Friday, November 30, 2012

GameCola Recap: November 2012

November seems to have been the all-podcast month for me at obscure gaming website GameCola.net. And I'm still having trouble describing the site in a way that flows. "Videogame humor website" worked so well, but we've changed our slogan to "GameCola: Gaming Outside the Mainstream!". That's a little cumbersome to drop into casual conversation, though it still works as a slogan. But "obscure gaming website" sounds less like we talk about obscure games, and more like nobody's ever heard of us. Both of which are true.

Whoo, that's a dense-looking paragraph. Better get to the part where I hyperlink to stuff.

Podcasts:

- GC Podcast #55: Gaming Outside the Mainstream

- Off-Topic Podcast #3: The Thirties

Videos:

- GC Podcast #38 on YouTube: Too Many Podcasters

- GC Podcast #39-40 on YouTube: The (Rest of the) Mike and Jeddy Show

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Day in the Sun, Literally

According to the in-game timer that appears when you save your game, I have now spent 24 hours playing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.

I did the math—that's an entire day. And I'm not even finished with it yet.
I like the game well enough...but do I like it enough to justify pouring a whole day of my life into it? Will the next few hours it'll take me to finish the game do anything to drastically change my opinion one way or another? In the long run, will it be worth the couple of extra hours I added to the game by obsessively checking every. single. pot. and. crate. for apples, cookies, and cash?

I look back at Final Fantasy VIII, which took even longer to play, and I didn't come anywhere close to completing all the optional material in that game. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has considerably less in the way of nonessential content, and most of it involves nothing more than a slight detour or an extra puzzle to solve. No card games with ever-changing rules to master; no rare monsters that rarely drop rare items. Everything I'm doing feels like a normal part of the game—it's just not mandatory.
That's what makes the sidequests of Chrono Trigger so great: instead of bloating the game with new  gameplay elements and superficial length, they offer you more areas to explore if you already like what you're doing. The rewards for continued adventuring are new challenges, more story, and items that give you a better shot at defeating the final boss—but if you're eager to be done, you can bypass them entirely and still feel like you've brought the game to a satisfactory conclusion. There are no gaping holes in your Pok√©dex; there's no smug Dr. Robotnik denying you a proper ending as he juggles the Chaos Emeralds you missed. Chrono Trigger doesn't guilt you into completing its sidequests if you're not totally in love with them.

Happily, the same is largely true of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. There's still a tally of how many important names you've added to your journal through conversing with people, and the cute little magical Djinn creatures you collect and summon are arranged on a menu screen that makes it obvious when you're missing a few, but there's less of a pressure to find everything out of obligation. You're adding journal entries because they enhance the story, and scooping up Djinn because they make combat and character customization more fun and interesting.

Or because you're a completionist, and it's really not that much more effort to shoot for 100% completion...
The trouble with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is that almost everything about it is "good enough" for someone of my tastes. The graphics aren't beautiful, but they're not as hideously blocky as I'd feared from the screenshots I saw before playing the game. The plot isn't blowing me away, but it's nice to see some continuity with the previous games in the series. A few of the Zelda-esque puzzles are pretty clever, but most of them are not only simple but make no effort to hide the obvious solution. Random encounters present virtually no challenge and are concluded in 1-2 turns of mashing the Attack command, but the boss battles are fun and satisfying, particularly the one I just fought...against a completely optional boss.

What gets me about Golden Sun—the whole series; not just this game—is that it's an entry-level puzzle-RPG through and through...with a handful of shining moments that lure in the seasoned veterans, teasing them just enough to believe that the series' brain-bending, tactics-demanding potential might be realized if they just keep playing. Inevitably, it's the more challenging optional content that makes this series worth my time, but if I have to slog through hours and hours of battles that require no effort and puzzles that solve themselves, is what I get out of each game truly worthwhile? 
Final Fantasy VIII was the turning point where I realized that fun needs to trump compulsion in the pursuit of 100% completion. Perhaps Golden Sun: Dark Dawn will be the turning point where I stop playing sequels in series that fail to deliver what I know I can get elsewhere.

There may be hope for me yet...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Exfanding Review: Double Dragon

In an effort to expand my knowledge of movies based on video games (to broaden my frame of reference when other people talk about them; not because I think they'll be any good), I sat down with my wife to watch the 1994 film Double Dragon.

Her reaction: It was painful to watch.

My reaction: It was exactly the kind of cheesy, tongue-in-cheek '90s action flick I didn't realize I had been craving.

 Don't let my reaction fool you, though; Double Dragon is not a very good movie. It falls under the category of "awesomely bad," the term used by a friend of mine to describe the Spanish dub of The Legend of Zorro—that is to say, parts of it are so over-the-top bad that they're good again. Which is the evilest thing of all.

I don't recall ever playing any incarnation of the game, but I've seen and heard bits and pieces about it over the years. I know about Billy and Jimmy Lee, the two bad dudes (whoops, wrong game) who punch and kick the stuffing out of wave after wave of enemies, all in an effort to rescue their (their?) girlfriend, Princess What's-Her-Name (whoops, wrong game again). Along the way, they occasionally beat up such iconic, vaguely human enemies such as Abobo...and...yeah, that's about all I know.

And someone, somewhere, said, "Let's fill an hour and a half with this game that takes 15 minutes to beat if you don't die."

So they fleshed out the simple kidnapping plot with this story about an ancient Chinese medallion known as the "Double Dragon" that grants the wearer incredible power of body and spirit. The medallion was broken into two pieces, hidden away from people who might misuse it, and promptly stolen by people who might misuse it.

The spirit half is stolen, at least; the power half is possessed by some possibly unnamed girl (did they ever mention her by name?) who hangs out with Billy and Jimmy, and who totally doesn't try to use the medallion when her life is in danger and she's about to get thwacked by the bad guy. (Or maybe she does, and I missed the subtlety of it.)


Notice how we've sort of lost the girlfriend-kidnapping plot. The girlfriend (Marion—she has a name) does appear, however, as more of a not-until-the-end girlfriend, who happens to have her own gang, which prowls the streets of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the far-flung year of 2007 against bad guys like this film's main antagonist, who is actually the T-1000 from Terminator 2 disguised as a goofy, gaudy bajillionaire.

As far as cheesy movie villains go, he certainly is one. It's funny how he's not really evil, and he doesn't seem to be all that good at villainy; at best, he's like a mediocre CEO who fires his employees by turning into a shadow and choking them to death. Sample quote: "I just want total domination of one major American City! Is that too much to ask for? Is it? Is it? Huh?"

He's not the only antagonist; there's Whip Girl (who I'm pretty sure never got a name), hordes of colorful cannon-fodder grunts, and, of course, Bo Abobo.

Abobo on steroids:


Abobo on more steroids:


Abobo on spinach:

There are plenty of action sequences, all of which seem to have been choreographed by someone who merely shouted out things he wanted punched or broken, leaving the "martial arts" bit to the imagination of the actors. Somebody even threw in a couple of vehicle chases, with vehicles that have onboard computer navigation screens so you feel like you're inside a video game! Not the right video game, mind you, but the fact that somebody thought to make a video game movie feel at all like a video game? Genius.

What made Double Dragon so fun to watch was that it wasn't really a failed attempt at a game-to-movie translation; it was more like a live-action adaptation of a terrible cartoon based on a video game, one that tried its best to be taken seriously while fully acknowledging its ridiculous source material, all the while referencing the source material's source material wherever possible.

If that makes any sense.

The absolutely random cameos from the likes of Vanna White and Andy Dick. The sight gags and one-liners that actually made me laugh out loud—I am a sucker for punnery and the ironically absurd, so take that with a grain of salt. The gratuitous jumping. The whole production feels like Escape from New York meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meets Mighty Morphin Power Rangers meets Looney Tunes, which, in and of itself, is amusing to me.

It's still got a quirky-but-otherwise-average script, a predictable plot, passable acting, messy fight scenes, and a forgettable soundtrack (which at least attempted to sound like a video game toward the end!), which keep Double Dragon from being a good movie. But, unless your sensibilities are closer to my wife's, it remains a fun movie.

Coming in with low expectations and no nostalgia for anyone to tread on, I found myself pleasantly surprised. So, if you need your cheesy, tongue-in-cheek '90s action flick fix, Double Dragon might just do the trick.

Especially if you're watching the (Swedish?) subtitled version on YouTube, which has subtitles that sound really funny when you read them aloud as though they're in English.

Stanna, get me a pudding! Pudding forever. My type.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving; or, Why Not to Write About Thanksgiving

I'm sometimes reluctant to post anything topical when a holiday or other commemorative event rolls around, if it's just for the sake of posting something topical—it's not that holiday posts are bad, per se, but they make annoying our readers even easier than usual. For example:

- Distinctly US holidays such as Thanksgiving have the potential to alienate our international readers (you may recall that one person from Romania who navigated here by accident that one time);

- Religious holidays such as Easter aren't celebrated by everyone, and even if they were, I'd still be wary of helping oversaturate the public consciousness with the only thing that anyone is able to talk about that day (or that half of the year, if we're talking Christmas);

- Valentine's Day and other romantic celebrations (such as wedding anniversaries) remind your unhappiest single readers how lonely, bitter, jealous, and/or emotionally vulnerable they're feeling;

- Any day that, simply by mentioning it, means you have to pick sides—I can't just say that it's Veterans Day; I need to condone or condemn war in the same breath, which will divide readers, or else people will start making assumptions about my beliefs based on what I don't say, so I need to write a longwinded explanation that honors our veterans while even-handedly respecting both viewpoints about war, which will still aggravate some people;

- Tax Day.

 I could go on, but even posts about how posts about holidays can be obnoxious, can be obnoxious. Like that last sentence.

Exfanding tradition dictates that, unless we've got a full-blown post in mind, we should find a comic book cover relevant to the holiday that we want to recognize, maybe throw in a famous quote, and call it a day. Well, if you can overlook the fact that I forgot Halloween and blew my chance to write about the Fake Election this year, I'm not one to argue with tradition.

So, in the traditional Exfanding style, allow me to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Why are they playing Christmas music already?
-Me


Image from www.coverbrowser.com.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Early Resolutions, Belated Solutions

Perhaps it's a little too early to be making resolutions for 2013 (or a little too late, depending on when you're reading this), but I think I'd like to spend less time making videos.

I know; I know. I'm the guy who makes videos like this, explaining why I'm not making videos. It's not even conceivable that I could spend less time making videos. Allow me to elaborate: by 2013, I'd like YouTube to be an occasional hobby instead of an ongoing creative project. Like it used to be.

When I started making videos for YouTube, I'd come home from work, do some recording before dinner, and dedicate a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to wrapping up whatever I couldn't finish during the week. I was finishing entire video series in a matter of what, a month? Three, tops? I started playing Space Quest 0 this past July, recorded all the video footage in something like two days, sat down to record all the commentary for each video in 1-2 takes, and it's now November and I've got at least two more videos to go.

Wha happen??

Video recording, like so many of my other things I've tried to work on this past year, became relegated to a routine to ensure that it wouldn't fall by the wayside. The trouble is, when you're making video recording, blogging, writing for GameCola, watching anime, watching movies, watching TV shows, playing video games, reading books, reading comic books...insert another two dozen examples here...part of your routine, you don't really get much of anything done.

I should know better: When I commit to a project, I follow through on it. I don't need to keep chipping away at it every day or every few days to keep from losing momentum; I just need to want to do it in the first place. I started an FAQ/Walkthrough for the PC game Jetpack back in 2008, a few months before the founding of this blog. I added new content off and on throughout the next year, published what I had...and got busy with other things.

Three and a half years later, I picked up where I left off.

My YouTube moniker was selected because it's a Mega Man weapon I like, and because everything else I could think of was already taken...but truly is fitting: GeminiLaser, the one that moves slowly but always bounces back. In my heart, I'm not really a YouTuber. I never intended to make more than a handful of videos. Now I've got 4,161 subscribers and 1,094,078 video views, and that's just for my personal channel alone—that doesn't cover any of the collaborations or contributions I've made for other channels. I've become a thing.

Would I like to continue making videos? Sure. But pretending I'm always working on a video is a drag. I'm a marathon man. I write short poetry, not novels. I do my best work when I can shut out the world for a few hours and stay totally focused on one thing. I have a long short-term attention span, and a short long-term attention span. Prolonging the completion of a video or video series I'm allegedly working on is just delaying the gratification.

Either I'm working on it, and having fun, or I'm not working on it, and having fun doing something else. No more of this in-between business; saying I'm working on a video and having little or nothing to show for it is tantamount to failure. It's like joining a football team and wandering off the field mid-game to compose a symphony—it might be a magnificent symphony, but you're a failure as a football player. I'm tired of subconsciously dragging myself down because I'm not achieving the things I'm not making a priority to achieve. When the opportunity and motivation arise, I'll make another video. Until then, I'm going on a YouTube hiatus.

Remember the last time I went on hiatus? I stepped away from the blog for two weeks, and when I came back, I felt better about writing than I had in months. Whether it's two days or two years before I get back to recording videos, I'm convinced it'll be worth the wait...and even if it isn't, I'll be happier for it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: IKEA

My wife and I paid our second visit to IKEA yesterday, the fabled Swedish furniture store. Perhaps you've seen it from the highway.

 Assuming your highway is in Singapore, where this photo from Wikipedia was apparently taken.

The problem with our first visit to IKEA a few months ago was that we really didn't know what we were in for. I thought we could walk in, pick out a shelf, and do some window shopping along the way. I was not expecting to go apartment hunting. We walked through a labyrinth of living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, each furnished with a consistent theme that prompted us to start categorizing these mock living spaces as, "wish we could have that," "wish we had a friend who had that," and, "meh." By the time we reached the end of the showroom floor, I was worn out.

Then there was an entire floor of rugs, lampshades, and picture frames that we hadn't counted on.

Followed by the gigantic warehouse where we actually picked up the box containing the assemble-it-yourself shelf that we had picked out a few hours before.

Followed by a checkout line comparable to the queue for a Star Wars premiere.

Followed by a small food court and a mini-mart with assemble-it-yourself Swedish food.

Followed by the trip across the bustling parking lot back to the car, and the realization that the do-it-your-shelf may or may not fit into the back of the car.

I suppose the huge food court at the entrance should have been a clue that you don't simply "go shopping" at IKEA. You're there for an afternoon, whether you're buying a potholder or a twelve-piece dinette set.

This time, we came prepared. We started our adventure by sitting down to a glorious meal of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, veggie wraps, and Mountain Dew. (The food was quite good.) We had a list, and we stuck to it: lollygagging was kept to a minimum by moving through the store with purpose, rather than the wonderment and promise of 50¢ hot dogs that characterized our first visit. We abandoned our previous mindset of, "find what's cheap, and then see if we like it," replacing it with, "find what we like, and then consider if it fits into the budget." Overall, our second experience was much more in line with what Jonathan Coulton sang about.

Now we're well on our way to making a home, as opposed to living in a place created by the haphazard mingling of trappings from our previous lives apart. Of course, that means I need to vacuum the carpet before we move everything into place. But that's a small price to pay for having somewhere that we can truly call ours.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pulling the Pin

Why is everyone so angry?

Facebook: Still screaming about politics and social issues.

The News: Still screaming about politics and social issues.

That one review of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn I read at GameFAQs: Ranting about how worthlessly terrible the game is, because it's just like Golden Sun 1 and 2, which the author loved, except not as challenging and not as creative. Sounds familiar. The author gave the Gameplay and Replayability categories each a score of 1/10, which does not indicate "too easy and creatively disappointing"; that indicates the designers didn't finish the game and left it physically unplayable.

...Alright, so if that qualifies as "everyone," then my world is especially tiny. But I was on the Internet for all of five minutes, and most of that time was spent wading through a sea of vitriol. Which brings me back to my original question: Why is everyone so angry? Or, perhaps the better question is why everyone is so unable to express their anger in a marginally rational, halfway constructive manner?

We get angry sometimes. We shout and punch things, or clench our fists and grit our teeth. We complain about it incessantly to our friends, or take it out on people who don't deserve it. Maybe we blow our cool and say and do things we can never take back. But if we have any grip on our own humanity, we'll recognize when there's a real person on the receiving end of our anger—someone who can talk or smack some sense into us, or storm out and drive the message home that being that angry is not OK.

As soon as we sit down in front of a computer, we lose all sense of filter. We forget who's reading what we write—or we care even less than usual. I know from personal experience that is feels good sometimes to get my anger and frustration out on paper. Yet while my anger will eventually pass, the words I write are as good as set in stone once they're on the Internet.

My emotions and opinions may change, and the unpopular things I say can be debated and forgiven when I anger someone face-to-face, but anything I write will speak for itself every time anybody sees it—be it moments or years from now. Unless I feel like I can make my anger and frustration into something meaningful that other people will find amusing or thought-provoking or useful in understanding me as a person, I don't express it in a public forum online. I don't want to ruin your day unless I'm sure something good will come out of it.

I can't say the same of myself when I'm expressing anger or frustration in person. I don't think any of us can. That's why the a written medium is so great for being angry: we can take the time to sort out precisely why we're angry. We can make a case for being angry; we can win people over to our cause and righteously smite the offenders with our smoldering, justified anger. We can, but often we don't. Anger is a grenade, and too often we pull the pin before thinking about where to throw it. How many times have we blown ourselves up? How many times have we taken our friends with us?

Look, Internet. Be angry. It's healthy. Just watch where you're tossing those grenades. Anybody who's played a first-person shooter knows that a little friendly fire is bound to happen every now and again...but when you stop aiming at targets and start letting the grenades fall where they will, you're no better than the bad guys.

And, like a first-person shooter, the "bad guys" are just regular people who've sat down to play a game, and happen to be on the opposing side. Get angry at the issues; get angry at the game.

Love the people you're playing with.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Wreck-It Ralph

As a gamer, it's my duty to weigh in on Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, which promised (at least, from the trailer) to be the rare sort of video game-inspired movie that not only uses its source material well, but uses it with reverence.



Everything you need to know about the story is there in the trailer; the question is, how is the movie?

It's very good. As a gamer, I'm pleased. Wreck-It Ralph left me optimistic for the future of video game movies. But it also left me wanting more.
Wreck-It Ralph is, first and foremost, a family movie. It's not really a movie for gamers, any more than Toy Story is a movie for toy collectors. There are more than enough scenes, cameos, parodies, and references to warm the pixelated hearts of retro and modern gamers alike, but at its core, Wreck-It Ralph is a movie about a big guy and a little girl who just want to be treated as equals. The fact that they're video game characters opens up some fun possibilities for how their story unfolds.
As a film, I appreciate how Wreck-It Ralph continually takes the story in unexpected directions, especially when it's so obvious what's supposed to happen next. Characters are fun, memorable, and have a good amount of depth to them (yes, even the 2-D ones, har har har). As a film set inside a video game (really, a game arcade), I'm relieved to see that the people involved with Wreck-It Ralph have actually played a video game before. From the music to the backgrounds to the character animations, everything feels right.
Where the movie leaves me wanting more is the large portion of time spent inside one particular game, which could have instead been spent hopping around to so many more video games. Granted, the movie does a great job of making the most of that location, but the film's own success up to that point is its greatest downfall: It's so rare to see video games treated with such genuine respect on film that I wanted the creators to spend more time exploring all the different games in the arcade, rather than focusing on the one place where it made most sense for the characters to be. The story, which is a very good story, got in the way of the even better presentation of various video games and video game genres by people who knew what they were talking about.
The movie's funny, too, and I have no doubt the writers could have made Wreck-It Ralph a full-on video game comedy instead (which, honestly, is what I was really hoping for). Keeping in mind that Wreck-It Ralph is first and foremost a family movie, however, keeps me from dwelling on what could have been. Because, once again, it's still a very good movie. I could do without the obligatory potty humor, though; all those jokes about Hero's Duty are making me rethink the way I phrased my introductory sentence for this post.
Nevertheless, Wreck-It Ralph—like the latest batch of Marvel movies, which have done the same for comics—reassures me that it's not impossible to make a video game-inspired movie that's more than a little above average, if not downright great.

Oh, and as a side note, Metroid: Other M could've had a Samus like Sgt. Calhoun: tough, assertive, focused, driven, and with the most tragic backstory ever, but still a caring woman under that butt-kicking exterior, and still sexy without endless fanservice.

We could've had this Samus...
...but instead we got this one:
Just sayin'.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dream Routine

I feel like I just woke up from a dream. Not the kind of dream where I'm running down a hallway and encounter a giant fish head in the wall—I stopped having that one years ago—more along the lines of a dream so realistic that you have to pause and wonder whether it all really happened.

Over the last year I've fallen into a simple routine: weekdays are spent working at the office; weeknights are spent on light housework and geeky pursuits; weekends are consumed by road trips, entertaining guests, or catching up on heavy housework and more time-consuming geeky pursuits (and, on rare occasions, sleep). I am a creature of habit, so I like my routine. It's comfortable. It's safe.

Hurricane Sandy disposed of my routine two weeks ago. A friend's wedding, my anniversary celebration, a recording collaboration with my wife for a friend's D&D campaign, the Presidential election, and another recording session for The GameCola D&Dcast have kept me from settling back into a routine ever since. And I, the creature of habit, have been...

Thinking.

I tend to resist change the most when I'm already happy with what I've got. This upheaval should have me up in arms, grumping about how there's no time to write or play videogames or do any of the things I want or need to do. Yet, I've been doing all the things I want or need to do. Even when I've had to put things off these past two weeks, the anticipation of completing them has kept me motivated to tackle them at the first chance I get.

That includes cleaning the bathroom and sweeping the carpet. Clearly, breaking me out of my routine is harmful to my mental health.

What this suggests to me is that I really haven't been happy with my routine. Not that I've been unhappy—each day has its ups and downs, but the overall trend has been that things are positive. It's that, in addition to being a creature of habit, I'm something of a control freak. This routine I've been following has been shaped by a series of factors beyond my control, and even the factors within my control feel like there's only ever once decision I can make.

As power is restored and traffic flow returns to normal and my evenings and weekends open up again—and as courtesy and topic diversity in people's conversations return to pre-election levels—I see an opportunity to settle back into the old routine.

I'm not so sure I want to take it.

It has been most refreshing to have a break from my routine. I feel more like myself than I've felt for a long time. I feel...awake. And I'm not ready to fall back into the bed that is my old routine.

This time, when I inevitably settle into a pattern, I plan for it to be one of my choosing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: What Could Possibly Be Taking So Long!?

In what is starting to look like an annual tradition, I've once again put together a video to respond to the most popular question on my YouTube channel: "Where's the next video!?"

Even if you're not a Mega Man fan, this may prove to be entertaining.



True to form, this post comes to you more than a month after it was immediately relevant. I blame reason #5.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Burger Showdown: BK Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper vs. McD's Cheddar Bacon Onion

I enjoy fast food more than the average person...and probably more than any person should, average or not. There's something comforting about knowing exactly what you're going to get every time—a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger, no matter where you go. Even when they modify the recipes, overhaul the menus for other countries, or simply offer a special limited-time-only item, there's a joy in trying something new—even if it's weird, it's at least safe, because fast food is fast food, no matter what you get.

Usually, at least.

When McDonald's debuted their third-pound Angus burger some years ago, I gave it a shot. Better-quality beef on a sandwich that more closely resembles what you might get in a sit-down restaurant than a grease-and-go like Mickey D's? Sure, I'm there.

Worst thing I've ever had at a fast food joint. Actually, that's a lie; I've eaten at Duchess. Third worst, then. Don't let the promotional glamor shot fool you—instead of being a high-class sandwich that pushed the limits of what fast food could be, it tasted like a regular restaurant burger that was pushing the limits of what humans consider food. Slimy on the outside, cooked beyond what was necessary on the inside, and raising questions of whether the meat I was eating had actually spoiled, I swore off the Angus burger about three bites in.

Fast forward to October 2012, when the white cheddar moguls of the world have begun sneaking white cheddar into Burger Kings and McDonald's across the country, leaving these two big businesses to do what any two competitors would do: compete, mano a mano. (Though, because we're talking burgers, it's more like mayo a mayo.)

Contestant #1: Burger King Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper
Quoting from the BK website, it's "¼ lb of savory fire-grilled beef, topped with naturally smoked thick-cut bacon, creamy Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, freshly cut iceberg lettuce, white onions, ripe tomatoes and crunchy pickles, all on a warm, toasted, sesame seed bun." So...it's basically a Whopper with Wisconsin white cheddar? And bacon? I'm not big into Whoppers, but you can't argue with bacon.

Contestant #2: McDonald's Cheddar Bacon Onion (CBO) Angus Burger

Angus.  ::shudder::  Quoting from the McD's website: "Three delicious ingredients—white cheddar, hickory-smoked bacon and caramelized onions—make for one gourmet taste." Judging from their conspicuous omission, I'm reading this description to mean that beef and bun do not make for a gourmet taste. It's also interesting that the usual toppings—tomato, pickle, lettuce—are nowhere to be found, either; perhaps they have the good sense to be on a sandwich that won't make them look worse by association.

The Showdown

First off, this wasn't a planned taste test. My wife and I were hungry. So we went to Burger King. I'd heard about this so-called White Cheddar Whopper, and with fond memories of the Indy Double Whopper (which you may recall as a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tie-in, and which tasted like adventure), I found an excuse to stop.

I ordered a Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper with no tomato, no pickle.

I got a Tomato Pickle Whopper with no Wisconsin White Cheddar.

I politely pointed out this irony to the person at the counter, who, with no apologies to the proverbial starving children in Africa, banished my faulty sandwich to the nearest trash bin. A little shocked and indignant as this flagrant waste of food, I never did end up telling the person that dropping a slice of melty white cheddar on my old burger would have been sufficient—heck, I would've even removed the pickles and tomatoes myself. But no, the new burger was already on the way.

In retrospect, perhaps they did fish the old burger out of the trash and slap some white cheddar on it while I wasn't looking.

While it is possible that I doomed my own alliteratively titled Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper by declining mission-critical pickles and tomatoes, I believe it's more likely that the individual ingredients feel too self-important to work together with each other to form a harmonious burger. This supposed symphony of a sandwich was the gastronomical equivalent of a concert in which there's no discernible melody because each part is loudly playing a tune of its own; some little green thing singing, "I'M THE PICKLE!" isn't going to be missed.

The core problem, really, is that I'm not big into Whoppers. The toppings—while still being standard, innocuous toppings—tend to overpower the taste of the beef, and the beef usually tastes more like the grill than the cow to me. So either way, I can't win. What set the Indy Double Whopper apart was that it had about the same balance of toppings against double the amount of beef—thereby solving the first part of the problem—and that the Cajun mayo and pepper jack cheese sufficiently masked the husky flavor of the beef—thereby solving the second part of the problem.

The Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper was, as previously assessed...just a whopper. With a different color cheese. And another topping to add to the cacophonous pile. Yet it was still better than that miserable third-pound Angus burger from years ago. Which brings me to our other contestant...

When my wife and I arrived at a McDonald's not even a week later, it was for no other reason than that she and I were hungry. The presence of this ominous new CBO on the menu was a surprise, but more than that...it was an unexpected challenge. Could the amateur food connoisseur in me stand strong against the memories of that one fateful, miserable Angus burger that were oozing into my stomach and taste buds? I panicked for a moment over how much I actually wanted Chicken McNuggets, and then my wife talked some sense into me: "You want the burger."

If there's one thing I trust my vegetarian wife about, it's burgers. Besides, the opportunity for a comparative blog post was too good to pass up. I ordered the Cheddar Bacon Onion Angus burger and braced myself for the worst.

What I got, instead of the worst, was a high-class sandwich that pushed the limits of what fast food could be. Truly, it put the "g" back in "Angus."

Quality beef, lots of it, properly melted white cheddar that complemented the patty, onions that brought diversity to the main flavor without overwhelming it, bacon that enhanced the beefiness with a smoky twist, a surprise slathering of creamy mustard sauce to keep the production pleasantly tangy and never too dry, and a cushy bun that comfortably encased all the ingredients without muscling in on the flavor? Yes, please.

The Verdict

Absolutely no contest here: McDonald's' CBO is the superior sandwich.

Whopper fans might argue otherwise, but switching out the cheese and adding a topping probably won't be enough to convert you if you aren't already a Whopper fan. Kudos to McDonald's for not just assembling but crafting a burger that actually deserves that "premium" descriptor that's so often bandied about...and kudos for finally dispelling that wave of nausea that used to come over me anytime I saw the phrase "Angus burger." Well done.
It may not rival your typical sit-down restaurant burger, but it doesn't have to—fast food is fast food, and if the CBO is merely one more reason to go to McDonald's for fast food, that's good enough for me. Though, really, Chicken McNuggets are all the reason anybody should ever need.

Friday, November 2, 2012

GameCola Recap: October 2012

Just as October was a significant month here at Exfanding, so it was for me at videogame-humor-turned-obscure-gaming website GameCola.net. Aside from my regular contribution to the monthly "Q&AmeCola" staff questions column, I completed one major endeavor with the help of my fellow staff writers, and embarked upon a new one unlike anything else I've done so far for GameCola...
Enjoy a hefty helping of collaboration this time around:

Columns:

- GameCola’s Most Essential/Influential Games of All Time (S-Z)

- Q&AmeCola: What’s in the Cube?

Podcasts:

- Crystalis D&Dcast – Part 1: The Adventure Begins…If We Ever Leave the Inn

- [NSFW] Crystalis D&Dcast – Part 2: Cave Story

- [NSFW] Crystalis D&Dcast – Part 3: The Slippery Slope

- [NSFW] Crystalis D&Dcast – Part 4: Like Stealing +9 Armor From a Baby

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Month in Review: October 2012

October was a month of major events and milestones. Hurricane Sandy rocked the east coast of the United States, leaving widespread devastation in her wake. Alex finally published the children's book he'd been teasing some months back. I bought a sweater.

I also wrote about a few things of interest, some more milestoney than others:

- A proper Crystalis celebration for the 15th anniversary of The END DAY

- A recap of my contributions to GameCola.net in September

- Musings on October, and anticipation for what the month has in store

- The cathartic conclusion to my 10-month endeavor to complete The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and its two expansion packs

- Thoughts about writing Star Wars trivia for kids, and a follow-up

- An honest, heartfelt assessment of the state of the blog, and an announcement of an official hiatus