My XBox Live Gamer Card
Wednesday, October 14. 2009
Once the doors opened Travis and I headed for the the Microsoft booth to get in the 40-minute line up to play ODST. There were three stations of four seats each and they were allowing each group to play ten minutes of the game's Firefight mode (Now that the game is released, my longest games of Firefight have all been over an hour and I can see them going much longer than that as I improve). However, ten minutes was enough to give us a great taste of a very very fun game mode. Of course Travis was the high-scorer on our team, and he continues to be the high-scorer in every game I have played with him since.
While in line waiting to get our hands on ODST we got to watch several people try their hand at Forza 3. I loved Forza 2 and have been very impressed with what I have seen of Forza 3 so far. The setup they were using to demo the game involved three 360s and three monitors and a cockpit with pedals and steering wheel. It was very very impressive. One of the most interesting things about the Forza community is that it is divided into those who race cars and those who paint cars. I'm good at neither of those things yet this is still on my list of "must-buy" games this fall.
While in line for ODST I started noticing my head hurting, I was pleased it wasn't a migraine, I didn't want a migraine wrecking our second day of PAX.
We wandered the aisles of the Expo. We saw the demo of Ubisoft's new Splinter Cell game which looks like it may be a lot of fun. I bought the Monster Manual 2 a second Players Guide and a set of three hero figures at the Wizards of the Coast booth. We saw some amazing gaming tables at the Geek Chic booth I really think the Emissary table would go very well in my dining room.
While watching people playing D&D on the very cool furniture I started to realize the headache was getting pretty bad. Migraines are not any fun, but I know how to deal with them and what to expect. I have no coping ability when I have a bad headache that is not a migraine. My life simply runs downhill. We had some food and I ingested some of my drug of choice, caffeine in an attempt to stave the headache off but that didn't work. After lunch we visited the Harmonix booth and took in The Beatles: Rockband. They were giving away t-shirts to people who were willing to play on stage but I couldn't convince Travis to participate so we missed out on those shirts! We did stay and watch a few groups play and it was a lot of fun. The Beatles music is amazingly timeless, and I am often in awe of the things they were able to accomplish musically. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the game sometime soon.
By now I was completely miserable, but I still thought I had the energy to sit through the Brink show and tell at the Bethesda Softworks booth. The game looks stunning, some of the RPG aspects of it look like a lot of fun. I couldn't help but compare it a bit to what I had seen of Borderlands. I wish now that I had felt better at the time and could have more fully enjoyed the presentation. The game is definitely on my watchlist.
After seeing Brink we went in search of Advil. Thankfully I found some.
The headache on the mend, we headed to the Unicorn Theater to see Stepto's (Stephen Toulouse) talk about XBox Live policy enforcement. As XBox Live's top cop he's the man in charge of making sure Travis and I don't have to put up with two many jerks, and that my younger boys have a relatively safe environment when they are on Live. I first ran into him when I was concerned about some of the clan tags I was seeing in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. He had a great presentation that was full of laughs and good information about the way live is run. You can find this video, a reading from the Book of Enforcement, at the presentation link but it is too good to pass up here:
Major Nelson was at Stepto's presentation and afterward I got to do something I've wanted to do for quite some time and that is thank him for the part that XBox Live played in allowing me to stay in touch with Travis during the time that Jennifer and I were separated. I got to talk to my son almost every night as we gamed together, and I firmly believe that to be a vitally important role in he and I having the quality relationship we currently have.
We stopped and checked out the new BioWare game Mass Effect 2. I honestly expected more from that demo. I loved the original Mass Effect, despite it's flaws it was a remarkable game. The problem with the demo was two-fold, the area was too loud to hear the sound of the game, and the demo looked like exactly what it was an unfinished game. This was jarring to me given how much I had been reading about improvements to the game. Neither Travis or I was able to see those improvements in the portion of the game they were showing off.
I'm not quite sure how we ended up there, but we found ourselves in the Main Theater for the Rooster Teeth Productions panel. I've always enjoyed Red vs. Blue but I have never been a big enough fan to take the time to watch it all. The Rooster Teeth panel changed that. It was a lot of fun, and I made the decision right then that I needed to support their endeavours. These men are truly funny and truly a lot of fun, and they love gaming.
By now I was feeling 95% better and we headed off to Subway for dinner. After grabbing our sandwiches we headed back to the Rock Band freeplay stage and watched several bands do a really good job on their songs before the technical difficulties forced an end to the proceedings. Once that occured we moved back to the queue room to line up for the Saturday nigh concerts. We were both pleasantly surprised when the line started moving far sooner than we expected it to and once again we ended up with reasonably good standing spots, this time just in front of the sound board. Soon the lights went down and the big screens lit up with Rock Band graphics, the curtain opened and out came Gabe and Tycho's band, The Sex Generals. The screen mentioned something about The Rock Band Network and the band launched into their song "Are you really a woman?" It was incredibly cool seeing The Rock Band Network put to use for the first time (the audio gets better a few seconds in so be patient).
It was also incredibly cool seeing the Pip Boy puppets that had been part of the genesis for this entire father-son adventure into geekdom making a reappearance at the concerts this year. The owners of the puppets put on quite a show throughout all the events of the evening. They were quite fun to watch.
After the song Gabe and Tycho stayed on stage to introduce the final eight of the Omeganauts came out on stage, having been divided into two teams of four. The winners of this round would become the final-four contestants in the Omegathon. The competition for this round was going to be Beatles Rock Band. The song Twist and Shout. The first band out did wonderfully well. The second band, well not so well at all. It was a lot of fun watching The Beatles in animated form up on the big screen, and a lot of fun watching the two bands working for their place in the final four of the Omegathon.
When the curtains closed, Travis and I sat on the floor and waited for the opening act for the evening, Freezepop. My only familiarity with Freezepop was their music in Rock Band, but I thoroughly enjoyed their upbeat quirky music. Liz Enthusiasm, the front-woman for the band, is attractive, and knows she's attractive, and she played that up a whole lot with her mostly male audience, including getting down off the stage during one song to dance with the guys in the front row. Partway through their set, there was a pause and a couple who had won a raffle to appear on stage with the band were brought out. Only they weren't there because they had won a raffle, they were there so the guy could propose to his girl. She said "yes," which was a good thing because if she had said "no," it would have been awkward for everyone and severely diminished the good vibe the band had been generating up to that point.
Following Freezepop's very upbeat and fun set, we were told that we were fortunate enough to have an appearance by the Secretary of Geek Affairs, Wil Wheaton. Who appeared on stage to read the following proclamation:
I didn't know a thing about Paul and Storm prior to them coming on stage to receive the Secretary of Geek Affairs D20 award, but from the moment they launched into Opening Band I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy the show. Their humour, their hawking their wares from the platform (Travis has a Dejected Arrr t-shirt and Jennifer has a lovely Minion t-shirt), and their talent as musicians made for a wonderfully enjoyable set that kept us both laughing throughout.
The last act of the night was Jonathon Coulton. My familiarity with him was limited to the fact that he wrote Still Alive, the song sung by GLaDOS at the end of the brilliant video game Portal. I knew he was something of a geek icon so I was very much looking forward to hearing the other things he has written. With Paul and Storm providing backing vocals for much of the set it was a lot of fun. Not as funny as the preceding set had been but still a lot of fun. In addition I got to hear the original songwriter singing Still Alive.
Once again it was a full day and once again, two very tired guys dragged into their hotel room just before 3:00am. Even though we were exhausted we were still looking forward to what the final day of PAX would hold for us.
Wednesday, September 23. 2009
He did an excellent job of getting us exactly where we needed to go. We found parking in a parking garage that had far too low a clearance for my head, and made our way to the Queue Room at the convention center. The Queue Room is exactly what it sounds like a room set up with serpentine dividers to allow thousands of people to queue up in an orderly fashion. We hadn't been in this room for too long before we realized that not everyone had showered, was in clean clothes, or understood the concept of deodorant. It wasn't horrible but it was clear evidence that geeks and nerds still have some stereotypical traits to overcome.
Travis and I were obviously in the first four-thousand in the queue as we scored our wristbands for the concerts that night. Those wristbands were our first good score of the day. Usually queuing is a chore, a frustrating experience, but playing on the big screen in the queue room was some brilliant (at least if you're a geek or student of pop-culture) entertainment. Somewhat War Gamesish the computer kept "talking" to us and playing all sorts of entertaining interactive games. The games were made interactive via an SMS short-number and some entertaining uses of SMS messages. Voting for your favourite YouTube video. Solving puzzles via SMS. Creating a census of those in the queue. It was all handled really well and in a very fun and entertaining manner. In addition people played their hand held video games, read books or sat on the floor and played board games to pass the time. It was during queue time that the beach balls appeared. I can't tell you who sponsored the beach balls but I can tell you that the logo lent itself to "enhancement." and the Sharpies came out and most of the balls were "enhanced" by people who have spent far too much time watching the movie Superbad.
Once the doors opened we had a brief few minutes to wander the Expo floor before running upstairs to the first panel of the day for us, Game Development 101. It was a fascinating panel with some interesting people and there was some good insight into the insides of the development process. I was particularly interested in listening to the writer, and the producer. The writer because I love to write and believe that video game writing is just starting to come into its own, and the producer, well the producer because he has my dream job.
After the Game Design panel it was time to head back down to the Queue Room to Queue up for the Keynote speech. Travis held our place in line and I went in search of some food which we proceeded to eat sitting on the floor. We had great seats for the keynote, but there really weren't any bad seats in the room given the six large screens that gave everyone a great view. The keynote speaker was a gentleman who spent his formative years in La Grande, Oregon. He went on to fame designing games for LucasArts. You may have heard of Guybrush Threepwood and The Secret of Monkey Island. You may also know of Ron Gilbert the creator of The Secret of Monkey Island. Mr. Gilbert spoke of his history in game design and along the way helped show us the importance of games in our culture and games as art. It was a brilliant speech, quite moving, quite insightful, and definitely inspiring.
We stayed in our seats after the keynote for a Q&A session with Gabe and Tycho. Given that they are the reason for PAX the crowd was huge, and the Q&A quite fun. Gabe told the story that provided the impetus for the titles of these blog entries.
As the planning for PAX was underway contracts were entered into with many of the hotels near the conference center. As the time drew closer the PAX planners discovered that 37 rooms had gone missing at one of the hotels. When the PAX people called about the missing rooms they were told "Oh the Oakland Raiders are in town. We needed the rooms." They were told very politely that no one at PAX cared that the Oakland Raiders were in town and their attention was re-directed to the signed contract. The hotel told the Raiders that they would have to find lodging elsewhere. It was truly the reversal of roles for the geeks and the jocks.
There was one quite touching scene where the person at the microphone told his story about how Penny Arcade had helped keep his spirits up during some very dark and difficult times in his life. He was hoping he could shake Gabe and Tycho's hand, however, Tycho pre-empted that wish, hopped down off the stage and then gave the guy a huge hug.
From the Q&A with Gabe and Tycho we headed back upstairs to the Bungie panel, Prepare to Drop! They were in the biggest theater in the building and the line was quite long, I was worried we were not going to get seats. However, the Enforcers (PAX's volunteer security force) assured us that there would be room and there was. The panel was not what Travis or I were expecting, however, it proved to be an incredibly gratifying look behind the scenes at the creation of Halo: ODST. We heard from the Creative Director, the composer, the lead graphic designer, the producer, and several others. We saw some of the concept art. We heard how the game had taken shape, moving from something that should have been DLC to a full game. We heard some of the score (a complete departure from the typical Halo score but really impressive). We heard about weapon re-designs and why the Battle Rifle has no part in the game (something I'm still not sure I'm happy about). It was a great panel and lots of fun. Now that I've played the game I can say all their hard work was not in vain and that while it is completely different from its predecessors it is also a very good game in it's own right.
From the ODST panel we headed back downstairs to the expo for a while. A trip that proved to be far shorter than we expected it to be as we discovered that Gearbox Software was going to do a panel on their upcoming title Borderlands. Borderlands is one of the games Travis and I are most looking forward to this fall, so we knew we had to see that. We quickly dashed to the Subway in the Convention Center to get some dinner and then headed for presentation. It turns out we hadn't needed to get dinner as the Gearbox gang had ordered pizza for everyone who came to their panel, something I thought was quite cool of them. Right from the beginning this panel felt completely different from the Bungie panel. Where Bungie were professional and polished the Gearbox guys were rough and tumble. I quite enjoyed it. They started their presentation with this hilarious video of Claptrap the Robot. Then discussed the evolution of their game prior to letting one of the audience members up on stage to play co-op against the other panel members while their exploits were narrated. My interest in the game was heightened by the panel so I'm quite sure they did what they set out to do.
We left the Borderlands presentation expecting to go down to the Expo again, but when we got there we discovered the Expo was closed. Hearing music we followed the sound until we discovered the source. The Rock Band freeplay stage. We sat and watched and listened as group after group tried their hand at Rock Band. Many of them were no better than I am which gave me some hope. Of course I will never be up to Travis's standard of being able to play anything and everything on expert guitar.
Finally it was time to line up for the Friday night concerts. As you know from my PAX Day 0 post it was events from the concerts a year earlier that triggered my desire to go this year. After waiting in line and watching the sometimes quite funny SMS Message Board on the big screen (People could text their messages to the system and have them displayed on the big screen). We got to head into the Main Theater for the concerts. Most of the seats had been removed and we got extraordinarily good standing spots quite close to the front. Unfortunately, the concerts started quite late so that was a bit of a drag.
First up was Anamanaguchi a chiptune band that composes on a hacked NES. Their music was upbeat and and a lot of fun and they had lots of energy. The visuals provided by Paris Treantafeles and outpt were eye-catching, entertaining, and very well done. It was fascinating seeing the two visual artists working on stage as the music was played.
The second band of the evening was Metroid Metal. Having not played the Metroid games, I was doubly at a loss when I didn't enjoy their metal interpretations of music I was unfamiliar with. The band was very good, very loud and fun to watch, but the music simply left me cold.
The headliner for the evening was MC Frontalot I'm not a huge rap or hip-hop fan, but I certainly enjoy quite a bit of it so I was really looking forward to seeing the man who made "nerdcore" a household word. The set got off to a great start when Wil Wheaton came out on stage with a Guitar Hero guitar and started playing, because Frontalot was going to be unavoidably delayed. It wasn't long until the MC came out and ripped into his set. Musically and visually it was a great set. The man is fabulous entertainer with a great shtick. The biggest downfall (and I'm going to sound like my parents here) was that I couldn't understand a word the man was rapping. Travis felt the same way, and that took us way out of the set. For those who actually knew what he was rapping about it had to be a great and very enjoyable set.
Once the concert was over two very tired guys headed to the car and the trip back to the hotel. It had been a great first day at our first ever PAX. We fell into our beds just before 3am both dreading and looking forward to the alarms the next morning.
Tuesday, September 9. 2008
When the tweet about the Black Crowes playing a concert at the came across my Twitter feed I clicked the link expecting to see a review of the show. Much to my surprise it turned out to be a blurb about a show the following Friday, and what's more, an affordable show. I checked out TicketMaster who insisted on charging $8.50 a ticket for the privilege of ordering online, and then read that tickets were also available at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom boxoffice. So I hopped on the bike and rode downtown to get a pair. TicketMaster still managed to get a cut, just not quite as big a cut.
I have never been to the Edgefield for a show so I was really looking forward to exploring a new venue. Friday evening I picked Jennifer up just after 4:00pm and we headed for the show. There was already a line when we got there, but it wasn't long line, and we were quite assured of getting good seats. Once we got inside, we headed into the lovely grassy bowl where the show would be, found a spot on the grass about half-way back (far enough back and high enough up that we wouldn't have to stand the whole show, and would still be able to see) and lay out our blanket reserving our spot. Then we went off to find food and drink.
The first thing I noticed about the prices was "Hey these are reasonable!" Definitely not like the prices at the Rose Garden or a movie theater where once they have you inside they turn you upside down and shake every last penny from your pockets. Our dinner was filling, and my gin & tonic was fabulous due to the McMenamin's private label Vintner's Gin (which is the best gin I've ever had). The best thing about reasonable prices is you don't feel bad about spending money, so I was willing to spend a bit more.
Returning to our blanket we enjoyed the sun and people watching waiting for 6:30 to arrive. Much to our surprise Carney, a Los Angeles band fronted by brothers Reeve and Zane Carney, came on at 6:20 and got things underway early.
From the very first notes I was a bit worried, lead singer Reeve Carney and his band mates channeled just a bit too much White Stripes for me. The White Stripes are interesting, but I have never enjoyed their music, only tolerated it. But after the first song, things improved dramatically. These youngsters (none of them are over 30) really know how to rock, and by the time they got to a cover of The Beatles I Want You (She's So Heavy) I was thoroughly in the groove of things and letting the raw power of the music sweep over me. I was actually slightly disappointed when they finished their half-hour set.
Reeve Carney's vocals were quite good, though a bit weak. As he matures I can imagine he will grow into a very competent front-man. His brother Zane's guitar work was top-notch (though his bright blue guitar looks like it belongs in a video game). Bassist John David Lipscomb, laid down a consistently good bass track, and drummer Jon Epcar kept everything moving with consistent work.
One of the things I really appreciated was there were very few attempts at showmanship. They stood up, and played raw, emotional music, letting the music be the focus of the show not the individuals playing the music.
After half an hour break the Black Crowes came to the stage for what would prove to be and incredible musical experience. Once again there was no pretentiousness, no flash, no whizbang, just a few lighting effects and 120 minutes of amazing jam band influenced, southern rock-n-roll played by six talented musicians. It's a good thing that Chris and Rich Robinson managed to put their differences to rest because they were depriving the world of some fabulous live music while the band was split up.
Chris Robinson is one of those vocalists like Bob Dylan, you have to wonder how he ever got the job as lead singer, but there's no denying that his growl has something wonderfully primeval to it that enhances the kind of music the band plays. The only "hit" the band played was Hard to Handle, and this was my only disappointment of the evening as I am a huge fan of She Talks to Angels and had hoped to see it performed live.
This show was such a contrast to the show I last show I blogged about. Where sick puppies were musically excellent, their lead singer thought the show was about him and not his music. Where Evanescence's music was fabulous, it never left the confines of the CD recording. Both Carney and The Crowes understood that live music is about the music, and that live performances should not sound the same as the CD, and that the audience both wants and deserves more.
Rock and Roll just doesn't get much better.
Friday, September 5. 2008
Tonight is the Black Crowes at the Edgefield. I've never seen a show at the Edgefield, but hear it's a fabulous venue. Of course the McMenamin brothers almost always do things right.
I'll give a full review over the weekend.
Wednesday, November 28. 2007
Sunday night the 18th of November, Evanescence came to town to play Theater of the Clouds at the Rose Garden. This was my first Theater of the Clouds experience, and I was happily impressed with how nicely the Rose Garden re-configured into a much more intimate setting. Even with the smaller configuration they, disappointingly, failed to sell out.
The tickets made no mention of an opening act or acts, but there were two, with two very divergent takes on how music should be presented.
Opening up was Julien K, a band I had never heard of. After the first song it became apparent that they were a metal new wave band. The music was very reminiscent of what you would hear from Flock of Seagulls or The Thompson Twins, but much more metal tinged. A four piece band featuring a keyboardist, lead singer/guitarist, guitarist/keyboardist, and drummer, the music was highly over-produced, highly sampled, highly sound effect enhanced, and, on occasion even somewhat entertaining. The front man did a reasonably good job of interacting with the crowd, and their very short set featured a couple of bright spots (other than the two guys on keyboards ridiculously humping their keyboards on one song). They don't have an album, but I'm guessing you might be able to find some bootlegs somewhere online.
After a brief intermission, Sick Puppies took to a barren stage, stark contrast to the lights and smoke of Julien K.. This Australian three-piece takes spartan to new extremes. How Shimon, the guitarist, and Emma, the bassist, managed not to get tangled in the wires that connected their instruments to the amps was beyond me. Musically the band was fabulous, though Emma was a bit flat on some of her backing vocals. However, I'm quite fucking sure that every single fucking one of us in the audience was fucking bemused by fucking Shimon's in-fucking-ability, to fucking get through a sentence without fucking using the word "fuck" in some way shape or form. He also loved to use the phrase "every single...." too fucking much. It's a shame that his talent as a guitarist and singer doesn't spill over into his talents as a front man. When you have to beg for audience participation, "I want to see every single fucking cell phone now!" there's a definite mis-understanding of how you get an audience involved in your music.
On a very positive note, Emma, the bass player was completely adorable, dressed to kill, and rocked incredibly hard. I was very impressed.
After a second intermission, it was finally time for the main event, and quite a main event it was. Amy Lee is beautiful and has a beautiful voice. She has fabulous stage presence, and was able to get the audience involved without giving specific instructions to them. Given all the lineup changes the band has gone through since their first CD, it is very evident that Evanescence is Amy Lee. The rest of the band was very tight, very together, and generally a pleasure to watch. Comprised of two guitarists, a bass player, and drummer, they sounded exactly as you would have expected them to sound except for the lack of descant on Bring Me To Life. Therein lies my biggest problem with the show. There was nothing unexpected, nothing different. The music was exactly as you have heard it many many times when listening to their CDs. No extended guitar work, No additional piano work, nothing. When someone like Eddie Van Halen can go off on 15 minute long riffs, when Lynyrd Skynyrd can take their already long Freebird and double the length in a live performance, when Gov't Mule can do something as interesting as wrapping Beautifully Broken in When Doves Cry, you come to expect that a live show will provide something new and different. That was not the case here. The music was great, but it wasn't made special in any way, other than getting to see Amy work the crowd.
I have one other small problem with the show. Guitarist Terry Balsamo became a distraction. He has fabulously long hair that is braided in corn rows. It looks great, but the man apparently is afraid of the audience. He regularly flipped his braids in front of his face, bending to watch his his guitar and not the crowd. He regularly had his back to the audience, standing at the back of the stage listening to his amp. After a while it became a distraction. I don't expect theatrics, not everyone can be Joe Perry, or Eddie Van Halen, but I do expect to see at least the appearance of being interested in your audience.
Was it worth the price of admission? Absolutely, will I buy tickets to see them live again? Possibly.
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