Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Children - Dulce and Jose Francisco

My children continue to be a great joy; I never get tired of having kids in my lap or next to me. One night before Christmas I had talked with Dulce, my 7yo, about the fact that there were no monsters in the dark in her room. My 4yo, Alejandrita (alay-hon-dree-tah), chimed in saying "Dulce, the only tings in our room are da tings in our room." and she proceeded to list every item in the room, so Dulce said she knew everything that was in the room. I said "So, if you know everything that is in the room, you know what's not in the room, like Clyde the Monster." which gave the little and oldest (9yo) girl a chuckle. Dulce whimpered as she went to bed, crying softly, feeling ashamed, so as usual I went to give her a kiss and a hug in the dark room before I left, and I bumped my elbow on her wooden bunk bed frame as I came to her. It didn't make me yelp, just an annoyance to me but she immediately halted her crying, spoke up and said "Are you okay?"

I told her "Dulce, here you are crying because you feel bad that you're scared and your sisters aren't, and I bump myself and you ask me if I'm okay?" So instead of seeing her off, I stayed with her until she fell asleep as a reward.

My son, Jose Francisco, on the other hand, gets his rewards for exhibiting his Mayan and Spaniard ancestry, or his Latin blood. Every time he falls but gets up without a fuss, even if he now has a rosy bump on his head, my wife, my daughters, all know to clap for him and encourage him.

He likes to give me "Klingon head butts" as I call them. One day I was playing with him and he dropped a soldier, so we both went to pick it up and hit our heads. I'd moved quickly so it actually stung, but I laughed because that's what I do when Jose or I hurt ourselves, and so he laughed and wanted to do it again. So we did, and we did it again, and again, each time I'd deliver a bit harder of a thump, or try to change what part of my skull hit his, and finally dad had enough and I rubbed my head and shook my hand at him "that's enough".

He gave me this odd smirk when I did that. Then Dulce (my "princess," my sensitive daughter) came into the room and, being a sadistic Papa, I called her over for a kiss. She quickly took the opportunity and moved her head close to mine, right in front of Jose Francisco, who smiled and lobbed his head forward and *smack* Dulce exclaimed "OW!" which she does for any amount of pain, and Jose and I laughed, and I hugged Dulce and apologized. She chuckled too after she was in my arms.

Jose Francisco still likes to do the head-butting routine every once in a while and for a time I was completely confounded by it - why was it fun? I was never like that as a child. Pain was endured but not sought out. I got back on horses but I didn't like the fall. Then I realized: the same reason he gave me that smirk when I quit - any challenge to Jose Francisco, any test he can try to overcome, is desirable to him. When I rubbed my head and shook my hand at him, it was a signal he'd withstood the test.

Mom from Mexico, when I asked her about it, having not told her of my own conclusions, said that all of her seven sons did that -- it's something Latin baby boys do, sometimes when they're older too. Proving their worth, she said, is in their blood.

I'd imagine boys from any good stock are much the same.

Wiiiiiiiiiii - Zelda Twilight Princess

Okay so Christmas was great, as usual. My children are wonderful.

The Wii isn't the biggest item, but it's certainly racked up some time (which I can track thanks to the Wii's play-session by play-session accounting of time spent on every game every day, with a grand total).

Maria de Guadalupe got Zelda: Twilight Princess last week. Since I had the week before Christmas off, I wanted to have a chance to play it too. Honestly she loves the game more than I do, and that is because everything is new to her. Much of Zelda: Twilight Princess reminds me of Ocarina of Time. True, there are great new puzzles, far better graphics (from the N64 editions of Zelda, and Wind Waker, which didn't jive with this artist, strangely), but...

But the music horrendous. I have not heard one sample that doesn't sound either bad, involves a 10 second loop (or less, no joke), or like a 10 year old MIDI. I'm sorry, but MIDI technology isn't - that's a leap into anachronism.

Similarly, many of the sound effects are grating. You only hear your sword through the Wii Remote, whose speaker is better designed as an attention-getter, or to echo the sound from the game as in WiiSports, where you'll hear the Tennis Racket hit from your TV speakers and the Wiimote. The horse whinnies every time you spur her, every fucking time, and it's the same sample played either at a higher or lower octave.

Some of the puzzles are timed, which I hate with a passion - let me take time figuring them out, not running the same gauntlet 10 times trying not to fall into lava or reach the door after it's closed - again.

Lastly, Hyrule Field was a HUGE dissappointment after Shadow of the Colossus. I wanted something inspiring, something with huge chasms and grand vistas. Nope. None of that. The game fairly faithfully calls up the terrain layout of the N64 Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and two console generations later, it's just not much to look at or do but race around one Epona (your horse) and run over bad guys for fun.

All that said, I am still playing it, and as my friend Kevin likes to point out, I often complain most about the games I like, because the ones I don't like I complain once and then never pick them up again.

Long live All American Computers, or rather, Kyle Felstein

All American Computers is gone, and with it, my warranty, but hopefully not Kyle's house, the owner of AAC.

My hat is off to the man who had a great company, a great product, great customer service, and knowledge so deep you couldn't shove a spear all the way through it.

I hope he does better in the future, and that his wife supports him.

The Fate of AAC Direct / All American Computers

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wii Want to Play

My WiiSports outing and playing Zelda: Twilight Princess
My lovely Latina says I'm an open book. WiiSports, perhaps because I always have my children to play with, has been incredible for me. Yesterday my daughters let me borrow their Wii so Papa could take it to some friends' house. They had two computers, a PS2, (I brought my PS2 games as well) and the Wii.

We (myself, Christian & Jay) got onto WiiSports Bowling and Christian's teenage sister, Jossie, dominated us. All the guys had played bowling before, but the newb schooled us. She had the most spastic moves that ended up in strikes. Really it was because somehow she was curving the ball, but it only started to curve at the last possible second, right before drilling the pins. How she did that she didn't know, and we couldn't replicate it. A grudge match didn't help, because she still won 2nd place out of 4.

We then played some Tennis and Baseball. Jay figured out that the time to strike a ball was about two seconds, after which I was able to use my sense of timing (I remember beating teenagers on the Atari 2600 playing "Target" when I was 6 years old) which hasn't played into my success in videogames in, oh, 15 years (mattered, but not game-busting importance), suddenly I was the only one batting balls into the field or netting 3 home runs.

Then Christian fired up his copy of Zelda, even though he doesn't have his own Wii yet, and Jossie and Jay quickly went to the computers and played World of Warcraft and I tried to stay awake, but literally fell asleep (I'd tried to camp with them the night before for Christian's Wii but the store managers told us at 2AM that there were no Wiis - I've had friends who work at Best Buy/Worst Buy, I know they sell to their staff and pretend not to, so my guess is the tip was correct, they just didn't know the Wiis were "already accounted for").

Zelda is, of course, immaculate. The attention to detail in this game is incredible. Yes, it's got some small start areas and small areas with limited mobility like Fable. Yes, Oblivion's Radiant AI kills Zelda's NPCs. But when you see the cute pregnant girl holding her belly and breathing differently after a walk, you think "My God, that's actually what my wife did when she was pregnant." The game flowed beautifully and shined. I can see why it gets great reviews - it's not all nostalgia.

We disliked that you have to shake the Nunchuck left and right to do a swing attack, when we all wanted to wave the Wiimote around, but whatever. It was not a party game; Zelda is the Wii game for folks who have no friends living with them, and see their friends on weekends. Unlike the Nintendo President Iwata said, it's not a game folks will stick around and watch either. I would, if I wasn't so tired at the time, but I'm abnormal.

When we started playing Tennis again, Jay, who almost got a college scholarship playing Tennis, but wanted to leave Puerto Rico for the U.S. instead, couldn't believe he couldn't beat me. Everyone wanted to play me, and after five games my right arm started to give out. I got a break and played two more and then it was time to go home.

At home I played against my 9yo daughter, Maria, who enjoys competition with me. She's my tiger - we play wrestle, play fight (she knows about hooking out eyeballs) whereas my 2nd daughter, Dulce Maria (Sweet Maria), is a tender sensitive girl who yelps at any mild pain. Every child is different, and you can guess which one cuddles dad when he's sick, so they all have their strengths. Anyway...

Maria couldn't beat me at tennis anymore. She'd beaten me twice, but now I was impossible. Far from disheartened, she just wanted to know what she should do to learn to beat me again, so I told her to play the computer more often than her sisters, and to make a new Mii to start her score over because the computer (seeing her score), was owning her little sisters when they played together against the AI.

I can say that the Wii is the most fun I have had with a game console since my Nintendo Entertainment System. Remember when you'd get together with your friends and play NES games all evening? All day was a bit much for my outdoorsy self but all evening was fair game.

I bought an XBOX in Christmas of 2004 and got four controllers and as many four-player non-sports games as I could, since most of my friends aren't into football, soccer, etcetera. That left us with Gauntlet clones like the Dungeons & Dragons romp. After the initial party bash, there was no other. When my friends came over they were more interested in computer games.

Since my kids have gotten their Wii, plenty of friends of mine have come by more than once to play it again, all in a two week period, not two year.

The gamepad is dead. Finally. Nintendo brought it into the world, and it's taking it out as well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

PS3: The Unready; Wii: the Impressive; XBOX 360: the Entrenched

My comments are in green. The source articles are linked below - I strongly recommend reading each fully, as Mr. Bramwell is articulate and insightful.

Part one: the PS3
Part two: the Wii and the XBOX 360
By Tom Bramwell, deputy editor of

From Part One...
What I've discovered since I've had both consoles [Wii, PS3], though, is quite interesting. In a nutshell, Sony's new PlayStation isn't finished, and Nintendo's Wii isn't just a fascinating prospect - it's already impressive."

The write-up of the PS3 tells me much of what I expect: The PS3 is unready, unfinished and slap-shodded together (that's shoeing horses in a poor manner). From its menu system to its online abilities to the games available and the SixAxis controller.

From Part Two...
"...Sony's biggest problem at the moment is that it's lost the PR battle so comprehensively it can seldom open its mouth to do anything other than change foot."

Based on Sony's failure to match any release estimate, and a host full of other things they've said that haven't panned out. This made me laugh.

"Nintendo's is the "better" of the two launches in virtually every respect, with Sony's an unfinished symphony, but both companies' successes in the next five years will be determined by factors inconceivable in November 2006."

This speaks the truth. Not only does the Wii's success balance on 3rd party support, timing and innovation of the games delivered matter equally. If 3rd party developers do nothing but repackage old games and deliver them up with Wiimote & Nunchuck controls, it might float the Wii but it won't be realizing its potential. Making games that, like those on the dual-screened NDS, are created from the ground up to utilize the controls is what will make the Wii what it was meant to be. Failure to deliver either of these options in a timely fashion could stunt the Wii's growth, never to recover.

While some miracle might help Sony, I'd place no bets and not stock with that.

"Huge industry figures like EA's Larry Probst consistently pour praise and a demand to keep faith on the PS3, whilst complimenting the Wii's imaginative approach and saluting Microsoft's endeavors - but this is more than just hedging bets, it's a long-view that incorporates a lot of difficult variables."

Larry Probst, like many EA reps, is an out-right liar. Expect EA's real truth to be hidden behind their actions. EA has bought a development company and made it their Wii development branch. The amount of games they release for the PS3 and Wii is what will really indicate their beliefs - which could boil down to "I hope we don't lose much money" or be as grandiose as "Lets cash in before other people jump on the bandwagon." My bets are EA's a dollar gripping Scrooge.

That said, lack of EA support has spelled death for consoles in the past (Dreamcast), so the fact that they are developing for the Wii and PS3 is good news.

"How will the expensive PS3 do in the southern regions of Europe where PS2's low price has endeared it, but even the Core System model of the Xbox 360 has struggled? Will Nintendo's fashionable new manifesto for gaming translate to genuine third-party growth and shared commercial success, or will this be another Nintendo console that - for all its progressive tendencies - lives or dies by the games that come out of Kyoto? And will Microsoft's advertising blitzkrieg and successive exclusive winters prove as significant as the Redmond giant imagines?

None of these questions can be answered yet. But in this writer's estimation, what we can say now is that while some things may have changed, most things are still the same. Microsoft is as loud and imposing as ever. Nintendo is convincingly in control of and capable of expanding its own business, but not necessarily anyone else's. And although Sony has been weakened by its own hubris, it's still impossible to write off the PS3 until we've seen what it really has to offer."

The Wii has already succeeded at its purpose: to bring about a small videogame revolution. Gone are the days of archaic gamepads and with it, ignoring the casual gamer. Whether Microsoft slams Nintendo with it's own answer to N's big innovation in 5 years remains to be seen, but I'd find likely.

The PS3, on the other hand, seems set up to fail. I only hope that Blu-Ray wins over HD, not because I want either, but because the former is the better standard overall.

"In other words, the events of the last few weeks may have huge consequences, but it won't be until the next few months have passed that the picture will become in any way clear."

As far as "who wins" or "who makes money" this is true.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wii vs. PS3: From the Voice of Reality Hurts

This is just a stellar article that shows non-avid gamer (being gamer and non-gamer) reactions to one writer's Wii and PS3:

Essentially he affirms my feelings (I'm more thinking than feeling so those are hard for me to put to words) that I've had playing the PS3 at Worst Buy (Best Buy) and my daughters' Wii at home.

The PS3 is truly cool, but substantially the same. It just doesn't offer much. So my dirt-bike can break apart into a thousand pieces, the drive chain and spokes and engine... that's neat. The SixAxis control scheme is far too sensative (which means using the thumbstick was better, and I tried doggedly for 15 minutes to like SixAxis).

On the other hand, pick up a Wiimote and take a swing at a tennis ball and you're there.

Wii got it right on the fun & price departments. There's just not much else to say, but marvel at these gamers and non-gamers coming into contact with both of his consoles at the same time.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wii - I gots me one!

Actually my kids have one now. Here's how it all happened, and here's what I think of the Wii.

As I wrote, "Using the WiiMotes really is as much fun as the online videos make it out to be. I'm a cynical die-hard gamer who has gamed since the Atari 2600 and I can tell you this little machine is like a whole new world to me. I love Golf. Golf! Why? Because every motion I make, heck even the stance I hold my arms at helps me to play the game better. "

One thing I will say is as soon as a Wii Golf game comes out, that is nothing but Golf and pays attention to how you hold your WiiMote in every regard, I'm buying it. And I hate Golf (in real life). Golf on WiiSports is great, but is out-shined by Bowling and Tennis, which are just great party games and truly enjoyable.

I managed to score TWO Wiis in my marathon waiting-in-line event, one for my good friend Billy and his two children.