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: