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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Game Play: Dragon Quest Heroes Rocket Slime

Dragon Quest Heroes - Rocket Slime for the Nintendo DS may have an oddly long name ... and it features an odd cast of characters in ... well .. a kind of odd setting.

But it's really, really fun. I haven't played a Mario RPG - but this is kinda what I would imagine it would be like. Your protaganist - a young slime in the kingdom of Slimenia (surrounded by various characters and objects of similarly and pun-induced names) has to venture forth into a top-down, 2D, classic Zelda-like, RPG world of forests, mountains and dungeons to free his fellow slimes from the vicious (albeit cartoony) Plob. The Plob being, of course, run largely by ducks platypii.

OK, OK - the game is clearly meant for kids. For one thing, its pretty easy. And non-violent. The main mechanic has your slime snapping into a stretch attack, catching things on his back, and scooting things back to town. This mechanic will be used in basically every aspect of the game. It's simple. Also, the game just isn't all that difficult. I've lost one tank battle (more on that in a bit) but I've rarely been hit more than a couple times while just adventuring in general.

That doesn't make the game shallow. There's a crafting system that can be unlocked - you combine items you've sent back to town into new ones. Some of the puzzles, while not terribly brain taxing, require a decent amount of backtracking and collecting. Slimes can hold three things at once and every object in the world is rendered well not just in terms of the colorful pixel art but in terms of physics and abilities. Weights knock things around, wings send things off into the air, bombs ... explode. Once you get to mirror shields and toy soldiers though - you get the depth and diversity that Slimenia really has to offer.

And then there are the tank battles. One kind of boss fight has your crew (once you can assemble one) fighting in your huge tank against another. There's not a lot of strategy - you essentially shove as much as you can into your twin cannons (one shoots high, the other low and things shot out of the cannon - including those weights, bombs and toy soldiers - collide). Still, planning is important. My only loss in the game was when I swapped out crew members and ammo loads with really, really poor results.

So yes - it's simple. It's easy. It's colorful and almost disturbingly cute at times. It's also one of - if not the - best RPG experiences, especially in the action Zelda family of such things, to hit the DS.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Did Microsoft Send My Free Laptop Yet?

I think is pretty public information at this point - but apparently Microsoft and AMD figured the best way to get bloggers to like Vista was to bribe them. In the interest of disclosure - I've been in touch with Edelman, the PR firm hired by Microsoft, in the past as well. They send me emails about launches and screenshots. I generally ignore them - but am perfectly glad to get game related news from a PR firm (they aren't alone there). I don't really know why they wouldn't send me a laptop worth more than $2,000 to get some positive remarks about Vista. I mean, what's a better way to solve my constant indecision about remaining a PC gamer than to just send me a new PC? It's so darn logical.

And apparently some of the more Microsoft leaning bloggers get to 'to meet Bill Gates, with all expenses paid' as well.

Surely, though, that's the kind of thing that Microsoft reserves for big things like Vista. Well, except the Zune as well. Surely they wouldn't do that thing just for say ... the Xbox? Should we care? It's not like sending review units or letting the media (in all its forms) get advance (and free) looks at products is a new thing. True, one PR firm jokingly said they were considering getting bloggers 360's because they were having slow adoption rates (and I'm sorry, Xbox fanboys - this wasn't tha tlong ago). And hey, if someone wants my honest opinion about Gears of War ... wouldn't I need a 360 to create it?

And really, Microsoft being such great buddies with the blogosphere would explain some odd phenomena on the web. So maybe the question isn't would they but how much are they.

Is it bribery to facilitate someone's ability to review something? Surely not. But I think the real question is - do we need to bother quibbling about the shades of grey here? OK, if Microsoft had sent some bloggers a $2,500 personal check with a note saying "wondering what you thought about Vista" ... most people would call that bribery. So if that check came in the form of a high end laptop - would that make it OK? Does "full disclosure" forgive all?

On the laptop thing alone ... let's ask the really pertinent questions. What does it say about Vista that Microsoft needs to send out brand spanking new "review" units to bloggers to get the word out? I gotta say - even if that blogger has the most splendiferous experience with the OS ... it doesn't say anything good. Compare it to this:

I spent about $700 on my Mac Mini. And OS X rocks. I mean - it rocks really hard. I have turned my PC on less and less because I have OS X and it didn't cost Apple a thing for me to say that. Today my PC sits lifeless and unplugged.

When it comes to bribery in general - I'm not really willing to nitpick the finer points. Hey, if someone sends me something big, fancy and expensive out of the blue ... I'm not likely to send it back. That's not because my opinion is up for sale - it's because I'm lazy. I barely muster the energy to send back a $100 rebate on $99 software. If it's asked, though, I use one simple rule:

Never take anything you aren't willing to send back. Not in an exchange for anything. Not in exchange for a blog post or plug or anything that might not even cost you a buck. Because the moment you make that swap you might want another swap like it. And that might cause you to pull your punches to stay on someone's gift list.

And you know it.

And we know it.

Everybody knows it.

As always, anyone from Edelman or Microsoft is free to peep up in defense or to make things more clear or discuss the matter. Yes, I know you folks still read the blog. And as my heavy use of strikethrough indicates at times, I'm always happy to revise statements if I've got my facts wrong.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

DVD Watch: Miller's Crossing

Of all the Cohen movies, Miller's Crossing is still my favorite. It's not as well known (or quirky) as Fargo and it lacks the production values of O Brother, but it's simply genius scriptwriting. It's a noir film with a great Cohen feel to it - gritty, a little whimsical and engaging.

It perhaps might be enough for the dialogue to drip with slang, quips, one liners and comebacks. Crossing revels in all of these but also just hits hard with brilliant subtlety. When Tommy is trying to convince Leo for the last time to drop his gang war without giving up his reasons why - you suddenly see the desperation that he hides for most of the movie. As fun as the dialogue can be - the fact that the plot moves at such a quick pace based mostly on conversations with the main character is impressive enough that anyone with an interest in writing should watch this movie. Repeatedly.

Still, the movie proves that the only appropriate response to "the oldest reason in the world" is that "there are friendlier places to drink."

Highly recommend. If you like it, I'd also recommend Brick ... noir done right in a high school setting.


TV Watch: My Boys

We caught this show on TBS after "Funniest TV Commercials" (AKA "What Kevin Nealon does for money these days"). It's about a pretty tomboy living in Chicago who deals with the interplay of relationships between her male friends and relatives. In this particular episode, Laura Metcalf was playing a vivacious older woman (the tomboy's aunt) and Neil Flynn (Janitor from Scrubs) as a washed up Cubs pitcher.

The show supposedly takes place in Chicago. The way you know it takes place in Chicago is that they mention some Chicago reference about every other scene, everyone seems to work for some major Chicago institution and the tomboy's apartment is decked out in Chicago gear.

In other words, not only do I suspect the show is shot in L.A. but the show plays out like a Californian's fantasy version of life in Chicago. Realistically, Chicago is so large you almost never run into anybody who works for the Trib or whatnot. I once dated a girl who did costume work for the Goodman and I know someone who works for Oprah. It's a big city and these kinds of institutions are really the periphery of daily life in ChiTown ... not the main stage.

Largely, my friends do not sit around dropping references to buildings and streets unless we're giving directions to people. The tomboy seems to do it every time she goes into a new room. The show doesn't really seem to make any use of Chicago's landscape - which would be a far more compelling way of setting up the backdrop.

Other shows like E.R. do this quite well. Heck, I almost ran into Noah Wylie going to lunch one day.

Also, the show apparently has an ad deal with ... and it's not a graceful one. I thought perhaps last night was a side glance at the dating service but apparently the website is one of the ongoing themes. Perhaps if the dialogue was better (partially if it didn't waste half its time proving it takes place in Chicago) this would be acceptable ... but in light of everything else it's just annoying.

My Boys has some potential but right now the show is simply struggling for air.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Santa Versus Flying Spaghetti Monster

Santa VS The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Merry Xmas Everyone

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