Catan, Missile Command, Trailers, and X360 Failures

I finally unlocked the "Chancellor of Catan" Achievement today, nearly a month after I earned the "Statesman of Catan" award. So now I have all of the Achievements for Catan, which makes me happy as that last one required earning 1,000 Victory Points in ranked matches. Considering games are only played until a player scores 10 points, it's easy to understand why this took a while. I believe it took me a total of 118 games. But Catan is a great game and I'm certainly going to continue playing from time to time, especially when the rumored expansion sets become available.

In other news, do you remember Missile Command? It was a very popular Atari 2600 and arcade game way back in the early 1980's. You have six bases on the ground and three missile launchers. Enemy missiles rain down from overhead and you must quickly move the cursor around the screen and fire your own missiles to intercept those from the enemy. It's very simple design, but addictive and maddeningly difficult. I remember the game -- and its sound effects -- well and was pleased to see that a new "evolved" version of the game was released today on Xbox Live Arcade for $5. I quickly snapped it up and spent an hour or so with it so far. The new and improved visuals and sound effects are a nice addition, yet I must say that the game's difficulty is something I had long since forgotten about. The game can be played in either Evolved or Classic mode and each mode also has a uber-fast "Throttle Monkey" mode which starts you out with only a smattering of your bases and the missiles come much faster. Oh, and they change direction as they approach your bases. It's brutally difficult.

I was giving some thought to the difficulty of the game and it finally dawned on me: the game was always hard, but back in the 1980s there were no online leaderboards, nor were there a set of Achievements. In other words, I had no way of knowing that I sucked at it. For all I knew back then, nobody could get past level 5 or 6. This new version isn't any harder it's just that Leaderboards and Achievements provide a means for you to instantly measure yourself against players from around the world. And from what I can tell judging by the Leaderboards so far, there's only a dozen or so people who are actually really good at it. The rest of us suck. Fortunately, most are even worse than I am.

Missile Command wasn't the only thing I downloaded today. I also downloaded the trailers for Ace Combat 6 (looks fantastic and I will definitely buy this), Eternal Sonata (looks good for a JRPG), Fallout 3 (the teaser shows little other than the Fall 2008 release date), and Conan (seems like a lot of games I've played before).

In other news, I'm still playing Puzzle Quest on my Nintendo DS nearly every day. In fact, I played it for quite a while Friday night in my tent after Kristin fell asleep. I would have kept playing too had the battery not run out of juice. You know, that's the funny thing about the Nintendo DS. It's battery is so good that I never charge it and then it suddenly dies on me. With the PSP, on the other hand, I know its battery life is so short that I always recharge it after playing it and therefore, the thing never runs dead on me. Then again, I hardly ever play it at all anyway.

Lastly, on a more serious note, I just want to chime in and go on the record and say that Forza Motorsport 2 has not once caused my X360 to crash. I have over 20 hours of drive time with the game and never did it even hiccup. There are a lot of rumors going around that the game is "bricking" consoles and while Microsoft certainly didn't help matters by deleting hundreds of messages posted on their forums about this topic while offering little to no official response, I do suspect that this rumored problem is nothing more the latest volley in the ever-worsening War of the Fanboys. Yes, I do honestly believe that this particular rumor was started -- and propagated -- by Sony fanboys. Am I the only one who noticed that this all started right about the time of the announcement that Gran Turismo 5 isn't coming out until late 2008? Sour grapes, that's all.

What's not merely a rumor though is that retailers have made it public that they believe the X360 failure rate is at 33%. I know it sounds hard to believe, but I actually think that number might be just about right. I have been very fortunate. My X360, purchased in May of last year (if you recall I came home incredibly impressed by the X360 at E3 and rushed out and bought one), has worked flawlessly since I got it. I give it plenty of space for circulation and keep it away from sources of static electricity and haven't ever really moved it in over a year, and this seems to work for me. That said, I personally know of a shocking number of people who have had to send their systems back to MS for repairs. These aren't people I know online or through message boards. These are people I've called friends for years. And, shamefully, the majority of them have had to send their systems in for repair. Yet, here's the funny thing, not one of them is really all that upset by it, nor have any of them to my knowledge even yet considered buying a PS3. All along we've been hearing that 5% was an acceptable level for manufacturing defects and system failures for high tech products. While I know a lot of what we read online in message boards is complete exaggeration (likely written by people who don't even own an X360) I do know that the failure rate is much, much, higher than it has any right being.

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