Monday, December 19, 2011

In the News...

I know this announcement is strictly for the toys that will be available in the summer of 2012, but I’m still doing a happy dance about the prospect of a LEGO Lord of the Rings video game. I don’t read a lot of fantasy novels, but I have read The Hobbit...for a creative writing class…in high school…so I am sure that qualifies me as a super fan. Plus I’ve totally seen all of the movies (the extended films) and played the Risk version once…at a friend’s house…where I moved a ring around a map? I am obviously an expert.

Tee hee! Tiny LEGO Legolas! Priceless.

I am currently halfway through LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 and, as anticipated, I am enjoying it immensely. Exploring Hogwarts feels a bit less lighthearted this time around, understandably, considering the source material, but moving through the stud-filled storyline managed to almost completely erase all of the downtrodden feelings I had about the series after trudging through the final licensed title. It’s sort of amazing how TT Games has managed to tell the story in LEGO form in a far more satisfying way, using mini cut scenes with a combination of tense emotion (well, as emotional as a LEGOs can get) to keep the weighted tone of the story while still saying, ‘Hey, it’s LEGOs. Don’t be too sad.’ with cheek pinching adorableness. I am having a great time. The team has learned several new spells, tiny Luna Lovegood is oh, so pretty, and no one had to die in the final chapter, except the man himself. Voldemort’s disintegration = Freakiest LEGO scene EVER.

Unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, I haven’t run into any bugs in Harry Potter, which is surprising. Normally the LEGO games lie in wait for you to step off the right platform and get stuck in some sort of digital quicksand, your only hope of salvation a total reboot (after mashing every button into oblivion, of course). To me, this says that either using the same environment as a previous game is a total win (Hogwarts and the surrounding areas are the exact same in both Years 1-4 and 5-7), or that TT is getting better at this whole LEGO video game endeavor. So, once again, although I know that no one has said anything about making a LLOTR video game at this point, I am still going to call it my Game of the Year for 2012...or let's say 2013, just to be safe. It’s obviously going to be amazing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Make Peace, Not War

Around this time last year I compiled two lists in my head. The first one, titled ‘Fallen Soldiers’, was about the video games I started but never finished. The second was a compilation of my favorite moments in gaming from the previous year. I was happy with both and assumed that I would end 2011 using a similar theme. But you know what? In terms of great, memorable experiences, the 2011 pool to choose from has been pretty limited. In fact, if a complete stranger ran up to me on the street and hot spotted me into naming the game I would suggest as a stocking stuffer for anyone who ‘plays video games’ in some capacity, my instant response would be Skyrim. And I haven’t played Skyrim, basing my reflexive decision solely on grand forum focus, so that should tell you just how tepid my memories of the previous year are scaling right now. But this isn’t really the start of my end of the year gaming series, just some typed out thought bubbles, so let’s talk about my post-play impressions of Assassin’s Creed Revelations instead, the only game I have played in any real beginning to end capacity in the last month or so.

First off, let me say that I loved Revelations. When the credits rolled after my 30+ hour full scale, nothing-left-behind run through, my chin started quivering and my eyes welled up with fat crocodile tears. Quiet weeping ensued. But it wasn’t because Revelations had any real Oscar-worthy moments (new category – best animated performance in a game of the video variety), it was because of the sheer volume of time and emotion spent with the character’s and their continual devotion to the cause, their constant struggle to outwit the Templars, and because it finally marked the end of four years’ worth of strange Italian accents and awkward Ezio flirtatiousness. And that’s very sad. As much as I am eager to dive into a new time period with a new assassino, a poignant melancholy settled over me when saying goodbye to both Altair and Ezio. I mean, crap, I first met Ezio in AC2 shortly after he emerged from the birth canal, so a fond salute to his fifty year old distinguished self seems natural and completely necessary. Truly, the best moments in Revelations came via cut scenes and flashbacks, the character drama the highlight of the final chapter. Meeting Sophia and Yusaf was fantastic, and their roles in Ezio’s Constantinople chapter vital and engaging.

But Revelations was no Brotherhood. With the exception of some hiccups here and there (I hate you, race missions, die in a fire), Brotherhood took on new mechanics with ease. I thought the restoration of Rome was a tad silly in the beginning, but grew to like it over time. Leonardo’s weapon missions were a little disjointed, but not enough to distract from the beauty and overall gracefulness of the ancient city spires and outer buildings, and having clandestine meetings with the man himself via special benches was such a wink and smile that I couldn’t help but love it. Sometimes a cathartic ride through the grassy fields alongside the city walls on a magnificent horse (totally hijacked from a guard) between missions was all that was needed to prepare for the next assignment. In playing the original game again, I can see the advantages of keeping it simple and allowing the player to merely explore the territories without any pervasive urgent qualities. Toss in the well-earned Cristina missions in and, to me, Brotherhood was spot-on perfect. Any additions from AC2 were either discarded or nurtured, and no one shoved any more or less than you wanted into your repertoire.

And…Revelations took the peace and quiet away. Along with my beautiful Italian countryside, I lost my horse. In its stead, I gained a hook blade and ziplines. Instead of freedom to restore and evolve Constantinople to my liking, in my own time and via my own design, the Templar presence was now ubiquitous, and any actions that could be construed as subversive are tracked and noted via a gauge that needs to be constantly monitored to ensure that a den takeover does not ensue. If it does, a mini tower defense game follows, which is so rare and clunky that there was never a chance to perfect it. I spent a lot of wasted time avoiding them by circling around blocks to pay off heralds in order to keep the meter on simmer, not boil. Revelations injected urgency into a game that responds best to stillness and stealth. It shoved bombs into my pockets and encouraged assassin/guard shoving matches. I couldn't even finish Desmond's journey, the sudden first-person perspective so abrasive and ill-suited to the normal flow that I gave up after the second chapter. And where these moments didn't fully deter my normal grinning from ear to ear Assassin’s Creed experience, because of course there was rooftops and running, it certainly made me long to repeat all of the Constantinople missions within the sanctity of Rome, regardless of how grand and glorious the sun appears when setting over the spires of Hagia Sophia.

If the franchise was scheduled to continue along the same vein, I believe without a reassortment of mechanics it would start to crumble underneath the sheer weight of its toolbox. My hopes for Assassin’s Creed 3 is not necessary a complete reboot, but possible a reimagining of how to breathe spirit and soul back into the game. The majesty of this series is built upon the grounds of silence, not explosions and noise. If they stop peering so heavily into the weapon wheels and instead continue to focus on the tightly coiled tenseness of each narrative situation, I think they will find all the tools they need to keep the series colorful through characterization and not silly video game mechanics. I’ve continually called this series a book, with many different chapters and volumes, and I hope the next in the series repaints a picture using a color palette and an ink quill pen, not a strategic war board.

Even through the smears of lamb’s blood and poisoned gas, Revelations still had meaningful glances and tulips. And sometimes the details make all the difference.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Alan Wake!

Love this!

My World

Okay, I have a confession to make. Deep breath. Here goes:

I have never, in my entire 32 years of living here, on Planet Earth, in the United States of America, in the shape and form of a female of the species Homo sapiens, been told that I should or should not do anything based on my gender.

When I was eleven, no one told me that I shouldn’t collect baseball cards with my little brother because I was a girl.

When I was in high school, no one told me I shouldn’t play soccer or baseball or kickball or whatever-ball because I was girl.

When I was in college, no one told me I shouldn’t sleep in the boys dorm...wait, yes they did. They had strict separation rules about those things, for good reasons. Wink wink. Teenagers are naughty.

But more than anything else, no one ever told me that I shouldn’t be playing video games because of my ovaries and XX chromosome pattern. Not once. Never ever.

Maybe I’m lucky. My first video game memory is playing Atari at my neighbor’s, a home that contained primarily three women as the man of the house was often away on business. When my little brother received a NES for Christmas one year, affectionate fights starting breaking out as to who was going to play it more often, him, me or my mother. When I was twelve years old and moved away from my hometown to a bigger, scarier environment (rural Idaho, population 4000), I was welcomed into a new community of peers via a Tetris watch that I started lending out during study hall. A GameBoy on my belt never attracted any negative attention, and falling for a pixelated Setzer in FFIII (SNES) and later a white-haired villain named Sephiroth in FFVII delivered nothing but amusement and affectionate ribbing amongst my friends. In art class I painted silhouettes of Magus and taped video game posters in my lockers. And all of that was a-okay. I never encountered a single soul who thought otherwise.

In fact, I can’t recall a single instance in my youth when the notion of being a female gamer evoked anything other than admiration from the gentleman in my life. With the exception of a few incredulous “I can’t believe you just kicked my ass at [Killer Instinct, SSX Tricky, Soul Calibur 2, etc]” moments that at first prompted some swearing or controller throw-downs, all my guys, after learning I was ‘adept’ at gaming, would want desperately to play alongside me, as though they had been awarded some precious gift to be treasured. The idea that I would sit silently and just watch an entire run through of a JRPG was something new and refreshing, and I was never admonished or berated for my hobby. And none of them told me I shouldn’t be doing it. After awhile, any excitement or surprise would peter out, and playing video games would become part of normal life, just as any other chosen pastime between couples or friends.

So now that I am old and couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about the things I choose to do or not do, I tend to ignore all of the he said-she said sexism debates ever-circulating around the gaming community. Because none of them have ever offended me, personally. Getting all up in arms about my role as a female gamer is silly and divisive, when all I want is to have the best experience I can have within my chosen hobby. I don’t really play online, as I enjoy the more personal aspects of video games, so I get to avoid all of the icky name calling and colorful adjectives spewed by shabbily parented twelve-year-olds. But if I was in the middle of an amazing run in a multiplayer environment and someone with a XY called me any of a dozen offensive female-directed four-letter words, I am smart enough to realize they are just totally uncivilized and ignore them completely, not run straight to my blog to write about how oppressed I am as a female, and how misrepresented I am by developers and how giant boobs on female characters in Dragon Age games makes my self-esteem plummet or other such nonsense. My husband occasionally swears at the television and the Xbox during particularly difficult gaming moments, but I don’t think either device takes it personally.

Recently, a mini s-storm started up online because a particular journalist said that adult women don’t know about Skyrim. He meant it as a gentle riff towards nerdy male gamers, but sectors of the female gaming community got all miffed about it anyway. The truth is, he is probably right. If I polled my female-dominated workplace and asked all the ladies over 25 what Skyrim is I would primarily get one of three responses: my child plays that, I saw a commercial for that during Modern Family, or I is that a new type of airplane? (I work in the travel industry.) Notice I said “primarily”, as sure, statistically a few of them would either recognize it offhand or know about it intimately based on a primary source, such as a friend/roommate/significant other playing it or playing it themselves. But jeez, the response demons his offhand remark summoned were genuinely boring and tiresome. It’s as though a team of female gamers have a telephone tree and a template standing by just in case someone steps over the line and offends them, even in jest. And I can’t help but think that these people are supposedly defending me as an female gamer entity, right? So why do I feel like they are talking about the opposite of me? Why can’t we all just be gamers, play whatever we want and feel free to say things that are probably true without being terrified about offending half of the community? Can’t we just take things in stride? Why is everyone so defensive about what is, for most people having the conversation, a hobby, not a life imperative?

And before everyone starts stabbing me with lectures and reminders about our oppressed sex*, let me remind you that I have never experienced any of those things. I have received nothing but encouragement and praise from primarily male blog writers and friends. All of those who have requested words or opinions from me concerned gender neutral topics, and no one has flamed me about any of my overly romantic paragraphs concerning Assassin’s Creed or my loving attachment to Fenris in Dragon Age 2. Maybe it’s because I am so openly a girly gamer. I play what I want, I say what I want, I feel what I want and I have no shame about any of it. I have never censored myself or tried to be anything other than what I am. My non-gamer friends love and support me, and get excited when I get excited about something in my virtual habitat, even if they have no idea what I am talking about. If someone were to try to provoke me based on my gender I would shake my head and ignore them, as any child is told to do in the schoolyard when being bullied. To be honest, after reading and writing within a teensy little corner of the gaming world for almost two years now, I can visualize my fellow ladies being more critical towards me than any of the gents. This sort of sharkish mentality is famous amongst women, as we tend to be way cattier than boys concerning anything that can be construed competitive in nature.

Bottom line is, if a huge balloon of sexism exists in the gaming world, I have never experienced it firsthand. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists, but I think that angry dog-piling onto anyone who makes even the slightest mention of a potential line between the male-female gaming community is probably the wrong tactic. Whether video games are something you play on the bus, via a handheld, or in your living room, via a controller, it is a personal experience. And no one can disrupt that experience if you don’t give them the power to. If you like Call of Duty multiplayer but hate the boy chatter, mute the damn thing, or find a group of girls to play with every night. Yes, the whole environment should be sunshine and unicorns, but reality says differently, so instead of beating against a brick wall, just become empowered and create your own world.

And while all of you are nitpicking each other to death, I will continue to play video games, unheeded by anything or anyone, because I love them like peppermint and ice cream and I can do whatever the fuck I want, as no one ever told me I couldn’t and even if they did I wouldn’t listen to them anyway.

*Total Disclaimer: Of course, I don't believe that all female gamers have these streamlined opinions about gender exclusions within the community, because I believe the majority of them are like me, and enjoy it as a face value experience, without analyzing its deeper sociological meanings. They are awesome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rant Rant Rant

Last weekend we traveled to Idaho to visit family for the holidays. Unfortunately, this short vacation also happened to coincide with the final hours of my trip through Revelations, forcing me on a brief hiatus before I could put the cheevo checklist to bed and call it complete. So although it didn’t plague me during every waking moment, I did spend some introspective moments plotting the best way to maximize my Assassino babies to achieve Master status and imagining the most strategic point in which to parachute from the top of a tower onto a zipline. Sadly, most of these thoughts came in the middle of the night, as foreign beds always equal epic insomnia. So instead of carefully planning the best approach to the last bits of Revelations upon our return to Seattle, most of the visualizations came via wonky half-sleep madness, with Ezio starring as himself in a madcap trip down the rabbit hole. Oh, and parachuting onto ziplines. For some reason, I could not stop ruminating on that one... But it was during one rather sleepless night, in anticipation of an ungodly early alarm setting, that my mind started pondering my future 2011 highlight reel blog (Ezio parachuting onto a zipline, obvious contender), then drifted further into my anticipatory 2012 list, where I found myself suddenly and inexplicably angry about Bioshock Infinite.

I first wrote about Infinite in August of 2010, where I yelled and screamed and threw my hands in the air with joy when the news broke. Then I wrote about it again in September of 2010, where I made a promise to ignore all of the marketing hype around the game until they named a release date, which at the time was a vague ‘2012’. Let me quote myself from over a year ago:

“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. …with age and experience I have learned how to tune out aggressive advertising campaigns, as I tend to 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.”

Here we are, at the tail end of 2011, where I feel as though I should be saying, Hooray! I can rest easy knowing the game is in its final stages of development with the team itching to emerge with a glorious product. And I could be preparing myself for a new chapter in a beloved franchise, devouring the small tidbits of information that are slowly released over time, ramping up to its scheduled release date. But when it comes to Infinite the trail of information stretches backwards from here to August 2010, with booths at gaming conventions, panels, articles, interviews with the voice actors, Q&A’s with the developers, magazine covers, contests, supposed ‘changes’ they are making because of the Occupy Movement, features on Xbox Live, more trailers, etc, etc. Ugh. I adamantly dislike marketing campaigns, even to the point where I ignore 99% of the junk that Ubisoft tosses out as marketable tie-ins to Assassin's Creed (one could get buried underneath that mountain of nonsense). I feel as though there is so much data out there about Infinite that when it’s released none of it will be a surprise. Well, except to me. Due to sheer strength of will and a sassy (re: ornery) attitude, I have managed to boycott, ignore, cold shoulder, shield my eyes, etc, etc, all of the above list of marketing goo that’s been spreading all over the internet and gaming media world for almost a year and a half now, skimming headlines for intricate mentions to get basic facts without any substance.

Because they still haven’t announced a release date. And at 4am on a cold Sunday morning after a scant three hours of restless sleep, this fact suddenly made me feel a tad resentful. Now, I know that Irrational Games doesn’t owe me diddly squat when it comes to delivering anything, but I’ve turned from an avid and gleeful supporter, still feeding off the last vestiges of Rapture love and Little Sister adoration in 2010, to an irritated watch gazer, sighing in frustration as I skip yet another article in my RSS or Twitter feed about Columbia and her supposedly awe-inspiring and photo-worthy main cast. And as a fan, this means something. Where originally my self-inflicted ban was based on the idea that I didn't want to be exposed to too much material pre-release in order to be surprised, now I skip it because I feel weary of its existence without the promise of a physical actualization in disc format.

Please, Irrational. I don’t care if you slyly avert your gaze and mumble ‘...probably in the summer of 2014...’ while still pouring out conceptual art and pasting pretty cosplayers all over your website. As a future investor in your game, I beg you to just slate a damn date so I can pin a glitter covered star on the calendar and start counting down the days. I don’t want to have any more hazy and hallucinogenic nights feeling all petulant and pouty-face at you.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Magazine Love

If you have been reading this blog regularly (here's a cookie!), you may have noticed that I don’t play a lot of modern war games. In fact, when I mention them, it’s usually disparagingly. I have some opinions on the matter, but nothing worth ranting about here for any length of time, considering it would just be a lot of whining about loud, obnoxious noises, juvenile insults and fist-to-floor bro mentality. So when I was asked by a social networking acquaintance if I would be willing to write up a few words about why I believe war games are so popular in modern society, I shied away, confessing that although I have a great love of games, I have a great disdain for war games and could not speak about any of them specifically, considering I have never touched one.

Lucky for me, he was still interested in my thoughts, so I sent him roughly 100 more words that he requested about why I am wary of modern society’s love affair with war games, and he wrote a fantastic article for AU Magazine, a fun and free publication that circulates around Belfast, Ireland, that includes some of my opinions. Big thanks to my new friend Ross for helping put my name in print for the first time in relation to video games, and in such a fantastic article to boot.

Here is the link to the online version of the magazine. Ross’s article, titled “The Art of Virtual Warfare” begins on page 44.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Screenshot Friday!

Dear Claudia,

Constantinople is pretty freakin' sweet. I met a helpful gent with a fetching bandana headband and a smoking redhead named Sophia who's love of books is equal to her fondness for low-cut corsets. Both of them are assisting with my search for Polo's books that are ridiculously easy to find. Seriously, I may beat this letter home it's been so wicked simple to suss them out of hiding. But whatever. It's just fun to stir the pot in a new city. Rome was getting uuuggghhh, so boring.

Found some Templars. 'Sassinated 'em.

Played a lute, which was amazing. If this whole assassin thing doesn't work out, I'm thinking about joining the Bard's Guild.

Wish you were here!

Hugs from your big bro,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Assassin's Creed Generations

One of my favorite aspects about the release of Revelations is the increase in speculative chatter about Assassin’s Creed III, which instead of being a vague maybe, is now an absolute certainty. I’ve thrown my voice in here and there, lauding the people vs. government aspects of The French Revolution, noting the perfection of its old world architecture and style as the picture perfect setting for the next chapter, but who knows? Maybe it really will be Desmond’s chapter – enough has happened to the poor guy to warrant a happy ending somewhere, right? I’m saying this a little prematurely as I have yet to complete Revelations, but I really feel bad for poor Desmond, bartender and Animus lurker, his only crime to have some deeply enriched DNA fragments that everyone wants to pick and prod at for their own gain. Then again, to finish Desmond’s story would practically kill the franchise, since he is the element that ties all four games together, even while Ezio’s wink and smile charms the pants off practically everyone who comes in contact with him.

Revelations is amazing in the same way Brotherhood was innovative, although with a new paint job to make everyone look a tad better than in the previous games. And boy, the new graphics are a wonder to behold if, like me, you just stepped away from the stark grays and pale blues of the original game. Constantinople is azure and red, a jewel in a harbor full of giant ships and reflective water. It’s residents wear robes of green and gold, with ornately masked guards and the highest steeples and towers propping up the starry sky. It. Is. Gorgeous.

But where Brotherhood transitioned from Assassin's Creed II with an arsenal of new ideas and mission selections that cluttered the map while adding unending choices (a trait that continues with Revelations), all of the shiny new ideas in Revelations feel a little forced. The bomb crafting is meh. A new little tactical game for recovering Assassin Dens from the Templars feels tedious and weird. Desmond’s adventures in the Animus are really strange and very reminiscent of Portal puzzling. Every time I find a new element in Revelations that wasn’t in Brotherhood I am left either frustrated or shrugging my shoulders, feeling more distracted than engaged. Well, except for the hook blade. That wicked weapon-slash-tool makes climbing Hagia Sophia from the ground up a total breeze. Never leave home without your hook blade.

All those things aside, because Revelations is so similar to Brotherhood, I love it to itty bitty pieces. I ignore most of the crap that bores me or makes me shake my head and focus on soaking up the ambiance and Ezio and Altair and Desmond and--holy crap, is he zip lining through an underground waterfall? And Oh My Altair (OMA). His memories are accessed fairly infrequently, but when they are I am on the edge of my seat, riveted by the idea of more. No offense to suave Ezio, because I heart him like a brother, but the enigmatic set of Altair’s gaze is just perfect. All broody and take chargey. I’m savoring them to the point of avoiding the flashing booklamation icon on the screen in favor of my intricate methodologies of raising a new fleet of assassino babies and collecting treasure chests. I am a professional at dragging out my Assassin’s Creed experiences for as long as possible. It doesn’t really matter what I am doing, I just love being there, in that world, running through the streets and leaping off ledges, collecting twitching origami Animus pieces, succumbing to Romani charm and rousing the guards in playful chases around the city. Whether it’s Jerusalem or Florence, Venice or Rome, Constantinople or…Paris? I’ll be there.

More later.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Extra Life: Hours 17-22

Having a blog entry in draft form is an itchy and annoying thing, yet I have been sitting on my Extra Life: Hours 13-17 entry for awhile now, staring at its unending blankness, attempting to conjure up some sort of Kirkwallian ghost to spill its spectral secrets and assist me in the opinionated blathering about Mark of the Assassin. But alas, continual silence. I think the problem is that I only played through it once, and it's hard to talk about anything Dragon Age 2 related after only one go around. I used my second playthrough character, Skye, adding more dual-bladed roguishness to the mix, and brought along my honey bunny, Fenris, to aid Tallis with her thievery mission, which projected me on a very sarcastic and fairly mean path. But, as with the main DA2 quest, I can clearly see another narrative trail winding away to the east, begging me to use my mage, mix up my party and try again in order to experience Tallis's story from all dimensions. So I think I will. The blog will stay in draft format until I can find the time to test drive it again, choosing opposites to see what Assassin has to offer in terms of variation. I have to believe there is more to this particular chapter (note: I haven’t watched any of Redemption) than my first impression of it as a goofy side quest; much like when your favorite uber-dramatic television show goes off the rails for an episode and gets all farcical with time travel or alternate reality situations. I mean, who would believe that our hero of Kirkwall, rich and satisfied, would suddenly decide to join a strange elf on a mission to steal some random shiny? Pure silliness, indeed. Instead, I give you Extra Life: Hours 17-22, where I come full circle in my neo-gamer life, erase my existing save file and begin replaying the original Assassin’s Creed.

Hours 17-22: Around 2am, roughly 17 hours into my 24-hour gameathon, I started to feel the spins. Sort of like imbibing a bit too much alcohol, but from a more internal source, as in, my own body turning against me. After finishing the Dragon Age 2 DLC, I figured I would dive back into Deus Ex, a game that had been politely sitting on top of the 360, waiting for me to continue...playing the first chapter (/hides head). But I’m ridiculously inept at Deus Ex when I am fully awake and functioning, let alone 17 hours into a gaming marathon, so... After browsing through our library titles, I stared at Assassin's Creed, it stared back, adoringly, and I decided it was time. My memory of the original game was spotty at best, visions of mechanical difficulties and ultra-repetitive missions ghosting through my mind. I especially recalled how frustrating it was for Altair to stealth assassinate a guard using actual stealth, as I usually just clumsily countered with my sword until a pile of them were dead around my feet. No matter how much I wanted to replay the original, I figured that being spoiled by the sequels (especially since I had just invested 13 hours into the most recent chapter, with its picture perfect controls) was going to be a detriment to my success in revisiting Altair's realm, and frankly, sort of a drag. But after about an hour into my replay, I realized something pretty remarkable. The great pit of disconnect between Jerusalem and Rome wasn’t the game, it was me.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my love of video games stems from childhood and carried on throughout high school and into my college years, finally petering out around 2002. I spent five years being a social butterfly, flittering from this bar to that club to this state and that country, before finally settling back into a more domesticated lifestyle with a lad who loved video games. He brought me Bioshock and Guitar Hero, and I fell back in love with a whole new world of video gaming. But I was also struggling. First person shooters weren’t something I was too familiar with (if you don’t count holding a plastic gun in my hands and aiming erratically while playing House of the Dead 2 in the arcade, which I do not), as I was always more Final Fantasy than Doom. And then came Assassin’s Creed. Being a super-big time-holy-crap-gushity-gush-gush romantic and an Ancient to Medieval Western Civilization history lover, I was all lovey dovey, eyes a’ sparkle with Altair and his bratty temperament. Playing the game itself was really tough for me, however. I had not yet reacquired all of my hand-eye coordination skills from my childhood, and sometimes movement was clunky and stilted. I spent most of my time running or respawning. But I did it. I finished it on December 27, 2007, a date I not only remember because it is logged as the last day I earned an achievement in the game on Live, but also because it was the night before my birthday, nearing midnight. After the last of the big fights I recall jumping into the air and dorkily yelling ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!’ I think I almost broke out in tears, I was so delighted (and exhausted), mostly because it was really, really hard work.

Now, however, I am breezing through like a mother-effing champion. I can almost feel Altair sighing in relief as I escort him around the Kingdom, collecting flags here, stabbing Templars there, throwing archers off towers, and all the while stealthily assassinating almost every guard I see. I feel like Jessica 2.0 or something equally nerdy. When an achievement popped the other night for stealthily killing 50 guards, and I had yet to even move out of the poor section of Damascus, I felt almost ashamed for the meek little mouse I had turned Altair into four years ago, when he is so obviously meant to be held in the hands of someone who knows how to use him properly. More than anything else, though, I finally have a good measure for how much I have grown in the past four years, not only in gaming knowledge due to RSS journalism feeds and writing this blog, but in actual skill. When it came to Assassin’s Creed, my mindset was wrong, thinking it was the freshman effort of the game designers that made the mechanics so off-kilter and clunky. Nope, it was me. I’m back, and am spending way too much time with Altair, running around, hunting for Templars, checking the scene and happily breathing the air around him, much like the copious amounts of time I have spent with Ezio in the past three years. Oh, and I’m collecting flags. Forever.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

State of the Union

Welcome to November! In my current world of video games, this month is “The Month of Milk and Honey…and Modern Warfare 3”. I spent my annual twenty minutes on the phone yesterday tracking down which media superstore would be offering a midnight launch for ACR in order to fully maximize my available playtime. One very kind gal at the closest Gamestop location to my house sadly informed me that other midnight launches were taking precedent over Assassin's Creed (something something Skyrim, something Call of Duty, blah blah), but reminded me that should I order it from them, I could pick it up first thing on Tuesday morning at 10am. I gently reminded her that a full ten hours lie between midnight and their posted opening time, and the very idea of wasting it sleeping is preposterous. Luckily, I tracked down a Gamestop in mid-town Seattle that assured me they would be open. I was peeved for about six minutes when I learned it would be disc-only, as I was considering acquiring an[other] Ezio figure and a teensy flying machine, but decided that I could [probably] survive without them. I do believe that directly after making this decision I distinctly heard my bank account sigh in relief. So that bit is all set. Twelve days!

I’ve reached the midpoint in Arkham City and am enjoying Batman's mega-urban environment despite the henchman’s new night-vision goggles and seemingly limitless supply of firearms that drive me insane with controller-abusing anger. I heart stealth games that don’t involve ze guns, so my normal ‘hide on gargoyle until BAM! Inverted Takedown’ trick isn’t working as well for me as it did in Arkham Asylum. And maybe it’s premature to say this, considering I have stayed mainly on the narrative track and have only completed a few of the side missions, but I’m not feeling this one as much as I did AA. I’m not ready to say that it’s the open-world setting as opposed to the nestled together environment, but there is an element to that contrast I find a little lacking. Just as AA gave me no reason to stop seeing the world through detective vision, AC gives me little to no reason (so far) to explore the city streets. Until I reach my destination, every bit of game-encouraged exploration I have done has been via rooftop. And sure, the skyline is extra pretty, and travel-by-grappling-hook is oh, so convenient, but there has to be something down below worth seeing...right? It’s possible that I am just pouty because I haven’t seen Poison Ivy or the Scarecrow (...yet?). My current plan for Arkham City is to step off the rails after the bossy fight with Mr. Freeze and start doing ‘other’. I’ll put my fingers in my ears and stop listening to the urgent tone of Oracle's transmissions and ignore the Joker’s phone calls. With reviews as sky high as they are, there must be something I am missing.

Speaking of reviews, this current dialogue on journalism sites concerning reviewer scores vs. commenter opinions is hilarious. On one hand, I can almost see the point of the commenters who love these games like they gave birth to them and want everyone to think they are pretty despite their flaws; but on the other, and more strongly (because largely, the commenters haven't even played the games they are defending), I fall on the side of the reviewers who are paid to give their opinions based on their own likes/dislikes. Journo sites trust these folks to be objective but also come from a particular subjective point of view, and allow them the freedom to express these views and represent the brand. It's why they hired them. Guess what, players? You don’t have to care about any of that! You can still dig in, spend your money and play the shit out of that title you have been looking forward to for days, months, YEARS and that reviewer can have zero impact on your enjoyment! The only time I ever peer into review scores is when I am considering renting something I haven’t heard much about on Gamefly, and then the reviews are largely peer based, not professional. Even if seven of the major gaming journalism sites give ACR a 5/10, I will still play it and one, either think their points are valid based on my own experience, or two, believe that they simply don’t enjoy the same types of games as a 32 year old female named Jessica from Seattle who likes cats, ice cream and Halloween. They could give Modern Warfare 3 a 10/10 and I still won't play it, because taste is subjective. You kids and your uber-protectiveness of personal video game experiences are so funny. If only you had this much enthusiasm about something offline, like planting trees or saving endangered cat species. Bottom line is, no one decides what you play or not play except you. It’s your experience that matters most.

Stop crying. I made you this:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pumpkins! Final Chapter

After racking my brain for several days trying to figure out what I would artfully carve into my two carefully selected pumpkins, I finally settled on two designs: one from Assassin’s Creed 2 (…in a move that surprised no one…) and one based on my original idea to honor Chrono Trigger in gourd form.

For Pumpkin One, a bit of background, including a story about corporate branding and tattoos:

When I made the decision to carve another Assassin’s Creed pumpkin, I actually had another motive in mind. You see, last spring a friend and I made a pact to get inked together. She had something she wanted to get covered up, and me, well, I just like getting tattoos. After doing my normal hunt and gather techniques for the right design, I finally settled on what I affectionately refer to as my “Frankenstein” tattoo. During the time of my search I also happened to be reading the Sandman graphic novel series, a collection I adore due to both its thought-provoking content and its glorious art style, much of which is created by one of my favorite artists, Dave McKean (the movie Mirrormask is his love letter to visual expression). Within the pages of the Dreaming, I found a beautifully rendered key. Because I have a mild passion for antique keys, I was instantly drawn to it and Xeroxed it the first chance I got, keeping it folded within the confines of my bag for a few months, anticipating the day when my friend and I would take the journey together to Ye Olde Tattoo Shoppe. As much as I loved the design, however, there was always something about it that struck me as a tad too gothic...but it didn’t bother me enough to alter my intention.

A year prior to this I had been speaking to my husband about possibly getting a tattoo for Assassin’s Creed somewhere, arguing that the game meant a lot to me and I would love to commemorate that feeling by adding it to the eight other symbols gracing my person in the most permanent of fashions. He tactfully informed me that to get the most recognizable symbol, the “A”, would be akin to branding myself with the Golden Arches of McDonald’s, as Assassin’s Creed itself is purely a cash cow for Ubisoft. He suggested I find something within the game itself that had a higher meaning beyond the brand, knowing that AC is full of historical and conspiratorial symbology. After searching through the huge bank of symbols, I found the perfect glyph, the Mandelbrot Set; it’s beautiful fractal pattern representing in mathematics a ‘complex structure arising from the application of simple rules’, and graphed out as one of the ‘best-known examples of mathematical visualization’. The hidden puzzle points in AC2 were one of my favorite new additions to the series, so the symbol fit my wants perfectly. The only questions left were where (on me!) and when I was going to commit.

At this point my friend entered with her idea. And now I had two designs. So…I combined them. The bit in the key that bothered me was gone (a rather sharp top piece) and my homage to AC was cleverly disguised. The tattoo now resides on my back at the midpoint, underneath three other carefully selected designs and will eventually be a spinal centerpiece when I am finished. I love it, as I love them all, and feel more complete, in a pagan sort of way, knowing it’s there. So even though that explanation is ridiculously long for such a simple pattern, I thought I would give some background as to why I wanted to carve it into a pumpkin as well. It seemed fitting, considering my new art and a new game on the horizon. An Ode to 2011, if you will.

For Pumpkin Two, I used an exacto knife and carved the half-clock from the Chrono Trigger logo. It was messy, but fun, and I am happy with the results. That is all. Oh, and I titled this blog after the game, hinting to the idea that my love and life of video games started with this particular title. Isn’t that reason enough?

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Screenshot Friday!

So. Very. Yes.

And from the trailer, it appears that he has his one-shot hidden pistol. Quite fancy for a fighting game! I do believe I am suddenly looking forward to the next SoulCalibur more than I could have ever anticipated.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Extra Life: Hours 0-13

Last weekend I participated in the Extra Life 24 hour game-a-thon, raising charitable funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital. A small group of donators assisted me with my monetary goal of $200, of which I raised 119%, so a heartfelt thank you goes out to my supporters. I thought it would be really difficult for me to pull an all-nighter, considering I haven’t done anything close to that since…well, nevermind, I stayed up all night playing the original Assassin’s Creed in November of 2007. But at 32, I must say that my waking familiarity with the hours between 2am and 5am have diminished over time, so I was happily surprised when, on Sunday morning at around 7am, I watched the sky lighten as the sun rose over not only my third story apartment, but also over the road to Damascus as I, and my heart, was back with Altair after four years of being apart.

I didn't anticipate when signing up for the event that I would ride a bit of an emotional roller coaster as I approached the twentieth hour. Somewhere between cycling through caffeine-induced alertness and sleepy delirium, I felt an almost indescribable fondness for being part of an amazing community doing something wonderful and, simultaneously, the sort of abject loneliness that comes from doing something solo that is better done with a group of people. And although I adore my friends, it's these moments that make me realize how lovely it would be to share my love of video games with a close friend, and not just in a casual, anecdotal way, but as a cooperative experience. Lucky for me, I have the best support in my husband, who stayed up as late as his body and brain would allow him to, bringing me trail mix and Lemonade Rock Stars, conjuring up the best energy-drink-consumption-to-time-played ratio in order to have the most impact. And bless him for sitting with me while I immersed myself utterly and completely back into Ezio’s Roman Chapter for thirteen straight hours in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.

Hours 0-13: When I ‘finished’ Brotherhood last December, I knew there were a few random assassination and/or courtesan missions that I left incomplete, but I had no idea just how much more the game contained. And I am a tad ashamed for that. For example, I freaking adored the Cristina missions, which were added successively to the quest map at particular percentages of sync, but had only reached around 50% when I finished (due to some failures on my part to fully actualize every goal in the process). This means I experienced three of them, leaving two undone, and finished believing the only way I could acquire them would be to re-play many of the previous memory sequences. I was wrong. At this point I should probably finally admit to you, dear readers, that my relationship with Assassin’s Creed is a bit complicated and, well, sort of bat-shit crazy. I have this totally irrational fear that one day the whole experience will be over due to over-commercialization or poor development or whatever other reason game franchises go off the rails and die. Because of that, I find myself constantly leaving little bits and pieces undone like a squirrel preparing for a long winter. Best example: the DaVinci Disappearance DLC released in March, I downloaded it approximately four months ago and played it for the first time last Saturday. I feel more comfortable revisiting all of the unplayed quests and guild checklist items with Revelations on its way, but am sure that I will still compulsively leave small objectives undone here and there in order to better prepare for…well, hell, I don’t know. I suppose I just don’t want to imagine a world where I can’t play Assassin’s Creed. The embarrassing confessional portion of this post is over.

After thirteen additional hours in Rome with Ezio, I can now say that I believe I have left only piddling things incomplete. I finally acquired the last two Cristina missions and executed them with a romantic glisten in my eye, cooing softly at the television with my hands clutched against my overly romantic heart. I sent my Assassino babies on so many contract assignments that about halfway through the evening I noticed I was repeating ones I had already completed. The DLC was great, with a satisfying combination of puzzle, platform and assassination mechanics. While Ezio and DaVinci were temple diving, there was a frank acknowledgement of Leo’s, um, 'partner preference'. Ezio showed his support in a ‘duh, dude’ sort of way and our inventor friend left relieved he would no longer have to hide his ringlet-haired ‘apprentice’ behind closed doors. A mannish shoulder slug sealed the deal. I do believe that I am getting better at playing this game, mechanically. At first I couldn’t imagine scoring 100% on all of the memory sequences, but now I can envision it without too much trouble. The places where I failed to meet the requirements usually came with a few swear words after an accidental counter attack or unintentional weapon swap, not because of a lack of skill. I feel like Revelations is going to be a sort of professional-style culmination of four years of training. So. Excited.

And just when I thought Brotherhood couldn’t deliver any more surprises, I found what I consider to be the most beautiful bug in video game history. Right around the time my loving husband was about to request I take a small break to devour a plate of pesto pasta for dinner, I guided Ezio into a mini-fight along the road to the Colossuem, where a leap off a horse glitched and propelled our hero into the sky, as though his shoes had suddenly developed wings. Although I could no longer see him (unless I tipped the controller skyward, and then was greeted with an Ezio up-skirt), the view of Rome was enchanting as we soared higher and higher, the landscape features growing smaller as we climbed, turning from day to night after about 15 minutes. As I ate, I kept my thumb on the right analog stick a to keep the focus pointed on Rome, watching as the sunlight faded and the lanterns and fires were lit, glittering across the virtual city as though viewing it from the curved window of an airplane at dusk. At roughly the 5000 ft mark (thank goodness for the map marker) the visual aspects of the game finally tapered out, showing nothing but a blue graphical scape below and a starry, clouded sky above. The musical score continued on, with only a slight wind noise accompanying Ezio’s ascension. I know it was a bug, but it was truly magical, a perfect memory for Brotherhood.

Obviously there is more to tell, considering I mentioned Altair earlier, but I'll divide it up in order to avoid any tl;dr moments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pumpkins! Chapter One

When my now husband and I first started dating several years ago, one of the ties that bound us so tightly was our shared love of video games. So it made sense that after almost a year together we would spend our first Halloween season carving pumpkins along the same theme. I was head over heels in love with Assassin’s Creed in fall of 2008 (...and 2009...and 2010...and ongoing...), and decided to devote two of my artsy carvings to Ubisoft and the most recognizable symbol of the Creed. Forget spooky faces, it was much more fun to design something we could associate with our everyday lives. The following year we decided to keep this new tradition going, with Matt cutting a silhouette of a splicer mask from Bioshock into his, and me, well, I just really loved the testing lab in 2009, even though I didn’t make my eventual escape until the summer of 2010...which turned into a bountiful year for great games in my book. Being two of the spookiest games of last year, I honored the season by devoting my pumpkins to Alan Wake and Costume Quest, the former being spine-tingling horror, while the latter warmed your heart with pure trick-or-treat nostalgia.

For this year's creation, however, my idea bank has remained empty. I haven’t really loved any games so far in 2011 (note: might change post 10/18, re: Arkham City). But after mulling it over for awhile, I have decided to devote my pumpkins to the namesake for this blog and finally give the multitude of folks who have arrived here by using the keywords “chrono trigger pumpkin” a real picture of what they are searching for, and not just a mashup of two concepts both featured independently over time. So in a couple of weeks, I will attempt to pull off something probably more difficult than I can currently imagine, considering the hundreds of 16-bit pixelated sprites and scenes that are conjured up during a Google image search. So…wish me luck; I’ll post my results should they honor my beloved favorite, but can’t promise a big reveal if they turn out…unrecognizable…and thereby icky.

Here are our fantastic pumpkins from years past:

2008: The Year I Loved Everything Ubisoft, and Matt recreated the Red Ring of Death.

2009: The Year I Loved Portal and Matt Went to a Rapture Masquerade, circa 1959.

2010: The Year I Loved Bright Falls and Fall Valley

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

November, Wherefore Art Thou?

In the real world, being an insanely obsessed lover of all things Halloween, I am currently soaking in the sights of jack o' lanterns popping up on porches all over the neighborhood and the gloomy fall weather, complete with red and orange hued trees. But when it comes to video games, I find myself perpetually coaxing the calendar to crank forward in anticipation of Revelations. New stories from media sneak peeks have been popping up in the online world, gaining steam and revealing content exponentially since roughly around E3. I have ignored most of the multiplayer aspects, because blah, but have tried to keep up with the single player news. From the demo showcased at PAX, it appears that the new crafting element has the developers in a tizzy, but I am less interested in the bombs as weapons than I am in the continually improving stealth elements. In my mind, assassins don’t throw exploding objects in the faces of his victims-that is bully behavior, definitely not the way suave Ezio would conduct business. But the creative director, Alex Amancio, reassured the audience during the Prime demo that their goal is to simply give the player more tools, not command their actions. If you want to hug the shadows and rooftops to avoid detection, by all means go ahead. And this is my kind of play. I heart being a master of mystery. If bodies are exploding around me I can’t keep my romantic vision of the series intact.

Kotaku ran a story this morning about their experience playing a few hours of Revelations, where Kirk Hamilton ‘accidentally’ got to see a bit of Demond’s new realm inside the Animus, which sounds ridiculously interesting: “…when I paused the game, the menu had an option for 'Return to Animus Island.' Naturally I selected it and was greeted with Desmond, standing alone on a misty, mysterious grassy hill. I began to run forward and… an Ubisoft employee came up and physically removed the controller from my hand.” Obviously they are keeping Desmond’s role an enigma at this point, focusing primarily on revealing bits of the interaction between Ezio and Altair in recent and distant past alterations, but the idea of Desmond having some sort of free reign inside the Animus sounds fantastic. So many secrets to uncover.

Between now and November I will continue lapping up the information being released by Ubisoft and remember to fill out that time off request at work for 11/15, my only real decision to make between now and then being which version to pre-order. The basic disc-only version? The Ultimate Bundle that comes with a fancy new Ezio doll and a Leo flying machine? The Signature Edition that comes with extra downloadable goodies? The Animus Edition that arrives complete with the new encyclopedia (currently doesn’t appear to be available in the US market, but a girl can dream)? So many choices…

It doesn't help that this photograph of the Istanbul skyline showed up in my employer's blog this morning, as our cruise line embarks and disembarks in this gorgeous city several times a year. So many reminders...

Harry Potter and the Disappointing Game, Part Two

Even though most games based on films are total crap, I have always been a supporter of the Harry Potter tie-ins. I played only one of the earlier PC titles, as I never really had a computer worth its gaming salt, but have devoured all of the console versions, with the exception of the Deathly Hallows, Part One. The fifth and sixth chapters, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, were surprisingly delightful to play. Each of them followed the order of events in the movies faithfully, but also gave the player a ton of optional activities, such as mini-game style homework and hide-and-seek for collectible items. Also amazingly, the controls didn’t completely stink. This is one of the banes of the licensed titles-quick toss releases without too much testing, which usually creates a bug-filled, erratic environment that rides the line between a beloved franchise and an unplayable mess. But both OOP and HBP managed to be quite satisfying. I believe I spent roughly a week trying to max out the achievement list in Half-Blood Prince, simply because I found the game so enjoyable.

When Deathly Hallows Part One was released in theatres, I manipulated my Gamefly Q to increase the chances it would be sent to me soon after. When it arrived, I popped the disc in my 360 and snuggled in for another grand adventure with our little band of wizards-in-training. Except something terrible had occurred. The gameplay was wretched. And no amount of thumb/finger training could get me through the first two hours of the game. I failed mission after mission for being ‘too slow’ during a side quest skill challenge, which I couldn’t avoid, and never made it back to the totally icky main storyline. It was a total disaster. I have no idea how the targeted market of teens and preteens were able to get through it. I certainly didn't try too hard-probably because I have played enough games at this point to comprehend when I am doing poorly in a well-crafted game (Catherine) and when the game is totally screwing me by being a hastily released pile of basilisk goo (HP&DHP1). Oh, and when you read the Wiki for this particular title, it contains this little gem: “The gameplay for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 is different from the previous games after developers decided the game required a new direction to suit its growing adult audience.” I am the adult audience, and I respectfully disagree with your choice. And by looking the overall 4-5 review scores, I can assume most people felt the same.

Because of this experience, I was hesitant to play the second part in the series. After doing some review checks and finding mostly 7-8 scores, I wished on a falling star and added it to my queue. The disc landed in my mailbox last Friday and I snuggled in for the last grand adventure I would virtually have with our little band of world-saving-wizards. And I was pleasantly surprised-the controls were back to being fairly slick and easy to maneuver. And the game itself looked great, with the movie scenes recreated well and the characters moving on the sticks like they should, the spell casting relegated to the triggers and switched around using single or double taps on the buttons. Hooray! Maybe I would get the last hurrah I was looking for!

After about an hour in it becomes clear that this is the absolute laziest of the Harry Potter games. It’s as though the developers themselves were so tired of the franchise that they couldn’t even bring themselves to add any creative elements to the game, simply following the movie timeline without a single deviation, and only managing to come up with one mechanic besides running: tactical combat. By using bits of broken Hogwarts, Harry/Hermoine/Ron/Ginny/[insert character here] takes cover and shoots at the bazillions of Death Eaters aiding Voldemort in his megalomaniacal plan to dominate Hogwarts. As you can see from my Raptr blip above, I played and finished the game in four hours, and I am positive that number has been rounded up. I've played $10 downloadable content that took longer to complete than this full retail disc-based title. The entire game takes as long to play as it does to watch the movie, with some bathroom and snack breaks thrown in for good measure. There are some collectibles and a few challenge rounds, but by the time I finished the game its plodding blandness had almost erased all of the good/sad/real feelings I had while watching the film and reading the book, and I just couldn’t bring myself to damage it any further. Shame on you, EA Bright Light, for ending this particular series on such a deflated note.

The one bright side? After the credit roll, a montage sequence of all the video games starting with the first cartoony little PC version are highlighted and a brief ‘thanks for the memories’ tag flashes across the screen. And for sure, there were some great ones, especially for a game series that has managed to keep up with its film counterparts, but to end such a life in such a way just seemed sad.

Okay, there is a second bright side, as LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 should soon erase this brief memory from my mind. I have high hopes. /crosses fingers

Friday, October 7, 2011

Actors + Video Games = Weirdness

Usually when there is less than a week until the release of a Dragon Age related DLC, I start making little hearts on my calendar and refrain from spending my MS points on trashy rom-coms and fun avatar accessories in preparation for the inevitable downloadin’. But I don’t know, guys. The Mark of the Assassin kind of weirds me out. I can’t help but think, huh, Felicia Day-that is her right there. That is not a character in a game series with elf ears and a sassy name. That is the actress Felicia Day. I hear her voice, I see her slightly distorted animated features and it totally creeps me out. And please let me emphasize-I have only the utmost respect for Ms. Day herself. I have enjoyed all of the features and web videos she has written, and even admired her singing voice in Dr. Horrible. But the idea of placing a really real person that I have an association with as a flesh and blood entity into my beloved fantasy game creates a sort of disjointed perspective in my mind. Frankly, I think it’s so bizarre that for the first time ever I am considering skipping the DLC completely.

This isn’t the first time I have had this problem. I remember when animated feature films started using bonafide stars as voice actors. I’m more used to it now, but at the time I had a hard time separating the character from the picture in my head associated with the voice. The 1998 animated version of the Prince of Egypt had both Sandra Bullock and Jeff Goldblum voicing particular characters (and in Goldblum’s case, his distinct gestures and mannerisms were infused into the animation as well), and although I really loved the movie (still do!) I could never fully invest during particular scenes because I kept seeing the actor's faces superimposed onto their 2-D counterparts. Like I said, this is so common now that big actors get top billing for merely their voice work, but it’s still sometimes difficult for me to become 100% immersed in a fantasy world when I keep seeing the wrong face attached to an audio association. But at least in these cases the physical representation is different-in Dragon Age, I now have to believe in the actress as an actress inside an interactive experience. And it’s beyond strange.

I can’t help but think that if I felt the opposite of how I do, and didn’t admire Felicia Day as an actress, that this would potentially create a sense of apathy and disconnect me from the experience in a way that has nothing to do with the normal bad mechanics, poorly written storyline or any of the other usual reasons why people would shy away from a particular game. It would be simply because I didn’t care for the playable character, and wanted to avoid having an intimate experience that involves her, even if it meant turning my back on a chapter in one of my favorite series. I imagine if they modeled my favorite of the DA2 characters, Fenris, on one of the young actors gracing the covers of the magazines, I would have had a completely different experience. If so, I would never have had my DA2: Part Two playthrough, “What Would Fenris Do?”, where we argued passionately and kissed awkwardly, our love blooming and manifesting over time (obviously, I am still a teenager). I would have said meh a lot while shaking my head, knowing that Mr. Disney-They-All-Look-the-Same-Youth was just nailed by the tabloids for having a late night kiss with Ms. Starlot-Who-Gives-a-Crap and wouldn’t have invested as heavily. These characters work because I can semi-mold them into my own vision of who they should be, especially in a BioWare world, where the player often leads the story, even if the multitude of choices are predetermined.

Oddly enough, I had the opposite situation happen recently, where I encountered an actor as a video game persona before I experienced him as a film star. After playing LA Noire with all of its hyper-realistic characters, many of them sketched, modeled and voiced by B- or C-List actors that you recognize vaguely but can’t quite pinpoint from what or where, I got pretty close to a man named Cole Phelps. We drove together, we interrogated perps as a team; I saw him through his proudest moments and emotional dark times. Heck, I even helped him climb into a fountain to retrieve Elizabeth Smart’s social security card and held him while he cried (added for dramatic emphasis-that never actually happened). Between Cole and I, we had some serious times, man. And then I started watching Mad Men a few months later. Seeing the actor, Aaron Staton, chilling on the couch in an outfit resembling the ones I repeatedly chose for him in LA Noire, my brain did a back flip. To this day, I have seen an entire season of Mad Men and I could not tell you the name of Aaron’s character in the show. To me, he is and will always be Cole Phelps, the cocky police officer who wormed his way up the proverbial ladder in Los Angeles circa 1947. LA Noire is now my primary source for this man, no matter what he does in the future. We spent 40+ hours together solving murders and nailing investigation tracks. This experience will always supersede any one hour show where he is a supporting character or even a two hour film where he is a lead. To me, Aaron Stanton is Cole Phelps.

So because my knowledge of Felicia Day is primarily as herself or someone resembling herself in shows like The Guild, or even through the many book reviews she writes on, I know that I am going to have an extremely difficult time suspending disbelief if I jump in to the Mark of the Assassin. Maybe if she was merely the voice actor and not completely recreated as her own personal elf vision, I could at least try to focus on the movements and choices of who she is depicting, but seeing and hearing her within the game is unnerving. I’m sure in the end I will play it, as I am total goo when it comes to Dragon Age, but I am seriously doubting that I will be able to feel the normal immersive qualities when such a recognizable person is continually pulling me back into reality.

Totally got through this philosophizing without using the phrase 'uncanny valley' once. Pretty proud right now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Internet Love that sexy tingle sort of way. /blushes

Originally saw it via Kotaku's Fine Art series, but above shot sourced from Alessandro Taini's blog here, where he also has some beautiful images from Enslaved and Heavenly Sword on display.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Snapshot Friday!

Over the past year I have become quite the Instagram addict. At first it was innocent fun, taking photos with my poor outdated iPhone 3G and saucing them up with a small selection of pre-programmed filters, but my obsession quickly snowballed. First, all of the pictures I uploaded to my various social networks began to take on the Insta-finish. Most of the photographs that I post here have been uploaded straight from my phone after being modified via this, the most holy of apps. Then I found a tag filter, much like Twitter, and started browsing for likeminded people specifically in the #xbox and #halloween sections. Then came the followers and the followees. And it’s been a blur ever since, with my photo count now at around 400 uploads. I love to heart beautiful photographs, spending entire evenings just browsing these intimate moments in time shared by people all over the globe.

I soon discovered that the Xbox tag contained a few trends. There is the usual half-nakie ladies, stroking their controllers while declaring their enthusiasm for Black Ops in an obvious cry for male attention. Others are as simple as the depiction of a console, controller or game box in an artful way. My absolute favorite, however, is the ‘my kitteh loves to use my controller as a pillow’ shots. And they are UBIQUITOUS. No matter how you feel on the subject, we now live in a virtual world where cats are king. It’s gone so far that I just recently viewed a Powerpoint slideshow on the super serious topic of international airfare tariffs, and the whole thing was littered with pictures of LOLcats. So it’s no surprise that Instagram currently has 436,865 photographs in its database currently tagged ‘cat’. Finding so many cats snuggled up to 360 controllers in #xbox is delightful…well, especially when you are me, and the perfect happiness equation looks something like:

ice cream + xbox controllers(cats + internet pictures) = ZOMG

Here are my contributions to the ever-growing community of folks who love their felines and their video game accessories in equal measure. And just to show that my kitty believes in equality, here is Mina with both her white and black plastic pillows.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lord of the Thongs

Approximately eleven months ago I typed these words on this blog: I hope they make another Deathspank...but not for at least a year. Now, I am not saying I am psychic or in cahoots with Hothead or anything, but I am pretty sure the release of The Baconing coinciding with my previous statement means I am a genius. Or it’s a total coincidence. Either way, hooray! Another chapter of Deathspank is upon us! I love this series like I love bromance movies and television shows about babies. When news headlines are full of nothing but grim forecasts of the future or whiny politicians pretending they know anything about how real people live (/takes a deep breath), it’s lovely to delve into something specifically designed to make you giggle. Deathspank is action-adventure role-playing at it’s very lightest, with full-color, cartoonish backdrops, easy weapon choices and auto-loading armor, allowing the player to settle in and merely enjoy the scenery with semi-glassy eyes if they so choose. I could criticize the game for these elements alone (when all you have to do is travel from one area to another and occasionally mash buttons, how mechanically interesting could it be?), but I am a diehard apologist for the overall interactive experience, where the story and setting matter more than the mechanic. In lieu of elaborating on this idea, I will just say that this topic has been mulled over by peeps who have done extensive psychological and analytical research on the matter, whereas I only care about how I personally interact with the games I play. And I am here strictly to talk about multi-colored thongs, bacon fire and orphans. And how they all connect to a building called the Pleasuretorium.

The Baconing starts with Deathspank learning that he has erred dramatically by tugging on all five thongs of power at once. This makes total sense, as wearing five pairs of underoos at once would be a tad snug, but apparently doing so has also made them quite unstable. Now Deathspank must travel to several different lands to seek out the locations of legendary bacon fire, which is the only thing that will destroy such objects of power, as well as searching out his arch nemesis and shadow character, Antispank. Along the way he gets help from orphans and meets up with many of the characters from the previous chapters. Each area is themed, with a love-bot infested Pleasuretorium in a post-Cold War infused theme park and a leprechaun inhabited Casino in Rainbow’s End. My favorite was Valhalla Heights, a retirement community for Norse gods…and Elvis? Anyway, you get to play mini-golf with Thor and dive into the Underworld to save Hades and mail some hellish property deeds. One of my favorite missions involves doing twelve tasks for old geezer Zeus, who is hunched over a walker, in order to become a god. After two deeds (mainly landscaping in nature), he asks Deathspank what number he is on and DS replies “TWELVE. This is definitely the last one!”

As a whole, the game hasn’t changed much from the previous chapters. As opposed to being boring or repetitive, though, it was comforting not being forced to learn a new inventory management system or weapon selection process and could instead focus primarily on the elements I like best–the story and the setting. Because even at its most random and ridiculous, I greatly enjoy the flow of this series. I am fond of the contained, hilariously themed areas, and the step-by-step mission layer in each that builds to a level boss crescendo. This sort of rinse and repeat progression keeps the game from sinking into anything resembling serious, as the kinds of missions undertaken are usually a touch juvenile in nature. For example, one mini-quest has our hero, the !Ultimate Vanquisher of Evil!, spiking a lovely fountain with poo to further provoke a feud between rival princesses in the Forbidden City. I can’t help but lose myself in the ambiance of the game, even if it isn’t terribly heart engaging or thought provoking. By not having to think too hard about my next step, I can enjoy the game purely for the colorful and well-designed environments our hero traverses during his main quest while taking on mini-quests akin to eating ice cream bites or buttered popcorn-merely a diversion from the central storyline, but just as satisfying in their snack-like qualities.

I recently played through Torchlight and am currently co-oping through Crimson Alliance with the husband. As bored as I was in Torchlight, I am finding that the basic story parameters of Crimson Alliance are far more engaging, especially since it’s a buddy game at heart, encouraging players to find real world partners in order to maximize the experience. But although at their core these games have almost everything in common with Deathspank-the action adventure RPG, the level up of characters or weaponry, an intricate, stat-filled inventory system, epic smashing of barrels and jars to collect coins and trinkets-I have much less to say about either of these more ‘serious’ titles, even though they are generally thought to be ‘better’ games. I suppose those who support more serious endeavors to invest their precious time in would find Deathspank quite immature and ultimately too ridiculous to even bother with a demo, but I think the creativity and ingenuity of Hothead, with what appears to be a now ongoing franchise, should be held just as high as the traditional dungeon dive arcade titles. Deathspank is silly fun, perfect for an arcade title, with beautiful graphics and a rather intricate storyline-even if that narrative has zero serious qualities. I think it’s probably time I download Monkey Island…considering I have yet to play it… /cringe

Best part about writing this review? Adding the word “Deathspank” to my MS Outlook internal dictionary.

Confused, Please Explain

Let me see if I understand...

1. Smoking Hot Dante:

2. Younger Dante, also Ridiculously Good-Looking:

Why is everyone in such a tizzy about his appearance? I think ya'll are crazy.

DmC looks amazing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Still Alive

I could sit around feeling guilty about not meeting my personal goal of seven posts in August, but instead I am going to give myself a pass. Life is made of busy and I checked off two or three of the 'top life changes that cause the most amounts of stress' in only four weeks while managing to remain upright and breathing, which I consider a win. I am currently fluttering about in both El Shaddai and Deathspank: The Baconing, but instead of chatting about those yet, here is a highlight reel from the small bits of gaming I have been doing since I finished Bastion:

Alice: I finally finished Spicy Horse’s newest chapter of Wonderland: A Study in Cuckoo Insanity. It took me roughly the entire month of July to play, which should give you an indication on the scope and size of Alice’s journey. Completing this game is a testament to two things: my love of beautiful imagery in games and my often foolhardy vow to see something through until the bitter end. But no matter how gorgeous the scenery, this game is way too long-much, much lengthier than it needed to be. I imagine that die hard platformer devotees may lap this one up like cream, but I was exhausted by the time the experience was over. Even the narrative was only so-so. In the end, it was the visual aspects that provided the most reward. If Spicy Horse had designed two or three more chapters, culling the current ones down and infusing new ones with more variations in the stylization, I think I would have been more content. As it stands, Alice is quite pretty, but also quite dull. My feelings of accomplishment almost outweigh my regrets of wasted time and effort when surely there are better experiences to be had.

Child of Eden: It only took one level in the newest version of Rez for me to realize that no matter how brightly rendered and aurally beloved a game is, if it’s frantic in nature, I must put it aside. I have a complex relationship with anxiety, so when my heart is racing and my white-knuckled hands are still gripping the controller long after the level has ended, I know I am in trouble. In saying that, however, I can see that everything about this game is glorious. As a living narrative character, Lumi is painstakingly beautiful. Her innocence and grace introduced the game in such a captivating way that I swear I wanted to write epic poems about her hair and drag out brushes to paint her luminescence across the world one concrete wall at a time. I wish I were up to the task that Child of Eden sets before its player, but alas, my eyes are too big and my poor nervous system is too small.

From Dust: I only tried the demo for this one, as after confidently purchasing a few too many titles that ended up being less than savory, I have started dipping my toes before I commit. And…it was okay. I had a lot of high hopes for From Dust and most them abstract in nature, just relying on another beautiful setting to wrap me in its loving arms even while the miniscule story elements trail doubt behind in skeptical swirls, knowing me better than I know myself. Manipulating the environment is extra huggable, and I could pretty much do just that for hours on end. There is something quite calming about the flow of the water and the brief blip each time a palm tree grows in the sand. So I was quite peeved when a timed interaction completely broke my glazed-over sense of peace and tranquility. In a game that appears very ebb and flow, throwing in a holy-crap-a-tsunami-you-have-to-get-over-there-pronto mechanic is just mean. I am pretty sure that I will try this one again at ‘some future point’ when I have an extra $15 that isn’t already dedicated to Starbucks lattes or Halloween crafting materials. Imagine a lovely rainy autumn night, when the sun has just sunk below the horizon at 5pm and the room is lit by only a few candles and some purple running lights. A blanket covered in little bat patches is snug across my lap, a hot cup of peppermint tea is steaming nearby and From Dust is magically on sale for $10. When that happens, I’m sure I’ll document the experience.

Catherine: This one I still have in my ‘in progress’ column. I started it a couple of weeks ago and loved the bits that made it a mega-loony, interactive anime with innovative, thought-provoking questions, but am pretty bored with the block puzzles. I totally understand the metaphor concerning the subconscious grappling that our hero Vincent is doing during his sleepy-time hours about his K-C-atherine problems and relationships in general, but hot damn, I wish it were more like his waking hours, where I get to wander around a bar, chat with my friends, tool about on my mobile phone, toss back a pint or three, and occasionally play a few rounds of the arcade hit, Rapunzel, after messing about on the jukebox a time or two. Sometimes I think that the great thinking games, those designed for hardcore story lovers, are wasted through actual game mechanics. I would be just as happy playing the game if it were primarily investigative rather than puzzlicious. Either way, I know I will end up back in dreamland with Vincent and his wooly dilemma soon. This one is definitely still in the pending pile.

Beyond periodically mucking about in video games in August, we also attended PAX a couple of weekends ago, where for the most part I left the television gaming to those patient (and younger-bodied) enough to wait in long lines behind to participate in a lot of table-top gaming and dungeon diving in the basement annex as I learned how to properly take on a creature encounter in DnD. Of the few digital games I played, my experiences were surprisingly poor. I jumped into a demo of the new Assassin’s Creed Revelations multiplayer midway through its ten minute timer, which was disarming and totally icky. The headphones were broken and the screen kept telling me to ‘listen to the whispers around you for clues’. Yeah, can’t. One of the players in the demo was obviously a tad more experienced, so basically I spent 5 minutes getting stabbed and waiting to respawn. After patiently standing in a short line to try a run in the new SSX, the exhibitor decided to switch the demo over to NBA Jam the minute it was my turn and refused to do anything other than shrug even when everyone in line behind me booed in disappointment. Due to the long lines and high walls surrounding the Gearbox booth, I totally lacked the motivation to see the Borderlands 2 demonstration, which I figured would pop up online post-event anyway (yep, totally did). Boo on you, triple-A’s…boo on you.

After venturing up to the new Indie Hall (Expo Hall Part Two) on the 6th floor, I tried Armillo, a 3-D pinball-like game set on a spherical landscape (planet) filled to the brim with Sonic-y critters needing to be rescued. The ball is a fuzzy little fox-armadillo hybrid who rolls up in the cutest way. As adorable as the game was, I can’t even imagine buying it, but I did love the little paper craft Armillo the rep gave me. I tested another indie title, Vessel, which was graphically stunning and quite fun to play, but my experience was tarnished by an exhibitor for the game who spent most of his time charming a Media dude and sighing heavily every time I would ask him any questions about the game, either barely responding with one word answers or pointing sarcastically (I swear, it happened). Either way, my PAX experience in the Expo Hall arena was pretty blechy compared to previous years. But the panels I attended, mainly Acquisitions, Inc and the ACR in the main stage, were full of the normal PAX awesomeness, so I can’t complain too much.

Plus we made fantastic Halloween pipe cleaner art in line for the last round of the Omegathon, which still, days later, delights me to no end.