Friday, November 20, 2009

Am I Trying to Ruin Christmas?

I overheard a presumably uninvolved mom in the video game aisle at Walmart this morning, asking one of the older, more seasoned employees about the various video game systems. I heard the employee giving vague, noncommittal answers - but really what he should be trying to do (in my opinion) is to ask some questions that will allow her to make a clear choice so she can get what she wants and be on her way.

For a moment, let's forget the fact that Mom should have done her homework before she ever set foot in Walmart. Wait! The peanut gallery argues. Mom can't know what to get their kids, that's why they're asking the Walmart employee! That Walmart employee isn't any more of a gamer than that Mom is, even if he does work in the electronics section. He knows what he's been told, but he doesn't know much firsthand - or he'd been able to give more compelling, specific answers and guide her to a solution.

After I got involved, and came over to explain about friend codes for Nintendo multiplayer games, and how she shouldn't worry about her kid(s?) playing against random people on the internet, she expressed her concern about "Is it going to be fast enough? My son is always complaining about that on the computer."

After asking if they had other console gaming systems at home, I tried to reassure her that there was less of that to worry about on a console because he couldn't fill up a Nintendo DS with random programs like he had presumably done to the computer at home. After Mom explains that no, his computer is clean, but he screwed up our computer once, et cetera, then she mentions the other thing that she wants to get him. Xbox. (Which, at this point, is the XBox 360 - the second iteration of Microsoft's console.)

I almost never go much farther with anybody in this conversation without the following:

1) How old is the child in question?
2) What games do they want to play?

and sometimes a third followup question that's based around the answers to the first two. In this case, the answers were "twelve" and "Modern Warfare 2 and Halo". So, based on that, I asked

3) Would you let your kid watch "Saving Private Ryan"?

but not before I had said "Grossly Inappropriate" at least once. If the answers had been "twelve" and "Forza and Burnout", I might have been more encouraging. Perhaps if her child was older, or she said something about he did a big report on WWII for school and was really into the tactics of the eastern theater, I might have been more encouraging.

So, I discouraged her from Xbox360 , touted Nintendo's kid-friendly lineup, and ran away knowing that I was just going to keep saying "Grossly Inappropriate".

Don't get me wrong - the Xbox360 is a very capable piece of hardware, and there are a lot of family friendly titles for it - but if "Modern Warfare 2" is where you're headed, "Lego Indiana Jones" and "Rock Band 2" are just going to be little bumps on the road on the way to the M-Rated titles.

Don't you play a lot of M-Rated games? Aren't you afraid that your kids will be desensitized to violence?

Yes, I play a lot of M-Rated games. I also play a lot of other games, too. What does #2 son want to watch the most? "Pikmin". #2 son can say "zombies", and he is scared of scary music. When he wants to watch me play something, it's pretty pastoral by comparison to what he's aware of. On top of that - Pikmin is a really great game with lots of depth.

#1 son has been playing "Lego Batman", "Wii Play", and "Billy Hatcher". Sure, sometimes #1 son watches me play violent games, but not for very long. If he thinks that he is scared, he doesn't watch anymore and goes to do something else. We also talk about the scary stuff, and I feel that he has a good handle on what is real and what isn't - especially when we've talked about it. Inexplicably, he takes great delight in watching me play Wii Fit - maybe it's fun to watch someone else struggle foolishly with the pushup/side plank exercise.

So, now that I'm done rambling, and ranting, I can't help thinking that I might have ruined Christmas for some kid even though I tried to play by the guidelines and encourage industry sanctioned age-appropriate games. Alternately, I might have gotten his mother to be more involved in what he's doing.

Yep, ruined.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tips for salesmen

Here's some pointers for people new to sales or purchasing.

1) If you walk into the front door, asking about what used vehicles we might have for sale, and you portray yourself as being in that line of work, maybe you should know things like 'blown head gasket' + 'no compression' = 'not driveable' instead of asking the same question three times. Correspondingly, whatever it is that you sell, try to learn your product, and not get schooled on it by the person you're trying to sell to.

2) If you walk in the front door asking about one thing, and then feeling like you can't get what you want from that, start asking about seven other unrelated things, be prepared to be treated like a) an idiot b) a miscreant or c) both. If you don't like the vehicle we might be able to sell you, and you start asking about pallets and breakers and scrap wire - I might think that you're a junk dealer instead of a vehicle broker. If you pursue the issue further, I might think you're just a criminal casing the place instead of a junk dealer.

3) If you want people to think you're sincere, dress the part. I'm not saying business suits and ties are mandatory, because I wouldn't wish that on other people. A shirt with a collar goes a long way towards sincerety. A business card with real contact information wouldn't hurt, either.

4) Be straightforward. Saying you're in "the export business" in a vague manner may sound impressive to the guys at the bar, but it sounds like "I'm trying to be a tax dodger" to someone with some accounting knowledge.

5) Drive a sensible car to a business call. If you roll up in a luxury SUV with gold trim and fancy wheels it says "I milk everyone for so much money that I can drive an empty land yacht and don't care about gas mileage."

In the interest of disclosure - this is basically me ranting about someone who showed up where I work and proceeded to waste my time. I don't know if he really was a broker, or he was just a hoodlum, but now I don't care and will be letting less of them rob any time from me at all.

If we sell anything used direct to the public, we'll use craigslist like everybody else.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You're a nerd, go to Gamestop.

I was going to dish out a giant rant about Batman: Arkham Asylum and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 each having their own Gamestop preorder exclusives and how I thought it was a horrible trend of having exclusives tied to stores, yadda, yadda.

I'm not going to bother, though for several reasons - for one, both games are quite good on their own, and the exclusives aren't going to make them or break them. The second reason, glaringly obvious, it that it's way too late to complain about this sort of marketing. If Namco didn't get a beatdown from fans two years ago for selling people game levels that may have been already on the retail disk of Beatiful Katamari but not unlockable until paid for, then I can hardly see how complaining would do any good in this case - and the Gamestop exclusive idea isn't nearly as evil as my example. I guess the third reason is that there are a lot of Gamestops out there. Gamestop does bill themselves as "the world's largest video game and entertainment software retailer" so I presume most people that can read this on the internet can either find a Gamestop at their local mall or preorder games from their website. Gamestop is certainly more nerd-friendly in general than my local Walmart. I had it in my mind that Walmart actually sold more video games than Gamestop does, but it hardly matters to Walmart if a game company tries to drag a few people across town to Gamestop, since a lot of those people are still going to Walmart for sundries and food anyway.

From a marketing standpoint, I would assume that game companies would rather have a Gamestop exclusive than a Walmart exclusive for action titles, since the perception is that Gamestop is closer to the true "hardcore gamer" demographic. What's Walmart ever had as a game exclusive? Chibi-Robo Park Patrol for Nintendo DS? (What's that about?)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Troubleshooting Windows... or is it?

I had an interesting time this morning, working on a problem with Remote Web Workplace. For those of you who don't know, Remote Web Workplace is a feature in Windows XP and later where a desktop connected to a internet-connected server can be accessed via a web interface, and then turns into a standard Remote Desktop situation - so a home user could access their work PC, for example. The only way this works is through some fancy pants ActiveX controls, so Internet Explorer is the only reliable way to do it (and yes, I know some people have made ActiveX plugins for FireFox).

The problem becomes a little trickier, when the problem is on an Apple.

As it turns out, Apple has been turning out nice-looking hardware these days, and the nicer part is that the old excuse of "There's no programs for Apple that do X" is greatly diminished. Thanks to programs like Boot Camp and Parallels and the fact that Apple uses Intel processors these days, Windows can be run on a Mac either from a separate partition (Boot Camp) or as a virtual machine (Parallels).

The problem the user was having was that he was unable to do Remote Web Workplace through his Mac through Parallels. His purchase of a Mac and Parallels was somewhat predicated on the idea that he'd be able to do this. We were able to get to the portal on the server, but when it was time to actually log into his desktop, it always told us that the username/password combination was incorrect.

I spent a bit of time on Google seeing if there was a known problem with this, and tried to make sure that neither Windows nor OSX were blocking some port that I needed to make the computers communicate correctly. It didn't take me very long to find out where the Apple firewall was, and I'm glad I didn't need to adjust anything there because I felt like I would have left the machine vulnerable had I done so.

I even tried logging into my own desktop, and failed several times, adjusted some settings, and then I got it to work once. Happy that I had solved the problem, I brought it back to the user only to have it fail for him and then me when I brought it to his office. Maybe the WiFi signal isn't strong enough, I think. I bring the Macbook Pro to where the router is, prop an equipment rack door open, and then try again.

Same problem again.

I painstakingly check my typing, only to discover the oddest thing.

The Shift Key, it fails me. If I were to hold shift and start typing the letter 'a', I get 'aAAAAAA'.

If I pressed shift once, held it and pressed 'a', released both keys and repeated, I only get 'aaaaaaa'.

The only sure way to get a capital letter the first time was to temporarily engage CapsLock. Since Windows obscures the password as it's typed, there was no way to know that the password was wrong other than the error message. This was not a problem with the whole computer - the shift key worked perfectly fine for regular programs, and even the first login. Somehow, during the second login at the remote desktop, there were too many layers of computers there and some info was not passed. Once I discovered the CapsLock workaround, there were no more rejected logins.

This seemed like the computing equivalent of a Turducken. Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Proof that I don't understand Marketing

(As if anyone needed it...)
Today's marketing anomaly is about the "Tie-in". This is where you take product and create an association with some other product, in hopes to generate some excitement about both products.

For example, 7-Eleven is frequently doing special Slurpee flavors or collector cups as a tie-in to various movie releases. (The last Superman movie and the new Transformers come to mind.) They have big window stickers on the storefront that advertise both the products and the movie, and the radio ads for 7-Eleven and the movie include some soundbites about the promotion. Presumably the movie website might have some info about product promotions as well. The idea is that people just going for a Slurpee get some information about the movie if they didn't know about it, and the people that buy Slurpees are people they want to go see the film. Also, people that were already going to see the film get reinforcement of their choice, making them feel better about wanting to see the movie and having a Slurpee. 7-Eleven figures that people going online to the Transformers website might want a collector cup, driving some business to their store. In theory, the tie-in works for both parties, if done correctly.

In thinking that I understood how this works, I am baffled by the current Mountain Dew Game Fuel tie-in to World of Warcraft. The flavors have been out for a while, but the only reason I'm even aware of them is because I went through one particular line in Walmart where there happened to be a poorly lit drink case with some 20 oz. bottles of the beverages in question. Based on spotty data on youtube, the new flavors have been out for two months and I haven't seen a stitch of marketing anywhere. To be fair, I don't play WoW, so maybe that's why - but I don't think that is a good reason.

When the Halo 3 Game Fuel tie-in promotion started, they were stocking 12-packs of it in the game sections of stores (especially Target), along with McFarlane miniatures of a bunch of the characters. Even though I didn't buy Halo 3, there was no way I could have missed the promotion. As I just said, I also don't play World of Warcraft, so this certainly begs the question as to why I'm even talking about this. There is a point to this - I drink Mountain Dew. Surely I shouldbe made aware of new flavors, if the marketing people are doing their jobs? Or perhaps, this is a one-sided promotion where WoW fans get served Mountain Dew ads only, and WoW has no interest in attracting other overcaffeinated persons to their game. Just more proof that I don't really understand marketing - or I'm doing exactly what the marketing people want me to do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't you hate it when... Part II

I finally got some insight into the reason the Guinness World record for most cubes solved in an hour is so low, and why the result seems so inconsequential. To satisfy the conditions for the Guinness record, all the cubes need to be brand new out of the package at the beginning of the event. Frankly, I've gotten some real duds that were nearly impossible to turn right out of the package. He had 5 cubes, and they just rotated them around. So, while I'm still not that impressed, I'm more annoyed with Guinness than anything else. I guess the next time I have a brand new cube, I'll see how long it takes me the first few times. I hope nobody tears a tendon trying to break the record.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sometimes I forget...

that Baseball is a game, too. Even though it took me years to become mediocre at it, I have always appreciated the game on a strategic level. Every once in a while, something comes along that really makes me notice what's going on. I missed watching this on TV, since I was too beat from band practice - but thanks to the internet, I didn't have to miss it. However, since I watched it this morning, all of the videos with adequate picture quality on Youtube were voluntarily taken down. Here's the link from the MLB page, I hope it still works. The picture quality is much better than the Youtube clips I saw anyway.  

This sort of thing only happens only once every few years, if at all. Jacoby Ellsbury stole home base. This sort of offensive play, sneaky as it was, only served to highlight the difference between the current Red Sox and the Yankees. This was not taking advantage of a wild pitch, this was not beating the rundown. This was speed and surprise. But then, no one expects the Spanish Inquistion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tales from the Cube - Birthday Edition

I went out to Moe's for my birthday with the family over last weekend. I enjoyed my giant tofu burrito immensely. I got run over out in the parking lot with a shopping cart. It hurt, but it was fun. Later, we walked over to Best Buy to see what they had in the bargain bin. We almost picked up Slither for $5, but if I'm going to buy it I'd rather have widescreen and all they had was Full Frame (which is probably why it was in the $5 bin.)

I tried to play PS3 Guitar Hero on Hard on some song I didn't know but I couldn't manage to get in sync with the game. For all I know the display guitar's strum bar was all beat to heck, but I don't really know what it was supposed to feel like anyway.

I also played the new Wii Control Pikmin at the Nintendo kiosk, but I didn't like the controls at first. The idea of the Wii Control re-releases is that they take a game that sold well or got lots of critical acclaim on Nintendo's Gamecube, and then freshen it up so that it has native Wii controls. I hope that the freshening up process also includes widescreen support. It's one of those things that might be better if I just started over at the beginning and re-learned it. I still have my Gamecube copy of Pikmin and still play Challenge Mode periodically - so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the game - but I didn't immediately 'get' the new control scheme.

After #1 son and I got tired of picking through the game section, we found Mom and #2 son back in the camera section. Mom was disappointed that more cameras don't list their minimum focusing distance on their specification sheet. The only advice I could offer was to not look for anything that couldn't physically support a decent lens, and that if the megapixels were high enough, you could compensate for lack of zoom somewhat. While we were chatting about that, an employee spotted my Rubik's cube, and asked me about it, and I solved it for him. I assume I took forty seconds or so, which is par for the course for me if I'm talking up a storm while doing it. He was dumbfounded, and dragged me over to the front where the other associates are and the Geek Squad counter is. I handed it to the first employee to re-scramble, and he dragged out one of the other employees, presumably someone he had to show this stupid human trick (Sorry, Mr. Letterman) to. The other employee asked me if I'm a professional cuber, which I both denied that I am and also denied that there are. I suggested to him that there might be a few people that make some of their travel money back, but that nobody does it for a living. I knocked down a slightly faster time, since I didn't talk as much, and they were even more impressed. After I finished, I walked past the nerdy looking girl (Please, no feminist outrage. I had Dana Scully on my work desktop for a while, and I dig the big black glasses look.) at the Geek Squad counter and I asked her "You can solve this, right? Otherwise, they wouldn't let you have the shirt..." She shook her head no. Maybe I should have asked her what devices the first group of IRQ's go to or what the pinout and voltage for USB is.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't you hate it when...

Everybody you run into has to tell you the same news story because they know that you're the person that would be interested in it? Over the last two days I had a half-dozen people tell me that some kid solved 100 Rubik's cubes in a minute, or some variation thereof. I did not happen to see the TV spot on our local CBS or Fox affiliate, since I was probably watching Cash Cab or Time Warp on the Discovery Channel. So, like the good research hound that I am, I try to hunt it down on the internet. No dice. The closest thing that I can find on the internet is that some kid in Washington State solved 64 cubes in less than an hour. The news article even said that he had 19 minutes to spare, and that the previous record was 42 in an hour. That may be the Guinness record, but I don't put much stock in it. Let's walk through the math.

  • Assuming I understand what was in the news article, I think that what it says is that he solved 64 cubes in (60-19=) 41 minutes.
  • 41 minutes is (60*41=) 2460 seconds.
  • 2460 seconds divided by 64 cubes is 38.4375 seconds per cube. I hate to even mention this, but that's slower than my average - we'll give him the benefit of the doubt since I've never tried to cube for an entire hour.
Since this seems insane to me that it's a bona fide record that's worthy of a spot in the books, I went to to look to see if any of the WCA sanctioned (Yes, Virginia, there is a World Cubing Association...) record holders had done anything like this, officially or unofficially. My starting point will be Erik Akkersdijk, since he had the fastest official single time of 2008 of 7.08 seconds. Clearly, no one could get times like that for every single cube, because no competition average is that low yet, so I looked up his average. In a cube competition, that usually means 5 times reduced to three by throwing out the high and the low, and averaging the remaining scores. Erik has an official best average of 11.11 seconds. As a matter of fact, looking at the top 100, everyone has an average under 15 seconds for the format I mentioned. So it seems like to me that any of these guys in the top 100 could seriously sandbag and do better. Since there doesn't seem to be an official category for multi-solving other than blindfolded, I started looking at unofficial times on the speedcubing site. Now while they're clearly labeled unofficial, these are not likely to be bogus times - most of the same people who post these are the same people in the WCA sanctioned events. They're just not at the official events. On the 'Other Cube Records' page, there is both a 'Most Solves in One Hour' category and a 'Cube Marathon ( 42 cubes) category. The above mentioned Erik Akkersdijk has a time listed in the 42 cubes category of - are you sitting down? - 9:57.27. That's less than ten minutes, people. But hey - that's an average of 13.5 seconds per cube, which isn't faster than his official average. Of the times for 42 cubes posted, dating back to 2005, none is over 36 minutes!

Let's get crazy, and look at what's in the most solves in one hour category, shall we? There's a lot of names that no one will know on that list, and Erik wasn't on there to check against. However, all of those people that told me about 'That movie with Will Smith where he...' might eventually find me telling them about Tyson Mao and Toby Mao teaching Will how to solve a Rubik's cube. Wouldn't you know? Toby's name is on the list - with 150 solves in an hour. That's about 24 seconds apeice. Toby's best official average is 14.11 - but that's only for a few cubes. So, I think 24 seconds per cube seems rather plausible. To top it all off, Toby's not anywhere near the top of the list - Milán Baticz is at the top of the list with 245 cubes in an hour. He's no slouch, as he won or at least placed well in events all over Europe since 2005, and he's one of the few cubers to do longer marathons than an hour.

If anybody else has anything to say about 'that kid on TV' to me, I hope they come up with a better story than the one I found, and can tell me what his name is.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Catch-up, and Gaming on a Budget

So, I haven't posted in a month. :( I feel bad about it, but at least it gives me quite a bit to catch up on.

The cover band I was in in High School has gotten back together, and I had spent a lot of time preparing material and acclimating to a new piece of gear - the Zoom B2 bass multi-effects pedal.

I still have other audio work to do unrelated to that band, hopefully I can get that knocked out soon. It mostly involves rescuing audio from cassette tapes - things people recorded for themselves from things they no longer have, some improv humor from their childhood, some stuff from vinyl that ended up on tape, and so on.

I picked up a great $10 PS2 game, which was the Williams Pinball collection. It's worth it for Funhouse and Pinbot alone. I'm looking forward to seeing that on a progressive scan TV soon, I've only played it on my old-school TV so far. It also has Gorgar, Space Shuttle, Black Knight, Whirlwind, and Firepower? I'm not 100% sure of the name of the last one, but I do remember that the game audio for that one sounds suspiciously like Defender. The controls are simple - flippers on L and R, plunger on the right analog, and nudge on the left analog.

Also in the 'gaming on a budget' vein, I obtained an original XBox from a co-worker who had long since abandoned it for a newer, more family-friendly console. The only problem with it that I had discovered is that I occasionally have to open the drive door with a paper clip. Dissasembly of the drive is not as easy as the PS2's drive, so I wasn't able to re-seat the little white pin back into the groove on the underside of the disk tray - which would be all it would need. It's working now, so I won't fuss about it too much. I used a PS2 power cord to power it, and it didn't even come with a controller. I didn't even know if it would boot until a bought a controller. (Pelican, Wal-Mart, $14.97) Once I was able to get it to come up and play an audio CD, I figured it was worth taking the chance on some game purchases. Thinking about what I wanted for XBox that was never made for PS2 was easy. I didn't know if I would want to play any of the Halo games, as I had no intention of hooking this up to the internet. However, the Tecmo games were worth checking out to me. So, I went to Gamestop and dug through the used section.
  • Ninja Gaiden Black, $19.99
  • Dead or Alive 3, $4.99
  • Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball, $3.99
  • SNK vs Capcom - SvC Chaos, $7.99
SvC Chaos came out for PS2 but only in Japan. In the US, XBox was the only way. Ninja Gaiden did come out for PS3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma - but that definitely would break our budget here. I also picked up a Udon Akuma controller for $4.99. So, for around the price of a new game for a new system, I was able to get several decent games and two controllers for an old-school machine. Several weeks later, on a trip to our local Kmart, I found the game section that time forgot. I picked up the Gottlieb pinball collection and Big Strike Bowling for XBox for $2.50 each. The pinball game controls the same as the PS2 one I mentioned above - the only down side is that the included tables were ones I was unfamiliar with except for Black Hole. The bowling game seems a bit lame with Wii bowling as a comparison, but it's still worth the $2.50.
Of the other games, I'm playing Ninja Gaiden the most. Since I'm not an aw3sum l337 gamerz, I'm playing on Ninja Dog difficulty after getting decimated on the first boss battle several times in a row. Now that I'm most of the way through the game, perhaps I would consider replaying it on the regular difficulty. If the boss battles turn out to be too tedious, perhaps one time is enough. The other thing I can't help but notice is the extreme similarity, down to the menu screens, with Capcom's Devil May Cry. The controls are actually better than DMC's, but the basic formula of the game is eerily similar. We'll see if I say the same thing when Bayonetta comes out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Street Fighter 4 - First Impressions

In the interest of disclosure, I am playing Street Fighter 4 on PS3 with the standard controller in default configuration.  You may see some ranting on messageboards across the 'net that you really should play this game with some $80 (or more) fighting stick.  Since I spent the majority of my time learning Street Fighter 2 on the Super Nintendo and currently play Street Fighter games the most on Playstation 2, I would just play worse than I already do if I used some fancy joystick. 

I am not going to include a complete history of Street Fighter here for the uninitiated - Wikipedia does an adequate job in that regard. If you are reading this and don't want to browse the Wikipedia article, suffice it to say that this game revivied arcades upon its release. It is a fighting game where you play best two out of three knockouts against a variety of opponents leading to a bout against the 'boss' of the game. There are several characters to choose from, all with a mostly different set of moves than the other characters. Most of the early matches are against the other playable characters. The characters have a wide variety of punches and kicks involving single button presses, and special moves that involve particular controller motions plus a button press or combination of button presses.

The plan on Sunday was to 1) run errands, 2) have lunch, 3) play SF4 and finish with two, possibly three characters. My friend had picked up SF4 specifically knowing that we would have a chance to get started on it together, and I might be able to do some things that he may not, and vice versa. The thinking was that we would have somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours, and that we should at least be able to complete the game with Ryu and Ken, since we both know those two characters well. We opted to start with Ryu, even though we might have done better with Ken. My unbridled optimism made me think that we might have also finished with Chun-Li in that time, assuming we had finished quickly with the first two and hadn't unlocked Dan. The sad truth was that we only finished with Ryu in that time. It's not because the game was massively more difficult. The moves that we learned and used for years are still there. The crazy parry mechanic that was in Street Fighter 3 is gone, but the new Focus Attack gave the computer an effective way to counterattack some tactics that we probably tend to overdo anyway. Since the focus attack uses up some super meter, it's not like the parry that can be done over and over again - so we didn't feel so cheated when the computer did it to us.

One of the reasons I did badly against Blanka and E. Honda was that the distance on the crouching roundhouse was not the same as what I had gotten used to for most of the other SF games. When I tried to zone them away with slow fireballs, hoping that they would jump over and be hit by my crouching roundhouse, I often missed because I didn't get close enough. Perhaps I need to dash in to get there in time. Rufus was actually our biggest stumbling block collectively, as he changed up his tactics a lot and kept us way off guard. Since he's a new character, we didn't know what to expect or even how to block some of his moves. When he popped up on the VS screen, I thought 'at least he'll be easy to hit...' but I would be grossly mistaken. He was all over us like fat on a marbled steak. Seth, the last character, took us fewer continues, but I don't know if it was because we learned or because he was actually easier than Rufus. As a boss, he seemed more like a boss from one of the other company's fighting games, mostly because he had a moveset that was just good moves borrowed from other characters. All togetether, it took more than twenty continues, and after I left, my friend let me know that he had finished with Ken with less than ten continues. (Seven?) When we finished with Ryu, it unlocked Sakura. When he finished with Ken later, it unlocked nothing.

The graphics are great, even on standard definition TV. The music was inoffensive unless you left the game parked on a menu where you had to listen to a short loop of something over and over. A lot of the stage music was yet another remix of the classic tunes from Street Fighter 2. I was not dissappointed. The control was, even without an expensive fighting stick, exactly what I expected. Honestly, I would really enjoy a Sega Genesis 6-Button controller converted for PS3, or perhaps one of those UDON Street Fighter game pads for PS3. The only thing that I couldn't do reliably was the double fireball motion for the Super and the Ultra combos. Multiple button presses were easy as pie. I hope that the reviewers that wanted the big expensive joysticks weren't compensating for something.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Net. Book.

I guess I never noticed that a company called Psion ever made anything called a netbook in the 90's. The fact that they've issued Dell and others warning letters about that word that they trademarked in the 90's only makes me want to say three things.

1) Although I am familiar with laptops, tablet PC's, PDA's, the term 'netbook' only came into my usage in the last year - probably because of offerings from Asus, HP, and Acer and others trying to fit in the low-cost end of the computing spectrum. The word feels generic, eCost and other sales sites treat the word like it's generic, and everyone else gets that it's an interNET noteBOOK computer. I'm sure part of the reason that I'm unfamiliar with Psion's original netBook is because it was not that popular at the time, and the company is in the UK. As a matter of fact, the last time I touched something that that company made was probably the Chess game for the Timex Sinclair computer back in the mid 80's. Some of you may have phones with the Symbian OS on them, or some software written for that OS - but it would be hard to know that Psion had anything to do with it unless you spend your day picking through the fine print. The other reason you might be unfamiliar with Psion is that's it's been reorganized and spun apart a couple of times.

2) I'm surprised they haven't filed suit against Toyota for introducing the Scion brand of vehicles since it's pronounced the same.

3) Net Book. Netbook. Say it with me.

Netbook netbook netbook netbook notebook laptop desktop internet notebook netbook.

Klaatu barada netbook.
The NBC Nightly Netbook with David Brinkley.
You're watching the netbook channel.
All your netbooks are belong to us.

See? Perfectly generic.

We can't let people trademark stuff so easily. Sure, if it's a completely made up word like Narbacular, whoever made it can control it. Otherwise, Exxon is going to trademark the word 'biofuel' or 'gasohol' or 'corn' and the next thing you know, they'll have the Jolly Green Giant working at a truck stop fueling 18-wheelers because they own him anyway and it's more productive than him standing around in a field all day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mountain Dew and some reviews

I had to run to the store early Tuesday morning for milk. CVS had stuff on sale, I splurged and still made it out the door for under $10 - milk, some cereal with raisins, a 2-Liter of Coke for my wife, and a cold 20oz Mountain Dew Voltage.

Voltage now tastes a bit more like Game Fuel than it used to (although it could be argued that it was the closest to begin with), and the ginseng aftertaste has been toned down from what I remember when I tried this before. Why do I still know what Game Fuel tastes like? Because other MD aficionados have carefully horded some, and I managed to have a can of it just last week.

Also, I just got my son Super Mario Sunshine for GameCube (I assume, perhaps wrongly, that most of you know about Mario?) - I'd never played it, and I didn't even play Super Mario 64 (gasp!) but #1 son had been playing it at a local McDonald's that still had it set up on a kiosk. Julian said that the version we got was slightly different than the kiosk version - the kiosk version resets when you die and starts in a slightly different place, according to #1 son. As I recall, not everyone liked it when it came out, and I don't know why I passed on it at the time. I never got around to playing it, so I skipped from Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island on SNES straight to Super Mario Galaxy. Now that I'm playing Sunshine, I see a lot of things that they re-used for Galaxy. In fact, there are a lot of things in Galaxy that I like better. There are some places in the game where you can just walk around before picking a level to go to where there are almost no ways to lose lives, but plenty of places to practice some of the tricky jumps and hover maneuvers particular to this game. In the hub world in Super Mario Galaxy, about the only thing you can practice is one type of wall jump and (super-late spoiler alert) flying. There aren't too many open areas of ground in the Galaxy hub world so if you get too crazy, you fall off and get reset to the nearest platform. In general, I can only assume that this game was poorly received because it wasn't what fans of Super Mario 64 wanted to play, but I am finding it fun, and my son is enjoying it as well (even though he needs just a little bit of help on this one part... and then this part...).

The other thing that I picked up recently was Arcana Heart for PS2. (I got it as a small self-reward for finishing my taxes.) It's a fighting game full of Japanese schoolgirls with mystical powers associated with supernatural forces called Arcana. Again, I am late getting to this as it has been out for almost a year in America. The only thing that I can say about it is that it doesn't appear to have made any major errors that I can detect on a first playthrough. It's a 2-D fighter like the old Street Fighter games and Guilty Gear. The music is not as engaging as Guilty Gear's metal anthems, but nothing is so bad as to detract from the gameplay experience. Even using a cordless controller, the game is snappy and responsive. I had read other reviews complaining about how floaty it is, but since I get the idea that they are playing on rather large backgrounds and have figured out that you can press a button to dash over to where your opponent is rather quickly, it only feels floaty if you try to do jump-in attacks like it was Street Fighter. The controls are a little simpler with only three attack strengths and a special button, which is a big help in an unfamiliar game. Each character has some of their own special moves, and they get other special moves based on which Arcana they use so it is possible that the game could feel like there are 121 different characters. However, the game's storyline implies that certain characters are normally tied to particular Arcana. I guess I'll find out later if it's possible to play against the computer using a non-standard pairing of character and Arcana. This is likely to be the one of the last fighting games on the PS2 unless they decide to put out Arcana Heart 2 or another Guilty Gear on PS2, and it's a somewhat disappointing end to the PS2 in that regard. If you're a fighting game fan that has to play them all, it will be amusing for a time. If you're an anime fan that's all geeked out about the schoolgirl part, you might enjoy this game more than the fighting game aficionados.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A sample week of cubing in public

I really enjoy cubing in public. I don't just enjoy it for the occasional bonus, like a free hour of diagnostic time at the mechanic's shop, or the rare employee discount or free meal. Those are fun when I get them, but it's not really the reason. The reason I really like it is when I can give someone that moment where the light goes on in their head, and they get a glimpse of real understanding. That is not the universal reaction, however. A lot of the time it's just amazement or disbelief.

Let's compare a few scenarios. Last weekend at the fair I went to all of the usual vendors, and a few new ones. #1 son always likes to find one particular Ty (Beanie Baby) vendor at the fair because she's always got some that he didn't find elsewhere and he has a serious jones for stuffed animals. (They're so cute!) We have come by her booth at least the last four or five years. She remebers who we are because of the cube, even though she does dozens of fairs and shows a year. This year, she shows me off to the guys selling baseball memorabilia across from her. It's the standard bit where I hand them the solved cube, encourge them to mix it up, and I knock it down in about 40 seconds or so. They shake their heads in disbeleif and go back to their business. Later, I go look for one of the other booths by myself, and run across a local solar power vendor. I am interested and look over the booth, and I get the usual question.

"Have you ever gotten that thing?"

The guy in the next booth over starts watching and comments that he had solved the cube a couple of times, but didn't really know what he was doing. I explain a few more in-depth things that I don't normally bother with, like explaining the difference between an edge piece and a corner piece. These are guys that probably could solve it if they really wanted to, and perhaps I managed to turn some lights on in their heads. I tried to relate the edge and corner pieces of the cube to the perimeter pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Now the difference is that in a jigsaw puzzle, you can move all of the pieces independently, but at least they got the idea.

Thursday night out at a fundraiser, for the elementary school that #1 son goes to, I had the cube with me and managed to catch the eye of a couple of kids two tables over. Their older sister was unimpressed - as it turns out she could actually solve the cube, given a few minutes. I came over and sat at the end of the table for a few minutes and gave them a more though demonstration. I showed them the usual corners-first method that I do, and showed them what two-in-ones are (where you turn two adjacent faces in succession with a single hand motion). It felt like I was doing table magic, but without the intense pressure that comes with working closeup. I had nothing to conceal, and it was amazing all on its own. The youngest was a little older than #1 son, and #1 son came over to talk after a while, as the topic had turned away from the cube and over to school. After a little more chatting, and #2 son barrelling into the conversation, it turned out that the youngest kid had seen my wife and the kids walking to school a lot. So, we ended up turning the light on in a different way, by networking.

This past weekend at McDonalds, I sat between two groups of teenagers and #2 son took great delight in playing peekaboo with one of them. I'm not sure if #2 son was that hungry, though. After I finished eating, I went back to cubing, and got noticed. Oddly enough, the two guys behind us were semi-hanging out with a group of girls over on the other side. Once I had the guy's attention, they called the girls over. As usual, I hand off the solved cube to one of the girls to have them scramble it, so they don't think I've rigged it somehow. What is the greatest danger to solving a cube in McDonalds? French fry grease is. I still managed to solve it fast enough to be somewhat impressive, but I'm sure I could have done better. I lost control of the cube twice, but managed to reverse my mistakes quickly. Stage fright? Grease? All of the above? Maybe I'll have to film it sometime. Until then, I won't really know. Big thanks to Alex and Emily and their friends for indulging my crazy cubing skills.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Do I really have to say this again?

I'm serious.
Really, really serious.
I can't stress this enough.
I've seen this several times.
It disappoints me every single time.
Pay attention, you will save eighty bucks.

If you own a laser printer, do not plug it into a battery backup.

If you have a battery backup where some of the outlets are labeled "Surge Only", then that's OK.
Just make sure you don't plug it in the battery side. It will cause premature battery failure, and no one wants that.

(Getting off of my soapbox now...)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wii Fit: Incredibly Late First Impressions

Since the employees at our local Best Buy seem to enjoy my Rubik's cube prowess, I was finally given the tipoff that there would be more Wii Fit today.  The store opened at 11, I left the house at 9:15 with the two kids and a stop at Home Depot that I needed to make.  One sheet of MDF that barely fit in the car later, I ended up at Best Buy around 10:10.  Several people were already in line, luckily some of them just wanted Wii's and not Wii Fit.  I got a ticket for one of the guaranteed 12 Wii Fits available.  Yay!  I burned the rest of the hour doing Rubik's cube for a few people ahead of me in line.  

The board itself seems rather sturdy, the battery compartment door was easy to remove and snapped in firmly.  The 'sync' button is inside the compartment, just like the Wiimotes.  #1 son and I were set up in minutes, and we both stunk at the very first test trying to figure out what we were doing.  It involved checking your balance, posture, and body control by having you hold off-balance positions for three seconds each.  

Since the machine has your age and BMI before you do this test, we presumed that those things figure heavily in getting your initial "Fitness Age".  I am a normal BMI, but only got through four of the five initial body control tests.  The machine gave me a Wii Fit age of 42.  (I'm not 40 yet.)  By comparison, when my wife tried it later, her BMI was several points higher but she aced the body control tests with time to spare and was given an initial "Fitness Age" of 35.  

We liked the wide variety of things to do on the game disk.  The games aren't suffering from all being too much alike, and the Yoga, Strength Training, and Aerobic sections are easy to work into.  Sure, there was one or two that I may not be ready for, but if I get better at the other ones, I'll be ready soon enough.  The real question, will I be able to stick with it?  Will I want to jog around my living room with a Wiimote in my pocket or do pushups on the balance board more often?  Check back in two weeks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Adventures in Tech Support

File this one under "I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it myself."
I'm sure that many of you just expect your computer to work right and don't spend any time under the hood messing around with the parts. I'm guessing that more than half of you are using a computer that's a year or two old and has Windows XP on it. If any of you running Windows XP have less than 512MB of RAM, I would suggest you fix that if you can. 256MB is technically enough, but most days it doesn't cut it. With that in mind, here's my crazy tech support story.

I took apart a machine at the end of the business day yesterday to put some RAM in it. Our estimator at the office has been running an old AMD Athlon machine with only 256MB of RAM. He never turns it off because it's running his Blackberry redirector all the time, and uses a couple of fairly hefty programs on a regular basis including AutoCAD. He says that he has run two simultaneous sessions of AutoCAD before, even with other things running. On the down side, he's got a small hard drive that's almost completely full, and the machine took approximately fifteen minutes from hitting the power button to being able to work at the desktop. I even tried to get him to upgrade his machine last year and had the new workstation in the building, and he refused it because he didn't want to have to reinstall all of his extra stuff and sort through his files. I was able to use the workstation for one of the other users that really needed an upgrade, so no harm done overall. I subsequently decided that more RAM was the best solution for now, and I got him 2 Gigs which is plenty for Windows XP in hopes that his machine will now last until Windows 7 comes out. We shut down the machine, cracked open the case, and took the old RAM out. What I saw, especially considering that the machine was still running moments previously defies description, so here's a picture.

I was too scared to use the RAM socket that it came out of - luckily there were two other free slots to put the two 1G chips in. Like I said, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Short sparse games mean a lot.

I started Valve Software's "Portal" for PC Saturday a week ago, and finished the main game Tuesday night. I haven't done any of the crazy challenges yet, and I haven't gotten through all of the developer commentary. Even without the extras, it was amazing. Sure, it won all sorts of awards last year and the year before, so that's not much of a surprise. Just in case you haven't played it, I'll try not to spoil anything important.

The only other game that I can compare Portal to is ICO for Playstation 2. Both games are short, sparse, and short on communication. ICO opts for having a few cutscenes of unintelligible dialogue, where Portal has no cutscenes, all story pieces delivered in the game, and a chatty computer with a lot of memorable monologue. In ICO, you have a stick and a helpless princess to drag around after you. In Portal, you have a Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device and a Weighted Storage Cube. As it turns out, you can do more damage with the portal gun, but it's not as satisfying as beating something with a stick (at least not at first). In both cases the game is short by modern standards - ICO took me around eight in-game hours to finish, not counting dozens of deaths and half a dozen sandwiches over two weekends. Portal has but 19 levels - and makes no secret of it. An expert could blow through the entire game in less than an hour without breaking a sweat.

By comparison, Resident Evil 4 is 20-30 hours plus cutscenes under normal conditions. A driving game like Burnout or Gran Turismo's Arcade mode is likely to be a lot longer - to say nothing of GT's Simulation mode with its insanely long endurance races.

Neither game clutters the screen with a health bar or a score. Portal's only got a crosshair on the screen that tells you which portal you fired last. I really applaud both ICO's developers and Portal's developers for conveying so much in such a short game without too many heavy-handed approaches that take you out of the game. They are two games that made me feel something by the time the credits rolled - and not just the feeling that I'd been sitting in my chair too long.

Sure, I get all emotional about Zelda:Twilight Princess during the closing movie, but there's been at least a couple dozen cutscenes to propel the story by then. It would have been more challenging from a design standpoint to have conveyed all of that information in-game.

In other news - I suspect my 1up blog is not long for this world as UGO's acquisition of 1up gutted many of 1up's news people and killed Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. I'm liable to just bail and stick to this space as my main soapbox. In really other news, I got dragged into the future via Facebook. (Thanks, y'all.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Gaming Wrapup

My oldest son did well for the holiday, scoring two out of the three LEGO "Fill in the Movie Franchise" games for Wii, and I got both of the zombie light gun shooters for Wii. LEGO Star Wars is nice - they did well in getting the two other games in one disc, improving a lot of the textures and rendering over the PS2 versions (who says the Wii's not next-gen?) and adding some levels that got left out before. LEGO Indiana Jones is pretty good from what I've played, and has all of the visual improvements of LEGO Star Wars and then some, but the AI isn't as good at doing what it needs to when you're playing by yourself. It really should be played co-op.

Now, on to the zombies. House of the Dead 2&3 Return is solid zombie shooting fun, and I find that 3 is a bit better than 2 so far but maybe it's because I'm not so good with 2's pistol and I fare better with 3's wider shotgun shooting. To be fair, these are dated arcade games, so the visuals are not on a par with what the system is really capable of, but it's quite faithful to the original. I wonder why they passed on including House of the Dead 1 - it might help keep the convoluted storyline together better. On the other hand, if you're going to cut one, it makes sense to cut the worst looking one. Resident Evil:Umbrella Chronicles is much more difficult than HOTD, and the visuals are almost as good as the Resident Evil 4 visuals. I do like the fact that they're using RE:UC to fill in parts of the plot leading you to next year's release of Resident Evil 5. (Good luck convincing this Wii owner to buy one of the other consoles yet, though.)

We had two late entries on the gaming front - one was Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, which was a lot of fun both for us and the purchaser thereof, even though we spent an inordinate amount of time with the hammer throw and the javelin. I'm sure it will be a source of plenty of future screaming at the television. The other late entry was ZOMG PORTAL IS TEH AWESOMEZ BYE GG PLAY PORTAL NOW.