Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's Peanuts Time Again, Shigesato Itoi!

I’ve written about this before, as seen in a previous post. But on this, the final day of’s MOTHER fanfest, I think it’s appropriate to revisit the topic for just a few moments. After all, MOTHER deserves a little more love before we all put it away for another year!

With the original MOTHER title – known in some American circles as Earthbound Zero – series creator Shigesato Itoi crafted a video game for people who don’t necessarily enjoy traditional gaming experiences; a sort of “anti-video game.” Similarly, Peanuts by Charles Schultz caries the strange distinction of being both quintessential funny paper fodder and an anti-comic strip, rarely noted for its belly laughs but adored and venerated all the same by thousands and thousands of loyal readers. The strip’s got such staying power that as of 2011, it’s still being printed in hundreds of publications around the country, despite Schultz’s passing more than a decade earlier.

I don't know why he expected this time to be different.

So what could these two things possibly have in common that wasn’t already explored in “Its Itoi’s World, Charlie Brown?” Not much really; just a small tidbit I cut from the original essay. It’s something that I was reminded of when I finished MOTHER today.

It's a crumby game.
The more I ponder it, the more impossible I think it would be to make a “true” Peanuts game; a game that captures the essence of the comic strips and animated TV specials. There would be nothing to do in a Peanuts game but match philosophical wits with Linus, pay too much for psychological advice from Lucy, and have footballs pulled away just as you’re about to kick them. The only other choice is an action game starring that pudgy bald kid who’s falling down all the time. It would make as much sense as all those Garfield games that have everyone’s favorite lazy kitty doing triple flips over his neighbor’s fences and gallivanting through haunted houses. The few attempts at capturing Charlie Brown’s world on the gaming screen have been bizarre, Snoopy-based affairs like Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular for the NES in 1990, but it’s worth noting that in Japan, this game stars Donald Duck and a bunch of other Disney characters. If that doesn’t speak volumes on the genericness of the title, I don’t know what does.

I realized this long ago: MOTHER is a better Charlie Brown game than what was officially attempted with the Peanuts license – and probably anything that will ever come along in the future. Though the RPG genre isn’t an exact fit for good ol’ Chuck and the gang, it’s probably the best suited for that classic Peanuts dry humor and somewhat melancholy atmosphere.

Ninten at home.
Ironically, the greatest tribute to Schultz’s work was created 11 years before his death by a man who lives thousands of miles away from the birthplace of everyone’s favorite blockhead. Perhaps Shigesato Itoi understands American culture better than many of those living within her borders.

Or perhaps he just knows how to craft enjoyable games rife with dry humor and a somewhat melancholy atmosphere.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Playstation Network compromised by Hackers

There's no joke here, loyal reader(s): If you own a PlayStation 3, there a good chance that your personal information - including your name, address, birth date and possibly credit card numbers - could have been compromised by hackers more than a week ago.

If you haven't had your head stuck up your arsenal of old school RPGs for the last month like some people, you probably noticed that PSN has been down since Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - just one day after the release of the next-gen Mortal Kombat reboot. At first it was just an inconvenience; after all, pounding some dude online with Johnny Cage and then laughing at their ineptitude is great fun, but it's not required to play Mortal Kombat or the plethora of online PS3 available to consumers since launch. But last night, Sony admitted that the downtime hasn't been due to normal technical difficulties or updates to the system.

The following statement was issued on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 on the Official PlayStation Blog:

Valued PlayStation Network/Qriocity Customer:

We have discovered that between April 17 and April 19, 2011, certain PlayStation Network and Qriocity service user account information was compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network. In response to this intrusion, we have:

1.Temporarily turned off PlayStation Network and Qriocity services;

2.Engaged an outside, recognized security firm to conduct a full and complete investigation into what happened; and

3.Quickly taken steps to enhance security and strengthen our network infrastructure by re-building our system to provide you with greater protection of your personal information.

We greatly appreciate your patience, understanding and goodwill as we do whatever it takes to resolve these issues as quickly and efficiently as practicable.

Although we are still investigating the details of this incident, we believe that an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that you provided: name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained. While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained.

For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well.

To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports. We are providing the following information for those who wish to consider it:

U.S. residents are entitled under U.S. law to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. To order your free credit report, visit or call toll-free (877) 322-8228.

We have also provided names and contact information for the three major U.S. credit bureaus below. At no charge, U.S. residents can have these credit bureaus place a “fraud alert” on your file that alerts creditors to take additional steps to verify your identity prior to granting credit in your name. This service can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name. Note, however, that because it tells creditors to follow certain procedures to protect you, it also may delay your ability to obtain credit while the agency verifies your identity. As soon as one credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the others are notified to place fraud alerts on your file. Should you wish to place a fraud alert, or should you have any questions regarding your credit report, please contact any one of the agencies listed below.

Experian: 888-397-3742;; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

Equifax: 800-525-6285;; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

TransUnion: 800-680-7289;; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

You may wish to visit the web site of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at or reach the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580 for further information about how to protect yourself from identity theft. Your state Attorney General may also have advice on preventing identity theft, and you should report instances of known or suspected identity theft to law enforcement, your State Attorney General, and the FTC. For North Carolina residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-9001; telephone (877) 566-7226; or For Maryland residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 200 St. Paul Place, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; telephone: (888) 743-0023; or

We thank you for your patience as we complete our investigation of this incident, and we regret any inconvenience. Our teams are working around the clock on this, and services will be restored as soon as possible. Sony takes information protection very seriously and will continue to work to ensure that additional measures are taken to protect personally identifiable information. Providing quality and secure entertainment services to our customers is our utmost priority. Please contact us at 1-800-345-7669 should you have any additional questions.

Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Network Entertainment

It's highly recommended that you monitor your bank statements very closely for the next few months.

- Dispute bogus charges with your bank.
- If you ever receive a credit card you have not applied for, bring it up with the sender.
- If you suddenly stop receiving mail, it might be because a criminal has stolen your identity and changed your address to cover his nefarious tracks.

Use your common sense and you should be safe.

On a personal note, stuff like this makes me sick. We're just trying to play games here, people. We're just trying to blow off a little steam, and then this has to happen. There's a special place in hell for people who steal other people's livelihoods.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Greatest "Let's Play" of ALL TIME

If there's one thing I love in this world, it's got to be cold-blooded murder.*

*probably not true

I guess Final Fantasy games come in a weak, flabby and distant second. However, if you knew how much I love cold-blooded murder, you'd know that second place on my list of loves ain't too shabby.

My left arm has been giving me trouble since the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in February, so I've stuck with RPGs lately in an attempt to let it heal. Finishing Final Fantasy III for the Famicom/NES again reminded me of everything I love about the early FF series, and I've since finished FFIII on the DS, magic'd my way through FFI on my cell phone with a party consisting almost entirely of mages, and I plan on picking up the PSP version of FFII again later on in the week. (I also threw in quick playthroughs of both the Dragon Warrior I hack Dragoon X Omega and MOTHER, also known as Earthbound Zero, but you'll be hearing about that later.)

My fondest memories of the FF series fluctuate between the immortal Final Fantasy VI and the first game, but for nostalgic reasons, FFI is probably my favorite. As an old-school gamer, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Final Fantasy I, including the bugged out spells, the nerfed run command, the breakdown of damage distribution over your party, etc.

But then a gentleman named after one of my favorite Earthbound characters proved me wrong.

When Mr. Brickroad teamed up with his buddy McDohl to play simultaneous white and black mage solo games of Final Fantasy I, the resulting blast of AWESOME must have taken out at least three city blocks. Not only did the duo prove that it's possible to solo both kinds of  mages, but they did so in a style that dwarfs the greatness of even cold-blooded murder. As someone who could barely stand finishing FFI with FOUR black mages, my pointy straw hat's off to these fine gentleman.

Place your bets!

As a bonus, the men and women who frequented the forum during its creation process added many more layers of intelligent discourse to the thread. And when they weren't doing that, they were making cheap jokes about genitals.

So it's a win-win situation, really.

I urge you to read this and Brickroad's other Let's Plays. The gentleman is part scholar, part madman and all awesome. If you're a longtime Final Fantasy fan, he will blow you mind right out of your skull. And that's just enough like cold-blooded murder to keep me interested.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reading, Writing and... Gaming?

In my brief tenure as an English teacher, I found that some middle school students have been less than enthusiastic about the learning process. Maybe all of the reading turns ‘em off. Maybe they find the subject matter difficult.

Or maybe they’re just bored to tears.

Enter “stealth education.” That is, circumstances where the student finds the learning process highly enjoyable and wants to continue of his or her own accord. The Liemandt Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on improving education, sees great potential in the concept, and is ready to put their money where their mouth is: They’re hosting a contest where teams of up to eight college students create a video game that teaches math and science. The prize is a cool $25,000.

This was taken at the Liemandt Foundation's latest "Lemonade Day," which has nothing to do
with what we're talking about. But it IS hella creepy.

Contestants certainly have their work cut out for them, as previous attempts at “edutainment” have been, shall we say, a few steps below brilliant. (Mario Teaches Typing will forever haunt my restless dreams, and I’m convinced that Mario is Missing was some sort of sadistic programmer’s joke taken to tragic extremes.) The finalists have already been flown to San Francisco to showcase their games and are waiting with baited breath for the judges’ decision.

Let’s just hope the winning entry is better than, say, The Typing of the Dead.

This is not what your mother meant when she said "use your words."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top Ten Worst Television Shows to Adapt into First Person Shooter Video Games

10. Judge Judy

9. Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

8. National Geographic Presents

7. Anything on QVC

6. Deal or No Deal

5. Cooking with Master Chefs: Hosted by Julia Child

4. Days of Our Lives

3. Saturday Night Live

2. Match Game ‘74

1. The View