Sunday, March 30, 2008

Best Day Ever

Yesterday was one of those great days where everything just fell into place. We didn't go out of our way to do anything (in fact it may seem like a fairly boring day to most of you), but it was just a perfect comfortable family day: Got up late, but not too late, had breakfast with Mrs. D and the kids, hung out with the boys for a while and played video games, got some rare "me" time when the rest of the clan went to a birthday party for a couple of hours, ordered a truly fantastic anniversary present for our impending sixth, finally broke 5,000 points on Desktop Tower Defense 1.5 (should have taken a screen shot to send to Tom and Grace at work), went for a 10 mile ride and listened to some awesome tunes, read both boys bedtime stories, had Gino's za for dinner, watched a bunch of Battlestar season three, and crashed out happy. Turns out it was also our best traffic day ever on the site, too, with the Get the Facts on Club Penguin feature we posted a week ago suddenly popping up and delivering the goods. Turns out "SpongeBob games" are still kicking ass for search results, too.

Friday, March 28, 2008

1UP Yours

Last night I ambled over to the 1UP offices (it's only a block away) to record 1UP Yours with the guys. We yak about the 50 Cent sequel, Rainbow Six Vegas 2, the PC Pile of Shame, purple Spider-men, Shane's relationship with Smash Bros. fans, and that $7,000 PC comment a few weeks ago that everyone seemed to take so badly.

To anyone that listens and takes it all very seriously; note that sometimes we exaggerate a bit, and sometimes we're argumentative to make things more interesting to listen to.

BSG on Letterman: 1 week to go

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Casual Encounters: Desktop Tower Defense 1.5

Thanks in no small part to fact that Anastasia at Ypulse has asked me to help put together a half-day mini-conference on the subject, I've become quite the "casual" gamer lately. The conference is titled "Casual Gaming For Tweens & Teens" and runs from 9am til lunch on July 14th in San Francisco, with the goal being to tackle a broad range of issues that show how teens are playing games online, what they're drawn to, and how they participate in the communities around them. It's certainly not what I'd define as my "core competency" (casual games, or conference organization for that matter) but given that my casual gaming in the past has been exclusively at the mercy of the Popcap folks, I welcomed the opportunity to do some research. As I find stuff I really enjoy, or am particularly impressed with I'll blog about them here, and you can either try them out for yourself, or simply tell me I've gone soft in the head, or barking mad, or have lost my senses. Or both, for that matter.

Long-time friend and former co-worker Lee Uniacke just started working at casual gaming hub Kongregate recently (plus, I can see their offices out of my window) so I thought I'd start there.

The highest rated "strategy" title on Kongregate is Desktop Tower Defense 1.5, a simple and great-looking strategy game that has you placing gun turrets and rocket launchers on a table to stop little critters called "creeps" from moving from top to bottom, or left to right. You have 20 "lives" (meaning, you can let up to 20 creeps move across the desktop) and accumulate cash by zapping the creeps so you can by more, and more powerful weaponry.

This is how things start...a static, empty desktop and a selection of turrets up there in the sidebar on the right. Basic turrets are cheap, whereas more specialized stuff (like air defense things) are considerably more expensive.

As things start, the key is to catch the creeps as they move across the screen. You don't have to work too hard at it...just catch them as they trundle their their way in two directions. Early on, you're just trying to get in the way, and get some good shots off - but the long term strategy is to funnel the creeps in the specific direction that you want them to go, so you can pound them with your mighty weapons along the way. The creeps are motivated little fuckers, but they apparently have no real sense of self-preservation, as they don't ever try and dodge shots, or move to get out of the way.

Here, you can see that as the creeps come out of the openings on the left, and at the top, they have to find their way to the simple "tunnels" I've created in order to reach their exits. The basic turrets pop little shots at the creeps, while the "squirt towers" (the triangular ones) fire larger blobs of ink, and do so more quickly. The things that look like rocket launchers, are (shockingly) rocket launchers. As the levels progress (you can see what's coming in the ticker-tape across the bottom) you have to toughen up your turrets, and spend coins on upgrading them so they'll shoot faster, or fire more pellets/blobs/rockets/whatevers.

If, like me, this is the kind of game that's right up your alley, I guarantee that you'll be seeing this thing in your sleep after your first couple of games. It's shockingly addictive, and perfect for killing 10 minutes or so when you don't feel like booting something more elaborate up.

Friday, March 21, 2008

1UP Show: Rainbow Six Vegas 2

Ryan and the 1UP Show guys invited me on this week to talk about Rainbow Six Vegas 2 with them. I haven't done anything for an episode in so long! It was great to chat with the guys about stuff again. I miss the crew old crew at Ziff big time. The R6V2 segment is the last one, at around the 20 minute mark.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Real life McQueen

My kids are going to go crazy when they see this...

Lightning McQueen in the Japanese Super GT-300 championship. Apparently he came 13th in his first race, which is a little disappointing, but it's early days yet.

Droolworthy Saleen S55 Raptor

Unveiled today in NY; 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, 650hp, 630 lb-ft of torque. Runs on E85 Ethanol.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rainbow Six Vegas 2

I haven't "reviewed" a game critically in a while now, so it was actually pretty refreshing to really sink my teeth into something this past week when Nick over at 1UP asked me to review Rainbow Six Vegas 2. I was a big fan of the previous game, and have been looking forward to the sequel for a while. The link is right here, but here's a quick summary.

- The AI is still a little broken in single player
- Even though it's a narrative sequel, it doesn't do it the way you're probably hoping
- Two great new mulitplayer modes
- Co-op story mode down to 2 players, but it has Gears-style jump-in, jump-out gameplay
- You can invite friends into ranked games
- It uses the XP (ACES) system for leveling up your character in single player now too

Overall it's good stuff. Definitely more for the R6 fans than anyone else, but there are plenty of us out there.

Subtlety in advertising

Ohhhhh...I get it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Burger Special

I've been traveling a lot this past week, and have hardly had time to sit and gather my thoughts. One minute I was in Austin, the next I was in Newport Beach, and now (finally) I'm back at my desk. Here's something I meant to post during my visit to the OC - the "Burger Special" at hip Corona del Mar eatery The Crow Bar and Kitchen. Apologies for the blurry photo...but yes, that does say that the special is $1,995. Apparently they have been known to have one for over $3,000.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yum Me

Yum Me; the game where you gain energy and speed by eating yourself bit by bit. From the Nordic Game Jam, 2008

Sunday, March 9, 2008


SXSW so far...

Google party was wall-to-wall-to-wall people

Inside of the hotel, as seen while stumbling back to room

Most eloquent vandalism ever

A bit of a wasted opportunity, in the grand scheme of things. Gold pass for the week...but I'm heading home tomorrow!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Three Of The Same

Permit me a recreational grumble. In the last week I've played three games that, to all intents and purposes are basically exactly the same thing. They're all set in the near-future, they all have some kind of "message" bubbling under the surface, but they all do it in a ham-fisted, clumsy way. They're all shooters, they all try and provide a sense of being part of a "team," they were all released within a couple of weeks of each other, and although they use different technologies, they all look basically the same. What are they? Frontlines: Fuel of War, Conflict: Denied Ops, and Army of Two.

In terms of technology, and bare-bones mechanics, each game certainly has problems, and they've been covered at great length in the press. Of the three, Conflict certainly has the most problems, and is certainly the clumsiest in this regard. While Frontlines and Army of Two appear to have "something to say" Conflict is just a big fat series of cliches that constantly fail to live up to their promises. The characters are straight out of a bad 80s action movie, and the thing was clearly rushed out as an attempt to spoil the Army of Two "buddy" thing. The story is preposterous, and the "destroy anything" claim is just a flat out lie. You can blow up buildings, but only the bits designed to break. You can knock over objects, and blow up a lots of different types of crate - but you can't drive over a small heap of pebbles in a fucking tank.

Frontlines, meanwhile, seems to want to convince you that you should buy a Prius, eat your granola, and watch Inconvenient Truth as many times as possible. Beneath the big dudes blowing the crap out of stuff veneer, it's got this whole "if we depend on oil we're all fucked" thing going on that, while admirable, is spoiled by the clumsy narrative in the (woefully short) single player campaign, and the fact that it feels like its online gameplay was re-prioritized as "the important bit" halfway through the project. The use of a sympathetic observer as a major character is certainly a noble attempt to try something new, but like so many other things in the game it seems underutilized and half-formed. Far from being the core of the story, the "reporter" ends up just being a bloke with a beard, no gun, and the word "Press" written on the back of his jacket and a tendency to blindly stumble into trouble.

Army of Two's message seems to be that war is bad, but if you have a buddy with you and a big fat paycheck everything will be OK. Like Conflict, it has the dysfunctional 80s buddy flick vibe thing going on, but at least it makes some attempt in the single-player campaign to have the two guys actually work together. However failed AoT's AI might be (and everyone seemed to complain about it, because it's inherently broken) at least the guys will actually operate independently. While Conflict's buddies tend to stand wherever you leave them, the Army of Two guys actively grab you and push you into the open to get shot.

Like I said, this is a recreational grumble - predominantly about the fact that we're seeing an awful lot of the same kind of thing lately, particularly on 360. With so many imaginative concepts starting to emerge in other areas, this whole dystopian near-future shooter thing is getting seriously old. All said though, I actually like Army of Two a lot, and Frontlines, while flawed, was a lot of fun online. Conflict, sadly, is one of those games that makes you wonder why it ever got a green light in the first place.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

If I have to teach you to be a reporter...

Ignore the first minute or so, it's just set up. The real meat is towards the end.

Under 17? Getting GTA IV?

Are you under 17, and planning to get your hands on GTA IV in April?

If so, I want to talk to you for a feature story I'm doing about how under-17s are planning to get their hands on the game. Are your parents buying it for you? Your older sibling? A friend? The doorman in your building?

Let me know, and I'd love to include your comments in our story.

Contact me here with an email with the subject line "How I'm getting GTA IV"