Yummy. Keira Knightley is lookin’ fine these days. Reminds me of something I used to enjoy as a child – Pez. What is going on in the world when anorexia is considered a fashion statement and something to be admired?

Keira Knightley

She’s just another in a long line of movie stars who have begun to look freakishly skinny. Nicole Richie. Rene Zellweger. Both come to mind immediately. It’s scary and it doesn’t look good either. It looks awful.

After yesterday’s review of BioShock (and having finished it already – too short. Oh well), I’m glad I received my copy of Two Worlds today from EB Games. I’m writing this at about 2:30 am after having played it since 7 pm or so. I guess you can tell already where this is going. You might be a little surprised though;  so read on!

I’ll start from the beginning. The game gets off to a very tedious start, you watch an incredibly poorly written dialogue that sets the mood for what is going on (I’m still not quite sure what’s going on, to be honest). After a brief fight with a couple of goblin lookin’ guys, you begin another incredibly tedious conversation then you can start playing as you wish. Generally, you’ll hate the conversations – the voice over work is not very good and very monotone, plus the manner of speaking is unusual – if I hear “perchance” one more time, I’m gonna ace someone! All the text is spoken, but you’ll find yourself clicking through the repetitive ones to get to the buying/selling pages or whatever. While we are on the subject of speech, your character seems to have a mental disorder which makes him talk to himself an awful lot (complaining about the weather, saying Look what I found – in various forms, etc, but he does enjoy telling monsters that they just died and that’s kinda funny). The actual sound effects, swinging swords, movement, rain, etc are all very well done, though. Yes, the dialogue grates a little but I don’t consider that a major issue.

The graphics in Two Worlds are amazing. The grass sways in the wind, clouds cast shadows on the ground, butterflies flit in the breeze, etc. All very nicely done. The change from day to night and back looks gorgeous and looking at scenery in the distance is wonderful. There are some clipping issues – but this doesn’t bug me as much as others. I figure it’s a natural state in video games. The faces could have used a little more work and seem a little flat, and since you spend a lot of conversation time staring at faces, you’ll wish they put a little more time there. Your character’s look will change with each new piece of armour or weapon you put on, which is an awesome touch because you’ll spend an awful lot of time staring at yourself from the back.

The combat is really where the game shines. If you tried to play Oblivion on third person and found out how difficult it was; this game makes that work. The variety of moves is fantastic – each weapon seems to have its own swing pattern to keep things interesting. If swinging around a halberd, hitting 4 baddies with one swing is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!Unlike other RPGs, you do not have to focus on a sword or a mace or a bow. Your character seems equally skilled in all of them and you can trade them out at will – which is good, because you’ll be trading up weapons and armor an awful lot. Do not get too attached to any weapon or armor. From what I’ve seen, it’ll be replaced in less than an hour, sometimes in less than 5 minutes. Same with armor – new stuff is always around the corner. Each humanoid creature that fights with a sword or a shield will drop that item if you kill him; usually RPGs do not do this and its an interesting change. While it does allow you to amass a massive bankroll very quickly, it also makes the game more realistic. A skeleton fights you with a halberd. Kill it and you can have that weapon now. I like that.

But this is where a major gripe (for pack rats, like myself, at least) comes into play. As advice, I suggest you work very hard on completing the teleportal quests early in the game (there are 2 of them in the beginning both relatively easy). If you do not, you’ll find yourself going back into dungeons many times to loot baddies and either sell the stuff or upgrade your character. One dungeon took me 10 trips to loot all the bad guys and get all the new armor and weapons available. While you can carry stuff, your ability is very limited; so unless you complete those teleportal quests, and you enjoy looting dead people, expect a lot of back and forth trips.

Another gripe with the game is that it has an odd way of telling you not to go someplace – by killing you instantly. I’ve found 4 different spots so far that has a creature that kills you with a single hit. After leveling up a few times, that same creature dies like a cockroach. It’s a very odd situation, that I don’t quite understand yet.  It’s a good thing, though, that death is a natural part of life in the game and carries no real penalty – you get resurrected instantly a little distance away with all your gear in tact. While that takes away a little of the danger, I guess a save feature covers this anyways.

Your character is a mercenary at the beginning of the game and expect to play that roll out over the course of the game. During conversations, money seems to be his main motivator on the pre-recorded lines – so you aren’t playing the role of a saint who helps everyone. You’ll be asked to murder people, do things only because you are paid to, etc. While there is a main quest with clearly defined goals, the game doesn’t bug you to complete them so you can do things as you want. Much like Oblivion, you can do everything in the game, then get to the main quest as an after thought. The character also seems to possess a knowledge of the world that he doesn’t share with you (He’ll, more than a few times, say – I know where that is; when you don’t have a clue, in reality).

As you wander through the world, you’ll follow a minimap in the top left of your screen. While it does a good job at showing lots of colorful circles; it’s hard to make out what direction you are heading and nearly impossible to tell where they want you to go on a quest. You’ll have to visit the bigger in game map for that. In fact, that mini map seems all but useless except for telling you where you haven’t explored – areas in black of course.

Along with teleportal areas, you can speed up exploration by getting a horse and riding it everywhere. You can also fight from horsetop which is a very interesting dynamic that I’ve never seen before. The controls of the horse are a little hard to get used to, but it does speed up getting from point a to b.  I haven’t used the horses too much as I like to hoof it myself, but I did for a moment (5 free achievement points on Xbox for mounting a horse) and it was pretty interesting.

The controls are actually a problem throughout the game. The manual does not adequately explain how to map a spell or item to your quick access area (you click the directional pad at the direction you want it and hit left trigger). Also, navigating through your character screen is tedious. Zooming in and out of the map takes too much effort and isn’t intuitive at all, so it’ll take time to get used to that. Inventory management suffers from this same issue as well. Take time and learn the control scheme. If you leave your character screens and go back, it won’t remember what screen you were on, so you’ll have to cycle to it again. It’s a little tedious, but it does end up being functional, if not perfect.

I’ve complained a lot during this review; but they are all petty issues that, while they take away from the game a little, they do not destroy it. The game overall is wonderful. Fighting is fun, exploring is fun, there is lots to see and do – and stuff you can visit that doesn’t even make sense to you yet.

Summing up:

The Good:

  • Wonderful Graphics
  • Excellent Fighting and Combat System
  • Good variety of quests and enemies
  • Sucks you in – there is always something to do
  • Limited Load Times
  • Freedom to explore (just about) anywhere

The Bad:

  • Awkward control system
  • Poor voice over work
  • Hard to understand navigation (maps)
  • Odd barriers to exploring

In the end, I don’t think this game is as good as Oblivion – the game it’ll always be compared to – but it certainly stands on its own as a good game so far with compelling side quests and characters to talk to and a very fun combat system. Based on what I’ve done so far and explored up to this point, the game will probably occupy 50 hours of play time if you do all the side quests so there is a great value for the game if you enjoy RPGs.

Update (8/27):

My character is 50th level now. And the problems with the game are really highlighting themselves.  This is mainly a litany of complaints I have with the game. I enjoy it, despite its faults, but I feel it could have used a little more fine tuning to make the experience that much better.

Since the game began, I asked myself – why is there only 1 healing spell? Then I played around for a while and realized you can stack spell cards much like you do items! Duh! So I stacked 5 or 6 of them and now my healing spell does 2100 points of healing instead of 450. I didn’t read the manual too thoroughly, but I’ve never -ever- seen this in a game before. Very unsual. That also explains why my fire spell’s 24 points of damage never improved. And I’ve been selling extra spell cards as I’ve acquired them. Now I’ll hoard them whenever I see them. Geesh.

At 50th level, I carry 2 weapons (both 2 handed so I change them out as needed). A halberd type weapon (does about 6000 points of damage combined, with enchantments) which does a marvelous job at hitting 4 or 5 guys at once and a blunt weapon (that does about 3000 points, with enchantments) – the latter primarily for skeletons and undead. My defense is something like 3000 or 4000 according to everything I wear, plus I have some elemental resistances as well. I also have about 8000 hit points or something. There are now 2 types of creatures in the game. Those I kill in 2-3 hits and those that kill me in 1 hit. That’s stupid - there is no middle ground here what-so-ever.

Even to survive an ogre. The patten is RT RT RT B (to back off while it attacks cuz if it hits me I’m dead) move in RT RT RT B (to back off again) .. rinse and repeat until its dead. Same with the cyclops.  Then, there are these giant insect guys, I forget their names. The humanoid ones die in one or two hits. The giant ones kill me in one or two hits – and there are always 5 or 6 of them – attacking at once. RT RT RT B works unless they maneuver around you, then you are inevitably dead.

I’m a camel. This is my destiny. I found a cave with maybe 200 skeletons in there (several huge fights locked up the game a few times) – eventually killing them all. Each I looted completely – using teleport stones to bring back the loot, sell it, return, loot more. Rinse and repeat until its all done. By doing this at every encounter, I’ve amassed maybe 400,000 in gold so I’m set for a while. Without doing this, there is no way you could pay for the later armour and weapons you’ll find. There are two teleportal locations that are perfect for quick selling – the one in the first town (forget it’s name, but its the one where you get the teleportal stones) – the selling guy is right there; and in the southern half of the map, the japanese city, sellers right there by teleportals too. So it doesn’t take too long to empty off a ton of corpses.

If you aren’t worrying about the main quest; then go back and start working on it; after you’ve found the relic frame and earth element – those quests will not disappear from your “to do” list for some reason. If you do an action that will prevent a quest from being unsolvable, sometimes those will not disappear either from your to-do list. I have 3 unsolvable quests as far as I can tell (find the frame – I have it, but it won’t remove itself. Find the earth element – got it, wont remove itself, and find a missing child – I did something and now everyone is gone from excavations so that’s unsolvable too). Maybe others.

Dump your silly notions of morality. I found a quest in the game (Japanese city again – I forget its name), where – in order to get a key to find the air element (maybe water element, who knows) – you have to help a blacksmith get rid of his greedy sister. She has the rightful claim (judging by conversations and the will she gives you). But, in order to get the key, you have to kill her. Maybe him. I killed her. That made him happy and I got the key. Ah well. There might be others I’ll have to go back and look at as well that have a similar situation – someone just needs to die to get my point across.

The game also has a lot of loose ends. Japanese town again. Mayor wants you to get him a potion. Healer tells you the potion is to cure his lycanthrope (he’s a werewolf) and that he kills citizens on occasion. But, to finish the quest, you have to give him the potion as if nothing ever happened. Weird. Same thing with other quests. Your character doesn’t seem to want to inject his opinion into anything that happens, when, clearly what’s going on is wrong. Some quests may not appear to be related at all, but upon completion of one quest, you’ll get the message “xxx quest failed”. Well, I didn’t even know they were talking about the same thing!

Some quests have interdeterminate goals. One quest tells you to find 2 army deserters, but the guy has no clue where they are. Well, neither do I nor is anyone being helpful. Sucks to be you. Other quests almost demand you read the quest information to make them solvable; one in the beach town demands you go back to a mage (even though you know how its going to end) to let the quest proceed – so in all, you have 4 back and forths (good thing teleportals are close by) and 5 conversations for 500 experience points. Not tough, but it is a pain in the butt and pointless, given the obvious outcome.

Other quests you’ve completed before you realize it. Karga camp. Someone wanted me to locate a missing person. I got the quest and immediately it said it was completed. Apparently, the person I was supposed to find I already found dead in a cave 20 minutes ago. Well, anyways that was an easy set of experience points.

The game is predictable. If you follow the roads around the area; you will come to learn that at every intersection (either minor or major) there is going to be either a bandit camp or a grom camp or a goblin camp. I don’t believe I’ve found an intersection where this isn’t the case. Each camp will have between 2 and 6 guys. The more guys there, the more likely there will be an archer. Usually a camp will have a chest full of goodies as well.

Exploring the underground areas is just miserable. The minimap is totally useless and to navigate you have to use the world map on the closest setting. The mini map is already pretty useless on the surface. Underground, its just miserable. The entire map should turn when you do, not your little arrow in the center – that’s just common sense.

Ghost monsters at night? How stupid. They are boring, too easy to kill, leave no loot. Just generally a waste of my time. It is kind of a hoot to watch the wandering monsters fight the ghosts, even though they can’t damage them – no magic weapons.

There is a wonderful bug in the game – probably quite a few of them, but this is one I’ve noticed. If you are in city and find a door that is locked, you can pick it without being fined. If you opt to pick the lock (it’s silly that picking is the same button as opening, but anyways) and you back away after the door opens, but before your character completes the motion – no one will notice and you can walk in, steal everything and walk out. I’ve done this 4 times now in 2 different cities. Works great.

Update (8/28): (Spoilers Here – Warning. So it’s after the jump)

Read More →

A quick review of BioShock for the Xbox 360 is forthcoming. It’ll contain a few spoilers; but nothing you won’t read in other reviews online. I’m not a professional reviewer, just a casual fan of some games who hates FPS in general, so take that into consideration as you read.

I purchased BioShock for Xbox 360 and going into it I hated FPS (first person shooter) games - but this seemed like an event game, so I took a shot on it. Usually, they are too dark, unlimited enemies that come out of nowhere and you can’t tell where you are being shot at from. I much prefer slower paced RPGs where you build a character, buy stuff, put it on him and generally improve as the game progresses. Most FPS games, you are what you are. Your weapons get bigger, but you have no chance of being any better at the end (besides strategy) than at the beginning. The enemies are just ramped up to add to the challenge.

Then we come to BioShock, which is probably the best mix between an FPS and RPG that I’ve seen. Yes, you see everything from that incredibly sucky tunnel vision FPS point of view. It still amazes me, that in the 21st century, we cannot make a game that somehow simulates a 180 degrees field of view. But, over the course of the game you’ll get missions and you’ll get the chance to upgrade your character how you see fit – do you want to use more plasmids (magic, in essence – lightning, fireballs, etc) or do you want to use more guns and upgrade your character appropriately. The choice of plasmids are pretty varied – from electricity, to fire, to ice, to swarms of wasps, to telekenesis. Lots of fun to be had. Especially frying guys standing in water with electricity. Yep – it kills em. The effect is very nicely done too. And if you are standing in water when you shoot lightning, you’ll take damage as well.

You don’t start out the game with plasmids, though. You have to acquire them over the course of the game. The first one you acquire is electricity – and is probably the most effective, all around. How you get it is ridiculously silly, so I’ll explain, with some very minor spoilers. At the beginning of the game you are in a plane that crashes. You land in the water and the only solid ground is a lighthouse nearby that you have to swim to. Once inside you take a bathosphere down into a city called Rapture; where you are immediately beset upon by some mutant or something – who knows. You grab a wrench real quick, climb some stairs – take a wrench to the mutant’s face and ace him. You wander up some some stairs and come across a machine with a syringe in it that is glowing red. Now; in real life, you are in this situation – do you jab yourself with some big ass syringe you find in a strange place where some mutant just tried to kill you? I didn’t think so. But you do, of course and awaken to find that you can now shoot electricity from your formally useless left hand. So as you explore through the game, you get more guns more plasmids and ways to upgrade yourself into a bad ass mutant killing machine.

The atmosphere in the game is absolutely fabulous. The architecture reminds you of Atlas Shrugged, if you’ve ever read the book. Since the city of Rapture is underwater, you’ll get a lot of interesting scenery when you look out windows – whales swimming around, fish doing the same and sometimes Big Daddy’s wandering the exterior of the structure. Very good stuff. The music is fabulous and sets a creepy tone as well. You can even play jukeboxes that have 1960′s music on them, which adds a nice touch.

And as you wander around the bad guys talk to themselves, argue between each other and do all sorts of interesting things. They aren’t just mindless zombies who are trying to kill you. If you light a bad guy on fire, he’ll find the nearest water to get rid of the flames. If you injure one; he’ll run to a vending machine to heal himself. If they are hurt really bad, sometimes they’ll run away and come back later. It’s a series of very nice touches that make the game enjoyable.

The problem arises though, as it does in all FPS games – who is shooting at me and where did it come from? Because you have tunnel vision, it’s hard to tell who is shooting at you and from where. So you’ll find yourself spinning around looking for the guy shooting you. The game does add some tracer effect to shots which helps, but in a smoky room, it doesn’t help a whole lot. But, by far, the most annoying aspect of the game so far is the security robots. They are helicopter like robots that fly around shooting machine guns at you if you happen to set off an alarm – which will happen. They don’t do a lot of damage, but if you kill one, another one comes after you – until the alarm is over (60 seconds). Very frustrating.

While you can hack the security cameras, turrets and security robots – they turn out to be ineffective allies all too often. The robots navigate poorly – which helps you in a fight against them – but in close quarters, as allies, this turns into a major issue. They will accidentally shoot you while defending you and generally make it hard to walk around. Hacking is an important part of the game and you’ll find yourself doing it quite often. Vending machines are usually the easiest, along with security cameras. Safes seem to be the most difficult. Hacking involves a short minigame where you have to connect a series of tubes to help a liquid get from one end of a maze to the other. It’s not difficult, unless you cannot locate the pieces you need to complete the tube – which happens a lot. Good news; is that there is an automatic hacking device to assist you or you can buy your way past the security system – both making your job a lot easier.

During the game, you’ll be sent on missions to kill someone or find something or do something. Along the way you’ll various various kinds of baddies but their variety is limited – perhaps 5 or 6 different kinds. You may also stumble along a creature known as the Big Daddy. They come in 2 flavors, one that has a huge drill and other that fires grenades at you. Both are tough opponents; but unless you kill them, you’ll find you do not have the strength you’ll need to progress, as they protect little girls named Eve, who have something you need to make you stronger and improve yourself even further. How you deal with the Eve’s is up to you and your actions have consequences.

The game features a nice plot which voice overs taking the place of most cut scenes – these are handled through diary entries of various crew members. Piecing together what happened in Rapture is part of the mystery and the fun. Having a plot in an FPS, besides go here/kill makes this game very enjoyable. And unlike many FPS games, you can save your game at any point where ever you want and pick up right there later.

On a slight technical side, I’ve noticed that if you play the game for a few hours in a row, the game will hang for a second then move on like nothing happened. It’s only happened to me twice so its not too serious, but certainly seems like it was fixable before release.

All-in-all, the game is very fun and has some depth to it that will probably attract RPG fans along with FPS fans. Is it the best game on Xbox 360 right now? Probably not; Oblivion still rules there, for me. But it’s close.

I’ve been reading a lot of Xbox sites lately and many of them talk about getting achievements in games. Any game published for Xbox 360 must support achievements. Most of the retail games have about 1,000 points available; many of the Xbox Live Arcade games have about 200 points available. The ability to get those points varies by game – some are easy and some are difficult.

If you play on Xbox Live Arcade, then you know that having a high number next to your name is kind of fun (for no real reason at all – other than bragging achievements don’t have any value at all). Playing Uno (135 out of 200 points so far), I’ve come to realize that my score (about 2300 as of this post) is pretty low in comparison to others, where I’ve seen as high as 6,000. I don’t have the same amount of time to play games, so I’ll never be up there, but I confess, that I’ve played a game long after I was done with it, just trying to get 30 more points out of it.

Case in point. I spent about 4 hours this weekend playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance using Magneto, in various areas, throwing people off cliffs (Sepulcor was great for this – his magnetic ability makes it easy to pick up people and whip them off the ledges) just to get the “Widowmaker” achievement, worth maybe 30 points or so. Previous to that, I played the game on hard just to get the “Excelsior!” achievement as well as keeping a few people in my party who suck to get theirs as well (the Dr Doom “Doppleganger” was the best, I wondered how that conversation would work out). Sadly, my patience doesn’t extend to completing all of the simulation missions – some heroes suck so bad to the point of being unusable (Deadpool comes to mind immediately, though I did get a gold on his mission) that I won’t do that. Believe me, I was saddened to come to that realization.

Some achievements seem near impossible. Ecco the Dolphin has an achievement (apparently – I didn’t buy this though) that gives you 20 points to finish the game 3 times without dying. I played the demo of this and I couldn’t even figure out what to do. I don’t need guidance in most games, but a gentle direction is nice. After about 10 minutes, I realized I needed to jump over a rock to start; but then going around randomly didn’t interest me. Oh well. I understand that other games just give them away, pretty much. It seems Two Worlds will be like that, when it comes out. Others are just plain dumb luck. On the Solitaire Xbox Arcade game, you get one for getting 4 aces in the hole on a Klondike game without drawing from the stack. This requires no skill; just dumb luck of the draw – that achievement sucks.

Still, the thrill of collecting all the achievements in a given game is pretty alluring and does add to the replay value of a game – as long as they aren’t too easy to obtain or too difficult. I really enjoy this feature of the Xbox 360 games; but I can see how it can be addicting.

I’ve been playing Uno on XBox Live Arcade recently and I’ve begun to pick up some good strategy tips that maybe you havne’t thought of. Uno is very much based upon luck, so I wouldn’t go assuming any strategy will let you win a lot more often, so the best you can do is put yourself in the best possible position to win. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned:

  • Save your wild cards: Unless you absolutely have to; do not use them. Save them as, hopefully, your last card to make sure you can go out on anything.
  • Try to keep all the colors in your hand: There are four card colors, so if you have 4 cards left you want to try and have one of each in your hand (if at all possible).
  • Do not keep duplicate numbers: As you know, using the same number that is already on the discard pile will let you change the color from blue to green or whatever. If your hand has 2 8′s and an 8 is on top, even if you have that color, drop the off color 8, especially if the colored card is the last one you have. For instance if you have: Red123, Blue45, Green 4 and the card on top is a green 4. Drop the blue 4, not the green 4. Keep your colors in tact, but get rid of  the duplicate numbers instead. Give yourself options, both colors and numbers for later in the game.
  • Challenge Uno: It’s not nice; but if someone forgets to call Uno, call them on it. Make them draw two cards as a punishment. On Xbox Live Arcade, when I see someone going down to 1; I’m hitting the Y challenge button immediately so even if the next player acts quickly, you got the non-caller.
  • Drawing Cards: If you do not have a card to play and are forced to draw from the deck; do not play the card you draw, even if its eligible. It tells the other players that you are still lacking that color and inspires them to either reverse play to make you draw again or keep the color the same for another go around. Especially do not play any wild card you draw. Always keep that card.

There may be other tricks as well, but these seem to work well for me and let me win a decent (meaning 30% – HA!) of games. Dumb luck still rules in Uno, which is why it’s fun; but put yourself in the best possible situation to keep your average (in a 4 player game) above 25%.

 Good luck!

Let me start by saying I’m not an expert in electronics, computers and what-not so if I get terms right, take that into consideration. I know enough to get the job done. Plus I can type over 100 words a minute, can you?

So my old Logitech mouse finally died on me (Best mouse ever, forget what it was called though) and since it was a keyboard/mouse wireless combo I figured I’d do the same again. So I also had to dump my old keyboard. So I bring home a MX5000 – cost me about $100 or so at Best Buy. It has Bluetooth, which I guess is some sort of wireless setup, so I don’t need cables to use any of the stuff. That’s pretty cool, my old system was wireless as well but not Bluetooth, so I don’t see the big deal about Bluetooth.

The keyboard has an LED panel on top so I can who I am (in case I forget my name), what time it is (since that’s never displayed on your computer), the date (again, that’s never displayed on your computer), and the temperature. It also shows me what keys are pressed (shift lock, caps locks, f-lock, etc). It also has a calculator. What’s the problem here? From what I can tell (and I hate manuals, so I didn’t read it), the LED panel doesn’t actually light up, so if you know 10-key (which I do) you cannot use the calculator from a comfortable data entry position and read your result. It also has a function list for music and stuff too. But I use this at work, so I don’t need it.

It also has a clever volume control off to the left of the keyboard to let you adjust your sound settings really easy. That’s nice. Next to it is this little annoying zoom function that I cannot stand. It is so darned sensitive, that if you touch it, your monitor zooms in like 200% somewhere on the screen. You have to zoom back out to fix it. Sure its easy, but if you use proper typing style, you’ll end up hitting it quite by accident, especially if you are typing numbers from the top row and not the 10 key pad. The volume switcher isn’t nearly this sensitive. And there is no perceivable way to turn it off either, without also turning off the volume control function.

Finally, the Bluetooth is convenient, easy to setup, but maybe it’s me, but it seems to lose conncetion for a second or two every once in a while, then reconnect again all by itself. Weird. My other wireless setup never did that, nor does my wireless mouse at home. I’d go mental if my wireless internet did it to me as often. This is my first Bluetooth product ever, so I now have this annoying Bluetooth icon on my desktop that I cannot get rid of (it won’t delete) and serves no everyday use to me at all. And I love a clean desktop too, so I find it very frustrating.

The keyboard does have a nice tactile feel to it, so you know what buttons you are pressing and all the main keys are in their proper places. The mouse, overall is quite nice, very nicely formed to my hand so I like it. A few too many buttons on it for scrolling and document flipping (does anyone really use those things), but its a keeper.

All-in-all, this is a nice system with some -really- annoying features. Whomever dreamed up the zoom function on the keyboard needs to be kicked in the nuts – there I said it. I feel much better now. I wish my previous mouse didn’t die on me though, I still miss that little guy.

I’ve been with the same health insurance company for years now, since about 2002. My premiums were about $250/month, with a decent deductible and a low co-pay as well. I was pretty happy with the service, and it kept my parents from nagging me about getting insurance. So it worked on different levels.

Then, in 2005, I tried to add my wife to plan and include maternity coverage as well. Adding her raised my premiums to $582/month which was astonishing, but women need to go to the doctor more, so I was fine with that. This year, as we are possibly trying to have a child, I called to make sure that the policy included the maternity coverage as requested.

It did not and there was no way to add it. After speaking to a few people at our insurance company, I got them to allow me to add the coverage as long as it was backdated to the time she joined the policy and pay the past premiums. I said fine and send me a quote as to what the cost would be. Keep in mind, I assumed that the $582/month already included maternity coverage on it, so I wasn’t expecting a huge increase or bill. Maybe a few thousand dollars in back premiums and $100 or so per month extra at worst.

So I open my mail the other day, and I get this letter from Assurant Health.

This letter is to advise you that if you were to add the Maternity Rider effective December 15, 2005 the total amount due would be $11,206.58.

….

We apologize for the amount of time it took to respond to your correspondence.

I omitted the boring part of how they broke down how they came across the figure. I liked how they apologized for how long it took to get back to me; they should have been apologizing for trying to pass this off as a reasonable amount to pay. $11,000 ? Assuming you have a child without insurance, it costs between $10,000 and $20,000 or so. So, I’m almost half paid off anyways. What’s the point of this insurance? Really?

So I placed a call to Assurant Health and talked to someone on the policy holders’ line. I asked her what, on top of that $11,000, would happen to my monthly premiums if I went ahead and paid. She said my premiums would go from $500 per month to $1200 per month. I was flummoxed and asked if she thought $1200/month was reasonable for 2 people, in their early 30′s, non-smokers, no health problems, etc. She said that she has seen higher. That was helpful. She asked if there was anything else she could do to help. Other than pay off that $11,000 pill and not rape me for $1200 per month, not really.

I called around just a few moments ago and reached Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I’ve heard of them of course. So I talk to someone on the phone and they said there is some “Plan 3″ policy (or something like that) that’d cost me $313/month plus $100 (or $50, depending on the deductible) for maternity coverage. For both of us. Hmm. $413 compared to $1200. That’s a tough choice there.

Obviously, I’ll do more calling around before I make a commitment, but $1200 is crazy. $413 is quite pallitable.

While on the phone with Assurant Health (I’d already contacted BCBS as this point) and told her that BCBS quoted me $413 for the same coverage, if not a little better. She said that was possible, new business is cheaper than existing business. That’s completely contrary to every business model I’ve ever heard about it. It’s supposedly much cheaper to keep an existing customer than get a new one. Weird.

Anyways, Assurant Health sucks. If it wasn’t apparent to me before, it is now.

Despite my ranting about the new video game systems; I finally purchased an Xbox 360 the other week. Mainly to play Elder Scrolls: Oblivion for now and hopefully some good games in the future.

I bought the elite system (or whatever it’s called), the wireless network card, a recharging station for the batteries, and the cooling station. In the end, I spent about $800. I also purchased Oblivion for about $60 extra.

I’ve read online about people complaining about the prices of video games, so while playing Oblivion (excellent game; if a little too easy once you got to be a higher level - maybe I’ll post on that one day), I got to think about pricing of games.

For $60, I got about 50 or 60 hours of gameplay. I did it all – closed like 40 Oblivion gates, explored every fort (the quest to find the wine sucked), did every quest (except the thieves guild and the assassins guild) and pretty much found every thing that there was to find. If I only played it once, I paid about $1/hour for the entertainment. That’s not a bad price, is it?

I realize there are shorter games; many games probably range about 12 hours, right? At $60, that is still $5/hour of entertainment (or suffering, if you made a bad choice). And that’s to play as many times as you want, as many friends you want, as many family members as you want. Plus, you could possibly resell the game on Ebay or your local video game store and get part of that investment back. All in all, not too bad, is it?

Especially in comparison to other entertainment methods.

Movies, for example. Let’s say your typical movie lasts $9 and lasts 90 minutes. Assuming you go alone, don’t buy any drinks or food, you are paying $6/hour for a movie. And you are just a passive observer. If you bring a family member or friend, you are back up to $9/hour for the same entertainment. If you add a gut busting drink and popcorn, the cost keeps rising.

Let’s say you go to Disney World. A one day ticket costs about $60 dollars. Assuming you go alone and don’t get the thrill of standing in 2 hour lines at each ride (yeah right) then you can really do the park in about 3-4 hours. That’s about $15/hour. If you add other people, food, etc to the mix you can really ramp up those costs really quickly. And again, besides sweating, kids vomiting all around you and being assaulted by people dressed in costumes you are pretty much a passive observer to what is happening around you.

Finally, let’s compare a $60 video game to an Xbox Live Arcade Game. I’ll take Double Dragon, which was just recently released. According to the review you pay $5 for this game for 20 minutes of entertainment. That, too, works out to $15/hour of game play – assuming you play it once for 20 minutes and quit. After all, how many Abobos can one man beat up?

My problem with video game pricing is that most top tier games are equally priced. I don’t think a 10 hour game should be priced the same as a 50 hour game. I realize the company sets their price for each (probably within Microsoft guidelines or something) but I think there some be some gradation on the expected play time of a given title. The main thing I notice on review sites (gamespot, etal) is that the length of the title comes into play. I’d have a hard time spending $60 on a 10-hour game, but no problem spending it on one that lasted 40-50 hours.

Note: I omitted the original cost of the unit into each price calculation because the expected lifespan of the unit is say, 5 years. If you play a decent amount of games over that period of the time, the initial investment – depreciated over the life of the system – is pretty insignificant.

Two OJ Simpson videos for your amusement today.

The first one; features OJ Simpson as a running back in a video game. Not note worthy is his running ability in the game; but at the very end – after he scores a touchdown – look at the mascot for his team, The Assassins, in the background. Waving a knife around like there’s no tomorrow! Heh.

The second; is apparently from an internet call in show, where he gets to take calls from listeners. The calls were typical - was it easier to break 2,000 rushing yards in one season or slice through 2 necks in one night. You know the usual fair.

I think OJ should start promoting products, personally. Ginsu Knives. Make his own line of Chef’s knives, etc. Clearly, if he is going to make himself public like this, may as well take it all way. He didn’t half ass it when he killed his ex-wife a few years ago, why start now?