Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One Step Foward, Two Steps Back

I am a nostalgia hound. From wacky ‘80s flicks overflowing with big hair and bad tans to old school McDonalds commercials featuring a fantasy-oriented Ronald McDonald and the mop-like Fry Guys, I’m instantly addicted to even the slightest nod to the era spanning from the late ‘70s through about 1998. For example, if anyone had seen my reaction to Pepsi Throwback – made with REAL SUGAR, which kills you now but was okay to consume in 1986 – they would have skulked out of the store pretending to be just as disgusted with the soft drink crazed mental patient as everyone else.

Remember Re-Loaded?
Classic video games, however, trump even the most sugary of resurrected beverages on my nostalgia meter. While I should have been at work like the rest of the nation, I today found a copy of the January 1997 issue of Gamepro; it features Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for the Super Nintendo, what would become Castlevania: Symphony of the night (then called Castlevania X), and a bunch of crumby Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64 titles. It was a time when 32- and 64-bit systems were in their infancy and 16-bit was in its twilight, and they all existed simultaneously. Final Fantasy VII hadn’t ruined JRPGs yet and the future was uncertain – but clearly very, very bright. Delicious.

As I perused the pages for a little more than an hour, I was transported back to a time where most games held at least some promise of wonder and excitement; the potential to be great. If you’ve ever seen the cartoon Garfield and Friends, you know what I’m talking about: Anything was possible, and what started at home on a lazy Saturday could end in a strange foreign land several weeks later – all within the span of a few minutes.

"Did someone just call me?"

Today’s games don’t do that anymore. They’re much, much larger and graphically impressive, but a shooter is a shooter and if an action game isn’t super serious with a star like Krotos from the God of War series, it’s labeled as “kids’ stuff” and relegated to the bargain bin.

In some ways, little has changed. What we have today is the illusion of choice, just like 22 years ago when the king from Dragon Warrior asked the player if he or she would undertake a massive quest, but if the player answered “no,” the king responded with “But thou must!” We can change the way our avatar looks, we can customize the development of our character’s abilities and we can even download expansion packs to make our games last longer. But we’re doing all that in the same genres we’ve been playing for decades. Very few developers are willing to take chances, and if they do, they’re almost forced to release their games via PlayStation Network or Xbox Marketplace because they wouldn’t sell enough copies to the spoiled Call of Duty generation to turn a profit. Back in the NES era developers tried anything and everything, but now that games cost millions to produce, it’s more fiscally sound to go with something that’s a proven moneymaker. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing, but as a consumer who’s tired of guns, Grand Theft Auto and glorifying the bloodiest eras of American history, I’m getting tired of the same four quests rebadged and repackaged over and over and over again. To be fair, gaming has long been about copycat titles – but that’s all I see now.

I spent just as long saying no here as I did customizing my Saints Row character.

You can FLY in this one.
Up until about five years ago, if you purchased a game, you knew you had the same version as everyone else. Now, “special editions” of new releases clog our game stores and confuse our buying options, and forced updates and installs prevent us from playing our new games when we come home from the store. When I was a kid, I raced home from Toys ‘R’ Us with games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and was playing within seconds of my arrival. In contrast, about four years ago when Metal Gear Solid 4 found its way to store shelves (I got the special edition because I didn’t want to “miss out”), it took about 30 minutes to install and the opening video was 45 minutes long. By the time the actual game started, I was only able to play for a little while before I had to head off to work. In the same vein, I’ve purchased downloadable content which takes so long to install that I start doing something else and lose interest. Is it too much to ask to be able to actually play a new game less than an hour after putting it in the console?

Is this the ranting of a bitter player whose gaming era has come and gone? Probably. But as someone who had devoted almost 25 years to the pastime, I can’t be the only one who feels this way. If something doesn't change, I think we're headed the same way the industry was going in 1982-83, if you catch my drift.

I’ve got a few cans of Pepsi Throwback in the ‘fridge and U2’s The Joshua Tree album cued up in my CD player. I’m going to play a few rounds of Street Fighter II to clear my head and convince myself that I’m not quite an old man just yet.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Cruel Summer in the Ice Cap Zone

I don't even know what to say to this.

A song about summer mashed up with the quintessential Sega Genesis/Mega Drive winter level? I think my brains just melted out of my ears.

Didn't Ace of Base make a cover of this song? No, not Ice Cap Zone, the other song we were just -

You know what? Never mind.

Monday, May 23, 2011

User Generated Content and the Path to an Interactive Education

My father purchased our family’s second real computer, a 166 MHz Gateway PC, in April of 1996 for the tidy sum of $5000. For the price of a nice used car, I was introduced to music and typing programs, e-mail and the internet at large. Around that same time is when I stumbled across one of my favorite games, Duke Nukem 3D, which allowed users to create and trade their own content.

Over the last two decades or so, user generated content – or “mods” for short – have become an indelible part of gaming, especially for the computer gamer crowd. As the name implies, user generated content is any sort of meaningful alteration for an existing game that is generated by the players, including new levels, graphics, or items. At its most base level, what user made content means to gamers is expanding the life of a preexisting game to virtually infinite extents. Ponder for a moment that ID Software’s seminal shooter DOOM was released in 1993 and new content is still being crafted for the title 17 years later, or that 14 years after the release of Duke Nukem 3D, one can download a program to make the game run in a high resolution mode on post DOS platforms.

Old Duke vs. high def Duke.

But user made content is about more than just exploring new worlds and situations for basically as long as the player wants; it’s also a way to empower young minds and reverse engineer the learning process. Take, for example, your average math problem. Throughout high school, I was asked to “solve for” a given variable in an equation. It was then up to me to find a solution (which, incidentally, took hours upon hours to pull off, was entirely useless, and made me hate school, but that’s fodder for another post).

But what if it were the student giving the teacher a math problem? What if it were up to the learner to construct an equation using a newly-learned formula, taking into consideration what would need to be done to create the problem and how one would need to think in order to effectively answer it?

Many educators believe that best way to learn something is to teach it. From personal experience with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Albert Camus’ The Stranger and several other not-so-near-and-dear works I taught during my tenure as an English teacher, I can attest to this axiom’s truth.

It's big for such a little planet.
 Now consider what goes into making a good level for a game like Little Big Planet 2, the sequel to the PlayStation 3 side-scrolling mega hit of 2008. To make an effective level (and “effective” here means entertaining), one must first be familiar with layouts and conventions of basic levels, then think like their target player when designing a concept. Having graduated from fan to creator with Duke Nukem 3D, I can tell you that the designer should be sick of his or her level by the time it’s done, having checked every facet of its functionality – and fun factor – countless times.

It’s not unlike how I felt after designing about 100 lessons for my English classes during my student teaching: I felt like I knew everything there was to know about the subject at hand. Just like the game designer becomes intimately familiar with the capabilities of his or her game engine and what makes a “fun” level, I now understand The Diary of Anne Frank, The Great Gatsby and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption from the inside out – more so than if I had simply read these works. As the one teaching the class, the one creating the content, I had to live and breathe the source material.

A simple way for students to “reverse engineer” what their educator wishes them to learn is to have them construct a lesson. Teachers have been utilizing this idea for decades by having students give short presentations on a particular subject; they expect that the student will become an “expert” in about the time it takes to thaw a frozen pizza. This is an excellent start, but it’s not enough: With only one or two class periods to work with, students don’t have time to commit to memory everything they discover.

Besides, that approach is getting tired. (I know because I tried it.) Today’s tech savvy students demand something more.

The logical evolution of the concept: Our digital native students create their own content for a relevant learning program, such as a video game. I understand that few good educational games exist – and even fewer are worth playing – but I look forward to some future superstar teacher creating just such an application.

Next stop: End of the level.
Though it’s been years since I fired up Ken Silverman’s Build, Duke Nukem 3D’s level editor, I can still remember how to use it and exactly what it can do. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of math class; I find myself embarrassedly whipping out a calculator to do simple long division. Perhaps if by the guidance of my teachers I had generated a few math games for that old 166 MHz PC, number crunching would be as natural to me as collecting a medikit or making a mad dash to the exit of a Duke3D level - and just as fondly remembered.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Dear Sony, You got hacked YET AGAIN; I'm leaving you."

UPDATE: Sony claims that despite reports, there's been some confusion as to the scale and scope of the hack. So according to them, no real attack has taken place. Check out this website for more information.

*   *   *
It's not me Sony, it's you.

According to a report by the International Business Times, Sony's extensive new PlayStation Network security features, implemented only days ago, have been turned against them: The ailing company has been hacked yet again.

Reportedly, the same group of hackers responsible for the original security breach that copped the personal information and possibly credit card numbers of more than 100 million user profiles is at it again, this time taking control of PSN accounts linked to users who have yet to reset their passwords.

PSN: Please Sony, NO!
"The hackers reportedly infiltrated the new mandatory PSN password reset system, manipulating the confirmation link sent to individuals trying to change their PSN password, modifying it into [a] tool that has allowed them to once again take control of many users accounts," said Alastair Stevenson, reporter for the International Business Times.

Sony says that users who changed their passwords already will not be affected by the latest attack on the company. However, users who have not yet signed back into PSN after its nearly month-long downtime will be unable to access the PlayStation 3's online features until Sony sorts out their newest woes.

PlayStation Network remains online for the time being.

Yesterday, tech guru and Best Buy Geek Squad agent Mike Quinn described Sony's pre-hack security to me as the equivalent of leaving one's car doors open, with the car running and the sunroof down. It seems that Sony's post-hack situation isn't much different.

This latest debacle just might be the last straw for me and Sony's big Blu box. As much as I despise the controller, I might just have to make Xbox 360 my system of choice for a while. Or better yet, I could just play through SNES Earthbound again while this whole thing blows over.

You can keep the car, house and the kids Sony. But I'm taking the Nintendo and you can't stop me.

And Silent Hill; I'm gonna take that too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Streets of Rage Remake Released After Eight Years in Development; Sega Gets Jealous and Punches it in the Face

If you’re a child of the ‘80s or ‘90s and your parents were awesome enough to let you play video games, you’re probably familiar with an all-but-dead genre that used to command the upmost respect: the beat-‘em-up. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog (or you know how to read back posts), you’ve already seen my forays into beat-‘em-up territory, including games like the vaguely homoerotic Rival Turf!, Capcom’s immortal Final Fight, and of course, David Robinson’s Supreme Court.

SoR1 Blaze
But the beat-‘em-up that really stole my heart (and then bludgeoned it with a steel pipe) was the Streets of Rage series, known in Japan as “Bare Knuckle.” Christmas of 1992 brought me the face-smashing, punk-thrashing joy that is Streets of Rage, one of Sega’s finest offerings. Less than a year later, my buddy Ian, his older brother Eric and I used to spend hours on Streets of Rage 2, pounding our way through the angry hordes and catching up on the latest jokes and dramas of the fifth grade. There was also a third game, but as everyone and his friend Gertrude knows, Sega butchered it for its release outside of Japan. Ian and I didn’t play that one much, but it did add a few cool things to the mix.

After a few aborted attempts at a fourth trip to the mean streets, Sega seemed to have forgotten its once mighty fighting franchise, like so many of its best 16-bit properties. Enter Spanish-speaking programmer Eduard Luna Bolano, better known as Bomberlink, and the greatest fangame ever created: Streets of Rage Remake.

Since its inception in 2003, Street s of Rage Remake was built from the ground up, borrowing not a single line of code from the original Genesis (Mega Drive) trilogy. It features64 enemies from Streets 1, 2, 3 and even some new ones, as well as more than 80 remixed and original songs, 112 stages spanning all three games and 19 playable characters, from SoR 1 Axel and Blaze to Adam, Skate and Dr. Zan. Nearly every character from the series is represented – many with more than one incarnation.

Hey, look... it's EVERYONE!

Streets of Rage Remake plays just like SoR 2/3 and is guaranteed to give you a fangasm – it’s every bit as good as Sega could have made Streets of Rage 4, had they decided to go 2D on the Saturn. In fact, it’s probably even better…

Which might be why Sega shut it down.

That’s right: After more than a decade and a half ignoring the Streets of Rage series – and, in fact, this very fangame – Sega got its panties in a twist when Bomberlink released version 5 of his button mashing masterpiece. Less than a week after it was released, and after Bomberlink had asked and seemingly received permission from Sega to release the game, the Home the Sonic Built sent out a cease and desist letter to Bolano and friends telling them to remove the download link from his website.

Get 'em, Blaze!

So after eight years of work, Sega only now has an issue with Streets of Rage Remake. Normally, this is where I’d provide you a download link to one of the best games ever, but under Sega’s orders, it’s against my morals. As someone who follows the law to the letter, I simply couldn’t tell you where to download Bomberlink’s magnum opus, even if I knew.

Let’s all take a moment to mourn what once was and now is lost. Dear Axel, you’ve punched your way into my heart and been taken from me all too soon.
*   *   *

Yeah, so, I wrote the guide to Streets of Rage 2 about 10 years ago and I have no other place to post it. So... yeah. I hope you like Axel. Feel free to skip this and play SoRR if you somehow found a download link. If you don't love SoR2, just stop reading now. But if you do love it...
- AXEL -
Axel is the best fighter in the game, due to his hard hitting combos, his useful specials, and his flowing pretty-boy hair. Gotta love that hair.
Normal Attacks:

Fury: Tap the B button four times - two quick jabs, a straight punch, and a double kick

The problem with this one is that, much of the time, the second kick of the double kick is lost; it simply doesn’t happen most times. While the second kick is seemingly random, after years of playing SoR2, I think it has to do with the distance you are from your adversary. The distance is hard to get right, so you’re better off skipping the kicks all together and tacking on some other knockdown move, like the Grand Upper. Or, perhaps you could try insulting your enemies instead of hitting them. I find that yelling obscenities at the screen is often more effective that using the controller. …no, wait, that’s what I do to my grandpa when I need money. Bless his wrinkled heart.

Power Blow: Press and hold the B button, then release - Double kick
Here’s that infamous double kick I was talking about. However, when you use the charge version, both kicks occur every time -- regardless of distance. This is good for taking out those annoying Galsias. The only problem is that it takes about a second to charge, so you’re forced to use nothing but back-attacks to keep enemies at bay during that time. Use this move when you’re sure you won’t get in trouble. This best for taking out single fighters in sparsely populated screens. Leave crowd control up to moves like the jump-kick and back throw.


Hold B and press C - Back Fist (AKA: The Backhand, Reverse Punch, Axel’s Crappist Attack, etc.)
This isn’t that useful. Come to think of it, none of the back-attacks in this game are, except maybe Blaze’s. Anyway, it doesn’t provide complete protection like the Dragon Wing, but it can save you if there’s someone coming up behind you and you need a quick knockdown. Also, it doesn’t cost you any of your life gauge to use like the Dragon Wing does. Use it if you’re low on energy and can’t do the Dragon Wing instead.


Tap toward twice, then tap B - Grand Upper
This is great. It knocks down attackers, takes off a nice chunk of energy, and is relatively safe. Also, Axel yells something in mangled English when he does this attack that sounds like he’s exclaiming “Grab some pot.” Grab some pot indeed, Axel. See, winners really do use drugs! Well, assuming you’re able to defeat the game.

Jumping Attacks:

Stationary: Tap the C button, then the B button - Vertical Kick
I love this kick, even though I know I shouldn’t. It’s quick, it hits twice, and often it’s a more reliable way to end the normal cycle of attacks with two hits. That’s because, unlike the Double Kick, there’s a much better chance that both hits will register. Just be careful that a Donovan doesn’t uppercut you out of it. Try to do it when there aren’t a bunch of enemies around. You’re pretty open to attack while you’re flailing about in the air like that. Also make sure that you’re close enough for both hits to connect, otherwise one hit misses and the enemy recovers while you’re still in mid-air. Then they punch you because they’re mean like that. If this move is done extremely close to the ground, Axel will only do the knee part of the attack.

Directed Jump Kick: Hold toward, tap the C button, then the B button - Jumping Side Kick
While it doesn’t do much damage, this is great for safely taking out enemies with little health left. It’s also great for crowd control. Just be careful that a Donovan doesn’t uppercut you or a samurai doesn’t kick you out of it.

Down Attack: Hold toward (or remain stationary), tap the C button, then hold down and tap the B button - Knee Press
This is awesome for starting a combo with. It doesn’t knock down like your normal jump kick, so if timed right, the enemy will still be reeling from the Knee Press when you land. Thus, you are free to continue pummeling him or her, as long as they didn’t use some sort of crazy anti-air move on you; the game loves to do that on the harder difficulties.

While Holding an Opponent:

Hold away from the attacker and tap the B button - Back Throw
This throw is Axel’s main weapon as far as crowd control goes. If there’s a bunch of guys coming up behind you, just toss someone into them to knock them all down and buy yourself some time.

Vault over your opponent by grabbing them and hitting the C button (or simply grab them from behind) and press the B button - Body Slam
This one is good for damaging a single enemy and it’s slightly more powerful then the Back Throw. Use it on Galsias to take them out quickly, but don’t waste your effort vaulting if there are too many attackers around – it’s more effective to use the Back Throw.

Grab opponent, wait a second, and press the B button - Power Blow Headbutt
Eh, what can I say? It’s slow, boring and it only does moderate damage. Use something else.

Grab opponent, hold toward, tap B three times - Quarda-Knee
The Quadra-Knee looks cool, but does less damage than the double knee/headbutt combo described below. However, maximum damage is never achieved by following through with the “smash the B button” combos. Follow the first two knees up with a throw to maximize your damage potential. To maximize your earning potential, stop playing video games and get a job.

Grab opponent, hold toward, tap B twice, stop holding toward, tap B - Two Knees and a Headbutt
It’s much better to follow up the two knee strikes with a throw. The headbutt does some nice damage, but it doesn’t have the advantages of a throw. Vault over your opponent and Body Slam them from behind for maximum damage to a single thug, or use the Back Throw to control a crowd.

Special Attacks:

There’s a small health penalty for using a special attack, so use them sparingly.

Stationary: Tap the A button - Dragon Wing
This attack is great for dealing with enemies on all sides. In fact, during the Dragon Wing, Axel is virtually invincible. This attack is the key to defeating many of the more annoying bosses, such as Souther and Jet. Also, if you’re grabbed by a biker, use this to break out.

Directed: Hold toward, and tap the A button - Dragon Smash
This mother is nasty. Axel does a series of punches, followed by a Dragon Punch like move I like to call “Ryu-ripoff-ken.” It does positively *freakish* amounts of damage and is well worth the health gauge penalty for its use, assuming that all the punches connect. Using this when there are a lot of enemies around is a no-no, and bosses like Shiva just laugh at you after the first few hits and knock you out of it. Your back is left completely unguarded during the Dragon Smash, so make sure there’s no one coming up behind you when you use it. Well, unless it’s someone sexy. Then I’d just let them hit me in hopes of getting their phone number after the fighting stopped.


Knife/Ninja Dagger - Only doing a single stab, Axel achieves almost negligible damage with the knife. However, he also scores a very quick knockdown. Use it in a claustrophobic situation to buy time. Otherwise, it’s better off being thrown at a distant enemy. Note: Surprisingly, knives can be somewhat useful against Particle, Molecule and friends at the end of Round 7 – because God knows those damn robots love to throw maces at you, and this might be just what you need to disrupt them. Let the Soya throw a bunch of them on the elevator and save them for the ‘bots.

Lead Pipe - Each cumbersome swing yields decent damage. However, it takes awhile for the swing to actually hit the opponent. Thus, the more advanced your opponent is, the higher the chance you’ll be hit out of the attack before its completion. Use the lead pipe to take out lone Galsias and Donovans, as well as that pesky Col. Mustard.

Katana - This is Axel’s best choice as far as weaponry goes, doing an assload of damage verses all who are unfortunate enough to be caught in its path. However, it takes just about as long to attack with as the lead pipe, so the same precautions should be taken. The risk is worth it for the massive damage.

Bombs - Don’t even bother with bombs. They explode too quickly to be of any use. If you do pick one up, get the hell rid of it and get out of the blast radius. They are truly more trouble than they’re worth, just like relationships and traffic lights.


The combos described below are in their complete form. You might find it useful to remove the Knee Press and start the combo on the ground. You may also find it useful to remove one or two of the punches or knee slams in the middle. Technically, you only need one as a stopgap to the next attack anyway.

“Air Raid” - Jump in with a Knee Press, tap the B button three times, Vertical Jump Kick
This one is quick and does some good damage. You might find it easier to do if you omit the third punch, as it flows easier this way. Tap the B button when you land from the Vertical Jump Kick, and Axel will perform either one or both of his double kicks, (assuming you jumped after the third punch) or his Straight Punch (if you jumped after only two punches). If there’s anyone in front of you at this point, doing this will make them less than happy. Can be confusing to human opponents, but the computer tends to knock you out of the air if you’re not careful.

“Grab Some Pot” - Jump in with a Knee Press, tap the B button three times, Grand Upper
This combo is fun because Axel sounds like he’s saying “grab some pot” at the end. Also, the Grand Upper will knock down anyone who tries to weasel their way in close to you during the earlier parts of the combo. Pretty powerful.

“Really Stupid Backfist Combo” - Jump in with a Knee Press, tap the B button three times, tap away, Backfist
This one is hard to do and fairly useless, just like trigonometry. I included it in the interest of being thorough. The only real advantage is that it scores a knockdown, but so would smashing the B button one more time for the Double Kick. Use it to make the second player think you’re nuts.

“Hyper Dragon Wing” - Jump in with a Knee Press, tap the B button three times, Dragon Wing
Use this only if you’re suddenly surrounded. Why waste health gauge if you’re not getting attacked from all sides and need a quick way out?

“Hyper Dragon Smash” - Jump in with a Knee Press, tap the B button three times, Dragon Smash
This is Axel’s most damaging combo; it knocks off about 95% of a life bar if done correctly. This is great for bosses who can’t hit you out of it somehow. (Examples: That dastardly Burbon will kick you out of combos, Abadede will eventually throw his arms in the air and knock you out, etc.) The only downside is that it takes off a little of your life gauge to perform. Oh, yeah – and you’ll be helpless against attacks from behind, just like a little kitten. Use with caution or on stupid people.

“Crowds Be Gone” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap the B button twice, Back Throw
Good for getting rid of crowds, as well as really screwing over the guy you do the combo on. This should be your weapon of choice when you see some thugs sneaking up behind you as you’re trying to trash someone else.

“Vault ‘n Slam” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap the B button twice, tap the C button to vault over your opponent, Body Slam
Use this if you’re getting tired of using the other ones. There’s nothing special about it, but there’s also nothing wrong with it.

“Multi-Knees of Death” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap the B button three times

“Boring HeadButt Combo” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap B twice, stop holding toward, tap B
It’s okay, but for the love of God, use a throw to end all grapples.

“Grapple Wing” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap the B button twice, Dragon Wing
Use this if you suddenly find yourself surrounded while attempting a stronger combo. Otherwise, God knows why you’d use this one when you could be using the…

“Dragon Buster” - Jump in with a Knee Press, grab opponent, hold toward, tap the B button twice, Dragon Smash
This is almost as good as Axel’s “Hyper Dragon Smash” combo, with the added bonus of a slightly quicker execution time. The only problem is the time it takes to perform it, as well as the life gauge penalty. Make sure no one is behind you, then let ‘er rip -- kind of like in real life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Edios Takes a Hacker Hit; Let's a Play Friday the 13th For NES

I'd really like to talk about something else on this blog - like Sega's brawler Streets of Rage, the upcoming Duke Nukem Forever, or even Milon's Secret Castle for the NES - but people keep hacking the heck out of gaming companies lately, so it seems more important (and timely!) to talk about that instead.

The latest victim of nerd rage is Edios Interactive, owned by parent company Square-Enix and pwned Wednesday by someone calling him- or herself "Chipping1337." Although Edios says there's no evidence of credit card info being stolen yet, this latest hack attack cost them about 25,000 e-mail addresses and 350 resumes.

Note to gaming companies: If an applicant claims to have held 350 awesome jobs on their resume, you're probably dealing with a thief.

The hackers struck the website for Edios's upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution game, as well as the Eidos Montreal's website. The company shut down their websites and says that they're currently notifying those who's info might have been compromised. Meanwhile, back in Hackerville, the bad guys say that they're going to start distributing the misbegotten information soon via file-sharing services.

"I couldn't protect your resumes. I... I'm sorry."

First Sony (then Sony, then Sony AGAIN) and now Edios. What's going on? Is this some sort of calculated attack on gaming, masterminded, no doubt, by the Legion of Doom in their underground Hall of Destruction? Are we experiencing some kind of copycat crime spree? Or were these attacks unrelated, having been planned for weeks and coinciding by mere happenstance?

I'm not sure. All I know is that 1.) Maybe it's best to hunker down with my good ol' Genesis and SNES games, and 2.) this is a dark time for gaming.

By the way, tomorrow PlayStation Network will have been down for 28 days.

On this, the 13th day of the month (a Friday you see), what may make you feel better is reading about everyone's favorite NES flop, Friday the 13th by LJN. At least playing that game, you won't have your address stolen by hackers; you'll just be killed outright.

Man, that Jason Voorhees is a considerate fellow.

He's the most dangerous hacker I know.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sony Hacked Yet Again; Here's a Cool Wesite to Make Up For It

Last Saturday, May 7th, marked the third hack attack on Sony when cyber terrorists stole the names and partial addresses of approximately 2500 Sony customers and placed the information online for all to see - and steal.

The good news is that the hackers stuck a website Sony had used for a contest in 2001; therefore, aside from much of the data being outdated, no credit card information was revealed. Also, Sony detected the breach and had the information removed within a matter of hours after it was posted.

Compared to scope of the previous attacks on Sony - wherein information from more than 100 million gamer profiles was stolen - this latest caper seems rather uninspired. According to reports from CNET, the hackers responsible for the latest attack are upset with the way Sony dealt with previous attacks, so they targeted the company again. The hacker's logic is impeccable: Obviously the best way to advocate for customers is to F*CK THEM OVER AGAIN.

Sony's PlayStation Network is still offline as of May 9, 2011, leaving thousands of cool people without access to the online features of Super Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat and millions of other annoying eighth graders without access to a bunch of crappy first person shooters.
I think I'd be really upset if it weren't for the fact that a.) I cancelled my PSN-linked credit card in response to the attacks and b.) I prefer and continue to own/play old-ass games. No PSN? That's cool; I'm playing Final Fantasy II.

...No, not the one with Cecil, the crappy one with Firion(iel).

Seriously, I'm sick of this. (The attacks I mean; not FFII, though it's starting to wear thin my fourth time through.) Though I tend to lean towards Sony products for my current generation gaming needs, I own all three of today's big consoles and I like to think of myself is rather impartial. That being said, it seems to me that someone is targeting the ailing company for reasons unknown; perhaps personal vendettas or even inter-company sabotage, but most likely just for their own profit. Whatever it is, I wish they'd stop. I've written this open letter to the hackers to hopefully make the understand my point of view.

Dear Hackers,

Look, a lot of people need a way to relieve the stress of working all day and they do that with video games. Please stop hacking Sony. I'd really appreciate it.


Anyway, I'd like to leave you, my loyal reader(s) with something positive. I found this website, called The Cutting Room Floor, detailing things left out of the video games you love and cherish. It's a wonderfully interesting read and highly recommended, especially for fans of old, sprite-based games.

Hopefully this can keep me from lamenting over Sony and its poorly handled woes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Twice-Hacked Sony Responds to US House of Reps

Not even Crash Bandicoot can save us now.

"Oh crap! ...Can't we call in Mario?"
Things just keep getting worse for the company that helped bring CD-based console gaming out of the dark ages and Blu-Ray discs into the mainstream: According to Sony, the personal information of 24.6 million Sony Online Entertainment users, possibly including 20,000 credit card numbers and expiration dates, has been compromised by hackers.

The news comes in the wake of a recent cyber attack against PlayStation 3 users that culled the personal information – and possibly credit card numbers – of all 77 million PlayStation Network profiles. Both attacks likely took place around the same time.

Sony Online Entertainment, a division of the electronics giant that handles the online components of computer games like the recently released DC Universe Online, shut down their services on Monday night after learning of the intrusion. As of 3 p.m. on May 4, 2011, both Sony’s PC gaming servers and PlayStation Network remain unavailable.

Today, in a letter responding to several questions posed to the company by the U.S. House of Representatives, Sony claimed that forensic teams studying the attack discovered a file marked “anonymous” on the hacked PSN servers that contained the words “We are Legion.” Anonymous is a hacker group that took responsibility for a recent “denial of service” attack on Sony and its customers, and – through they denied any involvement from the beginning – may have aided in or orchestrated the newest security breaches that shut down PSN and SOE services.

This is Anonymous. Apparently, they are Legion.
And Legion told them to stop people from playing Call of Duty.

“Whether those who participated in the denial of service attacks were conspirators or whether they were simply duped into providing cover for a very clever thief, we may never know,” said Sony in their response to the House of Representatives.

Apparently, the Anonymous group attacked Sony in response to the company’s decision to take legal action against PS3 exploit artist George Hotz.

Sony’s response to the House of Representatives can be found in its size 2 font entirety here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Experts Debate: Is Mortal Kombat Da Hypest Game?

With Osama Bin Laden finally taking a dirt nap thanks to a U.S. attack on his compound, I can finally turn my attention to the other thing I’ve been waiting on for nearly a decade: a new Mortal Kombat title worth playing.

Ads in the '90s were... wierd.
The evolution of the series has been rocky to say the least. Though the original arcade game caused quite a stir among players who had mastered Street Fighter II and craved something new and unique, many of the home conversations of the title didn’t fare well. For example, the Super NES version of Mortal Kombat cut out much of the violence that made the arcade game a hit. Also, like much of the software for Sega’s ill-fated CD console, MKCD got a lot of bad press. From what the reviewers at the time said, the game was some sort of hellish abomination that, when not in use, flew from the Sega CD and stalked the elderly, decapitating them in their sleep and stealing their medications to sell to small children as candy. A few years later when everyone though the MK formula was dead, parent company Midway killed it again with a decent but unsatisfying combat system that would carry the ailing franchise through the rest of the PlayStation 2/X-Box era.

Then they added Superman as a joke during a lunch break one day and everyone took it seriously.

Pow! Biff!

With the ninth entry in the series, known simply as Mortal Kombat, released the day before Sony handed out millions of customers’ personal information to a cyber trick-or-treater (April 19), it seems that I might get my wish for a fun new MK title. I haven’t had a chance to play MK9, but based on the intelligence gathered by the U.S. governments’ Gaming Information and Defense Department, it looks promising. However, I decided a long time ago that I would withhold my excitement until the world’s top scientists – the ones in the whitest lab coats – answer a single question: Is the new Mortal Kombat title indeed da hypest game, or has series co-creator Ed Boon made a FATALITY fatal error for a fourth time in a row?

According to a peer-reviewed Youtube video by a scholarly gentleman named gmcfosho, Mortal Kombat is indeed da hypest game. Gmcfosho, a celebrated lab technician and intellectual hero, used math, beakers, pipettes and whatever occult magic scientists envoke to determine the hype levels in MK9, and lab results prove that it is, in fact, da hypest game.

“I don’t even know how to play this game,” he said, “but it’s hype.”

After attacking Mileena, a horrific alien disguised as an ordinary Earth-skank, with Johnny Cage’s “nut punch,” gmcfosho proclaimed, “Ohh! I punched her in… in the gonads! That’s what girls got.”

He added later, “Mortal Kombat! Everything! Uppercuts!”

I urge you all, in the name of education, to watch Mr. gmcfosho’s enlightening film. His dedication to finding the truth through the scientific method is nothing short of inspiring.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

World of the Digital Natives: Hands-on Learning Through Gaming?

In the beginning, there was only television’s warm glow. The Muppets put on a wacky variety show every night, Voltron cut the bad guys down to size and the Thundercats saved the day five times a week. Back then I didn’t think there was any way that my TV Titians could ever be upstaged. What could be better than watching the adventures of the world’s greatest heroes?

In December of 1985, I was barely three years old. My father had recently purchased an Apple II-C computer a few months before and was looking for software he could use to introduce me and my brother to the fledgling digital world. He chose KidWriter – a program where children write and illustrate their own story book page by page, albeit in pea soup green thanks to the Apple’s monochrome monitor. It was a little bit like television, but here I was the one who controlled the action. I hungered for more, and soon, my father obliged.

The Kidwriter title screen... on a color monitor!

Over the next several years I played games like Pac-Man, Moon Patrol, Test Drive and my favorite, Dig Dug. But it wasn’t until 1988 or 1989 when a chance encounter with Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and the Nintendo Entertainment System at my aunt’s house ensured that my free time for the rest of eternity would be spent in front of a television or computer monitor with a controller in my hands. And though I never stopped hangin’ with my boob-tube buddies, it was clear that gaming was my new – and permanent – sweetheart.

Approximately 25 years after Dad bought KidWriter, I’ve amassed more than 1,000 video games spanning almost three decades, from E.T. for the Atari 2600 and a quazi-legal copy of NES Earth Bound to Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games. KidWriter, of course, remains in my collection.

Seeing as how I’ve grown up with technology, I’ve always been rather comfortable with it. It’s worth noting that technology was introduced to me as something fun and it wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I began using it for school, so perhaps that explains the extent to which computers and gaming are integrated into my life. Also, very few of my computer skills were taught to me by another person. My father taught me the basics – what an .exe file is, how to run programs, etc. – and I’ve been learning on my own ever since.

Productivity ended the day I discovered you, Nintendo.

The essence of technology for me, and I think many of my “digital native” peers would agree, is exploration. Since the days of Pac-man and printer paper with tear-off edges, it has been more gratifying for me to figure out computer programs and other technology on my own, reading the manual at a later time if at all. When it comes to computers, it’s easier for me to remember what I discover on my own than through reading or time in the classroom.

Technology lends itself to that kind of thing. Whereas the facts in a book need to be memorized, much of what a person can do with technology needs to “come from within.” Reading and lectures can tell you how to jump to the next platform in Castlevania or do a simple combo attack in Street Fighter II, but until the player experiences it for him or herself, it’s just words. We all know how to hit a baseball: You swing the bat. But you don’t get the hang of it until you’ve swung and missed a few pitches.

Otherwise you’re just watching someone else do it, like in a classroom… or on a television show. And as I discovered early in my life, just watching a character like Lion-o from Thundercats have an adventure can be good, but it’s always more rewarding to take up the quest yourself – if only through the comforting embrace of a Nintendo Entertainment System.

I’ve been told that learning can’t take place without emotional involvement. So what better tool than gaming for getting people like me emotionally involved in the classroom? Perhaps it’s the silly dream of a second-rate educator who finds himself more suited to the theoretical than the practical. But then again, a lot of the “digital natives” that I was asked to lecture to would have been much more interested in writing KidWriter stories than anything I had to say.

I don’t think I’m the one who will wind up revolutionizing the current educational paradigm in American schools, but I think I know how that future superstar teacher will do it.

The future of education ...was yesterday? Maybe.