I was trying to remember the word our host in Los Angeles used to describe the style of Japanese restaurant we were at, and I'm happy to report I found it... thanks to www.seattledining.com.

This place on 2nd Ave sounds very similar to the restaurant I ate at the other day and, frankly, I can't wait to pay this place a visit. Of course I can all but guarantee my friend Brad is going to beat me to it after reading this...

Wann Japanese Izakaya 2020 2nd Ave, Seattle Belltown Izakaya restaurants in Japan are informal restaurants/bars where sharing plates and relaxing over drinks is the way to unwind. Wann serves shochu, a drink they say is overtaking sake in popularity. Food items include Kobe beef tongue steak, mussels, yakitori, sashimi, rolls, all kinds of seafood, short ribs and more. Dark, cool and simple inside, Wann offers the Izakaya experience. Specializing in Sushi, Japanese,

Good Times in El Segundo

The alarm clock went off at 3:30am on Tuesday morning and I immediately wished I had gone down to Los Angeles the night before. Instead, I opted to take a 6am flight down on Tuesday. Factor in snowy weather and the unpredictable security lines and, well, I end up out the door by four o'clock.

The flight down was non-eventful. I managed to read a good bit of the materials we've had translated from a Japanese strategy guide for the game I'm working on (certain games release in Japan months before they hit shelves in North America. Europe and Australia get it the worst though) and before I knew it, I was guiding my cabbie to the Summerfield Suites in El Segundo. It was only a couple miles from the airport, but he was new and had no idea where he was going. Nor did he know how to use the GPS system he was typing into while straddling the lines on Sepulveda Boulevard. My ten-second glance at Mapquest proved invaluable, as I had more of an idea on where to go than he did.

My editor Chris joined me for breakfast and after 90-minutes or so of gabbing over coffee, we hopped into his rental car and drove to the game company we were in town to meet with. As is always the case with these companies, the lobby was a fanboy's wet dream. Glass cabinets filled with rare collectible action figures, jewelry, statues, and even beautifully airbrushed soda cans lined the walls. Framed high-gloss posters promoting their recent hits were on display like works of fine art at the Gugenheim.

Our contact gave us a quick tour before leading us to a conference room where I got to meet all of the QA leads and testers working on the game I'm covering and we got to spend an hour or two getting to know one another and explaining our various processes. And I must say that as I looked around the conference room I was pleased to see several copies of books I had written for their games on their shelves.

We soon went down the road for lunch where a very grandmotherly looking waitress with an act -- it's LA, everyone seems to always be in audition mode -- got us laughing quite a bit. One second she was doting, the next threatening, and then she even started whispering to the tester to my right about her collection of leather straps, boots, and lingerie. I'd describe the scene as both surreal and horrifyingly hysterical at the same time.

Lunch was spent trading stories about games and work and hobbies outside of gaming and although my cheesesteak was a bit on the smallish side, the conversation more than made up for it. On the way back from lunch, the conversation switched to a book I had written a couple years ago for another game company and I was describing a certain lack of cooperation when it came to secrets. That particular company's policy is that we're free to include anything we want in the book regarding secrets -- so long as I find them on my own with no help from them. Well, in this one game I was given a very ridiculously short amount of time to cover it and even with a full-time co-author assisting me, we missed three special targets in the game (out of about 130 or so). One of the testers we had lunch with started laughing when he heard me tell that story as he actually bought that guidebook and was wondering why I had to leave some question marks in the book and act like we wanted to the readers to find them on their own. I had to come clean -- "Man, I spent days searching for those things and simply ran out of time." It's embarrassing when that happens (and it's extremely rare) but it did give the QA guys we were with a bit of an understanding on how important their cooperation (and sharing of documentation) can be sometimes.

Back at the office, Chris and I got to meet with many of the head marketing people and go over some design samples and talk about style guides and future products and, basically, a lot of really cool stuff I'm not at liberty to discuss.

Moving right along...

We capped off the afternoon with a very beneficial Q&A session with the lead testers who worked on the game I'm covering. This sort of access is extremely rare and I was thrilled to take advantage of it. I asked them every question I could think of about the game and then encouraged them to talk amongst themselves about their different strategies and the game's secrets (it's an 80-hour game so there's lots to discuss) while I scribbled notes as fast as I could.

Chris owed me some beer from busting my hump to write the book for PGR4 in five days time last fall (the Beastie Boys had it wrong... in this business, it's No Sleep till December) so we left the office and drove back to the hotel to down the six-pack of Tecate he picked up the night before.

Our contact picked us up for dinner at 7:30 and, being that Chris and I both really like Japanese food and that he was Japanese, we asked him to take us someplace as authentic as he knew. We drove to the town of Torrence (sic?) and had dinner at a very Japanese-y restaurant in a very Asian part of town. Chris and I were the only caucasians to be seen. The best way to describe it would be to say that the restaurant serves the food tapas-style and everyone shares. The menus were in Japanese so we simply encouraged our host to order everything he thought we should try (contrary to popular belief, sushi is actually reserved for special occasions and is not the breakfast-lunch-dinner food we're lead to believe it is for Japanese people).

We started with some mackerel sashimi and a green salad, then moved on to an excellent pork belly dish with huge potatoes. Up next was a sort of Japanese version of something that could best be described as a meat & egg fritata with noodles along with an unbelievably good dumpling & kim-chee soup. The waiter then brought over a cauldron of fiery charcoal and a plate of raw beef tongue which we grilled ourselves on a wire grid over the coals. Fantastic. Several other dishes made their way to the table, along with multiple pitchers of Kirrin and a few bottles of Asahi (they're beer).

We sat and ate and talked and drank for three hours and although Chris was getting full of food and our host was easing back on the beer because of the drive home, he continued to order more and more food (excellent kim-chee over udon, among other items) and more and more beer. And what a great host he was -- he would immediately refill our glasses of beer almost every time we took a drink from them. It was just a fantastic night out and it certainly made getting up at 3:30 worth the hassle.

Of course, now I'm back home with a massive book to write in the next two weeks and although I have a great co-author taking care of many of the peripheral chapters, it's still a monumental amount of work for both of us. Nevertheless, the game is fantastic, bug-free, and plays well. And best of all, I got to really get to know some of the guys behind the scenes and made to feel even more a part of the process and game than normal.

This time, it's personal. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

A Hippie to the Hippie to the Hip, Hip-Hop

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I never really had the time to log on during my brief trip to Los Angeles this week (more about that later).

Anyway, here's a status report on my hip: It sort-of, kinda, still hurts.

In my medical expertise (which is slightly more than that of your average housecat) I would surmise that I do indeed have a bone bruise, but that the hip bone itself is not fractured, cracked, nor splintered. There is no more swelling or discolaration -- on my skin that is, I'm not sure what color the bone is but I imagine its white -- and it feels pretty fine most of the day.

Then occasionally I'll turn a certain way or roll over in bed or on the couch and it reminds me of the fall. Not fall as in autumn, but fall as in me on the ground writhing in pain.

I took Monday through Wednesday off from training, but I'm going to get back on the trainer tonight and hopefully be able to get through another Strendurance workout after putting in some miles on the bike. I have to admit though that this weather we're having up here is not making me wanting to go out and ride. I don't mind cold. I don't mind rain. But I definitely do mind them combined. Peanut butter and chocolate they sure as hell aren't!

And yes, I definitely did have to reference this clip for the proper wording of the title of this post.

Hurricane Ridge Snowshoeing

Watch the weather. It's called Hurricane Ridge for a reason...

The anonymous commenter who made that remark on Friday couldn't have been more accurate. We knew the weather was going to turn on Saturday so we took the 7:10 ferry over to the Olympic Peninsula with the goal of being in the snow by 10am at the latest. The drive north on Highway 101 was beautiful -- the Olympic Mountains were visible from base to peak and the clouds were far off and high in the sky -- and we made the drive up the road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge (elevation 5,240 feet) by 9:30.

It was very windy on the ridge and it the temps were in the low 20s, but the views were great. The plan was to snowshoe 3 miles to Hurricane Hill and beat feet back to the truck before the snowstorm arrived. We didn't want to just snowshoe on the side of the groomed x-c ski trail so we wandered back and forth through the woods and along the hillsides that paralleled the main path to the proper trailhead and when we did finally reach the start of the more rugged portion of the hike, roughly 1.5 miles from the car, the weather turned nasty.

We started up and over the first knob and the driving snow stopped us cold. Visibility was dropping by the minute, the wind was horrendous, and the snow was coming down in buckets. And we knew we had the most technical and most exposed portion of the trek still to come. Kristin and I were with friends and between the four of us, nobody had any real backcountry snowshoeing experience. Going on simply wasn't safe and we all knew it so we turned around and made our way back to the visitor center atop Hurricane Ridge. The tracks that we had left just 20 minutes earlier were already covered in fresh snow.

The storm rolled in a lot faster and earlier in the day than forecasted, so we only got 2 hours of snowshoeing and 3.1 miles of distance in, but the conditions were far too severe to take any foolish chances. To say the potential was there for this to have been a life or death decision wouldn't be an exaggeration.

I think the following two pictures sum up the experience rather well. They were taken at the same place (facing opposite directions) and were only taken two hours apart.

The four of us set out towards Hurricane Hill at roughly 10am.

Kristin struggling against the wind and snow just two hours later.

View all the photos from the day right here.

Ride Report: Ridge to Ridge

Today's "ETS" ride couldn't have begun any worse. I wasn't a hundred yards from my house when I washed out on a icy sidewalk. Normally when I crash on my mountain bike I know it's coming and it's a rather slow, exaggerated action. Time slows down and I can see every motion and comprehend the physics of the crash with vivid clarity -- even as I prepare for the inevitable mouthful of dirt. Not this time. One moment I was up and the next instant I was on my back, writhing on the frozen ground in agony.

I thought I broke my hip.

I've slid out on ice before, but never like this. It was a violent slam to the ground and I landed right on my hip bone. It was startling in its abruptness and the pain was unusual. It was certainly the most severe pain I've felt since cartwheeling down the road at 30 miles-per-hour on my road bike 8 years ago. Adding insult to injury was that not five seconds after my crash, my cellphone started to ring.

I thought of the lady in those LifeAlert commercials -- the "I've fallen and I can't get up!" lady -- and may have cracked a smile if I wasn't groaning and moaning from the pain. Two women walking by saw the spill and asked if I broke anything. I considered pointing to my house and having them get Kristin, but I told them I was okay and tried to walk it off. I limped around for a while and although my leg hurt tremendously, I was fairly certain I hadn't fractured my hip or pelvis and tentatively re-mounted the bike. My phone continued to ring...

Seven other riders met me at 10am in the main park on Snoqualmie Ridge for the unveiling of my "Ridge to Ridge" training ride that I've done many times last year. It's a 30-mile out-and-back trip utilizing the woodchip trails around the development, the paved Preston-Snoqualmie Trail, some of the road near High Point, and the singletrack Grand Ridge trail. It started snowing on us as we gathered, but the sun did ultimately burn through the clouds and although it was cold, we managed to avoid the precipitation.

The ice had everyone on edge -- not only did I fall, but several in the group suffered bad spills the day prior -- but we made good time down to the Grand Ridge trailhead and were soon zipping along through not-too-muddy singletrack and admiring the quiet beauty of a northwest fern-filled forest draped in lingering snow.

The decision to impose a rider limit and rate the ride as "Fast" on the BBTC calendar proved helpful. We were able to keep a good pace going with just two or three brief snack-breaks. One rider pulled up lame with a pretty sore back right at the turnaround point so we skipped the extension down to the Issaquah High School Trail and came straight back.

My hip hurt steadily throughout the ride, but not enough to be debilitating, just enough to remind me of the spill I took. We ended up with an even 30 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing and were out playing in the mud and snow for just over 3.5 hours.

The ETS series moves on to Woodinville next Saturday for a double-dose of the Thrilla course. I can't wait.

Heil Romo!

I saw this on Ken Levine's site and was at first going to email the link to all the Giants fans I know, but it's simply too funny not to post.

All I can say is that I betcha didn't know Hitler was a Cowboys fan...

WRX on the Mountain

Thanks to Ross for sending me the link to this video. It's one of the coolest things I've seen on Youtube -- a Subaru WRX on a snow-covered mountain, hitting up the terrain park with a bunch of snowboarders.

A View of Tomorrow, Today

Where we're headed to go snowshoeing tomorrow morning. It will be my first trip to Olympic National Park in the winter and I can't wait.

Click here for the Hurricane Ridge webcam.

The Key to a Happy Marriage

I have to go to Los Angeles next week for a meeting with folks at Square-Enix about the current project I'm working on and I was talking with Kristin the other night about whether or not she minded if I stayed overnight instead of flying down and back in the same day.

She didn't mind, saying "The only part of me you see lately is the back of my head."

I had to ask: "Is that why we've been so happy lately?"

Where My Bitches At?

I don't want to post about politics on this blog because as much as I use this site to serve as an outlet and a way to share and vent, we each deal with enough stuff in our daily lives that piss us off so when you come here to take a break and read what I've posted, I don't want my words to be just another one of those things that annoy you.

And that's why today, in an exception to my rule, I'm going to use Mike Huckabee's words instead.

Mike Huckabee:

No more underground economy: Drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, gamblers... uh, non-Republicans...

See him say it right here at roughly the 6:05 mark.

I wasn't aware that, as a non-Republican, the money I earn and the taxes I pay are part of the same underground economy relied upon by prostitutes, pimps, and druggies. And all this time I thought I was doing everything on the up-and-up. Stupid, me!


Does he not know that these debates are televised? Does he not know that television signals can be viewed in any household -- yes, even those in "blue states"? Is he not aware that his party is shrinking and that the only way he has any real chance of winning in November (should he survive February) is to be as inclusive as possible and, pardon the phrase, not be an asshole? For every GOP'er in the audience that laughed at that line, I'm willing to bet he turned off at least that many independents or other folks sitting on the fence.

I watched a lot of both parties' debates this past month and it ceases to surprise me just how completely out of touch and completely unlikeable most of these people are. And not for their beliefs, but just for the stupid, smug, comments they make.

November can't get here fast enough. At least then we'll only ever have to hear from one of these jackasses again (Obama excluded).

Get Bent!

My sister Jessica sent me this link yesterday and it is just too cute to not post.

It's to a blog called Bent Objects and it contains tons of really funny photographs of "statues" made from common everyday items and what seems to be bent paper clip metal.

Definitely check it out right here. Thanks for the link, Jess!

Let Them Eat Creampuffs!

I believe I hear the Imperial March playing somewhere in the background...

Congratulations, your in!

You are registered for the 2008 CCP.

Eventually you will see your name on the official site as a registered racer.

Please use the CCP website for contact: scott@cascadecreampuff.com . I'm spamming everyone because individual e-mails take so much time.

I'm looking forward to seeing each of you this June.

More to come later.


Winter Wonderland: Mt. Teneriffe Bike n' Shoe

Note: Those who just want to see the full photos slideshow can do so right here.

I have a friend who is fond of saying that the Seattle weathermen should simply report the forecast in percentages of grey: Monday will be 50% grey with skies darkening on Tuesday to 80% grey. After all, while we all know Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, a lesser-known fact is that Seattlelites have dozens of synonyms for dreary. Naturally, those of us in the Pacific Northwest don't let any of the questionable weather stop us from playing outside, but that's not to say we don't love a bright blue cloudless day. A crisp winter day with bright sunshine and clear skies is not only something to smile at, it's something to cherish. And I'll remember yesterday for quite some time.

I'm not sure whether or not Thom expected anyone to actually do it, but when he taunted the BBTC Listserve with word that therocky forest road leading up Mt. Teneriffe had been plowed, it didn't take long for Ross and I to agree to do it. The weather was shaping up to be dry and cold throughout the early portion of the week so, after a number of emails on Sunday night, we decided to meet in North Bend on Tuesday morning with our bikes and snowshoes. Ross hadn't ever climbed Mt. Teneriffe before, nor had he done any prior snowshoeing, but he was game for renting a pair from REI and, well, I know he can climb like a mountain goat when he wants to. Nevertheless, when I sent him a detailed numerical description of how steep the path was -- it averages close to 850 feet of gain per mile -- he commented that his airplane doesn't even ascend that steeply. Yeah, climbing Mt. Teneriffe is no picnic.

We met at the Mt. Si Trailhead at 11:30am and after a mile warmup on the road leading to Mt. Teneriffe, we hit the dirt and began our climb. The gate at the bottom of the Mt. Teneriffe road is at an elevation of 950 feet and our ultimate destination was at 4,788. The first half mile of the forest road was a bit icy, but otherwise not a problem and we pedaled quite easily for a while. It wasn't long before the dry patchy road grew snow-covered but the going was still quite easy thanks to the gradient being rather gentle and the frigid sub-zero temps creating a hard crusty layer of snow and ice that offered surprisingly good traction.

Our destination... Mount Teneriffe. As seen from Mt. Si Road.

Alas, as we pedaled past the 1900-foot mark, the road kicks up at an unrelenting angle. It's a challenge to pedal this section in dry times, but here the snow was not only getting deeper, but it was starting to soften in the sunlight... as snow has a habit of doing. So we spent the better part of the next two hours pushing our bikes. Oh, I'd throw a leg over it every now and then and pedal for a whopping 10 to 20 yards, but it was seldom worth the effort.

Ross was battling a pretty fierce chest and sinus infection over the past few weeks and eventually fell behind a bit. He says he was even close to turning around and heading back down the mountain but he didn't want to just ditch me so he kept on in hopes that I eventually stopped to wait for him. I did. At the 4,000 foot mark there was an absolutely fantastic viewpoint looking clear over the valley to Mt. Rainier. You could even see Rattlesnake Lake, Tiger Mountain and Puget Sound in the distance. The sky was an incredibly deep blue and the sun was high in the sky and basking me in warmth. Ross eventually caught up and wanted to turn around but I knew from the map that we were getting close and that the trail should level off shortly. I convinced him to keep on keepin' on for just a bit longer.

Sure enough we were able to actually ride a bit of the road for a while and eventually came to a flat point where the snow had simply gotten too deep to continue on with the bikes. Since we made it this far it wasn't hard to convince Ross to put those rented snowshoes of his to use. So we ditched the bikes -- there aren't many places I would consider leaving a $6k mountain bike unattended, but atop a snow-covered mountain is one of them -- and continued on foot. It was 3:00pm now and I wanted to be back on the bikes and heading down the mountain by 4pm (we had lights, but really didn't want to use them) so the decision was made to snowshoe till 3:30 then turn around.

My bike at 4,000 feet with a killer view of Mount Rainier.

We made quick work of the remainder of the forest road and eventually came to the trail that leads to the summit. Judging by the slight indentations in the snow, nobody had shoe'd there way through here since priot to the last snowfall several days earlier. I broke trail for the first quarter mile or so, then after taking some photos, gave way to Ross so he could feel how fun breaking trail in snowshoes is. There wasn't any time to push on to the summit, but we did make it to the saddle below the peak and had absolutely awe-inspiring views to Mt. Baker to the north on one side of the ridge and due south to Mt. Rainier from the other. The quiet solitude atop the snow-covered mountain, the beautiful vistas and bright blue skies made it all worth it. I can't say I enjoyed spending several hours pushing my bike up a snow-covered trail, but it was no doubt worth it in the end.

The trek back down to the bikes was over too quickly and we were back on the bikes and headed off the mountain before 4pm, just as I hoped we'd be. We each crashed once during the slip n' slide descent. Although I never actually hit the ground during my spill, I did unknowingly dislodge my camera from its holster and descend all the way down the mountain without it. Ross's spill left him with a bent wheel and dinged up bike rack, but he was none the worse for it.

Me snowshoeing back across the saddle on Mount Teneriffe.

The temperature plummeted during the descent as the sun dropped behind the western mountains and the cold from my bike's brake levers nearly froze my fingertips -- if I was to ever build a snow-bike I would be sure to wrap the brake levers in bar tape. We quickly racked the snow-covered bikes, got dressed, and headed to the Snoqualmie Taproom for an early dinner.

Ross must have enjoyed the scenery and/or the post-ride beer a good deal because he volunteered to drive back down from Everett the next day and hike back up the mountain with me to find my camera. Would you believe we found it? We did. We met at the trailhead at 10am and promptly started climbing. We found it at about the 3,600 foot mark, roughly 4.5 miles up the trail. And would you believe it still worked? Gotta hand it to the Canon Powershot A630 and rechargeable Sony AA batteries -- the camera spent the night in a pile of snow in sub-freezing temperatures and powered right up and worked fine the second I found it. Karma was on Ross's side though as he not only found the button that fell off his cycling boot the day earlier, but I bought him lunch at, you guessed it, the Snoqualmie Taproom.

Kristin and I will be going snowshoeing with friends this coming weekend, and this time I'm going to hold a bit tighter to my camera and leave the bike at home.

Link to photos.

Mt Teneriffe - Anybody See My Camera?

I'm going to hold off posting my write-up of today's relatively epic bike-n-shoe on Mt. Teneriffe on account of my camera leaping out of my holster for it during the descent. I'm going back to the mountain tomorrow morning to hike back up in search for it. It's somewhere between 1.5 and 4 miles from the trailhead.

I'd bring my bike again but, honestly, I don't deserve to have that much fun two days in a row.

In the meantime, Ross posted a couple pics of me during the trip today. Check them out here, here, and here.

Fox News Ignorance Runneth Over

Warning: The following video is enough to make anybody with any knowledge about the game Mass Effect want to smash their monitor. Normally, I wouldn't ever ever link to anything from Fox News (just as I try my hardest to avoid their top advertisers) but this bit of "reporting" is so grotesquely incorrect and so blatantly filled with lies, that I can't let it slide.

The videogame Mass Effect does not feature, nor contain in any way, shape or form, interactive sex. There is not a single second of full-frontal nudity in the entire game. There is nothing to do with sex in the game at all, except for a very short, heavily-shadowed scene between two women aliens that involves some kissing and a momentary silhouetted view of an alien's breast. And in order to actually see this scene you have to whittle your way through a lengthy dialogue tree at a very specific point in the game. The game is over 30 hours in length and Fox News is taking a split-second side-view of an alien's breast and saying the game is "Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas".

This is why Fox News is an oxymoron.

This is why people have been able to write entire books devoted to the lies this network spills (with footnotes).

This is why Keith Olberman has to come on every night on MSNBC and serve as the Fox Network's Omnibudsman even though he works for a rival network.

If they're this willing to propagate outright lies about something as unimportant as the videogame Mass Effect, just imagine what they're willing to say about stuff like war, the economy, disease, etc., etc. And what happens when they actually have an informed guest on the show? They immediately cut him off, shout over his head, and cut the camera away so that they never have to dare hear a contrary opinion.

It's not reporting. It's not news. It's complete and utter ignorance hand-picked by Rupert Murdoch to push the company agenda and their own collective political doctrine.

But hey, who am I to tell you what to watch. If you like being lied to, keep at it. Enjoy.

After all, Fox News knows their audience. They know they types of things their audience believe and want to be told. And they know not to upset the customer, especially if little things like "facts" and "research" get in the way.

Blurring of Boundaries

Sam Kennedy from 1up.com has posted a lengthy, all-encompassing, and heartfelt essay about the Gamespot fiasco from this past December. The essay provides a very thorough look into exactly how the boundaries between the mega-site's Editorial and Sales departments were compromised (headlines for sale?) and reveals even more fallout from the firing of 11-year Editor, Jeff Gerstman.

It's an excellent read not only for gamers, but for people in all industries. I'm sure videogame magazines aren't the only businesses that can lose their way (and their credibility with customers) when the suits in Sales get too much say.

It's also an ideal case study for a business ethics course -- too bad Kristin's class already ended (she's forwarding the link to her prof).

Read it here.

Mt. Teneriffe Bike n' Shoe

I never brought snowshoes on a bike ride before, but tomorrow could be a special day. Somebody apparently plowed the rocky, extremely-steep forest road leading to the top of Mt. Teneriffe so Ross and I are going to attempt to ride up it and, if all goes well, snowshoe the final mile to the summit. Weather should be around 30-degrees and bright blue skies.

Camelback, Snowshoes, and Trekking Poles... Ready to go Biking!
The only thing I'm missing is studded bike tires.

Oh Internet, How I Love Thee

I received my first games-related assignment nearly 8 years ago. The gig? Writing the 1-900 "tip lines" strategy for that piece of infamous shovelware known as Daikatana.

I've long since forgotten about the wasted weeks spent playing that over-hyped turd of a game but thanks to the egomaniacal jackasses whose names were attached to it, I can now sit here and have a good laugh. It seems John Romero of "Suck It Down" fame and Mike Wilson, the CEO of their little development house, are reliving the past and having a good ol' fashioned flame-war right out there in public for all to see and laugh at.

Romero fired first with this:

It got much worse at Godgames where he pretty much just partied all the time and after the whole thing got reined in by Take 2 he went underground for a while, waiting for his next victim/investor so he could go hogwild all over again. And thus was born Gamecock.

Thus prompting a lengthy, far-more-brutal response from Wilson that included this gem:

I'm also grateful for your concern over my incessant partying, which has somehow led me to be married to the same beautiful woman for 17 years now, while raising two incredible daughters together. You should maybe try the partying, since your unparalleled work ethic and strong character has (just in the time I've known you) left only a bloody trail of ex-wives, fatherless kids, and ill advised breast implants strewn across this fair nation, even before you flew all the way to Romania for your latest wife. If she's not still around, let me know, and I'll see if I can pick another one up for you here in Russia.

If you'd like to read the whole conversation (and I really recommend you do for laughs) then you can find the link right here at Voodoo Extreme.

A Look at the Best Selling Games of 2007

The NPD released their software sales data for 2007 today and the top ten best-selling videogames of 2007 are as follows:

1. Halo 3 (Xbox 360) -- 4.82 million
2. Wii Play w/ remote (Wii) -- 4.12 million
3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360) -- 3.04 million
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PlayStation 2) -- 2.72 million
5. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) -- 2.52 million
6. Pokemon Diamond (Nintendo DS) -- 2.48 million
7. Madden NFL 08 (PlayStation 2) -- 1.90 million
8. Guitar Hero 2 (PlayStation 2) -- 1.89 million
9. Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360) -- 1.87 million
10. Mario Party 8 (Wii) -- 1.82 million

Congrats to Microsoft, Activision, Nintendo, EA, and Ubisoft for striking gold with these titles, particularly Ubisoft as it is worth mentioning that Assassin's Creed is the only original title in this list of retreads and sequels. Wii Play is also a new game, but not only was it bundled with a controller but it's a Nintendo game -- odds are your unborn children's children will be playing a version of Wii Play thirty years from now if Nintendo's track record of beating on franchises like proverbial dead equines continues into the future. Case in point: See number 5 on the list? I played my fist Mario game over 20 years ago.

What I find interesting though is that of the games on this list I only played 2 of them -- Guitar Hero 2 and Guitar Hero 3 (I have Assassin's Creed sitting on the shelf but haven't brought myself to play it yet based on the negative feedback I've heard from friends). Another interesting tidbit is that there are no PS3 games on the list. Sure, we all know the PS3 isn't selling that well, but there's also a scarcity of software for the system -- you'd think that once a good game was finally released on that platform that everyone who owns the giant black monolithic blu-ray player would snatch up a copy. After all, it's not like disposable income is a problem for these people -- they paid $400 to $600 for the console, after all. But that's another conversation all together.

So this got me thinking... are any of these games any good? Sure, the praise for Super Mario Galaxy was through the roof, and we all know what Microsoft does to create the Halo 3 buying frenzy, but what about the rest?

Let's take a look at the composite review scores for each of these games at Gamerankings.com.

1) Halo 3 - 93.3% average
2) Wii Play - 61% average
3) Call of Duty 4 - 94.2% average
4) Guitar Hero 3 - 85.3% average
5) Super Mario Galaxy - 97% average
6) Pokemon Diamond - 85.1% average
7) Madden NFL 08 - 77.7% average
8) Guitar Hero 2 - 91.9% average
9) Assassin's Creed - 83.1% average
10) Mario Party 8 - 64% average

So what have we learned here? Well, for starters, owners of the Wii will buy anything Nintendo stamps their logo on. Sure, Super Mario Galaxy is universally praised and as someone who even enjoyed the franchise's red-headed stepchild, Super Mario Sunshine, I see no reason not to believe it's a very good game. But Wii Play and Mario Party 8? Last time I checked a score in the 60's was a D. As in barely passing. As in it likely sucks. As in, "Bring any more of these home and your ass is grounded!"

What about the others? Well, they are primarily all established franchises and updates to games that release on a near-annual basis. Some of them have pretty high scores, but these are far from the only games that received any sort of critical praise.

Halo 3 may have been the best-selling game of the year but both Half-Life 2: The Orange Box and BioShock were ranked higher than it in composite review scores and don't even appear on the sales list. And they're in the same genre, on the same platform.

Take another look at the top ten best-selling games and see how they stack up in terms of their review scores. This time, instead of looking at the composite review score, the number shows their ranking (by average review score) for all 2007 releases.

1) Halo 3 - 8th
2) Wii Play - Not in Top 100
3) Call of Duty 4 - 6th
4) Guitar Hero 3 - 66th
5) Super Mario Galaxy - 1st
6) Pokemon Diamond - 71st
7) Madden NFL 08 - Not in Top 100
8) Guitar Hero 2 - Released in 2006
9) Assassin's Creed - 88th
10) Mario Party 8 - Not in Top 100

That was more depressing than I thought it would be. Message boards are filled with people forever complaining about the lack of original content. They bemoan the fact that the store shelves are filled with sequel after sequel. But yet one glance at the numbers shows that ultimately people buy what is familliar, even if there are 100 games that are considered to better, they'll still buy into the hype and marketing and their fear of the unknown and continue buying the same games over and over. Meanwhile, games like BioShock, Mass Effect, and many, many other very good games don't sell nearly as well.

But should any of this really be surprising? No, of course not. It's classic herd mentality. The same follow-the-crowd attitude that gets American Idol an 8th season and makes it profitable for tabloids to report on Brittney's babies. Why should it be any different for videogame sales.

The fluff will always beat out the stuff no matter the medium.

Carrots and Sticks

Sitting on my desk is the day-calendar for "Common Errors in English Usage" and today's error discusses the phrase the carrot on the stick. Only, that phrase is incorrect. Yes, I've been using it too. The correct phrase is the carrot or the stick and refers not to a carrot dangling from a stick, but rather to rewarding someone with a carrot or beating them with a stick. Likely a mule, but this proposition is believed to also be effective in negotiations with wives, children, co-workers, and Jehova's Witnesses as well.

I made that last part up.

So, take it from the day-calendar beside me, if you've always envisioned a little man riding a donkey with a carrot dangling from a stick by a string held out in front of the donkey as a lure to get him to move... YOU WERE WRONG. The correct picture in your mind should be a man standing in front of the donkey with a carrot in one hand and a stick in the other and a little cartoon-caption balloon saying, "What's it going to be pal... the veggie or the lumber?"

Oh, and by the way, I accidentally ordered... umm... a lot of these day calendars so if you would like on, please do let me know and we can work something out. You can check them out here. I'll cut you a good deal.

BBTC In the News About Sammamish Plateau Bike Park

From the Seattletimes.com:

After years of pushing for a mountain-bike "skills park" on the Sammamish Plateau, the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club got a $150,000 boost from King County to move forward with its plans, county officials announced Wednesday.

The club signed an agreement to work with the county on developing the 120-acre project at Duthie Hill Park, a swath of second-growth conifers and deciduous trees that is underused, county officials say.

The course will feature a cross-country loop, dirt jumps and downhill runs with drops, said Jon Kennedy, volunteer director of the Seattle-based trails club. The park is connected to King County's nearby Grand Ridge Park, which features a 6-mile mountain-bike trail.

Design work on the course is scheduled to begin in February, with three public meetings planned for the spring. Construction is expected to start this summer, although additional money will have to be raised to finish the project, Kennedy said. "What we're here to do is give people a recreational outlet for life," Kennedy said. The club wants to make the park accessible to riders of all skill levels, he said, with trails catering to beginners as well as advanced cyclists. "We plan on jam-packing this park full of trails."

I'm really excited about the XC loop at this park since it will connect nicely with the Grand Ridge trail I train on periodically, which I can ride to from my house for what should ultimately be a nice 45 mile out-and-back ride with a ton of climbing. I'm looking forward to attending the site walk-through in February and doing whatever I can to help design and build the XC loop later in the spring or whenever ground-breaking is.

Read the full article here.

Quick Hits

Just a couple of bite-sized pieces of info today. Should I come across anything more useful and/or verbose to say later on, you'll be the first to know. Unless my solitary reader from Macau beats you to it.

- My reason for living in 2008, Culdcept Saga, releases on February 5 and at the rather friendly sum of $39.99. If the earlier game in the franchise is any indication as to how readily available this one will be, you had better pre-order it online. I ordered mine last night and, frankly, I can't wait. Also, just a tip, I always choose the 3-5 day shipping option from http://www.ebgames.com/ and yet still almost always get my game within 1-2 days. Your mileage may vary and all that, but don't go for the expensive shipping options unless you absolutely must have it the day it comes out. And who are you kidding anyway, if I can wait a couple days so can you. Great developer blog for the game right here.

- I rode the trainer in the garage for 90 minutes last night, keeping in a relatively light gear for much of the ride, but doing 2:00 out-of-the-saddle hard efforts every 15 minutes. Next time I really have to choose a longer movie to watch. Last night I watched Jack Johnson's surf film, "Thicker than Water" which is really good, but it's only 45 minutes long. So I stared at the DVD title screen for the latter half of my ride because I kept expecting Kristin to come home any minute and change the disc for me.

- It took Kristin 55 minutes to travel 4 miles last night. She exited the Interstate and was on her way up Snoqualmie Parkway to our house, but was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on account of the icy road conditions. Cars were spun out and sliding to-and-fro and although they supposedly sanded and plowed the snow we got Tuesday night, the whole region was an skating rink last night. She wasn't the only one suffering though. Not only did I need her to walk by and change the DVD for me, but I desperately wanted her to hand me the Larabar that was out of reach on the workbench. Sure, I could have just got off the bike for a second, but why would I do that when I know she'll be walking through the door any second? Or so I thought...

- I'm going to be posting more about Thrillville: Off the Rails next week, but let me say right now that I may have been a bit premature in my criticism about it the other day. No, the game isn't Roller Coaster Tycoon and it is definitely a bit kiddie, but there's something rather pleasing about it all the same. And I actually kind of like it. I think.

- I downloaded Boogie Bunnies over XBLA today. It's a puzzle game that requires you to match up like-colored bunny rabbits as they march to their doom. The catch is that you can match in groups of three (not necessarily rows or columns) and that you're free to move alongside the group to fire bunnies from the sides instead of being only able to fire from the bottom of the screen as is customary in games of this type. The bunnies are all different colors, but if you match up a group of 3 or more aqua-colored bunnies, they all start dancing. If you can look past the utter ridiculousness of the scene before you, the game is actually a pretty addictive little puzzler. And it supports online multi-play and local Co-Op. A nice addition to XBLA.

- The Redmond Cycling Club will begin accepting entries for RAMROD on March 1st. This year's race will return to the normal loop format and I believe contain 156 miles and roughly 10,000 feet of climbing. They're going to accept entries through Active.com for the entire month of March and then hold the lottery on April 1st to see who gets in. Entries are non-transferrable and those not picked in the lottery will get a full refund including the Active.com processing fee.

- Registration for first-time entries into the Cascade Creampuff 100 is on January 22nd. My calendar is marked, is yours? Additionally, I'll find out in 2 or 3 weeks whether or not I got into Leadville 100. If I don't get into Leadville, then I'm probably going to head down to Humboldt, California for the 12-hour race they have in the Redwood forest. They may make it a 24-hour race in which case, I'll enter that instead. Either way, Kristin and I will either be doing an 8- or 9-day camping roadtrip to Leadville, Colorado or Humboldt, California this August. Can't wait.

- My Endurance Training Series had another great ride this past Sunday which almost took my mind off the Seahawks defeat on Saturday. Fortunately, they played so poorly last weekend that I didn't have to endure the cardiac-conclusion that was so common with them this year. We joke all the time about being a Seahawks fan taking years off our lives. Anyway, I was texting with friends throughout the game as normal and was suprised by the lack of trash-talk headed my way. Then again, most of them are Jets fans so I guess it's a people-in-glass-houses situation... Nevertheless, I do need to go over the cardinal rule of trash-talk: You're only allowed to call and "rub it in" if you're someone who I talk football with on a regular basis. That's trash talk. If you're someone who doesn't follow the sport, nor talk to me about it on a fairly regular basis, calling to rub it in isn't considered trash talking. It's considered being a jerk. It's a fairly obvious line too, yet apparently not everyone knows it. As I said to my friend Ed on Saturday, ultimately there's only 1 set of happy fans each year so if you have a team in the final four, then good luck to you. One of my editors suggested chearing for the Chargers as they're the only team without a championship in their franchise history, and I think that's a pretty good idea. Although I would like to see Brett Favre win it all and walk away into the sunset just like John Elway did.

- Lastly, I have news of a rather interesting weight-loss incentive care of my wife's family. From what I understand, Kristin's sister and her boyfriend start off each week by putting $5 into a jar and getting on the scale. They have a goal for the week and if they miss it, they have to put a couple bucks more into the jar. This will go on for six months and after six months they have their final weigh-in and, if they hit their goal, they get to take the money and go out for a night on the town (they both work in New York City). But... if they miss their goal then they have to donate the money to the presidential candidate they like the least. Which, I'm told, is currently Hillary Clinton. Of course, six months from now we'll know who each party is putting on November's ballot and since she and her boyfriend are pretty conservative (we try to love them anyway) the money will undoubtedly be headed to either Hillary or Barack's campaign if they fail. And therein lies the conundrum: I'd like to wish them luck and support their weight-loss efforts, but with the election being so important this year, I can't help but want to sign them up to the Donut-of-the-Month Club.

Mmmm... donuts.

Just kidding, Erica. Good luck to you both!

"Xbox 360 Achievements: Unlocked" Sample Chapter

BradyGames posted a PDF sample chapter of the achievements book I co-wrote late last year. The sample chapter contains the full Achievement Guide for BioShock, which was one of the eight I wrote. The book contains Achievement Guides for twenty games as well as a "How to Score 10,000 Gamerpoints in Two Weeks" chapter that I put together for those looking to get their Gamerscore up as fast as possible.

Click here for the sample chapter.

It's a "pocket guide" at 4x8.5" in dimensions and 320 pages, but it's got a ton of info in it. If you haven't seen it or won one in my giveaway last month, I definitely recommend picking one up. And no, I don't work on commission.


"Strength + Endurance equals Strendurance"

And just like that, Coach Troy kicks off yet another series of exercise DVDs. The man hardly needs an introduction as I doubt there's a competitive cyclist, triathlete, or mountain biker alive who hasn't bought at least one or two Spinervals videos over the years. I own a few and only a few because I've politely declined offers to have dupes made for me of the many others. Troy Jacobson has made what I imagine to be a pretty nice living for himself by leading personalized training sessions and by creating a number of training videos for cyclists to use with stationary trainers and for runners to use with their treadmills. And some of them even interrupt the pedaling to get you off the bike and doing squats and other plyometric exercises -- usually after a particularly tough interval set.

Coach Troy can be a bastard when he wants to.

I was about to buy another Spineverals video that focused on core strength. It combined on-bike intervals with stability ball off-bike exercises. Then I saw an ad for his "Strendurance" video. It's a 6-workout video designed to be done repeatedly over the course of 12 weeks in a particular pattern. The workouts are 20-40 minutes in length and are high intensity strength training designed for endurance athletes. I couldn't resist. My 2007 training was sorely lacking in strength and conditioning and with any luck this video would be the impetus to improve on that in 2008.

The video has 6 workouts, A through F and you're supposed to spend two weeks doing the same workout 4 to 6 times in that period. So, to start with, I'm doing Workout A every 2 or 3 days for 2 weeks, then I'll move up to Workout B and do that 4 to 6 times over the next two weeks and so on and so forth. There's a 7th "maintenance" video for weeks 13 and beyond.

I did "Workout A" for the third time tonight and let me tell you that this 25-minute video kicks my ass. And it sounds oh-so simple. Granted, I haven't done any real strength and conditioning training in years, but since the workouts sound really easy I had Kristin do it with me on Saturday after we went running and then again tonight when she got home from work (followed by a 20-minute yoga sequence... more on that later).

Workout A is supposed to be the easy, basic workout meant for starting out. This is the first set you do:

3 reps of the following with no rest between sets
20 seconds of pushups
20 seconds of upright rows with dumbells
20 seconds of jumping jacks

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "big deal". That's what Kristin was thinking before she tried it. Now she curses Coach Troy just like I do.

Let me tell you that going from the pushups to the upright rows right into the jumping jacks and back again for three minutes of near-nonstop activity is exhausting. Subsequent sets combine crunches, shoulder presses, and mountain climbers, squats, and back extensions. Every set picks three exercises and you do them for 20 seconds each one right into the next for three cycles then you get a one minute break. The whole workout only lasts 25 minutes including a little warmup time at the beginning and a painful 5x5-second set at the end, but I was sore for two days after the first time I did it. Now I can do it without getting sore, but there are definitely one or two times during the workout that I essentially collapse on the floor in a pool of sweat.

The second set is a combination of squats, shoulder presses and mountain climbers and I have no problem admitting (and Kristin will admit the same, and she has been strength training weekly for years) that after the first repetition my arms are so tired that I can barely hold them behind my head during the squats. And even the 8lb dumbells feel like they weigh a ton during the shoulder presses.

I'm laughing as I type this because I know how utterly pathetic it must sound -- Doug can't shoulder press an 8lb dumbell! -- but trust me that the speed and combination of the exercises makes for a humbling experience. Give the Strendurance video a try and I think you'll be laughing at yourself too. When you aren't gasping for air and cursing at your tv.

Yoga Note: I never did any yoga before two weeks ago. It wasn't something I really thought about much and, when I did, I figured it more about spirituality than fitness and wouldn't really be beneficial. And it certainly wouldn't be that hard. Boy was I wrong. I've been doing the yoga routines from the "Yoga for Athletes" DVD a few times each week and I have to admit that not only are some of the poses really hard, but even ones that look simple enough and don't demand double-jointed contortions really become hard to hold for long because of how deep the stretch can be. I'm not a very flexible person and apparently the only reason stretching has become easy for me is because I've been doing the same 7 stretches my entire life. The yoga routines are introducing me to new stretches and poses that are not only helping my flexibility (yes, I can notice a small difference already) but many of the poses feel as beneficial as doing squats or crunches. Sure, all the yoga toys are purple and a lot of the "faces of yoga" look a bit demasculinized but yoga is certainly not for wimps. It's tough stuff. I only hope I'm man enough to continue with it.

Marriage is a Contract

"Can you do me three favors tomorrow?"

Kristin does all of my faxing and shipping and with how busy she's been lately, I wasn't about to say no to her. Especially since I'm currently at a standstill with work, waiting on a firmware update.

"Sure." I said, not a small bit worried about what these requests will be.

"Okay, first I need you to vacuum the upstairs. Then I need you to vacuum the rug downstairs".

I grab a piece of paper from my pad to show her how serious I'm taking this and write 1) Vacuum upstairs & downstairs.

"Then I need you to sweep the downstairs floor and kitchen."

I proptly write 2) Sweep downstairs and look to her for more.

"That's it. That was three."

"No, that was two. I distinctly recall you saying there were three favors."

"Well, I thought you would consider vacuuming upstairs separate from vacuuming downstairs. That's all I have."

"That doesn't make any sense. Naturally once the vacuum is out, I might as well do both. You requested three favors. I made a verbal committment to perform three favors for you. You only having two favors is a breech of contract and relinquishes me of any responsibility to perform any and all favors. I want to help you, but I can't out of respect for the agreements we make as husband and wife."

She cocks her head to the side, squints her eyes a little and gives me a look not unlike the one I gave someone last week after hearing him say that he honestly likes Ann Coulter. It's an expression of horror, shock, and disbelief wrapped up in one subtle but powerful facial contortion.

"Fine. I just thought of a third favor for you. Clean the entire house. That makes three."

She thinks she may have won this round, but we'll see who gets the last laugh when I sleep in until noon.

Bill's Last Day

If you're like me and need something to make you smile after the horrendous performance of the Seahawks this afternoon, then look no further.

Bill's Last Day was shown at CES during Bill Gates' keynote address and is a hysterical 7-minute "broadcast" about Bill's last day at the office. Very, very funny stuff.

Last One... I'm Serious

Honorable Mention to Fatal Frame.

Sure, a game about young Japanese girl who "kills" ghosts by taking their picture with an old-timey camera sounds kind of lame, but oh no. Playing this game in the dark, at night, with the surround sound cranked up is like staring at the sun -- you can't help but do it, no matter how much it hurts.

Scariest. Game. Ever.

And to think I never played the sequel yet. Sometime I really think I must hate myself.

Top Ten List -- Corrected

On account of the RE4-snafu, I must post a corrected list. Sorry, Banjo.

1) Tropico
2) Shenmue 1 & 2
3) Culdcept
4) Resident Evil 4
5) Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
6) Catan Live
7) Okami
8) Monopoly Tycoon
9) BioShock
10) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4

That's my list and I'm sticking to it... at least until I remember another completely obvious ommission.

10b) Resident Evil 4

How in bloody hell did I forget about Resident Evil 4 when I was coming up with my list of top ten games? This game really does belong in the top ten list. Not only was the game near-perfect in design and gameplay (we'll ignore the non-sensical story) but this game actually made me enjoy a franchise I had long ago given up for dead. Or would that be un-dead? There was no bigger RE hater than myself. The games controlled and played like absolute rubbish. Sure, they were pretty and scary, but the controls and camera perspective was enough to make one want to slice their wrists with the CD-ROM. But RE4 changed all that. Capcom listened to their critics and despite already having a license to print money with the franchise, totally re-invented the series with an all-new control and camera system. Normally I don't bother finishing games that I'm not writing the guidebook for but not only did I finish all 20+ hours of RE4, but I immediately emailed my editors requesting to be penciled in for RE5 whenever it should come out. Yeah, I did that almost two years ago and I'm still crossing my fingers.

*Favorite Moment: Probably the same as everyone else's. There's a scene where you're in a two-story farmhouse being swarmed by dozens and dozens of not-zombies (yes, they're zombies... but they're not) and you're running around desperately trying to barricade the doors and windows with furniture. And suddenly you realize they climbed a ladder into the second floor window so you run up the stairs, blast the not-zombie with a shotgun and tip over the ladder. By now other not-zombies have smashed through the door and pushed aside the furniture and are on their way up the stairs to attack. You and your companion stand back to back, shotguns in hand, and try like hell to defend yourself against the onslaught of not-zombie feasting. Not only was this the best moment of the game, it's one of the best moments in gaming. Period. On second thought, to hell with "10b". This game needs to be in the top 5.

Decision 2008: Suck or Blow, You Make the Call!

Has anyone seen my wife?

Seriously. If you have, let her know I hope she's doing well.

Kristin and I have been ships passing in the night for the better part of the past three weeks now. I've been swamped with work, designing my training plan for this year, and trying to do more of the daily chores around the house to make things easier for Kristin. She, on the other hand, is really starting to feel the pain of working full-time while taking 20 credits in business school. She came home from class yesterday -- one class that met for 8 hours straight -- and informed me that she has 6 papers and a presentation to complete before class meets again the first week of February. Not to mention several hundred pages worth of reading.

And, of course, our initial reaction to this was wondering if we had to cancel the Super Bowl Party this year.

But the class and the papers aren't even the half of it. She has an ongoing community service project going on as part of the executive leadership program she's in that has her and 3 other people setting up a mentoring program at a Seattle woman's shelter. They had to go there as a group for a couple hours on Monday afternoon to meet and iron out the final details. Then, on Tuesday, she had to meet with her "Executive Coach" for 90 minutes after work for her monthly "couch session". Wednesday was school all day and a group meeting afterwards for two hours; yesterday consisted of class all day and a meeting with a different group in preparation for an interview with Senator Maria Cantwell; and today she's back in school all day but, fortunately, without any post-class meetings.

Oh, and speaking of Senator Cantwell, I tried to convince Kristin to tell the Senator how much we need her to help maintain mountain bike access on the trails at Mount St. Helens should it become a National Park. Unfortunately, Kristin deftly turned my request away on account of the meeting being about her leadership style and not about policy.

My response to this? "Who cares, tell her anyway!"

I finished my first guidebook of 2008 late Tuesday night (actually 4am on Wednesday) and as a reward for my hard work, my body takes on a sinus infection and sore throat. So much for getting some mid-day rides this week, I'm too sick to go and play in the rain. I used my available free time yesterday to pen the "biker input" on behalf of the BBTC for the Olallie Mountain Bike Project and that got me pretty excited about the prospects of getting more involved with the advocacy side of things. I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have been asked to "take the reigns" and be the point-person representing BBTC for this project and I'm quite excited about it. Myself and the former executive director of BBTC, Justin Vander Pol, will be meeting with the Director of Washington State Parks next month to disuss funding and the State Parks portion of the project. It will be my first trip to Olympia other than to stop off for coffee on my way to Portland.

Additionally, my "Endurance Training Series" is a big hit with BBTC members so far. I'm leading a series of rides each weekend that will get progressively longer and more challenging as the year goes on. Despite near-freezing temperatures and the threat of freezing rain and snow, 11 other riders joined me last Sunday for the initial ride and it looks like I'll have another dozen come out this Sunday. It's nice seeing so many people care about improving their fitness and riding longer and faster. Especially in January when the weather is, shall we say, miserable?

And now it's time for another non-sequitor.

I started playing Thrillville: Off the Rails last night in hopes that it would be a 3D Roller Coaster Tycoon. It's not. For my New Jersey readers, Thrillville: Off the Rails is to the Roller Coaster Tycoon franchise what Bowcraft is to Great Adventure. To be fair, I haven't really played it that much just yet, but it seems way, way too Fisher-Price-y for my liking. I hope i'm wrong, but so far the game seems to be aimed at a much, much lower age group.

Also, I started work on my second guidebook for 2008 last night. I can't say what it is, but I will say that I've seen the Japanese version of the strategy book I'll be writing (co-writing, as a matter of fact) and it's 600 pages long and has over 300 maps. I'm both excited by the challenge and scared out of my mind at the same time. Writers, start your engines!

But aside from the challenge of penning a veritable phone-book in the next month, I can at least look forward to the best weekend in the NFL season. Which will hopefully kick off tomorrow afternoon with a Seahawks victory over the Packers. And culminate with a Giants win over the Cowboys so I can once again attend the NFC Championship next weekend. Probably not too likely, but man that would be great.

Have a good weekend.

Top Ten Favorite Games of All Time

I haven't written a games-related post in a while and, to be honest, haven't touched a game outside of work in nearly three weeks. I have a couple of games sitting unopened on the shelf and I'll certainly be tearing into either College Hoops 2K8, Assassin's Creed, or Thrillville:Off the Rails very soon, although work is currently dictating that I play other games.

In the meantime, it's occured to me that I haven't updated my "top ten games of all time" list in quite some time. Actually, I'm not sure I ever posted it on the blog before. The list used to be occupied with a lot of games from my childhood but recent attempts to "go home again" have shown that games that passed for great in the 80's simply don't always hold up. Not only in terms of appearance, but primarily in gameplay. Suffice to say, the rose-colored glasses have been smashed beneath the hefty boot of reality and only games that I've actually played relatively recently and still enjoyed a great deal make the cut.

So, without further ado...

1) Tropico
- 2001, PopTop Software (PC)

Yes, my favorite game of all time is, essentially, a Dictator-simulator. That should tell you about how much of a control-freak I really am. Tropico lets you take the role of "El Presidente" and run your own tropical island anyway you wish. You build infrastructure, an economy, and wealth through agriculture, tourism, and industry all the while you must master the delicate balance of appeasing the many political and social factions on your island. Making matters worse is the occasional hurricane and the very real possibility of a military coupe and possible invasion from the US or Russia should you stray too far towards Communism or Capitalism, respectively. Throw in an excellent sense of humor, lush graphics, a very intuitive interface, and a fantastic soundtrack and you have a classic city-building strategy game that is impossible to put down. Factor in the "Paradise Island" expansion pack and you corresponding Map Editor and you have unlimited fun.

*Favorite Moment: One of the traits for your custom Presidente is the ability to have Tourette's Syndrome. It causes a decrease in approval from the Intellectuals faction thereby making them more likely to rebel, but you gain extra money each year from broadcasting your speeches to the Americans via Pay-Per-View!

2) Shenmue 1 & 2
- 2000, 2003, Sega (Dreamcast & Xbox)

One of the great tragedies in the entertainment world is that this masterpiece of story telling has never been nor likely ever will be finished. No game has ever evoked such emotion out of me as Yu Suzuki's ambitious story of the Japanese teenager, Ryu Hazuki, and his quest to avenge his father's murder. Players took on the role of Ryo and explored various cities in Japan and eventually in Hong Kong in search of clues, but not like in other games. Shenmue made you eek out a living. It made you find places to sleep each night, find odd-jobs to earn money, and be home at a certain hour each night to get your rest. You also had to dilligently work on your martial arts training and ability to navigate foreign lands. For me, the game was both an action-adventure game and a travel simulator. The worlds were bright and massive and the story mystical. In many ways this amalgamation of genres practically defies description. It has to be played to be appreciated.

*Favorite Moment: I have many favorite moments from this game, but I'd have to say my absolute favorite moment is a tie between the very first time you make your way into town in the first game. Seeing the hustle and bustle of the city and knowing that every shop could be entered and every person spoken to was a totally new thing for me and games and it wows me still. But I must also mention the final hour of the second game. Here you finally make it to the countryside in China and are alone with a beautiful girl your age on a trail leading to her village. You can walk for as long as you want, but you are also free to spend as much time asking her all sorts of questions and even asking her follow-up questions. But not as some sort of investigator, but rather as a boy trying to get to know a girl he might fall in love with. It's a beautiful piece of storytelling and the info you do learn from her really helps catapult the story into what should have been the third game in the series. Unfortunately, the overly-ambitous project proved too expensive to finish and gamers like me will never learn how the story ends.

3) Culdcept
- 2003, Omiya Soft (PS2)

The more games I play the more I realize that sometimes I want something a bit slower paced, more strategic, and just plain fun. Like board games. And that's why Culdcept makes the list. This strategy game is a perfect blend of Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering and not only provides for plenty of strategic card-based gaming, but it also includes the luck of dice rolls, and relative quick pace of board games. Players build a deck of cards from their collection and move around a map landing on different colored tiles that they can claim as their own by assigning a monster to them. Then, as other players land on your property they can either pay the toll or battle your monster with cards of their own. There are many subtle layers of strategy to the game, such as the ability to level-up the properties and even invest in different elements. Best of all, you get new cards whether you win or lose and with over 500 cards in the game, it's possible to build many different decks and employ a number of different strategies.

*Favorite Moment: Anytime I had the chance to play this with another live opponent. Sometimes it was my wife, but other times my friend Brad would come over and we'd play together. The game also makes it very easy to trade cards with one another and even helps point out duplicates and cards that one player has and the other doesn't. All of this made for a very childhood-ish feeling and was a great reminder of what gaming should be like. The sequel comes out next month on the Xbox 360 and I expect it to take a spot on this list.

4) Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
- 2003, Nintendo (Gamecube)

Many fans of the Zelda franchise will be shocked to see this game listed here instead of the far more universally praised Ocarina of Time and that is for two reasons: First, I only played Ocarina for a couple hours, and secondly that's because in writing the strategy guide for Wind Waker, I got to learn the ins and outs of the game at a much deeper level than I suspect 90% of those who played it. But even aside from that, I just knew from the moment that I first put the Japanese version of the game in the machine that this was something special. The game was both true to the roots of the franchise and also absolutely incredible to look out. The nay-sayers who complained about the "kiddie" look of the cel-shading graphics couldn't have been more wrong. And, I will even go so far as to say that I honestly enjoyed the extended sailing portions. The game was epic in scale and duration and there wasn't a single ounce of gameplay that I didn't wring from it. I saw it all and believe it to be one of the high water marks in gaming, pun fully intended.

*Favorite Moment: My favorite moment in this game was simply seeing the incredible graphics and animation come to life. Link's facial gestures and clumsy childish actions were so beautifully illustrated that I get the warm & fuzzies just thinking about it.

5) Catan Live
- 2007, Big Huge Games (Xbox Live Arcade)

I've written a lot about this game over the past year and for good reason. This digitization of the world-famous board game is, for me, reason enough to own an Xbox 360. The game blends luck with strategy and adds a touch of diplomacy to the mix and challenges players to acquire the necessary resources to build up their settlement before the opponents do. Players take turns placing settlements and cities and trying to build roads on the hexagonal-shaped board while acquiring resource cards through dice rolling and strategic placement of their units. Games take only 20-30 minutes to play and the board is never the same twice. Those who win most are usually those who can shift their strategies on the fly and adapt to what might be an unlucky roll or settlement placement.

*Favorite Moment: Learning how to play and finally, after seeing the board game in stores for years and never buying it, winning my first match. The game was everything I had hoped it would be and proved as addictive and entertaining as any other game I played in a very, very long time.

6) Okami
- 2006, Capcom, (PS2)

I gave serious thought to putting this above Wind Waker on the list since I often describe this game by saying it "out-Zelda's the Legend of Zelda" but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Like the aforementioned Wind Waker, I authored the strategy guide for Okami and therefore have seen every nook and cranny this massive game has to offer. And I loved it. Okami takes place in feudal Japan and puts players in the role of a wolf-god with the ability to perform various godly feats with a calligraphy brush. Different brush strokes equate to different abilities and tricks ranging from attacking an enemy to changing daylight to night. In many ways the game does play like a Legend of Zelda game, but without the innocent sheen. Your spritely-little companion is forever making various sexual inuendos, the writing was far more compelling than many games, and by no means is the game as easy.

*Favorite Moment: I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't yet played this gem of a game (which is re-releasing on the Wii this year) but there is a scene in which the wolf and his companion separate. I challenge anyone who loves dogs to not tear up during this scene. As someone whose mind does wander to the sorrful inevitability that my pets are going to die one day, I found this scene to be painfully beautiful and easily the most memorable moment in the game (there's a happy ending though, so don't worry).

7) Monopoly Tycoon
- 2001, Infogrames (PC)

This 3D real-time strategy take on the classic board game is another true gem of a game. The game begins in the 1930s with players managing their funds and building various stores and apartment buildings and whatnot on different city blocks to try and accumulate wealth. Each morning hundreds of citizens make their way into the city to shop and go to work and it's up to you to research their needs and build shops that fill them. As you move through the decades the needs of the public change. While they may be fine with a bakery in the 1940's, they're going to want a full-blown grocery store before long. Similarly, their entertainment demands also evolve over the years, causing you to constantly upgrade your businesses. Honestly, although the game bears many of the Monopoly staples, the game is essentially a fast-paced economics-based city builder. With great graphics and fantastic period music.

*Favorite Moment: After playing the initial batch of scenarios on various difficulty settings, I finally had that gaming epiphany and understood how to play the game far more succesfully than I was. Before long I was staying in the black long into the future and finally got to see how the design elements shift as you near the 1980s and 1990s. I had no idea that the city was evolving with the decades until I was finally able to play the game well and last longer without worrying about running out of money. In some ways, I guess that's like life. You miss out on the beauty around you if all you do is worry about money.

8) BioShock
- 2007, 2K Games (Xbox 360, PC)

What can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times over the past 6 months? BioShock was the first game that I've played in a very long time that made me care about the setting and the story. And in many ways, the setting was the story. The underwater city of Rapture with all of its art-deco stylings (including the period music) was the most captivating videogame environment I've seen and although the gameplay wasn't really anything that ground-breaking, the writing, the voice-acting, and the artistic style of the game was truly beyond what every other game is offering to this point. But I also want to stress that the game was fun. It wasn't very hard, it was just the right length, and the story and constant discovery of new weapons upgrades and plasmids made the game one that I wanted to see through from start to finish. In fact, although I primarily played it multiple times because I wrote the guidebook for it, I'm looking forward to eventually buying a copy for my own personal use and playing it again.

*Favorite Moment: It's a tie between the initial opening sequence when you are entering Rapture for the first time and, of course, the climactic moment when you finally meet Andrew Ryan face-to-face. I honestly ran down the hall and woke Kristin up at midnight and made her come and watch that cinematic with me.

9) Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
- 2002, Neversoft (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC)

When I first got started in the business of writing strategy guides, I based my writing sample on the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game. I then went on to write the book for every game in the series starting with THPS3 and including all of the various spin-offs. I still enjoy playing the series, but when I'm being perfectly honest I have to say that THPS4 was my favorite and probably the high-water mark for the franchise. What this game offered more of than all of the others was challenge. Completing goals in THPS4 was something to feel proud of. The game was still just about skating incredibly well-designed levels that had the right amount of objects in them without being over-crowded and the full addition of online support was a huge step forward (THPS3 had online support, but it was sketchy at best). Also, the game had introduced the Spine Transfer maneuver to help keep combos going, but still had a somewhat streamlined feel to it that the subsequent games miss. Sometimes less is more, as I recently said.

*Favorite Moment: One of my favorite moments with this game was also one of my favorite professional moments and that was getting in on the 8-person multiplayer sessions with the testers, producers, and even the President of Neversoft before this game came out. It was so much fun to get together online every week for a couple hours and play with the guys who literally made the game. Even if I did have to use some flimsy Gameshark keyboard to type my smack talk.

10) Banjo-Tooie
- 2000, Rare (Nintendo 64)

Best. Platformer. Ever. Gamers today are primarily sick of collect-a-thon games likes this, but even with all of the backtracking and constant collecting of Jigglies, Jingos, Musical Notes, and a thousand other widgets, this game was truly one for the ages. It had excellent writing, incredible level design, and absolute fantastic gameplay. Players took the role of Banjo (the bear) and Kazooie (the bird) and went on a fantastic quest to do, err, something. I forget. What I do remember though was that each character had a number of individual moves and then moves that they could perform in unison. There was also the ability to transform into various other things (like a washing machine) and that all of this craziness was not only challenging, but it was very, very funny and played very well.

*Favorite Moment: Co-authoring the guidebook for this game was my first time travelling to Nintendo in Redmond, WA (I used to live in North Carolina) and although we literally worked from 8am till 10pm every single day for two weeks, the time I had with my co-author, illustrator, and editor was fantastic. It was great having someone there to pass off the controller to after each level and after failed boss battle attempts. Sometimes I wish I had it still.


Honorable Mention: Project Gotham Racing 2, R.C. Pro-Am, Space Rangers 2, Metroid Prime, Age of Empires: Rise of Rome, NBA Street Volume 2, Hot Shots Golf 3, Frequency, Kid Icarus, Space Harrier, Thunderblade, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Worms, Life Force, Crystal Warriors, and Viva-Pinata.

BBTC Executive Director Opening

The Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club, the Seattle area's thousand-member organization that "creates and protects sustainable mountain biking opportunities in Washington State" is searching for a new Executive Director. The primary responsibilities are vast and the importance of finding the right person for the job at this critical time in BBTC's existence is of great significance.

Full description of the job opening right here.

I know a lot of mountain bikers read this blog so if any of you are truly passionate about this sport, have the necessary non-profit management experience or know someone who does, please pass this along. The BBTC is currently operating with an Interim Director (whose salary is being largely funded by the extreme generosity of the Board Members personally) who brings a lot of experience to the organization, but a full-time replacement for Justin Vander Pol is needed. If you think you can try and fill his very large shoes then please apply.

I only wish I was qualified...

Travel Temptation

Remember that post about transferring the money in our travel account into a CD so we couldn't touch it? Well, articles like this are the reason why:

Bootsnall.com's list of Top Ten Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2008.

We've been to one of the spots on the list just two years ago (Budapest) but many others are currently sporting a pushpin on the massive map in our hallway as a must-visit. But not this year!

Choosing Poorly in the HD Format War

It appears that Santa made a boo-boo.

Just two weeks after a very HD-DVD oriented Christmas in my house, Time-Warner and Paramount have dropped their HD-DVD exclusivity and switched allegiance to Blu-Ray. This leaves Toshiba's HD-DVD camp as lonely as a Crystal Lake bonfire after a Jason Voorhees visit. And me with a technology that is potentially DOA.

Apparently the lower price-point of the HD-DVD players and more feature-rich media wasn't enough to convince movie houses to ignore the truckloads of money Sony is rumored to be driving into their lots. That and the belief that Blu-Rays are more secure. It's not over for HD-DVD, but it certainly looks as if Blu-Ray has the edge and if Sony can ever gain some momentum with the PS3 (which comes with a Blu-Ray player built-in), then they will finally, once and for all, win a format war after a long, long string of failures.

Or maybe nobody will?

Time-Warner issued a statement saying that their switch to Blu-Ray was done to help eliminate confusion on the part of consumers. I'm guessing consumers apparently couldn't understand that movies with a blue case played on Blu-Ray players and those with a maroon case played on HD-DVD players. Bull. That's like saying that people don't understand that Xbox games don't play on a PlayStation. I understand the majority of Americans can be pretty thick at times, but are we color blind too?

If the announcements of these two companies dropping their HD-DVD exclusivity doesn't create a surge in Blu-Ray player sales within the next three months (combined with post-holiday sales) then I think it will be pretty safe to say that neither format is going to replace DVDs and that, instead, consumers will simply wait for the next big thing. As it is, I already had a Radio Shack register jockey trying to sell me a cable that supports up to 1440p, which doesn't exist yet.

As for me, I'm disappointed to hear that HD-DVDs may not come out on top, but I'm not regretting the purchase. I've been saying all along that at $199, the Toshiba HD-A3 (with 7 free movies) was cheap enough to be worth getting even if Sony's Blu-Ray format eventually became the standard. And I still believe this, especially given the fact that we hadn't yet bought an upconverting DVD player. Standalone Blu-Ray players are still upwards of $399 and although they are now offering rebates for 10 free movies, that's double the price of Toshiba's model (the 1080i version, not the 1080p). Also, we hadn't bought any living room technology in over 3 years which, in today's universe, is a lifetime and after downloading HD movies over Xbox Live we realized we were really missing out.

There are some really good movies out there on HD-DVD and both Best-Buy and NetFlix have enough of a library to keep us entertained for many months to come. And should the HD-DVD movie selection follow the not-so tragic path of the UMD movie format, then I guess we'll just have to buy a combo-player or, who knows, maybe even a PS3. I figure by then there'll have to be something worth playing on it.

Go Seahawks!

WaMu Center employees strategically closed window blinds Friday to show
Seahawks "12th Man" spirit. The "12" will remain in place through Sunday.
(Photo by Jim Bates/Seattle Times)

Once again, the fortune of fate has me cheering for the Seahawks against my childhood team in the playoffs. And as was the case in 2005, I hope the Seahawks crush them. Sorry, Redskins. Sorry, Joe Gibbs. You guys had a rough year, but now your season must come to an end.

RTW Trip Planning Update

An update on the round-the-world trip. Mostly about savings, actually. I know it's not polite to talk about money in public, but I don't really care. I just wrote a post about the world's daily volume of pee for chrissakes, why should money be off-limits? We all have money and bills, what difference does it make? And besides, this is about saving for a year off from working. It's a good thing. Maybe others with similar plans will take an idea or two away from this. I know I was looking for posts like this when we first started talking about the trip (and still am) so maybe someone else will find it helpful.

We begin 2008 with a hair over $2000 in our travel account and have finally devised a specific plan for reaching our target sum for the trip. Right now we're putting $200 a month into our ING savings account which, despite recent interest rate drops, is still fetching 4.1%. It's not a lot, but it helps. I created a spreadsheet to forecast our balance out over the years and if we can manage to increase the monthly deposit by $50 every 6 months and not spend any of the money in the account, we'll have more than enough to take the trip in September, 2013. Which, coincidentally, is when we were thinking of doing it, barring any personal factors that arise.

Our plan also requires us to continuously lock away the bulk of the money in the account in a 6- or 9-month CD each year (currently getting 4.7% at ING) and for us to also put half of any tax refunds we get into the account -- when/if we get them -- as well as the money from our "keep the change" account through Bank of America (another couple hundred a year). I know there are other, higher yielding ways to invest money but I'm a big fan of convenience and pretty conservative when it comes to investing. With our goal being just 5 years out, I'm not about to subject this money to any risk. I can live with 4.0 to 4.7% interest and no risk.

So, all of this together, gets us to about $42,000 by September of 2013. Factor in the money we'll get from the sale of our cars and a bunch of personal belongings (not everything can fit in storage) and we should have at least $55,000 which breaks down to a year on the road at $150 per day. That will be tough for two people to get by on while in North America and Western Europe, but I expect things to balance out in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. Also, we don't plan on spending much time in the costlier areas. That said, we know organized excurisions or adventure tours, especially in remote places can cost thousands so it's better to have a bit more than we might need. To that extent, we haven't ruled out doing a good bit of camping along the way so this may be plenty.

But regarding camping, although we enjoy it and aren't opposed to sleeping out of doors for extended periods of time, one needs to carry a lot more gear with them if they're going to be building a shelter every night and, frankly, being over-encumbered physically may present more of a hassle than the financial savings are worth.

Of course, we've also been talking about what to do with the house, whether we want to get English-teaching certfied before going and look for jobs in Asia, or even whether or not we want to look into working in a US Consulate or Embassy overseas. Fortunately, we have years to continue discussing this, but the one thing I think we really settled on is that we'll sell the house.

And I must say that the fact that I haven't been able to sleep 3 nights this week on account of the wind is not an insignificant factor. It happens every winter and, frankly, I'm sick of it. I know it sounds rather absurd, but we wouldn't be the first people to leave this neighborhood on account of the wind -- which, by the way, has our house sort of swaying as I type this. I'm practically getting seasick at my monitor. Anyway, we'll likely move into a condo in Bellevue or Seattle when we eventually return home and won't need to worry about paying mortgages and/or renting the house out while we're gone. I know there are agencies we can use to manage our house or rental properties and that sort of thing, but I know me. It would be in the back of my mind all the time and, again, it's just not worth the worry. If we're going to really do this RTW trip, I want to go into it without a care in the world. I'd rather sell the house, pay off every last stitch of debt we have, and just toss all the money left over (which will hopefully be close to $200,000) into a safe, interest-bearing account or CD and have the interest each month transferred directly to our travel account or other savings. And that extra $500 to $700 a month in interest could go a long way towards supplementing an English-teaching job. Especially in Asia or South America.

So that's where we're at now. We transferred the two grand we had into a CD the other day to get a bit more interest out of it (and, again, to make sure we don't spend it) and should have roughly double that sum in 9 months when it expires to dump into a new one and we'll just continue on with that pattern for the next five and one-half years. Or for however long it takes to make this dream happen.

And speaking of dreams, Joe Friel may have been talking about athletic performance when he wrote, "A goal without a plan is just a wish" but I think it's a pretty universal statement that can even apply here. I've been reciting it to myself a lot recently as I look over the national race calendars and begin to daydream about races in the southwest and New England areas of the country.

Short-term sacrifice for long-term joy...