Killing Time at Crossroads

The city of Bellevue is awash with shopping opportunities. For starters, there's the ritzy Bellevue Square Mall where famous fashion designers have their own boutiques, where you can buy jewelry from stores bearing famous names like Tiffany, Sak's, and Movado. And in addition to the hundreds of other stores there are the obligatory anchors, Macy's and Nordstrom's. This mall now connects via a skyway to a new "vertical living" environment that features shopping and theatres on the ground floor, an expansive high-class hotel on the next 8 or so floors, and condominium apartments on the upper 15 floors or so. Most of the apartments have views of either Puget Sound and Seattle or the Cascades and fetch over $1,000,000 each.

That is where you go if you're looking to buy something special.

If your're waiting for a receiver hitch to be installed on you car and don't want to walk too far in the rain, you head to Bellevue's Crossroads Mall. This particular mall isn't so much a shopping mall as it is a neighborhood gathering place. There are precious few stores that you would ever buy something from in this mall. Instead, there's a small stage for near-nightly music performances, there's a small City Hall branch, a library, a very expansive newstand, and the greatest food court ever. Not only is there a traditional fountain-style diner counter serving up American classics, but also a restaurant for every ethnicity you can think: Japanese, Mexican, Greek, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, and Italian. Add to that a hot dog stand and a barbecue place and you've got exactly what I said -- the greatest food court ever. And scattered throughout the mall are hundreds of tables and chairs beckoning visitors to take a load off and stay a while.

As you move past the food court towards the grocery store (the other anchor is an Old Navy) you come across a giant life-size chess set and a dozen or so gaming tables. I've never not seen at least 15 people standing around that chess set and there are always many more sitting and playing various tabletop games. Whether it be Magic the Gathering, Chess, Checkers, or any of the other board and card games people play. And the people playing these games and conversing are as diverse as the food options. It's not uncommon to see a couple of teenagers mixed in amongst the senior citizens, mixed in with middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities. The Crossroads Mall is very much a stew.

But aside from the wonderful food and the grand sense of community is Half-Price Books. Half-Price Books is a no-frills bookshop that sells both new material bought at wholesale and also tons of older, lightly-used product. The store is relatively large -- not quite as big as a full Barnes & Noble, but it packs much more into its tight space. In addition to the books are music, movies, and software. I don't make it over to this store as often as I'd like, but I do enjoy rummaging through their PC games assortment to find some B-list titles on the cheap. Yesterday was no exception.

Although my main goal was to find some tourist-friendly history books on Budapest and Austria to read in preparation for our river cruise on the Danube in June, I also wanted to find a book chonicling the history of the Pacific Northwest. I don't like not knowing the history of a place I'll likely call home far into the future but aside from the heavily-marketed "Lewis and Clark" story, I don't know much about this place at all. But I'm going to thanks to finding a copy of "Land of Giants: The Drive to the Pacific Northwest 1750-1950" byt David Lavender. This 460+ page hardcover tome comes complete with a number of maps and was only $9.98. I already started learning about this place's discovery while reading the first 7 pages over a cup of coffee.

With this heavy book in hand, I also wandered over to the PC software area and found a copy of American McGee's Scrapland for $6.00 and also Robin Hood: Legend of Sherwood for $5.00. I played the demos of these games some 1 to 2 years ago and thought both of them to be enjoyable, but not necessarily memorable. And certainly not worth $30 or more. But five bucks? Hell yeah!

And with that, my trip to the community mall came to an end. My cell phone rang while I was browsing through a copy of "Nature Photographer" at the newstand and my receiver hitch was installed and my new bike rack was in place. Time to walk back across the street and head home.

Armored Core: Formula Front -- Extreme Battle

Those who can't do, coach. And those who can't coach, write confusing impressions of games they can't understand. I tried my hand at robo-coaching and let's just say that no team of giant mechanical warriors will be dunking Gatorade over my head any time soon.

I mentioned on Friday that I was going to bring my Sony PSP with me for the 3-hour drive to Portland this weekend and I did. And while I drove the entire way on Saturday morning, Kristin drove the majority of the way home, thus allowing me to get in some additional playtime before commenting on this game. And now that I have logged about 4 or 5 hours with this game I'm ready to admit that I still have no idea whether or not I would ever recommend it. In fact, the more I play it the more confused my feelings get.

If you've never played an Armored Core game then you're not alone. This is my first foray into this long-running franchise and the basic premise of the game is that you are given access to hundreds and hundreds of mechanical parts and weapons, from which you assemble your armored core (AC). Assembling an AC means sorting through tons of data for each type of part and picking the model that helps you achieve the design you're striving for. Each part, whether it be a right arm weapon or a radiator has a certain weight, a certain energy consumption, specific defensive energy ratings, etc., etc., etc. Granted, the game helps you immediately see the benefit of one part over another by color-coding improvements and downgrades and by also assigning a letter rating to the basic overall characteristics of the AC as a whole. Pick the wrong part and you might see your AC's cooling ability drop from a B rating to a C or D.

So much of the game is based around the design of the AC that when it comes to the actual battles (strict ladder-style tournament system: no story, no explanations, just fight) you actually are encouraged to forego direct control of your AC and instead program its AI. You first assign various attribute points; then you adjust sliders dictating its movement, battle, and aggression style; and finally you load programs into the AC that prioritize its actions in 30-second blocks. The AI system is ingenius and it works very well from what I can see, and I'm grateful for it. Especially since there's no way I could control one of these AC's with the PSP's control setup. Of course, most people aren't going to like spending all of their time designing a giant fighting mech that they then watch fight automatically, but I don't mind it. The battles have a 3:00 limit and most are over within 30 to 60 seconds.

So far so good, right? Maybe. This game isn't for everyone, but up until this point I do think it's for me. Where I start to lose my adoration for it though, comes a wee bit later. You see, the first league of battles is easy. You build your AC's and you go and whoop some ass and you win all sorts of new prizes and AI programs. All was well. Then I entered the "Regular" league. I adjusted my Cores to make use of some new parts and I won the first battle on the first try -- the Rank 30 battle. But immediately after that, the AC I just beat got retrofitted with some new gear and is now demanding a rematch -- a rematch I can't decline. And now he cleans the floor with me. I've spent over 2 hours adjusting my AC's designs as meticulously as possible and I can barely even knock off 1/3 of its hit points before he blows me to bits.

This is where I have to really play "robo-coach". I have to study the enemy. I know that in order to win this battle, I have to inspect the enemy, write down all of its part numbers and look them up to see where a weakness might lie. This takes time and definitely starts to wander over to the "feels like work" side of the fence. And that side of the fence is most certainly not greener. I know that if I do this, I'll likely win the battle and start advancing again. But do I want to?

Oddly enough, it was my friend Brad whose wedding I attended this past weekend who turned me on to the this game. He wrote the review for this title over at and he warned me that the learning curve would be extremely steep for someone with no prior Armored Core experience. He wasn't kidding. If you own a PSP and haven't ever played a game in this franchise before, I would as of now advise you to stay away. Unless you're a stats whore and love number crunching. I am, sort of, and when I succeed with my designs in the game, I enjoy it. The trouble is that I'm not finding much success and excitement is rapidly turning to frustration.

Monthly Fitness Check: The Plan

I've been working out regularly for a couple weeks now and by regularly, I mean at least four times a week. Last year I did a whole lot of mountain biking, but very little else and, as a result, lost no weight and never really felt in shape. My skills as a mountain biker advanced tremendously, but my endurance and speed did not. The only way for me to get back into some semblance of the shape I was in in 2002 is to really get back into running and to also get myself a road bike. Swimming is out: as much fun as triathlons were, I refuse to endure swim training again. And mountain biking, for as fun as it is and as grueling as a lengthy hike-a-bike climb can be, is just not nearly enough of a workout to suit my needs. I'll still hit the trails on my Giant NRS at least twice a week, but it can't be the only thing I do anymore. Not if I'm to welcome back the old me.

Basically, I want to lose about 10 pounds and gain a lot of speed. So, I've started running again, started lifting again, and for the first time ever in my life am even jumping rope. And the variety is a really nice change of pace. Once I get a solid enough base, I'll even return to the track for interval workouts. To be honest, I can't wait to start doing 400m repeats again. But that's a long ways off.

For now, I want to start with a monthly fitness check. On the first of each month, give or take a day or two depending on scheduling, I'm going to do 3 things in quick succession:

1) Run a 5k -- I have a perfect 50%road/50%trail 5k loop with about 170ft of climbing that starts and ends at my front door.

2) Pushups -- Within 5 minutes of getting back from the run, I'm going to drop and do as many pushups as I can in one set and deduct 1 second off my 5k time for each pushup. Nice and slow pushups with hands only shoulder-width apart.

3) Jumprope -- Within 5 minutes of finishing the pushups, I'll set a 2 minute timer and see how many jumps I can do in 2 minutes. Will be using a weighted training rope (not a speed rope) and will deduct 1 second from my 5k time for ever 5 jumps I make.

Final Score = 5k time converted to seconds - (1 x pushups total) - (1 x jumprope/5)

So that's what I'm going to do and I'll lay down my base score on March 2nd, this coming Thursday (I'll be in the city all day Wednesday). Feel free to do the same thing and post your results to the comments field below. After all, training is more fun if you make a game out of it and have a little bit of competition.

And speaking of competition, my first race in 4 years is just 4 short weeks away. I have a 40 mile mountain bike ride coming up this weekend, and will start getting my weekly long run up in the 8 to 10 mile range before long. Starting to get nervous.

I love that feeling.

Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the film Curious George

While out running errands on Friday, I made a stop at Circuit City to pick up the new Jack Johnson album. Only, it's not really a new Jack Johnson album, but moreso it's the soundtrack to the new animated film Curious George. And I knew this ahead of time, but wanted it anyway. Just pointing that out in case there's any confusion. And, on the off chance you stumbled onto this blog and don't know me, I do not have any kids, nor are my wife and I ever planning to. But yes, I nonetheless bought the soundtrack to a kids' movie with the words "Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies" in the title.

Having not seen the film, I wasn't sure exactly how sing-a-long-y the album would be, but the first track, "Upside Down", has been getting a lot of play on the local radio stations and I really liked it. Well, after having listened to the complete album multiple times on our drive to and from Portland this weekend, I can say that I'm glad I bought the album, but that my overall opinion of it is mixed.

On one hand, I can see the album being heralded for not singing down to the children on an elementary level. Much the way the Harry Potter books are so loved for treating kids like intelligent beings that can handle a complex plot, Johnson (and friends G. Love and Ben Harper to name but a couple) sing about topics that don't insult children's intelligence. To put it as simply as possible, most of it is real music and doesn't feel like it came bundled with a coloring book for $4.99 at Toys R' Us. That's one good thing about the album. Another is the actual production qualities and packaging. The disc comes in a nice cardboard flip-top case made of recycled material, and the liner notes not only give the lyrics to each song a complete two-page spread, but there are very cute pencil and ink drawings on each page. You can't help but smile when flipping through it. Additionally, Johnson is a big proponent of environmental education and a portion of the sale of each disc goes to funding such education in schools.

Liner notes and environmental causes aside, we buy albums for the music and that's where this disc seems to go astray. The album starts off strong but unfortunately becomes less enjoyable halfway through it as if each successive song is in fact geared to a slightly younger age person than the previous one. The first five or six tracks are essentially the stuff we come to expect from Johnson, albeit slower and a bit more dominated by the chorus than normal. But each of them are very enjoyable and would be a welcome addition to any of his other albums. Of these, I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Broken", "Wrong Turn", or "Talk of the Town" on the radio.

The middle of the album features a very smooth transition into the more childish latter half of the disc. After the harmonica-laden "Jungle Gym" featuring G. Love, the disc goes on to play the sugary-sweet "We're Going to be Friends". The song is so utterly adorable and sweet that it's almost impossible not to have a tear well up in your eyes as the song makes you long for the innocence of youth and the simple joy of walking to school, and collecting bugs, and making friends. It's probably my second favorite song on the album.

The second half of the album is far more likely to be skipped over on future playings. This is where the album's full title gets its name and while enjoyable on the first couple playings, sing-a-long songs about "The 3 R's" (reduce, reuse, recycle) can get a bit grating. As can Ben Harper's contribution, the disappointing and disturbingly positive "With My Own Two Hands". These songs and others like "The Sharing Song" are sure to make you smile the first time or two you hear them, but if you don't have kids, you're unlikely to listen to them more than that.

All in all, the album is a mixed bag. I don't regret buying the album, but I do indeed feel as if I only have an EP for the price of an LP. I'd suggest going to iTunes and buying the first seven tracks and just listen to the samples of the others.

Gaming On Down the Road

Heading down to Portland, Oregon this weekend for a friend's wedding. I hope to get some more time in with Armored Core: Formula Front on the PSP during the drive and should have plenty to write about this game come Sunday night. So look for some impressions on it by Monday morning. I'm also heavily enjoying Space Rangers 2 on the PC right now and can see why guys like Bill Harris and so many at were so high on this game last year. It actually doesn't come out in the US until next month, but you can order it on in the meantime. I would highly advise doing so--and not just because it runs at 180 frames per second on my machine, wink, wink.

Lastly in the "what am I playing" department, I think I may have finally burned out on Animal Crossing for the Nintendo DS. I played the game for about 15 minutes a day for the better part of two months, have paid off 3 of the in-game mortgages, have collected all but 3 of the fossils, and frankly just don't care anymore. I'm going to finally pick up one of my "most anticipated titles of 2006" today while out running errands, Age of Kings for the Nintendo DS. Yes, you read that correctly, one of my most-anticipated titles for this year is a handheld bastardization of a PC classic.

Oh, and in case the games mentioned above didn't give you enough of a hint, expect an article next week concerning the possibility of me skipping the Xbox 360, the PS3, and the Revolution. I realize it's very unlikely, but it's what I'm feeling right now. That, and it's time to go running. Have a good weekend.

Bonds Got Soul

The way people save money isn't what it used to be. Most seem to either contribute to a company-sponsored 401(k) plan or have a broker who advises them on stocks and mutual funds. Or they go it alone and contribute monthly to a pre-packaged portfolio online. Then, of course, there are the masses who have trouble paying the bills on time and saving money for them just seems to be an impossibility.

But regardless of your ability to save, one thing seems pretty clear and that is that nobody really considers savings bonds and savings accounts as real options anymore. It could be because the interest is typically pretty low; it could be because greed is typically pretty high; or it could be simply that these vehicles of saving money have become passe.

When I was young, my Uncle David gave me a savings bond every year for my birthday and for Christmas. This continued until I was probably 7 or 8 years old and became more and more vocal about wanting toys. I can just imagine me thinking "what good is money I can't spend until I'm 18!" Usually he gave me a $25 or $50 savings bond, but there were one or two $100 bonds mixed in with my collection. Sure enough, Uncle David was giving me the best gifts of all. I just didn't know it.

The truth is that aside from the Mickey Mouse drumset my Aunt Nancy had given me -- much to the chagrin of my mom and dad, I'm sure -- I can't sit here 25 years later and tell you what gifts I received from relatives. While I'm sure they gave me some very nice clothes and fun toys, they were of course destined to be outgrown or become broken or lost. And while at the time, I totally preferred toys to money I couldn't spend, my uncle's genorosity and thinking became a lot more evident when I was 17. All those savings bonds he had given me ended up being worth about $1700 by the time I was ready to buy a car and, lo and behold, the 9-year old Nissan Stanza I wanted cost just about that much. I'll never forget the first time I told my uncle that I used those bonds he gave me to buy my first car. His response? "Holy shit!"

Kristin gave that same response to a bank teller earlier this week. It seems that her mother had stumbled across two savings bonds given to Kristin when she was a toddler. One was for $25 and the other was for $50. Savings bonds expire after thirty years so Kristin's mom mailed them over to us so Kristin could go and cash them in before they hit their expiration date. I'm sure nobody really thought anything of them, least of all Kristin who didn't realize that if you give them enough time, those little pieces of paper end up being worth quite a bit more than their denomination.

So after spending far too long with a pimply-faced teenage bank teller who clearly hadn't ever seen a savings bond before, she finds out that they're now worth $358. That's a lot of money to have totally forgotten about! And while my initial reaction was that it still couldn't have amounted to much interest over the years, a quick minute with the calculator showed me how wrong I was. Turns out that if you assume both savings bonds were issued 29 years ago (which they weren't, one was even younger), they gained 477% in value. That breaks down to about 16.5% a year interest every year for 30 years. I'm no expert investor by any stretch, but I do know that there aren't many investments that are guaranteed and earn 16% a year for thirty straight years.

And this is where I get to demonstrate that every now and then I can be a good husband and surprise my wife with something I know she'd want, but never get for herself. When I learned that Kristin had been handed $358 for those bonds and was planning on just depositing them into the checking account and using them towards groceries and whatever, I decided that I had to spend it on her, even if she wasn't going to. Not an hour later I saw a commercial on ESPN for a Faith Hill & Tim McGraw concert coming to Seattle in August. They're calling it the Soul II Soul tour, or some such thing. While I wouldn't kick Faith Hill out of bed, I sure wouldn't pay to go listen to her sing. Country just isn't my bag. Kristin, on the other hand, loves singing along with Faith Hill in her car and thinks Faith's hubby Tim is pretty hot. You should have seen her run to the tv during half time on Monday Night Football this season so she can see Tim McGraw's weekly football music video.

Anyway, there was a problem with my plan of buying the tickets. Their were few tickets left (and they were expensive) and you had to be a member of the Faith Hill Fanclub to get in. But as luck (or greed) would have it, Faith and Ticketmaster gave you the opportunity to join her fanclub whie ordering the tickets. And in return for a small additional donation of $30, she'll send you a glossy 8x10 photo of her. So I was able to get them. Knowing that there was no way I could keep the secret for 6 months, I told her over a pizza and beer after snowboarding Wednesday night. She didn't even know about the concert yet, and that made the surprise even better.

So Kristin can go to the concert with her friend; I'll stay home with the photo.

The Sundowner

I finished my second guidebook of the year earlier this week and I think my sleep cycle may be permanently thrown out of whack. We learned the Tuesday following the Super Bowl that the videogame in question would be releasing earlier than we expected so everyone working on the project -- namely myself, my editor, and the book designer -- would have to really step it up if we're to ship the book on time. After all, when it comes to videogame strategy guides, it's all but essential to ship the book day-and-date with the game if not a day or two early (I shudder to think how much money Prima had lost when their guidebook for Gran Turismo 4 didn't ship until over a month after the game's release).

It's not unheard of for a game's release date to get bumped up a week or so, but an added wrinkle in this particular project was that in addition to writing the text I was also illustrating the maps as well. Now, in all due fairness to true illustrators and graphic designers, I use the term illustrating rather loosely here. But nevertheless, I did produce roughly 40 two-dimensional maps for the book. And that takes time. I also, in the first 20 days of February, wrote 345 pages of copy. Much of it walkthrough text, but also a tediously-assembled 87 page chapter consisting of nothing but weapons descriptions and leveling data. Throw in the time spent playing the game, capturing and renaming close to 1,000 screenshots, and placing callouts on the maps and you're basically left with very little time for sleep. And please note that I don't throw these numbers at you to brag, but rather so you understand--it's very easy to think of my job as one that doesn't really take much effort so excuse me if I throw the truth of the matter out there every now and then. I digress...

This brings me to the point of this post and the reason why instead of lying in bed next to my wonderful wife, I'm sitting here typing at 3:40 am. I can't sleep. Now, I'm fully aware that it takes time to return to one's normal sleeping habits after working until nealy 4am every night for over 2 straight weeks (and waking at 9am), but here's the part that has me concerned: I should be exhausted. I jumped back into training late last week and just yesterday went mountain biking in the afternoon and then, two hours later, went snowboarding with Kristin when she got home from work. And if the physical exertion shouldn't have tired me out the two pints of Snoqualmie Spring Fever ale should have.

And I was. We got home around ten, showered, played with the dogs a little, and went to bed. And I was out cold by midnight. Until I wasn't. I tossed and turned and finally... here I am. And there's no reason for it. There's nothing on my mind; I have no worries or concerns (lucky me, I know); the wind isn't particularly bothersome tonight; and I'm not anxiously awaiting something in the morning. Instead, I'm afraid that I simply cannot sleep at night anymore.

And instead of sleeping, I'm sitting here writing excruciatingly boring columns about not sleeping.

...a yawn...

...another yawn...

...three yawns and I'm out...


SFW or NSFW? That is the Question.

My friends and I will go months without sending an email to one another and then, in a matter of two days, five dozen emails will zip back and forth across the country. Topics range from fantasy baseball to pending bachelor parties to porn. And regardless if the topic is porn or baseball, the language is always colorful, the attachments always hysterical, and basically very little of it should ever be read or opened in a workplace environment. Especially not if you work in a large office with IT monitors and definitely not if, like my friend Ed, you happen to teach at a junior high.

It's actually quite easy to see how so much of our emails can be inappropriate for some environs when you consider that one of the guys in our group is a staff photographer for Playboy; another is currently driving around that massive Vault beverage monster truck; and I spend my days at home writing about videogames. In other words, one-fourth of the group has no need to concern themselves with issues regarding suitability in the workplace.

And we often forget this.

So, earlier today, I sent a group email out containing a link to a photo of the absolutely smoking-hot Polish curlerwho will be appearing in Playboy next month. I wanted to know if my buddy James met her. The photo has a bit of side-boob in it, but was in my words "suitable for work... I think". And therein lies the problem. I have no idea what is suitable for work and what isn't. Is side-boob acceptable? Is everyone's favorite acronym "WTF" alright? I mean, of course one can take the safe approach and just be very professional and not mentioning anything questionable. But where's the fun in that?

The first response I got was pretty funny.

Not that I open anything at work – but as a warning to anyone else - you really have to consider where these people who send this stuff out work.

I mean one guy works in his house and the other works in an office where they have a free porn table. Come on.

I tried getting the school to set up a free porn table but they didn’t go for it. WTF?

Well, I guess that means WTF is at least acceptable. Now we just got to find out about that whole side-boob thing.

Nintendo: The Big N Stands for Neglect

Back in 2001, Nintendo released the critically acclaimed Paper Mario and laugh-a-minute Conker's Bad Fur Day for their N64 game console in the early winter months of the year, and then seemingly abandoned the platform as they tried to build momentum for the yet-to-release Gamecube system, coming out that following November. Notwithstanding a couple of watered-down ports of Playstation 2 games, there was nothing ever meaningful to buy again for the N64 after the February, 2001 release of Conker's Bad Fur Day. N64 owners and fans had been abandoned by the company and, whether they were shopping for games for the N64 or the Gamecube, over a year went buy without any compelling software to emerge from the house of Mario.

Flash forward to 2006. It's a transition year much like 2001, and Nintendo is set to release another new console this coming November. They're coming off a less-than-stellar 2005 as far as first-party software is concerned and a big reason for that was the delay of its flagship AAA title, Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. The game was delayed until the spring of 2006 on account of it needing more refinement. You'll get no problem from me there, as this industry would be a much better place if more game publishers had the good sense to know when a game could stand a bit more time in the oven. But late last week it was announced that the game would not come out in the spring of 2006, but rather has been delayed again till the fall.

While I have no doubt that the game is going to be worth the wait (provided it doesn't come with a Toys-For-Tots difficulty curve as the series' last installment did) I have a problem with this delay for many reasons. First of all, there's something really fishy going on when Nintendo's cash cow and much-lauded "greatest series of all-time" needs a supposed additional year of balancing and fine-tuning on top of the three years it's already spent in development. Either there is massive internal fighting about the direction of the game or this second delay was purely strategic and the supposed "Gamecube" game is actually going to become the Revolution console's signature launch title.

In either situation, we the gamers who have supported Nintendo, lose again. The reason is because without a spring release of Zelda we will be forced to undergo an entire year without there being one quality title released for the system -- from fall of 2005 until fall of 2006. It's one thing for people to ignore the Gamecube in favor of the Playstation 2 or Xbox, but it's another for Nintendo to ignore the gamers.

This is the number one reason why Nintendo continues to lose marketshare and why, in their rookie debut, Microsoft was able to sell more Xboxes than Nintendo did Gamecubes. Microsoft not only had quality software releasing for the Xbox right up until the launch of the Xbox 360, but they continue to support the elder system and are believed to be preparing to lower the price of the machine come E3, for one last sales push. Nintendo, on the other hand, appears totally incapble of supporting two consoles at once -- even when one of them is still in development.

The life expectancy of a game console these days is five years. Period. If you factor in the slow start that all of these consoles get in terms of software and then factor in what is now a track record of abandonment by Nintendo in the final year, you are basically buying a Nintendo console for three years of enjoyment. And even then the software pickings are far slimmer than on the other consoles (albeit the fruit often juicier). And people are starting to finally wake up and notice. Yes, their console is cheaper. That's because it won't sell at all if it isn't. But that still doesn't mean the poor shleps who buy it deserve to be left high and dry for two-fifths of the console's life cycle. Or is it that when people refer to the Zelda and Metroid franchises as "system-sellers" they are being quite a bit more literal than I thought. Do you really buy a Nintendo console just to play 2 or 3 specific games?

This is what this industry has come to. Even this once dominant company, perceived by many still to be the one that cares the most about the gamers and the joy of playing videogames, is just too wrapped up in the race to the next-gen that it can't bother supporting the current. It's time Nintendo makes a major decision: either give up on the home video console and restrict themselves purely to handhelds, or follow Sega's lead into the world of third-party software publishing. Nobody minds when a quality game publisher struggles to release more than one good game every two years. Unless of course that company also sold you a console on the promise of a healthy library of options. Nintendo needs to take their fans as serious as the fans do them, and exit the console side of the business.

My Foot[note] Fetish

I recently finished reading, "A Crack In the Edge of the World" by Simon Winchester and having now read his four most popular books, I have finally pinpointed exactly why he has risen to the top of my favorite authors list. Not that I really have a favorite authors list, but if I did he would be the cherry peering down from atop a mountain of neopolitan. You see, I used to think it was because the subject matter has in all but one of his books centered around geology. Then when I read the outlyer book (about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary... and how it owes much of its existence to a murdering madman) I started to think it was because he was just a master storyteller who fortunately wrote non-fiction. Or because he simply had a knack for selecting some wickedly interesting topics.

He's all of those things, but still there's more to it. The reason I so enjoy reading his books rests in the very reason I noticed myself folding some of the page corners down -- the footnotes. At the risk of sounding incredibly nerdy (too late, I know), the best part of Winchester's books are the footnotes. It's in the footnotes where he buries the tastiest nuggets of information; where he tosses in the occasional razor-sharp jab, and where you learn some of the most outlandish facts.

"A Crack In the Edge of the World" is about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and the resulting fire that nearly destroyed the entire city. It's a book that details the tectonic history and activity of the continental United States; California's history; the current status of earthquake science along the San Andreas; and even the possible Gaea-like links between the San Andreas fault, major quakes in Alaska, and the supervolcano residing under Yellowstone National Park. And, I'll throw in, those slumbering Cascade giants I so often gaze at from my porch in Washington.

Maybe it's because of my background in geology, or maybe because I've always been drawn to trainwrecks and in writing about Krakatoa and San Francisco 1906, Winchester has written about two of the biggest natural trainwrecks ever. But regardless, I have found each of his books to be utterly fascinating and wonderfully written. I don't know if I've ever come across a better writer. And most assuredly not a better researcher.

Here's a couple of those tasty nuggest I found particularly interesting and enjoyable. As taken from "A Crack In the Edge of the World":

on misfortune...

The Geological Survey report noted that fully three-quarters of the city's iron safes failed to protect their contents from the subsequent fires. Most tragically of all, merchants often opened safes that were still red hot, with costly consequences: The moment the superheated insides were exposed to fresh air and oxygen, the paper contents -- Treasury Bills and negotiable securities -- burst into flames, bringing sudden financial ruin to owners who had been optimistic but who had now looked helplessly at the blaze.

on Wal-Mart's place in the Yukon...

By now I was finally in the Yukon... Even though Whitehorse tries hard, with its railroad to Skagway and its wonderful paddle wheel ferry on the Yukon River, it does also have a Wal-Mart, and that, for me, is the kiss of death. The notion that the ghost of Sam Walton and the Brutes of Bentonville have come to linger anywhere at all in the Yukon sets me fretting about the state of the world even more than usual. There is worse, however: Someone suggested taking the road farther north still to Dawson City and being initiated into a drinking club that has as its signature libation a whiskey in which is marinated some unfortunate's frostbitten toe. It seemes almost as repellent an attaction as Wal-Mart.

on world-famous creator of the Richter Scale...

Richter, who spent most of his career in Pasadena, at the California Institute of Technology, was a somewhat unusual man; an avid nudist and vegetarian who, to judge from his correspondence and his diaries, enjoyed a prodigious sexual appetite.

on Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort...

Although Beaufort is inextricably linked in the public mind with the measurement of wind, he is better known among sailors as perhaps the greatest hydrographer of all time, with more than a thousand nautical charts of every corner of the maritime world to his credit. He also performed his work under some physical duress: In a battle at Malaga, before he began his work as mapmaker and gale-measurer, he was wounded no fewer than nineteen times, sixteen times by musket balls and three times by a Spanish cutlass. He was given a pension of 45 pounds for his pains.

I anxiously look forward to his next book but will, in the meantime, try to track down some of his older works. If you enjoy non-fiction, I'd highly recommend this book.

And Above All The Playstation 3

This is just too funny not to link to. It's apparently a letter from a gamer living in India to "whoever it may concern" at Sony. In short, he's either the world's most desperate fanboy or he's extremely witty and a master of parody. Either way, I give you these fine samples:


If i really am made to be a part of sony in future and be a reason for its success than i think i may get your response and yes plz IF RIGHT

Click here for the full letter.

What Do Scott Hamilton and My Pretty Pony Have In Common?

I've been trying to sneak in about an hour of Olympics viewing each day, whether it be on NBC at night or during the day on the rolls-right-off-the-tongue Universal-HD channel. Whatever the hell that is. All I know is it's channel 74 and it shows lots of Olympic coverage. In high-def. So I care. Sort of.

Anyway, everybody has an opinion on the Winter Olympics. They weigh in on topics ranging from reasons why nobody watches them, to reasons why Bodie Miller is an ass. And I realize he doesn't have an "i" in his first name, but it's my blog and we spell things correctly on my blog.

But nobody is ever funny when discussing the Olympics. Until now. And I'm not referring to my line about spelling, although feel free to chuckle. Moving on. Thankfully we have Bill Harris, whose writing is always some of the best around and today he gives us his take on men's figure skating. He only has a take on it because his wife made him watch it with her last night.

For Your Enjoyment.

My New Favorite Website

I dare you to not bookmark this site and check it every morning.

Your new morning ritual...

Maybe it's because I'm a former geologist, or because I just the other night finished Simon Winchester's awesome "A Crack in the Edge of the World" (more about this coming in a later post on Monday) but a site where I can just check to see where every earthquake in the world (of magnitude 2.5 or greater) occured on a daily basis -- and there are usually a dozen per day -- is awesome.

How else would I know that a small 2.6 quake happened yesterday in northern New Jersey! Which shouldn't be all that surprising to anybody who knows anything about earthquakes and North American tectonics -- it's just the crust essentially letting out a sigh of relief after having all the weight of Appalachians eroded off of it over millions of years. But still, without a site like that to check, I wouldn't have been able to instantly look at maps showing where it was felt and at what intensity. And that is just awesome. But come to think of it, while I have yet to feel a quake here in Washington, I do indeed recall feeling one in NJ when I was a kid of about 7 years old.

But getting back to this USGS site, thanks to it I now have something to talk to my mother about the next time I call her. I told you this site rocked!

Oh, and this is just too good. So you think earthquakes never happen by you? You think there's no chance of suffering damage? Then check this link to a map of all known earthquakes in the US with an intensity above 6. Now, this isn't to say these were >6.0 on the Richter scale, but at least an intensity VI or greater on the Modified Mercalli scale, which essentially translates to: felt by most people indoors and many outdoors, some people fall over, small items may fall and furniture may shift. Farm animals will be frightened.

Well, one look at that map will tell you that no cow is safe when it comes to seismic activity in the US.

Our First Earthquake

One of the things that we've yet to experience since moving to the Pacific Northwest is an earthquake. And I'd like to say that we finally experienced our first one the other day, but truth be told, had somebody not have posted in our community message boards about it, I would have never known.

A 2.9 earthquake occured at a pretty shallow depth of 4.7 miles just outside of our town last Thursday at 3:47 am. Had it have been just two hours earlier, I would have likely been awake to feel it.

Oh well... this was a nice reminder to finish getting our preparedness kit ready. So far all we have is a wind-up radio and a case of Cliff bars. But that wind-up radio can also charge a cell phone and gets am, fm, and all of the weather stations. We might not have food or water and the world might be tearing apart at the seams and dogs and cats might be having sex in the streets and making mutant puttin babies, but damn it if I won't be able to call in to Delilah and make a request for my sweety.

Link to the official earthquake report.

Riding The 'Hood

I desperately needed to take a break from work for an hour so I slipped into my microfleece bib-tights, long sleeve winter jersey, gore-tex jacket, neoprene gloves, merino wool socks, and fleece skullcap and went for a ride on the snow-covered trails that loop around our neighborhood. It's only 42-degrees out (only as in, it could be a lot worse) and the views were too great to pass up. I had to get out from behind this desk for an hour.

As you may recall my mountain bike is currently laid-up with a case of a fractured rocker link, but fortunately I have a cyclocross bike on standby. Who knew this whimsical purchase several years ago (pro-deal through the shop my brother used to co-own) would offer up so much fun? Not to mention it's just great to have in a pinch. Like today.

So off I went on what amounts to a compact road bike with minimally knobby tires (mental note: buy new tires for this bike). Not five minutes into the ride I hit a snow-covered pothole and thought I at the least broke the front rim, at the worst cracked the frame of the bike. These concerns took backseat to the intense pain in my groin (mental note: ouch!).

But before long I was rolling through an inch or so of frozen compact snow from Monday's brief snowfall. Riding a bike with 1.4" tires off-road on snow and ice is a lot of fun, and I imagine that if I did it long enough and fast enough, it would really sharpen my bike handling skills. Not that they're too shabby mind you, but they can always stand improving. One section of the trail loops behind a business park and I came up on two construction workers whose look they gave me was priceless. I also passed a guy on what we mountain bikers would call a "big bike" and he looked to have the same idea as me -- don't worry about training or going big or getting in a workout. Just go out and have some fun.

Sometimes it pays to just jump on a bike and go play. Like kids, but with much costlier toys. I snapped a couple photos of the neighborhood with the nearby mountains and my bike out on the trail. I know at least some of my readers are socked in with over 2 feet of snow, so hopefully this can be a little motivator to go out and enjoy it. You're never too old to go play.

Around the corner from home, our view when we walk the dogs.
Did I mention I love living here?

My bike on the frozen-over Silent Creek trail.

Long Night Ahead

It's 11:20 and I'm on my third cup of coffee since 9:30. Kristin just went downstairs to make me a fresh batch with the French press.

How'd we spend Valentines Day? Valentine's Day? What's that? Kristin spent about 3 hours at the kitchen table working on a massive table of crafting data for my current project in an effort to help me meet my absurdly tight deadline while I plowed ahead with the walkthrough upstairs in my office. Not that we ever even acknoweldge this absurd holiday, but still... she's awesome. And not only because she keeps me well-caffeinated and helps me when I need it. She's just awesome.

I'm probably averaging about 16 to 18 hours a day this week, and it totally sucks. But I just keep reminding myself that I get about 3 to 4 months off of work each year during the down-time and this is the price I pay.

And back to work I go, with dreams of the summer slump dancing in my head.

PS: My book for the Xbox 360 game Full Auto which shipped today ended up only being released as an E-Guide in PDF form. You can download it at

Paying Up to the Horror Geek

As big a sports fan as I am, you might think that I'm the type of guy who does a lot of betting come Super Bowl time. Well, you would be wrong. I made my first ever real sports bet this year back in September in Las Vegas ($60 on the Seahawks to cover, and I won) but I've actually made it through Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas once without placing a single bet. The thing is, sports are just too unpredictable to me. I don't mind sidling up to the craps table with a few hundred to play with, but betting on sports? Ha! My name's Walsh, not Gretzky!

So I stick with box pools and friendly small-stakes wagers. Which brings me to this year's game.

I've been a regular poster on the Gamecritics message boards for the better part of the past 4 or 5 years now and one of the guys I enjoy communicating with is none other than Mike Bracken, also known as The Horror Geek from the defunct Comedy Central show "Beat the Geeks". He's the type of guy who really knows his stuff (read his regular column at IGN right here) and is easy to like, if it weren't for the fact that he's from Pittsburgh.

We had a lot of fun talking smack to one another during the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XL and finally, I propsed a bet. Each of us have our videogame collections posted on IGN and each of us have several hundred games, so I proposed that the winner gets to browse the other's collection and select one game to take. The loser would have the opportunity to make 3 games off-limits, but beyond that it's up to the winner's discretion.

But that's not all. The loser would also have to use the winning team's logo as their avatar for the rest of February. So yes, my avatar has been the colored stars of the Steelers logo for the past couple weeks.

Well, just when I was wondering if Mike was ever going to claim his prize, he PM'd me to request "Breath of Fire 3" for the PSone. He was awfully courteous about it too. Saying that I can veto it if I was still playing it or hadn't gotten around to it yet or basically if I just wanted to keep it.

I didn't even know I had it, but sure enough I have a mint copy of it sitting on my shelf. It's going in tomorrow's mail.

I just hope whatever Mike bribed the officials with wasn't much, because I'm pretty sure he could have gotten that game pretty cheap on Ebay.

Racing Again

While my screen capturing program is busy importing 32 gigs worth of video, I thought I'd go ahead and let it be known that I have my first mountain bike race in 4 years coming up next weekend. I have not pedaled so much as ten feet since November. And there's the little matter of my bike currently having no rear rocker link. I dropped it off at a different bike shop this past Saturday and they ordered the part for me yesterday -- $130 + labor -- and I'll hopefully have it back by this time next week.

Plenty of time to train.

It snowed again last night.

But hey, I ordered new tires from on Thursday and they got here yesterday. So it's all good, right?

Well, I don't know much about this race I'm doing next weekend other than my wife is going to drop me off on our way back from a wedding we're attending the previous night in Portland, Oregon. Excellent! I'll be out-of-shape and hung over! Sweet!

I'm also entered in an off-road duathlon on March 25th. There was a choice between a short course and a long course on the entry form. Naturally, given my lack of training, I entered the long course. And this is what happens when you go for a lousy 3 mile run and start daydreaming about races you ran in your prime.

Ego, it's a terrible thing to waste.

In Case of Emergency...

Just checking in to let you all know that I'm fine and despite rumors that have begun circulating concerning my whereabouts, I was not injured in a hunting accident this weekend. I'm just really busy. Not shot. Busy.

But alas, I am rapidly approaching the end of this project and I will be able to return to joining my lovely wife in bed for more than 90 minutes before she wakes up for work. And it's a good thing too, because I don't want to miss any Olympics coverage but explaining to my editors that I'm late on a book because I spent all afternoon watching Canadians sweep ice isn't really a good career move for me at this time.

Oh, and about that whole hunting mishap involving Dick... the article in the paper today brought up a point that I didn't even consider: Had the lawyer-guy have shot Cheney by accident instead of the other way around, the Secret Service would have dropped him on the spot. And instead of comic gold, we'd have at least one dead guy on our hands and conspiracy theorists proclaiming Cheney was assasinated. Wow.

And kudos to The Scotland Herald for running with the headline, "Cheney Bags a Lawyer". Very nice.

Deadlines and Hasidic Reggae Acts

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but I am positively slammed with work. I took on some extra work for one of my upcoming books and then found out this week that the game (and therefore my book) is coming out a week earlier than expected. So what was initially a tough deadline has become just plain nuts.

And if that and the Seahawks losing wasn't a bad enough way to start the week, I found out today that I missed a chance to see Matisyahu earlier this week. Matisyahu is a Hasidic reggae band --- I'll repeat that: he's Hasidic and he sings reggae -- and they're awesome. They have a song playing a lot lately called "King Without a Crown" and it's awesome. Unique sound, good lyrics, and they were playing this past Monday night at The Showbox and I missed them.

Head over to to check their show listing so you don't make the mistake I did.

Whatever Happened to Ramen Noodles?

Well, the sun has finally come out and the weather is warming and I'm starting to really look forward to the upcoming season of mountain biking. Especially that trip to Sun Valley, Idaho in June. But not just because of the riding I'll be doing, but because of who is sharing my campground with me.

Those who read the article about my weekend out on the Olympic Peninsula in September may recall me raving about my friend Eric's wonderful campside cooking. Well, he spent the past couple days camping and riding up at Fort Ebey (one of my favorite spots to ride) and in addition to some nice action shots, his girlfriend also took some photos of his version of "camp food".

Here's a photo of him prepping his home-made campfire egg rolls and here's the end result. Ummm... yes please?

I'm pretty new to the whole concept of camping with a car nearby and not having to carry everything on my back definitely has its perks, as I'm finding out. But Eric is just on another level. Granted, he's the head chef at a prestigious athletic club in Seattle, but still, my idea of campfood usually has the words ramen or n'cheese in the description.

I have a feeling I'm going to be eating well in Sun Valley. And I may even learn a thing too.

Hey Eric, you heard it here first: you cook like that in Idaho, and all the beer you want is on me!

Much Ado About Nothing

The following was deemed so important, so groundbreaking, so vital that IGN had no choice but to make it their top link on their main page. Brace yourself...

Activision Confirms Three for PS3 Launch

Near the end of its Q3 earnings shareholders conference call today, Activision executives confirmed that it would be releasing three titles for the U.S. PlayStation 3 launch. Though an exact release date for the three titles was not given, it was stated that the games would be out before the end of Fiscal [Year]2007 -- which translates to sometime between April 2006 and March 2007.

Unfortunately the most important bit of information -- namely, the titles of the launch games themselves -- were not provided. We'll have more on this developing story as it comes to light.

I'll give you a minute to let that all sink in.

There's a lot of meat there, so allow me to break it down for you. The second largest game publisher in North America, Activision, who has been a staple in the industry for nearly thirty years, is going to release games for the upcoming Playstation 3. And those games, whose names have yet to be revealed, will release sometime between April of 2006 and March of 2007.

I don't know about you, but I for one didn't see that coming. Not at all. Especially given the fact that Activision has several franchises that receive annual updates (Tony Hawk and Spider-Man to name but two of them) and that Activision
always releases games for a new system's launch.

Thank goodness for IGN, because without groundbreaking news like this, I'd have been worried that Activision was going to skip the PS3 and hold out for the XBox 720. And that piece of info about the games coming out sometime in the next year was a total scoop. I don't think that would have ever occured to any of their readers and I for one don't like being kept in the dark.

Excuse my rampant sarcasm here (blame it on the Seahawks loss yesterday if you desire to make excuses for me) but this is exactly why "games journalism" is always either typed in quotes (I actually made the little air-quote gesture as I typed that) or prefaced by the words "so-called". This so-called "news" (two birds, one stone -- count it!!) story is as obvious as obvious gets. Right up there with financial analysts swooning over Nintendo's comments that the Revolution would cost less than $399. And for my next trick, behold the sky is blue!

Allow me. Activision is going to have at least 2 games ready to ship day-and-date with the PS3, whenever that day comes. Based on the past five years and previous console launches, one of the titles will be a Tony Hawk game, another will be a Spider-Man game (especially since Spider-Man 3 is already confirmed for other consoles for 2006), and probably the sequel to Gun (again, because it's confirmed for other consoles). Anybody who follows this industry in the least could have told you this.

And, since I like you, I'll even offer you a second bone entirely free. Electronic Arts will have a Madden football game ready to ship for the PS3's launch. I'm just going on a hunch here, but I think it's likely. Oh, and for the coupe de grace, I'll even predict right here on February 6th, that that game will not only come out sometime between April, 2006 and March 2007, but I'll narrow it down to October to March.

Summary: Big game companies will support the PS3 launch.

Shocking, huh?

Welcome to Seatown

Time to get your music queued up for a proper Super Bowl party.

Here's some favorites that we're playing out here in the PNW. Links courtesy of 950am, WKJR in Seattle.

Welcome to Seatown

Flap Yo Wings

We the Seahawks

Click the links to listen, or right-click and save them.

The Cruelest Joke of All

Here's the deal. We're less than 48 hours away from kickoff of Super Bowl XL. The city of Seattle (and the 12% of US States that make up the Seahawks fanbase) have been waiting for this for 30 years. Not me, mind you, I've only been here for 4 years, but that's beside the point.

The point is that there is a major storm coming in off the north Pacific that is packing near-hurricane strength wind and rain. It could arrive as early as tomorrow morning or as late as tomorrow night. Either way, it's predicted to sit and churn throughout the weekend. And as it churns it will be snapping trees and downing power lines and blacking out the power for some very, very unfortunate people.

People make cracks all the time about the Pacific Northwest's weather being the root cause of so many suicicides. Well, you better man the phones at those hotline call centers, cause if the power goes out up here on Super Bowl Sunday, there is going to be one mighty big spike in those figures.

As for me, I have between 15 and 20 people attending a party at my house on Sunday and the thoughts of us taking turns cranking the little arm on my emergency am/fm radio so we can hear the game on the radio is enough to make me weep in my beer. While laughing uncontrollably. I do that when faced with situations beyond my control. I laugh.

Earthquake preparedness kit, my ass! That little bugger might just save us from being the only people on the planet who don't know the outcome of the game. Can you imagine that? Some kid growing up in Swaziland will know the final score, but people here in the city whose team is in the game may not. That kid in Swaziland may not care, but he'll know.

And no, I'm not buying a generator.

Well, I'm probably not buying a generator.

*turns and yells down the hall*

"Honey, what time does Home Depot open tomorrow?"

Addendum: I posted this 5 minutes ago and the lights have already begun flickering. Home Depot has a Coleman Powermate generator for $399. It's designed for tailgate parties and camping. I wonder if it can power a 48" HDTV and surround-sound setup?

The deal on the storm...

Netflix to Support HD-DVD & Blu-Ray at Launch

This is a week old news, but I only just caught wind of it today. As you may or may not know, DVDs, as a format, are being replaced by HD-DVD & Blu-Ray discs. These discs offer higher resolution viewing than DVDs do (which is important for HDTV owners) and they offer larger storage capacities (wouldn't it be nice to have those The Simpsons box sets each coming on one disc instead of four). Here's the Press Release.

Now, of course, everyone following this has heard all of the VHS vs Beta horror stories and is aware that Blu-Ray will likely be the dominant media in the future, but until the consumers annoint Sony's Blu-Ray king and some sort of merger is made, HD-DVDs will be available.

I doubt I'll actually buy an HD-DVD player because by the time they have a large enoug library to make it worthwhile, the Playstation 3 will be available and the PS3 contains a Blu-Ray drive. Also, reports suggest that all movie houses distributing HD-DVD discs will also make those movies available on the Blu-Ray format. But not vice-versa.

Nevertheless, the fact that HD-DVD players are shipping in March and that Netflix is going to be on board with the new format immediately is pretty exciting. New formats are always fun.

Rick Reilly of SI Chimes In

Thanks to Ellen for sending this to me this morning. I worked until nearly 4am last night and was woken up by the phone ringing at the ungodly hour of 8:30. But before I can head back to sleep, I noticed this in my inbox and now I'm wide awake. It's on! Two days till Super Bowl XL!

Thanks for firing me up (and making me laugh) Mr. Reilly, the sun is out for only the fourth day since December 19th. I'd hate to let it go to waste by sleeping.

Okay, Seattle, grab a grande, skinny, no-foam, half-caf Espresso Macchiato and let me explain why the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to grind you up like a Sumatra blend in Super Bowl XL.

You suck at sports.

You always have. You make nice motherboards, but you're dweebier than Frasier Crane's wine club. You've had the big three pro sports for 30 years now -- almost 40 for the NBA -- and you have one lousy championship to show for it. Uno. The 1978 Seattle SuperSonics. My God, you people have fewer parades than Venice.

What's amazing is, you do college sports even worse. In the 70 years that a mythical national championship has been awarded in college football, the University of Washington has one half of one title: in 1991 (with Miami). Zippo in basketball, baseball, track or field. O.K., the Huskies are good at crew (three women's titles, one men's). Wonderful. Somewhere, three salmon cheer.

Your most famous athlete is a horse, Seattle Slew. Your most famous athletic moment was Bo Jackson's turning the Boz's chest into a welcome mat on Monday Night Football. Your greatest contribution to sports was the Wave, the fan-participation stunt that screams to the world, "We have no idea what the score is!"

And do you know why you stink, Seattle? Because ...

1. You're too damn nice.

Look at your Seahawks. Your MVP halfback, Shaun Alexander, teaches kids chess. Your scariest player is named Pork Chop. My God, last week, you offered valet parking service to reporters at Seahawks headquarters. (Seattle fans: If you see valet parking at Detroit's Ford Field this week, they're trying to steal your car.)

Nearly every five-dollar-steak-tough athlete who comes to Seattle leaves -- Gary Payton and Randy Johnson for instance. Consider Seattle's two favorite athletes -- Steve Largent and Fred Couples. Those guys wouldn't complain if somebody extinguished a Cohiba in their ears. Your sportswriters are more forgiving than Hillary Clinton. If they covered Jeffrey Dahmer, they'd refer to him as "a people person."

You Seattle fans don't just accept mediocrity. You crave it. You support your boys come hell or low water. You show up at the rate of three million a year for the Mariners, who never fail to let you down. Even the stadium sounds cuddly: Safeco Field. You pack the house for the underachieving SuperSonics, led by the NBA's nicest loser, Ray Allen. Your Seahawks went 21 years without a playoff win, and the fans didn't so much as clear their throats. Everybody just goes, "Well, that was fun. Let's kayak!" Hey, you can't spell Seattle without settle.

The whole town is 100% June Cleaver. I once walked into Nordstrom, the Seattle-based department store, and sheepishly asked if I could bring back a shirt I'd bought a month before in another town. The clerk said, "Sir, this is Nordstrom. You could wear it for 10 years, throw up on it and roll down a mountain in it and we'd take it back." Ask that at Neiman Marcus and they call security.

It ain't happening. Walruses don't do triple Salchows, and Seattle teams don't win titles.

2. You're too damn geeky.

Your owner, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, looks like the kid in high school who always got taped to the goalposts. If Allen wins, will he call all his friends from band camp? Throw his slide rule into the air? Plot his joy on a scatter chart?

Look, your average Seahawks fan drives a Prius. Your average Steelers fan drives a Ford Excursion, which has Priuses in its tire treads. Seahawks fans own poodles. Steelers fans eat them.

3. You're too damn wet.

Seattle is a great place if you happen to be mold. It just rained 27 straight days and it wasn't even a record. Seattle is basically a lot of guys waiting for a bus with rain starting to seep into their socks. Most kids are seven years old before they realize the umbrella is not an extension of the right arm. No wonder most great athletes leave. Ken Griffey Jr. left, basically saying, "I want my kid to be able to play outside once in a while."

In short, you people are too damn peaceful and happy in your Emerald City. You ever know anybody from Pittsburgh? You want this Super Bowl. Pittsburgh needs it. You're going to get smoked like a platter of smelt.

(But do you mind if we come live there?)

And by the way, all of you Steeler fans who like to criticise the Seahawks for having taken 30 years to reach their first Super Bowl, just remember that it took Pittsburgh even longer to reach their first Super Bowl (37 years if I'm not mistaken) and the NFL had a lot fewer teams back then. Then again, I imagine that rancid Ohio Valley air you breathe in the rust belt has rotted that part of your brain controlling your memory so I doubt history is your strongpoint. Still... no excuses.

Don't Say Anything About Anything. Ever.

While it may not have been a breach of the NDA he obviously was held to, 3D artist Josh Robinson was fired from Sony for comments he posted on his blog. Click to read the interview with the ex-employee. What did he say that got him the axe? What everyone else is saying: that everyone he has spoken with in the development community says that the Xbox 360 is far easier to develop for than Sony's Playstation 3. Well... duh. Nevermind the fact that as of the CES show last month, Sony still had empty PS3 consoles due to the internal hardware having not been finalized yet (something that would probably aid developers in making games), but he even had other Sony employees proof the article before posting.

Did I knowingly break NDA? I absolutely did not. I would never do that and I would never want to hurt Sony Online. Did I dance in the grey area by even opening my mouth? Yes I did and I was fired for it. So I guess the new rule for me is, don’t ever say anything at all about anything. Ever...ever.

Those of us who deal with Non-Disclosure Agreements regularly can find ourselves at times struggling with what can be said and what can't be. Usually, this is because positive statements are often allowed, if not encouraged. Also, because it can be very hard to devote 10 or 12, and sometimes even 16 to 20 hours a day on a project and then eliminate that part of your life from your everyday conversation with family and friends. Case in point, I was working on-site on a strategy guide and was told that "if [I] told anyone about the story in the game, [my] body would wash up on a beach". So here I was working night and day 1200 miles from my wife for two weeks and couldn't answer the simple "how was your day" when she called at night. Factor in the fact that every shmuck has their own blog these days (Exhibit A: me) and has several different aliases for various message boards, it can be all too easy to make a slip of the keyboard and type something you shouldn't even be mentioning.

And, although the "wash up on a beach" comment was particularly lame (especially considering that particular game went on to set records for in-store-returns), it was far from an isolated incident. I can't even tell you how many times I've been working on-site and was not allowed to even let that company's employees see the game. It's one thing to not trust an independent contractor like myself, but their own nine-to-fivers? Or in the gaming industry's case, their own ten-to-midnighters?

And this is the lesson that Mr. Robinson and everyone of us in the industry needs to remember. The powers at be trust nobody when it comes to unreleased product. The gaming industry is fueld by hype. Much of the hype is purchased and controlled in the "gaming press", but an even larger part of the hype machine is powered by gamers and their incredible ability to persuade other gamers through the online community. And few things stoke that fire like a negative comment from a developer or other industry insider.

Had Mr. Robinson have raved about a particular level he was designing in an as-of-yet unanounced game, he would have probably been reprimanded and put on probation, but not fired. But because he said something negative -- even though it's a surprise to nobody -- he got fired. And that's the way it goes when image is everything.

Who's His Boss? And Fire Them Both!

Can someone please explain to me how it is possible that I can flip through the channels and actually come across "The Tony Danza Show" as one of my viewing options in 2006? I thought this guy was dead.

There's a lot of talk lately coming from the fly-over states about how out of touch Hollywood is from mainstream America in light of Brokeback Mountain being nominated for so many Academy Awards. Well, I don't agree with the homophoboic naysayers as far as that particular movie is concerned. Nor do I necessarily think "mainstream America" is a club one should aspire to be a part of. But, yes, Hollywood is definitely out of touch. How else could you describe the decision to give Tony Danza his own daytime talk show?

What's next, Chevy Chase is going to get his own show? Whoops...

IGN Sports Gets it Right

Few and far between are the days that I read IGN's website, let a lone link to it. But I got to give credit where it's due and their recent "10 Things to Know About Super Bowl XL" is one of the better articles about the game to come out this week. It's so refreshing to read an article that actually (and correctly) celebrates the fact that controversy isn't what makes the Super Bowl great. What makes for a great Super Bowl is a matchup between two hard-working, dominant, professional teams. And this is going to be a great one.

Here's the article.

10. How can anyone bet on this game?

The early line is Pittsburgh by 4, but how can you look at what Seattle just did to Carolina and call them an underdog? Seattle dominated the NFC almost all season and Pittsburgh barely snuck in the playoffs. I know, the Steelers are hot and took out the three top teams in the AFC, but just because you didn't watch Seattle games all season, don't sleep on this squad. They might be the most anonymous team to make the Super Bowl in years, but even if they lose, you should get used to this team. They're young, they're talented, and they're no fluke. Whatever the final score, I think we're in for an exciting game. Besides, isn't this the stage where stars are born? "We want the ball and I'm going to Disneyland". Remember that quote when you watch Hasselbeck strut around the field. He has what it takes to pull this thing off.

Then again, the Steelers seemingly have few weaknesses. They feature the punishing defense and running game that wins in the postseason. Throw in the arm of Big Ben and a few trick plays, and those terrible towels might be out in full force come February.

All I want to know is this: Back in August, who had Pittsburgh/Seattle in the Super Bowl? Anyone…anyone…Bueller…Bueller…

I think Super Bowl XL is going to be a lot better game than people realize.

Forget the commercials, the real show is going to take place on the field.

And isn't that how it should be…

I couldn't agree more.

Boycotting Gun? Puhleeze...

A story I've known about for a while concerning one of my favorite games of 2005 is finally making some headway in the gaming press. That is the angry protestations of the Native Americans in reference to the game Gun. In essence, they're very upset about the depictions of Apache and Blackfoot tribesmen in the game and are trying to boycot stores selling the game. They cite the violence directed at the Apache in the game as the reason behind this.

Here's the link to the most recent article on the matter.

Here's my take on this: Gun doesn't treat the Apache any differently in the game than any WWII game does to Germans and Russians. Yes, you kill Apache in the game. And yes, some of the characters make some racist comments about them. But the game also makes fun of the Irish and the Chinese as well. It's an equal opportunity offender, as I've said once before on this matter. The game is set in the 1800's in the Wild West, during the frontier days. Before the railroads and before law and civility. However embarrassing that part of our nation's history may be, one can't hide it anymore than present-day Germans can act as if the Holocaust never occured. Does the game glorify the violence? No more than any other M-rated game.

And besides, having played through the game in its entirety, I can assure you that I killed a hell of a lot more grizzled, angry, toothless white dudes than I did Apache. Am I supposed to boycott the game on account of my ties to the caucasian community? It's a game. Get over it.

2006: My Wallet Weeps for Thee

I was talking with Kristin the other day about the upcoming year and I started getting quite excited. But also quite a bit nervous. 2006 is indeed off to a great start, what with all of the incredible snowfall we've been getting and the fact that the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl.

But we also have quite a few other things going on. Here's the brief rundown of what I can think of off the top of my head.

February: A wedding in Portland, Oregon to attend. Should be a bunch of fun, despite the fact that I will know nobody except the groom.

March: I'm supposed to spend a weekend in Colorado snowboarding with my brother. When, I have no idea.

April: Going to Costa Rica for a friend's wedding. Will be there for a week and are splitting a 3-bedroom villa with several friends.

May: My mother and sister are coming to visit for several days in the early part of the month.

May: Then there's the trip to E3. I haven't been to E3 the past two years on account of work and a wedding to attend, but I'll be there this year.

June: Two weeks after E3, Kristin and I will be heading to Europe to take a cruise from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany along the Danube River. We were supposed to do a similar trip on the Rhine River last summer with her grandmother, but we couldn't make it. There's no skipping it this year.

June: Two weeks after returning from Europe I will be heading to Sun Valley, Idaho for a week of camping and mountain biking with 20+ members of the BBTC.

August: The annual baseball trip with a dozen of my longtime friends. I start looking forward to this trip the day after I sober up from the previous one.

And then there are one or two other weddings I know about, one of which will likely involve a flight to NJ. It's going to be a great, fun-filled year with a lot of firsts.

It's a good thing I'm already working on my 2nd book of 2006, cause this is going to be a hectic year.

My Name Is Not Doug Douglason

If your a gamer and happen to frequent any gaming message board sites lately, then you've likely already seen the video "Fear of Girls". It's a mockumentary starring two pen & paper gamers (think Dungeons & Dragons) who embody every stereotype one can possibly imagine.

It's freaking hysterical. And although it runs about 11 minutes in length, it's highly worth watching. Especially if, like me, you have no idea what in the world "LARPing" is.