Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Strogg Thumping

So. Hm
. Quake IV.

I liked it less . . . when it was called Doom 3.

My nitpick: Are there no subtitles? I couldn't find an option for them, so I'm going to assume they just aren't available.

Wow. Carmack can code an engine capable of eighty-gazillion texture-mapped polygons with a googolplex of shaders per second, but he can't figure out how to display text to a screen in response to a voice trigger?

I prefer games that offer subtitles, even if they're simple run-shoot-run-shoot affairs. This is because I play games with the sound off . . . because I have about three hours of free time a night in which to watch eight hours of television shows . . . because, well, I suppose because that's how I like to do things. And that little bit of text is often all that keeps me following the thread of the game, like little carrots in between the chunks of meat.

I apologize if there is a subtitle option and I've simply missed it.

But if not --

WHACK! With the Minor Annoyances Stick.

--This post brought to you by the Grand Order of Onomotopoeiacs of Boom Bang Crash--

Monday, October 24, 2005

Basic Training

"Once upon a time, psychologists usefully distinguished between the meaning of fantasizing a thing as opposed to doing it, but those days seem to be very long gone."
-Fred Smoler

Booting Up

"Welcome maggots."

I looked up to the source of the voice from my position on-line. I was in my skivvies, awaiting the introduction of our Drill Instructors.

Shivering, I was shocked by who I saw standing on the quarterdeck.

Jack Thompson! It was unmistakable. The shock of white hair, the rheumy, piercing, venom-filled eyes, the permanently furrowed brow. All capped by a stiff Smokey Bear.

"Now then, pukes," he spat. "Which of you sorry fuckfaces have played videogames before?"

Hands shot up around the squadbay. Jack broke into a vicious grin. "Hardened killers, every one of you. My job's half done already. The ESA had no idea their rape and murder simulators would actually do a service in the War Against Terror." He chuckled, a sick, gurgling sound.

He passed a cursory glance over us. "Why are you all lined up?"

I stepped forward. "Drill Instructor Sergeant Thompson is supposed to do a hygiene inspection, sir!"

He sneered. "No, no. None of that claptrap. We get right down to training." He clapped his hands, and burly men began wheeling televisions and large, unmarked boxes into the room.

We were each issued a TV and several videogame consoles, along with a smattering of games.

I spoke up again, immediately regretting it. "Shouldn't we be issued M-16s, sir? Actual weapons?"

Jack strode over to my rack. The guys around the room cautiously avoided looking in my direction.

"Weapons? Weapons!?" He made it sound like I'd asked for a meatball sub and a handjob. "The only weapon you'll ever need is that controller. You'll carry it everywhere, even sleep with it. Now get your ass on my quarterdeck, pick up that PSP and start expanding that cranial menu!"

My face covered in spit, I did as he ordered. The game was GTA: Liberty City Stories.

Letter Home

Dear Mom and Dad,

Boot camp is ok. Our DI, Sgt. Jack Thompson, is a little strange, though. He's had us playing Grand Theft Auto, Full Spectrum Warrior, Halo 2 and, for some reason, The Sims 2 day in and day out. We hardly get any sleep. I'm starting to get RSI in my hands and my thumbs feel like they're going to fall off.

We're all getting a lot fatter here, but every time we suggest a good run or even a day at the range the DI tells us that nobody ever learned how to kill by getting in shape and firing actual weapons. He doesn't seem to understand even the simplest metaphors, like abstract thought is too difficult for him. I think maybe he confuses reality with the games we're playing. Somebody said it could be schizophrenia.

Yesterday I tried to do some pushups and when the DI caught me he made me pick up prostitutes over and over again and then run them over -- which isn't even fun the first time. Then he said I was a killer, and the only thing keeping me from jail was that the government needs murderers like me.

They say we'll probably be sent over to Iraq soon as we get out of Boot Camp. We don't even get to go to our MOS school. The DI says it's unnecessary, that the games are all we need.

I'm a little scared.


Your Son

Coin Insertion

The chopper's blades drowned out any other sound. The whole team was with me, all of Jack's Boys, as the papers were calling us.

We descended onto a makeshift helo pad and offloaded.

Our CO was there to meet us.

"Welcome to Hell," he yelled above the roar of the chopper as it gained altitude and disappeared over the horizon. "I am your commanding officer, Colonel Grossman. I understand Sergeant Thompson put you guys together as a crack unit, and I expect nothing but the best. I know you've had the best videogame training available, so you all know what it's like to kill, to rip a man in half, to hold the steaming guts in your hand."

I started to protest but held my tongue.

He pointed toward the distant mountains.

"That is the Hindu Kush region. You boys are to load up on AMTRACs and assault an enemy position on a ridge. Out there. Somewhere." He smiled. "Smoke 'em out of their holes."

We crammed into our vehicles and rode out over the dusty desert.

Too Few Health Packs

"Go, go, go, go!" shouted Colonel Grossman as the rear hatch slammed open.

The night was suddenly awash in smoke and tracer fire.

I shoved Spencer forward. "Get going, and get down!" I yelled. His eyes were teary, but he listened. He ran into the night and flung himself on the ground.

I followed after and struggled to get my bearings.

Paczkowski kneeled down next to me. "What's the reload button?" he screamed.


He fiddled with his M-16. "The reload button. I don't see an 'R' key or anything."

"Get down, you idiot!"

Pacz's head exploded in a shower of thick blood and bone fragments. Spencer began howling and pawing at his face. "What's the command to disconnect from this server? Disconnect . . . disconnect . . . " I left him babbling and crawled forward.

By now the enemy was concentrating arcs of fire toward our vehicles and automatic weapons. I remembered that they had given Williams an M-249 SAW. For some insane reason. Sergeant Thompson had made him play Ghost Recon for two weeks and decided to make him the machine-gunner.

I found Williams wheezing. His blood was soaking into the sand. "Hey," he said when he spied me.

"Hey, Williams."

He looked around. "I-I tried, I really did." A thin line of blood streamed out of his mouth and down his chin. "They didn't even give me ammo. Said I'd be able to find it just lying around. Said I could run over a bunch of bullets and they'd go right into the weapon."

Williams closed his eyes.

I grabbed the SAW and sprinted toward a rocky outcrop.

Adams and Rider trained their weapons on an enemy. Surprisingly, the combatant raised his arms. Adams grabbed a grenade and lobbed it toward their new prisoner. Who was standing only fifteen feet away.

"Drop to the ground, you morons!" I yelled, but they were too far away to hear. The POW went up in a red misty cloud. Rider was cut into pieces by the shrapnel; He caught the brunt of it. Adams got his share, however.

I ran down to Adams. "What happened?" he croaked.

I shook my head. "It was a grenade. You threw it. Those things have a range. They send out shards of metal that rip through flesh."

"That's stupid. Worst particle effects evar." And then he died.

All through the night men -- boys, really -- were dying.

Cutty ran into a minefield screaming, "I ownzzor, fags!" And he blew up.

Maddox grabbed a flag and began running around screaming about finding "the base." He was killed by friendly fire.

Eigen tried to wrestle the controls away from a helicopter pilot. He crashed it into a humvee.

All around, devastation. Death. Poor grammar and third-grade insults.

A small flicker of light caught my eye and I low-crawled toward it. It resolved itself as a Game Boy Advance held by the radioman, Allen. "Hey," he mumbled. He was playing Advance Wars. "This isn't so hard."

"You got the radio," I breathed out.

"Here." He tossed me a handset.

I called for an airstrike. "You okay, Allen?"

He shrugged. "Sure, man." He pointed to his Game Boy. "Those other noobs just forgot their training."


Grossman and Thompson surveyed the battlefield.

"They're all dead, sir." I walked up with Allen at my side. The stench of charred corpses, cordite and napalm hung thick in the air.

The colonel and the sergeant nodded in unison.

"Well, a new crop will be ready soon enough," Colonel Grossman began. "Thompson, step up the training."

"Oh, no problem, sir." Thompson grinned. "Bully should be out in a few months."

"Grossmanism, then, is a compound of various forms of historical illiteracy, aggravated by a perfect absence of common sense. The assertion that video games have produced an ever-more violent American population runs afoul of the simple fact that rates of violent crime in this country have been falling for most of the last decade, precisely the period in which video game use has exploded. The argument that disinhibition of an imaginary instinct via immersion in violent visual imagery is the only possible source of increasing popular violence -- an argument that is repeatedly shrieked throughout the chapters of Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill -- runs afoul of the fact that some of the cultures least exposed to violent visual images -- —medieval England, for example -- —had horrific levels of personal violence, while cultures immersed in staggeringly violent visual imagery -- —for example, contemporary Japan, where popular theaters featuring sado-masochistic burlesque do a land office business -- —have some of the lowest rates of personal violence recorded by modern societies."
-Fred Smoler

Friday, October 21, 2005

Spot Me A Few Health Points, Bra?

After playing
a few rousing rounds of the F.E.A.R. multiplayer, I realized why I had stopped playing any kind of competitive games.

Dude, I totally suck.

So I thought, "Well, why don't games allow handicapping all us punk-ass biatch players that always get taken out by a damn headshot!?"

Then I considered my own statement.

What a stupid idea. Because the only thing it would lead to is asshole players deliberately setting it up so that they maintained some godawful profile with like fifty last-place markers displayed prominently like loser merit badges. Then they'd get on a server and say, "Whut up? I am the noob suxxorz. Handicap me?" And then they'd proceed to lay waste to the other players. "Woop. Beginner's luck."

Yeah, dumb idea.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Can't Wait To Get Old

Great article up about the over-50 gaming crowd.

Best part, in my opinion:

"But Coffey thinks it would be a mistake to design games specifically for seniors. 'The appeal of a game depends on your individual tastes, not your age,' he adds."

I really wish I could skip all that in-between stuff and get right on to retirement. Then I might have time to play a game or two.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Round And Round The Table

Medium Difficulty

ONCE upon a time there was a technology that came into its own around the tail end of a century. This technology spawned an exciting, strange, wonderful, terrible new medium.

It had the humblest of beginnings, barely growing from static roots to vibrant flower. It found an early spokesman in a person who very probably stole the idea outright from another. Right from the get-go there were highly-contested court cases, most often concerning how strictly one could control both the technology and the building blocks of the new medium as well as its uses and influence. (1)

Its earliest proponents were mostly tinkerers, assembling their own hardware, connecting bits and pieces, hacking away in their homes and garages to put together something compelling. When they needed talent they often enlisted volunteers, friends, family, those with raw passion rather than experience.

As the technology advanced it grew in portability, eventually supporting a stable hobbyist movement.

There was constant argument over the importance of style and substance. There were those who argued for clarity, special tricks, effects, higher resolutions, more elaborate presentation; There were those who argued for story, drama, talent, soul.

And those who dared to dream of the combination of the two.

The critics of already-established media could be explosively vitriolic in their appraisal of this -- newcomer. They often, and unfairly, compared it to older media without making appropriate attempts to understand its general relevance. They downplayed its impact, making emotional appeals that the new medium would degrade intelligence and stifle thought.

Many of the early results of this new medium were modest simulacrums of common activities or short, abstract sequences. They relied on novelty to dazzle people, flashing lights, exciting sound effects (which were often synthesized) and salacious subjects. (2)

There was also a glut of works based upon other media - stories that had been in the popular culture in other forms and were deemed fitting for a transformation. Many cried out that this was shoddy commercialism - or cheapened the story - or showed lack of imagination. Sequels and spin-offs were trotted out, earning the same estimation. It was even said, sometimes, that there was nothing new at all for the medium to offer. So why bother?

The technology first gained mainstream appeal by distributing in self-contained units, where patrons could insert coins in order to partake in brief doses of the experience. These parlors often served as gathering places for youth, and it wasn't long before the technology was being seen as a moral corrupter -- or at the very least an arrestor of intelligence, contributor to truancy and catalyst for sexual deviance.

For obvious reasons (to anyone familiar with basic human/animal psychology), the medium was filled with sexual imagery and violence. But mostly violence. The violence caused an uproar often enough, but it was the sex that really set the opportunists afire. Both would grow in intensity as boundaries were pushed -- any arresting influences averaged out to negligible over time.

The new medium spawned a nexus in the Western United States, a place toward which the industry, talent and capital gravitated. (3)

Women and minorities were marginalized by this new medium, stuck in stereotypical roles. Women were almost always portrayed in distress, while minorities were often completely absent. Likewise, the industry itself seemed to reflect this disparity, with few women or minorities involved in the production process, and even fewer in the top levels of a company. The reasons for this disparity were argued back and forth -- social factors, historical factors, prejudice -- and almost all the reasons were at least partially correct; It's just that the reasons were rarely paired with any effective suggestions to correct the problems.

At one point, a process was developed whereby the medium could be copied and distributed throughout a wide network. The industry was in an uproar. Profits would be lost. The art form would suffer. Which is not what happened at all. In fact, the industry expanded, growing larger and larger. (4)

Production costs, too, expanded, pushing toward greater and greater budgets with astronomical assets required. This shed light on working conditions, on consumer issues, on a whole lot of messy, confusing ideas that caused a lot of uneasiness -- even among fans of the medium. Each time the budgets were pushed forward, hordes came out of the woodwork decrying the rising costs, claiming that they would drive away innovation and stifle independent development.

Which is also not what happened -- at all. Independent development had always, all throughout history, been trickier, more prone to risk, harder to fund -- but plucky and daring individuals had still managed to envision their dreams and get them made. Over time independent development tools grew ever easier to use as they matured and more viable channels for distribution emerged. The technical barriers were no match for the creativity of individuals and their constant push to make the act of creation more accessible.

Eventually the new medium began to have mass appeal. As the technology progressed, so did the way of delivering the content to the consumers. Soon it was possible for thousands, then hundreds of thousands and eventually millions to enjoy the same general experience.

The medium entered into its own, fully absorbed into the cultural framework. Constantly changing, flowing, altering, updating, innovating, reimagining, fueling controversy, relieving pressure, causing discussions, creating and adapting its own critical language, contributing to a shared dialogue and otherwise exerting massive influence over humanity's continuing development.

Which seems to be pretty much the way of any new medium.


While movies and video games are not on a track of 1-to-1 correspondence, nor do they seem to advance at similar time rates, the parallels one can draw from film history are undeniable.

The social ramifications of any medium are hotly-debated, contested, denied and heralded constantly and continually.

The same kind of arguments are trotted out again and again -- and they serve an important function, as much as they sound like been there, discussed that.

As we flirt with the uncanny valley, there will be more and more conversations about realism and lifelike -- what those mean, how we perceive humans, how we perceive the world around us, the worried looks that hint at something sinister in pushing CGI too far (as if there were a tangible danger to it, not just a chance at more eerie digital animation).

Likewise, there will continue to be what some see as an unfortunate marriage between Hollywood and the games industry. I would caution that simply because, in general, such mergings haven't established a track record of competence, it isn't necessary to write them off -- completely. Simply because something has had more failures than successes should not stop people from trying to be one of those successes.

Much of early cinema was deliberately created to appeal to "simpler" folks. The intelligentsia looked down upon movies as entertainment for the slow and easily-amused. It wasn't until large movie houses were erected that had the trappings of elegance that films were embraced by the middle and upper classes.

Videogames have had a similar stigma - seen largely as fit for little kids or non-social geeks. It has only been relatively recently that games have been breaking free of these stereotypes, though it has been a difficult path. Much of this might be attributable to the Playstation -- Sony created a brand that was decidedly aimed toward a larger market, they cast their net wider and found it filled.

The very technology that spawned videogames and altered filmmaking (digital editing gaining wide acceptance and even favor among directors) has also caused tremendous ramifications for all media. We are seeing a confluence of content on a scale that is often overwhelming -- Future Shock happening constantly and consistently.

The ways of old media are falling rapidly behind. Even Apple tends to be at least two or three years behind the curve. Copyright and IP issues affect movies as well as games -- and books and music and everything else that can be digitized.

With art, pop or not (whatever that might mean), there is always more crap than cream (judged solely on the basis of individual tastes). Crap, however, can have value -- fertilizer, perhaps. That, and it makes the cream taste sweeter.

While it can be easy to assume a bad movie or videogame is the result of an unholy marketing scheme and nothing more, we would do well to remember that true artists also miss -- the good ones just tend to miss so well they either shake the foundations or disappear quietly.

We like to believe that our tastes aren't tainted in any way, that they are the result of true appreciation -- and all else is corporate-claptrap, ripe with the stench of money. Gamers seem to be especially incensed when it seems like someone is, oh, trying to turn a profit for god's sakes.

Not in this business!

1. British inventor William Friese-Greene claims he sent details of an early motion picture camera to Thomas Edison. Edison's penchant for hucksterism and his Bill-Gates-ish business methods - buying out, stealing or otherwise acquiring promising technology, refining it, then muscling out the competition - means it's very likely that Edison ripped off the idea (and maybe not solely from Friese-Greene).

There has also been controversy over who first created Pong, Nolan Bushnell or Ralph Baer. Lawsuits ensued.

2. Early film milestones -- marvel at the wonder! And remember that even way back most movies were bullshit sequels -- only they called them serials.

Early videogame milestone -- marvel at the amazing gameplay of sending a single pixel across a screen!

3. For the slow, here's a hint: Hollywood -- movies, Silicon Valley -- games. Note that these places are more symbols than centers of development. They may be where the deals are made, but not so much (anymore) where the content is made.

4. See: The printing press, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, Xerox machines, pretty much any kind of reproducing mechanism. Silly Putty, Parrots.

Indebted to The People's Almanac Presents the 20th Century by David Wallechinsky

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Again, Already?

It looks as if
the fine folks over at Penny Arcade have joined in with the popular sport of Jack-baiting. A monstrous thing to behold, yet it fills hearts with merriment.

Careful, now, the Thompson-creature may be chained, but get within reach of his massive blowhole and he will confound you into a realm of anti-logic and nonsense.

My daily dose of both the schizophrenic homeless man and the woman with Tourette's at the bus stop are far more coherent than JT could ever be, even with lithium and a text of logical fallacies.

We know how this will go down. This isn't some 1930s radio serial.

"Will our heroes Gabriel and Tycho defeat this laughable lunatic of litigious leanings? Will they stop Thompson's Irrational-Fearbots from sweeping the city and causing unscrupulous politicians to draft laws wholly ignorant of the medium they presume to regulate? Will Jacky-boy see the error of his ways and repent of his gross abuses of power, misrepresentations of scientific inquiry and tendencies to absolve murderers of their crimes by placing blame on an art form?"

No, not at all. But if we're lucky the PA guys will dish. This is our meat and potatoes, the good shit. We crave more missives from Thompson's fevered ego. The man is a perfect foil -- just barely treading coherence, making statements that don't so much distort reality as warp the fabric of spacetime, generally being a dick.

I feel kind of like we're taking advantage of him. It's obvious he's always on the cusp of anger, needing only the slightest intimation that one might engage in interactive digital entertainments in order to begin the hatestorm, churning forth vitriol so rapidly one might think him some kind of artificial intelligence (which would certainly be a Twilight-Zone-ish twist ending).

It's like riling up a really old man about the Barbary Pirates or FDR -- funny . . . but also very sad.

Here's something about JT: When he speaks, his mouth puckers and puckers into a perfect asshole, complete with sphincter, and what issues forth is not man shit but, in fact, the steaming excrement of a bull.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


I wanted to
write a nice, long review praising Ultimate Spider-Man.

Instead, here's the breakdown: Looks great. Controls can be tricky yet exhilarating. Together, they capture the feeling of being Spider-Man a million times better than the last game. Bad news is they didn't fix the shittiness of the "do a certain number of repetitive missions before advancing the storyline" method of the last game.

Oh, and here's a little advice: A wide open city with only about four different things to do is, well, boring. How about at least having some branching missions? Or small alternate storylines? Maybe a "What-If?" level?

The very bad thing -- the boss, Electro. You have to chase him through the city. As Venom. Venom's controls do not lend themselves to the type of precise jumping and following that the mission demands. The only advice for getting through this part on Gamefaqs referred to the fact that the author spent about an hour on the level and then could get through it "just fine."

This is, how do I put it . . . bullshit. Complete bullshit.

No, I didn't like the follow missions in the first game. OR the second game. Who the fuck did? Show yourselves! Which of you shitbags said, "Hey, the best part of the Spider-Man games were the no-margin-for-error repeat-until-you-go-insane chase missions!"

How about this -- how about a game comes out with a trail-the-enemy mission that doesn't rely on a stupid fucking distance meter? How about you allow some margin for error, let the player lose sight of the enemy and have to rely on following their damage trail, or asking a citizen for a rough direction?

No. I was prepared to go on and give my wishlist for the next Spider-Man game, but that's not my job.

I will say -- Treyarch, you almost got it. Almost. Hope they give you another chance.

And I am available as a freelance consultant.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005



Only $14.5 Billion (US)

What you get:

--Xbox 360 Game Console with Thought-Dampening Brainstem Chip - Contains miniaturized fusion reactor, ensuring constant power supply regardless of buyer intent

--Wireless, Buttonless, Matterless Controller - Possibly an exotic form of anti-matter; Possibly an empty box

--High-Definition Widget (we aren't sure what it does!)

--40 TB Virtual Drive - It doesn't actually exist, though we do ask that you visualize it in your mind

--Ether, Net and Cable - We don't want to know how you use them

--Xbox Live Silverfish - They can go for up to one year without food!

--Xbox Live Working Edition 3-hour Trial (may take more than two days to complete setup)


--Shoot Things Collector's Edition

--Drive In Circles 5

--Two-player Mash Buttons Circle Jerk

--Platformer Six Years Late

--Sport 2K6

--Another Sport 2K6

--Drive In A Straight Line

--Sporty McSport 2K . . . ah, fuck it, last year's model in a new box


--Baal Omniprojector - Focuses a hi-def image on the very firmament itself, likely resulting in worldwide panic

--Extra Wireless Mind-Controller (for your family)

--Extra Wireless Mind-Controller (for your friends)

--Extra Wireless Mind-Controller (for your workmates)

--Implanted Memory Unit - We can make it seem like you took a trip to Mars, without having to leave the planet

--Impenetrable Faceplate - Seals unit in impossible-to-breach protective shell, preventing any possible shutdown

--Play & Charge Kit - You play, we charge you shitloads of money

--1-Year Replacement Plan - If at any time you are not satisfied during the first year, we will replace you with someone who will be

The inspiration.



I got an e-mail asking if I would advertise a website.

Now I have several threads running through my head.

Is this just somebody punching the word "game" into a search engine, matching up any blogs that deal with video games and then sending a form e-mail?

Is it worth it to possibly lose integrity for maybe making, like, five bucks?

Do I actually have integrity?

I guess the biggest reason I haven't advertised on my site, yet, is just that I fail to see the real benefit, for either party. I get maybe a handful of eyeballs a day, most probably wandering at random. A few regulars.

Then I just wonder what kind of product I could really support. The site that contacted me looks like something I'd enjoy -- but I can't vouch for their product. I could only say, "Hey, I want a tiny check, so please buy something from this shop that seems to have interesting stuff."

Anyway, I'm still debating the whole matter. Perhaps some further correspondence is in order to determine the seriousness of the query.

I've been wanting to do my own little re-design -- just tired of the stale template, so it's possible I could start throwing up all sorts of little "buy me!" signs once I make something that works.

A re-design will probably be a long way off. I've been out of the html/css game for so long that I hardly recognize anything.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Atrocious and Unwieldy

Is it just me
, or does Gamespot's layout get a little worse every day?

They certainly present intense layouts that grab your eyeballs with tiny grasping fists. Their current Black & White 2 skin on the PC menu looks great.

But I can't find shit. It's a morass of menus and crazy clickable icons. Somehow my login ID is at level 5 (35%) -- but I have no fucking clue what that could possibly mean!

Just . . . mindboggling. I see that they're trying to cover all the bases by having lots of content headings, but do they have anybody at all testing the ease-of-use of their site?

I think it may send me into seizures.

Grand mal, at that.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I Feel My Temperature Rising

(aka Indigo Prophecy here in the States) is recommended -- though tentatively.

I give a half-assed recommendation because, while I enjoy it, there are core gameplay elements which I found completely stupid, unwieldy, unnecessary and actually counterproductive.

Also, I haven't finished it. So I can't vouch for the bits I haven't played.

**Spoilers may be forthcoming. Consider yourself warned.**

Very cinematic game, right down to the grainy filter over the screen. Well done, not intrusive or distracting. The animation is nice, but the faces need some work -- expressions and lip-syncing are vital to a game of this nature, so if there's ever a sequel I'd tell the team to give that area special attention.

Good tutorial. Very postmodern, "this is my game" kind of stuff, and the director of the game is right there. Points for novelty.

The black guy -- are they serious? I guess the character's like a French imagining of an African-American New York cop perpetually stuck in the character of The Ladies Man. He has this weird 1970s caricature swagger and his apartment is psychedelic, dude. Oh, and he dribbles a basketball to relax. Of course. I just couldn't believe the department would let him dress like a Beatnik poet with a fondness for pastels. Still, his script isn't saddled with the same ridiculousness they drape on his appearance and surroundings.

The bad bit -- they have these action-y sequences that require timed button presses. Yes, just like those featured in Resident Evil 4. I best remember these sequences as the basis for Dragon's Lair -- a game that looked great but played like shit. Used sparingly (a la RE4), they can create appropriate tension without making things too difficult.

Fahrenheit uses dual analog sticks as if you were playing Simon on two Simons at once. And, I hate to bash anybody's nostalgia, but Simon sucked. It sucks even more in digital form. There is one brutal sequence that goes on far too long, where one wrong button press leads to a failure condition (and hence a lost life) -- such a penalty is far too stiff for one missed press, especially so early in the game. Especially given that the sequence itself consists of at least eight separate sequences with their own patterns, and while it continues right from the pattern you missed, it hardly leads to fun.

If the rest of the game were as bad as those frustrating parts, I'd be telling everyone to stay away. But the rest of the game is compelling and interesting.

The split-screen camera work (like in the movie Woodstock) works great.

The control is never too-bad, though like every adventure game of this type (going back to Alone in the Dark, at least) that uses interesting camera angles to frame the action, control sometimes suffers in exchange for directorial conceit.

I've been away from adventure games for awhile.

Too long, it seems.

I'll have to dive back in.

Mam's the Word

If I had
any Sensitive New Age Guy credentials at all, they've been revoked.

I've been playing Playboy: The Mansion. And enjoying it.

It's basically The Sims 2. Except it has very clear goals, which is why it appeals to me. I didn't care for the Sims because it never quite resonated with me -- maybe I lack the empathy, but dammit, even with the Free Will option my sims couldn't take a piss without my supervision.

Despite the presence of naked breasts, Playboy: The Mansion is actually a pretty straightforward game. You're presented with different goals that are easy to accomplish. Line up an article, an interview, a pictorial, a centerfold, those sort of things. A checklist for the magazine, which is then given an overall rating that determines your earnings.

Other than the magazine, you run the mansion. You can put in some furniture, unlock new areas (like the pool), hire playmates, staff and various hangers-on. Then throw a party.

My favorite thing about the game is that it's insanely easy.

I love easy games -- Terrible, I know.

There's never a lot of pressure and little chance to screw up. It does, in other words, do a pretty good job of pushing the image that Playboy wants to sell -- you can chat a woman naked in seconds, then photograph her topless against a sunset and then befriend a rock star in the same day. Hell, before lunchtime.

If anything, though, the game is remarkably inoffensive. Pedestrian, even. Sure, there's sex, but barely. The reviews I read said much the same.

In other words, it represents the same sanitized, slightly-offensive shallowness that the Playboy Magazine itself offers.