Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oh, dear. Dear me. I have let this gather quite a bit of dust, haven't I? I've been a bit busy...

I have a job now. And I was able to move 1,400 miles away from my former Portland, Ore. home out to Boulder, Colorado, to take a job with the Colorado Daily. I'm still getting settled in, but my basic directive is to cover University of Colorado varsity and club sports, as well as Boulder-area outdoor recreation activities and stories. It is going to be fun.

Time to keep this thing more updated from here on out now that things have calmed down a little bit.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy Dreamcast Day

This is like the most ghetto and old picture of all time but yeah, my Dreamcast stuff.

The Sega Dreamcast turns nine years old today. Nine years? Good grief, I was in middle school nine years ago; now, I've graduated college. Two generations of gaming have gone by, and Internet console gaming - the pie-in-the-sky dream of the Dreamcast and it's built-in 56k (LOL) modem - is now the norm.

So are arcade-perfect ports, analog control sticks and triggers built into the controllers, voice chat in online games, and Microsoft's presence in the console gaming spectrum.

However, its downfall signaled the final death throes of gaming as a niche industry. The Dreamcast, nine years ago, launched with a bang. A huge (if a tad bit esoteric) marketing campaign heralded its arrival, and, so many people thought, the revival of Sega. 9/9/99 became the largest single-day media event in United States history, topping the Star Wars: Episode 1 opening which ruled at the time. That didn't last long, though, as the promise of Sony's PS2 was the shadow that loomed long over the Dreamcast's short life.

You can't discuss the Dreamcast's death without bringing up Sony. That Sony even had game franchises like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, and - crucially in the U.S. - EA Sports products was enough to sell some people. It didn't matter that the first out of any of those series - Gran Turismo 3 - dropped nearly a year after the system's launch. DVD playback (a much, much bigger selling point then than Blu-Ray is now for PS3) was enough to tide many people over.

Never mind that you could walk in to a game store in the late fall of 2000 and buy a Dreamcast and three games for the price of a new PS2 - which was at that time as hard to find as a Wii is now. Never mind that the Dreamcast had a much deeper library than Sony's system would only get two years later.

This was the point I made, rabidly, both to friends offline and online at that point in time. The Dreamcast came around just as I was becoming aware of video games as a lifestyle and more than a hobby. I started out reading game news online and posting on forums around that time, and along with how important that has been to the last eight or so years of my life, the Dreamcast was there in the beginning.

As I finish writing this, the seventh stage of arcade mode in Soul Calibur sits, paused, my Mitsurugi down 1-0 against the evil CPU Taki. This game looks just as pretty as it did nine years ago; upgrading to S-Video cables certainly helps. Not a lot has stuck with me for nine years; my Sega Dreamcast, hopefully, will for a long, long time. A window of also has a used copy of Sonic Adventure in the cart; I need to pull the trigger on that purchase and re-live one of my absolute favorite gaming experiences.

The soul still burns, and the legend will never die.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why PAX 2008 Didn't Suck

One of PAX's gracious hosts, Jerry Holkins aka Tycho of Penny Arcade fame, throws the horns before the final Omegathon round. Photo by Doug Bonham

Despite the fact that 58,000 of my closest and stinkiest friends also made their way to the 2008 Penny Arcade Expo, and though it was more crowded, had more lines, and was generally more packed than ever before, PAX 2008 did not suck. I can quantify this with science!

The lines were still a pain in years past. Maybe not quite as big a pain, but they were most assuredly there. Last year it was for the first Rock Band booth; three years ago, when I first went, it was for the Zelda demo at the Nintendo booth. Compared with last year, the lines at the local eateries (especially the ones inside the convention center) were just as bad, the parking situation sucked as much; plus, it's smack-dab in downtown Seattle, which will bring necessary problems regardless.

It doesn't mean it's good, but it's certainly not much worse than in years past.

Mirror's Edge was a hot property at Electronic Arts' booth at PAX. Photo by Doug Bonham

The lines to play games were sooooooooo bad. Okay, some of them sucked, but the ones I can think of were for marquee, AAA-quality game titles: StarCraft II, Rock Band 2, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, etc. Sure, there are claims that some of the developers were catering too much to the yellow-badged media members - I can't say I saw any of the general public in the Fallout 3 trailer all weekend, for sure - but I would trust in PA dropping the banhammer on that practice next year.

Also, focusing on the lines for maybe 10% of the games is ignoring the reasonable lines everywhere else. Yes, that includes Guitar Hero: World Tour, which is at least trying to be a AAA title. One of the best games I saw all show was Valkyria Chronicles, and we waited a minimal amount of time to see that. Crowding wasn't too bad at Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony's booths, either - at least, certainly not to the extent of the worst lines.

The panels were all too packed. I may be venturing more to devil's advocate range here, but, umm, that's bad? It's certainly better than having 25% of the panels at the show completely empty, right? Isn't this a sign that PA knows their demo and is scheduling the right people to be there to speak? Nobody wants to stand for an hour or so (I ate my dinner Friday night standing at the back of the 1up Yours taping), but at least it's a good sign that they know their market.

Also, some people (myself included) went to PAX with a hope and a dream wishing to meet people in the industry, and while it was harder than last year, it was still possible. Okay, there was a huge "Cult of (insert 1up Editor Here)" at their Saturday night party at GameWorks, but that's bound to happen. People were available after most of the panels I went to during the show. Just like with breaking into the industry, it's a matter of effort.

I could keep going, but I think I've made my point. While there was more crowding than ever, were there ever any real problems - even in PC freeplay, BYOC, or console freeplay? It seems like everybody kept their head and lived by the PAX creed: Have fun and don't be a dick to anybody or keep anyone else from having fun.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rock Band 2sday - an interview with Harmonix

Let there be rock - RB2 fires up for the first time at Ground Kontrol. Photo by Doug Bonham

Rock Band 2 is almost upon us. The game’s developers, Harmonix, had a large presence on the show floor of the Penny Arcade Expo – the line to play the game was usually at least a half hour. While fans got their hands on the game for the first time at PAX, a lucky group of gamers in Portland, Ore., got a special treat when the sequel was demoed Tuesday, September 2. Ground Kontrol (511 NW Couch St., Portland, Ore) played host during the regular Rock Band Tuesdays to Harmonix’s Dan Teasdale, lead designer of Rock Band 2, and Heather Wilson, audio producer for the company.

Harmonix audio producer Heather Wilson and Rock Band 2 lead designer Dan Teasdale up on stage receiving applause from the crowd before rocking out to Squeeze's "Cool for Cats." Photo by Doug Bonham

Teasdale and Wilson were kind enough to agree to an interview with myself, Nick Cummings, and one of the lead volunteers in running Rock Band Tuesday, John Leslie.

How many places have you found that do a Rock Band night on a regular basis?

DT – I think we’ve lost count at how many places have done it. Originally in the earlier days with some of the earlier games, River Gods down the street was the place that did it, and was the place we knew of, and in the three or four years since then it’s just exploded. No Fail is coming out of our experience of going to River Gods every week and seeing people fail out. Even though it doesn’t really fit with a campaign mode where you want people to fail out and progress better, in a live situation, nobody wants to fail out.

HW – It also came out of people at work bringing the game home to their families and their families totally failing out but still wanting to play.

With regards to announcements and information containment, how hard is it to prevent a leak or two?

DT – It’s tough, it’s not like we’re releasing one game a year. We’re releasing 52 content packs a year, plus a game, plus however many SKUs of it. It’s much harder than any other sort of game or company I’ve worked on. Considering how much stuff we’ve done it’s been pretty good.

HW – That leak (about the PAX Pack) came directly out of the fact that we had technical difficulties the week before. Just getting the information out to everyone who needed to have it, it just didn’t make it down the chain like it was supposed to, is hard. It was a leak but at the same time, people were doing what they were supposed to.

Compared to the earlier days at Harmonix, how is the song licensing process?

HW – It’s a lot easier to license stuff now. Because people have heard of us, they want to give us content, which is awesome. With bigger bands it’s the same as it always was, there’s convincing there, you want them to want to be in your game, and sometimes there’s a barrier of entry because they may not have heard of it, may not have played it, but it’s generally a lot easier.

Nick – Back after Rock Band 1, Dan, you said your most-wanted band was AC/DC. Was that your own personal push?

DT – I think it’s everybody at Harmonix’s personal push (laughs). Everyone is fans of AC/DC. One of our first prototype songs was a cover test of AC/DC, and I think they’re such an iconic rock band.

Are bands more willing to work with you when they have new material to promote?

DT – A lot of bands are more open to giving us their stuff when they’re releasing new content.

HW – A lot of people, like Weezer for example, want to give us new content but they also want to give us old stuff too. With some bands, we’ll say “hey, we’ll put out your new stuff, can we also have this old stuff too?” and it works out really well.

How was demo-ing RB2 to bands like AC/DC?

DT – We personally weren’t close to that, it was a much higher level, but from what we understood AC/DC really loved the game and that’s one of the reasons why they wanted to be in the game.

Nick - At the panel at PAX, you said Nine Inch Nails was one of the first major acts to contribute a song voluntarily. When was that in the process?

DT – It was earlier on, before we had any songs in Rock Band. He kind of knew what we were doing because he’s on the ball with this sort of stuff, and he wanted to contribute, which was amazing because it wasn’t even like us chasing him.

HW – And Izzy, one of our audio guys, loves Nine Inch Nails and was super excited to be able to work on those tracks.

John – Speaking of NIN, it shows the song choice present in the game – not just singles like “The Hand That Feeds” but deeper cuts get into the game…

HW – We really like to go after stuff that’s we think is going to be tactful. We want stuff that’s going to play well, but is also going to be meaningful.

Will we see longer albums, more instrumentals, or even double albums released as DLC?

HW – You know, it really depends. I wouldn’t rule that out as a possibility, and with the instrumental stuff, it’s going to make it easier to release certain albums. We probably won’t go too instrumental-heavy because it is a game for four players and we want to make sure that everybody can play everything, but at the same time it’s going to make it easier to put some stuff out.

But with the amount of content in the game already and due out this year and next, it’s different than if the first DLC album released was instrumental, right?

The mic ran out of batteries at this point - CRAP! - but Dan talked about the content and confirmed they would consider things like that. Dan then was asked about the accessories to the game, and while things like the wooden instruments, the Ion drum kit, Mad Katz’s stuff, and others are outside of Harmonix, they are coming and go through the company. Unfortunately they don’t control the release dates, etc. I do remember Heather saying she wished the 3rd-party microphone with the D-pad and buttons built in was at their office!

On the accessory note…what led to the stage kit?

DT - I remember when we first got pitched the stage kit, it was like “Okay, we’ve got this hardware (that they were also pitching), and also we’d like to maybe make a stage kit,” and it was like “Wow, that is awesome.” The kit is actually labeled a controller, so on the Rock Band 1 disc songs and all the DLC so far we’ve actually authored a fog track and a lights track. So all it does is send fog and lights out to the kit. It’s an Xbox controller essentially, because that’s the only way we can get the data out, so I’m sure you can hack it to get multiple machines.

Will there ever be add-on DLC costumes, instruments or venues for the game?

DT – I think if we do stages and new guitars and stuff it’s far in the future, right now we’re focusing on the content every week and it takes a lot of our time. Never say never when it comes to Rock Band stuff.

John – When playing through BWT, I thought about how cool it would be to work through, say, all of the venues in Seattle, playing Seattle band songs, until you get up to, say, Key Arena. Have you ever thought of doing, using real venues?

DT – (Not using real venues) gives us more range to craft that sort of story. It’s the same reason we don’t have real rock stars in our game, it’s because this whole thing is about you traveling on this journey. A lot of our venues are crafted to that as well.

HW – One thing we did when we were making up the venues was we tried to craft the location we were putting it in, in terms of art style and in naming and location. We tried to place them as realistically as possible while still giving you the fantasy.

DT – I don't think (licensed venues) really fits the direction we’re going. We’re trying to go more authentic then a carbon copy.

Nick had a question about the writing in the game; Heather did most of it, including for the loading screens, rock shop, etc. Dan confirms that the text during loading screens will return for RB2…but adding more to the game along with DLC songs?

DT – That was something we talked about. There’s a couple of technical things we’d have to get around.

How is working with MTV versus working independently?

HW – We kind of have a lot more freedom artistically, now we’re working on our own IP and can do what we want with it, which is awesome. I was there before MTV purchased us, and there’s been a real effort to keep the company culturally the same. There’s stuff now where we have to fit into their corporate mold, but it’s still really low key and doesn’t affect a lot of people.

DT – I think the big thing that helps us is it gives us this huge power to be both publisher and developer at the same time. Heather, as our audio producer, she is in-house handling all our DLC submissions and all the stuff that would be handled by a third-party publisher. Like this week, we had a technical issue, but because all our stuff was in-house, we can get content out this week. If we had somebody over in LA we had to talk to, it would be impossible for us to get it out.

John – How do you feel about MTV using Rock Band as a promotional tool?

HW – There’s room. We’ve got all kinds of content, and it’s good, because it reaches the mass market and it reaches more people than we could reach, which is kind of awesome.

DT – At the same time, it’s not a one-way street, we have control over what songs go in the game. If we don’t like the song they’re proposing, we say “no,” and if we do, then we say “yeah.”

John – What did MTV think about Boston? I’d think they’d be pushing bands like the Jonas Brothers or something.

HW – They do want to put a lot of new stuff out but they also have the same vision of what we do, and have a clear idea of what Rock Band is as a brand. I work directly with a lot of people at MTV and they’re incredibly awesome to work with and they really want the same thing we want, which is great.

How would you submit music if you wanted to get your independent band into the game?

DT – If you go to Jobs (on the Harmonix website), it pops up with a little Google maps box, if you click on the pin it has our address.

HW – Just send it to my attention, to the attention of Heather.

John – Is there any chance that music previously rumored to be released can still come out? (A couple examples are named, including “Received Your Letter.”)

HW – Well, with “Received Your Letter,” there were licensing hurdles we couldn’t get over, and we really like that song and really wanted to put it in Rock Band. Occasionally we may want to revisit stuff, especially if it’s stuff we already have authored. It’s like, it’s there, why not.

As far as the PAX Pack goes, those were my personal choices, actually. I love MC Frontalot, I love Jonathan Coulton, and I love Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. So, the fact that all three of them were playing at once and we could put the pack together was awesome. The Penny Arcade guys made those suggestions, and it was a total match. The Darkest track, “Shhh…,” was unreleased and they recorded it at the same time they recorded the rest of the album, “The Shadow Out of Tim,” and they gave us that track, and I was super-excited about it.

There was an announcement about the Japanese version…any updated news?

DT – Not really, no, that’s just the announcement – that we’re working with Q (Entertainment) on Rock Band Japan, those guys are incredibly awesome, incredibly talented, a great match. They know music. I can’t wait to see what comes out of there.

The big question you must get all the time, Dan, about Australia: What problems have there been?

DT – Anything you can imagine, actually (laughs). We’ve been working really hard for a very long time to get it out in Australia, we’re going to have some announcements soon about dates, pricing. Again, it’s getting licenses for all their songs, making sure artists get paid, we want to make sure we do it properly. We’ll announce it soon – very soon.

Any word on the future for the platform, and how the support for it will evolve or continue?

DT – (No comment on specifics, but…) At the same time, RB is a platform, we’re going to be supporting it for the foreseeable future. As long as we can see, yeah.

HW – Our schedule, we’re scheduled out to mid-spring. We schedule really far in advance. It shifts, certain weeks might not stay what we have them on the schedule now, but at the same time we have content lined up.

John – Any plans to go into different genres of music with the DLC in the future?

DT – I think we definitely want to go broader and wider on the platform. More regional content, more deep content for specific artists, more regional inside the U.S. content as well. I know we’ve hinted at indie stuff a bit, and we’ll have more announcements soon. I’ve been pushing for an Aus music pack for a long time (laughs).

HW – I don’t think it’s straining too far, we want to make it a platform. There are a lot of country fans in-house. I tested CMT Presents Karaoke Revolution: Country, and honestly, it’s a super-fun game. Singing country songs is fun. I’d like to do some of that content.

Will that content stay region free?

DT – I can’t promise it, but we’re going to do our best to make sure that everyone can play the songs.

What is the feeling at Harmonix developing what you can now as opposed to pop music games like some of the Karaoke Revoution ones?

DT – I think bands of all walks, but a lot of us play rock in our bands.

HW – There are people at Harmonix who love all genres of music. We’ve got opera fans. It’s a really broad base.

So the long and short of it, Rock Band isn’t going away?

HW – Nope (laughs). DT – It’s here to stay.

Big thanks again to Dan and Heather for demoing Rock Band 2 at Ground Kontrol, agreeing to an interview, and special thanks to Anthony and the crew at GK for throwing such a good event week-in, week-out. For more details on Rock Band Tuesday and GK, see For more on Rock Band 2, see and

Monday, September 1, 2008

PAX 08: The quick write-up


The One Ups rock the stage on Friday night at PAX 2008. Photo by Doug Bonham

I'm tired, my body is sore and tired, and I drove back from Seattle to Portland today, but PAX 2008 was a great experience, as it was the other two times I have made the trek to pay homage to Gabe and Tycho. Well, it's never really been about kissing the ring and bowing at their feet, more like enjoying their hospitality and having them host the greatest gaming festival that can be thrown.

And it's morphing into that - 58,000 people can't be wrong, and the quality and content on display from exhibitors shows that as well.

Quick-hitting thoughts: Nerds smell; you can tell what somebody's doing at PAX by how well they dress; lines suck, but they're also great places to make impromptu friends for five (or 45) minutes; as my friend Tyler noted, a surprising amount of attractive females were at the show and not just dragged along by significant others.

Holy fucking shit, Starcraft II playable? NO WAI! Photo by Doug Bonham

There were a few games on display that I was not expecting to be at the show in anything other than video form. Mirrors Edge, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, Starcraft II, and Rock Band 2 were all playable - and all had fucking epic lines to play them. I suppose it's good that you, at least, could.

Be glad you can't see the guy in the Destructoid helmet's shorts. Photo by Doug Bonham

I went to a bunch of panels, especially ones about the video game industry and writing for it/with it/around it, and easily the best was the one hosted by Destructoid. Hilarious, mad-cap, and very informative, I've come away from it floored - and instilled with energy to go out there and get into the industry starting from scratch. I know I can do it, and I have some plans in mind that will all be revealed as soon as they're truly formulated. Until then, I'll keep off my feet and fantasize about living the dream.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Braid: Praise and damnation

Photo courtesy of IGN. As if you couldn't tell from the watermark.

The praise online for Braid – the Xbox Live Arcade game that is part platformer, part puzzler, and part short story – has spread like wildfire. The game’s $15 price point clearly has not been a detractor, and the critical acclaim – a 93 rating on MetaCritic, the eighth best Xbox 360 to date – has rolled in.

I have it. I like it. I want to love it – but there’s something holding me back: the game itself.

There’s difficulty, and then there’s difficulty. Braid is not a controller-throwing, how-much-is-the-game-cheating game in the mold of a Ninja Gaiden or a Bionic Commando, games that require pin-point precision and have brutal standards that gamers struggle to meet.

Braid, though, is almost too cerebral, too spacey for its own good. It doesn’t preclude that its player is dumb – which, while better than hand-holding and too low a level of difficulty, steers in my opinion too far the other way. The game doesn’t hint nearly enough at the way to complete too many of its puzzles. My good friend and gaming colleague, Nick, insists I can complete this; apparently, the game’s creator, Jonathan Blow, has a taunt to players on a game guide that says, in short, “you don’t need a guide to finish this game.” And an integral part of the game’s control structure, the rewind button, takes the last-gen Prince of Persia’s “rewind button as small eraser” concept to its inevitable conclusion, even integrating it into a few different puzzles.

But I still get incredibly frustrated most every time I turn the game on. I’ve gone through every level by now – well, barring World 1 – and I’m still stuck on far too many puzzles. World 4, 5 and 6 all still are baffling.

Maybe I’m focusing too much on the negative, feeling too cynical about my gaming abilities. I just wish Braid left a few more hints about how to untie its knots, instead of standing there with arms crossed looking down at me.

It's a masterpiece - I just wish it wasn't so condescending.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Put me in, coach


If I learned one thing from the coverage I did last week for the Trentonian of the Little League Softball World Series, it is that I am not a cynical sports writer quite yet.

I’ve been guilty of thinking that the TV production values brought to the World Series of both baseball and softball isn’t very healthy for the kids involved, but from what I saw out at Alpenrose Dairy (which sits right at the border between Portland and Beaverton) I’m fortunately a bit wrong about that. I was a bit peeved after the championship game because I needed to talk with the coach of the Robbinsville, N.J., team I had been covering, and I couldn’t get to him; however, it wasn’t because he was avoiding the press, but because the teams – including coaches and players – were all busy doing post-championship awards ceremonies.

valentin_first base

I actually got a hold of Robbinsville coach Jim Freeman on the field right after the ceremony ended, as the LLSBWS staff was trying to rodeo all the fans, families, players and coaches on the field to engage in the world’s largest chicken dance. No, I’m not kidding. No, I did not stay, because I was on deadline. Whether that’s fortunate or unfortunate is not for me to say.


The above photo was from the semi-final game that the East representatives from Robbinsville, N.J. won; the photo below, after losing the championship game almost exactly a day later. Definitely a range of emotions.


Note that I said I interviewed the coach, not the players. I talked with some of the players after the game the night before – when they won to reach the championship – but out of respect I didn’t even think about talking to any of the girls after the game. It’s not because they’re girls – I would have done the same if I were out in Williamsport, Pennsylvania this week for the Little League baseball World Series – but because they’re 12 freaking years old. They’re not even college students, let alone high school students. After a pool play game, I saw a girl get pulled off the mound because she was starting to get tired as pitcher, get substituted out to shortstop, and missed a following play because she was crying about it. Sometimes you have to have a little sympathy about your subject matter.


I wasn’t just writing, I was also flexing my photographic muscles and shooting a sport I hadn’t shot before. It was fun; working around the limitations of my camera was an interesting challenge. Compared with the professional (or nearly professional) camera bodies some reporters and professionals were walking around with, I felt as if I was walking into a war zone with a squirt gun. Nothing like getting outgunned by gear that is easily $4000 more than my more entry-level setup.


As a photographer, I’m starting to understand the limitations to my gear and how it effects me and my work. There’s the obvious – I don’t have long enough telephoto lenses – but the other really big hurdle was my camera’s meager 2.5 frames per-second burst limit. Pro bodies push 6 FPS at least. That means you get that action shot instead of being just ahead or just behind the real moment that you need frozen in time.


At the least, though, covering softball reminded me that, yes, sports can still be fun and played “for the love of the game” – and that these top levels of youth sports have not sold out to crass commercialism. That a family and team of volunteers can still run the World Series is a wonderful thing in this era of sports-as-business.


All photos ©2008 Doug Bonham, with the full set available on Flickr available here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This is what the Olympics needed

Usually I'm the first to really groan about media over-exposure, but sports fans have definitely benefited from the expanded coverage available the last few years. Now out-of-town fans can watch their team, albeit for a premium, and people of looser morals and greater computer technical abilities have a good crack at watching most anything they want on the plethora of international streams on the Internet.

And this has only helped out the Olympics this summer. Between coverage on all of their affiliates (CNBC, MSNBC, NBC, Universal on HD, etc.), Americans have a great deal of Olympic coverage available on TV. However, the real ace in the hole is the online coverage that streams almost every sporting event that they can through their main online hub,

Most of the fun of the Olympics is seeing sports that you don't generally see - not even on ESPN 2 at 3 in the morning. Not even sports that gain marquee attention most every Olympics - swimming, track and field, and gymnastics standing out - but stuff like women's weight lifting, or fencing, or handball. Or badminton! I watched some of that with my dad yesterday morning and it was awesome in HD.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Doug Bonham's Selected Clips

Select clips from the Oregon Daily Emerald

Main index on

"Down for the count?", investigative sports enterprise feature, originally published February 27, 2008.

"The Ol' College Try", player feature, originally published February 21, 2008.

"Making the grade?", investigative sports feature, originally published February 19, 2008.

"How would you spend $100 million?", sports opinion column, originally published January 25, 2008.

"Alexander the Great,", player feature, originally published January 17, 2008.

"As Ducks seek national spotlight, history repeats itself,", sports opinion column, originally published November 1, 2007.

"'Bioshock' an all-around great gaming experience," video game review, originally published September 17, 2007.

"Sounds of fall ring out as Ducks open camp", sports news article, originally published August 8, 2007.

"After 26 years, baseball is back, sports news feature, originally published July 16, 2007.


Freelance work

"'Wasn't in the cards'", sports news story, originally published in The Trentonian, August 14, 2008. Freelance photographs also published with story.

"Robbinsville one win away from world title", sports news story, originally published in The Trentonian, August 13, 2008. Freelance photographs also published with story.

"Robbinsville rallies for thrilling win," sports news story, originally published in The Trentonian, August 10, 2008. Freelance photo also published with the story.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Not everything needs to be news

I'm so utterly tired of one of the best football players of all time right now.

Brett Favre has created a hurricane of interest in the past few months, and the eye is now settled directly on Wisconsin. I think ESPN is running a news update every time Favre sneezes or goes to the bathroom (I think John Clayton is on that beat for the World-Wide Leader). He has single-handedly stolen all of the attention away from every other team in the NFL, which is almost unfathomable.

I'm just tired of it. I'm tired of the hyper-analysis of every move in this chess game, I don't care about every single detail, and I hate that it can hijack sports news coverage so easily. I hate that there's an almost-constant "FAVRE" ticker on ESPN. I hate that I'm writing this column.

With all due respect to all the incredibly talented athletes out there, please, please, please take your contract squabbles out of the media's eye. I just don't care anymore, and I'm sure even the most hardened NFL junkies are starting to get soured. If the people around Favre hadn't started squawking to the press, if Favre himself had come out and said "I'm going to go negotiate with the team and we'll talk when I'm done," if the agents hadn't whipped everyone into a frenzy, I'd have much more sympathy of the plight of the ancient quarterback.

As it stands, this is a black mark on his legacy and a sad way to keep a fanbase chasing its tail.

It isn't just the NFL that is falling prey to this. European soccer is rife with players going to the press and trying to work their way out of deals and hogging the sports pages. Manny Ramirez just earned about two weeks worth of press coverage leading up to his deadline-day trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's ridiculous.

I'm all for the freedom of player movement and in now way would I ever advocate to a return of the pre-free agency days, but come on, have some respect for your teams. I'd have more sympathy for Favre if he had kept the talk in the board rooms and between himself, his agent and the Green Bay Packers. As it is, it just stinks of attention grabbing, with the dogs baying for blood up in Bristol, CT.

I can't wait for real, meaningful football news to get started.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why we play video games

I love sports. This is not a secret. I love to try and play sports, but - shock of shocks - like 99% of the world, I'll never be good enough of an athlete to play at the top level. Kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard pretending to win the World Cup, or taking a free throw and imagining it's to seal Game 7 of the NBA Finals for my hometown Blazers; these sort of moments are dreams, and will be nothing more.

Or, hell, the dream of being able to play like this:

On my to-buy-and-read list: the biography of Pistol Pete, called "MARAVICH."

I can't do those moves. Certainly not in a game, and I'd probably pull muscles I never knew I had stumbling over myself trying even one of them on a playground.

Video games can help you live the fantasy, live the dream. I'm not going to pretend that spending time learning a sports game is even equatable to the hard work athletes have, but damn if it isn't satisfying to pick up a game, improve, and win virtual championships, titles, score goals, dunk a basketball, throw a long-bomb touchdown pass. It's armchair virtuosity at its finest. Make-believe to the nth degree.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pile of Shame: The shameful update

Woo boy, this whole "play through the games I need to finish" thing isn't quite going to plan.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is done and dusted, but that's the most I can lay claim to. I have put a TON of time in on both Forza 2 and Rock Band, but as for the rest...nothing. I thought about FFVII for a little while, but ended up putting Winning Eleven 9 back into my PS2 instead.

Forza 2 brings up such a problem I see a lot with games like this: there's a stretch really early in the game where you struggle and it's not much fun, then you eventually get a ton of money and have no motivation to continue. I can build a car for pretty much any class or race I want right now in Forza 2, but it's all a grind. Build best car for the class, smash through class, take winnings; rinse, wash, repeat.


Rock Band, well, is still Me vs. "Green Grass and High Tides Forever" on Expert. 'Still' being the keyword. I am undeniably better at guitar by now, and drums, too - I am, on Nick's recommendation, going through earlier songs and working on technique and trying to get 5 stars. Which is working...but I still can't get over the hill.

As for the rest of the games...well, to get into a bigger discussion about my lazy gaming habits, I tend to play the shit out of a few sports games and end it there. Winning Eleven is the prime suspect here; I must have 200 hours on WE9 on the PS2, easily. Somehow I can justify turning the system on for "just one game," which turns into a couple hours, guaranteed. I need to diversify!

As for the DS/GBA games I have, well, at least I have my Japanese denshi jisho 'game' out of my DS Lite, which is a start. Just need to find chances to take my DS along with me and break it out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sports game mentality and a review of NCAA 09

I can’t help but get a feeling of déjà vu when I’m playing NCAA 09. No, not just because I’ve played the demo that was released on Xbox Live ahead of the game’s launch; it’s because there’s so much the same as last year’s version, and the year before that’s version, and on and on.

NCAA 09: different covers for each version. Xbox 360 gamers get former Arkansas running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Darren McFadden.

Sports gamers are really good at buying and playing the same game over and over. However, this becomes problematic when applied too liberally to the process of creating a sports video game. Tweak a few things, add some new features that can be slapped on the back box (or, gratingly, add back features that were taken away a year or two ago), update the rosters and uniforms and boom! Quicker than John Madden on a turducken, you’ve got yourself a yearly sports update.

Take, for instance, the home-field advantage system being advertised in NCAA 09. This was originally introduced in NCAA 06, and in the Xbox version of the game you could cause some serious havoc in multiplayer by jamming on the white button (I think it was L1 for the PS2). Controllers vibrate, stadiums shake, all well and good. After a two-year hiatus it’s back for 09 – and causes just as many problems. However, it’s being advertised as another new addition to the series for 09, when in reality it’s adding in a feature that was cut for the first two next-gen versions.

Further proof that more and more insidious people are working in PR, I suppose.

A sort of perfectionist streak regarding gameplay makes sense – sports are all about perfecting technique of a set game. Unlike going from the ice level to the forest level to the cave level in a platformer or RPG, the game stays the same in sports. It’s just the nature of the beast; therefore, an inherent part of sports gaming is the pursuit of perfection, of getting better, upping the difficulty, adapting, and growing.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily sell units on a yearly basis.

If the sports game market were to go the way some consumers and fans suggest – offer yearly roster updates for a small cost (as that’s really about 50% of the reason to buy a new yearly sports game) and patch in some extra features – companies like EA Sports would go bankrupt in a heartbeat. You’d buy a product once and it’d last the life-cycle of a system; that doesn’t pay the bills.

Who is #30 for Oregon? It can change from year to year, and that is a high priority to sports gamers.

However, the current system of roster updates, graphic spit-shine, a few new features and a new package for $60 is really a horrible thing for consumers. Yet, if you look at your Xbox Live friends list or on a thread on a forum where a bunch of your sports-fan friends are buying the latest and greatest, what are you gong to do? Stick to the older copy that nobody plays? Buy last year’s version for all of $15 from EB or GameStop as opposed to the new one for four times the price?

And this isn’t just limited to NCAA Football, either; since EA Sports bought the NFL license exclusively a few years ago, Madden NFL has fallen under harsh criticism, and despite competition, many sports games – including soccer, basketball, hockey, baseball, and golf – make minor updates to the existing game in their yearly iterations. Besides obligatory graphics updates and new rosters, there isn’t too much happening in many of these games – sometimes there’s a meaningful update, but it’s rare. Maybe two games last year – NHL 08 and FIFA 08 – made real strides to advance, improve upon and make revolutionary steps in their gameplay.

Why is it that sports gamers accept this? I have my theories on this. One, sports gamers are very often sports fans first, hardcore gamers second. I’ve got a whole other post’s worth of thoughts on why this separation exists, but that’s for another time. Two, because of this difference, the value systems of what is looked for in a new version of a game are completely different. Fans of all genres of games love “more of the same, but improved,” and that runs the gamut from Metal Gear to Halo to everything else. However, what falls under that “improved” tag for sports games is usually led by rosters.

Rosters are a huge matter to sports fans, because it affects so much of the game – balance, accuracy, etc. If your team in NCAA Football is missing it’s stud recruit, then you’re missing out on a player who’ll make an impact for four years. When I fire up my old copy of Winning Eleven 9 and see the default rosters for Arsenal, now four seasons out-of-date, I see very few players who are on the current team – and none of the ones who are still there are at an “accurate” place in their careers right now.

Without going into too much of a tangent, that’s why having roster updates mid-season is such a big deal for sports games – take Madden for instance. Last year, the Cleveland Browns and their starting quarterback, Derek Anderson, became one of the hottest teams in the league. Based on pre-season ratings, in Madden they sucked, especially Anderson, a journeyman backup quarterback who played college ball at Oregon State. Anderson got a huge bump in ratings, as did other Browns, and it reflected real life.

If NCAA had roster updates last year, the Ducks would have gone from average in the pre-season to an absolutely monstrous team – Dennis Dixon had one hand on the Heisman Trophy until he blew out his knee against Arizona State and was gone for good in the Arizona game. But, in the ‘basic’ roster, he’s rated only an 85 or 88 – far from the best player in the Pacific-10 Conference, let alone the country.

Maybe I’m thinking too hard about this whole issue, but from one point of view I see “horses for courses” – different types of gamers expect different things from their games – whereas, on the other hand, I see a line of sports-crazy sheep buying the product for minimal improvement and simply feeding the machine. But one thing’s for certain: until there’s a major change in the sports games business, companies like EA Sports and 2K Sports are going to keep riding the cash cow until the money runs out.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Sweet christ my fingers hurt. It kinda hurts to type. I started trying to work on playing "Green Grass and High Tides Forever" in Rock Band on my Expert Guitar tour again tonight, the last song between myself and some sweet, sweet gamer points - not to mention being able to hold my arms high in victory over this goddamned game.

This is why I can never get through that damned Pile of Shame.

I am getting better, I am finding it easier to get through the first 70% of the song, but clearly I need to go back to practice the trills at the 72% mark some more again. That's Solo 2F for those keeping score at home. And when I've gotten through there, I get held up at Solo 2H's scaling zig-zags. I can't do it with my left hand on the regular buttons, and I keep fucking up every time I switch to the solo buttons down the neck.

I will conquer this damned thing, and soon. It will happen. But I'll have to put another two or three hours into it, easily. Easily.

For now, though, I'll sleep on it and wake up in the morning. If the fingers still burn, then that'll be a good reminder of what I have left to do.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Justifying losing money; or, how GameStop is printing its own profits

Very rarely can you feel good about giving things up and getting much less for your money value than you should, but I honestly feel like that right now after a trip to GameStop to return some games for store credit. I traded in three games I'm not playing much right now - NBA 2K8, NCAA Football 08, and FIFA 08 - in exchange for $43 worth of in-store credit, which I turned into a brand new copy of Major League Baseball 2k8 and a scant $3 worth of a card.

In theory, selling games back to retailers makes sense. I had three sports games I didn't play much (and, in the case of NCAA 08, a game that was about to see its trade-in value nose-dive - its replacement NCAA 09 is due in a week, two max), the store gets to buy them back and re-sell them at a lower price then new, and it's a profit margin for the store. Makes sense, right?

The problem is the profit margins GameStop makes. They're obviously a very big company with many stores, but they're keeping themselves out of the recession, according to Forbes, by being in the second-hand market and making so much. In fact, from an article on, GameStop is making 50 cents of pure profit on the dollar on their used sales. GameStop is raking in $650 million per year on used games.

I added to the 2008 totals tonight, even though my friend Nick and I got there just before the store was supposed to be closed - and even though the manager and the other goober clearly wanted to leave, badly.

So how is this $650 million made? Simple: mark up the price on hot used games, and quite seriously low-ball gamers on their sales. Like, "here's some lube, you'll need it" low-ball on the amount of money you get back (oh, and if you want it in cash, that's a certain percentage less that you get. It's a fucking racket).

Let's take my turn-ins for the night as an example. I received $43 for my efforts. I don't know the specific breakdown of how much money each was worth, but I do know that FIFA 08 was probably the most out of the three I got. I also got an extra $10 for turning in three "next-gen" (re: PS3, 360 or Wii) games, which is clearly another indication that three is the magic number. So, without bringing the De La Soul-style bonus, I got $33.

How much do these games retail for used from EB? According to (same parent company as GameStop), the PS3 version of NCAA 08 is $19.99 (no 360 version and the prices are usually the same), the 360 version of NBA 2k8 is $26.99, and the 360 version of FIFA 08 is $44.99.

GameStop paid me $43, including a $10 bonus, for games they will turn around and sell for a grand total of $91.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how $650 million of profit is made. Somehow, I can still justify it - I mean, those games were just lying around, right? Might as well get something new - but I still feel horrible knowing that I am nothing but $.50 profit on the dollar to GameStop.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

sports are cruel

Money makes the world go 'round.

Despite making no legitimate effort to find a solution in Seattle, Clay Bennett has weaseled a way out of the Key Arena lease for his ownership group and the Seattle SuperSonics will be no more starting next season.

Even though I'm a diehard Trail Blazers fan, I just can't be happy about this at all. Seattle has won a championship, the Sonics are the city's oldest sports franchise, and, oh yeah, there's stacks of evidence that Bennett's ownership group never attempted to reconcile their arena "problem." Never mind that Key Arena is less than 15 years old in its current incarnation (which is just older than Portland's Rose Garden, for what it's worth), and that it wouldn't take much to improve the arena to "current NBA standards," whatever those are.

I care, but it's frustrating. Sports are a business, and a rather expensive one at that. People want to make money from this. I get it. But after seeing the way Portland has turned around its franchise - namely, rebuilding ties to the community and not letting burned bridges stand in disrepair - and seeing Bennett and his set of flyover state carpetbaggers gleefully holding torches while they exit stage east, I can't help but get a bit frustrated by it all.

Oh well. I can rest assured knowing that, at the NBA owner's meeting vote back a couple months ago to let Bennett take the franchise to Oklahoma City, Portland owner Paul Allen was one of just two dissenting voices. The other? Mark Cuban. I guess my respect for the Mavericks' owner has gone up as well.

Goodbye, Sonics; I hope to see you again some day. And fuck you to whatever this franchise will be called from here on out. I hope they get a shitty nickname, it'll make them easier to hate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sony quoting Henry V? wtf?

Sony just took something really cool and bastardized it. The current PS3 ad (featuring Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, MGS4, and Little Big Planet, and placed above via YouTube) has a voiceover of the famous speech from Shakespeare's Henry V in the background.

I...I don't quite know what to make of it. It's an awesome speech - I loved it when I was in a performance of that play in high school - and I don't quite know whether to appreciate the reference, or feel ashamed that Sony's taken something I know well and bastardized it.

More tomorrow on the Pile of Shame. There's some headway, but not a lot, sadly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Finals are here

The Finals are here.

The Celtics have had NBA Finals expectations on their shoulders all year, and are now a game away from the title.

The NBA got its wish - not just the two best teams in the regular season, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences meeting in the finals, but the league's two most storied franchises - the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics - meeting for the first time since 1987. Not since Bird, McHale and Parrish faced Magic, Worthy and the rest of the Showtime Lakers in the Boston Garden and the Forum in L.A. have these two met, and you always knew if they met up this season it would be wash of white-noise and hype leading to the games.

Two things are keeping this series from being great right now: One, the Lakers self-detonating when it counts the most (aside from their Game Three win back home in L.A., which they even almost choked away in the fourth quarter) and two, disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy has raised his ugly head and the NBA is now fighting a PR nightmare.

It's almost only fitting that as the NBA gets its dream finals, accusations are coming in that there might be somebody behind the scenes pulling strings. Donaghy has apparently accused the NBA of influencing the referees, who in turn are supposed to influence the outcomes of playoff series - to try and improve ratings, it would seem. The crux of some of this is around the Kings-Lakers Western Conference Finals in 2002, in which the Lakers won game six to take it to a seventh game, which they won en route to the title.

NBA fans have been cynical about referees in the past, and many have conspiracy theories regarding the NBA front office that should earn them honorary tinfoil hats. Frozen envelopes, make-up calls after non-calls in games, doctored playoff series, refs in on it...all of it sounds too familiar, and where there's smoke there's eventually fire.

I just hope this doesn't completely cripple the league. That would be a shame.


The world's best player, Man United's Cristiano Ronaldo, tries to lead his Portuguese national side to glory

The Finals are here. After a year and a half of qualifying matches, the European Championships - aka Euro 2008 - are upon us. A week gone, three teams have qualified after winning their first two matches, the first few uninspiring matches have given way to some scintillating soccer, and pre-tournament conceptions on the favorites have already been changed.

The Dutch are flying high and Portugal is strong, whereas the Germans have slipped up and Italy - current defending world champions - are in danger of going out at the first hurdle.

I've been watching the matches every morning, and I'm actually enjoying ESPN's coverage - shocking, I know. They're putting a real effort into improving their coverage, going as far as to hire Scottish commentator Andy Gray onto their team, as well as showing three games a day (one is repeated) and doing a studio show every night. They didn't even put this much effort into their World Cup coverage two years ago.

So far, for me, the Dutch have been the story of the tournament. With no in-camp squabbles, it looks like the Oranje are finally united. Their defense isn't outstanding, but with one of the best keepers in the world - Edwin van der Sar - marshaling the back line, they're organized, and they're incredibly dangerous on the break. They've scored 7 goals in two games - against the World Cup winners (3-0 over Italy) and runners up (4-1 over France).

Watching both these finals is an exercise in drama. I wish the NBA Finals didn't have two days between games, and I wish the Germans can get through their group to the knockout rounds of the Euros. I wish I was there, too - maybe I could pretend I'm Dutch for a few days.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Of frustration and fake plastic instruments

Sometimes you just have to accept your failures and move on with life.

For as much as I've played, become good at, had fun with and all-around enjoyed the "Instrument Protagonist" genre of video games - Guitar Hero 1 and 2 and Rock Band - I've never actually finished one of them on Expert. And, despite having just one song left right now in Rock Band on expert guitar, I'm no closer than I have been before.

Let's see. In Guitar Hero 1, I couldn't get past "Cowboys from Hell" or "Bark at the Moon." Guitar Hero 2, hit the brick wall at "Psychobilly Freakout" and just got stuck. And in Rock Band? The 9-minute-plus Southern rock epic "Green Grass and High Tides Forever."


I threw myself, fitfully, against "Bark at the Moon" for at least two hours before giving up - in one stint, mind you, I've tried it other times as well of course - and I'm doing much the same with GGaHT. The painfully frustrating thing with BatM was that I got to as far as 97% or 98% before failing. Nothing but frustration there.

I'm stuck at 72% or so on GGaHT, which is acknowledged as a sticking point in the song. There's another one at 84% and one in the 90s, I believe. Great. I have that to look forward to.

That's why it's on the Pile of Shame. I'm still working on upping my drumming skill, too - I just bought rubber silencing pads for my drums today, they work great. I'm working on high-level hard songs and starting up expert, but it's the expert guitar play-through that has me frustrated as hell.

At least Rock Band is insanely fun. At least it isn't unfairly frustrating, or the victim of bad game design - that's not the problem. I must stare into the abyss and see if it blinks back.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sights through sounds

Death Cab For Cutie, The Roots, Atmosphere, Blue Scholars, the Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails, Daft Punk, Justice...what do all these bands have in common? New additions to my library recently. My taste in music is nothing if not eclectic, though it usually falls squarely along an indie rock/hip-hop binary, with a skew toward my native Pacific Northwest. I like to think that what all this stuff has in common is being good music; trying to understand any more behind it would be stupid.

Death Cab's new disc is rather good. I certainly like it, at least, making it a worthwhile purchase. My reaction, after listening through it five or six times, is that it starts out really well (so long as you're not overly creeped out by "I will possess your heart," the lead single off the disc that weighs in with a four-minute plus intro on the album), hits a real high note with "Cath..", falls off a bit, but recovers by the end of the disc. For some reason I like "Grapevine Fires." On the way to the Death Cab/Decemberists show in Bend last weekend, Nick thought it was an interesting song about wildfires (it sounds so happy, contrasting with the content), but that just immediately made me think of Bad Religion's "Los Angeles is Burning," a good song about SoCal in flames. It'd be good in Rock Band.

I don't think you could get more diametrically opposed to Death Cab as you could with The Roots. Their new disc is really good, and brings an immediate, brutal sound, but I think I'll get used to it. I'd forgotten how in-your-face Game Theory was until listening to it again with my dad on a road trip a few weeks ago; the first few listens to Rising Down are just like that. Then again, I would love it, because I'm a backpacking fanboy in the biggest way.

I'm swinging back into hip-hop, though. Right now Blue Scholars' new album is halfway through its first play, and I really, really like it; good soulful loops, much, MUCH improved rhyming by Geologic. I loved their disc from a couple years ago (fanboy moment: got my copy at Sasquatch two years ago, and they signed it for me, eep!) and this is spectacular on first listen. I have to love hip-hop like this from the Northwest, it's just a shame Seattle has a much bigger scene than Portland.

Atmosphere and the Rhymesayers artists are also in the queue to listen to more. I've listened to "Simply Leakage" far too much recently; time to find the proper albums. I'm working on that right now, actually.

Trent Reznor deserves some fucking love right now, but I'll save that for another post at another time. Needless to say, I need to listen to The Slip more because it's a free album from Trent that isn't five years after his previous recording. All of those things together are astounding to NIN fans like me, that much is certain.

Gaming thoughts tomorrow, and as a prelude, I think I'm going to work on that post while grinding through an RPG. I'm thinking of playing two right now that are on my Pile or should-play-again pile, but I'm just trying to decide which it should be...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A brilliant way to have your plans jump straight off the tracks

I started out the Pile of Shame project with such good intentions. I wanted to play through games I already had, make good with my back-log, enjoy some good karma, discover some gems I haven't spent nearly enough time on...

Then something happened: I bought Grand Theft Auto IV.

Game, as we say, over.

I haven't finished Grand Theft Auto IV yet, but I've put more than 50 hours into this absolutely amazing game. As much as I hate to let a game off the hook so easily, I think it would be asinine to break apart GTA IV or complain about it's faults; sure, it has horrible pop-in in places, but few games allow you to drive for so far in such different areas without loading. The shooting is tricky, but with some learning and some p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e you can avoid death. Some of the minigames, including the dating and friendships, are kind of shallow, but what game has even ever tried this before?

Let's not forget the story, the scripting, the writing and acting. The story included in this game could easily be made into a couple season's worth of 30-minute TV dramas; the story arcs are incredibly well thought-out. The writing is amazing, the characters are all believable - okay, one flamboyantly gay character might be a bit over-the-top, but everyone else is very real. The player's anti-hero Niko Bellic is no saint, but he's trying; Niko's cousin Roman is a good man with bad gambling issues; other characters later in the game have such human writing that even picking them up to hang out is as enjoyable as the minigame of billiards or the quick comedy show.

Fuck. Yes.

I don't think you can blame me for losing track of the Pile of Shame given GTA IV. It's been quite the bombshell over the whole industry, taking over free time from everyone in sight (at least, everyone bar the Wii Fit demographic...).

That said, the Pile grows – just like a Katamari, it keeps rolling on and gaining steam. The two newest additions are courtesy of Nick: Burnout Paradise for the 360 and Psychonauts for the original Xbox (backwards compatible on the 360, luckily, unlike Beyond Good and Evil...) Burnout is just going to be played for fun, but I need to get through Psychonauts in order to keep hold of my Hardcore Gamer card, in all honesty.

On a small sports note: the Blazers are up to something tonight, apparently. I'm guessing it's the official announcement that Rudy Fernandez will join the team, but it could also be a trade or something just completely left-field and inconsequential. Also, I can't help but feel a touch smug about the Oregon State Beavers baseball team not making the NCAA Tournament this year. They're the first winner to not get invited back since 1991 - so there's a precedent! - plus they dropped the games they shouldn't have. Oregon's gotten screwed in years past (snubbed by the BCS and for the National Championship game in a couple of different one-loss seasons, the women's soccer team not getting an NCAA Tournament invite in 2006 after finishing second in the conference) so the Beavers getting screwed just seems so sweet.

The schadenfreude runs deep and smooth, yes it does.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

the hard drive blues


iTunes can be a weird program.

Those little exclamation marks means it can't find the file. This is because of one of two things: 1. it tried to play the file earlier this morning/last night while I was asleep and my old external hard drive, though it was plugged in AND turned on, somehow ejected itself; or 2. it was sweeping to see if it could read files while I was listening to the new Death Cab album (which is a purchase that went straight to my MacBook's *internal* hard drive and music folder) without my hard drive plugged in.

Hrm. All I really know what this means is, besides figuring out how to mass-re-import music into iTunes without clicking every single file in my library (10,000+, fyi), I'm going to be watching the Fry's ads a little closer this week. Time to invest in a new hard drive, I think.

Later that night.... What did I learn today?

-iTunes is a finicky program that loads its library on start-up, so that means if you've got the majority of your library won't find them. D'oh.

-MacBook superdrives that burn DVDs don't like DVD+Rs very much. At least that spindle was only $8 wasted.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pile of Shame: Metal Gear Solid 3

First, to get it out of the way: "Snake? SNAKE! SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!!" It's obligatory and would be impolite to not say, honestly.

I guess that's the power of Metal Gear Solid. It's truly a gaming enthusiast's series made with the cinematic enthusiasm of a Tarrantino, somebody who really wants to make art for art's sake. Ok, that last sentence might have been about as pretentious as the average MGS game, but where else does that happen regularly in gaming? Nintendo has its child-like innocence, and a other gaming series have their own trademarks, but nobody else does art like Hideo Kojima.

That said, I would call Metal Gear Solid 3 the best in the series. The first PlayStation MGS is groundbreaking, both in storytelling and in terms of its gameplay; the sneaking, the gadgets, the cardboard boxes were all unthought of before the game dropped. As well, the game's storytelling - the twists, the tricks (see the Psycho Mantis boss battle), the psychological drama - is unheard of compared to other games. Metal Gear Solid 2 was bizarre, with even more (and weirder) twists and turns in the story; MGS3 was a much-needed simplification.

Plus, MGS3 brought in some meaningful gameplay changes. Sure, the food and healing mechanics were kinda gimmicky, but certainly more interactive than just picking up a white box with a red cross on it and magically gaining health back. More importantly, though, the Subsistence version of the game implemented a much-needed overhead 3D camera, a necessity brought up by games like the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series. Also, the boss fights - specifically the dramatic sniper hide-and-go-seek with The End and the emotional finish against The Boss - were amazing. The story even made sense!

I was stuck at The Boss - my save was from last summer. It took five freaking tries to finally get her down and escape into the land of cut scenes to end the game. Well worth the time to finish off this amazing action game.

Especially as Grand Theft Auto IV is dropping tomorrow and could take my life away shortly...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the Pile of Shame: an introduction

So I play video games - a lot. Unfortunately, a lot of the time I pour time into one game, all the while buying more and shuffling them to the back (for me, the 800-pound gorilla that always seems to take over is Winning Eleven, but that's another post for another time).

This is a problem.

Anybody who has listened to the 1up Yours podcast should be familiar with a specific term: the Pile of Shame. If 1up's Garnett Lee and company didn't coin the term, they certainly have brought it to the fore.

What's the Pile of Shame? All those good games you've bought but haven't finished.

I plan to rid myself of some serious shame here soon, and that's where this site comes into play.

I plan on writing about my experience of sifting and plowing through my Pile of Shame. I want to discuss why and how they're worth finishing, and talk about the process of playing through them. In some cases, it's going to be pertinent to discuss how they've aged - I do have a couple games on the Pile that are a bit older, so seeing them through a different lens is going to be interesting.

On to the pile itself.

Pile of Shame

From top to bottom, left to right: Rock Band, Forza Motorsport 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Beyond Good and Evil, Sonic Mega Collection, Ninja Gaiden Black, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Final Fantasy VII, The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Pokemon Diamond. These are all games I currently have that I haven't completed from one degree to another, whether that's stuck on a final boss or stuck just a few hours in. Fuller posts on each game will come later, but here's a quick breakdown on each game and where I am in them:

Rock Band: I want to finish Hard Drums and Expert Guitar soon; both are almost done, with only the infamous "Green Grass and High Tides" standing in the way on guitar. Should be done soon.

Forza 2: I've got PLENTY of single-player gaming left for this one as I'm only at Level 33 in my career. Long term project.

MGS3: I'm stuck on The Boss. I plan on tackling this tonight and writing either later tonight or tomorrow.

Shadow of the Colossus: Four colossi in to this brilliant game, I need to dedicate an afternoon and slug through it. Long or short depending on how long I want to play it for at a go.

Beyond Good and Evil: This critical darling is at least 1/3 done, but I need to dedicate ~8-10 hours to finish. Need to pull the ol' Xbox out for it too, dammit. Medium term.

Sonic Mega Collection: Specifically Sonic the Hedgehog 1-3 and Sonic and Knuckles. I want to tackle these all because I grew up chewing through Sega games and I honestly should have these done. Should be a longer-term one, playing through one at a time.

Ninja Gaiden Black: My controller is already afraid. Might have to be a 'start from the beginning' situation unless I already have a save for it on my 360. Will update status soon.

Panzer Dragoon Orta: As my friend Nick says, "It's a fun 90 minutes." I'll tackle it in an afternoon soon. Short term.

Final Fantasy VII: Put down the pitchforks, I know, I know. I'm stuck very early in this game. Very long-term project.

Zelda: Arguably the best in the series goes handheld. I've had it for a while, and been stuck in the first dungeon for a while. Longer term.

Pokemon Diamond: I have four or five gym badges already, but since I'm going to have my DS with me for a while (even if I go overseas) this is longer term and farther down the priority list.

Honorary list members: Guitar Hero and GHII (which my friend has borrowed and GH1 has all of two songs left to finish on Expert), and Half-Life 2 from the Orange Box (which I don't currently own but will when it drops in price...eventually). But since this is all about killing the existing list instead of piling on, these won't count for now.

Time to rid myself of some shame. Expect to hear about Snake in the '60s very soon. On to some serious gaming.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I turn my camera on


Managed to get a picture of my dog in what is known as "god light" coming in from a window. Photo by Doug Bonham

One of the greatest joys I've found the last few months is photography. What a brilliant idea it was to take Photojournalism in my last term of college; though it precipitated the purchase of a digital SLR camera (in my case, a Canon Rebel XT along with a 50 mm f/1.8 lens) and the class was a lot of hard work, it was terribly, terribly fun. I really love framing shots, capturing action, and doing things artfully.

Photo by Doug Bonham

I can't wield a brush to save my life, or create any sort of traditional art on canvas. I can't draw, I'm not great at using stuff like Photoshop to create images either...though I can edit them pretty well now, especially photos. But a camera is something I can operate, control, manipulate, and understand. I can make that thing dance; I know what I'm doing, at least at a basic level.

Air Frazier
Oregon wrestler Zack Frazier. Photo by Doug Bonham

I've already got plans how to continue on with the hobby, and even possibly as a career. I'm firmly on the Canon side of the photo world, and would like to upgrade through it, but for right now I just need to keep shooting photos. Shouldn't be a problem.