Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Wii Out of the Box Impressions

My Wii arrived today. My order was shipped in three packages -- today, I got the box with the console and the extra remote. So today, I spent all of my free time doing everything that you can do with a Wii right out of the box, nothing else required.

The first thing, of course, is to appreciate the box. A minor work of art in and of itself -- eschewing the self-congratulatory text and screenshots that adorn most game console boxes, the Wii is housed in a box decorated with simple, comfortable images: the console itself, regal in its stand, with a remote standing nearby; a disembodied hand clutching the remote purposefully; and everywhere, the word that seemed so peculiar, so alien just one year ago, "Wii".

Open the flap and -- surprise! Instead of bags of cables and components scrunched in at random in a styrofoam mold, we find that the entertainment system has been neatly decomposed and placed into two cardboard "drawers" that remove from the box so smoothly that you'd think they'd intended the user to retain it for use as a travel case. The system's instructions -- both for the hardware and the preloaded software -- are bound in beautiful, full-color manuals, the same quality as the fall catalogue that Nintendo published in 2006.

Installation is simple, but I'm slightly disappointed to find there's no compatibility with Gamecube power or video cables. It's only a few minutes before I'm entering system settings, and then I come to the Channel selection menu for the first time.

It was an afternoon of quiet discovery. I slowly molded this virgin system to suit my needs. I had read enough about what the system could do to know where to poke it to get it to do some cool stuff. I was online in a snap. I installed the Internet and Everybody Votes channels. Homestar Runner looked great on my TV. I made my first Mii, a simple avatar that looks a bit like me.

Only then did I boot up Wii Sports.

Tennis was an instant favorite. It's plain to see why that was the game that was picked for the contest to see who would be the first person to play the Wii. The immersion is immediate and perfect. Even knowing that my movements aren't being followed, that my trajectory has more to do with the timing of my swing than anything else, I can't resist the charm of swinging like my life depended on it.

Bowling is good. Golf is good, even if it's disappointing that there's only nine holes to it. Boxing is good, solid, cathartic fun. Baseball's not bad, but I'd like an option for a full nine-inning game.

I have a friend in Great Britain who owns a Wii. We traded Wii Numbers, and I returned from work to find that he'd sent me three new Miis to play with and a number of pictures he'd played around with in the Photo Channel.

I was tempted -- so very tempted! -- to buy some more points for myself and go on a virtual console shopping spree. I suspect I'm going to lose a lot of money to the magic of armchair game shopping.

It looks like the majority of my games come tomorrow. Wario Ware, Cooking Mama, and Big Brain Academy. All games that I'm already familiar with. It's hard to believe that it won't be long before I get to see how the Wii has treated them.


Sunday, June 24, 2007


That Took Longer Than I Expected

As I suspected, my will to resist snapped the very instant I had the opportunity to buy a Wii. I just placed the order a couple hours ago; it's due to arrive sometime this week.

As with many of my giant home electronics splurges, I'm a bit ambivalent about the deal. I could only order the system as part of a bundle from Some bits were my option, some bits were dictated by the terms of the deal. Take a look at this toybox:

Extra Remote
Classic Controller
Points card
Big Brain Academy
Cooking Mama
Wario Ware
Super Paper Mario

The adult in me is still recovering from a heart attack over trying to swallow the lump sum cost of all that crap at full, brand-new price. But the kid in me is in a drunken stupor over the thought of getting so many cool new toys all at once.

Luckily, I'm not the only person in the house who's interested in this thing, so I may just get away with calling it a combined birthday present. I'm still a bit skeptical about the idea of this box turning my non-gaming family into total video heads like me. Then again, they loved Animal Crossing.

We shall see...


Monday, June 18, 2007


I'm Writing on my DS!

I wasn't planning to get the DS web browser after the poor reception it received, but like so many things I don't need, I bought it anyway.

Truth told, it is kind of slow. And most of the fun things on the Internet don't work. But it's impressive compared to my other device-based internet experiences. Certainly it has the potential to be a lot more useful than I'd believed.

Okay, I'm sick of this software keyboard now.


Friday, June 15, 2007


He For One

And now, a gut reaction to Tyler Bleszinski's whine about the coming video game apocolypse, He, For One, Does Not Welcome Our New Wii Overlords.

My brother Cliff and I have been into games long before he ever created Gears of War.

Our favorite one was Louisville Slugger Versus Homeless Man.

He and I played through the original Zelda together

I sat on the handlebars while he pedalled.

and I remember having tournaments with him where we'd play the original Nintendo Ice Hockey game. I liked to stack my team with the fat guys because

I was really into 80's hip hop at the time.

they had a booming shot that could score from anywhere and were really good at checking.

It made me hard just thinking about it.

Cliff went the skinny guy route and tried to skate circles around me.

Mashing his bloodied corpse into the wall never got old.

But the times, they are a-changing. If Nintendo has its way, young males will no longer be the dominant segment of the console audience--and this transition appears to be happening faster than I expected.

Next thing you know, they'll be letting women vote!

The other day I was in Target looking to pick up some games when I saw an older woman--very likely a grandmother--waiting for the clerk's attention.

So I shoved her calcium-deficient ass into the geriatric cream aisle where she belonged so she wouldn't interrupt my important purchases.

She wanted him to get her a couple of games from inside the locked glass cabinet. When he asked her which ones,

I smacked her quiet again.

she stated Cooking Mama and Wii Play.

I could barely stifle a groan.

I was losing precious minutes of simulated carnage waiting for this?

Don't get me wrong;

Some of my best friends are old women.

I think it's cute that someone who likely had no idea what a video game was

Or a microwave oven or a horseless carriage...

would suddenly plunk down her Social Security money so she can cook virtual meals, play a rousing game of table tennis and shark her little grandchildren out of their milk money in billiards.

It's adorable that she thinks she has a right to entertainment, but now it's grown-up time, and I'm the man.

But honestly, I had refused to believe that grandmothers were buying these things as so many news reports have claimed until I saw it with my own eyes.

I mean... they're really old! They don't need fun!

My story may be anecdotal, but the plural of anecdote is data,

And the plural of urban legend is truth.

and there are more than enough news stories on this topic to suggest that this phenomenon is real.

As astonishing and disquieting as it may sound, old people buy things.

What's more, Nintendo has the sales figures to back up its hype. The NPD sales figures since November have been troubling to me as a hardcore gamer who loves new IPs

As long as they're not about something girly or kiddy.

and in-depth experiences. The Nintendo Wii has built up a ton of momentum in 2007, and despite the fact that it features an internal architecture that maxes out graphically around where the original Xbox did, it has quickly become the darling of the non-gaming press.

Why can't those millions of people who love it understand how bad it is?!

There have been umpteen stories about the scrappy little Wii wooing non-gamers and bringing in hordes of new converts to worship at the altar of Mario.

Offering sacrifices of burnt children to their paganistic Pokemon gods.

I'm not saying that the videogame industry shouldn't strive to bring in as many new people as possible.

I'm just saying that the new people should be forced to play the same things I do.

It most definitely should, because new gamers mean a nice, healthy business. My problem is what this new crowd appears to be drawn to.

Games designed by someone besides my brother.

Games like Wii Sports, Wii Play and Cooking Mama have become some of the biggest sellers, and that is what has me worried.

I base my masculinity on video game sales numbers.

If these are the type of games that become blockbusters, then you can count on other gaming companies who cater to the more hardcore gamer--aka me and the milions of others who've been driving this business--to promptly change direction.

They'll start trying out scary new game ideas that offer little to no opportunity for simulated arterial spray.

If we've learned anything about videogame companies, it's that they all are quick to follow each other if one is successful with something.

That's why we need to stop having new ideas and concentrate only on replicating what's already worked in the past.

I mean, Sony already imitated the Wii a bit with their Sixaxis controller; Microsoft followed Sony with their own EyeToy-like camera, albeit far less successfully;

Nintendo copied Atari with their electronic box that makes television images move when you push buttons;

and Sony is now trying to replicate some kind of online service a la Xbox Live.

We need to prevent this sort of homogenization by not letting Nintendo do anything different.

If Nintendo winds up outselling the 360 and the PS3 by a wide margin, how soon will it be before we gamers are using the Sixaxis to chop up onions with in Metal Gear Mama?

Nintendo's market dominance will force all sorts of patently absurd franchise-to-gameplay matchups to become reality!

How long before we're frantically swinging waggle remotes for tennis, bowling and golf in Halo Sports?

And then, the only forseeable conclusion: MANDATORY GAY MARRIAGE.

Will games like Halo and Gears of War ever go away? Hell no.

They'll just be turned into cooking games.

But publishers aren't stupid.

That's why so few Virtual Boy games were made.

They're going to go where the majority of the money is and if people want to play the WarioWare mini-games more than the meaty experiences that hardcore gamers love, you're inevitably going to see a corresponding shift in development.

If we can't keep up demand for war and crime simulation, it could very well drop off the face of the earth.

Publishers are in the business of making money, so if they can spend six months or a year developing a mini-game package for five-year-old technology and make more profits than they would by spending 2-3 years crafting a long and detailed experience, you can bet your Wiimote that that's exactly what they'll do.

It's a sad world when developers won't pour their lives and millions of dollars into a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art masterpiece that I might not even trade back in for store credit a week later.

If casual games become the industry's primary money-making vehicle, these mini-game collections and more casual games could wind up completely redefining the market.

Soon we'll be playing much less expensive games that are released much more quickly.

I don't think we're far off from the day when Hannah Montana Wii and Wii Sports 2 dominate the NPD charts.

As Hannah Montana twists the lucrative old people demographic around her little finger.

And as soon as that day comes,

Hardcore gamers like you and me will be dragged into the street and castrated.

why would publishers want to continue to the time and effort to develop an in-depth, cinematic experience when they could slap together a bunch of mini-games with waggle and make just as much money, if not more?

It's not like this is some sort of fad that will eventually reach a saturation point and even out again.

Remember, gaming is a love for you and me, but it's ultimately a business for these publishers and developers.

Once violent and antisocial entertainment is no longer profitable, we're screwed.

So while the business of the Wii has great for Nintendo--surprise, surprise--

Just like greedy Nintendo to make a game console just so they can make money.

and a handful of risk-takers like Ubisoft, it's thus far been ugly when it comes to the experiences beloved by core gamers like myself.

The other day I was actually forced to go outside for entertainment. For, like, fifteen minutes.

The Wii has been chock full of mini-games, PlayStation 2 knockoffs and PSP ports. Yes, there has been The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but not much else in terms of lengthy, in-depth experiences.

Moreover, there never will be for as long as the console remains on sale.

As for new intellectual properties, they've been pretty much few and far between, unless you consider Wii Sports and Wii Play new IPs;

Also, there hasn't been a single video game released for the console, unless you count the games that have been released for it.

to me, they're more tech demos than anything else.

Except that they have things like goals, scoring, progression, and meaningful interaction.

At least the PS3 has Resistance and MotorStorm, with Lair right around the corner.

That should keep my blood lust sated.

The 360 has Gears of War,

Which my brother doesn't pay me to mention,

Viva Pinata

... Okay, bad example.

and Crackdown. But for the Wii, most third parties would rather take the easy way out and continue to port older games with the waggle tacked on than devote the time and resources to creating great new experiences.

The system has been out for nearly six months now. Where are the in-depth games that take two to three years to produce?

The fact that the PS2 is still going incredibly strong isn't going to help the situation either, because it and the PSP will provide the Wii with an endless supply of ports for the Wii instead of forcing publishers and developers to think of new and in-depth experiences.

In the end, the Wii will share the PS2's ignominious fate of having a library of well over three million games.

I'll repeat this again: I am not saying that the more hardcore games are going to die out.

Just that any developer would be stupid to keep making hardcore games when they can make more money, more quickly and easily, by releasing packages of minigames.

Smart developers and publishers will realize that they can make a mint off the hardcore, especially if more developers move towards the quick, jump in-jump out type of experience that many Wii and DS games offer.

Unless they realize that they can make more money with quicker and lighter games. I'm sorry, I can't even follow what the hell I'm saying anymore.

But they will be in the minority. Valve, Epic and others won't turn to making mini-game compilations,

Because we're best friends and they promised me.

but I can definitely see companies like EA and Ubisoft realizing that they don't need huge development teams and hundreds of people working on a game to make a ton of cash in the land of mini-game moneymakers.

It would be just like those sellouts to abandon their pure and artistic goal of making a killing off of crap that people already know they like.

It's like suddenly discovering that business plan behind McDonald's is applicable to video games.

Make things that people like at a price they can afford.

Some will likely argue that these more casual games are a gateway drug for new users.

That it will lead to harder drugs like crack and heroine.

They'll claim that we should be happy because it will bring a whole new group of people into gaming.

So I just tell them, if I wanted to bring in new people, I wouldn't have started playing video games!

I find it hard to believe that something like Wii Play could lead to someone like the little old lady I saw in the store playing Metroid Prime 3. I just don't see it happening.

I mean, she's old!

These same people didn't jump into hardcore games before the Wii, but they're suddenly going to do it now because they had some fun playing virtual bowling? I seriously doubt that.

We're going to have to force them at gunpoint to bend to the will of the monolithic hardcore gaming community!

She's not going to go from creating a meal in Cooking Mama to saving Zelda. She's never going to defend Sera, guide Reggie Bush into the end zone, or venture into Liberty City.

She's going to gum down her cold oatmeal and cry herself to sleep thinking about her dead husband and the fact that her children never call anymore.

And should the product portfolios of major publishers become a zero-sum game, her tastes will represent a direct threat to my longtime hobby.

For the good of the hobby, she must be eliminated. NOW.

I sincerely believe that bringing new people to video games is a good thing.

Except that their tastes represent a direct threat to it.

I like seeing the business continue to grow and be even more successful, because I'm old enough to remember the videogame industry crash between the Atari 5200 and the Nintendo Entertainment System.

I had to resort to board games for like... a whole year!

But ultimately, going more mainstream can have unintended consequences--

People besides me could start enjoying them.

ones that could negatively impact the breadth and depth of the kinds of games that I love, as do millions of others.

Don't just do it for me -- do it for the starving children all over Africa.

I think Mike Myers' Wayne Campbell said it best in "Wayne's World" when he was talking about that tool Benjamin Kane, played so memorably by Rob Lowe. "It's like he wants us to be liked by everyone. I mean Led Zeppelin didn't write tunes everybody liked.

He wrote songs that made music snobs feel superior to everyone else.

They left that to the Bee Gees." That statement could very well apply to the Wii and its software lineup.

Games that are liked by everyone. Do we really want to live in that kind of a world?

Me? I'll take "Kashmir" over "Staying Alive" any day of the week.

And, in conclusion, buy Gears of War. Thank you.


Sunday, June 03, 2007


Shrek the Third

Shrek the Third was the one movie I was really banking on this summer. And it's let me down.

I mean, it's probably my own fault. They make these movies for kids, not pathetic twenty-something geeks. Well, no, scratch that, they are clearly shooting for an older set with some of the humor that you see through the series. It's just...

Well, here. Let me do that incohesive rambling thing.

Shrek the First

The world went gaga over the first Shrek. I wasn't very impressed.

Don't get me wrong. It was pretty to look at. There is a place in this world for movies that are pure spectacle. I will watch a movie that looks interesting repeatedly. Thing is, I wasn't wooed by their style. It just... it just never clicked with me.

The premise was decent. Ever since my first exposure to the Rocky & Bullwinkle show, I've had a soft spot for a good fractured fairy tale. There was a lot of potential for skewed humor here. But... they didn't really go anywhere with it. Give or take The Gingerbread Man, none of the famous fairy tale critters offered more than a cameo or a one-off joke. Maybe I'm just spoiled by, say, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which made the tropes and foibles of fairy tales central to its plot, but I was sort of expecting that a movie that brought together so many characters would try to do something with them.

And it all sort of went downhill from there. The story had no real surprises, no twists or turns. There's nothing new about Shrek himself -- he's the same poor, misunderstood protagonist who shows up in countless other kids' stories. The blossoming love, tragic misunderstanding, happy resolution arc between Shrek and Fiona is just plain boring -- you never doubt that he'll get the girl. Farquaad is pretty lame as fairy tale villains go -- he's the impetus that gets the story started, but then he's practically out of the picture.

Still, it had a Cool Dragon, so it wasn't all bad. It just wasn't all that great, either.

Shrek the Second

The first movie didn't really suggest the potential for a sequel (except, of course, the fact that it would make buckets and buckets of money). It was a story about a nasty little man who hated fairy tale people and got completely eaten by a dragon. Also, an ogre and a princess fell in love, got married, and promised to live happily ever after together. There are seemingly no loose ends.

But a sequel was required. So the creators had to figure out how to keep the story going after its happy ending. And a funny thing happened.

They did it perfectly.

They took Shrek's world, ripped it wide open, and found all of the gooey goodness that was hiding inside. The scope expanded, and we started to see new and unexpected aspects, angles, and consequences of Shrek and Fiona's marriage. And we started to see lots and lots of character-driven stuff going on.

We meet The Fairy Godmother, an absolutely wonderful villain, and a stark contrast to Farquaad. Her workings are subtle, her disposition is deceptively sweet. She puts on a pretty face for the public, all while manipulating everyone -- right up to King Harold himself! -- toward her own nefarious ends. Also in contrast, she's directly involved in the story every step of the way.

And we meet King Harold. A wonderful character. As far as I'm concerned, his story is the very heart and soul of the movie. He's a man being torn in so many directions, and given so very many good reasons not to do the right thing. He's clearly unhappy about how his daughter's curse has been resolved, and he has every right to be upset that she plans to spend the rest of her life living with an ogre in a swamp. And, as we find out, the Fairy Godmother has him under her wicked thumb. If he lets them stay together, he risks having his own fairy tale ending revoked. But in the end, he stands up for his daughter's happiness, even when it means spending the rest of his life as a frog again.

Which isn't to say that Shrek's story isn't touching. Frustrated with their reception at the castle, he gets into a shouting match with Fiona, and she makes a rather poignant point -- she's made changes for Shrek, but he hasn't reciprocated. And there's something that didn't quite fit in with the simple fairy tale ending in the original movie. Fiona has been a princess all her life, and suddenly she's become an ogre living in a swamp. She's clearly happy with Shrek, but what a change of lifestyle! And what has Shrek had to sacrifice in return?

Well, in the sequel, he gets the chance to meet her halfway. The first movie was all about Shrek's happiness -- whether or not he'd end up with the girl. Now he's starting to think about what Fiona might want. He's willing to undergo a magical transformation himself -- being sexy might not seem like much of a sacrifice, but hey, it's clearly not for his own vanity. He's even willing to let her stay with Prince Charming because he's led to believe that she'll be happier with him. And, most importantly, he lets her choose the ending that she wants. That compulsive desire to make Fiona happy really makes their love for each other seem more... well-rounded than it was in the first one.

And, of course, the movie is just plain fun. Shrek's fairy tale friends get bigger parts, better jokes, and slightly broader personalities. Fairy Godmother does a spoof of Disney musical numbers. Puss in Boots adds a certain panache to the proceedings. And there's two musical sequences -- to go with "Changes" and "I Need a Hero" -- that give me goosebumps every time I see them.

All in all, it was my favorite movie of the summer. I saw it twice in theaters, several times on DVD, and yes, a couple times on Game Boy Advance video.

I really had some high hopes for the next movie in the series.


Shrek 3

And so we come to this year's Shrek.


I mean... clearly, a lot of things happen in this one. It's just... nothing sticks. There's no heart or soul to any of it.

The story again takes place in Far Far Away, but this time around, there's very little that's new to see. Sure, we see a couple of cameos of characters from the King Arthur legends -- Arthur, Guenivere, Lancelot, Merlin -- but they're present in name only. There's barely any reference to the legends that they come from, not even so much as a sword in a stone. We do get to meet some fairy tale princesses -- Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty -- who haven't had speaking roles in the past, but they don't have much function beyond being stereotypical spoiled divas.

The story has too many things going on, and a lot of interesting ideas get lost in the shuffle. Shrek is worried about becoming a father because he thinks he's not up to the task. But there just plain isn't any time for him to confront this -- he's too busy trying to get Cousin Artie to be the new king while stopping Prince Charming from usurping the throne. And there's the plotline where Puss and Donkey go all Freaky Friday, which leads to... nothing. Nothing whatever. And there's Artie's teenage angst that just sort of... dribbles along.

And then there's Charming himself. He was never the brains of the operation, and now that Mommy's not around to help him, well... he doesn't make for a very good villain.

But there was so much potential for him there. He begins the story reduced to being an actor in a cruddy dinner theater, where he's mercilessly heckled and abused. But he finds the courage and the resilience to fight back against what he sees as an unfair ending to his story. Yeah, I know, he's tragically flawed, he only ever wanted Fiona for her kingdom, his reaction was completely inapropriate, whatever. When I saw him stuck with a changing room in an alley, I was pulling for the guy. I wanted to see him come to a good end.

All well. At least we got to see the Gingerbread Man's life flash before his eyes.

On the bright side, I happened to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean, even though I hadn't especially wanted to, and I was surprised to find that I loved it. So at least the summer isn't all bad.



Are Video Games Art?

No. No they aren't.

I've always thought of art as something lasting, something persistant, something timeless.

Video games are not timeless. They require a game system in order to experience them, but game systems come and go. When a more powerful system comes out, the less powerful systems are crumpled up and discarded, and all of the games written for them go out as well. Older games can sometimes see rerelease on newer platforms, but the game community is hardly ever grateful to see it happen. Try to release an older game in its original format for half the price of the original (such as with the Classic NES series), and you'll see a backlash against the company who tried to "cash in" on a "lazy port".

Art is something that should be treasured, but who treasures their games anymore? Games get played once, then returned for store credit. We go through them like toilet paper. It's insanity. Hundreds of hours are put into creating fully-realized three-dimensional interactive worlds, and they're ours to experience at fifty bucks a pop. And then, every month, we discard what we had in favor of something new.

Of course, games can have artistic elements to them. They can tell a story that reveals something about reality that the creators want to show the audience. They can merely be aesthetically pleasing. With their interactive nature, they get us involved in the dialogue much more intimately than other story-driven media ever could.

The question is, who is there to appreciate it? Can something truly be considered art when the audience treats it like a disposable commodity?


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