Sim City First Impressions

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Note: I am currently going through rage that the servers are down on Day 2, so I'm writing this first impressions based on earlier observations

 

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. No, I'm not talking about the infuriating server issues, which I've had little issues with until day two of the game. I'm talking about building cities to have them, somewhat literally, burn, collapse and sink into the swamp. Sim City has a steep learning curve, but that's part of what's lured me in hook, line and sinker.

After putting in 4-5 hours of game play, which may be a liberal under-exaggeration, I'm convinced that the next city and region will be better! Though it may be sad that my last city was less successful than my first one, I have the perseverance to try and carry on. Watching vids helps out too.

The concept is simple in theory: try and build a city and try not to eff it up. After building that first road and setting up your Town Hall, though, things become quite a bit more complicated. It has that in common with the original Sim City, which was the last one I played.

When it works, this game oozes charm. The visuals are a good mix of cartoonish and realistic animations. Light instrumental music is nice to listen to and keeps me calm when times are tense, juggling the different aspects of making people happy and building a healthy economy and community. The emphasis on roads, smaller cities, and an overall region are interesting changes and add some more strategic elements to the formula many people love. Also all of the residents (and you) spend simoleans and speak in sim speak, I mean, if that's not just adorable I don't know what is.

I had a blast playing it for hours, trying to keep my city duct taped together as it economically collapsed. The simulation is impressive as well, with the buildings being constructed and there being heavier traffic at rush hour. It adds a nice touch to an already impressive game.

Sure, the DRM issue will be worked out, but the multi player aspects sound impressive, if not a bit too much like actual work. So far, my experience in multi player is making a public region then people come in and claim the other two so I can't claim them. Awesome, right?

So, for now, I continue the struggle of building a city that doesn't burn and fall into the swamp. I played it for one good night, but that was enough for it to stick in my mind and make me want more. Try, try, again.

Jumping and Shooting: A CoD Rant

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I never got the whole people jumping and shooting when they suspect someone has a bead on them. It has a Duck-Hunt, look at me! aspect to it. It's a big target, staying big as it jumps, not so high or far, in the air to try and escape from the pursuers sights. It's definitely less effective, and impressive, than the people who have the freakish and infuriating skill to duck and lay down completely at the smallest sense of being targeted, to pull off a head shot.

Cementing itself in my small menagerie of guilty-pleasures, Black Ops 2 is a game that enrages me, brings me to laughter and allows me to sometimes have an inflated ego (a rare thing, indeed). Though I don't really play with a party or go on mic, I talk trash like a pro. I curse indignantly when someone who obviously should have died when I shot them in the head ends up killing me, or, worse, when someone kills me over and over again by every way except hanging upside down from ceiling rafters (which I'm sure is coming in next gen CoD). I also let myself throw fits and even go into the rackafrackinriskarackin of good ol' Yosemite. Let me tell you, though, nothing in the game feels more satisfying when you finally draw that bead and shoot that one **** in the face.

I'm sure most people don't play 24-7 and switch between having good games and **** As someone who's a run-n-gunner, I expect to have a relatively high death rate. I don't always play smart, I do often run through open spaces and sometimes have derpy aim. For all of that, though, I do end up in the top-three quite a bit.

For some reason, when I decided to start playing CoD again, I've become obsessed with my K/D. With an eye twitch, I check my ratio after every bad game, spazzing if I'd fall another hundredth of a percent. It's no jumping and shooting, but I'm sure that CoD brings out a side of me that I'd prefer others not witness. Oh, and campers suck...

Journey Review

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Beautiful, poignant and uniquely intimate, Journey makes a strong argument that games can, indeed, be art. You play as an anonymous robed figure venturing in the desert. You see a light coming from the top of a mountain and spend the rest of the time trying to reach that light.

The game play itself is quite simple. You can move, jump and chirp; yes, chirp. This component communicates to flying ribbons that, in turn, give you the power to fly. If you play online, other players will either drop in and out, or you will spend the 2-3 hours it takes to complete the game together.

The co-op adds to the intimacy of the game. You can only communicate with chirps, and the other players name is hidden from you until the Journey is completed, and yet it's probably the closest I've ever felt playing with another randomly matched gamer. You go through the same things together, face the same dangers, communicate the best you can with chirps and going certain ways.

The worlds tale is shown, rather than told and is completely up to the viewers interpretation. I found it as a very relevant tale, talking about the power and danger of technology and about the relevancy of enjoying the small things, such as gaming. That's just my interpretation.

The game has little violence. What violence there is, though bloodless, is brutal and intense, adding a layer of fear and adrenaline to the masterfully done lite-stealth segments.

Journey is beautiful. Your robes blow appropriately in the wind and sway as you move. The snow and sand you walk through moves as you make your way, the light vividly reflecting and bringing out the grains of sand. Snow sticks to your body later on, ensuring that you are indeed a physical being.

I did face some technical issues. Falling through the environment once or twice and oddly getting caught in a pillar, spinning uncontrollably and forcing me to restart the game, took only a slight edge off of what was otherwise a sublime experience.

Reaching the light in the mountain is a metaphor. What it means is up to you, but the beauty is in the Journey and the perseverance it takes to get there. It's a beautiful and dangerous world and I'm looking forward to face it again and again.

Pros: - Unique sense of intimacy, beauty and interpretation

  • Seamless, random, co-op

  • Feels like playing art

Cons: - A couple of environmental bugs

The Walking Dead Review

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Few games have tugged at my heart strings, sitting on the edge of my seat and feeling legitimately choked up and regretful of certain decisions I made throughout the adventure. The Walking Dead series from Telltale managed to do all of these things and more from the very start.

You play as Lee, a former history professor who starts off handcuffed in a police vehicle. To jump ahead a bit, you end up in the woods, rescued by a little girl, Clementine, who you come to care for just as much as Lee does. You meet a family and a few other people and with their help, you make your way across Georgia, hoping to escape these zombies and whatever caused them. There's one problem: they're everywhere.

Being primarily an adventure game, it's surprising how well it works. The dialogue is just as engaging as any action scene and the time bar often attached to the more important moments, like making a decision, makes you choose quick and sometimes even hope it's the right one. This is very much your adventure and you mold your crews attitudes and actions by your decisions, who you stand up for, etc.

The voice acting is fantastic across the board and the dialogue is smartly written. Humor, tense and even tender moments are really well done and makes the more tense scenes that much more harrowing to watch and the moments where you have to choose if you want to save someone more intense.

The game itself isn't perfect. There are sound cutouts and there were moments when some of the more important dialogue trees wouldn't respond to my inputs. Otherwise, the game looks and plays like a dream. I felt the pain and sting of some of the more painful decisions playing as Lee throughout the five episodes and plan on going back at some point to see what can be done differently. For me to want to play a game again from start to finish is quite a feat on Telltale's part. They did a great job of showing us a way to celebrate life and appreciate what we have.

Fear of What to Expect: My Avoidance of Horror Games

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Horror games to me are the virtual equivalent of being fascinated by bears. I'll read about them, talk to other people about them, speculate, but I won't actually interact with them and if I do it's in short bursts; the games, not the bears. I remember playing Resident Evil 2 on my N64 back in the day and though I got quite far, I had to stop because, quite simply, I've been afraid.

The same was true when I got Dead Space on my X Box 360. The first monster that jumped out at me and made me jump in response received a nope! from me, and I quit out and never touched it again. Yet, the fascination stays with me. I like the adrenaline from playing high octane games, but I always end up afraid that my fear and imagination will get the better part of me and I won't be able to play.

I speculate a lot when picking out what games I'm going to play. I keep thinking I'm going to get into a racer game or a fighting game to be dismayed by my lack of, well, being good at them. I'm primarily an action gamer, and that's not a bad thing. So why does this sub-genre bother me?

My active imagination works both for and against me, it's been that way since I was a whee-lil lad. I had nightmares from seeing Harry and the Hendersons and most things hanging up on the walls in my mom's or grandparents house would freak me out and keep me up. The nightmares have lessened and the dreams have changed to a more regular pattern. Does this mean I'm ready to hold a controller and face a fear?

It's no facing a bear. I won't really lose anything if I die in a horror game. The stories are some of the more interesting and original ones out there. So, maybe I should give it a try. It's the bear of my mind, and I should stand up to it! Even if I do sometimes jump and scream in a completely masculine way.

Admission - Part 2: The Two Rep's

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Sitting in my HR-rep's office, I realized one of the things she's actually good at is making me feel like a moron. I finally filled out my accident/ incident report, though it's just over a month after the fact. I didn't know it was a good idea to fill out the report until my union rep (different person) told me it's: 1) procedure, and 2) a good way to cover my butt.

It's a public secret in the office that the union rep rub's elbows with the boss upstairs. After he more or less told me that I'm screwed after I told him, two days ago, that I didn't fill out the accident report, I lost what little trust I had him. Remember folks, this is my third discipline hearing. Indeed, these are things one cannot make up.

Hence sitting in my HR-rep's office, excruciatingly describing how I had hurt my back doing my job. This was today, the day before the hearing, my nerves were already shot. She gave me an earful, saying I should have somehow just known to go to her after I had hurt myself and literally telling me this isn't kindergarten like I'm a twenty-nine year old first grader.

My nerves skyrocketed after that. Hesitantly, I told two coworkers what was going down and what the stakes were. They didn't think I'd be let go, rather that the hearing is a scare tactic to shake me up and set me straight. I still have my doubts. I don't think the union guy would hesitate to throw me under the bus if it benefited him somehow. Of course he's not a bad guy, but it's just not the job for him.

My mind still wanders to day dreams of me busing tables or taking McDonald's orders. I still wonder if the wedding will happen. It's easy for me to point fingers at the union-rep or those who didn't tell me to fill out the report when I told them I hurt my back. It's still all my fault, I admit it. I'm the moron who risked it all so close to my wedding. A deep, dark part of me wants there to be a freak occurrence: slipping in the shower, or an icicle through the brain. In the meantime, I keep chugging along and not minding that I fall into the cliché of wondering, and fearing, what tomorrow will bring.

*Slicks Back Hair* Well, PS4, Hello there...

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 It's no secret that part of what draws us to games are the fact that a lot of them, at least the big-budget titles, can look pretty damn pretty. Sure, like with real life relationships, it's not all about the looks, but Sony's meeting (outside of the streaming hiccups and me almost flinging my laptop in sudden frustration) was very impressive. This thing is going to obviously be way above and beyond what we've console gamers have been playing on for the last eon, and rightfully so.

The thing that kept me impressed was how familiar Sony seemed to be with their target audience. They knew us gamers would be watching this meeting, and potentially crashing their stream. They knew that we wanted to see long dormant franchises return. Sure, there were some flashy things like creative use of light and smart use of multiple screens, but what it came down to, and what they cut to the chase of, was their main event. That was, indeed, the PS4.

As expected, the graphical differences are leaps and bounds above what we have access to with the PS3 and X Box 360. What impressed me was not only the social aspects, but how creative the system lets you be, even if you're not very tech savvy (I'm more into creating than code writing myself). The social aspects are impressive, including watching what other friends are playing and having an option to lend a hand if needed. There are impressive feats that were featured, but they do kind of feed into the paranoia of required internet connections to play anything on the system.

Sure, at this point I'm biased. I had my X Box 360 for years, but didn't feel completely comfortable gaming until I got my Playstation 3. I'm excited to see what Microsoft has to show off as well, but as of now, my money's staying with Sony.

Admission

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I've run out of excuses, not that I've ever had good ones. My job is a difficult one to be content with, to say the least. Until this most recent string of call-outs, the reason why I would call out for days on end is that I don't want to deal with the negative people and the redundant work that makes my mind wander to sometimes dark places.

My coworkers are largely bullies, mentally unstable and narcissistic. Unfortunately, they are there almost every day and their mood differs day by day, and sometimes hour by hour. I've been bullied, sexually harassed and physically and emotionally harmed (yes, I have anxiety issues anyway) there. This week I will have my third disciplinary hearing. Luckily for me, according to my union rep, it's a 4-strike process.

This time is different because I actually hurt myself... at work. I tweaked my back one day and it just gradually got worse and worse to the point that I could hardly put my pants on without sharp stabs of pain. To add fuel to the flame, I fell on ice this week and landed right on my lower back, where the pain is. I called out more because once again I could hardly bend for three days without pain.

Before, I had no excuse outside of the fact that I have high anxiety issues that are now being treated. I let things like receiving a letter admitting, from the administration, admitting that these things happen fall through the cracks. I felt like I victimized them, but after receiving notice of this disciplinary hearing, I feel like stating some cliche about chewing gum and writing down what people call themselves.

I did let the fact that I got hurt at work seem insignificant when telling a supervisor. I did let the doctor give me an unsubstantial letter the first time I went for treatment (shouldn't that be enough?). And I let my boss get away with placing the previous incidents fall on my shoulders.

The worst pain I feel is that I lied to my fiancee about it. I told her I had the time and that I wouldn't get in trouble. Just like the other times. Sure, the guilt and self pity is there, but I'm also angry that my way of standing up for myself is by shrinking back and being self destructive. I'm also angry that the union doesn't seem to give two licks about any of the people they're supposed to represent, but that's not going to be discussed.

I'm truly sorry, but saying that's not enough. This is a hurdle that I've been trying to get over since high school and I'm almost three-months away from thirty. This isn't an age crisis, this is me saying enough is enough and to do everything I can to cover my ass at the hearing. The union-rep sure won't help me anyway. I was honest when I received the letter, but still feel horrible that I still have communicating issues. I do trust her, she's the love of my life. I need to learn how to not just run away from confrontation, which will take quite a lot of effort. She's worth it, though.

Story Telling Vs. Open World - Can't the Two Just Get Along?

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It's kind of funny that in open-world games, especially ones of the fantasy variety, story is put on the back burner and exploration and going all stabby/ blowy-uppy gets the limelight. That's not to say that more linear story-driven games are superior, as my often relied upon example of Dragon Age 2 proved, despite my praise of the writing. However, in the final year of this incredibly long and epic gaming generation, it seems that story has been brought back to the forefront, at least thus far. It is only February after all.

Maybe it's that story mechanics make it easier for the developers to show off what they can do with relatively ancient tech. Games like DMC and Ni no Kuni show off particular styles and level designs while arguably providing some of the strongest story telling, among AAA titles, in the last few years. Both games also play very smoothly and look fantastic. As a side note, these are what consoles need to continue supplying in order to to survive: strong original story telling, pretty graphics and great game play.

Upcoming games such as Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite have the potential to continue pushing FPS' as not only ways to show off how good you are at head-shots, but as great means of telling great interactive stories. With the right creative teams and enough visual style (much like Far Cry 3's realistic, yet unique style) to make the games unique, these games could really help push game design, even high-budget titles, as a real art-form.

There are examples where open-world elements are put into story drive games.  The Witcher 2 and Dishonored come to mind.  The issue is these aren't neccesary open-world games.  Far Cry 3 seems to have an intriguing story and hit most of the elements on the head, which could make it the prime example of what I'd want out of an open-world game.

I'm hoping developers continue to push the envelope on what to expect from open-world games and games in general. I want to have the shared experience of exploring the world with a great sense of purpose and to uncover a fantastic tale. For the most part, the two feel like either-or situations. It could very well be the limitations of consoles, or it could be a creative decision. Sounding like a broken record: I'm much more interested in a great narrative than having a seemingly random excuse to go and explore a world. Why can't the two be one?

Socially Challenged? Enjoying the Game

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As obvious and redundant as it is, I'm going to say it: the important part of being good at a game is to enjoy it. Here come the eye-rolls and well, duh!s. I say this because it may not always be obvious. The elephant in the room for me, before I got rid of my X Box 360 and converted to PS3 and PC gaming, was that I was always afraid I'd end up going up against my former best friend and/ or one of his cronies via XBL.

Even playing other games on the 360, I was afraid I'd cross paths with one of them. I didn't enjoy playing games like Halo or Call of Duty anymore because I always felt like I had a target painted on me and I lost more matches than I won because I wasn't able to focus and enjoy the games. It got to the point where I just canceled my XBL account and sold my 360.

Enjoying a game and feeling like you're good at it can go hand in hand. With games like Call of Duty, you're going to switch back and forth between having good and bad games. After taking an almost year break from the franchise and dwelling into other games like Uncharted 3 and Borderlands 2, I started to realize that having that theoretical weight lifted off of my shoulders let me focus more and (gasp!) get better at gaming in general. I started to see the difficulty of games as less of a threat and more of an overall challenge and built up confidence that way. I think it also got me to start working on writing projects again, but I digress.

Soon after Black Ops 2 (II?) came out, I went and picked up a copy for the PS3. Sure, I was rusty with the multi-player at first, but it wasn't long before I started poppin' headshots and blowing fools to bits. Recently, it dawned on me that the reason I'm doing better at the game is because I'm legitimately enjoying it more. Making on-the-go strategies and switching between playing smart and a good ol' fashioned run-n-gun routine felt fresh and fun without the Facebook worthy social drama.

Sure, it took a gaming-exodus for it to hit me like a boss in Dark Souls, but it's nice to be able to focus on the game and learn it. Whether if you're doing it to de-stress, challenge your mind/ skills, or just to see things blow up good (as they do often tend to), enjoying the game is a large part of being good at it. It wasn't that obvious to me.