Gaming 9 to 5 and still working full time

Uh oh…I have a serious problem. It seems that I have two nine to five occupations. I work at a web design firm, called i4 Solutions where I do search engine optimization and manage pay per click marketing campaigns for a variety of clients. I’m happy there and I put in my 40 hours a week. Well, I guess one occupation wasn’t enough, because I’ve taken up a second nine to five activity.

I installed Civilization V over the weekend, and I “one more turn” extended my play sessions Friday and Saturday night from 9:00 pm to past 5:00 am. Yes, I put in over 8 hours a night on this game. The game is just addictive, and I’ve got no power over myself to quit at a decent hour once I start my quest at world domination. Aside from Civilization Revolution on the DS, I hadn’t really played a proper Civ game since Civ II. I always wanted to give Civ III and Civ IV some attention, but I never found the time to do so. To be honest, I really don’t have the time for Civ V, but the allure was too strong this time around and I found myself on Friday evening downloading the game via Steam.

So what now? I guess I’m going to have to go part time on one of these occupations, because my body isn’t going to handle it. Unfortunately for me, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to cut my world domination hours down to part time status with the occasional overtime hours.

For those that haven’t really played any of the Civ games, Civ V is an excellent starting point. For you veterans of the series, I’m sure picking up Civ V is already in your plans if you don’t have it already. Just know that few games will sap away your time like Civ V will.

Check back soon for the full review.

StarCraft Arena is worth checking out

StarCraft Arena is a community-driven site dedicated to StarCraft 2 news, tournaments, discussion, and strategy sharing. The site has numerous videos that cover some really intense matches between some of the best players in the world, all commentated by either HD or Husky; a couple of great players and notable figures in the StarCraft community. Just by watching the videos you can get some  great insight on how to start your StarCraft 2 multiplayer matches, how to respond to moves made by your opponents, and how to judge when it’s a proper time to attack or counterattack. The videos are very entertaining even if you just want to be the casual observer and don’t care much for competing yourself.

Aside from the videos, StarCraft Arena has organized tournaments where they invite the world’s top players to join in. These tournaments are pretty intense and they draw huge attention from the vibrant community that calls StarCraft Arena home.

Even if you’re not much of a StarCraft 2 fan, it’s worth dropping in and checking out a few commentated videos. I have to wonder if these sort of communities are the early beginnings of competitive gaming making its way into a bit of a spectator sport in the United States. It sure would beat the WNBA, huh?

Pokemon is popular

In its first two days on store shelves in Japan, Pokemon Black and White sold over 2.63 million copies. In comparison with the last Pokemon installment, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, Black and White did much better as those titles managed to sell “only” 1.4 million copies in their first two days and 3.38 million overall (Japan numbers only). Black and White seem to be ushering in more new aspects of gameplay into the Pokemon series than we’ve seen for a while, and it looks like Nintendo’s decision to mix things up a bit is really paying off.

The Stupid Gamer Podcast #48

We didn’t take last week off, it was lost due to technical issues. So to make up for it, this week’s show is twice as wasteful of your time! We discuss news, our Tokyo Games Show predictions, and tease some upcoming changes to the show that will begin with episode 49. Enjoy!

Note: We recorded this before any TGS news came out, so if we sound a little behind, it’s because we were! Early TGS stuff looks great though and there’s still time for some of our predictions to come true.

Street Fighter High: The Musical

Street Fighter High was a goofy fan-made short that appeared on YouTube a while back and got quite a bit of attention. A sequel was announced and updates have been appearing at http://streetfighterhigh.blogspot.com/ from time to time. Well, the sequel is here and it’s a musical…of sorts. Justin Wong even has an appearance (as himself) in the piece. For an idea of the awesomeness, here’s a quote from the show.

Ryu: Chun-Li, can I take you to prom?

Chun-Li: Sure you can!

Ryu (confused): Did you…say..SHORYUKEN?!

Chun-Li: Huh?

Ryu: Oh…wait…gotcha…awesome!

Yes, it’s stupid, but you can’t look away. Head over to http://streetfighterhigh.blogspot.com/ to see the whole thing, and if you haven’t caught the first episode, it’s embedded below.

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New Xbox 360 coming…packed with some stupid decisions

What is this? Everybody knows that the d-pad on the 360 has been terrible since day one, and it’s nice that they’re finally doing something about it (only took 5 years, congrats engineering team!), but why do they have to dumb up the rest of the controller? Take a look at the video and I’ll whine after.

So this thing is going to cost $65 because the morons at Microsoft feel like they’re only offering the controller packed in with the play and charge kit. Why do I need another one of those? I don’t. This is another lame cash grab by Microsoft. Why would they remove the face button colors? Sure, it looks kind of neat, but the button colors no longer line up with in game prompts. That’s stupid. Why can’t they implement the new d-pad into all of their controllers? Why not make that the default design going forward? This doesn’t make any logical sense.

Ugh, after the price increase on Xbox Live and now this, I really have to wonder what kind of monkeys they have making the decisions over at Microsoft’s Xbox division.

Xbox Live price increase is an insult

Microsoft announced today that there would be a price increase coming to Xbox Live Gold. Here in the United States it will be an extra $10 per year for Xbox Live Gold, making it $59.99 each time it renews. While it is common for the price of products to increase over time in many instances, there’s really no excuse for Microsoft to do it here, and it’s highly dubious given their statements back at E3 that ESPN would be coming to Xbox Live and that it would be free for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Well now, ESPN hasn’t even hit yet and Microsoft is upping the price by $10 per year. Doesn’t it seem like we are indeed paying for ESPN, just through the back door rather than upfront?

What do we pay for when it comes to Xbox Live anyway? Let’s break it down.

Playing Games Online

When it comes to playing multiplayer games online, Xbox Live is nothing more than a matchmaking service. When you log into Xbox Live and go to play a FPS game or a racer, you’re not connecting to Microsoft servers, you’re actually being paired with other players and one of the gamers in your session will host the game on his Xbox. All the bandwidth during multiplayer gaming is being shouldered by the gamers through their own Internet connections, nothing passes through a Microsoft server. The expense for this part of the service isn’t even remotely near what we pay for Xbox Live.

Social Networks

You can use Twitter, Last.FM, and Facebook on you Xbox 360, but why should these be costing any money to either Microsoft or the end user? All three of those services are free ANYWHERE ELSE YOU CHOOSE TO USE THEM. I have all three on my cell phone, netbook, laptop, and desktop and I’ve never paid a cent for any of them. If these are part of the “value” Microsoft touts when talking about Xbox Live, the US Government should be talking about how much value they provide in the way of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere.

Access to Game Demos

Yeah, downloading these does use bandwidth on Microsoft’s end, but each one is basically a sales pitch to the gamer. The cost to Microsoft in bandwidth for a game demo is so minimal that if only 1 in 1,000 people that downloaded a demo bought the game, they still come out very much ahead in licensing fees to the 3rd party developer. You should not have to pay to be advertised to.

Netflix and ESPN (ESPN is coming soon)

Netflix on Xbox 360 is still using yours and Netflix’s bandwidth to stream the videos to you. Microsoft’s role is to act as a 3rd party application to browse videos, and it’s not even the full catalog! If Microsoft is factoring this into the cost of XBL, it’s another ridiculous claim as you get a lesser experience on the 360 than you do on the Netflix.com site. You also still have to pay for your Netflix subscription independently from the Xbox Live Gold account. Like the PS3, Netflix should be free to use for all 360 owners. ESPN on the 360 is the same thing you can get for free online right now at ESPN3.com. Also, that will be limited to the same people who can already use it now. Check ESPN3.com to see if you can already use it. Again, this isn’t anything that should be costing Microsoft much, if anything.

Friends Lists and Profile Management

This is basically all Xbox Live does for you that they’re not actually making you do for yourself. Yes, Microsoft maintains space for your profile and your friends list, but that’s such minimal content that it’s silly to think that it costs them anything worth passing along to the consumer.

Add up everything there and it doesn’t really make any sense why Microsoft charges the $50 they do for Live and why they need to up it to $60. Also, Microsoft serves up advertisements to subscribers that can’t be filtered out, so despite adopting a paid subscription model, you still get nagged with ads that generate money for Microsoft. It’s a shame that PSN is so far behind in regards to overall quality of experience, because Xbox Live’s pricing is out of control. It was always bad, but we’ve dealt with it. At this point I am extremely dissatisfied with the “value” of Xbox Live and really hope that going forward Sony and Nintendo (fat chance) can catch up in their online support and force Microsoft to reevaluate their pricing scam, er, scheme.

AMD retires the ATI brand name

In a decision based on market research and in an effort to strengthen the overall AMD brand, AMD has decided to do away with the ATi branding. The branding shift doesn’t just affect the ATi name, it’s a sweeping change across AMD’s products, but gamers are really only going to notice the ATi decision. AMD purchased ATi four years ago and has struggled to justify the cost of the investment ever since. AMD claims that their own brand is a more healthy and recognizable name than the ATi brand, so they hope that consolidating the names under a single umbrella will help grow the ATi technology going forward. The new logos that will be found on computer cases, laptops, and other packaging will look like this:

I don’t think that ATi has struggled against the competition due to branding. If anything AMD failed to properly use the ATi brand after acquiring it. Compare the marketing and partnership efforts of NVIDIA with ATi and immediately it becomes apparent that AMD was simply not aggressive enough in securing partnerships or creating a proper buzz within their target demographic’s community. AMD did a great job of making their CPUs “cool” in comparison to Intel, but it seems that they always struggled to do the same with ATi against NVIDIA.

I still run an ATi card and I love it. I don’t think this spells doom for the ATi tech or anything, it simply just feels like the end of an era seeing such a household name in PC gaming fade away.

The Best Game Ever: F-Zero GX

Note: Best Game Ever is a series of posts I’ll be doing dedicated to the best games ever made. Each game I profile will be a game I’d accept as someone’s answer to the question, “what do you think the best game ever is?” So please, do not email me and tell me I’m stupid for posting about game X when game Y is clearly superior. And you never know, game Y might be the next game profiled. For more in the series, check out the “best game ever” category in the side bar.

F-Zero GX. Fast. Brutal. Amazing.

F-Zero GX released for the GameCube back in 2003 and brought a sense of speed that the GameCube had never seen before and that it would never see again. Developed by Amusement Vision (Sega), F-Zero GX is absolutely everything the series has always tried to be since it made its debut on the Super Nintendo. The tracks are well designed, the sense of speed is unmatched, the AI is ultra competitive, the graphics and sound are top notch, and the controls are tight and responsive. In my honest opinion, I don’t think there’s a better futuristic racer available anywhere.

So what made F-Zero GX so good? Was it just a case of the GameCube starving for a good racing experience? Before writing up this post I went back and put a couple of hours into the game to make sure I wasn’t viewing it through nostalgia goggles. After being humbled quite heavily by the computer for the first 20 minutes or so, I got my touch back and I started doing well and before I knew it I had invested the majority of my evening into the game.  In fact, it confirmed my opinion that the title is still tops in its genre; bettering even more recent titles such as WipEout HD.

The game sold well enough to be profitable, but it was in no way a big hit. Miyamoto went as far as to call the performance disappointing, but those that game the game a chance were quite happy with overall experience. In the end, Sega and Nintendo gave gamers a present that is definitely worth revisiting from time to time. I don’t know of any plans, but it would be fantastic to see this franchise get some sort of revitalization. To me, the 3DS is a no-brainer for an F-Zero game, but I’ll take it wherever I can get it at this point.

If you’ve never played F-Zero GX, you can pick it up used for under $10 online with shipping included, so there’s no excuse to not give the game a try. Be warned, however, the game is brutally difficult on harder difficulties and will take some commitment to mastery. Don’t blame me for any broken Wavebirds…

For these reasons, F-Zero GX is the Best. Game. Ever.