I’m back from vacation and looking to bounce back from a two week period in which I caught one heck of a cold, had my laptop die on me, entertained a houseguest and celebrated my wedding anniversary. Apologies for my column and blog’s unexplained hiatus, but I’m back at work now and eager to catch up on everything I’ve missed.
The most notable thing that happened while I was away was my purchase of a new PC laptop. After gamely limping along for a while with my 4-year-old G4 Powerbook Mac laptop, I decided it was time to “switch back,” as Apple might say, and get a PC. The Mac was never much of a gaming machine, but the inclusion of HDMI outputs on most decent PC laptops had me salivating at the prospect of being able to easily play PC games on my TV, while sitting on my couch.
With visions of playing “Sins of a Solar Empire” and the first two “Fallout” games on my TV dancing in my head, I’m hoping to break with my long-standing psychological aversion to computer-based gaming. For whatever reason, gaming on a PC has always felt a little bit too much like sitting at my desk at work.
Of course, within two days of my order for the new machine, the video card on the G4 gave up the ghost, seemingly out of spite. Since then, my original computer’s been repaired and the new one’s showed up. But for a good four days or so, I was computerless. I haven’t yet gotten in on the smart phone craze, so this meant my only way of accessing the Internet was via my Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The horror!
Strangely, I found the Wii, by far the most underpowered of the three current generation consoles, to be best suited for straightforward Internet browsing. The point-and-click Wii remote interface translates seamlessly to the Web, and it’s pretty easy to use the trigger button and simple gestures to navigate around most Web sites. Additionally, the Opera-based browser (available for $5 via Nintendo’s online store) seemed to support a larger array of browser software plugins.
The PlayStation 3, however, supports Web browsing out of the box, with no additional cash outlay required. Because of my technical difficulties last week, I opted not to blog or file my column. (I also had a house guest.) But if I’d wanted to keep GameWit coming, the PS3’s support for USB-connected keyboards would have allowed me to bang out a column in a Web-based application in a pinch. Unlike the Wii, the PS3 also has an Xbox 360-style keyboard that attaches to the DualShock 3 controller. But I found that the placement of the keyboard above the controller rather than below it made prolonged typing somewhat awkward.
If you find yourself with no Internet and only an Xbox 360, you’re pretty much resigned to an Internetless interlude. Although the Chatpad, a backlit keyboard that plugs into the 360’s controller, is a brilliant example of industrial design that lends itself well to prolonged typing without the need of a bulky USB keyboard, Microsoft’s console lacks a Web browser. You can, however, chat with your friends via Windows Live Messenger if you’re willing to link your Xbox Live Gamertag with your Windows Messenger ID.
Because browsing the Internet from a video game console isn’t the most ideal experience, I largely abstained from the Web during my four computerless days last week. And by the time I had a working computer again, my best friend, Paul, had arrived in town from Cambridge, Mass., where he’s a schoolteacher.
While Paul was in town, I got a chance to play tour guide a bit. But let’s face it. Paul and I have been gaming together since the NES days, when I’d let him borrow the NES “Ninja Gaiden” in exchange for “The Goonies II.” So now that we were in the same city for a few days, I was hungry for some same-console co-op. He picked up “Earth Defense Force 2017” in anticipation of the trip, but it never made it into the console. Neither did my review copy of “Wii Sports Resort.” Instead, we messed around with “Rock Band 2” and the co-op campaign in “Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers.” I also took the opportunity to hook him up with some of the extra cards I’ve unlocked in “Culdcept Saga.”
We also paid a visit to Star Games, an independently owned video game store in North Beach that specializes in titles for older game consoles. Paul picked up the first “Metal Gear Solid” for the PlayStation, as well as “Kingsfield: The Ancient City” for the PS2. I nabbed a pristine copy of the cult classic GameCube game “Viewtiful Joe” for $10. I’ll write a bit more about Star in an upcoming post.
Paul’s visit coincided with my two-year wedding anniversary, so my wife and I waited to celebrate until the weekend. In lieu of blogging about video games, I dined on Spanish food, visited the bakery that made our wedding cake, watched old episodes of “The X-Files” and had dinner and saw Sonic Youth at the restored Fox Theater in Oakland.