Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Game Of The Year & Recap

My game of 2010:  Mass Effect 2
Runner-up: Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow

I took down 23 games in 2010, which is pretty good, I think, though I know I could have done better.

Games finished in 2010:
Bayonetta
Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines
The Witcher
Civilization V
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Starcraft (Protoss)
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Alien Swarm
Call of Duty
inFAMOUS
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Super Mario Galaxy
Planescape: Torment
Torchlight
Starcraft (Zerg)
UniWar
God of War
Far Cry 2
Mass Effect 2
Vagrant Story
Yakuza 2
Metroid: Zero Mission

Past years totals:
2009: 19
2008: 26
2007: 15

I've got a big 2011 ahead; in addition to having a baby, I'm going to be doing more writing and job hunting on the side, so I'm going to go ahead and set a more realistic goal of finishing one game a month on average.  This will of course mean focusing more on games I want to complete, but I'm sure I'll get plenty of variety in there.  Also, with the epic amount of games I bought in 2010 (around 120!), I need to work on both playing a bunch of those, and buying less overall.

I'm going forward with 2 out, 1 in, with indulgences for games under $20, but I do plan to be more selective, considering my massive, incredible backlog of games.  Help me thin out the pile by voting for games I'll play in the Resolution feature of Call Of Podcast!

Happy 2011, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Am I Doing?

Yeah, I still have yet to finish any of the games I listed in my last post.  I won't even list all the games I bought, though.  In my defense, they were all ultra-cheap.  Maybe I should take drastic measures for 2011, like limiting myself to buying one game a month, or buying everything I want now (no restrictions) and then closing the wallet 100% for 2011.  That would be tough.

Well, maybe my current system will work.  I've eased the cutoff price up to $20 because I was tired of debating whether or not to spend completion tokens on $13 or $15 games. I figure once a current-gen console game hits $20, it won't go much lower unless it's a real turd or mega-bomb.  Take for instance a by all accounts good game, Darksiders.  That game has been $30 and then $20 for a while now, but I've yet to see it get near $10, whereas some supposedly big releases this year that flopped I've seen on sale in the $5-$10 range, and I don't even mean on Steam!

So, I don't really know what I'm ultimately going to do with this whole game buying/playing balancing act, but for now I'll say 2 completions earn 1 purchase for games over $20, I guess.  I started at 1 for 1 above $10, but this may be a better balance as far as inflow and outflow.



Enough of that--games! I've been busy playing a whole host of stuff in the last few weeks, and that's what counts.  I got a new big-screen TV to game on, and that's caused me to mix things up some, as well.
I had a slight Monster Hunter resurgence on the Wii, playing a bunch more online and encountering several new big monsters I'd never fought before.  It's a great game, and a lot of fun.  Why the hell is it shackled to portables and hobbled, barely-online enabled systems.  Why bother with huge fail bucket projects like Lost Planet 2 when an HD Monster Hunter would be a sure fire success in Japan at the very least, and could crack the west wide open for Capcom?



I also returned to Bayonetta one night last week, to pick up where I left off a few months back.  I was pretty confused, having forgotten a lot of how the combat system flows and how to handle different enemy types.  Mixing up the weapons I used helped some.  I only went through one chapter, though, and I'll be needing to see to that again soon, to continue on and hopefully finish the game up before New Year's.  Bayo is a really fun game, but I just have so much else I'm more interested in that it's hard to get around to.  Yeah, life is tough in these hard times.



I've been playing a lot of Fallout, also.  I'm more acclimated to it now, and I've made some good progress.  I actually completed the first major quest, which is to find a new water chip to replace the one in the main character's home vault.  You're given a deadline of 150 in-game days in which to accomplish this, or the water runs out in your vault, everyone dies, and it's game over.  In my travels to find a replacement, though, I started to wonder if living underground in vaults is the best thing for survivors in the wasteland.  There is definitely life above ground, dangerous as it is up there.  I half expected the water chip quest to be the entirety of the main quest line of the game, and after finishing that up the rest of the world just being there to run around in and do as you will, but no, there is more to it than that.  I guess this was before the days of open world games as we know them, now.  No, my next task is to hunt down whoever or whatever is behind the too-rapid growth in the super-mutant population, and stop whatever they are doing.  I believe I ran into some of this faction in my search for the water chip, but when I return to where I met them now, circumstances have changed, and I'm attacked on sight, so I'm thinking about going to someone else for help, perhaps the Brotherhood of Steel.  I'm definitely getting into this game.



Another game I've been playing a big chunk of is Dawn of War II.  I have no way of really knowing how far into the game I am, but I'm estimating maybe halfway.  I keep performing well enough on missions to deploy an extra time each day, which as far as I can work out, is allowing me to pursue optional objectives in addition to playing out the main campaign.  My squads of Space Marines are all around levels 12-14, currently, and Wargear drops are plentiful on each sortie. This game is a ton of fun to play, but the mission structure makes it a little too easy to stop playing.  The missions can get pretty intense when you are essentially controlling 4 individual Diablo characters at once against hordes of enemies and boss encounters.  It's too easy to just walk away after one or two quick missions, especially playing near bed-time, when I don't want to get too amped up.  I really, really like this game, though.  I already own the first expansion, Chaos Rising, and the next, Retribution, is a sure purchase next year.



The recent announcement of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made me really want to go back and play some more Oblivion (TES IV), so I found myself re-installing it this past Sunday.  I still have all of the Shivering Isles content unplayed, and it may remain that way, because now that I've played the total conversion mod Nehrim, I don't think I want to go back to the vanilla game.  The Nehrim designers, who also made total conversions for TES III: Morrowind, I'm given to understand, have taken Oblivion, broken it down into its constituent parts, and reassembled from them an entirely new world with its own mythology, creating an almost all-new RPG.  Sure, all of the building blocks are familiar, but entire systems have been overhauled to address some of the more common complaints players of Oblivion had, and the result is a game that I feel comfortable in saying is just better, mechanically.

Oblivion featured some odd, almost experimental design decisions.  Everywhere you went, monsters and loot were basically level-synched to your character, which allowed for total freedom in exploring the world, but meant that you would never really find anything all that exciting when you did.  You never found a super bad ass sword that made you entirely overpowered, you only found the sword that was balanced to be pretty decent vs the enemies who were balanced to put up not too much of a fight.  This all meant that leveling up in general felt pretty meaningless.  If you leveled, so did everyone else.  You would run into situations where random bandits on the roads would be wearing the same high level armor that you were.  Gaining new abilities never seemed to make you more powerful, only give you more variety in what you could do.

Nehrim fixes this by just going back to a more conventional setup where enemies are assigned static levels, and areas are populated with enemies and loot of a certain range of levels.  All of the sudden, combat and exploration are both more exciting, making for a better game, overall.  It doesn't stop there, though, they have overhauled the inventory and standard UI, also, making them more functional and PC-friendly.  Oblivion was basically a console port, and the inventory, UI, and FOV really reflect that. Nehrim helps out in those areas.  The map in the original game was a real pain to use, and the guys behind this mod have done a lot to improve on that, too.  You can still definitely see Oblivion's flaws poking out, but Nehrim tries it's best to smooth them over.

So that's what Nehrim is mechanically, but how does it play, you ask?  Well, it's of course a first person RPG, like Oblivion, focused on melee/ranged/magic combat and character growth featuring an open world and a ton of quests, all optional after the first couple of hours.  The plot is that you are a monk who has grown up in an abbey, and you receive a mysterious letter telling you that your life is in danger unless you show up to meet the sender at an old abandoned mine, and to come alone and tell no one. Upon arrival, you are attacked by trolls living in the mine, fall through some floor boards to the lower levels, and have to find your way out again, encountering other recipients of the same mysterious letter, most already killed by the trolls.  When you finally find your way back to the entrance of the mine, you are alone, and arrive to find a powerful mage torching a pack of trolls.  This mage explains that he was the one who asked you there, along with several other candidates, but of course did not expect the trolls or for all the other candidates to be killed.  Turns out, a secret brotherhood of mages (secret to avoid persecution in the magic-fearing kingdom) have been watching you and these other candidates for some time, and have decided you are fit of character and natural ability to join them.  It's literally an offer you can't refuse; they'll kill you if you do.  You are given a forged letter announcing your conscription into the army of the kingdom for some far-off war, and told to give it to the head of the monks at your abbey, and then to meet with the mage again in a nearby village.  The mage disappears, leaving you to your own devices.  This is basically where the game opens up.  You'll have to do a few little quests before you can leave the encampment surrounding the mine, which is under attack by a rogue group of mages (different from the group that has just recruited you, by their robes), but after that you're free to go out and explore the world and do as you will.



I'm following the main quest line so far, with a few diversions into caves and ruins I've discovered, and random side quests to uncover more about my character's past pre-Abbey.  I've been playing for about 5 hours, so far, and really enjoying Nehrim so far.  If you have a copy of the PC version of Oblivion (retail or Steam, either way), and you want to breathe some new life into it, definitely check out this total conversion, which basically amounts to a whole new 50+ hour RPG, and completely free, of course!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Road Map/MOST WANTED

I've dug myself a hole, here:

Current MOST WANTED games of the now and foreseeable future:

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Tactics Ogre
The Witcher 2
Total War: Shogun 2

Those are going to cost 8 completions, but I'm in 3 in the hole, so I have to finish 11 games! Here are the ones I think I am nearest or most motivated to finishing off:

Bayonetta (about half done)
Fallout (motivated)
Dawn of War II (motivated)
Assassin's Creed II (haven't yet begun, but motivated)
Hitman: Blood Money (maybe 1/4 done, probably not too long)
Poker Night at the Inventory (I'll be done when I've won enough/all items and such)
Demon's Souls (somewhere like 1/4 done, but long & hard)
Titan Quest (somewhere near the beginning)
STALKER (somewhere near the beginning)
Halo: Reach (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)
Bioshock 2 (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (borrowed, shouldn't be too long)

That's 12 games that I could finish in a reasonable amount of time, and that are at least on my Radar of Shame.

I got to get off work and go get to work!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Game CRAZY

I talked about it on the newest Call Of Podcast, 59, but I had accumulated so much credit at my local Game Trader shop that I felt like cashing it out before they themselves cash out of business.  Not that it's looking like they're going to, but I kind of feel like they're too good to last in today's market.  Anyway, I used my $140 of credit to pickup NSMB Wii, Starcraft II, and God of War III.  Of course, I didn't have 6 games completed to cash in the tokens for all these, but I did have 3, meaning I'm only 3 games in the hole.  Well, 5 games in the hole until I'm go for The Witcher 2 or Assassin's Creed Brotherhood or whatever I want by the time I've finished 5(!) more games.

Speaking of that never-ending battle, I'm doing well, up to 22 games finished in 2010 so far.  I just had a look through my Pile of Shame and culled a few titles that I no longer care about completing, old DS games, RPGs that I had played before and was halfway through, etc.  However, come Jan. 1, that Pile is about to get a whole hell of a lot bigger, with the astounding amount of games I've bought this year (and mostly for under ten bucks).

I have a feeling that the Road Map to Success idea I've been trying is just never going to work.  At best I can kind of anticipate the game I want to play next, but looking farther ahead than that or across too many genres, it's just way too much in flux for any projections to make sense.  It'd be like the local weather guy forecasting for Jupiter and Mars based on your local Tri-state area.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a 2011 gaming resolution, but I like what I've got going so far with the 2 out, 1 in token system with the $10 clause.  Maybe I'll think of something to complement that and/or something to help my life overall, like for 2009 I decided to stop drinking carbonated soft drinks.  It's been almost 2 years now!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Missions Accomplished

It's rare that I finish a game, relative to how often I play them, which is about every day.  It so happens, though, that just this week I've finished two of them, The Witcher, and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines.


Finishing The Witcher was the culmination of about 5 months of on and off role playing as Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, a professional monster slayer. Geralt is minding his own business with the other members of his Witcher order when their fortress, Kaer Morhen is attacked by a mysterious group of mages who kill one of their dwindling number and make off with the alchemical and magical secrets behind the Witchers' abilities to mutate normal humans into the superior warrior-monk-mercenaries that make up their order. Geralt and the other remaining Witchers agree to split up and comb the realms of the world for clues as to who is behind the attack and why, and to attempt to recover the Witchers' stolen secrets and prevent whatever evils their mysterious mage assailants are plotting.

Geralt makes his way to Vizima, capital of the kingdom of Temeria, and before long finds himself embroiled in local power struggles, race relations, and close to picking up the trail of those who attacked Kaer Morhen.  The plot of The Witcher proceeds through a prologue, five large chapters of action, and an epilogue, and in total took me 60 hours to play through, taking time to go out of my way to finish 95% of the available side quests available on my single playthrough.  There are actually three distinct ways to play through the game, taking either of two sides to the main conflict, or a completely neutral path to the end of the game.  Major plot points apparently play out the same way, but the alliances you forge and those you spurn can have a large effect on what type of people you are surrounded by, and which other characters are open to you for friendship and more other, more amorous, relations.

I played Geralt more as a proxy for myself, often choosing the side of the conflict that I thought personally was more in the right.  It's all shades of gray in The Witcher.  Consequences of your choices are never laid out to you beforehand, and there is nothing approximating Mass Effect's meters of how much you are leaning to one end of the spectrum or the other.  I felt like because of those factors, I played more with my own mind than how I play Commander Shepard, whom I tend to steer in a certain direction for consistency and gameplay benefits, and whom I see more at a step removed from myself.  Shepard and Mass Effect I enjoy more like something being presented to me, but Geralt and The Witcher it was easier to see as something I was actually participating in.

There is a lot you have to be willing to overlook with the technical aspects of the game--random glitches, varying quality in the VA, every citizen of Vizima being one of about 10 models wearing different colored outfits, a less-than-perfectly optimized game engine, a combat system that can seem finnicky at times, and more, but when you balance all of that with the excellent story being told, the nice visuals, music, and excellent role-playing to be had, I can easily recommend the game, especially to people who are RPG fans, or certainly anyone who likes Mass Effect and could play that with badass swordsmanship, alchemy, and magic swapped in in place of guns and tech/psi powers.  Incidentally, the game is easily playable on any system that would run the Mass Effect games. 

Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines was, overall, pretty mediocre.  It kind of makes me melancholy in a way for the bad old days of shitty, dumbed down versions of real console games that I used to play on the Game Boy and Game Gear.  Games cast in the mold of their bigger brothers but shoehorned onto a smaller platform never turn out well.  This game really should have been re-thought and designed from the ground up for the PSP, like the Metal Gear Solid games have been.  I'm not sure how they could have done it and maintained the open-world feel of Assassin's Creed, but it probably could have been better than this half-hearted approximation.  The VA and music were not great, either, and there were a lot of audio glitches in the game.

The game wasn't all bad, though.  The fighting felt pretty faithful to AC on 360, and the story was at least a little interesting, though probably relatively inconsequential to the overall mythos.  I spent probably 5-6 hours playing it, and I felt I got my money's worth. But then, only about $2.50 came out of my own pocket for the game.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend the game, but if you got it as a pack-in or on the cheap, it'd be worth a try. 

I've had a hankering for some Call Of Duty/Modern Warfare type multiplayer lately, so I installed COD4 from Steam.  I played through the single player on a borrowed 360 copy, but this game came in a Steam COD pack I bought earlier this year.  After messing around with punkbuster some, I was finally able to get into the action, with mixed results.  I don't think these maps are meant to be played with a maximum of 50 players.  I eventually found a server with a more manageable pace of play, but by that time I had been repeatedly owned for about 45 minutes straight and was ready to move on to something else.  Still, this game is a lot of fun, and nothing else I've found can completely substitute for it in every way.

Keeping up with the RPG pile, after finishing The Witcher, I've moved onto the Fallout series, starting with the first. I'm not planning on barreling through all 5 games in the series sequentially or anything, I just thought I'd stick to the pattern of new school (Mass Effect 2), old school (Planescape), new school (The Witcher), and come back to the old with this game.  At the rate I'm going, I'm expecting this to last me probably until around next May when The Witcher 2 is released, but we'll see.  I'll probably end up playing this like I did Oblivion, just doing a bunch of random stuff and then rolling a new character and trying other stuff, eventually getting around to the main quest line once I kind of get the hang of the game.  This game is old, and it plays like an old game, so it's going to take some getting used to.  I'm off to a decent start with my first (of this go around at the game) character.  I don't really have any sense of the scale and scope of this game, but I'm excited to uncover it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Two Steps Forward, A Hundred Steps Back

I haven't purposefully neglected writing here; it's just been really busy at work lately, heh.  I've also been busy outside of work.  I was called away for about 10 days for a family emergency, and then the new Wheel Of Time book, Towers of Midnight, arrived at my door and I had to immediately take a week of free time and read straight through that.

Here I am now, though, making amends.  I've got quite a bit to cover from the last 3-4 weeks.

First off, Civ V.  I played a few more games and achieved every victory condition at least once before prying myself away to play other games for a while.  Civ is amazingly addictive, and I'm looking forward to going back to play a bunch more, to try and get a win with each Civ, at least, which will be a lot more gaming, since I've gotten wins with only 4 of the 20ish Civs currently playable.  I'm not sure what type of victory I should go for with the rest.  I may re-instate the score victory condition for those games.

While out of town, I did some light gaming, just played a little Diablo II, Minecraft, and emulated Demon's Crest for SNES on my Macbook, and while I'm here I may as well mention iPhone standards Canabalt, Galcon, and Words With Friends.  I also tried out Doom II RPG and Civ Rev, both of which I had picked up very cheap, but didn't care for them for one reason or another.

Since arriving back home, I haven't played a whole hell of a lot.  I played some League of Legends, which I continue to be mediocre at.  I'm sticking with one champion until I can learn the greater movements of the game, and once I'm confident with the game at large, then I might find another type of champion to play depending on what mood I'm in. I had some reward cash at Best Buy that I had nothing better to do with, and used it to get the retail collector's pack of LOL, which comes with a redeemable code that unlocks 20 champions and gives some Riot Points (the cash currency) that you can use to either buy more champions or skins for the ones you already own.  I think I may be able to purchse Influence Point bonuses also.  IP are the points you earn by playing matches that can be used to buy enhancements for your champions or to unlock more of them for play.


The rest of my Best Buy rewards cash I spent on Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines, the PSP game.  I was kind of curious, and it wasn't much real, actual cash out of my pocket, so I figured, what the hell?  It turns out to be a PSP-fitted follow-up to AC1.  You play as Altair again, this tracking down the remaining Templars and more artifacts like the Apple of Eden from the first game, visiting the island of Cyprus.  A lot of things from AC1 are there, they're just kind of ill-fitted into a junior-sized version of the game.  The cities are open-world, but the wards are small, sparsely populated, and separated by loads.  I'm about halfway through the game, and so far it's also been laughably easy.  I don't know whether to laud the game for what it's pulling off on the PSP, or condemn it for being what it is, limited in scope by the choice of platform.  It's not bad, per se, but it's not pulled off with the same flair that MGS: PW is.

Finally, I'm making a concerted effort this holiday weekend to finish, or come as close as possible to finishing, The Witcher.  It may not be doable in such a short time. This is one of those games that I'll take a long time away from, and then come back and wonder why I don't just plow through to the end of it.  It's really engrossing when I've got the time to devote to it.  I'm in the middle of chapter 3 right now, of 6 if I'm not mistaken.  The sequel is coming out next year, and I may upgrade my video card just for that.

I almost forgot what prompted the title of this post--Steam is having one of their famous sales this weekend, and I bought Alpha Protocol for cheap, and just now got a bundle of 5 different indie games for $5 total.  There is no resistance.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 GOTY Candidates

Of course, this is my personal GOTY, and I haven't played everything, so I'm afraid some big name games may not be in the running (Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft II, Fallout: New Vegas, etc.).  Anyway:

Mass Effect 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
MAG
Monster Hunter Tri
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Alien Swarm
Minecraft
Bayonetta
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Civilization V

So, these are the noteworthy 2010 games that I actually played in 2010, so far.  I may add one or two to the list before the end of December 31st, but I just wanted to start thinking about this a little bit ahead of time.  Tough decisions ahead!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good Thing I'm Bored At Work Right Now...

...or this post would likely not get written.  I haven't consciously been writing here less frequently, it's just that I've been pretty busy.  I do write these posts at work pretty often, and my job has been keeping me a lot busier the last few months, but no, the primary reason this entry would not get written at home is Civilization V.

It's super addictive.  I bought Civ IV on the cheap once, and booted it up once or twice, but it just seemed impenetrable, and I never managed to work up the desire to get in and figure it all out.  Before long it was known that Civ V would be coming out, and not only did it look a lot nicer graphically, but it was being touted as simplified, more tactical, more user-friendly, and just in general re-tooled to be a sleeker, purer experience than the games before it, which had seemingly evolved and become convoluted over time.  I decided I'd wait on V to come out before jumping in.

I'm pretty happy with that decision, with what I know now (and continue to figure out little by little).  First off, the game is pretty nice looking.  It actually seems to tax my GPU (the weakest link in my system) more than I'd expected.  I'm having to play in DX9 to get rid of screen tear, get rid of other odd graphical glitches, and get FPS I want, but that may just be a quirk of my 4850, as Far Cry 2 looked messed the hell up in DX10, also.  Another facet of Civ V I like is that military units can are one to a tile.  Apparently in prior games you could stack  units on a tile and move gigantic forces around that way.  I prefer the more "tactics" style of having a large force occupy a large area, which makes sieges and warfare in general a lot more interesting.  Lastly, in comparison to what I've seen of Civ IV and Civ Rev, I overwhelmingly prefer the interface of Civ V.  Tooltips are helpful, the layout is pretty intuitive, and artistically it is just gorgeous in a early 1900's, Chrysler Building sort of way.  Maybe that just strikes me, as an American, as a perfect motif for advancement of civilization.  I was wondering in the car today if someone from India or Japan playing the same game would get the same feeling from the UI, and I kind of doubt it.  It would be interesting to see what sort of UI the game would ship with were it developed in another country and culture.



As for actually playing the game, I went through the tutorial first, which just puts you on a small Pangaea style map versus one opponent to teach you the basics.  I was randomly rolled as Babylon and put up against Aztec.  I wrapped that game up in 144 turns just by taking Montezuma's capital, and then began my first real game as Japan (Oda Nobunaga), because I wanted to dominate using Samurai and Bushido (which is a trait in game that makes wounded units fight just as hard as units at full strength).  That game I ended up winning by points after 500 turns.  I want to mention here that I think cutting the game off at an arbitrary limit based on time, and determining a winner based on an equally arbitrary score system seems like bullshit.  I lost my next game as Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) in which I was trying for a science victory, because at the 500 turn mark I was low on points due to some mismanagement and bad decisions in early eras.  

From now on, I'm turning off the time/score victory condition, and shit will be settled the real ways, i.e. Domination, Diplomacy, Science or Culture.  You either bully, cajole, research, or shmooze your way to success in real life, and that's how it's going to be in my Civ games, by George.  I just love the fact that I have the option to do that.

Speaking of options, this game has a million different settings you can play with for setting up games, from the number of opponents all the way to the age of the world you are playing on (3,4, or 5 billion years), and everything in between.  It is addictive as hell.  

I'm currently set on achieving a Science victory by being the first civilization to build a space ship and launch a colonization effort.  I'm going to play Babylon until it happens, because they're the only civ in the game that has an innate bonus that relates to science and tech upgrades, which I need to happen as soon as possible.  The question is what else to stress in management of my civ from the ancient era up to the future era.  Based on my experience in my last failed game, I'm going to de-emphasize military for the most part, and focus on making money and getting the most out of my lands in terms of resources to help the science initiative.  I fucked up bad last game by losing units early to barbarians, and then later again in an ill-fated attempt to war on Montezuma at the request of Washington.  I've been impatient all day today to get home and have another go.

Otherwise, I've been playing a little Demon's Souls the past couple of weeks, trying to get back into that.  I'm working on 4-2 and trying to level my guy up a little bit.  I got my first experience as a black phantom recently, and that was pretty enjoyable.  I think I need to finish the game at least once to be competitive in real  pvp, though.  And, in what has become a weekend ritual, I've been playing more League of Legends after recording the podcast, and at other random times throughout the week.  I'm still learning my character of choice, but I think I've improved considerably from when I began.  I've got much further to go, however.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mercury Steam Has Vanquished The Horrible Night

I'll just go ahead and steal the title of the NeoGAF official thread for my Castlevania: Lords of Shadow post, because that is exactly how I feel.

Now that I've had a couple of days to let the game and the ending sink in, I have to say, well done, Spaniards, well done, indeed.  I don't know that I've seen a franchise overhauled in such a dramatic and successful way.  Maybe Metal Gear with the first MGS, or maybe if you count Final Fantasy's occasional flashes of brilliance amidst it's normal (since VI, anyway) mediocrity.  Regardless, Castlevania was really in need of this reboot.  Prior 3D games were average at best, and the Metroidvania formula was stale almost the moment they started them on the GBA.  I'd almost given up hope that we would ever see one my my favorite franchises make the leap from retro greatness and more modern soulless tedium to something with all the glitz of HD and great playability of it's forbears.

Lords of Shadow succeeds for me on three essential levels. First, it extracts the essence of Castlevania for this new entry, leaving behind the messy continuity and all the baggage of the series to this point.  The window dressing for a great CV title is gothic architecture and decor, traditional European horror monsters, and a brave warrior wielding a whip, or a sword in a pinch.  Second, Lords of Shadow nails the transition from 2D into 3D.  I've thought about this a lot over the years, and the only really viable way to recreate CV for the modern era is basically to make something very much like a God of War game, in many respects.  Mercury Steam has pulled this off, and even made it work better than it sounds by making combat more about patience, defense, and reading your enemy than your typical GoW or DMC game, which tend to be more about how long your combo can get without an iterruption.  The third aspect of LoS that resonates the most with me is just how much of an epic journey the game is.  I played far, far more of Castlevania II and III growing up than I did I or IV.  If you're not familiar, II and III had just as much, if not more, of their stages set outside Dracula's Castle, in the Transylvanian countryside, than within.  Simon's Quest was entirely in the countryside, and had no castle at all, as I recall.  Gabriel's path in LoS takes him from one end of the map to the other, traversing rural villages, haunted forests, ancient ruins, abandoned fortresses, frozen wastelands, an absolutely huge castle, and other realms of the dead before it's conclusion.

The game is long, too.  By the end of the journey, you'll have been through so many places and so many challenges, that you'll be as worn out as our hero is.  I played the game on Knight difficulty, one notch up from the default, and the hardest setting available the first time through.  I clocked almost exactly 20 hours on it.  I would actually recommend Knight, because you'll be forced to really learn the combat system to succeed, and  it's much more fun when you know what you're doing in challenging encounters, even outside of the game's awesome bosses.  3 sword masters at a time, or 3 greater lycans, or any encounter mixing 3 or more skeleton warriors with other types of monsters were enough to have me stuck for 5-10 attempts with regularity.

This brings me to some of my complaints with the game.  First off, one of the most annoying, is that occasionally you will be dealt damage from an attack before the animation has gone off.  This seemed to happen more when fighting the game's larger foes, bosses in many cases.  I believe it to be a case of the game shortcutting to your death when it has calculated that you're dead anyway, but I'd feel better about it if I at least saw the killing blow before dying.  Next up is the music.  It's not bad, it's just not outstanding.  Castlevania has always had outstanding music.  The rest is either technical or design issues that, while bothersome, ultimately take away little from the overwhelming helping of awesome that the game serves up.  I'm a longtime fan of the series, and I already love what Mercury Steam have done here.  Fix up some of these little things, and the sequel should be amazing.

Now about that sequel...  going off the ending to this game, there are a couple of ways they could take it, and I am dying to see what they're going to do.  If internet malcontents complained about this game not being Castlevania for whatever reason.... Bloody Tears, indeed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Next Post

In which I talk about how League of Legends is played.

Imagine taking your guy from a Diablo style game, and plopping him down on in the middle of an RTS map where two people are currently playing against each other.  Your job is to take your one guy, and together with the might of an army that you can't control, but whose actions you can use to your advantage, and help one side win.  Yours is a hero unit capable of slaying mass numbers of the ordinary units of either side, and you act as the tie-breaker in this struggle, taking out defensive turrets and clearing the way for your side's army to infiltrate and destroy the enemy base.  Your hero has several active abilities and can purchase equipment at a shop with gold found on felled enemy units, a lot like they might in a Diablo style game, and together with your team of other action-RPG refugees, you are a force to be reckoned with.  The other side of the conflict also has such a team.

...and that's League of Legends (and DOTA, Demigod, and Heroes of Newerth).  It's pretty cool.

I polished off FFT: TWotL last night.  I've started games of it a few times since finishing it for the first time on the PSX, but had never actually followed all the way through to the end again until this time.  I have to admit that I trucked it through the last quarter of the game in order to finish before an imminent release, but I enjoyed the hell out of this game.  It was so great to read through a not only competent, but extremely well done localization of what is without a doubt the best story to ever carry the Final Fantasy name.  It also happens to be the game in the series with the gameplay that best holds up a number of years on.  Maybe that is due to being in a small and sparsely populated genre, but a few niggling things aside (really, no option to quit to the main menu from a battle gone awry?), this is all the game and more that first graced us over a decade ago.  And to throw one more wrench in the works, I noticed something in the final scene which I didn't back in 1998, and has redefined the entire ending for me.  Mind blown.  Do yourself a favor and play this game if you own a PSP and have not yet.  If I might offer some advice: keep your army as small as possible, and cross train them in as many jobs as possible.  I tried to have one guy in every job slot, and not only was it impossible to keep everyone leveled up, it was a major pain trying to outfit everyone with good gear, too.

The imminent release I mentioned just now is of course, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which I have beside me now, and which I will begin tonight.  I don't think I've been this excited for a new release since Mass Effect 2.  Here's hoping we've finally gotten the Castlevania we've all been waiting for!

Friday, September 24, 2010

8 Days Gone

Then, as it was, it shall ever be, and though the course may change some times, rivers always reach the sea.

I will finish The Witcher.  Eventually.  It's an awesome game, with a great dark fantasy world and a smooth operating badass protagonist.  In one session a few nights ago I bedded two separate attractive females, and I am entirely unrepentant about enjoying it.  One I knew was eventually going to invite Geralt to her bed, but I didn't figure it would happen so soon.  I also like the dice poker and crazy quests you end up taking on in this game.  I must be getting near the end of chapter 2 by now.

I'm actually in chapter 3 of FFT: WotL now, working down the job trees on getting to the ninja and arithmeticians and such.  I understand there are new classes in this version of the game, including one that looks like a dark knight from some art in the manual.  That would be cool.  I just love the plot of this game.  It's so much more interesting than the typical JRPG tripe.  This is a kingdom plagued by real problems in addition to the supernatural ones.  It's almost like the video game version of George RR Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire.  It's pretty telling that even though I consider this one of my favorite games of all time, I wouldn't  have been able to clearly recall or summarize the plot until having played through this remake with it's amazing localization.  Wiegraf actually has motivation! Delita's actions actually kind of make sense!  So good.

Some months ago I was playing and writing about Demigod, a 'Defense of the Ancients-inspired game,' or whatever we're calling this little sub-genre that it and League Of Legends belong to.  I really enjoyed that game until something else came along and distracted me from playing it any more.  Cut to the present, and I've decided to try out LOL after having heard good things, read good things, and out of curiosity about the free-to-play business model that a lot of online games are going to these days.  I've played a game just about every night this week, and I'm kind of getting into it.  LOL, I'm given to understand, is much closer to what the original DOTA mod for Warcraft III ended up evolving into, though not without some additions and changes to spruce things up a bit and make the game a little more inviting and less incredibly unfriendly for newbs, as DOTA and Heroes of Newerth are reputed to be.

Upon completion of a match of LOL, a player is awarded Influence Points, which can be used to purchase either perks that strengthen the player's character in game or permanent access to the game's champions, it's player characters.  There are something like 60 champions to choose from, 10 of which are free to play at any one time, the selection rotating every week.  I've been playing in practice matches so far, but only earning like 30-70 points per match, which isn't a whole hell of a lot.  It could take quite a while of playing before you have enough points to purchase much of any worth, from what I can tell.  That's to be expected when the company would rather you pay with your money than time, I guess.

I guess I should talk a little about how the game plays.  I'll try to get into that in my next post.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Man, I Have Got To Finish Some Games

I'm holding off on purchasing anything new until Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which I plan to cash in my completion tokens for next.  I really want Civ V too, though, so I need to be plowing through some shit right about now.

Unfortunately I'm deep in a couple more that I only recently began, FFT:WotL and Hitman: Blood Money.  I'm going to be a while finishing those, too.  I should really pop back to Bayonetta and polish her off before CV hits. That only makes sense.

It's awesome to be playing another Hitman game.  It's been about 4 years since I played about halfway into Contracts.  I love this series; it's so cool.  I love the hiding in plain sight by impersonating other people, and I love how each mission is like an intricate puzzle with a very simple solution just there for discovery.  You're free to go balls-out and kill every motherfucker in the level, of course, and that's good to work out some frustration issues from time to time, but the real joy is in observation of the AI, realizing that this faction of people have access to this part of the level, and that your target tends to wander from A to B to C and back in this pattern, etc.

And of course, FFT is legendarily good, and the new translation only makes it better.  I've yet to run across any serious slowdown on the PSP version, either.  Maybe having a PSP-3000 helps to alleviate that or something.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

En Taro Adun, Executor

My life for Aiur! For Adun! I have returned. I have returned. I have returned. My life for Aiur! For Adun! I have returned.

Yes, I have been playing a lot of Starcraft recently.  I beat it, actually, finally finishing off the game with the Protoss campaign.  Each race's campaign was 10 missions, and if I had to guess, each took somewhere around 12-15 hours to beat, it not more, counting all of the failed strategic gambits and false starts and reloads. Thus, I've been counting each campaign as a separate game.  I did the same with Oblivion's guild quest lines, and will split other games into halves as it suits me, perhaps Super Mario Galaxy will count again if I go and collect all the stars, or Peace Walker if I can ever finish all of the missions it has to offer.

I've enjoyed Starcraft, but have yet to get fully comfortable playing it.  Each campaign would probably need to be twice as long for comfort to set in, and what do you know, I have the Brood War expansion waiting, which features an additional campaign for each race, and a few new units, too, from what I gather.  By the time I'm done with that and the SC2 campaign(s), I should be ready to try multi-player.  At this pace, it'll be at least a year before I get there, though.

As far as strategy goes, I want to finish Dawn of War II next, and then I've got that game's first expansion, Company of Heroes complete and Dawn of War I complete to play, as well as the aforementioned Brood War, and I'll want to pick up Warcraft III at some point, too, since I don't own it, yet.  That's not to mention turn based or or 4X or SRPG or DOTA type games!

It's been a few weeks since I've written up a post about what I've been playing, but the list is fairly small.  In addition to finishing off Starcraft, I picked up Bayonetta, and have been enjoying that some, though I'm still not very far in.  The last week or so has been almost all Starcraft, though I've been trying to get back into The Witcher, an effort which was put off by a failed GPU fan.  Dell replaced my card, though, and so that will be back on just as soon as I get back from my trip this weekend for Labor Day.  While out of town I'll be playing FFT: War of the Lions, which I've also put a few hours into over the last couple of weeks.  Both that and Bayonetta I only have dabbled in (though I'm an old hand at FFT on PSX), but both are looking very good, and I'll have more to say on those later.

The game plan now (and it's always subject to change) though is to focus on Bayonetta, The Witcher, and DoW II once I get back, and to play more FFT and MGS PW while I'm gone.

I've also been reading recently--my first venture into the Warhammer 40K universe, a book called Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett.  It's almost a noir detective story, only set in the far flung future and strung out across the galaxy over centuries, chronicling the lengths one Imperial Inquisitor will go to in service of the God Emperor. It's very good.  Very, surprisingly, good.  I was expecting a level of quality along the lines of  books emblazoned with Dragonlance or Halo or Mass Effect logos, but it puts them to shame.  I would recommend it to anyone interested in sci-fi, especially anyone who likes Dune or anything with more fantastic elements.  Eisenhorn is an omnibus of three novels Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus, with two interleaving short stories, the first of which, Missing In Action, I thought was especially good.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Most Anticipated Games This Fall

It's getting to be that time of year, and so I thought I'd take stock of what's coming out this Fall, and what I'm most interested in picking up.  This will be a short list, as I've got to finish 2 games for every new one I purchase, but here goes, in no particular order:

Civilization V
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow
Halo: Reach
Fallout: New Vegas
Vanquish
Call Of Duty: Black Ops
WoW: Cataclysm

I lied; that's more or less in order of how likely I am to purchase them, in retrospect.  However, I've still got a small list of games that have already come out this year that I haven't gotten yet, including Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft II, and perhaps Metroid: Other M.

Civ V and Castlevania are as close as I'm getting to sure things here, but all games are shoo-ins within the next 12 months, I figure.  I'm kind of torn about Fallout. I have all of the rest, but haven't even begun them yet!  I wonder if I should just forget about playing them in order and just jump into the newest; there is no chronological overarching plot as far as I'm aware.  I'm not really even excited for Reach, but it's quality is more or less guaranteed, and I am curious about it more than anything.  Vanquish just looks slick, Black Ops' multiplayer on PC may attract me, and I am definitely curious to see what Azeroth will look like post-Cataclysm.  I still need to cap out my Warrior, too...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Space-time Coordinates of Success

These are discreet regions along the axis of the fourth dimension.  All of these games are played before the heat death of the universe, it's just a matter of when.  This blog post will serve as a table of contents of sorts to an observer standing outside of time and able to navigate along its line.  Starting the publishing date of this post, most of these will occur in the future. Occurrences of the titles in bold will have occurred in the recent past, relative to said publishing date.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shooterville

I went on a road trip last week, but it wasn't to Shooterville, despite what my recent playlog might imply.  Aside from a session or two each of Peace Walker and Titan Quest, it's been non-stop blasting and laughing.

I had never before played Counter-Strike, but I got into that last weekend and have been back a few times for a couple of rounds here and there.  It's pretty hardcore, and it seems like it would be best with a squad of people who can communicate and know what they're doing.  It's definitely fun, though, even for a total novice like myself.

I also got back into Team Fortress 2 to some extent, it having been a while and several big updates since I'd played last.  That is a great game, maybe even the greatest game, if you consider the 120+ (read that again, for emphasis) updates that Valve has rolled out to it, making it a vastly different game from the one it started out as.  Just play it and then go play the decrepit 360 version to see the incredibly stark contrast between the two.  I almost wouldn't be surprised if one of the next updates to the game was just a title screen edit, changing the 2 to a 3.

Finally, there has been a Steam sale going on to coincide with id's Quakecon, and a bunch of their games have been on sale.  I picked up the original Quake for $2.49 in said sale, having a bunch of good memories of holidays at my grandparents' house playing the game with my uncle.  Doom and Quake together comprise my introduction to FPS in the mid 90's, and together with a bit of Half-Life deathmatch at college in '99, pretty much the totality of my experience with the genre until 2007 when I bought a 360 and started playing Halo games and others.  Aside from Morrowind and the odd oddity like Faceball 2000 or Drakkhen or Dr. Chaos, I hadn't even really played very many other games in first-person until the last few years.

Anyway, I think my Uncle and I had the shareware version of Quake back when it launched in '96, and I remember it being the first game where you could actually look and fire on the y-axis, or at least the first I'd ever seen (unless you could do that in Descent, which just sprung to mind).  It was mind blowing and completely awesome at the time.  The good news is that after a couple of tweaks to the resolution and enabling modern mouse look and WASD controls, the game holds up really well.  I've spent about 3 hours with this version in the past two days, and already finished the first of the four episodes therein.  It should go without saying, but with "always run" on and modern hardware, the game moves super fast and super smooth, almost never backing off 60fps (and even then probably due to software limitations).  It feels like it wasn't balanced for the modern WASD and always on mouse look control scheme, and therefore kind of easy to romp through for someone used to modern shooters.  These contemporary techniques feel almost like cheating, like bringing automatic weapons to fight against 11th century Crusaders.

Oh, and I almost forgot, I played a few hours of Minecraft over the weekend, too.  I finally got the random world generator to give me a snow world, and set about mining out a huge rectangular section of it, and using the dug out blocks to build a huge wall between and over the hills nearby.  It that sounds crazy, well, it is crazy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Concentrated Armadillo

That would be my name in the Metal Gear universe.  Concentrated, because for a while now Peace Walker is about the only game I've been playing, and Armadillo because everyone's code name contains some sort of animal.

I finished up the main thrust of the plot, the story of the Peace Walker project and the liberation of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, but the game doesn't end there.  The credits roll, and you can consider it a tale told in its entirety, but there is still a lot more content in the game, and not merely optional side missions.  The game "ends" at the conclusion of Chapter 4, but keep playing and you'll soon open up Chapter 5, which, from what I gather, serves as a sort of addendum and furthering of the overarching Metal Gear Solid plot.  Plus, all of the coolest optional AI Weapon and vehicle boss battles don't unlock until after the main game is complete and a healthy portion of Extra Ops have been completed. This is what I am working on now, about 40 hours into the game.

I don't think I've spent 20 hours on a single playthough of a Metal Gear game, ever.  However, Peace Walker is not at all arranged like a typical MGS.  It could be said to contain that in Main Ops, sure, but broken up piecemeal and portioned out in easily digestible chunks alongside a whole buffet side dishes in Extra Ops, Outer Ops, and all of the base and army building mechanics that the game offers.  It's a hell of a package, and more than worthy of the MGS title, if not a perfect fit for the big "5" to be applied, too.  I could be playing this game for a long while, yet.

Torchlight II was announced the other day.  I wasn't head over heels for Torchlight, but I did enjoy it, and I will certainly buy the sequel to support the developer, Runic Games.  This announcement served up a reminder to me about Titan Quest, though, and not having enough to play at the moment, I decided to re-install the game and hop back in.  My only character was only level 6, so it wasn't too big a deal to just start over from scratch with a new one.  It's a her this time, named Rhea after some quick research on heroines of ancient Greece.  I'm taking her down the Dream Mastery path so far.  I played a ranged character in Torchlight, and I tire of always having to run away and maintain range, but I also don't want to just be a bruiser, so hopefully this skill set offers some interesting abilities.

Since my last post, I played several sessions of Minecraft, and basically resolved to stick to one world and just try to build crazy things and dig out a bunch of it--to explore just for exploration's sake.  It's cool, and the developer is constantly adding new things to the game, so it'll be interesting to watch it take shape.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Happy Place

I'm at a real good place right now with video games.  Peace Walker is friggin' great, I got a free game from Valve that is really fun (Alien Swarm), and for less than ten dollars/Euros, I got two more great games in Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions for PSP, and the independant, one man production Minecraft (PC/Mac browsers).

I was just playing some Peace Walker and had another epic battle (Extra Ops 80-something) vs a bombing helicopter.  I wasn't even really attempting to win it, just trying out different weapons as recon for a future run, but I managed to neutralize all of the ground troops and get the chopper pilot to stupidly hang his head out of the cockpit, which meant that some splash damage from one of my surface-to-air missiles took him out and netted me the machine for Outer Heaven's hangars.  I wasn't aware that was even possible; I thought you had to tranquilize pilots to capture the vehicles.  I suppose not!

The PSP redux of Final Fantasy Tactics arrived from Amazon today, and I played it for about 45 minutes, long enough to get through the intro stuff and to the world map for the first time.  Yep, that's my good old FFT, but damn the translation is a hell of a lot better in this version.  I can't wait to play all the way through and experience the story the way it should have been told over a decade ago.  My last playthrough was just before moving back to the US from Japan, but I only got to somewhere in the midst of Chapter 4, probably about 75% of the way through the main game.

Yesterday I jumped back into X3 for a while and ran a couple of trade routes and explored a couple of new sectors of the galaxy, and then decided to check out Valve's gift to us all, the free Alien Swarm on Steam.  It's a top-down co-operative class-based action shooter, kind of like Left 4 Dead meets Gauntlet or Smash TV or something.  I ended up playing all the way through the game over the course of a couple of hours with random people on Steam.  One guy was a total douche, spouting racial slurs and always rushing everyone through the levels, but thankfully he was easily ignored.  I didn't feel like grabbing another group just for some quick action.  It's a pretty quick game, especially if everyone knows what they're doing.  Only the d-bag had played before, but even with 3 greenhorns we didn't have much trouble, on the normal difficulty setting.  I could see myself playing more; the game has got a cool class system with weapon unlocks and experience points, and the action is tight.

I read on NeoGAF about an awesome little (though actually fucking huge) game called Minecraft.  You're dropped into a tile-based and randomized 3D world, that looks a lot like the recent game 3D Dot Game Heroes, or what you would expect a 3D 8-bit world to look like.  You start with nothing but you can punch trees to get lumber and then craft various things like a workbench that lets you craft more complicated things like pickaxes or hoes to till the soil with.  From there, you can go mine in the world, just anywhere, it seems, or go do whatever.  It's basically a huge randomized world/construction set with monsters and caves and all kinds of crazy stuff, and it's really neat looking and interesting.  Check the thread

In the 30 minutes or so I spent checking out the game tonight I generated two worlds, did some climbing and exploring, and other stupid things like digging straight down for a hundred feet and not being able to get back up.  I have no idea what this game is about, but it's awesome.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Outer Heaven?!

I've been playing a lot of Peace Walker, and I'm liking it.  I've got the plot all reconciled with the greater continuity now: after the events of Portable Ops, Big Boss joined the Patriots, was unwittingly cloned in the Les Enfants Terribles project, and fell out with Zero, Para-Medic, and Sigint over the interpretation of The Boss's will.  Big Boss left the cabal, with Eva and Ocelot also breaking off and going their own ways.  It was from there that he went on to found Militaires Sans Frontiers, meeting McDonnell "Master" Miller, and establishing a presence at a ramshackle base on the Colombian coast before being approached (at the beginning of Peace Walker) with the proposition of ousting a foreign army from Costa Rica in exchange for a newer, more permanent base for MSF, and one in international waters--the perfect placefor Big Boss's vision of a nation for soldiers that are for hire to any government but beholden to none, a vision he calls "Outer Heaven."

I'm pretty comfortable with the controls now, and I'm settling in for a long ride through the game.  It takes a lot to build a nation based on the war economy.  I've made it past the third major boss encounter, a battle versus an "AI Weapon" called Pupa.  These battles are the best analog to a Monster Hunt in the game, and indeed I even played it once in co-op, using the PS3's adhoc party app to find another person out there in Internet land playing the game.  It was pretty cool, though it's a lot of hoops to jump through for the experience.  I later went back and replayed the encounter solo just to see if I could pull it off, and I did without much difficulty.  The incentive for replaying like so is basically to get better drops (AI Weapon parts), and to use those to build the MSF's own bepedal nuclear tank, Metal Gear ZEKE.  Once operational, ZEKE will be MSF's own nuclear deterrent, protecting the fledgling nation from outside aggression via Mutually Assured Destruction.

So, aside from the dubious choice of platform, I'm pretty happy with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.  It seems Kojima has actually decided to put it in the series' chronology in an epoch that both makes sense and needed a little elucidation.  I'm nowhere near done yet, though, so we'll see how it goes from here.

Changing The Rules Mid-Game

The sheer number of good games that are coming out these days combined with gems from the past acquired at very little cost have made my backlog incredible.  I've been operating this year at a more or less one in, one out pace, which does nothing to thin out the pile.  I've contemplated even just trying to go for a year without buying any new games as a measure to catch up, but I'll keep that as an option of last resort.  For now I'm going to double the cost in completions of new games priced at $10 and above.  That should help some, first just by basic math, but secondly by requiring me to narrow my interests some.  It used to be that a gamer could play just about everything that was any good, and I think I've been operating in that mindset for way too long.  In other words, I'm getting too old for this shit.

There are other factors at play here, too, though, like the facts that I tend toward long RPGs, other long-term experiences that demand skill and experience, multiplayer games, or MMOs.  I just don't hit a lot of the sub-10 hour campaign experiences anymore.  This is not to mention my limited time for gaming, as someone with a full time job, long commute, and family.  Those things considered, I do get to spend a heck of a lot of time gaming, easily 2-3 hours most days, if I so desire.  It comes at the cost of watching no TV and less movies and reading less, but still.

I'd thought to wait until the new year to adjust my policy, but all this is just getting out of hand.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Million Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood

...and sorry I cannot travel them all.

I finished up Call of Duty (the first) this past weekend, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I'm tempted to jump right into the expansion, United Assault, I think it's called, but I should probably knock out at least something else from my stable of games 'in progress,' first.  What, though, is the question.

Waffling, I have dabbled a little in Rez HD and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 the past couple of nights.  I'll never quite get the former, though it is a curious flashy thing.  I'm not sure how much longer I'll be playing the latter, either.  I'm considering letting my Live account fall to silver level.  There's plenty of good shooters that I own on Steam and that are currently neglected.  I don't play online enou----oh fuck, I just realized that I have to stay gold to maintain Netflix instant watch.  Goddamn you, Microsoft.  I guess that settles that.

I have enough RPGs in my backlog that the single genre could probably equal the playtime of all other games on the list, so I'm thinking I need to constantly be working on one amongst everything else.  Planescape is down, and currently I'm working my way (slowly) through The Witcher.  It's great, and I'll have more to say about it on the next Call Of Podcast.  I kind of want to hit Fallout (the first) next, but who can say.  It may be months before I'm done with Geralt of Rivia.

I've played a little bit of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker every day since purchasing it.  It's good for an hour here and there; a quick 2-3 missions, some Mother Base maintenance, and I'm done.  It's definitely a descendant of Portable Ops, but done better.  I did go back and try the controls in PO, and PW's are an improvement on one variant of that game.  There are key differences though, that are not reproduceable in PO.  I won't go into them, but suffice it to say that PW's setup is better, overall.  Peace Walker is satisfying in a long-term growth kind of way, but the individual missions so far have been pretty easy.  I've had one major 'boss' fight, and it was on a whole other level from the rest of them.  It was pretty tough to do the stealthy, recruit/abduct everyone way, but pretty satisfying when I finally pulled it off.  I'm into the game, so far, just not head over heels, yet.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Metal Gear?!

I put Infamous to bed over the weekend.  I have a review haiku that pretty well sums up how I feel about the game, but as a teaser: it's pretty forgettable.  It's well done, and the story is batshit insane, but ultimately all of the mechanics are cribbed from other games, and mostly overdone, too.  I grow tired of going from point to point around an open city doing the same handful of activities, and this game's superpower set are just analogs of your typical pistol/rifle/grenade/rocket launcher kit of every other open-world game.  Climbing is well done, but the environments are mostly extremely bland; big rectangular buildings with little in the way of tricky navigation to be done.  Meh.

Among my spoils of the Steam Summer sale are the majority of the Call of Duty franchise, and I've sunk my teeth deep into the first game, and it's a lot of fun!  It's a balls-to-the-wall, no-thinking exercise in shoot, advance, shoot, and for what it is, pretty awesome.  I kind of want to power through it and a bunch more of the series, too, all of the WWII games available on the PC.

Last night I did some monster hunting (Tri), finishing up a couple of the online 1-star quests, and collecting materials for a sword/shield combo I wanted that both matches my Jaggi armor set and will stay sharp longer than the tomahawk I've been using (though it's a bit weaker per hit).  Very addictive.

Then, today, my passion for gaming got the better of me, and I rationalized myself into a MGS: Peace Walker edition PSP bundle.  See, I had a $100 gift card from being employee of the month at work, plus $60 from when I sold my original PSP a long time ago, so all I needed was the price of MGS: PW itself to make up the entire price of the bundle.  Plus, I am kind of a collector of MGS games (NA editions, anyway), and this is a limited edition bundle.  I'm a little let down that the UMD didn't come in the proper packaging for the game, but just a little cardboard sleeve, but it would be idiocy to buy another copy of the game just for that.  Right?  I do own every version of every MGS that has been released here, though, aside from the VR missions and Portable Ops Plus.  I guess I should have pre-ordered at Gamestop and gotten the very limited camo PSP, but fuck Gamestop.  I hate them.

So, the game, Peace Walker, then.  I played it for a couple of hours tonight, and so far so good.  I'm using the new "shooter type" control scheme, though I'm not convinced it's much different from one of the schemes available in Portable Ops (it has been a while, though...).  Anyway, it's working sufficiently thus far.  I realized today that with the way the 3DS is looking, I'd better just go ahead and get comfortable with a single analog for some games, and try to avoid those where it's just too much of a hindrance.  I managed to finish MGS: PO, though, so I'm sure I can manage Peace Walker, if the purported Monster Hunter difficulty of some of the bosses doesn't get in my way.  The base building and team building stuff also seems really reminiscent of PO, along with the mission structure, so I remain skeptical about this game being all that much of a quantum leap over the prior PSP game.  Again, it's been a while since I played PO, though, so I could be misremembering. It does seem clear that the scope of PW is greater, though.  I can already see that there are a ton more side missions and things to build up and research in this latest game.

The plot pretty much has to end up being more important to the overall series arc, too.  PO's plot, while definitely a part of the MGS canon, is pretty dispensable, and entirely omitted from the intro to PW, which wants to bridge the gap directly from Snake Eater.  I'm not sure how I feel about this move, which is tantamount to a retcon of the first PSP series entry.  At the time PO was about to come out, all we were told was how much of a legitimate entry it was to the series entire arc.  We'll see about that when all of Peace Walker's plot comes to light.  I remember being a bit unsatisfied with the events of PO.  Big Boss still hadn't exactly gone rogue enough to end up where he had by the events of the first Metal Gear (sans Solid).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bad As I Want To Be

Last week I finished up my romp through Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and I thoroughly enjoyed the game, as I mentioned on the latest Call Of Podcast. It's the type of game where you can see all of the seams, the load times in the menus are inexcusable, and it's probably a bit short for some, but it's cool all the same.  It has its one trick, and it does it well.  Even the QTE's, which I normally despise, were ok because they were so forgiving, and just required one button press, rather than the "test of strength" variety in some games.  I even played one of the bonus campaign levels (I have the special edition), the Jedi Temple, and enjoyed the cool fight at the end of that one.  One gripe I have though, is with the dark side (non-canon) ending.  It was just nowhere near as cool as it should have been, to set up Starkiller's further dark side missions post-game (the other two bonus campaign levels, Hoth and Tatooine).  I wonder if the sequel will be any good.

The biggest story for this blog update is that I finally started inFamous, which has been sitting on my shelf for probably a year, now.  I've gone from platforming and shooting lightning in Galaxy and SW:TFU to doing both at the same time in this game.  I mentioned being kind of "meh" about it on the podcast, and after putting in a few more hours, I'm starting to like it a little more.  I'm being as comically evil as I can possibly be.  I push people around with my force electric powers just for fun, and if I'm given the choice to help some people or do something rude and selfish, I'll go the latter rout, with total disregard and contempt for the citizens of Genericity (that's not it's real name, but it'll do).  In a way, I'm projecting my own jaded, seen-it-all gamer disdain into Cole, who is a perfect conduit for it, since he's kind of a cock, himself.  I want to see if willing him to be as evil as possible will actually make him into a bad guy, or if he'll wuss out and have a change of heart at the end.  More games need to let you be the bad guy, and actually be a bad guy.  Like, reprehensible.

The game does an odd thing where it sends you into the sewers to get through these very straight-forward platformy sections, only they're super duper easy; because Cole tends to suction onto whatever surface is nearby, it feels like a three-year-old could blow through those sections.  I would actually appreciate a little more of a challenge there, something more akin to the jumping puzzles in a Prince of Persia game.  I do like Cole's Spider-Man act out in the open city, though.  It makes getting to the rooftops a lot easier and pretty effortless.  I also like his power line grind ability.  That's just fun.  The electric scatter grenades and the gound pound thing are cool, as well.  Now that I think about it, Cole's powers have a lot in common with Starkiller's.

Apart from those two main things, I made just a little progress in The Witcher, moving into Chapter II.  This is going to be a pretty long game. It's very good so far, though.  I played a little more Bad Company 2 with Esteban after recording the podcast this weekend.  I think it's still my favorite multiplayer shooter.  I also went back to Super Mario Galaxy and got my star count up to 78 before shelving that game for a while to return to Monster Hunter Tri on on the Wii.  I got in one good hunt online, taking down a Qurupeco with one other player, and getting my Hunter Rank to level 6.  There's a lot left to do in that game, yet.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Road Map Reboot

Here's a revised and simpler version of the Road Map to Success.  All those tacky Excel shapes and colors were just too cumbersome.  Bolded are the games I'm currently playing, and italicized are the games I'm currently "playing."

There are also several games on my pile of shame that I've all but written off, pretty much all XBLA/PSN/VC/retro things that I am happy (or forced) to keep in my collection, but don't really intend to play anymore, at least not anytime soon.



My back log is insane, despite the token policy I've been using this year.  I'm pretty comfortable with my spending habits on gaming these days, though.  I do still buy a lot, but it's almost all at crazy value prices, which is good.  I need to find a way to catch my experience up to my appetite, and that goes for not only gaming, but for books and film/TV, as well.  Or, I just need to find some way to retire early.  Hmmmm...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Back to Zero

Pulling myself up from the quicksand of the backlog minus world, today I saw the credits roll on Super Mario Galaxy, the first.  I wouldn't say I've completed the game though, by any means.  There are still probably 10 or more levels I haven't even seen yet.  You only need about 65 stars to have found and beaten Bowser and saved, Peach, though.  I currently have 66 out of 120 or 121, whatever the maximum total is.  I doubt I'll get them all, but I would like to at least see all of the levels, which are the best part of the game, hands down.

This weekend I also plowed through several more levels of The Force Unleashed, and I'm enjoying it.  I put it on Easy and I'm just tearing through the legions of guys in my way on my mission to help Darth Vader overthrow Emperor Palpatine.  It's good for that, and the story is also pretty good, for Star Wars.

I'm wrapping up all the loose ends in the first chapter of The Witcher, as well.  There's a hellhound boss called The Beast that gives a lot of players trouble, from what I've read of the game online.  I killed that and also made a choice to stick up for the witch Abigail, who was being persecuted by the corrupt and hypocritical villagers of Vizima.  That part was pretty awesome, with Geralt pulling out a speech much like Clint Eastwood's from the end of Unforgiven.  I love this guy.  Player agency in The Witcher is done nicely, and a little different from something like Mass Effect, though they have a lot in common.  Geralt, unlike Shepard, is his own person, and you just make the decisions for him.  He has his own past and his own attitude, whereas with Shepard, you determine those things yourself.  It's easier to get into the character's swagger when it's at that slight remove.

Trials HD was on sale this week on XBLA, so I picked that game up (along with Shadow Complex), and had a go with it for a while.  It's simple and fun; you control a motorbike stunt rider through tons of crazy physics puzzles, competing with friends over leaderboards for best times.  It's viewed from the side, like Excitebike of old, but there are no other riders on the course at the same time or anything like that.  It's purely time trials, which is probably where they got the title.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Going Negative

I was forced into the minus world today.  You see, I was sitting at zero game completion tokens, but Fallout 3 Game Of The Year edition went on sale for half price on Steam, and I've been waiting and waiting (and waiting) for this day to add it to my ever-expanding backlog.  Paradoxically, even though Steam got my $25 (plus $5 for the Morrowind GOTY edition, as I didn't own Bloodmoon and Tribunal expacs until now), it is I who am declaring victory.

There is a legend that someone once asked three famous leaders of feudal Japan, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, what they would do if they were confronted with a bird who would not sing.   Oda Nobunaga (he of the ambition) replied that he would kill the bird.  Toyotomi replied that he would make the bird want to sing.  Tokugawa replied that he would wait, that when the time was right, the bird would sing of its own accord.  I went Tokugawa on this one, and Fallout 3 is my song.

What put me at this lack of game completion tokens though is the fact that just a couple of weeks ago Dragon Age and it's expansion were on sale on Impulse, and that just a couple of days ago I put up $15 of my own money to go with a gift card from work and purchased SW:TFU:USE, and a dictionary to help me break down acronyms.  I don't think I ever made a provision for going negative, but here you have it.  The good news is that I'm in the middle of at least 3 games right now that I am really excited about seeing through to the end, so that whenever the next big gotta-have-it thing rolls around, I should be back in the positive.  I'm not going to keep staying in the red unless it's something BIG, like a Dragon Age or Fallout 3 sale--something that doesn't come around a lot, and that I've been waiting for for a long time.  At the moment, there's nothing such that springs to mind.  Fallout 3 was no.1 with a bullet on my list for a long time.

A quick list of what I've been playing this week: Some more of The Witcher, where I'm still in chapter one, Super Mario Galaxy, where I'm up to about 30 stars collected, Doom on XBLA, just for shits (I found a secret level I'd never been to before), and a little Bad Company 2 multiplayer.  I also started SW:TFU last night, just going through the first level where you play as Darth Vader, which was pretty damned cool.  Man, original trilogy-era Star Wars is so much better than the prequel-era.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Nature Of A Man

I spoke about it on the podcast, but most of last week was devoted to finishing up Planescape: Torment.  I've had a few more days to process the ending and the game as a whole, and I have to say my top X games ever list needs a revision.  As games focused on telling a story go, it's probably the absolute best I've seen, though it's methodology is nothing like a Metal Gear Solid or Shadow of the Colossus, and comparisons to those are cumbersome, at best.  Planescape has one huge advantage going for it, and that's the player's imagination.  So much of the game's story is related through text that it is more comparable to a novel than your typical game or movie.  Vast swathes of backstory and character development set in fantastic locations across the planes (alternate worlds/dimensions) are related to the player through dialogue options, making the game as epic or mundane as the player imagines it to be.  And the ending is just perfect. 

As far as I know, it's a one-of-a-kind experience in gaming, and no one should miss it.  By now the game will run on any PC on the market, if you can find a copy.  I'm really hoping it eventually finds it's way onto Steam or GOG.com.  It's worth learning a little about ADnD rules to play, too, even if you're pretty clueless about it, like I am.

I went on a Monster Hunt one evening last week, but it was nothing, really.  I only had time to go and gather a few random materials for use in future hunts and crafting.  I'm going to have to find a place to fit in more Tri soon.

My June project, though, will be The Witcher.  It's always looked so cool, and coming off of Planescape, I still felt that I wanted to be doing some role-playing, so I set it to download over Steam a few days ago (I'd bought it a long time ago during a 50% off sale).  I've only played around an hour so far, but it's pretty cool, and not really what I was expecting.  It's very timing-based.  It also seems to have the player kind of rely on a triumvirate of battle options; there are your sword stances, your alchemical potions, and your "signs," which are basically magic spells.  I've really only seen the way sword stances work so far, but there are approriate stances based on what type of enemy you're fighting--bruiser, armored, heavy types, quick and agile types, and the numerous but weak type.  The strong stance, quick stance, and crowd stance, if you will. 

It's set in a very Eastern European dark fantasy setting, and so far Geralt, the main character, is a total badass.  This game also has one of the coolest intro movies ever.  Youtube it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Need a Quick Image Host

Wheel of Time is practically on-topic on this blog, anyway.  Here's the cover of the next book:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

...Three Weeks Later

I've been absolutely swamped with work and doctor's appointments and whatnot lately, and while this is the first chance I've gotten to blog any, I have been doing quite a bit of gaming.  I've forgone watching these Rome DVDs, in fact, to fit in more time with some of these games.  I'll write this time period up in chronological order.

A few weeks ago Steam had a sale going on the X series, a long-running one where you play a space entrepreneur, and sometime privateer, out to make your own mark on the galaxy.  I did some quick research, and it was clear that the game to buy from this series is the most recent (and by all accounts, most complete) entry, X3: Terran Conflict.  It was only ten bucks, and I like space and had recently come to the conclusion that EVE Online and its monthly subscription weren't right for me, so I bit.

The game is vast and expansive, and by turns bewildering and incredibly difficult, but it is also strangely compelling.  Even 18 hours in, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  Every mission I try to take on is either outright impossible or so difficult as to make it virtually so.  Missions don't preclude you from taking them if say, you aren't in the right type of ship, or don't have a cargo bay big enough to transport the items in question, or don't have a ship fast enough to get to a place before the time limit of the mission.  So, right out of the gate, you are surrounded by missions and tasks you can attempt to do for people around the galaxy, but that would be functionally impossible to finish.  Still, I am compelled to get somewhere in this game.  I think what I need most is money to buy better ships for myself and money to invest in hiring other ships to run trade routes and money to build factories and stations with which to make more money to use to start to be able to get out and actually do some things to build some reputation with the various factions in the universe.   First, I need to find some good trade routes to run, then I need to run them for a while to build up some cash, and get the whole ball rolling.  We're talking hundreds of hours of potential playtime here, if one wanted to see and do everything in this game.  Did I mention that there is actually a plot and a series of story missions to play through?  I think 100+ hours into the game is probably a prerequisite to get anywhere into it at this point, though.

The other large and very time-intensive game I've been playing lately is Monster Hunter Tri.  I covered the basics about the game in my last post, but I've been delving farther in since.  I have about 35 hours now on the in-game clock, and I'm at the end of the third tier of guild quests in offline mode, about to hunt a Royal Ludroth.  What I've been playing some in the last couple of weeks is the online mode, where you can group up with 3 other players and head out to co-operatively kill these huge monsters for their horns and hides and such, which you can use to forge bigger and better weapons and armor with.  As co-op usually does, it adds a lot to the playability of the game.  You can group with people more experienced in order to learn how to handle the epic battles that some of the bigger game present you with.  I've grouped up with people a few times now, and working together we were able to do in 10-15 minutes what it took me 3-4 hours to accomplish alone, and by the skin of my teeth.  The closest parallel I know how to draw is trying to solo VT or IT mobs in FFXI vs. taking them down in a 3 or 4-man party.  Monster Hunter is a little more fair than that when you play solo, but only if you have the experience and skill that comes with a lot of trial and error.  The action is solid, and the progression addicting.  It's fun.

With May winding down, I decided to try and finish a couple of games to keep my pace up for the year.  I'm shooting at about 2 per month.  With that in mind, I went back in the last couple of days and polished off Torchlight.  I was at floor 23 or 24 of 35 when I'd last left off, so I had about a quarter of the game left.  Well, I'm done now.  The game started off really easy, so much so that I was playing on Hard mode with my Vanquisher.

Let me tell you, it gets a whole hell of a lot more difficult in that last stratum of the dungeon.  I was dying pretty much every time I ran into a room with more than 2-3 enemies to fight at a time.  The elemental damage from some of those guys was fucking brutal, one-shotting me time and time again.  Luckily, you have a few options for where you want to respawn, and how much of a death penalty you are willing to incur when you do so.  If you opt to respawn in town, you don't lose anything at all, so what I would do is set a town portal wherever I wanted my 'checkpoint' to be, and when I died I could just respawn in town and immediately take the portal back into the dungeon.  All I had to do was cast another portal spell as soon as I'd used the first, and I was set.  This strategy worked fine right up to the last boss, who was such a hardass that I can't even begin to describe what it was like to fight him.  He literally must have had a million hit points, and my average attack would hit for maybe 500, with crits doing about 1500.  If I'd had to rely on my pistols alone, I'd have been there all night, but luckily I had my flechette traps and Hail of Arrows abilities pumped up  and used those, primarily, to whittle him down over 15-20 minutes of non-stop death/respawn looping.  This guy would spawn scores of helper enemies that I had to try to deal with.  More often than not, he would actually kill them all himself in some sort of move that looked to be him consuming their life essence back into his own.  I never noticed his HP actually increase, however.  I must have died 30 times.  Here, I just said "fuck it," and elected to spawn right at the entrance to that floor, which was entirely given over to his lair anyway, and took the hit to my gold total.  There is an achievement for beating him on Very Hard Hardcore mode, which is one level higher than I was playing on, and with perma-death.  Yeah, on Hardcore, one death permanently erases your character, which of course means no respawns on the final boss, or anywhere else.  I can't imagine how I'd kill that guy on Easy without dying a bunch, so I have no fucking clue how anyone could do that.

So now, I'm done with Torchlight.  There is a lot more that the game has to offer, including higher difficulty, other character classes, a 100-floor alternate dungeon, tons of loot, and crazy ass mods, and I might be back for some of that at some point, but for now I move on to the next game I need to complete!

In all of this gaming confusion, I had to take a business trip up to Seattle, and I took my DS along for the ride, since the new Mac Steam platform is incompatible with the version of OS X on my MacBook.  I played a little bit of Touch! Kirby, which is still one of the best implementations of the DS stylus controls that I've ever seen, and a little bit more of the Final Fantasy IV remake.  I also got in a little bit of Battlefield with Lonesteban, the first I've played of that game in weeks.  That's all for now!  My goal for this week is to finish off Planescape: Torment and to play some more Monster Hunter and X3.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What Up, Yo

I have played exactly three games this week, yo.  I spent the first few days playing a bunch of Monster Hunter Tri, then later focused on finishing the Zerg campaign in Starcraft before April ended, and also played a ton of Uniwar throughout.

Monster Hunter kicks ass, and I can't wait to play more.  I bought it kind of on a whim, kind of to see whether or not the newest, most accessible entry in the series would would actually appeal to me (long time readers might know that the PSP game failed to click with me a couple of years ago).  The addition of the second analog stick, by way of the Wii Classic Controller Pro, does wonders for the game's playability.  Capcom has also gone to lengths with Tri to include perfunctory tutorials and a free-hunt area that makes resource gathering and practice hunts a cinch.  I've logged about 12 -14 hours with the game, and I'm really enjoying it thus far.  I'm at the very end of the second tier of guild quests (rated 1-5 stars) in the single player game.  I understand there are more quests online.

It's just a great game.  It's heavily skill-based, as in you got to have skills, or you will get nowhere.  I'm given over to that type of gaming recently, though, with stuff like Demon's Souls, Starcraft, and a bevy of multiplayer FPS that I've been into.  I'm starting to game more for mechanics than for stories, like I have done in the past.  Monster Hunter mixes that skill-heavy play with a bunch of great RPG mechanics, too, like crafting your own armor and weapons from rare items obtained through hunting and gathering in the world.  There are a couple of aspects of the game that I find annoyingly last-gen, though, and they are the closed-off areas with loading screens between, and the somewhat janky UI and inventory systems.  You can tell that the game is largely un-evolved from the PS2/PSP entries.  I can live with that, though, because the game is really good when you get right down to it.  I've only fought one big monster so far, and the battle was pretty epic.

I've been "playing" Starcraft for an eternity now, but I'd only finished the Terran campaign.  Within the last couple of weeks I decided to get back into the game, and now I've finished off the Zerg campaign, as well.  This is another game I've sort of had to teach myself how to play when playing.  With the Zerg, though, most missions amounted to building, expanding to more resources, building more, and then overrunning the opposition through force of numbers.  I didn't have to outright restart that many times, I could mostly go back to a timely save file if a rush ended badly or a scouting attempt went wrong.  Still, each of the 10 missions took anywhere from 60-90 minutes, and more in a couple of cases.  It's significant enough an investment that I treat each race's campaign as a separate game for completion tracking purposes.  I'm not sure when I'll get to the Protoss, but I should do it sooner than it took me to get to the Zerg after finishing the Terran campaigns.  I still have all of Brood War to get through before I can play Starcraft II!

In other gaming, I've been playing tons of Uniwar online via my iphone.  That game kicks ass.  The asynchronus model for turn-based games is ace for mobile games.