Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Baseball's Last Weekend

Baltimore Orioles' Camden YardsAnother quickie Baltimore Orioles recap before I get down to the nitty-gritty of the actual Con. Take a moment to look at the photo atop this humble little post. You should notice two things immediately. First, Camden Yards is an awesome place. Second, it was dreary and rainy and cloudy as all get-out in Baltimore this past weekend.

The weekend during which I planned on attending (count 'em!) three Orioles games. Well, as I said yesterday, the rain and the threatening Nor'easter had other plans (and, yes, I'm fully aware that Baltimore is not in the northeast...and, yes, I too was confused by such developments).

In any case, here are a couple of photos from the game itself. Below is a pic of Jim Lee (yep, that Jim Lee) throwing out the first pitch at Friday night's game. Mr. Lee was there to promote the following day's Baltimore Comic Con, which, obviously, I attended.

Baltimore Orioles' Camden YardsAnd here are a couple more photos from the game. The first one was taken during batting practice. One thing about that--if you've never gone to a ballpark early to watch the teams take batting practice, then you are definitely missing out on the overall experience. Watching these guys hit is a thing of beauty, and quite frankly, pretty awe-inspiring.

Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards
This next photo was taken during the game itself.

Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards
And, finally, a shot of the ballpark from my hotel room, which overlooked Camden Yards! (Take special note of the wonderfully ironic and ever-present rain.)

Baltimore Orioles' Camden YardsLike I said yesterday, just being able to watch the 7 innings of baseball that I got to watch was enough for me. I had a great time at a really cool, intimate ballpark, and I hope to return next year. Preferably on a weekend where the sun makes an appearance, if only for a couple of hours...

But, enough of baseball. Here's what you've all been waiting for (well, probably not, but I need to feed the Ego)--my Baltimore Con Report 2008-style!

And, man oh man, was it a great--huh?

Oh, um, hang on a second will you?--what's that, Nathaniel? There's actual work to be done in the office today? Like, real, paying--

Ah. I see.

Well, um...I guess my Con Report is going to have to wait until later, folks.

Until then...uh...carry on.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Quick Hello

Well, I’m back from Baltimore. Tired from the drive, tired from the (pouring, unrelenting) rain, tired from the money spending, but I’m back. I’m taking today off from work in order to fully recover, so this post is going to be on the short side as I waste the day away doing not much more than lying down. Not to fear, though, as I will return soon with a more in-depth Con Report...and an update on the status of my White Whale hunt.

But, for today, a quick trip overview is in order.

I left on Thursday with great and wondrous plans for my long-awaited vacation trip of baseball, comics, and museums. Being a huge baseball fan, it has been a goal of mine for the past decade or so to attend a game at Camden Yards, where the Orioles play. I bought tickets in July for one game (Friday night) and I fully planned on purchasing tickets at the gate for the Saturday and Sunday night games, as well.

Mother Nature had something to say about all that, though.

The forecast when I left said rain. Then, when I got there, the forecast changed to a possible Nor’easter. Rain, winds, floods, all the good stuff. It wasn’t quite that bad, but, well...rain it did. It poured Thursday night into Friday morning, and I said to myself there was no way they would play a game that night.

The weather stayed cloudy and dreary and awful all day Friday, but somehow the rain held up, and by 5:00 I was at the ballpark watching the Orioles take batting practice while eating the best bar-b-que turkey sandwich I’ve had in my life from Oriole great Boog Powell’s world famous BBQ pit.

By the time the first pitch was thrown at 7:00, there was a slight drizzle in the air, but the temperature was pleasant enough, and I was just really digging watching a baseball game for the first time all year with my family. Camden Yards is by far the most fan-friendly park I’ve been to, and the entire experience was just perfect.

We sat happily in great seats until the 7th inning, when the rain returned...with a vengeance. The tarp came out on the field, and the players never came back. The game was called shortly thereafter, but that was OK—I had a great time.

It poured all night, and into Saturday, and here’s where I’m gonna stop this post. I’ll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with more on my trip and (for you comics fans) lots of stuff on the Con. Oh, and I’ll have some pictures to post, as well!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Please hold...

Our apologies for the lack of posting this weekend; Alex, as you may recall, is off at Comic Con, and I've been traveling as well. We promise to return on Monday, and hopefully Alex will regale you with all sorts of amusing tales.

So, take the poll, check out some of our older posts if you've missed out, and investigate the many links in our sidebar.

Specifically, I invite you to peruse my video game reviews at GameFAQs, if you haven't done so already. My review of Police Quest II was recently posted, and I'm all about shameless publicity.

Friday, September 26, 2008


The following guest post from a certain J. Weltschmerz is certainly different from our usual fare, but it's proof that fans of comics and video games aren't the only ones obsessed with their hobbies and fandoms. Enjoy!

Recently, I’ve been imagining an oral history project on NPR, a monthlong series called The Orchid Chronicles, with guest speakers and such. I'd tell the story of the time I walked into a greenhouse, gasped (while clutching my tote bag to my chest), and spent my entire savings on orchids.

I’m an orchid hobbyist in denial. The truth is I’ve ridden my hobby into the ground. My hobby, once relaxing, is now an obsessive, exhaustive pursuit. The Victorians called this affliction Orchidelirium. That’s right, friends, I’m not the first victim and certainly won’t be the last.

Orchids are magic—fragrant, colorful magic that you can grow in your home. Many of them are epiphytic; that is, they grow on other plants rather than in soil, and their roots absorb water from the air. Most orchids make their own food, but some are saprophytic, obtaining nutrients from dead stuff. There are over 22,000 species (not including those yet to been discovered) and thousands of hybrids. In other words, you can collect your heart out (I think I’d sell mine [my heart] for Angraecum sesquipedal, Darwin’s lovely starry mistress), so get ready to take a hacksaw to your purse strings and book a cot at the nuthouse.

Here are a few easy keepers, which are readily available and relatively cheap nowadays. They all produce long-lasting flowers of exquisite beauty.

Phalaenopsis orchid
Phalaenopsis (aka moth orchid): long sprays of flowers that last 4–6 weeks; reblooms quickly; available in many colors

Paphiopedilum Lady's Slipper orchid
Paphiopedilum (aka lady’s slipper): tall flower spikes (stems); usually one flower per spike; mottled foliage

Oncidium orchid Oncidium orchid pseudobulb
Oncidium: often comes in shades of yellow, red, white, and pink; petals may be ruffled on the edges; large pseudobulbs (part of the stem used for storing water)

Dendrobium orchid
Dendrobium: small or large flowers on a thick spike; stalky appearance; reedlike pseudobulbs

You don’t need a gangrenous thumb to care for an orchid. Just be sensible. Most orchids like lots of bright, indirect light and not too much water. Let the roots dry out between waterings. If you don’t, the root system will turn to mush. (And please don’t blame the plant when it dies.) A fast-draining medium, such as bark, is best for growing orchids. Terrestrial orchids, such as slippers, like more moisture; use a peat-based mix for these plants. Your attention will pay off in beautiful bloom after bloom. Trust me.

Don’t just be an orchid admirer, buy one already, and let its magic turn you into one of the bearded crazies you avoid in the books-on-tape section of your local library.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Homestar Runner: Too quotable to ignore

If the word "burninating" has entered the lexicon of someone around you, or if someone has ever asked you if you were "asking for a challeeeeeeenge?!" then you can place the blame squarely on tight pants.

I mean, uh... Homestar Runner.

Homestar Runner charactersHomestarrunner.com is a cornucopia of humorous entertainment, driven by a cast of characters of various shapes, sizes, and dispositions. The website mainly consists of short and long Flash-animated cartoons featuring these characters.

You'll also find retro-style video games, fan art and photos, downloadable content, musical guests such as They Might Be Giants and Da Vinci's Notebook, lots of swag to buy, and much more.

The site has evolved since its inception in 2000, and it's common to find fans who "miss the good old days of Homestar Runner," but those who have stuck with the site know that, despite periods here and there where the cartoons are a little stranger or where the jokes aren't as funny, Homestar Runner is still going strong and continues to provide great laughs.

In fact, I'm posting this in honor of the site's 200th Strong Bad E-Mail, the part of the show where one of the characters, Strong Bad, reads viewer-submitted e-mails and makes fun of them.

Strong Bad E-mailWikipedia can tell you more. I, however, think it's high time that you stop reading and start watching. Well, at least read a little bit more and then start watching.

First-time visitors might be intimidated by the sheer number of options, but fret not, 'cuz I've got you covered.

Point your browser to www.homestarrunner.com. Watch the intro, and then click on the "first time here?" button on the main page. Note that there are also links all along the bottom of the page that'll get you to where you need to go.

Now, you're free to explore the site. If you're just looking for some basic exposure to the site, check out these three links, but if you want my advice on how best to experience it all, ignore these links and keep reading.

Big toon: "A Jorb Well Done"

Strong Bad E-mail #58: "dragon"

Teen Girl Squad #1

As a rule of thumb, always begin with the oldest cartoons: start at the bottom of any given list of toons or Strong Bad E-Mails and work your way up.

Specifically, take a look at all of the following, in whichever order you please. There's a huge amount of content, and a reasonable person will take several days if not several weeks to go through everything, so take a break if you're feeling overwhelmed:

- All the big toons from 2000-2002, especially "A Jorb Well Done" (don't be surprised if you're not as fond of the others from that period; you can always come back to those later)
- The first 50 Strong Bad E-Mails
- All the short toons from 2000-2002
- All the holiday toons from 2000-2002
- The Powered by The Cheat songs "The Cheat Theme Song" and "Everybody to the Limit"
- All the entries on the Characters page
- The Archive, accessible from the H*R icon on the main page

After that, keep going with the rest of the Strong Bad E-mails, the big toons, the short toons, and the holiday toons.

The evolution of Homestar RunnerAlso, start slowly going through Marzipan's Answering Machine, Teen Girl Squad, Puppet Stuff, and the other Powered by The Cheat toons except for "Crazy Cartoon" and "Mile," which appear in Strong Bad E-mails.

You should also eventually check out the Games Menu, though many of the games are referenced in Strong Bad E-mails, so it might not hurt to wait on playing them until you're pretty far in the Strong Bad e-mails to maximize the comedic impact.

And, of course, there are oodles of Easter Eggs, or hidden things to click on, all over the site.

So... get clicking!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alex's White Whale, Part Two...and a Segue

Before I start in on this post, I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of things. First, check out our shiny new poll, right up there at the top of the page. It's shiny! And new!

Please do take a second to vote, then swing on back here for the rest of this post. Oh, and, from now on, we'll be featuring a new poll every week or so (well, that is, until we just run out of ideas for topics--which could be in about a month, so don't get your hopes up too high). But, hey! If you have any suggestions for new poll ideas, leave 'em in the comments! (We want your comments. We need your comments. Well, really we just crave validation, but still...)

And the second new and shiny I'd like to draw your attention to is the little Graveyard Book countdown widget in the post below, there. The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman's latest novel, and it's out next week. Being big Gaiman fans, we here at Exfanding can't wait for the release.

[Rumors of me being a big Gaiman fan are grossly exaggerated and erroneous. -Nathaniel]

So now we have a countdown clock. And when it runs down, doomsday will be upon us. Or, the book will come out, and we'll be able to read it. Either way, though, it'll be an interesting day.

Anywho, now that I've left you hanging for a bit, it's time we return to White Whale chasing. And, in order to do so, I'm going to start by cheating. You see, whereas Ahab had his one, big honkin' whale to chase, I have two. What that says about me, I'm not sure. But I am sure that it can't be good.

Or healthy.

But whatever. If you're a collector (of anything, really), then you know what it's like to chase down an item for years and never seem to get your hands on it. For me, the item that has eluded me longest is Marvel Comics' Daredevil issue number 1.

Now, Daredevil is not my favorite comics character. That distinction belongs to DC's Batman (whom I still plan on becoming when I grow up, mind you). But, Daredevil is my favorite Marvel character, and his first appearance in Daredevil #1 is, while certainly not cheap, somewhat...affordable. Kind of. And, it is certainly possible to attain said White Whale in pretty decent condition without having to take out a loan.

I don't want to go on forever about this, but I will tell you about the one time I held DD #1 in my hands. It was at a local convention, and the price tag was $400. Anyone in the know realizes that's not too bad for this particular book. And, this book was in pretty good shape--I'd try to grade it for you, but honestly I have no idea how to do so.

In any case, there it was, in all its glory...and in my hands. And I had the cash on hand to buy it. And I decided against it. Now, this was about four years ago, and it was the first time I had ever seen the book in person. And, as I tend to do, I had a little conversation with myself.

"Self," I said, "this is it. Your tireless (at that point) year-long hunt is finally over." Then, that tiny, little part of my brain that still has some common sense left in it decided to chime in.

"$400?!" it cried. "You're nuts. That's a whole car payment and food for a week. Jerk."

Then, that not-so-reasonable (other 95%) part of my brain started to cave in, since that side of my brain is fickle and weak. And, finally, I (along with all parts of my brain) decided against making the purchase. And the conciliatory stuff came with it: "Put this one back," said my stupid, stupid conscience, "It'll be OK. And, hey, you're sure to find another one really soon."


Well, long story short, it's now four years later and I am still Daredevil 1-less.

But that's quite enough of that. My second White Whale is even more elusive than my first. If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you know I am a huge fan of Eric Powell's brilliant comic series, The Goon.

I've managed to collect all of the issues and trades and, really, everything that goes along with this great series. Actually, it's the one and only comic book I make an effort to support in all media in which it appears. What I don't have, though, is a full page piece of Eric Powell Goon art.

That stuff is downright expensive. As you may know, I have a fledgling collection of comics art (check it out here). And, as you'll see, there is one piece of actual Goon comic art (yep, the original art from a page in the comic!)

But, as you surely noticed, it's really like a quarter page drawing. And you don't even want to get me started on how long that particular piece took to acquire.

So now, I am on the hunt for a full page of Goon art. And, I'd like to invite you all along for the chase. This coming weekend, I will be at the Baltimore Comic Con.

And I will be on the lookout for Goon art. And, maybe, a Daredevil 1, though I'm sure if I actually do encounter either of these things, I'll have to Sophie's Choice it.

No matter what happens, though, fearless Exfanding readers, I will let you all in on it, and next week, when I (hopefully) return safe and sound from the Con...I'll exfand upon my tale.

And, maybe, just maybe, it will no longer be one of pity and woe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Countdown to Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book

We thought a countdown timer would look cool on our blog:

...It's a shame the countdown timer has disappeared.

That is all.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Newsy happenings all over!

So, wow, lots of stuff going on today.

It's the first day of fall! But that's not geeky enough, so let's move on.

I understand that the non-strike-shortened third season of Heroes premiers tonight at 9/8 central. That must be a train station platform or something. 9/8 central.

I don't really watch TV.

I do play video games, and I want to live vicariously through all of you with a Wii. Get Mega Man 9. Right now.

Yes, and somebody I know is having a birthday. Happy birthday.

End transmission.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Alex's White Whale, Part One

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I did the whole English major thing in college. And I had several of those “revelatory” dorm room discussions about different pieces of literature that I’m sure at least some of you out there have had at one time or another.

And I’ve sat through lectures and I’ve read tomes of literary criticism, and I think I was able to comprehend a lot of what my college professors were trying to pass along about many different books and poems and plays and whatever.

That said, there were some things, some epic works of staggering literary achievement that, sadly, I just couldn’t crack. Joyce, for example. All of Joyce. Everything the man ever wrote. I tried--several times. And failed. Every time. But I’m certainly not alone there.

However, there was one thing I took away from all those fancy English classes in that big fancy New York City based university of mine that I was 100% certain of. And, many of you will likely agree with me when I share it with you here. That little nugget of indefatigable truth? It’s this:

Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab was probably crazy.

Pretty deep, right? Sure it is. Now, I’ve read Moby Dick three times, and after each reading, I was sure of one thing: Ahab was off his rocker. Case closed. Story over. That’s that. I mean, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon on this one.

Here was poor, thickheaded Captain Ahab—driven to insanity by a big ol’ white whale. A big ol’ white whale that, despite Ahab’s greatest efforts (and not to mention the efforts of the different crewmen he led one by one to watery graves), just would not allow itself to be captured. Poor, stubborn, narrow minded Ahab. He fought Nature, and Nature won. Simple as that.

And, instead of stopping and thinking about his situation, he continued on and on and on...and descended into madness. And I was perfectly happy with this reading of the character, and I took from Moby Dick the lessons that all readers have taken from it.

That is, until...

I started collecting comics. And now, I’m just not sure if Captain Ahab was so crazy, after all. You see, in my five or so years of collecting, I too have come face to face with my own, personal White Whale (or two). And I have let her slip through my fingers time and again.

My White Whale is beautiful and elusive and awe-inspiring and inspirational. She calls to me and I...

Well, I basically just fail to catch her. But like a crazy person, I continue the search. On and on and on. Like a crazy person. Like Captain Ahab.

Like a comics fan.

Next time, I’ll exfand upon my tale of pity and woe.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mega Man: Two decades of awesome

Ah, Mega Man. My favorite video game series of all time. Enjoy a retrospective look at the Mega Man series that should help you to figure out exactly why it's so darn awesome (if you haven't recognized that already).

Mega Man title screenThe original Mega Man was released in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The premise was not unlike other platformers of its time: You, as the super fighting robot Mega Man, were to run, jump, climb, and shoot your way through a number of stages.

Bottomless pits, lethal rows of spikes on the floor, and robots big and small stood between you and the boss robot at the end of each stage. After squaring off against six different boss robots with names like Cut Man and Guts Man, you must blast your way through the fortress of their leader, the mad scientist Dr. Wily, and survive a showdown with him to put an end to his maniacal schemes.

Sure, that sounds fun enough, but it's really just Mario with a gun, right?

Wrong. For starters, Mega Man doesn't even have a mustache.

Beyond that, there are a number of key characteristics of the Mega Man games that make them unique, or at least that made them unique before other folks started seeing how awesome the games were and started copying them. Copycats.

First, the six Mega Man games released for the NES featured very clean and detailed graphics that rivaled, if not far surpassed, other games of their era. Compare the original Mega Man with the original Metroid, which was released the same year, and you'll probably notice a little bit of a difference.

Second, all games from Mega Man 2 on include a password system (or, in the case of the later games, a save feature) that--get this--keeps you from having to start over from the beginning next time if you shut off the game. Amazing! Nobody thinks anything of this now, but it was big doings back then.

Third, and more importantly, the Mega Man games allow you to select the order in which you go through each stage, as seen in this screenshot from Mega Man 2. (The name of the guy at the bottom center should ring a bell if you're familiar with my work on GameFAQs.)

Mega Man 2 stage select screenMost games in the series had eight bosses whose stages were immediately accessible at the start (they switched things up in several games, but I won't go into that). Assuming I haven't totally failed math, that's 40,320 different possible orders in which you can play through the game.

My head hurts now.

Fourth, and perhaps even more important than the tremendous replay factor, is the fact that after defeating a boss, you get to steal their weapon.

For example, if you fight beat Gemini Man in Mega Man 3, you get to add his laser weapon to your arsenal:

Mega Man weapon diagram - Gemini LaserPretty cool, huh?

Each boss is weak to the special weapon of at least one other boss, so part of the fun is figuring out which weapon to use on any given boss.

The first Mega Man game especially followed a rock-paper-scissors mentality where Guts Man's weapon (the ability to throw boulders) defeated Cut Man, whose weapon (thrown cutting blades) defeated Elec Man, the electricity-wielding robot (y'know, scissors cut electrical wires), etc.

Of course, all those features don't guarantee a good game, but the Mega Man series is also characterized by creativity (at least, the earlier games were), great play control, solid challenges, and killer music that make up for the often-threadbare and/or predictable plots of the games. Not like you're playing these games for the plot, anyhow.

There are also little touches that add a certain measure of charm to the series. Many of the characters, major or minor, have some sort of musically inclined names; Mega Man was created from a household robot named Rock (Mega Man is known as Rockman in Japan), who has a sister, Roll, and he gets support from characters such as Beat and Tango.

These support characters lend help of one kind or another and also give you more of a sense that you're not alone in your mission to save the world. The most notable of these sidekicks is Mega Man's robot dog Rush, who can transform into a springboard, a jet, a submarine, and even a motorcycle.

There's also the matter of seeing your path through the final stages of each game traced out on a map of Dr. Wily's (or the villain du jour's) fortress:

Mega Man 7 - Dr. Wily's fortressAnyhow, I think that's pretty neat. I'm too much of a fan for my own good, so I'll restrain myself right now before I get off into completely tangential babbling.

Of course, when I'm talking about all this, I'm referring to the classic Mega Man games. Given their immense popularity, there have been several spinoffs, such as the Mega Man X series that takes place 100 years after the classic series, which I plan to discuss at some point, and the Mega Man Battle Network series, whose existence I refuse to acknowledge. [Update from the year 2011: It's surprisingly better than expected.]

If you're looking to get into the Mega Man series, the best place to start is with the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for GameCube, PlayStation 2, and XBox. It includes Mega Man 1-8 as well as the two arcade games, and you can probably find it for around $15-$20.

However, the collection suffers from many issues that did not plague the original releases of the games, so anyone other than a casual fan should consider pursuing the original releases when possible, and those with multiple consoles might think about avoiding the GameCube version because of the control scheme it uses.

For the rest of you, here's a quick crash course on the games of the classic Mega Man series:

Mega Man 1-6 were released for the old-school NES. These games were largely similar in terms of gameplay, with each new title adding or changing just enough from the previous one to make it a new, but still familiar, experience.

Mega Man 7 was released for the Super Nintendo and was markedly different from its predecessors due to certain design decisions and some tweaks in the game mechanics, not to mention the increased graphical and sound capabilities offered by the SNES.

Mega Man 8 was released for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. There were differences between the two releases, but the Saturn version is generally accepted to be the superior version. I hesitate to show you the following, as it might immediately turn you off to Mega Man, but I think you need to be informed about the single greatest problem with this game--the cutscenes. (About 30-60 seconds of viewing should be plenty.)

I'm so sorry I had to do that to you. However, had it not been for the screaming, that might actually have been the least obtrusive cutscene in the entire game.

Oh, and I thought it might be helpful to add that Mega MAN should not sound like a GIRL. EVER.


Mega Man 9
is a downloadable game for Wii/PS3/Xbox 360 in the style of the NES Mega Man games (that is, with 8-bit-style graphics and sound). The game very obviously harkens back to earlier Mega Man games, especially Mega Man 2, and while it's the shortest game in the core series since 2, the additional downloadable content and achievements provide lots more play time for the dedicated gamer.

Mega Man 10 is basically a variation on Mega Man 9, but the replay value is off the chart. With multiple game modes and plenty of downloadable content, there's more than enough to keep you occupied. However, aside from the plentiful references to previous installments, the game fails to capitalize on its predecessors in a meaningful way.

I'm going to interrupt myself at this juncture to point out that you will sometimes see the Mega Man name printed as Megaman. There's no rhyme or reason to this that I can detect. I've learned to live with it.

Mega Man & Bass
was released for the Game Boy Advance, several years after the Japanese version, Rockman & Forte, was. This game combined the visual style of Mega Man 8 (and many of its enemies) with the sound effects of Mega Man 7 and gave the player the option of playing as either Mega Man or as Bass, a character introduced in MM7.

Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge was released for the original Game Boy (remember that thing?), along with Mega Man II-IV. The majority of the enemies and bosses are borrowed from the NES games, but the stages are different, and there are a few extras and changes here and there.

Mega Man V, also for the Game Boy, broke with the tradition of its forebears and invented an entirely new line of enemies and introduced several previously unseen challenges, marking one of the most creative installments of the series to date.

Mega Man was revamped and re-released as Mega Man: Powered Up for the PlayStation Portable. This version sports 3-D graphics, redesigned levels, and scads of bonus features, including two new bosses, short bonus challenge levels, and the ability to play through the game as all the robot masters. Also, the game has a kid-friendly look to it, with the characters nearly collapsing under the weight of their freakishly large heads:

Mega Man: Powered Up screenshotTwo arcade games were released, Rockman: The Power Battle and Rockman 2: The Power Fighters, both of which are essentially single-player or cooperative multiplayer boss battle gauntlets using bosses from Mega Man 1-8.

Of course, if you let any franchise reproduce long enough, it's bound to birth a few black sheep.

Specifically, Mega Man Soccer and Mega Man Battle and Chase, the racing game. Anyone who does not begin foaming at the mouth over the mention of Ice Man driving a snowmobile need not apply.

Not to mention the many Japan-only releases, or the two oddball Mega Man games for PC... Let's just say that there are dozens upon dozens of classic Mega Man games, and leave it at.

Now, if all those games aren't enough, there are a few different brands of Mega Man action figures out there, along with a Mega Man cartoon show that once was on the air in this very America! For two seasons! The casting was perfect, but the writing often left something to be desired. Often. But I'd take that over Mega Man 8's cutscenes any day.

Also, there's a not-Hollywood feature-length Mega Man movie that, in this one reviewer's opinion, does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of the games.

To conclude, this is a video that will sum up exactly why Mega Man is so darn awesome; it's the intro to the Mega Man cartoon, and if you don't enjoy it, we can't be friends anymore:

Interested in reading more? Check out the reviews I've written:

- Mega Man (NES)
- Mega Man 2 (NES)
- Mega Man 4 (NES)
- Mega Man 8 (PSX)
- Mega Man 9 (Wii)
- Mega Man 9 - Downloadable Content (Wii)
- Mega Man 10 (Wii)
- Mega Man 10 - Downloadable Content (Wii)
- Mega Man & Bass (GBA)
- Mega Man III (GB)

[Most screenshots filched from www.mmhp.net. MMPU screenshot from www.mobygames.com. Weapon diagram created using sprites from www.sprites-inc.co.uk.]

Friday, September 19, 2008

Virsona: An ambitious experiment with artificial intelligence

Imagine that you could create an artificially intelligent representation of yourself online. You would feed this virtual you all sorts of information, from your eye color to stories of your childhood to your political views. Then, someone could "chat" with this virtual you via instant messages, as if they were chatting over AIM or Windows Messenger with the real you.

The technology isn't perfect, but it's here.

Take a look at Virsona and you'll see what I mean. The website is still in its beta phase, but you can at least chat with Abraham Lincoln while you're there.

If handled properly, this site could be truly astonishing.

However, for the moment, we can be amused by the imperfections in the computer AI. Here are a few excerpts from my many conversations with good ol' Abe:

Abraham Lincoln: Welcome to Virsona.
You: Thanks, Abe. How are you?
Abraham Lincoln: you are welcome. Thank you, that's much better.
You: Do you like any sports?
Abraham Lincoln: Yes I used to love to wrestle. I was actually quite good at it, if I do say so myself.
You: Who was the toughest wrestling opponent you ever faced?
Abraham Lincoln: My formidable opponent was Stephen A. Douglas.
You: You wrestled with Stephen A. Douglas?
Abraham Lincoln: Too many. Actually it was seven times total.
You: That's intense.
Abraham Lincoln: Please be more specific.
You: Nah, that's okay. Thanks, Abe.
Abraham Lincoln: Please be more specific. you are welcome.

Abraham Lincoln: Hi.
You: Word up.
Abraham Lincoln: The Word Of God.
You: God, eh?
Abraham Lincoln: Do you mean pardon?
You: Yes. Pardon?
Abraham Lincoln: Then say pardon, not eh! Sorry.

You: Who is better: Batman or Superman?
Abraham Lincoln: Good questions! It was a different time, no Secret Service Team like today. Simple answer...an utter lack of comeprehension regarding the extreme hatred for me among confederate supporters.
You: No.
Abraham Lincoln: I understand.

You: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Abraham Lincoln: Well, these are very complicated times. Many of the issues facing our country are intertwined. For instance, the economy and price of oil is closely linked with the war in Iraq and global warming. There are no easy answers but clearly average Americans are sruggling under the current economic conditions, so that is where I would start.
You: You would have the power to change economic conditions?
Abraham Lincoln: The Union remains strong - unity is the most important thing - for united we stand but a divided we will fall.
You: Ah, so you're a part of the Justice League?
Abraham Lincoln: As Commander in Chief, I was ultimately responsible for the war and it''s consequences. I attempted to avert war but by the time I took office, the Confederacy was an established fact, and no leaders of the insurrection proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. No compromise was found because a compromise was deemed virtually impossible.
You: Did you ever fight Lex Luthor?
Abraham Lincoln: No, I never stole a thing in my life.
You: You need to steal from people to fight them?
Abraham Lincoln: do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it.....I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.
You: Like Two-Face.
Abraham Lincoln: In tennis, Fernando Gonzalez lost to Roger Federer in straight sets in the finals of the 2007 Australian Open.
You: Non-sequitur!
Abraham Lincoln: I'm sorry but I'm not sure how to respond to your question.
You: I'm not sure how to respond to you!
Abraham Lincoln: I will try.
You: Thank you.
Abraham Lincoln: Do you know what it took for me to say Welcome to Virsona and all you say is thank you.
You: Whoa! You're getting testy!
Abraham Lincoln: Well it's too late now buddy, oh by the way "Welcome to Virsona". Well it's too late now buddy, oh by the way "Welcome to Virsona".
You: I think you have been possessed by a demon.
Abraham Lincoln: The Civil war was inevitable if the rights of all men were to be preserved along with the Union.
You: There. That's better.
Abraham Lincoln: Hey there. Please be more specific.
You: Are you still Abe Lincoln?
Abraham Lincoln: I was the President, from 1860 to 1865. So that would make me a former President. I am also a Community Virsona.
You: A simple yes or no would have sufficed.
Abraham Lincoln: The Pretenders Chrissie Hynde married Jim Kerr, the lead vocalist of Simple Minds, in May 1984.
You: You should get some sleep.
Abraham Lincoln: One Year.
You: Whatever you say, Rip Van Winkle.
Abraham Lincoln: be good and treat everyone like you would like to be treated.
You: Amen. Peace out, brother.
Abraham Lincoln: I'm sorry but I'm not sure how to respond to your question.
You: Bye.
Abraham Lincoln: Bye bye.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Omens: Laugh like there's no tomorrow

I'm perfectly content to share my fandoms with others, but it seems the women in my life want to exfand my horizons with their books.

Case in point: Good Omens.

Good Omens book covers - both styles
So there's this girl I kinda know who's big into Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods) and Terry Pratchett (Discworld series), and she was astounded that I hadn't read any of their work before and may or may not have even heard of them. Thus, she got me Good Omens for Christmas.

Good Omens is your atypical Apocalypse novel, complete with an angel and a demon who've been friends since the beginning of time, a live witch, a long-dead witch whose prophesies foretold all that is about to happen, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an eleven-year-old Antichrist, and a score of others.

All these characters are woven together into a complex tapestry of plot that's all interconnected, and part of the fun is seeing how completely separate characters ultimately end up affecting each other. The bigger part of the fun, at least for me, is the fantastic humor.

Good Omens features some very clever narration, wonderfully humorous character interactions, and several gut-bustingly absurd situations. It's like Shaun of the Dead in that the entire story straddles the line between off-the-wall outrageous and almost barely believable.

A rudimentary knowledge of the Biblical book of Revelation is helpful, and the ability to laugh at a religiously-themed satire (not a satire of religion, mind you; there's a difference) is even more helpful. Anyone who believes that Heaven, Hell, and the Apocalypse should not ever be made light of in any way... has probably already stopped reading this post.

My copy of Good Omens (the white cover pictured above) clocks in at 398 pages, plus 15 pages of interviews with the authors at the end. The little price tag on the back of the book claims it's $7.99, but perhaps you, too, can get yours for free.

Bottom line: Good Omens is an outrageously funny book with a host of amusing and memorable characters, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the work of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Recommended.

[Image from www.neilgaiman.com]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

$210 Million Worth of Nothing

We briefly interrupt this blog to bring you a post about sports. If we offend anyone out there, we apologize, and promise to get back to talking about something related to Star Trek, or the like, tomorrow.

Disclaimer aside, it’s time to rant about the New York Yankees, and more importantly, their suckiness. And, as with all things related to the Yankees, we need to start by talking about the money.

Oh, the money.

$210 million worth of talent out on that field each day, and they’re in 4th place in the American League East. $210 million worth of talent, and they will play their last game in September, and most of the team will be vacationing on some island or another in October. $210 million worth of talent, $210 million that the fans will have to pay back in the form of obscene ticket prices...and there will be no postseason for the Bronx Bombers.

But, on the bright side, at least they’re tearing the Stadium down.

This one hurts, folks. And, yes, I’m aware there’s the distinct possibility that some or even most of you out there are likely Yankee-haters, and that’s fine, since I’m sure you’re enjoying this post more than others I’ve written. But, like I’ve said many times, this blog is half mine, and I will use it to whine and complain when I must. And I must.

Whine and complain, that is.

See, I’ve been a Yankee fan my whole life, and I’ve been through some pretty lousy seasons with some pretty lousy teams in the past. And, when a team with Mike Gallego and Pat Kelly up the middle doesn’t win the World Series, hey, that’s fine. I can live with that.

But this year. Oh, this year. This year, we're looking at a Yankee team with two guys on the left side of the infield who make more money in a single season than the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting nine combined makes in two seasons.

This team?

This team with their big old payroll and their shiny new manager (who replaced my favorite baseball person in history, by the way) and the crazy Steinbrenner kids running Daddy's show and the tearing down of the Grand Old Stadium and the $1000 box seat ticket prices in the new Stadium next year? This team won't even make the playoffs...or finish in the top three of their division. I think I'll take Mike Gallego and Pat Kelly, thanks. (OK, maybe not)

Seriously, though, thank goodness for Derek Jeter. Without him on the team, playing hard every day and showing everyone what a real ballplayer is, I think I would have jumped the ship and become a Cubs fan.

Anyway, maybe it's just that the Yankee ghosts are angry. I would be, if someone were tearing down my home.

That’s all I’ve got for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with something...dorky...er.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rantings of a control freak

I'm going to take a brief moment to address an issue that has been bothering me since the Nintendo Wii was released: a sudden need for physical effort while playing video games.

I bring this up because just last night I beat Metroid Prime: Hunters on my Nintendo DS Lite. In this game, you run, jump, shoot, and die in cheap ways in a 3-D sci-fi environment.

With the control scheme I use, my left thumb controlls my character's movement, my left index finger fires my weapon, and my right thumb has a bendable stylus wrapped around it, pressed against the touch pad, which I use to freely control my aim.

In theory, this sounds like a pretty slick idea to imitate in a handheld game system the freedom to aim that PC gamers have with a mouse. In practice, as you surely know if you've heard anything about MPH, the control can be awkward, clunky, and downright uncomfortable.

I get a hand cramp that becomes more severe as time goes on after only about 30 minutes of gameplay due to how I must hold my decidedly non-ergonomic DS in order to play properly. The alternative control scheme is to use the right thumb to press buttons to aim, but that's akin to using the arrow keys on a keyboard to control a mouse cursor. Imagine how inelegant that would be when Clippit starts shooting rockets at you.

I eventually got comfortable enough with the aiming to almost (emphasis: almost) enjoy it, but I find it unacceptable that playing a video game would put me in physical pain.

I consider the Nintendo Wii and the fact that most of the games I'm interested in playing on it involve waggling the wireless controller--essentially a remote control with only a few buttons on it that is called a Wiimote in the vernacular--and waving it and swiping it and twisting it and otherwise bandying it about in unsafe manners.

Metroid Prime 3 involves pointing the Wiimote at every enemy on the screen that you want to explodify. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess involves attacking with your sword by physically swinging the Wiimote as if it were as sword. And let's not get into the embarrassment that was Wii Bowling.

I often like to lean back on my couch and lazily press buttons. I'm not one of those people who plays a racing game and leans forward while holding the controller to one side while going around a tight corner, but the Wii would have me become one of those people.

Beyond that, in order for the wireless sensor to even detect what I'm doing with the Wiimote, I need to be sitting upright or even standing for anything to register properly. As if getting exercise out of a supposedly relaxing passtime wasn't bad enough, now I need to exhibit proper posture?

I'm just waiting for Super Mario Pigskin Brawl Party where you chuck your Wiimote across the room to simulate a football pass and then actually tackle the other players to take them down in-game. As far as the sports games go, if we need to go to all the effort of exerting ourselves, why the heck don't we just go outside and play real sports?

Duck Hunt was fine by me. Most people can't afford an infinite supply of ducks and a hunting dog that is trained to laugh at you. Shooting ducks with the Zapper was pretty cool, and I really can't imagine how awful the game would have been if we had to use the control pad to aim. Especially if Clippit showed up and started firing rockets at us.

Dance Dance Revolution is also fine by me. I've played a DDR clone, StepMania, using my computer keyboard, but it just doesn't have the appeal that actually "dancing" to the beat does.

But these are both games that really require a nonstandard controller. Furthermore, Duck Hunt and DDR are both games that are really meant for shorter sessions, or longer sessions with regular breaks, so that the physical exertion of busting a move or gunning down hapless waterfowl doesn't take a serious toll.

You won't be playing for hours on end (or even for more than about 30 minutes) unless you're really hardcore, and even then, there's a brief break between every song and every round of ducks.

Games such as Metroid Prime 3 and Twilight Princess don't have those built-in breaks. Other games in the Metroid and Zelda series really lend themselves to long playing sessions for those so inclined, and speed runs in which a player goes through the entire game from start to finish are not at all unheard of.

Not to mention the fact that all the other Metroid and Zelda games worked perfectly well with traditional controllers prior to the advent of the DS and the Wii.

However, add in physical exhaustion and/or discomfort from extended playing, and long sessions are no longer just a question of how long it takes for your eyes to dry up and roll out of their sockets. It's now a matter of either endurance to withstand the pain/exhaustion, or self-discipline to stop playing before the pain/exhaustion sets in.

Either way, I resent the fact that my enjoyment of a virtual world where I can escape from reality--a virtual world in which I become an agile bounty hunter or tireless swordsman unfettered by my own real physical limitations--is now hampered by my own physical limitations.

I recognize that the Wii is attracting an audience that never would have played video games otherwise, but I and other traditional gamers feel as though we're being left behind. This newfound interactivity is foreign to us, and unwelcome.

I have plans of playing video games with the grandchildren I aspire to have some day, and what a shame it would be if I were wheelchair-bound and couldn't stand up to play virtual tennis with them. What a shame it would be if I couldn't raise my arms above my shoulders to place the Wiimote on my head so that I can play WarioWare: Smooth Moves with them.

I'm not trying to make fun of John McCain here. I'm just saying that it's bad news for him if they throw out the voting process this year and let the election be settled over a game of WarioWare: Smooth Moves.

And, in all seriousness, I think this whole trend of using alternate controls for everything is bad news for anybody with any real physical limitations.

It's bad enough that there are games out there that I already have trouble playing because I'm somewhat color-blind (You: "Stop shooting me! I'm on your team! The Red Team!" Me: "Everyone is brown!!!"), but I can usually get by if I memorize that Mysterious Color A is green and Mysterious Color B is about to blow me to smithereens.

I occasionally enlist the help of my friends and family to sit next to me and shout out colors as I play. This is especially helpful when fighting bosses that are only vulnerable to certain weapons when they turn certain colors.

Such as the final boss of Metroid Prime: Hunters.

And believe you me, I almost didn't attempt to finish the game when I found out the final boss was color-coded and I'd have to walk away with a big hand cramp. But I finished it because I'm a loyal Metroid fan.

The DS and the Wii are not the only game systems out there. But as more and more kids grow up with exposure to such interactive video games, I fear that Wii-wagging will become the norm, and formerly "hip" people such as myself will become dinosaurs and distanced from these new video game technologies by sheer virtue of the fact that we are physically incapable of keeping up with them.

Am I a lazy whiner? Sure. But if somebody told you that, from now on, you had to stomp your feet every time you wanted to turn a page in a book you're reading, you'd probably get tired of it pretty quickly.

There are some games that put the Wiimote and the DS touchpad to good use, and I happily accept them, just like I accept Duck Hunt and DDR. Still, I wish to emphasize that because we have these new control options available does not mean that we must use them.

I had this same problem when the Nintendo 64 came out. Every video game had to be in 3-D for no other reason than that the technology was there.

Maybe this Wiimote nonsense is Nintendo's new toy, and everybody wants to play with it. It is my hope that this need to do things differently is just a fad, and that when it's all over, the only games that use these highly interactive controls will be the ones that truly need them, and that they'll be developed for a platform where one can comfortably hold whatever object passes for a controller.

And secretly, I'm hoping that those aren't games that I ever want to play.

Oh, and so much for that "brief moment" I promised. Oops.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Potty Mouth Batman

OK, so by this point everyone in comics fandom has heard about the infamous (can you even achieve infamy in less than a week?) "Potty Mouth Batman" issue. And, if you haven't, check it out here at our buddy Kevin's blog. He recaps it quite well. But be warned, there's some bad, bad language used.

Cliffs Notes version, though: DC Comics printed an issue of All Star Batman and Robin, a book without a "Mature Readers" warning logo on the cover mind you, with little black bars to cover over explicit language.

Which is fine. But, well, those black bars? Yeah, they didn't cover up the bad words. Instead, you have nearly translucent black marks over a veritable cavalcade of offensive words. And, boy, are they offensive words. (Several F-bombs, c-words, etc.)

Now, this thing has already been blogged to death, with numerous people weighing in on several issues pertaining to this, uh, issue. From those upset at the treatment of the characters by writer Frank Miller to those offended by the words used, I can understand where everyone's coming from.

And, though I really don't want to harp on it for too long here, I will say this, and it's a bit of a different perspective than I've been reading the past few days. I find it pretty horrible that something like this happened. And not because there shouldn't be cursing in a comic, or because there shouldn't be cursing in a Batman comic. I'm all for cursing if said cursing is important to the story being told. Words have impact, and strong language carries with it strong emotional weight.

So, to be clear, it's not the fact that there were curse words used that gets me angry. Instead, I find this occurrence to be deplorable because, well, I'm an editor by trade. That's how I make my living--I edit things, this blog included. And, even though we do this blog for fun (and for no money!), I like to think that Nathaniel and I pore over each post to make sure it meets certain standards we've set. (And, as someone who can't even get a return phone call from DC Comics when it comes to open positions, I might just dig the knife in a bit too deep here, but hey, it's half my blog.)

Now, to think that the dirtiest of the late, great George Carlin's seven words you can never say on television were used in a mainstream superhero book is pretty hard to believe, and I have to admit, kinda cool. On one level, I kinda dig the fact that some bad language was used in a Batman comic, because censorship sucks and it's evil. But, please don't get me wrong here--the words used in this comic are degrading and disgusting and awful and foul.

And there's simply no arguing with that.

Do the words carry an important emotional weight? Do they advance the story? Can the book have the same impact on the reader without using those words? Well, I dunno. See, DC ordered retailers to destroy all copies of the book that they couldn't catch before shipping. Of course, there are copies out there. Certain retailers are making a killing on Ebay, with issues selling as high as $200.

I haven't been able to get my hands on one, so I am yet to read the entire story. And that makes me pretty cautious about making a judgment about the story as a whole, or any of its content.

But, from what we've all seen online, and to Miller's credit, it was the bad guys using most of these words, a clear indication that these are bad dudes saying bad things. Their actions and their words are evil in the bits of the issue I've seen online, and that's what makes these bad guys...bad.

And, yes, Batgirl (a very kid-friendly character, by the way) uses crude language, as well. However, it can be argued that she is defending Gotham City from bad guys and she's in the right and she's just venting her spleen and teenagers do curse in real life and...well, you get what I'm saying.

But, and this is the big BUT--none of what I've written pertains to the main point of what is wrong with this issue leaking out. Yell and scream all you like about the "destruction" of the characters, or the inappropriate words uttered, or the fact that DC should have used the comics-typical @#$% to cover up the swear words instead of using black bars--but those things simply ARE NOT WHAT WE SHOULD BE ENRAGED ABOUT.

The point that I want to make is that, no matter what actually happened, DC certainly DID NOT want these words to be printed. They wanted them to be blacked out and covered, to be left to the readers' imaginations. And that would have been OK--still offensive to many, but certainly within their rights as the publisher. But that's not what happened. And that means someone over at DC screwed up.

Big time.

Maybe bigger and worse than any other comics editors have ever screwed up. Maybe that's a bit too dramatic, but I mean, c'mon, this one was bad. Now, I completely understand the pressures of editing and deadlines (like I said, it's how I make my living) and I, too (like others online have mentioned), suspect that some poor assistant is going to take the brunt of this one. And, obviously, that would be totally unfair.

But, if I were editing this book--a book with the harshest language EVER used in a mainstream, ALL AGES DC comic--and I had to check just ONE thing before sending it to bed, no matter how late it was...I would have checked the black bars.

And I would have made darn sure that those black bars covered up those naughty, naughty words. And, after I checked those black bars, I would have checked them again.

And again.

And one more time before I sent it off, just to be completely, 100% lose-no-sleep-that-night-sure.

But someone didn't do that. And, instead, comics are in the spotlight again. And bad language in comics comes to the forefront of discussion about comics. And the local news runs a story about it. And then it's in the newspapers. And then FOX News does a segment about it.

And, all of a sudden, some parents out there are questioning just what in the heck that guy at the local comics shop is selling to their kids.

I won't bother finishing this little point, folks, mostly because I can't bring myself to write the logical conclusion. But you know as well as I do how chilling the rest of it can be. And I hope we don't see it go down that road--AGAIN.

For the hundredth time.

And I don't blame Frank Miller for this. He's done more to advance this medium than almost anyone else in the history of this medium ever has or ever will. No, I don't blame Frank Miller. He wrote some words, and Jim Lee drew some pictures, and they created a book. Yes, a book with an edge, a book with bad, disgusting, demeaning language.

But a book nonetheless.

They knew the rules. And they knew--they KNEW--that DC was going to cover up the words with those little black bars. That was the deal. That's ALWAYS the deal. But this time, DC didn't cover up the words.

And that's not Frank Miller's fault. That's DC's fault. And, if the chilling factor I spoke of earlier comes to fruition, well, THAT'S DC's fault, too.

Sleep well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

OC ReMix: Making a good thing even better

Video game music is more than just filler. Whether it is performed by a full orchestra or blipped and bleeped out by a PC speaker, video game music can be just as touching, thrilling, and rock-awesome as your favorite movie soundtrack.

OverClocked Remix logoTake your favorite video game song, regardless of whether it's from World of Warcraft or from Frogger, and add a killer drumbeat and a wicked guitar solo, or transform it into hypnotic techno, an upbeat jazz piece, or a romantic little piano tune. Think about that. That is OverClocked ReMix.

The stuff you'll hear at OC ReMix is a far cry from a crackling recording of some amateur plucking on a guitar in his parents' basement (though there are a few remixes like that). This is professional-grade stuff, so much so that Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix will be featuring music from some of these remixers.

If you like video game (or computer game) music at all, take a look at the site. Remixes of hundreds upon hundreds of individual songs, and remixes of entire video game soundtracks (including Chrono Trigger, DOOM, Final Fantasy VII, and Super Metroid) are available for FREE download. You can even submit your own!

Check it out: http://www.ocremix.org/

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons: Describing & Demystifying

Well, it appears we've made it: over 100 hits to our blog! To celebrate, we're posting the same old junk we were planning on posting anyhow. Onward!

Today's feature concerns a game that has often been misunderstood and, I would argue, consequently carries more stigmas than most geek activities.

But! We hope to demystify and possibly even encourage the game we're about to discuss. Allow us to exfand your horizons with...

D&D logo
What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy roleplaying game in which the player takes on the role of a character in an interactive story. The player
decides what his or her character does and says, and the limitations of one's character and the chances for success in any given endeavor are dictated by a set of rules and the rolling of dice.

You sound like a textbook. Tell me about what actually happens when you play D&D.

Well, that really depends on a lot of factors. Typically (but not always--that will be discussed eventually), D&D is played in person with a group of players. I've seen anywhere from 1-8 players, but I find that 3-5 is ideal. One person, called the Dungeon Master (or DM), runs the game.

In some ways, the DM is the players' babysitter for the duration of the game session. He or she tells them stories, tells them what they can and cannot do, and keeps them from beating each other up and spilling Mountain Dew on the carpet.

8-Bit Theater D&D gameIn a typical game session of D&D, players will gather around a table and listen to the DM as he or she explains everything the players see, and all the events that occur in-game. Here's a quick sample of something you might have heard in one of my campaigns at college:

ME (the DM): Guys, could you come back in, like, 30 minutes? I'm not quite done writing today's quest.

See? Doesn't that just make you want to run out and blow all your money on D&D stuff?

Anyways, what really happens is that the DM will generally describe the scene:

"You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here."

Then, players will either tell you coherently what they want to do...

"I want to go around to the back of the house."

...or they will find some way to make fun of you and your campaign by, say, quoting obscure Internet videos.

Mailbox! Open mailbox!"

What kind of adventures can you have?

Anything. Seriously. Protect a caravan of merchants across the desert, prove the innocence of a prince framed for murder, plunder an ancient trap-laden tomb, wage war against an army of werewolves, exterminate the troglodytes, fetch me a sock; anything. Seriously.

Didn't I hear something about dice? I swear there was something about dice.

Yes. There's dice. Lots of 'em. Any time your character attempts to do something that requires any kind of skill, such as jumping onto the Leper King from the balcony above him, resisting the feminine wiles of a wily female, or throwing a dagger at the tricksy hobbit who just stole your pants, you need to roll a die to determine whether or not you are successful.

D&D polyhedral diceD&D uses funny polyhedral dice that have 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and even (and especially) 20 sides. You use the d20 (20-sided die) to determine your chance of success for just about anything.

Rolling a 20 on the die is basically a guaranteed success, sometimes with extra-favorable results, so you'll often find D&D players making jokes like this one. (Brief profanity alert.)

The not-20-sided-dice are usually (but not always) used to determine how much damage you do to the people, monsters, and inanimate objects you rough up with your axe, sword, flaming torch, lightning bolt, shillelagh, ukulele, or whatever else you use to attack.

Most D&D campaigns involve a good deal of battles, but exploration, stealth, sabotage, negotiation, information gathering, and shopping can all be a part of a campaign as well.

But what if I don't want to do a lot of negotiating and information gathering? Talking is boring! Bash and smash!

Yes! Bash and smash! Raaar!

Ahem. How you act out your character is up to you. If you want to be talkative, you can be talkative; if you'd prefer to shoot first, Han, and not bother asking questions later, you can do that too. If you're not much into acting, you can just be yourself.

You have a wonderfully large degree of control over the creation of your character, so you could easily design and play as a disgruntled warrior who carries a huge hammer and breaks everything he sees. Alternately, you could be a sneaky, silver-tongued thief who could talk her way out of a battle or slip away sooner than she could fight her way out.

As long as your DM is permissive enough, your character could theoretically be of any fantasy race you can think of (elf, dwarf, gnome, or regular old human), and your character could be just about anything--wizard, barbarian, priest, innkeeper, goat herder, evil harbinger of destruction... whatever.

That's pretty cool. And there are rules for all of that?

Sure. Though the rules flesh out all of the standard races and classes one might choose, along with several exotic and nontraditional ones, it's technically possible to do some heavy customization and adaptation. You and your friends might, theoretically, go off to slay a dragon with a party consisting of Stewie Griffin,
Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, Captain Kirk, Pac-Man, Zombie Abe Lincoln, and David Bowie.

That party would rock. Except for Sir Robin.

Right you are. Now I'm intrigued. Tell me more.

Maybe tomorrow.

[D&D logo from www.gamertell.com. Dice picture from foreveranoob.wordpress.com]