Monday, March 29, 2010

Random Thoughts on the Town Formerly Known As Sue Nork Yitty

1. New York is an amazingly organized city.
I think that every time I've been to New York City in the past, my views have been influenced by what I've seen on TV. Every street is caught in a perpetual traffic jam, it takes forever to get to the other side of town, and you'd be better off walking everywhere. Granted, in every other trip to NYC in the past, I was in a coach bus that didn't jive well with the busy streets, and likely ended up causing half of the traffic jams. When you really back up and look at the streets of NYC as a total pedestrian, traffic lights and regulations are set up to really make for smooth sailing most of the time. Even in busy Times Square, things run rather smoothly (pending the absence of crazy coach bus drivers who block off streets to let kids out to see a musical).

2. Tourists carry cameras, travelers do not.
Technically speaking, these "tourists" and "travelers" are really the same thing, but there's such a strong negative connotation to being a tourist, especially in a big city like this. I used to be a tourist, in fact, taking pictures of anything and everything. I now see how annoying this is to everyone else who just wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Tourists like to stand in inconvenient places to take their pictures, such as right on the corner, where mobile pedestrians are actually trying to cross streets, but instead have to dodge stationary pedestrians that are in the way.

I did not take a single picture during this entire trip, despite having my camera on me at all times. I came to realize that half of the pictures I would take pictures of (or most tourists, for that matter) have already been taken and posted on the Internet. If the tourists themselves didn't take them, someone who works at the particular facility in question posted it on their website. This really belongs in a rant all by itself, but it seems like we don't need to travel or take pictures anymore, we could just surf around Flickr accounts and Google Images and get exactly what we need. I honestly returned home with the intention of, if necessary, just doing a quick search for a photo of someplace I went to in order to describe it. This might be part of where my bitterness for tourists and tourism comes from.

That much said and done, once you get rid of the cameras, it's truly impossible to tell a visiting traveler from a New York City resident. Or at least, this opinion comes from a visiting traveler who really can't tell the difference if there is one. Maybe there are some certain dress codes that travelers and tourists use that residents don't, but beyond that, there's very little way to tell one person from another. New York City is enough of a cultural mixing pot such that you can't pick out any ethnicity as local or not. Everyone has the chance to be a local.

Of course, I had to get a little creative...

3. Subways are pretty much the most awesome thing ever.
Confession: I have a mild obsession with public transportation. I'm quite comfortable sitting and looking out the window for long periods of time in the company of strangers. I loved the El in Chicago, and I love the Subway in NYC. I get a really strange kick out of seeing an underground world fly by me from the comfort of my cozy little cabin. The best way I can describe it is like those chase scenes in action films where more of the rush comes from the speed of movement rather than the pursuit itself. That's really a crappy decision... I just like subways. Shut up. Leave me be.

4. Pizza is pizza.
I'd hate to say it, but of the three or four different pizza establishments I ate at over the course of the weekend, I noticed no difference in taste. I'm sorry. I'm sure each of these independently-owned pizza joints have their own claims to fame, but pizza is pizza. There's really little deviation there.

5. It is completely feasible to live in New York City.
Again, most of my assumptions about NYC were formed by media stereotypes and faulty high school experiences. Now that I've seen more of the island on my own and have seen residential areas as well as the big tourist district, I feel that life in a big city such as NYC is completely possible. The only downside is the cost of living there, between high rent and costs for everyday items. Granted, mid-town Manhattan isn't the best representation of prices everywhere, but even as you get away from the middle of the city, prices still do loom higher. But cost aside though, it seems like anyone could function just as they normally would in their hometown. The only thing that changes is the size of everything. And the presense of tourists.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

You've Won the Home Version of Our Game!

Spring break! And instead of running around on the beach, I'm blogging. Meh, it's a small price to pay for not having an attractive body. nearby beaches that MTV would care to tape at. a life. Sometimes I truly wonder what majors all these kids have that allows them the genuine free time to go to beaches, get plastered and knocked up, and have MTV cameras show it all. I've got some 150-some pages of journal articles to read for a research paper over break, and I've somehow managed to find time to slip in a blog post about gaming. You kids can keep your STD's, I'm fine here, thanks.

Before I get to the actual blog post at hand, I wanted to throw out a question that some of you might have more knowledge than myself on. A few posts back, I discussed the idea of Fridge Tetris, a little set of magnets for geeky fun on your fridge. I've started making a couple of batches for a couple certain someones, and I'm noticing that I've got quite a lot of beads sorted and ready to go for more production. My question is, would it be possible to sell Fridge Tetris for a profit, or would copyright/legal issues prevent me from legally doing so? If I were to give the same product a different name (one that doesn't use the T-word), would it be legal? I don't plan on going huge with this, maybe just a small store or something like that. Any input on the matter would be greatly appreciated, please comment below.

Right then, on to reviews proper. Amazingly, all three of these games caught my eye(s) because of the fact that they're based on game shows. It's been an awfully long time since I've written anything on game shows, hasn't it? First off, and this is only slightly cheating, I'd like to draw your attention to the deviously difficult Only Connect online game, featuring some of the Connecting Walls from the first season of the show. Only Connect is one of those UK game shows that I wish we could have in America, except it's way too cerebral for anyone to give a crap and actually watch it. We like our quick thrills with game shows here in America, we've got no tolerance for the sit-and-think shows. Anywho, the Connecting Walls are quite a fun (although painful) treat, and worth a go if you're a fan of lateral thinking puzzles. Also be sure to check out the Jay is Games review for more discussion.

Second up, and with a bit more proper discussion this time, is the Press Your Luck game by Ludia. You're probably familiar enough with this "cult classic" that I don't have to explain it in great detail to you. (By the way, what does that even mean, "cult classic"? I don't get what makes something in pop culture "cult" or not. Firefly, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Press Your Luck all seem to be clustered under the "cult" definition, yet I see really little linking them. DISCUSS!)

In this version, much like the show, you get two question rounds and two spin rounds. Rather than fiddling with the incredibly testy input-your-answer-by-keyboard method, you can buzz in first and choose from four possible choices for three spins, or wait until someone else picks first then choose from the three remaining choices for one spin. Full disclosure: Both this review and the next are made on hour-long demos, so I can't get very far into these games to make accurate judgements. I throw in this warning because at least in the very early stages, the AI is incredibly slow to buzz in, so you're almost definitely guaranteed to hear the full question and still buzz in for three spins. Perhaps this gets a little better as you unlock the twenty "games" as you go along, where you face off against (what I'm assuming are) more difficult sets of opponents. Oddly, each pair of contestants you face against has a little mini-story behind them, almost to justify the difficulty curve. The first two contestants you face off against both "could use a little more sleep", ie, they're slow on the buzzer.

I'm actually a bit surprised to say that this version pays close attention to some of the finer details about this show. While the music isn't exactly the same and sound effects might be slightly different, a lot of the set design and graphics feel right at home compared to the original show. If there's any major difference to be noted, it's the questions used for determining spins. While the original show had questions that seemed to cover a lot of topics, most of the questions on this version are about TV and movies. Namely, you'll see a lot of questions in the form of "What character did [celebrity name] play in [movie title]?" This may or may not account for some of the character bios as well, for example, the pair of sports fans who might not be up on this sort of trivia. (*shrug) I'd rather have a wide range of questions, but then again, I'm really not up on movie trivia.

One other difference (or similarity?) that needs to be mentioned is the "randomness" of the big board itself. It didn't take me very long before I realized that the bouncing lights on the big board were in fact random (unlike the pre-made patterns used early in the show's run), but the boards themselves were not. In fact, there seems to be three boards for each round, and one of them contains no Whammies at all (see above). Once you figure out how this works, you'll likely find yourself watching one signal square to know exactly when to stop and never hit any Whammies. You'd think that they'd do a little more to prevent this (after the whole Michael Larson fiasco and all), but apparently they're not concerned about people cheating. You know, cheating that's as easy as pie, intravenously injected into one's body: not nearly as delicious, but it's still pie.

Right, so there's a good amount that "isn't quite right" here, especially if you're a purist fan of the show (hm, cult makes sense all of a sudden...). The music is different. Only one of the Whammy animations was ever seen on the original show. The only "prizes" on the board are trips, all with the same value. There's no flokati rug. Those aren't Peter Tomarken's and Rod Roddy's voices. What do you want from them, man? They're both dead! If you're one of those game show fans that is seriously distraught by differences from the original formats, stay away from this game. Otherwise, you might find this game to be a quite enjoyable tribute to that show you always watched reruns of on the USA Network as a kid. In either case, as an alternative, I have to give mention to a freeware version I found online years ago. While the original developer seems to have yanked his homepage, it's found on some freeware download sites (like here). It lacks the question round altogether and Whammy animations (although there are plenty of audio files from the original show), but it's still very well-made, easily customizable with the included tools, quite a bit of fun, and FERE. Sorry, free. My typing seems to be off today.

The final game in this "home version" round-up is The Price is Right 2010 Edition, also by Ludia. Sadly, my review on this game is going to be extremely short, because there's very little to say here, especially if you bought the last version of the game (which I believe also came out on Wii and maybe some other platforms).

If you've not played either version, let me run down the fast details: You can play either alone or as a group, earning the right to play on stage with the Item Up For Bids (hereafter referred to as "IUFB"), playing pricing games, spinning the Big Wheel, and trying to win it all in the Showcase. If you're playing solo, you can play with either the 3 Strikes mode, where you play until you accumulate three losses (but only from the IUFB's and Big Wheel, oddly enough), or Classic mode, where you play through a typical "show" of sorts, where you play everything in the order and conditions given by the show (you have to win an IUFB to play a pricing game, you have to win the Showcase Showdown to go to the Showcase). In any case, it's pretty much the same as the show you watched everyday during the summer and when you were home sick from school.

The big problem is that there really isn't anything new here to see. Ludia seems to have just regurgitated the last version of the show, but with the newer set design and a change in the characters you can play as (which I completely forgot to mention during the PYL review, but it's the exact same thing here, so it's no big deal). If you jumped to buy the last version, you'd be better off continuing to play that one than to buy this one as well. I'm not even joking when I say that almost nothing has changed about the IUFB's, the pricing games, the prizes a/o prize footage, or the showcases. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the first IUFB I bid for with the 2010 version on this computer (my netbook), my desktop, and my desktop with the older version (2008 or 2009?) was the exact same garden shed.

I apologize for keeping this review so short in comparison to the Press Your Luck review, but there's very little I can say about a rip-off of one's own product. If you like the show, by all means, give this a shot, but don't buy both versions, they're nearly identical. It's a shame because I'm sure host Drew Carey would have loved to have been involved in the production of this new version, but it looks like no effort was made to actually improve the game itself from its last incarnation. If you're still looking for more information, I'd recommend this video review for the old Wii version, it coincides with most of my opinions (just, you know, on PC), or check out the Jay is Games review.

On a wholly unsatisfactory and unrelated closing note, this is the first time I've tried throwing in alt-texts with the graphics. Do they seem to be working? I'm not sure if I did the code right or not, and the "Preview" function on Blogger doesn't seem to show the alt-texts at all.