I rarely buy import games, for a few reasons: 1) I don’t read Japanese; 2) I don’t want the hassles and expense of yet another console (or hacking one I own); 3) I have patience that the good stuff comes out here eventually. But if it’s a game involving guitars, well, I’m a lot less patient. I bought the import of Guitar Freaks for PlayStation back in the day, and when friends let me know about M-06 — a Nintendo DS cartridge that simulates an acoustic guitar, right down to strumming the touch screen — I realized that I didn’t need to read Japanese, didn’t need import hardware (DS games run on US units with no territorial lockout issues), and for $30, could afford to be impatient. My pal Christian just came back from a trip to Japan and was nice enough to snag a copy for me.

It’s fun — for me — but I can’t imagine it being fun if you are not obsessed with guitar, of course. You can play songs with it; changing chords is easy and you can create custom chord lists for original music if you like. There’s apparently even a bit of play-along karaoke if you can read the Japanese lyrics. I hear rumors that Ubisoft is bringing it to the US, and I will happily buy it again to support the concept.

I would love to go do an open-mic night, walk up with a guitar case, take this out, plug it into a small amp, and perform.

The only gaming television you need to watch

I have a standing grudge about television and video games. TV rarely seems to “get” it — they always wind up insulting me by saying “If we show some gameplay footage and put some boobs in there, the little boys with their little toys will be distracted and crank the ratings.” Far more than the standard sins of simply being boring and ill-informed, TV coverage of games almost never feels genuine to me as a gamer. And I say this as someone who is sometimes interviewed as part of the coverage! It’s just too slick, too packaged, too fake to be respected. I just want to take everyone in television who sees gaming as a demographic, grab by the lapels, shake them, and scream, “Stop selling me and be a real person for once in your goddamned life.”

I think that’s why I am so happy to have found this clip, which is the first time I’ve seen gaming accurately, properly, joyfully, and genuinely illustrated on television.

Helen Mirren: QUILF?

I rarely see many of the nominated films but I still like the Oscars. I rarely even give a crap about the fashions, but this year, nobody could tell me that Helen Mirren didn’t look better than the starlets half her age:

No enormous bows. No ugly colors. No gaudy jewelry. No dead swans. Just class.

Happy feet

I go through sneakers about every eight months. I wear them every day, everywhere. That means a swanky $150 pair of bubbles will last just as long as a $50 pair of closeouts, like the ones I just got:

New shoes make me happy. Cheap new shoes make me very happy. Word.

(I’m brand-loyal to Nike for reasons of comfort and fit, so my secret is watching for closeouts at Eastbay. I particularly like the color options of last year’s model that was intended for high school and college teams.)

Week of the Gamersc(wh)ore

Never mind Old Spice. My Gamerscore grubbing is Paul’s fault. He threw down the gauntlet and started climbing the ranks and then rubbed my face in it. I was content with my Gamerscore being somewhere around 4000. But he had to play Fight Night Round 3 and Lost Planet to take the lead. So I got whatever low-hanging fruit I could and caught him, but not for long.

But see, Paul’s away on business this week. That gives me a few days to try to jump from 4901 to Paul’s score of 6015. I’ve been told that Viva Pinata, which I like but find myself overwhelmed by, is easy fodder. I cleaned up a bunch of easy Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland stuff I’d forgotten about, and I’m going to start THP8 in earnest. I’d also like to do some Gears co-op and, even though the announcer drives me nuts, I’m up for Fuzion Frenzy 2 since I liked the first game. I refuse to do the obvious easy ones like NBA 2K6 and King Kong, but any game that I would normally play that just happens to offer good rewards, well, that’s fair. Keep an eye on my tag to the right this week, and/or follow along at 360voice.com. It’s hard doing this and WoW and Phoenix Wright and band practice.

Have I mentioned I can’t wait until Guitar Hero II comes out?

Guitar renewal

The three guitars I was selling have now sold. One is becoming an object d’art, one is going to a player who’s always wanted that model and is thrilled now that he has it, and one’s going to become the most awesome surprise graduation gift evar. The last one ships out Tuesday. I’m stoked because I always want them to go to good homes, to people who will appreciate them. I think I price them affordably and fairly when I do have to let them go, and that’s part of the reason — I don’t want to soak anybody, I want good karma and I’d like to think that someone out there is making music with a renewed spirit.

Sappy? Crunchy? Maybe, but the last two guitars I’ve bought — the two Taylors I never shut up about — have kind of realigned my thinking about guitars and making music in general. Not that I was ever down on music, but I think something magical happens when you match your tools. For instance, I’ve seen jugglers do awesome stuff because their clubs are tuned to them in terms of weight, handle length, balance, etc. So it seems to be with the core guitars in my shrinking collection. That Taylor 410 is simply the best acoustic guitar I’ve ever played, bar none, and is leading me back to learning again. The T5 is getting me excited about trying to write again, too; it plays as good as it looks. Here’s another beauty shot just for the hell of it.

This doesn’t matter to anybody else, but it’s a significant shift in my little world, and gaining a fresh perspective makes selling a few of the other guitars all the more worth it. I can only hope that the people who get them share that feeling of inspiration when they pick them up.

Building a better 360 joystick

Mad Catz has finally released its long-awaited Xbox Live Arcade RetroStick.

It sucks.

I truly do not understand the praise that Joystiq and TeamXbox have bestowed on this thing. Maybe I’m thinking too much about the Atari 2600 joystick upon which this is clearly based, or maybe I’m just too focused on what actual arcade controls — with spring-loaded joysticks and buttons — feel like. Or maybe those reviewers didn’t take that into account at all. But even if they didn’t, they ostensibly plugged the thing into a 360 and played. So did I, as did several other people on staff. It’s an embarassment. I even tried two factory-fresh packaged units to make sure I hadn’t gotten a dud. Sadly, everybody who buys this will get a dud. My review will appear in the April issue.

The more classic games that come out for Xbox Live Arcade, the more impatient I become. I’ve been waiting a long time for a quality arcade stick to come out for 360, and I’m through waiting. This tutorial gave me all the info I needed to do it myself.

And when I say “do it myself” I of course mean “ask Jude to make it for me.” In addition to being a terribly nice guy, an excellent musician, and a bonafide rocket scientist, Jude Kelley (the “Doctor” in front of his name is silent) also repairs, rebuilds, and repurposes arcade machines, supposedly for fun. Armed with my Nuby Street Fighter joystick and Jude’s +20 Soldering Iron of Accuracy, we couldn’t fail.

Naturally, the first thing we did was fail. Using Microsoft’s first-party controller was tough because it’s so elegantly designed. We killed one because its solder points were too small and delicate, so Jude suggested a third-party controller instead, where the circuit boards are usually a bit more hack-friendly (and cheaper). He found one for $25
at Fry’s.

Who makes it? Mad Catz, of course.

It didn’t take long before Jude had carefully created a neat nest of wires inside, and I’d swapped out the buttons (in proper 360 colors, of course) with new Happ parts from Bob Roberts. Within a few hours it was working perfectly.

I’d still like to swap out the stick itself for a Happ Competition, just based on my preference for joystick feel, but it appears that the stick Nuby used is glued in there; Jude suggested building a new box from scratch and moving the other parts over. I’d like that. But spending $50 on the stick, $25 on the hacked gamepad, and $10 for miscellaneous parts still beats the shit out of paying $60 for the abomination they call the RetroStick.

So, there you have it. Ph34r m3, Xbox Live, because I finally have a good arcade stick, thanks to Jude. And why someone won’t make one of these commercially — why Mad Catz didn’t just do this themselves in the first place — I don’t know. I hope Microsoft gives XArcade a third-party controller license soon. They know what they’re doing.

Ironically, my Mad Catz joystick is better than Mad Catz’ Mad Catz joystick.