LEGO Movie Video Games

Everyone in our family is a big fan of the LEGO series of games from Traveler's Tales. This series of games takes favorite films, such as the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, and coming soon the Batman series, and puts them in the world of LEGO. All of the action takes place in a world of LEGO bricks, and you play as a LEGO interpretation of the characters from those movies.

The gameplay is your typical 3D platformer fare. Each level represents a portion of the movie content, and the levels are broken into scenes. In the scene you must take on baddies, solve simple puzzles, and navigate your way to the end of the level. Along the way you can find hidden treasure and collect "studs", the small, round, flat, one peg LEGO piece which acts as currency in the game. At the end of each level you are returned to a staging are where you can select another level to play, or use your studs to purchase upgrades. Upgrades include additional characters to play as, additional abilities, videos, or other doodads.

There are a couple of things that really draw us to this series of games. First, there is basicly no penalty for death. Each time your character is killed, falls off a cliff, or otherwise perishes you get recreated a short distance from where you died. You get infinite lives, so completing a level is more about finding your way through rather than mastering the combat system. This makes it very approachable for our kids. You do lose some studs for each death, but even if you have no studs you will get reincarnated.

The second thing we really like are the destructable environments. Nearly everything in these games can be destroyed, and it is really cathartic to rampage through a level, breaking everything in site.

Our son really likes being able to buy things in game. He can earn studs and use those studs to purchase new characters. This has been a great learning tool and we've found that it translates into real life as well. We give good behavior points, and he can use those good behavior points to get special treats, whether it is a cookie after dinner, or chocolate milk before bed.

Of the games we have (LEGO Star Wars 1, LEGO Star Wars 2, LEGO Star Wars The Complete Saga, LEGO Indiana Jones) LEGO Indiana Jones is probably the weakest. This isn't really any fault of the game, it is just that the Star Wars games have such a rich culture surrounding them that you can have lots and lots of characters and have them all be recognizable. Indiana Jones just doesn't have that same richness, and so you end up with 20 or so variations on the "Enemy Gunman". We'll probably grab the LEGO Batman game as a Christmas gift for our son, and we have hopes that the very full world of Batman will lead to a more enjoyable game.

So if you haven't tried any of the LEGO games yet, go pick one up. My recommendation would be to grab the Star Wars : The Complete Saga game, as this will give you the most bang for the buck, and probably be the most enjoyable.

Zero Punctuation

One of my favorite bits of web content are the regular video game reviews from Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw over at The Escapist. Titled Zero Punctuation, these rapid fire reviews are cynical, snarky, irreverent, and generally negative on each target. Croshaw obviously has an obsession with games and knows the industry inside and out. Each review is delivered at a breathless pace, which leads to viewing them over and over again to pick up on the dry wit and humor throughout. If you like games, and you don't mind some colorful language, I highly recommend it.


There was an article in this month's issue of Wired magazine touting the advantages of telecommuting and openly wondering why working from home isn't wholly embraced by more businesses. It got me to thinking about the reality of working from home. The other posits that businesses are averse to telecommuting for fear of losing control of their staff. I think this is probably the least of most managers' worries when considering whether to let their staff work from the home office.

Firstly, there is a whole industry of folks that simply don't have the option to work at home. If you are paid an hourly wage, chances are you can't take your work home with you. Next, consider experts and professionals such as lawyers and doctors. Running the business from the home is certainly an option, but having a separate office gives a much greater impression of professionalism to the clients.

So who does that leave? What niche of people could realistically work from home? People in my profession (programmers) certainly qualify. Authors, artists, accountants...anyone who only needs simple materials (including a PC) to complete their daily work could probably do their job from home. Video conferencing and the internet permit easy communication with colleagues regardless of location.

So could I work from home? Sometimes, and I have enjoyed that opportunity on a few occassions in the past. But in most cases, it wouldn't be the best solution for me. For one, there are three kids in the house, and explaining to a two year old, a four year old, and a baby that daddy needs to be undisturbed for 8 to 10 hours even though he is in the basement just doesn't work. Second, there are some pieces of equipment that I need to complete my job from time to time, and having those on hand at home isn't always possible. It is much more cost effective for my employer to purchase common resources that we can all utilize while at the office (such as test benches, faxes, printers, etc.) rather than for each employee to require them in their home.

In my opinion, the sluggish adoption of telecommuting is less about control issues, and much more about the realities of who can work at home, and in what capacity.

Clean and Sober

I'm proud to report that I have been clean and sober for going on 4 months now. Of what you ask? World of Warcraft. That game got it's hooks deep into me. Prior to our trip to Gulf Shores I was spending sometimes 6 hours a night raiding, prepping for raiding, and grinding out gold. It was too much, and I was letting other things (including my health) slide. After a week of vacation with no chance for WoW, I decided it was best to just quit. There wasn't a whole lot left in the game for me to see, and it certainly wasn't worth the price of admission.

So what have I been doing with all of this new-found free time? Well, I've been hitting the treadmill for one. One of the worst aspects of WoW is that you are totally sedentary while playing. We got a treadmill about a month before our trip, and I had tried setting up WoW while on the treadmill. I could do a couple of things, but it was very difficult to type, and even more difficult to keep track of the tiny text on the screen. Now that WoW is completely shutoff, I've been much better about getting in my exercise. I try to get a minimum of three 30 minute work-outs in each week, with my goal to get in five good runs. My breathing is much better, and I've dropped 10 pounds.

Another bad habit I've dropped is drinking. It was my standard routine to mix up a scotch, vodka tonic, or gin as I sat down to play. If it was a long session I would sometimes have a second. Believe it or not, this was social drinking, as when you play WoW you are typically on a headset chatting with the other folks you are playing with. I never drank alone. Still, sedentary butt in chair plus alcohol is not a healthy combination. I still enjoy a beverage from time to time, but certainly not on the schedule I was before.

So running and not drinking account for about an hour of my night. What about the other five hours? My sleep schedule has improved a bit, though not much. I'm now getting into bed between 1am and 2am, which is a spot better than my 3am ritual before. Getting to bed at a decent time has always been a problem for me, so this isn't something I expected a huge change in. I have been able to see new and interesting games! I played through BioShock, which is outstanding. If you have a decent PC, definitely give this one a try. I also started enjoying our Wii more. The current household favorite is LEGO Indiana Jones. I spent the last couple of weeks getting pretty much every collectible in that game. There is a whole library of games that I have that I either never completed or lost interest in due to my WoW addiction.

Finally, I've gotten back into reading. I've read a number of great books throughout this year, including Spook and Agile and Iterative Development : A Manager's Guide. I'm currently reading The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I don't think I qualify as a true geek until I have read through this sci-fi favorite. I'm about half-way through the five novels, and so far it is great fun.

There is one possibility of relapse in the future. Blizzard is planning to release another expansion to Warcraft around my birthday. If the baby is up late at night and I'm doing the feeding, it will be really tempting to get back into my old habit. Maybe I need a sponsor :-p

Chevy Volt

The Chevy Volt has piqued my interest. If you haven't heard of it, the Volt is the one-time prototype electric vehicle that GM has given the green light to convert into a production vehicle. The transition from prototype to production has sanded down some of the edginess in the original, but the most important features are still there. This is a 100% electric driven vehicle. It is loaded with a bank of Lithium-ion batteries to store charge, and has a range of about 40 miles on a charge. In addition, the vehicle has a flex-fuel motor that will charge the batteries and drive the electric motor once the initial charge is depleted. GM is saying this gives the vehicle hundreds of additional miles of range.

The Volt has me interested for a couple of reasons. I don't like that money paid for gas mostly gets sent overseas. I don't like being a contributor to the pollution problem. I'm a geek, and the Volt is a fantastic new gadget!

I'd love to have a fuel efficient car that is still a nice vehicle. I've been begging my wife to let me put the $100 deposit down on a Smart, but she isn't budging on that issue since it won't allow me to transport one or more of our kids. The Volt is a 4-seater, so that would be one hurdle out of the way. My drive to work is less than 10 miles. Even with my current 4-cylinder Toyota I'm barely getting better than 20mpg. According to information available on the web, the Volt will fully charge from a standard wall outlet in 8 hours, or from a 220V (dryer) outlet in 3 hours.

That got me to thinking though. What happens if I never run on fuel? If I use the vehicle only for my daily commute, and never exceed the range of the batteries, what happens to the emergency reservoir of petrol in the tank? Will the vehicle eventually recommend that I let it burn off? Is that even a problem?

The Volt will arrive sometime in 2010, and it could be a real shot in the arm for GM. I probably won't be an early adopter on this one, as I'm sure it will take a model year or so to work out the kinks. I am pretty excited for an everyman's electric vehicle though, and I could definitely see buying into one should it prove itself in production.

A Bit of Philosophy

I read the book Spook recently (which is great, go read it!) and it got me to thinking about some philosophical questions of identity, self, stream-of-conciousness, and survival. I did a bit of googling and found this great article on wikipedia concerning Philosophy of Mind. Interesting stuff. Also, this blog entry gives some interesting discussion on Parfit's divided person.

Jade Mason