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March 30, 2006

Back In Black

...or, more accurately, Bad At Black, EA's recently-released uber-shooter.

As I've written a few times, after I put the kids to bed, that's when I play my beloved "grownup games".

Now don't get me wrong. I love many of the games my kids and I play together. It doesn't get much better than Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, Katamari Damacy, or some of the many Mario games. I also love sports games and racing games.

But there are also times when I just hafta see something get blow'd up, y'know?! So in the last couple years, I've rented many shooterific games via GameFly. Games like Resident Evil 4, Far Cry Instincts, Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Halo 2, The Warriors (punch-a-rific?), Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (stealth-a-rific?), God of War (blade-a-rific?), F.E.A.R. (creepy little girl-a-rific?), and the list goes on.

So after getting back from GDC, I finally opened up the new orange envelope that had been sitting unopened on my desk for a couple weeks, and pulled out Black. As is my wont, I played the game on Easy (not that there's anything wrong with that).

However, although I should have been tiptoeing my way through the underbrush, I was getting my ass handed to me at the border every single time! I had plenty of ammo and was blowing up all of the "red things", but my health (and the rapid depletion thereof) always got me in the end. Damn you, not-enough-health-packs-on-easy! Oh, and more importantly... damn you, not-enough-save-points! I had to play though the same damn early level just for the honor of dying at the exact same place every freaking time! Seriously, for someone who plays so many of these games, shouldn't I be less sucky at them?

Anyhoo, I've been thinking about adding general gaming commentary here and there, and this post is an example of just that. So, gentle reader, would you welcome this kind of occasional departure from the kiddy stuff, or would you rather I kept my eyes on the prize and stayed on my present course?

To clarify, family gaming is the raison d'etre of GameFam, and that will never change. I'll never write one of these posts instead of a kid-focused one. Only in addition.

What say you?

March 29, 2006

GDC Recap: Games

Here are some of the kid-friendly games that caught my eye at GDC 2006.

Some seemed more promising, and others less so.

Some seemed very derivative of other games, and others completely and utterly original.

Some are as big-bidness as it gets (e.g. Nintendo & Sony), but most of the games on this list are independent games that were featured in the 2006 Independent Games Festival. Some were created by students, which is, to quote co-host (with Shiny's David Perry) Tommy Tallarico at said festival (which immediately preceded the 2006 Game Developer's Choice Awards) "cool!".

So far, my kids and I have played a few of them, and we have a bunch more to go, but they definitely already have a few early faves. For my next Dad's Take column for GameDAILY Family, I'll review the games in better detail (though not as much as a regular review, what with me having to write about all the games in one column).

For now, here's the list, in alphabetical order (the ones we've played so far are bolded):

  • Ballistic
  • Balloon Express ***
  • Braid
  • Brain Age
  • Cloud
  • Crazyball
  • Dodge That Anvil!
  • Fish Tycoon*
  • Glow Worm
  • HamsterBash
  • Josh's World
  • Loco Roco (PSP) **
  • Mystery Case Files: Huntsville
  • New Super Mario Bros. (DS) **
  • Ocular Ink
  • Palette
  • Professor Fizzwizzle
  • Putt Nutz
  • Rumble Box
  • Tube Twist
I think I got all of 'em that were on my list, but if I left one out, I can just shoehorn it in.

* For the sake of accuracy, I actually got a copy of Fish Tycoon at the Game Marketing Conference a few weeks ago. FYI.

** Since Loco Roco & New Super Mario Brothers haven't been released yet, my kids obviously can't play them yet, but I played 'em at GDC.

*** Balloon Express wasn't from GDC, but it fits into the general indie/casual game genre to which most of these games belong.

Parent/Teacher Conferences

The kids had off today for parent/teacher conferences, so after getting the 411 about how they're doing (very well, thank you), what else would we do, but head out for another GameWorks/IKEA outing? (in case you're still wondering, the answer is... nothing else. We did, in fact, head out for another GameWorks/IKEA outing).

A good time was had by all.

March 27, 2006

I Gave Her My Heart And She Gave Me A Pen

So good guy and kickboxing (sport-of-the-future) practitioner Lloyd Dobler professes his love for Diane Court, but instead of melting into his arms, she robotically follows her crooked father's orders, and she actually has the temerity, the unmitigated gall to give him a fine writing instrument.

So Lloyd retreats to the comfortable male bonding world of the Gas 'n Sip, where all of his friends go by choice, even on Saturday night.

Of course, in the end, it was nothing that a Peter Gabriel song hoisted high above his head couldn't fix.

So, yeah... that was a crappy gift.

Here's a better one.

Here's a little tidbit about that Gas 'n Sip scene in Say Anything. If you play the "Lloyd, Lloyd, all null and void..." rap backwards, you can just barely make out Jeremy Piven's character saying "let's hug it out, bitch". True story.

March 25, 2006

GDC Recap: Overwhelmed

Here I sit back home with my wife and kids (yay!), barely 24 hours after the 2006 Game Developers Conference ended, and I'll be damned if I can make sense of it all in a single post.

GDC veterans may be amused by my wide-eyed newbie enthusiasm, but between the people, the games, the knowledge, the cameraderie, and yes, even the ranting, my first GDC was an amazing experience.

As a result, over the next several days, I'm going to break down my GDC recap into a bunch of smaller posts. For example:

  • The many kid-friendly games (to be followed by mini-reviews of the games, after my kids and I play them together)
  • The violence in games panel discussion
  • The keynote addresses (Sony, Nintendo, Will Wright)
  • The Pride & Prejudice game design workshop
  • Career repercussions
  • The industry icons, future icons, and generally swell folks I met at GDC...and at the airport
  • The GDC schwag report
...plus any more interesting nuggets or tidbits I can think of.

Stay tuned.

March 21, 2006


I'm in San Jose this week for the Game Developers Conference - my first. I'll try to carve out a little time to post during the week.


UPDATE (3pm Pacific): Already, Ive seen several games that look very promising, including one I'm pretty sure my daughter will love, and that one is a student (USC) project! I'll add more detail after the show.

UPDATE - THURSDAY, MARCH 23 (9:45am Pacific): So far, GDC has been delightfully overwhelming. I've met a lot of terrific people and had some outstanding excperiences. Since I don't want to give it short shrift, I'll recap in georgeous technicolor detail when I get back from San Jose.

Gotta go! Off to see Iwata-san's Nintendo Keynote, which, of course, will be followed by Will Wright's Keynote.


March 16, 2006

REVIEW: EyeToy: Play 2

Here's my latest "A Dad's Take" column for the GameDAILY Family Guide. I'll post a direct link when it posts on GameDAILY. Here you go.

Recently, more and more video games are taking advantage of new technologies that bring players into the game and turn their bodies into game controllers. Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution series is probably the best-known member of this intrepid group, but with Sony’s development of the EyeToy camera peripheral for their PlayStation 2 console, they’ve become a big player in the experiential game area (Sony, a big player? What’re the odds?).

2005’s EyeToy: Play 2 is the sequel to the 2003’s EyeToy: Play, the first in Sony’s ground-breaking EyeToy series. Like the original, Play 2 has 12 games, which are each divided up into several sub-games. And in addition to that, there are many more mini-games included as well.

Not every game is stellar, but several of them are very good, and with so many options, your kids should be able to find at least a few games they like. And with single player and multiplayer, the games can be enjoyed alone or with friends.

Here are the Big 12:

Mr. Chef: You’re a short-order hash-slinger with orders coming in at a frantic pace. It’s a burger-stacking, French fry-salting, pickle-chopping, cheese-grating, tomato-mashing, ice juggling, pancake-flipping, milkshake-shaking, fly-swatting good time. Order up!

Note: At a certain point, your kids will discover that the EyeToy camera recognizes any movement, intentional or not. So when they accidentally hit an on-screen target with a random body part, they’ll either become frustrated... or inspired, as my kids seemed to have been. As I write this, my kids are in hysterics, because they’re stacking, salting, chopping, grating & mashing with their heads.

Secret Agent: If my kids plan to follow in the stealthy footsteps of Sam Fisher, Solid Snake, or, say, Secret Squirrel, then this game is right at the top of their super secret spy training agenda. It’s a trip to the heart-pounding world of stealth. Here’s a handy-dandy tip, free of charge...you ready? Avoid the searchlights. These are gold nuggets I’m giving you here.

Table Tennis: For my kids, the toughest thing in this game was figuring out how to move the paddle (i.e. open palm) straight ahead toward the TV, instead of across their body, which seems to be a more natural motion. After a while, they got the hang of it, but even when my son was whacking the ball off the side of the table, he enjoyed the simple fact that he affected the flight of the ball.

Kung 2: This is EyeToy Play 2’s action game. Fend off the attacking hordes, using only your own bare hands to protect you. My son loved it (big surprise). It’s perfect for when he’s feeling “karate-ish,” a term he coined a few months ago.

Bubble Pop: Kids and bubbles are almost always a surefire combination, and this one is no exception, though your kids will need to exercise enough control to pop certain bubbles and avoid others (like the evil red ones – grrr!). My son isn’t too big on the self-control, so he doesn’t do very well at this one, but he enjoys it anyway.

Drummin’: This one is probably better suited to older kids, as it requires simultaneous, multi-limb coordination. I enjoyed it, though.

Now would be a good time for me to insert my standard “I’m a drummer” reference, but I’ll spare you this time............................D’OH!

Air Guitar: Guitar Hero it ain’t, but it’s a lot of fun and pretty easy. Rawk on!

DIY: Described as “power tool paradise”, this game lets you fix plumbing leaks, demolish brick walls, chop wood, etc. This game captures all the glamour and fun of home improvement. Pay no attention to my witty sarcasm just then, it really is fun, and kinda therapeutic.

Goal Attack: My kids and I found this one to be pretty frustrating. You’re a goalie trying to stop the shot, but the camera is sluggish and inaccurate in responding to your movements. We moved on from this one pretty quickly.

Homerun: In this baseball-themed game, hitting can be a lot of fun, but although running is simple in theory – you pump your arms up and down very quickly – it can be frustrating.

Knockout: Like it sounds, this is a boxing game, so make sure that the area is clear of anything and anyone you hold dear.

Monkey Bars: The concept is cool (you navigate your way up, down, and around the outside of a building), but it was too difficult and frustrating for my kids.

In addition to the 12 main games, EyeToy: Play 2 also has a bunch of experimental games in there, too, in a magical, mystical place they call The Playroom.

Here are some of the games we’ve played so far:

Motion Cam: Head down to the rec room for a nice game of Pool on a hexagonal table. Of course, as mentioned above, the camera detects any movement, so you’re just as likely to hit the cue ball with your head or tummy as with your hands. And as in the other games, depending on the kid, that can either be fun (my son) or frustrating...or perhaps fun for a few minutes, then frustrating after that (my daughter). The other Motion Cam game was Coloring, where you basically fill the screen up with graffiti. Not the most creative game in the collection.

Sonic Cam: Use your voice to control either a submarine navigating treacherous waters, or to make funky, psychedelic patterns on the screen. The games were interesting as a curiosity, but neither has the staying power to hold the attention of most children. The submarine one was not very easy, and given the relatively meager payoff, is probably not worth the effort.

Cameo: You create a 3D model of your head, and then you get to play around with it for a while. Pretty cool, in a weird, Robocop-esque, face-grafted-onto-machine kind of way.

You also get to play a demo of EyeToy AntiGrav, a non-musical detour taken by Guitar Hero developer Harmonix. AntiGrav is more of an actual game than a collection of mini-games. You use your body to ride on rails and jump over and duck under obstacles. It’s pretty basic (the demo, that is) and a lot of fun, and school-age kids should have no problem with it. Both of my kids loved it.

To be sure, some games are better than others when the goal is to win, but when your kids just want to fool around with a little cause-and-effect fun, with them up on the TV screen, inside the very game that they are playing, it doesn’t get much better than EyeToy: Play 2.

March 11, 2006

REVIEW: Taiko Drum Master

Back from San Francisco and an excellent Game Marketing Conference.

When I originally wrote my Rhythm Game Mega-Review, I didn't exactly go into a tremendous amount of depth on each individual game. So in my recent review for GameDAILY Family, I reviewed one of those games - Taiko Drum Master - more in depth.

Here you go...

My kids love Taiko Drum Master, Namco’s unique, Japan-themed rhythm game. While they don’t play it every day (thank goodness), it’s a great change-of-pace game that they like to play 2-3 times a month.

The Taiko drum peripheral doubles as the controller, and the kids got the hang of it pretty quickly. The sticks look like oversized breadsticks, but don’t worry, they’re a heckuva lot more durable.

While the song list isn't a mile long (you start with 20+ to choose from), it is wonderfully eclectic, containing a fun combo of pop/rock (ABC, Tubthumping, Walkin' On Sunshine), classical (Beethoven's 5th, William Tell Overture), TV show themes (Jimmy Neutron, DragonBall Z), and even the themes from classic Namco gaming hits like Soul Calibur, Ridge Racer, and, joy of joys, Katamari Damacy. You can also unlock new songs as you achieve more milestones.

Difficulty-wise, Taiko Drum Master is probably too hard for very young kids. Oh, sure, they’ll enjoy banging the crap out of the Taiko drum (who doesn’t?), but they’ll probably get frustrated when they don’t do very well and are greeted with a shrill voice proclaiming, “Stage Failed!”

My son gets the idea that he has to switch back and forth from the drum face to the rim, depending on the color of the corresponding circle, but his eye-hand coordination isn’t yet quick enough to clear any stages. But he still enjoys trying to play along to the songs.

For older kids, it will be challenging, as it takes a lot of concentration and eye-hand coordination, but if they take it slow and don’t jump to the highest difficulty setting too soon, it will be very rewarding to clear stages and unlock new songs.

When my daughter plays TDM, she gets an expression of deep concentration on her face, and she zones in on the music. And although she had some difficulty at first, she kept trying, and she has cleared several stages already. It’s very cool to see her do well at something that isn’t easy to do.

Mom and Dad should be challenged by this game as well. As I’ve self-servingly written in far too many columns already, I’ve been a drummer for over 20 years now, and it ain’t easy for me to clear the hard level stages on some of the songs.

Taiko Drum Master isn’t simply the drumming version of a “button masher,” where the point is to hit the buttons as quickly as possible in as little time as possible. There’s a lot of syncopation and complexity in the arrangements.

Obviously, since there’s banging involved, the game is noisy, so you’ll probably want to set limits as to when and where your kids should play, but in addition to the musical benefits, it’s a terrific outlet for the prodigious energies of children.

Don’t believe me? Then try this: The next time your kids come home from a birthday party, hopped up on raspberry fluff icing and red-hot marshmallow squirters, just plop ‘em down with Taiko Drum Master for a while, and let ‘em work off some of their sugar-fueled vigor. You’ll thank me for it.

March 07, 2006

Hidely Ho, Neighborinos!

I'm blogging from San Francisco, where I'll be attending the Game Marketing Conference tomorrow and Thursday. I got some spiffy new biz cards for the occasion (as well as for GDC and E3). They look like baseball cards, complete with my "stats" (partial resume) on the back.

I'm currently looking for a marketing or strategy position in the video game industry, so although this is finals week at school, I didn't see how I could miss this conference. So before I left, I e-mailed my final exam to my Program Director, who was kind enough to proctor the exam for me. Thanks, John!

Today, I hung out with Chicago/Northwestern/Kellogg homey Robin at EA/Maxis, where she showed me 'round the place for a little while, even though she's hella busy. Much fun :)

Before I left on Monday, I dropped my son off at his school. He's been a little, shall we say, reticent about saying good-bye in general, so I wasn't sure how things would go, seeing as I was leaving for the entire work week.

As it turned out, though, things actually went very smoothly.

How, you ask?
Through the magic of video games, I reply.

Recently, we've been playing Sly 2: Band of Thieves...again (more about that in an upcoming post/GameDAILY Family column), and as is his custom with whatever game we happen to be playing, my son was pretending to be the characters in the game.

The night before I left, I was Jean Bison, and he was Arpeggio, and together, we frolicked about the Canadian Wilderness (our living room), as bad guys are wont to do. A good time was had by all.

So the next morning, just to head any separation anxiety off at the proverbial pass, I picked up where we'd left off the previous evening, and my son immediately joined in.

Everything was going swell, until I forgot his bag in the car and had to leave him in the class (yes, with other, responsible adults) for a minute. So much for my smoothly executed plan.

But when I came back with his bag, he was still pretty happy. So we continued in our funny voices for a minute or two, then he decided it was time to use our normal voices when it was time for me to go.

So we gave each other big squeezy hugs and a kiss, and as I left, he happily went to play at the Lego table with some of his friends.

- sigh -

Is there anything video games can't do? ;)

March 02, 2006


Howdy all. Here's my latest "A Dad's Take" column from GameDAILY Family:

I was all set.

All set for this week’s column.

All set to write about my efforts to apply one of the central theories in Raph Koster’s book, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, to my family’s gaming habits.

That column will have to wait for another day.

Today I attended the funeral for the mother of a friend. A wonderful, elegant, proud, strong, intelligent, loving, caring person, she was tragically stricken with ALS a few years ago.

A few days ago, she finally, mercifully passed away. As one of her grieving family members put it, she was now free from the prison her body had become.

Several family members and friends spoke about the acute pain of loss, which was palpable in the large room, overflowing as it was with so many people whose lives she touched. My tears, along with everyone else’s, flowed freely.

Then my friend got up to speak, and he gave one of the best eulogies I’ve ever had the poignant honor of witnessing.

Before we knew what hit us, we were laughing and crying at the same time. My friend has always had a gift for making people laugh, and today was no exception.

Few people can muster the strength to find humor amidst a vast sea of grief. My friend found that strength, and though his pain was no less real than anyone else’s, he made sure that in addition to mourning his mom’s death, we also celebrated her life.

While my friend’s eulogy was amazing, they were all memorable and touching, and there was one recurring theme in all of them. My friend’s mother was a person who always focused on what was truly important in life, without wasting time on trivial matters (though she also knew how to have fun).

I thought about that.

I thought about it for a long time.

I’m still thinking about it as I type these words.

If you’ve read any of my previous columns (or blog posts), this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but what’s truly important to me, above all else, is my family. My wife and kids are the planet around which I revolve, and I treasure every moment I spend with them..............................

..............................well, not every moment, now that I think about it. The Terrible Twos were no picnic, the Fours were worse, and though they’re down the road a ways, I hear those pesky teen years are just a smidge challenging (sarcastic much?).

But enough about the difficulties of parenting. Not every responsibility has to be a burden. In fact, one of the most important things parents can (and should) do with their children can also be one of the most fun.

Playing games with your kids is one of the best ways to connect with them, and connecting with your kids is one of the best ways to ensure their happiness and security, both physical and emotional.

If you’re already a gaming parent (more in a bit), then you probably play games with your kids already. But even if you’re not a gamer, you might want to think about picking up a controller (or mouse/keyboard combo) every once in a while.

One recent study found that 100% of college students had played video or computer games at one point or another in their young lives, and a study conducted by MIT professor Henry Jenkins found that 100% of MIT freshmen played video games.




So basically, the overwhelming likelihood is that your kids are going to want to play video games more than just a couple of times as they grow up.

Your job will be to make sure that the games they play will be both entertaining and appropriate. What better way to accomplish this important task than to play some of those games with them?

As someone who became a gamer long before becoming a dad, it’s natural for me to game with my kids, because gaming is one of the leisure activities I already seek out for my own enjoyment. But since most people are not hardcore gamers, I sometimes I wonder about how many parents can relate to what I write.

But maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. If recent trends continue, then I’ll have a lot more company, because the ranks of gamer parents, currently at 35%, will only continue to swell.

As has been widely reported, the average gamer is upwards of 30 years old, and as those of us who grew up with the video game industry continue to inch our way up the population chart (and hopefully start winning some Congressional elections), that number will continue to rise as well.

As terrific as I believe video games can be for kids (given parental involvement, of course), I’m not saying that playing video games is the only activity you should share with them. Not by a long shot. Parents should engage their kids in a combination of indoor and outdoor, passive & active pursuits.

All I’m saying is that video games shouldn’t be left out of the equation. In the salad bar of shared parent-child activities, video games can be, say, the garbanzo beans (I’m very deep....or perhaps hallucinating).

So read a book, shoot some hoops, dance, ice skate, go hiking, play video games, play chess, play the piano, play Go Fish. Do whatever it is you and your kids enjoy. But enjoy it together.

Given the natural order of things, we all have a finite amount of time to impact the lives of the people we hold dear, and our kids will be grown and off to college or a job before we can say Boudreaux’s Butt Paste.

So make it count by focusing on what is truly important. In fact, what are you doing reading this? Go play a game with your kids...TODAY.

Me? I’m going to get a dozen-year head start on two applications to MIT.