Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yeah!

Dear final set on Expert,

Suck it!

Sincerely,
me

P.S. No, Mr. Bowie, it's a figure of speech. I'm not your type anyway. Go away. Shoo.

Reptilia was definitely the most difficult song for me. I did have an advantage in that I really like Rush and Boston, so I'd heard Tom Sawyer and Long Time thousands of times. Highway Star and Run to the Hills are both cool, but I hadn't heard them as much. Suffragette City was most difficult in that set because I'm not a big Bowie fan (and I'd rather sing Changes or Space Oddity anyway), so I wasn't really familiar with the pitch of the vocals, and I had trouble nailing the sustained notes. (zlionsfan tip #1: hold your notes. I know it says these are short notes, but trust me, if the game is out of sync just a little, you'll lose a lot of points if you're just missing those, and unless you really know the song, you'll need those to make it through.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sing, sing a song

I finally got past Reptilia. stupid song. I did much better singing in my natural octave; I'd been singing an octave lower and couldn't hit the lowest notes consistently.

I also posted a top-10 score on Brass In Pocket. I'd link but you can't get a link to a specific leaderboard, just to the whole thing. Anyway, because it's DLC and not in-game content, I'm sure I'll drop over time, it's just that people haven't bought it yet.

Three more sets and I can start helping people out with Riding on Coattails ... except ... except ... damn. You have to finish the Endless Setlist on Expert. crap.

never mind.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We talkin' bout practice?

Okay, there is one thing about Rock Band that is astoundingly worse than Guitar Hero III.

Practice.

Struggling with a song? In Guitar Hero, you can slow the song down, start at the beginning of any section, and play through the end of that section or any following section. Repeat as needed.

In Rock Band, you can play the whole song. At normal speed. That's it.

Struggling with a phrase/riff at the end of a song? Especially a long song? Take a nap and wait for it to come around.

I wonder if that was EA's decision. (joke. Well, sort of.)

I hope this is corrected with a patch. What a terrible decision. What the hell's the point of practice if you can't practice what you want?

The Jokes

Reptilia sucks. The Strokes suck. The lead singer sucks. I would rather sing Bob Dylan than him. Someone needs to tell him that his bucket is empty and he dropped his tune way back there.

Seriously. I can barely get one phrase right on Expert. I've failed one other song on Expert one time so far. I guess I just can't get myself to sing like crap.

If you're reading this blog (you're in select company) and you actually like the Strokes, good for you. Just know that if you're a single woman and we meet, that's going to be a deal-breaker.

(In case you think this is just whining, I can sing pretty well. I'd link to the Rock Band leaderboards, but apparently EA doesn't understand anything about the popularity of these games. They haven't had a game like this since, I don't know, maybe Madden 02. Don't worry, the site will be up about the same time I get my replacement guitar.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

XBLA review: Tempest (2/10)

Yet another recycled '80s game, complete with an "evolved" mode that's basically just fancy graphics that detract from gameplay. As added bonuses, the default difficulty level is faster than the original arcade game, the Super Zapper takes effect slowly rather than wiping out everything on-screen, the window in which the game sits isn't wide enough, so the far edge of the playing field is cut off on some levels, and all the achievements are in the evolved game, so you have to play it.

Oh yeah, and there's no spinner control for the 360.

And, as usual, the in-game leaderboard is reset every time you play.

Don't bother.

zlionsfan's rating: 2 feeble efforts out of 10.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yeah, that's about it.

So on NFL Countdown, Ditka says roughly "What I don't get is this: you cheated, I caught you, and you're going to take it out on me?"

Mike Ditka, the voice of reason. Thank you, Belichick, you have officially turned the world upside-down.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm done! Or, not.

Just noticed that there are actually only eight sets you have to complete on Medium. I was singing Suffragette City on Hard and thinking "Wow, this isn't so easy. I don't remember singing this before." Looked back at Medium, and sure enough, here's this new set (Suffragette City, Highway Star, Tom Sawyer, Run to the Hills, Foreplay/Long Time).

Nice touch. You don't need to finish them to complete it on Medium, but you get to go back and do them once you've unlocked them on Hard.

Playoffs? That's right.

See, I'm not the only sane person around here. WhatIfSports is simulating a 16-team playoff as it might have happened if the NCAA grew some balls gathered some courage and took control of I-A football.

Note: by "sane" I mean not only "supports a playoff" but also "includes all conference champs." (Mr. Tiller, please note that CMU scores 3 points on LSU.)

Go check it out. Very cool.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm getting the band back together

So last night, I'm working my way through some of the Hard songs on vocals (much easier now that the video sync setting is correct). I tried playing multiplayer with just one person in the band, and the game shot that down: two or more people, son.

And then I realize that if I'm working on Expert guitar and Hard vocals, I could step them both down a notch ...

I start up the band, forming it with my singer (because vocals + guitar/bass is okay, vocals + drums is okay, other combinations not so much), and add the guitarist. (Note: if you don't log in on another controller, you can use one of the characters from the people who've signed in already, or maybe only the band leader. No difference here.)

First two songs: In Bloom and Say It Ain't So. Five stars each. It's more difficult because I can't hit the mike for the tambourine/cowbell stuff (also because I'm using a headset), but I did discover that you can shout into the mike and it works. Of course, I can't watch to see when to hit it because I'm watching the guitar line ... also, you have to know the vocals pretty well or you'll miss your cues.

That opened up the next venue. Mississippi Queen wasn't bad, but I think I got four stars. (Much harder vocals.) I made my own set list, Wanted Dead or Alive and When You Were Young, and got four stars on each.

The thing is that if the rhythm doesn't match, you end up messing up one or the other, breaking streaks and all. It was a lot of fun, though. I'll have to try vocals/drums later. I think vocals/bass might work the best, plus you can get up to 6x on the bass.

I don't know yet if points matter. Probably only for overall song score, and I don't care. I can just keep playing until I get more fans. (Plus Expert bass is probably easier than Expert guitar.)

I love Rock Band.

Now back to vocals ... I want to get into the top 1000, even if I can't stay ...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your what has a what?

My 360 has a blog. It's pretty cool. 360voice.com, the site that's running Challenges for the 360 now (because we all now xbox.com sucked at it), also has a feature that takes your games-played history and writes it up in blog form.

It works like mygamercard.net, by reading the history of games you've played since registering at the site, so even though it knows about my gamerscore, teh awesum, it doesn't know everything I've played. Guess I'll have to dig up Perfect Dark Zero again. oh joy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Rock Band song difficulties

Just in case you're playing in a band and haven't figured out which songs to try. Keep in mind that these are sorted by the average of the set for all three solo instruments in which they appear: your group experience may vary, especially if there's only two or three of you.

EDIT: I think I'm going to swap this out for a link to a Google spreadsheet. I figured out the bass sets and dumped in pretty much everything, plus fields that show the average difficulty for every combination of instruments. That won't mean anything here.

P.S. Run To The Hills is still teh impossible.

h2. One-point songs
  • In Bloom, Nirvana, 1.0 (guitar 1, drums 1, vocals 1)
  • Anyone can play this song.
  • Maps, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 1.7 (guitar 1, drums 3, vocals 1)
  • Interesting song. Not so bad.
  • Garbage, I Think I'm Paranoid, 1.7 (guitar 2, drums 1, vocals 2)
  • eh.
  • Weezer, Say It Ain't So, 1.7 (guitar 3, drums 1, vocals 1)
  • Not bad, although I like My Name Is Jonas better.


h2. Two-point songs
  • Here It Goes Again, OK Go, 2.0 (guitar 1, drums 2, vocals 3)
  • eh.
  • Blitzkrieg Bop, Ramones, 2.3 (guitar 2, drums 4, vocals 1)
  • Good song, but make sure you've got someone with experience on drums.
  • Creep, Radiohead, 2.3 (guitar 4, drums 1, vocals 2)
  • Not bad.


h2. Three-point songs
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash, 3.0 (guitar 1, drums 4, vocals 4)
  • Not a bad song, but not a good choice for new bands.
  • Wave of Mutilation, Pixies, 3.0 (guitar 2, drums 2, vocals 5)
  • Didn't care for this one much, especially not the vocals.
  • Learn to Fly, Foo Fighters, 3.0 (guitar 3, drums 4, vocals 2)
  • Good song. This is about as far as you want to go until you get a couple of other songs down. With an experienced guitarist, though, you can move further.
  • Orange Crush, R.E.M., 3.3 (guitar 2, drums 5, vocals 3)
  • R.E.M. is one of my least favorite bands.
  • The Hand That Feeds, Nine Inch Nails, 3.3 (guitar 2, drums 4, vocals 4)
  • Not bad, although like other songs with spoken/freestyle lyrics, it suffers a bit.
  • Celebrity Skin, Hole, 3.3 (guitar 4, drums 2, vocals 4)
  • Some jokes write themselves, don't they?
  • Mississippi Queen, as made famous by Mountain, 3.7 (guitar 1, drums 2, vocals 8)
  • Try this song as a new band and you'll be looking for a new singer.
  • Epic, Faith No More, 3.7 (guitar 5, drums 3, vocals 3)
  • I like this song, but it's really not suited for singing ... there are worse songs for that, though.


h2. Four-point songs
  • Sabotage, Beastie Boys, 4.0 (guitar 3, drums 5, vocals 4)
  • This might be my least favorite song in the game. The fact that almost all the lyrics are freestyle is part of it.
  • Go with the Flow, Queens of the Stone Age, 4.0 (guitar 3, drums 7, vocals 2)
  • I like them no more than I did in GH III, which is to say, not much.
  • Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden, 4.0 (guitar 5, drums 4, vocals 3)
  • Finally, a decent song in the 4s.
  • Paranoid, as made famous by Black Sabbath, 4.0 (guitar 6, drums 5, vocals 1)
  • Now you can make it up to your singer after trying Mississippi Queen.
  • Wanted Dead or Alive, Bon Jovi, 4.0 (guitar 6, drums 5, vocals 1)
  • Good song.
  • Main Offender, The Hives, 5.3 (guitar 5, drums 3, vocals 5)
  • Well, it's not Queens of the Stone Age.
  • Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones, 4.7 (guitar 4, drums 2, vocals 8)
  • Mick's voice is only an 8 difficulty? Hmm.
  • Reptilia, The Strokes, 4.7 (guitar 5, drums 3, vocals 6)
  • Not a fan of this either.
  • Dani California, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 4.7 (guitar 6, drums 5, vocals 3)
  • eh.


h2. Five-point songs
  • Detroit Rock City, KISS, 5.3 (guitar 3, drums 7, vocals 6)
  • Hell yes. I voted for this song.
  • When You Were Young, The Killers, 5.3 (guitar 4, drums 6, vocals 6)
  • Glad to see this was in both GH III and Rock Band. I hadn't heard it before GH III and it really grew on me.
  • (Don't Fear) The Reaper, Blue Öyster Cult, 5.3 (guitar 6, drums 8, vocals 2)
  • Yeah, this is kind of a difficult song for drummers, but it's worth it.
  • Electric Version, The New Pornographers, 5.7 (guitar 4, drums 6, vocals 7)
  • I liked this song a little more once I saw the lyrics, but it's still eh.
  • Suffragette City, David Bowie, 5.7 (guitar 5, drums 3, vocals 9)
  • Not my favorite Bowie song, but I guess most of them wouldn't translate well?
  • Vasoline, Stone Temple Pilots, 5.7 (guitar 7, drums 6, vocals 4)
  • Sorry, the misspelling (for trademark reasons?) bugs me.


h2. Six-point songs
  • Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Jet, 6.0 (guitar 6, drums 5, vocals 7)
  • Another song that I liked more once I saw the lyrics. For some reason, the intro makes me think of Lust For Life, one of the most overplayed songs in commercial history.
  • Ballroom Blitz, as made "famous" by Sweet, 6.3 (guitar 7, drums 7, vocals 5)
  • Well, they do have T. Rex's version of Bang a Gong, but you know, if you did Smokin' in the Boys Room, would you use Mötley Crüe or Brownsville Station? (Then again, these are the guys who put White Lion's version of Radar Love into Rocks the '80s.)
  • Dead on Arrival, Fallout Boy, 6.7 (guitar 7, drums 7, vocals 6)
  • Not bad at all.


h2. Seven-point songs
Now you've got some experience and can start throwing it down.
  • Cherub Rock, Smashing Pumpkins, 7.0 (guitar 8, drums 8, vocals 5)
  • Another GH III/Rock Band shared track. I like this song.
  • Enter Sandman, Metallica, 7.3 (guitar 8, drums 8, vocals 5)
  • Hell yeah!
  • Welcome Home, Coheed and Cambria, 7.3 (guitar 8, drums 6, vocals 8)
  • Um, okay, whatever.
  • Green Grass and High Tides, as made famous by The Outlaws, 7.3 (guitar 9, drums 6, vocals 7)
  • Two things you need to know about this song: one is that it's the hardest guitar song in the game, and the other is that it's a loooooong song. Good for points, bad if you're going to mess up a solo near the end.
  • Next to You, The Police, 7.7 (guitar 7, drums 9, vocals 7)
  • This is the Police song you include in the game? There are like 50 Police songs better than this, including the three in the DLC pack.


h2. Eight-point songs
Ready to knock out some of those achievements, huh?
  • Won't Get Fooled Again, The Who, 8.0 (guitar 7, drums 9, vocals 8)
  • I got chills the first time I played this song.
  • Train Kept A Rollin', as made famous by Aerosmith, 8.0 (guitar 9, drums 7, vocals 8)
  • Yeah, this one's kind of hard.
  • Foreplay/Long Time, Boston, 8.3 (guitar 8, drums 8, vocals 9)
  • Another great song.
  • Flirtin' with Disaster, as made famous by Molly Hatchet, 8.3 (guitar 9, drums 9, vocals 7)
  • I think this is one of the two I haven't passed on Hard guitar.
  • Tom Sawyer, as made famous by Rush, 8.7 (guitar 8, drums 9, vocals 9)
  • Geddy Lee's voice is only a 9 difficulty?
  • Highway Star, Deep Purple, 8.7 (guitar 9, drums 8, vocals 9)
  • The song in the game's intro. I like Deep Purple. This might be a master track - I need to confirm. Yep, a master track. This is a great song.


h2. Bring it on!
  • Run to the Hills, as made famous by Iron Maiden, 9.0
  • Knock this one out and you can play pretty much anything you want.

360 review: Rock Band (10/10)

You did buy this, right? At launch? So you're asking why it got a 10? I'll explain.

Let's set the tone first. Rock Band is kind of like Guitar Hero, but with drums and vocals as well, meaning that you can have up to four players at once. The idea is the same - match the notes coming down the screen - but there are some pretty big differences between the two.

There were definitely problems with the launch: only two options (game only or full set), the USB hub and guitars broke quickly or didn't work at all, and even confusion at retailers. Fortunately, EA has been replacing them. I got my replacement hub before I sent the old one in. The guitar is going out Monday, so we'll see if I get one before Christmas.

With those in mind, let's talk about differences, assuming that you have a fully-working game and controllers.

h2. Character creation
Unlike GH III, in Rock Band, you create your own character. This isn't like a GTA or Saints Row where you have all kinds of options, but there are enough to personalize the character quite a bit (especially for women), and you get a better feel for being in the game. Another way that's enhanced is by seeing your name in lights: on tour buses, album covers, and so on. A very nice touch.

h2. Overdrive
Activating Overdrive (Rock Band's version of Star Power) is the same - Select or tip up for guitars. What's different is that you can continue to hit Overdrive phrases while you play, and if you complete them, they add to what you're using, which can lead to monstrous point streaks in some songs. This is a great change.

On guitar, Overdrive notes are half-width gems. I didn't like this because they're much more difficult to identify. On drums, they're all white, and on vocals, they're all yellow - much better ideas.

h2. Set progression
GH III has 8 sets with 5 songs each (let's skip the boss battles for now and assume they actually had a final song), and unlike previous versions, all songs and all sets are available on Easy. The fifth song is an encore and is unlocked after passing three of four songs in the set on Easy or Medium, or passing all four other songs on Hard or Expert.

Rock Band is a mix of GH II and III: there are 5 songs per set, but only the first 6 sets are available on Easy - there are 9 sets in all on the higher levels. You must pass all five songs in a set to unlock the next set. However, if you've unlocked a set on Medium or higher, all songs in that set become available on all lower difficulty levels. (This also means you can get the achievement for that level by playing just the final set once you've unlocked it. You don't have to complete all the other songs.)

I'm not such a big fan of the five-song requirement, especially because you're playing them three times as a solo artist (lead guitar, vocals, drums). If you're good enough to complete the game (I won't be), you'll play most songs at least 12 times and the other songs at least 9 times, and frankly, some songs aren't worth it.

h2. Visuals
I know, it seems minor, but it's not. GH visuals are drawn and are pretty much random. Rock Band visuals are motion-capture and pretty much match the songs. This gives you much more of the in-the-band feeling. The only thing that's awkward is when you're watching your character play the song, but you're on a level below Expert, so his sticks are going everywhere and you're simply tapping red. Big win for Rock Band.

h2. DLC
Harmonix has committed to weekly DLC and has also made it available as single tracks or a track pack. Again, a huge win for Rock Band. GH III has some DLC available, but they haven't yet got into single-track pricing, and while Rock Band is selling Metallica and David Bowie, GH is selling random bands.

h2. Master tracks
Rock Band has significantly more master tracks (21 in GH III, 36 in Rock Band), which is great, especially for singing: it sounds much better when you're echoing the original artists. Also, by now you've probably read that Metallica is releasing a new single via Rock Band. Yeah, that's pretty cool.

h2. Song progress
Rock Band shows the number of stars you're earning for the song on-screen, updating it as you score points. This is great if you don't get five stars and want to know how close you were, or if you did get five stars so you don't have to feel bad about pausing the game. However, it doesn't break down accuracy by phrases at the end of the song.

h2. Career progress
Rock Band does not mark perfect songs differently than five-star songs: this is like GH I. Not such a big fan of that change.

h2. Big Rock Ending
In some songs, everybody (except for vocals) has Freestyle phrases at the end. Play anything you want and get credit for it ... if you hit the notes that close the song. This is a nice way to finish off that extra star or score some really big points.

h2. Vocals
Now we're getting into the good stuff. Rock Band's vocals are like the Karaoke Revolution games: hit enough notes in the phrase and you increase your multiplier. For Overdrive, you just sing or shout during a Freestyle phrase.

Some songs have cowbell or tambourine notes in them. For these, you tap the microphone or press A on the controller (sorry, you need to have a controller hooked up as well as the mic). Hit them all, and you get a boost; miss a few, no big deal, these are extra.

h2. Drums
You also get a mini drum set (snare, crash, and cymbals/toms according to the manual, with one bass drum). The pads are color-coded, and you get a track like the guitarists; bass drum is a line across the track. Overdrive is activated by hitting a single note at the end of a Freestyle phrase.

h2. Guitar
Bassists don't get a solo career (boo), but we do get a Bass Groove: once your multiplier reaches 4, you get this really cool background, and you can extend it up to 6. Nice to have us around, isn't it?

The Stratocaster that comes with the game is different in a few ways. It has solo notes down the neck of the guitar. Most songs have at least one guitar solo: like the mini-percussion for vocals, hit the notes and get a bonus. With this guitar, you don't have to strum, just finger the notes. (This also works during the Big Rock Ending.) You can play the solo normally if you like, or use these notes and strum to play normally. I found it a little awkward to go down the neck for a solo and back up, but I guess that comes with practice.

The guitar also has an effects switch on it. When you are in Overdrive, you can hear the effects in your notes. Don't have a Strat? No problem, the game seems to assign an effect to you.

The Select and Start buttons are big and round like the GH III guitar. This is great - I still don't know why they messed up the GH II guitar. Also, the whammy bar feels more realistic and is easier to use than the GH II ones, at least on the 360. The PS2 guitar also had a good whammy bar.

h2. Multiplayer
Now here's where Rock Band really shines. When you create a band, any time the band wants to play, you have to be there, but you can use whatever other people are around. You can even change your characters so you play different instruments.

You start with a single city and a few gigs to play. Do well in the gigs to earn fans and money: more fans means more gigs in more cities, and more money means, well, more money. Eventually, you'll get gambling options: you can choose double-or-nothing money on the next gig, or take either double fans/no money or double money/no fans, if you meet certain conditions (pass all songs, five-star all songs, things like that).

There are several types of gigs: single, pre-selected songs; multiple pre-selected songs; single or multiple songs you can choose; and multiple random songs. You can check out all the non-random set lists prior to playing them. I like this much better than the traditional set lists because you can focus on specific songs if you like, rather than playing the same old stuff in the same order.

Get enough fans and you unlock transportation to new cities for new gigs. You can't just cruise along on Easy, though. (Like GH III, you can play at different difficulty levels for a given song.) Your fan base is capped based on the difficulty levels you're using. Want more fans? Step it up.

Scoring is interesting. It seems that each player scores individually, so you don't have to worry about common streaks and such. Instead, when you go into Overdrive, the multiplier affects everyone. More band members = more Overdrive = more multipliers.

Also, if someone struggles, the whole band doesn't fail. Instead, that person is silenced. You can bring them back with Overdrive, but only twice. If they fail a third time, L is for Loser.

There are definitely things about the game that could be improved: the mic should really have had buttons on it so another controller was less necessary (although at least you can use any USB mic in the game), timing for drums and spoken vocal phrases seems odd, and slogging through a song you didn't like once so that you can play it again later isn't so fun.

However, the emphasis on fun over technique (no Perfect-this-song-blindfolded achievements) helps out quite a bit. The difficulty is lower, if you haven't heard. It's true that it's about one level easier in Rock Band, and that helps the band concept, especially if you don't have anyone with vocals or drums experience.

Once the hardware difficulties are resolved (EA says they are, but EA also says that an exclusive license didn't hurt Madden), go out and get the set.

zlionsfan's rating: 10 out of 10.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Here's your playoff, sir. Oh yes you did.

That's right. One of these days in the not-so-distant future, the NCAA president will arrive in his office (a female president? Consider the constituency - no chance) to discover that the I-A (you say BCS, I say you're retarded) playoffs are set to begin December X and conclude January Y.

Wise people have been preaching this for years, but now the bandwagon is starting to open to the masses. Austin Murphy of People Illustrated has an article on the very subject this week. (Yeah, I linked to the single-page version. a) SI sucks. b) They don't even provide you with forward and back buttons. c) SI sucks. Why is this on their site? Why am I paying for a subscription? Oh yeah, it's a gift. Move along.) He provides some cogent arguments for a playoff, but fails in his eventual solution. Come now, Austin. Your rivals at The Sporting News proposed a 16-team playoff many, many years ago, and it's still a better idea than yours.

But hey, it's a start, and in honor of that, I shall summarize his arguments and support them. (You'll see that he lists "arguments" for the bowl system and debunks each one.)

1. The sanctity of the regular season.
Murphy: You mean prior to conference championship games, right?

Dude, you're making it too hard. The correct question is "Compared to what?" The current system? The one where at least 75% of I-A has absolutely zero chance whatsoever at a championship, and by season's end, exactly two teams have a shot at a "title"?

I actually read something that claimed that with a playoff system in place, this year's Kansas-Missouri game and last year's Michigan-Ohio State game would have been virtually meaningless. To that I respond, sir or madam, you are nuts, and completely wrong.

I counter with several pieces of "evidence." For example, pretty much every SEC game. Or, for that matter, a large number of basketball games. Resident moron Jim Delany claims that "[t]here's only one game in the country that carries a premium: Duke-North Carolina."

For those of you who don't know, Delany is commissioner of the Big Ten. Apparently he's unaware that his conference plays basketball. As someone who's attended a sizable number of Big Ten regular-season basketball games, I can say that he is wrong. Very wrong. (Of course, he's the latest in a long line of wrong. Keep in mind that for decades, Big Ten teams went to the Rose Bowl or nothing. Why? Because bowls are for sissies. And the rest of the football universe. But not for us.)

If you don't believe games prior to the playoffs matter, watch teams who are on the bubble.

2. Preserving the bowls.
Murphy: People watch the non-title bowls now, and besides, the lesser bowls need to go.

Got to disagree with you, my friend. For one thing, you cite Michigan going to the Rose Bowl as an example of this. Delany just got done telling you how his conference and the Rose Bowl are likethis. Of course Wolverine fans will go to that game. You should have brought up, say, Michigan fans going to the Alamo Bowl.

Uh huh.

Second, those lesser bowls are precisely what middle-tier schools need. You're locking into the BCS mindset, and it's important to remember that they don't represent all of I-A. Sure, maybe you don't think a 6-6 team deserves a bowl bid, and if it's Notre Dame, I agree, but if it's Eastern Michigan or Troy, I don't think you understand.

What you should have said is this: "Preserve what, exactly?" The names? The conference matchups? The dates? The locations? The bowls have already changed all of this themselves every time old Benjamin and his 10,000 friends came knocking.

Besides, what's better? Neutral-site or home games? Sure, the men's tournament kind of has to play at neutral sites, with 6 rounds in 3 weeks and all that, but what's going to draw better: LSU vs. Hawaii in Tucson or LSU vs. Hawaii in Baton Rouge (or on the island)?

If anything, it's the top-tier bowls that need to go. They're whores anyway. Keep the lower tier. We're breaking with tradition. Let's not get caught up in what's left.

3. Effect on academics, blah blah blah.
Murphy: 12 games? I-AA? Baseball? Basketball? Golf?

Best of his three arguments. He left out a few, too, so let's help.

Yeah, what about that 12th game? I suppose that's played during winter break? Or the kickoff "classics" in late August? Or the conference championships? Or the games on Thursday? (and Wednesday, and Tuesday, and Sunday) Or the games against I-AA opponents? Or the cross-country non-conference games?

And yes, I-AA has a playoff, as does every level of every other sport, and nobody seems to kick up too much of a stink there.

Which is more likely to interfere with classes: practice during the week, or games on Saturdays in December? Do you see the NCAA trying to further restrict practice during the week? Me neither.


Anyway, Murphy presents us with an eight-team playoff. (To his credit, he points out that if I-A dropped that 12th game, they could play a 16-team playoff like I-AA. He did not, however, point out the 16-game season in Pennsylvania high school football. Probably because Pennsylvania understands more about football than the BCS.) The top 7 teams and Hawaii. (Yeah, that's pretty weak. What are your criteria again?) Tolerable, but let me help you.

Zlionsfan's Wonderful, Beautiful Playoff Idea
  1. 16 teams: 11 conference champions and 5 at-large berths.
  2. Why? Several reasons: you ain't havin' no playoff without the non-BCS conferences, uh-uh. They'll shoot it down faster than you can say Congress. Plus it's an NCAA title, and in case you hadn't noticed, everyone gets a dance card.
  3. First- and second-round games at campus sites.
  4. Cut down on travel costs. That'll be vital. Plus you've got to get the big schools on board, and if the playoff itself doesn't do it, the prospect of an extra home game or two certainly will. Ask the ADs in Delany's conference (or in the Pac-10, headed by fellow idiot Tom Hansen) if they'd like the chance at two extra home dates on national television against a (most likely) ranked opponent, and if they say no, they're lying.
  5. Blah blah bowls blah blah rotate blah blah Final Four.
  6. Honestly, I don't know that this is necessary any more. Maybe it's better to play the games in one location so there's less travel. Anyway, screw the bowls. Except ...
  7. Keep bowls for teams finishing out of the playoffs.
  8. Because, you know, a lot of teams will.
  9. DROP THE FRIGGING BCS RANKINGS.


Yeah, that's the most important part of it, and let me tell you why.

They're stupid.

Why? Because they were initially designed to determine relative strengths of teams, but every time they disagreed with "people", they were changed to be more like what the "people" thought. Anyone with half a brain would see that an objective system can actually rank teams fairly accurately, even if you don't like how it's done, and a person can't possibly rank 10 teams accurately, never mind 25, given one day to absorb all the games on a standard football Saturday.

So do what college basketball does: make your own formula THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH POLLS, use other components, and then sit in a room and pick the best five teams that didn't win their conference. Seed 1-16. End of story.

This year, for poops and laughs, we'll do it this way ...

1. Ohio State (11-1): Big Ten champion
2. Oklahoma (11-2): Big 12 champion
3. Virginia Tech (11-2): ACC champion
4. LSU (11-2): SEC champion
5. Kansas (11-1): at-large bid
6. Missouri (11-2): at-large bid
7. Georgia (10-2): at-large bid
8. West Virginia (10-2): Big East champion
9. Florida (9-3): at-large bid
10. USC (10-2): Pac-10 champion**
11. Arizona State (10-2): at-large bid****
12. BYU (10-2): Mountain West champion
13. Hawaii (12-0): WAC champion
14. Central Florida (10-3): Conference USA champion
15. Florida Atlantic (7-5): Sun Belt champion***
16. Central Michigan (8-5): MAC champion
Navy (8-4): Independent champion*

*Sorry, the Navy thing was my own little joke. Only the BCS and the Gator Bowl think that you can act like a conference without being in one, not that Navy does, of course. It's just that this spot, ordinarily reserved for a Notre Dame joke, was spoiled by ND's inability to beat pretty much anyone. That Weis guy is a genius.

**Further evidence Hansen is a moron: the Pac-10 plays a round-robin schedule. This is a good idea according to about five people on the planet. Come on, even the Big Ten knows better. Playing additional conference games does not help you establish how good you are with respect to other conferences.

***Apparently they don't care who wins it right now. I pick FAU because they beat Troy.

****Over South Florida because they were conference co-champs.

So you get this:
Central Michigan at Ohio State - I flipped CMU and FAU (about equal) to keep them closer to home. Less travel, remember?
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma - Howard will love this game.
Central Florida at Virginia Tech
Hawaii at LSU - hey look, my hypothetical example!
BYU at Kansas
Arizona State at Missouri
USC at Georgia
Florida at West Virginia - lookit! Runnin' QBs!

You probably don't want to mess with seeding too much, not with only 16 teams. If ASU and USC meet in the first round, so what?

Is it the best way to do it? Yes, so don't argue with me. Okay, you can argue a little, but if you think the BCS is better, well, no.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dude!

Holy cow.

So the Tigers want to win big, and win now. I love it.

I saw rumors about the deal this afternoon. When ESPN ran the story from Gammons that it was all but done, I nearly broke off my workout to go home and write about it. (Then I remembered that I'm 25 pounds overweight and really don't need to be ditching cardio work.)

Left field isn't set yet, at least the PAs that Sheffield won't use when he's not DH/1B with Guillen, but aside from that, Detroit now has

1B Guillen (123 OPS+ in 2006)
2B Polanco (122 OPS+ - yep, that's right)
3B Cabrera (150 OPS+)
SS Renteria (125)
LF Jones (87)
CF Granderson (136)
RF Ordonez (167)
DH Sheffield (120)
C Rodriguez (85)

(Yeah, I forgot the acquisition of Jacque Jones. My bad.)

Pudge may remain below-average, LF might be another below-average bat, and a couple others may drop as well, but right now, that's one solid lineup. I may head over to WIS to see if I can test it against some other current teams ....

SP Verlander (ERA+ 125, WHIP 1.23)
SP Willis (ERA+ 83, WHIP 1.60)
SP Bonderman (ERA+ 91, WHIP 1.38)
SP Rogers (ERA+ 103, WHIP 1.43)
SP Robertson (ERA+ 96, WHIP 1.48)

More questions in the rotation, of course: can Willis regain his form, is Bonderman going to be healthy, is Rogers going to be healthy/clean/not cheating ... anyway, the rotation should be stable, at least, which it hasn't been in a long time.

RP Rodney (ERA+ 107, WHIP 1.32)
RP Jones (ERA+ 107, WHIP 1.42)
???

The bullpen has some work to do, with Zumaya likely out for the year. Byrdak and Seay posted some good numbers, and the new guy might help as well, but the Tigers will need consistency from the pen. Not much more, though. If the lineup lives up to its billing, the pitching will be fine.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I heart BTN

Yep, first they fixed the problem they had with me logging in to their site, and now I've been able to watch Louisiana-Monroe knock off Iowa in Iowa City during the Hawkeye Whateveritis, you know, the tournament where you invite two patsies to visit so you can get some cheap non-conference wins.

Ha ha. Apparently Iowa's lost only one other time in their tournament, to Arkansas State. The connection? Both teams are/were the Indians. (ULM, formerly Northeast Louisiana, is now the Warhawks. Much more geographically correct.)

(Side note: the Big Ten Network is hosting a contest where you pick the bowls to which Big Ten teams will be invited. The contest closes at 2 AM Saturday morning. If you're watching right now, you'll get two bowls right.)

Sports Cry

Bill Simmons is a tool.

Okay, to be fair, maybe he's always been a tool, and we were willing to overlook this because for a while, he wrote some pretty good stuff, or maybe he was really cool for a while, and this is just the True Boston Fan in him reawakening, or maybe it's simply bad timing.

Anyway, he has a post about how we just should all shut up and deal with the fact that the NFL Network sucked away a really good game from many, many households last night. Why? Because we get to see more games than we did 25 years ago.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me he's a bit too young to be dragging out the "In my day" arguments. Oh, and there's the minor point that his bosses pay for his television viewing, yes? So of course he doesn't care what network shows the games, he's going to see them all anyway.

Years and years ago, people warned about NFL games moving to cable (the Sunday night games), suggesting that the NFL was moving toward a strict PPV model. Of course, "everybody" shouted them down, pointing out how outrageous that would be. The NFL would never do that, would they?

Ironically, it's his '82 self to whom he writes this "letter". Maybe he should ask his '82 self if the NFL would be so stubborn as to ruin an entire season over labor disagreements. They'd never do that, would they?

At least this bit of blather replaced his usual Patriots blather. At least he had to tone down his anti-Colts rhetoric after the Super Bowl last year. Now he actually has to admit that that QB in Indianapolis is pretty good. With no qualifiers.

Okay. He hasn't done the "no qualifiers" part very well.

Monday, November 26, 2007

XBLA review: Worms (4/10)

So the Worms franchise came to the 360 a while back. If you're not familiar with it, Worms is a turn-based strategy series where you command a group of, well, worms against one or more opposing groups, using move-and-attack rules. The environment is destructible, so if you can't get to an enemy directly, you can blast your way through, and the water level rises at the end of every set of turns (water kills these worms).

Worms for the 360 is unimpressive. As the single-player challenges progress in difficulty, the computer makes fewer and fewer mistakes, to the point where it makes a perfect move nearly every time. That wouldn't be such a bad thing, except that Worms has several features that work against it:

  • Worms has no undo feature. Make a mistake, you're done. That can increase the frustration level a bit, especially if you're most of the way through the challenge.
  • A single pixel remaining from a blast can block your path or trigger a bazooka explosion, which can lead to the problem above: making a single mistake and not being able to undo it.
  • Some weapons are inexplicably unavailable in certain rounds: for example, you might have an Air Strike that you can never use.
  • Rounds are timed, so while you're trying to figure out why you can't get past that mysterious pixel, the clock is ticking.


It has the usual accumulation achievements with no method of tracking your progress, and with the lack of quality in the game, you likely won't have the persistence to get them.

Worms might be worth a try if you know somebody who has it, but I can't recommend this game.

zlionsfan's rating: 4 annelids out of 10.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I wanna rock!

So the TV arrived today, and Rock Band, and here I am at home, learning how to drum. (Mental note: drumming is hard. If this is scaled down, then real drummers must be good.) (Editor's note: duh.)

It's sweet. The Stratocaster is different - nice big buttons for start and select, like the new Les Paul for Guitar Hero, and the solo buttons are cool, although I haven't yet learned to fly down there and back.

I'll get to a detailed review once I've practiced some.

laters.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Big Ten: What's PR anyway?

Big Ten Network SuperFans

whatever.

I thought I'd sign up for that last week. So I did, but it didn't let me log in.

I figured it was a timing thing, so during the IU-Purdue game, I saw the ad and figured I'd try again. No luck. Couldn't log in and couldn't get my password reset, and couldn't re-register either.

So I send a support request. Guess what? They don't answer requests on weekends. Then it's pretty ******* stupid to be advertising it on the weekends, isn't it? I mean, aren't there BTN telecasts pretty much every weekend from the fall through the spring?

The Big Ten Conference. Public relations courtesy of an ex-Sony employee.

Ohio State sucks

Why is that? No one seems to know.

Watching the game, my friends and I agreed that Ohio State seems to have the most obnoxious fans. We can't figure out why. Most people at the table weren't even partial, but the chanting inside bothered them. (Why would you shout indoors? I don't get that. O-h-i-o? Hey, four letters, congratulations.)

That is all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Restored faith in humanity shipping companies

Hey, what do you know? Sometimes things work out for you. I got home Thursday evening to find a note on my door from FedEx: 1st delivery attempt made. Very nice. (Sucks for the driver, though. Wonder if he really made the attempt Wednesday or if it just got logged incorrectly.) X marked by "signature required in person." Uh-uh. I signed anyway.

Friday morning, the cat goes to the clinic. I come back with her, and ta-da! There's the package on my doorstep. Excellent.

Thursday evening, while the FedEx debacle was winding down, I got the package I needed to set up for the other package I'm expecting.

Sadly, though, the latter is being shipped by a company previously unknown to me, one whose name was not mentioned favorably in other reviews. Naturally, they called when I was in a meeting and unavailable. I returned the call at 1:05, only to get an answering machine explaining that they'd call back between 9 AM and 1 PM or between 5 PM and 8 PM. Um, okay. I wait and call after 5, same thing, so I leave a message.

No call between 9 and 1 today. Oh well ... except that I get a call at 1:30. Pleasant surprise. It's them; they do the four-hour delivery window, so my package should arrive Tuesday morning. Too bad I'm taking the next week off ... it would be very interesting to see my new game on a large screen. But alas, I shall return to work that day.

Any chance it can snow?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Grounded

So I ordered myself a little toy for enhanced arcade action (no, not something like that, goodness, your minds ...). Shipped FedEx Ground. Okay, whatever. Three-day delivery or something like that.

Putter-putt-putt, the little truck makes its way from Arizona (no doubt stopping to pick up an Eagle - is that Glenn?) to here. Supposedly. Then I get the wonderful tracking message.

delivery exception

Eh? Oh, that's sales-ese for "Sorry, we didn't give you your package." Except, as has happened once before, they didn't leave a slip either. Kind of hard to sign for a package if there isn't anything to sign. Also, I seem to recall signing something saying "Leave my packages anyway. No, I mean it." Of course, that's probably an Anthem-like move: sorry, that's a separate division, doesn't apply here.

So I go to the website and write in. Hey, hold my package, I'll come get it.

Oh, sorry, why don't you just sign for it.

Because I couldn't. I told you so. I'll come get it.

Oh, sorry, you can't. We don't have a place for that.

wtf? (I didn't say that.) So you have my package, but won't hold it and won't let me sign for it? Alrighty then.

So now I get to have them fail to deliver it tomorrow, and leave a slip on my door, and maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get it Friday. Left for me. Like I asked in the first place. (Note: certain adjectives omitted just in case sensitive eyes are reading this.)

Remind me, the next time I see "shipping options" and "FedEx Ground" in the same box, to check the "fuck that" box.

Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

360 review: Guitar Hero III (9/10)

That's right. Even the fanboy in me has to acknowledge that although the latest entry in the Guitar Hero series is worth the weight, it does have some flaws.

The game is a bit different than the previous versions: Neversoft has done a good job of keeping things that worked well and adding improvements here and there.

As mentioned before, one nice addition is an on-screen counter for streaks of 25 notes or more. The good news is that now you can tell exactly how far from that 1000-note streak you are. The bad news is that you can break that 990-note streak by looking at the on-screen counter ...

Another nice change is that the Easy sets now work exactly like the others: there's money for each level of each song and an encore in each set. (On Easy and Medium, you can skip one song per set. On Hard and Expert, you must beat all songs to play the encore.)

New to GH III is online play; haven't tried it yet, but it sounds pretty neat. Unfortunately, no online co-op career mode ... what's that? Oh yeah, there's now a co-op career mode. Just like solo, you have four difficulty levels, and just like in co-op quickplay, you each set your difficulty level and you split the instruments (one plays lead, one plays rhythm or bass). The difficulty level for the team is the lower of the two, so if you're playing Hard and your partner's playing Easy, you'll be unlocking Easy songs. There are a few co-op career achievements this time, so it's worthwhile to find someone to come over and rock with you.

Interestingly, the co-op sets are not the same as the single-player sets: the encores in co-op are not available in single-player, some single-player songs appear in different sets in co-op, and the single-player songs you don't play in sets are unlocked once you beat the final song. (Thankfully, there's no boss battles in co-op.)

The bad news? That battle mode you've been hearing about? Well, it's part of the solo game, too. You have to defeat three bosses to beat the game. (Well, you don't have to beat the first two - you can actually skip them if you lose to them often enough, but still ...) I dislike this immensely. Keep your PvP crap out of my PvE game.

Once again, the songs you can buy are eh. Please, at some point, let us buy songs that we know. Please.

Achievements seem to be geared for a distressingly high level of ability. 315 of the 1000 points will not be available to you unless you can master the Expert songs, and another 75 points will be lost if you and a friend can't dominate Expert co-op play. I think this is going to end up like PGR 3, where a lot of people simply stopped playing once they'd peaked in the game because there simply weren't enough middle-difficulty achievements they could get.

Finally, achievements seem to be very glitchy. The xbox360achievements.org forums have a lot of complaints about things not unlocking when they should. Best get on that, programmers. We likes our gamerscores.

Oh, one more thing. You can go to guitarhero.com, create an account, and link it to your 360 gamertag (or your PS3 or Wii saved games???). You'll then get "groupies" based on your in-game ability, play in tournaments, and even join a tour group (I'm in the x360a tour group). There's a lot of neat data on the site, like your last few scores, favorite character/guitar/stage, and your progress through the game, but it's very glitchy. It only seems to read data from your active band, so if you're playing with an alt band when you first sign in, you won't get much credit. Also, several features aren't self-explanatory (how do you get groupies?). But hey, it gives them a bit of online visibility before Rock Band blows all that away, right?

So they lose a point for the battle-mode crap and the achievements, but other than that, this is a solid title, and I'd recommend it. (I'd beware the wireless guitars, though. I hear lots and lots of stories about problems with them. I have no idea why they went with removable necks. Bad idea.)

zlionsfan's rating: 9 strings out of 10.

SPOILER ALERT: A track-by-track breakdown of the sets follows.

Set 1 songs


  • Foghat: Slow Ride
  • Ha ha. I remember seeing these guys at a bar in West Lafayette. Good song for the Tone Deaf achievement. (No, literally. I do like it, and it's a good set-1 song.)
  • Poison: Talk Dirty To Me
  • Hey, they got the title right! (On this song. See set 8.) Kind of weak that they got Bret Michaels for vocals, but not the rest of the band.
  • Pat Benatar: Hit Me With Your Best Shot
  • She's a Set 1 staple now. Nice song.
  • Social Distortion: Story Of My Life
  • Hadn't heard this one before, but it's a nice song and full of notes. A quick 250K on medium.

Set 1 encore


  • Kiss: Rock and Roll All Nite
  • Excellent choice, especially given the scene in the game (playing in a back yard, with police using car headlights for ground-level lighting and helicopters for overhead lighting). Good set.


Set 2 songs


  • Mountain: Mississippi Queen
  • Great song, good choice, and as a bonus, because it's a cover, you can tell what they're singing.
  • Alice Cooper: School's Out
  • Another good song, although the cover singer isn't that good.
  • Cream: Sunshine of Your Love
  • Strange to have a Clapton song in set 2.
  • Heart: Barracuda
  • What, no crazy intro? (pun intended) Last song in a solid set.

Set 2 encore


  • Rage Against The Machine: Bulls On Parade (performed by)
  • After the first stupid boss battle, you get this song. eh. Lots of repetition.


Set 3 songs


  • The Killers: When You Were Young (performed by)
  • This song grew on me quickly; best in the set, which is not one of the better sets in the game.
  • AFI: Miss Murder (performed by)
  • Who? What? eh.
  • The Who: The Seeker
  • Never heard of this song, but it's interesting.
  • Priestess: Lay Down (performed by)
  • Shouldn't it be "Lie Down"?

Set 3 encore


  • Rolling Stones: Paint It Black (performed by)
  • Awesome encore, especially since it's them. Almost makes up for the stupid Pontiac stage.


Set 4 songs


  • Black Sabbath: Paranoid
  • Hell yes.
  • The Sex Pistols: Anarchy in the U.K. (performed by)
  • eh. Not a big fan anyway, and the new guys aren't as good as the dead ones.
  • Sonic Youth: Kool Thing (performed by)
  • eh.
  • Weezer: My Name Is Jonas (performed by)
  • Decent, but the lyrics are funny. Did you know the workers are going home?

Set 4 encore


  • Pearl Jam: Even Flow (performed by)
  • Another solid encore. Three of four so far.


Set 5 songs


  • The Dead Kennedys: Holiday In Cambodia
  • Interesting to see punk bands represented so well.
  • Scorpions: Rock You Like A Hurricane
  • Excellent song.
  • Aerosmith: Same Old Song and Dance (performed by)
  • Another great song.
  • ZZ Top: La Grange
  • A great end song, although the cover singer is awful. Why isn't this a master track?

Set 5 encore


  • Guns N Roses: Welcome to the Jungle (performed by)
  • Making up for the second boss battle, an outstanding track. GNR fits well with this game.


Set 6 songs


  • Santana: Black Magic Woman
  • This is a great song to play. The bass line is deceptively difficult, even at the lower levels.
  • The Smashing Pumpkins: Cherub Rock (performed by)
  • Not bad, especially compared to the next two songs.
  • White Zombie: Black Sunshine
  • Could be worse. This song is repetitive.
  • Tenacious D: The Metal (performed by)
  • Are you ******* kidding me? This is a ******* joke. These ******* don't even belong on a CD, much less in a game. The sad thing is that even though the lyrics are stupid, the song's better to play than Black Sunshine.

Set 6 encore


  • Stevie Ray Vaughn: Pride and Joy
  • Beautiful recovery from the end of that set. Too bad the cover singer does a terrible job. (Mental note: get master tracks for Texan singers.)


Set 7 songs


  • Slipknot: Before I Forget (performed by)
  • Ah, here comes the crap metal that I don't like.
  • Disturbed: Stricken (performed by)
  • More of the same.
  • Queens of the Stone Age: 3's & 7's (performed by)
  • More of the same.
  • Muse: Knights of Cydonia (performed by)
  • This one isn't so bad.

Set 7 encore


  • Living Colour: Cult of Personality (remake, performed by)
  • I guess the guitar part is pretty difficult. Not at all what I was expecting here.


Set 8 songs


  • Slayer: Raining Blood [sic] (performed by)
  • Yeah, the forums were ablaze as soon as the track list was released. That's "Reign In Blood", guys.
  • Eric Johnson: Cliffs Of Dover
  • Awesome song for this game. Note: Texas music with no vocals. Much easier to cover.
  • Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast (performed by)
  • Great song, even more appropriate considering the stage.
  • Metallica: One (performed by)
  • Huge points if you can master this song.

Set 8 encore


  • None
  • That's right. The retarded boss battle is actually the encore. boo. However, unlike the other two fake songs, this one is a cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Unfortunately, it's a bad cover, but hey, at least it fits the game really well.


Note that after you beat the game solo, you get to practice "Through The Fire And Flames" by Dragonforce. You'll need to. On Easy, you can get the 1000-note streak achievement, but you'll earn it. Sadly, this is one of those "all over the place because I can" songs, as opposed to, say, One, which is actually a song.

Co-op sets


I'll add these later.

XBLA review: Word Puzzle (2/10)

Don't bother.

Okay, you probably want more detail. Word Puzzle is basically a word search game: you have a list of words to find in a grid. You find them, you move to the next grid and search for more words.

Yep, that's it.

For a "challenge", occasionally things will come on-screen and partially or totally block your view of parts of the board. what fun. Harder grids are too big to see all at once, so the camera moves with your cursor. There are even grids on the sides of a cube.

The controls, as you might expect, are not ideal. Word searches are point-and-click games, and those are designed for mice, not joysticks. This is especially a problem on the "bonus stages" in the survival game, where you have a limited time to "find" all the words (it's not too hard to find because the beginning of each word is lit), but you can't really make a mistake or you won't complete the stage, and with the janky controls, you'll make mistakes.

Not at all worth it. This was a big letdown. XBLA needs more thinking games, but this doesn't count. It does get two points for effort.

zlionsfan's rating: 2 out of 10. It doesn't even deserve a metaphor

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Four.

The number of I-A teams with a record worse than Notre Dame.

Minnesota, Florida International, Idaho, and Utah State.

How long was that contract extension again?

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I'm comin' home

Ozzy would approve.

Good times, good play. Got Medium finished with 5 stars. (Reign in Blood is misspelled and also sucks.) Also completed Medium on co-op. Strange, it didn't give us a different achievement for Easy. It was the first time I'd had someone else log in with their ID too ... it took a bit to straighten out, but then we got the achievements down.

Good end to the trip: a solid thrashing of the Broncos. Most points since putting up 55 on Chicago on Thanksgiving, 1997, and biggest win since, um ... a 44-0 shutout of Jacksonville in 1995. It may not be a playoff-caliber team in general terms, but literally, I think they are. Green Bay and Dallas are the only NFC teams with fewer losses, and even if those two combine to beat Detroit three times, wins at Arizona and at home against Kansas City put them at .500. They can compete with the Giants and Green Bay at home, maybe Dallas, and might play well at San Diego (wow, a warm-weather December game) and Minnesota. We'll see.

P.S. Although I'm not a true Colts fan, I do like them, so on behalf of Colts fans and the rest of the NFL ...

Dear Patriots,

Nobody cares. You're still cheaters.

Sincerely,
everyone

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On the road again ...

Willie would be proud. Visiting the mountain mamma on my way east for the semi-annual anti-moderation party. My friend had this great idea: bring your 360 so we can play Guitar Hero.

No problem. Picked up an old Xbox carrier for $10 at McVan's (great used-games selection, by the way), packed it up along with my gig bag, and here I am, rocking out (quietly) in my hotel.

Brought some controllers in case we want to get into XBLA games, but I think it'll just be Guitar Hero. Maybe I can finally get some of those co-op achievements. :)

Props to Holiday Inn Express for having an open network (well, my end is secured) and allowing me to connect via wireless for the laptop and wired for the 360. Online achievements ftw!

Finished the first set on Expert and the third set on Medium. Why take the same path every time? Also picked up the Tone Deaf award. Four stars on Foghat. Go figure ... I remember seeing that at Macaw's back in the day ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First impressions

  • There are some very cool tracks in III. Disappointing that they didn't get more master tracks, though. Also, just like in the last three, there are some cover singers that do an awful job.
  • The on-screen streak counter is a great idea. Finally, we can get an idea of exactly how long we've gone ... on the other hand, it can be one more thing to distract you while you're on that streak.
  • A menu item to view your achievements would have been nice. Not sure why that isn't available.
  • For some reason, the leaderboards weren't working. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place.
  • Battle Mode is interesting, but I think it'll be better to do co-op. Now if only I can find someone who can help me through career co-op ...
  • There are some really cool encores and some that are eh. There is also one song that has ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS BEING IN THIS GAME! (You'll know which one it is when you see it.)
  • Finally, cash for completing tracks on Easy! Makes it a little less painful to work on the five-stars-Easy achievement. Also, you get quite a bit of money for completing a set.
  • Bonus tracks are eh once again.


I'm glad I got the game-only deal. Between shady package deals and problems with wireless guitars, there were a lot of potential hazards between me and an evening of rocking out. Then again, the rumor mill says that the Rock Band guitar won't work with GH III. Good thing I've got two guitars already ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

I wanna rock!

Your package is on time with a scheduled delivery date of 10/29/2007.

OUT FOR DELIVERY

Yeah!

Good thing I'm doing my presentation today. I won't even see GH III until after it's done. Now I just have to figure out how to catch up on my charting ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

XBLA review: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (10/10)

Crackdown, Forza 2, and the Orange Box are sitting on my entertainment center. Haven't played 'em since Tuesday.

Yeah, it's that good.

So what's got my attention? Well, it's a straightforward turn-based RPG, so you know it's going to score points with me, but it's also not heavy on the RPG stuff. (For an XBLA game, that's a good thing.)

To start up, you simply pick a class and play. You defeat monsters to win experience and gold so that you can increase your attributes and get better gear. You can make your own magic items with runes that you find in certain places (if you defeat the Runekeepers guarding them), capture enemies so that you can learn spells or even train them as mounts, and build a citadel where you can do all this.

The catch? You're playing Bejeweled to do it. Yep, lining up three or more gems in a row, alternating with your opponent. There are four colors of gems (to match the elements: earth, fire, air, water), plus coins for gold, stars for experience, and skulls to damage your opponents. As you progress, you learn more spells and have access to more items: in towns, you can buy items of certain types, but many have level or skill restrictions.

You can carry a weapon, a piece of armor, a helmet, and a miscellaneous item into battle with you. Items can have many different effects (more damage, more gain from gems you match, reflective effects), and between the store-bought items and crafted items, you'll have many different combinations you can choose.

Movement in the world is similar to Heroes of Might and Magic, except you move directly from town to town instead of a certain distance per turn. Some creatures will appear randomly on the map and block your path, forcing you to defeat or capture them. (Unlike combat, capture is a chess-type puzzle: you must remove all gems from the board. Succeed and capture, fail and try again or give up and fight.) Others are quest-related and are fought in towns and cities.

The storyline is well written and even has contemporary dialog: it feels like it's been translated into modern speech rather than stilted, ancient, by-the-book speech. You'll know what I mean when you play it.

It's very easy to get into and very easy to play for long periods of time - the "just one more battle" force is strong in this one.

I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try. It's $15 right now, but it's a great deal, and you can get all but one of the achievements offline. Go forth, young warrior, and puzzle.

zlionsfan's rating: 10 coins out of 10.

The rabbit is back

Watching the Iowa-Purdue game (muted half the time - the production is awful as usual. Can't wait for someone at ESPN to get fired so that the new head of programming shows football instead of interviews and movies), and after one of Purdue's touchdowns, a rabbit ran on the field to celebrate.

No word as to whether or not he's related to the award-winning rabbit. In 1993, a rabbit ran the length of the field during a break in the Michigan-Purdue game. (He led the Boilers in rushing.) He ended up winning an ESPY for it.

I'd love to see that on YouTube ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Slacking off

Sorry for not posting more often. It's a busy time. I'm desperately falling behind with respect to XBLA reviews - I'll work on catching up on those this quarter. Between class and the Orange Box and Puzzle Quest (can you really be between three things? should that be among?), with Beautiful Katamari on the way, a few Crackdown achievements left, and Forza 2 wondering why I'm ignoring it, I should have plenty of games to cover soon.

Plus Guitar Hero III is just around the corner. (Right about when my first presentation is due, which is right before I leave for my weekend in Virginia. Good timing.) And then Rock Band is a few weeks later ...

w00t!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ha ha ha ha ha

33-19. Purdue is now five games better than Notre Dame. Ha ha ha. (Of course, Purdue's had a pretty soft schedule, but still.)

Notre Dame hasn't lost five in a row in the same season since 1963, when they went 2-7 and lost their last five.

They've now lost seven straight, dating back to the USC game last season. They haven't lost seven in a row since 1960, when they sandwiched a pair of wins around an eight-game losing streak.

Charlie Weis is on the verge of making history at Notre Dame. I'm just glad we're all around to see it.

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Now playing: Chesnutt, Mark - I Don't Want to Miss a Thing
via FoxyTunes

Friday, September 28, 2007

XBLA review: Geon: Emotions (6/10)

Okay, I've been slacking. Too much Crackdown and not enough reviewing. I'll work on catching up.

Geon: Emotions is a cute little game: you roll around various 3D boards, picking up emotes and scoring goals while your opponent does the same. From a distance, it almost looks like a New Wave Pac-Man ...

which, well, it is. It has some interesting tweaks: there are eight different "emotions", each of which has a corresponding powerup that works better for that emotion than the others (for example, Rapture gets extended speed from the speed burst). The boards are fairly simple at the beginning, but get more complex twists as the difficulty increases.

In Time Attack mode, you race the computer to five goals with time as a factor (you score a goal by eating a certain number of dots, flipping over to his side of the board, and returning to the center); in Duel mode, you simply play to five; Minigame mode, for some reason, is just Time Attack mode with automatic bad guys and no computer opponents.

The gameplay is interesting, and over time, it becomes a bit more natural, but it's still just fancy Pac-Man with no ghosts.

Now, imagine Super Pac-Man (yes, when you've eaten the super dot) in 3D, and you may spot a problem.

Oh yes, frustration. It doesn't happen much, but when it does, it maxes out very quickly. It's easy to miss a dot because you went up instead of over; worse yet is when you spend an extra 10 seconds in one corner of the board because you keep missing your turn, or because the stupid moving platform flipped you over instead of letting you cross, or some nonsense like that.

On top of that, as the AI gets better, it's more likely to reach "spoiler mode": rather than trying to win, it simply tries to stop you from winning. On one board, it decided to sit on a switch and prevent me from activating a slide for about 2 minutes. (You can clear most board in 2 to 3 minutes.) Then again, once he moved, I still couldn't activate it, so that one was probably a bug.

Naturally, some of the achievements require online play. I guess you can do that, if you really want to play Pac-Man against someone else. Some people would rather play, I don't know, Halo 3, but what do they know?

Overall, Geon: Emotions is a decent game, but not much more than that. Enjoy it during the breaks you're taking from a Halofest. You are taking breaks, aren't you?

zlionsfan's rating: 6 fears out of 10.


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Now playing: Simon & Garfunkel - America [Live]
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

teh Haloz!

Sweet!

I wasn't going to get Halo 3 at launch. I figured I'd get around to it someday. However, the reviews looked pretty good, so I was thinking about it.

As if by magic, costco.com made the decision for me: Halo 3 for $50. The message arrived on the 19th. I placed the order on the 20th. No way it would arrive on launch day.

way.

So now I have a copy of Halo 3. Awesome!

And now I'm going to finish charting the first half between the resistable force and the movable object.

And finish my reading for week 1 of the fall quarter at PSU.

Yeah. that's it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

How to catch a cat

If you have a cat, you know how difficult it is to catch. A cat's first step is much faster than yours, and it's not possible to reach down in time to grab the cat if it wants to take off, so if you need to catch it, you must get within arm's length before even thinking about catching it, and even then it's 50/50.

Today was another chemo appointment - well, blood work + chemo, because they didn't draw blood in between like they're supposed to, and I forgot until it was too late - so I did my normal late-morning routine. There have been enough of these now that the cats know something's up when I'm home early (at one point, Calle was going under the bed every morning just to be safe), so even though they greet me at the door, they're ready to run at a moment's notice.

This time, it was a little different. Both cats were sleeping in the bedroom, so they were standing near the bed when I saw them: Calle at the foot, Josie next to it. I did a quick calculation and estimated the chances of me catching Calle with a lunge at something like 0%.

I began to walk slowly toward her, no arms outstretched or anything, trying not to think of anything, least of all the clinic and the cat carrier. I got within about 6 feet before Calle did the same thing: realizing that my chances were now greater than 0%, she turned and began to go under the bed.

In the past, when she'd meet me at the door, the first thing I'd do would be to close the bedroom door. My bed is pretty low to the floor, so I can't get under it. Other than that, there's really no place in the house where I can't get a cat if I need to. (I couldn't do that today because they never left the bedroom.) The end result is that I have to move both the mattress and box spring, which basically adds 10 minutes, 15 if I'm not careful with the covers.

However, the bed is also low enough that she can't just walk underneath it: she has to squeeze down a little bit, and that's what saved me. As I saw her duck down and start to disappear under the blankets hanging off the end of the bed, I apparently leapt forward (my knee informed me I'd done this later) and lunged under the bed.

Unlike Madden AI, instead of aiming for where the cat had been, I aimed for where the cat would be. Grabbing a cat by the hind legs will get you nothing if you're lucky, and a skin graft if you're not. Instead, as my arm disappeared under the bed, my hand found a cat chest. I scooped her back out from the bed, picked her up, and eventually coaxed her into the carrier. (By "coaxed" I mean "kept her in front of me and moved the carrier forward until she was already halfway in it.")

Owner 1, Cat 0. (Total score at this point: Owner 24, Cat 37,844.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

ESPN sucks, part 290

So I'm blessed with the Purdue-Central Michigan matchup on ESPN2 today. Bonus! HD football ... except that late in the third quarter, ESPN decides that we want to watch Auburn-Mississippi State instead, so they push the Purdue game onto the SD alternate channel.

Oh, and they also keep going back to the studio in between, instead of showing us, you know, football, which is kind of the point of watching in the first place.

So CMU goes on a roll, capitalizes on a couple of turnovers, and just as I'm sending in my complaint (I wasn't going to say anything, because ESPN doesn't care, but when the fourth quarter started, they showed the "also available in HD" lie, so I had to write. They're lucky they limit comments to 500 characters), they switch back. Maybe they should have just left it there. You know, there are other channels. If I want SEC football, I'll go find it.

jackasses.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jelly beans

I'm getting my braces off in 22 days.

It's a pretty cool 40th birthday present. My orthodontist did "promise" they'd be off before I turned 40. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was a morning baby. (Clearly, that was the last day when morning was acceptable to me.)

Anyway, I am looking forward to it, just a little bit. Basically, I'm thinking

jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans jelly beans

Friday, August 31, 2007

AT&T sucks

I'd like to dump my long-distance carrier, because long distance is a ripoff, and I'd like to do it online, because I don't trust the CSRs.

However, AT&T has thwarted me. For three straight days now, their site has been unavailable to me. No reason why, no apologies, just hey, you can't get in, try again later. And why not stop by att.com, because what better way to sell you on more of our crap than by not letting you see what you've got now?

Yeah, the whole reconsolidation of the phone industry, not a good thing.

The problem is that my local cable company sucks, so I won't get digital cable/broadband through them, and I want Sunday Ticket, so I have to have DirecTV, so I need a phone line.

At least my DSL service is pretty good.

Anyway, AT&T sucks, but everyone knows that.

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Now playing: Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead or Alive
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cyberball!

Yeah, I know, I should be blogging more, but I've been busy, running here and there. Nothing like being rained on at Wrigley, you know.

Anyway, Cyberball is coming to XBLA next week. Sweet! I might have to play a couple of MAME games just to get in the mood for it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hurray!

I mean, "It's about f-in time." That's not nearly so friendly, though. Apologies to those who prefer milder language: for you, pretend that I said "fire-truckin'".

Someone finally figured out that chess would make a good XBLA game, and better yet, it's not alone. Let me get this straight: for 400 points, we get chess, checkers, reversi, and mancala, and we paid how much for Pac-Man?

Anyway, good to see the trend toward thinkers' games (Catan, Carcassonne) is continuing.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

PS2 review: Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (6/10)

Warning: spoilers involved. Don't read this unless you want to know all the tracks in the game.

Let's go through each set, one at a time.

Set 1 songs


  • Quiet Riot: (Bang Your Head) Metal Health
  • A good start.
  • Go-Go's: We Got The Beat
  • Kind of a surprise, but it works here.
  • Flock of Seagulls: I Ran (So Far Away) [as performed by]
  • Not bad, but it seems like they took some of the keyboards and made them into guitar notes.
  • Accept: Balls To The Wall
  • Standard metal fare.


Set 1 encore


  • Skid Row: 18 And Life
  • Nice encore tune. Moves around a bit, but not too difficult on Hard.

Set 2 songs


  • Scorpions: No One Like You
  • Good song, and a good way to start the set.
  • Eddie Money: Shakin'
  • Not bad, I like this one too.
  • Asia: Heat Of The Moment
  • My favorite Asia song, one of the best in the game. Too bad it's not the original and they don't do the guitar solo correctly.
  • White Lion: Radar Love

whaaaaaaa?

no.

Not only did they defame the game by including a cover of the song (hey, the original was a '70s song anyway), but it's a bad cover. Bad. Loss of one point.

I mean, seriously. There's a White Lion song in here and it isn't Wait?

Set 2 encore


  • Limozeen: Because, It's Midnite
  • Um ... what? Did someone break into the game and wreck the last half of set 2? This isn't even worth putting in the game, and on top of it, you won't get points from it. I posted a perfect 55K. boo.

Set 3 songs


  • Dio: Holy Diver
  • Okay, back on track. Good song.
  • Vapors: Turning Japanese
  • Uh, whatever. The pop influence, I guess.
  • 38 Special: Hold On Loosely
  • I really like this song too. Not a bad set so far.
  • Scandal: The Warrior [as performed by]
  • Nice. Get rid of Turning Japanese and we could have had a really solid set.


Set 3 encore


  • Twisted Sister: I Wanna Rock [as performed by]
  • Awesome! The one thing they should have added was the lead singer asking the crowd what they wanted to do with their lives. This was a solid set.

Set 4 songs


  • Romantics: What I Like About You
  • Not a bad song.
  • Police: Synchronicity II
  • Sting is not a good singer to have to copy.
  • Krokus: Ballroom Blitz
  • I couldn't tell right away if this was real or not. I like Krokus' version better than the original.
  • Oingo Boingo: Only A Lad
  • Um ... this isn't Karaoke Revolution.


Set 4 encore


  • Ratt: Round And Round
  • Nice. Songs by the two artists at the first real concert I went to see (they opened for Billy Squier).

Set 5 songs


  • Poison: Ain't Nothin' But A Good Time

um ...

that's not the title. Those lyrics don't even appear in the song. This is inexcusable. Loss of a point. (At least the song is good.)
  • Billy Squier: Lonely Is The Night
  • Good song.
  • Faster Pussycat: Bathroom Wall
  • Hadn't heard this one before, but it's not bad.
  • X: Los Angeles
  • Who?


Set 5 encore


  • Iron Maiden: Wrathchild
  • Nice. I forgot about this one. Unfortunately, The Trooper is 10x cooler.

Set 6 songs


  • Judas Priest: Electric Eye [as performed by]
  • Hadn't heard this one before. Nice touch to get their version of it.
  • Dead Kennedys: Police Truck
  • One punk song per game, huh? It's not a bad song, I guess.
  • Winger: Seventeen
  • Nice song, but not sure this is the type of song for this set.
  • Anthrax: Caught In A Mosh
  • eh.

Final encore


  • Extreme: Play With Me

Okay, it's nice that it has Mozart stuff in it, I guess, but seriously? This is the best you had? From the '80s? Seriously?

I never heard this song before. Sorry, not impressed.

So that's it. Hmm ... where to begin.

No Van Halen? No AC/DC? No Bon Jovi? No Cinderella? No Def Leppard? No Dokken? No Tesla? No Autograph?

And that's just from my own collection.

No additional songs to unlock. (Maybe the developers ran out of their own tunes to include. Ha ha. Oh wait, that probably wasn't a joke.)

No career score. Like GH II, there isn't even a cumulative score for each level like they had in GH I.

This is very Madden-ish: the exact same game, only with new songs. (Actually, it's not even as much as you got in GH II.) At least they have the working hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Sorry to say it, but I don't recommend this game at full price. You won't get your money's worth. I hope Rock Band and GH III are worth it, because we're definitely getting screwed for the time being, between this and the lack of track packs (four in all, after the last one, but still only three songs per pack).

zlionsfan's rating: 6 rounds of sardonic applause out of 10.

Friday, July 27, 2007

6s

Got what's probably my first 600 series, a 622. (208-217-197) I still can't put more than four strikes together. That last game raised my skill a whole 6 points, to 1206.

Wait till my next precipitous plunge. I don't think I can afford a 170 now. Poor me.

I wonder what happens at 2000? Guess I'll find out in tennis ...

Big hair, loud music, and regrets

It's true. Rocks the 80s is here, arriving promptly on the 26th (although they did that awful hold-the-game-until-we-say thing that I dislike; I guess the flip side is that I know I'll get it on launch day). It was almost like going to a high school reunion, running into an old flame, and making plans to hook up that evening.

Don't get me wrong. It was good - heck, parts of it were great - but really, it wasn't what I was hoping it would be, and honestly, it's probably because my expectations were too high. This was only supposed to be GH II with '80s songs, and that's exactly what it is. After all, there's a reason why she's an old flame ... and remember, your friend's cousin is coming into town later this year, and she's supposed to be smoking hot.

I'll have a more detailed review later (with spoilers, sorry, but it would be hard to review it accurately without listing all the tracks).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Low red count

Calle passed her first blood test. The second one was today, with chemo scheduled for tomorrow.

The hospital called me back today. Turns out her red blood cell count was about half of the lowest acceptable level, so we canceled the appointment. I've got antibiotics to give her, and next week, she'll go back in for another blood test. If that's okay, we can proceed with chemo.

Naturally, she doesn't care. Looks like the same old Calle, except with a bit less fur (the stomach fur is starting to grow back; the neck and leg won't stay regrown until we're done because they need the leg for chemo and the neck for blood work).

Well, she probably won't like 14 doses of antibiotics. Neither will I. I did get a useful tip, though. We'll see how it works out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

AOL sucks

Football.

Their fantasy football site is awful. Still is. But the commissioner likes it.

Also, it's free.

So my job is to document why it sucks so that we can compare it to better sites and use one next season (or maybe this season).

Let's see:

Slow updates. It was not at all uncommon for Tuesday to roll around without final scores and standings.

Counterintuitive design. If you saw a list of items like this:

Views » Team Records » Standings » Head to Head » Hall of Fame

you'd think it was where you were in the site, right? So under Views, there would be Team Records ... but that's not how it works. These are all equal options under Views.

There doesn't seem to be any place that shows past champions or past playoff results.

That's all for now. More later, I expect.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wii Virtual Console review: Gradius III (6/10), $8

Oh no, it won't be like Xbox Live. For one thing, I already own most of the games I'd want to play, and I still have the original systems (NES, N64, and Genesis). For another, well, they're not new.

Anyway, Gradius III is pretty much like you played it on the SNES: same preset ship configuration, same customization options, same gameplay, same customizable controls.

The Classic controller is very lightweight, almost too much so. The default configuration is almost unplayable (you've got shoulder buttons - use them), but it's very easy to reconfigure.

For some reason, the game doesn't size properly on an HDTV. Yeah, I know, the Wii itself doesn't provide HD graphics, but the regular Wii games are sized right. Hey, put in a little extra work and let us configure video (16:9 or 4:3). As a result, you can't tell what your score is, because it's off the top of the screen.

It does, however, save your high scores. Hear that, Microsoft? It saves your high scores.

So it's a nice little game if you enjoyed it in the past, but if you didn't, it's not really a game I'd recommend. Play one of the more modern versions.

zlionsfan's rating: 6 options out of 10.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bowlin', bowlin', bowlin'


246.

Read it and weep, beeeyotches. (Thanks to Wayne Veres for his handy little score calculator.)

I figured out a small problem with my delivery. Two, actually. One was that I was swinging my arm out and back instead of hanging it at my side as if it held, well, a bowling ball. The other was that my release point was random.

A couple of changes later, I hit seven of eight strikes and end up a sleeper away from a no-tap 300. Added 97 points to my level (1175 now).

I'd bowl again, but there's a cat on my lap.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wiilief

So I get home after an evening of playing Big Brain Academy and Mario Party 8, and I see that I don't have my BBA game in my inbox. Actually, I have nothing. Also, my friends didn't have my updated Mii.

I play for a bit and decide to test the connection. Sporadic connectivity, can't shop, can't update the system.

After about 45 minutes of the router equivalent of smacking the TV set, I unplug the Wii and move it up about three feet and out of the nice entertainment center where it sits. No connection problems at all.

I think this was because we were talking last night about how Sony was so stupid and Microsoft couldn't get out of its own way. Nintendo can't make enough Wiis to save themselves, but what else could they do wrong? Everyone loves their games.

Oh yeah. No wired connection and crappy interface to wireless connections.

Thanks for reminding me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cross your paws ...

Well, the surgery went very well. The incision healed fine, the E-collars are off, and the staples are out. There was much washing that first day, when she got to keep the collars off for good (I let her wash the fur areas every now and then, but she had to stay away from the incision).

Her energy was coming back even as the E-collars were on, so she's pretty close to normal now. That's good, considering that she also began chemo on Friday. (This was new to me: unlike in people, where they can ramp it up because you know what's going on, in cats, chemo is more for controlling whatever might be out there. A cat in pain because of cancer and a cat in pain because of chemo are essentially in the same spot.) There isn't anything noticeable right now, but because this turned out to be something a little bit different (pancreatic, and there are other words that go with it that may or may not have been what I posted before), this is to keep down whatever else may be trying to grow. There will be six three-week cycles, alternating between two medicines, with blood draws 10 and 20 days after chemo.

It was pretty quick, maybe just 20 minutes, and thankfully administered by IV and not yours truly. Got her back in the crate, back home, and within minutes, she was eating and pulling at the bandage on her leg. (I felt dumb when, after the hour they say to wait, I went to take it off and there was no bandage on the leg. She'd already removed it herself. No thanks, Dad, already took care of that.)

No real side effects, partly because of the low dosage. The one thing that happens sometimes is that whiskers fall out (their equivalent to our hair, stuff that keeps growing). Not yet, not that I've seen. Also, you're supposed to handle waste carefully, because for the first 72 hours, they can pass active medication. (Fortunately, I already react to cat urine, so I've got gloves just for that purpose.)

Things have gone as well as I could have hoped. The only real change, besides the fur that's slowly growing back, is that now that Calle has her energy back, she's not so keen on hanging out with Josie. Apparently all that closeness before was just that she didn't have the energy to move away. :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

XBLA review: Missile Command (3/10)

Yawn.

This week's XBLA release is another Digital Eclipse port of an Atari classic. And who wouldn't want to play good old Missile Command?

Well, anyone without a trackball, for starters. Missile Command is slightly less awkward to play with a joystick than Centipede, but both really, really need a trackball to be played well.

Also, I never really liked Missile Command, so it stands to reason that if the port were faithful to the original, I wouldn't like it either, and so I don't.

I will give them credit, though, for porting it well. The Classic mode is basically the old game with joystick controller. (Thankfully, they do use X A B for bases. I've seen ports that used only one button to fire.) For some reason, there's no two-player alternating mode.

Naturally, there's an "Evolved" mode that is supposed to be so much better than the original. Again, nobody looks at these games and says "Man, if only the graphics were updated, this would be a kick-ass game, even today!" Well, actually, they could improve the graphics here. The contrast on some of the levels wasn't so good: you could tell that Atari was using some colors simply because they could.

Well, Evolved does change the colors up, along with "3D" graphics, but the irony is that there are still levels where it's not easy to pick up the "missiles." Sigh ... also, Digital Eclipse really, really wants you to play the Evolved mode. Ten of the twelve achievements are for the Evolved mode at Normal difficulty. Thankfully, they only required stupid "throttle monkey" difficulty for one achievement. (Why bother to give us only two difficulty levels? MAME lets you customize the difficulty like arcade operators could.)

Interestingly, they did change one thing significantly. The bonus multiplier continues to go up beyond 6x: it continues every two waves. This should give you that same kind of artificially-high score that pinball players got from tables in the early '90s, when designers realized that you could add a couple of zeroes to everything and people would like their scores better.

I guess if you really are hankering for a game of Missile Command, this might be nice to have in your collection, but if you weren't the kind of person who'd put a week's lunch money into the game in the '80s, I wouldn't bother with it today.

zlionsfan's rating: 3 cities out of 10.

Monday, June 25, 2007

360 review: Rayman Raving Rabbids (6/10)

Wow. I forgot to review this for the Wii. Maybe later.

Anyway, this is the Wii hit ported to the 360. It's a fun concept: in story mode, you play minigames to advance and unlock them in score mode, then you go back and play one to four players in score mode, unlocking other things.

The minigames are (mostly) fun, nice little tasks that are somewhat (or a lot) longer than, say, their Mario or Wario counterparts. On the Wii, they're given an added touch with the Wiimote (and occasionally the nunchuk). On the 360, well ... you can use the Live Vision camera, but I wouldn't recommend it except for the achievement.

Because the controls are different, there are a couple of minigames in the 360 version not in the Wii version and vice versa. Also, some of the 360 games (like the dancing ones) are easier to play, but some (like the bunny hunt) are harder.

Why would you not have an option to invert the cursor movement? Every shooter has this, and I mean every one. This makes no sense to me. Deduct one point for stupidity.

Also, the games take quite a while to load, which makes you wonder what's going on when you see their simplicity. Like the Wii version, the 360 version doesn't have a menu option to restart a challenge: you have to quit it, sit through the loading screen, pick it again, sit through the loading screen, click through the menus, and then sit through another (short) loading screen. Bor-ing.

Worst of all, if you "fail" a game by not getting a certain score, you get no credit for it in score mode. None. So then what's the point of giving us a score?

Also, despite the presence of Xbox Live, they insist on making us type in that stupid Web code to check leaderboards and stuff. Um, no. That's so last-generation.

The graphics are nicer, but really, what part of this is about the graphics? It's about getting rabbits to run into cacti over and over again.

Basically, it's like the Wii version, only without the novelty, and missing a couple of things that would have taken advantage of the 360's features. It's not a bad game if you have kids, but honestly, if you have kids, you should have a Wii anyway, so get it for that instead.

zlionsfan's rating: 6 floppy-eared bunnies out of 10.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Home again, home again

Calle's home now. Everything's going well, except that she's wearing one of those collars that prevents cats from getting at their stitches/staples.

For about an hour, that is. She lay down by the guitars, and as I was typing, I heard a papery kind of "pop" sound, and there was a cat with no collar. Oops. I quickly put it back on, but it makes me wonder if it'll stay on during the day. Hopefully, she'll keep it on during the day today, and then will be less tempted to try to remove it tomorrow.

I have a few meds to give her, two that she gets every 12 hours and one every 8 hours. We'll see how much stronger she is now than before: even when I was putting the collar back on her, she was resisting pretty well. I suspect that in two weeks, once the staples are out, she'll be running around at full speed again.

Josie's not quite sure what to make of this. I took away a quiet cat and brought back a noisy cat, one that rustles every time it moves. She's not so cool with this. She'll probably think better of it when she realizes that she'll get the bed to herself (no jumping, remember).

Once again, good news to this point ...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Looking good so far ...

For the first time in I don't know how long, I was 30 minutes early to work.

The appointment was very quick. The surgeon checked on Calle, talked a bit about what we would do and what the risks were (he was the fact-dispenser to match the oncologist's hope-dispensation), I left her with an assistant, and that was that. He said they'd call if there were problems prior to surgery (if chest X-rays showed stuff in the lungs or heart cavity), and if not, they'd call after surgery.

It's also been a long time since I wanted the phone not to ring. :)

10:53, right after my 10:30 ends, I get a call on my work phone. (Docs know this stuff - yeah, you say "cell phone, cell phone," but when was the last time your work phone was dead?) Everything's fine so far. She was very good during surgery (naturally), no visible signs of cancer other than the mass itself. They took it out, got her into recovery, and that's all for now. She'll stay over the weekend, and then I'll have a list of instructions on Monday or Tuesday.

There's a possibility that there could be more cancer that is too small to detect, and the oncologist will come up with a post-surgery plan, so there is another phase (short or long, hard to tell at this point), but for now, things seem to be going very, very well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Found money

Of course, it's never really found. It just comes from something you forgot.

Anyway, back before I bought my current car, I got rear-ended at a stoplight by a woman in an SUV who was paying attention to something other than, say, the car in front of her. (This is not a surprise. I've been in 15 or so accidents, probably 12 not my fault. Crash magnet.) Anyway, it was one of those smaller things, so I get out, we exchange information, I don't call the police (because it was minor), and we move on.

I get my car fixed, paying the deductible, of course, and I suppose I filled out all that other stuff. Anyway, I got it fixed at Penske Chevrolet. I bought my current car at Penske Honda.

I get an envelope in the mail from Penske today. Hmm, wonder what they want? Probably want me to come in for my 7500-mile checkup. (It's time.) Nope. It's from Penske Chevrolet.

It's my deductible.

Ha ha! I win again! (The last time, it was a lying ... um, can't use that word here. Anyway, it was a woman who ran a stoplight by about five seconds, sideswiped me, and then tried to claim that it was my fault, with her husband happily lying on her behalf. Fortunately, a witness saw the whole thing and came right up and said so - bless her heart - and I got my deductible back on that one too.)

So you see, free money. Of course, I already paid it, so I'm just getting it back, but still ... I have the feeling I will need some extra cash soon.
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