace, my primary experience with FPS games really ended sometime around id Software's Quake III Arena and Rare's Perfect Dark in 2000. I tried playing Timesplitters 2 on the Nintendo GameCube some time later, only to find out I should have called it "Headsplitters", for similar reasons to the games I already explained here.

Now, I didn't seem to have this problem with Resident Evil 4, first for GameCube and then for the Wii - but this isn't a 'first person' shooter. They put the camera above and behind you and generally this solves my nausea issue, unless the camera is jittery. The character's reaction to the environment helps me visually process what I'm seeing in a consistent way.  In addition, having the character fully on screen makes the motion more like action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta and God of War, or any of the brawlers like Mad World or Urban Reign or God Hand and such.

So after a while of owning a PS3 and being near the end of the console's lifespan, I start asking myself and the internet the question "What have I missed that I probably didn't want to?" and one of the answers that came up a few times was the Platinum Games shooter "Vanquish" from 2010. It's a third person shooter, so I didn't have too many nausea issues, but I was surprised by a lot of things.

One, it's got a much better story than I was used to for a shooter (but I realize part of that is because I haven't been playing shooters for a while). Most of the the story takes place in a big space colony, allowing for interesting changes of atmosphere (pun partially intended). The main character Sam Gideon works for DARPA, but has the challenge of working with the Armed Forces. On old enemy becomes a big problem after years of a manageable truce, and some important technology changes hands because a scientist has been captured. Maybe it seems familiar in the broad strokes, but it seemed well executed in the details.

Two, there seemed to be a lot of interesting scenarios that I'm not sure were really possible before on older game systems. There was a sniping level, a 'protect the armored vehicle while you're on foot' level, a level where two moving vehicles on tracks try to gun each other down, a 'clear the area so a transport can land here' level, and quite a few other things. It was a lot more varied and interesting than the usual 'go down this corridor and hide behind boxes or you're going to get shot' or the 'take that building from those dudes' scenarios that I feel like you seem to get a lot of in shooters.

Three, the game has a cover system that works pretty well, or a inexperienced shooter player like myself couldn't have gotten along with it. One button is dedicated almost entirely to going in and out of cover, and you get helpful onscreen prompts where appropriate.  The levels are timed, and you get a better rating if you take less time, and you get a better rating if you don't overuse cover, so there's a good reason to use it efficiently.

Four, it did a great job of making you feel like you were part of a team (another item probably improved on by other shooters first). The other AI soldiers actually got things accomplished, spread out in a sensible way, and picked the right weapon most of the time. One of the responsibilities they gave Sam, your character, is to act as medic to the soldiers, and you get weapon bonuses for helping them when they need it.

Five, it did a magnificent job at impressing you with a huge sense of scale when enemies and ships as large as a building (or bigger) came at you.  A varied array of giant robots and walking battle tanks stand between you and finishing the game.

Six, and they really didn't have to do this one, they took a mechanic that could have been really gimmicky - a ridiculous speed boost in short bursts for your character - and made it work fantastically with the level design and the character story.

There are a few quick time events here and there during boss battles, but I didn't find them too onerous or distracting from the game play. Veteran voice actors Gideon Emery, Kari Wahlgren, and the always amazing Steve Blum play the lead characters Sam, Elena, and Lt. Col Robert Burns, respectively. I really liked the music when I was playing the game but I can't remember any of it now that I haven't played the game for a week. My favorite enemy in the entire game was an enemy that built itself out of spare parts called Unknown - don't worry, you'll know it when you see it.

The down side was that as an inexperienced shooter, I was only able to finish the game on 'Casual', but I didn't have to rely on the autoaim of the slightly easier 'Casual Auto' setting.  This means (or at least I think that it means) that experienced shooters will have at least two more levels of difficulty to test themselves against. Even after finishing on Easy and having a pretty good sense of the control mechanics, I was killed on Normal difficulty prior to even reaching the first boss. Used copies for XBox 360 are going for $10, $13 if you have a PS3.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Relationship problems

So, CAPCOM announced the fifth character that they're adding to the newest iteration of Street Fighter IV, and the internet doesn't seem to jazzed about her so far. Decapre, similar to appearance to Cammy, because she's another one of M. Bison's "Dolls" has some similarities in moves, but a lot of differences. The complainers seem to be focusing on the similarities. In my head, it sounds like this...



Dear Virtual Advice Columnist,
I really want to like this girl - let's call her Dee - but I feel a little bit guilty about liking her because she reminds me too much of my old girlfriend, Cammy. I mean, I know that I should like her on her own merits, but I find myself yelling things at her like "Is it just me? Or was this the worst moment of all in the SF4 series?"and "This is a joke, right? In what Universe (do they) honestly think fans would be hyped for this character?" She's actually got some friends that I knew from before, a wrestler, a hot biker chick/dude/whatever that hangs out with the wrestler, an African princess that learned capoeira, and this really badass mercenary. I did get to hang out with them lately and didn't complain about them much, but I still feel bad about the whole thing.

-Confused And Possibly Crabby Over My Female Avatar News

Dear CAPCOMFAN,
You're complaining about getting 5 more characters for $15 on a download, or $40 on a disk - and the disk version has all of the previous costume DLC included? I think that if you really don't like Dee, or Decapre as she would prefer to be called, there are plenty of things to like about the new version. If you're looking for a reason not to move on, nobody's stopping you.



It stems basically from this - when content publishers put a new version of an existing IP, it's nearly guaranteed that the internet will scream out one of these two things:

"I can't believe they just repackaged the old game and only added some stupid cosmetic feature that I totally don't care about."

OR

"What the heck is this broken game? It doesn't have any of the characters/features that I liked from the last game and the new game engine is totally rubbish and how can you be expected to play a game at only 30fps."

So I'm not surprised that people say these things, except if I'm not surprised by it then on some level I'm surprised that this reaction keeps happening, because I can't be the only person that notices it.

It's an especially difficult phenomenon in an IP's second iteration, since it's hard to look at a series of games or albums or movies as a cohesive whole if there are only two data points. This tends to drag us straight into compare/contrast territory. When a game's iteration is in to the double digits like Street Fighter is, you should start to be able to see a pattern. Street Fighter's pattern has been so far, at least according to what I understand about it, is that they make a new game and game engine, and then they do periodic updates of the same engine to keep people interested in it and balancing the game while cutting down on the labor required to do a full new release every time. Looking at the Street Fighter 2 series, the Street Fighter Alpha series, the Street Fighter III series, and the Street Fighter IV series, that's what's been happening so far. The original Street Fighter didn't do this, but I don't think that they had quite adopted the strategy at first and the gaming climate was rather different.

Another one of the complaints that I heard was "Where Is Street Fighter V? We want all new characters!" Based on the reception of Street Fighter III at the time that it came out, I'm not sure that the mass market appeal of a Street Fighter game with all new characters would be well received at all. When Street Fighter III came out, only Ryu and Ken were carried over, and the other eight (well, OK nine, but Yun and Yang were identical at the time) characters and the one boss were all new. The game was very good, and by the time the game got to its final iteration (Street Fighter III:Third Strike) it was well-balanced and very complex. Street Fighter III is a technically great fighting game, but it's hampered by the fact that it was designed for people that were already really good at fighting games. The other thing that impacted Street Fighter III's popularity when it came out was that it was only available for one home system at the time, the Sega Dreamcast. The original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 couldn't have handled Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter 3's 2000 home release on Dreamcast preceded the XBox and Game Cube by about a year. Technically, a home version of Street Fighter III could have come out for PlayStation 2, but this was before a multiplatform home release was a standard occurrence for anything that wasn't EA Sports or Mortal Kombat. The PlayStation 2 and the XBox did eventually get versions of Street Fighter III:Third Strike, but it was so long after the fact that it was more a nostalgia package than anything.

Did anybody actually think that Capcom would go to the trouble to make new character models for Hugo, Poison, Elena, and Rolento for "Street Fighter X Tekken" and then not use them in a subsequent game? At some point it's a business decision that it's far easier to do something with resources you have than spend even more time developing new resources. I also thought when I started using Rolento in SFxT that it would be cool to see how he holds up against the rest of the SFIV roster. I'm sure that there are some Hugo, Poison, and Elena players thinking the same thing. The other thing that happens having them in another game before they get moved into SFIV is that the game design team gets a chance to see how their moveset works so that they can get game balance dialed in correctly.  Historically, they've been a little less worried about game balance in their crossover titles, but it is nice that they get the chance to try things out there first.

So, I'm not really mad about Decapre, but I'm probably not going to use her right away. Oni Akuma didn't get this kind of negative reception when he was announced, and he is a similarly positioned character - similar to a character already in use, but tuned with a slightly different moveset for more aggressive play. I don't really use him, and I haven't quite warmed up to his style yet. I think it takes more time for us Street Fighter old-timers to digest new characters. I thought Rufus and El Fuerte were stupid at first, and now I've really warmed up to them even if I'm not that good at them.

If you're still thinking 'what-if' about the whole thing, check out this video where lots of other characters that would have worked just fine are shown. (Well, except for Skullomania, who doesn't belong to Capcom.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to get motion sickness while sitting comfortably.

I think about motion sickness a lot these days. I used to have problems with it from time to time, but I have developed strategies to deal with it. Mind you I don't spend much time on boats or roller coasters, so technically the word that most people use for what used to happen to me and currently happens to my younger child is "carsick". My younger son has really liked playing Scribblenauts Unmasked lately, but he's had to be careful about how much he plays in the car.

I don't remember ever having big problems reading in the car on family vacations, but since we had a big van I was probably lying down when I was reading. I think it happened occasionally, but I couldn't nail down the triggers for it specifically. The first time I specifically remember having a big problem was after I got a Game Boy.

The first video game that made me sick was "Atomic Punk". It's not that it was a poorly Americanized attempt at re-branding Bomberman while capitalizing on the success of the Game Boy as a platform, although I can certainly see how you might think that. It's just that I was so nuts for Bomberman then that I wanted to play it all the time - especially on long road trips where all I really had to do was sit in the passenger seat and navigate. However, that was exactly the time that I could not play it. I was ready to hurl even before we got out of the city limits. It has occurred to me that the biggest difference between playing an action game and reading a book in terms of the motion sickness that when reading a book, there is nothing to stop you from periodically looking up from the book. (Sure, you could pause the game, but who does that?) So, when playing a game in the car, you're looking at a mostly fixed screen, and your peripheral vision is seeing the interior of the car which is also not moving, but your inner ear is reporting data that would indicate that you are moving. So, I presume that motion sickness stems from the brain's inability to process conflicting data under certain conditions.

Now, some people that I know used to get nauseous from playing first person shooters back in the early days, like playing Doom and Quake. This is kind of the opposite problem from the handheld game, where your peripheral vision and your inner ear report no movement, but your central vision reports movement. I do not recall ever having issues with this back then, but I started playing Doom and Quake with the arrow keys and I did not start whipping my point of view around with the mouse in a rapid fashion until some time after I started playing those games. Since how much you move around depends on your input to the game, I presume that I had no issue with it because I understood the relationship between controller input and screen movement.

Typically when moving around in a virtual world, or watching a movie where they pan the camera around, the motion is very smooth. Part of the reason it tends to be smooth in the game is because you're aiming the direction of movement and your weapon with the mouse, so it needs to be somewhat smooth so you can aim your weapon and travel in the intended direction.  Your brain is able to extrapolate perceived movement and figure out where you are looking to some degree.

Once the camera becomes small enough that it can fit in a person's hand, all that smoothness is right out the window and we end up with feature films like The Blair Witch Project, which I thankfully watched in a nearly empty theater in the middle of the afternoon so only my wife and a friend of mine had to watch me slowly freak out. The movie was considered innovative for its use of handheld footage, but it was too jittery for me to process. I tried using chocolate and caffeine to combat the effects, but I left the film feeling like someone punched me in the back of the neck. This is similar to the Doom/Quake example where the inner ear and peripheral vision report no movement but central vision reports movement, but I wonder to what degree the brain trusts your peripheral vision in a movie theater.

I presume that this is similar to why some people have problems with in 3D films, again because of the differential between the inner ear information and the visual information, but complicated by the problems with stereo vision and a forced fixed perspective. When you move your head around in a 3D film, the 3D scene doesn't correctly track to your head movement, so again you have a disparity that your body's visual procession and sense of balance aren't happy about. I haven't had issue with this yet, but I have been pretty picky about which 3D movies that I've watched so far.

With games, I had assumed that since I hadn't had any issue with the old first person shooters, I was unlikely to have any issues with any games. Strangely, this turned out to be wrong. The first time I had a big problem with in-game nausea was the 2001 Playstation 2 game Twisted Metal:Black. It's not a first-person shooter, it's a related genre that only exists periodically: Vehicluar Combat. Despite imitators like Vigilante 8, Blood Drive, and Twisted Metal 3 and 4, Twisted Metal:Black reigns as the best of the genre and a good game in its own right. Running on a rather well-optimized engine and capable of a rather high sustained frame rate, there seemed to be too much going on. I was only able to play the game by building up a tolerance for it, and I think I still only managed to finish with some of the characters. I don't recall that the game was jittery, only that is was fast, so I don't feel like I sufficiently understand why the game made me motion sick.

Just recently, I have been making some progress on Resident Evil 6. This game is similar to Resident Evil 4 and 5 in presentation where the camera is positioned over your character's shoulder. I have tried to play the Mercenaries mode a lot to acclimate myself to the controls, and I have just gotten to the second chapter of Chris' campaign having started there after many attempts at the introduction. I have noticed that the game engine is rather sophisticated and tries to replicate a cinematic feel some of the time, including an area where you fight a boss enemy from the second floor of a building which he's trying to knock down while you're in it. What do you get when the boss is trying to knock down the building you're in? Jittery Action! I was so glad to get to a checkpoint so I could quit but I think I'm nearly out of bullets. So, if you hear me say that Resident Evil 6 makes me sick, it's not a comment on the story.

Well, at least not yet it isn't.



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Intentional Fail, FTW.

So is it a viable strategy to fail on purpose?

Maybe you wanted to win some money from "America's Funniest Home Videos" and you set up a scenario to hilariously injure yourself while a stationary camera recorded it?

Or, perhaps you're a ninth-rate celebutante that was sort of famous for doing some thing on that commercial that was banned in six counties in California but not so much these days so you 'accidentally' let a sex tape leak out? (Wow. 'Leak out' sounds horrible in that context.)

So maybe that wasn't what I was talking about. How about this one? How long can you be a name-brand company selling products in the US and have horrible customer support? I'm not even talking about the recent list of much-maligned retailers. In a way it's worse, since I'm talking about a brand that's been sold in Walmart, Kmart/Sears, Target, Office Depot, Staples, some drugstores, all over Amazon, and even legitimate camera stores.

We're talking about the low-price digital camera brand Vivitar. The actual people that founded Vivitar are long-gone, and the company's past success revolved around a rather popular and functional flash unit, the Vivtar 283, that worked better than most of the more expensive units on the market at the time. 

As far as I can discern, they haven't had a consistently working email address for customer support in the last seven years. (Scroll down to the 2/8/2007 post where they describe an email to support@vivitar.com getting kicked back with a 'permanent error'.) Since Sakar has only owned Vivitar since sometime in 2008, I suppose we can give them a pass on 2007. But, digging around on the internet, you can find people perpetually having issues with them, and a consistent theme that I noticed was that people were not always able to email customer support. It's not like they've changed any of their literature - it all still says that support issues are to be mailed to support@vivitar.com. Having tried it myself, I got emails kicked back in three days or so with a similar type of permanent error. Online mail check programs seem to yield either similar or inconclusive results. (I had never seen 'SMTPConnectionShutdown' errors before.) Having had occasion to call them several weeks ago, they offered up a different email address, digitalcameras@vivitar.com, which failed in the same way that the first one did. ("Mail server unreachable for too long.") Imagine all of the productive time that they gain by not having to read and answer email! It could be saving the company tons of money!

Maybe I've glossed over the finer points of this, so perhaps I recall my version of the story here. My wife was given her choice of gifts at work for a recent employment anniversary. It's done through a company that does this sort of employee rewards program for several companies, not just the one my wife works for. As we were thinking that it would be nice to have a newer camera, she ignored the other things in the catalog, like battery drills and vacuum cleaners. It was hard to tell what sort of quality level the things in the catalog are, especially when they did oddball things like including a camera whose part number doesn't appear on the company's own website and doesn't appear for sale anywhere except for one listing on eBay. But, don't look a gift camera in the lens, right? She puts in her order, it shows up in a week, and it arrives with all the accessories and the install CD. Oddly, there's a big crack in the install CD, but all of the crack is outside of the area of the written part of the disk. So, I figure that I'll still be able to install the software. I wasn't able to the first time, but it may have had more to do with the way the program talks to the internet and how Windows 7 behaves during certain types of installs. The camera ran just fine after being charged, and I was able to get pictures and videos from the memory card on the camera. Windows Media Player couldn't play the .avi files that the camera made, but since it said that the camera utilizes MJPG compression, VLC Media Player and QuickTime didn't have any problems playing them. I thought it was a little bit odd about the install, so I thought that maybe there was a newer version of the software that I could get from the internet, and I figured that if I could contact them, I would ask them about codecs and maybe about how to set the time and date on the camera.  I sent them an email, which failed, but I didn't know for a couple of days because the internet really does try to make sure that mail goes through before it completely gives up. I called the 800 number, and got a non-native speaker of English who seemed charming enough. They said that they would email me a link to the software so I could download it, which never arrived. I mentioned that I had already sent an email that never seemed to get there and they suggested the digitalcameras@vivitar.com address that also didn't work. I asked them about the model number, they said that the camera was too new. I didn't even want to argue that with the support tech since most of their newer products for the last few years got press releases but this one did not. My personal hypothesis on the camera is that it's a model made specifically for the employee gift program that's not actually much different from a couple of their other models. Was the support tech intentionally lying to me? It seems unlikely. It seems more likely that everything looks like it works from their end and they don't get to see the pattern of failure from where they sit.

I eventually managed to install the software for the camera, after some careful application of "Run As Administrator", but had to tell the software that I have a 785HD instead of a 786HD because it's the closest thing I can find. It turned out not to have any codecs in the install that I could find, and I can't figure out if the program has any way to set the time and the date on the camera. The install also did not change how Windows detects the camera, since all Windows can tell is that it's a generic USB drive.

I just feel bummed by the whole experience. The camera works, other than not having the right datestamp on the pictures, but I'm just not sure that people that were having actual problems would be well served by their support system. Of course, if they spent more money on support, they'd have to charge more for the cameras and they'd risk their low-price market position.

I suppose since America's Funniest Home Videos is still running, maybe there's some studio exec at Sakar that keeps a camera rolling in his office to capture footage of some disgruntled customer that totally loses their mind at him some afternoon when they can't get the customer support email to work. (That's afv.com/upload, just in case you need it. Just don't hurt anything important.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In case you weren't in the target demographic...

...the LEGO movie was AwesomeTM! Actually, I thought it was just rather cute, but for some reason I can't stop saying AwesomeTM!
My kids really enjoyed it even though some of the parts were, as they tend to say, "derp". I was amazed that some studio exec hadn't managed to hijack the narrative and kept it close to what we understand the LEGO toys to be. I'm not going to spoil any details here since it's still in theaters, (*cough* Batman-is-kind-of-a-jerk *cough*) but I can definitely say that if you enjoy the basic free spirit of play you will enjoy the LEGO movie, and if you are too busy trying to teach your three-year old calculus on the way to his piano competition, then you're going to be mad that you wasted 100 minutes at the movies.

We watched it last weekend. Only a couple of dozen people were there for an afternoon show. I would have liked to see the 3D version, but I didn't want to give my younger child a headache. It was nice to see the adults and the kids laughing at different jokes.

For those of you that have seen the LEGO movie and are familiar with the works of Arthur C. Clarke, we have this video, done by a friend of ours and local LEGO expert.


For those of you that are thinking, "How did they not make a LEGO movie before now?" it's just that this is the first one in theaters. There were four Bionicle movies and a couple of Hero Factory movies that went direct to video. More recently there was the the LEGO:Ninjago TV series, a LEGO Star Wars direct-to-video movie, a LEGO Batman direct-to-video movie that came out at the same time as the LEGO Batman 2 video game, and a couple of movies starring LEGO hero Clutch Powers, one direct to video, and one 4D-direct-to-theme-park. Clutch Powers is voiced by Ryan McPartlin who most of us would know from the TV show "Chuck". He played Dr. Devon Woodcomb, Chuck's brother-in-law. Most often, he was referred to on the show as...

...wait for it...

"Captain Awesome".

Coincidence, or not?

And in other awesome news, speed cuber Kevin Hays totally destroyed the record for the 2x2x2 to 7x7x7 relay.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

...so maybe LEGO is like the Weak Nuclear Force?

I had planned for yesterday to go to a LEGO event with my kids. I wasn't exactly sure how it was going to go, since it wasn't (for us) a usual LEGO event. I presumed that the local movie theater/outdoor mall wanted to capitalize on LEGO fans being there the weekend that The LEGO Movie opened, so the timing was not unusual. We don't have a LEGO store here (the nearest one is at least an hour south of us) so it was run by a third party company that does really expensive half-day summer camps using LEGO and claiming to work on kids' STEM skills. There were two parts to the event, bringing your own creations for judging, and a speed-building competition. The flyer that we saw told us that the event started at 10:30, but not really any specifics about how the rest of it was supposed to go. The theme for the build was supposed to be the Sochi Olympics. Both kids built small structures - my older one built a snowball fight amongst athletes, and my younger child had Arctic Batman on a bobsled. Thinking that it wouldn't pay to show up too early, we opted to get there around 11:30.  We drove around the shopping center, found a central place to park, and then figured out where the event was but left the builds in the car. We found the event set up on  tables outside, right near the place where the bands play there in the evenings. It was a little warmer than usual, and scattered clouds and fairly high humidity made us wonder about the viability of an outdoor event. Then, we found the schedule. Submissions went well past 12:00, and the judging was 1-3. The speed build events were broken up into age groups, but the middle school group that my older son would have competed in wouldn't have started until 2:45 according to their schedule. Nobody was enthused about the idea of leaving their builds there alone (sure, there were event people there, but they can't watch everything), and nobody would have been comfortable standing around with their builds for 3-4 hours outside until the judging finished. Plus, there was the matter of lunch, so we'd have to either separate or leave the builds behind.

So, my older son and I seemed too uncomfortable with the whole situation to even bother. We saw an interesting ski jump that someone had made before we left, but it didn't seem compelling for us to stay. On a hunch, we drove to the nearby Toys R Us. As we drove over to Toys R Us my younger one was pretty adamant that he wanted to go home after that, so I didn't bring up the idea of going to the LEGO movie since he didn't seem like he was going to have sufficient attention span to hang out in the theater.

As an intermission to the whole escapade, I was crossing the major thoroughfare that separated the mall from Toys R Us only to have someone creep past the white line by at least a car length. I honked at them, so they would stop and I could finish crossing without incident. As it turned out, they turned into the Toys R Us anyway but I found that odd since they would have had plenty of time to do it way before I was anywhere near them. As I passed by the car, I could it was a rather old woman driving alone. I didn't know what to make of it at all. I parked on the far side of the parking lot and tried to keep a low profile. She snaked through the parking lot and eventually honked at us as we were walking towards the store. I told the kids to stay back at the curb and went over to talk to her.

The second she rolled down her window I immediately apologized. I tried to explain that I had only honked because I thought her intent was to try to jump out in front of the rest of the traffic before the light turned green in her direction, and I wouldn't have honked if I had been able to tell if she was turning right. (No, I didn't see a turn signal. It's Florida, it's rather commonplace.)

She looked at me with a rather dazed expression, and merely said. "Oh."

Then she told me that she only had a question and wanted to know if there was someplace she could buy some printer ink like Best Buy or something. I told her that she had missed the turn for Best Buy and that she was better off going to the Office Depot just east of there so she didn't have to make multiple left turns in a row.

I shrugged off my uncomfortableness and headed into the store with the kids. As it turned out, our hunch was correct! Toys R Us was also doing a LEGO event tied into the release of the movie! So, my kids walked around the store for a few minutes, the event started at 12:00, each of my kids picked up a free minikit that has two different forms, and we got a coupon that entitled us to a $15 gift card if we bought "The LEGO Movie:The Game" for 2DS/3DS that day. We passed on that particular deal since we felt a little too pressured to pick up a game we didn't know anything about, but there were a lot of good 3DS games that were buy one, get one 40% off.

Unlike previous build events, this one was done assembly-line style. Each kid in line was given a plastic bag and two instruction sheets. Each yellow cardboard bin of parts had a number on the front, and you grabbed that many parts from the bin. For example, since we were building a car, the number on the front of the tire bin and the hub bin were "4", and the number on the steering wheel bin was "1". Unfortunately, that meant that the kids didn't get to stand at the tables and build, since there was barely enough room for all the bins. We got our free parts, looked at some tablets in the "R" Zone, and picked up a couple of DS games.

Since we didn't opt to build in the store, it took my older son a few minutes after we got home to realize that the sets were missing a black 1x4 piece. Not really a problem for us, so he added one to both sets and built them pretty quickly.

So, here's the minikit in both forms, flying car and regular car.





It seemed like the shopping center event could have been fun if there was something else for the kids to do - like if they had had a table where kids could freebuild, but I could also see where having a freebuild space could make it complicated for people showing up with their own stuff. If it had been a regular store with its own restrooms and air conditioned space it might have made up for the length of time also, but then you don't have people wandering around the shopping center like the shopping center would want. The LEGO event at Toys R US had a free raffle in an attempt to get people to hang out until 2:00, but that didn't seem like a good idea for us either.

If the event is compelling, then I think it's easy to get people to stay, but the minute it feels like a 'gotcha', there are some of us that are just going to run away as soon as they smell any funny business. On the other hand, maybe there are just people that drive around looking for whatever they can find, compelling or not. Although if that's the case, just remember that they don't usually have printer ink at Toys R Us.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

There is a force stronger than LEGO.

Based on my kids' behavior since the holiday break, I would have to say that there is one force in the world stronger than LEGO.

It's Minecraft.

For those of you unfamiliar with Minecraft, it's a 3D adventure game with whimsical low-res graphics with an emphasis on building structures, crafting objects from mined materials, and basic agriculture. While the graphics look like they came from 1995, I'm not sure you could have built a world as large as Minecraft's back then.

I got LEGO Marvel Super Heroes for PS3 this Christmas. Like most of the other LEGO games, they take a simplified storyline, infuse it with LEGO sets and characters, and have you play through it with the main characters, and then go back later for additional playthroughs with the other characters to find secrets and unlock even more characters. The LEGO Marvel Super Heroes story takes us to Manhattan just after the Avengers have saved it, only to find that the Silver Surfer has crash-landed on earth and Doctor Doom is hot on the trail of the broken bricks of his surfboard. Naturally, when the Silver Surfer appears, Galactus can't be far behind. With a possible grab for cosmic power and the fate of the Earth at stake, a lot of heroes and villains start coming out of the woodwork. All of the major characters from the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy make an appearance, along with some unsurprising additions. You know Stan Lee has to be there, since he's everywhere else.

Normally with that many days off from school my kids (or at least my older one) would have completely torn through the game by now. They had LEGO Batman 2 at 100% in a matter of days. However, they spent the majority of their gaming time during the holidays playing Minecraft, with Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS coming in a close second for my older child and Scribblenauts Unlimited coming in a rather distant second for my younger one. It's even gotten to the point where they're playing with actual LEGO less than Minecraft. Luckily, one of the LEGO sets my older son got for Christmas was a Minecraft set.



More so than for any other game, my kids are watching a lot of things on Youtube pertaining to Minecraft, and even sometimes while playing the game at the same time. I recall watching a few things for Resident Evil 4 in an attempt to improve my Mercenaries scores, but once I got the info I required I went back to playing the game. They're watching Minecraft videos like me binge-watching Community.

As a result of watching all of the videos, they have downloaded some of the texture packs for the game, but they haven't quite figured out the full mods yet. I suppose I'll have to work on that.

Over the last couple of weeks, they have played some of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and have completed all of the levels in Story Mode, but they haven't obtained all of the characters yet. My younger one still thinks that the hub area (Gotham) in LEGO Batman 2 is more fun than the Marvel hub area (Manhattan including the Statue of Liberty, The Baxter Building, the Daily Bugle, Central Park, and Grand Central Station), but he has fewer characters unlocked. It's nice that in addition to things like my kids finding out about Howard the Duck without having to watch the questionable film version, I can find out about oddball things like Superior Spider-Man without having to set foot in the comic book store to be berated about not reading enough titles.