Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In which the vacation commences.

Thank goodness. It really couldn't get here soon enough. I'm not sure if I have a whole lot to show, physically, for my first three months at EA, but mentally and emotionally, coming after the end of my 17 years at Ziff Davis, I'm tired, and ready for a break. EA is the kind of enlightened company that doesn't actually pretend that anyone really works between Xmas and New Years, so they dispense with the charade and just close the offices for a week. To which I say: Yay!

The travel part of my vacation is already out of the way: This past weekend's visit to LA is it for us this time. And I don't know about you, but sometimes just being at home, with no plans, is the best kind of vacation there is.

I do have some chore-like items on the agenda, which I will put off as long as possible without raising the ire of Nagzilla (just kidding, dear!). For the most part, though, it is going to be Chillax Central chez moi. I'm determined to finally finish this goddang Erikson book, and then need to decide whether to immediately torment myself with the next phone-book sized tome in the series, or take a break with that nonsense for a bit. On deck are three possibilities: Dave Egger's What is the What, Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, or possibly The Book Thief, by whoever the hell wrote it. All three have been sitting on my nightstand, taunting me, as I've struggled with the "light entertainment" of this fantasy book, which I swear I like even though all I do is complain about it.

Games I will be playing:
Prince of Persia: I downloaded this over the weekend and am about 4 hours into it and loving it. This is how you do a reboot. (Though some better dialog and voice actors would have been nice--hi, this series isn't set in the San Fernando Valley OMIGOD). But the art style is beautiful, the non-linear structure is a surprising and welcome change of pace, and the re-emphasis on platform and environmental gameplay over combat is a huge relief. Also, I gotta say--and I know opinions are divided on this--I am in love with the "do-over" mechanism in place here, which lets you instantly get back to the action after a failed jump or whatever, without having to needlessly replay sections you'd already finished, or, worse, going through menus and load screens. Yes, I know some folks find this "too easy," but to you I humbly and respectfully request that you go forth and get bent. Look, you *still* can't advance in the game until you do the part you've blown. It's not like you're cheating. It's just not punishing you with replay of stuff you *did* accomplish. Mirror's Edge is more punishing this way, and that's why, for now, I've stopped playing it. I was loving it, in theory, but in practice I found certain sections just too hard and too frustrating. I revise my earlier assessment that the game was generous with the checkpoints. Actually, no, it's not. I still think it's a cool game, and a great achievement overall, and I will get back to it. But after having a minor tantrum the other night--complete with hitting the 360's Eject button and whizzing the CD across the room---I decided I needed a break. And Prince of Persia is giving me the same kind of gaming experience, minus the frustration.

Dead Space
Yeah, I'm gonna finish this one finally. And I have nothing bad at all to say about it. Great game.

Lich King:
Duh. I'm level 74 and climbing. Just got an achievement for finishing 110 quests in Dragonblight. Yay?

Sacred 2
: Also downloaded off Steam but not played yet. I'm a sucker for hack-and-slash, though, and the reviews have been good. So I'm in. (My favorite, by the way, other than the Diablo series of course, is Titan Quest. In case you wondered.)

Lost Cities-: the real card game. Got this for Hanukkah--woot!--and have been engaged in a battle royale with my daughter, who is just too dang smart for me, as the current won/loss record indicates. Apparently she got the wife's brains. This means, of course, that I need to move to Plan B: Cheat.

Movies I plan to see: Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler. and maybe Frost/Nixon if I can get over my aversion to Ron Howard.

Yes, folks, it is going to be a lazy, pop culture orgy for this worn-out dork. I also, of course, will be spending lots of quality time with my loved ones, and will be exercising, and blogging, and maybe even doing some "real" writing.

Here's hoping your vacation gets off to a nice start as well. Merry New Year to you all!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

iPhone games FTW

So, I have a bad back right now. It's been documented elsewhere on this blog, so I won't waste valuable Internet resources whining about it again now. It is what it is---to use one of the stupider phrases currently in vogue. (Yeah, I know it is what it is--that's why I said it.)

Anyway, so yesterday I had one of them bad back flareups. It was bad enough that I knew I was gonna need to stay home from my fabu job at EA and lay horizontal. Every time I moved, I hurt. Not fun.

So the first thing I did was make another dent in Erickson's Deadhouse Gates. Honestly, I'm geeking out on this series (which started, errr, as a D&D campaign--which is how low I've sunk in my reading), but the man does know how to spin an epic tale. Plus, he went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop! Which is my defensive, English-majory way of saying, yes I know this is pulp fantasy, but it is written by A Writer, so leave me alone.

But I can only take so much of Erickson in one jaunt. He is dense. And every other paragraph has some kinda hifalutin jibjabbery nonsense about the High Warren of Barf'Vomitia Shadow Magic or somesuch shit, and there's only so much of that that one man can take. Even though I like it.

So that left me with one other entertainment option: My Magic Device, the iPhone. Seriously, there is almost nothing this thing can't do. I got over my Apple love years ago, and was actually an active Apple Hater for awhile, but good god is this thing awesome. Just last night I discovered I can schedule TiVo shows from it. That's in addition to every other dang thing I can do--read the New York Times, catch up on podcasts, listen to my iTunes library, search for and buy movie tickets, do research on Wikipedia, find the nearest gas station, find *myself* when lost via the GPS (which I did twice recently when lost on my motorcycle, totally saving me from freaking out)....the list goes on and on.

But yesterday, flat on my back, in need of entertainment, I downloaded two games. The first, just to prove what a shameless corporate shill I have become, was Simcity for iPhone. And, just to prove what a shameless corporate shill I have become, I'm here to tell you that it is great. Seriously. I'd tell you that even if I wasn't a shameless corporate shill. Plus, I don't work with those people at all and don't even know if it was even developed at our studio. But SimCity fans, this is the real deal. It's the full game. It's basically SimCity 3000, and while, yes, of course, not EVERYTHING is here (I miss the traffic!), the city simulator is mostly intact in all its robust, addictive glory. The touch screen is used smartly and intuitively (touch on a building in Query mode to get the lowdown on it), and even the controls for laying down items work *way* better than I had anticipated. I don't know when the next "official" PC SimCity game is gonna be made (AND HERE'S MY OFFICIAL PUBLIC PLEADING TO BE ON THAT TEAM WHEN IT COMES), but, in the meantime, this port is far, far better than it has any right to be, totally satisfying my city-building jones---especially because I can play it flat on my back.

The other one I got, just to prove I'm not always a shameless corporate shill, is the ever-popular Fieldrunners, which made a bunch of Top 10 lists this year, and which Curt Schilling apparently loves, because you can't avoid seeing that fact everywhere, because I guess it's important that a baseball player loves this game. Whatever. The fact is, I agree with Curt! I've admittedly kind of avoided the "desktop defense" subgenre until now, so I can't honestly give you a competitive analysis. But I can tell you that I played this game until my iPhone battery wore out--twice. So ridiculously addictive. And the more I played, the more I realized that actual strategy and planning will--surprise!--actually yield better results. Rather than haphazardly and frantically laying down towers everywhere and spending all my money all at once. The game encourages endless experimentation. What seems beyond butt-simple at first reveals itself to be so much more than that--which towers to emphasize? Upgrade, or add more towers? Front load the entrance, or play defense at the back end? All this with bright and shiny graphics and some nice sound design, and you have a total winner of a game. (One thing that bothers me though: what's up with the military planning of the enemy? You gotta feel sorry for all these poor little soldiers, marching endlessly out of the same port, only to get mowed down over and over and over. Maybe the next game, or novel, can be told from their point of view.)

Okay, I'm getting my sore carcass into the car now for a 6 hour drive to LA---just what the physical therapist didn't order!! Hopefully I will survive the journey to blog again soon! If not, hey, it's been real! Byeeeeeeee!

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Mmmmmm, you smell like meat!"

Until now, I did not know what I wanted for Hanukkah this year. Actually, no, that's not correct. I do know what I want. I want a large, flat-screen HD TV. And a new computer. And, hmmmm, well, world peace wouldn't suck. And a new writing staff for "Heroes." And the complete The Wire DVD set.

But okay other than those things, I hadn't really wanted anything. That was until today, when I received an AIM message from my good friend Dana Jongewaard, former CGW cohort, current editor-in-chief of gaming website Green Pixels, and, most recently, brand new mom. (Speaking of which, Ms Jongewaard asked me to relay to her readers why she hasn't written anything for the site for the last few weeks. The reason would be the arrival of the stork.) Anyhoo, there I was, minding my own beeswax, sitting at my PC and web surfing after being stuck in bed with a bad back all day, when Dana's message pops up on my screen:

"Have you heard of this?"

She didn't have the web link cleverly embedded there like I do, but that's the magic of the world-wide web. Anyway, go ahead and click the link, and then come back. It's okay, I'll wait. Okay back? Cool. I missed you. Anyway, if you didn't click on the "About Flame" button, here is what you missed:

"The WHOPPER(R) sandwich is America's Favorite(TM) burger. FLAME(TM) by BK(R) captures the essence of that love and gives it to you. Behold the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat."

Okay, so you might think was a joke. And, in fact, it might be. I still can't tell. You CAN keep clicking the links until you get to an order page, where you can buy a bottle of the stuff for $3.99. So that makes it seem real. However, it's conveniently all sold out. And the customer reviews are suspiciously funny. So maybe that's all part of the joke too.

But what if it's not a joke? What if one of our largest fast-food chains is now selling meat-scented body spray? And what if enough people bought it so that they actually sold out? What does this say about us as a species? Is it a sign, at last, that we should just give it all up once and for all and let the cockroaches take over?

I'm thinking yes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Because it is so cold out...

...my dog has decided that this would be the best way to cope:

Is it possible for any creature to look more comfortable and cozy?

(Editor's Note: This is how I found her this morning. She was not positioned this way for the sake of a cute photo.)

In other news, the Gamers With Jobs podcast featuring Shawn Elliott and myself is up Click here! Apologies for the fact that I sound like I was in a wind tunnel. The truth is: I was in a wind tunnel! LOL!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rainy weekend FTW

So I don't know how it was around your neck of the planet, but over here is was wet and cold all weekend long--which made it the perfect excuse to sit around the house and do absolutely nothing. Yay! Actually, I shouldn't say "nothing." It's not like I was suspended in one of those isolation vats for 48 hours. I did do some things. It's just that the things I did were those quiet, lazy things you do when you don't feel like going outside. Like making a belt out of human skulls.

Anyway, so the first thing I did was finally take care of the ongoing lack-of-sound problem I had with my Xbox 360. Thanks to my pals at Quarter to Three, it is now fixed. Woot! This meant I could finally boot up Mirror's Edge, which has been sitting around my house since it came out. We don't get "free games" at EA. What we do get is points--10 per year, that can go towards getting games at the EA Store on campus. Console games cost 2 points, while PC games cost 1 point---proof, again, that PC games are the retarded in-bred step-cousin of gaming.

In any case, I used 2 of my precious 10 points to pick up Mirror's Edge, but it has been mocking me for weeks, cuz I didn't want to play without sound. So yesterday I plowed through the prologue and first two chapters, and my short review is: Me likey, but me throwy controller a couple times too. The game looks fuggin' fantastic. I love the art direction, all bright and clean with big dollops of primary colors everywhere. And the platform game meets FPS hybrid is a really nice concept--adding tension to your every move. But, as others have noted in more official reviews, the combat is really not so hot. At first, I thought those people had missed the point. Clearly DICE didn't really intend this game to be about combat. But the fact is, even by Chapter 2 it's *also* clear that some enemies need to be dealt with--at least if you're not playing on Easy, which I'm not. Yes, I know you can blitz through the game, in theory, without ever engaging the enemy, but some of the scenarios just almost demand you at least engage in some disarming, which, in my case, usually means I'm going to end up dead. The worse problem I see, however, is that, unless you are really lucky or really great at this kind of thing, you basically need to die over and over and over to figure out the right path to take. DICE is super generous with the checkpoints, so that's cool, but it does get wearying to have to play this way after awhile. I find myself only able to play in short bursts so that I can keep enjoying myself and not get too frustrated. I credit DICE for this though: They didn't go out of their way to baby everyone too much, just in some misguided attempt to PLEASE EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. They let this be a somewhat hardcore game--and that's not a bad thing. I'd rather they err this way, with a game like this, then hold everyone's hand all the way through and not provide any challenge whatsoever. I just may suck too much to ever finish it.

Also played: Wow Lich King, of course. God I love this expansion. Luuuuuurve it. The more I play, the more I am certain that this is the best WoW content Blizzard has made to date. I've already blabbered on about the phasing---and that was *before* I got to the epic surprise in Dragonblight--so I won't do it again. But all the other little touches, the funny quest chains (I loved fighting along with "Future Eggbertt"--who told me afterward to "get us better gear"), the mounted missions, just really have renewed my love full-on for this game. Really, Blizzard could just be coasting at this point, laughing and high-fiving each other in their beds of money. But they went out of their way with Lich King. And to that I say: Kudos!

And in further gaming news: Brodeo fans will hopefully be pleased to know that my good pals at Gamers With Jobs invited both Shawn Elliott and myself to appear on their podcast together, which we recorded yesterday (Saturday) for airing on, errr, I think December 17. I think. Check their website for details! I always enjoy talking with those guys, and it was extra super-dee-duper fun to be reunited with Shawn for a couple hours of podcasting blather. We had a good time recording it, so I hope y'all like it!

The other "big" weekend activity was watching "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" on DVD with the family, which I'd never seen. I've loved every Miyazaki film I've ever seen, and actually had intended on reading the manga for this years ago, but never did. This movie didn't disappoint either. But what is it with him and the weird creatures? Either he did (or does) a lot of drugs, or maybe he just has a brain naturally geared towards the surreal. The great thing is, as weird as he gets, there's always so much heart and sincerity in his stories. He never lets things get odd just to be odd. "Totoro" will always be my favorite. And "Spirited Away" was just so moving. I'm not sure how I'd rank "Nausicaa"--but, like all Miyazaki, it was two hours of animation that had me completed wrapped in its spell.

Finally, I did have to leave the house at one point today for a potluck dinner for my kid's cross-country team. That itself was fine. What was notable, in a blog-worthy way, was the teen word usage I learned at the event. That would be "beast", used as a verb. As in, "I totally beasted that test on Friday," or, "even when she wasn't feeling well, she totally beasted it at practice every week."

Okay, the resident Jew in the house must now sign off to carry the Christmas tree inside. WTF? What's next? Putting the honey glaze on the ham? Oy vey!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The artichoke dabbler.

Last night, my wife served artichokes for dinner. We also had soup and bread and cheese, which was a good thing, because I am, as I announced at the dinner table, an artichoke dabbler. My daughter laughed at that announcement, but it really is true. Some foods are just things that you don't mind putting in your mouth once in awhile, because they're there, but they don't really do anything for you that makes you want to continue eating them. Artichokes is one of those foods for me.

I think the artichoke problem is compounded by the fact that it doesn't seem like food to me so much as a project. You can't just tackle it and shove it in yer mouth, like regular food. Oh no. You have to meticulously break off one leaf at a time. Then you don't really *eat* the leaf, you just kinda scrape the gunk off with your teeth, amassing a discard pile of gross, teeth-scraped leaves. Then, after all that, you have the heart to deal with. The way I always deal with the heart is to give it to someone else at the table, since they kind of make me sick.

So there it is. The artichoke is just 1) Too high maintenance, and 2) not much food for all the work you put in, and 3)not very tasty even for the little you get. In short, it's a lot of work for not much payoff.

Case fucking closed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happy Monday.

Wow, what a lazy weekend I had. So lazy that I couldn't even bother to blog, despite the fact that I was basically home all day two days in a row. Sue me: I needed a break from thinking. New job that involves brain work + 70 miles of commuting every day = Jeff tired by Friday night. I think I did intend to blog, but every time I sat down at the PC, I somehow ended up playing WoW instead. Funny how that works.

I've said this already, but in Lich King, Blizzard has really outdone itself. The quest chains in Northrend (and for the Death Knights) are just outstanding--clever, engaging, funny, and in some places almost, if not revolutionary, then at least pointing the way towards what is likely to be at least part of the future of MMO gameplay. I'm talking specifically about the "phasing", which is the coolest thing I've seen in an MMO in a long time (other than Warhammer's public group quests, which also rock.) "Phasing," in WoW, means that the public zone you are in dynamically changes for you as you complete quests. In a way, this is somewhat of the holy grail that Chris Metzen was pining for years ago in an interview with me when WoW was still fairly early on. How do you make gamers really feel like they're having an impact on an MMO world? Rather than just being a guest at Disneyland, where nothing ever changes?

Phasing, it turns out, is an excellent answer to this question, and I'll be danged if I can even wrap my head around what exactly is happening. All I know is, you complete a quest, and the landscape around you, what NPCs are doing, whether a building is on fire or not, whatever, is now different for you than for players who have not yet completed that quest. You are not instanced. You are not on a separate server. You are still right there in the game with everyone, in that zone, but it now all looks different--and it is done without a load screen either. The fact that it is invisible this way is just astounding, and opens up worlds of possibilities now for storytelling in massive multiplayer games. This is just a first iteration of it. And what's funny is that Blizzard didn't even really tout this as a big deal for this expansion, nor has the gaming media really focused much attention on it. But I think it's going to go down as a landmark in MMO design and will influence games (and maybe not just MMOs) for years to come.

Jeez. There I go about WoW again. Sorry. I'm just fully addicted again and yes I know there are tons of other games to play, including some made by the company I work for, which you should all support, vigorously, with your cash! But back to WoW. I'm level 73 now and am having a blast with the new instances (put me in the camp that is happier that they are shorter and easier). And, personal query to fellow warlocks: I think I'm bailing on Destruction for now, but can't decide between Demonology and Affliction. I heart the Felguard, so I'm tempted to go that way, but conventional wisdom seems to have deemed Affliction the new cool spec. I dunno. Given I'm mostly a soloer, what should I do?

In other news, my back and leg are feeling a little better, thanks to my new regime of exercises, and my new consciousness about my posture and chair position. Thank you, physical therapist! And thank you blogger palz for all yer advice, too.

Finally, since I am no longer running, and have yet to pick an alternate form of good cardiovascular exercise (I'm still temporarily banned by my PT anyway), this means I need to watch what I eat a little better. Because I am sort of watching my formerly svelte figure (okay, so it hasn't been svelte for 30 years, whatever), getting a bit, oh, shall we say....rotund? No, we shant. That's too harsh. But yeah. One needs to watch it a bit. One does not want to be called Obesio McFattypants behind one's flabby back.

Which is why the EA Holiday party, this past Saturday night, was a bit of a disaster for me. I actually hadn't intended to go, at first. Not being much of a party guy, for one, but also cuz I actually had plans for a different party that I really did want to go to--but that one ended up getting canceled. So, the wife and I put on our fancy clothes (i.e. I ironed my Fallout t-shirt and wore the levis without the holes and spaghetti stains), and headed over to the swanktastic party in downtown San Francisco, which ended up being quite fun, for, ya know, an office Xmas party. One might be a little bothered by the fact that they had one of these given 1) the economy and 2) recent layoffs and game cancellations, but, hey, the people need their Xmas party too, even us Hebrew folk, and canceling altogether would probably be even more depressing. So they had one. And it was good and not overly obnoxiously extravagant the way they probably were back in The Salad Days. In any case, the point is that there was a LOT of food there, and most of it was not of the healthy variety. For example, there was this kinda stuff all over the place:



Looks great, doesn't it? THAT'S WHY I ATE TWO TONS OF IT. There were also heaping, gigantic spreads of sushi, pasta, pizza, burgers, paella, etc etc etc. And why have just one kind of french fries when you can have three?


The next day, Sunday, I sat down and watched five hours of documentaries on Africa. Now not only did I feel like a heaving, bloated oafsicle, but I felt guilty too.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My aching back.

It is official: I am old. Actually, it was probably official about 10 years ago, when I started getting called "sir" at rock concerts, or maybe five, when the grey hair really started kicking in. But now it's like extra super official, because I now have Old Guy Malady #1: A Bad Back.

Actually, it may not be my back entirely. It may be my leg, too. Or something else entirely. Like leprosy. Okay not leprosy. That's a joke. I hope. I sure don't want to end up on one of those colonies, with my nose falling off and stuff. That would suck. All I know is, a few months ago, I started getting a dull pain in the back of my right knee. I'd mostly feel it when I would walk up or down stairs, but sometimes it would happen just wherever I walked anywhere. Then it would go away again.

Being a relatively healthy guy--except when I'm dying of pneumonia or fainting on the kitchen floor--I am not used to pain. And so I ignored it. Or figured I was imagining it. Or that maybe it was just a cramp. But then a weird thing started happening: The pain migrated. What started behind my right knee now traveled up to my right lower back, above my hip. And when it kicked in, it was worse. Going up stairs, I now found myself doing the Old Man Grunt out loud, and holding my side, in classic Old Man Gait. Still, though, I kind of ignored it.

Last Saturday, though, I could ignore it no longer. The wife and I were out on a run. I felt the pain in my hip even before we left the house, but, as usual, I ignored it. But about 1.5 miles from our home, it really started hurting. I told my wife to continue on, that I was in a little pain and needed to walk for a minute. She ran on. The problem was, though, that I could now barely even walk. Every time my foot touched the ground, sharp pain went shooting up my leg and into my hip. Being only in running clothes, I had no cell phone on me. If I had, I would have called to get picked up. As it was, I had to limp all the way home, stopping every few feet to rest.

So needless to say, I was kinda freaked out. What was happening to me? The plague? Scurvy? Rickets? Okay,so maybe I've read too many books set in medieval days or on ships. Still, there was clearly a problem. So I made a doctor's appointment. The early diagnosis? Problems with my sciatic nerve. Solution: Get thee to a physical therapist.

Yesterday I went to the physical therapist for the first time. I go back again tomorrow for round two. According to her, I have any number of possible problems, with the sciatic nerve being only one diagnosis. So, in the meantime, I am banned from all exercise, except walking. I have to sit up straight, which really sucks for me because I am a big time sloucher. And I am not allowed to lean into my computer, which makes reading guild chat in WoW that much harder.

Overall I suppose it's no big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Still, it rankles a bit. "Your body is getting older," the physical therapist said. And, yeah, she's right, it is. It's not like I didn't notice this before. But it is, nevertheless, still pretty easy to remain in a permanent state of denial about your own mortality and fragile place in the world. There's a secret part of you that still thinks you're just going to live forever---or at least never have to face up to your own aging process. I mean, wasn't I just in college like just a few years ago???

Most of the time, I'm happy--or at least somewhat at peace-- being as old as I am. I feel like my life has gotten progressively better. I find my 40s much more satisfying than my 30s, and don't even get me started on my 20s, which is like the most overrated age bracket ever. But today, I gotta say, aging sucks.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Whooomp! There it Is!

Ack! I actually have that ridiculous song from 1993 stuck in my head now. Which really sucks because I am trying to write a review of The Sims 3 for the folks at EA here, and it's really hard to write with that phrase repeating itself endlessly in your brain.

The reason for this particular malady is the otherwise freaking *awesome* mashup CD Feed the Animals, made by a DJ calling himself Girl Talk. Now, mashups have been done to death, I know. You don't need to think I just discovered this because I'm old. I had Danger Mouse's Grey Album back when you were still in diapers, and since that only came out four years ago, I think that says something quite disturbing about you.

Anyhoo, this CD is great. The mashups are funny, surprising, and ever-evolving with every song. The "Whooomp! There it is!" line stuck in my head is actually superimposed with, of all things, Big Country's "Big Country" song, with that cheesy fake bagpipe guitar line. I know, it sounds ridiculous and impossible. But, whooomp, there it is: it works, and how the heck this guy ever thought to put those two songs together is a mystery that points either to genius or insanity or both.

So that link I pointed to, if you check it out, will reveal to you that you actually can just get it for free, if you want. He's doing a Radiohead deal here, where you can pay what you want, even though Amazon is selling it for $10. Still, if you like it, do the right thing and pay. Even a little. One should support such creative endeavors. Like this blog! Feel free to send me money. LOTS of it. Then I could do things like stay home and play WoW all day, and sleep, rather than be here at EA, trying to write a mock review of Sims 3 and thinking about old Miami rap songs instead.

EDIT: Ya gotta love Wikipedia. Here is a link to a work-in-progress cataloging all the samples on the CD. However, don't cheat right away! Listen first and check this list later!

Monday, December 1, 2008

To the clown at my office

in the denim jacket with the Star Trek Enterprise emblazoned on the back: I know you must be excited and all, what with the new Star Trek movie coming out. That Zachary Quinto--he looks just like Spock! And didja see Leonard Nimoy at the end of the new trailer! Oh yeah! So I can understand why you might be a bit distracted. Still, may I suggest, as you boldly go through the front door to our building, that you, perhaps, set your phaser to CONSIDERATE and hold the door open for two freaking seconds for those walking a mere three feet behind you, who you know are there, due to the loud clomping of motorcycle boots that you could not fail to hear. Next time, just pretend, like, I'm Uhuru or something, and you're Kirk, and this is that episode where we finally kiss. Whatever it takes. I mean, sheesh. Happy fuckin' Monday to you too!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A few words before Hitchcock.

It is Sunday evening, and I am back in Berkeley with my wife/kid/dog after our trip down to LA, which was quite marvey, thankyouverymuch. Always great to see my family down there, and of course Thanksgiving is in itself such an awesome holiday, what with the yummylicious, gigantic heaps of food we gorge ourselves on. It's one of the only days of the year in which, even after you're already completely full, you still find yourself saying, "well I guess I *could* have a little more!" And then after that is dessert. Hooray for gluttony!

So now as we prepare for grim reality again tomorrow, we are going to ring out the long weekend with a to-be-determined Hitchcock movie from the boxed set we borrowed from Dana and Brian. Vertigo, maybe? The Man Who Knew Too Much? Rear Window? Such choices. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. All we know is: neither Psycho or The Birds. Just for now. Some other time.

My two faves, actually, are North by Northwest (the movie that turned me on to movies), and Vertigo. I'd likely put both in my top 10 of all time, from any director, and I certainly would have a hard time making a sophie's choice between the two. North by Northwest is in my mind the great American suspense film. It's a virtually perfect movie, in every respect, with a plot that jumpstarts itself in the first 2 minutes, with no fluff, and never lets go until the end. Cary Grant may only ever play Cary Grant in his movies, but in this one he's a god--funny, righteous, manly, suave, cunning, brave--a real movie star. (Bringing Up Baby is another one.) And James Mason provides one of the great bad guy roles of all time. There are only certain movies I can watch over and over and over and never get tired of them. City Lights is one. The Wages of Fear is another. The Big Lebowski--of course. But I don't know if I've seen any movie more than I've seen North by Northwest, and if you haven't seen it yet, just put it in yer queue right now and thank me later.

Best suspense movie ever made? Quite possibly.

Vertigo is my other big Hitchcock love (and I've seen pretty much everything by him multiple times except for a couple of the super early old British ones), but for totally different reasons than North by Northwest. In Vertigo, Hitchcock made a movie with a plot that is somewhat ludicrous when put down on paper, but as imagined by him on screen is a work of haunting, unforgettable poetry. The feeling of vertigo is in fact one you experience yourself as you watch James Stewart claw his way from one heartbreak to another, over and over, in this story of obsessive love, wrapped up in a "mystery" story. I love Jimmy Stewart (I also have--I will admit this in public--an unhealthy love for It's a Wonderful Life ) and this is without a doubt my favorite of his roles, just because of the aching vulnerability and weakness he is willing to show as he follows his obsession. There's really not much more to say about this one without getting into plot details, which just should not be done with this movie. But anyone who thinks Hitchcock "just" made suspense movies, and hasn't seen Vertigo yet, doesn't really know what they're talking about.

But this one might be his masterpiece.

Err, so anyway, those are the two Hitchcock movies we aren't watching tonight. Which really wasn't what I came here to blog about. I was actually going to write a music blog. But see, get me started on Hitchcock and then I just start blabbering away. This is one of the greatest things about being a parent, though: Once kids get old enough--and assuming you get lucky enough to catch them in a mood where they don't feel like rolling their eyes and going back to FaceBook--you can foist all your favorites onto them, as part of the ongoing cultural brainwashing that you start with them from birth. It doesn't always work (if she ever ends up appreciating Bob Dylan, it's gonna have to be later in life, discovered on her own---which is maybe as it should be), but when it does work ("OMG dad I love Talking Heads!"), well, you kinda feel like maybe your time on Earth was worth something indeed. Or at least it helps justify all the time and money you spent over the years obsessing about this junk.

Anyhoo: dinner and movie time has hit! Here's hoping your long weekend was a relaxing and restorative as mine was.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving today, and at least for the foreseeable future, this holiday is going to be a bittersweet one for me. One year ago today, my cat PJ died. We had had PJ--or maybe I should say he had us--for 15 amazing years. Not everyone gets the pet thing, and that's okay, but those who do know more than can ever be explained to those who don't how much a pet can truly become part of a family. The sight of them, the smell, the touch, the funny and stupid and annoying and adorable things they do, become part of the fabric of your life, and when it is taken away from you, as it inevitably must, it creates an ache and a sadness like no other.

Every year on Thanksgiving, my wife and daughter and I drive down to LA to be with my family. We're doing it again today, soon. But I woke up remembering what had happened at this very time exactly one year ago today. After it happened, and before we got in the car, I sat down in this same chair and blogged about it on my old 1up.com blog, as a way to process my feelings, somehow. A lot of people liked that blog and told me it helped them deal with the grief over the loss of their own pet. So on this Thanksgiving morning, I'm reposting that blog here, for me, for PJ, and for anyone else who feels the need or desire to give thanks to someone no longer with them. Happy Thanksgiving, PJ. And Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, too. Thanks for being part of my life and for coming here and reading my stuff.

PJ The Cat. In memoriam. 1992-2007
Posted at Thu, 22 Nov 2007 12:46:16 PST


It seems like a particularly cruel and trying twist of fate to have a family's beloved cat pass away on Thanksgiving Day, of all days. And yet, if any of us have learned anything, it's that life never does make a whole lot of sense, never pauses to ask us first if this is a good day for whatever it has to throw at us.


And so it is that on Thanksgiving Day 2007, my wife and daughter and I found ourselves sitting in a cold and sterile room at a pet emergency hospital at 8 a.m., crowded around the very, very sick form of our cat PJ, as the vet gave him one last shot to let him sleep and rest forever, out of the pain that a horrendous bacterial infection had put him in for over a week, rendering him unable to eat or even move. We fought it, of course, that decision, that leap of sad understanding that many, many pet owners inevitably find themselves forced to make--the one that tells you that you have to let go for the animal's sake, that keeping him or her alive is only a salve for you. That what your pet needs now is rest. For 24 hours we fought this decision, willing him as strong as we could to rally, to fight it off, to get better. But at the hospital this morning it was clear. You could see it in his eyes, in his low moans, in his withered body. You could see him asking to be let go.


And so now after 15 long, wonderful, happy, loving years, PJ is gone on, and we are packing our things here and driving down to Los Angeles to be with our extended family on this holiday--a bittersweet of one as I ever remember having.

Part of me doesn't want to go at all. Part of me wants to tell my family: "Never mind. See you next year." Because...well, why? Why go? Why celebrate? What is there to be thankful for on this cold and cruel Thanksgiving Day?


And the answer of course is that there is so much to be thankful for. Even on a day like this. There of course is the fact that we have each other. And the fact that we have somewhere to drive to, that will understand our pain and offer us the kind of comfort that only family can provide. That in itself is more than anyone could hope to have.

But here in this space, before I take off, I also want to acknowledge all the things I'm thankful for that that big, tough, annoying, scratchy, loud, awesome cat brought into my life.


I'm thankful for the endless hours of companionship.

I'm thankful for all that purring and head butting and body curling that let me know we had a mutual deal going on here.

I'm thankful for the countless laughs as we found you in one ridiculous predicament after another.


I'm thankful for all those poor little mice and birds that you brought to us in sacrifice over the years, even if we yelled at you at the time.

I'm thankful for all that interrupted sleep due to your sudden need to go outside at 4 a.m even though you'd ask to be let back in 2 minutes later.

I'm thankful for never making it 10 minutes through any TV show ever without you needing to either go in or out, depending on which side of the door you were on.

I'm thankful for the countless new places you showed me that, despite my limited human thinking, did in fact turn out to be cool sleeping spots.



I'm thankful for all the scratches on my hands and arms and toes that reminded me who actually was in charge of our relationship.

I'm thankful for you always giving me a reason to want to come home, no matter my mood, no matter the circumstance.

And, most of all, PJ, I'm thankful for that unconditional (well, as unconditional as it ever gets for a cat) love, that solid and steady companionship, that low purr that always made everything alright. And the gentle, steady reminder that sometimes--most of the time, in fact-- the best damn thing in the world to do was absolutely nothing. To sit, be still, breathe, and appreciate the awesome wonder of simply being together, sharing the same space.


Thank you, PJ. I love you, man. Have a happy Thanksgiving up there in cat heaven, and I'll do my best to have one down here, basking in my memories of our 15 years of love and harmony and happiness together.

Happy Thanksgiving, PJ.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Morons and communists."

That was the answer I gave my daughter just now when she asked me, while searching for a brownie recipe for Thanksgiving, "Who doesn't like peanut butter?" So, if you are reading this now, and you do not like peanut butter, then I ask you to ask yourself: WHICH ARE YOU?

In other news, which I shall number because it's easier than writing coherent and fluid paragraphs:

1) I had a good sound sleep, thankfully, and did not have a repeat of yesterday's tragic leap onto the floor.

2) It is raining here in Berkeley, which means my little dog is stir crazy and therefore driving ME crazy, because apparently I am the Entertainment Committee for her, which sucks when I'm trying to play WoW.

3) I've been playing WoW. Just did the Nexus quests, which were super fun (especially the tentacle lady who spins you around), but I'm kind of sorry I didn't (once again) read the quest text, so I have no idea what it was all about. Basically, I killed stuff and then looted stuff. Which is great. Still. I'm a writer---I should read the words! Now I just feel guilty. Pretty instance, though!

4) Today's cheap Amazon mp3 deal ($2.99) is for Elton John's Madman Across the Water, which is one of his best. One of the great things about getting older is that you realize that music that seemed embarrassing or lame or NOT RAWK ENUF at the time, is, in retrospect, really pretty damn good. Sure Elton is derivative and manipulative and obvious and lightweight--but the man could write some nice melodies, too. And the bonus of this particular record is that it has "Tiny Dancer," which is the song that is featured in the single best scene in the movie Almost Famous. Anyway, I bought it this a.m., and I have no regrets.

5) I also have no regrets about not watching Heroes this week. Yep--I'm officially done. At least until I hear from credible sources (not you fanboy dorkuses) that it has gotten seriously better again. Because this series just blows now. And I say this as a former believer. But at this point, I don't know what any of the characters are doing any more, or why, or who's friends with who, or why, or who is coming back from the future or going to the past, or why, and frankly I don't even think I want to hear why, because it would just give me a headache and reaffirm for me that I just do not give a shit. They ruined this show. It needs a "Batman Begins" done on it now---a complete reboot. Or a cancellation. But I am done.

6) If I ever finally write that novel I've been meaning to write, one of the characters is going to be in a band, and the band's name is going to be Seizure Salad. I came up with that name while in Target with my kid, and the garishness of the store inspired those two words to fall from my mouth. I mention this here in public now knowing that someone else may steal it for their own book, but you folks are witnesses that I thought it up first.

7) I am thinking a lot again about the ridiculous use of "quotes" that eliminate the phrase they are used with of any actual meaning. For example, many years ago, I saw a sign on a wall at a restaurant that said they sell: "Homemade" apple pie. The quotes mean, one assumes, that it's not actually homemade at all. Otherwise they wouldn't need the quotes. So the point of the sign is....what exactly? To focus our attention on the exact opposite of what you're trying to do? Bravo! The same goes for this one: Made with "real" chocolate. Err, okay. So in fact it's not real at all then. So it's fake. So in fact what it should really say is: Made with fake chocolate. All I'm saying is that this shit bothers me. I'm not saying we have to do anything about it, like take to the streets with torches and pitchforks or anything. I'm just saying to be vigilant, people! Watch for this abuse, and stamp it out wherever you see it. I have deputized you all. Use your power. Use it wisely. The English language---nay, the very fabric of our society!--depends on it.


[EDIT: "Thanks" to message poster "Andy" for alerting me to this photo. :)]

Have a "happy" rest of your day!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rude awakening.

Good grief. Well this is a new one. I am sitting here at my keyboard at home, coffee in hand, and nursing a sore leg and sore lip. Why? Thanks for asking! I shall tell you! Because just about 10 minutes ago, while still sound asleep, I was dreaming that some lowlife was stealing my motorcycle. It was parked a few feet away on the college campus I was at, where I was looking through the new math book I had just bought. When I looked up from the book and saw the punk trying to make off with the bike, I yelled and leaped at him with all my force. Unfortunately, I apparently did that in real life too. Yes, while sound asleep at 7:15 a.m., I suddenly yelled "NOOOOO!" out loud and propelled myself off the bed, banging into the nightstand and landing on the floor. Needless to say, I was now awake, sore, bewildered, feeling stupid, and with a little dog licking my face and wagging her tail because apparently this was some new game I was making up that seemed like a heck of a lot of fun.

So, um, yeah. Good morning everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The needle and the damage done.

Shockingly, it has been a week since my last update here. Much has happened in that week. Most of the work on this site has been transferred to an outsourcing company in India, so I figured it was in good hands. But now that I'm here I see they haven't blogged for me yet, which was not part of the original agreement. So an international conference call has been scheduled for later, with my attorneys present, in which head will roll, my friends. Heads will roll.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to update the blog MYSELF, which, really, at this point in my career, is asking a lot of me. Shouldn't I just be able to bask in my success on the executive board of Greenspeak, raking in the profits, padding out my golden parachute, laughing contentedly on the golf course with my other grey-haired white male friends, secretly worrying what the Obama presidency is going to do to my portfolio? Ah well.

On the plus side, or maybe the down side, I am totally addicted to WoW again. It didn't take long. In fact all it took was a reinstall on my still-crappy PC, as well as a download of Wrath of the Lich King, to sucker me back in, hardcore. Goddamn it! There I was, minding my own business, happily playing all sorts of other games---Fallout 3, Warhammer, Dead Space, World of Goo, Ticket to Ride, Final Fantasy IV, and many others---and now the evil folks at Blizzard have reeled me back in to the point where I've got those junkie-like jitters just being away from the game right now. I have achievements to catch up on! I have new zones to explore! My new deathknight, Deathbert, has bad things to do! When you factor in not only other games, but also other aspects of life--my job, my family, exercise, books, TV, longstanding home improvement projects dating back 10 years or so, personal hygiene, and a host of other petty distractions--it's clear that WoW just can't fit in with all of that. So that's why I'm giving all of that up to devote myself 24/7 to WoW. Yay! I think that is the only logical and mature decision to have been made here.

And speaking of achievements in WoW: Ugh. Really? I've been gone for months, so I knew they were there but hadn't experienced them yet. And here's the thing: I'm not an OCD kind of guy. I'm not. But there's something about seeing these obviously useless Achievements sitting there, waiting to be achieved, that activates the hamster-brain in me even as I know what I'm doing is stupid and pointless. To wit, last night I spent a good two hours roaming around the Eastern Kingdom, all over those lowbie zones, simply to get the Achievement for exploring that continent. I was surprised to see I didn't have it automatically, given how much time I spent there 4 years ago, but upon looking at the requirements, saw that I was missing a landmark or two in every single zone. But rather than just ignore that and get on with my life--or at least explore Northrend with my Coke Zero and Cheez-Its--I spent the evening riding around filling in all those zones, as moronic a way to spend my time as I can imagine. And yet, I liked it.

One achievement I got this weekend, too, freaked me out, almost to the point of scaring me straight off the game. It was the achievement for completing 1000 quests. ONE THOUSAND. (And what's scary, too, is thinking of all those I haven't done---boy, those developers have written a LOT of quests for this game) . 1000 times I have accepted the drudge work and delivery jobs and assassination requests and diplomatic missions and more for every random person I've met in the game. And yet, I get resentful every time my wife asks me to take out the trash. Something is not right here. And while I'd love to ponder it more, I really do have to get back to the game now. Oh wait, no---I'm at work! Shit!


Monday, November 17, 2008

On the other hand...

without the 1970s, we wouldn't have Starsky and Hutch, which then means we wouldn't have this fantastic routine by Bill Bailey. (And thanks to my pal Eric in Spain for introducing me to Mr. Bailey):

The unfortunate 1970s.

First of all, my short review of "Quantum of Solace": Daniel Craig rules. Because the thing is is that this is not a very good movie at all. It fails in almost every category: The plot is an indecipherable mess, the action scenes are impossible to follow, the new "Bond girl" is a dud, and the new villain was played by an actor who was far more interesting in another movie in which he played a guy who was completely paralyzed and could only communicate by blinking one eye.

But, in spite of all this, I *still* enjoyed the movie and would recommend it simply because Daniel Craig is so freaking great to watch. He's this generation's Steve McQueen. He radiates cool.

Hopefully I'll post more thoughts later, because I do want to rant about the "shaky cam" action scenes. But I simply must get back to work now. Before I do so, however, I want to share this one link passed to me by my good friend Dana--who at this very moment may in fact be a new mom! (Sending good vibes about that.) Even in her about-to-deliver state, she still managed this weekend to pass this along to me: Definitive proof that the 1970s were truly the worst decade ever for fashion. Or maybe just for Swedish fashion. For those too lazy to click teh links, here's an exclusive advanced sneak preview:


EDIT: I added one more just because I love the guy on the lower right:

Have a nice day!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Eh?

Yo. Jeff Green here. How you doin? It is 6 pm PST, and we are T-minus 1 hour before leaving to go see the new James Bond movie. WOOT. Daniel Craig: Best Bond since Sean Connery. Notice I didn't phrase that as a question, so this is not actually up for discussion. Craig is one of those manly men that men are allowed to idolize--kinda like Clive Owen now, too. So the wife and kid and two of the kids' friends and I are all heading over to Emeryville to brave the Saturday night crowds, which means I will be battling my usual impulse to rip the skulls off of the morons talking and not turning off their cell phones and explaining the movie to all of this. "Wow, that was awesome, did you see that? He totally shot that guy in the head." Why, yes, yes I did see it! Because I'm sitting right behind you at the same theater! I didn't, however, HEAR it, because you were too busy flapping your popcorn-breath gums in my ears while it was happening, you selfish, inconsiderate dillweed! Wow, I'm mad already and I haven't even gone yet. See, this is my problem. I'm expecting something to piss me off, so this means that the slightest little thing is going to do it, no matter how innocuous it might be. Like, what if some sweet little 80-year-old woman just gives a little sort-of half-cough in my ear, and I turn around and, because I'm a little unhinged about this sort of thing, yell "SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU STUPID PIECE OF SHIT!" only to see too late who I'm yelling at? That wouldn't be good. So what I need to do now is get into a more Zen state about it all. I need to get to a place of acceptance, to realize that not everything is in my control, and to let what happens happen. I need accept the fact that:

1) It is the first Saturday night the movie is playing.
2) It is playing in a crowded mall, which means a higher-percentage of dimbulb cretins and lowlifes in attendance.
3) It is an action movie.

All of which means that the chances of this being a quiet, respectful movie crowd are mathematically determined to be less than zero. So why fight it? Why be the one stick-in-the-mud in a crappy mood just because everyone else is yelling and talking and chewing with their mouth open and having a great time? Shouldn't I just join in with the crowd? Maybe I should be one of those guys loudly heckling the characters on screen. I could start yelling "TAKE IT OFF BITCH!" the first time the new Bond girl shows up. I'd get big laughs and be the hero of the theater, carried out on the shoulders of all my new friends, who would take me to TGIFridays afterwards for a nice lukewarm Coors Light and some potato skins.

Anyway. Yeah. That's my night tonight. I hope yours is as fun as mine is going to be. Hopefully I won't get an ulcer or cardiac or get my ass kicked having all this fun.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


When did this term make it into the mainstream vocabulary? I thought it still just belonged to us gamers. I thought wrong, though, as I recently discovered that my daughter and her friends now use the term all the time. In any event, after sitting through a bunch of meetings, and faced with the prospect of writing a really long email I'm not much in the mood to do, I felt the need for some comic relief. And where better to find it than in the foibles and traumas of others?

First, there's this guy:

Then, there's this guy--an oldie but always my favorite. A nice moral in this one for The Kids of Today. See if you can think of it all on your own!

See, so, instead of feeling sorry for myself for the work I have to do, plus the fact that my PC is nearly dead and Lich King comes out tomorrow and I won't be able to play, I can laugh at these morons, which makes me feel a lot better.

Thanks, morons!

(and thanks to failblog.org for the Good Times)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fun with animals.

Part of the awesomeness of my new job---along with the phenomenal burping of Veronica, one of the producers here--is that I am currently getting to spend a lot of my time doing research on animals. Yes, while my co-workers are slaving away squashing bugs, I have the fortunate luxury of looking ahead to future games in the SimAnimals line, helping to figure out what would be cool, and possible, to include.

Because I am the product of the shitty American public school system, however, and also because I didn't pay much attention anyway (but still managed to get almost straight As) I don't actually know a whole lot about animals now. Except that I like them. So now I'm giving myself a crash course in all sorts of things--which is also giving me a side course in geography (hey--Africa is a continent!)--through extensive reading, Wiki-ing, and watching of channels like Animal Planet, when they're not doing one of their 35 shows on dogs.

For one small example of animal coolness, check out this warthog, who you think may be in for trouble--but keep watching. This dude is an inspiration to all of us, I think:

A couple other random animal facts to infotain you with on this lovely Friday afternoon:

* The word "gorilla" derives from the Greek "gorillae," which translates to "tribe of hairy women." (Probably coined after the discoverer visited Berkeley.)

* Hippos can run up to 30 MPH, which is faster than most Prius owners go on the freeway. They can also walk and run along the bottom of rivers!

*Giraffes sleep an average of only 1.9 hours a day, which means they could get through Fallout 3 AND the Malazan novels a lot faster than I ever will.

Okay. That's all I got for you right now. Please carry on. I shall be back again with more Fun Facts to Liven Up Your Lives.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oh yes. Yes indeed.

Good morning, America.

You do not get to read this blog

if you are an American citizen and at least 18, until you have voted. You hear me, you punks? I don't care who you vote for. (Well, I do, but it's none of my business.) Just vote. This is your day, our day, to make a difference. Yes, we should be trying to make that difference, oh, 364 more days a year, in theory, but Real Life tends to get in the way of that, and, okay, so plenty of better people than us manage to do it anyway, but whatever for them, THIS IS YOUR BIG CHANCE. So do it. Do it even if you think your candidate or proposition or whatever is going to win. Or lose. Just do it. Participate in your democracy.

And then we can all come back here and talk about stupid shit again!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Scary times!

So it's the day after Halloween. And, talk about scary (worst setup ever?)--this has been quite a month for me here at EA.  Let's review, shall we?  In one month I have now experienced:

1) A project cancelled
2) A team going into never-going-home crunch mode
3) A bad quarterly company report followed by layoffs and a stock skid.

Welcome to the gaming industry!

On the plus side, I am still employed.  And I am greatly enjoying my ongoing, daily edjumacation into the wonders and mysteries of game development.   While maintaining an uncharacteristic and deceptive low profile amongst my new co-workers, I have been soaking in gazillions of details into how these things get made, and, good god, is there a lot going on.  And if some of it may seem mundane to those who have been doing it all day every day, to me, it's extraordinary, just seeing how much scrutiny every teeny, tiny little thing in the game gets.   And watching how changing one of those teeny, tiny little things then has an effect on the game as a whole.  One of the coolest things to me, so far, is actually watching the game get demonstrably better every single day.  I mean, tangibly--you can feel it, see it, as the changes get incorporated.  The evolution of the product is just fascinating.   There really is a book in this to be written.  If only I knew a writer with experiencing writing about this industry to do it.  

In other news, I started two games this morning, neither of them Sims related:  Dead Space and Fallout 3.  I know as an EA Shill I should be pimping Dead Space to ya, but, honestly,  Fallout 3 is the one I ended up blowing the afternoon on.  You can't blame me.  I played (and reviewed for CGW) Fallout 1 a good 10 years ago.  I have history.  I'm a fan.   And I'm a real fan, too--not like the nincompoops on That One Special Internet Forum who have been aching for Fallout 3 to suck since it was first announced.   If I live to be 200 (just a couple more years now), I will never understand how people get that way, or why they bother, given the relative brevity of our time here on Earth.  So much bitterness....and for what?   So you don't believe Bethesda can do right by your beloved old games....go play something else.  But to waste time posting on message boards about it, with other fellow bitter people.   I don't know.   Out of morbid curiousity, I lurked over there the other day, right when the game came out, and sure enough, as the positive reviews were piling in,  it was one bitter comment after another in response: "LOL PRESS WHORES!" etc.  Because god forbid it might actually be good!  Or god forbid anyone else should enjoy it, since you're determined to hate it!  More laughable, and sad,  were the comments promising that when THEY buy the game and write their review, you can damn well be sure it's gonna be a negative one!!  Yeah.  That's great.  So your plan is to:

1) Buy a game you know you're going to hate, thereby giving the company you feel is screwing the franchise more money.
2) Play it even though you know you're gonna hate it,  thereby wasting hours out of your own life doing something you don't enjoy.
3) Write a negative review no matter what your play experience happens to be, because you know already that it's going to suck. 

Good grief does it suck to be you.

Meanwhile, I'll post my own impressions as I make my way through.   I have no agenda other than that I hope it's good, which is how I feel every time I start a new game.  Wacky notion, huh?



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I am behind.

On, like, everything. I haven't seen this week's House yet. I'm three episodes behind on Mad Men. I haven't started Dead Space. I can't level up in Warhammer cuz the damn game keeps crashing to desktop. I'm late for the Microsoft XNA party I'd promise I'd attend tonight. And I skipped exercising like the last 4 times in a row I told myself I would. And yet.... I'm not working nearly as hard as everyone else on the team I am on now at EA, who I have not seen go home for dinner with their families even once in the week I have now been here. Last night there was an email sent announcing that "pizza had arrived".....at 11:40 pm. This is a hard-workin' team. What the hell am I doing on it??

In happier news, I'd like you all to know that Joe The Plumber, aka Samuel Wurzelbacher, has hired a publicist with the plan to....record a country music album. One would assume he'll probably record under the moniker "Joe the Plumber," because "Samuel Wurzelbacher" just doesn't have the greatest country music vibe to it. Country fans will just think he sounds Jewish and get all scared.

Anyhoo, over at Quarter to Three today I made a suggestion for the title of his first single, but wanted to share it here in case anyone else takes credit first. Joe, please feel free to use this:

"Your Pipes May Be Cloggy (But Your Heart Is Mine)"

You're welcome!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A blog about gaming.

Hello and welcome to my Sunday blog! Huzzah! This blog is being brought to you by three cups of coffee, which is my very favorite way to start out a Sunday. This will give me just enough energy to make it until about 1 pm, at which point I will crash and take a nap until about 4. That's my plan, anyway. I'm an ambitious guy!

I'm going to go ahead and self-righteously say I deserve this day of rest, however, as the previous week found me, as mentioned in my last blog post, on a brand new team at EA, after a mere 4 weeks on the job--a stressful situation that left me tired and somewhat overwhelmed by end-of-day Friday, but also happy and excited for the future. (And let me add, I don't deserve this day of rest even a third as much as my new co-workers, who worked later than I did every night, and who were coming in both days this weekend to work again. Yikes.)

I hadn't written a whole lot (or at all) about exactly what I was doing in my first four weeks, largely because it was Top Secret, though I think extra-astute readers might have seen that I did drop a few hints here and there. It was a project that was a bit off the beaten path but had the potential for greatness, or at least very goodness. So the bad news was that the rug got pulled out from under that project, before I could really ever crow about it here and spell out exactly what I was up to. The good news is that I think I *am* at liberty to tell you what I'm up to now--sort of--because the project is one that has already been announced: I am now a designer with the SimAnimals team. Woot! I heart animals! Look! Look how much I love animals! Even ones with crazy alien eyes!

Huh. I can't tell if this picture is sideways or not. Anyhoo: Yeah. That's the deal. I'm on that project, which is a game for the Wii, which is boatloads of fun for me. Note, however, that this game is way far along in its production--I am joining very late in the project, which is why the team is working so dang hard. So my input into this game is only going to be somewhat advisory and peripheral, as the design is essentially done. Still, it's fun to be in my usual critic role and actually see stuff getting affected/changed right there-and-then. Not that I'm lusting to lord any control over them: This is their project, and they're working their asses off, and I'm honored to be listened to or taken seriously at all, given my lack of experience in such matters. My real work begins with the NEXT project, which I shall have a crucial role in, and which I can't wait for. Now we're back at the "I can't tell you anything yet" phase, but there--I at least told you basically what I'm involved in. And I'm happy. I'm doing creative, fun stuff (I sat in on a 45 minute meeting about eyebrows, and it was super cool--no joke) that is challenging me in new artistic ways, just as I hoped for when I decided to make this career change. Stay tuned, though. I foresee lots of ups and downs and bumps and hills and valleys along the way....

Meanwhile, there are other games to discuss. World of Goo, for example, a fan-freakin-tastic WiiWare game that I believe was made by 2 guys, which is a nice humbling lesson for anyone. Funny, challenging, unique, loaded w/personality, it's one of my favorite games of the past few months. It's also kicking my ass on certain levels, because I am a physics loser. (Note to self: Enlist aid of your smarter 14-year-old daughter, who actually knows something about physics because she is paying attention in school, unlike you, who used to draw Don Martin cartoons all over your class notes instead of listening to the teachers.)

I've also begun Warhammer Online, which I was loving in the beta and am trying to love now--except for the unending streak of crash-to-desktops that take me out of the game over and over. Now, the fact that I have a Special PC With Problems has already been established, but a Google search tells me that these crashes are not unique to me, which is both a relief and a bummer. But I like this game enough (and not just cuz it's published by EA, promise) to keep at it while hoping for a fix. Moronico, Dwarf Engineer, is ready to take on you chuffin' greenskins! Oy!

And my third gaming obsession, at present, for no reason at all that I can explain, is a newfound addiction to Ticket to Ride on XBLA. This is one of my favorite boardgames ever, and I also dug it a lot on the PC, but now I'm hooked all over again on the 360. Mostly I'm hooked, however, because I am convinced that the AI is cheating, and so I am determined to beat it. You know how when you play(ed) Tetris a lot, and you'd be waiting for that ONE piece (usually the "L") to come down to fulfill your grand scheme, only the game would never give you one? And you convinced yourself in your brain that the game KNEW this, and was denying you on purpose? And then after your plan was foiled, then five L's in a row would come cascading down, as if to mock you? Yeah. I think that's what Ticket to Ride does too, in its own way, always taking the cards I need, and always blocking my paths ahead of time, as if it knows what cards I have drawn. Maybe not. Who knows. I just know that I am not admitting defeat to any fuggin' Digital Overlord, mmmmkay? HUMANS FTW.

That's really all I got right now. We must sit down and discuss television again, soon, though. We must discuss why House is so great, still, and why I am glad that Kenley got her comeuppance on Project Runway, and why Mad Men is so brilliant on so many levels (is there a more loveably despicable character--other than Kenley--on TV right now than Pete Campbell?), and why, for the over 40th time in my life, I will be watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" on TV this week, despite the fact that I could do the whole episode for you right now by heart.

But I feel my book calling to me, and my couch, and those are voices that I really try to listen to when I can. Especially on a Sunday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oy vey.

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm not going to have this be a blog in which I constantly blog about not blogging. That will simply not do.

I actually made it an Official Rule to myself back when I was writing the Greenspeak column in Computer Gaming World magazine that I would never, ever write a column about how I didn't have a topic that month. Whenever I see writers doing that, I always want to slap them. If you don't have a topic, then, hi, you don't deserve a column. You can't have NOTHING to say. If you don't, give the page to someone else, because plenty of us have plenty to say. Ya know? It's the weakest way out of actually applying yourself.

Having said this, which, now that I think of it, isn't really relevant to anything, but what the heck, it's midnight, I do want to apologize, again, for the infrequent posting. The thing is: We're in computer hell at my house. H-E-L-L. Or I suppose I could spell that V-I-S-T-A. You know what? Fuck Microsoft. I say that with all due respect to my friends who work there. I actually don't mean fuck my friends. They are cool. But good god what a P.O.S. Vista has been--at least for me. I have had nothing but headaches and blue screens and constant crashes (especially with Firefox) since switching over. And yes it was a clean install. Twice. So don't lecture me. And so now that I don't run their "official" goddang magazine that they never gave a crap about anyway--or even remember existed--until it was killed (at which point they then worried how to spin the closing so it wouldn't make THEM or "Games for Windows" look bad--yeah, thanks. Guess what? "Games for Windows" looked bad from the fucking start, morans!), I have no problem telling them to get bent for shoving such an unfinished, mediocre, unstable, buggy product onto the market. After all these years, I think I'm finally just about ready to go back to Apple. Good job, Microsoft!

Meanwhile, that isn't even the real hell. The real hell is that both my wife's and my daughter's PCs (yes, Windows PCs!) are out of commission. My daughter's is dead dead, as in kaput, with a fried motherboard, while my wife's Dell laptop is in endless Blue Screen of Death hell and so is now at a shop where we will get reamed out of a few hundred dollars just for the displeasure of having to use it again. The net result of all this? We now have two adults and one teenager and one PC in the house. Yeah. I don't know about your family, but my family isn't fully at home and happy unless we're all behind our respective screens, YouTubing and Facebooking and gaming and steadfastly not paying attention to each other. This is what creates harmony in our house. Now? Now there's a line to use the one PC, and let me tell you, stress is high! So this is the situation, and this is why the blogging has fallen off. BLAME MICROSOFT.

In other news, my work life has been equally crazy. One month in to my new career...and I am seeing some of the volatility of the game biz. I can't really talk details, but let's say that everything I did until now has been essentially rendered null and void, and I am now going to another project. The good news is that I'm excited about that project, too, as I was with the last one. So things are good. And maybe one day I'll be able to share all the details of what it's like at EA. Details like the fact that my mail has now twice been misdelivered to a fellow at EA named Jeff Brown. Like, hi, they color coded us for a reason!

In any event, I'm tired. Tomorrow I move to another floor, another team, and start all over again as New Guy. Let's hope I go through this rite of passage again without doing something horrible, like projectile vomiting on my new boss. If I can just have that not happen, we'll call it a victory.

Good night. And remember: Fuck Microsoft!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not a political post.

I'm just sayin, I can't understand what the heck is going on in this photo from the debate the other night. In fact, if I were the entrepreneurial sort, I would suggest we have a photo caption contest, and then I'd reward you with a valuable prize, like, say, one of my new EA business cards, which I don't actually have yet. So never mind. In any case, I really have no idea what was going on here when this was taken:

Okay, with that out of the way, let me just apologize for the infrequent posting this week...my birthday, wife's birthday, work, not enough sleep...all sorts of excuses for you to choose from. The point is that I'm sorry and ask your forgiveness.

Now, a few quick items before I hop on my motorized bike and head to work:

1) I am in love with my iPhone. I will dedicate an entire post to it this weekend. But the short version is that this is a Magic Device full of Sorcery. I can wish for something and then 2 minutes later I have it in my hands, thanks to the App store. I'm even used to the keyboard now! Truly one of the most amazing devices I've ever owned. More to come on this one.

2) TV watch: Heroes continues to suck. Every character just does whatever now, based on the whims of the writers and the desire for gimmicky plot points: "Hey, what if HRG and Sylar are forced to work together! LOL! What if.....Hiro KILLS Ando!" Yeah. I remember when the show was more about depicting what happens when ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Now it's just a (bad, very bad) Saturday morning cartoon. Yes, I'm still watching--the same way I like to look at flashing lights and pretty colors. But I am completely emotionally uninvested now. I'm gazing at it, rather than being engaged. Bah. Meanwhile: House is better than ever. Really a great season so far. The Wilson storyline resolved a bit too quick, I thought---but the interaction, the friendship between those two characters is really a fine thing, especially for network TV. Finally--I'm still many episodes behind on Mad Men, but right now this is the best show on television, now that The Wire is over. You should be watching this.

3) Flash games. I'm playing tons of them for my job now. I am going to start pointing you here towards the great ones. There are many of them. For now, at least, it has discombobulated my gaming habits, as I am now absorbed in replays of 2-minute games, rather than getting lost in 20 or 30 (or, in the case of WoW, 1000+) hour games. It's not necessarily a permanent state (I'm looking forward to Dead Space this weekend), but it's been very interesting to explore this world. There are some super creative people making great games in this space.

4) Board gaming! The bug is back, thanks to my co-worker Ed and the board game group at EA, which I joined a week or so ago. I've only gone to one lunchtime session, but it was loads of fun and reminded me how much I miss doing that. We played Rio Grande's Race for the Galaxy, and of course I had no real idea what I was doing, and got my ass handed to me, but still: here's hoping I get plenty more opportunity to play, and to share my thoughts on current board games here with all you all.

5) Well, look: Now I'm gonna be late. Okay--another post coming this weekend. Meanwhile, in the spirit of the previous post, here's another Darwinian species failure for us to laugh at. Except this one's a bit more painful than funny. Unless you watch it multiple times in a row. Then it starts getting funny. Why is that?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dogs are dumb.

Hey look, here's a non-controversial post that we can all agree on! Dogs are stoopid! (Cue the Dogs Are Smart special interest group to show up and complain.)

Actually, maybe all dogs aren't dumb. But *mine* is. Cute, yes. Lovable, absolutely. Would I trade her in for a million dollars? Not on your life. But good grief, Mila: How many times must you dig in to my wife's purse, and eat something not-meant-for-eating---like a whole container of chapstick--then spend the night throwing up, before it sinks into your pea brain that maybe that wasn't a great idea? So, yeah. That's what happened last night. Now I'm here at EA, exhausted, because Lady Von NotSoBright ate something bad and kept me up while she attempted to purge her system all night. When I left for my ride to work, of course, she was finally zonked out asleep. Yeah, have a great rest, moronica!

"Hmmm, now what dumb thing can I do next?"

Of course, before we get all high and mighty about being smarter than dogs, we may want to consider this guy:


I think, regardless of our political affiliations, we can all agree that this young man should probably not have the right to vote in the upcoming election.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Random nonsense.

Okay, so yes, I am still at work. I'M SORRY. But I haven't really left my desk all day, except to go fetch a fine lunch of cheese steak and curly fries from the EA Cafe, plus I've been doing a bunch of kinda tedious data entry, so I'm going to take a break here to mention three things that made me LOL today.

1. Tina Fey. God I love her. Since I stopped watching Saturday Night Live something like 20 years ago, I missed out on her when she was a regular there. And I missed out on 30 Rock, at first, until my friend Dana kept badgering me about it and I finally watched some online and realized she was right. Today she had a great statement about Sarah Palin, which I will quote in full: "We're gonna take it week by week. If she wins, I'm done. I can't do that for four years. And by 'I'm done,' I mean I'm leaving Earth."

2. The second LOL came from presidential candidate John McCain, who said this: "The national media has written us off. Sen. Obama is measuring the drapes...My friends, we've got them just where we want them." Okay, so let's see if I understand this, and keep in mind I'm not that good at politics. According to most national polls, you are being beaten by about 10 percentage points, and many experts are agreeing that Obama clearly has the necessary number of electoral votes to win. And....this is just where you want them? Good strategy!! After you lose the election and have some free time, please play me in Age of Empires!

3. BAH. EDITED. Number three turned out not to work, because Blogger doesn't seem to like animated GIFs. Instead, I present you with this---which is exactly what it's like to work at EA!!!!!!!

Okay, everybody---back to work!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A chillaxing kind of weekend.

Here at Greenspeak Central, the work never stops. You may think this is just done by me, but, frankly, given everything that happens on this page, you really should know better. I'm not that good! In fact, since leaving Ziff Davis and starting at EA, I have slowly assembled a crack team of trained monkeys and recently graduated college English majors--along with some offshore phone operators in India--who work tirelessly around the clock in an unlit, windowless basement to bring you all of these phenomenal posts. So, before I go any further, I just want to acknowledge the team and say "thanks." I've left an extra pile of bananas by the door as a token of my appreciation.

So...I'm gone for a couple days. (Not the team though--don't worry! They're still on the job!) It is my birthday on Sunday (92nd, I believe), and my wife is absconding me and taking me up the northern California coast for a weekend of rest and relaxation. Yay! I think I have earned it! Also, before proceeding further, let me clarify that the use of the word "chillax" in the header above is done only with pure irony. In fact, I don't know if there is a more annoying or useless word in the English language today (except maybe for "work"). You are either chilling and/or relaxing. They are synonyms. They do not need to be combined into one word, because they both mean the same thing. I can chill out, and/or I can relax. I do not need to "chillax", no matter how many frat boys say I do. Mmmmkay? I will not accept this word. Nor should you.

I've got a lot to celebrate this year on my birthday. I weathered a tempestous 12 months, including the loss of my cat, a serious illness, the closing of my magazine, and--in more positive news--my daughter's so-far successful transition to high school and my so-far successful career change. That's a lot. Not a lot as many, many people on the planet, because, yeah--compared to most people, I have an easy life. I recognize this. But we all only play the cards dealt to us, and even those of us with pretty good cards have our trials and tribulations, our headaches and disappointments, our tough times and challenges. So I am grateful, on the eve of my (okay) 47th birthday, that all in all, I'm hitting this milestone in a better place than I was 12 months ago. Well, all except for the loss of my cat PJ, who I still miss every goddamn day.

And for those of you wondering, I am loving my new job. I really am. I will admit that I am not remotely up to speed yet (I'm somewhere between 1st and 2nd gear now, I think), and hopefully my new co-workers have not hit the "when is this retard gonna start doing something?" phase. Though I could let them know that my wife has been in that phase for 22 years now, and she's still with me. Switching to this side of the gaming biz has been a serious eye-opener for me--not that I didn't know it would be. Of course it is. But knowing it intellectually and then experiencing it on a day-to-day basis are two different things entirely. I will post more about it all in the coming weeks and months, I promise. If my posting has been slightly frivolous and erratic since starting, that is entirely because my head is invested full-time in getting myself in gear and worthy of being part of the big brains that make up The Sims team.

So, though I wouldn't normally be taking a break after a mere three weeks of work, the birthday is a convenient excuse to take one anyway. And getting out of town and into nature is going to be a nice head-clearer for me, before diving head first into the job again on Monday. The good thing is, however, I'm looking forward to Monday already. Now how lucky is that?

Happy weekend, y'all.