Saturday, January 28, 2006

Musical Snapshots: Prelude

Sorry, gang: the big-ass Ultimate Box Set I promised ain't happenin' this week. I've had a little trouble tracking down a few songs. You understand. Look for it next week, assuming I can find what I'm looking for. (Possible irony: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was one of the first things I found. Go figure.)

So instead of what I promised -- a dorky expounding on music that's been important in my life -- I give the introductory part in a series I've considered starting for a while: a series of dorky expoundings on music that's been important in my life. Musical Snapshots, I call it, if only to smear on the dorkiness nice and thick. I'll explain.

You know how every once in a while you'll smell something -- baking bread, or a certain perfume, or cigar smoke, or something -- and you're suddenly instantly reminded of your grandmother? I'm always fascinated by that type of synaptical connection, the way the wires in your brain link to one another. The way that sometimes the connections don't even seem to make much sense at first glance -- I can't eat grape jelly without thinking of my great-grandfather, for instance, and dolphins always remind me of Missouri. (Took me a while to decode that one, lemme tell you. Short version: I was given a Greenpeace calendar as a gift from my teacher when I left Missouri, and a beautiful photograph of a dolphin adorned the cover. It's also fitting that my clearest memory of Missouri is associated with leaving. But I digress.)

With me -- and with you, too, I'm willing to wager -- a lot of music is like that. My appreciation for a lot of songs (many of which appear on that big box set thingy, which is what started this train of thought this time 'round) has more to do with the memories that come tangled up with them. This series is an examination of those connections.

I mean, "The Unforgiven" is a pretty great tune on its own merits, far and away my favorite song, but when I hear it nowadays I don't just hear the music -- it's tied up in a hundred different memories and experiences that flood through me every time I hear that trumpet sample at the beginning. Start up "The Unforgiven" and I'm ten years old in Maryland, watching the video on MTV and practically feeling my DNA change; and I'm eleven in Oklahoma, jamming out with little tiny portable speakers that rattle against my grandmother's filing cabinet; and I'm fifteen and playing some weird game with dice at Jeff and Robbie's house and listening to the black album over and over and flipping through a book of Edgar Allan Poe poetry; and I'm nineteen or so and it's around midnight and Steve and I are dissecting the song line-by-line, pulling it apart like it's fucking "Howl" or something, gushing over the way James Hetfield has somehow managed to reach through not only time but space as well and write a song that's about us, it's like we wrote it ourselves, oh my god how fucking cool is that. All that and so much more, in just one song.

Like I said, I'm fascinated by that kinda stuff. Which is why I've decided to write about it at length.

It was hard to know where to start, really. There are any number of songs that carry with them deep emotions and memories. Practically everyone I know these days has one song (at least) that is inextricably tied to them in my mind. I could fill two mixtapes with songs that make me think of my mom, or my sister, or my father. And some songs make me think back to people or places I haven't seen -- or even really thought of -- in many, many years. "Electric Blue" is one of my mom's boyfriends, who gave us a Nintendo and collapsed in tears in our apartment when his father died. "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" is another one, Larry, the guy who dragged our family from one side of the country to the other like a piece of luggage, in whose face I had to struggle to keep from cackling when he announced he had to move to Maryland (joke was on me, we went with him). "When I Was Your Age" is the group of mutants I was nearly brothers with in sixth grade, the ones who obsessed over Street Fighter II and Ren and Stimpy. The "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" song is Allan, the kid I was best friends with in fifth grade because he was the only kid in the class weirder than me. "Two Princes" is Sean. "Johnny B. Goode" is Atlanta in 1991 (or was it '92?). "Livin' on the Edge" is Cathy, whose son Matthew is somehow around thirteen years old now even though he couldn't have been born more than a few months ago. "Get in the Ring" is Sam. "Do the Bartman" is Kate, who supposedly had a crush on me. "Superman's Dead" is James. "Don't Look Back in Anger" is Josh. "Clumsy" is Jeff when we were still friends. Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" is Penny. Hootie and the Blowfish's "Goodbye" is never speaking to her again, ever. And so on and so forth.

But I finally found a starting place. Oddly enough, we'll be starting at the beginning: with the very clearest musical memory I have, from way back when I was seven years old. And even stranger, this one band has wound its way, snake-like, through so many different phases of my life it's nearly comical.

Of course, this entire exercise is merely a framing device to tell old anecdotes from my childhood. But who cares? It'll be a nice break from endless goofy lists and the half-assed movie reviews I can't even be bothered to do anymore.

Our journey proper begins tomorrow. Pack a lunch, and make sure your mom has signed your permission slip.

And you should not take my enthusiasm for this new project as a sign that I've given up on Revolver, 'cause I haven't. I've already started work on episode eight, which currently bears no title. But it's coming.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Random stuff

So, yeah.

Hope you've read the new Revolver. Here's some of the early feedback I've received:
  • "Get a life."
  • "I'm never reading anything you write ever again."
  • "You don't know the meaning of the word 'hope'."
  • "Hmm, why do I have this noose around my neck?"
  • "The only characters I know are Louis and...that other guy."

So obviously it's a rollicking good time. Tell your friends.

I've heard the WB and UPN are merging to form one network. This is like that episode of Next Gen where Data and Lore unite to lead the Borg against the Federation. Only fewer people care. I bet the end result is going to be the same, too: a bunch of whiny, idiotic robots destroying one another while everyone else runs away. Okay, maybe not robots.

Arrested Development is a really, really funny show. Too bad it's being cancelled. Of course, I know FOX tried their best to keep it alive. It's not like daringly original, groundbreaking television of unspeakable brilliance has ever choked and died on FOX before.

If another segment of American Idol replaces AD on the schedule, there may be a blogger riot. I can see it happening.

The piano melody of Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" sounds almost exactly like the piano melody of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." Interesting.

The guitar melody of Creed's "One Last Breath" sounds almost like the guitar melody of...every other Creed song. Not interesting.

Axl Rose insists that we will hear music from him this year. While most have taken this to mean the long-awaited new GN'R album, Chinese Democracy, will be released, I'm not sure. I think it was his way of announcing his entry into this season's American Idol. I'd vote for him.

We still don't have our TV back yet. In its place there are two bags of garbage. There is some rather deep symbolism there, but I'm too tired to write it out at the moment. You can do it yourself.

The new version of The Producers was pretty good, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it would've been so much better onstage. I mean, you're not gonna believe this, but Nathan Lane's performance was just a tad over the top. And there were times when Matthew Broderick looked and sounded like a sixth-grader during a school production of Into the Woods. But Will Farrell seemed okay, surprisingly, and Uma Thurman -- oh sweet jeebus, did I love Uma Thurman in this movie. But then, I love Uma Thurman in every movie. I love Uma Thurman.

Funny story: as I was writing that last paragraph, the Uma worship reminded me of the song "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank" by Barenaked Ladies -- it's about this crazy farmer who becomes obsessed with a beautiful celebrity. And as I was typing "I love Uma...," Windows Media Player, set to random, started playing "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank."

Trebor is right. My computer -- or WMP, at least -- is gaining sentience.

Good. It can get a fucking job and start paying for itself.

Gotta stop now. I have real writing to do. Which I'm so totally going to do right now. I'm totally not going to watch the rest of Arrested Development, get some food, and go to sleep without writing a single word.

Good night, and good luck.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Holy shit

Yes, children, the new episode of That's When I Reach for My Revolver is finished. Trust me, no one is more shocked that me.

You can read it over here. Feedback of any sort is most certainly appreciated.

List of the Week: My 100 Favorite Albums

I had a friend once who had Metallica's self-titled album -- colloquially known, of course, as "the black album" -- playing in his CD player all the time. But he kept it on repeat: he listened to the fourth track, "The Unforgiven," over and again, all day it seemed. Which was fine with me.

But one day, he and I, along with a few other friends, made a trip to the store. Since I also had the black album in my car's CD player, we listened to it. We heard "The Unforgiven." And then the next song, "Wherever I May Roam."

My friend: "Oh. This song is on that CD, too?"

I was confused. I asked him what he meant. As it turned out, not only did he obessively listen to "The Unforgiven," he'd never bothered to listen to the rest of the disc at all. Not once. Apparently, he did this with every CD he owned: listen to the radio singles he knew he liked, and never hear the other tracks.

Gah!

Myself, I'm a very pro-album guy, and to prove it, here's yet another gloriously cumbersome list: my 100 favorite albums.

I've actually had this up for a couple of years now, but I had them listed in alphabetical order for some reason that seemed good at the time. I ran across it last week and decided it was time to do it right.

The rest is pretty self-explanatory, yeah? You'll notice that my picks here tend to cluster around a few favorite bands -- nothing I can do about that.

This list is subject to change at any time I feel necessary -- tastes shift, listening habits change, and new music comes out all the time.

And do me a favor: if you have Metallica and have never bothered to hear the whole thing...do so. You'll thank me.
  1. Metallica, Metallica (1991)
  2. Radiohead, OK Computer (1997)
  3. Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979)
  4. Metallica, Master of Puppets (1985)
  5. Nirvana, Nevermind (1991)
  6. Dave Matthews Band, Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
  7. The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
  8. R.E.M., Automatic for the People (1992)
  9. Tool, ├ćnima (1996)
  10. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

  11. Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion II (1991)
  12. Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion I (1991)
  13. The Tragically Hip, Road Apples (1991)
  14. Days of the New, Days of the New II (1999)
  15. Barenaked Ladies, Maroon (2000)
  16. Fiona Apple, When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts... (1999)
  17. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
  18. Radiohead, Kid A (2000)
  19. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
  20. Peter Gabriel, Us (1992)

  21. Green Day, American Idiot (2004)
  22. The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969)
  23. Soundgarden, Superunknown (1994)
  24. Alice in Chains, Dirt (1992)
  25. Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile (1999)
  26. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (1992)
  27. R.E.M., Monster (1994)
  28. Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds Five (1995)
  29. Dave Matthews Band, Crash (1996)
  30. Metallica, Reload (1997)

  31. Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987)
  32. The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  33. The Tragically Hip, Phantom Power (1998)
  34. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
  35. Barenaked Ladies, Gordon (1992)
  36. Counting Crows, August and Everything After (1993)
  37. Cake, Prolonging the Magic (1998)
  38. Peter Gabriel, So (1986)
  39. The Arcade Fire, Funeral (2005)
  40. The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)

  41. Metallica, Ride the Lightning (1984)
  42. Tool, Undertow (1994)
  43. Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)
  44. Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick (1973)
  45. Nirvana, In Utero (1993)
  46. Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
  47. The Verve Pipe, The Verve Pipe (1999)
  48. Counting Crows, Recovering the Satellites (1996)
  49. The Offspring, Smash (1994)
  50. Radiohead, The Bends (1995)

  51. The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
  52. Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals (1998)
  53. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut (1983)
  54. Metallica, ...And Justice For All (1987)
  55. The Tragically Hip, Day for Night (1995)
  56. Weezer, Pinkerton (1996)
  57. Days of the New, Days of the New III (2001)
  58. Our Lady Peace, Happiness...is Not a Fish That You Can Catch (1999)
  59. Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow (1997)
  60. Barenaked Ladies, Stunt (1998)

  61. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  62. Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever Amen (1997)
  63. Alice in Chains, MTV Unplugged (1996)
  64. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral (1994)
  65. Green Day, Dookie (1994)
  66. Dave Matthews Band, The Central Park Concert (2003)
  67. Stone Temple Pilots, Purple (1994)
  68. U2, Achtung Baby (1991)
  69. "Weird Al" Yankovic, Off the Deep End (1992)
  70. Radiohead, Amnesiac (2001)

  71. Poe, Haunted (2000)
  72. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (1973)
  73. The Who, Who's Next (1971)
  74. Pink Floyd, Animals (1977)
  75. The White Stripes, Elephant (2003)
  76. Barenaked Ladies, Maybe You Should Drive (1994)
  77. Eminem, The Eminem Show (2002)
  78. Modest Mouse, The Moon & Antarctica (2000)
  79. Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999)
  80. Days of the New, Days of the New (1997)

  81. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely (1993)
  82. Dave Matthews Band, Remember Two Things (1993)
  83. Cake, Comfort Eagle (2001)
  84. Fiona Apple, Tidal (1996)
  85. Jay-Z, The Black Album (2003)
  86. "Weird Al" Yankovic, Running With Scissors (1999)
  87. Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger (1991)
  88. Apocalyptica, Inquisition Symphony (1998)
  89. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Live at Luther College (1999)
  90. Metallica, St. Anger (2003)

  91. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (2003)
  92. The Tragically Hip, In Between Evolution (2004)
  93. Weezer, Weezer ("the blue album") (1994)
  94. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004)
  95. "Weird Al" Yankovic, In 3-D (1984)
  96. Tool, Lateralus (2001)
  97. Barenaked Ladies, Born on a Pirate Ship (1996)
  98. Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)
  99. Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs (2001)
  100. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)

Next week: My ultimate box set, featuring 100+ of my favorite songs. Yeah, I'm a total dork.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The thin line between anticipation and dread

So, as I'm sure you can piece together yourself from my new countdown item, they've finally done it: a Silent Hill movie will be coming to theaters in April.

This is both spectacular news and cause for alarm. Obviously, my blatant bias and unabashed love toward the series of games makes me excited to see the film. And Sean Bean -- a.k.a. Boromir -- is there, too, which is cool. And a flash animation released by Sony, which features footage from the film, is certainly impressive in the extreme.

But, on the other hand, the director is the guy who directed the gawdawful Brotherhood of the Wolf, to this day disdainfully referred to by Trebor and me as "that French movie." And let's not kid ourselves: this is a video game movie. Even without Uwe fucking Boll, they usually (make that always) end up crap.

So, I must see this movie, no matter what...but I'm also dreading it.

But then again, it can't possibly be worse than Resident Evil, can it? Or Resident Evil: Apocalypse? Surely not.

("Yes," the voice says. "Yes. Of course it can. And it will hurt even more.")

Indeed.

Friday, January 13, 2006

List of the Week: When Bad Artists Make Good Music



It happens: even the worst musicians can somehow -- accidentally, perhaps -- make compelling music. Maybe they were working with a brilliant producer. Maybe they needed a fantastic remix. Maybe they got lucky. Who knows?

This week, we celebrate those rare, beautiful moments when the bad become good...even more one, brief moment. It's inspiring, almost: if these jerkoffs can succeed, anyone can.

Ranking on this list is determined by a cross-reference of both how good the song is and how bad the artist is; generally speaking, the worse the band, the higher the ranking. (Or, in other words, it's kinda random.) And it goes without saying that these artists are "bad" because I say so. If you see a band you like on this list, I mean no offense. Though I suggest you start listening to some better music.

10. The Grateful Dead, "Touch of Grey." The Dead were ponderous, self-indulgent, and boring. Somehow, though, this song -- their only mainstream hit -- managed to be somewhat short, to the point, and had a great melody. It also had a fantastic video, with marionette skeletons playing all the instruments.

9. Puff Daddy, et al., "It's All About the Benjamins (rock remix)." He needed Rob Zombie and Dave Grohl to do it, but their studio trickery turned Diddy's stupid ode to making money (gee, there's an original concept for a rap song) into a thumping masterpiece. Even Weird Al's parody kicks.

8. Nickelback, "Leader of Men." Yes, Chad Krueger's wannabe grunge stylings actually worked, exactly once: their first hit in the United States, "Leader of Men" was actually a really catchy rock song. Unfortuntely, everything else we've had to suffer through can be traced back to this track.

7. Rush, "Freewill." Listening to Rush was almost painful at times. These guys were three of the best rock musicians on the planet, but their songs collapsed under the weight of self-important noodling. Thank the Prophets for "Freewill," then, the one track that escapes all their arrogance. And you gotta love that awesome bass solo.

6. Limp Bizkit, "My Way." Sure, the lyrics are dumb -- "It's my way!/My way or the highway!" -- but "My Way" boasts an awesome melody. I also love the way Durst, actually attemping to be a songwriter, toys with the dynamics. (It's also barely possible that my appreciation for this song is mostly due to its connection to Wrestlemania X7, which I attended. You decide.)

5. The Doors, "People Are Strange." I loved this song when I was kid. So you can imagine my surprise when I grew up to learn it was performed by the Doors, whom I couldn't stand. The Doors? Jim Morrison? You're kidding, right? Yet another dull "classic" band that managed to pull it all together for one song. At least they gave us that much.

4. The Eagles, "Hotel California." "I hate the fucking Eagles, man!" The Dude and I agree on that. So it's somewhat baffling that this, one of the great rock songs ever written, could have come from the same people. I suspect the involvment of Satan. Or pot. Either/or.

3. Megadeth, "A Tout Le Monde." Emotional appearance in Some Kind of Monster aside, Dave Mustaine has always been an insufferable turd, and his band's awful music has suited him perfectly. It's only fitting that this jilted-prom-date metalhead's finest hour would be a depressing, introspective song about suicide. Also fun: I first heard the song in MIDI format, when it was used in Gannon's dungeon in a home-brew remix of the original Zelda. Cool, huh?

2. Britney Spears, "Toxic." Whoever produced this should get a Congressional medal of some kind. I love those diving strings, and the way they seem to melt and flow into one another. And that weird-ass effect on Britney's voice toward the end. Not to mention the smoking video, which can set fire to your house if you watch it with any dry rags around. I'm willing to tolerate all the other assorted Britney garbage in exchange for this one song.

1. Creed, "Torn." Oh, how I love this. Creed literally peaked with their very first song: "Torn," track one side one of My Own Prison. It's quite the slice of post-grunge brilliance: Stapp's very fine vocals, a terrific riff from Mark Tremonti, the whole thing is really great. And then it's all downhill from there, as Creed jumped the shark with the very next track and sailed in crap music history. Makes you wish they would have quit while they were ahead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Next he'll be saying I stole his library card, too

"I'm a reasonable man. Get off my case." -- Radiohead.

You know what I hate? When people accuse of things I didn't do. Like, for instance, stealing.

Tonight, a customer accused me of stealing. His driver's license, of all things. His story is completely preposterous, of course, but that didn't stop him from calling -- twice! -- to wail about this to my manager.

He claims I took his driver's license when I delivered his pizza to him last night and didn't return it. He handed to me when I asked for it, to verify that the credit card he was using was his. And I never gave it back. He didn't notice until this morning. And now he's threatening to "call the police" if any "fraud activity" surfaces.

Couple a problems with his story, of course. Foremost among them, it's not true. I couldn't have taken his driver's license, because he never handed it to me, because I never saw it, because I never asked for it. This part of our interaction took place only in the smoky, cold recesses of his own skull. The only part of his story that took place on this level of the Tower was me handing him a pizza. The rest is as real as his hair.

I remember this customer well. I don't know why, but some reason, he stuck out. I remember our interaction practically word-for-word. Clearly, he does not.

Thankfully, my manager's on my side. When the guy threatened to call the police, my manager happily insisted he should. "Call the FBI, too," he said. "Call whoever you want. He didn't take it."

I was standing right there, of course, listening to their telephone conversation.

My manager: "The driver is standing right here. Would you like to talk to him?"

The asshole: "Uh...no."

I'm just left wondering what the guy's ultimate goal here is. As far as I can see, there are two possibilities. He might be lying, but I can't for the life of me figure out why -- what's the point in claiming a pizza man stole your driver's license? I mean, it's not like he says I took his credit card or something. It makes no sense.

The other option is that he actually does believe what he's saying, in which case I believe a CAT scan is in order.

What's distressing is that the guy called twice. Once, to report the "theft." Then, when we insisted his version of events was to the truth as "We will be greeted as liberators" was to reality, he calmly hung up...only to call back three hours later; having scourged his memory, he had decided that yes, he had indeed remembered things correctly the first time.

Hopefully, this guy just goes away and never calls again. Because if I end up talking to him and having to refute this baseless accusation for a third time, I might get upset and invite him to kiss my ass. Which won't do anyone any favors.

The Pizza Inn Moron of the Year, 2005

I encounter lots of stupid people in my line of work. And for some reason, I draw more of them than my coworkers -- my manager became so enamored of my stories of telephone idiocy that he occasionally listens to my phone calls, just case I happen to get a "good one."

So I thought I'd take this time to single out one special person, one very unique Induhvidual who rose above all the others during 2005. A person of such brain-busting stupidity that I'm amazed she managed to call us in the first place.

Before we get there, it might help you get a little perspective if you understand who didn't get selected. The guy who called us to ask for our phone number. The guy who gives us the address of the house next door every time he orders, because he "can't remember" his own address. (Think about that for a second.) The numerous people who think I work for Pizza Hut, even after I show up at their door with a Pizza Inn shirt, hat, name tag, pizza bag, and glowing white sign on the roof of my car. The ones who act shocked and dismayed that we charge sales tax. The guy who asked if olives come on the meat lover's pizza. The guy who asked that we not put any mushrooms on his meat lover's pizza. The woman who double-checked that we weren't going to put pepperoni on her vegetarian pizza. The people who ask if the driver can stop on his way to their house and buy them a newspaper/milk/cigarettes/beer. The guy who announced to my manager he was going to "fuck up" everyone who worked there because I couldn't find his difficult-to-find address. And we're not counting the girl who talked about the Harry Potter films with me, marveling that the people who made it had to "read those books, like, probably more than once." We're also not counting my least favorite of the three managers, because my collected list of grievances against him will be used by my defense attorney at my trial, after I kill the stupid motherfucker and set his body on fire. So.

All of those people -- and countless more that I can't even remember -- are nothing to this woman. This woman...yikes. She earns her prize not simply because she did something stupid. Her stupidity is special because of how incovenient it was...and how completely baffling it was. I mean, really, I wouldn't believe this if it didn't happen to me.

It was a Sunday, back in the spring. We're dead on Sundays, so when an old lady called and placed an order, we were all very happy. She ordered a single large pepperoni pizza. Nothing fancy. My manager made it and put it in the oven. When it came out, I cut it, put it in a box, and took the pizza to her house. She accepted it, paid for it, and I went back.

And thus the adventure began.

I wasn't back more than a few minutes when the phone rang again. I recognized the old lady's phone number on the caller ID, and dread filled me -- something was wrong, and I hate it when something is wrong.

I answered the phone, and she told me that her pizza was wrong. This isn't out of the realm of possibility, and I'd already forgotten what she'd ordered to begin with, so I asked how it was incorrect.

"I asked for pepperoni," she said. "But this is sausage."

I paused. This seemed a tad unlikely. Now, making a mistake between, say, beef and sausage, okay. Those two look almost identical -- hell, I've been working there for years and I can't tell them apart. But pepperoni and sausage? Two entirely different-looking toppings. It's hard to believe that my manager would make that mistake.

So I asked her to double-check. "Are you sure it's sausage?"

She assured me that it was definitely sausage. "And we don't like sausage," she added.

Shit. I put her on hold and went looking for my manager. I was trying to remember cutting the pizza and putting it in the box -- surely, I would have noticed the wrong toppings, right? But my manager and I were talking about something else entirely while I was doing that, so it's possible I could have missed it. And now that I thought about it, we were having the same conversation while he made the pizza. So maybe he made an absent-minded mistake, and I was too distracted to notice. Extraordinarily unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible.

I found him and told him what the old lady said. He didn't believe it. "No way," he told me. "I made that pizza right. Is she sure?" I said she was, and he expressed the same doubts I had. "How could I fuck that up?" he asked. I couldn't answer.

My manager stormed over to the phone and began talking to the old lady himself. "Ma'am, are you absolutely sure that it's sausage? 'Cause I made it myself, and I'm pretty sure I did it right." She maintained her position.

He told her he'd make another one and have me take it out to her. "But," he said, "he's going to have to get the bad pizza back from you." He hung up and told me that he wanted proof he'd fucked up.

So he made another pizza -- definitely pepperoni this time. I put it in a box, and as I was headed out the door, he stopped me. "Before you give her that pizza, look at the old one. If it's sausage, give her the new one and come back. If it's pepperoni, tell her to call me." I agreed.

I drove to her house and knocked on the door. She opened it, old pizza in hand. I told her I needed to see it, and she happily opened the lid for me. "See?" she said, holding the pizza up to the light.

I saw pepperoni.

"Um, ma'am," I said, desperately trying not to think of much of my time and gas she'd just wasted, "that's pepperoni."

"No, it isn't," she said, shaking her rather square-shaped head. "It's sausage. We order all the time." Rule of Pizza #23: Anytime a customer says "We order all the time," they're lying. A customer who orders all the time doesn't feel the need to tell you they order all the time. But customers who never order from you think that by telling this lie they can get special treatment: "Oh, well, since you order all the time..." It never works with me. Plus, if she ordered all the time, she'd certainly be able to recognize pepperoni, by far the most popular pizza topping, when she saw it.

Having a great deal more pizza expertise than she, I stood fast. "No, ma'am, that's definitely pepperoni." And by way of comparison, I offered to show her the freash pizza we'd made (wasted).

And now we reach the point in the narrative where the old lady cinches her crown. Up until now, everything could have been a simple misunderstanding. Sure, you know what pepperoni looks like, but who's to say everyone in the world does? A mistake like that would not have been enough to warrant mockery, let alone the coveted Moron of the Year award.

I opened the lid. I held the new pizza next to the old one. They looked exactly the same. I said, "See? They look exactly the same."

She looked from to the other, drew a crackling-paper breath, and argued with me.

"No, they don't," she said, giving another head shake. "They're not the same."

I looked from one pizza to the other. Then from her to the pizzas. "Um...yes, ma'am. They are. Exactly. The same."

She once again disagreed. I felt we'd slipped into some bizarre alternate reality. I actually spent several seconds examining the two pies, just to be sure I wasn't the crazy one. Nope, the same. I reaffirmed that they were, in fact, both pepperoni pizzas.

And she continued to argue. When it was clear I wasn't going to win, I asked if I could use her phone to call my manager. She handed it to me, still denying the similarity of the two pizzas.

I called my manager and told him what had happened. "Um, we gave her a pepperoni pizza, but she doesn't believe me."

"Show her the new one," he said, still safely inside the world of the sane.

"I did," I said. "She still doesn't believe me."

"Huh?"

"That's what I said."

Eventually, I handed her the phone. And my manager also tried to convince her of the truth, but she much preferred her own reality.

I stood on her porch for ten minutes while they spoke. He convinced her of nothing. She still insisted the original pizza was wrong. She accepted that, yes, the second pizza was pepperoni. But the first one -- despite looking exactly the damn same -- was sausage. It had to be, "because it's so greasy."

The fuck?

My manager grew tired of arguing with her. He told me to come back. I left her with the "sausage" pizza, which she said she wasn't going to eat. She told me she'd never call us again. I managed to avoid thanking her.

I went back. My manager and I didn't even talk about it. We couldn't believe it.

I'm still baffled. This woman took up an hour of our time, over something so dumb. This was a special brand of stupid.

That's our Moron of the Year.

She's lived up to her promise: she hasn't called us since.

Thankfully.

"I asked for a pizza, but this is clearly a hamburger...."

Yikes.

Monday, January 09, 2006

That bwessed awangement, that dweam wiffin a dweam

"Fine. I will be there. But I will not dance!" -- Worf.

So, Tommy -- my roommate, that is, not the Pinball Wizard -- is getting married in July. Go figure.

I especially loved the nonchalant way he delivered the news, too.

ME: Hey.
TOMMY: Hey.
ME: How's it goin'?
TOMMY: It's goin'. So, yeah, I'm getting married.
ME: ...?

I don't know. Me, I'd be a little more energized in my delivery. There'd be an exclamation point or two in there. And perhaps some italics, for emphasis. You know. "Hey, I'm getting married!" That's me. I'm an excitable guy. As those who work with me can attest. (Of course, that's usually anger. But hey. Still, emotion finds its way into my voice much of the time. That's all I'm sayin'. Anyway, moving on...)

The low-key presentation leads one to believe that he isn't happy about this. But that doesn't appear to be the case -- it's just another extreme example of Tommy's extraordinary ability to remain laid-back at all times.

I'm trying to remember a single time in the years I've known him, in the two years we've lived together, that I've actually seen him high-strung about something. Seen him agitated, angry, running around and yelling and stuff. But I'm completely drawing a blank. Even devastating, earth-shaking stuff, he just keeps that same room temperature. It's possible I'm forgetting something -- you guys can help me out? Anyone? Anyone? Steve? Trebor? Bueller? Anyone?

I'm not entirely convinced it's a bad trait, necessarily, it's just kinda...odd, is all.

This is the part where I say something nice about Tommy's bride-to-be. And I would, without hesitation. Except, I don't think I've ever met her before. Thanks to our Chernobyl-the-morning-after decor, Tommy has wisely kept her far, far away from our apartment. But I'm sure she's wonderful.

(A voice rises from the back. "Hey, she can't be any worse than--" Thank you, sir. Thank you. No need to go there. Let's try and keep this civil, shall we? This is a happy occasion!)

So, yeah. July 8. Mark your calendars, bitches, 'cause if you're reading this and you've met Tommy, you're probably going to get an invitation. Yes, even you.

What the hell does one wear to a wedding, anyway? I've never been to one.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Video Games List: 2K6

Consider this the return of my List of the Week. On steroids.

As you may recall, roughly a year and a half ago I wrote about my 25 favorite video games -- a rather enormous undertaking, it was. Of course, no less than two days after I posted it, my site's host deleted the entire site because of all the pictures. And when I shifted the rebuilt site over to Topcities, I never did repost the list, largely because I didn't like the way it looked without all the pictures.

But it's been long enough, so it's time to improve the graphics, streamline the features, update the roster, and tighten the controls: the 2K6 version of the Video Games List is here.

For those of you who read it before, a few notes: the 25 choices here are not the same 25 games I listed the first time around, though most of them are -- my tastes haven't changed that radically. What has happened is a lot of reordering: a lot of titles at the top and the bottom of the list have been shifted around to meet my current whims. I didn't do this just to give the list a new polish, but because I honestly reconsidered the numbers. This one fits how I feel today -- tomorrow, I could change my mind and flip them around again.

You can gather a few things from my picks. First off, I am Nintendo's bitch: over half of the games were exclusive to Nintendo systems, and several of the others wound up there eventually. I was also asked why my first list didn't have any real-time strategy games, and it's for the same reason this list doesn't have any -- I've never liked them very much. You will, however, see several RPGs, which have always been my bread and butter. (Though they're almost all older RPGs -- the newer Star Ocean breed is a little tougher sell with me.)

I hope my choices are interesting. I think there's a unique blend of accepted canon titles and idiosyncratic personal picks -- my #3 choice, especially, will probably raise an eyebrow if you don't already know what it is. But hey, that's why it's a favorites list and not a Best of All Time.

If it weren't for video games, I may have been much dedicated to my work at school. And I might be a rich and famous college graduate by now. So that's my new motto for when I get tired of my life: blame Mario.

Shall we get started?

25. Duck Hunt
(NES, 1985) That fucking dog. My advice to aspiring game designers: it's the little things that make a game great. Because let's face it -- this game is about as in-depth as Pong. The ducks move in pretty simple "evasive" patterns. And the k-PANG! noise the gun made was annoying as hell. But Duck Hunt really isn't about killing the pixelated ducks. Nor is it about showing off your quick draw with the k-PANG! trigger on the ol' NES Zapper. It's about wiping that smug look off the face of that goddamned dog. See, your trusty hunting dog accompanies you on your trek of duck obliteration. Take a few of them out, he leaps out of the grass with your kill in his paws. Miss...and his rises from hiding with a guffaw and a smirk that will incite anyone to violence. Most people fired more shots at the dog than at the birds. The proof of my point? Duck Hunt also included a clay pigeon firing range, which did not include the dog. Did anybody play this for more than five minutes? Didn't think so.


24. Blades of Steel
(NES, 1988) It's probably the greatest hockey game ever made. There are no leagues. No stats. The teams are all identical, except for their uniform colors -- and even their uniforms are all designed the same. The teams have no names, mascots, or even logos. The players have neither names nor faces. There is no season mode. No trades, no injuries, no substitutions, no penalties, no nothing. You can imagine how much fun the gameplay would have to be to make up for all that's missing, and it's exactly how good it is. Konami stripped away all that extra stuff -- either because they wanted to or because of the limitations of NES hardware -- and brought nothing but lightning-quick action that never stops being a blast. It's laughably unrealistic: after each goal, the players line up around the scorer and do a synchronized Disney on Ice-like dance; each and every pass is accompanied by the horribly digitized voice of an announcer saying something that sounds like "KISSED THE POLE!" And they knew their audience, too, because not only is fighting allowed, it's encouraged. Get into a scuffle over the puck, and the two players will drop their gloves...and it suddenly turns into a one-on-one fighting game, complete with blocking buttons and health meters. And when it's over, the loser goes to the penalty box. Realism? Who needs it? (And sometimes, between the second and third periods, you'll get to play a Gradius-style minigame. 'Cause the game wasn't already cool enough, I guess.)


23. Grand Theft Auto III
(PS2, 2001) Ah, the good old days, before Hot Coffee, when GTA was simply depraved violence for the whole family. It's hard to explain why this game is so fantastic without sounding like a ghoul, but here goes: killing people is fun! Huh, no, that's no good. Um, how about: I like stealing cars and running over hookers? No, that doesn't work, either. Well, that aside, GTA3 is also an astounding achievement for its sheer size -- Liberty City actually feels like a real city a lot of the time, and it's often more fun to ignore the missions and just drive around listening to the radio. And running over hookers. Okay, I'll admit it, the game does work best as a cathartic release. Who hasn't wanted to drive a tank through downtown, destroying everything in sight? And spray half a city block with a flamethrower? A bad day can so often be soothed through digital homicidal mania. So all you parents who were disturbed by the sex and nudity in GTA: San Andreas, pick up this one. You won't find anything bad here.


22. Super Mario Bros.
(NES, 1985) The prime offender -- the first game that truly sank its fangs into my brain. Before Mario, games were fun and recreational things to do. After Mario, they became an obsession, and homework be damned. Schoolwork -- especially stupid first-grader schoolwork -- was clearly less important than collecting the shiny glowing golden coins that mysteriously hung in the air...or, even better, hid inside large boxes marked with a question mark. Who would've thought that bouncing off the heads of flying turtles could be so much fun? Throw in the fact that you get a extra life (or an "extra man," as it's colloquially known) with every 100 coins you collect, the gradually increaing difficulty of the later levels, and the most catchy soundtrack in gaming history, and what you've got is crack cocaine in code form.

Is there anyone out there that didn't love this game back in the mid-eighties? Even my mother, who couldn't stop complaining about the amount of time I spent in front of the Nintendo, got hooked on Mario. There was an informal caste system of the kids in our apartment building: those who could play Mario, and those who could play it well (hey, we were poor and had nothing else to do, except avoid the drug dealers in the building next door -- ah, how I miss Southern California). Mario is one of those before-and-after moments for me, my gateway into the vast addiction of video games.

Oh, and you know this game is all about drugs, right? You eat a magic mushroom, you grow to enormous size? Eat the "magical flower," fire shoots out of your fingertips? This certainly explains the flying turtles.


21. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
(NES, 1987) Do you like boxing? Interested in seeing a game that perfectly captures every nuance and strategem of the sport, and realistically depicts every blow-to-blow exchange? Then stay far, far away from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, a goofy piece of fun as cartoonish as its namesake. This ain't no simulator. Unlike Blades of Steel, which sacrificed realism to appease to the desires of the audience, Punch-Out kicks reality to the curb in order to turn boxing into pro wrestling. And that's fine, because the game isn't even really about boxing at all, but about quick reflexes and pattern recognition -- your opponents all telegraph their punches and show their weak spots, and your job as Little Mac is to spot them and exploit those weaknesses until you get to the grand champion, Mike Tyson. Assuming you can get to Iron Mike (no cakewalk there), your reward will be to have the shit kicked out of you repeatedly until you either give up in frustration or become a gaming guru and manage to take him out -- a guy who used to babysit for the various kids in that Southern California apartment building became something of a hero because he could actually beat Mike Tyson. I watched him do it, too -- awe-inspiring. For a six-year-old, anyway. Despite the 8-bit NES graphics, there are some neat touches -- between rounds, you see a shot of each fighter's face, with appropriate damage if they've taken a beating. There's also your coach, Doc (who looks oddly like that Twinkie-loving cop from Die Hard), who'll give you advice...though often such advice runs along the lines of "JOIN THE NINTENDO FUN CLUB TODAY, MAC!" Thanks, Doc, that'll help me defeat the angry Japanese man whose fist is as big as my entire torso. Poor Little Mac -- how the hell did he end up in a boxing circuit where every fighter is (literally!) twice his size? I think he should be given a championship belt just for showing up to the damn fight.


20. Photopia
(PC, 1998) When an artform becomes passe and replaced by something more modern, those who stubbornly stick behind with the old ways become more and more esoteric in their designs -- when photography became a more popular alternative to paintings, the artists responded by going abstract. The same thing has happened to interactive fiction -- yes, those all-text adventures like Zork, where you move by typing GO NORTH and hit gnomes with sticks by typing HIT GNOME WITH STICK. When computer graphics were terrible, these games were enormously popular -- it was a lot easier to lose oneself in an interactive book than it was in blocky pixels. Now, though, they're all but forgotten, the dusty relics of a darkened age. So those gamers who cling to their childhood favorites with glee have taken to making their own games, and just like those abstract painters, they're leaving the traditional rules behind.

I thought long and hard before including Photopia on this list. Not because it isn't brilliant, or because it's not one of the most profoundly original and creative computer games I've ever played -- it's definitely those things. But this is a list of my favorite games, and Photopia is barely a game at all: there are no puzzles to solve, no enemies to defeat, no mysteries to unravel. As the genre name implies, this is truly a piece of interactive fiction, and writer Adam Cadre uses the medium of a text-based game to tell a remarkable story. I won't spoil any of the plot, because doing so would tarnish the experience of playing it. I'll simply say that Cadre manages to attach the player (reader?) to the characters emotionally in a very limited time (the entire game takes no more than half an hour to complete); I myself have played it though at least ten times, often trying desperately to change the story's tragic ending.

But I will say no more. If you'd like to play Photopia (and you definitely should -- no, really, do it right now), you can download it from the interactive fiction section on Adam Cadre's website. You can also find his other games there, like Shrapnel and 9:05, which are almost as wonderful as Photopia. And if you want know what those crazy IF kids are doing these days, and find some of those golden oldies from back in the '80s, check out The Underdogs.


19. You Don't Know Jack!
(PC, 1995) For an insufferable know-it-all like me, just about any trivia game is fun, but You Don't Know Jack! ups the ante -- it takes away the brainiac air of Trivial Pursuit, replaces it with the smart-aleck attitude of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and sticks in an unseen "host" who operates like Alex Trebek on mescaline. This is a game that's all about multiplayer -- most fun is the Screw Your Neighbor option, where you can force your idiotic opponents to respond to questions they don't have answers for. But if you end up way ahead of them -- as I frequently did -- and try to duck out of answering one, the host will cry, "Don't be a wuss!" and demand an answer. A game that simultaneously celebrates being smart and being a wiseass? That's what I'm talking about.


18. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
(XBox, 2003) After years of waiting, someone -- in this case, Bioware -- finally made a Star Wars game that was worth a damn. The story they cooked up here is a doozy, too, arguably better than a few of the movies. (I'm looking at Episodes I and II, here.) I also really dug the battle system, an odd mash-up that made turn-based combat look and feel like real-time fighting backed-up by D&D rules. But the best aspect is also its most-hyped: the player's choice between good and evil. Star Wars has always hinged on this simple dichtomy between the light and dark sides of the Force, and to structure a game in this manner, with the player making each choice and sliding toward one side or the other, is a genuis touch. And it effects everything -- dialogue, your appearance, what powers you get. Which leads to another reason why this game one of my favorites: Force lightning. Force lightning rules. All hail Ranis Skenoda, Dark Lord of the Sith!


17. Fester's Quest
(NES, 1989) The second-craziest game ever made. So aliens invade the world, looking for...well, something, and completely decimate the human race (apparently, since the streets are empty). The only one who can stop them? Uncle Fester. Yes, Fester Addams. From The Addams Family. Stop laughing -- this is the most insanely difficult video game I've ever played. To this day, I've never managed to beat the damn thing. After seeing the alien spaceship one night while moonbathing, Fester picks up his trusty gun and proceeds to wipe out the aliens one at a time. Eventually you pick up a whip, too, which is useful against the bosses. In addition to power-ups that increase your weapons, though, there are also "power-downs," which weaken them and cause you to swear and hurl things at the television. Since Fester is not a fighter by nature, he can't stand up to too many attacks by the aliens (who often look like pink frogs, or floating disembodied heads that eject mosquitos -- did I mention this game was weird?), and will eventually be defeated...and when that happens, it's all the way back to the very frickin' beginning of the game with you. And no save feature, either (at least on the actual NES cartridge -- if you're playing with an emulator, you can save whenever you want to...weakling). The gameplay is pretty simplistic, really -- just walk around and shoot everything that moves, literally -- but the wacked-out difficulty is what makes it memorable. For me, Fester's Quest is like those stairs in Rocky, and if I ever manage to conquer this game, you can bet I'll jump around like that, too.


16. Dragon Warrior
(NES, 1989) For me, the summer of 1990 (or maybe it was '91, my memory's slipping) was the Summer of Dragon Warrior. Nintendo Power magazine ran a promotion that gave free copies of the game to new subscribers -- my cousin Brian happened to be one of those, and together we saved the land from the evil Dragonlord. He did the actual playing while I sat nearby and offered advice. It was a blast. The plot of the game is fairly typical -- an evil sorcerer is threatening the world, and you have to stop him, and oh by the way, the princess has been kidnapped, too. The dialogue is an (unintentionally) hilarious mix of Middle English (lots of thous and thees) and badly translated Japanese gibberish. But it's great fun -- roaming around the countryside, beating up slimes (and their evil counterparts, Metal Slimes, the bane of our existence) by the dozens, and learning exotic spells like HEAL and HEALMORE (and HURT and HURTMORE). More importantly, this was the first RPG I ever played -- a little masterpiece that opened the door to much bigger things. Like...


15. Kingdom Hearts
(PS2, 2002) The craziest game ever made. Try and wrap your brain around this one: the moody, depressed characters from the Final Fantasy universe sharing screen time with...Goofy and Donald Duck? That's right -- some looney at Square thought this would be a good idea, and it so totally is. Disney and Final Fantasy collide in a game that's part RPG, part Zelda-esque adventure, all insane. (I won't even mention the spaceship shoot-'em-up stuff between stages.) There's a sidetrip into Pooh Corner, and even a stage where you find yourself in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Great graphics, beautiful music, and an all-star voice cast (including Haley Joel Osment, James Woods, and Billy Zane), Kingdom Hearts is a masterpiece in all its glorious weirdness. The only mistakes are the pointless spaceship stuff I mentioned earlier, the slightly confusing story, and the profoundly annoying Little Mermaid level, which goes beyond "difficult" and swims into "stroke-inducing." But the game more than makes for that stuff with the fantastic boss battles -- go toe-to-toe with Malificent from Sleeping Beauty! Then fight her again when she turns into a dragon! Then fight the hideous demon from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from Fantasia! Take out Captain Hook and Jafar, with the help of the Genie, Simba, and Bambi (yes, that Bambi)! Seriously, even if you don't like RPGs, this is worth a shot, if only for the vision of seeing Donald Duck try to coexist with Sephiroth.


14. SimCity
(PC & SNES, 1989) What a revelation this game was for me: no set goals, no enemies to defeat, nothing to accomplish. The only benchmarks are those you set for yourself. A totally open-ended experience. Suffice to say this blew my mind when I discovered it as a teenager (both in the original computer version and the SNES revamp). Build the city of your dreams from the ground up and watch it grow before your eyes. And if you get bored, or the citizens won't stop bitching about the traffic downtown, you can just drop an earthquake on 'em -- that'll reevaluate their priorities. Further releases of the game complicate the proceedings but lose none of the fun. A brilliant, off-the-wall game that goes against every video game sterotype you can think of.


13. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
(arcade, 1991) Down. Down-Forward. Forward. Punch. "HADOKEN!"

Lack of quarters and transportation kept me of out of arcades when I was kid. But I made more than one trip to the mall just to get a shot at Street Fighter II. I tried it the first time because I overheard a friend talking about how to throw Ken's fireball -- so I stuck in a quarter and became instantly hooked. The genre of fighters is pretty well played-out these days (thanks largely to the vastly inferior Mortal Kombat series), but Street Fighter II is still the best of them all. The colorful personalities of the different fighters, their various trademark moves and combos -- a friend and I once remarked that the game was kinda like Punch-Out!!, only without Little Mac: everyone was a badass. Except for Balrog, he's a wuss (oddly enough, considering his name). The game was eventually rereleased about a billion times (Street Fighter II: Championship Edition! Street Fighter II: Turbo! Super Street Fighter II!), but the original was just fine with me.


12. Tetris
(every system ever, from now to infinity) If it's got a screen and some buttons, you can be assured that some version of Tetris will be released for it. It's the most universal game ever created, one that's instantly understandable, yet challenging enough to entice anyone. Why? Because there is beauty in simplicity. The premise of this game sure seemed dumb when I first heard it: all you do is make lines with blocks? That's it? That's easy! Um, no, it's not, actually. Damn the Russians and their tricky puzzle masterpiece. I bought a Gameboy so I could play Battletoads (yeah, Battletoads, what?), but I ended up keeping it to play Tetris. That is, when my mother wasn't stealing it to play herself. The most addictive game ever made, period.


11. Final Fantasy IV
(SNES, 1991) Weighted by the guilt of a thousand sins, betrayed by all those close to him, abandoned in his most dire hour, a solider purges the darkness from his soul and embraces a life of light and good. Dragon Warrior was the first RPG I played, but it wasn't long after that I discovered Final Fantasy IV and felt transformed: here, unbelievably, was a game with a story I, somehow, actually cared about. This was truly bizarre. When Palom and Porom, the wizard twins, sacrifice their lives to save the rest of the group...so help me, I gave a damn, an experience entirely unknown to me at the time as far as games went. For a time, Final Fantasy IV was everything a video game could be, which is probably why I'm so forgiving of the way it goes totally bonkers at the end, with the trips to the moon (made of pudding!) and the alien colonization plot and everything. I'm also willing to overlook some spotty Engrish translations ("You spoony bard!") in light of its emotional triumphs. And then, the bastards at Square went and outdid themselves...


10. Final Fantasy VI
(SNES, 1994) Last time I wrote this list, I had IV before VI; really, the two are practically tied. But another run through Final Fantasy VI reminded of how truly awe-inspiring it is: just the scope of the thing is breathtaking. Featuring a gargantuan story with a starring cast of over a dozen player characters (and no one true central character, either), it feels like an interactive novel where you fight stuff. With beautiful music, dazzling set pieces -- including, most gloriously, one in which you must guide a character through an opera -- and an immensely intricate world that you watch die and regrow again, FF6 is a bold vision of what RPGs (and video games in general) are capable of. All of the characters are fantastic, but I have to give special attention to the villains, two of the best in gaming history. There's Ultros, the Snidley Whiplash-like purple octopus who drops in to provide death threats and comic relief. But towering over him and everyone else is the man himself, who's still cackling at you from my website's banner: Kefka. Previous (and even future) Final Fantasy villains were dark, moody, almost morose figures; but Kefka turned the volume up about twenty notches on sheer personality alone. He was funny, he was flashy, he cackled at everything -- Kefka was a lot more fun than the good guys. So what if the game starts to repeat itself toward the end? If only all games were as grand as this one. And yet -- those magnificent bastards at Square were still just warming up.


9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
(SNES, 1992) If Battletoads was why I bought a Gameboy (and that sounds really, really stupid looking back on it), then Zelda was the reason I begged for a Super Nintendo. This game, though, was worth it. A mammoth quest across multiple worlds to save the Triforce from the hands of the evil Ganon, and (of course) save the princess. Of course, you manage to save her in the first twenty minutes of the game, which threw me for a loop back then and is part of the genius at work here. Events grow immensely more complicated from there, naturally, and by the end, I didn't want the game to stop. Not only one of my favorites, but easily one of the best games ever made. The only weak point is that it can't quite stand up to the original...which we'll get to shortly.


8. Super Mario World
(SNES, 1991) Man, I'd kill to be in the room for this Nintendo board meeting. "We need to spruce up Mario for the Super Nintendo." "Let's throw in a green dinosaur named Yoshi who eats everything. You could ride him like a horse!" "My god, man, that's brilliant!" And it is brilliant, because Yoshi does add a whole new dimension to the still-so-addictive-it-should-be-illegal gameplay. Of course, soon the poor guy would become so unforunately ubiquitous that I could barely stand to look at him anymore, but in his first appearance, he was still enormous fun. Eat a red Koopa shell, he spits fire. Eat a blue one, he flies. There are even Yoshis of various colors -- collect 'em all! Of course, the innovation didn't stop with Yoshi -- the world across which Mario hopped was bigger than ever before, with secret exits everywhere leading to various hidden levels. The ultimate gamer challenge was to find and defeat all 90+ levels of Super Mario World; I even heard a guy on Jeopardy! once list it as one of his great accomplishments (I am sad to say that I fell one level short, myself). Pure gamer heaven. And, like the previous entry, this wasn't even the best Mario had to offer.


7. Riven: The Sequel to Myst
(PC, 1997) Myst exploded on the gaming world like a bomb: here was a game where you didn't kill anyone, you couldn't die -- you just explored a beautiful world. You weren't playing a character -- you were yourself. How do you react in this situation? What do you do? It caused a sensation, and for a period was the best-selling video game of all time. Riven, the beautiful sequel, improves upon that and a whole lot more. This game requires more abstract thought and puzzling than any other game I've ever played -- in Myst, the puzzles consisted of basically moving switches around until you found the right pattern; Riven required you to discern the mathematical foundation of an entire culture, among other things. And that shines a light on my favorite aspect of Riven: its totality of purpose. Rarely has a fictional world felt as real as this one does. The segment when the player must learn how to count in D'ni could have been handled a million different ways -- the one the creators chose was terrifying, unforgettable, and seared those numbers into your brain. And yet it felt completely natural, completely appropriate, another perfectly understandable part of a rich world. And through it all, you explored the most gorgeous world imaginable, with no clumsy interface to get in the way of your immersion. If you want to move something, click on it. That's all. Like I said before: there is beauty in simplicity.


6. Half-Life
(PC, 1998) First-person shooters are supposed to be about blowing aliens to bits with various fancy weapons. They're supposed to be about random death and violence. They're not supposed to be about a gripping story. But apparently the folks at Valve never got the memo, because the shining point of Half-life is the remarkable story. The hero, Gordon Freeman, is no musclebound soldier, no macho marine -- he's a scientist. A quantum physicist at that. But when a hellish portal to another world opens and pissed-off aliens come storming out, Gordon's the only one left to stop them. You're stuck at the bottom of the Black Mesa Research Facility, and you have to get to the surface to find help for those still trapped below. Another wonderful touch: unlike most other FPSs, you're not alone. You run into other scientists, who can heal you and open doors, and security guards will stand and fight...until they're (inevitably) killed by the powerful aliens. There are no level breaks -- when you finish a chapter of the game, the title of the new chapter pops up and you keep playing with no interruption. The cutscenes are all integrated into the actual gameplay; it's brilliant. The effect is a level of intensity that few games can match, and things get no easier once you meet the Marine unit on its way down -- their plan to stop the alien invasion is to wipe out everyone in the base, you included. And what starts as a professional mission to take you out soon becomes personal after you single-handedly take out several squads: you find messages like "YORE DEAD FREEMAN" spray-painted on walls. So you've got a three-way showdown between a physicist, the Marines, and the aliens. And it's the geek who wins. I love video games.


5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
(PS2, 2001) Solid Snake's second 3D adventure triumphs over the first -- and pretty much everything else in the world, too -- because of its intellectual and philosophical aspirations: not content to be merely an immensely enjoyable action game with infinite replay value, Metal Gear Solid 2 slowly but surely becomes an intense meditation on video games themselves. Not just breaking the fourth wall, Hideo Kojima's masterpiece kicks it over and howls with laughter -- the line between character and player is blurred to the point of being indistinguishable. How else to explain the bizarre moments near the end, with the AI going crazy and sending you radio messages like, "You've been playing for an awfully long time -- turn the game off right now!"? The story stretches, cracks, and then, finally, vaporizes suspension of disbelief, from the intrusive GAME OVER screens that pop up out of nowhere to the odd in-character game-saving. ("How do I check in and save my progress?" is a line of dialogue I never through I'd hear.) And what of Raiden, the much-despised player character who occupies most of the game? Hmm. No social skills? Can't keep his girl happy? No experience in the real world? Educated with video simulations? In complete awe of Solid Snake? And a really, really big dork? He's you, Mr. Video Game Geek, Kojima's penetrating caricature of his fanbase (who, surprise, absolutely loathed Raiden). Those who doubt would do well to recall how Raiden met his girlfriend, Rose: that's right, they were bickering and arguing about movies. Hell, he has the same name as a Mortal Kombat character! But even without all that, MGS2 is a masterpiece for its endlessly inventive gameplay: defusing bombs, collecting dog tags, and finding creative uses for the directional microphone are just some of the things that make this one great. And there's even the Substance version, which adds a whole bunch of really fun extras. I'll be playing this one forever.


4. Super Mario Bros. 3
(NES, 1990) A game so great that made an entire movie just to be a commercial for it. No, really -- it was called The Wizard and starred Fred Savage, Beau Bridges and Christian Slater.

The best installment of the Mario series is also the most insane. In addition to mushrooms that increase your size and flowers that cause pyrokinesis, now here's a maple leaf that turns you into a raccoon (?), which naturally allows you to fly (?!). But this game is so beyond merely fun that you won't notice the insanity. Guide everyone's favorite plumber across deserts, ice-covered worlds, worlds made of pipes, and worlds where everything was huge (Giant World, I think it was called). The goal, of course, is to save the princess again. But Nintendo added another awesome little touch to enhance the multiplayer game -- you could challenge your partner for control, sending the two of you into a one-on-one remake of the original Mario Bros. And along the way, there was other fun stuff to do: hey, here's a hut where you play a memory game to win power-ups! Hey, here's a place where you can play a slot machine to win extra lives! And you could also pick up the ultimate power-up in one level: the shoe. It was called Kuribo's Shoe, or something, and I don't remember why, but it's a big green shoe that Mario sat inside and jumped around and stuff. It sounds dumb, it looked dumb, but it's just another great touch in an already brilliant game. Totally insane, of course, but you wouldn't expect anything less from Mario.


3. Silent Hill 2
(PS2, 2001) Atmosphere (at"mos*phere): a distinctive but intangible quality surrounding a person or thing.

The sleepy resort town of Silent Hill definitely has atmosphere, but probably not the one the town planners were hoping for. It's an air of dread. Fear. Hopelessness. That everything that could go wrong has already gone wrong, and that your sanity will be the next thing to crumble and fall away. A satanic cult took over the town by using hallucinogenic drugs to control the populace, then attemped to call forth their dark god. They failed (as documented in the original Silent Hill, and mercifully clarified in Silent Hill 3), but they did manage to leave Silent Hill a dark, foggy place where the old gods hold sway. Where the innocent are sacrificed for evil purposes. Where a steel-gray fog swallows the light and hides demonic things that await you in the shadows.

But before all that, Silent Hill was a popular vacation spot. Years ago, James Sunderland brought his ailing wife, Mary, to the Lakeview Hotel for a time of peace and quiet before her inevitable death. She loved it there, and begged James to take her back someday. He promised to...but the illness (which is never named) claimed her too quickly. For the three years since then, James has lived in a grief-stricken stupor, desperately trying to find a purpose for his existence now that his beloved is gone.

But one day, James gets a letter from...Mary? Her name is on the outside. It appears to be in her handwriting. She's waiting for James in Silent Hill...in their "special place." James returns to the seaside resort, desperate to find someone, anyone, who can give him answers.

Silent Hill 2 is a powerful examination of guilt, the destructive nature of the past, and the horrible things people can do -- not only to each other, but themselves. James meets other loners like him inside the city limits -- Angela, a frightened and confused woman on the verge of suicide, shattered by an abusive childhood; Eddie, a violent paranoid who lashes out in fear at those who try (at least in his eyes) to hurt him; and, most disturbingly, a sexy young woman named Maria, who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Mary. He almost must fight off scores of deadly, unimaginable monsters...monsters only he seems to see.

It almost sounds like I'm describing a book or a movie rather than a video game, and that's what Silent Hill 2 feels like -- this quality of story is unheard of in the realm of video games, at least outside of RPGs. As you follow James in his quest to reunite with his wife, the plot twists and turns in remarkable ways. The town itself is very much a character -- personalized messages are written to James in blood on the walls, fragments of the town's bloody past take form and attack him, and at one point he finds himself in a geographically impossible reconstruction of a 200-year-old prison. He also must solve increasingly difficult puzzles, which can try the patience and logic of even the most experienced gamer.

The graphics are excellent. Everything looks grainy and washed-out, which is intentional -- the makers of the game created perfect images, then coated everything with a darkened filter to add to the atmosphere. The music is rarely traditional music at all, but a cacophony of sounds that build the player's fear and dread as more hideous demons are lit by James's weak flashlight (the only source of light in most of the game).

But my favorite elements of the game, as I said, are the atmosphere and the story. By the time James makes it back to the Lakeview Hotel, it's clear that his memories of the last three years may not be accurate...and may indeed be wholly fabricated. He faces painful confrontations with Eddie and Angela, each accusing him of horrible sins. This all builds to a jaw-dropping final twist, which then further builds to a stunning finale that may be either heartwarming or heartbreaking. See, there are several different endings: some sad, some happy, and some a very uncomfortable mix of both. And which ending you see depends on how you behave during the game -- if James runs around destroying everything and appearing to care little for his own safety, you'll get one ending. Treat Maria in a certain manner, you'll get another. There is no "right" ending -- each one is a justifiable conclusion to the story, though some are happier than the others.

Everything in the game builds upon the story and the themes. Nothing is thrown in just because it "looks cool" or to get a cheap scare. The forms the monsters take all echo the torment James has undergone; puzzle clues speak of guilt, crime, sin, and redemption. The result is a powerfully moving experience like no other. If any video game can truly be called a work of art, I declare Silent Hill 2 that game.

Along with these next two, of course.


2. The Legend of Zelda
(NES, 1987) If Mario was my childhood crack cocaine, then Zelda was heroin. I did everything I could to get my hands on this game. I borrowed it from friends. I saved up nickels for months to rent it for two days. I distinctly remember pretending to be sick once to get out of school so I could play it.

There is trouble in Hyrule. Gannon, an evil wizard/criminal/overall bad guy has stolen one half of the mystical Triforce, a crystal that would allow its owner to rule the world. He has the Triforce of Power; in an attempt to get the Triforce of Wisdom, he has...wait for it...kidnapped the Princess! In this case, Princess Zelda of Hyrule. See, Zelda saw all this Gannon shit coming, and, fearing no one could stop him, broke the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces, and buried each in a different dungeon. So Gannon steals the Princess -- damn those incompetent royal guards -- while Hyrule tries to find a hero to save the day. That hero is you: Link. Your goal is to find the eight hidden pieces of the Triforce, then head to Gannon's lair and defeat him once and for all. (Yes, to beat the Triforce-of-Power-enhanced Gannon, you need the Triforce of Wisdom. Which is exactly what he wants. It's like how the only way to destroy the One Ring was by taking it right to the guy who wanted it.)

But you aren't exactly the best-equipped hero of all time. You start out with no weapons. A generous old man hands you a wooden sword, which is about as useful as it sounds. And apparently only Zelda knew where these dungeons were, because you start off with no idea what to do. Your only way to find your place in Hyrule is your map: a featureless grey rectangle. Oh-kay. And if the swarms of monsters overcome poor Link and reduce his health to zero...that's right, it's back to the beginning with you, kid (though if you happened to die while in a dungeon, you only had to go back to the beginning of the dungeon). The good folks of Hyrule basically just give Link a shield, point him in the vague direction of Zelda, and say, "Go get 'em, tiger!"

In case you haven't realized, this game is frickin' hard. They invented a battery pak for the game that allowed you to save your progress, realizing that no one could possibly beat this thing in one (or two or three, for that matter) sittings. When we were kids, the rumor was that the game was actually unbeatable. And not like Punch-Out!!, either, but a game that was literally impossible to defeat. This was untrue, of course -- but not by much. From what I understand, Zelda pretty much made Nintendo's tip hotline a success all by itself.

Along your quest, you don't get much help. In fact, you really get no help at all. A few guys offer to give you better swords once you've "mastered using" the old ones; also, you find various incarnations of that same Generous Old Man hidden away in caves and dungeons, giving you tips. Unfortunately, he speaks in Garbled Japanese-to-English, which comes out in phrases like, "Easternmost penninsula is the secret." I guess he didn't want to be too much of a spoiler.

The music for the game is spectacular. Really, the main Overworld theme is one of the best pieces of music ever crafted for a video game, and the dungeon theme is one my favorite pieces of music, period. The graphics are understandably less-than-stellar, what with it being 1987 and all, but the programmers make the most of it. The seams are noticable: to save space, the animation of Link stabbing with his sword is represented with three sprites -- one stabbing up, one stabbing down, and one stabbing to the right. To stab left, they simply flipped the right-stab sprite around. This results in Link always being right-handed, except when attacking left, when he suddenly flips around and becomes a southpaw. (Ingeniously, they even explained this away as backstory: haunted Death Mountain lies to the north, and superstitious folk -- like Link -- have made it a habit to always keep their shield pointed north. So, when facing west, he flips his gear around to stay protected. I love this game.)

The difficulty, at least for the time, was well beyond extreme. But one always seems to die just before accomplishing a difficult task -- the player growls, "Oh, I was thisclose," hits continue, and tries again. This repeats until family members remove the controller from the player's hands. And in the event that trekking through eight dungeons and then Gannon's fortress was not enough for you, The Legend of Zelda is the game that invented replay value: assuming you pulled off the nigh-impossible task of beating the game in the first place, you unlocked the Second Quest, where everything was moved around and (somehow) made even more difficult. Good luck with that one.

I first played Zelda when I was six years old, and from that moment on, it represented the very pinnacle of video games. Nothing could better it -- not even the extraordinary sequels, each excellent in their own right. Nothing could top the original Legend of Zelda.

Until...


1. Chrono Trigger
(SNES, 1995) The winner, and still champion. Chrono Trigger.

I remember sitting on the couch watching TV one day with a friend of mine. A commerical came on for a game by Square, who made the Final Fantasy series. And this game looked kinda like those, but not quite -- characters were no longer miniature sprites, but bigger, more detailed, better-looking. I can't remember a thing about this commerical, other than the fact that the voiceover was in Japanese (English subtitles translated everything for us). And the only phrase I remember is the one the guy shrieked over and over again: "CHRONO TRIGGER~!" For weeks, my friend and I could make each other laugh by breaking the silence with a well-timed "CHRONO TRIGGER~!"

And then we played the game. And we started yelling "CHRONO TRIGGER~!" for different reasons.

This is the greatest game ever made. Fantasy RPG meets sci-fi epic meets slapstick comedy meets medieval romance. Talking frogs with swords and dancing Cro-magnons and evil robots and wizards and bike races and mutants and a million other extraordinary things. Combined with stunning graphics and a beautiful score, a moving story and innovative gameplay, it reinvigorated my love for video games and is definitely my favorite game of all time.

You play as Crono, a teenaged resident of Truce village, a sleepy seaside town in the year 1000 AD. Like most boys in Japanese video games, you have bright red punk-rocker hair and love swords. You also never, ever speak -- never once in the game is Crono's dialogue displayed (guess he's the strong, silent type). Life is pretty good -- you live with your mom (the identity and location of your father a mystery lost to time) and hang out with Lucca, the brainy chick down the road, whom everyone makes fun of because she's smarter than they are. She's an inventor, and is unveiling her new invention at the Millenial Fair -- not only is it a celebration of the millenium (duh), but the 400-year anniversary of the defeat of Magus, an evil magician who attempted to take over the world. So you head to the fair, playing a few games, betting on the footrace, taking a peek inside the Tent of Horrors. But before you can check out Lucca's new toy, you (literally) run into a beautiful yet vaguely familiar-looking girl named Marle. The two of you hit it off (since she never stops talking and you never start) and head off to see Lucca together. And then...

Man, I don't want to give anything else away, because slowly discovering the great story is half the fun of the game, but I kinda have to in order to talk about the great stuff that follows. See, Lucca's invention is a teleporter -- zaps you from point A to point B, Star Trek-style. (And she's invented this in the year 1000 AD. I told you she was smarter than everyone else.) You volunteer to get zapped, and it works fine, but when Marle hops on, the crystal in her shiny pendant gums up the works and tears a hole in the space-time continuum. Marle gets sucked through to the year 600 AD, and it's up to you to go back and find her. This sets off a series of jumps around the timeline, ranging from prehistoric times to the ice age all the way to the very End of Time itself. One of these trips lands you in a devasted post-apocalyptic future, where you learn than in 1999, a hideous beast known only as Lavos rose from the ground and set the world on fire. Realizing that only you have the power to stop the end of the world, you band together to prevent the "Day of Lavos" from ever happening.

The game is full of endless surprises. Your first few minutes of gameplay, for example, certainly seem pointless: you just run around the fair with Marle, talking to people and learning the battle system by fighting a giant rapping robot. But when the plot twists against you (in an hilarious turn on the well-worn "the princess has been kidnapped" story), you find yourself on trial, and those activities come back to haunt you. Did you steal the old man's lunch? He'll show up to testify against you. Try to steal Marle's pendant? That won't impress the jury. Of course, if you help a cute little girl find her cat, she'll help you out. And then there's your trip across the wasteland of 2300 AD -- at one point, you find yourself surrounded by vicious-looking robots...but they turn out not to be fighters, but sycophantic cheerleaders for another robot named Johnny ("THE MAN!"), who doesn't want to fight, he wants to race, man! So you can hop on a speeder bike and race him across the ruins.

The fighting system is remarkably innovative. It's still your standard turn-based fighting, like most RPGs. But Chrono Trigger has none of the widely-detested "random battles" found in the Final Fantasy titles. In those games, monsters would suddenly show up out of nowhere to fight you in a battle you had no chance to avoid, but in Chrono Trigger, one can almost always see the monsters beforehand, and usually avoid a confronation. And while magic is a big part of the game (taught to you by a egomaniac named Spekkio who lives at the End of Time), you're also allowed Double- and Triple-techs: party members can team up to deliver devastating punishment to their enemies.

The fluid nature of a time is a big part of the game, and it's fun to watch as your actions have effects that ripple through the time stream. Even little things -- a young girl in 12000 B.C. asks whether she should she should keep a small plant or burn it. Your answer may or may not cause a giant desert to appear thousands of years later. You'll meet the rather rude and greedy mayor of a small town; teach his ancestor the value of kindness and generosity, and you'll find the mayor a much nicer guy. And hanging over it all is the shadow of Lavos -- you can pick your fight with it anytime you want to via a portal (inside a bucket) at the End of Time, rather than waiting for the end of the story (go too early though, and it'll crush you into tiny pieces -- I'd wait).

But no discussion of Chrono Trigger would be complete without its most memorable features -- the New Game+ and the multiple endings. If you've been a good player, and marched through the mighty Black Omen fortress to get to Lavos (rather than taking the quick route through the bucket), you'll unlock the special New Game+ feature, which allows you to start a new game with all your old levels, items, weapons, and Techs. Cool! And the New Game+ allows you unlock all THIRTEEN (yeah, 13) endings of the game -- ye gods! Depending on when in the timeline you take out Lavos, you'll get a different conclusion to the story; this includes the much-beloved "Dream Project" ending, where you get to talk to the various progammers of the game. Other bonus endings remark on the fluid timeline once again -- defeat Lavos before helping prehistoric humans defeat their Reptite usurpers, and the future will find the world overrun by humanoid dinosaurs. There's also the dreaded Lavos Ending, displayed should Lavos defeat you -- you watch, helpless, as the giant creature destroys the world. Lavos doesn't say, "BWAHAHAHA!!", but you can tell it's thinking it.

So why, after all these years, is Chrono Trigger still my favorite game? I think it's because, if I had the chance, I wouldn't change a single thing. Every sound, every pixel, every line of dialogue is in its right place. The entire presentation is flawless.

Thirty years from now, who knows what video games will be like? But I can say this: no matter how good or bad they become, I'll always have a place for these twenty-five titles. And I'll still be playing Chrono Trigger.

Comments and choices of your own are welcomed.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Best thread ever

(listening to: Busted Stuff, Dave Matthews Band)

Over at the Straight Dope, I came upon this:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=351651

Which is about the most interesting forum discussion I've seen in awhile. Certainly better than the horrible whining I read on the Dave Matthews Band forums. Or the Counting Crows forums. Or the Metallica forums. Or the World of Darkness forums. Or...any forums, really.

And isn't this -- the thread, not the whining -- just a goofy mystery novella waiting to happen? Poirot...in Space! I think it would be fun. It'd be called Compression, or Vacuum, or One Small Stab for Man or something really dumb. The Eagle Has Landed...and Died!

I'm also reminded of the Eddie Izzard bit, with Neil and Buzz inventing a monster on the moon for entertainment and/or cash. "He's got my arm, I think he knows jujitsu...Leave a million -- no, two, two million dollars in cash, in a bag by the Sea of Tranquility...."

But if we discover that murder in space isn't covered by any jurisdiction, I think we should start planning a lot more manned flights. First passenger list: Johnny Knoxville, Ron Howard, Donald Rumsfeld ("Do I want to die in space? No. Do I believe the Martians have weapons of mass destruction? Yes. Can we win the war at Wolf 359? Yes."), and everyone who has ever particpated, win or lose, in American Idol. Including Paula Abdul.

The Top 10

I wanted to add this feature to my blog about six months ago, but I forgot. But this is the new year, so let's start it out with something new. Even if it is kinda dumb.

I'm a stats junkie. I'm pretty sure you know this already. I also have a lot of CDs, most of which I've now successfully copied to my new computer. And Windows Media Player loves to keep track of all sorts of crap -- most importantly in this case, the number of times you've played a certain song.

So I hereby present: the top 10. The ten songs I've listened to more than any others. I'll update it each Monday -- you'll see the list on the right side, over there by the countdown. I'll also keep an archive of all the lists on this post's permanent page, if only because I'm a huge dork.

The purpose of this feature? Only to amuse me. Which is good enough.

The Top 10s

01.23.06
1. "OK Alone," Gabriel Mann
2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Johnny Cash & Fiona Apple
3. "Operator," Jim Croce
4. "Kill You," Eminem
5. "You Could Have It So Much Better," Franz Ferdinand
6. "Something to Be," Rob Thomas
7. "Nautical Disaster," The Tragically Hip
8. "Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen
9. "Love Explosion," Weezer
10. "Frances the Mute," The Mars Volta

01.16.06
1. "OK Alone," Gabriel Mann
2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Johnny Cash & Fiona Apple
3. "Operator," Jim Croce
4. "Frances the Mute," The Mars Volta
5. "Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen
6. "You Could Have It So Much Better," Franz Ferdinand
7. "Love Explosion," Weezer
8. "Nautical Disaster," The Tragically Hip
9. "Teardrop," Massive Attack
10. "Holiday," Green Day

01.09.06
1. "OK Alone," Gabriel Mann
2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Johnny Cash & Fiona Apple
3. "Operator," Jim Croce
4. "Frances the Mute," The Mars Volta
5. "My [DSMBR," Linkin Park
6. "The Sound of Silence," Simon & Garfunkel
7. "Teardrop," Massive Attack
8. "No One's Boy," Marcy Playground
9. "Nautical Disaster," The Tragically Hip
10. "Holiday," Green Day

01.02.06
1. "OK Alone," Gabriel Mann
2. "Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)," Jim Croce
3. "The Sound of Silence," Simon & Garfunkel
4. "Teardrop," Massive Attack
5. "Nautical Disaster," The Tragically Hip
6. "Landed," Ben Folds
7. "No One's Boy," Marcy Playground
8. "Roulette," System of a Down
9. "Not About Love [bootleg]," Fiona Apple
10. "Cassandra Gemini VII," The Mars Volta