29 January 2007

And then there were four...

My radiant and extremely beautiful wife took a test Saturday that she couldn't study for... and passed with flying colors! The reward from this test should arrive sometime in September and our family is incredibly excited!

When we sprang the good news on the kids, we said, "Kimmie is going to be a big sister; do you know what that means?" Brennan quickly replied, "It means that mommy is going to have another baby?!" Kids rock.

It will be fun to see what adventures this new (and I'm sure high-spirited) addition to our family will bring. Each new child bringing their own individuality in the world, expressed through all their cute-isms (like Kimmie calling lemonade "mermade", Mandi's incredible ability to read nearly everything placed in front of her and Brennan's mad dance skills.)

We thank our Father in Heaven for blessing us with each and every one of these beautiful miracles in our lives... even when they test our patience limits on a daily basis; they're wonderful and teach us so much.

26 January 2007

Attention all Multi-Level Marketers... I'm NOT Interested!!!

It never ceases to amaze me the tactics Multi-Level-Marketers (or Pyramid Schemers, or Scamwayers or whatever other terms you're familiar with -- it's all the same... yes, MLMers, IT'S ALL THE SAME!!!) use to try to get people on-board to make them money.

I get a phone call last night from a guy who was referred to me by a friend. It was a friend that knows I'm not now, nor ever will be, interested in MLMs because they asked to remain anonymous; or the guy on the phone lied to me.

What I love is that they act like they already know you and are sure you're the one to get involved in this highly (and quickly) profitable company and that I just MUST get on board with all the benefits that these programs have to offer.

I love the claims they make...

  • "I was sick of making other people money..."

    What do you think you're doing now? You're under someone else and your cha-ching is trickling into their pockets... not to mention you're busy trying to get me under you so I can do the same for you... hello?!?!?!!!

  • "I was tired of not having time with my family..."

    Um... you're calling me at night which means you're not spending time with your family - you're busy bothering me on the phone trying to get me to sell-out my friends and family in the pursuit of the green.

  • "You sound like the perfect person for this..."

    Dude, you've spoken to me for a total of 2 minutes on the phone... if you're able to make that kind of accurate judgment call - YOU'RE in the wrong line of work...

  • "The person that referred you wishes to be anonymous..."

    That tells me they truly believe in what you're doing... that or they couldn't get you off their case until they gave you some names; so they gave you some to get you to leave them alone... Either way, I'm still not interested...

Friends, I love you. I love keeping in touch with you. I don't love keeping in touch if your only motive of doing so is to get me in your MLM projects. I hate MLM projects... I hate the tension they put into relationships that were otherwise solid... I hate how pushy people are with them, I hate the fact that I've built websites for some and they've been crooked, corrupt, evil companies that only like to take money from their downline suckers and don't like to pay their own bills.

Also, if the person calling me about the MLM IS my friend... don't pull an ACN groveling technique saying you need a favor. Groveling tells people you don't truly believe in the product/program you're selling, so why on Earth would they join?!

Please don't refer me anymore to MLMs... If you're doing it to get them to leave you alone, that's one thing -- but don't "remain anonymous" ... contact me and warn me before they call so I know what's coming.

If you're referring because you think I'll get hooked up... I NEVER WILL - so please stop referring.

-- End of Rant --

12 January 2007

The PC Motocross Dream Is Dead...?

It's all but official. My last hope for a resurrection of excellent PC motocross gaming is all but dead.

Holy crap this rant is long... if you'd like to get to the point quicker, feel free...

In January 2006, Rainbow Studios released MX vs. ATV Unleashed it's first PC motocross game since Motocross Madness 2; released in 2000.

The Motocross Madness (MCM) series wasted any other motocross games on the PC hands-down with it's excellent graphics, realistic (for its time) racing feel, super sik high air, intense racing, mega-fun tag mode, stunts and more.

The game had infinite replay value thanks to the ability to create custom content. "Kamshaft", of Cameron Graphics fame, hosted the biggest central repository of this custom content on the web ... and it was awesome. The whole MCM community participated in the forums and MCM file sharing at his site. The site was put up as "Motocross Madness Central" for the first game in the MCM series. It then turned to "Motocross Madness 2 Central" when MCM2 was released.

In late 2005, Kamshaft took down the site after bandwidth restrictions and cost of running the site became too much and MCM2 play had lowered significantly over time with the advent of newer games with better graphics and what not. Yet there were some still dedicated to the game (like my own Team FNG.)

Kamshaft was still offering his entire MCM2 custom content collection on 6 DVDs for $80, which I purchased. 19GB of compressed custom content ... the game will never die for me.

In around November of 2005 (maybe a little earlier...) we caught wind of news that Rainbow Studios had finally decided to give another shot to the PC crowd by releasing MX vs ATV Unleashed in January 2006. Kamshaft put up a new "MX vs ATV Central" site and the community once again flocked together in eager anticipation for what we hoped would have as much heart and soul (and endless fun) that the MCM series provided us.

Sadly, the game failed miserably for several reasons:

  1. The game was released later than promised; and when it finally was, it was a ridiculous search to try to find which stores actually had it. (I pre-ordered two copies paid in full from a local EBGames shop and didn't have mine on release day. Online orders placed the day before release day from EBGames site were sold to those people who had their game on release day... which enraged me, but that's another story...)

  2. By the time we finally got the game... it's user-interface (UI) was completely horrid. It was a direct port from the console version of the game with no modifications to the navigation menus which could've been done MUCH simpler for a PC version.

  3. Related to the UI issue was the fact that only half the PC gamers could get connected to games online. The defacto was provided was through in-game menus connecting through GameSpy. If the fact that we had to go through 15 menus to just set up a game for people to connect to wasn't bad enough... you had to click through 2 extra screens to chat with the people in your game lobby, and then click back through two more to get back to the "lobby" to see who was in your game. It was pathetic

  4. Once you had your lobby set up, no one could join your game, because the required ports to play through today's firewalls were incorrectly documented; and despite spending several hours myself testing and discovering the correct ports... half the community had resorted to using Hamachi to try to set up private VPNs to play on. Since there was no good central place to matchmake, the online portion of the game pretty much died; essentially killing off the greatness of the game.

  5. They kept the console approach of "We're going to lock all of the tracks and let you 'unlock' them, to simulate the feel of "new content" since we can't offer you the ability on a console to create new content yourselves. Two words... Weak... sauce... Thankfully, there was a cheat code to unlock them all so we could *ahem* attempt to get online and race. But since we couldn't get online and race... the few tracks available in the game got boring real fast.

  6. Stunt mode sucked. Stunts was one of my favorite aspects of the game, taking unrealistically high air and coming down and landing it was an adrenaline rush like no other... Stunts in MX vs ATV Unleashed were fun for about 10 minutes, and only because we could pull backflips and 360's. But the fact that your score dwindled dramatically for trying to pull the same stunt/combo more than once, it was extremely difficult to pull any REALLY high scores; especially because the only way to get a high score on a given jump was to pull a backflip or 360 combo. In their attempts to make the game feel more realistic, they went too far and limitd the amount of air you could take on your jumps as well - and even when you springloaded for extra air - it the landing ramps weren't conducive to landing things that high... maybe I'm just still used to how MCM2 worked, but it tanked.

The game's only saving grace was the fact that they did still provide a way to make custom content for the game. Some of my favorite track creators returned and made a few new tracks. But alas, by the time the new tracks had come out... the community had peetered out from the online scene due to reasons listed above.

One racer posted a link to a new game a few weeks later called TrackMania Nations. It was a free racing game created for the Electronic Sports World Cup, created by a French company named Nadeo.

Yes, many of you already are familiar with this, because it was the nail-in-the-coffin for MX vs ATV Unleashed as far as FNG was concerned. It consumed all of our time for nearly a year. We were so sucked in, we bought the previously released versions of TrackMania as well. In late 2006, we were even more amazed by TrackMania United.

Why is TrackMania so successful?

  1. Easy to use interface - setting up local or online games is incredibly easy.

  2. Not only did they provide a full-blown in-game track editor, they provide a full-blown replay editor, so you can show off your awesome runs with incredible camera effects. Like the MCM series... endless replay value

  3. The same intense racing rush and high flying action (with the added benefit of driving on walls, through corkscrews and other fun action...) that MCM used to offer... just a lack of motorcycles.

So why am I writing this rant?

During the hustle and bustle surrounding the excitement for the release of MX vs ATV Unleashed back in late 2005, I discovered that Robb Rinard of MCM fame had defected from Rainbow Studios (makers of the MCM series) and with some other colleagues created a new company called 2XL Games.

I emailed Robb back then, in fears that this console port would disappoint (because I'd previously played MX Unleashed on the Xbox and was sorely disappointed... went right back to my Motocross Madness 2.)

I asked Robb if they were going to make another really fun motocross game for the PC. He said he couldn't tell me yet what they were up to, but that they were in the process of making a framework for some incredible new games that would start being available maybe 2 years later or so. I decided I would be as patient as possible and wait.

Well, with the death of MVA and TrackMania consuming my game time for so long... I decided to check in on the 2XL website the other day to see if any updates had been posted there. This is what I found...
"2XL games is currently developing multiple console titles on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 for a major game publisher..."

HELLO!?!?!!!!! This is what pissed me off about Rainbow in the first place... they sold out to consoles because they could crank games out faster and potentially make more money since games were harder to pirate. While I can understand that business decision, my heart was crushed as I had seen the demise of good PC motocross racing. And with each subsequent Rainbow release, it felt to me that the heart put into their games was less and less and it was now just a cash-flow machine and not a team devoted to making fun games.

So now my dreams for a new PC Motocross game with the same magic and fun that the two MCM games provided are once again dashed to pieces.

Don't get me wrong... the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are great pieces of hardware, but online gaming in the console arena is still in its infant stages; and with the lack of user content creation for console games... it's simply not as fun as the PC gaming world has been. Sorry, but it isn't.

So I try to go to Kamshaft's MX vs ATV Central site to post the bad news, and when I went to the old link... mxvsatvcentral.com I was redirected to the Xbox Addict website.

Buh-bye any hopes for new PC Motocross games that will be worth playing... it was a nice dream while it lasted. Nadeo, don't pull a Rainbow.

08 January 2007

The Return of Kim Possible

What's the sitch? The best animated series of all time is making its fourth season debut! 10 February 2007 marks the start of the extended series of Kim Possible; and the best choice Disney Channel has ever made (Making "High School Musical" was their 2nd best decision...)

BOOYA! We have devoted fans everywhere and sites like savedisneyshows.org to thank for this pattern-breaking season.

Disney has apparently had a silly pattern of stopping a series after three seasons. I don't know if it is to avoid ruining a good thing, but the fans of Kim Possible wouldn't stand for it.

All of the major voice talents are back for another season (the Save KP site is going to continue lobbying for a fifth, a DVD boxset and a theatrical film release, among other cool things as well...)

From an interview I read a while back and the promo ad which started airing on New Year's Eve, the series will be picking up where it left off after the series' finale "So the Drama." (To see the promo and find out more about the four episodes that will air... see Save Disney Shows. The URL for the promo ad is at the end of the paragraph following the episode list. It's not a hyperlink, so you'll have to copy and paste it into your browser.)

You know where I'll be on 10 February 2007... and it won't be in front of my TV (since, alas, I no longer have Disney Channel in my home... curse you Comcast for not offering the option to JUST order Disney Channel!) That's right, I'll be in watching it with my ultra-cool sis Tiff and her family that night! Double bonus.

I can't wait to see what wonderful adventures, quippy dialogue and pure fun await us during this next season. Maybe a few one-timer villains will make reappearances. I'd love to see something more from Adrenna Lynne and Frugal Lucre. And watching Drakken, Shego, Duff Killigan and Professor Dementor never gets old.

If you've never seen Kim Possible, I'd highly recommend checking out some of the episodes over the next month... then check in on 10 Februrary for the new season. It's fun for both children and adults (and children stuck in adult bodies.) You'll be glad you did.

Some episodes are available online via Disney Channel's website, iTunes and you can watch Kim Possible Saturday mornings on ABC Kids. Of course, I'm a good resource too, as we have every episode videotaped, own the existing DVDs and the iTunes episodes... (but I'm not a junkie... *cackle!*)

I highly recommend watching the Bueno Nacho episode as it sets the stage for a lot of back references throughout the series; and will give you a good feel for what the show is all about. It also will introduce you to Doctor Drakken and Shego, the villains Kim deals with the most. Enjoy! I know I will!

06 January 2007

The Plague - 2007

There has been a nasty bug going around our neck of the woods, I not-so-lovingly call the "Stomach Gomboo."

Of course, this plague has to be something whose love is shared amongst the entire family. Luckily it hit our home full-bore all within a week's time. I think I'm finally showing symptoms as the last one in my family to have the illness.

The worst of it happened on Thursday morning early. I had gone to a Jordan High Alumni Association meeting the night before and had some programming I needed to get done on their site that night.

While finishing things up in my office, I started to smell a quaint, pungent odor that very much resembled the scent of a dead animal. My office is in the basement and has a window so I figured we must have some dead animal near my window and I'd just need to check on it later.

I wrapped things up around 3:00am and headed up to bed... neck and shoulder muscles tensed up over the last few days from a lot of stress from the last couple weeks. I stopped in the kitchen to take a muscle relaxant before lying down to sleep.

While in the kitchen, my nose started tracking the dead animal smell again... I couldn't figure out for the life of me where it was coming from, so I smelled around the most obvious places (the garbage can, the disposal, our neighbor's small gold-fish tank we had on our kitchen counter while they were away from home... but none of them were the culprit.

Giving up, I retired to my room. Not five minutes after laying down, I had the feeling I needed to get back up and go check all the doors to make sure they were locked; as I had forgotten to do so before I went to bed.

As I reluctantly got out of bed; I heard Mandi make a weird coughing sound from her room. I decided to peek in on her before checking the doors. I never made it to the doors.

As I entered the room, the dead animal aroma hit my nose like a fly on the windshield of a car doing 90mph on the freeway. It was more powerful than ever. Just as I was reaching Mandi... I hear her start gagging. I reach for her and felt wet all over the place.

After yelling for Gwen to get in there and turn on the light... I aided Mandi to sit up and realized that she had not only been sleeping in puke, but had also messed herself from the other end. I don't know how long she'd been that way, but it had to have been at least a half-hour or more.

Trying to hold down my own gag reflex, I got Mandi off her bed and rushed her into the bathroom where we spent the rest of the early morning cleaning her and her bedroom up and trying to keep her fluid intake matching her body's outflow (still coming from both directions.)

I finally made it to bed at 5:30am whilst my poor wondeful wife remained to finish the HazMat Disaster Crew duties.

Needless to say, I had to take half-the-day off work because by the time 5:30am had hit... the adrenaline had worn off and my muscle relaxant had taken over. Gwen could barely wake me up enough to call into work and I'm sure I sounded like a stoned druggie to my boss.

I finally woke up at 12:30pm, disoriented and not feeling like doing much of anything (neck and shoulder muscles still tense...)

The next morning, Kimmie and Brennan joined in the puke parade, but luckily had much milder incidents.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the exorcism of this plague from our humble dwelling. For now, we love you all, but please stay away.

01 January 2007

Freudian Slip of the Tongue

Kimmie turned 2 at the beginning of December; and has been learning to speak quite well. That is, except for when it comes to words starting with the letter "B."

She says "Brennan" and "binky" fine, but when it comes to other B words she's learning, she'll usually find some other letter to interject in proxy... for instance, she must have a burp-cloth with her binky when lying down to rest (it's like her "blanky" only a smaller version...) She will ask for them together when she's ready for them: "Binky gurcloth?!"

Mind you it's not always the same letter she uses to substitute for the letter B.

We have a rewards program we've been doing with our older two children. As they obey or do something nice without being asked, we'll often reward them with a "Bonus Buck." These are fake bills we've generated that they can save up until they wish to buy something; at which point we as parents convert it to real money or let them give the "Bonus Bucks" to the cashier at the store to purchase their merchandise (whilst swiping the other plastic representation of money the store REALLY accepts as legal tender.) But I digress...

Kimmie has caught on to the "Bonus Buck" thing and has been requesting her own when she notices we're handing some out to her older siblings. Tonight she held her hand out for one, and as I gave it to her... she proceeded to smile beamingly and announce her proud ownership of her very own Bonus Buck.

And tonight, she declared that ever so clearly when she exchanged the letter B with the letter F.

Needless to say, I laughed so hard I nearly had to change my pants. Did I mention that kids rule?!

Happy New Year

Well, a lot has happened since my last post. So much that it has kept me from entering anything here. (Likely story...)

Quick recap of December:

  • Went through nice long two-week ordeal to get Comcast hooked up for my father so my parents could join today's world of digital information. It ended on a positive note thanks to a caring supervisor named Deann that helped me get things done. Brownie points for Comcast on this one for turning a negative into a positive.

  • Several Christmas parties, including one for the Jordan High Alumni Association that was "Cowboy" themed. I took advantage of my "Dead Cow" nickname and went as a "Cow Boy" - which induced many comments including a great title for a movie I'll never make... "Dead Cows Don't Moo." Don't look for it in a theater near you.

  • Two daughters' birthdays and an 11-year anniversary; celebrated with a trip to Chuck E Cheese with 9 of Mandi's close friends. Good times, good food, good luck fighting off the family cold caught from hundreds of children suffering winter's fate running around the Chuck E playground and arcade like chickens with their heads cut off. Happy Anniversary, honey. :)

  • Lunch with a close friend of mine from my Supercom days (when it was Supercom USA), Lee Allred. Man I miss that crew... good times! Let's lunch it again soon, Lee.

  • Lots of fun playing with JavaScript at work. Too bad I haven't had time to update that site either... I'm really pathetic.

  • My grandmother on my father's side, (the last of my living blood grandparents,) went "Home" for Christmas on December 23rd. I spent some special last hours with her before she passed and had a wonderful spiritual conversation with my Aunt Sue. Thanks for that the both of you. We never know the lives we touch for good and I'm grateful for the ones that touch mine. I'm happy Grandma can now be with her sweetheart and my dad's twin that died just 17 hours after birth. What a sweet reunion that must've been. Merry Christmas, Grandma.

  • Saw the "Work and the Glory III" - and after seeing the whole trilogy, I'm tempted to read the books... (as if I'll EVER find time for that... hehe!)

  • Honored a tradition we've been doing for several years where we have my nephew Nick stay at our place the night before Christmas Eve (this time we went for a two-day stint) and have a game-fest on both consoles and computers with he, Brennan and I. It was a good time and we look forward to that every year.

  • Had a wonderful Christmas with family close by - and the best part was some wonderful things our family was able to do to help some families less fortunate than we are. We've truly been blessed this year by our Heavenly Father and feel the true Spirit of Christmas when we have opportunities to "give back" a little. We thank the Lord for those opportunities and hope it made Christmas a little brighter for others.

  • Attended Grandma Litster's funeral just before the New Year and enjoyed the wonderful tribute paid to such a sweet woman.

  • Finally got some long needed mega-cleaning sweep action going on our house on New Year's Day

Which brings me to my resolutions for 2007... not a long list... really stuff I should've still been doing after my physical last spring.
I need to:

  • Get back into my exercise routine and good eating habits that took me from being in the high-risk zone for bad cholesterol; to being right in the middle of the ranges medical professionals want us to be in.

  • Finish my contact list for my Jordan Alumni website so the class representatives working on the Jordan High Centennial can have an easier time finding their classmates... and those having reunions from her on out can do the same; without having to go to that porn-ad infested website otherwise known as "Classmates" -- where there motto is... "We don't take away ads when you subscribe... we just give you access to the content you wouldn't otherwise have access to - IF you can find it buried under all our plethora of advertisments... good luck, you'll need it."

  • Oh yeah, one more... take #1 in the World on the Island C2 track in TrackMania United!

So happy new year! I hope I'm able to stick to these resolutions and I hope you'll take yours seriously so you can accomplish your goals as well.