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May 29, 2006

DID I DO THAT? The Pac-Man Guitar - A Blogging Phenomenon Deconstructed

Last week, after posting the Katamari photos from the Bay to Breakers Race and reading the ensuing comments, I was marveling at the amazing speed at which certain stories take off aound the world, and it got me thinking about a particular viral blogging episode from last year, and what role I may have played in it.

So let's begin with a question:

Does anyone NOT remember reading about the Pac-Man guitar late last June?

Ah, no hands in the air. Okay, maybe a few hands. While it was popular, it was no Star Wars Kid, Numa Numa Kid, or Boom Goes The Dynamite. In any case, I'll continue...

After posting about the Pac-Man guitar on June 16 (more detail in timeline below), and suddenly seeing it posted everywhere six days later, I thought it was a strange coincidence. However, since GameFam had only been active for 2 days when I posted about it, I thought that the chances were pretty remote that the blogospheric wildfire had anything to do with lil' ol' me.

Well, turns out I was wrong. I did a little research, and what I found was that while I wasn't the first to ever write about the Pac-Man guitar (more detail near bottom of post), I've been able to trace the posts from mega-blogs like BoingBoing, Gizmodo, MAKE: Blog, Joystiq & Kotaku, viral sites like Milk and Cookies, and even MP3.com & Suicide Girls, all the way back to my little GameFam post, written on my 2nd day as a real live blogger.

To clarify, I do this not out of ego or self-aggrandizement...well, mostly not ;) , but mainly 'cuz I think it's pretty cool to have played a part in something I've only witnessed from the sidelines (or bandwagon-jumped myself) before now.

Ready? Here goes...

June 12, 2005
  • My wife and I take our 2 kids to the Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago, mainly because Justin Roberts is performing there. In addition to the Roberts performance that is actually the point of this entire post, the kids enjoy free popsicles, and we also see a Vovlo made out of Lego. A good time was had by all.
June 15, 2005
June 16, 2005
  • I make my second-ever post on GameFam, writing about our experience at the Printers Row Book Fair, and specifically, focusing on the funky guitar that one of Justin Roberts' band members was using that day.

June 19, 2005
  • Robin, who was (and still is) a terrific blogging sherpa/sounding board, especially pre-GameFam-launch, posts about my starting GameFam in her blog, gewgaw, including a comment about and link to my post about the Pac-Man guitar.
June 21, 2005
June 22, 2005 (The Big Day)
  1. FFWD posts in the linklog (scroll down to June 22), linking back to Geek On Stun
  2. MAKE: Blog posts at 12:31 a.m., linking back to FFWD. Commenter trivini mentions that he "saw a dude playing one of those last week at a children's concert in Chicago. (We were just passing by)." The plot thickens.
  3. Boing Boing posts at 2:11 a.m., linking back to MAKE: Blog
So now that we've seen how the Pac-Man guitar made its way from GameFam to Boing Boing, all hell breaks loose, as the rest of the world jumps on ye olde bandwagon.

You get the idea. Many many other blogs and websites posted about the Pac-Man guitar at some point on June 22. Those were but a few of the notable ones.

June 23, 2005
June 24, 2005
After that, there are some more posts and links here and there, including the GamerDad message boards, and Suicide Girls, then the whole thing kind of peters out.

As I wrote early in the post, I wasn't the first to write about the Pac-Man guitar.

  • On January 27, 2005, five months before my post, Brad of Brad Sucks fame posted about the guitar. The post generated 2 comments, the last of which is on February 4, 2005. Between February 4th and my post on GameFam, nary a word about the guitar.
  • And waaaaaaay back on September 24, 2001, almost four years before my post, the guitar shows up in the Atari Age forums, but other than a few (7) comments the same day, nothing else happens.
Well, that's what I found out. Can anybody out there find an earlier reference to the guitar than September, 2001, or maybe a mid-June, 2005 post that beat me to the punch? Jes' lemme know if you do. In the meantime, anyone mind if I take the credit blame?



P.S. Any blogular bitterness that might be inferred (e.g. when I point out who did or didn't link to where they found the story), is completely unintentional. I had a lot of fun tracking this info down, and overall, I think the whole thing is pretty cool.

May 26, 2006

And The Ball Rolls On

With props to Kotaku and preemptive apologies to new pal Cunzy11 (read the comments), how could I not share this nugget of stop-motion Katamari fun?

May 25, 2006


  • Release Date: June 6, 2006 (3 days prior to the movie release)
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii (Fall '06) PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, DS, GBA & PC. (basically, everything but the PS3).

Like death and taxes (or, say...toys, bugs, monsters, fish & superheroes), you can always count on Pixar to deliver a wonderful moviegoing experience for all ages. In the small world that is kid-friendly movies that parents can also enjoy, Pixar is the '27 freakin' Yankees. C'mon, just look at this murderer's row:

  • Toy Story
  • A Bug's Life
  • Toy Story 2
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Finding Nemo
  • The Incredibles
That's cinematic gold, Jerry. GOLD! In fact, the "worst" one on the list is the very film that brought the CG revolution down from the stop-motion hills - the original Toy Story (I guess you could call that praising Pixar with faint damnation). And given what a monumental cinematic achievement Toy Story was, it means that Pixar is honing and refining their skills as they go. Scary good.

The latest feature film to carry the illustrious Pixar torch is Cars, which opens on June 9th. And while my wife and I won't be camping out at the local cinemegaplex starting June 8th, alongside the hordes of rabid Pixar fanboy/otaku/cosplay types, we definitely plan to take the kids to see it soon after.

On June 6th, THQ releases Fammy-winner Cars the video game on the following consoles; Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, DS, GBA & PC. The game will also be a Wii launch title in the Fall (sorry, no PlayStation 3 version). Anyhoo, having seen Cars up close and real personal-like at E3, I thought I might preview it for you.

Cars is first and foremost a racing game, which is just fine, since developer Rainbow Studios has some serious chops in that area, with franchises like ATV Offroad Fury, Splashdown, MX Unleashed & Motocross Madness.

Often, as a way to achieve economies of scale (and avoid reinventing the wheel), game developers and publishers will copy and paste the engine from one game into another, assuming appropriately similar gameplay, of course. Of the games I've already reviewed, the example that leaps to mind is Activision's use of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 engine in Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure.

In this case, however, Rainbow built a brand spankin' new engine for Cars, and it shows. I watched the cars race around the track on both the Xbox 360 and PS2 versions, and the result is a much more refined racing look than the grittier offroading games that are a Rainbow staple. The level I saw reminded me to a degree of EA's NASCAR series, which, for a racing game, is a compliment.

Cars has more than 30 races and minigames, which cover not only scenes from the movie, but also areas that weren't explored on the big screen. Cars the game stars 10 characters from Cars the movie, as well as some special new characters that Pixar designed exclusively for the game.

Speaking of characters, since the game is based on a movie, and the movie introduces us to characters we're supposed to care about, there are several ways that the game takes care to preserve that connection between character and player.

First, although you spend much of the races looking at the backs ends of the cars, their personality shows through via the comments they make during the race.

Second, you can actually race backwards, so you can see your car's "face" as you race merrily along, butt-first.

And third, while you will be able to customize the cars' paint jobs, as far as body work is concerned, it's strictly no-touchy. Because these aren't simply cars. They're Cars. And just as you wouldn't perform surgery on Buzz or Woody (Sid's sadistic impulses aside), you don't get to do any nipping or tucking of Lightning McQueen, Sally, Mater, or even Chip Hicks.

As someone who focuses more on games for younger kids, I'm thrilled that Cars has an "explore" mode. If your kids aren't ready to enter the exciting, high-pressure world of competitive racing just yet, they can simply drive around and explore their surroundings in relaxed comfort. That's a huuuuuuge plus for me. Huge, I say. Have I said how huge a plus that is?

Finally, since I'm a guy who has had issues with video game voice-over quality in the past, I'm very happy to report that all of the actors from the film voice their respective characters in the game.

Well, I'm sold.
Is it June 6th yet?

May 23, 2006

Let It Roll, Baby, Roll!

I probably would have posted this anyway, but since gewgaw is still out of commission, :( I see it as my solemn duty to pick up the Katamari baton and run with it.... by which I mean post this...

Katamari sighting at San Francisco's Bay to Breakers race

here's the direct link to the Flickr photo pool.


May 21, 2006

Happy Week-After-Mother's-Day!

Sorry I'm a week late. Last Sunday was the day I returned home from E3, and I've been busy with my joyous little family reunion, as well as putting together my inaugural Fammy Awards.

In honor of Mother's Day, AOL put together a nice feature about moms who play games with their kids. The piece fueatures, among others, Donna Kidwell and Brenda Brathwaite. Enjoy, but do it soon, since it probably won't be up for too much longer, what with it being a week after Mother's Day and all.

UPDATE: Looks like the link is dead. So stop clicking on it. You'll only frustrate yourself, and life's too short.

UPDATE 2: Looks like the link is back up, at least for now. So start clicking on it again.

May 18, 2006

Presenting...THE FAMMYS - The E3 2006 Dad's Choice Awards

I came.
I saw.
I played many many games at E3 2006.

I left.
I flew home.
I brought back killer schwag for the kids.

But back to the games. Some were outstanding, some were disappointing, and most were on a sliding scale somewhere in between. So without further ado or unnecessary preamble, I present the E3 2006 Dad's Choice Awards - "The FAMMYS":

Most Family-Friendly Next-Gen Console
Nominees: Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3

What made the current-gen battle (between Sony & Nintendo) competitive were PS2-exclusive franchises like Katamari Damacy, Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, Dog's Life, Jak & Daxter, and the EyeToy series. This year, whether for the PS2 or PS3, there was nary a new one to be found on the E3 show floor (though there was a R&C title for the PSP, and actually, Sony will be releasing an EyeToy version of Lemmings, so I guess there was one after all, but still nada for PS3). And believe it or not, with Viva Piñata and downloadable classic arcade games through Xbox Live Arcade, the Xbox 360 slides into 2nd place....for now (remember, this isn't a projection into the future, this is as of E3 '06. I expect Sony to have a strong kid-friendly presence at E3 '07). Meanwhile, the House of Mario unveiled a truckload of first and third-party kid-friendly games for the Wii, which, by the way, will be priced far, far less than the competition. What I love most is that the Wii controller will make it much easier for parents and even grandparents to play games together with the children in their lives, and that can only be a good thing. And guess what? I haven't even mentioned the Wii Virtual Console, which will open up a vast treasure trove of old-school games. This one wasn't even close.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo Wii!

Least Family-Friendly Next-Gen Console
Nominee: Sony PlayStation 3

No kid-friendly launch titles?
$600 for families without unlimited gaming budgets?
I don't think so.

Try me again next year, though.
Can we be friends in the meantime?
Call me!
*puts thumb & pinky up to side of head, in international sign for "call me!"*

...and the Fammy goes to...Sony PlayStation 3!

Most Family-Friendly Publisher
Nominees: LucasArts, Namco, Nintendo, Sega

Many other companies (Activision, Buena Vista Games, GameFactory, Midway (no, really), THQ) also had several kid-focused titles this year, but I chose to focus on these few, for their combination of quantity and quality. LucasArts had a very strong showing, with games like Lego Star Wars II and Thrillville, as well as Star Wars Galaxies and Indiana Jones 2007 for older kids. Namco had Pac-Man World Rally and Snoopy vs. Red Baron, as well as Ace Combat X (PSP) for older kids. Sega has the great-looking Sonic the Hedgehog, Wii-natural Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, and Charlotte's Web for the GBA. However, I don't see how any company can possibly compete with the oodles of excellent games for kids from Nintendo, including new Mario and Zelda titles for both the Wii and the DS/DS Lite. With games like Red Steel, I realize that Nintendo is trying to shed their kiddie image to a degree, but E3 '06 was quite simply a family tour de force by Nintendo.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo!

Best Use of Wiimote
Nominees: Excite Truck, Super Mario Galaxy, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Wii Music, Wii Sports

Madden incorporates the Wiimote into its hiking, passing and kicking functions, but several other games took it several steps further. Super Mario Galaxy used controller waggles to spin and collect stars, and a point & click slingshot to beat the bad guys and collect gems. Excite Truck used the gyroscopic controls nicely, though it felt a tad awkward to hold the remote on its ends**. Wii Music let you play the drums and conduct an orchestra in a pretty intuitive way, and Wii Sports let you play baseball, tennis & golf in a fun, natural, easy-to-learn way. Both should draw a lot of non-gamers into the Wonderful World of Wii. But with 200+ microgames that require the player to hold the controller in any one of a dozen ways, WarioWare: Smooth Moves gets the most out of the Wii's revolutionary new controller.

...and the Fammy goes to...WarioWare Smooth Moves!

** Strangely enough, as I was writing this, I saw a commercial for Go-Gurt that was a tie-in with Pixar's Cars movie & game. The ad featured kids holding their rectangular Go-Gurt containers exactly like they would hold the Wiimote for Excite Truck.

Godfather 2 Award (Best Sequel)
Nominees: Guitar Hero II, Lego Star Wars II (Original Trilogy), Super Mario Galaxy

Call me a coward, but they're all so freakin' great that I can't choose between 'em.

...and the Fammy goes to...Guitar Hero II! Lego Star Wars II! & Super Mario Galaxy!

Caddyshack 2 Award (Worst Sequel)
Nominees: Chicken Little: Ace in Action, SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature From the Krusty Krab

Chicken Little - Take a pretty good kids' game and take everything but the combat out of it. Pass.

SpongeBob - I don't know what the rest of the game will be like, but the level I played in the Nintendo booth was a flying-on-rails shooter with controls that weren't so hot. That isn't what made SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom and The SpongeBob Movie game very good games for kids. The only reason this game doesn't share the award is that I don't know for sure that the entire game is combat-based.

...and the Fammy goes to...Chicken Little: Ace in Action!

Best Game Starring An Old-School Video Game Icon...Award
Nominees: Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS), Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, New Super Mario Bros. (DS), Pac-Man World Rally, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Galaxy

I'm taking Zelda out of the equation (yeah, I know, blasphemy), because it's more geared toward older kids and adults. Pac-Man World Rally may be a Mario Kart clone (FYI, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts are playable characters in Mario Kart Arcade GP), but it's a good clone, with playable characters including Rygar from Dig Dug and the Prince of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy. Sonic looks great and should be much better than last year's Shadow the Hedgehog. But I've been a Mario guy for a good while, now, so it's between the DS & the Wii. I've played and thoroughly enjoyed both, but Super Mario Galaxy is more of a quantum leap for the franchise than New Super Mario Bros.

...and the Fammy goes to...Super Mario Galaxy!

Best New IP Award
Nominees: Elebits, LocoRoco, Spore, Thrillville, Viva Piñata

If this weren't strictly from a family perspective, then Spore would have won (see Holy Crap! Award below). As for the other four, Elebits looks fascinating, but I didn't get enough time to play it (consolation prize - Hidden Gem Award - below). LocoRoco should be fun, but although the control scheme learning curve isn't as steep as I thought after playing it at GDC, it's still steep enough to be frustrating for kids when they try to play for the first time. Thrillville is a fun, deep game that I think kids will love, but it's not exactly a revolutionary new idea (they also share the Hidden Gem Award). Viva Piñata may be a piñata-themed spin on the original Toy Story concept, but everything else is completely new. And though I'm not a big fan of the near-simultaneous VP TV-show launch, that's not nearly enough to keep me from enthusiastically recommending this game. Viva Piñata is not only bright, colorful and whimsical, but it also allows for a great deal of choices for customization and control, which lets kids find their own comfort level. If we had a 360, Viva Piñata would be at the top of my wish list (along with Fight Night Round 3 for after the kids go to bed).

...and the Fammy goes to...Viva Piñata!

Hidden Gem Award
Nominees: Elebits, Thrillville

This is somewhat similar to the Best New IP Award, but where games like Spore, Viva Pinata and LocoRoco had a lot of pre-E3 hype, Thrillville was only just announced during E3, and Elebits flew completely under the radar, at least under my radar. Thrillville is basically a deeper, lower-maintenance, more kid-friendly version of Roller Coaster Tycoon, and in fact, Chris Sawyer is involved in the development of Thrillville. I love the fact that it's much easier to create your own coaster than in RCT2. The game also has many (24+) fun mini-games, including midway-style games like go-karts, mini-golf, trampoline jumping, bumper car soccer, and Saucer Sumo (think Crash Bash or Monkey Fight from Super Monkey Ball), and classic arcade-style games as well, including boss fights. Elebits has Katamari-like potential, what with its pick-up-things-with-a-Half-Life-2-Gravity-Gun-esque ability to control objects, and the thrill of the hunt...at least the thrill of the scavenger hunt. You have to find the Elebits, which look like the love child of Pikmin and Boobah, so that they can restore power to your world and once again have the ability to marvel at the wonder that is a plugged-in lava lamp.

...and the Fammy goes to...Elebits! & Thrillville!

Woorth the Waiit Awaard
Nomiinees: Duke Nukem Forever, Infinium Phantom, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3

So whether iit's one of the two yet-to-be-released Biig 3 next-gen consoles (Wii, PS3), or fabled gamiing vaporware (Duke Nukem, Phantom), we've been waiitiing for these nomiinees for a good long tiime. Who truly deliivered on theiir promiise? Come on, now. Thiis one's a chiip shot.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo Wii!

Best Next-Gen Sports Franchise
Nominees: Madden NFL 07 for Wii, Tony Hawk's Project 8

As a big fan of sports games, I saw a lot of great-looking next-gen sports titles at E3 this year. When it comes to the kiddies, though, many of the control schemes on the most popular games are just too complex, especially with all the fast-twitch button-mashing. So games like Madden NFL 07 for PS3 & 360, NBA Live 07, NHL 2K7, NBA 2K7, Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007, etc. look great, but they're out of the running, at least until my kids grow up a bit. Tony Hawk's Project 8 looks truly next-gen, and they give you the option of ditching your balancing HUD in favor of more realistic bodily cues (a la Fight Night Round 3). The question is how well the PS3 version incorporates the gyroscopic controls. As I wrote above, Madden NFL 07 for Wii incorporates the Wiimote into its hiking, passing and kicking functions. While I didn't get to play it personally, the guy who did seemed to pick it up pretty quickly, and said that it felt very intuitive.

...and the Fammy goes to...Madden NFL 07 for Wii!

Best Racing Game
Nominees: Cars, Pac-Man World Rally

I realize that older kids will enjoy games like Forza Motorsport 2 and Gran Turismo for the PS3. But for younger kids, this is a 2 horse race. If you want cartoony, then choose Pac-Man World Rally. If you want a game that plays more like a NASCAR game, then go with Cars. Either way, you can't go wrong.

...and the Fammy goes to...Cars! & Pac-Man World Rally!

Best DS Game
Nominees: Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Lego Star Wars II, New Super Mario Bros., Yoshi's Island 2

There are many great-looking DS games from E3, I only had enough time to play a few of them. And while I enjoyed the stylus integration in Phantom Hourglass, I can't bring myself to vote against Mario. Your kids will definitely enjoy it, and if you yearn to go back to the days of Ferris Beuller's Day Off and Top Gun (both released almost exactly 20 years ago - crap, I'm old), you will, too.

...and the Fammy goes to...New Super Mario Bros.!

Best PSP Game
Nominees: LocoRoco, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Lego Star Wars II

In my 2005 Holiday Gift Guide, I mentioned that it was tough to find kid-friendly games for the PSP. These days, things are looking up a bit. The recent releases of Me & My Katamari and Daxter got the ball rolling nicely (pun unintended, yet left in the column for some reason), and the three nominees pick up where the first two left off. When I played LocoRoco at GDC, I was frustrated by the controls, but with a little more time to play (and a little explanation from an SCEA producer), it's better than it first seemed, though there is definitely a learning curve. So that was nice to see. In other news, the Lego Star Wars franchise kicks ass. But my fave is Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. Although I miss not having a right analog stick on the PSP, the game stays true to the original, pre-Deadlocked spirit of Ratchet & Clank. PS2-quality graphics? Less armor? More Clank? Me likey!

...and the Fammy goes to...Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters!

So Close, Yet So Far Away Award
Nominees: Snoopy vs. Red Baron

First, the disclaimer. Snoopy vs. Red Baron looks great, is fun to play, incorporates several characters from the Peanuts world, and does stay true to Snoopy's WWI-combat-centric dream world (as well as to the Schultz family's wishes). So it seems to deliver exactly what it promises. I just think it would be amazing to be able to explore the Peanuts world and interact with all the classic characters in an open-ended, freeform way. That's not what this game claims to be, and not what it is, so I can't really fault it for that. I just hope that the game I really want is around the corner.

...and the Fammy goes to...Snoopy vs. Red Baron!

High Self-Esteem Award
Nominee: Kim Possible: What's The Switch?

It ain't that this game is so amazing, though it looked pretty good. I just like the fact that the Kim Possible franchise gives young girls a strong, capable, non-booth-babe-esque (I'm talkin' to you, Ms. Croft) female role model who can solve her own problems (and solve other people's as well) with a combination of physical ability and brains.

...and the Fammy goes to...Kim Possible: What's The Switch?!

Low Self-Esteem Award
Nominee: Bratz: Forever Diamondz

I realize that cartoons aren't supposed to be drawn to scale. I get that. Really, I do. But Bratz is a franchise for young girls that already focuses way too much on the superficial and materialistic. So I was less than thrilled to see that the Bratz girls looked like living lollipops, with large heads and, dare I say, cartoonishly thin bodies. I'm not saying that playing this game will necessarily lead to your daughters developing eating disorders (Anobratzia Nervosa), but it can't be helping them form a positive, realistic body image. I realize that people have been making similar arguments about Barbie for years, but it's the unique combination of body type, materialism, and the trash-talking attitude of the Bratz that disappoints me so. And above all, the point that needs to be stressed is that while Barbie may be sexualized, she is an adult, but Bratz are sexualized girls (sorry, girlz). It's just plain wrong. Stay away.

...and the Fammy goes to...Bratz: Forever Diamondz!

EDIT: I just noticed that there are many similarities between the 2 photos above. Both Kim Possible and the Bratz girl have impossibly thin proportions and bare midriffs. However, that's where the similarities end. 1) their attitudes are simply miles apart, 2) while most of the Kim Possible focus is on her abilities and overcoming challenges, most of the Bratz focus is on her appearance and overcoming wardrobe malfunctions, and 3) where Kim Possible looks street-smart, the Bratz girl looks like a streetwalker. I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Holy Crap! Award
Nominee: Spore

Will Wright demoed the game personally, which only added to the mind-blowingness (blowingtude?) of the experience. My chin hurts from slamming into the floor so many times. The scope of this game is truly awesome, and I don't use the word as a generic term for "cool". Rather, I am trying to say that Spore is truly inspiring and worthy of gaming awe. The fact that you can go from the origin of a species and progress all the way to millions of interactive planets (when you include user-created content) is amazing, but what kids should love most is creature creation. The real-time cause-and-effect customization is a thing of beauty, even if the species that Mr. Wright created was not. :) You can choose 2 legs or 4 (or 12, I suppose), and depending on the number, size, shape and location of those legs, you can immediately see how it affects the way your creature moves. The size, shape and location of the body, head and mouth affect voice/roar pitch, etc. You get the idea. It's like interactive PlayDoh with biological, ergonomic, ecosystem, planetary, etc. consequences. Oh yeah, and you can kidnap a species from one planet, and plop it down on another, just to see what happens (I was gonna write that you could do the species-plopping thing just for shits & giggles, but then I remembered that this is a family column............D'OH!). Age level is TBD, as there was some shooting and creature-on-creature violence.

...and the Fammy goes to...Spore!

EDIT: Here's some more in-depth info on Will Wright's Spore demo, by Chris Buffa of GameDAILY.

That's it. I'm spent. That's my last game award. But we do have one more Fammy rattling around back here somewhere. For the final award of the evening...

Best Schwag Award
Nominees: LucasArts (Lego Star Wars II pieces), Namco Mobile (assorted Pac-Man collectibles), Nintendo (DS Lite case, Wii pin), Sega (Sonic comic book, Yakuza temporary tattoos, FullAuto 2 sticker), Sony (PlayStation-logo-emblazoned Ogio bag)

If this award were based on sheer schwagular volume, Namco Mobile would have won going away. If it were based on which my wife and I liked best, Sony would have taken home the coveted prize. But while my kids like their little Pac-Man tchotchkes, there is one thing they still haven't stopped playing with since I returned home from E3 - their interchangeable Lego Star Wars II characters. My son wanted to take one of the characters he made to bed with him the first night. It doesn't get any better than that.

...and the Fammy goes to...LucasArts!

Thanks for coming everyone!
See you next year!
Drive home safely.


I'll be posting my E3 '06 Fammy Awards later today, but since it will be hard to search for info on individual games from the column in the coming weeks & months, I'm going to do individual previews of all the games I mention in today's article. I'll be borrowing heavily from what I already wrote, but I'll also add new info when needed.

That is all.

May 15, 2006


That Was The Week That Was, indeed.

Back from E3, with a ton of good stuff to share.

And what a difference a year makes. Last year, I went stag as a video games lecturer looking for a friend. This year, I went as a member of the GameDAILY editorial staff, and I got outstanding access to most of the publishers and developers, who showed me some terrific games for kids that will be released in the coming months.

The 2 best things about this setup were...

1) I didn't have to waste half of my time standing in line, and when I did have to wait to play the Nintendo Wii, it was only for 45 minutes, instead of 5-6 hours. As a result, I had that much more time to play and preview games.

2) Most of the people who demoed the games for me were producers, which is kinda cool, since that's exactly what I want to do. So my plan for E3 2007 is to be demoing games for the press my damn self (even though I fully plan to keep writing for GameFam for a good long time - note to self: double check blogging policy for company that hires me). Wish me luck!

FYI, my next GameDAILY Family column will run Thursday, when I'll reveal my E3 2006 Dad's Choice Awards (a.k.a. The FammysTM).

Before then, I'm sure I'll post some other stuff as well, but I have to sort out all the gaming goodness first.

You excited? Gosh golly, I sure am.

May 07, 2006

Off You Go, Then

Actually, off I go. If possible, I'll try to post a bit from E3, but I won't be doing any kind of up-to-the-minute live blogging type stuff. There are way too many other quality sites that do exactly that. I'll be doing my previews of upcoming games, etc. after I get back. FYI.


May 04, 2006

Got Schwag?

Here's my latest Dad's Take column for GameDAILY Family:

How fondly I remember my mini Manneken Pis, from Brussels.

Or my tiki of Lono, the Hawaiian/Polynesian god of fertility, music & peace...made out of lava.

Less delightful was the Ball-on-a-Peg, which can best be described as a poor man’s Ball-in-a-Cup.

And then there are the snowglobes from....well, from the airport gift shop on the way home, probably.

When I was a kid, my folks used to bring back various and sundry little tchotchkes – souvenirs of trips taken and places visited. And while I certainly had favorites and...um...not-so-favorites, my siblings and I always appreciated getting something, because it showed us that no matter where on the globe they trotted, our folks were thinking about us.

Well, these days, I’m a parent, and my next trip is to E3 2006. So as a traveling dad, I want to, nay, must bring home some quality gaming schwag fer the young ‘uns.


No, not that kind of Doom. It’s been said that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. And eager though I am to look ahead to next week, I have to reflect on schwag bags of the past, to see what I can learn going forward.

Since I wasn’t yet a member of the fourth estate last year, I had to grovel for scraps with the rest of the hoi polloi. No fancy press kits or Xbox 360 faceplates for this guy. I had to earn my freebies, baby.

As I criss-crossed the 540,000 square feet of L.A. Convention Center exhibit space, I slowly and discerningly filled my basket, kind of like a Katamari ball with pinpoint steering.

Speaking of elegant clumps of stuff, as I cut and paste my way through this column, my mouse is gliding effortlessly across the Katamari Damacy mousepad that my family loves so well. How’d I earn it, you ask? Why, by bringing a cow-in-a-can for the Namco folks to glue onto the giant Katamari ball, of course.

Namco was one of the companies that made schwag hunters sing for their proverbial supper. And although I had games to play and networking to do, my kids come first, damn it. So I sallied bravely forth.

I played mobile Namco game after mobile Namco game, in order to earn some miniature rubber Pac-Man characters (though my kids would have loved the fuzzy Pac-Man hats the Namco staffers were wearing). I played long enough to obtain not only Pac-Man, but also Inky, Pinky, Binky and Clyde – enough latex to make Art Vandelay proud.

But my work wasn’t done yet, because while I could let my kids choose 2 ghosts apiece, I only had one Pac-Man. And while the pizza in which Toru Iwatani found his inspiration could easily be sliced up, I couldn’t do the same with my little Schwag-ManTM. So what was I to do? I could have pulled a King Solomon with my kids, and offered to give each kid half of a chopped up toy. Or I could have politely asked for another one. Guess which one I did?

Taking a short break from the G-rated schwag, I fought my way through a veritable forest of sweaty geekery, in order to get a calendar that featured not only a month for We Love Katamari (September, I think), but also an autographed photo of Namco’s scantily clad, surgically-enhanced uber-babes. Now who do I know that would appreciate something that brought together Katamari Damacy and the objectification of women? That’s right, I gave the Namco calendar to Robin Hunicke.

Weapons of mass promotion (a.k.a. How my schwag almost earned me a body cavity search)

If I can impart one schwag-based lesson to my readers, it would be this: If you happen to obtain, say, two green foam hand grenades emblazoned with THQ’s Company of Heroes logo, with a pull string that makes them rattle, make sure you put ‘em your checked baggage, ‘kay?

‘Cuz I put them in my carry-on luggage.

Mistake #1.

Then I told the TSA agent about it at the security checkpoint.

Mistake #2.

You see, I actually anticipated the whole real-threats-get-through, but nail-clippers-and-foam-grenades-get-confiscated thing that seems to happen in American airports these days.

I figured that if the baggage screeners saw the outline of a WWII-era pineapple grenade, they would tear my luggage a new one, and that if it was in my carry-on, at least I would be there to explain and show them how harmless it was. Wrong! The agent told me that I should have put them in one of the bags I checked.

So, given the choice between surrendering something I knew my kids would like, and going back to stand in line at the counter to check one of my carry-ons with the grenades tucked safely inside, I chose Door #2. It was truly a pain in the ass, but when I saw the shining faces of my children looking up at me with joy in their eyes and a song in their hearts as I gave them their buzzing fake grenades, I knew it was worth the sacrifice (even I can’t write that kind of hyperbolic, syrupy drivel with a straight face). Easy for me to say, of course, since I’m not the one who actually made said sacrifice. My wife volunteered to fall on the grenade (get it?*) and stand in line, while I waited for her. Thanks, honey!

* EDIT: Just making sure y'all realize that I know that the falling-on-the-grenade joke was a bad one. The "get it?" thing is my written version of a sarcastic, self-deprecating rimshot. FYI. So does the fact that I feel the need to explain my writing after the fact mean I'm an excellent writer?

Lanyards and buttons and pins, oh my!

Some of my kids’ other favorites included...

A playable demo of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, complete with 2 pairs of Sly-shaped 3D glasses

2 Ultimate Spiderman flip books

2 Top Spin foam tennis balls

2 flashing red thingies (not to be confused with the 2 flashing blue thingies)

We got schwag, yes we do! We got schwag, how ‘bout you?

The Game Developers Conference is all about developers networking and learning from one another....and drinking. But in addition to enlightenment, inspiration....and inebriation, there was a surprising amount of schwag available on the expo floor and career pavilion. To wit:

Nintendo DS Lite keychain flashlights

Other flashlight thingies

City of Heroes cards

Folding frisbees (sorry, non-Frisbee-brand flying discs) from Radical

Activision Hacky sacks

Putt Nutz golf balls (yes, you read that right)

T-shirts! T-shirts! T-shirts! (more for my wife and me than for the kids)

You say swag. I say schwag. (a.k.a. You’re wrong. Start saying schwag.)

As I prepare for another pilgrimage westward to E3...

...I look forward to previewing the many kid-friendly games that will be released in the coming months...

...I look forward to catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while...

...I look forward to networking my ass off, in my quest to become a producer in this here industry...

...And yes, I also look forward to finding some fun stuff to bring back for my kids.

So I close by paraphrasing (and apologizing to) Horace Greeley...

Go west, young man, and don’t forget to bring home some delightful schwag for the chillens.

P.S. No freakin’ snowglobes.

DS Lite: North American Release Info

June 11 / $129.99 / Polar White

That is all.

May 01, 2006

Good On Ya, Dr. Joyce!

Until yesterday, this is the enduring image I had of Dr. Joyce Brothers, on the rare occasions when I tried to conjure up an image of her in my mind's eye.

For those of you who weren't around back in the golden age of SNL, Roseanne Roseannadanna, Gilda Radner's trapezoidally- coiffed commentator veered away from the point of her commentary, to rant about the sweat ball on the end of Dr. Brothers' nose.

But that was then. This is now.

Lo and behold, here is Dr. Joyce Brothers in her Seattle Post-Intelligencer advice column, making a
helluva lotta sense!

DEAR DR. BROTHERS: I'm an old-fashioned mom, I guess, but I truly hate that my children are able to see violent television shows and play with toys and video games that seem, to me, needlessly bloody and violent.

Within our home, there are certain rules to be followed, in terms of what's allowed to be seen and what isn't, but I'm not so stupid as to think that we can police what our kids do and see every moment. They go to visit other families, and I certainly can't control their personal rules in terms of what's appropriate or what isn't. I think the government should step in and take more of a hand in this. -- J.B.

DEAR J.B.: I certainly agree that there's too much gratuitous violence in many video games that are deliberately marketed to youngsters, and I also believe there are consequences to this in that it does increase aggression in many youngsters. Instead of seeking ways to discuss disagreements, these kids are more likely to use physical means in an attempt to settle arguments.

Unfortunately, I'm sure neither you nor I want to live in a police state in which the government increases control over what we see, do and think. Censorship is a complex issue, because we first need to agree on and clearly define what's dangerous and offensive and what isn't. In the long run, children seem to be much more influenced by observing how their parents behave with each other, how they handle problems and crises, and what their ethics and beliefs are than by what they see or hear from others.

Now that's what I'm talking about!
Preach on, doc!

I've said it before and I'll say it again here...
When it comes to my kids, EVERYTHING is my responsibility.

Props to GamePolitics

Thursday's The Day!

So now that you know more about the differences between the Nintendo DS handleld and the soon-to-be-released DS Lite, Thursday, May 4 is when we'll all learn more about the release date and price.

New Super Mario Bros. (DS) Video

Nintendo just released the 2nd of 4 videos. Enjoy!

Props to digg

Live Super Mario Bros.

Talent shows were never this much fun when I went to college.