Thursday, March 31, 2005

Crime, wine, adults, and the future. Not in that order

I’ve finally finished the fourth and final season of Futurama on DVD. Because of Fox’s crazy scheduling, I only caught 1/3 of it during its TV run. I’ve always had affection for the show, but spending time with the DVDs (I bought them all) really brings to focus how much I really love the show. Maybe it’s because it’s gone that I feel that way. Whatever the reason, all four seasons stand up and even gets better with repeat viewings. The commentaries are mostly good although I’ve only listened to the first season tracks. I’ll go through the others at a leisurely clip while I hold my breath for news of a series resurrection.

Despite not having a taste for wine, I really enjoyed Sideways when it hit theaters last year. I was looking forward to catching it again on DVD, even more so now that I hear the commentary by Giamatti and Church on it is really funny. I am still in awe the former was not nominated for an Oscar.

Speaking of the Oscars, I took in Closer with the wife last night as it debuted on DVD this week. It’s depressing to the point that my wife didn’t like the movie at all. Me, I was totally enthralled by the performances and dialogue. Everything you hear about how adult and different it is is true. It’s a great ensemble piece and I would watch it again. It would be great if there were a commentary by the actors or Mike Nichols. Some said otherwise, but Natalie Portman definitely deserved her nomination.

Okay it’s true. I’ve been watching a lot of CSI lately, the original one. I caught a few episodes here and there over the years, but I’ve been watching regularly this season and have been catching up at a prodigious rate thanks to all the Spike TV reruns (especially their massive marathons last week).

Why the fascination? CSI has a good formula, good enough for two spin-offs even, but I find the other casts unappealing. My wife keeps telling me I should just rent or buy the DVDs and be done with it. Well, I enjoy watching it and interested enough to make sure I tape reruns, but it’s not the type of show I would watch a particular episode more than once so a purchase is out. After briefly skimming over what episodes are included on the DVDs. I realized there would be many instances where I would be renting a disc full of episodes just to watch the one I didn’t see and I don’t exactly want to commit a chunk of time to view them. As it is, I fit in an episode in whatever downtime arises. Any other CSI fans out there?

The CSI situation has got me toying with opening up a second Netflix account for a small period to try to catch up on the “me only” stuff that my wife won’t watch with me. The problem is that we don’t watch our regular Netflix stuff as often as we should. Still, I have lots of flicks that have been calling me, mostly foreign flicks like Twilight Samurai, the Jean-Pierre Jeunet back catalog especially City of Lost Children (Delicatessen apparently is not yet available on DVD), Zatoichi (both the series and recent Takeshi version), most of the recent Criterion Seijun Suzuki releases especially Youth of the Beast (what a kick ass title!), and the list goes on and on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bargain hunting

So with an adjusted income, I've been quite picky with where and when I buy games. Aside from the PSP adventures, it's been a careful dance of deciding how much I want a game, if I actually have time to play it, then finding the best place to buy it.

I picked up Phantom Dust mainly because Gamestop had a $20 coupon offer with free shipping, effectively making the $19.99 game free. Being that PD is made by most of the Panzer Dragoon team and priced right, I was going to get it either way. I'm hoping to have time to play it this weekend.

I’ve fallen to the hype and ended up picking up God of War and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory Xbox. I should clarify and say I purchased them online and so I still await their delivery. I was going to wait till both titles approached the $39.99 level since I’m busy with other games, but a deal at caught my eye. I purchased a few DVDs from them two weeks ago when they first kicked off the $1 shipping on entire orders deal running through March. I’m not sure where they are based, but there was no sales tax for Californians bringing the savings to something like $35. The total was like $53, but I would have paid close to $90 had I bought the DVDs at Best Buy, and that’s only if it was on sale. The equivalent Suncoast purchase would have been like $120.

The thing about Overstock is they don’t carry everything. Like the name implies, they get good deals on overstocked items. In this specific case, buying GoW and SC:CT online netted me a savings of $19.35 vs walking to the local store and grabbing them for $49.99+ tax. I did go with the regular edition of Splinter Cell CT Xbox and not the fancy Limited Edition so my way is probably not for those wanting extra frills. I’m not sold on the extras in that one anyway. In case you’re heading to the site now, the price I got on Splinter Cell was for pre-orders, they have since raised the price up to $46.23.

They are currently tempting me with a $45 pre-order for the Limited Edition of Jade Empire. In this case, the LE is a must have since we’re talking about real bonus content useable in the game. Plus a special someone is working on the game and I have to support the cause.

Man, this post got way longer than I thought and I haven’t got to the darkest, dirtiest part yet. As loyal readers know, there has been a battle of wills against Nina Williams and myself. I haven’t seen any sales figures for Death by Degrees, but everything pointing to low sales and fairly quick discounting. My plan was to wait till it reached the $20 level, but somewhat frequent price checks had the game holding mostly at $49.99 with a few eBayers going as low as $40 for the unopened game.

Well, I found a seller offering the game for $29 shipped (brand new, official US version) and that was that. I jumped at it and have even popped it in for a few minutes already. Yes, it’s readily apparent that the controls are not as good as they should be and the menu system is total ass, but I don’t regret picking it up. At least not yet.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The three phases of PSP ownership

I was writing a response to DJ Maru’s comment in the entry below and decided to just make it a full post.

Like most relationships a man shares with a metallic object, I went through three emotional phases after bringing the PSP home yesterday:

1) The "wow I'm so excited" phase. This included gently exploring everything in the box and actually looking through the manual, playing the movies it came with, a little playing of the games, and putting photos and videos on memory sticks.

2) Then I went through a serious period of buyer's remorse. I thought to myself, “I could have bought God of War, the new Splinter Cell and probably five other games instead of the PSP with two games.” This was especially strong after reading the awesomelord’s glowing review of GoW. Then again, we don’t see eye-to-eye on games like this sometimes.

3) Later that night I spent some real time with Ridge Racer and Lumines and hit the satisfied customer phase. I knew Ridge Racer would be great, but I didn’t expect it to grab me the way it did again. So glad I persisted in tracking it down. I’m equally glad I picked up Lumines. I was excited about it, but it kept nagging me that I was plunking down $40 for a puzzle game. I don’t regret it at all now though. It’s cool how the widescreen of the PSP is an integral part of the puzzle’s design. It just wouldn’t be the same on a normal sized screen on another portable or home console. And the music is so damn cool. I fell asleep and woke up this morning with the tunes still in my head.

I probably won’t buy any other PSP games for now unless I see some irresistible sales. I'm thinking of signing up for Gamefly to try out some others. Not sure if Blockbuster is going to carry it. As for accessories, that Logitech case looks to be the shit. Have to get that one. I’m torn on whether I should shell out for an extra battery (which I don’t think they sell officially here yet) or that Nyko charger case. That charger would sure come in handy on an 11 hour flight. Still, I could be fine with just one spare battery since I won’t be playing with the PSP for the entire flight and I really don’t want two different cases for it (three counting the soft case that comes with the value pack).

So, hopefully that answers your question.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Unexpected PSP drama … software!

So I’m pretty amped this morning to go pick up my PSP pre-ordered at EB. I take it slow though because that’s the whole point right? It’s reserved, I got a 2nd confirmation call last night, so just relax and waltz in whenever I’m ready. Just get to EB before they close, but I could drop in anytime starting from 8AM.

By 9AM, I’m too excited to stay put any longer and head out. I figure this way the initial crowds at 8AM will be cleared by the time I get there. The plan is to pick up Ridge Racer and maybe Lumines with the system.

First stop is around 9:30AM at CompUSA since they have a 10% off all PSP games special. No lines, and they still have PSP units, BUT no Ridge Racer or Lumines. Dammit. So off to EB, picked up the PSP (SWEET), but they are also sold out of RR and Lumines. Hmmm…well lucky thing I am where I am. This part of Emeryville is packed with PSP selling shops.

I go to Best Buy next. There’s a line, but since I only want software, I get waved in. Again, I could have scored another PSP. I only find a table full of bottom of the barrel launch titles and 128MB cards (I will not name names to protect the crappy) so I jet. Maybe it’s because they are so popular that they sold out of all the top games, but man, they really had close to no software left.

Next is Gamestop and they have a few RRs, but they have been reserved with the PSP orders. Also sold out of Lumines. No extra PSPs available here though.

Well, by this time I knew for sure that I would go to every damn store in the bay area until I scored RR. It wouldn’t be a proper launch experience without it. I really wanted Lumines too, but at this point RR took priority.

It’s 9:55AM and Circuit City is just about to open. There are 3 people waiting around and a sign on the door that states they only have 46 PSPs per store. I chat with the CC guy and he says (as if I couldn’t guess it) I would be fourth in line for a PSP. I say no thanks (he is genuinely shocked), I just want software. He has a flyer marked with what they have left. No Ridge Racer and no Lumines, but it sounds like this particular store might not have stocked them. The guy is not sure. Oh well, gotta keep moving.

Swing near Good Guys, but they open at 11AM. Last stop in the area is Toys R Us. I did notice a small line when I first passed by, but it’s pretty clear by the time I pull in. I stand in a short line and finally score RR and Lumines. The counter person actually rang me up for a PSP even though I didn’t ask for one. It’s an honest mistake since the thing just came out today and I was buying software for it. I state I only want software (again sending shocked looks to the three nearby cashiers) and they quickly correct my tally.

So at the end of the day, I could have come home with at least 4 PSPs, more if I were so inclined, but that would totally suck for the others who might want one.

So, if you’re reading this now and it’s still March 24th, there’s a pretty good chance you can still score a PSP, but maybe not Ridge Racer or Lumines.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Little taste of Sin

Here's a 10 minute making of trailer for Sin City I must have missed when it was initially going around. It's very cool. If you haven't read the comics, I would avoid it as there are minor spoilers here and there. As in the first full trailer, there are some dialogue moments that feel a bit forced, but I'm hoping it's just because the scenes are shown out of context. Fingers are tightly crossed for this one.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I need a new wall clock

I like to have at least one large clock on a wall, in either the living or dining room. It has to be viewable from most anywhere and it must be the non-digital kind with long and short hands to tell time. I finally admitted to myself last week that the one I have now is complete crap. It slows down no matter how fresh the battery is, totally messing up my schedule. So, sometime today I’ll venture out to find a new one since yesterday’s run to Target yielded no proper candidates.

Also over the weekend, I went to the nearby Home Depot to pick up some new plants for the house. Got two very nice ones and repotted them as soon as I got home. Now I have a rather large bag of potting soil that is just begging to be used. Maybe I’ll repot one of the older plants next weekend. Or not. We’ll see. Before you go thinking it’s some greenhouse here, the grand total of living plants is just five, this includes a Poinsettia bought before Christmas that I’m trying to keep alive till next holiday season. Only one could be considered large, with the others being quite small.

If you’re still reading, I thank you. This week should be a very busy one, which is good and bad. Good because that means money is coming in, but bad because there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to play that will have to wait till later. I wasn’t all that big on God of War when I saw it at E3 last year, but it’s looking like that will have to jump on my list after all the recent critical praise. Aside from what looked like a lot of box pushing and lever turning, the core gameplay is something I normally love. On the other hand, Brothers in Arms has also been getting heaps of praise, but I have no desire for a WWII shooter at this time.

And then there’s the PSP. I know I will eventually get Ridge Racer, Metal Gear Acid, and Lumines, but I’m not sure when. I’ll probably only get one game at launch since my personal gaming calendar is filled and I have no immediate travel that would force me to portable only action. I do have a trip to Japan in a few months, which has me worried about the PSP’s battery life. Even if I buy an extra battery, it won’t cover the entire flight. Less if I play in the airport. I wonder how much spare batteries will cost here? I wonder if they will actually sell a spare one here officially before my trip. It should be an exciting Japan run as I haven’t seen the rest of my family for a while. They’ll get to meet the wife and she’ll finally see the land of her ancestors. The non-region lock out for PSP games is great as I’ll be able to play whatever I may purchase there right away. Not sure if there’ll be anything worthwhile yet. Have to look through some release sheets.

So, what am I currently playing you ask? I updated the rosters and playing through a new season with my new look Warriors. The real ones are still on a major tear and last night’s great debut for 18 year old rookie Biedrins was awesome. Starting to play more of MVP baseball 2005, but I won’t get serious until the actual MLB season starts. I can’t believe MVP for PSP is going to be $50 while you can pick up any home version for $30 (or even $20 if you look for sales). Maybe that price will get adjusted before release, but probably not. It might be worth it for those that would rather play portable.

I really want a basketball game for the PSP, but the Sony NBA game and NBA Street, don’t look so hot. WipeOut could be cool, but again this is a case where I’m not at a place where futuristic racing pushes my buttons. I’m guessing that once I have the system in my hands, a hunger for more games to feed it may take over, so I’m trying to talk myself out of as many over eager purchases before it’s too late.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Recent work

Totally forgot to post this link. Check it out if you have some time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Oysters baby

If you’re in the mood for some great oysters, check the Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry building on the Embarcadero. I enjoyed a sumptuous oyster lunch with the FantAsians this past Sunday and can’t recommend it enough. Insanely delicious. It’s a good idea to ask the servers for their recommendations as they pointed us in the right direction.

Your Bay Area Warriors!

As part of my birthday present this past December, my wife got me tickets to last night’s Warriors game versus the Houston Rockets. Perfect gift since the Warriors are one of my favorite teams (still love them Knicks though), Houston’s Tracy McGrady is definitely my favorite player, and I wanted to see Yao Ming play in person. Yao looks so much bigger than everyone else, even from where we were sitting his size difference was much more pronounced live than on TV.

The Rockets were coming in RED HOT, scoring massive points and downing some of the hottest teams around. Even with the Baron Davis trade, the Warriors have become only slightly better thus far, so I wasn’t holding my breath for a close game.

What I saw last night was nothing less than real hope for the future of Golden State.

As expected, Houston was playing mostly top level ball, really crisp passes, good open looks at the basket, etc. And TMac, oh baby, too smooth man, too smooth. He’s like a jungle cat pouncing at will.

For most of the night, the Rockets were up by double digits, the biggest margin being 18 points. The Warriors would edge to within 9 or 8, thanks mostly to Mickael Pietrus (21 points), Troy Murphy (24 points), and Zarko Cabarkapa (26 points), but Houston would quickly lengthen their lead. The big surprise was second year man Zarko Cabarkapa, who came from Phoenix in a very low key trade. This guy really got the crowd into it, especially me. I would yell stuff like “That’s the way to do it man!” or “That kid has got some heart!”

The team’s three biggest stars, Derek Fisher (0 points), Jason Richardson (13 points), and Baron Davis (8 points), were not very effective so it was up to the supporting cast to try to pull off the upset. It was down to the fourth quarter, Houston’s lead to cut to 9, then to 6, now to just 4 points! I’m jumping up and down at this point, hooting and yelling. OMG, a big 3 point shot by Pietrus and he got fouled too! He makes the extra shot and the game is TIED! The Rockets stay cool and rally back and extend the lead to 3 with less than five seconds on the clock. They hand it to Pietrus for a desperate 3, but…no good. Game over.

Despite the result, it was a hell of a game. Watching the highlights later than night (yes, I like to watch the highlights even though I saw the entire game), NBA analysts repeated what I was thinking in my head, the Warriors are playoff bound next year. A great young team with an owner who is making shrewd moves. Fantastic. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Housewife hotspot and two other important tips

Sounds like there’s going to be a lot of interesting news tonight if leaked Xbox 2 information floating around today is to believed.

I just read up on the various GDC news bits just now and would have written something earlier, but I was called to Emeryville for a minor wife-related emergency this morning (all I’ll say is it had to do with shoes). After that was done, I decided to stop at Trader Joes for some dinner materials. This is around 9:10 AM-ish and the place is more crowded than I would have guessed considering most folks are at work. A few minutes in, I get that “being watched” feeling so I start to scan my surroundings. Why, it looks like I’m the only guy here. After more browsing, I find one other male (not counting employees) out of the forty or so shoppers present. Some have small toddlers in tow and most were in the mid 30’s and up range, although there were some young’uns here and there.

As I continue on with my shopping, my earlier feeling of being watched came back. That’s because I was indeed being observed or perhaps sized up. You’re probably thinking it was just my inflated sense of ego, but I swear to you I was getting the eye from several housewives. I moved as quickly as I could through the aisles so there wouldn’t be much chance for spontaneous conversation to occur. I soon finished and was on my way home. It was probably overkill, but it’s best not to leave openings for these types of things. So the tip of the day is, if you’re looking to meet some mature, interested ladies, check out your local Trader Joes or other grocery store a little after 9AM.

Another tip: If you’re not watching the new season of Amazing Race, start watching now. There was a bit of stunt casting with Survivor winners Rob and Amber joining the show. Last night’s episode proved that they are not just window dressing as they managed to be just as tricky and resourceful as they were on Survivor. Plus the cast of characters this season is not packed with boring actor/model couples, but real personalities you want to root for. The oddest pair is a mother and her gay teenage son who are immensely entertaining. You only missed two shows so far so tune in every Tue at 9PM on CBS.

Mine as well make it three tips for the day. The third is to pick up the new 50 Cent album if you get it for $9.99 or less, BUT only if you already own his last album Get Rich or Die Trying. If you don’t have it, buy Get Rich instead. I grudgingly bought Get Rich, I say grudgingly because at that point 50 Cent had already blown up and I didn’t want to buy into the hype. The album was just too good though and I still listen to it on occasion. Now the new album, The Massacre, is pretty decent so far. I played through it maybe three times so far and like maybe 12 out of the 21 tracks. My biggest problem with it is there’s just too much gun talk. I call it the “don’t nobody get no ideas about robbing me” syndrome successful rappers fall into. I can’t count how many songs I’ve heard about large gun arsenals in houses that take out intruders on the regular. I’ve never read anywhere about a big rapper who shot burglars, ever. Shoot other rappers, yes, but not burglars. In the ghetto or equivalent location, logic dictates if there is some robbing that needs to take place, then rob someone that has something worth taking. You can take a rapper out of the ghetto…

On a related note, I borrowed the new The Game: The Documentary CD. It’s packed with powerhouse producers (Dre, Timbaland, Kanye West) and guest stars (50 Cent, Mary J. Blige), but I’m just not feeling it. His style and lyrics are so generic, even the great beats can’t keep me interested. About the only memorable thing about it is a line where he claims 50 Cent slept with Vivica Fox. Say what? Who cares.

Ooh as I was typing up this entry, I got an IM from my wife who told me about an hour after her shoe thing, a co-worker was held up at gunpoint in the streets for his laptop. Amazingly, he refused because there were a lot of people around and figured the robber wouldn’t try anything in broad daylight. Sure enough, the robber took off. Man, that’s gutsy. Dude should have been packing some heat though! Handle yo bidness kid! Throw yo gunz in the air! Um, perhaps I better take 50 Cent out of my current playlist.

Friday, March 04, 2005

An untold tale of Cooooooool Boarders!

Where are you UEP systems? More on that in a bit. Snowboarding games are one of those sub-genres that I initially loved, but have almost completely lost interest in. The first game I recall playing tons of was Cool Boarders for the PlayStation by Japanese developer UEP systems. It was such a rush to barrel downhill in 3D and pull off the available tricks that it was easy to ignore the many flaws in the game. Four more PlayStation CB games were released after that, but only the direct sequel was made by UEP.

The last UEP snowboarder I played was Rippin’ Riders for the Dreamcast, which did go by the CB name in Japan. That was a ton of fun too. We got another non-UEP developed Cool Boarders (CB 2001 from Idol Minds) for the PS2. Around the same time the Japanese audience got CB: Code Alien, but I never bothered importing it because SSX has pretty much taken over by then. SSX Tricky was the shit and I haven’t played a snowboarder as vigorously since then. SSX3 was aight, Amped 2 got some play because it supported widescreen 720p, and well that’s that.

While I doubt next generation UEP developed CB game would get me going again, I do miss them. After all, they are also responsible for another of my all-time favorite games Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman for the PS.

Back in 1996, I got a call from UEP systems out of the blue at the offices of Tips & Tricks. I’m not sure why they rang me up directly, but I have a feeling it was because I had a Japanese name and they spoke almost no English. Even in those days, console game developers were always brought in tow by public relation or marketing folks, so this was a bit unusual. Two guys from UEP appear, and show us Cool Boarders. Afterwards, we give them copies of Tips & Tricks and also some porn mags because it’s Larry Flynt publishing after all. They seem very happy about them. Well, about every 2-3 months after, they would come over to show us more Cool Boarders even though there was not much new to show. I figured they just wanted more American porn. The last time they came was to show a fighting game made to appeal to girls. You could change the character’s nail polish, clothes, shoes, etc. Thinking back on it now, they were ahead of their time with this sort of feature. Unfortunately, the game never came out and I never heard from them again.

So, anyone out there know what happened to them? I heard they had gone out of business, which is probably likely since their last credited game was back in 2001.

Well it's not UEP related, but check out the latest from Richard Linklater. Mix Waking Life with the Matrix and some other crazy movies and you get this. Totally cool looking. Keanu needs a break from these types of roles though.