June 2007 Archives

The Week in Links

Icebreaker 2 Preview (YouTube)
Impossible things still happen. Andrew Looney's long-lost 3DO game, Icebreaker 2, is about to get released! For the 3DO! Funny video follows...

The Perfect Phone (Roughly Drafted)
The iPhone has inspired a legion of Apple haters and fearmongers to crawl out from under their rocks, spewing forth unsubstantiated claims and complete lies about something they've never even touched. This article summarizes the biggest of the bigots and counterpoints with their hypocrisy in letting Windows (and other products) skate through without even a fraction of the tormented "Apple will destroy IT networks!" hand-wringing.

It's Clean Underwear Tuesday! (Dave's Long Box)
A few funny old comics covers, not really about underwear. I laughed like hell at the second one.

Battle Revolution: Better

I've been pretty sour on the console Pokemon battle games, because they've become nothing more than tedious turn-based combat porn. The N64 Stadium games at least had those cutesy minigame modes... a feature that vanished from the GameCube versions and still not found in the Wii generation. WTF? I thought the Wii was the cute minigame system? I've been lied to by the popular opinion press again!

Anyway, what really pissed me off was that Nintendo tried to hype the GameCube games as if they were genuine full-fledged RPG games. And then Pokemon Colosseum showed up packed with the suck. Walk here! Go fight! Walk here! Go fight! Walk here! Do nothing else! And I did not expect the Wii's Battle Revolution to be any better, based on the initial reports and demo movies.

I was spot-on, more or less, although Battle Rev does have some improvements. The best one being that I bought the game at Circuit City for only $40, during a sale that probably ends this Saturday. Walk there! Go buy!

The battles are beautiful... lush, detailed and vibrant... but not overly improved in execution. There's still crappy jump edits as the characters cut from animation to animation. I do not understand why a dead pokemon has to run back to its starting position before beginning the "I'm Dying" animation! Jesus! Just have the death bit start right after the "I'm Hit!" animation! Why is that so goddamn difficult?

Happily, I do seem to detect more pokemon-on-pokemon violence, something I declared would not happen. It's not the Street Fighter contact sport I'd like to see, but the game does allow a punch attack to actually visually show one pokemon hitting another one. Instead of just punching air and then quick cutting to a angled shot of the victim "reacting."

Interestingly, single-player mode has almost no HUD over the fight sequences. When you hit an opponent, the appropriate life meter briefly appears and then goes away.

The Trainer models are very clean, and you can customize your appearance with clothing you buy with money you earn after AI battles. (Why is there no Mii integration?) Although after going through three entire colosseum battles (consisting of six fights apiece), I only had around 1000 points. One new hat costs 300! And you can't even see what the hat looks like before you buy it!

I'm pretty excited about being able to buy rare items (so far, all my shop has is some TMs, stones, and a few cool hold items like Leftovers and King's Rock) on the Wii and send them to the DS game. They're super-expensive... in the 7000 to 9000 range. Battle Rev better start ponying up more than 300 points per colosseum damn soon. The manual says that when you send a bought item to Pearl/Diamond, you have to pick it up from a delivery man inside the Pokemart. Nice!

You can even type in your own text catchphrases for your Trainers to repeat during battles, but those do not show up in online play. (I learned that AFTER I changed them all to reference fourhman.com in some way.) Typing is done on the world's stupidest keyboard, a friggin' phone keypad. You know, where you hit the A button when you want A, B or C. Who the hell decided that was better than a regular QWERTY keyboard? I'm holding a Wii Remote here... I can navigate more than ten buttons at a time!

Getting your DS team into Battle Rev is super-sweet. I would have guessed that you were stuck with registering only your current six-member party, but the Wii instead slurps up your entire DS pokemon collection, boxes and all! Then you can organize them into different teams (even create different Trainer avatars) for the single-player colosseum fights.

It was sort of announced weeks ago, but yes, Battle Rev does bring its own Friend Code (mine is 4424 8521 7982). I don't think anybody has satisfactorily explained why Battle Rev can't see the Wii's internal Friend Code list. It's just Nintendo being bizarrely overcautious, acting as if kids need another layer of protection between the new Pokemon game and the people they have already Friended.

But - and I did not know this, probably because I stopped paying attention - you can initiate random online battles against complete strangers. No codes needed, just click, wait for a match, and play. Very nice. As there's no communication between you and your random potential-child-molester online opponent, it is entirely "safe." Since I have no Friends, I haven't tried an online Friend match, nor have I tried an in-home DS-DS match.

All in all, I'm glad I saved $10 on it. Remember, Nintendo almost never drops the price on big name games, so any deal out of the gate like that is a golden opportunity.

Here's a tale of a cool recent Wi-Fi battle. I chose Empoleon, Toxicroak, Gengar and my beloved Infernape, Clutch. Invisible internet friend "Pat" had Staraptor, Lucario, Luxray and Empoleon. This was a double battle (all set to level 50); Pat started with Staraptor and Lucario.

I fielded Empoleon and Toxicroak because they're a cool combo. Empoleon's Surf attack hits everybody on the field (except himself), but Toxicroak's Dry Skin ability protects him from Surf. So my Empoleon gets to use a cool move against both of my opponent's pokemon without risking collateral damage to the Toxicroak. Unfortunately my Empoleon's Quick Claw did not activate, so Pat's Staraptor flew in for the first attack with a one-hit-KO on my Empoleon. I didn't get to do my cool combo trick. Weak!

I brought in Gengar and used Confuse Ray on the Lucario. This bought me enough space to have Toxicroak kill the Staraptor, as Lucario's confusion kept making him miss attacks. Pat replaced the Staraptor with his Luxray.

Luxray started smacking around Gengar and outright killed my Toxicroak, so I had to bring in my last guy, Clutch the Infernape. Clutch finished off Lucario. Pat brought in his Empoleon, which was his last fighter.

Luxray then took care of Gengar, but not before Gengar managed to get a Confuse Ray attack in on the enemy Empoleon. This would prove to be the critical point that swung the battle in my favor, because I've been on the ropes so far.

Clutch polished off Luxray, leaving a very uneven standoff. Clutch the Infernape - a fire type - standing alone against an Empoleon - a water type. See the problem there?

Unbelievably, the confusion kept the Empoleon from making a single attack, allowing Clutch to amble in with a Close Combat attack to knock out the Empoleon.

I felt pretty slick after that.

The First Pokemon Promo

Here's that Pokemon promo I mentioned.

This is the original generic promo supplied by 4Kids to help launch the show in syndication. For those of you not in TV, this was the very first Pokemon TV commercial ever. (To my knowledge anyway, but I kinda think I would know.) This would have been seen during the debut of season one in the fall of 1998. Since the TV show premiered before the video games came out, this just may have been the first time you saw Pokemon. Ever.

You'll notice we buggered it up with local graphics. (The "weekdays at 6:30am" stuff.) That's common practice in local TV, but this particular version has a weird angle to it.

You see, by the fall of 1999, Pokemon was officially a phenomenon, and the cartoon had been moved out of straight syndication and became an official part of the Kids WB lineup. We happened to not have a WB station in our area (and still don't, hyuk hyuk), so we negotiated a deal to keep running the Pokemon cartoon, since that shit was white hot. We continued that for several years, even as the show exploded in popularity.

(Aside: by this time the show was a WB "exclusive", so our copies of the episodes had a WB logo on them and WB cartoon promos embedded in the credits. We covered the WB logo with our own FOX logo, only with a giant Pikachu coming out it. And the credit promos were replaced with re-edited versions of the Pokemon Rap that accompanied season one. Hilarious!)

Anyway, since the show was nuts-ass-huge, we dusted off the original promo (about a year old at this point) and put our station graphics over it. Not the "kid" graphics, but the regular stuff... exactly what FOX was using for the network's look at the time. Then we ran it inside some of the show credit squeezes between 5pm and 8pm to show adults that we had the hottest kids' show around.

Later on, we took a handful of the Pokemon Jukebox music videos and ran them throughout our kids lineup. "What Kind Of Pokemon Are You?" and that stuff. I'll have to YouTube that junk next.

1998 discovers Pokemon.

Here's something else I found during the move: photocopies of some of the earliest articles ever written about Pokemon in the US.

As you may be aware, I occasionally am known to work for a television station. Back in 1998, we received a rather amateurish packet of pitch materials for the then-unknown Japanese cartoon called "Pokemon." These documents fell into my hands because I was "into that sort of thing." Of course, when I first saw this, I was unimpressed, and the promos that went along with it didn't make any sense. (Hurm, I should YouTube those...)

This packet was intended to show us how Pokemon was sure to be a GIGANTIC hit, so we would agree to run it (this was before it moved to Kids WB). We used to get this kind of junk all the time. I once had a very similar packet talking up "Biker Mice From Mars," for crying out loud. But we picked up the show and debuted it in September of 1998. The Red and Blue Game Boy games were released a few weeks after the cartoon's launch, so this was completely unknown when it first hit TV.

As a fan, I think it's pretty interesting to look back at the fetal Pokemon... back when nobody knew what the hell it was.

Those postcards above (featuring Meowth, Pikachu, and Onix?!) look like Photoshop bootlegs, but they're genuine! The Meowth card is clearly the oldest... check out that logo, which isn't quite right (note the "P" and "e"), and the prototype slogan of "Catch 'em if you can!" Meowth's back mentions E3 '98, which would date the postcard before May of that year! Holy crap, this is an eBay goldmine!

You can click the thumbnails below to read the full-sized jpeg of the scan of the photocopy of the magazine article. But I'll summarize the finer points for you.

Advertising Age, March 1998
This article starts off with mentioning the famous Porygon Seizure Incident (albeit not in so many words), which will be a common thread in most of the articles. Ad Age seems to think that "pokemon" is literally Japanese for "pocket monster." They also point out that Game Boy sales are on the decline. Pokemon would change that in a major way.

Wall Street Journal, May 1998
The WSJ credits Power Rangers and Tamagotchi for opening the door to new Japanese properties like Pokemon. They think it's pronounced "po-KEE-mon."

And check that out... there's the first time your stockbroker saw a Snorlax.

Brandweek, June 1998
Brandweek includes Pokemon in an E3 wrapup article, alongside such totally successful stuff as Small Soldiers and Elmer's Glue Cut&Build 3D

Some things never change: the focus for E3 '98 was to expand video games' reach to "women and casual gamers." I'm sure we'll have that wrapped up by 2000, no problem!

Look out, Sega fans! There's some dirty Saturn-bashing in there, followed by some now-wistful hopes for a little something called the Dreamcast.

Game Informer, August 1998
Again with the seizure talk, plus more of the subtle "Nintendo Is Spending A Ton Of Dough On This" angle.

Oddly, Game Informer seems more interested in the Pikachu virtual pet... wouldn't they have played/reviewed the actual GB game by August?

Like I said, you see a lot of worthless hype when new marketing schemes hit... but all of the hyperbole about Pokemon came true. It really did change video game - and pop culture - history.

The Week in Links

Microsoft Surface Parody (YouTube)
"One day, your computer will be a big-ass table." Oh, I get that it's neat to look at CG mockups of an interface that Microsoft couldn't possibly master, but Surface is not going to appear anywhere but Epcot Center and the Sharper Image catalog during our lifetime.

MS Smashes Piggy Bank To Secure GTA IV Episodic Content (Kotaku)
$50,000,000. I'm still not buying a 360. The main reason being that 360s are still prone to failure, but also because I'm not convinced that Sony won't suddenly show up with some "exclusive" feature of their own. And anyway, Microsoft lies through their ass about exclusive content. Bonus also: I have it on pretty good authority that GTA IV will be worth playing even without downloadable episodic content.

Elite Beat Agents Visit Japan (via downloadable content for Ouendan 2) (Nintendo World Report)
Play-Asia ought to start selling pre-opened Ouendan 2s with the EBA content already downloaded!

Wizard World Philly Reports (Comic Book Resources)
Building the DCU: This is the panel I attended.
Hayden Panettiere Q&A: I was at this one as well, but not so much for Heroes news. (Not that there was any.)
DC Countdown
Marvel World War Hulk discussion

And at a simultaneous convention in Charlotte, DC announces new Captain Carrot this October! New series? New reprints? New announcement? No idea. I knew I should have asked about the Zoo Crew in Philly.

Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution (Gallup Poll)
Here's your depressing news of the week, this poll says that more Americans accept the theory of creationism over evolution. When asked to explain why they believe in creationism, the most common answers are along the lines of "I believe in Jesus" and that the Bible's 10,000 year Earth timeline is to be taken literally.

At this point, I'll quote my personal favorite "Let's Take the Bible Literally" parry. Leviticus 15: 19-30, where it goes on and on and on about how women are filthy during menstruation.

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.

Oh yeah, that is definitely a document that you should totally take literally all the time in all cases.

So thanks for all that deep thought about the origins of humankind, fundies... and ladies, don't forget your pigeons.

Manhunt 2: Now officially for Adults Only

First the upcoming Wii/PS2 game Manhunt 2 was banned from sale in England, then it was rated Adults Only by the ESRB in America. Shortly thereafter, Nintendo and Sony both tactfully issued press releases stating they don't allow AO games to be released on their systems anyway. Then today it was announced that the game won't be coming out at all, at least, not July 2007 as originally planned.

Manhunt 2 is going to have to cut out some violence, re-submit to the ESRB, and somehow walk away with an M rating. Or else the whole project was a waste... Take Two has been in shareholder turmoil as of late - despite having GTA, one of the most successful games of our times WTF - so they can't let the years of Manhunt development fall to nothing. Hey, Tarantino had to cut Grindhouse down from NC-17. It happens. Of course, video games don't usually have the luxury of releasing an unrated edition so fans can get the "true" version after the profits have been secured on the tamer material.

It seems to me that it boils down to semantics. The ESRB thought that Manhunt 2 deserved a stronger rating than M (which is fine... it's their job to assess that), and all they have available to them is Adults Only. Which, to most ears, sounds like porn even if, in this case, it's chiefly due to violent content.

When people starting confusing XXX films with legitimate X-rated films (like Clockwork Orange, back in the day), Hollywood got clever. They changed the term. X was replaced with NC-17. Sounds so much more respectable, doesn't it? And now the porn industry no longer bothers to submit their films to the MPAA, so it has fallen on the public to draw the distinction between a movie rated NC-17 (like the original cut of Saw, for example, now available as the "unrated" edition at your local Wal-Mart) and XXX porn. To date, society has had no trouble doing this, but the naked women on the covers probably help.

However, simply changing AO to M+ or whatever wouldn't do much for video games. Sure, you'd lose the "Adults Only Means Sex" problem, but enemies of gaming would just brand that as an obvious dodge. "We're not fooled," they'll say. And Wal-Mart et. al. will just adjust their policies to state that they refuse to sell M+ games and they will receive fawning accolades from the kinds of people who think that souless corporations actually give a shit about the "community."

What the ESRB needs to do is add an interim rating. Something to indicate a level of violence stronger than a contemporary weak M but without the sexual connotation of AO. There's your M+. Then they keep AO around as the one reserved for actual sex games, which nobody actually makes or sells anyway. (Wink, wink.)

I recall being surprised that the first Fatal Frame was rated T. It was definitely borderline. I mean, there's this whole bit with women getting their eyes stabbed in by a circle of priests, for crying out loud. It's off-camera, sure, but some of the most affecting and frightening stuff happens off-camera. This is Cinema 101. It's silly to think that because the director didn't show it, that it doesn't count. Talk about a dodge! (Later Fatal Frame games earned the M rating.)

BUT, remember that there is supposed to be a point to the rating systems: keeping kids from buying games unsuitable for kids, and keeping parents from buying games unsuitable for their kids. (I know, I know, who's deciding what's unsuitable... that's an entirely separate topic.) The M rating already does that. Or is supposed to. So what functional purpose would an M+ serve?

It would - given that the M+ is restricted to extreme violence, not pornography - create a safe harbor for violent games at the retail level. (And, incidentally, create a very interesting sidebar about types of violence. Would Halo 3 be M+? Would Resident Evil 4 be M+?) It's the retailers that matter in this discussion. Sony and Nintendo would not have muttered a single word had the ESRB granted Manhunt 2 an M rating. M games are perfectly sellable at Wal-Mart. AO games are not, so everybody had to clam up about it. M+ games would be the direct partner to NC-17 (and "unrated") movies, which Wal-Mart clearly has no trouble selling. To adults. If they're paying attention.

If Wal-Mart made a stink about refusing M+ games, the industry would only have to gesture toward unsold copies of Unrated Saw to make the point. And hopefully, a level-headed consistency would arise and we could all take video games to a higher plateau of cultural awareness and respect.

Realistically, you wouldn't see that many M+ games. You don't see that many NC-17 movies, even though the rating is largely accepted by retailers. If such a rating existed, we would probably see them mostly during the first year of a new generation, as advances in graphic realism push the boundaries of simulated violence. Then things would cool off back into regular M territory as times change. If Tecmo released Fatal Frame today, it would have no trouble scoring a T rating just on the lower graphic fidelity alone (in comparison to current games), Blinding Mask notwithstanding.

It's a shame that all of this is over a game that likely won't be that great anyway. Who out there really liked the first one?

Something Mike did 10 years ago.

Found during moving: the flyer my pal Mike posted when he wanted to sell his junky LeMans. This would have been around the spring of 1997, I think. You may have to know us to appreciate this.

What an ape. That car has a non-working door handle that my father fixed by inserting a paper clip somewhere inside the latch assembly. Mike did actually sell the LeMans, rather quickly as I recall, for $700 to a lifeguard. That was probably a profit.

I'm about to machine gun that scan across the MySpaces of everyone we know, so sorry for wasting your time.

These top three shelves hold Daddy's PS2 and GameCube games. Although the newer stuff is still in the entertainment center (about eight games) since we ran out of room on this rack! We need to buy some bigger, better shelves.

As you can see, this shelf is mostly GameCube games... the one above is all PS2... and the top rack is sorted by True Classic Franchises, so there's some platform mixing going on there. The only real stinker on the top shelf is Resident Evil: Dead Aim, because Dad had to put it beside the other Resident Evil games. But honestly, Dead Aim isn't as bad as you've heard.

One of my favorites is in this section here...

Ah yes, the Pika game!

Jeez, is that Ninja Assault? I thought Daddy traded in all the garbage! Our appraiser estimates the EB trade-in credit for the contents of these three shelves at approximately $16.50. That's enough for two copies of Beyond Good & Evil!

Wizard World Philadelphia 2007

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Spent the day at Wizard World Philly, along with Josh and Molyneaux. It was our first time, so be gentle. Both of those jerks took about 10x as many pictures, so I'll point you towards their galleries once they get around to posting them.

Wizard World seemed busier than Origins, but that's because WW is pretty much just a vendor/exhibit hall without 24 hour gaming rooms to siphon off nerds. I noticed a lot of the same booths, and probably a lot of the same junk that I've pawed for years. Naturally, the chief distinction is the preponderance of booths selling comics and action figures.

And celebrities. Noel Neill was directly across from Lou Ferigno. I personally talked to Burt Ward and Marv Wolfman (who, aside from being one of the architects of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, also created Blade, Bullseye and the awesome version of Lex Luthor).

Wizard World also has a stupid amount of cosplay going on. Here's Josh harassing some innocent Venture Bros. fans.


THEY HAS TEH STORMTROPPERS!

Fantastic paintings. I assume they're for sale.

PaRappa? Really? By the middle of the day, they stopped trekking the PaRappa suit to a secret location for costume changes and just had the performer dress up at the Sony booth. You should have seen this poor thing try to walk.

Some classic backsweat on a dude waiting for Hayden "Kairi" Panettiere to appear. No, she doesn't know anything about Kingdom Hearts 3 (she even asked her Mom for verification). Best quote: "I was driving around in my Por... car."

And when I wasn't trying to figure out who had the better hairpiece, Richard Kiel or Dirk Benedict, it felt like I was home at Origins. Look at this super-sweet Pirates demo table, with giant whirlpool and purposeful "edge of the world" waterfall. Gorgeous. I bought enough Pirates packs to score this year's Convention Exclusive, which consists of two subs (yes!), one unique treasure, and one of those crappy overpriced dudes who steals another crew member on a roll of 6. On a roll of 6. How often is THAT going to happen?!

Here's why I would go to both Wizard World and Origins and not feel like I was wasting my time: the DC Comics panel discussion. They previewed cover art for some upcoming books, and then said "we can't answer that" to pretty much every Q&A question.

Back to the Sony booth. Why aren't the video game guys at Origins? I don't get it. Here's Eye of Judgement, which I watched for a bit but did not play. It's an interesting idea (one that Nintendo should have already done with the Pokemon card game), but I'm not sold on it after seeing it in action. The guys playing it were barely paying attention to the game, just flopping cards and watching animations play out on the PS3. One thing I did like about it was that when the TV showed any panaramas of the battle (not the boring overview pictured), you could see the card characters populating the background... IE, every card on the table was in the shot.

And people get on Nintendo for re-releasing games. U rappin' the same!

We've reached the point where the ad posters for Minimates are cooler than the Minimate figures themselves.

Here's a quick timeline on the coolness of Black Suit Spider-Man:

  • when first introduced, not cool at all... universally hated
  • when revealed as evil, very cool
  • when turned into villain, very very cool
  • when said villain turned into lame anti-hero, completely not cool
  • when announced as plot feature in new movie, suddenly cool again
  • when actually seen in new movie, all new low in cool
  • when trotted out in cosplay, makes you think how cold that guy must be

I have a few more stories from Philly, but I will hold those until I steal some pictures from my Wizard World Street Team Touring Crew buddies.

The Week in Links

Spiderman 3 - Product Placement (YouTube)
I get the feeling this is black20.com's schtick and it's going to get old fast. But this is still pretty good. For now.

Good-bye to the Epcot Wand! (Mice Age)
At the end of his weekly DisneyWorld report, Kevin Yee reports that the tacky, misguided Mickey-wand-hand-thing is coming down from Spaceship Earth! Finally!

WWDC 2007 Keynote News (Daring Fireball)
DF takes a look at this year's so-so Steve Jobs Keynote, which was mainly stuff we already knew about Leopard and the iPhone. Safari for Windows was a surprise, but as DF notes, it mainly exists to make money. Did you know that the little built-in Google search bar in Safari generates $$$ for Apple every time you use it? I sure didn't. (I assume changing your search bar default to Google in Windows IE does the same thing, except the money goes to Microsoft.)

1957 Pontiac unearthed in Oklahoma (Yahoo News)
So, fifty years ago, Oklahoma buried a brand new car as part of a time capsule contest to be recovered in the year 2007. Somebody (or somebody's heirs) will win the car, plus a $100 bank account that, hilariously, is only worth $1200 today.

"Also buried with it were 10 gallons of gasoline � in case internal combustion engines became obsolete by 2007 � a case of beer, and the contents of a typical woman's handbag placed in the glove compartment: 14 bobby pins, a bottle of tranquilizers, a lipstick, a pack of gum, tissues, a pack of cigarettes, matches and $2.43."

Leaving aside the brilliant optimism that gas engines would be outmoded (hah!), what's with a bottle of tranquilizers being standard issue for a "typical woman's handbag"?

"Wii 2" could be here within the next few years, says Pachter (GamesIndustry.biz)
Pachter is merely an industry analyst, so he has absolutely nothing in this but speculation... still, a terrible "Psychic Friends"-style prediction. OF COURSE there will be a Wii 2 in "the next few years." Gaming consoles last for five, four if you're Microsoft. Three and a half years from now is easily "the next few years."

But you know what? Say the Wii 2 does land in 2009... as long as it's cheap (and plays Wii 1 games), who cares?

The real meat in this article is that Pachter is responding to a Sega mouthpiece who downplayed the Wii's success, calling it a fad. Which is, of course, exactly what was said about the DS. When the industry keeps crapping out first-person shooters month after month, it's pretty ridiculous to suggest that the Wii is already repeating itself after only half a year. Mind-bogglingly, both Pachter and the Sega guy say the PS3 will "win" regardless. Not at $600, it won't. (Pachter says it should be $200, the angel.)

Commute Audio

With the increase in my commute, I have solidly dug into the podcast world to pass the time. Here's my personal recommendations.

- John Hodgman - The Areas of My Expertise (Abridged)

Not really a podcast, but still the funniest thing in the world right now. Hodgman just steamrolls through all these tightly written random fact things, including a good half hour just about this crazy hobos-take-over-the-US thing. I'm currently at the end of his hilarious discussion on America's 51 states.

I downloaded this back when Apple had it FREE for a week or so, which is awesome because now it's $18. I have to get the book.

And goddamn if he doesn't waste an unbelievable amount of time reciting 700 hobo names (which has already become an internet thing).

- Radio Free Nintendo

This is the podcast from Nintendo World Report. I first grabbed this one when they had a listen-and-win contest back in February. I didn't win (did they even announce who did?!?), but I did get hooked on the podcast.

It's nicely formatted, with three to four guys going through weekly news, mail and a single Nintendo-related topic. They do insist on including poorly conceived comedy bits, but they made up for a month's worth of bad fake commercials with one single dramatic reading of the opening scene from Elebits.

They've been running about an hour plus, but this week's edition in only 45 minutes, which sucks.

- Big Monkey Podcast

Big Monkey Comics is a two-store chain in the VA/DC area. I've never visited, but I'm already at the point where if I did, I'd be like a slavering fanboy in front of these guys. I'm a fan of The Absorbascon and Seven Hells, and this podcast comes from them.

I love hearing fans talk unapologetically about comics, dropping refs and names so fast that if you're not into it, too effin' bad.

Big Monkey is only in Week Two, and they have some audio issues to work out (five voices is too many!) but these guys have already proven their dedication on their respective weblogs, so minor tech problems should not stand in their (or your) way. I hope they keep up the pace and maintain this as a weekly show.

Thus far, the episodes are over an hour.

- They Might Be Giants

I've mentioned this before. It's still great.

They just released their new album on iTunes, but I'm a stickler for collecting these guys in cold hard CD form. And since they're super cool about that, the CD release includes an extra disk!

The TMBG podcast runs about 20 minutes, and they have no set release schedule.

Star Drum Bully Master

LEGO Star Wars 2
released September 2006, purchased September 2006

LEGO Star Wars 2 was just as good as LEGO Star Wars 1. But also just as bad.

I mean, they didn't fix a damn thing. The co-op camera still actively works against you, often stranding players in infinite-falls or forcing unexpected dropouts. Plus, one player can "push" the camera along, dragging the other player whether they want to move or not. It's a mess, and after all the generous buzz the Crappy Trilogy Version received, it sucks bantha poodoo that nobody bothered to polish up the Awesome Trilogy Version... because they knew it would sell anyway. (I wish I'd've snapped a picture of it, but during one level the Minikit counter went nuts and it showed a final tally of 11 out of 10.)

It's even more annoying that the bugs weren't fixed because the game is, otherwise, superb. The conflation of the chibi-LEGO worldview and the Star Wars mythos is unavoidably compelling... and not that nobody tried to make Cute Star Wars happen before (**Super Bombad Racing**), but this particular package works because both licenses work. Somebody somewhere sure deserves a cookie for this, but they don't get another one until they get it 100% right.

Memory Score: Two player racing in the first scene of New Hope, using hidden cars found during a convoluted sidequest. AWESOME.

Bully
released October 2006, purchased October 2006
Click here for my review, written in January 2007.

Thinking back, I love how scared we all were of this one.

My god, it's a school shooting simulator! It's a bullying simulator! It's Grand Theft Auto with children! You're going to be able to have sex with baby hookers and then kill them!

And it wasn't. Instead, it was a sarcastic riff on 1950s/60s teen movies, with a strong emphasis on the terrible things kids do to each other as they divide into groups by choice or by being ostracized... very much like Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds.

The main focus of the game is ending bullying, not performing it... as star Jimmy Hopkins bounces from one clique to the next, teaching them to stop acting like dicks. Yes, usually through violence, but nothing more violent than a slingshot, a trash can lid, or good old fashioned fists. You can't even drive a car in this game.

The great debate is whether or not this is Bully as originally intentioned by Rockstar, or if they watered a more violent concept down to avoid planting a very intentional industry landmine. I don't believe I've ever seen a straight answer, but Bully's sometimes-weird script and overall character arc for Jimmy leads me to believe that something was altered in midstream.

I have to give Bully a gigantic recommendation, mainly because it permutes the finest elements of Grand Theft Auto gameplay into a very new, very focused world... and especially if you're part of the group that finds GTA either too distasteful or too overwhelming. Whatever your opinion of Rockstar, they have this act down.

Memory Score: That incredible bassline when you step outside.

Taiko Drum Master
released October 2004, purchased October 2006

I found this on clearance for under $15 and even though I had already worn thin on Donkey Konga, I had to buy it. There's a Katamari song on there, man!

Taiko Drum Master feels like a creepy alternate universe Nintendo game. Instead of DK, Cranky Kong, and banana chickens, you have anthropomorphized drums (and drumsticks!), bipedal wolves, and glassy-eyed children in festival clothes. Donkey Konga came out first (in the US anyway), but both games were created by Namco so it's easy to see why they are virtually identical in everything except window dressing.

The drum itself is harder to play than the DK Bongos (FANBOI!!1!!!), but the game's presentation is much nicer. Namco's home-grown characters, weird as they may be, are much more fun and appealing than Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country sub-universe. Plus, Taiko Drum Master has the Dragon Ball Z theme in there, not to mention the aforementioned Katamari track.

At this point, you know there's never going to be anything else that supports the Taiko drum controller (as if you would have expected otherwise, even in '04), so any kind of closeout price on this one is a fair deal. Fun, silly game.

Memory Score: "Even though I was scolded for not washing my hands, I still feel happy."

Next time: A game that killed a company, a game that killed my PS2-phat, and a game that killed all hope of self-respect. The end is nigh for the PS2!

The Week in Links

Tsukiko Amano's "Chou" music video (YouTube)
This is the beautiful song used as the end theme to Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly. Hard to believe, but I'm a major Fatal Frame fan with 150+ plays of this song in my iTunes and I had never gotten around to watching this before.

Gates hints at plans for new videogame control system (GamesIndustry.biz)
Bill Gates drops the MEGATON with the statement "imagine a game machine where you just can pick up the bat and swing it or the tennis racket and swing it."

If you think all those early Wii-Remote-in-the-TV accidents were a problem, wait until Microsoft unveils the camera-enabled game where you just swing an actual baseball bat around your living room. What a dumbass.

Two for the Price of One (Mark Evanier)
Evanier recalls a penny-pinching nightmare at 1970s Marvel when they decided they would scam the artists into drawing two pages - but only pay them for one - by having them flip the drawing board sideways.

"At the same time in the Marvel men's room, a sign was posted asking everyone not to waste bathroom supplies. I couldn't resist. I added a little sign that instructed everyone to turn one piece of toilet paper sideways and pretend it was two pieces."

Blue Superman (The Roar of Comics)
A look back at electric blue Superman, Dr. Suess-style.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl *Hearts* All Controllers (Kotaku)
Smash Brawl will offer support for Wii Remote, Wii Remote + Nunchuk, Wii Classic Controller and the GameCube controller. Yes yes yes yes yes. Now: will it support four Wii Remotes AND four GameCube controllers, resulting in a never-before-seen eight player Smash Bros?

Interactive Console Comparison Chart (VGChartz)
Click the "align launches" button to see how the 360 has sucked just as hard as the PS3. For extra fun, set all three consoles to Japan-only. 360 FLATLINE.

MySpace sucks less
When did MySpace start letting you add comments to your own profile page? Maybe now you can actually hold a fucking conversation.

I finished Chapter 3 of Super Paper Mario last night, and it was hilarious. Chapter 3 centers around Francis, a chameleon nerd who has captured Tippi for his collection. His whole bit is written to bust on otaku culture and forum fanboys. For a few minutes the game even turns into a dating sim where Francis tries to flirt with Peach. Fantastic!

Francis has a pair of rooms where he keeps his stash, both of which are filled with references to the first two Paper Mario games (although mostly 1000 Year Door, from what I could tell.) If you read the stuff on his computer, you'll find gags about the Excess Express, Ms. Mowz and Rawk Hawk. And on the top shelf is his Nintendo console collection...

Nice! But where is the Wii?

Remember, this is Super Paper Mario... so rotate from 2D to 3D...

There it is on the right, beside Francis's big honkin' flat panel TV.

Although I don't think Super Paper Mario is as good as the pure adventurey Paper Marios (finding your way through the hub town of Flipside is completely stupid and tedious), I am terribly glad that this franchise exists.

I've held on to this bit of high school buffoonery for the day that I would eventually have a weblog. And that day is now.

This is from my tenth grade Biology class, sometime in 1990...

The scenario was, each student in the class had to give an oral report on some assigned disease. We were all expected to take notes on each presentation for use in an open-notes quiz at the end.

Well, the first report was really light on facts so I only used one line of my notepaper. Being anal, I got the bright idea to restrict my notes on all the reports to only one line. The end result was rather beautiful. (Here's one suitable for use as a 1024x768 desktop background.) That tick mark between Chestnut Blight and Mumps denotes where my speech landed. I'm a little surprised that I don't recall my topic.

I'm fairly certain I did not do well on the quiz. The teacher was kind of a ball-breaker, saw my notes, and was not amused by my cavalier attitude towards her weeklong infectious diseases parade.

Gives you an idea about the kind of student I was.

Wherein it ends.

Too easy.

This page would make a great graphic meme for any given obnoxious forum thread.

If by "lion," he means "my father."

What is the zookeeper staring at, by the way? This image is begging for a really good Photoshopping. I love the suggestive angle to Gumby's right leg.

If you thought they were having trouble getting home, you thought wrong. Turns out they just needed to get back inside the spaceship! This whole thing has been one big cocktease.

So ends Gumby and Pokey's amazing forced march through the alphabet. I encourage you to go back and read the entire book in one sitting, because it is much weirder in large doses.

Another Gym, Another Silly Maze

OK, since it's been so long since my last Pearl update, I've pretty much forgotten everything I did. So this entry is all about stuff I did, like, in the last hour.

I popped a male Chimchar (level 1) into the GTS and asked for a female Turtwig. Then plan being to breed Turtwigs, duh. After a few days, somebody in North Carolina completed the trade. This is my first trade within the continental US. I have seen put another young male Chimchar out there in hopes of scoring a female Pinplup.

I love that you can buy Poke Ball seals in Sunyshore. I buy ten of each type that is available. I'm guessing the seal store has different stock depending on the day you visit.

I read somewhere that you can achieve Prof. Rowan's "completed pokedex" goal simply by battling every NPC trainer in the game. Did the previous games do that? In contrast, I'm assuming that the Gamefreak Designer's "completed pokedex" mission means you have to have actually touched all 150 pokemon. But as you'll recall with Pokemon Sapphire, the reward is sure to be crappy.

I did some more WiFi battling with Ben, who put together a team of primarily ice-types. If I haven't mentioned it yet, the voice chat is truly nice. It is clear and loud; and it sounds better than my cell phone right now.

Here's my eighth Gym Leader fight:

Eh. Not too terrible. I didn't even bother using heal items.

After getting the eighth badge (again the music notes are off... why?), I got the Waterfall HM from the lost Johto Gym Leader in the north coast of Sunyshore. So now I'm going to go screw around looking for waterfalls that I previously had to ignore.

I'd like to go goof off in other ways, but the poffin thing sucks, the Super Contests take too long, and the Underground isn't much fun single player. Maybe I'll burn some hours harvesting berries to trade for junk back in Floaramamaseamaameweaaa Town.

TIME
BADGES
POKEDEX SEEN
MONEY
SCORE
POKEDEX OWN
PARTY: Clutch (Infernape) lv41, Toxicroak lv50, Torterra lv40, Gengar lv41, Staraptor lv45, Empoleon lv42

Chiller Kaitobodama

Chibi-Robo
released February 2006, purchased February 2006

And another brand new Nintendo IP slips out to absolutely no acclaim while jackholes everywhere bitch and whine about Nintendo never doing any new IP! ANOTHER MARIO GAME DURRRRRR.

This is a fantastic little game, a sandbox world set entirely within one family's household chiefly seen from the perspective of toys. Cheebo himself is only about six inches tall, so if you need to get to the kitchen sink it involves climbing up drawer handles and whatnot. This viewpoint has been done before, from Micro Machines to Army Men, but Chibi-Robo's open world environment, task-based storyline and bizarre cast of characters give it the needed charm and luster. This is a very Nintendo GTA.

Of course, by February '06, the GameCube was already on life support, so poor Cheebo didn't get the marketing respect nor the sales he deserved.

Plus, that dude needs merch, pronto.

Memory Score: You found all ten Frog Rings! Now find all ten again!

Odama
released March 2006, purchased March 2006

This game had been around since, what, E3 2004? Nobody quite knew what to make of it then, and when it finally showed up, it sucked just enough that even those who would have sold its praises up and down were annoyed by it.

It's definitely unique: a pinball game with RTS elements set in a fictionalized feudal Japan with the occasional giant headed spider monk. Typical pinball controls apply, but you control your armies with voice commands... and those commands are usually you screaming at them to get the hell out of the way of your smashy iron wreckin' ball.

Unfortunately, it's damn near unplayable. The voice control is sketchy, the last half of the game is frustratingly obtuse, and goal-oriented pinball remains just as obnoxious as goal-oriented pinball has always been. To make matters worse - and I'm talking eating-your-grandmother worse - the game demands you play each level in sequence without the possibility of re-playing older levels (until the very end.) If you do decide to jump back and re-play one (because, maybe, you, you know, enjoyed it), the game erases all of your progress beyond that level. WTF.

Memory Score: A good-bad idea gone horribly bad-bad.

Killer 7
released July 2005, purchased July 2006

I was following this one for quite some time, simply because it was an M-rated GameCube exclusive (another arm of the doomed Capcom Five), but the tepid early reviews bumped it off of my watch list. So I picked it up a year later for $15.

I can see why nobody got it. Killer 7 has weird-ass controls for no good reason other than to have weird-ass controls. Unless you dedicate some serious adjustment time to the first few levels, the control scheme just gets in the way. When a game puts "walk" on the A button instead of the analog stick, you know it's just messing with you.

But.

If you can make it past all of that, Killer 7 is slick and satisfying. The storyline gives Sons of Liberty a run for its money in the head-scratching-logic department. The primary conceit - you control a team of assassins who all seem to share the same body - is darkly clever.

A recommended game. Just know what you're in for.

Memory Score: Master, we're in a tight spot!

Baten Kaitos
released November 2004, purchased March 2007

Although I usually don't care much for backwards compatibility, it can be nice to use the previous generation's cream to get you through the new generation's lean first year. I went from the Wii's Twilight Princess and WarioWare right into Baten Kaitos, a three year old B-grade GameCube-exclusive RPG.

I gave it a try because of A) the price, B) the card-based combat system and C) it's from Namco. Easily the best $5.50 I ever spent. I ended up with 50+ hours in on this one.

Baten Kaitos starts out with a really dull plot, but if you slog through the cliche parts, some cool stuff starts to happen... including a completely unexpected homage to the little-known Namco game Tower of Druaga. The middle of this game is pretty cool, but it's bookended with by-the-numbers RPG junk. The worst part is that even the boring bits could have been passable had Namco bothered to fashion proper cinematic cutscenes instead of using the game engine for the entire thing.

Oh, and as far as the card-based stuff... it's really just a more interesting (to me, anyway) way to level up your characters' skills. Each of the six playable characters gets their own deck and of course you keep mixing in the best cards you find (or buy). Aside from your personal desire for pure variety, there's not any reason to even care about half of the team, since only three go into combat at a time. Each battle, your attacks are determined by the cards you draw and the complexity is neatly layered by enemies' strengths and weakness to various types, your ability to pull off any of the game's mysterious combos, and an intense poker hand system that makes you identify matching card values to form pairs and full houses before the timer runs out on your attack. It's pretty amazing, actually.

Memory Score: I loved how they kept talking to me.

Next time: the stats.

The Week in Links

Josie and the Pussycats - Musical Evolution (YouTube)
Great Cartoon Network interstitial from a couple years ago that I completely forgot about until I saw it on Boomerang Friday morning.

Wizard World Philadelphia Guest List
Some personal favorites in there, like artists Amanda Conner, Rags Morales and Humberto Ramos. Although I feel kinda bad for the guys whose credits only show one single issue. Not one book. One issue. Are they, like, rooming with one of the other guests?

The big question: will I stand in line to meet Kairi?

This Might Be A Wiki
I don't know when they did it, but I just discovered TMBW's outstanding redesign. See folks, wikis don't have to look like wikis.

When it comes to the Disney theme parks & interactivity, what price is right? (Jim Hill Media)
On the heels of the Disneyland/World-exclusive DS download for the latest Pirates game, this article looks back at Disney's painful history with in-park tech gadgets.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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