Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Video 24: Grandma plays Brutal Legend

I'd say never so much before has a game made Grandma squeal with joy whilst simultaneously pissing her off, but you know that's not true. That describes pretty much every goddamn game she likes.

She absolutely adored it.

Brutal Legend is not an easy game. Usually if a game seems relatively impossible, Grandma will lower down the difficulty, play until she gets the hang of things and slowly raise it up. That's how she made it through Veteran difficulties in the Call of Duty series, for instance.

Brutal Legend is, well.. fucking brutal. The demo never really allowed one to preview its RTS-esque functions, so even though she knew it was coming, it was still difficult to switch from her Halo Wars view of RTS strategy into this new technique of augmenting the shit out of oneself and plowing towards an objective. The difference between Gentle, Normal, and Brutal modes seems to be a test on how much you can utilize doubleteaming effectively. Grandma likes to just smash the hell out of things without resorting to that triangle button, but she got used to it.

Enough to get through it on Normal so far, anyway.

One could argue that Brutal Legend tries to be a whole bunch of different games. Twisted Metal, Psychonauts, Overlord, with a hint of Guitar Hero and a dash of Starcraft. For comparisons' sake, that's fair. But the game has an overriding theme that's held soundly, Metal, that gave it a soul of its own.

The art and the music bring everything together very, very nicely.

After watching Grandma play one particularly beautiful cutscene that I won't give away, I can never listen to the song Mr. Crowley the same way again. And I don't mean that it was ruined. Far from it. It just fit, hauntingly.

THAT is the best way I can describe Brutal Legend. Everything just fits. It NEEDED the car action; it NEEDED the stage battles; it NEEDED that story for it to all work.

The voice acting was perfect. These people gave life to the characters. I don't have to mention any names, you can already think of a dozen games where the voice acting was unnecessary and annoying. I can't imagine Brutal Legend without them, honestly. And that's rare.

And it was the characters who gave Grandma the most joy. This was a surprisingly great fucking story. When it starts, you think "okay, quirky dude kills some bad dudes and does quirky things." And the game lets you believe that.

For awhile.

But I won't ruin it.

Grandma insists it was the driving that gave her the biggest challenge, but I was the one sitting at the computer in her game room listening to her swear at her television, and I can tell you those stage battles can be HARD.

"GOD DAMMIT. I need so many fans to make the army big but they keep knocking down my towers but I can't fight them because I don't have an army! COCKSUCKERS, NO GODDAMMIT"
-"Build an army, then."

She'd shove her controller at me and give me a puppy-dog look, and I'd try to do it. The thing is, I really suck. So she'd get frustrated just watching me.

"No, you have to use the roadies, the speaker guys to sneak up to the stage."
-"How do you do that?"

"Use the face melter. THE FACE MELTER!"
"Here, gimme..."

And then she'd take the controller back :)

Full disclosure and all, Grandma bought her copy, and I got her the Brutal Legend hoodie she's rocking in the video. She preordered her game from Gamestop (at PAX, on a little computer at the EA booth), but we did see it at Target for $10 less than other places if you don't have a copy yet. It's safe to say we worship Tim Schafer and his merry band of lunatics, but Grandma would be happy to tell him to go fuck himself if the game was shit.

This game is not shit. You will not be disappointed if you expect a game made by brilliant crazy people. Just dive into it for a few hours and you'll know what we mean.

Double Fine put a hell of a lot of heart into this thing. It's just a real bitch to pry it from their steely metal ribcages.

Game on!

**edit** Holy shit, you guys! Kotaku gave Grandma some love... again! Thank you, Owen! We're not traffic whores by any stretch, but it's always exciting getting a link like this. We love you guys. If you jump a couple posts down, you'll read about our brief reunion with Stephen Totilo at PAX. (He's really short.) Rock!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Helter Skelter

Grandma has been enjoying the hell out of Beatles Rock Band on her PS3. We're poor, so she bought one of those value-deal type thingies where it came with the original Rock Band instruments instead of the cool new Beatles instruments. And that's okay. We already had the original Rock Band for the kids' PS2, and the instruments are the same, so now we have two of everything, which is enough to do almost everything in the game, except for the trophies that require more than two vocal parts.

Also, all of us kind of suck at it, so the PSN trophies were never an issue anyway.

It seems that God didn't want Grandma to play Brutal Legend, but Grandma is apparently more persistent than God. A few days before her preorder arrived, her 360 finally went to that great gig in the sky after a single level of Lego Indiana Jones we picked up in a bargain bin at WalMart. After three red rings of death in about four years, the poor thing is out of warranty, but Grandma discovered again she's got amazing friends to help her out.

We first saw Beatles Rock Band at PAX, as part of the Omegathon. Grandma dug Guitar Hero and the sequels, but only so much. She only recognized so many of the songs and often, the songs she didn't recognized annoyed her; a frustrating hurdle to jump to possibly unlock a song or two she knew. This wasn't the case with BRB. She, like the rest of us, knew damn near all the songs. So from start to finish it was simply a joy.

She got the Day Tripper trophy the first day.

Of course, that was playing it like she plays Guitar Hero. By herself. And that's not how Rock Band was meant to be played. For us to come anywhere close to five-starring a song, we need all four of the Fab Four, so to speak. We were apprehensive at first, if only because the space in front of Grandma's television is pretty tiny in her game room. In order to fit everyone, we had to take temporarily take out her recliner and replace it with a few bar stools. Luckily, one was short enough where it wasn't completely impossible to reach the bass pedal on the drum set, but it was still a pain in the ass; it would flop up in the air if you took your foot off, so we have to come up with a way to tape it down or something. I don't know yet.

Grandma missed the clicking of the Guitar Hero guitars, but she got used to it well enough.

It was also fun to see her face light up on some of the more trippy songs like Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds; the high-def swirling visuals behind the playing field were amazing, if not a little distracting. She was so focused on getting the notes right she didn't even really notice at first.

"That's fucking... ...wow!"

But the amazement and nostalgia of the songs quickly fell to the sheer frustration of getting through them as, one by one, we ventured from Medium to Hard to Expert. Coupled with the heat of being in such a small space with so many people and the drunken buzz Maker's Mark does to a body, and this fun, happy game sounded like team-chat on a Counter-Strike server.

"Goddammit, somebody save Josh."

"Awwww shit... aww shit... this ain't gonna happen. Who the hell stuck me with the bass in this song."

"Who's going to sing?"
-"Screw that, I'm not drunk enough."
-"I KNOW!"

And yet we still play, when we have the chance. Moving the chair out of the way and setting up the instruments makes the decision to play Beatles Rock Band a heavy one. When we decide to do it, we're in for the evening.

Grandma felt her Xbox 360 was a bit lonely while we were all jamming on the PS3, and the preorder for Brutal Legend was still a couple weeks away. We had played Lego Star Wars pretty much to death, with still a couple things in it yet to do. Now that I think about it, which actually own it twice. We have a copy of the Original Trilogy, and a copy of The Complete Saga, both for the 360. Grandma felt we could use some more Lego goodness without overindulging on Star Wars. Lego Indiana Jones was $20 bucks. Good bargain.

And there it sat for awhile, unopened. Finally, when the game room was free and we had some time to kill, we booted up her 360 and got ready to kick ass with Dr. Jones.

After dicking around the first level, the loading screen froze. Okay, no biggie, we restarted the system. Then the flying "X" orb on boot-up froze.

I began to panic a little bit.

We shut it off and let it sit for awhile.

"I told you, it's been going on me."
-"Sure, but games freeze sometimes, it's no big thing."
"No, I mean.. like frequently. I'll be playing poker and it will just lock up."
-"Let's just see what happens. It's probably fine."

This time when we turned it on it made it all the way to the Dashboard before locking up.

We turned it off. Turned it on. Black screen. Three blinking red lights.

God dammit.

Grandma became despondent.

"FUCK! FUCK-FUCK-FUCK, NOOOO! Brutal Legend is going to be here in days!"
-"What do you want me to do?"
"SHIT. Well... I guess we have to get it fixed. I can't be without my 360!"
-"I know."
"It's going to go to Texas, it will be a few weeks. Brutal Legend is going to have to wait, I guess. FUCK."
-"At least you have Beatles Rock Band in the meantime."
"Yeah... ...god dammit. Maybe it's okay, try it again, maybe it's was just a hiccup or something."

The 360 went to the three red flashing lights as soon as I hit the button.


We went to the Xbox support page and followed the troubleshooting guide, thinking, hoping maybe it was just a power supply problem or something similar, but no such luck.

It was dead.

Grandma moved away from the television to the computer. "I'll email Evan. He'll know how to get the repair started. He helped me last time."

As expected, Grandma's copy of Brutal Legend arrived right on time and completely unplayable. We begrudgingly took it to GameStop and exchanged her unopened 360 copy with an unopened PS3 copy; an admission to ourselves that her 360 would be out of commission for awhile.

However, now she could kick some Brutal Legend ass.

God or Satan or whoever controls Grandma's gaming luck decided once again that it was not to be.

The next morning, the very moment she put the disc in her PS3, the power in the house shut off. Being the silly person I am, I took a walk down into town to see if it was just our house. The police station was running on a generator, the gas stations were closed, and the Post Office was dark. Nobody had power.

"Somebody really doesn't want me to play this game," said Grandma.

She's upstairs now, somewhere on that huge map, figuring out the mechanics and oddly, the strategy of the thing. She finds the game completely remarkable. And best played loud :)

We'll have lots more on Brutal Legend soon. Grandma is loving every second of it.

But right now I want to talk about Grandma's Xbox 360.

When she first got it, it was that first week of January 2006 on the empty set of TRL. Poor Jeff Castaneda lugged it across Times Square because Grandma was dying to hook it up to the television in her hotel room. (If you watch the credits of Beatles Rock Band, you'll recognize that name.) And then he lugged it back because the box was all unpacked and we wouldn't be able to take it on the plane the way it was :)

When you look inside Grandma's game cabinet, you notice right away most of her games have that recognizable white edge corner with the green logo. Her Xbox 360 games collection is only second to her PS2 collection, and just barely.

Much of that, as you recall, is thanks to Evan from Edelman/Microsoft.

After Grandma emailed him about her 360's final in warranty death, and to find out, honestly, which version of the console she should look for when she buys a new one in the coming weeks, Evan responded simply "...let me see what I can do."

He put Grandma in touch with Natalie, another Edelman/Microsoft warrior.

I came home from the store to find Grandma floating around the kitchen.

"Guess what!"
"About the 360. Guess."
-"It's working again?"
-"They'll wave the repair fee for you?"
"Kind of..."
-"....no fucking way."
-"They didn't."
"It's already been shipped."
-"Holy shit, was that Evan?"
"Evan and Natalie! I even got to talk with Evan a bit today too. I called him up."

They are sending Grandma a brand spanking new Xbox 360 system. All she has to do is swap the harddrive and it's like nothing happened at all.

It arrives tomorrow.

So Halo 3: ODST, Dead Rising 2, Left 4 Dead 2, all the stuff she wanted to play coming up.. she's got a system to play them on. How fucking cool is that? :)

None of us expected this. She was grateful just to get the one before. We were going to save up some money and buy one that would last her until the next generation of the Xbox line. Now she gets to use that money for a different purpose. GAMES.

Game on!

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