Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Day 7 and Day 8: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them. And since I missed yesterday, you get two topics today.

Day 7: Favorite video game couple. (SPOILERS)

This one's easy for me. It's Locke and Rachel from Final Fantasy VI, one of my five favorite RPGs, and one I plan to play through again next year.

It's a long story, but the gist of it is that Locke, one of the main characters in the game, had a girlfriend named Rachel before the Empire took rise. One day they were in a cave (Locke was a treasure hunter, so this sort of thing was natural to him) looking for treasure (her engagement ring), but before he could find the ring and propose, the bridge they were on collapsed. Rachel pushed Locke to safety, but she fell and went into a coma. After awaking, she did not have her memory and couldn't remember Locke, but only saw that Locke was someone who upset her family and told him to leave (her family blamed the accident on Locke and gave him the boot). A year later, she was killed during one of the Empire's raids, but regained her memory, with one of her final statements being, ""If a man called Locke should ever return, please tell him that I love him."

It's a painful backstory that adds a bit of depth to Locke's character, and one of the sidequests you can do in the game is try to revive her. When Locke revives her, she's only alive for a few moments, but tells him to forgive himself. It's a powerful moment in a game filled with powerful moments.

Day 8: Favorite video game soundtrack
This one is a tough question to answer, because there are pieces of great music from so many great games. So I'm going with the soundtrack that got me interested in soundtracks in general, and that's Lemmings for DOS (and other platforms too).

What fascinated me about Lemmings is that they took existing nursery rhyme music and really remixed the tunes into something wildly unique and different. And while I played this game the most on DOS, I'm really partial to the Genesis version of the songs.

One way or another on the DOS sounds fantastic too.

Previous entries
Day 6
Day 5
Day 4
Day 3

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Our big announcement

Click on the video above to see the announcement play out, 8-bit style! Oh, and there's real video of Lucy as well. Will share more with you soon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Day 6: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them.

Day 6: the most annoying video game character

I know most folks would say Navi, the fairy in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that yells "Hey! Listen!" multiple times throughout your game. But Navi's just trying to be helpful. Anyone that earnestly wants to help me save the world is far from annoying.

One of the most annoying characters I've read about in a video game is Preston Garvey. He's the reason I haven't picked up Fallout 4, despite mods available that cut down on his  annoying behavior. What does Preston do? He sends you on unlimited fetch quests, usually preceding his commands with "Another settlement needs our help!" It would seem that Preston's persistence cuts down on the ability to explore at your own leisure, something I loved about Fallout 3.

Here's to Preston, the most annoying character in gaming.

Previous entries
Day 5
Day 4
Day 3

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Day 5: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them.

Day 5: Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were)

This guy. Forever and always.

Previous entries
Day 4
Day 3

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Day 4: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them.

Day 4: Your guilty pleasure game

Ground Zero Texas (and other full motion video games) for Sega CD

Imagine that instead of a bunch of pixels and cartoon drawings on your TV screen, your video games were "real." Real actors, real sets, actual spoken dialogue, and a fully fleshed out plot. Instead of beeps and bops, you were directing a real Hollywood film, right from your own home!

That's the pitch that we were given in the early 90s, and the foundation on which Sega built their Sega CD system. If you were a Sega Visions subscriber like myself, that's was touted as the big selling point for the system. In fact, the pack-in game included with the Sega CD was Sewer Shark, a FMV game in which you murdered mutant rats in a sewer (apologies to the Ninja Turtles).

With an FMV game, everything was filmed like a movie, and your interaction would alter the scenes. While it sounds great, this method severely limits your amount of interactivity, usually limited to point and click type games.

And you know, for all the flack this genre gets (I don't think there is a genre more despised than FMV), I love it in a so bad it's good kind of way. Ground Zero Texas was a game I read about in magazines constantly back in 1993, but with it only being available on a system we couldn't afford, it would be relegated to my imagination and print.

Until I became a grownup! After college, I found a Sega CD unit for $40 at a game shop in Pittsburgh, and picked up a few titles for it. Sonic CD, Sewer Shark, and that not-forgotten childhood gem, Ground Zero Texas. In this game, aliens have infiltrated a small Texas town and disguised themselves as humans. Like Zygons in Doctor Who, but sadly don't get The Doctor in this title. You've been brought in to monitor security cameras for any sign of the aliens.

The trailer for the game

What this means is that you get to see different interactions with townsfolk play out, with some of the scenes turning into a shooting round.

Is it a bad game? It's not The Legend of Zelda by any means. Do I enjoy it? Absolutely. Yes, the FMV genre has severe gameplay restrictions (I don't get to do anything but switch camera views, move a cursor and shoot), but just because your interactions are limited doesn't mean it's terrible. The graphics are severely crippled by the Sega CD (it could only show 64 colors at a time, not a good look for video), but it's still a fun look back into a decade when next-gen expectations were radically different than what they are now.

You get to shoot aliens. That's the foundation of all great video games (Galaga, the greatest arcade game of all time, is built on this premise)! And if you really want to drown yourself in retro goodness, this genre screams early 90s like nothing else.

Previous entries
Day 3

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Day 3: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them.

Day 3: A Game that is underrated

Wiz n Liz (Sega Genesis and Amiga, 1993)

Before Pysgnosis went on to make Wipeout, they were best known for Lemmings, one of my favorite PC puzzle games. Truth is, Psygnosis published a variety of fun titles I enjoyed, including Puggsy, those games on Nick Arcade, and today's game of choice, Wiz n Liz.

If you've never played Wiz N Liz, I'll forgive you for not keeping track of it in a sea of great games on the Genesis and Amiga back in the early 90s. It feels like a forgotten gem, even when talking to people who grew up playing games in that decade. The goal of the game is to guide your character through each stage collecting rabbits (they escaped from their pen!). Each rabbit yields items like letters that you use to spell out a word, clocks that extend your time, vegetables you use to create spells, and so on.

It's all done with a frantic pace that's best enjoyed with two players, although the single-player experience is great as well. Complete with unique music, great stage and spell variety, it's a game everyone should try at least once.

Previous entries

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day 2: The 30-Day Video Game Challenge

Note: This is a series of posts based on some image floating around on Twitter. I felt I could talk more about my answers instead of just tweeting them.

Day 2: My favorite character

Link, from The Legend of Zelda series.

I like that the story of Zelda changes with each iteration of the game. It's like the story is a tale passed down after years and years, with the myth adapted to each generation's life experiences.

Just gonna leave grandma behind and save my sister. All in a day's work.

From a personality standpoint, Link doesn't say anything, except for some grunts and yelling. It allows you to fit your personality into his character. Are you happily carrying out these tasks? Are they a burden? The Zelda games, by keeping him silent, allows you to tell that part of the story.

Regardless of what kind of story you supply, I admire Link's courage. Go stop an evil wizard? Go get my sleeping father out of the castle? Burn down a mysterious bush in the middle of the woods? Link doesn't question these things, he just does them.

Sure, we shouldn't do everything people tell us to do. That'd be ridiculous. However, there's something noble about the fact that he never questions the chance to help others. He just does it. Partly because it's a video game and a Zelda game wouldn't be fun if Link sat in the house all day, but partly because he's the kind of hero most of us strive to be. Always courageous, always the first one to save the day.

This writes an interesting story in the my mind, as we're never really sure if Link truly gets what he wants in life. But that's a whole separate blog post, although I suspect there are moments of sadness throughout his venturing days, when he longs for his own dreams to come true, instead of granting the wishes, noble as they are, of others.

Morality aside, Link is a fantastic piece of walking destruction. His variety of weapons is a lot of fun to mess around with. The sword (which shot energy beams in the shape of a sword in the first two games), bombs, bow and arrow, magic wand, boomerang, and even sticks! It brings me back to childhood days when I'd imagine myself as a fierce warrior, waving around my plastic sword (swords were much cooler weapons than guns when I was a boy), defeating all evil that could harm my neighborhood!

And then, I'd go back inside and play The Legend of Zelda. Because that game, and Link, are fantastic creations.

Previous entries:
Day 1

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Day 1: 30-Day Video Game Challenge

I found this posted online this evening, and thought it was the perfect excuse to get back into blogging instead of just posting short answers on Twitter.

Day 1: Very first video game.

For that, we'd have to go back to the waning days of the Atari 2600. 1987. I was probably around 3 1/2 to 4 years old, so my memories are very short. However, I do remember my uncle having an Atari system and wanting to play Pac-Man and Frogger.

I can vividly remember my mother saying, "We'll have to see if Brett can hook it up," and my childlike brain fixating on the up portion, thinking he was going to hang it up in the air! An Atari suspended from the ceiling is far from the worst idea, although probably impractical in the 1980s.

Much of my memories of these games comes from playthroughs as an older child, but I'll always have a soft spot for Frogger and Atari 2600 Pac-Man.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Seven great children's shows you don't know about because you lack children

In my spare time, I edit a fun podcast called TV 4 Vendetta. My insincere apologies for the bad pun, but it's a really fascinating conversation about great TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, Westworld, and others. But the two co-hosts, Brian and Michael, do not have children, and as such, do not mention children's shows on their podcast.

I get it. If you don't have a child, there's no way you're willingly watching Bo on the Go or Paw Patrol. But I have two children, 4.5-year-old Lucy and Neil Flynn, who turns 2 on Thursday, and I have seen a great deal of shows aimed at children. Some of it is terrible, like Caillou. Heyvi Kabisa this show is terrible. The main character is mind-numbingly annoying, and the moral lessons the show imparts on the viewer are lacking a great deal. In a nutshell, Caillou teaches you that if you whine and throw a big enough tantrum, the grownups in your life will suddenly bow to your superior wisdom.

Thankfully, not every show is terrible. Some of them are actually quite good, with great production values, a wry sense of humor, and a finished product that shows how much fun the creators had making it. Here is a list of shows, mostly unranked, that make the cut. The criteria for including shows on this list is that I've either watched them when the children weren't watching, or kept watching long after they've started a different activity.

First, the honorable mentions
Lazytown. I love the production values but that's about it
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. I LOVE watching this with the kids, but never continue watching after they've stopped.
Arthur. See Above. I really do enjoy this show, and the characters are great. But I clock out when the kids do.

And here's the list. Starting with my two favorites.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

Episodes to watch: Twilight's Kingdom Part 1 and 2 (great anime-style fight scene in this one).
I had heard of Bronies (adult fans of the show) long before Lucy started watching, and dismissed it as something weird and bizarre. Years later, it's still weird and bizarre, but a lot of fun. (Full disclosure, I consider myself a brony but do not have any costumes). What drew me in were the colorful characters. The show's artwork and production design is fantastic, with a lot of pop culture nods that grownups can appreciate.

Doctor Whooves and Rose

That's a reference to the rebooted season 4 episode Doomsday, in which The Doctor uses 3D glasses to look into the void.

David Tennant as The Doctor

Seriously, what other kid's show throws in a Doctor Who reference? There's been other nods to great films, such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles,  The Big Lebowski, Back to the Future, etc. Part of the fun of the show is just looking for those things.

And the other fun part of the show is the six main characters. Each of them has such a distinct, defined personality, and over six seasons, the show has done a great job at showing each of the Mane 6 mature. The wide variety of episodes, ranging from dealing with personal conflict with friends, to saving the country from impending doom and gloom, ensure that there is truly something for everyone. And with such a negative society (I'm looking at you, 2016 Election season), it's so refreshing to see something truly positive and devoid of any hatefulness.

Speaking of that great anime fight scene I mentioned earlier, my 11-year-old nephew Brent told me he thought MLP would be boring, thinking it was just for little girls. I showed him that two-part episode with the fight scene. He turned to me and said, "Ok, that was actually pretty cool."

If you had asked me if another children's show would come around that would be just as good as this one, I would have said no, this is the pinnacle of children's programming. Until Disney stepped in with...

The Lion Guard

Episodes to watch: The Return of the Roar (Pilot-movie) and Can't Wait To Be Queen
I've always admired Disney for making sure that their products had the better production values than nearly everything. True, some of their direct-to-video stuff leaves something to be desired (well, used to: their new DTV stuff is really good), and they churn out their share of obnoxiously bad programming (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is at the top of my list, despite my love of Mickey Mouse), but when they want something to be truly great, it will hit that mark.

Kion demonstrates The Roar, which channels roars from his ancestors.

Disney has a storied history of great TV programming. Duck Tales, Goof Troop, Gargoyles, to name a few. And while Lion Guard is aimed at a younger crowd than those aforementioned shows were, it is not short on fun. It's a spin-off of The Lion King (my second-favorite Disney film and probably, you could argue, their best film) featuring Simba's son Kion, who leads a group of animals, including a cheetah and hippo, called The Lion Guard. Simba has the power of the roar (think dragon shouts from Skyrim), which overpowers foes due to its strength.Their job is to protect The Circle of Life, which leads to run-ins with greedy Hyenas, crocodiles, and jackals, among other foes.

I've seen the show described as Avengers meets Lion King. Fitting since each character has their own power (Fuli the cheetah is fast, Beshte the hippo is strong, Ono the egret who has great vision, and Bunga the Honey Badger, who is fearless and is immune to venom and bee stings). Lion King meets Teen Titans is probably a better example, as the Lion Guard, like the TT, are fairly young and just starting to learn about their abilities.

The show has fantastic artwork, very reminiscent of the film, and the songs have a movie-quality feel to them. Here's my favorite, Hero Inside, and my God that baby elephant is beyond cute.

Like MLP, the characters have a lot of depth, and the show really nails the superhero aspect, including some great fight scenes. Do I like MLP more than Lion Guard? An impossible question at this point. I will say that I like the characters of MLP more, but I like the music from The Lion Guard much better (Much as I love MLP, the songs are something I'm always tempted to fast-forward through, and we own The Lion Guard soundtrack).

And here's the rest of my list.

Peg + Cat

Peg + Cat

Episodes to Watch: The Pizza Problem/The Pirate Problem and Peg + Cat Save The World
A charming show on PBS with an elementary-level math focus, something I haven't seen since Square One Television went off the air. Peg and her friend Cat have such a wonderful personality, and I love that show is "animated" on graph paper. That little touch really makes this my favorite PBS show.

Elena of Avalor

Elena of Avalor

Episodes To Watch: Prince Too Charming and Spellbound
Disney does a great job with princesses, and this one isn't any different. I appreciate Elena's caring personality, and willingness to work hard to solve problems. A great role model for my daughter, and really great storylines. This should probably get the theatrical film treatment at some point.


Episode to Watch: Octonauts and the Snapping Shrimp
What if we made an undersea version of Star Trek for kids? That's the setting behind the book series by Vicki Wong and Michael C. Murphy and adapted into a BBC animated series. It's managed to teach me a thing or two about underwater life, and nobody is looking into the camera asking viewers at home to help.

Beat Bugs

Episode to Watch: Blackbird (featuring Sia)
A Netflix exclusive series with a focus on bugs who sing Beatles tunes. The characters, one of which voiced by Ashleigh Ball (Applejack and Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony) are charming in their own right, and the covers of Beatles tunes are really good. It had me and my daughter singing Carry That Weight for an entire week.

Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse

Episode to watch: Episode 6: Best of Barbie
No doubt you've watched plenty of Barbie cartoons that take her way too seriously. Life in the Dreamhouse is much different in that it goes over the top with the characters (Ken invents things that don't work, Barbie has a ridiculous clothes closet, etc.) who know they are made of plastic. It is the funniest show on this list. The sitcom quality and Scrubs-style flashbacks show that with a little creativity, you can do something new with any group of characters.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Texas Forever

"There's no easy way to say this.... the design hub is being move to Austin," our boss told my co-workers and I in a June meeting. I had been sitting in a desk all day, and had elected to stand during the meeting.

I wanted to crumple to the ground. Instead I buried my head in the filing cabinet next to me. Not this again. You see, last year, our company had the same conversation with us. Last year, I faced a bit of a career crisis.

I had moved to Florida in the February 2015 to take a newspaper job. I love page design, and after five years of customer service jobs and monotonous third-shift job, I was ready for something better paying and fun. So our family packed up and we went off to The Sunshine State. A few months into that job, the corporate moustaches announced that they were moving the page design part of the newspaper to their headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Should we stay or should we go? We prayed about it and in early Fall, when the company decided to reverse course and keep the design jobs in Florida, we were relieved. We still could have gone to Austin, but felt at that time that a move was the wrong choice to make.

After we put that to-move-or-not-to-move episode behind us, our son, who we knew was having development issues, was finally diagnosed with Koolen De Vries Syndrome. It's worth reading about, but it is a developmental delay and mild to moderate intellectual disability.

In hindsight, I'm glad we decided against that move, as having to find new doctors to keep monitoring him could have delayed the discovery of that diagnosis. It was stressful enough finding out that our child had special needs. Add being in a new place and a new job to that, and I probably would have exploded.

Also one benefit to not moving last year was getting more experience at my current job. Without an extra 11 months of work, I don't think I would have succeeded as much in a new environment.

However, the past has a way of repeating itself, even when you don't ask it to. The meeting we had in June that I spoke of at the beginning of this piece had no air of optimism about keeping our jobs. Last year, there was that faint chance that things could be reversed. Not this time.
I always had a feeling that our jobs would be moved to Austin at some point. I just didn't expect it this year.Thankfully, I left a good impression on the folks in Austin when I interviewed for that position that I didn't have to interview again, and ended up being offered more money than I would have gotten last year.

After our summer of prayer, my wife and I decided that moving was the best option for our family. For one, all of my son's specialists are in one city. Right now, my wife has to take Neil Flynn to Pensacola and Gainesville, all places nearly two hours away. Those drives can get tiresome when presented on a regular basis. So that's a benefit.

There are other benefits, such as a pay raise, living in a cool town (no beach but OMG retro video games abound!), but the one benefit will be living closer to my family. Especially my grandpa. He's 78 and has a history of bad health problems. He could conceivably die tomorrow. In Florida, they live 13 hours away. In Austin, they'd be 7 hours away. It's not like they'll be living next door, but we could see them on a weekend, or my family could meet us halfway, without me having to take time off of work. Austin is also only 13 hours away from Neil Flynn's godmother, and my podcasting co-host James Ryan.

Austin sounds really cool so far. I know there are some doubts, such as the financial hit we're taking to move again, but long-term I think we'll be better off.

I just hope I'm not writing this same article a year from now. 
I was born in Texas. I might as well die there. 
Texas forever.