Archive for May, 2008
I’m watching the National Spelling Bee right now, and every time I see this competition, I always think the same thing: televised Science Bowl would be so much better.
In fact, I wrote about this in my GameDaily blog almost a full 2 years ago. I have a Word document saving every single post I ever made (a monster 420 pages) so it was easy to dig it up.
For the first time ever, the National Spelling Bee Finals is being broadcast live on primetime broadcast TV (ABC). I’m currently watching it now and eh, it’s kind of dull. I was reading an article on ESPN the other day — apparently, it’s now legal to bet on the Spelling Bee? Wonder what the odds at the Vegas Sportsbook are…
Still, with the continuously rising popularity of this academic competition, I can’t help but feel that National Science Bowl would make for a much more exciting spectator sport. Obviously I’m biased since I was in the program for three years in high school, but Science Bowl sounds better even on paper. Spelling Bee has snooty officials, long wait times as contestants ask the same half a dozen clarification questions, and droning definitions from the judges. It just makes for plain boring television when the contestants stare blankly off into the distance while standing in front of the microphone. In any random five second interval, you can hear coughing from the audience. Guaranteed. Everybody’s restless sitting in that auditorium.
Science Bowl, on the other hand, is frenetic, fast-paced, and thrilling. 4 members are on a team, and two teams face off against each other with buzzers somewhat similar to the type on Jeopardy. Questions are drawn from all arenas of science, from the core subjects (math, biology, physics, chemistry) to some of the more specific fields such as computer science, astronomy, and environmental science. Questions are asked rapidly, and you can buzz in anytime, even interrupting the judge mid-stream if you think you know the answer. There’s crazy scribbling on paper for math problems, penalties for wrong answers, and scoreboards. Even bonus rounds! What’s not to like? It would make MUCH better TV than this drab spelling bee.
I said I was going to write more about Crisis Core two months ago, but things kept happening. Anyway, I enjoyed the game so much that I mailed my PSP to my brother for him to play it since he just started summer vacation.
Final Fantasy VII is probably the most polarizing game in the business. Millions adore it, and just as many seem to despise it in what seems like a reactionary response to its popularity. Fandom aside, I don’t know why anybody who has a PSP wouldn’t buy this game, and I would certainly consider Crisis Core a killer app for anybody who doesn’t own the handheld yet. It’s a showcase for the system’s capabilities and is at the very least a very capable action RPG. I can see how people expecting a traditional RPG battle system might be turned away, but personally I enjoyed the faster pace and greater depth of the fights, which allow dodging of attacks and strategic positioning for critical hits.
The short, bite-sized missions that are an addendum to the main quest are perfect for on-the-go play, and even if you aren’t a big FF7 fan, the presentation of the story is excellent and has many humorous moments. But if you ARE a FF7 fan, you’re going to be giddy with all the fan-service. Familiar characters make cameos, and there are many nods to the original game with inside references.
I thought the story was dragged down by Genesis, a very annoying character who is fond of spouting poetry, and some of the plot developments didn’t make much sense to me. Actually, I still don’t fully understand the plot, but when I say that I love the story, I mean that it was so captivating to be back in this world and to get the back story of Zack, a very important story that was hinted at in FFVII but that deserved to be re-told. The whole Nibelheim flashback is replayed in this game and sent chills down my back.
In Zack, Square Enix has succeeded in creating the most likable character in recent memory. I’ve been wracking my brain and I can’t remember anybody that comes close, perhaps the assassin droid HK-47 from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He’s the opposite of Cloud in almost every way, a natural leader with heart and humor. Zack is just plain awesome, I haven’t read anybody who dislikes him yet.
And of course, there’s the ending. The ending sequences (about the last 40 or so minutes of the game) rank up there with some of my all-time favorite gaming endings. After I finished Crisis Core, I was pumped up and immediately wanted to replay FFVII. The sequence after the credits even seems to hint at a FFVII remake… let’s hope that happens!
Podcasts are a great way to make exercise, commutes, and household chores much more enjoyable. I have a steady lineup of gaming podcasts that I listen to, and here’s my recommendations.
1) GFW Radio
This podcast from the writers at the now defunct Games for Windows magazine is by far my favorite. New shows are released Wednesday evenings, and I frequently find myself delaying a workout to wait for the newest episode to be uploaded. Their name is unfortunate because it might turn away anybody who isn’t into PC gaming. The truth is that for many episodes, PC game discussion almost seems like an afterthought. Rather, the crew shoot the breeze on anything from movies to hilarious childhood stories and also frequently discuss console games. Favorite segments from the past include mocking embarrassing posters on internet message boards.
A fan has created two “Best Of” shows that encapsulate many of the all-star moments. I highly recommend giving that a shot if you’re a new listener, and it’s likely that you’ll be converted on the spot. (You should probably listen to Part 2 before Part 1, since Part 1 starts off kinda weird especially if this is your first exposure to the show).
2) Player One Podcast
Unlike GFW Radio, this podcast by ex-EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly) veterans is an acquired taste. It’ll take a few episodes to become familiar with the personalities of the hosts and the slower pace, but it’s a very entertaining show once you get used to it. Once in a while, guests that formerly worked with the hosts make special appearances. Those shows tend to be the best with lots of inside stories on life working in the videogame industry.
The creator of Cheap Ass Gamer (stationed in Tokyo, Japan) and one of his friends host this podcast about the latest videogame deals and news. In many ways, this is an “underdog” show since the two are newcomers to the videogame industry, which gives the podcast an everyman appeal. Usually plenty of laughs are to be had in each episode, and the two hosts play off each other well. Because of their status in the industry, CAGcast usually isn’t privy to sneak peeks at future games but they provide great commentary from two ordinary Joes on what’s available on the market.
4) Giant Bomb podcast
I have virtually never visited GameSpot so I’m not too familiar with Jeff Gerstmann, the writer who was fired in a GameSpot controversy half a year ago. Since then, multiple staff members have left GameSpot and they formed a new company called Giant Bomb. Their podcast is a good listen; a recurrent segment features reviews of obscure energy drinks that are as surprisingly amusing as they are random.
5) 1UP Yours
Once the undisputed videogame podcast king, 1UP Yours has suffered after 2 of the 4 hosts left 1UP to work at other companies. Since then, I’ve found the discussions to be customarily dull. However, this is probably the best place to go if you want to hear about unreleased games that the staff are playing right now for review purposes.
This is 1UP’s retro games podcast that focuses on a specific game series in each episode and talks about its history and impact on the industry. I usually pass on this podcast unless they discuss a series I really enjoy. The hosts have a really bad habit of talking over each other, which makes listening quite frustrating.
7) EGM Live
The official podcast of Electronic Gaming Monthly is surprisingly bad with uninteresting speakers and just plain dull coverage. Once in a blue moon, they feature a former EGM writer who talks about his experiences working on the magazine, and those episodes are excellent.
Special Mention: Penny-Arcade podcast
The PA podcast features Gabe and Tycho turning on the microphones as they discuss possible ideas for their regular comic strips. These shows are typically nonstop hilarity that give listeners a glimpse into their creative process. The chemistry between the two is the best out of all these podcasts. However, episodes are too infrequent and irregular to be considered as part of this list, so they get a special mention. Check out their RSS feed to be notified of any episodes that are released because chances are you’ll always miss them otherwise.