Wednesday, May 26, 2010

State of the Union

When I first started this blog I intended it to be a superfluous project that would supplement my gaming experience. I have been a gamer since I was a little girl but only recently has it developed into something that defines me as an adult as well. Non-gamer people in my life use it as a description of me when speaking in context, as in ‘my friend Jessica is a serious gamer’ and most of the time relate by remarking on the games their male friends, sons, or husbands are currently playing (something like Warfare?). Sometimes I feel like I am being affectionately humored about the situation-as if one of your adult friends suddenly declared that they decorate their rooms with nothing but Disney Princess paraphernalia or were heading out to trick-or-treat on Halloween. Your initial reaction may be “aren’t they a little old for that kind of behavior?” When I publically convey excitement about the newest Assassin’s Creed game or inform someone of my evening plans to conquer another major plotline in Dragon Age I see eyes shining with humor even while they are wishing me the best of luck. And this is to be expected. Most of my generation played games when they were children because it was the newest and shiniest of interactive technology. Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, King’s Quest-these are familiar names with distinct memories. But most of them outgrew it. But I know there are many, many female gamers out there in my age group who not only proudly displayed their NES systems in childhood Christmas photos but who are also still obsessively gripping console controllers or tapping away at keyboards even while holding down 9-5 jobs and raising families. I smile at them when I pass them in the hallways of the Convention Center during PAX or read their blogs online. After almost six months of writing, I have come to realize that writing this blog means much more to me than just a place to reflect upon the games I play-it has become a tool I use to become a better and more informed gamer. And as any training program will tell you, it’s information that makes us more confident about who we are and what we do. When you have more resources and more knowledge to draw upon you create a more well-rounded experience overall.

My first step in starting this blog was to add websites like Kotaku and Gaming Angels to my Google Reader. Media outlets always receive the breaking news first, and I wanted to as well. I use Kotaku as my main source because I find their contributors to be intelligent and humorous. Then I started researching various gaming podcasts, settling on the 1-Up Show and The Video Games Show w. Rick Bergin and Nick Kraftor for both their entertainment and content value. VGS has one of the more comprehensive News readings of any of the others I found, which is what I was most interested in. The Giant Bombcast is interesting, but their discussion format is lengthy and usually title specific, which wasn’t what I was looking for (although I did listen to many because I found the conversations fascinating). You see, although I have been enjoying video games my entire life I wasn’t familiar with the styles of the individual development companies or their histories. I just knew it was fun to move little Mario into the pipe to collect more coins and that Rapture was the coolest setting for a game I had ever seen in 2007. But in terms of this blog, I knew I didn't want to get the facts wrong-I could gray out the areas that were subjective with my own opinions, but the logistical facts are important. So I set out to use these resources to make me a more informed gamer. Plus I have a secret weapon-my boyfriend Matt is a veritable encyclopedia of gaming knowledge. In his unending support of my life as a gaming maven he is always willing to patiently give me entire timelines on particular companies and the games they create/develop/publish. He is always my number one source (for everything, really).

In using all of these tools, both online and real world, I have now become a better gamer-even if I am playing the same way I was before. I am now more informed about the industry and all of its nuances. I know when games will be released and can build a gaming schedule around those dates. I know the media-only logistics of E3 and TGS and can predict what titles will be shown at PAXPrime. I can look at a game being played and quickly infer whether it is an action adventure, RPG or tower defense. I have come to love a FPS and a Western RPG. I broke away from being an exclusively 360 player for Heavy Rain because it was a PS3 exclusive and I didn’t want to miss out on an experience that was unlike any other. This wouldn’t have happened pre-blog as I was a stubborn 360 loyalist. Writing this blog has transformed me from a dabbler into a player. I can now have enlightened conversations with people about a popular game even if I have no intention of playing it. And not only is my confidence as a gamer building, but my confidence as a writer as well. I never thought I would utilize my college education to extrapolate on experiences in a virtual arena, but here it is.

I have passively been trying to promote this blog in various ways via my friends and on the PAX Official Forums. I am not sure I am ready to really go out there and try to aggressively show it to strangers, but I am getting there. I joined the 1-Up community last night to peek into a community of bloggers writing exclusively about video games. I am hoping to be inspired by these like-minded individuals and so one day I can add my voice to the growing group of females with perspectives on gaming life. In the meantime I will continue playing, writing and learning.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Musical News...

Apparently when you load up the demo for Green Day Rock Band on the 360 you are greeted with this little teaser for RB3. Hooray for the continuance of the vocal harmony option from the Beatles RB! And, okay, I am sure the keyboard icon represents just that-a keyboard...but in my dreams it means that Harmonix is currently creating some hollow and plastic green-red-yellow-blue-orange buttoned keytar that you can strap on like a guitar and play Freezepop songs as God (and the band) intended.

I am still shaking my head about Green Day Rock Band. It's been getting a lot of buzz, but I continue to question its relevancy in the hierarchy of classic rock bands that deserve their own exclusive titles. Harmonix recently added a poll to their website asking voters to pick from a 'hypothetical' wish list of bands they would like to see exclusives for such as Pink Floyd, Queen or U2. I voted Pink Floyd...of course...but Queen would also be deserving. I hope Harmonix really is considering getting the rights to Pink Floyd and adding them to the repertoire and not just teasing us mercilessly (probably just teasing us mercilessly). I know that it's easier to add music to the current game via DLC but seeing the unique visual trip of The Wall in the distinct RB animation style sounds brilliant.

Speaking of Rock Band...My mother joined us for a lovely evening of Beatles RB while visiting from Idaho last weekend. Never in my wildest imagination would I picture seeing my mother with a mic in her hand reliving the music from her teenage years via a video game. Although I love to sing the songs, I wasn't alive for the experience of the Beatles so I know that I am missing the emotional piece of their musical influence on the world. She seemed to enjoy the game and I thought it was quite fun to share something I love so much (video games) with something she loved so much (the Beatles) in a combined format. It was also funny to hear her asking questions about Red Dead Redemption while watching Matt play the next day. "Why is he mounting from the right side of the horse? It should be the left side!"

Friday, May 21, 2010

In the Shadows of Bright Falls

I promise that this blog won’t mention Dragon Age at all.

But it does have some Alan Wake spoiler-type topics, so reader beware.

I started playing Alan Wake on Tuesday and it is chock full of creepy shadows and sharp axes. And trees…SO MANY LEAFY TREES. Although I fell victim to all of the anticipatory hype in the past couple of years, I actually didn’t do much research on the game itself. I knew it would be in the horror genre and use a flashlight as a weapon…but that’s about it. I had no idea it played out like a television show, with each episode ending with a title page and starting with a recap (Previously, on Alan Wake…). Overall, I was DELIGHTED to start playing and get caught up in all of the mystery and mayhem running amok in Bright Falls.

Alan Wake is a writer whose books line the shelves alongside King and Koontz. He and his wife, Alice, have decided to go on vacation because AW is tired of writing books and has started hating his lack of privacy to an unhealthy degree (growls at fans). Alan has nightmares, Alice goes missing, and reality takes its own vacation. Is he living in the nightmare? Will he ever wake up? Or is all of this real? After Episode One it becomes clear that AW is acting out the narrative of an unwritten novel-by Alan Wake. How is all of this possible? I have no idea, I am only through Episode Two…but I have every intention of solving this mystery.

Alan Wake is one of the better developed games I’ve played in awhile. The world is fairly repetitive, but I have spent most of my time so far wandering through a National Forest (SO MANY LEAFY TREES) where the enemies are all axe-wielding lumberjack spooks. Each setting has its own fantastic details, though, and the televisions are my favorite. All of the televisions I have encountered are interactive. Some of them show a vision of AW pacing in front of a writing desk, fretting and pulling at his hair, muttering about the plot of an assumed work in progress. But is this AW in the real world, stressing over his writing or is it AW in the nightmare, imagining things? Other televisions display a show called Night Springs, which is very obviously a Twilight Zone rip-off, telling the story of a man who is attempting to prove some sort of metaphysical theories on mind over matter. The show seems completely separate from the overall game objective so far, but who knows? Maybe it will come into play later. Bright Falls is beautiful and guarded by a sinister murder of crows. Even the sub-characters seem fully fleshed out with individual personalities and styles. I can’t wait explore it further. The weapon system is a flashlight in your left hand and a firearm in your right. The light blinds the shadow enemies and the firearm finishes them off. Remember how third person shooters without auto-aim are a weakness of mine? Sigh. It has some auto-aim tendencies, so I am going to push on through and hone a new skill. Alan Wake, so far, you are worth it.

To be continued (dun-dun-duuuuuun)…

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the News...

With the newest of the Assassin's Creed franchise focusing mainly on its multiplayer components, I have to admit that I am now anticipating more the release of the newest in the Fable series. Having never played the original Fable, I got my first taste of Lionhead Studios' RPG via the sequel last year and quickly fell under its enticing spell. Was I the only one who meticulously collected silver keys and bumped off every mouthy gargoyle? I even cheated a bit to experience all three 'endings' by powering off the 360 directly following each resolution (I heart auto-save). In the end I chose to save my dog...of course. In my circle of semi-gamer friends Fable II became some sort of gateway drug-even those who hadn't played anything in years were suddenly spending countless hours in Albion. I remember having many unexpected discussions about giant tattooed characters and polyamorous relationships with various friends and co-workers. The DLC alludes to the playable character as King of Albion in Fable III and all of the video teasers released by Lionhead seem to confirm. I have been warned by the boyfriend and various blog commentators that listening to Peter Molyneux is akin to seeing brochure pictures for hotel rooms-when you get there it just doesn't seem as fancy as advertised-so I am always trying to listen to Fable hype with a grain of salt. Overall, though, I thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) enjoyed Fable II and imagine Fable III will not disappoint.

I've spent a lot of time in the past few years thinking that Western RPGs with their Tolkienesque landscapes and min/max mania gameplay are not for me. Well, since two of my obsessively favorite games in the year are both Western RPGs I find myself less inclined to scoff when I think about MMO's like WOW and Everquest. I can now see why a world complete with inter-character relationships and an ongoing narrative would be an attractive endeavour. Now I can definitely say that I am not ready to commit to anything so boundless and potentially infinite since I am pretty sure I would join a guild and feel guilty if I wasn't there ALL OF THE TIME to help them in their quests, but I do see the appeal in having a game that you LOVE that NEVER ENDS. Honestly, I think my discomfort comes from the idea of playing with real people. Playing with computers is better for me because there is never an expectation about how/when you will play. Computers don't care if I play poorly and lose the battle for everyone. Computers don't drop out of games mid-play and hurt your overall chance of success. Computers don't count on you to be there at exactly 5pm on Wednesday to complete a raid. This is why single-serving RPGs work so well for me and why ongoing multiplayer RPGs would not. Plus I am afraid I would get entranced by the limitless possibilites and disappear into some fantasy world and accidently forget to feed my cat and go to work and then find myself living in my parents basement drinking Mountain Doom and eating Cheet-oos.

Along the same vein, I have never played D & D, but The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is a hilarious film.

Friday, May 14, 2010

DLC Mania! Pt. 2

My social activities outweigh my game playing lately. Our board game weeknights with friends become more frequent as we add more people to our rotation, and on the weekends we enjoy the new spring-like weather Seattle is finally experiencing after months of gray and gloomy. I am also stuck in a sort of video game rut until Alan Wake is released next week-nothing new sounds terribly interesting and something old continues to keep my attention. Dragon Age is the creamiest and most delicious video game ice cream that I have encountered since the last of the Fable 2 DLC trickled out last year. Normally I am a love-it-and-leave-it kind of gamer-once the credits roll I rarely go back for more. But after finishing the game last week I’ve done a whole lot of pining for more-and luckily the game has been out long enough that a series of DLC is available. They are small mini-chapters priced at only about $5-$15 apiece on the 360 that don’t really add much to the overall story but still give you a few more tasty nibbles to enjoy. I have not yet added Awakening to my DA DLC collection due to the current high price tag ($40) but will no doubt acquire it in the near future. With the Darkspawn Chronicles releasing next week I thought I would review the three I have played so far: Warden’s Keep, Return to Ostagar and the Stone Prisoner.

I downloaded Warden’s Keep almost directly after finishing the quest narrative as a sort of medicinal withdrawal preventative. Certain members of my party that I had grown quite fond of were no longer…um… available once the Blight was conquered but were still around to help with the DLC (we’ll call these flashbacks), which I liked. I thought that in a game smart enough to realize that I had laid it down by the campfire with one character after swearing my undying love to another (‘So, um, was that just a one time thing then?’) I might be left with only the surviving characters since I chose to play the extra bits post Blight. Warden’s Keep is a mission to clear out the gathering point of the original Gray Wardens after it’s been overrun with shades and darkspawn. When you get to the creepy tower you find a wild and crazy mage has been experimenting on the evil critters in order to help the research progress. You know, your basic blood mage wackiness. I liked this one because of the alchemical aspects-I am a fan of elemental mysticism and love seeing it in games. I also like the possession demons-based on which way you swing in the ethical world there are always some pivotal choices to make. Kill demon or help demon? I never helped a demon in the game because it went against my characters general demeanor but I plan to join the dark side with my next character to see how it plays out. Overall I thought the ghostly flashbacks were spooky and it was a decent add-on, if a little short at only about 1 ½ hours.

The next one I played was Ostagar. A clue sends you on a mission back to the old fighting ground where you find King Cailan’s and Duncan’s gear scattered about. Although the game play is your basic darkspawn killage and character contemplation, the final outcome of the content adds great closure and general wrap-up to the event that kicked off the entire narrative. I admit it sort of tugged at my heart a bit. I don’t want to tell too much about this one because it would spoil any real feelings you may have about the whole situation, but I will say that in terms of character relationship dynamics the end contains one of the best scenes in the game. I hear if you take Wynne and Alistair along they spend a lot of time remarking upon the epic battle (I didn't use Wynne). This one took roughly 1 ½ hours as well.

My least favorite was the Stone Prisoner. You are asked by a man on Sulcher’s Pass to take a rod off his hands that supposedly has some sort of mystical power. He marks a town on your map called Honnleath where a golem is frozen in the town square. The town is deserted and full of darkspawn. More ethical choices need to be made. The real reward of this one is acquiring the golem as a playable character-which Matt said was entertaining in the Frostback Mtns-but he would have gone unused in my party so the $15 price tag was kind of a waste for only another hour or so of play. By far the best part of the DLC was a cut scene mid travel from Sulcher’s Pass to Honnleath. Normally you find a coven of darkspawn in a copse of trees and a battle ensues. This time you see a crater in the ground with a smoking meteor in the center. An elderly couple stands at the edge contemplating the baby boy they found in the rubble. They decide to take him home and raise him on the farm as their own. Right, Martha? Awesome.

In between all of these add-on chapters I have started my quest as a Dalish Elf. He back talks and is generally disagreeable (oh, and insufferably whiny). I accidently gave him a kind of Cro-Magnon collapsed forehead and prominent brow line during character design which is apparently HILARIOUS to everyone but me. His tattoo covers it quite nicely. *grumble*

My only other video game interactions in the past few weeks were a few chapters of inFamous on the PS3 and the first section of Splinter Cell Conviction. I picked up inFamous on a whim, having nothing else to play. After completing the first few missions in a Crackdown-like environment (add apocalypse, stir) and earning some rank the game auto-leveled me to Hard Difficulty. Wow, thanks! I really thought I would like SCC-I am admittedly the biggest of all Ubisoft fan girls that loves to love everything they release. I thought the level design was pretty and climbing pipes to get the drop on random goons was entertaining. But alas, I am just no good with a gun in third-person shooter environments without auto-aim. I have almost conquered the FPS realm and can handle stealth games if daggers mechanically spring out of my wrists on command. So farewell Sam, maybe some other time. Oh, and farewell Lightning and the gang in FFXIII as well. As much as I enjoyed the first hundred paradigm cycling combat scenes while coasting through the pipe the thought of going back now sounds exhausting. And boring. I’m just going to assume they came out okay in the end. Good job, guys!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In the News...

Ubi confirms! Fall 2010

Not having to wait two years for the new Assassin's Creed is the best news ever, but I am not sure how excited I am about the inherent multiplayer aspect. Although it might be fun to engage in missions with other real world gamers I admit I am quite fond of playing the lone wolf killer, hiding in the shadows. I guess we will probably get more news from E3 and hopefully it will be playable at PAXPrime. I wasn't surprised by the continuation of Ezio's story since I had already heard those rumors, but I hope Altair gets some face time again in memory mode. One of the best thing about the series is the incarnations, so I also hope we get a glimpse of another one of Desmond's ancestors via the Animus in another time period. Although I have heard whispers of WWII, I can always cross my fingers and wish upon stars that we see some Victorian England.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Denerim Climax

After conquering Dragon Age: Origins after roughly 40 hours, my emotional state was satisfaction combined with melancholy. It was over, and I wanted more. How could this be? I haven’t been an RPG-er in over ten years, every attempt thwarted by boredom and repetition. But the beautiful and captivating world of Ferelden was neither boring nor repetitious-I adored my character and I loved being part of her story. Playing through DA has helped me realize that it’s not the whole genre I have grown tired of, but mainly just the Eastern RPGs. And luckily, since the game narrative unfolds in such a personal way, I will be able to replay the game and experience much different results at some future date. And I’m already plotting my next life as a Dalish Elf…

Here is a screenshot listing the final character stats for Gaia, my Human Mage. [SPOILERS] She loved Alistair, seduced Zevron, destroyed an Anvil, loved the Circle, took the Ashes, sided with the elves, elevated Bhelen, supported Anora, and dismissed all silly notions of a demon baby. And when it was all over she chose to travel the lands, just like I would have done.