August 2010 Archives

Last week, our office was visited by a Rubbermaid full of classic 1960s comics.

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They belong to co-worker Anna's father, and she was blindly cool enough to bring them in for me and Josh to manhandle. Delicately.

The collection has great runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil (even Awful Original Costume Daredevil).. and my favorite, the Fantastic Four.

I was bold enough to actually remove issue #50 from the bag and leaf through the finale of the Silver Surfer / Galactus story. I was torn, because human beings really should not be touching this stuff. These books are in great condition. But I had to see the original. The newsprint, the colors... the aura of Stan & Jack, just as we first met them. Books like this don't fall around me that often these days, so this was like some kind of personal enlightenment.

GTA: Losted and Damneded

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Just finished the main storyline of GTA: The Lost and Damned.

Over ten hours on the clock, with a percentage complete around 67%. Got four of the five Trophies, did six or seven of the 25 gang wars. Barely bothered with the bike delivery missions. Certainly didn't care about getting my gang brothers' Like rating up to 100%. Did not spend a single second in multiplayer.

So plenty more to do there (about 33% more), although I think I'll just move on to Ballad of Gay Tony.

The motorcycle focus was not as bad as I had suspected. Having driven very few bikes in GTAIV, I anticipated a lot of me spinning off the road and losing the mission. That only happened a few times; the vast majority of missions were fine, despite being largely on motorcycles.

The motorcycle physics are crazy. You can hit the curb of a sidewalk and end up careening end over end. And if you're on a bike, and you hit a car head on, you can enjoy seeing Johnny Klebitz sail six stories into the air before arcing gracefully into the road half a block away. Makes me wish the PS3 version had YouTube support.

Even though it's been a while since I lived Niko's story in GTAIV, it was fun seeing how his and Johnny's paths overlapped. Most of the crossovers are fairly blatant - like, Niko is right there - but there are some subtle points that make me hope Gay Tony will be just as meshed in.

Let's follow the release chronology. Peter Moore (then at Xbox) first revealed the episodic DLC in 2006. GTAIV came out in April 2008. Microsoft continued to call the DLC "absolutely exclusive" and it was expected in the fall of 2008. The number thrown around that Microsoft paid for that exclusivity was an absurd-sounding 50 million.

Personal pause: I restarted my unfinished GTAIV game in October 2008 when the PS3 Trophy patch came out.

Lost and Damned didn't actually come out for 360 until February 2009. Ballad of Gay Tony arrived on Xbox in October 2009.

Reports of the two episodes coming to PS3 began in January 2010. And in April, the two episodes showed up as a pair of $20 downloads on PSN, and in a $40 retail edition. Clearly, the move to PS3 was in the works for a long time.

In August, Amazon put the PS3 edition of GTA Episodes from Liberty City on a special sale for $20. That was my bite point. (I've seen it at Target for $30.)

So, $10 for 10+ hours of gameplay inside the familiar GTAIV world, two years after GTAIV was first released and a year and a half after the "exclusive" DLC finally bowed? Not bad at all.

The Week in Links

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Silverhawks Opening (YouTube)
The way they activate their facemasks is pretty badass. I remember the day I came to the stunning realization that this show was an unabashed palette swap of Thundercats. Still pretty cool, though.

Metroid: Other M Review: Our Unexpected Future (Kotaku)
I'm still not sure what to expect with Other M, but this review seems pretty keen on it. Can't remember the last time I saw so many red (bad) points unlabeled and mixed in with the blue (good) points though.

Over the Rainbow: The Technicolor Life of the Man Who Created Oz (Mental Floss)
Nice brief piece about Baum's life in Oz.

A smartphone retrospective (Marco Arment via Daring Fireball)
For a company that everybody hates so much, they sure do seem to be the leaders in the design of stuff.

U.S. typo vigilantes correct errant signage (Yahoo News)
I can't believe the assclown AZ judge barred these guys from talking about their typo-fixing project for a year. Is Arizona determined to be the absolute worst state in the union or what?

Norman Rockwell Mystery Solved (Potrzebie)
This is a fascinating story about a lost Norman Rockwell painting that nobody knew was lost.

LittleBigPlanet Community Update: PAX Preview, 3 Million User Levels (PlayStation Blog)
Um, please find a way to sell me this t-shirt.

Maybe this is why people prefer used game prices at GameStop, because you need a slide rule to figure out the big box sales.

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Although it seems pretty obvious they're talking about the price (and good luck finding games that don't end in .99), my first thought was that the sign was referring to the digits at the bottom of the bar code.

Oh good, this argument again.

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gamespud.jpgThe used games fight flared up again today, thanks to Penny Arcade. They came out rather sternly against GameStop and the used game aftermarket. Gabe noted on Twitter that he was getting "Thank you messages from developers and fuck you messages from gamers." So he asked for some concise opinions and later posted them on their site.

Now, I talked about this back when Project $10 first made the news, and I don't think my opinions have changed much. I still think it's a shame that GameStop's aftermarket defines our hobby as disposable when other media hobbies have no comparable trade-in system. I know I'm stereotyping, but I tend to imagine the bulk of the Penny Arcade audience - IE, the gamers who sent Gabe the big middle finger - as mouth-breathing bit-torrenting dudebros who have set themselves up as the white hat-wearing victims in the retail equation, therefore screw the devs, screw the pubs, screw anybody who expects them to pay actual money for anything. That's not necessarily a knock on PA, just sort of the internet in general.

But I did like that Gabe posted anonymous thoughts, and now I'd like to make fun of some of them.

"While I try my best to buy video games when they come out, and pay the full $60, sometimes I miss one and end up getting it later, for cheaper, used. It's not so much the "buy new" aspect of this conversation that others me, but instead the characterization of someone who buys games used as some sort of delinquent. Sometime I need to save money in order to play the games I want, but that doesn't make me any less a good person. Just thrifty. And they're not loosing any money when the choice for me is buy it used or don't buy it at all."

It's "losing."

And no, I guess the publisher is not losing any money. But they're certainly not making any money either. Somehow, however, I doubt the pure dichotomy of "buy it used or don't buy it at all." Is this game never going to get a price markdown in non-used form? I did not get 2008's Prince of Persia at $60. Just saw it at Target for $20. I guess it's too much to ask gamers to wait a year-and-a-half for a new copy to go down in price, rather than pick it up at GameStop on the back of some dope who sold his copy to them for $10 store credit.

One thing I think probably needs to be delineated here is what kind of used games are we talking about. To me, there's a huge difference between buying an old game used because it's simply not available anywhere, and buying a used copy of a big AAA release that just came out last month. Because that's part of our disposable culture issue... gamers only want the latest game, and GameStop taps into that by encouraging fast trade-ins and selling nearly-new releases at $5 or $10 less than a new copy. Maybe a game should be at least two years old before anybody is allowed to sell it used.

I would agree that buying new games and supporting the people that make them is THE WAY TO GO, but I've found that when you're gaming on a budget some times you just need to listen to your wallet and do what's best for YOU the consumer/gamer. It's really no different than the people who have to buy a used car because they can't afford to buy a new one =)

Except that the used car doesn't work exactly the same as a new one, does it? The mileage is high, the parts are worn. It is lacking features that come stock on a new model. Assuming the disk isn't scratched to hell, a used game gets you 100% of what you get with a new game. Just that the publisher doesn't get a cut of the sale.

The following quote makes a similar point:

Personally I would love to be able to support every developer who makes the games I enjoy. I understand that they are doing this for a living and I want to help them keep doing what they love.... BUT... As an adult with a family, my budget for buying games is limited. I have other responsibilities and they NEED to come first. If my only chance to enjoy a game is by buying it used... then that's the way it HAS to be.

Then don't be surprised when "the way it HAS to be" also includes developers shutting down.

Again, games fucking go on sale. GameStop is not the world's only source for cheap games. I'm just staggered by the blind eye turned to where the profits go in this paradigm. Because these folks don't want to spend a ton of money, it just does not seem to bother them that they're not actually paying the game makers for the game product.

I'd love to audit the guys complaining about their budgets. Do they still have a $150 cable bill? Smartphone bill? Do they eat out a lot? Gym membership? Netflix? Did they go see Scott Pilgrim three times? Yes, "listen to your wallet" and make smart choices, but why go all blissful about participating in a system like this? If you can't afford something, you can't afford something. Don't pretend you're some kind of valiant culture warrior by flipping games for peanuts and saving $10 on new releases... and then ginning up righteous indignation when the publishers start holding back features on a ransom.

Like I said before, I know the publishers are out to screw us. But I'd rather they didn't have escaping sales in the used market as their excuse for bending us over. We created that problem. We could make it go away.

I say we shutdown the entire used game market and issue a $40 maximum price on games. Set $40 as top-of-the-line PS3 game, then let everything else trickle down from there. $30 Wii game. $20 DS game. Lower initial prices will generate lower sale prices. The marketplace, perhaps unfortunately, has shown that the $50-$60 range is acceptable... but I wonder how things would change if brand new games simply cost less and the only aftermarket was your local yard sale.

Maybe I'm a mad dreamer, but it seems easy to imagine people buying more new games. The publishers stay rich, the developers stay solvent, GameStop remains open, more people buy more games because, dammit, they're just not that expensive anymore.

I've read so much romanized Japanese that the famous Back to the Future license plate now looks like "o-oo-tah-tee-may" to me.

Tonight, Josh and I played a couple rounds of Looney Lab's brand new Back to the Future card game. It's available in stores and online in early September. In a completely unplanned coincidence, the movie(s) was on Nick@Nite tonight. This made for a few fun opportunities to match the cards with the film scenes that inspired them.

I'm going to write up a more comprehensive review for certain other websites, but I wanted to get some thoughts down... particularly since any review will likely have to be a little less techy.

Although the "time traveling" mechanic follows from my favorite Looney Labs game, Chrononauts, Back to the Future is quite different in goal and method. For one, where Chrononauts has three different ways to win, BttF only has one: get the TimeLine to match your ID. And there's a new Wrinkle, you also have to finish off time travel entirely by flipping the linchpin event that makes Doc Brown never invent the Flux Capacitor in the first place. It is a little unfortunate that there is a modicum of luck on that endgame, as the linchpin is actually a randomized stack of five with only one being the true game-ender. While I like the notion that the stack of five cards puts some pressure on the ending, it is certainly easy enough to dump the four faux cards and just have the game end when a player adjusts the TimeLine and flips that event.

Another big different from Chrononauts is that there is no Patching. Flipped Ripplepoints simply comes with their own Patches on the reverse. With a shorter TimeLine (24 as opposed to Chrononauts' 32), you can see how BttF is a much faster game.

I'm not a big fan of these movies by any stretch, but I'm sure people who are will get a kick out of the many movie-specific references. Although I wonder if casual card-gamers and movie fans will wonder why the game doesn't have any screens from the film or likenesses of any actors. Although the core design is still that no-frills, handmade Looney Labs style, it is nice to see a few cards with high-quality artwork... the DeLorean cards are beautiful standouts, I wish the set had more like that!

Chrononauts Artifacts are called Items in BttF. They no longer bring along a separate victory condition; instead they work in tandem with other cards to help give you more rights over the TimeLine. Very smart theming.

And about that Flux Capacitor ending... once you see a player start flipping over false finishes, it makes for an interesting change-of-game because now you know he or she is sitting on a winning TimeLine. So you can try to intentionally screw up the TimeLine in hopes of creating a stall.

My only real disappointment is finding that BttF contains some cards from Chrononauts that I absolutely hate: Discontinuity, Time Vortex, etc. I've played a ton of Chrononauts and very rarely do these cards get played. They're just too punishing, unless you're the one player waaaaaay in the back and have resorted to playing the spoiler. These cards seem especially out of place in BttF because the game is so quick and focused... and the deck already has too many Action cards with similarly boring effects.

But much of that is me being a picky-shits grumpy old gamer. Back to the Future makes for a very nice streamlined Chrononauts with a thick nostalgia chaser.

Something else from the files of Things I Never Threw Away.

That's a scrap of unused wrapping paper featuring various DC Comics characters. The copyright date says 1980.

It's a rather unusual composition, not only because it seems to feature heroes in hot air balloons chucking presents at The Penguin... but because of the notable lack of Batman. I have to speculate that the rights to Batman were tied up by some other paper goods company, so this product had to make do with merely his sidekick and a villain-most-likely-to-be-falling-in-midair.

The original has the image staggered across the paper, but I re-stitched it into a size more readily repeated for a webpage background. Above you see the 500-width version, but I also have 1000-width and 2000-width (roughly), in case you really want to examine my slapdash stitchery.

The Week in Links

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Stripping ChatRoulette Girl Turns Into She-Demon (Gizmodo)
Now this is how you market your dopey horror movie.

Another Stupid Argument Against Gay Marriage (Mark Evanier)
Yeah, this is pretty much the entirety of the Prop 8 defense position: gay is yucky.

All Hail Julian Murdoch (Dubious Quality)
You know, we were in Borders for the first time in months and I noticed a sign proclaiming something like "Our membership card is free! Not $25!" I muttered to Rhonda, "What the hell other business has a club card you have to pay for, except for Sam's [and similar warehouse stores]?" So I wrote it off as Borders doing some terrible benefit-manufacturing.

I guess it's been even longer since we've been in a Barnes & Noble.

Catch All This Pokemon Info (Kotaku)
That factoid about Rhydon being the first pokemon character explains why the Gyms in the early games always had Rhydon-esque statues in them.

Journalism Warning Labels (Tom Scott)
Biting!

Cats, Raps, and Caps. (Mike Sterling)
Dex-Starr cosplay!

Billy Boyd: I didn't make any money from Lord Of The Rings movies (Daily Record)
Wait, what?

News outlets split in describing mosque (Yahoo News)
Media shorthand forges the opinions of morons.

Classic Kirby Faces (John K.)
John K. has posted a bunch of great old Jack Kirby panels. Dude was a monster.

Sarah Palin Continues To Hate America (Wonkette)
By this point, Palin is an agent-managed, GOP cash cow, and a completely packaged product. She never has any idea what she's talking about, but that's OK because she is being aimed at moron Americans who prefer having politicians who play stupid in the name of serving "common sense." I shudder to think how the Right would react to a Democrat political figure who quit her post to do speaking tours and had a daughter that was regularly in and out of pop culture scandals.

Fun Factor Catalog (Brainy Gamer)
Great list of reasons why video games are fun.

East is East and West is West....Sometimes (The Oz Enthusiast)
A look at the shifting locations of Munchkin and Winkie Country on various Oz maps. The person referenced in the opening paragraph is ME!

Check out this recent Imaginext DC Super Friends discovery:

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When we stumbled into the "Only at Target" single-carded Two-Face figure earlier this year, I knew the guy had to show up in bigger sets eventually. They don't cast entirely unique figures like that, invent character-specific accessories, and then NOT field him in multiple playsets and packages.

We've seen this Two-Face+Safe pack at both Target and Walmart. We did not buy it because I don't think the safe itself (and the thin moneybag prop) is worth the $8 or whatever since we already have Two-Face and the coin launcher. It is a nice safe, though. Certainly makes more sense as an accessory than Joker's stupid hammer cycle. Drop the price a couple bucks and we'll get it.

We actually have two Two-Faces since Target put their single-figure packs on clearance some time ago and I thought a backup of the rarish Two-Face was worth the $1.98. He is still MIC.

But clearly, it was never Two-Face who was a Target Exclusive, but the concept of $4 figure-only packaging. Speaking of changed-up exclusives...

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The new Riddler is now being packaged with that weird Riddler car. Last year, Toys R Us had an "exclusive" with that car and a very lame Riddler fig that was merely a painted up generic guy from the core, boring Imaginext line. This Riddler with the uniquely sculpted head is much nicer and in line with the rest of the figures... and now he comes with a car that is no longer a TRU exclusive.

The Green Lantern jet is becoming more and more common lately. Here's hoping all the speculator jackoffs already have their's and now the kids can actually get GL into their hands.

Although this line manages to output the usual Batman duplicates, I have to commend it for getting us up to five villains and four heroes at very reasonable costs. I'm still waiting for a female body type (is there ANY across the entire Imaginext line?) so we could get Wonder Woman and Catwoman.

Brutal Legend: Finished

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brutal-jackblack.jpgI guess I'm done with Brutal Legend. Took about thirteen hours to finish, and that count includes every single side-mission. It does not include finding all the collectibles. I understand one of the two DLC packs includes a GPS tracker to locate all the hidden collectibles... so, you know, maybe I'll get that someday.

I went through the entire game without opening up a single "Legend" collectible. I saw the statues but had no idea how to crack them open. If the game ever specifically told me, I missed it. So that was stupid.

Luckily, Brutal Legend lets you keep playing. Even though I (more or less) defeated the game's big bad guy, there are still enemy minions roaming the map for extended play. Nintendo, what say you consider that concept on your next Zelda game?

And I am astonished that Ozzy Osborne's audio was so brilliantly crystal clear. Was his mumbly old sot schtick totally a put-on? How did they get him to genuinely act for this game. I would have put money down that Brutal Legend employed a soundalike.

Oh, and I COMPLETELY missed whichever character had David Cross's voice. Anybody know what he did for the game? Also Wil Wheaton. Is Wikipedia making this up?

Spoiler talk.

So, uh, what happened? I found the cutscenes to be mostly vague and cliche-ridden... the angry girl hates the new girl... the boy and girl fall in love only to be torn apart... the initial leader guy of course gets killed at the first real confrontation with the true enemy.

And since I unknowingly skipped all the Legend collectibles, I had no idea who or what was Ormagoden. If the game named Ormagoden as the big Ghostbuster Zu'ul dog you see at the very beginning, I missed that... and even though the name keeps coming up in random places, the dog guy has nothing to do with the big fight between Lars Halford's group and Doviculus. Unless that's all explained in the Legends, of course.

I was also really fuzzy on the whole backstory of Ophelia and the goth group. Lita is convinced that Ophelia is the traitor because her parents were from the Black Tears or whatever. Then Ophelia becomes super-determined to prove she is trustworthy... but then becomes the Tear leader about two cutscenes after falling for Eddie and being falsely accused by Doviculus. Not well developed. Way too fast.

And if Eddie actually IS the traitor, which comes from an eyeroller of a sudden revelation about his parentage, how exactly is he traitor'ing? Just by simple virtue of his being dragged to this world in that unexplained Ormagoden opener? Doviculus says something to the effect that Eddie's ability to form an army taught Doviculus how to do the same... but how? It never occured to Doviculus to forge alliances with other demonic races? He never thought to put a bunch of uglies together at one part of the battlefield and tell them to go attack the other side? What precisely are the secrets of the Titans?

And wait a minute, if Drowned Ophelia wasn't really Ophelia, then what the hell was she?

I imagine some of this was expected to be addressed in a sequel, but that is a dangerous game to play.

All of which shows again just how low the bar is when it comes to video game storytelling. Brutal Legend was one of last year's nominations for "Outstanding Achievement in Original Story" from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. The other noms were Assassin's Creed II, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Uncharted 2 won, which might be an okay choice if the game did not include magical exploding tree resin as a key plot point.

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OK, this has got to be the best holiday lineup for the Wii since 2007 when Super Mario Galaxy was released. It's not One Big A Franchise - like 2006 and 2007 - it's more like Several Big B/C Franchises.

Because Nintendo is rightly worried about Metroid: Other M's reception, they made sure to include it on this list... even though it comes out, like, next week. I love the Metroid Prime series, but I know a lot of Wii owners and barely any of them give a shit about the franchise. I see the modern Metroid games as Nintendo's attempt to field a game that hits all the hardcore buzzwords: space marines, FPS, "mature," cinematic. It's a checklist IP more than anything, and Other M seems to be dragging it further into the ranks of cheesy space opera. So I'm worried about it too. But I have it pre-ordered through Amazon thanks to a generous offer of $20 credit.

I'll be getting Batman: The Brave and the Bold a week after Other M. Seems to be getting good press. Only $40.

October 3 brings Wii Party, which I am fully onboard for. Nintendo has blown a lot of goodwill with the Wii ___ franchise. Everybody knows Wii Play sucks (although we all own it, because duh.) Wii Fit is what it is, and we all own that one too. Wii Music had the twin problem of being sucky and unable to punch through the buyers' consciousness. But Wii Party can bring it all back and be more in line with Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.

Kirby's Epic Yarn is end of October. Most reports say it's easy, and I don't even care. I just want to see it in action. Hopefully there's some sort of ancillary replay value.

November 1 is that Pokepark game, which I am honor-bound to own at some point. I haven't heard yet if it has any interaction with the DS games, but I doubt it. This one strikes me as this generation's Hey You Pikachu / Pokemon Channel. Will save for future sale.

I like the strategy here of releasing a name-brand secondary game at the beginning of the month (Wii Party, Pokepark), and a name-brand primary game at the end. So November 21 brings Donkey Kong Country Returns, which I totally want just for the multiplayer (which is sort of what I said about stinkybutt New Super Mario Bros Wii last year). I don't really have any especial love for the Country sub-franchise, and Donkey Kong in particular is a bore, but the co-op sounds built for father-son time. Not a Day One, but shortly thereafter.

Epic Mickey is "holiday 2010," so I'll assume that will drop around the same time as DKCR. I love the new trailer. I've said this before, but my biggest concern here is that Epic Mickey will end up not being a Wii exclusive and show up as a PlayStation Move title early 2011 with an HD tune-up and Trophies. Then I'd have to consider playing it twice.

Where's the release date for Retro City Rampage on WiiWare? Nintendo's 'Wares are such black holes most months, you'd think we would hear more from them on the plans for the rest of the year. Their press release only mentions two that have been in development for centuries, And Yet It Moves and Super Meat Boy... plus another damn BIT.TRIP title.

On the DS front, I've got two titles coming at me, the third Professor Layton game and Super Scribblenauts. And Scribblenauts is more of a wait-and-see kind of thing, because those guys have fucked up every game they have made to date. It sounds like Super is going to fix everything that was TERRIBLE about the first one (inflated press scores notwithstanding), but I would not put it past 5th Cell to have found some shocking new way to dick it up.

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It's only almost a year since the game came out. We can still whine about it. Keep in mind that I have no pre-sold love for Tim Schafer, and that I actively dislike heavy metal.

This game is a mess. At times, it's kind of a hot mess, but it's still a mess.

You already know about the bizarre, unsolicited bait-and-switch where the demo was pretty much a cute God of War clone and then the actual game turned into a strange RTS. Which would be fine if the RTS stuff was any good. But, as I mentioned on this week's Aeropodcast, you never really feel like you're a smart person playing a smart RTS. You just stagger and hope, never approaching that battlefield commander role that a good RTS needs.

Mostly, the issue is the interface. I know other games have done it, but having to manage an army via a third-person avatar perspective is really shitty. It would have been far better to take the Dungeon Keeper II route and let the player oversee the battle from way above, and then jump into Eddie's skin on occasion.

And unlike a good RTS, there seems to be only one way to get through the game's RTS scenes... and that is to play aggressively and drop a rally flag immediately. You can't turtle in Brutal Legend, and that's usually the way I prefer to play RTS games. I tried the conservative approach during the Dry Ice Mines battle against the Drowning whoevers and I had no chance. The unlimited energy supplies mean the AI can stockpile money forever, and therefore play extremely aggressively. On my second attempt I stuck a rally flag at the level's likely crisis point and won the match inside of fifteen minutes.

It's a shame because the art direction is killer. The army units are inventive and clever, plus they all have nice unique audio. It would be cool to see them in a true RTS.

The entire game has great art direction. And I don't even like this metal stuff. But when you're driving around and realize that the giant evergreen trees are all topped with chrome blades, you know that the artists and designers ruled this title's development. Unfortunately, that was to the game's detriment in the end.

Eddie's guitar is one of the artistic choices that gets in the way of actual gameplay. OK, it's cute that he can perform spells through a PaRappa-style rhythm game music riff. It's not so cute that you have to do that hundreds of times over mundane actions. Like summoning your damn car so you can travel the map.

Speaking of the car, the handling really sucks. You will drive over deadly cliffs without knowing it, you will get stuck on environmental objects. The car controls are slippery and loose. If you miss a turn - and you will, because the waypoint feature completely stinks - just turning the car around takes forever and is frustratingly inexact.

I'm close to the end (I think (I hope)), and the game continually makes me think "Aw, this could have been so nice if the game was any good." Remember, I have no deep-seated affection for Schafer, metal, or, come to think of it, Jack Black, and I'm enjoying the story and characters. I particularly like how Eddie is an unashamed cheerleader for his troops. Many of the sidebar missions begin with brief cutscenes of Eddie pepping up even the gruntiest of grunts. I dig that positive attitude, because it was not what I expected from a game that could easily have been another dark, conflicted adventure story with a dark, conflicted, unshaven white guy lead.

I also like how the natural enemies of metal music are glam rockers and emo-goths.

For $13, yeah, I'm OK with all of the faults. But holy cow was this not a $60 9 out of 10 title. I'd go 7.

Today we went to Camelbeach.

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Our week of adventures came to a thrilling conclusion at Camelbeach.

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Not many pictures to speak of today, because, well, waterpark. But Clark had a great time.

We chose this particular waterpark entirely due to the King Tut-themed play area, the Pharaoh's Phortress. We probably drove past seven other waterparks on our trip there. But the incongruous Egypt theming made it worth it to Clark.

Before this week started, I told Clark we would go somewhere different every day on our vacation. And I wanted a range of venues, so it wasn't all indoor museums or regular neighborhood parks. I don't know when we'll do this again, but I have plenty more local attractions to mine for a future vacation week.

Now let's get back to complaining about how awful Brutal Legend is.

I do enjoy this overly corny kind of tourist nonsense. But I wonder at anybody who thinks this is ok:

How can you not see that with a kind of smirky disgust? Who looks at that and thinks "That is great. That is what I want to see on my vacation." without any kind of ironic twist?

Thankfully, the actual Roadside America facility is not populated with giant fiberglass Amish. Just bands of aggressively fertile Mennonites.

Yup, it's the World's Greatest Indoor Miniature Village, all right!

The story behind this creation is so unbelievable, you'd think it was cooked up by the boys in marketing. One hundred years ago, five year old Laurence Gieringer thought a faraway building was actually a small toy house... so one day he walked off to go get it. He ended up lost, spent the night in the woods, and was somehow not traumatized to the point where he didn't decide to make his life's work handcrafting tiny buildings.

Gieringer died in the 1960s, and Roadside America's contemporary structures died with him. The town's movie theater is perpetually looping "Boys Town," a film that would have been old even at the time of Gieringer's passing.

Scattered throughout the buildings and trains are little comic callouts on the same humor scale as yesterday's Marmaduke. Here's a bunch of dogs gathered around a fire hydrant, which I think actually was yesterday's Marmaduke.

Occasionally, a sign is posted to draw your attention to something. And when I say "occasionally," I mean every three feet. This place is mad for signs. It's like Adam West's Batcave.

One big draw for kids is the many ancient buttons scattered around the village. The coolest ones actually activate trains, but many are head-scratchingly subtle, like the one that makes a couple donkey heads move.

And then, every half hour, you get the Night Pageant. The lights go down, stars twinkle on, and a battered old recording plays God Bless America. Plus this:

Come for the World's Greatest Indoor Miniature Village, stay for the in-your-face Christian bullshit!

I'd wonder if anybody ever asked the proprietors about the appropriateness of the Life Size Jesus Slideshow, but Shartlesville lies by a stretch of highway that is still concerned about Obama's birth certificate. So, no.

Every year the Agricultural & Industrial Museum plays host to a book sale... Clark was really excited to get some books, I figured we'd enjoy the Museum itself, plus we have family working the event. So this was a slam dunk for vacation week.

The kids book section is priced to move at $1 per bag. At those rates, you're just throwing stuff in there even if you think the title is funny.

I nabbed a Pac-Man kids book (like, from the 1980s animated series), three old Paddington Bear books, another copy of Wizard of Oz (why not... looks like one of those oft-reprinted Childrens' Classics deals)... and pretty much whatever caught Clark's eye went in the dollar bag.

Found an Egyptian history book that came with props.

The transportation wing has this nice ROADS THROUGH THE AGES display.

This rare car, assembled locally about a hundred years ago, is called The Sphinx. Yes, the discovery of King Tut's tomb inspired automobile marketers! The slogan under the Sphinx drawing on the grill is "Silent. Powerful." They only made 60 of them. This is the only known survivor.

Clark thought this milking display was hilarious.

There is a ridiculous collection of printing presses, including a great collection of Fonts of Ancient Times... like Caslon, Bookman, Cheltenham and Airport.

That's Clark heading to check out a casket. There's a sign on it that says "Please refrain from opening." Which is a very genteel way of putting it, although it does leave some semantic wiggle room.

Today we went to Nixon Park.

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Yeah, I forget you're not from around here. We have a state park named for Richard Nixon. #eyeroll

The park's welcome center has massively expanded since the last time I visited, which would have been, like, twenty years ago, so they're excused. They always had taxidermy, but now they have TAXIDERMY. It's downright uncomfortable.

I couldn't even begin to guess the amount of animals on display here. It is nuts. Every time you turn a corner, there's another wall of stuffed songbirds.

The reason we went to the park was to take part in a cool kids' lesson on animal tracks. Footprints, scat and the like. #greatbandname

There was a nature hike and some crafts. Clark got to make his own clay coyote track and whip up a custom track map.

After the lesson, we walked around the welcome center some more, checking out the truly impressive collection of animals.

These are not necessarily beasts native to our region.

I'm just not sure the general county public is aware of their easy access to pinned African Millipede samples.

To apologize for all the exhibits you can't touch, there are some animal skins nailed around, sporting some seriously creepy heads. This one would make a great baby costume.

Today we went to Speedway 94.

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Today's vacation adventure was Speedway 94, a go-kart track.

It looks great from the road, but good luck finding the entrance. You have to duck down a sidestreet to find it. It is not well-marked. You'll think you're heading for the delivery dropoff for one of the next-door car dealerships.

We were there pretty early, so there was almost nobody around. Clark was a little nervous about driving himself - although they do have a kiddie track - so we did a two-seater Grand Prix. Alone. Clark really enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure they let us run some extra laps since we were the only customers in sight.

By the time we were waved in, some other families are arrived. But we didn't pony up for another go.

They have a cat roaming the interior, which we liked. No picture.

After the speedway, we had lunch at a local mall. Then we stopped at Toys R Us and picked up Blur for PS3. This week they're giving out a $40 gift card with Blur, which is insane.

Blur sold for crap, which probably explains the deal. Guess all those commercials that insulted Mario Kart didn't work.

The clerk admonished me for buying Blur over ModNation Racers. Of course we pointed out that we already have MNR and we're only buying Blur for the gift card. That $40 will get us Batman Brave and the Bold for Wii in a few weeks.

I remember a class trip to Indian Echo Caverns, maybe circa elementary school. This shabby chic spider gym was definitely there back then.

One item I did not recall from the 1980s spiel was the guide being super careful to point out that we have no proof any Indians ever set foot inside this cave... despite the name. The only human evidence inside amounts to plenty of smoke/burn marks and some two hundred year old graffiti (including a pretzel advertisement!)

This is a severely civilized cave these days. The entrance is decidedly not authentic.

The cave was "commercialized" (their word) in the 1920s, including a crushed rock path to level it out. Not everybody can be a pro spelunker, and this cave serves that purpose nicely. It is vastly impressive inside. There's million year old things in there.

The tour goes some 90-100 feet below the surface. During some portions of the path, even Clark had to duck.

Mr. Pink: "You know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing for the Indian cave tour guides."

There's a main room that has two dead-end paths that branch off into darkness... until they hit the lights. It's a fun walk.

Deep inside one of the dead-ends (people get married in here! including one "two days ago" which struck me as more spiel than accurate statement, but what do I know). There's a small natural pond with crystal-clear water.

Two fun legends about the place... one about a hermit who lived in the cave for almost twenty years. When he died (right THERE!), he left behind a journal.

Then there's the Mystery Box, found in (and stolen from) the cave by three local kids in the early 1900s. In the 1960s, one of the three returned the box and its contents... an astonishing collection of old coins (like, 1200-1600 old) and what has to be prank instructions on making diamonds... involving putting coal into the box, covering it with mercury, and then holding it up so it gets struck by lightning.

After the cave tour (so nice in there: 52 degrees year round), we did a gem-mining activity... for both rocks and small fossils. Clark has been playing with them for hours since we got home, organizing them, displaying them and creating pictures with them.

We had lunch at an odd little ice cream shop up the street from the cave, the Willowood Cafe & Creamery. It has an unexpected heap of token-sucking games, plus a batting cage and miniature bowling lane. Most notably, not one but two Hanna-Barbera themed coin-op kiddie rides.

The Week in Links

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Red Dead Redemption Short Film by John Hillcoat (YouTube)
If you're like me and enjoy seeing video game cutscenes capably strung together to form a freestanding movie, you'll dig this. It's the first third of core Red Dead Redemption storyline missions, albeit with some major changeups at the end. They just made this available for download on PS3 and 360.

Chinese author to publish book critical of premier (Yahoo News)
In America, we call this "the table of books you see as soon as you walk into Barnes & Noble."

Берлин-Прага-Вена спустя 65 лет. (Sergey Larenkov)
Amazing superimposed pictures combining historic WWII European theater photos with the sites as they stand today.

Horrifying Yogi Bear trailer (Cartoon Brew)
I just miss Dan Aykroyd so much.

22 High-Caliber Demakes of Modern Favorites (Kotaku)
These are beautiful. Batman: Arkham Asylum as a top-down brawler sort of like Captain America and the Avengers!

Deep Inside Xbox 360 Kinect and Why It's the Future of Microsoft (Gizmodo)
Wait, so Kinect doesn't actually see your body's movement, it compares your image to a massive database of poses? I guess that's how the system gets around the problem of differentiating your form from the furniture around you. Interesting.

'PeopleMover' is Coming Back at Walt Disney World (DisneyParks Blog)
No, it never actually went anywhere (LITERALLY!), they just stopped calling it the PeopleMover at some point. It's been called the Tomorrowland Transit Authority for the last few years. No real reason to switch the name back except to cater to the old timers. Of course, there was never a reason to change it in the first place.

Since I've been using these facilities for fifteen years, I wanted to record some photos of the dear ol' place.

At my height, I can't help but see a straight line across the top of the wall cuff and the tile line behind it. It's the kind of perspective illusion that entertains me while I'm occupied.

This is where I stash my iPhone. Someday it will be irredeemably hilarious that we all had iPhones, what with the Subcutaneous Phone being so popular and necessary.

The latest edition of the paper is always found here. This is gross.

This stuff is supposed to make the room smell better. Instead, it just lays a thick cloud of flowers over the problem scent.

This is my buddy, a face made of dripped paint. He's on the men's urinal plumbing. Sometimes that metal collar rotates downward, but I always circle it back around so my buddy is on the top. Over the years, he's evolved from reminding me of Oscar the Grouch to a gurning Sackboy.

Jeez, is there ANYTHING right about this screen?

cantina-home.jpg

So are the Stormtroopers of Mos Eisley have been conscripted from planets of giants? Does Wuher-lite have a bizarre miniaturized head? Is there anybody else in the Cantina today?

This public space headed to PlayStation Home. Where, presumably, the usual collection of glassy-eyed Home avatars will stand in for all the fun Star Wars aliens.

Although I once swore that Sony would never ever release Home, I've come around to being largely tolerant of it. But this, this is grotesque. How do you issue a screenshot like that and still manage to be all breathless and hyper in your press release?

Maybe it's some kind of perspective trick, and that Stormtrooper is actually standing about five feet away from the bar.

It also bears pointing out that the PlayStation Blog entry that announced the Cantina tried to position the entire concept of "Star Wars Items Now In Home" as if it's some kind of celebration of the 30th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back. And not that it's just more silly virtual stuff Sony (and Lucas) expect you to buy. Wouldn't everything in the world be better if marketers could just not jerk our chains about it? What possible percentage of PS3 > Home > Star Wars fans needed to be tricked into buying content on the grounds that it's celebrating the one Star Wars film that sort of gets off scott free with positive nerd cred?

And, you know, the Cantina wasn't in Empire. But that doesn't stop Home from pretending that they have exclusive "Empire Strikes Back events and content." Such as Chewbacca and C-3PO.

Remember my predictions for the content of the upcoming LittleBigPlanet Marvel costume packs? Here's the third set, which just arrived on the PlayStation Store yesterday.

marvelcostume3.jpg

First of all: awwwwww.

This is what I said two weeks ago:

Here's my call for the last two packs: Venom, Invisible Woman, Rogue, Punisher and Wolverine for one... and in the last set, Magneto, Green Goblin, Storm, Hulk and Captain America.

I mixed up Punisher and Captain America. Going by my original organizational theory of villain, FF, female, big name and chump, they seem to have slotted Captain America in as the chump for Set 3. Well, Media Molecule is a British company.

This is how we camp.

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We've been promising Clark we'd do a camping trip all summer, and last weekend it seemed like it would be just hot enough and just cold enough.

That's our 15-foot tent, which Rhonda and I bought, like, seven years ago. This was its first usage.

We went to Codorus State Park, a site we visited back in 2003. That time, we brought card games. This time, we brought Clark.

Here's how we do this. Big tent. Two air mattresses. Portable chairs and end table. Extension cable to run electric. Power strip. Lamp. Fans. iPhone loaded with some kids shows. External speakers.

And for the fire, we used one of those $3 fake logs you get at the grocery store.

Supper was a quick trip to a local Domino's. We did the s'mores thing, although I'd rather just eat the ingredients separately.

Codorus seems to be inside AT&T 3G (sometimes Edge), so that worked out well. Our chosen location was in the park's open field... at first I thought it would not be as cool since it was not under the tree canopy, but I think I now prefer the field because it gave us a surrounding bed of grass, not forest dirt. We could play frisbee barefoot.

We had a great view of the site Rhonda and I used seven years ago. There's a playground down in the nearby valley, as well as some nature trails that we enjoyed for about three minutes.

The weather was pretty much perfect, although I could have used some additional blankets. As usual for me, not a great night's sleep in the tent.

Thanks to our wonderful lamp, we stayed up reasonably late. Watched some Voltron, read some Harry Potter, played some DS. Put the iPhone on the charger and went to bed.

This was only a one night trip, but Clark really liked it and wants to stay several nights when we camp again. As long as there's electricity and 3G, I'm game.

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