Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Month, Another Vacation . . .

Well, seems the travel bug has bit us again! After visiting Paris and San Diego earlier this year, we still have one more destination left in us.

I booked a nice little beach vacation for us in the Bahamas for late July. We'll be staying at the Runaway Hill Inn on Harbour Island, located just off northeast Eleuthera. It's a quaint little island that's off the beaten path of the usual tourist spots in the Bahamas -- exactly what I wanted! We just need to be able to chill on a gorgeous beach and not have to worry about crowds and vendors, or anything else for that matter. Harbour Island's got this in spades!

Just check out that pic above. This is the beach we'll be staying on -- the Inn is just steps away! The beach is famous for its pink sands, and is one of the Bahamas' secret gems that not too many people know about. Even during the high season the beach only ever has around two dozen souls using it at any given time of the day. And the beach is a little over 3 miles long! All that sand and almost no one in sight. Wow.

We'll be going in the low season, though, so even less people will be there. I only hope it doesn't rain *too* much, since summer time here is technically the rainy season. But I have confidence everything will work out fine.

I'm definitely doing nothing, nothing at all, during our stay. Laying on the beach with an umbrella and a good book sounds about divine to me right now. Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chinese Sneak Attack

It happens in the most unsuspecting of places, this spontaneous attack of the old Chinese language skills I've acquired.

I was in J&R purchasing my next game, inFamous (see sidebar), for the PlayStation 3, when the cashier ran afoul of some technical glitch on her machine. Suddenly she started speaking rapid-fire Mandarin to her co-worker, and me not quite realizing I was doing it, tuned in to the conversation as I dug for my cash. Then the co-worker asked "well, how much did you ring it up for?" And immediately I replied in Mandarin: "six dollars and forty-nine cents." Whoa, just like that!

Now, it's been some 11 years since I've last used Chinese on a daily basis, and to be honest I've forgotten a lot. So I was as shocked as the cashiers to hear those words come out of my mouth, let me tell you. Both cashiers were suddenly all smiles. The woman still responded to me in broken English afterwards, but every now and then she peppered in some Chinese words as we concluded the transaction. I told her "hao le" when she counted out my change, then thanked her in Mandarin as I left.

As I walked towards the escalator, I heard the one cashier say to the other: "He said 'xie-xie,' but I don't think he was Chinese."


Anyway, that was an interesting encounter. Makes me want to go and take remedial classes so that I can re-learn all the stuff I've lost -- like how to read and write.

NYC is a cool, diverse place to live, I tell ya!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Mutant Power

Went to the dentist this morning for a routine check-up and cleaning. My appointment was at 10:40, and I walked through the door . . . exactly at 10:40. Like, on the dot. The hygienist looked up and smiled, then said to the receptionist: "Yup, what did I tell you? Always on time!"

Heh, heh. Guess they're not used to patients showing up on time. But what can I say, I'm a stickler for punctuality. I have this sick ability to always manage to show up exactly when I say I'm going to.

Everyone around me knows this.

When I rented the Zipcar that one time, Tarrell told me to pick him up at 12, and even despite traffic hang-ups and a small technicality at the garage, I still managed to pull up in front of the building at 11:57. The thing is, it's not like I was speeding or anything to make it on time. I somehow *know* when exactly to leave my house depending on the situation, whether I'm treading on new ground (driving to a destination) or familiar territory (taking the subway). The only times I've been horrendously late was when the ole NYC metro system throws me a curve ball and grounds to a halt for no explicable reason.

Otherwise, I'm quite dependable. Most of this is due to my anal need for order and reliability in my life. I expect others to keep to their word and be on time, and it's because I demand no less of myself.

But there's been a few times where even when I don't get to leave my house when I had planned to . . . somehow the travel gods look out for me and manage to get me to my destination RIGHT ON TIME. Not 5 minutes early. Not 15 minutes late. But almost right on the dot! It never fails. And it's just a little spooky, to be honest.

So yeah, if I have any mutant powers, this is it. True, I'd rather have supersonic flight, or maybe the ability to freeze time (imagine how much sleep you could get!). But that's life, I guess. :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Better Than You Would Think

Saw Terminator: Salvation Friday afternoon. Wasn't too impressed with the last outing, T3, so I went into this not expecting much. Also, I feel a particular amount of apathy towards the director, McG. Not to mention that I don't think Christian Bale is right for the character. I like Bale, but oddly he seems *too* intense in this role. I know that sounds like a strange criticism, but there's a time to take yourself seriously as an actor . . . and this is not one of those times.

Anyway, the movie was a blast! I had read negative reviews that dogged the film for being too action-heavy and emotion-lite. The word "empty" was being used a lot. So imagine my surprise when I saw a movie that had a whole lot of heart, and maybe some action thrown in. Personally I think it was a travesty that the trailers revealed the big surprise behind the film's main protagonist (and no, it's not John Connor). Because, for me, Marcus was ironically the most human of all the characters in this movie. If you watch the end, the obvious allegory to the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz can be made, and if you explore that concept to its fullest, you'll get an idea of what the writers were attempting in this first leg of a planned three-part series. Sam Worthington did an awesome job with this material, so much so that Bale as John Connor almost takes a back seat.

But of course, this is still Connor's tale, as all the previous three movies in the franchise have been leading up to this moment when the war between the resistance and the machines escalates. As a fan of the previous movies, I appreciated all the inside nods with certain comments made by the characters, as well as certain familiar shot choices that tie in this movie to the iconic first and second films. Danny Elfman's score was a little forgettable here, so nothing to say about that. I think I was so riveted to the story playing out on the screen to bother paying attention to melodic cues, though.

I really enjoyed this first act. It sets up nicely for the sequel films, and I honestly find myself drawn into the struggle of the human resistance. That's no small feat for what is essentially supposed to be *the* summer action blockbuster of the year. Yeah, yeah . . . I know about Transformers 2 -- but Michael Bay can suck it! (haha) I'll still go see it, of course, but mostly so that I can keep my "80s Kid" membership card intact.

Oh, and perhaps to drool over Megan Fox a little. Yeah, just a little.

But anyway, go see this movie if you haven't already. Especially if you are a fan of at least 2 out of the 3 previous Terminator movies.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who Ate All Da Capacola?

I was watching old Mad TV reruns on Comedy Central as I got ready to head out the other day, and my favorite sketch came on, parodying the Sopranos. Imagine if HBO's coarse and raunchy hit show had found television syndication on goody two-shoes PAX of all channels. LOL!

Heh, heh -- "9:00 to 9:03." Sounds about right to me.

And isn't Will Sasso so damned hilarious! He does an uncanny Tony Soprano, eh? Naturally, being familiar with the series makes this excellent parody even more priceless, but folks should be able to enjoy the humor regardless. This originally aired way back in the day when The Sopranos was not only still on the air, but Mad TV was actually funny. Imagine that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Have They Done To My Sherlock?

I knew that Guy Ritchie was attempting a more comedic/actiony take on Sherlock Holmes, and I knew that he had hired Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law to portray Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively. As a HUGE fan of the original stories and novels, this news of course distressed me to no end. But now a trailer is out for the movie, and I unfortunately must say that it does nothing to assuage my fears:

Now, don't get me wrong, this movie DOES look good! Very good, as a matter of fact. And even though he's had a few stinkers when he was married to Madonna (hmm, I wonder why?), Guy Ritchie is a really entertaining director. But this is not Sherlock Holmes. Not even close. I mean, you couldn't have gotten any further away from the original character as this movie seems to do. Robert Downey, Jr. is an awesome actor. He fits exactly the comedic tone this film is searching for, it looks like. Problem is, he is NOTHING like the character of Holmes. Nothing. The only thing that comes close is that brief slow-mo shot of him bare-knuckle fist fighting. That's it! The stature's all wrong, the clothes, the smoked glasses, the grizzled cheeks, and -- last and most importanly -- the ACCENT! Good lord!

Jude Law looks somewhat promising as Watson. Problem with that is, of course, that Watson was slightly older than Holmes in the stories (Downey is 7 years older than Law in RL), not to mention shorter and stouter. If anything, the roles should have been reversed; Law for Holmes, and Downey, Jr. as Watson. I think that would have been more interesting and at least a step closer to the source.

Yeah, yeah, I know . . . it's just a movie. Why not have a different take on the characters/stories? Well, my point is that they didn't just tweak a few details here and there. They COMPLETELY and utterly retooled the source! In my opinion, if you're going to go to such great lengths to change the direction and feel of the old Sherlock Holmes stories, why call it Sherlock Holmes at all? Why not some generic, newly-created character who likes throwing out witty one-liners and diving from explosions, huh? You know, like some deranged 18th century version of John McClane.

That's what this movie should be called instead -- Die Hard: White Chapel.

Anyway, that being said, I will check this out. But only because I love all the people involved. Even Rachel McAdams is a welcomed addition to the cast, whom I pretty much like in all the movies I've seen her in. I'll try really hard to forget everything I know about the source material in order to properly enjoy this. But it's going to be real difficult to pull off, I know. Sherlock Holmes played a huge role in my childhood transition between boy and young man when I was 11 - 12 yrs old. I read every single story, plus the novels, and even taught myself how to type by them. I've since read the collected works twice through again, and am gearing up for a third read through sometime within the next two years. I may have an interesting novella or two working in the recesses of my mind regarding this milieu. Sort of a pastiche, really.

Arrggh! So frustrating!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Run, Forrest, RUN!!!

Bought a new treadmill over the weekend, to replace the old one I had for nearly 10 years. The old NordicTrack was still operational, but it was getting decrepit and saggy in the middle. I had already replaced a couple of parts here and there over the years -- and of course, the motor is still running okay -- but the chassis was getting rickety and unstable. I run on average 24 miles a week on my treadmill, so over the years that kind of wear and tear adds up. Not to mention the fact that Lisa uses it, too; although to a much lesser extent.

Anyway, the new NordicTrack (I really like and trust this brand) arrived in a huge, giant box from Sears. Luckily the deliverers took away the packaging materials and left me with only the parts to assemble. It was fairly easy, although the instructions look very complicated at first. Took maybe 30 to 45 mins, tops.

Anyway, this baby works like a charm! I didn't think there would be that big of a difference, but having something that has a flat, firm running surface and does not rock back and forth as you run really makes a huge improvement in one's game. I ran a quick diagnostic warm-up, then took the machine's built-in fitness age meter. This is a 9-minute test that checks out your heart rate after putting you through various speeds and inclines in that time period. You have to first enter in a set of variables: like your real age, your gender, height, and weight. The program uses this information to judge what comparative age you are, fitness-wise, to your actual age. It was so easy I didn't even break a sweat -- and I'm used to buckets of sweat coming off me when I run, mind you. My heart rate at the end of 9 minutes was only 85! Can you believe that? That's only around 30 beats above my normal resting heart rate! WTF was I doing on that treadmill, sleep walking? (ha, ha)

Anyway, I'm 32 years old. But my test came back with the number: 18. Which means, apparently, that I'm at the same fitness level as an 18 year old. I knew the number would be low, but not that low. Wow!

The treadmill also has an iFit card reader, which means I can purchase pre-programmed iFit cards designed by personal trainers. Jill Michaels has a popular line of them, in fact. I tried out the demo card that came with the machine. iFit cards come in 3 levels. Level 1 is for beginners, and only goes as high as 3 miles per hour for speed. Level 2 is for moderate runners, with a highest speed of 6.5 miles per hour. And Level 3 is for endurance runners, with a highest speed of 8.5 miles per hour.

I went strait to level 3, as 8 mph is my normal jogging pace when I don't want to stress myself out too much. I actually run higher than that, though. Since the card was a demo, it only allowed 20 minutes of programming. The card automatically adjusted the incline and speed for me throughout the session, and at times I admit it was a little challenging. But the challenges never lasted for more than 2 minutes at a pop, and I'm used to running at top speeds for a lot longer stretch. In the end, I only burned around 250 calories in 20 mins. Whereas, on my own runs, I burn 400 in the same time period. Of course, I run for 35 to 45 mins most runs, so I usually end up burning twice that when all is said and done.

I went online and purchased some more challenging iFit cards. I bought an 8-week, 3-step toning one for Lisa; and a high-endurance level 3 card for myself. I'm actually excited because I've been looking for a way to challenge myself more on my runs. Or, at least, to change things up. I also noticed a card for marathon training, which is something I never plan to do. I only run for my health, not to win races and show off. Also, unlike most marathon runners, I have nothing to prove. To myself or to anyone else.

So, yeah, that was my weekend. I know, I know . . . I live the life of high adventure, don't I? *snort*

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Top 10 Video Games

Okay, let this be known first: I'm what's considered an "old school" gamer. It basically means I've been gaming since the Colecovision and Atari days (late 70s/early 80s), and that therefore most of what I consider to be the greatest games of all time come from the era when home video gaming consoles were just spilling onto the scene.

To younger gamers: you probably won't agree with 95% of this list. Even if you're a young gamer who likes playing retro games, you still won't quite "get" it, I imagine. After all, some of what made all these games so great were the times during which they were released. If your favorite Zelda game is Ocarina of Time, then you might be a big enough Zelda fan to appreciate the original game, but young enough that the graphics and game mechanics throw you off. But to gamers as old as me, we remember that, at the time of its release, no other game on the planet looked like the original gold-plated Zelda. Ocarina is a better game, yes, but it didn't have the same impact on me as the first game that started the whole series.

And that is the point of this list. Not only are these games the best home console games to ever come out on any system at the time of their release, but they were the games that had the most *IMPACT* on me throughout the years. That right there is the distinguishing factor, and the reason why this list is not a definitive one, but personal. These are MY top games, for reasons I will try to elucidate in the following paragraphs.

So, starting from least to most, here now is my list:

10) Super Metroid (SNES)
To this day, this is the definitive Metroid game. 2 games preceded it in the series (one apiece on the NES and Game Boy), but by the time it showed up on the Super Nintendo in 1994 it was clear the folks over at the mighty 'N' had perfected the recipe. I love all the pre-Gamecube Metroid games, but this is the one most people hold up as the gold standard of the series. For me, it had the impact of being the last ever game I played before moving to college. It came out right at the tail end of senior year in High School and basically stole my life for the next month or so that it took to complete it. At the time, I was heavily into my science fiction reading addiction, and Super Metroid felt the most sci-fi'ish of any game I ever played up to this point besides Flashback. It gave me the visuals I needed to fuel my own dreams of writing in the genre. Thanks, Samus!

09) Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
Single-handedly creating a whole new sub-genre in the collective oeuvre of video gaming categories is no small feat, especially during the dawn of the Ps2/Xbox/Gamecube era when most gamers had thought they'd seen it all. But that's exactly what R* Games did when they released GTAIII to the masses in October of 2001, introducing to the console world the concept of the "sandbox" game. Although the idea was not new to PC gamers, it had never been rendered to such gorgeous heights on the home systems before. GTAIII's open environments, fully interactive city, and gritty sheen drew me in with the swiftness; its superbly crafted story and well-acted cutscenes made the finishing touches to a fine gourmet meal. I got so immersed in this title that before long I honestly had a hard time telling the difference between game and reality -- that's how on-point this living, breathing, and criminally insane city of Liberty City had been rendered. Even well after I had beaten the game did it maintain its stranglehold on my imagination, making me an instant fan of any and all future installments to the series.

08) Golden Axe (Genesis)
Sega's getting a pretty bad rep on this list, I know, but this is the one game on the Genesis that I couldn't ignore. I first played it at the tender age of 12, a time of transition for many young boys. And so -- ahem -- of course I payed special attention to a certain barely-clothed female protagonist by the name of one Tyris Flare. Golden Axe was a game the likes of which I had never seen, though. At the time, its combat felt realistic, and the special attack moves and magic abilities wowed me beyond belief. Being able to choose between 3 main characters, in addition to playing co-operatively with a friend at the same time, seriously boosted this game to the top of my Genesis library. I cannot count the number of times my brother and I played through this rather short, but challenging, title. Golden Axe completely took over our world during the spring/summer of '89. And since I was just getting into sports and roaming the streets of NYC at this time, it will forever remind me of baseball, Central Park, and swimming pools. It's a very common theme with me that a particular video game will remind me of where I was and what I was doing during the time I played it. Funny how that works, no?

07) Contra (NES)
Okay, I don't think anyone needs to be reminded why this game simply ROCKS! Old and new school alike, Contra is one of those mythic titles that gamers of all generations seem to have played at some point. How could you not? Konami was on a roll during the late 80s, with a slew of mega hits on the Nintendo Entertainment System like Castlevania and Gradius to name a few. But Contra cashed in on the whole action-movie craze of the mid-80s, stealing influences from movies like Commando, Aliens, and the Rambo series. To hit this matter home even harder, the game's protagonists, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, bore very strong resemblances to Sly Stallone and Arnie Schwarzenegger -- much to the delight of teen boys everywhere (yours truly included). The game was pure action from beginning to end, with the gamer having to use ingenious tactics and excellent weapons management skills to stave off a seeming never-ending horde of alien marauders trying to take over the planet. With an ending that I consider one of the most thrilling capstones to a game ever (despite its rather low-key visuals), Contra -- like many titles on this list -- was one of the games I NEVER got tired of playing. It's the type of title you can pick up at any time and just start playing as if you'd never missed a day. I've beaten it so many times that I've lost count. Like another game further below on this list, this was one of the few titles I could beat with my eyes closed and while barely ever dying. And that's nothing to snort at, since Contra's considered by most gamers to be one of the hardest ever to complete in one continue (sans the infamous "Konami" cheat code.) But I've done it, and many times I might add!

06) Super Castlevania IV (SNES)
Oh yeah! This is it, baby! This is the game that defined my sophomore year in high school! The Super Nintendo had only been out for 3 months when this title hit shelves in late 1991 (Christmas time) -- and it took everyone by storm. No more so than Castlevania fans, to which I claimed ardent membership. I had been playing the series since the very first game on the NES, and I remember all but crying to get this next installment for Xmas. I still remember popping the cartridge in and my jaw dropping at the wonderfully atmospheric and creepy intro movie, which clued us in that this was a retelling of the classic tale set forth in the very first game; of one courageous Simon Belmont, and of Dracula's emergence after being defeated by your ancestor, Trevor Belmont, as depicted in Castlevania III. Simon has been and will always be my favorite Belmont, and this was his fitting magnum opus. SCV-IV was a groundbreaking game at the time for its 8-directional whip movement (compared to the previous games' 2 directions) and the generous use of the SNES's patented "Mode 7" scaling and mapping techniques. But more importantly to me, it had the deepest and most involving level designs I had ever seen. And the soundtrack, even to this day, simply owns my soul! Everything about this game screams masterpiece. So much so that I was hard-pressed to put it down at only number 6 on this list. Others will point to Symphony of the Night as being the gold standard by which all other Castelvania games should be judged. But, while I enjoyed this later title immensely, too, it can never hold a candle to the joy I carry for number IV.

05) Metal Gear: Solid (PS1)
Yet another Konami greatest hits and, like many series which can trace their origins back to the 80s and the NES, MGS found new life on the emerging juggernaut of gaming that the PlayStation would become in the mid to late 90s. I had played the original back in the day, but oddly skipped the subsequent games until 1998 when Solid arrived and bitch-slapped the gaming community into submission, garnering numerous awards left and right like they were going out of style. With its gritty spy-thriller sensibilities, gravelly-voiced protagonist, and superbly acted and directed storyline, this game had it all in spades! At the time, I was a relative newcomer to the PS1, having only just purchased the console over the summer. But when I set my eyes on this beauty in October of the same year, I was hooked FOREVER! I know I've heaped enough superlatives on all the games mentioned so far, but honestly, words alone cannot adequately describe how awesome Hideo Kojima's masterpiece is. It's definitely in my top 3 of favorite PS1 games. Not to mention it changed the world of gaming forever, coining the term "stealth action" even though Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (also on the PS1) rightfully kicked off the whole craze on consoles earlier that year. But with MGS, players truly felt like real spies, where the story's objectives were to be approached in secrecy rather than in all-out combat, guns blazing. The game rewarded players who utilized shadowy, methodic and individual takedowns rather than aggressive bullet showers to neutralize an enemy squad. And the twists -- HOO BOY! The twists, they just kept on coming! I shouted "WTF?" so many times during the numerous engaging cutscene that my own cat started avoiding me in the halls of my house afterwards. Sorry, Tiger, poor chap!

04) The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Believe it or not, there was once a time when I absolutely despised this game. Back in 1987 when it was released I was only 10 years old and, I hate to say it, too immature to truly appreciate what Shigeru Miyamoto had created. But to be fair, Zelda was a big departure at the time from all the other console games out there. More like a PC game, it was one of the first to emphasize lengthy exploration and truly grueling dungeon crawling that left most gamers' heads spinning, including myself. It was my very first precursor to the RPG genre in some respects, and initially I put the game aside as being too cerebral for my tastes. I was more used to kung-fu beat em ups and shooting games at this age. But about a year later, out of sheer boredom, I decided to give it another spin. This time I vowed to make a chore out of it, bringing pencils and paper (for mapping) with me and painstakingly marking every corner of the world of Hyrule as I explored. The rewards of my efforts were instantaneous! Suddenly I had gotten the first piece of the Triforce, and some nifty new weapons to aid my quest along the way. It wasn't long before I was consumed day and night (when I didn't have pesky schoolwork to tend to), and even began to dream in Zelda sprites. Whoa! I remember beating this game (finally!) and thinking: what have I done? Somehow, against all odds, I beat this terribly difficult and grown-up game all by my lonesome! I was beyond proud of myself. It taught me a valuable lesson; that sometimes the most rewarding games are those you really have to put a ton of effort into in order to persevere. This quality would hold me in good reserve when it came time to take on true RPGs like Dragon Warrior . . . and the very next title on this list.

03) Final Fantasy (NES)
Oh lordy, this was definitely the case of biting off more than one can chew. My brother had received this game for his birthday in November of 1990, and at first we couldn't tell our asses from our elbows when it came to figuring out just what the hell was going on. Although we had played Dragon Warrior the year before, we were still unfamiliar enough with the conventions of the console Role Playing Game (RPG) to make Square's original masterpiece a severe pain in the rear. At least at first. Pretty soon both my brother and I were taking turns levelling up and kicking IMP ass all over the forest, and it became apparent that this game was like no other. Whereas Dragon Warrior had left me severely wanting in both the story and sheer fun departments, Final Fantasy took a hold of my imagination in the worst way. I was delirious with a desire to actually BE in this world; to fight alongside my friends and save an imperiled world from a truly dangerous and foreboding adversary. The stakes in this game felt BIG TIME, and subsequently the rewards were equally fantastic. The motivations and development of the characters -- both primary and secondary -- took on a gravitas usually reserved for epic novels. This was the first true video game epic, however, and its success would spur a long-running series of detached sequels still going strong to this day (FF XIII releases later this year, in fact). I credit this game and this game alone for my love of all things fantasy, not only in games, but in visual and literary mediums as well. That's saying a lot!

02) Resident Evil (PS1)
The last two games on this list are those which have had the most tremendous affect on my gaming life. The original Resident Evil played a very important role in rehabilitating me from the video game funk I had found myself in during college. When I left home after graduating high school, I was burned out on the video game wars. Sega was experimenting with its 32x and CD systems, and rumors were that Nintendo had its own CD-based console in the works. Added to the fold were new additions to the next-gen console race two years later, like Atari's Jaguar . . . and this new-fangled piece of hardware called the "Play Station" by Sony of all people. Yeah, as if *they'd* stand a chance (I thought). After graduating college, I had left video games behind. Aside from my SNES, which still saw the occasional use, I just had no desire to delve into the current crop of home console madness. Until I saw RE. Just one test run had me hooked, and I ended up purchasing a used PS1 system and a copy of this game right on the spot! For the entire month of July after college, I combed every square inch of virtual real estate this title had to offer. The atmosphere and pathos of being trapped in a spooky mansion fighting leagues of zombies and other assorted bio-engineered baddies really gripped me in the worst way imaginable. Moreover, I was completely snookered in by the engaging story. It's dark and mature-rated subject matter showed that Sony's new system had balls, something Nintendo very rarely demonstrated anymore. Since I was now a grow-up gamer, I needed grown-up games to appease me. Resident Evil offered this up and then some! So, yeah, RE was my gateway drug. Which, I guess, makes Sony my pimp daddy, no? Thanks, Sony!

01) Ninja Gaiden (NES)
Before 1989, there was no console game called Ninja Gaiden. And before Ninja Gaiden, there were no games with cinematic cutscenes between stages, like so many miniature movies playing out in 8-bit wonder. Nowadays, this is standard issue of course. But back in the late 80s, this was fairly exciting new ground being broken. And I fell headlong into a whirlwind love affair with this series that has pwned almost every waking moment of my childhood, teen, and young adult life. But lets backtrack to the game that started it all. A friend at school lent me the game in the Spring of 89, stating that it was simply too difficult to be beaten. But when I popped the cartridge into my little grey box, immediately I was gripped by the opening cinematic displaying the now legendary duel between the villain, Malth, and Ryu Hayabusa's father, Ken. Ryu set out to get some old-fashioned ninja revenge and, along the way, found himself delving deeper and deeper into a global conspiracy involving double-dealing CIA agents, monstrous demons, and a madmen intent on unshering in hell on Earth. The ridiculous difficulty level of the stunts and enemies thrown the player's way made this not one of but THE most challenging game of the 8-bit console generation, yet it is the one thing I can claim genius at without blinking. For I not only went on to beat this supposedly unbeatable title, but own it in every single way imagineable. I learned all the tricks and skills, figured out all the angles, and memorized every single location of enemy movements and collectible items. I can beat the game without ever losing a life (yeah, you read that right!), and can even make it all the way to the penultimate chapter without even being touched. In this one arena, I can claim that I am king. I have never met or even heard of anyone that can match me. I know it sounds like arrogance (and, yeah, it is), but you simply don't understand how much I love this game! It, above all other titles, defines me as a gamer. Even to this day I cannot get tired of playing this. It's weird, I know. I should seek help, sure. But honestly, if this is insanity, then commit me now!


And so, there you have it. As I stated above, you may disagree with the exact ordering of this list. You will most certainly cry foul at the absence of certain other lauded titles, or question how a couple of these games can be on anyone's Top 10 list. But, as I mentioned, this is strictly based on my own personal experiences. Like in biology, my gaming DNA is uniquely different from anyone else's. The buliding blocks of titles that make up my digital pedigree are varied and distinct. While you may have your own list, I'm sure everyone can agree that there have been some games released over the past 30-odd years or so that have truly changed the face of entertainment and pop culture in general, and the video game industry in specific. Games are the currency of my ideas. They have helped mold and channel my imgaination, which of course enhances my writing.

Today I am still gaming strong, expending most of my energies between the Xbox 360 and PS3. Of course, I have a lot less time to game than I used to as a kid. Whole weeks can go by between sessions -- sometimes even months! But even the new-fangled designs and technologies of today's cutting-edge developments cannot stymy my enthusiasm.

In fact, they continue to feed it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

According To Maxim, Looks Like I Have Great Taste!

Sometime last year I blogged about my top three celebrity crushes, as fully endorsed by Lisa. Because, not only is my wife awesome like that, but she has good taste, too, see? :)

And it seems the folks at Maxim agree with my picks, as evidenced by their "Hot 100" list just released. Looks like my Number 2, Megan Fox, was topped this year by my Number 3, Olivia Wilde, for first place. Meanwhile, my own Number 1, Rihanna, is still in the top ten at number 8!

Can I pick 'em or what?

Honestly Maxim, you could've just asked me. I'd be willing to lend a hand in making these difficult decisions for you in the future. Have your people contact my people. Because, you know, I'm a nice guy like that and all. Seriously.

Anyway, here's to Olivia Wilde . . . just one of the many reasons I still watch the hit FOX show, House. They should do an episode where the guest stars are Rihanna and Megan. No, not like THAT!

Or actually, maybe exactly like that . . . given a certain predilection held by Ms. Wilde's character on the show. Oh man!

I mean, damn, would that not like end the world right there? I think so. And I'd die happy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Flying The (Not So) Friendly Skies

Back when I was planning my trip to Paris, I had the choice of deciding between taking American Airlines or Air France. Both airlines had identical flight times, flight paths, and ticket price. Both airlines had planes landing at Charles De Gaulle airport at the same exact time, too. So my initial choice was going to be American Airlines. Not out of any sense of patriotism, mind you, but rather because I was more familiar with AA. It's one of those "old reliables" -- you know, clunky and ugly on the outside, yet dependable and familiar nonetheless.

But, due to a one-day hesitation on my part as I ironed out a few last minute details with our itinerary, suddenly the price for the AA ticket jumped $100 over night. So that left me with Air France as my only option.

And boy, the two airlines could not be any more different! (Check out the pic above which depicts a typical Air France cabin). Flying AA just this past weekend to San Diego really hit home how shitty our domestic airline companies have become. To be honest, I'm a bit pissed off about this.

Let me break it down for you:

American Airlines charges you for everything! First out of the gate, they charge you $15 per checked bag. You hear me? 15 fucking dollars for EACH bag you are checking in! Regardless of size, weight, or number of bags. Secondly, they charge you for all meals. $10 per item seems to be the going rate. And it's not like they're serving you a full course meal, either. Nope. That's $10 for basically a sandwich and nothing else. Want chips? That's an extra $3! Water, juice, and soda are free, though. But if you want wine or beer, that's $6 a pop! So to have a sandwich, chips, and a Heineken will set you back nearly $20!!!!

Keep in mind that the planes in AA's fleet are old and decrepit, smell like farts, and have no amenities like tvs behind every chair or even much leg room. Also, the FA's look like old hags. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but they do. Might seem like a trivial aspect, but try sitting in a cramped seat that smells vaguely like a plumber's ass crack for 7 hours and having to look up at Mrs. Hagglesnout every 5 minutes as she stumbles down the aisle asking you to please buckle your seatbelt. It gets to you.

By contrast, Air France could not be any more the polar opposite. For starters, no checked baggage fees. Even for a fairly heavy suitcase (like the one Lisa packed) -- still no fee! Going out, the plane was almost brand spanking new! The one on the flight back was older, but perhaps no more than 5 or 7 years tops. And on both flights each seat had it's own, small, flat screen display by which passengers could individually choose their form of entertainment. You could pick to play a game (like blackjack, checkers, or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire), listen to music, or watch up to 30 premium movie selections. No joke, there were movies like Casino Royale and National Treasure 2 on the menu! You also got complimentary earphones and face mask (for blocking out the light while you slept), too!

Other differences from American Airlines? The seats were cleaner, the aisles wider, and the FA's a whole lot nicer to look at. One or two of them were even model quality! Again, a trivial point, but trust me . . . it makes the flight more bearable. :)

More importantly, however, Air France feeds you a veritable feast -- and all for NO EXTRA COST! Yup, you heard right! You get a full 4-course meal plus two snacks on your flight to and from France, and it costs you no more than the purchase of your ticket. WTF? It was so bad that I had to TURN AWAY food, that's how much they fed us on our flights. And I'm not talking about crummy airplane food, either. This stuff tasted like it came right out of the restaurant! I remember getting risotto for the entree (plus a cold anti-pasta which was simply divine), beef in Burgundy sauce with rotinni pasta as the main course, real French cheese and baguette for the after course, and then both a yummy apple tart AND yogurt, along with some fruit juice on the side. To top it all off, I was offered my choice of drink, including red or white wine. I chose red, and got a cup and a whole (small) bottle of wine all to myself. The bottle was enough to fill my cup two and a half times. Lovely! And all for the price of nothing. Can you believe that?

In addition to the main meal, twice during the flight we were offered a refreshment. The first offering was immediately after takeoff, and consisted of the usual pretzels/crackers and light beverage. The second, served about an hour before landing (and which I refused because I was already stuffed from that large dinner), consisted of a danish and other assorted pastries, yogurt, cup of jello, and fruit juice. No, I'm not exaggerating. And, again, all for no extra cost.

Now keep in mind, the price of flying either airline was about the same. And, as I mentioned, at one point the Air France ticket cost a lot less!

So, I have to ask: WTF gives? Why is American Airlines charging its passengers out the ass for things that are free on other airlines? Moreover, how do they have the audacity to do this while not even updating their aged fleet? I swear, I want to strangle myself for boredom on most AA flights. But on Air France, I was too occupied and well-fed to even notice the long flight.

It's so ironic, actually, because initially I thought I was slumming it up choosing AF over AA. I was sure I was going to get a sub-standard plane, rude FA's, and cramped seating conditions. Don't know what gave me that impression, but it turns out I must have been thinking about AA. Well, correction, the FA's on almost any airline are for the most part decent. Sure, some of them have been flying since airplanes were called pterodactyls . . . but even the old bitties on AA were actually pretty nice and attentive. Not their fault that the company they work for is a greedy vampire grown fat on the blood and sweat of hard-working Americans. Hmph! "American" Airlines indeed. Tell me, how American is this?

Well, very, given recent economic revelations I guess . . .

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Timberlake/Samberg Collaboration Redux

I've mentioned here before about the hilariousness of the Lonely Island crew and, more recently, the presentation of some of their work on Saturday Night Live's "Digital Shorts" series. On a previous Christmas special hosted by Justin Timberlake, the entertainer teamed up with LI co-founder and SNL cast member, Andy Samberg, for a rather raunchy music video titled "Dick In A Box." I'm sure everybody on the planet has seen this already, but in case you haven't, click on the video below (Warning, you may need to sign-up to the site for free first in order to access its mature content):

Just over the weekend, Justin hosted again and so, naturally I guess, Samberg and crew couldn't pass up the opportunity to follow-up on this masterpiece, this time with an appropriately-timed piece titled "Motherlover." I'm sure the eventual uncensored version will substitute "love" for another 4-letter word, but until that day here is the performance/skit as it appeared on SNL last night:

Oh man, that was so wrong on so many levels -- but FUNNY! Susan Sarandon is a good sport, I tell ya! :)

Guess Who's Back? (Back Again)

Had a good time in San Diego, but I'm glad to be back. There's only but so much reading, walking, and movie watching one can do before you're dying to get back home and attend to business. Which for me -- in addition to the 9 to 5 -- means buckling down and really analyzing where I want to go with my writing. I think I'm going to be trying a few new radical procedures, including looking for a new crit group to join. The one I'm in right now doesn't seem to have as many serious writers as I would like. In other words, they don't seem to be the same kind of hungry as I am at this moment. Which is cool, don't get me wrong. But I need more like-minded souls who are on the same journey as me. Also, finding a group that is more focused on sci-fi (rather than fantasy) would be a huge plus. Gotta see what comes of my search, but I have a few leads I'll be looking into.

I also need to find more friends to read my work. This is always tricky, as friends make the worst critics. Luckily, I don't really require critique from them . . . just a general "I liked it/didn't like it." Of course, finding friends who have the time to read is the real crux of the problem. We're all so busy.

Anyway, I'm back for a little while. I know it seems like I've been jet-setting all over the place as of late, but actually it's only been two cities in the course of two months. No biggie. I wish I could say I'm done for the year, but to be honest I could do with another trip. I find that I like travelling, and am pretty good at planning and organizing the little details that go into a successful excursion. I would like to take a really nice, relaxing Caribbean vacay next, though. Some place where I can just lie on the beach all week and maybe do some snorkeling or take scuba lessons or some such. Let's see, I've been to: Jamaica, Haiti, The Caymans, and Cozumel already. I have an active dislike for Puerto Rico and/or the Dominican Republic (don't ask why, it's a long story), and parts of the Bahamas are way too touristy and crowded for what I want. So I'm looking at St. Lucia, Virgin Islands, or Bonaire (pictured above) as possibilities. The last one is particularly interesting because it is so off the beaten path of the more obvious tourist destinations, yet it also offers sublime beauty and excellent snorkeling/diving to boot!

But alas, I fear we don't have the time off from work saved up to take another trip so soon. Well, actually, I do, but it would require me dipping into my customary two-week-recharge holiday I take every year around Xmas time. This is the time I usually just sit around the house and veg out as I mentally store myself for the year to come.

Well why don't you just wait until the end of the year to go on your Caribbean retreat instead, you say? Hmmm, you bring up a good point. I might just do that! That is, if we don't end up going back to Paris for the holidays! :)

What about anyone else? Any exciting travel plans coming up?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Leaving Town For A Few

Lisa and I will be heading out to the Left Coast -- San Diego, to be precise -- tomorrow, returning Sunday. She's attending a nursing conference out there, and me . . . well, I'll be playing the part of beach bum by day. At night? Anything goes!

I actually have no idea what to do in San Diego. And I didn't have enough time to prepare in advance, so I'll pretty much be lounging around a lot and catching up on my reading. Might even start a new story, but somehow I doubt that. I hate writing long-hand, and I'm not lugging a big ass laptop around for a muse that may or may not decide to kick in. At most I'll develop the idea while I'm away and get cracking on it first thing when I get back.

Oh, and Star Trek will be watched at some point! Not to mention a second helping of Watchmen and Wolverine. Lisa actually wants to see the former again, and she has not yet watched the latter, but has expressed a keen interest. I figure I'd stomach a second sitting of ole Wolvie if it means getting to see Star Trek. I might also watch Battle For Terra by myself during the day if I feel up to it. Looks like the movie theater is pretty close to where we'll be staying, so that helps.

At some point, I must visit Mysterious Galaxy also. I hope, hope, HOPE they have a copy of my friend Cindy's new book, Silver Phoenix. I already own a copy, but I make it a habit to buy duplicate copies of my friends' published works. Maybe someday they'll return the favor. :)

In the meantime, I'll be thinking of you all (aww). See you next week!

Deadpool Done Right!

After watching X-men Origins: Wolverine over the weekend, I think it's safe to say the writers had no f'n clue how to write the characters the way they were intended to be in the comics. No more so than everyone's favorite sarcastic and wry-humored assassin-for-hire, Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds in the movie. It wasn't Reynolds fault, of course. He's actually perfect to play the role, and in fact had a few good moments in the movie. Very good, in fact. But as usual, he was under-utilized and not quite on point with his comics counterpart thanks to the above mentioned cluelessness of the writers and director.

Anyway, here's a fan-made spoof of the "I'm a Mac . . . I'm a PC" commercials, using Marvel and DC characters instead. It's obvious this person reads comics and "gets" Deadpool. I mean, this is PERFECT! This is how he was supposed to be in the movie:

LOL! I so want to see a Rorschach & Deadpool sitcom, ala The Odd Couple! But with guns and swords . . .

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Can I See This Movie, Like, Tomorrow?

Oh please, pretty please?!!!!

This is the type of sci-fi film I eat up! Damn, I can't wait for Aug. 14 to roll around!

District 9. Is that not a great title, or what? This is an independent film produced by the great Peter Jackson and shot on location in Johannesburg, South Africa by South African filmmaker, Neill Blomkamp.

Speaking of awesome, small and independent sci-fi movies being produced this year, I forgot to post up a trailer for another must-see film coming out later in the summer on Sep. 3. It's called Moon, and stars Sam Rockwell. Watch the trailer below. Trust me, you'll want to see this too!

So much sci-fi goodness this year! Can you see why I love the genre so much?

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's The Ugly In You That Matters Most

I wrote a lengthy note over on Facebook this morning regarding our perception of attractiveness, and why making judgements based on something we have no control over (our looks) leads to all the world's ills. Oh, and Martin Short's in there somewhere, too. Just because I'm random like that.

Click on the link above and give it a gander. If you're a member of Facebook, leave a comment. If not, leave your comments here on this blog. Agree or disagree?

Panama Trip - Day 1: Here There Be Balboas!

In late May, 2017 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime. A trip to Panama's steamy tropical province, Bocas del Toro. Now, before 2017 ...