Saturday, April 2, 2016

♫The Waiting is the Hardest Part♫

This is a picture of a toy standing on an arcade game. No, it's really nothing special--not really.

Or is it?

When I was a kid, this would have been an absolute dream--Heaven, Nirvana, Voodoo Heaven...whatever. I would have been the absolute happiest kid on the planet. Why, you ask? I mean, these two things are pretty mundane, right? Yes, they are--now.

Let's start with the big one: Video games. I loved them. Hell, I still do! I was a gamer geek before "gamer geek" was even a valid moniker. I would spend hours in arcades, thriftily making a couple of dollars worth of quarters last by watching other people play various cabinets. Sometimes, I would get lucky and find that someone had forgotten just how many credits they had, resulting in a free game!

At home, I had only an Atari 2600 for the longest time. Sure, the Colecovision came along eventually and it recreated actual arcade games much more faithfully than any other system. Later, the Nintendo and Super Nintendo would follow, truly providing the experience I craved. But, wait, the consoles all cost quite a bit of money, as did the games. I remember the Atari 2600 cost $200 for quite a while. I was a kid and that kind of money was not available, so I was forced to be patient and wait it out.

And then there is the toy. Some of you geeks out there might recognize it as Miriya Sterling's veritech from the Americanized anime Robotech (or from the original Macross, or whatever).

At one point during my childhood, I got absolutely hooked on Robotech. I would get off at a bus stop that was further away from my home but was sooner in the route so that I could run home in time to catch it. Couldn't I just record it? We didn't have a VCR--they were relatively expensive. This was the only way I could watch it.

So here's the surprise--this was all pretty awesome. These were two things I relished so, when I got to experience them, it was the best thing in the world. I couldn't just play any video game I wanted at any time I wanted, and I had to make sure to watch Robotech when I could. I didn't know any different, so I enjoyed these activities when I could.

Fast forward to today or, well, just the present era.

I built the arcade cabinet years ago. I learned quite a bit about carpentry and wiring in the process and the experience itself was absolutely amazing. Since then, I have been able to play any classic video game (up to about 1999) any time I want, as many times as I want. If I'd had this as a kid I WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY FLIPPED OUT! This was my dream machine when I was 10. Ten-year-old me would have done anything to get my hands on this. Inside, it's a modest Windows XP, single core PC running everything behind the scenes.

Older me plays it occasionally, gets nostalgic, and realizes how terrible I am at all of the games. I can play Gauntlet forever without worrying about the quarters in my pocket which, by the way, actually takes some fun out of the game. It's less fun when you don't care how many times you die. But, anyway...

The toy is another symbol. The moment I saw Robotech I wanted a toy veritech, transformable plane. Guess what. THEY DIDN'T EXIST! Overseas, yes. Here? No. Internet? That wouldn't come along for years...YEARS! I saved up my money and bought a couple of simplified, cheap knock-offs but they weren't what I wanted.

Eventually, I got my hands on Jetfire, a character in the Transformers cartoon that is pretty much an exact replica of a veritech fighter, and that satisfied me for a very long time. Finally, older me found that Robotech had its own toy line online and they were clearing out a bunch of them (regular price was pretty damned expensive, even for older me). That is when I acquired this one--I wanted Roy Fokker/Rick Hunter's Skull 1 but it wasn't half price, so I got Miriya's, and it's awesome. If the house was on fire, I'd probably brave the flames to save it.

So what's my point? It's a much different world. Most people who want something can click a few buttons and their something arrives in two days. Many of these somethings find their way to a pile of other somethings where they collect dust. Want a song? Buy it online--you don't even have to buy the whole album on tape cassette to get that one song. And you get it INSTANTLY!

It's pretty amazing, really. This is all something that 10-year-old me would simply have killed for. I still most likely wouldn't have had the money for everything I wanted, but opportunities would be there.

This is what our children experience. They can carry their entire music library with them in a device that is 1/6th the size of anything we used. There is no wait, no anticipation, and no real respect for the terribly long two days it will take to get the item that they had mom or dad order for them. They don't need to look up information in an encyclopedia and don't need to be driven to the library for a book report.

Honestly, it's pretty amazing. In no way do I hold this against them and give them (genuine) grief, saying "well, when I was a kid...". It's a completely different world for them, with new challenges and hardships. I describe mine to them and they look at me like I have cats crawling out of my ears.

But I still remember the feeling when I opened the collector's edition veritech and admired it, many many years after I first desperately wanted one. It's a item, and maybe it's "materialistic". But, to me, it essentially represents the fulfillment of a dream.

Yes, I am a complete and total geek. :)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Of Storytelling in Video Games

When I was a kid, video games were pretty simple.

"You're this tank...and you want to destroy that other tank--over there. That guy."
Why do I hate this other tank so much?
"Uhhh...ummm...that other tank stole your cheese?"

Video games didn't have voice actors, music, more than 10 pixels or...most importantly, a plot. As I grew up and video games evolved, these qualities slowly crept into the mix, making them more compelling...well, to an extent.

"So, the princess has been captured. Go kill stuff and SAVE HER!"
And, eventually...

"These aliens hate you and want to destroy you. Defend your planet!"
But, why do they hate us so much?
"Uhhh...ummm...your race stole their cheese!"

Thankfully, these subpar plotlines have given way to much more robust, serious, or even wacky, epic stories that span entire franchises and even multiple media types. Some of these games become legends among gamers, exhibiting top-notch writing, production values, and gameplay.

And, then, there's Halo 5. Yeah, it's been out for a while and I've taken a few months to sit on it and stew--mostly to avoid having the entire discussion be me ranting and saying over and over "Screw Halo 5! Screw Halo 5!"

First of all, let me get this out of the way. The gameplay is pretty fun. The action feels very "run-and-gun", blow through enemies and destroy stuff like the great god of destruction that you are. Multiplayer is a mixed bag. 343i changed up the multiplayer to add optional microtransactions and new game types while pretty much discarding all of the old tried-and-true game types. It's different and, often, I pine for the game types of old. But that's not what this is all about.

This game was very seriously marketed wrong. Every element that was introduced in the commercials--rivalries between characters, a hunt for the iconic Master Chief, and whatever crimes the Chief committed--discard all of that. I mean, literally, dump it in the trash. It has really very little to do with the game itself.

So what does the game's plot entail? Well, the story feels like it was written by a third-grader who, halfway through, got distracted by a pack of squirrels outside, then said third-grader wandered into traffic and his faithful dog finished the story. It's a disaster. It meanders through uninspiring locales and, ultimately, ends up having advanced to virtually nowhere. It's like working your butt off for a day but not accomplishing anything. You're tired, you're dirty, and you've nothing to show for it.

The game does nothing to address any plot points left over from Halo 4, the books, or any of the movies. For a mere three chapters, you play as the beloved Master Chief. The rest of the time you have to endure playing as Spartan Locke, a "by-the-books goody two-shoes" who is half-assedly (it's a word now!) pursuing the Chief...sort of.

And, then, there are several chapters of the game where the entirety of gameplay is you, running around, talking with people. That's it. Just go to point A, talk to a dude, go over here, talk to another dude (or dudette), repeat, get a sandwich, jump off a cliff...whatever. It's as if 343i didn't have enough of a game so they threw this garbage in, hoping people would be fooled into thinking that it was awesome!

It's not. It's terrible. It's shoddy. It's half-hearted and uninspired. I seriously can't believe that this is what my beloved Bungie had in mind for the series when they handed it over to 343i. Maybe they didn't know where the franchise was going after Halo 3 and 343i had to make it all up by themselves. Either way, it's too bad.

The gameplay could be the best ever (and, while it's solid, it's not the best ever) and it would still fall flat.

Video games have transcended beyond the "infinite levels of a pixelated space ship blowing up pixelated aliens" type of game. I don't expect every game I play to be revolutionary or a huge breakthrough. I'm fine with many of them being right on par with others. Even if they're not the best ever, I can usually find something good about them. But Halo 5, with the huge expectations that were laid upon its shoulders, dropped the ball...then stomped on it, set it on fire, and kicked it into the neighbor's house

Which also caught on fire.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cat Pictures and Vitriol


So it's been quite a while. I feel as though I say that a lot and, well, it's probably true. However, as I've said many times in the past, I don't post anything here unless it's actually worth posting and, today, I think I have something. Let's begin.

The Internet. It is a wondrous invention that brings joy to many people in the form of lolcats, videos, and other assorted silliness. It's also a perfect place to spread hatred, intolerance, and overall malaise. Sometimes, when perusing Facebook, I get the same feeling that I used to get when trick-or-treating as a kid (or last week)--I would hold out my bag and, if I was lucky, I'd get something really awesome. If I was unlucky, I'd get peanut butter taffy. Seriously. PEANUT BUTTER TAFFY! Ew.

That feeling comes around when I see certain things, mainly on Facebook. I am not referring to well-written posts about someone's views with which I happen to disagree. We can't all agree on everything but that does not make us enemies. It makes us different. And variety is the spice of life, no? Some say it's cumin but I don't see it.

So, yeah, I really enjoy seeing thought-provoking, opposing viewpoints and pondering them. Sometimes I engage in a brief debate about them, but avenues such as Facebook are terrible media for any kind of cogent debate. I always look forward to learning and, yes, my opinion can be swayed.

This is all great stuff...until it isn't. The peanut butter kiss in the candy bag comes along in the form of snarky, shallow, one-sided posts. They are never actually written by the person posting them and they are almost always in the form of a captioned picture that the poster found somewhere. They don't open up a dialogue, they don't cause anyone to think, and they don't offer up anything useful. They only serve to point fingers, assign blame, or irritate people.

And, it being the Internet, everyone be damned! It's the Internet and we can say what we want, right? We're very courageous when sitting behind our keyboards and it's so very easy to simply share something we've found without any context or independent thought of our own! Why think for ourselves when someone else has done it for us?

I sort of called someone out on this today. I may have been a little harsh. I will note, however, that it was face to face, in person. This is how I am. If you ask me a question, you will get a 100% honest answer--sometimes brutally honest. And, when I've a bone to pick, it happens. I decided that expressing my opinion in the same vein was appropriate and, hopefully, it got the point across.

I have become friends with some fabulously wonderful people via the Internet. I never would've encountered these fantastic individuals without it. Some of them I have had the pleasure of meeting in person while, others, I still desire to meet. I've been exposed to great things and have sometimes had my views changed for what I consider the better. I'm still a major work in progress but I am confident that I am on the right track.

I've no room in my life for negativity. The irony, here, is that I used to be something akin to the king of negativity. Nothing was going to turn out right, people were all jerks, and everything was doom and gloom. What turned me around? I really disliked myself. I wouldn't have wanted to hang around me. I was basically the person who would've posted the snarky, pre-fab quotes and pictures. I'm not really sure why I didn't so I'll just chalk it up to laziness.

Are you a conservative? A liberal? Gay? Straight? Do you use an iPhone? Android? Play PS4? Xbox? Excellent. Good for you! Do you want to tell me "Xbox sux!" or "PS4 sux!"? Can you put down the typos and have a decent discussion as to why you think so? No? Alright, then, bye.

The problem is not Republicans or Democrats. It's not conservatives, liberals, Christians, atheists or whatever. The problem is poverty, violence, bigotry, abuse, intolerance, economics, and possibly the fact that I still cannot find Waldo.

But, most of all, stop trying to tell everyone how to live their lives simply because you disapprove or because you're offended. Most people have a massively difficult time living their own lives without poking their noses into everyone else's business. Stop shaming people simply for being people who are not you.

I once had someone on Facebook point a finger and say that a particular large group of people was the cause of all of the problems we have today. How does that make anything better? Finger-pointing and accusations? No thank you. We live on the same rock. You can't possibly convince me that your farts smell like roses but that this group over here is the cause of all of planet Earth's woes.

Let's make things better, people.

I hope to contribute more activity here in the near future (if I can muster the creative juices) and, hopefully, my posts will be more lighthearted and along the lines of "Pool of Radiance II is possibly the worst game I've ever played".


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Join Me. It Is Your...Um...Just Do It. I'll Be Your Best Friend.


The game was hyped for upwards of a half-billion years but, now, it's out and being played all over the place. Reviews have been mixed but what really matters is what kind of game you want to play. You may have heard that Borderlands + Halo = Destiny but I will argue that it is actually Borderlands + Gears of War = Destiny.

The game is very much like Borderlands but without the offbeat humor. In fact, Destiny is a bit dark which is where the Gears of War element comes into play. Well, that and some of the environments feel like Gears of War. But Destiny also centers around a role-playing element just as much as it involves loot collection and splodin' things.

Basically, shoot lots of enemies, gather different guns and armor, level up your character, rinse and repeat!

I don't want too much into the plot mostly because the plot itself isn't very deep. Evil looming in the distance, aliens want to snuff out the rest of humanity, and a giant bocce ball hovering above the last city on Earth. Bungie probably could have put a bit more writing into the game but, regardless, the game is fun anyway. I guess, sometimes, you just need to loosely tie action together with a story and it works.

And Destiny does work. It's fun and, even if the story is thin, it keeps me interested enough to play the next mission and advance the story. There have been no "Omg! X is Y's father!" moments but maybe those aren't necessary.

Destiny is an MMO and I am notorious for disliking MMOs. But it's an MMO that I can get behind because it's an MMO that doesn't really have to be an MMO. Wha??? Yep.

See, Destiny can really be played singleplayer through a lot of it. You can play through the story, retrieve bounties, and patrol all by yourself with no help from anyone else. As far as I know you could finish the game without having to ever play alongside anyone else. Sure, there are other guardians roaming about the zones, performing their own tasks and they may fight the same thing you are fighting but that is about the extent of it.

There are public events that bring players together, should any of them so desire, and their are raids, strikes, and the Crucible (if you wish to partake in PvP). These can be pretty minor parts of the game...sort of.

Right. "Sort of". See, once you max out at level 20 the character advancement dynamic changes a bit and, now, the multiplayer aspects become a bit more important. You can earn reputations and currencies (or items) by partaking in the multiplayer activities that you either can't earn otherwise or just earn much more slowly. I'm not a real fan of PvP but there are certain things I feel I can't accomplish without participating.

So, that much, I'm not really happy about but I also knew that I was getting into an MMO so I suppose I am willing to take the good with the bad. So far I've very much enjoyed the game and look forward to finishing it, then playing through with the other two classes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Get Off My Lawn!

Kids these days. They don't know how good they've got it, what with their Internets, their tablets and...their pants. They've grown up with all the cool technology and toys that they probably take for granted. Growing up, to play any semblance of a "good" video game, I had to hang out in arcades and plop endless quarters into the vast sinkhole of pixels.

Oh, sure, I had an Atari 2600 and I played the living heck out of it! I found the easter egg dot in "Adventure", and I discovered a glitch in "Combat" that allowed me to shoot through the wall. I think I played two or three Atari units into the ground, not stopping until they were molten, smoking piles of goo. And, back then, we took them somewhere to get them fixed because it was cheaper than buying a new game console.

The Atari was fun, sure, but it obviously had major shortcomings. What I wanted was a game system that could replicate those games found in the arcade. The Atari fell way short in this department. I remember the excitement when I plugged in Pac-Man and loaded it up. This was quickly followed by crushing despair and disappointment when I played the game and it was nothing like Pac-Man. It was as if someone started coding the game, realized that it would never actually be fun, and then just gave up.

The same was true for Donkey Kong. You have no idea how giddy I was, sitting in the car with the game box on my lap, anticipating playing it. But what I experienced was actually somewhere close to, instead of going to Disneyland, ending up at the slide in the park...that was metal...and really hot. Yes, slides were made of metal back then and we burned our butts and WE LIKED IT!

See, Donkey Kong on the Atari was a deformed blob that sort of jumped over squares and made weird noises. It was terrible. It was an atrocity and probably should have been buried in the desert along with all of the ET cartridges (one of which I still own...somewhere).

The point is, there was absolutely no way to recreate at home what was available in an arcade. Not even close. So I hung out in arcades a lot. Money was rather limited so I picked my games wisely. Sometimes I had grown adults betting each other that they sucked so bad a kid could beat them. I was that kid. And, yes, I beat them. Every time.

The Colecovision was years away but, yes, it was the first console to accurately recreate games from the arcade. Computers began stepping up but were still not quite that good at it. But when I first saw Donkey Kong Jr. on the Colecovision I nearly cried. It was perfect. Then the 8-bit NES came along later and it was all smooth sailing from there.

These days, you can play a game on a console and it's at least as good as the game in the arcade (if there is even an arcade nearby). Of course, in my opinion, the PC platform is superior in most ways but that's an argument for another time.