Thursday, March 29, 2012

Nascar: Dirt to Daytona First Opinions Review

As a former fan of Nascar motor racing, I own a few Nascar games across a few different platforms. Even after I stopped enjoying the real Nascar, I still enjoyed it's video game counterpart. For a modern generation version of Nascar I was highly anticipating getting my hands on a copy of Nascar's career sim: Dirt to Daytona, and I believe this may be a case of don't meet your heroes.

The game was only released on 2 consoles, PS2 and Gamecube, I mostly wanted it for the Gamecube but the PS2 version fell into my hands first, so thats the one I'm playing. Quickly I've noticed the limitations of the PS2 version as the analog X button must be crammed down in such a way that my finger cramps and aches the whole time I'm racing. Everything else pretty much seems like the Nascar Heat game, which this was based off of.

Now I never claim to be Ayrton Senna when it comes to video game racing, but I do find it quite impossible for a car to be 3 seconds behind me and come blowing past me as if I'm standing still at 70+MPH. I'm not sure what this game's settings are at, but it seems to only apply to random cars as it never fails that one will manage to pass me as if I'm just not moving at all every race. With all that said, if I happen to find the Gamecube version this one is getting SOLD!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Open letter to Clattenburg

Dear Mr. Clattenburg, (Mike Clattenburg)

As fucked as it may sound, although I know I'm not alone, over the course of many years of watching the Trailer Park Boys over and over again, I've felt as though they had become part of my family. From the pilot that started it all through Countdown to Liquor day, I've been able to pull myself out of the story long enough to admire the growth of not only the actors, but of the whole crew overall. And as a fan from the US it seemed like as soon as I had heard about the series, the whole thing was already over.

From Mrs. Peterson (RIP) to Sam Lasco (that greasy caveman fuck!) and even the Shitmobile (RIP) nothing ever felt like it was on screen for the sake of being on screen. I know when you're finger prints are deeply ingrained into a project you tend to see the flaws shining brightly, but as a fan I have to say that rarely did an episode of Trailer Park Boys feel less than a perfectly connected and formed circle. The stories flowed well from episode to episode and although I already knew the boys were never going to succeed in their goals, I always had that undying hope they would. To me that is a sign of solid writing and the cast's ability to transform words into the purest of acting art.

To paraphrase an interview with Barrie Dunn, he said the goal was that when you shut off your TV at night, you still believed that Sunnyvale was still a real place and that the boys were still getting themselves into trouble, and if that was in fact the goal you've done nothing less than achieve that goal to the finest of degrees.

From shit analogies, Grade 10s and greasy cheeseburger guts, I feel as if the stories were all a part of my life, my past. As if I were watching it unfold from the first person perspective. To hear that it was long gone by the time the show was even brought to my attention was unfathomable, I couldn't believe that the story had come to an end, or that it even could! (Reaching back to the goal of it still going on outside of the show)

I try to watch as much related to Trailer Park Boys as possible, documentaries, the whole series, movies, etc. just to feel as if I understand the show even more. To know that the Trailer Park Boys had to give way to real life progress made me feel as if I were losing my childhood home. To see the trailers sitting in the lot, destroyed was really heartbreaking. That set, and the many before it, were not only sets, but dare I say lands where dreams were set in motion to the tune of liquor, gunshots and bad country music.

I'm not giving anyone a fuckin R!

Animal Crossing, Part 1: The Return

Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time playing Animal Crossing knows how extensively complex it is, and at the same time how boringly shallow it can be. With me, Animal Crossing sits somewhere between Sim and RPG. There are many tasks that won't take care of them self, as well as tons of things to be done and tons of dialog to be read. After the initial euphoria of the game wears off, you'll get bogged down in repetitive tasks, seeking the enjoyment you once felt, shortly after beginning.

With the many things Nintendo did right with the game, I also feel they executed some things poorly. But I also feel that level of quality control only comes through trial and error, which Nintendo couldn't foresee, obviously.

Back in 2005 I got my first Gamecube from a friend, who was about to toss it into the trash because it wasn't reading discs anymore. Since I love tinkering with broken video game systems, I decided to take on the project. After I managed to get the system open, I adjusted the laser and gave it a test, to which it passed. After buying a few games and playing the system regularly, the system quickly reverted back to having trouble reading discs. Soon, the only game I could play was Animal Crossing because I believe it only uses the disc to boot and save the game.

The system didn't last long and soon I packed the poor dead Gamecube into it's box and put it on a shelf in the closet, never to see light again until it was time to go into the great dumpster in the backyard. I kept the memory card and sold off the games, which now I wish I hadn't. Only on occasion did the poor people of my Animal Crossing ever enter into my mind as a "What Ever Happened to?" thought.

When I picked up another Gamecube I was eager to get back to Animal crossing and get the ball rolling again, just to see what may have happened to my slum town. I popped the game in and loaded my town, aptly named Hell. "Have a good time in Hell", the NPC quipped after loading my game.

Once I was back in Hell, things slowly started to come back to me. My town was overrun with weeds, as anyone who has played Animal Crossing would understand, and the towns folk all greeted my with a hint of anger as they proclaimed they hadn't seen me in 77 months! This puts the last time I played Animal Crossing approximately in July 2005, which makes sense because I still have 5 May tickets for Nook's drawing.

As I started to regain my knowledge of Animal Crossing I also had to refer to online sources that opened my mind to totally new options that I never knew about, mostly the Gameboy Advance features. I knew there were special things hidden throughout the game that were unlockable through various manners, but I never knew some involved attaching the GBA to Gamecube cable to your Gameboy Advance and turning it on to sync up with Animal Crossing.

After much exploring and acting as though those 77 months never occurred, I was back in the saddle and playing through the game like I had previously. After playing for about 4 hours the game started it's slow draw into grinding. I had spoken to everyone in town, I had sold all the things I didn't want, shipped off all the fossils I had forgot to (some 77 months ago!) and I had even went to the basement and played through my NES game collection.

What else was there to do...? Part 2 below!

Animal Crossing, Part 2: This is fun!

One of the major redeeming qualities of Animal Crossing are the collectible NES games, which look like NES systems with an NES game box sitting atop them. You can use them and play them through the Gamecube or use Advance Play and load that game into your Gameboy Advance/SP's temporary memory and play it on there. But the systems are pretty hard to find without using cheats.

Like many games that have no true ending, must like Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing gets boring and monotonous after a while. You can only talk to everyone in town so many times, you can only wait to receive the last fossil you need for the museum so long and you can only shake so many trees hoping to get money and not stung by bees.

But there are collections such as bugs, items for the museum and other things that keep the game interesting. The town changes with seasons, there are random visitors who will stroll through your town on occasion and there are town events on real holidays, tracked by the Gamecube's internal clock. But the hype of events and the fact that the game coincides with real life really tends to ware off after a short while.

I haven't played any of the sequels, even though I want to, but I imagine they were built off of what Nintendo learned from the first one here. The game hit with a huge bang, as it was almost all I read about when it first came out and I was eager to give it a shot. The buzz lasted for quite a while and it seems everyone who owned it really loved it longer than I could seem to muster, thats not to say I don't love the game, but I've simply let the novelty wear off with newer games having more replay value than taking the time to visit the poor folks who inhabit my Animal Crossing town of Hell.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Travel, through video games. Part 3: The Latin Element

In parts 1 and 2 I established my undeniable affinity for sandbox style games, and my adoration for their individual environments. But for some reason I absolutely love games that take me to places that are lush with Latin flavor, namely games such as Just Cause, Total Overdose and Mercenaries 2. While Just Cause only built the illusion and feeling of being a set of islands off the coast of South America, Mercenaries 2 and Total Overdose take it one step further and use the names of real countries, Venezuela and Mexico respectively.

The first Mercenaries was set in war-torn North Korea, and it seemingly fit the feel of what a real war-torn North Korea would be. But Mercenaries 2 took you to Venezuela and brought a great landscape of the country they're trying to portray, even though I've never been to North Korea or Venezuela to really know what they're like. Although Just Cause and Total Overdose asked the player to exercise larger than normal amounts of suspension of disbelief, they too bring a good feel to the table with the seemingly endless land and possibilities of things to keep yourself occupied with.

I greatly enjoy South American architecture, landscape and culture, all of which these games seems to feed me in some small, vicarious manner. Although the games don't get the feeling down perfectly, most notably is the fact that people around town speaking English with a Spanish accent, the landscape and architecture seem to bring it all together and make me feel as if I'm truly driving through small South American villages, cities or just down one of many dirt roads.

I know it will never happen, but I wish that I could go visit these places, and even though Mercenaries 2 and Total Overdose were inspired by real locations, the landscape is probably only based loosely off their real counterparts. Maybe someday we'll be able to feel the heat and humidity of the jungles we travel in, the dry crispy air of the deserts and feel the sands beneath our feet, but for now all we can do is control the game's protagonist and enjoy the view.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Travel, through video games. Part 2

In part one I explained how I enjoy video game environments as if I were traveling through a real destination. Almost any video game with an environment I can explore draws me in, and once I'm pretty familiar with the landscape, to the point I know how to get around, I tend to feel as if its a small vacation, of sorts. In part 2 I will be taking on the environments themselves (strictly through the games that I've played) and explaining how closely I feel they represent what they were inspired by, starting with the most often cloned city for video games, New York City.

New York City has been in many games, or at least a well designed copy of it, such as; Grand Theft Auto 3, Driver Parallel Lines, The Godfather (albeit an earlier New York), True Crimes Streets of New York, Grand Theft Auto IV and even Forza Motorsports, just to name a few! Having played all of these games gives me a pretty decent idea of what New York looks like without having been there, even though Google maps pretty much does the same thing on a much less enjoyable scale. And although each game represents NY in it's own way, they're all pretty well done as I feel like I'm actually in New York as I play all of those games.

Miami is represented in both Grand Theft Auto Vice City and Scarface The World is Your's and again everything seems to feel as if I'm really cruising around sunny (and humid!) Miami Florida. Los Angeles has been reproduced in True Crimes Streets of LA, LA Rush as well as cloned for part of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, all of which seem to represent LA pretty well in their own rights. The other 2 parts of San Andreas, Los Vegas and San Francisco, seem to fit their respective inspirations quite well also.

In The Italian Job we saw Turin, Italy and London, England, which was also represented in the Getaway series, and although I'm even more shaky on the exact landmarks and other styling of foreign landscapes than I am of domestics, I feel confident enough to say that I feel as if they did pretty well. The whole Grand Theft Auto series, as well as Driver Parallel Lines, not only give off a feel of the city, but a since of time, which are always an ambient bonus that feel spot on. Not to mention games like Mercenaries, Total Overdose and Just Cause, which is going to be a whole other entry of it's own!

But when I play Starsky and Hutch there seems to be a pretty large disconnect between what they should be trying to convey and what was produced. Both officers Starsky and Hutch feel as if they're from the 70's, the vehicles within the game look as if they're from the 70's but the city just feels like San Francisco to me. Sure the series was based in a fictional city based on San Francisco, and it does kind of feel like it, but there is not era to be felt while driving around Bay City. The big question is when does it all take place as all they really did was build fictional cars in a fictional world and set you loose to live out a simulation of the television series of the same name.

I often find myself watching television and seeing a landmark from one of the many places I've visited in a video game, and I often want to play that game simply because of that. Most of the time, when I find a similar landmark in a television show that has been in a video game, I'm shocked at how closely the game's version represented the real thing. Hopefully part 3 will be the end to this series, but not the end of feeling like every time I start up a free roaming video game, I'm taking a passport free vacation to anywhere I want to go!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Starsky & Hutch Gamecube Review

As a child I grew up in a house with no cable, just the basic channels that the aerial picked up. I consider myself lucky as I got to watch, enjoy and appreciate the older shows such as; Taxi, CHiPs, Sanford and Son, Good Times, All in the Family and the list could go on and on! But most notably I grew an attachment to Starsky and Hutch, a show about 2 fictional police officers who drove around "Bay City" California in a red 1976 Ford Gran Torino and fought crime in an unconventional manner.

So in 2004 when they announced there would be a Starsky and Hutch film, I wasn't too excited to see Ben Stiller would be playing David Starsky. It was only after I bought the DVD for $1 at Disc Replay did I realize I liked the movie. In 2003 a video game of the same title was released, I assume to drum up hype for the movie to be released the following year.

It wasn't until I was given my first Gamecube back in about 2006 that I even knew about the game, I still hadn't watched the movie! I picked up the video game at Shamestop for pretty cheap and took it home to see what it was all about. When I popped it in, the game I was playing wasn't exactly what I had expected, yet it wasn't bad.

The game offers Story Mode, which is the main mode and offers 18 missions cut up into 3 "Seasons" of 6 "Episodes" each. Free Roam, which isn't truly free as you have to keep finding ways to give yourself more time on the clock, where your main objective is to collect 15 hidden police badges spread throughout one of the 4 selectable parts of the map. And finally there are 3 TV specials which are additional missions unlocked through achieving secondary objective along the Story mode.

Story mode seems to be a bit overbearing, you need to achieve the main story goal while keeping an eye on raising and maintain your viewer rating, which gives you a Bronze, Silver or Gold badge depending on how well you do, while collecting power-ups to help you finish the main objective AND keeping an eye out for hidden keys to unlocking items! While you're trying to do all this and finish the mission, you may get side-tracked just enough to make yourself lose the mission. Now you may think that all the unlockable items are now safe and secure so the next time around you can focus purely on the mission, WRONG! You absolutely have to finish the story mode mission to be credited any hidden items you may have attained along the way.

As I said there are power-ups strewn about the city which hang above the road ways, to obtain them you must align the car in such a way that it will highlight the icon and then you have to make Hutch shoot that icon. Although you can pick and choose which power-ups you need; Speed boost, siren, handling boost, etc. I find it much easier to just shoot what I can and keep going so that I don't run out of time and lose the mission completely.

Throughout the story mode, each mission will start and follow up with a comic book style piece of the overall story. The art is really well done and they are narrated by Antonio Fargas, aka Huggy Bear, himself! Each mission will start with an in-game graphical part of the story to get you set into the mission and get you started.

In the game you can unlock many things, such as new vehicles for Free roam, photographs from the TV series, an interview with Antonio Fargas and a few other things. By far the most rewarding are the vehicles you can use in free roam, although there really isn't any performance difference the only change is cosmetic. Sadly I wish there had been some more interesting unlockables, considering how difficult it can be to find the item needed to unlock it.

The gameplay feels much like The Simpsons games (Hit and Run/Road Rage), yet not as polished as those games were. Cars all have the same shiny, cartoony look and goofy handling as they do in The Simpsons games. The load times can be down right horrendous, although nowhere near as bad as The Italian Job for the PSOne, they're pretty painful in their own right.

Overall this game was worth what I spent on it when I originally bought it, and when my original Gamecube died the game gave me a little credit toward more games. Now that I've bought the game again, I can say that $2 was well spent just to be able to drive around in Zebra 3 once more. The game isn't going to draw me back as much as most other free roam, driving games do, but I bought the game twice just to be able to play it, and that says a lot.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


In a world of platform wars, some people refuse to purchase a certain console for whatever their own reasoning is. I prefer to own as many consoles as I can as sometimes games are released only on a certain system (ie: the Stories series of GTA for Sony PSP and PS2 only). But for the vast majority of games released these days, they're released across many different systems and the only difference between them is simply hardware limitations.

I own quite a few systems and once I own a game for any given system I find it hard to desire the same game for another system, unless it is far more superior than the one I already own. Even so, one example of a game I bought for 2 different systems was Mercenaries 2 for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 2. My Xbox 360 stopped working and I wanted to continue playing Mercenaries 2, yet when I bought the version for PS2 I found that it was completely different than the Xbox 360 version.

Since most of my systems live in boxes in my closet, because I have nowhere else to keep them organized, it becomes a pain in the ass to pull one system out and pack up the one I'm currently using. Lately that has resulted in me giving more thought to buying games that I liked on the system I originally bought it for and just buying it for the system I'm currently spending time on. But I still have to get a good deal on it, no matter how bad I want to avoid dragging out the other system to play it on.

I recently acquired Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox 360, which promptly stopped working due to damage and once I tried to go back to the PS2 version, I simply couldn't bridge the gap! I also watched a gameplay video of 18 Wheeler for the Nintendo Gamecube, since I already own it for the Sega Dreamcast I don't see any reason to purchase it, other than my Dreamcast doesn't always work. There are a handful of other games I've been tempted to act on my impulse, but I haven't yet.

If I happen to find a version of a game I already own for another system while I'm out game hunting (and its cheap!) I'll more than likely pick it up just to have it. But to purposely go out and buy the exact same game for 2 different systems, when there is a great chance that there is absolutely no difference between the two just doesn't interest me in the least. Sure I would like a backup of a video game on another system, in case a system goes south, but otherwise I don't see any reason to just throw money at the same game without reason.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shipping shit list!

Its no secret that USPS, FedEX, UPS and practically anyone who destroys ships packages are pretty incompetent at their job. One time I ordered a cellphone and the tracking number indicated it was coming from Indianapolis, IN. Great! I live 30 minutes from Indianapolis, it should take no time to get here! WRONG! It literally took 5 days before that item moved and FedEX's excuse was... "other packages take priority over your's."

Really!? I can fucking drive up there and smack your dumb, incompetent ass across the face in 30 minutes (or less) and my package didn't move for 5 days because it wasn't prestigious enough? It doesn't stop there, USPS is just as guilty. When I sell on ebay I prefer to get the package to the people as quickly as possible, because I know how I agonize over where my package is when I purchase something. And that point is exactly why this very entry is being written!

On February 27th I won 2 auctions from ebay, the first of which claimed to ship that day and the other shipped today (March 1). The first is coming from Champaign, IL with an expected delivery window of 02/29/12 - 03/06/12, and the other is, apparently, coming from Akron, OH with an expected delivery window of 03/03/12 - 03/05/12. Lets keep in mind I live 30 minutes away from Indianapolis, where all packages come through to go to local post offices for delivery, which neither of these places are really all that far from.

As I'm writing this the first package hasn't showed up yet, 3 days from Champaign, IL to here? HAHAHAHAHA! The second package took them 3 days to even ship, which I expected due to the lapsed time it took them to reply to my emails, as well as it is stated in their auction "Orders are shipped within 3 business days", I guess they wait to the last minute. The first item didn't have a tracking number, but when I received the tracking number for the other auction today, I was shocked to see what it said.

As you can see above, the package was shipped on 1:25pm (March 1) and is expected to be delivered March 3. Well, lets take a look at the map here...

5 and a half hours away and they can't send that item out the same day it was shipped to arrive the next day? No! Why you may ask? Because that would constitute overnight shipping standards, for parcel post prices! OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Now if I ran a parcel service my policy would be to treat every single package as a hot potato, in the sense that you touch it as little as possible, otherwise leave it in a well protected area, and deliver it as quickly as you can! The less time the package is within our possession, the less liable we are for something bad happening to it! Does that make sense? No, I guess not!

I've heard the horror stories of people claiming insurance for a fucked up package and on the side of the company it would be easy to ease these headaches on both ends by simply limiting the time the given package is in your possession! But it seems their policy is the exact opposite, hold the package as long as possible and if we happen to break it deny, deny, deny! Then refuse to pay out the insurance someone clearly took the time to pay extra for, knowing full well you and your business are all complete and total fuck ups.