Tuesday, March 30, 2010

PAXEastern


Whew, what a whirlwind of game-related adventures! It’s hard to believe that all of it happened in only a three-day time period. PAXEast felt lovingly familiar-when Mike and Jerry talked about packing up PAX and bringing it to Boston they weren’t kidding. The same Queue Room, snaking endlessly around plaster pillars with a cold cement floor. The same series of rooms containing board gamers and console players. An Expo Hall filled with bags of swag, long lines for upcoming games and the smell of hamburgers and French fries seeping from the Refreshment stands. But whereas the Seattle PAX seems filled with veterans of the convention, expectations already in hand, the Boston scene was tearfully grateful to have such a gathering closer to them. I can’t count the number of times in the PA Q&A Panels the questioner would start with “This is my first PAX and it has been the most amazing weekend of my life”. Actual tears were shed on several occasions-all due to the idea that ‘we belong’. This is a powerful emotion-one that keeps me going back year after year. I always tell Matt that the reason I love PAX so much is because it’s the one time I feel like I am actually around ‘my people’. It’s not terribly easy to be a 31 year old woman whose main hobby is something that everyone else’s sons or husbands are doing. And talking about it can be horribly awkward with my peers who are all starting families at my age. But at PAX I can see other women in their 30s waiting in line to demo the newest shooter or walking around in costume and a nice warm feeling passes over me. It’s the feeling of belonging. During Wil Wheaton’s keynote he talked about games keeping him and his high school friends together over the years-the same people he played D&D with as a teenager are still gathering around his kitchen table playing Pandemic or Small World. As a console gamer I never found this connection-Xbox Live or PSN communities didn’t exist when I was fighting Lavos in Chrono Trigger or running from Jason in the original Friday the 13th game. This year one of my goals has become to root out some local gamer ladies who want to meet up to play some board games or some Rock Band-heck, maybe I will even find someone who loves Borderlands and Bioshock as much as I do. Then I can have the same connected feeling all year long as opposed to one weekend a year.

Anyway…Here are some brief notes and pictures from PAXEast:


I loved the area of town the Hynes Convention Center is located. Lots of food choices and beautiful old brownstone buildings. But I did NOT love the Convention Center itself. It was reminiscent of the Bellevue location from a few years ago-too small. The Queue Room was on the first floor and the theatre on the second, so you had to do a lot of snake shaped maneuvering through crowds to get there. Sometimes we got blocked by the groups of lines and had to backtrack all the way around to the other side of the building. I am happy that they are looking for a larger location for next year, even if I don’t end up being an attendee. The Tabletop Freeplay area was enormous and always full of people. We played a LOT of board games over the weekend.


That was the easiest and most conducive way to meet other people. On Saturday night we ended up playing Ticket to Ride and Munchkin with a couple from D.C. who we liked a lot-we wished they lived in Seattle.


Harmonix was hosting a Rock Band Lounge with a stage-I only caught one performance but it was four guys playing The Final Countdown and I figured that was the end all of awesome. Seriously, it was the best ever.


I was VERY disappointed that Microsoft didn’t have a demo chapter from Alan Wake at their booth in the Expo Hall. They were showcasing Crackdown 2 instead. I dropped into the middle of a Splinter Cell: Conviction chapter and liked it enough to want to play the full game when it releases next month. Ubisoft also had some demo chapters from the new Prince of Persia game and I cried a little due to my wall run deficiency, knowing I will only get one chapter in before I throw the controller across the room (Matt: ‘Just move the D-pad up, push A and then move the D-pad right, sweetie. No, like this. Here, watch my hand. Okay, I give up. You have a total wall-run mindblock’). I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the Rockstar booth and added Red Dead Redemption to my Gamefly Q in a hypnotized daze, as though it was something I couldn’t NOT do. The combination of horses and techno music are apparently my undoing. I was nervous when a splicer found me-I know how they get when you take pictures of them.


The Boston Indie scene made a huge impact in the Expo Hall. We tried and loved Slam Bolt Scrappers, a combatant kind of Tetris game. Definitely a future XBLA must.


Although we didn’t attend the night concerts we spent Saturday afternoon at Café 939 in the Red Room watching Freezepop perform. A lively crowd, a great show. They even played some new music, which was all amazing. And I swear I’m not just being a total fan girl.


We didn’t attend a lot of panels this time around. I insist on seeing a lot of them in Seattle so we skipped all but my favorite ones-the PA Q&A’s, the keynote and the last round of the Omegathon. Once again, they felt comfortable and familiar, showing that you can take PAX to another city, but ultimately the heart and soul of the gathering doesn’t change. And I have to admit, although this was my fifth time around and I am surely one of the veterans, I still found myself misty-eyed hearing the first timers who felt so blessed to be there. I know how they feel.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yard Birds


We touched down in Boston this morning after a grueling red eye flight and stumbled to our downtown hotel in a sleep deprived daze. We were greeted at the Baggage Claim with the sign above, which lifted our spirits. After a two hour nap we set out to play a little foursquare game at Harvard University. For those of you not acquainted with foursquare, it is a location based social networking site that rewards you with points and 'badges' (kind of like Xbox Achievements) for completing different real world tasks. One of the badges is very Harvard-specific so we thought it would be fun to acclimate ourselves to the public transportation and take a different kind of tour through the famed Ivy League college campus. Walking through the many areas of each 'school' of Harvard (Business, Divinity, Science, etc.) made me nostalgic for my own college days. Doing it via a foursquare goal forced us to really 'see' our surroundings more than just briskly walking through would have done. As a gamer, I sometimes find myself spending countless hours clutching a controller and staring at a screen, so I really enjoy the foursquare challenges because they force you to leave the comforts of home. After a grand tour that ended in a delicious well-known local burger joint we were rewarded with the Yard Bird badge, which we can proudly display back at home in Seattle as part of our overall Boston experience.

Matt & I are now shaking off the jet lag so we can head out for PAX early to get in line for Wil Wheaton's keynote. My plan is to take as many pictures and notes about the goings on and potential new games shown at the convention so I can chat about them here. See you soon.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Scene It! Lament


None of my friends will play Scene It! with me anymore. After working in the video rental world for about ten years of my adult life, I have to admit that I am a mighty challenging opponent. But come on…really?

When the first of the Scene It! series was released on the 360 I was eager to buy it because I thought it would have a lot of replay value. Any party game has purchasable merit because it encourages group play in drunken scenarios. I mean, would Mario Party really be any fun without alcohol? (The answer is no.) This was one I knew I would love because it combined my love of video board games and movie fandom. Matt was also excited to play-not only is he a movie lover himself, but also because of the whole ‘lack of limited same screen co-op or multiplayer games’ that I rail against often-we could play against each other! What fun! It turns out, it wasn’t any fun. For him. Not that he doesn’t have an above average knowledge of film content, but because I am apparently an unstoppable juggernaut of movie knowledge and response speed. Mere competitive spirit isn’t enough for him to want to continue playing with me. And no, this isn’t bragging, this is my unfortunate truth. When you think about it, it’s actually sad when your significant other will no longer play a game with you. Now instead of being my opponent, he has made himself my number one motivator, cheering me on during multiplayer games with strangers online.

So about the strangers online…Matt gifted me with the second in the series for Christmas of 2009 (See? He’s supportive!). The online multiplayer was immediately one of my favorite options (that and the ability to use your own Avatar) because I could now play real people who would challenge me! It turns out, they didn’t. I was still beating the pants off of almost everyone online (I did find a couple of competitors who beat me, but it was never by much…I would say my kill/death ratio was about 25/1). Most players dropped out mid-game, leaving me alone on the little animated couch in the end, holding my little trophy in an empty screening room where originally two or three other Avatars sat. And I have a hunch that my newly discovered anti-rep points for ‘aggressive behavior’ against my Xbox Live account are from these dark days. So now the strangers wouldn’t even play with me (and have terrible gaming habits, obviously). But surely I had some old Blockbuster friends who would play with me, offering the challenge I was looking for…right?

It turns out, most of them couldn’t. One of my good friends graciously agreed to play with me after hearing me lamenting about Matt bowing out. She was an ex-BBV employee and a movie lover as well, so I figured we were about even in the playing field. And indeed, Abi is an above average player and can surely kick your ass, but alas, I was still undefeated. Now she won’t play with me either. We did get together for a four-player couple playoff night awhile ago, but haven’t repeated the process since. Another friend and current BBV employee, Eric, and his lovely wife, Stefanie, had Matt & I over for a game night where Eric insisted I bring the game. If anyone was going to beat me at Scene It!, it was going to be Eric. But here is where I found that it’s not just the movie knowledge that was helping me achieve the high scores-it is my ability to read and respond more quickly than the other players. As I have stated in previously blogs, I am a voracious reader and have learned the art of scanning words for quicker consumption-aka serious speed reading-and one of the ways to earn higher scores in Scene It! is to answer rapidly following the displayed question. So I will concede that Eric probably would have certainly taken my Scene It crown that night if response time wasn’t a factor. But this is debatable, as it still has not been proven.

Finally, after so much rejection, about a year ago my friend Jenn Mac came over to play some Rock Band with me and agreed to take the Jessica Scene It Challenge. And she beat me. Repeatedly. But then she moved to the East Coast and abandoned her Xbox Live account shortly after. So here I am, a lonely single player Scene It! lover, holding the third in the series in my almost undefeated hand and wishing someone would play with me.

*In no way do I want to make it sound like any of the wonderful people mentioned above are not brilliant and unbelievably good sports, because they are. It’s not them, it’s me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Weekend in Review Pt. 2


Most of last weekend I spent in a horizontal position, fighting my own mini-game of Jessica vs. the Strep Throat Bacteria. Luckily, after several rounds of ST KO’s I acquired the item ‘Amoxicillin’ and am currently on the mend. You would think that an extended weekend where FFXIII was at hand I would have practically conquered the game, but alas, I am still only 5 hours in. (See? I *am* trying.) It’s all right so far. I guess I forget that the first half of all the FF games are fairly linear… And since the story isn’t terribly exciting I’m not exactly a captivated audience participant. I do like the upgrade system-it’s interesting in an OCD kind of way-but every time I open up poor little Hope’s Crystarium the game freezes. I don’t know how to fix this and it might cause some epic problems later-unless the game lets him stay a level one forever. Maybe it will add to the challenge. And I would like to thank Square Enix for the addition of the Datalog. It’s nice knowing that when the politics of the game get unbearably confusing and full of one-word catch-all names that I can refer back to a summary of each chapter to bring myself up to speed. I mean who could possibly know the difference between a l’Cie, a Pulse l’Cie and a fal’Cie (honestly, I am still not too clear) without the reference guide? But no worries, there is plenty of time to hack n slash at random monsters and follow along with Snow/Lightning/Vanille (what’s with the white element theme anyway?) and the gang since the next games I am looking forward to don’t come out until May when Alan Wake and Lego Harry Potter are released. I will write more about FFXIII at a later date.

Due to a friend at Blockbuster who is always willing to hold the new releases for us on Tuesday mornings, we also now have a copy of God of War 3. I won’t get a turn at this one for awhile because Matt wants to play it first (this is how gamer couples compromise), but after some peeks at the first level I am happy to see we are back in giant country. That is one art style/mechanic I love in video games oh so much. Something about seeing a Colossus makes me all warm and fuzzy. Maybe it’s because I know the associated (although fairly predictible, I admit) battles won’t only be a series of melee attacks but will also involve some QTE’s where the giant sweeps at you with his huge paw or screams at you through a cavernous mouth with glowing moon eyes. Usually these monstrosity’s are stoic and unyielding (the end of Devil May Cry 4 was AWESOME), which makes their presence so chilling. God of War II’s intro with the Colossus of Rhodes is probably one of my favorite game sequences to watch. Bayonetta’s boss collection all contained these statuesque faces with angelic names, making them more interesting for me to kill. Needless to say, I am a fan. And no, I never played Shadow of the Colossus, and yes, I know I should. In the meantime, maybe I will read up on Greek Titan mythology to ‘prep’ for my turn with Kratos.

We are starting to gear up for our transcontinental trip to Boston next week…booked tickets to the Freezepop show for Saturday afternoon at Café 939. One week to go!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ain't No Sunshine


I am rarely interested in games that involves regular people. Most of the time I like video game protagonists that are supernatural or supernormal with attributes that move them beyond the realm of hum-drum realism. This is one of the reasons I like playing-I get to be someone else and usually their story is epic beyond my own routine existence-pure escapism into a fantasy world. This is why I have never been a Sims or Second Life participant. Escaping the real world for a real world simulator seems depressing and isolating. I play games like I read fantasy novels-to get something ‘else’ out of my experience. Knowing all of this about myself, however, I still sought out Heavy Rain, where the characters are regular people without swords, magic or health packs. The buzz was enough to spark my curiosity-crime drama, kidnapping, urgent race to find the killer. What I didn’t know is how connected my normal gameplay 'disconnect' would become while playing.

Heavy Rain is a game about choices. Not necessarily character choices, though, but YOUR choices. Not terribly original, I know...it’s a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ game where the story evolves according to your decisions. But unlike any other game I have played, I felt morally responsible for what happened to each character based on those decisions. This wasn’t just an innocent hallway of doors, it was like a room full of mirrors where every bad choice you made for each of the four main characters reflected back on you. Ethan Mars is the father figure in the game, Madison Paige is the female lead, Scott Shelby is a PI working for the families of the victims and Norman Jayden a drug-addicted FBI agent searching for the killer. The game makes each of them playable characters, sets each scene and lets you decide the outcome via a series of button choices ranging from simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ all the way to ‘Forgive’ or ‘Reject’. There is a HUGE difference between forgiveness and rejection, so some of the choices weigh heavily on your conscience. And the game can be cruel, oh so cruel-if you were injured you stayed that way during the rest of the game, bandaged or limping as a visual reminder of choice you made. It got to the point where I started to see them as poor innocent souls with the unlucky hardship of having me pulling their strings. This being my first Playstation game in a long time (I have been an 360 player for awhile now), I occasionally mistook the circle for a square and made unwanted choices but still had to face their unfortunate consequences. One of the times this happened I was devastated by the outcome. Sometimes your sense of urgency is greater than your cognitive process and you make quick, reactive decisions that you may regret.

All of this sounds terribly depressing, I know. Although the game is emotion-heavy and some gaping plot holes remain at the end, it truly is unique and great. Several times in the game Ethan has to make horrible decisions associated with the tagline…How far will you go to save someone you love?...and since the game leaves it in your hands you can really consider these choices according to how far YOU think you would go. And I was often very proud of the revealed consequences of my decision. As I moved towards the end of the game I started to think like a researcher, muttering to myself such things as “well, I know that she already knows A, so if she knows A then if he does B then C will likely occur so I need not do this”. I was incredibly satisfied with the ending I received (they are varied based on how you played the game). I became emotionally invested-especially in Ethan’s character-and related with Madison’s sympathetic role. I wanted desperately for everything to turn out for him and I wanted to be the one to help him get there.

For my initiation back into the PS world, I am glad I chose this one because I am now super familiar with the button labels again. With so many QTE’s and Twister-like button pressing (seriously, I have to push X, triangle and L1 at once?), I am now a semi-expert again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Just the Two of Us


We’ve been back in Pandora all week, hacking away at Crimson Lancers and giant spiders in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Borderlands is certainly the game that keeps on giving. After the utter disappointment that was Moxxi’s Underdome it’s lovely to be back in a narrative and not endlessly bang bang banging away at skags n’ brutes. And being a Level 60 Hunter definitely has it’s rewards. I wish they would have upped the level cap of your assist (Matt plays with a soldier, so between his turret and my predator bird, we are definitely killing machines), though, because I have a few extra Elements that sit sadly in my inventory while I stay at Level 4. A broken and crumbly highway system adds a more delicious Post-Apocalyptic Mad Max-esque landscape-helpful since there are no teleport options in the new DLC. Moxxi’s place is on the map now and she even gives you a few missions. It’s a little repetitive-a lot of the outpost points for the Lancers are carbon copies of each other and there is a LOT of driving to do, but overall it’s a great buy at only ten bucks. After roughly 15 hours or so we still have plenty of missions to complete. It’s quite a challenge at first, but once you level off around 58 everything gets fairly easy. Such fun. I especially like the new car, the Monster, since it has heat-seeking missiles and thinks giant spiders and Cheta Paws are yummy. I am the gunner in our duo, a seat I like just fine.

For those who have played Borderlands, you will know that there is a lot of humor written into the character narrative and the newest DLC is no exception. There is a mission that requests you pick up transmissions from General Knoxx himself and you should listen closely because they are hilarious. The creepy little midgets from the first game are now little cowboys riding skags and jumping out of lockers to scare the pants off you. And Moxxi, well, for a sexy little Black Widow, she sure doesn’t mind surrounding herself with a whole room full of corpses. W.T.F. This game is nuts. Three nuts.

One of the best things about Borderlands is the Splitscreen Mode. As a beginner in the FPS world, there was no way I could’ve gotten through some of the fights without a partner. Plus, as a gaming couple, finding a same screen co-op game is always such a treat. So many games are reliant upon the idea that the players who want to campaign together will be a couple of friends in different houses playing via Xbox Live ala Modern Warfare 2/Left for Dead, etc. We are usually limited to playing Lego or Puzzle/Board Arcade Games. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Lego games and we like playing them together, but there are moments of frustration when I accidently punch Matt’s little meeple man and he explodes in a shower of tiny Lego pieces. But there are so many other games that would be great for us to play together with our own characters. There were so many achievements in Fable 2 that started with “you did this or watched a friend do this” that a dual character mode would have be great (there is a same-screen mode, but only one can play with a developed character, the other is just a generic). Okay, so truthfully, we did rent an extra copy of Fable 2 so that we could meet in Bowerstone and give each other a gift…sad, I know…but the Xbox in the bedroom is lonely. I would love it if the Bioshock 2 Multiplayer could support two players and then we could team up and rampage. I really don’t understand why more games don’t support same screen co-op. Thank goodness for Rock Band.

Hello, March. Lovely to see you…and Kratos...I have been trying to acquire a copy of Heavy Rain via some Blockbuster friends, but alas, no luck so far. This month may be my PS3 month by the looks of it...*sigh*