Casual Friday: The Nerd Quiz

Being bedridden for a couple days gives you a new appreciation for old fixations--in my case, game shows. Somewhere between shouting answers at the boneheaded contestants and heckling the smarmy know-it-all hosts, I realized I needed a bigger piece of the action. I needed to play--heck, why not be the boss and come up with some of my own game-show-caliber questions? Are you ready for this week's Casual Friday column? Come on down!

Let's try something a little different this week. (I'm blaming the cough medicine.) Instead of making you read through my whole column first--of course, I'm not about to stop you if you do--I'm giving you a link, up front. Play my quick eight-question Casual Friday Nerd Quiz.

The Nerd Quiz
How did you score? (Sorry, no prizes.) Here's the deal: Buzz Quiz TV came out for the PlayStation 3 this week. It does its best to mimic a game show with four cheesy plastic buzzers, a bunch of trivia questions, and an uncomfortably extra-Velveeta-y host. (But aren't all game-show hosts like that?) Now, I know that a bunch of video games have tried to put players on the stage seeking big imaginary money and big make-believe prizes--and this one is no different. The decent mix of options will have you going solo, competing against four friends, or engaging in a "Sofa vs. Sofa" brain bowl over the Internet.

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Casual Friday: Free Game Remakes

Mash-ups and remakes. You've heard the terms for ages when it comes to music and movies, but video games? Yep, even there, you can find some oddly refreshing takes on old games if you know where to look. Earlier this summer, I compiled a short list of my "top free games"; and at the bottom of last week's column, I tossed in a couple more choices. But today, I'm all about giving new life to old games...or in some cases old life to newer games.

A classic gaming mash-up.
For some time now, enterprising people have been combining classic video games in funky ways. Take Duck Doom Deluxe. This simple game is a mash-up of Duck Hunt (for the Nintendo Entertainment System) and Doom. You aim Doom weapons at the screen and plaster poultry in midflight. Miss, and the annoying digitized dog from the old NES classic mocks you from behind the brush.

Other games are straightforward remakes of individual classics. You can go to Web sites such as Retro Remakes that focus on celebrating the past. And these sites provide countless links to other projects--some that are new, and some that have been kicking around for years. I still occasionally go back and play Armagetron Advanced--a 3D remake of the classic light cycle races from the original Tron arcade game (and the movie, if you want to get all technical). Play against the AI or head-to-head in multiplayer matches.

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Casual Friday: Why Spore Won't Work

It's official: Spore has finally launched. It's been hyped for years as a huge scientific and gaming achievement. It traces the evolution of a species that you create, starting from one single-celled organism to a space-faring sentient species. In truth, it is five casual games wrapped into one pretty package--and a perfect choice for a weekly column dedicated to slackery in the PC World. If only I could play it.

You see, Electronic Arts has imposed a digital rights management (DRM) system to prevent "casual" game piracy: Three installations of the game, and that's it. (So don't go reformatting your computer--God forbid.) Got a problem with that? File a complaint, buddy. As a result, the game's been savaged by a user flash-mob at Amazon.com. Over 1900 buyers (out of more than 2100) have already written scathing 1-star reviews despite Spore's critical acclaim. And according to Kevin Karlin (director of client services at Peak8 Solutions' tech support service, Supportal), an increasing number of their customers have called in with issues just trying to get the game activated.

Spore
The Spore box is as close as some are getting to actually playing the game.
It reeks of the exact same problem that Apple had with the influx of people trying to update their iPhones. They weren't ready for their own success. Karlin believes that, similarly, EA's game activation servers have been hammered since the game's release this past week. In one case he cited, a college student couldn't get his copy activated while others in the dorm were well on their way to creating a new race.

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Casual Friday: Star Wars, Episode 3.5

We are all byproducts of a movie that came out over 30 years ago: Star Wars. It gave birth to the nerd generation and gave everyone a common ground. Heck, Microsoft Word's spelling checker has "Anakin" in the default dictionary. So it seems only fitting with all the Force flying around lately (Star Wars: Clone Wars hit the big screen last month and a TV series is on the way), PC World's weekly slackfest celebrates the next installments in George Lucas's saga.

On September 16, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hits store shelves. This Direct-to-DVD-ROM tale chronicles what happens between Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV (you know, the real first movie). The faithful will love the fact that it connects many dots between the two film trilogies. After Anakin dons the infamous black mask, the Jedi scatter to all corners of the galaxy to survive, and Vader harbors a secret Sith apprentice to do his dirty work. We learn of the rebel alliance's origins. We see how many of the characters and places throughout the Star Wars universe connect with each other. In fact, I can now safely say that the entire Star Wars universe is like playing The Six Degrees of Darth Vader.

Sam Witwer, all trussed up and ready for his digital close-up.
But more than that, it's a good story with some solid acting. Sam Witwer, who plays the apprentice, actually conveys a lot on screen without coming across as stiff. David W. Collins (who voices robotic sidekick Proxy) also brings a little C-3PO-esque levity to the action. And despite all the plot twists, you keep glued to your seat wondering which direction the story will take--even though you kind of know. It's about losing your way and choosing between revenge and redemption: The mantra for all things Star Wars.

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Casual Friday: LAN Party Survival Guide

Forget beachside BBQs; try rounding up a few of your closest friends for a LAN party over Labor Day weekend, instead. Don't know what a LAN party is? It's a room full of folks getting together to play games. Also, to check out each other's case mods (a few examples are shown below). And occasionally to sleep. It can be a small garage party for an afternoon or a weekend-long marathon in some convention hall. Each one has their own house rules. My favorite, as observed at the annual Quakecon event in Dallas, Texas: "Bathe!"

This week's Casual Friday is a collection of rules you should follow if you're considering going to a LAN party. What follows are my observations plus the assorted wisdom of folks (quoted below) I recently met during nVidia's nVision08 event.

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Casual Friday: Game Gambling

Eight hours--a full workday's worth of time. No normal human should be in front of a screen playing games so long. I know that the whole point of PC World's weekly goof-off column is to have a yuck or two and not worry about the little things in life like trying to make money. But I just realized that I have a problem. I don't blow cash at the tables, I don't go to the horse races, and up until a Google search, I thought a bookie was someone who read a lot. And, like others before me, I thought I could quit at any time--but with some games, it seems I can't.

It started innocently enough, chatting with Game On columnist Matt Peckham about the new Too Human game. To put it mildly, he thought the Xbox 360 title was "a lumbering, clanging muddle, a clumsy collision of canned dialogue and confusing narrative." So why am I still playing it? The waves of slaughtered vicious robots leaving behind randomized gear for suiting up my action figure. That's what the game comes down to: A slot machine for loot that lets me play dress-up with a virtual doll. Sounds ridiculous when you think of it that way, doesn't it?

It gets a bad rap, but Too Human isn't too bad. It's not great, either, mind you.
Every slain creature randomly drops everything from money to rare equipment. You hear the coins jingle on the ground, and you hear chimes ding when you earn a level's worth of experience. There may as well be an arm lever on the side of your screen and a blinking light on top--but no money is spewing out of your TV. As with Diablo (I dare anyone to tell me that they played Diablo for the narrative) and World of Warcraft before it--two habits I literally had to kick--I fell off the wagon.

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Casual Friday: The Madden Curse

Note: This week's celebration of sloth is a slightly less straightforward (read: completely different) version of a story that PCW ran on the Madden Curse (and legacy) earlier this week. Also, I apologize in advance for anything that may happen to Brett Favre. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A legend begins: the first Madden Football from Electronic Arts.
Of course, Madden NFL Football is a huge game. It's EA's golden goose--no, wait, it's more than that. A little over 20 years ago, John Madden was just a man. A former pro footballer and coach turned color commentator. Then, in 1988, Electronic Arts put him on the cover of its new Apple II football game, and--wham!--just like that, he became a legend.

The drink of champions: a Madden Big Gulp.
For the latest edition of the game, big chain stores opened at midnight to accommodate anxious armchair quarterbacks. A huge 20th-anniversary jam kicked off the launch at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Heck, 7-Eleven offers "Madden Meals" for when you work up a sweat on the virtual gridiron, and you get a Madden-approved Big Gulp thrown in.

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