Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

“You Don’t Know Jack”: The Tabletop Game?!

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Ever since I first played them at the house of one of my uncles many years ago (I can’t remember how many years exactly, but  I was very young), I have been a devoted fan of the You Don’t Know Jack series of computer trivia games.  There’s just something inherently appealing about these games to me; maybe it’s the way that it can attract many of the people I know and love around a small computer screen to test the fringes of their knowledge, surprising their friends and family with what they know and leading to conversations about why they know the answer to that question.  It could be, too, that the games’ unique style of humor makes for an entertaining atmosphere which greatly complements some of the relatively obscure facts that come my way.  Either way, whenever I see the You Don’t Know Jack logo on something, it raises my curiosity a bit and I’ve got to check it out.  Such a thing happened to me recently at the flea market when I bought a You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game, an unusual piece of Jack merchandise but very interesting on its own terms.

Before this tabletop game, I thought there couldn’t be anything more unusual than the pair of You Don’t Know Jack trivia books I bought from a dollar store years ago; they are basically collections of questions from the games but without the witty host providing insane comments and insulting the players every minute or so, one of the elements that makes the computer versions so entertaining in my view.  But still, the trivia books are easily portable and can be played any time, whereas the original games come on CDs which have to be played on computers (there is a Facebook version which I play every day, but it doesn’t feel quite the same to me).  The tabletop game isn’t quite as portable: it’s a bulky machine that, I think, looks like a cross between the Batcave’s giant Batcomputer and the Panic Button game from Wayne Brady’s version of Let’s Make a Deal.  It’s not the easiest thing to carry around, even seated comfortably in its original box, and I’d be hard-pressed to say I would want to bring it over to a friend’s house to play a quick round of trivia.  When I did take it out of its box and play a few test rounds with my dad, though, it took me back to a bygone era of gaming that I had almost completely forgotten about.

After installing four new AA batteries (an action which makes me feel very old for even remembering how to do; how long has it been since I last installed batteries for you, Game Boy, old buddy!), my dad and I played a few short rounds of You Don’t Know Jack to see how the machine worked.  After we turned the machine on, we found that it was a bare-bones version of the Jack game which focuses exclusively on multiple-choice questions, leaving out the more iconic specialty question types such as the DisOrDat, Gibberish Question, or even the end-of-game Jack Attack.  I don’t mind that, though, as there is still some decent variety in the way the questions are presented.  Anyway, a basic game lasts for ten questions, each worth different amounts of fictional money ranging from $1,000 for easy questions to $3,000 for the hardest questions.  Whoever has the most “cash” at the end of the game is declared the winner.  This is a simple, fun approach to the Jack game which I feel works well for a tabletop version.

The basic game works as well as I could ever hope it to be.  Trying to work with the machine to play the game properly, though, is a bit of a chore.  Like I said, the questions are written on cards which you have to put into a screen on the machine’s front.  You then close a door on this same screen to cover up the card’s answer choices.  When the game prompts you to, you enter a unique number code using the buzzer buttons below the screen so the game knows which question you’re playing with.  You and the other players squeeze to look around the machine to see the question.  You then push another button on the side to open the door and see your answer choices.  You then have about ten seconds to hit your buzzer and select the correct answer.  If you get it right, the amount of money the question is worth is added to your score, but if you get it wrong, the money is subtracted; a score counter on the bottom of the machine keeps track of how everybody is doing, but it looked very small to me and it was a little hard for me to make out the numbers on its digital display. 

Moving cards around and resetting the machine for the next question takes a few seconds to do, a period of time which I’ve never really experienced to any great extent in any of the computer games because the next question loads automatically in those instances.  It is an experience which feels like it comes from a bygone time, back when I had to blow into an NES or Game Boy cartridge to get them to work.  The Jack machine reminds me of a long line of oversized plastic gaming machines and felt very clunky.  I don’t really see games like this on the toy market anymore, or anywhere else for that matter, so a machine like this feels like a “time machine” into my past. 

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings regarding the You Don’t Know Jack tabletop game.  It feels slightly clunky and is hard to move around and work properly, yet it taps into a deep feeling of nostalgia for a time I thought I would scarcely relive.  Not bad for a spin-off of a popular trivia game!

Have you encountered anything recently that gave you an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia?  What did it feel like to you?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

“Rootwork” iPad Game Review: Into the Woods

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
The autumn colors are all right with me. It's the shadows I worry about...

Hard to see the forest with all these trees in the way…

Within the last few weeks, I have taken on the challenge of mastering Rootwork, a new solitaire-style card game on the iPad with a unique, creepy atmosphere.  The gameplay is good on its own, but I have become more interested in following the story the game tells through the art depicted on the cards and through the movies unlocked after completing successful hands.  It all adds up to a palpable combination which I am quite happy savoring a little bit at a time.

As I said,  the story behind Rootwork is the main reason I keep playing.  After all, it drives just about everything you do in the game.  The basic premise is that you are lost in a dark, mysterious, fog-enshrouded forest filled with weird creatures, unsettling stick sculptures hung from the trees, and ruled over by an omnipotent being simply referred to as “She” who narrates all of the movies you see throughout the game.  Whoever “She” is, this entity does not want you to survive this night as it keeps sending powerful monsters your way and manipulating the very woods themselves to trip you up.  Fortunately, a nice father and son who were already consumed by the woods before you (which begs the question: How did they survive?) teach you about a special kind of enchantment called Rootwork (What are the chances?) which utilizes objects you find lying around in the woods to beat back the baddies and get out of the forest alive for one more night, at least until you wander back in again for another hand.  As you keep winning hands and escaping the woods, “She” tells you stories about the various creatures you encounter and how they came to the sorry state they are in, with the ultimate revelation apparently being who exactly “She” is (I haven’t gotten far enough in the game to find this out yet, but I hope it will be worth my while).

This drama plays out on a more basic level when you start playing the actual game.  With each new game, you are tasked with escaping the woods by finding three “Milestones” (familiar landmarks) before all of the time cards at the top of the game screen run out or before the monsters in the woods consume you.  Using your “Survival Cards” (the cards you put into your hand each turn), you match up the four colored symbols on your cards to those of the monsters and Milestones.  With each Milestone, you need to match up two monsters or “Sticks” as well as the Milestone itself, a goal which is often easier said than done.  Some cards need only one symbol to be matched while others need two of that type and are a bit trickier to deal with.  Some of your cards have one or two symbols as well which can help or hinder you depending on if they are the right colored symbol.  If they aren’t the right color, you can play them face-down to tick off half a symbol on a monster or Milestone, but trust me, you don’t want to get caught in a situation where you have to play four cards you wanted to save for later hands face-down to get rid of a two-symbol monster.  You only get to carry five cards in your regular hand as well as two or three more in Freecell-type holders off to the side, but if you can’t get rid of a “stick,” it will take up the space of one of those holders, preventing you from using it and reducing the number of cards you can keep in your hand.  With so few cards to work with, you might be able to get the right symbol combinations you need to advance, but chances are you will not have those, in which case you need to be diplomatic about which cards you want to use up in stopping the monsters and which ones you want to keep in your hand for the next deal.  It is this continuous balancing act and the ramped-up tension that accompanies each new hand that you must learn to deal with if you want to become a true survivor of Rootwork.

At first, I  lost more games of Rootwork than I won.  I hadn’t quite gotten the feel of managing all of the symbols I was given.  On top of that, I was working against the high levels of memorization required to succeed in the game.  You have to memorize where each Milestone you want is first in the four decks of “Site” cards you draw them from, then what six monsters and “sticks” comprise your opposition for that particular game.  If you don’t know where each “bad” card is and can’t bring up the cards you need to get rid of it, you could have a very tough time winning the game.  I remember losing five games in a row precisely because of this factor, and it only ended when I started paying attention during the sixth game.  Of course, the luck of the draw needs to be on your side, too.  Many of the games I have played so far have hinged on drawing the right cards at the right time and learning how to hold onto important cards for later hands.  Sometimes the draws work out in my favor, and sometimes they don’t.  Successfully moving cards between my hand and my holders and getting rid of cards that were taking up valuable space became one of my keys to victory after a few days.  Now, while I still lose some games because of the action on the playing field getting too out of hand for me to deal with, these losses are starting to become few and far between.  The path out of the woods is still treacherous, but at least I know how to look for the bumps in the road.

At the end of the day, the biggest success of Rootwork in my view is in terms of creating a suitably unsettling environment.  The backgrounds and card art provide illustrations of dark, gloomy forests, swampy terrain, slimy denizens, and other things designed to make you think twice about where you’re stepping.  The game’s soundtrack wonderfully compliments this weird imagery with sounds of crickets chirping, soft thunderstorms, gurgling swamps, atmospheric New Orleans-style zydeco music, and occasionally a taunt or two from “She” goading you on toward your possible doom.  The movies you unlock add considerably to the dark mood, mostly because they tell the sad stories behind many of the cards you play with.  It amazes me that all of the cards I encountered in the game was utilized in some way in these stories, making their appearances in the regular game much more meaningful for me.

Rootwork is a solidly built, psychologically disturbing, yet strangely inviting game.  True, the hands can get short once you know how all of the mechanics work, but for me, the age-old story of learning how to survive in a strange wilderness is a big part of this game’s appeal and the reason I want to keep running into the woods.  Maybe one day, I’ll find out who “She” is and fully understand the rhyme and reason why everything is chasing after me.  Then again, maybe I don’t really want to escape.  Why else would I keep running back into the forest?  Maybe “She” has already trapped me forever, and I don’t really care what happens next.  Only time will tell.

If you’re interested in Rootwork, you can currently find it on the Apple App Store (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch owners, take note).  I bought it for about two dollars and I think it is a premium-quality game at an inexpensive price, an excellent value if you can manage it.  If you have played Rootwork, I would like to hear from you what you think of your experience with the game.  What do you like or not like about the game?  Do you have any tips or strategies for escaping the woods safely that you have picked up on?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

[One last note: don’t let “Her” get the best of you!  You start each game with the “She” card in your possession.  You can use it to obtain one Milestone without the fuss of matching up all the cards in your hand, sort of like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly.  The catch is, if you use “Her,” “she will  sometimes cause a lot of bad cards to come your way, and she will negatively affect your character’s appearance for the rest of the game, and sometimes even beyond that.  I’ve never actually used “Her” in this way, though; I just play “Her” face-down so “Her” effects won’t kick in.  Besides, there’s an achievement if you win 1,000 games without playing the “She” card face-up (Why not face-down, I wonder?), so there’s not much of a point to using “Her” anyway.  If you want to use “Her,” though, just remember that “She” comes with a steep price.  Good luck!]

Flying High with “Iron Man 3” on the iPad

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Iron Man 3 is coming out in theaters this week, and with it has also come a brand new game for the iPad which I have been exploring for the past few days.  One thing I like about this game is that it is a variation on an “endless runner” in the tradition of other iPad games like Temple Run.  Normally, in these types of games, you basically run continously on an endless path and try your best to not run into or get hit by anything in your way.  The Iron Man 3 game puts a twist on that formula; instead of running, you fly through the sunny skies of Malibu and the concrete jungles of New York and blast away enemies with your repulsor rays in what I think might be the world’s most awesome shooting gallery.  I think it is a very good game with some nice graphical details, particularly the myriad suits of armor you can dress your virtual Robert Downey Jr. character in, but there are a few tiny problems which have dampened my experience a bit so far.

I do like how the game’s story starts where the Iron Man 3 movie ends, but there are no details given as to the movie’s ending (I think it’s safe to assume Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man survives).  Tony spends his days doing test flights around Malibu and New York with his army of armors and attempting to figure out the plans of the A.I.M. terrorist organization.  Each new day you play brings with it a new mission related to the story, usually detailing the involvement of a new boss character who has a vendetta against Tony.  At the beginning of a boss fight, the boss character and Tony (who doesn’t sound like Robert Downey Jr. at all, by the way, but the guy doing the voice does have nice, dulcet tones) engage in a brief dialogue exchange revealing the boss’s motivations and reasons for working alongside A.I.M.  After you beat the boss, they typically taunt Tony with some variation of, “I’ll get you next time,” then fly off to goodness knows where to show up again on another day.  Outside of these missions, you probably wouldn’t even know the game had a story, but it has kept me coming back to the game every day to see what happens next.  It’s a little corny, but I like to think of it like an old movie serial; you get just enough characterization and plot twists keep you coming back.   

As I mentioned above, the visual details in this game are top-notch.  The various Iron Man armors stand out the most to me, no doubt because they are the one thing I have been staring at the most.  The way that light reflects off of the armors and how every detail of each armor, from bolts to weapon attachments and even helmet shapes, stand out making them a pleasure to play with and ogle at in the main menu screens (when you start up a new game session, you can also examine each armor in considerable detail like you were in the showroom of a car dealership, a very classy feature in my view).  The Malibu environments you fly through, including beaches, busy city streets, Air Force bases, and car tunnels, are slightly less detailed but I think they are just varied enough that your eyes won’t get too bored.  The New York areas, which I just recently discovered after a plot twist in one of the main storyline missions, are a bit prettier and more varied with gleaming glass skyscrapers (some of which are on fire or falling to the ground due to missile attacks from the sky; I wonder if those missiles are the result of what happens in the movie?), underground subway tunnels, and harbors teeming with boats, crates, and construction.  The enemies you’re blasting away are somewhat plain-looking, mostly flying bullseyes and guys with jetpacks and bulky armor.  They are designed to only be on screen for only a few seconds, so I guess I can’t complain about them too much.  However, this same design treatment seems to have been given to the boss enemies, including famous villains from the Iron Man comics such as Russian Iron Man clone the Crimson Dynamo and giant-head-on-a-chair MODOK.  When I first saw these guys in the comics, they were huge and menacing, but in the game, they’re as small as the regular enemies and don’t really stand out too much visually.  Also, the boss fights seem, to me, much less epic than I feel they should be.  I hope more compelling bosses will be included in updates to the game in the future.    

The bosses are a cakewalk compared to the regular enemies.  Many of these guys carry huge lasers with them which are tough to dodge at times.  In addition, a lot of missiles show up in large groups with only a small hole in between to fit through.  I cannot tell you how many times my runs have ended due to my being too inundated with constant bombardments to move out of the way of one of these things.  I think I’m supposed to move out of their way and fire back, but that’s hard for me to do because I have to hold the iPad with one hand and move around the screen with the other.  I just can’t find the dexterity to move and fire at the same time.  If the game was a little more generous with the amount of time it takes for enemies to fire their shots, I could move out of the way a little better.  I wouldn’t mind this high difficulty at an arcade, but since I’m playing on a mobile device, it just makes the whole process of starting my run for a high score all over again just a smidge more irksome. 

One issue which I feel might become more irritating if it becomes prolonged is the game’s insistence on making you wait for things to happen.  A small portion of my time in the game so far has been watching timers count down while my armor’s health meter recharged for another run, an upgrade to the amount of my armor’s health or increased damage or special attacks took its time to be implemented, or waiting for a whole day to see the next part of the game’s main storyline.  These timers are generally short but can also be bypassed by paying a certain amount of in-game currency (which can be replenished by either picking up more of it in the game or spending some real-world money to increase your coffers).  As I have unlocked more armors and upgrades through regular play, I have noticed that the time for certain things to happen has gotten noticeably longer.  Early on, I could start another run right after I had finished my previous run, but now I have to wait a minute or two to start again.  In other “endless” games like Temple Run, you can play again automatically without any delay.  I could do this in Iron Man 3 as well by playing with a less powerful armor while my preferred one recharges, but I don’t really have much desire to do this because the game practically encourages you to use your most powerful armor to get the most distance, currency, enemy elimination rate, etc.  Patience isn’t typically a virtue valued in the “endless runner” genre, so I have little idea why it would suddenly be embraced in Iron Man 3.

Overall, I do have a few complaints about the Iron Man 3 game, but there are some things I do like which keep me coming back for more.  The story is serviceable, the voices of all the characters work well for a quick thrill, and going for all the new missions and upgrades is a compelling pastime to me.  Difficulty and underwhelming enemies aside, this game isn’t half bad in my eyes.  I definitely want to see more of what this game has to offer, even if I have to get hit by more of those darn missiles.

I’ve played a bit of the Price is Right Bingo game and it’s better than I thought it would be, but I want to hold off on the full review until after I’ve explored it some more; I’m still on the opening Cliff Hangers room and there’s still two rooms left to play for now, so I’ll catch up to you on that front.  I’m also looking forward to watching the Iron Man 3 movie this weekend, so I might post a review of that next week as well.  What do you guys think of my plans?  If you’ve played the Iron Man 3 game, what do you think of it so far?  Are you planning on watching Iron Man 3, and if so, what are you most looking forward to seeing in it (personally, I want to see how the movie treats long-time comics villain the Mandarin)?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

My Hopes for “The Price is Right Bingo”

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Yes, I know I8 doesn't really exist, but you know, for the sake of the joke, people...

Haven’t I seen this game somewhere B4? Must’ve been something I8.

The other day as I was looking over messages on my Facebook page, I noticed that there was an ad for a new bingo game on the site based on The Price Is Right.  It felt to me like the world stopped turning for a few seconds while I tried to take this in.  There are times when I like to pass the time with a quick game of online bingo and watch The Price is Right.  Put the two together?  Well, I don’t plan on being in front of my computer all day, but I do want to give the game a shot.  Bingo with Bob Barker might be one of the best combinations I’ve ever seen since that Reese’s guy put peanut butter and chocolate together.

From what I have seen from previews and screenshots of the game so far, the game makers seem to have the basics of bingo well in hand and matched up with a few show features already.  Getting a bingo will allow the player to participate in a minigame based on the familiar toss-up game where contestants bid on prizes.  Players can also somehow earn “Master Keys” which can unlock bonus prizes such as decorations, wallpaper, and other cosmetic features; I wonder if the “Master Key” pricing game is in there as well.  You can also spin the big wheel from the Showcase Showdown to get a multiplier which can increase your winnings, a feature I naturally assumed would be implemented in just that way.  I think all of these make for nice bookends for each game you play and they are a pretty big part of the show so I’m glad they made it in there.

The different bingo rooms in the game seem to have themes based on different pricing games from the show.  However, from what I have seen so far, I do not think any elements from the games themselves play a role in the actual bingo gameplay.  I’m surprised at that because when I first heard about the game, I kept picturing images of Plinko chips being placed on random numbers on a bingo card.  Thinking a little further, I started imagining gimmicks that the game makers could take from different pricing games and match up with an aspect of bingo.  For example, if the room theme was “Secret X,” one column on your bingo card could be hidden from view.  At the end of the game, the column would flip over and reveal a hidden marked number, just like the hidden X in the namesake pricing game.  If that number fell into a line of other numbers you had marked, you would have an instant bingo.  Also, I think it would be interesting to have players write out their own row of numbers at the beginning of a bingo round, in a manner similar to writing out your amount in “Check Game.”  Small additions like these could bring out the personality of the show a bit more while staying true to the traditional gameplay of bingo.

If ever there was a true application of the phrase, “two great tastes that taste great together,” then that might be The Price is Right Bingo.  It is a combination I never expected to see, but which I now can’t wait to check out.  After I “Come on down,” I hope to have a review of it for all of you shortly. 

What do you think of this new game, and would you want to play it?  If you’ve played it already, is there anything you like or dislike about it?  What would you add or take from it?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Obscure “Starcade” Games I Think Would Be Fun to Play

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Not bad for a TV screen and a wooden box.

Life’s all fun and games!

One of my favorite game shows of all time is Starcade, a show from the early 1980s in which kids played new arcade games in order to win such prizes as their very own arcade machine, a personal robot, a jukebox, and in a rare case, vacations to Hawaii with a large supply of quarters to spend in arcades in that state.  I became familiar with this show through frequent reruns on the G4 cable network and was entranced by some of the more unusual games featured on the show.  Tucked in between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were some unique games which I think I would greatly enjoy playing if I were to come across them in a real arcade.  The following is a catalog of five of those games as well as links to videos of the games in action.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Starcade show itself, I highly recommend checking out the official website set up by JM Productions, the company responsible for making the show; it contains a lot of cool stuff including complete episodes, videos and trivia of all of the games featured on the show, and music from those games, the show itself, and some of JM’s other shows.

5. Pooyan

One fine day in a nondescript virtual forest somewhere in the arcade, Mama Pig’s little piglets were kidnapped by a band of wolves.  Apparently the wolves decided to celebrate by freefalling from the top of a tree with balloons attached to their backs (Why balloons instead of parachutes?  Oh well, that’s video game logic for ya!).  Unbeknownst to them, Mama Pig will soon be taking revenge on them by firing darts at their balloons from the safety of an elevator controlled by some of her liberated children.  You, the player, must move the elevator up and down and fire darts at the wolves while avoiding the pinecones (or are they acorns?  Oranges?  They definitely look like circular objects, at least!) the wolves throw back.  It seemed to me that Pooyan was the game I saw being played most often on Starcade, as it was picked by one of the contestants in just about every single show in which it was one of the featured games.  I have wondered what made it so popular.  Is it because it was a horizontal shooter in an era when vertical shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga were still considered the norm?  Is is because the characters could quite possibly be the cutest-looking video game characters ever?  Whatever it’s appeal was, the Starcaders flocked to it like groupies at a rock concert.  I’d like to experience that phenomenon firsthand and see what all the fuss was about.

4. Pengo (not to be confused with the animated penguin character Pingu)

As announcer Kevin McMahan states at the start of the video I linked to above, “Pengo is a penguin.”  He is trapped in a maze of ice blocks with the Snowbees, round Q-bert imposters, chasing him down.  They are trying to stop him from completing his mission of lining up three specially marked ice blocks in a row for big points.  Fortunately, Pengo can fight back by sliding ice blocks across the playing field and over the Snowbees to make them vanish for a few seconds.  He can also destroy ice blocks to create new paths through the maze and to get rid of places where the Snowbees can regenerate.  Like Pooyan, I think this game has some very cute characters and provides a nice twist on an established arcade game genre, in this case maze games like Pac-Man and its ilk.  I also find it interesting that it seems to be a variation of an old Japanese game called Sokoban in which you push crates around a warehouse (ice blocks around an ice field?  Pretty much the same thing to me.).  I feel this game would appeal greatly to Pac-Man fans who want to see a different kind of maze game, and I think it’s a very “cool” game concept (come on, the pun was right there!).  (Incidentally, I love the background music this game has.  It sounds like a classical piece to me, but I’m not sure which one it is.  The Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to have the answer I’m looking for.  Does anyone else know?)

3. Popeye

Before Nintendo hit the big time with Donkey Kong, a game about an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute, they tried their luck in arcades with a game focused on, get this, an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute.  In this case, Popeye is attempting to beat the stuffing out of Bluto in order to rescue Olive Oyl, just like in all of his classic cartoons.  Popeye doesn’t have much of a fighting chance against the much stronger Bluto in his normal state, but luckily, the game makers have provided a few cans of spinach for the sailor to gulp down.  Naturally, eating one of these gives Popeye tremendous strength so he can knock Bluto’s block off and send him down into the water below the playing field.  In addition, Popeye can grab hearts and notes of love that Olive sends down from above for extra points.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this game outside of Starcade as it looks like a solidly built basic aracde game that could’ve been a big hit.  I’ve heard that Nintendo had a bit of trouble with King Features over the license to use the Popeye characters.  The game did get a release on the Japanese Nintendo Famicom (the original version of the NES) and Namco made a new game based on it for mobile phones in 2008, so at least some people are still able to play it in some form.  I’d still like to play the original arcade version, though.  It’s an interesting footnote in video game history, and I would be interested in playing it myself to see if it’s just as fun as Donkey Kong.

2. Cliffhanger (not to be confused with that Price is Right game with the mountain climber; that one’s spelled “Cliffhangers” with an added “s,” but I do think that yodeling music is very catchy!)

I think this game is probably the most unusual one on this list because it’s not really much of a game at all.  It’s actually an interactive version of a classic Japanese animated movie!  Actually, there’s two movies featured in the game: according to this Wikipedia page, the bulk of the game is based on Castle of Cagliostro with a small bit extracted from Mystery of Mamo.  In any case, the player is tasked with guiding the dapper chap Cliff in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Clarissa from the clutches of the fiendish Count Draco.  You don’t control Cliff or his friends directly, though: instead you move a joystick around and tap a button to play the next section of the movie.  This game was one of many such “interactive movie” games including Dragon’s LairSpace Ace, and Mach 3.  I’ve played all of those other games except Mach 3, and I think this type of game is very fun, if a bit limited.  I’d like to seek the Cliffhanger game out and play through it to complete my quest through all of this genre’s most notable games.  I wonder if such a bizarre source of footage would indeed make for compelling game play.

1. Super Pac-Man

 Since Starcade did focus on the world of arcade games, of course Pac-Man would be a fixture on the show.  In addition to Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, there was also a trio of unusual spin-off titles.  Pac-Man Plus was a souped-up version of the original game in which all of the characters moved faster and Pac-Man could consume a soda can which made all of the ghosts invisible (a bad thing if you hadn’t eaten a power pellet yet; those ghosts could pop out of nowhere Alien-style and get you when you least expected it!).  Professor Pac-Man wasn’t a maze game at all but rather a math quiz game with a graduation cap-wearing Pac-Man as the quizmaster.  The spin-off game I would most like to play, though, is Super Pac-Man.  In this game, Pac-Man is still playing “chase or be chased” with the ghosts and can still swallow power pellets to turn his enemies blue and then chomp them away for a time.  However, the familiar small dots have been replaced with more nutritious-looking apples for Pac-Man to consume.  Also, there’s a bunch of doors which block off certain sections of the maze.  Thankfully, someone apparently keeps dropping keys into the maze; whenever Pac-Man swallows one, he turns into Super Pac-Man and grows to ten times his regular size.  In this huge form, the ghosts can’t harm him and he can unlock the doors.  Even though the style of game play is, for all intents and purposes, fairly typical for a Pac-Man game, the small differences in this game is what I like.  It adds a couple of new wrinkles to the usual Pac-Man strategy: Do you want to unlock this new portion of the maze and give the ghosts more space to roam?  Which power-up do you want more at the moment: the key for the Super Pac-Man form or the old power pellet to get rid of your ghostly adversaries?  I’m not sure what my strategy would be, but I would like to play this game to find out.  Not to mention Pac-Man is just plain fun in any form, so ten times the size could surely equal ten times the fun!

There were a lot of neat games featured on Starcade that I liked to see or was interested in.  Would you like to hear more about them or about the show itself?  Are there any arcade games you really enjoyed or still enjoy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  And until next time, in the words of host Geoff Edwards, “May all your troubles get zapped!”

Random Top Five: The Greatest Pac-Man Dots

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

 

I'll take Wakka Wakka Wakka for $100, Alex.

The maze of life: a box with dots and ghosts.

From time to time on this site, there will be short top five lists based on random topics.  For this particular list, I have decided to count down the top five greatest dots or groups of dots that appear in the original maze in Pac-Man. Please note that for the purposes of this list, only the 236 regular dots which Pac-Man must consume as part of his daily travels throughout the maze are in the running.  The four power pellets, the large ones in the four corners of the maze which give Pac-Man the ability to chomp up his ghostly pursuers, are disqualified because of their unique nature (in addition to the performance-enhancing drugs scandal they were part of some years back).

5. The paths of dots in the two S-curves at the maze’s bottom. 

These dots are in areas that are radically different from the straight lines found everywhere else in the maze, so you get a nice bit of variety in terms of scenery.  The eight dots that each curve offers make for a good snack to keep your energy up for the next straightaway. They also highlight a good bit of strategy: if you plan your route right, ducking down these winding corridors can throw the ghosts off your tail a bit as they’re forced to compensate for the slight change in architecture.

4. The dots on either end of the warp tunnel at the maze’s right and left walls.

These dots may not seem like much on their own, but the tunnel openings they sit in front of make them all the more appetizing.  After you swallow either one of them, make a hard left or right into the warp tunnel.  Through some kind of magical space-time warp which has still yet to be explained, Pac-Man will appear on the other side of the maze, promptly chomping up the dot waiting at the other end of the tunnel and continuing his mission of eating everything in sight.  If you have a bunch of ghosts ganging up on you, taking this escape route can be a godsend.  Watching the ghosts scramble around like the Keystone Kops while I relax far away from them has provided me with a bit of hilarity many times.

3. The two dots to your right and left when you start a new game.  

 Do you remember the first thing you saw when you were born?  I can bet that Pac-Man vividly remembers seeing two small dots floating beside him in the inky blackness of the maze soon after he came into the world.  I’m sure he was curious about what these new things were for and if they were exciting.  He would have quickly moved toward one of them, putting his gigantic mouth over it and swallowing it whole.  He then would have seen another one in front of him, so he would have eaten that one, too.  Then another and another and another, and pretty soon, he was addicted to the darn things.  He couldn’t complete a maze without swallowing all of them; they became his life’s calling.  But he’ll always remember that first dot.  That first stinking dot.  It’s all that dot’s fault that his life’s all out of sorts!  Oh sure, the maze gives him fruit to eat and ghosts to torment (and be tormented by), but the rest of the time it’s just regular, plain vanilla-flavored dots.  It’s enough to make anyone want to become a carpenter and dodge barrels thrown by a giant ape…  But like I said, all great stories have to start somewhere, and those two dots are it.

2. The first dot you eat after swallowing a power pellet.

This dot (any one of eight regular dots depending on in which direction you approach the pellet) knows its place in line.  It does not matter what happens to me, it thinks to itself.  I am no more important then those in front or behind me.  The yellow god has become death incarnate, and woe betide all who stand in his wake.  That little dot is right, you know.  What’s a mere ten points compared to the 1600 that Pac-Man can get after eating a power pellet then pulling off the spectacular feat of eating four ghosts in rapid succession?  This dot could never hope to equal that greatness, so it resigns itself to its fate and prepares itself for the day its world ends.  Goodbye, world, it thinks as it enters the yellow god’s mouth and blinks out of existence.  The points will go on, but alas, my days are done. 

1. The last dot you eat before swallowing a power pellet.

Those same eight dots that I mentioned above can sometimes play another role.  In this state, they are not the nervous citizens of a new deadly world recognizing that their time has passed.  They are instead young, free, excited to become part of something bigger than themselves.  These power pellet parties have apparently become seen as the best places to be in the maze.  The young dot stands in line along with the other dots, watching the thumping lights of the big round  club and waiting for its chance to walk through those doors, let loose, and enjoy itself  for the first time in its life.  Maybe it’ll meet a nice girl dot and they can swap numbers, maybe even go out for a movie later.  Yes, these dots are young, but they’re also hopelessly naive.  How could they know the pain that will come after the yellow god harvests their bodies and uses their power to turn ghosts into so much liverwurst?  How could they ever know?  All the difference in the world is thus made depending on what side of the pellet you’re on.  Better to be number one than number two.

I hope you didn’t find this list too hard to swallow.  Did it suit your appetite?  Are you craving more?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Weekend Thoughts: March 2-3, 2013

Monday, March 4th, 2013
My days truly are numbered.

Time to check what we learned today.

This blog entry is very special for all of us here at Kellogg Thoughts.  This is the tenth official entry I’ve written for this site:  we’re into double digits now!  Even better, this is the second entry dedicated to my Weekend Thoughts, reflections on things I noticed or learned during the two days I normally do not write or upload material to this blog.  However, as you may have noticed if you checked this site during the weekend, I actually did do some work on the blog for reasons which I feel obligated to explain to all of you below.  So, without further ado, my most prominent thought during the weekend was…

 

Sometimes, I will have to work on this blog during the weekend, but that’s not a bad thing.

The second Real Advice for Fictional Characters entry was originally supposed to appear on Friday, but I had a little trouble with making the entries come out the way I wanted, so I thought a bit about it overnight and finished it up on Saturday.  My main objective with these “advice” entries is to make sure that all of the jokes are genuinely funny and the references to characters and the works they appear in aren’t too obscure.  Working on this particular entry proved more difficult than usual; at the beginning, I kept thinking about how advice columns usually look and I guess I forgot to put in funny jokes.  I had to go back several times and edit, rewrite, and replace the “mail”  until I had something I could genuinely call funny.  I now believe the old saying is definitely true: Laughing is easy, but comedy is hard.  I think writing comedy might be the hardest of all!  But, I like seeing the results of my efforts. 

 

Even the shortest of journies can be epic.

I downloaded a free iPad game over the weekend called MicroVentures which quickly became one of my favorite new diversions.  You play as one of three different heroes: a knight, a rogue (basically a medieval ninja with very strong attack power), or a wizard, all with their own styles of gameplay and storylines, and take them through randomly-generated worlds full of monsters and treasures.  Each gameplay session lasts about five minutes as you explore the world, make your character stronger through weapon upgrades and helpful items, then tackle the gigantic boss monster waiting at the end to either, depending on the story driving your current quest, collect the most valuable treasure or rescue an important character.  This formula did get a bit stale once I figured out how a lot of things in the game worked, particularly with the storylines which read a lot like Mad Libs stories filled out during a few games of Dungeons and Dragons.   But even then, there is a bit of variety to the environments you can go through, the monsters you fight, and the items you collect which kept me coming back for multiple play sessions.

I’ve played through about twenty-five adventures in this game already, and I feel like I have mastered two of the game’s three characters.  The basic strategy for the knight is to collect anvil power-ups to increase his strength so he can take care of most monsters in one or two hits, and the rogue’s strategy calls for collecting potions to keep her strength up while her aptitude for critical hits keeps you mowing down enemies through to the end.  The wizard is still a mystery to me because the spells he casts don’t seem all that effective to me and it takes a while for him to build up good offensive capabilities.  I’ll keep playing to see if I can figure him out, too, and to see if I can clear the new two-part quests I apparently unlocked during my last few gameplay sessions.  This game still surprises me with each new world it creates, and exploring them is still very fun.

 

I’m still not sure what to think of History’s The Bible.

The big highlight of my weekend was watching the premiere of the History Channel’s ten-part miniseries, The Bible, with my mom.  I had heard about it a few months ago and was looking forward to it to see just what kind of adaptation it would be.  There were some parts I liked about the show and how it faithfully depicted Biblical events, but I was disappointed by other aspects of the production which I felt could have been done better or should have been included.  While this topic could pretty much take up an entire blog entry on its own, I’ll just make three small observations here.  They are all related to the show, not the work it adapts; please don’t interpret anything I write here as a comment on the Bible itself.  I love it with all my heart, and I just feel that the show could have done a lot better in terms of faithfully adapting it for television.

1. The stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark were not covered in any particular depth.  They were pretty much relegated to a five-minute introductory sequence before moving right into Abraham’s story.  I was highly disappointed with this detail because the previews had made me believe that these stories would be a bigger part of the show than they turned out to be.  I was looking forward to how the show would interpret them, too, so to see them treated as mere window dressing felt to me like I had been ripped off a bit.  I think these two stories are some of the most famous and important parts of the entire Bible, so it feels strange to me that a major TV show whose main purpose is to faithfully present the Bible would basically skip them.

The show also skipped over the forty-year period between the Exodus and Joshua’s invasion of Jericho when the Israelites were wandering in the desert.  I can understand how this might be hard to adapt into a television show, but I was surprised when it did not even provide so much as a brief explanation of this jump in time or any mention of the wandering period at all.  That’s three whole books of the Bible they jumped over (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

2. There are no “talking heads” on this show.  The Bible presents all of its material as straight adaptations of Bible stories accompanied by an off-screen narrator.  I think this kind of show could easily have been done on HBO, Showtime, AMC, or any other network, but I was expecting something a little more special from the History Channel.  I kept looking for signs that the show was going to bring in Biblical scholars, people of faith, skeptics, any and all manner of experts to talk about and make sense of the stories being presented.  I love shows with that kind of informative discussion, and I feel that the Bible would lend itself to a very interesting conversation.  I was disappointed to see that it shied away from this approach, as it has done for a lot of the other shows on the network.  I feel like this show lost out on a big opportunity to present an honest discussion that you do not see very often on regular television, one I would eagerly look forward to.  Perhaps the show’s producers are expecting viewers to have that sort of discussion among themselves, but I would have liked to have seen informed professionals take a crack at it. 

3. I was very impressed with the show’s depiction of Moses and the Isrealites and the story of the Exodus.  The segment with Abraham was a bit hard for me to take because of the massive death counts and hard decisions of faith which seemed to come every few minutes or so.  The first portion of the Exodus story was like that, too (I never thought too much of what Pharaoh and the Egyptians went through during the ten plagues until now), but at the end where the Isrealites had successfully escaped across the Red Sea, I felt like celebrating along with them.  After watching a lot more death and misery than I had expected, I thought about how the Israelites must have felt  after they had left behind hundreds of years’ worth of suffering.  It must have been exhilarating. 

 

That was my weekend in a nutshell.  If you have any thoughts about what I experienced that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments.

Weekend Thoughts: Feb. 24-25, 2013

Monday, February 25th, 2013

When I started this blog, it was my intention to post at least one new entry every weekday while taking weekends off to rest and recharge.  During my first weekend away from the blog, however, I noticed that there were a few things I wanted to write about based on what I had seen and heard during the two-day period.  Therefore, I have decided that that from now on, my Monday entry will be devoted to various  thoughts I came up with during the weekend based on what I have experienced.  This way, every day of the week can feel like they have a home here.  My base thought is presented in boldface followed by my personal opinion and analysis.

The bonus puzzles in Wheel of Fortune can be ridiculously hard and unfair sometimes.  I was playing a version of Wheel of Fortune on my iPad over the weekend, and I noticed that some of the puzzles used during the bonus round turned out to be a very obscure turn of phrase that I doubt would occur to most people.  I often feel frustrated when I see such puzzles turn up on the TV version of Wheel, but at least in that context they provide an interesting problem for contestants to solve and even if they don’t get it, they usually have enough money and other prizes to have done a good half-hour’s work anyway.  Such puzzles in the video game, however, leave me feeling like I am missing something.  There is a line of logic the puzzle writer sometimes follows which does not occur to me as a player, not just because I picked the wrong letters, but because the kind of English phrase being used just isn’t one I would use normally.  Unless its something I might commonly use or hear other people using, there’s a good chance I won’t get it.  I think it would probably be the same way for most people.  If I was writing a puzzle for a game like Wheel of Fortune, I would first test it out on a focus group before unleashing it on the larger public.  I feel that such puzzles need to be understood by a wide variety of people in order to be successful thus keeping the videogame just as exciting and interesting as the television show.

The old and new styles of Spongebob Squarepants actually do go well together.  Nickelodeon programmed a seven-hour marathon of Spongebob Squarepants episodes for Sunday; I watched quite a bit of it.  It was a mix of episodes from two different eras of the show, one consisting of the first three seasons, and the other containing episodes released from season four onward after The Spongebob Squarepants Movie came out.  Normally, I consider these two eras to be wildly different from each other based on the changes in the animation teams that made them and the different styles of humor on display during a typical episode from each era.  Shockingly, I found the episodes picked for the marathon fit very well together thematically and had roughly the same sense of humor emphasized throughout.  I happily gobbled down the episodes like popcorn and left feeling satisfied, but also wanting more.  Even though I am a big fan of the show, I haven’t felt that way about Spongebob in a long time.  This marathon was a much-welcomed surprise, and I wouldn’t mind seeing another one like it soon.

Even after a 150 year separation in time and space, there still can be such a thing as “too soon.”   I was watching the Academy Awards with my parents on Sunday night, enjoying the attempt to merge host Seth McFarlane’s controversial style of humor with a more sedate, understated event like the Oscars.  For the most part, everything I saw worked on a basic level and didn’t take away from the glamour and honor the event typically displays.  He did show off his talents for song and dance in ways that I thought were very tasteful.  However, there was a weird moment involving a McFarlane joke which my mom and I had slightly differing opinions on.  Shortly after mentioning the movie Lincoln as part of a monologue bit, the host joked that the only actor who ever truly succeeded at getting “inside” Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth (his assassin).  Naturally, the entire audience seemed very uncomfortable about this joke, prompting McFarlane to comment on this by saying something along the lines of, “What, don’t tell me that after 150 years, that kind of joke is still too soon.”  My mom was very disgusted by the joke and McFarlane’s response to the audience’s groans, and I can understand why.  Lincoln’s death at Booth’s hands remains to this day one of the great tragedies of American history.  Any attempt to make light of it could be considered unthinkable by most people.  However, I think McFarlane was pretty brave to even attempt to do something like that on such a prominent stage, and to his credit, his “too soon” line went over much better with the crowd.  I thought the “getting inside Lincoln’s head” part was a slightly clever turn of the traditional meaning of that phrase, and the way that that particular moment was just about the edgiest thing McFarlane did all night made me glad that he held his composure on one of the most important nights in Hollywood.  Not to mention that having seen and heard some of his edgier material myself, in my opinion, it is not the worst thing he has ever done, and thank goodness he didn’t try anything worse!

On that note, I believe it is time we let this weekend blog post come to an end.  I hope all of you enjoyed it.  Please leave your recommendations and other thoughts in the comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 1: Mind Games

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
You send mail, you'd better get mail.

Look, you’ve got a letter!

I enjoy helping people however I can, both in my personal life and through my writing.  As a fun exercise in providing such help and in the spirit of such great advice-givers as Ann Landers, “Dear Abby”, and Dr. Phil, I decided to start an advice column for fictional characters in need of help.  For the sake of privacy, the help-seekers have kept their identities hidden (however, I have linked their nicknames to their Wikipedia pages, just in case any of you are curious as to who they really are).  I hope you enjoy the fruits of my efforts.  Let’s get to some letters.

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I always felt like a rat in a maze, but now I’m in a real tight spot.  I’ve been trying to achieve my goals and, for a while, I was on a straight path to happiness.  Now, though, the ghosts of my past are coming back to haunt me.  I’ve looked for any and all paths to freedom, but it doesn’t look like there’s any place to turn or escape.  I’ve lost my way and my appetite mulling over this problem.  What do I do?  Signed, Pellet Muncher

Dear Pellet Muncher,

It does indeed sound like these “ghosts of the past” have got you cornered.  I’m not too surprised by this outcome, though.  These tight situations often happen when you follow a singular path for a long time without considering other and, in some cases, better options that may appear along the way.  Don’t worry too much.  Stop and look at your problems from a larger perspective.  It may seem like you’re trapped now, but if you back up a little and see all of the other options you can take, you may find a better way to go.  If all else fails, remember to trust the people and things around you that have helped you the most (at the moment, those would be the power pellets and that tunnel that can shoot you out to the other side of the maze).  I hope this helps, and don’t forget that fruit will keep you very healthy!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Mamma mia!  Have I got a doozy for you!  There’s someone special I really want to see, but she keeps playing hard to get.  I’ve been hopping mad trying to get to her.  Life has put a lot of obstacles in my way, namely turtles, chestnuts, man-eating plants, etc.  But with a good bit of athleticism and agility (and a few mushrooms, but trust me, they are for healing purposes only!), I have powered through everything.  Every time I show up at her castle, though, one of her friends always tells me, “Thank you, but our princess is in another castle!”  I’m tired of this routine, and I’m starting to think she’s not really worth all this trouble.  Should I keep going or should I pack up my wrench and go home?  Signed, Perplexed Plumber

Dear Perplexed Plumber,

I’d say keep going.  It sounds like you have been through a lot lately, and I’m sure the path has been rough at times, but it sounds like you really are enamoured of this girl.  Just look at all you’ve been through just to get to this girl’s house.  It takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to go through so much trouble just for one person.  Even though you know the world around you has made it very difficult to see this young lady that you profess has captured a special place in your heart, you keep trying anyway.  I will give you one more small piece of advice though.  After all that you have done, this girl had better be worth the time you’ve put into getting to her!  If she still does the whole “missing in action” bit, then feel free to find some other person or goal, but at this point in time, I think you shouldn’t give up just yet.  Keep on hopping!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’ll keep this short; I don’t want to waste your time.  A little while ago, I was speeding through life like I always do.  I was making split-second jumps, bopping the bad guys, and grabbing all the brass rings I can (actually, they’re more like gold rings in my case, but you know what I mean, right?).  All of a sudden, though, I ran right into a wall (covered in spikes, no less)!  All my progress stopped, I lost track of what I was doing, and now I’m having trouble getting back up to speed.  Can you give me a running start?  Signed, Blue Blur 

 Dear Blue Blur,

Don’t worry, you aren’t wasting my time; I’ve got plenty of it.  Actually, I’d suggest you slow down, a good deal slower in fact.  The reason you ran into that wall is because you were going too fast to begin with.  I’m certain you couldn’t possibly have noticed the wall or anything else while you were moving at the speed of sound.  Next time, cool your jets and move a bit slower.  Soon, you might notice that you can see everything more clearly including those bumps in the road.  If you take time to look where you’re going, you can avoid a lot of trouble for yourself.  I’m not saying you have to slow down too much, for you can still go pretty fast and know what’s in front of you.  Just don’t go so fast that you end up hurting yourself even more if you don’t stop.  There’s truth in the saying, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”  And by all means, keep reaching for those gold rings.  I always thought they sounded better than brass anyway!  Have a blast!  Ben

 

That’s all the advice I’ve got this time around, folks.  I’ve got plenty more messages from fictional characters I want to get to; the mail never seems to stop coming in!  If you’d like to see more or if there’s a fictional character that you know could use some help, let me know in the comments.  I believe that while a good piece of advice can help you get through a tough situation, a great piece of advice can keep on helping you for the rest of your life.  I definitely want to give great advice.

Pop Culture Questions (And An Autistic Mind’s Answers)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
Questions

So many questions, so little time…

I love pop culture.  It is a language that I understand as fluently as English.  Sometimes, however, some parts of pop culture seem nonsensical or irrational to me.  They cause me to question the material and the internal logic driving it.  In my attempts to make sense out of them and have a little fun with it all, I have come up with some very unique questions and answers.  Here are a few examples of my pop culture “how comes.”

How come the lyric goes, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore?”  I’m pretty sure that the moon (or any other celestial object of considerable size) making an impact with one’s head would more likely generate sensations of pain rather than pleasure.  I assume it wouldn’t feel like a large pizza, either, which is a shame because I’d rather be hit by something soft and gooey than something hard and imposing.

How come the kids in the Boxcar Children book series are still referred to by that name by other people even though they have clearly not lived in a boxcar in quite some time?  They did manage to make a nice home for themselves in a boxcar in the first book, but I believe it might get tiresome for them to be constantly reminded of this point over and over again.  Besides, by now they’re probably better known as a mystery-solving family anyway.  I think they should embrace their new positions as “Scooby-Doo imitators” and go the whole nine yards.  If they really did want to keep the boxcar thing going, they could probably turn that boxcar into a Mystery Machine-type vehicle and go cross country.

How come Stephen Hawking says time travel doesn’t exist?  In a recent television special, Hawking carried out an experiment to test the validity of time travel.  Basically, he set up a party for time travelers and left an open invitation lying on the ground outside of the building where the party was being held.  According to him, any time travelers curious enough to attend the party would arrive on the spot and, seeing the invitation, would join Hawking inside.  Hawking waited for over an hour to see if anyone would show up, but no one did.  He then stated that he had just proven that time travel doesn’t exist.  By his reasoning, there should have been roughly a dozen people suddenly wandering around the room, but since there was no one else there, clearly time travel had not been invented yet or even perfected at any point in the future.

I think Hawking has a bit of faulty reasoning here.  It seems a bit arrogant to me to send out party invitations to a bunch of time travelers for a television special and expect them to show up instantaneously.  I feel it is safe to assume that they might have encountered problems in the space-time continuum while attempting to get to the party.  Also, they might have seen the special, or at least a rerun of it, in the future, felt insulted by Hawking’s demeaning portrayal of their activity, and decided not to attend to avoid being further insulted.  Some may have actually shown up, but, if certain time travel theories are to be believed, they were either moving too fast for the naked eye to normally observe or they showed up for different versions of the party in alternate universes.  The possibilities of time travel have been debated for generations in both academics and mass media.  Because of this, I believe that Hawking should have waited for more concrete evidence to show itself before passing judgment on something which could possibly exist in the future.

How come the henchmen in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus video game chase Sly around for a few moments if they see him, but if he gets away, they just go back to their regular patrol route without a second thought?  They know he’s lurking around the place stealing things willy-nilly, especially because their boss just told them so via the public address system.  However, they just retreat back to their normal walking patterns as soon as Sly is out of earshot.  One would think that if these minions used a little more common sense, they would expand their designated patrol areas and hunt Sly all over the map.  Instead, they stick to one solitary zone and leave it to their brethren to try to catch Sly.  The minions in the later Sly games at least have the sense to chase the raccoon over short distances before giving up the ghost.  Of course, all of the minions seem particularly susceptible to a few good whacks from Sly’s wooden cane, so maybe they are actually wise to keep away from their adversary.

How come you always see “endless runner” games on mobile devices but never “endless walkers?”  I have played quite a few endless runner games recently and each has been a delightful experience in and of itself.  However, it is clear to me that a twist on the genre could bring a great deal of excitement, or at least originality, if done correctly.  Instead of outrunning a giant wave of lava or a gargantuan monster, the player could be attempting to cross a busy street which just so happens to have a sidewalk always in the distance (you don’t have to be Frogger to have this sort of setting).  The player’s character could walk at a leisurely pace giving the player a chance to look at the beautiful graphics of the world around them.  The main problem with this idea is that there are very few places where such games could be played.  The Nintendo Wii has had a couple of walking games made which used the Wii Balance Board, but they have not resembled what I am picturing in my mind.  Smartphones and tablet computers, from which a number of endless runners originated, could support endless walkers, but the active portion of the genre might be a bit limited.  If an endless walker could be built into treadmills and implemented at health clubs, they may experience a surge in popularity.  Someone needs to get in on this genre now!

How come the song goes, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning?” Are there different levels of enjoyment in different states?  Do North and South Carolina offer different levels of early morning enjoyment?    Can happiness levels be considered equal in every part of a state as small as South Carolina?  Do you think taking songs literally leads to temporary madness?

These are just a few pop culture questions that have gone through my mind over the years.  Do you have a different take on the questions I have outlined above?  Are there pop culture queries that have driven you crazy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments; they might influence future posts.  Tune in next week, I’ll have more pop culture questions and answers!!