Happy holidays

I don’t know how to swing a golf club. The last contact I had with a golf club, I was killing zombies with it.

However, my father loves the game. He fell in love with golf more than a decade ago, and he hasn’t stopped since. Of course, if you put in time in an emergency room like he does, I imagine golf would be the perfect way to take your mind off the days and nights where you see everything from migraines to splattered blood. It’s not pretty, and it didn’t make for the standard shoot-the-breeze conversations other people might have with their dads.

It also meant he had to miss a big chunk of me and my brother growing up … didn’t get to see tennis matches, didn’t get to shoot too many baskets with us (though he was a BALLER in his day), didn’t get to toss a football around.

And there certainly wasn’t time for us to golf … in my case, I was either too “cool” or too busy playing other sports to learn a game that involved a lot of walking and waiting. It just wasn’t me. I just figured my games and his golf would never intersect.

That changed this holiday. I got a Wii loaner unit to play with, and my loan time coincided with the time my family was visiting for Christmas. I figured we’d make some Miis and be done with it.

But before I knew it, me and my brother were golfing with Dad. It was surreal. We didn’t just golf, either. We bowled (and Dad pwned us, by the way) as well as played tennis. You hear stories of Wii “conversions” all the time with casual gamers or non-gamers … but it’s quite different when you’re witnessing it happen to your own father. For my entire gaming life, from Vectrex to 360, games were greeted by a mere shake of the head and smile. Sometimes, we’d get a dismissive hand wave. i figured he’d do the same thing to Wii Sports. Now, he’s probably put in more time in the game than me and my brother combined.

It was during golf where I learned a little bit more about my father the competitor. He likes to talk. He’ll give you props on a good shot, but he’ll grill you if you choke. He has that “Dad mojo” where things just feel a little harder to do because HE’S watching — and I think he knows it. Plus, he’d mutter stuff like, “Oh … don’t blow it here. This is for birdie,” or “Hey, that’s a GOOD shot. See, he’s catching up to you!” Turns out my Dad is a master of applying pressure.

And he hates stinking at something. Me and my brother ended up being the superior Wii golfers … only to return from a movie (“Rocky Balboa”) to find him still working on his Wii golf game and sweating it out on Wii Tennis I could only think of Jim Ross of the WWE at that moment: “Good god, he’s not supposed to be here!” I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, considering that one of my Dad’s all-time favorite players was Larry Bird.

I’m not going to cheese out and say that the Wii helped me and my Dad become all warm and fuzzy. What it did was show me (and others) the absolute brightest aspect of video gaming’s power — the ability to break barriers and open doors. For a handful of blessed hours during the holidays, my golfing dad was a gamer, and his gamer sons were pseudo-golfers. It wasn’t two worlds colliding … they were more like embracing.

By the time my family left, there was talk about my Dad wanting a Wii of his own, or at least welcoming it into their house.

As for me, I want to learn how to swing a golf club. The zombies can relax … I’ve found a better use for it.

See you after New Year’s.

Islamic group wants ‘Left Behind’ left behind

Via this post from Gamasutra, people from the Council on American-Islamic Relations have asked Wal-Mart to stop selling the game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” claiming that the game could injure interfaith relations while promoting violence in the name of religion.

Here’s a sample from the letter written to Wal-Mart from CAIR executive director Nihad Awad:

“We believe the message this game is promoting is one of religious intolerance. The game’s enemy team includes people with Muslim-sounding names. When asked about the Arab and Muslim-sounding names, Left Behind Games’ President Jeffrey Frichner said, ‘Muslims are not believers in Jesus Christ – and therefore cannot be on the side of Jesus in the game’. (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/12/06) As you may know, Muslims do in fact revere Jesus as one of God’s prophets.

“In the post 9-11 climate, when improving interfaith relations should be a priority for all, this type of product only serves to dehumanize others and increase interfaith hostility and mistrust.?, added Awad. Each year, CAIR issues an annual report on the status of American Muslim civil rights, outlining hundreds of incidents involving anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment and hate crimes. It is our experience that many of these incidents result from Islamophobic rhetoric and negative images of Muslims in popular culture…?

“We have no desire to stifle creativity or inhibit freedom of speech. However, it is our duty as America’s leading Islamic civil rights group to promote mutual understanding and ensure the safety of Americans of all faiths,? continued Awad. “We also believe that as a company that prides itself in hiring and offering services to a diverse group of people, it is Wal-Mart’s corporate social responsibility to take into account the potential social impact of its decision to sell this harmful game. We, therefore, respectfully request the removal of the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces from your shelves.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in regards to this game (if anything), but we’ve witnessed the delicate balance of religion and entertainment for years — and it was only a matter of time before religion made its way into the current gaming culture. Especially where the Muslim world is concerned. We saw the complaints about the movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” we see it with the “Left Behind” games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it when “Assassin’s Creed” hits the stores. This could all lead to intriguing — and possibly heated — discussions in the next few years.

EA simulates Xmas Day NBA game

NBA fans have probably circled the Heat-Lakers game on their calendars, and Electronic Arts simulated what would happen using “NBA Live ’07.” According to the sim, the Lakers came away with a 98-89 victory, with Kobe leading the way with 47 points (with five treys), six dimes and eight boards.

The EA release told us of in-game drama, as well. Apparently, Kobe bleeds ice water in the virtual world as well:

“The Lakers trailed by three at the half, 43-40, but scored 31 points in the decisive third quarter to take a 71-65 lead into the final period. Miami clawed its way to within three points with 3:11 left in the game but Bryant stopped any hope of a Heat comeback by hitting the first of his two back-to-back three-pointers in the final minutes. Bryant nailed his final three-pointer with 1:53 to seal the win.”

D-Wade had 28 points with nine assists, and ‘Toine had 17. The man formerly known as The Diesel had only nine points but also had 14 rebounds in the loss.

‘Virtua Fighter 5′ announced for 360

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Another PS3 exclusive is no more. “Virtua Fighter 5″ is coming to the 360. The game is targeted for a summer release, while the PS3 version is still slated for a Feb. 20 release, at least according to the Web site. We’re going to get two new characters, the ability to customize them, as well as some new techniques.

Press release stuff is after the jump.
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Nintendo getting sued over broken straps

Oh, give me a BREAK. The exploits of gamers accidentally chucking their Wii Remotes into TVs, glassware and each other has been a sore spot since the system came out. Now, they’re being sued.

Several gaming news sources have reported that a class action lawsuit has already been filed by a Wii owner in Austin, Texas. While Nintendo acknowledged the strap issues and instituted a voluntary replacement program, that’s not stopping the suit. Check out this graph from the GameSpot story:

On December 6, a Wii purchaser in Austin, Texas filed a class-action suit against Nintendo, alleging the publisher of violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act (Nintendo is based in the state of Washington, where the suit was filed) by engaging in “unfair or deceptive practices” by telling consumers that the wrist strap was to prevent the controller from flying out of a user’s hand during use, and then providing a strap that was “ineffective for its intended use.” The suit also claims that the Wii Remote strap’s problems constitute a breach of warranty, and defines the class of people who may join the suit as including anybody who has purchased a Wii.

Whatever. This is ridiculous. If you start jerking around and playing Wii games like a baboon being electrocuted, stuff is going to fly out of your hands. There’s having animated, energetic fun, and then there’s being a spastic goof. Think, people.

Yup, Doug Lowenstein is leaving

My question is, who steps up now? Lowenstein unofficially served as the voice of the gaming industry whenever titles it came under critical or legislative attack from lawmakers or Jack Thompson. It’ll be very interesting to see who the ESA finds to fill that spot.

Here’s the press release from the ESA confirming Lowenstein’s departure:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 19, 2006) — The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced today that its founding president, Douglas Lowenstein, will leave the organization early next year after twelve years of service to launch a new trade association in the investment industry.

Lowenstein will stay on into early 2007 to ensure a smooth transition, and the ESA will begin a full executive search for a replacement immediately.

“I have been honored to represent the amazing companies of the ESA, to serve as their advocate and to be part of an industry which is having such a profound and positive effect on our culture and the world of entertainment,” Mr. Lowenstein said. “Like our industry, the ESA has grown and matured and is now stronger and more robust than ever before. The future of video games and its trade association is very bright indeed.”

Lowenstein joined what was then known as the Interactive Digital Software Association in 1994. The name of the organization was changed in 2003 to the Entertainment Software Association to more accurately and succinctly describe the industry ESA represents.

During Mr. Lowenstein’s tenure, industry revenues grew from about $3 billion to more than $10 billion. The ESA grew from two employees at launch to 32 employees working on a range of programs, from anti-piracy enforcement and domestic and international intellectual property policy to government and media relations and research.

In accepting Mr. Lowenstein’s resignation, ESA Chairman and President of Microsofts Entertainment & Devices Division, Robbie Bach, thanked Mr. Lowenstein for his invaluable service to the organization. “As the founding president of this organization, Doug built ESA into a very effective and influential trade association fully and articulately representing the interests of our members. He leaves behind a tremendous record of accomplishments which provides us with the foundation for continued growth and success. We wish him well in his new role.”

Big Boss and Vegas

Well, I filed the review for “Portrait of Ruin” already, so now I’m diving (or crawling) into “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.” I like it, but it’s not grabbing me the way “Portrait” did. Perhaps I’m still a little too action happy from swinging a whip around and depopulating the demon/zombie/vampire ranks. I’ve just gotten the hang of recruiting my own squad members and using their talents. I want to name my “sneaking team” members after CTU agents, so I can have Jack, Curtis, and Tony at my disposal. And no, January can’t come fast enough.

I have to say this though … I’m getting just a little weary of the marathon dialogue sessions. Look, I know it’s a “style” thing and a staple of the MGS franchise. But how many uninterrupted, soul-searching conversations can a soldier like Snake have on an hourly basis? Especially in the middle of battle? I keep thinking, “Wait, aren’t you in the middle of a hallway? Hide, fool!” Just one of those things that nags me every time I play an MGS game that doesn’t involve cards.

After I get enough of that, my brother (visiting for the holidays) and I will hopefully get to tackle “Rainbow Six: Vegas.” It’s especially fitting, since I’m planning to head to Las Vegas for CES to play with tech toys. Naturally, I will blog from there — and I’m not mentioning anything about the porn convention that HAPPENS to occur at the same time. Savages.

Bodies! Everywhere!

Ack! In my last entry, I mentioned how “Portrait of Ruin” reminded me a little of “Symphony of the Night.” Well, I just ran into the ball-o-corpses boss in the level called Nation of Fools. God, I hated the Death Ball. It was a little worse in “SOTN,” because the bodies screamed at you as they sloughed off the monster that was holding them all together. Here, they just fell off.

Blah. I hated fighting that thing … it was easy, just … disturbing. I’m so into the game now.

A few hours with “Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin”

Konami was gracious enough to send me “Portrait of Ruin” and “Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops” this week. As great as the urge was to slap in MGS like I was reloading a pistol, I started off the week with “Castlevania” … and I haven’t been able to put it down.

I’m siding with many of the critics on this one. The game isn’t innovative or different by any means — instead, it seems to concentrate on many of the design elements that made previous “Castlevania” installments fun to play. First off, it’s in 2D, which I think should always be the case with this franchise. However, it reminds me a lot of “Symphony of the Night” with its level design and ability to have the player stumble unprepared into a room housing a boss character (though in my experience, slowly opening doors should indicate BOSS. I’m blind.) In my case, it was a floating demon head that attached itself to a giant armored suit. Fun was had by all.

I really like how the game is handling the “buddy” system between the two characters. I like how the non-player character can do a bevy of other things aside from just standing there and attacking when you attack. They can help you push things, form up for combo attacks, help you jump higher — very nice co-op stuff.

This’ll probably be the one I review for next week. Then, it’s MGS. ‘Till then.

“My God, that’s … that’s Link’s music!”

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I thought of Jim Ross when I saw this picture: “Oh my gawd! Oh my gawd! A Wiimote to the eye! Dammit! Someone stop this! She’s busted wide open!”

This wicked shot comes courtesy of wiihaveaproblem.com, one of the several Web sites keeping track of the odd injuries and mishaps that come with playing Nintendo’s new system.

Apparently, a guy accidentally UNLOADED on his girfriend while trying to take down a boss character in ‘Zelda.’ The full story is here, but what people have been focusing on is how nasty-looking the injury is. You’d have to be swinging the Wiimote with bad intentions to inflict this kind of damage. I hope she can still see.