Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Report: Extra Lives

A little change of pace-I thought since this is a book about video games I would copy this review I wrote for Goodreads here.

I saw this book featured in a article a few months ago and thought a-ha! This book will entertain me-it is relevant to my interests! But…

There were so many things about this book that offended me. First of all, I would say that if the author’s thesis was to explain why video games matter, he sure did a piss poor job. The highlights for his argument were lost in a jumble of ten dollar words and arrogance, which serves to turn off even the most avid gamer-or reader. In fact, I would say that reading the parts of this book that aren’t just rambling summaries of video games and interviews with developers and designers-the sections that are truly just the author’s voice-just convinced me that video games only matter in terms of keeping people away from them because they are addictive and manipulative. Bissell spends an entire chapter pontificating about his brief obsession with cocaine and GTA IV. When he walks into Ubisoft and sees a lot of attractive women sitting at desks and walking around he wonders if their success has lent them the ability to have models or escorts hanging around. Oh good, misogyny and elitism, what an admirable combination! This seems like exactly what the video game world needs less of right now.

The author spends most of his time trying to dig into the ‘meaning’ of video games in such an over analytical way that you wonder what he gets out of the experience at all. He seems to hold games to some sort of outrageous standard and pulls all sorts of people in the business into the book to give credence to his almost tantrum-like arguments about video games as art forms and how this or that didn’t quite reach the astronomical expectations he has for his games-the same games he repeatedly talks about ruining parts of his life because of his own obsessive nature. He even mentions casually telling a BioWare employee that he spent 80 hours inside of Mass Effect and got a raised eyebrow of surprise-even the designers felt like that was a lot. Video games as ‘art form’ has been a hot topic in the news for awhile, and although Bissell seems to be an apologist he also appears to think that nothing has quite reached this level yet.

I also got totally lost in his overuse of SAT words. I have a fairly high vocabulary and haven’t had to consult a dictionary in a LONG time while reading a book, but I didn’t know the meaning of about 50 words in the first several chapters. I don’t think this is a player fail, it seemed almost counterintuitive to what he was writing about in the first place. When you are talking about Resident Evil in an awkward second person voice and describing a surprising moment where the monsters don’t ‘disappear’ after killing them, do you need to start the next section by trying to violate your readers with twelve syllable words? The contrast is a little startling and alienating. I can almost see some people liking it because it appears that he is elevating their favorite hobby to an intellectual level, but if you read closer he is almost always talking about how or why it failed to meet his expectations. And if I never heard the phrase ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ again, it will be too soon.

I did like listening to the game company representatives talking about games, however. The author has enough of a right mind to ask detailed and interesting questions-the interviews with Jonathan Blow and Peter Molyneux were brilliant (even if the Molyneux Q&A was placed in the Annex). Occasionally he would rise above (or below, because I kept picturing him on some floating cloud of video game self importance) his own thought process and say something insightful or noteworthy. Finding out that BioWare employs more writers than designers in their Edmonton office was something I didn’t know previously (but should have, considering how much I adored Dragon Age for its creative intercharacter relationships and lauded them repeatedly for it), so that was a positive note. And he mentions here and there the rise of the indie scene, which is near and dear to my heart.

Ultimately, if you aren’t a gamer you might find a lot of this book ridiculously boring. Occasionally the author spends several pages of a chapter summarizing a game in that monotonous ‘this and then this and then this’ chronology that can bog down any game reviewer. So if you’ve played them (Fallout 3, Far Cry, GTA IV, Mass Effect, for example) you might find this comfortable and interesting as a comparison (he thought this, I thought this). And his devotion to gaming is admirable, as well as his completionist nature (I am the same way about games I love). But his premise of ‘why video games matter’ was never fully actualized-I sort of learned why they matter to him, but never why they should matter to everyone. Calling the book Extra Lives: My Unhealthy Lifelong Obsession With Video Games would have been a better title.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Screenshot Friday!*

After a lot of procrastination and Plants vs Zombies favoritism (there is no way I could create an entire blog on the addictive qualities of PvZ, so I will just mention it casually in several posts instead) I was finally able to sit down and start a campaign in Singularity, a FPS with overwhelming Bioshock-like characteristics. I know a lot of people would scoff at a game that is so blatantly a clone of a hit franchise, but that notion is less important to me. I am more interested in whether it is a well made homage or if they just lumped the best aspects of Bioshock together and tossed them haphazardly into a different setting (post WWII USSR), hoping that the audience will latch onto the similarities and love them despite being so obvious about the parallels. Well, I must admit that it isn’t great. The first campaign enemies are straight out of Dead Space, with their log limbs and pouncing/ripping tendencies. You collect audio recordings left behind by the pre-radiation experimental doctors and authority figures, but unlike Bioshock where you can just continue on your merry way while it plays along with you, Singularity makes you stand there and listen to them-luckily they aren’t too long. A few film projectors give some back story via a children’s slide show montage… just like the plasmid explanations in Bioshock. The illustrations are fairly adorable-I liked a little cartoon Uncle Sam with fierce eyes and claw fingernails clutching an H-Bomb aimed straight at the heart of the USSR.

After a couple of hours with merely a myriad of firearms you finally get a mechanism that attaches to one hand that manipulates time and can be used as a weapon by shooting its beam straight at someone and stealing their years away. So yep, firearm on one hand, plas…time device on the other. The weapon upgrade stations are ridiculously hard to come by and can only be used if you find upgrade packs that look like blue glowing Xbox 360 consoles-I am a few hours in and I still haven’t been able to impact my armory one bit. And instead of having a locker on your back to choose from you can only carry one ‘special’ gun at a time (you always have your trusty pistol), which seems more realistic but is ridiculous considering that every situation calls for a variety of choices (um, this pistol? It won’t work as a sniper, thanks) and you’re never sure what is on the horizon.

I don’t want to give Singularity such a hard time, however, because I actually like playing it. There are bits that are really clunky and I have backed myself into a gamer corner by not bringing enough ammo for the room I am in (player fail), but I think I will keep on going. I like the creepy and abandoned setting, with its crumbling and Chernobyl-like remains, and I enjoy having two different kinds of weaponry in my shooters. My aim tends to stray towards the floor occasionally, so being able to blast sorcery from one hand is incredibly helpful. Plus watching building structures ravaged by time become whole again is neat. The screenshot I am showcasing above is from the introduction when the helicopter our protagonist was on took a nose dive in the water near the afflicted island.

But I completely lost interest in all other games on Wednesday when Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue was released. I intend to write about this one in full, however, so I won’t say too much now. But I will say that finding this little tome in the library made me giggle.

*Screenshot Friday will now be a weekly theme. Sometimes I don't have enough time for full game blogs during the week because of work, life, houseplant obsessions, laziness, etc, so taking blurry iPhone pictures of my television should be a entertaining weekly project and allow me to talk exclusively about progress on games I haven't finished yet. I promise to try and find the most entertaining or disturbing ones I can. :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gilverado, I Hardly Knew Ye

I will admit that I am guilty of adding video game ‘filler’ to my GameFly Q in order to have something to play during the lean times of summer and early fall when very few games are released. Into this basket fell Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, which I enjoyed despite glaring problems in functionality, and Naughty Bear, which was so boring I couldn’t even bring myself to get further than two levels in before sending it back. I also currently have two titles sitting on my entertainment center that would fall into this category: Singularity, which I haven’t yet played due to an intense addiction to Plants vs. Zombies, and Deathsmiles. I had little to no information regarding Deathsmiles when I rented it, other than seeing it in the Xbox 360 rental list and noticing that the cover was pretty darn cute in a gothic kind of way. I knew it was an arcade-style 2-D side scrolling shooter, and I knew the main characters were Lolita-esque anime girls because I saw some cosplayers hanging around the promo booth at PAXEast. And here is where a simple, casual question asked by my fiancée, “Hey, we should try out that shooter you rented” turned into a baffling two-day marathon of checklists and challenges.

When I was little I didn’t hang out too much at the arcade. Occasionally we would go to the mall and wander around Tilt, but if games were played they were strictly fighters, such as Mortal Kombat 2, Street Fighter or Killer Instinct (<3). I never really got a chance to play any arcade shooters because I was too busy hooking people with Scorpion. So I was pretty much a novice when we turned on Deathsmiles, and a tad nervous that I would be the one holding us back, dying repeatedly and causing Matt to have to carry my substantial weight. As it turns out, I didn’t have to worry about it so much-I learned quickly how to shoot and dodge with the best of them. But the game itself is a bit confusing. Let me describe some of my reactions to Deathsmiles in thought bubble format:

1. Why are there so many different game types in the menu? Are they all the same game?
2. Wow, this is Halloween-themed! I love it!
3. Aw, all of the girls get their own little helper animal, just like in Castle Crashers. Mine is a bat!
4. Okay, that’s a lot of cleavage. And why is she German?
5. What the hell is going on? What is Gilverado and why is it not the ‘real world’?
6. Apparently there is a back story here. I wonder if we get to learn it.
7. Nope.
8. Why is this boss a giant cow named Mary?
9. I love the falling chandeliers. And the couples dancing.
10. Wait, this is the entire game? This game is short! Only six levels and a big boss level!
11. That only took 25 minutes!
12. Let’s do it again. This time I want to be Player One. Put another virtual quarter in, love.

Deathsmiles is a fast paced game that gives you enough incentive to want to obsessively play it over and over again. We literally played for hours. And as I said in point number 11, you can play through the entire seven level game in about 25 minutes. It’s explosive and attractive, with all sorts of vague psuedo-exposition that assumes you will understand what the hell is going on just by repetitive deduction alone. Each level has its own setting, whether it be a forest or a graveyard, and through a trickle of conversation we determined that a swamp witch’s father (who says, ‘Ugh..hurk!’ much to my amusement) thinks that opening a gate to hell at mitternacht on All Hallows Eve will take him back to the real world. Apparently these girls have been transported to the cutest little nightmare land you've ever seen, been given elemental powers, and now have to decide to risk the ‘light’ (the gate) to go home again or to stay with each other and Mr. Dior. Who is Mr. Dior? No idea. What do these girls do in this ‘Gilverado’? Go to parties and take baths together. Who is this witch? Actually, it’s the Swamp Witch’s daughter. Huh? None of this really matters. We got sucked into the game because of the ease in which you could play through each level in a different way-very sly and seductive of you, Deathsmiles. And for every challenge there is a checklist, and for every item on the checklist there is an achievement. You see where I am going with this, right?

As with most old-style arcade games you have a Player One and a Player Two. Well, in Deathsmiles only Player One acquires a save file, meaning that Player Two is just a little helper bee along the way. This also means that only Player One can earn achievements. But with a game that only takes about 25 minutes each playthrough, we decided to take turns, switching back and forth so we could each have a chance to earn some tokens on the checklist. THIS became the Game. Matt (P1) would look through the checklist and say, ‘for this one we are going to play through the game on Level 3, including the bonus level’ or ‘for this one I am going to use Rosa, send her back to the real world and try not to use any bombs’. And then we would switch for the next round and I would take over and say ‘okay, now I need to keep Caspar in Gilverado and use a continue to fulfill those three achievements’. Every turn would add a new challenge and with it a new way to take on those seven levels of seizure inducing colors and movement. We literally did this back and forth trade for hours, waking up from a DS induced haze sometime Sunday afternoon to discover we actually didn’t want to play it anymore. It was about the time that I got screwed out of 80G (play with all four girls-did it, no achievement) that I put the controller down and backed away slowly.

I wouldn’t describe Deathsmiles as a fantastic game-but it was great fun to play with someone else. It’s rare that Matt & I get to play together-exclusive online multiplayer modes are a waste when there are so many gaming couples who would love a chance to snuggle up on the couch and kill a giant cow named Mary as a team. And after playing the same 5 minute levels over and over again you really get a chance to appreciate the aesthetic details you may have missed otherwise. For example, it look us a couple of times to realize that our little ‘pets’ could be moved into a better position for attack and that instead of using the buttons you could fire with the triggers and it made the controls much more hand-friendly. I came to love the boss animations, which were sort of hyper-realistic and moved in strange fluid ways-on two or three occasions I remarked that I thought the body of the Level C-2 fire dragon hitting the foreground while his head and neck followed suit in the background was a pretty neat effect for a game with fairly simple 2-D graphics. So many small details that become marking points for what to anticipate in each setting. All of these combined elements made Deathsmiles a fairly entertaining, albeit slightly hypnotic, way to spend a few weekend hours with a friend or loved one.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh, Columbia

I couldn't resist this blatant piece of Infinite propaganda-it certainly tells you a lot about Columbia in not so many words, eh?

I have vowed to shield myself as much as possible from the hype machine that has begun around Bioshock: Infinite. The game is not slated for release until sometime in 2012, for goodness sake. If I peer diligently into each and every new press snippet and gameplay teaser I feel as though the mystery of our fair Columbia will be completely lost. This happens often with movies-especially kids movies. Marketing departments aren't fools, they understand that there is no such thing as overexposure to children. But with age and experience I have learned how to tune out aggressive advertising campaigns and lose interest if I am bombarded by a product long before I can actually get my hands on it. I want to be surprised, I want to be shocked. So I apologize, Irrational Games, but I am going to resist the press leaks and try to avoid seeing too much of your newest gem before the game is in my Xbox and I am exploring it on my own. But I can promise you that once you name an actual release date, I will put my money where your mouth is.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amen, Brother

"I'm no expert, but I suspect that girls who enjoy geeky things like playing video games would just rather be considered gamers or geeks than having the word girl thrown in front of everything they do as a qualifier."

-Kotaku's Mike Fahey, speaking of this video, which I truly dislike.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm Not Saying Awakenings is Buggy...

...but I'm really not sure what is happening to Justice right now.

And so, with only two more of the downloadable chapters to play in Dragon Age, I can finally say with great certainty that this saga is about to end. I wanted to like Awakenings, the mega-long chapter following Origins and post-Blight, but without the great character interactions it was a hollow experience. Heading back to camp after a grueling and traumatic campaign was always a bonding experience for me and my Warden party in Origins. Vigil's Keep was hardly an adequate replacement for the intimate setting of the grassy knoll and the tents around the fire. It was where we chatted, we flirted, we shared ghost stories-it was one of the greatest narrative draws I had seen in a very long time in a video game. Without those elements the game depended largely on quest settings and combat to fill the relationship holes left behind. Plus, for such a relatively short chapter (probably 10-15 hours if you are thorough) it seemed quite strange to pick up an entirely new party with minimal backgrounds-you could hardly invest in them at all, let alone care about fulfilling all of their personal quests. I would much rather have gathered my old crew together to sort out this new darkspawn problem.

I did enjoy the quests in Awakenings, however. For one of them, you explore the Blackmarsh, an area where the veil has become thin and creatures from the Fade are starting to trickle out at an alarming rate. The area is spooky and the buildings are in shambles, with groups of werewolves skulking about at every turn. To complete the quest you have to find a woman known as the Baroness, which involves a slip into the Fade and the beginning of a mystery and a series of rather interesting choices concerning the darkspawn, the Mother and someone called the Architect. I adored the Architect. His appearance was straight out of a Guillermo del Toro movie or a Dave McKean illustration-gorgeous in a way you could only call 'bizarre'. The handful of actionable locations on the map contain intriguing secrets, complicated puzzles and novella-like stories. The final battle was incredibly easy-I didn't even think it was the actual end until the epilogue started to scroll by. Which meant I still had a couple of incomplete quests on my docket...which is pretty crazy-making for a completionist like myself.

I will probably play the last of the two DLC sometime this month and then put the game to rest for awhile. I still have a second playthrough in progress, but with fall hot on our heels it is fairly unlikely that it will get any attention for awhile. Dragon Age 2's release date is closer than it seems, and with the new screenshots of the female Hawk now out for our viewing pleasure, I am more than ready to tackle a new saga in the series.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

PAX Prime Part Two: The Little Sisters

Anyone who has ever visited the Exhibition Hall of PAX knows that it is usually a fairly claustrophobic experience. As I stated in PAX Prime Part One, the epic lines looped around each booth where attendees patiently waited for their turn to play one of the many big budget titles being showcased during the convention. I am not patient. Instead, I usually choose to seek out the many unknowns and independents that have poured gobs of time, money and love into the games they are exhibiting. And luckily, PAX always lavishes praise and attention on a few of these smaller startups, fulfilling the wishes and dreams of their creators in something they call the PAX10. With the combination of the PAX10 and a couple of PSN/XBLA sized titles, I kept quite busy playing a few that I would recommend for those looking for the smaller, downloadable set in the future.

When a Hothead rep emailed me prior to the show and told me they would be giving away actual “Thongs of Virtue”, I immediately told Matt that we MUST get there before they ran out of the 576 they intended to give away. Sadly, once the day came I was too late. But I was right on time to play a chapter from their newest installment of the Deathspank franchise. The games were made simultaneously, so there aren’t any noticeable changes in graphics or gameplay, but the new story has bigger and definitely more insane looking chickens. I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate the humor of Deathspank. It’s refreshing in a market that sometimes takes itself all too seriously. And the next installment doesn’t hold back on the irreverent dialogue and kooky quests. I only had time to play a fraction of the demo but my objective was to find an orc disguise in order to sneak past a guard. I got to chat with some random NPCs and kill some newly mutated chickens. It was delightful. Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue comes out for XBLA this month. Oh, and as you can see above, I did manage to acquire a red thong of virtue. A Hothead employee overheard me talking to Matt during a demo of their newest Pikmin-like game, Swarm, and snuck me one from behind the scenes. *hearts*

When we were in Boston for PAXEast we got to play a couple of rounds of Slam Bolt Scrappers, a game that I would describe as a kind of Tetris brawler. We played four player combat, with Matt & I battling another couple by first grappling with a tiny colored monster that turns into a block piece, then placing the block piece in a rack to create turrets and guns to attack your opponent on the other side of the screen. The color sequence is vital, because if you can place blocks of all one hue together it increases the size of the artillery used against the other players. The combination of puzzle elements, cute chubby flying monsters and color matching challenges all make for a great party game. Once he discovered that we had played before, the Firehouse rep let us all battle against a robot in co-op mode instead of against each other. It was chaos! Incredibly fun, viking-hatted chaos. I was super glad to hear that they had secured a place on the PSN. Their tentative release date is sometime in Q1 of 2011.

One of the PAX10 I had on my eye on was Bastion, a visually stunning action adventure/RPG-like game by first time developers, Supergiant Games. And my god, Bastion is beautiful. The colors are deep hued and vivid, with swirling clouds and trees in the background and perfectly shaded blocks and creatures in the direct aspect. I was able to play the first section of the beginning and it plays very much like an action adventure game, with weaponry on X/A/B and health potions on Y (assuming it contracts with XBLA, of course). You start off as the hero, waking up on a stone platform floating in a colorful sky. As you awake and walk forward, the world builds itself under your feet. A narrator (that, oddly enough, sounds to me a lot like The Stranger from the Big Lebowski) tells us that our hero is trying to put the world back together. All of the breakable environment items turn into tiny blue seedlike materials that gravitate towards you. I asked the exhibitor what they were and he said they were pieces of the world. The more you collect, the more objects you can create. I adored the lush and captivating look of Bastion. The release date is tentatively schedule for Q2 of 2011, and although I played it using an Xbox controller, there is still no confirmed platform for the game.

I was also impressed by Hoard, a top down dual analog action game ‘about dragons and their treasure’ created by Vancouver's Big Sandwich Games. We were lucky enough to get to play two rounds of Hoard, one co-op and one versus, with Tyler Sigman, the designer of the game. You play as a dragon flying over a medieval landscape of watchtowers, small townships and fields. And as a dragon, your objective is to pillage and burn as much of the above as possible. There are princesses to kidnap, villagers to scare, wagons to steal gold from and knights to eliminate. As seen from a top down perspective with a frame of wood surrounding the land, Hoard is definitely paying homage to the tabletop gaming genre. And I have to admit, it's pretty fun hijacking pointy-hatted princesses from their carriages in order to turn around and ransom them back to the kingdom for gold. We asked Tyler about the variation of the game and he said there are dozens of maps and a few other game types beyond co-op and multiplayer. He also educated us on the best ways to obtain higher scores by allowing certain villages to become more valuable before just casually burninating the entire map. The game was a lot more intricate and challenging than I originally thought at first glance, and should be a great fit for strategists and party gamers alike. Hoard will be released on PSN this month, and is definitely worth the investment.

It's always great to support the independent market. I feel as though this is where we always see the most innovation and the real risks being taken. Without these gems we are doomed to see only less risky sequels flooding the market-I believe the game market needs them to survive. I suggest you give a few of the above titles a try, as you will not be disappointed. And I would like to thank Penny Arcade for the PAX10, where every year unknown or emerging designers can promote their work in the most friendly and welcoming environment. Kudos.

*The top picture is my complete collection of PAX swag minus a couple of buttons I acquired by playing Dishwasher: Vampire Smile and Raskulls, a cute little action platformer with some adorable playable characters. *shock!*

Monday, September 6, 2010

PAX Prime Part One: The Big Daddies

Walking into the Exposition Hall of PAXPrime was like stepping through the blue Portal in E3 and emerging from the orange into the biggest group of gamers and adoring fans alike. Although most of the games being demoed were no surprise to those paying attention to the media sources in the months leading up to the event, there was no lack of excitement for the first hands on attempts for games like Halo: Reach, Dragon Age 2, Dead Space 2, Epic Mickey, Rock Band 3 and my personal must sees Portal 2, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Fable 3. Lines formed around Bioware and Valve's booths the entire weekend and would barely budge no matter the time of day. With the exception of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood I chose not to wait in the long lines and instead enjoy a wide array of smaller and independent titles which I will talk about in my next blog (Part Two: The Little Sisters). But here are some highlights from the few games I was able to sneak into or watch demoed that everyone is looking forward this coming fall and winter.

First let me say that I was a devout cheerleader for the Portal series prior to seeing the presentation and demonstration by Valve for the upcoming sequel. The only way they could have disappointed me is if they would have added space marines and/or assault rifles to the gameplay. Lucky for me, the elements they have added to Portal 2 seem to only make the game a more engaging and personal experience. The parts I saw during the promotional video showed an extensive and more trap happy lab, complete with new spiky walls to crush you and a gooey substance that either assists in bouncing or speed depending on the color. The turrets are still lined up to kill you but now you have lasers, blue light bridges and reflector cubes to assist in your success. The single player mode will be twice as long as the first game and when I asked a Valve rep about the puzzles he told me they would definitely be more intricate and satisfying to solve. But the aspect they were promoting the most heavily is the new co-op mode (they had me at split-screen). After extensive feedback, Valve realized that people weren't playing Portal by themselves, they were getting help from family members and friends, passing the controller back and forth and solving the puzzles together. In the co-op mode there will be two test robots who will need to work side by side in order to escape GLaDOS, each with their own multi-colored Portal gun. Matt & I are totally excited to play together (he already claimed the taller, 'orange' robot, whereas I will play as the smaller, 'blue' robot). My favorite bit is the new 'gesture' command, which allows you to give your partner a little wave...and a HUG! A morale boost, definitely. As always, I love the writing for Portal, as GLaDOS never fails in 'her' expert manipulation techniques. Portal 2 is coming out next February.

Okay, so now let Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I got a chance to play a ten minute demonstration of their multiplayer mode on Saturday morning after waiting in line for awhile and watching the promo reel run on repeat in an attempt to psyche myself up for the brutal beating I knew I was about to receive. First, the good points. The Frag Dolls hosting the booth were pretty adorable and fun, keeping the players going with lots of kudos and comments over their headsets during the demo. The in game setting was beautiful again, with the streets of what I assume was Rome providing the playground in which I would receive said beating. The ten or so characters you get to choose from are unique and each have their own stylized weaponry and combat characteristics. Once you are in pursuit of another player or being pursued there are lots of ways to hide or become incognito-I especially like the large glowing gates that would automatically shut behind you, leaving your chaser clinging to the bars in frustration before trying to find a way around. But since I didn't see the single player, I am mostly full of disappointment. I am not a multiplayer gamer. I find no joy in acquiring better ways to kill my opponents and repeatedly dying at the hands of foul mouthed teenagers and housewives alike. Give me narrative, give me emotions, give me a new single player AC experience that doesn't involve Ezio. I want Desmond and the Animus and a new incarnation of ancestry to delve into with the same enthusiasm I did with the first two games. So there you go, Ubisoft-I will play the single player version of the game, but I will not spend the $100 for the collectors set as I did with AC2. I will never play multiplayer and will instead continue to wait for AC3, considering this chapter in your franchise merely a pandering tool to the masses who can't stop playing the same map in MW2. And I'm not mad, just disappointed. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood will be out this November.

A small part of the Microsoft area was hosting a few demos of Fable 3 as well. You could choose to play either a combat heavy demo or a more quest based one. I chose the quest as I was told by a friend earlier that you could cheat and go off the beaten track a lot more, giving you more time to explore the game. Sadly, before I could do too much I got kicked off the machine by an exhibitor, but what I saw during that brief amount of time was more of the same beauty and life that F2 did so well. I was joined by my faithful dog, now in collie form with flowing hair, and given a couple of million bucks to play with along the way. My initial instinct was to press start to see my quest/item menu. This took me to a room inside a keep, where a butler stood by waiting for directions. I looked confused and the MS rep explained to me about how this room serves as the menu and traveling map-you now have closets to choose your clothing and hairstyles from-and the fast travel is now directed by what appears to be a scale model of Albion in the center. Highly convenient, but a little baffling to use since I was quite comfortable with the easy to navigate menu system in F2. Sadly, this was quite a hindrance for me because I instinctively wanted to hit start to see my menu and kept ending up in this royal room. The MS rep I was talking to said it was a bug and would be fixed by launch, but I wasn't sure if we were speaking of the same thing at that point. I completely deviated from the quest line, picked up another one, found a lost child and then was booted from the game. Overall the small bits of combat seemed congruent to the second game and the world looked similar only with vast improvements to detail and scenery. When I looked over at my friend playing the more combat focused demo I saw her character was wearing the most adorable set of black and white striped tights and got really excited about dressing up my little Fable doll when the time arrives. I would say out of the big titles, I am anticipating the release of Fable 3 in October the most. I might even buy the exclusive controller because it's gorgeous.

Overall, I was happy to have the chance to play ACB and F3, even if they were the only AAA titles I put my hands on all weekend. I figure that I will be playing them all in depth in the future so merely watching others wind their way through opening levels and bit parts were satisfying enough. A huge part of PAX for me is seeing the up and coming titles that the smaller or more independent developers are creating-to me, that is where the impressive innovation and ingenuity lie. But the big ones are always noteworthy. In addition to the above mentioned titles I was also happy to see Rock Band 3 getting a lot of attention-Matt asked a keyboardist if it was easy/fun and he nodded his head enthusiastically and said 'definitely!'. I briefly played a chapter of Donkey Kong Country Returns and was filled with nostalgia and love for the way they changed almost nothing about how the game looks, only improved it for the Wii motions. Oh, and Kinect, of course, which I will probably only mention once in the life of this blog...and there it was.

I will post more highlights from PAX in the following few blogs. See you then!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Well, Aren't You Pretty

Big, huge, gigantic thanks to The Modern Day Pirates for letting me be a part of their brilliant Geek Collective! Happy PAX-ing Everyone! See you on the other side!

And That's Only Friday!

I am currently experiencing a plethora of pre-PAX thrills. I have been attending this wee little convention for five years straight so I certainly know what to expect, but because of this blog and my recent dedication to scouring the internet for press releases and my newfound love for matching games to the companies that are developing/releasing them (extracurricular studying FTW), I imagine this one is going to be a tad different. But even though I may be slightly more analytic this year, directing my focus in a slightly altered way, I have loved my previous PAX experiences so much, and the traditions that have come out of being a veteran, that I am unlikely to deviate too far from my normal routines. So just in case anyone wants to find me on Friday…

Friday is the line up and wait day (okay, every day is like this, but this is the FIRST LINE we will wait in, so it's special). Last year we got there around 8:30am but still ended up waiting outside for a couple of hours. It was pretty entertaining to watch the line inside the WSCC start to move but still be standing still for another 40 minutes or so (Longest. Line. Ever.). But I can’t emphasize enough how excited you will be in that line. All of your fellow attendees are there, too, and they are just as thrilled as you are-I swear everyone would start snuggling if somehow social etiquette and boundary lines were erased for just five minutes. With two different venues containing Queue Rooms, this year should be better in terms of lineage. We will be at Beneroya Hall on Friday morning in order to see the Keynote with Warren Spector and attending the first of the Penny Arcade Q&A panels directly after. I laugh, I cry, I will never miss a Q&A panel.

During the day on Friday we will probably be checking out the Expo Hall and scouting for which games are playable and which contain long demo wait times. On my definitely-want-to-see list is Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Deathspank: Thong of Virtue, From Dust, Portal 2, Slam Bolt Scrappers and a whole bunch more. Friday is for note taking. Sunday is for gaming! Besides the occasional sticker or t-shirt I am not a big collector of swag-first of all, I hate carrying it around (ironic, since my car will be parked across the street), and second, I never do anything with it post-PAX. My only souveniers from PAXEast are an awesome button I picked up off Wil Wheaton's autograph table of a cat donning an eyepatch and holding a martini in one hand and a gun in the other and a card containing a download code for a PAXEast hoodie for my Xbox Avatar. That was enough.

We will be at the concerts on Friday night to see the Protomen and Anamanaguchi performing. We missed the Protomen during PAXEast (we were having such a good time playing board games with folks from DC and Atlanta) and heard later that the show was amazing, so we won't skip it this time. I am sad to see that Freezepop won’t be peforming this year, but they will be at a local venue at the end of September, which sounds much more intimate and cuddly. This happened at PAXEast, too, and we had a great (/claustrophobic /jumpy up and downy) time seeing them at the Café across the street from the event.

In between the morning events and the concerts I will be attending a game journalism panel, Movin’ on Up: How to Make (Or Not) in Videogames Journalism in the Unicorn Theatre, where I suspect I will fall more into the latter category over the former. But it’s always nice to get some advice from the pros. If anything I might learn how to write this blog in such a way that keep people here and reading, even if I occasionally talk about Dragon Age too much (OMG, totally playing Awakening right now and...nevermind). We will be attending the Of Dice & Men panel that evening as well. Sometime on Friday we will definitely be heading over to the Mexican Cantina in the Pacific Place Mall for some seafood enchiladas because they are delicious. We do it every year.

Besides all of these planned events, I will more than likely be cheering on the folks in Rock Band Freeplay (perhaps performing as well if I can muster the guts to do so) or playing Tabletop Games with my loving fiancée and various friends and strangers turned friends. Late in the night you will probably find me cuddled up to said fiancée on a square of bean bag on the second floor, parked next to a power outlet and playing Luxor on my iPhone, looking out the window onto a glittering Pike Street full of late night attendees and wishing the weekend would never end.