Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thwomp Factory Fryday: Cooking Mama 2

Thwomp Factory Fryday is a weekly feature in which Amelia takes recipes out of a game with a cooking system and follows it as closely as possible. It will be posted every Friday until she runs out of money or gets salmonella.

Wow. I am finally back in Minneapolis with my computer, and camera, and free time, and everything. This is crazy. So, among the crazy vacations I've been taking lately was a trip to California to meet up with my brother (Joe, who also writes in this blog) and then go with him to his company party in Las Vegas. Before heading out to drink away his yearly bonus we attempted a Fryday of epic proportions, which I can finally post.

Today's food comes to you from Cooking Mama 2: Dinner with friends. Now, in the interest of getting to the good parts we chose one recipe, and skipped most of the steps. We made chili dogs, and rather than bore you with all that slicing the bun and grinding the meat, we went right to catching the falling ingredients. Also it was just so much easier to buy a can of chili.

My impressions of food in the game: I sometimes wonder about Mama's baking (so much so that I intend to try that out step by step sometime) and a few of the mini games are ridiculous. Will blowing on a gallon of water really help cool it down? I don't think so, Mama. Otherwise it's a pretty solid cooking game (and it had better be.)

There's only one mysterious cooking mini-game, that may or may not work in real life, and needed to be tried out. After preparing all the chili dog ingredients, you need to catch them in a bun as they fall out of the sky. Why does Mama make her chili dogs like this? Does it improve the flavor, allowing the subtle spices of the chili to mature in the open air? Does it work up an appetite, with all that running around and panicking? Well read on, and find out!

They don't call the game "Cooking with Friends" for nothing! In the following videos I play the role of, well, the player, while Joe stands up on his balcony and drops the onions, condiments, hot dogs, and chili out of the sky. I like to think he's playing the role of Mama. Not seen but equally necessary is our brave camera man, James, who valiantly dodged flying onions and splattering ketchup to bring you this footage.

Damn, those onions are slippery! I'd say we caught maybe 40% of them. Hopefully the rest goes better.

Ahh, the hot dog itself. Terrific! That deserves a gold medal.

This is my favorite video for so many reasons. First of all, look at that gorey murder site of the ketchup landing. How come Mama hasn't released a companion game, Cleaning with Mama? She must need one. More importantly, LOOK AT THAT MUSTARD! 100% A++ EVEN BETTER THAN MAMA!!! TAKE THAT! erm...yeah.

Final Thoughts: Looks like you really can make a chili dog that way. Go Mama!

Give it your best effort!

Next week (whatever that means): Kingdom of Loathing food and drinks

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Maxim Gorky, on video games

"You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better."

Or maybe that was children's literature. Hmm...whatever. The two genres are similar enough.

I wish I could write less reactionary things, but it just isn't in me very often. And this here is mainly my reaction to things like this and this, mainly the second. I've swung back and forth on whether or not video games really ought to be treated as an "us vs. them" war. Upon reading the Richard Bartle article my gut said he was taking things a little too far and a little too serious, but in a world with women like the author of the second, I might have to agree with him.

Now, I'm not a parent and I'm not a psychologist. But I'm writing this as a person who has done a lot of volunteer work with children, and plans to have my own in 8-15 years from now. Also I'm the proud daughter of a damn good mother who has encouraged my love of games.

Brief summary of the second article: A woman bought a Nintendo DS and a fat stack of games for her four children. Her household then proceeded to descend into chaos and Nintendo-based obsession as her children ignored chores and other hobbies to play video games all day.

Well, if she thinks her anecdotal evidence is good enough to scare people off from gaming, I've got some of my own. The first games I remember my parents getting for me were educational. Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, I'm sure most people are familiar with that bunch. I never overplayed them, I still washed dishes, took out the garbage, practiced my cello, and did extra-curricular school activities. I liked them, and I probably even learned something from them. However, the games that really stuck out to me were the ones that didn't try to teach me lists of facts, they were the breathtakingly beautiful ones. Loom, Myst, King's Quest. The feelings I got from those games stick with me today and recur whenever I play a game I love. They make me want to draw, write, create, learn, and share all those feelings with my friends. The only difference now is sometimes they come from GTA, or Rock Band, or Mass Effect.

Surely this woman wouldn't claim an appreciation of art is useless for her children, would she? If she's taking her children to music lessons but only making them practice 10 minutes a day then clearly she's not trying to make virtuosos out of the little ones. So what, then? Probably she's trying to instill a love of music and an enriching hobby they can enjoy all their lives. But wait, you can get those from games, too!

There's another thing that's developmentally very important for children that games provide: fun! One of the biggest ruckuses in children's literature was in the 40s when the first four Pippi Longstocking books were published. Why was the now arguably best children's book ever written so controversial? Because it showed a child and especially *gasp* a girl, who thought playing was the most important thing for children. In a world mostly dominated by stories about children being proper and working and never questioning authority, Pippi was seen as "totally anti-social rubbish."

To quote the author of the article: What is constructive about playing football on a tiny screen, or washing a virtual dog, or watching a hideous pink pony trot around a pink palace decorated with shells?

Seriously. Go get a time machine and find yourself some pre-WWII literature critics. Because it's playing, and because in 2008 most people agree that it's okay for everyone (even children!) to play.

But, this woman didn't just bash video games with no rhyme or reason, she did actually state what they did to make her family life hell. there anything she could have done to avoid that?

Well, a single DS for 4 children is a stupid choice. Maybe she wanted to teach sharing, I don't know, but if she really wanted a "family Nintendo", passed around lovingly by everyone as we all played Brain Trainer together she should have gotten something that her whole family could have enjoyed at the same time. The first console I ever owned was a regular old NES. After washing the dishes and taking out the trash my mom and I often would sit down and play a few games of Dr. Mario together (she usually won.) Now, my mom loves to play cards and sometimes the occasional falling block game, but she isn't a "gamer." She bought me games, let me find time to play them, and listened to me talk on and on about them because they made me happy and thoughtful, not because it was any real interest to her. Another thing I loved to do, as a younger sibling, was to sit and watch my older brother play games, and annoyingly shout out things he should do. A tiny little DS doesn't even allow for this kind of sibling interaction, just excludes everyone who isn't holding it. Get a Wii, get a 360, get a freaking NES off ebay, get 2 DSes (using the money you can save by not buying crappy games, covered next), just don't get one "family" DS.

And now, I have come full circle to my beloved Gorky quote. The other thing you should do is get your children good games with child appropriate content but quality that transcends all age groups. I don't know any kids that love Brain Trainer...geez. What a boregasbord. I guess that's just my personal opinion, and seriously, if someone loves Brain Trainer or My Little Pony, fine, they're perfectly good frivolous toys, if you like that sort of thing. Get them some works of art too, though. Try Animal Crossing. Nothing in that game is inappropriate to children, but I'm 22 and of all my DS games I've gotten the most hours of real satisfaction out of that one. (ESRB notice: Experience May Change With Online Play. Especially if you come to my town with its The Boobs constellation.) Or what about Electroplankton? Also maybe just a frivolous toy, but a visually and aurally stunning one that can encourage a love of music and maybe even more practice time on instruments. Rock Band is in fact what motivated me after a long hiatus to play my cello simply for my own enjoyment. Instead of Brain Trainer, try out the puzzles of Professor Layton, and its accompanying mystery. It's a twofer! You get to learn logic and math as well as good narrative!

In a few days I'll be roadtripping to my parents' house for Mother's Day. I'm going to give my mom a big hug and thank her for not being like Ms. I Hate Fun. Then we'll probably play some Dr. Mario, and she'll still probably beat me.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thwomp Factory Fryday: Contact

Thwomp Factory Fryday is a weekly feature in which Amelia takes recipes out of a game with a cooking system and follows it as closely as possible. It will be posted every Friday until she runs out of money or gets salmonella.

Oh my. Thwomp Factory Fryday is experiencing some technical difficulties of the fun and not fun varieties. The fun kind was when I spent last weekend in Las Vegas with my brother, Joe. The not fun part is that I believe I left my camera's USB cable in his apartment. So this week's Fryday will not have pictures, and next week's will be so chockablock with awesome that it will be a sort of apology.

Today's food comes to you from Contact. Contact is an RPG for the DS that does more than its part to bring back the dying art of whimsy. The player is a separate entity from the main character, Terry, and with the aid of a mysterious yet clumsy Professor (and sometimes his space dog who wants to be a space cat) the two of them set out to help the Professor and return Terry to his home. Anyway, I think it is a top-notch game.

My Impressions of food in the game: I would feel erroneous to call cooking in Contact a mini-game. Actual preparation of food is more like a checklist (and I love me some grindy checklists) but the Cooking skill is integrated very nicely into the rest of the game. Even though a fancy prepared food item does little more than a potion, it levels up your Cooking skill which gives you special attacks with chef knives, bonus damage to some monsters, and other abilities. The other thing that I love about cooking in Contact? That you need to be wearing your Cooking Outfit in order to cook.

The Contact Menu:
Fruit Juice
Chicken Bites

Fruit Juice is made of Tropical Fruit and Water. After looking at all the fruit in the grocery store I finally decided on Kiwi, Starfruit, and Papaya. They seemed the most tropical and easy to carry home in my backpack while on my bike (but some day I'm going to make something out of a whole coconut.) As I proved in my Magical Melody cuisine, I don't have a blender so this time I tried mixing them all up in my coffee grinder, with just a spoonful of water. It was slow going but effective. The finished fruit juice was green, a little bit sour, but pretty good.

Chicken Bites are made of Chicken and Flour. So I just cubed some a chicken thigh, covered it in flour, and fried. Delicious!

Cheeseburger is made out of Hamburger Steak and Bread. Hamburger Steak is made out of Wild Game and Meat. This recipe confused but intrigued me. What's Wild Game? Why isn't it Meat? It sure sounds like Meat. The only item in the store that said "game" on it was a Cornish game hen. I bought one. After cooking that and a piece of steak I had in my freezer, I put pieces of both between two slices of bread. Cheese did not magically appear. Dammit. I had hoped it would. It was a pretty good meaty sandwich, though.

Croquettes are Potato plus Ham. So first I boiled a potato, then mashed it up, then added some ham. Then I deepfried them. I thought it wouldn't work very well, given the lack of anything sticky, like eggs, but they kept their shape and were actually very tasty.

My impressions of the real food: This was all pretty tasty, everything other than the Fruit Juice was pretty much just ordinary cooked meat. However, this was a LOT of food. I'll be eating what's left of this Contact menu for the next week. Also, why isn't everyone in the world of Contact not obese? Sure, there are one or two salad items in the game, but almost every dish is either potatoes, rice, or meat. Or a different kind of meat. Or "Wild Game". Upon thinking about it further, why don't they all have scurvy? Yarr!

Final thoughts: It must be all that running around they do, that keeps them from getting fat. And I guess they just drink a lot of Fruit Juice.


P.S. Next week will be awesome! Joe and I team up and make chili dogs Cooking Mama style! Mainly the "drop stuff down and catch it in a bun" minigame! And there will be videos!