notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games


























 
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A Few Points Shy of the High Score
 
Monday, March 31, 2003  
Drank far too much Friday night, stayed up far too late, played games until my eyes were bloodshot and blurry. Was looking, I think, for some kind of transcendant moment, an epiphany maybe. Never found it. Never even came close. Still, overall, I enjoyed myself. Starting to think I need these blowout nights every once in awhile. Have been respecting the beer (and my liver) lately, only drinking two or three a night. But not Friday night. Friday night was about disrespect.

Fussed around with Zelda for several hours until I hit a wall, coming up against "Dark Link," a shadowy version of my character. After three or four attempts, got weary of all the reloading, so I quit. Had enough of Zelda for the night....

Moved onto Panzer Dragoon Orta, which is utterly beautiful, and Zone of Enders 2, also utterly beautiful. Both games are shooters, which means basically that you never touch the ground. I like the game well enough, but I'm not a big fan of flying or floating in videogames. I like feeling grounded--literally on the ground--when I play.

Didn't play much Saturday and Sunday. Went to visit my girlfriend. Bravely played my Gameboy SP on the Metro-North train on Saturday, and again on Sunday night enroute back to NYC. Playing the Castlevania game, Circle of the Moon, and I'm feeling like I might be on the verge of a new addiction. Love all the RPG elements of the game, the way you can "dress up" your character--from a cloth tunic to bronze armor--in order to increase your defense and offense points. Love the huge castle, the boss fights, the music. It's all really well done. Shows an impressive amount of depth for a handheld game. They've come so far....

It's just that...well, I feel a little silly playing the Gameboy in public. Though I am experimenting a little, I still feel like there's quite a bit self-consciousness to deal with. For example, it's OK to play it on the commuter rail, but I wouldn't *dream* of taking it out and firing it up on the subway. Just wouldn't. God forbid anyone sees me playing. God forbid...I'd be promptly tossed out of NYC. Though I have noticed an increasing number of people playing games on their cell phones....

4:06 PM

Monday, March 24, 2003  
Relatively game- and beer-free since last Thursday. Turned 34 on Friday. Didn't do anything dramatic to mark the occasion. Went into the office for a few hours on Friday, checked email, made some lame attempts at being industrious, then headed home. Stopped off at Foodway and bought a Carvel ice cream cake for myself. While standing in line at the checkout, thought, "This is what it comes to. This is how it works when you're 34. You buy your own damn cake."

This guy at the office who I've barely said two words to sent me an e-card of a worm wearing a sombrero and leaping out of a tequila bottle. (Birthdays are posted publicly here.) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, he'd typed. Then: I'LL SLAM A FEW TEQUILA SHOTS FOR YOU THIS WEEKEND. -LUIS

Very strange.

Joelle arrived on Friday night with gifts and, unexpectantly, a big bunch of flowers. Irises and such. Made me feel special, having flowers in my apartment. Instantly brigthened things. Opened a few gifts. I bought a new couch recently, one of those pullout jobs from Jennifer Convertibles, and we hauled that out, got under a few blankets, watched TV. Intimate, quiet. Pretty much all I wanted my birthday to be.

Chi, the guy from gamecritics, phoned on Saturday morning. Told me he loved my review of Indiana Jones (should be posted later in the week). Was waiting to hear from him all last week and had assumed the worst, i.e. that he hated it. He apologized for taking so long to get back to me, told me that he's been busy at the Red Cross (they work as a liason between soldiers overseas and their families, so they're about as swamped as can be right now) and that his Dad was in the hospital. Good to hear from him....

Haven't been playing much. A bit of Ocarina of Time, nothing more. I got an early copy of the latest Zelda last week, and have two offers to write reviews of it. Turned them down. Still feeling burned out after Tenchu and Indiana Jones. Need a little blow. Tired of charging headlong through games, then scrambling to write reviews.

4:38 PM

Tuesday, March 18, 2003  
I'm wearing contact lenses today for the first time in about two years. My eyes developed some kind of allergy to lenses a couple years back, but now with all the new gas-permeable plastics out there, my eye doc encouraged me to give them another shot. So, here I am, giving them another shot.

Me. Mr. Vanity.

I hate my glasses. Just never felt like they were part of my identity. Felt like they were always cluttering my face.

Working on my review of Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven this week for CGN. Have been playing the game endlessly and enjoying a great deal. It's a ninja sim, which means that gameplay basically revolves around sneaking up on people (bad people, of course, never innocents) and slitting their throats. Mwah, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Turning 34 on Friday, and I'm feeling kind of lousy in general, and I'm guessing that has something to do with it. 34. What the hell happened to me. How did I turn out like this. What the frigging shit-ass-hell.

This is never my favorite time of the year. Spring always feels cold and clammy and alienating to me. Trying to hold steady here.


4:35 PM

Monday, March 10, 2003  
Haven't had a beer since Friday night, and I shore am thirsty for one. Not much gaming either. Meant to plough through more Indy...and didn't. Instead I went to see my girl. Who may or may not be my girl at this point. We're still working on things....

Highlight of my week last week was receiving a spiffy new Gameboy SP at the office--a full three weeks before they hit stores. One of the few privileges of being a game writer is you get stuff before the general public gets stuff. And you get it gratis.

Never been much of a handheld gamer--the tiny screen is just such a turn off for me. I like my game action big, and loud, and visceral (my current favorite gaming adjective...soon to be retired). But I played the new Metroid for about an hour on the Metro North train last night...and all I have to show for it is a sore neck. No, actually, I kind of enjoyed myself. Kind of. Jury's still out, I guess.

One other SP-related story: was in Electronics Boutique last week searching for a used copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Xbox (I have no interest in the show whatsoever, but the game garnered some good reviews) (it's made by the same people that made the Indiana Jones game, so I felt it my professional duty to check it out). Anyway, I was in the store, cashing out, when I realized that the nerdy black dude standing next to me was quizzing the store clerk on the new GameBoy SP. I had the SP in my bag at the moment, and, unable to resist the temptation of being the coolest kid on the block, something I never even came close to being as a kid, I said, "I have one right here if you want to look at it." And I whipped the SP out of my bag.

A crowd formed. "Can I see that?" another guy asked. "It's beautiful," a third guy said.

I kept waiting for someone to ask how I got the SP--my answer of "Well, I'm a game journalist" at the ready--but sadly, no one did.

Still, for the rest of the day I was King of the Nerds, or something like that.

Need to get cracking on the Indiana Jones game tonight. Christ, I'm behind. Actually going to call in sick tomorrow to play. I desperately need a sick day anyway. I haven't done laundry in three weeks and I'm completely out of T-shirts.

Also...thinking about going to E3, the electronics expo in L.A. this coming May. I met one of the owners/editors of gamecritics.com for lunch on Friday and he asked me I'd like to come along. I'd have to pay my own way of course, and I'm no fan of L.A....but it might be worth it. Only if I can get a hotel near the convention center. No way in hell am I getting behind the wheel.




4:12 PM

Friday, March 07, 2003  
I got drunk last night and played more Indiana Jones. Fuck, I hope this game ends soon. The game crashed several times, which really pissed me off. I hate my fucking Xbox. I fantasize about kicking it to death.

I got stuck on a level for about an hour because I didn't know that I had to place dynamite charges on two (not one) cracks in a giant Poseidon statue. For chrissakes, I didn't see the second fucking crack on his ankle, so I helplessly swam around in circles, trying to figure out what to do. Once the statue collapsed, opening a large hole in the floor, I swam into the hole and found a huge octopus. Took me another hour to defeat the fucker. Just couldn't figure out what the hell I was supposed to do to him. And all these jelly fish were attaching themselves to my body, then trying to drag me within reach of the octopus. I shot about a 100 spears from my speargun into the mouth of the octopus until FINALLY he vanished for a few seconds. This was a chance for me to get close enough to plant a dynamite charge on one of the columns supporting the underwater temple above his head. I had to do this three more times--there are four columns, four places to plant charges--and finally, after the last charge detonated, the whole building collapsed on the octopus, killing the goddamn thing once and for all. Made me happy, because I started to feel a bit of boss-related despair. Doubt was creeping in. I even, very briefly, considered calling the hint line.

It was something to endure, nothing more. Which is the worst kind of boss fight. This isn't why I play games. Not for this bullshit.

The whole game is proving to be mediocre at best, always doing just enough to keep it from sinking into the abyss of crap. I'm hoping to finish off the game by Monday....

4:30 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2003  
I got drunk last night and worked through a little more of the Indiana Jones game for the Xbox. My local market is running a special on Grolsch--$10.99 for a twelve pack. Good news for my wallet, bad news for my liver. Anyway, I'm scheduled to write a review of the game, and with my deadline fast approaching, I have no choice but to keep playing. And playing. And playing.

It's not terrible; it's just not as compelling as it could be. And the whole thing lacks *polish*. Can't tell you the number of times I've decked a bad guy only to watch his corpse literally get half-swallowed by the floor. Any sort of illusion the game creates is banished by the rampant technical flaws.

There are some good moments though, moments that *almost* make the game worth playing. The programmers really got the fighting system down. And some of the levels require leaps that made my palms sweat as I seriously wondered if I'd make it. The game also does a fair job of capturing the playful spirit of the I.J. movies.

Seems the more terrible a game is, the more beer I need to get through it. And from what I've seen of this game so far, I probably should grab another twelver on the way home tonight.








4:31 PM

 
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