Video Games

Surviving Mars: Review Preview

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Time for a bit of brutal honesty: I truly suck at Fortnite: Battle Royale.

Sure, I have finished solo games in second place at least ten times now, and yes, I do actually get kills now and then (about one per game).  But I have never won a single goddamn match of that infuriating game, mostly because I suck at building and have NEVER been good at third-person shooters.  (I used to get kicked from SOCOM games all the time.)

And let’s face it: nothing short of quitting my day job and investing 10 hours a day playing the stupid game is going to make me better.  Playing Fortnite is for everyone, but winning Fortnite: Battle Royale is a young man’s game, and I have come to peace with that, which is why I plan to spend more of my gaming time exploring the high seas in Sea of Thieves and trying not to get my colonists killed in Surviving Mars

Surviving Mars is a game that has been on my radar for a while now, and I was just able to snag a copy of it recently for Xbox One so I have not put very much time into it.  The game is a simulator that tasks you with setting up a colony on Mars, making sure it can sustain life, and then maintaining and improving your colony as humans begin to populate it.  From what I read, it is quite difficult – colonists will die! – but also very satisfying when you finally succeed.

I can get behind letting younger kids play games like Surviving Mars and Jurassic World Evolution, so I hope to be able to put some time in on Mars and get back to you all with a review!  Until then, check out the gameplay reveal trailer to see how cool this looks!


Avengers: Infinity War Likes, Dislikes and One Random Rant

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My wife and I managed to catch Avengers: Infinity War with the kids and my in-laws on opening day last week, and I have been dying to get to a computer so I can talk about this baby!

Does the title of the movie ring a bell? I mean, it only set a record for the biggest opening weekend in the world EVER.  Unless you live under a large, moist rock in the most barren corner of the universe, you are aware that there is a movie playing in theaters right now called Avengers: Infinity War, so you have to excuse me for assuming that most of you have already seen, or at least plan to see, the newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I’m not going to try to deliberately provide massive spoilers in this post, but damn it, I gotta be able to talk about specific parts of the movie or else I won’t make a lick of sense at all.

Let’s start with my one dislike of the movie, then, just to buck the trend of starting with all the positives first!

That Ending

Right now, I am not a fan of the ending of the film – and not for the reason you may think, for those of you who have already seen the movie.

As much as I enjoy watching Chris Evans’ take on Captain America, I was ready to watch his character pass away way back in Captain America: Civil War.  When that didn’t happen, I was convinced he would die in Infinity War, along with a few other characters. Honestly, I felt that some characters HAD to die if the Marvel Cinematic Universe wanted to retain any of its credibility; Thanos is just too powerful, and his end game is nothing short of mass murder.

So watching some of our beloved characters die does not bother me at all – but watching characters die, knowing damn well that there is no chance in hell that they will STAY dead, does.

I won’t list the characters who “died” in Infinity War, and there is a chance that SOME of the characters that met their untimely end in the film could be dead, permanently.   But there are too many characters who either already have sequels planned, are so massively popular there is no way they will be set aside forever, or are portrayed by actors who have still have X number of Marvel films left on their contracts.

Some context: back when Christopher Nolan was wrapping up his Dark Knight trilogy, I was honestly hoping that Nolan would have the guts to kill off Bruce Wayne at the end of The Dark Knight Rises.  It would have been a bold move, and given how the movie unfolded, it would have been the RIGHT move, story-wise.  Sadly, Nolan wanted to have his cake and eat it, too, so we are treated to an ending in which Wayne successfully retires from crime-fighting but does so in a way that still gives us a “happily ever after” moment.

Fast forward to Avengers: Infinity War, the latest superhero movie that is begging for a few characters to be killed off for good.  While the movie clearly does not give us a happy ending, it actually gives us something worse: an ending that means nothing.  See, killing off a few main characters permanently would have been a bold move with dramatic implications, but killing off half of the characters in a way that will almost surely be undone next summer is just a cheap stunt.  Granted, I could be proven wrong by Avengers 4, but I doubt it.

Now, onto what I liked about the film!

Literally Everything Else

The ending might have been a bit of a stunt, but everything else that went into the movie was legitimately awesome.

First of all, credit must be given to the writers and directors for juggling a cast of characters that included almost every hero introduced in the MCU so far, without reducing characters to mere cameos.  Every single character had a kick-ass moment and a meaningful role to play as the story unfolded.  Sure, we could quibble that such-and-such didn’t get as much screen time as we would have liked, blah blah blah – but suck it up, buttercup.  All the best characters have their own movies.  Go watch those and get off of Twitter, cry baby.

I was also impressed by how the character of Thanos was developed.  In many ways, Infinity War served as an origin story for the villain who has been lurking in the background ever since he appeared at the end of the original Avengers. Thanos could have easily just been portrayed as another megalomaniacal baddie hellbent on conquering/destroying the universe, but instead we got a villain who grieved his losses, showed mercy from time to time, and truly believed he was making the universe a healthier, happy place.   Kudos to everyone involved for creating a villain whom the audience often sympathized with even while he was trying to defeat the heroes.

And despite it being the sort of movie that carries, and delivers on, a sense of impending doom, Avengers: Infinity War was still a blast to see.  (Seeing it for the first time in a packed theater is a must!)   There was plenty of humor, as you would expect from a Marvel movie, and the action scenes were predictably top-notch and exhilarating.   Even though I had a sinking suspicion that this move was not going to end with our heroes saving the day, I sure as hell enjoyed the ride!

Don’t let my criticism of the ending fool you; it was really the only ending possible, given the nature of the movie industry today.  Overall, the film was a total blast and worth every penny we spent – except for the fact that the goddamn Regal Cinemas in Ithaca lost its central air during the presentation, making it the most uncomfortable movie-viewing experience we have ever had.  Halfway through the movie I heard my wife tell our daughter, “You have to keep your pants on!” which are definitely not the words I ever want to hear my wife tell my daughter.   Our middle child almost threw up at the end because it got so hot in there, which almost forced me to miss the end-credit scene – almost!

Share your thoughts on the film with me below, or on social media, and get out and see Avengers: Infinity War while you can!



Video Games

Video Games We Are Excited About: Jurassic World Evolution


Not too long ago, my sister-in-law shared the following image on Facebook and tagged me in it:

Times You Know THE MOST About Dinosaurs

The image describes my family perfectly, since my oldest son was exactly four years old when he had a conversation about dinosaurs with a graduate student at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The student was duly impressed with my kid’s grasp of the subject matter, and at one point he may have even remarked, “This kid knows more about dinosaurs than I do!”

Both of my sons, and even my daughter to an extent, have gone through their dinosaur phases . . . but it just so happens that my oldest son is sort of still in his dinosaur phase, as he often breaks out dinosaurs that we purchased years ago and plays with them in the den, or pits two stuffed dinosaurs against each other while he is unwinding in his bed after a long day. (Yes, he would kill me if he knew I was sharing this!)

I absolutely love the fact that my oldest son still wants to play with his dinosaurs, and that my seven year-old still wants to build Jurassic World LEGO sets, because it means my kids are still using their imaginations, something that is in short supply nowadays. While I do appreciate the creativity and imagination that goes into MAKING a quality video game, playing video games requires very little creativity and imagination. The work has already been done for you, and while you may have to use strategy to survive in a game like Fortnite: Battle Royale or solve some puzzles in various games, the amount of brain power required to play most video games is minimal.

On the other hand, simulation/building games, such as Sim City and Minecraft, DO interest me, precisely because they present players with a blank slate and literally force the player to use his or imagination to bring the world to life. If someone would only combine a simulation game with dinosaurs, I might actually be able to own a game I would not feel guilty about letting my kids play . . . .

Obviously, I’m headed somewhere with this, so let’s get to the point: game developer Frontier Developments has created a simulation game called Jurassic World Evolution, and it is all my oldest son wants to talk about right now.

And who can blame him? I’m excited by the thought of being able to design my own Jurassic World resort, populate it with dinosaurs, and watch the fun, and the shit, hit the fan! I mean, if you have EVER gone through a dinosaur phase, how could such a premise NOT interest you?

This isn’t the first time the Jurassic Park franchise has been translated into a simulation game – older gamers might remember Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, which is considered by many to be the best Jurassic Park game ever made. Jurassic World Evolution will follow in the older game’s footsteps in the sense that it will task players with the goal of building a fully-functional park, but maintaining a thriving resort is only part of the game. Players will also be allowed to unlock dinosaur DNA, which will allow players to not only breed known species of dinosaurs, but to genetically modify their dinosaurs and even create their own hybrids.

Normally, I try to limit my kids to between 20-45 minutes of gameplay the handful of times a week we allow them to play, and I have no intention of loosening the reins TOO much once Jurassic World Evolution is released, but the game’s combination of site building/business simulation/scientific research might persuade me to be a little bit more liberal with my time allotment. Kids should be encouraged to use their imagination as often as possible, be it the old-fashioned way or digitally. Personally, I cannot wait to see what my kids come up with!

Check out the pre-order trailer and mark June 12, 2018 on your calendars!



Video Games

Kid Keeps Playing Fortnite Despite Tornado Blowing Through Neighborhood

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File this one under the category, “Proof That Our Species Is Moving Toward Extinction!”

A few posts ago I wrote about the game Fortnite: Battle Royale, a free game published by Epic Games. I must admit: the game is fun. . . but it is insanely addicting, too, which isn’t helped by the fact that everyone and their brother seems to be playing it right now.

Apparently, however, I underestimated JUST how addicting this ridiculous game is; that, or I overestimated how much human beings today value their lives:

Yep: dude was so determined to get that W in Fortnite he considered staying in his crib even though there was a tornado ripping roofs off of nearby houses. Eventually, common sense won out and he decided, “Maybe I should get the kids to safety,” at which point Twitter decided he was a hero. . . because apparently, the word hero has absolutely no meaning at all any more.

At any rate, this is the world we live in.  Time to just go full on Wall-E, everyone!


Video Games

Know What Your Kids Are Playing: Fortnite


God I hate Fortnite and it’s infuriating Battle Royale mode.

There: I said it. And I mean it, too – at least half the time, that is.

Sure, sure – I play it enough.  I’ve logged over 150 matches (a lot for a guy who can only touch his Xbox One controller on the weekends), and at this point it feels as if there are only two reasons I power up my Xbox One S: to watch 4k movies, and to play Battle Royale.

There is something about playing Battle Royale that keeps me coming back, despite the fact that all of my matches end with me wanting to hurl my controller across the room.  The fact that winning a game means you outlasted 99 other players is hella enticing, for one thing. Playing duos or squad mode with your friends is also a ton of fun (even though the only “friends” I have played alongside are my two sons and a twelve year-old girl who happens to be my oldest son’s closest friend).  And the fact that the game continues to offer special events such as Sniper Shootout (sniper rifles and pistols being the only weapons available) and the current High Explosive v2 event, in which everyone is scrambling to find rocket launchers and other items that make your opponents go BOOM, suck you back in even after you feel as if the game has grown a bit stale.

Now, I want you to think about what I have said so far: I, a 46 year-old father of three, keep getting sucked back into Fortnite’s ridiculously addictive Battle Royale mode.  I have squeezed in games during lunch.  I often play it after putting the kids to bed.  Hell, I may have even worked in a few games while I was supposed to be writing this – all in the name of research, mind you.

And I am forty six. I should know better!

Actually, I do know better, which is why I only play Fortnite during lunch, or when the kids are asleep and my duties as a husband, father and home owner have been completed (well, at least 75% of those duties!).  Most young kids, however, DON’T know better, which is why they try to sneak in a game or two while their father is upstairs helping a little girl take a shower, or junior high school students are sending my son game invites as soon as they get home from school, or why high school students who have downloaded the mobile version of the game onto their iPhones (thanks, Epic Games) are constantly trying to sneak matches in when they are in class.

Look: there is nothing terribly wrong with the game.  Sure, the object is to kill (or at the very last, outlast) the other players, so there are shotguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers and the like – but the violence is muted by the cartoonish-look of the game design and the fact that there is no blood.   There is no offensive material whatsoever, because there is no plot or content in the game outside of 100 players being dropped onto an island in a battle royale.  Compared to other games that I currently will not let anyone in my family play, games rated M for Mature such as Grand Theft Auto V or Resident Evil Biohazard, Fortnite is a harmless diversion that is fun to play with good friends. . .

. . . but as with a lot of parenting I am witnessing any more, something that can be harmless in little doses is not being monitored, and is in fact becoming harmful because of the huge time commitment that kids are investing in it.  No, this is not a post that would idiotically argue that violent games create violent kids.  I don’t have enough evidence to argue either side of that conversation, so I won’t insult your intelligence by trying.

Still, I don’t need research to tell you that games like Fortnite can be almost as addictive as the world’s most powerful drugs.  I see the effect this game has on my kids, and believe me when I say this: if left unchecked, my two sons would play this game from dawn until dusk.  My twelve year-old literally loses track of time while playing, often arguing with me that he has only been online for a few minutes when he has already exceeded an hour of gameplay.  Meanwhile, my seven year-old has been known to raid the pantry in between matches, so it is not too hard to envision him playing all day, substituting snack runs for actual meals.

And don’t even get me started on the rage-quitting this game WILL cause in your child after he gets shotgunned from some player camping behind a wall, or killed by a trap he never saw, or dies because his teammates didn’t follow the gameplan. If you want your mild-mannered kid to develop some anger management issues, let him spend five hours a day playing this baby!

If you’re thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal?  I used to spend hours playing with friends outside, or building LEGOS, or . . . ” just stop right there. Pretty much anything you and I spent hours doing years ago was good for us.  Playing outside?  It’s called exercise. Building LEGOS?  Playing with dinosaurs, or action figures?  That’s called being creative and using your imagination.  Playing board games?  That’s called actual face-to-face human interaction.

And NONE of these things are what your kids are doing when they spend hours staring at a screen.

No one is saying you can’t let your kids have some video game time, but know what you are up against and make sure you act like a parent, not your kid’s buddy.  Fortnite is super popular right now, and it’s easy to see why, but there are way better things can be doing for hours at a time.  Set a timer, then hide the remotes and make your kid unplug for a while.  You’re welcome.

Video Games

Sea of Thieves Review:

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Now that I have covered the evils of excessive use of electronics, I want to turn my attention to a video game that I think could provide hours of family fun for any of you fortunate enough to own an Xbox One or Windows 10 PC.

No, I am not contradicting myself! There’s a huge difference between allowing your kids to have unlimited access to electronic devices, and giving them access to their technology provided they have behaved and understand they will only have a limited time to use these devices.  For example, my son starts getting texts right after school from kids who want him to get on Xbox Live and play.  By now he knows what to tell them: maybe later.  Video games are only allowed in my house if the kids have worked through their to-do lists and have earned the right!  

The game I am recommending today is Sea of Thieves, an open-world pirate simulator that is an absolute blast to play with friends or other family members.  That’s the biggest catch with this game: if you purchase it for your kids, do so knowing that playing it solo is a good way to get the hang of things early, but will get old pretty quickly.

If you are playing with other people, though, this game is a blast. For starters, unlike a lot of the popular games that are shooters (Fortnite, Public Battlegrounds, the Call of Duty series, Rainbow Six Siege, etc.), there is not a ton of violence in Sea of Thieves.  Yes, you will encounter skeletons and even other players who you will have to battle eventually, but those skirmishes will not make up even half of the time spent playing this game.

Instead of combat, the majority of time players invest in Sea of Thieves will be spent sailing your rig across the sea in search of islands, buried treasure, and the like.  This game is seriously the next-best thing to getting on an actual boat: players need to work together to perform all of the tasks that go into sailing, such as raising and lowering the anchor, adjusting the sails, keeping lookout, and steering.   If that sounds like a recipe for hilarity, you are 100% correct: the first time I hopped into a boat with a crew consisting of myself and two other players who spoke only Spanish, we sank the boat and wound up swimming for our pirate lives.

Once everyone gets the hang of navigating the open seas, the game world is your oyster.  With some of the most realistic water and weather effects I have ever seen in a video game, just hopping in a boat and sailing WHEREVER is a blast.    Navigating the seas will require cooperation among the players, and can lead to some very interesting, unscripted moments. Once players are ready to tackle a quest, there are three pirate guilds that will offer players quests to complete, and plenty of islands to explore and forts to raid.   While the quests are a bit repetitive for people who plan on logging days worth of time into this game, they should be fine for kids who are only playing for 30-40 minutes at a time, and developer Rare has promised to grow the world as they gather feedback from players.

Because the game is online, there will always be other players populating the game world, which means the odds of your crew engaging in naval combat with a crew of rival pirates run high. Fighting on the high seas is a thrill, but I have yet to win a fight, since most of the players I run into have logged way more hours than I have.  While losing all of the booty that you might have collected from a fort raid kind of sucks, the good news is that the game puts all players on a level playing field: experienced players might have saved up enough gold to buy fancier-looking sword and guns, but all of those in-game purchases are cosmetic, meaning that newer players will not be at a disadvantage simply because they have not had time to buy a bunch of cool gear. In other words, your crew might go down, but odds are good you will take at least one or two players with you, as well!

I know Fortnite, PUBG and games that require players to become ruthless killers are all the rage right now, and hey: I play those games, too!   If you can get your kids to set their inner special forces member aside, Sea of Thieves is worth a look, because it is a riot to play with friends and other family members.

Parenting, Uncategorized

Three Cheap Alternatives to Video Games + One Video Game Your Family Will Love!

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Man: parenting is tough.

There’s no handbook, no training sessions, and no way to tell if you are doing a good job until one of your kids go out in public and do something that embarrasses the hell out of you.

Fortunately, you have come to the right place! I’m not saying I am God’s gift to parents – my wife will laugh in your face for hours if you ask her that question! – but I have had my kids do enough dumb things in public that I have learned a lot of valuable parenting lessons.

In my last post, I ranted about much time children are allowed to spend on devices such as tablets and cellphones, so today I wanted to toss out some alternatives to the parenting method that amounts to “I want peace and quiet so I just hand my kids electronic devices.”   Again: no one is saying you have to get rid of your electronic devices altogether.  Each of my kids have their own tablet, my oldest son has a phone, and we have two Xbox Ones at our house so yeah: we like our shiny devices!

Still, there is a difference between allowing your kids to have limited access to electronic forms of entertainment, and letting your kids spend every waking moment glued to these devices because it makes your life as an adult easier.  What is easy for you now is going to cause all sorts of headaches for you and your kids down the road, so here are some affordable alternatives to letting your kids spend their summer in a comatose state!

Take ‘Em To Your Local Playground

My first suggestion is not ground-breaking – actually, none of mine will be – but at least where I live, it appears to be one that few people either think about or bother doing, for whatever reasons.

You would be surprised how many times I have either taken my kids to one of the playgrounds around our house, or driven by a playground on our way somewhere else, only to discover that the playground is an absolute ghost town.  And I’m not talking about what I see at 8 o’clock in the morning or at night; I’m talking about dead smack in the middle of a beautiful summer day.

Why more people don’t bring their kids to playgrounds any more is beyond me, but I can tell you this much: it’s not because the kids won’t have fun!  I cannot remember the last time I brought my two youngest kids to a playground and had them ask to leave before I told them it was time to go (bathroom breaks don’t count!).  If I give them 30 minutes, they ask for more.  If I give them an hour, they ask for more!  If I give them two hours . . . okay, that’s way too long for an adult to sit at a playground.  But you get the picture – kids dig it, and you will get bored long before they do.

The best things about playgrounds?  Going is free, requires zero planning on your part, and the kids love it and get a shit load of exercise.  The next time it is a beautiful, sunny day and you find all of your kids staring at a screen of some sort, drag ’em to the car and let them run around a playground. They’ll thank you (unless you forget sunscreen and water and wind up gifting dehydration and sunburn to your offspring, you knucklehead).

Water, water and more water!  (And in the winter, snow, snow and more snow!)

Quick: name a kid who doesn’t like playing in the water.  If you can, you probably know a kid who was traumatized by H2O, and I’m sorry.  For the other 99.99999% of you, this option will provide you with hours of outdoor fun (and if you are lucky enough to have a fenced-in yard, this will provide you with hours of quiet drinking time!)

Kids love water. If you already own a pool, you know this by now: they will swim from sun up ’til sun down if you let ’em.  But don’t think that you need a pool to entertain your kids – and for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t drag your kids to the nearby public pool!

Instead, be on the lookout for items such as Banzai’s Home Run Splash Baseball Slide, Aqua Blast Obstacle Course, or any number of the outdoor water toys they sell.  Most of these items are affordable to begin with, and if you are lucky enough to come across some when a company like Walmart is marking down their prices in order to get rid of summer stock, BOOM.  Hours of summer fun, for just a handful of bucks.

Of course, if you’re not one of those weird parents who think allowing your kids to play with pretend guns will turn them into violent sociopaths, you can stock up one some affordable water guns and turn your kids loose in the backyard. Hell, you can just just buy a regular old sprinkler for your yard – I used to spend hour running around my dad’s sprinkler when he was watering the front yard around dinner time.  Pretty much anything that sprays or shoots water will entertain your kids way more than any video game will, even if they don’t want to admit it.  And the great thing about water?  When winter comes, it turns to snow, and you don’t even need to buy anything for kids to enjoy that crap!

Board/Card Games

So playgrounds and water fun work if the weather is cooperating, but if you are looking for ways to get kids off of electronics on crummy days, or when it is getting close to bed time, the playground clearly isn’t your best option.

Under these circumstances, I like to break out some board or card games – you know, the sort of things we adults did before staring at a screen became the de facto approach to killing time.  Again, I am kind of amazed by how many families do not own a healthy number of these types of games – from checkers and chess, to Chutes and Ladders to Trouble, from playing War to playing Uno or Exploding Kittens, my kids will spend hours playing together when I confiscate their devices and tell them we are going to play a board or card game.  Sure, they might bitch and moan when you first announce that the device are going bye-bye, but once they see you mean business, you should be able to enjoy a ton of good old-fashioned fun with the little devils.

And speaking of Exploding Kittens: if you are looking for a mobile game that your kids can play with the rest of the family, I highly recommend finding the Exploding Kittens app in either iTunes or Android Play.  My twelve year-old son and I were in Massachusetts for a hockey tournament, but we wanted to keep in touch with my seven year-old so we all bought Exploding Kittens for $1.99 and played it together on the longer car drives and at nights in the hotel.  The game requires a good deal more strategy than you would think when you first read about it, and is absolutely hilarious.  I’m sure there are many games out there that you can get that would allow your family to game together during their allotted time on their devices, but speaking from experience, Exploding Kittens is a blast and totally harmless, even if its name sounds super violent!

Like I said: not one of the ideas I have shared in this post is revolutionary, and by no means in this list complete.  More than anything, I am just hoping to shake up some people from the rut – too many parents have resigned themselves to the fact that these devices are not going to go away, so they just throw their hands up in the air and say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”  Screw that – if experience has taught me much, it is that you should almost always avoid joining in on what the mindless masses are doing.  Shake up your home life and thank me later!