Weekend Update

Sorry SNL, I stole your title… Anyway, I’m going to try to make it a point to post SOMETHING every weekend, at the LEAST. The site can get pretty boring without some sort of regular update (even though lack of activity seems to do nothing to deter the spammers), so I’m making an effort. Today’s posting is simply a “What’s up update”. It seems I’ve been sucked in by the power of the “dark side” and I now play X-Box over PS3 by about 4:1. The only thing that pulls me back to the PS3 right now is Little Big Planet. And this is only because it’s not available on the X-Box, or I’d probably have it for BOTH systems. As I mentioned in my review, Microsoft seems to haev gotten a lot right, especially the addictive “Gamerscore” gimmick. It’s all about raising that score, and it uniquely ties all of your games together. We’re (I’m) currently addicted to Left4Dead, trying to finish the second part. I managed to complete the first part–not on my own, but with the help of an 11-year-old (Tyler)–after a couple weeks of struggling. I think one thing that hooked me was the fact that I work in a big hospital, and the objective of part 1 (titled “No Mercy”) is to make it across town to “Mercy Hospital”, work your way through the hospital, onto the roof, and catch a rescue helicopter. There are hordes of zombies after you the entire way, some of them “regular”, while others explode with amazing force, some emitting a toxic green smoke, and others that have tongues hundreds of yards long that the throw out fram great distances and heights to grab you, constrict you, and pull you toward them. Without the help of your teammates at this point, you’re sure to be zombie food. SO I spent a week getting all the way to the roof, only to be overwhelmed by zombies of all kinds after calling for the rescue helicopter to come get us. You can play the game by yourself (with 3 other computer teammates), play split-screen with a friend, or play online with human teammates elsewhere. I was using the computer teammates all week, because they’re pretty dependable and smart (they won’t turn on their teammates like a lot of X-box Live players will). So until tyler helped me out, I was getting defeated ay every attempt to survive until the helicopter arrived. Tyler was able to help me hold off the swarming hordes long enough for us to reach the helipad and jump onto the helicopter, and we were off to the next chapter. Now we’re both stuck at the end of the second chapter, in a farmhouse out in the country, again waiting for help to arrive. Another great aspect of this game is it’s “fear factor” (another “sorry” to NBC for stealing another title). The game can be so quiet and calm at times, and then BAM, zombies everywhere, attacking you so fast you panic! It’s very well done, and an awesome game to play at night, alone in the dark, with the volume cranked up (and the wife not home). The “crescendo moments” are very dramatic and frightening.

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In “Fish News” – our baby Plecostamus passed away a couple weeks ago. We’re not sure why, all of the other fish look healthy…except one. Over the past couple days we’ve noticed one tigerfish that likes to swim upside down. He swims continuously, he just constantly does it upside down, 99% of the time. We’re going to have to get our water tested I think. But other than those two, the tank has been amazingly stable for a couple years.

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In “Employment News” – We’re both still employed, which, in this economy, is a major accomplishment in itself.

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In “Family News” – Bear (Dennis) is now engaged to Diane, Sandy just turned the big “FIVE-OH! MY ACHING BACK!” and Kevin just turn eleven. That’s about it for now. I’ll be scanning some more photo albums soon, so watch for those. L8r!

X-Box 360 First Impressions

The 360 has been out for quite some time, but I’ve been in “PS3 Land” for the past few years, and I’ve totally avoided anything X-Box up until last month, so this is my look at how it is, from someone who now has both the PS3 and the X-Box 360. There are some very interesting similarities and differences, that’s for sure, and I’ll get to those soon enough. Kevin had been wanting the “Viva Pinata” games and a few other “X-Box exclusive” games for a while now, dropping hints here and there. I mostly tried to ignore them in the past, but in my spare time I’d look closer at them once in awhile, read some X-Box reviews and comparisons to the PS3, nothing too serious, just guaging the competition. So as his birthday approached (and tax refund time came) this year, I focused more of my time on the 360 and its pluses and minuses, and eventually–just before Kevin’s birthday–decided to go ahead and get one. We made it a birthday present, though it’s far beyond the budget we usually have for his birthday gifts. We explained to him afterward that it’s more of a gift for the entire family, and he understood. We also got him the Viva Pinata games though, and those are “just for him”. He’s enjoying them a great deal. But those, as it turns out, are only a small part of the big picture. The selection of online X-Box Live “Arcade” games is pretty big, as it turns out. I would say it’s about equal to PS3’s selection though. Both the PS3 and X-Box 360 have online services of course, and one of the “minuses” I have found with the 360 is that there is a monthly fee for the “X-Box Live Gold Membership”, while the PS3’s network is completely free. It’s not much, and it’s cheapest if you pay for it annually, but it’ll add up, that’s for sure. There is a free “Silver” membership option, but you lose a lot of the best features of the service that way. Another “minus” is in the structure of the X-Box Live account–only one user can be online at any given time on a single account, even though you can have multiple “profiles” on that account. So you you want to play a 2-player split-screen game locally (in the same household) forget about it, unless you have two separate X-Box Live Gold accounts! So this mean that in order for Kevin and I to play against each other and have the system keep our “Gamerscores” and achievement stats separate, we both have to have our own completely separate accounts–which costs me double annually. I’m hoping Microsoft comes to their senses on this eventually, but I doubt it. For now, Kevin and i have our two separate accounts, and we’re enjoying the heck out of them. The PS3 and the 360 also both have trophy systems–The PS3 calls them “Trophies” and the 360 calls the “Achievements”, but they’re pretty much the same thing. You earn a trophy in a game when you either perform a very difficult or interesting task in a game, or if you complete a specific mission or level in a game. each game designer determines the number of trophies or achievements their games have and what is required by the player to earn them. Sony then lets you compare your trophy collection with all of your friends. Microsoft, however, has taken this much further and developed a cool way of collecting all of your achievement points into a “Gamerscore”. You can not only compare your achievements with your friends, but you have a total “Gamerscore” that represents your overall achievement total. You can see just how adept your friends are at a particular game by checking out thier total gamerscore on a game, or see just how active they are overall by looking at their full score (and drooling). On the minus side for the 360, however, is the way they handle the monetary system on X-Box Live. On the PS3 network everything is in dollars. You can see that an add-on is $2.99, or a partular full game is $19.99. But on X-Box Live you have to deal in “points” that don’t really match up with any solid equivalent. You can buy them in “packs”, for example, 1600 X-box Live points for $20.00, $25 buys you 2000 points, etc. Basically the exchange rate is always “100 points = $1.25 US. This is supposedly very consistent, though the exchange rate for other countries for the same number of points varies quite a bit. Anyway, it makes it a little more confusing trying to determine how much you’re actually paying when you purchase something, while the PS3 makes it much simpler. As for gameplay itself, I’m not find much difference in quality of gameplay between the two systems. They both seem to be up to the task of playing today’s games quite well, though the X-Box network is rumored to be much better-optimized that the PS3 Network. I haven’t had enough personal experience with that yet to be certain myself though. This weekend, with Tyler (Jayson’s son) visiting, we’ve been giving the 360 a workout, and Tyler’s really enjoying Left4Dead a lot. It has a great local two-player split-screen mode, but he’s also been playing online already, and is the first one to try out the headset that we got with the system, talking to the other players in an online battle against (and with) other zombies and human players. He says it works really well. This coming from an 11-year-old who–up until Kevin’s birthay–said he hated the X-Box 360. So all in all we’re pretty happy with it. It’s a slightly different world than the PS3, so there’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s really fun! Our Gamertags are: JimNKev (mine) and KevNJim (Kevin’s). Tyler’s gamertag is TylerNTrottier