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Palantas Blog

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 19 Sep 11

You know what annoys me? Games on Xbox that ask me every single time what storage device I want to use. Ugh...I only have one storage device: The harddrive! And even if I had more than one, isn't this something the game can save? If I want to change it in the future, I'll do so. That's why that menu item called "Options" exists.

Anyway... Last time I was telling you how I signed my girlfriend up for Xbox Live. We've since played some Left 4 Dead, and she's coming over shortly to spend the day gaming. Some observations:

  1. There are still people out there who describe shooters as "casual." (Well, actually they describe anything that's not their favorite genre--probably RTS or MMO--as casual.) They justify this by saying that anyone can just pick up and play a shooter. Bulls***. Gamers, that is people who have been playing shooters for years like myself, can pick up and play a shooter. Nongamers cannot. It takes quite a bit of effort for a novice to even walk through a doorway in a shooter.
  2. Thank God for the revival and refinement of cooperative shooters this generation. In the two c|assic modes of shooters, single-player and competitive, my girl and I would have had no fun playing. She's not good enough to play a shooter even on Easy by herself, and splitscreen deathmatch would have been completely ridiculous. However, with a cooperative game like Left 4 Dead, we can both play and have a good time.
  3. Achievements are great. She wants more of them. She has 55 points right now, and is envious of my 35,000.

In closing, you may have noticed I've been away for a while. That's due to my being busy, not at work, but busy partying. If I'm not gaming, I don't think to write about gaming. Now that I have a girlfriend, I should be at home more, gaming more, so maybe I'll post more often. And the people rejoiced.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 15 Sep 11

Quick one for you: I was signing my girlfriend up for Xbox Live. We did it on the computer, where apparently it auto-generates a Gamertag for you. The Gamertag that Microsoft chose for my girlfriend:


And I am not making this up. Fortunately, you get to change it once for free. Now she's MissRedSmurf or something like that. We got our Left 4 Dead on.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 7 Jun 11

I'm becoming less interested in E3 as the years go on. "The next big thing" is becoming increasingly irrelevant to my gaming.

I only watched the Microsoft conference. As with last year, I don't care enough to edit my notes into a coherent narrative. Here goes...

Microsoft E3

Oh, it's time for another one of these.

Starts with some video from what looks like the beginning of a Tom Clancy movie.
"Please connect controller"?? Was that intentional?
Some SEALs or something planting a mine on a sub.
This is going on for quite a while.
I guess this is a Call of Duty game. Hooray.
I'm glad I saw this whole neat intro sequence, so now I won't enjoy it as much in the game.
Man, that took forever.

K, we get a talk from a guy from Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games.

Some guy from Microsoft.
"As you saw with the Call of Duty demo, the world's greatest storytellers are reinventing electronic entertainment."
Really?? With Call of Duty? Is that a joke?

Guys from Crystal Dynamics.
New Tomb Raider game. Oh, it's a prequel. Terrific. I've been huge fan of prequels since The Phantom Menace.

Something about EA and sports games with Kinect. Not interested.

Bioware! Finally something I might care about.
Mass Effect 3 is going to support Kinect. Voice recognition. Hmm?
Apparently, you speak the conversation choices, and that picks them. That's kinda cool, but I imagine I'd just end up using the controller; faster.
You can also use voice control to command AI teammates in combat. Hopefully this will work better than using voice control to command human teammates in combat, like in every other shooter.

K, now a Ghost Recon trailer. Didn't I see this at last year's E3?
A French guy from Ubisoft is talking about Kinect. I guess they're going to try and use it with Ghost Recon.
Now this actually is cool: You can totally customize your weapons in the new Ghost Recon, in the way you can in the real world. (The example they gave was swapping out the gas system.) I've always wanted to do that in a realism-focused shooter. High speed.
However, I don't see what this has to do with Kinect. They used Kinect in the weapon customization screen; you could just as easily use a normal controller. Customizing your weapon is not gameplay.

Some guy from Xbox Live.
There's going to be a new dashboard I guess, which you can navigate using Kinect. The interface looks like Windows Phone 7, which is all right I guess.
I really don't care about this emphasis on the Xbox as my total entertainment center. I mostly just use the Xbox for games.
YouTube is coming to Xbox Live. That's kinda cool, but I'll still just watch it on my laptop most of the time.
Bing is coming to Xbox Live. With all the stuff they're putting on it, you're going to need Bing to search through all the stuff on your Xbox.
Damn audio keeps skipping.
Oh nice, got this ad with this upscale looking couple sitting in their artsy living room talking to their Xbox. If Bing managed to find two real people like that, I'll be impressed.

Hey, Dana White! Cool. Dana White is UFC president, for those of you who don't know.
I guess you're going to be able to watch UFC pay-per-views on your Xbox, with some interactive features like calling fights.
So that's cool; I might do that from time to time. Though I'm more likely to go to a sports bar for fights I really anticipate.

Gears of War 3.
Okay...not Gears of War 3, 'cause now the video's skipping.
Gears of War 3, again.
Hi Cliffy B. The Gears are on a boat, and they're being attacked by the Kraken. The Kraken and little spiders that keep hopping in and getting shot. died. I wonder if I watched long enough to get my GameSpot emblem.

Back. Something from Crytek, along with more skipping audio and video.
Some game about Rome, which interests me. The "Buffering" circle in the middle of my screen does not interest me.
A game called Ryse where I guess you're a gladiator or something...using Kinect. Forget it.

Halo...and more buffering.
Amongst all the skpping, I'm gathering that Halo: Combat Evolved is being remade for 360.
"Halo: Anniversary"
F***ing remakes. Like there's not enough in Hollywood, so now we get them for games. Lucky us.

Forza 4. Not interested.

What is this? Fable or something? You're riding on a car, directing a horse with imaginary reigns using Kinect. Never mind.

Oh, a virtual Disney World. I guess that's good for the poor kids who don't get to go to Disney World, but do get an Xbox 360 and Kinect.

Kinect Star Wars. Man, this is just like last year's E3; everything's about Kinect.

Something about the muppets. More Kinect.

"People are working with Kinect in ways we never imagined." Like pornographically? 'Cause that's what I want to do with it.
No, they use it for drawing. Thrilling.

Some blue monster...I dunno. I'm losing interest.

The end. I'll write some commentary on all this tomorrow, I don't stay too late at the bar after the NBA Finals game.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 6 Jun 11

Today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day. To honor the Allied troops who stormed the beaches, and appreciate the depth of their sacrifice, pop in Call of Duty 2 and play the Pointe du Hoc level on Veteran. Then you'll have some idea of how hard it was.

I'll talk about stupid E3 tomorrow.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 5 Jun 11

A couple days ago, I bought the first game I've got in a while, Transformers: War for Cybertron. A friend has been bugging me for some time to get it and play the multiplayer with him, and I finally stepped up.

War for Cybertron is a shooter, and it seems pretty good; not great, but good. The game dynamics so far are pretty straight forward, if simplistic, though nothing really stands out as bad. It's fun transforming and blowing stuff up, and the frustration factor has been minimal. Interestingly, the game has a three-player cooperative mode. That's rare. When playing by yourself, you're accompanied by two other robots, which are taken over by your friends in cooperative play. At the beginning of a chapter you get to choose which Transformer you control. For the first chapter, I got a choice of being either Megatron or some robots named Brawl and Barricade. Okay. What kind of a choice is that? I wanna be Megatron!

Now, when I was a kid I did not watch Transformers. (Actually, I didn't really watch cartoon at all; I read stuff like The Illiad and Lord of the Rings.) This game's got me slightly interested in the franchise. I've been hopping on the Transformers wiki to look up characters and references, in fine nerd fashion.

After playing just the first two of twelve chapters, I can already say that the game has a better storyline than the Michael Bay films. I've always regarded the live action Transformers films as the epitome of Big Dumb Action Movie, and playing this game has only solidified that opinion. It's also got me thinking that for movie ostensibly called Transformers (and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), an enormous amount of screen time is spent not on the Transformers. Contrasted with the number of human characters in the films, I can only identify a handful of robots. Let's see, there's:

  • Optimus Prime
  • Megatron
  • Bumblebee
  • Those two small, annoying robots from the second film

That's it. I know that other Transformers were at least seen and named (I can recall Soundwave and Starscream), but we never learn anything about them as characters in the films. They're just glorified extras. I imagine that probably pissed off some long-time fans.

Heh, my opinion of those films has actually dropped in the time I wrote this blog. I'm not going to see the new one in theatres unless it gets great reviews. All right, I'm gonna go back to playing the game. Right now I'm Soundwave, and I'm trying to dodge trains in some tunnels. I'm not sure why a race of creatures who can transform into vehicles would need trains. I guess they're not passenger trains.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 23 Apr 11

Hello. I've been working, and I don't have Internet where I am. I'm off for the weekend, and then it's back to work. I thought I'd tell you what I'm up to. What I'm up to with my gaming, I mean; I can't talk about my work.

I have my laptop with me, but no Internet. I've been playing The Bard's Tale. This is one of the earliest games that I really approached as a gamer when I was a kid. It wasn't just something I picked up and played briefly; I put serious time into this game. I wanted to uncover all its secrets and beat it. Unfortunately, I never pulled that off, which might be in part due to the lack of Internet in 1990. That I was seven years old might also have been a factor.

The Bard's Tale is a CRPG, which came out in 1985. In the old days of PC games, there was no automap. Not only was there no automap, but mapping mazes was a part of the game. It was supposed to be fun. Yes, sitting there in front of your ugly, beige computer with a drafting pencil and a book of graph paper was considered an essential part of gaming. And if you think I'm just making this up, here's a snippet from the box art of The Bard's Tale II:

Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight

That's a little hard to read, so I'll give you the text here: "Between the six cities lies an immense wilderness. It's a mapping challenge never before seen in a fantasy game, and a whole new way to get lost."

Yes, games in that day and age bragged about how you would get lost. Man, times have changed.

Like I said, I don't have Internet, so I couldn't cheat and just steal the maps off some website.To play this game, you must have maps to the dungeons; they're way too intricate to memorize. I had to make my own maps, but I also didn't have any graph paper. Here's my solution:

Excel Mapping

I've got over half a dozen pages in that Excel workbook. This is definitely one of my more dubious achievements. Oh, and once again, I'm using…

Alienware M15x

…a top of the line laptop to run DOSBox and Microsoft Excel. It's not a complete waste, though. With the horsepower of my i7 processor, I'm able to type and post this blog about 30 seconds faster than I would have waiting on my old laptop to do its business.

Well, see you. I'm going to go enjoy the Internet while I have it. Then it's back to work, and mapping things in Microsoft Excel.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 1 Apr 11

I quit. Reasons:

  • Game companies are in it for the money.
  • Games are too easy.
  • Games are too short.
  • Too many sequels.
  • Popular franchises are milked.
  • Games these days are too long.
  • Competitive gaming.
  • DLC.
  • Games are too hard.
  • Achievements.
  • Games in genres I don't care for are being made.
  • Microsoft is probably doing something.
  • Softcore games.
  • Hardcore games.
  • Gaming just isn't like it was in the "good old days."

As you can see, I've put a lot of thought into all these points. I quit. Bye.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 21 Mar 11

I have a confession. A few days ago, I posted a review of Halo: Reach. This review is complete and total bulls****. Let me tell you a few things about myself:

  • I do not watch or read game previews.
  • I generally don't read professional reviews until after I've played a game.
  • I don't watch gameplay footage.
  • I don't play demos.
  • I don't watch live TV, so I don't see game trailers very often.

And finally, I have never played Halo: Reach. Also, I know few people in real life who play videogames, so I have never even seen anyone play Reach. I took it upon myself to see if I could write a passable review of a game I'd never played, and in fact, know next to nothing about. I wrote my "review" in several phases:

  1. Assume that Reach is pretty similar to previous Halo games. Make this my thesis.
  2. Open up the Halo wiki's article on Reach to get a few random facts (fewer grenade types, Armor Abilities) so that my review isn't completely generic.
  3. Type voluminously about the game's artistic merits, which are mostly subject to individual interpretation (e.g., I can't be "wrong" about how good the music is.) This fills up space.
  4. Include lots of references to other shooters and trends in gaming, in order to give my review an air of authority.
  5. Generate a completely arbitrary final score for the game.

There you go. I've presented you a template from which to write completely bogus reviews. Have fun.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 17 Mar 11

Hi. I've been away for a while. Usually, when I don't publish blogs for a time, I'm busy saving the world and bedding attractive women, in space. Recent months have been no exception. Moving on, I'm happy to present a rough draft of my review of Halo: Reach...

Halo: Reach is the fifth shooter and sixth game in Bungie's and Microsoft Games Studios' juggernaut game franchise. This new addition takes cautious steps in introducing new game concepts, as has been the case with every Halo sequel. In spite of this, Halo fans, and shooter aficionados in general, will find a lot to like in Reach.

Halo: Reach is akin to many other popular game series', in that the commercial demand outlasted the story the designers were originally telling. Well, what do you do when your writers are finished, but your shareholders aren't? You make a prequel, of course! That's right; Reach tells a story that takes place shortly before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, before now only witnessed in paperback novels and YouTube machinima.

Halo: Reach follows Noble Team, a group of the Master Chief-like cyborg supersoldiers, the Spartans. The player assumes the role of Noble Six, new to the team, and having not earned a name yet, in keeping with the tradition Halo: ODST started. Noble Team begins their operations on Reach, a planet which Halo fans will immediately identify as the site of a battle preceding the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, and a planet which non-Halo fans will immediately indentify as a verb. Noble Six and friends get into all manner of shenanigans with the Covenant, a consortium of alien races who strongly dislike humans.

The production values in Reach are first-rate on the 360. There is a clear improvement here over ODST, which really didn't do anything more graphically than Halo 3. Halo: Reach is on or about the best looking shooter we're going to see with this generation of console hardware. Character models, terrain, and effects are all first-rate. The vistas, skybox, and draw distance truly give a sense of fighting in a real place, and not a shooter level. The first Halo began a trend in shooters away from outdoor environment geometry being identical to indoor environments except with no roof texture. Reach continues this fine tradition.

As with every Halo game, the soundtrack is excellent. Combat Evolved stunned gamers with a sweeping, motion picture-quality orchestral score. (This doesn't seem like such a big deal today, but keep in mind that in 2001, high quality music in a shooter was Trent Reznor writing some guitar riffs for Quake.) Every subsequent game has only improved this, with music setting the mood just right. Lots of games do this in cutscenes, but the Halo series, and Reach in particular manage the same dynamic during actual gameplay. When defending your position from increasing waves of enemies in a desperate situation, the music builds to a crescendo perfectly. In terms of artistic presentation, the audio is actually probably the best item in this game.

In terms of gameplay, Reach will be instantly familiar to players of previous installments. Some old weapons are gone, and some new weapons appear, but they all do essentially the same jobs. There is no dual-wielding in Reach. This is good. It fits with the lore: Dual wielding was not invented until Halo 2, discovered independently by both Master Chief and the Arbiter. The number of grenade varieties has been pared down for Reach, which seems like a good move. When your scifi action shooter has more grenade types than Rainbow Six, you should probably lose a few. Special abilities such as the bubble shield are now persistent and recharge (now called Armor Abilities), assassinations have fancy animations, and armor is customizable in campaign. And also there's a space battle level. There are some changes from Halo 3 here, but nothing major.

A first for a Halo shooter, most of the game takes place with the player and his squad together as a unit. It seems like there was a possibility here for some squad tactical options. Having this mechanic through the entire game wouldn't have had a very "Halo" feel to it, but it could have been implemented in a few select areas. Previous Halo games have had no problem with rail shooter sections to add some variety to levels, so why not squad tactics?

Following trends in the shooter world over the last few years (Horde mode, Nazi zombies), multiplayer is now divided into two broad categories: Cooperative and competitive. Reach's cooperative mode is called Firefight. It's actually finished after the $60 beta called Halo: ODST. This time, Firefight actually has matchmaking, as well as an array of customization options. There are Firefight-specific awards, for people who like to boast of such things to family and friends.

In the competitive side of multiplayer, Reach introduces a completely new game mode based on Firefight. In it, a team of Spartans fend off endless waves of Covenant baddies, the catch being that some of the Covenant Elites are human players. The Spartan team attempts to survive and score as many points as possible in the time allotted. Then the human players swap teams; both teams will play as Covenant and Spartans. It's reminiscent of Left 4 Dead in that sense.

The conventional multiplayer is mostly typical of the series. Since Call of Duty 4 especially, there's been a movement in shooters towards customizable characters c|asses. There's a half-hearted attempt at this in Halo: Reach, with a loadout screen appearing before each match. Players can choose an Armor Ability, such as moving faster or turning invisible, and they can also choose their starting weapons. One wonders if in future installments, this mechanic will be expanded. Per tradition, Bungie has also finicked with the leveling system in their latest game, but the changes are so irrelevant that I'm not going to describe them in detail here.

In conclusion, this is a solid shooter and a solid Halo game. This is not a glorified expansion/multiplayer beta like Halo: ODST, which was "glorified" only in its price tag. If you're a fan of the series or this genre on console, get this game.

The end.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 13 Jan 11

Yeah, hi. Yesterday, I wrote an article, noting the humor in my having a top-of-the-line laptop, and playing games over five years old. The only shooter I've even tried to play is Far Cry. The whole experience has been annoying. It was annoying in two areas: PC gaming annoyances, and old shooter annoyances.

First, I installed the game, off of five CDs no less. This was the end of the era before they started putting games on a single DVD. I'm not sorry to see those days go, just like I wasn't sad when CDs supplanted floppies; try installing Windows 95 off 25 floppy disks as punishment sometime.

Having played a lot of Xbox, I've really been spoiled by being able to insert a disc, download a 10-second update, and be gaming. On a PC, I have to install the game, which is annoying. Then I have to hunt around for patches, which is annoying. Do I install the 1.14 patch, or the 1.10 patch then the 1.14 patch? Do I get the most current version from the developer's site or the publisher's site? It's not like these issues are insurmountable to me. They're just annoying when I don't have to deal with them on another platform.

Playing Far Cry, it just pissed me off. It was an incredible shooter in 2004, but seven years (holy crap)later, it's flaws are all to apparent. It's a checkpoint game, which is fine in many other shooters, but it sucks in Far Cry. Far Cry "levels" are very non-linear. You can travel all around the islands in order to find the best vantage point for attacking an enemy camp. This is one ofthe game's strengths. However, it stinks when you trigger a checkpoint you didn't mean to activate, because you went too far into the level. So now you have to attack the enemy camp without dying and travel twice as far before you get a save.

It seems kinda obvious, but save-anywhere is a feature you need in non-linear games. Either that, or have save stations scattered all over creation like in Borderlands. Can you imagine how annoying it would be to play Borderlands with arbitrarily-placed, static checkpoints, each of which can only be used once?

Anyway, I'm still having fun playing Rome: Total War. It has save-anywhere.