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.
Thursday, December 27. 2007
Two annual memberships to Xbox Live, $100
Beating the Halo 3 campaign on legendary difficulty with your eldest son...
Halo 3 has a split personality. The Campaign (played either in single player or co-op modes) is a bit of a mess. It's relatively short, and the story doesn't hang together very well. Since it's the only Halo game I've played, I found myself lost quite a bit. That said, on legendary difficulty level it is truly difficult. For those who have managed to beat it on that difficulty solo, I salute you.
Halo's co-op mode allows up to four players to tackle the campaign levels together. Travis and I set out to beat it together. While I had played through on heroic difficulty (one level below legendary) this was Travis's first play-through.
One of the joys of Xbox live is the built-in voice chat, this means that for the 15 or so hours that Travis and I played together we were talking the whole time. Not necessarily about serious matters, not necessarily about anything other than our strategy to get past the next Brute or Flood monsters, but talking none-the-less. The most important thing was that Travis chose to do this with me. It wasn't my prompting. He wanted to play the game with his dad, and to me that was a wonderful and amazing thing. While he has immense skills at video games, I mostly suck at them. So in addition to wanting to play with me, he had to put up with my less than stellar game play.
I'm glad he wanted to. It's something I will always cherish.
Thursday, September 27. 2007
So I did it. I didn't want to do it, but I did anyway. I became part of the biggest entertainment opening day ever ($179 million in 24 hours) and bought Halo 3.
I have never played Halo, the people who played Halo and Halo 2 are not the kind of people I generally associate with. I wanted any excuse, any excuse at all not to buy this game, yet I did. It's the reviewers fault. The game hit the streets on Tuesday. Monday the review embargo was lifted. I was hoping for some mediocre reviews, I was hoping for some horrible reviews. I didn't get them. Gamerankings.com currently has Halo 3 at 95.7% That's pretty fabulous. There are so many horrible games produced that ignoring one that gets that kind of rating is stupidity, so after doing my civic duty at the courthouse I got off the train at Gateway and headed straight to Game Crazy where I picked up my copy.
I'd heard the graphics weren't all that great. Well compared to Gears of War and BioShock, they may be lacking slightly. They're still pretty damn impressive. The musical score is amazing, and the controls are natural and easy to pick up.
Having never played a Halo game before, I have a steeper learning curve than some folk, but it's been fun. I've played the first two chapters of the single player, and several matches of the multi-player, and the game is fun, and that's all that really matters. It's not just fun, it's a helluva lot of "what are you grinning from ear to ear for?" fun.
I'm colour blind. I see colour, just not the right ones. greens and reds confuse me, as do blues and purples and oranges and reds, and on occasion greens and yellows. Most of the guys I play with picked greens and blues and reds and yellows for their armour. I want to be different, I want to be recognizable (as well as able to recognize the colour I picked for myself!). I picked a colour I can see, that was different from all the other players I play with. My Master Chief wears hot pink armour, with regular pink highlights. I think he looks fabulous and he definitely stands out in a crowd. Once I figure out how to post the image from bungie.net here I'll even show you a picture!
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