Tuesday, December 17, 2013

See the Grazing Mule Before Us

Fa la la la la, la la la LA!

Christmas music. Some people hate it, some people love it. But have you ever stopped to listen to the lyrics and actually know the true meaning of each song? No? Well, you're in luck. I am such a good Samaritan...and I will help you understand some of your favorite Christmas songs.

Ahem.

"Silent Night": This is the song where the parents wish their children would hush up and go to sleep so that Santa can visit.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer": Geeks start out as outcasts and grow up to be awesome. Also, they have red noses, but nobody knows why.

"Feliz Navidad": Merry Christmas...over and over and over and over and over again. And then some more.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town": Santa Claus had to pick up some milk at the grocery store.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus": [redacted].

"Santa Baby": Give me lots of stuff and I'll [redacted].

"It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas": "It's only August and already stores are selling Christmas ornaments. Ugh."

"White Christmas": "I hope it snows really hard so that we don't have to drive all over the place on Christmas."

"Blue Christmas": That snow...doesn't look right at all.

"Do You Hear What I Hear?": Voices...voices everywhere. This lamb is telling me that the wind told it something.

"I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas": I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Absolutely NO rhinoceruses.

"All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth": Most people think this song is about a little kid who lost his teeth. It's actually about a 100-year-old man who misplaced his dentures.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas": Merry Christmas!!!

You're welcome.

Friday, November 8, 2013

You Can Thank Us Later

Dear Children,

This is an open letter to all of you who like to ask this ridiculous question:

"You're XX years old and you still play games? Don't you have a life?"

I hear this a lot. Because, for some reason, kids these days think that there is an age limit on playing games (video games mostly, but sometimes tabletop as well). You know, once you reach a certain age, you suddenly get a walking cane, pull your pants up to your chin, go to bed at 7:00 pm, AND STOP PLAYING GAMES!!! Actually, that "go to bed  at 7:00 pm" thing doesn't sound half bad some nights. But that cuts down on time for activities! Mainly, playing games.

No, I no longer have 20 hours a day to sit at home and play games--I have a family and a job and I like to do other things. But I used to, and I did. But my time was spent playing games like Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, and StarCraft...yes, the first one. That was probably before your time.

I started on an Atari 2600, moved on to the Colecovision, NES, then the SNES. I had a PC that didn't even have a proper video card. Why? Because they didn't exist yet! I had a Hercules Graphics Adapter (HGA). With it, I could emulate (through software) EGA and, again, through software, emulate VGA. Yep. I did that so that I could play games. In fact, I got into computers TO PLAY GAMES. I am betting you probably have no idea what "EGA" or maybe even "VGA" is. I do. Because I routinely disassembled my PC and tinkered with it. I was the only one I knew who was knowledgeable, and there was no Internet. Our 3D cards (once they came to be) were completely separate, add-on cards that you bridged to your main card. Mine had 12 megabytes of RAM. And IT USED GLIDE!!!

I found the first official easter egg hidden in the Atari 2600 game "Adventure" and glitched into invulnerability in the game "Dragonfire" on the same system. And I did this all, again, without the help of that handy tool we call the Internet. Back then, even strategy guides for pretty much anything were years away. If you wanted answers, you found them yourself. Save points? Continues? Pfft. If you lost, you started over. Old school. So you made sure you were really good at the game...and didn't lose.

The first game I played "multiplayer" with a friend remotely? "Populace"...over a 2400 baud modem. And it was awesome. I think I lost, but that wasn't the point. And, no, there was no voice chat. I'm guessing you've never heard of "Populace". You could say it was the precursor to "Black and White". You may not have heard of that game, either.

I hung out in arcades. Random adults I didn't know would bet their friends that I could beat them at games. I almost always did. It was worth a laugh...and a free game. I found the perfect kick return in Cyberball against most opponents that would never fail, I was unbeatable at Pigskin, and I sucked horribly at Gauntlet. Once, in college, I had a line of frat boys out the door just waiting to get their shot at beating me at Super Street Fighter II Turbo. They all failed and I got hundreds of dirty looks. In fact, I played for nearly two hours before I finally had to go to class (I was late). I did all of that on 50 cents. I also competed at the local arcade in Street Fighter tournaments and won almost every time. When I didn't, a friend did.

I did all of this and, yet, still found a way to spend a majority of my time playing outside, with friends, rain or shine.

Until the Colecovision came along, I could not play accurate re-creations of arcade games, and it killed me inside. Atari tried its best but it just couldn't even come close, and it was sad. Technology eventually caught up and arcades began to vanish. Why go to an arcade when you could play on a console that was just as good and, most often, better?

When video games were introduced, they met with skepticism--they were seen as a fad that would quickly pass. They had a rough time and nearly disappeared from existence (maybe the E.T. game had something to do with that). But you can thank my generation for keeping them alive. And you can thank the generation before mine for providing them in the first place, and continually trying to improve them.

So before you go and ask an adult "Wow, you're XX years old and you STILL play games?" Remember that we're essentially just like you, only older and much wiser. Sure, we hold jobs and our manners are usually much better than yours, but we like to have fun just like you. And we've been playing games probably longer than you've even been alive. I'm not planning on stopping anytime soon and I would guess that you're the same way. The good news? At some point you'll hopefully get a steady job and be able to pay for your own games like me. No more asking Mommy and Daddy for Christmas! ;)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Good Guys Don't Run Out of Ammo

Hi. I have a deep, dark secret that I need to get off my chest. I'm not proud of it and I've been suppressing it for years, like the memory of that time I spray painted that cat's butt. Oh, but that's an entirely different discussion.

I am an habitual reloader. There. I said it, and it feels good!

I don't care if the clip is still almost full. There could be a horde of zombies or Locust or Covenant just around this next corner and if I'm short one bullet then I could die! So, yeah, I want a full clip! Is that wrong?? I'm just trying to be dependable!

Seriously, though, I reload my weapon in videogames constantly. If I don't have a full clip, I feel naked and exposed. If I fire off a mere two rounds out of 60, yep, I reload. In Halo 4, this translates into reloading the SAW constantly, each reload taking 5 seconds or so (which feels like an eternity). In Gears of War, this means that I will shoot one round and reload just to get a perfect reload.

In a real war, I would be spending all of my time reloading and probably never really shoot anything. I could probably be the "Designated Reloader"--soldiers could give me their empty weapons and I'd trade them a fully-loaded one. I've become pretty good at reloading weapons...as long as that only requires pushing the X button. I can push that X button like it's nobody's business. So if you need someone to push the X button, I'm your guy!

I finished all three Dead Space games in less than a month. These were my Creepy October Games for 2013. I had only intended to play through maybe the first two but I sort of devoured them voraciously, like a dog in a room populated with full litterboxes. Yeah, stunning visual, right?

Dead Space 1: Sluggish controls but a suitably creepy atmosphere. Half the time, it's what you don't see that freaks you out--sounds, shadows, etc. The other half, it's the face-eating necromorph trying to crack open your noggin that scares you.

Dead Space 2: More of the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The developers tightened  things up and made a pretty good game, here. The downside? The plot. Wow, it's a bit out there. Honestly, it wasn't very interesting, seemed a teensy bit convoluted, and was all around just tough to grasp.

Really Fast, Really Simple Game Reviews:

Dead Space 3: The plot generally gets worse and the action stays the same. Things are less creepy this time around, and are more action-oriented. But what I really found annoying was the drastic change to the way gear upgrades are handled. Wow. They used to be simple (maybe overly simple) and, now, they're all over the place. I found myself just not caring much about most of the upgrades/weapon construction options and simply powering through the game to finish it. And, seriously, sending three ubermorphs (undefeatable enemies) after me at once and having them follow me through a good portion of one level...that's just cheap.

All of that said, they are generally enjoyable games--even moreso because I got all of them for about $20, if I recall correctly.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Knee Deep in the Halloween

October is the time when everyone has demonstrations, video clips, and pictures of all kinds of great Autumn crafts and Halloween hoopla. The list can get quite lengthy from things like "How to turn your toilet into a crap-o-lantern" to "Stylish boots to wear on a night out...to the demolition derby." Heck, the Today Show usually focuses hours 3-15 on topics like these. Sometimes they take a break in the action to breathe and calm down from all the excitement. Otherwise, it's just a nonstop fun-o-rama of vomit!

So, obviously, screw that. I'm here to talk about more interesting things that have nothing to do with clothing, crafts, or a Kardashian.

Let's start with horror movies. October is the perfect month to pull out all the stops. Now, there is usually a wide variety of horror movies on TV and these are great to catch when you can. I would, however, recommend staying away from Syfy. If they're not playing "Giant Big Gooby Monster vs. Giant Banana Slug" (their idea of a "horror" movie), they're showing "Let's wander around a house in the dark, trying to find our asses with both hands while pretending we see dead people!". These shows include, but are not limited to, "Ghost Hunters", "Ghost Mine", "Paranormal Witness", "Ghost Career", "Vampires on Parade", "I Thought I Saw Something: The Musical", "Mysteries of Bellybutton Lint", "Ghost Cheese", "Ghost Pepper", "Bob Barker's Toilet", and, finally "Where is Eddie Muenster Now?"

Oh, and "Face Off" which, admittedly, is pretty awesome.

TLC features some of the most truly horrifying shows ever. "The Man with the 32-pound scrotum", "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo", and...ummm...well, that's about it, I think.

AMC, however, never lets me down. They show "The Walking Dead" (or so I've been told by their five million advertisements). They also show nonstop horror movies for 15 days or so, leading up to Halloween. Kudos, AMC.

So I've always thought "Halloween" and "Halloween 2" (yes, the originals) were possibly two of the best horror movies out there. Top of the heap on a mountain of hockey masks, hatchets, and midget vampires. Both movies were shot on low budgets, imported leaves, bad acting, and no real special effects. But the music, lighting, and camera angles, actually go a long way toward making both of these films superior to most others. Also, the creepiest character in the movies is Loomis.

My pick this year for the Creepy October Game (COG) is "Dead Space". I played through it and have moved onto "Dead Space 2". Yes, I know it's an old game but it was el cheapo on el Steamo--well worth the $5 I paid for it during the Steam Summer Sale!

It is suitably creepy in two ways: Both in the things that jump out of nowhere and charge you like Joey Chestnut charging a helpless bucket of hot dogs, and also in the things you don't see, but hear and just sort of feel. About halfway through, I got desensitized to the "boogety!" creatures, but still got uber-paranoid just hearing the sounds or catching a glimpse of something moving off to the side. "Dead Space" definitely does it right. The Doom remake did it wrong--everything just teleported behind you and yelled "Boogety! I'm a skull tacked onto some weird-looking body!" That was my COG a couple of years ago. I ended up quitting and uninstalling it. Every once in a while, I look at its entry in my Steam library and send a scornful look at it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Time for some October Random

It is indeed October. That means...well, a whole lot of stuff--cool stuff, even. Actually, it's all cool stuff.

Fall weather, pumpkin-flavored everything, football, the end of baseball and, of course, Halloween!! This comes as no surprise to those who know me. This year, I put up all of the indoor decorations before October even started...because I was allowed to. :)

Related link...in case you wish to know if it is Halloween yet:

http://isithalloween.com

But enough of that. I could go on and on about how wonderful Fall is, and how wonderful Halloween is. I mean, it's all so fantastic...see what I mean?

I have chosen, for my creepy game of October, to play Dead Space. I have heard many mixed things about it--that the controls were a bit wonky, that it has potential but inevitably lacks something...but none of things shall stop me. After all, I got it for dirt cheap on Steam. This process has never come around and bitten me in the ass before...ever...let's just forget about Resident Evil 5...and Doom 3...and Amnesia...DAMMIT!!! Okay, so my track record hasn't been so awesome. But, like a river...every once in a great while my luck will change its course! Hopefully it won't require a massive earthquake to do so.

I started it last night and, so far, it seems pretty fun. I'm not sure how creepy or scary it will end up being, but it can't be any worse than Doom 3. Seriously. Continually beating my head against a fire hydrant while a dog is peeing on it isn't worse than Doom 3. Or so I've heard...

Also, if anyone is interested, I am once again participating in Extra Life this year. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a 25-hour gaming marathon. Usually it's 24 hours but it falls on Daylight Saving this year. So I will be playing 25 hours of videogames while trying to raise money for charity--all proceeds go to Children's Hospital. My link is below, and I suck at fundraising so...donate out of pity??

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=48343

(digital sad puppy dog eyes)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What the World Needs Now...

♫is love, sweet love games♫

Okay, the world needs a lot of things, 'tis true. But what about me? What about my needs? Why doesn't the world stop and say something like "Hey, what about this random dude? This guy? Yeah, the one with the messed up hair and grunt plushy on his shoulder! What does he want?"

Okay, enough of that. Seriously. But, yes, I do have a grunt plushy, he's just not on my shoulder.

Yeah, this guy means business
 
So I've found myself replaying some old games lately and pondering the things that, in my mind, made them so great. And I realize that I really really want, not necessarily the exact same game, but more games that produce the same effect.
 
1. Wing Commander: Outright, hands down, I need another space combat flight sim. To my knowledge, nobody has produced one of these for ages--maybe not since Descent Freespace 2? Honestly, I don't really need an engaging plot. Just gimme the high-flying, fast-paced action and I'd probably be happy for a while.
 
2. Halo 3: ODST: I go back to this game time and time again. It's not the most popular Halo game but it just might be my favorite. The noir, lonely atmosphere combined with the gameplay takes me there. And the soundtrack...genius.
 
3. Age of Mythology (and The Titans expansion): As far as RTS games go, this one might very well be my favorite. It is extremely well-balanced and included mechanics never seen in any other RTSes. With RTS games, I generally disregard the campaign and base my opinion mostly on multiplayer (or me vs. AI opponents), and this one kept me entertained for years. I played the crud out of this game.
 
4. Portal 2: Really, both Portal games but moreso Portal 2. It is funny, witty, a bit creepy, and challenging at times. It was just overall one of the most well-done games that comes to mind--solid through and through. It doesn't hurt that, at times, I was too busy laughing to pay attention to the game itself. Also, it has the largest ever door in a video game. What's cooler than that???
 
5. The Temple of Elemental Evil: Whoa...throwback, here. In my opinion, this is the best ever turn-based D&D game. Aside from the old "Pool of Radiance" classic D&D games, this is the only real turn-based D&D game. And, hey, once the community was done patching it for Atari, the game was AWESOME!
 
6. Crysis:
 
Ha! Hell no. Just kidding.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a...SHARK?

Hello!

Some of you might have noticed that the Syfy movie reviews have dwindled, or to put it another way, dropped off entirely. Why is this, you ask? Well, because most Syfy movies were actually just becoming too painful to watch. Watching them was like stabbing myself in the eye with a sharp stick in hopes of one day finding gold. Did that make sense to you? Because it didn't make sense to me...much like the Syfy films of late.

And it quickly became apparent that Syfy was abandoning their original movies altogether when they replaced their time slot with Sinbad and Primevil: New World.

But, then, Syfy comes roaring back with a film so pivotal, so ambitious, that it blew me away like something that...um...blows things away. That's right. I'm talking about Sharknado.

Yes. Sharknado. What, you ask? Okay, I'll tell you one more time. Sharknado.

What is a "Sharknado", you ask? Why, pull up a stool, dear reader, and let me spin a tale that involves sharks and, um, tomatoes. No, wait. Tornadoes!

This piece of cinematic gold stars Ian Zering (yes, from 90210) as "Fin", and Tara Reid (yes, that one) as April, Fin's dubious wife. Pretty much the rest of the cast, played by people you've never heard of, serves as shark snacks.

The first thing I must inform you of is that, strangely enough, tornadoes made of sharks are actually not the least plausible concepts in this movie. There are so many other things that are much less plausible that will make you think "yeah, right, like that could ever happen" while you're laughing so hard your toenails hurt.

THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD, YARRR!!!

So, there is this hurricane headed toward California (inconceivable!) and, even though it is looming in the distance and all the TV stations are going on about it, nobody seems to care. In fact, Fin and his buddy are out surfing but, unfortunately, there is a huge swarm of sharks trying to escape the hurricane. During their flight, one latches onto the leg of Fin's friend. They make it to shore, blah blah, munch munch...yes, some people were eaten in rather hilarious ways. One guy is on the beach, completely missing his leg and crying like a wimp (suck it up, man!) while everyone pays attention to Fin's friend who has a tiny scratch on his leg.

Hurricane hits, stuff is destroyed and...well, we now watch the sharks fly...through windows, into cars, and on top of people. I can't really describe how funny the mayhem is except to say, while it's going on, you really should listen to Yakkety Sax. In fact, I'm listening to it right now, imagining the carnage, and snickering. I crap you negative. In fact, what the hell, just put this song on endless loop through the entire movie.

At some point, the group was chased by a ferris wheel. Oh, and there's an old drunk guy who was pretty badass with a bar stool. He later became shark food. BUT THE BAR STOOL LIVES ON!!

Alright, so, things get worse, sharks fall from the sky, crash through windows, drive cars, and fly planes. Okay, some of that might be a slight truth exaggeration. You decide which. Fin and his crew are trying to flee the city but Fin, being the good guy, keeps stopping to help all those poor slobs who, for some reason, keep getting themselves into more trouble than the Scooby Gang. Along the way, his car starts leaking gas. Everyone quickly exits the vehicle just in time for it to explode. Yes, it exploded...with absolutely NO fire anywhere to be seen. in fact, there was WATER everywhere. But, somehow, the vehicle exploded. Inconceivable! I was totally willing to buy into a sharknado, but an exploding vehicle for no reason? Ha! I couldn't stop laughing.

Blah blah, more running, screaming, chomping happens. Sometimes, you'd see some poor slob standing in the road and a shark would just fly by and snatch them up. At one point, the camera showed water raging out of a storm drain and I said "Wouldn't it be hilarious if a shark came sliding out of that drain, screaming 'Wheeeeeeee!!!'?" Half a second later, sure enough, out popped a shark! It was not screaming "wheeeeee!" though. I was disappoint...but still laughing. By now, my sides hurt.

Blah blah, more chomping, screaming, and running. The crew happens upon an airport next to...wait for it...you ready?...a retirement home! When one of the characters asked about the silly juxtaposition, another one replied "Well, old people can't hear well, so they must not care!" THAT'S WHAT I WAS THINKING!!!

So Fin rescues his son who must be a genius because he has a plan to stop the sharknadoes!!! Yes, there are THREE. And he can stop them!! How, you ask? By throwing bombs at them!!! That's right. They will defeat the sharknadoes by throwing bombs at them. Inconceivable! So the son and the hot bartender chick fly a helicopter up to the sharknadoes and blow up two of them. Yep. They defeated tornadoes...made of sharks...with a bomb. At this point, I was nearly passing out from laughter. Oh, and the chick falls out of the helicopter, only to be scooped up by a shark on the way down. Just now, thinking about it, I'm laughing some more.

Meanwhile, Fin's best bud somehow gets another shark latched onto the same leg!! When the hell did this happen?? Anyway, he's dragged off and eaten. The rest of the crew finds sharks in the pool at the retirement home. Fin pours gasoline into the pool and sets it on fire...then it explodes. Yep. THE POOL EXPLODES!!! For no reason. Inconceivable!

In the end, the evil sharknadoes are defeated but not before Fin, with a chainsaw, is swallowed by a shark which falls to the ground, dead. A short time later, he saws his way out of the shark...AND GOES BACK IN TO PULL OUT THE PREVIOUSLY SWALLOWED BARTENDER CHICK!! After brief CPR, she's alive and they're all laughing.

And so was I.

So, let's keep going with some more inconceivable things. At one point, Fin is shooting a pistol at sharks in the air. They're falling right toward him and, by shooting a single round into each one, he changes their trajectory. Likewise, he saws one in half as it's falling. A car explodes without fire. A pool explodes with fire, and bombs defeat tornadoes. All of this...and I found it sillier than the actual sharknadoes themselves which, admittedly, are very silly to begin with. Oh, also, there was a decked-out Hum-Vee with a nitrous oxide button.

All of this adds up to be the absolute silliest movie I have ever viewed, and I loved it.

Here's a quote:
Chick: "That's a tiger shark down there."
Dude: "How do you know?"
Chick: "Shark week."

Here are your Drive-In Totals:
Sharks: About a half-billion
Sharknadoes: Three
Underpaid Bus Drivers: One
Exploding Pools: One
Chomping
Munching
Barstool-fu
Shotgun-fu
Bomb-fu
Chainsaw-fu
Pool-'sploding

Five stars.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oooh, That's Gotta Hurt!

E3. This ain't just "E" or "E2"...no sir. This is where it all goes down. And it all went down recently when Sony announced all of the details of the PS4. And by "it", I mean "Microsoft's Xbox". Wow.

It's been quite a while since I've seen a good old-fashioned, no holds barred console thrashing--the kind where the victor leaves the ring and the loser is left a defeated, bloody mess, crying in a pool of goo. Actually, I may have never seen one quite as bloody as what the PS4 did to the Xbox One.

Now I've never owned a Playstation and, honestly, I'm still not going to. Before the Playstation enthusiasts throw their arms up in the air and scream "Shenanigans", I'll explain. Yes, I have both an original Xbox and a 360. I enjoy my Xbox 360 but I don't buy tons of games for it. I am pretty picky. I am also very much a PC gamer at heart. If a game I want comes out for both the 360 and PC, PC will get the nod. So why would I not get a Playstation now? There really are no game franchises on the Playstation that I want to play except, maybe, Infamous. Very much not worth delving into a completely new console.

But am I going to get an Xbox One? Yeah, see, I'm not so sure. I mean, realistically, I will probably get one eventually. But I'm in no hurry right now. Why? I don't really like the direction Microsoft is going with their policies regarding the console--even though they don't affect me very much. I don't like:

  • The fact that the unit must have an Internet connection or else you can only play your games for 24 hours.
  • The fact that buying and selling used games will become a lot more difficult and, in some cases, impossible.
  • The fact that it is $100 more than the PS4. I think Sony learned this lesson the hard way when Microsoft undercut them by $100. Maybe Microsoft will adjust, maybe not.
  • The look...not a huge fan of the square, boxy look (albeit this is a very minor complaint).
Now, I don't normally buy and sell games. So the main issues I have are the price point and the requirement for a perpetual Internet connection. My Internet has traditionally been pretty stable but I simply don't like this stipulation. I find it unnecessary and it sounds like just another way for Microsoft to try to control the way a gamer can use the console. Also, as wacky as it may seem, there are still households either without Internet or that use dialup. And what if you are trying to run a tournament of some kind at a venue that does not supply Internet? "Pain in the ass" is what I like to call it.

With as badly as the Playstation just schooled the Xbox, I would like to believe that Microsoft would pull an Xbox 180 and reverse direction. Unfortunately, I think it's going to take more outrage and less profits to make this happen if it were to happen at all.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alright, Let's Do This (again)

Sometimes, a video game hits the right chord and turns into a series of games. Each game is so well done that, when another comes along, you feel compelled to buy it based on its predecessors' positive performances. You don't have to question it; and you blindly shell out the money for the next installment.

And, sometimes, you get burned. Diablo III comes to mind. No, it wasn't awful by any means. But it was...disappointing--like having a nice, steaming plate of yummy-looking hot wings placed in front of you only to realize that they are hideous, teriyaki-covered freaks of nature dug up from the darkest, deepest pits of Hell. Or for you, dear reader, something comparable if hot wings aren't your thing.

But sometimes you are rewarded with gem after gem, shining like a beacon of tasty goodness and you enjoy many hours of awesome gameplay and story. You want to finish the game to see what happens but you don't want to finish the game because, then, it would be over.

First there were the System Shocks, and they were fantastic--revolutionary for their time. They had rich plots and unique game mechanics but they were hindered a bit by the PC platforms at the time. But next...next came Bioshock 1 and 2 and, oh man, what a treat! After a long solid slumber, the franchise switched gears but, once again, delivered the rich plot and solid gameplay. Now, I'll admit, Bioshock 2 was pretty much a rehash of the first with a different plot overlayed. And said plot wasn't really all that awesome. But the game is still a mighty fine piece of code. Most games would love to aspire to be as good as Bioshock 2 let alone the original Bioshock.

And, now, we are blessed with Bioshock: Infinite. This game has been on the radar for quite a while and, yes, I know it was released several weeks ago. But I'm just now getting to play it, so bugger off! But, yeah. So, I've only played about three or four hours into it and I gotta say...dayum!

Now, I experienced some flickering graphical glitches in the beginning--nothing showstopping, but possibly epilepsy-inducing. I upgraded my video drivers and they still occurred but, after I moved into a new area, they were gone. I've also noticed some problems with the engine not rendering textures properly--some walls or items either take quite a while to render from blurry, low-resolution textures to high-resolution textures or they don't render up at all. Show stoppers? No. Annoying and unexpected? Yes. So there is the bad technical stuff.

The good technical stuff? This game looks brilliant on three monitors running Eyefinity. Truly eye-popping. The field of view is fantastic given the nature of the game itself. Are the graphics the best I've seen? Certainly not. In fact, Bioshock 1 and 2 may have had better graphics and effects. But video games are not to be judged on the fancy ribbon that envelopes them. There is much more underneath the hood.

And, thus far, Bioshock: Infinite delivers. The plot has me completely confused and bewildered but not in a bad way. Rather, it is constantly feeding me little bits of information--leading me on with a carrot dangling in front of my face. And, with each discovery or plot point, I find myself compelled to know more. I do not doubt I will be rewarded.

So here's hoping that the game just gets better and better. I will try my best to savor every moment as much as possible and stop every now and then to take in the scenery.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pete and Repeat Were Sitting on a Fence...

Dear Video Games,

Several of you--and you know who you are--are too good. In fact, lots of you are too good. Don't look at me like you don't know what I am talking about. You know full well what you're doing. Sure, most of you look very appealing from day one. And then I procure you, dreaming about you while I sleep and longing to play you at times when I can't. Yes, all is good at that point.

But, then, I play you. I play you like a fiddle at a pawn shop. Honestly, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I play you a lot, while new hotness waits in line for attention. Sooner or later, I move on and play a different game or two. And I have lots of fun.

But, no matter how much I enjoy any other game, there are still older games I long to replay. You would think I'd get tired of them eventually but, nay, I return to them like a friendly, warm blanket (what we used before the "Snuggie" was invented), happy to pick them back up as if I'd never left.

Seriously...there are times when I still would like to play Civilization II or the original Diablo. Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, StarCraft II, Oblivion, Skyrim, XCOM...the list really goes on and on. There aren't enough hours in a day...or a lifetime to replay all these games.

And multiplayer...ugh. Multiplayer extends the game's life even more than usual. It's insane. Just briefly glancing at my Steam library makes me wish I could load up a plethora of tasty options and play them all nonstop. Well, mostly nonstop. Eventually, I'd have to pee. Eventually.

To any gamer, I need not even explain this phenomenon. They would understand instantly. To anyone else, it comes closest to rereading a series of books multiple times or watching an entire TV series over and over again. You never get tired of it! And the games just keep piling up, creating an awesome mountain of sheer goodness. And at the top of that mountain stands a goat that laughs at me and...oh, sorry. Got lost there for a minute.

Anyway, there you go.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Don't I Like Crysis?

I may get skewered for this but I'm tired of living a lie...a secret so dark that I might have to give up my "Man of the Year" status...if I actually achieved anything like that. IT COULD HAPPEN!!!

I don't like Crysis. There, I said it. Whew! That was much easier than I though it'd be. I'm glad to get that off my chest! You've no idea...

Sorry,  but I don't like you.
Okay, in all seriosity, it's been bugging me for a while. I've always heard great things about the Crysis series. And, of course, there is the all-encompassing PC benchmark--"But does it run Crysis?" Surely there would be more to this game than a graphically-intensive engine, right?

Yes and no. Well, as far as I'm concerned. I'm really going to just skip over the graphics in the Crysis games because they hold no real sway as to why I am not a fan of the Crysis franchise. In this case, the graphics engine is the tasty whipped-cream icing on top of a dry cupcake. Sure, it looks very appealing, and people have talked it up. But, when you bite into it, you realize there is no god.

I wanted to like the games. Truly, I did.

It's been a while since I played the original Crysis, but I just recently bought Crysis 2 because it was in a Steam sale. I figured I'd give it another shot. Maybe the sequel was better? Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me rewind.

Plot: It didn't really grab me. In fact, I can't remember what the original plot of Crysis is. I remember running, screaming like a little girl, from aliens at some point. I'm not sure if that counts as "plot" or not. And, certainly, it took quite a bit of the game to even get to that point. And when I did find the aliens, I was like "Wtf? Where did these guys come from, and what do they have to do with anything?" It was as if the writers got so far into the game and then had no idea where to go from there. They had two choices: aliens or zombies.

No, I don't like you either.
The plot in Crysis 2 is...well, to be honest, I have no idea what the plot is. The game seems like it's just random missions sewn together with aliens to make it look like an actual plot--"go push this button...now get me a cupcake! Now shoot that thing!". In all honestly, I have no idea what I am trying to do overall. Sure, sometimes I'm trying to save a dude, or I
'm trying to get from point A to point B, but there never seems to be anything beyond that. Even if I, at one time, knew what the plot was, I easily forgot. Maybe it was because I put the game down and then later picked it back up. Or maybe it was because of a shiny squirrel piloting a spaceship outside.

Characters: Who now? I can barely remember my character's name, much less anyone else's. I've no idea why, but they're just not memorable. Sure, some of them die so they're easy to forget. But I developed no attachment to any of them. I've really nothing more to say about them as this pretty much sums up my experience here.

Weapons: The weapons are...well, weapons. They're nothing special and they don't stand out from any other games. You'll see the same types of weapons in any other FPS. I'm pretty sure even Pong had a couple of similar weapons in it.

Game Mechanics: So the meat of the Crysis series is the Nanosuit. The Nanosuit turns ordinary soldiers into...um...ordinary soldiers who can do a couple of cool things for an extremely limited time. The functions vary slightly from Crysis to Crysis 2. The suit allows you to turn invisible, be stronger, have more armor, or sprint (because you can't apparently run without a Nanosuit), or jump high...etc. I'm pretty sure the suit allows you to pick your nose with great intensity, but I've never used that function.

Pretty sure I don't like you.
So, while this all sounds great...it's really not. Again, Crysis 2 differs a bit from the original and the suit has upgrades that allow it to operate better. In the original, however, the suit's energy ran down extraordinarily quickly. In the second, it's slower but you're still not the super soldier that the hype would lead you to believe.

The Nanosuit is the selling point for the franchise and, frankly, it falls flat for me. It was a decently cool idea but, for me, it wasn't enough to save the games. I played the first one because I felt I should. I played the second (well, I haven't finished it yet) because I wanted to give the franchise another chance. But, even if the third one gets really cheap, I am not so sure I'll go for it.

I've never felt compelled to finish either of these games. I never said to myself "Ooh, I wonder how this plot turns out!" or "What happens to these characters??" It's sort of reminiscent of the original Doom--you had no idea what you were doing or why. All you know is, you had to kill stuff and push buttons. Crysis and Crysis II feel much the same, only with a Nanosuit and prettier graphics. Oh, and the weapons aren't sticking out of your stomach.

I'm not one to say "this game sucks" and, even if I was, the Crysis franchise doesn't suck. It's just not my kind of game, I suppose. I want to like Crysis, but I don't.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reasons Why Nemo Hates My Face

(This could get a little lengthy.)

I love playing games. There. I said it.

I love playing games of all kinds--board games, card games, sports and, most of all, video games. Some would say I like to play head games but I can neither confirm nor deny that suspicion. And I've paid the band Foreigner to remain silent.

I would simply say that, when I was born, I was born with a controller in my hands. In addition to all of the questions that would raise, sadly, video games essentially didn't exist when I was born. Sure, make some "old man" jokes. You're just adding a snowy cap to an already incredibly surmountable mountain...or mountain range. Whatevs. YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!

I remember it well. A decently young me was at the county fair. My father asked if I wanted to go into the arcade. "What's an arcade?" I asked.

I'm pretty sure my eyes nearly popped out of my head. But since that would have caused alarm and a trip to the hospital, I instead contained my excitement ever so slightly. But I was hooked instantly. And, folks, we're talking games like "Asteroids", here. Yep. A few buttons controlling what was pretty much a series of lines with a few motes of light. I did not actually play any of the games that day but, oh, would I make up for that deficiency in very little time.

Needless to say, growing up, I lived in arcades. I wore out at least two Atari 2600s, then progressed to the Colecovision. NES, SNES, you betcha. I skipped a few console generations, hibernating under a rock while the pixels passed me by, only to emerge, pasty and bleary-eyed, and quickly make the Xbox my bitch. Then onto the current Xbox 360. All the while, the standard home PC was serenading me. And let's not forget the Apple IIe.

I wasn't picky. I played every damned video game I could get my grubby mitts on. I had some handheld games that looked like arcade games. I mapped out levels on River Raid (still one of the best games of all time). I drew video game characters on school folders.

Yes, I played E.T. on the Atari 2600. I am not ashamed. Being a kid, I did not have discriminating taste. I fully realize this "game" was utter shit. It was a hot mess. It was indeed horrible. But I tapped that. I beat it several times. Back then it was the thrill of the game. Plot didn't matter. Most game designers couldn't even spell the word "plot".

Which brings us to the present.

Video games today are major productions. Hundreds of people come together to create them. This isn't Atari 2600's "Combat". I'm sure there was a really great plot, there--"That tank stole my cheese!! KILL IT!!!"

But video games turn people into killers! And they're mindless! Read a book, you hooligan! Do something productive! YOU'LL GET HERPES!!!

I have nothing against other diversions. But let's compare a few other activities.

Books: Books are awesome. They're portable, they don't require electricity (other than light to see them) and they can be extremely enthralling. They can challenge the imagination and the mind.

Movies: Movies are an all-around, engrossing experience. The sound and the visual effects can be stunning. The plot, characters, and acting can move you to tears or cheers.

TV: Let's face it. Most of television is complete and utter detritus. Very few gems shine through the filth and the muck of daily television. I can't even seriously consider TV an "activity".

Physical Activities: Sports, exercise, etc. I fully approve of these activities. Everyone should get some exercise in their routines. Sports and exercise keep you fit and healthy. They can be social activities or "lone wolf" endeavors.

Hobbies: Hobbies are always great to have. Usually they are productive--instruments, crafts, etc. They build talent and skills as well.

Video Games: There are so many varieties of video games that I will have to generalize for the most part. Most modern video games tell a rich, in depth story that rivals most movies and books. You usually have to option to play alone or with others. Games like the Portal and Scribblenauts series force you to solve problems. Motion games can provide exercise and coordination tasks. Real-time strategy games like Starcraft, and other games like Civilization force you to think, develop strategies, and plan for the future of the game. Even an old-school game like Tetris stimulates the mind. And so many video games encourage teamwork and strategy when played with other real, live humans.

This isn't just Pac-Man and Donkey Kong anymore. Video games often become trilogies or entire series. They have movie-level production values with complex, rich musical scores, professional voice actors, and animation and effects that rival most movies. While you are watching a screen, video games--unlike movies--are much more interactive. Movies don't often cause you to think unless they are a suspense/thriller type of flick.

Television can't even begin to compete with video games. I'm not even going to acknowledge it. Moving on. 

Books massage the brain a bit more and the entire thing takes place in your mind. Video games--not as much. But they can immerse you at least as much as a book but, more often than not, they will surpass the book's ability.

Because of the variety of video games there are now games that allow you to move and exercise. While these games can't compare to playing actual sports, you can get an excellent workout and still have a load of fun. Maybe two loads...but that gets a little messy sometimes.

Now...hobbies are a completely different story. There really is no substitute for a good hobby. They truly are fantastic, engrossing activities that usually produce something, practice a talent, or collect something.

For me, video games are an excellent stress reliever. I enjoy carving a path through the rough terrain, descending upon enemies, managing resources and building units, flying a plane and, yes, headshotting poor hapless enemy dudes. Does this mean I'm zoning out and wasting my time? No. I am interacting, thinking, strategizing, planning, watching, listening, and planning. Is this going to turn me into a killer? I find it highly doubtful that I am going to charge into an office building while munching dots, jumping over barrels, and warping through portals, just to throw a tetrimino at someone and kill them.

Yes, I play a lot of violent video games. I am also a well-adjusted, relatively social human being who holds down a good, steady job, makes good, responsible decisions, loves his family, and works hard to move forward in life. I'm not a fan of violence, but I know the difference between a movie, TV, video game, and real life. Translation: No. Video games do not make me violent or turn me into an angry rage monster. If a video game turns someone violent, then most likely there was an instability present to begin with. This is not a 100% across the board--some people are batshit crazy while others are just unpredictable--but I'm pretty sure this is the case much of the time.

Video games, to me, are like watching a book and listening to its soundtrack, blazing a trail and deciding what happens, changing this fictional world through strategy and, yes, blowing the living crap out of some enemies. They are an excellent stress reliever and  an awesome distraction. They are produced by people who are passionate for good storytelling, visuals, characters, and sound. And they want to amaze you and knock your socks off. Writers work in words, video game creators work in just about every medium you can imagine. Some games span movies, books, and music.

And that is why I love video games. Actually, that is just scratching the surface. I don't see them as a waste of time or inferior to other pursuits. Video games have created friendships, families, and social lives. They are an outlet. They are entertainment. No, they are not a substitute for a job, education, a family, or a social life. But they can supplement each of these facets to some extent. Some players even make money in profession video game leagues just as athletes make money in their chosen sports. Some players sell in-game items or entire characters for big bucks. Yes. Real Money. There are even award shows devoted to video games.

With video games, virtually anything is possible.

Sure, video games are like anything else, they can be played too much. I have nothing to say to that except "everything in moderation".

Video games aren't going anywhere. They are, in fact, evolving. And, actually, I think they're just getting started.

Now if I could just get that nasty case of Nintendo Thumb cleared up, I'll be just fine.

Cheers!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Saving the Galaxy!

Ever want to command a starship? Ever want to order an elite crew raise shields, arm weapons, or get you a badass sandwich? Sounds fun, huh?

I give you FTL: Faster Than Light.


Okay, so there are no sandwiches involved and maybe not an elite crew...but the rest was accurate. In FTL: Faster Than Light (we'll just call it "FTL" from here on out) you are in control of a Federation starship with important information needed to defeat the rebels. You must jump from point to point, from sector to sector, racing the rebels until you reach your allies.

Okay, so it is not an extremely inspiring plot. There are no cute puppies, mystic swords, ninjas, pirates, giant robots, super soldiers or, again, sandwiches involved. And the game is rather simple but the execution is actually rather complex.

You start out (without having unlocked anything) with a basic ship and three crew members. The ship is armed, has shields, and everything else a starship has. No, wait...there is no bathroom so I don't know how your crew gets around that aspect. They're probably too busy rerouting power from the dilithium crystal chamber into the...yeah, I digress.

So while you are running from the rebels and you will encounter stuff...things like asteroid fields, solar flares and, oh yeah, hostile ships of all kinds. How each fight goes is up to you. You can aim your weapons at any of the enemy's systems (weapons, shields, engine etc) and you can route power as you see fit. Even if you max out your ship's power, you will never have enough power to send juice to everything so you must decide.

Along the way you will acquire scrap. Yes, you will and you will like it or so help me...anyway, scrap is used to buy things like weapons, fuel, or other items from a space store (yes, that's what I am calling them) or ship upgrades.

Again, all of this sounds rather simple and, in theory, it really is. But once you have played the game for just a few minutes you will quickly figure out that there are all kinds of intricate strategies and details hidden within.

I often found myself yelling "Scotty! Raise the shields!" And then I'd give some lame excuse as to why Scotty couldn't raise them like "Ah'm doin' tha best I can, Captain!" or "Ah'm sorry, Captain, but ah fell out the gaping hole in the hull!"

You can rename your starting crew, though I never actually renamed them after Star Trek characters. Instead, I named them stunningly original names like "Engines", "Pilot", and "Weapons". I did this just so I could figure out who was supposed to do what job since they get better in their repetitive tasks--if they don't suffocate, die in a fire, or get blasted to bits by an alien with a raygun.

Oh, also, they can be pummeled to death.

You can play on two difficulties: "Easy" and "Normal" which, as a friend pointed out, should be called "Normal" and "**** You". I won't lie. This game is tough. The good news is, it's cheap. I've beaten it once and I still go back and play it (on **** You mode, of course). It's not graphically intensive which is fine because graphics aren't the point.

So there you go.