Summer Games

With the World Cup in full swing – I’ll be watching USA v. GER later – and our annual Summer vacation starting next week, my head is already drifting away from work and towards fun, sun and games.

Now, normally, we don’t bring consoles or handhelds on our vacations. Phones, yes, but that’s mostly for music. But I had a few open browser tabs this morning and I haven’t shared anything here in a while so, in the spirit of community, I give you two games I’m interested in this Summer.

The first is purely a “school pride” choice: Angry Dawgs

In what is clearly a clone of the popular Angry Birds series, Hairy Dawg must defend the UGA Career Center from rival “mutant” mascots all while dispensing valuable career advice to graduating students.

No, really. It won an award too.

I don’t need the career advice (I hope) but I’m always happy to see UGA win awards and even happier that Hairy Dawg is taking down rival mascots.

Go Dawgs!

The second game on my list is Shovel Knight an 8-bit side-scroller that reads to me like the bastard child of Super Mario Brothers & Ghosts ‘n Goblins

I learned about the game just this morning from The Verge and it seems like it’s going to be a real winner. I dig old school console games like this (more my speed) when I’m not playing mobile-first games (like the one above) so I’m bummed that I missed their Kickstarter, but $15 seems like a cheap price to pay for something that looks so awesome.

If you end up playing either game let me know in the comments. I promise not to read them on vacation.

Oh, if you’re curious, we’ll likely be bringing a different kind of game – Cards Against Humanity – to the beach, just for the adults.

Until next time, happy gaming!

The DVD and the damage done

With apologies to Neil Young, it’s already been a pretty crazy week in the Miller household. Nothing dramatically disastrous has happened but the water-flowing-over-rocks weathering of being the only parent of 4 kids for more than a day starts to wear you down with its incessant regularity.

Come to think of it, that’s parenting in general, made that much more stark with Jenn’s absence as she works out of town.

Here’s my morning routine:

  • Wake the kids, feed the kids, clothe the kids
  • Make sure they brush their teeth, their hair & take their allergy medicine
  • Don’t forget a book bag or a water bottle or a snack for the car (or after school, depending on the age of the kid in question)

I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m merely looking for a little commiseration from other parents on the journey themselves.

And single parents I just don’t see how you do it. I need someone else around to keep me sane.

Maybe that’s why the DVD player in our family van is such an enemy to my continued sanity this week.

PART I: Getting in the van

Before my daughter Evie, age 4, can buckle herself into her carseat she must first flip down the TV screen from the interior roof of the van.

Even if we’re in a hurry.
Even if she has been told that I will take care of this.
Even if other children are in the way.

This act of opening up the TV is one which she has assigned to herself and she refuses to take it lightly to the detriment of all other van-related, pre-driving rituals.

I’d actually have the time & energy to brag about her ability to strap her own seatbelt in her carseat if she wasn’t busy making me late by flipping down the screen.

Is this particularly the DVD player’s fault? No, it’s not, but it’s all connected as I’ll attempt to explain.

PART II: Listening to the movie

Our van is a 2012 Toyota Sienna that features a pair of wireless headphones for the two seats immediately behind the driver and passenger in addition to headphone jacks for the passengers in the back bench seat.

Since the bigger kids sit on the bench, they have their own wired headphones that they store in the armrests of the bench. They are responsible for keeping their area organized & remembering their own headphones.

They rarely are very organized & they sometimes forget their headphones, but such is parenting. They deal with the consequences plus they have other ways to pass the time while we drive.

Additionally, on weekday mornings, our “commute” is 5 minutes to the carpool line. No need for the DVD or headphones. We usually talk about the upcoming day & say goodbye.

The little girls – with their wireless headphones & long commute time – are a different story altogether.

Much like their older siblings neither of them take consistent care of their headphones. The downside to this behavior is that we are now the proud owners of two wholly dysfunctional pair of wireless headphones.

Exposed internal wiring, busted pivot points and general disrepair all equal our new reality: the entire van has to listen to a movie if the little girls want to listen to a movie.

In theory this should be an annoyance I could mitigate using Fade & Balance controls for the speakers. In practice it just means that they both sing along to “Let It Go” from Frozen or “Be Prepared” from the Lion King that much louder than before.

Joy.

My one piece of feedback for Toyota at this point: speaker zones selectable per seat. XM for adults in the back, other source for others. One step further would be Speakers versus wired headphones versus wireless headphones but now I’m getting greedy.

I just want the audible space in my van, during my commute, to myself. I suppose I should be thankful for a few days of time with the little girls I wouldn’t normally get, but I find myself replaying the dialog of Kung Fu Panda 2″ over and over in my head while I remember them asking me to pass them a drink or a snack or a blanket at 70 miles per hour.

Good times.

PART III: ALL DVD MENUS SUCK

The failure of interactive menus on DVDs is already the stuff of infamy. Do a quick search if you’d like.

Here’s a choice bit from one of my favorite rants on the topic:

Children’s DVDs should start playing immediately! By the time Elmo or Rolie Polie Olie finally make it on screen, my once agitated child has now become a screaming, crying inconsolable maniac as I scramble to try to skip through the myriad ads, previews and warnings!

Read the whole thing; it’s worth the brief investment of your time.

The argument I’ve excerpted is by far the best, most cogent one for my specific circumstance but how can I improve my situation?

Until Evie learns to read & operate a remote control, I’m at the mercy of DVD authors who disable controls, front-load their DVDs with previews and NEVER put things in the same place.

Case in point: Disney’s Lion King DVD auto-plays Title 2, Chapters 1-10 (Previews/Trailers/Ads) before moving to Title 1, Chapter 1 (Main Menu) and eventually (after I hit “Enter” on the dash when the little girls complain) Title 35, Chapters 1-24 are the actual film itself.

Simple, no?

No.

All I really need is the movie to play for those kids in my backseat who, absent an older sibling who can read & operate the remote, really need me focusing on driving the car and not attempting to navigate the labyrinth of DVD menus sight unseen.

[Sidebar: the DVDs for Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal auto-play. Thanks, Jim Henson!]

At the very least each individual DVD manufacturer should be allowed access to the movie directly. Let Samsung, Sony & even Toyota (or whomever builds their DVD systems) differentiate by offering immediate, seamless playback.

Of course I’m sure all those DVD hardware companies license the reading technology from the DVD content companies (or are sometimes one and the same, like Sony) so there’s no motivation to make the situation any better. There’s also the air of illegality that I remember from the DeCSS days, when simply copying a DVD was criminal.

Whatever the case may be, the well-being of my kids is paramount, even if that means they scream at me to “change the movie” or “hit the button” while we navigate the highway home.

I’m none too keen on the solutions I’ve attempted so maybe I’m simply barbarically yawping for a van-based DVD “Easy Button”.

It may be a first world problem, but it’s my first world problem.

And there’s my struggle for this week.

Jenn will be back in town on Thursday. The kids will all have been well-fed, showered, delivered to and from school on time. They’ll all be happy to see her when she returns.

And maybe, just maybe, one more of them will be able to operate the DVD in the van.

Hopefully I will be able to do that too. ;-)

Happy Wednesday!

(If you need me, I’ll be singing “Let It Go” in my head, wishing Jenn were here with me so we could duet.)

Jim Henson’s Doozers on Hulu

I’m not proud to say this here, but I accepted a Klout Perk today: a sneak preview of the new Hulu original series from Jim Henson Productions, Jim Henson’s Doozers.

60% of the time Klout Perks are crap all the time, but this is a nice surprise that I’m happy to share here.

For folks that want the full experience instead of an embedded player you can go here.

I’m not a current Hulu subscriber – mostly due to the fact that I pay for premium cable plus Netflix – but this might start to sway me.1 2

If you’re looking for a better breakdown of the costs/benefits of Hulu vs. Netflix, I’m not the expert, but they’re both making a go at acquiring/licensing/creating new shows.

The greater problem this causes for fans of quality entertainment is how they get to shows they used to love, are in love with currently or might love if they could find it. (Feel the love?)

To that end HBO actually did the once-unthinkable and has agreed to license some of their original series to Amazon Prime Instant Video. That’s a HUGE deal and it might (though it probably won’t) make HBO GO more usable on Game of Thrones premiere nights.

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

Whatever the case I’m happy Henson is getting Doozers out there for kids. It seems cute and high quality which is a lot harder than it sounds, especially for preschool kid content.

Being totally selfish I wish it had 3 things:

  1. Fraggles, Gorgs & the Trash Heap
  2. Motion capture digital puppeteering a la Sid the Science Kid
  3. A better theme song

All things considered though it seems like a fun little show. Maybe not $7.99/month to get Hulu “fun” but we’ll see.

I like that, exactly like the Doozers of the Fraggle Rock show, these new digital Doozers are industrious & engineering/technically-minded. What better way to introduce little kids to the 21st century.

Happy Wednesday!

1 One of my biggest gripes about the TiVo is that I don’t sample enough new/current broadcast TV.

2 One of my biggest gripes about Netflix is that they don’t have great kids programming (but they do have great originals for adults.

Grow Clay Walkthrough

The newest game from Eyezmaze is out in the wild and it’s a branded/sponsored game called Grow Clay.

Like the other games in the series it’s a simple puzzle game where the user decides which choices to make to help a society achieve some futuristic goal.

In this case the whole thing is a promotion for a sourcing company in Japan.

Here’s the starting state of the game:

Grow Clay Beginning
Grow Clay Beginning

And here’s the conclusion:

Grow Clay Ending
Grow Clay Ending

Here are the steps I took to solve the game:

Stage 1:

  1. Lab
    • Clay
  2. Lab

Stage 2:

  1. Clay
  2. DNA

Stage 3:

  1. Clay
  2. Tire Tread
  3. Bolt

Stage4:

  1. Computer
  2. Clay
  3. Battery
  4. Magnet

I’m not sure if there are any alternate solutions, but I’ll keep trying & let you know.

Until the next Grow game: happy clicking!

Other Grow game walkthroughs:

The Muppets & Rule 63

I realize that Rule 63 doesn’t have anything to do with musical theatre, but it’s the closest thing to explaining the next two links:

  1. Muppet Christ Superstar
  2. Rocky Horror Muppet Show

The first is a faithful (ha!) rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar as sung in the style (and voices) of The Muppets while the second is a Muppet-ized version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show: the lyrics remain the same but the tunes are all different, while still featuring Muppet voices.

I think it’s obvious but neither one of these are officially related to The Muppets, RHPS or JCSS, but they do point to the enduring intersection of The Muppets and music, especially Broadway-style music. The original Muppet Show had more than it’s fair share of stage talent: Carol Channing, Joel Grey, Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters & Liza Minelli among others.

If you’re keen on the RHPS angle beyond those audio-only excerpts, here’s a YouTube video in a more literal vein (a la JCSS):

Of course, if you’re really into the idea of The Muppets & RHPS, you won’t mind cosplaying that crosses over between the two.

Whatever you’re in to, you can’t deny that The Muppets make the perfect pairing to Broadway musicals. By the way my own personal Rule 63 is this: If it has music in it, someone will eventually record themselves singing it in the voice of a Muppet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sing The Time Warp as though I were Kermit the Frog. ;-)

Bandcamp downloads available here:
Muppet Christ Superstar on Bandcamp
Tom Smith Live at LibertyCon 2010 (Rocky Horror Muppet Show excerpts)