Friday, September 21, 2012

Borderlands 2!

When Matt & I both really want a game on release, but don't (necessarily) want to spend the big bucks on it, we occasionally get two copies via Gamefly. Insurance. Assurance? Some sort of -rance.

After seeing the initial trailers for our favorite split screen, co-op experience, I instantly claimed Zero as my character. But after eight levels of clumsy melee using his special vanishing act, I realized I am better with some sort of projectile skill. I really miss my Hunter with his vicious birdy companion. Without him on the roster, however, I switched over to the Siren to use her phaseshift skill from a distance. And I really dig her, so I am going to stick with her for the rest of our initial campaign. Matt has his turret again, so we are a dazzling duo for sure.

Ah, Borderlands. I love you and your delicious loot.

Edit 09/24/12: I love my newest look - Nevermore Head/Minecraft Skin. :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Ontological Geek & a Brief Update About Not Updating

My newest post is up at The Ontological Geek, where I chat about why playing villainous characters is sometimes more fun than being heroic.

I've been spending most of my summer doing outdoorsy things such as camping, hiking, swimming, walking, etc., and have not really invested any time in video games since Dragon's Dogma last June. I started and restarted Dawnguard at one point, but have not finished it yet. I am on a personal mission to get in shape and find myself more interested in intense cardio over intense gaming sessions. The plus side is that I have whittled around 30 lbs off my poor skeleton. The downside is obviously I am not chatting much about gaming. But all is good. Darksiders II = next week. PAX is on the horizon, where Matt and I have secured highly coveted 3-Day Passes and intend to play video, board and pen n' paper games for an entire weekend. The sequel to our favorite split screen experience, Borderlands, releases a few weeks later, then the new Sherlock Holmes game and Dishonored directly after that. A proper list. Very excited.

And, of course, Assassin's Creed 3. This year, I have taken three days off to experience Connor's Revolution. The idea of Halloween + Assassin's Creed + no work sounds heavenly.

I am once again participating in the Extra Life 24 Game-a-Thon for Seattle Children's Hospital. I have met my donation goal (THANK YOU!), but the kiddos always need more! If you would like to contribute to my fund, please do so here. Last year got pretty weird around the 3am mark, as a 33 year old, sleep-deprived brain manifests strange things after four energy drinks and 18 hours of staring at a television, so although I will not be live-streaming anything wacky, I will write about it and be completely honest about my baggaloo middle of the night loneliness.

OH! I guess I am steadily playing one game right now - LEGO Batman Part Deux. LEGO + Batman = good times, but I am really wishing for LEGO + LOTR. I do love me some Arkham Asylum, however. The new Scarecrow model is such a badass.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Ontological Geek

Good news, everybody!

I’ve accepted a position as a monthly poster for one of my favorite blogs, The Ontological Geek. The contributing writers are top notch and talk about video games in a critical and distinctly intelligent way, so it is quite an honor to join them for the relaunch of their site.

My first post went up yesterday and I am already talking about my dirty love affair with Fenris in Dragon Age 2, so you should probably just go ahead and add it to your chosen RSS Reader now before you miss anything juicy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Antisocial Socialite

Once upon a time I had a tiny virtual farm. I planted pumpkins and corn in elegant rows and waited patiently to harvest them in the 2-4 hours allotted for each vegetable. In the interim I spent my time raising a house and decorating my land, visiting my neighbors and harvesting their crops before they went fallow. I sent lavish gifts to everyone in my neighborhood and encouraged non-players to join me. This life within the walls of Farm Town was simple and slightly addictive, but innocent in its first. By the time Farm Town introduced "real money" items into its schematic, I was already bored and gone. And when Zynga's FarmVille took over Facebook and steamrolled Farm Town out of existence, I was already wise to just how icky this new world of social gaming could be. Friends and relatives sent me invite after invite, desperate to acquire new neighbors in order to obtain exclusive items and expand their farmland. I set Facebook to "Ignore Any Invites from This Application" and moved back to gaming on shiny consoles.

Over time, however, this new trend of social gaming on Facebook became prolific, and I found myself ignoring over 150 different kinds of applications within the next year. This sort of monotonous gaming that relies on coaxing your loved ones into joining and spending their hard-earned money on virtual junk does not appeal to me in the slightest. It sounds less like a good time and more like a pyramid scheme. The biggest reason it irked me to see everyone so dazzled and manic about their farms, cities, frontiers, mafias, etc., is knowing that the companies who create these games care less about providing the players with a meaningful interactive experience and more about how to hook people into an addictive environment where they are willing to pony up real dollar bills for in-game items. Compulsory gaming is tragic, because it deprives the player of an emotional return on their investment. Playing video games in a social way should allow players to feel triumph and failures together, not just provide each other with more fuel for their addiction. If two players decide to take on a challenge in a cooperative format, it should mean more than "I harvested your beets for you, now give me a present please."

I am a diehard solo gamer. Every November I tell myself that I am going to give the Assassin's Creed multiplayer another shot, drag out my headset and dive into the Animus for a cooperative match with 2-3 other assassins. After thirty heart-racing minutes of running through Ancient Rome, stabbing rival players and diving into haystacks while trying desperately to stay in stealth mode, I turn it off, say to myself "yep, that was multiplayer" and never do it again. I'm just not a social gamer. When Fable III allowed players to jump into each other's games, I invited a work acquaintance to join me to try it out. We pranced around Albion killing balverines and earning the social-centric achievements for getting hitched and having a wee one. At his request, I led him to a mansion off the cemetery, tipped my crown and said farewell, vowing to stay solo from there on, as playing together, while fun, was also totally awkward. From there on out, I decided that potential cooperative situations are best handled locally, enlisting my husband to be my permanent partner in both life and split screen experiences.

After that awkward experiment, I left most aspects of social gaming behind me, narrowing my focus down to story-intensive, single player interactions and immersing myself completely into each one, as per my usual behavior. For the past year I've been slowing devouring every Western RPG I can get my hands on, from Skyrim to Amalur, Dragon Age to Oblivion. Lately I have been spelling away in Dragon's Dogma, running back and forth (and back and forth into infinity) across Gransys and keeping a close eye on Enkir, my Frankenstein creation, my pet project, my pawn. For beyond the questing and the beastie-killing, keeping Enkir exquisitely equipped and maintaining his stats to an utmost degree has become a prime focus. My desire for him to be attractive to other players, real players, is because of the near-perfect social mechanic within this grand RPG. I finally found my place in the social gaming world, and it is largely because I don't have to deal with real people at all.

In Dragon's Dogma, you have a hand-built party of four. Player One is your controllable avatar, and Player Two is a character you create from the ground up, including building his/her personality traits and encounter stats. He/she is your pawn. Players Three and Four are hand-picked from a pool of other player's pawns. Choosing particular pawns depends on your current level combined with a cache of supplemental points you earn for completing missions. If your real world friends are playing, you can use their pawns for free, regardless of their level. Pawns are ideally chosen to balance the classes within the party. So if you are a sorcerer, and your pawn is a warrior, enlisting a ranger and a mage to heal the party would be a good balance. This is entirely up to the player, however. As you gain levels or get more rift points, you can switch out for new pawns with higher stats or good balancing characteristics to create the strongest, most badass adventure team ever. Fist bump.

When you release one pawn for another, you can send them "home" with a gift of a healing plant or berry, rate their helpfulness and appearance, and even choose from a predetermined list of compliments or complaints, based on how valuable their assistance was in battle. If you hire a pawn that has completed your chosen quest within someone else's game, they will guide or advise you of what they know. It's a flawless system for someone who likes gamers but hates gaming with them. I hire amazing pawns, praise them for their looks and knowledge, use them in battle and then send them back to their original owners with a gift and a lovely note. Knowing that these helpful NPC's were carefully constructed by an actual human being breathes more life into them and makes you more aware of them as not just random virtual puppets, but as beloved sidekicks in a world full of danger. The fact that they really are NPC's and not helmed by a real person makes me feel comfortable in my solo space and intimate with another player simultaneously.

When Enkir, my loyal companion, comes back from assisting players in other realms, I am as pleased with him as a parent watching their child succeed. So far, the other players have been very supportive, sending him back with gifts and praise. And I am learning that not all social experiences in gaming have to involve mindlessly harvesting crops or sketching out free advertisements in Draw Something, but can give a full disc interaction an unexpected depth and meaning. I've been sent out on a mission to play with others and have come back with the gift of perspective.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

AC3 E3 Video For My Viewing Pleasure

To me, E3 is fairly whatever. Since most of my gaming focus lies sandwiched between Microsoft and Ubisoft, I keep a fraction of my senses focused on the headlines, mostly to see and hear any news related to Assassin’s Creed. Everything else I sort of chuck to the wayside until I can narrow in on it properly without the hype-o-drama the convention brings along with it. But, ah, to be a fan of the almighty franchise of Assassin’s Creed in 2012 is to be loved and lavished with gifts from above, in package form, with special content if you buy [here] today. This feeling is a bittersweet one for a superfan like myself, whose love for the series hovers around level infinity, but is intensely wary of huge marketing campaigns. On one hand, watching the popularity rise and rise over the years has meant more content, more games, more investment. But it also means more risk for bloat and diminished quality, as now there is an expectation that a new version will be a yearly event over a carefully constructed creative venture. It means more fans clamoring at the gate, money in hand, willing to pay for hasty add-on merchandise and tie-in content. This tornado of hype sometimes starts to swirl in such a frantic and demanding way that it becomes difficult to reach out and grasp the one thing that encapsulates a fan: the game itself.

My expectations for Assassin’s Creed 3 are still optimistic. Now that I know that Brotherhood and Revelations were built on top of a team already working on AC3, my fears about it being quick-shipped to appease the masses (and moneygrubbers) are quieter. Liberation, the new Vita title, is another story. I am afraid that this one will be the unbalancer, the hastily tossed out tie-in title to coddle those wishing for a female assassino in a starring role. Both the Chinese assassin, Shao Jun, and now our New Orleans heroine, Aveline, are sideline cop-outs in a timeline devoted to and dominated so far by men. Now, I don’t have a problem with the male assassins at the helm, quite the opposite if we factor in historical social norms versus in-game canon, and I don’t sit around clamoring for a female assassin, but if they are going to take the female plunge, Ubi should stop tucking them neatly around their big brothers and enlist a lady for the big-console spotlight in Assassin’s Creed 4. Now, obviously I have no idea if Liberation will contain stars, hearts, moons, clovers, etc, (trashing a game pre-release, woo!) but I did play Altair's Chronicles on the DS and it was terrible. I hope Aveline’s story is amazing, I just hate marketing campaigns that say “Hey guys, we are giving you something neat that we are sure you want: a female assassin! …only, she’s over here, on a handheld console that you may not even own, but give us your money anyway!” The chances I will be willing to spend a few hundred dollars to play Liberation are fairly slim.

But..ahh…Connor. Captain Connor. Your ability to properly handle a ship looks delightful. Definite highlight of my week. Let’s meet. Say…October?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Screenshot Friday!

This is my Dragon’s Dogma character, Gaia. She makes the cutest 'oh no!' face and has the most adorable sprinkle of freckles across her nose. She also has a gaping hole in her chest that’s been sewn up by magical influences, but...don’t worry about Gaia. She’s been through a lot in the last three years, facing innumerable adversaries and apocalyptic environments across such fabled lands as Ferelden, Tamriel and Amalur. Gransys is merely her most current challenge, and I believe that she (and I) have what it takes to fight the unspeakable foe and save the land...again.

I love character creators. Instead of being forced to develop a relationship with a predetermined protagonist, the player is allowed the freedom to explore options that help build a more tangible connection between him or her and the in-game avatar, forging an instant bond between the controller and the controlee. This seems to be the norm in most RPGs nowadays, even if the main character is already partially preset, such as Hawke and Shepard in BioWare’s franchises. When I started playing Dragon Age: Origins for the first time, I delved deep into the facial construction options and body type manipulators and created Gaia. I chose human mage as my race/class, gave her some fetching green eyes and a staff to yield in battle. And she and I have been together ever since.

Originally, Gaia was a feisty redheaded mage who loved a gentleman named Alistair, seduced a saucy elf named Zevron and saved Ferelden from an arch demon. When I moved on to Dragon Age 2, Gaia spent her years in Kirkwall earning the legendary title ‘Champion’ and defending mages with her partner Anders (this didn’t turn out so well), which turned her hair a beautiful silver but left her stronger than ever. When Gaia moved to Tamriel, she learned how to handle both her spells and a quick-bladed sword, and mastered a tongue-twisting ancient language, to relieve Skyrim of its ‘dragon problem’. In Amalur, Gaia entered the land of the faery to put an end to a civil war between the winter and summer courts, losing her destined fate in order to gain the respect of a nation. Gaia is all of these things, and Gaia is part of me, as we have evolved and developed together. She has become my common character across different discs, developers, publishers, scenarios and settings. And there is something very comforting about this, in knowing that through a tabulated character creator I can gain access to someone familiar, and in knowing her from previous times, I know her now, and I always know how to proceed with her training and appearance, her demeanor and dialogue choices. And she always wins the day, no matter what the obstacle.

I am finding myself quite in love with Dragon’s Dogma. Its pawn system is very different than anything I have played before, and my favorite part so far is finding player pawns in the real world and sending them back with items and equipment. The ultimate gift-giver. My created Strider pawn, Enkir, is sort of grouchy (two character creators-I am in heaven), but every time I hand him a poisoned arrow, he never fails to hit his mark.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Song of Blah and Whatever

I’ve exposed myself to too many Songs of Ice and Fire in the last nine months or so. What started as a genuine interest in an engaging television series has now slumped into near apathy via a lifeless video game. When I first started watching Game of Thrones on HBO, I was excited to find a world of fantasy that seemed interesting and contained characters with real life names such as Jamie and Joffrey over things like Xananaduity or Ziftenagra, a trait in hard fantasy that normally steers me away. Set in a world that I usually describe in video games as 'Englandish' during ‘fantasy medieval-like’ times, which coincidentally, are two of my favorite topics when reading romance novels, I watched the ten or so episodes last summer and enjoyed it enough to seek out the books. The first in the series, A Game of Thrones, was delightful, all of the characters and scenarios laid out in the same timeline and format as the show, only with added descriptive text in between. But then I read the other four one after the other, leaving almost no time in between each 1000+ page tome, and the world of Westeros, although still engaging, is now starting to feel less cohesive and more chaotic, characters crashing up against one another instead of seamlessly weaving around each other in a graceful dance. Plus, I’m super mad right now. No spoilers, but damn you Martin.

And then the second season of the television show started in April and things took another turn for the worse. Instead of following the canon faithfully, now HBO seems to have taken some of the suggested themes of sexuality and violence and ramped them up into full color visuals. Instead of asserting that a character is wicked, wicked bad in words and innuendo, now we get to uncomfortably watch them base themselves in violent or explicit acts which add nothing to the show other than making the viewer a little green and squirmy. I liked the show when it flowed nicely, and now it’s jumbled. From reading all five books, I feel as though I have gained enough insight into the world of Westeros to see when the volume needs to be turned up on some scenes and toned down on others. But HBO likes the nudity and the blood. They transformed the cutest little Southern vampire book series into the raunchiest television show I can think of, True Blood. And that’s just fine for fans of the TV series – heck, I even love True Blood as a show in itself, totally unrelated to the paperbacks. But something about the current season of Game of Thrones has rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because instead of detouring from canon completely, they are trying to blend together the written story and some liberal translations in an 'entertaining for viewers' sort of way. And even I, someone who has read the second book, feel that season two is a tad confusing, and feel sympathy for those who have not absorbed the written materials, as they may have trouble following along. The ‘game of thrones’ is apparently, ‘who is that dude and where the hell is Sean Bean’?

Even after finding myself in a state of over-consumption and with a waning interest in the topic, I still decided to give the new video game version a try. I’m not sure what the opposite of ‘a breath of fresh air’ is, but it certainly applies in this situation. For someone teetering on the edge of Westeros indifference, playing Game of Thrones will add that extra push into apathy, leaving you longing for a previous time when everything was tall grass and dragon eggs, pure white snow and fuzzy direwolves instead of (hinted spoilers, but not really) dead horses, unending blizzards and blackened castles. The game attempts to follow the same basic structure as the book series, with two characters inhabiting subsequent chapters and telling their own interactive stories. The writing is terribly tedious and deals with such cliché topics such as ‘BETRAYAL’ and ‘THE LONG LOST SON’. Although it is set in Westeros during the time of our beloved book series, these two all new characters lessen the experience, as there is nothing familiar to cling to as you are drowning in ennui while listening to people talk about 'THE POISON' and 'THE WILDLINGS'. I didn't make it past the second chapter, so I am unsure if Mors from the Night's Watch and Alester from Riversprings ever join forces, but I imagine their tales entangle at some point. I suppose I could wiki that, but...nah. At this point do I even need to say that the combat was terrible? It was terrible. I was not sad to seal it up and send it back to Gamefly in favor of cracking open Dragon’s Dogma, the most perfect game ever (right now).

I do believe I am going to take a break from the world of Westeros, as there are plenty of books to read and games to play in the time between now and the next book release, which could be in 2015 or never. Focusing on one media should make it easier to invest, and contains far less content to digest. I may continue watching the HBO series, but only the intro credits as they are fabulous every time. Wheee! The tiny gears and wheels spinning up into Winterfell!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Virtual Magazine Love

"It opens with a cliché so well-worn it is almost smooth: an everyman writer drives along a dimly-lit, winding mountain road. The young girl we presume to be his daughter dozes in the car beside him, her head gently butting against the black mirror. The headlights illuminate the outline of a figure, another young girl, walking alone in the vehicle’s path. The driver swerves into the unknown and is rendered unconscious. He awakens in the mangled car, the seat beside him empty, the windows engulfed by unfurling mist. Stumbling out into the fug, he can barely distinguish the lampposts and roofs. Somewhere, in the near distance, alarm bells and sirens caterwaul. And then… the sky turns black, the pavement is replaced by rusted grating and the walls are adorned with bloody bodies. Welcome to Silent Hill. Population: close to zero. Unless you count the monsters and ghosts…"

This is the introduction of an article about the spooktacular survival horror genre, written by my friend Ross Thompson for AU Magazine, an online publication that covers the entertainment scene in Northern Ireland. Last winter I contributed some words to a piece he wrote about war games, so when he asked me if I would mind sharing some of my thoughts again, this time regarding creepy, heart racing, oogey-boogey horror games, I was more than happy to oblige. You can find the rest of this fantastic article, including a few sentences carefully crafted by yours truly, here. <--Clicky clicky

Photo Credit: Mark Reihill

Friday, April 13, 2012

Screenshot Friday!

After spending so much time in Skyrim, and for the most part enjoying the experience, I have decided to give Oblivion another chance. I initially rejected it because I got caught in a combat bind, advancing to an area in which I had no business being in as a Level One. Instead of retreating and grinding like a good gamer, I just threw in the towel after only 2.75 hours. I know this number to be true because when I deleted my original save file to start anew, it said 'you quit after 2:46, you fool'. Xboxes. So full of judgment.

I am traipsing down the spell-sword path again, my character much like my one in Skyrim, with a fire burst on one hand and a wicked blade in the other. The game is amazingly beautiful for something that released six years ago, but the map system is terrible. I obviously feel this way because I am playing the games out of order. Working with the fluid motions of map navigation in Skyrim makes clunking through the map/quest/inventory system in Oblivion an abysmal chore. Plus, I am sort of confused about the bedridden level-up process and the skill tree. I am currently stuck on a Mage quest that requires me to be a particular level in Alteration, even though I didn't choose that particular skill in my initial setup and now I have no idea if I can do so in some mercenary way. I am sure I can somehow, but I will probably choose to wander around Cyrodiil instead, grinding around the Imperial City and picking up random fetch quests in order polish my skills before I search for some elusive heir to the throne. Something about Oblivion feels more confining than Skyrim, as though the world isn't quite as open to new residents such as me, with nothing better to do than stroll into random towns and mess about with the social dynamics.

I am feeling a tad more in control this time around, but haven't quite found my Oblivion groove. I can't quite commit to pure immersion, as confessedly, Oblivion is currently functioning as a sort of time filler until next Tuesday when The Witcher 2 releases on 360. I don't normally pine for PC games to be ported to the consoles, but in this case I am ridiculously excited. But as time fillers go, Oblivion will not get permanently left behind once something newer and shinier is released. I have every intention of seeing it to its end...soon(ish).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wrong Way: Do Not Enter

After two decades of video game interactions involving cartridges and discs, I wouldn’t necessarily say I am a professional at connecting games to consoles, but I think I am getting pretty good at understanding the basic mechanics. My normal routine involves inserting a disc into my 360, closing the tray and letting nature take its course. Sounds easy enough, and the formula usually results in success. A title screen displays with a button selection to continue, usually ‘start’, but occasionally ‘A’ (just to shake things up, I am sure) will do the trick. A few seconds later I am awash in tutorial, retraining my digits to perform intricate puppet master combinations that appear on screen fairly seamlessly via an avatar. This whole process prologues any video game ever. Until Silent Hill Downpour broke the mold.

When it comes to buggy video games, I am fairly tolerant and forgiving. If other factors, such as the story or graphics, are adequate to impressive, I can handle a screen freeze or a character locked in landscape quicksand without swearing too much at the furniture in my living room. I once jumped off a ledge in the original Assassin’s Creed and ended up nestled inside a pillar where a nearby Templar was lurking. We got into quite the scuffle, him stabby stabbing me while I attempted to counter, neither of us doing any damage to one another, as Altair was now a piece of the environment instead of a moveable character. I finally restarted the machine, realizing after a few minutes that mashing every button at once was doing nothing but annoying the controller in my hand. The best bug I have encountered was while playing Brotherhood. I jumped off my horse to join members of the thieves guild in taking down some guards and shot straight into the air like Superman. Ezio’s ascent lasted about twenty minutes and was really beautiful, as it rewarded me with a bird’s eye view of Rome changing from day to night, the firelight glittering throughout the city below while Ezio soared above the clouds. But these in-game bugs are mere annoyances and are normally overcome by a restart or reload. In all my years of playing disc to drive experiences, I have to encounter a situation where I could not play the game in some form. Until Silent Hill Downpour.

In Silent Hill Downpour, your puppet protagonist is a gentleman named Murphy. In the opening credits Murphy is in a prison, and an obnoxious guard is leading him towards the showers. When Murphy arrives at a locker room outside of the official showers, the guard hints that he left Murphy a ‘present’ on the bench and tells him to get moving. Inside the locker room Murphy is finally free of his semi-cut scene tether, leaving you free to explore the room. A pop-up tutorial tells you to hit ‘A’ to interact with objects and doors when prompted. Easy enough. My first prompt is to go through the door into the shower room. I lead Murphy to the door, hit A, and…nothing happens. Back up, try again. Nothing happens. After several minutes of rotating around the room attempting to interact with the objects that look less painted into the background, I give up and restart. After going through the same process as before, I find that I still can’t interact with the door, even though the game keeps insisting I hit A to move forward. When these situations occur, my first instinct is to turn to the internet for help, so I Googled ‘Silent Hill Downpour control problems’, and after some digging found a Gamefaqs forum thread that addressed this issue. Diagnosed Problem: I was running the game without installing it to the hard drive, and trying to run the save file from a USB stick. Proposed Solution: Save to the hard drive instead. Easily done, and wa-la, fixed. I was in. Annoyed, but in nonetheless.

After a few hours of tedious exploration and less than scary encounters with mush-faced humanoids on the outskirts of town, it was time for Murphy to ride a train into Silent Hill. I hadn't run into any more mega-bugs, but the auto-save system interrupted the flow every few minutes or so, causing the screen to mini-freeze or Murphy’s movement to hiccup, which I learned later is called ‘frame rate’ issues. And then finally, a train ride from hell that F-R-E-A-K-E-D me out. Scary monsters, flashing lights, a pre-recorded voice that crackles and slows down during the right moments, yes! Then…a scream, a loading screen, and a lockup. Reloaded, took another ride on the creep train, a scream, a loading screen, and a lockup. And again. And again. After four tries, and four rides on the now ho-hum ‘annoyed that cut scenes can't be skipped’ train ride, I gave up, reported the disc as bad, requested a new one and moved on to I Am Alive.

Fast forward to last night, where I popped in my brand new copy of Downpour, loaded it up, hopped on the train ride, and...a scream, a loading screen, and a lockup. Sigh.

I turned back to the internet for help, Googling ‘Silent Hill Downpour freeze problems’. Once again, I was led to a Gamefaqs forum thread where a whole bunch of folks were having the same problem after the train ride. Diagnosed Problem: Once again, the hard drive vs. USB is pinpointed as the issue. A helpful individual suggests a Proposed Solution: Go to your Hard Drive from the dashboard, copy all of the save files for Downpour onto the USB stick and then reload the game from the USB. Are you f**king kidding me? I follow this advice, and wa-la, fixed. I am now able to continue past the train ride and am currently exploring the ghostly remains of Silent Hill, which is really, really boring in most places, but just spine-tingling enough in others to keep me mildly interested…for now. But...I am disgruntled and wary, continually waiting for the next bug to come along instead of enjoying the ride. Playing a video game should be as simple as tossing a disc in a tray and thumbing a button. This is by far the most effort I have put into troubleshooting a game on a console ever, and I find my willingness to play another Silent Hill game after this warped by the fear that I will potentially have to stand on my head and wave a dowsing rod in front of my console to get it to work properly. Shame on you, Vatra Games. It’s been weeks since the game was released, and nary a patch in sight. This poor franchise deserves better.

After all this work, I am trying to muster the motivation to see the game through to the end, but I can’t even imagine doing so. It’s very boring. Alan Wake, you’ve happily ruined me for other horror/thriller titles forever and ever, amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Internet Love

Found this while searching for the perfect background image for my desktop at work. Glad I wasn't alone in my French Revolution wishes.

You can find the full res version here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How I Found Peace with Assassin's Creed 3

My college years were spent exclusively studying the past. I majored in History, emphasis on European Ancient to Renaissance, emphasis England, with a minor in religious studies. I had some amazing professors who eschewed force feeding students names and dates in favor of telling stories, including the more scandalous ones as tantalizing dessert on top of the potential dryness of historical regurgitation. I was so lucky to have these resources in this regard; people who had a great passion for their field as opposed to those who just go through the necessary motions to propel students along their grand collegiate path. I adoringly soaked up every detail about the Plantagenets and Tudors, Romans and Greeks, Constantine and Charlemagne. So much bravery, so much weakness, so many amazing tales to tell. I chose my major due to a fierce craving to learn the timeline of Western civilization...but as the dates crept closer to present time, I constantly found myself losing interest. With the exception of the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland in the mid-1700s, the French Revolution later that century and the latter years of Victorian England (Jack the Ripper, obviously), I have almost zero interest in anything after 1688, the year William & Mary took the throne in England during the Glorious Revolution. After that, I feel as though everything dissolves into politics. Romance dies, modern governments develop, my passion fades…and a nation is born.

American History 101 was the only class I ever took on the topic, and I barely passed it with a B-. It was a prerequisite course for graduation. I had a professor who was something of an intern and nothing he said sparked or inspired in any way. I did the bare minimums and put it behind me forever. In the decade since graduation, I have read some historical fiction regarding the American Revolution or the Civil War, but it still fails to be anything other than ho-hum, gun-wielding, political teeth-gnashing greed over the right to own land and people in my eyes. Persecuted English folks move to a free land to turn around and persecute natives and burn people at the stake. So much conflict, so little resolution. New America is still such a baby, in terms of the great timeline, and I spent enough time sitting on top of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, attempting to experience the same feeling I get when I sit on a bench on the Royal Mile of Edinburgh, Scotland, to know that the latter evokes strong emotions in my core while the former completely fails to engage. I have no great love for American history, yet have an enormous pool of love for European history.

Because of this, my initial reactions to the news about Connor and Assassin’s Creed 3 were fairly negative. For the first couple of days after the press release, I was sure that my golden days of Assassin’s Creed were behind me, Altair and Ezio’s stories so intertwined with my love of their time periods and settings that to separate them in any way would obviously mean death for my adoration of the series. My first impression was ‘I hate this so much.’ I was totally the girl crying about the cities and how the American setting would ruin my experience, as climbing ship masts and tiny church steeples was nothing like seeing Rome from the top of the Colosseum or Istanbul from Hagia Sophia’s spired heights. I pouted about the bow and arrow combination and snickered at the precious logo on the top of Connor’s tomahawk, saying things like ‘didn’t we just play Read Dead Redemption?’ and ‘assassin’s shouldn’t be involved in battles, they should be subversive and trying to undermine both sides’. Such a whiny jerk, I know. Even though I knew the new game wasn’t going to be in the French Revolution setting I craved, I guess I just wanted the developers to stay within the confines of my own desires and wishes, keeping it in Europe and outside of the range of gun-heavy warfare. Deep, heavy sighs ensued. But then I started to have a change of heart. I mean, really, the only person I am affecting here is me, and my lack of open-mindedness is pretty boring. So, instead of continuing to act like an entitled brat about the new game, I am going to let go, embrace Connor, and see the game as the potential gift that Ubisoft is giving me: a chance to experience the American Revolution from an interactive standpoint, thigh-deep in a story I already am utterly devoted to, in order to feel the same way about a time in history that I would have otherwise ignored in favor of my comfort zone.

This line in a recent article on Kotaku started to reform my thoughts on AC3:

"History is this big challenge," creative director Alex Hutchinson says. "It's a huge, rich resource to mine. But then, half the time, it doesn't do what you wanted it to do. People didn't die a lot in the revolution. Common people did. Famous people did. Finding people to kill was six, seven months of reading to find people who died…Every assassination target is a real person who dies at the right time at the right place. How they died we'll let you get a little bit artistic."

It’s easy to forget how much these guys care about the historical aspects of the franchise when it isn’t set in the historical context I wished for all year long. But they do. And that matters to me, as both a fan and great lover of the past in general. I am the girl in the movie theatre who decries all of the minor mistakes filmmakers make when portraying past figures (number one complaint: perfect white teeth on everyone), so it’s very important to me that even when taking liberties with historical narratives, that most of the recreations are painted by people that think these details are important. And I believe the creative folks do care about these things – they make it a point to care every time. And this matters. If the people that loved Brotherhood enough to bring life to a virtual Rome, circa 1499, are the same people loving Frontier America from 1753-1783, I feel like I am in a great position to see this new world of the assassin through their eyes, and potentially fall in love with a time in American history that I never would have immersed myself in for any other game series. Even if it means climbing to the tops of trees like a spider monkey rather than basking in the view of Jerusalem from Solomon’s Temple.

Although I still think the logo tomahawk is ridiculously precious and pray that Desmond's story doesn't take place in first-person perspective, I am now a much more open and willing pupil, eager to help Connor on his trek through an America on the brink of Revolution in October. As long as I continue to have access to a hidden blade, all is right between me and my beloved Assassin’s Creed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Screenshot Friday!

I played all of Skyrim in January, managing to do so without taking any preplanned time off work or ‘unexpected’ sick days. Late nights and weekends were spent traversing the lands, blasting fire spells at dragons and earning the respect of the various clans about the realm. I am proud to say that I finished the hell out of that game, only leaving the Dark Brotherhood quests aside (because, duh, evil), my final steps in Skyrim moments after the grande finale. And then, I was done…and a tad uncertain as to what to take on next. I’d heard loads of praise about another RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, but wasn’t sure diving right back into a min/max questventure would be the smartest plan. The open world aspects of Skyrim gave life to all of the terrible sides of being an obsessive completionist, and boot stomping into another without taking the time to decompress and quietly ponder on all that occurred previously would assumedly be bad for my health and social relationships.

So I played Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. And it was…so much…I can’t… Later, I promise.

I started Reckoning shortly after Alan Wake. So…yeah. Not so much with the meditation time.

It’s extremely difficult to judge the worthiness of a game after finishing one that could be it’s fraternal twin. Side by side, their appearances are quite different, but the overall DNA structure is almost identical. I could say this about other RPG’s along the same vein, but it’s jarring to flow from one to another almost seamlessly, barely having enough time to forgot one finger pattern in place of another while performing practically all of the same tasks. Chatting up folks who need random errands run for them, picking flowers to turn into delicious potions, trying to save the realm from civil war and supernatural danger, coming to terms with being ‘a chosen savior’, fast traveling from one side of the map to another…god, I don’t even know which game I am even talking about anymore. I am starting to feel as though 2012 is going to be the year I exceed my own limit on saying “I’ll get that necklace out of that dank cave for you”. And I didn’t even know I had a limit.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I think Reckoning is sparkly fun. The controls in combat are practically perfect, and in third person, which I prefer (playing TP in Skyrim was wrecked, IMO), and the weapon choices are neat. As opposed to other RPG’s where you must state your class and carry on, Reckoning allows you to mix it up quite a bit, and as a result, the tactics feel quite personal, such as a mage with a penchant for laying traps and stealth, or a warrior who can conjure up a demon helper in a fight. I like having a powerful staff in one hand and badass chakrams in the other. Mages carry talismans that function like wards when activated, but more similar to a shield than a spell, which is fantastic. My character is totally cartoon gorgeous, as opposed to the shadow-faced geometrical one in Skyrim. All in all, happy.

There is one way I am failing the game, however. I pick up too many quests and don’t complete them in a timely manner. Ideally, I would receive a request to do something random, perform said random task and then march back to whoever made the request and claim my reward before heading back on the road to main quest town, but…I have a problem. I take everything that crosses my path and tuck it away to do ‘later’. Two terrible results of this: one, I see the 29 side quests patiently waiting in my inventory journal and freak out, spending an entire evening performing these mundane tasks joylessly, merely to check them off of the list, or two, I randomly come across them flashing on the mini-map and pick up/kill/talk to/whatever the quest, but have no idea what just happened, the motivation behind it, who gave it to me or how it fits into the big picture of the narrative, or if it does at all. I play Reckoning like someone randomly flipping through a book and catching only phrases here and there. Since only the main and faction quests seem to have a continual drive through them, I don’t think it matters too much, but occasionally I get confused by what the hell is going on and only have myself to blame. Ah, well. Carrying on.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Back From Outer Space...and Skyrim

Coming back to writing after a rather extensive break is one of the most surprisingly difficult endeavors I have yet to task. Keeping this blog alive has been a labor of love for over two years now, but at some point in December the sheer responsibility of it washed over me, bringing with it a waves of doubt and uncertainty. I started to read my own work and judge it both critically and terribly. Instead of powering through this phase of icky self-consciousness, I abruptly stopped writing. Probably the worst reaction, in hindsight. Because here I sit, my fingers patiently waiting for my brain to unravel a knot of thorny briars wedged between a blank page and a stream of easy keystrokes. I convinced myself that if I wasn’t writing that I could just be playing again. Not having a critical experience, but a sinuous player-to-game interaction, working my way through the mountainous regions of Skyrim without quietly noting the scenic representations as codes in a computer, and the narrative outlines as virtual reality and not the output of a team of talented writers. I could just be there, and in being there, accept all of it as truth without over-analyzation. I was wrong. Once that faucet has been turned on, even pulling on it with all of your mental might does not keep the drips from keeping you awake at night. So here I am, and (hopefully) here I intend to stay.

I spent over 100 hours exploring the realm of Skyrim. Pretty typical for an Elder Scrolls game, I hear, with players spending much more than that navigating the land, picking up as many quests as possible and leaving almost every virtual stone unturned. After trying and failing to play Oblivion due to the sheer volume and mass of its countryside and the amount of unachievable quests pulling at my journal bindings from the very beginning, I was sure I would taste the waters of Skyrim, find them chock full of unappealing minerals and spit it out just as quickly. But instead, I found something beautiful and something utterly terrible. The beauty I found in every tree root and every sawtoothed mountaintop. Encountering a dragon is a humbling and majestic happenstance, destroying and absorbing its soul a painful yet necessary task. Standing stones and statuesque figures litter the landscape, while the skies darken to reveal green and yellow patterns against the pinpoints of twinkling stars. The bards sing poetic notes filled with the tales of heroes and monsters. My favorite quests lie North of the actual continent and into an environment encompassed entirely by ice flows and snowscapes. Skyrim is ridiculously beautiful, in all sights and all sounds.

But playing Skyrim isn’t always beautiful. Sometimes it’s terribly compulsive. After several hours of play, I often went to bed in the twilight hours of a work night feeling less accomplished and more strung out, waking up the next day with itching eyes and a throbbing skull, the results of telling myself ‘just one more mission to check off the list, and then I will be xyz'. And with the exception of the main quest and a few of the ones within the more narrative centric lines, most of the random NPC quests felt utterly shallow. If I met a man in a tavern with a terrible story about a loved one dying in a mine, he would without fail ask me to retrieve some memorial trinket from said mine. I would do so, bring it back to him, he would give me money or another bobble and we would never speak again. These tasks, although prefaced with loss or love or some other ridiculously strong emotion, would result in nothing other than a brief tip of a hat before continuing on our merry separate ways. This combination of weak character relations (especially since they allow you to have a spouse, which results in a companion no different from any other, except he/she will give you money) and lack of consequences of almost any action (even carrying through with the civil war plotline only results in a change of guard uniform around the realm and a shrug) made the experience seem surface on every level. And I think I felt this so strongly because of my tendency to have the best damn time in video games when I can see my relationships developing and/or can see the effects my actions have on the surrounding environment.

I hate to compare Skyrim to Dragon Age, but in terms of what I am looking for in a potential time sucking RP experience, playing a shallow quest-to-quest adventure just isn’t as rewarding as playing a quest-to-quest adventure that also includes meaningful conversation and, yes, I’ll admit it, sexy time. When my second go-around Hawke disrobed and became a rogue to please mage-hating Fenris, the careful choice of dialogue options to propel our relationship ‘to the next level’ was one of the most fun times I have had in an RPG. It wasn’t just the “Hawke as Kirkwall’s Champion” narrative that made playing it feel rewarding, it was seeing your interpersonal relationships develop or fail with your party members that gave the game the gravity to keep bubbles of joy brimming up on every surface, as opposed to the weak ‘carry on’ sentiments I felt while plodding my way through Skyrim. Being Dragonborn was never as fun as being sassy Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, enemy to Anders, friend of Varric and paramour of pretty Fenris. It may have held more weight and respect, globally (re: people slobbering all over Skyrim vs the disdain for DA2), but for me, my time (two times, actually) in Kirkwall was absolutely more enjoyable and resonating than the 108 hours I spent slaving away as the Dovahkiin, where my only reward for completing a monumental task was to be able to continue doing into perpetuity, long after the final battle is won.

Now, I will understand if you respectfully disagree with me, as many of your personal drives probably aren’t motivated by character relations but by the epicness of the overall task at hand. Feeling like the Dragonborn, battling Alduin, and following the prideful path of great power and responsibility over an entire nation is pretty neat. But for me, having a drink in a tavern with a companion who tells me their own grand story and building that connection is infinitely more rewarding. In conclusion, Skyrim, I loved you for your pretty face, but am happy to leave you behind (...until DLC is announced /cough). I hear something enticing is on the horizon, and it's name is Witcher 2.

This article about Skyrim on The Ontological Geek is the best.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Status Update - Alive

Subject: Source Material Drought

Re: Skyrim

Start Time: 01/06/12

Approximate Date of Crisis End: Unknown

Happy 2012, everyone.