Texas Hold ’em XBLA

Wow. Even against the worst poker players in the world, I seem to be unable to place higher than fourth.

Every game of Texas Hold ’em on Xbox Live Arcade starts roughly the same: At least three people go all-in on a pair or less. Since the top three places pay out, this is great for thinning the field. If you just cease to play for the first few hands, you can often make it into the money by default. If you do happen to have a moderately strong hand, like three of a kind, you can often take down that first pot and be aggressive for the rest of the game with little risk.

There’s also usually one guy who then mocks everybody who went all-in and proceeds to offer–at no additional cost to you!–all the poker advice and wisdom you never wanted in the first place. HE knows how to play. HE will tell you. And then in a few hands, HE usually chases some stupid straight draw and winds up out of the game, too. The quiet, smart players that remain then get on with the game.

I like it. The AI is atrocious, the music is obnoxious, and more than half of the players don’t know what they’re doing. But I like it.

EDIT: Well, okay, I liked it until tonight. Pocket aces, twice in one tournament, both times in the big blind. That’s fantastic luck! And both times, cracked by the river–once by a straight, once by trip 3s. Oh, the pain. Guess I’m just not betting enough to scare people off.

No blood for oil? Say, that gives me an idea…

We really love our car. It’s a very sensible, very efficient (life begins at 30 mpg) Geo Prizm, built at the nearby NUMMI plant in Fremont. It’s coming up on 100K in miles and we see no end in sight; it’s been super-reliable and very low maintenance. But we’d love a PT Cruiser someday, yet because we live in California, we’re thinking it’d be responsible to go green and get a hybrid. Andy has a Honda that’s been converted to run on natural gas; he’s doing his part. Maybe by the time the Geo is ready to be put out to pasture, there will be a hybrid PT.

If not, I have a solution. All that talk about “renewable fuels” and “no blood for oil” made me realize…why do you even have to exchange one for the other? Let’s get the engineers in Detroit to use plasma. Think about it:

  • It’s not just a renewable fuel source; it’s a self-propogating fuel source!
  • No foreign dependency at all, unless we really want to
  • Homeless problem? What homeless problem?

I look forward to the day when I can’t decide between the Pontiac Platelet or the Toyota Abattoir. Efficiency will be rated in miles per unwanted baby.

Admit it–it almost makes sense.

From gamer to shamer

I went to theater today to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and, while waiting for the show to start, I pulled out my DS Lite and played some Tetris DS. A guy sat in the chair next to me and said “Wooooow, that looks like a neat little toy.” I responded feebly with “Well, I’m not interested in growing up any sooner than I have to,” but I felt like that was lame. I didn’t really know how to respond. I don’t think he meant it as an insult, but he certainly said it as if I were a child. Would he have said the same thing if I were watching something on a video iPod?

If I say “Well, I review games for a living,” that’s too defensive (or just sounds like I’m bragging), but anything else feels like I have to rationalize what is, in my mind, a perfectly acceptable way to kill time in public in the year 2006. Yet I still feel like I have to make an excuse for liking video games to people who treat it like it’s alien or juvenile. I still feel some amount of shame.

This was in downtown San Jose. I was a few blocks away from where they hold the California Extreme arcade show, in a town where they named a street after the co-creator of Breakout. And yet there it was–total ignorance of gaming’s increasing maturity.

Will games ever get out of the social ghetto?

Megabyte: Deleted

Anybody with aspirations as a voice actor pays attention to other voices. One of my favorite voice actors died recently – Tony Jay, whose generic name probably doesn’t ring any bells with most people. Kids know him as Frollo from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the modern voice of Shere Khan in a bunch of TV cartoons; gamers know him as the Elder God from the Soul Reaver series, not to mention the narrator from World of Warcraft; geeks know him as Megabyte from ReBoot. He had one of those majestic baritones and a slight British accent that defined narration, if not villain. So many times I’d be in a game demo and go “Hey, Tony Jay!” and see a producer do a double-take that someone recognized the voice talent. So I’m really quite saddened. I really did enjoy his voice and his work.

Someone once theorized that at any given time there are only about a dozen people getting 80% of the voice work out there, so with Tony’s passing, everybody probably moves up one slot. In that case, congratulations to Patrick Warburton, who is ten times better as Brock Sampson and Mr. Barkin than he ever was on Seinfeld

Boozeless

Had a cool, rare offer to go out drinkin’ with the crew from work tonight and, after planning to go all day, turned it down at the last minute. Got agitated, felt like going home to chill with Kat, and after two days of not much sleep, I just wasn’t in the mood to hit the town and be social. Hope nobody took it personally. Hope it wasn’t political suicide.

Those who have known me for a while I’m not one to overindulge in alcohol. Red Bull, maybe. But one drink is usually sufficient to make me pleasantly silly, and that one drink is usually something rugged and manly like a Cosmopolitan. And I have never been a fan of just going out to drink. I usually like to drink while doing something else, such as playing board games, parallel parking, or operating heavy machinery. I don’t even drink before getting on stage. I have enough trouble remembering the lyrics.

My iPod died

Is this bad karma for criticizing Perplex City?  🙂

My trusty 30GB iPod was a gift some many friends and family members, but after a battery replacement didn’t fix it, I think it’s time to move on. Still works, just not on battery–gotta have it plugged in. So it’s a great external HD now.

60GB iPod video, here I come!

Perplex City SF Connection: What Went Wrong

I’ve been a big fan of pretty much everything Perplex City since I was told about it. It’s a combination treasure hunt, alternate-reality game, and collection of puzzles–absolutely right up my alley. I have been buying and solving cards, passing the word on to other people, generally being a cheerleader for what I think is a very clever, very creative way to play games in the new, hyperconnected, Internet-driven world.

But today kinda sucked. The first US-based live event for Perplex City went down today at the Palace of Fine Arts; I have been planning to attend for several weeks now, and I put together a crack team: Kat, expert on mythology, avid reader, and all-around smart chick; Fast Times keyboard player Jude, a Ph D with a yen for chemistry and math; his wife Wendy, another doctor who knows lots of academic stuff and is great at checking logic; and Fast Times vocalist Kimzey, longtime SF resident and our designated tour guide/wheelman, who could help us get from place to place around the city quickly and cheaply. We were told we’d be running around the city solving puzzles and we wouldn’t need our computers; this was not a laptop kind of game. “No doubt some teams will bring along all sorts of gizmos like laptops, GPS devices and binoculars, but they won’t do you much good,” said the official website. “The most useful thing you can bring along with you is a sharp mind.” Cool.

So imagine my shock when we finally tear open our puzzle packet and find four of the five questions we’ve been challenged to answer are about…The Rock, the 1996 movie starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. No, not cool things like “go to the filming location and bring back information or retrieve this object” but bullshit like “What does Nicholas Cage say at 48:55 into the movie?” and “What ancient Greek general does Sean Connery compare himself to in the interrogation scene?” That’s right–I got a team of five very smart people together and we all dragged our asses into San Francisco…so we could watch a fucking 10-year old movie. We had no DVD player. We had no laptop. We were expected to go find/rent/buy a copy of the movie and watch it “somewhere” to come up with the data. That is not a San Francsico scavenger hunt; that is a trivia contest for people sitting at home, playing along on the Internet. And several hundred people were; why was this puzzle even GIVEN to in-person players? Let them figure it out at home, happily doing their part. We spent the first hour or so on our cell phones trying to call someone, anyone who might have the movie in their collections or could look the stuff up on the Internet on our behalf…which entirely defeats the purpose and joy of an in-person scavenger hunt event.

I was a mix of disappointed and pissed, so we decided, as a team, that we were going to trade our puzzles for ones we were actually equipped to solve–we had all-day bus passes, and this seemed like a stupid way to use them. The paperwork said if you can’t solve the puzzles, answer the ones you can and they would pass them on to other players; if there was time, you’d be given extra ones (and other teams we’d seen had as many as five sets of puzzles). So we went in and were told “Sorry, I can’t give you any more puzzles. You should find other people who are also working on that puzzle and see if you can pool your resources.” Um, okay, who are they? Nobody knows. Puzzles were distributed randomly and nobody knows who’s working on what until people come back with the right answers.

I got pissed and started rather loudly pointing out to one of the PR people in a room of attendees that this was shitty puzzle design–you don’t mobilize people to send them back home to watch TV. Some complaining got us a second puzzle pack after all, this one much more in line with what it should have been: Go to Grace Cathedral and solve some experiential/location-based puzzles and trivia questions (ie, how many turns are in the labyrinth there, and what sculpture can you see when you stand between the 7th and 8th turns, etc). We went there and had a good time, even helped a few other people solve their puzzles while we were there. It’s around this time that Fast Times bassist Tim, who had a scheduling conflict and was bummed that he was not involved, called back and said he was going to go buy The Rock and get those answers for us. He totally saved our asses–by watching the scenes, he got everything we needed except one clue that we had been struggling with all day.

That clue was “Have a look under the bench where Sean Connery meets his daughter. What’s his next word?” That bench is at the Palace of Fine Arts, home base for the Perplex event, but we’d heard that the bench had since been removed. There was no bench. We looked at all the other benches. No messages under them. Tim confirmed that Connery does not look under the bench in the film, but gave us some dialogue that might be the answer. We found out after everything was all over that we were supposed to go to where the bench USED to be and look in the dirt for a hidden message. Well, guys, I hate to be a nitpicker here, but don’t tell me to look under the bench if there is no bench. This is not the goddamned Matrix. The phrasing of the question sucks. Say what you mean.

We noted that the schedule said 3pm was “Begin returning to the Palace of Fine Arts” and 3:30 was the “Deadline for activating the San Francsico Connection.” We got back at 3:25, eager to enter our answers but we were ushered into the auditorium where we found out, ta da, everything was done. Our answers were too late to be counted, game over, yay, everybody wins. All that and we didn’t even get the satisfaction of helping in the co-op game. We were at least able to check our answers later and found that we got them right, including one that nobody else answered correctly. But even that was one that we needed a lot of help from people on the phone with Google to solve.

The basic problem is this, and it should not even have to be explained to anybody who makes, plays, or respects games in any form: If you set up rules, follow them. Don’t tell people they won’t need laptops, then pass out puzzles that someone needs the Internet to solve. Don’t say you can come back if you cannot find the answers and not honor that statement. Don’t tell people things will happen at one time and then make them happen at another. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

I still like Perplex City. The master game with the cards, the ARG, and the treasure hunt still tickles my fancy. But I found the live event extremely frustrating and disheartening.

It’s sobering to think that I would have been more helpful to my team if I had simply never attended at all.