Friday, November 30, 2007

On Game Reviewers and Firings

The gaming press was all abuzz today over the firing of long time Gamespot reviewer, and most recently big time editor type person Jeff Gerstmann was fired. The big deal over such a termination is that it would appear that Gerstmann was let go because of a game review. Depending on what you read, or what you believe, Gerstmann was fired because he either wrote a review of Kane & Lynch, the latest two person crime caper shooter from Eidos, or he starred in a video review of the same game. Neither the written review nor the video review painted the game in a particularly good light, however nothing all that off the mark from the current aggregate scores for the game. GameRankings has Kane & Lynch rated somewhere in the 6.5/10 scale and Gerstmann gave it a 6. As Gamespot consistently gives games slightly lower reviews than most other review outlets, this isn't all that strange. The current theory is that Eidos, which had paid in the thousands of dollars to advertise Kane & Lynch on Gamespot, going so far as to make the whole site look like either Kane or Lynch, or both, was none too pleased with either of the reviews, the video review in particular, and demanded he be fired.

Obviously, this doesn't paint Gamespot or Eidos in a particularly good light, nor does it speak very well about the state of game reviews in the first place, however all of those saying that the review system in general needs to be broken down and started from scratch are missing out on a number of very important points. How lucky for them that I'm here.

The first point is that the unfortunate relationship between game companies and the gaming press isn't going to change any time soon. Game companies pay to advertise, mostly, on gaming sites and in gaming magazines, both of which review games. As a result, readers don't have a lot of confidence that the reviewer is being honest about the game, what with all of the very visible ad dollars pumped into promoting said game. Reviewers probably don't feel like they can be honest, especially in the light of this most recent firing, as they don't want to lose their job. Game publishers feel like they're owed a favorable review due to all the money they've paid to advertise their game. However, the reason that this relationship isn't going to change any time soon is because despite all of the money people spend on games and gaming hardware, gaming is still considered a hobby and as such, the advertising in hobby magazines is directed towards things you can buy for that hobby.

Take fishing for example. Open a copy of Field and Stream and the majority of the products advertised in that magazine are products you can buy to help you fish and/or hunt. Ditto for gaming. Open a copy of Game Informer, and 90% of the ads are going to be for either games or gaming hardware. The difference between Field and Stream and Game Informer though is that Field and Stream doesn't review the products advertised in its pages, so there's no risk that they're going to piss off the makers of the Super Trout Lure-o-matic and lose some advertising dollars. Not so with gaming. Now, take something like Entertainment Weekly which is about as mass market a publication as you can get. Here's a sample of the products advertised in EW: cell phones, digital cameras, cars, tv shows and ham. Yes, ham. Most of those items aren't reviewed by EW, so they don't have to worry about losing advertising dollars. The items that are reviewed by EW, namely the tv shows, have a small statistical chance of being reviewed by the issue the ad appears in, and even if EW does review it, and doesn't like it, it's unlikely that the network will pitch a fit and demand someone be fired. If they do, EW can probably tell them to shove it, because they can fall back on that lucrative ham advertising campaign.

So, where does that leave gaming? A few options as I see it. One is to get more exposure in mass market publications. This is already happening as EW, for examples, reviews games, as does the Saturday Buyer's Choice section of my paper, the lovely Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Even Variety is starting to review games, even if they don't appear to be very good at it. The other would be for the enthusiast press such as Game Informer and the various game sites, to take advertising dollars from companies that they don't review things for. As much as I can't stand IGN, the whole idea of them getting McDonalds to sponsor something like free game guides is genius, because no one there is asked to write a review of the McRib so they can slam games all they want and not have to worry about losing ad revenue.

Part of the problem is also the fact that the gaming public needs to rely on reviews from professional game sites so much, namely because a) games are expensive and b) games can't be returned. Games are one of the few products that you can't return if it sucks or it's defective. Yes, other forms of media such as movies and music can't be returned if they suck, however if you buy a movie and it doesn't run in your player, you can exchange it for another copy in the hopes that it does. If you buy a 360 game and it has shitty ass AI, exchanging it for another copy of the same game won't fix your problem. Also, games are easily five to six times the price of a cd and more than double the price of a DVD, so the cost of buying a shitty game is much worse than buying a shitty cd.

As a result the gaming consumer needs to know that there are reviews out there they can read so that they don't waste their money on something. Sure, you can read a review on some random blog, but how do you know that the person writing it knows what they're doing. I agree with Tycho's recent Penny Arcade post about game reviewers not having super powers, however that doesn't mean that anyone can do a good job reviewing games, and I'm sorry, but spending any appreciable amount of time on the internet shows that being able to communicate effectively is probably as close to a super power as you're going to find. Again, I'm not trying to toot my own horn and make it sound like writing game reviews is rocket science, but it's not just writing 1000 words of your opinion. There has to be some objectivity in the review, as there will be plenty of times where the reviewer is reviewing a game in a genre they're not particularly fond of and they have to be sure that they're not mixing their opinions of the genre with their opinions of the game. Readers that visit professional sites do so because they assume that the people reviewing games there know how to do their jobs and as such, the reviews are as objective as they can be, given that they weren't written by robots. Going to a personal site gives no such assurances. That doesn't mean that you can't get bad reviews at pro sites, or good reviews at personal sites, but as human beings, we gravitate to authority, and the majority of the time, we'll trust something from a pro site over a personal site, simply because the pro site is professional.

Luckily, gaming blogs such as Kotaku, and Joystiq and professional sites like Evil Avatar and Destructoid that are run by real people and not corporate conglomerations are becoming more and more popular and provide people with the ability to get reviews from people they trust while still scratching that authoritative itch. It may be harder to wade through all of the other opinion and news pieces, but there's good work being done in such places and if need be, you can probably get a pretty good picture of most games out there without ever feeling like someone's review has been bought.

There's another discussion entirely to be had about whether or not game reviews should have scores, but I don't feel like getting into it right now, and in Gerstmann's case, I don't think it's relevant. Yes, his written review gave Kane & Lynch a 6, but the prevailing opinion is that he was fired over his video review, more specifically the tone therein. In that case, there was no grade to get all bent out of shape over. Plus, with GameRankings and Metacritic being so important, publishers don't give a shit about sites that don't get aggregated in those sites, so any discussion about how grading games sucks is useless because nothing on that front is changing any time soon.

For the record, I've never had any reviews changed, or received any pressure from anyone at GameShark. Incidentally, one of the current big banner advertisements over there is for Dancing With the Stars, which you may recall, I gave a whopping C-. That's not to say that I don't have to conduct myself in a professional manner, but thankfully, no one has ever given me grief over a bad review. Honestly though, why would they? I mean, who the fuck am I? Exactly.

In the end, I'm sure Gerstmann will be snatched up soon as he's been in the business for a very long time, and the dude could write a good review. It's a shame he lost a job over being honest, if that ends up being the case, and it's a shame that Gamespot, which used to be, for me anyways, the go to place for reviews, loses a fair amount of credibility but it happened, and there's not much we can do at the moment to change it. Hopefully, what we can do, gamers and the industry as a whole, is start to make changes that will still allow the game companies to make money, the reviewers to be honest, and the gamers to get quality buying advice. In that situation, everyone wins.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some Gaming Updates

So Linda reaches out to a friend of ours that we lost touch with after college and passes on my blog name and address right when I go on a tear about Reese's peanut butter cups. Nice. Welcome to the blog Woj. I can't say it gets much better than posts about candy.

I have some gaming tidbits to pass on. Nothing all that interesting, but hey, posting every day rarely results in anything interesting. Hell, posting every week rarely results in anything interesting around here.

I started playing Manhunt 2 and man, what an all-encompassingly mediocre game. It's tough to review a game thirty days after it came out, especially a game so hyped up as this one, and not have the other reviews color your expectations. I like to think that I'm capable of separating my opinion from those of others, but if my review ends up reading like all the other ones out there, don't be surprised. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar and an unimpressive game is just an unimpressive game.

Most of the time my reviews seem to fall in line with "popular" opinion, which isn't too surprising, I guess. When I don't, it's usually for the better, which always shocks me because I hate everything. Crash of the Titans, for example really surprised me, not just because I enjoyed it so much, but because of the negative reviews written by other people. Similarly, I know I rated The Darkness higher than a lot of other sites, but I think that's because I don't really give a damn about multiplayer, so I don't care how many modes there are. Also, and I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think the story in The Darkness was better than the one in BioShock. Sure, the atmosphere of BioShock was more immersive, but I felt a lot more connected to Jackie in The Darkness than I did the guy in BioShock, whatever his name is. I'm glad I ended up being the one to review The Darkness for GameShark because the A- I gave it means it can be in contention for the various Game of the Year awards. Score!

I've played a little more Rock Band, this time on the guitar and man, I just love this game to pieces. I seriously don't know how you could go back to Guitar Hero after playing this game. The way that your band is portrayed while in the middle of a song is just amazing. Plus, "Hand That Feeds"? Oh. My. God. Awesome to the power of awesome.

After Manhunt 2 comes Medal of Honor Heroes 2. I'm quite looking forward to that one, for a bunch of reasons, but mostly to use my new Wii Zapper to fill Nazi's with hot lead. I also have Ghost Squad coming via GameFly so the light gun games will soon be all up in this bitch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Myriad of Options

I purchased something called a Reese's Whipped today and, sadly, was surprised at the sheer number of Reese's options young folk have before them today.

Back in my day, you had a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and that was it. Oh sure, you could eat a Butterfinger if you wanted to spend the rest of the day picking peanut butter bark out of your teeth, but if you wanted the simple pleasure of peanut butter and chocolate, the Reese's cup was it. In fact, they pretty much built an entire candy empire out of this idea, and many 30 second intervals of my youth were spent watching people of all walks of life carrying open bars of peanut butter and opened chocolate bars, completely unaware of each others' presence until they collided in the most serendipitous of personal injury situations. Only by collapsing upon one another, could the brilliance of their candy situation be realized, and lo, a classic was born. For the record, taking a chocolate bar and dipping it in peanut butter tastes nothing like a Reese's. It's kind of gross, actually.

Aside from Easter, when the greatest piece of candy known to human existence, the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg, would drop on an unsuspecting populace, the Peanut Butter Cup was top dog in candy melding circles. Then, ET the Extra Terrestrial arrived in theaters, and with it, Reese's answer to the M&M. Actually, the Reese's Pieces are the answer to the question, "Name something that looks like off-color M&M's and tastes like ass pills." I have no idea how well these Pieces did, but for years and years, they and the Peanut Butter Cup were the only Reese's products out there.

Recently though, the Reese's family has experienced an explosion in peanut butter themed candy. Every possible combination of chocolate, peanut butter, peanuts, krispies, wafers, nougat, steak, asparagus and tanned moose hide has been combined, whipped together and shaped into a bar. Today's concoction was basically a Three Musketeers bar, only with a semi-brittle layer of peanut butter between the chocolate and the nougat. It was tasty, however lacking the punch that comes from a full blown peanut butter cup. My personal favorite is the Nutrageous which has something like thirteen different candies in it. Unfortunately it's like less than an ounce in total weight, so you have to eat at least a dozen of them to feel even remotely satisfied.

Thrilling stuff, I know, but I think it's important to stop every once and a while and take stock in where we are, where we've been and how far we've come. If you're ever in a convenience store or gas station, lamenting the lack of candy choices, think back to when all Reese's offered was the simple peanut butter cup. Truly, we have ventured out of the stone ages and into the glorious days of prosperity. I look forward to the days when everyone can enjoy a delicious Reese's Peanut Butter Pork Chop.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back Home Safely

We managed to weather the traveling storm and have arrived back in GA, safe and sound. Remarkably, we were able to make our connecting flight in DC, despite having only 30 minutes between flights. We literally got off one plane just to get right back on another. The kids behaved beautifully and all in all, it was a good visit.

Unfortunately, I was awakened this morning to the news that Sean Taylor passed away last night. Obviously, I never knew the guy and have no personal connection to him, but he being a Redskin and me being a Redskins fan, I was shocked and saddened. It's stupid to feel that his death is any more senseless than the hundreds of homicides that take place daily in this country, but he's a part of Redskins nation, and I'm a part of Redskins nation, and sometimes, that's all it takes. My heart goes out to his family, his fiancee and his daughter who never had the chance to get to know her dad. My heart also goes out to Coach Gibbs and the rest of the team, who have the unenviable task of preparing for a football game on Sunday. At this point, whether or not the team makes it to the playoffs doesn't matter at all, in fact, I hope they don't, if only to allow them to finish their season early so that they have time to grieve properly and move on.

My kids and I always wear our jerseys on Sunday, and this Sunday won't be any different for them, but for me, I'll be thinking of #21 and how the team won't be the same without him. Godspeed, Sean. Rest in peace.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Post-ally Challenged

Many apologies for not posting yesterday. I completely forgot to among a full day of visits from family, child wrangling and dish washing that was capped with a delightful bout of insomnia. On the plus side, not sleeping afforded me the opportunity to watch the end of the Auburn - Alabama game. Keep it up Tigers and you may make me a fan of college football yet.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Where Technology Goes to Die

I am currently residing at a place where it takes less time for me to type out an email to Mobile Blogger via my very undextrous thumbs and send it into the ether over my phone's normal connection than it is to connect via dial-up and use Teh Intarwebs. As if by magic I am transported to 1998 when the shrieking tones of the 56.6 kbps modem heralded a new age of connectivity. Truly, this is where technology goes to die.

On the plus side, my grandmother looks well and was finally able to meet her great-granddaughter. Unfortunately, I was made to feel ancient as I saw my cousin, now a woman of 24, whom I remember holding as an infant. Thankfully we were able to communicate through the universal language of how awesome Rock Band is. Were it not for that, chirps and whistles would have been our only recourse.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We're Here

We have arrived safely in beautiful Clifton Park, NY despite the
airline's best intentions to keep us away. Oddly enough, our luggage,
which stayed on the flight we were removed from, for fear we'd miss
our connection, made it here before we did.

It's cold and overcast here, which is pretty much how I remember it.
We won't be moving back any time soon.

To prepare for the trip I picked up Mario Party and Orcs & Elves, both
for the DS. Both are fun, however Mario Party's insistence that I be
the one to defeat the current board's boss is maddening, especially
when I keep losing to Mario. That fucker cheats. Orcs & Elves is
pure old school RPG goodness. There's a great review of it over at
GameShark. I'd link to it but have bo idea how yo do so via mobile
blogging. As it is now, my thumbs are about to fall off from typing
on this blasted phone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Thanksgiving Shout-outs

I know that Thanksgiving isn't until tomorrow, but by the time anyone reads this, it probably will be tomorrow, or later even. Hell, it's always tomorrow somewhere. The problem is that I'll be traveling to upstate NY on Thanksgiving and don't want to make any promises about being able to post. Even if all goes well and we arrive on time, we'll be in a house with no broadband, a place where connecting to Teh Intarwebs take roughly half an hour. For the duration of my trip, I think I'll be rocking the Mobile Blogger and posting via email with my phone. Joy.

Anyway, before I get started on the holiday post proper, I wanted to say that Rock Band is like seven different kinds of awesome. I haven't had all that much time to play it, what with all of the trip preparations, but I've had a blast, the little time I've spent with it. Once I get home and bang out reviews for Manhunt 2 and Medal of Honor Heroes 2, I plan on rocking out like a crazy person. I also plan on playing Mass Effect and spending more time with Link's Crossbow training, which is also a lot of fun, despite the little time I've had to spend with it. Whew.

Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, it's time to sit back and reflect on what we have to be thankful for. It's also time to eat like pigs, but I can't do that here, so instead I'm going to do the other thing. Bear with me while I get all sappy. I promise I won't do it often.

I'm thankful that my family and I are all healthy. That cold I went through was a bitch, but I survived it, thank you very much. I wish my daughter would eat more so that we don't have to worry about her being three feet tall her whole life, but that will hopefully come with more time and more trips to the doctor's office.

I'm thankful that I'm still married to the most wonderful person on the planet. After all, once you find someone who is willing to put up with your need to spend 170 bucks on fake instruments, you hold on with both hands.

I'm thankful for the people who take the time out of their day to come here and read my blatherings. It means a lot to me, and were it not for this place, I wouldn't have met Greg and MQ.

I'm thankful for all of the people I've been able to meet via gaming, especially Bones, as I swear he and I were separated at birth.

I'm thankful for my job as I have the benefit of working with some awesome people. In no particular order I'm thankful for having met and become friends with Hodge, Peters, JW, David and Rock Buddy Chip. Being able to spend eight hours a day at a place you enjoy and with people you like being around is a wonderful thing.

I'm thankful that I still have Dennis as a friend, even if we don't talk as much as we should.

I'm thankful that Bill Harris still writes Dubious Quality so that I have inspiration every time I sit down at the keyboard.

I'm thankful that Bill Abner and James Fudge over at GameShark decided to give me a chance, despite me not knowing a good game review from a hole in the ground. Thanks guys, I very much appreciate it.

I'm sure there's a lot more to be thankful for, but I think that's a good place to end it, as I have some new DS games to play. Guess I'm thankful for that too.

Hopefully this Thanksgiving finds you and your's happy and healthy, with plenty to be thankful for. Have a great holiday.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Son the Comedian

One of the things you don't realize until you're a parent is that children aren't born with senses of humor. They develop, like tumors. Oh sure, you may be able to make a baby laugh by making funny faces, but there's a pretty good chance that said baby is laughing over the impending diaper change you'll be weathering. A true sense of humor, meaning that the kid starts to find their own actions funny, takes time to come to fruition.

For my son, that time is now. It is not a good time. Were it a tv show, it would be called "Bad Times".

Allow me to paint a picture, so that you get the full idea. I should preface this with the fact that I love my children, they just bug the hell out of me. I understand fully this takes me out of the running for any parent of the year awards, except for the one offered by the United Federation of Dickheads, and I'm ok with that. To thine own self and all that.

You know the guy at work who thinks he's hilarious but isn't even remotely funny, yet at every available opportunity he tries to be funny, all the while pointing out how funny he is, and asking you if what he did was funny? He probably has an annoying laugh too, and it takes all of your effort to not tell him how monumentally un-funny he is. I live with this guy. I make him dinner every night. I will be putting this guy through college. This guy is my son.

Here's an example of one of his latest routine. Prepare yourself, because it's a side splitter. He'll take a song, and change a word and then repeat it roughly 35 million times. Good stuff, yeah? Part of the problem is that he'll often times get a laugh out of his sister, which only encourages him. On Saturday, we heard "Old McDonald had a treat" all day. All. Day. By the end of the day, I was asking him to come up with a new song, a request which was summarily ignored as he continued to sing the old song, chasing laughs like a junkie chases that elusive feeling of their first high. I do have to admire his persistence though. Most people would have given up after five hours, but not him. He just kept going and going. That's my boy.

His humor isn't limited to changing the words of songs. Sometimes he'll say he has a different name. Sometimes he'll call something by the wrong name, or answer Dora's questions incorrectly. It's a hoot to have a kid who thinks it's funny to appear to be ignorant. Unfortunately, his sister doesn't realize he's joking, so she ends up trying to correct him, or worse thinking the door is a rooster.

A typical comedy routine of my son's includes him making the joke, then telling us what joke he made, then asking if he's funny and then laughing. Were he Henny Youngman, it would go something like this:

I just flew in from Cleveland and boy are my arms tired.
I just said that I flew in from Cleveland and boy are my arms tired.
Was that funny?

Now, repeat that 50 times and you get the idea. Usually we just say that yes, it is funny, but every time I'm holding back the urge to tell him that if you have to explain the joke, it's not funny unless you're doing a routine about someone who can't tell jokes, but even then you're not explaining the joke, more making fun of someone who explains jokes, but I don't see that ending well. I've also successfully held back from trying to explain that brevity is the soul of wit. I mean, comedy has an ebb and flow to it, and while it is a great feeling to make people laugh, you gotta know when to end on a high note. People will vaguely remember that you said something funny, but they'll certainly remember when you bomb.

Which brings me to why I think his humor, for lack of a better word, can be so annoying. There was an episode of Seinfeld where Tim Watley converts to Judaism and then starts telling Jewish jokes, saying that it's OK because he's Jewish now. Jerry goes and complains to his Rabbi, or therapist, I don't remember, and when the guy asks him if it offends Jerry as a Jew, his response is "No, it offends me as a comedian." That's not to say that I consider myself a comedian, but I can bring Teh Funny when I need to, and to see such patently unfunny material coming from my offspring cuts me to the bone. I even tried to teach him the "Know what? Chicken butt." joke and it was a dismal failure. Granted it was some time ago, but I'm sure that were I to teach it to him now it'd turn into something like "Know what? Hamster engine." and be repeated several hundred times a day.

I'm sure that with time, his sense of humor will develop further and we'll be able to share some laughs, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Furthermore, I'm dreading the upcoming 4+ hours in an airplane as we head up to the frozen north. If you hear of someone being arrested by Homeland Security for assault with a horrible sense of humor, you'll know who it was.

New Mr. Binky

My latest Mr. Binky column is up at GameShark. I'm pretty proud of this one. Special thanks to Hodge for giving me the idea.

Rock on!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Preparing to Salute Myself

Rock Band drops on Tuesday and with it, I am on the precipice of fulfilling my life's dream of rocking the fuck out full time. Now, there are a few bumps in the road to superstardom, namely that I have to review Manhunt 2 and Medal of Honor Heroes 2 before I can start it, but I'm sure I can take a minute or two out of my busy schedule tomorrow to give the axe a try.

Knowing that the hammer of Rock is about to be dropped on my, your's and everyone in a five mile radius's collective asses, I am in the process of finalizing my band name. The band name is one of the most important thing you can come up with, as no one wants to spend 25 bucks to go see Frank Comely and the Up-and-Comers. I don't know, maybe they do. Anyway, here are the options thus far:

AC Zero
Saving Throw
Dr. Monkey
Big Casino

The first two are D&D references, which will get me in with the nerdcore crowd. Viaduct, while having nothing to do with rock, is just a cool sounding word. Dr. Monkey comes from this t-shirt, which I love to no end. Big Casino is the name of the first single off of the new Jimmy Eat World album, so the band name serves as both a tribute to an awesome band, and just a cool name in general. Bill Harris, proprietor of the awesome blog Dubious Quality is partial to Saving Throw. Linda feels that Viaduct is the most rock band sounding name. I'm partial to AC Zero and Big Casino. From Dubious Quality comes word of this super cool band name generator, which will no doubt help me with additional ideas, however if I can't pick from five names, I'm not sure I need more.

What say you teeming throngs?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Five and Five

Oh, my beloved Redskins. We started out so strong, but alas, things have taken the usual turn for the worse. On the plus side this doesn't feel like the usual Redskins problems, and I feel like our team is much better than out record. Granted, it doesn't matter, as the record is the only thing that counts, but at the same time, this team gives me hope for the future. I will, however, offer some criticism for the next meeting with Dallas. Perhaps attempting to cover T.O. might be a good way to go. I don't know. That's just something I thought of when he scored his fourth TD against us. Just a thought.

Lots of wonderful media purchases this week including Mass Effect and Rock Band for the 36o, Live Free or Die Hard on DVD and Nirvana Unplugged in New York. A note on those last two. I just got done reading a compilation of the online diary Kevin Smith has been keeping on his ViewAskew site for the past few years, and along with an at times way too personal account of his bowel movements, he mentions the time he spent working on Live Free or Die Hard. One thing he specifically mentions is that due to the PG-13 rating wanted by the studio, they could only drop one F-bomb, and they were choosing to use it during the "Yippee-Ki-Yay" moment, but even then, it would have to be somewhat covered up however they were also filming a full blown "Yippee-Ki-Yay motherfucker" line for the unrated DVD. Upon reading the IGN review of the DVD, they mentioned that such a thing isn't the case. One wonders what part of Unrated the studio didn't quite get. Then again, at times, the only thing IGN can be depended upon is an improper use of homonyms, so who knows what's going on.

As for Nirvana Unplugged in New York, this is the famous MTV unplugged performance filmed in November of 1993. At the time, actually much earlier than this, MTV Unplugged was one of the best ways to see live music on television, and not just live music, but a reimagining of music you didn't usually see. I remember being blown away by Pearl Jam's unplugged session, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughn's. I can remember watching Difford and Tillbrook from Squeeze doing an awesome version of "Pulling Mussels from the Shells" and an absolutely roof raising performance by LL Cool J of "Mama Said Knock You Out". By '93 though, MTV Unplugged was pretty much for real big name bands, rather than the music variety show it had started out as. At the time, I was a casual Nirvana fan. I had "Nevermind" as did every other college student at the time, but didn't really follow them much past that album except to hear about the various problems Kurt Cobain was having.

When I had heard that Nirvana was going to be doing an Unplugged session, I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking it would be worth watching just to see Cobain implode. Instead, I was treated to one of the most open and honest performances I've ever seen. This was not the Nirvana you would have expected to see. Cobain, who's struggles had been so public, looked comfortable and at ease, joking with the crowd and just enveloped by this huge, fuzzy, gray sweater. For some reason, that sweater stands out in my mind, because with it, Cobain looked smaller, almost like a child, yet at the same time, he seemed like he was finally putting his demons to rest and achieving some semblance of peace.

Four months later he would be dead from a self inflicted shotgun wound.

When I heard of his death, my first thought was back to the Unplugged show and how, when he seemed to have things so well in hand, could he have killed himself? Thinking back, it almost seemed like even then, he knew what he was going to do, just not when, and it was knowing that he didn't have to fight the demons for much longer that was giving him peace. Had I not seen this show, I don't know if Cobain's death would have bothered me as much. Certainly, I recognized it for what it was, the death of not just a person, and a musical genius, but grunge as it existed when Nirvana pushed it to the forefront. However, having seen that show, his death hit me hard, as I'm sure it hit a lot of people, because I thought that he was getting better. Silly, I know, but there it is. I'll be purchasing the DVD on Tuesday and although I'm hesitant to watch it, almost like conducting a seance, I certainly will, if only to see Cobain again with some measure of peace. I can only hope he has achieved more since then.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Updating the List

A post on a Saturday? What the hell? I know. Try not to get used to it, I'm just doing this until I get back in everyone's good graces, then I'm going back to posting every other month.

The list mentioned in this post's title is my list of bands I want to see live before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It is, admittedly, a short list, however it's about to be 100% crossed off. Today, I purchased two tickets for the April 25th Philips Arena performance by a one Mr. Bruce Springsteen and his E. Street Band. Yes, that's right, soon Bruce, my beloved Bruce, will join Eric Clapton and Pearl Jam in beautiful, crossed off status. I'm sure he's very excited. I know I am.

Tickets were hella expensive, with the pair running us over 200 bucks, but as I told the wife on Thursday when I learned that tickets would be on sale today, whatever the cost, baby, whatever the cost. To be honest, it kind of bugs me that I would spend this much, as I'm not too keen on the idea that tickets for these shows are priced out of the realm of what any normal human should pay for them, but hey, the list calls and we must all obey the list. This will also mark the first time in over five years that Linda will be attending a rock show with me. After what will probably a three hour show, this will probably do her well for at least another ten years.

The show isn't until April 25th, so there's plenty of time for things to get canceled, but for now, I'm quite excited, knowing that in a five short months, I'll be taking a stroll down Thunder Road.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Instant Gratification

Like Prometheus, I have stolen fire from the gods and am delivering it unto you. Only in this case it isn't fire, it's knowledge, but knowledge about something hot, so it's kind of like fire, except for the ways where it isn't. Have you prepared yourself for this knowledge? Have you made ready your world view, for I assure you, it is about to be turned on it's edge, unless your world view is a sphere in which case I'll just rotate it slightly. Perhaps I'll palm it and fake a lay-up.

Here it is. I make no apologies for the ways in which your life will change once you have consumed and digested this information. It is up to you to deal with the fall out.

An instant hot water tap will change your life.

There, I said it! There's no turning back! Go out my children and act upon this mighty gift of knowledge!

I know what you're thinking, as just a few short weeks ago, I was with you. Who needs instant hot water, you say. I have a microwave, you say. I can have boiling water in upwards of four minutes. Four minutes is not a long time to wait, you say. I have a kettle, you say. I can have boiling water in as little time as half an hour. Who doesn't have half an hour to wait for tea, you say. I am here to tell you that while you may have that time, you no longer need to spend it in such a manner. With this knowledge, I have given you back four minutes a day. Four minutes! Over the course of a year, that's an entire day spent waiting for water to heat up. More if you drink more than one cup a day. When you are old and on your death bed, you'll thank me for all of the time I gave back to you with this nugget of truth.

My wife opened my eyes to the glory of the instant hot water tap as before her, I had no idea such a thing existed. Her desire for one ran deep, and once I saw that one could be had for less than two hundred dollars, I made this dream a reality for my wife. This is the type of man and husband I am. I make dreams happen, but only the cheap ones. Had her dream cost $201, she would be microwaving as we speak.

Once the tap had been procured, it was up to me and my father-in-law to install it. Several trips to Lowes and Home Depot later, including one to get a completely different instant hot water tap, we were prepared. Or so we thought. Instant hot water taps require constant power sources and traditionally, electrical outlets don't exist under sinks as one rarely has need to plug something in amongst the Palmolive. Back to the hardware store we went so that we could tap into the power running in the basement and turn the course of a mighty electrical river. Then something else happened and we needed different plumbing stuff so I went back to Lowes. Then we needed a drill bit, or a bulldozer or some other fucking thing that no normal person outside of Tim the fucking tool man Taylor would have in his home, so I went back to Lowes and I thought that if someone says "You again?" to me I was going to brain them with a ban saw and then fucking awl them to death. All the while, my Redskins were getting the piss beaten out of them by the Patriots, so you can imagine my stellar state of mind.

But I digress. Something like seven hours later, we were finished and we all gathered round the instant hot water tap, waiting the alloted fifteen minutes so that the tank could heat up. And heat up it did! Soon the tap was sputtering and steaming and generally spraying scalding hot water all over the place. Oh horrid day! What terrible violence our knowledge had wrought! As it turns out, my wife, in her zeal to not wait one moment longer for boiling water, wanted the temperature gauge on the tank turned all the way up, past warm, past hot, past seriously now, it's fucking hot all the way to super-heated plasma water. The tap, despite allowing such a ramping up to dangerously hot levels, didn't like being filled with magma and once we dialed it back a notch, started cooperating.

Having hot water as soon as you want it is a life affirming experience, like having free air or trees that bear donuts. No longer am I shackled to the microwave, or the stove, waiting for water to boil. I have used this opportunity to discover a love of tea. Before, I would drink coffee every night, but often times, after the first cup, I wanted something different. I was stuck though, as I had made two cups, because why go through all the work for just one cup, and I certainly can't throw it out. That's liquid money right there. Not any more. With my instant tap, I can have a cup of Chai tea and then follow it up with one of the many fruit zingers available to me. I think there's even a pork chop zinger that melds hibiscus flowers and salt pork. Truly a tea for the discriminating palate. With all of my freed up spare time, I have done absolutely nothing different, but I could, should I want to. Maybe some time I will. Four minutes is a lot of time to work with. I could sing a song, or pen a dirty poem. I could also hastily sketch a watermelon, or a honeydew melon, any melon really. The opportunities are endless.

The only problem with the instant hot water tap is that it resides where the soap dispenser used to and many the time have I found myself about to pour 190 degree water on my hands, thinking it is soap. No doubt my hands would come clean in this method as all of the germs would slough off with the top layer of skin, but I am unprepared for this level of cleanliness. Your needs may vary.

I realize this knowledge is somewhat terrifying as it runs counter to everything we've ever been told about hot water. Long have you lived in the muck of ignorance, thinking that hot water was something you had to wait for. I am here to tell you that it is not, provided you have two hundred bucks, a 1.5 inch hole in your counter, or the means to drill one, and the necessary electrical and plumbing skills. Small hurdles no doubt, and ones you will gladly jump once my tale sets into your consciousness, takes root and bears the fruit of enlightenment.

The time for instant hot water has come. Heed its scalding call, and through it, be reborn.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Welcome to the New Place

Greetings. Welcome to the new place. Have a look around. May I offer you something to drink? No? Suit yourself. This tea is delightful.

So, what's this all about anyway? Allow me to explain.

Years ago when I started the SuburbanJoe site, things were a bit different in my life. I was a new homeowner with no kids and a solid gaming habit, but not yet to the level of heated passion I enjoy today. The SuburbanJoe site was meant to reflect that to a degree, with posts about my suburban life and the various things that go along with it. There were many posts about home repairs. Life was good. Along with the site, the name came my online persona.

After the whole infertility thing, I wasn't really into writing and SuburbanJoe went away. Around this time, I also got an Xbox Live account and, oddly enough, SuburbanJoe was taken. With that, Team Binky was born along with the confusion of anyone who met me online and wondered why I had two names. Not that it mattered much, but it always kind of bugged me, having two different tags, for lack of a better word.

When I decided to start writing again, bringing back SuburbanJoe made sense as anyone who might have remembered me from the old days would be able to just do a quick Google search and like magic, make their way to the new place. That's all fine and good except for the fact that the several years between the old site and the new site might as well have been the Triassic period in internet years. Realistically speaking, the number of people who decided to just, on a whim, search for SuburbanJoe based on something they read years ago was probably less than 2.

The problem is that, creatively, I always felt like the new SuburbanJoe site had to be like the old one, including what I wrote about, and as a result, I always felt kind of boxed in. I wasn't really into writing about what I had written about before. My interests were more gaming oriented, and less column like. I had always said that SuburbanJoe wasn't really a blog, because it followed more of a column style, however with the second go around, I wanted more of the flexibility of shorter posts that a blog brings. I know it's stupid, to have creative roadblocks over something to arbitrary, but hey, creative roadblocks never take the form you'd expect them to. Try as I might to change what the site was, I could never get it out of my head that I was supposed to be writing 800 words on mowing the lawn. Again, I know this is stupid.

At the same time that I was feeling like my site wasn't really what I wanted any more, I started writing reviews for GameShark. I've done a shit job of budgeting my writing time since then, and SuburbanJoe suffered as a result. For this I apologize. Once I started writing the Mr. Binky column, I felt even more split up as I had a site, called SuburbanJoe, a GamerTag of Team Binky and a column persona of Mister Binky. Talk about splintered.

And so we get to this site, the aptly named Disparate Elements. I'm going to be writing about a bunch of different, seemingly unconnected things here, hence the name of the site. The name also comes about because of my various online persona and how they made me feel kind of split up. In an effort to fix that, I've done a number of things. One is that I've retired SuburbanJoe, the site and the name, with the exception of my Gmail address, because, damn, that'd be a pain in the ass to change. I've also changed my GamerTag from Team Binky to Mister Binky to coincide with my column and because the Team thing never made a whole lot of sense, even to me and I came up with the damn thing.

The hope with all of this, is to remove some of the creative roadblocks I've had. I feel like I have more freedom here to post about my kids, or games, or what I've had for lunch, or whatever. I realize that I'm still going to have to take the time to write every day, and I'm prepared to do that. Lord knows I spend enough time goofing off each day. I can certainly divert some of that time to this place. I cherish each and every reader I have, and I wish to keep them coming back, and possibly get some new readers along the way. I'm also hoping to use this site to start thinking more critically about games and just generally polish my writing skills in general. At the same time, I understand the need to take baby steps, so don't expect any missives on Half-Life 2 as a allegory for socialism any time soon. Hell, I don't even know what that means.

So, for those that have been with me for the past couple of years, thank so much for coming back and seeing nothing but blank space and week old posts. I hope to change all that. Thank you also to my wife Linda, who continues to inspire me and kick my ass when I'm being lazy. Hopefully I won't need so many ass kickings now.

Enjoy the new place and stay as long as you'd like. We've got a lot to talk about.


New look

We're making some changes around here, as the new site can attest to. I'm still working on the best way to go about things, but I think I may be doing some name changes and such, so be prepared to change bookmarks and the like once I make up my mind.


Phoenix Wright review

My Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations review is up. Whee.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crash of the Titans review

I swear that at some point in the near future I'll post something that doesn't just send you to another page full of my blatherings about the latest game du jour. That time is not now though, hence the remark about the future, so instead, head over to GameShark and peep my review of Crash of the Titans. This was an unexpectedly fun little game, and is the perfect thing to play when you don't feel like thinking much and you just want to goof around. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dancing With the Stars review

My review for Dancing With the Stars is up. Lord help us all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Twofer

Two for the price of one today as we have a new Mr. Binky column as well as my review of Prism Light the Way for the DS. Read and enjoy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bringer of Knowledge

I have emerged from this latest bout with the tattoo needle not only more decorative but wiser. I will now attempt to pass this wisdom on to you. Are you ready? Here goes.

If you find yourself struggling with a cold at the time of your tattoo appointment, if at all possible, reschedule the inking. You may not think that getting a tattoo would have any effect on a cold, and perhaps in the case of someone healthier than myself, it would not, but in my case, my body's immune system was not up to the task of fighting off a cold and dealing with thousands of ink bearing wounds at the same time. The past few days have not been fun as I've had to deal with feeling shitty from the cold, feeling sore from the tattoos and feeling useless from my general inability to function normally. Oh, I also lost my voice which makes me an even less effective parent.

As promised, here are some pictures from the grand event.

Here I am in the chair as Zack works. For the record, that's my "I'm smiling so that I don't pass out" face. It ain't pretty.

Here's the finished product. I decided to go with some shading, per Zach's suggestion and I think it makes all the difference. Without the shading, it's a logo, with it, it's a shield. Bonus!

Here's another view, to give an idea as to the total size and placement. It's 3.5 inches in diameter for those keeping track at home.

Here's my tiny, mottled Batman tattoo before being touched up.

And here it is after having the black touched up and the yellow filled in. I know that it looks orange, but that's just because of the blood. Ew. When it heals it'll look yellow. The same thing happened with my Superman tattoo.

Overall, I'm very happy with both pieces, however I think it will be quite some time before I get another one, if I do at all. I had forgotten how uncomfortable it is to sit in that chair. Perhaps I'm just getting older, but between the needle and the uncomfortable position of my arm, I was pretty dang happy for it to all be over. The aftercare is a bit of a pain as well, but it comes with the territory I guess. For now, I'm happy with what I have and can't think of what else I'd want anyways, so it seems like a good time to stop. That is until I forget what it feels like.

For those in the Atlanta area, shopping for some new ink, I can't recommend Zack and Psycho Tattoo enough. Zack was very professional and very easy to talk to, which is helpful as chatting helps to keep your mind off of the pain. I went to the Psycho Tattoo in Roswell, technically Psycho Tattoo 2, so if you need some work done, head on over an tell 'em Brandon sent ya. Actually, you can tell them whatever you want as they won't remember who I am anyways.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I Live to Serve

Because Booster asked for it, and he's one of the classiest cats I know, here are my admittedly crappy pictures from the Jimmy Eat World show. I will post pictures of my tattoo at some point after Saturday. How's that for committed?

It's hard to tell Anita Robinson's attractiveness factor from this picture of Vida Voce, but trust me, she's cute as hell and she can make that guitar wail. If you look hard enough, you can see the suede boots. Rowr!

Here's Jimmy Eat World, early on in the show before the gauntlet of Rock was truly thrown down.

Due to a combination of our seats and the light show, Tom Linton (the guitarist) spent most of the show bathed in light, thereby strengthening the possibility of supernatural origins for him. It was quite bright at times, as evidenced in this shot.

Here, Tom begins his ascent to the Mothership.

A lower tempo number from the new record as Jim rocks the acoustic guitar. Even dimly lit, Tom commands the spotlight.

This is probably the best shot of the evening as, for once, the lighting cooperated. It's nothing to write home about, and would have been a lot better had I taken it with the 10x zoom enabled digital camera that spent the night at home. I'll bring it the next time, and had planned on bringing it this time, but I was unsure if I was going to try and wrestle the youngsters for floor seats. Plus, with a t-shirt, two Vida Voce cd's, a wallet, a phone and my keys, my pants were in danger of dropping for most of the show. The camera would have pushed me over the edge to full on flashing.

I promise to take better pictures of the tattoo. How lucky for you!