Archive for May, 2008


loreology: pixies

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac…. Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.

This Week: Take Your Pixie

Faeries? Sprites? Pixies? I never knew the differences between the little folk of legend. Were they ready to stitch up a torn pair of socks when we weren’t looking, sneak into a crib to trade places with a newborn, or happy to remain hidden in the deepest part of the woods? At that small size, it’s difficult to tell them apart, you know?

There are too many tales to definitively identify one myth from another. In general, faeries are the most common term for the little guys and gals with wings. They are linked to magic, nature (and the supernatural), and sometimes the dead. Some folklore has them see benevolent visions of the future, while others pit their malice against humanity, with only cold iron standing between us and their vicious schemes. They seem rather harmless, if a bit moronic, in The Fairly Oddparents, so I’m not worried I’m going to end up pantsless, upside down in a tree anytime soon.

Unlike faeries, sprites tend to lean toward the “spiritual” side. The word most likely descends from the Latin spiritus, and the elves and other creatures of the wood that got slapped with the label were generally described as having an ethereal quality, such as wisps or mystical sightings involved around terrible storms and lightning strikes.

Pixies, on the other hand, were most closely associated with humans. They tended to hang around certain rural homes, sometimes disguising themselves as a pile of rags, a goat or a poorly clothed short person to fool children into playing their games. Where faeries and sprites generally abhorred human contact, pixies relished in it, so long as you treated them with proper respect.

In the gaming world, faeries, sprites and pixies are all over. You can find their magic touch in anything from Zelda‘s life-giving bottled fairies to Tinkerbell tossing her pixie dust around in digital Disney fun. Do me a favor, though: Don’t even ask me where brownies fit in. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best chocolate junk food you can savor at two in the morning.


Mario Kart Wii: Guide Creation Blog 3 of 3

As I was nearing the end of my stay at Nintendo, I made sure I mined Nintendo’s test department for all the information I needed to ensure a complete and accurate guide. Some of the most important tactical advice in the guide comes directly from the pro-gamers at Nintendo of America, Europe, and Japan! I was fortunate enough to witness amazing and often crazy Ghost Data battles between Nintendo’s continental companies, and use the insane Time Trial laps directly in the guide. For example, the very best racers posted their Ghost Times over the course of months, and I utilized these racing lines exclusively, so that you can try to meet or beat these amazing records! Not only that, but the recommended vehicle and rider is also shown, along with the time itself!


Have you found all the drivers and riders in this game? Check the guide out for all the info!



The information doesn’t just end there though; I made sure to explain just how to obtain every hidden character, vehicle, course, cup, and ending that the game has to offer. If you thought just racing through the Grand Prix mode eventually yields everything this game has hidden away, think again! Naturally, I also mention how every ground texture affects your speed, I give a complete list of every course enemy wandering around, from the waddling Goomba to the fearsome Chain Chomp. And let’s not forget the method of ensuring you get a Turbo Start each time, every time! As I unlocked all of the characters and vehicles, I made sure to give tactical advice for driving any combination of vehicle you could ever use.


But the fun doesn’t end with the racing portion of the game (and guide). The Battle Mode; pitting teams in arenas to pop opponents’ balloons or collect coins, is shown in detail, along with item locations and tactics for each map. Did you know you can actually steal balloons from your foes? You’ll know how if you pick up the guide! In the end, I came away from my stay at Nintendo dizzy, and not just because of the 12-hour playtesting I’d been doing for the previous two weeks; this is the most involved, most addictive, and craziest Mario Kart ever made. From the brand-new power-ups to all the modes both offline and on, I made sure to squeeze in every last tactic and place it into a guide that’s as beautiful as it is informative. 


Purchase the only Official Mario Kart Strategy Guide HERE!



pin-a-go-go 2008

When was the last time you played a pinball machine? It’s probably not an easy question to answer. There aren’t too many machines around anymore. Sure, you might spot a lonely cabinet at a bar or pizza parlor on a rare occasion. Your best bet would be an arcade…if you can find one of those. My local arcade (Supercade) closed its doors several years ago and since then it had been tough to get my pinball fix. At least until I discovered Pin-a-go-go, an annual pinball convention held in Dixon California. For a modest entrance fee (benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento) pinball enthusiasts can play all the pinball they want, with all 100+ machines set on free play. The convention also serves as a swap meet of sorts where owners can sell machines and trade parts. It really is an impressive gathering, pulling in fans and vendors from all over the bay area and northern California.

Pinball machines galore! What a way to spend a weekend!
Pinball machines galore! What a way to spend a weekend!

This was my third year at Pin-a-go-go and I wasted little time, arriving soon after it opened on Saturday morning. Even at that hour, there was already a pretty big crowd on hand. The first machine I played was Doctor Who, a Bally machine (created in the early 90s) and based on the original BBC series. My first few rounds weren’t very awe-inspiring. I soon moved on to The Addams Family, a Midway machine themed around the 1991 movie. I finally hit my stride with that machine, ultimately perfecting the skillshot, prompting the Thing to emerge out of its box and retrieve my ball from the playing field, saving it for a future multi-ball round. After several rounds played throughout the day, I eventually hit a personal-best of over 77,000,000 points. Not bad, but according to Twin Galaxies, I still have a ways to go; the world record is 332,020,990. But my ridiculously high score of the day was achieved on Twister, a Sega machine based on the 1996 Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt tornado flick. Whether you’re a pinball veteran or a complete newbie, this is the machine to play if you need an instant boost in confidence. It’s relatively easy and very forgiving, seemingly awarding multi-ball craziness every few seconds. At the end of one session that seemed to drag on for over 20 minutes, I walked away with a score of 1,467,390,060. This was a first so I had to take a picture. I don’t think I’ve scored over a billion points on anything. Still it wasn’t enough for a record since the machine’s top score was well over three billion.

Even Paxton seems perplexed by my high score.
Even Paxton seems perplexed by my high score.

My performance on other machines was novice-like at best. Missed Mr. Hankey’s toilet bowl multi-ball on South Park. Never made it past the rank of Lieutenant on Star Trek TNG. Failed to trigger the water skiing mini-game on Baywatch. Only fed the T-rex once on Jurassic Park. Nevertheless, I had a blast, even though my crazy flipper-fingers are a bit sore today. So if you’re a pinball fan and find yourself in northern California in mid-May, head on over to Dixon. Supporting a worthwhile charity has never been so much fun.


My old school gaming wishlist

Just the other day I was talking to a friend of mine about how many hours we lost to the original Mario Kart on the SNES. The conversation obviously devolved into a who-was-better-than-who argument, which of course I won- but not before we brought up an endless list of other games that served as adolescent battlefields. After I got off the phone with a certain smug sense of superiority, I started to wonder when some of these games would resurface on current systems.

Sure, many of those games have been reimagined or “revised” for the newer generation, but how many truly live up to the muse? Think about it. Can Monster Madness really ever replace Zombies Ate My Neighbors? Can Twisted Metal ever really replace Rock’n’Roll Racing? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Monster Madness and nearly every installment of the Twisted Metal series (with special attention paid to Twisted Metal Black. Man that was an awesome game!). But the nostalgia factor alone is more than enough to put the other two games atop my must-play list.

There is still hope, of course. I can sit here and hope that one day, maybe, just maybe Rock’n’Roll Racing, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and some other old school gems will find their way to Nintendo’s store front. Maybe some Xbox Live Arcade love? PSN download anyone?

So far, I’ve gotten a good dose of old school love. I’ve relived my Gunstar Heroes triumphs, beaten Castlevania: Symphony of the Night numerous times, explored Hyrule’s light and dark realms, blown up ton of Bombermen, and even sheep-bombed a few hundred Worms.

Who knows? If I’m a good gamer, maybe the old school gods will bestow upon me the following titles for download.

  • Star Wars saga
  • Super Mario RPG
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Zombies Ate My Neighbors
  • Rock’n’Roll Racing

Until then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.



Four.point.two of Five

4.2 Phantasy Star II

I was going to move on to number three, but then I remembered this saucy little cartridge who got her fingers into me and wouldn’t let me go for almost a year.

When Sega ruled the world and the Genesis was as ubiquitous as M.C. Hammer explaining how none of us were worthy of fondling “this” I was in college and had nothing of value save my gaming console and D&D books. I could have gotten along just fine without anything else, up to and including food, as long as my plastic molded master was hooked up to the giant 14″ color TV. (And the D&D books, I needed them to a degree that’s embarassing to recall.)

Into this strange bubble of self-sustaining geekery came Phantasy Star II. My very first RPG of note and the first long-term relationship of depth and constant exploration. With a game. The wiles of that electronic entertainment were many.

Fistfulls of characters to level up. Specialized weapons with specific strategic uses. Huge dungeons, unending monster encounters, and the need to farm mobs for cash in order to afford the best gear. Sensing familar themes? Days upon days were spent with the rounded black controller in my hands, wandering the lands of Mota and delving into its mysteries with my expanding group of adventurers. It was hard to choose between them but we could only be a party of four at a time. I would actually feel bad for a character if I hadn’t had them in the party for a while. They were my friends and I was…going a bit crazy, I suppose, but damn it was fun.

The odd thing is that this love of Phantasy Star II ruined me for RPGs. I was so enamored of her that nothing else could hold up to my ideal. When I found Phantasy Star III I was flush with excitment. But I couldn’t play more than a third of it before it was too painful to continue. They had attempted to improve the mechanics but instead ended up with a hulking mess. In comparison to II’s sleek and polished gameplay, PSIII was the ugly sister with a gladular disorder and club feet.

I was crushed and turned my back on not just Phantasy Star but on all RPGs. Because of PSIII I avoided Final Fantasy. Seriously. I still have only played one installment of that venerable series because my heart belonged to Phantasy Star and it had turned out to be a video-game-genetics dead end.

I have loved again (thank you Shadow Hearts: From the New World) but never as wholly or innocently. I no longer weep tears of sweet remembrance when thinking of my time with Phantasy Star II but I do get misty whenever I see the Genesis logo.


loreology: giants

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac…. Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.

This Week: Big shoes to fill

Yesterday as I read The Hobbit to my kids, I discovered a new creature in Middle-earth. Okay, not exactly new, but it’s been 20-something years since I last read J.R.R. Tolkien’s first masterpiece, and I had forgotten that giants frequented The Hobbit. So when Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo rush into a cave to escape hill giants playing bowling boulders, only to end up later that night captured by sneaky goblins, you can blame it on Middle-earth’s tallest residents, not a fearsome downpour as I originally remembered.

Side note: I’ve been playing the Lord of the Rings Online MMO now for over a year. Giants have been kicking my Hunter tail in the wilds outside of Rivendell as long as I’ve learned to string a bow. You don’t mess with those big guys without fellowship backup, so I can vouch for Gandalf and crew that they made a good call that stormy evening, even if it ended in a long series of ill-timed events that saw Bilbo bounced down cave rocks and land in Gollum’s lap.

Stories about giants have been around for as long as David met Goliath, and longer. Whether it’s tales about Jack and the Beanstalk or Paul Bunyan, we have a fascination with creatures of grander stature than ourselves. The word derives from the Greek Gigantes, a group of super-powerful beings that rose up against the Olympian gods and tried to overthrow them. According to legend, the Greek gods buried the defeated Gigantes beneath the earth and their struggles to escape are what cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In Bulfinch’s Mythology, the ancient giant war against the Roman gods proved formidable and even scared the Olympians into flight, where Apollo became a crow and Bacchus became a goat as they hid in Egypt. In the end, the giants were beaten when Minerva invented thunderbolts for Jupiter to toss down from the heavens.

Ironic, huh, that a little hobbit started me thinking about big giants.


Mario Kart Wii: Ten More Top Tips!

Sure, you’ve gone and bought the Mario Kart Wii Guide, and you’ve figured out the craziest shortcuts for all 32 tracks thanks to the guide’s officially-approved content. You may have also memorized the dozens of tips scattered throughout the strategy guide to help you speed to pole position, or dodge the deadly Blue Shell. But have you driven each course to distraction, and put together a top ten list of tips when you should be writing a guide to Spore? I have, and here goes:

1. Maple Treeway: Everyone knows there’s a shortcut to the right, just after the start. But have you used this to your advantage in online games? Get the Turbo start, then skid through the gap in the fence. When you reach the Item Boxes, you’ll be in last place, and snag a really cool (and powerful) item. Then, as you rejoin at the barrel cannon, you’ll be in first or second position; but with an item you’d usually have at the back of the pack!

2. Turbo Drop: You should already have figured out how to begin every course with a Turbo start (and wheelie if you’re a biker). But make sure you also Turbo after Lakitu drops you back on the track after you fall off. Press Accelerate just before you’re dropped, and you instantly boost back up to speed.

3. Online Course Selection: When you’re choosing a track, don’t pick the “?”; choose the course you’re best at, as this is better than letting your rivals pick the track!

4. Online Course Selection #2: We haven’t checked this as a fact yet, but it appears to work some of the time: When the cursor cycles through each player’s course selection, tap the Accelerate precisely at the time your chosen track is highlighted; there’s a better chance your track is selected; but you’ll need lightning-fast reactions!

5. Points Stealing: Are you playing with a “whale” (a player with a massive points total in the 7000s, 8000s, or 9000s range)? Do you need some masses of points, and quickly? Then choose the shorter, compact tracks like Luigi Circuit. It literally doesn’t matter if you’re an insanely good, or simply moderate gamer; this track favors the newbie, as a veteran can’t get too far ahead.

Luigi Circuit: Victory is more luck than skill-based.


6. Points Keeping: Conversely, if you’ve gathered points up, and don’t want to lose loads of them, make sure your track is long, and features numerous corners, like the GBA or N64 Bowser Castle stages. Yes, you’ll be struck by Blue Shells, but if you speed around corners with expertise, those newbs will never catch you!

N64: Bowser’s Castle: Victory = crazed cornering, and mad skills!


7. Ultimate Defense: When you’re in the lead, you’re the target of shells from the scrubs behind you. So, make sure you keep a Banana or Shell on you, and when you hear the Wiimote alarm of an incoming attack, keep your item behind you, but don’t let it go; let the attacker’s item hit it, while you concentrate on the cornering!

8. Ultimate Defense #2: The second plan to maintain a lead is to utilize as many items as possible. Between the set of Item Boxes you just passed through, and the set you’re approaching, figure out the best place to leave the item you picked up; usually around a blind corner or in among the Item Boxes.

9. POW Player: The bane of your existence is the POW Block and the Blue Shell, and it’s very tricky to avoid them. However, if you can be in the air when a POW Block detonates, you won’t lose speed; so drive up a ramp, or “bounce” just at the right time!

10. Blue Shell Avoidance: You can’t, most of the time. However, if you’re in the lead, cycle through items, until you’re given a Mushroom. This is the only way to outfox a blue shell; make a Mushroom Turbo the millisecond before the Blue Shell dives into your vehicle, and you’ll avoid it. This works infrequently, but it can make the difference between 1st and last!


Next week: We complete our Mario Kart Wii blog with the third and final part of our visit to Nintendo.  




May 2008
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