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Elaqure Blog

No Rest for the Wicked...

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Hey all!

It has been a while since I've been able to post much of anything (or even spend time here), but I've had a very tumultuous life as of late. I wound up losing my job last month, so I've been scrambling ever since to find something that will pay the bills. I've got something lined up in Wisconsin that looks very promising...I'm hoping it comes through very soon.

I'd appreciate it if you could keep me in your collective prayers and I hope everyone is having a better time of it than I am.

Cheers...:D

Second LBP level posted!!!

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I just posted my second Little Big planet level tonight. This one is a LARGE improvement over the first one, so if you enjoyed that one, this might just be your cup of tea...:D

Name: The Space Federation Training Grounds

PSN: Elaqure

Very surprised (in a good way)

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Just a quick update (since the voting isn't done yet): The results for the best video game hero ever are very suprising...in a good way. I based my bracket on trends I've seen here at gamespot, but I didn't know that so many people had so much love for so many old heroes. I was hoping that some of the old blood would come out, but I never expected it to be like THIS!

Rock on heroes of old!!!

My very first LBP level

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Hey All!

I just posted my first LBP level. Its called "The Little Big Transport Machine (with Pitfalls and Objects)". If you can't find it, look me up...my PSN ID is Elaqure. I'd be happy if anyone played it...:D

Cheap stuff...:D

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Just a quick update today (nothing too thoughtful...:P). I just wanted to share with anyone interested a site called slickdeals.net. This site posts sales and temporary price reductions from a myriad of sites. While the deals are still viable, they appear in bright blue, but when the deal expires or is sold out, it is grayed out.

Overall, I think this site has some great deals. I was able to get Street Fighter 4 for $20 while it was on sale temporarily.

BullSh*t: Penn and Teller defend the gaming world...

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For anyone interested, I was watching Showtime last night and happened to see an episode of Penn and Tellers BullSh*t. The episode happened to be centered around violent video games.

The first part of the episode can be seen here.

The episode talks about video gaming and how violent video games may (or may not) affect young children. Featured in the episode is the ever present Jack Thompson and a young nine year old boy named Harrison. The show makes all the same points about video games and video game violence, but goes one step further by allowing young harrison (who plays violent video games all the time) to go shoot an actual gun. Long story short, Harrison is given the chance to shoot an AR-13. He is allowed to shoot three bullets (if he likes), but decides to stop after the first. But possibly the most touching part of the episode is the fact that Harrison starts bawling after firing the rifle.

To really get the feel of exactly how the whole thing plays out, go watch the episode. After seeing it, you really get a feeling for how much video games are actually misrepresented. I think anyone who thinks that video games are murder simulators should watch this episode: I guarantee they'll change their mind...

I mean, really? How lethal do you think that bawling little nine year old boy is?

((NOTE: Parts two and three of the same episode can be found on youtube as well here and here respectively...))

Whenever I don't have money...

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Why is it that whenever I don't have money, something goes on awesome sale...

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=9367883&type=product&id=1218092611397

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?type=category&id=pcmcat185200050003

I just got married and am busy paying off the wedding and trying to save money to get my wife a new car. I COULD buy these if I wanted to, but I'd rather be responsible and wait...:(

Evolution and Spore

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Will Wright, in creating Spore, endeavored to make a game wholly devoted to the ability of each player to create a unique race evolved from a cell, to an intergalactic civilization. The premise is relatively banal: "Players earn points from eating. The points can be used to buy new features for their creatures: a new mouth, a nicer nose, faster fins and, in later stages, faster legs, a bigger brain." (Sydell) This evolution continues through creature, tribal, civilization, and galactic stages, each progressing the civilization in question a different direction. Eventually, the civilization begins to evolve culturally instead of biologically, changing social and behavioral, instead of physical, structure.

As a biologist, I had a mixed reaction to Spore's presentation of evolution. I truly enjoyed being able to evolve a creature from the cell phase on, but found myself offended by the simplicity of it. Merriam-Webster defines Evolution as"a theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable differences are due to modifications in successive generations." It goes on to say that evolution is"a process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena."This is where I believe Will Wright misses the mark.

In Spore, evolution is presented as a process that happens because we want it to. At any point in the cell and creature phases, the player can decide to mate with another member of their species. During this mating process, the player can make drastic changes to their organism, often completely redefining that creatures abilities. Supposedly, Will Wright had the opportunity to consult with biologists and other scientists to get a greater understanding of how evolution works (Sydell).

At its basest value, Spore does manage to capture the essence of Darwinian evolution. The more fit creatures survive, and the less so die out, duplicating the basic principle of survival of the fittest. In the game and in real life, simple entities develop into more advance ones, a pattern that is a common feature of Darwinian evolution (Regis). At best, it is a cartoonish (and somewhat broken) representation of evolution.

The fact of the matter is, using evolution as a gimmick trivializes it in the extreme. Evolution is a slow and elegant process happening over millions of years. Species differentiated and changed for reasons other than the fact that 12 eyes and an extra set of arms looks cool. Though Spore can be fun, it fails at successfully presenting evolution. I won't dispute the efficacy of Spore as a grand analogy, but I beg the question of whether this kind of imagining is actually beneficial to evolution as an idea. Ultimately, evolution is in an uphill battle.

Even today, evolution continues to come under fire from religious sources all over the world. Already, there are many people trying to debunk the already well supported "theory of evolution". In fact, there are many scientists today who feel evolution has long passed the point of theory and finally ventured into the realm of law. Spore does nothing to help these arguments.

Perhaps, what was most disappointing about the game was that Will Wright let me down. As I followed Spore through the years, I had high expectations of how the game would present evolution. When I finally had a chance to play it, I found the progression from one organism to the next ridiculously unscientific. I had hoped that Will Wright would have done his research and wholly committed himself to accurately representing evolution, but I was wrong.

It is my hope that, in the future, game companies wishing to represent real world principles do so accurately. I am sure that I, and many others, would love you for it...

Sources:

1) Sydell, Laura. "In 'Spore,' Players create civilizations from cells." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94563046

2) "Evolution." Merriam-Webster Online. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evolution

3) Regis, Ed. "The Science of Spore--The "Evolution of Gaming." http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-science-of-spore

Promoting Gaming Awareness is Important!!!

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I work for a non-profit biotech company and get paid through grants to my specific department. Watching E3 I thought, "wouldn't it be wonderful if the gaming industry funded a non-profit organization to go from city to city, holding seminars and promoting overall awareness of said industry via familiarization with ESRB ratings and the like?"

This is something I think is very important. I think that gaming gets a really bad rap because no one really KNOWS about gaming. Take, for example, things like Jack Thompsons consistent slandering of the industry and Fox News expose on the Mass Effect sex scene. These were things that irrevocably hurt the gaming industry. For every gamer that said it wasn't true, there was an American ignorant of the industry believing these misguided news sources.

I believe a non-profit organization aimed at spreading gaming awareness would prove to be a boon to the gaming community. While the ESRB does have a good rating system in place, many americans don't really heed it. And an equal number of game sellers don't card for games. As an avid gamer, I point out to any cashier that doesn't card me for a rated mature game that they should (I think that if every gamer told this to just one cashier a month, a lot less rated M games would make it into under age hands...and a lot less parents would complain). As a gamer, I can't help but think that if there were a large company aimed at spreading video game awareness, that there may be many more people eager to support the industry. If the industry spent an extra $40 million dollars to do this and it wound up bringing in an extra $60 million a year, wouldn't it be worth it? I think it would be.

That being said, if anyone wants to give me a few million to start this company, I would totally be up for it! :D

Finally Finished: The Morrowind/Oblivion Comparison

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(So I've been working on this Blog post for two years now and am happy to say that it is finally finished. Though somewhat dated, I don't think it's that bad. I decided to re-post it because I went through and edited it, added text, subtracted text, and overall tweaked the language. Though the writing isn't the most eloquent I've seen, I think the relevant points I'm trying to make are clearly conveyed. Please give me feedback...I'd love to hear what you think...)

Recently, I have seen MANY different comparisons between these two games. One person says Morrowind is better the next Oblivion and visa versa. Round and round this stuff goes, never stopping, always there...right THERE. Now I'm not going to claim to be an expert on either one of these games, but I will say that the very ample amount of time I've spent playing each of these games qualifies me to, at the very least, put my two cents worth into the pot.

Personally, I'd say that, no matter what, all ~200+ hours I've put into each of these games was worth every second. Although Bethesda was able to create two games that are both very much the same while being completely different at the same time, I think this transition made between Morrowind and Oblivion was for the better. If nothing else, Bethesda will be able to learn from any mistakes that it believes it has made in designing, or changing how Oblivion worked in relation to the previous games in the Elder Scrolls Series.

That being said, lets get on to the comparison:

The Vanilla version of each game was a groundbreaking feat at the time it came out. Each title had amazing graphics. Even I was pretty amazed at the quality of graphics when I first played Morrowind, especially considering the ability of the engine to render landscape at such "high" distances (I say "high" distances, because, at the time, the rendering distances in Morrowind were considered to be quite impressive). Of course, when making a direct comparison between the two games, it is quite apparent which game is the winner. Oblivion rules graphically, but this is merely because of the generational gap in system ability. One interesting point I would like to make about each game is the fact that the initial graphical presentation of each game was quite rough. Morrowind had many obvious graphical bugs, that were eventually fixed with numerous patches and graphical Mods (like Qarl's texture mod, etc). The same graphical problems were also noticed with the vanilla install of Oblivion. The grass was TOO green, the water was TOO opaque, the landscape just LOOKED prefab. It wasn't long, however, before graphical modifications were released for the game. In fact, one of the most recommended graphical modifications for oblivion is the BT mod, which I believe is holding at version 2.2 for the moment.

Just talking about graphics, however, would be like looking at just the top of an iceberg. There were many other differences between these two games that made them stand out from one another.

One of the first things I noticed when I started playing Oblivion was that the way cities worked had changed completely. Originally, in Morrowind, cities were entities completely fluid with the outside environment. These cities would behave normally, like cities, in fact, and would deal with roaming monsters like any population would, with extreme hostility. In Oblivion, however, these cities were closed up, cut off from the environment.

Personally, I believe there are many reasons for this separation from the outer environment. One is that the back story for Morrowind is that the Imperials were just beginning to get their foothold in Morrowind. The native peoples lived in open cities. They lived with the land. After all, the Dunmer were the original inhabitants of Morrowind, and they had a tendency to live off, and with the land. It was quite obvious, from the few settlements that they had strewn across the barren landscape of Vvardenfell, that the Imperials liked their walls. There was, however, no truly enclosed city present in Morrowind (I'm going to discard Mournhold as an "enclosed city" due to the fact that it was MADE to be closed off from the rest of the world. In fact, when playing the Mournhold expansion, I felt as if there was NO world around the city...). In Oblivion, the reasons the cities are closed off are for multiple reasons. One reason is cultural. The Imperials like their closed in cities. The safety and structure offered by these walled in fortresses reflects not only the feudal society of our own middle ages, but reflects the industrial and intrinsically imperialistic nature of the people living in Tamriel.

Another reason, I would surmise, is due to the fact the enemies in Oblivion have a tendency to roam over great distances (since the AI in Oblivion was programmed to look for food, etc). Having open cities, especially around Chorrol and Leyawin (places near great forests), would allow for enemies to gain entrance to the cities. At lower levels this wouldn't cause a problem. It would probably even be lots of fun to watch. The problem with Oblivion, however, is that it levels with you (something I will address further later on in this commentary). Thus, at level three, enemies would be a piece of cake for city guards. But what about at level 30? or 40? or 50? The game DOES stop leveling with you after a while, I think the cap is twenty or so, but there are certain creatures that are levelled. For instance, around Oblivion gates, monsters tend to be levelled above the 20th level. Also, consider that many of these oblivion gates tend to open around cities. Now imagine, if you will, levelled Daedra making their way into a city. Can anyone say massacre? Anyone?

Though the state of the cities in this game were a big difference between these two games, I won't complain. The closed in cities did give me a sense of security, one not necessarily obtainable in Morrowind. There has been a modification made that removes all of the doors from the major walled cities of Tamriel, but I refrained from downloading it. I feel that the doors present on the cities help to form a structured environment that wouldn't necessarily be possible with open ended city architecture. The many doors that are present help to maintain each city in its own personal biosphere if you will. Each of these "biospheres" essentially acts as a small community, flowing smoothly from day to day in game, giving a larger sense of intelligence (i.e. everybody doesnt' just mill around all the time outdoors...or walk in circles around on the sidewalks).

Since I'm still talking about cosmetic and superficial changes to each game, I might as well talk about the vast change in landscape that was affected when transitioning from Morrowind to Oblivion. I must personally say that I enjoyed the landscape of Morrowind much more than that of Oblivion. While there is no doubt that Oblivion's landscape is absolutely gorgeous, the type of landscape present is limited to mainly two variations, forests and swamps. Morrowind, on the other hand, had a vast array of landscapes. There were plains, swamps, ashlands, island archipelagos, and mountains. There weren't really any forests in Morrowind due to the nature of the land in which the story was set (so Morrowind really can't be faulted for lacking forests).

The sheer amount of landscapes present in Morrowind, and the way the ground flowed from one type to the next was, quite frankly, elegant. I really enjoyed walking through the world of Vvardenfell. When first playing, it was a welcome surprise to see a new type of landscape. In Oblivion, all you really get is..."YAY!!! MORE forests..." Though forests are the key ingredient to Oblivion's landscape, one really cannot fault this game either. Tamriel IS a lush country. It is the central hub of the Imperial regime and, as such, should exude a feeling of incessant life and growth. Though this is annoyingly apparent in Oblivion, it is, nonetheless, a necessary evil, if you will. That being said, I still feel that Morrowind exuded more of a real-life ambiance due to its landscape design...(I would like to correct myself on the point of landscapes in Oblivion. I said there were mainly two variations, forests and swamps. The correction that needs to be made is the fact that Oblivion incorporates iceland wastes...northern reaches of the country covered in snow and sparse amounts of trees. This is a natural area of the vanilla version of the game that was an add-on for Morrowind in the form of the Bloodmoon Expansion Set. Furthermore, upon further investigation of the landscape variation in Morrowind, I have found that MUCH of Vvardenfell's surface area was covered in ashlands. These ashlands encompassed maybe 70% of the surface area of Vvardenfell).

Weather is another subtle change that was affected between these two games. Though the changes made between these two games in weather is rather minor, I believe that it is worthwhile to mention...at least a little bit. There were very few kinds of weather in Morrowind and usually weather specific to a region predominated there whenever you happened to be there. For instance, when did it ever NOT rain in Balmora? To my reckoning, I can remember maybe two to three times when I was in Balmora that it was actually sunny. In Ald-Ruhn it was usually Sand storming. The weather in Morrowind was usually always dreary and, after quite a few hours of playing, quite predictable. I started to play a little game with myself after a while: "what will the weather be when the area is done loading???" Most of the time I happened to be right. I guess my ultimate point with the weather thing is that, while Morrowind's weather system was dynamic and regional specific, it seemed to be somewhat contrived. While the weather in Oblivion is not nearly as depressing as the weather in Morrowind, it is more true to life. Weather is random and can be varied from place to place. Many a time I was surprised to pop up somewhere and find that it was foggy. In another city it was overcast. Personally, I think the Bethesda team improved the weather system for Oblivion greatly! I enjoy the weather and its extreme randomness from place to place. And I LOVE that it doesn't rain every damn day of the week in Tamriel....

This is where the comparison begins to get rather difficult. There were quite a few changes made between the content of both games. The cosmetic changes are relatively easy to pick out due to the fact that they are visually based. For those who spend lots of time playing games, these kinds of changes would usually be the first things to stand out. Non cosmetic changes to the game tend to be less noticeable. These functional changes to game mechanics and interface, while less apparent, tend to create more of a difference than we can possibly imagine.

One of the most noticable functional changes made by the Bethesda team was the player interface. Personally, I have had a rather hard time remembering what the vanilla version of the Oblivion interface looked like. Frankly, it was HORRIBLE. That being said, it was MUCH better than the Morrowind character interface. The character interface encompasses the HUD (heads up display) and the Character Menu screen.

In Morrowind, the Character Menu system was, quite possibly, one of the most ill contrived set of menu boxes that I have ever encountered. Though I did deal with them while I was playing the game (and you really had to if you wanted to play...and since I wanted to play, I did). The simple fact was that the little separated windowed thingy they had set up sucked. You were having to constantly move the windows around so that you could arrange shelves, pick up stuff, drop stuff, look at this, and that, and your magic menu, and your map, etc. I could go on and on about the problems that could arise from messing with this cumbersome menu system, but I won't. I'll just make the point that it was bad and hope that you guys take it at face value. The Oblivion menu system was a very large step up from the windowed system used in Morrowind, but was still cumbersome and unwieldy. The Vanilla version menu system of Oblivion instituted a tabbed system, organizing everything into neat little bars. This system, in and of itself, was a vast improvement over that of the one instituted in Morrowind (After writing this paragraph, one of my friends stated that the default menu system was like a console menu system and would be damn near impossible to play without a mod developed to make the menu system more streamlined).

Possibly one of the greatest improvements that Oblivion was able to make over Morrowind was the institution of an effective Quest Journal. In Morrowind, simply mentioning the Journal was enough to make anyone cry. The Journal in Morrowind was like a torture device installed by Bethesda. It was horrible. I would add quests to the journal and other entries in date order. When wanting to view a certain quest, you would have to sift through a quest menu, find the quest, then sift through the Journal entries to find the information you were searching for. Sometimes, however, the information you were trying to find was not present (or was not recorded in the journal). In that case, you would be forced to try and re-find the person who originally gave you the quest, and get extra information from them (which might or might not be recorded in the Journal). One other thing that made the journal horrible was its amazing ability to overlook the fact that you have finished certain quests. Let me tell you, after MANY hours of questing, those finished quests made it hard as hell to figure out which ones you have and have not finished. In Oblivion, on the other hand, the journal was seamlessly integrated into the game. You can choose which quest you would like to be active at any one moment and each quest has map markers associated with it. Furthermore, when you get another quest, you are notified of it and asked whether you would like to make it your active quest or not. Overall, the Journal system turned out to be one of the most worthwhile improvements from Morrowind to Oblivion.

One additional menu system update that was instituted from Morrowind to Oblivion was the item equip action. In Morrowind, there was that annoying drag and drop equip system. You'd have to drag the item on top of your character, then drop it there. The items would remain in the inventory, with a little box around them, signifying that they were equipped. This system got annoying really fast if you wanted to equip/un-equip lots of stuff really quickly, or refit your character. While this really didn't matter in the endgame (since, by that time, you could kill damn near everything), it tended to be somewhat of a nuisance during the earlier stages when new armor was often forthcoming. In Oblivion, the much improved click to equip system made me crap my pants. Though it really wasn't THAT impressive, the simple action of being able to click the equipable object without having to drag and drop was simply a god-send. This made equipping and un-equipping much easier, allowing for the quick removal of stolen goods if you happened to anger the guards or something like that.

Possibly the biggest difference between these two games is the story. I must honestly say, right off the bat, that I enjoyed the Morrowind main quest much more than that of the Oblivion main quest. While the Oblivion main quest did have the luxury of including Patrick steward and Sean Bean as voice actors, it didn't really pique my interest. Quite frankly, I had more fun with the guild quests.

**spoilers past this point**

The Morrowind main quest portrayed you as a prisoner released from the royal prison and dropped in Morrowind via boat. After your release you were free to wander Vvardenfell as you saw fit. You were, however, given orders to report to one Caius Cosades in Balmora. He was an operative for the Blades (the royal guard that makes a reappearance in Oblivion). His orders for you were to prove yourself as the Nerevarine by going to the Dunmer tribes and performing their rites. You eventually do, and have to decide for yourself whether you really believe that you are the resurrected Nerevarine. Ultimately, you are tasked with dealing with Dagoth Ur, a dark man-god who has returned from the dead with a plan to retake morrowind for his own...

In Oblivion, on the other hand, the story takes a different turn. You are cast as the prisoner who was in the right place at the right time. You begin the game in your cell, detained for some random crime never mentioned. Amazingly, Emperor Uriel Septim VII has to escape through your cell. And the amazing thing is that the blades don't close the door behind them after they go through. They leave it open for you to follow, then don't kill you when you run across them later. Eventually, the you catch back up to the Emperor and he gives you the Amulet of Kings to give to his hidden heir. He is promptly killed and you are tasked with finding this heir. You eventually rescue him from the ruins of Kvatch and go on this massive quest to try and stop this guy named Mankar Camoran from destroying Tamriel... (I'm deliberately not saying anything about the final showdown in the Imperial city...play it or look it up...very great ending)

Just looking at these two stories you can see that there is a BIG difference between the two. Personally, I felt rather unimportant after the conclusion of the Oblivion story. You finish it and the big-wigs are all like: "Good job buddy...come back in a week and we'll give you a suit of armor.". In fact, Martin manages to trump all of your hours of gameplay with one selfless act at the end. Morrowind, on the other hand, gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment for all my hours of gameplay. There is nothing better than walking past an NPC and hearing: "Y-you're the Nerevarine!". I wanted to keep playing after the conclusion of the story. I wanted to keep going. Why? Because I was a hero. A hero to NPC's, but a hero nonetheless. There is something to be said, even today, about the role the main character plays in a games story. While I enjoyed both Morrowind and Oblivion, I was given a grander sense of achievement from Morrowinds story. They truly let you BE the god if you wanted. They made the story about YOU, while Oblivion sets you up as an epic supporting character.

Overall, each of these games has good and bad points. I feel, however, that both games deserve our support and reverence. Each of these games was produced by a wonderful developer and managed to pull us in one way or another. Be it the game system or the story, each of these games has something worthwhile to experience. While I, myself, cannot say which of these games I would ultimately settle on, I hope that this comparison will help to put minds at ease. Though I am not an expert journalist or game developer, I touched on points I thought made each of these games intrinsically different AND characteristically unique.

It is not every day that we get the opportunity to compare such grandiose games, and I suggest we revel in such opportunities. Better yet, read and decide for yourself which of these games deserves your love and attention. After all, I'm just the messenger...

**Spelling corrected and weather paragraph edited on June 12, 2009 at 9.29 a.m.**

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