The Nintendo Wii

A while back I stood in line to pre-order a Nintendo Wii, which is the newest gaming console from Nintendo. While Sony and Microsoft are duking it out in the powerhouse graphics department, Nintendo has taken a different approach. Rather than focusing on having the most realistic visual experience, Nintendo is going after the most realistic physical experience. The innovation in this product is the controller. While it looks like a modified television remote, the Nintendo Wii controller, or Wii-mote, is actually a game pad that is able to sense it's orientation and movement. The system comes with a game, Wii Sports, that shows off what this unique joystick can provide. When playing golf, you swing the controller like a golf club. No more meters where you have to time a button press. Playing tennis? Just swing it like a racket. Bowling? Hold it like a bowling ball and send it down the lane. It even picks up the spin you put on the ball. 
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Rather than go on and on about the technology, I thought I'd give my impressions of the console. The Wii is an awesome console for the casual gamer. My wife doesn't hate video games, but she doesn't really enjoy them either. She played Super Mario Brothers and Tetris back in the NES era, but hasn't been interested since. Newer game systems simply require too much investment to master. The button combinations and complexity of the games can be pretty intimidating alone, and when she is matched up against someone like me who has spent hours mastering the game, well, it isn't much fun. The Wii is totally different. The face of the controller has a large, clear A button, a direction pad, a home, plus, minus, one, and two button. Underneath there is a trigger 'B' button. Yeah, that's a lot of buttons, but when held like a remote the 'A' and 'B' buttons naturally rest under the thumb and trigger finger, and those are the only two buttons used, if at all, in most games. I had spent the night of release playing with the Wii until 4am, and when Jenn woke me up the next morning she had a big smile on her face and said "The Wii is a LOT of fun!" I couldn't believe it! I was so excited that jumped out of bed to go downstairs and start having some gaming goodness with the family. Even Corbin was able to throw a bowling ball down the alley. And Jenn is good at the sports games too. She consistently trounces me in each one we play. And I'm no slouch either.

I've been reading about this console for some time, and was really excited to get it on launch day. What I've found, though, is that very few people even knew Nintendo had a new console on the market. Our good friends and neighbors are gamers, and they had heard very little about the Wii. One evening they dropped by for dinner and we played for a bit. It's amazing how this new controller allows people to immediately pick up and start playing. Right away our friends were bowling and playing tennis. On Sunday I brought the system to my brother's house for a family dinner. Our parents were even excited to pickup the controller and play. My father surprised everyone by saying that he might have to get one.

Nintendo has definitely done a good job of achieving their goal, which is to get non-traditional gamers interested in a video game system. The Wii is a very fun toy to break out during family get together or small party. It's easy for new players to get into the game and immediately play. Another nice touch are the Mii's. A Mii is your cartoony avatar that you will play as in the sports title. There are a variety of styles you can apply to everything from hair style to eye shape. I went for the look-alike Mii, while my brother and father went for the goofy looking Mii. It was just a little bit of extra flavor that was nice.

It remains to be seen whether this new take on gaming has staying power. I was really concerned when Nintendo released the DS, a portable gaming system with two screens and a touch pad. I thought it was too gimicky, and their wouldn't be much staying power. I was sooooo wrong, and now I have a DS and have played many innovative games that could only be played on such a system. I'm hoping that the Wii has the same story, with game producers developing innovative titles that take advantage of this new control scheme.

In summary, I highly recommend the Nintendo Wii to anyone and everyone. Go have some fun!


I live a sedentary lifestyle. I spend nine hours a day with my butt in a chair at work. In the rare instance that I move during the day it is either to get to or from a meeting (where I'll be sitting down) or to serve some biological function. I sit in my car on the way to and from work. When I get home, I sit at the dinner table. I get maybe an hour of playtime with Corbin before it's time for his bath. Then, once the kids are in bed, I either sit on the couch and watch television with Jenn, or I sit at my desk and play Warcraft. After all that sitting, it's time to rest and lay down for a night's sleep.

I'm tired of living that way. I used to be fit. In high school I knew that when classes let out at 3pm, I would be heading to the football field / track to get two to three hours of good exercise. I don't think I appreciated it as much then, but I'd love to get out of work each day at 3pm and have the freedom to go get some exercise and keep my body fit. After we moved into our house, I got into running again. I kept at it pretty well, and even ran in a couple of 5K runs and one 10K. My weight was back down to a reasonable level too. I really fell off the horse though. I stopped running, and started sitting more. Sure, I play volleyball every Tuesday, but one night a week just isn't enough exercise. I've tried keeping my diet under control, but it's just too easy to over eat. There are constantly lunches, celebrations, nights of ordering out, not to mention the 3pm Friday snacks at work. I kept having the intention of getting out and running again, but I just never did it.

Fortunately, I have an awesome wife. Jenn had been talking about joining our local YMCA for quite some time, and I found out that I could get a pretty good discount through work. We got a family membership, and Jenn started going in to swim from time to time. It was great because they have a child care center that can watch Sam and Corbin during the day for a bit while she goes for a swim. She was telling me about it, and it inspired me to start exercising more. I spoke with a couple of people at work, and found that some folks were going in during their lunch break to get some exercise. What a great idea! I allow myself one day a week to eat out with my coworkers, but otherwise I spend my lunches in my office chair. Why not go run?

So for the past two weeks I've been going into the Y to get some exercise. Last week I went on Monday and Friday, with Tuesday volleyball being my third exercise outing for the week. This week we cancelled volleyball due to Halloween, so I went in on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The place is fairly empty during lunch, and I've had my pick of the treadmills. I typically get 20 minutes of good running in with a 5 minute cooldown. The past two times I've managed to get 2 miles in, which I thought was a pretty good goal for my second week of running.

This is just the thing I needed. I feel less stressed, less tense, and just...well.... better. I can tell a big difference between my first run and the one I just finished today. A week ago Monday I couldn't catch my breath after my run, and I was still trying to cooldown a full hour after getting back to work. Today I was cooled down by the time I got to my car, and I felt like I was doing the run rather than getting run over. I hope I have the discipline to keep this up. Right now I weigh 230 pounds. Medically speaking I think my ideal weight is 185, but I'd be happy if, over the course of the next 6 to 12 months, I could get myself down to a steady 200 pounds. I'm not going to post daily weigh ins like I did when I first started this blog, but from time to time I'll note my progress. Wish me luck!

Return of the Kid

Sometimes, I think I've never really grown up. Sure, there are plenty of times that I feel like an adult, like
when I'm in meetings or enjoying time with my family. But there are other times that I feel like I never got past
age 10. Today was one of those days. Nintendo has a new console coming out called the Wii which has a revolutionary
new controller. Rather than load up the controller with more buttons than you have finger, the controller looks
like a television remote with a couple of buttons on the face and a trigger on the bottom. The innovation in the
controller is that the game console knows where the controller is in the room, and it knows how the controller is
oriented. So if you run from the right side of the room to the left, the console knows. If you tilt the controller
up or down, or right to left, the console knows. It presents a new and exciting way to interact with games. For
instance, in a baseball game you can swing the remote like a bat, or "throw" (don't let go) the remote like the ball.
For golfing you could simply take a swing, or swing your arm for bowling. In fact, these are games that come with
the console.

I'm really excited about this new system. I'm excited about enjoying games in a new way. I mean, I love video
games already, but something that allows me an entirely new way to enjoy my hobby really piques my interest. Not only
that, but Nintendo has come to the press with the message that the Wii isn't meant for the "hardcore" gaming set.
No, instead they are looking to introduce video gaming to the masses. They are interested in the casual gamers:
the folks that play a couple of games of solitaire or mine sweeper each day, the folks that enjoy crosswords and
word searches. Certainly there will be blockbuster games for this system like any other, but you are also going
to find an entirely new set of games that are aimed at folks you wouldn't typically consider gamers. If this works,
there is a chance that I might be able to truly enjoy playing video games with Jennifer!! This is so exciting.
Jenn really doesn't care for video games. Firstly, she is totally correct in her position that most video games are
just too complicated. One of my favorite games is the SSX series of snowboarding games. These games require such
a strange contortion of the hands to master that it can be vexxing for a new player to pickup and try to do well.
Not only are the controls hard to understand, but most games are aimed at the gamer who has hours and hours to
invest in exploring and playing. Someone who only wants to play for 30 minutes or less isn't going to be interested
in the kind of time investment. Games for the Nintendo Wii are going to break that mold. These games will allow
for casual gamers to pick them up, enjoy them for a short period of time, and put them back down again. No
long-term committment necessary.

So the reason I'm going on and on about this is that today EB Games / Gamestop offered pre-orders for the Wii
system. The Wii is scheduled to release on Nov. 19th, and today is the first day that you can pre-order a system
in the U.S. Yesterday I saw an article in one of my favorite gaming news blogs that mentioned the pre-order, and
it was quite clear that pre-orders would be in limited supply. Games stores were seriously burned when they took
more pre-orders for the XBox 360 than they could supply before Christmas '05, so they cut way back on the number
of pre-orders they would take for the new PS3 and Wii systems. On Wednesday customers were able to pre-order
the PS3, and folks were camping out all night just to get a pre-order slot. In many cases, only a couple of units
were available for pre-order. I made up my mind that I would drive by my local EB Games on my way to work to see
if there was a line to pre-order the Wii. I really want one, and I don't want to wait until next year to play one.
Yeah, I'm a spoiled, greedy kid that way.

I drove through the parking lot of the EB at 8:15am, and saw that several people were already in line. Yesterday
I called ahead and was told that they would have much fewer than 30 units for pre-order. I also cleared it with
my boss that I might be in late for standing in line. He kind of chuckled, but said it would be okay. So I hopped
out of the car, donned by jacket and gloves, and got in line. I was #11 at the time. The folks in the first few
slots looked worn and ragged from too much time out in the cold. The store opened at 10am, so I figured I'd be out
here for at most a couple hours. I learned later that the first folks in line had arrived at 5am, and were looking
to take their pre-ordered system and sell it on eBay at a significant markup.

The people around me were in pretty
much the same state in life: 20 and 30 somethings with technical careers and a penchant for gaming. Some folks
were reading books, others were playing games on their cell phones. It looked like three people were engaged in a
heated multiplayer game on their Nintendo DS. About every ten minutes a couple more folks would assemble. These
folks were high schoolers on Fall Break who had driven from Anderson. Apparently the Anderson store wasn't committing
to doing their pre-order sale today, so they drove down here to a store that definitely was. Next was a customer
I mentally named "Loud Guy". He was a clerk at the Blockbuster next door, and had this overpowering loud voice and
laugh. Apparently this guy missed his dose of brains, because he started some of the most moronic conversations I had
heard, at one point getting into a debate over whether monkeys had thumbs or not. At the conclusion of the debate,
he was quite sure that he would be willing to trade his own thumbs for a pet monkey. This started a conversation about
what other folks might trade their thumbs for.... which revolved around all of the things that teenage guys would
consider worth their thumbs. I was a little surprised to hear one say he would like to be involved in a bank heist.

As nine o'clock rolled around, about 20 people were in line. At the tail of the line were a couple of moms who
were looking to get a system for their kids. The store manager had arrived and was going through the opening
checklist, which got everyone excited for a while. The guy from Anderson had a buddy with him. His buddy wasn't
getting a system, but was there to drive since his friend couldn't. He was gracious enough to purchase some of the
folks in line coffee. I had already talked with Jenn, and she was going to drop by with some hot mocha and a camera
to capture the hilarity of it all. Apparently I wasn't the only one with a caring significant other, as around 9:30
some other ladies joined the line with coffee and breakfast. One brought some Egg McMuffins.... man they smelled

The EB Games store is in a strip mall along with a QDoba, a nail and hair salon, a "I sold it on eBay" store,
and a Hallmark shop. We got quite the looks from folks coming in to either open their stores or go shopping. They
must have thought there was a nerd mob forming for some bizarre ritual. In truth, I guess we were.

At 20 minutes to ten, the store manager came out and handed everyone in line a sheet of paper. The sheet had the
list of games that were available for pre-order, their release date, and price. It also had a number, which was
your number in line. He had 18 sheets of paper, and this is when the folks after #18 learned their unfortunate
fate. I think about 5 people had to leave. The manager went back inside to open the store while the crowd let
the excitement build. Some optimistic folks were just arriving to get in line, and it took a bit of courage for
the folks at the end to give them the bad news.

At precisely ten the doors opened and everyone filed inside. As the first folks were going through their paperwork
I noticed a DS download poster, and downloaded the demo of the new Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis. It's a
Lemmings type game, and filled the time to place my order. I put in an order for the Wii console, two extra remotes,
and the new Zelda game. I left at 10:30am and headed back to work. Now I get to wait like a little boy for the
next month to pass so I can play with my new toy!!!

The Silver Lining

The upside of being without my satellite radio is that, now I can wistfully peruse new music gadgets. Apple just
release a new set of iPods, and XM makes some interesting equipment for their satellite radio service. If you are
looking at getting a portable music device, here is how I see the cost comparisons:

Music ServiceEquipmentMonthly Subscription Cost
XM Radio$200$12.95

As you can see, it's going to be about the same cost either way you go. My equipment cost was based on a
docking receiver with a home and car kit. Both companies offer very similar equipment. Sure, cheaper equipment
is available, but for what I'm looking for, I would expect to pay no less than $200.

Now that covers a satellite radio subscription, but what about the MP3 player route. Our local Fry's currently
has a deal on the old model iPod Nano 4GB model for $150. That's enough to store 1,000 songs, which is probably
the limit of my current CD collection. Apple isn't the only company to make MP3 players either. Creative, Rio,
HP, RCA.... they all have competitive products, and usually at lower prices. Of course, the equipment is only half
the battle here. You would then need to purchase your own music (ostensibly through the iTuned music store, or
some other music server... you don't pirate your music do you?). The one thing I really like about my satellite
radio service is that I didn't have to think about the playlist. There were a couple of streams that played music
styles that I new I liked, and about every other week they updated their set with the latest in that genre. I heard
some music that I loved that I probably wouldn't know about if I had to find it on my own. So let's try to make it
a true apples to apples (no pun intended) comparison of satellite radio to a MP3 player. Let's say you choose the
new 4GB iPod Nano, or some comparable MP3 player. That's $200 for your equipment. Now let's load it with music.
To do that, let's say that each month you purchase 10-15 songs to freshen up your playlist. At 99 cents a song,
that's $10-15 per month. That's really close to a $12.95 / month average.

What you can't put a price tag on is
putting together the playlist for yourself. Some would view the chance to decide which songs to play and when as
a major advantage of an MP3 player. Others see it as a drawback, and like the ID of a professional DJ introducing
them to new music in the genres they already like. I think I belong in the latter. I'm not into the music scene
enough to know what's new, nor do I really care which order my songs are in, just so long as it is in the style
I like. For me, I think the satellite radio route is probably the better fit.

The Day the Music Died

Oh I'm in pain. My poor Sirius Satellite Radio finally bit the dust. It lived a good life. For the past three
years it has been my constant buddy. My Audiovox SIRPNP2 plug & play unit travelled with me from my car to my desk
at work and back again, dutifully providing me with tunes to help the day / drive go by. Unfortunately, three years
of constant (and I mean CONSTANT) use finally caught up with it. I got in my car the other morning to come to
work, and as is my habit, snapped the radio into my car dock. It glowed the friendly orange Sirius Dog icon back at
me as I backed out of the driveway and hit the road. When I got to the main street, I felt that it was strangely
quiet in my car. I glanced at the radio and noticed it was still on that same screen. Usually, the dog icon is up
for a second as the radio boot, and a moment later the music kicks in along with the display of the title, artist,
and stream information. This time it just stayed on the icon. Hmmmm.... I powered down the unit and powered again.
Same thing. I hit the menu button and found it displayed the settings menu, but nothing seemed to be wrong there.
That's when I hit the Sirius ID menu which displays the unit's unique ID (and acts as my account). Rather than
displaying my ESN, it was blank! My device had amnesia of the worst kind. Without the ID, it couldn't decode
the music stream, which meant my little beat box was done.

The warranty had long since expired, so when I got to work I decided to pry it open and see if I could get
some more life out of it. Maybe a cable was loose, or a solder joint had broken. I couldn't find anything wrong
though, so I pieced it back together and docked it. Woohoo, after power on it started playing again. I must have
bumped something back into the right position. That afternoon I brought some lunch home to the family. Unfortunately,
the radio didn't survive the trip from my desk to the car this time. Upon docking it in my car, the same behavior
as I had seen that morning. Still, I held out hope. Perhaps it was just an issue with the dock. When I got back to
work I was disappointed that even in the home docking kit, the unit was still taking a dirt nap. I tried the
open heart surgery approach again, but it failed this time. :-(

I took a look at the current Sirius equipment available that can go from car to home. Unfortunately, none of the
newer equipment can use my same docking stations. That means that if I want to replace my radio, I have to replace
the two docks as well. Usually a radio will come with a car kit, but the home kit is extra. If I wanted to replace
my unit with the modern equivalent, it would be $150 for the car kit and radio, plus another $50 for the home kit.
That's $200 we don't have right now. We just got hit with a shocker from our medical insurance (we've exhausted our
wellness benefit for the year, which is what covers our innoculations for Samantha) and we want to have a nice
Christmas, so we're pinching pennies as is. Not that we're hurting, we're just trying to keep expenses to a minimum,
and this is a fairly big unplanned expense. There's a new Sirius radio out called the Stilletto 100 which acts as
both an MP3 player and a Sirius Tuner. It's being called wearable, as it's about the size of an iPod with the
antenna built right in. That would be an awesome upgrade, but the cost is frightening: $350. Maybe it will go
on my Christmas list.

So I was left with a tough decision. Eat the expense to replace my radio, or cancel my account. I decided to
cancel my account. It wasn't an easy decision either, as I LOVE my Sirius radio. I called the customer service line
and let them know what was going on. They offered to give me a different radio for free. There is a "Sirius ONE"
radio which is a car only unit. It's pretty vanilla, offering a single line of text, and it is meant for the car
only. If I get a new radio, I want one that goes from the car to my desk. Even if the new one is free (which is
a really great offer) it didn't really pique my interest. The free tuner offer still stands for the next 30 days,
so I might change my mind, but as of today I am no longer a Sirius subscriber.

Video Games Live

Last night I got to take advantage of my father's day gift. Back on Father's day, Jenn and the kids got me tickets to see Video Games Live as it came to Indianapolis during GenCon. Video Games Live is a concert where the symphony orchestra and symphony choir perform music from video games. Prior to the show, Jenn and I headed to Rock Bottom for some dinner. The main seating area was full with a 30 minute wait, but the basement was first come first serve and we easily found seats. We sampled the beer (we both really liked the raccoon red) and had a dinner. My fish and chips was especially interesting because they used salmon rather than white fish. It was really good! Jenn had the ale basted chicken, which she said was really good as well. Over dinner I spent some time explaining to Jenn what the difference was between a pen & paper role playing game (like Dungeons and Dragons) and video game role playing games (like Final Fantasy). As we were speaking, folks attending the GenCon show rolled in and she got a first hand look at some hardcore Role-Players.

We got to the show with a few minutes to spare and quickly found our seats. Jenn thought it was funny that at this show there was a line for the men's room, and the lady's room was practically deserted. In addition to the orchestra and choir, the show also had a big screen display where they showed cut-scenes and in game footage of the games they were playing music from. The stage lighting was also synchronized to the music. The opening section was a montage of several different video games from past to present. Following this, the producer of the show would come out and introduce each section of music and what game it was from. You might be surprised to learn that I hadn't played all of the games, but the music was great. I really enjoyed the show. There were some lesser known pieces, like from Beyond Good and Evil and Advent Rising, as well as the more popular games like Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, and Sonic the Hedgehog. During the second act, a guy who had claimed fame by playing video game music blindfolded on the piano came to the stage and amazed everyone with his ability. I wish I could remember his name, but it was amazing to see his fingers fly across the keyboard, pounding out one video game tune after the other. I've always really liked the music from the Final Fantasy series of games, and to hear him play it on the piano was just astonishing. I loved it!!!

There was a 20 minute intermission between acts, and this provided nearly as much entertainment as the show in the form of people watching. I had read about folks who get into cos-play (dressing in the costume of your favorite characters) but hadn't seen it in person. I think Jenn was a little freaked out at first, but I thought it was cool to see folks decked out in Pokemon, Castlevania, and Advance Wars attire. Some of the outfits I couldn't identify, and some were revealing to say the least, but it was a blast to see. There was a guitar hero 2 competition, and a space invaders competition going on as well.

Speaking of space invaders, there were interactive sections of the show as well. During the first act, the producer invited one of the concert goers on stage (named Bob, of course). He was given a t-shirt that had the "blaster" from space invaders on the back, and they put the game on the big screen above the stage. As Bob moved left and right across the stage, so did the blaster on the screen. He had a button he could press to shoot, and he was given 5 lives and 2 minutes to try to clear the level. He did pretty well, considering that he didn't appear to be the most spry individual, and he managed to not fall of the stage as well. It had the crowd cheering and laughing all at once, which was great. During the second act, there was a frogger competition. During this competition, two volunteers used a standard frogger controller to try to get the highest score. I remember frogger, but I didn't realize this game was 25 years old now. The girl who was playing was only 17, and had never played it before. Still, she won the competition (and a new laptop) beating out an older gamer. I'm thinking the old timer might have just thrown the match to give the girl the laptop.

The show was awesome, and I love every minute of it. Even though Jenn isn't a gamer, she still appreciated the music. At times, I forgot we were listening to music live, as it sounded just like what I hear when I'm playing. I hope the concert comes back again next year, and if it does, I'll be asking for it again at Father's day. Thanks, family (including you mom for watching the kids), for an unforgettable night out!

Same Sex Marriage

Here is another case of our administration totally blowing my mind. When did we decide it was okay to start
discriminating people again based on their lifestyle choices. The president has put forth a bill to congress that
would create a new Amendment to the Constitution (think Bill of Rights here) that would make it impossible for
same sex couples to be legally wed.

This is my opinion on my marriage. Marriage is a religious affair. It is the joining of two souls in the
eyes of God to become one person. In my opinion, the government has no place regulating marriage at all, as I feel
it is a religious issue, not a government issue. The reason our government is involved is that we recognize
married couples for the purpose of special taxation, power of attorney, and ownership of properties.

I don't understand homosexuality. I don't have any gay friends, and I'll readily admit that I'm a bit uncomfortable
around the topic. I do, however, understand the concept of love, and it is my opinion that any two people that share
a love should, so long as our government recognizes married couples, have the same rights as anyone else. To
publicly discriminate against any peoples is wrong in my mind. I am aware that the majority of Americans do not
share this opinion (polls show just over 50% of americans support the idea of banning same-sex marriage). It just
seems so wrong to me that in the middle of a document detailing how fairly and equally all people in the US should
be treated, we would stick this black eye detailing how one group of people should NOT be treated equally.

Illegal Immigrants

The media magnifying glass has been on the subject of illegal aliens recently. We've seen hundreds of thousands of
people leave their jobs for a day to petition the US government to provide amnesty to those who have entered the
country illegally but contribute to American society. The argument is that these folks want to be Americans,
contribute to the American way of life, take jobs that are either unwanted or underpaid, and are of indespensable
utility to the US. For this reason, illegal immigrants should not be prosecuted, and should instead be made full
citizens and given the right to vote.

This just doesn't sit right with me. It's not that I have something against people wanting to become American
citizens. I think that's fantastic. It shows just what a great country we have the people are falling over
themselves to break in and become Americans. What bothers me is the attitude that, if enough people do something
illegal over a long enough period of time, we should just accept it. There are literally millions of people in
the United States who broke the law to get here. To give up on our legal system and just say, "Ok, you beat the
law, so you win" sends a terrible message. It's sets a precedent for other types of unlawful behavior to become
acceptable. What other difficult to enforce laws are going to hit with this same reasoning?

Here's an analogy. Imagine someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night. They wash your dirty dishes,
vacuum your floors, and generally tidy up around the house. In the morning, you wake up, and find your house is
truly better for it, but aren't you a little creeped out that someone has invaded your home? What if the breakin
artist hadn't been so benevolent?

The system for gaining citizenship in the US is broken, there is no doubt about that. The solution, though, is
not to throw out our immigration laws but to find a way to allow those who want to be Americans and contribute
to our society to enter our country in an organized way. What makes our country great is not just our freedoms,
but our melting pot of cultures and peoples. The way to keep our brew going, so to speak, is to continue to bring
in people from all over the world to contribute to our society.

So to those out there in our country illegal, I'm sorry, but I can't sympathize with you. You have broken the law
and you should not simply be forgiven because so many other people have done it for so long. I have worked with
too many good people who have done the long and arduous paper shuffle to legitimately become citizens to allow you
to shortcut the system like that. I appreciate your desire to contribute to our society, and I do want you to
eventually be able to do that. Before you do, I beg you to come to our country in the free and clear.

Domestic Spying

This topic totally floors me. I can't begin to explain just how deeply disappointed I am with our government for
instituting a system for spying on our own citizens. What's worse is that it seems most Americans don't care. Our
freedom from government intrusion into our lives is one of our inalienable rights! Holy crap, when did search
without a warrant become OK? This is an incredibly slippery slope which seems to have no safeguards to prevent
some perverse member of our government (Karl Rove? Donald Rumsfeld?) from using it to treat us all as potential
criminals. Back in revolutionary days, the English government could search your home for any reason without warrant.
They could demand that you quarter their soldiers. The Bill of Rights specified inalienable rights that would
prevent these types of intrusions from ever being brought to bear against American citizens. Yet somehow, we've
forgotten that. Here is Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Regardless of whether we are in wartime or peacetime, no person in this country should endure the intrusion upon
their private conversations in their homes. Based on current reasoning, how long until all of our conversations
are recorded and analyzed for potential "Anti-Americanism". How long until telling your buddy on the phone that
"You don't like Bush" leads to your being whisked away to a Cuban prison? Don't think this isn't already happening?
How about when CIA agent Valery Plame's husband publicly disagreed with Bush, and his wife's agent status was
suddenly "leaked" days later? How about the reporter, Judith Miller, who exposed the story being sent to jail
because she wouldn't out her informer.

There are so many instances of abominable behavior by this administration that I really fear where our country is
headed. We imprison thousands in an offshore military camp without hope of trial. We imprison reporters for
exposing improper government activity. We destroy the careers of those who oppose the actions of the president.
And the worst, we spy on the conversations of every one of our citizens we can. Election day can't come soon enough,
I just hope enough Americans are as disgusted as I am so we can get things set right.

Political Stuff

There's been a lot of political stuff in the news lately that irritates me, so I'm going to force myself to take a break from Warcraft to post some opinions. I know, shocking!

My Addiction

I'm seriously addicted to World of Warcraft. It is one game that has totally consumed me. There is so much to it! The pic above is one of me and another fellow I met battling a dragon in the badlands region (I'm the character on the left with no text over his head). I play a (now) level 46 Human Paladin named CorbinDallas. There is just so much to do and see in the game that it is totally engrossing. Not only that, but the added element of guild life (a guild is a group of people who join together to play regularly, complete sections of the game together, and pool resources), has made my time in the World of Warcraft totally amazing. It's great to meet new people, share a game that we all enjoy, and enjoy tackling the different challenges the game has to offer. Since playing this game, I haven't played any other PC or console game. Usually I wear out a game in a month or less, but this one has real staying power.

The biggest hurdle for me in getting into the game was the subscription fee. There is a $15 / month fee to continue playing. I just couldn't get my head wrapped around the concept of paying a monthly fee to play a game. But now I totally get it. It's just like paying for HBO. Content is continuously added, and there are lots of things I haven't seen. I love this game!! If you ever decide to try it (and I feel that anyone could enjoy it) look me up on the Malygos realm.

Video Game Review : Tetris DS

A version of the classic game Tetris has been released for the Nintendo DS, and of course I was first in line on
release day to pick up my copy. If you are reading this, it would be hard to believe that you haven't heard of
this timeless puzzle game where you are tasked to fill a well with tetriminos (four block pieces) to clear lines.
So I'll skip the explanation of this game mechanics and focus on what makes this version different.

The original "marathon" version of the game is included where the speed of the falling blocks increases for every
ten lines you clear. One controversial difference between this version and the original is the ability to
infintely spin a piece. Once a piece hits the bottom of the well, it doesn't stick right away. Instead, as long as
you keep tapping the spin button, the piece will stay in play. This allows you to slide it around and spin nearly
infinitely while looking for a place to put it. Many have argued that this has destroyed the fundamental challange
of the game, and I tend to agree. After just three days with the game I had successfully cleared 200 lines, which
is the end of the game. I remember playing Tetris on the original Nintendo and struggling to get half that far.
You can also "pause" a piece by placing it in your hold slot. That piece will be held until you swap it later for
the active piece. This makes it easy to stow a long piece if you get one before you are ready to complete a tetris.
One kind of cute feature is that, as you play the single player marathon version of Tetris on the bottom screen of
the DS, classic NES games are played in the top screen. For each line you clear, Mario gets a little farther in
Super Mario Brothers. I noticed Metroid, Excite Bike, Super Mario Brothers 1, 2, and 3, as well as a classic
Tetris theme on my way through. These are cute, but quickly forgotten as you concentrate on the tetris well.

Aside from the tried and true marathon version, there are now also push, catch, versus, touch, puzzle, and mission
styles of play. In push your computer opponent is at the bottom of the bottom screen, and you are at the top of
the top screen. Pieces fall from both the top and bottom towards the middle. As you clear lines, the blob of
pieces in the middle moves closer to your opponents side. The first to "push" the blob over the opponents edge
wins. In catch mode you control a large blob of pieces at the bottom of the well. Rather than spinning the pieces
as they fall, you spin the blob of collected pieces. If a 4x4 solid square of pieces is formed, they will clear
all pieces above, below, and to the sides of the square. This is a truly bizarre form of the game. The touch
version gives you a tetris well that is already filled with pieces. At the top is a balloon. You can slide and
spin the pieces using the stylus, and must use the pieces to form lines. As you form lines, they clear and the
balloon gets closer to the ground. You win when it reaches the ground. In puzzle, you are given only a few pieces
to drop and must clear the entire screen. You can drop them in any order and position, but must clear all lines.
In mission mode you are challenged to complete an exercise in order to reach the next mission within a time limit.
Challenges in mission mode include clearing two lines with a 'Z' piece, or clearing three lines with an 'L'.

In addition to these new game modes, Tetris DS allows for wireless group play. If you are in a room with
other Tetris DS players, up to ten players can compete head to head. Clearing lines sends them to your opponents
wells. If you don't know any Tetris DS players, you can also get online and face up to four other players in
group play, or go one on one.

In my opinion, there isn't a lot that really sets this game apart from other versions of tetris. If you have an
original gameboy and an original tetris cartridge that you keep in the bathroom or car for long trips, there
really isn't much reason to upgrade. For me, the online play was the reason to get this new version. I like being
able to play a pickup game against other folks around the world. The additional play modes are interesting, but
not reason enough for me to get this game. I would recommend Tetris DS to anyone who doesn't have a version of
Tetris to play now, but if you already have it and aren't interested in online play, this probably isn't the
version for you.

Taking Care of the User

Warning, I'm about to rant here. I'm all worked up and I need to vent. The reason? The subject
of taking care of users who do not have the technical capacity to use a computer. In general,
software is intended to take a complicated task and make it as simple to perform for the user
as possible. I try to do that with my software. In fact, I like to think that there is
an unwritten contract between software developers like myself and computer software users. Here
are some of the items I imagine on that contract.

[1] The developer will not unnecessarily burden the user with confirmation dialogs.
Everyone has seen these, and largely ignores them after seeing them once. These are the
"Are you sure?" dialogs that you get whenever you try to logout, close an application, overwrite
a document, or do any other task that might have "destructive" consequences. Too often software
over-uses these boxes to the point of user frustration. Some software even goes to the extent
to doubt your judgement twice. In my opinion, if the user's judgement was fouled after the first
warning, it's not going to be any better after the second warning.

[2] Users will read the message boxes that developers display.
I'm constantly astounded by the number of times a user will run into a message box and rather than
actually read the message (which usually contains instructions on how to solve the issue) will
immediately run to the nearest "computer guy/gal" they know to ask for help. Messages like
"Are you sure you want to overwrite this file?". This isn't a hard decision. Either yes
you do or no you don't. Or how about the message "Your printer is out of paper". I'm begging
all of you users out there: please, please read the text on the screen. You may think you have
seen it all before, or that it is over your head, or that you don't have to read it. You would
be surprised at how many times a developer has gone to great length to provide instructions,
warnings, and information in that text that is actually useful. READ IT!!!

[3] Tasks that are simple without software cannot be made more simple with software.
This is aimed both at users and developers. If there is something that can be done easily without
a computer, don't look to a computer to make that task easier. A prime example of this can be found
in regard to televisions and television remotes. A very easy task to perform with your television
is to turn it on. Normally, there is a large button on the front of the set marked power. You
touch the button, the TV comes on. Touch it again, the TV goes off. A remote is software to help
you with this task. The idea is, make it easier to turn on your television. Now, you don't even
have to get out of your chair to hit that big button. But wait, what if we made remotes that worked
with more than just one television. What if they could work with your television AND your DVD player.
That would be wonderful, as it would make the task of hitting the big button on the front of the TV
and on the front of the DVD player easier. Right? Wrong!!! Now you have a universal remote with
multiple modes. You now must hit four buttons to get all of that equipment to turn on (usually
TV, then Power, then DVD, then Power again). Sure, my butt doesn't have to get out of the chair,
but now what happens if I start pressing buttons in the wrong mode? One time our dog stepped
on our universal remote and we couldn't get sound out of the TV for three hours. Software is just
an enormous universal remote for your computer. It can make doing some things convenient, but don't
try making things that are already easy any easier. You'll just foul things up. Users: don't ask
developers to make it easier either. Just be happy you know how to do what you want now.

[4] Users will know where they have saved/downloaded files.
This is a case where doing something simple has been made more simple, with devastating consequences.
Your file system is where you save files. Documents, spreadsheets, stuff you download... it all
gets saved somewhere on your file system. It used to be that every time you wanted to save something
you would need to create a folder for it and remember where you saved it. Now, this task has
been made easier by programs that "remember" where you saved things for you. Trouble is, what
if you want to do something with that file, but with a different piece of software. Gosh, I
don't know where it's saved. It could be anywhere! I just want to scream at people when they
ask for help with a file, and they can't answer the simple question of "where did you save it?"

[5] Developers will not encourage non-technical users to do technical things.
Think about your family for a second. There is probably at least one person in your family that
believes the computer is the solution to every problem. Not only that, but they encourage
everyone else in the family see things that way too. When they come to your house they
install bizarre add-ons and utilities on your computer, and leave you scratching your head
as to what that flashing icon is in the system tray. If you don't know anyone like that, you
probably are that person. If you are a technical person, enjoy the fact that you can get a
lot of utility out of your PC. But please, please don't put the rest of the people around you
through the torture of trying to learn this stuff. The vast majority of people in this world
are averse to change, and you are just stressing them out by trying to show them how to do
something they already know how to do. I know I'm personally guilty of this one. Everyone in
my family knows how to use a phone. You just pick up the handle and punch in the number to the
person you want to call. What do I do? I try to get everyone to use online instant messaging
and voice calls on the internet. Bad, bad, BAD! [slaps wrist]

[6] Users will have a clear idea of what they want to do before they start to do it.
This means, be prepared for questions pertaining to your task, and answer them.
Too often someone will have a vague idea of what they want to do, and get six or seven steps
deep into the process before they realize, "Oh My Gosh, this is not what I want!". Say like
when a user decides they want to format a word document, but starts the process to format the
hard drive. Hmmm... I guess my document is on the C: drive... AAAACKK!

These are just the items that came immediately to mind. I'm sure there are more. Are you a developer?
Do you have an idea for an addition to the list? Leave a comment and maybe I'll append it.
Are you a user? Fed up with something about your PC or software? Leave a comment with your
addition to the contract. I'd love to hear it.

Video Game Review : Metroid Prime Hunters

Tuesday was a good day for me. That's because I was able to pickup both
Tetris DS and Metroid Prime Hunters for my Nintendo DS. I'll talk about Tetris
DS in a different post, and focus on Metroid Prime Hunters here. I should tell
you to start that I am already a huge fan of the Metroid series, so my review
will be a bit biased.

As far as the story goes... I can't say much. I've played for a couple of
hours, and in true Metroid fashion the plot is slowly unrolling, but a lot
is still mysterious. You play as Samus Aran, the intergalactic bounty hunter
/ gun for hire. A telepathic message was received by both you and several
of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy. The message indicated that a great
power could be found in a particular solar system, so you and the other
hunters travel there in an attempt to be the first to capture that great

I was a little concerned when I saw sample screen shots of the game. The
Nintendo DS is a small, portable gaming system. It has two smallish ( but
very nice ) LCD screens. I've seen other games attempt to render a 3D
first person shooter (FPS) display [Ghost Recon] and it was.... well.. poor.
The screen and graphics capabilities of the DS are just not suited to heavy
duty 3D gaming. So I had a uneasy feeling that the graphics in Hunters
would be disappointing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game
designers did a fantastic job creating environments that display well. The
environments render quickly and getting a sense of direction is not a
problem. There are some areas where it can be confusing to determine
which way to go, but generally rooms are laid out simply, and the automap
is available to save you in a pinch. My biggest gripe so far is just that
the game is very dark. Most of the environments are dark, and if you are
playing in an area with overhead lights (as I do at lunch), it can be
difficult to see what is going on. I recommend finding a dim or dark room
to play in so that you can really see what is going on.

The truly innovative part of Hunters is the control scheme. The DS has
a touch sensitive screen, and that screen is utilized to control the direction
you look. I was apprehensive about this, as the demo video I saw showed folks
with contorted hands trying to hold the stylus and use the D-Pad at the same
time. That's how I started playing, and after about 20 minutes of play my
hands were hurting. It just wasn't comfortable. The alternative is to use
the A/B/X/Y buttons to control the look direction. I wasn't satisfied with
that either. When you using the touchpad for the look direction, it is a lot
like using a mouse on a PC. This is where nearly all console FPS games fall
down. Because consoles don't have a mouse, the speed you can change the
direction you are looking is limited. Rather than using a mouse to whip your
head around and get your bearings, you press left and wait for your character
to spin. The touchpad control gives back that mouse-like ability to quickly
take in the environment.

Fortunately, I've found a way to use the touchpad control without giving
myself carpal-tunnel. The trick is to ditch the stylus. The Nintendo DS
comes with both a stylus and what I call the "thumb-tac". It is a little
strap with a black plastic pellet you can loop around your thumb for
using the touch pad. It keeps you from getting your fingerprints on the
screen, and provides a nice round edge for contacting the touch sensitive
surface. Using this, my hand can rest in a much more natural position on the
game. My right thumb hovers over the touch screen while my left thumb can
handle the D-Pad for movement. Both index fingers comfortable reach the
shoulder buttons used for firing. Using this setup I've had a much better
experience. If you don't mind fingerprints on your screen, you can ditch
the thumb-tac entirely and just use your thumb, just make sure you don't have
any grit or long thumbnail that might scratch the screen.

I haven't played Hunters for long, but I can see that it follows the same
formula I've enjoyed in previous games. The new control scheme took a while
to get used to, but now I'm having fun with it. If you are a fan of the
Metroid series, and more specifically the Metroid Prime games, you might
like this one too.

Rainy Day

Today is one of my favorite kind of days to be at work. For those who don't live in the Hoosier state, we've been deluged by rain and storms over the past couple of days. Today is no exception, with high winds and rain beating against the window. The thermostat is in check such that, while it isn't cold, the office is nice and cool. I have my steaming mug of coffee next to me on my desk, and I have settled in to noodle out some difficult programming programs. Sure, I would rather be at home with the family or playing games, but I have no desire to be outside right now. Some folks have the opposite reaction to these types of days. The rain and gloomy weather get them into a funk. Not me. Today is a day where I can feel productive, hidden away from the nasty weather at my desk, settled into a cozy state with my coffee and my code.

UPDATE: It stopped raining mid-day, but the wind kept up. The sun was out, and it was nice to come home to Jenn and Corbin playing outside

Video Game Review - World of Warcraft (or "My first two weeks in Azeroth")

Massively Multiplayer Online Games, or MMOGs, are getting more and more attention these days. MMOGs are games where thousands and possibly millions of players can connect to a single game environment and interact with each other through their internet connected PCs. There are lots of MMOGs available today. To this point, I have avoided them due to the subscription fees and time investment necessary. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) are especially notorious for becoming incredibly addictive, and some over-zealous users have even played marathon sessions that have lead to their own deaths through malnutrition and neglect of the real world bodies. I'm not interested in becoming a hermit, nor am I interested in having my wallet drained monthly for a game, especially when most games I buy get about a month to two months of playtime before I have finished them.

World of Warcraft is a MMORPG. It is held to be possibly the best of the MMOGs available, and has even been rated Game of the Year by GameSpot, an online video game review site. World of Warcraft, or WoW for short, was created by Blizzard, the company already famous for the WarCraft and StarCraft series of real time strategy games, as well as the Diablo series of adventure / role playing games. I am huge fan of the Diablo series, and my friends and I would play for hours and hours, battling through hordes of evil meanies and leveling up our characters. It was great fun. World of WarCraft seemed like an extension of a lot of things I liked from the print reviews I had read. It had the role playing elements and action / adventure combination found in the Diablo games, but it was set in the very rich environment created through the WarCraft series of games. I was very interested, but still timid about committing to a montly payment to play this game.

Then something terrible happened. A coworker of mine gave me a free two-week trial to play. I was able to install and play the full game for two weeks. That was all it took. With a trial key, there were some limitations on my account. I could create as many characters as I liked on any of the servers (called realms), but my characters would be limited to reaching level 20, I would not be allowed to trade items with other players, I could not use the mail or the auction houses, and I could not carry more than 10 gold. The only one of those restrictions that really limited my play was the player trading. Although several helpful players were willing to give me new equipment, I couldn't accept it.

I talked to my buddies at work, and found that they were playing on the Malygos realm, so I created a character there. I chose to play a Human Male Palladin. There are eight races to choose from, with four races allocated to each side in the war (Alliance vs. Horde). The Alliance races are Human, Dwarf, Gnome, and Night Elf. The Horde races are Orc, Tauren, Troll, and Undead. You can choose to play as a male or female, and can customize the appearance of your character to your liking (or just hit randomize if you aren't too picky). You can also pick a class of character to play as, such as Warrior, Mage, Priest, or Rogue. The class you choose will determine what abilities and equipment are available to you throughout the game. Once those choices are taken care of, your new character is introduced to the world and ready to play.

The introduction to playing WoW couldn't be easier. You character is born into a region determined by your choice of race. You can chat with other players, or chat with one of the in-game characters to receive a quest. Quests give you a goal and help encourage you to explore new areas and meet new people. From what I hear from others, this is where WoW really excels beyond other MMORPGs. In most MMORPGs, you get into "grinding", where you feel that your tasks are monotonous and you don't have much fun as you just try to get that next level so you can complete the next quest. The quest system in WoW is paced very well, and the variety of tasks makes it feel a lot less like grinding, even if it is grinding. The maximum level for a character in the game is 60, which prevents anyone from getting so powerful that they can crush everyone and everything. Still, the game masters at Blizzard have done a good job of keeping things interesting for those who have reached the maximum level (so says my level 60 buddy).

In addition to the quest system, the world itself is amazingly rich and diverse. Traveling through the capital cities give just as much a sense of awe and wonder as traveling through some real life big cities. The attention to detail in the game is amazing. Each area has a unique feel, and a diverse set of creatures that inhabit them. The equipment that you can buy or receive through killing off enemies reflects in the appearance of your character. If you put on a red cape, your character displays a red cape in the game. If you wear chain mail arm, you hear the "chink-chink-chink" of the armor as you run around. There are an incredible number of items in the game, and more are added all the time. As you play, your able to really customize the appearance of your character to suit your own taste.

Probably the biggest draw of the game is the social aspect. This game is fun because you are sharing in the experience with your friends and making new friends to share experiences with. I have several friends at work that play, and it is nice to get online at night and spend an hour or more bashing monsters and just having a good time together. I've also met new people in game, and even received advice on how to get Jenn's heartburn to subside during pregnancy. The social aspect is so strong that servers are dedicate to those who wish to do their own role-playing, creating their own set of quests and making the world their own. Although I'm pretty sure there are more guys playing this game, it isn't a completely male dominated game. The player who gave me the heartburn advice told me that she and her husband enjoy playing online. They had two kids at home, and found that after they went to bed, jumping into WoW was a great way to unwind and have fun together.

Today is the last day of my two week trial. I've built my character up to level 17, which I think is pretty respectable for a two week effort. I've met several folks, and enjoyed time with existing friends. I've worked in groups to complete difficult tasks, and ventured out on my own to explore new areas. In short, I've had a blast playing WoW over the past two weeks. So much so that today I picked up a full copy. That gives me another 30 days of playtime, and removes all of the restrictions from my character. So if you are in Malygos and run into a character named Corbindallas, stop and chat with me for a while. I would love to hear from you.

Before I finish, I must say one last thing. My wife is an amazing woman. Right this minute she is up in bed trying to get comfortable to sleep for the night with a nearly full term baby in her belly. She is a wonderful mother and never ceases to amaze me with marathoner endurance and wonderful attitude. Jennifer, thank you for being such a wondeful mother, a loving wife, and for being understanding about my video gaming habit. And thank you for giving me the green light to subscribe to this game.

Video Game Review - Fable

One of my unexpected surprises at Christmas was th game fable for the xbox. I didn't ask for it, but I was pleasantly surprised to get it. It is a role playing game where you play the part of a boy taken to live in a guild after bandits attack your village and kill your family. The game follows your life story, progressing from young boy to hardened hero. Throughout the game you are presented with quests to complete. There are core game quests that further the story, and several tertiary queststo help build experience along the way. The interesting thing is that most quests give the option to play as a good person or an evil person. For instance you can choose to save a hostage and receive an item as a gift, or you can just kill the gift giver. The game steers you towards being good, but you can be evil if you really want to.

This game is relatively short as far as RPGs go. I completed it, including the Lost Chapters expansion, in just over 20 hours. I don't necessarily see this as a drawback, as it keeps the pace of the game brisk where other RPGs get mired in the grind of leveling your character. The battle system is realtime (rather than turn-based), making the battle sections much like an adventure game. Ranged and melee attacks are intuitive, but I found that the controls in general were a bit overloaded. To perform a magic attack, you must hold the right trigger button. This changes the behavior of the buttons to issue magic. Pressing the Y button cycles through your list of spells. In addition, the D-pad is used for context actions or configured behavior (such as social behaviors or potion usage). When the right trigger is released, the actions associated with the d-pad are based on your current situation. If you pull the righttrigger, the d-pad will issue your configured commands. The left trigger locks on to a target. With all of this overloading of buttons, d-pad, and triggers, it is very easy to issue a command you don't intend to (such as flirting with a troll or hittingyour wife with a fireball).

The level of detail in the game is awesome. The graphics are incredible, but it goesbeyond that. The social aspect of the game is very well done. As you gain more reknown from completing quests, people are more apt to be friendly with you. Another aspect is flirting and marriage. The game receives a mature rating for this. Your character can flirt, give gifts, gamble, drink, have sex, and get married. Sex scenes are simply a black screen with humorous suggestive noises. You can even choose to be gay or bisexual if you like. There is a brothel where a hero can "relax". Your interactions in battle and in town all affect how the game reacts around you.

When Fable was first released, it was criticized for being overhyped, incomplete, and bug ridden. Microsoft had touted the game as the greatest RPG ever. That kind of talking is guaranteed to get you in trouble. With the lost chapters expansion included with this now budget priced game ($20), the bugs are fixed. With the right perspective going in, I think any RPG/action adventure gamer could really enjoy this title.

Slashdot is No Longer Relevant

Slashdot isn't relevant anymore. For those who have never visited the site, Slashdot is a news aggregation site that follows the tag line, "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters". For years it was a dependable source of news on a wide variety of interesting topics ranging from space exploration, to computing, to patent law and copyright freedoms. Most stories that appear on Slashdot focus on the computing and technology industry. Each story includes a comment listing where readers can respond to the story and to the comments of other readers. Ever since college I have faithfully read Slashdot for the latest technology news.

One of Slashdot's favorite whipping posts is Microsoft. Microsoft is the big bad ugly that represents everything evil in the world. When the Netscape vs. Microsoft battle was taking place, Slashdot was a great site to catch up on the latest proceedings and each punch in the boxing match between the companies. Slashdot was also a fantastic promoter of open source software and specifically the variet of flavors of the Linux operating system.

Lately, however, I've noticed that the stories on Slashdot are becoming less newsworthy. Other sites are doing a better job of covering the news that Slashdot was once reliable for. Now I visit Engadget to get updates on the latest cool toys coming out, or for information about space exploration. Joystiq is my favorite site for gaming news. When I occassionally check back on Slashdot, i see that most of the stories are simply links to the ones carried last week by these other sources. What's worse is that the submissions on Slashdot aren't even trying to be objective anymore. Every story takes a very one-sided slant. Even when there isn't a story to be made, submissions will take weak chip shots at their old favorite baddies. Just today one headline read "Buy Vista or Else" and was followed with a rueful scorning of Microsoft for advertising their new operating system (Vista) as more secure. It is really sad that a once great source of community discussion and relevant news has devolved into petty name calling and sniveling. Slashdot, oh how you have fallen. I'm afraid that the time has come to finally delete you from my news sources.

Video Game Review - Beyond Good & Evil

I admit it. I've been a major slacker on both of our blogs over the last six months. My latest excuse has been video games. I received so many great video games over Christmas that I spend all of my free time in the basement playing. I finished up Beyond Good & Evil, which was a fantastic game. If you have never played it, it is definitely worth a try. The game bombed with the public, and many retailers were left with lots of copies on hand that they had trouble unloading. They got marked down to discount bin prices (I got mine for $10.50 at Fry's), and when the inventory was sold out, retailers didn't order any more. The game is available for Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, and PC, but you will be lucky to find a copy for any system anywhere. It's really a shame too, because it was a fun game. You play as Jade, caretaker of children who have been orphaned by the residents of planet Hillys' fight against an alien enemy known as the Domz. The Domz attack at regular intervals, and kidnap residents. A special forces unit known as the Alpha Sections has been sanctioned to take care of the threat, but they seem to be more of a media stunt than an effective defense. You quickly become involved with a subversive group known as the IRIS Network. The IRIS Network believes that the Alpha Sections are actually assisting the Domz, and charge you with finding evidence to support their claims.

Beyond Good & Evil plays like a modified Zelda type adventure. In addition to the features of any game in the Zelda series, you ake your living as a photographer in BG&E. You get paid for each photo of a different species of animal on the planet, and you can use these funds to purchase items throughout the game. Your quest requires you to get clandestine information from the enemy, and the only way to get it is through stealthy infiltration of the Alpha Sections headquarters. The stealth element of the game is extraordinarily well done. I found myself actually holding my breath as I waited for a guard to pass by my hiding spot. The game also sports some interesting battles that sometimes act more like puzzles than action sequences. The game is very accessible to those who aren't avid gamers, so you don't need to be a button mashing pro to pick this one up and enjoy it.

Beyond Good & Evil is a great game, and if you can find a copy, get it. It runs a little short (I completed the game with under 20 hours of play time), but the story, characters, and clever twists on the standard action / adventure genre are well worth it.

Video Game Review - X-Men Legends

One game I've been playing a lot on my XBox is X-Men Legends. This game has been out for a while, and there is a sequel now as well. I received it as a Christmas gift, and I've been having a lot of fun with it.

The game is sort of a cross of multiple game types. It has character building elements like a role playing game, it has twitchy finger fighting like an action game, and it has a bit of a strategy twist as well. You start the game playing as Wolverine. Blob and Mystique attempted to kidnap a girl who recently discovered her mutant powers (Magma), and you are trying to figure out why. The game is played from a third person perspective as you guide Wolvie through an inner-city landscape looking for Blob. You have light punch, heavy punch, throw, and jump as your immediate action commands, and if you hold the R-trigger you can access his mutant super-powers. A bit of traditional fighting game play enters here in that, different combinations of light and strong attacks will have different effects on your opponents. One combination will trip, another toss, and another will stun. This game dips into so many different game types without ever really committing to one. To call it an action adventure game really doesn't give a full description of all of the nuances of the game.

As the game progresses, more mutants are at your disposal. You can play with up to four mutants on your team at a time, and can swap team members at X-traction points (as well as save the game, shop for power ups, and enter the Danger Room to practice maneuvers and level up). Choosing the right X-Men for a particular challenge can make the level either very easy, or very difficult, and the character building element has a lot of impact on how each character plays.

The graphics in this game are pretty good, but I they aren't the best I've seen on the XBox. From the top down perspective, the characters appear like any other 3D rendered X-Men game. Upon closer inspection, it appears that some form of cel-shading was used to render each character. This would be great if close up shots allowed to show the detail of each model, but at the distance the camera is at, the entire effect is lost. The camera can be a pain at times as well, as it does not follow the action intuitively. One minor quibble I have with the camera control is that, to swivel the camera to look left, you push left. I prefer an inverted control scheme, but there isn't an option to change this (that I've found). It is a minor annoyance, but I've come to terms with it.

So far, this game has been great fun. I like a dive in, hack and slash gameplay style, so I've been using Wolverine quite a bit and powering up his combat skills. Players who like more of a tactical battle could choose to focus on Cyclops and Jean Grey, whose ranged attacks allow for more of a "thinking-man's" approach.

I have to admit here that I'm a big comic books fan. I'm not a collector or expert by any means, but I really enjoy movie translations of comic book heroes, and video game translations to some extent as well. I've enjoyed the X-Men movies, and the games have been a fun extension of that universe for me. One nice extra is that Patrick Stewart provides the voice acting for Professor X, keeping with his portrayal of the same character in feature films.

This is definitely a very unique and fun game. It touches on a lot of different gaming genres, and it manages to do a good if not great job of emulating them all. If you are at all a fan of the X-Men universe and what to get your fix until the third movie arrives, this will certainly do the trick.

Jade Mason