Thursday, November 26, 2009

Another Holiday Commences

In an unusual twist, I have already obtained all of my 'must-have' games of 2009. I picked up both Brütal Legend and Dragon Age: Origins on their respective launch days, and I am disappointed by neither. I must confess, however, that Double Fine's metal opus has been shelved temporarily by BioWare's dark fantasy juggernaut. As odd as this sounds, I tend to play Brütal Legend on weekend afternoons while Sandi takes a nap in the living room; evidently, she finds pounding guitar riffs relaxing. Tim Schafer has finally given me a sandbox game I can play without guilt -- set in a fantasy realm where my avatar is a freedom fighter and not a criminal.

During the week, Street Fighter IV continues to garner a large portion of playtime. I have close to three hundred online battles under my belt now, and I continue to wear my charge character as a badge of honor. I have found my opponents to be, by and large, polite individuals; my 'nice fight' post-game messages are usually returned in kind. I like to think that the fighting game community is more good-spirited than the typical online rabble, but that is most likely my niche market talking.

Game well this holiday weekend, and, above all else, get hype!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Long-Expected Update

Since I have my doubts that anyone without a blood or legal tie to me ever reads this, forgive my lack of diligence in updating my gaming activities. I have chosen to spend my nights actually playing games, rather than writing about the games I want to play.

To no surprise for those who knew me in high school, Street Fighter IV remains at the top of my playlist. While I still have little online play experience, I have found the title a wonderful replacement for lousy television nights. The Championship Mode update for the game and its replay storage feature has given me hours of viewing pleasure -- except for the fact that Balrog totally owns my beloved Blanka. I have also spent a fair bit of time rifling through the forums here, gathering information about how serious players approach the game. Who knew jumping is such a bad idea?

What I am about to say will astonish almost anyone who has ever known my feelings about widely popular media, from quasi-reality television to ridiculous stories about vampires wandering about in broad daylight. I refuse to provide links on this one; I suppose they enjoy fording rivers, too. Anyway, in a moment of weakness, I bought a used copy of Halo 3 last month. I was moved by my nieces' desire to play games with me over Xbox Live, which was simply not possible with my prior gaming collection. In all honesty, the game is pretty good, in much the same vein that pizza almost always makes for a good meal. I have played through most of the campaign missions twice on various difficulties; those who know me are aware that changing the difficulty is not one of my usual maneuvers. Without a known playing companion, though, I doubt I would give Master Chief and his incomprehensible plot more than a cursory playthrough. Seriously, developers -- stop trying to convey your storylines while I am shooting at stuff.

Game well as the summer wanes, and may every grenade you toss stick.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two Bits' Worth of Gaming

All right -- I admit I have spent more than twenty-five cents on the games I am about to mention. Call me the master of hyperbole, except for the fact that the title is already taken.

Xbox Live's Community Games section is, for lack of a better way to put it, a tangled mess. Apart from checking out a couple of 'hot list' groups, one has to do a metric truckload of careful reading and demoing to find the gems. Frankly, I think panning for gold has a higher rate of return -- and not simply because one is spending money while the other is (potentially) earning it.

We bought a puzzle game called Poker Squares not long after the Community Games feature launched, and we picked up Ye Olde Dice Game to avoid pulling out actual dice if we want to play Yahtzee. I bought the first part of the three-dimensional adventure game Mind's Eye of Jupiter, and while there was a good bit more repetitive grid searching than I anticipated, I am okay with the two and a half dollars I spent on the game.

That same night, I also purchased Light's End, which has one of the more intriguing premises of my recent gaming experiences. Microsoft classifies it as roleplaying, but while its graphics hearken to classics like the NES Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, its focus on shifting playable characters and apparent lack of combat stand in defiance of that description. The absence of puzzles (apart from figuring out who needs to talk to whom) stands in contrast to the traditions of the adventure game genre, so what remains? The title's website describes itself as story-driven, and I think that is the best place to put it. Light's End takes the idea of interactive fiction past the borders of Hotel Dusk - Room 215 and the Phoenix Wright series. By the way, go find Hotel Dusk if you have yet to play it. I can wait.

I downloaded the trial of Kodu Game Lab to experiment. I have no great aspirations of game design, but an idea or two has floated through my head, and this might give me a way to put them into virtual form without spending two years refreshing my C++ skills.

Game well, and may your expeditions be free of claim-jumpers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bombs Bursting in Air -- and on People

I have managed a whopping one match of Street Fighter IV online (which I won -- gooooooooo Team Blanka!) since my last post, but that is because I have spent many hours entrenched in the stylized turf wars of Team Fortress 2 of late. I am by no means an expert at the game; explodey or burny death comes quickly and often for me, although it seems to happen about as rapidly for everyone else in the match. I have spent most of my time as a Medic, which alleviates my general inability to aim. The last game I played saw me experimenting with the Pyro class, which was fun but even more lethal. The weekend will likely see more multiplayer mayhem -- at some point, anyway.

Game well over this Independence Day weekend, and may the rockets' red glare not be at your feet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Of Obsession and Combo Links

As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent a great deal of time with the newest addition to my game catalogue, Street Fighter IV. To be honest, I have spent way too much time with Street Fighter IV; several nights have resulted in a disappointingly short sleep cycle due to elongated play sessions. All the magic from Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition on my Genesis has come rushing back with a vengeance. Blanka handles almost exactly like he did back in the 1990's, with a few extra moves (and meters) tossed into the mix. All I need now is a controller designed explicitly to accommodate its button scheme.

In an odd twist, I have yet to face another human being on the field of battle. The overwhelming majority of my time has been spent in the game's Trial mode. Before battling other players, I wanted to make sure I had a solid feel on the timing mechanics. As a long-lost fan of the fighting genre flagship, these challenges seem embedded especially for me. I am by no means an expert (the links in Blanka's Hard Trial Five are extremely fragile, and most other characters are still beyond me), but there is something strangely addictive about repeatedly flailing at the same button combinations. This, of course, is a large component of my lack of massively multiplayer experience. I also find myself frequently watching AI matches while having a snack; these breaks can turn into an hour or so of fascination as I watch the computer-controlled fighters have absolutely no answer to Zangief.

I will make my first forays into the world of Xbox Live fighting later this week, provided my Internet connection holds out. I will also be trying Team Fortress 2 soon, after I quizzed the folks at the Escapist about its viability off its primary platform.

Game well this week, and may you always have frame advantage.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Was Excited About More Last Year

As virtually anyone who would be reading this knows, the gaming world experienced its own little Wrestlemania this month, when the Electronic Entertainment Expo (whose name is often redundantly shortened to the E3 Expo) hit Los Angeles. This time of year is a moment of wildly elevated expectations for gamers, as we are enraptured by flashy trailers, bold announcements of games we have known about since last year, and, lest my testosterone-fueled comrades shriek in indignation, women. I ended up watching most of G4's coverage of the event, barring an overall lack of interest in company press conferences. Unlike the majority of my fellow gamers, I came away from E3 underwhelmed.

Perhaps my ennui stemmed from nothing more than a sophomore jinx; last year marked the first time I had seen E3 coverage as the event was in progress. However, I had the distinct feeling I was repeatedly being shown the same game with a slightly different interface. Uncharted 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction looked nearly identical to me in terms of gameplay, and Mass Effect 2 only differed in the presence of space suits. The same could be said of God of War III, Brütal Legend, and Assassin's Creed II, given the radical difference in those titles' respective art styles. Alan Wake, a game I have been watching with interest since last year, now looks to be plying itself as Resident Evil 5 with more nighttime. How will Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2 differ apart from the whole space marine/terrestrial marine thing? Each night, I found myself wondering if by this time next year, I would have four choices of video game: whiz-bang shooty fun, whiz-bang slashy fun, rock star fantasy simulator, and Peggle.

I was further puzzled by how much everyone in attendance was in love with this convergence. Why exactly do stealth games need to play like God of War and/or Gears of War? I kept hearing the phrase 'speed up' in connection to this phenomenon, although I had been unaware that stealthy covert agents and infiltrators were on such strict timetables. Has the gaming industry run out of room for genres which need not appeal to twitchy action fans?

Nevertheless, I do find myself looking forward to several games from this year's E3. You will find them listed in a new category to the right, called 'On the Radar.' Sadly, about half the games on the list would have been present in January, but there are some new additions. I was always interested in the Silent Hill series, since it focused on psychological horror more than 'gotcha' shock value. The Wii reincarnation of the first Silent Hill sounds promising, especially when I heard the words 'no combat.' I was pleasantly surprised to see high-powered console technology used on a potentially awesome two-dimensional game like Shadow Complex. I am reservedly optimistic about Alan Wake still, in spite of its possible focus on putting rounds in things. You may be surprised to see PlayStation 3 titles on the list, but both Heavy Rain and The Last Guardian give me great pause on the lack of a black monolith in my entertainment center.

Oh, and Microsoft and Sony seem to want to turn the Wii's motion-control shtick into another hardware arms race. Yeah, there's that. yay.

If you'll excuse me, I have to get back to Street Fighter IV now. Game well, and may the bar be higher for you than I.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Possibly Unique Experience

I mentioned some time ago that I had picked up a used copy of Blue Dragon for a family-wide Japanese roleplaying fix. We have soldiered through the first two discs of the journey and are approaching the title's home stretch. While not a bad game, Blue Dragon does little to pull the player into its experience. The Final Fantasy X meets Shadow Hearts combat and character advancement systems are capable yet unastounding (two different genera of experience points is so 16-bit), and the plot is far from redemptive (did the villain ever actually tell us his name?). Perhaps the worst offense is the lack of sidequests; the first two thirds of the game have Tidus and Wakka scoffing at their linearity. For an explorer like myself, this is almost three strikes in one.

Blue Dragon also boasts a maddening set of Achievements, requiring flawless runs of banal minigames and outrageous amounts of experience grinding. I almost consider the awards for maxing out all job levels to be a badge of shame, but the bestiary completion is unforgivable. Some of the game's enemies only appear when summoned by other foes, and these latter opponents can be killed with one-turn simplicity. This means that, in a sense, players are punished for efficient character building and may never know where to find those missing creatures. I consider that poor, poor design. Although I do not play games for the mere sake of elevating my Gamerscore (note the absence of Yaris and Fuzion Frenzy 2 from my list of played games), Mistwalker almost seems to thumb its nose at the modern Achievement insanity, declaring that only the truly hardcore can claim its prizes.

"Where is the uniqueness here?" the gallery cries. In answer to that question, I have noticed that the most hardcore way to play Blue Dragon might not involve any of the niggling things I wrote above. In a bizarre twist of fate, a player can finish Blue Dragon, all the way to the closing credit scroll, without earning a single Achievement. I am aware of no other 'completable' game with this odd feature; heck, almost all games award a token for simply plowing to the finale.

What makes this 'zero-Gamerscore' approach hardcore? Avoiding Achievements actually makes the game harder, as you must meticulously avoid ambushing monsters and fight multiple opponents one by one by one for the title's full length. If either a back attack or a multi-monster fight occurs, the run is impossible for that particular user, as there is no way to 'relock' an earned Achievement. Experience grinding must be tempered by the inability to hit the level cap, and the player must manage his or her finances to avoid collecting one million gold. Finally, nothing in a player's Gamertag can, in any way, prove that this ridiculous event has occurred; this is a maneuver for personal pride and nothing more. I doubt Mistwalker planned it, but this anti-achievement is of NetHack proportions.

Game well, and note that my list of played games is not indicative of attempting this silliness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Time for a Change

As is my custom, I have reached my fill of meandering about the wilds of Oblivion, and its disc gets to return to my shelf. In its place, I have begun a march through Activision's Marvel Ultimate Alliance, part of a series which has, to some extent, been able to dodge its publisher's usual modus operandi. I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men Legends, and almost brought its sequel back from North Carolina for a whirl earlier this year. Part of my purchase decision was based on its Xbox Live multiplayer component, since my brother-in-law and Too Human comrade already has a copy of the game. However, our one online session was cut short due to a muscle relaxer on his end, and he wants to pick up on a saved game several hours into the campaign. This leaves me to plow through the first couple of levels on my own -- which is posing its own problems.

Ultimate Alliance features a massive list of playable superheroes, from the Fantastic Four to the Avengers to some X-Men to, um, this guy. In case anyone wanted proof of my true dorkiness, the game's cast paralyzed me for a good hour as I tried to choose a quartet of heroes to save the world.

At least one choice was obvious -- all-time antihero Wolverine is a must, even if his default outfit makes me weep. I also wanted to add Captain America and Iron Man, to play up that whole civil war thing Marvel did a while back, but picking a fourth champion of good had me stumped. The good folks at Activision (for all I know, it was Marvel's idea, but blaming Activision is more fun) made Nightcrawler unavailable without extra funding, and I needed to pick a solid ranged attacker for the AI to manage. I went with Ms. Marvel for lack of a greater preference, until I was reminded of my wife's fondness for Storm. That choice works well, as I now have a nifty X-Men/Avengers thing going on.

By the way, the absence of Herr Wagner drove me to purchase the downloadable character pack. Blast you, Activision!

Game well, and may you enjoy each imagined conversation . . . or argument.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Bugs Attack

I completed a job for the Thieves' Guild last week in my ongoing drive to ignore the greater needs of Cyrodiil. The mission was actually rather exciting, as I had to make my way through a quite populated cavern system whilst on the lookout for a crystal ball. I find stealthy gameplay to be right up my ridiculously methodical alley, which makes me really excited about this, but I digress. After obtaining the orb in question, I fled the scene post haste and delivered the goods to my honcho-boss.

It should be noted at this stage that Thieves' Guild jobs require increasing amounts of fenced goods (for those of you fearing the loss of my paladin powers, these items have been culled from the homes of those whose evil required the business end of my lightning spells). I returned to my safehouse to collect a bunch of swag for this purpose, and I happened to see a colleague. I spoke to him, only to be given the next job in the guild sequence without the proper fencing tally. I proceeded to sell my loot before attending the meeting . . . only to find the quest-giver absent. I had no choice but to revert to a prior save, obtain the crystal ball again, and make certain to ignore the messenger until I had done things through 'proper' channels. Way to break the immersion, Bethesda!

Technically, my stealth skills had already done that to some extent. My cavern run came to its end in a chamber with a single guard, standing right in front of the target item. I could find no way to approach without his spotting me, but I could get quite close to him without attracting his attention. I did, on the other hand, attract the attention of a magical crystal which began peppering me with bolts of painful cold. The only sanctuary I could find was directly behind the still-unaware sentinel -- who proceeded to get blasted by the crystal. Honestly, the dude stood there like one of these guys as his own defense mechanism killed him. Sure, he healed himself a bit, but would you not have thought to, you know, move in a scenario like this?

My wife spent the evening revisiting the world of Dragon Quest VII, so I dove back into Wyvern for the evening. I recommend the experience, provided you can look fondly on roleplaying titles from the late eighties.

Game well in the days to come, and may your QA catch moments such as these.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dramatic Conclusions

Having decided that one hundred seventy hours is more than enough to devote to a game when others await completion, we drove Final Fantasy XII through its plot's closing arc. In a move highly atypical for our journeys through Square Enix epics, much of the non-essential content was left unseen. I will probably wander back to explore most of it, although even a rabid completionist like myself is unsure about this guy.

I remember reading in an old issue of Game Informer that the conclusion of a Final Fantasy title can leave the player with an empty feeling. I cannot say why Andrew Reiner wrote those words back in the day, but I think the vacuum comes from the acknowledgment that you will likely never revisit that world and those characters. As much as I adored Vivi Orunitia and his compatriots from Final Fantasy IX (well, mainly Vivi), part of me knew that my time with him was over when the credits rolled. Second playthroughs of massive roleplaying games are simply not an option for many of us. That emptiness is, perhaps, the greatest testament that can be given for the brilliant work the Squaresoft/Square Enix folks do in crafting their characters. Even when their respective worlds have been saved, we want more time with Cecil . . . with Red XIII . . . with Vivi . . . with Balthier.

Or maybe not. Who knows?

Game well this week, and if you get the previous line, you know whereof I speak.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Aspirations Continue

In the face of new releases all over the video game universe, I have stuck to my current collection. Of late, I have hurled myself bodily back into Cyrodiil, plowing through large chunks of both the Thieves' Guild and Mages' Guild quest lines. I have also helped out undercover city guards, battled a lich to unhaunt a house, discovered the true lineage of the game-world's most famous athlete, and scoured the countryside for poisonous herbs. At some point, I suppose I should get back to that whole 'the world needs saving' thing, but priorities must be set in order.

As some sort of special offer from GameStop, I participate in online market research for fun and profit. While I figure most everyone who has ever shopped at a GameStop and given them an e-mail address has been the recipient of this same exclusive privilege, the chance to earn gaming money at a minimal impact on my own temporal reserves was not to be missed. Watching a pilot for a new Kelsey Grammer comedy finally put me over the top to earn my first gift card, which is held in reserve for the purchase of Street Fighter IV. By the time I have the rest of the money, its price might end up dropping. Ah, the irony.

Game well this weekend, and may you always be invited to a further research study.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Old-School and Online? Huh??

My work schedule has remained hectic since last month's update, and my gaming choices have remained consistent with those data. I have completed a few more quests in Oblivion, while another few rare beasts have fallen to my Final Fantasy XII squad. While Sandi's mother was in town last weekend, we fired up her Mass Effect campaign, which left me desirous to dive into another Commander Shepard, in spite of news such as this.

I began fresh explorations of a new world a week or so ago. New is, as is typical for my gaming habits, a highly subjective term, as Wyvern has been around for ages now. I read about it while living in Virginia, in the same sidebar column of Game Informer that led us to the quasi-glory that is the Kingdom of Loathing. The game is definitely not for everyone, as it reminds me of fare like Ultima IV and Gateway to the Savage Frontier. It boldly sticks to the 8-bit conventions of sprites and pixel art, and the game only tangentially acknowledges the existence of mice. However, it has given me a chance to explore something new -- to scratch my insatiable spade itch. Also, I could create a noble rakshasa character, which is outright denied me in most settings. If I find out which way their hands open, I will let you know.

Game well in the days to come, and may you find something new just past the screen edge.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'Ere, He Says He's Not Dead

I have been outrageously busy with work lately, and blog-writing fell victim to my own private time recession (not to be confused with My Own Private Idaho, which I definitely do not want). It was comforting to know that my gaming friends noticed my absence; David had his wife ask Sandi if I was all right.

Even in the midst of lecture preparation and test grading, I have been able to play games at night. Final Fantasy XII has seen the most screen time, as I took to scouring Ivalice for the components necessary to forge the game's most expensive weapon, the Tournesol. I am currently one item and about 500,000 gil away from it, but the area in which I must obtain this last item sounds . . . problematic. I plan to begin exploratory forays soon.

I fired up Oblivion for the first time in close to a year last night, and I opted to install the game to the Xbox 360's hard drive. This decision was motivated primarily by the console's merciless manner of spinning the disc. Although Cyrodiil eats up almost every virtual inch of storage I have, playing the game without the drone of the optical drive was quite nice. I resumed my habit of lackadaisically meandering the countryside, slaying the odd bandit or goblin while looking for ruins I will probably never enter. What can I say? I am a spade at heart.

Game well this week, and may you have all the time you need to poke around your world.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Powerful Argument for Temperance

As a teetotaler, the last word of the title is metaphorical in nature. However, I find a need to avoid things like this in a way not unlike the nineteenth-century temperance movement argued for detachment from alcohol. Final Fantasy XII has been noted to resemble an online roleplaying game in its structure; while obviously a single-player experience, the combat and gear mechanics take a cue from the world of its numerical predecessor. Online games are generally designed to draw players into the games' worlds for long stretches of time. Final Fantasy XII managed to do that to me with one of the most inexplicably addictive systems possible -- its bestiary.

The game archives some basic data about each opponent you defeat in battle, like its creature type and a wordy description. However, more flavor content is available if the player defeats more of the varmints. In some cases, merely traveling through an area will net the requisite number of vanquished enemies, but not all foes are so numerous. I spent a good two hours last week trying to collect data on a monster that appears once in an entire portion of the game. I defeated the beast, vacated to another region, and returned to respawn the stupid thing. I now wander through previous areas to beat on nonaggressive denizens of Ivalice because I want the bestiary completed. Why do paragraphs of text mean so much to me?

While perusing the Escapist last week, I came across an offer for free EverQuest II. Does anyone know if it has a bestiary?

Game well this week, and may you have better luck than I at finding wyverns.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Come to the Dark Side -- We Have Loot

Fear not -- I am still free of World of Warcraft and its brethren. However, like my friend David, I have a hefty reputation as 'Mr. Inventory Screen.' I can spend half an hour tweaking gear and checking statistics. I have the art of inventory down to such a pathetically inexact science that I can parse a couple dozen pieces of Too Human treasure within sixty seconds and still take ten minutes on the pause screen.

Mass Effect and Sith Lords began to hex my wife with their looty charms, and I am beginning to reap the rewards during our journey through Final Fantasy XII. I have been banned from developing characters through the license board. However, the augmentation part of the board is almost filled for all six party members, leaving little else but delving into the item lists. See this and despair . . .

BWA HA HA ! ! !

Since I mentioned Mass Effect, this. Yes, there is much rejoicing.

Game well this week, and let the minstrels live.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Alignment Check

Over the weekend, I finished Prince of Persia. As usual, highlight the spoiler which follows at your own peril. As you may guess, the title stems from the Prince's actions at the conclusion conclusion of the game. I actually considered bailing to the Dashboard when I saw what was coming, but the threat of missing something I should know when the downloadable content hits kept me going. On another front, I like the fact that we never really get to see Ahriman; it sort of has that Jaws effect. For those of you whose willpower held out, suffice to say that I am in no danger of, say, this.

While I would not call Prince of Persia a hard game, in the sense of something like Ikaruga or Mega Man 9, the cries of "it's too easy" which echoed across the ether somewhat perplexed me. I 'died' at least one hundred times before completing the campaign (see, Achievements do accomplish something!), which is probably more than my experience with Sands of Time. Do we really need a game over message to tell us when we have failed at something? Ask anyone who watches or hears me play a game -- I am well aware that I messed up, load screen or no. Unlike several to whom I have spoken, I cheered the downplayed role of combat in this reboot of the franchise. I always got the feeling that fights in Prince of Persia games fell somewhere between a playtime-lengthening gambit and Metal Gear-style punishment. I felt far more like a rock star when wallrunning and jumping than in the dispatching of hordes of meaningless dudes. Who am I -- this guy? I would have felt no great loss if the environment itself were my only adversary in a game like this.

Game well this week, and may Scheherazade lose track of your light seeds.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Unusual Occurrence

I finished Too Human this week. I have yet to see the ending, though, since I made my way through the game alongside my brother-in-law. The oddity of the game's multiplayer component can lead to scenarios like this. I suppose I could just go read the source material, but my reading list is already quite long. We started replaying levels with the 'through' characters in a quest for max levels and phattier lootz, which, while fun, seems to run counter to the whole Ragnarök vibe. On the item-gathering front, I have had a fantastically hard time obtaining any of the title's charm quests. Is that a byproduct of my Bio-Engineer's cybernetic alignment?

I have to get around to pushing my Champion through Too Human's campaign -- once that poser Ahriman is put in his place. And I get to the bottom of what happened to Faith's sister. And I see Balthier be awesome another half-dozen times. I really do have a problem . . .

On the tabletop front, my D&D game might not be a pipe dream after all. The guy trying to round up players has a party of four, which would even free me up from having to run one of the characters. I will update you on how this unfolds, when it unfolds. Hopefully no one minds sticking with the 3.5 rules.

Game well, and may every drop be a red drop.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Plunge Taken

After over two years of Xbox 360 ownership, I have finally played a game online. Yes, I finally burned one of my 'sorry your console turned to slag' Gold Live membership cards in order to play some Too Human multiplayer with my brother-in-law Chuck. He took to the front lines as a Berserker, while I play combat medic as a Bio-Engineer. The game's challenge factor decreases a bit when your health is not at the whims of the loot generator. I can say that I wish the cutscenes had been left in the online component of the game; the now-absent cyberpunk/Norse mishmash was a big draw for me.

I have also liked the ability to chat with someone while playing a game. Since my wife is typically visiting the land of Nod by the time I get a gaming session underway, my choice of in-house conversation partners is limited, and the dog looks unmoved by my cries of triumph or frustration. By the way, the fact that the included headset only lets you hear the person wearing it can make for some really funny stuff.

Game well this week, and may those ping times do the limbo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Quick Look in the Rear-View Mirror

I am still entrenched in Prince of Persia, although my brother-in-law's entry into the world of Xbox Live may induce the use of my free Gold cards to play some Team Fortress 2 or other multiplayer stuff. My innate unitasking has left my other acquisitions of the year on the shelf, awaiting their next chance at my singular attention span.

As I consider my game purchases last year, I noticed a couple of trends. Pleasantly surprising is the fact that the only M-rated title I bought was The Orange Box, which is actually a game from the year before. This marked a decided shift from Mass Effect, BioShock, and their kinfolk during 2007. I also noticed that game buys were often driven as much by political statement as desire for the product. I shelled out full retail for Too Human because I think Silicon Knights can really hit a home run with this material if freed from the albatross of a decade-long development cycle. While I dug what I saw of Mirror's Edge during and after E3, I wanted to tell Electronic Arts that doing more than simply dumping sports games and Rock Band updates on us every year was a worthwhile venture; if only that had worked. Braid's unabashed awesomeness blessedly confirmed my faith in independent game development.

Other than Street Fighter IV, which offers the chance to reacquire my long-rusty skills, and Dragon Age: Origins, which is, well, by BioWare, not much is on my radar for the year as of now. As I had little on my radar at this point last year, that is subject to change. Maybe I should invest in some new radar.

Game well this week, and keep a close eye on each blip.

Monday, January 12, 2009

If You Hate Laughter, Click Back

I promise, you will not hear . . . er, read me use the words 'dudes,' 'shoot,' and 'you' in the same sentence for at least the next two posts. Word is bond.

Anyway, as my family can attest, I am a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, even after the original team was scattered to the four winds. A good couple of Thanksgiving holidays featured parents trying to convince me to stop watching Comedy Central marathons of the show. At long last, through some dark alchemical procedure, the hilarious approach of MST3K has been applied to an often-mocked corner of the gaming landscape: overlong and overwrought cinematics. Check out this and these to live your fantasy of ruining poignant moments and jeering awful dialogue.

Game well, and try to keep your nostrils soda-free.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Look Ma -- No Vertigo!

The past week has been spent hurtling around a fantastical realm which may, in a place or two, resemble Persia. Ubisoft's latest addition to the Prince of Persia franchise addresses one of the biggest issues I have had with Mirror's Edge: the game seems to know its own identity. Guiding Faith around the rooftops of her dystopian city is by no means an unpleasant experience, but bits of its structure seem at odds with each other. Most of the time, the player in Mirror's Edge is driven by flow and momentum, and at its wallrunning and speedvaulting best, adrenaline does indeed get pumping. In the opposite corner is an exploratory element that tasks you with finding manbags which someone has scattered about the city. The search for these satchels, at least at my current level of progress in the game, bludgeon the aforementioned parkour model by slowing you down. Methodically searching an environment for objects while dudes shoot at me (and trust me, dudes will shoot at you) is not a heart-fluttering thrill ride. I tried to ignore the silly things and concentrate on the running and the jumping and the whatnot, but the explorer buried in my psyche kept prodding my mind with the thought that I have left something undone. Ask my wife how well this feeling sits in my stomach.

Prince of Persia has a heavier emphasis on collecting, since its light seed doodads are the key to reaching new areas rather than an aftertho . . . er, aside for completionists like myself. However, most of them (the early ones, anyway) lie along your travel routes from one place to another, and those off the beaten path take on a puzzle element of sorts as you try to figure out how to get the Prince to them. The de-emphasized combat also means that you can search for light seeds without dudes shooting at you.

Game well this week, and may you face a minimum of dudes shooting at you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Melange of Delights

We had company to help us celebrate the new year, which generated much saliva at the prospect of tabletop gaming. I managed to play a game of Bohnanza and several hands of Fluxx with our visitors, but a D&D session was unfortunately not possible. Times like this make me wish I had ponied up the dough for a copy of Ticket to Ride: Europe during my years in Virginia.

On the electronic front, the Xbox 360 and Wii got quite a workout. Between sessions of Boom Blox, LEGO Star Wars II, and FIFA 07 (yes, you read that number correctly), the television saw little time not on an auxiliary input. The multiplayer focus of the past few days has left my Christmas presents languishing in the background, whispering to me from their shelves. They feel threatened by the addition of a new member to the clan; I picked up the new Prince of Persia title this afternoon with the assistance of a Christmas gift card. As I always say, the more wall-running in your life, the merrier.

Game well in this new year, and may every cross lead to a fierce header.