Thursday, October 30, 2008



Happy Halloween from Studicus, Mrs. Studicus, and Bert (seen here in daytime mode and super spooky nightime terror mode).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Force Unleashed: Vanquished!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was on vacation this past week. And while I didn't spend every waking moment playing videogames, I did allow myself to dive into Star Wars: The Force Unleashed a little more.

What else did I have to prove? I started the game on the highest available difficulty level, Sith Lord. That's the difficulty I started out on, instead of Apprentice or Sith Warrior. That made for a lot of frustration...things get pretty tough, especially in later levels. I wanted to go through the game and snag all the holocrons...but thanks to that stupid "default text" glitch, the game wouldn't give me credit for any holocrons I collected in levels eight and nine.

So, I decided I'd further torture myself by beating the game on the unlocked difficulty level of Sith Master. Let me tell you...the margin of error on this difficulty is very slim. You mess up, you're dead. It's as simple as that. I'm not the most skilled gamer in the world...if you can't kill me in Halo, then you have no business playing the game...but I wanted the challenge. I'm not a great player, but I do have a certain affinity for Star Wars games. Because this game was set in the Star Wars universe, I wanted to finish it in its entirety...including the achievement points.

Some of you will accuse me of being an "achievement whore." I have played a total of three games to achievement perfection: Mass Effect, Lego Indiana Jones, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I'm pretty close to getting the achievements for NCAA Football 09 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, but I'm not hell-bent on finishing those games. But I decided that if I was going to finish the game on Sith Master, I may as well get all the achievements for SW:TFU.

If I had it to do all over again, I would NOT have chosen to collect the holocrons on Sith Master. Let me tell you, it was tough. To start a new difficulty, you have to play through the entire game...and that means the Darth Vader prologue level as well. That means you start off underpowered with nothing but the lowest level of Force Push as your ally. It's really strange to be without Force Repulse, which is the coolest and most effective Force power in the game. Running around the first two levels without it made me feel naked. On Sith Master with no powers, I was still determined to run around and collect all the cubes. Needed a little help finding a couple of 'em, but by the last level I'd only forgotten to pick up one holocron in the eighth level. When I got to the Imperial Guard and Shadow Guard battle on the Death Star level, I almost threw my controller. Not only did those guys kick the snot out of me, a few jumptroopers took potshots and I got in range of Purge Troopers and their missiles.

That'll end you, real quick-like. After various "oh so close" attempts to beat those chumps, I went back to level eight and picked up my missing holocron, triggering an achievement. Then it was back to the Death Star level again to face those stinking royal guards again. I picked up the health drain Sith holocron, which helped a lot. I stayed closer to the back of the observation deck to avoid any outside parties (like jumptroopers or purge troopers). After a couple more tries, I beat 'em. Didn't have much of a problem with Vader...he's really a pushover if you know what you're doing. The most frustrating part of that battle was the second segment...where you throw junk at the Dark Lord. The target lock is imprecise, and it's hard to grab the right objects to throw at him. Took a couple tries, but not too bad.

I really had to change my strategy for the Emperor, however. He was not all that bad on Sith Lord, once I figured out his patterns. You just have to keep your distance, block, and hope for some luck. I was able to douse him with Force Lightning on Sith Lord; however, the window of opportunity for this seemed shorter on Sith Master. Just took A LOT more patience than the first time around. Most of the bosses on the game aren't that hard...but the fights take lots of patience. Like the Bull Rancor...dude...if you can finish that fight in less than 15 minutes, my hat's off to you.

After "beating" the Emperor (I HATE that blockable lightning that drains your Force meter and then drains your health), I had a couple more achievements to unlock. I wish I had understood more about Force Shield on my first playthrough. It seemed like a stupid power, but it's actually pretty cool if you charge it up all the way (although it takes a TON of Force energy). The ones that were real pains were the grapple combo and aerial combo ones. If I'd paid more attention to the game earlier, I'd probably have learned the combos and gotten the achievements through the course of regular play. Unfortunately, I didn't do that...so getting those two bundles of Gamerscore joy was tedious.

But I finished Force Unleashed to ultimate completion. Definitely got my money's worth...even though that Star Destroyer level remains the stupidest thing I've ever played. It's a lot easier the second or third time around...but that first playthrough on that level absolutely blows.

The Last Boss: My Vacation

Thanks to the sweeps period (which starts tomorrow), I took kind of a strange vacation. I have been off since last Thursday, but must return to work tomorrow. That means, with my strange 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. hours, I have to go to bed in a matter of hours on this Wednesday night. I've had a pretty good week off. It wasn't all that exciting, but I relaxed like a pro. I worked on a book I've been writing, moved some furniture, did a little laundry, and absolutely destroyed Star Wars: the Force Unleashed.

For my grand finale, I wanted to do something epic. So what does a man who's managed to pull down a giant Star Destroyer do for his final act of indulgence? I had no idea...until I read this.

I saw something that must be conquered. Something that would fit in with the sloth-like theme of my vacation. Something that didn't require you to follow imprecise onscreen directions and take 20 attempts to finish (do I still sound bitter? YES!). Heck, if I took 20 attempts to finish this thing, I wouldn't be alive any more. Actually, I'm not even sure how long I'll make it after eating this.

I combined my Last Vacation Supper with a practical trip to the gas station. I needed to tank up before returning to work this week. Using that as an excuse, I hopped by the local KFC and bought the ultimate meal: the KFC Original Recipe Fully Loaded Box Meal. It's a licensed tie-in for the new Guitar Hero game:
The funny thing about the box is that it's pretty heavy and there was part of me that expected to find a videogame and a (small) plastic guitar inside. Instead, this is what awaited:
If you didn't click to take a look at the larger version of that picture, here's the rundown: two sides (mac n' cheese and mashed potatoes & gravy in my case), two Crispy Strips, an original recipe thigh (or leg...if you prefer), a KFC Snacker, and a biscuit. Oh, there's a 32-ounce soft drink involved here, too (I chose Pepsi). The gluttony involved in this meal is very disturbing.

How much fried food do you need? Why does KFC feel the need to put it in a large box? If this is a "fully loaded" meal, what constitutes a partially loaded or unloaded meal? Furthermore, has KFC given up on the spork? My meal came with a simple plastic fork. Very, very sad.

My challenge was very clear: would I be able to finish this epic meal? Certainly, it had to be possible. This is a fully loaded box meal...not a fully loaded box "eat part of it and save some for later" meal. In order to do this, you have to have a method. I thought about past experiences at KFC.

Whenever I save the biscuit for last, I never seem to have room for it. I really do enjoy fried chicken, and my tendency is to dive right into the chicken and ignore the other stuff. I solved this problem by eating the biscuit first. After that, I tackled my two sides, taking care of the mac n' cheese first, followed by the mashed potatoes and gravy.

I believe the "Original Recipe" crispy strips are new. I'll tell you this, KFC needs to improve them. Mine were extremely dry. Thankfully, I'd had the foresight to get some honey mustard dipping sauce along with them. That was the only way I was able to finish those things. I was pretty disappointed by that. Following the strips, I was down to just two things left: the KFC Snacker and an Original Recipe thigh.

I feared that saving the little sandwich for last would result in not finishing it...I was afraid the bread would make it hard to finish if I left it last. I've never had a KFC Snacker before, and to tell you the truth...it wasn't too bad. It features, according to KFC, a "pepper mayo" sauce. It's heavy on the pepper. I wouldn't mind having another Snacker in the future. Of course, by the future I mean "several weeks from now."

That left the Original Recipe thigh as the lone remaining survivor of the KFC Original Recipe Fully Loaded Box Meal. I finished it with ease...

The KFC Original Recipe Fully Loaded Box Meal met its match! Cue the triumphant theme from the end of the original Star Wars! If you're wondering...I did NOT inhale the bones from the thigh. I simply threw them away before snapping this picture. Who wants to see leftover chicken bones?

After vanquishing that beast, you wouldn't think I'd have any room left for dessert. Well, I did have room...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Colts make Titanic blunder

They had this one. I'm convinced of that. After watching the first half in which the defense dominated and the offense did just enough, I thought the Colts had shown up to play this time.

When they took a 14-6 lead to start the second half, I was confident they'd pull it out.

Even when Tennessee tied it up with a two-point conversion, I thought the Colts would march right down the field and retake the lead.

It didn't happen.

Suddenly, all the things that have bit this Colts team in the posterior reared their ugly head. Penalties, ineffective offense, ineffective defense, turnovers, and the like.

I saw a couple of different turning points. Two of them happened on the Titans' game-tying drive. Both were defensive penalties. One against Marlin Jackson killed them. The officials called him for illegal contact. I never saw a replay on that one, so I don't know the extent of it. Instead of ending a Tennessee drive, the Titans were able to sustain it. Same drive, different player, same type of penalty...Melvin Bullitt was whistled for pass interference. He was in perfect position...but he never looked for the ball and basically ran into the receiver. Again, that helped the Titans continue their drive.

Then came a very frustrating call at midfield. I understand the reluctance to punt the ball; the Titans definitely had the momentum. But this isn't the same Colts offensive juggernaut that we're used to seeing. This Indianapolis team cannot score at will; this year's Peyton Manning can't will his team to victory. This season's Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark can't come up with the big plays when the team needs them the most. This is a painful reality. So the Colts go for it near midfield on fourth and one. The result: Dominic Rhodes gets hammered for a loss. After that, the game was effectively over.

I don't really understand the logic in this call. Although the Colts were running the ball fairly well this game (yes, the running game made some strides this week), the defense was actually playing pretty well. All game, the Colts had won the field position battle. But instead of pulling back the reins a little and throttling down, Indy went for it. This was the wrong call.

Trust me...I like it when the team is aggressive. I like it when the Colts feel like no one can stop them. But this isn't that team right now. This team needs to play it more conservatively until the offense regains its former luster. The Colts should've punted the ball and handed the Titans a long field. Instead, they blundered and went with a running play that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. They really never had a chance on that one.

The Colts faced another key fourth down later in the game. This was one they had to go for. But I'm a little alarmed at how they went about trying to convert this first down. On third and three, Peyton tried to throw it to a well-covered Reggie Wayne. It wasn't exactly a "down the field" type of throw, but it wasn't a safe one either. On fourth down, he tried to hit a well-covered Marvin Harrison on the sideline. That one was nearly picked off. Wasn't there a safe throw to make...like something to Anthony Gonzalez over the middle (hint, hint)? Of course, considering Gonzo cut his route short on a third and three earlier in the game, maybe I shouldn't complain.

Everything was so frustrating. The Colts did a great job against the Titans' running game. They neutralized it for most of the game. What killed them was pass coverage. It's been a killer problem all year...when the defense is faced with stopping a team on third and eight or third and forever, they give up just enough yards to let the other team gain the first down. Seriously, Kerry Collins threw maybe one or two long passes...the rest were short, intermediate completions. And they were completely effective. I've never been so sick of the eight yard curl/hook in my life. The Colts will give it to you every time. And how they gave up a 15-yard pass on third and eight is incomprehensible.

Okay, despite the depression that accompanies a terrible loss like this, there were a few good things. For a half, the defense was dominant and the Colts dictated the field position. That was positive. Secondly, I liked the play of this offensive line unit. With only one rookie in there (Mike Pollak), the line played well. Manning didn't get sacked and had plenty of time to throw. They even opened up some holes against the stout Tennessee defensive line. If the Colts can get line play like that for the rest of the season, then things have to improve for this team.

Ultimately, though, the bad outweighs the good. Poor decision-making, inopportune penalties, turnovers, and generally bad play at critical moments doomed this team. I don't know if they can turn this thing around and compete for a Wild Card or not. We'll see next week...when the Patriots come to town.

Oh, one more thing...I thought the Monday Night Football crew was pretty good last night. But a couple of things bothered me. First of all, whenever Peyton Manning stepped onto the field, Jaws, Tirico, and Kornheiser went bananas, saying things like, "And if there's anybody you want on the field right now, it's Peyton Manning. You can't make those kind of mistakes when Peyton Manning's under center. Peyton Manning is the savior of the world and if you make a mistake, he'll use his divine powers to destroy you." Usually, those things are true. But the announcers are kidding themselves if they think that's a reality this season. The Colts are "off," and they still aren't clicking. When you've got a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter, it's pretty safe. These Colts lack the explosiveness to pull it off, Houston game aside.

They also made a big deal out of how the Titans "slayed the dragon" by beating Indy. This is true, but a little overdramatic. Take a look at this year's Colts team and its record. The Colts were 3-3 coming into this game; the Titans 6-0. This wasn't a case in which Indianapolis fell off its throne with the loss. Indy fell off that throne earlier this season...the Titans just got their chance to curbstomp the king. On the other hand, the Colts couldn't solve the Titans for a few seasons before they were able to beat them consistently. So maybe I should cut them some slack.

As a matter of fact, I can't really write more about this game. Though he's a little sketchy on some of the specifics, I think Jim Mora probably does the best job of summing up the Colts' performance...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Colts get Packered, Studicus displeased

Oh man...rough game Sunday. So rough in fact that I'm only now able to write about it!

In fact, I can't even really write about it to convey my shock and dismay at the multitude of stupid penalties, plays and mistakes.

So I've hastily composed the following video.

Not my best work...but then again, the Packers game wasn't the Colts' best effort either.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A little follow through...

Well, this has been a long time in the making. Remember when Brokeback Mountain was actually a somewhat funny joke? I blogged about that a while back, imagining a Star Wars version. I just got some video editing software and I've been playing with it. My first project (other than the Purdue championship video) happens to be Brokeback Lightsaber. It's a bit different from the original version I'd scripted...but still pretty close to the idea:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boilers top Tigers, win BCS Championship Game



Some would say the second-ranked Purdue Boilermakers "backed" into the FedEx Championship Game. If that's the case, the boys from West Lafayette made sure not to squander their golden opportunity.

Over the course of one dominating, punishing game, Purdue outscored the top-ranked Missouri Tigers 35-7. The Tigers scored their lone touchdown on the very last play of the game.

"That wasn't exactly how we wanted to end it," cornerback Royce Adams admitted. "We wanted the donut. Leave it to freaking (Jason) Werner to propel the guy into the endzone. What a tool."

That one minor flaw aside, the rest of the game was all Purdue. The Boilermakers dominated Missouri in time of possession, 11:52 to 8:13. They outgained Missouri in total offense 378 to 196. And they also converted four of five redzone chances.

"We ran the ball a lot more today than we usually do," Coach Matt Adams said, adjusting his trademark black ballcap. "With the rain and wind, I didn't want to come out throwing. When we won the coin toss, I wanted to put the ball in Kory Sheets' hands. He came through big time."

The opening drive consumed almost all of the first quarter as Purdue showed off an atypical mix of run and pass plays. At one point in the drive, the Boilermakers rushed four times in a row, surely an all-time record for the typically pass-happy squad.

"I wanted Kory to set the tone. We got a few plays from Curtis on the ground, too." Adams said. "We put in a couple rollout plays and I told Curtis if it wasn't there, just take off and slide or get out of bounds. For once, he listened."

"Hey, man. This is the national championship game. We win, we're best all time. We're legendary. And we won. It was hard to throw the ball in that swirling wind and rain, but when I needed to make a pass play, I made one. Didn't mind using my legs either," Painter said, typically modest.

Painter was the epitome of efficiency, finishing 22 of 24 for 251 yards and a touchdown. He engineereed five lengthy scoring drives. His one mistake came right before halftime, when he missed Greg Orton on a slant route, throwing an interception in the endzone.

"I read the corner blitz, but the safety read that I read it, unfortunately. I'm just glad it didn't hurt us in the end."

At the time of the interception, Purdue led 14-0. But with just 15 seconds left on the clock, Missouri didn't have any time to capitalize on the turnover.

The Purdue defense set the tone in the second half. Boilers defenders hassled Heisman candidate Chase Daniel for the last two quarters of the game, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice. He was also forced to scramble on several occasions as the Boilermakers blanketed wide receivers downfield.

"They were dropping nine guys on some of those pass plays. It wasn't good odds for my receivers. Nobody could get open. I couldn't get the ball to them. It pretty much sucked," Daniel said following the game.

Strangely, four of Purdue's five touchdowns came on the ground. Sheets and Painter both had short scoring runs. Little used backup Jaycen Taylor was the big play threat, scoring on runs of nine and 31 yards.

"Kory was gassed out there a couple of times and I just came in to spell him," Taylor said. "Hey man, I think this is the first time I've talked to the press this whole season."

Taylor finished with 48 yards on four carries and two touchdowns. Sheets remained the focal point of the Boiler attack, rushing 16 times for 60 yards. He also caught five passes for 102 yards and a score. The scoring play rescued Painter after a bonehead play.

Facing pressure on first and goal at the four, Painter rolled left. With no one open, he rolled right and threw the ball away. He was flagged for intentional grounding (he was never outside the tackle box) and Purdue faced second and goal at the 27 yard line. The very next play, Painter found Sheets for a short pass over the middle. The running back squeezed through the defense for the unlikely score.

"That was huge. That gave us a three touchdown lead going into the fourth quarter. That's why I'll miss those guys. Both of 'em," Adams said.

"A lot of people said we didn't belong in this game," Painter said, referring to the public perception that Purdue lucked into the championship game after undefeated Virginia Tech fell to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. "But I think we showed everyone that we belonged there. Honestly, what's a bowl game without the World's Largest Drum?"

Defensively, Ryan Baker led Purdue with four tackles and two sacks. Alex Magee and Nate Golding each added a sack apiece. David Pender and Royce Adams pulled in interceptions.

Notes:

The Boilermakers earned several awards this season: Curtis Painter was third in Heisman voting and Kory Sheets was selected as kick returner of the year...Sheets, left guard Zach Reckman, cornerback Royce Adams, and safety Torri Williams were named Second Team All-American...Painter, tight end Kyle Adams, Royce Adams, Torri Williams, and Reckman all made First Team All Big Ten...cornerback Charlton Williams, reserve Brandon King, Sheets, and Brandon Whittingon were Second Team All Big Ten selections...Painter finished the season 336-398 with 3,664 yards, 49 touchdowns and 16 interceptions...Sheets had 133 carries for 751 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 59 catches for 813 yards and ten touchdowns...Brandon Whittington led all receivers with 84 catches for 891 yards and eight TD...Greg Orton finished with 56 grabs for 755 yards and seven touchdowns...Torri Williams led the defense with 75 tackles; he also addded a sack and three interceptions...Royce Adams had 45 tackles, two sacks, and led the team with five picks.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Colts crush Ravens, Studicus pleased

Some Colts tickets seriously fell into my lap this week so I had the chance to check out Lucas Oil Stadium for myself. Thankfully, the Colts put together a performance so dominating, it was staggering. In all phases...offense, defense, and special teams...the Colts crushed the Baltimore Ravens.

Basically, this game was over after Peyton Manning hit Marvin Harrison for that 67-yard touchdown pass. That completely demoralized the Ravens. It was a punch to the gut of a brash and proud defense that couldn't recover. Marvin Harrison, freaking 80-year-old Marvin Harrison, just beat you deep.

And it was easy.

Manning connected with Harrison for another touchdown pass later, and although it was shorter, it was no less spectacular. Harrison made a fantastic adjustment to reel it in. I think he would've had another one in the second half, but Manning thought he'd head toward the sideline while Harrison cut inside. He was wide open.

Of course, the other go-to guy was Reggie Wayne. Manning dropped a beautiful ball right into Wayne's waiting hands for a 22-yard strike. Wayne also came up time and time again with big catches. He was also everywhere...playing outside and in the slot. It's a shame a holding penalty nullfied a long connection from #18 to #87.

Defensively, they were number one with a Bullitt. Melvin Bullitt appears to be the new Bob Sanders. That's definitely overstating it, but right now that guy is bringing a much-needed spark to the defense and special teams. He made a special teams hit on Yamon Figurs that drew a large cheer from the crowd. It's a hit you just can't see enough of. Bullitt also intercepted another pass and made a beautiful shoestring tackle on another special teams play. The guy can definitely hit. I was hoping I'd see a little more of Matt Giordano with Sanders out, but Bullitt's playing too well to justify that. At least Giordano got his chance to rock a kickoff returner later in the game.

I didn't notice it while watching the game on the field (I was waaaaaay up in section 628, mercifully the opposite side from where the sun was shining), but Freddy Keiaho was also in the middle of several plays. I didn't hear his name on the PA, but that doesn't mean he wasn't in the thick of things. In fact...he was right there most of the time. Good game by Gary Brackett, too. The linebackers played a lot better this week and the tackling was very crisp...something that was missing from earlier games this year. You didn't see a lot of broken tackles by Baltimore...and the Colts were swarming.

Go back and watch the first half...on just about every play, four or five blue jerseys manage to get to the ball carrier. It was an inspired performance from a unit that hadn't provided a lick of inspiration until the last four minutes of last week's game against the Texans.

It would be very silly of me not to mention Robert Mathis. If Joe Flacco hadn't already gotten a real introduction to the NFL yet, Mathis made sure it happened. He forced a fumble and finished with three sacks on the beleaguered rookie signal caller. Better days are ahead for Flacco...they're just not here yet. I don't really like Baltimore (my friend Bill went to the game with me and puts the Ravens up there with the Patriots and Jaguars in his Colts Axis of Evil), but watching Flacco struggle reminded me a lot of Peyton Manning's rookie year. Peyton took a licking and the Colts were a laughable 3-13, but they eventually righted the ship. Considering Baltimore's defense is infinitely better than anything Manning had for his first eight seasons, I'd say good things are ahead for the kid.

I hate to gush so much about the Colts, especially since they looked awful until Sage "Helicopter!" Rosenfels sparked them last week. But if you watched the game at all, you'd realize how dominant they were as a whole. The Ravens didn't get a first down until the second quarter. By then, the Colts had already built up a huge lead. Defensively, they forced five turnovers. Adam Vinatieri had several touchbacks. Manning's high-flying act with Wayne and Harrison seemed in full swing. The offensive line finally got it together (for the most part).

It was heartening...those throws that Manning kept missing earlier this season, suddenly he was making them. You knew once he hit Harrison that Baltimore might as well have headed home. Manning was on his game...and everyone in the stadium knew it.

I walked away very impressed with the Colts and their new home. The roof was open, allowing lots of sunshine to come in. Even though I was very high up, the seats were very good. In the upper deck at the RCA Dome, you were crowded into benchback seats that were very narrow and uncomfortable. At Lucas Oil, I had plenty of legroom as well as a built-in cupholder. The crowd was loud, but not deafeningly so. I wonder if it gets louder with the roof closed. There were moments in which the 12th man (er...sorry Seattle) really made some noise, but it never hit that rib-tingling, teeth-chattering, oh-dear-lord-I'll-never-hear-again decibel level that made the RCA Dome such a tough place to play.

Some other random thoughts...

Starved for attention? I heard a lot of booing coming from section 626, about two sections to my right. I couldn't figure out what was going on. People were yelling and screaming...I even saw a guy throw up the ol' number one. And then I saw her: some woman had come to Lucas Oil Stadium in a Tom Brady jersey. You know...if the Pats were playing the Colts during the game, I'd cut her some slack. It takes guts to wear the opposing team's jersey. But to wear Brady's jersey to a Colts-Ravens game? That's just stupid.

First down, Gonzo! Ray Lewis piledrived Anthony Gonzalez on a catch that resulted in a first down. I mean...Gonzo got blown up! But he held onto the ball and then signaled first down right in front of Ray-Ray. I'm not big on trash talking, but considering how much the Ravens and Ray Lewis talk smack, I thought it was awesome.

Gotta have Hart! Mike Hart made two impact plays for the Colts. One was a strong run for a first down on third and short. His second effort allowed him to pick it up. The other was a nice little swing pass. I really liked what Hart brought to the offense and was really upset when he came up holding his knee after the pass play. The injury looked like it could be fairly serious. With Addai hurt as well (is that kid ever healthy these days?), that left Dominic Rhodes as the sole running back.

Okay, okay so it was a hold after all. Nothing hurts more than seeing a huge pass play cancelled out by a penalty. That's exactly what happened to Reggie Wayne & company after a holding call on Ryan Diem. I certainly didn't see the hold during the replay at the stadium. Then I watched the game at home...Diem totally grabbed a handful of jersey.

Oh, now they're just making stuff up. I know there's a rule regarding gunners on special teams and running out of bounds. Still, I saw Dante Hughes get shoved out of bounds and proceed to keep running toward the action. For his effort, he was rewarded with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. I'm trying to find clarification on that rule...but have been unsuccessful thus far.

Hey, he's still on his feet! If anything during the game forced the Baltimore Ravens to reflect inwardly on their lack of passion in this game, it would be the incredible 38-yard run by Dominic Rhodes that is worth watching over and over and over again. Several Ravens had a shot at him; several missed. Some pursued, some gave up, and Rhodes was basically stopped by the fact three of his own players were directly in front of him. If I were Baltimore, I'd be embarrassed. The Ravens shout and yell and gesticulate like they're God's gift to defense...and then they pull something like that. The Colts just wanted this one more...A LOT more. That play proved it.

Good view of the city AND we didn't get fried! Sunlight kissed a professional football game in Indianapolis for the first time. At least, I think that's the case. Anyway, I got a good view of the city's skyline through the "window" at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was even cooler (literally) when we noticed the fans on the other side were getting cooked by the sun...while those of us in the other endzone remained comfortably untouched. I don't remember anyone mentioning that in the media guide.

Still looking for that replay... I see the Colts brought the same person who never provided us with big replays of key moments at the RCA Dome with them to Big Oil. I wanted to see Antoine Bethea's interception again and never saw it. Things like this happened frequently throughout the game. I shouldn't blame the Colts...it's probably some NFL rule or something about making sure the fans don't have an enjoyable experience. Yeah...I bet that's a rule.

Oh, the officiating sucks. My friend Bill remarked that the officiating, especially in the long, drawn out fourth quarter, was a blight upon refereeing in general. His dad serves as an official for IHSAA games, so I'll defer to his judgment. The refs sure seemed awfully flag-happy in the second half, especially with the game well out of reach. I guess they didn't have a hot date to get to...and wanted everyone to suffer along with them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why, Lucasarts? WHY?

I have enjoyed playing Star Wars: the Force Unleashed over the last week or so. I'm just about at the end of the game, although I haven't finished it yet. Emperor Palpatine awaits!

The game definitely has its problems. First of all, locking onto a target can be a real pain sometimes. Oh, you know...you're fighting an AT-ST and you launch your Force Lightning attack, only to see it go into thin air or a nearby canister. Meantime, the AT-ST is blasting away. Acquiring a target is also difficult when you have a whole room of stormtroopers and heavy machinery. Let's say you want to grab a crate and launch it at the soldiers. Good luck...you'll probably end up grabbing onto a stormtrooper and throwing him across the room. It's still effective...just not what you intended.

Certainly, there are a lot of cool moments throughout the game. Fighting the junk titans, AT-STs, and rancors is neat. And it's fun to be able to push and grip a bunch of hapless stormtroopers off different bridges and catwalks. Some of the boss fights are well done...although almost all of them have a gimmick that mars the experience. And why do all these "all-powerful" Force users feel the need to conjure up footsoldiers to help them out? Can't they handle a single apprentice in Jedi-a-Jedi combat?

The diversity in the stormtrooper corps is also impressive. Sure, it's nothing we haven't seen before...but I like the fact you have "commanders," "evo troopers," "shadow troopers," etc. Although I don't like the purge troopers. The Force be with you if you have to tangle with too many of those guys. They're tough...but then again...I assume "purge trooper" means they're specifically trained and designed to help fight Jedi. Still...those are very powerful troops and they don't seem to get any easier, no matter how powerful you become in the Force. The stormtroopres with flamethrowers are also pretty tough. Their strength is magnified in the AT-ST training module, where you have to take down an AT-ST and a bunch of stormtroopers clustered together in a small room. The flamethrowing stormtroopers have shields and cluster behind the walker. You can't use a ranged force attack on them (they have shields to prevent this) and if they get you with the flamethrower, just forget about it. They remind me of the flamethrower guy from the old Genesis game "General Chaos." Once they start on you, they don't stop and they take away a lot of health.

But something about this game really pissed me off. Something so stupid and ill-conceived that I should write to Lucasarts and demand my money back. There's a part in the game where you bring down a Star Destroyer with your Force powers. It should be a cool moment, a Star Wars moment. Instead, it's possibly the dumbest, most frustrating sequence I've ever experienced in any video game. First, you have to bring down a wave of TIE fighters. You can launch a piece of debris at the fighters to blow them up or target them with your Force lightning. Unfortunately, the targeting problem I wrote about earlier crops up frequently. It's fairly hard to get a lock on a TIE, and when you do, you'll lose your lock a split second later and fire your lightning at nothing.

After you beat all the TIEs, your sage master, General Kota, tells you to "pull it down from the sky!" What you have here is some sort of mystifying minigame involving the analog sticks (this is the 360 version). You follow the onscreen directions and eventually you'll see a green background come up. Then, you pull down on both sticks to "grip" the star destroyer. You proceed to do this three or four times, fighting a wave of TIE fighters for each round. If you don't dispose of the TIEs quickly, the star destroyer rotates back in place, making it even longer before you can actually bring the stupid ship down. During the last "round" of this, it seems almost impossible to get your analog sticks in the green "pulldown" mode, so you end up having to destroy the TIE fighters again and again and again. Finally, after you make several vicious threats against George Lucas, the game designers, and your video game console, you'll miraculously "get it" and watch as a pretty cool cutscene plays.

I don't want to know how many times I attempted to beat this section of the game last night. I'm betting it's in the 20-30 range. I varied my tactics, figured out a few things (you can Force grip TIEs, but it's hard), and came up short time and time again. It was ridiculous.

You know, difficulty levels are pretty tricky in games. Make an opponent too tough and he'll be regarded as cheap. I understand that. But if you're going to make a game-defining moment like this, do it right. Who wants to hide behind pillars on a bridge, grab debris, and fling it at TIE fighters? Who in GOD'S NAME decided that would be a FREAKING AWESOME! idea for this game? Who programmed this level? Who thought this was remotely fun or interesting? It's repetitive, stupid, boring, and not to mention UNBELIEVABLY frustrating. I'm not the best player in the world, but c'mon, this pretty much ruined the game for me. Even when I beat it, I wasn't satisfied...I was RELIEVED that I didn't have to go through it one more time. This game apparently has two endings...but I don't know if I even want to play through it again, knowing the star destroyer "battle" looms near the end. I can't believe anyone associated with this game would be proud of that level. It definitely marred my experience with the game.

Sure, there are some hard parts of the game (and I did play it through on the hardest difficulty level), like the fight with the crimson guards and the shadow trooper, the fight in the "junk" Jedi Council chambers where you have to tackle several junk titans to beat the Jedi Master. Then there are some easy ones...Vader isn't particularly tough and Shaak Ti is a pushover (guess she wasn't in on the "Force Repulse Defense 101" class). But no matter what, they all pale in comparison to the idiocy that awaits in bringing down a star destroyer.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Um, what just happened?

First off, I have a confession to make.

I did not watch the Colts game live.

I have a good reason for this, however. My wife and I recently bought a home and my parents were visiting it for the very first time. The best time to do it was Sunday...around one...and that meant the Colts game went straight to DVR. I avoided the radio, I avoided eating at a restaurant where I would be deluged with televisions that would tempt me by showing the game.

I dropped my father and my wife off at the house after lunch because Dad's knee was acting up. Mom needed a flash drive and didn't know much about them. So I went out to help her find one. Upon my return, I discovered that my father was sitting very comfortably in the recliner, watching the game on my new plasma TV. I peeked inside and he gave me the same look you give somebody when something bad has happened, like a very bad car accident or a death in the family.

"You're not gonna enjoy this one, son," he told me. I didn't look at the score, but the look on his face said it all. As I went into the other room to start the game via DVR, I heard my wife say something like, "They never do well when I watch them." While I didn't know the specifics or the score, I knew things weren't good at all.

It wasn't long before my parents left the house, my father downtrodden by whatever he'd witnessed in the second half. We said our goodbyes and I turned my attention back to the game. How could it be so bad? The Colts shot out to a ten-nothing lead. Was my father messing with me?

My wife went upstairs to watch something other than football. As I fast-forwarded through commercials (that's seriously the best part of having to tape any sporting event), I began to see why my father seemed so defeated.

10-nothing.

10-7.

10-10.

10-17.

10-20.

10-27.

By the time I had reached the fourth quarter, I was just about ready to give up on my pitiable, underperforming, listless team. The offense remained stuck in its perpetual "almost a big play" mode; the defense showed absolutely nothing. By the time Peyton Manning connected with Tom Santi for a touchdown with just over four minutes to play, I was thinking it was too little, too late. And so it seemed.

The Colts failed to recover the onside kick and Houston had terrific field position. A first down or two and a field goal would seal the game. Heck, a punt would've worked too...there just wasn't enough time to mount a long, clock-eating drive, let alone get the ball back and do it again.

That's when Sage Rosenfels tried to be a hero.

He scrambled, certain a first down would end the game and send the Colts home, their tail tucked behind their legs. But Rosenfels forgot the first rule of having a lead late in the game: protect the ball. Maybe he was just reacting. Maybe he was trying to be the action movie hero he'd always dreamed of becoming. Maybe he was thinking about John Elway in the Super Bowl. For whatever reason, he vaulted into the air, getting hit high by Marlin Jackson and low by Raheem Brock. I gasped as Rosenfels helicoptered in the air and the ball came loose. It took a perfect bounce to Gary Brackett, whose low center of gravity undoubtedly made for an easy scoop. He ran from the grasp of a Texans lineman, tip-toed near the out of bounds line, and scored.

Suddenly, what had been a 27-10 game just minutes ago became a 27-24 one. I jumped up, I watched the replay, I began yelling and screaming. I wanted to call someone. I wanted to send a text message. But I was watching this game on a recording, and everyone else had seen it unfold. They knew what came next.

I didn't.

Once the Texans got the ball back, I thought the Colts had a chance. Get a stop, get the ball, make something happen. The defense stopped a first-down run for two yards. The Texans inexplicably decided to go for a pass on second-and-eight to stop the clock. The Colts defense can be deadly when it knows you're passing. And the pass rush, that slumbering giant that had remained mostly dormant for most of the season, woke up in a jolt. With good coverage downfield, Robert Mathis finally managed to find Rosenfels. With a slap from his big paw, he jarred the ball loose and the Colts recovered.

A Joe Addai run and a jaw-dropping Reggie Wayne catch later, and suddenly the Colts were on top. It was amazing, shocking...inconceivable. I honestly couldn't believe my eyes. I hit the rewind button and watched it again. I went to ESPN.com to read the game recap. My DVR wasn't conjuring up some magical alternate mirror world in which the Colts had launched a huge comeback...in the words of Ricky Bobby, "THAT JUST HAPPENED!"

Not believing it myself, I called my father on my mom's cell phone to tell him what had transpired. He didn't believe me until I recounted the amazing comeback in exact detail two times in a row. Even then, he seemed skeptical. But my father knows one thing about me: I don't lie when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts.

Soon after talking to Dad, my brother called. I had shut my phone off during the game to avoid any "spoilers" from my friends. When I texted my brother in return to his comments, which went from "maybe the Colts can draft a decent DT with their fifth pick of the draft" to "Holy crap, Marie," in about 15 minutes as the timestamp says, he decided a call was the best way to share his pure, adulterated joy at the game's outcome. Jokes about Rosenfels were exchanged, the defense was praised, and there was much merriment.

I ran upstairs to tell my wife about the outcome of the game. "I know," she told me matter-of-factly, "I heard the yelling and the jumping. I kind of figured it out."

I still can't believe the Colts pulled that one out. Poor Texans.

It reminded me a lot of that comeback against Tampa Bay five seasons ago. I stayed up to watch that game, which was a Monday Nighter. When I went to work in the morning all decked out in Colts gear, my co-workers were certain I was in denial. And when I insisted the Colts won that game in overtime, I think they were ready to call a psychiatric ward. It wasn't until the highlights ran on "Sportscenter" that they believed me.

I guess they didn't realize it: I don't lie when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More favorites

I planned to do the games in waves of five, but got carried away for this post. Once I worked my way up to seven, I decided I'd put up a list of ten games. It kind of keeps with the five theme. Again, these are in no particular order. I'm just writing them as I think of them.

Al Unser, Jr. Turbo Racing (NES) This is the only racing game you'll find among my favorite games. Ask just about any of my friends and they'll tell you I suck at racing games. Not just a little either...A LOT. It's just not my cup of tea. I'm not a terrible driver in real life, but in the cyber world, I'm terrible. Off the track, into the wall, the big lead choke...I've done it all. And I've done it badly. However, I really liked Al Unser, Jr. Turbo Racing for the NES. I was pretty good at the game and thought it was pretty cool. Sure, you could race as Unser with his souped up car, but the real fun was designing your own car and upgrading it as you went through the circuit. My favorite color combo was black with bright green as the accent color. I won the whole thing as Little Al...and as several different custom racers. The computer was pretty tough...once you got on the higher levels, the top CPU cars all had turbo boost...making it hard to catch them or gain much of a lead. Still, it was a very good game.

Medal of Honor (PS1) One thing that struck me about my list was the lack of Playstation games. Sure, I mentioned MLB '99 and Metal Gear Solid, but I just don't have many memorable PS1 games. I had several games, many of them sports, but couldn't come up with any signature titles. So I cheated by skimming through a list of PS1 releases on Wikipedia. I can't believe I forgot this one! Medal of Honor was one of my favorites. I can't tell you how many times I played through the game. A couple of memories come to mind with this one. First, I loved it when the German soldiers shouted, "Ah, it's Jimmy Patterson!" That always cracked me up. Scuttling the U-boat was one of my favorite missions, along with the very first one, where you're in a war-torn city. It was unlike anything I'd played at the time. The other great thing about Medal of Honor was a little chant a couple of my college buddies and I came up with. Whenever we'd grab the shotgun, we'd sing: "Shotgun, shotgun, get it, get it" (just like the ol' high school cheer "jumpball, jumpball, get it, get it). Don't know why we did it...but it amused us greatly. Another thing worth mentioning...the main title theme for "Medal of Honor" was a masterpiece. Yes...I have the MP3.

General Chaos (Sega Genesis) Ah...General Chaos. I've always wanted someone, anyone to make a sequel to this game. Personally, I think an upgraded version of this game would be PERFECT for Xbox Live Arcade...especially if they added on-line functionality (that would be a no-brainer, of course). A couple of my high school friends and I played the crap out of General Chaos. It was a cartoony war game, but we loved it. Sure, the CPU was cheap...especially in hand-to-hand combat (they always pulled a gun!)...but we were able to overlook things like machine guns that locked up at inopportune times and cheap hits from the other side. My favorite character without question was the bazooka soldier. My buddies and I nicknamed him "General Mortars." The campaign didn't take all that long to get through, but it was pretty tough...especially if you got handed a bad squad (you know, one with too many demolition guys). The flamethrower guy was probably my second favorite. Again, if any game designers are reading (and that's extremely doubtful, but you never know), get the rights to General Chaos, balance some of the AI issues, polish the graphics, and put it up on Xbox Live Arcade. It would be a blast!

Captain America and the Avengers (Sega Genesis) Captain America and the Avengers! That's what the melodramatic voice announced on the title screen. I'm not a comic book geek, but I do love superheroes. This one had two of my faves: Captain America and Iron Man. I bought this game from K-Mart. Why is that important? Well, I put this one in layaway and saved up money from my paper route for it. Wow...can you believe this thing cost 50 bucks? It sells for like three dollars now. That's just the way things go. My brother and I teamed up on this one and beat it several times on multiple difficulty levels. I was almost always Captain America...his shield was amazing and came in really handy on those flying levels. My brother took control of Iron Man, who was nothing short of awesome in the game. Vision and Hawkeye didn't get much play, although sometimes we picked Hawkeye just to hear the announcer say his name on the selection screen. Everytime the voice said "Hawkeye," we laughed...because it sounded like the announcer was trying to "hock" something up. Seriously...you could almost hear the voice spit after saying "HOCK-eye." It was disgusting but hilarious. "Thank you, Wonderman!"; "Why should it go well!"; "See my power!" Good times, man. Good times. I sure hated fighting Crossbones and Red Skull. Red Skull has "Liquid Snake Syndrome," he just never seems to die!

X-Men (Sega Genesis) Cyclops. Wolverine. Nightcrawler. Gambit. Choose one and prepare to get your butt kicked after beating Apocalypse. For its time, this game's graphics rocked. It was also neat because you could play co-op with two of the mutants. Certain characters excelled in certain levels...Nightcrawler made the lighthouse level extremely easy. Gambit was a terrible choice for the Shi'ar Empire level. He's pretty tall and when he crouched, he couldn't avoid the laser blast from the guards. You also got some help in this one, thanks to Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Iceman, and Archangel. They were not playable characters, but they were able to come and lend a hand when you needed them. They made the boss fights way too easy. But once I got to the level with the Sentinels, that's about as far as I could get. Even on the medium difficulty level, that one was too tough. I think a couple of my buddies managed to beat it on co-op.

Bionic Commando (NES) I've written about this game before, so you can pretty much read this to get the point. Loved Bionic Commando for the NES and really dug the remake on Xbox Live. Just for kicks...watch Hitler...er..."Master-D" (sure, whatever) get his brains blown out. ALERT! The following gory video may haunt you forever....

NHL Hitz 2003 (Xbox Original) NHL '94 remains my favorite hockey simulation game. But the NHL Hitz series was extremely fun until the designers decided it'd be a good idea to turn the arcade experience into a more sim-like one. I had the 2003 version, which was tremendously fun. I think one thing my friends would remember about this is that I ripped some of my music onto my Xbox and used that as the game's soundtrack. It led to some interesting choices...the "Rocky" theme would play, followed by some Creed, followed by some Neil Diamond...and then the "Imperial March" would start. All in all, a spectacularly fun game. I even liked the mode where you made a team and upgraded it as you defeated opponents. Eventually I think you made it to the NHL. If there's one thing about this game I didn't like, it was the fact that you built up your "on fire" meter. On the 2002 version, once someone scored three goals or made some big hits, the game fired up a series of neat "you're on fire" animations. On this one, you filled a meter to get "on fire." I guess it was nice to control the effect, but it didn't feel quite as cool. And although we dug the fights at first...they simply happened too often. Eventually, we turned them off because we kept losing fights...and had to watch our best players get benched.

Bases Loaded II: Second Season (NES) I never played the first Bases Loaded. I remember reading in Nintendo Power that you could bean batters and they'd charge the mound. That feature never made it into Bases Loaded II. I can still remember the theme music. It was a fantastic baseball game and the graphics seemed great at the time. I mean, they're not all that bad even in these days. I also remember the "bio-rhythms" that popped up after your games. Essentially, you could judge whether a player was hot or cold. It wasn't always perfect, however. A pitcher with good bio-rhythm could still get rocked...and batters who looked cold were still capable of hitting big-time home runs. I also remember having some difficulty hitting the "submarine" style pitchers. If I remember right, they always threw junk and it was hard to hit. Still, a very enjoyable baseball game that still stands out in my mind almost two decades after I first played it.

MK Trilogy (PS1) I had Mortal Kombat games for two systems: the PS1 and the Game Gear (which I realize I failed to mention in my first favorite games post...maybe I'll do a special Game Gear entry later). My parents weren't really keen on the Mortal Kombat games, which I totally understand. I rented the first one and MK2, which was an awesome game. MK3 pretty much passed me by, so I bought MK Trilogy for the PS1 when it hit the "Greatest Hits" series. We played this game a lot in college. I think I might be the only person on the planet to like Stryker...even though his outfit looks absolutely cheap-o. And speaking of cheap, I had a friend who LOVED playing as the mysterious Noob Saibot. The guy was good as him, no doubt. But he was good in an annoying way...an we nicknamed the character "Noob Cheap-move-bot." Of course, any character in an MK game can become a cheap one...that's just the way the game is. But Noob seemed to be especially frustrating in the hands of a certain friend.

Rebel Assault (Sega CD) Yes. I owned a Sega CD. Yes, it was a disappointment. Yes, I spent too much money on it. Yes, there were too many "movie" games that weren't actual games. Yes, the pack-in, Sewer Shark, blew. Yes, the video quality was terrible. Yes, the loading times were awful. Yes, the title screen looked cheap and so did the CD interface. But you know what? I still got a lot of enjoyment out of that system. It still runs to this day. I really could've saved myself grief and embarassment if I'd just purchased a Super Nintendo. You see, I love Star Wars. And when I saw that "Rebel Assault" was coming out for the Sega CD, I decided I needed the Sega CD system. I ordered it by phone (no internet access in my household back in those days) from a catalog called "Jack of All Trades." It took MONTHS to arrive. When it did, I was treated to a second-rate Luke Skywalker wannabe and graphics so grainy, you couldn't even tell what you were looking at half the time. Still, it was Star Wars, John Williams' theme was there, you got to fly a few different spacecraft, and the atmosphere was very Star Wars. And, yes, you fought AT-AT Walkers. Big shocker, eh? The worst part of the game was when you put it on the highest difficulty level. When you did this, targeting brackets disappeared around the bad guys. It wouldn't have been a problem, except the game was so grainy, you couldn't SEE things like gun turrets on the Death Star trench run. Video evidence is below.

BONUS GAME:

NBA Action '94 (Sega Genesis) I made an allusion in my last post to the fact that my mom banned my brother and I from playing games competitively against one another. It was because we ALWAYS argued about who won and who cheated...real juvenile stuff. Our sense of competition has mellowed over the years. But even when we played co-operatively, we didn't exactly play nice. The last straw happened to be NBA Action '94 for the Genesis. I couldn't find any gameplay vids, but I did find the box shot. The game was all right...it sure was hard to hit three pointers...but my brother and I did our best. Once a game was over, a player would be selected as Game MVP. My brother, the superior player, always won the award during our co-op games. It got so frustrating, he tried very hard to make sure I won the award. We played as the Golden State Warriors and I controlled Chris Mullin while he took Chris Webber. Somewhere along the line, I caught on fire and scored a tone of points...like 50 or something like that. I was a certainty for MVP...except for the fact that my brother was feeding me the ball, racking up the assists. Since he was Webber, he also grabbed a bunch of rebounds and scored his share of points. We looked at the post game stats, sure that Mullin's performance would be MVP-worthy.

But it wasn't to be. Webber finished with a triple-double...and the game deemed him the game's MVP. This prompted a very juvenile reaction...I threw my controller down on the floor and screamed, "You ALWAYS get MVP!" I stormed off and vowed never to play with him again. That lasted like a day. Anyway, after that, our mother banned us from playing competitively...even when we did it co-operatively.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My favorite games

I downloaded the "Intellivision Lives" collection on Xbox Live a couple days ago. While playing games like "Astrosmash" and "Night Stalker," I started to think about some of the games that were near and dear to me throughout my video gaming experience.

Of course, as I started to tick down the list, several themes started to become apparent. First off, I've had a lot of video game systems. I really have. Pretty much with each evolution of the video game console, I've owned one. I've never owned multiple consoles from the same generation, always carefully choosing my system. I've had very little brand loyalty...I've owned systems from Mattel, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. It seems just about every generation, I change my stripes.

First, my family owned an Intellivision. That was a fantastic system. I hear and read a lot of complaints about the system's control pad. I'll admit it looks strange, but if you played it, it was a different story. I loved the Intellivision disc, the side buttons, and the numeric keypad. In fact, some games are downright unplayable on "Intellivision Lives" because I don't have my familiar controller. I sold the Intellivision at a garage sale back in the 90s. We had a lot of games for that system. I don't even know if it would still work these days.

After the Intellivision, I bought the Nintendo Entertainment System. Oh man, the NES was the best. I saved up money to buy the system and it was well worth it. I added to my video game collection on holidays and that was about the only time of the year I was able to acquire any new games. The controller was fantastic, the game library was immense, and a lot of my friends had an NES, so it was easy to borrow games. In fact, one of my friends had two copies of Bionic Commando for some reason. He was kind enough to give me his extra one.

As the NES began its swan song, I acquired some newfound purchasing power via a paper route. I passed the Palladium-Item around my hometown of Williamsburg, making a pretty good buck here and there (especially during Chrismastime, when the customers were very generous). After playing the Sega Genesis at the local Target, I knew I wanted one. But my mother didn't want to deal with clutter from two systems (who can blame her?), so I sold my Nintendo and its many games to buy the Genesis. I started out with Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. At the time I bought it, Sega was running a special: buy the Genesis, they'd send you a free copy of Sonic 2. I won't mention that I even bought the Sega CD extension. Oops...

In the late 90s, my brother bought a Sony Playstation. I remember distinctly how great we thought MLB '99 was. I played his system in his room and also kept gaming with the Genesis. Eventually, I bought my own PS1 when my brother went off to college. This time, however, I didn't sell my previous system. The Sega Genesis (and poor, misunderstood Sega CD) are still at my parents' house. I should rescue them. Anyway, the PS One was pretty amazing. Terrific controller, great lineup...the system had game, that's for sure. I was pretty content with the Playstation throughout the first years of college.

For a long time, I thought the PS1 would be my last video game console. I was getting too old to play video games. At least, that's what I thought. Boy, was I completely wrong! As I worked over the summer to earn money for college, I saved some of it back. And as I prepared to head to Baltimore, Maryland, for a thrilling internship in the world of TV news, I added one very important item: Xbox Original. Oh, I know the knocks on that system: it's too bulky, it's too heavy, the controller is too large, etc. Maybe I like neon green more than I care to admit, but the Xbox captured me. I loved the freaking thing and even bought the DVD encoder. Weird thing is, I had Halo but barely played it. I'm really more of a sports game guy at heart.

Of course, I mentioned earlier that I have very little brand loyalty. Just look at the pattern. Instead of going from NES to Super NES, I chose the Genesis. Instead of going from Genesis to Saturn, I chose the Playstation. And instead of upgrading to the PS2, I became an Xbox guy. In the current generation of consoles, I went for the Xbox 360. Oddly, I show some brand loyalty toward Microsoft and its broken console! Part of the reason for it is that the 360 came out before the PS3. I bought my 360 the same year the PS3 launched...and Sony's unveiling of the platform was such a fiasco, I didn't want any part of it. I've been very happy with the 360. But I will say something for Sony: the company hasn't QUITE given up on the PS2 yet. Sure, sales are down, but for a while, the PS2 outsold the PS3 because it had such a large game library. Then there's Microsoft, who basically told Xbox Original owners to stick it. The Xbox lineup dried up really quickly and the poor machine died a quiet, peaceful death. As I write this, I'm beginning to wonder why I support Microsoft at all.

As I type this, I realize I didn't even mention PC gaming. I've kept it separate, really. I wasn't as big of a PC gamer as many of my friends, but I did have a lot of Star Wars PC games. There were a few others, sure, but my PC lineup was primary Star Wars.

That's my history with video games. No Super NES, no Atari, no Playstation 2. No Nintendo 64, Gamecube, or Nintendo Wii. As I began this post, I wasn't sure how to categorize my favorite games. Should I do it by system? By genre? List them in order of my favorites? Alphabetically? I couldn't figure it out. So I'm going to just do it five games at a time, regardless of genre, the alphabet, or system. Basically, I'll pick them at random and list them in no particular order, giving the title, system, a brief summary of the game's strengths, and the reason why I consider it a favorite. Where available, I'll attach a YouTube video of the game to jog your memory.

Here we go...

Metal Gear Solid (Playstation) Ah...Metal Gear Solid. This remains a great game. The big knock on it is that it's short. At one point, I was good enough to get through the game in about three hours. That's with stealth camo, unlimited ammo, and without watching any of the cutscenes. I spent my entire Christmas break of 1998 playing through the game. It was so enthralling...my brother watched me do it. Of course, that's probably because there were so many cutscenes. It truly was like watching a movie at times. I loved the Stinger missile launcher, hated the remote control rocket thing (although it was useful against Sniper Wolf) and thought the Psycho Mantis battle was genius...how the character "read" your memory card and made assertions about your character and playing style. My first playthrough was pretty frustrating, but I would say I mastered this one. I still have the ol' PS1 around the house. I think I should play through it again and chart my progress, just to show how my skills have diminished.


The Empire Strikes Back (NES) I really don't know why I'm including this game. It was one of the few Star Wars games I had for a console until the Xbox came out. I didn't have a Super NES, so I didn't have any of the "Super" Star Wars games. The primary thing to remember about this game is that it's freaking hard. FREAKING HARD. It's pound your fist into a wall hard. I beat it only once. I didn't have much of a problem getting to Dagobah, but after that, things got weird. I loved the NES synth music on this game along with some of the voice samples. The "continue" screen with Darth Vader was pretty cool too (and trust me, I saw it a lot). I still have my copy of the game...it was the only one from my NES that I couldn't part with. Of course, that makes no sense...what's an NES game without a console to play it on? My favorite level was the AT-AT assault from the Battle of Hoth. It wasn't all that hard (except for some of those cheap hits from AT-ATs), but it was a great level to replay over and over. Subsequent Star Wars games would milk the Battle of Hoth for all it was worth.


Night Stalker (Intellivision) For whatever reason, be it by mad scientists or cruel alien overlords, an unarmed man finds himself in a never-changing labryinth populated by killer robots, two bats, and a spider. His only defense: a bunker and a re-spawning yellow six shooter. Man, Night Stalker was great. I replayed it with the "Intellivision Lives!" collection and it still holds up. It's very simple: find the gun, grab the gun, destroy the robot. Eventually things get pretty tough. The robot changes and spawns a shield and after you destroy the bats, they re-spawn as robots. Then there's the big chief robot capable of destroying your bunker. I never really "got" the whole spider web thing, but it made bullets disappear. The most frustrating part of this one was the "never-ending stun" that occurred when the bats or spider continually went back and forth over your body, paralyzing you. Sometimes, the cycle wouldn't end until the robot arrived to blow your brains out. My hands still sweat when I think of the background noise and...those...killer...robots.


Astrosmash (Intellivision) Here's a seriously addicting game. Astrosmash is a lot like Asteroids. You have a little gunship and you're supposed to blow meteorites out of the sky. Of course, there are also large bombs, small bombs, homing missiles, and UFOs. The different background colors always drove me nuts, but it was a tremendously fun game to play. I'm not sure if it ever ended. It's funny...there's no story here, no heroic protagonist...yet it remains super fun. You see, you don't always have to have some complicated background story or plot to make a fun game. In fact, sometimes...those elements just get in the way. The homing missiles were usually the cause of my death. The smaller bombs also caused problems on the higher levels, especially when they descended quickly. Every once in a while, I'd get into a loop where I'd lose six or seven lives in six or seven seconds. Then I'd rebound and start racking up the extra lives again.


NHL '94 (Sega CD) In the mid-90s, I had a love affair with hockey. It didn't last long and it left me with VD and never called again, but it sure was fun while it lasted. This phase included the purchase of an NHL almanac, a rule book, and a St. Louis Blues jersey. In my world Brett Hull was the greatest hockey player ever. Don't even try to argue with that. I even tuned into KMOX at night to listen to Blues games on the radio. NHL '94 was not my first hockey game, nor was it my last. It is, however, the one I remember the best. The Sega CD port of the game was incredible. The gameplay didn't change from the console version, but the audio was fantastic. My brother and I played a lot of co-op on this one after our mom banned us from playing competitively together after the Great MVP Argument (I'll share that later, I promise). We loved playing as St. Louis. Ron Barr's game intros were also a nice touch. But again, the sound made the game. You had organ music, cheering crowds, and a FANTASTIC siren for goals. Together, my brother and I mastered the art of the one-timer. You knew this game was money right from the beginning. Check out the opening cinema in blocky, monochromatic Sega CD glory. I still feel the epic awesomeness to this very day.