Thursday, November 29, 2007

360 Review: Rock Band

Okay, if you read my last article comparing Rock Band to Guitar Hero 3, you might have gotten the impression that I don’t like Rock Band, which is just not true. With excellent effects, a pretty decent, albeit short, song list, and an intriguing multiplayer aspect (One of the best I’ve ever played), Rock Band offers a totally different experience than anything you’ve ever played before. And now that I’ve played them both extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that both can share equal space of the playing field now that I’ve noticed their massive differences and sifted out their glaring similarities.

The main difference between the two is that though Guitar Hero can be played alone – and often times, should be played alone to nail those expert solos – Rock Band cannot. And by that, I mean that it can, but really shouldn’t, as playing it that way will only depress you with your $170 dollar purchase. Especially if you like to slap the bass, as there’s no single career mode for that instrument for some reason.

Also, another opinion that doesn’t change from my last preview is how much I hate the guitar for it. Anyone who has ever touched the Guitar Hero plastic ax will not want to go back, as Rock Band’s controller feels way inferior in comparison. Most of the time, the buttons feel loose and light and don’t offer the kickback you expect from your frets. Also, the extra five buttons don’t add much to the experience and feel like a waste to remove your fingers from the top five by the head when you really don’t have to.

Okay, phew, now that that’s out the way, I can finally get to praising the game for what it is: an awesome experience that might change the way you look at playing a video game in the same room with your friends forever. What Rock Band offers is a visceral experience that screams pizza, beer, and hours of good times, as no other game offers the kind of camaraderie you’d get from playing fake plastic instruments as Rock Band does.

First, I’ll talk about the microphone, as that’s my personal favorite aspect of the game. More than just a ripoff of Karaoke Revolution or Get On Da Mic, Rock Band actually offers you songs you probably like and let’s you be as horrible as you want as long as you nail that always swerving pitch meter. The aspect of singing in Rock Band is simple—find somebody in your faux band (Mine’s called The Foot Clan) who doesn’t mind sounding like a fool in front of everybody else and have them nail the words on screen, and that’s it. It could have been a lot more complicated if I didn’t know just about all of the 45 songs (More on that later), but since I had a pretty good idea of the melody of the tunes, I didn’t have much of a hard time nailing those Geddy Lee, “Tom Sawyer” notes.

But I’m sure most people could care less about the microphone (I was the only one who had the brass balls to pick it up in my band), and you’re probably more concerned about the other new rock rhythm game feature—the drums. For those of you out there who only want to play this game for that feature, I have some good news for you if you’ve got tempo, and bad news if you don’t. The drums are just plain hard for a beat retarded galoot like me who couldn’t keep rhythm if my life depended on it (Which is strange since I play the bass in real life). That being said, it’s absolutely awesome if you have the awe-inspiring ability to hit the pedal and snare at the same time, which I don’t.

Unlike the guitar or the microphone, the drums take real skill, and are best saved for people who can actually hold the drum sticks properly and still play at the same time, which I found I can’t as I constantly kept hitting the plastic surrounding the drum on more than one occasion. I also had a hard time playing it on medium, which just proves I’m not the kind of person you’d hire as drummer if you were forming an actual band.

Still, my friend absolutely loved it and had a great time pounding the skins and hitting into overdrive, which is similar to star power in Guitar Hero but much more integral to this game. As stated earlier, this is a true party game meant to be played with other people, and if one of your band mates happens to fail at a certain point in the song, overdrive, (which can be triggered when guitar players tilt their instruments upwards, or when drummers get into the free drum section), can save them.

In fact, if a member of your band isn’t saved, the crowd starts booing you, which introduces yet another element of Rock Band I absolutely adore: the presentation. And while Guitar Hero has about as much presentation as a 70 year old man wearing a diaper introducing The Starland Vocal Band, Rock Band has it by the butt loads. With its Band World Tour mode, you actually acquire more fans the bigger the venue you play at. And with more fans, that means your status increases immensely if you play well enough – fans will even sing along to your songs if you’re a hard enough rocker! Also unlike Guitar Hero’s meta-gameplay, which never really detaches you from your Les Paul, more than once I forgot I was standing in my friend’s stinky room with Rock Band and actually thought I was on a huge stage headlining for some bigger, better band than The Foot Clan. The presentation is really that astonishing.

Too bad the song list isn’t. At a meager 45 songs (plus a few bonus tracks), I must have played “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash five times in one hour. And I hate that song! Word on the street is that you’ll be able to download whole albums in the future (And Yes’s Going for the One better be one of them!), but as of right now, the replay value of this game is startlingly low with the lame set lists available. So besides the crummy guitar, lack of a career mode for bass, and the fact that few are going to opt to take on the vocals, this is my major complaint with the game. And for a game in the music genre, that’s a biggie.

Complaints aside though, Rock Band is a great game that will undoubtedly get lauded and possibly be up for game of the year by the time those votes start rolling in. I’m going to give this a clear and easy four stars just to be safe. Add a half a star if you actually have friends to play with – you can play online with others, too, just not in career mode – and subtract a star if you don’t. Solo career mode blows. This is the kind of game that brings friends back together again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why do Vampires Get To Have All the Fun? Werewolves are about a kajillion times cooler

With the recent 30 Days of Night and I Am Legend almost back to back in the cinema calendar, vampire fans have a lot to be grateful for. But then again, don’t they ALWAYS?

Going from campy (Bela Lugosi) to suave (Brad Pitt) to ravenous (er, psychotic vampire #4 in 30 Days), vampires on the big screen have evolved, devolved, and revolted audiences for decades now, and have also become a staple in any rendition of the Monster Mash you can think of.

But what about werewolves? Those sometimes horrible, sometimes huggable creatures of the night that go through horrific night time changes only to wake up in a park butt naked and in the cold never get the kind of respect they deserve, and they damn well should! Werewolves are freaking awesome!

Sure, John Landis did us all a great favor by making his lycanthropic love epic, An American Werewolf in London. And The Howling also does us a great fan service with its demented plot and terrifying events (Isn’t it strange that both films came out in 1981. A Carter Conspiracy, perhaps?)

But what else do we have to show our children, and our grandchildren, and, if global warming doesn’t kill us all, their grandchildren? Jack Nicholson in Howl? Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf? Jason Bateman in Teen Wolf Too?! Come on, pal; now this is REALLY getting scary.

And while yes, you may say that werewolves had their day in the sun (Get it? As opposed to the moon) in the recent Kate Beckinsale vehicle, Underworld, just think about what you’re saying for a minute. That was a movie about vampires…featuring werewolves. It wasn’t a werewolf film where some poor sap gets bitten by a wolf and goes on a horrible killing spree. Rather, it was a movie about a war between sophisticated vampires that drank their blood from wine glasses and werewolves that fought each other in cellars like, well, animals.

Granted, the movie touched on the point that vampires consider themselves upper-class compared to the lowly, proletariat Lycans, but still! It isn’t any less humiliating if you’re a fan of werewolves and the only other movie you can talk about features the star of Arrested Development wearing a denim jacket and a fur suit.

So, my suggestion is that we wolf fans get on the highest surface we can scale (Preferably a roof) pump our hirsute fists and howl to the moon until we get exactly what we want—a fresh new werewolf film in theaters RIGHT NOW. I mean, if that Wendy’s spokesperson can make me love their brand name again just by wearing a red pigtail wig and a utter look of confusion on his face, I certainly think that we, who have an infinitely cooler mascot, can do some pretty rough damage ourselves, don’t you think? So are you with me, or are you with me?

Great, we start our first meeting during the next full moon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Picking up the trash, cleaning up the streets

Just look on the side of the road on your drive to work and you’re likely to find all sorts of refuse laying in the wake of driver’s passing by and tossing their trash out the window. Soda bottles, White Castle wrappers, and even whole garbage bags can be seen littering the landscape of New Jersey, making the once appraised garden state look like the garbage state.

But not everybody is standing idly by on the sidelines while our world goes to waste.

“Two weeks ago, we had a clean-up,” says Jefferson Township recycling coordinator, Gino Recksiek (“But just call me Gino”), “We all help each other out with it.”

The “we” Gino is referring to are the various groups that go with him to pick up trash along the roadways—this “we” in particular being a Cub Scout organization in Hackettstown.

“I have to give credit for what they do,” says Gino, “and the younger groups are getting better knowledge of everyday recycling. Hopefully they remember it.”

And assistant Cub Master and den leader, Joe Terrezza, from Bud Lake aims to be the man to help them remember.
“We do it [clean up the roads] every year as a community service project,” says Mr. Terrezza, who took his pack this year, along with their parents, to clean up Berkshire Valley Road.

“We’re trying to teach the kids to respect the environment, and leave no trace,” says Terrezza.

The Cub Scout group, which had to actually get permission to clean up the road from the Boy scouts of America, isn’t the only organization taking time out of their busy schedules to handle some community service.

Only about a week ago, supervised children from the Oak Ridge Martial Arts Academy went out to clean Dover-Milton Road, and on Saturday, May 12th, a volunteer group of 20-30 members went to clean up Taylor Road. by Berkshire Valley.

“This area (by Taylor Rd.) is technically not something I would normally do, as I normally do public roads, not private property,” says Gino, who contributes not only to make the environment a cleaner, greener place, but also to teach a well deserved lesson to anyone who thinks that cleaning up the environment can be done in just one day.

“People will throw bottles right at you,” says Gino, who thinks it’s sad, but a good wake-up call to show these groups just how little concern some people have for the environment.
“I think Jersey is probably the worst when it comes to trash.”

Be that as it may, at least some people are doing something about it; other than just rolling down their window and throwing out more garbage.

Sticky fingers in Sussex: One Man’s Quest to Rob all his neighbors blind

It seems that Matthew Milone-Clapp, age 25, of Hamburg, was on a mission to break into every last one of his neighbor’s houses and make a break for it, as his arrest by Dt. Paul DeMott would prove as much.

Charged with 32 counts in one day in Village Drive where he lived, Milone-Capp was recently released when he promised to appear at his June 5th trial at the Hamburg Municipal Court. There, officials will know why he decided to go on such a strange spree to burglarize his fellow neighbors and also perhaps why he thought he might have gotten away with it.

“He attempted to get into 11 houses,” says Hamburg Captain Jan Wright, who alerted the paper about this felon’s actions. “So out of the four burglaries, the other seven are attempted burglaries.”

His count rate spiked with each individual action he took to intrude on his neighbor’s privacy.

“When he broke into his neighbor’s house, that was breaking an entering. If he stole something, that was burglary.”

And the counts just kept on adding up.

For every house Mr. Milone-Clapp broke into, he wound up breaking something, which adds even more points to his tally. And, when he could, he also stole credit cards and used them the next day, which is yet another crime that won’t be looked upon too kindly come June 5th.

But if anybody is furious about all this, it’s his neighbors, who are more than a bit miffed that one of their own residents is to blame for all these actions.

“They’re not too happy about this,” says Capt. Wright, who can’t confirm whether Milone-Clapp has a previous criminal history or not.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Contra 4 Review

Do you like your Contra hard as Powerthirst infused muscles? Well, if not, then please, turn the other way and close the door behind you, because it doesn’t get much harder than this throwback rehash to the original. Contra 4 is the kind of game that says it has different difficulty settings, but really doesn’t, and instead just offers you more lives when you play it on an easier setting, which means you’ll have even more opportunities to die when a red bullet slowly comes hurdling towards your face.

And when I say this game is hard, I ain’t joking. Just try playing this game for a half an hour without vehemently cursing the gaming god’s names on Mount Konami, as this is the hardest Contra I’ve played yet (I had to ramp down the difficulty to Easy just to get past the fourth level!). Maybe I’m not as hardcore as I once thought I was. Or maybe this game is just too unforgiving for its own good. I don’t know, I’m still torn on that decision.

Also of note is the fact that no matter how many different combinations of the famous (Or is it infamous?) Konami code I tried out at the title screen, I still couldn’t get my needed 30 lives. And for me, Contra without 30 lives is like Mario without mushrooms. It just doesn’t work, Bucko.

That said, veterans of the series will still gobble this one up. Taking place two years after the awesome Alien Wars (Contra 3) and three years before my personal fave, Hard Corps, 4 has you playing the roles of original favorites Scorpion and Mad Dog, and also features Lance and Bill for good measure. The story has them off fighting hordes of monsters and screen filling bosses in an attempt to trounce the evil Black Viper (From Operation C) once and for all.

Storyline aside, though (So, wait, Contra actually has a story?), what gamers are really here for is the take no frills action, and 4 definitely delivers in that department. Staying true to its stalwart 2D predecessors (And let’s not even mention the horrific 3D offshoots, yech!). the differences are what make this game really feel fresh and new.

The DS Dual screen for one, which takes a little while to get used to, adds a whole new dimension to the run and gun thrill as the firefights can get even MORE chaotic than you ever imagined when you now have bullets coming at you literally from all angles.

And the borrowed right out of Bionic Commando grappling gun, which plays a pretty intricate part in the boss battles, makes you feel like it’s a feature that should have been in Contra games YEARS ago; it feels so natural and perfect. One boss battle in particular has you hopping on rungs of a jettisoning rocket while you fight off a giant bug type thingy clawing at you while you rappel yourself up to avoid its swipes. Honestly, if that’s not hardcore, than I don’t know what is.

Actually, maybe I do after playing this game. Abandoning any sort of save feature whatsoever, this game harkens back to an age when being “hardcore” meant you could go to the arcade with a limited amount of quarters and play a game to the very end while still having enough money for the Laundromat to spare. Get to the very end of this game and lose, and that’s it, pal. Back to the beginning with ye. This game actually made me reconsider where my skills must have gone, as I found myself getting more and more frustrated at getting so far only to repeat everything and remember the rote patterns of the bosses and enemies yet again. This game takes patience, which is something a lot of action titles doesn’t ask of you these days, what with memory cards and passwords and the like.

Still, if you have a DS, love Contra, and also are a little masochistic, you absolutely NEED to get this game. Just be prepared not to play it in a swear-free zone as you might find yourself getting fined more than once for obscenities. Contra 4 is not for the poor in heart. Or spirit.

Turning Wine Into Scholarships

By Rich Knight NCAS'06 and Lori Varga RC'04

Back in January, James D. Hamilton NCAS'71, CLAW'74 was honored with the Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Distinguished Service Award by Rutgers' School of Law–Camden Alumni Association. This high honor is awarded annually to the graduate whose exemplary commitment to serving the citizens of New Jersey and the Camden Law community emulates the character of Judge Joseph Nardi Jr. CLAW'56, who died in 2003. Nardi was a highly respected retired Superior Court judge and former Camden mayor.

Hamilton has been deeply involved in the life of the law school and in the local community, providing pro bono legal counsel to area residents through South Jersey Legal Services. His advocacy and leadership have also helped the Camden County Bar Association (CCBA) and its foundation on several other special projects.

It is fitting that Hamilton received the award this year because Nardi was his good friend and mentor. It was in his honor that Hamilton, with Nardi's son Joe Nardi III, established a unique way to raise scholarship funds for Camden Law students and to honor the late judge's legacy. The pair formed the "Justice Good" winemaking group—because it's "just as good" as the commercial stuff. Participants pay to be part of the group; the fee covers all associated costs as well as a donation to the Judge Joseph M. Nardi Jr. Scholarship Fund.

"I think this is a fun way to endorse a scholarship," says Hamilton, who met Nardi Jr. during his Rutgers–Camden days in the '70s. Hamilton went on to clerk for the judge. "Law clerks became such a part of his family," Hamilton says, beaming.

Nardi often invited his current and past law clerks over to his house to see how he made wine, a family tradition that has been passed on for generations. Hamilton appreciated these experiences so much that, for the past 14 years, he has been writing a wine and food column for The Barrister, the CCBA's monthly newspaper. And in the late '90s, Hamilton wrote about Nardi and his love for home brewing, an act that solidified his place in the Nardi family.

James Hamilton works with the Justice Good winemaking group.

"[Nardi] used to love making wine at home, and the whole idea that you can make it easier for students to go to your alma mater [while having fun] is a great thing to do," he says.
And so here is Hamilton, using what he learned in Nardi's basement as a way to support Camden Law students. The Justice Good group first met on May 7 at The Wine Room in Cherry Hill. Using six varieties of red wine grapes from the Curico Valley of Chile, the winemaking process began with the crushing and pressing of the grapes to initiate fermentation.
Four months later, the group, which includes judges and lawyers as well as Dean Rayman Solomon, Chancellor Timothy Farrow CLAW'99, and other law school staff, got to try out their wine and observe the racking of the product while they nibbled on some cheese.
"It's all pretty authentic," Hamilton says.

And authenticity is the name of the game as far as Hamilton is concerned, as he wants to keep everything as closely related to the art of making wine as possible. The main objective (besides raising scholarship funds) is to make a wine worthy of the Nardi name.

And what would a good wine be without a fitting label? After voting on a series of great choices, Hamilton and Nardi III eventually settled on the Justice Good label, created by Nardi Jr., himself.

Hamilton is energized by the idea of raising money for scholarships that will help students attend Camden Law. He says he could have used more opportunities like that when he was a student. "Probably since I was in my junior year in high school I wanted to be a lawyer," he says. "I was [actually] the first to go to college in my family."

Overall, Hamilton and the Justice Good winemaking group are learning and having fun while benefiting a very important cause, something that Nardi valued.
"We're taking something that is so appropriate and hopefully making it into a school tradition," Hamilton says.

To learn more about the Justice Good winemaking group and the scholarship fund, contact Theresa McCuen CCAS'71, GSE'81 at or 856-225-6180.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Guitar Hero 3 Rocks You Like a Scorpion Induced Hurricane

With the recent Rock Band coming out oh so very soon, the brand that started it all (Ok, so yeah, Guitar Freaks REALLY started it all, but who plays that crap?) might get looked over by buyers this holiday season.

Sucks for them, as Guitar Hero 3 is just as good as (if not better than) its predecessor, Guitar Hero 2.

The question of the hour is of course whether Tony Hawk mavens, Activision, can take over the franchise properly, as the Red Octane/Harmonix split is sure to ruffle some feathers. But Activision does a great job of mixing the perfect bands (Slipknot, Metallica, Dragon Force! They’re all there) to make for a rich experience where the only thing keeping you back from rocking with your, erm, third leg, out is how quickly you can shift from orange to blue to green to yellow in the allotted time.

Also, it seems that contrary to popular belief, the track listing actually CAN get better than the last game’s, as this list here is much more diverse and spread out (Thanks for not mixing bluegrass with my metal this time, folks!). This makes for a more focused career mode, where you feel that you actually wouldn’t get a raised eyebrow or shrugged shoulders if you played these set numbers in a row at the same venue.

And then there are the boss battles. I was pretty skeptical about them when I first heard they would be in the game, but now that I’ve played them, I’m actually pretty disappointed that there are so few of them to fight through. In a nut shell, your opponent—whether it be Tom Morello, Slash from GnR fame, or even the God of Rock himself—plays a few notes that you follow off in a spiraling duet where you have to knock his rhythm off course by hitting note breakers. These “breakers” can do everything from throwing off his whammy bar, kicking the difficulty up a bit, and even overloading their amp so they get too much feedback. It’s like Puzzle Kombat only with guitar strings. Wicked.

I also really dig how Activision picked up some licensed songs and actually got the original recordings (And also some new, just added ones) this time around. Because really, who can actually match the strained intensity of Billy Corgan’s or James Hetfield’s voices? It was a smart move on their part, especially since Rock Band has a whole slew of them in their game.

But then there are the problems. And though none of them are really tantamount to hindering the game’s awesome experience, they certainly need to be ironed out by the time the next iteration (Or, God help us) side project comes out.

First, I have to talk about the difficulty—it’s too lopsided! If you’ve ever played either one of the games in the famed series, then you’ll realize that medium is the new easy, as the game is just far too slow if you’re actually used to that setting. But when you ramp it up to hard, look out, as said boss battles will KICK-YOUR-ASS (Slash offsetting my difficulty to EXPERT is not what I was looking forward to). Sure, it’s manageable, but as of this time, I STILL haven’t beaten the game on hard. You see, there’s this Slayer song, at the end, and, yeah…

Also, I’m not all that big a fan of the fact that prog-rock band, YES, has STILL not made an appearance in the series (Come on! “Long Distance Runaround,” “Roundabout,” “Going for the One.” All classics!). Of course, this is being really picky, but still. And the co-op mode is still a little lacking, as in, the song list is FAR too short (Also, I’d LOVE to play a whole game on just bass, which again, isn’t an option—I’ll have to wait for Rock Band for that).

All and all, though, these are just minor quibbles to an amazing experience. By all means, get both Guitar Hero AND Rock Band if you can afford both. But if you’re looking for the whole, drums, bass, and vocals vibe, you may want to wait. This journey is gee-tar flicker only.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Educational Maven steps down next year

Dr. Fred Podorf probably won’t get any medals, Nobel prizes, or sashes that say, “All-Star” across them when he steps down from being Assistant Superintendent of Vernon Township at the start of the next year.

But, like many educators who dedicate their entire lives to the grander goal of helping a child succeed in life, Dr. Podorf deserves many of those accolades and more as he departs from the field of education on January 1st. As he puts it, after 35 years of dedicating his life to the children, it’s finally “time to retire.”

Even so, starting out, education was always Dr. Podorf’s dream job, even back to when he was a student himself.

“I remember back when I was in high school,” says Dr. Podorf, reminiscing on his luminous past. “I always wanted to be a school principal.”

He had to go the long route like everybody else, though, and began his career as a junior high teacher in Brooklyn, New York, where he taught English to the youth. This is something he would go on to do for quite some time in other schools for a multitude of children before he would eventually move on to Montville in ’76, and then finally to Vernon Township where he is now.

And where he’s been since 1981.

“I have no regrets,” says Dr. Podorf of his life-long adventure.
But his resume doesn’t just offer a long blank dash from 1981 to now in regards to his 26 year stint in the district. Along with his work as assistant Principal, director of personnel and policy, and assistant Superintendent (which he became in 1995), Dr. Podorf also worked to open a brand new school in 1987 called the Cedar Mountain Primary School, which still stands to this day on Sammis Road.

“My heart is [still there] in the building with the children,” says Dr. Podorf.

Shortly after his stint as principal of the school he founded, the higher-ups came a calling and requested that the good doctor move up a spot on the educational totem pole.

But it wasn’t as easy as just packing up a suitcase and moving on as he had already formed a strong bond with the building as well as the people inside it.

“It took a lot of consideration, but I took [the job]” says Dr. Podorf. “The interaction with the people is what I missed the most.”

Be that as it may, he still stands by his decision that he feels no regrets with any of the actions he took to get to where he is today.

“Vernon’s been very good to me,” he says, pausing for a second to collect his thoughts, “I just hope I did a good job for Vernon.”

With that kind of humble attitude, who needs a sash that says, “All-Star” on it?