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.