Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Greetings from Spain!

Hi everyone! I'm writing from our home base in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, where we're staying with friends here for our 10-day visit in Spain. And yes, I double-checked the name/spelling of the town, because, as Twitterites know, I've been suffering from an affliction over here that is rendering me unable to correctly name Spanish cities. Thus, yesterday's day trip to Segovia somehow became a trip to the mythical land of "Sevonia," which I've since decided is going to be the name of Xanthor's land. This is what you would call a repurposing of one's own lameness.

Speaking of lame, my back continues to be a source of utter misery, I'm sorry to say, pretty much putting a damper--or at least strain--on this entire vacation, both for me and for everyone else. I've been dealing with some form of sciatica for about a year now, but, two days before I left the U.S. I must have done something else to myself, because now, instead of just my lower-right back being occasionally sore, now it's my entire lower back, and it's pretty much constant. Sleeping has been tough, walking is a chore, and steps--forget it. So I've had to skip out on some of the events--like climbing to the top of the castle tower in Segovia--like a gimpy old man, and I've had to have my wife help me hobble along at times. We had a great, full, adventurous day in Segovia, but by the end of it I was utterly exhausted and hurting, and, as a result, couldn't move at all today. Not exactly the memories of Spain I was hoping to have--but whaddya gonna do?

Still, it's vacation, and being out of the U.S., with no work to deal with, with all new sights, and old friends, to see--I can hardly complain. And there's something in particular about being out of the country, in a place that doesn't speak your language, that helps provide a satisfying bit of distance and perspective from one's own life, which I was most decidedly due for after a rather busy 2009. And even with the backache I can appreciate the Old World architectural splendor, the feel of a country that's been around for forever, the absolutely heavenly food (the jamon!) and wine and coffee.

Today's trip to see Picasso's Guernica in Madrid had to be postponed cuz of ye olde back, but we'll probably get to it after New Years, along with a trip to the Museo del Prado. I'm laying low--and flat on my back--for most of today in hopes that I can actually enjoy New Year's Eve tomorrow. My downtime today has been an alternating routine of napping, reading William Gibson's Pattern Recognition (shaping up to be my fave Gibson book since Neuromancer),and playing Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes on my DSi, which is a surprisingly addictive, great little strategy game. I played it so much the other day I wore out the battery twice in a row--first time I've ever done that, I think. Great oddball combination of match-three game and turn-based combat. I can't even imagine how they thought this up, let alone made it so addictive and fun. So thank goodness for friends' recommendations, because I had no plans to ever buy a Might and Magic game again.

This would be the part of the post where I might normally post some photos, but, to do that, I'd have to email them to myself from my iPhone, and then upload them to PhotoBucket, and then link here, which is too much work--SORRY. And anyhoo, the best ones are up on Twitter already. So go there!

Okay, that's enough sitting up for one day. Back to the prone position for me, because tomorrow it's New Year's Eve, and I have a big date with the White Man's Overbite pretty dang soon!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Well lookee here! I'm alive!

On the downside, this is my last blog post of 2009. On the plus side, I'm blogging! On the downside, I haven't been around here much. On the plus side, I wrote a novel! On the downside, I'm now off to Spain for a 10-day vacation with family and friends, so I won't be here again for a bit, most likely, unless I muster up the energy to blog on the road and don't get yelled at by my family. On the plus side, I'm going to Spain! (And on the down side of that, again, my back is freaking killing me, so this flight couldn't be more ill-timed.)

So, to those of you who tend to spend more time here than I do, well: Hi! How've y'all been! I know that I proclaimed "novel writing is hard" way back in my last blog post, but, you know what, it's totally true. It utterly sapped me of creative/writing energy, which was a bit unfortunate not just for this blog but for my new job as well. So thank goodness for vacation, so I can recharge the ol' brain batteries a little.

This is going to be an extremely interesting 2010 for me. The rusty gears at are just starting to turn a little bit, and once we're all back in January I am hoping you all will start to see what I have in store over there, which is either going to be a great success or flop wildly. Or maybe just die of indifference. See? I need a vacation. Truly, I'm thrilled that, so far, EA is letting me post whatever kind of nonsense I want, though the sad truth is that might just be because they haven't noticed me yet. But what I really hope is this Brave New Venture into, err, "corporate editorial", or whatever you want to call it, will yield true "transparency" for EA, and help set an example for how a bigass company can communicate with folks in this new age of ours, without resorting to layers and layers of BS. Or maybe I'm just naive and stupid! Time will tell.

All I can say, right now, as the year closes out, that I couldn't be happier in the job change. My time with The Sims group was extremely educational to me, and I have no regrets. (Though they probably don't feel the same way about me!) I have a much greater understanding of How Games Are Made than I ever could have on the press side, and this is now informing everything I do at And, hey, some of my bestest pals at EA now are in the Sims group. So all is good.

There is an endless amount of topics I need to catch up on here on this page. More motorcycle diaries. My foray into heavy metal, which turned me on to the splendiforous Crack the Skye by Mastodon. My new love affairs with Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, and Glee. The usual random nonsense and ranting. And, oh yeah, some Cudgel of Xanthor excerpts!

And part of what I need to figure out in 2010 is how to do all of this. How to cover my bases on all the public places I find myself communicating: Here,, Twitter. I'll be writing more over at, including a column/blog, but those topics should be different than the ones I do here, which should be more personal. Yet I don't want the ease and immediacy of Twitter to suck away the always-more-satisfying blogging I do here.

In any event, I do thank all of you who ever take any of your time to come here and read this dribble. It's always humbling and flattering to think that anyone actually cares about what I have to say. Have a great holiday/New Years y'all. If I don't blog/twitter at you from Spain, I shall return January 5!

Adios for now,

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Novel writing is hard.

Hi gang! Not many blog posts from me here as November gets going, but for once I have a good reason! This is NaNoWriMo month, the National Novel Writing Month, and I, your humble blogger, was stupid and crazy enough to participate. Look, you can see me right here! That's me! My own page! It's like I'm famous! Yay!

If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it's a collective bit of organized group insanity, in which tens of thousands of people around the world voluntarily agree to set a personal goal: We will each write a novel, in 30 days. More specifically, we need to write 50,000 words in 30 days. There's no "prize" per se, other than the bragging rights that you did it, kind of like running a marathon.

The beautiful thing about it is that they--the organizers, I mean-- go out of their way to empower you to write crap. Because, obviously, unless you're some kind of insufferable demigodlike prodigy, that's what you're going to write in 30 days. All you are really doing is writing a first draft. Which anyone can do of course, and which many of us writerly types say we are going to do "some day"---but what NaNoWriMo forces you to do is commit, to keep going, to not bog yourself down in blood-from-a-stone word-by-word hyperediting or self-criticism. You can't possibly make the goal that way. And so, you write write write. I'm going to quote directly from the official website:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

For someone like me, this was just perfect encouragement. Knowing that the official group is giving me permission to suck has given me the strength to just do it. And as I'm seven days and 10,000 words into the writing, I can testify in a court of law: My book sucks! My god, I never knew how hard it was to actually do the things that novelists do. I've written, I'm sure, millions of words for public consumption by now, but never in this form. The closest I've come is the Mankind's Last Hope play/sitcom that I co-wrote with my pal Cecil Vortex, but, ya know, that was 1) a co-writing effort and 2) a script, a different beast entirely.

Two images from the live production of Mankind's Last Hope--also with a character named Xanthor!

Not surprisingly, the part that's coming easiest to me, in the novel, is the dialog writing. Lots of fun and I think I've managed to concoct a few laugh lines. The Xanthor sections, too--the mock high fantasy--have been a blast to write so far. But all the rest of it? The character arcs and scene-setting and pacing and descriptive text? So out of my league here. Kinda wish I'd taken more creative writing classes right about now, which would have helped me get experience in some of the basics here. Essay writing, critiques, confessionals, all that I can do, for the most part. But this? This is like telling me to fly a plane.

Still, I persevere! Why? Because NaNoWriMo has given me permission to suck! As I sit down early every morning to grind out 1600+ words a day, I just do not look back. I have no idea where I'm going, who all these characters are yet, and only the vaguest notion of how it's all going to end. But who cares! What laws am I breaking? The chance that anyone is even going to read this first draft, at all, are slim-to-none (sorry!) But if I can emerge at the end of 30 days with a 50,000 word "finished" clump of garbage, it at least gives me something I can actually do a rewrite or edit of, something I didn't have 30 days earlier, and it, if nothing else, is one of those classic "learning experiences" that are so good for all of us no matter how much they usually blow.

Anyhoo, that's what I'm doing this month! So forgive what's likely to be the even-less-frequent-than-usual blog posts. Maybe I can post the occasional excerpt. Maybe. Oh, and, please keep your comments/criticisms/suggestions about coming, as I'm still actively reading them all and bringing them up with the staff. Lots and lots of work-in-progress behind the scenes at my day job. It may take awhile to see the fruits of my labor, but hang tight. The Master Plan is in effect.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

My New Gig, Part II: The New Gig

Okay, so I'm Editor-in-Chief of Let me address your initial question, which I assume goes something like this: "What the fuck does THAT mean?" Actually, I'm not going to answer that yet. First I'm going to tell you how this came about.

This is mostly my doing. Meaning: I lobbied for this. It started with the EA Podcast. Over the summer, while I was beginning to feel like I was festering with the Sims group, and being under-utilized,I had lunch with a friend of mine at the company, a dude who also had a long career elsewhere in the game industry before arriving at E(verything's) A(wesome). It was a bitch session on my part, frankly. I was being totally whiny. I may even have simpered a little. The details are foggy. My friend listened patiently, quietly, chewing his food with a small smile on his face, nodding at appropriate moments to my sad, whiny tale.

After I was done, or at least when I paused to take a break, my friend looked me in the eye and said the following: "Why are you waiting for EA to recognize you? Why don't you just suggest something that YOU have to offer them?"

Yeah. Well, that's how smart people think. As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. And, in fact, just about 3 minutes later, while still talking to him, I said out loud, "well, shit, these guys don't have a podcast. I can totally do that." And as soon as I said it out loud, I knew I was going to make it happen. It was, frankly, kinda dumb that EA didn't have one. If *any* company could put together an interesting podcast, it was EA. Think of the wealth of talent in so many different fields, the rich history of games to discuss: Once you start thinking even a little about the content possibilities, it's endless.

I immediately went back to my desk. Did a little research. Did a lot of thinking. Made up a PowerPoint presentation, and spammed it to every EA exec I could think of that might be interested. And, yep, the feedback was great. I got an immediate green light, but only with the caveat that I had to do it pretty much with no budget, as kind of a "rogue" operation. It was at this point that I met my now co-worker and co-conspirator Samantha LaPerre, managing editor of, who instantly got what I was up to and eagerly jumped aboard. I've been blessed by an amazing series of managing editors over the years: Ken Brown, Dana Jongewaard, Sean Molloy, Ryan Scott, and Samantha is yet another, totally brainy and organized and the perfect complement to my scattershot absentmindedness. Plus, she has a great radio voice!
Samantha helped (and continues to help) with all the logistical details of setting up the podcast, and before we knew it we were recording.

Once I met Samantha and started podcasting, my future became clearer, to both of us. We started talking about in general, and the fact that there seemed to be so much unrealized potential, again, just like with the podcast. Samantha wears multiple hats--a fate of most managing editors--and has a marketing background, so her ability to actually manage and control "editorial" was constrained. So we brainstormed. And again, as in my earlier conversation over lunch, the answer seemed obvious. I'm coming from 17 years in journalism, 13 of those with a gaming magazine and website. Why was I *not* applying this to my new job?

(Well, we know the answer to that: I wanted to try something new. But it was almost a year now. And circumstances/the economy/whatever we're not favoring me. I was going nowhere. It was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to win any serious cred with this group. And I wanted more than that.)

From there, it just became a matter of lobbying and pitching and waiting. I got the theoretical green light mid-summer, which was fantastic, and great for my morale, but since then it's been a waiting game, just for all sorts of necessary logistical reasons. But now I'm in, finally. And my hopes, and ambition, are high.

I am completely clear on one thing: This is not a return to "journalism" for me. Let's not kid ourselves. I'm the EIC of a corporate website whose primary goal is to sell games. I'm not back in the media. I'm not going to be writing scathing reviews of EA games, or giving high scores to competitors' games, like the amazing Torchlight, which you should all go buy right now here or on Steam.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a ton I can do to make the site cool and interesting to gamers. There is. Think about it. I have 27 years of this company's history to play with and reference. A gigantic motherload of classic games and legendary designers. A thriving campus and all sorts of awesome partners (Bioware, DoubleFine, id) to draw from. It's a goldmine of content possibilities: Interviews, profiles, retrospectives, wikis, panel discussions--and on and on.

I'd be foolish to completely tip my hand here--especially since it's all still percolating right now--but I can tell you that I'm going to do my damnedest to push the boundary as far as I can take it. I may not come out and say "BOY DOES THIS GAME OF OURS SUCK!", but I'm definitely going to find that outer edge. Honestly, I believe that this is what smart companies do. I think this is where things need to be. "Transparency" is a buzzword, but it's also something I believe in. You can't bullshit people. Well, you *can*, but it won't work in the long run. They'll figure it out, and then resent you forever. And, really, why bullshit them? We're just a bunch of people, doing our best to do a good job, just like everyone else. And what people do at EA is super interesting. Not perfect, by a longshot. But always interesting. It's that avenue of things I'm hoping to explore, in an honest and open way, or at least as much as I can without getting fired. But I like that edge. I like the risk. I'm still not sorry I did that MySims Agents video, despite the fact that I pissed off I don't know how many people at EA. I still think it was funny.

Anyway: I'm yammering. And it's time for breakfast. What I'm going to want from You All now is your suggestions and requests and ideas. What would you like to see at What don't you want to see? What would convince you that going to a company website would be worth your while? Lay it on me. I won't pay you for your idea. I probably won't even credit you! But you'll be able to sleep more soundly at night, knowing you helped me in my career and in making EA just that much more cooler. As if that were possible!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My New Gig. Part I: My Old Gig.

Okay, so finally I am allowed to talk about what I'm up to at EA. It's been a long summer in which things have been pitched, talked about, percolating, happening, not happening, on hold, accelerated, and basically driving me mildly insane, as I've never known from week to week, or even day to day, what the future really held for me.

It'd take a book (maybe someday!) rather than a blog post to get into it all, so rather than bore you senseless or make your eyeballs bleed, I'll cut to the chase: I'm no longer with The Sims group. I am now editor-in-chief of's website. I am super excited about the job, and am going to blabber about it in the post AFTER this one, because first I want to tell you about leaving The Sims, which I am convinced is the right call, but also one I do with mixed emotions.

If you don't want to read this whole post, just watch this instead. This is pretty much my experience on The Sims.

From the start, the great Jeff Green: Game Designer experiment was nothing more than that: an experiment. Kind of a combination of midlife crisis + needing a break from game journalism + nowhere really to go in game journalism + EA being a huge, successful, stable (this was pre-economic collapse!) company that makes many great games that was near my home and seemed like a fine place for a dude in his 40s to land. But even during the interview process, no one on either side (I mean, EA or me) was quite sure what to do with me. Designer? Producer? Writer? I even interviewed, and was considered and pushed, to be the head of the Sims PR.

Unlike many games journalists who hop the fence to the development side, this was not ever my secret dream while in the press. I never harbored any desire to make games instead of write about them. I never considered the job a temporary launching point until I could get over there. In fact, I already had my dream job: Running a magazine and writing columns.

But when the writing was on the wall with Ziff Davis, and I knew that not only it was about to collapse but that I was likely to not survive the purge (making too much $$$, too old, plus I wasn't happy with the editorial direction/leadership at the time anyway), I knew I had to get out. Given the lack of reasonable alternatives for me in the gaming press, it was only natural that I would consider going to a game company, because that's where all my connections were. It was never about wanting to make a game, really. It was about finding a cool job with people I liked and respected, doing something that felt good and made sense for me--preferably something where I could be creative and write.

EA made sense, and The Sims specifically, because I've loved those games going all the way back to SimCity (though I have secret, weird love for SimTower, too), and I felt like their sense of humor fit with mine. So that's where I landed, and some of the rest is already known. In 12 months, I was on 4 different teams and 6 different games. I went from producer to designer to producer. Despite 13 years as the editor of a PC gaming magazine, I ended up on Wii-only games. These aren't complaints, by the way, just the way it was. In all honesty, I had a (mostly) great time, and learned so goddamn much. My perspective was completely upended and enlightened. It's an experience that *every* game journalist ought to go through, at least temporarily, George Plimpton style, just to learn what the hell these people do all day.

But what I ultimately learned is that maybe this isn't for me. And that's okay! Or at least not right now, at this label, at this point in its history and development. The people are all as smart and cool and funny as I imagined. The projects are challenging and interesting. But, it just didn't quite work out. The bouncing around from team to team didn't help. I never got any traction with any one group. I never got to be on a project from its inception to completion. I never got to really show--either to myself or my teammates--what I was capable of given the different experience I was drawing from. As such, I was basically just the old, grey-haired, bonehead coming into already-stressful projects with not much to add unless people took the time they didn't have to train me, plus the added negativity of being one of THOSE guys--the press, the enemy, the flip ignoramuses who casually shit on the stuff they do with ill-thought-out reviews and metacritic scores that dismiss months or years of labor and love with no corresponding skill whatsoever.

It was an uphill battle. And maybe if I was 28 instead of 48, it'd be one worth fighting. But, hey. Whaddya gonna do? Meanwhile, I started realizing just how much I missed what I *was* good at, what people wanted me to do, and what other folks at other parts of EA started clamoring for me to do, too. The EA Podcast was the first step in that direction, and that directly led to where I am today, which, I now believe, is probably what I should have been doing in the first place, right from the start.

I have no regrets, at all. It was an incredible experience. A humbling one, for sure. But totally worth it. I love the friends I made in The Sims group, and I know, without question, that that time will only make my efforts at this new gig that much stronger.

And what is this new gig all about? That will come in the next post. Now, I play Brutal Legend!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Bob Dylan Post.

I must be getting predictable. After a few tweets from the Bob Dylan concert at the Greek theater in Berkeley last night, an astute commenter on my previous blog entry here asks, "Does this mean we're getting a blog about it tomorrow?" Well, yes. Dangit. I need to work on my element of surprise around here. [EDITOR'S NOTE: DUE TO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES (LAZINESS), THIS BLOG POST IS NOW APPEARING ON TUESDAY, RATHER THAN SUNDAY.]

I never want to write about Bob Dylan on this blog, despite the fact that, more than anyone I would consider giving this label to, I would consider him my "hero." That may be why I don't want to write about him. I don't want to diminish, or jinx, the topic. It's a very personal one for me--just as often happens between an artist and fan--which I don't mean in a fawning, worshippy way (honest), but just in a "words can't do it justice" way. Also, Bob Dylan doesn't need my praise or defense. My feeling about Bob Dylan is that if you say you don't like him, or don't get him, then you're not trying hard enough. Or you've heard the wrong stuff. Or your preconceived notions don't match with the truth.

This is not the Bob Dylan you get anymore.

For example, on this latter point: When I say I went to the Bob Dylan concert last night, how many of you already have the image in your head of some old folkie hippy doing boring old folk songs on an acoustic guitar? This is not reality. Reality, as regular Dylanites know, is that Bob Dylan has for many years now been touring with a great, *really loud,* kick-ass band that delivers an unexpectedly tough, angular, rockabilly-blues-country swing set night after night, with pretty much no concession towards meeting audience expectation or fan service. Meaning: After he wallops you over the head with two loud, rocking numbers you don't recognize, he is not going to do the standard concert thang of throwing you a bone with some lovely, acoustic version of one of his (many) classics. It's just not what he and his band are doing these days. What they are doing is a barn-burning road show, a lesson in How To Rock by a bunch of grizzled veterans, with a leader now so comfortable in his own skin, and with his own legacy (at last!) that he actually, finally, looks like he's having fun up there.

Here's who you get now: Vincent Price meets John Waters. And look how happy he looks.

And that was the big deal about Saturday's show. I've seen Dylan numerous times now--maybe 8 or 9? Some of the shows, especially when I first started attending in the 80s, were dismal. And probably more what you might think: Depressing, rote sets by a 60s burnout going through the motions. The amazing thing, when you read his recent, revelatory autobiography, is that Dylan totally, painfully knew that about himself at the time. In fact, at his rejuvenated, inspired concerts now--after he got his shit together again--the offstage voice that announces him to the stage, reciting his decades-long history, makes fun of this era for all to hear.

But even in Dylan's return to form of the last decade, the live shows can be a crap shoot, and require even the biggest of fans (like me) to adjust your thinking and expectations. The guy's voice is shot. It just is. It's a fragile, creaky, broken rasp, allowing him only to bark or whisper out phrases he used to make soar. If you never liked his voice when he could sing, then forget it now. Depending on the night you see him, he may or may not even play guitar, instead sticking behind his keyboard. And then there's the song list, which, like Springsteen, or the Dead, he varies every night, digging deep into his ginormous catalog, sometimes pulling out totally beloved gems, but other times super obscure, odd choices that are guaranteed only to please only a tiny subset of any given audience.

Saturday's show featured the fewest songs I recognized than any Dylan show I've been to, but it was easily in the top 3 I've seen. I read some fan comments on the SF Chronicle's web site, and you can tell the people who haven't seen Dylan either ever or in 10-20 years, because they were utterly disappointed and flabbergasted. Why so loud? What the fuck were these songs? Where was "Blowin' in the Wind?" But for me, and I know, too, for all the ecstatic, hardcore fans around me up in the front (the guy behind me was wielding the previous night's setlist from Portland, for comparison's sake), we knew we were seeing something special. Dylan was in rare form. Easily, by far, the happiest and most playful I've ever seen him live. I don't know if it's because legendary guitarist Charlie Sexton has just rejoined the band, or if this is a new happy phase for him, or if maybe he took an extra dose of antidepressants or something, but, whatever the case, what we got Saturday night was Dylan the song-and-dance man, getting out from behind that damn keyboard at last for some outstanding, confident guitar and harmonica, and even occasionally indulging in some slightly spazzy, cheesy rock star moves that delighted everyone--including his own band--simply because he was doing it. Make no mistake, Dylan is no Freddie Mercury or Springsteen or, well, ANY musician who makes his showmanship and connection with the crowd part of his act. I don't think he said anything to us other than "Thank you!" the entire night. So it's all relative. But if you're used to seeing him live, you knew this was different. You knew what you were seeing was a Bob Dylan who was as happy to be himself, to be playing music at age 68, as we were. It's a subtlety no doubt lost on those not familiar with him, or his live show, and so, yeah, I can see why those with certain expectations would have been lost, or disappointed. But for the rest of us, it was just a great night, and an inspiring one, and one of the reasons he remains my hero: Because he never gives up, never tells himself he's "too old," never stops challenging himself.

Yeah, I know. You hate Dylan. Or you never got him. Or his voice is too annoying. I've heard all that before. But like I said at the start of this post, that just means you haven't tried hard enough. Sometimes the best artists, in any medium, require a bit of work on your part. You have to read the book twice, you have to spend an hour staring at the painting (along with some expert's analysis), you have to take a whole freakin' class, just to see what you were missing. But when you get there, it can change your life. It can expand your mind. It can soothe your soul. I've already overstayed my welcome with this post, so I'll move on. A post about Dylan the poet and lyricist would require boring you for much, much longer. So let me just list, for those of you who care, or might ask, or are willing to take the plunge, the absolute must-have Dylan albums, just for starters. Any order will suffice, though I will say that if it's break-up/brokenhearted/woe-is-me music you like, then get Blood on the Tracks first--the best break-up music of all time.

1. Bringing It All Back Home
2. Highway 61 Revisited
3. Blonde on Blonde
4. Blood on the Tracks

Enjoy your discovery.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Let's Talk TV

Since my last blog past was, how you say, a rather heavy affair, let's dumb things down a bit to a more acceptable level of nonsense, shall we? Let's talk about television. Actually, I have already tricked you, just one sentence in, because while I do think that most television is nonsense, and will rot your brain out, and will turn you into a slack-jawed, drooling nitwit who can recite 30-year-old TV jingles by heart but can't even name your own state senators, there is plenty of great stuff, too. Living in Berkeley as I do, I occasionally run into one of those pompous, clenched-buttocked snobbier-than-thou types with the "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker, or who proclaim, "I only watch PBS," but, ya know what? It's their loss. Really, the only two words you need to say to folks like that are "The" and "Wire." Because if you haven't watched that show, then you haven't seen one of the great, extended storytelling feats of the past 50 years, in any medium.

So, yeah. I like television. And I'm not sorry. Heck, if you wanted to, you (not me, because I'm too lazy and want to play Batman: Arkham Asylum soon) could probably write a pretty persuasive essay on how television is producing more quality work these days than film (at least in this country.) But actually all I wanted to do here was tell you what I'm watching right now. Which I shall now do, forthwith!

1. Glee. It's not fully formed yet. I think they're still in that freshman season tentative state of trying to find their proper voice (just like Buffy season 1), but there enough moments of greatness and, err, glee, to have high hopes. If nothing else, they have comedy goddess Jane Lynch, who steals every single scene she's in, almost as if she wandered in off another set, and whose presence ensures I'll never miss an episode, as long as she's on.

She's not the only good thing. The premise itself--about this group of high school misfits (HEY WAIT A SECOND!) trying to make good in the Glee Club--is solid enough, but distinguishes itself with its presentation and style, with the show busting out into full-on, joyous musical production numbers 3 or 4 times per episode. If you are even mildly predisposed to like musicals, you just can't not like this show. (I went from "like" to "love" after last week's production of Queen's "Somebody to Love"). Still, there's the tone issue. I'm not sure how hilarious teen pregnancy is, for one, nor am I too thrilled that there doesn't seem to be any female characters--at least so far--who aren't either villains or schemers of some sort. The show has handled the issue of homosexuality with surprising grace, so it's clear the creators don't lack sensitivity. So here's hoping they humanize some of the girls/women as the series progresses.

2. Top Chef and Project Runway. I know what you may be thinking now. "Is Jeff Green gay?" No, I am not, and if you need to immediately see some sign of my hetero/testosterone-driven self, you may skip down to the Sons of Anarchy entry below. I really try hard to limit my intake of reality TV (though, yes, I will slum with the worst of the worst, like, oh, I dunno, C.O.P.S or Tool Academy) if my brain demands such medication), but these shows, for me, distinguish themselves and have a strong attraction for me personally because they are both about the same thing: Creative people being forced to create under pressure.. Yeah, sure, I like all the catty bickering and snarkiness and all that other good stuff too, but at root the reason I can handle these two reality shows rather than most of the rest is because of the respect I have for (most of) the contestants, as well as just the thrill of watching what they come up with under severe time constraints and often ridiculous circumstances. And, yes, I have a crush on Tim Gunn just like everyone else. Which, again, does not make me gay. (Not that there'd be anything wrong with that.)

3. Mad Men For the same reasons that everyone else watches it, and why the critics love it, and why it wins boatloads of Emmys (which, actually have zero credibility for All Eternity anyway since they failed to recognize The Wire). It's brilliantly written and sublimely acted. Some people have been bitching about this season being "slow," or that "nothing is happening," but I submit that if you feel this way, you're either not watching it the right way (patiently) or are conveniently forgetting the first two seasons. This show has always been a slow burn. (Kinda like The Sopranos often was.) The show spends a ton of time setting everything up, letting characters and situations simmer, not having everything HAPPEN right away--just like in real life, hey! I think this show, almost more than any I've seen, really bears repeated viewings, because it's only then that you can see just how much care is going into every aspect of it, how much nuance and playfulness and foreshadowing is going on in the writing. I do know it's the one show I won't watch if I'm at all tired, because I know I'm going to miss too much, waiting for "the action," when, really, the action in Mad Men is all about the inner turmoil of the characters, their struggles to make sense of a world that is changing all around them, a sense of freedom and release for some, and of doom for others. Also, the clothes are awesome.

4. Sons of Anarchy Okay, dudes--happy now? Yes, I love the violent motorcycle gang show. A lot. I missed the first season entirely, but now not only am I on board, but it's the one show that I realized I started actively anticipating and getting impatient for. For me, it's the new Oz: Bad men behaving badly and violently, a super tough soap opera for guys, a fantasy trip about power and dominance, with bursts of yeehaw action and bloodshed for us cheering but harmless plebes in the bleachers. Oh yeah, for the snobs in the house, it's also been explicitly stated by the creator that this is all based on Hamlet , if you must know, but that's just if you want to not feel guilty for watching. It's also not really about the motorcycles,either, which is fine, because even though I ride one, I obviously couldn't identify less with these characters. It's not about a middle-aged Jewish guy commuting to his job in the videogame industry. Ron ("Hellboy") Perlman is great as always, doing that gigantic guy with a heart thing he does so well--but the writers are also clearly muddying things up, as he does some extremely bad things that, like Tony Soprano, would make him a villain in any other story.

Adding even-worse bad guys this season--some despicable white supremacists led by Adam Arkin and former Black Flag lead "singer" Henry Rollins--makes it easier to root for our motorcycle gang heroes, but, again, like The Sopranos, and The Shield, you're constantly being forced to consider just who and what it is you're rooting for. Even though you do hope they kick ass.

So that's my Now Watching list. Mostly. Needless to say, there's still The Daily Show and Colbert Report, though not as daily as they should be. And House, because Hugh Laurie can do no wrong.

Really, though, all this stuff? Just biding time until Lost returns.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hellmouth Confidential

I seem to be surrounded by high school these days. And given that that was, by far, the worst experience of my life to date, I'm not sure how thrilled I am about it. However I feel about it, though, the convergence is quite strange.

First, there's my own kid, who's a sophomore right now at an absolutely fantastic private school that I am paying a fortune for but that is worth every damn penny, including the pennies we borrowed to make it happen. This Saturday was a "back to school" day for the parents, in which we actually go through an abbreviated version of our kids' real day, attending all their classes to get a taste of what it's like for them. And what it's like for them is so completely different from what it was like for me that I can't help but be filled with both incredible happiness and pride for my daughter, but also, I admit, a little jealousy at what she's getting that I didn't. Not petty jealousy, just more the wistful kind. And not just at the curriculum or class size either, which are both incredible, but also at the basic fact that it's a "nerd school," in which everyone there is smart and therefore doesn't have to worry about being a dork, or being "uncool". It doesn't hurt, at all, that pop culture itself has done a 180 since my youth and that "nerd" and "cool" are now, incredibly, somewhat synonymous, at least in some circles, but it feels like more than that to me. These kids all look like they're actually comfortable in their own skin--or at least as comfortable as an adolescent is going to get. And sitting in these classrooms where a mere 10-15 of them get first-rate, college-level instruction, makes me feel grateful that I can provide this opportunity for my kid, and angry that we felt forced to go this way, because of the shitty public schools, as well as anger on behalf of the folks who can't afford it. Don't worry, I won't go off on a Berkeley liberal rant--especially when I'm taking the moneyed way out myself--but, man, fuck Proposition 13. It fuckin' ruined this state.

Anyway, while the contrast between my kid's school and my own would be a pronounced and painful one no matter what the year, this year is even worse because I am constantly getting spam reminders now that my 30th high school reunion is just around the corner! Thirty years. And yet a bear every traumatic scar from those years as if it was just last year. Kinda pathetic, really. The words "move on" come to mind. Yet I still have nightmares, real ones, about specific events or people, or the opposite--dreams in which this or that person and I are actually having a nice time together. Which doesn't feel a whole lot better somehow.

We're now almost done with Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and being so late to the party on this, I'm a good half-decade behind all the astute analysis done by folks way smarter than me about the obvious, explicit metaphor that Joss Whedon and gang were operating under: that high school is hell. As it turns out, though some of us must battle those demons our entire lives, even decades later, in another city entirely. Some of us need constant reminders that that's all part of the past, that those demons can't get to us now.

I won't be going to my 30th high school reunion, by the way, much like I didn't go to the 5th, 10th, or 20th. Because, though one could argue I could go back in "triumph" (hey look at me now!), I honestly don't feel like I have anything to prove, for one thing, and, for another, the sad, more mundane truth is that I'd probably end up feeling just as left out as I did back in the day, no matter who I may be now or what I've accomplished. I'm happy with my life, and blessed with great family and friends, and a professional career I'm proud of, and, ya know, that's good enough for me. I have zero need to go back for some kind of empty "SEE!" moment, because, really, the only person I ever needed to convince in the first place was myself. No one else actually gave a shit, or maybe even knew anything was wrong.

I spent a little time recently on the web site of our reunion, and there are photos from all the reunions as well as some from our actual high school days in the 1970s. Throughout every decade, it's essentially all the same folks. You wouldn't know we had a class of over 300 (at least, I can't remember the exact count), because most of the photos are of the same cluster of yearbook kids, sports kids, drama kids, etc etc--which I honestly state with far less bitterness than it may sound. Actually, I had a great laugh, because one photo says it all. It's a photo of four kids, three girls and a boy. All of the girls are identified in the caption, but not only is the boy not identified, but it's not even acknowledged that there's an unidentified boy in the photo. It's as if he's not even there.

Yeah, that's right. That's a boy second from the right--blame the 1970s. And that boy is me. But to those who made this website, I'm unknown. I'm invisible. I'm not even worthy of saying I can't be identified. And man does that say it all.

Let's be clear here, however, lest this sound too much like a pity party. I don't believe my high school experience was necessarily any worse than anyone else's. On paper, in fact, and in person, to many of those around me at the time--I may have appeared to be doing fine. Sterling GPA (which got me into Cal Berkeley), 1st trumpet in the jazz band, managing editor of the school paper--typical nerd stuff. The problem, for me, again, was me. I was simply not equipped emotionally, did not have the right level of self-confidence, when the inevitable hazing came. And, hey, when you're a pimply, nearsighted, redheaded beanpole in the 70s, you need to be prepared to get hazed. It didn't help that in my case, the worst hazing of my life, the one that scarred me permanently, came from the boys that until that very moment I had considered my best friends, but, on the other hand, who doesn't have stories like that? My problem was that instead of getting angry at them, I internalized it, took it as truth, believed them, and then spent the next three decades trying to recover, and to realize that maybe I'm not a pathetic loser who doesn't deserve to have friends.. Almost every social situation I am involved in to this day--whether it's a work environment, party, family event, whatever--is still informed by that trauma, as sad and somewhat implausible as that sounds. And, yeah, you don't need to suggest therapy for me--that's been going on for decades, too. Wheee!

Again, let's not tune our tiny violins here. All is good. And, hey, I like my life and even know how to get angry at other people now! My point is that as good as things are now, the reunion has zero appeal to me, because I have nothing I want to reunite with.

Oddly enough, as I have been writing this, I heard, out of the blue, from one of my boyhood friends who I haven't been in touch with in over 30 years, who found me through that very reunion website. Synchronicity, dude! He's a guy who, like me, probably didn't have the greatest time back then. (Who knows--we boys didn't share our feelings.) And this is the kind of reunion I don't mind having. I've thought of this guy now and then over the past number of decades, wondering how he turned out. Did he get it together? Or did he end up as a psycho serial killer, exacting his revenge on those who tormented him? And it turns out he got it together just fine, just like I did, just like most people do. And it made me happy to know this. Not just a little happy, but a lot happy. Maybe those high school demons aren't so powerful after all.

And maybe someday I'll learn to remember that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Twitter Conundrum.

I hate to say it, but it really does seem as though Twitter is a blog-killer. Case in point: Me. While it would certainly be a stretch (well, okay, a lie) to say that I was an active blogger, it's also true that I've been blogging far less since reluctantly jumping on that 140-character bandwagon.

I say "reluctantly" because it's true: I had to have a few folks clamoring at me before I buckled and did it. And my earliest tweets expressed that annoyance and bewilderment with this new trendoid communication tool. To use another fave of the moment: Really? This is how we're gonna talk now? It's seemed both pointless and self-indulgent to me, and if you want to argue that I was right, I'm not going to argue back. Twitter abuse is rampant: Tweeting when you really have absolutely nothing to say, or when you say something that has no context for anyone at all, like: "Huh." This doesn't mean that every tweet needs to be a 140-character mini-masterpiece, but it would help if you at least had some kind of point, however small. Not to put pressure on you, but realize that you are "publishing" your thoughts. Don't clutter up our feeds with "LOL." I'm happy, I guess, that you are laughing out loud about something, but if you're not going to let me in on the joke, too, well, then shut up about it. I end up un-following more people than I follow for this very reason. I don't demand that you entertain me, but if you're just sharing you're just blabbering away all day on Twitter as if you are talking to yourself, well, you can go ahead and do that without me, just to make it official.

Anyway, that's not really my point here. Sorry. My point is more this: That in my brain, I am always walking around, as writers are often wont to do, filtering everything I am seeing and hearing and feeling into something I can write about later. I'm always mentally filing things away. If someone says something stupid--like the co-worker who complained in Cologne a few weeks ago, in utter seriousness, that she was annoyed that the German restaurants all had their menus in German--I immediately flag that as something for future use.

The problem is that Twitter is now a fast, easy, low-maintenance, utterly accessible avenue for these moments that get caught in the net. I no longer have to stockpile them in my brain and then get the time and energy to write a whole blog post around them. Now, in seconds, right on my iPhone, I can blurt it out to you, instantaneously, without having to worry about form or context or writing many, many words. Actually, that's a bit of an oversimplification. Cramming something into 140-characters can be a bit of a challenge, and that's the part of Twitter that I like. It's an interesting exercise, trying to be funny in that little space. And some people (and I'm not including myself) are great at it. The best Twitter feeds, for me, are the ones that take a specific, funny angle, and stick to it, like the now justly famous @shitmydadsays.

But when I step back from it, like I am today, and look at what it's doing to me, it bums me out a little. I like that I can freely tweet throughout the day and hopefully provide a laugh or two, or a recommendation of some sort, or whatever the heck it is I do. But I don't like that it sort of saps my bandwidth, as well as material, that could be better put to use in actual longer-than-one-sentence writing. I'm not gonna get all Luddite about it, and decry it as The End of Everything. But it is an easy way out, and the lure of it, for someone predisposed to be lazy and easily distracted, like me, makes it a bit of a danger.

This entire post came into being, by the way, because I have been binging on Batman: Arkham Asylum the past couple days, and have fallen in love with it. As I kept getting further into this first-rate, thoroughly entertaining action game, starts strong and then gets better, part of me kept thinking, "I'm gonna stop playing for a minute and tweet about this." Actually it was more specific than that. What I wanted to tweet was: "Batman: Arkham Asylum may be the best single-player gaming experience I've had since Half-Life." And in thinking about tweeting that, I realized that that fundamental change had occurred in my brain: I was mentally noting things that I wanted to tweet rather than blog.

Previously, I would have been mentally writing an entire blog post about Batman: Arkham Asylum, in which I would try to justify and backup that statement. Tell you why Arkham Asylum is so great. Because all of those thoughts are in my head, too. But Twitter just lets me send it out there. I don't have to justify shit. And maybe, in some respects, that's cool, too. I get to make a bold statement. You can agree or disagree. If I were still a journalist, and not working at EA, Warner Bros/Eidos could even put that tweet right on the box.

But that's not what I got in this for. That's not what my brain and fingers have worked all these years at doing. It's easy and fun and accessible, but it's no substitute, or solution, for depth. That's not to say that I'm quitting Twitter. Ferget it. I'm still hooked on it. I'm just saying that this was a particular moment of clarity for me, and one that was going to take me way more than 140 characters to explain. So, see, I was forced to blog.

But, oh, while I'm here, I should probably say: Batman:Arkham Asylum may be the best-single player experience I've had since Half-Life. Maybe I'll blog about it sometime!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Together through life.

It's a pretty good sign that you've been away from your blog too long when spam starts appearing in the comments. Seriously, WTF? You've gotta be getting desperate for attention for whatever you're peddling to think that that's a good marketing strategy.

Anyway, yeah, I've been gone. I know you know. I've had incredibly itchy writing fingers for at least a week, but instead of actually putting them towards writing, I was applying them to the plastic guitar in Beatles: Rock Band, which didn't do anything for my writing skills, but sure was a lot of fun anyway. Oh, and my Sim in The Sims 3 wrote 5 science fiction novels in the time I've been away, too. So at least that guy got some writing done!

It's been a busy, crazy, difficult, and sometimes fun month. The Games Com convention in Germany was exhausting and at times just not even remotely fun (you try sitting in a small room without windows demoing a game to non-English speakers over and over and over for 8 hours!), but I'm still glad I went, if for no other reason that to see another city in another part of the world, which is always worth it no matter what. Cologne was quite pretty--the cathedral is stunning (despite a co-worker's LOL-worthy complaint that, "UGH, it's like there's one of these in every city in Europe!" Yeah, ya think?), looming over the mostly modern city (the original was mostly destroyed in WW2) like some giant, dark Gothic beast. And you can tell when a writer is out of practice when he writes a fucking horrible middle school creative writing sentence like that.

The other lowlight of Cologne was being forced into two dinners the first two nights first at an Indian restaurant, and then at a Japanese restaurant. Yeah, because neither of those cuisines are readily available in the Bay Area. And, hey, who doesn't go to Germany for the sushi! Thankfully, the next two nights were done right, at an outdoor beer garden, with schnitzel and beer and the warm summer air, which was exactly the kind of European experience I was craving, and which often makes me feel like sometime before I croak I really should live over there for awhile. Or maybe I can just buy a beret!

No sooner had I returned from Games Com than I was off again to the Penny Arcade (PAX) convention in Seattle. And, hey, if you're gonna go to another city in the US after a Europe trip, it might as well be Seattle, truly one of the cooler American cities, other than the fact that every third building seems to be a Starbucks. I've said this on more than one occasion now, but, with 13 years of gaming conventions under my belt, I can confidently say that this PAX--the first one I've attended--was the best convention I've ever been to. This is what E3 should be, or wishes it was: A celebration of the industry, a geeky lovefest for what we do and what we play and what we're into, devoid of cynicism and bored obligation. Credit the fans for making it that way--the ones paying to get in, flying in from around the world on their own dime cuz they WANT to be there, reminding those of us who get paid to do it that, hey, ya know, at root this is and always has been about providing people with entertainment.

Showing MySims Agents was an absolute joy this time, because those who came to see it--whether it was because they knew me from my press life or were fans of the franchise and had no idea who I was--stopped by because they were truly interested, not because it was their job to do so. And, hey, not that there's anything wrong with it being "your job to do so," because that was MY job until I came to EA. This isn't about bagging on the press. It's about interacting directly, eye-to-eye, with people who are there ONLY for the love, with no other agenda other than that gaming makes them happy. It may sound corny, but it's just utterly refreshing, and was actually contagious--just like the swine flu I picked up! When folks started lining up to get Tim Schafer's autograph on Brutal Legend posters, I snuck out of my booth and got in line right with them, caught up in an unexpected rush of goofy fanboyism.

Of course, the proverbial icing on the cake was the GFW Radio reunion, which was just an incredible blast, humbling and exciting and satisfying in so many ways--not to mention just being a serious ego boost. Because, hey, let's not be falsely modest: Having hundreds of people lining up, hours ahead of time, to hear you talk, is a fucking surreal and awesome experience, and is easily one of the highlights of my entire professional career to date. And even better was the feeling of being back together with those guys and, even with the obligatory moments of awkwardness, clicking again and finding that groove that made that podcast so fun to do. Because in the old days, all we were doing was trying to please ourselves. We knew no one was listening, and, at first, we didn't really want to be there anyway. So we just did stuff to amuse ourselves, riffing off other podcasts, websites, magazines, talking about the things that drove us crazy at our jobs, that embarrassed us as members of the gaming press, and just talking about all the same kind of random nonsense that we would throughout the day anyway. The fact that it DID ultimately catch on, over time, was a bonus for us--a surprising one at first, but one that we did become proud of, and that we tried to take ownership of, treating it as seriously as we would the magazine. And so when everything went to hell and we all started bailing out of there, it was GFW Radio just as much as GFW the magazine that we ourselves came to miss. Getting the opportunity at PAX to reunite for one more round was an honor and a thrill and went better than I think any of us dared to imagine. So thanks to ALL of you who went, or listened, or tried to get in, or whatever. We all felt, and feel, extremely lucky and grateful for that experience.

Of course, karma kicked in immediately after, as karma likes to do, and whomped me upside the head with the swine flu, which took me out of circulation for over a week. It's only now, really, that I feel fully rested and back to life and ready to contribute to society in a way other than coughing. I realize this blog post is completely meaningless and boring, but this one is more for me than for you. I'm just tryin' to get back on the horse here.

It's been a long summer, with big highs and serious lows. Frankly? I'm ready for Fall.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alf Wiedersehen

Okay, I know it's actually "auf" and not "Alf," but if I had said that, then I wouldn't have had any good reason to put this in my post:

So I'm hoping you will forgive me.

Anyhoo, I'm off to Germany tomorrow. Yay? Kind of yay. I mean, I'm looking forward to the GamesCom convention, which I've never attended, and I'm also looking forward to Cologne, which I've never visited, but, hey, travel is exhausting, and I'm going without my family, and I'm going for work anyway, not "fun." Still, it could be worse. I'm staying at the Hilton, for one, and I don't have to share a room with any other probably-smelly EA employee, and the "work" I'm doing is just demoing MySims Agents, which is something I really enjoying doing. BECAUSE THE GAME IS GREAT AND YOU SHOULD ALL BUY IT.

I'm going to be in Cologne from Monday-Saturday, leaving Saturday morning. So if you were planning on seeing me at the convention, don't wait until the weekend! I will already be gone. I'm "behind closed doors" for most of the show, but will also be checking in at the main EA booth on the show floor, and will also be wandering around whenever EA lets me off my leash. (And if you happen to be a member of Kraftwerk, and you're reading this, and you're gonna be in Cologne, please stop by so I can worship you for a moment, because I do: I worship you.)

My favorite German band, rocking out.

Besides stalking Kraftwerk, my other goals on this trip include:
1) Not getting fired
2) Getting in a good walking tour of the city, or at least the highlights.
3) Making significant progress in Chrono Trigger
4) Sampling as many fine German beers as I can. Apparently, the local specialty is something called Kolsch. This sounds good to me, so I will probably have quite a few of these. If you'd like to buy me one, I'll probably accept. I haven't had a beer in 3 weeks in anticipation of this trip, so my beer gut, at this point, has all but totally deflated. In theory, that's a good thing. Well, in reality it is too. But look. I'm not going all the way over there, to what is essentially The Beer Country, and not loading up on the stuff. I may be concerned about my health and appearance, but I'm no moron either. So let's fuckin'drink up!

I will also be doing the requisite tweeting (@greenspeak), and will hopefully get at least one or two blog posts and photos up over at I think we're gonna have a hub set up for Cologne, but if not, try here.

I do, as usual, have lots more to say, and have many more blog posts in my head that have not translated to this space yet--my AT&T rant, the next Motorcycle Diary post, my Rock Band dilemma, and more--but sadly, I am a busy man, and must pack and get ready and all that.

So for now I bid you adieu, but I shall be floating around the information superhighway here this coming week, live from Cologne, with important and exciting infotainment for your infotainment pleasure!


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A gaming post!

Hi there! It's a beautiful, sunny late Saturday morning/early afternoon here in Berkeley, California, so what better time to be behind my computer inside my house with the blinds closed.

I've been playing lots of games lately, but haven't yammered about them much, so I figured it was time I did so here. If you visit this blog for reasons other than gaming, you may want to check out now, as this will be a geekapalooza. For all the rest of you: Welcome!

First, let me just say that the pile of games that I have now started and not finished grows ever longer. As much a I'd like to be, in theory, A Guy Who Finishes Games, the sad reality is that I am not. It might be my years as a gaming journalist, in which I was always jumping from one thing to another, to keep current, and only finishing games I was actually reviewing, but even without that excuse any more, I can't stay focused long enough to finish anything. Unless the game happens to be relatively short, like Trine, in which case I do get to bask in that feeling of accomplishment. It's for this reason that I have really come to like shorter games; just a totally selfish desire to finish. Because when faced with epic monstrosities like Fallout 3---which I love dearly, I should say--I just know there's no way in hell I'm ever gonna get through it. I can't even fathom that folks are on to the DLC packs for that game. I'm maybe, I dunno, halfway through the main quest, and it's taken me months to get there, just because I keep getting distracted by other games.

Currently, for example, I am in love with King's Bounty: The Legend, which I downloaded off Steam, and which, within 5 minutes of starting, I knew was going to hook me deeply. The original game and subsequent series off which it was based--the Heroes of Might and Magic series--are some of my favorite strategy games of all time, combining exploration and turn-based combat with a hearty dose of fantasy wankery and droll irresistible meal for Count Dorkula here. The scary thing is that games like this can take forever , and while it is an awesome forever, it does tend to push everything else to the background--kinda like WoW did for me for a good couple years there. (And let's not even talk about WoW; I still miss it and my PC still won't play it. It's just an open sore I'm trying to ignore.)

The fantasy strategy/RPG itch is also getting satisfied via Chrono Trigger on the Nintendo DS. As a PC gaming dork for most of my life, I largely missed out on the JRPG thang--with the exception of Final Fantasy 4 and 7--and I knew that Chrono Trigger was one of the big ones that I'd get to eventually. Playing the new DS version has been a blast so far, though I'm really not that far in. I'm just past the trial, but that itself was so clever--with all the "evidence" weighed against me being made up of actions I had taken earlier in the game up to then--that I knew I was in good hands. That's the kind of smart and creative design decision that you really rarely ever see, especially these days, when developers and publishers seem to go out of their way, more so every year, not to hold everyone's hand and baby our way through these games. The trial comes as a complete surprise, and there's nothing you can do at that point to undo the actions that led you to it, or that lead to the verdict. The game judges you by what you did, and then responds accordingly. It's just a small little set piece in the game, but it's brilliant.

The DSi, by the way, is fast becoming, well, not quite my "platform of choice," but often the one that I default to, if for no other reason that I can play while lying in bed or on the couch. Because, as mentioned above, I can't ever focus on just one game, I'm also simultaneously making me way through Professor Layton (maddening at times but super entertaining and fun to share with others in the room) and Rhythm Heaven, which is also entertaining, and hilarious at times, but also way harder than I was anticipating. And my sense of rhythm really isn't bad for an old white guy--years of bass playing helped overcome the genetic disposition to not stay on the beat.

And then there's GTA Chinatown Wars , a game I enthusiastically bought because of all the rave reviews, and which I too played the hell out of for awhile, but ultimately put down out of frustration--the driving, to me, was just too hard to manage with the D-pad, and I found myself losing missions repeatedly simply because I was battling the controls, rather than the game. It is impressive what Rockstar managed to cram into this game. And I even liked all the stylus-based minigames. So they get a ton of credit for reimagining this series for this platform as well as they did. Ultimately, it's more about me than the game: I just suck at action games on the DS. Nor do I want to feel that stressed out while paying on that contraption, since I'm usually horizontal while doing so.

Other games? I powered through episode one of the new Tales of Monkey Island from Telltale, and loved it. I'm also replaying the new version of Secret of Monkey Island, but, fortunately or unfortunately, I still remember most of the puzzles--surprisingly hardwired into my brain--so it's less about discovery than it is nostalgia. Still, we're talking about one of the funniest games ever made--by far--and like a classic comedy film, it totally holds up and provides the same laughs, all over again. I miss games like this, frankly. It feels like a bit of a lost art. So here's hoping that Tim Schafer and the gang really bring it back with Brutal Legend. It seems like it simply has to be a Day 1 purchase for me. I want to believe.

Other games? Having a blast so far in my limited experience with Battlefield 1943. My biggest problem is still the old console controller vs. keyboard/mouse thing--the cross to bear for all PC gamers. Fights that I'd easily win on the PC just have embarrassing results with the controller, a problem for me going all the way back to Halo 1. But I've always really dug this series, especially because the ability to garner points via methods other than shooting--like flag-capturing--always ensures I can do well on any given server. I blabbed about this on the last Out of the Game podcast, but it constantly amazes me, and this goes all the way back to the first Battlefield--how many players seem to miss the fundamental goal of the game and get caught up in battles that are totally meaningless. Meanwhile, I can rack up points and contribute to the team's bottom line in my own rogue, solo way, and then do my little superior dance when my name shows up near the top of the leaderboard. Err, when I'm not getting endlessly picked off by snipers, that is.

Finally, this summer has led to a resurgence in boardgaming, thanks to both family members and some of my pals at EA, which in turn has led me to zombie out on XBLA with both Catan and Carcassone, which provide able AI opponents. Actually, let me amend that. At least for Catan. Because they may be "able," but as far as I'm concerned, it fuckin' cheats. There. I said it. Because, without fail, once I establish a lead in that game, it seems that every new die roll is a freakin' miracle. Suddenly the 2s and 12s start pouring out--as long as it benefits the other opponents--as well as the 7s, which invariably lead to me losing all my cards, over and over. Okay, so maybe I'm just a paranoid crybaby. But I definitely get the sense, once I start winning, that the AI stops being three separate opponents with their own agendas, and instead one vengeful computer, like HAL in 2001, doing everything it can to prevent my victory, including spinning the die whichever way it helps it best. However, lest it appear I am insulting the designers, who I have nothing but love for (really!), let me offer an alternative, but equally probable, explanation for what I am experiencing: I just suck at Catan.

The list of unfinished games (Dead Space, Mirror's Edge) grows ever higher, as does the list of games just barely even started (Persona 3), and the chances of me ever finishing them all decreases as the days pass, my hair gets grayer, and my life gets busier. For decades now, I've always imagined this theoretical future when I am going to have nothing but time on my hands, and I will finally get around to all of this wonderful gaming, but, ya know. Sure. Still, it's a nice fantasy to cling to, and helps quell the feeling that I'm in way over my head here with all of this. Such a rough problem to have in life, isn't it? Too many games to play and not enough time. Cry me a freakin' river, I know. But such is the burden of the 21st Century Gamer.

Woe is us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Motorycle Diaries, Part II

I have promised you, The People, another motorcycle blog, and I have been delinquent in delivering. Forgive me. I've been a bit distracted. In addition, my motorcycle has not even been in my possession this week, as I brought it in for a 15,000 mile servicing. This is after skipping the 4,000 and 7,000 and 13,000 mile servicing, for which I am a very bad boy, indeed. The problem is that I ride every single day, 70 miles a day, and so I hate to be without it. Which is about the stupidest possible excuse I could come up with, since the bike will obviously be no good to me if it gets screwed up.

Now, I have done the basic upkeep of the bike--oil, tire pressure, etc--but when it comes to actual mechanics, ferget it. I am beyond incompetent. Well, that's not entirely fair. I'm just unskilled. I lack knowledge. I did not grow up with a father who tinkered in the garage and handed me down his toolkit. I do not, in general, repair items, and the only furniture I've ever assembled successfully comes from Ikea, which doesn't count. It's kind of a crappy thing to have to admit as a guy, and even worse when you ride a motorcycle. Because the expected cultural wisdom is that you fix yer own goddamn bike. It's about being "at one" with your machine, which, in theory, I completely agree with. I just know that in practice, it'd end in catastrophe. So, I just pay the price instead--and in this case it's a heavy one. Like, $1,500 worse. OUCH. The only solace I have is that this is what it would have cost me, apparently, anyway, just as a matter of course---not because I was delinquent on bringing it in. Still, that is a veritable buttload of money, and makes me realize once again how helpless I am in the face of mechanics.

In any event, I promised to say what I ride, and since it's not like it's any big mystery or big deal, I will tell you. I don't know why it has not come up yet. It is a 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic, in black. It looks like this:

I absolutely freakin' love it. Not only is it the first bike I bought brand new, but it is also the biggest and most comfortable. And loudest. Now, you may scoff at that last part, and I am certainly not one of those obnoxious attention-getting a-holes who feels the need to wake the neighborhood or cause babies to scream and dogs to howl as I ride down the road (and really, it's not THAT loud--it's all stock parts), but I promise you that having a bike that motorists can actually HEAR--since no one ever sees us--is a huge safety thing. I can tell, on the freeway, that it's usually the sound of my bike that makes drivers aware BEFORE they see me, and it's a comforting feeling.

The sitting stance on this bike--a cruiser, my first--means that I can basically sit upright, and even lean back a little, which is great if you're a middle-aged dude like me with a bad back. Younger dudes like to point and laugh at cruisers, but my comeback to you is this: Fuck off. Wait till you get to be my age. All I know is I can sit comfortably on this thing for 70 miles every day, and have a nice wide viewing angle in which to watch all the traffic. So you sport bike/rice rocket punks go ahead and rip by me and have a nice day. Old man Green is having a great old time anyway.

I started out small, by the way, on a tiny Ninja 250, and if you are a new and inexperienced rider, I can't recommend this strategy enough. Do not let macho posturing get to you. Do not let your friends laugh at you. Learning the basic techniques, and staying alive while doing it, is your first and only priority when you are starting out, and you do not need, nor really should have, a bigger, more expensive bike to start. It's just stupid. You're gonna drop the thing almost guaranteed at some point (I did, more than once), and, for me anyway, the 250 was just the right (small) size in which I felt like I could be in charge, rather than having the bike overwhelm me. It's also fast as hell, anyway.

I know some folks will probably comment that they started out on bigger bikes and were fine with it, and that's cool. Well, it's cool as long as you survived and didn't feel out of your depth. But I totally recommend starting small and working your way up. Or shit, even just staying small. My previous bike, before this Vulcan, was a Yamaha Seca II, a 600cc that was just beautiful to ride. And if it wasn't for my new, long commute, I would have been happy staying with it. I only upgraded because of the commute. I mean, to be honest about it, I totally would have gotten a bigger, newer bike much earlier than I did, because, ya know, you will always have that itch, but I let practical reasons, like money, trump my base desires. Fortunately, by taking a job with a hellish commute, a new, bigger bike became a practical reason. So yay!

One more thing about this bike. Some folks may be inclined, for better or worse, to say it looks like a Harley. I really have no opinion on Harleys or Harley riders. I'm too concerned with my own riding to judge others. I will, say, however, that I have heard that my bike is referred to, among Harley riders, as a "Hardley." I am amused.

Okay. I have procrastinated enough. I now must brave the horrid Bay Area freeway in my car, for one last evening. I hate it. Even when traffic sucks, when I'm on the motorcycle, well, I'm still on my motorcycle. In the car, I just want to run everyone else off the road and/or stab myself in the head with a pencil. I do promise I will do neither, however. The one thing I can do in the car that I can't on the bike is listen to music. And the first Gorillaz CD sounded so freakin' great on the way in this morning, that I'm going to listen to it again on the way home. But even louder.

Next time: The joys and perils of lanesplitting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Diego bound

Just a quick post to inform you, The People, that I am off to San Diego for a not-Comic Con EA event, happening a day before Comic Con, to which I am not going. I say this with only a mild amount of bitterness. Following the not-Comic Con event, I will then be joining a sizeable chunk of my family for an annual family reunion, also in San Diego. None of us are actually from there, since, as I recently said to my co-workers, Jews aren't legally allowed to settle there. But we are allowed to visit and spend money.

Anyhoo: There could be bloggage from San Diego. There could not be. Only the Heavens know for sure. Meanwhile, I have just been informed that the EA Podcast Episode 4 is now up on ye olde Internet, for your infotainment pleasure! Yay! This one features Ben Bell, the executive producer of The Sims 3, and he was a great sport throughout.

So go listen. Lemme know what you think. I'm happier with this one, personally, but don't let me influence your opinion. Feel free to tell me it blows.

Oh yeah, links for the podcast here and on iTunes

Over and out!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Motorcycle Diaries, Part 1

There are many reasons people will give for why they ride motorcycles. But there is only one honest one: Because it is fun. It's really as simple as that. It's the exact same kind of addicting thrill and satisfaction that others get from skiing, surfing, scuba diving, or any similar pastime that never gets old to those who get sucked in.

Yes, you can cite tons of practical reasons why motorcycling can be a good thing. I do all the time. For me, personally, it's the only way I could even imagine working at my current job. my commute to Electronic Arts in Redwood City from my home in Berkeley is 35 miles each way, on some of the most notoriously congested freeway in the entire country. Riding my motorcycle means not only do I save tons of money on gas, and get to cross the bridge without paying toll in the carpool lane, but because it's legal to lanesplit in California, I am essentially immune to the daily traffic mess. I have to ride much slower, yes (the accepted lanesplitting wisdom is to never go faster than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic), but at least I can keep moving, unlike all the poor saps trapped forever in their cars. My commute takes me about 45 minutes on average on my bike. On those occasions when I'm forced to drive, it takes twice as long, each way. That's 3 hours of commuting a day--and, frankly, I would just go fucking insane if I had to do that every day.

So, see? I can make a good, logical case for it. It's fast, it's cheap, it saves me a huge amount of time that I can otherwise devote to my family and my work. But all of that wouldn't mean a dang thing if the greater truth didn't exist: That I still get a palpable thrill every single time I hop on the bike and ride.

Some people, I think, are just two-wheel types. Before motorcycles--and before I got too lazy--I used to ride my bike all the time. (And, man, I really need to get back into it.) That was, by far, my preferred form of exercise, and my wife and I would ride in Berkeley whenever and wherever we could, rather than take the car. We also used to be pretty good at it--riding way up into the Berkeley and Oakland hills, on inclines that now make me tired just to look at.

Conversely, I've never been a car guy at all. I really just kinda hate cars, and I hate driving them. It's just not me. And it's not because I'm a motorcyclist. My hatred of driving predates my motorcycle riding. I don't know what it is, honestly, but I just find sitting behind the wheel of a car an utter burden. I'd rather walk, or ride a pack mule, or just sit in the dirt and go nowhere. I get tense and frustrated in cars. I get impatient. It brings out a lame side of me: Yelling at other drivers, aggressively passing people who annoy me. George Carlin had a great line about driving: "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? " That's how I get. It's just too much stress for me.

Maybe it's about control, at least a little bit. On the bike, I feel completely in charge of my own destiny. Barring a total roadblock by emergency vehicles or something, there's nothing I can't get around, there's no way to get stuck on the motorcycle. Whereas in a car, if you're stuck, you're stuck. That's part of it.

But I think the bigger truth is that it's just a particular frame of mind, and state of being, that being on a motorcycle puts you in. Again, it's like skiing. On a motorcycle, you are completely in the moment, always. There is simply no way to ride and not be 100 percent focused on the riding, every moment of the experience. It's all about the journey, in this case--not the destination. Riding requires intense concentration, and thus requires you, for the most part, to bleach your mind of any extraneous noise. This doesn't mean that those thoughts won't invade your mind--because they can't help it. It's like meditation that way. You have to acknowledge they're there, but then gently push them aside and get back to the business of riding. For me, those 70 miles a day are actually a form of meditation. It's 90 minutes out of my day in which what I am doing is riding a motorcycle, and not preoccupying myself with anything else. It's a form of rejuvenation, and even, at times, as ridiculous as it may seem to some, of spiritual uplift.

It focuses my mind and reduces things to one essential, primal goal: Stay alive.

Next time: What I ride, and why.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Motorcycle Diaries: Prologue

True Fact #1: Riding a motorcycle does not make you cool. But it might make you a bit of a moron.

Forget what anyone tells you, whether they ride or not. Motorcycle riding is an inherently stupid and dangerous activity. And I love it, passionately.

In the past decade of motorcycle riding, let's figure, roughly, that I rode about 325 days out of each year. This accounts for vacation time and rainy days. Every other day, I'd be on the bike. This means that I've had roughly 3,250 close calls, any one of which could have seriously injured me, or worse. It never stops, and it doesn't matter how good and cautious of a rider I am (or you are). Most people are terrible drivers, or at least distracted ones, and even if you're reading this and think you're one of the good ones, I can probably guarantee you that you've narrowly missed motorcycles--because of reaching for your radio dial, or talking on your phone, or chatting with others in the car, or simply from having one half-second of not seeing a bike in a blind spot--more than you realize.

That's okay, though. Because it's the motorcyclist's job to know this about you, and to be constantly, ever vigilant. It also doesn't matter how great a motorcyclist you think you are, either. Yeah, you may have excellent skills, awesome intuition and reflexes, and a healthy dose of cautionary and defensive techniques, and that may all make you relatively safer than your average Darwin-challenged squid, but every single one of us has tales of that unexpected split second where there was simply nothing that could have been done, no matter what. And if you don't have one yet, don't worry--you will.

Squid(n): Motorcyclist lingo for a rider who wears little to no protective gear, rides outside his/her own abilities, and generally makes all the rest of us look bad by being an obnoxious, irresponsible douche.

I've been relatively lucky, overall. Despite all the near misses, I've actually only been hit once. In 2004, I was riding home from my job at CGW in San Francisco, and was just getting off the Bay Bridge. As always, I was constantly scanning ahead for potential problems/hazards/assholes. And I saw one: A guy in a red sports car, blabbing on his cell phone, one lane to the right of me. Knowing I didn't want to be anywhere near the guy, I accelerated to pass him. But just as I was almost clear of him, he did what I was dreading and trying to prevent: He merged into my lane without looking. Because I was almost clear of him, and because I was almost half-expecting it, I actually didn't fall down. I felt the impact of the car (I still remember the metal hitting my leg) as he conked me sideways, but I remained upright. Adrenaline kicked in, which was a good thing, because the guy immediately tried to get away, but because he had almost completely stopped I was able to swerve the bike in front of him and cut him off so he couldn't get away.

The rest is a long, boring tale of insurance companies, but the end result is that my bike was considered totaled, and Red Sportcar Boy ended up buying me a better, cooler bike. Because even though I was spooked and shaken and actually did quit for a month or two afterward, I simply had to get back on a bike. I missed it too damn much.

All of which is just to establish, before I spend some time over the course of future posts rhapsodizing about motorcycle riding, that I am not necessarily recommending it or claiming that doing it makes me cool. If you think it's an idiotic and dangerous pastime, know that I'm right there with you. It's just the idiotic and dangerous pastime that I've chosen to be mine.

Next time: Why I Ride: The Good Stuff