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jervo Blog

How much is too much?

1. My Gameflown copy of Eternal Sonata is in the mail and should be arriving shortly; I'm very excited, although I'm still only on Disc 1 of Blue Dragon and there's only so much JRPG the mind can handle before collapsing upon itself.

2. And then Halo 3 arrives next week. Which I will probably buy, although I'm not totally sure I'm going to succumb to the retail pressure and get it on the actual release date, even if my entire friends list will be lit up with people playing it, and I'll be like that Far Side cartoon with the sad dog stuck inside practicing the violin while all his dog friends attack the mailman.

3. PGR4 andZeldaDSarrive the week after that.

4. The Orange Box arrives the week after THAT.

5. I have to get the 360 Katamari game, which comes the week after THAT, along with the new Tony Hawk.

6. I nearly bought a PSP Slim this past weekend, and I also almost bought a Wii - it was the first time I'd ever seen a Wii, out in the wild, ready for the plucking.

I'm doing my absolute best to be fiscally responsible; I've accumulated a rather sizable hunk of credit card debt over the past year (and believe it or not, it's mostlydue tomy itchy iTunestrigger finger - if you think I'm crazy when it comes to games, you haven't seen anything yet).

Step one - I'm going to rent as much as possible.

Step two - I'm going to buy as many of my must-own titles through Gamefly (now that I have the 10% discount).

Step three - I'm going to implore all game publishers to PLEASE STAGGER YOUR RELEASE DATES so that ALL THESE AMAZING GAMES can actually be BOUGHT, PLAYED and ENJOYED. Because even assuming that somehow I'm going to be able to pay for all these games, there's absolutely no way I'm going to be able to actually sit down and play them unless I kick my wife out of the living room and I quit my job and I don't sleep for a month (keep in mind, the above Nos. 1-5 only cover now until mid-October - I don't know what I'm going to do with myselfwhen Mass Effect ships). Frankly, I think moving GTA4 to the spring is a fantastic idea - that would eat up hundreds of hours just by itself - and having Burnout: Paradise arrive in January gives me time to enjoy PGR4 and FlatOut2. Seriously - this summer totally sucked, in terms of game releases. The game industry seems to operate under the bizarre premise that most gamers only buy games a few times a year - Christmas, and whenever Madden ships. This is ridiculous. Then again,I'd behard-pressed to find something about the game retailindustry that ISN'T completely ridiculous.

A brief Halo 3 rant follows some random blathering

It's been a slow week, gaming-wise, which is why I've not posted much. The other day I very nearly considered doing a super-early best-of-2007-so-far summary for music and books,if only because I've acquired an enourmous amount of both this year and the ratioof good/bad is at around 90/10... I may still end up doing that next week, which would give me time to prepare - I've gotten at least 100 albums this year, and I could come up with at least 3 different lists just from those.

I'm still plugging away at Tiger 08, though, because I apparently have no soul; I've hit a bit of a wall in the Tiger Challenge, but I've gotten my stats up to a respectable-enough level where I'm winning tournaments. Sonic 2 hit XBLA this week, which is as good as I remember it - the casino level in particular - and I'm playing it without the unnecessary Tails, which is the way it should've been all those years ago. I continue to be amazed at how massive I used to think these old Genesis games were - I think it's just because I kept dying and never saw the end of them.

Hoping to sink some serious time into Blue Dragon this weekend - I'd like to be able to get to Disc 2, at the very least. I've been wanting to play it all week but I haven't had time - contrary to my earlier comment, it's the sort of game where you really have to sit down and play it, you can't just pick it up and screw around for a little while and then put it down.

What else... IGN gave Eternal Sonata a very promising 8.3; there's no way I'm going to finish Blue Dragon before it lands, though.... the new PGR4 videos are getting me all hot and bothered... oh yeah, now I remember whatthis whole post was supposed to be about.

I am astounded at the audacity of the Halo 3 marketing campaign, which now apparentlyincludes "making-of" videos of commercials. I'm almost afraid of playing Halo 3 because of how annoyed I already am. But then, why am I suddenly surprised and/or outraged? Bungie made a 10-minute behind-the-scenes video of their 2-minute E3 teaser trailer; have we really entered an age where we can get excited about meta-commercials? Have I lost my freakin' MIND?

Stranglehold; Blue Dragon; Tiger gets better

1. Finished Stranglehold last night. I had gotten through the bulk of it over the weekend, but I wanted to get send it back sooner rather than later as my Gamefly queue is getting crowded and I want to make sure I keep getting the good stuff as it rolls in. I'd done the first 5 or 6 levels on the Normal difficulty setting, which started to get a bit exasperating - endless streams of bad guys, each requiring an impossible number of bullets to take down.So I did the last 2 levelson the Casual difficulty setting, andit ended up taking me about 30 minutes to finish the game. I'm not sure if that's because the levels themselves were much shorter than the rest of the game, or because thedifference between Normal and Casual is so huge. In anyevent, it's over and done with, and while it was fun-ish, it's not particularly memorable. The single best part of it is the animation sequence when Tequila does the "Barrage" power-up - he reloads his weapon in an incredibly bad-ass way, and then he just obliterates whatever's in front of him. It really is just Max Payne, with destructible environments and difficult Engrish accents.

2. I popped in Blue Dragon last night, just to finish up some loose ends after finishing a quest; I gotta say, it's a lot better than the reviews would have you believe, as long as you can tolerate every JRPG convention ever known to man. Personally, I've been playing it with subtitles on and the sound off, because, well, I like my music better. I'm 11 hours in and even if there's not a single original concept in the game's design andthe story is razor-thin, I'm as invested in it as I can be, and I want to see where it's going, and the combat is actually kinda fun, and it's pretty. And there's quite a lot left, apparently, so I'll be plugging away for a good long while.

3. Two things have changed my mind somewhat on Tiger 08 - switching the difficulty to "Easy", and the fact that the Photo GameFace thing actually kinda works now. The "Easy" difficulty setting makes the analog swing much more tolerable - that's about the main difference, as putting is still pleasantly difficult and the computer AI is still ludicrously strange - it will still make wayward shots into the rough or the sand, but it will ALWAYS get within 8 feet of the hole, and then it's about 50/50 if it makes short putts or not. EA is notorious for rubberband AI, and it's always done this in Tiger - when I was at the end of Tiger 07, I'd shoot a 63 on the first day of a tournament, while the rest of the field shot 68 and up, and then from there on in the rest of the field would be shooting 62s. As for the GameFace - I'm gonna have to take new pictures, because I used my cellphone as a camera for my first try and in spite of all the color correcting, my in-game avatar looks as red as a lobster.

One last thing about Tiger 08 and then I'll leave you alone

In yesterday's Penny Arcade news post, Tycho had this to say about Lair:

...I would never ask you to take my word over your own experience, though, and you'll certainly find those online who will bolster you in your choice to purchase. There are some who derive a kind of perverse superiority from their mastery of the game's ambiguous mechanics. For my part, I don't give a good Goddamn if someone has trained themselves to eat s--- and like it. The game is not challenging, it's difficult to play, and it's taken many years but I'm ready to begin making this distinction.

I happened to check out certain Tiger Woods 08 forums over the weekend, just to see if anybody else was complaining about the swing sensitivity, and I was shocked to see that absolutely NOBODY was talking about it. Oh, they were complaining about the Photo GameFace website being totally destroyed, and the apparently numerous (and growing) game-crashing bugs in the Tiger Challenge, and the incredible lag issues during online play, but there were just as many people saying "ignore all the haters, it's the best game evar!!1!!" Fortunately, I've gotten to the point in my life where I don't need other people telling me what to believe anymore; whether there's something inherently wrong with the swing stick or it's simply that this game requires skills far beyond what my previous years of Tiger-ing had already developed, I can say this with confidence - Tiger Woods 08 isn't fun to play, at least in its current state, and THAT ISN'T MY FAULT.

I actually played the infamous E.T. game for the Atari 2600 when I was a kid, and I didn't know that the game sucked; I just thought I was terrible at it, and I kept playing it because I wanted to get better. I lost too many hours of my childhood trying to get E.T. to successfully levitate out of the La Brea Tar Pits (or whatever the hell those things were), and it never occured to me that the reason why I couldn't do it was because the game was hopelessly broken. Now, I'm not comparing Tiger 08 to E.T.- I'm just saying that like E.T., Tiger is difficult to play, and I, like Tycho, am ready to begin making that distinction.

Blue Dragon; Stuntman; Tiger 08.

A few things:

1. I think I'm enjoying Blue Dragon more often than not. What's so nice about BD is that there's no random encounters, so you're not constantly bombarded by tedious combat; the problem is that after a while, especially in the overland sections, the combat gets tedious anyway and I find myself simply running towards chests and then to my goal, instead of grinding. And that's really the thing about Blue Dragon, that's the thing that will determine whether you enjoy the experience or not - more so than story and characters (and the story here is cliche, of course, but it's serviceable) - if you can deal with turn-based combat, then you can most likely hang with Blue Dragon; likewise, if you prefer regular, real-time action RPGs, you'll get annoyed and bored and will probably turn it off. Personally, I'm finding that I'm stuck in between the two, so my strategy is simply to play in short, controlled bursts - save point to save point.

2. I've done all I'm going to do in Stuntman. Got 3 stars in every scene of every movie, and there's really nothing else pulling me back - the amount of time and effort to get 5 stars is beyond my abilities and my patience. I think I know how to make the next one better - there needs to be more creativity, I need to feel like I can try different things. But if that's impossible, then at least they just need to insert a fly-by of the scene, so you're not constantly being surprised. Also - tighter controls, and a restart button.

3. I'm getting very, very close to setting my copy of Tiger Woods 08 on fire, because underneath the broken controls (and the broken website) this could be the best version of the game yet - the Tiger Challenge is set up really well, and the presentation is absolutely top-notch. HOWEVER, and I can't stress this enough, the Xbox360 controls are pretty much completely broken. The left thumbstick is about 1000% more sensitive than it should be, and there's no way of adjusting it, and therefore it's absolutely impossible to predict where your shot's going to end up, which means that this game is absolutely no fun at all. I've actually spent multiple 10 minute sessions at the practice tee, trying to figure out how to control my swing - which I've never, ever had to do before - and even after all that it's still all over the place. Which sucks. I love the Tiger series, and I was really looking forward to this game. Goddamn you, EA - I was starting to not hate you for a little while. I'm going to give it until the next patch - they need to fix a game-crashing bug, and hopefully they'll add a tweak for the controls. Otherwise, it's going back - or, maybe, I should just destroy it entirely, thereby keeping someone else safe from its horrors.

Cheers and jeers and rants and raves

HOORAY for Streets of Rage 2!!! Oh, baby. My younger brother and I played this game obsessively on his Genesis, and I could not be more pleased to have it back on my 360. If I were filthy rich, I'd buy him his own 360 so that we couldplayonline co-op. I love, love, LOVE these Sega remasters; Golden Axe and Sonic 1 were great, and Streets of Rage 2 is bringing back a TON of memories. I continue to be surprised at how much I remember from the game itself; it's been 10 years or so andI still hate those mohawked yellow dudes with their kickslides as much now as I did back then.

BOO to Gamefly's shoddy and inconsistent turnaround time. I returned Two Worlds on Monday; that same day, I got an email telling me that Stuntman: Ignition was shipping. I received Stuntman yesterday (yay!) but they still haven't acknowledged that I sent Two Worlds back (boo!), which means that I won't get Blue Dragon until probably April. (Although, with the reviews it's been getting, maybe that's OK. Hell, maybe that means I'll get it sooner, if nobody wants it.)

I CAN'T QUITE GET FIRED UP EITHER WAY for Puzzle Figher HD or whatever it's called; I tried the trial version and... I don't get it. Why exactly is this game's release such a cause for celebration? Call me up when the 360 version of Puzzle Quest is released; I will be dancing in the streets. I just finished getting my 2nd DS character up to level 50; I am thoroughly obsessed. I feel very, very strongly that Puzzle Quest needs 1000 Achievement Points,not just the standard 200 that all Arcade games get.

I AM SURPRISED THAT I DO NOT HATE Stuntman: Ignition, although that shouldn't necessarily be taken as a glowing endorsement. The controls are incosistent and there's a punishing degree of difficulty, and it's often not quite clear what you're supposed to do next until the very last minute, and some times the game says that you missed a stunt that you clearly landed, and all this leads to many, many restarts... and yet there's something compelling about it anyway. After 30 minutes or so I figured out that in order to get really high scores, you sorta have to play it like Burnout or PGR - you need a controlled amount of recklessness in order to string stunts together (which ends up being very much like a "manual" in the Tony Hawk series). Best of all - and this is what makes this game inifinitely less annoying than it ordinarily would be, and which is why I plan on holding on to it for a while - there's absolutely no reload times when you restart. For a game that really ought to come with a restart button on the controller, this is without question its greatest asset.

I AM PLEASED AND ALSO DISHEARTENED by GS's Tiger Woods 08 review, which is the only other space besides my own blog that mentions how absurdly sensitive the left analog stick is, how unfairly crappy your new created player will be, and how many of the game's extra features seem to be broken. I have not yet encountered the crash bug - and I've already read that a patch is forthcoming - but that's small solace in a game that's this frustrating at the outset. (I'm also annoyed that I traded in Tiger 07 last week, because right now I'd much rather keep playing that.)

WHAT IS UP WITH THE GAMESPOT SOAPBOX? I just want to say, first of all, that while I'm not the first person to use the term "soapbox" in relation to spouting one's ideas in an organized manner, I did start up a "Jervo's Soapbox" a million years ago in one of GS's Xbox forums - I can't seem to find it (as GS is only tracking my forum posts up to July of 2005) but I believe the first post was specifically related to the 2nd Prince of Persia game (and also possibly Sudeki) and itsdisconcerting costume designs for the female characters. ANYWAY.

Someday I'd like to get a career in games. I'm not a programmer, but I am a musician and I'd love to eventually find my way into some game-scoring gigs. And I'm definitely not a writer, although one of the reasons why I've been blogging here so much lately is because I want to get my writing chops into some sort of decent enough shape so that I could eventually maybe do some freelance writing here and there. (I've got exactly one (1) connection inthe gaming journalism field, but boy is it a doozy.) In any event, I take my gaming journalism seriously, and I've seen more than a few GS friends of mine get promoted from the ranks of mere "user" and into something resembling a full-time job, both here at GS and elsewhere. The Soapbox, then, is a pretty cool opportunity for someone who wants to get read by a large population of people - which is why I'm more and more disappointed in what's been showing up there lately. What, exactly, does it take to get published there? Is merely selecting "editorial" from the category menu all it takes? Does anyone actually read that stuff before it gets published? Or spellcheck it, at least? There's been an ever-increasing amount of crap up there that's taking away valuable space from much better writers in the GS community, and if I were ever lucky enough to get something I wrote in there, I'd sure as hell want it to actually mean something.

Tiger 08 impressions

I have a Soapbox-appropriate (and related) rant a-brewing, but it will have to wait. In the meantime...

Bought the new Tiger Woods yesterday. Had to. It's an automatic function by this point. I've been a slave to the series since... oh, let's say Tiger 2003, although I did sit 2006 out because the reviews were uniformly negative and, well, I didn't actually own a 360 at the time. I'd maxed out my character in 2007 quite thoroughly, though, and I'd probably spent between 60-70 hours playing it over the last year, and so it was a bit of a shock to start up my new character in 2008 and, basically, completely suck. I'm trying to think of another sports game genre where your character out starts with virtually no skills at all, and I'm coming up short. Even in tennis games, your noob character at least has the ability to hit a ball over the net with regularity; you might not be asagileor as powerful at the outset as you'll eventually become, but you can at least compete. In baseball, football, and hockey games, you play as a professional-quality team, and/or you can create a virtual superhero as your personal in-game avatar. In Tiger - and especially in this year's model - you sorta HAVE to spend hours and hours training your character before you can expect to put up scores that aren't totally embarassing. I've been playing Tiger for years, as I said, and it continues to be bizarre, to pick up the new version and be immediately confronted by a strict learning curve for a game whose mechanics I'm already intimately familiar with. (Which is to say - I would love for next year's model to have an option where I could import my character - or at least his stats - from this year's model.)

The biggest problem I've been having in 2008 is the incredible sensitivity of the left thumbstick, which controls your swing; I'm constantly shanking and hooking and slicing and there's almost no tactile feedback that's letting me know I'm screwing up - I wind up and suddenly I'm in the rough. Or the sand. Or the trees. Occaisonally I'll hit a fan in the crotch, which would be amusing if I were actually trying to do that. (Oh, how I fondly recall Links 2004 on the Xbox, which had a visual meter that made it very clear how straight your shot would end up.) In Tigers past, it was not uncommon to routinely shoot in the 50s, and so I can appreciate that EA's trying to make the game more realistic, but... it is a game, after all, and not having any sort of visual indication (beyond a slight blue or yellow blur, when you're REALLY hooking or slicing) is kinda ridiculous.

This year's Tiger Challenge has a nice upgrade to it; rather than a linear progression of challenges, it's a helix, and while it's somewhat linear you can still pick and choose the events you want to participate in. As I expect to be stuck in the Challenge until I beat it - because only then is it really worth doing the season, when your stats are where they ought to be - this is a welcome change.

This year also features a super-deluxe version of the GameFace, wherein you can use the Vision Cam to generate your player avatar, or - theoretically - go to easportsworld.com and upload hi-res pictures there. However, that website is announcing itself as a Beta, and I've been unable to even successfully log in for the last 20 hours or so. Way to go, EA. That being said, the GameFace in Tiger is by far the most robust avatar creation system in the business, and it's alarmingly easy to spend too much time creating your doppleganger. I'd love to get the website thing working, as I don't really have any desire to get the VisionCam, but whatever.

Another little EA-related rant: when EA famously scored the exclusive rights to the NFL in 2005, they also scored the rights to ESPN, which previously had been used by 2KSports. 2KSports, though, actually used the ESPN license in its games - they used ESPN personalities, graphics and sounds, and you felt (more or less) like you were playing inside of an ESPN broadcast. EA, however, is using the ESPN license... as a source of bottom-screen ticker info. Which is a nice feature, sure, but is a major waste of branding -you could get the same information from any newswire, and (in fact) a great deal of the news items come from the Associated Press. So, for next year'sTiger, if EA's going to continue to use the ESPN brand, they should at least give me Scott VanPelt. I would love to playa round of golf accompanied by Scott's random assortment of Tenacious D andFlight of the Conchords references.

Messing with your mind

Two things while they're still fresh in my mind:

1. I actually came up with a game idea! By "idea", though, what I think I mean is "what I want the player to experience"; I haven't quite figured out what the actual game is. My wife got me into this somewhat ridiculous show - Mind Control with Derren Brown- which is basically this guy, who isn't a magician although he acts and dresses like one, but who is really, really good at using unconscious suggestion and influence on strangers to get them to do what he wants. It's not hypnosis - it's using very subtle tricks to manipulate someone's mind. Anyway, I was thinking about this and how it sort of applies to Bioshock, and if you've finished Bioshock by now I'm sure you can appreciate why. When I think about Bioshock, I start to come away with some not-so-insignificant flaws in the story's design, and because the rest of the game is so supremely entertaining, I wish that the story held up as well - more to the point, I wish that I had been more affected by the game's big reveal.

Maybe it's not a fair comparison, but I have to refer to the big reveal in KOTOR, which literally caused me to drop my controller in astonishment. In Bioshock, I said, "Wow, that's pretty interesting," and then that was it. And I guess, what I would want to happen in my game, is for the player - not just the character, but the actual human being in their living room with a controller in their hand - to actually have their mind screwed with. And not just once, but continually. It doesn't have to be done in a sinister way, necessarily - I just want the player to be personally affected by the experience, and I want it to go beyond simple empathy for the story. I want the player to actually be a part of the game itself.

2. I got Two Worlds gameflown to me on Saturday, and I was certainly hoping to get more out of it than a few hours, but it's pretty terrible. It's got its heart in the right place, but it's a mess; the tutorial level tells you how to do exactly two (2) things; inventory management is terribly confusing and non-intuitive; I had no idea how to use magic; the frame rate nearly makes the game unplayable; and it might have the most over-wrought voice acting of any game I've ever played. It might be worth renting if only because the voice acting is so horrendously bad... although I've heard that the game is Oblivion-sized in terms of hours and I could only take about2 hours or so before I was compelled to turn it off and mail it right back.

Bioshock impresh

Spent (nearly) all day yesterday in Bioshock, and I turned it off right after what can only be described as an interesting plot development. I need to talk about this game; unfortunately, it's very hard to talk about it without spoiling it. I will do my best, however, and in the meantime, anybody who happens to be reading this should stop reading it so that they can go back to playing Bioshock and then coming BACK when they're done.

I'm somewhere between 10-12 hours into the game - according to the table of contents on Gamespot's guide, which I have NOT been using, I'm about 3 or 4 chapters away from the end - and I continue to be astounded by what I see and hear. Simply put, I've never seen this much attention to detail, ever. Nobody has. There are entire rooms which have absolutely nothing to do with the player's journey - they might not even contain any hidden items - but the moment you walk in, you realize that something happened, and it's something that's compelling and emotionally heavy and somehow real, and it has nothing to do with you, and that's a sensation that I can't recall ever feeling before in a game. There is a hidden room in one particular level of Psychonauts that comes close (it's in the disco level, if that means anything to you), but this is something that happens nearly continuously in Bioshock, and it's certainly not hidden away. (Some of these rooms are hidden away, of course, and the horror of those rooms is best left discovered for yourself.)

In the last paragraph I used the phrase "player's journey". I had originally simply typed "the story", but really, in the world of Rapture, everything you see is part of the overall story. What becomes clear very early on is that this world is much, much larger than you, and what's happened there can never be undone, and even if the game exists so that you can influence it, you are but a small cog in a much larger machine.

The graphics continue to impress - and I feel totally justified shelling out for an HDTV if only to fully experience this game in all its visual glory - but it's the sound design that's the real star of the show thus far; the sound designers deserve every possible award that the industry can bestow. How many ways can you make something sound eerie? As I said before, I've spent 10-12 hours playing and I've yet to feel like I'm hearing recycled effects. The shuddering thud of the Big Daddy's lumbering gait is truly spectacular.

Is it spoiler-y to talk about what I've been doing w/r/t the Little Sisters? I mean, there's a Little Sister on the freakin' cover of the game, and it seems that since the very first preview Irrational's been talking about the choice you have to make about what to do with them.

(Brief aside - I hate it when videogame reviews feature the phrase "Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you already know about so-and-so." In a way, that's almost a direct challenge to you, the reader, to find out as much information as possible about a game, and thereby possibly spoiling it for you. Personally, I kinda wish I hadn't known about this choice you need to make about the Little Sisters, because I'd already made up my mind about what I was going to do before I even picked up the game.)

****MILD SPOILERS****

Anyway, yeah, I'd decided before I even started that I was going to save ("rescue") the Little Sisters as opposed to killing ("harvesting") them, and I have to imagine that it's had an impact on the game's story - at the moment where I paused the game last night, I can't possibly imagine what I'd be seeing/doing if I'd been killing them instead. And by the same token, I'm already looking forward to my 2nd playthrough, because I'm going to be killing them, which reaps a much different sort of reward. The game (and the hype that has preceded it) stresses freedom and creativity in how you play, but to be fair, that sort of creativity has been somewhat impeded by my current set of decisions - by saving the Little Sisters, I've deprived myself of a certain form of currency that would enable me to be much more powerful and varied than I currently am. Which is not to say that I'm underpowered - it's just that the way the game lets you level up reveals all the powers that you can't afford.

****END MILD SPOILERS****

Tonight I will most likely be playing until it's over, and then I'll start a new game all over again. If you've caught up by the weekend, feel free to PM me.

Finally...

After so much waiting, it finally arrived yesterday... of course, I'm talking about the skate demo. Which I actually bothered to download and play, instead of diving right in (so to speak) to my newly procured copy of Bioshock. Skate is EA's attempt to get into the skateboarding genre, and its specific angle is to make skateboarding feel as real as possible. EA has done similar things in its other games recently - Tiger's analog swing, the punching of Fight Night and Def Jam: Icon, etc. - and I suppose I can appreciate what they were trying to do here. The problem, however, is that I've been playing Tony Hawk for 7 years now, and those controls make sense to me (even if they're just button presses instead of analog-stick swings), and nothing in Skate felt intuitive. So, really, that answered that question; I'll be sitting Skate out and waiting for THPG instead.

Oh, yeah, Bioshock.So I got past the level in the demo and made it to the Medical Pavillion; rather than going straight to my objective, I decided to explore a bitand found a TON of crazy stuff (plasmids, cash money, weapons) that I never would have found otherwise.Normally when I play an FPS - or, really, any adventure-ish game - I like to explore every nook and cranny hoping to find secret stuff, and Bioshock rewards that kind of activity in spades. Heaps and heaps of spades. Because it's not just one secret crate that you'll discover, but an entire wing of a building - andevery room in that wingwill bejam-packed with detail and a real sense of purpose and history. I've never experienced a game where every single room is completely different from the one before it; it goes a long way towards making the world immersive, because you're constantly looking at something new.

Which also brings me to something I alluded to yesterday, about Achievement Points and how they might be ruining my gameplaying experience.My point was going to be that I tend to play certain games just for the points, or at least I play the game with points in mind. The biggest offender, here, was Oblivion - and that's a game I dearly, dearly love and have spent over 100 hours with. I did a lot of side quests in that game, but my main concern was hitting all the missions with Points attached; and so even now, after having thoroughly beat the game and done a ton of side quests, there's STILL hundreds of dungeons that I never entered, because there's no Points to be gained. Which is to say, Points made an open-ended game a lot more linear. What's sogreat about Bioshock, then,is that many of its Achievements are secret,so that for a Points Junkie like me, there's more incentive to screw around and play the game it was meant to be played, rather than playing the game with Points in mind. (Here's hoping that GTA4 and Mass Effect does the same thing.)