Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Revisiting My Old Life - Day Two in NYC

I really don't like using this blog for too many personal stories, but being in NYC for the next week puts me in the awkward position of kicking games to the curb and share my former experience here as a high school teacher.

First and foremost, I didn't quit teaching because I hated it.  I didn't quit because I despised it, either.  I never minded the endless immaturity of working at an all boys high school (and trust me, they were very, very immature somedays).  Furthermore, my old job held greater significance because I was a product of this system.  I grew up as a student of my school and became a young writer under the tutelage of an amazing staff.  

I quit teaching, however,  because it was time to move on.  I finally found the career ambitions that were noticeably missing for a long time, and those ambitions lead me to wonderful things indeed.

So today, I visited my old job for the first time since I quit in August of 2007.  It was semi- awkward, but reunions like this this are good because they can rekindle the soul in some cases) and remind you of the magic that kept you engaged as a proud employee.  However, it was bitter sweet to walk through the halls and glimpse the life I used to have - it was a little painful to remember how much I gave of myself to that career everyday.  The smiling faces, the funny conversations, and the childish antics of working there were some of the most fun and memorable moments of my adult life.  The kids were great, and the combined with a phenomenal and eclectic staff made working there a great experience.

But that's all behind me now.

Of course, I still care about my alma matter and the students I taught there.  Heck, I promised to return for the next two graduations, and see my former students walk the down the aisle as dignified high school graduates.  So for the next two years I'll come back and remember all the standout moments and reminisce on my former career teaching the most devious of subject - high school mathematics.

I don't regret going back at all, though.  It really is great to be appreciated by your peers.  I was stopped at least twenty or so times in the hall, being reminded of the marvelous job I did.  I almost found a small part of me wanting that back.  

But I'm firm in my decision making, and my future is writing about games, and sharing the experiences as best I can.  I want to learn more about my craft, as a writer, and commit to passing on information to readers in new and interesting ways.  I want to be a part of a creative process that challenges me to look past the obvious, and invest my energy and time in exploring new creative possibilities.  These are the things that draw me to this career.  And for now, the promise of someday achieving them makes glad to be here, working as a journalist, and writing about the things I love everyday (or almost everyday).

Monday, May 26, 2008

NYC Trip and Reminiscing About GTA IV

So I'll be blogging from NYC for the next week, and catch up with a lot of old friends.  I bet you can't guess what I did today?

I spent the entire day sightseeing through a major part of Manhattan.  Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Canal Street (near the Brooklyn Bridge) were all important stops for me on my speedy trip through the Big Apple.  It's always fun getting reacquainted with such a lively city, but it becomes more interesting after experiencing hours of GTA IV.  I find myself picking out signature moments from my time with GTA, and finding them in my real life.

Now, that makes me feel more like a tourist than ever.  

Reminiscing on past moments in real life is what it is, but picking through moments of a surreal (and many would argue unreal) life is truly bizarre.  It's filled with, 'hey, I remember that' or 'where have I seen this before' - only realistically you haven't really been to or seen anything.  All in all, it makes me regret putting down the controller to sleep at night, just so I could pick apart more locations from Rockstar's amazing city simulator.

This entire experience in NYC has put a big smile on my face.  Hopefully, more news on the upcoming DLC pack - so far exclusive to only Xbox 360 - keeps it that way.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

So I've Been Missing for about a Week

I hate missing from my own blog, but sometimes it feels inevitable.  No matter how much time I try to set aside, I can never keep up with posting as frequently as I'd like to.  

Well, it's time to play catch up, I guess.

First, I'm currently at SFO (San Francisco International Airport), on my way back to NYC for the first time since I left way back in August of 2007.  It's funny how going back home can stir up a slew of emotions that've been missing for the past few months.  I guess even the most hardened soul can get a little homesick (myself included).  The trip home is all that I've been thinking about for the last three days, and seeing my friends and family is always interesting.  But this trip to NY holds more significance because it's my first time back in the Big Apple as an outsider.

I grew up in NYC my whole life, never leaving the city for more than a two week period.  Even when I signed up for college I made the decision to stay local and support my family, not realizing what I'd miss not going away for college.  Granted, setting up shop in a dormitory isn't a huge deal, but it is an opportunity to grow socially and learn some responsibility (well, for some people).  My family lives in the borough of the Bronx where I became a professional teacher, and never once did it enter my mind that I would ever leave. 

But then in August, I did.

It was probably the biggest decision I ever made, but I decided it was worth the risk.  I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, and set up shop in one of the most awkward career choices: videogames journalism.  Now don't get me wrong, I mean awkward in the nicest sense of the word, and the support that I got from both parents and friends was admirable.  They all believed  in me, and applauded my ambition, saying it could one day lead to something great.  This made me realize how much they cared about my happiness.  Since then, moving to San Francisco has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

So now after nine months, I'm going back home with a new set of eyes.  Since I've been out here, I've met some amazing people.  I've connected to great friends in an industry that I love.  Everything feels like it's going to plan, and hopefully my lucky streak continues.

So many people say, "I'd love to leave NY, move to another state, and find a career that makes me happy."  Lucky for me, I'm halfway there.

To all the people reading this who supported me in the NY to SF decision, thank you.  I would never be here without your help.  And when I get back from SF, maybe this script will get even better, as I zero in on the type of reporter that I want to be and focus on my personal goals as a writer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Do It Again!

This is a great video my good friend Nelson showed me on Friday.  It's a love letter to Apple, but that should be fine if you dig Macs.

Hopefully, I'll be back to regular postings soon.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Say It With the Power of Wind!

With Wii Ware finally launching in the US, it was only a matter of time before I sat down with one of my favorite games of this year's Game Developer's Conference: Lost Winds. To me it was the highlight of the Nintendo Wii presentation back at GDC and a reason to get excited about Wii Ware - the new risk averse way to digitally distribute games on Wii.

Not that Nintendo ever wants to excite me these days.

Nintendo has often worried me by overemphasizing on a different crowd of gamers - and I'm sick and tired of hearing the "Blue Ocean" analogy in every article I read these days (Oh, no! Wait!) At times it feels like nothing can be done to dissuade the once proud gaming giant from dumbing down another popular franchise for mainstream audiences. Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros Brawl have both been prime examples of this awkward shift, empowering a new batch of gamers and that's slowly beginning to bug me.

Luckily, I have Lost Winds can keep me busy a little longer before Nintendo's strategy makes my head implode.

It's not that Lost Winds is some epic hardcore game in disguise - it's not at all. In fact, Lost Winds feels more in line with the type of games I want to experience on the Wii - games that experiment with control and find creative ways to look fascinating despite being presented on aging hardware. Aesthetically, the game is rich and vibrant with lush, pastel colors that create a soft, yet serene atmosphere for little Toku to roam - and it terrific art design. And controlling Enril the wind spirit by holding the A button and drawing the direction of the gust feels accurate, without over complicating matters with rote design techniques.

I often wonder if this game could have been cooperative. It certainly makes sense as a core feature that follows Nintendo's social gaming credo these days - well that is except online. Co-op could bolster this Lost Wind's potential as a franchise, and help it grow significantly past this first game.

After i play a little more Lost Wnds, I think after this I'll start a Game Diary like Stephen Totillo over at MTV. I genuinely like the idea of writing about the games that I play daily (and then later sobbing slowly over the little time that I have to play games nowadays).

Yep, I'll start that diary tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Para-75% Off?

When I was at Best Buy picking up Boom Blox yesterday, I noticed a small shelf as I was headed over to the register.  It had a sign over it that read "75% off selected titles" across the top.  I expected to find the usual batch of nothing when the Parappa the Rapper PSP game caught my eye.  I figured it was a mistake at first but I checked the rack and there were a number of copies.  

That's right, a new sealed copy of my favorite PS One game for a whopping $7.50.  What a deal!
Somewhere Masaya Matsura cries inside ...

Now Playing: Boom Blox

I think it was after E3 2006 that this picture of Shigeru Miyamoto and Steven Spielberg playing Wii Sports began quickly circulating the internet.  People enjoyed the idea of their these two powerhouses conceivably working together.

Now, fast forward two years, and here I am at a local Best Buy purchasing Boom Blox, for my Nintendo Wii.  

It helps to mention that buying this game is a huge departure of for me.  I've never supported any Hollywood talent's involvement in videogames. Period.  I'm not convinced they understand it as a media.  Hollywood creatives work in a passive art form without audience participation.  Naturally, they tell excellent stories and can unfurl expertly crafted narratives (well, maybe except Uwe), but I'd half expect their games to be cinematic than much anything more.

But then I saw Boom Blox at the Nintendo Gaming Summit in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and I became curious.  It was this serene, peaceful,... game?  How could this be?  I saw a concept that, to my surprise, worked.  There was no story, or overemphasis on presentation, just a ball and a stack of Blox... and it was somehow entertaining, a minimalist experience that appealed to my inner completist (especially my confounded ego that likes deftly solving puzzles and getting high scores).

Now, I'm still not sold that Hollywood talent can craft notable games, and it will take more than Boom Blox to convince me otherwise, but I am truly enjoying this game.  I'd definitely recommend it to anyone as a fun palette-cleanser, an excellent distraction when causing mayhem in Liberty City or crashing little mascot driven go-karts starts to wear thin.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why I'll Never Get a Job as Someone's Escort.

My Patapon army marches forward single file towards the home of our rivals at Zigoton castle.  I already feel a sense of accomplishment because even if I am playing The World Ends with You, I want to finish Patapon - this game had me excited up until this year's Game Developers Conference (I still don't know why it fizzed out, but it did). 

 So in my head I'm thinking this will end in glory, with my army pimp slapping a number of Zigoton heads.  I mean, how could we lose.  It wasn't some huge crab or another creature like that, so this should be easy.

And then it didn't.  It was an escort mission where I had to guide  catapult up into their castle.
I hate escort missions.

I've always dreaded any game with this type of mechanic because I can never win.  I remember getting completely road blocked by them in Rogue Squadron (N64 or Gamecube, I think) because TIE fighters would swoop in and blow up all my rebel friends.   

I just don't think I have what it takes to be anyone's escort.  I get caught up in the moment, forget that I'm protecting someone, and before you know it, BLAM.  Game over.  

Maybe I'm not terrible at them.  Maybe they are just flawed experiences in each game I've played them in.  But whatever the case may be, I won't be escorting anyone anywhere anytime soon.  I just suck at it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

This World be Banging!

I'm still genuinely surprised by The World Ends with You, despite all the praise that I read about it beforehand.  It's interesting that a DS game would ambitiously try to split your attention between two screens, making you control two characters at the same time.  But besides mental anxiety at succumbing to the game, I'm more concerned I'll end up with carpal tunnel playing this game because of the DS's small frame, stylus, and buttons (maybe I need a DS Phat).

But there is one more thing that I never noticed until this Squenix RPG before: the very modern localization effort.  Granted, I know Square does a pretty decent job these days with translating their games, but this one took me a little by surprise.  

Apparently, its bangin'.  No really, it is.   Check the photo below, if you don't believe me.


Welcome to Liberty City!

I've been playing as much Grand Theft Auto IV as I possibly can this weekend, and I have to say I love it so far. If there is one thing that I regret, its that I've never finished a Rockstar game except Bully (another excellent game, in my opinion). However GTA IV ups the ante for me, providing some of the coolest I've ever experienced in games. Granted, the controls in fights are poorly executed (I'll reverse judgment till i unlock more moves, and the car handling is much more slippery than the last couple of GTA's. Despite this I'm still running all over the city, as I hunt for new missions.

I know I've never stayed with any GTA game until the end (I came close with the third one), but this will be the first game in the series that I plan to finish. Here's some quick things that happened to me in GTA IV that stood out:
  • I was sent on a hit to a train station and the guy ran downstairs. He was headed straight for car, so he could take off.. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I pulled out my glock and shot him in the head through the back window on the left. The bullets went right through the side and struck him as he collapsed onto the wheel, activating the car horn. It was difficult to pull off, but equally satisfying to behold.
  • 'Its funny how the details add up in this game. In one car chase on the highway, the guy I'm chasing (seems to be a common thing in the hitman business) clips a truck carrying a load of logs. He slams into the truck cab causing it to swerve wildly out of control, unloading the long tree logs right onto the narrow highway. Luckily, I swerve right out of the way, narrowly missing the deadly greenery, as the truck driver finally steadies the vehicle and i drive past in pursuit of my contract.
I'm planning to start playing "The World Ends With You" on the recommendation of Stephen Totilo's blog and the crew of the 1UP Yours podcast. Hopefully, I enjoy this game as much as the other handheld games that I've played this year.