Solid Gold, Baby!

Longtime Rock Band veterans won't be too impressed by this, but let me just say that I am very prooud of my recent unlocking of the "Solid Gold, Baby" achievement in Rock Band 2. The achievement is unlocked by earning a gold-star rating on a song. Unlike in the Guitar Hero franchise, however, you can't get a gold-star rating by simply getting 100% note completion on any song in any mode (normally, Easy). RB2 only gives out a gold-star rating if you play on Expert mode and earn a score roughly equal to 1.5x the score necessary to trigger a 5-star rating. In short, this requires near-perfect play. You have to not only hit almost every note (certainly can't drop a combo), but you have to also know precisely when to use the Overdrive multipliers to chain them together.

I earned my gold-star rating on "I Think I'm Paranoid" by Garbage, playing Bass on Expert mode. I finished with a 414 combo (entire song) and got the Gold-Stars to trigger on my 4th to last note in the song. That's probably the easiest song to get this achievement on, especially on bass, But it still took my about 6 or 7 tries, not to mention a lot of time spent playing other, harder songs to get my skills up.

I was so excited about my combo, score, and the gold stars that when the song was over I ran up the stairs to get my camera to take a photo of the tv for this inevitable blog post. Unfortunately, I bumped the guitar as I ran up the stairs and advanced past the score screen.

Stupid wireless controllers.

Chainless Single-Speeds

My brother sent me this link to a CNN article about Trek's introduction of two chainless bicycles this winter.

Bjorling said the new belts are a low-maintenance solution to a chain, which has roughly 3,000 parts including all the links and connectors.

Aside from the whisper-quiet ride, the lighter and longer-lasting carbon-fiber composite belts won't rust, can't be cut, won't stretch or slip and won't leave grease marks around your ankles. A guard over the belt-drive and the construction of the system makes getting your pants stuck an unlikely scenario, Bjorling said.

One version of the chainless bike, called the District ($930), is a single-speed, complete with a silver body, orange accents and brown leather seat and handles. The other, called the Soho ($990), is an eight-speed bike that uses an internal hub to adjust the speed rather than gears.

Bicycles have come a long way from the "boneshakers back in the 19th century," said Orin Starn, a professor at Duke University who teaches a course on the anthropology of sports. Some companies have used direct drive or drive shaft bikes that provide some of the same benefits as Trek's chainless bikes, but those models have yet to replace the age-old chain.

It sounds like they're going to primarily be for commuters and cruisers, and not necessarily for mountain biking (not even for single-speed mountain bikes -- my guess is the torque we would apply is just too great), but I like where this is heading. Anything that could reduce maintenance and weight is worth pursuing, so long as the price is reasonable.

Full article here.

Good Things Come in Fours?

Received a bit of great news to cap off the week last week.

First, my trip to Japan is back on. It's beeen pushed out to January and will likely involve a day or two in San Francisco first, then we'll move on to Osaka. I guess it was a good thing I paid the extra bit to expedite my passport renewal, after all.

Second up on the train of good news is that BradyGames renewed my contract for 2009 as-is, without the cuts I was bracing for. I was half-expecting the contract to shrink by one or two books on account of the size of the projects these days and the fact that so many games bunch up into two or three release windows now and don't dribble out all through the year like they used to. It's simply getting more and more difficult to author the quantity of books I've grown accustomed to putting out each year. Getting re-upped at my 2008 numbers was very good news. I'm already working on two titles for 2009 so hopefully it all works out.

In light of the good news about the contract, we decided to finally -- and I really mean finally -- get the rest of the house painted. We painted some accent walls and a guest bedroom over the years, but most of the house is still builder's white, and we both hate it. Problem is, we have a very open floorplan and didn't want to start painting one room (the kitchen for example) because before we knew it, we'd be painting the stairwell and the bonus room upstairs. So I had some guys in for estimates last week and wouldn't you know, the guy I liked the best came back with the cheapest bid. Score! He'll be here the Monday after Thanksgiving to start!

We capped off the run of good luck at the new Snoqualmie Casino Friday night. Things didn't start out too well over at the three-card poker table, where I was down $180, but I rallied on the craps table and came home $300 richer than we left with. For a tribal casino (Connecticut casinos aside), the new Snoqualmie Casino is really nice. Much nicer than the Tulalip and Muckleshoot. I wouldn't say it feels like a Vegas casino or even an Atlantic City casino, but it's much closer than the other local tribal ones are. I will say this about it: everyone was dressed a lot nicer and the bar and lounge were packed at midnight on Friday. The proximity to Seattle and Bellevue is going to be a boon for this place. Everyone was dressed far nicer than I've ever seen people dress at the other casinos around the area (or in some Vegas casinos for that matter), and the ballroom has some pretty good shows already lined up. We're going with friends of ours on December 30th to see the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, which should be fun.

Oh, and how about a couple of side-notes regarding the estimates we got for the painting.

The first guy to show up actually recognized me (and I recognized him). We've gone mtn biking once or twice together and have seen each other in the bike shop. We got to chatting, talking about bikes and whatnot, and he gives us a bid nearly double what the other two contractors eventually bid. So I'm thinking he's either just really pricey or that he clearly doesn't like me, or maybe because of the Moots, he thought I could afford a bit more. Not sure, but he was way out there with the bid. He did kind of raise his eyebrows and said, "Oh, you have a Moots!" really oddly. I couldn't help but remember an episode of The Cosby Show from the 80s when Bill was trying to buy a new car and his son slipped and let word slip that Bill was a doctor. You could see the dollar signs in the salesman's eyes. Anyway, I'm probably imagining things with the painter, but I can't think of any other reason why he would bid twice the amount of the other guys.

Another snippet from the estimates. Do you want to know how bad the economy is? The Irishman underbid the Mexican.

True story.

Brenden Stuffs the Truck

My plan was to try and write up something poignant and maybe even inspirational about Brenden Foster, but I just don't know what to say that his actions don't already shout. His story goes so far beyond what we expect of ourselves and one another that before you can begin to understand the breadth of his selflessness and the tremendous poise he shows, you have to trick yourself into forgetting he's only eleven years old. And even then, it's still difficult to comprehend. And even harder to believe.

Brenden Foster is an eleven year old in western Washington dying of Leukemia. He suspects he'll be dead within the week. When given an opportunity to have a final wish, Brenden gave it some thought and instead of choosing a trip to Disney Land or a chance to meet his famous athlete like so many other boys his age, Brenden wished to feed the homeless.

His wish was heard around King County and, last Thursday, together with KOMO News, Fred Meyer, and Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline food banks, hundreds of people filled three semi-trucks with food donations and donated over $60,000 in cash... in a single night.

You can read several stories about Brenden's wish here, here, and watch a video here.

The manager of the food bank where I volunteer on Fridays said it best when he said, "I hope my kids grow up to be one-tenth the kid Brenden is."

The world is going to lose a good one this week. Remember Brenden and remember the less fortunate this week of Thanksgiving and give what you can.

Are You Experienced?

November 19th has come and gone and for those of you with an Xbox Live membership, you know what that means: the New Xbox Experience is here. I wasn't aware that NXE was actually an official name for the update, but apparently it is. No longer will we speak of blades and dashboards. Instead, umm, what exactly are we supposed to call this now?

I don't know, but I do know that I like it. As Microsoft has been fond of pointing out over the past 6 months, NXE represents the first time a piece of hardware has gotten what amounts to a complete operating system overhaul -- for free. Those of us who logged on yesterday were greeted with a 7-minute update that completely revamped the interface, streamlined the Marketplace, made navigating our game collections easier (not to mention photos and music), and the ability to create avatars (a system that even an X360 fan like me has to admit pales in comparison with that on Yahoo... and don't get me started on MS wanting to charge for extra clothing and accessories).

The biggest addition, in my opinion anyway, is the partnership between Xbox Live and Netflix. Those with an $8.99 monthly subscription to Netflix can now instantly stream any move from their Netflix instant-play queue directly to their Xbox 360 and start watching it within about 30 or 40 seconds. This is an absolutely phenomenal feature. I may be a bit behind the times when it comes to on-demand programming and instant-play movies, but this is the first time I'm taking advantage of any such service and I have to say the results are mind-boggling. For nine bucks a month we can watch as many movies as we want, when we want, and we only need to wait half a minute for them to start playing.

Of course Sony had to go and play sore-loser and make sure Netflix pulled all of their Sony/Columbia movies from the service, but that's alright as I'm pretty sure if I made it this long without seeing "Spiderman 3", I can go on living without it.

The one drawback to the Netflix streaming is, naturally, your broadband speed. When you select a movie to watch on your Xbox 360, Netflix spends the half a minute or so determining the quality of video it can stream to you. The icon shows four bars and, unfortunately for us, our DSL speed only nets us 2 bars out of 4. Enough to watch the movie instantly, but the video signal is highly compressed. I watched Warren Miller's "Cold Fusion" last night to test out the system and the picture quality left something to be desired. Granted, the film was made in 2001 and wasn't shot in hi-definition, but the picture quality was somewhat disappointing. Certainly watchable -- and enjoyable -- but not the HD movie-watching experience I've gotten used to.

I'm going to update my queue to include some newer movies, hopefully one or two we actually own on HD-DVD (epic fail) to get a sense for the video quality degradation. Either way, it's not the end of the world if the quality suffers. We still get unlimited one-at-a-time discs in the mail with the $8.99 membership and could always just make sure to save the big blockbuster movies for hard-copy rentals and rely on the instant-watching for the movies that don't necessarily need to be seen in HD with surround sound.

What's that you say, all movies need HD and surround sound? I feel ya, bro.

Anyway, I was going to post all of this yesterday but I didn't. And the reason for that is the other aspect of the NXE that I have yet to talk about. As limited as the initial avatar-creation mechanism is (literally about 1% of the options on Yahoo) and as much of a blatant milking of people's MS Points as this is going to be, the inclusion of your avatars as playable characters in some games is an excellent addition. Sure, those of you with a Wii have been able to do it for a while with your Mii characters, but guess what, that meant you had to play the Wii. Now we can do it on the Xbox too.

And the first new game to include the feature is my new BFF, A Kingdom for Keflings. If ever there was a game that made me want to pack a bowl full of tree and just sit and mellow with a bag of Doritos and some Red Vines, then this is that game. KfK is a game that pits you as a giant charged with building a, you guessed it, Kingdom for Keflings. As the giant, you pick up your Keflings and carry them to resources you need harvested. You tell them where you want them to chop wood, mine rock, shear sheep, etc., etc., and show them where to carry said resources when they're done. You then use these resources to build the various parts needed to construct any one of several dozen different building types. There is no combat. There is no adversity. Your kingdom (for Keflings) is never attacked. You just build, grow the town, build some more, re-assign your Keflings to new jobs, and keep on building. Every now and then the Mayor will give you a small quest to complete, but these seldom require anything more difficult than delivering 75 bricks to the factory.

If the game sounds rather boring, it isn't, but you certainly have to be the right type of gamer and in the right mind to play it. Yes, it can get repetitive, and there is absolutely no pressure while playing it, nor is there anything to do that requires any reflexes (save for manipulating the camera) or skill. Like I said, feel free to inhale deeply when playing this game.

Despite the simpleness of it all -- and the fact that the closest I've come to any illegal substances in the past eight years is my old scratched-up copy of a Cypress Hill album -- I played it for four hours yesterday. Two hours in each of two sittings. The game has a therapeutic quality that I find very endearing and, dare I say, addictive. I haven't even touched the multiplayer mode yet (up to four players can work on the same kingdom simultaneously) nor have I played in the sandbox mode just yet. I'm still on that first "New Game with Tutorials" working towards building a castle for my little Keflings.

Hits & Misses

A quick rundown of some movies and games that I really enjoyed or feel currently miss their mark:

  • The Gears of War 2 single-player campaign was a lot of fun. I played through it on Hardcore mode and there were a few bumps in the road, not to mention a couple scenes in Act 5, but it was very doable without bringing in a co-op partner and quite enjoyable. The final couple of chapters were very fun to play in particular. Definitely a big improvement over the campaign in the first game, even if the dialogue and "story" are still a bit underdeveloped.

  • The Motorcycle Diaries was a really enjoyable movie about Ernesto Guevera and the trip he took when he was still in medical school. He and his cousin traveled from Bueno Aires through Patagonia, and up the eastern coast of Chile to Peru. And let me tell you, these guys were not very well prepared. But the trip was remarkable and quite an awakening for Guevera. It's in Spanish with English subtitles, but very much worth watching.


  • As much as I absolutely love playing Gears of War 2 with friends on Wednesdays and Friday nights, playing public matches is abhorrent. Not because the game is any different -- it's still the same fantastic gameplay -- but the matchmaking system takes between 2 and 25 minutes to find a game (a game that might only last 4 minutes), the experience is often laggy because of the need to connect people from around the world, and then when you are connected you have to actually communicate with these people. It's a team game so I leave my microphone on in hopes of talking to my teammates, but if ever there was a reason to fear the future of the free world, it's the inane, offensive garbage that gets spewed from the tween-age set on Xbox Live.

  • Talked a friend into going with me to see Quantum of Solace on Saturday on account of me having enjoyed Casino Royale so much and both our wives together at a "crafts party". What a mistake that was. QoS was a huge disappointment. Oh, sure, the action scenes were great but for those of us not needing a Ritalin prescription, it was a huge letdown. It jumped schizophrenically from scene to scene and location to location with little narrative, zero character development, and no backstory. If you didn't see Casino Royale, like my friend Alan didn't, you were completely lost. If you did see Casino Royale, you were probably still more than a bit confused. Casino Royale was an excellent, outstanding stand-alone movie. Quantum of Solace is an MTV-inspired smash-up of fight scenes thrown together with little reasoning and seemingly no connection to the Bond lore. It was a travesty and I have no idea how it is receiving the revies it's getting, other than the reviewers still being in love with Daniel Craig. I also have a newfound reason to be wary of fuel cells.

  • Hate to admit it, but I think I might be done with Fallout 3. Oh, don't get me wrong, the game is absolutely fantastic. It's the save system that I hate. Or my inability to deploy it correctly. I'm not sure what happened -- I saved regularly, trying to cycle through the numerically-ordered saves and overwriting ones I didn't need anymore -- but for whatever reason I now have an Autosave in a very sticky spot with little chance of staying alive and my most recent save other than the AutoSave is from 4 hours prior to where I am in the game. Who knows where my other saves are, but if there's one thing I hate doing, it's replaying portions of a game that I've already completed. Sure, 3 or 4 hours might not be a lot in a game that takes 60+ hours to complete, but the magic is lost. The suspension of disbelief has been shattered. The game became a frustration.

Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go downstairs and continue to frustrate myself with one of the above-mentioned games.

Big Time Bummer

The Japan trip has been canceled. There's a chance we go in the summer, but I would say there is little to no chance of me going in December as planned. The developers we were going to be meeting with had winnowed down the meetings from two solid days of discussion in Osaka to 1 day in Tokyo to 3 hours in Tokyo... as they were getting ready to go to a party.

Not exactly worth the company's time and money to fly us halfway around the world for a three-hour meeting that could probably be accomplished over email. I'm bummed, as I was really looking forward to meeting these guys (creators of some of my favorite games) and, naturally, sight-seeing in Kyoto and Nara would have been cool (had my hostel stays already booked), but I understand. It just doesn't make any sense.

They have two games coming out in 2009, one in February and the other in September. Both are going to be pretty cool, but the September title is going to be huge so that's the one we'll hopefully go to Japan to meet about.

Oh well, I might not be going to Japan in 2 weeks as planned, but all of that time I spent with my nose in the guidebook at least improved my sense of Japanese geography.

Recession Proof?

For all the doom and gloom we heard in October about the economy, it's nice to see that things are not as bad as they could be.

The videogame industry had an 18% increase in net revenue compared to October, 2007.

NPD, which tracks US sales of videogame-releated software and hardware pegged the total sales for the month at $1.3 billion.

Moral of the story: A brand new videogame might cost $60, but it's a far cheaper form of entertainment per hour of enjoyment than anything else. Play it for more than 12 hours and you've already saved money than had you have gone to the movies. Play it for 30, 40 or 50 hours and, well, now your'e talking only $1-2 per hour of entertainment. Keep on playing it and, well, it becomes cheaper than a depression-era trip to the playhouse.

That all said, if I was Sony, I'd come off that $399 pricetag for PS3 right-quick.


The Gears 2 Guide I Wished I Could Have Written

I'm embarrassed to even link to this article for fear of calling attention to the fact that I do in fact go slumming from time to time, but it really is a diamond in that cesspool of otherwise wasted html.

The article in question is all about how not to be a [genital] while playing Gears of War 2. And it's definitely NSFW. But it's also quite funny.

Consider it mandatory reading for everyone who wants to play online. Especially those of you on my friends list.

I Heart Washington

Being a transplant from the east coast, I get asked all the time if I like living in Washington and the answer is always a resounding YES! And it's for a lot of reasons, really, but here's one from today:

I went into Winthrop today for lunch. Much of the town was shuddered on account of it being "between seasons", not to mention the town having, as of the 2000 census, just a paltry 349 residents. I strolled along the wooden sidewalk to Three Finger Jacks, the oldest saloon in the state. They're open today till 7pm.

I'm nearly four hours from Seattle, clear across the North Cascades and closer to Canada and Idaho than my home. The radio in the bar is playing country music, there's a half-dozen rough-looking locals at the bar, an older couple at one of the tables, and me. I walked through batwing doors to enter.

Everyone is fixated on the monster truck racing on the television. And I mean fixated. They're hooting at the spills, hollering at the massive jumps, and, I'm serious now, actually critiquing the driver's skills. Monster trucks. Seriously.

I overhear the guy with the cowboy hat explain to his friend that almonds have a shell and a skin, to which his friend responded with a rather timeless soliloquy about learning new things every day. They appeared to be about 45 years old.

The bartender, clearly someone's grandmother, wore a relatively short skirt with dark black nylons and a loose-fitting top, and she wore it with a swagger. The phone rings. She answers it, "Hey dear, whazzzzuuuuuup?"

Yes, just like in the commercials from, oh, about 6 years ago.

The cheesesteak I ordered left a lot to be desired. The fries, not too bad.

So, with all of these strikes going against it, how could having lunch in this place possibly give me another reason to be glad to live in Washington, you ask?

The beer.

No matter how far you are from "civilization" in Washington, no matter how low-brow the establishment, no matter how awful the food, and how sketchy the clientele appears, you can always, ALWAYS, count on a better selection of beers on tap than any urban hot spot anywhere else in the country. Good, full-bodied, northwest-brewed beer. No fizzy yellow beer. No mass-produced gimmick beer with novelty containers. Just fresh, locally-brewed, hoppy, goodness.

I mulled over my choices and settled on Deschutes Brewery's Obsidian Stout, on nitro. It's from Oregon (pronounced Or-e-gun, not Or-e-gone).

And as I sipped my pint and ate my sandwich, I too took an interest in the monster trucks on the television. And when one of them flipped and caught fire, I joined the gang in the hurling of mockery and insults at the television.

And when the guy in the cowboy hat complained of his head hurting from learning too many new things today, I nodded along in agreement. I hear you pardna', learnin' can be pretty hard work. Best to ease the pain with another fresh pint, perhaps I'll try the Boundary Bay next...

Surprisingly Tasty

Oh, Maruchan, where were you when I was in college?

Not exactly "camping food" but if there's a better meal out there for a dollar, then I'd like to see it. This noodles and vegetables meal seriously kicks the MSG out of ramen and while the seasoning leaves a little to be desired, it was tasty enough that I actually wished I had bought a second box. I guess I'll just have to eat the Entenman's... sigh.

And for no reason in particular, the official Maruchan commercial:

Thank You Veterans

I was listening to a call-in radio segment on NPR about Veteran's Day yesterday that really got me thinking: aside from my young cousin Ronnie (who I probably shouldn't call Ronnie anymore) who is currently in Officer Training in the Marine Corps at Quantico and my grandfather who sailed in WWII, my family is devoid of people who served in the military. And I'm not talking just about my immediate family, but also my numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, friends, kin-of-friends, and so on. I know for me, while growing up, the military wasn't even something that was considered. Not because I looked down at it -- if I ever did actually give it some thought, I imagined I'd have been scared to death (thank you Hollywood) -- but because it just wasn't something any of the people around me even thought about.

We were on the conveyor belt that carries you from high school right to college and then straight off into either graduate school or the workplace.

Many of the callers on NPR yesterday were very proud of their service but nearly every one of them said that, if asked by a young person today for advice about enlisting, they'd tell them no on account of misguided war policies and lack of care for veterans when they return. What a shame.

One caller though really stuck out. He was a lifer in the Air Force who recently retired and although he too was hesitant to endorse enlisting in the military, he did suggest that many of the social gaps in this country could be gradually filled in if service to the country was mandatory, as it is in Switzerland and Israel. He wasn't talking about a draft, but rather a requirement to commit time to the Americorps or Peace Corps instead of the military. About there being avenues to link all 280 million of us in a common shared-experience; something besides the Super Bowl (my words).

Kristin and I had been talking for a while about possibly entering the Peace Corps after our RTW trip, but I never thought of it as a way to serve the country that has given us so much. I always looked at is as a mechanism to volunteer in a foreign land and gain some unusual life experiences and perspective. I forgot that it is actually designed to help serve America's interests abroad -- and what a nice alternative to bombing runs and sanctions!

I used to compete as a civvy in numerous triathlons and mountain bike races at Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg when I lived in NC and there was a part of me that, after spending a day on the base and seeing the comaraderie shared amongst the enlisted, that was ashamed for having not considered a stint in the military. I was considering joining the National Guard for a while to help out the local area after disasters, then September 11th came and a short while after the National Guard starting being deployed to Iraq. Talk about bait-and-switch!

But current situations aside, what is it about so many of us that grow up in societies that don't even consider giving anything back to this country? What is it about ourselves that makes us think paying taxes is all we need to contribute to the country's security? What is it about so many who think buying a yellow bumper sticker is all they need to do? What is it about the rest of us who don't even do that?

I don't know. I certainly don't have the answer to that one. But I think it's worth giving some thought on this day of honoring those who risked and gave everything for this country -- those who helped make it possible for me to do something so self-absorbingly as to while away the week in a scenic cabin working on a novel.

So, to everyone who served, is serving, or like my cousin, a willing enlistee who looks forward to serving, THANK YOU.

Guidebook Giveaway: Gears of War 2

It's that time again, I have a box of strategy guides for Gears of War 2 sitting here and I'm going to give away three signed copies to the three lucky people whose names I draw from a hat on Friday. I co-wrote this book on-site at Epic Studios (specifically the multiplayer coverage) back in August and if you're interested in securing a copy for yourself, then shoot me an email between now and Friday.

The book is massive (302 pages) and we packed over a hundred pages worth of maps and strategy into the guide just for the multiplayer portion of the game! There's also a fold-out poster with some pretty awesome artwork and all of the biographical info from the in-game collectibles.

I'll be out of town until Friday but will pick the winners when I get home so look to your inbox Friday night to see if you won. Good luck.

Games, Games, and More Games

What a couple of great days it's been. Gears of War 2 came out (officially) at Thursday night, at midnight, and not only did several of my friends rush out and wait in lines with 75 other people to snag a copy, but six of them took Friday off of work to play it all day. And play it we did. For at least 12 hours on Friday. I admit I felt bad about canceling my shift at the food bank on Friday to stay home and play videogames all day, but it really was like a holiday.

My east-coast friends had gotten online at 8am their time and leapt into a game of Horde before I woke up and could join them, so I spent much of Friday morning working through the single player campaign on Hardcore mode. There were a few tricky spots, but I've so far made it to a pretty significant boss battle at the end of Act 4, Chapter 6. The rest of Friday and all day Saturday (quite literally, all day) was spent playing online with the gWp crew I've been inducted into. I had accumulated 1400 kills by Saturday night, before turning it off when Kristin got home from school.

It's really a fantastic game. The story campaign is very well done, with excellent pacing, well-placed checkpoints, and even a bit of emotion which I wasn't expected. Horde mode (5 player co-op) is absolutely fantastic and probably worth the admission fee alone, and the various 5 vs 5 multiplayer modes are a blast. I have to say that between Fallout 3, Rock Band 2, and Gears of War 2, I really don't see me needing to buy another game for six months. Well, maybe Mirror's Edge, but nothing else!

Speaking of Rock Band 2, Kristin and I played for several hours Saturday night after dinner and it's absolutely amazing how much better she has gotten. She now plays guitar on medium difficulty and other than struggling with the guitar solo at the end of "Alive", she's really doing quite well. I was a bit rusty the first couple of sets on guitar while she experimented with the drums, then we switched off. By the end of the night, we each played all four instruments and completed several challenges in the game. It's truly great to have a game that both of us can play, that has such great music, and that has a difficulty curve that isn't only beginner-friendly, but one that really helps you get better. I know I'm probably sounding like a broken record by now, but I have no idea what I was thinking in buying Guitar Hero 3 instead of Rock Band last year. GH3 made me all but give-up on this genre of game -- now I couldn't be happier. And I'm really looking forward to this Tuesday's release of the Foo Fighter's track-pack coming this Tuesday for RB2.

Of course, this all means that my Fallout 3 time has dwindled to nothing. I have to get back into it before I forget what I'm up to in that game and/or forget how to play. It's such a great game, but it's just a testament to how fun and addictive (in a good way) the multiplayer aspects of RB2 and GOW2 are.

Sumimasen, Eigo Wo Hanasemasu Ka?

I came upstairs to write a post about the surprisingly powerful emotional scene I just experienced in Gears of War 2 and to then make my standard Guidebook Giveaway offering (I co-wrote the multiplayer coverage and purposely avoided the single-player during my 10 days at Epic Studios in August), but I instinctually first checked my email. And boy am I glad I did.

I didn't want to say anything until it was a bit more definite, but the election wasn't the only thing that had me lying in bed, smiling all night on Tuesday. I found out earlier that day that there was a significant chance I'd be going to Japan in December for work. And I just got the confirmation.

Japan!!! JAPAN!!!

I always knew there was a possibility with this videogame guidebook-writing gig that I'd possibly get to go overseas, but man was it a bolt out of the blue!

I can't mention which company I'll be visiting or for what game(s) I'm going to be discussing, but I can say that I have a couple days worth of meetings scheduled in Osaka. And will be getting to meet some of the lead designers of a couple of my favorite games. I'm very excited about this.

What I can say, however, is that I can tell Kristin is very jealous and because of school, work, and airfare running about $1300, she won't be able to come along with me. Last week, I was actually a tad bit jealous that she might have to go to Vermont later this month for work, now it turns out I'm going to Asia. Kristin loves to travel every bit as much as I do so I have to try and temper my excitement so as to not rub her nose in it. Which wouldn't be intentional -- she knows I wish she could come along -- but still, I'm going to JAPAN!

Of course, I ran right out on Tuesday afternoon and picked up the Lonely Planet guidebook to Japan, as well as their phrasebook and the Japan edition of the Culture Smart! book. My plan is to see how hectic my schedule becomes between now and the end of the month and try and extend between 3 and 5 days on the backside of the trip to go to Kyoto and Nara to do some proper sightseeing on my own.


Excuse me, do you speak english?