Monday, December 14, 2009

Listing Authors in a WordpressMU page

I'm trying to give my staff more of a presence on GamesPlusBlog. They need to feel ownership of their piece of the blog and their content within.

One way of doing this is recognizing when authors join the site. For awhile now, our About Us page only displayed the three founders of the blog - Tim, Mike, and me. Ever since we began bringing on new writers, Mike has suggested we list them on this page. Pragmatic programmer that I am, however, I didn't want to have a list to curate every time an Author joined the site.

The obvious solution is have PHP and Wordpress generate a list of blog authors and display them onto the About Us page.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daily Routines blog

My sister passed me a link to The Daily Routines blog. Though it's currently stopped, it serves as a collection of interviews with professional writers about their daily routines.

It seems routine is the key to all creative endeavors. Here's what Michael Lewis has to say:

Is there any time of day you like to write?
I've always written best very early in the morning and very late at night. I write very little in the middle of the day. If I do any work in the middle of the day, it is editing what I've written that morning.

What would your ideal writing day look like?
Left to my own devices, with no family, I'd start writing at seven p.m. and stop at four a.m. That is the way I used to write. I liked to get ahead of everybody. I'd think to myself, "I'm starting tomorrow's workday, tonight!" Late nights are wonderfully tranquil. No phone calls, no interruptions. I like the feeling of knowing that nobody is trying to reach me.

See, even professionals have sloppy schedules. It's a comforting thought.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Motivation in the long haul

I apologize for any confusion, dear reader, that this blog's original mission statement and colorful banner may cause you. No longer is this a repository for my video game musings: those have found a new home. What's left is, well, everything else about my life.

I find myself at a crossroads of sorts. Or maybe I arrived years ago while deciding college major. I closed my eyes, pinched my nose and walked down my chosen path. Now, four years later, I open my eyes to find myself right back where I started.

In my quest to find my true path I've attempted to dedicate myself to long term projects. Yet how does one find motivation and discipline to achieve such long term goals? It's a challenge foreign to the typical day job. Where motivations come in pay checks and goals come from others.

I've noticed that independant webcomic artists are the epitome of this desire to break away from the infamous "Day Job." I stumbled upon this forum thread about motivation.

Here are a few takeaways:

1) Have a goal. Maybe it's the ending to your story, or enough pages for a collected volume in time to print for the next big convention, or just the big party for yourself that you'll throw when you reach the 1-yr mark. Whatever it is, keep your eyes on the prize, man.

2) Make friends-- in real life, not just online-- with other cartoonists who are also just starting out, and keep each other motivated. Put up an ad in your local comic shop, for example. If you can't find anyone locally, then get to a convention (small ones are OK) and meet other artists there.

3) Be obsessed. Disturbing, but true. :-)

Advice applicable to any field.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


If I even have any regular readers who are outside my close circle of friends, you must be wondering why I haven't been posting much lately. Well, I've been working my ass off to get a collaborative blog up called GamesPlusBlog. For now, it's just a blog with a few writers. We're still ironing out the design and functionality but hopefully, it'll grow.

My game writing will be moving to the new site. What will become of GameConn? I'm not sure. Maybe I'll make it a life blog. Ya'll wanna hear about cooking, music and programming?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Uuugh, BRAID.

Thinking with time is a lot harder than thinking with portals. Maybe it's difficulty isn't as elegantly balanced as Portal's but that was probably not Jonathan Blow's intention. I can't seem to take more than an hour of this game without getting a headache.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fallout 3's ending

(Spoilers: This post discusses Fallout 3's missions and ending.)

Versus CluClu Land discusses the nature of our "domination" of games. Why can't I be this smart?

The articles got me thinking. Did Fallout 3's ending incite such ire because it violated the player's dominance of the game? The majority of mission outcomes are very much under the player's control.

Before reaching the end of the game, players decide the fate of Megaton, consider President Eden's ultimatum and make countless other choices. Is there any doubt players came to expect complete control over their game? But the ending effectively stripped all of that control from the player. What was a game so easily dominated and at the whim of the player suddenly and linearly forces him into death for sake of the story. What was such an ending doing in this game? The ending is so at odds with the open ended nature of the game that, even if the player possessed an unavoidable alternative to dying, the game bends over backwards to force you to die.

I can imagine meetings where developers argued about this ending. It makes sense, poetically. One could argue, perhaps pretentiously, that sacrificing the player’s character symbolizes the significance of his sacrifice and the impact of death. And the way the G.E.C.K.’s code was used managed to illicit an emotional response from me. In that way, Fallout 3’s main quest line succeeds. But we have to wonder if it was in the right game.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SXSW in tow, pt 3

(Pictures by Rama and Christina)

Let's talk about the image above. During last year's SXSW I overheard a friend's awe at the crowd in 6th street. I never made it there last year so I was unprepared to witness it on Saturday night. Imagine a downtown street as dense with people as a crowded bar. Imagine it being so crowded that someone decided they needed to chain their bike to the sign post above Mike's bike.

Anyway, I woke up Saturday morning tired, a bit jealous, and wondering about my criteria for good music. I was afraid I'd taken in too much. Like going for one too many helpings of mashed potatoes. Regardless, there was a lot happening today and I wasn't going to miss out. I figured following Rama downtown when he left around lunch time would make transportation easier than yesterday.

Once parked we made our way to the convention center for the guitar trade show. Afterwards, we sat in the SESAC day stage on the same floor as the trade show.


"I am Natccu," she said before bursting into her first song. J-Pop rock with a healthy dose of gurrl. Really reminiscent of anime soundtrack music, so this one's for my anime watching friends. I was digging the show but Rama wanted to leave in the middle of it.

We made our way almost a dozen blocks toward Waterloo park. This year's Mess With Texas party was already underway.

Last year the party hosted 3 stages and introduced me to Yeasayers and Black Mountain. As dusty and crowded as the park was, a long list of prospective bands in one free venue was compelling.

I said in part 1 that you don't go to SXSW to see bands you've heard of. However in a venue this size, even shrunken down from last year, room is plentiful. Last year, Mike told me about an indie punk band called Cursive. He wanted to download them but they had removed themselves from emusic. Their song, The Recluse, found it's way into one of my Pandora stations and I dug it. I gotta say, they play The Recluse better in person than on the album. Rama wanted to leave in the middle of this performance too. I was getting tired of his watching habits.

I eventually found myself alone and watching the death metal band, Trash Talk. I actually find death metal fans more intriguing than the music itself. The mosh pits, the guys jumping at the microphone and even climbing on stage to scream lyrics with the band. There was a rather death metal looking gentleman to my right holding his dog's leash. He was bobbing his head, pumping his fist and shouting "Yeah!" on occasion. We were a few yards away from the mosh pit. "Damn dogs are the bane of my existence," he said. His dog lay on the ground, lazily sweeping sand over an electrical cord.

Thao Nguyen

I've been debating whether I should mention that she's Vietnamese here. On the one hand her name gives it away and it's kinda racist of me. On the other her deep, soulful voice was completely unexpected. It's reminds me of Cat Power or even Feist.

At this point I was simply exhausted from inadequate sleep and tons of walking. My shoes were covered in a fine layer of sand. King Khan & The Shrines, Japanater, Vivian Girls, and Thermals all probably deserving of some mention but at this point I could hardly parse the music anymore.

I needed a palate cleanser and it was 10 blocks away. Christina, Mike and Rama were in line for the movie 500 Days of Summer.

Gosh, I guess this is just how Rama rolls. That's Zooey Deschanel. The movie itself had surprisingly high production values for such a limited budget. During the post show talk the writers revealed that director Marc Webb's innovative techniques came from his music video experience.

With my pallet properly cleansed we walked down the 6th street I described in the first paragraph. Thumping base emanated form venues left and right. Bands with no gigs set up and played right on the street.

Mike looked into one window and saw interesting instruments. Christina looked in the SXSW brochure and determined Moriarty was playing. A friend's recommendation and a $5 cover was enough to convince us to go in.


What can I really say. They put on the best show I saw all SXSW. I guess I'm a sucker for talented folk music. But their stage presence was really the star. Clever coordination and a charming sense of humor.

You see the man in the red tie? He's preparing himself for an intense xylophone solo. During Mess with Texas Rama mused that small shows were better than big concerts. While watching Moriarty, it was hard to disagree. Intimate, live music is really the ultimate way to experience the medium. So much energy of a performance is lost when you cut out the band's presence. By the end of the set, I was sold.

SXSW in tow, pt 2

*UPDATE* The band Solid Gold now has a link.

(Photos by Christina)

Weekday day shows are probably the easiest shows to see during SXSW. Everyone's at work so there are are no lines and venues typically don't have cover at these times. That being said I only actually attended one of these shows last week. Wednesday afternoon, Mike and I were to meet Christina during her lunch hour. 6th street, the epicenter of Austin nightlife, was a sunny and blocked off corridor of music venues. Its concrete lay in wait for the ensuing crowds.

The three of us made our way to Emo's but Christina's first choice was a no show. Off to Plan B:

Here We Go Magic

Kinda psychedelic electronic elements mixed in with upbeat rock. They were interesting enough to get an emusic download from me. But now that I have the album, there's a bit too much psychedelic stuff here.

I've already written what I did that night. Thursday was busy with work. Friday was a half-hearted exercise in what not to do at SXSW:

My sister said again and again, for SXSW, you really need a bike. Imagine parking in any downtown. Now imagine parking in a downtown with thousands of people flocking to hundreds of simultaneous music performances. We began the day trying to figure out or little transportation conundrum. Mike had a bike, I didn't. We finally decided to take the bus downtown so Mike could bring his bike along.

After we met Rama at the Austin convention center for Flatstock Mike rode off to meet Christina. Rama led me the 5 blocks, he'd already walked a few times that day, towards 6th street. He complained about the further 7 blocks down 6th we'd have to walk to meet with Mike and Christina. We stopped and ate a $3 slice of pizza and a $4 bratwurst bought with money from an ATM with a $5 transfer fee. (Note to self: be more prepared next time.) He decided not to follow me the rest of the way.

After finding Mike and Christina we wandered around the "outskirts" of SXSW trying to catch some good free shows. We saw a band called Solid Gold but I haven't been able to look them up. Apparently they share a name with a psychedelic soul group. The band has since contacted me with a link to their site. More psychedelic than I remember the performance being. Sounds pretty good, though.

The people owning a house in this area had set up an art gallery in their front yard and a venue in the backyard. We were greeted with a goat. And these guys:

Flatcar Rattlers

Punk-country or something like that. Wish I knew the genre. Not really my cup of tea, though. After dinner Christina and Mike decided to call it a night. Our initial plan involved me running behind their bikes. Miraculously, an empty cab passed us as we considered this.

The next morning I awoke to hear Rama bumped into a few members of Delhi 2 Dublin and partied with them.


Saturday would prove to be much better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW in tow, pt 1

(Photos by Rama)

Looking at the Austin Chronicle's SXSW insert, one can be easily intimidated by the music schedule. Like the classifieds of a desperate musical hell, thousands of bands in 9pt font reach at you to lift them from this dank obscurity.

I came to Austin in the hopes that some new music would find me. As I scanned the pages before me like some black and white Where's Waldo, I realized I would have to find the music myself... or at least stumble upon some. I was not disappointed.

Wednesday kicked off SXSW's 5 day musical... orgy. That night Rama and I were dropped off downtown and we made our way to a venue called Back Alley Social. Rama wanted to see Blue Scholars, a hip hop group. He'd heard of them before. In SXSW, if you don't have an expensive, all access badge, you don't come to see bands you've heard of. Any sliver of popularity will attract crowds the small bar venues are ill prepared to contain. The resulting line for 'Scholars quickly discouraged Rama. Off to Plan B.

Rama led me to a bar called Copa. The theme Wednesday was international music. Apparently he was interested in a few of the bands. Luckily for us, none with the notoriety to pack the venue. We found a seats in the venue's plentiful space and dug in for the night.

1001 Nights Orchestra

The band certainly lived up to the international theme. A variety of exotic instruments produced Middle Eastern and Eastern European folk music.


Now this one's interesting. Ashu is a Bombay band named after it's creator, the guy in the middle with the red glasses. Apparently a music video is gathering them a bit of popularity in the Indian community. The venue was filling out at this point in the night. Rama glanced around the room and decried all the Indian faces, as if embarrassed to be at a family reunion.

The band itself had a surprisingly western rock feel.

Ashu ended their performance at 1am. I don't know if there's a correlation between dance music and the wee hours of the night. But when this next band's drummer incited dancing with his Indian drums during the sound check, it was obvious where this performance was going.

Delhi 2 Dublin

What do you get when you mix dance beats, a Korean sitarist in a kilt, a pink haired fiddler, a dhol drummer, and a lead singer flowing in Hindi? A damn good show, apparently. Delhi 2 Dublin brought the house down in spite of the venue's shoddy sound equipment. Energetic beats that get your head bobbing combined with folksy Celtic and Indian instruments. They were just the kind of innovative music I was hoping to find.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Battle Report: Losing

It's an odd feeling when you realize you're out of your league in a fighting game. Where you have no tactics or moves to save you from your opponent's torrent of moves. No branch to grasp as you fall down the side of the cliff. I wish Capcom would hurry up and implement the update that will allow us to record our matches. I'd be able to analyze what's going wrong.

My recent loses with Sakura have left me in a bewildered state. My old tactics are failing. Her moves don't seem as effective as other character's. I'm stuck in a rut. Naturally, I should pick up another character to gain a new perspective in the game. But it doesn't feel right. I love her for her personality but her moves aren't giving me the support I need. I guess we weren't all that compatible to begin with. It's not you, Sakura, it's me. All that time we spent together must feel like a waste. Hopefully we can be still be friends.

I'm trading in the spunky school girl for a Sumo wrestler. He's a charge character so he's more reactionary than Sakura's all out offensive mix-up style. Not that he has no offense. Tricking people into the Oichio throw should be fun. But picking a new character presents a new set of challenges. I have to spend time to learn Honda. Time that is such a commodity in adult life. Time that veteran Street Fighter players have already clocked. Where's the limit to my abilities in these games? How much time am I prepared to sink into this game?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thoughts on the Watchmen movie

The movie was enjoyable. The visual splendor and recreation of classic scenes was fun. But the changes... Well, let's just say I understand why Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with this project.

If you haven't read it, read it before you watch it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts on Flower

I got this funny little feeling while playing Flower the first time. I’m not sure what it is. It’s like a little tickle in my chest that compels me to hang my mouth in awe. It makes me hold my controller gentle hands, careful not to pop the fragile bubble of immersion.

I know what you’re thinking. What a bunch of artsy-fartsy BS. And you’re right. Maybe the feeling comes from a sense of heightened expectations. I’m making myself extra receptive to this grand experience that was promised to me in press about the game. I had the same feeling while playing ICO so many years ago. All the reviewers having emotional reactions and talked about it in “hushed tones.” I had to own this game. Same thing happened with Shadow of the Colossus. My mouth hung open as I rode a horse through its giant planar landscapes.

I have managed to discard this awe on my subsequent play through. I am no longer audience to the grand “initial experience.” I am simply poking into its nooks and crannies to get 100%.

Hype aside, Flower is a game that manages to relax me. The combination of soothing musical score, piano key sound effects, and densely colorful images would melt me into my seat. Well, it would if I didn’t have to keep my arms up and steer the motion controls. But really, at least in one play session, I could feel my muscles loosening up as I swooshed through the mellow first levels. Then I loaded up Street Fighter 4 to face the horde of Ken players. SF4 is adrenaline pumping, heart pounding joystick pumping. So antithetical to the former experience that it gave me a cramp in my diaphragm. An experience I repeated today. I really gotta stop doing that.

Flower isn’t all swooshing around someone’s inner Happy Place. As the developer’s intention it lulls me into calmness before kicking up the mood for the climax. Without spoiling too much, Flower succeeds at eliciting a set of emotions then messes with them. It’s short. But so are poems. I guess we can see Flower as a sort of game design poem. Verses told in game play semantics. Someone stop me if I sound too artsy-fartsy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Battle Report: Street Fighter 4

I love silly fighting game characters. Facing off against the stoic badasses that head each fighting game. Throwing out their ridiculous winning animations after their equally ridiculous wins against more "epic" characters. Reminding us to never take these games too seriously.

That's part of the reason I knew Sakura was my main when I first played her. The other part? Instant gratification. When her dragon punch lands it has at least double the hits as a normal Ken/Ryu punch. Sure the damage is probably the same, but the clack-clack-clack-clack after catching a player off guard and punishing them just feels so good. Her offensive based specials also reminded me of playing Guilty Gear more than other character.

As you can probably tell, I'm feeling pretty good about this game right now. It's almost a polar opposite to my flagging attempts at playing last night. The day before going online for the first time showed me just how nubish me and my local fighting game clique are. Players saw through my over reliance of special moves and tore me apart. My tactics didn't work and I had nothing to replace them.

Then my friend came over and tore down anything that was left. His Balrog's punches a bulldozer clearing the rubble. I found myself barely able to do damage to him. But I'm not one to resign after defeat. As cliched as it is, what does not kill you makes you stronger. With the cleared land, I could now build a solid foundation.

My friend taught me to pay more attention to basic attacks. Landing a sweep on an attacking player is safer and easier than trying to counter the attacks with a special move. With my back to basics style I went online today and picked apart my foes. Only unleashing my former link combo flashiness when the opportunity arose. Sure they were newbies. All bearing exploitable holes in their offense and defense. But it feels good not to lose to them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Well made HL2 fan film

Brings back memories of Half Life 2. I can't really put into words why I like the Combine of the Half Life universe. Maybe it's the militaristic, oppression with a Sci-Fi bent. Maybe its all the little details like how the cops' suits emit sirens when the die. Something about it just pumps my adrenaline.

I've got two friends who own the game right now but they're both climbing out of respectable backlogs. I'm afraid they'll both be turned off by the fledgling level design Valve has so refined in Portal and HL2's Episodes.

Come on, guys. Weather HL2. Or play through Portal and see the kind of pacing and subtle story telling Valve is capable of achieving. If you want more, go for the episodes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Par for course: L4D content free

Looks like the Left4Dead content coming out this fall will be free for both consoles.

Microsoft has tried to maintain a certain "market value" for all it's content on the XBLM. After all, people might be reluctant to pay for a Gears or Halo map pack if they just got their L4D maps for free. I can imagine how Valve convinced Microsoft to allow this sort of heretical price tag on the XBLM. "Go ahead and send the message that people should be buying our games on the PC and not the 360 if you really wanna charge for this stuff."

I'm glad as the game shipped a little light on the content side. Even by Valve's new "you'll only play a few maps anyway, just look at Counter Strike" ideology, the 4 campaigns are starting to wear thin.

I'll admit, I was hoping the 360 content wouldn't be free. I engaged in a some petty PC superiority posturing with a 360 L4D player awhile back. This news only goes to prove his point. But really, what does it matter who's right or wrong when we're speculating on the backroom dealings of game publishers? We all end up on the cover of Modern Jackass.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Meditations on Capitalism

This whole financial crisis has got me thinking. Capitalism is very dependent on consumerism. When the Chinese box making industry hits hard times when we stop buying enough HDTVs I have to ask myself where this global society is going. Say what you will about globalization. If those box making jobs were in America, then the American box making industry would be suffering. The point is the economy runs on us buying lots of stuff. When people stop buying things, our economy collapses.

This troubles me. I don't like materialism. I'm no Buddhist but that religion teaches us that we should not seek out shallow happiness in material possessions. What if America were a Buddhist nation? Would we have a president that told us to shop more as a response to 9/11?

"It is not correct to say that each society gets the men it deserves. Rather, each society produces the men it needs." - Peter Berger, Invitation to Sociology

The men capitalism needs to survive and flourish are rabid consumerists. All their possessions are disposable and replaceable. What's your first inclination when something breaks? Buy a new one. It's more profitable for companies to sell you a new product than repair your old one. Think about this the next time you use a disposable utensil at a restaurant. Its better for our economy if that restaurant pays a plastic utensil company to manufacture new sporks and straws on a regular basis. Yeah, it creates more jobs and pumps money into the economy but it really offends my pretentious environmentalist side. Think about the resources and chemicals it takes to create the plastics for those sporks. Then imagine the diesel it takes to ship those sporks across america to the restaurant chains. Now look at yourself, using the spork once, then throwing it out.

I'm not sure if capitalism deserves anything, but certainly the American society could do with more responsible citizens. If we are all content with more modest living perhaps we can weather this recession a bit easier. But that's just me. What do you think?

Disturbance in the workforce: Me

Funny thing about being laid off; people treat it like someone in your family died.

"How are you feeling?"
"I'm so sorry to hear this happened."
"Norman, are you crying?"

I guess our culture paints a picture of destitution and adversity around unemployment. I couldn't be further from that picture. Why would I be crying over losing a job I wasn't completely satisfied with? Maybe if I were depending on my pay check to pay off my expensive car and mortgage from month to month or I had a family to take care of. I'll admit, I'm lucky to be in the financial situation I'm in right now.

For months before this week's layoff I considered leaving my IT consulting job to explore other career options. Fear of change and the warm blanket of a ridiculously high salary kept me in place. This could be the kick in the ass I need to venture out. After allHopefully the video game industry isn't collapsing too much to take me in.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This American Life meets video games

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by all the new stuff coming out off the death of EGM (see my podcast sidebar). My weekly listening schedule hasn't been quite as shortened as I thought it would be.

One notable podcast is A Life Well Wasted from Robert Ashley. The first episode takes the This American Life format and applies it to recently deceased EGM. Though, honestly, I don't think you should listen to it focusing on that premise. I found myself nitpicking where ALWW wasn't like TAL. But it should be taken as what it is. A history of EGM from the eyes of the editors.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Meditations on music gaming

When I bought Rock Band 2 a few months ago, the purchase was my first foray into the world of music gaming. I borrowed DDR once and dabbled in Guitar Hero at parties here and there. But never experienced the games long enough to ponder the kind of entertainment they provide us. When faced with the Rock Band skeptics who ask "why don't you learn a real instrument," I've always argued that these games offer people the chance to feel like a rock star. Indeed, the game is best when played with the geekiest of friends who have choice songs and abundant enthusiasm performing them.

Yet lately, I've stopped practicing the game on my own. I think Shawn Elliot reflects my thoughts best in a recent blog post:

"As I once said on a podcast, I feel weird when I watch people play Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I'm reminded of how human music is and what it means for us to make it. I think, this is what happens when a culture decides that music-making is strictly the domain of the specialist and that we should stop performing when it becomes clear that we aren't cut from professional cloth."

I've heard this guy mention on a podcast that in the past everyone practiced some form of amateur music. Whether it be singing or some instrument. Interesting how society has changed. I wonder how well I could play now if had taken up an instrument in middle school.

A musician friend in Austin asked me how often I play Rock Band. I answered a few hours a week. He told me if I spent that much time learning a real guitar, I could pick it up.

I'm not saying I won't play Rock Band anymore. Just pondering the possibilities. I'm not quite at the point where I think I'm too good for it. Social get-togethers are the current justification for the time spent on it.

Anyone else having doubts about strumming away at plastic instruments?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I really want to love you.

I really do, PlayStation brand. I mean the intentions are there. You want to make a portable gaming device that has robust media capabilities. Great, I game and I listen to music, I'm in. You want to make a home console with really awesome and reliable hardware and online features matching XBoxLIVE. Cool, I'm in $600. But lately... I'm losing faith.

I saw that the PS3's new firmware is coming soon. Oh good, my smiley face picture sorting needs have so far been woefully unmet by my video game console. Seriously, Sony PS3 firmware team? Seriously? This is what you're spending your months developing? Do you need any ideas for what you could be more useful? I'll give you one right now.

When a friend messages me, I go to my friends list on the XMB. My natural instinct is to press X and go into that friend's menu to check the messages he's sent me.

Ok, I'm here. Where's the "check messages from this user" button? Sorry for small image, but if you look closely the only buttons there are "Create New message", "Compare Trophies", and "Start Chat".

So if I want to see the message list, I have to go back out to the XMB, press triangle to bring up the friend's menu and then click "View Messages".

I go through this process EVERY time I want to check my messages. It's been month since that main friend's page was implemented yet the issue has never come to the firmware team's attention. Arguably I'm being really picky about a small issue like this. Let's look at the bigger picture.

The hardware and software developments of the PS3 and XBox360 this generation have made me realize how different Microsoft and Sony are as companies. Microsoft is the software giant. Windows, .NET, Visual Studio, Office, MSSQL, XNA, the list goes on. MS makes software for and supports a large IT development community. Believe me, I work with the stuff everyday as an IT consultant. I'm pretty sure they know a thing or two about developing software with a specific user in mind. More specifically we can look at the new group chat feature in the New XBox Experience as an example of MS developing a feature based on a specific user need.

When my friends and I were playing COD4 last year we wanted to keep our voice chat to ourselves. The solution? Break out laptops and PSP's to use Skype. MS recognized this kind of user experience and integrated a private group chat feature.

Now Sony is obviously the hardware company. Walk into an electronics store and their brand is on almost every type of hardware. When you compare the PS3's failure rates to the Red Ring of Death debacle, there's no contest. Yet compare the PS3's Home launch to the NXE's launch and you see Sony and MS's roles reversed. NXE was delivered in a timely manner with useful features that made sense. Home was delayed for a year and I can't find a reason to use it.

One more thing, Sony firmware team. I hate the PSP's interface. You wanted this thing to be a next generation Walkman yet it fails to play music as well as any MP3 player with a decent UI. I can't dynamically sort my music like I can with other MP3 players or even the freaking PS3. Where's the damn Shuffle All feature? Why can I only access my music in the static folder structure on my memory stick? I really want the PSP to be my one go to device for portable entertainment. Heck, I'd probably buy more games for it if it took on that role. I'm just going to have to buy an MP3 player. Not a Sony one, though. I just couldn't trust the interface.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is art?

I've been struggling to write a blog post defining art. I want to define art in order to provide at least a personal vocabulary for my posts here. Yet as I write, I can't pin down a solid definition. I begin arguing that art must have a well defined message and context. Without the message then art becomes a banal sort of "anything anyone creates."

With this conviction I debate a coworker of mine. He's into making film on his free time so naturally, I want to know his opinion. He suggests everything is art. Even things not intended as art can be art to the individual.

I let out a frustrated sigh.

"Yeah, I'm one of THOSE people, right?" he suggests.

I counter by arguing that art needs meaning to avoid being pointless. He argues that meaning depends on the the individual. Then it hits me. I've been writing about personal experiences with all these games. And it's impossible to know whether the creators intended for their audience to have such experiences. So my coworker has a point. And so my search continues. What do you think?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

RIP as we know it.

If you don't already know, my video game news site of choice has just died. The URL isn't going away but a good part of the staff that really defined the heart and soul underneath got layed off. Here are the nitty-gritty business details if you need to know.

Taking a look at the list of firings is really the depressing part. The people on the chopping block were behind some of the best games industry podcasts. If you've ever looked on the sidebar of my blog you'd have noticed the link to the podcasts. This whole thing probably lightens my weekly listening by half.

To top it off, the entire staff behind the weekly videocast, The 1UP Show, was fired as well. What am I supposed to do on Saturday mornings now? Games journalism is an industry where something seemingly so simple as scored reviews are causing controversy and sparking thoughtful debate. To me, The 1UP Show, was quietly shining the light toward a brighter future. It's segments features 1UP staff standing around talking about their ups and downs while playing games. They were reviews disguised as previews and shed and pretension of assigning scores or coming up with yay or nay conclusions. They focused on the details of games, rather than the skin deep review scores.

What can we do but remember the good times and look to the future. If is any indication, creative minds propel themselves to good things. I'll be watching.