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January 29, 2006

Time To Get Our Clank On

"Hey kids, who's up for a new game?"

"Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!", comes the enthusiastic, in-unison dual reply.

As you can tell by looking at the recently-added "Games We're Playing" section near the top of the right sidebar, we've made a little switch.

Since we finished Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves a few weeks ago, that excellent game has fallen out of the regular rotation, though the kids still like to replay their favorite missions, beat the remaining challenges, and face off in the multiplayer contests.

Taking its place................................................

Ah, who am I kidding with the drawn out ellipsis, as though there's any suspense or drama? I've been talking about this game ever since my original review of the delightful franchise to which it belongs. Not to mention the fact that I couldn't stop myself from putting "Clank" in the title.

That's right, after a lengthy preamble, it's time to delve into the wonderful world of Lombaxian luminescence once again.





January 26, 2006

Kids, No More Video Games...

...it's Mommy & Daddy's turn.

January 25, 2006

DDE (Dance Dance Education)

This probably won't cure the nation's child obesity epidemic, but it's definitely a start.


Can it be?

Hey, if they stick with their gaming, maybe they can all be surgeons when they grow up.

What I found interesting was that it highlights the difference between those who take responsibility for a problem, like West Virginia's state and local officials, who are attempting a creative solution to a very serious problem, and those who place the blame everywhere but where it truly lies.

January 23, 2006

(partly) Constructive Criticism

It seems I've recently gone through the writer's rite of passage of having someone take issue with something I wrote.

Now this is cool and all, especially since the critique was written by Matt Matthews (a.k.a. jvm) of Curmudgeon Gamer.

And in general, I always welcome constructive criticism, especially when I miss something, which I freely admit happens on occasion (e.g. when Kim reminded me about the Xbox's parental controls, which I had missed in my comparison of current-gen consoles).

In this case, while some of jvm's points are valid, others are less so. So let's get to it, shall we?

1) In the spirit of blogospheric brotherhood, I'll start with the point I agree with (though it was the last one in jvm's critique, which explains the "finally"):

Finally, I think the huge, huge flaw in GameTap is never touched on in this GameDAILY piece: you can't buy the games through the service. It would be great to own a playable version of Zaxxon, but you have to pay GameTap for the privilege, and that's what really stinks about their service. I'd rather pay more and get a permanent copy that I own than have to shell out more money every month I want to get my Zaxxon fix.

Yeah, good call. I missed that one, which is a significant hole in GameTap's value proposition. My bad.

See, not so bad, right? I got tagged and took my beating with a certain level of charm & grace (and don't forget humility). Now, on to the more questionable stuff.

2) First, here's how jvm starts off his post:

Shorter version of GameDAILY's take on GameTap (by Dan Matkowsky):

I want every game ever made playing bug-free on my PC for less than $15 a month. And I want it now.

Good luck with that, buddy.

Thanks, pal. ;)

...and a continuation of the same point later in the post:

Why isn't it obvious that some games simply demand a premium to play them? Isn't this true of other goods and services? Food, cars, furniture, even sporting events and theater performances. What's the disconnect here?

So to answer your question, Matt, it is obvious, and the only disconnect here is between what GameTap promises and what it delivers. The customers already are paying a premium - to GameTap.

Even if GameTap doesn't explicitly promise "every game ever made playing bug-free on my PC for less than $15 a month" to the customer, then their marketing certainly implies something pretty close to it.

Look at their slogans:

"Expand Your Playground" & "New World of Videogames"

There's a huge implied promise in them thar words.

The issue seems to be that while jvm is looking at it from a tech standpoint, my critique is written from a consumer's point of view.

Should the non-tech-savvy customer (or any customer, for that matter) care why GameTap doesn't (yet) live up to its promise? Surely not. What may be a perfectly reasonable issue for an IT professional is simply an excuse for an unsatisfied customer. Just ask the Xbox fanboys whose favorite games have yet to be ported to the Xbox 360.

3) And now, for something completely nit-picky:

And I don't know what to make of his non-denial denial of ROM mongering. This bit strikes me as a bit of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge:

As you can see throughout this review, GameTap has some definite shortcomings, but if you're a parent who's absolutely jonesin' for some old school gaming and you want to stay on the straight and narrow, you don't have many legal options.

Oh, sure, you could drive around, searching for restaurants and bars that have a few old arcade cabinets collecting dust in the corner. Or you could head back to your favorite high school hangout to see if your initials are still at the top of the Frogger leader board. Strictly your call.

I'd rather point out that Frogger is available for about a dozen platforms, one of which you probably already own. And the games that he can't get? Here they are:

However, as much as I love Zaxxon, it would also be nice to see some of my other favorites like Star Wars, Tron, Track & Field, Time Pilot and Dragon's Lair.

Other than Zaxxon, which he got through GameTap, all of those games are available in emulated or (excellent) ported form legally. Just check here, here, or here. Granted, you have to shell out for the hardware and software, but that's how the world works, people.

First, I'd rather point out that I wasn't saying that I couldn't find a copy of Frogger to play. Have you not seen the famous "Frogger" episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry & George head back to Mario's for one last slice, only to find that GLC is still atop the leaderboard?

But enough about Frogger. If I wasn't aware of the several places to find legally emulated or excellently ported versions of some of my favorite games (albeit by shelling out for the hardware and software), then I missed it, but that was hardly one of the major points I was trying to make (a recurring problem in this critique).

4) Speaking of which, here's some more nit-pickery:

And his PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller didn't work with the PC version of Splinter Cell. Heavens!

First, I notice that jvm didn't refer to the entire sentence here. This is what I wrote:

For Splinter Cell, my DualShock 2 controller isn’t recognized, and for Robotron 2084, a game that legally requires the player to use the right joystick/thumbstick to shoot, that functionality is sadly missing.

I've yet to come across anyone who can say that Eugene Jarvis' futuristic tour de force is the same game without the double joystick controls.

But even putting aside the omission of my point about Robotron, what about the fact that my controller didn't work with Splinter Cell? Just because something is included in a review, does that necessarily make it the crux of the review? Clearly not. Should I have just ignored it? For me, it was a minor issue, but to someone else, it may be a major one. But if I left it out of my small "Glitches" section, then shame on me.

5) Lastly, the critique that misses the point entirely:

He complains about download times. As someone who's dealt with load times since the Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive, I can tell you there are worse things. (Those who dealt with the C2N tape drive are hardened even further. Poor souls.)

Allrighty, then. Here's the thing. While I tend to inject some of my own likes & dislikes (and Marsha-Brady-esque innermost thoughts, hopes & dreams) into my GameDAILY Family columns and GameFam posts, everything I write about is ultimately about my kids, and by extension, my readers' kids, too.

So while I did take issue with load times, I'm not saying that it is unreasonable for several-hundred-plus MB files to take a while to download. I've downloaded my share of 500MB - 1GB+ demos, so of course I realize just how asinine and irrational it would be for me to make such a statement. But since when are kids rational or patient when they are waiting to be entertained? They're not. That was my point. As I wrote in the "offending" paragraph:

Are your kids cool with delayed gratification? Didn’t think so.

Think about it; my review was in the FAMILY section of GameDAILY (and here at GameFam). That should have been a tipoff right there.

*) Can't we all just get along?

In general, as I wrote up top, I'm more than happy to accept constructive criticism, especially from those more knowledgeable than I, but please don't take my comments out of context (or as former Chicago Bear WR Curtis Conway used to say, "tooken out of content").

Once I put something out there in the public domain, then it is absolutely fair game to be critiqued, even mercilessly so. Point out something legit that I missed (like #1 above), and it's all good.

It isn't my style to go around spoiling for juvenile flame wars with other bloggers, and I apologize (both to my readers and to Matt) if some of my more sarcastic responses sounded like just that. But all I ask is that when you do take issue with my writing, please make sure that you're addressing the point I was trying to make in the first place.

January 19, 2006

REVIEW: GameWorks

One day during our kids’ winter break, my wife and I were trying to think of a fun activity to do as a family. After a while, we both came up with good ideas at about the same time.

Her idea was to take them to Smaland, which is not only the fun “small land” in IKEA stores, where kids can run and jump and play; it’s also the region in Sweden where IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad (the man who put the I & K in IKEA) grew up. Who says my columns aren’t educational?

My contribution to our little plan was to spend some quarters (i.e. swipe some Play Cards) at GameWorks, which really wasn’t much of stretch for me, given my gaming proclivities. And we knew that the kids loved it, because we’d been there during their summer vacation.

As it turned out, since IKEA and GameWorks are about two minutes away from each other, a strategy began to emerge...

We decided to take........ A Multi-Activity, Day-of-Wall-to-Wall-Family-Fun Field Trip!

* the crowd goes wild! *

So we loaded the cargo hold with the necessary provisions; hardtack, beef jerky, and of course, lemons, to stave off scurvy. Can’t be too careful.

At IKEA, the kids crawled through tunnels, drew pictures, and of course, jumped into Smaland’s big ball pit with mildly wild abandon. A good time was had by all.

One question for IKEA, though: If you make the kids take their shoes off and run around in their slippery socks, why oh why would you make the little climbing wall/pile of faux boulders slippery and not grippy?

Where I come from...slippery surface + slippery surface + height + kids = bad idea...with the accompanying liability issues. Unless, of course, I signed some sort of waiver.......................... D’oh!

In our case, my daughter ended up saving the day by catching my son as he slid down the slippery rock pile. All’s well that ends well, I guess, though that was not the kind of excitement we expected to have that day.

So as we left IKEA for GameWorks, we loaded the cargo hold with the necessary provisions; Swedish meatballs, Swedish fish, gravlax, and of course, more lemons. Can’t be too careful.

When you first walk into GameWorks, you need to buy the aforementioned Play Card at the front desk, then it’s off to the races.

While not every game is suitable for young kids (e.g. there are many shooting games suitable for older folk – and if you’re trying to shield their young eyes, you’ll need to be on your toes, as those games are sprinkled throughout), there’s a lot to like at GameWorks. Here are some of our highlights, starting with the Big Three:

Mario Kart Arcade GP

This was the highlight of the trip, hands down. You not only get the wonderful, kid-friendly Mario Kart experience, but you also get to race against up to three of your friends (or siblings, kids, parents, etc.).

Of the many fun features in this game, one in particular stood out. Each game is equipped with a camera, and before the race begins, it takes a photo of the player and superimposes it onto his or her chosen character from the Mario family. So as you race around the quirky Nintendo tracks, you also get to see your friends’ bright shining faces as you pass each other.

Ironically, we almost didn’t get to play the game, because it’s designed for big kids only. Although the seats slide back and forth, the pedals are just too far away for little legs. However, instead of giving up, we split up into teams - girls vs. boys.

My son sat on my lap and we shared steering duties. My job was to work the pedals and he was in charge of firing items at the other drivers. My wife and daughter worked out their own arrangement, but I wasn’t paying attention to the specifics, ‘cuz I was in pregame, baby. In case you were wondering, the girls beat the guys twice in a row, including a come-from-behind photo finish.

Brave Firefighters

This was another favorite, though your younger kids will need some help, due to the weight of the “controller” - a heavy metal fire hose. You play a heroic firefighter on a lifesaving mission. You aim the hose at the screen, and a red or blue circle (depending on which player you are) shows you what you’re currently dousing. It’s an exciting game for parents and kids to play together.

Dance Dance Revolution / In the Groove

I don’t know about your kids, but mine love it when my wife and I are willing to make fools of ourselves for their viewing pleasure, and nothing quite fits that description like me on an arcade dancing/rhythm game. Now don’t get me wrong, as a drummer, I have rhythm in spades, and I can dance when the funky spirit moves me. But these games aren’t so much dancing as a really vigorous game of hopscotch, set to music. I suck at hopscotch.

Old-School Arcade Games

They had a few of my old faves on the 2nd floor, but not only were they few and far between – they had about five games – but the games had no sound and hazy, tired flickering screens. These games are out there to be had, and I’m guessing a lot of the moms and dads out there would enjoy a wider selection of working classics from the golden age of arcades.

Sports Games

If you include racing, sports games make up a large percentage of the games at GameWorks. Not only do they have a four-player Madden football game and some Midway sports games, but they also have a litany of experiential “ride-on” games, which can be traced back to mid-‘80s games like Hang-On, Out Run & After Burner, from legendary Sega designer Yu Suzuki. And if any of my students are reading this, yes, that will be on the midterm.

There were many racing competition games, including several with hydraulics that moved the “cars” the players were in to reflect what their on-screen cars were doing. Similar games included baseball, tennis, soccer, skiing & horse racing. Two of the other sports games - basketball and football - were really carnival games, as the action never transferred from the real world to a TV monitor.


Speaking of carnival games, there were many ways to “earn” tickets to buy fabulous prizes. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Keep reading.

You know the kid of games I’m referring to: skee ball, and...um...more skee ball. I don’t remember. They all look the same to me. But the common denominator is that they all delight my kids when they spew forth their recycled cardboard bounty, especially since the games are designed to have a very low threshold for earning those tickets.

Of course, when they retrieve the prodigious pile of tickets from their pockets and proudly plop them onto the counter, they are invariably disappointed when they realize that they have no shot at the plush Nemo doll they had their little hearts set on. In fact, their tickets only qualified them for a plastic spider or a mini-pack of Skittles. Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.

Since we’d been there (as well as the arcade at Gurnee Mills - the ginormous outlet mall between Chicago and Milwaukee) before, I had already talked to the kids about enjoying the experience of playing those games and earning tickets, but not focusing on what those tickets could buy. The games aren’t the means to the end of buying a cool prize, but rather the end in itself of having fun. And ever since we had that talk, the kids have done just that.

Something to keep in mind is that GameWorks changes some of their games every once in a while. For example, the carnival bowling game the kids enjoyed in July was nowhere to be found in December. They did have some new games, though, including Mario Kart, and a two-story parachute simulator thingy. It (the parachute sim, not Mario Kart) looked pretty cool, but it was definitely for older kids, because they strap you in and lift you off the ground. So we skipped it.

Overall, I felt like we got our money’s worth. Every game charges a different number of credits, but since you get to choose your games a la carte, you can decide what is and isn’t worth it. In addition, the customer service was solid. When the air hockey machine malfunctioned in the middle of our game, they let us play two free games of Mario Kart, which added up to more than double the credits we should have been refunded.

In the U.S., GameWorks has 18 locations in 12 states, so depending on where you are, it may not be feasible for you to get to one any time soon. In the meantime, there’s always Chuck E. Cheese, which, of course, was created by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell (midterm!).

We had a great time at GameWorks, with Mario Kart Arcade GP being the favorito de tutti favoriti. Even if it were the only game at GameWorks, the trip would still have been worth it. And since we saved it for last, we ended the day on a high note, which made the ride home real peaceful-like. And that’s all any parent can ask for, isn’t it?

January 16, 2006

Hey You! Safen Up!

A few months ago, my wife heard about a new DVD coming out called The Safe Side, which is the result of the collaborative efforts of John Walsh and Julie Clark. Since the previews looked promising, we put in a request for our library to order the video. Then we waited for the release date.

When it came in, we were the first to borrow it, and are very happy we did. The kids loved watching it, and learned some very valuable lessons in the process. We've borrowed it 3 times already, because the kids often request it.

The "star" of the video is SafeSide SuperChick (played by Angela Shelton of "Searching for Angela Shelton" - that's her on the cover), who is goofy enough to get the kids to laugh, but serious enough to get to learn the important lesson the video teaches them.

Child safety discussions aren't the easiest ones for parents to have with their kids, but they may be the most important. We try to balance the need to protect them from harm with the need to protect them from being introduced to "grownup" topics too soon.

But since it's never too soon to give your kids the information they need to be safe, The Safe Side does an excellent job of delivering a sobering message in a way that kids can deal with.

This is not to say that the video is a substitute for talking to your own kids about safety, but it's a helluva jumping off point. The video does the heavy lifting of introducing the topic. The rest is up to you.

FYI 1) Check out the reviews on Amazon.

FYI 2) 10% of the proceeds are donated to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

FYI 3) I have some child safety links at the very bottom of the right sidebar.

January 13, 2006

Up Your Metatarsal

The summer before my 12th birthday, I went swimming almost every day. To get to the pool, though, I had to walk a couple miles.

Along the way, I had a choice of walking along the edge of the road, or dragging my feet through the hot sand by the side of said road.

More often than not, I found myself opting for the sand.

The pool always felt great on those hot summer days, but on those days when I jacked up the pre-swim mercury with a nice sand walk, that first splash into the cool blue water was all the more refreshing. The sensation was downright exquisite.

As those of you who've read my Ratchet & Clank review know, my kids and I have played and thoroughly enjoyed Ratchet & Clank and Going Commando (or for those of you not in North America, R&C 1 and R&C 2). However, even though I bought Up Your Arsenal (R&C 3) a few months ago, I've been delaying the gratification that is sure to come our way once I open the shrink wrap.

Now this may be a risky strategy with an unknown commodity; say, a highly-anticipated sequel that doesn't live up to the high standards of its predecessor (e.g. Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo). But in this case, reviewer after reviewer (as well as many commenters on my R&C review post) has sung the praises of UYA, and we've played the demo on one of our many Jampack demo discs many times. So when we finally take the pixilated plunge, a terrific gaming experience is a given.

Well, my several-month-long trek through the hot sand is nearing its end, and I am in pre-plunge preparation mode. I'm going to surprise the kids with UYA in the next week or so. I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, the water looks amazing.

January 10, 2006

Just Say No...To Bad Parenting

What the...
You have got to be freaking kidding me!

In the article, Roxanne Richardson, soon-to-be mother of two, contends, "I'd rather my son take a more proactive, less habitual drug like cocaine, than lock himself away and play video games. It's so lazy. At least with pills and coke you're out and about doing something."

So is it bad parenting, or just bad satire?
Is it possible she was being cheeky?
Can a parent really be that criminally stupid?
Is she a party pooper, or trying to emulate this candidate for mother-of-the-year...........

Can somebody please educate these freakin' people?!?!?

Oh wait. That's what sites like GamerDad, GamerMom & GameFam are trying to do.

So tell yer friends, wontcha?

January 08, 2006

Pixelante Helps Sick Child Realize Dream! Film At 11.

Now why doesn't this kind of terrific warm fuzzy stuff make the front page more often?

Wait, I know. Because it shows that the gaming community is not the monolithic, malevolent, child-corrupting beast as portrayed by an increasingly hysterical posse of ambitious politicians and attorneys.

Rather, it is a diverse community populated by many different kinds of people, including those who created Child's Play and Games Can Help, and in this case, Eric Johnston of LucasArts.

For those of you who've already read this story, click on the image below for a direct link to the Ben's Game page at the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Almost forgot. This is for those of you who didn't understand the title of this post.

You Know You're Raising A Gamer When...

The other day, my son was playing with one of our Playmobil play sets with his grandmother. He was trying to decide on the best way to move one of the figures to a different location, and she said that he could just go around the side.

"I can't do that," he replied, incredulous that she would even suggest such an outlandish thing. "There's an invisible wall right there!"

I'm so proud. *sniff*

January 05, 2006


Software Sells the.........um.......Software

A little while ago, my kids and I signed up for a month-long free trial of GameTap, the downloadable, broadband-only gaming service from Turner Broadcasting. FYI, the standard trial is 2 weeks, but there are codes for a full month floating around out there.

It’s a well-worn axiom in the gaming industry that the software sells the hardware, which probably explains the miserable failure of the Sega Saturn in the mid-90s, as well as why Microsoft signed development deals with highly-respected Japanese designers like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshiki Okamoto and Tetsuya Mizuguchi to design games for the Xbox 360.

So how about GameTap's software? Well, GameTap certainly has a lot of games. They launched with more than 300 of them, and they are adding more on the fly.

One of the first things you notice, probably because it is so prevalent in GameTap’s advertising, is the wide selection of classic arcade titles.

You can play beloved favorites like Pac-Man (Mr. & Ms. - EDIT: actually, just his, not hers (no Ms. Pac-Man. sorry for the misinformation), Galaga and Dig Dug, but then, you can also just buy Namco Arcade Museum.

You can play Defender, Robotron 2084 and Burger Time, but then, you can also just buy Midway Arcade Treasures.

You can play Asteroids, Battlezone and Tempest, but then, you can also buy Atari Anthology.

You can play Zaxxon, but then, you can also....... no wait. Actually, I haven’t been able to find Sega’s amazing isometric pioneer anywhere but GameTap, so that was, in the words of a certain fabulously fleshy employee of Quahog’s Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Company, freakin’ sweet.

However, as much as I love Zaxxon, it would also be nice to see some of my other favorites like Star Wars, Tron, Track & Field, Time Pilot and Dragon’s Lair.

I really enjoyed sharing so many of my old school favorites with my kids. The only problem was that while I would have been content to continue playing for a while, they didn’t buy into the whole replay value thing. After once or twice at most, they wanted to move on to other games.

Speaking of moving on, there are many other systems represented in addition to arcade. Home consoles, portable game systems and computers (Windows & DOS) are all present and accounted for, but some of them sent pretty meager delegations to the big party.

For example, while there were a few Intellivision titles (eight, to be precise), where were the sports games that made Intellivision a serious challenger to Atari’s dominance of the market back in the day? Baseball, football, basketball, hockey; these were the games that left my thumb horribly (or should I say wonderfully?) disfigured from using the controller so much. And don’t try to tell me about Skiing. Want to know why George Plimpton never compared Intellivision Skiing to Atari Skiing? Because they both suck.

But at least Intellivision provides one hit game in Astrosmash, which is an overflowing horn of plenty when compared to Dreamcast, which only has three measly titles. The good news was that one of them, Toy Commander, looked like a good one for my kids. The bad news was that it was one of several that crashed my system. But back to those three games. Come on, GameTap. You can’t tease me with a tab for Dreamcast, then withhold goodies like Jet Grind Radio or Samba de Amigo. It just ain’t fair.

Clearly, there’s a reason that GameTap has twice as many games from notorious console flop the 32X as it does for the immensely-popular-until-the-PS2-showed-up Dreamcast. Deals have to be made. Royalties have to be paid. I understand that. But why should that be my problem as a potential subscriber?

And I haven’t even mentioned all of the classic Nintendo games from the last 25 years (OK, now I have). Later this year or early next, Nintendo will be joining the next-gen console wars with the launch of the Revolution, and one of the cornerstones of their strategy is that you will have the ability to download any Nintendo game ever made. So you can see why they wouldn’t want to hop aboard the GameTap bandwagon.

On the PC side, GameTap has a bunch of classic games, like Myst, Tomb Raider, DOS classic Zork, and the more recent Splinter Cell and Beyond Good & Evil. But it is also missing a whole lot of ‘em, such as LucasArts adventure classics Maniac Mansion, Secret of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, and Dan Bunten/Dani Bunten Berry’s multiplayer trailblazer M.U.L.E.

My overarching point is that GameTap promises you the whole world of gaming, and while they deliver a lot, they’re missing a couple continents.

Fun Delayed is Fun Denied

While the older games load very quickly, newer, larger titles take a looooooooooong time to load. So while it’s fun to browse through the GameTap interface looking for something fun for the kids to play, the satisfaction of finding a good one is tempered by the fact that you may have to wait a good while to play. Are your kids cool with delayed gratification? Didn’t think so.

While you’re waiting for the shorter games, GameTap entertains you and your kids with little game-related shorts, called "A Day in the Extra Life." For example, they like to focus on the hidden lives of the extra Pac Men and Dig Dugs in the bottom left corner. The extra Pac Men sing a lovely duet on “Time Is On My Side” by the Stones (which my son was walked around the house singing for a few weeks), and the extra Dig Dug guys recount the exploits of one of their colleagues (the third extra man who suddenly appears at the end) at the office party. My kids cracked up at both. FYI, there are several others that also focus on "video game characters making the most of their downtime. Well, at least occupying their downtime".

Raves & Faves

Before our GameTap trial, my son already enjoyed playing Sonic Heroes and Sonic Adventure DX, so it was no surprise that he was all over the many Sonic games offered by GameTap. From the groundbreaking inaugural speed platformer that vaulted the Genesis over the NES for a time, to the many GameGear titles, he sampled every blue hedgehog-related game on GameTap.

There were also many Lego games, and both of my kids enjoyed the only two we tried (download times, remember?), Lego Friends and Lego Island 2.

EDIT: I just remembered; Lego Loco is another game that crashed my system. :(

Lego Friends features four young friends who have to prepare for their big music show, and you have to help them with their dance routine and stage show. But the best part of the game is the music mixer, where you piece together the drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals, etc., to create a new song. Both of my kids enjoyed singing the song they created using the music mixer.

Lego Island looks like more of a traditional Lego game, with the trademark blocky gameplay. My son’s favorite part was that every time you ventured onto the railroad tracks, a Lego “superman” would swoop in to fly you to safety.

It behooves me to say that GameTap has parental controls, but we didn’t have the time to delve into them.


Any hardcore PC gamer will tell you that they’d choose a keyboard/mouse combo over a controller any day, especially for first-person shooters and strategy games; something about fast, precise aiming and hotkeys. But for those of us who come down with carpal tunnel just from hearing the letters WASD, or for kids who have a tough time gaming that way (like mine), it’s nice to have the option of a USB controller, which GameTap so thoughtfully allows.

However, the controller just doesn’t work for some games. For Splinter Cell, my DualShock 2 controller isn’t recognized, and for Robotron 2084, a game that legally requires the player to use the right joystick/thumbstick to shoot, that functionality is sadly missing.

As I mentioned above, several games crash my system, and while it ain’t exactly bleeding edge Alienware, it does have 256MB nVIDIA GeForce 6800 graphics processor, which ain’t exactly chopped liver (er...at least it wasn’t last year).

In addition, the sound occasionally goes out when I’m playing or browsing through the games, and I have to reboot to bring the sound back.

Psst...Hey Buddy...Wanna Buy a ROM?

OK, show of hands, how many parents out there know what the hell I’m talking about? You, with the hands up, for shaaaaaame! (to be read in Grampa Simpson’s voice).

For those of you who don’t know what’s going on here, there are these things called emulators, see? And what they do is allow people to play just about any classic arcade or console game on their PCs. Pretty cool, ne c’est pas?

Well, cool and not so cool, because there’s a catch; emulators very much verboten. Well, actually, the emulators are perfectly legal. Only the game data-containing ROMs are illegal.

Now it’s not my place to preach to you ne’er do wells out there who are having your naughty good time. And I don’t consider myself holier than thou, thee, thy or thine. But it is my job to teach my kids about right and wrong, and I’m not a big fan of parental hypocrisy.

As you can see throughout this review, GameTap has some definite shortcomings, but if you’re a parent who’s absolutely jonesin’ for some old school gaming and you want to stay on the straight and narrow, you don’t have many legal options.

Oh, sure, you could drive around, searching for restaurants and bars that have a few old arcade cabinets collecting dust in the corner. Or you could head back to your favorite high school hangout to see if your initials are still at the top of the Frogger leader board. Strictly your call.

Oh, Waiter!

Did you ever order something at a restaurant that looked absolutely fabulous? A vertically-plated haute cuisine masterpiece that you couldn’t wait to bite into. But when you took a bite, something wasn’t quite right, like maybe it was a little underdone?

It’s always a risk when you send a dish back. The temperamental chef and harried line cooks are already behind schedule and in no mood for fussy customers. And you never know when they may be tempted to express their displeasure by burying a biohazard in the béchamel.

Good thing for you, GameTap has no such inclination or ability to lash out at you if you send their product back for them to put under the broiler for a little while longer.

Or to put it in non-culinary terms, GameTap is good and has a great deal of potential, but it still feels like a beta version to me. So while it may be well worth the price at some point in the future, at $15 per month, that’s simply too much for not enough.

January 01, 2006

Another Gaming Parent? Who'da Thunk It?

Actually, it's becoming increasingly common with each passing day (or, say, New Year), as the average age of gamers currently sits at 30 and is inching ever-higher, as the members of the original "gamer generation" don't see the need to put down the controller simply because they (we) have families to raise.

In a recent post, I linked to the following Game Politics post about Senator Clinton's latest attempt to "protect children".

In the days hence, I was planning to write about it, but I was too busy with the GameFam Holiday Gift Guide.

As it turns out, though, you're all in luck, because there's another gaming parent out there with an interesting take to share with the class.

Where are my manners? Introductions are clearly in order.

GameFam readers, GamerMom.
GamerMom, GameFam readers.

FYI, GamerMom is also featured in a recent piece in the Escapist - When Gamers Breed.