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Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Dance Central = My House

In Video Games on November 11, 2011 at 12:41 am

This feels like a good time to be a late adopter. Why? The last month or so I started doing things that I either thought about doing or was recommended to do in the past. My sword-fighting class is a good example. Or how I started the Insanity workout on Kettner’s advice from the summer (stop yelling at me Shaun T, I’m trying!). But the best example is this new-fangled XBox 360 Kinnect, which my sister was almost begging me to try months and months ago. In the past week, my home has been transformed into a dance studio of the most rockingest, booty-danciest variety.

Last Friday, my wife called me at work and said: “I want to buy a Kinnect.” A Kinnect, for those whom do not know, is a piece of XBox 360 hardware that can read what your body is doing with no controller. It apparently works using a combination of Hermetic sorcery with a pinch shamanic dreamspeaking and a touch of good, old fashioned witchcraft. Nina’s idea was an odd one because: A) My wife had never shown too much interest in this product in the significant time it had been on the market, B) It’s not a particularly inexpensive thing to buy on an impulse, and C) We have no room in our TV nook for the required space for this device. Stunned by this illogical turn of events, I agreed it was a good idea.

So, sure, we needed to re-arrange furniture to the point that we moved the TV and XBox of out the TV room. Now we have a crowded and studio and a separate “couch-facing-an-empty-entertainment-center” room. Now our cable box and DVR attached to a wire connected to what seems to be nothing (but I leave it open to the possibility of it being attached to an invisible ghost TV that I cannot see or hear.) But man, was it worth it. Why? Dance Central 2.

Dance Central 2 is the reason why Nina wanted the Kinnect. If life demands exercise, I suppose dancing it out to a ridiculous assortment of music is a potential better choice than being yelled at via DVD by a muscular, shirtless man (I’m kidding Shaun T, I know you’re attitude comes from a place of love). So Nina has been dancing almost daily for hours at a time. And tonight, after moving the TV to the larger room, I joined her.

Fedoras are optional. You hear me, Maria Bello! We get it! You're a tough lady working hard to earn respect in misogynist police force. Lose the Timberlake cover!

And I cannot recommend it enough. It’s super-fun, a nice workout, and a great way to spend time with Nina. And while my dancing skill are comparable to a combination of Frankenstein’s monster, Herman Munster, and Frankenberry, it does not deter me from trying to look like Lady Gaga in the Bad Romance video. Shit, I had the outfit anyway.

Video Game Anticipation

In Video Games on November 9, 2011 at 1:24 am

So, it’s been awhile. And this isn’t to say that I’ve been slacking. I am currently playing in three regularly-scheduled roleplaying games. I been getting caught up on my slacking comic book reading. I’ve been making tremendous progress in the management of my fantasy football (again, the geekiest thing I have ever done). Hell, I’ve started taking a samurai sword class (okay, maybe fantasy football is the second geekiest thing I have ever done). So I have been busy, just not with writing. I intend to attempt to try to maybe remedy that…if possible.

Anyway, what’s been bugging me recently is a shortage of new games that I want to play. I know there have been good games released, such as Arkham City (which I decided to hold off as to play until I receive the game as a Christmas present…Yes, I know that was a dumb move), I am really waiting for some of the big roleplaying games. This week I finally get to play Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Next month I get the Bioware Star Wars MMORPG, The Old Republic. Relatively early next year I get the Mass Effect 3. I am dying to play these games, as I have been dying to play them for the years they have been in development.

In the meantime, however, I have been looking to satiate my gaming fix…yet none of the games I have been playing have really scratched the itch. This is the first part of a frustrating though not-actually-that-vicious-but-bear-with-me cycle. It involves me buying video games that I don’t actually want because I am impatient for the games I actually do want.

For instance, I knew Skyrim was coming in November. So, instead of of just waiting for it to be released, I start looking at games to tide me over, using a few different justifications:

1) This games in on sale on Steam (or Direct2Drive, or XBox Live, or GoG) and I would be a fool, A FOOL, to let this opportunity pass me by: This one doesn’t bother me too much because it has yielded some really pleasant experiences at a very low cost. Borderlands (the stylized action-shooter-loot collector) and Sequence (the indie, rhythm-action, RPG) stand out in this category.

2) Let’s buy a game kind of like the one I want to play because something is better than nothing: Hello Dungeon Siege 3. I wanted a game that involved me developing a character and swords and magic and shit, so I talk myself into a solidly average game with middling reviews because I…I just wanted to play it. This is less justifiable because it costs full, retail price despite not being what I really wanted.

3) Shit, a big game just came out and while it has been eagerly awaited by some, it was barely on my radar. For some reason, on launch day I decide it must be mine and drop full price…and immediately feel regret: Rage and Battlefield 3 come to mind. While big games to some, I couldn’t have cared less about them when they were in development. Yet, for want of the actual game I desire, I picked both these games up and immediately regretted it. Not because they’re bad games (they’re not) but they were ill-fitting substitutes for what I wanted to play. And I knew it when I bought them. And I did it anyway.

Finally...the novel experience of playing a soldier in war-torn region of the world. What a fresh and new experience.

Oh, boo hoo. Mr. Disposable Income bought a game he didn’t weally wuv or want but he made to pway them anyway. Yes, but the thing is…my income is certainly much less disposable than this behavior reflects. And these numerous small financial expenditures made me that much poorer…and didn’t scratch my video game itch. It just feels pointless and hollow in retrospect. Oh, well. At least the holiday season approaches so most of the games I’ve been anticipating are starting to manifest. Thank Odin for that.

Kleptomania

In Video Games on March 21, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I just finished Dragon Age II last night and it was a pretty satisfying experience. It had plenty of interesting, well developed characters. It had a dark, complex setting with which I felt strongly invested. It had some unforeseen twists and turns that compelled me to keep playing to see what happened. Unfortunately, it suffers from a common characteristic found in a great many role-playing games. That characteristic is player character kleptomania. And as gamers, you and I contribute to this problem.

What do I mean? Okay, picture this. Your character is some kind of moral paragon. You always make the most noble, self-sacrificing choice is presented. You give your money to the poor and do good deeds while rejecting the reward. You are a model for selfless behavior from top to bottom. But what happens when your character is even in the same room as a random chest, crate, or barrel. That’s right, you loot it quickly and thoroughly. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the same room as the Grand Emperor or your newly reunited long-lost sibling. In a video game RPG, if there is an interactable container of any kind, the game expects you to take whatever is inside.

Talk about an break in storytelling immersion. What kind of noble knight goes rifling through someone else’s belongings right in front of them? And better yet, what kind of backwards artificial intelligence lets me get away with it. For instance, in Dragon Age II, my party found a locked chest sitting next to a handful of guards in the fucking Guard Tower. So what do I do? I sent my rogue character, Verric, to pick the lock and take what’s inside. Does anyone in my party, who, by the way, includes the captain of the guard, say anything about this? Do the guards sitting two feet away? Nope.

Most role-playing games employ this concept of giving items to the the watchful players. Any random container is a source of income waiting for the vigilant. Unfortunately, this rarely makes any sense in the course of the narrative. Even worse, the containers often contain nothing my character would be interested in, but I end up taking it because it’s there. For instance, my character will notice a barrel in an alley. What’s inside? Broken tools and some torn pants. So, despite wearing a city treasury’s worth of gold in enchanted armors and magical rings, my character steals this trash because the game put it there. And what do I do with this trash? I sell it to literally any vendor, who is always more than happy to give me hard currency in exchange for a bag of shit or whatever.

Oh, don't mind me, officers. I'm just going to have my friend steal your belonging. Please continue standing in a circle.

Why can’t games get past this trope. I mean, it was a running joke in the last Bard’s Tale game, yet companies like Bioware continue to use it in their high-end, mature games. It’s to fantasy role-playing games what red, exploding barrels are to first-person shooters. A cliche from a bygone age that needs to be left behind.

Dragon Age II: My Second Job

In Video Games on March 11, 2011 at 2:16 am

Nothing like finishing a long day of work, commuting a couple of hours home, grabbing a quick bite to eat, and barely having a moment to say hello to my wife before punching into my second job. That job, of course, is the new Bioware epic game Dragon Age II. And while the long hours I pour into the game might seem excessive to the average person, it is a necessary labor for a certain breed of bad-ass for whom I can muster only one label. Hero.

Okay, so Dragon Age II has consumed my life in a way that Bioware always seems able to do. But as I stumble to bed, as I have in the last few days, wiped out by a day of labor and a night of obsession, the incoherent semblance of thought runs through my addled brain. Why does this activity, more than any other, compel me to keep going? Why do the hours slip away into days or weeks? How does Bioware, the studio behind some of the best games I have ever played, do this to me in a way no other form of media can? To start, let’s look at other forms of entertainment.

Modern video game narratives are often compared to movies. Often, in action games especially, the plot is a scripted, fixed entity that requires the players play through to reveal the narrative. The use of cinematic storytelling, whether in directed cut-scenes or professionally voiced performances, is employed to communicate to the audience in a way familiar to it. Despite my love of movies, certain video games will hold my attention far longer and with greater intensity than a movie. Even a mediocre story in game form can engage me in a way that the greatest cinematic narrative seems unable to do.

The difference, I imagine, is the work being done. Films are a passive medium. Even the greatest, most thought-provoking, and most challenging film is something you just need to watch. Games, on the other hand, have to be worked through. If I am going to see the next scene, the next story development, or the next conversation, I have to make it happen. And that investment of energy and effort creates a sense ownership impossible to experience in other mediums.

Sleep is for cowards! Or...um...people who have a healthy relationship with video gaming.

Or maybe Bioware is a company of evil fucking bastards who hate my spare time and love depriving me of sleep.

Gaming by Torchlight

In Video Games on July 15, 2010 at 12:12 am

It’s been over 24 hours since I shocked myself silly changing a light bulb. Since I haven’t shown even the slightest sign of even the mildest of superpowers, back to work.

Yesterday, I decide to take a chance on downloading an inexpensive game for my PC to satisfy my craving for video gaming. I decided to go for Torchlight. It’s sales pitch? It’s a pleasant-looking, smooth-running Diablo 2 clone. That’s about it. And, really, that’s all it took.

You see, for those of you who don’t know, Diablo 2 was the refinement of mouse-based action RPGs. You moved a character around from an isometric view and clicked on monsters to kill them. Then you collected their loot. Repeat. Yes, you have character classes and special abilities and so on, but the vast majority of the game is going to new dungeons, fighting mobs of monsters, collecting items to allow you to kill faster or more effectively, than killing some more.

And there have been other games, such as Titan Quest that allow you to continue doing that again and again. No real story to speak of. Not a ton of variety in strategy, level design, or monster AI. You just click and kill and collect and click and…you get the idea.

Just 5 for minutes. Just one more level. Just...who am I kidding? I'm doing this for the next 12 hours.

Yet, there is something so satisfying about this. I cannot put my finger on it. Maybe the feeling of constant accomplishment? Maybe the intangible feeling of hitting an enemy that the best games of this genre make feel just right? I don’t know. All I know is that Torchlight does it just right. With the use of many, easily accessible or easily created portals, boring backtracking is a thing of the past. With the use of a pet (dog or cat) that not only fights with you but carries gear back to the surface to sell while you continue dungeon-crawling, you never have a good time to stop going. It’s addictive and fun but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why. I do know, however, that is is the cure for the summer doldrums. Back to it.

The Arcade Experience

In Video Games on July 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm

This 4th of July, my wife and I headed to Nathan’s for some hotdogs. Now, you might think I meant the home of the annual Hotdog Eating Contest and that would make sense, but no. I was on Central Ave. in Yonkers in a completely unplanned crawl through southern Westchester when we decided to get some dogs. And what would a trip to Nathan’s be without a trip to the arcade in the back? So Nina and I hit it up with a couple of pocketfuls of quarters.

When I was a kid, arcades were these magical places I could only visit a few times a year. A birthday party here or there with a very limited number of quarters made up my arcade experience yet they changed my life. The games that you could find at arcades were miles more advanced, more exciting than anything on my Atari 2600 or, later, NES. It wasn’t until the Super Nintendo or Genesis that home consoles started catching up, at all, with the magic machines found in the numerous arcades around my home.

But that divide quickly disappeared, with arcades being equal, or even inferior, to the home versions. Saved and persistant games replaced the quarter guzzling mentality of game design and video games matured into a new, more advanced, and more personal form. Arcades quickly disappeared in many places and that dreamlike feeling disappeared with them,

So, back to the weekend. The arcade experience was very different in 2010. Even the best games seem antiquated and silly. However, as my wife and I sat on our plastic motorcycles and she passed me in the final lap to crush any chance of winning, a glimmer of that old feeling remained. While video games have moved on, in complexity, affordability, and maturity, sometimes there is nothing like wasting coins in a dingy, hot room filled with flashing, screaming arcade games. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Massively Ineffectual

In Roleplaying Games, Video Games on July 1, 2010 at 1:09 am

I’m still playing Mass Effect and really enjoying it. Crappy inventory and slow elevator rides aside, this has to be one of my favorite modern video game RPGs around. Yet, it has a characteristic that appears in a great deal of RPGs, whether they be single-player computer, MMORPGs, or pen-and-paper. Namely, the slowdown of advancement as you reach higher levels. As I’m approaching the level max in ME, 60, the game decides to slow down the rate in which you gain levels to a crawl. Not a “I’m scrambling like a contestant on Double Dare looking for the flag” crawl, but more of a “I’m a recent quadruple amputee who just finished a bottle of cough syrup” crawl. And you know what I get at every level for my efforts? One single skill point. Not some game-breaking, godlike ability. A single teeny skill point that will have negligible effect on the game at this point. Why?

Well, I guess in Mass Effect, they want to reward the hard work of the loyal die-hards versus the people who are not me and have lives. Wait a second. I was about to go all self-deprecating about what a loser I am but I did other stuff tonight. I watched Top Chef: Washington and I…um…shit.

Let’s get back to my silly point. Leveling up or improving your character/party is one of the coolest part of RPGS. I mean, there are plenty of great things about the genre, including the gameplay, mastering the mechanics, and experiencing the narrative. Yet improvement is a constant carrot for RPGS. So what do many developers in response to the work you’ve done? Decrease the amount that you experience this extremely fun part of the game, that’s what.

Will it stop me from doing every side mission, no matter how tedious or painful for a mere dusting of experience points? Absolutely not.

Mass Effect…again

In Video Games on June 23, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I like explaining my potentially pathological tendencies. If I write them down, it makes me feel like a)Maybe they’re not that weird or b)At least I am being honest with my self-expression and providing a warning for those around me. In this case, I am referring to my need to play and then replay and then maybe replay again most video role-playing games that I finish. This manifests itself in a few ways.

1) I restart the game, even after having spent dozens or more hours, before finishing it. Often RPGs have a steep learning curve. You might think that a skill would be useful at first level, but proves itself to be worthless during the course of the game. Then you see the crappy skill and the resources you applied to it staring you in the face every time you go to the character sheet. Maybe you made a story decision you made and realize you have to continually live with it down the road. Maybe you…wait, why am I saying you? I’m the only one who does this stupid shit. But yes, I often am unable to finish a game the first time through and find myself restarting all the time before I finish.

2) Right after I finish the game, I go right back and start it again. Some games, like Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 allow you use your now advanced character from the start and even accumulate more experience, better items, etc. Any game that allows me more opportunity to obsessively power-up my character will be one I play again and again. Even if I can’t carry over my character to a new game, I’ll still usually restart an RPG right away. You might then think, “Oh, well you probably want to try a different kind of character or make different decisions. Yes, I will do this sometimes (like in the recently played Alpha Protocol) but more often, I will play it the same way, making similar decisions and developing my character in the same method. Why? I think I am always trying to get it right; to make this run-through perfect.

Why do you do this to me? Why can't you leave me alone? Who am I kidding? I can't stay mad at you.

And these ideas bring to me Mass Effect again. I want to enjoy Mass Effect 2 but the game allows you to transfer over a character from the first one. So, yes. that means I am playing Mass Effect again, then probably playing it again with the same character again to max his level, so I can transfer this character to the sequel, the game really want to play in the first place. This will take probably days, if not weeks, of real time commitment. Not calendar days; actual blocks of 24 hours. And what do I get from this? You might think nothing and it would be hard to argue that point, but I look forward to very little more than doing this. That’s what I’m off to do right now.

Please tell me someone else can relate.

Bad Reputation

In Video Games on April 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

After downloading a new patch to fix the old patch, I was up and running on Mount & Blade again. After humble beginnings a guy with a sword and a lame horse, my character had become a respected lord with an army of over one hundred veteran soldiers. It was great to be back but I can see myself getting over this game soon. Why, you ask? Well, I have become frustrated with the roleplaying/character development part of the game. In particular, the game concept of renown and reputation.

A lot of games, especially those from companies like Bioware or Besthesda, understand this concept well. Either within your party or in the game world at large, you are able to change the perception of how others view your character. Your actions have consequences in the world at large and this creates a sense of truth in the reality of the game. Like in Fallout 3, where the radio DJ praises you or condemns your work in the destroyed Washington D.C. wasteland. Or in Fable 2, where townspeople will flee from you on sight based on evil acts you have committed. It is a very nice way to increase immersion in video games.

But it can be frustrating, too. See, in Mount & Blade, I am running into a problem of not receiving sufficient appreciation for my good works. My character has single-handedly doubled the size of his sovereign kingdom, fighting armies four times his size as he lays siege to enemy castles and towns. Am I a hero for these efforts? Do I find my wealth and reputation rising with every decisive victory? Well, not really, to be honest. I might go up a point here or there in renown or honor, but nothing significant. Even when I request the right to control a city I personally seized, the king usually gives it to some other schmuck .

What game does this the best? Has anyone ever played a game where the world’s population gives you credit that matches the scope of the heroics your character is achieving. Games, like Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins do a pretty good job, but it never feels quite right. Or am I too desperate for the approval of a collection of 0’s and 1’s?

Bad patch

In Video Games on April 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I mentioned the other day that I was playing Mount & Blade: Warband and was kind of getting into it. Now we can call it full blown obsession. Obsession that keeps me up late. Obsession that keeps me from posting on my blog. Sorry about that.

So, wouldn’t it be great to tell you that I decided to exercise some self-control, take a quick break from my game, and write a quick post? Yeah, that would be great. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Mount & Blade released a patch today that was downloaded automatically by my Steam account. This mandatory patch, I can only assume, was released to make my gaming experience better. Yet, that was not the case unless you think an improved game experience involves a fatal game crash every time the enemy retreats from my army on the field of battle. That’s right. Just when at the point of sure victory, when the enemy flees before the thundering charge of my cavalry, the game goes down. This was no problem yesterday, before the patch, but now it happens every time, making the game unplayable.

So, I guess it is a good thing as it forces me to write, but this kind of thing always drives me crazy. I like to think that patches are an attempt by developers to support games after their release as an attempt to aid the gaming community. Too often, this “gift” from game developers is completely unwelcome. You want to say: “Hey, it’s okay. I appreciate it the effort” but all you can really think is “Leave the fucking game alone so I can play it!” This is always a problem in MMORPGs and other online game experiences, but when this shit starts invading my single-player experience, it drives me up the wall. Or maybe I’m just crabby because I can’t get my fix. Who knows.