4Play 4Questions: Walter Day, Founder of Twin Galaxies: The Official Electronic Scoreboard

Walter Day

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with video game scoring pioneer Walter Day. His business, Twin Galaxies, has been the official scoreboard for all things video games. If you think a record exists or needs to be broken, he’s the man to go to. You may have seen him the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but I wanted to stay away from questions about that and get to really know the man. He’s very interesting guy with a unique perspective on gaming. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do another 4Questions with him again.

What gave you the idea to start Twin Galaxies, and how were the records kept? Was the transition to the web difficult, and what are the day-to-day operations like now?

Like a lot of people back in the early 80s I fell in love with video games and I just, when I, traveled as a traveling salesman I would stop at every arcade I could and I would play video games. I’d play Pacman I’d play Space Invaders I’d play Gorf and Galaxian I’d play Make Trax. Essentially I loved video games like a lot of people did back in the early eighties because I was a part of the first generation of people to meet video games head on and fall in love with them and embrace them and make them part of our life.

So I was one of the millions of pioneers who embraced video games the first generation to embrace video games as a part of their lifestyle. And i liked them so much that i opened up an arcade as an excuse to be able to be playing more video games than ever, so that was my rationale, how i, you know adopted video games to such an extreme degree like I made it a reasonable part of my life because I had an arcade so i open up an arcade in Nov 10 1981 in Ottumba Iowa it’s called Twin Galaxies I just made the name up, it just popped in my head.

A little while after opening it up someone got a high score on a video game, a Defender game. And when I tried to find out if it was indeed a new world record we discovered that no one kept track of the scores. There was no one keeping track of the scores anywhere, so we volunteered to the manufacturers and the magazines of that era which was Replay and Playmaker cause this is before there were consumer magazines like Computer Games or Electronic Gaming Monthly this is way before those.

We volunteered to be score keeper because we already had a big database of scores that I compiled from recording scores off of machines I found as I traveled around the nation as a traveling sales man so suddenly we were the score keepers because yes the video game manufactures said okay this is a great nice service your offering so we will recognize you as our scorekeeper so it’s kind of a miracle but thats what they did and we ran with it and we became definately the scorekeeper because we became like out in the lead creating events that put video game playing itself on the map like we had the Governer recognize video games by proclaiming our home town of Ottumba Iowa the video game capital of the world.

We created the first official video game world championship by having all the champions come together t be filmed by Thats Incredible  for video game olympics, we brought together the superstars for the first time ever so that it became a superstar kind of like society of players and they came together for that famous Life Magazine photograph back in Nov of 1982. So we did a lot of stuff thats how it all began, but then as time went on we learned we had to devise rules for each game, so we had to monitor the gameplay, learn what the glitches and the bugs and the cheats were, the problems with each game so that eventually Twin Galaxies evolved it’s processes into about a four or five step procedure. We analyzed the games in order to create the rules and then we enforced the rules and then we verified the game play that people submit to us and then we crown the champions of, you know arcade gaming and console gaming so there’s a four or five step process we put every world record through.

And thats what we’ve been doing now for decades, we did the first rule book, we submitted scores to the Guinness World Record book back in the early or mid eighties now we do it again. In fact for those people that may not know it there’s a brand new book that just came out in the bookstores called Guinness World Records: Gamers Edition 2008 and it’s the first ever Guinness Record book for video game scores, and we are their official suppliers, we supplied a tremendous percentage, a tremendous amount  of scores for the edition that is out on the bookshelves, and they even have our logo on the back cover of the book and they say that it’s done on conjunction with us, and they have a two page spread story on us inside the book and also a spread story on me personally, so they interview me, so it’s kind of exciting and very very flattering that we are getting so much attention.

So it’s been a long process but we are the score keepers, we got a big process that we take everybody’s scores through with the referees that are all volunteers and we still need more referees, if anybody out there [reading] wants to be a video game referee with Twin Galaxies they may qualify they should just contact us and apply. First you have to be an Excellent Excellent Game player, you have to be a very good expert on many many different games before we’ll even accept you as a referee because before a person becomes a referee they have to be a champion player, at least a very, very good player who knows game playing like the back of their hands.

I’m not really even a referee anymore in a sense, because all my referees know a thousand more times more than I do because i actually don’t play much because I’m so busy administering the Twin Galaxies cause there’s so many activities now for promotion and publicity and keeping things coordinated. I actually don’t play the games as much so I don’t therefore know the game nuances therefore I don’t know the game rules, so I have to rely on these incredibly brilliant referees and they’re the people I differ to because they are so knowledgeable and so honest. So we are very lucky that we have this organization that serves the hobby, we’ve been doing it for twenty seven year and it’s been a free service to everybody.

You’ve seen the growth of video games from Donkey Kong all the way to the recently released Super Smash Bros Brawl. Do you think the experience is still the same for the gamer and do you think the level of fun is still there?

Well, lets see, it’s still a lot of fun for everybody and its still something that the player can embrace and get lost in, the cyberspace is growing more and more real of course it was very flat, flat dimensions back 25 years ago, now its becoming more and more deep as far as the actual realm of cyberspace. Your sort of asking how the past relates to the present which relates to the future. At least thats how Im interpreting this I see the future, to get to the future part first.

Actually I’ll get t the past first, the games that were played years ago, they actually have more gaming intelligence in them than the games today. What that means is because they didn’t have graphics that were significant way back in the old days they had to really rely on incredibly good very deep intelligent game programming to make the actually game, game play the strategy of the game be very, very fascinating. Very, very engrossing be very, very appealing. So they had to have more layers of intelligence to a game so that it would take you a thousand quarters to learn a game twenty five years ago, Where it might take you I don’t know how many game plays but certainly far, far less to fully master a modern game as opposed to mastering a game 25 years ago.

In fact even now today every week or so there is some game that will have a new high score achieved because someone has mastered that game a little but further because there are so many layers to the knowledge, to the structure of the rules of that game for the person to uncover, explore, identify and overcome that those old games are a bigger challenge in a sense than these modern games. These modern games have all that churning graphics stuff that people are more fascinated by today then maybe the actual structure of how the game play is strategized. So the old games have a lot richer of game play than the modern games except for exceptions there will always be exceptions to these games, but generally the older games have a lot more research you had to do before you finally really mastered them.

Now where is game play going from today forward? Well I think that with todays bandwidth increasing and with technology becoming an actual marvel and with more and more incredible programming and also with the connectivity of the internet it’s going to be possible to play anybody anywhere but not only that, meet them in a cyberspace that is going to be completely realistic in a sense. The cyberspace of tomorrow is going to be the game playing space and i think people will be completely in an all surrounding kind of environment that they will be able to immerse themselves in and play in that environment not only against the bots of the computer program but against anyone else in the world who is also online so that connectivity of the internet , the bandwidth and the high technology is all gonna merge and it is going to merge and it’s going to merge in the game playing environment so that the player will be immersed in an huge, an amazing cyber-environment that will be completely all encompassing and there they will be playing their games.

 

Twin Galaxies circa 1981

Despite the rise of mega-arcades like Dave and Busters, GameWorks, and Jililans, it seems that the arcade business is slowly dying. What do you think it would take to get people back into the arcades, and do you think a future arcade owner would have to go for, lack of a better term, niche, like classic arcade games?

First, let’s analyze why the arcade dies. The arcade dies because more money’s being spent in the home and on the home system and the home connectivity. It’s like analogy like renting or buying. Renting your house, renting your apartment, or buying your house. Every last penny you spend on your house goes into increasing your equity, whereas, if you rent, you’re money’s going into someone else’s pocket. When you play in the arcade, your investment of learning that game is going into someone else’s pocket. You do get entertainment value, but still, you’re money is going into someone else’s pocket.

So, you’re getting your game system all paid for. You’re getting it set up at home. You’re having lots of games purchased. You have lots of peripherals and lots of incredible bandwidth and overclocking and all sorts of stuff. More people are spending more money on the house, and if they’re younger and the parents are underwriting their gaming habit, then the parents are saying, “Well, I’m not going to give you 30 dollars to spend in the arcade. I’ll buy you two games for your Xbox or pay for you subscription to Xbox. You stay home and play. I’m not going to waste your money anymore, and you’re not going to waste your money anymore.”

There’s a huge drive against going out and spending your money in the public space when you can have everything in the comfort of your own home. There’s that kind of trend where people are going to not be spending that much money in public on gaming because they can spend it at home.

However, why do you things like Dave and Busters happen? Well, Dave and Busters, GameWorks, and Jillians, and others, you’ll notice that not only do they have big arcades, but they’re also catering to an older crowd with a lot more money and also to a drinking crowd. They’re catering to an older demographic that is also there for drinking entertainment and eating. So, it’s an eating/drinking place that also has games.

Now, if someone tries just to have an arcade, the arcade will fail because the arcade can’t compete with this trend of investing your money at home and playing your games at home. An arcade can’t survive by itself.

A family entertainment center can survive, but there’s usually only a couple of those in a big city environment, and they all have to compete for the same demographic. What a family entertainment center is it’s a place that also has food and drinking, maybe alcohol or maybe not. Might have batting cages, go-karts, miniature golf, children’s games, redemption games, maybe bowling, maybe a water park. Those are called family entertainment centers because games are only an additional feature amongst many features. That’s where arcades are commonly are surviving now in a big city environment.

In a small town, there could be a small arcade, but there’s usually something else that’s helping keeping it going as opposed to the revenues that are ending up in the cash box from the arcade games. So, arcades don’t survive well and are usually a loser when people try to do just an arcade. However, there’s anomalies here and there where people have arcades that are so old that they have a lot of established foot traffic, and people come in and spend money on the arcade games that are there, but they are very rare and are commonly in bigger cities.

What could be the future? The concept is playing games at home where your investment stays at home, and you build up equity in your games, or playing out in public where your giving out your money to someone else’s pocket. When will people play in public and pay out their money into someone else’s pocket? That community essence come back into place but in a competitive setting. I believe that there could be actual gaming stadiums, eventually, where there could be the Phoenix Thunderballs video game team, and they have an actual, not stadium, but a clubhouse/competition center. People would come, not just to play recreationally, but to compete and try to get themselves ranked. The essence of bowling alley may somehow marry to the video game footprint some day. Whereby there’s lots of leagues. Leagues based on gender. Leagues based on age. Or leagues based on where they’re from. Or leagues based on the school they’re from. Where people play video games in a public setting, very similar to how a bowling alley is structured or exists.

That could very well be the future because gaming is competitive and gaming is becoming bigger. There is the public perception that it is a competitive thing and people can win money from doing and also win prestige from doing. I think we’re just around the corner from some really interesting developments that are only beginning to show their head a little bit. There could be another round of going out and paying your money in public to be playing games, whereas you go back home and practice in the comfort of your own home. You go out and play in public because, not only are you playing recreationally now, you’re also in a competitive environment where it becomes, really, a sport.

In the movie Tron, the character Flynn is digitized and downloaded into a computer mainframe. If the technology were available to digitize you, which game would you want to be placed in?

I guess I would like to be in a role-playing game with a huge landscape with a huge map where you just explore incredible landscapes and see incredible, different kinds of beings. Instead of one that’s just constant combat. Exploration, adventure and discovering amazing new thing and beautiful new places. That appeals to me the most. That would be my choice. Some big role-playing game that would be so rich in it’s environment and rich in the characters I’d meet. Sort of like Second Life, where  millions of people are gathering.  A role-playing with incredible diversity and lots of different adventures. The idea of going in there and being just a third-person, shooter, blowing people up is absurd. I think it would be more fun to explore.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on April 3, 2008.

Posted: December 10th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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4Play 4Questions: Jonathan Coulton, musician

I’m extremely excited about this week’s 4Play 4Questions. Geek rocker Jonathan Coulton gave us a call last week to talk about music, life, and video games. Personally, I’m a huge fan. He’ll be making his first trip to Valley on May 15 at the Brickhouse in downtown Phoenix.

I read that you quit the luscious cubicle life to enter the music industry, how long before that were you making music and what was the decision like to make it your full time job?

I’ve been writing songs since I was in high school, and, I guess also recording songs since I was in high school. And it was a very gradual transition from then until now. I would record songs only for myself and then give them to friends and girls that I liked. And then it, sort of, continued through college, and then in 2003, I finally got it together to record a bunch of songs and print a CD. I was not a famous person. I was not even moderately well known. It was, sort of, a vanity pressing, I think.

But I made the CD and made it available online and would sell one copy a month or something like that. Around then, I was involved with this thing called “Little Gray Book” lectures which was a reading series created and hosted by a guy named John Hodgman who is a good friend of mine. I was part of this reading series and write a song for each show based on whatever the theme was for that show. The people who would come to that sort of knew who I was. So, that was sort of the beginning of the fan base there, I think.

And then, it was in 2005 when I quit the day job to do this full-time. It was not that I was making money with the music to convince me to leave the job; it was more of a leap of faith. Enough had been happening that I felt like if I pushed it a little harder I might be able to move a little further downfield and maybe even make some money doing that. It was also a very tortured decision. It was something I had always intended to do. I always meant to become a professional musician, but somehow, I just never gotten around to it.

The few factors that conspired to make it possible for me to do that was one of them being the birth of my daughter which was earlier in 2005. Becoming a parent really does change you the way they say it does. For me, I finally felt my own mortality very acutely. It became clear to me that I had a limited amount of time on this Earth and why wasn’t I doing what I wanted to do. Also, it was important to me to set a good example for my daughter, in terms of, being a person doing what they wanted to do rather than a person who is taking the safe route.
It was a difficult decision and took years for me to get there. I feel very fortunate that it turned out to be a good decision.

Who would you say is your fan base?Jonathan Coulton

There’s no way to mince words about at this point. My fans are predominately geeks. I use that as a term of affection. It’s the way I think of myself. The real core of the fan base, I think, is people who like computers, who write software, who use the internet, who enjoy science fiction, who have played Dungeons and Dragons. Not to resort to clichés, but that really seems to be the core fan base. I think a Jonathan Coulton show is one of the few places where you can hear “This is a song about math” and then screaming and applause following that line.

“Still Alive” has become extremely popular with gamers and is moving its way to Rock Band. Are you planning on making music for any other games?

I don’t have any plans to. I’m certainly open to it. One of the nice things about working with Valve on “Still Alive” was that there was such an overlap of styles and sensibilities that for me to write that song for that game was not really a stretch. Not that I didn’t work hard on it, it was the kind of song that I would write anyway. It was a very lucky thing for both of us, I think. One of the reasons it turned out so well is that they created a game with a character that was the same kind of character that I’m always writing about anyway. In that sense, it was a very natural matchup. I think if something else like that came along, I’d more than happy to contribute to the game.

After the robot uprising, will you join the resistance or welcome our robot overlords?

Well, you know, I would have to say it really depends on the nature of the robots and the nature of the uprising. If they’re enslaving humanity, I think there’s not question: I would join the resistance. If they are pretending to help humanity and still enslaving humanity, I would join the resistance. If they were actually helpful, I’m with the robots.

To truly appreciate the humor of his answer to the fourth question, you really have to listen to his response.

A sampling of our favorite songs:

Code Monkey

Mr. Fancy Pants

Soft Rocked by Me

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on April 10, 2008.

Posted: December 10th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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Kung Fu Panda: A saga of a desperate gamer

We were somewhere near Yuma when the boredom kicked in.

On the way to San Diego for Man Zero‘s bachelor party, the conversation had started to go the way of the buffalo. All the jokes have been told. All the pleasantries were out the door. An odd silence had overtaken the van.

I forgot a book. No Game Boy. No DS. No PSP. I had my cellphone which only had solitaire on it and my iPod also with solitaire on it. My solitaire problem was solved.

I grabbed my bag and scoured it for any kind of entertainment. Those huge Timbuk2 bags can hold a ton of stuff. Searching through all the pockets and compartments, I came across a cellphone Electronic Arts sent me with three games on it: Command & Conquer, Monopoly, and Kung Fu Panda.

I put Command & Conquer into the “For PC Only” category. I’ve been playing it for so long that it doesn’t feel right without a keyboard and mouse. Monopoly. Seriously, it’s Monopoly.

That left me with Kung Fu Panda.

It looked like a nice little distraction, and I was up for any kind of distraction.

The first thing I noticed was that the game was a little loud. It broke the silence like a plate crashing to its death in a fancy pants restaurant. I quickly silenced the audio and started working my way through the game.

I’ve never had much faith in mobile phone gaming. I think it was because of all the solitaire. Kung Fu Panda was a definite surprise. It is beautifully detailed and had some solid graphics for being on a mobile phone. Definitely better than anything I’ve seen on the Game Boy.

The first level was spent as controller training. The buttons on the keypad were sufficient as a controller. I didn’t really have a choice. It’s not like I could’ve hooked up an old NES controller. The controls were really straightforward and easy so I didn’t really worry about an external hook-up. The only problem I had was that my fingers are a little big and kept hitting the mute button above the “2.”

All of a sudden, a strange feeling came over me. I was having fun with this extremely simple game. It’s just your basic platformer. Jump. Kick. Punch. I don’t think I lost a life during the whole experience.

Forty-five minutes had passed. We were deep into California. Mountains on the right. Mexico on the left. I had finished this game.

Apparently, extra points are awarded if you collect all of a certain kind of token. I couldn’t go back through it. I was checking out the scenery.

I had my fix.

Time to enjoy the ride.

Originally appeared on Friday, June 27, 2008 on azcentral.com

Posted: June 11th, 2012
Categories: Video games
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A conversation about Halo

Once again, I’ve broken out verbal warfare with Tim Agne, writer of Man-0 for mlive.com.

I should note that I’ve never played any of the Halo games though I have played my fair share of first-person shooting games. I was hooking up multiplayer long before it was cool (seriously, DOOM over a 56k bps modem is da bomb [and, yes, i did say "da bomb"]).

4Play: didja see yahtzee’s take on halo 3?

Man-0: nooo
Man-0: must watch now

4Play: brilliant
4Play: stole the words right outta my mouth

Man-0: How the hell does he license this music?

4Play: he’s australian

Let the defense of Halo begin

Man-0: I’m gonna write a review of the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 DVD by saying that the movie didn’t make sense because I never saw the first two, and I’m not interested in the special features, so the DVD is just average and, upon reflection, my 300 DVD is way better.

4Play: that’d be a fair review

Man-0: You don’t go into Return of the Jedi to dissect how well the plot stands on its own, you go in discussing whether it’s a satisfying conclusion to an established series.
Man-0: And if you’re going to be a game critic and accept the free crap and maybe pay that comes with it, you should man up and do your damn homework.
Man-0: I’m not saying Yahtzee’s review is bad, it’s merely average (for a hater).
Man-0: Do you know how many mainstream games have developed such an intricate plot over the span of three titles and six years?
Man-0: None.

My complaints

4Play: bungie should have caught every one up with a video or something on this new one

Man-0: They actually included that stuff on the Limited Edition.
Man-0: Every Halo 1 and 2 cutscene.
Man-0: Haven’t seen it, so I don’t know if it’s coherent.

4Play: yeah, but i don’t have the limited edition
4Play: not many people do

Man-0: Yeah, me neither. But you have the Internet, and there’s plenty of info there to get you up to speed.

4Play: the single player game, so far, is nothing but running and shooting with no real plot
4Play: is it my fault that this is my first foray into the halo megaverse?
4Play: the way you’re describing it is that its a niche game for a niche audience

Man-0: All I’m saying is go on Wikipedia and learn about the characters.
Man-0: Get some sense of what’s going on.
Man-0: That said, there’s way more action than plot happening in Halo 3 for sure.
Man-0: Halo 2 had too much plot.
Man-0: So 3, I think, is a better balance.

Hints for improvements

4Play: i shouldn’t have to get caught up on a story line in a video game… i’m not watching a movie
4Play: at least with the star wars movies, they got you caught up with the opening scroll

Man-0: I suppose Halo 3 could have had an opening scroll.
Man-0: Maybe a Dune-style voiceover with the Miranda Keyes character.

4Play: halo, i’m plunked in the middle of a jungle with some weird computerized chick haunting my battle experiences
4Play: i’m also forced into following keith david around

Man-0: Probably better if you know who she is.
Man-0: You’d follow Keith anyway.

To sum up, I’ve been playing Halo 3 for about 6 total hours now. Its really no different from any other FPS I’ve played previously on the PC. The story and plot don’t really seem to be that deep, but as explained above, I don’t have the full gist of the backstory.

Is it my fault that i don’t have said backstory? I don’t think so. Bungie and Microsoft needed to catch up those of us out there who have never played it before.

I plan on spending most of the weekend plugging away at this game. I’ll throw in some multiplayer. I’ll have a more extensive review next week.

If you would like some target practice, email me, and I’ll send you my Xbox gamer tag ID thing.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on October 4, 2007.

Posted: October 30th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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4Play 4Questions: Tobin Lent, Punch-Entertainment

Launching this week is a new feature we’re calling the 4Play 4Questions. The purpose of this feature is to ask somebody in the video game industry, you guessed it, four questions. Three of which will be about either their game or the industry in general while the fourth one will be something a little more off-the-wall. It’ll be either something pertaining to their game or something completely unrelated.

In the future, we plan on moving this feature into the world of sports and entertainment where we will ask them questions about video games and their video game playing habits.

Our first interviewee is Tobin Lent, CEO of Punch-Entertainment, who just released their mobile social networking game, EGO, on the T-Mobile network.

1) First off, congratulations on receiving the “innovation in Mobile Game Design” award. What exactly is the game about?

EGO is a social networking game. It’s really like a very edgy The Sims meet Facebook where players can create a very customized Ego that they develop over time based on what they do with their Ego feeding and training. And also, in particular, how Egos develop as they interact with other people’s Egos. So it’s a really, heavily viable game, and it’s really dependant on people interacting with each other. So it’s really innovate and the first of it’s kind in North America. An interesting thing, you can play on your mobile phone and the web.

1a) How many users are currently playing the game?

We just launched, officially, a few days ago last time I checked we have a few thousand and growing. So, we’re pretty happy with the results so far.

2) With Apple releasing the iPhone SDK last week, do you have any plans to port EGO to that system?

Yeah, we sure do. We’re pretty excited about the iPhone, actually, and we’re planning on getting EGO over there. We think it’s going to be a great platform not only because of the technology but we’re also excited about the business model, and think they know about the flexibilities they’re offering to either download it for free so we can give free demos or even charge for it in a really elegant iTunes type of model. It’s going to be very successful.

3) With phones becoming more advanced and mobile broadband becoming more prevalent, are there any additional features users can look forward to and how do you plan on growing the EGO brand?

We’re really excited about where mobile is heading in terms of the device capabilities. In EGO, there was a lot of things we wanted to do and a lot more we wanted to put in the game, but we were restricted with size and bandwidth. As that improves, we want to basically offer a much richer experience for people. Maybe some more real time gaming interaction and the ability to buy more digital assets for their Ego and for their Ego-Room and customize it which would mean downloading assets straight to the phone. We’re very excited about where things are going with devices like the iPhone and open systems like Android and more prevalent uses of WiFi in cellphones, we’ll be able to do those things.

4) With Second Life, there is sort of a “red light district.” While it may be deemed as offensive to some users, it is a big part of the game’s success. Will EGO users be able to get their virtual freak on while riding the bus or the train?

[Laughs] That’s a great question. It’s interesting because we really studied a lot of the virtual worlds. Not just something like Second Life, which is pretty hardcore; even some of the more casual ones. What you find time and time again it’s interesting what people try to do with each other with their avatars. In most of these online avatar communities, the avatars can’t really do much with each other. So you find players really being creative with what they can do based on the very limited action set they get with the avatars. One of the things we wanted to do with EGO early was create a deep level interaction between the Egos. With our game, you can really do more between Egos than pretty much any other casual avatar game. It wasn’t designed to be sexual. It was designed to allow people express themselves and communicate in a much richer way. We are planning on launching a club in the next couple of months called “Love Lounge” which again be very fun and gameplay. We do want to allow people to have fun with each other and flirt with other. We’ll keep it clean. We do think that’s what people want to do. They want interact with each other. They want to flirt. They want their avatars to have a little affectionate from time to time.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on March 11, 2008.

Posted: October 30th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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No More Heroes: Why aren’t you playing this?

I waited overnight so I could be one of the first nerds to get a Nintendo Wii. I didn’t really know what it was about. It just seemed like interesting gameplay.

I invited all the friends over for a Wii party. I wanted to show off my new toy. Nobody else had it (speaking of which, nobody still does). It was shiny. New. Amazing. And, for a time, fun.

Something happened in the last 12+ months, I got bored with it. The novelty wore off. Sure, I played all the required first-party titles: Metroid, Mario, and Zelda. I believe we’re contractually obligated to like anything with Mario in it. Other than that, though, the third-party developers haven’t really knocked my socks off.

Everything just seemed so damned casual. Almost like the hardcore gamer was forgotten and the retirees were given precedent. I don’t mind. It’s nice to see that generation picking up the console, but people my age still bought the system and 20 million variations of Wii Sports just doesn’t cut it.

Luckily designer Suda 51 (Goichi Suda) saw this problem and stepped in and gave us No More Heroes.

You play as Travis Toucdhdown who has recently won a beam katana via internet auction. With such a lightsaber-style weapon in tow, he decides he wants to work up the ranks of assassins until he reaches the top spot.

What would make one want to become an assassin beyond a really kicking weapon? The glory of being the top dog? Maybe. The stress release of taking down gangs and blood thirsty assassins? Possibly. The promise of sex from a young, French vixen? Absolutely.

After Travis takes down the tenth-ranked assassin, the vixen, Sylvia Cristel, steps in and evaluates his performance. If he were to continue on his quest, he made her promise to “do it” with him when he was done.

Enough with the story, the gameplay is really straight-forward slice and dice action. I found it almost refreshing that you were required to hit the A button to swing the blade instead of swinging the Wiimote in the air. My only problem with the controls was during a baseball simulation. The reaction time seemed way off. Or maybe I just don’t know how to hit a baseball.

The action is absolutely amazing. It’s almost feels like you’re in the middle of Kill Bill. The violence is beautiful and over the top. I was almost disappointed when I didn’t have any more gang members to take out and had to move on. Luckily there were just more bad guys right around corner waiting to be sliced, diced and julienned.

All in all, I really liked No More Heroes. I couldn’t put it down. It has an addictive quality that just hasn’t been matched by any other third-party title on the Wii. Hopefully No More Heroes will be guiding light to other developers by showing that it’s alright to make games for the hardcore gamer.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on January 29, 2008.

Posted: October 30th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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All praise Dave Matthews and his band

I have never attended a religious revival before.

I’ve heard that people dance uncontrollably in the aisles, some speak incoherently, while others just begin to cry.

Tuesday night’s Dave Matthews Band concert at the Cricket Pavilion featured all of this plus great music.

As soon as I walked into the amphitheater, the band just starting playing “Dreamgirl,” the new single from their most recent album Stand Up. The stage was lit with bright white light, and I found myself caught in the moment thinking, “Yes! I want to repent!”

The slow melodic tune kept the over packed swaying, staring at Dave and the band like they were gods, and just plain mellow. He had us and wouldn’t let go.

After “Dreamgirl” ended, the band gave us a moment to reflect. They then busted out with “Stand Up” and all of Cricket Pavilion was on their feet. The amphitheater shook from all of the dancing, stomping, clapping, and screaming of all the band members names, like the crowd was speaking in tongues.

The Dave Matthews Band is not as much as band as it a machine. The pauses in between each song were short enough for Dave to grab a new guitar and start in with a new tune. He rarely took time out to talk to the crowd except for the occasional thanks.

The show featured a mix of the band’s old and new material. A fan a few seats down told me that he was generally happy with the mix but was worried because Dave was doing some solo projects. Once the band broke into “Crash,” a song I actually knew a gist of the words to, the fan looked at me and said “Time for a beer run.”

With “Crash,” the band didn’t quite have the control they thought they once had on the crowd. Sure there were people singing along, but like the fan from a few seats over, there was a mad dash to either the restroom or the bar for more frosty beverages.

Mixed in between the songs were some great solos by each member of the band. I was told that drummer Carter Beuford was one of the best around, and he didn’t disappoint.

By far, though, the star of the show was the fiddler Boyd Tinsley. He must have sold his soul to the devil because he played like he was possessed. He fiddled so hard and fast the he broke a string or two on his bow. Unfortunately, whoever was running the video monitors didn’t favor Tinsley too much. Every time the screen was on him, it would quickly change to the drummer, and fans were robbed of seeing a master at work.

The one guy who seemed not to get in any of the love was woodwinds master Leroi Moore. It felt like he played a total of 30 minutes out of the entire two-and-a-half-hour set. He mainly stayed in the shadows and wasn’t really used unless needed. I wish I could have seen more of his talent with the array of instruments he had set up.

The second half of the show flew buy with the same mix of old and new material. The funniest part of the entire show came during the waiting period just before the encore. The band just finished playing “Ants Marching” and made their exit. While the fans were chanting for the band to come back, people not only starting putting their lighters in the air, but a sea of cell phone backlights also flooded the amphitheater. Blue radiation poured from the palms of about 75 per cent of the people. After about 10 minutes and a horde of dead cell phone batteries, Dave Matthews Band made their re-entry and sent the fans home happy.

Originally appeared in the entertainment and music sections on azcentral.com on August 31, 2005.

Posted: October 26th, 2009
Categories: Concert
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‘Solitary Man’ plays for his friends

I know I’ve said before that the Dave Matthews Band show in August was a religious experience, but that concert, every concert I’ve seen and will see pails in comparison to Neil Diamond’s performance at Glendale Arena on Thursday.

Diamond’s band slowly rose out of the stage. Once they were in position, Diamond appeared at the top of a mini-stair case. He looked like evangelist with his red, rhinestone-studded shirt. He worked and kept the crowd in a frenzy during his two hour set.

After his opening song, he proclaimed to the crowd that usually sings to part of the arena that is loudest. He then walked across the stage and got the packed arena to scream harder and harder. The crowd was putty in the legend’s hands.

In the first few songs, he played some of his classics including “Beautiful Noise,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Cherry, Cherry.” After that, his backup singers descended into the stage, and Diamond included the crowd in a superb rendition of “Play Me.”

Diamond expressed his pride in his acting debut The Jazz Singer. He then started in on “Love on the Rocks” which ranks as one of his best songs of the night. The highlight, though, came next with “America.” He introed the song with a little personal background and then tore into the song. On the video screens were images of the American flag, bald eagle, and black and white photos and video of people arriving at Ellis Island in New York. If you weren’t proud to be an American after that song, move back to Canada.

Diamond had the crowd in tears with his duet of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with backup singer Linda. You could tell that they’ve been singing that song together for quite sometime. I felt like I was at an opera because they both played their roles perfectly. The finished the song with a passionate kiss. Diamond said they’ve been singing that song for years so he finally bought the woman some flowers. “It takes a while to get it through a man’s head.”

One song that was extremely impressed with that more acts should incorporate is a song that serves as an intro for the entire band. Diamond had one called “Wake Up the Band.” The song basically gave each member a chance to do a quick solo act. I thought it was tastefully done and appropriate.

After a series of slow songs and ballads, Diamond had the crowd on their feet with “Sweet Caroline.” He didn’t even have to intro the song, once the first few notes started, the crowd was cheering and hollering. The crowd was singing along with the chorus including the “bam-bam-bam” part. He kept everybody on their feet with a rockin’ rendition of “I’m a Believer.”

The funniest moment of the night came when he was singing an intro to a song he used to play in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village. He had his backup singers out there, but they kept repeating some of the lyrics that didn’t really jive well with Diamond. The funniest one was when he ended a lyric with “I’m a fake.” The singers all looked at each other, nodded their heads, and repeated, “He’s a fake. He’s a fake. He’s a fake.” To which Diamond acted like he was a little perturbed, but it was all in good fun.

My favorite moment of the night came when Diamond played “Red, Red Wine.” The song started out the slower version he is known for, but it eventually turned into the version that UB40 made popular in the 80s. He even gave a shout-out to the English reggae band.

He ended the show like the religious event it felt like with “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.” Once again, the people were standing with their hands in the air. Somewhere in the arena, I’m there was a fun convulsing and speaking in tongues.

Neil Diamond knows how to work a crowd of 15,000 fans. I got the impression that people sitting in the nosebleeds had the same feeling as the people sitting in the front row: Diamond was including them in the performance. Every concert I go to after this will be judged based on Diamond’s performance. He is the consummate professional and more acts should take a cue from him on how to be more professional, put on a good show, and make the fans feel like their singing to them.

Originally appeared in the entertainment and music sections on azcentral.com on October 9, 2005.

Posted: October 19th, 2009
Categories: Concert
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Metroid vs Castlevania: The Grudge Match

Below is a conversation I had with Tim Agne, former azcentral staffer, current video game blogger for mLive.com, and all-around cool guy.

I should note that when I chat online, I rarely, if ever, breakaway from all lowercase type. If you don’t like it, sorry, I didn’t feel like going through it to correct it.

If you’ve ever chatted online with AIM or MSN or whatever, you know that sometimes you run into each other’s thoughts. This is mindless and endless, but still fun.

Enjoy:

Ryan: broke down and picked up metroid

Tim: ooh
Tim: I’ve been a little torn about Metroid games lately.
Tim: Playing a lot of Metroid and Super Metroid, and I beat Prime 1.

Ryan: the controls are weird… a little slow…

Tim: I’ve heard you have to crank it up to “expert” or whatever to get the best controls.

Ryan: nunchuk for movement and wiimote for POV
Ryan: slow response on the wiimoate
Ryan: you’re either turning your head real slow
Ryan: or real quick
Ryan: no happy medium
Ryan: don’t get me wrong, the game is good
Ryan: the use of the grappling hook is interesting
Ryan: lock on the target then whip the nunchuk out
Ryan: then pull the chuk back to swing or pull away an object

Tim: Sounds really cool.

Ryan: oh, it is
Ryan: i think my problem is i’m strafing too much
Ryan: gotta keep the head movement free

Tim: Did you change the controls to “expert”?

Ryan: no
Ryan: but i will

Tim: That’s what the guys at IGN recommend.
Tim: Doesn’t up the difficulty, just shrinks the bounding box.
Tim: Makes turning easier.

Ryan: it would be nice that if you could flick the wiimote up to get her to spin around
Ryan: tired of getting samus’ well -defined [butt] shot off

Tim: if only it were a third-person perspective! That power suit is so hot!!

Ryan: no kidding!
Ryan: i would kill to see something like that
Ryan: she’s hotter than lara croft

Tim: It’s funny because in the original Metroid, beating the game in like record time allows you to see Samus in a bikini. But in Super Metroid, every time you die, the suit explodes off, revealing a bikini-clad Samus.
Tim: So why beat the game at all?

Ryan: here’s the deal
Ryan: super metroid was just freaking awesome
Ryan: still is

Tim: You know what riuned Super Metroid for me?

Ryan: what’s that?

Tim: Metroid Fusion for GBA. I played through Fusion but never really played Super Metroid.
Tim: Metroid Fusion had all the same stuff as Super Metroid. Controlled exactly the same.
Tim: So now Super Metroid has very few surprises for me, except for a couple really sweet boss battles.

Ryan: for me, metroid has pretty much been the bane of my existence
Ryan: i love the games
Ryan: the reason i bought a gamecube
Ryan: but the difficulty on some of them is real love/hate
Ryan: i’ve never beaten any of the GBA games (except fusion)

Tim: Some people love the backtracking and re-exploration of old levels. I kind of hate it, but in Prime 1 I endured it.

Ryan: prime 2 is still collecting dust

Tim: Metroid Fusion for GBA is super easy, save a couple hard bosses. Real Metroid fans hate it for how much it holds your hand.

Ryan: metroid for the GB was really difficult.. from what i remember

Tim: The other Metroids are crazy hard for all the lack of hand-holding. At least Prime has the hint system that vaguely guides you along.

Ryan: yeah, fusion was a joke
Ryan: they had to make it easy to sell that GBA/GC connector cable
Ryan: so people could unlock the original metroid

Tim: heh. That’s why I bought Fusion in the first place. Then I paid $5 to re-download Metriod for VC.
Tim: But I find that Metroid games always frustrate me to the point of putting them back on the shelf for a while.

Ryan: exactly!
Ryan: its one of my (inappropriate term)-you games

Tim: Or reading the walkthroughs online. Cheating or quitting, basically.

Ryan: get stuck at some point: “(inappropriate term) YOU!” then throw the game on the shelf

Tim: Totally. That freakin’ rock monster in Prime 1? (inappropriate term) that thing.

Ryan: and go back to doing something like watching water boiling or paint drying
Ryan: EXACTLY!

Tim: But some people love this! These are the people who saay Super Metroid was the best game ever made.

Ryan: and it is

Tim: Not even close.

Ryan: and in the same respect, its one of the games i hate the most

Tim: But even if it were the best game ever, I could never appreciate it because of Fusion ruining the surprises. It’s like The Usual Suspects. Someone told me the secret ending before I saw the whole movie.

Ryan: that’s just [lame]
Ryan: but then again, there’s the problem
Ryan: you leapfrogged super metroid for the red-headed step-child
Ryan: i don’t blame you for not thinking highly of super metroid

Tim: True. Nobody warned me.

Ryan: because of that
Ryan: at least it wasn’t as bad as prime: hunters on the DS
Ryan: talk about a bad implementation of a first-person shooter
Ryan: the DS just isn’t built for it
Ryan: (i’m not acknowledging metroid pinball)

Tim: And here’s another weird thing: I lose patience with Metroid, but I never minded the backtracking in Castlevania games. Simon’s Quest was one of my favorite games as a kid, and I still think it is superior to Metroid in almost every respect.
Tim: Fair enough.
Tim: But Simon’s quest had better graphics, better music and better ambiance. Everybody talks about that “alone in space” feeling, like in Alien,Simon Belmont but Simon’s quest you’re a lone whipman roaming a land of monsters in the dark. And you’re cursed!
Tim: You go indoors and outdoors. the scope feels bigger, even if it’s the same size. You interact with townspeople who are all jerks. Sometimes they are zombies!

Ryan: for me, super metroid was way deeper and much harder
Ryan: she is alone
Ryan: one woman on mission
Ryan: no one to talk to except her communicator
Ryan: belmont had the jerk townspeople to let him know he was still alive
Ryan: we’re lucky samus never went mad

Tim: Dude, Simon deals with only shady people. Nobody wants to have anything to do with a cursed man. This is the thanks he gets for killing Dracula in the first place!
Tim: He’s just as alone, even if he’s in a town.
Tim: Those two should hook up.

Ryan: but he can still stop at the local pub

Tim: Simon and Samus. That’s cute.

Ryan: simon aran?
Ryan: samus belmont?

Tim: Samus Belmont. She’s a traditional girl.
Tim: Also, Samus has mad armor. Simon has to walk around in a miniskirt.

Ryan: ITS A KILT!

Tim: Fine.

Ryan: yeah, but simon doesn’t have weird insect-types firing high-powered ion beams at him
Ryan: he has to deal with slow moving zombies and bats
Ryan: and the occasional skeleton tossing him a bone

Tim: He fights the grim freaking reaper. Every game. Ridly the anorexic pterodactyl ain’t got crap on the grim reaper.

Ryan: the reaper goes down in one crack of the whip

Tim: Have you ever fought the reaper?

Ryan: everyday, brother

Tim: Word.

Ryan: take him on a rollercoaster and he’s happy for another 24 hours

Tim: More cowbell and you don’t fear him.
Tim: What I’m getting at is that I’m much more willing to re-explore a Castlevania game than a Metroid Game, and I think the reason is characterization. Down the stretch, even Dracula has a personality. And Castlevania, I think, has more varied and interesting environments. To me, going from caverns to a clock tower is more interesting than going from fire world to underwater world.
Tim: But some people flat-out love Metroid’s environments and it’s lack of storytelling!
Tim: Samus has no personality, so you can imagine her acting however you want.

Ryan: samus’ only job is hunting
Ryan: she doesn’t need friends
Ryan: no mucking around in villages
Ryan: the ultimate soldier

Tim: Hardcore gamers can all convince themselves that she has some kind of personality malfunction that would allow her, for example, to sleep with them. She takes off that helmet, and she’s good to go.
Tim: But that ain’t the truth.
Tim: She’d just as soon shoot you as look at you.

Ryan: if you’re in her way
Ryan: you’re toast
Ryan: the stake through the heart: the minibosses version of the metroid theme is much better than the castlevania theme
Ryan: its almost like listening to classical music
Ryan: or an opera
Ryan: no denying that
Ryan: try it
Ryan: i dare ya

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on July 9, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Wii programming and cheese weaponry

I regularly talk video games with my buddy who runs the Man-0 blog. I’ll admit, sometimes our conversations go crazy, and when that happens, I plan on posting it.

Hey, it made me laugh, hopefully it’ll make you laugh too.

Me: check this out

Man-0: Why am I not playing this game?
Man-0: Because I’m a simp?

Me: the voices in your head tell you not to

Man-0: I love my television and hate computers!

Me: even better

Man-0: Yeah, but there’s no official confirmation of Sam & Max for Wii.

Me: they just hired the programmer, man
Me: he’s gotta get settled in the new environment
Me: feel his way out
Me: i give ‘em three months before they announce any wii titles

Man-0: If I was hiring a Wii programmer, I would sit him down in his cube and say, Start porting, monkey boy!
Man-0: Then I’d throw peanuts at him.

Me: and cheese

Man-0: Cheese is not a quality projectile.

Me: velvetta
Me: you can shape that [stuff] into anything
Me: kraft slices into kraft chinese throwing stars
Me: possibilities are endless

Man-0: Maybe a cheese ball or cheese missile

Me: a cheese warhead

If you have any better ideas on how to weaponize cheese, post it in the comments below.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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