500 Words Per Day

Friday, December 22, 2006

From SNES to 360 in 13 Years


My loyal readers who have followed 500WPD from its inception (read: very, very fewof you) may remember this little nugget of video game industry forecasting/analysis back in the fall of '05. In my lengthy dissertation, I commented at length at my general nonchalance following the launch of the Xbox 360 game console. What was touted as ushering in the first wave of "next-gen" gaming amounted to little more than a paltry sampling of very underwhelming, very "now-gen"-looking video games.

Guess what, peeps? Little over a year after that post, I am now a proud, beaming owner of an Xbox 360. No!! Shock!

This development has more relevance to me than it will to anyone else... even myself, maybe about 5 minutes after publishing this post in fact. The last video game system I owned was the 16-bit Super NES. That was back in ooooh, 1993? By that time, I had already discovered the wild wooly frontiers of PC gaming, with the years from 1990-1992 being one big blur of playing the Wing Commander series non-stop on my blazing fast 386 home computer. Gaming on the PC had already won me over. The games just seemed more sophisticated, more daring and gosh darnitt, you could pirate all this shit to your heart's content. My 8-bit NES was collecting serious dust by then and the whole idea of gaming on a console just seemed a little "kiddie". I was a grown geek now, and real grown-up geeks do it up on PCs.

But yeah, when the SNES came out I wasn't intially too impressed. But once I got my hands on the newest Contra game, their Star Wars platformer (forget the name) and Super Mario Kart, it became abundantly clear that I needed to "get with it" and support Nintendo once again. And it was good. I wasted a lot of my remaining high school years renting out games from all the video game stores that had cropped up in my tony west side neighbourhood. Every Friday after school, I'd pop in with the Christian Cock (his cockhood status still but a glimmer in our eyes at the time) and we'd rent the latest side-scrolling beat'em up game and play it compulsively for the next couple days. The next weekend, same deal. Fortunately, there was never a shortage of these Double Dragon knock-offs; they kept cranking them out, month after month.

Anyway, what's my point? I'm lost now. Oh right, now I have an Xbox. Well, after my love affair with the SNES faded away, I had already committed to gaming on the PC full-time. I all but ignored the N64 when it came out around the time I started college. Same deal with the Dreamcast and Playstation. I was content to visit friends and play their games but for myself, I stuck it out with the PC.

Then the PS2 came out and suddenly we had a new king of video game systems. It all looked very tempting, but I didn't bite. So finally, after 13 long years, I have been tempted back to the "kiddie" world of game consoles, and who woulda thought Microsoft would be the one to do it?

Yes, I trash talked the 360 when it came out in late '05. How could I not? The hype was tremendous and I am chronically allergic to excessive hype. I'd see people playing King Kong at the 360 kiosks and think, "500 bills for this bunk?", shake my head and walk smugly over to the PC games aisle. But that was a year ago. The Xbox 360 today is looking like a very different beast. And so is the current state of PC gaming.

In a nutshell: 360 games look impressive now. PC games also look impressive, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg to keep up. My gaming time has been cutting back little by little these last couple years. When I do want to try a new game, however, I want it to play, and play well. No frame stutters, no dialing down of graphics details, no tweaking. Just plug and play and relax on the couch.

Why no PS3? Why no Wii? You may be asking this. Maybe you've fallen asleep already. Well, I'd like to talk more about video games so I'll continue this ramble in a future installment.

Until then, Merry Xmas and thanks for reading 500WPD. It's been an interesting year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

News Break: Yella Fella Wins Survivor

I previously wrote about my initial then eventual disenchantment with the latest installment of the Survivor TV series. After they merged all the race-segregated tribes after a mere 3 episodes and the hotties turned out to be not-so-hot (Parvati's sexy clown mouth notwithstanding), I promptly tuned out. I did, however, check back in a few times in the past month to discover some pleasant developments.

The most pleasant of all was seeing how well Yul Kwon was playing the game. With the hidden immunity idol in hand, the Korean-American management consultant from San Mateo, CA was carefully leveraging the power of immunity to shape the entire game to his advantage. The other contestants (mistakenly) treated Yul as untouchable once he announced to everyone he had found the idol, and the scheming and power held by the white power bloc (Adam and his bitches, and Jonathan) was all for naught.

I totally forgot to catch the finale last night, so by the time my friend told me the news over Messenger, they were already having their stupid, happy reunion show in front of a studio audience. I scrounged around the 'net this morning and found a couple humourous recaps of the big show:


I sort of regret missing out, as there were some interesting parts that I might have wanted to see. It blew me away to read that Yul actually offered up his immunity idol to save Becky's neck. To think he was playing the game so well up to that point... and to just piss away his center of power on some chick who's been riding his coat tails since Day 1. Wow. Fortunately, Becky had enough game in her (and self-respect) to turn down the generous offer and battle it out with Sundra for a spot among the Final Three.

Man, I really wish I saw that make-a-fire tiebreaker challenge between Becky and Sundra, if only to see the bored and stunned looks on everyone's faces. Ninety minutes with neither girl able to start a frickin' fire. It got so bad Probster actually had to chuck each of them a book of matches and even then they struggled. Pathetic.

And Becky. Back in September I was touting her as the potential resident Asian hottie on the show but she's turned out to be one of the most, if not THE most nothing player the show has ever seen. I don't believe how bland she was. The post-finale articles have all been giving her shit for being useless and a "non-entity" and it's pretty damn hard to argue with their assessment. It really is hilarious to think she was standing up there with two of the finest contestants I'd seen for a long time, pleading her case to the jury to award her the $1 million. "I think I deserve the prize because I made friends with Yul" sums it up pretty well to me. When I read that she had claimed to have played a "social game" versus Yul's game of tactics and Ozzy's physical domination, I had to stifle a giggle. Girl, you are too much!

Ozzy apparently had a lot of support behind him, judging from comments made in Internet world and the final tally of votes cast by the jury. I never really expected he would win, although I admit he was pretty damn impressive. You get that almost every season. There's always that one person who starts dominating immunity challenges so completely, the challenges themselves become foregone conclusions. But that's all he did, impressive as it was. I also still remember early in the game when he was becoming the pack leader on Team Hispanic and he was clearly getting a very big head. Then the tribes merged and, to his credit, he drifted off into the background for the next 25-30 days.

Anyway, I'm getting away from my main point and that is I am ecstatic that Yul took top prize, narrowly beating out Ozzy in a 5-4 vote. What's makes the win even sweeter is that Yul has not been shy about harping on the racial aspects of this season's show. First, he was openly pleased about ousting Adam and ensuring Survivor would be won by someone representing a minority group. Then when he made his case to the jury, he stressed how he wanted to be a positive Asian role model in the mainstream media. Shit, it's almost as if I was out there playing Survivor, but without the good looks and insane six pack.

And for that reason alone, I crown this season of Survivor: Cook Islands - Best Season Ever. (And they definitely need to bring Ozzy or Yul back if they do another Survivor All-Stars.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Logjam 2006

obey toilet

As a single, working urbanite, I sometimes think I have things pretty easy. I have a car to drive, money to spend, a spacious and (usually) clean apartment and easy access to all forms of entertainment and recreation. Daily life will require me to step beyond my boundaries on the rare occasion but I can usually handle it without much trouble.

I must say this: there are fewer things more horrifying than flushing your normally trusty toilet and watching the water level rise and rise and rise...

Such was the situation I was faced with over the weekend. I have been living in my apartment for 20 months and have never had any major incidents with the toilet. Sure, the building manager inexplicably attached a brand-new white seat to the pink toilet and waited almost a year to rectify the colour mismatch. And yeah, sometimes the tank had problems refilling with water but you only needed to give it some time before it fixed itself.

This time the problem was a little more severe. I was experiencing blockage. Thankfully, my bowl did not overflow and flood my apartment in toilet swill. But those three seconds of watching the bowl fill up was nail-biting stuff. A true horror show. I had a brief flashback of the last year I was living with my parents back in late '04. My parents had been in a routine of hosting raucous mah-jong parties once or twice a week in their house. With only a single bathroom on the ground level, this meant that the toilet saw heavy use in the course of one MJ marathon session. There was a span of maybe 3 weeks when the toilet would be plugged up, likely due to our guests' liberal use of wiping paper.

I'd get home from work on Monday and lo, I would be called upon to hunch over the bowl, plunger in hand, and attempt to clear up the pipes. It was so bad one time I drove out to London Drugs to buy some of that liquid Drain-O stuff. What did you know, none of the product they had at the store was intended for use in the toilet. Were they kidding me? Was toilet blockage that rare of an occurrence in the general population? I found that hard to believe. It was suggested that I invest in one of those specialized coils that plumbers use to feed down into the pipes and dislodge whatever it is that's causing the problem. Of course they had nothing of the sort in stock either. I ended up buying a couple bottles of the non-toilet drainage solution anyway out of desperation.

The Drain-O nor my manual efforts had much effect on the blocked toilet. After the third straight Monday of working the plunger into a stinky, overused bowl, I revolted and told my dad to hire a plumber already to fix the problem already. He had long since retired and obviously had a fair bit of free time, so I was livid that he did not have the wherewithal to hire someone in 3 weeks to check things out. There was no way I was coming home from a full day of work to play with a dirty toilet while my dad got his ass kicked again at mah-jong. I caved in pretty quickly and cut him a deal: I'll pay for the repairs. Just call someone to find out what's wrong and I'll foot the cost. Please just do it!

Ah, well then my dad sprung into action. He got a plumber to come by to inspect the pipes and they found out the roots from a nearby tree was blocking things up. Isn't that crazy? And how the hell do you fix something like that? I didn't care. The plumber came back the next day and did his work and presto, a fully functioning toilet again. It hit me in the wallet a bit to get this done, although it wasn't quite as expensive as I thought it would be.

Now over the weekend, I had what I thought might be a repeat of that traumatic experience. Being in an apartment, this was our only toilet, so the stakes were higher. Well, what goes around comes around. The next day I had a lunch appointment with the parental units and hit my dad up for two bottles of Drain-O. I went looking for a plunger at Safeway and to my shock and dismay, they didn't carry any. Luckily, the Drain-O worked like a charm. It was sort of fun to see the solution instantly dissolve an errant piece of toilet paper floating in the bowl. They don't call it corrosive for nuttin'.

As for how my home toilet got backed up in the first place... I have to say, I have no idea whatsoever. Like, why does anything happen? Why does the sun set in the west? Why do dogs bark? I cannot fathom why my toilet got plugged. Truly, a modern mystery...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mid-December Grab Bag

I don't have a real topic today. I haven't been compelled to blog much these last few weeks. Maybe it's just me subconsciously getting into holiday vegetation mode or perhaps it's my general torpor -- lack of exercise, lack of sleep, you know the deal. Anyway, there are a number of things keeping me interested enough in my own life to write about, so here it is from the top.

I am reading a lot. Now I enjoy the printed word as much as anyone, but never this much. I'm reading 4 books at the moment, with a 5th on the way care of Mr. Postman and Amazon.ca. I don't think I've concurrently read 4 books before, but it's kinda fun to swap one out and resume reading another. It keeps things fresh.

First up is William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. I've been picking away at this one for months now and I've reached that nasty stopping point of dwindling interest. There's only about 50 more pages to go, but it's sort of lost its magic for me. It is very much vintage Gibson, where there are some interesting ideas at play, but the general storyline just seems like 'much ado about nothing'. It's a similar experience to reading Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties. Pattern Recognition gets credit for being Gibson's easiest read to date and the protagonist-guru this time is a woman, but the man still loves describing EVERYTHING. This normally wouldn't be a problem if he would not rehash the same jargon and metaphors over and over again. After awhile, his meticulous descriptions of things starts coming across as filler prose.

When I started to feel creatively inspired again a month ago, I picked up Problem Solved, by Michael Johnson, from my local Chapters. This is a textbook which surveys common design and advertising problems through out the last century. I'm only two chapters in and I am quite impressed with the information presented so far. The author tries to cover a lot of ground, so I don't expect to be getting the nitty-gritty of the design process but instead the larger brush strokes behind the trends we've seen in the world of advertising. I didn't want to get another web/graphic design "how-to" or something that was too specific to my own line of work, so Problem Solved fit the bill perfectly. It approaches creative design with a broad enough perspective so that almost anyone who works in design could get something out of it.

As mentioned in a previous post, I've also been reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami. I'm about 1/3 a way through this short story collection and I have to say I am fairly underwhelmed. Some reviews have warned that Murakami's writing quality peaks in the latter stories, so I'm holding out for the bigger payoff. So far, his stories have been well-written and easy to read, but strangely boring. He manages to infuse all his stories with this strange dream-like quality, which makes you forget that his characters a little lifeless and have unclear motivations. It may also distract you from his sometimes overwrought descriptions and metaphors that don't quite hit the mark, not to mention the abrupt, open-ended conclusions that leave far too much to the reader's imagination. Murakami also has a habit of telegraphing every subtlety through exposition, causing large chunks of his prose to seem redundant and simplistic. Yet... I am compelled to read on. Despite my complaints, the writing has a graceful, simplistic charm to it and some of the stories contain a certain emotional calmness that is hard to describe. Murakami also indulges in some magic realism, which to his credit, works wonderfully in a couple of his stories.

The 4th book I have on the go is also the most technical. It's DOM Scripting, by Jeremy Keith. This is basically a primer on modern Javascript programming geared for the non-programmer. In my 5-6 years of web design, I've always just sort of "gotten by" with knowing very basic Javascript and never put in the time to fully understand the Document Object Model. Well, Keith's book has been lauded by the web design glitterati as THE primer to get you up to speed on writing Javascript for our modern, web standards-obsessed world. I am roaring through the
review chapter on Javascript syntax and cannot wait to dive into the tutorials. I may finally get a handle on this elusive skill after all.

Well, it looks like this post actually had some focus. There isn't much more to report, I suppose, mainly because my mind is swinging back into getting some work done in the office. Oh, yes, the office. We moved into our new digs a couple weeks back. I've been adjusting very well. I now have my own brightly lit room which I share with our Russian contract programmer. We are situated within a grim industrial complex sadly, butI have a decent view of some trees and the main thoroughfare here in the 'burbs. The office space is about 5x larger than our old place. We actually have a full kitchen, a playroom which houses a TV and Gamecube (and soon to be adding our newly acquired Playstation 3) and some extra rooms that we plan on renting out to other small businesses. One of my bosses has brought in her swank Starbucks espresso machine which I now use to make myself a white chocolate or vanilla latte every morning. Yeah, things could be a lot worse, work-wise.

But I digress. I've been writing for over half and hour and now my lunch break is approaching. Maybe I should get some work done?

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Book in My Head

I got the sensation today. It was the feeling of wanting to write a book. Maybe not a book, but a collection of short stories. My mind is brimming with idea fragments that are calling out to be put onto a page. I suppose I now join the club of the millions of aspiring writers who have experienced this exact same burst of confidence delusion.

How many of these people end up writing their book or novella? And of the few who do, how many get published?

So far I have a staggering 2 pages of prose. I haven't added anything new for the past week because I've been trying to parcel out what ideas will be included in one story and what will be saved for another. I'm thinking of writing a trio of stories based around a singular theme and organizing all the ideas into coherent blocks is quickly becoming a challenge. It's certainly a task that demands more than a few idle moments spared while waiting in traffic, or while sitting on the can. A pen and a few sheets of note paper may be of some help, or so I've heard.

Now I'm thinking I should reconnect with J., the rugged Brit lady killer I met earlier this year in Self Actualization School, a.k.a. The Landmark Forum. Our cozy weekly meetings were long ago and J. called me out of the blue several months later as I was walking into Shoppers to grab meds for my miserable ear infection. After a few minutes of awkward small talk, he announced his intention to write a book. A book! It struck me as a little random, seeing as the last venture of his we discussed was more along the lines of a scientific-slash-economic breakthrough involving lasers. Don't ask. The finer points completely elude me right now. All the more reason for me to sit him down and join me for a beer before the December holiday craziness overwhelms everyone's social calendar. We need to talk writing, crazy laser experiments and women. Ah, women.

Sidebar note: I've set all of my online dating profiles to Deep Freeze. I'm putting an end to online romance. What started out as a reassuring safety net had in recent years become my sole avenue of meeting new people. So as of last week, I officially retired my profiles and will do dating the way it's always been done: bricks n' mortars-style. Wish me luck.