Thursday, December 13, 2007

Never been a big fan of toast

Don't get me wrong, I'll eat it if someone makes it for me or it comes as a side dish for breakfast at a restaurant, but who needs the hassle of making toast at home?

I hope this isn't some indication of a deeply-repressed negative toast experience early in my life.

But really, who wants the hassle of monitoring the burn rate of a piece of bread just to have the perfect crispy bread-surface crushed by a distorted, cold rectangle of butter? I reject such toast-torture!

And the toaster itself, what an infernal toasty-crumb-making machine it is! Just when you think you've finished cleaning the countertop after the CIA-inspired butterboarding, the toasty bits make their escape as their steel-encased crumb womb is pushed back against the splash board.

I have even seen the case against toast made in a medical journal! Aside from it's general hassle of preparation, witness the "pernicious activity of toast!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rock Band lives up to the hype

Last weekend I got together at my buddy Chad's house with a bunch of friends and played Rock Band all evening. We had at least 8 or 9 people, so we all rotated and each had a turn at playing guitar, bass, drums and singing. Playing bass or guitar is virtually identical to the Guitar Hero series, but the addition of drums and vocals take Rock Band to another level, and when you have everyone in the same room, and those not playing at that moment are your "audience," this game really comes into its own and is the best party game out there.

The drums were challenging, but very doable on the easy setting and it was not difficult to make it through an entire song. Of course some songs are harder than others. I enjoyed the drums much more than I thought I would. There's lots of opportunities to do your own custom fills and as long as you hit a final cymbal crash and get back to the song without missing a beat (hah!) you get points for it.

Even the vocals were fun to do. The mic is "on" throughout the entire song, even before the instrument tracks begin, so you can improvise or say concert phrases like "How's everybody doin' tonight? Are you ready to get caraaayzaaay?" etc. The vocals are doable too. Apparently you can hit the notes either right on or an octave above or below, so vocal range isn't really an
issue. It's strange having to hit the note, sing the lyrics (I don't think it measures lyrical accuracy) and manage your breath so you don't run out of sound on a long phrase.

I thought the Rock Band Stratocaster guitar was cool, too. It takes a little getting used to because unlike the Guitar Hero guitars, the fret buttons extend the width of the fretboard, meaning you can't really grab tightly all the way around the neck when hitting notes because you'll press other buttons down. From the pictures I had seen I thought the fret buttons were hinged at the bottom and you would be pressing them at the "top" of the fret, but the entire fret is a button. If you prefer the Guitar Hero guitar, with the Xbox 360 version the Guitar Hero II Explorer and newer Guitar Hero III Les Paul wireless guitars will work with Rock Band.

The song selection is excellent also, with a good variety of difficulty levels for the various instruments. Also, each instrument can be played at its own difficulty level in the same song, so less experienced players can still have fun playing with experts. Chad had bought the song pack for The Police, which was awesome. Actual original tracks, not covers of "Can't Stand Losing You," "Synchronicity II," and "Roxanne." Synchronicity II was the best, especially for drums, though they are all great to play. I also played drums on Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and it was a blast.

The game becomes quite loud with four people getting into it and the "audience" (those not playing that song) yelling or laughing too, so you almost need a standalone house to play it, where noise is not an issue with neighbors. At the moment the game comes as a complete package for about $170, but if you consider you're receiving a game with three instruments (one guitar, mic, drums) it's not a bad deal. If you can easily get a group of friends together to play it's definitely a lot of fun.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gaming: playing to win or playing to see

I like the way Gabe put that approach to gaming in his post today (second post on the page). He crystallized what Tycho brought up (first post on the same page, 3rd para.) about the range of reasons people play games.

Some people want the challenge, they just want to beat the game like any other competition. The other end of this spectrum is that some people want to progress through the game in order to see what happens next. I suppose this could be a desire to complete a story or simply, as Gabe put it, to see the next level or next cool animation.

Most of the time I'm in the latter, "playing to see" group. I like to win for sure, but revealing the game's story or seeing something particularly creative or cool is more motivating for me than just passing the next checkpoint. I have to say, though, that the Xbox 360's achievements make it really easy to add in more of that competitive spirit to gaming.