Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Great Video Game Debate, Take 4: SIMULATION/STRATEGY

Round 3, FIGHT!!!

Ok, our Adventure games round wasn't really much of a fight. My friends and fellow bloggers at Soul Kerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan and I all pretty much thought each other's lists were kinda insightful and sorta creative. It was more "oh yeah, I remember that was an awesome game" than "both you and that game suck." All three of us had selections from Sierra's King's Quest series, solidifying that they are among the best games ev4r.

Harvester is still the most wretched piece of sickening fecal garbage ever...

But I digress...

On to the wonderful world of Strategy and Simulation games. We've decided to rate these together because so many titles blur the lines of these categories. Hopefully we will will be able to provide more colorful responses to each other's lists.

#5 Defender of the Crown (PC)

Set in Medieval England, you (a Saxon) find yourself trying to unite the land under one banner to drive those militant Normans off your island. You can go about this in a number of ways from raiding your foe's castles to large-scale battles. My favorite, of course, was laying siege with a catapult.

We played this game all the time back in grade school on my friend's Commodore Amiga, which was about 15 years ahead of its time graphically.

#4 Coaster (PC)

I can barely find any records showing this game ever existed. It was released in 1989 by Disney as the first (I think) "design and ride" roller coaster simulation.

Basically you had control over just about everything from height to track turning angle, radius, and pitch to placement of loops and corkscrews. You could even take the upstops off and go flying off the tracks. The design was rated by several computerized "judges" who gave very balanced critiques based on fun factor, speed, drop, and design harmony.

The game's physics were amazing. It realistically calculated every aspect of your blueprint and its impact on the human body. Then it allowed you to ride your coaster first-person along with your judges. If the design had bone-jarring turns or traveled too fast through a loop, the judges would not be pleased and your rating would sink. Awesome game that, in a way, made kids think about and enjoy physics.

#3 Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (PC)

"Zug Zug"

Warcraft II was the first real-time strategy game I truly got into. I remember abusing the Villanova servers with this my freshman year by having massive battles that took several hours to resolve. Generally, all four or five other players would team up on one guy (usually not me because I sucked, as I do with all RTS games). This usually led to a lot of cursing and throwing things.

Beyond the multiplayer game, the single player game had a very interesting storyline illustrating the conflict between Humans (aided by elves, dwarves, etc...) and Orcs (aided by trolls, goblins, etc...). What was interesting was if you payed attention to more than just the killing (like I did on my third time playing the game), there were no "clear cut" good guys or bad guys. The game's sequel, Warcraft III, further expanded upon these concepts.

Then the whole story thing went to crap. Who needs story development when you have 3pix 1337 1007?

Moving on...

#2 Starcraft (PC)

This is definitely the best RTS ever produced. I made the critical mistake of trying to play this multiplayer against Soul Kerfuffle and my old stoner college roommate. I got my ass handed to me in about 30 seconds. Their battle, however, raged on for hours longer. I can't remember who won (I think it may have been SK due to my roommate passing out at his computer), but there were a lot of "Siege Tanks" and "Carriers" blowing things up.

The game is massive and well balanced. The single player game lets you control all three factions: the Alien-esque Zerg, the Aliens-esque "space marines" Terran, and the Draenei, errrr, I mean Protoss... Again, much like Warcraft II and III, there is no clear cut "good" or "bad" faction, which I think makes the story line very interesting.

I can't wait for World of Starcraft!!! I want to see Soul Kerfuffle cry...

#1 Civilization (PC)

I remember getting this game for Christmas and thinking it may be a clandestine attempt to get me to play a thinly veiled "history lesson" in video game clothing.

I was right and to this day Civilization ranks as one of my favorite games of all time (thanks, Mom!!!). I remember loading it thinking "I'll give it a shot." Fired it up, started play as the Egyptians, and within an hour Alexander the Great's tanks and infantry were pummeling the hell out of my phalanx while my precious Egyptian peoples were rioting in the streets.

It's a fun game with many real-world geopolitical lessons. You learn that for a world leader, the balancing act between being a well-liked (people celebrating your name, building you a monument, going to work and being productive as opposed to rioting, etc...) and being successful (running a financially stable country, smashing your enemies to bits, advancing technologically, etc...) is extremely difficult, and this game captures it perfectly. Civilization also shows the historical links between significant technological, spiritual, and social advancements which may not always be clear. All in all, it's an extremely entertaining romp through the "ins" and "outs" of world history.

Several sequels and spin-offs (Colonization almost made in on this list) to the original Civilization have been created, with the best possibly being the fourth iteration. I needs to stops beings a bum and gets me that game...

Other notable games include anything else from the Civilization series, any of the Roller Coaster Tycoon games, Chuck Yeager's (that's always going to be funny to me) Advanced Flight Trainer, the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, and Castles, which I suck at.

Worst Sim/Strategy Game: Dwarf Fortress

This is one of those "minimalist" or "purist" ASCII text games that programmer snobs with Macs love. Yes, of course the game is incredibly deep, if your idea of fun gameplay is staring at all the little "@"s and "&"s running around your impenetrable stronghold, which is constructed from the best "l"s, "+"s, and "_"s that "$" can buy. Said stronghold, of course is surrounded by the beautiful snow-capped "AAA" mountains to the East and "###" forest to the South.

I'm personally waiting for the much anticipated Elf Fortress to be released, with its stunning 3D graphics
(you need 6gb of video memory) and amazing soundtrack (a Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, and RZA collaboration). Its richly developed characters, who you can tell apart not only visually, but by the incredible voice-over acting (Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Sirkus, and Cate Blanchette have already signed on) add to the incredible storyline written by Roberta Williams circa 198X, Christopher Tolkien, and Wang Dulu.

An ASCII-based scene from Dwarf Fortress

A fully rendered 3D scene from the upcoming hit
game Elf Fortress: Just Better Than Dwarves

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Great Video Game Debate, Take 3: ADVENTURE

The third video game genre my friends at Soul Kerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan and I will tackle will be Adventure Games. For those of you just joining, we are posting our "top video game choices of all time" to our respective blogs (by game genre) and then making fun of each other. Simple, really, and entertaining.

#5 Legend of Zelda (NES)

Simple formula for greatness:
1) start with a princess
2) have her kidnapped by forces of evil
3) battle forces of evil to save her

This game really was the first true adventure game I really got into as a kid, and I believe it set the standard for years to come for gamers the world over. I remember sitting around for hours with my friends trying to solve all the puzzles and defeat all the monsters.

Legend of Zelda was probably one of the longest games released at that time, however it never felt repetitive or boring. The game was well balanced and provided a great sense of accomplishment when you finally defeated the evil Gannon and saved the princess.

#4 Rune (PC)

Once upon a time, Soul Kerfuffle and I went to an electronics store to raid the bargain bins. Standing there before us, in all it's red-tagged glory, was this box...

I didn't really care about the storyline (which actually turned out to be pretty cool) - I bought it right away because of the simple unwritten promise between developer and player of being able to smash guys into pulp with a huge honkin' hammer. And it delivered on that promise in spades.

Best $5 I've ever spent.

#3 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2)

There are two very different versions of Vice City, however they come on the same disk and are not dependent on the game programming itself. No, they depend on the mood of the player at the time.

Version 1 is the "actual" game. It's an intricate story of one man's rise through the ranks of the Vice City crime world. The action is intense, the voice over acting is impeccable, and the plot is incredible. The level of detail is amazing and overall, it's an awesome gaming experience.

Version 2 is the "it's 3AM and I'm drunk with my friends" version. I believe this is the version the ESRB is most weary of. This is where you amass as many weapons as possible and go on a relentless killing spree, gunning down or chopping into bits everyone who crosses your path from old ladies to prostitutes to businessmen. This is clearly even better than the "actual" game itself.

#2 Alone in the Dark (PC)

This game was really groundbreaking at the time. It introduced the fully 3D polygon graphics and different camera angle "scenes" which set the stage for the survival horror games of today (aka the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry series). The controls, while a little shaky, in a way added to the frantic paranoia and the sound effects were eerie and really could get under your skin.

Personally, my favorite aspect of the game was how true it was to the mood and setting of it's H.P. Lovecraftian roots (one of my favorite authors). It was dark, a little foreboding and hopeless, and absolutely scared the crap out of me at times.

The sequels and Uwe Boll movie were severely less-spectacular. If you missed the first movie, however, don't fear, there's another one planned.

#1 King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (PC)

By far one of my favorite games of all time. Really, the entire King's Quest series (at least the older ones) could have been listed here, but KQ IV was the first one I owned and played all the way through though.

These games made you think. Instead of just pointing and clicking as with today's games (except for Dwarf Fortress), you actually had to type in every single thing you wanted the characters to do from picking up objects to digging up graves. It was intensely challenging, however very rewarding once you progressed. The story lines were well-thought-out and creatively drew upon popular stories and fables without feeling contrived.

God I wish they still made games like the old King's Quest series today. Something truly innovative and creative.

This list was even harder than the "Platformers" list to narrow down; there are a lot of Adventure games out there that hook you in with great gameplay and "fun factor" while telling an interesting story. Other notables include Fable, Tomb Raider, Jade Empire, The Suffering, The Immortal (hardest game ever), Diablo II, Sanitarium, and the original Metal Gear.

Now, for the worst Adventure game ever, it came down to three abysmal choices (in my most humble of opinions). The first was Silverfall, which I had a lot of hope for when I purchased, but turned out to be one of the single most boring games I've ever played. The second was The 11th Hour, a rediculous arrangement of cutscenes and puzzles which were supposed to take place in a haunted house. Both, however, pale in comparison to...

Worst Adventure Game Ever: Harvester (PC although decidedly not "PC")

Guarantee Eli Roth played this game as a child.

I was so excited about this game when I was a teen - it was supposed to be scary and violent and awesome!!! It was clearly not the experience I was hoping for...

Your character wakes up with amnesia in a cartoonishly demented nightmare of extreme violence and bigotry. You petty much kill everyone in your small town in an attempt to gain entrance to "The Harvest Temple" to save your girlfriend (who looked like a rejected extra from a Poison video). At the end, you find out it's all a simulation made to create serial killers. You then feel really creepy and dark inside and want nothing more than to take a bath in holy water.

I'm including links to Youtube videos taken from the game. If you are in the least bit squeamish, easily offended (or even pretty thick-skinned), or are around other people, don't click on them.

Harvester 1

Harvester 2

Harvester 3

Even by my standards, this game is despicable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Great Video Game Debate, Take 2: PLATFORMERS

Next video game topic for debate between me and my friends at Soulkerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan is "the top Platformer game of all time."

To begin, we need to mention one title in particular that would have far surpassed all other games in this genre, had it been officially released. Yes, I am talking about Rushan Special Forces. With innovative characters like the Red Machine Gun Man and the Blue Ninja (whose special abilities included the revolutionary "fake jump"), this game was poised for absolute awesomeness. Unfortunately for the developer, plans fell into the hands of Konami, who released their own version, Rush'n Attack, first.

But I digress...

#5 Mega Man 2 (NES)

It was absolutely ridiculous. You're a little blue robot who runs around and blows up the evil robot goons of the maniacal Dr. Wily. The part that made it so great was after you defeated one of the bosses (Air Man, Wood Man, Metal Man, etc...), you got to use their powers. Crash Bombs forever!!! It's now available as part of the Wii Virtual Console too!!!

#4 Goonies II (NES)

I may catch hell for this one, but god damn did I love this game, which was loosely based on the movie. Ok, by "loosely" I mean "nothing at all like." You played as Mikey Walsh (aka Sean Astin), shot different monsters and the dreaded Fratellis with a slingshot, tossed around Molitov cocktails, and saved your friends. I can't remember the rest of the plot, but who cares.

#3 Super Mario Brothers 64 (Nintendo 64)

The thing I remember most about SMB64 was how expansively 3D it was (I believe this really established the 3D Platformer). It was a long and challenging game, but it never got boring. Frustrating at times, but never boring. Extremely well-balanced and fun.

#2 Contra (NES)

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. Just about anyone will be able to tell you what that is. Embedded in the code for this entertaining Platformer was the first extremely well known cheat code. Frustrated gamers everywhere can thank Konami for their insight - now just about every game on the market comes complete with cheats.

#1 Castlevania (NES)

My fiancee doesn't play video games (except for Wii Sports Bowling) or really have any interest in computers or gaming. She can, however, recognize the Castlevania music within like three notes. That's how you know a game was good - people who aren't "gamers" still remember it. It was extremely challenging (I hated that damn little Igor) and extremely entertaining. And the music was cool. Thankfully, Uwe Boll hasn't realized it never has been made into a movie...

It was really hard to narrow down this list to the top 5. Other notable runners up include Friday the 13th, Metroid, Pac Man, Altered Beast, Kid Icarus, Kung Fu, the original Super Mario Brothers, and Bionic Commando.

Worst Platformer: Gyromite

Gyromite was one of two games designed to use Nintendo's Robotic Operating Buddy. This piece of useless garbage (it straight up didn't work) was originally packaged with the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, but thankfully removed when (and this is just my conjecture) some top Nintendo brass realized the thing was crap. The game was much more fun when incorporating my own version of the R.O.B. - the Real Operating Brother. He just pushed the buttons the lame robot was couldn't manage to hit. The game was fun then.


Using advanced computer modeling, we have been able to generate what we believe is an accurate portrait of the Soul Kerfuffle blogger's first child:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Best Games List: Fighting Game

Two very good friends of mine, the bloggers behind Soul Kerfuffle and LastBestAngryMan (both very experienced in the arts of video gaming), have decided along with myself that it would be entertaining to post our top (and bottom) video games of all time to our respective blogs. These will be sorted by category and no platform is barred.

Why do this, you ask?

So we can argue, er, *ahem* - I mean debate, and mock, er, *ahem* again - critique each other's decisions, of course!!!

#5. King of the Monsters (Arcade/Sega Genesis)

I loved this game in the arcade. It was a total blast to throw "Astro Guy" into a building with Geon, a pretty bad rip-off of Godzilla. The game was originally ported from the arcade to the Neo Geo system, which was pretty much the 90's equivalent of an Alienware computer - extremely over priced. Thank god it eventually wound up on Sega Genesis!!!

#4: Street Fighter II (Arcade/NES)

My first experience playing a 2D fighting game, and boy was it a blast. It was extremely well balanced - all characters were capable, in the hands of the right person, of taking out any other character. A good model for all of those that followed and a hell of a lot of fun.

Unless you were playing one of those jerks who was really good at it.

Then you just wanted to "Shoryuken" them.

#3: Killer Instinct (Arcade)

First and only game I have ever beaten in an arcade with one credit (with Sabrewulf!!!). This game was straight up fun. Yes, it bit off of the Mortal Kombat "ultra violent" video game hype, but made up for it with really cool characters including Fulgore, a big scary cyborg, Sabrewulf, a werewolf, and Spinal, a skeleton. Memorable "No Mercy" moves (yes, a blatant fatality rip) included Orchid, a female character, flashing the opponent and turning him into a frog and Jago, a monk, meditating, which in turn makes a car fall out of the sky onto the defeated foe.

#2: Iron and Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (PC)

No one has ever even heard of this little known computer game, but boy was it fun!!! I mean really, you could play as all kinds of fun characters inspired by the D&D Ravenloft campaign setting, siding with either Chaos or Law. I didn't care who won, I played as an executioner with a huge honking axe or a little goblin wielding two swords.

#1: Mortal Kombat (Arcade/NES)

Picture it: North Wildwood, NJ circa 1992. Two young brothers approach an arcade. In the distance, they spot a game they have never seen before called Mortal Kombat. Intrigued, the older brother puts in a quarter (games actually cost $0.25 to play then, not $3.00 like today).

The older brother previews all of the characters and choses Sub Zero, of course because he looks like a bad ass ninja. The game choses Raiden, who seems like he stumbled off the set of Big Trouble in Little China.

Battle begins on what looks like a bridge in the middle of a hurricane. Punches and kicks were exchanged. Sub Zero was electrocuted. Raiden was frozen. In the end, however, the mighty computer prevailed.

What happened next changed the way I, the aforementioned older brother, viewed fighting video games for the rest of my life. The screen darkened and a disembodied voice yelled "finish him!!!" Raiden closed in and rocked his staggered opponent with a tremendous uppercut.

Sub Zero then tumbled off the edge of the bridge...





I will never forget the joyous shock of that moment. I looked over and my brother had the same wide-eyed "holy crap" look on his face. To say that wasn't expected was an understatement.

Next up my brother played as Kano and the computer chose the previously defeated Sub Zero. Again we fell prey to the wily computer. The screen the darkened again. Sub Zero approached. We were expecting another trip into a pit of spikes.

We were very mistaken.

Sub Zero grabbed Kano by the neck and ripped his head from his torso, with bits of spinal column following after. Wow. About $20.00 worth of vicious carnage later, I knew damn well I was going to get that game on my Sega Genesis the day it came out.

Any game that makes you stare in sheer guilty glee and your unexpectedly impaled is surely the best fighting game of all time. Many have tried to copy, but none were as shocking as the original.

Worst Fighting Game of All Time: Time Killers

What a load of absolute garbage. This game tried to cash in on the Mortal Kombat "brutal bloody violence" hype.

It failed miserably.

I don't know what was worse, the graphics, the sound, or the awful gameplay. The characters were impossible to control and looked plain goofy hopping around with their limbs cut off.

Horrendous. Absolute pile of steaming fecal explosion.

Hey, Strata, I want my $0.25 back.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Bad Movie Night: Cloverfield

This past weekend, The Machete and I were joined by my fiancee for Bad Movie Night: Cloverfield. I have to admit, I believe the three of us were a bit confused coming out of the theater: we couldn't tell if we had just seen a really awesome giant monster movie or a really bad episode of Dawson's Creek. So let us bisect it into its two components and review from there, shall we?


Cloverfield delivers in spades when it comes to capturing all of the chaos and confusion that would occur if a giant monster (and its freaky-creepy minions) decided to attack a major metropolitan area. Tension, suspense, and outright fear are used perfectly to steer the audience away from ridiculous disbelief (it's still a giant monster movie) and towards creatively tweaking their "Fight or Flight" response. Claustrophobia, terror, and an overwhelming "rats in a maze" hopeless feeling exude out of every scene.

The street level perspective is a great tool. It helps theatergoers realize that in this situation, where a big scary creepy thing is knocking over buildings, expelling evil minions, and eating people like bon bons, no one would really give a rat's ass where it came from or what it was here for until they were far enough away to safely conjecture about it, preferably over a post traumatic stress beer.

Most thankfully, there is no "Plot Stick" either. At no point does a scientist or a government agent who somehow has the creature's entire history "break it down" for the audience. The closest the movie comes to that is overheard conversations of people trying to rationalize or guess the creature's origins and motives. They do this while they are running for their lives, of course. And also, while the movie does bear a resemblance to 9/11 media coverage, the "Plot Stick" thankfully keeps from trying to "teach us a lesson" or preach. It's subtle - the imagery really adds to the confusion and fear. Smart.

The actual monster and its minions were, for lack of a better term, bad ass. As a whole, it was cool to see the creatures weren't your generic dinosaur-esque fire-breathing lizards on the rampage. Honestly, I think a zoologist would have a hell of a time classifying it, unless there was a general "awesome" phylum. Seriously, it's way more "Lovecraft" than "B-Movie Discovery Channel." The creature gets bonus points for having the wherewithal to rip the head off of Lady Liberty and launch it into downtown Manhattan. Up yours, King Kong!!!


For all it's cool aspects, there is something holding this movie back from being truly awesome, and I thank my fiancee for this pop culture reference...


The (human) main characters are the one truly truly truly weak link in this film.

The main story line should have opened with a Paula Cole or Dido song. In a nutshell, and I'm not giving anything away, spoiled twenty-something yuppies act like spoiled twenty something yuppies for the entirety of the movie. You know, during the catastrophic and cataclysmic leveling of New York City, amidst death and destruction and the rampaging of one huge bad ass creature and legions of smaller, creepy, and equally bad ass little creatures, characters who really don't care about anything else but what they want.

The main character's motivations and actions are just absurd. Maybe I don't really understand the simple nuances which drive human emotion and love and all, but to risk the lives of friends and siblings to find a girl you've had a crush on and who just walked out with another guy is, for lack of a better term, stupid. And it's not like "I drove to your house in a car with the engine light on in an ice storm" stupid - it's like charging head long into 20 stories of death dealing monster stupid. There is nothing even chivalrous or brave about it. His brother is right when he refers to him as a "douche bag."

The only thing possibly more insane than this jackass main character are the other jackasses following him. Hello, my name is Jim Jones, would you like to try my koolaide? I understand the trials that come with loyalty, but seriously though... The moment my best friend starts marching off to save some hussy from a rampaging mega-monster, I'm cracking him over the head with my Sony handi-cam and dragging his ass to safety. Let the guys with the tanks and guns (who are obviously losing) take care of it. Instead these morons bravely march onward into the jaws of death.

I don't know, maybe the writers wanted the audience to hate the main character and feel bad for his entourage in the same way you feel bad for an abused pet? Maybe they wanted you to see a bit of Darwinian Karma in action? Heady social commentary about selfishness? I'm not sure, but if the characters had an ounce of precaution, pride, or common sense to guide their actions, then maybe they would be more believable than the monster attack itself. Instead, you find yourself cheering for the monster to eat them. And cheer often, you do!!!

Bad Movie Night Rating: Seven over Dragon Wars (7/10).

Cloverfield is certainly entertaining. The main creature is probably the best rendition of a giant monster (all classical respect aside, Mr. Kong and Mrs. Zilla), there is a tangible tension and fear pervading through the film which is great, and the reactions of the people are extremely realistic, save for one moron leading a pack of morons through what looks like a post-9/11 war zone. It's a winner if you can get your mind past all of the "whys" and "hows" of the characters' actions and just enjoy watching them get eaten.


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Bad Movie Night

I wanted to clear this up before I posted my review of Cloverfield.

Over the past few years, The Machete and I have been avid moviegoers. Unlike many of our friends, we have different "criteria" for what makes a movie good. We don't base our enjoyment solely on things like character development, plot, setting, how much it changed your life or made you think, etc... No, we like to include gunfights, car chases, profane humor, and general ridiculousness. Our friends' opinions of our movie choices has led us to label our cinema-going as "Bad Movie Night."

Past greats (in our book anyway) include such gems as Sin City and 300. These movies are no-holds-barred in-your-face ass-kicking cinematic masterpieces (to us). You get out of the theater and just want to punch someone square in the temple and/or talk about how well it was written, how you truly appreciated the actor's portrayal of the character, how much the stunning visuals or the soundtrack added to the experience, etc... Movies like these remind me of the subtle nuances experienced while drinking a fine glass of red wine with a bloody 24 ounce ribeye.

Films like these and the LoTR trilogy don't come along that often, however. Some movies are highly entertaining but, well, not that great for their blatant use of the "plot stick"*** (The Matrix, 28 Days Later). Some are mindless entertainment (Hitman, Live Free or Die Hard, I'm sure Rambo). Some had potential but are actually too much and you end up leaving the theater feeling terrible about yourself (Hostel). Some are really funny (Knocked Up). Some really make you think (Donnie Darko, Sunshine). Some just purely suck (Dragon Wars).

So remember, when reading our reviews, don't take them even slightly seriously.

*** The "Plot Stick" is the worst of the cinematic tools a director or writer will use when guiding moviegoers. In a nutshell, it's when they assume the audience is stupid and, in a Deus Ex Machina maneuver, have a character come in and explain the entire damn movie. AKA "hitting the audience over the head with the Plot Stick."


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

5 Little Things

I am bad at keeping New Year's Resolutions. Really bad. By the second week I am usually skipping the gym, eating cheese steaks and onion rings for dinner every night, spending money frivolously, and generally wasting what could be productive time.

I believe the problem is I try to make huge lifestyle changes to achieve grandiose goals. Things like going to the gym every single day for an hour, eating according to a super-restrictive diet, or planning out every minute of every day look good on paper, but are just too much to jump right into, especially when they just don't fit with my lifestyle. I hate the gym (it's expensive and boring), I can't stand crash diets (because I usually crash into a pile of cheese steaks and onion rings), and trying to get a tight, iron-bound grip on finances and time management is impossible (for me, anyway).

So this year I'm going at it a little differently. Instead of making ridiculously huge lifestyle changes, I'm going to follow a few little rules and guidelines I'm setting up for myself. I think a few small changes and tactical maneuvers will fit easier into my life, and therefor meet with greater success.

1. Try to be in bed by 11 or 11:30 every night (during the week). There really is no reason for me to be up later than this every night anyway - nothing else is on TV, the video game or book I'm working on will be there tomorrow, and if I'm at a bar this late during the week, I've got bigger problems. 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night supposedly does wonders for your health, metabolism, and productivity (you're less of an ADHD kid without a PSP).
Benefits: Health, Productivity, Mood
Stumbling Blocks: Video Games

2. Get up a half an hour earlier every day. This gives me enough time for a quick "wake up" work out and a decent healthy breakfast. I'm also not scrambling around in the morning like a nut to get ready, which can put me in a REALLY bad mood. Plus, if I stick to rule 1, I'm still getting a full night sleep.
Benefits: Productivity, Health, Mood
Stumbling Blocks: Snooze Button, General Laziness.

3. Ride the bike to work every possible day. I recently moved to Northern Liberties, I work in Center City, and it's like three miles. It's cheap, it wakes me up int he morning, and like the guy who always rides his ten-speed says: "It's a good workout." Seriously, parking passes in Center City are a small fortune. Septa is ok when it rains, but I like coming and going on my own schedule and not having to buy monthly passes for that, either. It's kinda cool too, finding different routes and seeing all of the city. No, Tacy, I will not become a bike messenger.
Benefits: Health, Financial
Stumbling Blocks: Weather, Laziness

4. Cook for myself and pack a lunch. Going out to lunch or dinner or even just picking up take-out every day is neither economical nor healthy (if you get good take out). Shopping and cooking for yourself allows you to chose your ingredients and control (control better, anyways) what you put into your body. Also, I'm not half bad in the kitchen, and this gives me more room to experiment.
Benefits: Financial, Health
Stumbling Blocks: Living near the Foodery and Honey's.

5. Fold and iron laundry when it's done. Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous. But this will save me massive amounts of time and trouble. When I let ironing go until the morning (when I am groggy and uncoordinated) it takes me at least 20 minutes to iron a shirt and pants for work as I fumble around. It completely bombs my little morning routine which then throws off the rest of the day for some unknown reason. When everything is all ready to go and easy to find, it just makes everything else go so smoothly.
Benefits: Productivity, Mood
Stumbling Blocks: Laziness

So far I've generally been able to keep up with all of them pretty easily, and things are going well. Better mood, generally healthier, more energy, etc...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Bone to Pick...

So, Karen and I have a little mystery on our hands...

The other night, Karen went to take some garbage to the shoot at the end of our hallway. Upon returning, she looked a little "weirded out." She informed me there was a pile of bones in front of our neighbor's door.

I immediately thought she meant someone was taking their trash down the hall when the bag ripped and they rudely decided not to clean it up. I picked up our other bag of trash and ventured into the hallway to dump that one as well, half expecting to see a bunch of nasty chicken or beef bones sitting in a pile of garbage in front of our poor neighbor's door.

What I actually saw was pretty creepy. It looked as if someone had taken old, dessicated bones and arranged them in an "S" pattern in front of their door. Admittedly I am not a zoologist, however working in enough restaurants leads me to believe these were not leftover chicken bones, unless they came from here. Seriously, these bones were pretty large and very old. See for yourself.

We decided to knock on our neighbors' door (a really nice couple), and let them know. They seemed a little put off by it as well, so we cleaned them up and tossed them into the old chute. Karen and I immediately began our online search for spells, hexes, and other possible meanings, but came up empty handed.

Later that night our water turned to blood, locusts filled our apartment, and Who's the Boss was on every station. I had to fight off a skeletal band of evil ninjas wielding electric guitars and katanas using my amazing martial arts skillz. We just attributed those events to The Sass's presence, though.

Ok, that last paragraph of stuff didn't happen. But the rest was true. So if you know anything about magic bone pile arrangements (or more than the mystical Gu-Gol did), let us know.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My 10 Favorite Things of 2007

Well, admittedly this is a complete ripoff of Mr. Yeager's Blog. After reading his, I got to thinking about what my "Top 10 Favorite Things of 2007" would be. This year has undoubtedly been a great year, and it seemed like every time I turned around, something awesome happened. That made narrowing this list down to 10 things very difficult.

Disclaimer: When making my list I left out one significant thing that happened in 2007: meeting Karen and getting engaged. That, at least in my opinion, is a huge life-changing series of events that will go in the "Top 10 Favorite Things of My Life" list. Maybe even #2 right behind video games!!! I'm going to get hit with a bottle of Le Chouffe for that comment. I will have to face the feline wrath and evil powers of The Sass (student of the great David Lo Pan)...

But I digress...

10. Our little Fantasy Football League. The whole thing was a complete mess from the get-go and never once failed to deliver on ludacris hilarity. Trades were plentiful and rediculous, the polls were obscenely funny, the boasts were unabashed, Karen drafted a team based exclusively on criminal record and how often a player made an ass out of themselves with their big mouths, and Chuck "Machete" Garcia, who didn't even show up for the draft, started with about six kickers on his team, and logged in maybe five times throughout the season managed to win the championship.

Yes, he did have Tom Brady.

9. Bad movie night. To this day people still don't understand why Chuck and I purposely spend money to see bad movies. Many of our friends enjoy movies with "sugar coatings" like character development, intelligent and well-thought-out plots, witty dialog, budgets, etc... They like to feel all warm and fuzzy or sad and weepy or at least get some kind of emotional response from their cinema experience.

Yes, we appreciate those things as well from time to time. We also appreciate a good chainsaw to the face, lots of profanity, fast cars, vapid lines, monsters, inbred hill people, and many, many gunfights. Highlights from this banner 2007 year include Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (not to be confused with Requiem for a Dream), Ghost Rider, The Hills Have Eyes II, Hannibal Rising, Grindhouse, 28 Weeks Later, Halloween, Saw IV, and Hitman.

Two movies really stood out this year, however. First was 300. Much like Sin City, it had all the violence, bloodshed, profanity, and sex that Chuck and I enjoy in our "bad movie night" cinema, but also managed to be a good movie to boot (like with believable actors and a plot and all). Who'd'a thunk it!!! (This movie was also Karen and my first blind date, and when she snickered at all the carnage, I knew I had a keeper.)

The other was Dragon Wars, or D-Wars as it was also called. In theory, this movie had all the earmarks of a good "bad movie night" flick - crazy CGI dragons destroying LA, flying dragons locked in combat with Apache helicopters, dragons with cannons on their backs, etc... The movie turned out to be legitimately horrible, however. In Chuck's words "that movie made the Dungeons & Dragons movie look like Lord of the Rings. The second Dungeons & Dragons movie. Like the SciFi Channel one." Here is the full review I gave Yeager. It seriously was the first movie I almost walked out of and absolutely hands down the worst movie of all time.

8. Computer Building. All my life I've been developing different variations of what my mom endearingly calls "Frankencomputers." That is when I take all the parts from all of the computers she desperately needs for work and combine them into one super computer which usually works. This year, I built one completely from scratch with the help of Newegg (best computer part site ev4r), Chuck, and his dad. Yeager provided moral support in the form of teasing me that I should just get a Mac. It was a great do-it-yourself project that I liken to guys working on classic muscle cars, except way geekier. It's definitely my favorite new hobby.

What I built was a monster!!! The most powerful gaming machines on the market couldn't hold a candle to it!!! Look at it in all its majesty!!! Ok, seriously, the thing worked way better than expected and I saved a ton building it myself. I learned a lot about computers and Chuck and I had fun tweaking it.

That was January 2007. Now it is falling behind the curve... Time to rebuild it. Stronger. Faster. More Expensive!!! It really is like working with classic muscle cars, except geeky.

I will not buy a Mac.

7. The 2007 PA Renaissance Faire. Turkey legs. Swords. Mead. Swords. Beer. Axes. Swords. More Beer. More Turkey Legs. Nothing else need be said.

6. Tai Chi. I have been interested in Martial Arts since my uncles let me watch violent action movies in the 80s (without telling my grandmom, of course - I was about 8 years old). I started out taking Judo and Jiu Jitsu when I was a kid, but really got into it in college when I studied Wing Chun Kung Fu. After I transferred, I fell out of practice, but my interest never really dwindled. Last year, my friend Phil convinced me to join his martial arts school, and I found what is probably my favorite martial art to date: Tai Chi.

I'm not talking about the New Age "find your soulmate, Homer" Tai Chi that aging hippies do to "decompress their auras," maaaaaaan. No, this is the centuries-old Chinese Martial Art known as Tai Chi Chuan, which translates to "Supreme Ultimate Fist" or "Great Extremes Boxing" depending on your dialect. Yes, there is a lot of emphasis on balance, mental centering, and overall health improvement, which is great for my knees, ankles, and every other part of my body currently held together with titanium and duct tape. I really enjoy the "I'm going to kick your ass" and "I'll stab you with this sword" aspects as well, which are often downplayed in New Age Tai Chi (Tai Chi Lite or Diet Tai Chi Latte).

5. NC-52. NC-52 was the first conceptual design I got to work on. It's a project that doesn't even exist yet and may not ever happen, but I got to apply a lot of my education and creativity (with some very helpful guidance from my boss), start to finish, including the $200M cost estimate.

It's kind of a point of pride for me. I talk with Yeager about this all the time, but looking back about seven years, the only thing I would have with a $200M price tag would be a bar tab. I feel like I've come a long way since those days when I said I was an engineering student - you know, signing up for and never attending engineering classes because it would get in the way of the party schedule. I guess we're all afraid of growing up at one time or another. Then we do and realize that growing up not only isn't all that bad, it's fun (and you can afford crazy things like rent and cell phone bills and food!!!). You don't have to stop having fun, but your definitions may change.

Still don't know when I'm ever going to use Differential Equations, though.

4. Burning Empires. I have been playing RPGs for a long time now. For almost the past decade I've been gaming with the same few guys. Not only did I think that I knew all of their sneakiest tricks, but that I had used all of my shady and clever ideas up as well.

I was very wrong.

The level of RP and sneaky, underhanded (and entertaining) trickery rivals the 2008 Presidential Race. And there is no preparation whatsoever (again, mirroring the 2008 Presidential Race). All we do is show up and have an intense, mind-blowing game full of large-scale battles, deceits, debates, and most importantly, shenanigans. Shenanigans of course being complete plot twists, turns, and reversals of fortune within the three minute time frame of one "color scene."

It's everything an RPG should be and I can not wait to start playing again.

3. Alison's New Job. It may actually be the All-American Karma-Based Story of how hard work, dedication, and sacrifice can actually pay off in the end. For those who don't know, my sister Alison spent every week since her graduation from NYU auditioning for any part she could get her hands on. She had a few extra shots in movies and TV here and there, but really wanted to get something steady in musical theater (where she is immensely talented).

Since she did not have her magic equity card yet, she had to show up for auditions before dawn and wait sometimes 10 -12 hours for a quick tryout that the casting people may or may not have paid attention to. In addition to that, she got fired via text message over the summer from a bartending job (classy management, for sure) for taking a day off (huh?) and lived in a very dangerous neighborhood in New York so she could continue to get to auditions on time. I felt sick every time she related stories about old men and women getting beat up on her front stoop and when she showed us videos of her practicing where you could hear gunshots in the background clear as day. Parents were not pleased.

Anywho, right before Christmas, she finally caught a break. Theaterworks cast her as a lead in one of their touring companies for a Children's Show. She gets to travel all over the country (and away from stray bullets and broad daylight assaults), has a steady paycheck and health insurance, and finally has her magical equity card, which means she can wake up at a normal hour for her future auditions. And she can move to a part of town that is relatively safe.

Thank god.

2. Northern Libs. Karen and I moved this past November to Northern Liberties in Philadelphia, and it was probably one of the best decisions of my life (even factoring in how much I hate moving). For starters, we're saving about ten to fifteen hours a week commuting, which is like getting an extra day in the week or a full night of sleep every night, depending on how you look at it. We're also near a lot of fun bars and restaurants (if you haven't gone to Honey's Sit and Eat, you haven't ever truly eaten). And let me tell you, it's nice having a social life again. I think we both just really enjoy having everything we could possibly want right at our doorstep and city life in general, especially in our own little neighborhood.

Saabulous Prime is enjoying retirement, as well.

1. My Friends and Family. I'm not trying to be sappy, so hear me out. 2006 was an odd year for me. Actually, it was an odd year for my alternative online personas. 2007 was a complete 180 in terms of actually getting out of my room and doing stuff with the people in my life who truly matter. Being able to reconnect (by disconnecting) with family and friends and do things like go to the Ren Faire, enjoy the holidays, have fun at Dan's bachelor party and wedding, attend Craigcon (I know your dark secret), see my friends, spend time down the shore, and especially to get engaged is very satisfying and uplifting. It just reminds me that the people in my life now are really the best people ever, hands down.

Honorable mention: Blackberry Mapquest, Le Chouffe, Honey's Turkey Meatloaf and Mac&Cheese


Welcome, everyone. After much discussion and several months of procrastination, I've finally created my own blog page (as opposed to just posting on Yeager and Dan's blogs...). I appreciate the three or four of you who may read this on a regular basis (thanks, mom!!!). Hope it's enjoyable and the subject matter interesting. If it isn't, maybe I'll start playing Warcraft again to cannonball my engagement, health, career, friendships, and family life.

People always seem to like stories of me being a jackass!!!