iPod Video

I’ve had my iPod for less than five months, and am already two generations out of date. I don’t remember things progressing this fast prior to the purchase of mine.

I have to salute Apple’s marketing savvy though. With a switch to intel-based processors coming up, there was a real risk of sales dropping off as people wait for the new line to hit. To take up the slack, Steve Jobs has a pile of iPod upgrades and new products on hand. First, a switch to only iPod photos. Later, the Nano. And now, video. What next?

I do admit to being intrigued by the video offerings. However, rather than the new hardware I’m more attracted to the fact that major TV shows, if only a few, are now legitimately for sale in iTunes. A tiny first step in the right direction.

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #2

TetrisMy second favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Tetris (Game Boy)

I almost forgot to include Tetris in the list. That would have been a shame for such a revolutionary title. First of all, it pioneered multiplayer portable gaming. Second, it was simple to play – like some other games on this list, anybody can pick it up and play. Lastly, it came with every Game Boy shipped.

My brother and I were lucky enough to receive Game Boys for Christmas the first year they were out. Via the included link cable, we Tetrised our way through many a family car trip in the years following.

Is there anybody reading this who hasn’t played Tetris? Or at the very least, knows the concept? Line up blocks into rows. The rows disappear. Repeat. In multiplayer mode, clearing more rows hinders your opponent in their effort to do the same. First to let their screen fill up is eliminated. That’s all there is to it.

Literally everybody with a Game Boy had this game. The universal presence of it gave a huge boost. In the days before online gaming, being able to take a handheld system with you to other players was a capable substitute.

Currently, it is almost unheard of for a first-run system to come with a game, let alone an accessory like the link cable to connect players.

Unlike other multiplayer games (even some on this list) I could dig out my Game Boy, sit down, and enjoy Tetris just as much today as the first day I got it. In fact, I think I’m off to do that right now.

#1 tomorrow.

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #3

GoldeneyeMy third favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Goldeneye (N64)

Put simply, Goldeneye was amazing. Soon after the Nintendo 64 launch, this little James Bond first person shooter hit the scene. Based on the movie of the same name, you run around as Bond, shoot bad guys, save the women, and play with cool toys.

While the single player game was capable with a nice variety of objectives beyond “shoot your way through a level”, the multiplayer was and is spectacular. The N64 was the first major console to include four controller ports by default. Goldeneye was the first game to take advantage of it.

Four-player split screen matches are fast paced and highly customizable. Alone, the variety of characters to play as still puts more modern games to shame. This was one of the first truly social console games I played. Four players meant that a crowd could cycle through rounds and stay interested. Four players made more interesting games and more complex strategies possible. Four players meant more opponents to yell at after a loss, and brag to after a win.

That isn’t to say I was ever very good at the game. But oh, how fun! Friends and I would tweak the settings to no end. All mines? sure! No weapons, only karate chops? sure! Everyone playing as the annoyingly short and hard to hit Oddjob? Well ok, we drew the line there.

Four player console games have since become pretty standard, with both the Xbox and Gamecube having the capability. But Goldeneye pioneered the idea, and did it very well. Just don’t get tricked into buying the more recent, and far inferior, game of the same name. Stick with the N64.

I’m hitting the final stretch here. If you know me at all, you probably know what #1 will be. The real contest is for the #2 spot. Tune in tomorrow, you might be surprised.

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #4

super smash brothers meleeMy fourth favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Super Smash Brothers Melee (GC)

As I enter the top four, things get really hard to call. Every game from here on out could easily have taken first place, and separating them out came down to small details.

Smash Brothers is another great party game. Nintendo crammed all their franchise characters into this one: Mario, Luigi, Samus Aran, Kirby, Pikachu, and many more. Dump them into a level, and try to beat the cartoony goodness out of them. This is kid-friendly, blood and cruelty-free game.

One reason I love the game is variety. There’s tons of characters and levels to pick from in your battles, many unique moves for every one, and dozens of items to add some spice to the battles. There’s always something new in each round.

SSBM can also be picked up on a basic level by near anybody. Only slightly more complex than Monkey Ball, most moves can be accomplished by a combination of the directional stick and two buttons.

The only thing that keeps it from a higher spot on the list is the ease of fighting cheap. A number of characters have one move that is nigh-unbeatable. Repeating it over and over can guarantee victory even in the most unskilled of hands. Not that I’m innocent of these tactics on occasion, but thankfully a group of friends can agree to avoid the situation.

A sequel has been announced as a launch title for Nintendo’s next console, the Revolution. But this time, with online play! Nintendo would have to try pretty hard to screw that up.

Brief review: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Product Image: Anansi Boys
My rating: 5 out of 5

I finished a ‘for fun’ book today! This is the first one in a while.

While no surprise to me, Gaiman has done it again. Anansi Boys is a sequel (but not really) to his last novel, American Gods. Its a sequel in the sense that it shares one character and some basic concepts, but the earlier book is barely even referenced – don’t worry if you haven’t read it.

Boys focuses on the two sons of Anansi, the ‘god’ of stories. ‘Fat Charlie’ is the son leading a perfectly normal, seemingly content life. Then Spider, the one who inherited Anansi’s reality-influencing powers, walks into his life and everything falls apart. Hilarity ensues!

And hilarity there is. I’m not used to seeing Gaiman write comedy, but he manages it quite capably here. Rarely is it laugh-out-loud funny, but I read most of the book with a grin on my face. It feels somehow more ‘British’, for lack of a better word, than any other style of humor. I’m reminded a bit of Douglas Adams.

One thing baffles me: Gaiman seems to refuse to describe his characters’ physical appearances. Fat Charlie is a blank slate here, as was Shadow in American Gods. I can only assume this is done on purpose, but can’t quite figure out why. But a minor quibble, really.

Anansi Boys is a great blend of comedy, fantasy, and solid characterization.

As a neat feature, Gaiman included a ‘deleted scene’ in the back of the e-book version, as well as a couple of other extras. Book as DVD?

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #5

super monkey ballMy fifth favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Super Monkey Ball (GC)

This is a bizarre concept. There’s cute animated monkey imprisoned in hamster-style balls. When the monkey runs around inside the ball, the ball rolls around the level. Single-player mode focuses on getting your monkey through obstacle courses to the goal.

In multiplayer, it gets even stranger. There are a series of different mini-games, each one unique:

Monkey Billiards – Monkeys are imprisoned inside each ball
Monkey Bowling – Your monkey is inside the ball and steers it
Monkey Golf – Monkey inside the ball again
Monkey Race – Mari0 Kart style races
Monkey Fight – Each monkey has a boxing glove stuck into the front of the ball and tries to knock the others out
Monkey Target – Your ball opens up into a glider, and you try to land the monkey on a target

Bizarre? yes. Addictive? also yes.

This is another example of a game with only average gameplay by itself. However, the quick pace and variety of the mini games make it ideal for a large group setting. Each mode is four-player, taking full advantage of the Gamecube’s four controller ports.

This is also a game for non-gamers – rarely do the different modes use more than one button and the directional stick, so anybody can get in on the fun. Plus, the monkeys are just so darned cute!

There was a sequel, aptly titled Super Monkey Ball 2. But it doesn’t quite recapture the magic. New mini-games like Monkey Boat feel tacked on with awkward controls. Stick with the original.

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #6

super mario kartMy sixth favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Mario has always been Nintendo’s bread and butter. What better way to capitalize on the Italian plumber we know and love than by letting him race go karts?

OK, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But do any of Mario’s adventures, when you really think about it? Just go with the flow.

Super Mario Kart is a joy to play. Each of the many selectable racers have their own stats. Bowser has slow acceleration but can knock anybody out of his way, for example. Picking the right driver can make all the difference in a given race.

SMK is not simply a racing game. Here Nintendo created a unique blend of racing and combat. Stuck in last place? Unleash a turtle shell that homes in on its helpless target and knocks them out for a few crucial seconds.

Taking full advantage of this battle element, the game has an entirely separate combat mode. Racers drive around in an enclosed arena, picking up shells, banana peels, feathers, and more in an effort to do in their opponent. My brother and I spent more time in this mode than the rest of the game combined.

The beauty of Super Mario Kart is in its simplicity. There’s no manual shifting, no overly complicated tracks, no complicated targeting system – anybody can pick it up and play.

Mario Kart made the move to the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and full 3D, and for some reason it didn’t capture the same magic again. Many would disagree with me, but I still prefer the SNES version. Next month the newest incarnation debuts on the Nintendo DS handheld, and this time I have high hopes. The addition of online play will add to the game substantially.

Top 10 multiplayer video game countdown: #7

turok rage warsMy seventh favorite multiplayer video game of all time:
Turok – Rage Wars (N64)

Really, this entry applies to the Turok series as a whole. Rage Wars is just the installment I remember playing the most.

The key to Turok was in its 4-player deathmatches. There was a single player campaign, sure, but I don’t think I ever touched it. This game felt like it was designed from the ground up as multiplayer gold.

Even so, it wouldn’t even place on this list without one single game type: Shoot the monkey. I never saw anything like it before, and haven’t since. One player is randomly chosen to become a small, screeching monkey running around the level. Everyone else’s goal is to shoot that monkey. Once the monkey shuffles off this mortal coil, someone else becomes the monkey. At the end of a time limit, he with the most monkey kills wins. Variations had the target as a chicken or lizard. Whoever came up with this idea gets a gold medal from me. Multiplayer in first person shooters such as this rarely brings anything new to the genre besides graphics and new guns. A little creativity goes a long way.

I spent many an evening in high school crowded around a Nintendo 64 and taking turns at this gem. Highly customizable battles added to the shine – especially unique weapons like the cerebral bore, inflator gun, shrinking gun, and freeze gun. Every round was fun in a new way.


I’ve been playing with Synchroedit a bunch today. This is a collaborative ‘net-based word processing tool. Theoretically multiple people can work on a document at the same time, in real-time. I say theoretically because I can’t figure out how to invite anybody else to work on my document with me…

Anyone have better luck than I? An application like this would have been very handy for the dreaded “write this essay with a partner or group” homework questions in grad school.