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.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Video #14 - Grandma Plays Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Grandma couldn't wait any longer so she rented a copy until she can afford one of her own. The cruel way XBox Live distributes achievement points by personal level within Guilds (Associate, Apprentice, Novice, Journeyman, etc.,..) and arena fighting ensures this will be a long-ass haul for Grandma.

We have a lot to talk about this week; Grandma's back has been killing her recently and the somewhat embarrassing cause shifted diagnosis from "its all in your head" directly to "Jesus CHRIST how did we not see that on the MRI last time?!" She finally destroyed Grandia III on the PS2, and Driver 4 for the XBox (early-build press-release debug-kit version... don't WE feel important...) is certainly a topic of conversation around here, not to mention Brain Age, upcoming Zelda and Metroid Prime releases for the DS and Kingdom Hearts II and HOLY FUCKING SHIT- GOD OF WAR 2!!! It's the end of March, and Grandma's dream vacation is only a little more than a month away. Grandma must preserve good video game juju before the trip. All this news and more can all be yours for the easy to remember one time payment of ...waiting six hours or so. The flu does not type itself away it seems.

The big post is coming, along with all the answers to last weeks questions posted in the comments section and to our e-mail inbox.

Game on!

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Week of March 20th - The Grandma Paradox

This week we're going to dive into Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day for the Nintendo DS. We're going to talk some more about it in the coming weeks as well, but you folks need a bit of a primer on this one. We made another video for you too! Grandma hasn't yet finished Grandia III, although she's put at least thirty more hours into it leveling up in anticipation of a six-boss level. We'll give you a full review of the game when she's done with it.

Nintendo offered Grandma the chance to receive an advance copy of Brain Age before it's released here in The States on the 17th of April. It didn't take much effort on Nintendo's part; Grandma has followed the success of its Japanese equivalent and was curious to see what it was about. You get to see her glamorous copy in the top picture there; when Nintendo sends games early, they don't always have packaging, you see. Hers was taped to a press release and the tape sort of ..stripped off the label. "It just means that I have a SPECIAL copy!" Grandma will tell you.

She likes it!

The game consists of a few different elements: First you have the Daily Brain Training exercises. There you'll find word memorization testing, speed reading, speed math questions, puzzles, all kinds of shit. They range from "well THIS is easy" to "dammit, I should've known that" all the way to "Jesus CHRIST!! WHAT THE FUCK?!" If you do one exercise, you get a stamp for that day and a little bit of brain training. If you do three exercises in one day, you get a BIG stamp and I assume you're on your way to becoming a super-genius. Next you have your Brain Age Check, where you complete three random puzzles as quickly and as accurately as you can, and then you get a score. That score is your brain age.

When Grandma first turned it on and flipped the DS to a book-like position, she found the menus easy enough to navigate. The graphics aren't unnecessarily elaborate; the game is pretty enough for it's function. She was greeted by the decapitated floating head of a Japanese David Byrne, who seems like an encouraging enough sort of guy. Then Grandma took her first Brain Age test.

Grandma - "Ok..."

Me - "What?"

G - "Shut up!!!"

Me - What?!"

G - "I'm supposed to ...memorize thi-just SHUT UP, you're distracting me."

Me - "..."

G - [mouthing several words and nodding her head for some reason]

Me - "...so how many-"

G - "SHHH!!!! You're fucking me up!!"

Me - "..."

G - ".......tire.......coin.....slit....."

Me - "....What's up?"

G - "You screwed me up when I was supposed to memorize the list and now all I can remember is TEN."

Me - "Ah."

G - "Yeah."

Me - "So what's your brain age, then?"

G - "62."

Me - "Alright let me try...."

G - "Hey that's no fair! You can't go in the bathroom with it, you have to let me punch you in the arm or something!"

On our first try, Bob and I also received a brain age of 62. Mom got it all the way down to 44, impressing everyone with her insane Stroop Test skills. We've kept up our daily testing, and for the most part we're improving. Except Bob. Bob appears to be the only stupid one. After a few days, Mom and I had the brilliant idea of going down in history as the first people in The United States to use Brain Age as an alternative breathalyzer test. Our plan was simple: take two shots of gin or vodka, wait a bit; then take the Brain Age test. Repeat until pleasantly drunk or unable to complete test.

It didn't work.

Drinking actually IMPROVED our scores.

Grandma was playing Grandia III at the time Mom and I stumbled in to gloat about our incredibly low brain ages. Grandma rolled her eyes and ignored us. Our St. Patrick's day was spent making history, man. HISTORY!! Leave it to us to turn the dream of a Japanese doctor to give the planet a simple, cognitive mind exercise program into a fucking drinking game.

It wasn't until we had sobered up when we realized what went wrong with our "experiment." You can only officially test and record your brain age once a day. You can test all you want, but it will only record the first test you take in a 24 hours period. There is a method to this madness. If you take the test three times in a row, chances are you may get similar words from a previous memorization test, or you may have had a moment to think about a math problem you answered incorrectly earlier and there it is again; your habituated mind ready for it.

In this little clip we find Grandma facing off with Barbie using one game, two DS units and a wireless router. The wireless game consisted of 30 math questions; the winner is the one who gets the most correct in the least amount of time. Barbie didn't even have a chance; Grandma finished this round in a little over one minute. Barbie wasn't done when I finally gave up and clicked off the camera.

One can connect up to 15 DS units with one game card, and from what we understand, this game is going to be pretty inexpensive.

Grandma tends to like the games that are marketed towards gamers. RPGs, RTSs, Strategy Tactical, Platform, Action-shooter, etc.,... She also likes the card and puzzle games on occasion, but she didn't earn the title "Old Grandma Hardcore" playing World Championship Poker. Brain Age is a fun game, no doubt. Packaging Sodoku in with the daily brain training exercises was a smart move for Nintendo; Sodoku is an already immensely popular and addictive numbers game, so the game is worth buying for that alone. The brain training exercises don't seem like a half-assed attempt to market a Sodoku DS game, however. There is a very clear purpose for this game.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, the purpose of Brain Age resembles homework, and what the hell kid is going to want to buy and play THAT? They already solved the attention-span issue by making the daily training short and sweet. The graphs may show improvement over time, but let's face it- Brain Training is more about brain maintenance than it is about brain improvement. These aren't shallow attempts at a placebo effect for folks, either- some of the exercises, such as The Stroop Test, have been around psychology textbooks for awhile. They even WORK if you give a solid effort.

So what is Nintendo's solution? Personally, I think they should shift the focus of marketing away from gamers entirely. Gamers are a smart bunch for the most part, but wars have been fought within the community over the classification of what a video game IS, let alone it's function. Let's be honest: Brain Age, when used properly, accomplishes many of the "side-effects" that many games out there already generate; faster reaction times, better memory retrieval skills, improved cognitive mapping abilities, etc.,.. When one plays Geometry Wars, for instance, one has to learn how to anticipate patterns, how to look past the bright glare of explosions and still maintain hand-eye coordination enough to simultaneously escape and assault. Activating and maintaining new or rarely used neural connections necessary to play a game obviously carries benefits other than a million plus score. It's healthy for the brain.

So what is Brain Age? If video games can provide the same brain training function without explicitly informing you they are, what good is Brain Age?

This is The Grandma Paradox.

Grandma loves Brain Age. She's USED other video games for similar purposes but she also plays merely to play; to become engaged in a good story, to experience a beautiful and impossible environment, to role play, to destroy, to create, to compete, to have FUN. Brain Age and games like it will be ESSENTIAL in pulling people who otherwise do not game into this wonderful experience with the rest of us. Brain Age gives us the raw, bare-bones benefits of gaming and presents it in an mature and clear way that won't frighten off those who have become conditioned to equate video games with children and Tron.

Don't underestimate this little game. If Nintendo of America plays their cards right, this could be a catalyst for the genesis of a new classification of gamers.

Grandma and I both happily endorse Brain Age, and we're not even getting fucking PAID. The short press release included with the game didn't convey enough how important this could potentially be outside of the Japanese market, which makes me wonder if they really know what they have. If we want to get more folks of Grandma's maturity playing video games and into the gaming community, it will be games like Brain Age that will help us do it.

Game on.

[Ask Grandma Hardcore is still on this week; post your question as a comment or e-mail us and we WILL answer you as soon as we can. (Our international readers didn't get a chance with the scheduled threads.) We have some more videos coming for you, lots of news, and as soon as we fill our jar of pennies, Grandma's going after Oblivion.]

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Video #12: Grandma Plays Grandia III

Some folks e-mailed to say the video wasn't working over at PutFile, so we're trying something different for yas! Let me know if you like this better.

Opening bumper - The Chemical Brothers, "The Sunshine Underground"
The obvious - Grandia III (Playstation 2) by Square Enix.
Closer - Stretch and Vern, "Get Up! Go Insane! (Fatboy Mix)"

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Week of March 13th: SIE HABEN MUNDGERUCH!!

This week we're going to give you the run down on Grandma's progress in Grandia III (PS2), Marble Blast Ultra (XBox 360), and Crystal Quest (XBox 360); as well as give you a little peak at what FHM Germany thinks about "old people." We also made another video for you, which should become a weekly feature; seeing as this schedule is much easier for us to duplicate.

Let's get something out of the way so this post doesn't end on a downer. FHM Germany ran an article featuring Grandma in their April issue. It's more or less a large picture with some snarky copy underneath. Grandma and I both have spoken with many nice people from Deutschland; we have nothing against Germany. Our regular readers will remember that Der Spiegel ran a fantastic article about mature gaming recently. Now comes, FHM Germany, opening their article (titled by the way "Sterben will gelernt sein") with the sentence: "Sie haben Mundgeruch und Erektionsprobleme."

It doesn't take three years of careful language study or a Babelfish attempt to understand what that means. The article goes on to describe a function of gaming that Grandma and I somehow missed; to win a war one had lost in the past.

Look, there are layers of cultural baggage and resentment for the previous generations in Germany that I can perceive but never truly understand without being German, myself; just as there are similar sentiments for the racist lynch-mob voters in our own history here in The States. I'm not going to compare the two. I'm not going to stew a culture war claiming national superiority or even give the expected cheers of patriotism right now.

Do you know why?

Because it's fucking FHM Magazine, THAT'S why!

It would be one thing if a carefully written grand thesis on the nature of mature gaming compared to the younger generations prepared out of respect for the readers was printed in a nationally syndicated publication of high regard. But this is FHM, a magazine that only serves one purpose no matter what language it's printed:


Nobody reads the ARTICLES!! Are we expecting a lot of traffic from this article? Probably not. Thousands of copies will be found in the German speaking countries of the world with the pages stuck together with German speaker spooge. All men are wankers and those who say they are not have a copy of FHM Germany hidden under their pillows. And more power to them! Whack off as much as you like, it's a natural sort of thing. (Although, for future reference, just go to www.foobies.com for your pornography. I'm not even kidding. Why pay FHM any money when you can get this shit for FREE?!)

If any of Grandma's fans want to send us a copy, e-mail me for the address. At the very least I can give it my little brother so he can discover the joys of naked foreigners. (The kid has to learn somehow.)

Now what the hell was I talking about... Damn.

Ah, yes! Grandia III, a Square-Enix game for the Playstion 2 freshly translated for Anglophone consumption! We're going to provide you a full review next week after Grandma completes the game and gives me her notes. Until then, watch our new video to get the general idea.

Grandma is digging Grandia III. It reminds her of Final Fantasy so much it's SICK. She hasn't been able to find a subtitle option, so you'll notice her big ol' honking headphones connected to the Surround Sound amplifier so she can make out the plot. She's used them since the middle of the first disc, so I'm not quite sure what's going on in the game anymore. All I hear is her reactions. I do know that she thinks the voice acting is well done, she simply wishes they would have something better to SAY.

The gameplay is starting to force her into accepting a MMORG style; although the turn base attack meter looks like something from Zenogears. What Grandma thought were beginning only tutorial messages turned out to be a full game option that she quickly flicked off.

"It makes it too damn easy if it tells you exactly what attacks to use. What's the POINT?! At least in Final Fantasy when you used 'scan' you had to WORK for it!"

Grandia III isn't just a set up for Final Fantasy XII, however; it simply has all the right ingredients. It's what occupies most of her day anymore.

It wasn't that long ago that Grandma purchased Marble Blast Ultra for the XBox 360 via the XBox Live Arcade and declared it "fucking impossible." She's gotten a lot better, mostly from practicing in solo mode. She's finished all of the beginner and intermediate levels, and she's damn close to completing all of the hard class levels as well. One needs the patience of a social worker in a polygamy compound in order to play Marble Blast Ultra. This game punishes you every time you fall off a cliff with an annoying noise and a 3 second delay from the rest of your life, leaving you permanently off-step. We think it's Bill Gates way of conditioning children to appreciate the lessons of physics.

The game becomes multidimensional when the gravity shifts directions; and, of course, it contains that wonderful video-game cliche: ICE.

After awhile, you begin to pay attention to other things to take your mind off of the possibility of taking apart your XBox 360 very carefully with a screwdriver and then burning each individual piece in a vat of acid to seek revenge for the pain caused by Marble Blast Ultra; the graphics for instance. The graphics are crisp and beautiful, and the backgrounds look like something from an early lantern-picture. If you look closely at Grandma's marble, you can even see Cleveland! It's the polluted red blotch right next to the polluted green blotch.

Multiplayer mode has one, huge flaw. If it's intentional, it's pretty fucking stupid. No matter how well or how poor you're doing in a match; bouncing other players off the grid collecting the precious colored gems or trying to catch up by snagging a super-jump powerup from some other rat-bastard even though everyone else is already at a gem site... the game will freeze for a couple seconds and you find yourself hurdling in some other direction, usually right off a cliff. It will PISS YOU OFF TO NO END.

It is for that reason that you will rarely see Grandma in a multiplayer match in Marble Blast Ultra.

Crystal Quest, also for the XBox 360, is an entirely different beast. Crystal Quest serves a couple of functions for Microsoft. First, it's a giant "Fuck You" to Apple. Many of you old timers will remember the Apple][e as that funny looking machine that ran Oregon Trail and ate floppy discs for breakfast. Some of us, though, remember it for Crystal Quest. Second, it once again proves the XBox 360's "next-gen" status by contrasting a new, vastly improved game to it's ancient counterpart. Sure, it's the easy way out, but it works.

It is impossible not to compare Crystal Quest to Geometry Wars. Both games have similar controls, progression of enemies, and opportunities for achievements. Grandma and I love Geometry Wars, but it is because of the differences that we can appreciate Crystal Quest.

One difference is that, unlike Geometry Wars Evolved, you can see the whole field of play at once. If there are any surprises, it is not because an enemy appeared in a cropped corner, it is because we weren't watching carefully. Unlike GWE, bombs in Crystal Quest that destroy enemies will still get you points, allowing for a strategy of a different sort. While GWE is a never ending onslaught of enemies, Crystal Quest levels end upon the successful collection of all gems on the screen and maneuvering into an exit portal. The portal becomes more narrow and will even move in later levels.

It really is a fun game, but before you plop down your 400 Microsoft Points for a copy of your own, there are some things you should know so you don't waste your life trying to get onto the leaderboards as the game is given to you. There are some parameters you're going to have to change.

First, go into help/options; then game options. Now slide the control bar all the way to "fast." It's not so fast it's uncontrollable, but being able to zip around the screen quickly enough to complete the "Wave 1 under 5 seconds) achievement is near impossible on the standard setting, and it will let you escape easier. Second, slide your difficulty or skill level bar all the way to "HARD."

Otherwise, there is really no point in even trying.

In hard mode, common gems are worth 10,000 each. Large gems can be worth over 1,000,000. In standard (5) mode, it will take you a little while to reach that sort of score. In hard mode, enemies are worth more also, but there will be more of them and they will be more accurate and more frequent with their shots. You will also see more mines around the screen. In hard mode, if you touch anything, you're dead. In standard you can bounce a little.


If you buy the game and struggle your way all the way to the 60th wave and check the leaderboards, you will be incredibly angry to find that someone who only reached the 15th wave has almost triple your score.

The achievements in Crystal Quest are not impossible feats. Here's what ya' do: To get the "Score 10 Million achievement" without stabbing yourself in the eye with the nearest sharp object, simply begin a new game in hard mode; now in every wave from 2 to about 10, shoot every enemy on screen until they stop coming, now grab a single gem. You could get all of them in a few seconds if you wanted to, but don't do that. Just take one. Now repeat the process. Kill every enemy until they stop, then grab a single gem. This will increase your chances of having the larger gems appear. You're also racking up some points you wouldn't otherwise get by plowing through the level. Also: the time bonuses are basically worthless. Don't rush yourself into a mine, it's not going to help you at all.

If you want to play dirty with the "Marathon Achievement" because you suck for some reason, turn the skill level down all the way to "1" and play for a half hour or so until you get to Wave 60. It's one of the few achievements that are not dependant on skill level. Collecting 30 bombs or 30 lives is best done on skill level "5," as is the "Navigator" achievement. It's a piece of cake and it looks really nifty on your gamercard.

And who doesn't want a nifty gamercard?!


[We're holding Ask Grandma Hardcore on Thursday this week so everyone gets a chance this time; also- we're going to sit down later today and answer the late questions you left us in the previous thread. Nobody get's fucking left out, man! NOBODY!!]

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Monday, March 06, 2006

The Return of Ask Grandma Hardcore

So, you want an open thread to post Grandma questions, eh?
Very well!

Let's see how long we can stay awake.

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Week of March 6th: Do Video Games Dream of 3D-Rendered Pixelated Sheep?

This week we're going to tell you all about Grandma's adventures in World Championship Poker 2 (XBox), World Championship Poker (DS), King Kong (XBox 360), and Taiko Drum Master (PS2).

We were also going to talk a little bit about the terrifying concept of existentialist video game characters in a Pirandellian tragedy describing the cruel and bitter relationship between innocent virtual beings and their creators, but.... I forgot what I was going to say. So I'll guess we'll have to wait on that one.

Grandma used to carry around a cheap LCD video poker game so that she could get her gambling fix in situations in which making a stop at the track and betting the car payment on "Red Red Rose" wouldn't be appropriate. She had a general casino game for the SNES, "Super Caesar's Palace," but the ability to play online against other people online on a console only came recently. For Grandma, it came with World Championship Poker for the XBox. WCP isn't graphically impressive, but it gets the job done in a raw sort of way. She's put enough hours into the thing to qualify for some sort of intervention, so, naturally, she thought the best thing to do would be to move on to the sequel.

She put it off for a while, racking up over $2 billion in her file. The day finally came that would provide the necessary catalyst for CHANGE.

She fucked up.

In her defense, you play a game for hours and hours and hours, and hitting "Do You Want To Save?" [...Yes...] "Are You Sure You Want To Overwrite?" [...Yes...] becomes as natural as slapping the children where bruises won't show. Right thumb to A, press A, left thumb press to down, press A. It's physical memory conditioning, and it's a BITCH when it fucks with your save.

$2.2 billion is a lot of money to lose at the tables in one sitting, but Grandma was unfazed. See, WCP has a neat little feature where, if you don't save your winnings or losses after an online session, you revert to the previous save. So Grandma, as she had done hundreds of times before, would just exit the XBox Live menu and- ...what's this? Do I want to save? Oh, alrighty I almost forgot... NO- NO! WAIT!!! FUCK!!!!! And it was all gone.

She was left with $25.00 bucks.

We went to the store that afternoon.

We had kept an eye out for it previously, but hadn't really seen it. We knew Best Buy didn't have it, and EB games were "fresh out of copies." We trekked into Aurora and checked GameStop, but they didn't have it either. "Try WalMart" said the dude, but the thought seemed sacrilegious. We passed CircuitCity on Grandma and I laughed, knowing we'd never step foot in that horrible place again; a good plan, considering we noticed CircuitCity corporate on our IP log for the blog after our last adventure there, quickly followed by the local store, all looking at the post with their name in the title next to the words "My French Canadian ASS." We decided that WALMART would be better than The Red Beast. We should have known; WalMart never has much, and sure enough they didn't carry the damn thing either.

What moments ago was unthinkable now became a possibility.

We went to McDonald's to consider the consequences over some burgers.

"Tim, honestly, what could they possibly do to us?"

"You don't understand these people. They have ROOMS in the back where they could put us."


"Fuck yeah, rooms! You know those televisions that no one buys because they're not quite small enough and not quite big enough to be of any function?"

"Yeah, the 19" ones that only have one AV input."

"Exactly. Well they don't want to take up a lot of shop space with those fuckers, so they put them in a room, see. Only this room has a little space where they could gag us and lock us in. No one goes into that room. They wouldn't find the bodies for YEARS."

"I don't buy that."

"Ever see Pulp Fiction?"

"So Circuit City manager guy is like... Zed?"

"No, Zed came LATER."

"I'm confused, who is Zed?"

"Zed's the dude with the motorcycle."

"It wasn't a motorcycle, it was a chopper."

"...Yeah. I think Zed would be some henchman from 20th Century Fox."

"We didn't say anything bad about 'Grandma's Boy!'"

"We didn't say anything GOOD either. They'll probably rape me first."

"...So what are we doing? Are we going in?"

"I don't know. What have we decided?"

"Well, YOU say that if we go to Circuit City, they'll kick the shit out of us, ball-gag us, stash us away in the shitty-TV room, call 20th Century Fox, who would send a guy to ass-rape us before leaving us to die. Right?"

"Yeah. They'll probably play "Blueberry Hill" by Louis Armstrong in the background while they're doing it, just to make it more frightening."

"Okay. I think, at the very most, they'll just be rude to us and rub the game on their crotch before handing it to us."

"It'll be the crotch is we're LUCKY."

"Hmmm.... Alright let's do it."

And that was that. We were going in. I was nervous, I'll admit. I thought perhaps the turnover rate is so high everyone we encountered during our last visit might have moved on to their great reward somewhere else, replaced by NEW minions of Satan put forth to torment us. Or maybe it would be so busy they would just look down at their shoes the whole time, letting us pass undetected. I WISHED it would be true. I wanted to see a full parking lot and a store with new, red-shirted demons.

But it was not to be.


We almost sprinted to the Games Section, grabbed the game; then like a pair of green criminals on their first heist we bobbed and weaved through the aisles, making our way to the rendezvous at the front counter. The whole spectacle was no doubt looked upon curiously by the bored, shelf-shifting staff; pausing for a moment from making themselves appear busy to gaze upon a real life enactment of a failed mission in Metal Gear Solid starring a lanky kid and an old woman.

We made it to the checkout. We paid. We left.

It was over! We were relieved, and we got the game! SUCCESS!!!

Now, if only it didn't suck balls.

Grandma HATES World Championship Poker 2. She LOATHES this game. She cannot even recommend it on a "Hey! This game is so bad it's FUNNY!" sort of way. It's just god-awful and terrible in almost every way. Grandma likes the Crave Entertainment folks, because they made the first one. They can make a mistake, it's okay.


She hates the graphics, she hates the gameplay, she hates the single player, she hates the multiplayer, she hates the bluff-tell system, she hates it, for the love of CHRIST on a FUCKING CROSS, GOD DAMN.

First off, who is THIS asshole? What is he LOOKING at? I know the "Poker Face" is supposed to be this masterful skill that everyone must learn if they are to be a great gambler; I know because I've read every play by David Mamet in circulation. But let's face it, if "bluffing" has any significance in your career, chances are, you're an asshole. I tried reading his Wiki article, which led me to his website, which led me to Amazon, which confirmed that, indeed he's an asshole. Grandma said she knew "of" him but I think she was thinking of this guy:

We don't hate the man because of his picture, we hate him because of his endorsement of this piece of shit game. It isn't Crave's fault the game sucks. It's HOWARD LEDERER's fault the game sucks. It is because of endorsement that we are able to shift blame away from hard working game developers and place them on rich, professional poker playing daddy's boys.

I'm willing to bet this motherfucker gobbled up too much money to get his boring ass picture planted on the front of this thing. If they could have hired "man in shirt looking bored" instead, they probably could have afforded to keep the whole character design feature from the first game.

But that didn't happen.

You really only have two options. Male and Female. Every other choice after that is too subtle to really care about. In the first iteration, you could make a person look downright spooky if you want, or match them up to a decent representation of yourself, using what appears to be the same engine they use to predict the outcome of an unsuccessful plastic surgery operation. Now, you get a HAT. Also, the voices are beyond annoying. The slings and retorts of a poker game are, understandably, not something easily recreated; but really- do we WANT them to? If you watch poker tournaments on television, the only time you want these assholes to open their mouths is if they're tolerable celebrities. The voices on World Championship Poker 2 will make you want to stab your eardrums with razor sharp Q-tips. Congratulations on your purchase.

See, now your money MEANS something in the game. You can buy an apartment, and furniture, and various toys. What used to be a cool thing after a days work.. "Hey, yeah; after dinner I'm going to play poker on the XBox a bit and then hit the sack" has become "Hey, yeah; I can't eat tonight- I'm playing poker on the XBox and I can ALMOST afford the virtual representation of a leopard skin couch." Why?! Why does there need to be a PLOT to a poker game?!

For love of all that is good in the world, do not buy this game.

Grandma's final word on WCP2: "IT SUUUUCKS!!!!"

The DS version of World Championship Poker, however, isn't bad at all.

Grandma really liked the choice of games in this one, and playing over Nintendo's WiFi network is easy. Grandma wanted to return to that portable gambling habit for when she's flying or waiting around, and this gives her that nostalgia while also providing her a lot of features from the original XBox version. Now that her game consoles are all out of the bedroom, she'll play this or Final Fantasy IV before finally drifting off around 4am.

The only thing she doesn't like is the name. "World Championship Poker: DELUXE SERIES! Oh hardy-har-fucking-har. What marketing department GENIUS came up with that one? 'Oooo! It's like DS, but different, it totally PLAYS off the PUN! I'M SO CLEVER!!!!' ....Jackass."

As it turns out now, if she wants to play poker, she fires up the original XBox and plays the first World Championship Poker. If she's away from her system, she'll put WCP:DS to use. Two hits and one miss isn't too bad. From what she's been told, however, it's a good thing we didn't get "World Series of Poker," but we don't know anything about it. Grandma's still waiting for the perfect gambling simulator.

Most of all she wants to see someone like GarageGames or PopCap to make a simple, crisp poker game for XBox Live Arcade on the 360. It is, in her dreams, the perfect idea.

Grandma has destroyed King Kong for the XBox 360. At 1000 achievement point type thingies... it looks pretty intimidating on her GamerCard. Grandma and I have NOT seen the movie yet; and we're wondering if we really should. They've already tried manipulating our games=movies=SUCK gene with the title: "Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of The Movie." So if Jackson worked on the game, then it MUST be good, right? Which came first, the movie or the game? If this is the official game, is their an UNofficial game?

So many questions.

First a confession. I hated The Lord of The Rings. God dammit: the books were just BETTER than the movies. I have a bit of a grudge with Peter Jackson for ruining the fantasy world of my childhood. I wondered, then, if this game might do the same to Grandma for King Kong; thus uniting us together in a quest for revenge against the dreaded Kiwi.

Grandma was too occupied to become jaded. The first thing Grandma noticed is this game is so easy it's OBSCENE. You want to shoot that giant crab all the way over there with a handgun, eh? Cool! Just aim over that way a little. You'll hit it. You want to climb that cliff and leap to a branch to crush the flying dinosaurs? Okay! This game is very much not Perfect Dark Zero and it's very much not Prince of Persia. Accuracy is subjective to your ability to achieve your goal of killing things or running away. All you have to do is master two things: First, find levers. Second, turn levers.

Oh yeah. And FIRE. You are going to set everything on fire.

Skull Island has no rules about campfires within 100 feet of the water. In fact, you will find conveniently placed flaming alters all over the god damn place in which to stick pieces of bone or the tip of a spear. If you notice any brush around, chances are you're going to have to set that on fire. Even though the island appears to be humid and full of lush rainforest, you will need to blaze a path of destruction to escape the monsters, and really- who can argue with that? We better notify Jack Thompson on this one. A couple of kids are going to get cornered by a big dog one day, and set the house behind them on fire because it was their only means of escape. Oh, it'll happen!! SURELY!!

Because Grandma was using the 360 on the Component hookup on the back of her TV, she DID encounter a lot of the "darkness" issues that other folks mentioned, but it wasn't too terrible. It was part of the atmosphere of the game. If one is in a cave and all you have is a torch, guess what: it's gonna be dark. It worked the same way that Geometry Wars is sometimes too bright with everything exploding on screen. It seemed purposeful; another obstacle to overcome.

The voice acting was excellent, which is one of those "Well, YEAH" statements. When Adrian Brody says "Two magazines on Backup!", it doesn't matter how many times you hear it, it'll be okay. Jack Black makes everything better. Just look at what he did for "BioDome."

Really, the only way to play King Kong is on the XBox 360 with the sound cranked up and vibration turned on. Grandma thought it was pretty fun! Her only complaints were that it was too short, and "why does Kong HAVE TO DIE?! ISN'T THERE ANOTHER WAY?!"

It is no secret that Grandma has been on the hunt for Taiko Drum Master for the Playstation 2. Well, my friends, we FOUND it.

We scoured all of Akron for the fucking thing. We went to three Targets, two Best Buys, an EB Games, and a GameStop. All of which had the same mysterious story: "Man, like... two weeks ago this dude comes in and buys every last one we got. It's an old game, I doubt we'll get anymore. Sorry." We had enough descriptive information to investigate whether or not the mysterious stranger was hocking them on eBay, but screw that; we didn't want to mess with shipping.

Finally, in a freak accident while shopping for an electric blanket, Grandma found one, shrinkwrapped and beautiful, at of all places, K-Mart in Streetsboro, less than five miles from the house.

This game is awesome! You guys were right, though, the song list is too short and it's far less dynamic than Guitar Hero, but it certainly is fun. We tried a few different ways of setting it up, first in Grandma's lap (impossible), then using a fold out breakfast tray. The tray worked well when the drum controller was surrounded by heavy books, but it would tilt a bit, requiring frequent readjustment. The best way seems to be on a carpeted floor, out in front of you a bit, like thus:

Curiously enough, Taiko Drum Master contains the song Killer Queen, as does Guitar Hero. Of all the Queen songs, they had to use THAT one. Methinks someone was trying to show someone else how things could be done. The drum is easy enough to play, two hit-sensitive pads covering the drum face, and two sliver pads running along the edge of the "drum-head." Drum rolls are a little difficult; the drum is hard, padded plastic- sort of like a practice pad. So don't go breaking out your tattered Zildjian t-shirt just yet. The edge notes are particularly difficult to get the hang of; you just have to keep your hand in position and know exactly where you plan on hitting the thing should the notes turn blue.

One thing you percussion people won't like is, too often you'll play the rhythm of the melody, rather than any true percussive track of the song. Luckily, that means it's a bit easier for the rest of us.

The other thing... this game is extremely HAPPY. Every character is emoting such an extreme level of joy, you just might kill yourself thinking you're depressed in contrast to their contentment. When you select a menu item, this game will be ever so pleased you did. "Select, GAME MOOOODE!!! .....TAIKO MODE SELECTED!!!!!!" You'll want to play the game loud, of course, but your neighbors WILL ask you if the squad leader of the varsity cheerleading team was practicing in your living room. It's really quite peppy.

See these dancing noodle looking guys right here? They are not "drum sticks," they are "Master Bachio" and they have a BACK STORY in the instruction manual. Check it out: "Master Bachio is a mysterious character who is two, yet one. He teaches how to strike the Taiko, and prides himself on his grace and agility. He is actually quite big in the world of water treading."

And this: "TAMASHI- These are the very souls of Taiko. Upon entering two flawlessly designed Taiko drums, the Tamashi gave life to Don and Katsu. Without the Tamashi, Don and Katsu would be mere drums. Various types of Tamashi exist. When Done and Katsu make a mistake in Taiko Mode, they exhale 'Dispirited' Tamashis."

Just remember that when you play this. If you screw up, you are stealing the very SOULS of the Taiko. How's THAT for motivation?

Grandma is having a lot of fun with Taiko Drum Master, even though she attests: "I've got no fucking RHYTHM!!" She really enjoys watching us play it as well, noticing things one can't really see while playing.

"Ooo!! Look at the dancing tambourines!! What the hell are they WEARING?!"

"This MiniGame is WEIRD. You have to beat the drum as fast as you can so the other drum can eat a fucking WATERMELON and then spit out the seeds, but that kid keeps hitting you in the back of the head, fucking you up. It's better than the Helicopter MiniGame, because I can't do SHIT in that thing. The Tigers keep falling!!!"

"Bobby, you suck at this."

[trying desperately to drumroll] "STOP WATCHING ME!!! I can't do it with you laughing!!"

If you need another reason to buy it, just think of this: You get to play "Katamari on the Rocks," the theme from Katamari Damacy.

Besides, if you don't, the Taiko drums will have no soul, and thus be damned forever in a state without feeling or meaning; sitting motionless in a puddle of sorrow, waiting for the worms to devour their flesh.

Game on!!

[We will hold an Ask Grandma Hardcore for everybody tonight at 10pm EST, so come join us! It's a feature you've all asked for, so we're given to yas. Coming up next week will be a feature on Grandia III, Grandma's current addiction, as well as highlights from her XBox Live Arcade Experiences and ...HOPEFULLY... a video and a podcast. If I can figure out the new configuration ;) We also have some more media coming up, and lots of news to share. Check back with us everybody!]

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

What We're Up To...

Yo. As a lot of you folks know, I'm a photographer for our local paper out yonder in crazyland. It's a great job! Like any job, it's teaching me a lot, but I will say it's kicking my ass when it comes to scheduling the blog and getting things done for you.

So Grandma and I discussed things and OGHC is moving to a weekly schedule rather than daily. It takes a lot of pressure off us both and keeps the blog going strong, just as we like it: without advertisement.

This requires a bit more explanation.

We recently had the opportunity to expand the blog to a site that offered us unlimited space for videos and podcasts. The only stipulation was that ads would be placed on the site, the revenue from which would be split between us and the partners. Grandma became weary of the offer, however, for several reasons.

First, they sent us ideas for content. "Could we get Grandma to do..." and the like. Grandma is very much not a circus monkey. We haven't discussed content format and development with anybody. Not even MTV. The blog is Grandma's piece of freedom on the web, in which she can say and do whatever she pleases. Compromising that is a switch we're just not prepared to make.

Second, the ads. We've never had ads. We can support ourselves pretty well, and Blogspot provides a great, free way of publishing just about whatever. Ads are pretty annoying if not done well, and if they are tasteful and nonintrusive- they create an issue with property. If a company invests in Grandma and me, and they split ad revenue, and if they are wise, you can be damn sure they will protect their investment. If we say something that hurts ad sales or we're not funny or interesting enough, they will be required to do something to change that. This brings us back to the first point.

Third, we've anticipated a schedule shift ever since I took on another job, not to mention the fact that I'm trying to get back into school, if the opportunity presents itself. Maintaining a web "business" based on my Grandma really isn't fair to her. We do this shit for fun, man. Not money. The second she stops playing games because she likes to game and begins playing something only so we have something to write is the moment it stops being fun for Grandma.

We have a lot to tell you guys. The comments by Collin and Dana in the Guitar Hero post have pretty much been the talk of our house in the past week. Karaoke Revolution, Taiko Drum Master, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance simultaneously?! Are you KIDDING?! FUCK YEAH! ...Wait, did you say Taiko Drum Master? ...Is that the game from Lost in Translation with the dancing noodle things in the arcade? Well after your endorsement, Grandma went on a quest to FIND it. She also downloaded the full version of Crystal Quest on XBox Live Arcade, and we finally have a million-plus score in Geometry Wars that is driving her grandson insane. She bought World Championship Poker 2, and she thinks it very well may be the worst game she's ever played ever (in the past year.) Brain Age is coming up for Nintendo DS (wooo!!!) and they sent us a couple copies of Electroplankton, which is curiously addicting.

The bottom line is we're going to have a weekly post, which will be huge. We will have podcasts (we need your input on subjects for our first) and we will have new videos. We love you guys, we're going to do this right.

Game on.

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