Saturday, December 31, 2011

That post about finding/making time

Spent most of last night awake and/or passed out in the most uncomfortable chair in the universe listening to one of my younger kids vomit every fifteen minutes or so.

Earlier in the evening I spent some time trying to get Star Wars: The Old Republic working -- kind of a nightmare to get it working properly. Have there always been so many damn steps in getting an MMO registered and ready to go? But after the first full wave, that was it. I tried to get some sleep. Got some, not much. It wasn't exactly how I saw 2011 ending. Hopefully this is no indication of how 2012 will turn out. If anything, I hope it's a metaphor for purging the old to make room for the new!

That's kind of inline with my resolution for 2012: Be positive!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Batman: Arkham City screenshots *spoilers*

Batman tracks down Joker.

The hacking mechanic is quick and easy and perfectly suited to a controller.

The option here is to gag/ungag Harley. It's a good gag either way.

I so wanted this sequence to turn into the classic arcade game "Toobin'."

The Mad Hatter fight is a great one-off. I particularly like the detail of the rotating gears and clockwork in the centre of the platform. Plus, Batman's floppy ears remind me of Bat-Mite.

Batman with a bat.

The trials... pretty cool look.

All the women in Arkham City tend to look very similar. Firm buttocks, plunging neckline...

The lighting effects are one of Arkham City's greatest assets.

Poison Ivy in all her greenery.

Catwoman weighs her options as she does her best to look like a cat.

Making and Finding: Time

Finding time and making time are really two different things.

The former makes me think of finding a quarter on the pavement. "Oh hey, money!" I just happened upon it without any kind of effort. It was a "right place, right time" situation.

The latter is something far more active and involved. It means shuffling schedules around. Maybe it means putting off what I'd really like to do for a few days (or even months) so I can make time available for it at some point in the future.

It's this distinct split between finding and making time that always springs to mind, not to mention maturity level of the writer, when a gaming forum thread is started with something along the lines of "I'm having a kid in March -- will I still be able to play video games?"

Triple fermented and 9%
Yes, you'll be able to play games but you'll finding the time rather than making time. It becomes a matter of priority though. Speaking from my own experience, sleep, kids, wife, food, time outside, paying bills, work, etc. all pretty much take priority over gaming, not to mention my ability to update The Armchair Empire with any regularity.

If there's any time to be found it's after everyone else has gone to bed. Then I come to a fork in the road: sleep or gaming. More and more the sleep option is getting play. With five kids in the house and a wife that actually likes to have me around, sleep always seems to be in short supply so for me to make a choice to stay up late truly takes an active decision.

Recently I received a (loaner) M18x from Alienware and since it landed on my desk I've been dying to just sit down and play some games. So, during the recent Christmas holidays I finally had the chance to really dive into it with StarCraft II, Batman: Arkaham City and a little Left 4 Dead 2. Just before sitting down I had a hot shower and poured myself a bottle of La Fin Du Monde. It felt really good to just sit down and play some games for few hours with some "found" time. Of course, my evening ended close to 2:00AM and I knew I would pay for it the next day since my house is full of early risers.

The kids shouldn't be awake to witness the
horror of a zombie apocalypse
The odd thing was that in the morning I didn't feel cranky. No, that came a a couple days later when I'd had successive late nights, which wasn't due to anything game-related.

Anyway, kind of away from my original point. Yes, you'll still be able to play video games when you have kids. And when they get older you may actually be able to play games with them (not limited to the electroni kind), but the moment you have kids there's definitely less opportunity to make time, which is really just a function of getting older and being more responsible.

It makes those times when you find enough time to squeeze in a few hours of gaming all the more satisfying.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Strangers in the Night

For the last few days I've been riding the Skytrain/bus with my 3DS since it affords plenty of time to play Mario Kart 7. (Review coming soon!) Just 'cause, I've left Streetpass turned on. I've never had much luck making connections with StreetPass to share Mii avatars, except at E3 where the place was swarming with StreetPass information, but you never know.

Somewhere in Vancouver -- because I'm pretty sure it's happening downtown -- there's a guy (presumably) I've shared StreetPass information with a few times.

So, this morning I spent time carefully observing everyone as I went from home to work to see if I could figure out who I might be tagging. There's never been obvious signs to go on, like someone playing a 3DS. That would make it easy.

I stare at people, paying special attention to the eyes. If they look tired -- gamers all look tired, except for Victor Lucas -- then I'll try to glance at their hands. I look for thumb calluses next, because any hardcore gamer will exhibit a certain level of hardened, leathery skin close to the tips of the thumbs (or at the heel of the wrist for PC gamers). Then I check the wardrobe for game-related items. And so far I've come up empty on leads. I have no idea who is passing close enough to me to exchange Mii data and it's kind of irking me.

It's probably just be some regular dude doing the commute the same as me. And maybe he's not even that hardcore. Though he is playing Super Mario 3D Land so he must be enthusiastic about Nintendo stuff at least.

It does make me wish there was an option to have notification pop up when I've tagged a Mii avatar. Something along the lines of Xbox Live and PSN and Steam which pop up notices for everything. "BLANK is now online." "Friends using this app." How difficult would it be to flash up a note about a new Mii arriving at the Mii Plaza via StreetPass? I don't know, but Nintendo should get on that immediately. I need to know who I keep bumping into.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Memory Box

Every once in a while I stumble on something from my past -- a person, a forgotten place, a random item -- that kicks open the gates of nostalgia for me.

The resulting tide has actually managed to knock me backwards in time -- maybe not physically but definitely created some kind of temporal wormhole in space-time that my mind tumbles through. There are a few moments of flash memories, images, smells, feelings, thoughts and then I blink, blink, blink like the worst kind of movie cliche to bring myself back to present day.

Rise to Honor looked pretty damn
cool in 2003.
It has happened to me once or twice as it relates to gaming, especially when it comes to the Rueben sandwiches served at a Sony event in San Francisco (in 2003) and my experience with the recent re-release of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (which induced a certain amount of post-traumatic stress), but mostly those strong memories stab back into existence when I'm suddenly confronted by a person, especially when they have a kid (or kids) in tow and I realize just how much time has slipped through my fingers. Since my oldest son turned 12, this seems to be happening more and more, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact I remember so much of my pre-teen years. Especially all the girls I had crushes on! Bumping into them now -- sometimes I don't even recognize them and even with an introduction it takes my brain a few seconds to process the name, blink, blink, blink -- is jarring and it actually takes me days to shake this weird lag between my life 20+ years ago and present day where I'm closing in on 35.

I'm not sure that I'd ever want to go back to those days if I was given the chance. I kind of like the fact most of those memories are in a tidy box that opens every once in a while to remind me how far I've come (along with everyone else).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"What's in the box" Giveaway in full swing

We've been running the "What's in the box?" Giveaway for the last six days and so far there are t-shirts from LA Noire, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, and GoldenEye Reloaded, along with copies of Skyrim (360) and the Uncharted Dual Pack (PS3).

Today's addition marks the first "What the hell?" item to be added. (Not to worry, there will be more items like it!) I included the two pieces of paper regarding the agreement for the WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos beta for a couple of reasons.

First, I couldn't believe I had them. I'd clipped them into a binder with about 3" worth of old press releases. Why? I'm not entirely sure. Maybe for the contact information on the press releases? That's my guess. Somehow that seemed easier than writing out the information or entering it into a database, maybe.

Second, it marks almost a decade since WarCraft III launched. A game that spawned not only Defense of the Ancients (or DOTA as it's more commonly known), which in some sense was responsible for the likes of League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, but was ultimately the precursor to the massively successful World of WarCraft. In that light, it's an interesting document to hold in my hands. By the very fact that it's a couple of pieces of paper rather than an online form, makes it significant. People stopped using paper for these kinds of things a long time ago so it's kind of cool to have a physical thing to hold and look at.

With the move to digital, ten years from now this kind of documentation will be unheard of and that actually scares me a little, even if it means less clutter in my basement.

Having something exist out there in the cloud doesn't make me feel very good. That feel of the page between my fingers makes it much more real. I have a feeling I won't get the same warmth of nostalgia when I click by the Terms of Service without a blink.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Video Game Collectibles

I'm all for gamers getting hold of collectibles for games they like. Sure, it's geeky as hell and maybe you don't get to display them when polite company comes over -- Morrigan is one such figure at my house -- and right now there are plenty of deals out there. Take for instance Gaming Heads' huge Tank figure (from the Left 4 Dead games).

It's on sale right now through Sideshow Collectibles and worth serious consideration for fans. It's kind of a macabre figure to have on display and I think I'd rather have a Survivor diorama, but still you get what you pay for with figures like this.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Video Kids Strike it Rich"

In the process of doing the research for the Radical Entertainment feature, I've been finding all sorts of interesting stuff related to the company. The most basic thing -- and I knew this prior to researching the feature -- was that Distinctive Software, founded in 1982 by Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember, played a crucial role not only in Radical's past but game development in Vancouver, period. Nearly all game development in Vancouver, BC can be traced back to Distinctive Software.

That's why it's interesting to stumble upon a clip of Mattrick and Sember in the CBC television archives. The show aired March 30, 1983. It's a neat bit of history:

One aspect I noted right away is that both of them are wearing suits. Quick name a game developer that wears a suit, even during a television interview? That's right. You can't. Even the execs go about things casually.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sitting On A Post

One aspect of running a website that takes a lot of oganization is scheduling reviews/articles to be posted in a timely manner. The biggest obstacle to my schedule and utilizing any organizational skills, the one thing that has me currently sitting on reviews of Uncharted 3, Modern Warfare 3, Batman: Arkham City, and Battlefield 3 (among others!) is lack of time.

If my day had about another 3 hours -- a 27 hour clock -- I think I'd be set.

When I get home, I spend time with my family, then, when the kids are in bed, I'll hang out with my wife, sort out finances, take the dogs out, etc. By the time that's all done, I have very little time to actually get something posted and/or play a game. The only option I see since the 24-clock isn't going away anytime soon, is that I stop sleeping.

And there are problems with that option. So, that's why a backlog exists. I'm waiting for an hour or two to free itself up so I can jump in a get some of the backlog posted. It's at those rare moments where a little organization goes a long way in getting articles posted.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Upcoming Feature Close to Flowering

One of my pet projects that has been germinating since E3 is finally starting to really grow.

It was after a demo of Prototype 2 that I fully realized that Radical Entertainment has been around for 20 years. I wanted to know a little more of the history of the place and the Wikipedia entry was woefully uninformative. About the same time I was reading Harold Goldberg's "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" which chronicles some really interesting gaming histories, like Trip Hawkin's bold moves with Electronic Arts and the crippling emotional problems that spun out behind the scenes of 11th Guest. I got to thinking about writing a comprehensive history of Radical Entertainment.

So, I started doing some digging, making calls, and sending probing emails. At least one of the key figures in Radical's history has been stand-offish -- waiting to see just who else would agree to be part of the story and offer some insight into the company's last 20 years. Suddenly in the last few days there's been a surge of progress. Things are in the works. It's not "finished" by any means but hopefully -- my fingers are crossed -- this feature will break right before the launch of Prototype 2, the company's 35th title to see release. (Past titles include "Mario's Time Machine" (1993), "Independence Day" (1997), "The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction" (2005), and "The Simpsons: Hit & Run" (2003).

Maybe the best part of this Feature is that I'll be seeking the help/advice/guidance of an actual Editor so the whole thing makes sense and comes together as a coherent story.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

FTC Endorsement Guides

With the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 press package I received there was a sheet included titled "ATTENTION - IMPORTANT NOTICE" which seemed a little redundant given that it's all in underlined bold caps. Here's a scan of the document:

I had to Google "FTC Endorsement Guides."

"FTC" stands for "Federal Trade Commission" which was established in 1914 "to prevent unfair methods of competition in commerce as part of the battle to “bust the trusts.”" Being a Canadian (living in Canada, no less) this is kind of the first I'm heating about the FTC ant its endorsement guides. More than ten years into the enterprise of The Armchair Empire and I don't think I've ever acknowledged that we receive review copies of games. I feel so guilty! It's on a rare occasion that any money is spent on a game to review it -- usually a copy just shows up from the publisher. (Dead Island was the last game I had to buy.) This note from Activision got me thinking about the topic. I can think of only a precious handful of gaming sites out there that make any effort at offering this particular information. (I mean, aside from the usual unboxing videos and casual bragging that happens on gaming podcasts.)

I'll certainly be making some changes to how this information is conveyed to our readers in some obvious way, until then I have to admit that Activision sent us the "Hardened" version of Modern Warfare 3 (for PS3).

I feel better already.

Saints Row: The Third

So, I just posted Tazman's review of Saints Row: The Third and he seems to have enjoyed it quite a bit. Click the gratuitous cleavage shot to reach the climax of the full review (you know you want to):

I'm playing the Playstation 3 version between bouts of Battlefield 3, which is pretty damn awesome (outside the single player campaign which is merely so-so). Saints Row: The Third has some pretty sharp writing and never seems to take itself seriously. It's a game world, and the designers revel in it!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blog Post the First

The first post is typically where the writer would explain why they're writing the blog and what they hope to convey or gain from blogging. I have none of that really. This blog is an outlet for my horrible creative urges. I have to put them somewhere and sometimes putting them on The Armchair Empire just isn't suitable. That's the short of it.

The long of it is, expect to see pictures of beers that I've quaffed, books I've read, and games I've played -- all with plenty of commentary and one-liners that are usually very successful at amusing me and only me. I might even throw in some info on what I'm working on next. So, until then, enjoy this G-rated picture of my foot alongside Playboy's Gamer Next Door, Jo Garcia:

Redefining "business casual."