Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Blog Incoming!

Yep, I've got myself a new blog over at

For all my readers out there, here's the link. Time to update your bookmarks.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I'm Back From My "Business" Trip

For those of you that don't know, since Wednesday, I've unofficially signed off of teh internets in preparation for this trip.

Without doing a full write up here (It's late, I'm still slightly jet-lagged and drained) I'll give you a few of the biggest points. Once I've had a chance to relax (read: recover) from the trip, I'll begin my official travelogue and transcripts of the two interviews I had, which will most likely be posted at Talk Xbox.

The day started with some of the best pancakes I've ever had, and the 13 or so other attendees and I BS-ing with the EA reps. After breakfast we made the short walk to EA, and were given our visitor passes. Shortly, the EA rep came out and said he had a surprise for us. Long story short, minutes later, I was playing a near final build of Army of Two. Shortly after, I found myself in an impromptu interview (digital voice recorder in hand) with one of the game's designers. I was nervous as hell, but I think I did a good job.

Following our preview of Army of Two (I won't post full details here, but I will link you to them once I've finalized everything) we were given the grand tour of what has to be the most awesome office buildings I've ever seen. Again, can't divulge much, but I took lots of pictures.

Finally, we were taken to a room on the second floor, marked "vacant". Inside awaited no less than 15 Xbox 360's and HD monitors running Burnout Paradise. We were all treated to a seat, and invited to play by Craig Sullivan, Lead Designer of the game of the hour. I began playing, linking up with 5 others online and freeburning around the city, which was a load of fun. During this time, we were each given one on one interview time with Mr. Sullivan. Again, nervousness mounted, but thankfully, I prepared a few questions in advance just in case such an opportunity would arise. So, digital voice recorder in hand once again, I walked into the meeting room with the man, nervous as hell and the interview commenced. Again, I won't reveal much, but I have to say, I'm very happy with the results.

During the day, there was a single player contest in which we were all given a half hour to score over a million points on a single stunt run, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by many. Well, yours truly pulled it off, receiving one of only twenty T-Shirts given out thus far signifying the achievement and will possibly be immortalized on the Burnout page, being part of EA's official Millionaire's club.

When the day was over, we retired to the hotel for a brief moment of solace and rest before hitting the restaurant, where I acquired a slightly tipsy condition and many stories were told and toasts were made.

It was one hell of a day and one hell of a trip. Who knew a business trip could be this awesome?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane...

I’m finally ready to reveal just what the mysterious “Career changing event” I announced a few days ago is going to be. My travel itinerary is set and tomorrow, I’ll be heading out to California until Saturday to attend a Burnout Paradise Community Event, sponsored by EA, at their Redwood Shores studio on behalf of Talk Xbox. As you would likely expect, I’m extremely excited about this opportunity, as it is not only some random business trip. It’s the opportunity I’ve been dreaming about, one of the more glamorous perks of working in the gaming industry. I’m actually being flown out to California to play video games.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been running around, getting everything ready for my big trip. It’s amazing. Everything seemed to come together just as I needed it to. A few weeks ago, I finally got around to replacing the busted AC adapter for my laptop, which has been out of commission for months now. Unfortunately, I was delivered the incorrect model and took my time setting up the return. Once I found out about this trip, I sped things up a bit, but it was so close to the date of the trip that I was sure it wouldn’t arrive in time. Thankfully, HP unexpectedly opted for overnight shipping, meaning I had my cable within two days of sending it out. Wow. Now that’s what I call good (and convenient) customer service.

Another obstacle presented itself about a week or so ago when I misplaced my Driver’s License. One can only imagine how terrified I was, knowing I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane without it. As I pulled the car out of the garage, ready to set out to Best Buy to pick up the digital voice recorder I figured I’d need for the trip, I decided to look under the front seats for my missing license. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found it there. “Yes!” I exclaimed in joy as I pulled it from under the seat and placed it snugly in my wallet where it belonged. With everything coming together so perfectly, the Cosmos must be on my side and someone or something up there wants me to go on this trip.

This is the first event I’ll be attending as both a member of the gaming press and as a gamer (unless you count the Nintendo Fusion Tour in 2006) and I’m making the most of it. This isn’t just an opportunity to play games in a new location…this is an opportunity to network with my peers and make connections. I may be relatively introverted in my daily life, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be shaking hands with practically everyone I see at the event.

As far as the specifics of the trip go…I’ll be departing from Metro Airport around 7:15 pm, and I’m expected to arrive around 9:30 PST. That leaves me just enough time to get to the hotel, check in, unpack and go to sleep in anticipation of the next day. Friday, I’ll be up bright and early to meet everyone in the hotel lobby where we’ll be taken to breakfast, introduced and then make the short walk to EA Redwood Shores. There, we’ll have a Q&A session with lead designer Craig Sullivan, followed by a couple hours of multiplayer gaming sessions, lunch, and an additional Q&A session followed closely by more gaming in the form of single player contests and a multiplayer tournament. Finally, we head out for dinner and drinks (man I wish I was 21) and finally retire to the hotel. Saturday, I head on back home around one, arriving home once again around eight or so.

It’s a bit of a shame I won’t be able to do a bit of sightseeing while I’m there and enjoy the hotel (which is quite nice if I do say so myself) but I’m certainly not about to complain. The trip alone, with the opportunities for networking and gaming that lies therein is more than enough for me. As I’ve already said, I’m enormously excited for this trip. I plan on recording a travelogue in addition to my detailed written account of the event so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Wish me luck guys, I’m excited, but I’m also a bit nervous. I’ve never had an opportunity like this before and of course, I want to do my best to make the most of it. Who knows? If everything goes well here, I might find myself on a plane to California again later this year, en route to E3 2008.

As a side note, I’m finishing up my review of Devil May Cry 4, which I’ll be submitting to my editors later tonight.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Bowl XLII

Huh...I didn't see that one coming. I figured this was going to be the Patriots' year and they would go all the way to grab that coveted perfect season. Believe it or not, I was actually rooting for them to win. As much as they're hated for their many victories, they work hard for those wins, and apparently, the New York Giants were the only ones who could take them down. Nevertheless, I am proud of the Giants and now, Eli Manning joins his big brother Peyton in the Super Bowl hall of fame.

As for the game itself, I have to say, up until the fourth quarter, I was damn near falling asleep on it. Hell, the commercials weren't even that great. Unfortunately, I was forced to work on Sunday until seven o clock and didn't get out of there until somewhere around seven thirty so I missed the entire first quarter and much of the second and to make matters worse, I came home with a splitting headache to boot. Last year's Super Bowl, which began with an amazing kick return is my bar, and certainly among the most exciting games I've watched of the sport, so naturally, anything less is a big letdown. Things heated up appropriately in the fourth quarter as the Giants edged out the Patriots with a series of spectacular plays, coming back late in the fourth to score the final touchdown, which made the score 17 -14, which would remain that way until the end of the game.

I have more respect for the Giants now than I ever did before. I always pegged them as a great team, but I didn't know if they had what it took to win the Big Game. Well, it seems I was wrong. Congratulations on your victory Giants, you've certainly earned it.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Don't You Hate Writer's Block?

On occasion when you sit down to write something, have you ever sat there for a few minutes waiting for words to pour out of your pen onto the page...words that never seem to come? Have you ever sat there racking your brain trying to think of something of something to write on your pre-selected topic...or just the topic itself and then decide to do something else because nothing seems to be coming to you? If you've answered yes to any of these questions then Congratulations! You've just been hit with Writer's Block!

Well maybe Congratulations aren't in order here...

As of late, I've been finding it tough to get my thoughts out there on paper (or on the computer screen, whatever the case may be) in any form. Writer's Block seems to have fallen out of the sky and landed on me like (to use an old cliché) a ton of bricks. Dear God, now I'm digging up cliché’s to further my point. Man I need some help here, and fast.

So, I've decided to sit here and force myself to write this blog post, even though I've been feeling guilty about delaying my 2007 Retrospective so much. I've been putting it off and putting it off, hoping the inspiration I need to finish it would suddenly hit me and I'd be able to put something out there I can be proud of. Unfortunately, no such inspiration has come along. What's worse is, I'm not just blocked from doing this, oh no. The Gods of Writing must be very unhappy with me, because I can't do much of anything as it pertains to writing. Twice this past week I really had to phone it in with two of my assignments for school, one being a review of Ben-Hur, which I just recently saw (yes, I know I'm uncultured) in the film class I'm taking this semester. Well, to put it mildly, Ben-Hur is one of the best films I've ever had the pleasure of viewing and I don't think the review I submitted was anywhere near as good as it could've been. While this is partially due to the fact that I procrastinate like crazy (why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?) but a large part of it is undoubtedly this damn Writer's Block.

Alright, gotta keep the ball rolling, since I've heard that forcing yourself to write is one of the best ways to rid yourself of the shackles that bind your hand. So...umm...what to talk about now...Oh yeah, I picked up a few new games recently.

Ninja Gaiden Black

Ninja Gaiden Black

Great game so far. I now see why people call this one of the most hardcore games ever made. The difficulty is like a wall for players like me who tend to mash buttons and hope for the best. While that may work in a game like Heavenly Sword, it'll earn you an early death in this game. It forces you to change your play style in a good way and once you adjust, the game becomes really fun.

Final Fantasy Chronicles

Final Fantasy Chronicles

My main motivation for picking this title up was (obviously) Chrono Trigger. Now, I've never played this game prior to picking this compilation up but I've definitely heard all of the hype surrounding it ranging from folks saying it's a must play to the best Japanese RPG ever. After putting some time into it, I can see why it was hyped as much as it was. While I typically shy away from RPG's of the Japanese persuasion because I dislike random encounters and turn-based battle systems, the battle system in Chrono Trigger is far better than the average battle system and I definitely enjoy not running into a flock of enemies every two steps.

Dead or Alive Ultimate


Now I haven't played this one yet. I've been too busy with Ninja Gaiden and Chrono Trigger but I'm sure I'll give it some time this weekend.

I guess that's enough free writing for now. I don't think I've completely shaken this Writer's Block just yet, but I feel a great deal more comfortable with writing now. And since I've got a review of Burnout Paradise and possibly Rez HD coming up for Talk Xbox, I'm going to need to be as loose as possible to deliver the quality I expect of myself. Alright I’m done for now. If necessary, I’ll pick it up again tomorrow.

Time for some much deserved sleep…

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Internet...Serious F***ing Business.

Man, Xbox Live has to have one of the worst online communities I've ever seen.

Now, if you know me as well as you think you do, you should know that I'm pretty heavy into online gaming. Online games consume a great deal of my gaming time, since single player games seem to fly by all too quickly these days. Thus, you'll frequently find me online on Xbox Live playing Halo 3 or Forza 2 or Call of Duty 4 (my most recent fave) so; many of you may be wondering what prompted me to say such a thing. Well, it all began earlier this very evening.

As many Xbox 360 owners already know, some nasty performance problems befell Xbox Live over the holidays, attributed to a massive surge in new memberships. People complained. To compensate for these issues, Microsoft announced that they would be making the Xbox Live Arcade title Undertow (really great game, download it if you haven't already) a free download. Well, I've had the game for quite a while and was disappointed that its online community was sorely lacking, to the point where finding a match was like trying to find a sliver of glass in the middle of a blizzard. Next to impossible. Well, I loaded the game up today and I'm happy to say, the online community has exploded for this game, which I'm very happy to see. Having a choice of which (populated!) server to enter made was a sight I never thought I'd see...but I digress.

I hopped into a team deathmatch server and immediately got to fraggin. Now, because of some rather...unsavory folks I've run into on Xbox Live in the past, I tend to play with my microphone muted or just off entirely. I heard the muffled voices of numerous players coming though my speakers. The sound wasn't quite loud enough to hear what they were saying with any kind of clarity but it didn't matter because I paid it no mind, focusing my attention on the game itself. Suddenly, I heard the all too familiar -blip- as my Xbox 360 told me someone, (for the purpose of discussion, we'll just call him "Billy") had just sent me a voice message.

I raised an eyebrow. Hmm...sounds familiar. I called up the player list and here I saw Billy. The same bloke I'd just received a message from mere nanoseconds ago. Well, I found myself dead at the hands of some enemy soldier and, being able to pick where and when to respawn, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to go check the message. I fired up my wireless headset and clicked "play voice message" from the Xbox 360's Guide menu.

They always said curiosity killed the cat...

The message began to play and instantly, Billy proceeded to berate me, saying all manner of hateful things like "get a life" and many other nasty things I won’t bother to print here. Within a matter of seconds, my curious, inquisitive expression darkened significantly and by the end of the message, a frown was quite apparent. In that instant, I was ready to tear good old Billy a new one. But something happened. Just as I was ready to record an even more spiteful and malicious message to hurl back across the internet with a vengeance, I stopped. Instead, I merely sent him a text message saying: "Wow, you really told me." and blocked any further communications from him. I realized, as I filed a complaint on my new friend Billy, I was about to engage in a vocal quarrel with someone...over the internet.

It's amazing isn't it? The internet has evolved so much from the days when University Professors and Graduate students used it as a means to share data. Now, some unsavory folks use it as a means to share insults with a wide range of unsuspecting people. Ah...we've come so far haven't we?

I'm not writing this as some desperate plea to the many people out there like Billy to stop because I know that's never going to happen. I know how it is for Billy and his moronic friends, who are too cowardly to actually say these kinds of things in person and instead rely on the internet to vent their hatred toward society or...anyone who kills them in an online game. They scream these insults from the comfort of the couch in their mother's basement because they know that the odds are in their favor that they'll never run into the people they're insulting and thus, will never have to own up to their actions.

All I have to say to Billy and those who think like him...I hope the message I sent you provides you with the attention you seem to be desperately craving right now and if you were expecting to get a rise out of me, you'll be sorely disappointed because I don't take the internet as seriously as you apparently do.

Or maybe I do. This is the Internet after all...and it’s serious fucking business...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

2007 Retrospective: Introduction

It's been a long time coming, but here it is, the first installment in my series of 2007 Retrospective blogs. Last year, I did something similar, but I didn't feel I elaborated as much as I needed to so this year, I'm going to do things a bit differently. This is just the introduction, and more posts will follow in the coming days as I finalize my thoughts, culminating with my top ten games of the year.

Throughout the years, as gaming has matured, longtime gamers have seen the transition from two dimensions to three, numerous new gaming platforms and most importantly, literally hundreds of great games. As the years pass, the years themselves become somewhat of a catalog for these games. When a new year begins to approach, people begin to nominate their personal “Games of the Year”, putting the best games of that particular year in the spotlight and for this reason, some years begin to stand out among the rest,

2007 was one of those standout years. Gamers were practically inundated with quality software, regardless of which platform they owned. From Super Mario Galaxy to The Orange Box and Call of Duty 4 to Halo 3, there was certainly no shortage of great games to be had this year, perhaps even more so than any other year before it.

I must take time here to thank the ones who made all of this possible, the ones who slaved away hours upon hours day after day until their game had that special something that brought everything together. Every year, as we commend these great games for how well crafted, beautifully executed and above all, highly entertaining they are, we seldom thank those people who made that magic happen. The myriad of excellent developers such as Infinity Ward and Bioware made all of this happen, for if they had not sown the seeds, there would have been nothing to harvest.

In his monthly letter to his many readers, Andy McNamara, Editor-in-Chief of GameInformer magazine prefaced the letter by saying, “It is weird when you think about it. The year that was 2007 could arguably be the best year for video game software to date.” Looking back on the previous year, reminiscing on all the fond memories I had in just that year alone; I can easily say he and I share the same opinion. With the Xbox 360 closing the book on its second year and the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii closing out their first, it is indeed weird to think so many quality titles would be released in just one year.

If anyone walked up to you and said 2007 could quite possibly be one of gaming’s best, would you have believed them? Skepticism would have likely been my first response. While I expected such titles as Super Mario Galaxy and Halo 3 to deliver, many titles, such Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Crackdown took me by surprise. But of course, as has been said many times, the best surprises are the ones you don’t see coming.

Over the course of the next few days, I will take the time to break down many of the current platforms one by one, to pinpoint just what made 2007 such a great year for each platform.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Panzer Dragoon Orta Found In The Wild!

Panzer Dragoon Case
During a trip to Somerset Mall today, after looking around aimlessly for a Border's bookstore and finding out it wasn't there once I finally found a directory, I decided on a whim to walk into FYE since it was close by. I looked around at their selection of movies and music for a short while, all the while slowly moving towards the video game section, as I naturally do in any store that sells them. I began browsing through their wares without the slightest intention to buy anything due to my discount at GameStop and EB Games (which was right around the corner) and their somewhat inflated prices when suddenly, something on the bottom shelf caught my eye. I dropped the game I was holding and immediately picked up the game that had so quickly ensnared my attention. I couldn't believe I had actually found not one but two brand new copies of Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Now, the game has been out of print for quite some time, thanks in no small part to somewhat lackluster sales. Because of this, finding a used copy of the game is a rare occurrence, much less a brand new one. The price may have been a bit steep compared to the average new Xbox game (30 bucks) but that didn't stop me from running to the register, whipping out my plastic so fast the cashier probably felt a nice gust of wind and buying it. Okay, I exaggerate, but still I was pretty excited. As of late, I've found I'm almost as fond of collecting games as I am actually playing them so naturally, knowing how rare this game is, I had to buy it.

Well, that’s it for now…back to my 2007 Retrospective.

Friday, January 04, 2008

GripShift Review

GripShift Banner

Here's a small snippet of my review of GripShift, one of the more recent Xbox Live Arcade titles. A link to the full review is below.

"In an effort to branch out from traditional racing or puzzling, the latest from Sidhe Interactive combines both with GripShift. These two genres, which are typically kept far apart, seem like they could work quite well here. The game is best described as a cross between the winding, suspended tracks of Super Monkey Ball, with the battle centric racing of Mario Kart. Unfortunately, due to the focus being split between the two genres, GripShift never shines in any one area and has its fair share of flaws."

- Justin McBride, Talk Xbox

Full Review