I Think Elena Kagan and Jon Lovitz Kind of Look the Same

That’s all that needs to be said really.

Jon Lovitz at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Elena Kagan wearing a Lei.

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Steve Jobs is Winning the War Against Purse Mirrors

Sure, the iPhone is awesome, I use mine all the time. I ignore e-mails with it, check to see what time it is and to make sure my fingerprint smudges could still identify me to the police. It is truly something I could not live without at this point. We forget though, that it is destroying certain important elements of our economy. Whole entire sectors of industry are buckling and failing as the app store rolls over them like some kind of giant metaphor of destruction.

Tapes and CD’s? Dead.
Standalone GPS devices? Dead.
The Motorola Razr? Dead.
The need to make lightsaber sound effects with our mouths as we pantomime invisible lightsabers around? Dead.

This image was not photoshopped at all.

The iPhone 4 is no different. I can’t believe no one has already seen it. Less believable though, is the fact that no one is doing anything about it. I am talking of course, about purse mirrors.

With the advent of the forward facing camera on the iPhone 4, Apple has effectively destroyed all the purse mirror manufacturers in the world. Women will no longer need to carry a small mirror around in their purses to check the status of their makeup, and men can finally pretend to check their e-mails while fixing their hair.

I don’t claim that this has been Apple’s intent from the beginning, to destroy the purse mirror industry, but I also don’t claim that it hasn’t been. Who knows what dastardly meeting agendas filter through the internal Apple e-mail threads. The proof is out there, for those who want to connect the invisible dots and make blind unprovoked accusations. Steve Jobs hates purse mirrors.

I am predicting now that the iPhone 5, or 4G, or whatever combination of letter and number they decide to tack on to the word iPhone, will go after the hairbrush industry next. Just you wait. That thing is going to be encased in bristles.

Just in case you missed The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

I wrote the following as practice back in February when The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom released. I like the way Kotaku.com presents reviews, and when I noticed at the time that they had not posted a Winterbottom review, I decided to take a crack at writing something for them. It was completely unsolicited and they understandably never got back to me. Randomly e-mailing fully written unsolicited reviews to gaming sites isn’t the way to get published I have since learned. Thought I should present it here though so that it doesn’t just disappear into the void of my Google Docs account. If you haven’t played the game already, you should, it’s a sweet game. And yes, those last four words are intended as a pun.

The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom tells the tale of P.B. Winterbottom and his insatiable desire for pie.  The man will literally stop at nothing to consume pie, even if it means venturing into the fourth dimension, starving small children or burning down an entire city.  The man really has an addiction problem.

Winterbottom borrows many elements from Braid, and smartly leaves behind the pretentious storytelling.  You are a man searching for pie, specifically a magical floating pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Loved
The pie filling – It may really just be a story about collecting pie, but there is some interesting narrative here, presented as a few lines of rhyming prose between levels.  The writing is funny, and plays with your expectations of the kind of character you assume Winterbottom is to become.  There are also some neat visual storytelling cues related to the time travel aspect of the game.

The pie crust – The game has a great art style.  Perhaps best described as Jack Skellington fighting Professor Layton in downtown London during the industrial era.  There is very little color in the game, which is used to great effect in highlighting puzzle elements.

The pie taste – As mentioned earlier, Winterbottom borrows from Braid.  Even the level selection screen reminds you of the 2008 Xbox Live Arcade classic.  You won’t be rewinding time like you do in Braid, but you will be cloning yourself heavily to solve puzzles with a recording mechanic.  There aren’t any enemies, or at least not the kind you can attack.  This is strictly puzzle solving, the kind where you may find yourself intently staring at the screen with the game unpaused planning your every move.

The sound of the pie – The music is great, especially the track of the opening levels of the game.  I was ready to spend my 800 points based purely on it’s musical merit while playing through the demo.  It starts out very upbeat and jazzy, but as you progress into the game the musical notes get drawn out, and the upbeat drums and piano eventually disappear.  The change is gradual and you may not notice it immediately, but it is effective and appropriate.  The music in the beginning of the game is drastically different emotionally than the music in the end, and it works.

Hated
Only a few pieces of pie – The story line portion of Winterbottom only took me about 4 hours to complete.  The fat on this game has been trimmed to the point where you very rarely find yourself repeating puzzle techniques.  They could have easily made multiple levels using the same techniques, and I would have been happy with that.  No harm in reassuring me that I know what I am doing by repeating certain techniques, right?  Makes me feel smart.

Where’s the extra pie? – There aren’t any hidden elements to any of the levels.  I would have loved to have an excuse to go back to the story levels to find a hidden piece of pie in that difficult nook in the corner of the screen, but Winterbottom’s pie addiction prevents him from leaving a level without first eating all the pie.  It could have added some replay value, and some length to the game overall if there was pie hidden throughout the levels that you did not necessarily need to progress to the next level

Winterbottom is a great, albeit short little puzzle game with an attractive art style, sweet jams and just enough challenge to make you feel like a genius without having to buy new a controller to replace the shattered one you just threw against the wall.  There is a time trial mode which plays a little bit differently that the story level.  I’m glad it’s there, but I did not find it nearly as compelling as the time limit free puzzle levels.  The length probably could have allowed for a slightly smaller price tag, but at the same time, there are a lot worse games that can be had for the same price on Xbox Live Arcade, so there isn’t much to complain about.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom was developed by The Odd Gentlemen and published by 2k Play.  Released on February 17th for $10 for Xbox Live Arcade.  Completed all story line levels and the first five time trial levels.  Unlocked 7 out of 12 achievements.  Was left humming the opening music theme and craving more pie.

The Record of Purchasing The Record of Agarest War

My wife and I went game shopping today, which had been a completely foreign concept to me until recently. The idea of entering a game store with the intention of looking around and buying a game based on something other than hardcore internet research, was a strange idea. While working at Gamestop, I never shopped for a game in the traditional sense. I always knew exactly what I wanted, and knew exactly how much I needed to pay for it. If I had not been paid to spend seven to eight hours standing around in the store, I’m sure I never would have spent more time in there than what it took me to wait in line and ask for the game I wanted.

My wife though, she enjoys the shopping process, and it’s the easiest way to visualize all the new releases. She was the one who initiated the trip to Gamestop, as she was finally beginning to treat Final Fantasy XIII as job and not a game. I was hoping she would buy Red Dead Redemption, but purely for selfish reasons. I am currently wrapped up in a Super Mario Galaxy 2 love affair, but I have a strange desire to always have the next game in my queue within my possession. She does not like action games, nor has she ever been interested in open world games. She has never played any of the Grand Theft Autos, but did take a passing interest in the story and character elements of GTA IV. She likes RPG’s almost exclusively, but I thought that if she played Red Dead Redemption, however brief, I could at least see what it looked like while I was traipsing the universe with Mario.

Our current setup, which would allow me to literally see Red Dead while Mario and I explore the cosmos.

So, we were in line, ready to grab a Red Dead, when Ashley saw Record of Agarest War on the back counter. It was an Xbox RPG, and that was all she needed to know. She couldn’t even see the price tag from our vantage point and she said, “I’ll get that.” The clerk snickered. The only thing I knew about this game was all the sexual innuendo associated with it. I told Ashley, “this game comes with a boob mousepad.” Ashley didn’t even make eye contact when she said, “I don’t care, it’s an Xbox RPG. I need something to play.”

The really embarassing to buy with onlookers edition would have been more appropriate.

The clerk went to the back to retrieve the game and a small line appeared behind us. When the clerk reappeared with, The Really Naughty Limited Edition of Ashley’s requested game, she felt it was vitally important to repeatedly point out the suggestive images that adorned the spine of the box. We admitted complete ignorance to the content and plot of the game, but the clerk insisted on pointing out the images to us, and subsequently the folks waiting patiently behind us. The clerk also kept saying that the game had a lot of, “fan service,” something that is apparently crucial for a player who knows nothing about the game. Fan service must have been her code word for pornography. For me, fan service implies that the game has something that would appeal to fans of the series, something Ashley and I clearly were not.

We rang up the game, and I passed on Red Dead, partly becasue $60 is a lot for a game that won’t even get played until Mario had risked life, limb and mustache to retrieve every single last star, but also because the customers behind us could see that we had bought a game with pictures like this adorning the side.

I can't imagine there is any way to explain that top image without at least some awkward stuttering.

And that pretty much explains Ashley’s frothing demand (to quote one of the greatest box quotes ever) for Xbox RPG’s. She will play anything that can be described with the word Xbox and the acronym RPG, no matter how much clothing the female protagonists may or may not be wearing, or as we have learned today, what they have in their mouths. I have also found that perceived quality of these games plays a very small role in the purchase decision as well. Do you know anyone else who has very nearly finished Divinity II?

UPDATE

According to Wikipedia, it turns out the clerk was right. Fan service does sort of mean pornography. I was totally oblivious. Ashley has been playing the game and has not seen any sort of special attention payed towards any of the female characters assets. The game is (as of about five hours in) completely unsexual. The casing was designed purely to embarrass the consumer. Way to go Aksys Games!

Winnebago Man, an Exploration of the Future

I am absolutely intrigued by the trailer for the film Winnebago Man. The original Youtube clip is of course hilarious, and the movie looks like a good documentary, but the thing that intrigues me the most is the idea of how Youtube is affecting us as a culture. I hate the way that previous sentence sounds. It is absolutely dripping with pretentiousness, but I am genuinely fascinated by the effect that Youtube is having, and will continue to have, on us.

I have seen a few pictures of my father as a child and fewer pictures of him as a young adult and the same goes for my mother. I know about them, I know where they are from, I know where they spent their childhoods and have even spent a significant amount of times in those areas. My father played in a bluegrass band before I was born, and I have heard some of their recordings.  Before songs I can recognize my fathers voice in some of the pre-song banter and I can hear the sense of humor that I have come to emulate as the not-quite-but-pretend-to-sometimes-be adult that I am today. These are the only physical remnants that I as their child have of them before I was part of their lives. I don’t really know who they were before I was born, but I think (and possibly fear) that with the advent of Youtube and Facebook, my kids will be able to see who I was.

What the hell do the memories of my family have to do with Winnebago Man? Not much really, except that I feel like Winnebago Man is sort of the first exploration of this approaching phenomenon.

Winnebago Man was just trying to make a commercial for his Winnebago and despite his obvious years of spokesperson training, he was struggling and getting frustrated. Years ago, an event like this would have been lost in obscurity. Maybe a few, “remember that time” recountings would occur and would always end with, “you had to be there,” and then the conversation would move onto the latest and greatest Winnebago*.

It’s not a perfect example of recorded memory, this being a commercial and all, but the idea is present. A part of this man’s life was recorded, one that would not have normally been shared with the world, and now he is witnessing the effects.

With Youtube and the absurd amounts of cameras everywhere, memories are getting captured in real time, and being committed to an archive. My kids will be able to see who I was in motion, and they will be able to see how awesome I think I was, and how much of a loser they will know I really am.

I may just have to purge my Youtube account before my kids learn how to use Google. Fingers crossed they don’t find this blog.

*I assume Winnebago salesman, their family and friends discuss Winnebagos exclusively.

Bit.Trip Runner is the Greatest Concept for a Game Ever

Click here for my Bit.Trip Runner review for Gamesradar.com

Bit.Trip Runner, the rhythm-action-platformer releases today, and it looks awesome. I am going to buy it and I am going to play it, and I am going to say, “man, this is a cool idea for a game!”  You know why I am going to think it is such a cool idea for a game?  Because it is my idea!  I even entered it into a contest last year and lost!

I may sound bitter, and maybe I am a little bit, but I am still excited to play this game. Clearly it is something I have wanted to play for some time as I have been contemplating such a game in my head.  Unfortunately, my complete lack of game design knowledge and additional lack (are you allowed to have an additional lack of something?) of artistic capabilities prevented me from building such a product.

So, congratulations developer Gaijin Games, you have unintentionally stolen my awesome idea. All I can hope now is that you make some serious bank on it so when I interview for jobs I can say, “I had a concept for a game that I never made, but someone else made, that went on to make millions!”

I will have proof of my original concept later today.  That is, if I don’t start playing Bit.Trip Runner and get distracted first.

Update

Here’s the short animation I put together to conceptualize my game in September of 2009. I created this animation as a submission for the Dorito’s Unlock Xbox contest.  I did not win.

Update

I have been playing games consistently since the third grade. That clocks me in at about 15 years of solid gaming.  Never once in that time-frame have I experienced the eye fatigue that I am experiencing while playing Bit.Trip Runner.  I am enjoying the experience despite the brutal difficulty, but I am going to need a new glasses prescription by the time I am done with this game.

Update

I have officially beaten the game. It was one of the most grueling game experiences I have subjected myself to in quite some time.

Psychonauts; A Love Story

The summer of 2005 was a great gaming summer for me.  I was home from my first year of college with very few responsibilities, and I was working at Gamestop which afforded me the opportunity to take games home as often as I wanted.  It was also the summer that my band reached the height of its popularity and, yes, we were awesome and, no, that does not have anything to do with the rest of this article.

It was also the summer that Majesco bet the farm and lost.  Psychonauts and Advent Rising both released that year.  Both were big budget titles that just couldn’t quite keep the farm for Majesco.  I still admire Advent Rising for what it was trying to do.  I am convinced that more development time would have made it a great game as most of its glaring flaws were technical.  Also, looking at the company that the Advent Rising team has become today (Chair, developers of Shadow Complex) you can tell that they are talented folks who just needed more time.

But this article isn’t about them.  I would not have bet the farm on Advent Rising. Some livestock perhaps, but certainly not the whole farm.  On Psychonauts, though, I would have bet two farms and all of my government subsidies.

My autographed copy of Psychonauts, my third most prized possession after my wife* and my cat Agro, who clearly loves to be held and photographed.

I was not deeply familiar with Tim Shafer before playing Psychonauts, but I knew of him and I knew he was loved dearly.  It didn’t take me long to figure out why.  The game started out deceptively cliche in almost all areas with things like collect-a-thon platforming and characters that, upon initial meeting, seemed one-dimensional.  There was a stupid weird kid, an overambitious smart girl, a militiary guy that yelled a lot and a bully with his lackey.  All archetypes from popular Nickelodeon cartoon shows like Doug and Hey Arnold.

The first thing that impressed me was how absurdly clever everything became.  Levels based around character psyches?  Collecting emotional baggage and figments of imagination? Why hadn’t these ideas already been explored!  This, of course, is why Schafer is so respected within the gaming industry.  It is his ability to create bizarre fantastical worlds that make immediate sense with little to no explanation.

The tone of the game quickly changes from a Doug rerun, to a dark ticking time bomb of irreparable psychological damage, all while staying legitimately funny.  And it’s not that the game is funny throughout, but rather funny when it doesn’t need to be serious.  It switches tones very easily and often quickly.

You make your way through child-hood traumas, father issues, terrifying phobias and culminate in full-on insanity.  It’s a literal exploration of the range of human emotions and psyches all in an environment of fun and humor.  All this greatness and I have yet to touch on why the game is good from a gameplay standpoint.

There is really one word that can describe why technically Psychonauts is a great game: diversity.  The core of the game is collection, but just about every other element of the game is up for grabs.  Every level is completely different and completely engrossing.  You will find yourself wrestling, bullfighting, directing a play, stomping cities like godzilla, even doing some light racing by the time you are finished.

Psychonauts is fun wrapped in a brilliant concept sprinkled with hilarious dialogue and served on a bed of cleverness.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even ride around in the mouth of a terrifying fish named Linda.  By the time it is all over, you will be emotionally drained and if you are anything like me, you will be devastated that there isn’t more to explore.

*This of course is not to imply that my wife is a possession, she just demanded that she be held to the same level of regard as a cat and a videogame with some unreadable scribble on it.