Webcomics, Video Games, Books, Geek Toys, and Life in General

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Road-Geekery?! Is It a Hobby? Then That’s Okay.

Geeky hobbies, a-hoy! Today, we’re talking about the word “hobby,” which is almost synonymous (in usage, though not origin or derivation) with “geekery,” making it a fine topic, I think, for a column called GeekCast.

Furthermore, I would like to hear from people who have fascinating hobbies that they feel could or should be added to the following list. I chose these based on their absurdity and/or level of personal interest I felt for them while researching popular (perhaps even “geeky”) hobbies on the intarweb. Ready? Let’s go:

Beekeeping (“I like my women like I like my coffee—covered in bees!”)
Dog Breeding (One of those things the filmstrip at school said not to try at home.)
Crochet/Knitting/Embroidery (The only activities involving needles that one may SAFELY pursue.)
Origami (“It’s a pterodactyl—KRRAW! KRRAW!”)
Collecting—or Antiquing if you’re sensitive about it—lunch boxes, books, rocks, bottle caps, playing cards, Pez dispensers, comic books, Zippo lighters, etc.
Building Model Airplanes or Dollhouses
Computer Animation
Modding or Hacking Computers
(It’s got a nice “illegal” feel to it; we’ll talk about that later.)
Ham Radio
(Anything from epic novels to steamy fanfiction!)
Gaming (Anything from card games to board games to RPGs to MMORPGs to LARPing—I’m talking to you, Civil War Re-enactment buffs!)
Rock Climbing
(Motto: “Because it’s there.”)
(“Oh yeah? One time I drew a nose that was THIS big!”)
Sports and Sports Fanaticism
And last, but not least—wait for it, people—RoadGeeking.

I know you want to know about RoadGeeking RIGHT NOW—BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER, which is why I listed it last. It’s a new word, it sounds obscure enough that it can’t possibly be anything mainstream (which doesn’t necessarily make it indie, but there’s an alluring chance), and plus I listed it last, so it’s stuck in your head. Get it out! Get it out!

Relax, people. It’s basically road-tripping. However, RoadGeekers are more interested in the trip (the “getting there, man”) than in the destination. A RoadGeek is like a Buddhist monk of the road, always questing for that ultimate spiritual journey: the road-trip to nowhere. (Actually, I think that probably makes Jack Kerouac the godfather of that particular hobby.) I imagine possible RoadGeekers as people who slave away in cubicles like mine pulling ten- or twelve-hour shifts during the week so that they can hit the road early on Friday and spend the weekend seeing the countryside.

And what a hobby! Can you imagine the clubs? The dues? The meetings?

The Roadgeek Convention? Where would they hold it?

“Right, we’re gonna meet in Partridge Grove, Connecticut on Tuesday; then we’ll meet in San Caleo, California on Saturday—no rush, we’re not commuters here, people! After that, it’s up to Boseman, Montana on Wednesday, and we’ll finish up the convention in Gerkitwake—you remember that little village we hit in ’96—up near Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. First one there’s a real weenie.”

I want a T-Shirt already, and I haven’t even read everything I can find on the subject. I have so many questions—I’m like a RoadGeek Padawan.

For example: Is it road-geeking if you just get lost for a few days because you refuse to stop and ask directions? I think the time I navigated an inadvertent road-trip to North Carolina should count, especially if these RoadGeeks tally their miles. I don’t want to brag, but I’ve been known to turn a three-hour trip into a six-hour trip—and that’s when I’m not even trying.

Also: Is it road-geeking if you just sit at home and plan out trips that you never take? If so, I could count hours and hours spent planning out a looping, drunken course across “these United States” that would take me through Texas (Shawn, April, Kristin), Utah (Dave, Adam, Jeremiah), Nevada (Cameron, Jueneta, Will), California (Sarah, Rich, Scott H.), Oregon (Leticia, Scott B.), Washington (Mike, Desiree), and Idaho (Nolan, Barbara & Co.), not to mention a few other states where I don’t know anyone at all—will I ever see the Twin Cities, Chicago, or Boston?! At this point in my life, nothing is certain.

And another question: What if you’re not actually going ANYWHERE AT ALL!? Perhaps RoadGeek Boot Camp goes something like this:

“For the next week, we’re just going to circle the city—everybody hop on 295 and just Ring-Around-the-Rosie until you get sick. Last one off wins! We’re allowed one pit-stop every six revolutions, and a two-hour dinner each evening at a location chosen by the lead vehicle. Monday’s lead vehicle is Jim in the Nissan supercab, so you can probably count on those guys picking Chili’s again. Radio in when you’re stopping so we can time you—if it takes you more than one revolution to catch up, you’re drinking too many fluids!”

If RoadGeeking just sounds like endless driving to you, then you’re missing the bigger picture, I think!

Think of the comforts these people must bring along. You can’t just take off in your Yugo with a hoody sweatshirt and a bottled water—this isn’t a nature walk! RoadGeeking requires preparation, and by preparation I mean snacks! (Not too many; we’re not trying to turn this into the week-long search for every rest stop in the tri-state area.) Where do you strike the perfect balance of energy, nutrition, and fiber? How much lemon in your drink is TOO much—enough to slake the thirst, but not so much that you need a belly full of water to undo the after-taste? I’m sure these are questions to ponder ... for a RoadGeek.

What about the vehicle? A mini-van can seat more people comfortably, but it guzzles gas and would require more stopping; a Geo Metro gets great gas mileage, but it would fold you up like a taco all day, and that means cramping not only legs but stomach muscles—oh, the indigestion!

Do RoadGeeks enjoy the sights along the way—or are they too centered on the transitory experience? Would a RoadGeek make a detour to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine? Would a RoadGeek pull over at the Grand Canyon to take the inevitable picture of someone pretending to pee off the edge? (We hope he is pretending.) Or would the ultimate RoadGeek simply thrill to the feel of the asphalt thrumming away beneath the tires? Would he become a connoisseur of road conditions, gushing over the stretches of highway in Kansas that disappear perfectly straight all the way to the horizon, musing exasperatedly—yet lovingly—on the swerving, plunging Colorado passage through the mountains?

Are you a RoadGeek? Maybe you are, and you just don’t know it. Jeff Foxworthy says—and he is not exactly the voice of one who cries in the desert, but he spoke true at least once by my count—that it is every man’s dream to walk into the house after a long road trip and declare, “Made it in five hours, eighteen minutes!” as though declaring an Olympic Moment in History. I feel this thrill when the trip from our porch to Grandma’s porch takes less than two hours, fifty-eight minutes—our personal best. “Lay thou the ancient laurels upon me, for I have bested that which was the best!” (It’s iambic, people; you can check.)

If all this rambling has a point, I am afraid that I have run out of time today to tell it. Therefore I declare this to be ...


Stay tuned for more Hobby-Geekery on this channel.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Political Geekery: When Geeks Attack

It’s about the wire-tapping, people. Skip it if you want. I’m no pundit; in fact, I may just be getting in way over my head here, but ... here goes.

I feel like I have nothing to fear from the government reading my e-mails or listening on my phone—and what makes me feel even more secure is the ridiculousness of the notion that the government would ever monitor MY communications. “Mark that; that’s four calls from his wife in one day—this guy is hen-pecked. He’s our terrorist-in-the-making, alright.” (That's a joke, honey.)

Does anyone really believe in this daffy chimpanzee-at-the-wheel that we've made Bush out to be? Does anyone really see their congress-person as some kind of cartoonish super-villain, making secret plans in a secret lab to undermine their citizenship and rights? Oh, don't get me wrong; I'm irked that these guys make decisions about Social Security but don't have to live on it like the rest of us, but do I think they're acting completely heedless of their constituency? Do I believe the President of the United States is spending his time in the White House trying to bring the whole country down around our ears?

I know it'll get me stoned—probably right here, right now—but I have faith in the officials we elected. And we DID elect them. I don’t care WHAT the ballot was shaped like—butterflies, clowns, tentacled aliens—a vote is a vote, so look a little closer in 2008, people.

I think the underlying fear here—paranoia, really—comes from the fact that we have a government that is designed to be run by the people but is actually NOT being run by the people. We've got a low voter-turn-out, poor attendance at community government meetings, disinterest in the real news (only stuff that bleeds or dies for me, okay? no local issues or budget run-downs!), and a tendency to spend what precious time we dedicate to debating government policy ... on character-smearing the current guy in office.

This wire-tapping issue is a great example. I would like to know how people would feel about a society where every message you send, every phone call you make, every letter you write, and every forum post like this had to contain—or link to—your name, age, gender, race, weight, political affiliation, work history, voting record, criminal record, and favorite color. Imagine the controversy there! Whole forums where "people who like the color green" are not welcome because they can't be trusted!

Maybe we just have this innate need to believe that this information is more important than it actually is. It’s like the guy who refuses to tell you what he does for a living so that he can persist in the illusion that his work is top-secret. We taught ourselves to fear this kind of 'intrusion' by the government.

Intrusion? Do you know how easy it is to go read someone’s e-mail? About as easy as reading someone’s blog—you send your mail out over the INTERNET, people. Gosh, wouldn't it be embarrassing if someone were reading this post right now, hearing me sound like a total political lightweight? I can picture them now, shaking their heads and making a mental check-mark next to "doesn't have anything useful to say."

So, that’s my point, I guess: isn't our privacy just sort of an illusion anyway? We feel like we are sheltered and protected—or we feel like we are anonymous and distanced—when in reality we may be living next door to a terrorist, or we may be the victims of identity theft right now and not know it ... or we may be mouthing off in a blog or a forum to someone who turns out to be our eighth grade gym teacher.

Mr. Chowns, is that you?

Anyway, what I meant to say is that it doesn't bother me to know (or suspect) that someone is reading my mail when I'm actually more worried about someone hijacking my credit cards ... or bombing my church. And maybe by letting some shades-sporting-suit read my mail (and my creepy neighbor's) I might escape both of those fates. Answer me a couple of questions, people:

1. I thought the Right to Privacy--that has been debated recently in the courts—turned out to be an interpretative fallacy of some sort; I am reading up on it right now, but I thought I would throw it out there. Does the Constitution ever actually guarantee a Right to Privacy?

2. And I was led to believe—perhaps erroneously—that e-mail surveillance was done by computers scanning for word combinations rather than a team of people sitting around and sifting through e-mails one-by-one. Isn't that a little different than having someone actually looking over your shoulder when you type?

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way about the level of privacy I should expect from the government.

I think about elementary school—teachers are expected to look through children's backpacks to find notes from parents or homework or lunch money because the kids are just six years old; and then in middle school and high school we are told that we don't have any expectation of privacy in our lockers because the school owns them and we should expect to have them searched in the event of a drug investigation or a bomb scare; and then once we get to college, we just sort of expect to graduate to complete independence and anonymity. No one should ever check up on us again, right?

Well, brace yourselves for some pretty radical thought here, people: I think there should be more than an AGE requirement for rights like that. We require people to list criminal convictions on job applications, we take a medical history before admitting a patient, we do background checks for government jobs and firearm permits, and we "Google" ... well, we Google just about anyone for any reason—or no reason at all—why?

I mean, why do we do these things if we value privacy so much?

I think it's because we know that just because someone has survived to adulthood doesn't mean that they are responsible enough to carry a firearm. And just because the kid is eighteen doesn't mean that he has given careful consideration to the vote he's about to cast. And just because he passed a driving test doesn’t mean he knows when he’s had enough to drink. And just because he's married with two kids and goes to soccer games doesn't mean that he's not spending evenings and early mornings assembling bombs in his basement.

I believe in allowing people freedoms—but I don’t believe in allowing everyone every freedom all the time. We need to earn certain freedoms; that means monitoring the level of personal responsibility until we can be reasonably sure that a person can be trusted. And if the freedom is abused, it can be taken away. We do it with drivers’ licenses—not enough of the time, but somewhat—but we can’t do it with e-mail privacy? (Besides, if you really have something that personal and private to say, shouldn’t you be saying it in person, big boy? Get a room!)

Is the government also opening snail-mail? Not that I’ve heard, but I don’t have my ear to the ground in any real sense. Try writing words on a page next time you’re feeling oh-so-secretive—oh, but I guess your mail might get sniffed by a dog somewhere, you know, in case there are drugs or a bomb in there. Is that an invasion of privacy, too? I have to admit that most of the time I’m sniffed by dogs I feel as though I have been invaded. Better write your congress-person to let them know of your displeasure with the idea of your mail being sniffed by a police dog.

I just don’t get it. That’s all. I just don’t see what the big deal is. Read this, government snooping-software: I am no terrorist. I don’t care if you read my blog, my phone records, my mail or anyone else’s. Do what you think is reasonably necessary to find the next “holy vigilante” planning to rock my world in the name of his deity.

As soon as I say something like that, someone is picturing a communist state, people living in poverty, police beating citizens and imprisoning them for months or years with little or no cause or provocation, information being rationed, filtered, or outright fabricated for us. Why? Is this the extreme to which we think this will come? Have we become so engorged on information, so self-important with our limited knowledge of these events that we can trace a direct path from cause to effect and predict the future?

I believe the pendulum swings. I believe that this wire-tapping crap is a shock and a hot-button for people now, but I believe that in a few years—or in a few minutes—either their attention will be diverted to some Hollywood incident (summer blockbusters, here we come!) or they will simply lose interest during the next presidential election campaigns—so much easier to rave about something when it’s up-to-the-minute: you’re guaranteed to find a cozy spot online with a dozen or a hundred other hotheads where you can breed ideologies all day.

You know what might happen? They might discover that a cell of terrorists in Wisconsin (no offense, cheeseheads) was ferreted out by a piece of obscure mail-reading software ... and then the guy who lives next door to one of the zealots—the same guy who has spent hours each day touting the mysterious Right to Privacy—will likely not spare one kind word or begrudging bit of gratitude for his safety. He’ll go on saying that he “would have rather died a horrible death than endanger our beloved Constitution” and so forth. It’s always easier to say once the guy is behind bars.

You know what’s easier to do BEFORE the guy is behind bars? Tell yourself that you’re safe, and stagnate in your complacency. Try it! It’s pretty easy on the stomach!

Maybe the best thing to come out of this wire-tapping nonsense is heightened public awareness—if you can call it that. I’d better stop before I start making fun of people who go foaming at the mouth over something before they have all the facts—because that hits a little too close to home for me.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Metal Arms: Glitch In The System

For fans of the first-person-shooter--read "Halo groupies"--there is an underrated game out there that you're missing. When I say that you're missing it, I really mean: you don't know what you're missing.

Ignorance really is bliss, and so I should probably not even tell you about this game, if only to spare you the anxiety of deciding whether to risk your hard-earned cash on it, followed by the solid week of torment it will take you to conquer the game. Picture yourself, a once-proud Master Chief already having tamed scores of Elites and Brutes--to say nothing of the floods of Flood--and fresh from visiting destruction on your friends in a wild array of multi-player match-ups. You are a demi-god of tactical weaponry, a sly crack-shot and a wisecracker. You fear nothing.

Now picture yourself approximately one-hundred-and-sixty-eight hours later, spittle flying from your mouth at the TV screen as you struggle for some explanation as to why you are coming in second place--again--to Vlax the Speedy (outrunning you through the ruins and holding the key to your destruction in his hands), or to the JunkBot King (the wheezing incarnation of industrial offal), or to General Corrosive (the dreadnought of the end-game) himself. It's not a pretty sight. Doubtless there are those of you out there who whisper inwardly, "He's exaggerating; anyone who has beaten Halo on Legendary as many times as I have will have no trouble dispatching these cartoonish morons he describes."

To these infidels, I say, "You know nothing of hell."

I know, I know, just get to the game already, right? Before I do, let me just say that I will confine my remarks here to the single-player experience; however, if you buy this game I will come to YOU to play the multi-player, which is worth another whole article.

First, a brief plot:

On planet Iron Star, a planet inhabited entirely by robots, a scientist named Dr. Exavolt is experimenting with super-robots: large, powerful, and apparently unstoppable. Inevitably, one gets out of control, and Dr. Exavolt goes missing, his lab in ruins. The super-robot he was working on--Corrosive--declares himself General Corrosive, and the battle for control of the planet begins.

Running out of robots to fuel the front lines of this planetary war, a colonel and his rag-tag forces stumble upon a scrapped robot, re-boot him, label him "Glitch," and enlist him in the battle close to home: Droid Town. Mils, the military robots under the command of Corrosive, are everywhere, destroying any resistance robot that surfaces. As Glitch, you are primarily concerned--at first--with exterminating enough of these trigger-happy trolls to keep Droid Town on the map.

In both games, the player learns to perform certain functions faster--such as switching guns or reloading--and both games force the player to use different tactics or tools to approach each new setting. Another similarity is the stepping-up of weapons and vehicles throughout the game. You're not handed everything at once.

"Yeah, so how is it different from Halo?" Good question.

Metal Arms vs. Halo

In Halo, there is little actual thinking involved; it is chiefly a game of reflexes, speed, and accuracy. Halo can be played mindlessly, shooting everything that moves. You are not even given a map because the landscape requires you to move from point A to point B in a particular pattern in order to encounter each wave of Covenant forces. Oh, don't misunderstand me: there's nothing WRONG with that!

However, while self-defense remains a priority throughout both games, there is a strong element of problem-solving in Metal Arms that is absent from Halo. Metal Arms requires you to pay attention; several moments in the game will stump you--literally halting your progress until you figure out what you missed. There are switches and doors, hidden items to acquire, and carefully planned moments of extreme vulnerability--no stock-piling ammunition in this game, at least not for the first twenty levels. (Oh yeah, there are over fifty levels.) I could tell you some stories about Metal Arms--but they'd be real spoilers, folks.

The problem-solving could be a turn-off for some. After all, it's hard to think while manipulating TWO weapons and just TWO types of grenades! Why, that's FOUR things you have to keep up with--and now someone's going to ask you to think? In Metal Arms, you have half-a-dozen types of grenades, a dozen or more weapons (that you can carry with you instead of choosing which one to put down everytime you pick one up), and on top of the usual amount of indecision--which weapon is gonna really demolish this scumbag--they ask you to examine the landscape, make decisions before you act, and figure out problems that may send you all the way back to the beginning of a level.

"Yeah, yeah, we get it, the game requires a brain. Tell us about the GUNS."

Hold on a sec. This isn't just some shooter. Think outside the Halo, here, people.

Not only does Metal Arms boast more weapon-types than Halo, the weapons UPGRADE as you go. Each new level guarantees an almost RPG-like improvement on your little robot and his sidearms. Here are just a few examples:


More batteries: As you fight, your battery winds down and must be recharged; but as you journey through the levels you find additional batteries! Not just additional energy--additional batteries! So, although you start with one battery and have to recharge it over and over, by the end of the game you acquire six batteries and need recharging less frequently.

More weapons: Obviously the mining laser they give you at the beginning of the game is a piece of stuff, so you acquire some brilliantly conceived weaponry as you go. My favorite: the rivet gun. So sweet. Distant seconds: the rocket launcher, the flame-thrower, the SPEW (don't ask), and the slingshot. Oh, yes. There's a slingshot. But, what do you sling? Grenades. (Just stop reading and go buy it, people.)

Weapon upgrades: Even the first-level rivet gun is tight, to be sure. But when you get to that third-level gun with the super-scope and the ability to time the explosion of the bolts ... it almost brings a tear to your eye. Upgrading the weapons means three things: the power or calibre of the amunition, the distance and accuracy (including the scope), and the amount of amunition that can be carried with it.

Gears: Your robot, Glitch, can have gears added to him that allow him to move faster, switch weapons faster, and so forth. Your own reflexes will do this job well enough, I'm sure, but think of the gears as well-deserved recognition.

Shopping: You know what else is missing from Halo? The opportunistic Covenant guy who hides out with a bunch of stolen stuff and sells it to the highest bidder. Well, Metal Arms didn't miss out on this action! Two guys named Shady and Mister Pockets have an arsenal of weapons, upgrades, and other useful items to sell, and they pop up a dozen times throughout the game. You can hear their boom-box playing sometimes, and if you're hard up for bullets or computer chips--or if you just want to see if you can turn your mining laser into an explosive cannon of dismemberment--you follow the sound of the boom-box until you find them hanging out behind a bunker or in a tunnel. Pockets sets up his table and you buy what you need.

What do you use for cash?

Washers. Basically the harvested remains of the legions of lugnuts you have recently dispatched. Pick them up along the way--or find a cheat code online--and you can buy almost anything you need from those two bottom-feeders. Anyone getting a really strong Thenardier-vibe from that?


Another big difference between Metal Arms and Halo is the way that weapons are controlled by the triggers. Your right trigger is your primary weapon, your left trigger is your secondary weapon; that much the two games have in common. In Metal Arms, however, you have a much wider selection of weapons (mostly grenades, yes, but wait for it) devoted to that left trigger; also, the way in which you can scroll through and match up your primary and secondary weapons in Metal Arms leaves Halo in the cold. Not only can you pair up your weaponry choices before going around that corner, but get this: you can program your preferences and dual-switch on the fly!

Let me repeat that: you can program your weapon selections and switch them on the fly--both at the same time--in the heat of battle. If I need rocket-launcher-plus-cleaners for one room, but I will need SPEWs-plus-EMP-grenades for the next room (and you will ... you will) I can stand in the hall, pair up the first set, program my flat-pad for one-touch switching, pair up the next set, program the flat-pad, and then do TWO MORE sets. Here are my typical settings:

Up: SPEW-plus-coring-charges
Right: Scatter-blaster-plus-EMPs
Down: Rivet-gun-plus-super-scope*
Left: Rocket-launcher-plus-cleaners
*The super-scope in this game is a left-hand weapon that you can add to MOST of your weapons, turning them into deadly-accurate tools instead of just sprays of ineffectual ammo (cough) ASSAULT RIFLE (cough).

I can be heavily engaged with a squad of Mils on the ground using my SPEW, one-tap to rockets to take out the giant-flying-thing that I'm not even going to explain in this article, one-tap to rivets for disarming the sentries at a distance, and then back to SPEWs all in a few seconds (no complicated scrolling or button-combinations), and I don't even need to stop shooting! In some levels, the variety of enemy robots you face requires this much planning. Like I said, it's not Halo--but like Halo, when you need a particular weapon, someone drops it or gives it to you. Or you just pry it out of their cold, dead hands. (These are robots, people. Their hands are always cold.)


And, oh, the weapons that they give you. Just the highlights, people, or we'll be here all day--and then there would be no glorious surprises in the game:

Rivet Gun: This is like the pistol from the original Halo. It's accurate up-close and from a distance, can be used with the scope, and in the final stage of its upgrade ... its ammunition becomes remotely controlled explosive devices. Open up a can of that.

Slingshot: Another innovation that Halo didn't have--although rocket launchers was apparently good enough for most of us--was a grenade launcher. The slingshot in MA is for accurately launching grenades across great distances. It is pivotal for at least one level of the game--but for the rest of the game it is just fun! I might even go as far as to say ... super-fun!

Scatter Blaster: No game is complete without a shotgun. Halo taught us that. In fact, for the group I play with, it becomes the coveted weapon all too quickly. That is what the Scatter Blaster is for MA. Ah, but what can you NOT do in Halo? You can't turn that shotgun into an automatic! On the third upgrade, not only is the Scatter Blaster the most powerful punch you can deliver ... it also repeats at three blasts per second, delivering a veritable air-quake of lead to your enemies. Hey, you're gonna need it when you reach the JunkBot King.

And the weapon that's the clincher ...

The Tether: On your side in this war is a guy named Crunk who is a foul-mouthed mechanic--don't worry, they bleep him--and Crunk has designed a weapon called The Tether that allows you to "hack" into another robot. You sneak up on a robot, shoot this "tether" into his D-port (an interface usually located high on their shoulder or neck), and suddenly you are INSIDE the robot, running it by remote control. The best part of some of these levels is hacking into robot after robot--the bad guys--and then using them as cannon fodder for breaking down the enemy lines--their own lines! Enemy robots keep coming up to you and saying, "Where are you going? What are your orders? You're breaking ranks!" And just about the time they figure it out, you open fire! It's like toasting marshmallows.


Just the variety of grenades--that alone--should be enough to entice you away from Halo. If there was one thing I would change about Halo, it would be the boring choices of grenades. One bounces off stuff, the other sticks. Great. Take a lesson from Metal Arms, Bungie!

Here are (again, just the highlights) a few of the grenades available in MA:

EMP grenades: How useful would these be in Halo?! They shut down anything electrical in a certain radius. To me, that means we'd all be defenseless--no shields--but guess what? Only my gun would be working--that beautiful antique Sulu described as "lead pellets fired from a chemical explosion"--and you know what that means? Pistol party!

Magma grenades: Sort of like a Molotov cocktail. Let your imagination run wild on that for a minute.

Cleaners: These are actually small, flying robots that deliver (on your instructions) targeted missiles to one or two of your adversaries while you remain safely hidden, perhaps laughing and imagining the look on his face. All you have to do is get one tiny glimpse of the guy you want obliterated in order to target him; then you get back in cover and toss the cleaner out--in any direction--and it homes in on the guy, flies up above him a little in the air and then delivers your "message" like a pigeon delivers its tidings to a statue. Fun is had all around.

And last, but not least ... wait for it ...

Recruiter grenades: In order to keep the game from becoming a slice of pie, these only work on certain types of robots. What do they do? They put every robot in a certain radius on YOUR side indefinitely. Toss one near a Titan--the juggernaut of the game for about the first ten levels, until you reach the really BIG robots--and suddenly everyone's screaming and running away from your new best friend. (I think I'll name him "Smashy!")

The Morbots

I don't want to ruin this game for you completely, but there is also a mysterious element to Metal Arms--which they never dispel--and that is the origin of Glitch himself. He is different from the other robots, and he has markings on him that suggest he belongs to a race of robots called the Morbots, who live deep in the planet. When you journey underground to the land of the Morbots, the scenery alone will impress you just as much as Halo's does.

Okay, that's enough of my yap. This game took me longer to play, gave me more to talk about, and engaged my mind more than Halo. I think the only reason it's a sleeper hit is that Halo launched in a package with the XBox--everyone got hooked. If Metal Arms had been packaged with the original XBox, I think we would all be waiting around for Metal Arms III right now.

Go find this game and thank me when you surface from it.