Thursday, April 30, 2009

In the 14th century...

...or earlier, or maybe even later, this young man would probably be institutionalized. In the 21st century, we (and by "we" I mean people who appreciate a great beatboxer), can marvel at his l33t skillz:

(Thanks to @ncroal for the heads-up! I share with you non-Twitterites because I love.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My first 100 days.

I'm the exact same age as President Obama.

I'm okay with this, but I do admit that ever since I discovered this, I've been in a little bit of a competition with the guy. I don't think he knows about yet, despite my late-night triumphant calls to the White House every time I get a new piece of armor in WoW ("Yeah, and what did YOU do today, punk!"). So now that everyone is making a big deal about HIS first 100 days, I think it's high time that I get credit for MY last 100 days. I'm calling it "first" in the header, by the way, because "My last 100 days" sounds a tad morbid. I could say "My previous 100 days," but that sounds a little wanky. So I'm calling it "my first 100 days" meaning, "my first 100 days since Obama became president." Just so we're all clear.

Anyway, here's what I've done in this time period, which we can all compare and contrast to the "achievements" of our new President:

* Washed my motorcycle twice
* Bought some sunglasses
* Blogged a few times
* Gained 5 pounds
* Read 500+ pages of The Brothers Karamazov
* Took wife out to dinner for anniversary
* Switched teams at work
* Ate approximately 15 burritos
* Took a few naps
* Watched 17 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
* Watched a bunch of other TV
* Bought an EA t-shirt
* Returned 2 movies late to EA rental store and got banned for a month
* Hung out with wife and kid
* Started Twitter account
* Went on a hike
* Podcasted a couple times with Shawn, N'Gai, Luke, and Robert
* Shaved my beard
* Bought a couple music CDs
* Got zipper replaced on motorcycle jacket
* Saw play at kid's school
* Hung out with friends
* Started Left 4 Dead, Zelda Link to the Past, and Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga
* Saw Leonard Cohen concert
* Played with dog
* Cleaned up my cabinet full of game crap
* Joined fantasy baseball league
* Ate a lot of pizza
* Saw 1up gang and other game industry compadres at GDC
* Went to gym a few times
* Attended dinner to discuss 100 Years of Solitude
* Watched a few NCAA basketball games
* Got new pens out of EA supply cabinet

I could go on. But I think I've made my point. Look at this list! My accomplishments pretty much go on and on, don't they? It's really rather breathtaking to behold, quite frankly. Even given the high level of achievement I'm used to operating on, what I've accomplished in this last 100 days is something I think all people could and should aspire to. Obama may be all about "hope," which admittedly does have its place in the grand scheme of things, but I, ladies and gentlemen, am about action. Getting things done. Making things happen.

So congratulations on your "accomplishments" Mr. President. But hey, this competition of ours can only have one winner.

Better luck next time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Post WoW Trauma

Oh yeah! I used to write about games!

So, a funny thing happened right at the apex of my latest bout of World Of WarCraft addiction: The 3.1 patch killed the game on my PC.

There I was, finally "stepping up my game" and "taking it to the next level" and "wasting my life" by hitting level 80 and joining my fellow Can't Quit You guildies in one Heroic instance after another to get properly geared up for...whatever. I picked up the awesome Sundial of the Exiled, which, besides being awesome, is coated with an extra layer of awesomesauce. My DPS was rising. My Frogger and Safety Dance skills were improving. All I needed now was the new patch to get a dual-spec and join the gang for Ulduar fun and, well, I wouldn't say my life would be "complete," but perhaps just a little more sad! In a good way!

Then the patch came out. And I was, to use the strictly technical term, boned.

I have a tempermental PC. A fussy PC. A problem PC. My PC, to put it another way, is a fucking piece of shit. I feel bad ever complaining about it, because it is a legacy of my days in the press, when I got free stuff and didn't have to worry about money like ordinary civilians. No, we didn't get free PCs from PC-makers--that's an ethical no-no!--but there was a lot of trickle-down and extra machines floating around and occasional review units that never got claimed. In short, there was always a way to upgrade your rig or even score a new one without having to lay any Dead Presidents down, yo.

This machine now sitting in my home, making my life miserable, laughing at me every time I try to fix WoW again, came from the Doctor Of Cool himself, Loyd Case, editor over at and once columnist and tech editor at Computer Gaming World during its early glory days. He gave it to me for free. And, ya know, it doesn't get any better than that. It's a Dell XPS 630i, with an nVidia 8800. It's also running Windows Vista, but, hey, you take the bad with the good. Vista was the price I had to pay for getting a free machine.

Actually, though, it turned out there was another price. I don't know if it's Vista, or Dell, or just Plain Rotten Luck, but for whatever reason, this PC has been nothing but a pain in the arse since I first trucked it home. And, no, don't bother giving me random tech advise (well, okay, you can), but I promise you I've probably tried everything you are going to suggest: I've reinstalled the OS, I've replaced the RAM, I've wiped the drive, I've updated drivers. I feel like I've done it all except completely disassemble the entire dam thing down to the last screws and put it back together again. Net result: Constant crashes. I should say, the WoW troubles are only part of it. I won't take up valuable Internet space droning on about the various other issues I've had. Suffice it to say, this PC hates me.

So, really, it wasn't a horrible surprise that Patch 3.1 failed for me. But fail it did, and now I can't play anymore, after spending 2+ weekends trying to sort it out. Oddly, I did manage to successfully install the patch and log in once, for about 2 minutes, but then never again. I had just enough time to say hi to my guildies and ask how they were enjoying 3.1, but then was booted, never to return. I've spent time on the WoW forums and discovered other hapless Dell 630i losers, which was at least partially reassuring, but nothing suggested on those forums (yes, including updating the firmware) has helped.

Rather than continue to bemoan my fate and feel sorry for myself, however, I did remember a few things, once I just decided to give up. My family, for one. Outside, for another. But once I got over those two things, it was back to gaming again, and, much to my great joy, I discovered a gigantic pile of new games, untouched or barely touched by me, because WoW had--once again--completely taken over my gaming life, pushing everything else aside. See, when you're addicted to WoW, a weird thing happens with other games. Every time you're trying to play a different game, you feel like you're cheating on WoW. You feel like you're "wasting time" that should actually be spent getting more Emblems of Heroism, or getting Fishing achievements. You feel a nagging sense of "missing out", because you're not in there with everyone else busily getting Fishing achievements. So those other games pile up, forgotten, unloved, unplayed.

Now, with no other choice--other than to stop gaming and do something else with my life (HAHAHAHAHAHA)---I have returned to that sad pile. And here is what I discovered: It is not sad at all! It is happy! A happy pile! A happy pile of great games! All they were waiting for was for me to find them again! And I did! Yaaaay!

And so now the great tackling of the unplayed games begins. First up is Left 4 Dead, which I'm currently only playing in the single-player campaign version. I know, you don't have to tell me--I'm missing the entire point. But I need to know what I'm doing first before I play co-op, out of Fear Of Suckitude. Also on my plate: Empire Total War, Fallout 3 (good god, how did I forget this one?), Sacred 2, Dawn of War 2, and more. It's all making me feel like I should have quit WoW voluntarily awhile back.

It's a demanding, jealous bitch, that World Of WarCraft. It doesn't let us see other games, even casually, for coffee. It feels pretty great to be free and dating other games again.

But, hey, if you see her, say hello. She might think I've forgotten her, don't tell her it isn't so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Leonard Cohen

I spent a good amount of time (well, okay, about 20 seconds) looking for a good thematic link between the two topics on my mind, but I couldn't come up with anything clever. I know it's doable. If being an English major taught me anything, it's that you can tie any sort of random bullshit together as long as you use semi-proper grammar, and no one, except smartypants dillweeds trying to impress the professor, is really going to call you on it.

Anyway, since this is not an English class essay, I can dispense with theses and themes entirely. Hell, I don't even need proper paragraphs! I can do it in a numbered list! I don't need no education! I don't need no thought control! Yeah! Whoooo!

Without further ado:

1) Buffy the Vampire Slayer is awesome. I know I am seriously LTTP on this one--doy--but hey, a man can't watch everything on TV all the time without falling behind in other important areas of life, like getting geared up for WoW raids. I missed Buffy the first time around probably because of the name, which seemed ridiculously silly, which, of course was the whole point--which whooshed right over my tiny head. My introduction to the wonderful wit and storytelling of Buffy creator Joss Whedon came instead with "Firefly", which I also missed at the time, but caught on DVD a year or so ago and absolutely adored. (Add me to the large group of males with a permanent man-crush on Nathan Fillion).

With my daughter now in high school and with not much good on TV and with only the horrific prospect of books, or, worse, actual conversation, looming before us, the time seemed right for "Buffy." And, yeah, it's what most you all already knew: It rocks. As folks warned me, Season 1 is a bit shaky, with characters still in a primordial state, with overly wooden dialog, but the seeds of greatness are definitely there. (I was sold on the show as soon as the first principal...well, I shouldn't spoil it I guess). We're a bunch of episodes into Season 2 now, though, and the rise in quality is exponential--with the writing just firing on all cylinders now. Super funny stuff with genuine moments of suspense and scares mixed in. Really, though, though it's the dialog I'm in love with, just as in Firefly, with characters gloriously riffing off each other, commenting knowingly and sarcastically on the ongoing ridiculousness of their situation and yet fully living in it, too.

It's not all irony for irony's sake, which is why I think the show is so loved: In between the snark, there is real passion and heartache and drama, giving the show a surprising resonance. So, yeah. I'm hooked. (The one thing that is still annoying, me, though, despite being the funniest guy on the show: Xander is far too good looking to be the show's "nerd"--but that's always a fault of TV casting. Still, the actor's coming timing more than makes up for his lack of nerdiness.)

2) The Leonard Cohen concert that my wife and I attended last week was one of the best concert experiences of my life. I really should devote a whole separate, gigantic post to it, but even that wouldn't do it justice. I've seen tons and tons of great shows, ones that I'll never forget and that ROCKED MIGHTILY, but I've only ever seen a handful that I would characterize as transcendent, or life-changing experiences--where the bond between artist and audience is so electric, with everyone riding a wave of epiphany, that one can say, without either exaggerating or belittling the term, that they were "religious experiences."

Off the top of my head, I can recall three:
1) Van Morrison at the Greek Theater in Berkeley circa 1987. Morrison is a notoriously erratic performer--prone to bad moods and crankiness (I once saw him perform with his back to the audience for a number of songs--and I've seen more bad shows than good ones)--but when he has it together, he can be great, and when he REALLY has it together, it's, well like sitting in a congregation. At least that's how it felt that summer day in Berkeley.

Morrison is the great white soul singer of the last 50+ years, and if you only know him from "Moondance," then you don't know him at all, as the real beauty of him is not the FM radio-friendly "lite jazz," but the growling, searching, restless poet who can sing the same word 30 times in a row and make each time sound different, and vital, and alive. At the Greek Theater that day, for whatever reason, the muse was with him. He was feeling it. He took off on some kind of spiritual voyage with that voice of his, and we were all there with him. It doesn't matter to me now how much he goes through the motions, or sinks further into cranky old man-hood. For that one show alone I'll always be grateful.

2) And speaking of grateful! HAHA! The Grateful Dead at the Greek circa 1983-4. (Sorry anal-retentive Deadheads, can't remember exactly when.) This was my first Dead concert, and I went into it, I'm fully willing to admit, as a hater. I was still in my punk-ish faze. I even wore black, even though it was a hot summer day at an outdoor concert. I was dragged there by my friend Lynne, and was determined not to enjoy myself. I spent the first few songs, in fact, doing just that, making fun of the whole thing to myself, scoffing at the hippies, unable to see what the big deal was about a bunch of old guys noodling around. But after about a half hour, a funny thing happened: It got to me. I started hearing it, and feeling it, despite myself, while simultaneously having an uneasy moment of realization: I was the only asshole in the place. I was the only one in the entire place not having a great time.

As I began to let my guard down, and let my preconceptions go, and started listening to Jerry's guitar the way everyone else was, the way he was exploring and storytelling and singing through that instrument, I started to get it. Then I really got it. I've been on the bus, at least casually, ever since--I saw them about 8 times total, a paltry amount, I know. With time I realized that this first show I happened to see, the one that "converted" me, was indeed a special one, with the entire crowd responding in time with the band as one that day. When I think about the many great moments in my life so far, this one stands out with the best: A sea of happy, smiling people--including me--dancing in the warm California sun, cheering ecstatically with every musical epiphany the band kept reaching.

3) Finally, there was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Again, another show that I had to be dragged to. And again one that I walked out of transformed. "Indian music"? No thanks. (And, yes, I know now it's actually Pakistani, and, specifically, a style of music known as Qawwali.) My wife got tickets for this, and I couldn't have walked in less enthused. I remained unenthused, too, when the show started, and there on the stage was a really fat dude sitting on the stage floor, surrounded by other dudes also sitting on the floor. Yeah! Let's get this party started!

And, then, much to my surprise: They did. Big time. Like Garcia and Morrison, Nusrat was just simply tapped into something else--"the mystic", in Morrison's words--that has the ability to sweep everyone along who's willing to listen. I won't pretend to know much at all about Qawwali music, but what I heard that day (and ever since on the CDs I bought) changed my life, by opening me up to non-Western music and ideas that influence me to this day. I didn't understand one word he sang that night, but I did understand the sweep of emotion and passion expressed in his unbelievably aching, beautiful voice, and the fervor that such passion aroused in the audience. I actually don't think I've ever seen anything quite like what happened at that show before or since: A crowd sitting respectfully and quietly in their seats, transformed by show's end into some crazy cross between rave party and religious revival. In one night, it completely changed my understanding of what "cool" music was.

Which leads me, in a rather longwinded way(yikes, sorry!), to the Leonard Cohen concert. This one I didn't need to be dragged to. But I was coming more as an admirer than as a passionate fan, like my wife. I loved "I'm Your Man" when it first came out, but I never connected with him even a fraction as much as I did with Bob Dylan. He struck me as more lachrymose, and even dull, lacking the bluesy roots and humor of Dylan. Seeing him at the beautifully restored Paramount Theater in Oakland last week, at the creaky age of 74, I realized, instantly, just how much I have underrated him. Because this was a show for the ages.

For over three hours, Leonard Cohen absolutely owned that stage, and everyone in the building with him. I think many of us in the crowd didn't know what hit us, so strong was the emotional intensity of his performance. A woman one row in front of us at one point burst into tears and got up, which sounds comical and exaggerated now, but I promise you, in that moment, probably all of us around her were thinking, "I hear ya, sister." More than any of the shows described above, this one was probably more of a "you had to be there" thing. Listening to any of his recorded songs, it's still hard to imagine he could pull off this kind of musical and spiritual feat. (Though Jeff Buckley's deservedly famous cover of Cohen's Hallelejah points the way.) But he did. There was something about seeing this somewhat frail, grey-haired, 74-year-old man up there, pouring his heart out so transparently and openly, that was just almost profound. At a few key points in the show, the band stopped playing and he simply recited lyrics like the poems that they are, and it was in those recitations that I realized just how much I *hadn't* been hearing in his lyrics all these years, and now for the life of me can't understand why. All I know is I walked out of that show, like the other great ones in my life, transformed--more alive, more aware, and more grateful than ever for the healing power that music has for me.

Umm, and that's all I have to say today. I think I thought I was gonna write about four sentences. I guess this is what happens when you go into the mystic.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Writers write. That's what they do. If you're not writing all the time, you forfeit the label. Not permanently. You can get it back, but it's all about action, not intention. Everyone has a great novel, or even a great blog post, somewhere in them. The difference between those who do it and succeed and those who don't is, yes, of course a matter of skill and talent, but also, maybe most important, a matter of effort.

The number one question I got, by far, when I was a magazine writer/editor was, "How can I get a job doing what you're doing? How do I get to be a writer?" And the only answer I ever had was the first sentence of this blog. Yes, I could tell you what I studied (or pretended to) in college, what my first job was, what I had for dinner last night (apparently, leftover Thai food for a month, if this blog is to be believed), but the only real answer is to write, to practice your craft, to develop your own voice, and style, and confidence in your ability to communicate.

It astounds me (well, okay, no, it doesn't) how many truly bad writers are making a living writing about games. We are talking serious hack work: lazy, cliche-ridden, sloppy, near-illiterate dreck, shat out with no real thought or creativity or care. It's nothing new, and it's nothing unique to gaming journalism, but it continues to anger me (if you couldn't tell) because it's a field I left behind but still feel emotionally attached to, that I want to see be better than it is, and that I constantly find myself trying to defend, often fruitlessly, at my new job. When shitty articles are pointed out to me, there's not much I can do other than nod and say, "yeah, I know."

Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't brilliant writers out there writing about games. There are quite a few. I'm not going to name drop, because I think we know who they are. Likewise, I'm also still passionate in my belief that writing about games is not as easy as it looks, and that if you performed a job swap for a day between a game journalist and a game developer, odds are they would both suck. You might be a brilliant programmer or designer or modeler, but if you think it's easy to write an intelligent, pertinent piece about a game in 1,000 words, forming a cogent argument, communicating clearly to an audience, and inflecting the piece with your own creativity and thought without taking the spotlight off the game itself--go ahead. Give it a shot.

The point of all this--and I think I have one!--is that, if you hadn't noticed, I haven't been writing. And don't worry, this isn't my umpteenth apology for not blogging, I promise. I'm actually not sorry this time. It's been intentional. It has been a hibernation. A planned one. A necessary one. Switching careers at age 47 has proven to be just about the hardest dang thing--mentally and emotionally--that I've done in my professional life. And as I've written previously, I don't regret it. But it's still kicking my ass, humbling me, exhausting me, and, in lower moments, making me wonder what the f*** I was ever thinking. (Fortunately, those days are outnumbered by the better ones!)

I've been sharing my thoughts and feelings publicly for 17+ years now, and I still love doing it more than anything else, but I did start believing that testing myself all day at my new job was leaving me too drained, too raw to keep up my writerly self. The truth, I discovered this month, is a bit more complex: It has been my desire to cling to my writing, my "comfort zone," that has also prevented me from fully succeeding in my new job. A crappy day at work, for example, could be easily remedied by a blog post. This is, in fact, still true, and that's okay. But I realized that a forced hibernation was a bit in order if I was really going to embrace my new reality.

So that's what I did. I hunkered down. I hibernated. I grew a beard and put my head down and applied my creative energy to where it currently mattered most: to the place that is paying me. Twitter, of course, has been a nice, easy release valve, and has enabled me to "keep in touch" with readers in a small way, to at least acknowledge that I have not forgotten y'all. But obviously it's not the same thing, even remotely.

Why I am telling you all this now is because there has been changes in the past week or so, good changes that are giving me a sense of renewal. For one, after struggling mightily, on my new team, at some stuff that was seriously out of my depth (not quite coding, but damn close), it was somehow tacitly agreed upon, by all concerned, that, hey, maybe this wasn't the best use of my talents. And so I suddenly find myself doing something that may, I hope, actually justify my hiring: writing dialog and text for the game, which I am enjoying tremendously. Writers write--remember? It's still not remotely the same as what I was doing before, and it still involves using software tools, as well as parts of my brain, I wasn't familiar with before. It involves semi-selfless collaboration and compromise. It's not about me. These aren't my characters or my story. I don't get to be in charge, like I can with my own writing, and decide, at every moment, what gets to be. I'm following someone else's plan. But that itself is fun and liberating in its own way.

What it's also done, however, is remind me that, yeah, I need to be writing. Not out of duty or obligation or guilt. But just because it's what I do. Writers write. My hibernation was a necessary "down time", to regroup and focus and commit, but that time has now come to a close. The sun is out. The beard is gone. I'm stretching my limbs and blinking myself awake.

It feels good to be back.